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Thursday, 8th March, 2007, 11:15 AM #1
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
War of the Burning Sky #1: The Scouring of Gate Pass
The Scouring of Gate Pass is an adventure for 1st-level characters. With my purchase I received both color and b/w versions of the 65 page adventure itself, along with an rtf file of combat stats, a PDF of maps, and a coupon for $5.99 off a subscription to the whole campaign saga.
The Scouring of Gate Pass is the first installment in the War of the Burning Sky Campaign Saga, which is a 12 part series of adventures intended to take the characters from 1st to 20th level. The War of the Burning Sky Campaign Saga is being published by EN Publishing and they've not skimped on the bells and whistles, offering both a free Player's Guide and a Free Campaign Guide, as well as 1-inch scale battlemaps.
Appearances - The Scouring of Gate Pass is top notch as far as appearances go. It's laid out well and most of the art, both inside and out, ranges from fair to good rather than the utter crap to fair range of most PDF product art. My only complaint about the art would be that the art styles are a bit of a mish-mash so where we get a nice comic book style portrait of one character, on the next page we'll have another NPC's portrait in a very realistic style. As complaint's go, that's pretty trivial. I also would have liked to have seen more of the NPCs captured visually but most of the people who really matter get portraits.
Contents - The content of the book is separated into an introduction, the adventure itself divided into five acts, and two appendices. Be warned that the following is super spoilery and should not be read by players.
* Introduction - It's an introduction, nothing more and nothing less. It gives the basic overview of the adventure and refers the reader to the free War of the Burning Sky Campaign Guide for an overview of the campaign saga as a whole.
* Act 1 - In the first act of the adventure, set in the city of Gate Pass which is strategically located between the Ragesian Empire and the Shining Lands of Shahalesti (an elven nation), the heroes meet (in a tavern, of course) with a member of a resistance group, a female fighter/cleric in the named Torrent whom they're assigned to get out of the city, currently besieged by the Ragesian Empire. Once the set up and exposition is out of the way, Torrent and the party are ambushed by bounty hunters and the tavern is hit by a bomb, kicking the adventure designed for 1st level characters off with an EL4 encounter. Fortunately, the attackers are trying to take the characters alive and even if they defeat the party they let them go. So there's a good chance the characters will have their butts handed to them and some of their stuff stolen, but they're in little real danger.
Still, a defeat in the first encounter of the adventure can be very disheartening to certain groups and there's not very much rewarding in this adventure to drive them onward. Torrent offers no reward for the party basically putting their necks on the line protecting her. On top of that, most of the encounters in the adventure are significantly higher than the party's level so this could very easily set the stage of the party getting its teeth kicked in over and over again with little to show for it.
Don't get me wrong...it's a great encounter. Very cinematic and I'm not one to shy away from giving my players a tough fight. I just think it has the potential to start off the campaign on the wrong foot if things don't go well. With no promise of reward and already getting the crap beaten out of them, I'm sure there are going to be many parties out there that decide to give Torrent the finger and just worry about their own skin.
The rest of the act is filled out with the party going through a series of minor encounters while navigating through the city under attack to get Torrent to her meet up with a gnome who has a case with some vital war intelligence that Torrent needs to get out of the city with her. There's an opportunity to help a family caught in the crossfire of the battle, an opportunity to save a woman trapped in a burning building, the opportunity to be trampled by a crowd of terrified people, and an opportunity to help a merchant round up his pet dire weasel. These encounters are obviously there to convey the feeling of a major battle raging around the party. Groups that enjoy role-playing encounters as much as combat encounters should be very pleased, though more blood thirsty parties will likely grow restless with four non-combat encounters in a row.
* Act 2 - The second act starts with the meet up of Torrent and her contact with the war intelligence. Only...dun dun dun...her contact has actually been taken captive by agents from Shahalesti and an imposter (with a lantern archon sidekick) is in his place, who will probably be uncovered by the party and thus kick off the second act with another EL4 encounter. The involvement of the lantern archon is the most interesting thing about this encounter. PCs don't usually get much opportunity to battle celestials in 1st level modules.
This might be followed up with a trip to a resistance safe house where along the way they encounter a wounded Ragesian wyvern rider whose mount was slain and once there they might get involved in helping a half-orc woman being harassed and abused because some idiots blame her (for no apparent reason) for the invasion.
Eventually the party will probably have to seek out the Shahalesti spymaster Sheilis who knows where the case is. She lives at a school of magic (of which there's no map of the campus, a minor but significant oversight in my opinion) and as a 5th level evoker she's sure to make a head on confrontation by the party fatal since she could possible take out the whole party with one fireball. That's not even factoring the possibility of the imposter and/or the lantern archon from earlier being there to aid her. Thus careless or impulsive parties could very easily end up TPKed here. If the party is careful, though, there's a few different ways to get the information they need, either through cleverness or diplomacy.
Depending on how things go with Sheilis, the party might work out an arrangement with her about the contents of the case or they might just have to break into the elven spy hideout to acquire the case, perhaps kicking a little elven and celestial badger butt in the process.
