The middle part of the adventure takes place in and around Umbraforge, a Mordor like mercenary encampment on a volcano in the shadowfell. Actually, it’s a pretty cool location, and there’s a couple of very nice pieces of art you can show your players to make it easy on yourself. Sarshan has gotten himself quite a slick operation running here. He has mercenary camps, a slave bazaar, his own dark tower (naturally) and a forge where he conducts industrial scale monster making. The PCs mission is to hunt down Modra, and to do that they’ll have to explore Umbraforge. Much like the earlier Overlook section, this is all handled by skill challenge, interspersed with a couple of combats. I want to like this approach. The challenge is a decent structure, which you can stray away from if your group has a mind to. Or you can play it by the book, either way there’s a nice spine to your session.
With a victory, the party discover a short cut into the next act. With a defeat, they don’t. OK, so that’s fairly bland, but it’s not a killer. Either way there’s another NPC introduced, whose job is to provide some essential info on Modra’s location. Haven’t we just had that with Reniss?! Once might have been a mistake, but twice is just poor. This is railroading in everything but name. Why bother with 4 pages of structured skill challenge if none of it particulary matters? This meeting with an informer is vital to the flow of the adventure, which is fair enough, but what about a back up plan? It’s all just a little bit shallow.
The same can be said for Umbraforge itself. In most other systems the location would be laid out with a keyed map, some NPCs and some potential encounters. This adventure tries to bend the skill challenge system into place to achieve the same end. It only partially succeeds. What Umbraforge really needs is a (small) traditional write up behind the challenge. For example, what about some named mercenary captains? or some market stall holders? Obviously it wouldn’t be right to expect a fully statted up sourcebook, but there’s room for more than is provided here. For a perfect precedent, see how Overlook was described in the previous adventure. I realise I’m being perhaps a little picky. Skill challenges have their detractors, and it’s been thrashed out a million times before. I still believe they can work, and this adventure has a couple of good tries at it. Certainly the author deserves praise for effort.
Having explored Umbraforge, the party will eventually make their way to the dark foundry. You know how there’s always an evil wizard conducting vile experiments in most adventures? Well Sarshan has gone beyond the experimental stage and has stepped up production on an industrial scale. He has a fully functioning factory churning out super monsters that have been bred with magic and shadow. Awesome. It’s also where Modra has decided to return to like a prodigal son, except he has sabotage in mind. You know, I’m still not entirely sure what Modra is trying to achieve here. He’s got a death sentence from Sarshan hanging over him, and he’s justifiably bitter about his employment ending, but to return to his master’s side, just to bring attention to himself? Nah, I don’t get it.
Anyway, this foundry has a river of magically charged magma in it, loads of vats of bubbling green goo, stacks of minions (who really should be in orange boiler suits like in Dr No) and a two headed death boar, as well as Modra himself. It’s a proper level 8 encounter alright, with the potential to add in more frankensteinian nightmares at will. Modra makes his final stand here and the omens are right for an exciting battle. Watch his stat block though, it references a killing dark ability that he doesn’t actually have.
From here there’s a secret entrance into Sarshan’s tower. Better hurry then.
Next: Sarshan, I presume?