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DDAL Review of DDAL 04-12 The Raven (2 stars) [SPOILERS]

Pauper

Explorer
The Raven is the twelfth adventure in the Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts series, the eleventh to be set in Barovia, and is a direct sequel to The Donjon in that the events of this adventure pick up immediately after the events of that one and presume that the party was successful in rescuing Larga Bloodhand from the yuan-ti who had imprisoned and drugged her. As such it shares some of awkwardness of the previous module, but has a more linear storyline than The Donjon did and thus at least is easier to follow.

(Note: the adventure does not specify what the DM should do if, for some reason, the party was unable to rescue Larga in the previous adventure. The simplest and most obvious solution would be to have the party ask Jeny Greenteeth to return the orog to life, treating Larga as a temporary party member for the purpose of the 'Character's Party Pays for Raise Dead' rule on p.5 of the module. The DM might also choose to have the Dark Powers bring Larga back to life, though in this case the DM will need some additional AL material, because the Dark Powers Charity rule is not written in the adventure.)

The first scene of the adventure is straightforward; the party has returned with Larga to an orc encampment not far from Orasnou and are sitting down to make an agreement with Larga on how to handle her wayward shamans, who have taken command of the tribe after her capture by the yuan-ti. Larga also reveals that the orcs have captured two human women: Sybil Rasia (whose relationship with time remains murky; Larga refers to her as 'old' during her conversation with the party), and Ixusaxa Terrorsong, whom the players (but again, not their characters) will likely recall from her two appearances in Season One modules as a powerful lieutenant of the Cult of the Dragon. Larga offers the party Ixusaxa as a slave if they promise to deal with her shamans -- for the moment, Larga refuses to discuss the possible fate of Sybil.

Once the party agrees to Larga's offer, she reveals that the shamans are going to sacrifice both women on the first night of the new moon in a ritual designed to appeal to Gruumsh to bring the orcs out of Ravenloft. This seems a do-able enough task, since the ritual location, which Larga knows, is just a day's journey from the camp, while the new moon does not rise until two nights from the time of the meeting.

Savvy players might realize that events are not going to be so simple, and they are quickly proven right as the weather turns horrible and the eight-hour journey to the Trank River ends up taking sixteen hours. More dangerous is that, within a few hours (the adventure states 'At the end of the third day of travel', but this is obviously an error as the party has only two days to reach the ritual location) the party realizes they are being stalked by wolves. This will be a very intimidating section of the module if players have played through the Curse of Strahd hard-cover and experienced the powerful Barovian wolves first-hand, particularly with low-level characters. Regardless, the party is faced with a choice that ends up not being a choice -- stand and fight or try to outrun the wolves. If the party chooses to stand and fight, the wolves take the tactic of remaining out of range, but making enough noise and posing enough of a threat that the characters cannot benefit from rest while the wolves live, but that the wolves refuse to engage in combat until the party is weakened by their lack of rest. Ultimately, the party must flee or find themselves wasting all their travel time waiting for a combat with wolves that will never come.

Once again, the module falls victim to poor editing -- the DM is advised to consult a travel pace table that is not printed in the module (the DM can substitute the table on p.64 of the Player's Basic Rules, keeping in mind that the snow and freezing rain cause the local terrain to be 'difficult' for the purpose of travel, so distances are effectively halved). The forced march causes party members to have to make saving throws versus exhaustion, and once someone has accrued two levels of exhaustion (deliberately chosen as to avoid the frustration of having to deal with the Disadvantage on attack rolls that comes from a third level), the wolves sense the party's weakness and attack. Again, editing rears its head, but this is more a quibble than a real issue -- the Very Weak adjustment for the wolf fight states to remove 'dire wolves', which are not present in the fight, but it's clear that the intent is to remove winter wolves, which are. (Note that, although an XP award is offered for evading the wolves, it is far more beneficial to the party to fight them -- the party is unlikely to outnumber the wolves, and so will gain between twice and three times the XP they would have gotten from evading. This tiny award seems more like a bone to parties that prefer non-combat solutions rather than an attempt to actually reward parties who seek to avoid needlessly expending their resources.)

