Thursday, 14 December 2017

Defense of Fort Tremagne

Defense of Fort Tremagne



Last night you arrived at Fort Tremagne: a little enclave of civilization in the sparsely-settled Midlands.  Perhaps you were seeking a fresh start from your old life, or in search of adventure and fortune, or on a quest for enlightenment: but in any case this fort seemed a safe enough place to rest and resupply; a good jumping-off point for your travels farther into the wild.

Little did you know that adventure would come looking for YOU. - DM Guthlac.

Authored by Guthlac, Defense of Fort Tremagne (ZC1) is a lengthy three-chapter Hall of Fame module built on the sturdy foundations of traditional D&D campaign design (though its setting is custom: The Midland Wilds). In fact, Tremagne could be called a precursor to Swordflight - not just in that Guthlac knows how to spark interest in fans of proper D&D but also because he employs fairly tough combat encounter design, balanced, low-magic itemization and rest restrictions along with attention given to exploration, role-playing opportunities and player-based rules customization. While certainly not on par with the breadth, depth and polish of Swordflight (especially in regards to build-based reactivity), I felt Tremagne to be cut out of the same cloth.

As mentioned, the main quest of Tremagne spans three lengthy chapters. There are about a dozen sidequests interwoven and almost 80 unique zones to explore, with little-to-no hand-holding. For an older module built in the earlier days, the towns and wilderness zones feel alive enough: time passes in real-time and the NPCs follow scripted routines that include day and night schedules. An effect of the latter is that you need to rest until the next morning (at the inn) in order to deal with merchants. Examples of the former? There are lots of NPCs that move about in town (some conversing independently of the PC) and there are occasions when monsters respawn as you backtrack (which is realistic and not overwhelming).

Pic: The sprawling fort of Tremagne, complete with barracks, farmlands and hill-top manor. The fort has four main exits into the Midland wilderness, two of which unlock as the campaign progresses. The track that plays in this hub is my fave.

Tremagne incentivizes the painting of entire maps and spurs you on with useful, hand-placed material and non-trivial experience point rewards. I received 600 XP for exploring the hidden basement of the creepy forest-inn, for example (also, a non-essential zone). Exploration XP adds up and is much more satisfying than receiving 1 or 2 XP for a kill (a consequence of 3rd Edition's challenge rating system which can suck the life out of playing some modules).

Town, wilderness and dungeon zones are expansive and well put together. Emphasis on expansive: get the Rod of Recall, ASAP, or you are going to grow old getting from a to b. Being an older module, only generic tilesets are employed but they are tiered to add topographical interest. Some of the dungeons can be dark: without a magical light source of some sort you will need a conventional torch (more than one); otherwise, have fun groping around in the dark. Buildings are clearly marked with signposts that need only a mouse-over; you don't have to right-click-examine them. The anvil outside the smithy indicates it as such. Just lil' things like that are welcome when you're trying to get your bearings in the sprawling Fort of Tremagne.

What kind of build is recommended? Well, veterans should be able to get by with just about anything non-gimped, but I rolled with a Paladin power-build to be on the safe side; however, in retrospect, I would have liked levels in Rogue in order to gain access to important utility skills such as open lock, disable device and search (to reveal hidden caches, secret doors and trapdoors). Yes, I found two Henchman who can be ordered to take their levels in Rogue (Human Fighter/Rogue and goblinoid Cleric/Rogue) - and you also have control of their inventory which is nice - but their skills seemed somewhat lacking at times. For one particularly nasty example, there was a spike trap in the pirate vessel (DC 15 reflex that inflicts up to 90 dmg) that my mercenary Henchman could not handle. And yes, triggered traps do not disarm as a result, they stubbornly remain. Henchman thieving rewards the PC with utility XP but results in Chaotic alignment shifts - notable for Paladins. Druids are viable in that non-hostile wildlife is generally dotted about the landscape, waiting for animal empathy. (Pic of my pally wielding the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Faith, decked out in Kos Full Plate and Kos Helm.)

There seems to be an influence script at work in regards to Henchmen (of which you may only adventure with one until the final chapter, when a goblinoid Fighter joins up as well). At certain points the Lawful Evil merc I hired hit me up for payment. At one point we were on the verge of entering one of the deepest dungeons, and so I didn't mind shelling out to keep him on-side ("Don't leave me alone; not now!") That said, I haggled him down (Persuade) and my influence with him grew, despite being a penny-pincher. I would assume that influence governs Henchman willingness to engage in banter, and also their loyalty as the campaign wears on. In fact, my merc began to get annoyed at my goody-two-shoes pally, but never left providing I kept his pockets lined with gold. As you can see, Ali Baku is not just a combat unit and mule:


Itemization, as mentioned above, is low magic for the most part. +1 weapons are not hard to come by but weapons with useful magical properties seemed to be more commonly found on exotic weapons, which is odd. That said, I found a couple of sweet longswords for my pally. In addition, I found the coveted Boots of Speed itemized early; however, Monk-only. What the? - a cruel design decision as Monks are the least in need of a movement speed increase. Bards get some love by virtue of instruments found as hand-placed loot. There are also holy symbols and other custom/upgradeable items to be found as part of quests. Vendor inventory is in a couple of cases tied to the region you're in; for example, there is a selection of Dwarf-only armor for sale in the Dwarven stronghold of Khelgrost; likewise, a selection of diminutive-only armor in the secret goblin hall of the third and final chapter (goblinoid, gnomes and halflings only).


Combat has its moments; there are definite difficulty spikes, early on, such as the bandits demanding payment to cross the bridge on the south road. Don't expect a faceroll if your pally wishes to lay down the law. Many of the enemies have class levels such as the pirate slavers that come in cleric, bard and assassin flavor, rather than just in-your-face grunts. This adds variety to combat encounters. There are some nice, big set-piece battles, too. In short, newbies should roll with a power-build in order to avoid frustration. Bear in mind you're working within just 8-10 levels so a big, bad Fighter (4)/Barb (x) wielding a great sword or a stalwart Dwarven Defender wielding a Dwarven Waraxe and Tower Shield will get the job done.

How is the story, dialogue and lore? Across the board, top-tier. I won't divulge the plot but suffice it to say that every aspect of Tremagne is well-written and there are moments of charm and good humor. Custom item descriptions rich in lore, flavorsome journal entries that don't spell everything out, solid characterizations without too much waffle; it's all there. The Midlands campaign setting is generic in its parallel to Realmslore and the Tolkienic, but it's generic done well.

Enjoy the adventure, the tough boss fight and the satisfying finale. I would rate Defense of Tremagne as a top 5 all-time traditional campaign. Thanks to Rogueknight 333 for the heads-up and a couple of hints when I got stuck.


Below left: The Dwarven stronghold of Khelgrost, complete with market, guest quarters and tavern: "You are not permitted into the tavern's aleroom!" I love how this place opens up to the multi-tiered mountainside, guarded by the dwarves.
Below right: The goblin halls above the crypts.


One last thing: In one instance Guthlac employs the NWN text entry system for passcodes; as in, the player types in the answer to a riddle instead of choosing it from a list in dialogue. AFAIK, only Snickersnack! has employed such a system, too.

***


2 comments:

  1. I'll have to check this out. I am surprised that this escaped my radar in the old days. I think I pretty much played the top 50 modules on the old IGN vault, and I never heard of this one before.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice! Never heard of this one! from what you suggested I think to use a Barbarian/Rogue! ^_^' oh it's a pity that the henchmen are so ineffective...but it's true that I liked playing rogues myself.

    ReplyDelete

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