While I was gone, Sarah worked out how her missions - one main bombing raid and three mosquito raids - would fly to the target. The playbook suggested she chose a target in the Ruhr for the first game. She chose Essen. And then misinterpreted what a "leg" of the journey was. In fact, it's a straight line between two points where the planes turn (waypoints). She thought it was each turn's travel of two hexes. When she realised her mistake partway through the game, she revised the plot. She also mistakenly had two missions end a turn in the same hex - this is also not allowed - but it was our first game and this is the sort of mistake we expect.
One of the really fun things about Bomber Command is the plotting map. The English player plots the path of each of their missions beforehand. Then, during the game, they consult the map to work out how far the mission has got - and occasionally let the German player know. It's a brilliant mechanic, and creates a great fog-of-war. Here's how Sarah's map looked after all the corrections (and leaving in a few errors). The numbers indicate where the planes are at the end of each turn.
So, once I was back, I sorted out the German Nightfighters and placed them in the Ready box to the side of the map. Then we began. Sarah moved her forces onto the map. Or, at least, I think she did. She doesn't place counters unless I find her!
The major ways of discovering the Bombers are as follows:
* Make a detection roll equal to or above the jamming number
* The Bombers fly over flak, thus showing where they passed
* Similarly, with GCI attacks (Ground Control Interception) as they pass over alerted hexes
* Or you could just wait for them to bomb somewhere!
It takes time for the German player to scramble nightfighters to intercept: The first turn you place them on the map (and they can't do anything else). The second turn they move one hex and can attack. After that, they can move at two hexes a turn and have full capabilities. Single-Engine aircraft are faster to set up and get going, but the ones I used this game had very little fuel.
Scrambling my first two fighters
Your nightfighters act in three phases, for the most part: They get to Move in one phase. New ones then get to Scramble in the next phase (that's putting them on the map). Finally, they can be deployed to various tasks - either protecting areas or on patrol. This took me some getting used to, and I'd often forget a phase, as a result my planes took a bit to get into the air, and Sarah faced much less opposition than she otherwise would have!
Weather has a big part to play in this game: it makes it much more difficult to scramble and land again (causing losses if you're unlucky) and it affects attacks and detection. This game, most of Europe was quite clear - only Berlin was overcast, and that wasn't part of the map we would visit.
There are basically four sorts of attacks the German player can make at the incoming bombers:
* Flak attacks, automatically triggered when the bombers pass through a Flak-capable hex or bomb a city.
* GCI attacks, triggered when the bombers pass through an activated GCI hex (requires a nightfighter to be tasked to that duty).
* Wild Boar attacks, which can be made by nightfighters as a hex is being bombed.
* Tame Boar atacks, which require the nightfighter to infiltrate an attacking force and slowly take out bombers.
Sarah basically took no damage from the Flak attacks, but I was successful in infiltrating two nightfighters into the main attack group, and started shooting the English; Sarah didn't know where they were, and couldn't get rid of them.
Meanwhile, she approached Essen... my planes scrambling in her wake.
Bombing a place is a mini-game all of its own. Each size of city has its own map. The attacker gets to place 20 counters on the map (a combination of Incendaries and High Explosive), which are hopefully clustered around the target they want. There is the real possibility of landing off course...
Sarah chose to attack the residential part of town. There was no scatter, but the smog of Essen reduced the accuracy of the main strike: only four counters were placed. After that, one counter was placed in the closes hexes to the main target. That gave us the following:
Then, there is further scatter by the German player, some accuracy movement by the English, and the damage is then possibly converted into major fires and even firestorms. Finally, VPs are worked out: double points for industrial centres and transport, more points for fires.
Here's how the attack looked after the modifiers:
All in all, the attack netted Sarah 14 points: 4 for each fire, and 1 for each other hex bombed, double if it is valuable.
With the main bombing raid done, Sarah successfully used some mosquito raids to do more damage; I was unable to stop these.
However, I now had two fighters infiltrating her main raid, and they were able to do a fair amount of damage in return for very little losses.
And that was basically the game: Sarah lost a few planes on the way back, but I had scrambled too late and I wasn't able to fly them to stop the raids. Otherwise, my infiltrators did significant damage, and Sarah was happy to get back relatively safely. She'd lost 13 bombers in the main raid, and 3 in Mosquito flights - none of the Mosquito losses were confirmed, though.
The score was positive, and Sarah was relieved, but the victory conditions require more than just average. The large number of bombers I'd taken out was a sizeable penalty to overcome.
In the end, it turned out that I'd eliminated 13 bombers in the main group whilst Sarah had only shot down 2 fighters. The final swing gave the total at 7 VPs in Sarah's favour... but, for the Berlin Scenario, that counts as a loss to the English.
In retrospect, my planes could have worked smarter. Sarah chose a poor hex for her attack run on the city (too much residential nearby, not enough industry). However, we both found the game to be very enjoyable and a real challenge. The rules aren't all that hard, and I hope we get a chance to play it again soon while it's fresh in our minds.
This weekend was the Launch Event for the adventure - and the D&D Encounters season that is run using it. The adventure is also available to purchase in case you want to run it for your friends at home. Like Murder in Baldur's Gate, the adventure is written for three editions (3.5E, 4E and Next) with stats available to download from the Wizards site. And it's an adventure that gives each group a fair amount of freedom as to how they approach it. My first impression is that it isn't as wild and woolly as Murder in Baldur's Gate, but it still allows a lot of freedom while probably having more structure to aid the DM.
After our troubles in getting the Launch Event kit - and eventual triumph - I was disappointed to see some of our regulars couldn't make the session. This still left us with two tables each with five players and a DM. (I was hoping to actually reach three tables, but it wasn't to be. It did mean that I didn't have to worry about drafting a third DM). We split into basically the same groups as last season, with Paul's table running 4E and my table running D&D Next. The next hour we spent on character creation.
As we've run quite a bit of level 1-3 material, I'm going to adjust the adventure to handle levels 3-6, but due to not having the time to do it for the event, we made 1st level characters. After the event, I'd allow them to level up to 3rd and we'd go from there. I spent a bit more time on the reasons each character was in Icewind Dale than normal, as I felt that the basic explanation - "you are caravan guards" lacked something. Armed with a copy of the full adventure (which had arrived with the Launch Event), I used a few of its suggestions to help give more definition to why the group was there. Yes, some were "just" caravan guards, but we also had a Chosen of Amaunator seeking to end the winter and a thief on the run from Waterdeep after stealing a magic sword.
We had a couple of non-player characters in the caravan with the group, making their way to the Ten Towns; the caravan master, and a female dwarf who was proud of her heritage. It's quite likely that a more role-playing focused DM could do a lot with these characters. (I note, in retrospect, that the full adventure's campaign guide is sprinkled with stories from the caravan master; they would have been handy to know about when running this, but I didn't have the time to read it beforehand). I made a few nods towards role-playing (and more towards filling in the backstory), by having the dwarf tell our paladin about her background, and the tale of the Crystal Shard, an evil artefact which some of her ancestors had helped defeat.
And then it was time for the action to start - a giant snow-cat attacking the group! This was also the opportunity for the fifth character to join the group - we'd decided that the ranger was a citizen of the Ten Towns, and he'd been tracking the cat, so arrived as it attacked the group and was able to help out. The cat died pretty quickly, the group introduced themselves to the ranger, and then they had to deal with the guard the cat had mauled and an overturned wagon.
This led the group to a decision: the caravan master wanted to move on without the wagon as the weather was getting worse and more monsters were lurking; the wagon's driver wanted it to be repaired. The group didn't take very long to decide they'd stay with the driver. I've a feeling I should have the weather sound worse...
Unfortunately for those (like me) who wanted the group's decision to somewhat cost them, they aced every check to repair the wagon and find its scattered goods! The group were able to catch up to the rest of the caravan, and so came in sight of their destination, Bryn Shander.
And, as they entered the gates, they were attacked by Yeti!
The rest, tomorrow! (Sorry, really tired now, must sleep!)
Problems with couriers meant that the delivery my FLGS should have received of the Launch Event kit still hadn't arrived on the Friday before the event... yes, the one on the next day. This was something of a problem for running it. I got extremely frustrated and a quite a bit angry and vented about it on EN World and Twitter. I calmed down quite a bit after several really good people at Wizards (Trevor Kidd, Mike Mearls, Greg Bisland and others) got in contact with me and sent me a pdf of the adventure.
This allowed me to, at least, read the adventure before I ran it, give a copy to the other DM at the store, and find the miniatures I needed to run it all. Hooray!
Meanwhile, Mark, the owner of my FLGS, was frantically calling about trying to find a copy of the adventure; he was prepared to do a 4-hour trip (there and back) to Melbourne or Geelong if he could find one, but no luck. He was relieved when I told him that I had an electronic of the adventure, but he still wanted to get me a hardcopy of the adventure, and so continued to ring other stores.
