This is the coda to D&D Third Edition Month.
By 2003, the glut of D&D/d20 products had already peaked and Wizards of the Coast responded with D&D 3.5e.
By 2006, when Red Hand of Doom was published, I’d had become firmly discontented with D&D 3e/3.5e.
Around that time I’d started experimenting with other systems: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Second Edition; Castles and Crusades; and I even tried to run an AD&D campaign.
Half of those campaigns fell apart because the players didn’t like the rules, the Social Beast ate the other half (there was one good case of intra-party killing in there that I might share some day).
I really didn’t know what to do next, but then The Red Hand of Doom brought me back to the 3.5e. (As did the high point of Dungeon magazine under Paizo).
Here was an entire campaign based on a massive hobgoblin invasion–with dragons!
The Red Hand of Doom combines exciting adventure locations, sandbox-style play, with a countdown to destruction. The player characters can explore Elsir Vale (the generic setting in the module) to their heart’s content, but if they don’t complete certain missions by a given time, the hobgoblins will wipe the valley off the map–and perhaps even summon the Queen of Dragons, Tiamat herself, into the world.
The campaign is like the old Dragonlance modules with memorable adventure sites, but without the blatant railroading. You’ve got bridge over a gorge, a haunted forest, a causeway, a partly sunken city, a lich’s lair, a city under siege, and an epic battle at the end.
You also have some of memorable NPCs, like Old Warklegnaw the diseased giant, the Ghostlord, and a tribe of elves who fly around on giant owls.
There’s only two things I didn’t like about this adventure: The Spawn of Tiamat, and some the adventure encounter locations being just too small.
The Spawn of Tiamat were the new kind of special foot soldiers in Tiamat’s war against Bahumut. As you can guess, these monsters are dragons crossed with something else–some are humanoid, like the blackspawn raider, others are not; The bluespawn thunderlizard is like a giant blue badger that pops of the ground and breathes lightning
Fortunately, only the blackspawn raider and the bluespawn thunderlizard make an appearance in the module. More can be found in the Monster Manual IV. It seems to me the designers were like, “Well, draconians have been done, so what else can we come up with.”
I view them as simply dragons with more “grrr.”
But these monsters aren’t really a flaw with the design of the adventure.
The real problem, and this is something you must address if you’re going to run this adventure, is that some of the encounters areas are too small. That is, there’s a stronghold where you’ll have large monsters lumbering around, trying to squeeze through 5-wide corridors. There’s other areas where it’s too easy for the characters to get the monsters to “funnel” through choke points and vice-versa.
The easy solution is to just double the size of these areas as shown on the maps.
Here’s another example:
The Red Hand of Doom was a high-point in the late D&D 3.5e era. Wizards of the Coast had gone into overdrive publishing material for D&D, and I’m certain I wasn’t the only one feeling the malaise* as the hobby slunk toward D&D Fourth Edition.
Get this if: Your players like lots of fighting and last stands. You’ve got nostalgia for D&D 3.5e.
Don’t this if: Your players don’t like military and war epics. The label “black spawn raider ninja 6” makes you wince (See D&D 3e: Hybrid Mania).
*One final word on D&D Third Edition Before Moving On…
What exactly was this malaise?
For me, it was knowing D&D was no longer a game, but a brand, a marketing campaign to sell gamers stuff they really didn’t need… or want.
Wizards of the Coast designed the game to at first appear simpler from prior editions, but it soon grew into a complex mess of rules, spaghetti logic.
Running games had become a chore–especially if you used many of the “play-aids” (Dungeon Tiles, miniatures, etc.). Setting these up for a game took time away from actual play
Dungeon Masters who wanted to design their own adventures and content would have a more difficult time doing so, hence, this increased the chances of them buying published content, and thus inhibiting their creativity.
The Red Hand of Doom epitomized this marketing strategy. You needed battle mats, official miniatures, the core books, and the Monster Manual IV to run the adventure “properly.”
Some of us at the time had seen through this. And the real malaise came as we tried to get our friends and acquaintances to at least try another game, but wouldn’t. They’d been so heavily invested in Third Edition that they wanted to make it work.
In summary: Third Edition was a marketing strategy which had triumphed of the desires of many individual game masters and players. For years this strategy worked. Players were “locked in” to what was “officially” D&D. That is, until Fourth Edition came out and a new marketing strategy came to fore:
“Pathfinder is just like D&D 3.5e, except…”