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Thread: Red Hand of Doom
Tuesday, 13th June, 2006, 12:56 AM #1
Red Hand of Doom
An exciting super-adventure that pits heroes against an army bent on domination.
Rampaging hobgoblins and their allies threaten to destroy the realm and all who stand before them. Characters who dare confront the horde soon discover that these particular hobgoblins worship Tiamat, the evil queen of dragons, and eventually come face-to-face with her draconic minions.
This 128-page adventure features a new format easily used by Dungeon Masters. The Red Hand of Doom includes encounters designed for use with the D&D miniatures game.
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Tuesday, 13th June, 2006, 12:57 AM #2
Red Hand of Doom
RED HAND OF DOOM
By Richard Baker and James Jacobs
Wizards of the Coast product number 953857400
128-page softcover, $24.95
IMPORTANT NOTE: As with all of my reviews of adventures, I highly encourage those players whose DMs may be planning on running their party through this adventure to read no further than this first paragraph. It's difficult to properly review an adventure without giving away some of its plot points, and I'd hate to spoil the fun you'll have running your PCs through this adventure by having you read the details in this review ahead of time. If you're just interested in what I thought of it, I'm giving it a "5 (Superb)." Now shoo!
Red Hand of Doom is the first full-length adventure published by Wizards of the Coast I've seen in a fair amount of time. (I've seen a couple of the 16-page mini-adventures they've published in the last half year focusing on the D&D Miniatures game, but I'm discounting those for this discussion as being too short.) It's good to see Wizards focusing on meatier adventures once again, and they've started on a strong footing with Red Hand of Doom.
The cover artwork is a piece by David Hudnut featuring three adventurers - Alhandra the paladin (with an armor upgrade since her days in the Player's Handbook), Gimble the gnome bard (still in his PH outfit), and a vaguely familiar male elf sorcerer or wizard whose identity escapes me - fighting against a circle of hobgoblins and a bugbear, with a green dragon flying up behind them. There's not a whole lot of light present in the scene, but what details we can make out are pretty good. I liked the use of magic missile on the elf's part - that's a cool depiction. All in all, this is a good cover, and very true to the adventure. (I notice the bugbear's fur seems to have been bleached to a gray-white color as described in the adventure - apparently he's a Blood Ghost Berserker. Excellent attention to detail, David!)
As for the interior artwork, we have 11 different artists providing 29 full-color illustrations, 6 monochrome drawings at the beginning page of each chapter, and cartographer Mike Schley provides 19 full-color maps (including a pull-out, double-sided, poster-sized map replicating three of them at battleboard scale, so they can be used with miniatures). The artwork was very well done; my favorite pieces include the full-body portrait of Town Speaker Norro Wiston by Howard Lyon on page 19 (looking very regal and authoritative in his fancy robes, and with a good amount of detail in the surroundings, including a mother with her baby looking at the viewer as if she just realized she's standing in the "snapshot"), Franz Vohlwinkel's depiction of Skull Gorge Bridge on page 34 (excellent use of color and scale to make it look creepy and brooding, plus it makes for an excellent player aid when the PCs get to that part of the adventure), Francis Tsai's marauding army on page 40 (excellent color palette, with the red sky making the river look bloody), Howard Lyon's shapeshifting aranea on page 45 (great detail; I love the way her sandal breaks as her "human" foot expands into a spider's appendage), and Eric Polak's painting of Killiar Arrowswift, a wild elf ranger (and I usually dislike tattoos on my D&D characters, but for whatever reason this just works really well). Overall, my only real complaint about the artwork isn't the pictures that are present, but the one's that aren't - specifically, there are a couple of new monsters introduced in Red Hand of Doom that don't have illustrations, and that's particularly disappointing as most of them don't have much in the way of a description, either. That's going to make it a bit difficult for the DM to describe to his players what their PCs are facing.
The proofreading and editing jobs were a bit disappointing, but not too bad - with the exception of the fact that the front and back covers both claim that Red Hand of Doom is an adventure for characters of 6th-12th levels, while the adventure itself (on page 4) says it's for levels 5-10. That's a pretty big mistake, and one I'm really surprised didn't get fixed before publication. (By the way, apparently 5th-10th is correct.) Other than that, though, there were just little things like forgetting to pluralize a word (or pluralizing when not required), missing commas in a list of items, and silly typos ("rhirty" instead of "thirty," "is" instead of "it," "druiid" instead of "druid," "+3x" instead of "+3"). Nothing earth-shatteringly bad, but I'd still rather they'd been caught and fixed pre-publication.
