War of the Burning Sky #1 The Scouring of Gate Pass
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    War of the Burning Sky #1 The Scouring of Gate Pass

    The Scouring of Gate Pass is a 65 page PDF adventure for first level D&D characters by EN Publishing. It is the first instalment in the 12 part War of the Burning Sky campaign. The review will also refer to the free 23 page Campaign Guide PDF and the free 25 page Players Guide PDF. Print versions are available from lulu.com, and there are plans for a future hardback compilation (although I don’t know how 4th edition will impact on these plans).

    This is a review after running the adventure – see my Story Hour if you are interested in how it went. For those who care about such things, I subscribed to the entire series using my own money.

    The PDF is mostly in colour and is fully bookmarked. It comes with a black and white printer friendly version and a separate colour PDF which reproduces the maps. In addition, scale versions of the maps are available from the WotBS website. Advice and information is also available from the adventure’s author on the EN Publishing message boards here at EN World.

    I was extremely impressed by the evocative maps, prepared by Sean MacDonald. The only error I could see is that the barn is in the wrong place on the map in Act 5, but that is easy enough to gloss over. It would have been helpful for the “geographically challenged” such as myself if the country side maps had arrows along the road showing “To Gate Pass” and “To the Fire Forest”, but I suppose for most people knowing that the city is north of the forest would be enough to orientate themselves.

    I was less impressed by the artwork, which is a mixture of full colour pieces and line drawings. I don’t really care about the artwork when I am rating an adventure (your mileage may vary).All the significant NPCs are illustrated, and that is enough for me.

    I did not spot any glaring typos or similar errors. I have not checked any of the stat blocks, but no errors leapt out at me.

    I have awarded the adventure 4.5 stars, which rounds up to 5 stars. I was very impressed by it, but this doesn’t mean I think it is perfect!

    As this is a review of an adventure, it necessarily includes spoilers. However I will try and keep them to a minimum.

    The adventure is set on an unnamed continent dominated by the Ragesian Empire. In my case I set it in Sarlonna, a long time before the period detailed in the Eberron campaign setting.

    The Emperor has died mysteriously after a long reign, and the Empire is in turmoil. The Empire also has four nearby countries to worry about, plus the Free City of Gate Pass where the adventure begins. The characters are encouraged to have a connection to Gate Pass, and there are bonus feats on offer to reward those who choose to be connected with local organisations. This is a nice touch. I don’t know how original this idea is, but it was new to me at the time and has since been used by Paizo in their Pathfinder series. Some of my player characters didn’t fit into the existing organisations, but it was easy enough to create more appropriate groups with similarly powered bonus feats.

    The War of the Burning Sky is described as “High Fantasy”. I’m not sure what that means. However, The Scouring of Gate Pass includes angels and devils, elves, orcs and men. A powerful artefact is mentioned, magic users are fairly common and some NPCs have magical powers from an unexplained (to the characters) source. There is also a great deal of political manoeuvring going on in the background. I love fantasy politics, and I did my best to bring it into the foreground so the players could appreciate some of what was happening “off camera”.

    The default option is not to use psionics, and the adventure doesn’t have any of the alleged “sci-fi” flavour that some psionics haters complain about. Despite this, the campaign guide explains that the “Dream Magic” in the adventure works well mechanically with the psionics rules. I decided to run the psionic variant, partly because one of my players wanted to play a Psion. Some conversion rules would have been nice, but in truth converting this adventure is dead easy. All it required was changing a Fighter 2 / Sorcerer 1 into a Fighter 2 / Wilder 1, and changing a Sorcerer 1 into a Psion (Seer) 1.

    One problem with it being the first part of an adventure path is that the DM doesn’t know how things are going to end. This can easily be avoided by running it as a stand alone adventure, or waiting until all twelve adventures have been published before running it. At the time of writing, the first six are available, with the seventh immanent.

    The adventure is split into five acts.

    Act 1 begins with the PCs meeting their NPC patron in a tavern. This is a nice touch, a nod to the “classic” way of starting an adventure, but also avoids being a cliché because the tavern has been closed by the authorities, and is the scene for an encounter in its own right.

