Review – Claws of Fury

It’s time for the Wednesday Review! Today I’m taking a look at Claws of Fury written by Al Spader, and published on DMsGuild by the Mount Ogden Gaming CompanyClaws of Fury is part of the Tales of the Moonsea series for D&D Adventurer’s League (CCC-ALMOG-03 TALES03-01) and is currently a copper best-seller. The adventure is selling for $4.99 and has two ratings and reviews giving it an average of 5 stars.

For those of you who’ve not read my reviews before, I use a trinity of qualities to review products, which are DesignWriting Production. Design focuses on narrative and mechanics. Writing considers the style of writing; how interesting, well-edited and comprehensive it is. Production focuses on layout and artwork primarily, but also the flow of the document.

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this product and am currently working with the Mount Ogden Gaming Company, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be honest with my opinions.

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Claws of Fury is an adventure for Tier 3 (11th – 16th level) characters. The adventure is essentially a hunt for dracolich which is wreaking havoc in the local area; destroying the tortle village in Glumpen Swamp and flying low over the town of Hawksroost. The town has put out a reward to anyone brave enough to hunt down this dracolich, called Velvet.

As with all D&DAL adventures, we’re given an introduction that tells us how to adjust encounters and gives DM tips. This is followed by a synopsis of the adventure (which contains a few spelling and grammatical mistakes) and an overview of the adventure breakdown. This, as well as the location and NPC summary sidebar, give a good idea about what to expect in the adventure. We’re also given an adventure hook that is a little lack-lustre, but thankfully the hooks are already baked into the story.

Intro – The Monster on Our Heels

This page, in conjunction with the previous material, gives us the full premise of the adventure. The tortle village was attacked by a flying, skeletal monster and most of the townsfolk have assumed it’s the dracolich Velvet. The characters meet Ames, the captain of the guard, and Olo, the tortle who brought the news of being attacked.

Although this section of the adventure is short, it’s concise, and gets across all the necessary detail in a comprehensive, if slightly clinical, manner.

Design: 5/5 Although the hook isn’t particularly nuanced, it certainly does the job.

Writing: 4/5 I’ve noted a few spelling and grammatical mistakes in the text so far, which is the only thing holding it back from a 5.

Production: 4/5 The layout and graphics in the adventure are certainly better than the average product on the guild,  but a lot more could be done to really make this visually stunning. Custom portraits of the characters, for example, are a great way to engage players and please us art-hungry DMs.

Overall: 4.5/5

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Part 1 – An Unexpected Discovery

Suddenly, we are transported to the Glumpen Swamp. It would have been great to have something to give a sense of travel between the two locations. A map of the local area, with suggestions for random encounters along the way would be my suggestion. As it stands, the characters just arrive at the swamp. I realise that for higher level parties, travel becomes far less important. A lot of characters can fly or even teleport at this level, but that doesn’t, in my opinion, excuse the lack of advice here. A few paragraphs of travel info would solve this problem.

When characters arrive at the swamp, their only real challenge is a patch of quicksand. We have rules for quicksand in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 110 for those interested) that are significantly better than those outlined here, and that are more likely to facilitate an interesting, dynamic encounter. In this instance, the author has tried to make the quicksand deadlier by increasing the check DC to escape it. Generally, I don’t like upscaling mechanics like this. Quicksand probably wouldn’t be a challenge for Tier 3 characters, increasing the DC is unlikely to make it more of one, and breaks the continuity of the world. Instead, I would consider adding something new, rather than rewriting rules. A great example would be to add monsters to the encounter or have the quicksand infused with some swamp plague. Failing that, at least offer some explanation as to why this particular quicksand is harder to escape and spot than usual.

When the characters arrive at Mudrut, the tortle village, they have the chance to investigate the scene of the attack. The author does a great job here of providing multiple clues, each of which can be determined using a different skill. This should mean that different characters get a turn in the spotlight, and that if the characters get a few bum rolls, it’s likely they’ll get the information they need to advance the plot. If none of this works, the skeletal rocs attack giving the characters the true answer; it was not Velvet, but these undead birds.

The encounter with the rocs (which are a nice new spin on an old monster), if followed with more social interaction. A tortle suffering with PTSD from the attack called Ludron approaches them, and essentially tells them she can take them to where the rocs live, pushing the adventure on wards. The author here does well to give some consideration to parties that might see the rocs, decide that Velvet is just a rumour, and head back for a reward, or those that return with roc skulls rather than dragon skulls. Although their suggestion is a little crude, it works well the keep the adventure from ending prematurely.

Design: 4/5 Although I like that the author hasn’t gated progress behind skill checks, I dislike making quicksand deadlier mechanically. Breaking a window doesn’t become harder at higher levels, neither should quicksand UNLESS there is a good reason provided.

