Let’s continue the journey through the last of the ‘Basic’ selection of Dungeons & Dragons. As I said in the previous review set, these are my own personal thoughts and feelings which I’m sure not everyone will agree with. I hope at the very least it offers a guide for GMs to help them pick adventures appropriate to their group and play style. It should also offer some thoughts to help them develop their written content.
Author: Tracy Hickman & Laura Hickman
My Rating: 2/5
This adventure was designed for characters of levels 2-3, and you really do need at least level 2 or you won’t complete the key encounters. Some challenges would cause a level 4 party to struggle, which means they must instead find more innovative ways around problems.
The adventure had a genuine story to tell, with ample opportunity for character interaction, problem solving, and with enough combat to satisfy the average fighter. The treasure rewards were also very good. While the final treasure was huge, you had to really work for it and the adventure kind of needed that if characters were going to level from it.
So why the low score? A complete and consistent lack of pure common sense. Things start going off the rails at the first numbered encounter, in a roadside shrine, where a teleportation trap can split the party landing half in prison and the rest scratching their heads. No save, no warning, just poof, and party members disappear. How would you feel if you take your thoughtfully made character to the first session and without a single die being rolled, you’re told to sit out the next few sessions? Sure, maybe you get to use a pre-gen character for that time but it’s not the same and your real character is missing XP.
Then we get to the evil temple wherein lives some evil power that seeks to steal the lovely Rahasia from the village. Rahasia herself accompanies the party to show them the temple, even though a map would easily do as it’s up a regular trodden road. Rahasia plays tour guide for a bit and warns everyone to be careful, as this area is patrolled regularly by the potentially bad guys. Finally, it’s time for the party to delve into the temple, so what does Rahasia do? She suggests she’ll just wait in the bushes until the party return. Really? Wait for days in the bushes in an area heavily patrolled by the very people who seek to kidnap Rahasia? Yep, that’s what the module says she’ll do.
Then there is the logistics of the dungeon itself. It’s packed full of teleport portals, which I suppose isn’t that bad, at least at first. As we get to the teleport mazes though things are starting to get frustratingly stupid. You have maze rooms that are only about 10′ x 10′, so finding standing room for a party of 5+ characters get’s a little persnickety logistics wise. Teleport mazes are always an amazingly bad idea from a gameplay perspective, as it completely ruins pacing and makes for boring sessions.
Then there is the cost of construction! Just for fun I worked out the actual research cost for a single teleporter, based on a reduced fee that they might only be Dimension Doors. The cost was 24000gp per portal. I did a rough count and there is about 78 of these portals, for a net cost of almost 2 million gold. That’s the sort of money characters outlay to create monuments in their aspirations for immortality!
I could go on about the serious errors in basic logic, but they could fill an entire post on their own. Suffice it to say, though this module had a few high notes, the negatives far outweigh the good. Please, whenever you design an adventure, please consider the ecology at work, and the simple logistics of the elements. Rahasia reminds me of the kind of modules I wrote back in High School; filled with nice ideas, but marred by an under developed sense of how the ideas will play out at the table.
B8 Journey to the Rock
Author: Michael Malone
My Rating: 3.5/5
Full disclosure, this was the first adventure module I ever purchased and doubtless my perception will be clouded a little by nostalgia. However, it was interesting to revisit an old favourite after at least two decades, and see if my new cynicism can pull it apart.
First of all it’s worth mentioning that the cover art is my Larry Elmore, so it’s a lovely piece which looks custom made for the module. The story is tenuous, showing glimmers of more depth but not delivering. Still, it can work as a basis for the DM to build upon, so that’s not a bad thing. The module also holds the hand of the DM just enough to help new DMs while not overly encumbering more experienced ones.
Where I have to remove marks though is for how deadly some of the encounters are. Four ogres is more than enough for a party of 3rd level characters, so I’d recommend characters be at least around the 3000XP mark for this adventure. In fact, the very first set encounter was with harpies, who had six out of eight of the characters charmed before the first initiative roll was made. Thankfully the ones who survived were the Fighter and the Halfling who managed to save things from being a TPK.
When the party finally reaches their goal, it’s somewhat disappointing, which isn’t that bad a thing, except they must now return back home to report the news and it feels very anticlimactic. On the plus side they can choose to return by a different path and thus find some new encounters.
