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DDAL05-02 The Black Road (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 15:19:59

Caravan guarding is a trope of the adventuring world for a reason, and The Black Road is actually a pretty entertaining trip into that trope. It doesn’t make much effort to be new or innovative with this shopworn story idea, but rather revives it for new players to get a sense of what this sort of mission is like.

The monsters are fairly standard, but they are used cleverly in several places, with the need to protect the caravan wagons and camels as a nice touch to try and compel players to think outside the hack-fest box. Enemies show flashes of intelligence, but are only really in danger of outwitting the thickest of PC groups. The either/or option of the final part of the adventure is nice in giving players a chance to get a little more creative without sacrificing treasure.

I’ll be keeping this one in my back pocket as a simple 2-hour adventure that I can plop down and run with a minimum of prep time. I encourage it for anyone looking for the same.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DDAL05-02 The Black Road (5e)
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DDAL04-04 The Marionette (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/14/2018 15:12:41

Bottom Line Up Front: A very good adventure with spooky atmosphere. A few challenges in the writing mean the DM needs to read the whole thing and make some decisions before game time.

This adventure has a lot going on, and will push your time management skills to the limit if your players are interested in any extended conversations with...well, just about anyone. When I ran it, I skipped the initial foray into the woods to find the missing villager, and we still took 4.5 hours to finish.

One continuity issue jumped out at me [SPOILER ALERT].

After Laszlo snatches the powderbox while in the dream sequence, he can then be seen shouting his defiance to Glovina in the square, and then he...just kind of vanishes. I recommend letting your players take a couple of potshots at him in the dream (they are unarmed, but that hardly matters to the spellcasters), and let that be motivation enough for him to flee. The PCs will then be occupied with the burning village.

[END SPOILERS]

There is also one content warning - I have a couple of players who are highly uncomfortable with violence towards children, and there’s some evidence of that in this book (though there’s only one seen of sort-of violence to a child, there’s plenty of evidence that terrible things have happened in the past). As ever, know your party’s limits, and, if you’re playing AL, maybe talk about it before you dive in.

The final encounter was one of the best I’ve had for AL in my short DMing career there, giving new players a taste of how legendary and lair actions can make an enemy a more serious threat than they might otherwise appear.

If you’re playing through a Ravenloft arc, or you’ve got players willing to burn the 20 downtime days to get out of Barovia after, this would make a great spooky break from AL’s more run-of-the-mill monster beatdowns.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DDAL04-04 The Marionette (5e)
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DDEX1-08 Tales Trees Tell (5e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/05/2018 11:51:04

An excellent story with some typo stumbling blocks.

“Tales Trees Tell” is a slightly misleading title, as D&D adventures go, since the trees involved are only those of the Quivering Wood, not too far from Phlan. The adventurers get involved in a crisis that has been developing over time, trying to figure out what’s going on and what can be done about it. There’s some detective work, followed by some potential negotiations, and, of course, a good dose of combat.

It’s worth noting that the players could potentially get through this adventure with only a single fight if their social skills are up to the task. It’s also worth noting that there is at least one investigative pitfall in the adventure, with the plot progression potentially coming to a halt in the event of a set of failed or mediocre Perception checks.

Like a lot of other AL adventures, this one rewards a good pre-reading because the typos can be confusing at first pass. Additionally, there is a magic item at the end whose description does not match the name of the magic item listed, so DM’s may want to consider how they’re going to resolve that.

Despite the issues, the narrative is really clever and feels very much like a D&D spin on a creepy fairy tale. The PCs get to involve themselves in some age-old politics, but not in a way that pulls the party away from the 5e tripod of exploration, interaction, and combat. My table had fun with this story, and I suspect yours will too.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX1-08 Tales Trees Tell (5e)
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Watch of Waterdeep
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/08/2016 20:13:09

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that the first RPG campaign I ran for my wife-to-be some 17 years ago was set in Waterdeep, and she played a member of the Watch. Nostalgia Alert!

*“We don’t have to put up with lip from stupid nobles! I punch the guy!”

“Well, that starts a bar brawl. The Watch is summoned.” “The Watch? Those pansies.” It’s a burden for a lot of DMs - players who care nothing for local law enforcement, knowing full well that such figures are likely plucked out of the back of some compendium of NPCs with only basic equipment and certainly no organization that could complicate even a mid-level PC’s life. Joseph Carricker’s “Watch of Waterdeep” not only gives you an organization that can help make PC’s behave like civilized beings, it provides the foundation for a campaign unlike anything you’d think of as traditional D&D.

The book opens with an exploration of basic Watch Operations: how they organize, both in terms of teams and geography; who’s in figurative and literal command; and the different ways that diverse classes could find themselves wearing the blue tabard. He covers the accouterments of the Watch - you may ask why you might want to know what the insignia of a Clerk looks like, but imagine your party finding such a tabard in an empty dungeon cell that belongs to the Xanatar. The implications are delicious (and will be pertinent below).

One of my favorite bits of the book is the use of the patrol horn. The break out of what the different horn calls mean can add one of those amazing little immersion details that can carry your game to the next level. I’d add a special call to summon the Grey Hands (the emergency response squad of Waterdeep), but the book covers the most common ones.

He finishes up with a couple of pre-built stat blocks for the different possible members of the Watch a party can encounter. All things that make a DM’s life a lot easier in the moment.

When I read this, I immediately thought of a “police procedural” campaign set in Waterdeep. Instead of ancient maps leading to moldering dungeons, clues and interviews lead an Investigative Watch Patrol to dens of thieves. You’d need to think a little bit about how to handle treasure, but the trade-off is broader use of social skills and roleplaying. Working your way through the ranks (and levels) until your party is uncovering noble corruption and maybe even clashing with the aforementioned Xanatar, who’s been torturing clerks for the secrets of the Watch and Castle Waterdeep!

All in all, this is an incredibly useful book, especially at the lovely price point. Anyone with a soft spot for the Realms will enjoy it, and I suspect a lot of us will start thinking about campaigns there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Watch of Waterdeep
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