Laura's Reviews of Living Greyhawk Scenarios
It occurs to me that I play quite a lot of Living Greyhawk. Arguably too much. Sometimes it is a wonderful cross between wargaming and improvisational comedy. Sometimes it sucks.
So far, most people seem to rate LG modules on their profitability. I shall take a bold and radical step in rating them on how fun to play they are. I shall try to remain reasonably spoiler-free, but I'll hide the detailed reviews further down the page to protect your virgin eyes, 'kay?
- Plot: Interesting? Coherent? Suitably interactive? Free of deus ex machinae?
- NPCs: Interesting? Believable? Or smug and annoying? Appearance of Tarnedas automatically gets a zero here.
- Interesting Fights: Variety? Chance for interesting tactics? Interesting terrain (but not more bloody scree slopes, please)?
- Making Sense: How much does this module rely on Elective PC Stupidity (EPCS)? How preposterous is the plot hook? How blatant is it that the PCs are going to get suckered?
March on Gullhaven
In total, I give it an 8½. A bit long, and not as dramatic as it could have been, but there's some good moral dilemmas, some interesting roleplaying and a couple of good fights in here.
- Plot: Not bad. Fairly straightforward, with most of the challenges being roleplaying, diplomacy and ethical dilemmas rather than puzzles. When you're acting as part of the military, you're not going to have much choice about what you do, the question is how you're going to do it, and who you're going to piss off in the process. I give it an 8; I would've liked a chance for some cunning plans, but I can see why there wasn't going to be much of that.
- NPCs: I don't mind irritating and inflexible NPCs provided there's a reason why they're being irritating and inflexible, not simply to act as a plot roadblock. In this case, the inflexibility was there to force a moral dilemma and actually worked quite well, in a slightly schematic and Star Trek-y sort of way. The Big Bad was a bit dull and really didn't stir up much in the way of hatred or fear; he's no Brother Obadiah. Nevertheless, that's a decent 7½.
- Interesting Fights: Not bad at all. Terrain hazards, nonstandard monsters with flangy feats, ethical issues with collateral damage... nothing astonishingly inventive, but all very well thought out. I give it a 9.
- Making Sense: I really can't fault this. Given that you're Onnwalon patriots, and working with the army, it all makes perfect sense. I do think that if you're going to hint darkly at divine wrath, you ought to follow up on it with some smiting, but that's a minor point. I give it a 9½.
Return to Gullhaven
I give it a 7½ in total. A bit linear, and the ending's a little anticlimactic, but well-constructed and nicely paced. It's trying to cover similar ground of moral ambiguity and negotiation as March on Gullhaven, but it doesn't work quite as well this time.
- Plot: A bit slight. The whole thing's just an extended chase sequence with a couple of tangents. There's no real way to lose your quarry, and not much cleverness required. There are a couple of decent roleplaying moments, and actual consequences to failure, so I'll give it a 7½.
- NPCs: There came a point at which I ended up wondering how anyone in Onnwal managed to blow their nose without an adventuring party standing over them. We're supposed to be partisans, not nannies. It makes no sense to sneer at dire warnings of divine wrath in a world where gods are undeniably real and often do get involved in mortal affairs, frequently violently. I'm still not entirely sure what was going on with the villains; I'm a great fan of quality villaining, and LG's given us some fine bad guys - Brother Obadiah, the Flamefather, the Muddled Tongue, the Dreamstealers - but this lot just didn't seem terribly menacing or evil. I think this was an attempt to create an adventure populated by complex, morally-grey characters on both sides, and that can be very interesting and make for some good roleplaying, but it just didn't quite hold together. A 6 for effort.
- Interesting Fights: Decent. Terrain hazards, some clever use of magic, innocent bystanders to protect, size issues in fights. They did tend to drag on a little, but I've had much worse. I'll give this an 8.
- Making Sense: Apart from considerable recklessness and silliness on the part of our own side, and some flimsiness of motivation on the part of the bad guys, it all made perfect sense. We had a mission, we weren't lied to by our employers for once, it wasn't suicidal to go on... Fine. I'll give it a 9½.
I loved Folly. I loveded it good. I give it a 10. Best module I've played since Legacy of Madness. Bear in mind, I'm rating it this highly because it's got everything I love in LG in it - puzzles, bizarre fight scenes on odd terrain, surrealism, weird architecture, eccentric NPCs, blatant slashiness... It's also a rather lovely retrospective on the old days of Greyhawk and 1st Edition, with old monsters, references to old adventures, and one particularly superb geeky injoke. I owe the guys who wrote this many many drinks if I ever run into them at a con.
- Plot: If you don't like PC adventure games, you won't be much impressed. Personally, I love the likes of Myst and American McGee's Alice, and I'm very keen on puzzle-box adventures. And the setting is the most gloriously surreal example of Weird Architecture in the Early Maniac style that I've seen since Alice. I'm a sucker for Weird Architecture, did I mention? And then there's the most inspiredly bizarre plot hook for everyone that I've ever seen in LG. We were flustered, we were confused, I loved it to bits. I give it a 10.
