Review Raiders of the Serpent Sea - Third Party 5E Review

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Hey folks, earlier this year, I posted a review of Raiders of the Serpent Sea to Giant in the Playground forums. Sadly, it got nuked into unreadability by the moderators over there (not their fault, I was posting copies of maps and art and they were concerned with getting sued). So I figured I'd repost it over here, and see what y'all think. If there's anything that doesn't make sense, that's probably just poor editing on my part.

I decided to review this particular work because I didn't really find any other reviews (although it looks like Justin Alexander might be doing one), nor did I see any on DrivethruRPG.com. So, I figured that I should take Kim Kardashian's advice and "Be the change I want to see in the world."

By which I mean I'm going to download a 500 page mega-adventure and review the whole darned thing. And if you're thinking, "This sounds like a fun trainwreck to watch," well then friend, pull up a chair and crack your beverage of choice while you watch me lose my mind.

So, to start, SPOILERS: There will be spoilers. Duh. I'm reviewing the product, and that involves evaluating portions of the story, too. So if you are playing in this, I recommend not reading any further. If you are looking to run this, I think you are a cool person and I respect your dedication to the craft. Hop on board and let me know if you think I'm off base with any of my critiques. If you are looking to run this and a law enforcement officer, you're a wonderful human being and I don't know anything about what happened with that chinchilla ranch.

Alright, now on to the actual review. I purchased the Raiders of the Serpent Sea Campaign Guide (PDF version) for $25 on 2/3/2023. At 498 pages, that clocks in at about 5 cents per page. Note that this review is only for the Campaign Guide.

First Impressions:

The layout is...not great. The book is very, very wordy. It's also confusingly organized, almost like it's not meant to be run at the table, but more as a prep reference. I'll highlight specific instances of this as we go through, but as an example, the book makes multiple references to something called the GM's Reference. Well, try as I might, searching both the Campaign Book and the Player's Guide, I couldn't find the GM's Reference. So eventually I brute-forced it (searched the Campaign Book) and found that the GM's Reference is actually a digital add-on that's only available if you bought the VTT maps, but if you send an e-mail to an e-mail address, they'll shoot you a copy.

And hey, that'd be great if the GM's Reference was just a few cleaned up tables or something, but this document contains the inspirational media, potential content warnings, customizing backgrounds, modifying difficulty for party size, etc. It's kind of important! And it's free and just an email away, but why the hell wasn't it included in the original document? Y'all already hit 500 pages!

The writing is decent, but again, wordy. This should have been far fewer pages than they ultimately used. For example, there are a ton of references to a character who, explicitly, will never be directly encountered during the adventure. And like, that's great? But also, if the PCs never encounter something, nor are acted upon by it, then the something does not exist in the game. All this crap does is give me more cognitive load to deal with. Just cut the darned character and give me something actionable.

However, the art is absolutely sumptuous. Like, it's so good it makes me mad. Look at this feisty murder-queen:
40kBFqT.png

I immediately want to know who the hell this lady is! What is her deal? And it pisses me off that this is the title page of the book, so there's no additional detail. Please call out your suggestions, because I'm curious what y'all think.

So that's my general overall impressions of the text. I'll be proceeding in my usual chapter-by-chapter fashion through the rest of the book's 12 chapters and seven appendices, because I hate myself and seek misery rather than happiness (I'm kidding - it's because I'm a workaholic).

Also, I'm stealing this bit from Libertad's excellent review of Odyssey of the Dragonlords:

There's a ton of stuff in this adventure that borrows heavily from well-established Bioware tropes. If you're a fan of Dragon Age or Mass Effect, keep an eye out for these to see how these tropes get implemented at the tabletop!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

pukunui

Legend
I have no intention of buying this product as I regret going all in on Odyssey of the Dragonlords and it sounds like this one isn’t any better and may actually be worse. I shall enjoy reading your review as you continue.
 

Libertad

Hero
I was around during the GiantITP thread, so glad to see it being transferred here.

