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

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Oh, just wait. The next chapter is supposed to kill the PCs. Hopefully it's now clear where the frustration was coming from in earlier portions of this review, though I'll concede that I need to work on my style a bit.

Chapter 8 is called Return to Drifthall, and it's where the PCs return to Drifthall. Apt.

The two things that happen in this chapter are the election of a new Alljarl and the attack of Boda the Matron. The choices of Alljarl depend on how the PCs have handled clan politics thus far - some clans may have straight up left, and some may loathe the PCs. Regardless, the outcome doesn't depend entirely on the PCs, which I like! There's voting involved, but it seems like the ballots would go on too long, and there are almost certainly outcomes that result in a hung jury.

However, the choice of who gets to be Alljarl has some really interesting consequences (one of the choices will militarize all of society, but that means there's no food available after Ragnarok, leading to massive famine, for example). This is good and smart, and I wish that kind of forethought had gone into what comes next.

After that, all the clans depart. The volv, preparing to journey back to the Well of Wisdom, start prepping their giant fish that pull Drifthall.

And that's when Boda and a giant sea serpent (Ormur) attack.

To be clear, Boda's a CR 24 opponent, and Ormur is CR 25. Here's a picture of the giant sea serpent, for scale:

6BHETur.png

I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO THE MANAGER!!!
They're joined by three CR 13 corpse swallowers (picture a roc plus a pterodactyl and you've got the general idea).

To be clear, this is rigged against the PCs - the only way out is dying. If the PCs flee, Ormur hunts them down and Boda is a flying spellcaster with ranged attacks out the wazoo. If they fight, they're almost certain to die. If, by some miracle any PCs survive, one of the seers (with their dying breath) tells the PCs that they have to get to Valhalla, by (you guessed it!) dying valiantly in combat.

Oh, and at the end, the sun and moon are being extinguished. So, bad times all around.

Look, I happen to think that the PCs being railroaded into a combat they cannot win is extremely bad form. I think this could have been avoided with better adventuring and structural design, but that would take us to another patented McDibben ....

First of all, we need to be scattering clues to the witches ultimate scheme well in advance of those schemes coming to fruition. Yes, it's great that the witches subverted the giants, and the Underworld, and were doing weird stuff with the wolves. But ultimately, we need to be doing way more foreshadowing. The PCs need to come across multiple clues to the "killing the sun" scheme, for example, especially in the Ironwood Forest.

Next, we need the volv to put these pieces together, if the PCs don't, realizing that Boda's plan is to destroy Valhalla and stop the honorable dead from fighting at Ragnarok. And finally, we need to give the PCs a choice: You can get to Valhalla by dying in battle (run the Boda/Ormur fight), or have the volv open a gate, sacrificing themselves to buy the heroes time as Boda obliterates the last of the seers. As the PCs enter Valhalla, that's when the sun begins to darken.

Finally, we need consequences for that choice. Maybe if the PCs let the volv sacrifice themselves, it reduces the forces available at Ragnarok, but denies Boda more intel on the PCs. Maybe if they choose to fight Boda, the PCs learn what she can do, but can uncover some key weakness in her strategy or mechanics.

Total score is hard to assign here. It gets the PCs to the next leg of the adventure, which is the goal. But it does so in the least interesting and least effective path. For doing what it does, I'd give it a 6 / 10; for rating how it does what it does, I'd give it a 4 / 10. Averaging it out - we'll say about 5 / 10.

Alright, y'all, next up the PCs go to the Halls of the Slain! And here's where the adventure breaks new ground: we've seen railroads before...but how many circular railroads have we seen?

Those of you familiar with the old Norse myths (or Rick Riordan's retellings) will know that in Valhalla, the heroic dead spend all day fighting to the death, only to be resurrected and then spend all night feasting.

Now, that might seem pretty cool to some of you, but to me it's the best possible rendition of Groundhog Day.
stop-the-car-road.gif

Now imagine Viking Bill Murray stabbing the absolute crap out of that truck. FOR GLORY!!!!

But it doesn't make for a very compelling D&D adventure, because it removes all the stakes. So basically, the PCs get stuck in a time loop, trying to break out of it in order to help save Valhalla.

So, couple of things before we get started:
  • Valhalla's on the moon (also, it's spelled slightly differently in the book, but I'm going to keep calling it Valhalla because that's the name we're all familiar with)
  • The adventure splits everything into three time states: The Beginning, when Valhalla is just getting started, The Middle, when Valhalla is at its height, and The Now, which is when Valhalla is, well, now.
  • When the PCs long rest or die, the time state advances, and it's cyclical, so the Now resets to the Beginning.
  • This whole place is run by Thonir, who is Hel's love, and the only guy to ever beat Boda in a fight.
The PCs have to convince a crusty old rune-smith dwarf to build them a boat, get a map from Thonir, and then wake up a bunch of dragons. The dragons (whom Thonir lulled to sleep), can be used to fight what Boda's doing to the sun, and break her hold on Valhalla, allowing the righteous dead to show up at Ragnarok.

Of course, in so doing, the PCs also take responsibility for the dragons showing up in Grimnir after Ragnarok.

The PCs then sail to another island with the dragons, fight their way through a bunch of really nasty monsters, stop the sun from being consumed, and then get back to Grimnir.

So here's my problems with the adventure:

1) The decision to have time-states means that almost every event or location has three different sub-states for it, often varying wildly in ways that make them more or less interesting (so that the content the PCs need will not be there, depending on the time-state). This is irritating, because the PCs just have to long rest to activate that content (by moving the time state forward).

