The Worst Adventure Ever: Waterdeep, chapter one

The third and final module in this trainwreck.Who will be the new gods?

The God of Strife is dead, destroyed in his attack on Tantras, and Midnight and the player characters have recovered the first Tablet of Fate – one of a pair of mysterious artifacts that will return the gods to their former glory and save the Realms from the fallen deities’ wrath.

But the quest isn’t over! To find the other Tablet of Fate, your heroes must travel across Faerûn to Waterdeep, the City of Splendors. But both Midnight’s former ally, Cyric, and Myrkul, the Lord of the Dead, want the tablets for their own dark ends, and they will stop at nothing to capture Midnight – even if it means the destruction of the Realms!

Waterdeep marks the third and final portion of the Avatar Trilogy. It is also the most epic, with the PCs taking on multiple gods and meet Ao the Overlord himself. Perhaps because it has so much epic potential, it’s also the worst of the three modules, repeating all of the mistakes in the first two modules and then ending in the ultimate screwjob to the PCs. (Well, maybe not as ultimate as the “Rocks fall, everyone dies” ending of Neverwinter Nights 2, but it’s right up there.)

I think the cover, like the covers of Shadowdale and Tantras, is recycled art from another TSR product. But unlike Tantras, this recycled art makes sense, as it sets a pair of adventurers right in front of the Yawning Portal, a popular inn in Waterdeep. The woman even resembles Midnight’s description in the text, although it doesn’t mention her being so scantily clad in the flavor text (not that there’s a problem with scantily-clad wizards – they make much more sense than fighters in chain mail bikinis, since a wizard doesn’t rely on armor for protection). The back of the product says the module is for four to six PCs of levels six to nine, which is in line with the other modules. And a blurb on the front cover advertises the adventure as compatible with both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, although we already saw some of 1st edition fall away in the last module with every assassin in the Realms dying at once.

The introduction gives us a breakdown of the story so far, in case the DM didn’t run the first two adventures before this one. It gives details about how the NPCs Midnight, Adon, and Kelemvor, are required for this adventure. Of note, both Adon and Kelemvor are 5th-level characters, meaning that they should be lower level than the PCs. Naturally, we can expect level not to matter, since they and Midnight are massively plot protected.

The prologue also gives details about the plans of Myrkul and Bhaal, the two remaining evil gods who stole the Tablets of Fate in the first place. The DM is tipped off that the gods are manipulating Midnight and the PCs, allowing them to find the Tablets only to rob them afterwards. We also get an in media res opening for the PCs, who took a ship from Tantras to Waterdeep only to get booted off because of a magical storm that caused the captain to think they were bad luck. So Chapter 1 begins back in Cormyr, not far off from where the PCs got involved in this whole mess in the first place and with several hundred miles of travel to go before reaching Waterdeep.

As in Tantras, there are no random encounters or non-plot related events here – the PCs should be used to having no freedom by now, anyway. And, as should be expected, we open up with an offstage event. The PCs are being pursued by two groups: followers of Bane, who blame Midnight for the death of their patron god, and Cyric, who hopes to grab the Tablet of Fate from them. Cyric was, after all, the guy who walked around the last module wearing an “I’m evil” t-shirt but who still surprised all the NPCs with his sudden yet inevitable betrayal.

Event 1: The King’s Forest
“In the third watch of the night, a few hours before morning, have the character(s) on watch (if any) make an Intelligence check.

“If the check succeeds, the watchman sees much vigorous movement in the darkness beyond the firelight, but does not hear anything; the character can raise the alarm. If the check fails, the character sees nothing, and the attack that follows comes completely by surprise.”

The PCs are attacked by 13 special zombies animated by Myrkul. The zombies have orders to kidnap Midnight and any other females in order to prevent a case of mistaken identity. If there was any way of the PCs to find this bit out, slapping a girdle of masculinity/femininity on Midnight would become a suddenly viable way of keeping her from being kidnapped.

During the fight, the PCs are aided by sniper fire from Cyric. They don’t actually see him unless they seek the source of the friendly fire, and can’t catch him even if they do see him.

Event 2: Well Met in Wheloon
“The rest of the night passes uneventfully. In the morning the party heads toward Wheloon. There they hope to rest, buy horses and supplies, and, if necessary, seek healing at the local shrines.

“Should the party head toward Marsember, try to discourage them with numerous Zhentilar or Purple Dragon patrols.”

There’s a distinct lack of flavor text for a lot of the events in this module. On the one hand, that’s an improvement over the previous modules, which had multiple pages of flavor text during which the PCs could do nothing. On the other hand, it makes setting the scene a bit more of a pain. While the first two modules showed off the flavor of the Forgotten Realms from time to time, this one feels more like a string of random encounters. I still hold to the theory that these modules were rushed out under a tight deadline, and at this point the module authors (Ed Greenwood is credited again, but I still have my doubts) had to speed through the writing process to get the manuscript in, hence the bare-bones approach.

Anyway, this event is just a chance for the PCs to rest up and resupply. Notice how the beginning of the event flat out states what the PCs hope to do, removing the last shreds of an illusion of free will in the module.

In an offstage event, Cyric slaughters a halfling town and steals a cursed sword whose will he bends to his own. He also gains a level, becoming a dual-classed 4th-level fighter/5th-level thief. He only has 24 hit points at this point, so even Wembley the Wizard should theoretically pose a threat to him. Too bad that’s irrelevant.

Event 3: Arrests, Alarums, and Ambushes
This is an optional event. Yay – I thought these were gone! Unfortunately, it remains as dry and flavorless as the other events so far. The PCs are accused of murder…again. This time, a witness paid off by Cyric claims to have seen them kill someone. The event is targeted at getting the PCs out of Wheloon, which is odd because Wheloon was only a stop along the way for them in the first place. I guess the module designer is under the assumption once again that the players are evil no-funnicks who want to ruin the DM’s clever story in any way possible, and that the DM will occasionally need to force them to follow the plot. Here’s a quick hint for the designer: if the players have to be forced to follow a plot, then it’s probably because you are ignoring the “game” part of “role-playing game.”

Event 4: Starwater Bridge
After leaving Wheloon, the PCs hope to head to Suzail, another Cormyr city, in hopes of hiring a new ship that will take them to the Sword Coast and Waterdeep. And now, eight pages into the module, we finally get our first glimpse of flavor text:

The River Starwater glimmers before you, sparkling in the morning sun. It lies in an old, broad valley, mirroring the blue sky overhead, and your road crosses over it by means of a broad stone span: Starwater Bridge.

