What Do I Know About Reviews? Pirates of the Aetherial Expanse
This is going to be a dual-purpose post, looking at the last adventure of the Pirates of the Aetherial Expanse, Legends of the Seas, as well as a review of the overall Fables campaign. We’ll look at the adventure, how it unfolds, how it wraps up the campaign, and all of the elements that went into this setting.
I have my own subscription to the Fables line and have not received a review copy of the adventures. I have not had the opportunity to run this adventure, but I am familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a Dungeon Master.
Episode 6: Legends of the Seas
Written by: Anthony Joyce-Rivera
Head of Fables: James J. Haeck, Joe Raso
Story Design: James J. Haeck
Art Directors: Marius Bota, Zoë Robinson
Pirates of the Aetherial Expanse Writers: H.H Carlan, Anne Gregersen, James J. Haeck, Gabe Hicks, Alison Huang, Anthony Joyce, Kat Kruger, Sadie Lowry, Sarah Madsen, Sam Mannell, Joe Raso, Jess Ross, Jen Vaughn
Managing Editor: James J. Haeck
Editors: Michele Carter, Matt Click, Ashley Lawson, Joe Raso
Graphic Design: Martin Hughes, Scott Fraser
Cover Design: Christine Fozler
End Page Design: Abby Zweifel
Interior Illustrators: Kristian Agerkvist, Ridell Apellanes, Carol Azevedo, Luke Beaber, George Bennett, Bethany Berg, Allie Briggs, Josiah Cameron, Stephanie Cost, Kent Davis, Nikki Dawes, Alex Drummond, Christine Foltzer, Tony Foti, Quintin Gleim, Doruk Golcu, Ashley Hankins, Matt Hubel, Andrei Iacob, Maggie Ivy, Josh Ketchen, Diana Khomutina, Kate Laird, Tatii Lange, Carson Lowmiller, Damien Mammoliti Jake Murray, Brian Patterson, Karina Pavlova, Pixoloid Studios, Mihai Radu, Caio Santos, Elisa Serio, Janna Sophia, Katariina Sofia, Kai Stevens, Kelly Toki, Philipp Urlich, Brian Valenzuela, Jacob Walker, Sam White, Abby Zweifel
Cartographers: Luke Beaber, Damien Mammoliti, Brian Patterson
VTT Asset Design: Joshua Orchard
This month’s installment of Fables is 94 pages long, including endpapers, a title page, a credits page, a table of contents, seven pages of stat blocks, most of which are new to this volume, three pages of new ships, a page of new magic items, a three-page expansion of one encounter, five pages of handouts and maps, a four-page pronunciation guide, and a full page OGL statement.
As with the previous volumes, the artwork and maps are very aesthetically pleasing. Of the six-page introduction, five are the standard language for the introductory section of Fables for this campaign.
The Final Voyages
The adventure starts off with the Isle of Drakes, the haven of pirates in the setting, attacked by privateers hired by the Karelagne Empire. This is one of the two colonial powers that once ruled the region, and it signals the endgame of the campaign, where the Karelagne are pushing to retake control of the Aetherial Expanse. The PCs can either kill, defeat, or convert this privateer.
At this point, the PCs encounter some of the druidic pirates they have met previously in the campaign, and these pirates help connect them to a dreaming Deva, who shows them aspects of the past, present and future, in a way that connects some of the campaign backstory elements and moves them from DM facing to player facing.
This dream serves to warn the PCs of the hidden superweapon being sought by the Karelagne Empire, as well as the connection between the Cosmic Turtles and the Astral Titans who created the superweapon, though not to be a superweapon.
The PCs encounter two ships near the site of the lost island that houses the Singularity, a device that can harvest magical material that runs throughout the Aetherial Expanse but has the secondary effect of sinking islands that have been harvested. These are privateers working for the Karelagne Empire, and they have devices to help explore the sunken ruins. In the sunken city, the PCs can find stellar material that can be used in a magical forge to create magic items, encounter a Kraken, an Astral Titan, and an Astral Turtle that all have their own agendas. After a fight with Aethersubs created by Karelagne, the entire lost city collapses into the deep seabed, putting the Singularity out of reach.
Built into the adventure is a two-month time jump, where the PCs can pursue their own interests, and live in the Expanse goes on. After the end of this period, tensions between Karelagne and Ayris, the other former colonial power in the region, have ramped up. Both Karelagene and Ayris are offering pardons and Letters of Marque to bolster their side.
If the PCs attempt to join with the Karelagne, the offer was a trap, as the Karelagne are declaring war on the pirates of the Expanse. The PCs would need to fight their way out of the trap if they went this direction.
