Saturday, December 26, 2015

Retro Review CM2 Death's Ride by Garry Spiegle For Companion Dungeons & Dragons And Your Old School Campaigns


A King's Commission leads to danger! All communication with the barony of Twolakes Vale has ceased. King Ericall, worried about the security of his border and angered at the loss of tax revenues, has commissioned you, a delegation of powerful characters, to investigate. This is not a petty problem to be solved by the armies of local nobility. Indeed, the king's forces are desperately needed elsewhere. Twolakes Vale is, after all, only a small barony on the far frontier of Ericall's domain. And yet... The cloud is there, its nature and cause unknown. None have returned from the barony for weeks. Furthermore, the cloud is spreading, and vague reports of unrest and mysterious disappearances are starting to trickle in from nearby baronies. Can you discover the secret of Twolakes Vale?
All too often you have high level adventures where the adventurers have an agenda only for themselves not so in Death Takes a Ride. Here you've got an entire Barony on your party's shoulders.

Death Takes A Ride is pretty much a high level adventure  linked in my mind with Christmas & my friend Doug Kozlov. When I was a young kid growing up in Torrington,Ct. wasn't exactly the Leave It To Beaver or Happy Days. The Eighties in Torrington Connecticut quite frankly sucked and sucked hard, the Torrington Company was laying off workers and my dad was one of 'em. The Torrington Company in its heyday employed several thousand and quite frankly that heyday was gone as the jobs disappeared down South. I was in St.Peter's school and used to walk to school dodging neighborhood bullies and hanging out with my friends. I used to live right around from the corner from the Beth El Temple in Torrington Ct. and Doug was an overtly smart kid who was one of my D&D players and best friends. He also bought me CM2 for a Christmas present because he wanted me to run the adventure for him and our friend Billie who lived down the street from us. Billie was really nice kid and smart as a whip when it came to the D&D rules; CM1 is a high level Expert game adventure whose foundations are the PC's roles in proving their fealty to the Barony. The PC's have the roles of avengers, heroes, and rulers all at once; this is no mere dungeon crawl.

My group of players at the time always associated this piece of artwork with CM2
"A strange black cloud hangs over the Norworld barony of Two Lake Vale, which is cut off from the rest of the world. As the player characters move to investigate, they encounter armies of the living dead and other vile creatures besieging the last pockets of human resistance." This from Wiki  is putting things mildly from the other side of the screen. My first piece of advice is to make sure the players have a cleric in the party of descent level as this adventure showcases several new undead from the companion set. "The only relief is to find and destroy the dreadful Deathstone, which is responsible for the black cloud, thereby facing the united forces of an evil sorcerer, a powerful priest, and a mighty dragon." this blurb makes the adventure break down sound so simple. Once again this is a companion D&D adventure that highlights the use of the Warmachine system. The Barony of Twolakes Vale to Norwold gets fully fleshed out with a ton of NPC's, background setting information, lots of flavor and more material to expand the region into your own Companion level D&D adventures. For using this adventure with Astonishing Swordmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea a lot of scaling for the PC's levels are going to have to be done. The monsters and setting materials might have to be shoe horned in Hyperborea or your own old school campaigns.

There is a ton of potential here for the PC's to really make this adventure their own and being a high end wilderness adventures brings some interesting and well rounded encounters into play. The monsters & NPC forces here are strongly connected with the the Sphere of Death an extra dimensional realm of horror and depravity. In the past I've woven it into the Negative Material Plane's back setting material. For a retro clone game such as Dark Albion or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, CM2 has some gloriously nasty set pieces that can be reconned into a Dark European setting. There's a bit of everything in CM2 from the weird wilderness encounters to the vile villains of the adventure.

 Much of what really makes 'Death Takes A Ride' is the fact that certain events are keyed into location settings and this makes the adventure some what rail roadie in some players minds. I've never been one to listen to reviewers. The fact is that there is a ton of mileage that can be had from these adventures. To call this a high level dungeon crawl might be a fair assessment but it misses the point of CM2. Here the PC's are all that stands between forces of evil and certain undeath.

Parts of Death Takes A Ride are combat intensive and highly dangerous putting PC's right into the middle of the action. The adventure is a tightly wound and solidly done adventure and this might be its problem. There is a precise way that this adventure comes off in a very well done manner. Death Takes a Ride also has a ton of information on its setting, in this regard CM2 is as much a source book as it is a module, done correctly and this might a pretty damn well done adventure. But is it playable? Certainly this is one of the mostly well written modules to come out of its era.

Is CM2 worth the download? Yes because it also showcases how to use domain level adventures in a fun, dynamic way and it can easily be scaled for your own retroclone adventures. The module also shows a DM step by step how to do very dynamic and well thought out high level adventures that not only highlight its resources but puts those adventure resources into a playable context.

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