Short Module Review: Off to a Weird Start/The Palace of Pain’s Pleasures (Beatriz T. Diaz and Travis Legge): 5 Stars
A galvanice weird has torn apart an Izzet laboratory in the Blistercoils. The weird’s path of destruction leads to Tin Street where the weird was spotted being subdued and taken aboard the notorious Palace of Pain’s Pleasures, a mobile Cult of Rakdos performance stage. To return the weird to its proper owner and discover the mystery behind its bizarre behavior the party must brave The Palace of Pain’s Pleasures!
Off to a Weird Start and it’s sequel Palace of Pain’s Pleasures are the first two in a series of modules perfect for introducing parties to the Ravnica setting. Even veterans of the setting can enjoy starting a campaign with these adventures. Expertly crafted by two prominent authors, this series offers quick, engaging play in a rich setting. While suffering from a few limitations, groups that typically enjoy combat-centric, “horror-leaning”, Ravnica play will likely hold this series in high regard.
Caveat. I was not at all familiar with the Ravnica setting before reading through these two modules. I did a quick reading of Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica in preparation for this review, but any apparent misunderstanding about Ravnica on my part arises from my lack of knowledge rather than any ambiguity in the writing or crafting of the modules.
Flexibility: For two short modules with relatively linear plots, “Weird Start” and “Pain’s Pleasures” show surprising foresight in their approach. Both modules start with a table outlining how each guild provides a different adventure hook. Throughout each adventure, the authors provide ample access to tables not only for loot, but for different ways to complete an objective, available NPC’s, or varying results for an ability check. These tables provide a huge amount of value and versatility to the adventures.
Encounters: While both modules tend towards combat encounters (which I prefer, for the record), there is a little variety in the form of puzzles and roleplaying of minor consequence. The real strength of the encounters, however, is not in the variety, but rather that the combat encounters very exciting. The various guilds present awesome opportunities for interesting creatures, and throughout these modules you’ll battle an aberrant elemental, fire breathing circus freaks, various mephits, and a variety of spell casters. There’s even a giant palace construct, though if you end up fighting that your party is likely dead. The range of NPCs and characters to fight add a depth of flavor and tactics that greatly enrich the series as a whole.
Plot: The modules follow a relatively tight plot that seems moderately interesting. It’s hard to tell where it’s going, but both involve a basic search, infiltrate, overcome pattern. Though simple, the plot is mostly interesting, especially when aided by the encounters and variety of NPCs. The authors have provided ways to skip parts of the series, though I would suggest playing them sequentially for the full effect.
Ambiance: While the ambiance of the two modules differs someone, they both portray Ravnica as a place of vying factions full of danger and exotic encounters. There seems to always be a sense of urgency, always the probability that something is going to go wrong. I personally enjoyed the milieu of the whole thing, and if my impressions are in line with the intent of the authors, then they accomplished the very difficult task of communicating the most subtle elements of the setting.
Limited Roleplay: While the authors have taken the time to introduce some roleplay elements, they vary in the their level of consequence. Especially in “Weird Start”, they include seeking out townsfolk for information, though with creative groups the options could be more abundant. One point of note, it is possible to complete all of “Pains Pleasure” with just roleplay (something that distinguishes it from the “Weird Start”, and shows an awareness on the part of the authors) if your group is prone to that tactic. There are advantages to both paths, but engaging in combat will make any roleplay harder. While Off to a Weird Start is combat focused, “Pains Pleasure” does a lot to remedy the lack of RP.
Setting Specific: This series in unabashedly “Ravnical”. It doesn’t even try to be setting agnostic. And while that’s obviously part of the appeal, I don’t think it could be separated from it’s setting. So obviously, if you’re in some way opposed or scared to try Ravnica, this probably isn’t for you. I, for one, will probably be going over Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica with a fine-tooth comb because this setting is bomb (did I date myself there?).
Length: These adventures are short–about two hours each. Don’t get me wrong, they are high quality and worth. every. penny. But, it leaves you wanting more and thinking of ways to prolong the action and the plot. If you play through all three currently available adventures (The Felicity Triskelion is now available) you’re sitting at 6 hours of play. This could definitely be a boon for tables who can only get together for 2 hours at a time, but I think I would feel the action to have progressed too quickly. There’s also the fact that you’re leveling after every 2-3 hours of play, which is rather rapidly.
**CN:** It is my opinion (and I know the authors agree) that the contents of The Palace of Pain’s Pleasures is rated about pg-13, and thus questionable for younger audiences. It is possible to go right from Off to a Weird Start to The Felicity Triskelion with just a bit of adjustment. Still, if you’re able to handle semi-horror content, the module comes highly recommended.
Despite its few limitations, these two modules are high quality and fun to play. If you’re willing to give the Ravnica setting a try (please do!) these come Highly Recommended with a rating of 5 Stars. The fact that both are metaled content suggests the limitations are probably superficial. If you appreciate these reviews, and want to support us, use the pictures below to click through: