What Do I Know About Reviews? Fables: Agents of the Empire Part 4, The Smoking Coils (5e SRD)
Let’s turn our attention back to Ghostfire Gaming’s current Fables campaign, Agents of the Empire. This is going to be our fourth installment looking at the campaign, although we’re only up to the third adventure in the series, since we looked at the setting guide as it’s own entry. The Smoking Coils is an adventure for 5th-level characters.
I did not receive a review copy of this adventure, and I have my own subscription to the Fables line. 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 DM.
Episode 3: The Smoking Coils
Written by: Leon Barillaro
Head of Fables: Joe Raso
Story Design: Joe Raso
Art Director: Ona Kristensen
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, Daniel Correia, Ignacio Corva, Rafael Dantanna, Giuseppe De Iure, Muhammad Fajri, Will Hallet, Brent Hollowell, Andrei Iacob, Ona Kristensen, Erel Maatita, Felipe Pérez, Martin Roca, Andreia Ugrai, Grzegorz Wlazło
Cartographers: Andrei Iacob, Damien Mammoliti
Comic: Brian Patterson
VTT Asset Design: Joshua Orchard
Layout and Formatting
This month’s installment of Fables is 106 pages long, including the following:
- A campaign overview
- A table of contents
- A credits page
- An editor’s message
- New monsters (10 pages)
- Equipment and magic items (2 pages)
- Magitech vehicles (4 pages)
- Casino games (2 pages)
- Pregenerated characters (18 pages, 8 characters)
- Pronunciation guide (2 pages)
- Full page OGL statement
- Ads (2 pages)
As with the previous volumes, the monsters section includes several creatures included in the Setting Guide, and the pronunciation guide from the Setting Guide is reprinted here, and that always makes me wonder why some things were included in the Setting Guide if it wasn’t to free up space in the individual adventures.
Ghostfire has consistently had an attractive spin on the general formatting used by most 5e SRD products, as well as very strong art assets. It looks good, but it also looks right in context of a fantasy pseudo-technological spy campaign.
From an accessibility standpoint, I do want to point out that the background for several of the pages includes a jumble of letters, and unfortunately, these letters are read by PDF text readers as actual characters, meaning that someone listening to the screen to text voice hears each of those jumbled letters read to them.
The adventure itself is broken up into the following sections:
- Chapter 1: The Promotion
- Chapter 2: Robin Hoodwinked
- Chapter 3: Threat in the Deep Blue
- Chapter 4: Sky-High Stakes
One thing that’s interesting to me is that because of the conceit of working for an intelligence agency, all of these chapters are missions assigned to the player characters. There is an interconnected story, but the characters aren’t going to skip one of these chapters unless they really go off book with the agency.
This section just sets up a new status quo for the player characters. They have a new home base, the ability to requisition vehicles once per mission, access to Zed, their own gadget person, and their boss introduced in the last adventure, The Chair, is now a regular fixture, sending them on missions and debriefing them between missions.
If the PCs can contact him, The Chair can provide one benefit to them per chapter (mission). Zed has some standard magitech items they can hand out, and if the PCs want to reinvest some of the gold they get as part of their salaries, they can get custom effects built into their gear.
What’s interesting about this new paradigm, beyond the resources that The Chair and Zed can provide, is that it also introduces a debrief section, where The Chair, as their ongoing supervisor, can ask questions about how and why they resolved the missions the way they did. It also gives the GM a chance to use an NPC to explain why they need to do what they do, especially if they start to get jaded because they are working for an imperialist superpower.
One of the things I really enjoy about the campaign paradigm is that the PCs get a mission briefing that clearly outlines what the PCs are trying to achieve, where they start the adventure, and a number of leads, as well as calling out secondary objectives that they can attempt to resolve as well.
This investigation moves from exploring a train from which a powerful superweapon has been stolen, to tracking down some local business women that have fallen in with a regional cell of insurgents, to finding the stolen superweapon, a pretty hefty construct with legendary actions and eye lasers. Depending on actions that the PCs take while exploring the lab, they can undercut some of the abilities of the construct.
As we’ve seen in previous adventures, this involves a local organization disillusioned with the Empire, that has been moved to take action against the Empire. This adventure, however, is leaning harder into showing that all of these local organizations have been incited and supported by The Spider, the operator the PCs have been hearing bits and pieces about across the previous adventures.
