Another year, another Bloodstone module. By 1987, the Forgotten Realms had become a TSR property, but the original box set was still a month away whenAnother year, another Bloodstone module. By 1987, the Forgotten Realms had become a TSR property, but the original box set was still a month away when H3 The Bloodstone Wars was printed, so the back cover got the soon-to-be-familiar gold and stone logo, while the front retained the usual AD&D trade dress. At this point, the entire arc had been set, and the end of the module positively talks about the upcoming conclusion in H4. Reverting to the usual practice of a detached tri-fold cover and 32-page book, H3 also included a poster-sized hex-map of the remnants of the Kingdom of Damara.
The module generally assumes that the players have been through the first two adventures and one of them is now the Baron of Bloodstone (the former Baron having retired at the end of H2). If not, there's a section that talks about how to get them involved, and does a good job with working them into the first part of the adventure, but fails to discuss anything past that, and the party would not be in the position of authority assumed by the rest of the module.
It is now spring, and the module assumes that the players will, naturally, still be working on loose ends, and the maps of the main mines from H2 are repeated, though no key or description is given. The real concern here boils down to logistics. The mines are open, and producing plenty of valuable unfinished gemstone. Now they need to be converted into something more useful—cash, supplies, troops....
This module features another turn in focus. Whereas H2 had BattleSystem as an afterthought at best, going hard down the line of a tough dungeon, H3 returns to large-scale warfare (with a side-order of killer dungeon). This isn't as lovingly presented as in H1, but there are proper BattleSystem stats for everything (but no pre-filled out forms), and a set of five scenarios outlined, with a general flow chart of how things should progress. This latter is the idea that I think might have gotten edited out of H2 as the Temple started dominating the entire module.
(Warning: I'm talking about plot, such as it is, from here on.)
At any rate, the module assumes that the party will end up escorting a caravan of bloodstones to the nearest major trade city, and the first part does a good job outlining how that should go, and anticipates possible player actions well (such various methods of flying out there). There's some hints though this section that there's warfare in the near future, but I think it might need to be a bit more heavy-handed after how it got blown off in the second module. There is enough build up afterwards that it shouldn't take the party by surprise, but they can lose some valuable opportunities to prepare at this point.
The second major section of the module details the war. The various (now) independent duchies of southern Damara quickly become jealous of the wealth flowing into Bloodstone again, and threaten and attack. Mostly. There's some detail given to the start of this process, with the nearest barony, Arcata, given some detail. After that, it kind of comes apart. Carmathan attacks... because. The smaller baronies near the old capital? Because. There's no sense of the leaders involved, no discussion of attempts to negotiate. They mobilize and attack because Bloodstone is successful.
There is mention that while independent, these duchies and baronies are puppets of the Witch-King of Vasaa, who is unhappy at recent events. But that still doesn't excuse the entire lack of discussion about the attitudes of the various leaders involved. As a pure miniatures campaign, it's not bad, featuring a logical series of battles that get progressively tougher, that culminate in a battle that's supposed to turn into a standoff. The hex map isn't really needed to control the movement of armies, it can be done by feel and narration, but if the players are into it, it's very handy for that—except for the fact that it clearly marks the secret location of the Grandfather of Assassin's citadel. Now, the party will find out about it, and go there at some point (very possibly in the middle of all this), but that's supposed to be a plot point.
Worse, the final part of the campaign makes no sense by the map. Bloodstone has always been known to be one of a pair of passes over the mountains separating Vasaa and Damara, and the less popular one at that. So having the Vasaan army gather a bit south of the other pass makes some sense. Having it head south to the heart of the old kingdom makes some sense, but going west towards Bloodstone might be more productive (okay, fine, the party's forces should be in the heart of the old kingdom at this point). But, the Witch-King's citadel isn't that far from Bloodstone. There should be some fighting in there, even if the pass is easy to hold. No, nothing, no mention of it at all. What makes it especially odd, is the glacier placed between the two passes, and blocking the citadel from where the Vasaan army is. (Later maps do not have this bit of glacier. I recommend ignoring it if you use this module.)
Apart from all of that, the party's lives are being complicated by repeated assassination attempts. The module has some kindness in that they are targeted on the PCs, and not hirelings and other lower-level targets. At first. During the war, the assassins start going after the various unit leaders, which will start having bad consequences for BattleSystem leadership if they succeed. Finally, an assassin is captured, and the PCs can use him to find the Grandfather of Assassins' hidden citadel.
This is a trap of course, and the party will get forced to chase him down a deadly gauntlet where he knows all the traps. This is actually an adaptation of an Ed Greenwood adventure in Dragon #64, but where that was an obstacle course, with blunt arrows, this is full of damage-dealing traps and save-or-die poison (at -5). At this level, fighters and clerics can probably take that, but thieves and magic-users could be in big trouble, especially with things like 100 assassins firing poisoned arrows (okay, while there, the party shouldn't need to face that, and 2nd level To Hit probabilities help). And when needing to force the PCs into something, the writers need something better than a wall of annihilation. The real problem is that the Grandfather of Assassins pops up at a couple points in this run, but there's no schedule given of what exactly he does, and how long it takes him to do it. It's just assumed that he always gets out of view of the party and gets to set up as he wants. Somewhat likely, but don't count on players to not come up with something clever.