There are men on the bridge with spears in their hands. As you draw nearer, you see that they are hard-faced fighting men, clad in a variety of armor. Some even wear black field plate. All wear scarves or surcoats bearing badges of a red circle on a black field.

They’re Zhentilar! Here in the heart of Cormyr!

Kudos to the writer for slipping in the term “fighting man,” the original D&D name for the fighter class, in there.

As a quick review, the Zhentilar are basically the Nazis of the Forgotten Realms. No, they don’t go around preaching National Socialism and trying to kill off the impure races. Instead, they’re worshippers of the (now dead) evil god Bane and the guys who can be killed completely guilt-free because they’re evil through and through. The appearance of the Zhentilar in the heart of the kingdom of Cormyr is unusual, but there are too many of them around for the PCs to just fight and figure out what’s what off of their corpses. As it turns out, these Zhentilar are hired by Cyric to keep the party from wandering too far off the trail he has planned for them. Midnight realizes this fact, but still refuses to believe that Cyric is evil. Yes, she still has faith in the guy who openly spoke about using the Tablets of Fate for his own selfish ends rather than to save the world, who allied with the evil god of strife, and who tried to kill her friend Kelemvor. For a lady with a 16 Intelligence, Midnight is frikkin’ dense.

So what can the PCs do? Nothing at all, really. They have to flee the Zhentilar because the force is overwhelming. If they fight, they likely get slaughtered, and if they don’t Cyric rushes off and puts together another overwhelming force. Apparently, evil minions are just running rampant in the countryside these days.

Event 5: Ashes at Black Oaks
“The rest of this chapter presumes that the adventurers are warily heading north again. Midnight and other NPCs argue about the Zhentilar: whether they are actually Cyric’s men, and whether he is helping or hindering them. The PCs can take part or try to guide this argument as they wish, but Midnight refuses to believe Cyric is really an enemy.”

Seriously, talk about a paper-thin argument for Midnight. She’s blindly loyal to Cyric for no reason whatsoever. If I’m a PC, I call this a liability. I wonder how quickly the average DM would kill me in this adventure for stealing the Tablet of Fate, running off into the night, and doing the quest myself without Midnight’s incompetence or the other NPCs’ bossiness…

While I’m yammering on a tangent, the PCs see smoke on the horizon:

The trail winds down and then up through thick stands of sumac, until it reaches a stand of black oaks. From the center of the stand, in a small glade, wisps of smoke are drifting. The smells of burnt wood and flesh are strong in the air.

Midnight points at a ring of stones. “A well,” she says quietly.

This is the halfling town of Black Oaks, which Cyric slaughtered. None of the surviving halflings mention him by name, which is unfortunate because then Midnight’s stupid argument that Cyric isn’t really evil would end right here and now. But what the halflings do manage to do is steal from the group. No matter what else happens, the halflings manage to steal and then destroy Midnight’s spellbook – a horrendous fate for a magic-user, but one that will only become a plot point as the PCs continue to bear witness to Midnight stealing the show.

The PCs also meet the halfling Cyric stole the cursed sword from, Sneakabout. Sneakabout joins the party as a guide, adding another shiny new plot-protected NPC to the group.

Or does he?

“The PCs can accept or reject Sneakabout as a guide. Establish him as a sympathetic character with goals much like those of the PCs. The adventure proceeds more smoothly if Sneakabout is along, but his presence is not vital.”

There we go! The module is finally recognizing that NPCs should not be forced upon the PCs at all time. Of course, that doesn’t fix the other mistake that the writer makes, namely that the only real description of Sneakabout’s personality that we get is, “he’s likable.” But it’s still progress.

With or without Sneakabout, the party continues on their trek. The halfling takes them into the King’s Forest in hopes of avoiding the Zhentilar.

Event 6: Walking Trees and Wildwood
“The party travels on through old, deep woods of shady gloom and ancient, towering trees. Consult the King’s Forest Encounter Table, checking for encounters once every 1d10 turns (or 1d6 turns whenever the party makes a lot of noise). Brigands encountered have meager treasure; prepare such booty before play begins.

“Whenever an encounter is called for, roll 1d6. If the result is a 6, do not check the table; instead, the encounter is an attempted ambush by one of Cyric’s Zhentilar patrols.”

“If the PCs question captive Zhentilar, the prisoners say they sailed from Scardale to Tantras and then to Cormyr – with Cyric, who promised them much loot. So far Cyric hasn.t led them to this loot; some discontented Zhentilar sacked Sneakabout’s village, though Cyric gave no order to do this.

“(Midnight uses this statement as proof that Cyric is not truly evil. In fact, Cyric didn’t care that the village was destroyed; he simply saw no purpose in doing so.)”

Damn it, Midnight! The guy has hired out the most iconic villains of the Forgotten Realms, has used said villains to try to kill your companions, and you’re still clinging to the “he’s not really evil” card based on the fact that he didn’t specifically give the order to slaughter a town of halflings?

Without her spellbook, Midnight is in theory useless as an adventurer now. Personally, unless I was playing a paladin or other really goody-good character, I’d be contemplating bringing her into the woods, knifing her, and running off with the Tablet of Fate myself. What’s the worst that can happen? She’ll probably recover and tell Kelemvor and Adon that I wasn’t really evil because I didn’t choose to nostril rape her after she passed out from blood loss.

“The prisoners say Cyric has ordered the Zhentilar to drive the PCs north to Eveningstar, arranging ambushes and tipping off the Purple Dragons if the PCs go south. ‘Suzail is already closed to you…and Marsember, too.’”

The adventure then enters into three short encounters in the forest, including a nifty one where we are reminded that the Time of Troubles should really be called the Time of Batshit Craziness, in which a portion of the trees of the forest uproot themselves and walk off.

“A resourceful party could ‘ride’ the trees, or tag along in their wake to avoid enemy encounters. This can be challenging, for the trees move quickly, without stopping. But if the PCs have too easy a time of their journey, physical chaos eventually subsides, and the trees collapse into so many logs.”

Translation: “Here’s a cool idea that the players will probably enjoy as a gaming tale after here. But instead of rewarding them for clever thinking, pull the carpet out from under them because the plot must be preserved at all costs.”

Event 7: The Glowing Glade
As the party rests, we get some more flavor text. This time it’s fairly substantial:

An orange glow steals silently into existence above the fire. As you notice it curling gently in midair, it splits into nine little spheres of radiance. These darken and start to spin, turning blue and then silver. They drift outward in a widening ring.

