Review: Modiphius Entertainment – Waves Stained Crimson (Conan)

Waves Stained Crimson
Waves Stained Crimson is a campaign supplement for the pulp fantasy Conan, written by Benn Graybeaton, Nathan Dowdell, Jay Little, Kevin Ross, and Todd A. Woods and published by Modiphius Entertainment.
By Stephen Reuille

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When I was in my teens, I read the stories of Robert E. Howard. I was fascinated by the adventures of his characters with my favorite being Conan. His journeys spurred my imagination and helped create a lifelong roleplayer. When Modiphius came out with the Conan RPG, I was excited. I ran the Jumpstart adventure at my FLGS to promote their endeavor. I now have the privilege to review another Conan RPG release, that being the set of adventures titled Waves Stained Crimson. The copy of the product I am reviewing is a PDF. Since my background is not in PDFs however, I will not be commenting on some of the items a more tech savvy reviewer might. My review will be of the content and not the add-ons a PDF purchaser may use to increase the document’s utility. Now with my disclaimer out of the way, let’s hoist the sails and see what this campaign is all about.

Waves Stained Crimson weighs in at 101 pages. The book is broken down into six chapters and a short appendix. The introduction is pretty standard fare with a paragraph or two about each chapter. Oh wait… THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Ok, did you read the last sentence? You have been warned matey. So chapters one through five each send the characters on a different adventure connected to a larger campaign. The concept of this campaign is a damsel is kidnapped by a vile wizard and the group needs to save her. It may be a simple premise but very Conan. Along the way the characters encounter pirates and become pirates themselves. Now let’s take a look at the individual adventures in a little detail.

The first adventure, “The Rose and the Shadow,” starts with the characters on a ship as guards of a powerful merchant’s daughter. The book has a few paragraphs mentioning that the Gamemaster may want to give the players a few adventures before the campaign starts but leaves it mostly there. The adventure really begins with the boat the players are on getting attacked by a large force of pirates. The leaders of this force, Captain Herge Daimos and the sorcerer Maledict, are the main villains of the campaign. In the writer’s defense, Maledict has a last name but I will just go with the first because it amuses me. The initial attack starts the big problem I have with this first adventure. It appears to be a complete railroad to set up the larger campaign. The players’ ship gets attacked and the pirates have overwhelming numbers, well okay. Then the allied captain surrenders and everyone is captured. As the players are being locked up, they see their charge taken by the sorcerer and they can do nothing about it. The pirates leave with her and the player’s ship is blown up with the PCs set adrift. All this, and the adventure states, losing most if not all of their gear. I feel myself as a Gamememaster having to say, “okay guys, just bear with me, it gets better.” The players are given no agency at the beginning of the adventure. I understand Conan was captured more than once but it is hard for me to believe players will put up with this for long. The first adventure wraps up with everyone left from the explosion washing up on an island. The island features a little exploration, a monolith, and a monster fight. But now what?

Luckily another pirate ship makes land on the island in the next adventure, “A Trail of Bastards,” This ship is the opposite of the previous and the characters can try to fight or negotiate with the pirates to get off the island. Once this is complete, I feel the campaign starts to take a turn for the better. The characters head to Tortage to try and get information on their prey. The players get to stretch their legs, explore Tortage, and even meet some Conan notables. The place is well described and the characters could spend a few nights there with the Gamemaster running some personal subplots for the players. When that is done, there is a meeting with the damsel’s father to get the campaign back on track.

Chapter and adventure 3, ”The Temple of Arzhna,” sees the heroes working to get more information on Maledict. This is a pretty straight forward story with the players investigating a temple and interacting with some allies of the sorcerer. Not much to say about this one, there is an interesting scene with a friend of the pirate captain the characters murdered that wants revenge… that is to say if the players did kill him.

Chapter 4 is the adventure, “The Night of the Yellow Sashes.” There is so much to like in the adventure. With the information from the temple, the group is getting close to their quarry. They discover their enemies have signed on to a massive sacking of the city of Balbenon. To get close to them, the heroes will need to sign on too. The sacking of the city is covered well in the book. The players will mingle with other pirates and can make a name for themselves amongst these NPCs. The sacking is broken down into phases and the players can be woven in and out of them as they play cat and mouse with Herge and Maledict. The final confrontation with Herge ends this chapter with Maledict heading to his ultimate goal.

Chapter 5, “Black Islands Rise,” ends the campaign as the characters track the sorcerer to the site of a vile ritual to awaken a dark god, a Conan staple. The Black Islands have come out of the water and the group can explore them with a side plot for each island. When they are ready, the showdown with Maledict and his minions begins. The fight is tough and if the sorcerer is not stopped they will be fighting a giant tentacled monster as well. But when the heroes win… they have rescued the merchant’s daughter and will need to try to escape the sinking islands. As the characters are sailing away or left floating in the ocean, so ends Waves Stained Crimson.

The last chapter in the book gives the Gamemaster information, if the characters survive the final encounter, on wrapping up the campaign; dividing loot, experience, and renown; and ideas for follow-up adventures. The book ends with a two page appendix giving information on ship encounters and some quick stats for merchant vessels and warships.

Before I conclude, I will mention the book’s layout. The campaign is broken down well in a chapter by chapter structure. The rules are included throughout the adventure so they are easily found in the section you are playing. The stat blocks are what you will see in all the Conan books. As usual, the book is also a good visual piece with some evocative art, my favorites on pages 33 and 85.

So is Waves Stained Crimson worth the money? I must say the campaign starts rocky. As a player I would have a hard time sticking with a campaign that seemed like I was a spectator. As a Gamemaster, I would probably skip the first adventure all together. Just discuss with the players a connection to Emaraina (you read this long, to get the McGuffin’s name) and have them start with washing onto the island in the second adventure. I understand this may lessen the players desire to triumph over Maledict but could be outweighed by the players’ frustration on being spectators in their own adventure. That being said, the rest of the campaign is pure Conan. The heroes sail the seas as pirates, explore dark locales, fight vile sorcerers and dark monsters, and rescue a damsel as in the best tradition of a Frank Frazetta painting. Even if the Gamemaster does not want to run the campaign, with a little work the adventures can be added individually to a homebrew storyline. I will definitely be adding the information on sacking a city into my games. This book is a great addition to a Gamemaster’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of shelf, whether running the campaign or using it as inspiration. So put a dagger between your teeth, grab a rope and swing into adventure like the books I read as a teen.

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