Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What Do I Know About Reviews? Game Master's Toolbox Treasure Decks (5e OGL)

My most recent D&D related acquisition was purchased because I’m kind of lazy, and because I like gadgets. Nord Games (the same team that produced the Critical Hit, Failure, and Luck cards I previously reviewed) also have Game Master's Tool Box Treasure Decks. These decks are divided by CR, with a separate deck for CR 1-4, CR 5-8, CR 9-12, CR 13-16, and CR 17-20.

Yes, you can roll on the treasure charts in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and that’s fun. But sometimes you don’t want to reference separate charts when it comes to your coins, valuable items, and magic--but you don’t want to just reduce all of your treasure to a flat gold piece amount.

The Treasure Decks address this issue, by having several pre-generated treasures on each card, but with each treasure fully fleshed out. Rolling a d12, you get a result on the card that indicates a treasure that might have various coins, valuable items, and magic described on the cards.

Treasure Type D

The decks are attractive and the cards feel solid, just like the other Nord Games products Iooked at in the past. The face of the cards is a simple parchment color, with a chart that has various entries corresponding to a d12 roll. The back of the card has nice, professional art depicting some kind of treasure hoard, and each tier of treasure has a different card back.

Items of Note

I didn’t read through each card in every deck. I did take multiple samples from each tier of treasure presented and read through the available treasures. Some are more straightforward than others (X number of gold pieces, X number of silver), but there is some nice evocative text for some of the more exotic treasure. (Add in data about how many cards/how many treasures per card/total number of treasures per deck)

When magic weapons or armor appear, there is a description of what the item looks like. Some magic items are listed with minor quirks. My favorite is the magic scroll that will naturally crawl away from people of a certain alignment as if it were alive and slinking away from that character.

The quirks that I saw were interesting enough to be evocative, without drastically altering the usefulness of the item. For someone that just wanted a quick way to generate treasure, the descriptions are a definite bonus.

The decks also contain a card that explains how to utilize the decks. The suggested method of utilization says that the players can draw a card and then roll, or the GM can draw the card and determine the treasure on their own. Additionally, the suggested means of generating a hoard is for the player or the GM to draw and roll on an additional card until they finally roll a 12.

I was curious to double check the guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for treasure after reading this. According to the DMG, creatures known for hoarding treasure should get “at least” two rolls on the standard treasure by CR table. While “rolling until you get a 12” may produce a sizable hoard, there isn’t really a hard and fast rule being strained by this method, and it would be easy enough to set your own comfort level for how many cards to utilize.

Side Note: How Well Do We Know our DMG?

It seems like every day, there is something that comes up that is covered in the DMG that I didn’t know as covered. In this case, in looking up expected treasure, I noticed that the Dungeon Master’s Guide actually gives a recommendation on how much adventurers should get paid when they get hired for a job--a randomly treasure equal to the CR of the average party level.

Blue Loot Drop

The cards look great, and they have huge number of potential treasure on them, so it’s unlikely that the cards will lose their utility unless you hand out a phenomenal amount of treasure. The details make the treasure evocative without adding too much detail. The formal preserves random generation but cuts out referencing multiple tables.

Grey Loot Drop

My biggest complaint with these cards is that the only way you can tell what tier of card is indicated is by looking at the back of the cards. The other cards, such as the critical hit and failure cards, have an indicator in the upper corner referencing any level based recommendations, but the cards only have the random treasures listed on them.

In order to keep in mind what tier of treasure the deck generates, you either have to memorize the what image goes to what deck, or you need to keep your cards in their original boxes when not in use, which eliminates the ability to sleeve them. To their credit, the different card backs have some clues that the treasure in the deck is a little bit more epic with what is depicted in the pictures, but it’s still not the fastest way to process something that is designed for ease of use.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

Overall, if you are running a game of Dungeons and Dragons and are likely to use randomized treasure at any point in time, these cards are going to be useful. Additionally, because they are divided by tier, you can always pick up the ones relevant to your game and get the rest later on.

