Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Fighter's Challenge (HHQ1, no spoilers)

HHQ1 Fighter's Challenge
AD&D 2nd Edition
by John Terra (1992)

Fighter's Challenge is a neat little module, nominally designed for 1 warrior PC (Single or multiclassed) of levels 2-4. It includes a town with enough details to use as a home base, a minimally railroaded plot (just one scene to get the PC involved), and several side-quests related to the town and major plot. There's a little bit of mystery, some town and site-based interaction, plus some combat. The mood is one of heroic fantasy, but it could easily fit more mercenary style of play. It isn't full-on whimsical, but it does have some fairy-tale and/or humorous elements to it (not wierd fantasy or sword-and-sorcery really). It is low on the magic-ren-fair scale, but there are a number of magic items and magical beasts to fight.

The module's strengths are its relatively coherent main plot, and you can actually run it as the cover seems to intend: a single player of level 2-4, though if I ran it a second time I'd give the player enough XP to be 4th level as a single-class fighter rather than third (my player ended up as a gnome fighter/illusionist 2/2). This module could easily be run with a normal party of adventurers as well.

When I say it isn't too railroady, I mean it does have a number of set encounters along many of the paths the PCs will take, but there are certainly multiple paths to take to get to the end and I like it. There are even some factions among enemies which can be manipulated, though the breadth of enemies which can be encountered is reminiscent of the Mos Eisely Cantina: lots of big names and maybe too varied to might tight narrative sense.

On the coherent main plot, there is a backstory but it isn't too laborious. It does include a needless element that has a really cool scene at the end (page 22), and is a little cheesy, but it makes sense in a light-hearted D&D game where you're looting for treasure: not spectacular but I've seen worse.

As with all things, the module has a few weaknesses. In order to support a fighter-style for a one-on-one adventuer, there are a lot of possible hirelings. The town description flat-out gives four would-be adventurers, a couple other possible adjunct adventurers are encountered during the main plot (two for sure, possibly 3-4 others), as well as in the side quests (another 3, if my tally is near accurate). And the player will need them. There are a few creatures with less than a hit die, but there are a number of them with 5+ hit dice (some with dangerously low AC). Ditch a few of the potential hirelings if you have more than one PC (though I'd keep Coryn). I'm not a big fan of hirelings, so the adventure fails in the sense that one PC can do it alone. My PC lost 2 hirelings and went down himself a couple times.

Another weakness is the lack of a good overview. Sure, its a second-edition module so you start with a page or two of backstory, but a few of the encounters/subquests--5, 10, 11, and 12 on the map--just don't seem to have much to connect them to the story. 5 is at least in the realm of (the PC could accidentally get here), but 10-12 need some additional hook. The lair of one key antagonist isn't clearly marked on a map, nor is an escape tunnel's location marked or clearly described, which makes it a little hard to imagine where these most logically go. One of them (page 22) fixes a potentially major plot hole (of the: just go around type) and this should have been pointed out. Grognards might point out that its the DM's job to fill in these gaps, but you expect a little more when the module has a backstory. The major side quests do fit the main plot line, but you wouldn't know it cause they're just labeled as side quests. Then there's a few elements which tie together marvelously but it isn't spelled out as clearly as possible (I'm thinking the enemy on page 15 hilariously fits with one piece of information you learn from an NPC on page 11, towards the top of page 19 is a nifty assist on getting out, etc.).

There are a few typos but only one I noticed was confusing  (a reference to a trio and a duo in the same box on page 29). The maps give a vague impression of what's where, but their scale doesn't quite mesh with some text in the adventure. This is apparent from a few other slight railroady elements (it takes X amount of time to get to a location on page 29 regardless of how the PCs do it?) but if you play it a little loose that isn't the worst.

Not a criticism specific to this module, but the stat blocks in older editions can be maddening: for the hirelings things like strength and dexterity bonuses aren't noted, nor is weapon damage. For antagonists, special attacks aren't spelled out. If you're new to running older adventures, throw some post-its in those pages of the Monstrous Manual.

There is a lot of magic treasure to be found, some of it generic. I have no idea how a single-classed warrior PC is supposed to really find and identify mode of it (ok, there is a bard hireling but identify spells are also expensive, not to mention detecting magic in the first place.). Much of the non-magic treasure is pleasantly unique, or at least described.

Overall, I was impressed with this module. It has a few really good encounters and ideas, some of them gonzo enough for the grognard crowd, but they'll think the magic-ren-fair level is too high. My player did every reasonable side-quest, and it took us about 16 hours of play. If you're prepping the module, you'll want enough time to make a list of all the possible hirelings and their combat stats for reference during play, consider making a quick flowchart of how the side quests and main path fit together, and look up the antagonists in the Monstrous Manual as needed (particularly special attacks, weaknesses, and powers).

2 comments:

  1. Im finding this to be helpful information, my wife and i are giving it a shot together...shes fairly new to D&D and i'm still working on my skills as a dm. im wondering if boosting the charater stats is just as effective as using hirelings.

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    1. You'd really need to boost the stats a lot to get away without hirelings. I found having the player run one or two hirelings be fairly easy, and a couple of them in this module are fairly potent. For something long-term I wouldn't want more than one or two henchmen probably at a time though, and remember they have their own goals, might not always be willing or able to accompany the PC

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