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Web of the Spider Queen (4e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/01/2021 00:47:27

A low-level drow adventure - and it's pretty good! --

It's unlikely that many people today will play Web of the Spider-Queen as it was intended. Not only was it released for 4th Edition, but it was released for the little-loved "Essentials" era of late 4E. On top of that, it's intended to push 4E's line of collectible Fortune Cards - so it's basically wanting you to use an awkward version of an already idiosyncratic ruleset, plus a line of physical accessories that are hard to get your hands on today.

Putting all that aside, if you're either willing to play Essentials, or do the work to convert the module to base 4E (very easy) or 5E (harder, but surprisingly not too hard), this is a pretty solid product.

Let's start with the bad. It's a 4E module - and an Encounters module at that - and it has a fairly tight set of design paramaters as a result. 12 episodic encounters, almost all of them centred around an unavoidable combat, with a relatively minimal amount of roleplaying around them, and zero opportunity for the party to go off-script or do anything but keep moving down the railroad. It's a problem across the entire 4E line, and if you're buying a 4E product, you probably know what you're getting. Your group had better like fights.

With that out of the way, what's good here? Actually, quite a lot. The fights themselves are interesting and relatively varied. 4E groups will have a lot of interesting ways to interact with the terrain and with the unique abilities of the monsters. If you're running a conversion to 5E, a lot of this will be lost because of the different priorities of 5E combat, but it's still good design. What you lose in tactical complexity, you'll gain in 5E's greater support for roleplaying and thinking outside the box. Besides, everyone loves fighting drow.

It's also one of the very few official Forgotten Realms adventures for 4E, and it makes good use of this setting. The story is set in Shadowdale, and it's rich with Shadowdale lore and callbacks to canon without ever making the players feel like they're missing out if they're not lore nerds. It's an accessible entry story in a classic locale.

And as for what roleplaying is there - it's good (at least by 4E standards). The game uses the "themes" idea from Essentials to offer characters direct hooks into the action, which gives lots of personal attachment to the specific encounters. (If you're not running Essentials, the adventure includes everything you need to repurpose these themes as regular-style adventure hooks, or even 5E Backgrounds.) There are named NPCs that run through the adventure, and they're reasonably well drawn (considering they only get a couple of paragraphs each). There's even a fairly clever use of Elminster. There's a puzzle challenge (ugh, I hate puzzles), and an action scene done in a cinematic style rather than by combat, and there's several combats where diplomacy, deception or roleplaying can either bypass the fight entirely or substantially alter the odds in the players' favour. It's not high drama, but it's better than official 4E products usually offer.

The actual presentation of the package is nice. As with most of these Encounters seasons, there's a full-colour wraparound cover. There's also full-colour battlemaps, but as with most similar 4E packages, they've been repurposed from other products and are fairly generic. All encounters have a clear 4E-style layout, and all relevant monster statblocks are included. There's unfortunately no unique art inside, leaving some of the more intriguing set-pieces to be described only through awkward descriptive text and the collective imaginations of the players.

Official 4E adventures are uniformly pretty terrible - but by that admittedly low standard, Web of the Spider Queen is one of the better ones.

NOTE: This release of Web of the Spider Queen does NOT contain any of the promo materials that accompanied its original release. It does NOT include the themed character sheets, fortune cards, or treasure cards released during this Encounters season.

Comments on the print-on-demand version: The POD is as good as it could be, given the general limitations of DM's Guild POD products. It's a single perfect-bound book, in the same dimensions as the original product. (Note that the original was a loose pamphlet inside a cardboard folder.) The battlemaps are printed in colour, but they're bound inside the book and at the wrong scale, so effectively useless for actual play. It replicates the original cover perfectly - but that means that there's no text on the spine, as the original didn't have a spine at all. The interior text is crisp and high resolution, in a grayscale that I assume matches the original product. With the exception of the issue with the maps, this could pass for an official first-party printing, and it will sit nicely on your shelf. After running the adventure over four sessions, the book shows no significant wear and the binding is still strong.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Web of the Spider Queen (4e)
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Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/13/2021 19:16:07

A Premium Adventure, If You're Willing To Do The Work:

Scourge of the Sword Coast has a lot to love, and my players had a great time with it - but in the modern era, it'll take some work to get the best out of it.

