While I continue to ponder the new core rules and the 4e combat system, I thought I would jot down a few thoughts about the latest official adventure. The Treasure of Talon Pass was released as part of Free RPG Day 2008. Frankly, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing… I only stumbled across the concept and the product by accident. Fortunately Westgate Games in Canterbury was participating (one of the few game shops in the UK that was) so I was able to get a copy without resorting to eBay.
A shame it wasn’t worth it really.
This won’t be quite as damning as my review of Keep on the Shadowfell. The Treasure of Talon Pass is not a complete adventure, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is the finale of a larger adventure; the disappointing last act of an otherwise promising play. It is a dungeon crawl, taking players through eleven rooms of increasing carnage. No imagination is necessary, and there is certainly nothing as tricky as roleplaying to be found in the adventure.
Physically, the product is more recognisable than Keep on the Shadowfell. This is the typical adventure format used for years by TSR. A removable card cover conceals a thirty-two page adventure booklet. The paper lacks the glossy finish of more recent releases, but is far more robust as a result. The adventure is also in black and white to save on costs. However, the general appearance and pagination matches the previous 4e releases, and the art is recycled from these releases as well. Frankly, I’d rather see all 4e adventures in this format. If they were they’d be about £10 cheaper.
Only twenty of the thirty-two pages contain the adventure. The rest of the booklet is made up of adverts and five pregenerated player characters. These are the same PCs that were printed in Keep on the Shadowfell, but they’ve been advanced (incorrectly) to second level.
To be honest, I don’t really know what to make of the product. It was free, so on the one hand you feel privileged to have it at all. On the other hand, I can’t imagine ever using it. Dave Noonan attempts to introduce some hooks to tie this adventure with a wider campaign, but they fall a little flat. Use the same descriptions for other dungeons in your campaign world and introduce a sense of continuity! Put a known NPC’s name on this ancient tapestry to hint at a dark past! It’s not very sophisticated.
The plot (such as it is) revolves around the PCs entering a dungeon to retrieve a jade chalice. They arrive shortly after a party of orcs who are also after the chalice. The chalice is a complete macguffin. There’s no attempt to explain why the PCs might want it, why the orcs want it, or what its wider significance might be. The chalice is in the possession of a dragon and his wizard servant, but they don’t use it for anything or even seem to ascribe any importance to it. Their presence in the dungeon is entirely coincidental to the chalice. In short, this adventure doesn’t actually tell a story.
Now, the party of orcs is an interesting idea. You can imagine the PCs battling them, before realising that the dungeon is too dangerous for one group alone. The PCs and the orcs team up, the orcs gain individual personalities, and there’s a lot of roleplaying as the PCs have to work with the orcs to overcome challenges. Then in the finale, the orcs and the PCs must betray one another, and perhaps break the bonds of friendship and respect to attain their goal. Now, that would have be a good and memorable adventure. Unfortunately, Noonan has all the orcs wiped out by kobold skirmishers in room 2, which utterly torpedoes that idea.
I despair for the future of D&D if Keep on the Shadowfell and Treasure of Talon Passare the best adventures Wizards feel they can produce. They’re unimaginative and derivative tripe. While they may have some utility as a primer for learning the combat rules, I wouldn’t let either of them within a mile of an actual campaign. I find it shocking that anyone else would.
What is more, in Treasure of Talon Pass the creativity bar has been set even lower than their last effort. I suspect that because this was a free adventure, the designers didn’t really try to give their best work. There are parts of the adventure that make no narrative sense, and other parts that make no sense full stop. Why is the dragon Skatharilarn in this dungeon? Why does he need to employ the services of a wizard? Why don’t the wizard and the dragon actually work together against the PCs? Why is there an arena that spews forth undead for the party to fight, and why does the wizard decide to lure them there?
If I was Skatharilarn and a bunch of adventures had massacred all the kobolds I had placed on the upper level (and remember these kobolds are good enough to take out a dozen orcs!) then I would hit those adventures as quickly as I could with all the power at my disposal. Anything less is a nonsense.
The fact the adventure is free is not an excuse for it being bad. There’s nothing here of any worth, unless you’re in the market for a new magic item not presented in the DMG. This is a product for completists and masochists. There’s no meat on these bones.
By far the best stuff for fourth edition is being printed on the Wizard’s website. Click over there and have a look at the articles for Dragon and Dungeon magazine while they’re still free. The article on Goblins is particularly good. I’ll probably get around to reviewing these additions to the cannon when all the articles are collected into Dragon #364, which should happen in the next week or so.
Back to the Player’s Handbook.