The ring silently expands until it encloses the entire glade. The spheres change shape in the air. Each forms the image of a mouth – a human mouth, surrounded by a moustache and beard! No faces appear; all of these bearded mouths hang disembodied in the air in a huge ring around the glade.

One mouth moves. You hear a familiar dry, fussy, accented voice. “Well met, friends! We are still friends, are we not? We both, I trust, wish the Realms to survive.” It is the voice of Elminster the Sage.

Fuck.

Okay, so maybe this is Ed Greenwood writing. The one bit of flavor text with some actual flavor in it so far is a long drawn out explanation of how cool Elminster is. At least I think it’s supposed to be cool – I personally think the nine floating mouths thing is lame. And it boils down once more to the heart of all that is wrong with Elminster in these modules (and most of his other appearances in the Forgotten Realms, to boot).

Elminster is the Obi-Wan, the Gandalf, the Merlin of the setting. Those guys exuded power and authority, but not because they were constantly showing off how powerful they were. Obi-Wan did a couple minor Jedi tricks before fighting Darth Vader. Gandalf’s big thing before he faced the Balrog was a few fireworks. Merlin existed more as an advisor to King Arthur than a guy who regularly threw spells around. What made these guys badasses was not their high level magic – it was the way they carried themselves outside of those instances. Elminster should be an old, eccentric, maybe slightly perverted guy. He shouldn’t be constantly showing off his power, especially not during a time when magic itself is going bonkers. Instead, he should be there to provide sage advice for the PCs and act as an occasional ally. Only when the chips are really down should be break out the epic-level magic. That approach would do two things. First, it would allow the DM to establish Elminster’s personality, tweaking him as needed to be someone the group actually likes. Second, it would make the moment that Elminster breaks out the high-powered magic stunning. Imagine this old librarian who hits on young ladies all the time and is slightly creepy but still a little bit funny and definitely harmless. Then a balor comes up from Hell and threatens all of Shadowdale. Suddenly that old lecherous librarian steps up and single-handedly defeats the balor with a dazzling array of magic. That is a “Whoa” moment. Instead, Elminster’s powers are constantly on display and he can’t wipe his own arse without using a 5th-level spell to do so. That moves the players’ reactions from one of kinda liking the funny old man to being annoyed at the constant showoff and wondering why in all these Realms-shaking events low- to mid-level heroes are needed at all.

Ed Greenwood has occasionally stated that Elminster has deviated from his original role because TSR and Wizards of the Coast have changed him as a character. And that’s bullshit. I’ve read some of Greenwood’s writing before he sold the Realms to TSR, and Elminster is just as big a Mary Sue as ever – the only difference is that Mirt the Moneylender is also a huge Mary Sue. And Greenwood’s own words have betrayed him. In interviews, he’s described what he intended as a typical Elminster encounter as being the old mage popping up at a moment of certain death for the party and telling them that they missed a secret door that could have avoided the fatal encounter, then teleporting away. If anything, that’s even more annoying than the way he’s used in these adventures – Elminster is basically the Voice of God mocking the players and chiding them for “losing the game” – something that isn’t supposed to be possible in RPGs.

My point in this whole rant? I like Elminster as a character concept – the old crazy dude who happens to be able to nuke planets. I hate his execution, and Ed Greenwood is almost entirely responsible for that, having written most of the material he appears in (even if these modules were not wholly done by Greenwood, the guy is responsible for the Elminster novels, all of which do this shit all the time). And by extension I hate this scene, because it does nothing for the adventure. What is the point of Elminster’s appearance? To summarize the plot. Yep, that’s it. Elminster is there to give a recap of why the PCs are on this mission, as though they could ever forget after being dragged along by the nose for two modules already. Then he disappears.

And once again we’re treated to the Elminster Dilemma – why doesn’t he do the mission for the PCs? Well, the answer here is that Midnight is important, as she has been chosen by Mystra to save the day. But Elminster last appeared in Tantras and has now teleported half a continent away while the PCs have been facing near-certain death. A teleport without error spell allows others to travel with the caster. Why didn’t Elminster just teleport the PCs along with him, thus avoiding the peril and possibly ending the Time of Troubles before Myrkul, Bhaal, and Cyric wound up slaughtering dozens more innocent people? The answer is that doing so would have short-circuited the adventure, and that’s a lame answer. If the adventure will get short-circuited by teleportation, maybe the writer shouldn’t have introduced a character who routinely teleports all over the place and won’t give the PCs a moment of peace. Huh? HUH?!

Elminster: what an asshole.

Who will be the new gods? The God of Strife is dead, destroyed in his attack on Tantras, and Midnight and the player characters have recovered the first Tablet of Fate – one of a pair of mysterious artifacts that will return the gods to their former glory and save the Realms from the fallen deities’ wrath.

But the quest isn’t over! To find the other Tablet of Fate, your heroes must travel across Faerûn to Waterdeep, the City of Splendors. But both Midnight’s former ally, Cyric, and Myrkul, the Lord of the Dead, want the tablets for their own dark ends, and they will stop at nothing to capture Midnight – even if it means the destruction of the Realms!

Waterdeep marks the third and final portion of the Avatar Trilogy. It is also the most epic, with the PCs taking on multiple gods and meet Ao the Overlord himself. Perhaps because it has so much epic potential, it’s also the worst of the three modules, repeating all of the mistakes in the first two modules and then ending in the ultimate screwjob to the PCs. (Well, maybe not as ultimate as the “Rocks fall, everyone dies” ending of Neverwinter Nights 2, but it’s right up there.)

I think the cover, like the covers of Shadowdale and Tantras, is recycled art from another TSR product. But unlike Tantras, this recycled art makes sense, as it sets a pair of adventurers right in front of the Yawning Portal, a popular inn in Waterdeep. The woman even resembles Midnight’s description in the text, although it doesn’t mention her being so scantily clad in the flavor text (not that there’s a problem with scantily-clad wizards – they make much more sense than fighters in chain mail bikinis, since a wizard doesn’t rely on armor for protection). The back of the product says the module is for four to six PCs of levels six to nine, which is in line with the other modules. And a blurb on the front cover advertises the adventure as compatible with both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, although we already saw some of 1st edition fall away in the last module with every assassin in the Realms dying at once.

The introduction gives us a breakdown of the story so far, in case the DM didn’t run the first two adventures before this one. It gives details about how the NPCs Midnight, Adon, and Kelemvor, are required for this adventure. Of note, both Adon and Kelemvor are 5th-level characters, meaning that they should be lower level than the PCs. Naturally, we can expect level not to matter, since they and Midnight are massively plot protected.

