Murder in Baldurs Gate: the adventure review

Once inside all the packaging, you’ve two ways to go: the campaign/city guide, or the adventure. I went straight for the adventure.

Here’s the scoop, it’s a gem. It’s not perfect, and won’t suit every group, but it’s really quite special indeed.

You get a lot of adventure for your money. This is 32pp in a two column magazine type format, but with very little art, no stats and no maps. That puts a lot of word count in the book, and it’s well written stuff too. No stats?! Don’t worry. This adventure has been written as edition neutral, and the foes are statted out in full online for free, where you get the choice of 3.5, 4 or 5th edition. No maps? Well, not at a tactical level anyway. But now I’m getting ahead of myself. Hold on.

Here’s how the thing is structured. Spoilers a go go. The city is home to the last two inheritors of the divinity of the god of murder, Bhaal. In a highlander type move, there can be only one. And then he gets knacked by our heroes, the party. Hurrah! The city is saved, but not for long. That spark of murder is now on the loose and is looking for a chosen one. Bhaal gets busy manipulating and influencing, driving the city to destruction. Unless the party intervenes.

The plot is based around three main NPCs and their agendas. Each faction approaches the party, asking for their help and allegiance. It’s a free choice, and the party could go with two, but will almost certainly not be able to pick all three. As the plot goes on, they could do what they like about this set up. They could stay loyal, they could set them against each other, forge alliances afresh, whatever.

Then the adventure lays out 10 stages to the unfolding plot. These are events, written from multiple angles, mirroring the factions. They are presented as if the party don’t disrupt things, though of course they will. They’re not set in stone at all. They can flex in timing, location and in content to react to the parties influence. Each stage results in a behind the scenes winner, and the scores get totalled up by the DM so that the Finale showcases the ‘winning’ faction, which by that stage could include the party itself.

The stages escalate. They start off with fairly run of the mill little errands and missions, though none of them dull. None of the factions are ‘good guys’ though, and before long the stages turn darker and more morally complex. The catalyst for this turn in the events is the influence of Bhaal as he sets everyone to increasingly murderous intent. Now, given the predilection of adventurers to using fatal violence as the default solution to their issues, it might not be obvious at which point they’ve crossed the line to being baddies, but it will happen. That time will come, and every group will deal with it differently. Personally, I can’t wait to see the discussion at my table. This is not just kick in the door and grab the loot. This is sophisticated gaming.

In fact, there’s startlingly little direct combat here, and no catacombs to explore or items to lift. There’s stealth, guile, intimidation, politicking, negotiation, diplomacy, bribery, robbery and everything else you can imagine. The city is the only location (more on that when I’ve read that book) and the whole thing is wide open for exploration, and crucially, change.

The finale is one that isn’t inevitable, but highly probable, and it’s one that will leave an indelible stamp on the city, and the characters too. It’s a great ending, and it think it will prove enormously satisfying to conclude for the players and the DM who will have negotiated this very memorable mini campaign.

It’s a difficult adventure though. The DM has to be very agile, and able to build encounters from slim materials with probably little notice. The players will have to be clever, work well as a team, and plan their approaches carefully. They’ll also have to pick up on subtlety. There’s loads to do, and it can go wrong quite easily. City adventures are notoriously hard to run, and this one’s no different. The biggest potential pitfall is letting the NPCs drive all the agendas leaving the party mere observers. There are some scenes where that’s more likely than not, so care will need to be taken. Proactive parties will flourish.

The tone is striking too. It’s very low on fantasy. There’s not a spell named in the whole thing, and it seems very human and real, almost medieval despite the fantasy naming. It’s set for levels 1-3, but that’s by the by. I think this feels more like levels 5-8, just because of the stakes, not the monster roster. As I read through it, and knowing very little about Baldurs Gate as a setting, it reminded me of Middenheim from Warhammer. I also thought it could be transplanted into modern day or a sci fi setting very easily indeed. It feels very HBO.

I really like this adventure. Yes, it will take work to build into something but the potential is there for a spectacular experience. Usually I get grumpy if a paid for product doesn’t do enough heavy lifting, but in this case, you’re buying a huge amount of sheer plot. As a work of imagination it’s big, big enough to make you want to schedule your first session so you can start seeing your players faces as the story unfolds.

Highly recommended.

Next: the city guide. Icing on the cake? Or cheap padding?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Murder in Baldurs Gate: the adventure review

  1. kelvingreen

    I am surprised, as WotC does not have a good reputation for adventures! Given the location and the involvement of Bhaal, do you know if the adventure has any connection to the Baldur’s Gate computer games? The PC versions concerned the struggle between a number of scions of Bhaal — including the player-character — competing for the god’s power.

    • Now that I don’t know. This adventure kicks off with some BG specific stuff that went a little over my head, but I had the feeling it would mean something to those in the know. I’ll have a dig around and see what I can find.

      • kelvingreen

        I’ve had a look into it myself and it seems that one of the two Bhaalspawn from this adventure is the official protagonist of the Baldur’s Gate computer games, so the adventure is a sort of sequel.

  2. Kyle

    Obviously you’ve answered your own question, but for anyone else who’s curious, yes, this adventure does connect to the computer games, though the adventure also stands completely on its own.

    The opening scene of the adventure features the protagonist of the computer games (named Abdel Adrian, from the novelization) being publicly attacked by the only other surviving Bhaalspawn, Viekang (who appeared in Throne of Bhaal). In the ensuing combat, one of the two Bhaalspawn is slain, which causes the other to inadvertently transform into Slayer form. The Slayer rampages through the public square until either the party or someone else kills it; unknown to the party or the Bhaalspawn, the death of the last Bhaalspawn (the Slayer) is the final step before Bhaal himself can begin to reform himself from his divided essence. This all happens in the first scene, and is the catalyst for the entire the adventure.

    Other references to the computer game include a statue of Minsc and Boo, and the NPC Coran (still alive a century later, being an elf). Also, even though Baldur’s Gate has grown substantially since the time of the Bhaalspawn saga, many locations remain as depicted in the game.

    (Final note: I completely agree with the author of the review. This is an amazing adventure!)

  3. Mark

    Hi Baz,

    Curious what you thought of the sourcebook portion of this module… and if Rise of Tiamat redeem WOTC’s current adventure arc.

    • Hi Mark. I never got round to reading the source book to be honest! If I ever have the adventure on the soon to play schedule I’ll dig into it. My assumption being it can only add to what’s already a fine adventure.
      I actually picked up the Legacy adventure that came out about the same time. That’s likely next on the review list.
      Whereas the Rise of Tiamat won’t be. I don’t get these books free, and I’m not paying for more of what I saw in Hoard. Especially as it will never get played!

      • Mark

        Fair enough! My initial impression of RoT is that it is structurally even crazier, with a bunch of exposition about the factions, the cult, etc, opening it. All good, but it would have helped to make HoDQ even marginally intelligible. It still seems like a 200pg adventure outline, dictated, run through some form of auto-formatting algorithm, and then chopped into two books, but the contents in HoDQ seem a _little_ stronger with the additional material. There are now NPCs that have motivations, under their description, instead of alluded to in a wall of semi-digested text.

        As Adventure Arcs are now apparently WoTC’s D&D BizModel, I am hopefully the next arc will actually be good out of the box.

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