Mike’s Tavern – Module Reviews

Mike’s Tavern – Module Reviews

Mike’s Tavern – Module Reviews

0 comments 📅22 August 2016, 17:21

Mike’s Tavern: Things I’ve learned from my completed Campaign
I know, I know, It has been close to three weeks since my last entry. But hey, better late than never!

I just recently finished a campaign that ran about a year and a half. It was a wild ride… and kind of crowded too. At one point I was running a game with twelve players. Needless to say, I needed a little bit of help keeping things structured, so I used a few campaign books, also called modules, to guide most of the game play. This week I’ll list what modules I used and add some brief reviews. A follow-up article will be posted that contains a summary of the campaign if anybody is interested. Originally it was supposed to be included in this article, but I decided to cut it for next time. So I’ll get right to it.
Welcome to my Tavern
List of modules
For my campaign, I used: Murder in Baldur’s Gate (meant for levels 1-3), Mysteries of the Moonsea (levels 1-20), Tomb of Horrors (levels 9-11, and yes it was amazing), Bad Moon Waning (levels 10-11), a small homebrew series to revisit the after math of Murder in Baldur’s Gate, and City of the Spider Queen (levels 10-18). I used the bookWeapons of Legacy to give the players rewards for successfully completing the Tomb of Horrors, but heavily modified the system presented in the book because I found that the permanent stat losses for using an item far outweighed the benefits. Despite that City of the Spider Queen ends around level 18, the group finished at level 12. I also used the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign setting, which is useful no matter what edition of D&D you are playing.
Murder in Baldur’s Gate

A Duke and pretty big name for Baldur’s Gate is assassinated during a festival and the players are dragged into it. Three influential characters try to recruit the players into aiding their efforts for restoring order to Baldur’s Gate following the assassination. A greater power, however, has other plans.
This module is a huge call back to the original Baldur’s Gate video games of 1998 and 2000. The supporting cast is laced with references and characters from those games, which is great for players of the series but kind of bland for people who haven’t played the games (or the re-releases from Beamdog) or who are unfamiliar with the Forgotten Realms setting. The city of Baldur’s Gate, one of my favorite locales, is well developed. The players have lots of areas to explore and plenty of content to accommodate that exploration.
The three main characters, having no connection to the original series, are largely forgettable unless the DM can put their own spin on the adventure. I personally didn’t like any of them, so I added two more characters from the video games to give a little more dimension to the story. Also, one of my players made one of the three main characters fall in love with her, so that added another layer of character development.
Spoilers: The biggest sin is that module clearly presents three ways to go about the adventure, yet they all end up with the same result a la Mass Effect 3. No matter what route you take, you end up serving the evil deity Bhaal who is trying to commit murder on an enormous scale. At first, I thought this was clever. Yet as we were playing it I was realizing how deflating it really was. Many times you want to feel as if you are influencing the world around you, but this module prevents you from accomplishing that. No matter what route you take, the end result is the same: a ton of people end up dying. Even if you just sat and watched everything unfold, which my group almost wanted to do, the ending turns out the same. The bards definitely won’t be singing of this tale as time goes on.
Overall rating – 5/10
Good: Lots of content, good development of one of my favorite cities.
Bad: The main characters are all the same and one dimensional. The call backs to the Baldur’s Gate video games mean nothing for people who haven’t played them. The ending is the same for all routes taken unless the DM changes it.
Mysteries of the Moonsea

A series of loosely connected adventures taking place in the Moonsea region of the Forgotten Realms. The Zhentarim, a part mercenary part ruthless merchant guild, plays a somewhat ambiguous role as villains. It is up to the DM to decide what order these adventures take place and what the story turns out to be.
The book itself is divided up into four Acts with each Act taking place in a different city around the Moonsea. Each Act has its own cast of characters, maps, locale descriptions, and enough information to make a great play session.
The first Act is great. It takes place around the city of Melvaunt where survival of the fittest, both physically and politically, comes into play. The city has points of interest indicated and fleshed out even though the adventures don’t touch some of these locations. It give the DM plenty of creative fuel to come up with adventures on the fly. The actual adventures are divided up into two possible story lines that can stay separate or intertwine as the DM sees fit. There is a suggested order and possible adventure hooks, but the book makes it very clear that these are optional and that the players can do the adventures backwards if you wanted. NPC and Villain stats are scattered throughout the Act instead of in an Appendix, which makes improvising a pain at times.
The book begins to fall apart at Act 2 and even more in Act 3 and 4. All the tools provided in Act one seem to disappear. The cities, respective acts, and villains are not nearly as detailed as Act one. The book literally becomes a pack of maps and enemy stats. Yeah, a clever DM will be able to use this information, and the book makes it clear that this is how it should be, but the style of Act one compared to the others is staggering. Almost as if the developers spent most of their time at the beginning of the book and then quickly released notes for the remaining Acts under the guise that the DM will take care of it.
If anything, the book is a great resource for maps and enemy stats. Unfortunately, any DM should be able to develop this on their own while preparing for the week’s adventure. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book provides more information regarding the cities of Acts two through 4 and a lot more campaign ideas, so unless the Mysteries of the Moonsea were completely written in the style of Act one there isn’t very much of a reason to invest your time into this.
Overall Rating: 3/10
Good: Act 1. Enough content is given to get a campaign off to a good start in a not-so-common region of the Forgotten Realms.
Bad: Everything after Act 1. The book essentially becomes a map pack with enemy stats.
Tomb of Horrors

