What do you get if you put together a 3.5e D&D adventure pack designed specifically for GMs who are pressed for time, a style that’s reminiscent of Ptolus (ie, awesome) combined with 4th Edition’s layout and encounter structure, all for the discounted price of $7.50?
Trouble in Tallreed Waters, that’s what, and it’s bloody brilliant!
If I were being lazy, I could say that Trouble is what the Keep on Shadowfell tries to be (but for 3rd Edition) and leave it at that, but what kind of review would it be if I didn’t go into some kind of detail, eh?
Trouble in Tallreed Waters is a 52-page full-colour PDF from Myth Merchant Press written by Steve Muchow. Full credit goes to him as, apart from the proofreading, he’s responsible for the writing, cartography, layout, cover and whole enchilada (Mmmmm….. enchilada……). Where was I? Oh yes…..
In essence this is a 1st level adventure that includes battlemats (lots of battlemats!), pre-generated characters, fold-up paper miniatures and tokens all wrapped around the mystery of the PC’s missing benefactor. There’s 6 key encounter areas and a large woodland area to explore, with full battlemats provided for the combat encounters. These are great quality and large too – the Woodland Path alone takes up 9 pages of the PDF. These are to be laid in a 3×3 grid, wih another encounter area filling another 12 pages to make a 4×3 layout. They’re suitably generic too, so that’s a fair chunk of the whole PDF being a re-usable resourse even when the adventure is done.
Here’s the only place where I could nitpick about Trouble – I’d have liked to see the battlemats collated at the end or in a separate PDF so there can easily be printed (along with the paper minis) all together on thicker card. It’s a little fiddly to sort out what’s to be printed on plain paper and what needs something stronger. Also, it would help to have a small reference somewhere unobtrusive on the battlemat to make it simpler to lay them out, especially when they’re all jumbled out of order mid-game (oopsy!). Having 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-1, etc in the corner would have helped immensely!
One thing that the players liked in particular about Trouble was the pre-generated characters. They’re each laid out on a single sheet of paper designed to be folded through the middle to create a kind of stand-up character sheet. This gave each PC a kind of GM screen of their very own which they thought was great. It also simplified my job as GM ‘cos I could see the player’s character name and key abilities during play too. I’ll definitely be re-using this idea. What can I say? We’re easily pleased!
As this adventure is designed for 4-6 1st level characters, I’d have liked to see 6 fully stated PCs available rather than just 4. This would give the party more choice if there’s only 4 players, and a full complement with a party of 6. If Steve could find his way to posting more pre-generated characters up in the same style (please?!) either for free or Very Cheap, that would be a Very Good Thing. I know it’ll catch on.
Overall the layout is very clean indeed. It uses the two column + chatty sidebar style that made Ptolus so darned readable, but adds some excellent 4e touches into the mix. Even though this is 3rd Edition, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Monsters are straight out of 4th Edition because the statblock style is very similar. This is another Good Thing as it makes the GM’s job a lot easier mid-game. 4e style statblocks are much easier on the eyes! I like. Trouble also gets bonus points for actually putting the XP awards right there on the page, adjusted for number of characters. Awarding XP in Third Edition using That Damned Table from the DMG is horrible, and it’s great not to need it.
Great layout and design is all well and good, but what really matters is how it plays.
I’m going to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say this is one enjoyable adventure. Plotwise it’s about as simple as they come – another Good Thing! – involving a caravan train and a kidnapping. We ran through two of the full encounters in a single 3 hour session including start and setup with all of the players wanting to continue while we work out What To Do With 4e (see the next blogpost for details). There’s plenty of role-playing opportunities in this adventure too – the players spent almost an hour gaming the caravan train at the start of the session – and it’s a far cry from 4e’s top-heavy emphasis on badazz combat. In fact, this adventure is making us like Third Edition again. Not that we didn’t dislike it in the first place Trouble also introduces a new concept to the table with Skill Trials. These allow the players to approach a problem (for example, getting past an enchanted door) from several different directions. They do add something to the game, and I’d like to see more of them in future products from Myth Merchant.
One word of warning though – the second encounter is very tough indeed. I ended up using my own version of the Minion rules for the Goblin Scouts where they die with a single hit – effectively, they’re 1hp critters. As one of my players consistently rolled 1s and 2s for damage the entire night, it helped! Playwise, everything ran quickly enough with each combat involving lots of arm waving on each side. Good stuff.
Right now, the characters are resting up at the Giddy Ghost Inn, ready to face the rest of the adventure next week.
In all, Trouble in Tallreed Waters is a great, straightforward adventure that’s well suited to experienced gamers at the start of a fresh campaign and newcomers alike. The quality of the layout and completeness of the product (Paper minis! Right in the game!) make it stand out from the crowd. There’s a smattering of proofreading bloopers along the way – “Dediication”, “Qualies”, missing capitalization at the start of sentences, etc – but that’s not something I particularly notice nor care about during play.
If you want to take a look at Myth Merchant’s style without shelling out $7.50 (cheapskate!), take a look at the Giddy Ghost Inn as a free download from RPGNow. This is a standalone expansion to Trouble which provides full battlemats for the Inn along with Patrons, adventure seeds and rules for drinking competitions. And who doesn’t want those?!