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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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DDEX1-05 The Courting of Fire (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/03/2018 17:29:16

A serviceable adventure suffering from some construction issues.

THE GOOD: Courting of Fire is a professionally-written adventure, divided (quite sharply) into an investigation half and a dungeon-crawl half. For the first time in the Season One Adventurer's League path it suggests story continuity, making good use of characters and locations encountered in previous adventures in the path. Some of the writing is really quite sharp, and I still love "WANTED! For thievery most cunning!" as a piece of phrasing. There's lots of talking, both with townsfolk and with villains, which I always love.

THE BAD: The module suffers throughout from some basic problems of flow and construction. The investigation component is basically the players trying to find the precise location of the dungeon they need to go to, but the adventure isn't as clear as it could be about what is or is not sufficient information to achieve this. As written, it will require hitting a particular conversation topic at Cockburn's Grocery. There's opportunity for a more lenient GM to let the players go sooner but doing so largely shortcuts the entire first half of the game. The writer could have benefited from the principle of "every clue should be offered in three places" in constructing RPG mysteries.

Likewise the dungeon-crawling portion has weird irrelevant rooms with potentially time consuming fights and no treasure, punishing players for exploring. Player motivation throughout the adventure is often unclear, with a weak plot hook for drawing players in, and a quest that can be adequately completed without engaging with any of the dungeon's puzzles or final battle. The artifact McGuffin at the end of the dungeon disappointingly has no clear powers and is apparently of little monetary value.

As a last point - it's not really this module's fault, but it's a little weird that both DDEX1-05 and DDEX1-6 deal with book thefts. It's a fairly specific plot point and it feels odd running them back to back, especially as none of the books end up being of any great importance.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-05 The Courting of Fire (5e)
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Murder in Baldur's Gate (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/03/2018 01:12:25

A superb product - D&D at its best.

Murder in Baldur's Gate is a fantastic start to Dungeons & Dragons' 5th Edition, and remains one of the best adventures AND best campaign supplements ever published by TSR or Wizards. It contains a full-fledged fast-paced low-level campaign in the city of Baldur's Gate that combines a political sandbox with a constant stream of high-stakes events. It's the sort of story where, by design, players can't interact with everything and are constantly asked to make choices about what's important to them. The finale has wide-reaching consequences for the Forgotten Realms. It's absolutely my dream format for a D&D adventure. Plus, players familiar with the Baldur's Gate videogames will appreciate regular tasteful callbacks, while those who are not won't even notice them.

Combined with that, you get an exhaustive guide to the city of Baldur's Gate and surrounds, sufficient to run a year's worth of games. There's more useful detail and compelling plot hooks here in this one adventure than there was in the entirety of the 4th Edition Forgotten Realms material. It is absolutely a worthy purchase as a setting book even if you have no intention of running the adventure. The whole thing is in full colour, and dotted with maps, character portraits, and just a really attractive presentation throughout.

The original physical edition came with one of the most gorgeous DM's screens ever produced for D&D, and while the graphics are included in this purchase sadly the production values of the original item are not. But to make up for that, the DriveThru release comes conveniently packaged with all the bonus content that Wizards released online for this adventure, including an expanded opening encounter, additional events, and monster conversions for 3rd and 4th Edition.

All told this is a must-have for 5th Edition collectors, or for anyone interested in great D&D adventure design. Highly recommended, from someone who's rarely generous towards Wizards products.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Murder in Baldur's Gate (5e)
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Cult of the Dragon (2e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/12/2018 22:06:49

Product is everything you could hope for from this topic.

PDF version is complete and text-searchable.

Print version is high quality and, to my mind, entirely interchangeable with the original book. Spine does NOT have any text on it.

Contents of the book cover everything you could want to know about the Cult of the Dragon - a full biography and multiple stat blocks for its founder, a full history of the cult including timelines and references to events in novels that featured them, dragons serving the cult, life as a low-tier cult member, hooks for adventures on behalf of the cult or thwarting it, and the traditional handful of new spells and magic items. If you're running an adventure featuring the Cult (for example the 5E Tyranny of Dragons adventures) or just looking to flesh out a campaign-level evil organisation for your Realms game, this book provides everything you want. It is, of course, set in the 2E era of the Realms, but the cult seems to have changed little in the 100+ years between that and 5E.

