Based in Southern Oregon, Fiddleback is a blog and portfolio by Brian Casey. His posts explore tabletop gaming and other topics through examination of RPGs, boardgames, and more. He is a freelance tabletop game editor and writer, and podcaster.

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 3

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 3

The Foundry and The Black Lake are all that remain of The Forge of Fury. Will they be more like The Mountain Door, or Glitterhame? Or will they be something entirely their own?

This article will cover areas 15 through 34 from The Forge of Fury adventure in WotC’s Tales From the Yawning Portal. Readers may wish to refer to the first article in this series for information on the intent of this set of reviews.

Let’s get inside the Iron Door and see what’s ahead.

35 The Chamber of Statues – Page 51

More dwarf statues, which, if you remember our discussion in Part 1 of this series, should be more than enough clue to the PCs that something is going on here and they need to be alert. Honestly, as a GM, you could put a nuclear bomb here that destroys everything for miles around and, as long as you stuck a dwarf statue near it, it would be the PCs fault for what happens next. But you do have to signal it.

It might be wise, as part of reading the description in the room, to indicate that the statue on the west side holds its axe in its left hand, while the one on the east side holds his in his right. That way it is clear, as an extra clue, that the obvious doors sit between two pairs of axes each, one from the west and center statues, and one from the east and center statues. Between that and the tracks in the dust, that might be enough to clue the PCs in. This is actually a well-designed and clever trap that will catch PCs in too much of a hurry unawares.

The usual complaints about the map and its details apply. Look carefully.

36 The Great Hall – Page 52

Another kind of signaling goes on here for a completely different sort of encounter. Generally speaking, if a combat encounter NPC is intended to be open to negotiations of some sort, the usual course of action given to them is to speak, usually as part of the read-aloud text, and then wait for the PCs to respond. They look ready for combat, either to defend themselves or attack the PCs, but they wait to see what the PCs say or do before attacking.

Eventually the PCs will pick up on this and it will become part of their players meta-thinking about the game. It’s useful to change this up once in a while to keep players on their toes, but, if you subvert it too many times, players will eventually assume every NPC they come across in the course of an adventure is going to attack them in some way no matter what they say or do and just go in for the kill. You’ll lose the opportunity to use NPCs as anything other than combatants, which means you will have a more difficult time delivering plot, clues, and information that the PCs may need. And remember, every encounter signals something about itself or its nature in some way. How you employ that signaling will go a long way to determining what sort of encounters your PCs will expect.

38 The Chasm – Page 53

Yes, PCs can skip most of this level by heading here, tying some ropes together and climbing down. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to do so, either. Particularly if they are, for some reason, struggling to survive this adventure or this level in particular. After all, there are some bad things between them and the other side of this chasm. Now, admittedly, they’ll be going to a far worse encounter and if they’re having trouble here they will, without a doubt, have even worse trouble in the Black Lake, but they don’t know that yet unless they got the information from the duergar. And if they are in trouble, it’s probably because they fought the duergar, so…

It’s up to them. The Foundry can be a difficult area and PCs who are poorly prepared for its main challenges will struggle to make it through. This is a comparatively easy route through to the finish of the adventure. And the likely finish of the party.

41 Kitchens – Page 54

It says something about how crazy Arundil must be that he chose to animate a table rather than, say, the kitchen’s collection of knives, for instance.

At any rate, any gnomes, halflings, or other short, non-dwarfish PCs should definitely end up atop the table struggling to hang on as it gallops around the room. Sometimes, you have to laugh.

42 Desecrated Shrine – Page 54

It’s right around here (or area 43) that the party is going to wish it had some magical weapons, if they don’t already. Fortunately, earlier areas of The Forge of Fury have provided a few opportunities to acquire some.

A well-designed dungeon takes these sorts of things into account. GMs shouldn’t assume that the PCs are perfectly prepared for all the challenges contained within. Most of the time, the party won’t even know the challenges they are about to face, so dungeon designers should take some care to include things that might be useful or even crucial to completing it. If something can only be damaged by fire, include a few ways to create fire that the PCs might find. If a particular series of moves is required to open a secured door, make sure the means of discovering the moves is somewhere they could find it. If, as in this example, non-magical weapons suffer from a creature’s damage resistance, make sure there is some access to magical weapons. Not for everyone, mind you, and they don’t have to be particularly good ones in most cases, just enough that if one or two PCs can use them, they’ll help balance things out. Leave the party ways to accomplish the challenges you have set for them if they take advantage of the right things.

Of course, no one says the party has to find these things. That’s entirely on them and the thoroughness of their exploration. It’s enough that these things be somewhere they could get them if they looked.

44 Looted Rooms – Page 55

There are an awful lot of room 44s on this map and therefore it’s possible the PCs will get tired of, and frustrated by, searching them all.  As long as Arundil’s ghost is still running around, they might not have much choice if they want to somehow deal with it the hard way. It might not kill anyone, but it is a formidable opponent for an ill-prepared party or a party that has already running into difficulties, particularly after the wight.

However, if the ghost could possess someone, it might then be able to explain what it needs to go to its eternal rest. It’s an option worth considering for kindly DMs who don’t want to see their PCs age 40 years all in one go.

47, 48 Arundil’s Chambers and Looted Armory – Page 56

Look, it’s just funny, okay? Watching a PC get rolled up in an animated carpet and then beaten to death as their fellow party members try to figure out how to kill the carpet without killing their pal is the height of comedy for most D&D DMs. Sit back and watch it and try not to laugh out loud.

Really, these two encounters are more about giving everyone an emotional break before you really hit them with the hard stuff. They aren’t particularly challenging in their own right and shouldn’t really slow the party down that much. The reason you need the emotional break is so that, once the comedy is over, you can crank down on the scary again. We are heading to a dragon, after all. But first…

49 Idalla’s Den – Page 56

It’s not the combat that is going to kill the PCs. Idalla has little reason to stick around and fight if the PCs don’t buy into her story. She’d much rather have her way with a lone PC, so, as a DM, that’s what has to be sold to the party for the encounter to run as designed. How the DM goes about doing that is up to them and they should certainly tailor it to what the party is most susceptible to. Use whatever wiles you may possess.

It is also important to realize that if the party killed all the duergar before hearing what they had to say, Idalla is the only source of information about what lies below. If they hear both sources of information, they have to try sorting out the truth between the two. Either way, they may go into The Black Lake with entirely the wrong preparations and expectations. Don’t feel like you have to straighten them out on any points.

Depending on what your party may respond best to, it is completely acceptable to swap succubus for incubus and adjust the encounter accordingly.

The Black Lake – Page 57, 58

In dealing with The Black Lake, I am going to treat it all as one unit rather than a series of individual locations.

The reason for this is simple. The entire thing is an arena for the final fight of The Forge of Fury. The only thing going on here is the attack on or by Nightscale. She should make as much use of the lair for maneuvering, defense, and attack as possible. Fortunately, she has not yet reached the point where she becomes a legendary creature and gets access to legendary or lair actions. Thank goodness for small blessings.

Most of the lair is designed to keep the PCs on a single level and close to the water where Nightscale can be most effective. The bridge at 51 could fail, cutting off PC access to the western portion of Black Lake, this merely provides Nightscale with a place to regroup or escape as needed. Everything about this area is designed to favor Nightscale.

This is a more than deadly encounter for four 4th level PCs and an at least medium one for a group at 5th level. Letting them level up, if they have the experience for it, prior to arriving here may give them a fighting chance if the DM is so inclined. PCs that somehow managed to enter Black Lake through the Dark Mere and survived are in for a very bad time if they aren’t at an appropriate level.

PCs should make full use of everything at their disposal, including the potions of water breathing and any magical weapons they have acquired along the way. Expect them to use any other potions to seek an advantage, or at least remove a disadvantage if at all possible.  Parties that have had particular difficulty with the adventure or are heavily wounded, or have not been able to get to level 5 by this point may need to be reminded of their options, both with equipment and the ability to still leave, heal up in town, and return.

