Ninety-six pages, beautiful artwork, good layout, and an epic plot. The Shadowed Eye of Halagar is an ambitious adventure from the Alea Publishing Group. It is designed to take a party from level 13 to 16, and with the plot revolving around a dwarven king who has become an evil dragon, it manages to do a good job of providing something worth playing.
Is it, therefore, too much to expect better writing and editing?
Readers of my blog will be aware that I mention the writing and editing a lot in these reviews. There’s a reason for that: they’re important. When you use the wrong words, you confuse or alienate the reader. Shadowed Eye should be a triumph, an ambitious concept conveyed to the DM and through him or her to the entire group. When the DM has trouble working out what you’re writing about, you’ve failed as a writer.
“Few know the machinations of dragons and fewer still fail to comprehend the subtle schemes they nurture to fruition over several generations.”
Huh. I guess most people comprehend their schemes?
“The dwarves later discovered a greater pipe where the stout race would later construct Halagar.”
It happened later.
“The grand horn that harbors the depths of Konungur, the bastion that houses the seat of the king…”
I think it should be “wards” not “harbors”.
This poor choice of words makes some of the really interesting ideas in this adventure nearly incomprehensible. It’s not pretty.
Although the adventure itself is inventive, the adventure hooks aren’t so great. It might be that I have a different expectation of the role of 13th-level adventurers in the world than the author. I see them as being people of significance – potential movers and shakers in the world. A hook that has them hired by a small merchant company to discover a path through the gorge called “The Limestone Scar” seems out of place. You’ve got a major adventure here: let’s have some epic adventure hooks to match the quest! Only one – the quest for an ancient artefact, the Great Horn of Averson – comes close.
There are some really interesting design choices in the adventure. I’m fascinated by the exploration mechanic: a flowchart is used, with characters progressing towards the goal if they make successful History or Investigation checks, but failed checks mean they can remain wandering lost for ages, although still having encounters. It’s a good technique of charting progress without a map, without relying on DM fiat. I dislike intensely adventures that rely on the DM selecting an end-point which does not take into account player actions; it’s much to this adventures’ credit that it doesn’t fall into that trap.
The encounters display a good variety of approaches. Tricks, traps, role-playing, puzzle-solving and combat all feature. The history of the location can be discovered by the players, which is tremendously important in building up the mood and preparing the players for what is to come.
A bonus adventure previously published on the author’s blog, Shadows of Flame is presented as an appendix to the main adventure, and is written for tenth level characters. It presents a confrontation with an ancient red dragon. It reads better than the main adventure but is equally inventive, with some sly humour.
“I would recite the entirety of the epic poem—it is nearly one-hundred thousand lines in length—though the life of a human is too short and your heart too impatient. When I courted Ethra, it only lasted a year. Can you imagine a courtship only lasting one year?”
There is a lot to like in this product, which just makes its flaws more frustrating. There’s real talent on display here, but it is often obscured behind some poorly chosen words.