Friday, August 19, 2022

Tomb Robbers Of The Crystal Frontier - Review

Some might say that the unique setting proves detriment to a dungeons utility as a generic or learning dungeon. This might be the case, however Gus L's Crystal Frontiers setting walks the perfect line between vanilla and weird to make it work.



Perhaps my favorite part, its a superb science-fantasy wild west with swaggering duel-happy lansquenets and scurrilous crystal prospector. Its Weird but with all the familiar tropes so that you grasp its essence in an instant And gosh does Gus's art support the vibe. Just look at the cover, its gorgeous. The book as it is slots, somewhat subtly, into the wider world of Gus's 'Fallen Empire' but can be easily used separately.

The fonts are a delight whilst still being readable and the book is stocked with plentiful illustrations that both codify its aesthetic and provide reference for npcs, monsters, locales, and features. 

Also I just adore the colors, their so fun!!

Layout & Tools

The information presentation is, to put it mildly, excellent. 

Room keys are formatted so they lead with a brief at-a-glance description featuring bolded lines for key details. These bolded lines refer to expounded upon sub-sections that describe the key features (being those bolded key details) more closely. It flows smoothly as you read, and makes for easy reference and skimming. Perhaps not as easy skimming as full bullet point keying ala Into the Odd's Iron Coral dungeon, however the denser text offers more detail that would otherwise be left out (or left to be inferred/invented) in the bullet point method.

When it comes to the mapping, all is done by Gus's own hand matching the rest of the books art. Clear and readable but not without style. In addition to the main isometric and top down maps (yes there's both) each 'section' of room keys has a relevant snippet of the main map, handily cutting down on page flipping. More dungeons should do this.

Furthermore, in the appendix a blank player map, and a referee map keyed with treasures and details right on the map are provided. Really this book has bountiful resources for rendering running a breeze. There's even a bevy of turn/torch tracker sheets, faction relation tracker sheets, and so on in the very well stocked appendices.


Tomb is an excellent learning dungeon, up their along Tomb of the Serpent Kings or Lair of the Lamb and other classics of recent years....

A couple of the traps were hard to parse even on rereading (the prism tomb particularly) however the book goes out of its way to diagram things and includes advice columns for nearly every notable feature explaining the decisions put into it. 
All of the dungeons features are highly interact-able and offer great potential for creative problem solving and shenaniganry on player's parts. Furthermore, the dungeon very nicely handles its danger such that players can always accidentally or intentionally trod right into the middle of things yet the more dangerous elements are also secreted further back in the dungeon so work must be put into reaching them.

Speaking of those elements, Tomb Robbers handles its stocking excellently with a mix of dumb monsters, problem solving monsters, faction monsters, boss monsters, and so forth and so on. Consistently providing advice for how to run each.

Truly the advice columns are one of the best part's of the module. They are succinct, clear, and are of immense assistance to new referees running the dungeon. RPG texts that take the time to explaining their reasoning and offer guidance are unfortunately not as common as I wish they were, which makes Tomb Robbers a delight.

In addition to the dungeon proper, the book includes a short section on Scarlet Town, packed with enough hooks and details to easily facilitate play there with no further prep of the Referee's own if they should so choose. Or easily providing a starting off point to expand and explore the Crystal Frontier. 
If I'm quite honest Scarlet Town was one of my favorite parts even in proportion to the rest of the dungeon. I'm a sucker for the rough and rowdy pseudo-western setting being sold here.   

And the appendices!! These go the extra leg and expand on magic items, spells, monsters, and setting elements. As well as end-case scenarios for different elements of the dungeon (what if so-and-so monster escapes, and so on). The aforementioned Scarlet Town of course, and the aforementioned referee tools. The crowning section of the whole book. 
Also there's a wandering arcanovoric owlbear and I love Gus's take on owlbears so much. Its just great.


The layout here is still quite excellent, though the very long vertical text blocks are tad hard to parse, they break up the long paragraphs in an odd way I find. It gets much better in the keying proper however where the sub-sections break it up.
The blocks of advice are killer, as much as they were in Tomb Robbers.

A very dense dungeon, both in information presentation and moving-dungeon-parts for space. Numerous interact-able components are provided for players to mess with, and numerous creatures and monsters to interfere with their exploration. Special movement procedure suggestions. Traps, treasures, and arcane technology.

I confess that I had a trickier time 'holding it all in my head' for this dungeon's content than I did with Tomb Robbers. I cannot place quite why, but I suspect the density of text and features as it related to the layout which was more cramped than with Tomb. However, it is a very flavorful, and well put together dungeon.
Like with Tomb, there is an appendix for treasure (of the magical sort) which is very handy. 


An excellent lil dungeon, easily slotted into a game when in need of a small one session (or even half-session) dungeon. It would be fairly easy to reskin while keeping its essential character too
It does feel a tad sparse when it comes to interact-able elements in the dungeon proper, which makes the module feel more appropriate for players who've gone through a dungeon or two already and have acquired some tools or tricks that they bring with them (or perhaps for a game where they start with some 'problem solving potential' items). However, it is a short dungeon so you can't really hold that against it. 
The approaching rival treasure-hunters provide a nice threat and social encounter to be navigated and are, along with the automaton, the real meat of the module in terms of play (I suspect, having yet to run it, I certainly plan to however).

The lil isometric map is wonderful and utilitous. 
In terms of layout it has all of the same qualities previously mentioned, but more compact. Also in my copy the lettering seems a bit squished latterly? That could just be a result of my computer however.  


For a short four pages a lot is packed in here. 
Firstly, both the palette and dungeon itself are delightful variations from what has previously been provided in the form of a more traditional tomb complex, yet still tying into the rest of the region's wild west science fantasy airs. In particular subtle details are seeded pertaining to the titular bruja and beast that tie into another portion of the setting previously only mentioned in vague snippets. I enjoyed the greek hoplite theming for the tomb, an underutilized aesthetic.
The tomb as a whole presents an open ended situation of simple two-sided (or three if you count the players, perhaps four if you count the dungeon itself) factional relations. Marble-Eyes the sorcerer is a compelling npc and a good potential low-level ally to players (and potentially a fun low level antagonist as well). The beast boasts and lies and is formidable opponent but also one who players control if they interact with.

The dungeon itself is the perfect size for a session's worth of play, mostly linear with one branch, decent treasure (including some interesting magic items), and an two-three points of open-ended problem solving.

And there you have it. Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier can be purchased here along with the rest of Gus's Crystal Frontier products (and much else besides). Gus's current blog can be found here, containing much sagely advice as well as play reports from running Tomb Robbers.
(sorry I took so long writing these reviews Gus :p )

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