Red Chains is the first 5E adventure designed for the Primeval Thule campaign setting. Its author is Steve Winter, who knows a thing or two about RPG design, having spent a very long time working for TSR and Wizards of the Coast. In this adventure, a party of 4th to 6th level characters is sent on a quest to rescue the son of a barbarian chieftain from slavers; the adventure has strong role-playing and investigative elements.
In the first act, the characters reach Marg, the City of Slavers, and start searching for the chieftain’s son. This is well handled: they have leads, but not all are accurate, as some of the information they’re given is out-of-date. There are several paths to the son’s location, which makes me very happy: I really dislike it when a group is stymied because there’s only one clue in the adventure and it was missed. There’s still the potential for some pretty big misunderstandings, but that’s actually part of the fun of the adventure and shouldn’t derail its flow.
The investigation continues in the second act, with the characters interacting with slave dealers and the trainers of gladiators. It’s fascinating to see how this is handled: once again, there are several paths through this section, allowing for a wide range of player actions. And there’s the possibility of combat or betrayal, depending on how badly the players manage to offend the people they’re dealing with. This isn’t the safest city to be in!
The third and final act of the adventure covers the rescue of the chieftain’s son, in which the adventurers have to break him free before he’s sent to a place from where even they won’t be able to rescue him. And then they’ll have to escape, which will work a lot better if they have an escape plan. The rescue involves a significant combat, and there may be more as the players try to escape the guards – exactly what you want for the adventure’s finale!
The adventure is extremely well-written. It covers the core plot in detail and has suggestions for several of the paths the players might take through it. No monster statistics are printed in the adventure, as they’re all standard NPC monsters that can be found in the Monster Manual. The adventure also has some useful information on the sort of foes the players might face if they go past the planned encounters; in particular, it gives several guard patrols of different strengths, something I’d find helpful when running it.
The adventure does assume that the DM can think on his or her feet and add additional details if the players move away from the core encounters. It’s not an adventure you can just sleep-walk through; it does require your attention.
The adventure uses the Primeval Thule world really well. It’d fit into a lot of other campaign settings as well, as slavery is hardly a concern only in Thule, but the exotic description of the city and the casual brutality of its inhabitants are things that very much evoke the setting for me.
The adventure is also well-written and well-edited! (There are a couple of passages that I find a bit clunky, but that may just be personal taste). The artwork is a bit inconsistent in look and I’m not that fond of some of it, although it’s generally well done.
Overall, this is a superior adventure. It is relatively short – only 15 pages – but uses its limited space extremely well. For those looking for a challenging adventure that features both role-playing and combat, this would be a good one to investigate.