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

There's so much about this adventure path that's intriguing and cool. But according to your review, the campaign starts with some dude hiring the party to investigate a thing, which... ugh. I never want to see that trope again. Is that as boring as it sounds?

Also, yes, that tower map is abominable.
 

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NRSASD

Villager
Yeah I’m here for the snark too : P. Honestly though, your opinions, colorful as they are, seem quite well thought out and similarly inline with my own. I tried to reread the GitP posting after Mr. Alexander posted his take, but it had been redacted into unreadibility. Stay the course, you wonderful madman!
 

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Yeah I’m here for the snark too : P. Honestly though, your opinions, colorful as they are, seem quite well thought out and similarly inline with my own. I tried to reread the GitP posting after Mr. Alexander posted his take, but it had been redacted into unreadibility. Stay the course, you wonderful madman!
:) Thanks, friend!

There's so much about this adventure path that's intriguing and cool. But according to your review, the campaign starts with some dude hiring the party to investigate a thing, which... ugh. I never want to see that trope again. Is that as boring as it sounds?

Also, yes, that tower map is abominable.
It's actually kind of a baffling decision. There's so much they could have done to integrate these NPCs into the epic backstories. Hrolf, Siddhe, literally any of the clan leaders you meet later on, etc. That's a great remix note!

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.
Hello! It sounds like what you're saying is that the format of the review is getting in the way of your utility of the review. That's great feedback, and I'd like to respond to your points in order.

This is a critique. It, by nature, focuses on the flaws in the work. I'm trying to give you a sense for what's going on here, what's good or bad, and what can break as you go along. By "break" I mean "anything that causes you, the DM, to do more work on behalf of the adventure." That work could be social (the adventure violated a line / veil of a player and now you need to retract something), mechanical (where a die roll just doesn't work), structural (the PCs fail to find the secret door), etc. Secondly, to be fair, I call out several pieces in the last post where the adventure succeeds (Nowhere being a well-executed trope, the Runethrower tying into the PCs backstories, the interesting tensions between the jarl and the underclass, the fact that our first encounter is non-combative, etc). Now, the overall tone may be distracting from those points, but I am trying to be fair to the adventure.

As to why I bought the work, I bought it because I was excited for Viking D&D! I was so excited about Viking D&D. I didn't have the cash on hand to back their Kickstarter, but I picked it up and started reading it for the first time the day I bought it (and the day I started this review on GitP). And, well, it wasn't great. Honestly, it wasn't even good. When something dashes my expectations this hard, I tend to get irritated about it (see my Strixhaven review, for example). While Raiders isn't as bad as Strixhaven, it's no cakewalk. First, this thing is 500 pages. If I just did a straight read-through of it, I expect I would put everyone to sleep before long. Secondly, it's not all bad. There is some genuinely great and epic stuff in here! But it desperately needed better creators to bring it out.

Now, on the memes, those I put in because 1) they break up the "wall of text" syndrome I tend to suffer from otherwise, and 2) because they're just fun for me. As to the maps, highly detailed VTT maps are great. But they are not a substitute for the DM's prep work. The fact that this is a VTT map doesn't really help address any of my concerns around the map design.

If you're not getting anything out of the review, I don't want to waste your time. But if I may, I recommend that you stay until the Underworld section. For me, that's what really killed the desire to run this adventure. If nothing there is a dealbreaker, I think you're good to buy it.

Alright, y'all! Now let's start in on Chapter 2. It's called the First Saga, and is 55 pages long, with a LOT going on. It's broken up into seven subsections. This is the largest chapter in the book (only the monster appendix is longer, at 76 pages). So rather than do the whole thing in one go on my day off, I'm going to break these up and do them piecemeal.

Remember how we talked about the "lakes and rivers" model? Well, this is the first big lake. The PCs are out on the ocean, and the adventure highlights to the DM what plot threads are available to chase down:
  • Raid the Whar Camp - Due to the volv's in-volv-ement, the PCs know where the scummy druid who burned their crap and killed their NPC cannon fodder friends lives
  • Hrolf says the PCs need to get a proper raiding banner so they aren't considered mercenaries
  • They can explore the High North (there are no real links to this?)
  • Take Siddhe to the Volv at the Well of Wisdom (main story continuation)
To this, there is basically a villain random encounter: the Witch-Shrine. We will get to this last, but it has some of the most bafflingly railroaded adventure design I've seen since Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

There are a few motivational problems with these. 1) Why is it bad to be mercs? Sure, we can let the PCs take slaves (thralls, yes, this is a real thing, and it is exactly as mind-bogglingly stupid as it sounds), but you guys don't want to be mercenaries, do you? 2) There's exactly one thread that lets the PCs know there's something going on up north and it involves the PCs taking a specific prisoner (the scummy druid-boi who attacked them in Chapter 1). So, uh, yeah. The adventure lets you know, "They can go here and it'll be cool!" but never really communicates that to the players. Since TTRPG motivations usually need to be associated and in-character, this is a problem. And yes, I can make up my own hooks, but I don't buy material to have to do work fixing it.