2) There's a lot of time-sensitive stuff going on here, but at only one point is time actually relevant: whether or not they choose to short rest before they try to stop the sun being eaten. If they do short rest, the sun is like 90% eaten, and Grimnir becomes a frozen hellscape forever more. So there's a lot of just kind of extraneous information here.

Things I like:

1) The bit with the dragons. Having PCs introduce dragons to the world is a great choice and I love it, well done.

Soooo...

Just cut out the time loop. Most of the rest of this is pretty solid. It's a pointcrawl, with clues scattered about. It's effectively done, it's just the writers got too clever by half.

Next, put the PCs on a timer. They can see the sun being eaten, so that tells them how much time they've got left. Strip out everything else - they don't have to build a ship, the dwarf will sail it for them...if they can prove themselves in single combat against him. Just make it so that if anyone dies in Valhalla, they come back to life that night. Thonir will give them the map if they can prove their gumption by making him laugh. He'll also suggest the dragons, and point out where they are.

For this section: 6 / 10. The material is well done, but the effort to hack out all the noise reduces it's utility.

Next time, friendos! Next time the PCs wake the very gods! And oh, there will be DMPCs.

Oh yes, there will be DMPCs.
 

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TheSword

Legend
So having bought the book, I thought I would do a bit of fact checking to see if indeed it was as bad or flawed as you seemed to be saying it was. Seeing someone producing a creative work to benefit the community called ‘garbage’ and a ‘failed writer’ raises my hackles. I have to say, a lot of your flaws seem to be result of missing out elements of the text, misreading elements or treating the text like a computer program (the exact criticism you give the writers) making a suggestion does not mean that this is the only resolution.

I'll go through your criticisms one by one.

The Underworld has two states: regular and hostile. A hostile Underworld happens when the PCs attack the dead, resolve situations through violence, and generally act rudely to the NPCs. Once the Underworld is hostile, it can't become regular again. Once hostile, the PCs' chances of being shut out of any meaningful decisions is dramatically escalated (the NPCs won't listen to you, everything just attacks, and you eventually get perma-banned from the Underworld).

The adventure does not communicate (that I can find) to the players that this is a possibility, or even that the PCs should not attack the zombies they see running around the Underworld.
It is explained in the introduction to the chapter that Hel is kind. She also arranges a specific warning to the Party by sending a patrol to warn them not to attack people (see below). They also get a warning if they attack anyone on the boat.

Defending the dead.png

Remember that super-crucial horn that wakes up the gods? Never mentioned, either by the volv or by the other denizens of the Underworld.
The Horn is a reward from Siddhe. It is a gift from her at the end of the segment. Until then its kept on the Island of Broken things. There is no reason the party would need to know about it before.
Most challenges have one (easily overlooked) clue that is gated behind a skill check, otherwise, the PCs have no idea what's going on. There are clues to where Siddhe is located scattered all over the place, but several of them are skill-locked or rely on the PCs figuring out the exact conversational path to get the NPC to talk to them.
The skill checks are suggested as a method of resolution - but they aren't described as absolute requirements. For instance Mera gets upset when she recalls her nail being clipped. The text states that a DC 13 Persuasion check calms her down (not difficult) but it doesn't say that its the only way of calming her down. Not sure why you think this resolution is gated do you expect the writers to list all the ways people could calm down a child?

Well... not really. There's also several places where the adventure contradicts itself:

For example, there are these things called witchbeetle swarms. The Matron (aka Boda) uses them to scry. It's stated several times in the book she hasn't been able to get any into the Underworld, and in fact tries to use the PCs to slip some witchbeetles in:

gtqqMg5.png

And then when the PCs meet the Matron's agent in the Underworld (Regulus):

TR40m56.png

BAM! Witchbeetles.
I think this suffers from the programmer's mentality of writing a "world-state" into the adventure instead of just letting the DM have the world respond logically to the players. It's a key deficiency of this campaign, and it shows in several places.
You've cropped out the section that explains the situation. There are no witchbeetles in the underworld unless the Infestation After Death event takes place which is triggered by Siddhe's death. If it has and the PCs haven't found and dealt with the beetle spies then the following happens.

infestation.jpg

So the beetles are conditional on the PCs bringing them in. If they don't bring them in, they aren't seen on Regalus' cloak. Hence the text.

So, remember when I said it forced level 8 PCs into a linear plot? Here's the Underworld:

Looks good, right? Nice pointcrawl, not a lot of linearity there.

Well, actually...yeah. You see that big golden bridge in area 5? They don't want the PCs to go around it, so the writers did this:

Why is there a living adult white dragon on top of a random bridge in the Underworld? Because the writers stopped caring about the world's logic about three chapters ago.

Now, some of you are going to say, "Well, they say that if the PCs win, they can go ahead and let them do stuff out of order! That's good, right?" First off, Dan, get out of my head. Secondly, no, that's bad. There's zero guidance given on how to adjust the narrative, simply a note that the narrative needs to be adjusted! You do not get points back if you say, "We railroaded this, but if the PCs break the tracks, they can go ahead and get off." No. You decided to design the scenario this way, so that's on you, writers. Finally, if anyone's asking what's stopping PCs from swimming, swarms of metallic piranha plus the water does necrotic damage.

