Originally written August 2002
From White Wolf’s Sword & Sorcery line of d20 products comes Beyond All Reason, an adventure by Todd Secord for 13th-level characters. The sales pitch on the back cover claims, “Beyond All Reason presents an action-packed adventure, full of mysterious situations, fearsome foes, and exotic environments.”
To be honest, they aren’t far wrong. The primary focus of the story is a massive mountain stronghold built around a dormant volcano, where an army of unusual allies threatens to sweep down into the peaceful valley below. As far as scenarios go, it isn’t anything tremendously original — indeed, while reading it, I was reminded of the classic G-Series adventures from TSR (a.k.a. “Against the Giants”). If you’re looking for a rather combat heavy action-adventure with a few dashes of mystery and role-playing, this isn’t a bad place to look. There’s enough here that a good GM can customize the scenario to better suit his particular group’s taste.
But before I get too much into the substance of this product, let’s take a look at the presentation. Beyond All Reason is a 72-page book with a glossy card stock cover in full color. The cover art depicts a group of characters fighting a pair of giants. The style of this piece isn’t particularly eye-catching, and that, coupled with a bland font for the adventure’s title, results in a cover that won’t exactly leap off the shelf at you. The inside covers are blank.
The back cover has a scene from early in the adventure done in a cleaner style, but again the artwork isn’t anything special. It looks like one of the pieces done for the adventure was used here instead of its respective place in the text. The “hook text” on the back sets up the situation in the adventure without giving away any secrets. The layout choices for the back strike me as a little bid odd, but it is clear and straightforward.
The text is dense, with what feels like a shortage of white space. I found it hard to read large stretches of the adventure in one sitting because of the text density. There are few pieces of art — only six non-map graphics break up the flow of text. The pieces depict scenes from the adventure, and could be used as a visual aid for players. Their quality is consistent, if unimpressive.
Twenty-one maps are scattered throughout the text. Most are of high quality, with good attention to detail. A couple of them, however (most notably the map of an athach lair), are of dubious use and show only the most general layout of an area, rather than providing any kind of tactical assistance.
As I said, the maps are scattered throughout the text, which means there is a lot of page-flipping to see where areas described lie in relation to each other. I would imagine this problem is even more pronounced when running the adventure, and would recommend photocopying the maps to solve this problem. It is possible, however, that the grid lines used on the maps may not copy, as they are extremely light.
Statistics for NPCs and other creatures encountered are all collected in two appendices at the end of the adventure. Given the large number of encounters, this is a good layout choice, though the text density can make it difficult to sort one block from another. One thing I noted was the second appendix, which describes “featured NPCs” says they are listed in narrative order rather than alphabetically, but the list is, in fact, alphabetical. Appendix 3 describes the new items in the adventure, and appendix 4 gives a breakdown of the different patrols that are encountered in the adventure. A pair of player handouts (copies of the area overview maps) and two GM combat/challenge record sheets are included as play aids.
Overall, the amount of material included here from a cost-value standpoint, is high. Not counting the credits page, the text of the OGL, and the two pages of ads for other Sword & Sorcery products, the cost is about 16 cents a page, nearly 90% of which is dense text. The presentation may not be anything spectacular (in fact, it can get bland and tedious to read at times), but you don’t really buy adventures for visual flash, do you?
What about the material itself? Is it worth the price of admission?
Spoilers for the adventure follow. If you’re a player, and don’t want to know details, you’re better off not reading further. You’ve been warned.
Thousands of years ago, a powerful psionic weapon was developed during a war between psions and sorcerers. Dubbed “The Drone,” it was a swarm of semi-intelligent bees whose stings injected a mind-control venom. The Drone was created by a clan of mind flayers, who hoped to eventually use the weapon against their erstwhile allies. Their plans were thwarted, however, and it was thought that the clan, and their weapon, were destroyed.
It turns out that one of the clan escaped, with a few surviving specimens of The Drone. This mind flayer, Kolume, placed himself (and the Drone) into suspended animation, waiting for the day his clan would no longer be hunted.
In the present day (as the adventure reckons it), a group of fire giant scouts uncover the chamber where Kolume has been hiding, and fall under the influence of the Drone. With this first small group under his control, the mind flayer soon takes over the entire fire giant complex.
With the fortress as his base of operations, Kolume implements the next phase of his plan. He modifies some of the Drone to produce honey, which is brewed into a mead that has the same mind controlling effects as the Drone venom. The mead is then traded by the fire giants, and the influence of the mind flayer spreads into the surrounding countryside.
Those affected by the Drone travel to the fortress, where an army slowly builds in strength. The army threatens to sweep across the border with little in their way to stop them, as many of the defenders will be converted by the Drone honey and join the invading force.
This is where the player characters come in. They learn of the troubles facing the area (by chance or design) and follow the clues to the mountain stronghold, where they face a healthy variety of enemies that includes fire, frost, and hill giants, converted human soldiers, gnolls, trolls, hell hounds, thoqqua, a red dragon, and of course, the mind flayer Kolume himself.
And that’s basically it. The primary mystery of the adventure is how this diverse group of beings is maintaining a martial alliance for any length of time. A few opportunities for role-playing occur in the adventure (most notably, negotiations with a clan of Yuan-Ti that are unaffected by the Drone poison and are just looking to survive), but the centerpiece is an assault against the massive stronghold of the fire giants.
And I’m not kidding about the massive comment either. My rough calculations (based on the maps) indicate the stronghold covers about six hundred thousand square feet of space, spread out over five levels and several peripheral caves. Stealth is a somewhat limited option, as this is a fortress preparing for war. Eventually, the characters will need to fight, and there is plenty of it.
Indeed, that may be the adventure’s biggest flaw. There is a lot of combat, and so many high-level encounters that some groups may have a hard time surviving — especially those groups without some degree of serious combat capability.
There are few places in the fortress where a group can rest, heal, and relearn spells without being interrupted, so hit and run tactics seem to be the best option. Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of discussion about how the fortress reacts to such tactics — beyond the typical restock of guards and such.
Don’t get the impression that this is simply a hack fest — if a group doesn’t perform some reconnaissance, learn the lay of the land, and plan appropriately, they are likely to fail. I’m not really familiar with how D&D3 plays at this level , but it seems to me that this adventure will be a challenge for the suggested four PCs of 13th-14th level.
Another point I would like to raise is that while the back story features psions and source of the trouble in is psionic in nature, you don’t need any kind of psionic rules to use it. Psionics is used as a form of “mental magic”, and all the powers and effects are treated as such.
There is a lot of material here, and enough left open that a sufficiently motivated GM could customize things to suit his particular group without too much trouble. Knowing the typical strategies of your players will help a great deal in both the planning and execution of this adventure. This is not an adventure for pick-up games.
Beyond All Reason, while not tremendously original or visually impressive, is a solid adventure that should challenge groups that meet its suggested power levels. It is heavy on combat and action, with a wide variety of opponents and situations that should interest all but the most jaded hacker. The early stages of the adventure offer enough role-play, negotiation and investigation that non-combat characters will have things to do as well. Planning and preparation — for both the players and GM — are the keys to a successful adventure.
For Style, I give this adventure a 2 out of 5, because the text density and lack of visual punch make for a somewhat tedious read. For Substance, it gets a 4 out of 5, because while it isn’t tremendously original, there is a lot of solid content that will take several sessions to complete. It isn’t the best third-party d20 adventure I’ve encountered, but it is far from the worst.