The second in a series of adventures in which the characters need to first discover a threat to their nation and then defeat it, the first unusual thing about this one is the audio enhancement. Never mind 'read aloud' boxes, click on the track reference instead (assuming you have a computer or MP3 player available where you play).
While enjoyment is enhanced by playing the first adventure in the series, Agenda of Itherelle 1: Centipedes first, those who have not will need to assume that their characters have reached 2nd level elsewhere in a manner noteworthy enough to have come to the attention of the patron for this adventure, and so be asked to take on a mission for him. However, the DM will find it necessary to modify some of his delivery, as the assumption is that they did. If they have played Centipedes, and survived, they will have achieved this kind of status and notice already.
The main purpose of this adventure is to give the characters a wider view of the people and places of Mitarra, and to enable them to get to know folks who will be useful later on in the series... but naturally, although it begins quite gently and role-play intensive, there will be opportunities to get the sword out as well. The characters are hired to collect spell components, namely some special crystals, and are well-briefed on where they need to go, who they need to speak with... and that there is a guardian as well. Not to mention that their journey is not all through civilised countryside, and monsters may object to their passage.
Given that the patron is the local bishop, it is not surprising that he likes the sound of his own voice and the first section - where he explains the mission over a formal dinner - may get a bit tedious for more action-oriented players. The audio enhancements could be used to enliven it a bit, but it's rather a case of replacing the DM reading out the boxed text with a recording of someone else doing so... and of course a recording isn't able to respond to questions from the characters as well as a live DM can, even though there are some 'if the players ask xxx then read/play this bit' options provided. During this discourse, it becomes apparent that in this world elves are beings of some mystery, it is assumed that the characters will probably not have had much contact with them and indeed that they are all human! This section rounds off with some neat mechanics, using the Diplomacy skill, should the characters wish to haggle with the bishp over their fee for the mission.
The second section of the adventure covers 'Civilised Travel' and takes the characters across the Mitarra Plain to Mitarra and onwards to Istanus through quite civilised terrain. The inns at which accommodation has been arranged for the party are designed for role-playing and to allow the characters to get a wider appreciation of this particular setting. However, an optional combat along the way is included for those players who get restless without a good fight. Descriptions are atmospheric and there is plenty of detail to create the 'alternate reality' in which the characters exist. As their stay in Mitarra itself includes the opportunity for a formal dinner with members of the nobility, this has wisely been presented in both summary and extended form allowing the DM to pick the version most appropriate to the characters' interests.
The third part of the adventure is 'Wild Travel' taking the characters west into less-settled areas (well, Istanus itself is pretty much a frontier town) and towards their objective. Again there is plenty of incidental description to enable the DM to create a vivid picture of the areas through which they travel. While the characters are basically following a fixed route, there are enough options and the odd side-excursion to give them a feeling of freedom, of being in an actual three-dimensional world in which they can move - like in the real one - any which way they please. There are a few incidental encounters that provide opportunity for combat but the greatest danger is natural - a river to ford.
Part four is 'Elfland.' Now in forest, the characters soon encounter the local elves, who are going about their own business... a business which initially lands the characters in some danger. Hopefully they manage to befriend the elves, in which case there's a party before they are guided to their destination, the Caves of Crystal, the following morning. Those who party too hard are warned that elves are early risers!
Part Five covers the journey to the Caves of Crystals, hopefully with an elven guide - it may take some finding without! It's a 35-mile hike which even an elf calls 'tiring' - and there are a few combat-based encounters along the way if you want to use them. It's not just 'bash the monster' though, there are opportunities for thought and interaction should the characters so wish.
And, at last Part Six is 'The Caves!' Naturally, the characters are not the only creatures here... oh, and there's a Guardian to get past. Assuming the characters manage this, there's more than crystals to find if they are prepared to poke around a bit. Unless the characters take a long time about, their elf guide is waiting outside to escort them back to the elf settlement (and some more parties).
Part Seven is 'The Return' in which the characters retrace their steps to the bishop who sent them out in the first place. Naturally, this will not be a completely uneventful trip... after all, this is a living alternate reality and there's a lot going on that is at most peripheral to the characters' actual quest, or even the overall arc of the series, but which is well worth including to help the setting come alive.
The final part of the adventure is 'Back to Ravennora and Epilogue.' This gives the characters the opportunity to deliver the crystals to the bishop and claim their pay, and he naturally wants to hear of their adventures, so there's the opportunity for some in-character bragging. The adventure section rounds off with advice to the DM on awarding XP for the non-combat parts of the adventure.
But we are not done yet, there's an Appendix that details the land of Mitarra and its people. It's an excellent resource to enable the DM to round out his presentation of the setting, and even to run his own adventures around those of the series. Appendix 2 provides information on the monsters and NPCs involved, and - for those running the adventure from a computer - hyperlinks in the main text where they are mentioned enable you to flick here for the details. Note that all creatures have actually been rolled up, so those with eidetic memories for the contents of the Monster Manual will not be able to rely on their knowledge! There's also one new spell, freezing ray, and some pre-generated player characters if you are eager to rush right in (although you'll find it better to transfer them to a character sheet for ease of use before you begin play).
About my only quibble is that the adventure needs thorough proof-reading. Apart from grammatical errors, it is clear that in some places the author intended to return to add hyperlinks/page references or names, but never found time to, and tags such as xxx and ROAD are rather too plentiful.
Overall, it is an excellent adventure with a lot going on, although admittedly light on combat. If you are intending to run the entire Agenda of Itherelle series of adventures it is well worth including as a 'scene-setter' that will embed the characters firmly within Mitarelle and hence more eager to defend it against all threats as they develop over the course of the campaign.
Return to Agenda of Itherelle 2: Caves of Crystal page.
Reviewed: 8 April 2006