Many people who buy modules don't play them anymore. They buy them, flip through them, but don't always read them; if they do, they're more likely to read partway and then lose interest. Less than half of consumers ever play with modules any more. The rest just sit on shelves, collecting dust, adding bulk to gaming collections.
Look around your gaming room. You know what I'm talking about. How many gaming supplies do you own that you've never seriously gamed with?
Those of us who do sometimes actually play with the modules we buy do so because once upon a time we had a great play experience with a module. For module consumers, the challenge is to set aside all the so-so experiences and recall what was so special about the very best of them, why they stick with us even years later.
Modules like James Raggi's Hammers of the God can help us remember why we fell in love with modules, why we wanted to interrupt our reading partway through not to put them on a shelf but to call our friends and schedule a time for them to play in it.
First, movement through the dungeon is original and interesting. This is not a high-circulation design with multiple alternative paths, like B1, In Search of the Unknown. Rather, it demonstrates that even a simple branching pattern can create great gameplay through a combination of fascinating settings and a series of original and tactically interesting choke-points. Structurally, it reminds me more of S2, White Plume Mountain, though with all the details different.
Second, also like White Plume Mountain, Hammers of the God has some interesting tricks, traps, and environmental challenges. As I read each of them I thought about how a party would puzzle through solutions that don't get them killed, and it seemed to me these challenges were just as interesting and difficult as those in the classic modules I love.
Third, the setup itself is a classic, or rather the classic - a treasure map covered in dwarven runes - and so is the setting . . . but I can't tell you why. In Raggi's words, all the players get to know is "Treasure map!" and "Dwarf related!"
The details are supposed to be a surprise, and they are, so I'm not going to spoil it. I can say this about it: we've all seen this kind of Dwarven setting before, but it was never done quite like this.
Dwarves are an odd choice, since Raggi prides himself on making interesting settings, and dwarves have long become painfully predictable. Everyone knows what dwarves are like, which makes them a tough subject to break out of the box with. I know four interesting takes on dwarves - the Norse Sagas, Tolkien, James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount dwarves, and this module. Like Moria, the setting of Hammers of the God is chock full of unexpected history, but without giving too much away I can say it also contains an important and fascinating form of art, and literature, and religion, and people. Only partway through the read I found myself genuinely interested in dwarves again, which was no mean feat. To take an ordinary ingredient and make it sing again is one of the defining characteristics of the best chefs.
Clearly I'm going to have to find the time to run some players through this James Raggi cuisine. When I do, I'll write a second review. Like all his modules, this one's not just for reading. It can only be fully savored at the table.
Memorable, lethal, and crying out for a party of characters to explore it: that's a classic module.
At work I am the executive director of the VISTA Expertise Network, a Paideia instructor, and a VISTA hardhat.
At home I am a student of philosophy and morality, a role-playing gamer, an avid hiker, a Rock Band enthusiast, a husband, and an uncle.