The prologue also gives details about the plans of Myrkul and Bhaal, the two remaining evil gods who stole the Tablets of Fate in the first place. The DM is tipped off that the gods are manipulating Midnight and the PCs, allowing them to find the Tablets only to rob them afterwards. We also get an in media res opening for the PCs, who took a ship from Tantras to Waterdeep only to get booted off because of a magical storm that caused the captain to think they were bad luck. So Chapter 1 begins back in Cormyr, not far off from where the PCs got involved in this whole mess in the first place and with several hundred miles of travel to go before reaching Waterdeep.

As in Tantras, there are no random encounters or non-plot related events here – the PCs should be used to having no freedom by now, anyway. And, as should be expected, we open up with an offstage event. The PCs are being pursued by two groups: followers of Bane, who blame Midnight for the death of their patron god, and Cyric, who hopes to grab the Tablet of Fate from them. Cyric was, after all, the guy who walked around the last module wearing an “I’m evil” t-shirt but who still surprised all the NPCs with his sudden yet inevitable betrayal.

Event 1: The King’s Forest
“In the third watch of the night, a few hours before morning, have the character(s) on watch (if any) make an Intelligence check.

“If the check succeeds, the watchman sees much vigorous movement in the darkness beyond the firelight, but does not hear anything; the character can raise the alarm. If the check fails, the character sees nothing, and the attack that follows comes completely by surprise.”

The PCs are attacked by 13 special zombies animated by Myrkul. The zombies have orders to kidnap Midnight and any other females in order to prevent a case of mistaken identity. If there was any way of the PCs to find this bit out, slapping a girdle of masculinity/femininity on Midnight would become a suddenly viable way of keeping her from being kidnapped.

During the fight, the PCs are aided by sniper fire from Cyric. They don’t actually see him unless they seek the source of the friendly fire, and can’t catch him even if they do see him.

Event 2: Well Met in Wheloon
“The rest of the night passes uneventfully. In the morning the party heads toward Wheloon. There they hope to rest, buy horses and supplies, and, if necessary, seek healing at the local shrines.

“Should the party head toward Marsember, try to discourage them with numerous Zhentilar or Purple Dragon patrols.”

There’s a distinct lack of flavor text for a lot of the events in this module. On the one hand, that’s an improvement over the previous modules, which had multiple pages of flavor text during which the PCs could do nothing. On the other hand, it makes setting the scene a bit more of a pain. While the first two modules showed off the flavor of the Forgotten Realms from time to time, this one feels more like a string of random encounters. I still hold to the theory that these modules were rushed out under a tight deadline, and at this point the module authors (Ed Greenwood is credited again, but I still have my doubts) had to speed through the writing process to get the manuscript in, hence the bare-bones approach.

Anyway, this event is just a chance for the PCs to rest up and resupply. Notice how the beginning of the event flat out states what the PCs hope to do, removing the last shreds of an illusion of free will in the module.

In an offstage event, Cyric slaughters a halfling town and steals a cursed sword whose will he bends to his own. He also gains a level, becoming a dual-classed 4th-level fighter/5th-level thief. He only has 24 hit points at this point, so even Wembley the Wizard should theoretically pose a threat to him. Too bad that’s irrelevant.

Event 3: Arrests, Alarums, and Ambushes
This is an optional event. Yay – I thought these were gone! Unfortunately, it remains as dry and flavorless as the other events so far. The PCs are accused of murder…again. This time, a witness paid off by Cyric claims to have seen them kill someone. The event is targeted at getting the PCs out of Wheloon, which is odd because Wheloon was only a stop along the way for them in the first place. I guess the module designer is under the assumption once again that the players are evil no-fun-nicks who want to ruin the DM’s clever story in any way possible, and that the DM will occasionally need to force them to follow the plot. Here’s a quick hint for the designer: if the players have to be forced to follow a plot, then it’s probably because you are ignoring the “game” part of “role-playing game.”

Event 4: Starwater Bridge
After leaving Wheloon, the PCs hope to head to Suzail, another Cormyr city, in hopes of hiring a new ship that will take them to the Sword Coast and Waterdeep. And now, eight pages into the module, we finally get our first glimpse of flavor text:

The River Starwater glimmers before you, sparkling in the morning sun. It lies in an old, broad valley, mirroring the blue sky overhead, and your road crosses over it by means of a broad stone span: Starwater Bridge.

There are men on the bridge with spears in their hands. As you draw nearer, you see that they are hard-faced fighting men, clad in a variety of armor. Some even wear black field plate. All wear scarves or surcoats bearing badges of a red circle on a black field.

They’re Zhentilar! Here in the heart of Cormyr!

Kudos to the writer for slipping in the term “fighting man,” the original D&D name for the fighter class, in there.

As a quick review, the Zhentilar are basically the Nazis of the Forgotten Realms. No, they don’t go around preaching National Socialism and trying to kill off the impure races. Instead, they’re worshippers of the (now dead) evil god Bane and the guys who can be killed completely guilt-free because they’re evil through and through. The appearance of the Zhentilar in the heart of the kingdom of Cormyr is unusual, but there are too many of them around for the PCs to just fight and figure out what’s what off of their corpses. As it turns out, these Zhentilar are hired by Cyric to keep the party from wandering too far off the trail he has planned for them. Midnight realizes this fact, but still refuses to believe that Cyric is evil. Yes, she still has faith in the guy who openly spoke about using the Tablets of Fate for his own selfish ends rather than to save the world, who allied with the evil god of strife, and who tried to kill her friend Kelemvor. For a lady with a 16 Intelligence, Midnight is frikkin’ dense.

So what can the PCs do? Nothing at all, really. They have to flee the Zhentilar because the force is overwhelming. If they fight, they likely get slaughtered, and if they don’t Cyric rushes off and puts together another overwhelming force. Apparently, evil minions are just running rampant in the countryside these days.

Event 5: Ashes at Black Oaks
“The rest of this chapter presumes that the adventurers are warily heading north again. Midnight and other NPCs argue about the Zhentilar: whether they are actually Cyric’s men, and whether he is helping or hindering them. The PCs can take part or try to guide this argument as they wish, but Midnight refuses to believe Cyric is really an enemy.”

Seriously, talk about a paper-thin argument for Midnight. She’s blindly loyal to Cyric for no reason whatsoever. If I’m a PC, I call this a liability. I wonder how quickly the average DM would kill me in this adventure for stealing the Tablet of Fate, running off into the night, and doing the quest myself without Midnight’s incompetence or the other NPCs’ bossiness…

While I’m yammering on a tangent, the PCs see smoke on the horizon:

The trail winds down and then up through thick stands of sumac, until it reaches a stand of black oaks. From the center of the stand, in a small glade, wisps of smoke are drifting. The smells of burnt wood and flesh are strong in the air.