As long as you don’t mind memorizing the images, keeping them in their original boxes, or coming up with your own system for keeping them organized, these cards should be a good addition to your collection.

BSing About Campaign Settings

As often happens, my favorite podcasts cause me to think of a lot of words, and it makes more sense for me to post here, on the blog, than it does for me to clog the arteries of their communities with my commentary. In this case, were going to be looking at Gaming and BS’s show on campaign settings, which you can find here:

Gaming and BS #203: Campaign Settings

Dragonlance Adventures, Brett, and Dragonlance Inspirations

Brett mentioned that one of the campaign setting books that disappointed him when he purchased it in his youth was the Dragonlance Adventures hardcover for AD&D 1st edition. He further mentioned that he was a fan of the setting from the novels, but the hardcover didn’t do much for him.

I remember having a lot of fun running Dragonlance when I was younger, but I also remember picking up a lot more relevant setting information from both Leaves from the Inn of Last Home and the Dragonlance Atlas. The Dragonlance Adventures book had stats for what some of the races and classes looked like, but not nearly as much information on running campaigns outside of the War of the Lance, or details on locations or events that weren’t already touched on in the novels themselves. It was very much a book that defined what you saw in the novels in game terms, rather than opening the world beyond the initial information that a reader would already have.

I latch on to this both because of the supplementary material I picked up, and because Margaret Weis Productions did an amazing job making up for this lack of detail. Both the War of the Lance supplement and the Time of the Twins sourcebooks at a great deal of information that fleshed out regions and even time periods only mentioned briefly in the novels. The Time of the Twins supplement was a favorite of mine, for detailing several alternate history campaigns that could be utilized.

I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention the Time of the Dragon boxed set and Taladas. TSR didn’t seem to know what they wanted to do with Dragonlance for a while, but Taladas was a setting that could have been an amazing product line with more support. Detailing the continent on the other side of the world from Ansalon, Taladas was 100% designed to be adventured in, and could give the feeling of “familiar, but different” that a lot of people who were fans of the setting might have wanted in a campaign supplement. “Roman” minotaurs, a nation that supplemented their military with zombies, dragons of both families that ignored the call to war, gnomes that sail on lava, and desert nomads that sailed on sand all provided plenty of interesting space to adventure, but TSR quickly pivoted back to Ansalon and a narrow focus.

Me, Loving the Realms

Speaking of campaign settings I loved in my youth--I never fell for Greyhawk or Mystara (when it was still the Known World). I though both were great when you needed proper names for cities or didn’t want to think about geography, and I ripped Karameikos out of the Known World to plop into my own world when I started running games. But I fell for the Realms when I first started reading about it.

The key point here, though, is that it’s not the raw elements of the Realms that made me love it. The Old Grey Boxed Set has entries in it which are capped off with Elminster’s comments on those entries. Sometimes he mentions that the entry may be wrong, or there may be more to the entry than anyone realizes. There were details like adventuring company charters and the census of Shadowdale at the time of the last Zhent invasion.

Waterdeep and the North continued to throw tidbits of information that may or may not be true but was certainly information that someone in the setting would know, and think was true. More of Elminster’s wit followed. Then, the Savage Frontier came out. I loved that book, not just because I have an unreasonable attraction to settings that have a frozen north. The Savage Frontier had its own unreliable narrator providing commentary on the information presented in the book. It wasn’t just Elminster that could be a sarcastic commentator on the setting, but the setting was filled with unique individuals with their own spin on what was and wasn’t important. I loved it.

I’ll also say that, when it comes to supplementary material, Jeff Grubb’s Forgotten Realms novels, as well as the DC comic that he wrote, are some of my favorite fiction to ever come out of the setting. Both the novels and the comic seem to convey the same spirit that was in evidence in the boxed set and the early supplements.

