Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok module, but feels very incomplete, July 24, 2010
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This review is from: Demon Queen's Enclave: Adventure P2 for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (D&D Adventure) (Paperback)
Like many pre-published adventures, this one feels like it hasn't been play-tested much, if at all. The main point of this review is to warn DMs that it can potentially be a fun module, but you'll have to spend a decent bit of time reading and re-reading the module, establishing what's going on(sometimes major plot points are mentioned off-hand or in obscure places), and a basic mindset of what you kind of imagine what the PCs should be doing and when they should be doing it. I think the main people whom it would benefit are DMs who are very creative and able to come up with storylines at the drop of a hat but are looking for someone to come up with the combat encounters for them.

There are two books. The first includes the basic storyline, list of items and new monsters, NPC personalities. The second includes all of the encounters. The problem is that while the second book seems fairly complete, the first book feels like they dashed it off to the printer and left half of it out. The basic storyline premise is this:

"A rebel group of Drow secretly began worshiping Orcus, and went to a pocket dimension where a former Exarch of Orcus once held sway. Rousing his abandoned legions, they swept back into the Underdark and sacked their former Drow city of Phaervorul. When the PCs arrive, there are three main Drow NPCs who wish for the city to be reclaimed from the demons and undead, but do not trust or like each other. The first night the PCs sleep there, they also have a dream about the vampire leader of the rebel Drow, who taunts them and invites them to challenge him in his pocket dimension. The PCs can eventually find the portal to this dimension, carve through his army of minions, and finally challenge him."

This is not a bad premise for the storyline, but my issue was that the book never goes much more into detail than that. Here were some of the problems I had:

1. Lack of motivation. There are a few suggested motivations for the players, but they're not well integrated into the story and don't seem to serve much purpose other than "Get the PCs to the start of the adventure". In my experience, this can potentially result in bored players who ask "Why are we here again?". One of the suggested motivations for good parties is that a local seer has seen ominous omens about the rise of a new Exarch of Orcus. Unfortunately, this is a weak motivation because said Exarch isn't really an immediate threat to anyone besides other evil creatures so it's basically boils down to just kill this evil guy that's in this other dimension because.....well, he's evil and he, um...exists? If the PCs find out that he can't even become an Exarch unless he kills them, they'll feel doubly cheated.

Motivation becomes a really big issue when it comes to dealing with the Drow NPCs, the supposed meat of the adventure. Much is made about why the Drow would condescend to working with the PCs because they're in a weakened state, the PCs can impress them with Skill Challenges, etc. However, it seems to have completely escaped the writers as to why the PCs would actually *want* to help the Drow. After all, they're evil, will likely backstab the PCs and really don't have much to offer them. The only reward the book mentions is possibly sending an NPC or two along to help.

2. There's almost nothing to the NPCs. With three main NPC factions vying for power, you'd think they'd get at least a page or two of background write-up. While they get a decent blurb about their motivations(which pretty much translates into screw everyone else and kill the main villain), there is only about a paragraph or so apiece about some of their history, and little to nothing about their personality or what they actually know about what's going on. This can be a big problem, because the PCs already won't have much of an idea of what they're supposed to be doing, and the NPCs won't be of any help. For example, the second half of the adventure takes place in the pocket dimension which involves traveling through a portal, but will the NPCs even know to tell them?

3. The PCs arrive in a CITY. Where should they go? Although it's a clue that the Temple of Lolth is a prominent landmark, the rest of the city is just abstract groups of buildings that give PCs little clues about where they should go. Couple this with the lack of NPC knowledge, and you can easily run into a problem where the PCs have no clue about what to do next, other than randomly searching buildings. Some people may call this open-ended. I think of it as unfocused.

4. For being an intrigue based adventure, all of the encounters are written up to be combats. While this is understandable, it's problematic when the NPCs attack the PCs first and/or attack them from surprise when these encounters are supposed to have the option of diplomacy. One egregious example is the first encounter, where the PCs run into undead chasing down a drider. The encounter description even describes the drider lunging straight for them, and the tactics section describes his allies as also attacking the PCs as well. Given the above issue with lack of motivation to help the drow to begin with, the PCs will be even less likely to help the drow if they're attacked by them.

5. There's almost a complete lack of an ending. They can kill the final villain, and for no discernible reason Orcus shows up with an image of his eye and his hand and asks for the villain's sword, all for the binary choice of giving him the sword or sticking it into his eye.

Before anyone responds with something to the effect of "Well, any creative DM can surmount these issues by..."

Well yes, yes they can. For example, I would suggest having a quest motivation that involves the PCs being sent to meet with the Drow Matron and knowledge of where to find her. When they get there, she should have a background story of what's happened(from her perspective) along with some designated areas in the city that the PCs should go(for example, meet with the General to see what he knows, kill the rebellious wizard Jhaelant, check on our slaves, etc.). The PCs could then go to those areas, meet with the other NPCs who have their own goals (which may run counter to those of the other NPCs). These mini-quests should be to help accomplish certain plot McGuffins which then culminate in the first Act climax of taking on the Drow Vampire Lieutenant who guards the portal to the pocket dimension. All the while, the PCs should be finding out information about the soon to be Exarch of Orcus that makes them want to defeat him.

HOWEVER, I believe that this is requiring a lot of work out of a DM who paid for a pre-written module rather than just taking the time to create someting unique themselves. It's just unfortunate that no example like the one I gave really rests in the module itself, so DMs should be prepared to do some work to achieve the story that the writers had conceived in their head, but not really put down on paper.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 4, 2011 6:51:26 AM PST
Wow! absolute perfect review of the module and how to fix it.
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