DDAL07-01: A City on the Edge (review)

The first DDAL module for Season 7, “A City on the Edge” attempts to provide a pathway to the Tomb of Annihilation storyline at tier 1. It starts off a bit rough, though. As usual, this review contains SPOILERS, so the TL;DR version is “not bad”.

The introduction doesn’t really tell us much about the actual adventure:

Often called the “Gateway to Chult”, the exotic city of Port Nyanzaru is built upon a landscape both mystifying and marvelous. However, the city’s vibrant beauty is overshadowed by a mysterious scourge that plagues all within the land. Can the divergent forces within the city discover the truth before all are overcome by this growing threat?

The module as a whole more or less presumes that the adventurers belong to one of the five factions. It does provide a hook for unaligned characters, but even that mostly consists of “go help the factions, oh and there’s a Death Curse”. It then moves into a brief, if vivid, prologue with the characters arriving in the port by ship and heading to (where else) a local tavern after being directed to visit the faction contacts. Each contact then has a mission for them.

What I liked

The scenarios (missions) themselves are, for the most part, pretty good. You have a tiny dungeon crawl, a FREAKING DINOSAUR RACE (followed by gladiatorial arena combat), a jungle fight, and another pair of tiny dungeon crawls.

dino-race
Not exactly this… actually, no, kinda this.

The dinosaur race stands out for the obvious reason that WE’RE RACING DINOSAURS, Y’ALL! I don’t know what else you want. It has a slightly abstracted race mechanic that might take the players a bit to understand. Good DMs should still allow them to improvise additional actions and try to use the four listed as guides. The fight that follows the race felt like an afterthought, and I skipped it for time reasons on one of the occasions I ran this module.

Also, the editing and quality control in this document far exceeds most of the prior seasons. While not perfect, it more or less matches what we saw in Season 6 content. Hopefully this will continue to improve.

What I didn’t like

The introduction does not really provide much of a motivation. DMs have to invent ways to get the party moving, and while we definitely can do that, the whole point of a module is to give us what we need.

The dungeons themselves don’t suck for the most part, but one of them has a puzzle in a series of rooms that I found really useless. It mostly consists of “roll to continue” even when the players and their characters have figured out how it works. DMs can fix this by interpreting the rolls, not as whether the adventurers figure out the same exact puzzle four times in a row, but as whether they can do it without setting off traps. (This might have been the intention; however, the text doesn’t say that.)

The maps have improved from previous seasons (spoiler alert: the tier 2 companion to this module has the same bad maps as before). This really matters to groups that play on Roll20 or another virtual tabletop. Instead, I paid a little extra to get the map set produced by Gail D using assets from Mike Schley. A number of groups commented on how much they liked these maps. I did create an abstract grid for the dinosaur race based on what the module shows, as I have seen other groups get confused by the layout in Gail D’s map on this one.

race-tracker.png

Tips and conclusion

Spend some time in advance thinking about how to get the party moving. Make sure you understand how the various traps and puzzles work; some of them might get jumbled if you read them for the first time right when the game is about to start. If you play at an actual table, the map quality will probably be okay for you, but if you use a VTT, spend some extra time or money to make sure your players see something a little nicer..

The whole module provides a maximum of 500 XP, so once players get through this, they will either need to play something else (including potentially the actual ToA book) or wait until November when the rest of the Tier 1 modules for this season come out.

Either way, it’s not the worst introduction to a season I’ve seen, and the race alone makes it worthwhile in my mind.

 

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