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Saturday, 13 August 2022

[Free RPG Day 2022] Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.


Epic Encounters: 
Bridge of the Duergar Cult is a scenario part of the Epic Encounters series. 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 Bridge of the Duergar Cult, there is no set Tier of Play, which means the scenario can be easily adjusted to suit the Level of the Player Characters. However, the high Challenge Rating of the end of level boss makes the scenario unsuitable for the lower Tier of Play. In addition, the scenario includes numerous motivations for the Duergar to explain their actions and hooks for the Player Characters to get involved. This immediately gives 
Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult a pleasing flexibility when it comes to the Dungeon Master adding it to her campaign.

Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult reveals that the stone-willed and brutally logical and darkly cruel Duergar have plan to extend their domination of the Underways and give their hatred of the surface world a physical reality. Under the leadership of the Duergar king, Roarie mac Nessa, they want to raise an ancient and terrible demon from the Abyss and then have it lead them into war across the Underworld and beyond… The ritual will be performed in the Temple of Medb, dedicated to the first ruler of the Duergar. Yet before anyone can enter the temple and prevent the ritual before it can be completed, they must cross the great Bridge of Cathbad, the formidable piece of engineering that is the last bastion of defence before the temple doors. Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult focuses upon these two locations—the Bridge of Cathbad and the Temple of Medb—and their defenders and their defences. Both are suspended over the abyss and require full on assaults by the Player Characters.

The Duergar are stalwart defenders. First, the Player Characters will need to overcome a phalanx of Duergar soldiers supported by archers; make their way across a bridge which shifts under their feet, its iron tiles trapping their ankles and impeding their progress; and the while being sniped at by Duergar Mages. The Player Characters will find that the environment favours the Duergar—stone giving them strength, knowledge of the defences an Armour Class bonus, and the magic that has seeped into the stone granting the Deep Dwarves Mages a definitive advantage. That is the least of the defences—at least on the bridge. Once in the Temple of Medb, the Player Characters are beset by a great gale which threatens to gust them over the edge and into the Abyss; by fire, blood, bile, and even gold, which jets out of the broken network of pipes which just from the temple walls; and by Duergar berserkers willing to throw themselves at the Player Characters, and then both themselves and the Player Characters into the Abyss to defend the temple to their great mistress. Throughout all of this chaos and battle sits Roarie mac Nessa, waiting, watching, and preparing to face those who would stop his plans. He himself has a Challenge Rating of eight, and is likely too tough an opponent for the lower Tier of Play.

Physically, Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult is cleanly and tidily presented. The artwork is excellent and the layout of the various NPCs and monsters easy to use. The two maps—one each for the Bridge of Cathbad and the Temple of Medb—are dark, if clear. These are slightly small for use with miniatures, but do look great. One problem with both maps is that neither is numbered. So, it is not obvious where particular locations are, which makes them a little difficult to use for the Dungeon Master.

Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult lives up to its title of being a genuinely ‘epic’ encounter. Its two great battles will challenge any group of Player Characters, though perhaps the rewards for all of that effort may be disappointing for some playing groups. Epic Encounters: Bridge of the Duergar Cult is a really good addition to any Dungeons & Dragons campaign set in the Underworld. If the Player Characters have been actively campaigning against the Duergar, then it can work as the culmination of the campaign, otherwise it can be slipped into the campaign as an epic sidequest. 

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