And then, at about 11 am, the courier decided that he'd deliver the adventure after all. Six hours before the event got underway. Mark was relieved. I was very happy - I'd have the map for the big encounter at the end of the adventure. And thanks to Trevor, Mike and the other good people at Wizards, I knew what miniatures I needed for the adventure.
Still, it was a huge amount more stressful than it should have been. My (likely flawed) understanding of the timeline is that the adventure arrived in Australia on the Monday, it was sent by the distributor to my FLGS on the Tuesday, and the courier finally got around to delivering it on the Saturday. All too close for comfort.
Mark was really surprised to see it arrive - the courier's Ballarat office was closed on the Saturday, and his other experience with this company had led him to believe they wouldn't make Saturday deliveries. We'd given up on having a printed copy of the adventure... and then there was one!
I picked up a second set of the Caverns of Icewind Dale dungeon tiles to help me with the icy wilderness we were sure to encounter, and we were away! As to what occurred in the session... I'll get back to that in a couple of hours.
I really must stress how important the response from Mike Mearls, Greg Bilsland, Trevor Kidd and others at Wizards was for both my peace of mind and the enjoyment of the adventure. Without their help, I wouldn't have been able to read the adventure before running it, nor make sure I had the right miniatures (and tiles) for it. I was extremely frustrated and angry, and they were able to help me. It means a lot. Thank you all, so much.
I don't actually have a physical copy of the Launch Weekend kit, but the good people at Wizards of the Coast upon hearing that it hadn't arrived in time, contacted me and sent me an electronic copy. Unfortunately, it does mean I likely won't have a copy of the map for the session, which is a great pity: it looks great from the previews I've seen. (A town gate and a few houses and the road outside, all covered with snow). If you get to the Launch Weekend, it's likely you'll have it available.
The Launch Event covers the players arriving in Icewind Dale, setting of more than one of R.A. Salvatore's popular books. He's one of the three writers of this adventure, along with James Wyatt and Jeffrey Ludwig. Development and Editing was covered by Greg Bilsland.
The adventurers arrive with a caravan; the default is that they're caravan guards, although it's unlikely to break anything if they've got other reasons for travelling to the dale (other reasons are apparently given in the full adventure). Once they get there, they find the township in trouble and, of course, combat will erupt. Much like the Launch Event for Murder in Baldur's Gate, this adventure handles it with linked encounters, one blending into another to create a greater narrative and more excitement. It's a great technique, and it should be fun to play and run.
It isn't all combat; there are several opportunities for role-playing and one really good moment where the players will be faced with a difficult choice (I love seeing the players having to make real choices: each has good points and bad points, which allows role-playing to occur within the group). And, of course, it ends with the group being given options for how they proceed into the rest of the adventure. Much like Murder in Baldur's Gate, you can work for several different people as the adventure progresses, allowing player choice to play a significant role in how the adventure progresses.
The adventure isn't as "big", event-wise, as the start of the last. This is a precursor; enough to alert players to the fact that "something is wrong" without overshadowing what comes later. There's a fair bit of evocative detail, and each of the main NPCs gets about half-a-page of background information; a great resource for bringing them to life.
The combat in the adventure looks quite challenging, especially the first encounter. (I wonder if it will kill anyone on the 3.5E tables? It looks tough enough). My guess is that the adventure will take about 2 hours to play, dependent on edition.
So, does the adventure look good? It does. Will it play well? Not long until I find out!
As the adventure takes place in a small pocket dimension, this actually works quite well. Its style means it best works as part of a dungeon-delving campaign (such as a mega-dungeon campaign) rather than a story-based campaign, and it certainly harkens back to the early days of D&D where inventive dungeon encounters were extremely important for keeping the players entertained.
Of course, the most notable thing about Dungeonland is that it is based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The situations and characters met by Alice have been converted into D&D encounters. As an adventure for 9th-12th level characters, these encounters are particularly deadly, and there are a few death traps that can kill the characters of unwary or unprepared players. There is a certain arbitrariness to a lot of the material, which is not entirely out-of-keeping with the logic of Carroll's original work.
Structurally, the adventure is fairly linear, with the paths through the woods taking the group from one encounter to another in the order that Alice encountered them. Some of the translation is extremely inventive, for instance there's a senile arch-mage who likes wandering around in the form of a rabbit, and the use of a smilodon (sabre-toothed) tiger for the Cheshire Cat is brilliant.
Thankfully, not everything in the realm wants to kill the characters; there are several encounters that are played entirely for their role-playing potential, although it's entirely possible the players will wish to kill the strange creatures of this realm afterwards due to their madness, which, of course, gives great material to the DM for entertaining the group.