Let's start with the good. The first thing you'll notice are the production values. Scourge of the Sword Coast is packed with top-tier original artwork. Every NPC has a full-colour portrait, and every location has a map so gorgeous you'll want to hang it on your wall. (Cartographer Mike Schley doesn't get enough love for his early 5E work.)

Secondly, this is simply a great introduction to low-level D&D. It's got a small-town base - Daggerford - and a range of outlying dungeon locations that players can explore in an order of their choosing. The dungeons themselves support a range of play-styles, including combat, stealth, diplomacy and puzzle solving, but never force players into a mode of play they don't enjoy. The NPCs are memorable, and well-defined, with clear goals, priorities and quirks (the portraits also help). It's the wonderful kind of adventure that lets players do deep-dive roleplaying when they're in the mood, and skip straight to bashing things when they're not. It's an adventure that's worth taking the effort to run.

Next, let's talk about the difficulties. This is a "D&D Next" product, using 5E playtest rules rather than the now-official version of the game. Conversion is by and large extremely easy, and most of the featured monsters have a similar 5E equivalent in the Monster Manual, but some of the featured villains will take some work to rebuild for a 5E party, and a few of the monsters got buffed enough in the Monster Manual that you'll need to dial them back down to be appropriate for low-level parties.

In addition, this is a story that benefits strongly from your players having familiarity with "Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle", and it has plot threads that continue into "Dead In Thay" - but any character who survived Dragonspear is too high-level to take part in Scourge, and any character who survives Scourge is too low to do Thay. It'll take some creative DM work to string these three products together into a cohesive experience. (I did it by having players re-roll after Dragonspear, and then adding an additional adventure between Scourge and Thay to ease them through the level disparity.)

Lastly, the (very few) bad points. (1) There are some puzzle sections in a dwarven mine that are tedious and very poorly designed. We skipped them entirely and I recommend that you do too. (2) Of the few featured women NPCs, more than one of them turns out to fall into the trope of "evil jealous/promiscuous manipulator", which my players quite rightly called out as tired, lazy and problematic. (3) A fair bit of the plot hinges around the quite complicated family politics of the Floshin family, and the module either needed more resources for DMs on this bit of Realmslore, or to rely on it less strongly for the story. Even as a Realms nerd, this was confusing for me, and my players needed regular reminders of who was related to who, and why.

In any case, I strongly recommend this adventure for anyone willing to do the work to adapt it.

Notes on the print-on-demand edition: The POD version that I received was very good for a POD, although it'll never be mistaken for a regular commercial print. It's a thin perfect-bound volume, with the name printed on the spine. The cover is made of thin card. The entire book is in full-colour, and the printing quality is generally good. The full-colour art looks impressive, but there's a grainy look to the remainder of the book (which admittedly is also present in the PDF version), and a lack of crispness to the text. If you're a regular POD customer you'll know that in some products there are issues with oversized maps being chopped up in ways that make them useless, so you'll be glad to know that this is NOT an issue here - everything is designed for A4 printing and looks fine in book format. This is one of the better DM'S Guild POD products, and will make a good addition to your bookshelf.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast (D&D Next)
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The Frosted Prince
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/13/2021 18:45:36

Town and Down for a Tier 3 Party:

The Frosted Prince isn't an ambitious module - but what it does, it does well. I ran this as the middle entry in a casual level 10-15 mini-campaign, and it met all my needs as a solid Tier 3 adventure that could be easily slotted into an ongoing game.

There are two things the module does particularly well. The first is to provide a traditional town-and-down dungeon expedition for Tier 3 players. Providing an appropriate challenge to characters in this tier can be tricky, but The Frosted Prince delivers enjoyable, scalable encounters that use interesting and iconic enemies in memorable ways.

The second is its use of Shadowdale. It's rare to get a glimpse of the Dales in the 5E era, but JVC Parry goes above and beyond as a continuity nerd to deliver what feels like an authoritative view of Shadowdale in the early 1490s DR. For those who care about these things, you'll find a Shadowdale that retains the feel of the classic Forgotten Realms location, while incorporating the (relatively obscure) events of the late 3E and 4E eras, plus input from Ed Greenwood himself on current events in the Dales. For those who don't care, you'll be glad to know that none of that continuity is required reading - it adds realism and detail to the backdrop, rather than driving the story.

