Jungle Alert! Review of Cipactli’s Maw
March 15, 2011
Written by Andrew Hind and Suzi Yee, published by Expeditious Retreat Press, and intended for use with the Pathfinder RPG. I’ve never played Pathfinder, but because of the jungle factor and because I wanted to take a closer look at a product from this publisher, I paid the $6 for the PDF. This is part of the publisher’s “1 on 1” adventure line, intended to be played by a GM and one PC, in this case a Wizard of Level 4-6.
20 B&W pages, plus color covers. The first page is the credits and table of contents, and the last page is the OGL, so 18 pages of game content in a functional, two-column layout. The good news is that there is almost no wasted space in the layout, only small slivers of white space at the bottom of a few pages. The bad news is that the stat blocks for monsters, NPCs, and traps are large and plentiful. Of course, this is only bad in the sense that it reduces the amount of “actual adventure” in the module, but Pathfinder GMs will surely appreciate having the stats handy during play. I didn’t find any typos, except maybe one questionable word choice. The interior art is sparse: three drawings, two of which are simply B&W versions of the front and back cover art.
Quick overview of the 18 pages of game content:
- One page of background, synopsis, and the hook.
- Sixteen pages describing the four locales of the adventure:
- Blood Brine Ruins
- The Jungle
- Caves of Darkness
- Cipactli’s Maw
- One page with stat blocks for pre-generated PC and two native guides
The background story is short, interesting, and unobtrusive, which allows this location-based adventure to be easily placed in almost any campaign. Though the hook is framed as a quest, the adventure is essentially a treasure hunt. The main twist of the hook is that the great treasures in the Cipactli’s Maw are heavily guarded by secret doors and traps so the PC is advised to use divination on a large ruby (originally stolen from the Maw but now entombed in the Blood Brine Ruins) to learn how a thief bypassed the Maw’s defenses long ago.
Cipactli’s Maw is sacred to the jungle natives. The module intends for the PC to earn the respect of the natives (and the right to enter the Maw) by entering the Caves of Darkness. Some players might be tempted to blast their way past the natives and into the Maw, thereby never learning of the Caves of Darkness. If the GM doesn’t want to deal with that possibility, here’s an idea: Instead of the Caves of Darkness being a “proving ground” for the PC, make them the only passage into a “lost valley” containing Cipactli’s Maw.
The three adventure locations are the meat of the adventure. The Blood Brine Ruins, Caves of Darkness, and Cipactli’s Maw are all satisfyingly spooky, weird, and deadly places dripping with flavor. Short and sweet and worth the price of admission. Upon reading the entire module, I discovered that these adventure locations would serve adequately as independent mini-adventures if the GM just wants to cannibalize the module for useful parts. Or the GM may want an abbreviated session and decide to start the adventure in the Cave of Darkness or the Maw itself and proceed forward. It’s flexible.
What about “The Jungle”? It is described very briefly and traveling through it doesn’t seem very exciting, despite a few short encounters. Like in many published adventures, the jungle is mostly just a scenic route from here to there. Disappointing for me.
Other minor nitpicks:
The floor of the final treasure vault is a puzzle trap, but there is no description of how to overcome the trap, except “Characters who previously divined the Ruby Ring know how to bypass this trap, otherwise doing so requires 6 consecutive DC 20 Perception checks.” Some players like this type of roleplaying, but I prefer a more hands-on approach to solving puzzle traps.
The two NPC native guides are a good idea and are given some depth, but “They will under no circumstance enter a ruin, cave, or other place of looming danger”. Combine this with the fact that the jungle travel section is nondescript and is only a small fraction of the adventure, the usefulness of the guides is questionable. Perhaps their inclusion was intended to add a little more roleplaying and character dialog to the adventure, between the three main locations.
The strength of this product is its flavor and the modularity of its three main adventure locations. The fact that it is designed for play with a single Wizard is a benefit also, but I’m not familiar enough with the Pathfinder rules to determine if the adventure is specially tuned for playing it that way. If I were to play it with vintage D&D or a retro-clone, I’d probably just use it as a regular group adventure.
The weakness of this module is the maps. They are functional, but very plain and linear. The map of Cipactli’s Maw is especially dull. It reminded me of a Dig Dug screenshot: