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DDEX1-09 Outlaws of the Iron Route (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/08/2018 14:46:51

A solid but scattered adventure

Outlaws of the Iron Route has many great moments, including some that are relatively creative by Adventurer's League standards. The highlight is probably a trip to a private prison, the jailers therein, and a minotaur prisoner.

However, it never really comes together into a coherent story. Act I in the jail and Act II at the meeting site feel oddly joined, and quite different in tone. None of the backstory makes a lot of sense - Krulek got kicked out of the Black Fist for not being corrupt enough, but now he's a common bandit? The sorcerer is just pretending to be part of the Cult of the Dragon to be scary - but her logic for how she'll get away with it is that nobody's really heard of the Cult of the Dragon on the Moonsea? The Cult cares enough to infiltrate her operation, but they only send a winged kobold? The Cult has access to an orc tribe that fights at their command, and this is how and when they use it? Plus none of this ties in well with the overall story of Adventurer's League Season 1, in fact actively subverting plotlines about the Cult and the Black Fist.

Still, with fairly heavy plot alterations, it worked overall. Mechanically speaking, the biggest weakness is the encounter composition at the meeting site. Assuming the players approach through the kobold side of the camp, none of the individual kobold fights are really likely to challenge the players, especially if the players have surprise on their side - but there's a lot of them, and it can be tedious to actually run them all. The module works best with a GM who's prepared to handwave or narrate the players stealthing or ambushing through the kobold horde.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-09 Outlaws of the Iron Route (5e)
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Horror in the House of Dagon - Adventure
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/12/2018 21:40:06

A good adventure, messy around the edges

MT Black's more recent work - such as House of Dagon - is generally stronger than his earlier releases, and the trend continues here. Horror at the House of Dagon offers a traditional Lovecraft-inspired seaside horror story, built on the traditional 5E investigate / explore / fight structure, with just enough unique to keep it feeling like an original adventure rather than yet another trip to Innsmouth. It's theoretically balanced for four characters of level 3, but as with most of MT Black's work, you'll need to fairly ruthlessly optimise to beat the combats at the intended level.

The strengths here include: (a) a wide cast of characters, many of whom have detailed roleplaying hints, offering players multiple paths to find the information they need in the investigation phase; (b) combats featuring rare and unusual monsters, who make sense in context, so that your players won't just be fighting their five hundredth kobold; and (c) an attractive and concise presentation, inlcuding a full-colour default PDF with eye-pleasing maps, and a greyscale printer-friendly version.

It's a good module - despite having a fairly linear spine, players are unlikely to feel railroaded, and there's plenty of capacity in each encounter to engaged with in it a variety of ways to suit a range of playing styles.

But it's not without its flaws. First and most noticeably, the final encounter is not remotely balanced for a level 3 group, and can result in upwards of 12 monsters on the board - maybe many more - none of them trivial. Options exist - and appear to be intended - to use stealth or other tricks to mitigate the difficulty, but they require being willing to leave multiple innocents to ongoing pain and imminent death while the party plays it safe. Even with these, it can be a tough fight if the party haven't long rested immediately prior (and the adventure's urgency encourages them not to) or if they get bad luck in the opening turns. DMs of roleplaying-oriented parties will need to tune the climax down a little.

Secondly, the adventure leans heavily into the irritating trope of having a complicated backstory that the party has no way to learn about. No NPC the players encounter is able to tell them what is actually happening in the story, and for it to not simply be a bunch of strange random happenings it requires a little work from the DM to insert that exposition. Even so, there are a number of random coincidences that players will need to be reassured genuinely are coincidences.

Thirdly, the adventure actively advertises that it leaves loose ends, and it certainly does. They're intended as a feature, not a bug, and they can be - House of Dagon offers an undefeated mastermind and a home-base village to fight her from if players want to extend the adventure into a campaign. However, GMs will need to clearly flag at an early stage which enemies will and will not actually turn up in the module, to stop players hoarding resources for an encounter that never eventuates and to allow them to prepare properly for the difficult one that actually does.

All that said, this is a solid and recommendable module, and a good buy at a very reasonable price point.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Horror in the House of Dagon - Adventure
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Blessed of The Traveler: Queer Gender Identity in Eberron
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/30/2018 20:32:23

Does what it says on the tin

This is exactly what you'd expect (and want) from a pay-what-you-want guide to exploring a segment of diversity in an established setting.

