What Do I Know About Reviews?–Chronicles of Sorrow: Sorrow’s Ruin

The funny thing about today’s review–I was just getting ready to pick it up, when I was contacted by the author about doing a review. I chose to buy it myself, because I was already going to do so. So, I guess . . . half disclaimer for being contacted by the author, but not actually getting the review copy for free?

Sorrow’s Ruin is the first part in a series of adventures that are being published under the banner of Chronicles of Sorrow, and is available on the Dungeon Masters Guild.

 Physical Parameters of Sorrow
 
The PDF itself has an eye-catching photographic cover of a model dressed as the titular Sorrow, as well as the title itself, which incorporates the name of the ongoing series. The interior has a simple but clear and functional layout, with large red headers, grey sidebars, and a two-column format.

There are simple full-color maps for various encounter locations included in the book. The book is 32 pages long, and the last 9 pages are larger reproductions of some of the maps included in various encounters, as well as maps of the (potential) player character home base. There is a dramatis personae list of NPCs as well as a page of NPC stats for characters unique to the adventure. That means the bulk of the adventure is wrapped up in the first 20 pages of the book.

In The Beginning

This adventure is designed for 1st level characters. Characters are meant to end up in Secomber and become champions of the Western Heartlands of the Forgotten Realms. This caught my attention, as I remember fondly all the various city-states and holdings in the Western Heartlands from the AD&D 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Adventures, hardcover, and it’s a region that doesn’t get a lot of attention these days.

The adventure assumes that PCs are coming into Secomber as caravan guards, and that they have a lull in their employment, at which time the locals have a problem, and recruit them. A woman that works for the local cleric of Ilmater tells them that the cleric has been kidnapped, and offers them a fee to find him in the nearby woods.

Without skipping to the end, this adventure has a nice hook for getting PCs to end up in the region long term, and this is a 1st level adventure. It feels like this introduction tries too hard to be the “standard” beginning to a D&D campaign. If the PCs are assuming they are caravan guards waiting for jobs, it would be very easy for them to just not take the hook (note: as players you shouldn’t do this, but, many adventures seem to frame options in such a way that you might think there could be other hooks waiting for you).

As 1st level adventurers, it almost feels like it would have been better for the PCs to have been directly responding to a job offer sent out by the cleric, as it starts the PCs with buy-in at the beginning of the campaign.

There are some opportunities for the PCs to pick up some clues from the locals, and then decide if they want to head out on their rescue immediately at night, or wait until daytime. It’s harder to track the cleric and his abductors if they wait until daylight, and there is a chance that an additional encounter is triggered. PCs that avoid the additional encounter, according to the adventure, still gain XP for it.

I feel like the choice between nighttime and daytime should have been a little stronger. As it stands, it feels like it serves mainly to punish the PCs for not being willing to help immediately. Since it’s already raining in the nighttime scene, I almost wish that had been ramped up, with the PCs choosing between a nighttime pursuit, mechanically dealing with environmental factors, or waiting until daytime, when the bad guys will be reinforced, but without environmental factors causing potential issues. Maybe I’m just a sucker for PCs needing to worry about things like falling trees, lightning strikes, or sinkholes to get some variety from monster encounters.

I really liked that there was a selection of NPCs to meet and talk with at the inn, but I wish more of their rumors had been more long-term items that helped establish Secomber as an ongoing campaign location. Effectively, you can get a little more detail on some aspects of the challenges coming up by talking with them.

I also wish it had been a little more explicit that the adventure doesn’t flat-out stop of the PCs miss some of their information gathering or tracking rolls. I would have rather an explicit “if they miss these clues or tracks, they run into X as an extra encounter, and then find the place.” It’s a complication, not a dead stop.

I also really like the idea that the guards that will accompany the PCs during the day will potentially complicate the situation by taking a blunt approach to retrieving the cleric, but I would have liked a little more in the way of personality from the guards, with perhaps an explicit call out to the kind of roleplaying that the PCs might engage in to convince the guards not to proceed with the most direct course of action–the automatic assumption that they will complicate the encounter reinforces the idea that the PCs are just getting punished for waiting until the morning, instead of making it a viable option with some benefits.

Sorrow and the Grotto of Forbearance

Once the PCs rescue the cleric of Ilmater, he sends them on another quest to rescue a tiefling prophet that guards a sacred shrine to the god of suffering. We’re told that Sorrow is going to be a major NPC as this series progresses, and she is guarding an artifact that resulted from a confrontation between the followers of Loviatar (the goddess of pain) and Ilmater.