It is a decent module with a variety of things to do and with some replay-ability as there are multiple (3) paths to the goal. Rewards were fairly well balanced with risk. Despite the backstory, it didn’t draw me in enough to want to do more with it. Still, I do appreciate writers providing backstories in case the DM needs to ad-lib stuff.
B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond
Author: Harry Nuckois
My Rating: 3/5
This isn’t one module but a set of five shorter stories with a vague link between some of them, allowing you to run them as a set or individually. The very first adventure is definitely written for the 1st level party just starting out. Unfortunately the rewards are unlikely to get anyone to second level by the next adventure.
As the difficulty increases with each adventure, so too do the rewards. The party should be able to complete each adventure in sequence and end at or near the Expert levels which start at level four.
Adventure 4 was totally decimated when two sleep spells rendered the entire adventure null and void, but that’s just what can happen when players work smart, not hard. Trouble was, this left most of the adventure as nothing but opening rooms to find loot.
My only real complaint is that the adventures, being a package deal of five for the price of one, lack the polish of the more dedicated one adventure per module books. It does many things I like, such as listing all monsters with stats on the inside cover. It even has just enough of a story for each adventure that players should know what end outcome to strive for. My issue is that it’s all just so ordinary. Sure, it falls to the DM to liven things up and build upon the foundation created in the module, but there’s only so much a DM can do.
All in all, it’s a solid module that can take characters from level one to four, but it’s just 90% boring. It does have it’s moments, but most of it comes down to open door, kill monsters, loot room, rinse and repeat. If you have new players, the adventures are not likely to convey how good D&D can be.
B10 Night’s Dark Terror
Authors: Jim Bambra, Graeme Morris, Phil Gallagher
My Rating: 5/5
What a truly awesome experience Night’s Dark Terror is. It has been written an a transitory adventure that takes characters from Basic level to Expert level. It is recommended for a party with around 5000XP each, and I’d also back that recommendation as perfect for the encounters offered. Much lower, and a good party can make it, but they will have to play very carefully. Any higher, and some of the encounters lose their challenge.
So what makes this adventure really stand out? First of all, the level of work and detail is exquisite. Detailed weather patterns are provided. Many maps to detail places of interest, with more detail provided on key danger points, but less for more incidental places like some of the towns the party pass through. NPCs (good and bad guys) are nicely detailed with more than just a stat block, to help the DM add more life to social engagement.
Betond the technical, the story telling is really on point. Characters get to uncover things a little at a time, so they are drawn into the story rather than having the endgame revealed at the outset. Add in the travel to many different locales and you have a story that feels epic, even though the characters are still low level.
There is a ton of combat for those so inclined, but this is spaced out with plenty of social stuff. A prepared DM can also find a great many places to allow characters to use General Skills. The module even comes with a battle map and proper stiff card tokens to introduce miniature play, though we elected to just use our imaginations rather than fuss about with tokens.
There are flaws here and there, but they are tiny flaws which a DM can easily paint over. As usual, it is important to read the entire module ahead of time to get a good grasp of what is going on. Take notes as well, as many small details are there for smart players to use to uncover the mystery.
I have often criticised modules for putting in big XP dumps through overly generous loot. Night’s Dark Terror does have an XP dump here and there, but they are at points where the players/characters have really earned it, and where all characters are due for a level up. In fact, over the course of the adventure characters should gain 2-3 levels, but that’s okay because the play time from this module is really high.
The ending doesn’t have any definitive awesomeness, but the tools are certainly there for the DM to create an ending that leave the players feel they accomplished something meaningful.
To adjust the module for rules that were brought out later, such as weapon mastery, just make notes on your preliminary read through and upgrade villains as you see fit to level the playing field. As most of the boss villains are level 3-6, this means they may Skilled or even Expert with their weapons of choice.
I wish I could write adventures as good as this one, and the way everything is set out have taught me things as a DM which I can take into future module writing. It’s modules like this one that really get my excited about the game, and why I still prefer Class D&D over all other versions.
A little trivia: One or more of the writers seems to have a fascination with the number 5. I know it’s a strange thing to mention, but it just seemed so odd. You’ll see what I mean if you play through the adventure yourself.