The adventure culminates in a potential mass melee in the palace as the Jack of Hearts plants the jewelled tarts owned by the Queen on one of the characters; "Off with their heads!" screams the Queen, and wise players will find it is a good moment to make themselves scarce (probably following the Jack away), otherwise the resulting battle is likely to be a challenge for the DM, with many, many participants!
I admit that I'm very fond of this adventure (as I am of the source material). The whimsical (if not downright insane) characters found within have been a huge hit with the players I've run the adventure for, and I'm sure I'll find a place for it in future campaigns.
That said, the adventure would be completely out of place in a more serious, story-focused campaign. Can you imagine dropping it into the middle of Pharaoh or Temple of Elemental Evil? It represents a different line of adventure design.
There are no credits for this adventure save Gary Gygax, but the cover artwork is definitely by Jim Holloway, who remains one of my least favorite artists who has worked on D&D. The interior art, on the other hand, is by Tim Truman and is fantastic and particularly evocative.
Dungeonland would be followed by its companion piece later in the same year, The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, which covered the other Alice book. You shouldn't approach Dungeonland expecting a standard D&D adventure or a straight covering of Alice's adventures, but what is here is very entertaining, if your campaign can stand it!
Tracy Hickman had done a good job of incorporating both his previously written adventure Pharaoh and Philip Meyer's Oasis of the Lost Palm into an overall structure; the problems with the structure - primarily that the players might never release the efreeti in Pharaoh - are relatively minor and something that he would find a solution for in his later works. Both adventures had been seeded with mentions of Martek, a wizard who had foreseen the release of the efreeti and had put plans in place to see it defeated; all of the business in Oasis about the bride's handmark and the amulet is Martek's work.
Now all the characters need to do is find Martek's tomb and his Sphere of Power. The keys for the tomb are in their possession already - the three Star Gems, so all they need to do is get there. Between them and the tomb is the Skysea - a place where the sand has fused into glass, so the sky is reflected in the ground. To travel on it (as it becomes devastatingly hot during the day), the group need to acquire a cloudskate or skyship, which skates on a thin blade over the glass. It's one of the best concepts in the series, but unfortunately little more is done with it - only random encounters might threaten the group as they're on the skyship. It's a throwaway detail, really, but greatly evocative.
Hickman shifts gears when the group enter the first portion of the tomb, and we get the first major interaction of the adventure: the degenerate descendants of treasure seekers trapped in a magical garden. I'm not very fond of this section: you have the descendants of paladins and the descendants of thieves. They don't like each other, and I feel it detracts from the serious tone of the rest of the series - I don't mind occasional lighter elements, but this feels forced and wrong.
It doesn't help that the big thing wrong with the adventure is introduced here: three NPCs who try to steal the Star Gems and, if they do, spend the rest of the adventure being chased through the tomb as the group try to catch them.
What's wrong with that? Well, AD&D doesn't handle chases well. Fights against single NPCs are typically boring. And there are significant problems with fighting high-level magic-users, as Trifakas is (a 12th level magic-user!) - one or two failed saves and that's it for the party! Or Trifakas.
This wouldn't be such a problem if the next section of the adventure was good enough to stand on its own, but it isn't. Once within the tomb proper, the group still need to go on a treasure hunt for three crystal minarets. The three demi-planes they need to go to find them are great inventions, but only one of them is good for adventuring: the mobius tower, where everything is "time locked" and can't move (save through a few special instances). It's a good example of where theme and adventure potential come together.
Unfortunately, the Black Abyss, where space, time and magic begin to breakdown in fascinating ways, has no actual threat to it save random encounters and the potential NPCs, and the Crypt of Al-Alisk, despite once again being an interesting place at its core, lacks challenge - really, it comes down to working out a single teleport trap to complete.
And wouldn't it be easier to just wait near the door for the three NPCs to get the minarets, then defeat them and take the spoils?
That is the bulk of the adventure. The final section - the Citadel of Martek - involves the group finally bringing Martek back to life, him rewarding them, and finally an epilogue that closes the adventure and series in suitable style.
Tracy Hickman displays great invention in this adventure, but rarely is it employed on things that translate to exciting adventuring; setting-wise there's not much to fault, but the entire adventure feels incredibly light on good adventuring material. This is a great shame, as the first two parts of the Desert of Desolation are superlative.
Production-wise, the maps are very good and most of the (uncredited) artwork is also fine - the weakest part is the cover by Holloway. As with the other adventures in the series, it has two nested covers which have most of the maps printed on them.