Also, note that fighting the dragon doesn't affect the Underworld's state. Some enemies are OK to fight, and some aren't. Boy, it would be nice if we could get a signpost as to which is which!
It is signposted. A patrol warns the party not to affect the dead as mentioned above.

The plot isn't linear - its gated. The underworld is spread into three parts - gated behind the bridge and the gate to the town. However both these can be overcome and obstacles are detailed to make this still a challenge. I don't see the problem with an adventure trying to funnel the party to a specific NPC encounter. Outside of these gates the party are free to explore sub-areas as they like. Gating areas is a pretty standard way of crafting adventures. Particularly when the NPC encounter that forms the gate itself has multiple resolutions.

And that's just one example. If the PCs listen to the dude to talks to them on the bridge, they get sent to the Isle of the Wicked. The Isle of the Wicked, if you didn't guess it, is full of Real Bad Dudes who try to steal the PCs stuff and "punish" them.

If the PCs try to fight the Real Bad Dudes (prisoners), this happens:

lWV950l.png

This is the kind of crap that works in a video game and ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT WORK in a TTRPG. I need to know my choices have realistic weight; if the writers just put in infinite monsters "because plot" the idea that my choices matter falls apart. We're now playing through a novel.
The reinforcements are there to create pressure to move on. The prisoners on the island are expressly described as hostile because they are working with Regulus. This area is a prison for wicked souls. It doesn't seem unreasonable for there to be a lot. This is functional infinity not literal infinity a new group only arrives once every 5 rounds. How long would you party be willing to fight them for no reward? 20 rounds, 50 rounds? If a party of 8th level characters can't defeat a 60hp CR2 shield wall a priest or a mage in 5 rounds or at least obstruct them then they have bigger problems. Particularly as the wicked souls can't leave their island prison.

And that comes back to the third point: the Rug Pull.

This is D&D, and more importantly, it's Viking AF D&D. Switching from "Yeah! We're all raiders on the Serpent Sea! Let's go mess people up!" to "If you fight people, you're going to lose" without so much as a signpost is a helluva a whiplash.
The souls are just dead people, taking on their previous forms when they pass into Dead Town. They aren't something out God of War. As mentioned previously the PCs are expressly warned by a patrol not to be unkind. On the other hand the folks on the Isle of the Wicked (clue is in the name) are clearly and expressly not nice folks. If that is in any doubt then there are several prisoners the PCs can talk to/save who explain where they are and the situation with Regulus.

Remember how I said the prisoners on the Isle of the Wicked would try to punish the PCs? Here's how that plays out:

Apparently, the writers haven't gotten their torture-porn fixation out yet. Imagine RPing that scene, knowing that if the PCs fight, they get to battle infinite bad guys, make the Underworld hostile, and then lose the adventure.
They're wicked folks... the serpents just underscores that. Serpent pits are a pretty common Viking trope if I recall. I would imagine it plays out with the PCs retaliating, escaping or getting the Wicked on side through magic, bribery or some other method. You're getting far too hung up on a slow dribble of reinforcements easily dealt with.
All three of these flaws together make this section damn near unplayable.
This isn't really the case is it?
A few other points:

Siddhe has a pretty brutal choice to make in the Underworld: take up the mantle of Hel once again, destroying Hollow Hel, and accepting that she'll never be reunited with her lost love. Any time I see the adventure giving an NPC a really hard choice to make, it's a missed opportunity. There should be a PC who gets to make that choice. No bueno.
This isn't Hel's choice. The default is that Siddhe doesn't become the Goddess of the Dead, unless the PCs persuade her otherwise. The likelihood of their success is improved based on their actions earlier in the segment. How is that not the PC's getting to make the choice?
If you do (somehow) convince Hollow Hel that Regulus is betraying her, she'll fly into a rage and kill him, then turn and fight the party for several rounds. There's no guidance on what her statblock is, so I looked up Hel. She's CR 23. The heroes are level 8. That's...not good?

You're going to have some dead-for-real PCs if you try to run that.
There is guidance. Hollow Hel is described as a simulacrum in several places. She even turns to snow if killed. So half hp (237). Otherwise identical.

Hollow Hel only fights for 5 rounds. She only targets the PCs once Regulus is defeated - he's a CR 9 creature with 150 hp and several defences so unlikely to drop in the first round, probably not the second. Even if she does have several rounds to attack its highly unlikely she would kill PCs in only a couple of rounds. She still needs to hit. Despite this the section is described as a chance to fight a goddess. I have no idea why you would play her in a carefully tactical way to kill specific PCs rather than spread the attacks around.

Overall rating for this chapter: 2 / 10. There's some good stuff here, but the problems make it more trouble that it's worth to rework. This section outright pissed me off and basically killed my hopes that this would be a campaign I could play through. I wound up spending $25 so a failed author could subject me to their garbage plot and snuff film fixation. Thanks, guys.

You described this as the worst segment and said I should hang on until then. There are always three versions of every Adventure Campaign. The version from the writers eyes. The version in print and the version in the reader's eyes. I definitely think there are a some elements of both Odyssey of the Dragon Lords and Raiders of the Serpent Sea layout (The BBEG encounters being grouped in the introduction for instance) which can lead to things being missed, but once its recognised then it does make sense. I personally didn't use most of the ones from OOTDL.

Despite that, it really feels like you've got a negative filter on your eyes that are picking out problems that really aren't problems as written. Of course you could say that the way it is written is arcane and easy to miss these things. That might be the case but I've read the section for about an hour and seemed to work out these answers. Are you sure you aren't looking for problems not looking for the answers.