If you're not already interested in the Cult of the Dragon, your mileage may vary, but this material is still very easy to drop into any Realms campaign. Alternatively, it would require very little work to port some or all of it to any other setting where "wizards who worship undead dragons" is a concept that basically makes sense.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cult of the Dragon (2e)
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DDEX1-04 Dues for the Dead (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/12/2018 21:51:44

Uninspired dungeon crawling.

Dues for the Dead presents a short delve into Phlan's Valhingen Cemetery. It's pure dungeon crawling - no investigation phase, just straight underground. Roleplaying and consequential choices are limited to the presence of a fairly generic hireling, and a brief encounter with (unnamed) bungling thieves.

It's all very obvious. Players who looked at the title and assumed they'd be exploring a tomb and fighting skeletons, zombies and ghouls will have no surprises at any point. A strong warning from NPCs against stealing from the tomb will cause all but the most larcenous of players to skip much of the module, and the remainder consists of stock undead battles that anyone who has ever played D&D has likely seen a million times.

The sole interesting feature of the module is the detail it lays on about the strange and varied burial practices engaged in over Phlan's long history. There's a lot of opportunity here to world-build in Phlan that other modules don't necessarily provide. Unfortunately it's largely in the form of a guided tour, where players move through a mostly linear series of rooms, marvelling at each new funeral practice but not really having much option to interact with it. Moreover, little of it interacts with the aspects of Phlan's history already established in canon. Miltiades' tomb is here (far underground, contradicting Pools of Darkness) but players can't visit it. There's no interaction with Phlan's historical worship of first Tyr and then Bane. Characters from early adventures who are likely to be buried here (Igan Sokol, for example) go unmentioned.

It's not a terrible adventure, just a terribly generic one. Nothing to see here you haven't seen elsewhere.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-04 Dues for the Dead (5e)
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DDEX1-03 Shadows of the Moonsea (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/25/2018 20:18:39

A mixed bag, but I'd always prefer Adventurer's League modules be too ambitious than too dull.

For the first time in the Tyranny of Dragons path there's a good mix of exploration, roleplaying and combat here, with a central mystery to solve, fun characters to interact with, and a climactic battle. It introduces some great NPCs who'll likely hang around in your campaign - Alleyd Burral isn't given much to do here, but she returns regularly along the path. Elisande is the sort of easily-adoptable character likely to become a party mascot.

On the other hand, there are some serious mis-steps. The villagers were probably intended to draw from the long tradition of sullen Lovecraftian rural cultists, but the description of their village "huts" and the unfortunate choice to give them accented dialogue makes them instead read as exceptionaly racist stereotypes. Some DM finessing - most notably to their dialogue - is needed to salvage them.

In addition, the plot of the villains ends up being overly complex, and ultimately pointless. The McGuffin the villains are searching for is not to be found in this module, or indeed in this campaign, and players can be left thinking it's important when actually they'll need to pop over to the hardback Tyranny of Dragons campaign to see what has become of it. The DM will need to be careful and creative in giving the players enough exposition to understand the events they have just been involved in.

Finally, the "guardian of the cave" is an odd squib. The setup suggests that the lone monster patrolling the woods is a serious and frightening threat, but stat-wise it's not even a match for a single martially-oriented level 2 character. Our group murdered it before it even rolled an attack.

Still, a definite improvement over Defiance in Phlan and Secrets of Sokol Keep, and a good fit for anyone looking for a short tier 1 adventure that's more than just a dungeon crawl.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-03 Shadows of the Moonsea (5e)
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A Boy and his Modron
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/27/2018 23:19:24

Top tier one-shot D&D

I can't praise A Boy and His Modron highly enough. This is everything you want from a one shot D&D game - memorable characters, a story with real heart, rollicking comedy, meaningful decisions, a focus on roleplaying - and everything laid out in a highly readable and easy-to-follow manner. It cleverly uses familiar tropes to cue players to their roles, but they're tropes more at home in an 80s family tearjerker than your average D&D game, and they're used here to great comedic and emotional effect. Also, it has modrons.

This would be highly recommendable as a premium price module, but given it's a pay-what-you-want release it's just a shame there's not a sixth star to rate it with. Definitely run this one ASAP.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Boy and his Modron
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City of Phlan - Forgotten Realms Stock Maps
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/26/2018 17:32:20

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:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
City of Phlan - Forgotten Realms Stock Maps
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