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The Desire – The City’s First Mistress
Posted By Scott Martin On December 14, 2009 @ 1:35 am In Reviews | 7 Comments
The Desire is a full color 57 page PDF for Fourth Edition D&D by Nevermet Press (www.nevermetpress.com). (Also included was a grayscale PDF, oriented in Portrait, intended for easy printing. That’s a nice feature, though one I didn’t take advantage of.) Please note that the PDFs were freely provided by the publisher for review purposes.
The PDF begins with a blurb about Nevermet Press followed by A Message to the DM describing the background of the project. We are told not to expect one coherent adventure, but rather to see several responses and reactions to The Desire– resources the GM can pick and choose when building his own adventure.
This is followed by a table of contents, listing the elements and breaking the various contributions into larger categories. The Desire and Highcourt, City on the Edge are each discrete sections to start you off. Three encounters follow including two 5 page and one 9 page encounter. Organizations, containing four organizations and a paragon path follows.
The following section, Objects of Desire, is a collection of eight magic items ready to add to your 4e game. Some, particularly weapons and armor, are offered at every five levels, while the masks and hoods follow the pattern in the players handbook of occurring in only one or two versions apiece.
Following this is some short fiction with a related monster writeup for two characters of the characters from the story. The following, final page has an list of NPCs by level and role with page references. The right column ends with a final word from Jonathan Jacobs & Michael Brewer, with a request for feedback, extensive contact information, and a teaser for the next book in the series.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements listed above.
The Desire is an interesting character, with a real emphasis in the text on giving her a coherent story and strong motivations. Her background and motivations are well written– it is easy to see how her writeup inspired the other contributors.
Her background is a relatively straightforward rape and revenge story, but she has since grown from a femme fatale to management. The topics of lust and her complex motivations allow the GM to introduce shades of gray into his game world.
Her stat block is clear and her powers are coherent. She has a lot of powers and conditional modifiers to keep track of, but the tactics writeup helps. (It also encourages a non-standard pattern– instead of leading with her big attack, she saves it to cover her retreat.) Unfortunately, the tactics writeup follows the adventure hooks, pushing it off of the page with the stat block, forcing you to flip back and forth. [The same flaw occurs in the print ready PDF.] Her writeup is followed by Lore results. The maximum result (DC 25) gives away quite a bit– including internal motivations. I’d probably make the detailed elements the result of investigative skill challenges rather than a single roll; I would replace the result of the DC 25 check with enemies she has made in the past and/or details of her combat powers.
Her writeup has four adventure hooks, but two of them match encounters later in the book. The other two are very straightforward– enough to get you started, but not ready to run very far without more work. Her chapter ends with writeups of three characters commonly found at The Desire’s side. Each has a stat block, tactics, and lore. The chapter ends with a pair of encounter groups (for levels 8 and 12).
Highcourt’s section begins with a little history, explaining the rapid decline the city suffered after the earthquake and the consequences of those changes. The regional map is attractive and professional looking. Each ward of the city is described in about a paragraph apiece, except for the Market Ward which has four paragraphs that concentrate more on The Desire’s influence and interactions than the buildings and feel of the ward.
A short section, Using Highcourt, explains that Highcourt can be easily dropped into many game worlds, and points out that the extensive city ruins and nearby wilderness offer more traditional exploration and combat opportunities. Four adventure hooks follow. The chapter ends with a full NPC style writeup of the Mayor, including a brief paragraph of tactics and a full lore section. (His writeup fills two columns of the same page– very easy to use without page flipping.)
This chapter consists of three separate encounters/events. The first, Le Danse Périleux, is an EL7 assassination attempt during a masked ball. The encounter group for the combat at the end of the scenario leads the entry, followed by a picture of the ballroom alongside a quick background description. The background is sketchy– sufficient for cutting to the scene and narrating that they are here on a task, but not complete enough to play out a separate hiring scene without additional work.
The encounter begins with a skill challenge, including a listing of several skill options with their associated DCs clearly defined. Success and failure contribute interestingly to the followup scene– failure consequences are well defined and influence the layout of the fight. Interestingly, two elements that I would normally associate with a mere situational advantage (elevation) are instead called out as granting combat advantage. As the GM, I’d want to consider this in advance– it seems like an oversight that breaks expectations. If the GM explicitly called out standing above the target as granting combat advantage at the beginning of the fight, I think retaining those bonuses could add exciting elements to the fight. The chandeliers also contribute to making the battle dynamic and unique.
The second encounter, The Warehouse, also begins with a skill challenge. (The Warehouse is EL 10.) This one is easy and direct– sneak into the building. A minor flaw is that as an easy challenge only three successes are required– meaning that some party members may not have a chance to contribute before the challenge is over. The explanation for the meeting makes sense, but the timing of the double cross doesn’t– it has the primary effect of spoiling the goals of the double crosser. The crane is an interesting element, but it assumes that your setting is comfortable with steam engines (so more Ebberon than Forgotten Realms) and mechanical cranes. I enjoy the way that the crane spices up the fight, but a few sentences describing how it works would be useful– if only to guide the GM in describing its effects.
