First things first. The module provides two methods for players to get background information. There are 3 options listed for "getting the players involved" on page 83, and then there are 4 Knowledge (History) rolls they can make on page 84. My players are used to asking around town, so I added 2 Gather Information options that enable the players to get a sliver of the back story.
- DC 15: "In ancient days long past, the warrior-queen Jhavara was known to have slain many foes, even defeating two demon princes in single combat. The Yellow Jade Heart is said to be the source of her power."
- DC 20: "The long-dead Jhavara was a swordswoman with 19 powerful disciples. Upon her death, they carved out a cavernous stronghold in the mountains. There you will find deadly challenges to prove your worth. Unless you are true of heart and skilled at traps, steer clear."
The read aloud text for the player beginning refers to iron doors -- which firstly should have rusted to pieces, and secondly, when the door is described again in area 1-2, it's referred to as "granite." I also had trouble with the opening "Last night you found..." because it dictates that the party camped before entry, when in fact my party did not. I also disliked the closing text that stated what the PCs were thinking -- that's for the players to decide. So to be consistent and sensible, revise the Player Beginning text as follows:
"You stumble across a narrow path heading up into the cliff. After at least twenty switchbacks, the burning highlands are lost in the haze below. It’s a different world up here, almost tolerable with the cloudy heavens above and the hellish heats below.
At last the rising path ends, leaving you standing before a trio of massive stone doors, set deep in the granite wall, where little has been done to hide them. A wide, flat cliff stretches before the strange portals, offering room to set up camp and get the rest you need so badly after the climb. Despite the burning sun, an unpleasant chill hangs in the air. The doors appear untouched, possibly for ages."
Area 1-2: provide a hint
After the last sentence on page 84, add 1 more: "When a light source is activated, a long hallway with rough-hewn walls is revealed."
The added text about the rough-hewn walls is important. In the next room (area 1-3) the text for the DM suggests that rogues can climb the walls and use grappling hooks. So help the players along by giving them these leading hints during their initial impressions.
Area 1-3: fetid or fresh air?
When I recited the read-aloud text ("Near the end of the passage, you feel the cool freshness of open air"), my players stopped me. "Wait," they said, "When we opened the door, which is just 40' behind us, you said the air was fetid. Now suddenly we go down a hallway and it's all fresh?" I could think of no reason why a fresh air breeze wouldn't waft down an open hallway. Either area description can win out, but both areas should probably be similar, as they are connected and close. I decided that the fetid theme would win for both rooms, because I put a pool of acid where the sphere of annihilation was. I replaced the whole of area 1-3 read-aloud text with this:
"Near the end of the passage, you feel a cool breeze, but the air is mixed with a putrid smell. A wide, lotus-shaped chamber expands outward before you. The ceiling soars at least fifty feet above you, and beyond a fifteen-foot ledge the floor falls away into utter blackness. Some twenty feet past the ledge, two stone walkways seem to hang in the void, arcing off into passages on the opposite side."
Sphere of annihilation
You don't have to, but I replaced the sphere with a shallow (3' deep) pool of acid which does 1d6 damage per round, and each round 1 exposed item must make a saving throw or take 1d6 damage as well. If the players stood at the ledge of area 1-3 and shined a light down toward the pool 40' below, I would let them know that "whatever is down there is pretty shiny and reflective." One of my players grabbed a pebble, cast light on it, and threw it in. I made it clear that the light revealed it wasn't deep, but that also a wisp of smoke trailed up from where the stone entered the pool, and that after a few rounds, the light spell -- which should have remained attached to the stone -- suddenly dispersed and disappeared (as the stone had entirely dissolved).
