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Saturday 24 November 2018

de Harken Inheritance III

Previous adventures from Montidots Limited for the Old School Renaissance have been set in the valley of Highcliff Gard, a minor feudal holding at the heart of which stands the village of Highcliff Gard. The personal fiefdom of the de Harken family, it lies nestled on the western slopes of the White Mountains to the south of the Kingdom of Yeorlingard and north of the clan lands of Kaldemar, and east of the great Hundreness Forest. It is humanocentric setting, the people of Highcliff Gard holding a particular prejudice against the ‘Erle Folk’—Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and the like. Unfortunately, the de Harken family lives under a curse. No male member of the family lives to see their fortieth year. This curse, its cause, and perhaps a means to lift it, are the subject of the first two fantasy scenarios from Montidots Limited, MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane. The first adventure is written for use with First Level and Second Level characters, the second adventure for use with characters of between Third Level and Fifth Level, the suggested ruleset being Knights & Knaves’ OSRIC™ System (Old School Reference and Index Compilation), but of course, this being an Old School Renaissance setting, it is easily adapted to the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice. A planned third part in the trilogy, MD5 Tantulus, is yet to appear, but in the meantime, to literally fill in that gap in the series, there is MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard – A MontiDots adventure suppliment for early versions of Fantasy Role-playing games.

MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard is the setting supplement for use with both MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane. It expands upon the background material given in both adventures, but more importantly is set prior to the events of both. As written, it is designed to provide enough information and adventuring hooks for a party to arrive in Highcliff Gard and for its members to make it their base of operations as go off on adventures, some of which will lead them outside the valley, but most of them will keep them within its confines. At the core of those adventures are MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, but in addition those, MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard provides further adventures, encounters, hooks, and seeds which the Game Master can weave in between the two core adventures. These include an introductory courier mission over the mountains to bring the player characters into the valley; children whose ambitions are at odds with those that their parents have for them; rival kingdoms with designs on the valley ; a ruined tower which conceals a secret at the heart of Highcliff Gard; a cult working to overthrow the social order in the valley; and a former necromancer’s dungeon—sealed up for centuries, but from behind whose doors come the occasional sounds of bangs, screams, and roars—which can easily be expanded upon by the Game Master.

These are not the only adventures, encounters, hooks, and seeds to found in MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard, but it is a shame that one fully detailed encounter is reprinted wholesale from MD3 Necromancer’s Bane rather new content being provided. All of them though, including the two previously published full adventures, are designed to be built around a campaign framework whose plots see the valley and its inhabitants suffer from a dreadful winter, which makes their lives more difficult and exacerbates their innate xenophobia. The framework is designed to give a sense of urgency to the playthrough of the ‘Highcliff Gard’ trilogy, but as presented will need an experienced Game Master to be properly handled. This is primarily because there really is not the advice to help those with less experience.

MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard greatly expands upon the background material presented in the earlier two modules. This includes a timeline of its history, more background—especially beyond the confines of Highcliff Gard, and detailed descriptions of notable locations within the valley. The latter consist of Harken Hall—family seat of the de Harken family, the Halister Mill Tavern, and the Cumfrey Swails’ Herbery. Each is fully mapped out and although the floor plans of Harken Hall are rather plain, those of the other locations are nicely detailed.

Rounding out the supplement is an encounter table and a number of new rules. These expand the rules for alchemy, enabling First Level Magic-Users to brew potions—including weak healing potions, increased rates of fire for archers, polytheistic priests, and a note on necromancy. Also discussed are the Erle Folk, the version of Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings found in the setting for MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard and much distrusted by the folk who live there. For the most part, they are not intended as Races for player characters, the setting being humanocentric in the main.

Physically, MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard is not a case of style over substance, but it does have an issue or two in terms of presentation and writing. Coming as a spiral-bound book, MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard is illustrated with some excellent pieces of artwork—the image of the corpse of a dragon being fed upon by scavengers is particularly striking. Some of it has appeared in the previous two scenarios, but that still does not mean that those pieces are bad. Where the cartography contains detail, the floor plans are also good, being easy to read and use. The issue though is not so much with the writing as the editing and the development of the supplement. MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard simply needs another edit, but really what it deserves is more development. This would enable the author to give more structure and more staging advice to the campaign framework that the plots suggest and to help the Game Master handle events in and around MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, as well as help her in the lead up to MD5 Tantulus. Perhaps it would also give time to develop new material to replace content repeated from the two scenarios unnecessarily and possibly rethink the inclusion of one of the dungeons which adds little to the supplement overall.

MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard is a nice looking book and it contains a lot of solid material. The latter certainly supports both MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane, and it should also support the forthcoming MD5 Tantulus. This includes further background information—the material describing the area beyond the confines of Highcliff Gard is especially welcome—and the various plots. It can also work as a standalone supplement, but that leaves more work for the Game Master to undertake to develop scenarios and encounters around the suggested plots, when really, it is designed to work with both modules. Nevertheless, it still requires a fair degree of preparation and effort upon the part of the Game Master if its contents are to fully support MD2 The Curse of Harken Hall and MD3 Necromancer’s Bane. Overall, MD4 Tales of Highcliff Gard – A MontiDots adventure suppliment for early versions of Fantasy Role-playing games is full of interesting and useful content which requires an experienced Game Master to get the most out of its pages.

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