Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Revealing? Or why I think Mike Mearls work is cumbersome

Below is a part of a review for the Age of worms adventure path and sums up in one piece of work my own opinion of Mike Mearls work. Note" Mike Mearls is the architect of D&D 4th edition and also the mess of rules labeled the Iron Heroes role playing game (or as I like to call it "how to get swords and sorcery wrong").
I'm just not sold on any of his design work for many little reasons.

for the full review go to rpg net and read Sebastian's review

I think he sums it up nicely in this.

The Three Faces of Evil
Issue #125
Written by Mike Mearls

After a strong start, the Adventure Path suffers from the two weakest entries in the series. The second adventure, the Three Faces of Evil, suffers mostly from a lack of editorial oversight. The adventure was written concurrently with the Whispering Cairn, and it shows.
The hook for The Three Faces of Evil is that the players are seeking to investigate a strange green worm that they found in Filge’s lab in the prior adventure. However, the hook assumes that they do this by going directly to Balabar Smenk with the worm. Considering that Filge was working for Balabar Smenk and that the players likely killed him, and quite possibly Smenk’s gang of reprobates, the idea of them going to discuss the implications of the green worm with him is laughable. Nonetheless, this is the premise for the adventure. Should the characters go to Smenk, he informs them that he swiped the worm from a rival mine manager who allegedly has an evil cult operating out of his mine. The cult is blackmailing Smenk to provide supplies and he asks the characters help in rooting the cult out.
The cult, called the Ebon Triad, worships the idea of Vecna, Erythnul and Hextor merging into a single overgod. Each of the three mini-dungeons is occupied by a cell that worships one of these three gods.
This location of the mine is where a major editorial mistake crops up. The backdrop article about the town of Diamond Lake places the mine in the center of the city, but The Three Faces of Evil states that the mine consists of a barricaded mini-fortress guarded by more troops than the local keep. This is inconsistent with the map of Diamond Lake and illogical given the location.
Getting into the mine involves bribing or otherwise bypassing the guards. The module details a number of potential strategies, including entering disguised as a miner. Attacking the guards or miners is also possible, but likely to have serious repercussions unless the characters can connect them to the Ebon Triad.
The Ebon Triad resides in three separate mini-dungeons at the bottom of an elevator shaft deep in the mine. This set-up provides a number of logistical problems for a low level group, not the least of which is that there is no safe place to retreat and rest. Going back through the mine is likely to draw attention, and until the party cleans out one of the three mini-dungeons, there are few safe places to rest. On top of this, there is a credibility problem because, although the three groups are aligned, none of them react to an attack that is not directed at them.
The Temple to Hextor is the first mini-dungeon presented. (In an earlier draft of the adventure, this was the only area accessible. The other two doors could only be unlocked by obtaining keys from the leaders of the cult of Hextor and Erythnul, respectively. This idea was written out, but the keys remain in the possession of some of the NPC’s). The Temple is extremely well organized, and an almost impossible challenge for third level characters. Editorial errors run rampant in this section (rooms are misidentified, creatures wield weapons for which they lack proficiency, and the number of cultists in one room is missing entirely). The centerpiece of the section is an encounter in a gladiatorial style arena, in which must tip over a statute to reach a balcony above. Unfortunately, the characters are unlikely to survive the battle if it plays out in the way Mike Mearls has it written.
The Temple of Erythnul is a series of caverns occupied by grimlocks. The blindsight ability of the grimlocks severely restricts a party’s ability to scout. Unlike the Temple of Hextor, the level of organization is minimal, and the characters need not worry about being mobbed. The caverns have some unique elements, including a cavern shaped like a U that requires the players to descend to the floor while being peppered by archers and then climb back up the other side using a decrepit rope bridge. The end boss is a fanatical grimlock prophet with the eyes of a beholder stitched in his empty sockets.
The final temple consists mainly of a large maze. While mazes are normally difficult to run (particularly if the DM doesn’t use a battlemat and has to verbally describe the passageways), Mr. Mearls does a good job of building a manageable encounter around the gimmick. The maze is the size of a standard battlemat, and the text notes on which square the entrance should be marked. While in the maze, the characters must deal with hit and run attacks from a group of kenkus. Because the kenku are able to open and close the numerous secret doors in the maze with a swift action, the encounter plays out in a series of hit and run battles. The foes are perfectly calibrated to frustrate the players, but then allow them to take out that frustration once they connect against the low hp kenku. At the end of the maze is the Faceless One, a wizard with an almost featureless face. He is an excellent villain, and it is too bad that the adventure path does not utilize him more.
Once the characters have defeated the three aspects of the Ebon Triad, their final encounter is with an aspect of the overgod – a six armed creature combining facets of each of Vecna, Erythnul and Hextor. The aspect appears immediately after the last of the three high priests is defeated, forcing the characters to come up with a strategy to defeat it despite their diminished resources.
The Three Faces of Evil is a good adventure at its core with some terrific set pieces (the arena, the rope bridge, and the maze), it just needed another pass or two by the editorial staff. A common fix discussed on the Paizo message boards is to break up the dungeon into its three separate components and allow the characters a safe zone in which to retreat. This takes off some of the pressure and provides a justification for why the various cults do not alert each other about (or become independently aware of) the player actions.
Despite its editorial errors, The Three Faces of Evil has a lot of clever ideas and interesting encounters. Substantively, it needs some significant revisions.
Style: 4
Substance: 3

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