The only complaint I have is that the parts of the adventure that aren't the dungeon are largely irrelevant. A significant part of the module is devoted to finding out where the dungeon is, through roleplaying encounters in Shadowdale - but it's blindingly obvious where the players need to go from the moment they reach the town, and, as written, you'll either need to jettison most of the roleplaying elements, or force the players into them in a way they're unlikely to appreciate. Nor are any of those roleplaying encounters particularly memorable or enjoyable on their own merits.

Nevertheless, The Frosted Prince is a worthy Tier 3 one-shot, and I recommend it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Frosted Prince
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DDEX2-13 The Howling Void (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/13/2020 00:37:59

A random and confusing finale.

I wanted to love the end of the big "Monastery of the Yellow Rose" trilogy for Season 2 of Adventurer's League, but I just couldn't. In principle, this should be epic - a journey to the boundary of the elemental planes to hold back the summoning of Elemental Evil. But it doesn't work. It's the very epitome of a "nonsense wizard dungeon", full of random magical nonsense and "gotcha" moments, that's neither well-explained nor thematically resonant.

Much of the module involves jumping around floating islands, attempting to rescue monks who are trapped in imaginary mindscapes. There's little in the way of work done to explain these mindscapes to the players, either while they're happening or in retrospect, or say why they're relevant to the particular monk experiencing them, meaning that players mostly end up just doing "yet another random whatsit". There's little information given that would enable players to make meaningful decisions about the order in which they tackle the challenges, so the range of content available is largely meaningless - it may as well have been linear. And the final confrontation is not very well tuned, nor does it make much use of its premise (featuring a battle on airships in the middle of a storm), other than a vague instruction for the DM to run it in a narrative style. (Yes, I can do that, I did do that, and we had fun, but the module had very little to contribute to that fun.)

And if you make it to the end, there's simply not much acknowledgement of what the players have achieved. (And of course, for all the players' successes, the Cult will be right back again in the Epic "Mulmaster Undone", chronologically the next entry in the season by release date, acting as if they've never even heard of the Monastery, let alone had their plans there foiled.)

You can run a good game with what's in this module, but if you do, it will because you know how to run a good game, not because the module brought much to the table. A sad and disappointing low point of Season 2.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-13 The Howling Void (5e)
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Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (D&D Next)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/24/2020 00:50:10

An instant classic of the Forgotten Realms, easily converted to 5E.

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is a complete campaign for the DnD Next Playtest rules (the precursor playtest of 5E). In addition to a sprawling campaign made up of four mini-adventures, you also get a complete copy of the DnD Next rules as they existed at the time of this adventure's release. This makes it a must-have for DnD historians or collectors.

The campaign is great on its own merits, especially as an "intro" campaign for new players. It provides a well fleshed-out home base (Daggerford) and a variety of quite different dungeons around it that make good use of NPCs, wilderness travel, varied combats, and traps and environmental puzzles. Your adventures variously take you to a classic "lair" style dungeon themed around lizardfolk; a "crazy wizard crypt" full of magical puzzles; a mutli-level "living dungeon" that can be solved in any order, using either combat or diplomacy; and finally a set-piece staged boss battle. It's got more variety than many official hardbacks, and is a great sampler of what DnD has to offer.

In addition, it's filled with unique, attractive art, including portraits for NPC characters, full-colour maps, and incidental images.

For DnD grognards, you'll love that the campaign is an explicit homage to the classic adventures "Under Illefarn" and "Hordes of Dragonspear Castle", and contains fun references to both - through the lens of a Forgotten Realms that's marched on 100 years. For those who care more about the 5E era, it's worth noting that this adventure introduces multiple plot threads that are continued and paid off in the Tyranny of Dragons hardbacks, including Sir Isteval, Alagarthas, the green dragon Chuuth, the Red Wizards, and the town of Daggerford itself. It also has themes that are echoed later in Princes of the Apocalypse.

Converting the adventure to 5E is a breeze. All monsters in the module appear in the eventual 5E Monster Manual, and in almost all instances you can just use the Monster Manual stats. A few monsters got a power boost in the final rules - notably the vampires and behir that appear in the final part of the adventure - and a good DM should probably swap these out for replacements to avoid unfairly wiping the party. (The vampires are easily changeable to "vampire spawn". The behir needs a substantial edit of its stats, or to be replaced with another monster entirely.)

You may also need to pay attention to skill checks, as not all of those listed line up with the final 5E skill list and recommended difficulties, but this should be trivial for an experienced GM.

