Review of DDAL 04-08 The Broken One (3 stars) [SPOILERS] [repost]

Pauper

Villager
The Broken One is the eighth adventure in the Absent Hearts and Misty Fortunes series, the seventh set in Barovia proper, and is listed as a two-hour adventure. On the whole, it's an engaging adventure slightly marred by the now-traditional editing and continuity problems with the Season 4 Adventurers League DMs Guild modules, as well as a relative lack of support for how a DM should handle running the surprisingly complex plot progression.

Though the PCs don't meet him until after the opening scene, the adventure's plot revolves around Luca Barbu, an adult man-child addled by a childhood accident where he was kicked in the head by a mule. Luca was tending a small flock of sheep which were being preserved as a part of the annual taxes due to Lord Strahd; the news that the flock has disappeared has naturally pointed suspicion at the simple yet good-hearted Luca. The party comes to the sheep pen, basically a converted cottage with a single entrance, from a dinner meeting with Burgomaster Randovich and his tax collectors, Scartia Krutz and Eugen Adi.

(Oddly, the dinner meeting is likely one of the most interesting encounters you'll run in this adventure series, at least for a party with a more traditional good-aligned bent; the point of the meeting is for Randovich and the tax collectors to talk to the party about different ways they might help the village raise food to survive the remaining winter after the required grain and livestock taxes are sent off to Castle Ravenloft, and when I ran the adventure for my own group, not only did we spend nearly an hour discussing the various options, but the group was preparing to head out of town on a combination hunting trip/Vistani recruitment operation when they were interrupted by the news that the sheep had disappeared. it was a bit disappointing that the adventure seemed to be setting up a long-term 'save the village' plot, which was subsequently abandoned with the discovery of the missing sheep. My own recommendation would be to have the Burgomaster and Krutz mention some possibilities to raise additional food, but have Adi sarcastically reject those options as unfeasible until it is obvious that nobody has any really good ideas for weathering the coming storm; this takes the party at least a bit off the hook for trying to come up with solutions of their own. Granted, this treatment doesn't help with the problem of telegraphing the villain, but at least it's in theme with the rest of the adventure.)

Also, as is the case with a number of the adventures in this series, the module begins somewhat 'in media res'; the module even recommends starting the module with the party already in the Burgomaster's home, to save time. If you are trying to present the adventures as a unified whole, though, it is certainly possible to start the module in the Seven Tables, with the party talking to the chatty innkeeper about the aggressive tactics used by the Burgomaster's tax collectors in recent days.

It's worth a moment to spoil the actual underlying plot involved here, because the details are scattered across four pages of adventure text (five, if you include the adventure overview) and are slightly incomplete:
- At some point, Eugen's greed and cruelty attracted the attentions of the Dark Powers, who tempted the tax collector with a Dark Gift. Eugen succumbed to his greed and became cursed.
- Eugen sought out the aid of the town barber, Costel Barbu, to try to help him recover from the curse; when the barber proved to be of no help, Eugen devoured him, proving his corruption and deepening his curse.
- Now, Eugen's curse compels him with an insatiable hunger, which he has been satisfying by devouring the sheep that Costel's son, Luca, is tasked to watch over. Since Luca is simple-minded, Eugen has, to this point, been able to delude and berate Luca into disbelieving that anything is wrong, as Eugen devours a sheep, hides the evidence, and extorts some villager into contributing another sheep in taxes to replace it.
- On the day of the adventure, Eugen convinces Luca to travel to the river to bring stones to repair a fence; this keeps Luca out of the sheep pen for the entire day, and Eugen devours the entire flock in Luca's absence. Aware that this crime cannot be easily covered up, Eugen decides to pin the blame on Luca and relocates a number of the sheeps’ skulls to Luca’s house, where he can later 'discover' them in the company of another authority and officially pin the crime on Luca. (While the planting of the sheeps' skulls is noted in the adventure, it's unclear that Eugen has been doing it for just this one day rather than as he devoured the sheep over the past weeks -- though an alert DM would note that even Luca isn't addle-minded enough to ignore sheep skulls haphazardly thrown about his father's home.)

The confusion is increased as the authorities who accompanied the party to the sheep pen immediately leave; the players may be curious where Eugen or the Burgomaster has gone to, and may have to spend some effort convincing the party that remaining behind to tease what clues they can out of the sheep pen and Luca will be worth their while. (If you're having trouble keeping track of exactly where in the module this review is focusing at the moment, then you have some idea of the challenge involved in running this adventure straight out of the book with minimal prep -- the story focus jumps around to cover missing bases and it's up to the DM to keep things straight without giving too much away so that the party won't be confused over what's actually going on, but still has a mystery to solve.)