  • 7 pages of text (plus cover and contents page);
  • Written by an author with lived experience;
  • Attractively presented and eloquently written;
  • Contains advice on incorporating gender diversity into an Eberron campaign to create an inclusive and non-stressful environment;
  • Includes exploration of how various races deal with gender identity, written with a good grasp of existing lore, and clear notes and explanations where the text involves a departure from established canon;
  • Includes two magical options to effect transitioning, both more sensitive and nuanced than the classic (problematic) "Belt of Gender Swap";
  • Features short example character backstories.

It's not a deep sourcebook, but it's exactly what you need if you're a DM running Eberron for someone who wants to run a trans or genderqueer PC, or if you're thinking of incorporating some trans or genderqueer NPCS into your Eberron game, and you're looking for how to do that respectfully to people and respectfully to the Eberron canon. As always, it should as far as possible go hand in hand with listening to the voices of other people with experience and getting lots of perspectives, but it's a really great start.

I'd love to see versions of these for other settings and races - I was having a conversation with my partner the other day about how lizardfolk approach gender (given the relationship reptiles have with sexual determination). And we also had some questions about it in the Dragonlance setting, which I appreciate is not yet fair game for DM's Guild....

Would also love some texts on diversity more generally on DM's Guild. Curse of Strahd and Ravenloft generally have a problematic relationship with Romani that could really use a bit of unpicking...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Blessed of The Traveler: Queer Gender Identity in Eberron
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for the kind words! And I’m definitely not the person to tackle the Vistani problem, though it’s haunted me for years. Would love to see someone try and wrangle that into shape!
Complete Adventures of M.T. Black Vol. I
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/23/2018 07:48:39

Quality varies, but you can't beat the quantity

(Review will be updated as/when we play more of the modules in the pack.)

The Complete Adventures of MT Black Vol 1 offers no less than 14 complete modules for D&D 5E, all of them roughly Adventurer's League length or a little longer (between 3 and 6 hours). It contains the entirety of the material offered in the adventure packs "Tales of the North", "Triboar Trilogy" and "Harpell Hexalogy" - although note that these are loosely themed collections, not continuing adventure paths. None of them are Adventurer's League legal, but in many ways that makes them even more suitable for a cosy home-table environment. It's a lot of gameplay for your money - but the quality definitely varies from module to module.

The adventures are set firmly in the Forgotten Realms - specifically, on the northern Sword Coast, in and around the Dessarin Valley and the nearby towns of Longsaddle, Triboar and Red Larch. This makes them a great companion to the Princes of the Apocalypse or Storm King's Thunder campaigns, which also explore this area. At the same time, they're generic enough that you could plausibly move them elsewhere in the Realms or to a range of other campaign worlds. Most of the modules are of the "town and down" genre, with the PCs setting off from a town to explore a nearby local dungeon / tower / enchanted forest / haunted mansion.

Monster stats and magic item descriptions are not included in the modules, and you will need to have the Monster Manual and DMG handy. Most modules include a serviceable map of the environment - the artistic quality of these varies. The game balance genuinely leans heavily towards the "tough" end of their intended level range - parties within the suggested levels will need optimised play and some experience with the rules to succeed; newer groups may want to treat them as a level higher than advertised.

So far my group has played the following modules:

  • Giantslayer - 4 stars

Balanced for four 1st Level characters.

The "dungeon" in this module is of the "magical forest" variety, populated with assorted fey weirdness. The virtue of the module, though, is in the roleplaying, which makes it a meatier and more satisfying expedition than some of the other adventures in the collection. The party are off to find a legendary giantslayer and bring her home to defend the village she grew up in. It's got plenty of character potential, while remaining simple and relatively uncomplicated. We had a lot of fun with it, and found some genuine emotion in its interactions. In terms of flaws, the various forest encounters are a bit random and disconnected, and the final fight presents some challenges to find the fun spot between "trivial" and "lethal". It may take the intervention of a more accomplished GM than the module anticipates. Not worldshaking, but worth your time and money; recommended.

  • Tower of the Mad Mage (Harpell Hexalogy 1 of 6 / Tales of the North 1 of 3) - 3 stars

Balanced for four 1st Level characters.

A fairly standard "magical dungeon" romp, full of weird elementals and "what is even happening here" gimmick rooms. Players who like that kind of thing will be entertained. Those who prefer cause-and-effect and an ability to reasonably anticipate danger will be frustrated. The adventure hook is problematic - it asks players to murder an otherwise unthreatening tribe of goblins in order to steal their treasure. The "pet goblin" trope makes an appearance, with a comic-relief goblin sidekick following the party around for the duration. Good for a light palate cleanser, nothing to particularly recommend.

  • Doorway To Darkness (Harpell Hexalogy 2 of 6) - 1 star

Balanced for four 2nd Level characters

A quick guide to everything you shouldn't do in writing an adventure. It's basically a linear dungeon crawl. The central route features repetitive fights against a single enemy type. Side passages punish exploration brutally and without warning. The story is completely generic, there are no meaningful character interactions, and no meaningful decisions to be made. An NPC guide is used to strongly railroad players into staying on the main path. A backstory exists explaining what is happening but there is no provision in the text for players to learn it, and it is instead left to the DM to insert. DCs are punishingly high throughout, with only the luckiest characters able to avoid traps or learn anything meaningful from investigation. Difficulty of the module overall will be affected strongly by whether the party includes a cleric with Turn Undead. Very much not recommended.

(Review and rating will be updated if more modules are played.)



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Complete Adventures of M.T. Black Vol. I
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Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep - Adventure
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/15/2018 17:05:23

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:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Beneath the Ruins of Firestone Keep - Adventure
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DDEX1-08 Tales Trees Tell (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/07/2018 00:36:34

The best that Adventurer's League Season 1 has to offer

Set almost exactly at the halfway point of Adventurer's League Season 1, "Tales Trees Tell" offers a very welcome departure from the formulaic outings up to this point. It finally breaks with the "investigate phase, dungeon phase" model to instead offer a well-executed excursion into atmospheric horror.

This adventure takes the party to the Quivering Forest, north of Phlan. The first half details a growing sense of menace in the town of Kabel's Hill, located on the edge of the forest, while the second half covers a journey into the cursed forest itself seeking out a terrifying and memorable fey...

The Good:

There is simply no other adventure in Season 1 of AL that does atmospheric horror as well as this. The season's last real excursion into horror, "Shadows Over the Moonsea", really didn't work (and had more than a little accidental racism), while "Dues For The Dead" had lots of undead but little horror. "Tales Trees Tell" hits all the bases - effective flavour text, genuinely horrifying scenarios, strong pacing and escalation, and meaningful ways for the players to interact with the horror rather than merely being mute witnesses to it. In fact, it's such an escalation in horror for the adventure path that it comes with a unique warning in the introduction that less robust groups may need some aspects softened.

The adventure has a flexible approach to combat. For talkative groups, almost all combats are avoidable, but those hankering to shed some blood will be treated to some unusual and interesting monsters (including the rarely seen Scarecrow) which is great news for those tired of killing yet another kobold or yet another zombie.

The adventure uses only a few named NPCs, and the module gives you a good grasp on their concerns and motivations and how to use them interestingly. The friendly NPCs are good enough, but both the core villain and a certain fiendish wildcard are season standouts.

The module as a whole is very flexible, filled with digressions that can be easily chopped off without feeling like the players are missing much, yet adding flavour where the GM or players want to invest. That should be standard for the limited-time AL format and yet in practice it's rare enough to be refreshing here.

For all of the above reasons, this is the adventure Season 1 really needed at this point. It's a great change of pace for a group playing through the entire season, but it's self-contained enough to be run as a one-off with few changes.

The Bad:

The module is not without flaws. None of them greatly impact by opinion of it.

At the outset, let me say that the title is misleading. No tales are told by trees. In fact, there are no talking trees at all. Minus ten points to Gryffindor.

Moving on: it has a lot of typos. Few of them cause problems, but it's always unfortunate in a commercial product. The author has never returned to fix them despite repeated notifications of them over the years.

Secondly, it's missing cartography. This isn't a big deal, and it's par for the course for Season 1, but a handout showing the relative positions of Phlan, the Quivering Forest, Kabel's Hill, Greenhall and Jeny's clearing would go a long way. (Especially as the players find exactly that map in the possessions of multiple NPCs during the module.) Arguably the lack of geographical detail adds to the fairy-tale feel of the plot, perhaps.

Thirdly - and now we get to more serious concerns - there are some motivational issues in the module. The players know that the first person who entered the forest was making a mistake. They know that the villagers following him in was a mistake. Why would they go in themselves? NPCs such as Serelis repeatedly tell them not to enter the forest, and it's hard to argue that they're not right. DMs will need to do work to pick up the slack here.

Further, the module wants the players to visit Greenhall to learn the way to Jeny's glade, but the whole Greenhall section is problematic. The body on its borders is a fairly reasonable warning the elves don't want visitors, and they're elves - players may feel disinclined to try and "beat the information out of them". Plus the whole encounter is a bit boring, and the perfectly healthy elven village undermines the menace of the forest a little. Depending on time and pacing, DMs should either have the players' guide (or map) lead them straight to Jeny, or replace Greenhall with other Quivering Forest spookiness.

Finally, despite attempts, the adventure doesn't tie particularly well into the larger campaign. In theory, it should be a core adventure - there's a magical pact protecting Phlan's safety, it's tied in with the history of the Lord Protectors, Kabel Hill is an important trading post and warning point, the Cult are involved. Yet the events of Tyranny In Phlan (DDEX1-10) will happen whether a pact is struck or not, which rather undercuts events. There's further problems in the idea that the players might fight her for the finale. As a one-off it's not a big deal, but her stats as-written don't exactly sell her as capable of killing an entire Netherese army (as she's said to have done), or of protecting Phlan if a new pact is struck. Also, she returns in future modules, requiring some fancy footwork to cover her resurrection if players have previously murdered her.

Summary:

If you're running AL Season 1, look forward to this one. It's not as epic as "Tyranny in Phlan", but it's a solid high point for module writing in this series, and should be applauded.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-08 Tales Trees Tell (5e)
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City of Phlan - Forgotten Realms Stock Maps
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/30/2018 16:14:07

UPDATED (CURRENT) REVIEW: In August 2018 the creator updated the map pack. The labelled versions of the maps now contain significant additional labelling, and are much more useful. The unlabelled version is also provided as an option. A printer-friendly grayscale is included, perfect for use as a handout for DMs who aren't keen to spring for the cost of colour. The Elven Tower watermarking has been removed, making the map more immersive. The product is now a solid handout appropriate for use in any game in and around Phlan. On the basis of the upgrade, I've increased my original review score from 3 stars to 4 stars. It's still at a relatively premium price point for a single map, but probably worth it if you're running a game of any length in and around the area.

==

ORIGINAL REVIEW, PRE AUG 2018 UPDATE:

A lovely map but a missed opportunity.

The purchase contains a single image of Phlan, in several formats, with or without some labelling.

The image itself is lovely and by far the most attractive map of Phlan I can find on the internet.
However it's compromised in several ways that limit its usefulness.

Firstly, the labelling is excessively minimal, with only a handful of places tagged. The intent might be to make the map usable in any era of the Forgotten Realms, as the tagged landmarks have existed in some form from the days of the Pool of Radiance videogame through to the Tyranny of Dragons adventure path. However, many longstanding landmarks with well-agreed locations are untagged (the Stojanow Gate and the Lyceum are notable examples), making it really only useful as a basis for your own cartography rather than a ready-to-use player handout.

Secondly, all versions of the image have the unattractive Elven Tower logo in the top-right.

Thirdly, it would have been nice to see a ready-for-black-and-white version included, seeing as you're only getting the one image. The colour choices and contrast aren't great for a black and white printing.

All that combines to make it hard to recommend this as a purchase, given that its price tag weighs in as more expensive than a full PDF module. It needs to offer more to the DM or be pitched at a lower price point to be truly recommendable.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
City of Phlan - Forgotten Realms Stock Maps
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Creator Reply:
Hello Greg. I know this reply comes half a year later. I must apologize for never seeing your review until now, or addressing it. I have revamped the Phlan maps. The watermark is gone and I added the labels you suggested plus a few others. You'll also see a folder with printer friendly files. I included full B/W linework and also grayscale versions of the map. Hopefully you'll find more utility to these maps. Once again, sorry for the eons late response.
Hey Greg, thanks for your updated review. I've just uploaded a fix for those two typos that escaped my proofreading.
D&D Solo Adventure: The Death Knight's Squire
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/01/2018 06:40:10

A wonderful fusion of the old and new

"The Death Knight's Squire" delivers on the promise of the DM's Guild marketplace, offering a professional product at a low price-point that fills an important niche that WoTC clearly has no intention of directly servicing.

This PDF combines a traditional numbered-paragraph gamebook format with a 5E dungeon-crawl structure. It presents a short adventure in a haunted forest, fully grid-mapped, with several combats and a wide range of non-combat interactions. It's well written, attractively presented, and appropriately playtested. Most individual encounters feel fair, and there's class-specific things to do for most, if not all, core PHB classes. The icing on the cake is that the entries in the digital product are all hyperlinked, removing the irritation of flicking through pages (although this feature does not work in all PDF readers - Adobe is recommended). "The Death Knight's Squire" is absolutely perfect for scratching the itch for a bit of DM-less D&D, and I highly recommend it for anyone who might possibly be interested in such a product.

There are some downsides - but please take them in the context of a five-star recommendation overall:

  • The adventure runs a couple of hours at most, and has limited replayability, which is poor dollars-for-time ratio compared with other DM's Guild products. However, it does feature original artwork and full-colour maps for your money.
  • The module promises grid-mapped combats suitable for miniature play, but in practice these are almost entirely melee slugfests with no terrain interaction and insufficient space to use ranged attacks without disadvantage. Maps and minis feel irrelevant.
  • For the above reasons, ranged-specialist characters will have a frustrating time with the module.
  • As far as I can see, taking the time to explore the map is not generally rewarded - the most satisfying victory and best treasures lie along a fairly direct route.

Nevertheless, this is the rare sort of DM's Guild product I expect to find myself recommending to others in casual conversation for some time to come. Author Paul Bimler should be proud of accomplishing so much in such a small package, and potential buyers should go ahead and add this to their cart immediately.

(NOTE: The module is also available in a Fantasy Grounds format, but the Fantasy Grounds version is NOT included in this package - it must be purchased separately.)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Solo Adventure: The Death Knight's Squire
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the review Greg! I think you're right regarding "melee slugfests" something I've tried to address in subsequent solo adventures. However, it remains a challenge in the solo format. Tyrant of Zhentil Keep contains more developed monster tactics, and I'm always thinking about how I can edge this format closer to resembling a full DM'd style of play.
DL3 Dragons of Hope (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/31/2018 17:06:08

Ambitious but broken

"Dragons of Hope" is the third module in the original Dragonlance adventure path, following on from DL 2 "Dragons of Flame", and covering events that the novel series skipped over between books. It sees the players guiding refugees through the wilds south of Pax Tharkas, and then delving into the ruined tower of Skullcap to locate the gate to the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin.

I love this module in theory. It aims for a lot of things rarely seen in D&D module design, either during the 1E era or, really, ever - deep social and political interaction, decisions that constantly have real consequences for others, a demanding external timeline forcing players to keep moving to stay ahead of events. But none of it really works, and in practice the module just isn't fun.

The first half of the module concerns the voyage of the Pax Tharkas refugees south to the Hopeful Vale. The intended gameplay here sees the players guiding and defending their refugees, and interacting with the Council that the refugees have chosen to guide them. It could be great, but it's not. The reality is that the included wilderness map offers the players few genuine choices of route south - there are realistically three paths, and one of them would likely see all the refugees starve to death within a few days. Moreover, there is simply not enough information available to make the choice of route an interesting or informed decision. There are very few things to meaningfully interact with on the way - an encounter with hill dwarves is a rare exception - and the process of having to take decisions to the Council is frustrating, as it offers the possibility of the players being overruled in the few decisions they actually get to make in this section.

The Council is emblematic of another problem that dogs all the Dragonlance adventures - too many NPCs. There are five meaningful NPCs on the Council, three of them completely new, that the module encourages players to get to know and significantly interact with. This is in addition to a now epic retinue of named characters who will be present, including Tika, Otik, Gilthanas, Laurana, and others, all of them theoretically important to later plot points. The module doesn't use any of these characters to build depth or provide interesting interactions - they're just there to police the players and steal their thunder. Fizban makes a reapparance here as well, and in the absence of players knowing his secret, it makes for a goofy and random non-sequitur.

This overland portion suffers from yet another ongoing Dragonlance problem - wasted content. Depending on the route chosen, there are significant parts of the module players will never see. Our group skipped an entire mini-dungeon without knowing it was there. Others may miss the Hill Dwarf village or the Eye of Elar. It's frustrating to see good encounters going to waste when there are so few of them in this module to begin with.

There's a final problem with the refugee portion, and that concerns player motivation. It's taken for granted that the players will hang out with the refugees, despite the refugees being annoying, generally hostile to the players, and clearly possessed of their own leaders and warriors. It is also taken for granted that the players will quickly settle on the idea of Thorbardin as a place of safety, despite frequent references to historical events where Thorbardin dwarves have gone to war rather than allow refugees in their kingdom. There's little provision for what to do if players don't buy into these ideas, beyond deus ex machina visions from the gods basically ordering the party to get with the program.

The second half of the module offers a dungeon delve into the shattered tower of Skullcap. There are some interesting encounters here but it's another of these poorly designed Dragonlance dungeons where the path to the goal is short, obvious, and skips more than half the dungeon. Players quickly focusing on descending the interior staircase miss out on two dragons(!) and a host of other interactions. Expecting them to be motivated by the 1E desire to slay every monster and loot every treasure for precious XP seems contrary to the general narrative thrust of the modules. (It should be noted the 3.5E rewrite of this module in "Dragons of Autumn" significantly improves encounters in Skullcap, but doesn't fix the overall problem with the dungeon layout.)

Overall, this is a clear low point in the Dragonlance modules. It's hard to blame it for trying something new - particularly something in keeping with the story's epic scope - but the execution here falls woefully flat.

DriveThruRPG's version: The PDF version on sale here is as good as could be expected. It's based on a fairly low-resolution scan, but at least all the pages have proper vertical alignment. The original text has been re-entered to make it searchable, with proper care taken to preserve the original fonts and styles. As far as I can tell, no text is missing. Two places where the original module used text boxes with a grey background look a little strange in this version, but it's not a big deal. Chapters are PDF-bookmarked for easy digital use. The map from the interior cover is presented in the PDF in colour, in its proper aspect ratio, which is nice but may present minor problems for printing.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DL3 Dragons of Hope (1e)
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DL2 Dragons of Flame (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/31/2018 01:52:57

A Dragonlance classic - flawed but iconic

The second of the original Dragonlance modules covers the journey from Xak Tsaroth to Pax Tharkas, via the elven homeland of Qualinesti. This is the material covered in the second half of the first Dragonlance novel, "Dragons of Autumn Twilight".

It's hard to not love this in principle if you're at all a fan of Dragonlance. The encounters covered here are iconic, and filled with well-remembered characters like Gilthanas, Laurana, Elistan, Verminaard and more. I'm not a fan of Douglas Niles as an author of novels, but his writing here is evocative and well structured, both in terms of the "boxed text" and the general pacing of events and discoveries. The fortress of Pax Tharkas looks like a confusing mess on a map, but when your players actually get down to playing it, it has a very natural flow, while still offering a lot of options for meaningful player creativity (which is somewhat uncommon among Dragonlance dungeons).

On top of that, there's a real passion for the world and the story. Once again, the module contains sheet music for a song (although my musical friends suggest the notation is somewhat non-standard), and the art and cartography throughout are first-rate (albeit in black and white).

Still, it's a product with sizeable flaws. Infamously, the first half of the module is a railroad, with players shuffled from event to event and asked to listen to long expository monologues. The second half is a dungeon crawl, which fares better, although there's still a large number of rooms that might leave a DM asking, "Why did they even bother to include this?" Most runnings of it will end with the unfortunate D&D trope of two NPCs fighting while players watch, although it's mitigated somewhat by opportunities for players to run that fight themselves either in this module, or in either of the next two.

The Dragonlance addiction to NPCs grows here. On top of a huge roster of actual PCs (which the module once again asks you to draw from its pre-created characters rather than build your own), AND a potential retinue of hirelings and friends acquired in the last module, Dragons of Flame expands out the party's entourage with a significant number of new characters, all of whom it warns you are important to the story later and who therefore need to (a) follow the party constantly and (b) absolutely not die. Significant DM intervention is required to stop them stealing the show, trivialising battle, or turning combats into exercises in small-scale miniature warfare.

Despite all that, this is the Dragonlance that fans love, that built the brand, and if you've got any passion for that world it's difficult to not embrace this module, faults and all.

On DriveThruRPG's version: DriveThruRPG's version is NOT quite as good as the original product, but is generally acceptable. It's based on a fairly lazy low resolution scan of the original module, with some vertical tilt issues. The original text has been deleted and re-entered so as to make it text-searchable - which is nice - and an attempt has been made to match the original fonts and sizes in that process. Do keep an eye out - I've not done a full compare with the original module, but this text conversion process has sometimes resulted in missing text in other DriveThru modules from this era. The maps that originally appeared on the inside cover of the module are included in the PDF in their original aspect ratios and colours without being chopped up, which is great (although it probably would have been nice to have them as separate files to aid printing).



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DL2 Dragons of Flame (1e)
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Dragonlance Classics Volume I (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/29/2018 20:27:26

Bargain basement treatment of classic modules.

The original product: Dragonlance Classics Volume 1 re-presents the original 1E adventures DL1 to DL4, in an attempt to accurately re-print the original material while updating it to 2nd Edition. On the plus side, all the original narrative text is here, and all of the original art, albeit rearranged in ways that don't entirely do justice to the original presentation. You're getting four classic modules in one book at a cheap price, so it's attractive for that reason.

Unfortunately the update to 2E leaves something to be desired. In some (but not all) of the original books, complete monster stat-blocks were presented in-line at the relevant point in the text, convenient for running the adventure. In this edition, all monster stat blocks have been removed, replaced by a table at the rear of the volume. This table does not include monster descriptions, special attacks or special abilities, so you'll need copies of the 2E Monstrous Compendium and Dragonlance supplement to make use of them. In addition, typos leave some monsters blank entirely (the Giant Bees from Dragons of Hope, for example.) It's the cheapest and laziest possible conversion to 2E, so that's a little disappointing.

