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

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
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.
True, but to be fair, that's a gender-neutral exchange. The whole thing happens if you have male Hawke under the same circumstances.

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.
Agreed!

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.
Hey Sword, it sounds like you're OK with patching some of the problems I've identified. That doesn't make them not problems, and that doesn't mean I shouldn't point them out. It just means you're OK with doing extra work after you paid money for a product you can play. I think that we've hit the point where we should probably just agree to disagree. If you'd like to do your own review of the product, I wish you well! For the purposes of this review, though, I'll be proceeding without addressing additional critiques.

Alright, now on to Chapter 11: The Lost Lands. This is, at its core, a pointcrawl that educates the PCs on the stakes of resisting the Yoten invasion. See, Boda isn't killing off worlds because she's a fan. No, she's killing off worlds to feed Muspell, a plane-devouring entity. It's destroyed the Lost Lands, filling the seas with lava and killing off almost everyone except a hardcore band of resistance fighters.

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Nope, not that Resistance.

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Still wrong.

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Yeah, that's about right.

These guys are basically useless unless you're looking for backup characters or have a desire to play an edgelord. From there, the PCs sail the lava seas on their magical ship, exploring their progenitor's homeland. They discover the home of the Stone Court (and Thonir), a destroyed magical academy, and a wrecked magical city.

So, the point the authors are building up is that, "Unless you stop Boda, this is what is in store for Grimnir." It's effectively done, and well-executed, and also communicates that there is nowhere else to go. Unless Muspell is destroyed, the PCs (and the whole world of Grimnir) are boned. Finally, it also sets up (if the PCs go to the right place) the personalities and deeds of the Stone Court and why they are a Big Deal. This has been happening at various points throughout the campaign, but it's usually optional or easily missed, and I've kind of glossed over them. Here, though, it's practically mandatory.

Moreover, the PCs can see that there are armies of lava giants entering Grimnir through three maws. These maws conveniently lead back to Grimnir, which is handy because apparently Muspell shuts down all forms of interplanar travel. The number of the maws the PCs can close (either by talking or fighting) reduces the number of giants the PCs have to face at Ragnarok. Unfortunately, at least one has to stay open or the PCs can't get back home.

There are still some instances of railroading (the evil lava giant queen Glaur "always escapes," etc.) so they still lose points for that.

Otherwise, this section does its job nicely. 6 / 10.

The next chapter, friends, is the Final Chapter: Ragnarok!

Alright, y'all, here's where the chickens come home to roost! It's the Big Show, the Grand Finale, the Showdown to Throwdown!

This chapter is basically a series of engagements the PCs can pick and choose. There's a lot of contingent weirdness that goes on, and the word "if" comes up so much:

"If the PCs convinced the frost giants to remain neutral..."

"If the PCs rescued Luta from Valhalla..."

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Hope you took good notes, hoss. Though on that note, the text does provide various trackers and other play aids to make keeping track of this information easier. So props to them on that.

Look, obviously I prefer a more organic approach, but for DMs who aren't comfortable with that, this works. It's a stylistic difference, with minimal railroading of the PCs. There are a lot of consequences that show up, which I applaud the devs for. Most importantly of all, it lays out what happens if the PCs fail!

That's important, considering the final boss has half a page of legendary actions.

Basically, Grimnir winds up very similar to the Lost Lands, with lava seas and whatnot. But now the PCs are the next generation, determined to finish what the last bunch started.

But hey, if they win, the PCs get to become basically gods, presumably with a doormat that says, "Roll for Initiative" and matching T-shirts that say, "We Run This Place Now."

(I'm being literal about the gods bit, though - you can be gifted one of four "divine sparks" - which begs the question: What happens if you have more than 4 PCs?)

There are a few things I don't like - Boda at the end has a Crystal Shell around her that gives her 1,000 (yes, you read that right) additional hp, and makes her "immune to bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing damage from non-magical weapons." She also has "resistance to all damage, except lightning. While in the shell Boða is immune to all conditions that would prevent her from taking actions. Even if the shell is destroyed, Boða will continue to perform the ritual until her Point of No Return saga action is triggered."

