Siege of Bordrin’s Watch

scales-of-war“How can we forget the suffering of our kin during the Age of Chains? How can we set aside those ancient grudges when the risk of slavery is now greater then ever? Fellow warriors, the orcs are upon us, marching once more to the beat of thhe giants’ drum. It falls to us to stop them – to hold fast no matter their numbers. If we falter, we give into fear. It’s not just ourselves and our way of life that will suffer, all people of the Elsir Vale will perish as well. War is upon us. Now is the time for men and women of courage to stand up and defend those who cannot defend themselves.”

Siege of Bordrin’s Watch (just Siege from now on) is the second part in the Scales of War campaign. It’s available from DDI, and you don’t need to be a subscriber. Written by Robert J. Schwalb, it clocks in 51 pages. It’s for 5 3rd level characters. Oh yes, it’s also just about the best adventure I’ve yet seen for 4e D&D.

The background to the adventure is simple enough, orc hordes want to invade civilisation, Bordrin’s Watch is a wall that guards the mountain pass and prevents that happening. A new orc chieftain has risen from the ranks and through dark dealings has found a way through secret tunnels to launch his new campaign of destruction. I really haven’t done it justice with that description, as the back story is actually very rich and deep. There’s overtones of Lord of the Rings and the Warhammer World too, but it’s very much D&D, very much new D&D. What’s startling is how sweeping and epic the story feels, yet the PCs are only 3rd level! The secret to this is that the author has kept the encounters on a personal level, yet the consequences are felt on a much bigger scale. It’s deftly done, and in lesser hands might have felt clumsy and contrived. The scenario is pretty linear too, but it really won’t feel like that to your party.

I’m conscious I’ve given you the summary before the review, but I wanted you to know straight up the high regard I hold this adventure in. I’d love to hear actual play reports, to see if it plays as good as it reads.

The detail.

If you’ve played the last adventure in the path, Rescue at Rivenroar, you’ll want to know about the links to this adventure and what the overall story is shaping up to be. Well there’s not a lot to go on. The emissary that tried to get in with Sinruth last time out gets a mention here too, and this time he’s helping out an orc chieftain called Tusk. Now Tusk isn’t just any old orc, he’s half ogre. He also has a mistress (eeewww!), Myrissa, a shadar-kai witch, who hooked him up with the dark one emissary in the first place. The location has moved off the last map too. We’ve gone westwards to the Stonehome Mountains, the very edge of the Elsir Vale. This is nicely generic and could very easily slot into most home settings.

The adventure synopsis gives the details of the parties quest, to seal a Nexus under the mountains in order to stop the orc horde invading. Quite what a Nexus actually is, and why someone has been foolish enough to leave it unsealed are not revealed at this point. The synopsis is less than a page, and does a great job of selling potential DMs on the adventure. You want to read more to find out how the party can really get involved and stop an orc invasion.

There follows a section called ‘Preparing for adventure’ which explains the formatting used and also, incredibly, contains the following advice:

“If you and your players haven’t read through the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition rules yet, this is your first best step so that you can make certain you understand the rules.”

Well, thanks for that. I can’t imagine any D&D newbie coming across this adventure by accident, so it’s a strange line to see included. There’s also a list to fill out for customised treasure parcels, a continuation from Rescue.

As a DM you get two ways to kick off the scenario. There’s a quick start option that has some read aloud text that puts the PCs right into the heart of the adventure with no messing. Watch out for the typo in this part, where Bordrin’s Watch gets printed twice. Then there’s the slow option that gives you the option to add in some roleplaying scenes and increase the tension. It’s a mix of travel, combat and negotiations that are mainly dealt with by using short skill challenges. It also gives the party a chance to explore the city of Overlook at their leisure, an opportunity I’d say you should encourage them to take up.

The city of Overlook and it’s surroundings is described in the next 18 pages. I own many, many city sourcebooks for various games and I can honestly say I’ve rarely seen so much potential in so little space. It’s also completely crunch free, so I’ll recommend it to all fantasy RPG fans. Where many products would spend pages on each district, here there’s a couple of paragraphs broken down into buildings, streets, people, sights, smells and sounds. It’s just enough to fire the imagination, nothing is wasted at all. There’s even a decent map, and a few adventure hooks tossed in, that could easily expand into complete adventures on their own. The only tiny fly in the ointment for me is that this superb adventuring location could simply be missed out entirely and it won’t affect the scenario in any real way. The quick start option bypasses all this great work, and even the slow option tends to gloss over Outlook and it’s teeming plot hooks. What a shame.

The environs is described too, although in sketchy terms. Even so there’s enough here to base a campaign setting in. It’s generic, but still full of flavour and inspiration.

Following this we get a run down on a rival adventuring group who are taking on part of the mission to defend the Vale, the Freeriders. They are all statted up the 4e way with statblocks that only contain what’s needed. It’s a standard party, but with one peculiar omission, the rogue Madrick doesn’t have a race listed, is it a gnome? This is only one example of a few PHB II races included in the adventure, a full 6 months before that particular book was released. Good to see that the adventure isn’t out of touch with the current core.

Next: the Monastery…

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