The “Rage of Demons” tier 1 storyline wraps up with “Six Knives for Torin Nomerthal”. This mini-storyline actually consists of DDEX03-12 and -14 together. I found them somewhat different, though, so I’ll separate them out a bit as I review them here.
As normal, these reviews include spoilers after the jump. So for this portion, players should probably just know that we really enjoyed these modules and there are alternatives to fighting.
DDEX03-12 Hillsfar Reclaimed
This is the first of the two parts. Written by Cindy Moore, the adventurers receive an assignment to infiltrate Hillsfar and gather intelligence on the First Lord (tyrant of Hillsfar).
What I liked
Unlike most AL modules, this primarily will test the characters (and players) ability to handle social situations as well as explore their environment to carry out infiltration and espionage assignments. It does this pretty well for the most part, including some pretty memorable scene setting. The fact that the adventure includes – and in fact needs – no maps whatsoever helps with this, because we can run it in “theater of the mind”.
In almost all situations, the adventure has a fairly open design, encouraging the DM to reward the players’ creativity and come up with their own solutions. This will keep everyone on their toes as the adventure proceeds, but that also means everyone works together to create and tell a cohesive, interesting story. Related to this: the adventure has explicit failure conditions! The players can do what they like, but if they make poor choices, they could find themselves on the outs with little to nothing as a reward other than the fun of play itself.
The module does include some combat, and the final fight provided a lot of entertainment. A few “WTF!” moments from the players really cemented that for me – it was a well-balanced fight for five characters between levels 2 and 4. (Hint: clerics and paladins can really shine!)
What I didn’t like
Despite the openness, the adventure starts off with a pointless “roll to continue” mechanic. What happens if the players fail the investigation roll? That would be boring and the game session would last less than five minutes. Bleh. Also, the use of spell scrolls to get them into the Tower misunderstands how that mechanic works, because any class without that spell on their list (and indeed any non-spellcasters) can’t use those scrolls.
Tips and conclusion
The above are minor nitpicks. I replaced the scrolls with a frail old bard who just needed to cast one seeming. Also, the main event seems to take place at Midsummer, but the next module (Death on the Wall) keeps talking about heavy snow. You can either move this module to Midwinter or change the references in the next module to rain (I chose the latter).
This provides an epic penultimate session for the storyline and I really recommend it to groups looking for something other than “I look for traps around the door” and “I swing my sword at the monster”.HILL-1
DDEX03-14 Death on the Wall
The second part of the mini-storyline by Greg Marks felt slightly weaker. The adventurers receive a sudden, unexpected opportunity to destroy the entire leadership of Hillsfar in the hopes that this will end the oppressive tyranny.
What I liked
The opening scene primarily consists of roleplaying and the players can really get into character for a few minutes, although time constraints might prevent them from spending a long time on this.
Other than the “hook” after the opening scene, the party has pretty wide freedom in how to approach their quest. When they reach the site, they can survey all the different locations within it. They should be given time to decide on a plan (possibly with some initial forays to gather more intelligence). Characters with backgrounds and hooks specifically tied to this storyline may get serious payoffs if they pay attention and work those angles.
What I didn’t like
At the risk of repeating myself from quite a few other reviews of this season, the map was terrible. While not to scale, it looks like somebody spent about 10 minutes scribbling on graph paper. I built my own in Roll20; while far from professional quality, I feel like it added quite a bit of flavor. Some lack of coordination with the previous module means that the text indicates it’s snowing a few days after midsummer. DMs should note that and adjust accordingly.
Tips and Conclusion
DMs will almost certainly need to improvise, as the players will likely concoct some scheme that doesn’t align with the ideas in the module. That’s great! They should feel free to come up with something new. As a DM, I control the monsters and opposition to the characters, but I am not the players’ adversary. If anything, the DM should be their biggest fan! Give them a chance to shine here. That doesn’t mean that a heroic sacrifice or two might not occur – courage implies risk – but even that should serve the larger narrative.
Spend some time assembling a real map, regardless of whether you play on a virtual tabletop (VTT) or in meatspace. This need not be elaborate, but it should give the players a sense of planning a covert assault on a high-value target.
If you invest a bit of time into this module, the payoff is fantastic. Your players will feel like they indeed have achieved something heroic and their characters should be wrapping up tier 1.
PS: This module can be easily followed up by the CCC-BMG-10, -11, and -12 trilogy, which explores the aftermath of what the heroes achieved. Not every happy ending is neat and tidy, nor should it be.