So today we'll be focusing on the Whar raid. The motivation here is vengeance. This is the scummy druid who (presumably) kicked their butts back in Chapter 1. The Whar are a growing power in the Serpent Sea, and their ambitions puts the PCs on a collision course with them. The PCs target is not the main Whar homeland (that's far to the north), but they have a small outpost and a hunting camp established on the island of Whiterak. That's what the PCs will be raiding. Another key piece of context is that the scummy druid is actually the Whar jarl's brother, so killing him could start a blood feud.

So, the adventure lays out how the PCs go about finding the scummy druid's outpost. First, they find a hunting camp. The hunters, upon seeing the PCs in their new ship which they don't recognize, immediately flee, because plot! One of the hunter groups tries to buy the other one time to warn the outpost by boarding the PCs' ship. (Is it just me, or could this adventure really have benefitted from reaction rolls?)

The PCs chase the other hunters (in a boat) back to the main outpost. That sounds awesome! How do you run a chase at sea? Good question! ...moving on.

If the PCs lose the hunters they were tracking (how?) then the adventure says "have them wander the sea for a couple days but guide them in the right direction. After an encounter or two at sea, they find Whiterak." Oh thank goodness! I was beginning to worry that there might be stakes!

After that, the PCs move into the raid proper, but before that, it's another patented McDibben remix:

The hunters aren't automatically hostile, and the PCs can find out where Whiterak is through clever RP, betrayal, trickery, or straight up intimidation. If they instead do risk letting the hunters go to lead them to the outpost, you'll want to have a remixed copy of the chase rules from the DMG ready, just in case, maybe with some fun options like letting the hunters chum the waters to draw sea serpents or something.

Raids break down into three phases: scout, approach, and fight.

Scouting reveals information about the target, provided the target isn't alerted (which they will be if the hunters make it to Whiterak with a warning, the heroes are careless on their approach, or just unlucky). This is basically just a Perception check, and it reveals:

cZzqkS8.png

This is the outpost's statblock, and is admirably brief and informative. There's also a callout that the outpost has a couple of boats stashed under the cliff it backs onto, which means that when the PCs attack, there's almost certainly going to be some defenders who slip away to alert the main Whar camp far to the north. Gulli, by the way, is the name of the scummy druid.

This is good, but also, why not just have the druid cast animal friendship or use a trained raven or something to carry a message? Hell, if you really wanted to highlight the fairy tale type moods, you could simply cut to the Whar jarl feeling her brother's death if the PCs kill him.

Anyway, if the PCs get spotted during this part, skip right to the fight phase. When do the Whiterak sentries get to make Perception checks against the scouting PCs? Good question! ...moving on.

The approach phase is how the PCs get up to Whiterak. They can sneak up (but a Stealth DC is never spelled out), rush the outpost (although it's not explained, the "Open Space" entry on the outpost's statblock says 100 feet, so my guess is that's how far the PCs have to charge), or parlay with Gulli instead fight a duel. Sieging the outpost is impractical, given that it will take a couple of weeks to exhaust the outpost's food and water, while the PCs have no fresh food on the island, and no source of clean water, either.

Finally, there's a fight. If the PCs make it inside, the Whar make their last stand at the shrine of Hel. Gulli the Scummy Druid puts up a good fight, using spike growth, wind wall, etc., to make the PCs' lives harder, while the rest of the raiders here form a shield wall for protection. Once two Whar raiders are down, Gulli tries to parlay.

The parlay is full of interesting news, and honestly I feel more sympathetic to Gulli than I do to Hrolf at this point. Hrolf wants blood, and encourages the PCs to

pri GIF

So it is entirely possible that the PCs completely miss the "Explore the High North" content. That's not necessarily bad, but it is something to look out for, since the adventure priced that content into the XP budget, meaning that your players might be underleveled for threats later on.

