Castle Rivenroar is long ruined, but the catacombs beneath them endure. Old families are interred there along with a nasty breed of squatters, who don’t all share the families penchant for Vecna worship. Sinruth and his buddies have taken over and made the place into an ersatz jail, as well as using some of the original guardians to keep pesky adventurers at bay. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Page 22 has a map of the complex that will make dungeon fans swoon with delight. It’s got a couple of levels, lots of staircases and some iconography that makes you want to skip ahead to see just what those glowing runes mean. Now, take care with the numbering, it threw me first time. The rooms are all numbered, but the encounters will often include more than one room, and the tactical encounters are not numbered. You’ll need to clip page 22 to your screen or something or run the risk of getting lost. The overview gives the DM a decent sense of the scale of the dungeon and how everything links up. It finishes with an XP tracker which is very handy indeed (does anyone ever really remember where they are with milestones?).
I’m not going to go through every single encounter (sorry). I’d rather pick out some highs and lows. You get 15 fully detailed tactical encounters here. They are all either level 1 or 2, even the big boss rooms. Despite that, there’s plenty of variety on offer and I think it’s a fine example of a low level dungeon. Not every encounter needs to be dealt with. There’s a shortish route to the bad guy (and Sinruth himself is not necessarily the final encounter), but don’t forget the quests. The party are actually here for prisoners and trophies, even if the payers are here for treasure and xp. This device keeps the dungeon going even if the party get lucky and ‘win’ too early.
One of my fave encounters is the Portal Room. The set up is that this is a destination portal from another castle in another age, sometimes monsters come through. In one sentence we have a reasonable justification for the ochre jelly and his specter allies. Nicely done. Similarly, I really like how the author includes advice on having the bad guys make a break for it whenever the fight goes against them. It’s almost as if Dave Noonan could sense the future ‘grind’ complaints. Often these stragglers will join up with other encounters, giving a veneer of versimilitude to the whole complex. In the same vein there’s a section of the dungeon that has roaming undead on a kind of sentry route that the PCs can scout out. It’s nice to see monsters who get up and leave their keyed locations.
I even like the read aloud text. it’s extremely succinct, but gets the info over quickly. Most of the encounters are worth reading closely as there are occasional nuggets of info that may come in handy later. Given that there’s no overview of Scales of War, and I’ve not yet read the other adventures in the path, I have no idea whether the following info is vital to the campaign, or just flavour;
“Here lie the Rivenroars until the Day of the Black Sun. If you seek their monument, look at the lands around you.”
Sounds like foreshadowing to me. I could well be wrong.
Not every encounter is a winner. One of the early ones has a magic circle that need breaking to free a prisoner. It’s not set up as a skill challenge, so with bad luck on the dice, it’s a fail and that’s all there is to it. Seems out of kilter with the 4e philosophy generally and the rest of the adventure too.
Similarly, there’s the encounter with Sinruth himself. Ok, it’s not a wizard waiting in the last room of the dungeon (see H1, 2 and 3 for examples of this) but it always seems like a shame to me that the big bad is first met about 6 rounds before he dies. He’s a combat beast though, so maybe you’ll have more than a minute in his company after all. Not to worry, Sinruth is actually only a lieutenant in the grand scheme of things. Rather than him controlling the undead in Rivenroar, it’s more like the other way round, and there’s another end of level fight for the party at the end.
In summary, this is really good stuff. A far better first foray into 4e than Keep on the Shadowfell provides. Iconic monsters, though not kobolds or orcs for once, in iconic situations, with a healthy dose of personality on top. It’s left me wanting more. Looking forward to the next chapter.