I have no intention of buying this product as I regret going all in on Odyssey of the Dragonlords and it sounds like this one isn’t any better and may actually be worse. I shall enjoy reading your review as you continue.

By "going all in," do you mean that you ran Odyssey and found it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be, or just buying it and being unsatisfied with the product?

I admit that when I reviewed Odyssey a few years ago, my impressions on it were positive. But in hindsight, while it doesn't strike me as a bad adventure, there's an awful lot of stuff in it that will just make more busywork for the DM, among other problems.
 

pukunui

Legend
By "going all in," do you mean that you ran Odyssey and found it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be, or just buying it and being unsatisfied with the product?
Firstly, I backed the Kickstarter that came with the hard copy of the adventure book plus DM screen, soft copy of the player's guide, and fancy maps and such. When I ran it, we got as far as meeting Lutheria on her barge before we gave up on it.

I'm a details guy, and the adventure is riddled with annoying errors, mistakes, and inconsistencies that added up over time as I ran it. The whole group also got frustrated with how the adventure vacillated between being overly detailed / railroady and being too open-ended / barebones. My conclusion was that the authors should stick to making video games. I don't think their preferred storytelling method translates that well to pen-and-paper.

Also, I also found that the whole setup just wasn't quite what I wanted for a pseudo Ancient Greek setting. I think Mythic Odysseys of Theros, which came out after I'd started running Dragonlords, does a much better job capturing the vibe I wanted. It's just a shame there's been no adventure support for that setting.
 
Last edited:

TheSword

Legend
Firstly, I backed the Kickstarter that came with the hard copy of the adventure book plus DM screen, soft copy of the player's guide, and fancy maps and such. When I ran it, we got as far as meeting Lutheria on her barge before we gave up on it.

I'm a details guy, and the adventure is riddled with annoying errors, mistakes, and inconsistencies that added up over time as I ran it. The whole group also got frustrated with how the adventure would vacillate between being overly detailed / railroady and too open-ended / barebones. My conclusion was that the authors should stick to making video games. I don't think their preferred storytelling method translates that well to pen-and-paper.

Also, I also found that the whole setup just wasn't quite what I wanted for a pseudo Ancient Greek setting. I think Mythic Odysseys of Theros, which came out after I'd started running Dragonlords, does a much better job capturing the vibe I wanted. It's just a shame there's been no adventure support for that setting.
Surely Luhtheria’s barge is practically the end of the main campaign?
Surely all that is left after that is Praxys and the attack on Mytros?

To me comparing Mythic Odysseys of Theros to Odyssey of the Dragonlords is comparing apples and oranges. As you said they never released adventure support, so as mythic campaigns go… an Epic fail.
 

pukunui

Legend
Surely Luhtheria’s barge is practically the end of the main campaign?
Surely all that is left after that is Praxys and the attack on Mytros?
I guess? I was originally intending to run all the add-on stuff that comes after, so it felt more like Lutheria's barge was in the middle of the campaign. That being said, some of the add-on stuff didn't look all that great - I remember reading through the bit with the vampires and thinking that it was not going to provide enough of a challenge for high-level PCs.

To me comparing Mythic Odysseys of Theros to Odyssey of the Dragonlords is comparing apples and oranges. As you said they never released adventure support, so as mythic campaigns go… an Epic fail.
I was talking more about the settings themselves. I think Theros does a better job capturing the 'feel' of mythical ancient Greek fantasy than Thylea does. For one thing, I feel like Thylea puts too much emphasis on the whole colonial 'settlers vs natives' conflict. Yes, the ancient Greeks had colonies, but colonial conflict isn't a big part of popular Greek myth.