DMs should run this encounter for all it is worth. Doing so will provide the second major highlight of The Forge of Fury, along with The Mountain Door assault if they went that route.

Summary

The Foundry and The Black Lake are the conclusion of the Forge of Fury adventure. Where the Mountain Door provides a potentially heroic introduction to the adventure, it is equally incumbent on The Black Lake to provide the heroic outro. Since The Foundry functions as the lead up to the final battle, it has certain duties to fulfill as well. So, how well do these two sections fulfill their roles?

The Foundry is meant to ramp up the tension bit by bit again from the more relaxed pace of Glitterhame. However, rather than doing this with an elaborate set piece and a potentially desperate, fast-paced struggle for survival as Mountain Door did, the author has taken the idea in another direction by sewing confusion, providing misinformation, and presenting conditions for which the PCs may be unprepared as his methods.

Between fights with ephemeral undead, conflicting information from duergar and a succubus, and the surprise encounters with animated objects, PCs could be forgiven for not knowing what is going to happen to them in the final fight or how to prepare for it. Luckily, they will get ample opportunity to practice their tactics and abilities if they make their way through the entirety of The Foundry, but the confusion they experience will definitely ratchet up the tension as they approach the chasm and Black Lake unsure of the exact form of their doom.

Black Lake, as noted above, is the arena for the final battle and, provided the DM can take lessons learned about description and how to deliver it to the PCs to heart, it can be a spectacular place adding a feel all its own to the dragon fight. Much relies upon the DM’s ability to make full use of both Nightscale and Black Lake to present a serious and very challenging encounter for the party, but DMs who can manage it will be rewarded with a lasting memory of not just the Blake Lake encounter, but The Forge of Fury as a whole among their players.

The Forge of Fury opens strong, with what is one of my top ten encounter areas from any adventure I’ve read. The many moving parts are laid out well and clearly and help a DM to run it as the author intended, thereby providing a good challenge and setting the PCs on the backfoot almost immediately. It sets the tone for the adventure to come and carries it through throughout the area.

Unfortunately, all of this then works against Glitterhame. While pacing is important for adventures as much as it is for storytelling in general, getting the pacing right is even more important and here Glitterhame fails sorely. It dials things back too much and nearly all the tension drains out, lost among sparse encounters. The fact that the entirely unnecessary Sinkhole area is attached to it with its lesson-teaching roper encounter does not help the situation. DMs running the module may wish to consider leaving this area out entirely as it adds nothing to the adventure. If they insist on having the roper present, then think about moving it to a different area, as discussed in Part 2 of this review series and make appropriate adjustments. Just doing this alone will make Glitterhame a better area.

Overall, The Forge of Fury has a good beginning, a good ending, and suffers, as many of us do, from a weak middle, but has it earned its place as one of the “seven deadliest dungeons”? Undoubtedly, yes. PCs whose objective is to ‘storm the castle’ will face lethal opposition and obstacles from a competent DM. PCs who haven’t learned that it is sometimes better to run away will fall victim to the roper. The myriad of challenges and special conditions present in the Foundry will exploit the PC’s level of preparedness and coordination among party members as well as their discernment and decision making as embodied by the succubus. And no dragon is a walk in the park to fight.

Should you play it? Yes. Oh yes, indeed. It would be a shame not to experience all of it from either side of the screen. There is a reason The Forge of Fury is included in Tales From the Yawning Portal and that reason is because PC’s preconceived notions about how to approach an adventure will be challenged while also showing the DM what a well-prepared adventure looks like, in spite of its soft middle.

Players and DMs who go through The Forge of Fury, will, in turn, be forged into better gamers by the end.

In the next Fiddleback vs. Tales From the Yawning Portal, Tamoachan!

Fiddleback vs. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachin

Fiddleback vs. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachin

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 2

Fiddleback vs. The Forge of Fury, Part 2