That...just seems dickish? Like, damn, devs, let the PCs try something crazy. Not everything needs to be resolved like a JRPG boss. On the other hand, it's not actively railroading the PCs. So I'm not docking them points on this.

So, yeah, not a bad ending. Not great, mind you, but not bad. 7 / 10.

Overall grade: 5 / 10

Who should buy it: Anyone who has a deep love of Norse-themed action/adventure stories (not the actual myths), or people who love them some BioWare-style design.

Who should wait for the price to come down: N / A.

Who shouldn't buy it: Anyone not interested in running this very specific iteration of a Norse-themed world. This adventure is deeply idiosyncratic, so if you're expecting it to be "historically grounded" please think again.
 

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pukunui

Legend
Who shouldn't buy it: Anyone not interested in running this very specific iteration of a Norse-themed world. This adventure is deeply idiosyncratic, so if you're expecting it to be "historically grounded" please think again.
Thanks for the review! As I mentioned above, the idiosyncratic nature of Thylea is one of the main things I dislike about Odyssey of the Dragonlords. I’m not as steeped in Viking themed media, so I’m not sure that would be as much of an issue for me here. However, as intriguing as you’ve made this adventure sound (really!), I don’t want to risk my group getting burned (out) again like we did with Dragonlords.

Do you have any comments on the player facing material and/or the statblocks for monsters and NPCs and the like? Another issue I had with Dragonlords was that a good chunk of the player-facing mechanics (races, subclasses, spells, magic items) were poorly balanced mechanically.

There was also at least one incomplete statblock and several that hadn’t been proofread properly and contained some rather glaring errors. When I asked the devs if they had any plans to release errata, they said no.
 

TheSword

Legend
Hey Sword, it sounds like you're OK with patching some of the problems I've identified. That doesn't make them not problems, and that doesn't mean I shouldn't point them out. It just means you're OK with doing extra work after you paid money for a product you can play. I think that we've hit the point where we should probably just agree to disagree. If you'd like to do your own review of the product, I wish you well! For the purposes of this review, though, I'll be proceeding without addressing additional critiques.
That's fair. I'm not going to write a separate review but I will just finish the fact check of the things you've said so far as some of the stuff is just plain incorrect and when you've already said you realised this is a campaign you're never going to run, at this point this isn't a review - its a hatchet job. Respond or not, that's your call. I'm going to avoid the general opinion stuff or questions of taste.
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.
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)!
It covers some key elements that form the overall context and story of the campaign setting. What you're referring to is the Adventure Summary that absolutely does do what you're asking for. You mention it next so not sure why you're criticising the segment.
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.
The sidebar you refer to in that section, explains that there is a twist and exactly what it is. Not sure why you are claiming it doesn't.

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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
The history of the world is fully detailed there. It is also detailed in the main campaign book. Not sure why you would want it printed twice.
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 mechanic is described. Either have an NPC fish them out or use the misadventure rules.
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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:

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.
The map is beautiful and not photorealistic as per my previous post. Its just a colour illustration.

The Exit from area 2 is clearly detailed in the text for that location
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There are windows on the second level. Three in fact on the map you didn't show.
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!
Two methods
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Or clearing the rocks out of the way that leads to area 15. Rolf himself will do this with or without the PCs. Its described in the text for area 15 and set up in the text for area 2 that Rolf and the crew will begin doing this.
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!
because...
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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).
Squad combat for managing large scale fights has its own part of the Raiding appendix. always read the book before starting the 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 shieldwall is an ablative barrier for the PCs and fights as a single entity. With 2 attacks a shield wall of 5 won't defeat 9 raiders so the PCs will be doing the majority of the damage. Once the shield wall is defeated as described the PCs will be at risk. Its a way of introducing the mass combat rules without putting the PCs in danger for not understanding them.
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.
The backstories and motivations for the raid captains are really cool and provide many clues to how the ships might be obtained.