Speaking of giving things away, the party will likely suspect Eugen as the villain of the piece from the very beginning -- the adventure gives the DM copious bits of characterization to use to portray Eugen in a negative light, and it doesn't take a sharp party to pick up on those cues to think of Eugen as a villain-in-waiting. The good news is that neither Eugen nor the party will be waiting long.

Luca may not be intelligent, but he has some naive wisdom; he's somehow aware that his father and the previously missing sheep are dead, but is puzzled as to how all of the rest of the sheep disappeared. Unable to speak in his own defense, he attaches himself to any PC who appears willing to do so. This gives the PCs an incentive to protect Luca when an angry mob shows up with Eugen whipping them into a frenzy to 'bring the monster to justice'.

Part 1 of the adventure ends with this confrontation, with Eugen disappearing as the party decides whether to surrender Luca to the mob, defend him from their torches and stones, flee the village with him, or try to talk the mob down. On one hand, it's a decently conceived set of sub-encounters that covers most of what would be considered likely actions by an adventuring party in that situation. On the other, some of the options seem poorly designed -- for instance, if the party decides to fight, the combat is represented by two Gargantuan mobs of villagers, each of which disperses if reduced to half their hit points. Ironically, this not only negates one of the most flavorful parts of the mob creature (its attacks are reduced to half-damage once the mob is at half hit points or below), but it also makes the encounter far more deadly than it would be if the party faced off against a single mob that fought 'to the death'. Most significantly, there is no adjustment for party strength in this encounter, apparently presuming that a weak or very weak party will be drawn to another solution rather than combat. My recommendation would be to use just one Gargantuan mob of villagers for an average party, adding a second for a Very Strong party, and having the single mob dissipate at half hit points against a Weak or Very Weak party, with the mob's hit points reduced to one-half to two-thirds of the standard hit point total if the party is truly Very Weak.

Even if Luca perishes, the party can find the adventure's obligatory permanent magic item (and the lead-in to the next adventure) on his corpse; otherwise he gives the items to his 'friend' in gratitude for saving his life.

This leads me to my biggest problem with the adventure, and one that the adventure's author takes no blame for -- the harmonious Ring of Spell Storing that is the permanent item in this module. The 'harmonious' nature of the ring means that it takes just one minute to attune to the item; this is justified within the adventure by having the ring already contain a Remove Curse spell for use against Eugen. (Interestingly, when I ran the adventure, the wording of the letter convinced the party warlock that they needed to force the ring onto Eugen's finger to make it work, which caused all sorts of humorous havoc during the final encounter.) Without the harmonious property, the party would either have to justify a long rest in the midst of a crisis, or would be unable to make use of the ring's power to aid them in significantly de-powering Eugen during the final encounter.

Though the ring could have been described as only possessing that property for the purpose of this adventure, the item isn't specified as losing that fast-attunement ability after the end of the adventure. Even without such rapid attunement, the Ring of Spell Storing would likely qualify as the most desirable magic item in the entire adventure series; the rapid attunement option makes it abusable almost as an afterthought. The inclusion of such an abusable item is an unfortunate black mark against the adventure, one that is certainly worth having a DM run for you and spending the downtime days to immediately leave Ravenloft if you manage to get ahold of the item. (This was not an option during Season 4, but is now that we've moved on to the next season.)

After the party deals with the mob and receives Luca's gratitude (or finds the item on his corpse), the adventure kicks into high gear as Eugen gives in fully to his curse and attacks the village. A DM who wishes to extend the two-hour adventure to four hours or even longer can certainly do so by running all of the encounters described in Part 2, but a DM who needs to finish in a two-hour time slot is encouraged to skip those encounters (fortunately, there is only a minimal amount of XP available in the encounters, so skipping them is feasable). Keep an eye out, though, if you do decide to skip the part 2 encounters -- the weather is described as going from a heavy snowfall at the start of Part 2 ("The snow is dropping in thick clumps, reducing maximum visibility to 60 feet.") to a partly-cloudy yet fog-patched evening where the moon is visible by the time the party finds Eugen ("The sun has set, but the clouds have given way to the light of the moon, providing dim light. The village is foggy, however, and patches of fog might move through the area.") -- if the PCs go directly from the start of Part 2 to the smithy to confront Eugen, the sudden change in weather will likely be jarring, so if you plan to skip Part 2, also skip the description of the weather unless you prefer to run that final battle with Eugen in a heavy snowfall. (Fighting in the snow is actually not a bad idea, especially if you also incorporate the Upping the Ante sidebar where the Dark Powers take a more active hand in the encounter.) Eugen is a suitably legendary foe, especially if the party is unable to cast Remove Curse on him to suppress his most dangerous abilities -- if the party is struggling with the encounter, consider restricting Eugen's legendary abilities so that he can only use each one once per round.