The stat blocks, likewise, weren't too bad, but there were still a bit too many mistakes for me to be really happy with them. However, I want to point out that Red Hand of Doom has all of the stat blocks in the back of the adventure (to avoid duplication of creatures that show up multiple times over the course of the adventure), but since that forces the DM to flip around in the book while he's trying to run an encounter, Wizards of the Coast also decided to put all of the stat blocks online, so the DM can print them out and have the papers loose at his fingertips while running the adventure. (You can download the file at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/we/20060217a.) This is an excellent idea (and you know I must mean it, because I italicized and underlined it!), not only for ease of use, but also for ease of updating. Just think, once Wizards of the Coast is made aware of the errata needed for their stat blocks (a task I'll be pursuing after posting this review), they can update the downloadable files almost immediately. This, to me, is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it's honestly what convinced me to let Red Hand of Doom keep its fifth star instead of sliding down to a "4." Seriously, I hope this is the format that future Wizards of the Coast adventures (and those of any other company wishing to follow suit) use in the future.
In any case, here's my "unofficial errata" for Red Hand of Doom:
As always, please let me know if I've overlooked anything.
- p. 113, Wyrmlord Hravek Kharn, male hobgoblin favored soul 5/talon of Tiamat 4: Initiative should be +3, not +4 (-1 Dex, +4 Improved Initiative). Listen and Spot are listed as being +1 on the "Senses" line, but under "Skills" they're not listed at all, so presumably he has no ranks in either; however, with a Wisdom score of 10, they should be at +0 each, not +1.
- pp. 113-114, Wyrmlord Saarvith, male goblin ranger 7: +1 longbow damage should be 1d6+1/×3, not 1d6+1/19-20.
- p. 114, Eagle Animal Companion: Touch AC should be 14, not 15 (+1 size, +3 Dex). Flat-footed AC should be 14, not 13 (+1 size, +3 natural). Talon attacks should be at +6 melee, not +7 (+2 BAB, +1 size, +3 Dex with Weapon Finesse). Bite attacks should be at +1 melee, not +2 (+2 BAB, +1 size, +3 Dex with Weapon Finesse, -5 for secondary attack).
- pp. 114-115, Varanthian, female half-fiend behir: Rake attacks should be at +17 melee, not +15 (+9 BAB, -2 size, +10 Str). AC of gizzard (when PC is swallowed whole) should be 16, not 15 (10 + half of the creature's natural armor; behir has +11 natural armor, and half-fiend adds +1 natural armor, so 10 + [.5 × 12] = 16).
- p. 115, Abithriax, male juvenile red dragon: Fort should be +15, not +11 (+10 as a 16-HD dragon, +5 Con). Ref should be +10, not +8 (+10 as a 16-HD dragon, +0 Dex). Will should be +12, not +8 (+10 as a 16-HD dragon, +2 Wis).
- p. 117, Blood Ghost Berserker, bugbear barbarian 2: When raging, flat-footed AC should be 16, not 14 (due to uncanny dodge). When not raging, flat-footed AC should be 18, not 16 (due to uncanny dodge).
- p. 118 Doom Fist Monk, hobgoblin monk 4: Masterwork light crossbow damage should be 1d8/19-20, not just 1d8. Should have either Combat Reflexes or Deflect Arrows as a bonus feat instead of either Improved Grapple or Stunning Fist (he should get only one of these last two as a 1st-level monk, and then one of the first two feats as a 2nd-level monk).
- pp. 118-119, Doom Hand Warpriest, hobgoblin cleric 7/warpriest 1: Under "Senses," Listen and Spot should each be "+3" instead of "+3x" (unless this is some weird warpriest feature of which I'm unaware, not having Complete Divine).
- p. 121, Ghost Brute Lion: Strength should be "21 (ethereal only) or ?" (since he'll use his Strength modifier when attacking ethereal foes). Blood Curdling Roar doesn't give a Will save DC; it should be DC 14.
- pp. 121-122, Ghost Dire Lion: Will should be +8, not +4 (+6 as a 8-HD dire animal (since dire animals have all Good saves), +0 Wis, +2 Iron Will).
- p. 122, Lesser Bonedrinker: Ref should be +4, not +6 (+2 as a 7-HD undead, +2 Dex). Tentacle attacks should be at +7 melee, not +6 (+3 BAB, +1 size, +3 Str). Claw attacks should be at +2 melee, not +1 (+3 BAB, +1 size, +3 Str, -5 for secondary attack).
- p. 123, Old Warklegnaw, venerable male forest giant: Greatclub attacks should be at +12 melee, not +15 (+9 BAB, -2 size, +5 current Str). Rock attacks should be at +6 ranged, not +7 (+9 BAB, -2 size, -2 Dex, +1 racial bonus), or +4/+4 ranged with Rapid Shot, not +5/+5.
- p. 123, Killiar Arrowswift, male wild elf ranger 4: +1 longbow damage should be 1d8+1/×3, not 1d8/×3 (+1 magic weapon bonus).
- pp. 123-124, Trellara Nightshadow, female wild elf bard 4: Masterwork longbow damage should be 1d8-1/×3, not 1d8/×3 (-1 Str).