If the PCs kill the Whar, it's less likely that they can ally with them later, and unless Hrolf is overwhelmingly convinced that the PCs are in the right, he'll get disgruntled and talk smack about the PCs behind their backs later.

So, good things:
  • An explicit raiding game structure, with levers I can pull to give the PCs choices in the fiction! Hurray!
  • An example of good layout! Yay!
  • A link (through Gulli) to the whole Whar plotline in the north! Yay!
The bad things:
  • Weak connectivity between scenes in the camp and the outpost
  • Hair-trigger alerts with poorly defined mechanical resolution (particularly around Stealth)
  • Inconsistent world-building, with the druid unable to use abilities we've already seen other spellcasters use.
Overall, this section is a clean 7 / 10. Good adventure, and I'm a sucker for a nice game structure.

Next time, we'll dig into the whole Whar plotline. See y'all then!
 

pukunui

Legend
The approach phase is how the PCs get up to Whiterak. They can sneak up (but a Stealth DC is never spelled out)
I presume it would just be a check vs the sentries' passive Perception (although having that called out in, say, the outpost statblock would be helpful).

Also, is it just me, or is the layout of Grimnir seriously limiting in terms of east-west sea travel? It looks to me like you can only get around the main central continent via the south (where the sea is partially covered by clouds). Am I reading the map right, or have I missed something?
 

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Also, is it just me, or is the layout of Grimnir seriously limiting in terms of east-west sea travel? It looks to me like you can only get around the main central continent via the south (where the sea is partially covered by clouds). Am I reading the map right, or have I missed something?
It is quite limited, but that sort of encourages sea travel, which is what this is all about. That being the case, though, you can get into serious chokepoint territory very quickly, which is in and of itself interesting since it gives you some fun complications.

Alright, moving on and still in Chapter 2, let's visit Rockpike Fortress. I don't know how they came up with these names - either Rockpike is a kind of polearm (in which case the name doesn't make that much sense), or it's referring to a breed of carnivorous fish (presumably, the rock pike) that does not appear in this adventure.

Anyways, tangent aside, the PCs arrive in the High North! They're here to...

Well, actually, that's a bit of a mystery. There's a couple different ways the PCs can get up here:

1) Gulli the Scummy Druid surrenders to the PCs to save his outpost. He leads them here to talk with his sister (the goal here is to find out why the Goddess of Death is having the Whar raiders target the PCs)

2) The PCs hear from the Orn (we'll get to it) that the Baendur (non-raiders) in Rockpike Fortress have a captive Valkyrie (the goal here is unspecific)

The hook they're following impacts the PCs decision set massively, as we'll see. The situation at Rockpike is thus:

a) The Baendur of Rockpike (led by a complete douchenozzle named Cenric) built a fleet to challenge the raiders' control of the sea
b) Hel found out, and asked the Whar clan to intervene, creating a helmaw (Underworld gate-thingy) to get an entire Whar raiding party to Rockpike
c) The raiders destroyed the fleet, chased the Baendur back to their fortress and are now besieging the fortress

As we arrive, the PCs get a warning from their crew that this area is the land of one King Cenric, notable for having challenged the raider clans several times in the recent past. Cenric himself is a worthy and rare prize. By the way, does it count as human trafficking when a character is the treasure? Asking for a friend.

The PCs journey through a decent little pointcrawl, including some ravaged farms with dead farmers that rise as zombies unless the PCs burn them. There's a bit with faeries that goes nowhere, and then they get to the village of Frostwarren, where they can see a bunch of burnt-up longships (the remains of Cenric's fleet). (See, some magical jerks named the Ironwood Witches gave Cenric a bunch of ironwood - this legendary magic wood - to create a fleet to challenge the raiders, and were going to use magic to "jump" the fleet to the Serpent Sea).

So right now, the PCs have seen a couple examples of the Whar's depredations, which are violent and reckless. So when they reach the village and see the whole thing burnt to the ground, well, this is a great time to drive home the horrors of war and the culture of violence that permeates the raider clans. Especially since there are no bodies at the village - there are tracks leading west, into the mountains.

The PCs find a survivor of the Whar raid, a Baendur elite guard named Lan. And if you're wondering how a Diademed Battle Lord of Malkier wound up in Grimnir, well, not to worry.

259

Pictured: Not the Lan we're talking about

This Lan is a woman, and a captain of Cenric's guard. She insists that the Baendur just want better farmland and more resources. #NotallBaendur, guys. She can journey with the party to Rockpike, where the tracks from the burnt-up village lead.

