What Do I Know About Reviews? Fables: Agents Of The Empire Part 5, Trace of Deception (5e SRD)
Where has this month gone? We’re almost to May, and I’ve still got a few things to look at from way back at the beginning of the month. Before the next installment is upon us in a few days, let’s take a look at the most recent adventure in the Fables campaign Agents of the Empire, Trace of Deception. This is the fourth adventure in the series (and the fifth part of this review, counting our look at the setting guide), and is for 6th-level characters.
I haven’t had the opportunity to run or play through the material in this adventure, but I am very familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and as a DM. I was not provided a review copy of the adventure, and my copy comes from my subscription to the adventure series.
Episode 4: Trace of Deception
Written by: Jeff C. Stevens
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: Ioana Elena Barbu, Marius Bota, Ivo Campelo da Silva, Daniel Correia, Ignacio Corva, Rafael Dantanna, Will Hallet, Suzanne Helmigh, Giuseppe De Iure, Katariina Sofia Kemi, Ona Kristensen, Erel Maatita, Vita Naumavičienė, Laura Marie Neal, Elizabeth Peiró, Felipe Pérez, Viviane Souza, Andreia Ugrai, Rebeca Ungurean, Mateusz Wilma, Grzegorz Wlazło
Cartographers: Andrei Iacob, Damien Mammoliti
Comic: Brian Patterson
VTT Asset Design: Joshua Orchard
Layout and Format
This month’s installment is 98 pages long, including the following pages:
- Campaign Summary
- Table of Contents
- Credits Page
- New Monsters (8 pages, with some repeats from previous volumes)
- New Magic (4 pages, with some repeats from previous volumes)
- Magitech Vehicles (2 pages with vehicles from previous volumes)
- Pregenerated Characters (18 pages, 8 characters at 6th level)
- Pronunciation Guide (2 pages)
- OGL Statement
- Ghostfire Gaming Ads (2 pages)
Like our previous installments, this adventure has two column layout with stylized sidebars. Our artwork presents the pseudo-20th-century fantasy world with a variety of full-color artwork. The chapter introductions are two-page art spreads. One thing I wanted to say is that the more we see characters in this campaign, the more I appreciate the amount of personality that comes through in all the character portraits.
This adventure is divided into the following sections:
- Welcome to Fables
- Fabled Follies
- This Fable’s Story
- Chapter 1: Trace Evidence
- Chapter 2: Two-Timed
- Chapter 3: Loose Ends
- Chapter 4: Throat Punch
- New Monsters
- New Equipment and Magic Items
- Magitech Vehicles
- Player Characters Level 6
- Pronunciation Guide
Like the previous adventures, there is a good amount of repeated content. This isn’t a problem, but it’s still a bit confusing to me, since recurring stat blocks, vehicles, magic items, and the pronunciation guide are all things that are perfect additions to the setting guide, which gets bundled with each month’s release.
It’s About That Time
With adventure number four in the campaign, we’ve reached the “agents on the run from their own agency trope,” and that’s a good thing, since this campaign is seeking to translate all of those spy movie tropes to a fantasy setting.
Our agents, like in most of the adventures so far, are sent to gather some information. The team is pointed towards a new agent contact who gives them several leads to investigate. These leads will eventually send them to a haunted cannery where they get double cross and framed for the murder of the agent that sent them looking for leads. The twist here is that the ghost of the cannery may offer a helping ectoplasmic hand if they secure evidence of their murder.
As written, the adventure assumes you will use the stat blocks for some of the enemy agents to sneak up on the PCs and steal something from their person, with those items being found at the scene of the murder. I personally think this leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong, since you never know when the PCs will be extremely innovative, or when the dice will laugh at your plans.
Given that the PCs live in a safe house run by the Agency, and Agency agents are the ones stealing items from the PCs, I would almost rather just ask the PCs about an item they own that others have seen them with, but that isn’t one of their most prized possessions. Most of the time, the players are going to roll with this kind of setup.
Given that a lot of this campaign revolves around espionage plots in a fantasy setting, and that many of the adversaries are humanoid agents, criminals, and terrorists, I really appreciate some of the elements introduced in the beginning of this adventure. Not only is there a ghost haunting the location where the PCs get double-crossed, but the Agent that sets them up does so because of a creepy supernatural living toxin.
Friends in High Places
While the PCs are burned, their boss isn’t fooled by the frameup, and secretly gives them a lead to follow up, as well as allowing them access to their tech support under the table. When the PCs arrive at the apartment building where the rogue agent lives, the PCs run into some quirky characters that can provide some clues. Plus, there is a widow that manages to animate the corpse of her dead husband, which goes on a rampage.
In addition to the runaway animated husband, the PCs can also run into a group of invisible agents, who have dispatched the rogue agents the PCs were hoping to interrogate. There is a notebook that can potentially clear the name of the PCs, as well as a few other clues, but the best way to get an idea of where the PCs need to go next is to cast Speak with Dead on the agent’s corpse.
While I liked the supernatural elements introduced in the previous chapters, I have to admit that the randomly rampaging animated corpse feels a little random. It’s also a little strange to me that the adventure at least entertained the idea that the PCs, special agents of the Empire on the run, will talk to the landlord and decide to help him collect rent from one of his tenants.
The PCs find out that Natalie Trace, a wealthy nightclub owner, helped the Spider set up the PCs, because they found out about the existence of the Brimstone organization. Since Brimstone has infiltrated the Agency, that means it is time to pull the trigger and attempt to get rid of the PCs once and for all.
The PCs’ boss has a celebrity detained, a mysterious singer due to perform at the nightclub. That means the PCs can pose as the singer and their entourage. Eventually, the PCs can find out that the cannery where they were double-crossed was the site of the construction of a magical dirty bomb, which Natalie Trace had sent to an organization known as The Endeavor. If the PCs take the secret exit out of the nightclub, they might run into a guardian monster in the sewer that Natalie uses to dispose of bodies.
Some of the previous installments have some big set-piece endings, like exploding airships, or dirigibles falling out of the sky, this ending was a little more subdued. There is a little bit of tension, seeing how much information the PCs can collect before their cover is officially blown, and seeing how they want to try to escape from the location.
One thing I really want to see is a payoff to how corrupt the Empire is, and the introduction hints that this adventure delivers on that concept, the idea that the PCs will be able to clear their name is a little disappointing. Even though there is a whole structure in place to reward agents gaining ranks, I almost wish that the PCs were going rogue for the rest of the campaign. I’m ready for this campaign to shift from Bond territory to Bourne territory.
On that same note, I liked the first couple of chapters, but the last two chapters kind of tap the breaks a little bit. I feel like a lot of that is because the last three adventures, when reading the summaries, are more interlocked. That means that the last two chapters aren’t bad, but they do deviate from the “big explosions, deal with a supervillain” endings of some of the other adventures. To continue the Bond/Bourne comparison, we’re moving from a high-action Bronsnan-era Bond feel to the more deliberate pacing of a Bourne-style movie.
This is also the first adventure where we didn’t get a hint at the true villains with a peek at one of the infernal bugs somewhere in an encounter. Honestly, I wish the animated husband’s corpse was actually animated by one of the infernal bugs instead of being a necromantic experiment by the dead man’s wife. I’ll be interested to see how this more deliberate pacing pans out, and I really hope we get a payoff for the PCs being able to address the corruption of the Empire as well as facing down Brimstone.
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