Finally, if the party has somehow managed to avoid finding the letter setting up the next adventure and the permanent magic item to this point, both items are hand-delivered to them (or more accurately, to Burgomaster Randovich, who immediately hands the items over to them) at the end of the adventure.

There is one nice touch at the end of the adventure -- while looting Eugen's corpse, the party may notice that a ring has an engraving that identifies it as the innkeeper's wife's wedding ring, and if they show the various trinkets from Eugen's sack to Crina, she can identify their owners and the party can return the items extorted by Eugen to their rightful owners. This isn't worth a story award, unfortunately**, but it can help a good-aligned party feel good about depriving themselves of loot.

** - The only story award in the adventure is earned by dealing something other than melee weapon damage (i.e.: any damage that has to be lethal -- see Knocking a Creature Out in the PH/Player's Basic Rules) to the mobs at the end of Part 1, but unfortunately the award isn't terribly meaningful. The intent of the award is that the character is known to be a killer and thus suffers disadvantage on Charisma checks with the villagers and pays double cost for any goods or services provided in the village. Since not everyone in the party may qualify for the award, however, the affected characters can simply let others make Charisma checks for them (and, as we'll see, there are few interactions between the PCs and the villagers in the rest of the adventure season, anyway), and the 'double cost' mechanic doesn't affect any purchases the character makes between adventures (which by rule in AL is abstracted), which is when most players will buy items for their characters, anyway.

The adventure certainly has its moments, and a good DM will be able to run it in a way that is very satisfying for her players. Still, the flaws in the adventure, particularly the abysmal choice of a permanent magic item, lead me to give it only three stars.

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Pauper
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Thanks. I be running this Friday OCT 21. I will have check my notes. But I think I preloaded the ring with a Raise dead. As the party is hanging out in a NOW empty cabin and eating goodberries for food. The doubling of cost of goods is not going to matter. Oh I am only allowing people to buy goods in the village and not use down time days to do it. The reasoning to me was why make such a fuss of the limitations of goods and supplies if the pc could just knock off a few downtime days to go shopping.
 
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jasper

Rotten DM
The magic item in the adventure is Ring of Spell Storing. It did not make sense to me for the ring to be empty. So I have a "Raise Dead" spell loaded in the ring.
 

Pauper

Villager
Presuming your PCs know how a Ring of Spell Storing works, of course. (The party I ran the adventure for decided that, to make the ring work, they had to put it on Eugen's finger. This didn't have quite the effect they were looking for.)

The final combat is significantly easier if the party uses the spell.

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Pauper
 

Zazz

Villager
Presuming your PCs know how a Ring of Spell Storing works, of course.
It's been a while since I played this module, could any PC cast remove curse using the ring?
Or is it something only spellcasters with the Remove Curse spell available to their class would be able to cast? If that were the case it would seem kind silly for something important to the plot (so I hear) be so restrictive. What if you happen to not have any spellcasters in your party that day?


Anyways, I what I do remember from playing this module is that myself and the rest my party didn't know Eugen was cursed until after the adventure was over. As far I was concerned he was just another NPC-who-turns-out-be-a-monster/evil-the whole-time that CoS AL modules were rampant with for some reason.
Could someone clue me in as to how we were supposed to learn that he was cursed in character? From what I recall we had no way of knowing.
 

Anthraxus

Explorer
Yes, anyone can cast spells out of the Ring.

In-character, the ring was accompanied by a note(player's handout) that should give some clue as to Eugen's condition, and what the players could do.
 

Zazz

Villager
Yes, anyone can cast spells out of the Ring.

In-character, the ring was accompanied by a note(player's handout) that should give some clue as to Eugen's condition, and what the players could do.
Cool, thanks! I don't remember the note. Maybe the DM forgot or we just didn't get the hint.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
In character, the dm is suppose to ham up his bad tables matters and gluttony but mention he is string bean thin. And other stuff.
 

Pauper

Villager
It's been a while since I played this module, could any PC cast remove curse using the ring?
Yes, the ring of spell storing allows anyone wearing and attuned to the ring to cast any spells stored within. Note that a spellcaster does not need to be attuned to the ring to cast spells into it; the caster only needs to be able to touch the ring while casting.

There's some debate over whether any spell can be cast into the ring, or only spells that the caster is able to cast at the time he's casting (so, in theory, if the caster isn't being attacked or the target of a Magic Missile spell, he can't cast Shield into the ring -- a DM can certainly rule otherwise, though).

Could someone clue me in as to how we were supposed to learn that he was cursed in character? From what I recall we had no way of knowing.
There's a player handout that represents the letter that accompanies the ring. That's the only clue I'm aware of, and based on my own party's response, it's possible for the letter to be misinterpreted.

Edit: Missed that Anthraxus beat me to the answer -- hope this one is also useful.

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Pauper
 

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