In the end, players who are in it for miniatures battles will get far more of what they want this time around, and players who'd rather just continue their adventuring career get something too. This is probably the best attempt at doing battles and adventure there's been, but it still marks another frustrating change in direction from the previous module. There's still frustrations this time, but the jarring inconsistencies of H2 are largely gone. The real problem is a lack of personal interaction. The Grandfather of Assassins just acts like an insane villain for the gauntlet run, destroys his citadel if the players succeed, to show he can be a load-bearing boss too, and the leaders of the opposing forces in the war are not fleshed out at all....more
The fifth FR-series book not only returned to the geography of the Realms, but returned to presenting an area that had already gotten a boost from theThe fifth FR-series book not only returned to the geography of the Realms, but returned to presenting an area that had already gotten a boost from the rest of the line. It was also a return to "The North" of FR1's Waterdeep and the North. The latter had given some information on the region, but without proper maps, it hadn't been very useful. Finally, The Crystal Shard had been a hit early Forgotten Realms novel, making this region supplement highly anticipated. It has continued to be a popular region, seeing more Drizzt novels, the Neverwinter games, and further supplements such as Volo's Guide to the North and the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.
The Savage Frontier is typical of the series as 64-page book with a faux parchment pattern on the pages, a detached trifold cover, and two poster-sized maps. The maps are in the usual 30 miles/inch 'small' scale, and join up north of the ones in the original campaign set, covering from a bit south of Waterdeep to the Spine of the World mountains (a somewhat convenient straight east-west mountain chain that defines the northern boundary of livable land), with the main map reaching from The Great Desert in the east to the coast in the west. The coast runs further west near the north, forcing a second map for the last four inches of land, leaving most of that map to be left to ocean, with some fairly major islands scattered about. One quarter of the map is used for insets, including a northern extension to the bit of land in the corner of this map, showing Icewind Dale, as well as a couple location maps. The cover includes a repeat of the main Waterdeep map, and five other locations, making this the first FR book to not leave at least one panel empty.
The book is supposedly written by an in-universe character, Amelior Amanitas of Secomber, though this is generally limited to humorous little intros and outros to chapters, and does not affect the main text. (It is also worth noting that he is originally from DQ1 The Shattered Statue, also by Paul Jaquays, which does happen in Cormyr, despite getting no Forgotten Realms logos.) It starts with a two page history, goes on to an overview talking of trade, climate, major factions, and the various peoples of the region. There is then six chapters of geographical description, broken up somewhat oddly. The first one is just cities and towns and the like, and is in a smaller font as well as based off of the similar chapter from FR1 (I don't think any description is exactly the one from that book, but they're often about 80% the same). There's a separate chapter for 'lost lands, strongholds, & ruins', each with their own subchapter, then one on pure geographical features (mountains, rivers, etc.), and then a chapter just on the High Forest, which is something of a central focus of the book. And, towards the beginning of all this, is a chapter on the islands, folding all of their towns and geographical features together. So part of the description of the area is broken up by type of feature, and part of it by region. It's obvious enough to not interfere with looking things up, but it is a bit grating, and presumably partly caused by the reuse of material from FR1.
Overall, a fair amount of attention is given to barbarians in this book. I'm not sure if it was seen as TSR's best chance at showing how the backgrounds for that character class should work, or what, but there's a lot here. In the section on the various peoples of the North, the Uthgardt barbarians get five pages, going into detail about various tribes, the broad outlines of society, special shaman powers, and the like. Also, the Northmen (more of the Norse-analogues from FR2, who can be barbarians) get two pages, while everything else (aarakocra, dwarves, orcs, trolls, etc... aaand the barbarians of Icewind Dale) gets two pages. And then there's a three-page chapter on the ancestor mounds of the various Uthgardt tribes. Three of the location maps are actually of these, one showing 'typical' ones, one is an adventure one, and one is... atypical. What makes all this coverage work is that the barbarians are not all the same, and each has it's own attitudes, from the extremely conservative, to tribes that are settling down and farming and becoming 'civilized', to one that is completely under the thumb of devils from Hellgate Keep.
The final chapter of the book is three pages outlining various prominent people, including, of course, the main trio from The Shattered Shard, and another refugee from a different Jaquays project, I12 The Egg of the Phoenix (which, no, is not a Forgotten Realms adventure, he's been exiled here). And then there's four appendices in the last four pages, with some new magic items (including a minor artifact), a new non-weapon proficiency, an expansion of one from the Wilderness Survival Guide (plant lore, including a handy table of medicinal plants of the region), a year's worth of events and rumors (Year of Shadows/DR 1358, the year considered 'just beginning' in the original set), and six adventure ideas.
I consider this product one of the highlights of the the FR series, and certainly the best one to this point. Moonshae has mood without detail, Empires of the Sands lacks mood while providing detail. Waterdeep and the North suffers (just a bit) from the chapter on the North that is unusable thanks to the lack of maps. This is a well-rounded supplement that stands well on its own, and you could run games here without ever getting the main boxed set....more
The year after Bloodstone Pass came out, H2 The Mines of Bloodstone came out. One thing had changed: This was a direct sequel to the former module, anThe year after Bloodstone Pass came out, H2 The Mines of Bloodstone came out. One thing had changed: This was a direct sequel to the former module, and there were definitely going to be more after this (whether they knew at this point it would be a four module series is not said).
Something else important changed: There's no BattleSystem logo on this one. There's one mention in the back blurb of "optional" BattleSystem scenarios. Which is entirely correct; any wargaming adventurers going through this one are in for a big let down. Instead, other newer, cooler, products are called out: the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. The adventure instead featured an extremely tough dungeon environment which allowed a reversion to the typical 32-page adventure book, though it is worth noting that (contrary to usual practice) the cover was stapled to the book. There's several maps, many of which are in the isometric format introduced in the DSG.
