Today is the restart of a short series of role-play reviews of the old Dark Sun materials. This series was commenced a very long time ago but I never finished it out. Hence the next few posts scheduled by me will consist of a series of reviews of the remaining materials. The Dark Sun tag can be used to follow and access the previous materials in this line up.
The first thing that I want to mention about Black Spine is that it is supposed to be a follow on from the previous adventures in this "series": Black Flames, Merchant House of Amketch, and Marauders of Nibenay. The only problem is that this series is anything but. It is a series of adventures that lack a connection or joined-up thinking between them. There is very little to no motivation for a player character group to follow the plot lines as specified in these adventures.
Secondly, this is an epic scale adventure, along the same lines as Dragon's Crown. It is technically a series of adventures and subplots that commences with an operation to protect a Slave Tribe and eventually winds up with the player group facing an other-dimensional invasion of Githyanki forces. However, the set up for the first adventure (protecting the Slave Tribe from marauding Gith) is rather weak overall. There's no point in the adventurers participating. Hence there has to be some set up here to help the group think that this is what they want to do, or some railroading in this direction. Apart from this, the adventure proceeds very nicely from a skirmish, in to a large battle that one is recommended to use the second edition Battle System for, through to an exploration of the Gith's base camp.
Enacting vengeance upon the Gith, the players then discover a metal mine, and eventually a lost city of the Gith - Yathazor (As well as a powerful psionicist Gith leader). Eventually this leads to the Nightmare Gate - a magical portal for the Githyanki to move their troops to Athas. Naturally by this point, the player characters might see that it is in their best interests for this invasion to not happen. But really - would it be any worse than living under the yoke of the Sorcerer-Kings? I do wonder why no one ever questions this.
Personally, I like the fact that there is an extra dimensional threat, and the build up to discovering it. However, why hasn't a Sorcerer-King or a Dragon already thought this through or detected it? Would it not be better that this is some machination of a wheel within a wheel for the Dragon to make one of his rivals weaker somehow? That's just my take on it. The adventures themselves are largely linear in format. Although there is not as much rail-roading as in other adventures (or as much "you are now slaves!"), the linear nature of the plot means that it feels a little bit constrained in parts. What rescues it is the sheer scope, epic scale, and audacity of the plot line itself. It cannot be underscored enough what this book provides: three lots of 96 page books (288 pages in total), coupled with fold out maps and everything else. With work from a dedicated Games Master / Dungeon Master, this adventure can be turned in to something special along the lines of Dragon's Crown.
Overall, I would give it just under 4 out of 5 stars ... hence I'm rounding it up to 4 out of 5. Good overall, but not as strong as others in the series, and features far too many Gith in the absence of anything else. The lack of a lead up is also a big problem here.