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Thunderspire Labyrinth. Try it.

Thunderspire Labyrinth is the second part of the H/P/E series and it stands apart from it’s contemporaries in that it doesn’t attract too much ire from the intercrowd. Or at least not as much ire as the others in the series. For a total dissection head over to Eleven Foot Pole (sadly defunct), an entertaining read on the failings of WotC mods generally. I don’t disagree with Gregs posts per se, but again, as with Keep on the Shadowfell, I have to say that my actual play experience was at odds with conventional wisdom.

If Keep was a nod to B2: Keep on the Borderlands then surely H2 tips a wink to the classic Giant/Drow modules of the late 70s. Only a wink mind, it’s got very modern sensibilities (thank the gods, I reread D1 and D2 recently, they really don’t hold up all that well you know), and I wouldn’t really want to stake my reputation on the comparison.

What it actually is, is 4 distinct dungeons, with a hub to those adventures called the Seven Pillared Hall (savour that in your imagination for a moment). Like Winterhaven in Keep this area is fleshed out just enough by the writers. This is where I think the H/P/E series deserves some recognition: you can use it as a springboard for your own action, there’s loads of hooks, bare bones encounters and interesting NPCS to play with. Or, you can play it straight and leave it as a backdrop to adventure. Crucially, either option works a treat. For the creative DM, an underworld of opportunity, for the time pressed, fully formed adventure, ready cooked for your pleasure.

For instance, page 8 gives a paragraph to each of 5 potential adventure sites, from the Hall of the Broken Dragon to the Palace of Zaamdul. There’s just enough to kickstart the imagination, yet you don’t feel like you’ve missed out if you skip past to the prepared main event. Then there’s Vadriar the Sage, a throwaway NPC who roams the halls, yet has the skeleton of a complete campaign inside his head if you want to go there. And yes, there’s a random encounter section too.

This mod also sees the first appearance of the art pieces, designed to be shown to the players to represent the scenes their characters might see. There’s one just to the left that isn’t included in the book. (It’s well worth checking the WotC art galleries, they often include unused pieces in there). The downside to all this cool new stuff is that we only get the one poster map. Boo. However, one whole side is devoted to the Well of Demons, and THAT encounter is one of the best 4e encounters ever published.  

So, in the spirit of my previous review, here’s a condensed list of cool. We get:

A cabal of wizards in golden masks
Minotaur robots
Duergar! Crazy!
An ogre bouncer with a grudge
A Drow magic item vendor
Norkers. Seriously.
Hobgoblin slavers
Animated ballistas
Spined devils, at level 6.
Wandering demon table
Gnoll hunters, and a stolen pig
The fine chap to the right with the wings
A chat with the cast of Rentaghost
The bizarro proving grounds, with demons, teleportation, rooms of blood, animated statues, screaming pillars, all wrapped up with a doom sphere and a bona fide, large as life, in a dungeon, actual dragon. Awesome, yet utterly bonkers.
Vecna lives! and he chats to the party.
He has his own monsters and they steal bits of your mind… then explode
And of course, an enigmatic wizard behind it all.

Again, what more could you ask for? Maybe the relevent minis released in the same damn year? 

We spent the best part of 3 months roaming the halls of Thunderspire Mountain, loving it as we went. It was really where our group came together as a unit, learning our characters and I finally got the hang of running 4e the way it’s meant to be run, with a smile, and a group of friends.

Next: The Pyramid of Shadows is the 21st century White Plume Mountain?

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Thunderspire Labyrinth

We’re playing through H2 in the series now and the game has taken a slightly new direction. H1 was a nod to the classic Keep on the Borderlands module for old school D&D but this one is much more open ended in the vein of the old D or G series. It means I’ve got NPCs to run that will stick around for more than one encounter, but equally it means the party have to look at their skills just as much as their powers. So far we’ve played a series of combats (which have been great fun) but there’s been a danger that the game will become 1 dimensional and no more than a boardgame. On the downside, it can be a little frustrating for the players when all of a sudden there’s loads of options and noone wants to make the ‘wrong’ decision. My players are all lovely people, which means they’re all very polite and noone wants to tread on anyones toes. Trouble is, without some leadership the game can stall. I need to look out for that and keep bringing in new quest options.
For instance, last night I served up the following quests: the horned hold, teernan darkseeker, the duergar trading house, find the boar. The party balked at all of them apart from tag the pig, which was just a bit of flavour that I was foreshadowing for later session! Just goes to show how hard it is for everyone to get on the same page.

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