At this point one could wonder if the H series was just a way to show off the latest new product, and convince people they really wanted to get them. In practice, there's no crying need for either of the new hardbacks, and the need for the WSG is very minimal. The actual need for the DSG is also fairly minimal, but at the same time it was essential to writing the module. The DSG had discussed the idea of sprawling linked cavern complexes under the entire game world, called variously 'deepearth' and 'underdark', and this module, co-authored by the author of the DSG, featured a corner of what was explicitly just that.
This is still before the Forgotten Realms became a TSR property, and the setting is 'anywhere you wish to drop in the countries involved'. However, the background became more concrete in this installment. Vaasa was 'ruled by a Witch-King of incredible power' in H1, but now this is expanded upon with Vaasa being a barren wilderness until the coming of Zhengyi a little more than 10 years ago. After that comes some quick notes on the module, and the lead ins for if the players have or have not been through H1.
And that's where the inconsistencies begin.
(Caution: I'm headed into spoiler territory here.)
Thankfully, it's never anything really game breaking, but there's a handful of problems throughout the module. The first one is probably the biggest: The module starts with the basic rundown of the next couple months after the end of H1, as a harsh winter settles over the valley. Thanks to all the fighting, the harvest was delayed, and now heavy rains and an early freeze have ruined some of it before it can be brought in, leaving the village short of food for the winter. But wait, H1 had a nice schedule that explicitly said the harvest was completed right before the party arrives. After all, the bandits don't come calling until the villagers have done all the work so they can take it from them, and fighting starts at that point.
So, the first thing the DM gets to do is figure out how to short the village of food. If part of the village got torched during the fighting (likely), that can explain it. Also, if the party hired troops to help out (possible), there's extra mouths to feed. Otherwise....
Bloodstone Village only gets three pages of detailing this time, repeating the brief profiles and random villager tables, plus an updated map. The local dwarf, centaur, and halfling communities are each introduced in a little under a page each this time, including a map, important people, BattleSystem info, and a small encounter/adventure that could happen if/when the party visits.
The module purposely starts slow, with worries about the winter, wolves, and some minor annoyances before a night attack on the village attempts to jump-start the plot. It certainly provides a nice little mystery that might take a few (bloody) nights to solve. Intelligent players shouldn't have any trouble figuring out Orcus is involved (they may not know what to make of what they're finding, but the obvious questions will lead to answers). Making the jump to the abandoned mines (that may not have even been seen—though they are part of the background—in H1) seems tenuous to me. Okay, they were important, and they were abandoned when something evil was found in there, but does that really have anything to do with vampires and warg attacks? The fact that Bloodstone needs money, and reopening the mines would produce a lot of money, seems a safer bet to motivate the PCs to check them out, which will draw them into the rest of the adventure, but there's no direct link.
The mines themselves are where the module gets going, but there's minor consistency problems again. The box canyon the mine entrances are in is only mapped in H1, but that implies they're on the north side (the compass rose is missing), but the entrances lead to the west here. Past that, there's problems every time you go from one map to another, and the connections don't match up right. They can all be explained easily enough, but feels like they were all written separately and then stuck together. There's one passage that goes off-map and and off into the deepearth map in the DSG in here, but it has nothing to do with the current module, and there's no good mechanism for steering the players straight if they divert down it ("if the PCs are still plodding along, have them meet a beholder").
The general goal is to find the svirfneblin (gesundheit) kingdom in exile and get them to attack a duergar city in a massive diversion while the PCs sneak into the Temple of Orcus. This can be played out in BattleSystem, and stats are given, but there's no particular need to, as the PCs are presumed off doing their high-level dungeon stuff instead of taking part.
After that, comes the main course: the Temple of Orcus. It's big, it's tough, it has magical protections to keep the players from short-circuiting things. (Which is generally fine; a big temple to a major demon lord should have magical protections in place. I just wish things like that were handled a bit more systematically for the world at large, instead of feeling like a band-aid.) And in classic fashion, the party arrives (one hopes) right as a ritual to summon Orcus into the world is starting! ...And there's no hint that this is about to happen in the rest of the module. I mean, what makes now special, as opposed to, oh, say, a month ago?
Okay, that's a list of complaints and inconsistencies. In general, these are actually fairly minor to the flow of the module, but it means the module needs a bit of massaging before being truly ready to go. This is really just a bigger, badder dungeon module. It has some good pacing, with local problems escalating all the way up to a very bad, and immediate, problem. Of course, if you're expecting something different from a high-level module (like H1), then this will be a disappointment.
Now, back above ground in the valley, the dwarves and centaurs got BattleSystem info, but the module pretty much states outright it'll never be used. (The halflings also get BattleSystem info, but there is a small battle for them (only) to take part in.) There's also a couple sample battle maps given for the underground that are part of the section on the big battle, but aren't directly referenced in the text. One of them looks to be far inside the main cavern, away from any battle that would naturally get fought. I'm wondering if we're seeing fragments of a much more complicated campaign to fight an army up to the temple so the party can get in and do their heroic thing, which got cut to make room for a really, really, big temple. The latter was probably a safer bet for the general TSR audience, but it means the module is nothing special....more
Right after TSR released BattleSystem, they provided it with a fairly extensive scenario package/AD&D adventure, re-using what had been the originRight after TSR released BattleSystem, they provided it with a fairly extensive scenario package/AD&D adventure, re-using what had been the original name of the project: Bloodstone Pass. This also kicked off the H-series modules for 'High-level' AD&D parties. From the designation, it was probably envisioned as another anthology series like 'N' and 'I' with no concrete settings, however, the H-series ended up only hosting the direct sequels to this adventure involving the barony of Bloodstone.
