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Thursday, 27th September, 2012, 04:14 AM #1
Defender (Lvl 8)
Review of The Heart of Fire by Darklight Interactive
Sometimes it’s just good clean fun to pull out a cliché and run with it. Perhaps one could say that a better word here might be “trope”, but regardless of the term, we DMs have all been done it at one time or another. We have characters battle gigantic fire demons in orc-infested dwarven mines, force them to fend off giant squids attacking their sailing ships in the middle of a monsoon, and rescue fair princesses kidnapped by evil sorcerers bent on world domination. And why?
Because a lot of times, it’s just great fun to play out those familiar heroic-fantasy scenarios with your gaming friends, regardless of how cliché it might be!
So when you come across an adventure set on a remote volcanic island, and an evil cult bent on some mysterious purpose with their hideout inside an active volcano, how can you not immediately be intrigued? As it so happens, Darklight Interactive published a new mini-campaign this past summer for D&D 4e gamers. Set for characers Level 10 to Level 12, The Heart of Fire features all that stuff with strange islands, mysterious cults, volcanoes, and so much more!
The Heart of Fire
- Design: David Flor
- Illustrators: Sigbjorn Pedersen (cover)
- Cartography: J.D. Harvill, David Flor
- Publisher: Darklight Interactive
- Year: 2012
- Media: PDF (135 pages)
- Retail Price: $3.99 from RPGNow.com
The Heart of Fire is a mini-campaign/adventure for a party of heroes of Levels 10 to 12, and designed for use with 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The mini-adventure features an island setting which can be used for this and for other adventures as desired by a DM. There are 16 new or custom monsters and over a dozen new traps to pit against heroes during their quest. In addition, there are new magic items, including an original and unique tripartite artifact which can be found as loot along the heroes’ path.
The production quality of The Heart of Fire is very good, with some fine writing and a good plot design for this mini-campaign. The adventure is presented in a similar design structure as Wizard of the Coast products, and the monsters, traps, and magic items use writing formats readily recognizable to D&D 4e players and DMs. The author includes both table of contents and bookmarks in the PDF, for good organization and ease of reference throughout the sizable document.
The cover art is fairly decent, but there is a notable lack of interior illustrations which is somewhat disappointing in a product of this volume. However, what the product lacks in artwork, it makes up for that easily in the cartography department. There are over 50 adventure and encounter maps in the pages of The Heart of Fire, including a fantastic rendering of the island setting of Pyrias by J.D. Harvill. The encounter maps are nicely detailed, and it’s a real shame the author did not include a render of them to scale so they can be printed and used at the gaming table.
Dancing on a Volcano
In a lot of respects, The Heart of Fire mini-campaign is a throwback to “old school” module design – and I mean that as a compliment. The author offers features in the adventure that are reminiscent of modules produced during TSR days, with a dungeon delve feel, rather than the encounter to encounter paradigm often seen in 4E. In addition, there are solid hooks to get characters involved, random encounters, and room for expanding the campaign to include other adventures in the area – and even suggestions by the author on ways to work on those.
The author opens with an overview of the adventure, along with some history to frame the premise in context for the Dungeon Master. The adventure takes place on a volcanic island called Pyrias, where a village called Serpent’s Cove is located. Legends abound surrounding the island, including rumors of a dragon, a cult, lost treasure, and even an artifact. The author has several hooks and quests to choose from to get the heroes roped into investigating the island, and offers additional quest material that can be added beyond the main storyline should a DM decide to develop it. Pyrias is a big volcanic sandbox, and there is definitely more than one way to explore and develop the adventure.
One of the things I really liked, and contributed to the “old school” feel of the adventure, was the inclusion of random encounters and rumors. There are other forces at work on the island besides the mysterious cult and its volcano hideout, and the author provides not only rumors – both true and false – about them, but also a list of random encounters which the heroes might encounter in their explorations.
The main thrust of the adventure centers around a couple of big sprawling dungeon delves. The large labyrinthine complexes are multi-leveled, and are full of encounters, skill challenges, and tricks and traps for the adventurers to overcome. The number of encounters in the adventure is massive – more than 30 possible encounters – although certain actions by the heroes might possibly decrease this number along the way. The author provides a nice mix of combat and skill challenge/role-play encounters, and several of the encounters can be handled by either method depending on the tactics of the heroes. There are several very large encounters in The Heart of Fire, including a couple of “boss” fights. And treasure is a mix of pre-assigned pieces of new treasure, and other places where DMs can hand out standard level-appropriate parcels.
The only real problem I see with The Heart of Fire is a logistical one. There are a huge number of encounters in the adventure, and it is written to span Level 10 to Level 12 characters. There are more than enough encounters in the adventure to carry a party of adventurers up two or more levels by the time the adventure ends. And assuming the heroes start at Level 10, the encounters might require some rebalancing for handling characters who suddenly gain a Paragon Path, which represents more power than just gaining a single level. On the other hand, a DM could restrict leveling until the full adventure ends, but I think most players would have a problem going through that many encounters before getting to level their characters. Of course, characters starting the adventure at the higher end of the level range could easily level-up to where the combats become too easy, requiring a DM to make adjustments to keep them relevant.
Overall Score: 4.0 out of 5.0
I was very impressed with The Heart of Fire, and I think a lot of gaming groups can enjoy an adventure of this quality. While there are some familiar tropes in this fantasy adventure, they are put to good use making a plot which is fun and exciting, as opposed to being too obvious. The adventure blends a “new school” sand-boxy encounter series with an “old school” mysterious dungeon delve quite seamlessly, and there is a lot of play sessions packed into one dynamic mini-campaign. While I have some concerns about the sheer number of encounters, however, most gaming groups will likely figure out a way to handle the logistics of encounter levels and leveling in The Heart of Fire to find the adventure a satisfying experience.
From a price-wise standpoint, I’m a bit shocked. The Heart of Fire might lack that final high gloss polish one might find in a WotC release, but the writing, plot, maps, and everything else in the product demonstrate a high degree of detail well worth owning - and at only $3.99, there’s no excuse for 4e gamers not to grab a copy for their gaming libraries!
So until next review… I wish you happy gaming!
Reviewer’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the PDFs from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 3.5
- - Design: 4.0 (Solid writing and plot; good layout for 4e gamers)
- - Illustrations: 3.0 (Decent cover art; no interior illustrations, but will give bonus points for maps)
- Content: 4.0
- - Crunch: 4.0 (Excellent encounter design and monster design)
- - Fluff: 4.0 (Lots of hooks; some plot resolutions without combats; good setting for further adventures)
- Value: 4.5 (A total steal… the author should charge a lot more for this module!)
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