Print on Demand edition: The POD version of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is as good as you could hope for from a DM's Guild softcover hardcopy. It's largely in line with the best of DM's Guild's POD products. The interior is clear and high res, while still a little less crisp than a professional publication. The paper is quite high-gauge, making the book itself fairly thick. The cover is a full-wrap, with authentic colour and titling on the spine. It's perfect-bound, and the binding appears strong. The cover is made of relatively thin card stock - more than adequate as a cover, but not tough enough to take much of a beating. The layout is appropriate to the book dimensions, and there are none of the awkward gutter-loss or orientation issues that appear in some other DM's Guild PODs.

For collectors, I should say that no one is going to mistake this product for the original Wizards release. The content is identical but the final product looks quite different. This is a product for someone who wants to use it, or have it on their shelf for reference, not for someone who wants to own the original book as published by Wizards.

After running the entire campaign over some months, my copy of the book is still in good condition and looks fine on a shelf, so I certify it as 100% suitable for actual use.

Note: For the sake of clarity, this product does NOT include Scourge of the Sword Coast (available separately from DM's Guild) or Dead In Thay (at this stage not available for sale anywhere, although the second half of it was reprinted in Tales from the Yawning Portal).



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (D&D Next)
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DDEX2-12 Dark Rites at Fort Dalton (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/24/2020 00:17:31

Attempted brevity leaves little actual content.

Dark Rites at Fort Dalton is written to be played in two hours or less. That's a tough goal for a 5E adventure, and the module suffers for it at every turn. There's barely a complete adventure here, and what little you do get is generic, linear and stale.

"As all good adventurers do, the party has accepted the role of bandit hunter." That's a direct quote, and it sets the tone for what follows. If you've played a Season 2 AL module, you've seen all this before, most specifically in The Drowned Tower. There's an isolated location, water cultists, water-themed monsters. Everything is by the numbers. There's "exploration", but it's meaningless. There's a quick social chat before each fight, but they're mostly just to set the tactical position that each fight starts in.

For a module that's effectively just three boring combats, it's worth mentioning that no maps are included in the module. There's no battlemaps or exploration maps, despite some of the locations in the module being keyed to numbers. The locations are small and generic enough that it really doesn't matter, but it's another sign of a module that ends up feeling rushed and incomplete. An included Fantasy Grounds conversion presumably has some maps, but as I don't use FG I can't comment on that aspect.

If you're playing through all of Season 2 Adventurer's League, this adventure just begs to be skipped. There's nothing here you haven't done before, and better, and nothing that happens here matters to the overall season plot.

I can't recommend it.

Note: If you're an actual Adventurer's League player, this adventure has a nice item - the Sentinel Shield - but if you're playing crappy adventures just to power up your AL character then I have to say that you're doing Dungeons and Dragons wrong. (Opinions! I've got lots of them!)



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-12 Dark Rites at Fort Dalton (5e)
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DDEX2-11 Oubliette of Fort Iron (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/24/2020 00:01:41

A silly adventure that makes little sense and is at least blessedly short.

Oubliette of Fort Iron begins with the party climbing into the anus of a giant monster, and doesn't improve thereafter. Nothing about this adventure makes much sense - it's a handful of quite disparate encounters thrown together without rhyme or reason.

For those playing the entire Season 2 of Adventurer's League, this adventure is especially disappointing. It's yet another voyage to solve Mulmaster's mining woes - after the vastly superior Mayhem in the Earthspur Mines - and ties into the overall plot of the season so poorly that the eventual inevitable appearance of an Earth Cultist feels shoehorned in. Adventure hooks originating in Mulmaster that ask the players to do favours for NPCs they've previously met don't line up with the actual content of the adventure, whereas the only "native" hook relies on the players being motivated solely by gold.

The fact it's a level 1 to 2 adventure means I should also note it's a terrible first adventure for new players. Two of the three "pillars of play" - social and exploration - are completely absent. It's a linear march through a series of unavoidable combat encounters and environmental puzzles. Don't run this for newbies, lest they never come back.

Is there anything good about it? Well, it comes with plenty of maps, and it's probably the only Adventurer's League module I've seen which can actually be played start-to-finish in two hours without any stress. So there's that.

