The amount of documentation for this scenario is a little off-putting—it seems that you need to learn a whole new system of spells just to get through it, and the descriptions of the bosses are pretty intimidating. My advice to players is: 1. Print out the spell descriptions, and ignore the FAQs until you get stuck. Well, the latter is always a good idea, but some of us have a pathological compulsion to read everything we come across. 2. Save often.
The spells are essential to beating some of the bosses, who are otherwise nearly invulnerable. There is no in-game explanation either for their existence or of their functions. We have to repeatedly consult an outside resource, which detracts from the experience. So does the clunkiness of using up so many inventory slots. They are
inventive, if sort of arbitrary in their effects. Example: 66 unblockable damage twice? OK...but why? Bottom line: they add interest, but special spells have been done better.
There’s plenty of visual interest, with custom graphics and special effects galore. Interesting use of elevation, but it doesn’t always work—there are places where heights, narrow pathways and unseen obstacles combine to make ambulation an exercise in frustration.
Well, there is one, and it’s even comprehensible:
Unfortunately, this doesn’t explain very much of what takes place in the scenario. The “because I said so,” defense might actually hold water, given the premise and the fact that the designer has written himself into the scenario as the all-powerful mastermind, Emery J. Bishop. Basically, as the designer, he can do whatever he wants, including sending you off to do pointless quests like demoralizing the bugbears by stealing their idols (you would think that being slaughtered down to the last bugbear would be demoralizing enough). If you don’t like it, too bad. I’d say it holds until after the tower quest, when things take a decided turn for the bizarre with the introduction of Speigelbrecher and his opposite number in Sud Canopy.
It goes downhill from there. The final act is mostly one long cutscene, except for one brutal fight, and the ending feels like a cheat after everything you’ve been through.
It’s really too bad that we’re not given the option of joining the rebels. Although I suppose nothing stops you from attacking Leader or even Bishop. Nothing except certain death, of course.
There are also a couple of side quests—well, not really quests, but things you can do—which add interest to the scenario.
There are quite a few misspellings and malapropisms, which in my view detract from the quality of the scenario. The dialogue is full of pompous pontification and bizarre non-sequiturs, though noticeably less than in some other TM scenarios. The attempts at irony are at times heavy-handed. If you have to say “This is irony,” you’re not doing it right.
My party of four gained 15 levels over the course of this scenario. They also gained items which should make them virtually unstoppable in any level-appropriate scenario not made by TM. Actually, there are very few scenarios appropriate for a level 51 party, anyway. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for the excessive XP rewards, since the strategies that you have to use to beat this scenario rely heavily on the special spells, which work regardless of the caster’s level.
Sloggy in Act I except for the Dark Idol, more interesting and progressively more difficult as you go. While it’s refreshing to have a challenge that doesn’t just involve big bad bags of HP, the fact that many of these fights are literally impossible to beat without the special spells means that the strategies you use are not applicable in any other scenario. And while there’s one powerful spell that can be used by a pure fighter, you are forced to rely heavily on spell-casters, with their spell energy limitations. Plan on burning a lot of potions.
Overall, I’m ambivalent. While there’s nothing wrong with the basic concept of the plot, I think it could have been done much better, with more internal consistency. Then there’s the writing, which is teeth-grindingly awful in places.
On the other hand, it’s obvious that a huge amount of work went into this. It shows in the cutscenes, in the town design, in the custom items, spells, and graphics and in the way the combat is so carefully designed to force you to use all of your resources. And you are, at least, given the resources you need, with the possible exception of enough energy elixirs. Plus there’s even a bit of a puzzle or two, although the solutions are rather too convenient.
You should play this scenario if you: enjoy very challenging combat; want your party to gain tons of XP and powerful gear; are a designer, because there really are lots of nice graphics and technical bells and whistles.
You should not play this scenario if you have a low tolerance for: repeated reloads; bad writing; absurdity; force-fed philosophy; vulgarity (including—but not limited to—a hilariously unsubtle description of Bishop’s “sword”). Or if you really don’t want your party to be overpowered for the next scenario.
Edit: On reflection, and considering some of the other ratings I've given since, I realize that an average rating is just wrong. Even though there are aspects of this scenario that I actively hate, I still have to rate it: