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The Firemaker (PFRPG)

****( ) (based on 2 ratings)
The Firemaker (PFRPG)


The Firemaker (PFRPG)

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A Pathfinder Roleplaying Game adventure for 4-6 characters of level 1.

Goblins have been raiding the crops and livestock of “Pig’s Trotter” for the last few weeks now. Nobody knows where they’ve come from or what they’re doing here but local farmers are sufficiently displeased with their activities to have offered a 200gp reward to have them stopped.

Sounds like a nice little job for a neophyte group of adventurers out for their first taste of fame and glory. “I mean it’s just a Goblin-Bash, right? What could possibly go wrong …”

Four Dollar Dungeons are standalone adventures designed to be logical, entertaining, challenging and balanced, and easily integrated into any campaign world.

Each adventure has enough material to last two to three playing sessions and enough experience to raise four characters of the appropriate level up by one extra level. Treasure is commensurate with the encounter challenges faced. Scaling information is included for adventuring parties of five or six.

Although "The Firemaker" begins in a small village, most of the action takes place underground.

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Product Reviews (2)

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****( ) (based on 2 ratings)

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Bring a 10-foot pole. And be prepared.

****( )

The Firebringer is an adventure for 1st level characters, providing enough treasure and XP to bring a party of 4 characters to 2nd level by the conclusion. It is based around an old abandoned dwarven mithral mine, since overrun by goblinoids (amongst other things), set near the village of Pig's Trotter (heh).

I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy for 4DD, and was warned that it is a) their weakest work, and b) quite tough.

If this is their weakest work, I'm looking forward to seeing more, and this thing is deadly as all hell.

When playing this module, I had to take some liberties with the setting - I'd already run an introductory session for my players and was hemming and hawing about how to move a plotline along, when the review copy of this module fell into my possession, and it was a godsend. I needed goblins. It has goblins. I needed the goblins to have a home. They have a home. I needed them to have a reason to be out raiding. They have a reason to be out raiding. So far, so good.

On the downside, I have only 3 players (plus a plucky half-elf teenager NPC), and the intro session was set in the wilderness, some miles from any settlement.

So, I set about making the few minor adapatations I needed to this adventure to squeeze it in to my setup, and set my players loose.

The Good
A complete adventure, with an extraordinary amount of detail, background, and flavour. Every creature has a reason for being their, and different relationships with the other creatures present. Every room has a reason to exist, and the little touches like statues of the individual dwarves who founded the mine being scattered around the 4-level complex were delightful (and yes, my players did pick up on the keyhole/hidden key thing).

XP/Treasure table. This addition was perhaps my favourite part (and I really liked a lot of things in this adventure): near the beginning is a room-by-room breakdown of the dungeon, with the XP award for defeating the challenge, and the treasure awarded, with values, so you can easily see what there is. There's also guidance on the table for increasing the treasure if you have a larger party.

Zombie dragon! My favourite creature in this whole thing, which my players avoided like the plague (they made good stealth checks, it sucks at perception) is the zombie white dragon. I was really looking forward to describing it drunkenly flopping down in front of them, gobs of flesh hanging from its bones, as it lazily shambles towards them. But they ran away. Ah, well. Other notable creatures include the half-wit half-ogre with mommy issues, the mommy ogre with everyone issues, and the insanely arrogant ifrit sorcerer. Love them all, love the little touches that make them incredibly easy to play and turn them all into real characters. Bang-up job writing engaging NPCs for the GM, even if the players learn nothing at all about them.

Maps! Maps, maps, maps, maps, maps. I love maps. They're one of my biggest weaknesses (or at least one of the things that makes my bank account go "ah, there are maps, so that's why I'm empty again") as an RP collector. Give me a good map to purchase, and I will devour. This adventure comes not only with the maps in the adventure pdf (which are beautiful), but blown up image files of each of those maps (in all their delightfully attractive cartographed glory) and simplified versions (without all the cool drop-shadows and shading, and whatnot), and unlabelled versions of each of those, too! Utterly perfect for the GM running the adventure online a VTT - upload, fit, line up the squares, and bosh, you're ready. Brilliant.

The Bad
Hot DAMN this thing is tough! My players aren't really old-school, so never struggled through The Saga of the Shadow Lord in BECMI like I did back in the day, and some of the design concepts in this adventure are... problematic for players whose GM has been a bit hand-holdy. First, while there's guidance on making this adventure scale to groups larger than 4 PCs, there's nothing in it about how to adjust for smaller groups. Second (and I know this is going to seem a bit weird at first) the lowest encounter CR in the whole thing is 1. In fact, of the thirteen encounters, exactly 4 of them are CR 1. All the rest are 2 or higher, topping out at a whopping CR 4 in one case. In case that didn't sink in: less than 33% of the encounters presented in this adventure are CR-appropriate, the rest are higher. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, in itself, since the PCs can typically roll all over anything you put them up against, but I had an under-sized party to begin with, and this exacerbated the deadliness of those encounters a fair bit. I even went so far as judiciously modifying a few bits and pieces here and there to make it less deadly (like that pit trap. I love that pit trap. It's hilarious. And way too deadly, even if it practically hits the players over the head with the obvious stick. Players will screw up and fall down it. Trust me. They will).

Room number which, what, where, huh? Nitpick time! The room numbering on the maps goes haywire at level 3. The text has a room with no number right at the start of the level, and then the next room picks up the numbering again with no break, but the maps are numbered in full, so you have to subtract 1 from the map's room number to make sure you're reading the right room in the text. Phew! That one threw me for a loop for a bit.

Read-alou-ooh-adventure-details. I'm not a fan of read-aloud text most of the time, because it's almost always too much. "This ancient room is designed in the Targorn period of architecture, with buttressed ceilings of sandstone run-through with so-called bloodstains - red streaks of iron-rich silt. The walls are covered in tapestries depicting historical battles from ages past, and your eye is caught by a particularly attractive needlework scene on a stand of the star-crossed lovers Wandero and Julia from a famous stage tragedy. On the floor is..." Bleurgh. This adventure manages to go to the other extreme by not including any read-aloud text at all, but falls down because the GM-details are mixed in with the room descriptions. Several times I found myself reading a small passage verbatim because the description was actually what I want from read-aloud text, only to have to catch myself before I revealed some secret that only the GM should know. I'd love to see those frankly elegant and perfect room descriptions cordoned off as read-aloud, with the GM-guidance text swiftly following on.

The Conclusion
I got this adventure with mere days to spare before my game session, and I was able to read it through, upload what I needed, change what I needed to fit into my existing plot, and other than a few concessions to make it a bit less deadly, run it as written. It was tough for the party, but this adventure is an excellent piece of pick-up-n-play work. It's by no means perfect, but for the harried GM in need of a quick adventure to kick off a party, this is really good.

I've been arguing with myself about what rating to give The Firemaker, and I've settled on 4-stars: The extras such as the maps; the XP/Treasure table; the brilliant room descriptions; the wonderful creatures and their relationships, hopes, and dreams. All those things push this above just average. It's a total beast to your party, but this adventure is a good one to have in your repertoire.

3.5 stars - old-school module in the DCC-tradition

****( )

This module is 39 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, ¾ of a page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 35 ¼ pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This being an adventure-module, the following review contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? The village of Pig’s Trotter is your typically (un-)friendly backwater village – peaceful, distrustful of strangers and featuring a pig-based economy. All would be well, were it not for strange incursions from the nearby forest – pigs get slaughtered and though the village is located in the middle of civilized lands, humanoids like goblins and worse are sighted. A job for adventurers, to be sure! Doing some research in town might be helpful and the fully mapped village is provided n quite some detail, including a settlement statblock. Also, a layout peculiarity I actually like is introduced: Where applicable, all DCs with short pieces of information on what they are for are collected at the end of each room/location, collecting all rules-relevant bits and pieces in one place. Nice!

It should quickly become apparent that the PCs will have to track the goblins back through the forest and before we get into the action, there’s yet another thing to be aware of: The amount of notes for the DM: Drawing your attention to particularly nasty tricks, potentially lethal traps as well as the VERY extensive and detailed information that helps adjust rewards via a table is commendable indeed and makes running the module with relatively short prep-time a possibility. Again, kudos!

In classic modules, a sometimes distinct and oftentimes macabre component was part of the gaming experience, as was a certain anything-goes mentality and one of the most refreshing things about this module is that it breathes this spirit. You see, the source of the incursions is a tribe of pyromaniac goblins with its allies, under the command of one Ifrit sorcerer named Kalza. While I still could froth at the mouth at Paizo getting the mythology of the term “Ifrit” wrong, this is not the module’s fault, so back to it: The fire planetouched sorcerer has ventured forth to an abandoned mining operation of a clan of dwarves, where once mithril was excavated and smelted down. To properly conserve resources, these dwarves have bound a fire elemental, which they conveniently forgot in the old place and which has since then turned mad. Kalza seeks a way to turn this as of yet bound creature into a companion. The dwarven mining complex is surprisingly 3d in layout and features several interesting features, one of which would be a rotund that allows access to all 4 levels of the dungeon.

Interspersed throughout the levels, the PCs may meet goblins playing skull-ball, a zombie wyrmling, a psychotic bugbear, a young ogrekin (whom they may command to stand in the corner when confronted with parental authority – though he’s bigger than the PCs and carries a nasty greatsword) and his mother, an ogress that ate her son’s father since the hobgoblin failed to maintain her. It should be noted that the dungeon features a kind of ecology that explains what people do and while it can be run as static, you could easily make this a dynamic environment – guidelines for NPC behavior are part of the deal. Speaking of which: If the PCs confront the ogress with the death of her son (e.g. by throwing his head at her – and if your players are like mine, you know they’re capable of doing something like this!) – she is first taken aback and then gets a frenzied morale bonus. Minor? Yes, but reactions like that make environments stand out and characters believable.

Now the ultimate goal beyond the exploration of the dungeon would of course be the defeat of the ifrit and the elemental – perhaps the PCs even manage to get some mithril out of the ground! I’ve mentioned old-school writing and another favorite of mine is a quite deadly trap: While recognizable and telegraphed in advance, there’s a pit-trap that is almost guaranteed to kill whoever falls in. On the interesting side is how it’s covered: With paper painted like the floor – prodding the ground with a stick/carefully working your way forward automatically finds the trap, even if perception-checks failed. Call me grognard, but in the days of old, we saw more often puzzles, traps and hazards that could be avoided/disarmed/moved around by just acting smart instead of (only) relying on die-rolls. As long as the rolls are still there to represent character-expertise versus player-competence and as long as they make sense, I applaud solutions like this and would like to see more in the future.

When all’s done in the complex, the PCs will btw. also have a route to further adventures in the underdark open. The module also offers a 3-page index of reprints of spells used in the module and 4 pages of glossary that covers rules from catching fire to undead traits and should make running the module especially for less experienced DMs easier. There also are 4 full-color (though less detailed) versions of the maps of the complex with grids. The final 4 pages collect the artwork as a kind of player-hand-outs.

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect – I noticed punctuation errors, lower case letters that should have been upper case and minor misuses of words. Nothing that would detract from understanding the module, though, and all belong to the world of minor glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard with statblocks being shaded reddish. The b/w-artworks are nice stock art and I welcome the decision to collect the relevant skill-DCs, as it makes running the module easier. The pdf is also rather printer-friendly, not succumbing to the parchment-background disease and instead opting for a printer-friendly white background. The pdf sports extensive bookmarks and comes in two versions: One optimized to be printed out in us letterpack format and one optimized for A4, which is a great service to Europeans like yours truly and duly appreciated. The module also comes with 8 jpegs – 4 depicting the simple versions of the dungeon-maps and 4 depicting the more detailed versions. What really bugs me with the cartography is not its quality (though it is nothing to write home about, it serves its purpose and I’ve seen MUCH worse…), but the fact that ALL versions are studded with numbers denoting the respective rooms, which makes it impossible for me to hand them out to my players sans breaking immersion – a version of the maps sans numbers would have been much appreciated.

EDIT: Numberless unlabeled maps have been provided - two thumbs up!

Honestly, I didn’t expect too much from this module, but it proved to be a pleasant surprise – not due to antagonists, story or anything like that – honestly, these components are not the module’s strengths. The strengths lie in author Richard Develyn’s subtle humor that suffuses the module without making it ridiculous, in its details that make it come alive. Not only via front presentation, but also in style, it remembered me of the better installments of Goodman Games DCC-series for 3.X. While I did not enjoy the series universally (having been more a Necromancer Games fanboy myself), it did provide us with some interesting modules then, though not all were of superb quality. Is this a good module, then? Yes, I think by virtue of its relatively interesting dungeon-design and its characters, it stands out as an above-average offering that should delight some of you.
As much as I like the module’s go-play approach, it should be noted, though, that minus maps, glossary and appendix, its page-count is much less impressive, at roughly 21 pages – still respectable, though I can’t help but feel that some sort of proper epilogue/catharsis to the module would have been in order – something to make its end feel less abrupt. Another minor issue is that some creatures are named in the fluff/DM’s text, but when they just use a monster’s stats straight from the bestiary, the statblocks don’t sport this name. Minor, yes, but a slight inconvenience that is only relevant due to the otherwise extremely user-friendly presentation. I also would have liked to see slightly more terrain-use by the respective combatants, but in contrast to some other modules out there, we at least get some of that.
When all is said and done, this is a nice freshman-offering with an old-school flair for a fair price and thus my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

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