Author's style is always going to be a personal thing, its going to chime with some people more or less than others. However I find fault with your claim that the people writing this are failed and the plot is garbage. Or with the idea that $25 is a lot of money for something like this. It really isn't. It came up in the Alexandrian thread but a little humility when reviewing a product you haven't written isn't a big ask. You've made mistakes in the review and come to a fairly damning conclusion as a result. Even then I'm not sure the mistakes you've pointed out would even stop me playing it if they were true - they're pretty minor even as written.

Haven't decided to do a fact check on the earlier chapters or not. Will probably read the first part of the review again and see how it compares.
 
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Is it murder if the individual is volunteering to be sacrificed to the gods? Particularly when the gods are objectively real?

First of all - yes. Human sacrifice is evil, full stop. It's evil in real life and I don't see how it's not evil in a D&D world.

But also, the idea of a woman sacrificing herself for some greater good (or greater God) is one of the more tiresome tropes in fantasy fiction. And also, perhaps not coincidentally, in video games. Anita Sarkeesian did a video a decade ago calling out all the video games that had this exact plot device, and it was not a short list. This stupid, sexist trope was played out at least ten years ago -- now, it's a bit more than merely played out. I think it's just straight up offensive.

It's not that it's impossible for a scene like that to be done in an appropriate way. For example, if the human sacrifice were presented as a real moral dilemna, I'm down with it. But I've looked at the adventure, and it's not presented that way at all. It's literally just, "Kill this chick! She wants you to!" Which I for one find very off-putting.

Oh, and by the way... you might have missed a video game trope, Sparky. Has a Bioware game done the Noble Female Sacrifice thing before? I have no idea, but I would put my money on "yes".
 

TheSword

Legend
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.
The GM reference is provided with the Digital purchase without asking for it. Not sure where you bought yours from but for me it arrived in the download with everything else.
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 authors answer your question in the first lines of the GM guide.

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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.
If you mean Mirgal, while he isn't directly encountered, his influence is impacted and the text stated his stats are there in case the party which to continue in the world after the published campaign.
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.
The picture is of the Fighter in the player's guide. Presumably its the PC's fighter if they want it to be.
 

TheSword

Legend
First of all - yes. Human sacrifice is evil, full stop. It's evil in real life and I don't see how it's not evil in a D&D world.

But also, the idea of a woman sacrificing herself for some greater good (or greater God) is one of the more tiresome tropes in fantasy fiction. And also, perhaps not coincidentally, in video games. Anita Sarkeesian did a video a decade ago calling out all the video games that had this exact plot device, and it was not a short list. This stupid, sexist trope was played out at least ten years ago -- now, it's a bit more than merely played out. I think it's just straight up offensive.

It's not that it's impossible for a scene like that to be done in an appropriate way. For example, if the human sacrifice were presented as a real moral dilemna, I'm down with it. But I've looked at the adventure, and it's not presented that way at all. It's literally just, "Kill this chick! She wants you to!" Which I for one find very off-putting.

Oh, and by the way... you might have missed a video game trope, Sparky. Has a Bioware game done the Noble Female Sacrifice thing before? I have no idea, but I would put my money on "yes".
The fact that afterlife is objectively real and isn't necessarily unpleasant would make it quite a lot less evil when its voluntary. There are several characters both male and female in the book that sacrifice something personal to them in order to get wisdom, foresight or some other benefit.

The writers have ensured there is a wide selection of female characters good and bad, I think that's a good thing. Claiming self sacrifice is bad just because its a woman will be a stretch for a lot of people. If you aren't sure if Bioware of done it then probably best not assume they have. It just makes you sound biased.

I'm also a bit confused by the Bioware hate coming through in a few places. I thought they were the fairly innocuous game designers that make the original Baldur's Gate. Did they commit some terrible sin along the way or did I miss something?
 
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Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Oh, and by the way... you might have missed a video game trope, Sparky. Has a Bioware game done the Noble Female Sacrifice thing before? I have no idea, but I would put my money on "yes".
Actually, in my recollection (which starts with Dragon Age), I don't think they have. Bioware stans, please let me know if I'm wrong.

It is explained in the introduction to the chapter that Hel is kind. She also arranges a specific warning to the Party by sending a patrol to warn them not to attack people (see below). They also get a warning if they attack anyone on the boat.

View attachment 336089
Yep, but given that by this point the heroes have encountered multiple authority figures who've been suborned by the witches, this is unlikely to be met with anything but deep suspicion. Moreover, the adventure does not actually signal to the PCs that this place has different rules, that the rules you play by in the land of the living are fundamentally different, and this place will turn on you if break them. More moreover, the rules are maddeningly inconsistent (remember how it's OK to fight the dragon?) and never really explained. The problem here is not that Hel isn't giving them a warning, it's that the whole adventure up to this point has rewarded violence quite cheerfully, before turning that paradigm upside down, and failing to give the PCs a way to walk back their actions with sincere contrition. Hence, Rug Pull.

However, you are correct that Hel (though she doesn't show up herself) does give the PCs a warning. So I'll retract that part as wrong. Of course, later on, the PCs are told by someone to head to the Isle of the Wicked, which is absolutely a trap. If they heed the earlier warning from Hel on the Isle of the Wicked and don't attack anyone, they're boned. Eternally. So either way, this is exceptionally poor design.

