This is more like it for a game and a company the calibre ofDungeons and Dragons andWizards of the Coast. Although my previous posting about the Dark Sun adventure was far from complimentary, WOTC has proven they can do it right when they want to.
For starters the cover illustration is by one of the best established and most experienced fantasy artist, not to mention one of the most talented, Wayne England. He has the amazing ability to capture the atmosphere and spirit of whatever is necessary. His extremely meticulous painting and his incredible attention to detail makes him a virtuoso with the brush (and yes, he still paints traditionally). With that, this adventure was on a good start.
And it continued on the good side of design, but let’s go one step at a time.
Product quality. It is pretty good for what it is. It will last long enough for the adventure to be played and then as long as you want if you don’t drop coffee (or any other liquids!) on it. The paper is heavy enough and the printing is very good. The illustrations are clear and the colours vivid, the wording perfectly readable and the maps very clear. The maps for all the encounters come printed in fairly sturdy paper and although they do the trick, the seams will break if you don’t handle them with great care. Shame WOTC doesn’t do limited editions with laminated maps. Still, the cartography is terribly well done, which is not surprising as it has been designed by Jason Engle, a young artist of great talent.
Graphic and art direction. It is pretty good, though nothing to start the fireworks for. The illustrations are very good, the cover art is amazing and the maps are terrific. If we had to judge the whole thing based on just that, this would get a 10, but we can’t, so it deserves a 7. To be picky, the fact that the lines are not aligned between columns. It is a little thing, but it does show they cold do better.
Story. It is solid enough, though once you leave the initial presentation or introduction phase, the chances of role play are extremely limited. You will meet some interesting characters and they will give you good motivations to go into the adventure. The encounters are tough, but not impossible and they keep coming. There are a lot of encounters (if you want to find how many buy the adventure… it’s worth it!) and they’re all great fun. Lots of traps, lots of puzzles and lots of orcs and other creatures you’d expect to find in any good dungeon crawler, which is what this is.
It could be better writen, mind you. If your party decides the cues given to start with are not strong enough to follow the adventure, the GM might need to do a bit of crafty rail-roading to get the players into the encounters. Some of the explanations given in preparation for the encounters are not all that clear either and some more background information would have been very welcome. Still, none of this detracts from a good experience and a good adventure that would fit perfectly in a much larger campaign as a way to help your characters level up to face more perilous dangers.
Overall this will keep your party happy for about 3 sensible gaming sessions or a weekend of constant gaming (which I know some of you do indulge and I envy you for that!). It is very reasonably priced for the amount of time it will last and its presentation. Takes about 2 hours to have it all ready to be played. Very well balanced regardless of the classes your payers choose, though some trap disabling will come in extremely handy!
Oh… and you do get to get rid of lots of Orcs. Do you really need any other excuse to play an adventure?