The Red Hand of Doom Paperback – Feb 14 2006
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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!
Red Hand of Doom is an adventure that can fit into any campaign and the writers have made suggestions on where to place it geographically within the Forgotten Realms, GreyHawk and Eberron settings. A number of different hooks are provided to get the players involved into the adventure and soon the party will find themselves having to take on missions that grow more and more difficult including battling bands of goblinoid raiders, spying on Azarr Kul's army, preventing Kul from forming an alliance with a Lich, and finally, taking the fight to the warrior priests of Tiamat deep within their mountain strongholds. While this all sounds daunting, the players also have the opportunity to form alliances with helpful NPCs as well as an army of elves to help aid Elsir Vale.
The book begins with an overview of the various towns of the Elsir Vale and provides notes on the town's military forces, including local militias, governing body, and important NPCs. Over the course of the next five parts in the book the players will begin to battle the forces of Azarr Kul as well as undertake dangerous missions of espionage. Throughout these five parts the book provides mini-maps showing the locations of points of interest and encounter areas. In the back is a large pull-out, double-sided battle map that can be used by the DM and players to play out various battles between the players and humans, and the goblin races. The book also comes with fully detailed appendices with statistics provided for the various NPCs the players can encounter and unique monsters such as the blue dragon Tyrgarun. In addition there are new feats and new magic items.
Red Hand of Doom is an epic adventure that pits the players not only against an overwhelming army of goblinoid tribes, but also against a truly evil, and well-defined leader who is both powerful and crafty. It's a dangerous adventure to be sure. One great thing about the book is that it is not a linear adventure and players won't feel as if they are being led around by the DM. They are free to jump to sections perhaps out of the order and while that could prove deadly, it can still be played that way, although the DM should make every effort to make sure all bases are covered in whatever order...the players will need all the help they can get.
Like most products from Wizards of the Coast, the production values are first rate. The book is a soft-cover, square bound book printed on heavy stock. It features full-color artwork by a host of talented artists including Howard Lyon, Lucio Parillo, Wayne England, Erik Polak, Randy Gallegos, and more. Writers/designers James Jacobs and Richard Baker have created an engrossing storyline filled with well developed characters on both sides. Red Hand of Doom is one of the finest adventures for D&D in a long time!
Reviewed by Tim Janson
The artwork is excellent and although it was usually a category I once considered unimportant to the overall quality of a module, having seen the great artwork in the Red Hand of Doom I am now of the opinion that great art definately adds something to a module even if used as nothing more than flash cards to help set a mood for a certain encounter.
Given the fluid nature of adventure modules in general, they are difficult to write in a clear, concise manor, but Red Hand of Doom excells in this area as well. The overall structure of the module is very clearly laid out so it is, for me at least, actually entertaning to read. Unlike most adventure modules, Red Hand of Doom does not make me feel like I am doing homework while I prepare to run it.
The module contains a flowchart of sorts for the overall arc of the story, which like the rest of the module, is immense. So I consider having a flowchart to help me keep track of important events in an adventure extremely important. I usually run most adventures with nothing more than a flow chart to help organize my thoughts and use the actual module as little more than reference for minor details that always seem to slip my mind during play.
The encounters in the module are also great reference for anybody who wants to write their own adventure modules. While most modules are nothing more than a quick description followed by creature stat boxes, the encounter structure of Red Hand of Doom is FAR more robust. It gives detailed description for each encounter, the NPC's Creatures, or Traps involved as well as a quick overview of how the enocunter "should" play out. If your the type of person whos runs encounters as little more than die rolls and stat comparisons than The Red Hand of Doom is a MUST BUY for you because most encounters also include a brief paragraph or two explaining the motivations and tatics of the PC's enemies, which is probably the single most important bit of information a DM needs in order to run a entertaining and memorable encounter. But for some reason this cirical bit of information is usually missing from the encounter descriptions of most other modules I have ever read.
I could go on and on bout this module, which I am sure will end up on most peoples "greatest modules of all time" list as it ceratinly has on mine. But as my fingers are getting wearey from all the typing I have done thus far, I will give it a rest and simply sum up my opinion of Red Hand of Doom.
It's Great and is easily one of the best modules I have ever read. I am once again looking forward to running this game for my party and I have already incorperated the entire campaign region included in Red Hand of Doom, almsot completely intact, into my home brew campaign World of Erndorth.
Even if you don't plan to run this particular module for your group, I heartily suggest that you get to use as reference for how all adventure modules "should" be written.
My only gripe is that the first section of the campaign can be a little difficult to attach to a pre-existing campaign as the adventure is very tied to a provided map of the area the campaign is set. My current campaign is in a very different area both physically and politically but I did not want to lose the work the players have made into establishing their characters as part of my campaign world.
However, it was achievable, I just needed to adjust my maps a little and adjust the module a lot (in terms of locations and NPCs) in order to make it work.
Gripes aside, I think this is the best adventure/campaign I have seen come out of WoC.
We have now nearly completed the first section of this campaign and I have to say that the guys that wrote this did a fantastic job. My players have said that this is the best game they have ever been in, and it is extremely challanging. This book will test your PCs to their limits. It is hack and slash, but it has enough politics in it to keep it being too much so, and the hack and slash always has a curveball thrown in that keeps the players on their toes. My players have realised that getting into fights ain't enough any more. They need to seriously strategise if they want to survive.
Now halfway through the big battle in the main city. The players are loving it, even though there have been a couple of deaths. While there have been a few odd things the players have done which have gone outside the writers plans it has been very easy to adjust the adventure to fit unforeseen player actions.
I still rate this as the best adventure I have ever DMed, and I've been DMing for 25 years.
We have now finished the game. It was a huge game that ended extremely well. As a DM it got more and more challenging as it got to the end simply because there were many things the party did that were not expected by the authors so it got harder to keep the game running to its 'proper conclusion'. The final invasion of the Fane of Tiamat was a huge and scarey adventure. The players knew there was a time limit on a portal being opened they were not willing to stop and rest which made things very difficult when they ran out of magic. This meant I had to do a little fudging at the end to stop an all out slaughter of the party.
In short, despite it's flaws, this is probably the best D&D module ever written. Absolutely money well spent.
Just to be clear, I don't work for WoTC, I'm just a 35 year old gamer in Alexandria , VA who harks back to the days of Red Pill/Blue Pill (Red book L1-6, Blue book 6-12(?)).
Bottom line is I can't wait to merge this into my next campaign. It is flat out one of the best I have in my collection. Will absolutely be the next 'module' I run.
I didn't care for City of the Spider Queen, and Return to ToEE got a bit stale. These guys Richard Baker and James Jacobs truly thought through every step of this adventure. Wish these guys had a website like Monte Cook or Bruce Cordell... I will keep an eye out for future work done by them.
Buy this module if you are waffling. The 5-Star ratings this is getting are absolutely deserved. Great handouts for mini's, "author comments" that give you insight into their crafting of a particular encounter or event, and the locations are crafted for quality and not just quantity. It is going to play great in the once a week, 3-4 hour, table top game sessions I play in. Thank the authors for NOT having 100+ room dungeons, and instead opting for high quality, exciting encounters and settings that are dynamic and fun.
I hope this last comment adds some weight to your decision --> This is the only recommendation I have ever written for Amazon.com, but this product is honestly that good and I felt moved to add my voice. Never posted at EN World either but am heading there next to say the same.
Good luck and Game On!!