There was also something at play in the setting that I wouldn’t be able to put my finger on until much later. Superficially, Conan and Fafhrd and Mouser seem like they cover very similar ground, but Fafhrd and Mouser have a certain sense of humor about them. They don’t have the seriousness around them that Conan often has. Conan was often driven, but Fafhrd and Mouser are often motivated as much by whimsy as by determination. It would take me years to really put my finger on it, but the Realms reminded me much more of Fafhrd and Mouser than Conan, and I’ve always felt more at home with them than with the Cimmerian (I’ve still got a soft spot for Conan stories, don’t get me wrong).

I was disappointed in a lot of Realms material over the years. The Horde boxed set felt too much like “we cut and pasted this history book about Mongolia into this product, and change some proper names, and there are a few magic things and monsters at the edges of the map.” A lot of good authors still seemed to make the mistake of seeing what was magical about the Realms and missing it just by a little. For example, the Realms has a lot of quaint, non-rules oriented details floating around, but some authors mistook the presentation of those details through NPCs with lots of personality, with the details themselves being the important part.

In 2nd edition AD&D, my favorite products were always the Volo’s Guides, both because they often provided more “mundane” details, and because Volo was very clearly a personality with his own quirks and oddities, and, even better, his notes got edited and commented on by Elminster.

Because I had taken a multi-year break from D&D before I jumped back on close to the dawn of 3.5, I didn’t quite realize that the 3rd edition Realms wasn’t working that well for me. The continual presentation of Realms Shaking Events were driving a lot of the whimsical side of the Realms to the edges, and there were too damn many stats. It could be entirely anecdotal, but I don’t remember nearly as many people complaining that Elminster should solve their problems when his stat block was, in total: Elminster, human male wizard 26, CG. Once he had hit points, level appropriate magic items, and a set loadout of spells, suddenly that became a measure of what Elminster should be doing in the world on a day to day basis, instead of being a crotchety, half-crazy old man who had long ago retired from adventuring.

I don’t think the modern D&D products set in the Realms do the best job of utilizing what is unique to the setting, but in a lot of ways, I do think they at least understand and respect some of the quirks the setting has more than 3rd edition products did.

On Star Wars, Canon, and the Size of a Galaxy

First and foremost, I think it goes unsaid way too often in RPG circles how amazing West End Games work on the Star Wars setting was. George was one guy doing a set of three movies. He didn’t need setting bibles or details on anything that he didn’t want to detail in the movies. He could come up with all kinds of evocative phrases that didn’t need to mean anything, because they were only there to provide the illusion of depth.

West End Games took notes from Lucasfilm, and a billion random references, and stitched together a coherent wider galaxy from those threads. Not only did they do all of that, but their work fed back into work being done at Lucasfilm, so that the connective tissue that an RPG company did to make a setting playable helped shaped the direction of a multi-billion-dollar property.

Other properties have had a leg up on providing RPG settings. Tolkien’s way of writing meant he just couldn’t tell stories in the present of his setting without him creating copious notes on past eras and distant lands. Properties like Star Trek had multiple screenwriters present from the beginning, necessitating series bibles so that the various writers could get on the same page with their stories from the start. Star Wars lived in George’s head. Reading about the development of ESB in Star Wars The Annotated Scripts, it becomes apparent that George didn’t really share out a ton of setting information--he often let writers go down a certain path, only to say that he didn’t think what they were writing fit what was in his head.

That firmly established, I’ve always kind of marveled when people wonder how to play a Star Wars game that doesn’t step on canon. It’s . . . a . . . galaxy! That’s a pretty damn huge place. There are all kinds of Imperial governors, crime lords, and bounty hunters for the PCs to run into without ever running into Vader, Luke, or Mon Mothma. There are tons of capital ships and superweapons for potential Rebels to blow up to secure the safety of a local sector of space. There are more fortunes in the Corporate Sector or Hutt Space that a scoundrel could ever imagine--of course, it also helps that the Brian Daley Han Solo novels established early on that you could have some fun, pulpy adventures away from the main saga.