This is not economy breaking. This "acid" requires you to be standing in the 3' deep pool -- covering a large part of your body -- in order to do 1d6 of damage. This is vastly different from an acid flask, which does 1d6 from a mere splash. If your players try to bottle the acid, make it clear that each bottle does a whopping 1 HP of damage, tops. Each vial would be worth 2 GP, and since the PCs can only sell for half price, they'd sell for 1 GP. Since the vial they'd buy to bottle it up would cost 1 GP according to the PHB, there would be a net gain of zero gold, no matter how much they procured.
Smart players might ask what happens if they pour their waterskin out into the pool. Typically, these smarties know that if the water sorta explodes on contact, then the pool is probably made of acid. And since the pool is indeed made of acid, if they do this, explain that there is a bubbling hiss and explosion of liquid, though the blast radius is too small to reach up to the ledge.
Area 1-4: the map doesn't match
The room description states that the alcove is flanked by 2 empty pedestals, along with 1 in the center of the alcove itself. According to the map, that would be statues B, C, and D. However, the DM text for the room states that it is statues A, C, and D that need moving. Simply flip the room text -- statue B is the wizard, and statue A is the male warrior.
Area 1-4 & 1-5 doors
A player that paid attention to the image on the first door they found would get a bonus if they paid attention to the image on the 2nd door, and got a good Spot check (20 or better). I told them, "You note that the queen bestowing medals upon her warriors is also leading the charge in the image of the horsed riders."
Area 1-6: Um?
I mostly agree with the review from demiurge1138 that the chuul encounter is contrived. In my run-through, I simply didn't have the damage to the wall, area 1-6 didn't exit, and the encounter didn't happen. YMMV.
Area 1-8: clarifying the timing challenge
First, the ancient riddle is badly written. Let's rewrite it as follows:
"The right count will lead you through without a sliver...
Rest three plus the number of tests you've passed,
But fear the dread march of Death, whose drummer's lost the beat!"
Why rephrase it like that? Well, first it's more clear. Second, it has a double meaning, with a musical "rest." But finally, and this is important, it sets you as the DM up for easier adjudication in combat. I set the drumbeat pounding at 1 beat per second. If the players rest for 5 seconds (or beats) and then move on the 6th beat, they will move exactly one 5' square each round. This gets very important when the spectre enters the hall to attack -- other PCs will rush to engage, but if they can only do a square without damage from the traps, then you have a clean 5' movement maximum. I found this made the fight quite tactical and enjoyable actually. It reminded me a little bit of the Star Wars fight involving Obi-Wan watching his master battle a Sith, wanting to rush forward to aid him, but having to wait for a barrier to release him.
Don't forget, the hallway is only 2.5 feet wide, so squeezing rules apply -- a -4 penalty on attack rolls and a -4 penalty to AC.
If your PCs are weak, or if the leader will have to fight alone for a while, I found that it's easy to substitute a shadow instead of a spectre here.
How to run the music trap
If you're like me, envisioning how to run it might be a problem. I made the square leading to the hallway a pressure plate that triggered the drumming. Stepping off the plate after the 5th beat (or exactly on the 6th beat) is the only safe way to move forward. The count can be reset by simply backing off the pressure plate.
The treasure is listed as "an ornate crystal and adamantine key." While I knew what the key was for, I was frustrated at first because there is no value given for the crystal. It took a moment to realize that the author meant that it is a single item, "a key made of crystal and adamantine." Knowing this, I described the key as having a small yellow jade embedded in the metal, to keep with the Yellow Jade Heart theme.
Area 1-10: Jhavara's sword
The +2 defending short sword also confers upon its bearer certain feats. For ease of use and to make the sword fall more in line with the theme of it fighting on it's own, I dropped the feats and changed the sword to a +2 dancing short sword. This makes the sword worth more money, so be careful about that. But it also means that the sword will fight on its own, just as it did during the test. And you won't have to figure out how to give the sword those feats in Heroforge or PC Gen or whatever app your players use for character generation.
While the module needs lots of work to clean it up, I've done that. So you should have a pretty decent module at this point. I enjoyed it enough that I plan to run it again. Have fun!