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The Draining

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The Draining by Chris “Flamefiend” Pelling has gotten a lot of attention lately for winning the medium contest. I decided to review it to make a fair assessment of the scenario (and I still feel that the town placement bug ripped me off, but whatever).


As I first walked into this scenario, I was told in 2 full dialog boxes a story about the troubles of Mossy Vale. I expected to never hear from these problems again, because as we all well know more than 50% of the time a plague or problem is drawn out, it is rarely ever heard of again. I was half right, half wrong. You see, a few things happen. The largest one is the Draining, an event that is triggered by a scenario events timer that makes a gasping noise and drains some magic. I thought this was pretty neat at first, though this is the kind of thing that almost immediately fades into the background. Still, after a certain amount of time, it begins dumbfounding the party. Not bad, but not great. I didn’t stick around to see what happened after, though I bet it’s something like losing your actual mage and priest levels. However, the famine itself could be described by taking a fertile farming area and using the spray tool to douce rubble and swamp onto the place. Not very effective, and it never last an impression beyond the first dialogue. The threat of goblins and pixies attacking? Well, it was brought about by the ruin of a city, and perhaps a scattered hut, though the effort put out by Flamefiend to cover the little people attacking was only decent. Still, the plot served a point in the beginning and in the middle.


There were a few things that annoyed me, however. That is an extremely annoying not-bug. MISERABLE town design (mostly Vahnatai). I can accept a bit of illogic in town design, and for the most part it never got past a minor hindrance, but then in other points it jumped out at me and began knawing viciously at my kneecaps like a drunken kobold. I think Flamefiend completely overabused the Vahnatai Terrain sets, as well as scattering wall sets, and overall Pabulum struck me as being a very ugly city. Port Marin never got much better, and wherever there happened to be Vahnatai terrain, the author found some way to mess it up. It’s usually minor, but here it serves as a significant harm to the scenario, IMHO.


There were also a few detours one could go on. Well, now that that is said, basically the entire scenario is a detour except for a secret passage in the mountains to the east, which, well... Didn’t really make me any more satisfied with the scenario itself. Still, Flamefiend does a, umm... decent job of making the quests seem of any relevance. However, it more than detracts from the scenario on multiple playthroughs. As for tactical and logic puzzles? Well, there are puzzles on how to get by monsters that can kill you via secret passages, and how to get by nodes that kill you via secret passages. That’s IT. Flamefiend has a disturbing trend of basing this entire scenario around the philosophy that it’s difficult to walk through every space around you. It was bland to say the least, and all it did was take up town space. Still, it’s better than nothing, but not by much.


Also, the ending... Horrible. The bad guy is so bad because he’s bad and that’s bad. I walk up to the big bad guy in his big bad black tower and he dies, well, at least evil stops the end, and you get a reward and blah blah blah. At this point, my experience in The Draining went from knawing at my kneecaps to sucking out my blood, boiling it, and basting me with it. Still, I will proceed to say that nodes flowed smoothly, and knowing how many of those head-bashing puzzles Flamefiend tosses in, he scores back a few points by changing those annoying I-type doors to sealed doors, or something like that.


Still, while puzzles are downright poor, the node usage is okay, and the world is made rather mediocrely, but not poorly. This scenario is bug-free, and if you can find the black tower, is a decent ride. I recommend you play it, though there is certainly nothing in this scenario that is revolutionary, and many things were lacking, though it’s a fun rifde through for the most part and I recommend you play this scenario, though it certainly shouldn’t be the best of Flamefiend’s works. It shows some promise, and after playing Arachnid Attack, he definitely is improving...


Score: Good

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: in the world of Blades of Exile scenarios, valleys are the most dangerous places to live. They always seem to be on the verge of being taken over, besieged upon by all manners of horrible creatures, forgotten, misruled, poisoned, cursed, fought over, destroyed, burned, frozen, invaded, filled with spooky fog. and otherwise rather unhospitable places to live. If I were the average Empire family, I’d rather quickly find myself a home in a large city in the plains, no mountains anywhere near me, as nothing ever seems to happen there.


Now, valleys everywhere can add the title of this scenario, by Flamefiend, as another curse that has befelled them. Magical draining, that is, as the otherwise fertile plains of Mossy Vale (ie. valley, don’t let the alternate wording fool you), is being sucked dry of its food and magical energy. The mages are desperate, creatures roam the lands harassing the townfolk, what’s a valley to do?


Well, apparently, it’s to hope that the proverbial band of noble adventurers wander by, with nothing better to do than help out a poor Vale(ley). Which is, of course, exactly what happens. The Empire has applied its usual “Seal it up!” response to this latest problem, which conveniently provides the player a small valley to explore and in which to solve the problems.


Right off the bat, it should be said this scenario comes with an _excellent_ readme file, nicely done in HTML, with notes from the author, installation instructions, hints and a walkthrough. If there were awards for these sorts of things, The Draining would win easily.


Unfortunately, the rest of the scenario is not quite up to the standard set by the readme. Custom graphics are used, but not really anything special or new, besides a nice monster Catapult graphic. The scenario is certainly technically competent, with no obvious bugs, but nothing new or difficult is done with Special Nodes or Items, perhaps besides the Draining effect. Then again, there isn’t much done with this other than drain spell points from time to time, not often enough to be annoying. Worse things are said to happen if you stay longer, but my party finished the scenario with plenty of time to spare. The Draining effect does add to the atmosphere and some sense of urgency, but for the most part is nothing remarkable or new is done with it.


The story is somewhat of a mixed bag. You are given free reign of the valley, and if you wander into one of the main towns, one of the mages there gives you his theory of why the draining is occurring, and send you off on a quest to investigate. You end up slaughtering an entire dungeon-full of “crazy cultists”, only to find they are not the source of the draining, to which your mage friend basically responds with a ho-hum, go try something else type of response. The fact that you killed roomfuls of innocents is apparently not much of a concern to him, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.


Essentially, this story is of the “bad guy out to rule the world” type, and the fact that this comes as no big surprise when this is revealed is rather disappointing. True, your party can wander among the gremlins, pixies and goblins terrorizing the humans, and find they have all sworn allegiance to apparently different entities. There is a bit of suspicion with the other mages of the Vale, but when the bad guy is revealed as someone else, up until then completely unknown to everybody, there isn’t much impact. A good mystery, as this scenario at times strives to be, offers several plausible solutions, and then when the solution is finally revealed, previously known clues suddenly make new sense in light of the information. However, in The Draining, to follow this analogy, it’s not the butler that did it, but instead the next door neighbor that no one ever knew anything about, or ever mentioned. Oh, and by the way, he lives in a massive black tower in the mountains, right next to your backyard.


As said before, this is a competent scenario. Much of the dialogue is well done, and the atmosphere of a drained valley is well realized. There are enough extra things to do, outside of the main plot, that give the Vale the feeling of being a real place. A very Redemption-esque dream sequence and attack in a deserted farmhouse perhaps felt a bit derivitave (I expected Andrus to appear at any minute!), but it was still effective.


For me, though, the plot was the weakest part of this scenario. At one point, you are sent to the Glade of Wisdom (which could also be called the glade of “riddles for no good reason”) to find out the identity of the bad guy, which apparently no one had considered to inquire about before. There is also the ever-present, there for no apparent reason puzzle gauntlet in the bad guy’s lair. They must learn about building pointless riddles and puzzles in bad guy school, at least one gets this impression from many of the scenarios that are out there.


Things like plot and motivation have to make sense, and that is where this scenario suffers. But it is still not a bad scenario, and it certainly gives hope for what this author will produce in the future.


I give The Draining a rating of Average

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