A single adventure taking place in the long lost tomb of Acererak, a powerful lich. This place is a notorious death trap that can have very unforgiving results for careless players. It was first introduced in the early versions of Dungeons and Dragons, this tomb was created to be as punishing to players as possible. Two characters died before the party completely wiped at the final boss. This is considered to be an excellent run from what I’ve read, until I found out that the only reason why there weren’t more casualties was because a couple of players looked up the Tomb ahead of time.
Some players used community generated classes instead of the classic Bard, Cleric, Fighter, etc. found in the book. As a result, they had access to abilities that have allowed them to escape death (or worse) on a myriad of occasions. One player used a class called a Thrallherd, in which he had access to minions that essentially viewed him as a religious leader and followed his orders without question. He would send them one at a time in rooms and hallways to set off the traps so that the party knew what routes to take (I was eager to point out to him that this was exactly what the Nazi leader did in Last Crusade). Had I known that I wanted to do Tomb of Horrors from the beginning of my campaign, I would not have allowed him to choose this class. Despite this, however, he still got caught in a death trap and perished because he got too cocky. If the group only consisted of classes from the Players Handbook, I’m not sure how the group would have been able to avoid more deaths. This place does not mess around.

tomb of horrors
New game mechanics make the adventure slightly easier than its first incarnation (Spot and search checks in 3.5 and Perception in Pathfinder). The group realized that in Pathfinder they could simply “take 20” on perception checks if there characters had a few minutes to examine an area, which reduced casualties. However, if the entire dungeon consisted of traps that could be seen with a Perception or Spot check then it wouldn’t maintain its notoriety. Almost immediately there are death puzzles that require the utmost caution in order to pass successfully (successfully does not mean unscathed 😉 ).
Everything in the dungeon is carefully designed to be passable even though your first impression is “WTF am I doing here??” Some creature encounters are impossible to win in a direct approach at the recommended levels (9-11), but it is usually accompanied a few alternative, albeit dangerous, routes that can be taken to avoid them. With good preparation, it is still possible to take on these creature encounters with out of the box thinking. One player in my group had the bright idea to use a staff of polymorph they found as loot from a previous adventure to subdue a creature. I’ve read one other instance on Reddit where a player in the exact same encounter used the grappling rules to throw the enemy into a spike pit at the cost of their character’s life so that the others can proceed. If you find yourself using this module as a player, remember to take a deep breath and use every single advantage you can muster in order to come out on top.
I loved this module. I can see why it is iconic and I will recommend it to any group who wants a challenge. It is a death trap that goes out of its way to eat you alive, but provides a means necessary to emerge a victorious conqueror. I will recommend this dungeon to anyone who’s got the guts and wants a challenge, even to players above the recommended levels.
Overall – 9/10
Good: I can see why this module has survived over the decades. The challenge is so real it’s scary. Death hangs over the character’s heads every waking moment, but it is always possible to pass and succeed with careful thinking. It’s definitely worth your time just to experience an iconic piece of D&D history.
Bad: A few traps are easy bypass because of new age mechanics
Bad Moon Waning

When the priestess of Ehlonna was murdered by a werewolf, the townsfolk of Deepwood lost no time in meting out justice, even though the shapechanger turned out to be a trusted friend and neighbor. But his journal has the town worried. Written in an unknown tongue, it seems to contain important pieces of information. Is it a list of other werewolves? Is the threat to Deepwood over, or has it only just begun?
Right off the bat, you are told that there are multiple possible endings to this module depending on the actions of the player characters and it is up to the DM to properly illustrate how everything comes together in the end. There is definitely a villain and he or she has a plan, but there multiple ways to discover what is going on behind the scenes. Even though the adventure is more of a mystery suited for a good ranger or druid with clever skills, any type of group can clear it successfully in different ways. It did seem kind of easy for my group to figure it out however. And once they did figure out who was behind everything, they bypassed a lot of the module to get to the end. Oh well, such is the life of a DM right?
The module is open ended enough that players can do something completely out of the ordinary if they wanted to. My group decided to throw a party for the village and used their skills to determine who in attendance could be suspects in the murder case. The module provided enough information that I was able to role-play out NPC reactions comfortably in this setting and motivations for why some NPCs didn’t show up. As an example, some NPCs have children and were not present at the party. When they were questioned by the group the next day I could easily deduce who would have enjoyed attending and who was using their kids as an excuse to potentially hide something.
The only real disappointment is the lack of loot. There is one nifty shape shifting relic at the end but it seems kind of useless considering that the recommended level is around 10. You could raid the village and get a few items, but nothing is really eye popping. Luckily the journey more than makes up for it.
Overall Score – 8/10
Good: Well written. Each character is well developed. Module leaves plenty of room for the creativity of the players.
Bad: No real treasure worth keeping. The villain may be easy for the group to figure out, which may influence them to end the adventure quickly.
City of the Spider Queen