And at this point we zoom in on Rockpike itself. It's a pretty sturdy-looking keep, with a gatehouse and a couple layers of town to get through before you hit the main keep. Right now, it's besieged by the Whar, who are also keeping a watch on the trail leading from Frostwarren.

There are two encounters with automatically hostile Whar archers on the trail (not even a challenge? C'mon, guys) who just shoot the PCs and try to cut the various rope bridges that let the PCs come up. The actual encounter design here is solid, but I take issue with automatically-hostile enemies, especially since these guys haven't ever seen the PCs. They might know their names if that message from Gulli the Scummy Druid arrived, but otherwise, the only person they might recognize is Hrolf D. Viking, Esquire. And they're more likely to think that this legendary hero is bringing some tagalongs to help them crack open Rockpike once and for all!

So...yeah. Not a huge fan of the "straight to combat" style here.

After the heroes get through that, they meet Athils Vestemb, the jarl of clan Whar.

And right here, the PCs have a choice.

Mutually Exclusive Ally Options! See also, the Templars vs the Mages in Dragon Ages 2 - 4 The adventure lets you choose exactly one faction to support, and has exactly zero expectation that the PCs will intervene (after seeing how horrific combat is on the people here) to try to put a stop to the conflict.

Basically, the adventure assumes that the PCs will either a) help the Baendur take Rockpike, or b) help the Baendur lift the siege.

Before anyone asks, Hrolf is apparently conflicted, because he's still salty about the Whar raid, but also doesn't like Cenric and the Baendur. He can be persuaded one way or the other.

The payoffs here are either that a) the PCs get to loot Rockpike and fight their way through a pretty intense battle sequence, thus earning accolades from the Whar and convincing Athils to guide them to the helmaw for an audience with the Goddess of Death herself or b) the PCs will ally with Cenric, who sells them the Valkyrie he has enslaved in his keep if the PCs hunt down and exterminate the Whar.

This is apparently supposed to manifest as a moral dilemma. Unfortunately, this fails for me. In a moral dilemma that is actually fun, there is a choice to do the right thing at a significant cost, or to do the easy thing with a significant reward. It forces the characters to define what they care about. How far are they willing to go?

In this version, you can link up with a bunch of human-trafficking war criminals, or ... link up with a bunch of angel*-trafficking war criminals.

It's a choice between schmucks, with no real "dilemma" in question.

The actual fights are pretty interesting, but neither option helps move the plot along, so it feel like empty calories. However, this choice will have consequences later on, so they get some props there for sticking to the consequences.

First, we need to make this an actual moral dilemma. No more slavery - the raiders aren't taking thralls, mostly because I can absolutely see that one player getting a little too gross with "Are any of them...female?" Ew. No. At this point, I'd like to call out that the GM's Reference material gives you some options if you want to take slavery out of your game. This gets them some points!

I'm headcanoning that the raiders simply take some percentage from their raiding targets ("The fifth, I give you**"), and will absolutely burn and steal, but don't take people. Not because they're inherently good, of course, but because people are hard to move, hard to convert into cash, and will tend to fight you.

The sentries on the approach to the Whar camp aren't hostile, and will tentatively parlay with the PCs as they approach. Athils is now grimly set on keeping her word to Hel, but knows she'll lose a bunch of people on the attack. She sees the PCs as a great solution to the problem of "get us in the fortress." She mentions that Cenric is holding a valkyrie captive, and keeps her caged day and night. She's willing to fight on whatever terms the PCs will grant, and will enforce them on her clan, if they can get her inside Rockpike. Meanwhile, the Baendur issue a challenge - they've taken several of the Whar captive during their campaign, and will execute them at sunrise unless the Whar depart. So now there's a time limit and a secondary objective.

If the PCs can get inside and free the prisoners, and then fight their way to the tower, the next morning, Cenric presents the captive valkyrie. In return for leaving him and his subjects alone, he'll give them the valkyrie. The PCs now have an interesting choice to make, and can now vouch for Cenric as a ruthless war leader, but one who also knows when to make peace. They have the option of either finishing the job, negotiating an end to the conflict, or walking away.

As to those rewards, there are two payoffs. If they get to talk to Hel, they find out...nothing. She asks them some questions, and if Siddhe is present (because the PCs are the worst adoptive parents in the history of ever - who takes a kid for a brief chat with the Goddess of Death?), Hel gets agitated. That's it. No information on why they were targeted. Why the hell did you even include this as an option if you weren't going to give them any information?

