Review of The Black Lotus of Thalarion

I keep writing about Menagerie Press‘s stuff. It’s not because I know them, or get paid for it, or anything of the sort. I just genuinely like their approach. This is the third adventure of theirs I’ve kickstarted and finally got a chance to open it up and dig in. I backed the kickstarter, and got a physical copy, so that’s what I’ll review. You can get physical, digital, or both at drivethrough. You can also check out the authors on Facebook and Twitter.

In the Black Lotus, adventurers are sent into the Dreamlands by a blind oracle to pluck a fabled black lotus from Thalarion, the City of a Thousand Wonders. An ethereal city on the edge of the realm of sleep. Yet again, Menagerie manages to send me a wonderful pitch, without demanding I be level 16 to play it.

Part 1 of the adventure does something I’ve liked in a few Menagerie products now. It quickly launches the PCs into the adventure proper. The PCs hear about a quest giver for any of a variety of reasons (the book gives a few, or your own), meet him. Have an atmospheric encounter, and are whisked away to a fantastic land so you can go get the magic thing for the guy paying you. Part 2 is where things really begin.

Part 2, Thalarion, has the players explore the city of dreams. It has a collection of neat encounters, puzzles, and scenes. They are all pretty inventive, and well planned. I especially got a kick out of the Dretch Vat in the Square of Circles, which continually spawns dretch into a vat. Who them trample one another to paste, fueling a sort of perpetual dretch creation engine. I will gripe a little about this chapter. It can be hard to string a series of cool encounters together into an adventure. In Black Lotus, the players have a Mnemonic Key, which is keyed to the various puzzle rooms and only allows passage to the next once you have solved the puzzle. I’ll be honest though, it’s a little railroadie, and doesn’t give a ton of player choice here. A published adventure is always going to need a little leeway on that, but a magic key that lets you go to the next room once you’ve finished the previous is a bit much.

Part 3, Hall of the Lotus, is the finale. I love the layout of this area, and the mapping immediately makes me want to explore it. It’s very atmospheric, with a cool geometric layout, and neat little rooms to set the mood. I won’t totally spoil the climax, but there’s a cool encounter, and a lot of exploration to do here. It does a lot of the lorebuilding and set up for what the dreamlands might be, so it can certainly be a good place to answer questions your players may have from part 1 and 2.

Before we end, I should talk about the candy that goes alongside the actual content. The art in The Black Lotus feels like a step up from previous Menagerie books. Not to say they were bad, and they have always been plentiful, but this one is full of large full color illustrations. I’d also rate them as better, for whatever my artistic tastes is worth. The maps are once again by Dyson who is always phenomenal, and if you’re reading a review of an indie book on a website as obscure as this, you’ve probably heard of.

All said, I’m betting the adventure is maybe 8 to 12 hours to run, and probably levels your PCs up once by doing it. They will certainly remember it, and it could easily add a mythos or dreamlands element to your whole campaign. Old Rakka can certainly give future quests, or at minimum be a useful ally, and the sinister Undoer can easily make a comeback. It could certainly be a great interlude after your first level 1-5 adventure, before you dive into some heavy plot level 5-10 adventure. You could also slip it in as the tease for an entire campaign, if you want.

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