I can't recommend it.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-11 Oubliette of Fort Iron (5e)
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Frozen Castle - Expanding Tyranny of Dragons
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/04/2020 03:55:04

Better than any of the actual chapters in Tyranny of Dragons: Look, I'm not knocking Tyranny of Dragons. I enjoyed it. But Frozen Castle is better than any chapter of the hardback. Heck, it's better than either of the two books of the hardback. There's enough here for a full (short) campaign set in the frozen north.

This is everything that Tyranny of Dragons was missing - memorable characters whose fates the players can affect; multiple paths to victory; a wide sandbox that players can tackle however they choose; exciting set-piece encounters; a finale that recognises and rewards the specific actions of the players up to that point. I cannot recommend this highly enough for anyone who is playing Tyranny of Dragons - or for that matter, anyone who wants a good mini-campaign set in the Savage Frontier. The amount it does with a quite limited number of pages is truly impressive.

Five stars. Highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Frozen Castle - Expanding Tyranny of Dragons
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The Goblet of Fireflies - Adventure
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/04/2020 03:41:13

A Solid One-Shot Dungeon Crawl: This is a no-frills short dungeon for Tier 2 characters, and judged by that standard, it won't disappoint. Its adventure hooks have enough flavour to be interesting, while being generic enough to allow the adventure to be dropped into almost any ongoing campaign. (I used it between chapters 3 and 4 of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle.)

It presents a short dungeon, themed around the intersection of fey, undead, and insects. Encounters feature monsters that don't feel overused, and have good combat balance. The writing is clear and easy to understand. Relevant information is presented in intuitive places. Everything is workmanlike, which I mean in a positive way.

It's not perfect. The dungeon map may be convoluted, but the adventure is actually very linear, with few chances to hit encounters outside of the necessary order, and little in the way of optional areas. The backstory is confusing, but little of it is actually relevant to the adventure. Some of the module's best ideas are semi-wasted by being dependent on the use of specific adventure hooks or alternate conclusions. And though the boss monsters look like unique new creations at first glance, they turn out to be awkward reskins of existing Monster Manual staples whose abilities don't really fit their new appearances.

Still: it does what it does well, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Those who want to push the boundaries of the 5E one-shot module should keep looking. But those who just want to keep their Tier 2 party entertained for a session between meatier outings will find everything they want here.

Additional advice: The module features quite a lot of incorporeal foes who resist non-magical standard weapons. Make sure every character has a reasonable option for attacking these, to avoid a frustrating experience for some players. Also, despite much talk about a special puzzle designed for a bard, the puzzle is unfortunately of the poorly designed sort that doesn't actually offer any interesting gameplay around it, and there's no substantive content for bards beyond merely checking if the class is present. Finally, a piece of design oversight means that almost every monster in the dungeon will be relying on their darkvision to see the players - except that the dungeon specifically notes that darkvision is magically neutralised within the area. Best advice is to ignore this business about darkvision not working and run the dungeon in accordance with whatever your normal policy on lighting and vision is. (A number of monsters that rely on shadows to be effective will also be rendered trivial if you encourage PCs to cast Light on every member of the group in this way.)



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Goblet of Fireflies - Adventure
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DDEX2-09 Eye of the Tempest (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 06:39:29

A huge module with the potential for greatness: This is NOT your average Adventurer's League module. Featuring two entirely separate overland journeys, each containing multiple unique and memorable encounters, followed by a sprawling miniature city with dozens of named characters, this feels more like the spine of an entire campaign than an AL one-shot. You will not finish this module in four hours, or even six hours. And it ends on a cliffhanger - the story's only halfway over, and continues in DDEX2-13 The Howling Void!

My heart goes out to anyone who sat down at a regular AL night and tried to get through this monster. It can't be done. But for those running this in a different setting, who have the time and space to let the module breathe, this is a highly recommendable outing, and one of the best efforts of Adventurer's League Season 2.

Let's start with the weaknesses. First: yes, there are two entirely different versions of the first half of the module, based on which of two roads players decide to take. They'll only see one of them. This is ridiculous over-design, especially as both paths are really great adventurers, and it's heartbreaking as a DM to see what the players are missing.

Second: the monastery is just too big and unstructured. There are dozens of named characters in here. Some have short roleplaying notes. Others have none. There's no map of the area. Most of the NPCs, and indeed most of what they have to say, are red herrings, and players could lose hours diving down rabbit holes that lead nowhere without the DM keeping a firm hand on things.