As was typical in 1985, no setting was specified, and in fact the surrounding lands of Vaasa and Damara were created specifically for it. However, it was also assumed that it would be in the world of Greyhawk like all the other contemporary modules ("The greatest show on Oerth is playing here for three days only!"), but again, Vaasa and Damara are not pre-existing parts of that setting, and I've seen no one speculating on good places to fit them in. Of course, the reason for that is they are now part of the Forgotten Realms setting. Part of the Great Glacier was eliminated from Greenwood's original version (and eventually some history of the melting of the glacier added) to make room for these new countries, and the final module in the series carried a Forgotten Realms logo.
Physically, the module is unique, coming in an oversized slim box that contained the main adventure book, a BattleSystem roster book, a sheet of counters (that match ones that came with the BattleSystem set, but with fancier artwork), and several sheets for fold up buildings and characters. These last items make a complete set quite rare today, and I'm a little sad that I cannot find any photos of these last in action online. Since the bulk of the action is around the village of Bloodstone, the 3D buildings are meant to set up the entire village in BattleSystem scale: The bulk of small buildings were handled with just a few reversible facades that could also show burned ruins or woods. Four notable shops got identical buildings, though fences and troughs could be added to make each one a little different. Larger and more complicated were the centerpieces for character interaction: the Dancing Clown Inn, the Abbey of St. Solars the Twice-Martyred (not really an abbey), and the baron's manor. Finally, there was a well, fountain, gallows, and a section of town wall. As I recall, they were fairly well designed and went together well, though there were a lot of small complex parts in places. (Sadly, they also take up a fair amount of room assembled, and mine were abandoned in a move; likely a common fate.) There's also a sheet of ten NPCs in TSR's typical triangular stand-up pattern.
(Note: there are minor spoilers of the plot from here on, though I've kept them fairly oblique.)
The initial hook has the (presumably 15th level) characters as refugees (along with a lot of other people) of the breakup and conquest of Damara after its army was routed last summer. The module recommends that characters be limited to about 100 gp and three magic items apiece, with assurances that high-level characters build up so many limited items that this won't draw many protests. Someone has an amazingly generous view of the acquisitive nature of most players. Or the pre-generated characters could be used (that seems safer to me). A little scene setting, and a few moderately tough monsters later, and the characters have impressed a couple of boys who make the first job offer they've heard in some time, "We can pay five silver pieces a day to each of you!"
Well, that may not sound attractive to high-level adventurers, but most players should be willing to at least talk to them, and once it becomes clear that this is headed to a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven scenario (if the DM didn't pitch it as such to begin with), most parties should be willing to buy into it. The journey from Valls (where the adventure opens) to Bloodstone Pass is well-covered, with a rough map outlining where the party will end up each day, with a number of optional encounters that can be randomly rolled for (mostly refugees and the like early on, shifting to specific non-human encounters near the destination).
The village itself gets six pages of description, plus a couple maps, one of which is designed to be laid out on a 4'x8' table for miniatures combat (using all the 3D buildings, of course). It's not the best presented town ever, but thumbnails of some prominent people are given, and there's a nice set of tables for generating random villagers when needed. The few interior plans given are more functional and schematic than meant for detailed play (after all, the main encounters will be outside with armies!), but the plans given for the baronial manor need a complete re-do. There's one flub in the descriptions which refers to there being more rooms than there are, but most importantly, it's all crammed into one floor, when by the 3D paper version, there should be two or three floors. And even given the somewhat abbreviated functional nature of the plans, there's no accounting for the wall thickness inherent in someplace as well fortified as the manor looks. That said, the features given are about right, and the exact layout can either be ignored, or just shifting the given one around a bunch. The model has some large windows, and no arrow slits, while otherwise looking fairly solid. And there's no indications of the windows shown on the model in the floor plans (which would help).
A solid timetable is provided for the DM to figure out how much time the PCs have to get the villagers behind them, organize the available forces, and work on defenses. A couple new BattleSystem rules are presented for ramparts and ditches, and guidelines for the time it takes to construct them and do training. A number of optional sub-plots are presented, and I'd call a couple of them effectively mandatory, considering their effect on other events. There will be a small number of battles, escalating in size and intensity, and the DM is advised (rightly so!) to get help with the opposition for the climax as there will be a fair amount of high-level magic flying around.
Like with I14, using this module demands a group that's willing to command troops in a miniatures battle as well as adventure, but it is much better focused, and doesn't imply a campaign that keeps switching gears; this adventure warns you large-scale combat is coming, and then ratchets it up to a climatic confrontation (it is also much more up front about the tie-in with the large BattleSystem logo on the cover). The first battles should be fairly manageable, but the action scales up fast, and non-wargaming players (and DM!) may get overwhelmed by the end. However, if you really have a group that's adventured up to about 15th level, they should be fairly well prepared to handle the powerful NPCs that also show up to complicate things (there is one encounter—in the middle of other events—with one right solution). Cutting everything back to bare bones, I could see this taking about four longish sessions, with most of the role-playing/sub-plots sacrificed. More likely, there'd be two or three sessions before any battles at all, with at least one more session per battle afterward (there could also be non-battle sessions in between). The module wraps up with a good synopsis of of what happens after, win or lose, and sets up for further adventures....more
Module I14 Swords of the Iron Legion sits at a crossroads of Dungeons and Dragons: It is the last of the fabled "I" series modules. It is an early ForModule I14 Swords of the Iron Legion sits at a crossroads of Dungeons and Dragons: It is the last of the fabled "I" series modules. It is an early Forgotten Realms adventure. It is a set of BattleSystem scenarios.
