The topic of Tharizdun has enjoyed a huge wave of popularity in Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition. I'd say more material has been written of He of Eternal Darkness in the last eight years than in the two previous editions of the game combined. His Cthulu-esque nature, coupled with his broad influence over madness, entropy, decay, and non-existence embodies everything that is horrific for countless nightmarish plots.
"Essence of Evil" is the latest adventure that involves the Dark God. Written by the respectable Robert J. Schwalb, "Essence of Evil" compliments Schwalb's "Elder Evils" hardcover published last year; a collection of rules and high-level villains aimed at bringing the apocalypse to the campaign world. Pairing Tharizdun with this sourcebook seems like a natural choice, but the end product comes across somewhat generic: Tharizdun, or rather his herald Shothragot, is just another faceless evil bent on destroying the world. There is terrific potential here to add some flavor and dimension to this obscure deity, but the opportunity is wasted. Instead, we have a compilation of things we have seen before with a shiny coat of 20th level monsters slapped on it.
The plot involves Shothragot, a fragment of Tharizdun himself, who has become an extremely powerful being that can free his master from his eternal prison. Doing so means the destruction of the world, so it is up to the PCs to stop this. Apparently, all of the other high level champions in the world have been murdered or imprisoned by Shothragot's agents and so it falls to the PCs to save the day. Now, up to this point everything is fine: the adventure background is interesting and the set-up, conveyed through apocalyptic signs, is ominous and frightening. But all the other high level champions have been murdered or imprisoned? C'mon, I understand there needs to be some motivation for the PCs but that is just lazy and insulting.
So the party must confront Shothragot - a swirling mass of elemental chaos (a nod to 4th edition?) that happens to be piggy-backing a smorgasbord of high-level monsters to the ethereal plane. Here, the results are mixed. I quite like the essence of Shothragot - a living ball of pure darkness and corruption that is the dungeon that the characters must explore. It provides a unique and challenging environment with some truly vile defenses. Some of the encounters are very well done, particularly a suprise appearance by Lareth the Beautiful of Village of Hommlet fame. The final encounter with Shothragot is also a tough, climactic battle - the elder evil has some fairly creative attacks, even if he is just a faceless, high powered stat block. However, most of the encounters lack cohesion and many monsters are simply plopped in because they have the required challenge rating. The reasoning that these evil creatures have "hitched a ride" on Shothragot is weak, especially when the Aspect of Obox-Ob randomly shows up. It reminded me of that godawful Bloodstone module, where "a Tarrasque" just happens to be wandering by when the PCs are there.
This is a simple, hack n' slash adventure for high-level characters. There isn't much else to it so those looking for a dungeon with variety and depth won't find it here. Characters must simply go from one room to the next, killing everything in their path. In that context, its not bad - it just could have been much better. "Essence of Evil" is a module guilty of too much filler and not enough substance. It is also a free download so there is really nothing to lose. There is lots of potential for DMs willing to put in the effort, especially if you're running a Tharizdun-based campaign.
Thank you for this review; I found it very useful!
I must confess to having very little interest in Dungeon or Dragon since they went digital. In a way, its nice to know that I'm not missing any great content.
On that score, I think the huge number of Tharizdun sightings has gotten a bit much. To me, he has become overexposed. Like Iuz, Big T is cool but too much of anything is not a good thing, IMO. The one advantage I see in the overexposure is that, IMO, its points out how a Next Gen GH might begin to be constructed.
On the political front, Iuz has to go. Dead. Banished. Imprisoned. Missing. He's got to go.
On the religious front, Big T needs to suffer a similar fate. Get him off or well below the radar.
I actually like both Iuz, and Tharzidun, and IMC they are nearly non-existant. My players (though new to GH with this campaign) probably don't know who they are. They do know who the Maure's are; they hate the giants of Geoff, they fear the return of Vecna, and they distrust the politics of the Sheldomar; but they are oblivious to things beyond that. I know they know the name Iuz, but he is far away. They have only travlled to GH City once, and outside the Sheldomar twice since 2001.
I don't generally alter the general history of GH as I play, I dont have time. So, as to the assesment of Big T/ Iuz being sighted so much, I guess it depends on how often you cite him.
With that said, I think this might be an adventure I would use to take my players higher in level. I like the other world aspect of it, which is useful in my conception of GH. I dont like epic battles over your local village. Just feels fake.
If anyone actually works through the rough spots that Luz has pointed out, I would love to see you post the modifications posted.
I personally don't have an issue with Iuz or Tharizdun but if we are going to continue to utilize them, as they are very dynamic and engaging enities in GH, then we need to flush more out then the obvious. Iuz has a very deep background and if one is to research him you should be able to come up with some very intriguing and engaging gaming ideas. I think the problem is that most DM/modules designers either do not really research or are short minded or both but I for one have some ideas that I am looking to utilize with my newly found gaming group. A good story requires more then saying "Ooh I like that guy let's put him in here somewhere.", it requires background and sub-plots. Hope all of you that continue to use these two in your campaigns put a twist on it that your players don't expect and yes there are twists to be had.
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