At 100 pages, A Storm About To Break is the longest adventure release I’ve seen so far for the new edition of D&D. It is the first part of “An Echo of Days Past”, an adventure arc in unexplored lands to the east of the Empire of Sarvania. The adventure is written with generous helpings of rules explanations so that it is suitable for new DMs and players.
Unfortunately, the book as a whole is overwritten and the rules explanations are often clunky and occasionally in error. For instance: “To perform a Difficulty Check, roll d20 and add the characters bonus in that skill –in this case, either Persuasion or Intimidation. If the total score exceeds the DC set by the DM then the check succeeds.” It should be “equals or exceeds”. A later explanation makes it seem that a group of characters without light can’t even hear wolves creeping up from them. This is something of a problem, especially when there are quite a few pages taken up with these erroneous explanations of the rules.
The first part of the adventure sees the group travelling to a fort on the border of the wild lands to the east. When the characters are at the fort, its garrison of a dozen men comes under attack by a little over fifty bandits. This is a strong story-telling technique, but running it is problematic in a role-playing game. The suggestion of the author is to keep a rolling tally of damage, with one attacker or defender being killed whenever the tally exceeds the HP of a single target. Although it’s a useful technique, it doesn’t help with the numerous die rolls that need to be made by the bandits, guards and players. There’s a good plan here for the course of the battle, but the tools aren’t present to aid the DM in running it. It is suggested that perhaps the characters arrive in the aftermath of the battle, which, while not as exciting, is more likely to succeed if you don’t have a good plan for running this section. The first part of the adventure ends with the group tracking the bandits to their camp and potentially killing their leader.
The second part of the adventure has the group going into a nearby swamp on the wishes of a travelling sage. This section is rich in interesting non-player characters to interact with, while not neglecting combat. It has one particular weakness: it presumes the players will want to break a NPC out of prison to aid them. This will cause problems for Lawful characters, probably for Good characters as well (the man is a murderer), and any traditional paladin will be less than impressed by this turn of events. It’s a pity, because there’s some very strong material here.
The third part of the adventure finds the group infiltrating an enemy town – the same enemy that sent the bandits in part one. There are a lot of problems with this section, with the major one being a lack of guidance for the players. The adventure assumes they’ll break into the quarters used by the leader of the enemy and discover his plans, but this is never requested of the group by their patron. Without this, there’s little guidance that move on to the conclusion of this section: a set of caves that hold humanoids that are being recruited to attack the players’ homeland.
The transition to the final part of the adventure is equally poorly handled. As much as anything, it seems that because the party see a ruined keep in the distance, they’ll explore it. By this stage, whatever vague mission they were given back at the fort is prompting the characters to go in any direction the adventure wants them to. There are good ideas here – freeing slaves kept on an island where they mine for iron – but the links that should hold the structure together are flawed or missing.
Despite the structural problems that plague the adventure, there is a lot of good material here. The adventure feels properly epic, and there’s no small amount of ambition in its construction. I would have liked a few more well-defined non-player characters to interact with, but there are nods in that direction.
Spelling, grammar and word-choice are erratic; there are errors throughout, although they rarely get in the way of comprehension. I’m never a big fan of short fiction in role-playing books, and this book is not the exception. Fewer words and a better refinement of the concepts would not go astray. As it is, I find the fiction almost unreadable.
The presentation of the product is quite good, with good artwork and layout – and, I’m pleased to say – monster statistics that seem complete. The one error of presentation is using a non-white background in the book. A pdf like this is likely to be printed, and the background greatly interferes with that.
Overall, A Storm about to Break shows a lot of promise and, with a little work, should provide a DM with enough material for several sessions of play. The book ends with a promise to continue the campaign in Beneath the Razor’s Edge, which I look forward to reading in the near future.