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Friday, 1 May 2020

Friday Fantasy: To Free the Storm

The last thing you should do is say no to a dragon, right? This is a situation in which the Player Characters find themselves in To Free the Storm, a short, one or two session scenario for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Written by Andrew Peregrine, author of The Seventh Doctor Sourcebook as well as contributor to and author of many other roleplaying books, it is an adventure for characters of Fifth to Seventh Level. It is setting neutral, but whatever the setting the Dungeon Master decides to use it with, that setting requires an area of dead and barren land with a volcano at its heart, and a village near the area. As written, the volcano at the heart of the barren land in To Free the Storm is Mawspire Mountain. Now only home to a few hardy mountain goats, local legends say that the region was blasted into lifelessness by a dragon, but since no one can recall having seen a dragon, no one believes the legends. Beyond the barren surrounds of the mountain, the region is fertile, which has drawn settlers who farm the land and loggers who work the forests. One village in the area is Carverton.

As To Free the Storm opens, the Player Characters are staying in Carverton, perhaps because they are en route to somewhere or between adventures, and enjoying a drink and decent food when suddenly, the village is attacked. Which is not that unusual when it comes to villages and adventures in just about any Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy world as it goes. What is unusual is the fact that the attacker asks for them by name. What makes the situation worse is that the attacker asking for them is a dragon! Not only that, the dragon has a favour to ask of them, a favour which he suggests that the Player Characters fulfil lest he continue blasting the village to bits. Which is perfectly in keeping with the attacker—Zzaladar—which happens to be a Blue Dragon.

The favour is this. Zzaladar has long been tied to the area by an arcane manacle, placed on him by a mage many years ago. The manacle is tied to an orb kept deep in a ruined temple on Mawspire Mountain and as Zzaladar has grown in size and power, the effectiveness of the orb has weakened and he thinks that with a little of help, he can break free. Which is where the Player Characters get involved. Zzaladar  wants them to go to the temple and destroy the orb that keeps him prisoner. In  return, Zzaladar promises to not only not destroy Carverton, but also not harm a single sentient creature for a year. Which sounds like a not unreasonable deal—at least for the following year. After that, who knows?

The bulk of the adventure takes place in the ruined temple on Mawspire Mountain. Here the adventurers will have to contend with the volcanic temperatures, the ancient and undead knights of the Order of the Orb who have sworn to protect the orb—and some who have not, and how the god of the volcano, Darmaw, was worshipped before the temple was abandoned and his faith forgotten. The latter is where the dungeon—consisting of just fourteen locations—is at its most interesting. There are a number of elements here which look a little like traps, but may well help the Player Characters in their quest, whilst others will at first seem to be of use, but will ultimately hinder their efforts.

The dungeon offers a reasonable mix of puzzle like elements and plenty of combat along with some roleplaying. Certainly, the Dungeon Master has a couple of fun NPCs to roleplay, after all, what Dungeon Master does not relish the prospect of roleplaying a dungeon? Yet the design of the dungeon is really linear and not all interesting and were it not for the roleplaying elements and how the worship of Darmaw is brought into play, would have little to recommend it.

Available via the DM’s GuildTo Free the Storm is a fifteen page, 2.06 Mb file full colour PDF. It is generally well written, but does need another edit. The cover is nice, but is the only illustration. The map though, is dull and murky, and leaves the reader wishing that the author had drawn it himself or got someone else to do so. This does not mean that the map cannot be used, for it can. It is simply the case that the map is unattractive.

Rounding out To Free the Storm is a quartet of further adventure ideas which raise further questions and suggest as to the consequences of the Player Characters’ actions. Now one obvious oddity with the scenario is that it involves a Blue Dragon and has the Player Characters going to a temple on a volcano. This seems an odd choice, when possibly a Red Dragon with its fire association or even a White Dragon with its icy disassociation might have been more strongly thematic choices. That aside, there is no denying the strength of the set-up to the scenario with the monster coming to the Player Characters rather than the other way around. Similarly, the handling of worship of Darmaw is well done, but unfortunately this is done in an uninteresting, linear dungeon and on decidedly unattractive maps, which all together does not make for a pleasing combination.

There is a lot of potentially good story in To Free the Storm and as the introduction to a campaign of thwarting a threat which the Player Characters were forced to unleash, is actually a good set-up. It would be fantastic to see the consequences of their actions explored in sequels to this scenario as well as have Zzaladar return again and again so that the Dungeon Master can roleplay him as he develops into a memorable villain. Overall, To Free the Storm is a serviceable adventure which feels as if it deserved better, but is still good enough to ask what happens next.

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