- NPCs: Two damned impressive and well-thought-out NPCs. Who were mysteriously useless in fights, but hey. And the all-dominating presence of Zagyg, there in the atmosphere, including some rather splendid use of the rich background of Zagig Yragerne the Mad Archmage (and Greyhawk geek injokes). All this and some slashy subtext too. Yay. 10, mostly for one guy who I won't forget in a hurry. And unlike Tarnedas, Cordo Ghent and so on, this one was incredibly memorable in a good way.
- Interesting Fights: Not so much with the fighting, again. One hideously dangerous encounter, one really not threatening at all encounter. Fun with fight scenes in non-Euclidean geometry. Truly weird opponents with unknown capabilities. A 9... I'm sure we could have had even more fun with the potential for surreal fights than that, but hey. If you're going to do combat-light, this is how to do it.
- Making Sense: Sense? Sense?! In a module dealing with Zagyg? Actually, the plot hook didn't look suicidal (and it worked very well for our party, but that's another matter), and then once we got going, we had a damned fine reason not to run away (thanks to the inspiredly bizarre hook). I wouldn't say this required EPCS - it did call for the slightly odd thinking of a lab rat in a maze designed by Jhonen Vasquez and Terry Gilliam on a lost weekend in Las Vegas with lots of interestingly coloured pills, but once you'd accepted that you were stuck in a cosmic nutjob's puzzle box it all made perfect sense. Perfect sense. But my psychiatrist says I'm getting better. I think it should have a 9.
The Glory of Times Past
I had a great time playing this module, I must say. We did start running out of time due to the group and the GM having more fun roleplaying and faffing about than following the plot... and when faffing is more fun than following the plot, there's something wrong with the plot. It was a brave experiment, an attempt to do something different with the LG format, and unfortunately it didn't actually work terribly well. Ah well. Kudos to the guy who wrote it for trying. 6½ for effort.
- Plot: Quite a nice murder mystery. Leads, clues, suspects... It was going very well indeed up until three-quarters of the way in, when it became clear that the leads weren't really taking us anywhere important and all we really got to do from then on was sit around and wait for the Bad Guys to show up. I give it a 6 for effort and interest, points lost for railroadiness and pointlessness.
- NPCs: Several fairly interesting suspects, a few good interviews out of that. I do hate it when the GM clearly has written in his notes "This guy tells the PCs nothing", and you end up banging your head on a very stubborn brick wall. A 7, I think, again... mostly good, but very irritatingly flawed.
- Interesting Fights: Not many, and they weren't that interesting. Chase scenes have a little potential, but not unless you throw more obstacles in the way - a straight "he runs, we run after him, he runs fast, we run faster" encounter is dull. And a bog standard slugfest is also dull. I think the guy who wrote this one was trying to buck convention by creating a combat-light LG module, and whilst I see why he'd want to do that, and approve, light combat can still be more interesting combat than this was. A 3 for lack of imagination.
- Making Sense: Not bad, actually. A decent hook, a reasonable-sounding job, not much EPCS required. This gets it an 8.
When Orcs Attack
4½, I reckon. Not a total dead loss, but if your attention wanders up from orc-bashing, you can get quite frustrated here. Could have been so much better with more attention to plot. Oh well.
- Plot: There was some. Which is good, I suppose. Quite an intriguing initial hook, that then wanders off into something entirely unrelated, then comes back from an unexpected and suspiciously convenient angle. All suffers very badly from having to set up the Running With The Baatezu arc in a low-level friendly way... which means lack of cohesion and lack of engagement with the main hook. Two quite good halves of plot secured together with an ugly bundle of duct tape, which gets it a 5.
- NPCs: Four fairly well-defined and coherent characters to talk to. All of whom are to a certain extent clichés, but hey. I'll allow a decent 7 here.
- Interesting Fights: Enemies who aren't completely stupid, terrain issues, visibility issues, other goals to encounters besides simply slaughtering the bad guys. Not bad. I've had many more interesting and memorable fights, but many much duller ones too. A good 7 for this.
- Making Sense: Aargh. Just... aargh. It started off so well. A good reason for the whole party to take on a mission. An interesting mission. Leads to follow. Clues and such. Then we discover that the plot demands us to ignore our mission entirely, wander off elsewhere and spring a couple of really blatant traps (which, to be fair, could have provided us with interesting moral dilemmas... except that the D&D alignment system more or less cut through the dilemmas entirely if you're Good). Then we find the lead we needed conveniently off on the tangent we took for metagaming reasons. Not good at all. I cut this down to a 3 here.
A plain 6½ here. It never screws up too badly, it's dangerous but not TPK material. On the other hand, it never really sparkles either. It's an efficient, short, neatly-written module, but not a terribly memorable one, except as "the one with the gruesome bits", which were pretty gratuitous.
- Plot: Not much of it. Quite a nice idea, but cut too short. And whoever wrote this one needs his copy of Hannibal taking away from him. At first it was creepy, but too much gruesome just leaves you feeling blasé and faintly nauseated. Just a 5, this time.