B11 King’s Festival
Author: Carl Sergent
My Rating: 5/5
When going through the modules we didn’t really look at the level requirements, thinking that they were all level 1-3. Now after Night’s Dark Terror, the party is very over-levelled for King’s Harvest, which is made specifically for level 1 characters. As a result we played through this and the sequel Queen’s Harvest, more as a straight narrative, discussing how different things might have been if characters were more level appropriate. It worked out to be pretty fun actually, and the players really got to see how their characters had progressed.
First in the book is some really solid advice for the new DM. There is also notes on the history and geography of Karameikos to help paint a picture for everyone. Where B1 walked the DM through making a populated dungeon, King’s Harvest talks a lot more about how to apply and use game rules, including how to manage players. I personally think this is great information for new, and even some more experienced DMs, so it’s a welcome addition to the book.
This is actually already my choice of module for a first session with 1st level characters. The scope is very realistic, with the party doing a favour for the local village. Both monsters encounters and loot are all well balanced. A really nice cherry on top is a page in the back that details all monsters and loot, which makes adding up XP really easy. XP gained should just about get the Fighters to next level, depending on the number in the party.
Even though it’s only a level 1 adventure, the party should own a powerful item called the Staff of Healing. This makes the third module that gives this item as a reward. It’s a hard item to roll up on the tables so my guess is that many GMs like to give out this item as a way of improving the survival rate of low level characters. It indicates to me that low level D&D play might be enhanced by increasing the starting HP of characters as 5th edition has, but then again increased HP takes away that sense of achievement that comes with getting a character to third level.
All in all, it’s just a tight introductory adventure which should be interesting enough to get people into the game without some of the pretentiousness of some earlier modules.
B12 Queen’s Harvest
Author: Carl Sargent
My Rating: 5/5
The good things continue as the story from B11 is continued. You can run B12 without B11 but they do flow better when run one after the other.
Here the PCs have two locations to explore, and the module is scaled well to take the characters past 2nd level and into 3rd. The XP dump at the end could get most of the party into 4th level by module end.
I think it’s particularly noteworthy that the characters find spell scrolls granting many spells they will need as they advance into 5th level. In fact, a lot of magic items are handed out, which should solidly equip a mixed party for a little time to come.
I also love that the writer has carefully detailed the value of all the fixtures, silverware and pretty much anything not nailed down. Some parties are very grabby, and let’s face it, it’s all XP. Having the module properly detail all of those incidentals is a really nice touch.
The end wraps up nicely in a way that should leave players really pleased with their achievements. Also, it establishes the party as valuable heroes in that local area. All in all, it’s just a really well rounded adventure with a pleasant mix of what a good module should have.
Once again, I will have to criticise the way most modules end with a big XP dump in the form of piles of treasure. At least Carl Sargent tends to offer the final treasure a number multiplied by the number of characters. This is a better way to do it than to over estimate the amount left. Personally I prefer to give pure XP for goals met, but that’s a house rule, the strict D&D rule is that XP comes only from monsters killed plus gold found.
That’s just a rule thing though, and from a rules standpoint, this is basically a perfect module.
If you were to start a new party from level 1, I’d recommend running B11 followed by B12, as both are really well written. If the party is large, you might follow that with B2 Keep on the Borderlands, as it will teach the party to look at a larger picture than what’s directly in front of them.
Once the party reaches about 5000XP, take them into B10 Night’s Dark Terror, which will transition the party into Expert level play. This will further fill their toolbox not just with loot, but with a lot of gaming tools they will have learnt along the way.
Overall it does seem that the first few and last few of the B series modules are the best, at least in my opinion. It kind of makes sense as well, because the first few modules come from a genuine passion, while the last few came from a much more mature grasp of the rules. That said, none of them as so bad that I would suggest you didn’t try them. Everyone should and does run the game they personally enjoy, so it is doubtless there are DMs out their that would flip the scores I’ve given. That’s how it should be, diversity is one of the greatest gifts D&D gives, especially in this edition.
By the end of all 12 modules the party has taken almost 8 months in game time, which includes time taken to train masteries (both weapon and general skills), as well as do a little magical research. The average level for the party is now level 6, which will mean we’ll be starting some Expert modules above recommended level. I’m not concerned though, as I recall some of the Expert modules were XP poor.