Writing: 4/5 Any errors seem to have been cleared up here. The descriptions of characters and encounters are clear and concise, but it would be nice to have a little more read aloud text. Especially a good description of the skeletal roc attack!

Production: 5/5 As before, the use of fitting stock art and sidebars puts this above the average product on DMsGuild, but further work could be done to achieve a 5.

Overall: 4.5/5

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Part 2 – Spirits of the Past

This section follows a similar plan to the last. The characters uncover a new location; the roc nests, they have a chance to investigate the place with several skill choices which provide some clues about the plot, and then they have a combat encounter. In this instance, the party are also rewarded with some treasure for their troubles.

Characters discover here a dungeon entrance to Tharniir, a massive, ancient ogre city that has clearly sunk beneath the swamp. There’s no real incentive that I can distil from the text to incite characters to enter the dungeon, save for their curiosity and eagerness to adventure. Although this should be a given, it would be nice to have another reason. For example, the characters could find something hinting that there are living tortles inside who were carried here by the rocs, then managed to escape the nests and take refuge in the dungeon. Better still, these tortles could be threatened by the undead which the party fight in the combat encounter, giving them an alternate combat objective; protect the innocents. The inclusion of extra material like this would really help bring the adventure together narratively, rather than just stringing together dissociated encounters.

Here again we have new options for old monsters, an ogre mummy lord and an orc vampire. The outlines for changing the monsters in the sidebar are not particularly clear, but the author has included stat blocks at the end of the adventure that ensure you run the monsters correctly. I love seeing these variant stats; they’re a great way to breathe new life into an old monster.

This section finishes with the introduction to the dungeon; a great scene of statuary that contains a hidden locking mechanism for the door. This piece of writing is good, and gives more information to the characters, but it could do with a section of read aloud text to make it clear to DMs what they should and shouldn’t be telling the players on first glance.

Design: 3/5 A lot could have been done here to improve the narrative of the adventure. Currently it feels a little disjointed, and might leave characters lost, without much clue as to their next move.

Writing: 4/5 Again, the author has done a good job of keeping the writing concise. It would be good to have a little more read aloud text (preferably for each location and major encounter), but the descriptions in text are evocative.

Production: 4/5 As before. Good use of stock artwork and sidebars.

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Part 3 – The Tharkul Catacombs

Part 3 is a puzzle filled dungeon that should be a delight for players to run through. The puzzles are complex enough to be satisfying to solve, but not so difficult that they’re likely to become frustrating. The author has also taken care to give potential clues or include skill checks that would make the puzzles easy to solve. The descriptions of each puzzle are clear and straightforward, helping DMs run them with ease, and each room has read aloud text that really helps paint a picture of the dungeon.

In particular, the infusion of lore and mechanics here is superb. The author has taken great care to familiarise themselves with the lore of what they are writing for, and weave that into the mechanics of the puzzles with finesse. Considering that the link into the dungeons wasn’t great, the flow of the dungeon and narrative within is excellent.

Design: 5/5 The mechanics of puzzles and their construction is brilliant. Inclusion of clues and skill checks means characters always have something to do, preventing them from getting stuck or frustrated.

Writing: 5/5 The writing is clear and concise in terms of puzzles and mechanics, and highly evocative in terms of read aloud text, which appears for each room. There are a few small editing errors, but they don’t overly impede the read.

Design: 4/5 Same as before. Good use of stock art, well put together, and a clear, simple map.

Overall: 5/5

Part 4 – Home Sweet Home

The finale of the adventure is a multi-faceted combat encounter with a dracolich, a demilich and eight black shadow dragon wyrmlings. WOW! Although the setting of the fight could perhaps to with some additions (boulders for cover or environmental hazards) the combat should already be interesting thanks to the diversity of foes. The introduction to the setting and encounter are great, and the short read aloud boxes are filled with awesome description that will terrify or inspire characters.

Design: 4/5 I would have liked to see a few additions to the setting for the final combat that could help or hinder the characters, but the choice of foes is thematic and should interplay nicely to create a challenging high level combat encounter.

Writing: 5/5 The writing here is essentially flawless. Although this is a short section, there are no mistakes as far as I can tell, the mechanics text is comprehensive, and the description for the encounter and setting is awe inspiring.

Production: 4/5 As before.

Overall 4.5/5

Conclusion – 4.5/5

This adventure is very close to being a full 5 out of 5. Just a few additions of integrated plot and a few revisions of combat encounters and mechanics choices would, in my opinion, complete this adventure in terms of design and writing. With regards to production, it would be awesome to have some NPC portraits, some awesome custom artwork of the final encounter, and probably a more relevant cover. Tier 3 adventures are difficult to design, because the characters have access to a lot of problem solving tools, but I think the puzzles and challenges in this adventure are more than sufficient to test the wits and skills of the characters. If you’re looking for a dungeon crawl, with a nice premise and perplexing puzzles, then this is surely the adventure for you!

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