Continuing the earlier review…
The Monastery of the Sundered Chain is the location for the bulk of the scenario, and it’s an ancient building designed to house an elite Moradin worshipping fighting force. I imagine the author wasn’t allowed to include actual monks at this point. Again, two options are presented for getting to the isolated monastery, by hand wave or a slower skill challenge. The skill challenge is only level 1, so not particularly arduous. A failure means a randon encounter, a success presumably nets some xp for beating the challenge.
The monastery is described in the usual WotC format, an overview with maps, followed by tactical encounters on facing pages (assuming you print them out of course). It’s split into three sections, each a session in themselves. The first is the monastery itself, which is currently being vandalised by orcs in their own particular manner. Actually, there’s some gross-out moments here, cooked limbs and dirty protests among them. The orcs show lots of variety, for example, bolt throwers who employ a belly bow to great effect. Actually this adventure introduces 6 new types of orc, as well as some other creatures. You get orogs (a crossed ogre/orc) and a cave troll too. All very tolkienesque (in a Peter Jackson sense) It’s not flagged up, but all the details of the new monsters are included at the back of the adventure. Also, pay attention to the first couple of encounters, they are not referenced to the treasure table you will have filled out earlier. I reckon the Hall of Moradin is M2, and the Hall of Heroes is M3.
The Hall of Heroes is the second section of the monastery and if you use a battlemat you’ll need to prep well in advance. Actually that’s true of the preceding encounter also, there’s no way dungeon tiles will do the rooms justice. These are big, complex areas. Great for the combat and the sense of scale, not so great for the artistically challenged. There’s plenty of carnage here, dead dwarves lie everywhere. This is what I was talking about earlier when I said that the adventure conveys grand sweeping events while keeping the action on a personal scale. The party will see the consequences of war and get a chance to wreak vengeance too, tying their tale into the bigger story.
The action moves deeper under the mountain and before you can say ‘Moria’, there’s more orc hordes to face down. The terrain is potentially fatal here so look out for forced moves. A 100′ fall will probably end an adventurers career, although it will be immensely satisfying to shove orcs off the precipices.
The last section is the Chamber of Works. There’s no map that shows the connection between this area and the last, so don’t go flipping back and forward through the pdf like I did, it isn’t there. What is there though is an ally if the players are lucky (and quick). Kalad is a dwarf paladin who has been holding the line against the invaders. Right now he’s getting a beating from an orog and it’s up to the DM whether or not he survives by the look of it. The scenario requires that the party get vital information from Kalad, even if he’s dead. I’m leery of assuming the party will attempt to get Kalad raised, or use a speak with dead ritual, he’s hardly the first dead dwarf they’ll have come across. Given that the adventure is likely to grind to a quick halt without Kalad’s intervention, I’d recommend he lives to speak, even if it’s with his dying breath. Should you wish to let him survive, he then becomes an ally, which brings it’s own issues. Does a player ‘run’ him? the DM? Be prepared to make the decision and run with the consequences.
The link to the next part of the adventure is a little forced to be honest. Kalad’s survival will help, and the author does provide guidance on the transition, but be aware, you are embarking on a railroad. Still, the view is lovely.
The final part of the adventure is in what is essentially a small, five room dungeon. The endgame will be sealing the nexus, which will seal off the secret tunnels thwarting Tusk’s scouting force. Getting there means a skill challenge, but it falls into the trap of not providing concrete results for success or failure, in the worst case, it just has to be done again. Admittedly it can result in losing surges, but that’s nothing a rest can’t cure, in fact it’s even recommended in the text. It’s nitpicky but one of the 4e tenets is to not mess around insisting on this sort of stuff, so it’s a shame to see such a lazy challenge.
The purpose of the nexus is woolly. It can be filled with scalding water to seal off the tunnels and drown intruders, but you won’t want to think about that too deeply. It’s actual function is to provide a suitably dramatic close to the adventure. There’s some other chambers to explore, and other orcs (as well as stranger foes) to fight. It’s also where your players will encounter that other adventuring company from back in Overlook. However, it’s the final chamber that will live on in your memory long after the adventure is done.
Inevitably there’s spoilers in such a review. If you don’t want to know about the climax, skip the next paragraph.
The nexus is straight out of Dr No. It’s quite techy for D&D to be honest, even for a dwarf stronghold. It’s a giant steam bath with lots of mesh catwalks and massive machinery with it’s very own control panel. The party are on a race against rising water and steam as well as multiple waves of orcs entering the fray. Finally there’s Tusk and his shadar-kai mistress to deal with. They make great end of adventure adversaries, a nasty mix of melee and magic which will really test the party. To make things even harder, there’s a skill challenge to be completed at the same time as the combat rages, and it’s likely to be the party rogue that concentrating on that task, so you may be a striker down.
Overall? I love this adventure. It’s got everything you could want, iconic foes, a sweeping backstory, classic swords and sorcery, evocative locations, clever challenges and memorable NPCs. In lesser hands this could have been 1d6+1 orcs in a 30′ square room. In a sense, that exactly what it is, but it’s written so well that you won’t notice. The same with the plot, it’s a bit linear, it doesn’t make massive amounts of sense, but you can’t help but be carried along, desperate to know what’s round the next plot corner. It works as a superb standalone adventure; I’m intrigued to see if we get to see more of this as the campaign progresses; and I will certainly be excited to see Robert Schwalb’s name on future works. Oh, and it’s free too. Get it, run it, enjoy it.