Fortunately the original modules remain solid. They're full of odd flaws (asking you to use a party of unbalanced pre-created characters; a frankly baffling first act of the first module; far too many NPCs and far too frequent use of railroading), but their unique personality makes up for it. These are infamously the modules that come with sheet music and poetry. The story has genuine depth and epic scope.

DriveThruRPG's version: The book loses something further in translation to DriveThruRPG. The scan is not high resolution. It looks bad on screen. It looks worse in print on demand. The PoD version does NOT have lettering on the spine (unlike DLC2, which for some reason does), the pages have a "printed from a bad scan" look, and (as with most DriveThru POD books) the maps have been chopped up and bound at the rear of the book and are basically unusable - you'll need the digital copy to access these meaningfully. As an aide to a presentation of these modules it's acceptable, but as a standalone product or display artifact it falls short.

My advice: If you're running the original modules and have a choice of systems, the 3.5 update of these adventures is vastly better, benefitting from actual new content and a loving restoration with an eye to more mature adventure design, while keeping faith with the original presentation and content of the DL series. If you're running 2E, you may be better off just buying the original modules - given that you still need the 2E monster books to go with this, there's nothing you get here that you wouldn't get from combining the original 1E modules with the 2E Monstrous Compendium.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dragonlance Classics Volume I (2e)
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DDEX1-07 Drums in the Marsh (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/29/2018 19:32:35

Atmospheric but muddled.

With Drums in the Marsh, the Tyranny of Dragons AL season takes a detour to the Twilight Marsh for an encounter with lizardfolk.

There's a lot to like here, staring with an extremely atmospheric setting. The module does a great job of emphasising a potentially terrifing trek across the marsh, complete with pounding drums, driving rain, a river voyage, relentless lizardfolk pursuit, and dangerous marsh creatures. The finale rather unusually (for this AL season) offers players a lot of opportunity for creative, aggressive or diplomatic approaches. The lizardfolk are well used, with a lot of emphasis on how they work as teams and how they make use of their natural environment to increase their threat. These are all really strong points.

But the module definitely needed an edit. The opening "investigation" phase feels tired and obligatory. It's clear from the first words of the module that lizardfolk are the villains, but the first act nevertheless goes through a tiresome series of "what could possibly have left these clawed footprints" site-based investigations. When I ran the module, I skipped this first act entirely, starting in media res with the party already travelling down the Trank River by boat.

Another serious defect is the lack of an overland map. Much of the module consists of a wilderness journey through the Twilight Marsh, with encounters at various points along the way, but the module includes no large-scale map of the area showing the relative positions of these encounters, nor does any good detail map of the area exist in other Forgotten Realms material that I'm aware of. It makes it hard for players to make sensible decisions about their progress or engage with the exploration portion. (To be fair, in its original AL format, the time constraints of an AL game would normally prevent players making this level of decision anyway, but it's still a noticeable and jarring omission.)

The module also fits poorly into the larger Adventurer's League season, using none of the existing worldbuilding around Phlan but existing in its own standalone space. A DM of reasonable sharpness can bridge this gap - or alternatively, it may make it more attractive to DMs looking for a lizardfolk-themed one-shot, as the whole module could easily be dropped into any marshland in any campaign setting. It also regrettably repeats some themes from the immediately preceding adventure, "The Scroll Thief", featuring another trip to the Twilight Marsh and the involvement of another black dragon, after the players have possibly already just dealt with those exact same plot elements.

Lastly, it suffers (as many AL modules do) from possibly not meeting player expectations regarding the finale. Events in the module have largely been set into motion by a villain who does not actually appear within the module scope. The later module "Raiders of the Twilight Marsh" picks up some of these plot threads, but player expectations need to be managed or they'll be expecting a fight that never comes.

Summary: A good highlight of lizardfolk, easy to use as a generic marsh-themed adventure, but a poor contribution to the surrounding Adventurer's League season burdened with a dull first act.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-07 Drums in the Marsh (5e)
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DDEX1-06 The Scroll Thief (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/23/2018 19:46:42

A solid outing; generic done well.

