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DDAL Review of DDAL 04-09 The Tempter (5 stars) [SPOILERS]

Pauper

Explorer
The Tempter is the ninth Season Four Adventurers League adventure, the eighth set in Barovia proper, and is listed as a two-hour adventure, but can run much longer if the DM and party wish it to. The designer is credited as M. Sean Molley, a veteran Organized Play adventure designer, and as would be expected from such an experienced writer, the adventure is well-paced, largely sensible, and thankfully almost wholly free of the now traditional editing issues which have plagued most Season Four AL modules.

This adventure can begin immediately after the events of the previous adventure, The Broken One, as Burgomaster Randovich asks the party to follow up on a mysterious letter from a woman named Miralena Fidatov. Randovich knows the Fidatovs, and is aware that they are a wealthy family who might be able to provide aid to Barovia to help them survive the harsh winter. If the DM prefers to run this part of the adventure, along with the PCs arriving at the Fidatov estate and finding some way of getting themselves invited to a party that is happening in the estate as they arrive, there's a well-detailed DM Appendix that contains flavor text and information to help the DM accomplish this. If the DM is pressed for time, though, she can ignore the Appendix and simply have the adventure begin once again in medias res as the party is already at the party hearing Lady Fidatov's reply to their request for aid.

Another nice touch for the adventure is that it doesn't presume the party will remain in the mansion following Lady Fidatov's reply -- if the party chooses to stay, there is one encounter the DM can run, but if the party chooses to depart back to Orasnou, there's a wholly different encounter that should persuade the PCs to return to the manor to find out just what the heck is going on.

What the heck is going on -- spoiler alert -- is that The Tempter is drawn from another classic Ravenloft/gothic horror trope, the cursed house and family. (Ravenloft fans will find some similarity to Castle Tristanoira as well as the darklord of Pharazia, while gothic horror fans will immediately recognize the influence of Poe's 'Fall of the House of Usher'.) The party discovers that the inhabitants of the house are cursed to relive a fateful party every night; though it's not stated explicitly in the adventure, the strong implication is that this is the party where Lady Fidatov murdered herself, her servants, and even her neighbors to serve as eternal guardians for her family's cursed treasure. There are enough clues, though, for the party to puzzle out that the solution to the curse must reside in the family vault in the center of a hedge maze (which the DM can either hand-wave or turn into a challenge of its own, as she chooses), and how to get hold of the items necessarily to unlock the vault and bring on the final challenge.

The adventure also includes a number of sidebars to aid a DM in running the module with minimal prep, though obviously the adventure improves significantly if the DM invests the time to prepare the adventure properly. The troubleshooting and pacing sidebars in particular are likely going to be helpful to newer DMs who might need a bit of coaching in how to keep their tables on task and on time.

As a bonus for DMs with more time to spend, the author includes a challenging and flavorful optional encounter that can be run if time is not an issue -- this encounter puts the PCs in a tactical pickle: do they destroy a resource that can help them defeat the main enemy more easily in order to deprive that enemy of an ally? (It should be noted that the puzzle also includes a way around the most traditional complaint of Ravenloft season parties -- a lack of magic weapons to use to engage enemies that are not fully affected by non-magical weapons.)

Lastly, this adventure continues the tradition of challenging final encounters begun in The Broken One (though if the party made use of the ring in that adventure, they might not have found the final encounter as challenging); unlike other adventures, though, the challenge continues even after the party has defeated the villain, as they puzzle over what to do with the Fidatov's cursed treasure. (There's a very flavorful story award available here, with an effect that's powerful enough that most players likely won't keep it if they are subjected to it.)

The only real weakness of the adventure is that it has basically nothing to do with the overarching plot of the Season Four storyline -- Lady Fidatov makes a passing reference to a 'Mistress' when defeated, but is not involved in that Mistress's plot in any discernible way. One could argue that it's that reference that drives the party on to the next adventure where the main plot again picks up, but we'll discuss the problems with that approach as being more germane to the review of the next adventure. On the other hand, the lack of overt hooks into the over-arching plot of the Adventurers League season makes this adventure worth polishing off and running as a traditional 'weekend in hell' Ravenloft adventure; if you can only pick one Season Four adventure to run, this would be the one to run. Five stars.

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Pauper
 

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