Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/04/tabletop-review-legacy-of-the-crystal-shard-dungeons-dragons/
Legacy of the Crystal Shard is the second Sundering adventure which helps take the world’s oldest role-playing game franchise from Fourth Edition into D&D Next, which is Fifth Edition. Besides the first Sundering adventure, Murder in Baldur’s Gate, there has been three novels based on the event (with three more to come). If you’re interested they are The Companions by R.A. Salvatore, The Godborn by Paul Kemp and The Adversary by Erin Evans. Click on through to read my reviews of each one if you are interested.
Like Murder in Baldur’s Gate, Legacy of the Crystal Shard is far more than a mere adventure that you open up and play with your friends. Rather it’s a huge collection of pieces that really helps to justify the MSRP of the collection. You get a thirty-one page adventure, a sixty-three page campaign guide to Icewind Dale and a nice DM screen. All of this is wrapped in an EXTREMELY FLIMSY slipcover that is guaranteed to be ripped, lost or outright destroyed sooner rather than later due to how thin it is. The slipcover is nice and glossy with some gorgeous artwork, but Wizards really should have sprang for better materials on this, especially since this is the piece that holds everything together. Murder in Baldur’s Gate had the same problem though, so it appears this is a trend Wizards is hellbent on continuing despite my (and practically everyone else’s) complaints about the slipcover. The good news is that the slipcover is really the only bad thing about the collection as much like the first Sundering adventure, Wizards has put together a pretty impressive and high quality package, making Legacy of the Crystal Shard one of their best releases in many years.
First up – let’s look at the DM Screen. This thing is a work of art. Usually I think DM screens are silly, but the ones for The Sundering have really impressed me. In this package you get a four panel screen made out of very glossy and thick paper. This is the material I wish the slipcover was made out of instead of the tissue-like substance they actually used. The front of the cover (which players can see) contains three different maps. The center two panels make up one giant map of ten towns. It’s a very simple, rudimentary map, but then again, Ten Towns is a very simple, rudimentary locale with very little terrain, roads or distinguishing features (except for snow and ice of course). The other two panels contain a more in-depth look of one city and then a smaller look at the tinier towns in the community. The right panel (from DM’s point of view) highlights Bryn Shader and then touches on Bremen, Targos, Termalaine and Lonelywood while the left side focuses on Easthaven and has tiny supplemental maps of Dougan’s Tale, Good Mead, Caer-Dineval and Caer-Konig. On the inside of the screen is a map of all of Icewind Dale, along with some names (and corresponding pictures) of the big NPCs from the adventure part of the package. One panel is devoted to nothing but random encounter charts. There are eight different charts – each one for a different locations around Icewind Dale. The third panel contains a chart of how long it gets from one location to another. These are very helpful in fleshing out the area and will get a lot of use in the time based adventure piece of the collection. Finally we have some more tables on the fourth panel which range from name generators for Ten Town inhabitants to surprising weather conditions. All in all, this is one of the finer DM screens I’ve seen material wise and every bit of it is of use to players and the DM alike when running an Icewind Dale based campaign.
Like the first Sundering adventure, the best part of Legacy of the Crystal Shard is by far the campaign guide. These campaign guides have been some of the best offering from Wizards in the past two editions and they are by far the most comprehensive pieces in the history of Dungeons & Dragons for the locations they cover. The campaign book is sixty-three pages and every page is just amazing content that a DM from any edition can really make use of. Sure the adventure is set in the time period between fourth and fifth edition, but the information goes all the way back to the origins of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, so even first and second edition AD&D fans will be able to get their money’s worth out of just this piece alone. In addition to copious amounts of information on Ten-Towns, there is a synopsis of The Crystal Shard which was the first Drizzt novel (writing-wise, not chronologically) and a look at many movers and shakers outside of the towns. The barbarian tribes, local dwarf communities, the Arcane Brotherhood and other groups are highlighted in detail here. There is so much content in the campaign book, that you could easily create well over a dozen homebrew adventures for the region without touching the actual adventure packet in this collection. It is worth nothing that unlike Murder in Baldur’s Gate which really focused on the old Second Edition AD&D video games about the region, this campaign guide to Icewind Dale doesn’t bring up any of the either of the two video games that bear the same name. It’s a shame as with the renewed emphasis on demons and devils in 4e and Next, Belhifet would have been a find choice to rear his head somewhere in this collection. If you’re a fan of the Icewind Dale region at all, you’re going to want to pick up Legacy of the Crystal Shard for the campaign guide alone. It’s truly magnificent and I can’t say enough good words about this piece. Trust me when I say the best Campaign Setting award for 2013 will either be going to this or Murder in Baldur’s Gate.
