Rescue at Rivenroar is an adventure for level 1 characters. I’m telling you this straight out because the adventure doesn’t. Seriously, it’s hidden away on the second page in a one liner. There’s a nice icon on the front page that says its for the heroic tier, but it’s not obvious (certainly in hindsight) what level it’s for. Never mind, let’s see what your party will be up against.
But first, let’s see what your players know. Did you ever play through the Red Hand of Doom for 3rd ed? I didn’t but I get the feeling it was a pretty popular adventure. Well, this adventure is set (nominally) 10 years after the events of that module. Don’t worry, it’s just for deep background, I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not playing it.
The setting for this is the Elsir Vale centred on the town of Brindol. It’s not the same as the Nentir Vale, but it’s almost a carbon copy. I see no reason why you couldn’t drop it right into that particular Vale if you wanted. Essentially you are presented with a town with a dungeon nearby, so it’s not permanently glued into anyone else’s world. The idea here is that a Hobgoblin warchief has been getting ideas way above his station and wants to exact revenge for the defeat of his forefathers, and at the same time make a name for himself as the local big bad. His name is Sinruth. If your party does it’s job, Sinruth won’t be seeing level 3. What a loser. To be fair, he has somehow managed to forge a few alliances in order to swell the ranks of the new Red Hand, which he’s calling Sinruth’s Hand. He’s made a bargain with some evil gnomes (it’s not clear what the nature of that bargain is), as well as a mysterious emissary from another descendant of the old Red Hand. He’s also fallen in with some undead in a nearby dungeon. He keeps them sweet with human sacrifice, which is a convenient way of hooking the party, as townsfolk are soon to be abducted for this very reason.
Here the adventure skips forward quite a bit and talks about how the party are to deal with the prisoners taken by the Hand. This forms a kind of puzzle like spine to the adventure. There are a half dozen abductees to be found, and each has some vague knowledge about their surroundings and clues that point towards the location of the other prisoners. You’ll need to read this section carefully and have it to hand when they are encountered later on. I really like this concept. It’s simple, yet it sprinkles a healthy dose of roleplaying all over the later dungeon crawl, and helps cement a few relationships with the party too. I’d want to link some of these NPCs to the party just to help link the party into the setting, and it’s easily done.
Don’t get carried away though, the adventure hasn’t started yet. We start in Brindol, which has a very nice map. This is, I presume, recycled from Red Hand as it’s keyed but there’s no explanation of the numbers in this adventure. Brindol has a ‘Hall of Great Valour’ which holds the trophies from the last battle, and Sinruth will be looting these soon.
Again, we still haven’t started. We get to see the treasure system first. Unlike the deadtree modules like Keep and Thunderspire, Scales of War uses the treasure parcel system so that you can spread out the loot in a way that suits your group. There are blank slots for 14 parcels in this adventure, and you are expected to use your players wishlists to populate it. This is officially a good thing. Well done Mr Noonan.
Finally we are ready to begin, and in the grand tradition of D&D we start in a bar. For once, there’s no dark stranger in a cloak with a parchment, instead we have a bunch of humanoid raiders who want a punch up. Bar fight! Totally contrived to get your players used to the rules, we have minions, we have goblins with 25 hp and other stuff that players from 3.x and earlier will not be used to. Clever DMs will also want to get p42 of the DMG out and encourage stunting. It’s a move that will pay dividends throughout the whole campaign. Take care to read the sidebar on handling NPC on NPC fighting, it’s not immediately clear if the rabble are on the goblins side or not (they’re not). There’s a potential for fire and explosion too, which is always a pleasant way to start the day. Ideally, if you like action movies, you’ll want to see PCs airswimming as they are blown out of a window with a fireball blossoming behind them.
Things are taken outside where the party will find that this is not just a simple punch up, but part of a larger town raid by Sinruth and his mates. There’s an interesting encounter with an ogre and some archers. You read that right, an ogre, all 8 levels of brute. The author includes some good advice here about the monsters bugging out when the fight turns against them. Heed it, or you’ve got a certain TPK in your first session.
Obviously these encounters assume this is the first 4e game for a lot of players, and to be fair, I like the way that assumption is handled. You get to use lots of interesting parts of 4e early on, and this training also gives the party an ‘in’ to the city to help them fully engage with the rest of the adventure.
Having driven off the monsters, the party will be invited by the town council to step up and be real heroes. The quests are simple, rescue the prisoners, and return the trophies. There’s a skill challenge set out for those groups who want to formalise the negotiations with the council. Again, an early showing for a 4e subsystem, good to see. The party have a chance to interrogate a captured hobgoblin too, and the author has the sense to provide advice for when the players get all bloodthirsty. It’s a second skill challenge, and the consequences actually matter.
When the party head out of town there’s another skill challenge to track the Hand (they’ll be getting used to these by now), as well as some on the road encounters with the local wildlife. At this point the DM has access to a seriously old school Wilderness Encounter table. I thought 4e had done away with this kind of thing, but it actually warmed my heart to see it if I’m honest.
Next up, the dungeons of Rivenroar…