Jungle Alert! A review of Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti

March 9, 2011

Jungle Ruins of Madaro-Shanti by Scott Casper

This is the first release in the “One Night Stands” series from Frog God Games. I purchased the Swords & Wizardry version in a 32-page PDF. A Pathfinder version is also available.

Quick rundown of game content in the book:

  • Background info and hook.
  • Map of Jungle.
  • Rumors and Special Encounters.
  • Map of Ruined City.
  • Details of four locations in the city:  Gatehouse, Well, Palace, Dungeon.
  • Appendix describing a little more background info, clues, and new monsters.

The background info and hook are serviceable for a “one night stand”, though nothing special:  Save the helpless coastal town from the deadly black cloud approaching from deep within the jungle.  If I understand correctly, the party needs to enter the cloud to get to its source in the Ruins.  Staying in the cloud for less than three days is harmless, but any longer and it can slowly kill you.  The Ruins are at least a three day journey (unless the PCs can fly), so the death cloud seems intended to influence the party’s strategy for completing their quest (multiple short excursions?), but it’s not really explained in any more detail.  Maybe it’s just part of the hook, perhaps to explain why these special PCs are needed to save the town, where others have failed.

The map of the jungle is nice, and I hoped to find descriptions in the text of the features and locations to be found in the jungle, but there is very little.  The map is essentially useless for purposes of playing the adventure that fills the rest of the book.  I guess that is ok, since the module title only refers to the jungle ruins and not the entire jungle.  It just seems like a waste to include this nice jungle map and not really make use of it in the adventure, or suggest further adventures there.  Maybe the Frog Gods have plans to describe other areas of the jungle in future releases.

The Rumors section is only OK.  The Special Encounters, on the other hand, are very nice.  They are weird events that the PCs may experience as they travel to the Ruins, providing clues about the mystery of the black cloud and the best way to defeat it.  There is a wandering monster table too but, other than the Special Encounters, traveling through the jungle doesn’t seem very exciting here.

The outdoor map of the Ruins of Madaro-Shanti is nice, but only a small portion of it is described.  So, again, a nice map seems to go to waste in this module.  There is a ‘2’ on the map that I can’t find any description of in the text.  Reminds me some of the Mayan ruins I visited last week.

The rest of the module details the “dungeon” adventure locales:  Gatehouse, Well, Palace, and Dungeon.  Perhaps the major design feature of these parts is that some sections in the Palace and Dungeon are only accessible (via shifting walls) if certain things are done in the Gatehouse and Well.

The Gatehouse is hardly described at all, but there is a potentially interesting encounter with the Borsin (centaur-gorillas).  I wish the Borsin were given more attention in the module, but this encounter is about it.

The Well is the best part of the module.  It’s a sequence of vertically connected rooms, each trapped to make things difficult for the party.  Make a wrong move and they’ll be washed away by a torrent of water.  The traps and puzzles are nicely done with a satisfying level of difficulty, but plenty of clues too.  The stone face clues are especially good, but I wish they were drawn larger to make the details more visible and to be used as handouts.  I had to really zoom in on the PDF to see the critical details of the clue.  (UPDATE:  Enlarged player handout sheets of the stone faces can be downloaded here.)

There is an 3D isometric map of the well.  It’s cool at first glance, but not really useful.  The 2D maps adequately describe the layout and connections in the well.

Unfortunately, the Well could feel like a dead-end to the players.  There’s a little treasure down there, but the players likely won’t be aware that their actions in the Well are having an effect on what they may later find in the Palace and Dungeon, making it feel like a waste of time and risk.  They may even spend additional time looking for “something else must be here”, but won’t find anything.  I would have liked to see an additional passage from the Well to the Dungeon, other than the underground river.

The Palace and Dungeon are standard dungeon-module material.  It gets the job done and has some interesting encounters, traps, puzzles, and details about the ancient civilization.  It seems rather cramped though, and maybe could have benefited from spreading it out a bit and adding more empty areas.  That’s just my preference though, and I understand that the “One Night Stand” modules probably accomplish their stated goal better if they are compact like this.

The visual design of the module is nice, with good font use and interior art.  Unfortunately, the layout leaves a lot of white space throughout.  The white space altogether adds up to five pages of nothing.  Consider this:

  • Rework the layout to remove those five pages of nothing.
  • Remove the two pages of advertising at the end.
  • Ditch the cover art that has nothing to do with the adventure and use the B&W art on page 6 as the cover.  (Mythmere says that B&W art is by Paul Fini, but that name is nowhere in the credits.  Is it “public domain”?)

Do all that and it would be an efficient 24-page module, instead of 32.  I wonder if maybe all the white space is only present in the S&W version?  The Pathfinder version may fill up some of that space with larger stat blocks.

There are several typos.  Most embarrassing are the four consecutive sentences with typos in the description of room P15.  Hopefully this gets fixed soon.

Though this module has some nice features, I don’t think it lives up to its billing as a “sandbox style short adventure”.  The maps are nice, but there’s not enough descriptions of the surrounding jungle or of the ruined city to qualify it as a sandbox.  Maybe they use that phrase to mean “easily placed in your own sandbox setting”, which it is.  I’ll probably use the Well in play eventually.

I really wanted to love this module and say “Hey y’all, THIS is the lost city module to plug into my Fire in the Jungle setting!” but it isn’t.  Go with the old classic instead: I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City.  On the other hand, the Well, Palace, and Dungeons of Madaro-Shanti could be effectively and easily placed somewhere in the Forbidden City.

To clarify, I didn’t purchase the module expecting Dwellers of the Forbidden City (though such a comparison is reasonable whenever the words “sandbox ruined jungle city” are heard), or expecting it could be used as-is in my jungle setting. Any of that would have been a great bonus, but I bought it simply because I like jungle stuff. I still appreciate it for that reason, despite its shortcomings. For gamers that just want a One Night Stand with the jungle, it gets the job done.

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