Red Hand of Doom is the latest mega-adventure for D&D 3.5. It is, in many ways, one of the best adventures ever published for the D&D game. Richard Baker and James Jacobs deserve the highest kudos for this tour de force.
The adventure is designed for four PCs of level 5 or maybe 6. During the course of the campaign, the PCs will advance to level 12+. This is a very fast paced campaign with almost no down-time. To make up for the fast pace, the treasure awarded is very rich. Players will not have time to create magic items, but should run across most everything they need through smart game play. In fact the DM is encouraged to tailor the awards to the PCs so that they get the items they need and desire as the game progresses. This is a very sensible philosophy since the entire adventure (levels 5 - 12) takes place in less than 6 month's time. But rest assured, the progression will not feel unnatural. The players will earn every XP in spades!
RHD represents the best compromise between linearity and free-form adventure. In a sense, it is by necessity a linear plot-line as the enemy army advances towards its final goal of total conquest. Yet the players are free to choose any course of action they see fit, and the designers have anticipated virtually everything that most groups will consider. Random moves by the PCs will usually simply lose time, making things more difficult later, but because of the in-built flexibility of the scenario, the PCs would have to be really determined to totally screw up and lose the whole game. Many bits of advice are offered to the DM along the way about getting players back on track if they seem to be off on a tangent. Ultimately your group could work its way through the entire adventure having seen only perhaps 10-20% of the written encounters, and still come out with a nominal victory. Far better of course, is the group who pays attention to clues and follows up on the obvious leads. Following the natural course of action in RHD leads to easier times ahead when things get really nasty. The real beauty of the writing lies in how all of this is presented to the DM: the consequences of every action are quite clear-cut and you should never be at a loss when deciding what happens next. The authors do a fantastic job of anticipating even the most bizarre of developments.
Diplomacy plays a large role in RHD. This is not unique among D&D adventures. What is unique is the way the diplomatic situations are presented in the written module. Virtually every diplomatic opportunity is treated in detail in the text with guidelines about how to resolve the situation through roleplaying, use of skills or a combination. Situations in which Bluff, Intimidation, and Diplomacy are key abound. The entire adventure could probably be successfully completed by a group of low charisma barbarians, but it would take a lot of ingenuity on the player's parts. Usually the easiest way is the obvious way ... talk things out, be diplomatic, be sensible. Heroic (and diplomatic) game play is strongly encouraged and rewarded in RHD. And you can do all of this with as much or as little actual roleplaying as you and your group like.
The tactical advice for each encounter is also peerless. As a DM you will have lots of complex characters to run in each encounter, but you'll never be at a loss if you follow the tactical guidelines set out in the book. NPCs act according to their nature, from mindless to insidiously smart, and groups of enemy npcs work together to be much stronger than they would otherwise be. Tactical battle maps are provided so that most major encounters can be played out with minis. You can easily improvise battle maps for the rest of the encounters. The stat blocks given are in the new DMG II format. They are included in the appendix at the back of the book, not incorporated in the text. To avoid page flipping you can download the entire stat block text as a pdf from the Wizards web site for free. My only complaint about RHD is that the authors could have been a bit more clear about their sources for the various npc races, classes, prestige classes and monster types. They draw on a variety of sources, such as the Complete series for prestige classes, but in each case enough information is always given to run the npc without having to own the source book.
The layout, artwork and overall production value of the book are all outstanding. You can see much of the artwork in the online gallery at the Wizards website. The book is paperback, but well-bound with glossy pages and 100% color throughout (just like your Monster Manual or Player's Handbook). The maps are beautiful and do a great job of presenting exactly the information you need to run the adventure. RHD is only 126 pages long, but it packs such a huge amount of heroic adventure that it's worth ten times its weight. Another great feature is the Designer's Notes sidebars, which give insight into the design of the encounters. I love this addition, and hope to see more of it in future published adventures from Wizards.
All of this adds up to a great pre-made adventure, but RHD is more than that. Most importantly it is a great example of adventure writing. It sets a new standard for 3.5e design that pretty much any DM can learn from: Believable and sympathetic allies who are easy for the DM to play; an interesting, flexible and engaging environment with lots of room for expansion; villains with lives of their own, who have the potential to be more than one-encounter throw away paper dolls; an example of how to plunge the players into a truly epic heroic scenario and see where they take it; detailed tactics for battles and detailed guidelines for interaction with npcs both friendly and enemy, and opportunities for every class and type of PC to shine. And everything is presented in the most down-to-earth and concise manner. It does a better job of giving the DM what is needed when it's needed and no more than is needed, than any adventure I've ever seen. Red Hand of Doom is top notch, don't miss it!