I also didn't like how they took all the mythical monsters and made them (mechanically poor) playable races. Yes, you can play as some monsters in Theros, too, I acknowledge that, but it did leave some as actual monsters. Then there were issues like how they used the UA revised ranger chassis for their Amazon warrior ranger subclass. :rolleyes:

Basically, next time I want to scratch that ancient Greek fantasy itch, I'll either read the Theros book again or fire up Assassin's Creed: Odyssey or watch Clash of the Titans. What I won't do is pick up Odyssey of the Dragonlords again.

That's really enough from me, though. Let's get back to the review of this viking raider-themed Dragonlords follow-up.
 
Last edited:

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
I have no intention of buying this product as I regret going all in on Odyssey of the Dragonlords and it sounds like this one isn’t any better and may actually be worse. I shall enjoy reading your review as you continue.
Glad to have you along for the ride!

I was around during the GiantITP thread, so glad to see it being transferred here.
Always happy to see you, my friend!

Also, I also found that the whole setup just wasn't quite what I wanted for a pseudo Ancient Greek setting. I think Mythic Odysseys of Theros, which came out after I'd started running Dragonlords, does a much better job capturing the vibe I wanted. It's just a shame there's been no adventure support for that setting.
I remember thinking that, too. I was trying to setup a pointcrawl, and while it gave me plenty to populate the actual points, the mechanism of getting from point A to point B just wasn't coming together for me.

Alright, so, let's go over the Introduction, which is 25 (!) pages long (Remember when I said they were wordy? Apparently they're going for the Matt Colville Verbosity Award*). Now I've got my snark worked off, so we can dive in! The Introduction has a lot of work they're trying to do. They need to introduce the DM to the world, distinguish it from the baseline heroic fantasy, setup what is going on, what the characters are supposed to be doing. It does this...eventually.

We start off with the hilariously badly titled section: Story Overview. The reason it is badly titled is because it does not actually deal with the story of the adventure. It covers that there was a brief cataclysm in the Lost Lands, which resulted in the folks who live in this world fleeing to Grimnir (the world this adventure is set in, which is a flat plane nestling in the boughs of a world tree). Anyway, these folks got here, and then they split into a bunch of different clans and minor kingships. These groups are roughly split between the raiders (Vikings - they don't call them Vikings, but that's what Viking roughly translates to) and Baendur (non-Vikings? I guess? Schmucks-Who-Get-Raided was too wordy for them, I suppose). Anyway, it also covers the fact that the end of the world is this big fight called Ragnarök.

(Did you know that this adventure is Norse-inspired? The writers really want you to feel that Norse theming). And this leads into my first gripe: Can we get a pronunciation guide? Yeah, I know, I can Google a lot of this and cobble my own together, but if you're going to put a bunch of diacritical marks in my gaming material, could you please tell me how they are pronounced?

Next, we cover The Villains! There's four:
  • The Matron - Secretly a Yotun (evil bunch who caused that cataclysm in the Lost Lands) but who has a disguise and some other crap going on. Littlefinger but with magic type.
  • Witchking - Tool of the Matron, and her puppet. Yay.
  • Mirgal - Superpowerful magic boi who kind of accidentally blew up the Lost Lands but sacrificed themselves to evac the not-Vikings and Vikings to Grimnir. Later it's explicitly called out that he never shows up, so...how is he a villain?
  • Hel - Goddess of the Dead. Daughter of the Matron and Mirgal, more of a villain by circumstance than a real bad guy.

And this brings me to my second complaint, which is really around layout. For me to really care about the characters, I need a context to place them in. And that means that I need to know what the hell is going on in the adventure. What are the villain's goals and intent? What is their plan? How do the heroes cross their path?

A list of names with a sidebar cautioning me to avoid spoiling the twist? Less than useful, y'all. I don't know what the twist is; Hel, I don't even know that there's a twist.

Next we get a quick description of the World of Grimnir (It's big! It's primal!), the History of Grimnir (read the Player's Guide! Not kidding - that's the advice), and the Primal Powers (three gods which are still sort-of-extant). And then we get a really beautiful map - and I mean gorgeous. It's annoyingly split between two pages, but here they are:

DQFTJqg.jpg

ECe9XkU.jpg


Check out that freaking cartography. Absolutely gorgeous! And I love how they've worked in fjords everywhere on the main continent and surrounding islands. That's subtle, but the nature of the fjords dictates the nature of longships in our real world, and including it here is a really good call.