The other payoff is that they walk away with Skuld, the captive valkyrie. Skuld is basically an empty trenchcoat. She "knows a lot about the nature of true death in Grimnir, but keeps that information to herself." There's just nothing here.

I hate to be a jerk, but this whole section feels like the devs were so proud of this moral dilemma they invented that they didn't bother with rewarding the PCs for doing it. I'm all for having the PCs make hard choices without a right answer, because those are often the most revealing choices to make. But this? This ain't it chief.

4 / 10 for "Gathering of Wolves" and "Rockpike" together. Excellent action and not much else. This section is plagued by weak links to the rest of the scenario, a terribly done moral dilemma, and payoffs that are functionally nil.

See you next time for "Under the Ash" where things... go...

volcano GIF

*They treat the valkyrie as angels in this and it drives me nuts. Valkyries were never depicted as winged, and they were servants of Odin, not liable to be bound on earth, even if you chopped their (nonexistent) wings off. This is just me being pedantic, though, not a knock on the campaign.

**If you get this reference, you're a wonderful human being. If you don't, you're still a wonderful human being.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
Great summaries and reviews (all of them). I really enjoy your presentation style and ideas on how to remix things.

I was going to get this product, but like a lot of stuff I've bought recently, seems like more work, which I'm not looking for in a 'complete', not to mention expensive product.
 

I enjoy your reviews a lot, but the early snark really is too much "character" IMO. You are clearly very intelligent and very experienced and know what you like in a book. But when I get to the end of a particular review and its overall good praise despite you tearing it apart in so many minor and major ways, its hard for me to really find the "truth" in your review. I like a little bit of snark, you can be pretty funny, but constructive critique IMO should be given in a constructive tone overall -- not entirely, just overall. Otherwise, it feels like I'm reading 10 paragraphs of almost straight insults and then am told "But its worth your money!"

P.S: I would love for you to review my setting book, if you're interested.
 

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Great summaries and reviews (all of them). I really enjoy your presentation style and ideas on how to remix things.

I was going to get this product, but like a lot of stuff I've bought recently, seems like more work, which I'm not looking for in a 'complete', not to mention expensive product.
Thanks!
I enjoy your reviews a lot, but the early snark really is too much "character" IMO. You are clearly very intelligent and very experienced and know what you like in a book. But when I get to the end of a particular review and its overall good praise despite you tearing it apart in so many minor and major ways, its hard for me to really find the "truth" in your review. I like a little bit of snark, you can be pretty funny, but constructive critique IMO should be given in a constructive tone overall -- not entirely, just overall. Otherwise, it feels like I'm reading 10 paragraphs of almost straight insults and then am told "But its worth your money!"

P.S: I would love for you to review my setting book, if you're interested.
I appreciate the feedback, and thanks! If you'd like to PM me the link for your product on DriveThru, I'll purchase it there and let you know.

Alright, friends, now lets get on with "Under the Ash," wherein the PCs find a settlement buried by hardened lava!

The motivation for going here is either
  1. Hey, look at that big explosion in the distance! Let's check it out!
  2. We need to get a clan banner so no one thinks we're mercenaries
I have a couple problems with these - for example, why the hell can't the PCs just go to the volv and get a volv banner, declaring them volv-o's or something? I mean, they had a banner like that at the start. There was a whole scene about it.

So we have a weak intro here, but a good DM can always seed calls for aid from survivors who've escaped. I can work with this.

The setup is thus: An ironthrall (someone who's been completely dominated by the Ironwood Witches) wizard caused the eruption. I can't find out exactly how, but it's implied that they opened a portal to the Plane of Fire. The raiders they brought with them devastated and raided the native Orn clan, stealing quite a lot of stuff. While the raiders feel distaste for the ironthrall's tactics, they're like, "Well, we're here anyway," and started pillaging.

Stay classy, guys.

After some shenanigans on the surface that include a flock of axe beaks, the PCs delve into the buried town, navigating in a diegetic pointcrawl!

Here's the map:
ESyiX6o.png

We even have a loop or two thrown in here! Huzzah! Now all we need is a random encounter table, an adversary roster, and an encounter die system and we are cooking with Crisco! Or lava!