Campaign Setting Personal Ads

What I want in a campaign setting is something that knows what it is and can communicate that. I don’t dislike details, but details along don’t give a setting personality. If you have a personality up front, however, the details can do a lot to reinforce that personality.

I don’t want a campaign setting to be clever. I don’t want it to hide the kind of stories that it wants to tell by making me read through the whole thing and guess. I don’t care if a setting is using old tropes I’ve seen a hundred times, if it knows that it is using those tropes and is milking everything it wants to use from those tropes.

I want a setting that is designed for a tabletop RPG to be table ready. What that means to me is that I want adventure hooks and meta-discussion about why this region of the campaign setting is better for these kinds of stories than this other area. I want examples of how to use the game rules to reinforce the tropes and themes of the setting.

You can give me a timeline, but I’d rather have a short set of bullet points summarizing what’s important to know.

And since we were talking about Star Wars above--avoid absolutes. If you have an awesome order of people called the Azure Knights or whatever, I’d rather you say, “they are rare, and seldom seen,” instead of saying “there are exactly three of them,” especially if you later go ahead and name who all three of them are and what they are doing.

Although I’ve seen some complaints about it, one of the things I’ve liked about the 2nd edition 7th Sea material is that there isn’t a lot in the way of absolute details. There aren’t a lot of “exactly 256 years ago, this happened,” or “there are 275 ships in Queen Elaine’s fleet.” It enough for me for the books to mention that this nation is known for being a naval power, while this other nation lost most of its ships during the War of the Cross.

Sean Was Right

I wholeheartedly agree with Sean when he mentioned that the importance of a campaign setting is often in giving everyone the same starting point. Everyone has this common ground they understand about what is true about the setting. That shouldn’t lock the campaign into a certain direction or be leveraged for advantage when accessing trivia about the setting, but it is a great tool for quickly getting everyone in the same headspace when the game first begins.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dungeons and Dragons Adventurers League New Rules Suggestions

I'll admit it. I've spent way more time thinking about these than I probably should have. I play AL in fits and bursts, where I'll go for several weeks at a time, and play at a few conventions, and then I won't be able to make it for a few months. That said, I've got a lot of friends that play regularly, and I have, in the past, played on a weekly basis for months at a time. It's also a thought exercise that is impossible to escape because it gets down to how much you can change the core rules of D&D before the game doesn't feel like D&D anymore, balanced against making the game as open to new players as possible.

I've always felt that organized play does need to be, foremost, about getting new players into the game. It's a means of expanding the hobby, not just an extra night for experienced players to pick up another game. It can be that as well, but experienced players often have established groups that can play with any rules they want. Even so, if the game has any use as a common ground between new players and old players, there has to be some degree of commonality.

Based on the rules we have already seen, these are some of the tweaks I would make. In a lot of places, these tweaks have to do with implementing the rules in the pre-season 8 adventures, as it sounds as if the season 8+ adventures will have guidance for specifically using the new advancement and treasure rules.

DM Discretion

As written, the DM can decide not to award hourly checkpoints of the PCs have not done anything related to the plot of the adventure. I think I would move one step further and add a set of questions at the end for awarding checkpoints (definitely inspired by games that award XP based on answering questions, like Powered by the Apocalypse games).

Two Hour Checkpoint Questions

  • Did the engage in activity that moved the plot forward? If yes, award 1 hourly checkpoint.
  • Did the PCs engage with the primary conflict of the adventure, even if they weren't successful? If yes, award 1 hourly checkpoint.

Four Hour Checkpoint Questions

  • Did the engage in activity that moved the plot forward? If yes, award 1 hourly checkpoint, to a maximum of 3 checkpoints.
  • Did the PCs engage with the primary conflict of the adventure, even if they weren't successful? If yes, award 1 hourly checkpoint.
  • Did the PCs accomplish significantly more than they needed to in order to resolve the adventure goals, while also successfully resolving the main conflict? If yes, award 1 hourly checkpoint that can exceed the maximum allowed for the adventure (4).

