What Do I Know About Reviews? Fables: Agents of the Empire Part 2, Razorfin (5E OGL)
Now that we’ve already looked at the setting material for Fables: Agents of the Empire, it’s time to look at the initial adventure for the campaign. The campaign starts at 3rd level, but there are missions in the appendix to this one that will allow you to start at 1st level, performing “try-out” missions to see if The Agency will pick you up full-time.
I have my own subscription to Fables, and was not provided with a review copy for this adventure. While I have not had the opportunity to play through this adventure or to use any of the material, I am very familiar with D&D 5e as both a player and a DM.
Episode 1: Razorfin
Written by: JVC Parry
Head of Fables: Joe Raso
Story Design: Joe Raso
Art Director: Marius Bota
Agents of the Empire Writing Team: Leon Barillaro, Chad M. Lensch, JVC Parry, Joe Raso, Erin Roberts, Carl Sibley, Jeff C. Stevens
Managing Editor: Joe Raso
Editors: Matt Click, Shawn Merwin, Christopher Walz
Graphic Design: Martin Hughes
Cover Design: Martin Hughes
Interior Illustrators: Isabeau Backhaus, Zoe Badini, Ivo Campelo da Silva, Brent Hollowell, Katariina Sofia Kemi, Diana Khomutina, John Derek Murphy, Laura Marie Neal, Mihai Radu
Cartographers: Kristian Agerkvist, Andrei Iacob, Damien Mammoloti
Comic: Brian Patterson
VTT Asset Design: Joshua Orchard
This month’s adventure is 98 pages long. This includes a summary of the six adventures in the campaign, a table of contents, a title page, an editor’s message, 18 pages presenting eight pre-generated 3rd level characters, a two-page pronunciation guide, a full-page OGL statement, a one-page ad for the next adventure, and a one-page ad for other Ghostfire Gaming products.
I’m a little surprised at some of the repeated content in the adventure since they are bundling the Setting Guide with each adventure. The setting guide already contains one of the vehicle stat blocks, the mishaps table, three of the monster/NPC stat blocks, and the pronunciation guide. I do really like the inclusion of the level-appropriate pre-generated PCs with the adventure.
The adventure is broken up into the following sections:
- Welcome to Fables
- Fabled Follies
- This Fable’s Story
- Chapter 1: Extraction
- Chapter 2: Gathering Intelligence
- Chapter 3: Against the Reachers
- Appendix A: Monsters
- Appendix B: New Vehicles
- Appendix C: New Equipment and Magic Items
- Appendix D: Introductory Encounters
- Appendix E: Player Characters–Level 3
This issue introduces Fabled Follies, a full-page, full-color comic by Brian Patterson. This month’s is a nice, two-panel, concise summary of the villain’s plan, and the likely aftermath.
Like the previous Fable, there is a section in this adventure that spends some time describing what should be introduced in a session zero for the campaign, as well as how to pitch the overall theme and tone of the adventures.
In addition to the high-level overview, this section gives you some content that you can share with the players to make sure it doesn’t cross over into any of their boundaries, and touches on character creation methods and the optional Agency division rules.
The PCs are being sent to a location to rescue four captives from a location secured by a child of an influential family. The beginning of the adventure includes a brief that explains the PCs primary and secondary objectives, which include freeing the captives and capturing the heir for questioning.
The first mission is fairly straightforward, and most of the “spy” elements of the adventure revolve around checking for different magitech alarms and traps that need to be disarmed, as well as avoiding patrols on the grounds. There is a clue to the bigger plot going on in the Empire, when the PCs encounter a strange infernal bug in a corpse outside of the facility.
Once the PCs complete this mission, they are given three locations to search for clues, which they can approach in whichever order they wish. Each of these locations adds a few more details to the primary plot of the villains of the adventure. Characters find graffiti that implicates a local organization, find out about a compromised engineer that is being blackmailed, and have the opportunity to chase down an operative for the organization.
In addition to the three locations, there are encounters to run in the city, as well as some other random encounters that can be sprinkled in between the objectives. One of these encounters also introduces a different organization participating in local uprisings, potentially confusing the PCs’ ability to pinpoint the locals involved in the plot.
