Monday, August 31, 2009

Forges of the Mountain King: A Review

Forges of the Mountain King: A Review

Today I'm going to review one of the first 4the Edition Adventures released by anybody. Forges of the Mountain King by Goodman Games. This module was released shortly after 4th Edition was released, although that may sound like a recipe for disaster it was not a module tossed together to make a quick a buck. Goodman Games was an early adopter of 4E and had a great deal of communication with WotC while this and their other early releases were being developed1. This turns out to be true.

The Adventure for 1st level PCs is an exploration into what remains of a Dwarven stronghold. With a two page sprawling map it is a dungeon complex in the vein of AD&D something Goodman Games has prided itself on and this adventure is an excellent example of that. Also like some of the AD&D games the combats in this adventure can be brutal, and the mod is rather unapologetic about the fact that there are places where a TPK can happen. Although it does include advice for how to handle a TPK and keep the adventure rolling this may need to be expanded upon if the players are inadequately equipped for such difficult and dynamic combats. This is true not just because there are several rooms with very cool terrain or traps2 but also because the tactics for several of the monsters includes running to get aid from nearby rooms, or keeping re-enforcements waiting in the wings until things get bad. This concept of combats coming in waves or monsters retreating into other encounter areas is something that seems inherent in building a challenging encounter3. Additionally I have found that there is a lot of history and plot potential in this mod that DMs can use to further expand a campaign

Unfortunately because of the, at the time, newness of 4th Ed. Forges of the Mountain King suffers from some early design mistakes. Mostly this comes from combatants that are too high a level for the PCs to reasonable fight and expect to not loose 1 or more party members. Sometimes this is mitigated by terrain but other times it seems to be a throwback to AD&D combats where the party needed to try hit and run tactics and hope the monster did kill the PCs before they could retreat heal and return to kill again, which while fun is not the "expected" play style for 4th Edition combats4. The plot and history of the site does not seem easily conveyed to players. I hope that is  is because Goodman Games wants to keep this as modular as possible and allow a DM to build upon or drop whatever he wants.

My final take on this adventure is the mod is definitely worth picking up if you are starting a low level group out. There are several plot hooks that can be used to build a campaign (both plotted or sand box) and it has enough of the details removed from "boxed" text that a DM can easily reskin the adventure with his own plot. This mod might be worthwhile for a DM that doesn't have a low level party if for nothing other than the maps and plot devices it can represent. The rooms and combats would be interesting and difficult (once the monsters were replaced) for anything up to low Paragon tier. This adventure is not great for a table of players and DM just starting out with little to experience with the system as its inherent deadliness will likely scare the players away from the game entirely. This versatility for experienced groups combined with the reasonable price makes the adventure a solid stock adventure for any haggard DMs toolkit.

1 At least that is what I heard from the modules author at GenCon 2009
2 From multi level stairway combats with orcs at the bottom and archers at the top, to a fight 30' in the air with crumbling walkways and broken bridges, to a room with a trap that while not necessarily lethal it can certainly separate the party causing hilarity to ensue.
3 see Bruce Cordel et all's and Mike Mearl's early notes about developing challenging and expansive combats in dungeons. Dungeon Magazine 
4 I can find no actual designer notes to support this argument but given the concept of monster levels and XP/difficulty budgets it does seem like the players can always expect the difficulty of an encounter to be reasonable.