DM Discretion and Treasure

Two Hour Checkpoint Questions (Tier 1 or 2)

  • Did the PCs complete a job in which they were promised payment, or did they find a stash of treasure in the course of resolving the adventure? If so, award 1 treasure point.
  • Did the PCs receive a treasure point? If so, award them 40 gold pieces for each tresure point.

Side Note: Gold Piece Value Per Treasure Point

The current assumption is 75 gold pieces per level for tier 1, or 150 gold pieces per level for tier 2. If you divide 75 by four, you get 18.75, and the assumed rate of treasure points is 1 treasure point per two hours of play, bringing this to 37.5, which we round up to an even 40 gold. Tier 2 goes up to 150 gold per level, but it also goes up to 8 checkpoints per level, so adjusting this to per treasure point instead of per level, it works out to the same base as teir 1, because there are twice as many checkpoints, so we have the same number of gold pieces per treasure points for teir 1 and teir 2. 

Four Hour Checkpoint Questions (Teir 1 or 2)

  • Did the PCs complete a job in which they were promised payment, or did they find a stash of treasure in the course of resolving the adventure? If so, award 2 treasure points.
  • Did the PCs do an exceptional job negotiating for more payment after doing an exceptional job, or did they explore every possible treasure location, finding more than the expected amount of treasure? If so, award them an additional treasure point.
  • Did the PCs receive a treasure point? If so, award them 40 gold pieces for each treasure point.

Two Hour Checkpoint Questions (Tier 3 or 4)

  • Did the PCs complete a job in which they were promised payment, or did they find a stash of treasure in the course of resolving the adventure? If so, award 2 treasure points.
  • Did the PCs receive a treasure point? If so, award them 140 gold pieces for each treasure point at tier 3 and 1375 gold pieces per treasure point at tier 4.

Four Hour Checkpoint Questions (Teir 3 or 4)

  • Did the PCs complete a job in which they were promised payment, or did they find a stash of treasure in the course of resolving the adventure? If so, award 4 treasure points.
  • Did the PCs do an exceptional job negotiating for more payment after doing an exceptional job, or did they explore every possible treasure location, finding more than the expected amount of treasure? If so, award them 2 additional treasure points.
  • Did the PCs receive a treasure point? If so, award them 140 gold pieces for each treasure point at tier 3 and 1375 gold pieces for each treasure point at tier 4.

Cashing In Treasure Points

In addition to spending treasure points to acquire items on the treasure point tables, a character may permanently expend a treasure point to gain twice they amount of gold they would normally received when they received a treasure point. For example, a tier 1 character cashing in a treasure point would permanently lose 1 treasure point, and receive 80 gold pieces for that expenditure.

Why Do This?

All of the above is more complicated that the baseline version of the rules initially presented, but it's still easier than the DM hunting through individual encounters to see what the value of each item is. I feel like the above is an example of how you can tie the gold piece advancement back into treasure acquisition, instead of divorcing it from adventuring and tying it to the more abstract concept of leveling a character up. I feel like this is even easier to do with the milestone advancement system.

I also think there needs to be some leeway for previous season adventures where there may be some treasure in out of the way places, or in dangerous areas, that only include monetary treasure and not consumables or magic items, allowing the DM to reward players that went after those dangerous valuables that aren't accounted for in the current abstraction.

Finally, because giving up the chance at getting a magic item is painful, but because some classes potentially need gold to make them more viable (such as casters transcribing spells or paying for expensive material components), I added in the conversion of treasure points to gold, which feels more intuitive if you tie the acquisition of treasure points to the acquisition of gold. 