"The desert is returned to its people; the Efreeti is no more. One final gift I give to you. Those people that cast you into this desert land will no longer remember you. You are once again free to travel the face of this world as you want. All to whom you tell this tale will believe it to be but a fable. Only you shall know the truth of what you have seen. There are yet other prophesies to be fulfilled! Farewell, my friends!"
Scoundrels of Skullport provides additional options for the game. It actually provides two expansions, Undermountain and Skullport. You can use either one with the base game or include both at the same time. In this review, I’ll look at how they play individually and together. Each expansion consists of 25 new Intrigue cards, 30 new quest cards, 3 new Lords, and a small board with three new basic action spaces. Skullport also has a few extra components.
Scoundrels also provides pieces for a sixth player, although I haven’t availed myself of them.
Undermountain does not deviate much from the established play of Lords of Waterdeep. You’re still gathering adventurers and sending on quests. What’s different is that things are somewhat “bigger”.
Five 40-point quest cards make this “bigger” theme obvious, and are significantly higher than the basic games 25-point quests; however, the requirements for completing these quests are also more challenging. Looking through the other quests in Undermountain reveals that there are a lot of “big” effects; the one that surprised me the most was Threaten the Builders’ Guild, which puts all of the buildings in the Builders’ Guild directly into play! At a cost of 2 warriors, 4 rogues, 2 wizards and 10 gold, it is hardly a cheap effect, but it is certainly effective. Some of the new quests aren’t so high in point values, but provide large numbers of resources – gold and adventurers – in return, providing for greater chaining between quests. It may be harder to start completing some of the new quests, but the pay-off is worth it.
Intrigue cards also gain more prominence in Undermountain; one of the three new action spaces allows you to draw two Intrigue cards, another allows you to take a Quest card and play an Intrigue card. There are some rather effective attack cards which will make the battle over the harbour more important, and there is also a card that protects you from these attack cards. It’s implementation is somewhat controversial, however. Open Lord reveals your hidden Lord card and makes you immune to Mandatory Quest cards and other attack cards. Although I like the card, it is certainly not universally popular – how much of a drawback is revealing your Lord, anyway? It’s one of two game elements in Scoundrels I find particularly hard to assess. Inevitable Betrayal, which debuted as a promotional card, is included in the set as a standard card.
Undermountain also introduces a new mechanic: certain cards and buildings place resources on action spaces as a potential drawback of using the action; whoever next takes the action gets those resources. For instance, Citadel of the Bloody Hand allows you to take 4 fighters from the supply and you also place two fighters from the supply on 2 different action spaces. This can increase the resources available in the game significantly, which feeds back to the new quests.
All of this combines to make a game where the stakes are higher. The game play of the basic game remains, but I felt that I needed to pay a lot more attention. Chaining quests so that the rewards of one quest feed into the requirements of the next became even more important for good play. Is it more challenging than the basic game? It certainly is!
However, the bigger quests don’t mean that the scores will necessarily higher than the basic game. From my play of this expansion, there are some games where the resources are there for completion of the bigger quests, but other times everyone is struggling.
While Undermountain primarily gives you greater goals, Skullport gives you more resources, but at a cost. And that cost is corruption. It’s worth taking a moment to look at this mechanic, as it is truly inspired.
The basics are fairly simple: certain actions require you to take a corruption token from a general supply. At the end of the game, each corruption token reduces your points. This is not that dissimilar to the loan mechanics in Steam and related games. However, it isn’t a set penalty: instead, the penalty for each token depends on how many have been taken by the entire group in the game. Basically, the penalty increases by one for every three tokens taken. The penalty is represented on the corruption board; all the tokens begin on the board, and as each space is cleared, the penalty increases.
The majority of the new quests and intrigue cards in this expansion support this mechanic, with ways of gaining corruption, removing corruption tokens from your tavern to the board, or even removing them from the game entirely. You can gather resources much quicker than in the base game, but at a cost. Balancing the corruption you gain against the benefits of extra resources is tricky, and significantly raises the interaction between players as each manipulates the corruption track.
Because you’re unsure of what the final penalty for corruption is, I found it a lot harder to judge who was winning when this expansion was being used. One thing I am sure of: playing with Skullport is a lot of fun, and the challenge of managing corruption really adds to the game.
Playing with both expansions together requires more than just adding all the cards to the decks: it requires the removal of some cards from the basic quest and intrigue decks first, as well as some buildings, so that the proportion of expansion cards from each set remains constant. This is particularly important for two of the new Lords who give bonus points based on the number of buildings constructed and quests completed from either Skullport or Undermountain, but it also allows the new mechanics to shine.