After that we get into the Stone Court - gods trapped as living statues. Why haven't the primal powers let them loose? Because the plot had to happen! Why are you asking such silly questions?

After that, we get into the afterlife for the various raiders (you want to go to the Halls of the Slain), go more into detail about the raider / Baendur dichotomy, and a brief coverage of a bunch of locations. Then we go over the various clans of the Grimnir, including a picture of their shield art, where they live and their view of Ragnarok (I'm not going to put the ö in every time; my apologies).

Why should I care about these folks? No idea. What role do they play in the story? No idea! Did I retain any of that information? No idea! Again, if I don't have a good idea about why they matter, I'm not going to care.

So it's a good thing that the very next section is the Adventure Overview! And it actually overviews the adventure! Hallelujah (or Norse equivalent)!

BioWare games have an interesting structural model called the "Lakes and Rivers" model. The idea is that each lake is an area in the story the PCs are able to explore and mess around in until they're ready to progress the plot. Then they go in a river that funnels their choices into a fairly tight decision set. Once you've completed a river, you get dumped into the next lake.

This product does you the favor of calling this structure out, showing what lakes get unlocked by what rivers.

BioWare games are also famous for their variable endings, based on the decisions of the characters. In Raiders of the Serpent Sea, they helpfully flag meaningful decisions that will affect the outcome with a little red raven symbol. There's also a little tracker sheet in Appendix B that helpfully lets you keep track of all of those decision points.

Next up we have a quick section on starting the campaign, including exactly two hooks: 1) A bunch of seers sent you on an expedition to a tower, and 2) Hey! Y'all wanna go check out that tower? I really would have wanted more options, but I suppose as long as have more than one, it works?

After that, we have a bunch of "floating" encounters. Except, they're not really floating encounters - most of these are situated firmly in various other chapters. So why are they in the introduction, and not in the chapters they go in?

I Dont Know Tim And Eric GIF by Adult Swim

Also... Jesus, does it feel like this is starting to drag? I feel like this is starting to drag. Time for something completely different:

spanish time GIF

Ah, Monty Python. Never change, you mad wankers.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, I'm STILL ON THE FREAKING INTRODUCTION. Moving on:

We get a quick plug in for the epic backgrounds. There are more details in the Players' Guide, but this section details how each background weaves into the story. This isn't innovative (they did the same thing in Odyssey of the Dragonlords), but it's well done and DMs are encouraged to expand on the backgrounds and their impact. There are only a couple that are poorly written, most notably the Royal Heir and the Cursed One. Both of which have some plot holes in them so big I feel they need a visual reference:

Sarlacc-you-don-t-have-to-go-to-a-galaxy-far-far-away-to-see-these-5-real-life-star-wars-aliens-755938-300x222.jpg

After that we get a quick guide to the adventure's chapters by level:
DyG9Fjz.png


Finally, to close this beast out, we get a quick discussion of how to adjust party level, party size, inspirational media, content warnings, etc. Except all of that is mostly "Go look at the GM's Reference, ya nerd." So...not a great use of page space here.

And that, blessedly, is the end of the Introduction. As an aside, I was curious, so I checked the 5E PHB, and the entire equipment section is only 80% of this book's introduction (20 pages, vs 25). Truly, these are the times that try men's souls**.

