Monday, July 8, 2013

Review - Hyperborean Laboratories and Cave System By Benoist Poire

Hyperborean Laboratories and Cave System
By Benoist Poire

What strikes me first is the map. It's color and the AFS zine is black and white so naturally it is striking in contrast, but then you see this intricate multi-color map and think, "Damn... that is one great map." But Benoist's Hyperborean Laboratories (Hlabs) adventure is something much greater than the map. Hlabs contains the ideas behind Benoist's adventure and a series of ideas on how you can make this adventure your own.

This is a wonderful adventure for a DM to take steps beyond prepared modules though it is also a damn good scenario for experienced DMs to incorporate into their existing campaigns. While I hated to mutilate my copy of AFS#3 I found it useful to remove the map and have it handy for reference. The density of the adventure is impressive even if just taking into consideration the 'In My Campaign' [IMC] portion of the descriptions. When adding in the ideas and suggestions of what the reader might like to do in the 'In Your Campaign' [IYC] additional paragraphs the adventure really becomes ideas for several adventures, and this is one of the extraordinary things with the scenario design behind Hyperborean Labs.

As I mentioned, first the map is very impressive, then the quality of the adventure presented in the [IMC] description, but the [IYC] sections which are part of every room description becomes icing on the cake. This way of writing a module made me think of how rate it and develop a rating system for DM usage.

Introductory (I) - An adventure where the details of the module are all presented and the adventure can be run 'as is'. This should be a low character level adventure and may contain suggestions on how to run a dynamic adventure such as how the DM may want to restock the adventure or how the inhabitants may react to the PCs incursion. The plot should be straightforward with only enough twists to keep the player's interested rather than something more elaborate and potentially confusing.

Basic (B) - An adventure where most of the details are provided but might include only room and trap descriptions with suggestions or tables provided for the DM to stock the scenario with opponents. All item descriptions and monsters should be provided within the adventure or belong to the most basic core set of the game system. This should be a low to mid character level adventure. Suggestions should be limited to explanations of how to keep the adventure dynamic in regard to the plot rather than explanations of simply how to run any dynamic adventure. Several plots could be interwoven in the single adventure but each should be generally straightforward and not so convoluted as to cause undue confusion to the DM or require the DM to be tied to the rails of plot elements to make the scenario work without major revision. Suggestions for personalization of the scenario can be provided but the adventure should be able to be run by the DM without a great deal of work.

Expert (X) - An adventure where specific details of all rooms and encounters may or may not be provided but where suggestions and recommendations for alternate usages for each location or encounter will be included. The main elements of the adventure should be covered for each location and for an overall plot, but the actual detail of what items or creatures may need to be added by the DM. Creature and item descriptions may also be provided in only general terms, suggestions for creatures and weapons beyond the basic core rulebooks of the system may also be made, but without requiring ownership of these books as a main element of the adventure.  The adventure may be of low, mid or high character experience level, but should involve a well-thought-out plot and a more open-ended or sandbox atmosphere allowing for the possibility of game play outside the boundaries of the main adventure if only in suggested areas of interaction on a tactical scale. Designing nations or kingdoms would not be necessary but some idea of the surrounding area and how it might exist in relation to the adventure's central location should be covered. Any plot should not be the be-all end-all of the adventure allowing for the DM to make changes without having to completely rework the scenario. For example, the adventure should not require the players to be captured and have all their possessions stripped from them before being cast into a pit to battle giant ants with the thigh bone of an ass. The DM, on the other-hand, should not expect the adventure to be an as-is scenario and some work will be required to personalize it as well as make it a functional adventure.

Master (M) - A Master level adventure may provide only a map and a great many suggestions. It should offer multiple plots and a good deal of source material within the adventure itself. It may be set for any character level and should require a great deal of work for the DM to make into a functional scenario. It should be more in the nature of a supplement for the DM who generally prefers a do it yourself adventure. Suggestion for rulebooks and source materials far beyond the basic core rule system of a game system should be offered. A Master level adventure should be a resource that can be used for the design of many adventures or an extremely large adventure such as a megadungeon or the description of a city or a plane of the Abyss.

So, I told you all that so I could tell you this. I find Hyperborean Labs to exist somewhere between a Basic levels adventure and an Expert Level adventure. Other than specific treasure and monsters set down for each location there is actually a high level of detail in the [IMC] section provided. But Hlabs cannot be run As-Is and the DM will have to provide some mental elbow-grease to make it into a functioning scenario. The suggestions that are provided in the [IYC] sections may get a DM's imagination flowing and then a great deal of work will be needed to personalize the adventure.

The ideas, especially the interlinked scenario design of the original campaign are fantastic. These are imaginative and I can see they will be tremendous fun to use during play (the transportation areas are going to be especially wicked to use). I was sold on the value of Hyperborean Labs on seeing the map, but the entire scenario really shouldn't be missed. While it matches the Hyperborean setting perfectly I think it can be used with any fantasy setting. This is a top-notch adventure. 


  1. Thank you very much for the review, Jason. For what it's worth, and I don't just mean it as polite return of favor, to be quite clear about it, I really appreciated your piece in the same issue of AFS magazine, using Clark Ashton Smith's writings to create adventure seeds and inspire other GMs in a similar fashion I tried to do with my Hyperborean Labs. It inspired me as well for my games. Keep up the good work, and thank you again for the review. -BP

  2. Thanks Ben!

    The CAS material is very evocative and filled with wonderful prose and ideas. Easy enough to sort out some of his richer descriptive text and come up with campaign ideas. A real goldmine to work with.

    Your Hyperborean Labs is great work and it will fit seamlessly into my own AS&SH campaign.


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