Midnight points at a ring of stones. “A well,” she says quietly.

This is the halfling town of Black Oaks, which Cyric slaughtered. None of the surviving halflings mention him by name, which is unfortunate because then Midnight’s stupid argument that Cyric isn’t really evil would end right here and now. But what the halflings do manage to do is steal from the group. No matter what else happens, the halflings manage to steal and then destroy Midnight’s spellbook – a horrendous fate for a magic-user, but one that will only become a plot point as the PCs continue to bear witness to Midnight stealing the show.

The PCs also meet the halfling Cyric stole the cursed sword from, Sneakabout. Sneakabout joins the party as a guide, adding another shiny new plot-protected NPC to the group.

Or does he?

“The PCs can accept or reject Sneakabout as a guide. Establish him as a sympathetic character with goals much like those of the PCs. The adventure proceeds more smoothly if Sneakabout is along, but his presence is not vital.”

There we go! The module is finally recognizing that NPCs should not be forced upon the PCs at all time. Of course, that doesn’t fix the other mistake that the writer makes, namely that the only real description of Sneakabout’s personality that we get is, “he’s likable.” But it’s still progress.

With or without Sneakabout, the party continues on their trek. The halfling takes them into the King’s Forest in hopes of avoiding the Zhentilar.

Event 6: Walking Trees and Wildwood
“The party travels on through old, deep woods of shady gloom and ancient, towering trees. Consult the King’s Forest Encounter Table, checking for encounters once every 1d10 turns (or 1d6 turns whenever the party makes a lot of noise). Brigands encountered have meager treasure; prepare such booty before play begins.

“Whenever an encounter is called for, roll 1d6. If the result is a 6, do not check the table; instead, the encounter is an attempted ambush by one of Cyric’s Zhentilar patrols.”

“If the PCs question captive Zhentilar, the prisoners say they sailed from Scardale to Tantras and then to Cormyr – with Cyric, who promised them much loot. So far Cyric hasn.t led them to this loot; some discontented Zhentilar sacked Sneakabout’s village, though Cyric gave no order to do this.

“(Midnight uses this statement as proof that Cyric is not truly evil. In fact, Cyric didn’t care that the village was destroyed; he simply saw no purpose in doing so.)”

Damn it, Midnight! The guy has hired out the most iconic villains of the Forgotten Realms, has used said villains to try to KILL YOUR COMPANIONS, and you’re still clinging to the “he’s not really evil” card based on the fact that he didn’t specifically give the order to slaughter a town of halflings?

Without her spellbook, Midnight is in theory useless as an adventurer now. Personally, unless I was playing a paladin or other really goody-good character, I’d be contemplating bringing her into the woods, knifing her, and running off with the Tablet of Fate myself. What’s the worst that can happen? She’ll probably recover and tell Kelemvor and Adon that I wasn’t really evil because I didn’t choose to nostril rape her after she passed out from blood loss.

“The prisoners say Cyric has ordered the Zhentilar to drive the PCs north to Eveningstar, arranging ambushes and tipping off the Purple Dragons if the PCs go south. ‘Suzail is already closed to you…and Marsember, too.”

The adventure then enters into three short encounters in the forest, including a nifty one where we are reminded that the Time of Troubles should really be called the Time of Batshit Craziness, in which a portion of the trees of the forest uproot themselves and walk off.

“A resourceful party could ‘ride’ the trees, or tag along in their wake to avoid enemy encounters. This can be challenging, for the trees move quickly, without stopping. But if the PCs have too easy a time of their journey, physical chaos eventually subsides, and the trees collapse into so many logs.”

Translation: “Here’s a cool idea that the players will probably enjoy as a gaming tale after here. But instead of rewarding them for clever thinking, pull the carpet out from under them because the plot must be preserved at all costs.”

Event 7: The Glowing Glade
As the party rests, we get some more flavor text. This time it’s fairly substantial:

An orange glow steals silently into existence above the fire. As you notice it curling gently in midair, it splits into nine little spheres of radiance. These darken and start to spin, turning blue and then silver. They drift outward in a widening ring.

The ring silently expands until it encloses the entire glade. The spheres change shape in the air. Each forms the image of a mouth – a human mouth, surrounded by a moustache and beard! No faces appear; all of these bearded mouths hang disembodied in the air in a huge ring around the glade.

One mouth moves. You hear a familiar dry, fussy, accented voice. “Well met, friends! We are still friends, are we not? We both, I trust, wish the Realms to survive.” It is the voice of Elminster the Sage.

Fuck.

Okay, so maybe this is Ed Greenwood writing. The one bit of flavor text with some actual flavor in it so far is a long drawn out explanation of how cool Elminster is. At least I think it’s supposed to be cool – I personally think the nine floating mouths thing is lame. And it boils down once more to the heart of all that is wrong with Elminster in these modules (and most of his other appearances in the Forgotten Realms, to boot).

Elminster is the Obi-Wan, the Gandalf, the Merlin of the setting. Those guys exuded power and authority, but not because they were constantly showing off how powerful they were. Obi-Wan did a couple minor Jedi tricks before fighting Darth Vader. Gandalf’s big thing before he faced the Balrog was a few fireworks. Merlin existed more as an advisor to King Arthur than a guy who regularly threw spells around. What made these guys badasses was not their high level magic – it was the way they carried themselves outside of those instances. Elminster should be an old, eccentric, maybe slightly perverted guy. He shouldn’t be constantly showing off his power, especially not during a time when magic itself is going bonkers. Instead, he should be there to provide sage advice for the PCs and act as an occasional ally. Only when the chips are really down should be break out the epic-level magic. That approach would do two things. First, it would allow the DM to establish Elminster’s personality, tweaking him as needed to be someone the group actually likes. Second, it would make the moment that Elminster breaks out the high-powered magic stunning. Imagine this old librarian who hits on young ladies all the time and is slightly creepy but still a little bit funny and definitely harmless. Then a balor comes up from Hell and threatens all of Shadowdale. Suddenly that old lecherous librarian steps up and single-handedly defeats the balor with a dazzling array of magic. That is a “Whoa” moment. Instead, Elminster’s powers are constantly on display and he can’t wipe his own arse without using a 5th-level spell to do so. That moves the players’ reactions from one of kinda liking the funny old man to being annoyed at the constant showoff and wondering why in all these Realms-shaking events low- to mid-level heroes are needed at all.