My general verdict is that the Introduction accomplished its goals, but did so in the most meandering way possible. I'm going to harp on this a bunch during this review, but layout matters. My eyes glazed over the third time they started talking about some random god without giving me any context for how many f**cks I should give. This is partially a stylistic thing, but I think it's more than possible to have a tightly woven story without wasting your reader's time. And if you're going to meander, the trip had better be worth the view. Fortunately, there was some good material here, once we have the context to appreciate it. My gripe, to be clear, is the organization and presentation of the material, not necessarily the material itself. This world sounds amazing! Primal Vikings, raiding across the Serpent Sea! Hell yeah! I'm definitely grabbing a bunch of monsters from Planegea to throw in here, because frankly, these two settings sound like peanut butter and chocolate! The gods have (mostly) turned to stone! Kickass! Now my cleric player has a built in reason to adventure! It sounds amazing!

It just sucks that I had to dig that hard to get to the good stuff.

Alright, friends! I've got to go handle a bunch of not-chinchillas who broke out of a not-ranch, but in the meantime I would love to see your criticisms, thoughts, and feedback! Let me know if I'm wrong, or if you just have questions!

* Yeah, I know Colville isn't that bad, but I took three weeks off the forums, so I have an excess of snark to work through. If you wanted zero snark, let me know in the thread. No guarantees.

** Look, I'm sure that if Mr. Paine had to endure either a) the horrors of Valley Forge, or b) a pack of ex-Bioware devs info-dumping on him for 25 pages, he would have probably chosen Valley Forge. I don't feel like that's a controversial statement, but I invite spirited debate.
 


Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
The snark is mostly what I'm here for! ;)
Good to know!

Alright, let's hop into Chapter 1: Into the Unknown.

frozen-elsa.gif

Look, it was the most Nordic-themed Disney reference I could find, alright?

The rough outline here is that the heroes have been hired to an expedition led by a guy named Hrolf. This expedition, set out by the volv (seers, a sort of supra-clan organization), is going to investigate a tower. This tower is notable because a bunch of the volv have been dreaming about it, and they want the expedition to figure out why.

While there, they're attacked by other raiders, the Whar clan, who burn all their longships. The PCs (and Hrolf) trek across the Fanged Sands to Nowhere, a community of outcast raiders, where they need to get a ship. Once they have a ship, they head back out on the Serpent Sea.

That's pretty easy, right? Can't be much going on here.

Well, it's 37 pages, so buckle up.

The chapter starts with the PCs on the ship, with Hrolf, the Hero of a Hundred Raids. Hrolf has carved out his own eye as an offering to the Well of Wisdom. Notably, his own Wisdom score is a 14, according to his statblock, so I'm guessing he wasn't wise enough to ask for a ring of three wishes when he made the sacrifice. At any rate, he has a quarter-page write-up in the NPC section that I won't subject you to, because they really could have boiled it down to "What happens when you cross the most Viking-y Viking to ever go a-viking with Han Solo."

DMPC Mentor! Much like Nihlus in Mass Effect, or Duncan in Dragon Age, Hrolf is a powerful companion to whom Bad Things happen later on. The DMPC mentor is responsible for filling in some gaps through dialogue, explaining the early parts of the plot the players, and pointing them to early, vital clues if they miss them. Fortunately, they almost always end up dead.

We don't really get many scenes with Hrolf in the opening, which sucks because he's going to be important later. There's some optional NPCs we can RP with too, but they all die in like two pages, so we're not going to bother with them. Instead, the adventure drops the PCs in, tells the DM to let them RP for a bit on this longship, and then a storm hits! Hooray! Our first challenge for these 1st-level characters will be non-combat but action-oriented! That's awesome, and good low-level design.

Basically, if you're not tied to the ship, you have to make a DC 12 Acrobatics check to avoid getting hurled into the sea. But the raid banner comes loose from the ship and starts flying away. Hrolf exhorts the PCs to catch it - which they can attempt, but doing so puts them at disadvantage for the Acrobatics check. This gives the PCs a choice, and lets them make an early name for themselves, but doing so almost certainly puts them in the drink for a bit, and there's no real mechanics given for getting out of the drink.

The deal with the raid banner is that it puts them under the protection of the volv, those supra-clan seers I mentioned earlier. Nobody screws with the volv, because you'll get hella-nasty cursed. Without the banner, the expedition is in peril from other raiding clans.