In all, it's a disappointing note for the I series to go out on.
In form, it is a slightly large adventure module: 64-pages with a detached cover. The contents are a collection of eight loosely-connected adventures, plus three pure BattleSystem scenarios. All the adventures have a common general background, and are supposed to happen in sequence... an unspecified time apart. While it is mentioned that you could run them as part of a campaign, there is no support for actually doing so. This is an anthology, with each adventure written by a separate author, and it shows, with different styles, amounts of information given, and pretty close to zero linking between adventures (one NPC shows up in two of the adventures, with no acknowledgement of this fact). Also, the recommended level for the PCs goes up by about two each time, meaning that the DM of a campaign would have to find something for the PCs to do each time before steering them towards the next battle/adventure from the module.
All of this is set around the Vilhon Reach, in parts of Turmish and Chondath, an area that would not get any further exploration for years. There's not a lot said about the region in the module, though a few things do come up. A nice touch is a reproduction of the appropriate area of the poster maps from the Campaign Setting box set on the interior cover. The cover also has the map for the climatic battle of the series, and a chart of all monster types encountered in the module.
As a set of BattleSystem combats, they're not too bad, the scenarios start out small, though maybe not as simple as could be desired, and move up in scale and scope from there. The three 'firefights' (pure BattleSystem combats) are relatively small, and while uncredited, also suffer from uneven writing. Sadly, while there's good tabular stats for all the units in each battle, the commanders (needed for each unit, plus possibly brigade and army commanders) are all buried in the text. Now, the PCs should be taking part, often as commanders at various levels, but it would much better to display the basics for these too. (And in some places, including one of the firefights, I don't see the commander info at all.)
As AD&D adventures, any one of them could be dropped into a campaign, some with more trouble than others. At that point, their success will largely depend on having a group that wants to go adventuring and likes the idea of commanding a small body of troops enough to want to play out a miniatures battle at the end of the adventure. A rare breed in my experience. My initial thought when seeing this module was that it would be the adventures of the commanders of a mercenary company as they accept various contracts, so that miniatures combat would be part of the buy-in to the campaign. I still think that's a workable idea, and would lead to a much more cohesive module than this collection of battles that normal adventurers just happen to stumble into (and given the original Campaign Set outlined a number of mercenary companies, a reasonably obvious one).
Fine, but you still have the bare bones of a Vilhon Reach campaign that a DM could flesh out into something workable, right? Well....
The biggest problem with these adventures as a set, is that they all have a supposed common thread, they're all part of the machinations of a daemon who's using this fighting to further goals elsewhere, and it is all invisible to the players. Even the final climatic battle isn't designed to let the PCs in on what's happening. They get briefly told that this one daemon that they've never heard of (though they might have encountered him disguised) has been instigating wars to get souls to power a doomsday machine. No big discovery, just a bit of background info-dump. And the info-dump isn't even complete or entirely correct (more invisible machinations).
The main feeling I would imagine a party feeling after the final adventure is frustration. I think some of the other adventures are worth a look, though I don't know that I'd want to run any of them 'straight'. But it's just a nice idea, with some good production (I really like the combined monster statistics table), and a severely lacking execution....more
N5 Under Illefarn was the first module written for the Forgotten Realms setting. (N4's setting was retroactively put into the Realms after publicationN5 Under Illefarn was the first module written for the Forgotten Realms setting. (N4's setting was retroactively put into the Realms after publication, and while I think I3-5 Desert of Desolation came out with a Forgotten Realms logo on it first, that was also a case of shoehorning older material into the Realms.) It centers around the town of Daggerford near the Sword Coast about 200 miles south of Waterdeep, and at the edge of the 30 mile/inch maps of the original boxed set.
It is also my first PDF purchase from the D&D Classics store. The quality is a little disappointing. The text has been completely converted over by OCR, and is in good shape. There's a few glitches (such as a list of spells cutting off at the end of a page, and then the second half of a paragraph from the middle of that page at the beginning of the next) that are probably from the TSR original, though I'm guessing the two commas in a row at one point is new. The cover resolution is barely adequate, and the back cover shows serious artifacting in the text and is crooked. Worse, the maps from the outer screen are passable, but don't look like they'd survive printing out. The most painful part for me is the header banners. These are identical on each page (well, left and right reversed), but each page has its own copy of the banner, many of which are extremely crooked, and none of which are entirely true. I'm sure this is being done fast and cheap, but it wouldn't have been too much more work to scan it right once, square it off, and copy and paste it to each page (especially since the same header was used in both N4 and N5, so you just need to do it once for both). On the other hand, the interior maps and illustrations look to be in good shape.
As a "Novice" module, it begins with a fair amount of advice for new players and DMs. It's not overly long or involved, but does help with getting a feel for the type of place Daggerford is, and what kinds of people live there. After the pure intro sections, there's about fourteen pages of information about the town itself. Looking around online, I'm a little disappointed not to be able to find any discussion of playing through the module, though I did find a thread where a few people talked about using Daggerford as the beginning point of their Forgotten Realms campaigns because it's presented well in N5.
