Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ruins of the North - A Review

Ruins of the North is an adventure book that uses the material presented in Rivendell as the backdrop to a series of six adventures that range all over Eastern Eriador.  The adventures in this book are not directly linked but can be played out as a thematic campaign, one that sees the influence of the Witch-king of Angmar returning to Eriador!  This is a 144 page hard cover book, it's full color and contains more beautiful art by my current art idol, Jon Hodgson.  The adventures in this book are not for a new and inexperienced fellowship, you'll need a salty group of heroes or one that's composed of the new heroic cultures, the Rangers of the North or the High Elves of Rivendell that were introduced in the Rivendell supplement.  Let get to it, more after the break!
WARNING!  There are spoilers ahead, do not proceed if you are going to be playing through these adventures as a player character!  WARNING WARNING, SPOILERS!

OK now that we have that out of the way lets get on with the adventures!  There are six in the book and they are;

Nightmares of Angmar -  This adventure takes the fellowship from the Wilderland region west across the Misty Mountains and into Eriador, it's a good way to get your group into this new region.  After interacting with a tribe of Gundabad Hill-men the fellowship takes up a quest with one of the young orphaned women of the tribe to seek out missing children that were stolen from them by the Orcs of the region.  Crossing the mountains into Angmar the heroes make there way to the ancient ruins of Carn Dum, a dark and dangerous place where they must penetrate its lower caverns to locate the missing children.  Depending on how the players role-play throughout the adventure they can greatly change the outcome of the ending and there is an unexpected twist that challenges the loyalty of the NPC's involved.  The adventure ends with the heroes traveling to Rivendell and meeting Elrond Halfelven.  This will most likely become their home base for the rest of their adventures in Eastern Eriador, so lets hope they like their lodgings and get along with their host.  There are some nice role-playing opportunities throughout the adventure as well as some exciting and possibly punishing moments during the players infiltration of Carn Dum.  Tread carefully!

Carn Dum
Harder Than Stone - The heroes set out from Rivendell in the early spring to escort an Elven stonemason to the Last Bridge so she can access how the bridge fared over the winter.  They discover bits of detritus stuck under the bridge which leads them to search further up the river Hoarwell for the source of the detritus.  They come across the shattered remains of a caravan that came under attack and follow the trail of the attackers north where the fellowship comes across a bandit camp.  Dwarves have been captured by the bandits, the heroes can try and sneak them out or go for a full frontal assault.  The fellowship discovers that a massive Ogre called the Captain accompanied the bandits, so they return to Rivendell to check in with Elrond and to safely return the Elven stonemason and the injured Dwarves.  Elrond Halfelven gives them new marching orders, find out who or what this Captain is!  The fellowship returns to the bandit camp and picks up the trail of the Captain and heads northwest which leads them deep into the Coldfells and to the Broken Keep.  This ancient fortification is protected by Bandits, Goblins and smelly Trolls.  Again the heroes can choose to fight their way in or try to be a bit more sneaky.

The following night the heroes are approached by a spirit, a disloyal agent of Sauron trapped into working for the Captain, she provides the players with information on the Captain in return for a promise that they will try to free her from her servitude to the Captain and Sauron.  Armed with this new information the fellowship makes its way to into the Ettendales where they come across a great gathering of Trolls and Ettins.  They discover the Captains plans and return to Rivendell to warn the Elves of this gathering of Shadow and possibly to help release the spirit from her servitude.  This is another solid adventure that sees the party entering dark and dangerous areas.  They will be greatly outnumbered throughout most of the scenario, cautious and sneaky heroes will do well here.

Concerning Archers - Have your players ever wanted to meet Bilbo Baggins?!  If so, this is the adventure for them!  Relaxing in Rivendell the fellowship is drawn into a discussion between a visiting Bilbo Baggins and Lindar the High Elf regarding the fall of Fornost and the possibility that a company of Hobbit Archers were involved in its defense.  Bilbo tasks the heroes with finding evidence of the Hobbits being there and fighting to defend the ruined city.  Hearing that the fellowship is heading to the ruins of Fornost they are approached by Gorfindel who asks them to report back to him on anything out of the ordinary they come across, he is worried that the Shadow may be returning to this region.

Reaching the city the heroes spend several days searching the large ruins for evidence of the diminutive archers.  At night the heroes come under attack by spectral archers and each night the attacks become more intense.  Eventually a map is found that leads the fellowship to a hidden room where a quartet of Fell Wraiths fall upon the group.  Driven deeper into the ruins the heroes find their way through a cavern into a small green valley where they encounter the Green Company, the specters of the very hobbit archers they were looking for.  The encounter turns to a battle when some nassty, nassty Orcs show up with the fellowship fighting alongside the Green Company against the Orc war-band.  Hopefully your fellowship wins the day and is able to return to Rivendell to report back the story of the Green Company to Bilbo.  This is another fun little adventure, I really enjoy the hobbits and am looking for to the future supplement that details the Shire.

Company of the Wain
The Company of the Wain -This adventure sees the heroes interacting with a traveling caravan that plies it trade up and down the Greenway between Tharbad and Bree.  This adventure can take place over the course of several other adventures with the fellowship encountering and interacting with the caravan at at different points on their route.  The traveling fair includes a Dunlending Hunter with a dancing bear, an apothecary, a brewer of Dwarven spirits, a fortune teller, a small menagerie, shell games for the players to indulge in, a Rider of Rohan who performs with horses, a captured Wose, a wood-turner, a fireworks vendor, a fur trader and a toy-maker.  All is not as it seems with the varied group which leads to the heroes taking a closer look at who these people are.  The fellowship can tail the caravan and watch them from a distance or try to integrate themselves to find out what the true motives of the group are.

Eventually the caravan comes to the town of Roads End where the players are falsely accused of brigandry, they are held as prisoners until a folk-moot can be arranged to determine if they are innocent or guilty.  The heroes must defend themselves and sway the locals of their innocence.  The adventure ends in a very open fashion with some of the travelers may or may not being intermediaries for other more powerful forces.  How the caravan is eventually handled is left up to the lore-master.  The end of the adventure can be run any number of ways depending on what the heroes figured out during their investigations.

Overall this is not my favorite adventure.  I like the caravan and find the NPC's to be interesting, especially the Rider of Rohan (the first one that has shown up in a One Ring book I believe) and the Wose (Ghân-buri-Ghân for president!)  I think this adventure would work well if the players are introduced to the traveling caravan over a period of time, maybe having several fun interactions with them and then becoming aware that something is not right.

What Lies Beneath -  Following up on my least favorite adventure is my one of my favorite ones!  While both this adventure and the movie of the same name include unnatural spirits only one of them has the very beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer (hint: its not the adventure).  The heroes are asked by Elrond himself to help out a Ranger in need.  He introduces them to Hiraval, who intends to reclaim his families estate in the northwest region of the Weather Hills, some miles north of Weathertop.  He intends to use this location as a base for the Ranger's that are protecting the region.  After questioning him the fellowship sets out west on the East Road, they are accompanied by Hiraval's fourteen year old son, Edrahil.  Unknown to the party Hiraval has come under the sway of an ancient un-dead ancestor that now resides in the ruins of his estate.  This specter haunts Hiraval's dreams and drives him to a barely contained obsession in regards to re-obtaining his family manor.

While on the road the fellowship comes across a small band with a wagon that has broken down by the side of the road.  They act strangely and carry a dead body in the wagon, can they be trusted?  Hiraval becomes annoyed and discontent at the delay, is this the beginning of his slip into madness?!

Once back on track the fellowship arrives at the manor to find it held by brigands, or so says Hiraval.  In reality the brigands are another adventuring party.  Hiraval tries to encourage a direct assault and a slaughter of all those holding the estate, heroes looking for another way will do much better here and avoid unnecessary bloodshed.  Once inside the manor there are several different outcomes depending on if the other adventuring party has lived or perished.  Either way Hiraval comes under the sway of the specter with whom he strikes a bargain, he agrees to trade the life of his son to lift the curse on his family.  The heroes awaken in the night to find Hiraval and Edrahil missing, they find them in the lower crypts with the sleeping son stretched out on the floor, Hiraval standing over him with blade lifted and the Specter facing them both.  What the heroes do now determines whether Edrahil lives or dies.  Hiraval is under the sway of the Specter, killing him in this state would be terrible and the designers included rules for making non-lethal attacks.

Huldrahir the Spectre
Overall I really enjoyed this adventure, there are some great role-playing opportunities, including watching Hiraval make his slow decent into madness.  Its pretty dark stuff that could end up with the old Ranger or his fourteen year old son dead.  If the heroes are able to save father and son there is still the Specter that needs to be defeated but only Enchanted Quality weapons can have effect on it which the heroes may or may not have.  They may need to leave the manor under the sway of the creature until they can come back better armed against such evil.

Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad - This is the final adventure in the book and its a big one!  The fellowship will be traveling over much of Eriador, from Rivendell to Angmar, to the Old Forest and then finally to the Barrow-downs.  This adventure is meant to be played out over several adventuring phases and has the heroes helping Gandalf the Grey to stop the Barrow-wights from roaming free of the Barrow-downs, they have been making excursion all over the region including some during the daytime!  Something must be done and the heroes have been picked by Gandalf to help out!

The adventure starts with the fellowship in Rivendell to celebrate the anniversary of a legendary victory of the First Age when they are summoned by Elrond and Mithrandir and are told of the issue regarding the Wights leaving the Barrow-downs.  Gandalf requests their help, he needs them to travel into Angmar to seek out some information.  Knowing that they have previously been to Carn Dum (in the Nightmares of Angmar adventure) he trusts them to locate information on what type of spells the Witch-king used to curse the Barrow-downs so he can reinforce the borders of the Barrow-downs.  He asks them to travel to Nan Gorthrim otherwise known as the Valley of the Dead to find ancient scrolls or a particular set of symbols.

Gandalf travels with the party as far as the Refuge of the Rangers, a hidden camp in the Grey Waste.  Here Gandalf will wait while the party heads further into Angmar.  The heroes enter the Valley of the Dead and discover the Tower of Icy Flame which is home to the Goblins of Carn Dum and the Great Orc.  The heroes must overcome these enemies and discover proof of the Morgul-runes that Gandalf seeks at which point they return to Gandalf and then to Rivendell.  Mithrandir departs with the information to do more research and the Lore-master is free to insert other adventures at this point.  The heroes can also do some research and seek out information on their own during the Fellowship phase which then leads to several mini-adventures they can embark on during the next adventure phase.  These adventures can result in advantages later on in the story and they are varied and interesting.

Eventually Gandalf returns and seeks out the fellowship, he discloses to them that a great magic that held the Barrow-wights in Tyrn Gorthad is failing, he needs to reinforce it and needs the help of the fellowship again.  He tasks them with seeking out Tom Bombadil for more information and agrees to meet at a later date at the Prancing Pony in Bree.  The fellowship travels to the Old Forest and locates Tom, the encounter with him includes answers by him in his song/speech which is really fun.  The heroes spend spend the night with Tom and Goldberry singing, drinking and in good cheer, rolls for Song are appropriate here.  Depending on how the encounter goes Tom can supply them with some information that can help in the upcoming showdown with the Barrow-wights.

Ho Tom! Swift Tom! Tom Bombadil!
The fellowship heads to Bree to meet up with Gandalf to renew the wards around the Barrow-downs.  This is the final showdown and all of the heroes hard work earlier in the adventure pays off here.  If they were able to find out additional information on the Barrow-downs through the series of optional mini-adventures then they will have several advantages during the fight.  If not they and Gandalf might be in for a tough time.  Mithrandir begins his spell casting on Midsummers day.  Rolls are made at 4:00pm and followed by three additional rolls, once every four hours.  The heroes must protect Gandalf  from waves of Barrow-wights that emerge from the fog throughout the night, this attack culminates in an assault by the Wight-king.  Its a tough battle to be sure, some the heroes may not survive!  I really enjoyed this final adventure, there's a fair bit of journeying, some investigative work, some social encounters and a big final battle.  The players get to interact with several core Tolkien characters in Tom Bombadil and Mithrandir.  Overall its a double thumbs up!

This is a very nice book of adventures, Cubicle7 is really producing some wonderful stuff for The One Ring and this product is no exception.  If you have the Rivendell source-book then Ruins of the North is a must have!

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