This is the third installment in the Scales of War adventure path. It’s available through the WotC website, and it’s still among the free ones. Good job too, otherwise you’d want your money back. It’s written by Scott Fitzgerald Gray, not an author I’m overly familiar with. I can see what he was trying to do here, but he failed. To be fair I think he’s been let down by shoddy editting. The adventure is full of holes, some small but some so gaping you could drive a cart through them. The plot, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Basics first.
There’s enough adventure here to take a party through one and a half levels, finishing at 6th. It continues directly from the events of the second installment, Siege of Bordrin’s Watch. The links are a little thin but essentially the dark creeper who brokered the arms deal for the orcs in that last adventure is still around, on the run from his boss, and needs dealing with. His name is Modra, and he used to work for Sarshan, a shadar kai interplanar arms dealer. They’ve fallen out since Modra went behind his back and left him exposed when the titular siege went awry. So, although it’s suggested that this is a standalone adventure, I think there’s too much assumed backstory to really get away with that.
Modra is on the run. So where would you go if you had an angry and ruthless ex employer on your tail? Obviously, you’d hide out in his headquarters in the city yeah? and you’d be trying your hardest to get a key that lets you return to his shadowfell fortress because he’ll never expect to see you there right? I swear I’m not making this up. It gets even more silly later on, as I’ll explain.
The good news is that this adventure return the party to the city of Overlook, introduced last time out. This location was almost criminally underutilised in Siege, and I’m happy to report that there’s ample opportunity for the party to explore it’s delights in this scenario. First the party has to undergo a seemingly random mugging at the hands of some bandits. They’ve been sent by Modra to regain the brass key he needs to return to the shadowfell. A key? Yep, the very same key the party nabbed off Iranda in Siege. You remember right? This is a measure of Modra’s stupidity. He’s a level 7 elite himself, and he sends a pack of level 5 humans to do his dirty work. Poor delegation skills. The bandits show little in the way of initiative, and even carry a note explaining where the next part of the adventure lies. Well, kind of. It’s says ‘Modra’ on it and the adventure makes the mind boggling assumption that the party will do everything in their power to find out who, or what, this Modra is. If they don’t, the adventure is pretty much over, so, you know, I’d encourage your players somewhat.
The information gathering exercise takes the form of a comprehensively detailed skill challenge. One that initially looks well thought out, there’s certainly a lot of structure to the sort of activities that most groups just play through without dice. The idea of a challenge should be that there are actual consequences to victory or failure. With this one, winning seems to make no difference at all. Failure means Sarshan beefs up an encounter in the future, thereby completely undermining another encounter the party have before that. You’ll see what I mean. There are 9 skills available for use in this challenge, so everyone gets to join in. Look out though, the text has it’s fluff and mechanics paragraphs reversed.
Win or lose the party will encounter an ally in the form of a half elf ranger, Reniss. Honestly, she’s an ally, the text says so. Quite why the PCs should believe that I don’t know, but let’s assume they don’t slay her on sight. She wants to know what they’ve been up to. In exchange for this startling generosity, she’ll share the one piece of knowledge she has, which, in fairness, happens to be Modra’s location. That’s right, the skill challenge doesn’t provide that nugget, a GMPC does, who swiftly joins the party. You can see where it’s all starting to go wrong now.
Onwards to a poorhouse which the forces of darkness are using as a front for their arms and mercenary smuggling operation. The poorhouse is run by a pair of retired paladins. You read that right, paladins. Good job 4e took away their detect evil then eh? Worse, the big bad Sarshan is sitting in their common room keeping an eye out for the party! Worse, Modra is right downstairs! Honestly, you know when you want to start shouting at the screen when people are being dumb on the TV? Well I got some strange looks on the train reading this car crash I can tell you. So Sarshan sizes up the opposition (making the earlier skill challenge totally invalid), yet leaves them to track down Modra for him. Did I mention, he’s right downstairs! The party have to find the secret door in the cellar. If they don’t, again, the adventure comes to a crunching end. This sort of thing is where D&D gets it’s video game rep from. The party get to go around knocking holes in walls while the crowd ignores their every move. If approached I guess the NPCs trot out the same line they did when you first walked in. Rubbish.
So, under the poorhouse is a 3 room mini dungeon. It’s got a poorly worded hazard to contend with first. Skip that and head to Sharshan’s cronies who are loading a pair of shadow hounds into a teleportation circle. The hounds are in a cage that prevents them using their teleport power, how cool is that!? That’s one of the most exciting pieces of kit I’ve seen in a published adventure yet. I presume it’s ok to push it through the circle? Is it a reference to the old bag of holding in a portable hole conundrum? or is it just tossed off, ‘will this do?’,shoddy scenario design, you decide.
The idiots in this chamber haven’t realised that Modra is lurking in the room next door. Right, next, door. When your party finds him, he summons some wraiths and jumps through the portal while the undead deal with the party. Apparently the wraiths can’t return through the very portal they arrived through. There’s another portal in the room, with zero function, in fact it’s utterly inert. So why is it there? I don’t know, neither do the wraiths, neither does Modra, no one knows. Just have your party follow Modra through the portal would you please? So long as there isn’t more than 5 of you, as it has a totally arbritary cap on it (don’t forget your GMPC!)
Hey at least when you get through, you get to have an adventure in the shadowfell before level 5. That’s quite exciting isn’t it? Hello? Are you still awake? Anyone?
Next: the Umbraforge!