In general, the town makes sense (...not always a given with TSR). The fact that the outer wall is a wooden palisade on an earthen rampart, with stone towers embedded in it, is unusual, but not nonsensical. Combined with the existence of cisterns and a common field reserved for use in a siege shows a better grasp of military realities than other products of the time. Better yet, is the main module hook: every able-bodied adult in Daggerford is liable for service in the militia. Service is generally once a month, and a visitor who stays longer than two weeks will start getting asked to take part. No 'you happen to meet in a bar', or other awkward campaign starter here. You're a resident in Daggerford, you're liable for militia duty, this happens to be your time, and here's your orders. As long as there's no problems with buy-in for the general situation, the rest should be fine.
I'd appreciate some discussion of 'normal' militia duty here, and how monthly assignments are determined. A few hooks for more interaction with the local population during normal duty for those interested would be nice. But, this is AD&D, and we're here for action and adventure, not for Adam-12, so fine; but I think it would have been a good idea to remind the beginning DM again that this is about when unusual incidents happen to the town, and normal life is happening in between. At any rate, the rest of the module is a set of four small adventures of escalating size and complexity. Other than the last, they're meant to be able to run in any order, but the order given makes a lot of sense.
The biggest surprise for me is repeated use of ceratosaurs early in the module (one random encounter, and a few incidents in the first adventure). If the nearby swamp is supposed to have something of a 'lost world' feel to it, I wish the author would just say so. Not being a dinosaur fan, I'd probably just have to give an embarrassed shrug if a player gave me a 'really?' look after presenting one of those straight.
Plot-wise, the first two adventures are pretty straightforward, but stubborn players could get into a lot of trouble with the third one. I think the first two should be pretty easy to do in a single long session; I'm not sure about the third adventure, but I think it's designed for no more than two sessions, but I could see it dragging out a bit.
The fourth and final adventure is much more complex and is the heart of the module. Unfortunately, typical TSR editing problems show up here. The first of several maps related to this section shows up in the previous adventure, some eight pages away from the key describing it. The adventure is both more complex than the previous ones, and gets into regular tropes. The adventurers are sent to find a source of pollution that is killing animals and destroying crops, and headed downstream to Daggerford. This leads to fairly small, but complex, dungeon that is being fought over by three factions. There's eleven sub-maps showing parts of the complex, and two side-view diagrams showing how they all fit together across four levels, but it's just not presented well. I recommend looking up the maps here, that show how the sections fit together into those four levels.
The biggest problems of the adventure turn up here. There's a serious case of 'helpless competent NPC' here (which is addressed in the text, but a bit later and lighter than might be wise), and if the party screwed up in the third adventure, the person who is to ask for the PCs wouldn't want to see them again, or may never have met them (or even be dead!). This is generally unlikely, but never count on the PCs to do something.... At any rate, all the previous adventures can have ties to this one, but they're bonuses, not essential parts of their plots. This last adventure is decidedly longer than the others, and text refers to places party can go back to as safe bases, and a possible way to introduce new characters if there are some deaths. It's possible for this one to wrap up quickly, with most of the area unexplored, but more likely, it will drag on a while (possibly after the main problem is solved), while the party works their way through the rambling complex.
Overall, the dungeon is a little odd, with large numbers of rooms being only given a cursory group listing, but this actually works well, and makes a lot more sense for the setting, and in general. There's some secret doors that no one else in the area has found, and while they're hiding important areas, there's no description is given of how they work, presumably leaving discovery to pure mechanics and die rolling. It is easy to lose track of just what the central concern of the party is going through all this, but there's a nice ending section that brings that back to the fore, and provides some wrap up.
As a whole, this looks to be one of the better 'beginner' adventures I've seen, with fairly minimal problems, and a variety of things for the party to get involved in. It is more of a 'scripted' adventure than many others of the type, but less so than N4 Treasure Hunt was, and I think some plot guidance is a good thing here. The scaling up of size and scope of adventures looks really good, and I would think that players who started with the first adventure would really feel like they've accomplished something at the end....more
After covering two areas that were already developed, the third FR-series module went off into new territory: the South. The area had of course shownAfter covering two areas that were already developed, the third FR-series module went off into new territory: the South. The area had of course shown up in the original boxed set, and had gotten a number references in FR1 Waterdeep (as its primary trading rivals are all down there), but there's no sense that it had ever been a major focus of Ed Greenwood's campaign, and there were no novels like Darkwalker on Moonshae set there. Part of the area covered would be covered again in Lands of Intrigue, and the rest in Empires of the Shining Sea (both which included areas outside the scope of this product) and one section in particular would achieve fame with Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn.
Physically, it's a typical TSR product of the time; a 64-page 8.5"x11" book with a color cover. Like with Moonshae, there's nothing on the inside cover, and the cover is detached from the main book, but that's because there's two 30-mile per inch poster maps wrapped around the book (one can fit in the middle of the book, but two would be too thick). As such, it is a much more expansive supplement than either Moonshae (which occupied about half of one map) or Waterdeep (which concentrated on a single city), and that presents some problems.
The main book is divided into three main sections for the three countries in the area covered: Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan. Inside of each section, there's a quick overview of the country, talking about general cultural quirks, languages spoken, what races are present and the like. The longest section tends to be a description of the various prominent cities (and towns) of the country. Scott Haring stated that it was his intent that each place can serve as as inspiration for an adventure, and this largely works. There's no 'typical town, population x' entries here. Many may not inspire the type of adventure a DM is looking for right now, but some will, and there's always something.
