Think the first three chapters have been a railroad? Chapter 4 is worse. There are three events, and the PCs get to do absolutely nothing during any of them.
Event 1: A Return, and an Invitation
Caitlan Moonsong approaches you. She seems somehow taller. Her short blond hair moves about as if with a life of its own. She is graceful, and her black robes shimmer with tiny winks and sparkles of ever-shifting light – a gleam that is mirrored in her eyes. She makes no sound as she comes, and her feet do not seem to touch the ground, but float inches above it. She smiles.
Now Caitlan introduces herself as Mystra. But while she gives the PCs a brief thanks, she then immediately starts talking to Midnight, asking for the pendant she had given her back. Once she has it, she teleports the group to another realm.
Event 2: The Guardian
All around is darkness – a deep, chiming void of blackness, lit by faintly luminescent purple mists, which roil and drift aimlessly about, and by drifting, winking lights. There strides Mystra, grown somehow taller. She glows with a blue-white aura, and walks confidently forward, treading on nothing, toward a yellow glowing light in the distance. Gradually the glowing light in the distance grows larger.
You can see that the golden glow surrounds a man-like figure clad in full-plate armor. His visor is down, and his armor glows with a blue sheen; the glow around him brightens from gold to white as you draw near Mystra stands perhaps 12 feet in height now, the figure in armor perhaps 20.
“Mystra,” he says suddenly, his voice deep and rolling, “You come not alone. Have you then the Tablets?”
“No,” Mystra replies, “but I see no need for them. I know who stole them and I wish to speak to Lord Ao. Let me pass.”
This opening part isn’t necessarily bad game design, but it does strike on my pet peeve of making the DM talk to himself. Maybe I’m a bad role-player, but I’m not a big fan of the chattering NPC syndrome, where multiple NPCs have a long dialogue. It’s necessary sometimes, but it doesn’t feel right to me, possibly because I’m not much of an actor. Scenes like this with scripted dialogue are worse than improvised bits to me because at least with improv the PCs can interject as needed. In a scripted event like this, it’s basically just reading a story aloud.
It’s also worth noting that the longish bit I just transcribed is a small fraction of the flavor text. The whole of the text goes on for two full columns in the module. That’s about 600-700 words, or three pages of typed, double-spaced text. And this comes after the first column of the page was filled with flavor text between Mystra and Midnight. And the next page is entirely flavor text as well.
Oh yeah…about the event. Basically, Mystra wants to go home, but the way is blocked by Helm, the guardian god. He’s been ordered by Ao the Overgod not to let any of the gods back into the Outer Planes until the Tablets of Fate have been recovered. Mystra knows Bane is responsible for their disappearance and wants to tell that to Ao. But Helm is lawful stupid and won’t do anything but follow the letter of Ao’s law. Mystra decides to fight her way past Helm and is killed by him in the process. This all occurs in the flavor text. The PCs can’t do anything but watch as a major climactic event occurs. Then they’re tossed back to Castle Kilgrave, and we proceed to the next event.
Event 3: Helm’s Message
“Those you know as gods now walk the Realms among you,” Helm says. “The reasons for this are many, and better unsaid and unremembered. Know this: in some ways, the gods are no greater than men. They all, great and small, are now much lessened in power, and they all seek something that is missing, something hidden.
No shit, Helm.
Okay, I’m being a little overly negative as the module unfolds. But then, I did describe this trilogy as the worst adventure modules ever, in any game, any edition, any genre. They are the antithesis of what I think makes a fun game, and this chapter is possibly the worst example of that.
During this event, Helm gives a long speech telling the PCs to go search for the Tablets of Fate to restore order to the Realms. To his credit, he does heal the PCs, which is the first break they’ve gotten in the module. But that one bit of brightness is overshadowed by what comes next:
“At this time, Midnight will find Mystra’s pendant, lying at her feet. The pendant will not allow anyone other than Midnight to touch it…When Midnight picks it up, the pendant shines brightly, and Midnight knows that she now carries a shard of Mystra’s broken power. And she knows one thing more: that she must seek out Elminster, the historian of Shadowdale.”
So now Midnight has the plot MacGuffin. The PCs can’t touch it, and they are now basically hirelings meant to protect her as she travels to Shadowdale to meet Elminster.
That’s it for plot events in this chapter. The rest of the chapter is random encounters, including one just to clarify to the PCs what the hell Helm was talking about. Now the PCs have to follow Midnight around on her great quest to save the Realms.
It’s like this…imagine you’re playing a game based on The Lord of the Rings. Someone wants to be Gandalf, but that’s not allowed because he’s too important to the plot. Someone wants to play Frodo, but that’s not allowed either because he’s the Ringbearer. Aragorn is another major NPC and is off limits. You guys? You can be the nameless warriors who fight at Helm’s Deep. Or if you’re lucky, maybe one of you can play Boromir. Maybe.