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     " A truly generic premise and a yawn-inducing collection of cloned adventures. "

      Title: The Banewarrens by Sword & Sorcery Games (Malhavoc Press)

      Format: D20 Adventure Supplement

      Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong

      The Hype: A "mega-adventure" supplement designed to take characters from 6th to 10th level. The game itself is a massive dungeon crawl through a labyrinth of evils sealed away long ago by a powerful force of good and now opened mysteriously in the present so that the adventurers can go kick enough ass to go up a few levels. Is it really that hackneyed? Well, let's see, shall we?

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Story and Drama: An opening tale is given to set the theme of the Banewarrens, consisting of the task of a valiant and powerful cleric who gathered in objects and beings of great evil to be sealed within an underground network of caves, never again to trouble humanity. Apparently actually destroying these evils was out of the question, as the saint believed they would just re-form as different evil objects (we are not given a reason for this, he just felt it was true). At some point, he was duped into falling to the Dark Side (or some equivalent), and he changed his name to something more evil sounding while his old adventuring buddies gathered together to kill him. He died, and whatever good was left in him sealed the Banewarrens forever, except now they're opening again and only the heroes can close them. Beyond this convoluted and derivative opening fiction rife with some of the worst character names in pulp fantasy history, there is little back story or intrigue to the adventures within the pages; there are details about the setting and some small information about NPCs and organizations, but for the most part the story falls flat and serves only as a basic device to keep the group dungeon crawling in the caves of eeeeeevil. There is very little original or compelling about the plot, which weighs in for cleverness somewhere between an 80's fantasy B-movie and any role-playing cartridge for the original NES. 1.5 out of 5.

      Layout and Presentation: The Banewarrens is unusual in that the artwork does not generally appear within the text - it was decided that the book should remain fairly clear of artwork so that the text was uninterrupted and the artwork could be easily presented to the players themselves without ruining any adventure secrets. What this accomplishes is that the adventures read like a textbook, and are very text-heavy. Since the plot is all but nonexistent, it ends up being the full on room-by-room description of a prolonged dungeon crawl, which this monkey did not find pleasant whatsoever. The artwork presented at the back of the book, however, is stellar - the artists are all very talented, and the images are compelling and interesting (with the exception of the very uninspired cover). The maps included are detailed and interesting. This does not, however, make up for the fact that reading the book uninterrupted for more than a few pages will give you a headache. 2 out of 5.

      Playability: Does your group like adventures that are one dungeon crawl after another, occasionally interrupted by forays into town and buildings that may just as well be another dungeon? Then this book may very well be for you, unless your players enjoy finding magic items they can keep within their dungeons. You see, the Banewarrens were made to store powerful evil relics. What this means is that if your group is primarily Good, you would not keep them, and would likely destroy them. If your group is primarily evil, they have access to game-unbalancing magical items of all sorts. Magic items are found, but mostly in random places, and generally only if you can kill whoever owns them. The adventures can prove problematic if your group is primarily of evil alignments, as it requires them to give a damn about what this city needs them for, does not contain a rogue (a definite necessity for the setting), or hates dungeon crawls. The book is very detailed and specific, which proves helpful in actually running the adventures but causes problems if you intend to port the theme over to any other setting or your own personal setting; despite the game repeatedly telling you that you can replace groups or characters with those of your own make, the adventure becomes difficult to run unless you do it exactly like the book instructs. 2.5 out of 5.

      Desired Content: I really hope you bought this book because you wanted dungeon crawling adventures, as that's really all that it contains. Aside from the collection of absolutely horrible fantasy names (likely created by random haymakers to a keyboard out of the writer's frustration at not having any names for his NPCs) and repeated pimping of the Book of Eldritch Might (one of Monte Cook's other byblows) to the point where parts of adventures are unusable without that particular text, the book is almost entirely comprised of dungeons and odd monsters, with the occasional jaunt into Ptolus (which, despite sounding like some kind of cyst, is the name of the city the adventures take place beneath). The book delivers that and only that, not even bothering to give a compelling reason to stay in Ptolus long enough to complete all of the adventures in the book. 2 out of 5.

      The Verdict:

       The Banewarrens takes us on a trip back into old school Dungeons & Dragons, when dungeon crawling was all there was to do, and dragons were all there was to fight. I was so thoroughly reminded of that period in RPG history that I found myself wondering where the THAC0 ratings were on the monsters provided. It touts itself as a "mega-adventure," and I suppose that translates into "run the same adventure twenty times in a row."

      The Good: Attention to detail and some fantastic fantasy artwork.

      The Bad: A truly generic premise and a yawn-inducing collection of cloned adventures.

      The Overall Ugly: This is nothing you couldn't have come up with on your own with a little effort.

      What it's Worth: Pick it up off the clearance rack if you're totally stuck for dungeon crawl adventures, but by all that's holy, don't run them back to back.

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