Undermountain has higher requirements on its quests, Skullport allows you to gather those resources more quickly. The two paths complement each other very well, and everything becomes heightened. With six extra spaces to place agent, each player is given an extra agent to maintain the pressure of available action spaces. This, of course, also has the effect of lengthening the game – with 2-4 players, the game lengthens from about 60 minutes to about 90 minutes.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well the two expansions played together; my limited experience with this form of the game also has had pretty tight scores, which was not what I expected. The balance seems pretty good.
Corruption is the big winner as a new mechanic; I’ve seen corruption-like mechanics in many other games, but the way it is implemented here is elegant and new and extremely effective.
Intrigue cards also become much more important in this game, perhaps too much so for some players. Yes, there are more mandatory quests, and Skullport provides new ways of getting rid of them.
All of this means that you have to think more. Yes, this is a highlight of the game; I like being challenged.
A really big highlight is that despite the much bigger quests and resources, the games we've played have still been quite close. It wasn't what I was expecting, and I believe it's still possible for a blowout, but, in general, everything works fine - and that's a real highlight of the game.
If you don’t like intrigue cards messing with your plans, you’re really not going to like a few of the cards here. Taking two rogues or fighters from an opponent’s tavern is a big deal, and the contest for spaces on Waterdeep Harbour will be greater than before.
Bigger also means the potential of bigger failures. Although most of my games with the expansions have been quite close affairs, there is no doubt that bad luck or poor play will hurt you more than in the basic game.
Component-wise, the game has two issues. The first is that some copies have cards that don’t quite have the same size as the originals; this seems to vary from set to set so that some people have cards that are greatly different whilst others are identical.
The issue everyone agrees with is the insert. The Lords of Waterdeep insert was lauded as one of the best ever made for a game; the one in Scoundrels does not come close. There isn’t enough room for the agents to fit into the insert, and without a board fitting on top, things tend to go everywhere when it’s tipped on its side.
A minor point is that the quest cards are printed upside-down compared to the basic set. It’s not a major problem, but it can get annoying as you’re flipping them from the deck.
Ultimately, Scoundrels of Skullport has been a great success with my friends. It adds something extra to Lords of Waterdeep whilst keeping the structure that made the game a hit in the first place and, though there’s more to consider, the level of complexity isn’t such so that it confuses people. We’ve introduced people to their first game of Lords with Scoundrels added, and they haven’t had that much trouble; the quest cards, like the tickets in Ticket to Ride, help guide them as they get used to the mechanics, and corruption – the most complicated new mechanic in the game – is easy to grasp.
This is in complete contrast to the trouble we had when adding Cities & Knights of Catan to its base game. Settlers was our go-to game for new players for many years, but even the experienced players ran into problems with C&K; in particular, the trading became much, much more difficult, and with the major “fun” mechanic of the game gone, the point of the game was lost. Scoundrels doesn’t remove the fun parts of Lords from the game and, for our group, significantly added to the game’s enjoyment.
In short, this is a superb expansion. It provides new challenges for experienced players without taking away from the elements that made the game good in the first place. If you didn’t like the confrontational elements of Lords, this expansion isn’t going to fix things. However, if you do like how the original game plays, the expansion is well worth considering, and stands as a stellar example of exactly how an expansion should be produced.
We were playing through Stage 4 of the adventure; this stage is fairly light on actual incident involving the players. The two major events were Rilsa Rael manoeuvring the garbage collectors to go on strike, causing great unrest in the Upper and Lower cities, and Ulder Ravengard's intrigues to gain the position of Duke of Baldur's Gate. The players were quite happy to see the garbage piling up as they otherwise continued their revolutionary path, but Ulder Ravengard's schemes required more attention.
The players learnt through their contacts in the city of the discontent with the Parliament of Peers with Ravengard: although it was traditional to give the title to a member of the Flaming Fist, his recent actions had made them want to give it to the alchemist Caldwell, an elderly patriar they thought would be easy to manipulate. As all of the players have now worked for Ravengard, he summoned them for a private discussion, where he expressed his outrage over the problems he was facing with the Parliament. Along the way, he suggested a solution to his problem: if they group could convince Caldwell to decline the nomination, he'd be able to gain the title uncontested. And he knew of someone who was ready to accuse Caldwell of inferior workmanship and safety problems with his alchemical products - if the group would mention this to Caldwell and he dropped the nomination, the accusation could be quietly dealt with...