Next up there's a quick interlude where two expedition members try to murder Hrolf. They've been mind-wiped by someone, but remember being paid. This feels unnecessary to me - the deaths of the crew at the tower is a big emotional beat that should motivate vengeance, and this encounter weakens that by casting doubt on the expedition's unity. After all, if some members of the expedition might be enemies, losing them isn't such a big deal, is it?

Next, though, we get to this tower! Yippee, the plot advances! However, I have a brief rant about map design. Here's the map for this dungeon:
WBxPkh5.png


My problems here:
  • Why is everything so brown?
  • Where the hell are the exits from Area 2? If you read the key, you'll know, but otherwise it looks like a dead end
  • Why are there no windows?
Please stop using photorealistic map design. It doesn't convey the information that I want conveyed (how big is the room, where are the exits, and where is the cool stuff), and instead conveys information I would prefer to make up for myself (the color scheme, etc). Also, if you're going to have the PCs move out of sync with the levels (that is, the adventure expects the PCs will start on level 1, go to level 2, come back to level 1, etc.), a side cut-away view is useful.

Rant complete; moving on.

The initial arrival is mostly conveyed in boxed text. As a DM, I mostly skip boxed text, so this adventure has been difficult for me to grok. There's also the problem of unnecessary information. For example, the adventure states: "There are no signs of the beautiful gardens and ponds that once graced the grounds of Mirgal’s tower." At the risk of sounding pedantic...why the hell include that line? If it's not there and will never come up, what does it add?

So, about that exit from area 2 - it's skill-locked behind a DC 12 Investigation check. This raises the question of: what happens if nobody passes the check? The adventure is mum about that, and just sort of blithely assumes everyone will make it. Do NOT put necessary clues to something behind a skill check. Bad designers!

Hrolf stays in the entrance as he and some others are shifting rocks around to open up the first floor, but he encourages the PCs to explore the rest of the dungeon. Good job, Hrolf! Get these schlubs to find all the traps for you!

Next up - some wicker rats! The "wickers" are basically a creature type in this world that are constructs. They can look like anything, and are sort of just here because the tower's former owner specialized in making them. There's also a young girl! The young girl has no idea why she was here, having been abducted by aliens er....she saw bright lights that flared and took her. Definitely not aliens. Certainly not.

Anyway, the text informs us that this girl is named Siddhe, and that she's really important, but not till Chapter 3, so "encourage the heroes to keep her close."

Look, I don't know about you guys, but my players are probably going to assume this kid is a demon or something and either stick to her like glue to avoid getting charmed, or they're going to abandon her in the wastes. Wish me luck!

The rest of the dungeon is mostly OK, with the PCs having to avoid mechanical traps (in the centuries-old buried tower that belonged to a mage, who apparently trapped the hell out of his staircases), and acquire bits of information, several of which are meaningful to the volv later on. Unfortunately, the whole thing is mostly devoid of meaningful navigational choices - it's mostly just a series of rooms. The stuff in the rooms is interesting, I suppose, but I feel less like you're exploring and more like you're playing one of those "find the clue" games.

After this, the heroes rejoin Hrolf right as the Whar clan attacks! Hrolf has gotten into a fight with some other wicker constructs, and has been badly wounded (this is reflected in his statblock, which is still a beefy CR 4), but races with the PCs back to the shore. Once they get back to the shore, however, "Siddhe will swiftly call Hrolf’s attention to the carnage surrounding them and he bellows orders to his remaining warriors to form a shield wall."

Can I ask why the literal child is pointing out to the "Hero of a Hundred Raids" that they're under attack? Young miss, this is Hrolf D. Viking, Esquire! If anybody knows what an attack looks like, it should be him!

Also, good luck finding the stats for a shield wall - it's not in the monster section (Appendix E), but in the raiding section (Appendix A). I suppose this is a good time to point out that this book doesn't have an index? Thank God for Ctrl + F.

