Thanks to Kickstarter and late-night impulse shopping online, getting the mail is much more exciting than a trip from the mailbox to the recycling bin. But it was extra nice a few weeks ago to find an unexpected package. Even moreso one from Kobold Press! An unabashed Kobold Press fan, I tore open the envelope to discover an adventure module. The Tomb of Mercy, a very slick booklet on several levels, is a 5th Edition adventure for five 8th-level characters. There’s always a lot to like in a Kobold Press product, and The Tomb of Mercy, designed by Sersa Victory, is no exception. Soup to nuts, I’m digging it.
WARNING: Mild spoilers for Tomb of Mercy ahead
Tomb of Mercy is an adventure module done right
Flipping through the Tomb of Mercy, the first thing standing out to me is the layout design. In particular, page borders are designed with a really cool framing graphic with a cutout showing the cover art inside. With all the work we’ve been doing here at Nerdarchy creating our own products and working on our Kickstarter, this detail in Tomb of Mercy caught my eye. The effect works especially well using the cover image, with pages on the left and right each showing the dual nature of the entity. I’m going to guess that’s the horned daughter of famine, a truly remarkable new creature included in Tomb of Mercy. One of the available actions for CR 13 monster is Hail of Mutated Livestock Corpses. Yeah.
Like any other Kobold Press adventure I can think of, there’s a terrific, colorful map included complete with tons of artistic detail like statues, plant life, giant four-armed skeletons…
The quality in Kobold Press adventure maps also relates to their size — typically small affairs compared to something like Curse of Strahd’s Castle Ravenloft or even Wave Echo Cave in Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s been many years since the days of long game sessions and sprawling campaigns with a consistent group. Adventuring through a big dungeon itself would take several game sessions and doing so as just one part of a much larger campaign hasn’t been in my cards for some time. But adventure modules like the Tomb of Mercy or the encounters in Book of Lairs are just the right size for self-contained questing that fits my playstyle. With 12 points of interest on the map there’s plenty of challenges and variety for any group of characters.
The possessed eclipse knight blade of drought is one of several new and nasty creatures included in Tomb of Mercy. [Art by Michele Giorgi]
Following up the bulk of the booklet’s dungeon details, in the usual Kobold Press manner there’s several new monsters and magic items. Tomb of Mercy does one better too, with a selection of pregenerated characters specially designed to work with this adventure. There is a disclaimer that these characters aren’t exactly suitable for standard gameplay without adjustments, but more on that in a bit.
The last thing I’ll say about the layout and design is each dungeon room description comes with subheads on any peculiarities in the area. Any unusual hazards or terrain, monsters and how they react to characters and the environment, and even special details about features in a room. These are really helpful for drawing GM attention to important details for each section. Nice touch.
My favorite thing about Tomb of Mercy is the adventure module impression it gives. The structure reminds me of old school D&D adventure modules the way it gets right into the dungeon. While I certainly appreciate the evolution and growth of the hobby and how a strong focus on narrative emerged in our games, there’s something refreshing about this particular adventure module. Tomb of Mercy presents some adventure background, explains the environment of the dungeon and then leads right into the dungeon description.
There’s no encounters in the nearby town to get characters on the path to adventure. There’s no scenarios to interact with the NPC who needs help against the evil threat. There’s no tips or suggestions for engaging individual characters with the plot. What there is, is an adventure, and you’re on it.
On top of the clean, concise layout and quickstart premise, Tomb of Mercy introduces a few special elements. Chief among them is a time limit. Like the classic Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, characters entering the dungeon are on the clock — with their lives on the line! The Tomb of Mercy includes a deadly environmental effect, and the adventuring party needs to complete the task quickly or they’re kaput.
This ties in to a larger structure for the adventure, making the entire thing a sort of game-within-a-game. There is a great adventure here, and it could work perfectly fine without the additional elements like the time limit. But to really get the most out of Tomb of Mercy there’s a few unique twists like the time limit.
The adventure module includes a card set to inject a bit of variety into the progression. Without giving too much away, the adventure premise tasks characters with making sure an ancient, powerful colossus completes a pilgrimage to a mysterious destination. The cards are used throughout the adventure for both the GM and players to receive Sacred Auguries. This mini-game culminates in a deduction showdown between players and GM, resulting in victory conditions beyond simply beating the big bad monster at the end.
There’s also a special condition in the Tomb of Mercy where if a character dies inside, they respawn and continue to the adventure. However, every time a character dies, the GM draws from the Sacred Augury deck, giving them leverage in the end game. That being said, there is a limit to how many character deaths can occur before the adventure ends in the party’s defeat.
I am no connoisseur of published adventures. I’ve run some, probably moreso in my youth. Some of my favorites from back then are Palace of the Silver Princess and Quest for the Heartstone. And I’ve read or at least looked through many, many more over the years (and borrowed from all of them for my own games).
Tomb of Mercy caught me at a strange phase in my RPG life. Particularly the way this adventure module is presented as a game all on its own really appeals to me. With the included pregen characters, unique parameters and environmental effects, it makes a perfect one shot quest for a group of players.
What I like most about it is the classic adventure module feel. The premise is provided, and from there it’s a straight up dungeon crawl but with cool, unique twists and special elements. Don’t get me wrong, I love roleplaying and the building of a narrative between the GM and players, and groups can absolutely bookend Tomb of Mercy with their own threads to weave into an ongoing campaign.
But there’s something really appealing about sitting down for a game session, listening to the GM introduce an adventure and getting right down to business. Players are players, and memorable moments, roleplaying opportunities and character development will certainly emerge during play. I don’t always need for my characters to find personal investment in an adventure, or even necessarily grow as a person throughout each quest. Sometimes you just want to explore a dungeon, fight monsters, survive deadly traps, find treasure, and if you finish in time to save all of humanity from the fiendish servants of the Hells seeking to corrupt the word for their own nefarious purposes, all the better.
There’s a lot of like in Tomb of Mercy, and even if you don’t run the adventure as-is, the Sacred Augury mechanic, new monsters and magic items are well worth adding to your RPG bookshelf. You can pick up a copy and help support Nerdarchy at DriveThruRPG here, and remember our exclusive coupon code DTRPG-Nerdarchy to get a one-time 10 percent discount on digital orders $10 or more. While you’re there check out what else Kobold Press has to offer like the Deep Magic series, Book of Lairs, the new Midgard Worldbook and more great stuff from this publisher.
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, world building, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy or his own blog The Long Shot, he’s a newspaper designer, copy editor and journalist. He loves advocating the RPG hobby and connecting with other nerds and gamers on social media and his site thelongshotist.com.