Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Secrets of the Dead Lands Review, Chapter 4

 Athas.org recently released Secrets of the Dead Lands. The book is a D&D 3.5 version of an unfinished manuscript, originally for AD&D 2nd edition. The original draft was written by Timothy Brown, co-creator of the Dark Sun setting. 

I will not be comparing the Athas.org version with the original manuscript. I will give my opinions on the completed Secrets of the Dead Lands. I have decided that I will break down the review into separate parts, by reviewing it chapter by chapter. I will not criticize the artwork or maps, as this is a free book, that was put together by fans. Although the artwork has been surprisingly good.
The review of Chapter 1
The review of Chapter 2.
The review of Chapter 3.

Chapter 4 - The Dead Lords
Despite what the chapter heading may say, this chapter is about locations and not just the personalities that reside there. It starts off with a map of the region, which is very handy for dungeon masters.
The chapter begins by discussing an undead defiler named Kulrath. He is a paranoid being, who rules over the nation of Deshentu. He has a large army, but prefers to pay tribute to avoid conflict. He also uses his agents to sabotage other nations and has a trapped area around his city. There is also a typical map of these killing fields.
This is exceptionally useful, especially if a group of player characters decide to bring an army to the Dead Lands. I don't see my particular group doing that, but players are not predictable. A dungeon master could have the player characters come across an army marching through the killing fields and falling into the traps. That would be interesting.

Next, the capital city of Deshentarum is outlined. The city's walls are guarded by undead beings, who do not need rest or food, so they guard the walls all the time. Some areas of the city are described. It is mentioned that the undead still shop for things, but I would have loved a mention of what it is they shop for.
Living beings work for food, shelter, and water. In other words, living beings work to stay alive. Undead would have no reason to work for such things, so what do they work for? Perhaps they are constantly working to buy luxuries and one up the other intelligent undead.
The following short section describes Tectuktitlay's stair, another possible entrance into the dead land basin. The history is described, but I doubt any player character is ever going discover it. Staying along the pathway are undead creatures and a nasty undead troll. Her history is detailed and she might be the only being in the Dead Lands that is helpful to living player characters.
Next, the Grand Dutchy of Shadowmourn is explained. The grand dutchy is ruled by Qwith, a former servant of the War Bringer. She is paranoid and an undead supremacist. I like the idea of an undead sumpremacist, but it is not explored further in the text.
The city Qwith controls is called Kushtan. The city's defenses are described and the population is given. Some of the locations in the city are quickly described. One of them mentions strange experiments that Qwith has created, but no details are given. I would love to know more. A map of the city is provided and if you have read my other reviews, it should be obvious that I love maps!
A castle is described and has useful information on its interior, if player characters ever gain entrance. It took me a second read to realize that the castle is not within the city of Kushtan. It gives some details about the castle and informs us that a gladiatorial arena is next to it, so now we know that the undead still appreciate martial sports.
Qwith's paranoia is further explained by her use of outposts that protect her realm for the sandy wastes to the north. She is working on other defenses to protect the borders of her dutchy as well. Lastly, her armies are given numbers and structure. Good information, if the player characters plan on bringing an army to the Dead Lands.
This guy is creepy. I love it!
Harkor is outlined next in the chapter, a powerful undead with a huge army. He seems to hate the elements and is proud of his undead state. His territory is designed as a giant cemetary and the rulers of the other nations are scared of him.
Harkor, himself, is obsessed with collecting metal, which the text said was denied him by the element he once served. He was a fire cleric, which are allowed to use metal weapons, according to the 2nd Edition AD&D sourcebook Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, so this is likely just a typo. Lastly, there is information about his territory, which is really dark and creepy. A very interesting place to send player characters. Of course, the undead of Harkor hate the living, so any living being there would have to be extra careful to avoid them, or pretend to be undead themselves.
If I sent my player characters to Harkor, I would do my best to set a dark and creepy atmosphere. The right atmosphere would really add to the tension. Creepy music, subdued lighting, and a skull out of the player's reach, would be ideal. 
This chapter is one of the best, so far. While histories are given, a lot of the focus is the current state of affairs. This is useful for running a game in the area. I continue to recommend downloading the book from Athas.org. Even if a table top game is run in a different, inferior, setting, this book would still provide some interesting personalities and locations.

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