Review: HS1 The Slaying Stone
Although I’m relentlessly supportive of what Wizards of the Coast is doing with the 4th Edition product cycle of Dungeons and Dragons, one of the things I’ve always been disappointed with is their adventures.
Even after Keep on the Shadowfell had become infamous for being completely dead-boring, Wizards has released loads of adventures that are chock-filled with grind-inducing combat that can make your eyes roll into your skull. And to think they’re trying to win naysayers over by proclaiming that 4E isn’t all about combat. One would expect that published adventures would err on the side of skill challenges, NPC interactions and intriguing flavor text.
Last March, Wizards of the Coast designer Rodney Thompson openly solicited feedback on how to make 4th Edition adventures better. At the moment, I have no clue as to whether that feedback influenced the design of upcoming adventures such as Orcs of Stonefang Pass, Tomb of Horrors or The Slaying Stone, which is the adventure I’m about to review.
The premise of Slaying Stone isn’t very interesting, nor does it make much sense. The town of Kiris Dahn possessed slaying stones that can destroy any ONE living creature, but burn out after being used and can only be used within five miles of the town. Yet despite the fact that these stones are utterly useless to the outside world and cannot be recreated using a ritual, the party is hired by their patron to find the supposed last stone and help her destroy it. It’s not like someone is going find these wondrous geographically-bound disintegrators and make more of them.
Butt-headed premise aside, the strength of Slaying Stone lies in the actual execution and the addition of many components that can help the DM structure his or her plans around the general randomness and unpredictability that characterizes player character behavior. Right at the start, Slaying Stone lays out all the different factions and NPCs and their motivations as well as a timeline that allows the DM to remain aware of what is going on in the world, no matter how the players address the challenges of the adventure.
Also, since players are prone to ‘break’ adventures, Slaying Stone also provides a number of variant plot threads that allows the DM to alter components of the story to accommodate any sudden turns the players might make such as being suspicious of their patron or rebuilding the town of Kiris Dahn. Other adventures have provided similar what ifs, but they are usually throwaway suggestions buried in large blocks of text. In Slaying Stone, these ideas are broken down to be more readable and accessibly found by the DM.
Slaying Stone also introduces the new monster stat block that is set to become the standard format after today’s release of Monster Manual 3. It’s a much more readable format that divides monster abilities according to action, which means it’s easier to determine what a monster can do during any given situation since you’re not squinting to figure out which ability is a reaction or a minor, and which power is encounter use or rechargeable.
In short, Slaying Stone addresses a number of the problems that plagued the previous adventures with better presentation. Furthermore, by assuming that the players will be following their own approach to the scenario, the writing presumes less railroading. Despite the uninteresting story, Slaying Stone shows that the adventure designers have learned a lot since Keep on the Shadowfell. If future adventures are presented like this, then maybe I can stop cannibalizing old 3.5 modules.
If, based on this review, HS1 The Slaying Stone sounds like an adventure you’d like to run, then consider supporting us by purchasing it through our Amazon store. There you can order a variety of role-playing game products, and not just those from D&D 4th Edition. Still, you might want to pre-order Orcs of Stonefang Pass, the next installment in the HS series of adventures.