Review: HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass

This is the second of the single level adventures published by WotC for D&D 4e. It’s not exactly a follow up to the excellent Slaying Stone, but there are a couple of links. It’s by the same author, Logan Bonner, this time aided by Matthew Sernett and Cal Moore. It also spotlights the titular orc tribe, the Severed Eyes. That’s about it though. This adventure really stands alone, and is modular enough to fit into most DMs 5th level game.

The cover is a sumptuous piece by Wayne England depicting an orc horde. As a Games Workshop alumnus he must still be getting used to not painting green skins, but it’s a strong image. On the inside, the 32 pages are on decent quality paper, and it’s full colour throughout. It’s a huge shame that the inside of the cover wasn’t used for anything. The poster map is on it’s usual thinner stock, but it’s really well done. On one side is a bridged river beside some ruined buildings, a scene that gets used twice in the adventure. The other side is a fairly specific cave network, central to the adventure, but it’s possible to get repeat use from it.

There’s not much internal art, but what there is directly relates to the text. There are some pieces to accompany a magic item set, and handily they are all together on a page for photocopying. I‘d hope that WotC would put these on their site for download, but there’s no sign at time of writing.

The Pass of the title is where the action is set. It’s long abandoned, fitting the points of light notion in the default D&D world. The dwarves who used to maintain the pass are attempting to reopen for business, but rampaging orcs have other ideas. Add a plot twist in the form of a secret cult amongst the dwarves, with their own agenda, and the party is ready to enter the tale. As scenarios go it’s not a bad one. It’s pretty much a rescue mission that opens up into something more. Getting your party involved is simple enough, and the adventure lets you as a DM decide how best to drop it into your campaign.

The adventure is essentially a linear string of encounters, including 11 combat ones. That sentence makes it sound like there’s no depth to the adventure, which would be giving a false impression. Every encounter is creative, whether in locations or the opposition, or in the way it reveals a piece of the backstory. For example, the orcs themselves. The orc are often custom built, tied to an animal theme. We have hydra, troll, cave bear and wolf themes, which are more than just flavour, it’s reflected in the powers.

Then there’s the way that the encounter locations are recycled. Some get used twice, with events changing the way the map is used. This gives the adventure a sense of dynamism, and coincidentally allows the DM to get twice the game out of one set up.

This dungeon adventure includes hazards, plenty of traps and some puzzle encounters too. It certainly mixes it up, and should keep parties on their toes. Non-combat encounters are reasonably well fleshed out too. There are bullet pointed agendas for the NPCs involved. I like this approach, as it’s not wholly dependent on read aloud text. It allows the DM to be natural with the conversation, yet keeps you on track with the vital information. There’s even a companion available, which can put a DM voice in the heart of the party.

The adventure wraps up with some suggestions for future games. There’s also a handy checklist for parcels and quests, with some extra encounters if needed.

I really enjoyed reading this adventure, and I’m certain that enjoyment will translate into fun play. It’s straightforward enough, but allows for neat twists and intriguing set pieces too. This is a far more sophisticated offering than WotC often serves up, and builds on the good work started by the Slaying Stone. I’m genuinely looking forward to the next one in the series.

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One response to “Review: HS2 Orcs of Stonefang Pass

  1. Pingback: The Return of Essentials | Treehouse:

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