Brief Summary -
I liked it, the group liked it, the prep was long but didn't reach insane levels (I'm looking at you SPEC 3-2), probably needs to get shaved with a scalpel to bring the playtime down.
All in all as a DM, I enjoyed this mod. I ran a table through AL4. We got a little bit of a late start because marshalling three tables and 18 PC's for a module with level ranges of 1-10 is always going to delay the start time on something like this. Even using Warhorn for pre-signups, it's not that easy. I warned my players right away to settle in for about 6 hours. The group actually enjoyed role play, so there weren't too many complaints.
One thing I did that seemed to help was make some extra handouts for the PC's, with a picture, an NPC's name, a very brief description of their obvious goals and plenty of note space. They were about the size of the average story award, and I handed them out when they met an NPC. I asked my players at the end of it and it was well received, helping them keep track of who is who in the investigation. This was about 25 minutes of prep, tops, for me, and cost me about 3 sheets of paper, so it was well worth the effort in my opinion.
The investigation section was fun, and there was a lot of speculation as to where this was going. I do think there was too much going on. Spoiler:
What the deal with Lil was? I understand who she is and why she is bat-poop crazy, but I don't really understand her place in the module or who the old man who hired Merlana is. All will be revealed in future modules I figure.
Also, the subplot about Jared's girlfriend was really unnecessary. This is something that can be edited out, in my opinion, even if you aren't using the fast play options.
The group failed the skill challenge horribly. This may be more common with That'll Do being out of the mix. I imagine that in the evolution of PC's, we're going to see resources start to be dedicated to Skill Challenges more often...the stock price of things like Legend Lore, Try the Stick, or items with skill bonuses on them is going up.Spoiler:
Our group tried Can't We Talk About This? All of the successes are Hard DC's. That seems a little punitive for going down that path. There are some options for +2's, which is good, but not a lot.
On to the fights:Encounter 4Spoiler:
This was a moderately interesting fight. Given the size of the map, I DME'd to allow Meyona's aura to essentially be "the map". It's an interesting mechanic that doesn't horribly bone the players, and everyone thought it was fun.
I don't object to something as powerful as the Orb of Light being given out per se, and this is the post-artifact version. However, I don't like it being given out "here". This fight is too easy and not a major impact on the story. I'd like to have seen it given out after the last encounter.
The maps in general in this module have a lot going on. I like this, but I like it more in a module with three or four maps. Seven maps is too much for the DM to try to memorize before the fight.
I was glad to see that there were some clues as to which tunnel led to what. Players didn't like the short rest mechanic, but the problem is that there was no reason provided, that I saw, that players couldn't back out and short rest outside, then come back and fight the second encounter. They pointed this out as they were preparing to go inside, so when they finally did, I had the snake mouth close behind them. This was an off the cuff idea to keep the encounters working as designed, but I'm not sure if it's what was intended.Encounter 6Spoiler:
The wyrmling and swarms were a fun and easy fight. The swarms auto damage is probably the killer in this fight. DM's, don't put both swarms next to the same PC. At AL4, this would have resulted in starting your turn with 20 damage. I don't think that's intended by the mod (could be wrong) but with no short rests, I felt that would be too much. The traps in this room never went off - monsters won initiative, did most of the fighting in the corridor, and the dragon parlayed as soon as it was bloodied. Had to shave some time somewhere.
In the second fight, Aura of Madness is a wonky mechanic, given the amount of minions with this. I ruled it as follows - at the start of the PC's turn, we checked to see how many auras the PC was in. That created a "Slide X squares" effect. Sliding it into the aura of other minions didn't trigger their aura at this point. I'm not sure that this was working as intended, but it was interesting and created a few challenges without being so frustrating that players went into "This is BS" mode.
There isn't enough forced movement on the part of the monsters for the portals to be interesting. This may be intentional, as too much "daze" isn't fun, especially at AL4. It's nevertheless a tough fight, but not too tough. I'm curious to know how many groups take the quasit alive. He's an annoying little bugger, and the instinct is going to be to splatter him.