The Horn is a reward from Siddhe. It is a gift from her at the end of the segment. Until then its kept on the Island of Broken things. There is no reason the party would need to know about it before.
That's only if the PCs get the "good ending" by having Siddhe become Hel at the end, Sword. There are three possible outcomes for this chapter. In two of them, the PCs don't get the horn, and the adventure breaks down. a 66.67% chance of failure? Not great.

The skill checks are suggested as a method of resolution - but they aren't described as absolute requirements. For instance Mera gets upset when she recalls her nail being clipped. The text states that a DC 13 Persuasion check calms her down (not difficult) but it doesn't say that its the only way of calming her down.
This is a bit like saying that combat is "suggested" as the resolution if the Dead attack, but not described as an absolute requirement. Yes, I suppose you can just talk this out, but is that ever communicated as an option to the DM? Or is it left up to them to simply use the most flexible tool in the bag (the skill check) to resolve the issue? Like it or not, those skill checks will be used as the primary method for resolution, which means they are a resolution gate.

You've cropped out the section that explains the situation. There are no witchbeetles in the underworld unless the Infestation After Death event takes place which is triggered by Siddhe's death. If it has and the PCs haven't found and dealt with the beetle spies then the following happens.

View attachment 336117
So the beetles are conditional on the PCs bringing them in. If they don't bring them in, they aren't seen on Regalus' cloak. Hence the text.
I did crop that out because it wasn't relevant to the example. The witchbeetles on Regulus (the example I pointed out), isn't conditional on the PCs bringing in the beetles, only on the PCs noticing the beetles and passing a DC 16 Investigation check. So again, it's inconsistent.

The plot isn't linear - its gated.
Sword, I'm sorry, but "we put this canon-breaking dragon here specifically so you'd have to talk with this NPC" is pretty linear in my book. Gating areas is fairly standard, except usually they are gated by level to avoid an untimely TPK. They are usually not gated by plot device, since that's not a very fun way to experience the content.

This is functional infinity not literal infinity
The second meaning of literal is "representing the exact words of the original text." The text says there are an infinite number of attackers. QED, it is a literal infinity. More to the point, what happens if your players run over and look in the door? Do they see an infinite number of bad guys stacked up there? My complaint here is that this is makes my decisions in the game (the decision to stand and fight, for example) less meaningful because my decision does not matter. The devs have decided you shouldn't stay here and learn about the place, so there are infinite monsters.

The souls are just dead people, taking on their previous forms when they pass into Dead Town. They aren't something out God of War. As mentioned previously the PCs are expressly warned by a patrol not to be unkind. On the other hand the folks on the Isle of the Wicked (clue is in the name) are clearly and expressly not nice folks. If that is in any doubt then there are several prisoners the PCs can talk to/save who explain where they are and the situation with Regulus.
This doesn't address the Rug Pull criticism, which I expanded on earlier in this post.

They're wicked folks... the serpents just underscores that. Serpent pits are a pretty common Viking trope if I recall. I would imagine it plays out with the PCs retaliating, escaping or getting the Wicked on side through magic, bribery or some other method. You're getting far too hung up on a slow dribble of reinforcements easily dealt with.
It absolutely could play out that way. Or, as I said, a PC could run over and look, and ask you how many are left. As soon as you answer, if you commit to the literal infinity of bad guys here, what happens? The world feels less real, more like a video game.

This isn't Hel's choice. The default is that Siddhe doesn't become the Goddess of the Dead, unless the PCs persuade her otherwise. The likelihood of their success is improved based on their actions earlier in the segment. How is that not the PC's getting to make the choice?
Except that Siddhe is Hel, which is what I was referring to. Please read the Introduction for more details.

There is guidance. Hollow Hel is described as a simulacrum in several places. She even turns to snow if killed. So half hp (237). Otherwise identical. Hollow Hel only fights for 5 rounds. She only targets the PCs once Regulus is defeated - he's a CR 9 creature with 150 hp and several defences so unlikely to drop in the first round, probably not the second. Even if she does have several rounds to attack its highly unlikely she would kill PCs in only a couple of rounds. She still needs to hit. Despite this the section is described as a chance to fight a goddess. I have no idea why you would play her in a carefully tactical way to kill specific PCs rather than spread the attacks around.
She is described as a simulacrum, but not as a simulacrum from the spell. A simulacrum simply means "An unsatisfactory imitation or substitute." Even so, let's use your description here. Hel fights (as a CR 20+ creature) with half hp for 5 rounds. And this is after the PCs have tangled with several monsters in the CR 7-9 weight class throughout the Saga. It's quite possible she can kill a PC by accident, even with a basic attack. You don't have to play her in a careful tactical fashion - just get unlucky. And before you suggest fudging the dice, why is it on me to fix the adventure's bad grasp on 5E power scaling? Why not simply have her scream at the ceiling or something? Or do some Darth Vader style smashing of breakables?

You described this as the worst segment and said I should hang on until then. There are always three versions of every Adventure Campaign. The version from the writers eyes. The version in print and the version in the reader's eyes. I definitely think there are a some elements of both Odyssey of the Dragon Lords and Raiders of the Serpent Sea layout (The BBEG encounters being grouped in the introduction for instance) which can lead to things being missed, but once its recognised then it does make sense. I personally didn't use most of the ones from OOTDL.