This is all just me randomly coming up with some refinements. By no means to do I think I can do a better job than WOTC or the AL Admins at juggling the entire picture of the D&D ruleset or organized play as a whole. I just think once in a while rules could use some fine tuning.

Friday, July 20, 2018

What Is Wrong With Iron Fist?

I watched the trailer for the second season of Iron Fist, and it's just not that visually interesting. Eventually his fist glows and he does a ground pound shockwave thing.

It is obvious there is a tonal issue with Iron Fist, and that much has been evident from the original series launch. Iron Fist in the comics is a much more philosophical character that was much more influenced by the area where he was trained, while Danny in the TV series somehow manages to retain some of the worst elements of his own culture, even though he’s spent a significant portion of his life in K’un L’un.

That said, it can be hard to just “fix” tone, and it can be difficult to get a handle on a very physical character with a martial arts background without looking at how you visually communicate information about that character.

It strikes me that the starting point for Danny really should have been that he is a wuxia character that is not in a wuxia story. While the Netflix Marvel stories are aiming for a gritty, street level feeling, the contrast between the established setting of this version of New York with Danny’s “native genre” would have made for a better contrast. Instead of running away from the mystical elements of the character and/or toning them down, they should have dove straight into them.

I’m not an expert on Danny Rand. I read Heroes for Hire as a young child in the 80s (where I got to see them cross over with ROM, Spaceknight!), but a lot of what I’ve seen of Danny has come from his appearances in other comics. That said, I have some familiarity with the character.

His fist and his tattoo glow, he can magic punch people, and he can even do things like healing others. He is a wuxia character.

While I have never seen a comic that shows him hovering in the air while performing his attacks (something that isn’t evident in a static medium like comics), or defying gravity to run up walls or the like, this is exactly what he should have been doing in his series.

Using more wirework to portray Danny’s martial arts as clearly mystical would have also helped to alleviate the problem with the actor not being the most proficient with his fighting. If he can run up a wall and backflip over an opponent, nobody is going to think twice about sloppy or sluggish punches or blocks, because that’s not what is impressive about his “style.”

In this paradigm, the setting is still gritty and street level. In fact, Danny isn’t immune to bullets or swords. He can just defy gravity for a few seconds at a time, run up walls, and do other “supernatural” things. With that as your starting point, instead of “grounding” the character, anything else you do to differentiate him will flow naturally from realizing that he isn’t fighting his supernatural, philosophical background, but trying to integrate it into a world that is much less ethereal than the one he left.

In other words, for a character that is defined by being a martial artist, the best way to decide how to portray him is to understand his martial arts. While also moves him away from being a white guy with a chip on his shoulder, that means that the character’s current starting point is the same as Daredevil’s and Punisher’s.

Image result for Jianghu hustle

Credit Where Credit is Due

A lot of my thoughts on this wouldn’t have crystalized without listening to Jianghu Hustle. You should totally be listening to that podcast. They are awesome.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What Do I Know About Reviews?--Chronicles of Sorrow: Sorrow's Ruin

Funny thing about today’s review--I was just getting ready to pick it up, when I was contacted by the author about doing a review. I chose to buy it myself, because I was already going to do so. So, I guess . . . half disclaimer for being contacted by the author, but not actually getting the review copy for free?

Sorrow’s Ruin is the first part in a series of adventures that are being published under the banner of Chronicles of Sorrow, and is available on the Dungeon Masters Guild.

 Physical Parameters of Sorrow
The PDF itself has an eye-catching photographic cover of a model dressed as the titular Sorrow, as well as the title itself, which incorporates the name of the ongoing series. The interior has a simple but clear and functional layout, with large red headers, grey sidebars, and a two-column format.

There are simple full-color maps for various encounter locations included in the book. The book is 32 pages long, and the last 9 pages are larger reproductions of some of the maps included in various encounters, as well as maps of the (potential) player character home base. There is a dramatis personae list of NPCs as well as a page of NPC stats for characters unique to the adventure. That means the bulk of the adventure is wrapped up in the first 20 pages of the book.

