* This review follows the designer's advise to run the Thunder Rift series (along with game07: B10 Assault on Raven's Ruin) in a particular order.
* Party rolled: Human female Paladin LG, Dwarf male Cleric LN, Centaur male Ranger NG, Gnome female Magic-User NN, Halfelf male Cleric/Magic-User CG, Halfling male Thief CN -- Ray's Realm allows such racial classing as part of the adventuring package and encourages his Realm players to mix in as many races and classes so as to enjoy the breadth and depth of any given adventure... so's I dids!
A word about the Thunder Rift modules: these adventures were created in 1992 (when some of us were youngers just starting to explore the game) and were meant to be a sandbox of sorts for DMs and players both new to the game. They allowed for a lot of modification and were interconnected only by threads, to be filled and fleshed out by the DM running things, adaptable to any of the gameworlds. As such, there is ample opportunity for Ray to put his Realmstamp upon them, which I am pleased to find to be the case. I didn't think I would recall as much as I did about the wilderness spread of the adventures, but it didn't affect my play of them in the least. Ray's done the project a fine service in his importation to the Realm, with custom music and graphics detailing each design individually. On to it, then!
I decided to do something a bit different with this review (and inspired by PlatinumBearer's recent character introduction chapters) and encapsulate my play experiences in a brief bit of fiction: this includes some fairly non-spoilerishness, so if you are of a firm stand against any foreknowledge of a given module preplay, kindly avert your eyes
as I present: Scenes of a Multiclass Struggle in Thunder Rift -or- How to Succeed at Dragonhunting Without Really Trying
* * *"Everyone, gather near." The woman who'd just issued that command stood silver and splendid in the crooked doorway, despite the filth that caked her long blonde hair and the dark blood of the foe that coloured her blade.
Even from a distance, Jaspartine could see that 'everyone' meant all of them including the hulking centaur and 'near' could only mean in the cramped muddy alcove in front of the paladin and her doorway where already the dwarf priest Bolder was preparing a prayer of protection.
"Wait- where's Pinch?" Avalaigne's lovely mud-streaked brow furrowed as she glanced across the various party members. She led them, true, but each was unmastered: since Sparrow's fall in the warrens of the Red Hand, even Pinchadorious Hardscrabble had turned taciturn and moody... and that was saying something, for the halflingfolk were normally the first to grin and bear things. The paladin sighed and gave a double-nod to Redfeather: the half-elf wizard-priest returned the pre-arranged signal and trudged back the way they'd all come, quietly hissing out the missing rogue's name as he went, threading his way through the splayed corpses of lizardmen and crocodiles, until darkness swallowed him. Avalaigne caught Jaspertine's large eyes and sent her a smile.
"Boost our spirits while we wait?"
The gnome usually deferred to Bolder when the subject of spirits or boostings came up, but Avalaigne's dirty face was earnest and she found she couldn't resist the request. Jaspertine tightened the sling she carried about her small fist. She was never without the weapon, preferred it to any other, and the gesture was one she repeated whenever she was nervous.
"Dragons", the magic-user began, her voice small and distant, "Have an alarming tendency to vanity... and a tenacious greed." As she spoke, Jaspartine tried to ignore their newest member's huge knotty-limbed silhouette as it moved closer to hear her better. She was afeared of horses all since her childhood days, when a spooked mount had nearly trodden her violently, so it would take some time to get used to this fellow Fletcher, half-human or not.
"The primary conceits of dragons can be used effectively to catch them outsides their considerable guard, especially in the case of lone specimens." She paused as Bolder, quietly mouthing a few choice words of his own, set one of the large waterproofed sacks they'd been gifted down so that the others could see the mix of silver and gold and other glittering things within. The plan had been simple: offer the beast this tribute to get it to depart the area in peace, or distract the dragon long enough to be taken down in pieces. The dwarven cleric flexed his back, twisting and groaning and generally making a show of the burden he'd been chosen to carry. Jaspertine knew better though, they all did, that this dwarf in particular was a well-trained battlepriest of Clanggedin: even if the dragon accepted their bribe, Bolder would do all he could to ensure his hammer met to wyrmscale.
"In the event that the dragon is disinclined to parlay, we ought array ourselves along its flanks and-"
"And run as much steel as we can muster, through flank and haunch and paunch, eh?"
Everyone turned to see Pinch, Redfeather shaking his head behind him, appeared in the charnel cave behind them. He winked to Bolder before tossing the dwarf a dirty knife, hilt-over-point-wise, who caught it with a frowning grunt and stowed it in his bulging backpack.
"He was picking up a few extra treasures", Redfeather began, helpfully guiding the halfling forward til they reached the others.
"Souvenirs", Pinch countered, "To balance the losses we took in our last venture." That made Bolder suddenly straighten, his pale beard bristling and one eybrow arched menacingly.
"Ye better'n notta tooked nothin', 'our last venture'", he growled. Their last adventure had brought them to the deephalls of Hearth-Home where Lord Ragni, whose beard was long and mighty, had warned them away from looting his domain while the party was in his employ. Thankfully, certain spells of Lord Ragni's highpriest were on hand to ensure little precious things did not make their way into little precocious hands... Pinch had been both dismayed and offended and had loudly commented upon the distrustful nature of dwarves all the journey back to Kleine.
"Aw don't get your clout knotted", the halfling offered. "Who could get to the business of quick and sly with -you- breathing heavy and scratchybearded down their back?"
That drew a line in the mud that the dwarf was gladly willing to cross and he drew himself up, all four feet high and four feet wide of plate-girded Bolder Grim the Hammersong, roused and red-cheeked...
"Lads!", someone hissed, stepping between the two. Bolder, who had been advancing on the halfling, was closest to the glittering spear as it descended to meet him point-first and then quickly spinning butt-end to give just the barest of taps to the dwarf's bulbous nose. "Save your fire for the true quarry." To his credit, Fletcher didn't rear, though the centaur didn't need to in order to remain imposing to either the dwarf or the halfling.
"Come priest. Give us the Hammersong blessing." Avalaigne gently toed the open sack of treasure still lain on the floor of the alcove. Though Bailiff Wortley's agent, Sascia, had suggested they try to catch the dragon asleep and unawares, the paladin could never take a foe in such a demeaning and dastard way. She would rouse the beast no matter how they found it, and force the predator to move on and away from Melinir.
"We've a dragon to hunt."
* * *
This adventure was a great window into both the extremes of the Thunder Rift series, with relatable foes and dangerous combats that certainly tested my party of 5th (and 4th/5th) level 'heroes'. The rewards were great, with several interesting outcomes if your party follows what is asked of them explicitly. The environment plays a larger part of the adventure, a hallmark of how Ray's built the Thunder Rift conversions, and we made several friends in our explorations. There was a nadir to the adventure and I will tell you how it went with my party in a spoiler here:We met the dragon and her brood and, while my centaur ranger and dwarf priest wrangled one hatchling and my paladin and cleric/mage contested with the other, my lone gnome magic-user StinkClouded the main foe... finishing her off as she choked and gasped with a single shot of her sling! It was sweaty-palmed madness I tell ya...
The wrap-up to the events of the module were longer and more-detailed than ever, and our party lingered in Melinir, at the bailiff's pleasure, to train and study and stuff the local economy to bursting. I felt somewhat conflicted mid-course during the adventure after learning a few things about those we'd slain and would slay further and how the situation had come to be... but your own adventure might prove very different. A great example of Ray's skill and adroitness in this conversion: you won't be sorry you sought it out!