The Dark Below Edessa – A Dark Astral Adventure

Following last week’s look at Dark Astral, the new chapbook for Zweihander from Andrews McMeel Publishing, I grab a look at The Dark Below Edessa. This new adventure, written specifically for Dark Astral comes to us from Terrible Wyrm. So let’s get stuck in!

Reviewing an adventure path or module is always gonna be a tricky affair. You can’t go into a lot of detail in case it gives the game away for would-be players. Even saying, “oh the twist is great” simply highlights a twist that players will then look for. Reading through though it is possible to get a good sense of the flow of the game and it is that ‘flow’ or feel that I’ll try and convey here.

Judging a book by its cover…

Before popping the hood and looking at the guts of what makes this adventure tick, it’s better to stand back and have a look at the visuals and presentations. To continue the terminology, let’s kick the tyres a bit.

What a cover page. Colour me impressed by the simultaneously new and old skool vibes this generates. From the colour palette to the choice of font and layout, this screams out to the classic sci-fi fan in me. This cover wouldn’t be out of place amongst those classic science fiction paperbacks that you can now only ever pick up second hand from charity or thrift store.

Flipping the book over, metaphorically at least as I’m reviewing the pdf, the vibes change and twang the nostalgia chords even more. If you’ve played a certain 2nd edition of a wargame set in a grim future some forty-odd thousand years in the future, then you’ll no doubt get wafts of the same aesthetic. The little nods to even the packaging are fabulous. Now some will no doubt feel this that this is a rip more than an homage. When something goes out of its way to recreate a feel from over twenty-five years ago though (that makes me feel old), I think it’s fair play and well done.

This same look continues inside with the spacing, font, and some iconography. Perhaps it’s leaning more into copy at this point, but I’ll be damned if I don’t say I love it.

Is this only style?

When you know just one gun won’t be enough.

Ok ok. So this doesn’t waste any time getting stuck into the meat of the product. Straight away you are given a choice. This adventure can be run in two ways. One way is your more traditional group of characters looking to achieve a certain number of objectives. The second, and thematically this is ace, your group all play Astrotemplars and kill, maim, burn their way to achieving their goals.

Essentially this is a dungeon crawl in the form of a downed space vessel. Building on the setting in Dark Astral, the group will venture into the underbelly of Edessa towards The Retribution. The intro is short and punchy to get the players attention and deliver the hooks. Everything is clear and well laid out, easy to read and, importantly, should be easy to deliver. The maps are well-drawn and each room has good descriptors bringing variety whist still remaining a cohesive whole.

I didn’t think I’d be using a picture of Hector today!

The oft forgotten French space rat.

On top of this, the adventure brings something to the table which I found sorely lacking in my games of 40k as a younger lad. Rats. Well not just rats, but space rats; or if you prefer, rats in space… Seriously though, if you can bring your elves, dwarves, halflings and all manner of other physiologies into the grim and perilous future, why can’t you bring the ratmen and all their vile deeds? Further emphasising the sci-fi Zweihander riff, this is a great choice to include here. I’ve written a lot of my own fluff for this type of stuff so it was interesting to see another’s take on it. Personally I would have liked a bit more, but as this is an adventure, it’s more than forgivable.

No assembly required.

As two adventures in one, each room or encounter shows differences depending on how you are running the game. The layout remains constant but if everyone is Atrotemplars, the threat is definitely ramped up. I’m also a fan of there being clear indicators of the lighting settings in each room. Visibility and “what goes bump in the dark” is something that is often overlooked in adventures with presumptions that there are torches on the walls of folks are wearing headlamps…

The approach of listing a number of varied objectives is a novel and clever one. It would be relatively easy to switch these around of alter slightly on the fly to provide a bit of flexibility depending on the group. Additionally, the pre-generated characters and NPCs throughout are more than adequate to get you to the table with this very quickly.

Buying adventures off the shelf is something I did many moons ago when I would pick up copies of Dragon and Dungeon (when the local newsagent had them at least). I moved towards the tendency to write pretty much all of my own material. The more I played, the more I became appreciative of how easy my group would go off-piste. I’ve started to come back to these more now though as with constraints on time. It’s brilliant to be able to pick something like this up and be able to get going with only an hour or so reading beforehand. There are even all the counters you’ll need for those who use battlemaps and such. What’s more, in the digital age and circumstances we find ourselves in, this would be easy to manipulate with your paint package of choice.

Is it worth picking up?

My impressions of this product are, on the whole, very good. It’s right up my street though so I should temper my enthusiasm with some additional constructive comments. The usability of this product might be limited if you are not looking for this particular flavour of science fiction game. Where many dungeon crawl adventures can be relatively easily plugged into your setting of choice, this would require a touch more work. If this is the kind of thing you’re after though, you will get a well laid out product that’s an easy read and looks fun to play.

It also does what it intends to do admirably in being a contained adventure that could be run in a lengthy session or paced over a few if you enjoy a touch of procrastination and character dialogue. Building on the setting provided in Dark Astral, this would be an excellent springboard for further grim and perilous tales. Now to rustle up some people online for a game!

The Dark Below Edessa is now available electronically and in print via DrivethruRPG. Dark Astral is available from Andrews McMeel Publishing in print at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. As always, feel free to leave your comments below or join us over on our Facebook page. You can also see more of my RPG ramblings over on Twitter (@brother_rooster)

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