In The Beginning

This adventure is designed for 1st level characters. Characters are meant to end up in Secomber and become champions of the Western Heartlands of the Forgotten Realms. This caught my attention, as I remember fondly all the various city-states and holdings in the Western Heartlands from the AD&D 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Adventures, hardcover, and it’s a region that doesn’t get a lot of attention these days.

The adventure assumes that PCs are coming into Secomber as caravan guards, and that they have a lull in their employment, at which time the locals have a problem, and recruit them. A woman that works for the local cleric of Ilmater tells them that the cleric has been kidnapped, and offers them a fee to find him in the nearby woods.

Without skipping to the end, this adventure has a nice hook for getting PCs to end up in the region long term, and this is a 1st level adventure. It feels like this introduction tries too hard to be the “standard” beginning to a D&D campaign. If the PCs are assuming they are caravan guards waiting for jobs, it would be very easy for them to just not take the hook (note: as players you shouldn’t do this, but, many adventures seem to frame options in such a way that you might think there could be other hooks waiting for you).

As 1st level adventurers, it almost feels like it would have been better for the PCs to have been directly responding to a job offer sent out by the cleric, as it starts the PCs with buy-in at the beginning of the campaign.

There are some opportunities for the PCs to pick up some clues from the locals, and then decide if they want to head out on their rescue immediately at night, or wait until daytime. It’s harder to track the cleric and his abductors if they wait until daylight, and there is a chance that an additional encounter is triggered. PCs that avoid the additional encounter, according to the adventure, still gain XP for it.

I feel like the choice between nighttime and daytime should have been a little stronger. As it stands, it feels like it serves mainly to punish the PCs for not being willing to help immediately. Since it’s already raining in the nighttime scene, I almost wish that had been ramped up, with the PCs choosing between a nighttime pursuit, mechanically dealing with environmental factors, or waiting until daytime, when the bad guys will be reinforced, but without environmental factors causing potential issues. Maybe I’m just a sucker for PCs needing to worry about things like falling trees, lightning strikes, or sinkholes to get some variety from monster encounters.

I really liked that there was a selection of NPCs to meet and talk with at the inn, but I wish more of their rumors had been more long-term items that helped establish Secomber as an ongoing campaign location. Effectively, you can get a little more detail on some aspects of the challenges coming up by talking with them.

I also wish it had been a little more explicit that the adventure doesn’t flat-out stop of the PCs miss some of their information gathering or tracking rolls. I would have rather an explicit “if they miss these clues or tracks, they run into X as an extra encounter, and then find the place.” It’s a complication, not a dead stop.

I also really like the idea that the guards that will accompany the PCs during the day will potentially complicate the situation by taking a blunt approach to retrieving the cleric, but I would have liked a little more in the way of personality from the guards, with perhaps an explicit call out to the kind of roleplaying that the PCs might engage in to convince the guards not to proceed with the most direct course of action--the automatic assumption that they will complicate the encounter reinforces the idea that the PCs are just getting punished for waiting until the morning, instead of making it a viable option with some benefits.

Sorrow and the Grotto of Forbearance

Once the PCs rescue the cleric of Ilmater, he sends them on another quest to rescue a tiefling prophet that guards a sacred shrine to the god of suffering. We’re told that Sorrow is going to be a major NPC as this series progresses, and she is guarding an artifact that resulted from a confrontation between the followers of Loviatar (the goddess of pain) and Ilmater.

If the PCs accept the job, they arrive exactly at the same time that the local cultists of Loviatar are attacking, and the PCs have a chance to save Sorrow. The pocket dimension that holds the artifact that everyone wants can only be opened by Sorrow, or by her blood, so the cultists are probably opting for the latter.

