Sunday, April 5, 2009

Review: Thunderspire Labyrinth

Saturday saw the gang finish up the Thunderspire Labyrinth adventure module from Wizards of the Coast. It took us sometime, mostly five or six sessions to complete, but that was over about two or three months do to our sporadic schedule. I thought I would provide my input to the world at large on the module. Some spoilers may be present, but lets be honest, the damn thing has been out for nine months and 'most' of you hard core games that are using the printed material ought to be way past this guy by now. :)

At the start the party consisted of 5th Level Human Wizard (Zoltan the Reformed), 4th Level Halfling Rogue (Eldecar), 3rd Level Goblin Rogue (Splug), 4th Level Elf Ranger (Sliver), 4th Level Dragonborn Warlord (Zarsathor). We were joined early on by a 3rd Level Dragonborn Paladin (Kaznak) and had sporadic guest appearances from a Human Ranger and a second Dragonborn Paladin.

We finished up with a 7th Level Wizard, Halfling Rogue, Elf Ranger, 6th Level Dragonborn Warlord, 5th Level Paladin and Goblin Rogue. In all not bad progress for the party. The party is, for the most part, a combat/tactical group. Role play, in the 'old school' since, is only present in a minimal way. I don't have a big issue with that as I think everyone really enjoys the combat and is trying in the role play category.

General: The module was constructed well. As with the new modules, it contains two booklets, one that lays the basics down for the adventure, has new monsters and has picture representation of some of the encounter areas. The second booklet has the write ups for each of the encounters using the standard Wizard of the Coast format. I thought the encounters were well balanced and provided the party plenty of opportunity to engage in their abilities.

  • The Maps: The provided map was very useful, as are most of them, for conducting encounters in those areas that are cinematic in nature. I also found that the encounter maps on each encounter were well developed and illustrated.
  • Tactical Encounters: I can not think of a single encounter that was way over the top. Even the big battle in the Well of Demons wasn't too powerful. On many encounters it was not uncommon to have multiple players drop, but the limited healing of the Wizard (multi-class Cleric), Warlord, and Paladin allowed the party to usually return to the battle.
  • Bronze Warder with Enigma of Vecna are a nasty combo! :)
  • The Maps: Wizards could have sprung for a second fold out map. It would have been nice to have the climatic end be on a map versus the evil wizard.
  • Tactical Encounters: The standard 'hope' is that the players can continue to push through encounter after encounter, but I've found that after two encounters the players are starting to get thin and a third gets to be real tough. Given the dungeon crawl environment, the players were going three and full rest, three, full rest... Which is what Wizards was trying to avoid from the older system of big encounter, full days rest... Three in a row 'should' only take about 40 mins in-game time, but they team was often spent. I think our longest string was five encounters, and even that took about an 1.5 hours of in-game time. Not sure if that is a product of the system or the module.
  • Skill Challenge Encounters: Well... This was the big shiny turd of the module. In two specific locations, a role play challenge encounter was set up, but they were very poorly executed. "The ghost is impressed by feats of strength. Do a DC25 str test to get his approval..." or something along those lines is just pretty lame. I think the challenge encounter can work, but it requires more prep time or thought then the ones included in this module.
  • Better Back Ground: I would have liked to see a better write up for the Mages that ran the seven pillar hall. It would have aided the play and role play between the characters with the NPC that were tasking them to accomplish. The 'blank' page was just too empty and I would have liked some meat in my stew.
Things I Learned:
  • Action Points: As I stated before, I am allowing the players to burn Action Points for re-rolls on missed attacks. This is to help alleviate the big daily missing syndrome. I think it has worked for the most part and I'll be keeping it in the campaign.
  • Skill Challenges: I 'think' that skill challenges are going to be key 'role play' motivators. I'll be using them to get the players to open up on the character and actions by giving a hidden bonus or penalty to the die roll based on their response. In other words, if a player, out of character, says I'm telling the ghost a story it would be a negative to the roll, but if the player, in-character, actually tells the story, then it would be a positive. The notion of 'X' success before 'Y' failures just seems hard to pull off with out a lot of useless die rolls.
Expansion: The module does a good job of giving potential growth opportunities within the module. Given the Spire's position you could go Trog hunting, Find the Witch, Explore Underdark, or take over the Seven Pillar Hall. Lots of growth.

: It was a solid module that could do with a bit of refining. I give it four out of five Vecna eyeballs.

Warder of Bronze

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