The pointcrawl is effective in delivering some useful items to the players, and effectively communicates that this whole (powerful) clan has been wiped out. The one thing I wish was placed better is an encounter with a wicker scout named Phrine. Phrine was summoned (along with like, all the other wickers) to where the gods (the ones who've been turned to stone) live, and saw a rainbow spear. Something happened with an emerald (I'm not being deliberately vague; the adventure doesn't give you much), and a massive light took hold in the sky. If the PCs try to line up dates, they can find out that this was the exact time that Siddhe was pulled to the Misplaced Tower.

So it sucks that the PCs can saunter right on by this content.

I'd recommend moving this encounter from T12 (where it currently sits) to T22 (to make sure the PCs see it).

The PCs, after clearing the town, encounter the thoroughly insane ironthrall wizard (who is equipped with gauntlets of ogre power), and can question or fight him. If they fight, magma mephits keep interfering, but otherwise it's not terrible (the wizard is a beefy CR 7, but against a 4th or 5th level party, he's going down fast).

The PCs can then move on and clear the Orn keep, fighting foreign raiders, and a loose salamander to rescue the (half-dozen) survivors.

And that's it. Nice little pointcrawl, fun little dozen-room dungeon. All in all, not bad. They get docked a few points for obfuscating some stuff, but otherwise, I'd say this is a solid 7.5 / 10.

Next up, the Well of Wisdom.

Content warning: human sacrifice. No, I am not kidding.

The setup for this location is that this is where the volv normally reside, so the PCs are bringing Siddhe to the volv, and reporting their mission. Unfortunately, a frost giant and a band of tussers (Yoten-descended individuals) have slain almost everyone here and drowned the area in a perpetual winter storm. This forced the rest of the volv to put out to sea, heading for Drifthall (we'll get to it).

So I guess the PCs had the option to ditch Hrolf this whole time, but if he was ditched, he shows back up here, camped out on the volv's doorstep. The PC's can start piecing together that something is very wrong from the jump. They get attacked by sabre-toothed tigers and tusser bandits.

And then, there's Jul.

Jul volunteered to be a human sacrifice, so that the volv could get their questions answered. This is what the adventure says about her:
DoenLQ6.png



Excuse Me What GIF by CBS

Fun fact: the "Content Discussion" portion of the GM's Reference somehow omits the fact that murdering a helpless non-combatant is a thing. And not just a thing, a thing with a mechanical incentive attached! Brilliant job, boys!

If you had asked me to pick which was dumber, either a) enabling and incentivizing human sacrifice in a D&D game, or b) putting my...hand in a pencil sharpener, I would have chosen option a. Every time.

Look, this obviously ain't up my alley. But if you're going to include it, you need to a) let the DM know that it's there, preferably in flashing neon lights, and b) PUT IT IN THE CONTENT DISCUSSION section. This kind of crap, by the way, is the reason for the high snark ratio in this review. There's so much greatness here, but the devs can't get out of their own way.

Moving on from that delightful tidbit, we get into the icy caverns adjoining the Well of Wisdom. There's three polar bears, two hill giants, and a frost giant lurking about. Clever and careful heroes can defeat them in detail, and there's options for what they can tell the heroes if captured, too. All in all, good design there.

Then we get to the Well of Wisdom, where each PC gets a rune related to their Epic Background, and each one receives a minor benefit from it. The PCs can also choose to sacrifice to the Well - either up to 100 gp for inspiration, or a measure of their blood for one casting of speak with dead. Alternatively, if they sacrifice an eye to the Well, they get advantage on all Wisdom checks and saves, permanently.

Go big or go home, I guess. This is actually covered in the GM's Reference to call out self-injurious behavior. I'm OK with this part, because it's clearly communicated (Hrolf has actually sacrificed his eye here) and has non self-injurious options.

After that, we get a small bit about the Outpost of Lurx, relating to one of the bandit captains they could meet at Nowhere. This doesn't really go anywhere, so I'm skipping it.

3 / 10 for the Well of Wisdom. Some good material here, but that human sacrifice bit killed the attaboys for me.

Next time, though, we get into the Witch Shrine. Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. This one's going to be a masterclass on how not to write a dungeon.
 


pukunui

Legend
Reminds me of how in Odyssey of the Dragonlords, the Cursed One Epic Path requires the PC to kill their own ancestor, the one responsible for bringing the curse down upon the family and who is now imprisoned in Hades. The cerberus guarding him claims that the only way to end the curse is for the PC to kill the ancestor, who does not defend himself. However, the book states that the curse is also lifted if both Sydon and Lutheria (the BBEGs) are killed with the caveat that "this solution is never offered or explained — it must be discovered."
 

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