Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thunderspire Labyrinth

This post is the introduction to a series that looks at Thunderspire Labyrinth, the second Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition published adventure. Click the link at the bottom of this post or scroll through the archive to read the complete series.

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Thunderspire Labyrinth, by Richard Baker and Mike Mearls, is the second official adventure module released for 4th Edition.

Thunderspire is a self-contained adventure and suitable to be played straight out of its packaging, but for players of Keep on the Shadowfell, the attraction of Thunderspire is that it's billed as a sequel to Keep. Where Keep took characters from level 1 all the way to level 3, Thunderspire picks up the baton and covers levels 4 to 6. It's located in the same Nentir Vale setting as Keep, and players might reasonably expect Thunderspire to provide a continuation of the themes and plotlines that Keep set in motion.

On that count, they'll be sorely disappointed. The links between the two modules end up being trivial at best. Thunderspire is a wholly unrelated adventure with no continuing storylines or villains.

Additionally, where Keep made an effort to introduce new players to the diverse strengths of 4th Edition, Thunderspire is a more staid outing. Key mechanics are ignored completely or used poorly, and once again the loot opportunities are underwhelming at best. The first half of the adventure is dominated by a series of repetitive knock-down fights and it's only after the intermission that the module delivers the kind of classic D&D dungeoneering that rewards non-standard tactics and player resourcefulness.

Thunderspire is still a superior product to Keep. Set in the sprawling ruins of an abandoned minotaur city, Thunderspire provides a more interesting location than Keep's generic village, and sets its meanderings in the context of interesting NPCs, compelling sidequests and surprisingly usable optional encounters. Its layout is modular, letting you easily customise it or play it episodically. And while there's still a host of typographical errors and notable lacunae, they're neither as frequent nor as critical as Keep's unending parade of mediocrity.

Over the next few weeks I'm planning to go through the highs and the lows of this module. I'll be looking at what works and what doesn't, and as far as possible attempting to explain why. Feel free to follow along, and use the comments to tell me why I'm wrong.

(See all posts on Thunderspire Labyrinth.)

5 comments:

Sulrn said...

There is a converter kit being worked on by one of the community members on the DnD forums that helps tie all three of the heroics together a little bit better. It also addresses a few of the smaller gripes. You should check it out sometime. I'm currently gearing up for thunderspire myself and will be mixing the converter, official story, and a bit of home brew to get things right for my group.

The Stray said...

having thoughouly enjoyed the KotS blogs, and having NOT messed with this adventure, I'm looking forward to the blow-by-blow.

Maelora said...

Thnaks for tackling this one, Greg. Looking forward to your analysis as always.

Greg Tannahill said...

Surln - I've seen the "Demon Prince of Undeath" conversion. I applaud the intent, although I'm quite comfortable doing my own conversion for my home group.

The purpose of Eleven Foot Pole, though, is to examine the modules as-written. Once you start straying into mods and remixes it stops being a critique of the WoTC design process and starts being an exploration of individual homebrew styles. I'm not suggestion that as-written is how people should run the module, merely saying that looking at it that way makes for more useful analysis.

rpgtreehouse said...

I was constantly surprised when I ran TL. The encounters I thought would be dull, really came to life in actual play. The rock 'em, sock 'em encounters (you know the ones I mean...) all fell a little flat.
I'll be reading with interest.