The Scroll Thief covers much of the same ground as the previous Adventurer's League title, "The Courting of Fire". The same antagonists are involved in yet another book theft from the library, and the party must pursue them to a wilderness location for a showdown. It also covers some of the same territory as the next module, "Drums In The Marsh", featuring a trip to the Twilight Marsh with dragons and (possibly) lizardfolk. A group playing the entire first AL season may find this repetitious; the intention presumably was that most players would only play one module out of each set of two or three releases in this season, and the repetition ensures that key elements will be encountered even if modules are skipped.

That said, on its own merits this is a decent module. The investigation phase features a variety of well-fleshed out characters and interesting interactions, developing the worldbuilding of Phlan in entertaining ways. A couple of the combats feature interesting foes that break out of the "thugs, undead and kobolds" model that the prior AL modules overused, and there are reasonable opportunities to avoid or mitigate combats through diplomacy or stealth for players who prefer that route.

It's not without flaws, though. The antagonist's plan doesn't really make any sense and is full of red herrings that confuse rather than entertain. The investigation phase is prone to being trivially skipped by smart players, or leaving players with no idea what to do next if they miss a vital clue. And the final combat features a solo monster with lair actions that (as printed) could conceivably kill an entire level-appropriate party before they even act. Still, DM intervention required to solve or mitigate these problems is minimal.

Also relevant - as printed, this adventure does NOT fit into the standard AL four-hour timeslot. The combats alone will take most of that time if you run them all, and the investigation phase is meaty and full of temptations to lengthy interrogation and extensive roleplaying. That's great if you have the time and the player interest - more content is also nice - but relevant to people who hope to field this at a convention setting or on a tight schedule.

Lastly, this adventure is set more firmly within the Tyranny of Dragons AL season than some others. Some existing investment in Phlan or the operations of the Cult of the Dragon is needed to get the most out of the story, and the plot threads here about the Cult's master plan don't get any closure within this module. That's not a fault - the module's intended as part of a season - but makes it perhaps not ideal as a one-shot or for slotting into an existing, different, campaign.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-06 The Scroll Thief (5e)
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Drums in the Marsh Map Pack
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/23/2018 18:13:57

A missed opportunity.

(Please note I'm reviewing this product for use as a physical handout or GM aid. Buyers looking to use it for Virtual Tabletop (VTT) purposes may have a different experience.)

Despite the "Drums In The Marsh" adventure being obviously missing some key maps, and despite this map pack providing new maps not provided in the adventure, buyers will likely still be disappointed.

The pack includes maps for:

  • the deserted farms area - definitely the highlight of the pack, an attractive and clearly labelled document that makes for a worthwhile handout;
  • the giant frog ambush - a bare bones map covering far too much area for the encounter with fairly unattractive presentation; it's equal or worse in quality to what the average DM might draw freehand;
  • the prisoner raft area - suffering most of the same problems as the frog map; and
  • the Island of the Lizard King, not grid-scaled, and (to my mind) somewhat less clear, attractive and useful than the one that already appears in the module.

All maps are in black and white, but unfortunate choices in shading makes the latter three maps ink-heavy to print and hard for players to engage with - they seem to have been designed for colour but then PDFed in monochrome.

The map that DMs who've read Drums In The Marsh might be longing for - a wilderness-scale map of the Twilight Marsh itself, showing the relative positions of the key encounters and the territories of the lizardfolk tribes - is bafflingly absent.

All in all it's very hard to recommend this product for use at physical tabletops on either utility or aesthetics, even at a fairly low price point.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Drums in the Marsh Map Pack
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DDAL4-01 Suits of the Mists (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/03/2018 23:18:01

An unusual misstep for 5E Adventurer's League.

In the midst of a welcome and generally well-executed return of the Ravenloft campaign setting, we have this module, which highlights its biggest problem. After 5E has put such effort into embracing diversity and creating an open, inclusive product, we have the Vistani (or rather, their interchangeable surrogates, the Gur) front and centre in this module portrayed once again as witches, thieves and spies.

It's perhaps not as bad as 2E Ravenloft, which infamously sported such topics as "When Gypsies Tell Lies", but it's still an unfortunate descent into unnecessary (though probably unintentional) racial vilification. Vistani and Gur aren't made-up magical races like elves and dwarves; they're an explict depiction of real-life Romani, used in the same genre and context as Romani were used in the gothic horror Ravenloft draws from, without any examination of how the stereotypes from those books fuel the persecution of actual real people in the modern real world.

The Vistani elsewhere in Ravenloft can be improved by some judicious surgery of the material but here the fact that they're a Romani analogue, and that they're thieving, is the central conceit of the adventure. I don't feel like I could run this one in good conscience, so I really can't recommend it for any purpose.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDAL4-01 Suits of the Mists (5e)
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