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Murder in Baldur's Gate: Launch Weekend - a preview

Merric Blackman
Australia
Waubra
Victoria
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Ramping up my reviewing.
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Happily playing games for many, many years.
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This weekend is the Launch Weekend for Murder in Baldur's Gate - well, more properly for the D&D Encounters season that uses that adventure, but the adventure itself will be out in a few days (for regular stores - it's been out for a bit longer for stores Wizards like more). For those stores participating, Wizards have sent them copies of a special adventure. It's the first encounter of the regular adventure, but expanded to give more interest and detail.

The adventure booklet is 16 pages, including front and back covers, of fairly thin glossy paper. It contains some background material, the adventure, and the monster stat blocks for three systems: 3.5E, 4E and D&D Next. Each stat block section takes up about a page and a half (with differing amounts of white space). There isn't much artwork - apart from the cover, there's two pages that list the NPCs which provides art for them. One of the NPCs doesn't get any art, strangely enough, but he's on the poster we got for the full season so I can just point at that if necessary.

It's Founder's Day in Baldur's Gate, and there's a celebration taking place, commemorating the event. The player characters have arrived to take jobs as caravan guards, but they've arrived a few days too early for that job, so they're just enjoying themselves. Well mostly - it might be free to enter the city, but every merchant is taking the opportunity to gouge the players of every copper they can get. The adventure starts with the group entering the Wide, the city's grand market square.

This adventure is all about what happens in the Wide on Founder's day, and my catchword for it all is "challenging". It's going to be challenging to run, and it's going to be challenging to play through. At its most basic, things start happening and things keep happening. Events build up and hit some fairly major marks, laying the groundwork for the full adventure to come. In theory the players could just sit back and watch, but that seems unlikely. Most D&D players will want to get involved. The challenge for the DM will be in handling it all: telling the story, giving proper descriptions of the chaos, and allowing everyone to have fun.

The main adventure for this session is laid out in a set of events, which read fairly well. They could be terribly boring if allowed to be, but they've got a lot more potential than that. I do have the distinct feeling that the game will play best if the DM uses the other elements given in the adventure: rules on crowd-handling and optional events to spice up things. Yes, you can concentrate on the main events, but allowing the players to react to lots of different things at once? Yeah, that looks like it will be even more fun.

But it will be challenging to run. The skills of the DM are incredibly important to this adventure; in particular, you need to judge the pacing of the session. Being able to add the right event at the right time will add greatly to the experience. The last city adventure I ran - the otherwise disappointing Storm over Neverwinter - had one session where the party and the DM were able to improvise greatly rather than just follow the rails. It was great fun. I think we could have the same fun with this adventure.

As a lead-in to Murder in Baldur's Gate, the adventure isn't complete. The events of the day are, but they raise the issues that will be dealt with in the full adventure, which you could play as part of D&D Encounters or as a home game. There's combat and role-playing and heroic deeds here... and a little of the grotesque. Vault of the Dracolich, despite leading into Search for the Diamond Staff felt complete in itself. This doesn't, as what it is doing is setting up the adventure to follow. Everything I've seen indicates that the full adventure will be pretty good, but, unfortunately, I've still got to wait a bit until I actually get to see it.

The launch event adventure also comes with a poster-map of the square (the other side shows the map of Baldur's Gate) if you want to use miniatures. The idea for the Launch Event is that you create characters first (1st level, in whichever session your DM is using) and then run the adventure. Honestly, I'd probably create characters before you get there or have pre-gens made up, as creating characters for five or six players in 30-40 minutes isn't all that easy in any of the three systems. (I'd manage it easily in AD&D!) I'm not really sure how long the event will take to play through. My initial reaction is "2 hours", and the documentation says "at least 2 hours". YMMV.

Incidentally, the only pre-gens available specifically for this are in the D&D Next playtest packet. Otherwise, the DMs will need to bring/create them for the 3.5E or 4E rulesets. (I'm pretty sure you'll be able to find a few online). One of my few significant regrets about this package is that it doesn't have a lot of backgrounds to aid the PCs in creating their characters. There might be more in the full adventure, but quite possibly not.

So, those are my initial impressions of the Murder in Baldur's Gate Launch Weekend package. I'll get a chance to run it this weekend, and I'll report back then as to how it went. I hope we'll all enjoy it.

Oh, and that silver-haired fellow on the cover of the adventure? That's Duke Abdel Adrian, the ruler of Baldur's Gate. You might also know him as the hero of the Baldur's Gate computer games. Well, he would have been if you weren't making your own character to play that role. In the "official" Forgotten Realms, it was Abdel Adrian who took on those challenges, and in his later life he's become one of the four rulers of the port city. He loves his adopted home, and the city-folk return that love. He's over a century old at this point, but still hale. His past is, unfortunately, still relevant...
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