Despite that, it really feels like you've got a negative filter on your eyes that are picking out problems that really aren't problems as written. Of course you could say that the way it is written is arcane and easy to miss these things. That might be the case but I've read the section for about an hour and seemed to work out these answers. Are you sure you aren't looking for problems not looking for the answers.
I think I've answered this charge fairly effectively, Sword. My complaints are well-founded, and proven examples of my experience running 5E for over half a decade at this point. If I can see the issues in this product, you should be able to as well.

Author's style is always going to be a personal thing, its going to chime with some people more or less than others. However I find fault with your claim that the people writing this are failed and the plot is garbage. Or with the idea that $25 is a lot of money for something like this. It really isn't.
Sword, I've seen people get shot over $20. We have no way of determining the disposable income of the people reading this. So I assume that whatever I spent on the product is significant funds. Because it very well might be.

The GM reference is provided with the Digital purchase without asking for it. Not sure where you bought yours from but for me it arrived in the download with everything else.
My DTRPG download did not - I'm glad they've fixed that, though!

The authors answer your question in the first lines of the GM guide.

View attachment 336142
That's a completely fair rebuttal - thanks!

If you mean Mirgal, while he isn't directly encountered, his influence is impacted and the text stated his stats are there in case the party which to continue in the world after the published campaign.
In the sense that his decisions led to the situation in which the heroes find themselves, yes. Still, if all that you encounter of a villain is their "influence" - are they really a villain?

The fact that afterlife is objectively real and isn't necessarily unpleasant would make it quite a lot less evil when its voluntary. There are several characters both male and female in the book that sacrifice something personal to them in order to get wisdom, foresight or some other benefit.

The writers have ensured there is a wide selection of female characters good and bad, I think that's a good thing. Claiming self sacrifice is bad just because its a woman will be a stretch for a lot of people. If you aren't sure if Bioware of done it then probably best not assume they have. It just makes you sound biased.

I'm also a bit confused by the Bioware hate coming through in a few places. I thought they were the fairly innocuous game designers that make the original Baldur's Gate. Did they commit some terrible sin along the way or did I miss something?
Again with the Thermian argument. Sword, we went through this last time. Let me give you another example. The IMDb page for the same show says that "Graphic female rape is shown often throughout the series." Are you OK with putting that in your game? Of course not, because you're not a fool. It doesn't matter if the material is topical, it matters if it's going to stop your players enjoying the game.
 
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Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Alright, the next chapter is called the Stone Court. For those of you who forgot, the Stone Court are the gods of Grimnir, petrified and trapped in stone by Boda's perfidious treachery ages and ages ago...yada, yada, yada.

Boda's been busy while the heroes saved the sun and all - she's using an artifact called the Rainbow Spear to open a gateway to the Lost Lands (the pre-Grimnir fallen civilization) and calling through all manner of allies. These range from CR 4 ironwood witches to CR 18 lava giants called mus. The entire thrust of this chapter is that the PCs have to get to the Stone Court and blow their magic horn again to wake them up.

To get there, they have to go through this delightful little dungeon:
uq2do3I.png

Portions of it are blocked off by "impassable" ice until area 13 is cleared and the Frostheart (a magical artifact that's been causing climate change) is destroyed. The rest of it is a nice little dungeoncrawl that (with some better layout, 'crawl procedures, etc) would have been outstanding. As such, it falls a little flat (by which I mean on par with most WotC products).

My three main problems with this chapter are:

The PCs are given a huge army right up front! And then the huge army gets bogged down battlng an equally huge army of Boda's minions! So, we give the PCs a huge army to recognize their achievements, and then immediately take them away so we can still have a dungeoncrawl.

Second, we're doing a dungeoncrawl at level 13. This is usually the part where 5E heroes have fully outgrown the dungeon, and this dungeon layout doesn't really account for the abilities of the PCs. One well-placed passwall or dimension door or hell, even a shatter spell will turn that impassable ice into a fun romp for the PCs. While it does leverage environmental effects well, it very much feels like the design is informed by someone who's never had to deal with a very outside-the-box player before.

Finally, the railroading. After the PCs make it to the Stone Court at the end of the chapter, it triggers a huge fight with Boda. Once the PCs blow the horn once, she'll shift the Rainbow Spear and try to throw the PCs into the Lost Lands. The book tells the DM explicitly that the horn, the PCs ship (the ship they got from the dwarf in Valhalla functions much like a folding boat), and all the PCs (regardless of their choices) have to get thrown through the portal.

Blow me, just bad form all around. No bueno.

That dungeon is a solid 7 / 10, but you lose points for railroading and for using dungeons this late in the game: 4 / 10.

And now...the heroes have to go to the Lost Lands ('cuz railroad) and try to stop the bad guys from drawing their reinforcements. But that'll be next time!
 

pukunui

Legend
Actually, in my recollection (which starts with Dragon Age), I don't think they have. Bioware stans, please let me know if I'm wrong.
The only one that immediately comes to mind is conditional - namely, if your Hawke from DA2 is female and you've imported your DA2 world state to DA3, then you'll get female Hawke doing the noble sacrifice thing at one point to help you escape the Fade.
 

I'm also a bit confused by the Bioware hate coming through in a few places. I thought they were the fairly innocuous game designers that make the original Baldur's Gate. Did they commit some terrible sin along the way or did I miss something?

