Hello everyone! Today we come back around to the North Seat with Book 1 of this campaign setting / adventure module. For those of you who are intrigued in this you can also find Book 2 which recently came out. If you were here a few weeks ago I was going to be reviewing this product back then, but realized I needed more time and how important it would be to review the Player’s Primer first. You can find the review for that right here, but the short version is that the Primer (which is PWYW) is needed for anyone, especially the DM, using this setting at the table. Now, this review will assume you have or will be utilizing the Primer with little mention as to how well it works without it. At this point there is no reason for you to be looking at Book 1, let alone Book 2, without having grabbed the Primer first!
Okay folks, I have to say I have a lot of thoughts on this adventure and it centers around a lot of potential from the author. Enough so that I hope people pick this up, I want to check out Book 2, and I look forward to Ethan Hudgens developing as a designer. To start the adventure runs on a number of assumptions. The crucial among these is that the adventure is run in a milestone format and that you have a minor understanding of the world you are playing in. Secondarily, the adventure assumes that you have read or utilized similar products before. As long as you are ready to dive right into the adventure and get going, you shouldn’t have any problems with this product. All in all, the adventure itself is a pretty good, basic format type of journey that new characters take. They are sent on some mission of local custom, end up stumbling into some bigger problems, discover these problems need to be dealt with, and they deal with it. The result is that the characters earn rewards, notoriety, and a step towards a greater adventuring career. I don’t have any problems with the humble beginning scenario. The adventure even hints towards the greater mythos of the world and makes use of some classics like the hook horror.
Here’s we get back to the “lot of thoughts” I have. There is so much great design in this adventure, but there is also a number of things that could have been executed more smoothly. Let’s start with the beginning of the document and work form there. The adventure has a title page, it has credits and ToC page, and it has the OGL info right up front. This is all good stuff, but that is all it has. Given that this is not just a full adventure but also a campaign setting, the product could really benefit from an introductory section. I have looked through other products that follow the layout of standard adventures to a T and they still utilize introductory sections that explain the product and some of its layout. Don’t get me wrong, the layout is fantastic. There are side bars, descriptive text, and good use of bolding and the like. However, it never hurts to have examples in the first section that explicitly tell the DM what each looks like and is used for. More important than that, though are the other warnings that benefit an introductory section. Mention that this is a setting and that the Player’s Primer as a useful and, frankly, necessary resource. Talk about how it is laid out and designed for milestones and where they earn them. Tell the DM that players will be earning reputation and that reputation is important for advancing their character’s equipment and getting help. The more you lay out, even if some is redundant, is better equipped the DM with be to run it.
There is a lot to love about the way Ethan Hudgens has designed this product and I need to reiterate that, because refining is what this product needs. Not re-doing or overhauls. Just a simple refining of what he has already done. For example, I love that he has included what he calls a skill montage. This is the skill challenge you will find familiar if you listen to Critical Hit or played 4th Edition yourself. There is a side bar explaining it and he uses it to get through a scene that shouldn’t be strict combat or slow paced. All that being said, laying out the rules for skill challenges as he uses them would benefit being in an introduction and having its own line on the Table of Contents. Other than spacing issues (too tight in some pages) things in this adventure are wonderfully done. They are clear, readable, and differentiated. There are easy to use stat blocks for monsters, unique items to be used, and even a random encounter table which he has the DM adjust for certain areas or what is happening. There is clear forethought in this adventure and it shows in a lot of spaces. As another example, each encounter is set up as a small table with a specific number of different creatures to include depending on the number of characters in the party. This is a simple but incredibly useful tool for the DM. Whether you want a little tailoring to your group’s size or you’re a DM that wants a little less work for making encounters easier or harder, these tables are there for you.
Okay, I know I didn’t go into great detail about this adventure, but I really don’t want to do spoilers. As always, I want to focus on the positives and who will use this. Anyone who as seen their way around a pre-written adventure will be fine here. Anyone who is looking for something basic and fun with a good mix of how things can play out will enjoy this. If you want a classic-style game with a new world, this will be great for you. One preview: there are many goblin types and goblins are fae! Of course, I also want to express what I hope to see in Book 2 and further. I would like to see some extra pages and refinement of layout. I want Ethan to look to professional products for examples and pretend this is the first book someone has picked up. Make things easy for new DMs, forgetful people, and those who need things laid out plainly. You are doing so much right with this and just need to take a couple steps forward to make this product even better!
One final note: take care in the assumptions of the adventure and aad a little more bait to your paths. The very beginning feels a little railroady without enough help for the GM coaxing players towards something. I know many groups that would fight to the death and the chase itself doesn’t grant any benefit or reprieve from the horrors. Instead it seems to be an avoidance of the punishment of exhaustion. And if it were my party, I would hold off the hook horror, pull out our friend, and continue running topside, running into the tunnel sounds like a bad idea. Make it a little more clear that the ruin is a place to escape danger!
The TL;DR of this review is that it looks like a terrific first outing for Ethan Hudgens. There are clearly good, smart design choices but there is also a need for refinement. I understand the ability to play test could be difficult, especially for a new developer, but get some eyes on the adventures and find out what people would do. Try to account for more decisions. There is a wonderful start here that piques my desire to see how the author has developed into the sequel. I might pick up Book 2 and give it a review soon. I hope to see more from Ethan and look forward to even better products. If you are looking for different setting to start in, click the links in the intro. Both the Primer and Book 1 are both PWYW and you can probably look forward to hearing about the sequel from me at some point.