What Do I Know About Reviews? Fables: Agents of the Empire Part 3, Killing Aetherium (5E OGL)
We’re going to return to our ongoing look at the current campaign of Fables, Agents of the Empire, as we look at the second adventure in the series, Killing Aetherium. Last time around we not only saw the opening adventure for this campaign, but we also had four scenes that the PCs could play through to level up to 4th level to start the campaign at its expected level. This time around, Killing Aetherium is all focused on a single adventure.
Like the last time around, I haven’t had the opportunity to play through this adventure, but I have a lot of experience with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a dungeon master. My copy of this adventure comes from my Fables subscription, and I didn’t receive a review copy of this material.
Episode 2: Killing Aetherium
Written by: Carl Sibley
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: Kristian Agerkvist, Isabeau Backhaus, Zoe Badini, Ioana Elena Barbu, Kerstin Evans, Andrei Iacob, Katariina Sofia Kemi, Diana Khomutina, Ona Kristensen, Natasha Nanook, Elizabeth Peiró, Andreia Ugrai, Aleksandra Wojtas
Cartographers: Andrei Iacob, Damien Mammoloti
Comic: Brian Patterson
VTT Asset Design: Joshua Orchard
Special Thanks: Mitchell Brown
Opening the Dossier
Like the previous installment of Fables, Killing Aetherium is 98 pages long. This includes the standard page of adventure summaries for the overall campaign, a table of contents, a credits page, and the Editor’s Message. On the backside, there are 14 pages of monsters, 2 pages of magic items, 18 pages presenting eight pre-generated characters at 4th level, a 2-page pronunciation guide, a full-page OGL statement, and two pages of Ghostfire Gaming ads.
Ghostfire does a good job of making attractive and easy-to-reference products. Like the previous installment, this installment is accompanied by the Setting Guide, and there are several reprinted magic items and stat blocks, as well as the reprint of the pronunciation guide.
Order of Battle
This adventure is divided up in the following manner:
- Welcome to Fables
- Fabled Follies
- This Fable’s Story
- Chapter 1: The Cat and the Pirate
- Chapter 2: Welcome to Talavi
- Chapter 3: Dice and Deceit
- Chapter 4: The Magitech Laboratory
- Appendix A: New Monsters
- Appendix B: New Equipment and Magic Items
- Appendix C: Player Characters–Level 4
The Fabled Follies uses exactly the scene I would have used for its page of amusing content.
The Starting Mission
The PCs’ starting mission is to track down two dangerous criminals that have escaped from a penitentiary. The PCs are given three different locations to scout, where the criminals have either been seen or where they may have reason to visit. In addition to scouting these locations, the PCs are expected to work with an agent named Andronicus.
Andronicus is meant to come across as competent, but arrogant, and too full of himself. He’s intended to come back as a potential antagonist later in the campaign, and because of how he returns, if Andronicus happens to die, it’s not really that much of a problem.
There is an opportunity to cut a deal with a criminal to help track down the escapees, which may give them a chance to argue further with Andronicus about who gets to direct the operation. The PCs eventually track the escapees to a Cathedral, where they might even snag an additional criminal, by arresting the halfling nun that used to work on the crew of one of the criminals. The complications here include a mimic door that knows who is and isn’t a member of the cathedral staff, and a ghost that haunts the exterior of the cathedral.
In the previous volume, the initial mission leads the PCs to the organization that was planning the theft of the Razorfin. In this instance, the mission in Karel to pick up these escaped prisoners isn’t really tied to the rest of the adventure. It mainly exists to give the PCs a chance to work with Andronicus so he can come back later in the campaign.
I kind of wish the prisoners had been presented more as “enemies of the state” instead of just escaped prisoners. It feels kind of low stakes for a team of super spies working for a secret agency. Thorvin Saltspray, the former pirate prisoner, doesn’t stand out as a “spy movie villain,” but the tiefling assassin Snow Leopard is definitely the kind of flashy villain that should be showing up in this kind of story.