The group immediately agreed with Ravengard, but privately were very willing to sabotage his plans. They began by visiting Caldwell's accuser, a dumpy alchemist named Yssra Brackrel. She explained to them that Caldwell's main product - alchemically treated lumber that was resistant to destruction - was actually very flammable. She was unable to directly give them proof, but told them that she'd been hired by the Provoss family after their stables had burnt down. The group wanted more proof, and decided to visit Caldwell to get some.
Caldwell received them, and reacted in some shock to the suggestion that his lumber was dangerous, explaining that if it was as dangerous as they insinuated, the city would have burnt down several times already! He gave them some samples to test, and went away grumbling; the group hadn't let him know the identity of the rumourmongers. The tests of the lumber showed that Caldwell's treatment did make it very resistant to fire, and Brackrel tried to insist that they were using something that Caldwell had made to throw people off the track. The group tried to talk to the Provoss family, but were refused entry by the gate guards, who took little notice of their insistance they belonged to the Flaming Fist: in the Upper Quarter, the Flaming Fist have no dominion!
At this point, the group were pretty sure that the accusation was actually false, and so they told Caldwell not to worry, and then went to Ulder Ravengard and told him that Caldwell would pull out! Ravengard - for now - suspects nothing, but this may not last.
As we were now two sessions without significant combat, I used the DM's trump card - Coran - to hire the group (particularly Tait) to steal a platinum plaque from the crypt of the Whitburn patriar family! This was complicated by two matters: the first was a cultist of Myrkul who was raising the dead in the crypt. This led to two combats, the first against 6 skeletons (very easily dealt with as Callan let his Light Cleric just destroy them) and then against the cultist and 10 zombies, which was a more difficult combat - Tait, who still had a first level character, went down as his protection from evil spell proved not as effective as he hoped. As the zombies swarmed towards them, Callan rather wished he'd kept his light burst power still available; however, once the zombies inside the original room were taken care of, the other zombies that were attacking from the rear were able to be faced in a doorway, and the better defensive position allowed the group to prevail. (It was a fairly long battle; eight rounds in total).
However, the plaque wasn't visible in the tombs they'd explored. Lee, searching around, found a secret passage that led to the inner crypt, where the group found that an ankheg had bored its way into the chamber. This was a potentially dangerous fight as it spat acid at Tait and Lachie, but the heroes managed to make their saving throws, and then Lachie's barbarian hit the ankheg very hard, and Lee shot it a few times. The group were hurt by the time it went down - and Tait unconscious again, having almost been killed outright by its bite - but it eventually only took two rounds to take down. Looting the valuables in the crypt gave them a tidy sum of money as well as the plaque, which they returned to Coran for a further reward. He told them to keep themselves available for an "entertainment" he'd be running in the upcoming weeks, and with that we closed the session. Again, it had run for about 2 hours.
There are a couple of things that I didn't include in this session from the notes that I'll catch up on next week (especially when the wizards rejoin us), especially concerning the Ducal election; it may be that the players are able to keep their position with the Flaming Fist for a bit longer...
I began this session of Murder in Baldur's Gate began with some material from the previous stage; members of the Flaming Fist harassing workmen from the Outer City. Jonas Valerian (Tim) had been in the Lower City causing trouble and so witnessed this; he and his friends persuaded the Flaming Fist to back off. This earned them a summons from Ulder Ravengard, who was impressed by their diplomatic skills, and wanted them to work for him. The group agreed - with Jonas making plans to use his contacts in the Flaming Fist to further the revolution he was fomenting in town.
(Harry and Lee, who have been working for Ravengard, weren't around this session).
However, the main part of the session was taken up by looking for the dastardly criminals who had been defacing the statues of Baldur's Gate. Well, perhaps "dehanding" is the better term, as the hands of several statues were broken off and removed. The group asked Rilsa Rael if she knew who was involved, and she told them she'd investigate.
When the statue of the Beloved Ranger was also "dehanded", things were getting serious with a lot of the city very unhappy with how things were going. Rilsa revealed that a gang of noble scions was responsible for the threats, and wanted to turn them over to the mob. The group needed to just work out where the nobles were. Asking at their homes, they discovered that the scions' parents didn't know where they were, and just wanted them taken home safely. Following advice from Coran, the group discovered they'd left the Upper City through one of the gates, and then made their way down to the harbour, onto a ferry, and eventually to a shop not fifty paces away from the headquarters of the Flaming Fist!
The nobles tried to fight, but they were severely overmatched by the group. The group chose to turn them over to the Flaming Fist, who assured them that no harm would come to them and they could return to their families after their punishment. That punishment turned out to be ten years imprisonment! Well, what Ravengard said was technically true...
