Does the final section conclude with a bang or a whimper?
Wave Echo CaveHaving rescued Gundren Rockseeker (or possibly not) and finding the map to Wave Echo Cave, the characters can now confront the mysterious Spider. Well, probably mysterious for someone who's never played Dungeons and Dragons before anyway.
Wandering monsters! Players will feel time pressure! On the other hand, they all attack and there isn't a consistent schedule for them given. You should roll if the "spend a long time in a given area" or "Conversely, if the players seem restless, you can decide that an encounter occurs". The auto attacking is the bigger sin.
Wave Echo cave is primarily a monster clearing expedition. There are many multiple routes through the dungeon, many opponents, some varied battlefields with cover, difficult terrain, and height differences. There is only one encounter in this dungeon that is not a fight, and it becomes a fight unless the characters "offer it something a former wizard would consider valuable in exchange for their lives."
I will pay anyone a dollar who can provide proof of a group that does that.
Effectively every encounter is a fight. There are many hidden and easy to miss items. This is a good thing, the players have to take some effort to discover the treasure.
It is difficult to say what an area like this comes across as in play. Will the combats become tedious? How long will it take a group to find their way through the mine? Are the choices presented via the dungeon's structure interesting ones? An exploration like this really requires playtesting -- sometimes the most straightforward things create good play. Sometimes things that read well come across very flat in play.
Failing by degreesIt's sometimes hard to remember that this is a new version of Dungeons and Dragons and the rules are the same. Skill check rolls are apparently not pass/fail rolls. There are several instances where if you attempt something and fail by a certain degree, negative effects occur. This is a feature of some skill rolls in earlier systems (3.x/PF) but appears to be more widely applied here. The higher your success, the better you do.
Perception, Passive, and InvestigationWhich should you use for what? The adventure so far has been quite inconsistent about the uses of these skills. Sometimes it asks for an active perception roll opposed by a stealth check. Sometimes the monster's stealth check is opposed by a passive perception roll. When investigation should be used instead of perception is less clear. It seems each Dungeon Master will have to come up with his own guidelines on using these skills. In one area, there is a DC 12 Investigation check to discover a map in a book, in another, a DC 20 Perception check to notice a body under rubble. What's the logic behind which to choose? Another area has a body hidden in water that has no check listed at all.
I don't mind the frequency with which they come up, after all, I roll a lot of surprise checks in my megadungeon. And bounded accuracy keeps it from being a tax, you either are going to have a bit of a bonus in it or not.
The combats in this area are of a higher difficulty than the ones in the earlier areas. One encounter with a flameskull and eight dwarf zombie tankers appears to be particularly difficult. The skull is one of the most powerful spellcasters in the starter set. I can speak from my own 5th edition experience that it doesn't feel like you're immune to damage. Things could go south at any moment, and some of these encounters well-played could very well result in a total party kill.
Final ThoughtsShould I fault Wave Echo cave for a non-weird environment? How about the underwhelming final battle with yet another hostage situation, only this time a dupe? How about for the small and non-impressive Forge of Spells?
Perhaps. I think the quality of this final section has much more to do with the way the Dungeon Master runs and presents it. I think Wizards of the Coast constrained the page count to 64, and web enhancements can address a lot of issues. I think that this last section is filled with a great deal of uninteresting content that could be randomly generated -- one of the notorious flaws of late TSR era and WotC era products. What is it we are paying for? It's the interesting part, not 3 ghouls in a room.
What's more is that this is a starter set. Where's the quick start / quick reference card? What about those people who open the box to play and discover that someone should have to prep for an hour or two before play begins?
Also, I feel it's important to note that this game is explicitly a western. Is that weird? It's even called out in the adventure. A prospecting town. A mine. Bandits harassing the locals.
I feel badly for some of this criticism, because I read the whole module and am looking forward to running it. It makes me excited to play. I feel much more confident handing a 5th edition rulebook to my wife. I never felt that way with a 3rd edition book -- the feats chapter alone would have convinced her never to play. It's a bit like complaining that the gilding on my lily is sliver instead of gold, when in the past I wasn't even given a lily at all.
To my current recollection it is certainly the best Dungeons and Dragons adventure I've read post-1990. By far. It also cost me 12$. And came with a set of dice (though there is no d100 percentile die).
Hack & Slash
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