Because the artifact is going to be important going forward, even after the cultists are stopped, Sorrow wants the PCs to retrieve it, so they can all head back to Secomber. Inside the pocket dimension, there are various mausoleums that have sacred effects that trigger, following Ilmater’s themes of endurance, easing of suffering, and healing, but there are also various undead left over from the previous assault from Loviatar’s forces, where the artifact was created in the first place.

It becomes obvious as the adventure progresses, but since the pocket dimension is partially corrupted by Loviatar’s forces, I would have almost rather her cultists had a means of opening the portal that didn’t involve the guardian’s blood. If they have a means of entering the place, it makes more sense to remove the artifact beyond “later in the series it’s going to be important to a prophecy.” Once the cultists find the location of the shrine, if they have their own means of entering the pocket dimension, it becomes a lot more logical to move the artifact.

I also wish that the undead forces of Loviatar in the corrupted pocket dimension had names and quirks. I know most of them are low-level undead, but given that there is a bit of a hint at the saints and martyrs of Ilmater that watch over the place, the opposite number might have been fun as well.

That said, I really liked the various effects in the tombs in this section. There are some places where PCs will be asked to say something relevant to the faith of Ilmater, and while there is a “right” answer, PCs can state something that “feels right” and make a check to see if it works. I’ll be honest, that’s the kind of “puzzle” that I like in my adventures--ones that might have an answer, but it’s not so linear that there is only one very specific course of action that solves it.

There is also an effect in one of the tombs where PCs will have an effect that keeps them alive if a fight is going badly for them. In another circumstance, this might feel like a contrivance to keep low-level characters alive in a dangerous situation, but it works because it’s a payoff to all the supernatural effects that are themed to Ilmater’s faith.

Payday and Payoff

The final section of the adventure has the PCs returning with Sorrow and the artifact to Secomber. The cleric of Ilmater that they rescued previously will make them an offer to stay on as guardians of the region, complete with their own fortress and magic rings to zap them back to the fortress whenever they are needed to protect the area.

There is also some time spent on explaining that Sorrow might be available as a romantic interest under some circumstances, and I must admit, the NPC feels a little overplayed at this point. I know she is meant to be important long-term, but I think she is being oversold up front. We know she is good and beautiful, and has a tragic backstory, but other than that she wants to do good things, I don’t feel like I know much about her. For some reason, the comparison that springs to mind is Martian Manhunter--it’s like knowing that his family died on Mars and he wants to protect his new home on Earth, but not knowing that he likes Oreos.

I think this is a pretty compelling way of drawing in the PCs for the duration of this adventure series, and my only real complaint is that I wish the offer to become the guardians of this region had come up when the cleric of Ilmater first offers them the job of protecting Sorrow. It reminds me a little of the traditionalism that still hangs around a lot of D&D adventures. “Do the right thing, and maybe I’ll clue you in on the narrative you are participating in,” instead of actively inviting the PCs into the overall theme of the campaign.

Despite that, I think it’s a strong hook for the start of a campaign. I like the limited use teleportation rings that allow the PCs to go out and do some more wide-ranging things if they wish to do so, allowing them to snap back to home base whenever the next adventure starts.

Ease of Suffering

This adventure has a great setup for a long-term campaign, between a mysterious artifact, a base of operations, and magic rings that snap adventurers back to where they need to be. The fight through the Grotto of Forbearance is great and has some nice thematic bits with the various tomb effects.

Embrace of Pain

Sorrow is a little bit oversold, and the beginning of the adventure isn’t tied as strongly to the theme of assuming the mantle of protectors of the region as strongly as it could be. Ilmater’s faith gets some nice thematic elements, but Loviatar’s followers don’t really stand out from the evil cultist mob with any personality.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

I’m interested to see where this adventure series goes. I was a bit critical of the how the adventure ropes in the adventures, but I also know that beginnings are hard, and now that the PCs are assumed to be taking up the mantle, it will be interesting to see what can be done with the tools put in place. I would like to see a little more to Sorrow, personality wise. It is a great use of the tiefling naming conventions.