The real problem is there's no focus to the book at all. Each country gets about the same page count (they are all about the same size), and no particular city gets any sort of detailed look. There are also sections on places and people of interest, and these do tend to more detail. Castle Spulzeer gets one of the longest description in the book (and a map) at a bit over half a page. There's two other maps, one a diagram of a cave complex near the described location, and the other is of the Plaza of Divine Truth in Calimport (which does have the longest description at over a page). Never is the general layout, or surrounding area, of a city shown.
In the center of the book are eight character sheets, and smaller reproductions of the poster maps (in black-and-white). Sadly, this last is the victim of the obligatory layout disaster of the book. The southern map is fine, but on the opposite side of the sheet, one part of the northern map (coasts and rivers) is rotated from the other, making it useless. Seven of the character sheets are pre-filled out with the details of the 'Company of Eight' (yes), an NPC group that's not really described well enough for the DM to know well. The eighth is a blank Forgotten Realms-themed sheet that looks good, but because the book is done in the usual dark brown ink on faux-parchment pattern is difficult to reproduce well (and a few dark info boxes are impossible to photocopy usably).
The south is a much richer place than the north, with several cities larger than Waterdeep, up to the city of Calimport at 2 million (which I think is a bit much; Rome at its height was 1 million, and I'm not aware of any million+ cities in say the Middle East or Persia through the Middle Ages). While some of this it mentioned about in the overall descriptions, there's no rules/pricing tie-ins given.
In general, it's meant to be more of an Arabian/Middle-East themed setting, but this is not well supported in the text either. Amn is a stable merchant-dominated state (supposedly meant to have a Andalucia feel to it; I'd think more pre-Crusade Palestine coast), Tethyr has recently lost it's royal family in bloody coup, and there's currently no central authority (that feels more like Andalucia to me), and Calimshan is one of the wealthiest nations around, though the central authority is weak.
Calimshan was supposed to have a more Arabian Nights feel, and this actually comes through better, as the past history involves much of the area having been colonized by humanoids from the Elemental Plane of Air. In fact, it's the one with the best developed history (outlined back 7000 years). In many ways, this feels like it should be the focus of the book, since there's bigger hooks, that could have interesting consequences, but Calimshan gets the same page count as the other two countries. Also, Al-Qadim would come along and become the 'Arabian Nights area' of the Forgotten Realms, forcing a rewrite of Calimshan.
It is by no means a bad module, and if you like maps (I do!) it's got those. And it does generate a lot adventuring possibilities. But it is unfocused, spread across a much larger area than anything other than the original boxed set (which was focused on Cormyr and the Dales). It's not a bad module for an inventive DM, nor a bad place to visit, but basing a campaign anywhere in the area would take a lot more work....more
A year after putting out Waterdeep and the North, TSR published one of the most unusual boxed sets in RPG history. Usually a boxed set is a varietyA year after putting out Waterdeep and the North, TSR published one of the most unusual boxed sets in RPG history. Usually a boxed set is a variety of material, including a couple of books, and maybe a couple large maps; but in this case, it contained one thin booklet and twelve poster-size mapsheets. Technically, the booklet could help out with running a game in any city, but this was less than entirely accurate, and the real reason for the box were the twelve mapsheets, and all of these were about one city in particular; Waterdeep.
The booklet itself is 32 pages long, and has some notes about the what the rest of the contents of the box were all about, and then reiterates the basics of the city of Waterdeep from FR1, including the history and laws of the city, though this includes a timeline not present in the original. There is a reiteration of the building key as well (needed, since the included maps mark the same buildings), as well as a ‘guide to services’, which lists them by type and map/grid location, so that this time there is an easy way to answer sudden questions such as ‘where are the nearest stables?’, from the party.
After that, there is finally something that could be used with any city; ‘street scenes’. These are large random tables (d100) of things and people going by on city streets that can be used to help set the stage (flavor, witnesses, etc.) at any point in an adventure in Waterdeep. These tables are keyed to the different wards of Waterdeep, but it wouldn’t be too hard to adapt to another city. There is then a short discussion of using recurrent encounters to help drive a sense of continuity in city life, with a page of suggestions, and the book finishes up with four pages of random tables for the potential results of picking a random NPC’s pockets.
Ten of the twelve mapsheets in the box go together to form a huge 67″x108″ map of Waterdeep (arranged in a 5×2 pattern; Waterdeep is quite rectangular). It’s quite impressive—if you have the space for it. (I don’t currently.) This isn’t the best that it could be, as the buildings are color-coded by what ward they’re in (handy, but a bit heavy-handed), and each keyed building is cut out of the image, leaving a white area with the number.
Waterdeep isn’t actually as wide as two mapsheets put together, and that’s where some of the more useful parts of the product come in. Along the outer edge of each sheet are a number of floor plans of potentially important buildings. These aren’t anything truly inspired, but they are potentially handy, and probably the most useful part of the entire product with about thirty different floorplans (most with multiple levels) in a 5 feet to the square scale.
The eleventh sheet is an isometric map of Castle Waterdeep. This includes a plan view and a close-up of the castle itself, showing the long switchback ramp up to the main gate. It’s not entirely bad, but the design is a very poor looking collection of narrow round towers with no thickness to the walls (probably not enough to support the structure, much less keep out rude neighbors), lines of windows along the top galleries, and not an arrow slit, machicolation, or other sensible defensive siege feature to be seen. TSR’s chronic lack of understanding of siege engineering is on full display here.
The final sheet isn’t really a map. It’s an illustration. A view of the city as seen from the top of the fortifications of the harbor. Since the southern part of the plateau the city is on slopes down to the sea, you get a very good view of the southern parts of the city, the ridge/mountain that Castle Waterdeep is on, the castle itself, and part of the city walls, though the actual South Gate runs off the right side of the view.