Once the party escapes the wolves, either by defeating them or evading them, the party is faced with a ‘ticking clock’; they’ve been informed by Larga that the ritual will be carried out in two days, yet Strahd has been interfering with the shamans’ divinations and the ritual will actually be carried out 32 hours after the party departs from the orc camp. Yet even with the delay caused by the rainstorm and the fight with the wolves, it’s unlikely that the party will have spent more than 20 hours travelling (by the adventure’s own text, sixteen hours in the vicinity of the Trank River, plus four hours to reach that area); only if the party chose to travel at a slower-than-normal pace while being pursued by Barovian wolves will they have any kind of difficulty with the clock in this adventure, and even then only if they choose to take a long rest (which, unlike previous adventures in this series, is advisable – the final encounter area can be lethal to a weakened party).

The party arrives at Rookscrag, which is home to a tremendous number of ravens; this is a great opportunity to allow characters who befriended the raven Esselios in DDAL 04-01 to gain bonus information about the adventure, though, frustratingly, the ravens parrot phrases related to the greater plotline going on without having any true understanding of that plotline. The party can choose to climb or otherwise ascend the steep hill, or take a tunnel upward to the summit; both require the party to suffer difficulties before completing their journey. Finally, the party reaches the summit, finds Sybil and Ixusaxa, and rescues them from being sacrificed.

Another possible bit of frustration – despite having departed a day after the party, Larga and her warband show up at Rookscrag just as the combat ends in order to enforce their desire to keep Sybil as their clan seer; if the party does not have a ‘face’ to make a difficult Charisma check, they’ll need to either abandon Sybil or part with much of their treasure to convince Larga to release her. (Although this may not matter – as we’ll discuss in the review of The Horseman, next.)

The adventure itself is workable enough – a fairly straightforward search-and-rescue mission with the wrinkle of the wolfpack pursuit thrown in. The twin disappointments of this adventure are enough to drag it down below an average rating. First, the odd decisions made in the adventure that seem to be arbitrary and unnecessary – the ‘ticking clock’ that the party will almost certainly not notice being one, and the surprise reveal that two of the orogs in the final battle aren’t just orogs but natural wereboars, despite there being no foreshadowing or other hint of this development. Another is when Larga rewards the party with a satchel full of silver pieces, which given the Adventurers League rules on dividing treasure is ultimately a meaningless detail. Still another such detail is the adventure warning the DM that the characters might be suspicious of or even hostile to Ixusaxa, despite the party almost certainly never having encountered her before and having been told by Larga at the start of the adventure that she may know how to escape Ravenloft (which also makes it difficult to explain why the orc tribe would be eager to get rid of her). The second and more significant disappointment is the return of significant editing issues that appeared to be improving in the previous few adventures – the lack of the travel table above is one such instance, and more will be discovered by the DM when it comes time to adjudicate combat. The wearboars in the final combat, for instance, have had their mauls in the Monster Manual supplemented with greataxes, and in the process now inflict the lycanthropic curse not with their tusky bite but with a swing of their greataxe. This isn’t to say there aren’t interesting things about the adventure – if handled well, the wolf pursuit can be exciting and memorable, and the downtime award that can be gained by remaining at Rookscrag for a tenday is flavorful, but these highlights are not enough to salvage the adventure from seeming like a significant disappointment. Two stars.

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Pauper
 

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RulesJD

First Post
Fully agreed.

Even more upsetting to me was the return of Ixusaxa. This marks the third time one of my characters has killed her. You literally ambush her in Pools of Radiance and the module is unambiguous about killing her. No idea who thought it was a good idea to bring her back.
 

Pauper

Explorer
If you killed Ixusaxa during The Raven, then you probably were in for a shock when you started The Horseman.

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Pauper
 

skerritthegreen

First Post
Fully agreed.

Even more upsetting to me was the return of Ixusaxa. This marks the third time one of my characters has killed her. You literally ambush her in Pools of Radiance and the module is unambiguous about killing her. No idea who thought it was a good idea to bring her back.
That darn Cult of the Dragon... I think they are just trolling you at this point!
 


Pauper

Explorer
That darn Cult of the Dragon... I think they are just trolling you at this point!
We recently played The Howling Void, and filled out the data cards based on the questions being asked by the face in the portal as we entered the air node. My paladin, who played through both The Courting of Fire and Tyranny in Phlan answered the 'what creature do you fear most' question as follows:

"Spernik! How many times must I kill him?"

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Pauper
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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