This is a stop gap, an adventure designed to join the heroic and paragion tiers in the Scales of War adventure path. It’s shorter than usual as a result, and it’s got a real side trek feel to it. The tone conveyed is that of ‘use it if you want to, don’t if you’re not bothered’. That doesn’t mean this is just a throwaway adventure, far from it. This is potentially a chance for the DM to tie up some loose plot threads and connections that have sprung up during their home game. The hooks for this adventure are crying out for ‘local’ knowledge rather than something the author has had to second guess for you. With 10 levels of actual play, there’s bound to be some need for personal resolutions.
The backstory comes over as quite sword and sorcery, though I’m sure purists would disagree. There are cults, and madness, and lost cities, all very redolent of 60s/70’s trashy fantasy novels. The D&D connection is made with the slaad, and the Scales of War connection by using Overlook and its environs. Is this a heady brew? or some kind of deadly cocktail? Just check out the opening illustration which will let you know whether or not this adventure is for you.
The adventure has a choice of kick offs, just as in Siege of Bordrin’sWatch (by the same author). You can start at the very door of the cultist’s lair, or take the low road with a slow building plot. The second choice is fleshed out with a couple of skill challenges. The first is extraordinarily generic, here’s the flavour text for it in full:
‘So, you have your task. Now you’ve chosen to investigate elements of it.’
With a bit of cut and paste you could use this structure to open up just about any scenario. The second challenge is just as perfunctory, being a travel challenge into the mountains. Again, this is as vanilla as it comes, but that does mean it’s trivial to add your own flavour to it. I should point out that the failures for each of these challenges result in combat, and to even out the xp awards that means dropping a later encounter. The art for these sections is second hand too (and utterly unrelated to the texts content), giving me the impression that this was potentially a Friday afternoon job at Wizards.
The meat of the adventure is in the dungeon proper, the titular Fist of Mourning. It’s a mix of rooms, corridors and caverns so it’s a classic dungeoneers playground. For once, you may even be able to break out your Dungeon Tiles! Interesting architecture point; the rooms are each ‘as high as their widest dimension’. So there are a couple of 50’ high corridors to marvel at. Also, the doors are heavy stone and take a standard action (and a strength check) to open. I assume they close if left unattended? That would be pretty old school.
There are 17 locations in the dungeon, including 7 combat encounters and a skill challenge. It’s not a given that you’ll see every part of the dungeon as there’s two ways through to the final showdown with the cultists. However, it’s a circular route so you could take the long way home if you like.
I thought these encounters were really well constructed in the main. The majority have custom monsters and relevelled opponents. There’s a strong chaos theme running through the piece too. How about powers called Warping Flux, Corrosive Eruption, Bewildering Caress or Madness Blossoms? They do exactly what the name suggests too, which means there’s a lot of weird instability, teleports and most of all, dripping tumourous blasphemies. Imagine a Warhammer chas cultist temple and you’ll be on the right tracks. The bad guys get names (which is not as frequent an occurrence in WotC adventures as you’d think) and the tactics sections are relevant and insightful too.
At 10th level there’s a passal of potential monsters to use and this adventure sees a good mix of classics along with the custom sort. The opening fight sees an oni, a bulette and a firelasher. Later there’s a beholder, and there’s even orcs! Cool. The ultimate encounter falls back on the idea of an evil magic user, but thankfully he’s not alone and there are soldiers and brutes to round it out.
One thing to look out for is the somewhat prevalent use of disease. At near paragon level, parties should be able to deal with it easily. Take care tough, as a few travel delays and bad rolls could bring the adventures heroic tier to an inappropriate ending.
Overall: I really like this as a standalone scenario. It’s more than a delve and less than an adventure but for what it sets out to do, it absolutely succeeds. It appears to have nothing to do with the Scales of War path, and at this stage in the plot that’s a shame. The end of the heroic tier is a big deal in a characters development and it deserves a big event. This isn’t quite that. Still, if I had a chance to run it as a one off, I would, and I think it would work really well.