- p. 125, Crimson Tiger Thug, human rogue 4: Flat-footed AC should be 18, not 16 (due to uncanny dodge).
I also noticed that the authors plucked monsters and other features from quite a wide variety of resources this time around, with material from Monster Manual II (forest giant), Monster Manual III (lesser bonedrinkers), Libris Mortis (the ghost brute template), Frostburn (the stormsinger prestige class, in which one of the "generals" of the horde has ranks), Draconomicon (the talon of Tiamat prestige class), Complete Adventurer (the ninja class), Complete Arcane (the mindbender prestige class), and Complete Divine (the favored soul, blighter, and warpriest prestige classes). I don't mind them reaching out in so many different directions (it's nice to see the material get used), especially since they went out of their way to annotate where the material was drawn from, and where necessary reprinted enough of the material from those sources that the DM can run the encounters without actually having those books. (Not surprisingly, this is something James does with the adventures in Dungeon magazine as well.)
Okay, so with all of that out of the way, let's discuss the adventure itself. I liked it. You want more? I thought that Red Hand of Doom is an excellent example of how to string a series of incidents along into a lengthy adventure, in this particular case detailing a horde of hobgoblins, goblins, bugbears, and worse (including several varieties of dragon, a behir, manticores, and ogres, plus possibly various types of undead) coming down from the mountains to overtake a series of mostly-human villages and towns in a sufficiently-generic Vale (that should make it relatively easy to drop the adventure into most game worlds). I liked the way that the adventure is broken up into 5 main chapters (and quite appropriately, since the bad guys in the adventure worship the 5-headed Tiamat, who actually shows up - in the form of an Aspect - at the adventure's conclusion), with each chapter feeding into the others in a logical flow. Chapter 1 involves a series of skirmishes with the advance guard of the horde, when the PCs first realize that something bad is just on the horizon and possibly go so far as to destroy a key bridge that might slow the horde's advance. Chapter 2 is an opportunity to gain some allies (in the form of a tribe of wild elves) and take out a "production facility" of one of the new monsters introduced in the adventure, the greenspawn razorfiend. Chapter 3 allows the PCs to infiltrate a lich's stronghold and break an alliance between the lich and the horde, thus depriving the horde of undead minions. (Plus, the lich's stronghold is inside an enormous lion carved out of stone, just the sort of evocative image I've come to expect from James Jacobs, one of the two authors.) Chapter 4 is the final battle against the horde, where many of the PCs' decisions earlier will have a great deal of impact. (If they took out the bridge, they've got some extra days to prepare the town's defenses; if they split the alliance between the lich and the horde, the horde is short its undead attackers; if they killed off the dragons encountered thus far they don't have to deal with them now, and so on.) Finally, Chapter 5 is the realization that the horde's master is trying to open up a portal to the lower planes and allow an army of fiends to pour into the world, and the mad dash to stop him before it's too late.
Sprinkled throughout the adventure are little text boxes where the authors talk directly to the reader (hopefully, the DM!), explaining why some of the things in this particular adventure are as they are. For example, one of the earlier adventure sites (a ruined fort that serves as the default plot hook getting the PCs involved in the adventure) has a boatload of treasure hidden away - much more than would be reasonable for a treasure hoard of the EL of the encounter where it's located - but that's just because the treasure is going to be a bit skimpy for awhile from that point on and the authors wanted to give the PCs a chunk of their treasure early; plus the hoard includes a staff of life that might serve as a convenient way to get a PC brought back to life). I absolutely love these little peeks behind the scenes, and they serve not only as explanation but also as instruction in adventure design.
Besides all of that, Red Hand of Doom is just plain downright exciting, full of cinematic images (I can see some of the battles playing out on the wide screen in my mind). I also appreciate the fact that the authors have foreseen some potential problems (the PCs get captured, or the PCs are about to overlook the mega-hoard of treasure placed there early in the adventure to help them make it through the lean days ahead) and have already found solutions for them (here's a short set-up where the PCs might be able to escape from their captors during transport, and don't forget to nudge them into searching around the Keep before they leave). While I haven't run my players through Red Hand of Doom myself, I feel that even given the scale of the adventure, I could do so rather easily even if I were just a novice DM.
Finally, there's a neat little Victory Point mechanism that's apparently based on information from Heroes of Battle that allows the DM to "tally up" the PCs' victory points (from a detailed list provided) to determine whether or not the horde loses morale and skulks away with its tail between its legs, never to be seen again, or just falls back temporarily and then regroups later for a second assault. It's a simple system, and I'm glad that I don't need to have Heroes of Battle in order to run this adventure properly.
I give Red Hand of Doom a rating of "5 (Superb)." I hope that the other upcoming Wizards of the Coast adventures of are similar quality.