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     " It reads like the first adventure in a Super Nintendo cartridge RPG. "

      Title: What Evil Lurks by Sword & Sorcery Studios (Necromancer Games)

      Format: D20 Adventure

      Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong

      The Hype: Something is terrorizing the small town of Leafton, giving them terrible nightmares, and causing strange disappearances. Luckily, your group of 8th to 10th level heroes happens along to solve the mystery and even get to visit a circus along the way. So the question, my monkeys, is not whether or not the Bearded Lady is EEGAH! in disguise, but is it any good?

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Story and Drama: The Vel family had long been troubled by a magical curse on the firstborn in their line, but a paladin of the family performed a great service to the gods, and so the curse was lifted (we aren't told why it was placed originally - this is just the first in a number of story factlets which escapes mention). This is unimportant to the story except to say the curse was there, then it was gone. Now, Gilean Vel, the current scion of the bloodline, has brought the curse back. It seems Gilean escaped the noble life to join the circus. Despite being a natural acrobat, Gilean was forced to perform as a knife-thrower because the other acrobats were magically enhanced (he was apparently a better acrobat, but for some reason, no one used magic to enhance his performances). He became extremely bitter, as circus performers are likely to do when no one gives them magic, and so he naturally turned to the dark Shadow school of magic and became an eeeeeevil wizard. He started doing evil things for money, and became rich and powerful, and then he fell in love. Unfortunately, his turn toward the Dark Side brought back his family curse, and so his wife died in childbirth and his daughter was born a halfwit. So naturally, Gilean has made a pact with an evil god to remove his family curse so his daughter will be cured, the results of which will plunge the nearby lands in shadow. Thus he has begun kidnapping locals and turning their souls into energy to fuel a magical device in order to make this happen. Enter the characters, who are supposed to stop him and his evil circus from doing this.
          The story is weak, if not entirely laughable, and the characters are very two-dimensional. Multiple NPCs are tossed at the group, but very few elicit any sort of interest, and the story is so linear it can hardly be said to have any drama. It reads like the first adventure in a Super Nintendo cartridge RPG. 2 out of 5.

      Layout and Presentation: The book is set up in a fairly straightforward fashion - synopsis in the front, adventure details as they come up, room descriptions, some artwork. New monster types are held to the back, as are the area maps, and the Magic Feat advertised on the back cover is somewhere near the end. Overall, nothing too special there. Interior artwork by Brian LeBlanc is fairly good, though only a few pictures are particularly memorable (the heartlock is one of those), though the cover by Kieran Yanner is excellent, evoking a creepy medieval horror feel that helps set the tone for the game and is definitely worth seeing. It can be confusing trying to find a specific encounter if you can't recall the exact order in which they are to happen, but the book is otherwise fairly easy to navigate and look at. 3.5 out of 5.

      Playability: "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel" is the tag line for Necromancer Games, but I'm not convinced this is something they should be proud of. What Evil Lurks plays like a first or second-edition game, that's for certain…where it isn't so much important that things make any sort of logical sense as it is that the challenge ratings on the monsters and traps be correct and the magic items be worth having. The adventure isn't bad, it's simply lacking in depth, and there are a few ridiculous, poorly thought-out sections that I think the writers should have spotted a mile away. The traps within the Factory portion of the adventure are fantastically difficult considering they guard four items which must be gathered together to enter the inner factory - in other words, anyone who wants to go in to do any work has to disarm four deadly and complicated traps to go and get the keys, and then has to go and put those keys back. So it follows that my belief in this refused to be suspended by anything less than a hard-wound cable made of solid platinum. I likewise find it very difficult to believe that a magic item which can be the +4 weapon of the user's choice and will never break would ever be sacrificed, as is required by the adventure, in order to cure a very pretty young woman of the ailment which makes her dim-witted; I think even a paladin would just let her be under those circumstances. 2 out of 5.

      Desired Content: Well…there's an adventure under that cover, make no mistake. Magic items are in it, enemies are in it, traps are in it…there's even a fairly decent feat hidden way in the back. Despite all this, however, I was hoping for something a little more robust as far as believability and story went, and I was sorely disappointed. I like an evil circus just as much as the next monkey, but What Evil Lurks just sort of left me wondering why this adventure needed to see print at all. Most DMs can come up with something more clever on their own, given a magic item list and two days to prepare. 2 out of 5.

      The Verdict:

       While not necessarily a bad adventure, What Evil Lurks is most certainly a simple adventure- in the sense that the story is plain and uncomplicated, the choices characters have to make are obvious, and from beginning to end it seems a fairly linear good versus evil tale. While Necromancer Games may pride themselves on having that "first edition feel," sometimes you just have to know when to hang up your THAC0 and start considering the plausibility factor of your adventures. Games this obvious, which don't even try for depth, tend to insult the DM as much as the players.

      The Good: Good artwork, fun magic items, and a useful Metamagic Feat.

      The Bad: Extremely linear gameplay, two-dimensional plot, utterly forgettable premise, and too much suspension of disbelief.

      The Overall Ugly: With some heavy modifications to the plot, the base idea could actually make for a good story.

      What it's Worth: A flip-through, and a purchase if they knock of 25%

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