Originally written September 2002
Demon God’s Fane is a d20 adventure from Monte Cook’s Malhavoc Press, distributed by Sword & Sorcery. It is designed as a companion adventure to Monte’s Book of Eldritch Might, and is suited for characters of 14th or 15th level.
The 48-page adventure is packaged in a glossy, full color card stock cover. The cover art is dark and moody, showing a group of adventurers exploring a room with a demonic statue, and demonic forms lurking in the shadows — a scene from the tail end of the adventure. The back cover blurb describes the premise of the adventure without giving away any of its secrets. In general, this is a nicely packaged adventure that is likely to stand out on the shelf.
The interior is black-and-white with a nice balance between text and white space. Game statistics are distinguished by a sans-serif font in a slightly smaller typeface, and stand out from the main body text. The interior art is all by the same artist, and is usually connected with nearby text in some way — usually an NPC portrait. The inside covers have maps of the primary location, and these maps are clean and easy to understand. One additional map is found in the adventure text (on page 35) is of slightly poorer quality — it looks like a low-resolution computer printout that was pasted into that part of the text.
All in all, this is an eye-pleasing book. But what about the content?
Warning: Spoilers for the adventure follow. If you don’t want the learn details about what’s going on, skip to the conclusion!
Centuries ago, a cult that worshipped the demon Ochremeshk had a temple in the stylized shape of their lord (the “fane” of the title). They terrorized the countryside until a cleric named Enchelious led a force of soldiers and magi against the temple. In a mighty battle, evil was driven back, and Enchelious called upon his deity to destroy the fane. A tremendous storm came that flooded the valley, submerging the temple and all within.
Centuries passed, and while Enchelious passed into legend, the temple was forgotten. Many of the demonic forces within faded until they were little more than shadows. This shadow-essence became an intelligent, demonic disease (Umbral Taint) which could infect and possess any it came in contact with. When an extended drought lowered the water level of the lake to expose the top of the forgotten temple, the Taint escaped and began seeking victims. It found them in the village of Golden Lake.
The plot of Demon God’s Fane focuses on the efforts of player characters to rid the secluded village of the Umbral Taint. They find the temple and explore it, eventually traveling back in time to the final battle between Enchelious and the demon priest of Ochremeshk. The setting and characters are suitably generic and can be readily placed into nearly any campaign setting. It is recommended for mature players because of its occasionally graphic depictions of evil.
The adventure starts with the PCs arriving in Golden Lake, and learning of a series of bizarre and unusual murders (caused by one of the villagers under the effects of the Taint). This is not intended to be a difficult mystery for the characters, it merely presents the problem they must eventually solve. There are several spells high-level characters have access to that could find the murder in short order.
Information found in the village leads PCs to a nearby stronghold of Graven Ones (an arcane prestige class from the Book of Eldritch Might), where they fight another victim of the Taint. After saving the Graven Ones, the PCs learn the source of the Taint may be the nearby forgotten temple, and that destroying the fane’s heart may be the best way to purge the evil affecting the area. The PCs are also given some pieces of lore that will help them penetrate the temple’s defenses.
A quick search will find the temple, and the PCs will begin exploring its foul interior. This is the primary focus of the adventure, and is chock full demonic traps, puzzles, and enemies suitable for the high power level of player characters. While reading through it, I was reminded of classic high-level dungeon crawls from first-edition AD&D days — most notably White Plume Mountain and Tomb of Horrors.
There is a little bit more going on here than a simple dungeon crawl. The current lord of the fane — the half-demon Lytaros Fel — is preparing a ritual that will allow him to travel back to the battle where the temple was submerged and kill Enchelious before he performs his miracle. The PCs learn that the final miracle wasn’t actually needed — the demonic forces of the fane were about to retreat to the Abyss when they were sealed inside. If the valley isn’t flooded, then the Umbral Taint will never come into being, and the troubles facing Golden Lake won’t come to pass.
Analysis & Conclusion
While Demon God’s Fane has its share of clichés (a secluded village near a forgotten temple of evil and a nearby cabal of magi who just happen to know much about said temple, just as a couple of examples) the back story that is uncovered during the course of the adventure, and the challenge players face during its resolution make this a solid high-level adventure.
I unfortunately wasn’t able to playtest this adventure, so I can’t speak to how smoothly it plays, but there are a couple of issues I would like to point out.
First (and perhaps most importantly), the plot more or less requires the PCs to take part in a profane ritual in order to thwart the plans of Lytaros Fel. There are tough consequences to this, especially if any of the characters are paladins or clerics of good deities. Not all PCs need take part, but this is a potential pitfall GMs should be aware of.
Second, this isn’t really a pick-up-game kind of adventure. The high power level of PCs and their opponents, as well as the difficulty of the challenges PCs will face, requires a GM and players that are familiar with every aspect of their characters’ abilities — this is not likely if you just whip up a group of 15th-level characters. A solid familiarity with d20 rules (particularly with regards to combat) is assumed, and strongly recommended.
The other issue is the use of material from the Book of Eldritch Might. While many of the spellcasters in the adventure make use of feats and spells from that sourcebook, it isn’t required to run Demon God’s Fane. In fact, there are suggestions on how to change the Eldritch Might material to standard D&D3. I personally recommend using the additional material, as it does enhance certain aspects of the adventure.
Overall, I was impressed with Demon God’s Fane. It displayed a solid understanding of the third edition rules (not too surprising from one of d20’s authors), and an appreciation for the abilities of characters at high levels. The theme and tone of the adventure were consistent throughout, and seemed to strike a good balance between combat, puzzle-solving, and NPC interaction (though that last comes in short supply while exploring the fane). If you’re looking for a challenging adventure for high-level PCs, this is a good place to look.
For Style, I give this adventure a 5 out of 5. The eye-pleasing design and clean layout are among the best I’ve seen for third-party d20 material, and my only complaint from a visual, layout, or graphic design perspective is my previous comment about the map on page 35.
For Substance, it gets a 4 out of 5. The adventure isn’t tremendously original, but does contain a few interesting twists and ideas. It should provide several hours of adventuring, and challenge experienced players (and their characters). All in all, a solid effort for Mr. Cook. I recommend it.