Thursday, September 15, 2022

Review: Salted Legacy and Written in Blood

Now that I'm running the adventures in Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, I'm going to be writing reviews of them informed by my actual play experience, much as I did previously with Candlekeep Mysteries. First up, "Salted Legacy" and "Written in Blood." Warning for those who plan on playing these adventures: spoilers ahead!

Salted Legacy

Written by Surena Marie

One thing I really liked about "Salted Legacy" as an entry-level adventure is that it eschews the "fighting kobolds or goblins in a cave" convention and instead drops the characters in the middle of a contentious social situation. That's honestly a nice change of pace for what is to all intents and purposes and entry-level adventure.

 Although there are a few occasions for combat, mostly in the market games, as written the scenario doesn't necessarily have to be solved with violence. The premise, exploring a vibrant night market in search of clues as to what is going on with a burgeoning feud between two food vendors and interacting with the market's sellers to get a sense of the forces at play, is pretty solid and offers a backdrop I haven't really seen done before.

That said, the night market games do feel a little game-y, especially since it's explicit that taking part in them is the only way to raise your renown high enough for the market folk to actually tell you anything important. I didn't mind that, but people with fragile senses of "immersion" could well be bothered by how this aspect of the adventure gamifies the renown rules in a blatant way.

Additionally, the adventure might be a little too "soft" in terms of stakes. The two rival families in the market are antagonistic to each other, but the text makes it clear that they will stop short of "harming" each other. I think that's a mistake; when I ran the adventure, I had the threat of them becoming violent hang in the air as an impetus to spur the players to action and as a possible consequence of their failure. Painting the two families as the Montagues and Capulets of the local marketplace raised the stakes considerably from "these two families yell at each other in public sometimes."

Also, I wanted to note one minor flaw that isn't impossible to rectify, but a DM might want to be aware of in advance: it's a little difficult to thread the needle on the third party being the real villain without either making it obvious who is inflaming the two families' mutual enmity or making the third party's influence too obscure to be picked up on during play.

Written in Blood

Written by Erin Roberts

There are a lot of great creepy details in this adventure that definitely fit the style of adventure I like to run. Additionally, crawling claws are often a generic "filler" monster in horror scenarios, but the way they take center stage here works well, particularly with the inclusion of the multi-armed soul shaker as the "evolved" or "greater" version of them.

I didn't really anticipate it, but the encounter where a pit opens beneath the wagon, creating a sinkhole that is then used as an ambush site by crawling claws, made for a pretty tense encounter. I don't think the characters were really in danger, but the set up made the players think that something catastrophic was possible, if not eminent.

Also, the abandoned farmhouses are given slight-but-creepy details that set them apart from one another, and the details are just enough to create an atmosphere of dread. My players wanted no part of those houses--which I take to be an element of successful design.

That said, the journey from the town to the farms at the frontier felt a bit linear. Things get better once they reach Kianna's farmhouse and begin exploring, but it would have been cool to see the possibility of picking alternate routes to get there. If you wanted to expand on this adventure, one obvious thing to do would be to create multiple approaches to the farmstead and let the players choose which way to go. Of course, you'd want to plan for different kinds of encounters along each of the pathways you devise. 

This may or may not be a negative aspect, depending on your preferences, but it's quite possible for the players to finish the adventure and still have only an inkling of what was going on with Kianna, Culley, the lake, and the monsters. Because so many npcs in the adventure "awaken" from their trances with no memories of their actions, there is a lack of material to piece together into a coherent picture for the players. 

In my opinion, this is actually fine for this particular adventure; as a horror-based scenario, it isn't out of line that they come away knowing that something awful was occurring, yet not completely assured that they understand the underlying cause of the terrors. In a horror-centric scenario, it's okay for uncertainty to linger--even after the adventure has been completed.