DDAL06-01: A Thousand Tiny Deaths (Review)

Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League Season 6 (Tales from the Yawning Portal) mostly consists of the hardcover by that name plus three DDAL adventures. All of these serve as lead-ins to one of the dungeons in the book (Forge of Fury, White Plume Mountain, and Against the Giants). In effect, they provide expanded hooks. DDAL06-01 A Thousand Tiny Deaths is thus the only Tier 1 adventure for Season 6 outside of the book.  Warning: this review includes spoilers. If you’re going to play through the adventure, don’t read further.

What I liked

This dungeon provides lots of challenge. The opening encounter can get really rough if the kobolds fight with any tactical ability, and they should. In one of the instances I ran this (with three level 3s and one level 1), one character dropped to 0 HP in the first round. A second one followed on the next round. While the adventurers still won the encounter, at no point did they feel like the kobolds were pushover enemies or XP fodder.

4e_kobolds.jpgOnce they get into the second part and enter the actual dungeon, they get reminded even more emphatically that kobolds fighting on their own terms present a real threat. I like seeing traditional low-end monsters used effectively in ways that emphasize their strengths, and this adventure does that as well as any I’ve seen.

ATTD does a good job of leading into FoF. It introduces the players to some of the ideas of the dungeon and leading them into one of several entries into the main dungeon. Players who go through this module will be well-prepared mentally for what lies ahead: you can’t necessarily take your time through the dungeon, and you definitely cannot underestimate enemies that might seem easier in other contexts.

In general, the module is much more readable than I expected. I have previously complained about the editing – or lack thereof – in DDAL/EX adventures in earlier seasons. Happily, ATTD does not have this issue (or at least not nearly to the same extent). I noticed a few small typos here and there, but nothing egregious. One of the best improvements is removing the four pages of useless boilerplate found at the beginning of these modules in earlier seasons and condensing it down to one. Improvements to layout and design also contributed to making this one a pleasure to read. That said…

What I didn’t like

I still had a few problems with the organization of the material. Specifically, the information on the various traps felt out of place and difficult to reference during play. More than once I had to flip around just to find what I needed to deal with specific threats. Additionally, it seemed to me and several other DMs that the design of the secondary tunnels holding kobold commoners lacked clarity. How many commoners are there? How often do they shoot their blowguns? Where do they shoot from? The adventure explains all of this, but in muddy fashion such that we weren’t always quite sure about the intent.

Like many other DDAL/EX adventures, the timing estimates are way off. I have run this twice now, and both times took over four hours for a module that claims a two-hour run time. While some of that might be due to the venue (games on Roll20 plus Discord just take a little longer), I really don’t see how the party can clear this thing out in less than 3 hours. Even that would seem like a breakneck pace.

One last thing: please stop giving us maps scaled to 10-foot squares. This makes conversion difficult even when sketching on a play mat. It effectively requires anyone using the map directly (printed or on a VTT) to take significant extra time in preparing a map.

Tips and conclusion

DMs should consider using a third-party map. I used Zovya’s, and they look fantastic. Also spend some time deciding exactly how you want to handle the threat from the commoners in the walls. Maybe it will be clearer to you from the text than it was to several of us, but regardless you will want to have your plan well thought out in advance.

But taken together, I liked this adventure a lot. Unlike previous DDALXX-01 adventures of the “five 1-hour scenario” variety, this probably shouldn’t be used by a new AL DM, but that’s not a negative! It keeps the DM engaged with its own mechanics (e.g. the aforementioned blowguns plus the inventors’ lab) and makes the players work for their victory.

 

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