Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
It's strange to review 1983's The Final Enemy immediately after reviewing 1982's Pharaoh. The 1983 product really looks like a much earlier product than the 1982 one. I rather suspect it's because it was: there are 1981 dates on some of the illustrations. The Final Enemy is the third part of the series that began with The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh and continued through Danger at Dunwater. Although Saltmarsh is highly regarded, it's never really been one of my favourite adventures.
The Final Enemy is particularly unusual. It's actually one of the longest adventures written for D&D at this time - a massive 48 pages. The adventure was designed by Dave J. Browne with Don Turnbull, and sees the adventurers take on a group of sahuagin in their lair.
Where the first two adventures had taken elements of mystery and diplomacy, The Final Enemy takes the adventure into a gritty, military adventure. It's most atypical for a D&D adventure, most of which go for a lighter take on things. The Final Enemy is designed for a group of 8-12 characters of levels 3-5, who are then joined by a further thirty NPCs - assuming all the alliances in the previous two adventures have come through.
Spare a thought for the DM who is running this adventure: handling a small group of six players and characters can be challenging enough, but thirty? It's a tremendously challenging adventure to run well, even more so as this has to be done with an unfamiliar set of rules: the underwater rules.
Yes, that's right, a full two-thirds of the sahuagin lair is underwater. This will probably come as quite a shock to the players, as they will have been told by their lizardmen allies that it's above-water. Apparently, the god of the sahuagin has decided to make things a little more challenging for the players. Well, I guess a 3rd level party can just go home, then? Not quite; the designers have added in a number of potions of water breathing and a wand of polymorph so that the party can function underwater. That is, they've got four potions of water breathing (duration 1 hour) and a wand with 22 charges (duration 2 hours). A helpful NPC can help the group to the secret room containing the items, which is just as well. I expect that after the upper level is taken, the lower levels are explored just by the player characters rather than the entire group.
Of course, this presumes that the group has been able to enter the lair in the first place, as the stone doors of the entrance are barred, requiring a knock spell or the group to batter them down. I would presume the latter would be with a battering ram of some sort, something that few D&D adventures have called for! Although it is conceivable that the group has knock, this is such a low-level adventure that it's a hard assumption to make. Indeed, how available are spells to the group? It's very hard to tell what the ground rules were with the designers of this adventure; it seems so foreign to the general trend of D&D adventures.
The chief impression I take away from this adventure is the attention to detail; this is an adventure very firmly rooted in the "realism" school of D&D. The enemies are well-organised and exceedingly deadly, with several different forms of sahuagin forming the chief foes; their leader - a four-armed shark man - is quite dangerous to the low-level group this adventure is written for.
However, despite the major military overtones of the adventure, the mission isn't about killing the enemy. The real goal of the party is information: determine the strength of the sahuagin force, determine the key locations in the fortress, discover significant defensive installations, and discover how advanced the sahuagin preparations are for their attack. Once these things are known, the town of Saltmarsh can launch a proper attack on the shark-men and deal with them once and for all. A failed expedition will mean that although the assault is still successful, the attackers lose almost all their men in the process - it is doubtful in this case if the player characters will ever be welcomed around Saltmarsh again!
Most of the interior artwork in the adventure is by the late Keith Parkinson, who would provide sterling service to TSR before later becoming the iconic artist of the Everquest brand. The artwork is surprisingly poor - Parkinson would do a lot better work later in his career. Dave de Leuw is responsible for the cover art, which is also undistinguished. Indeed, physically the module is quite ugly, with the typeface and printing style making it a fairly intimidating module to read.
Ultimately, The Final Enemy is an especially challenging adventure, but one that does not really appeal to me. It represents a much darker take on the D&D world than what I'm comfortable with. A high level of skill, on both the part of the DM and the players, is required to play this successfully; one particular campaign I played it with ended with the players fleeing Saltmarsh in disgrace as the doomed attackers of Saltmarsh marched up the front doors... which the group had not been able to breach! My sympathies lie much more with the heroic deeds and intriguing tricks of Pharaoh rather than this dark and dangerous adventure.