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Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 05:11 PM #1
Castles & Crusades - Review of Assault on Blacktooth Ridge (A1)
I can't post reviews on ENworld until some sort of login glitch gets fixed, but here is my review of Assault on Blacktooth Ridge (also submitted to RPG.net, but won't show for a week).
On the ENworld rating system, I'm still not sure if this is four or five stars. I think it's a four, but maybe a 5. It's certainly a must-buy for C&C players. I gave it three stars for style and five stars for content on RPG.net's scale.
Assault on Blacktooth Ridge is a 24 page module for Castles & Crusades, written by Davis Chenault, for characters of first and second level.
The module is, like Village of Hommlet and Keep on the Borderlands, a mini-campaign: it contains a base of operations, information about the surrounding region, and plot hooks in addition to the “dungeon.” Assault on Blacktooth Ridge is closer to being a mini campaign even than Keep on the Borderlands: it contains no one “big” dungeon like the Caves of Chaos. Instead, there are two medium sized dungeons: one with 30 keyed encounter areas and one with 14. In addition to these two dungeons, Assault on Blacktooth Ridge contains a number of small encounter areas, which can be likened to the small encounters provided in Keep on the Borderlands. There are five of these. Encounter tables are also provided for three geographic areas (the village of Botkinburg, the nearby woods, and the area along the Blacktooth Ridge. As a base of operations, Botkinburg has everything that a base of operations needs, including low-level NPCs that could be hired to accompany the party. Botkinburg has 25 encounter areas, providing a good selection and variety of NPCs, and all the necessary hooks into the module’s various mini-adventures.
The module is designed to fit into any campaign, and it succeeds admirably. A specific history of the area is provided for those who might want to use it, but it isn’t necessary for the CK to use this historical background to play the module. In essence, an evil overlord once occupied the area, later retreating, but leaving behind all the expected aftermath of evil overlordship: ruined forts, goblin nests, dungeons, etc. The CK could easily ignore this backdrop – the ridge will work for any area that could contain ruined forts and monsters. However, the “evil overlord” backdrop will obviously work in almost any campaign, and it adds a nice flavor. There is also a political plotline that’s not necessary for running the adventure, but which will probably serve as the tie-in to sequel adventures if the CK wishes to use them. The political plotline, like the overall backdrop, is quite modular – it involves a nearby baron who has designs on the Village of Botkinburg, and is providing information to the monsters of the Ridge. The adventure doesn’t suffer if this plotline is left out, but it gives the Castle Keeper options for expanding the adventure beyond the boundaries of the module itself, if desired.
Going Beyond the Module
Assault on Blacktooth Ridge does an excellent job of providing the CK with pathways that lead beyond the module and into new adventuring territory. For starters, the Ridge itself is a classic adventuring venue: a rocky ridge pocked with caves and abandoned forts. Any number of homebrewed dungeon crawls can be fitted into the area if the party decides to keep using Botkinburg as a base for future adventures. The leadership in Botkinburg is weak, with an irritating and pompous son, a senile baron, and an advisor who is loyal to the old baron and not to the son. This triad creates lots of room for the party to become involved in Botkinburg’s internal political situations, which could be used to tie in nicely with the larger political plotline mentioned above (the nearby baron who wants to take control). The monsters are part of a larger group, which allows the party to pursue villains up the chain of command. Enough information is provided about the larger organization to allow the CK to take a campaign in this direction. Assault on Blacktooth Ridge is extraordinarily well designed to serve as the jumping-off point for a campaign, and it can go in any number of directions. In this regard, the module is an absolute slam-dunk success.
Typos are not frequent enough to be intrusive, but there are some in the module. The map is designed to serve both as a player map and as a Castle Keeper map. I prefer, as a Castle Keeper, to have a map with specific locations specifically marked. This might not be a problem for everyone, but I felt that another page devoted to a Castle Keeper’s map would be a good investment of space. Troll Lord Games has announced that they will post a CK map on their website.
As I mentioned above, the adventure is a masterpiece of providing detail that doesn’t destroy its modularity – not an easy achievement. The adventures are solid stuff – just what a low level campaign needs, without getting too fancy or too clichéd. Even more impressive, though, is the way that the module’s 24 pages provide the potential for tremendous depth – without spelling it out in mind-numbing detail. As an example, I’ll return to the situation in Botkinburg Keep: a senile baron, an incompetent son, a loyal advisor. This situation is established in less than a page of text (which also contains stat blocks, etc), but if the party stays in Botkinburg for any length of time, accruing fame and power, this one page of text provides the guideline for a complex and interesting series of events that may follow. Almost certainly, the party will fall afoul of the baron’s incompetent son. What happens next could go in all sorts of directions, leading to all kinds of interesting role playing (and combat) situations – yet this rich potential is all contained within one page of text. It’s an impressive illustration of a couple of points: First, it is an example of authorial restraint – Davis Chenault appreciates that a module author’s goal is not to fill in all the details of what will happen. He artfully “tees up” various situations, giving the Castle Keeper enough information to smack it out of the park, without writing pages of detail that restrict rather than enhance the Castle Keeper’s options. Second, it is evidence of just plain old attention to good value. This module contains more nooks and crannies and trouble for characters to get into than many modules of twice or three times the size – just because Mr. Chenault has such a strong instinct for when to shut up and move on to the next thing.
I highly recommend this module for anyone beginning a C&C campaign. Although only time can tell, it may very well be a true classic on the order of Hommlet, the giant series, or Keep on the Borderlands. It has the characteristics of the great modules: it doesn’t railroad the party, it packs in lots of plot options, and it describes these options with enough detail to play them without crushing the CK under inflexible timetables or extraneous details. The encounter areas themselves are solid, but not masterpieces – one of them is nothing more than a stirge nest – but I’ve got a strong suspicion that like many of the truly great modules, Assault on Blacktooth Ridge will turn out to be more than the sum of its parts.
This is not a playtest review – the author’s party is tenth level, but will have a chance to play Blacktooth Ridge in the event of a TPK.
Last edited by Mythmere1; Tuesday, 29th March, 2005 at 05:16 PM.
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 06:16 PM #2
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
This sounds great, I am still waiting for it to arrive at my FLGS. The module sounds very impressive, and will fit nicely into my campaign. My players are only second level, so I plan on using this module soon after I get it.
Also I read on another site that a lot of extra material that was cut from the module will be available form TLG website. More encounter areas and such.
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 06:53 PM #3
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Good review Mythmere. I agree with almost all of your points. One additional 'weak point' that you don't touch on is the rather poor village map. But that is a minor quibble. I agree that this module provides a great starting point for new C&C campaigns.
You saved me the trouble of writing a review of this thing myself -- phew! Maybe I will write a playtest review after running my party through parts of it.
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 09:02 PM #4Originally Posted by Akrasia
You're not off the hook on writing a review. You have to do it on ENworld because I can't make one go up here.
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 09:11 PM #5
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Thanks for the review! Anyone know when the M&T is out, or have I missed the boat already?
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 09:14 PM #6
Novice (Lvl 1)
Nice review now if it would only show up at my local FLGS.
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 11:03 PM #7
Novice (Lvl 1)
Thanks for the review!
Tuesday, 29th March, 2005, 11:39 PM #8
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
Thanks for the review. Keep on the Borderlands may be my all-time favorite D&D module, so this looks right up my alley.
Wednesday, 30th March, 2005, 01:07 AM #9
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
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ø Block Dragonhelm
Originally Posted by Breakdaddy
Don't quote me on that, though.
Thursday, 31st March, 2005, 10:11 PM #10
Thanks for the compliments on the review, everyone!
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