Ed Greenwood has occasionally stated that Elminster has deviated from his original role because TSR and Wizards of the Coast have changed him as a character. And that’s bullshit. I’ve read some of Greenwood’s writing before he sold the Realms to TSR, and Elminster is just as big a Mary Sue as ever – the only difference is that Mirt the Moneylender is also a huge Mary Sue. And Greenwood’s own words have betrayed him. In interviews, he’s described what he intended as a typical Elminster encounter as being the old mage popping up at a moment of certain death for the party and telling them that they missed a secret door that could have avoided the fatal encounter, then teleporting away. If anything, that’s even more annoying than the way he’s used in these adventures – Elminster is basically the Voice of God mocking the players and chiding them for “losing the game” – something that isn’t supposed to be possible in RPGs.

My point in this whole rant? I like Elminster as a character concept – the old crazy dude who happens to be able to nuke planets. I hate his execution, and Ed Greenwood is almost entirely responsible for that, having written most of the material he appears in (even if these modules were not wholly done by Greenwood, the guy is responsible for the five Elminster novels in print, all of which do this shit all the time). And by extension I hate this scene, because it does nothing for the adventure. What is the point of Elminster’s appearance? To summarize the plot. Yep, that’s it. Elminster is there to give a recap of why the PCs are on this mission, as though they could ever forget after being dragged along by the nose for two modules already. Then he disappears.

And once again we’re treated to the Elminster Dilemma – why doesn’t he do the mission for the PCs? Well, the answer here is that Midnight is important, as she has been chosen by Mystra to save the day. But Elminster last appeared in Tantras and has now teleported half a continent away while the PCs have been facing certain death. A teleport without error spell allows others to travel with the caster. Why didn’t Elminster just teleport the PCs along with him, thus avoiding the peril and possibly ending the Time of Troubles before Myrkul, Bhaal, and Cyric wound up slaughtering dozens more innocent people? The answer is that doing so would have short-circuited the adventure, and that’s a lame answer. If the adventure will get short-circuited by teleportation, maybe the writer shouldn’t have introduced a character who routinely teleports all over the place and won’t give the PCs a moment of peace. Huh? HUH?!

Elminster: what an asshole.Who will be the new gods?

The God of Strife is dead, destroyed in his attack on Tantras, and Midnight and the player characters have recovered the first Tablet of Fate – one of a pair of mysterious artifacts that will return the gods to their former glory and save the Realms from the fallen deities’ wrath.

But the quest isn’t over! To find the other Tablet of Fate, your heroes must travel across Faerûn to Waterdeep, the City of Splendors. But both Midnight’s former ally, Cyric, and Myrkul, the Lord of the Dead, want the tablets for their own dark ends, and they will stop at nothing to capture Midnight – even if it means the destruction of the Realms!

Waterdeep marks the third and final portion of the Avatar Trilogy. It is also the most epic, with the PCs taking on multiple gods and meet Ao the Overlord himself. Perhaps because it has so much epic potential, it’s also the worst of the three modules, repeating all of the mistakes in the first two modules and then ending in the ultimate screwjob to the PCs. (Well, maybe not as ultimate as the “Rocks fall, everyone dies” ending of Neverwinter Nights 2, but it’s right up there.)

I think the cover, like the covers of Shadowdale and Tantras, is recycled art from another TSR product. But unlike Tantras, this recycled art makes sense, as it sets a pair of adventurers right in front of the Yawning Portal, a popular inn in Waterdeep. The woman even resembles Midnight’s description in the text, although it doesn’t mention her being so scantily clad in the flavor text (not that there’s a problem with scantily-clad wizards – they make much more sense than fighters in chain mail bikinis, since a wizard doesn’t rely on armor for protection). The back of the product says the module is for four to six PCs of levels six to nine, which is in line with the other modules. And a blurb on the front cover advertises the adventure as compatible with both 1st and 2nd edition AD&D, although we already saw some of 1st edition fall away in the last module with every assassin in the Realms dying at once.

The introduction gives us a breakdown of the story so far, in case the DM didn’t run the first two adventures before this one. It gives details about how the NPCs Midnight, Adon, and Kelemvor, are required for this adventure. Of note, both Adon and Kelemvor are 5th-level characters, meaning that they should be lower level than the PCs. Naturally, we can expect level not to matter, since they and Midnight are massively plot protected.

The prologue also gives details about the plans of Myrkul and Bhaal, the two remaining evil gods who stole the Tablets of Fate in the first place. The DM is tipped off that the gods are manipulating Midnight and the PCs, allowing them to find the Tablets only to rob them afterwards. We also get an in media res opening for the PCs, who took a ship from Tantras to Waterdeep only to get booted off because of a magical storm that caused the captain to think they were bad luck. So Chapter 1 begins back in Cormyr, not far off from where the PCs got involved in this whole mess in the first place and with several hundred miles of travel to go before reaching Waterdeep.

As in Tantras, there are no random encounters or non-plot related events here – the PCs should be used to having no freedom by now, anyway. And, as should be expected, we open up with an offstage event. The PCs are being pursued by two groups: followers of Bane, who blame Midnight for the death of their patron god, and Cyric, who hopes to grab the Tablet of Fate from them. Cyric was, after all, the guy who walked around the last module wearing an “I’m evil” t-shirt but who still surprised all the NPCs with his sudden yet inevitable betrayal.

Event 1: The King’s Forest
“In the third watch of the night, a few hours before morning, have the character(s) on watch (if any) make an Intelligence check.

“If the check succeeds, the watchman sees much vigorous movement in the darkness beyond the firelight, but does not hear anything; the character can raise the alarm. If the check fails, the character sees nothing, and the attack that follows comes completely by surprise.”

The PCs are attacked by 13 special zombies animated by Myrkul. The zombies have orders to kidnap Midnight and any other females in order to prevent a case of mistaken identity. If there was any way of the PCs to find this bit out, slapping a girdle of masculinity/femininity on Midnight would become a suddenly viable way of keeping her from being kidnapped.

During the fight, the PCs are aided by sniper fire from Cyric. They don’t actually see him unless they seek the source of the friendly fire, and can’t catch him even if they do see him.

Event 2: Well Met in Wheloon
“The rest of the night passes uneventfully. In the morning the party heads toward Wheloon. There they hope to rest, buy horses and supplies, and, if necessary, seek healing at the local shrines.

“Should the party head toward Marsember, try to discourage them with numerous Zhentilar or Purple Dragon patrols.”

There’s a distinct lack of flavor text for a lot of the events in this module. On the one hand, that’s an improvement over the previous modules, which had multiple pages of flavor text during which the PCs could do nothing. On the other hand, it makes setting the scene a bit more of a pain. While the first two modules showed off the flavor of the Forgotten Realms from time to time, this one feels more like a string of random encounters. I still hold to the theory that these modules were rushed out under a tight deadline, and at this point the module authors (Ed Greenwood is credited again, but I still have my doubts) had to speed through the writing process to get the manuscript in, hence the bare-bones approach.

Anyway, this event is just a chance for the PCs to rest up and resupply. Notice how the beginning of the event flat out states what the PCs hope to do, removing the last shreds of an illusion of free will in the module.

In an offstage event, Cyric slaughters a halfling town and steals a cursed sword whose will he bends to his own. He also gains a level, becoming a dual-classed 4th-level fighter/5th-level thief. He only has 24 hit points at this point, so even Wembley the Wizard should theoretically pose a threat to him. Too bad that’s irrelevant.

Event 3: Arrests, Alarums, and Ambushes
This is an optional event. Yay – I thought these were gone! Unfortunately, it remains as dry and flavorless as the other events so far. The PCs are accused of murder…again. This time, a witness paid off by Cyric claims to have seen them kill someone. The event is targeted at getting the PCs out of Wheloon, which is odd because Wheloon was only a stop along the way for them in the first place. I guess the module designer is under the assumption once again that the players are evil no-fun-nicks who want to ruin the DM’s clever story in any way possible, and that the DM will occasionally need to force them to follow the plot. Here’s a quick hint for the designer: if the players have to be forced to follow a plot, then it’s probably because you are ignoring the “game” part of “role-playing game.”

Event 4: Starwater Bridge
After leaving Wheloon, the PCs hope to head to Suzail, another Cormyr city, in hopes of hiring a new ship that will take them to the Sword Coast and Waterdeep. And now, eight pages into the module, we finally get our first glimpse of flavor text:

The River Starwater glimmers before you, sparkling in the morning sun. It lies in an old, broad valley, mirroring the blue sky overhead, and your road crosses over it by means of a broad stone span: Starwater Bridge.

There are men on the bridge with spears in their hands. As you draw nearer, you see that they are hard-faced fighting men, clad in a variety of armor. Some even wear black field plate. All wear scarves or surcoats bearing badges of a red circle on a black field.

They’re Zhentilar! Here in the heart of Cormyr!

Kudos to the writer for slipping in the term “fighting man,” the original D&D name for the fighter class, in there.

As a quick review, the Zhentilar are basically the Nazis of the Forgotten Realms. No, they don’t go around preaching National Socialism and trying to kill off the impure races. Instead, they’re worshippers of the (now dead) evil god Bane and the guys who can be killed completely guilt-free because they’re evil through and through. The appearance of the Zhentilar in the heart of the kingdom of Cormyr is unusual, but there are too many of them around for the PCs to just fight and figure out what’s what off of their corpses. As it turns out, these Zhentilar are hired by Cyric to keep the party from wandering too far off the trail he has planned for them. Midnight realizes this fact, but still refuses to believe that Cyric is evil. Yes, she still has faith in the guy who openly spoke about using the Tablets of Fate for his own selfish ends rather than to save the world, who allied with the evil god of strife, and who tried to kill her friend Kelemvor. For a lady with a 16 Intelligence, Midnight is frikkin’ dense.

So what can the PCs do? Nothing at all, really. They have to flee the Zhentilar because the force is overwhelming. If they fight, they likely get slaughtered, and if they don’t Cyric rushes off and puts together another overwhelming force. Apparently, evil minions are just running rampant in the countryside these days.

Event 5: Ashes at Black Oaks
“The rest of this chapter presumes that the adventurers are warily heading north again. Midnight and other NPCs argue about the Zhentilar: whether they are actually Cyric’s men, and whether he is helping or hindering them. The PCs can take part or try to guide this argument as they wish, but Midnight refuses to believe Cyric is really an enemy.”

Seriously, talk about a paper-thin argument for Midnight. She’s blindly loyal to Cyric for no reason whatsoever. If I’m a PC, I call this a liability. I wonder how quickly the average DM would kill me in this adventure for stealing the Tablet of Fate, running off into the night, and doing the quest myself without Midnight’s incompetence or the other NPCs’ bossiness…

While I’m yammering on a tangent, the PCs see smoke on the horizon:

The trail winds down and then up through thick stands of sumac, until it reaches a stand of black oaks. From the center of the stand, in a small glade, wisps of smoke are drifting. The smells of burnt wood and flesh are strong in the air.

Midnight points at a ring of stones. “A well,” she says quietly.

This is the halfling town of Black Oaks, which Cyric slaughtered. None of the surviving halflings mention him by name, which is unfortunate because then Midnight’s stupid argument that Cyric isn’t really evil would end right here and now. But what the halflings do manage to do is steal from the group. No matter what else happens, the halflings manage to steal and then destroy Midnight’s spellbook – a horrendous fate for a magic-user, but one that will only become a plot point as the PCs continue to bear witness to Midnight stealing the show.

The PCs also meet the halfling Cyric stole the cursed sword from, Sneakabout. Sneakabout joins the party as a guide, adding another shiny new plot-protected NPC to the group.

Or does he?

“The PCs can accept or reject Sneakabout as a guide. Establish him as a sympathetic character with goals much like those of the PCs. The adventure proceeds more smoothly if Sneakabout is along, but his presence is not vital.”

There we go! The module is finally recognizing that NPCs should not be forced upon the PCs at all time. Of course, that doesn’t fix the other mistake that the writer makes, namely that the only real description of Sneakabout’s personality that we get is, “he’s likable.” But it’s still progress.

With or without Sneakabout, the party continues on their trek. The halfling takes them into the King’s Forest in hopes of avoiding the Zhentilar.

Event 6: Walking Trees and Wildwood
“The party travels on through old, deep woods of shady gloom and ancient, towering trees. Consult the King’s Forest Encounter Table, checking for encounters once every 1d10 turns (or 1d6 turns whenever the party makes a lot of noise). Brigands encountered have meager treasure; prepare such booty before play begins.

“Whenever an encounter is called for, roll 1d6. If the result is a 6, do not check the table; instead, the encounter is an attempted ambush by one of Cyric’s Zhentilar patrols.”

“If the PCs question captive Zhentilar, the prisoners say they sailed from Scardale to Tantras and then to Cormyr – with Cyric, who promised them much loot. So far Cyric hasn.t led them to this loot; some discontented Zhentilar sacked Sneakabout’s village, though Cyric gave no order to do this.