If they attempt to join up with the Kingdom of Ayriss, they are sent on a mission to undermine an island controlled by Karelagne, which they don’t wish to attack directly due to the fact that the Karelagne have not official declared war on Ayriss at this point.
The PCs could take out a few ships of the Karelagne, and their overall direction from this point is either getting all the pirates to band together against the Karelagne, should they attack, or to facilitate a larger accord between the pirates of the Isle of Drakes and Ayriss against the Karelagne. Part of the negotiations involves throwing a banquet where the various captains can meet with one another, with different benefits depending on what the PCs might be willing to spend.
Prosecuting the War
The “war” is one big battle for the Isle of Drakes, which includes a major development during the final confrontation. The PCs can deploy ships to different points on a map as part of their planning, which may end up changing the number and quality of ships they need to confront directly. Without Ayriss, there are fewer ships to deploy to these choke points.
Everything is pushing towards a confrontation with the Thunderchild, an enormous Karelagne warship that has recovered the Singularity in the intervening two months. The Singularity damages the PCs home island, and things shift back from being a naval battle into more of a character-driven resolution. A cosmic turtle under the island awakens and enlarges all the PCs, asking them to feed him the Singularity to dispose of it. The giant PCs then have to survive cannon fire long enough to rip open the Thunderchild, pull out the Singularity, and feed it to the turtle.
From if the PCs, for whatever reason, decide not to feed the Singularity to the turtle, then it throws down with them in a final bid to put the artifact to rest.
After having a storm giant captain cursed to bring about a cyclical apocalypse by a giant sorceress, I thought bringing the story back to the conflict with Karelagne would be anti-climactic. I think this adventure does a good job of reframing the stakes of the adventure, and tying in a little bit more of the cosmic story of the Expanse, and I have to admit, I was wrong about not feeling like the campaign should have ended with the previous adventure.
There is also an interesting way to personalize the villain, where the captain of the Thunderchild sends an illusion to the deck of their ship that lets him taunt them as the final confrontation unfolds.
While the adventure does a good job of establishing the scope of the story, as well as tying up loose ends in the campaign, there are a few places in the narrative that feel a little rushed or heavy-handed. There is no way for the PCs to recover the Singularity in the first chapter, it just disappears, and is automatically recovered later by the Karelagne. This might feel a little frustrating for the PCs after having the artifact taken from them via text.
I like the final fight, but it feels like the steps leading up to it feel a little rushed as well. The Thunderchild shows up, it fires on the island, the turtle wakes up, it telepathically talks to the PCs “out of turn,” then enlarges them and tells them exactly what they need to do.
The Seafaring Rules
I’ve been commenting in each adventure if the seafaring rules that are proprietary to this campaign are integral to running the adventures. While there are a few ship battles in this fight, I think the main ship that wouldn’t be easy to model with existing ship stats would be the Thunderchild itself, although the Thunderchild shifts from being an opposing ship to something the giant-sized PCs are tearing apart pretty quickly.
I wasn’t a fan of the rules, as a whole, but I also think that if ship combat would have been the only new rules, this final adventure might justify that addition. That said, reputation and provisioning don’t seem to add a lot to the campaign when the majority of adventures in this campaign involve sailing a ship to a place and then adventuring at that place.
If you really liked the bookkeeping aspect of the new rules and being able to find places to use reputation, you can definitely add a few more encounters into the campaign to make it all worthwhile, but as presented, I’m not sure it needed the degree of granularity and specialization that were presented in the initial adventure of this campaign.
Overall, I think this campaign is a strong nautical campaign. There were a few places where things “must” happen, for most of these adventures, the PCs can decide how and in what order they approach the tasks before them. There is a nice upward curve from “surviving a shipwreck” to “feeding an ancient artifact to a cosmic being,” which still manages to feel like a story that would be told by pirates trying to impress an audience in the local tavern.
Red Sky at Morning
For a concentrated campaign with a solid story, I’m not sure that the added elements of reputation, ship combat, and provisioning are worth the effort. At best, I think two of encounters in the campaign are probably better served using the ship chase/combat rules, and the rest really don’t make the new rules feel necessary. There are a few instances where the later adventures want the DM to try to add encounters so they can seed legends early on, and make it feel like the legends have been circulating throughout the campaign. I know it may be tricky to do this, but I wish these elements had been introduced earlier in the campaign, in the earlier adventures, so they really did weave themselves into story over time.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
While I wasn’t enamored of the additional rules modules introduced, if you are a fan of nautical adventures for D&D, this is a pretty solid campaign. While there are still a few areas where I wish later developments had been introduced earlier, this adventure feels a lot more cohesive than the first Fables campaign, where the first several adventures seemed to keep repeating the same tropes.
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