On the roleplaying side of things, the PCs have a chance to interact with the daughter of two of the dissendents, giving the GM a chance to humanize the organization. On the action side of things, there is a section of the mission where the PCs have to keep a train from derailing and doing massive collateral damage, which, oof, timely.
Threat in the Deep Blue
This section of the adventure shifts a bit from putting together pieces of information about locals dissatisfied with the Empire, and into straight-up Bond villain territory. The PCs are sent to a fishing village to track down the last known location of a missing agent, and may end up finding out about a secret villain lair in the nearby Septon’s Reef.
The Empire recently had an oil . . . er . . . aetherium spill in these waters, and Dr. Omeda, a warlock funded by one of the Spider’s shell companies, is performing experiments with the aetherium polluted water.
Redeye, the missing agent, tried to infiltrate Dr. Omeda’s organization by pretending to join, but the initiation process involved being exposed to a mind control/memory modification concoction that Dr. Omeda has distilled from the polluted waters. If the PCs go through these same trials to reach Dr. Omeda, they run the risk of being exposed to her experimentation. There are several trials and puzzles the PCs will engage with, as well as interacting with her mutated animal pets.
The location, how the agent was lost, and Dr. Omeda’s nefarious plan are all so wonderfully textbook Bond villain. The main downside with this adventure is that some of the puzzles feel a little more D&D than super-spy, but I’m always a hard sell for puzzles. I really like that even in this mission, where the action is more standard “defeat the supervillain,” the adventure still focuses on the Empire not being entirely innocent, re: the aetherium spill that is endangering the local waters.
There is some kind of device disrupting the already somewhat unstable magitech devices of the Empire. When this adventure starts, the PCs are sent to find Zed, who isn’t responding to attempts to communicate with him via magitech devices. This potentially leads to a chase where the PCs are trying to save Zed from his kidnapper. As usual when these adventures involve chase scenes, it details different means to adjudicate it based on the rules for chases presented in the Setting Guide.
This all leads to a casino owner who was attempting to hire Zed away from the agency, and his floating casino, location on an airship. The PCs are expected to track down the owner and speak to him, both about the kidnapping and his possible connection to the magictech disrupting device.
There are several events that the PCs can interact with where they gain notoriety, which is tracked with points. With high enough notoriety, they get an invitation to invest in the casino from the owner, where they can begin their fact-finding with him. In addition to winning big at the tables, some of the events where PCs can gain notoriety bring them into conflict with swarms of the strange bugs they have been seeing in the background of the previous adventures.
The Spider used this opportunity to set a trap, turning on the magitech disrupting device on the skyship, giving the PCs a limited amount of time to shut down the device before the skyship crashes. The Spider is fully willing to sacrifice Minch, the casino’s owner, in order to get rid if the PCs that have learned too much about their operations.
If the PCs save Minch, or go through his ledgers, they can find a connection between all of the organizations that The Spider has been facilitating, and learn that The Spider is funneling all of the resources gathered back to an organization called Brimstone.
Casinos in spy stories are good. Plummeting airships are great for action. My only concern is that we’ve already had a casino in this campaign, as well as a plummeting airship. I know that spy stories reuse a lot of tropes, however, and this one does pull together well as the culmination of events that stem from the PCs getting too close to the Spider.
I like that we’re getting a wider range of magitech vehicles, so we can have all kinds of ridiculous chase scenes. I think this particular adventure does a great job of ramping up the over-the-top aspects of super-spy stories, by introducing a more supervillain-eque opponent. I also like the unfolding payoff of finding out that The Spider is a common thread, and then finding out that Brimstone is the next thing to investigate. I also really like how the “bug in the background” has been slowly ramping up as a story element across these stories.
There are a few repeated elements that I hope work well at the table. I liked both the casino and the potential skyship crash in previous adventures, but the skyship and the casino being one in the same works really well in context of this adventure, in particular.
While I think saving the skyship from crashing is a great final setpiece, I wish the resolution was a little more structured. As it is, we know how fast the PCs can move in one direction versus the other, and how long they have to shut it down, but I would almost rather not rely on precise measurements of distance in a scene like this. If they were more in vogue, I would have rather a robust skill challenge-like element.
I love that all of the adventures so far have pointed out some of the worse aspects of the Empire, but I hope that the PCs maintaining the status quo against someone destabilizing the Empire pays off in a more satisfying manner than just picking the better of two evils. I’m really interested to see how this resolves, given that the both the leader of the Empire and the person working against him are infernal creatures with similar goals, but different methods.
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