Assuming that TSR was able to just blow up their existing map of Waterdeep without much re-work, this box set was probably fairly easy to produce. However, value is lower than even that fairly simple job. If you want to run a game centered (or entirely) in Waterdeep, this can give good value, as the extra color will help, and the easier to read, blown up map will help. However, it is in no way essential to that, and if you aren’t heavily involved in Waterdeep, there’s extremely little of interest. Map junkies will still enjoy it however....more
There have been three main centers of activity in Ed Greenwood’s own Forgotten Realms campaigns. Two of them, Shadowdale and Cormyr, are in the centraThere have been three main centers of activity in Ed Greenwood’s own Forgotten Realms campaigns. Two of them, Shadowdale and Cormyr, are in the central area well covered by the original boxed set. The third, the great city of Waterdeep, is a bit north of the focus area, and was the primary subject of the first setting supplement from TSR, FR1. It has appeared many times in the years since then, in adventures, such as part of the Avatar trilogy, later supplements (such as City of Splendors: Waterdeep (Forgotten Realms)) several novels, and even one of the Catacombs adventure books (Knight of the Living Dead).
It contains the usual 64-page sadle-stiched book, with a three panel separate cover, with a small map of Waterdeep on the third panel, and is backprinted with a schematic map of the wards of the city, the main sewer system, and some typical building interiors; this only takes up the two main panels, and the third is blank. Also included is a keyed poster-sized map of the city.
One of the first chapters in the book grants it it’s ‘and the North’ title, giving a rough guide to trade and important locations in the area. The North is generally defined as the area between the Sword Coast and the great desert of Anauroch from the latitude of Waterdeep on north. The problem is, that the geography talked about is more detailed than is available in the boxed set, and there’s no map in the module to guide you, making the entire chapter very confusing reading. The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier would eventually cover the same ground (and partially quote these entries), with a pair of poster-size maps covering the region in detail.
Dragon #128 includes the article “Welcome to Waterdeep”, which had been cut from the supplement and details the area near the city. The module would have been better off to cut the entire chapter on the North, and include this material instead. It would have better aided the focus of the rest of the text, and the map of the area would have easily gone on the blank interior cover panel. I have a feeling that the decision to cut it was already long made when layout of a map of the North advanced to the point that it was realized that the entire region doesn’t quite fit in one 30 mile/inch poster map. Also, the publication of The Crystal Shard may have caused TSR to decide to do a separate module on the North, that could also include the Icewind Vale area.
The bulk of the supplement focuses squarely on Waterdeep itself, and is very well done, with a few problems. It is obvious that Ed had a bunch of material to present for this, and efforts were made to fit it all in, with the main text being a smaller font than normal (about 9 point), with some parts being an extra-small 7 points. A brief history of the city is given, wrapping up with some current news, before turning to the nature of government. The main government is sixteen lords, whose identities are kept secret behind robes and (anti-magic) masks, except for a high-level paladin who serves as the primary public face of government. This is all too idealized to be really believable, with the lords honestly working for the overall benefit of the city with clarity and foresight, and the protected identities not only protecting them from plots in general, but allowing them to be recruited from all levels of Waterdeep society, keeping the government in touch with the needs of the lower classes. However, there are political maneuverings from the nobles (not detailed) and the guilds (better detailed), so not everything is ideal all the time.
A large section of the book is a key to nearly 300 buildings, giving the name of the establishment, the general type of place, with occasional other details. This accounts for perhaps 5% of all the buildings shown in Waterdeep (probably less), and leaves plenty of latitude for the DM to establish his own residences and businesses (and perhaps borrow a few from the CityBook series…). Along with the standard taverns and inns are guild houses, noble villas and fences.
The main problem with the approach taken is that while a DM can sit down with the book and map, and really study an area, and get to know the neighborhood the party is based in, it is horrible at questions such as ‘where is the nearest inn?’ There’s no easy list of such establishments, so a party randomly asking after something in a random location (which of course they will) has to be met with either a lot of looking up possibilities or just making up a nearby one (which is perfectly fine… but the purpose of a supplement like this one should be not to need to do this).
The biggest problem is the amount of flavor that is buried away, where it can be easy to miss. If you look through the listings, you will note that there’s a bunch of tanneries located in the southeast corner of the Dock Ward. Tanneries generally stank to high heaven, so they were forced to exist in one corner of medieval cities to keep stench away from the rest of the city. But none of this is pointed out in the book, so if you don’t know this bit of trivia (and most people don’t—I certainly didn’t in 1987), nor sit down with the map and key to see the pattern, a bit of the logical flavor of the city will be lost, never to emerge in play. The fact that wooden buildings are restricted to one story by law, and anything taller (as most are now) must be made of stone is buried in the description of the Guild of Stonecutters, Masons, Potters & Tile-Makers.
The best part of Waterdeep is that it physically feels right. The city stops at the city wall, which even with edicts against building against the walls seems unlikely, and the few hints of farms and the like outside the walls seem to include a village with no marked path to the main road. But inside the walls, the streets both run straight and branch off in random directions that feel right for a living, evolving city.
In all, this really is a good springboard for urban adventures, and feels like it’s possible to DM such a large and diverse city without it feeling completely foreign to the original intent. This is a tall challenge, and one not often tackled in fantasy RPG writing. Despite the problems, there’s a lot here, and it fits together well, and I have to think this is one of the better city supplements that has been done....more