I have no hate for Bioware. They've made some great games! But they do have certain themes they hit over and over. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

The reason I assumed they'd probably done the Noble Female Sacrifice is that so many games have. Even good ones! For example, Borderlands 2 is one of my top ten games of all time, but the biggest storyline beat in that game is that exact trope. (I'd argue that plot point was well-written enough that it didn't seem like a sexist cliché, but be that as it may, they 100% did it).
 

TheSword

Legend
That's only if the PCs get the "good ending" by having Siddhe become Hel at the end, Sword. There are three possible outcomes for this chapter. In two of them, the PCs don't get the horn, and the adventure breaks down. a 66.67% chance of failure? Not great.
If Hel doesn't regain her true self then yes you need to add another clue to the Island of Broken Things assuming they didn't go there of their own accord. There are several NPCs in the Underworld that could do this, but the DM would definitely need to improvise this. How objectional you find this is a matter of taste I guess.
This is a bit like saying that combat is "suggested" as the resolution if the Dead attack, but not described as an absolute requirement. Yes, I suppose you can just talk this out, but is that ever communicated as an option to the DM? Or is it left up to them to simply use the most flexible tool in the bag (the skill check) to resolve the issue? Like it or not, those skill checks will be used as the primary method for resolution, which means they are a resolution gate.
Are you honestly saying if the PCs failed the check and then decided to give the girl a sparkling bracelet, or a doll, or used calm emotions or charm magic you would insist on not allowing them the positive outcome because a DC 13 Charisma check wasn't passed.
I did crop that out because it wasn't relevant to the example. The witchbeetles on Regulus (the example I pointed out), isn't conditional on the PCs bringing in the beetles, only on the PCs noticing the beetles and passing a DC 16 Investigation check. So again, it's inconsistent.
It is conditional. Look at the piece you cropped out...

"If the Infestation After Death event (see Introduction) has run, and the heroes did not notice the witchbeetles enter their belongings, then mere hours after they enter the realm, they infest the Underworld with witchbeetles."

Later on at the bridge you get...

"If the heroes brought witchbeetles into the realm (see earlier), then a successful DC 21 Wisdom (Perception) check notices the presence of a few witchbeetles among the golden beetles."

At Regulus you get...

"If the party has noticed witchbeetles elsewhere in the Underworld and succeed on a DC 16 Intelligence (Investigation) check now they see three of them crawling on Regulus’s cloak. If confronted he merely shrugs and says, “They are what they are, and she sees only what I say.”

There is no inconsistency here. It is really clear that the PCs bring the Witchbeetles in, and if you bring them in and notice that, then they are also spotted on Regulus. If you think the checks are too difficult then fair enough. But to say that it isn't explained is just wrong.

Sword, I'm sorry, but "we put this canon-breaking dragon here specifically so you'd have to talk with this NPC" is pretty linear in my book. Gating areas is fairly standard, except usually they are gated by level to avoid an untimely TPK. They are usually not gated by plot device, since that's not a very fun way to experience the content.
Most if not all published adventures have some fixed points. Not least a dungeon with an entrance and steps down to the next level. So I find your suggestion that its not fun, a bit of a stretch. I am really surprised that you find them speaking to The Clipper so objectional. Its an encounter with multiple resolution methods. There are good reasons for the PCs to go there - its the first structure in the Underworld they see and there is a minor hook from scared souls being stopped from continuing their journey. . At least the writers have given some thought to what would happen if they ignore it. Had they not, not doubt the criticism would have been "why wouldn't my PCs just swim the river" or "why wouldn't my PC just climb over the bridge" because PCs are like that.

The section of the Underworld is clearly inspired by the Helvegr - the Road/Way to Hel taken from the Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes).

"Then they came to a raging torrent, flowing with weapons. Crossing by a bridge, they came upon armies of fallen warriors, locked in eternal battle. As they pressed forward, a wall stood in their way; they could go no further, but the woman tore off the head of a cock, which she happened to have with her, and flung it over the wall. Immediately the cock came to life and crowed."

Considering the fact that in between these elements the party can move in and around freely the cool factor of having the Underworld actually relate to the norse spiritual journey of the dead outweighs the minor offence caused by one encounter happening after another.

As for the dragon, fair play, it's in-world reason for being there isn't given. I personally will have it bound by Hel to ensure souls cross the bridge and are assessed. Maybe it is clumsy as written. Unplayable? Nah.
The second meaning of literal is "representing the exact words of the original text." The text says there are an infinite number of attackers. QED, it is a literal infinity. More to the point, what happens if your players run over and look in the door? Do they see an infinite number of bad guys stacked up there? My complaint here is that this is makes my decisions in the game (the decision to stand and fight, for example) less meaningful because my decision does not matter. The devs have decided you shouldn't stay here and learn about the place, so there are infinite monsters.
Yes the party shouldn't stay and try and kill every wicked person in the Underworld. Yes that is the correct approach its not a sensible choice. Did you think there would just be a dozen or so wicked souls? Its an active prison fortress. Standing and fighting is a terrible choice - and not one that should be rewarded by allowing the PCs to 'clear' the area and explore at their leisure. If they look in the door ways they see four dozen guards rising from the beds putting on armour and grabbing weapons with noise and clamour from the many other doors.

Of course this is only an issue if your PCs decide to open confrontation in the opening encounter or try to assault the guards. None of the section quotes happens if the PCs go to the garden and help free the prisoners.

