The best thing about Those That Came Before, the second part of the Rot from Within trilogy by Alan Patrick, is the copious advice he gives on how to run it and, even better, his notes on the philosophy behind the adventure.
This is an adventure for high-level characters. It contains scaling notes for Tier 3 and Tier 4 play. At those levels, designing combats becomes something less important than making the adventure memorable. Yes, you can give guidelines for what the players face, but – at some point – you need to trust the DM will balance things for their group of players. So, that’s out of your hands. However, making sure the adventure has important stakes, that it takes place in an interesting location, and that the villains are fascinating to deal with? Those elements are fully in your hands.
The party arrive at the dungeon without knowing its purpose or significance; they’ve been magically transported there due to prophecies of great evil and destruction befalling the land. The Sages of Candlekeep have arranged their transportation there, and they only know that exploring the dungeon will allow them to avert catastrophe.
Of course, it’s full of dangerous traps and tricks. I’m very fond of the pool of liquefied pit fiends. However, the dungeon is not designed to destroy adventurers.
Instead, it’s a test, of sorts. Once the party are found worthy, they’ll learn what they need to do to stop all the cities on the Sword Coast from being destroyed.
Towards the end of the adventure, the players get to participate in two role-playing scenes with terrifying, unnerving individuals. This is one area where the skill of the DM comes into play, and I’m tremendously glad that Alan has given his notes on running it. The main adventure text is a bit dry, giving the information that needs to be related, but, especially for the first scene, doesn’t convey enough of the personality of the negotiator. It’s in the appendix, where Alan relates one of his players describing the NPC as “the worst manager I’ve ever had” and that the encounter “was one big job interview” that provides the context I need to run the adventure effectively.
It’s extremely difficult to convey this sort of information effectively. You need to give enough of their history, so the DM knows the context of the character’s actions, you need to explain a personality and goals, and then there’s also the important plot information that character must impart. Too much information and the Dungeon Master becomes overwhelmed. Too little, and there’s not enough with which to work. Alan provides the standard information on background and personality, but it’s those comments from his player that draw my attention and let me know what I need to do to run this effectively.
The final encounter is brilliant: tremendously horrifying and awe-inspiring. It isn’t an easy encounter to run, but the tips and tricks sidebar should aid the DM in the task. And then the players will probably defeat it in one round using some combination of spells and abilities that surprises you. Ah, the joys of high-level play! Based on my reading of it, though, it’ll be a challenge.
The adventure is nicely set out and uses a couple of good maps; the one drawn by Dyson Logos is very nice indeed.
Overall, I highly recommend this adventure. It’s an excellent high-level scenario with which to challenge your players – and yourself!