Nights of the Crusades is a bit of a deceptive game. The core rule book is relatively short, but covers a great deal of ground and is impressively simulationist in its rules. People fooled by the size of the game into thinking it is a “storyteller” game might be disappointed by just how many rules there are, though the capacity to tell good stories with the game (not to mention the mechanic to tell good stories within the game) is undeniable. The Nights of the Crusades adventure, The Tower by the Sea is equally hard to pin down. At first, it seems to be a fairly straightforward adventure, but it does not take long before it proves to be something surprisingly more given what a small space the adventure takes up.
As mentioned, the storytelling aspect of Nights of the Crusades is as much in character as it is a part of the game as a whole. There are extensive rules for in character storytelling and rewards for it in the game. To help GM’s come up with stories for their NPC’s and to help with the feel of the area where the adventure takes place, a synopsis of the voyages of Sinbad are included. Of course, everyone knows Sinbad was buckling swashes centuries before Johnny Depp was flouncing around the Carribean, but few people probably know the actual stories that make up his seven voyages. They are surprisingly dark and twisted, particularly the 4th and actually fit well with the grim, frightening atmosphere of Nights of the Crusades.
Beyond the storytelling mechanics of the game, Nights of the Crusades does not focus only on combat and has a rather extensive set of disposition rules that not only determine how NPC’s react to characters, but also heavily influence how the characters can interact with NPC’s. The Tower by the Sea takes full advantage of these rules and even adds to them, making the community that the characters visit feel truly alive and dynamic.
Game Masters can drop the adventure into any campaign with little effort. The party simply has to have just finished a long, harrowing journey. Of course, this is exactly what happens in the sample adventure given in the core rulebook, so it is all too easy to simply run this adventure as a continuation of the campaign started by that adventure.
To make the adventure even easier for GM’s to run, the PDF features active links throughout. A simple touch or click takes the GM to whatever character, location, piece of equipment or monster that is being mentioned.
The adventure itself is more than a little dark. It feels a bit like the Island of Dr. Moreau meets Alien with a little bit of an acid trip thrown in for good measure. Add some tangled political machinations going on in the village where the adventure takes place and characters are going to have their hands full working through it all.
The characters can end up under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug for a great deal of the adventure and the game master is provided several descriptions of these hallucinations to present. Another large portion of the adventure is something of a dungeon crawl. Of course, mapping in Nights of the Crusades is not as important as it is in other games and no map is provided for this “dungeon.” Instead, there is a very extensive random encounter table. Depending on a number of factors, including how many hours the characters have already been in the caverns, a variable number of 10 sided dice are rolled and the table consulted. There are fully 50 encounters on this table, though many of them are not combat oriented. When the characters score at least a 50 on the roll, they arrive at their destination. While the encounters that are presented are certainly entertaining, and it could, theoretically take the characters all 50 tries (or more) before they arrived at the end, it gets a little tedious. I would have preferred 5 or 10 set encounters for the group to go through, instead.
But what might be most frustrating about this encounter table, and the adventure in general, is that once the characters actually get to this final location on the charts, they might not get to the real final encounter. In fact, if the characters miss a clue early in the adventure, they won’t find the real end of the adventure or the biggest threat at all.
But the adventure in this supplement is at best half of it, both in terms of page count and usefulness. The Tower by the Sea takes place in a well described village and there is an extensive cast of NPC’s with often conflicting goals and views. The outcome of the adventure is going to have a heavy impact on this village and no matter what actions the characters take, they’re going to have some influence on the NPC’s and will likely determine the future of it. It would be quite easy for the characters to make this village their base of operations and a DM could just as easily throw out plenty of hooks to keep them there if he wanted it to be their base.
There are a number of appendices in the back of the book that provide new recipes for medicines and drugs, new pieces of equipment and new creatures for the party to face. Given how sparse this information is in the core rule book, The Tower by the Sea almost doubles these mechanical aspects of the game for a GM even if he never runs the adventure or mentions the village in his campaign. These appendices help further define the world presented in Nights of the Crusades and more fully expose how dark and frightening it can be.
The Tower by the Sea is an excellent adventure. It has enough twists and turns to keep the players guessing and enough straightforward combat to be entertaining. More importantly, it is a supplement that makes a significant expansion to the Nights of the Crusades game system.