    I don’t like scenes where the NPC gives a long monologue, and the players are expected to sit and listen. The adventure tries to avoid this by having the NPC not give all the available info, relying on the PCs asking questions to find out the rest. However, when I ran the adventure I ditched the NPC and gave her role to one of the PCs. This worked out fine, but I would still recommend a DM reads this section of the adventure carefully, as there’s a lot of information here (and I missed some of it when I ran the adventure).

    Basically, the Ragesian inquisitors are coming to Gate Pass to take all independent spellcasters (including those with psionic powers, if you are using psionics) into “protective custody”. Their army is camped outside the city, and negotiations are taking place to allow the inquisitors entry. The PCs are likely to include one or more spellcasters, so this is a good time for them to take a winter holiday somewhere else. Unfortunately, the city is sealed off. The PCs NPC contact, a cleric called Torrent, is a member of the Resistance. The Resistance will help the PCs escape the city if they do a simple job for them first – pick up a case from a courier. Anyone who wants to can then carry on with Torrent when she takes the case to the Town of Seaquen, far to the south. Torrent’s preferred route will avoid Ragesian patrols by taking a “short cut” through the deadly Fire Forest. The forest itself is the scene for the second adventure in the series; the first adventure ends with the characters about to enter the forest..

    Unsurprisingly, there are a number of encounters on the way to meeting the courier. These are very flavourful, and give a good impression of a city under siege and threatened by the dreaded Inquisitors.

    In Act 2, the courier is waiting in the depository. I gather this is a kind of bank, but whenever I read the word I think of a certain book depository in Dallas. Again things don’t go according to plan, and the PCs have to set off on the trail of the missing case. Their search will probably take them to the almost deserted School of War (the principal and most of his evokers have disappeared during the city’s hour of need) and the Elf Ghetto. Events may lead to the PCs fighting an archon and allying with a devil, which might give some players food for thought. The adventure has a more morally ambiguous atmosphere than most D&D games, which I really enjoyed. (In fact, I’m not using alignment at all in my campaign, except for the alignment sub-types and vulnerabilities of some outsiders.)

    The players will also meet a local hero called Rantle, who will ask them to keep an eye out for his sister, who left for Seaquen some time ago. (She does turn up in a later adventure in the series, and apparently so does he.) Rantle is an opportunity for the DM to show off some of the new “combat performance” feats in the players guide, but they didn’t appeal to me much so when I ran the encounter Rantle limited himself to swinging his greatsword and making (not very) witty remarks.

    Hopefully the PCs eventually recover the case, although they might not be able to open it (or make sense of the contents, if they do open it), and are then faced with Act 3 – escaping the city. Torrent has a few suggestions, or they might come up with a plan themselves.

    Acts 4 and 5 are basically just one encounter each, on the road from Gate Pass to the Fire Forest. These encounters are both EL 7, despite the fact that the party is probably only second level by this point. I think perhaps a bit more could have been done to highlight for the DM the implications of this.

    My group struggled with the first one. There were 5 PCs, so the absence of the NPC Torrent should not have made an difference. What I hadn’t bargained for was the effect of the absence of her wand of cure light wounds, so some of the blame falls on me. Some of the blame also falls on the dratted dice. I’ve seen d6s which roll consistently higher than the d20s some of the players were using.

    If I was to run it again, I wouldn’t tone it down. Instead I’d try and give the players a hint as to the number of enemies they were facing. The encounter is set up in such a way that its likely the bad guys will turn up over several rounds. The initial encounter looks like a “standard” level appropriate challenge, but then gets nastier and nastier once the PCs are sucked in.

    I had Torrent arrange for the PCs to receive her wand before the second encounter, but they struggled with this one as well. However, part of the blame for this (in my opinion) rests with the fact that the PC with the wand spent most of the encounter in the barn whilst the rest of the party were in the farmhouse.

    Anyway, I didn’t have a Total Party Kill, and presumably the PCs now know that the opposition means business. Act 5 also introduces a pair of memorable NPCs – the irascible ex-wizard Haddin and his daughter Cristin, who has visions. They are likely to tag along with the party through the Fire Forest, and provide equal amounts of help and hindrance. However, the series is designed with the intention that no NPC is vital – if Cristin isn’t with the party then the DM can just give her visions to a PC instead.

    Overall, I really enjoyed running the adventure and it seemed as if my players had a lot of fun playing it. Bring on the Fire Forest!
    Last edited by Morrus; Sunday, 8th March, 2009 at 04:32 PM.

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