The third encounter, The Damsel in Distress, also begins with a skill challenge– a gambling scene. Its tie to the other scenes is weaker– whether the PCs win or lose, the same request is made. One of the skill check outcomes makes the rest of adventure more difficult to progress to– it will call for some on the fly roleplaying by the GM to get around it. The second scene undermines the presentation of The Desire as a smart mastermind– she gets directly involved, tipping her hand. I understand the motivation– if you’ve got this great villainess, how could you avoid using her?
The print version of the PDF mistakenly moves the conclusion before features of the area, making the maps slightly more difficult to use. The conclusion does a good job of branching off from here and honestly considering what happens if the PCs are defeated. The provided ideas for follow up are good, but would be difficult to implement in the middle of the session– they are more like guidelines for creating a sequel.
Each organization is addressed separately, without a general introduction discussing the role organizations fill in this book– it just leaps right in to the first organization.
The first organization is the Sisters of Sanctity, which begins with an overview, spends a paragraph on their Motivations and Goals, another on Organization, a half a page on Membership, and finishes with three adventure hooks. The Virsieque statblock and a couple of sentences of Virsieque tactics and a lore section are next. The Sword Sisters follow with a monster style writeup of a typical member, including tactics and lore. Two encounter groups are provided, incorporating the Sword Sisters, human guards, and Virsieque, and it’s all rounded out with a paragon path for becoming a Sword Sister. (Interestingly, the paragon path is called out separately in the table of contents, despite being a part of the Sister’s organization. This unusual choice makes sense; lacking an index, this provides quick reference to information of interest to players.)
In the color version of the PDF, the next organization (The Order of Artemis), begins in the right column of a three column layout. This seems like a strange choice for the screen version in particular– rolling one entry into the next instead of beginning each organization on its own page. This is repeated throughout; each organization starts where the last one left off– though at least always at the top of a column! Both the Sisters of Sanctity and the Order of Artemis are opposed to The Desire and represent potential allies.
The Brotherhood of Infinite Nights is the third organization. Unlike the first two, the Brotherhood is only a potential ally against The Desire because the two have the same goals and methods– they get in each other’s way. This can lend a very shades of gray feel to your campaign– no matter who the PCs ally with, they’ll feel slimy.
The Web of Desire is The Desire’s organization, slightly expanded. It’s an interesting twist, reflecting deeper political penetration than her original brothel centered writeup. Three followers (an informant, a lieutenant, and a typical enforcer) and a matching pair of encounter groups provides new ways to tangle indirectly with The Desire.
This short fiction consists of a couple of PC stand ins discussing The Desire and Highcourt. It’s relatively brief. If you wanted to round out a group of PCs, you could borrow the NPC writeups of Ardo and Yorrick. Otherwise, I don’t know how I’d use them or the fiction. I suppose they could tell a similar story to the PCs (instead of Yorrick telling it Ardo) to get them involved in opposing The Desire’s plots in the first place.
The book has a number of minor blemishes (a few typos and awkward phrasings in most sections), but the intent usually remains clear. The layout for each version is generally nice, and providing two versions of the PDF (one for the screen, one for print) was a boon.
The encounter maps are drawn at a small scale, with a note that larger maps can be found on the Nevermet website. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find those maps. For at least the screen version of the PDF, it would be nice if either the small scale picture or the text saying “see the website” was a link to the enlarged maps.
The section break points, particularly for the screen version, are a little strange. I wouldn’t mind a little extra white space if it meant that NPC writeups were contained on one page, and that each organization began on a new page. (In the print PDF, the choice to begin organizations right after the trailing map features of the third encounter seemed strange.) The print PDF does a nice job of presenting the Sword Sister paragon path on one page, perfect for printing and presenting to your players.
I’m a little surprised that the Sword Sister powers are called spells, given their martial power source and description as weapon attacks. Rapid Revenge, the level 11 attack, seems awfully nice, since it functions as an interrupt– an extra out of sequence attack– and at 3[W] and granting combat advantage, it’s better than many exploits from other paragon paths.
This is an excellent product that fills a strange niche. If you’re looking for a new city to add to your campaign world, want a few encounters, or just want to loot several NPCs, you’ll find much to like. While the city can be added to your map anytime, running adventures centered around Highcourt and The Desire is easiest in the late heroic tier– the encounter groups range from levels 7 to 12, while the NPCs are concentrated between levels 5 and 9.
This product is a toolbox– if you only use the encounter groups and NPCs like a delve, this product won’t prove to be a good value. If you’re looking for more– a setting for a few levels, a line on bringing politics into your game, several organizations at odds with each other, and a few set piece battles, this may be the product for you. It takes more effort than a ready to use adventure like Keep on the Shadowfell, but if you tailor your scenarios anyway… this saves you from undoing a lot of work that you’d just customize away.
This product is being sold at the following online retailers:
For variations on The Desire using other rule systems, see the following sites:
Vamping up The Desire – The Desire in Vampire, The Masquerade by Tenletter
A Deadlands’ Reloaded conversion of The Desire at the Core Mechanic
The Desire for Pathfinder at Sea of Stars
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