Review: Reavers of Harkenwold

Last week, I finished running my family campaign (my wife, her brother, and his wife) through the adventure from the Dungeon Master’s Kit, Reavers of Harkenwold.

I should start with a big, public “thank you” to Jeff, the owner of my friendly local game store, Enchanted Grounds, for loaning me the adventure from the store copy of the DM Kit, gratis. I had no need for the DM Kit book (I already have the Dungeon Master Guides 1 and 2) nor the tokens (I use my MapTool / projector setup for gaming), so I just couldn’t justify spending the money on the entire DM Kit just for the adventure. Jeff loaned it to me on the spot. Great guy, great store!

The Reavers of Harkenwold adventure is, in a word, excellent. It is presented in two separate magazine-type books. The first begins with a thorough overview of the plot of the adventure in both a super-brief format (here are the three or four major points of the plot) as well as a longer format for book 1 that goes over the flow of that section. It continues with some possible adventure hooks, detailed descriptions of the locations the PCs might visit in the adventure (complete with names of shops in towns and so on), and then descriptions of the non-player characters that the party might meet (including their motivations and role-playing tips for the most important NPCs). It then moves into the various encounters that the PCs may meet. Book 2 starts with the plot overview for that book, and then the encounters.

SPOILERS AHEAD. If you plan to play this adventure as a PC and you want to be surprised, I suggest you stop reading now.

The plot is straightforward, in a good way: Free a region of innocents from an evil outside army that has taken over. The players need to gather allies, fight in a large military battle, then infiltrate a keep. Book 1 contains the background material and the allies-gathering, while book 2 has the big battle and the keep.

I ran the game using MapTool online for a party of three PCs. My players were a level above the recommended range for the adventure, so I mostly left the numbers alone (higher-level PCs, but fewer of them than recommended), and it worked out okay. The only encounter that was TOO brutal, in my opinion, was Encounter D4: Yisarn’s Lair from the end of the first book. I removed the traps and one of the monsters from that battle and it was STILL too hard (the players retreated and came back the next day with an elf ally).

There is plenty of information in Reavers of Harkenwold for a party that loves role-playing to really get into the world and its people and their problems. However, that is not the kind of group that I have. My PCs prefer to get into fights and kill bad guys, and this adventure worked just fine for them, too. The order that they ran into the encounters was:

  • E1: Ilyana’s Plight
  • A little role-playing with Reithann, leading to Tor’s Hold
  • T1-T2-T3: The bullywug caverns
  • A little role-playing at Tor’s Hold, then on to the D1 to meet the Woodsinger Elves
  • D2-D3-D4: Liberating the underground lair for the elves
  • D4 again: The party retreated the first time and got a Woodsinger Elf to help them the second time (I made up a simple companion character)
  • E4: Hunted! on the way to Albridge
  • A little role-playing, leading into B1: Battle Plans
  • B2-B3-B4: The Battle of Albridge (Nazin fled when his minions dropped, and just barely got away, even with his action point)
  • Some role-playing to visit Old Kellar in Harken to learn about the Keep, then back to Albridge to talk to Dar Gremath about plans, then back to Harken for the infiltration
  • K1: Infiltrating the Keep. The PCs decided to pretend that one of the PCs was the sister of a Harkenwolder who had joined the Iron Circle and died in the Battle of Albridge, and she had been sent to collect his personal effects from his barracks. I ran this as the “Iron  Circle Poseurs” version of the challenge, more or less, and they succeeded (barely).
  • The party was escorted to the barracks in room 6, where they killed their escorts, went into the empty banquet hall (room 5) and then into the kitchen (room 15) where the servants tried to help.
  • K5: The Great Tower entrance
  • K7: Lord’s Chambers
  • K6: Gaol (after Nazin had already been defeated; the PCs produced Nazin’s head and I had the Mage therefore flee

So, I never ran E2, E3, K2, K3 or K4, and that was absolutely fine. It was refreshing to me that the adventure had more encounters than were required – it made me feel okay about not using all of them.

My players had a good time with the adventure, although they’re rather easy to please – let them kick some butt, and they’re happy. I think a party that likes more plot and role-playing and opportunities for creativity could also get a lot out of this adventure. The back story and information about all of the people and places is really well presented, and I think DMs can find a lot to make use of.

19 thoughts on “Review: Reavers of Harkenwold

  1. What did you use to bring the characters from the 1st to 2nd level? I plan on using this same adventure and I’m trying to find a good intro to bring the new characters to the proper level.

    • I started by running these characters through some unconnected Living Forgotten Realms adventures, so they were already level 3 when the adventure started. I believe I used a Moonshae Isles adventure, followed by a home-brew that I wrote as a follow-up to that one, followed by adventures in Waterdeep, Cormyr and Aglarond.

      I believe the Essentials products are arranged so that you can start with the adventure from the Red Box Starter Set, which takes the party from level 1 to level 2, and then move them into Reavers of Harkenwold. I haven’t really looked at that adventure, though, so I can’t vouch for it one way or the other.

      • I thought about using Keep on the Shadowfell, but I’m affraid that by the end of it the PCs would be to strong for Reavers.

      • I wouldn’t recommend Keep on the Shadowfell as written – it’s a long slog and not that interesting an adventure, frankly. There’s a lot of discussion online about modification that people have made to the adventure to improve it, so if you do run it I’d suggest you look at those.

        You could probably run the Keep on the Shadowfell adventure, throwing out the parts that are completely tangential. The Keep itself, for instance, could have just a few goblins on the first level, maybe the zombies on the way down the stairs, the hobgoblins below and the trap room before you get into the Kalarel area (throwing out the rats, kruthiks, slime, gelatinous cube, etc.).

        Actually, if you’re just looking to get the PCs up to level 2 for Reavers, you could run the non-Keep parts of Keep on the Shadowfell (kobolds and the dig), which you could probably pad enough to get them to level 2 without much trouble.

      • Is Keep of the Shadowfell that bad? I bought it some months ago but just flipped through it. Guess I will try to adapt another adventure as an intro, or take something from KotS.

      • Keep on the Shadowfell isn’t terrible, but it’s basically a whole bunch of fights, one right after the other (especially once you get to the Keep itself). If that’s what you want for your players, more of a straightforward dungeon crawl, then it’s fine. But most of the battles do nothing for the plot of the story, so it takes a long time (in real-world time) for the story to go anywhere.

    • I used the kobold hold from Dm guide 1 and replaced dragon with iron circle dark adept who used kobolds as troops to attack fallcrest traders to add a hook for the “reavers” adventure

        • Thanks! By the way I’m running on a campaign based on the “reavers” I have a heroic part (saving the Nentir vale) a paragon part (destroy feloria aka iron circle land) but I need an epic part any sugestions?

          • Hmm. Well, I haven’t run any epic yet (getting close in my War of the Burning Sky campaign, though), but generally the epic stuff is going to be at the level of gods and planes. Perhaps your PCs discover that the iron circle land was controlled by an evil god who has similar plans on lots of planes, and the party has to plane-hop to find more clues, save more lands, and eventually take on the evil god itself.

  2. Hey, I’m trying to run this campaign as well. Would it be possible for you to like, release the MapTool maps for download, or at least email them to me? I got some players breathing down my neck here, man!

    Thanks a bunch if you help, man!

  3. I’m a (very) new DM and I anticipate having a challenge running this module. Specifically, the Giant Frogs are supposed to swallow characters (up to medium size) and the characters are then stunned and taking damage. If they save, they are no longer stunned or taking damage, but they are still swallowed. Presumably they will try to escape, but there’s nothing forcing them to (the frog doesn’t have any way to attack them further and therefore they are quite safe waiting for rescue). Any thoughts?

    • Yes, the Giant Frogs are a problem. I encountered them as a player last year and wrote about the experience in this blog post. I also later wrote about that particular adventure on the D&D message boards.

      I have some suggestions for improving the fun of the Giant Frogs. First, allow the swallowed character to make melee and close attacks against the Frog (you could argue that ranged and area attacks don’t have enough room to work). Second, allow other characters who hit the Giant Frog to choose to grant the swallowed creature a saving throw instead of dealing damage to the Giant Frog (imagine that they punch the Frog in the gut and cause him to lose his swallowed prey).

      True stunning is not fun, and I’m trying to avoid it as much as possible. In the case of the Giant Frog, where the other characters technically can’t even grant the swallowed PC a saving throw, it’s ridiculous, especially for a third-level monster. Modify it, though, and it can be okay.

      • Thanks for your suggestions. Here’s what I did (note that we were already in the encounter with two characters swallowed and stunned when I asked the question). Since I had already allowed stunning, I only had to deal with what to do once they saved. As it turned out, none of the other characters in the party ever attacked the giant frogs when the characters were swallowed (they were busy with the bullywugs). As a result, when the character made their save, I had the frogs vomit up the characters over the edge of the cliff (frog’s choice, could have been into the stream, but the cliff worked better for the frog). This choice suddenly drew attention to two facts. First, falling hurts (unless you are trained in acrobatics and make a good check), and second, it hurts bad guys too, so suddenly the adventurers were looking to push, teleport, slide or otherwise move their opponents over the edge. Bringing that part of the terrain into effect really limited the frog’s ability for a second swallow attack (in fact they never managed to swallow another adventurer).

        Final note, the players didn’t cry foul about the stunning, but then again, they’re 4th/5th level and I’ve scaled the module accordingly, so it didn’t seem overpowered.

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