* Act 3 - After Act 2, it's time to try to get the heck out of town before the Ragesians lower the property values any further. The mage-hunting inquisitors are on their way and they're always bad news. Just trying to walk out the gate isn't going to be very effective for the party so they'll have to figure out something else involving more role-playing and cleverness. The adventure does give multiple ways to go about it and a smart party shouldn't have much trouble. The party is also hassled by thugs and meets up with an NPC who sows some seeds relevant to later adventures in the campaign saga. All in all, nothing really jumps out about this chapter. It's filling enough, but lacks enough spice.
* Act 4 - The fourth act goes into the party's travel from the city of Gate Pass to the big flaming forest that finalizes their escape and leads into the next adventure in the campaign saga, The Indomitable Fire Forest of Innenotdar. Their journey, though, is not simple as there's more bounty hunters waiting in ambush for the party. The entire act is running a gauntlet of bounty hunters...one long extended encounter. As simple as the core idea is, the presentation is such that it could easily end up being the most memorable part of the adventure if the GM can keep things moving without getting tripped up by the complexities of a running battle on horseback.
* Act 5 - In this final act, the party is almost to the fire forest and they encounter a young woman just standing there. If the party stops to talk to her (as opposed to just riding right by her since she's not doing anything interesting other than existing) they find out she needs their help after she does a little new-agey "I saw you in a dream" spiel. Basically she knows the inquisitors are going to be coming for her father, a crotchety NE wizard who really doesn't inspire much sympathy, and since she's a good magically dominated daughter she wants him to escape with the party but he's being stubborn about it and wants to stand and fight. It's a pretty interesting situation if the party finds some motivation to care. There's a climactic EL 7 battle against the inquisitors (which isn't as nasty as it sounds given that the party should have the assistance of not one, but three NPCs assuming Torrent is still alive and with them). It should be fairly satisfying and though I may scoff a little at how they're introduced, the father and daughter introduced in this act are probably the most interesting NPCs in the adventure and present a multitude of role-playing opportunities.
* Appendix One (Gate Pass) - This gives us a tiny bit of overview information about the city of Gate Pass. A lot more information can be found in the free War of the Burning Sky Player's Guide.
* Appendix Two (Combat Stats) - Divided into sections, starting with allies and going down through the five acts, this appendix stats out the NPCs and foes of the adventure. I'm no John Cooper, so I can't say anything about the accuracy of the stats, but I do have one complaint. If you're going to present an appendix called Combat Stats which essentially just reprints the same stats that are presented in the relevant parts of the adventure anyway, it's severely annoying and unnecessary to have seven instances of referring you to the MM for stats. Dogs, horses, imps, skeletons, and lantern archons are all SRD as far as I know so there was no good reason not to include a short form stat block at least so that I don't have to drag out another book just to find out what the AC of a skeleton is. Don't give me the space consideration excuse either, as there's almost a quarter page of white space where we get "Human skeletons (6, CR 1/3): hp 6, MM. Armed with scimitars".
In Conclusion - A few minor complaints aside, this adventure impressed me quite a bit. It's going to fall flat for groups that are of a high combat, low role-playing bent as it's pretty much the exact opposite of a 1st edition style module. There's no dungeons, hardly any monsters (the party mostly faces humans and elves), and more opportunities for role-playing than combat. In other words, a role-playing over combat oriented group's wet dream.
What combat there is in the adventure, however, is well set up so that it will be challenging and exciting. There's little in the way of filler encounters and easy victories here. As long as you can avoid the potential problems I point out above with encounters that could prove disastrous if they're approached the wrong way, those that like their role-playing mixed with a fair bit of combat (people like me) should be quite satisfied. Anti-role-players however are likely going to be unhappy with this adventure, however. The role-playing opportunities are by far the highlight of the adventure.
The adventure isn't exactly a great stand-alone, though. It's an exciting start to a series of adventures, but there's not a whole lot of pay off. Even if the characters get the case and get Torrent out of the city alive and manage to make it to the entrance of the next advent...*cough*...the fire forest it's not going to feel like a complete adventure if it ends there. I wouldn't suggest bothering with it unless you're going to run the whole campaign saga, which from what I've seen so far looks like a worthwhile endeavor.
I give this adventure a solid four star rating, though I'd deduct one star if I were judging it solely as a stand alone adventure which it's obviously not intended to be. It could have been a five star if not for the following things: Having an appendix for combat stats but still making me open the MM for several encounters, not providing much in the way of character motivation (the suggested response for if the party asks what's in it for them if they help Torrent retrieve the case and get out of the city is basically that the inquisitors will catch and kill them, which is only really a concern for spellcasters and even then there's the ratio of how hard it will be for the party to help Torrent get the case and then get her and the case out of the city versus just getting themselves out of the city), and the couple of encounters that could derail the campaign by stacking things too much against the party (the opening encounter that could start the campaign on a sour note, and the encounter with Sheilis that could easily be a TPK if the party confronts her directly which the adventure warns the DM of but doesn't explain how the DM is supposed to warn the party of without coming out and saying "Hey guys, this chick can fireball you into oblivion").
A prepared DM shouldn't have too much trouble circumventing these issues. I can scribble down the information I need from the MM. Surely with as important as Torrent's mission is, never mind the value of her own life, she can offer some kind of reward and I plan to have her do so. I can adjust the difficulty of the first encounter and I can work in some warning about Sheilis' power level. They are issues where I feel a five star adventure wouldn't have left the DM hanging.
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