Mission Two, Off to Talavi
After the PCs finish their first mission, they end up getting set to the province of Talavi. On their way, they find out that Andronicus got a promotion and a prime assignment (don’t worry, it’s not as good as it sounds), and that they must head to Talavi to find out about various haywire accidents involving magitech devices. The PCs are sent to stay with Headmaster Stremolus at the Avar Academy. The headmaster is an old friend The Chair, the PCs’ boss.
Arriving in Talavi, the PCs end up heading into the sewers (adventurers love that), to find out why the local magitech power grid has overloaded. The PCs eventually find dwarf engineer desperately trying to keep a generator from exploding. The PCs have to balance between helping the engineer shut down the generator and fending off waves of mutated animals that have been infected by leaking Aetherium. Oh, and the PCs may find one of those weird bugs that they found in the corpse in the previous adventure.
After having a chance to explore the academy, the PCs get a tip that several suspects that may have a reason to sabotage local machinery are present at the Grand Casino of Avarna. The PCs have the opportunity to interrogate an aristocrat whose family has fallen on hard times, a business . . . dragon . . . that would profit from the casino shutting down, and a bard with anti-capitalist tendencies.
The find out that they are being watched, and have the opportunity to run down the spies spying on the spies. However, when the PCs catch up with the spy, they find out that the character was hired to spy on them, drawing them away from the real action. Oh, and they might end up in an ambush where one of the hired killers is wearing a combat slot machine. Yes, you read that properly.
The real target is FenTech Labs, and by the time the PCs find this out, the villains are already present, and have finished of several of the staff. FenTech’s ruined experiments leave Aetherium elementals, mutated animals, and undead for the PCs to deal with, and there is even a laser grid, but it’s a magical laser grid. There is also a chance to save a researcher from a mech suit gone wrong (this one is not built to look like a slot machine).
Eventually, the PCs will track down the crew ransacking the lab, and the villain is revealed to be Headmaster Stremolus, who has been seeking to destroy the spread of magitech as an abomination when compared to more traditional practices of magic. Headmaster Stremolus has been influenced by The Spider, the same mastermind that stirred up the rebels in the previous installment.
We get the 4th level version of the pregenerated characters that appeared in the previous adventure:
- Dach (4th level Life Domain Dwarf Cleric), Personnel Division
- Fej (4th Level Thief Gnome Rogue), Logistics Division
- Hajuso (4th Level Hunter Half-Elf Ranger), Information Division
- Jehpso (4th Level Champion Halfling Fighter), Logistics Division
- Larc (4th Level Way of the Open Hand Human Monk), Operations Division
- Olen (4th Level School of Evocation Tiefling Wizard), Information Division
- Omair (4th Level Fiend Dragonborn Warlock), Operations Division
- Rein (4th Level College of Lore Half-Orc Bard), Personnel Division
Optional Rules in Action
The vehicle rules don’t get a lot of use in this adventure. The primary optional rules involve the chase rules, which get employed during the “red herring” chase leading to the ambush in the casino. As with the previous installment, there are some guidelines about why you may or may not want to use the different chase resolutions.
I like the way these adventures are layering in elements that are going to be more important later in the campaign. I appreciate the slow burn of running into the fiendish insects, and I like the through line of The Spider. It’s worth noting a little bit of an oddity early in this adventure, where there is a comment that the PCs haven’t heard of The Spider yet, but they definitely had the chance to stumble across the name last time around.
I’m interested to see how Andronicus’ return is handled. I almost wish he was played up a little more as someone the PCs liked, so that when his implied fate becomes evident, it has more impact than just “hey, that asshole we didn’t like is officially a bad guy now.”
I’m okay with the opening act not being directly tied to the second part of the adventure, but I do wish that Thorvin and the Snow Leopard were characters the PCs needed to catch because of their danger to the Empire, rather than just criminals on the run. I can feel that Stremolus’ villain reveal is meant to feel a bit like a Mission Impossible heel turn, but I wish we had maybe one more act where the PCs could work with him and potentially develop their own attachments rather than relying on Stremolus’ history with The Chair.
Despite some of my comments here, this campaign feels like it’s hanging together and foreshadowing more effectively than some elements of the previous Fables. But I still want more over-the-top Bond opening action scenes.
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