Finally, let’s talk the adventure collection. I know the package says adventure on the cover and in the description, but it’s actually a full campaign, similar to how Murder in Baldur’s Gate was actually comprised of ten adventures. It will take you roughly a dozen sessions to play out Legacy of the Crystal Shard to its end, and even then you may have some dangling plot threads or new potential stories that spring off this collection. The adventure book itself is system neutral meaning it has no stats or mechanics of any kind within it. If you go online to the Sundering website you can find monster stats for 3.5, Fourth and Next versions of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s buried a bit so instead of making you dig through the site for the downloads, just go here. Like Murder in Baldur’s Gate I’m surprised and disappointed that Second Edition AD&D stats aren’t included as well especially as both adventures rely most heavily of seminal and iconic events that took place (and used) that system. Ah well, as the adventure is system neutral, you can easily adapt Legacy of the Crystal Shard to either version of AD&D or even OD&D. Hell, you can adapt it to an entirely different system to if you want, ranging from 13th Age to Dungeon Crawl Classics. It’s the beauty of not having stats in this piece.
The actual adventure is a three-pronged affair. There are three different major antagonists, each with their own vile plan for Icewind Dale and the communities that make up Ten-Towns. The Arcane Brotherhood plans to conquer the region through political means. The Chosen of Auril plans to decimate the region and increase the power (and worship) of her Goddess and an ancient evil well known to long time fans of Icewind Dale rears its head once more – this time as one of the undead. Players will have to try and take care of the schemes and best they can in the ensuing chaos that envelopes the region. The adventure is an open world one, meaning players can more or less take care of things in the order they want, but that in doing so, repercussions are felt. Players will really only have time to deal with two of the three threats to Icewind Dale, meaning one big bad gets to see their schemes come to fruition. Of course players, don’t know this and as a result, one faction is far more powerful when they finally face it, which not only helps to make the player choices feel all the more important but also means the adventure gets more challenging no matter how they choose to let things unfold. Now Legacy of the Crystal Shard isn’t completely open world. There is a set beginning and ending much like most adventures, but as the vast majority of the campaign can unfold six different ways when played six different times, this means a DM can really get their use out of the collection. Maybe one team will seek to deal with the Ice Witch first and foremost while the a less combat oriented party ends up tackling the more political/subterfuge based plotlines first. There is no right or wrong here and the end result is a really great adventure that fans of D&D will remember for a long time to come. In fact the only downside to the adventure is that it is supposedly designed for Levels 1-3, but last I check Icingdeath was NOT something you wanted to face when you are just starting out. You might want to bump the adventure up a few levels, especially if you plan to play this before or after Murder in Baldur’s Gate.
Overall, Legacy of the Crystal Shard is an amazing collection that is sure to make any D&D fan happy – regardless of what edition they love best. The adventure packet is long enough to keep your party busy for weeks or even months (depending on how often you get together) and it can easily be adapted to whichever version of the game you want. You’ll have to go online to get monster stats for 3.5, 4e or Next but that’s not really that big of a deal. Now in a few years if you need to redownload things and Wizards of the Coast no longer has them available – THEN you have a problem. The campaign guide and the DM screen are the two best pieces of this collection and the campaign guide alone is worth the asking price for this set. You can get the entire collection on Amazon for only twenty bucks right now, which is an incredible deal that I heartily recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the Suffering Icewind Dale or D&D Next. Sure the slipcover is tissue paper thin and will be shredded by you sooner rather than later, but everything else about this collection is simply fantastic. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this high on D&D branded releases, but so far the Sundering adventure collections are amongst the best releases of 2013, regardless of tabletop branding. Pick this up today and see why firsthand.