“(Midnight uses this statement as proof that Cyric is not truly evil. In fact, Cyric didn’t care that the village was destroyed; he simply saw no purpose in doing so.)”

Damn it, Midnight! The guy has hired out the most iconic villains of the Forgotten Realms, has used said villains to try to KILL YOUR COMPANIONS, and you’re still clinging to the “he’s not really evil” card based on the fact that he didn’t specifically give the order to slaughter a town of halflings?

Without her spellbook, Midnight is in theory useless as an adventurer now. Personally, unless I was playing a paladin or other really goody-good character, I’d be contemplating bringing her into the woods, knifing her, and running off with the Tablet of Fate myself. What’s the worst that can happen? She’ll probably recover and tell Kelemvor and Adon that I wasn’t really evil because I didn’t choose to nostril rape her after she passed out from blood loss.

“The prisoners say Cyric has ordered the Zhentilar to drive the PCs north to Eveningstar, arranging ambushes and tipping off the Purple Dragons if the PCs go south. ‘Suzail is already closed to you…and Marsember, too.”

The adventure then enters into three short encounters in the forest, including a nifty one where we are reminded that the Time of Troubles should really be called the Time of Batshit Craziness, in which a portion of the trees of the forest uproot themselves and walk off.

“A resourceful party could ‘ride’ the trees, or tag along in their wake to avoid enemy encounters. This can be challenging, for the trees move quickly, without stopping. But if the PCs have too easy a time of their journey, physical chaos eventually subsides, and the trees collapse into so many logs.”

Translation: “Here’s a cool idea that the players will probably enjoy as a gaming tale after here. But instead of rewarding them for clever thinking, pull the carpet out from under them because the plot must be preserved at all costs.”

Event 7: The Glowing Glade
As the party rests, we get some more flavor text. This time it’s fairly substantial:

An orange glow steals silently into existence above the fire. As you notice it curling gently in midair, it splits into nine little spheres of radiance. These darken and start to spin, turning blue and then silver. They drift outward in a widening ring.

The ring silently expands until it encloses the entire glade. The spheres change shape in the air. Each forms the image of a mouth – a human mouth, surrounded by a moustache and beard! No faces appear; all of these bearded mouths hang disembodied in the air in a huge ring around the glade.

One mouth moves. You hear a familiar dry, fussy, accented voice. “Well met, friends! We are still friends, are we not? We both, I trust, wish the Realms to survive.” It is the voice of Elminster the Sage.

Fuck.

Okay, so maybe this is Ed Greenwood writing. The one bit of flavor text with some actual flavor in it so far is a long drawn out explanation of how cool Elminster is. At least I think it’s supposed to be cool – I personally think the nine floating mouths thing is lame. And it boils down once more to the heart of all that is wrong with Elminster in these modules (and most of his other appearances in the Forgotten Realms, to boot).

Elminster is the Obi-Wan, the Gandalf, the Merlin of the setting. Those guys exuded power and authority, but not because they were constantly showing off how powerful they were. Obi-Wan did a couple minor Jedi tricks before fighting Darth Vader. Gandalf’s big thing before he faced the Balrog was a few fireworks. Merlin existed more as an advisor to King Arthur than a guy who regularly threw spells around. What made these guys badasses was not their high level magic – it was the way they carried themselves outside of those instances. Elminster should be an old, eccentric, maybe slightly perverted guy. He shouldn’t be constantly showing off his power, especially not during a time when magic itself is going bonkers. Instead, he should be there to provide sage advice for the PCs and act as an occasional ally. Only when the chips are really down should be break out the epic-level magic. That approach would do two things. First, it would allow the DM to establish Elminster’s personality, tweaking him as needed to be someone the group actually likes. Second, it would make the moment that Elminster breaks out the high-powered magic stunning. Imagine this old librarian who hits on young ladies all the time and is slightly creepy but still a little bit funny and definitely harmless. Then a balor comes up from Hell and threatens all of Shadowdale. Suddenly that old lecherous librarian steps up and single-handedly defeats the balor with a dazzling array of magic. That is a “Whoa” moment. Instead, Elminster’s powers are constantly on display and he can’t wipe his own arse without using a 5th-level spell to do so. That moves the players’ reactions from one of kinda liking the funny old man to being annoyed at the constant showoff and wondering why in all these Realms-shaking events low- to mid-level heroes are needed at all.

Ed Greenwood has occasionally stated that Elminster has deviated from his original role because TSR and Wizards of the Coast have changed him as a character. And that’s bullshit. I’ve read some of Greenwood’s writing before he sold the Realms to TSR, and Elminster is just as big a Mary Sue as ever – the only difference is that Mirt the Moneylender is also a huge Mary Sue. And Greenwood’s own words have betrayed him. In interviews, he’s described what he intended as a typical Elminster encounter as being the old mage popping up at a moment of certain death for the party and telling them that they missed a secret door that could have avoided the fatal encounter, then teleporting away. If anything, that’s even more annoying than the way he’s used in these adventures – Elminster is basically the Voice of God mocking the players and chiding them for “losing the game” – something that isn’t supposed to be possible in RPGs.

My point in this whole rant? I like Elminster as a character concept – the old crazy dude who happens to be able to nuke planets. I hate his execution, and Ed Greenwood is almost entirely responsible for that, having written most of the material he appears in (even if these modules were not wholly done by Greenwood, the guy is responsible for the five Elminster novels in print, all of which do this shit all the time). And by extension I hate this scene, because it does nothing for the adventure. What is the point of Elminster’s appearance? To summarize the plot. Yep, that’s it. Elminster is there to give a recap of why the PCs are on this mission, as though they could ever forget after being dragged along by the nose for two modules already. Then he disappears.

And once again we’re treated to the Elminster Dilemma – why doesn’t he do the mission for the PCs? Well, the answer here is that Midnight is important, as she has been chosen by Mystra to save the day. But Elminster last appeared in Tantras and has now teleported half a continent away while the PCs have been facing certain death. A teleport without error spell allows others to travel with the caster. Why didn’t Elminster just teleport the PCs along with him, thus avoiding the peril and possibly ending the Time of Troubles before Myrkul, Bhaal, and Cyric wound up slaughtering dozens more innocent people? The answer is that doing so would have short-circuited the adventure, and that’s a lame answer. If the adventure will get short-circuited by teleportation, maybe the writer shouldn’t have introduced a character who routinely teleports all over the place and won’t give the PCs a moment of peace. Huh? HUH?!

Elminster: what an asshole.

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