Posted by : David Guyll February 19, 2009

Whelp, last night we sat down to both play The Forgotten Portal and tryout a few of the preview classes from Player's Handbook 2. Red Jason can probably comment more about his experience as a bladeling invoker, so I'll try to adhere strictly to the adventure bits, starting with the bad.

There are several typos where silver is written as sliver, and some of the treasure seemed a bit much in the early parts of the adventure. I'm generally pretty flexible on the whole treasure parcel system, but by the time they walked out of the caves they'd amassed almost 1,400 gp and a pair of +2 items. In hindsight there were only four of them, but without any kind of parcel list its difficult to figure out just how much loot I should remove without going through the entire adventure and documenting every cent like some kind of achaeologist accountant.
To put things in perspective since I am such a rules whore, 1,400 gp is the equivalent of the item parcels 5, 6, 7, and almost 8 for a level 4 party (DMG, pg 126).

Back to the adventure, we managed to just get out of the cavern before stopping, which had us plow through three encounters involving a few solo bouts and an extremely dangerous level 10 elite. At level four.
Red Jason ran into a similar problem in Forges of the Mountain King where a level 1 party had to face off against a couple level 8 zombies, but its really a simple fix to downgrade them to more manageable challenges: I just sheared off a few points from each defense and reduced the hit points by a percentage. More importantly, I did this all on the fly once I noticed it.
To summarize, I would more carefully consider the placement and difficulty of elite and solo monsters. They are already harder to hit than a normal monster, and the ramped up hit points can turn things into a slog-fest as the players try to gradually whittle through ten tons of hit points.
One of the players took issue with the at-will charge that inflicts a save-ends stun condition. Most monsters of the heroic tier have it last for a turn, or after a failed save, but the ghoul can actually do a kind of setup on a stun with its bite. I think its certainly incredibly dangerous given the nature of the fight, and probably would have reduced it to stunned with a dazed aftereffect, myself.
Finally, I would have preferred that the map was displayed right before the actual encounters are setup (aka, delve-format), but I suppose that by sticking it on the back cover you wont have any difficulties locating it. Still, I like the delve format because it helps you figure out precisely where things are meant to go. To be clear, this is really more of a nit-picky issue.

On the flipside, there isnt a lot of setup to The Forgotten Portal within the actual book, but its very easy for a DM to drop this into an established campaign. I mean, if you have a jungle in there somewhere, you're good to go. I dont know all the workings of the world-as-written by Goodman Games, so we just picked a hook that everyone agreed on and I dropped them into the jungle right smack in front of the waterfall. This was fine because, hey, its just a playtest session.
After that its a mad trek through monster infested caverns before arriving at the village Teputzittoloc, after which point the party ventures into an ancient pyramid at the behest of the distraught villagers there. There's more to it than that, but I dont want to spoil the plot beyond what I just did. The adventure was an enjoyable read (very much like a Conan story) and also easy to run. Very pulp, if thats your sort of thing.

As a kind of "acid test", I didnt actually read much of it before hand just so I could see how hard it would be to run as a pickup sort of thing, and the ride was smooth almost the entire way. Granted, we only got through a few encounters, but I'm confident that if we continue it next week I wont need to study it before then.
All in all, Goodman Games does an excellent job of setting the stage and delivering as much solid adventure as they can. Red Jason was a bit put off by the initial price tag, but I think its safe to say that he certainly got what he paid for, even though we only got through about a quarter of the adventure. The first few encounters were fun and very easy to narrate. I like the aztec-theme of the adventure, which isnt something you see a whole lot. The names of monsters, NPCs, and what-have-you are very hard to pronounce (meaning that I basically cant), but it adds to the exotic flavor and makes for good times as the players try to do it themselves.

I like that the adventure has an implied time limit, in that if they can get there and back fast enough they can get a free ride out of the jungle. Not a lot of adventures have this kind of restriction, but its good because it helps usher the players forward and avoiding the one-encounter-a-day syndrome where they just take extended rests whenever they feel like because, well, they can. I think my group often underestimates their capabilities, and this helped them press forward even when they'd expended their action points and dailies.
Presumably if they for some reason fail, it'll be an arduous trek through wilderness and Skill Challenges before they can find civilization again. Its mostly an in-character reason, since in reality a Skill Challenge is just extra XP...
...and speaking of XP I want to shift back to the encounters for a bit to laud the author on the encounter with frogs, of all things. Very engaging and required a lot of thinking from the group, since they could blind characters on a hit, and were free to leap about the incredibly-hard-to-climb pillars, just out of Reach. My only nit-pick here is that since the venom blinds them on a hit, that it might have worked better as a secondary attack or recharge power. Otherwise, very fun encounter. For me, anyway.

I can really see how things have changed in since Sellswords of Punjar (the only other DCC that I read). First, the book is a lot thicker and felt more durable. The adventure seems to have more background and is easier to read through. They dont go into as much depth as Pathfinder, which is a very good thing, instead giving you what I consider to be the right amount of background that although only the DM gets to know, doesnt occupy the lion's share of the module. For a $16 adventure, I think its definitely worth the money.

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