And thirdly: Encounter balance is all over the place. Early encounters threaten frost giants and remorhazes for players who have no real chance of opposing them. Later ones are problematic. The final battle is either trivially easy or overwhelmingly difficult depending on how long players take to reach it, with no real chance of tuning it to a happy medium.

BUT - oh, the content that's there. Almost none of what's in the module feels stale or done to death. Encounters routinely break the Adventurer's League mold, including a remorhaz rodeo, a friendly giant druid, and more. The detail is there for DMs to make each section as long or as short as player interest demands, and if players ask you a worldbuilding question, the chances are the answer is right there in the module. The final battle is thematically climactic, even if the difficulty is off, and the cliffhanger ending is potentially exciting. It feels like there's just too many ideas here to fit into Adventurer's League, and they're bursting out at the seams.

Overall, I highly recommend the module - with the two caveats that you will need enough time to run it, and you will need to run the sequel as well.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-09 Eye of the Tempest (5e)
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DDEX1-13 Pool of Radiance Resurgent (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 06:24:46

Finally, the Pool of Radiance: The entirety of Season 1 of Adventurer's League was based on the Pool of Radiance videogame and its accompanying 1E module, Ruins of Adventure. There have been hints all season that the Cult of the Dragon is looking for the Pool of Radiance.

So now, with only two modules left in the season, someone remembers that oops, we'd better actually have the Pool of Radiance turn up. And it does, and it's... underwhelming. It's hard to say what would have been satisfying, but this largely isn't it.

I should probably mention that this module completely ignores the lore about Pools of Radiance built up in the novels Pool of Twilight and Pools of Darkness - but that's fine, as Realms canon generally has done its best to ignore those two books and instead rely on their videogame versions (if they have to mention them at all). Which would bother me less if the Tomb of Miltiades hadn't been mentioned elsewhere in the season (and located in entirely the wrong place) but that's another story.

The module's placement in the overall Season 1 story is awkward. There is a certain outcome of events here that the module clearly wants: Vorgansharax needs to get some water from the Pool, in order to invoke Tyranthraxus and have the foreshadowed callback to the original Pool of Radiance adventure. And this is the outcome that AL canon has accepted happened. But making it happen is... difficult. With luck, and good players, and deft DMing, you can pull it off, but otherwise you may have to let it go in order to avoid railroading players in ways they won't appreciate, or cheating them of their deserved victory.

Putting aside the continuity issues, does it stand on its own merits? Largely yes. The substantive encounters are nuanced and memorable, particularly everything after players actually arrive at the crater. The feature enemy is a nice touch, and is something that hasn't turned up in AL Season 1 prior to this point.

It does feature the same problem of many AL modules, in that the process of actually getting to the main event is tedious and pointless. There's a brave effort to make use of the 5E travelling rules, and thereby throw a bone to any rangers in the party, but those rules are terrible and boring and interacting with them does no-one any favours. A random encounter table is included, featuring some interesting encounters, but neither the pacing of the plot nor the time limits of Adventurer's League will permit you to use it. (Nor are random encounter tables ever a particularly good idea.)

Again, DMs should do their best to minimise the overland travel, and get players to the crater as quickly as possible. Once there, it's a serviceable module.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-13 Pool of Radiance Resurgent (5e)
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DDEX1-12 Raiders of the Twilight Marsh (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 06:12:55

A strong module let down by unoriginality: Raiders of the Twilight Marsh is a direct sequel to DDEX1-7 Drums In The Marsh, featuring a return to the Twilight Marsh and its lizardfolk, and finally (maybe) delivering a confrontation with the black dragon Throstulgrael, teased in the earlier adventure.

Let's start with the strong: Everything once the players actually get to the dungeon is entertaining. Beserker kobolds, a half-dragon troll, and Throstulgrael himself all stand out as memberable encounters, and the pacing throughout all of this is solid.

Unfortunately, as with many early Adventurer's League modules, it wastes time getting there. The trip through the swamp is dull and long, unwilling to invest greatly in any setpiece (presumably because of the demands of Adventurer's League timing) but equally unwilling to just cut to the chase. Worse, everything in this portion is stuff that the players have already done in Adventurer's League, and done better. The swamp voyage is less entertaining than the one in Drums in the Marsh. The lizardfolk are a repetition of lizardfolk in both Drums and the immediately-prior Pyramid of Sorcerer's Isle. The hags feel bland and generic after Tales Trees Tell's Jenny Greenteeth.

With all that said, it's still in the better half of Season 1 modules. DMs running this are advised to handwave as much of the early nonsense as possible and get to the dungeon with haste.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-12 Raiders of the Twilight Marsh (5e)
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Conversations With... Faction Contacts in the Moonsea, vol. 1
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 06:04:21

Interesting fluff, but of no real use: This is a brief collection of short fiction, structured as conversations with (theoretically) the key faction contacts for Adventurer's League in the Moonsea area.

As fiction, it's briefly amusing. The writing quality is fine. It provides a bit of perspective on the Adventurer's League factions, if you haven't already got your head around them.

But as a game aid or DM resource, it's largely useless. Not even Adventurer's League Season 1 manages to use these particular faction contacts reliably, and thereafter they appear rarely if at all. It's a good example of how early Adventurer's League plans deviated almost immediately from the actual execution, and therefore has some value as a historical curiosity. But for GMs intending to actually use these characters, an actual dossier on the characters would be more useful than trying to reconstruct who they are from brief snippets of dialogue.

Luckily, it's pay what you want. My recommendation is that sums less than a dollar would be appropriate for what you're getting.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Conversations With... Faction Contacts in the Moonsea, vol. 1
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DDEX1-14 Escape from Phlan (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/26/2020 05:58:24

A frustrating denouement to Season 1: Escape From Phlan closes out Season 1 of Adventurer's League on a decidedly mixed note. On the one hand, there's a lot to love here. Phlan, as transformed by Vorgansharax's lair effect, is moody and atmospheric. There's some good encounters. There's a chance to take part in a very ill-advised suicide battle against the dragon, if players are inclined.

But for all that, it's just incredibly frustrating. It's a module that lives in the shadow of the excellent Tyranny In Phlan, which does everything that this module does except better, leaving this feeling like an unnecessary retread. All of the NPCs here feel weirdly chosen - Jhessail Greycastle comes out of nowhere as an uninspired stand-in for Alleyd Burral; Madame Freona hasn't been seen since the very first module of the season; Ellison Berenger may well actually be dead based on the player's previousl actions, and is certainly not someone they are greatly invested in now. The plot of the module - getting people out of Phlan - is undermined by the ease with which the players themselves have been doing that very thing in every module since Tyranny. And it remains incredibly frustrating that the players don't get to face the dragon in any meaningful way and live to tell it. The season ends on a sad trombone - the players lost, and they don't even get given a chance to win. (And nor will they get an official chance to redress the problem until an Epic adventure years later whose plot and characters largely assume you've played several seasons in between.)

I like the module because it has the feeling of significance, and of plot moving forward, and of real consequences and stakes - but at the same time, it's a disappointment, and player expectations need to be carefully managed to avoid leaving them feeling cheated by the entire season.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-14 Escape from Phlan (5e)
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Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep - Adventure
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/01/2020 06:01:38

This Is The 1st-level Dungeon Crawl You Are Looking For

Firestone Keep is an excellent example of the classic D&D 1st-level dungeon crawl. A simple quest, an interesting dungeon, fun encounters. Recommended.

The dungeon design is the highlight - the space more or less makes sense, with a reason for everything, logical connections, and no bizarre surprises. It's themed around a single enemy type but there's lots of space for some fun additional monsters. The layout is non-linear, with many intersection and reconnecting paths, and most crossroads offer sufficient information to make the choice of "left or right" a meaningful one. Encounters are well balanced, as is the module overall - it's intended for players to take only a single long rest as they race to beat the clock, and it'll definitely push players to their limits but it's very doable. (DMs should be ready to hand out an extra healing potion or two if players get particularly unlucky, though.)

It's not a deep roleplaying module, but there's at least a couple of good conversations to be had in the dungeon, and the potential for some moral choices. Plenty of traps, and a puzzle or two as well.

Assuming that you don't count "classic dungeon crawl" as an inherent negative, the weakest aspect of the module is that a clever and lucky party can technically complete the quest without seeing 80% of the map or fighting the dungeon boss. Small changes fix this - the GM I played with added a side-quest to find the missing tracker in the dungeon, and that was enough to prompt further exploration.

Finally, as a minor note, the gender balance of NPCs could use improving - my GM switched the child, the orc bodyguard, and the alchemist to women and it helped tremendously.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep - Adventure
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