The Tomb of Black Sands
An Adventure for Levels 4-5
The Tomb of Black Sand is pitched as an adventure for contemporary (c. 2019) tabletop roleplaying games with its heart and soul deeply rooted in “old school” RPG design sensibilities. Contemporary simply means it was written for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons or similar games. It’s also a love story, not to its “old school” sensibilities, but rather in a more classical sense—with a twist, of course. It has been designed for 3-6 characters of 4th and 5th levels.
The story behind The Tomb of Black Sands dates back several years before the Player Characters find themselves involved. It all began when Vincent Bine, an up and coming necromancer, discovers a dark ritual that will forever change his life. As dark rituals go, this one was extremely complicated and required very specific components to power its magic. Through years of research, he and his assistant found the perfect location to build, foster, and grow the tomb from stone, bone, and foul magic.
During the late stages of this research, he and his assistant came to Brighton, a small logging village in a remote part of the countryside. It was here that Vincent fell in love with Minerva, the innkeeper’s daughter. Vincent’s plans continued to take shape and come together; nearing the end of the ritual’s first phase, the two lovers ran off to be wed. As they spoke their vows to one another within the new bone tomb, Vincent transformed into a lich and Minerva into a banshee. Now Vincent continues preparations for the next phase of the ritual.
Minerva’s brothers are searching for her and have no real leads to go on. However, they have recently come across a mysterious tomb deep in the forest and have solicited the Player Characters’ aid in searching it in hopes of finding Minerva.
The Tomb of Black Sand is designed to be “plugged” into an existing campaign. A gamemaster only needs to stick to these four criteria for it seamlessly work: a forest, a glut of corpses, a town, and relative isolation. Although it is reasonable to assume GMs will make minor alterations to suit their needs, care should be taken to not drastically change any of the adventures cornerstones within the village. If possible, using Brighton, its environs, and its cast of NPCs “as is” would be the best course of action. Six adventure hooks help GMs pull players into the story; each is interesting and unique. If opting to run this as a one-shot, tips are provided to give your players the best possible experience.
Brighton is a small village of 150 families, with only a handful of notable locations and NPCs provided, this in keeping with the “relative isolation” thematic requirement noted above. Despite being a small village, there is no map or sketch of the village aside from the hex map (see inset above). The notable locations and their NPCs provide enough details to give GMs a sense of what’s going on while retaining enough room for GMs to personalize the location or the interactions with notable NPCs. Each of the notable village NPCs is well thought out and has a strong connecting to Brighton. If they require a name, there are three d6 tables for them. Several have potential connections to the story, allowing for additional adventure hooks to be created. The most important NPCs tied to the story are Minerva’s three brothers. The information provided is clear and concise but lacks the sense of whimsy of the others and takes on a more serious tone with just a hint of humor. Unbeknownst to them, they have visited the tomb previously but have no recollection.
The Tomb of Black Sand is not your typical fantasy adventure. The tomb and its residents have a real sense of purpose; they’re seeking to fulfill Vincent’s plans to complete the next phase of the ongoing ritual. They are independently pursuing their own plans or instructions that directly and indirectly affect the world inside and out of the tomb. These plans will continue to progress unless the Player Characters intercede and stop the ritual, which is easier said than done—this is one deadly tomb! If players approach it half-cocked, they may well find themselves dead or as unwilling sacrifices needed to power the ritual. The designers noted that during playtesting, there were several TPKs.
If it’s so deadly, why run this adventure? That’s easy; for me, there are three reasons. First, everything in the tomb has a purpose and is interconnected; it provides an engaging and evolving storyline that can easily be woven into a GM’s existing campaign. Second, it builds a sense of a multidimensional world. There is more to the world than just the players, and when the perceived bad guys are made to feel real, it only adds to the multidimensional feel. Events are always narratively happening “off-camera,” and this module reminds us of that fact. While physically anchored in the present, the tomb also has spatial oddities that play into the notion that it’s also otherworldly. Lastly, it provides players with a real challenge, not just the encounters. They’ll have to contend with how things are interconnected throughout the tomb, how the emerging story unfolds, and a few puzzle-like challenges.
The Tomb of Black Sand is a 56-page adventure that comes in print and PDF; the digital version was read for this review. Its visual aesthetics and layout are fantastic! It’s rich with an old school vibe. For me, it reminiscent of early 80s D&D modules with modern art and layout sensibilities. The full-color cover captures the essence of the adventure’s story nicely. The interior art is black and white, some whimsical, while others are more grotesque and visceral—each capturing the spirit of the NPC, the creature, or a portion of the dungeon itself.
The design team has incorporated digital hyperlinks throughout the PDF. Included are several hyperlinked maps and smaller map snippets that correspond with room descriptions—making digital navigation a breeze. There is extensive use of emboldened leading terms and descriptors in brackets in nearly all entries for quick reference. (i.e., steps [smooth, down, 10′]) The only appreciable layout error I found was on page 26; some copy in the first paragraph of the righthand column is missing at the end of several lines.
The Tomb of Black Sand is a well thought out and expertly crafted module for “modern” fantasy roleplaying games. Designed with Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition in mind, it can be easily adapted to any old school fantasy game with minimal effort. Its story is different enough to feel unique while still retaining a sense of familiarity. As a GM who fluctuates between digital and print products, I appreciate the extensive use of hyperlinks in the PDF. This is the first extensively hyperlinked 5e or 5e adjacent product I have come across. For me, this raises the bar in terms of digital implementation standards. The Tomb of Black Sand will present challenging situations for a stalwart group of Player Characters, and they may not survive, but if your players enjoy challenges despite the risks, this is well worth looking into.
Did you enjoy this review? Would you like to see us write more in the future? Your support means we can keep writing more reviews and articles. Please consider becoming a Patron by clicking the Patreon banner above.