They are still entitled to fight and If they choose open combat then they can either progress forward to the garden which can be seen from the hallway where the conflict would occur or the fall back and leave the place in which case they are free to do that as the prisoners can't leave. Its a flaw in player perception that they believe they should be able to 'clear' everything.
This doesn't address the Rug Pull criticism, which I expanded on earlier in this post.
As DM you inform the players perception of the world. Its pretty clear from the initial encounters that the dead are once living souls. You even see an old lady climb out of the ground and begin her journey. You get to interact with some unfortunate souls poisoned by their village well water. You get a patrol sent by Hollow Hel to keep the peace and warn the PCs to cease their hostilities. I don't really know what else to say if you give these warnings and the PCs still insist on killing innocents - You cant win them all. The suggestion that because some folks betray you - everyone NPC in the game becomes meat for slaughter is frankly ludicrous. Otherwise you'd never have doublecross in an RPG.
It absolutely could play out that way. Or, as I said, a PC could run over and look, and ask you how many are left. As soon as you answer, if you commit to the literal infinity of bad guys here, what happens? The world feels less real, more like a video game.
No, because the players perception is based on what you show them. They will see squads of reinforcements approaching and either stay and kill them. At some point they will get the picture or bounded accuracy will see them captured and taken to the garden.
Except that Siddhe is Hel, which is what I was referring to. Please read the Introduction for more details.
I know that. Its very clear. Its also clear that the girl's choice is decided by the PCs otherwise the girl defaults to not assuming the mantle. The Players get to choose whether that happens or not. The PCs choice and behaviour determines whether the Goddess Hel is restored to the Underworld - Hel-a-cool!
She is described as a simulacrum, but not as a simulacrum from the spell. A simulacrum simply means "An unsatisfactory imitation or substitute."
OK but unsatisfactory imitations or substitutes don't normally melt into ice-water when they die, while simulacrum's do. So lets assusme when they say simulacrum they mean simulacrum.
Even so, let's use your description here. Hel fights (as a CR 20+ creature) with half hp for 5 rounds. And this is after the PCs have tangled with several monsters in the CR 7-9 weight class throughout the Saga. It's quite possible she can kill a PC by accident, even with a basic attack. You don't have to play her in a careful tactical fashion - just get unlucky. And before you suggest fudging the dice, why is it on me to fix the adventure's bad grasp on 5E power scaling? Why not simply have her scream at the ceiling or something? Or do some Darth Vader style smashing of breakables?
Ok so a PC gets dropped to zero hp? So what. Its 5e not 1e. It is highly unlikely to see them out of the game, just unconscious for a bit when a couple of rounds later she is in a position to help them. Don't forget Hollow Hel's default position is kind.

This encounter demonstrates how physically powerful she is - and therefore how great an asset at Ragnarok. Its absolutely not a player killer encounter. Unless as a DM you're on auto-pilot.
I think I've answered this charge fairly effectively, Sword. My complaints are well-founded, and proven examples of my experience running 5E for over half a decade at this point. If I can see the issues in this product, you should be able to as well.
The problem is when a reviewer is extremely dismissive and contemptuous while similarly being wrong about several points. Its good that you are open to reviewing things when its demonstrated. All published adventures have a style. Maybe its worth acknowledging that maybe their style just isn't for you, rather than claiming they are failed writers and the work is garbage.
Sword, I've seen people get shot over $20. We have no way of determining the disposable income of the people reading this. So I assume that whatever I spent on the product is significant funds. Because it very well might be.
Be that as it may, it doesn't stop this and others like it being amazing value for $25. Amazing value. Saying otherwise just comes across as trying to drive down prices.
In the sense that his decisions led to the situation in which the heroes find themselves, yes. Still, if all that you encounter of a villain is their "influence" - are they really a villain?
The party do interact with his head several times through the campaign and he's intrinsic to the game setting so I would say they are an important part. He's clearly the Loki character melded with a bit of Mimmir and its not a bad thing that he's included. His intro text even says:

"Though he lacks a body he can influence his primal creations. The wicker, for example, can be nudged by him through dreams and whispers to perform tasks he requires. Sometimes he seeks to thwart Boða"

If there is a wicker PC or wicker NPCs nearby you could use him to assist with some of the lack of clarity you feel is present in the campaign.
Again with the Thermian argument. Sword, we went through this last time. Let me give you another example. The IMDb page for the same show says that "Graphic female rape is shown often throughout the series." Are you OK with putting that in your game? Of course not, because you're not a fool. It doesn't matter if the material is topical, it matters if it's going to stop your players enjoying the game.
Only part of my argument was Thermian. Totally agree that TV shows are not the same as the PCs having to act it out in the game. However I just don't think some of the Icky things you describe are actually anywhere as bad as you suggest. I'm going to deal with them in turn though rather than out of sequence here. However it’s important to recognize the writers added the content warnings. If someone doesn't like the themes of a campaign then they should definitely take them out. I think this is made pretty clear. Neither should all items that ever might make any person uncomfortable be removed.

Part of the content warning:

"A grim setting focused on raiding can lead to events disturbing to some players. Ensure you have a conversation with your group prior to starting the campaign. Here’s a summary of possible content that might be problematic (be aware there are spoilers below): [...] Self Injury. A few plot points—such as making an oath or accessing additional benefits at the Well of Wisdom—require the removing of parts of the body. For some players this might be uncomfortable for them or even insensitive to their own experiences. You know your group best—these elements of the campaign can easily be removed."

It’s also worth saying that the Background that involves Jul’s sacrifice specifically advises the DM to
speak to the player and highlights the Jul scene in that introduction.
 
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