There is a whole section on games in the GM reference. Including Tug of War and a board game. Very cool. It is clearly referenced in the main text.
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?
Leasing costs 25gp per person as a fallback if the party is unable to obtain one another way.
Overall, it's well done! There's like one thing that I cannot stand about this section, though, and it's these:

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?
It is not a photorealistic map. It is however an illustration of a very useful mead hall map that could be used in any number of circumstances. Combat isn't the only reason one might want a colour map. Not an easy map to find outside of a Norse campaign.

I think at this point, with the reviewer begrudging the inclusion of the a mead hall map in a Norse campaign setting and having found several inaccuracies in the review, I'm just going to advise people to get it and read for themselves and bow out of the thread. Its pretty time consuming referencing the errors in the review... and there are a lot.

This is a beautiful set of books - with amazing art, maps, very thoughtful encounters, great NPCs and a real sense of myth. There are a lot of options and the writers have gone out of their way to give players choices rather than railroads. What I will warn is that is big - epic even. Extremely detailed and it probably isn't for first time GMs - though they would get a lot out of breaking the campaign into smaller sections and running them individually. Ultimately I would rather have a beautiful, epic and complex campaign full of roleplay and mystery than a collection of keyed rooms in a simple dungeon crawl. The associated challenge with that is that there are more moving parts and its easier to miss things.

One thing I particularly like is the 'gaming-from-below' element that I find far more satisfying than the 'gaming-from-above' found in Odyssey of the Dragonlords. The latter deals with the high and mighty - gods and kings - but largely skipped over the life of everyday folk. As a result it was hard to put the events in Thylea in context. It was an epic myth - interesting enough but ultimately quite superficial. Raiders of the Serpent Sea on the other hand is full of how ordinary folk live in Grimnir. Their customs, relationships, rituals, games and everything in between. When you do see the rulers, leaders and gods its in the context of a vibrant and well detailed world that the players can get to explore.

Also worth checking out the Alexandrian's review of the Players Guide that accompanies it. Full of effusive praise.

As a plug for folks I'm a big fan of - both Heroic Maps and Seafoot Games have some excellent battlemaps on their patreons that would support a norse campaign.

Good luck for anyone thinking of getting this and running through it. Try to look past @Sparky McDibben 's negativity and see that there is a pretty amazing campaign here... for the low low price of $25. Best bargain I've seen in a long time.
 

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Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Do you have any comments on the player facing material and/or the statblocks for monsters and NPCs and the like? Another issue I had with Dragonlords was that a good chunk of the player-facing mechanics (races, subclasses, spells, magic items) were poorly balanced mechanically.

There was also at least one incomplete statblock and several that hadn’t been proofread properly and contained some rather glaring errors. When I asked the devs if they had any plans to release errata, they said no.
Honestly, man, I'm just glad it's done. Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not to run the adventure, which is why I don't say "You shouldn't play this." But I don't want particularly want to keep reviewing material that doesn't interest me.

The idiosyncrasies in the material are a good callout. I thought Western European Dragons in a Greek-themed adventure was jarring in Odyssey. Here, they've done a bit better job integrating the source material, but a lot of it still seems pretty "out-there."
 

"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.”
so i noticed something here - if the party brought witchbeetles into the underworld but didn't notice them before getting to regulus, they don't have the opportunity to spot the witchbeetles on his cloak as written. this has to be a mistake but it's a really bizarre one, since it could easily be fixed simply by using the condition for spotting them from earlier.
 

mamba

Legend
so i noticed something here - if the party brought witchbeetles into the underworld but didn't notice them before getting to regulus, they don't have the opportunity to spot the witchbeetles on his cloak as written. this has to be a mistake but it's a really bizarre one, since it could easily be fixed simply by using the condition for spotting them from earlier.
I read this as 'then there are no withcbeetles' not as 'then they cannot notice the witchbeetles'
 




TheSword

Legend
To be totally honest, while I’ve given OP a bit of a hard time, how many of these things would I have fallen afoul of had I been reading in the first instance rather than having Sparky point them out? 🙄. Probably quite a few. It’s a big book with a hel of a lot going on.

Ironically just more proof that it’s a lot easier to review what someone else has worked on and find the flaws than it is to do the work yourself. I certainly haven’t got the time to do a review of this scale. Reasons for everyone to be humble - particularly me.
 
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