The two organizations that are active in the city include one that is pushing for Raalian independence, while the other is an anti-technology organization. The anti-technology faction is also violently opposed to the sapient automatons that have been introduced into the region, and the PCs will have the opportunity to save some automatons in danger.
Once the PCs collect all of the clues, they can track down the villains in their lair, where they are attempting to build a giant zeppelin to steal a high-tech submarine touring the Empire, which is currently at the docks. The villain’s lair contains a ton of magitech, including some spinebreakers (motorcycles) and a self-destruct mechanism. That means that the PCs may need to decide between preserving evidence by defusing the self-destruct, trying to board the zeppelin as it takes off, or chasing it from the ground.
If the PCs fail to stop the zeppelin, it doesn’t manage to get away with the sub, but it does explode, destroying the zeppelin and the submarine and embarrassing the Empire. The end of the adventure hints that a mysterious operative called the Spider is stirring up and organizing local factions for some unknown purposes.
There are four missions presented that can allow PCs that start at 1st level to progress to 3rd level, to start the main adventure presented in this volume. The assignments are as follows:
- Protect Delegate (1st)
- Extract Information (1st)
- Retrieve Asset (2nd)
- Capture Gang Boss (2nd)
It’s up to the DM to determine if they want to require the players to perform all four missions to reach 3rd level, or if the DM will allow the characters to level up after each. Each of these missions contains the same mission briefing structure from the main adventure, which includes the following parts:
- Mission Primer
- Primary Objective
- Secondary Objective
Unlike the primary mission, each of these missions is resolved in a single scene, usually one that has four to six tasks that need to be accomplished to be successful.
One of the things I like about the inclusion of these characters is to show what kinds of characters are expected to be agents of The Agency, since the paradigm of this adventure path may be a little different than what players may be expecting. The characters include:
- Dach (3rd level Life Domain Dwarf Cleric), Personnel Division
- Fej (3rd Level Thief Gnome Rogue), Logistics Division
- Hajuso (3rd Level Hunter Half-Elf Ranger), Information Division
- Jehpso (3rd Level Champion Halfling Fighter), Logistics Division
- Larc (3rd Level Way of the Open Hand Human Monk), Operations Division
- Olen (3rd Level School of Evocation Tiefling Wizard), Information Division
- Omair (3rd Level Fiend Dragonborn Warlock), Operations Division
- Rein (3rd Level College of Lore Half-Orc Bard), Personnel Division
Also handy for those nights when someone shows up for a game that isn’t part of the regular group.
Optional Rules in Action
This adventure has multiple sections where it calls out that optional rules can be used. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t say “here are the optional rules, pick one,” but instead, it mentions why you might want to use one option over another, and how it might change the encounter. This mainly involves the chase mechanics for two different encounters.
There can also be some interplay between how the PCs interact with magitech in order to get some of the motorcycles/spinebreakers up and running with repairs.
The most emphasis is placed on the chase timer mechanic, which is essentially just setting the number of rounds that the PCs have to successfully complete a chase, so it doesn’t go on indefinitely. It’s simple and I’m a fan.
This is probably the strongest start to all three of the Fables so far. It seems like the crew at Ghostfire is getting a better idea of how they want these adventures to work, and how to tell their stories, with each “season.”
I do wish there were a way for the player characters to get a better feel for the local factions and circumstances before they run directly into them in play, but I’m sure the best way to do this that doesn’t feel like an info-dump. I think the faction symbols that the PCs find while investigating feel a little forced since they are effectively leaving a calling card at the scene of a crime with no motive to do so.
It’s interesting to see skill check-like encounters working their way back into 5e without a standardized presentation. The one that appears in this adventure is similar to the “gated” challenges that I have seen in games like Star Trek Adventures, where you need to do X number of things, and narratively, you need to do those things in a set order.
The main thing I wish they had managed to work into the adventure would have been a Bond-like opening scene where the PCs do something over the top to resolve a previous mission, even if it’s just a “hand off the narrative” description of obstacles similar to the 13th Age montage travel rules.
We’ve seen sneaking, gathering evidence, and chases so far. I’m interested to see other espionage tropes coming into play, like trying to turn agents of other factions or working undercover.
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