Apart from dealing with the main plot of the session, we had more character and side-plot development. The note from the kobold needed to be translated, and Jonas took it to the House of Wonders to find an priest who could help him. Who he got was Devotee Chesserie Waters, who was somewhat starstruck by the "Hero of Founder's Day". She took the note and took a couple of days to decode it; she met Jonas over dinner (where he was oblivous to her flirtations) where she revealed it was in kobold and thieves' cant, offering money to the kobolds in exchange for breeding crocodiles in the sewers.
Jonas and Medrick (Rich) also joined the Sages' Guild, at a discount, with Ravek Tillerturn being the guildmember who took them through the process, whilst Bob (Lachie) got a new bow from Ettvagh Stodge of "Ettvard's Bows" in the Lower City.
This was a fairly role-playing intense session, with the only combat being quite minor. I expect I'll have to modify the next session to put in more combat to make up for the lack last session.
This session was challenging to run, mainly because the main events of the adventure (Stage 2) are primarily background events. In particular, the Parliament had issued orders to the Watch to forbid the wearing of "clothes above one's station" in the Upper City, and vandalism was on the rise in the Outer City as discontent rose against the repressive policies.
So, I attempted to run a system where the group got more familiar with the city. This was not entirely successful, as quite a number of players weren't really sure what to do. Lee and Tim knew what they wanted to do: they wanted to increase the discontent in the city, so upon finding out about the sumptuary laws, Tim spent a lot of times in the Lower City causing trouble, in particular using the ventriloquism spell (well, it's part of the prestidigitation cantrip) to cause trouble whilst not being seen to cause trouble. Lee used his spy background to more keep in the background and observe what was going on.
A lot of the action centered around Lachie and Tait. The group had learnt from their contacts in the Flaming Fist that the new laws would be announced in the Wide, and so had gone there for the announcement. There, Lachie decided to buy some silk pants in a flamboyant shade of purple, which he immediately donned - a scant few moments later, the sumptuary laws were announced. This, of course, caused trouble with the Watch, although Lachie was swift to remove the pants (and his loincloth) when challenged.
It was Tait that got into trouble; his cleric started causing small tremors (which knocked over one of the market stalls) in order to distract the Watch from Lachie. One or two castings would have been unremarkable, but his constant use of the spell caused him to get arrested. Harry - whose monk is turning into a real pacifist - went to get him bailed out. I'm very glad to see this role-playing from Harry; he's really uncomfortable with what's going on in the city and his friends' reactions to it, and it makes for some good role-playing. Tait was eventually released with a warning.
The group also visited the House of Wonders, where I got to describe some of the inventions of Gond's worshippers and have impressed on them how important the worship of Gond is to the city.
I also brought up the important issue of where they were all staying, as Rilsa wasn't going to be able to put them up in the long-term. The group split up, with a number of them remaining in little Calimshan. As no inns were immediately apparent from the text (the one tavern having been shut down in the last session!) I invented a rooming house known as the Sultan's Turban, run by a halfling in a turban. Grant, seeing this, bought his own turban - though not of finest silk, being mindful of the sumptuary laws. The phrase, "turbans are cool" may have turned up a few times in the session.
Other players chose to stay in the Lower City, with one character ending up in the Upper City - despite paying a premium for his accommodation. Those in the Lower City began to notice an increase in vandalism - with anti-patriar slogans beginning to appear on the walls.
The trouble with all the preceding, of course, is it didn't really allow the group to work together (and was rather short of combat). Thus, I judged it a good time to introduce the rogue noble (or is that noble rogue?) Coran, who came across Lachie and hired him and his friends to deal with a problem in the Undercellar - crocodiles coming up from the underground passages and causing a great deal of disruption, especially at the balls that Coran was trying to frequent.
So the group went into the Undercellar and slew some crocodiles - using a variation of the Giant Lizard stats from the D&D Next documents. This was a tough combat - intentionally so - with the group coming up against 10 of the critters. A couple of the characters were unconscious by the time the combat was over, and many were badly hurt.
Of particular note was that a kobold was controlling the crocodiles; he was killed early in the fight, but had a coded letter in a language no-one could read - a couple of the players correctly guessed it might be in Thieves' Cant, but we're without a thief in the party so no-one could read it!
With that, we ended the session. Unrest is rising in Baldur's Gate, and I've introduced the immensely useful (from the point of view of the DM) Coran to the party. A kobold made a reappearance, and there's the idea now that the kobolds are more significant than immediately apparent - yes, they don't appear in the module-as-written, but that's the joy of this adventure, it's really easy to add additional material to give it even more interest. I'm very pleased with how it's going so far.
As for next week? I'll let you know how it goes!