If the PCs accept the job, they arrive exactly at the same time that the local cultists of Loviatar are attacking, and the PCs have a chance to save Sorrow. The pocket dimension that holds the artifact that everyone wants can only be opened by Sorrow, or by her blood, so the cultists are probably opting for the latter.

Because the artifact is going to be important going forward, even after the cultists are stopped, Sorrow wants the PCs to retrieve it, so they can all head back to Secomber. Inside the pocket dimension, various mausoleums have sacred effects that trigger, following Ilmater’s themes of endurance, easing of suffering, and healing, but there are also various undead left over from the previous assault from Loviatar’s forces, where the artifact was created in the first place.

It becomes obvious as the adventure progresses, but since the pocket dimension is partially corrupted by Loviatar’s forces, I would have almost rather her cultists had a means of opening the portal that didn’t involve the guardian’s blood. If they have a means of entering the place, it makes more sense to remove the artifact beyond “later in the series it’s going to be important to a prophecy.” Once the cultists find the location of the shrine, if they have their own means of entering the pocket dimension, it becomes a lot more logical to move the artifact.

I also wish that the undead forces of Loviatar in the corrupted pocket dimension had names and quirks. I know most of them are low-level undead, but given that there is a bit of a hint at the saints and martyrs of Ilmater that watch over the place, the opposite number might have been fun as well.

That said, I really liked the various effects of the tombs in this section. There are some places where PCs will be asked to say something relevant to the faith of Ilmater, and while there is a “right” answer, PCs can state something that “feels right” and make a check to see if it works. I’ll be honest, that’s the kind of “puzzle” that I like in my adventures–ones that might have an answer, but it’s not so linear that there is only one very specific course of action that solves it.

There is also an effect in one of the tombs where PCs will have an effect that keeps them alive if a fight is going badly for them. In another circumstance, this might feel like a contrivance to keep low-level characters alive in a dangerous situation, but it works because it’s a payoff to all the supernatural effects that are themed to Ilmater’s faith.

Payday and Payoff

The final section of the adventure has the PCs returning with Sorrow and the artifact to Secomber. The cleric of Ilmater that they rescued previously will make them an offer to stay on as guardians of the region, complete with their own fortress and magic rings to zap them back to the fortress whenever they are needed to protect the area.

There is also some time spent on explaining that Sorrow might be available as a romantic interest under some circumstances, and I must admit, the NPC feels a little overplayed at this point. I know she is meant to be important long-term, but I think she is being oversold upfront. We know she is good and beautiful, and has a tragic backstory, but other than that she wants to do good things, I don’t feel like I know much about her. For some reason, the comparison that springs to mind is Martian Manhunter–it’s like knowing that his family died on Mars and he wants to protect his new home on Earth, but not knowing that he likes Oreos.

I think this is a pretty compelling way of drawing in the PCs for the duration of this adventure series, and my only real complaint is that I wish the offer to become the guardians of this region had come up when the cleric of Ilmater first offers them the job of protecting Sorrow. It reminds me a little of the traditionalism that still hangs around a lot of D&D adventures. “Do the right thing, and maybe I’ll clue you in on the narrative you are participating in,” instead of actively inviting the PCs into the overall theme of the campaign.

Despite that, I think it’s a strong hook for the start of a campaign. I like the limited use teleportation rings that allow the PCs to go out and do some more wide-ranging things if they wish to do so, allowing them to snap back to home base whenever the next adventure starts.

Ease of Suffering

This adventure has a great setup for a long-term campaign, between a mysterious artifact, a base of operations, and magic rings that snap adventurers back to where they need to be. The fight through the Grotto of Forbearance is great and has some nice thematic bits with the various tomb effects.

Embrace of Pain

Sorrow is a little bit oversold, and the beginning of the adventure isn’t tied as strongly to the theme of assuming the mantle of protectors of the region as strongly as it could be. Ilmater’s faith gets some nice thematic elements, but Loviatar’s followers don’t really stand out from the evil cultist mob with any personality.

Tenuous Recommendation–The product has positive aspects, but buyers may want to make sure the positive aspects align with their tastes before moving this up their list of what to purchase next.
I was a bit critical of the how the adventure ropes in the adventures, but I also know that beginnings are hard, and now that the PCs are assumed to be taking up the mantle, it may be interesting to see what can be done with the tools put in place. I would like to see a little more to Sorrow, personality-wise.

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