But anyway, this big set piece battle unfolds. Hrolf and the rest of the raiders, plus the PCs on one side, and 7 raid archers, 4 raiders, and a raid druid on the other.

The enemies fight through the other raiders, and only then target Hrolf and the PCs. Ideally, the adventure states, only Hrolf and the PCs should survive.

And then the adventure says:

let-them.gif

Great advice from Ken Watanabe, bad advice from an adventure
OK, but...this is the dumbest possible way to run this fight. You, the DM, are going to be embroiled in a ton of hot NPC-on-NPC action, while the PCs look on, patiently wondering why they gave up their Saturday to do this.

The desired end state is: the Whar clan has fled, only the PCs and Hrolf have survived, the longships are burned, and the PCs feel a sense of ownership over the victory.

I hate to waste y'all's time, but I want to do a brief tangent on how to rework this:

We need the PCs to take center stage here in a big way without drawing a lot of fire. So instead of the raiders all showing up on shore at once, the druid emerges in dire wolf form (which is trippy, because no one in Grimnir has seen a wolf) and howls a challenge. Hrolf accepts, banging his shield, but tells the PCs that aboard his ship are some fire arrows of his own - if they can get there and string his massive war bow, they can start setting the attacking vessel alight, and maybe force it to withdraw.

As Hrolf moves to engage the wolf, a spear erupts from the back of one of the allied raiders - a group of four enemy raiders have flanked them, and the allies are getting swarmed! Siddhe is screaming as she watches men cut down before her!

Now the PCs have two goals they can't do sequentially. If they engage these other raiders (suitable for any martial characters), the longships will be completely engulfed in flames by the time they're done. If they opt to get the fire arrows first, Siddhe will get kidnapped!

Hrolf gets wrecked by the end of round 4 with the dire wolf druid, who winds up ripping off Hrolf's leg at the knee. This is important because now Hrolf can't easily solve combat encounters for the PCs in later chapters. It also gives the PCs a nice little arc to get Hrolf some prosthetics or powerful healing (which could be found with the Bad Guys!).

At any rate, the PCs ultimately find themselves alone with just Hrolf, Siddhe, and some corpses. Hrolf asks the PCs to help him burn the corpses, and the PCs get to see three valkyries show up (the book uses the George R.R. Martin Spelling Trick of changing like one vowel in several words, so it's presented as "valkry").

Hrolf insists that no rescue is coming, and insists on heading overland toward the bandit community of Nowhere. Assuming the PCs come along, the next several days are them walking to Nowhere. There is exactly one fight and some treasure, coupled with some environmental obstacles. It's not badly done.

After that, we get to Nowhere, and look! It's another...

Town Full of Villains. Much like Omega from Mass Effect 2, or the Undercity in Dragon Age 2, this is a town full of some minor side quests, a big hurdle the PCs have to overcome, and a bunch of foreshadowing about the next phase of the adventure. It's an effective trope, and the adventure handles it well.

Nowhere takes up 20 whole pages all on its own. The PCs main goal is to get a ship, and there are at least three different ways of getting one:
  • Manipulate one of the three raider-captains into a drinking contest, with their ship as the prize
  • Steal a ship
  • Buy a ship (least likely)
The route the adventure clearly expects is that the PCs will manipulate a raider captain into a drinking contest and emerge victorious.

This is, that I can find, never spelled out as an option for the PCs. You pick up a bunch of information about the various raiders around town, but it's a helluva leap from "Lurx is in love with a woman at a colony they just raided" to "Let's use Lurx's lover as leverage to trick them into a drinking contest to win their ship!" Also, the rules for how to run a drinking game are not in this book, but in the (you guessed it!) GM's Reference. Guys, c'mon.