The Fate of Faerûn Lies in Shadowy Darkness! Daggerdale is reeling from a sudden series of murderous drow raids. As a grave threat to the entire surface world develops in the war-torn dark elf city of Maerimydra, intrepid heroes must discover its source and destroy it, if they can.
Beware: This is a long book. It was designed to be an adventure on an epic scale. As such, your characters will be stuck in the almost the same environment for almost half of their adventuring careers should you choose to follow through with everything. The best thing to do is to gather a group of people and create characters at level 10 specifically for this adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a fun trip through the Underdark. It reminded me of the first Diablo game where there was only one dungeon that progressed further and further down into the earth until you finally got to the end. Each section of the Underdark, divided into four chapters, had its unique style that was fun to explore. The setting got continually more grim as you got closer to the end goal of the adventure; you started from the initial set of caves and progress to enslaved cities, isolated regions, a ravaged city overrun by demons, to a gloomy castle and finally a sentient undead temple that occupies two dimensions.
The best part of the entire campaign in my opinion was the badass villain, Irae T’sarran. She has a few accomplishments worth boasting about:
1) She’s the leader of the cult of Kiransalee, drow goddess of death and vengeance.
2) When the opportunity presented itself she took a ballsy gamble to conquer her immediate area at the same time when a demon army invaded.
3) She enslaved the drow that once occupied the castle she now uses as a base of operations by turning them all into undead slaves.
4) And she is freaking powerful!
5) Plus, her design is completely unique and strangely haunting too. I mean, look at her!
I knew I wanted this to be the final chapter in my campaign, so I introduced Irae early to amp up the anticipation. And wow, did she deliver! Details about her rise to power as well as her plot in the days before the start of the adventure are well written. She has courses of action throughout the adventure, influencing what encounters take place while staying out of the sight of the players. When you finally approach her for the final fight, there is no soliloquy or words to be exchanged… just death.
Overall Score – 7/10
Good: Amazing villain. Great atmosphere. Impeding dread as the adventure progresses. Climatic battle at the end.
Bad: Very long. Takes almost half of your adventuring career to get through.
Weapons of Legacy

Just a somewhat short book that has legendary items you can use in your campaign. There isn’t very much to dive into here. Do you want to give a special sword to your paladin? How about a quarterstaff with the power of life or death? Whatever you choose, the weapon has a chance to grow in power along with the character that wields it. In order to do so, your character needs to spend the time to research the item, learn its history, and perform certain deeds to unlock its power. With that, the book even acts as a mini adventure book too. Some of these adventures are simple bare bones ideas, but the focus is on the items and not the adventure ideas. All the same, the DM can take these ideas and incorporate them into the campaign.
Unfortunately the system used to wield the items of power is deeply flawed, which is that they incur permanent stat penalties. Let’s say that you wanted to use that paladin sword I mentioned earlier. This sword requires that you sacrifice skill points and health, but your sword continues to get more powerful and seems worth it at first. That is until you just happen to find the Holy Avenger lying around in a dungeon, so now you have to decide if you want to ditch your legacy weapon to use Holy Avenger or continue to incur stat penalties and hope that your sword is not only worth it but surpasses what you could have had. And if you eventually ditch the weapon, you don’t get the stats back. They’re gone.
The counter argument is that the rules are completely up to the DM and that you don’t need to follow what is written in the book. True. I actually went that route and deeply changed the entire system. Doing so took a considerable amount of time and preparation in between sessions (not to mention the regular adventure I had to plan). The DM shouldn’t feel the need to modify the rules if they didn’t want to spend the extra time, but I really wanted special weaponry for the PCs so I took on the challenge. In the end, it wasn’t worth it.
Overall Score – 2/10
Good: Great ideas.
Bad: Poorly executed. The Weapons of Legacy isn’t worth the penalties to the players when there are already powerful items in the world that don’t require such sacrifices. Takes extensive revision to be useful.

Comments? Jokes? Suggestions? Disagreements? Tweet me at @MichaelSanora or leave a comment below!

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Mike Sanora
Mike Sanora

Mike Sanora is just a nerd from Los Angeles CA who grew up on video games, Dungeons and Dragons, books, movies, music, and anime. Once he even wrote a comic book script based on his travels around South America, but he couldn't draw so that ended pretty quick. He is currently wrapping up a pretty big D&D campaign and will soon be moving on to something else. Oh, and he's into nerd fitness so that he can make an awesome cosplay in the future.

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