5E Adventure Review: The Bards of Ur

Johua De Santo has written quite a few adventures by this point, and The Bards of Ur is the latest of his Patreon-supported games to see release. It’s a short adventure of 8 pages, and is apparently designed for mid-level adventurers, although I’m not quite sure what that means. Levels 5-10? Possibly.

The concept behind the adventure is a good one: a group of mysterious bards has been travelling from town to town. Unknown to the authorities, they’ve been kidnapping young people, and planning to sacrifice them in a ritual that will summon the Demon Lord Ur to the world. When the nephew of a local lord is kidnapped, the players are contracted to discover what is going on.

There are some unusual design decisions in the adventure, none more so than this: “The adventurers have a 17 out of 20 chance of passing through the town of Lockguild.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen an adventure give a random chance for encountering a town before! Given how important Lockguild is for foreshadowing later events, I have no idea why a DM would ever wish to not include it. Indeed, if the players encounter it and attempt to bypass the town, there’s a 50% chance a mysterious fog causes them to become lost and return to Lockguild… The actual encounters in the town are very interesting, so I advise just using the place

Those expecting investigation and infiltration of the troupe will be disappointed, as the players eventually catch up to the Bards just as they’re enacting their summoning ritual. With the city folk slaughtering each other under the Bards’ influence, the players will need to defeat the leader of the Bards in combat. If they fail, Ur will be summoned, which is likely to be very bad for everyone concerned. The Bards themselves take the form of one our rock bands, which would add to the strange atmosphere of the situation if this were emphasised by the DM. (In fact, the description of the band makes it clear that they are KISS, which fits the adventure very well).

The ideas in this adventure are great. The implementation is less so. The final encounter feels under-developed. It would benefit greatly from a map, or – indeed – any additional details rather than just the combat stats of the Bards. It doesn’t help that a single fireball spell will likely end the combat. When most of the Bards have fewer than 15 hit points, you’re not looking at a long combat. Only their leader, Yr’Tr, has more hit points, and at 33 hp, even that isn’t going to help him survive long enough to pose a threat to the group. “For mid-level adventurers” is getting revised down to “for level 2-4 adventurers”. The combat statistics for the Bards are presented as quick summaries, and don’t use the 5E method of having slots for spell-casting.

The adventure isn’t horribly written, but could do with another pass of editing and several more passes of development. The juxtaposition of a rock band into the standard D&D-type setting needs to be explored better than it is here. More investigation, more strange occurrences, and a better final scene would do wonders. As it stands, there are great ideas here, but they are not used well. This feels more like a base for a DM to design around rather than a complete adventure.

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