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Monday, 22 November 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Epic Encounters: The Hills Have Legs

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.


Epic Encounters: The Hills Have Legs is designed as an introduction to Epic Encounters. Published by Steamforged Games for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, the Epic Encounters line is a series of boxed adventure sets which include a scenario and both floor plans and miniatures for use with the scenario. Steamforged Games divides its Epic Encounters series in three Tiers of Play—Lower, Middle, and Higher—which determine the standard Difficulty Check value that a Player Characters has to roll and Damage Level (or die type) suffered by a Player Character throughout the scenario. For The Hills Have Legs, the Tier of Play is the Middle, which means the scenario is designed for Player Characters of Fifth to Tenth Levels and has a standard Difficulty Check for the players to roll of fourteen, whilst the standard Damage Level rolled throughout the adventure will be an eight-sided die. As with other titles in the 
Epic Encounters line, an experienced Dungeon Master should be able to adjust the scenario up or down to a different Tier of Play to make it suitable for Player Characters of higher or lower Levels respectively.

The set-up for The Hills Have Legs is that a foolish friend of the Player Characters was last seen entering the desert burrow of a spider-tyrant, and whilst there is every possibility that he will have got caught up in the giant arachnid’s web, there is an even greater chance that he will have been captured by the group of Goblins who make the burrow its home, picking over the leftovers and detritus dropped by the spider-tyrant. Well, the scenario says friend, but that ‘friend’ could just as easily be a criminal that the Player Characters are escorting across the desert or the merchant whose caravan they are guarding. Either way, the last thing that the Player Characters will want to do is leave him to his fate. Whatever the exact set-up, the authors do warn the Dungeon Master that The Hills Have Legs is a tough adventure—and that she should warn the players at the start of play.

As the Player Characters lower themselves down into the caves, they can hear the cries of their missing friend, but his cries have also alerted his captors and they are fully prepared for his would-be rescuers. The goblin denizens are smart and tricksy, and are very much written as such. They know their environment and have adapted to it, such that they can manoeuvre around the webbings left by the spider-tyrant, the clouds of poison that waft around certain chambers, and the dark… The scenario consists of just five locations, four of which come with maps. All four are quite dark and although marked with a grid, the squares are a little small for use with miniatures. The encounters, all of them challenging—whether fighting across a giant web or dodging in and out between giant poison spewing cauldrons—are action and combat focused and the use of the maps reflect that. Some are a little weird and creepy too, such as the fungus-infested caves where the Witch-Queen Goblins have their lair, who will use fungus to inflict confusion upon the intruders. Plus of course, spiders have a reputation for being creepy too.

Rounding out The Hills Have Legs is a short bestiary which presents the creatures that the Player Characters will encounter in the scenario. These include the Funnel Goblin Warrior—the standard Goblins found in the complex and capable of disengaging with a foe or hide with ease; Spider Weblings—essentially tiny spiders; and the one, not two, but five NPC Goblin threats, representing Papa Io, the Goblin chief, as well as his henchgoblins. These are slightly different from each and so pose a variety of threats when encountered.

Ultimately, the Player Characters will locate their missing friend and are free to climb back into the desert above. Or, because of course, The Hills Have Legs is a prequel to a forthcoming 
Epic Encounters title, Web of the Spider Tyrant, carry on adventuring and face the real danger at the bottom of the burrow—the spider-tyrant itself! The Hills Have Legs ends on a dramatic note and sets up a confrontation in the next part, should the Dungeon Master and her players want to carry on. Alternatively, The Hills Have Legs is just as easy to keep as a self-contained side trek on a journey to elsewhere which is easily slotted into a campaign.

Physically, The Hills Have Legs is a slim, but glossily presented scenario. It needs a slight edit in places, but is generally well written and easy to set up. If it is missing anything, it is an overall map which would have better shown the relationship between the scenario’s five locations and four maps. Further, given the verticality of the scenario, of descending into the burrow and of some of the encounters, a cutaway view of the burrow would also have been useful.

Epic Encounters: The Hills Have Legs is a short, one session scenario, heavy on combat and action, made all the better with its creepy, web-strewn atmosphere. Overall serviceable, whether as a one-shot, a side-trek inserted into a campaign, or as the prequel to Epic Encounters: Web of the Spider Tyrant.

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