- NPCs: Not much to interact with. Cannon fodder, one interestingly ambiguous, one raving psycho. Big Bad pretty well set up, but not terribly memorable to fight. I think a 7. Not terrible, but not brilliant either.
- Interesting Fights: Deeply vicious fights for a first level party with limited healing. I like the adrenaline value of the high-risk scenarios, but that's just me. Clever tactics could, I suppose, have been an option, and there were terrain and cover issues to deal with, as well as environmental hazards, but ultimately the bad guys weren't that tactically interesting or exotic to deal with. Again, a 7.
- Making Sense: Not much EPCS involved. It's fairly obvious why you do what you do, considering that you're a non-evil bunch of Onnwalon patriots. You're not required to walk into any traps or anything. Mind you, there's so little plot that it doesn't have much chance to go screwy. Quite a lot about the Big Bad never actually gets explained, and could potentially have been rather interesting. I'd give this a 7.
A Man With Nothing
"Five Go Mad In Perdition"
Total rating of 9, I think. It's a cool, atmospheric, epic adventure... if you can find it within yourself not to mind about a bit of linearity and railroadiness, you can have a great time here.
- Plot: Great. Spooky, atmospheric, suspenseful. Remarkably vivid and surreal - wish you got more of that in LG. A bit linear and adventure-gamy, not really much player interaction until the end, but it was cool and creepy enough that I was happily sitting back enjoying the atmosphere rather than getting frustrated with the railroading. It gets a 9. Probably shouldn't, but I liked the atmospherics too much.
- NPCs: Again, creepy and Twilight Zoney for the most part, fairly deep and complex otherwise. Nice. The trailing hanger-on occasionally got a bit irritating, but was useful for healing and plot pointers, so hey. An 8½, I think.
- Interesting Fights: Yay. Three nice tactics-heavy fights. One encounter has a broken CR at APL 8, but our alert GM spotted this and exercised some discretion. Go him. The final fight has one of the nicest tactical twists I've seen in an LG module for some time. More like that, less standard hack and slash. I give that a 10.
- Making Sense: Ah. Problem. Requires a good deal of EPCS. Including walking into several blatantly trappy and suicidal situations. On the other hand, most of that can be justified IC by the fact that you're Battling A Great Evil. Not sure how that would cut it with a majority-Neutral party, though. This drops it down to a 7, I think.
The Belonging Kind
I give it a 9 overall. A nice, neat, sensible module, with some tough fights that required tactics rather than flangy weaponry to overcome. Reasonable length, quite nicely paced once it got started (but the very beginning was a bit slow). Wish we got more modules like this.
- Plot: Rather good. A bit slow to start off, but it was coherent and interesting. More than just a string of preposterous fights. Hurrah. Some nice riffing on the theme of "belonging", too. That gets 9½ from me.
- NPCs: Not many that you got to talk to, but one in particular will be remembered for some time. Nice to see bad guys with a bit of depth and motivation, and nice to see a bit of the internal dynamics of the Scarlet Sign. A good 9 here.
- Interesting Fights: Tough for a 1st-level party, but not impossible with a bit of shrewd tactics. Interesting terrain, opportunities for strategic fighting... not massively memorable, but not dull either, and with challenge ratings pretty well judged. A decent solid 8, I think.
- Making Sense: Aside from the hand-wavy coincidence that got us all together in the first place, pretty sensible. No blatant suicide mission here, no need for EPCS. Doesn't stretch belief at all that first-level PCs would take this one on. Wish I could give more modules a 9 here.
I think I'm gonna have to get a small false beard next time I'm playing cross-gender. Something to remind people that I'm supposed to be a bloke, dammit. I just don't seem to be naturally cut out for transvestitism.
Fury of a Cold Man's Heart
Overall, I give it a 5½ (rounding to nearest half). On the whole a fun evening, but the fights did drag a bit. And I swear some monsters' CRs as given in the MM are complete and utter lies. Thanks to Ben for a creditable job of GMing a somewhat flawed module.
- Plot: Not bad, actually. Can't really comment 'til I've played the last in the series, and it does suffer a bit from middle-volume syndrome. More explainy bits would have been nice, but I guess they'll come in the sequel. I'll give it a 7.
- NPCs: Only a few you get to talk to; fairly interesting. It's kind of frustrating talking to the sort of brick wall you get when NPCs have been written so as not to change their minds, though. Points for the small creepy child. Say 8.
- Interesting Fights: Not good. Beating your way slowly through something's DR is very dull. And so is having the same fight twice. Too much sitting and waiting, too many very long fights. That's a 3.
- Making Sense: Not bad. Other than the usual silliness of the Onnwalon patriots being off bodding about the Flanaess for no good reason, the initial plot hook was quite nice - dunno how well it would have gone down with a majority-Neutral party, though. Certain amount of EPCS required later on, in which common sense and honour pull one way and plot pulls another. Not terrible, since there is an incentive to go with plot, but still. Say a 7.
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