My first major publication, the second part of EN Publishing’s innaugural campaign path War of the Burning Sky, was the 67-page The Indomitable Fire Forest of Innenotdar. The adventure takes place in a forest that has been burning for 40 years, kept alive and in scalding torment because of a powerful supernatural being and the resident fey of the forest.
When given the project, I was given a rough plot outline and a few critical notes to hit in the adventure, but I was largely unaware of the greater WotBS campaign arc’s narrative. My job was to make this particular part of it the best I could, within the confines set by the line’s director, in the word count and by the deadline specified.
What Went Well
The theme of choices matter rings throughout this adventure. The presented excerpt is where the players first get a potentially gameplay-changing choice: the choice to ally with a devil or not. Throughout this adventure, they will be asked to ally or oppose not only with this devil, but also with the supernatural beings keeping the forest burning, three factions in the fey that are bound to the forest (one seeking an end to their suffering, the other hoping to continue the forest’s life for as long as possible, and a third seeking an alternate path), and the lingering remnants of an ancient elven love-triangle between the old heroine Anyariel, her chosen lover the dryad Timbre, and her spurned love the nymph-turned-hag Gwenvere. These choices determine whether the fey live or die, and whether the party solves the mystery of the forest or not.
From play reports and reviews, these choices worked, which I’m very happy with. I’m especially fond of creating a “deal-with-the-devil” scenario which isn’t simply an obviously evil choice from the heroic perspective. The devil is offering an alliance so it can avoid having to kill the party, and though it serves nefarious masters and is clearly not to be trusted, it also wants more to be free of its own servitude than to gleefully corrupt the party. What’s more, the “victims” who would die should the party ally with the devil have been suffering even before the devil came along and, arguably, would be better off dead anyway.
Included in the published version is a sidebar that also discusses the narrative effects of having to make these choices in a different order. The encounter with the devil is placed explicitly after an encounter with the powerful supernatural being that nearly bullies them into servitude, and so forms a nice counterpoint. Following the devil is an encounter with one of the fey that will die should the devil succeed, meaning the party isn’t likely to discover the true price of agreeing to Kazyk’s service until well after they are presented an offer to agree or disagree. The sidebar goes into detail about what happens to player psychology if the order of these encounters is changed, allowing a DM who wants a particular vibe or flow to go for it with eyes fully open as to the consequences.
So choices that mattered, and what I believe may be D&D’s first ever lesbian love-triangle, are definitely things I like having had the chance to do.
What Could Have Gone Better
The intro of the adventure grinds on too long. This is a narrative-driven adventure, not necessarily a combat-driven one, and the encounters with various fire creatures that AREN’T major NPC’s are a bit perfunctory and clearly in place more for a change of pace than for any significant narrative reason. In practice, they just don’t add to the fundamental fun of the adventure. If I could do it over again, I would cut those combat encounters, or somehow relate them to the central choices better. After the encounter with suffering NPC’s, we could’ve gone right to Kazyk’s message. I also think that dividing Kazyk into two encounters (first, a hellhound delivers his message, then he appears), while useful for foreshadowing, dragged out his interaction a bit too long.
The NPC’s the party starts the adventure with are definitely tag-a-longs. While the intent was to make them unobtrusive, or only as obtrusive as a DM wants them to be, the visions experienced by the NPC oracle the party has along are pretty flavorful and interesting, and giving the other NPC’s (a cleric of rain and a cruel old man) time to shine and to actively aid parties that helped them along would be strong. Torrent, especially, could’ve used some more character development.
Finally, the focus the adventure has on PC’s “surviving” means that a supposedly dangerous and inhospitable forest isn’t much trouble for someone with access to 1st level spells or some apparently fairly common potions. It’s a suspension-of-disbelief-breaking moment, and while groups going along with the Adventure Path might accept it, I’d have preferred to change those potions and spells to something a bit more unique to the party’s current scenario, rather than a presumed part of the world setting that the NPC’s just aren’t using for…some reason…