Also, what the hell are the heroes staking as a prize? They've got some treasure but not much, probably less than 1,000 gp. My guess is that the PCs will hear about the raider captains' troubles, and then go to them and offer to help them out in return for a ship. I'd recommend coming up with some side-quest options for each captain, which shouldn't be difficult. One of them is getting old and is worried about his dad, one of them wants to help their lover's colony, and one of them murdered their brother. Easy-peasy.

Stealing a ship has a handy little structure spelled out that's mostly combat, but some of the random encounters actually help the heroes, which is a fun bit. The adventure spells out several consequences to that, which are outstanding!

Buying a ship costs 6,500 gp, which is functionally impossible, although there is a wonderful sidebar on leasing the ship. Yes. Apparently that's an option. Who knew?

But aside from the ship drama, there's a lot to do in this town. There are 13 locations spelled out, including a Runethrower (fortune-teller) who gives the PCs crucial information on their Epic Goals! There's an interesting tension between the underclass and the jarl, which could be very interesting for politically-minded PCs, and options for how the friends the PCs make in town can influence their crew for the ship!

Overall, it's well done! There's like one thing that I cannot stand about this section, though, and it's these:

nJQBrbg.png

rxP25WW.png

Now, you're probably thinking, "Oh, crap, Sparky's about to go off on another tangent about map design again." Well you would be wrong, Dan. In fact, I am upset for a completely unrelated issue, my dislike for photorealistic maps having been well-established. I'm upset because these are full-page maps for a location in which, as far as I can tell, there is never a need for a map. Nothing but roleplaying happens here. You couldn't have spent this page space on something useful, design team?? Why are these here?

Alright, regardless, the PCs eventually get a ship and sail off onto the Serpent Sea! Well, not quite. Those Whar raiders who ambushed them at the tower decide that they've had one ambush, yes, but what about a second ambush! Truly, these guys are masterfully cunning.

Anyway, the PCs fight their way out, and get a raven from the volv, who are like, "Hey, those Whar guys? They live here." The adventure adds a location to the PCs map, which Hrolf D. Viking, Esquire, asks the PCs to check out.

Oh, you remember that kid, Siddhe? Well, if the PCs try to leave them behind, they sneak aboard. Congratulate the PCs on this other DMPC they've acquired!

My overall feelings about Chapter 1 are mixed. Layout issues continue to drag down what could be amazing material, and the poor communication from the text to the players makes pixelbitching a real concern. That being said, there's more than enough awesome here to make it worth your while. I mean, who doesn't want to steal a Viking longship?

Next time, friends, we will set sail on the Serpent Sea, and put some raiding in this Raiders of the Serpent Sea campaign!

oh yeah GIF

President Obama approves this message.
 

TheSword

Legend
Pukunui may be here for the snark but I’d prefer to have a more balanced review. Having been very impressed with Odyssey of the Dragon Lords as a chassis for campaign that needs fleshing out. I would definitely consider buying it myself.

You might not be aware of this but the thread so far reads like you came at the book from an initial point of hating it. 90% seem to be sarcastic digs at pretty much everything you can, with occasional, sporadic grudging praise that seems to be dragged out of you. Overlaid with many memes. At the end of the last section your conclusion seems to say some flaws but “more than enough awesome to make it worth your while.” But from the review I can’t imagine why you reach this point, when it reads like the product is personally insulting to you. Is it a classic example of a conclusion not matching the body of the text, or are you being sarcastic and you don’t think its awesome?

From the review I’m trying to work out why you bought or are even considering spending a couple of years running the campaign. If you are planning on running it, maybe help us to see what the reasons to buy it are as well. At the moment I’m just seeing the reasons not to. Its really good you’re being honest about what you think, I don’t need a gushing review that ignores flaws, but at least an attempt at a balanced one would be helpful.

As an aside. Those aren’t photo-realistic maps. They’re clearly drawings. Are you saying you don’t like full colour drawings that detail the area, because for VTT players those kind of things can be really important.

B70900A0-56C8-413E-A8C2-C2D84E04A033.png
 
Last edited:

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top