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Review of The Golden Banner by Sneak Attack Press

the golden banner coverMajor wars have been fought throughout history over religious issues, whether for dogmatic reasons, reasons of faith, or over land or items perceived as holy to one group or another.  In the case of religious artifacts, often only a few eyewitnesses can attest to have actually seen the power of a holy item or relic, but will still be ready to fight and die for the faith that these things are blessed by a higher power.

Imagine how much more vicious the opponents will fight in a magic-filled world, where relics show forth their power to almost any who gaze upon them.  Considering how much blood is shed over a matter of pure faith, then it is certain that a relic that could show its power to almost anyone would be fought over a hundred times more violently.

And this is the gist of The Golden Banner, a new 4E adventure from Sneak Attack Press, pitting the adventurers against a pack of religious zealots as they try to guard a relic of power.

The Golden Banner
  • Designers: Matthew J. Hanson
  • Illustrators: Robert Fludd, Pearson Scott Foresman, Ward Lock, Alphonse de Neuville & Edouard Riou
  • Publisher: Sneak Attack Press
  • Year: 2010
  • Media: PDF (21 pages)
  • Cost: $3.95

The Golden Banner is an adventure module for D&D 4E, designed for five Characters of Level 6 to Level 8.  The adventure consists of five encounters, which include role-playing/skill challenge encounters, as well as combat encounters, and has a wide variety of NPCs and monsters to challenge the adventurers.  The adventure also includes a new Heroic Tier item, a Rod of Trap Control, as well as an Epic Level magic item, the Golden Banner, which is also the major plot point of the module.

The Production Quality
The Production Quality of The Golden Banner is average to good, with decent writing and material presented in formats considered standard for D&D 4E modules.  Although the monster statistic blocks are set-up using the pre-MM3 format, they should not present any real issue for Dungeon Masters to utilize.   The encounter maps are presented in very simple line art, but they convey sufficient detail for DMs to use dungeon tiles or other aids at the gaming table to present the combat.  Although the adventure is only 21 pages long, the lack of table of content or bookmarks is disappointing, and makes navigation through the PDF somewhat of a challenge.

The adventure’s layout is designed to be printer-friendly, with few high-res images, no border graphics, and the entire module presented in monochrome.  The artwork appears to be done in woodcut style, and the few pieces in the adventure are nicely rendered, but are not particularly evocative of any scene presented from the plot.

[Spoiler Warning: Reading beyond this point will reveal key elements of the adventure.  Please skip to the Conclusion to avoid spoilers.]

The Adventure Hooks
The main hook of the adventure is the protection of a nobleman, Grufus Tinker, and his estate during a party he is throwing to celebrate the recovery of a religious relic, the Golden Banner.  Fearing for the banners safety before it can be handed over to the Sun church, he wants to hire the heroes to investigate possible security issues, and to guard his feast.

The banner apparently was created years ago, by cooperation of three major religions represented in the city – the sun god, the war god, and the god of tyranny – in order to use it to defend the town from a horde of invaders.  The author does not specify the deities, only the religions, which makes it possible for the adventure to be used in a variety of campaign world settings with only a little modification.  Obviously, all three religions want the banner, and as the religions are of differing alignments, there is considerable tension over which faith the banner will be presented.

The adventure is set in the town of Greenport, a coastal trade town, but again, Greenport is designed generically enough that it could be modified and used in almost any setting.

The Plot
The first encounter of the adventure is actually a very nicely designed investigation, looking for clues as to whether there is a threat to the banner and the Tinker estate, and if so, whom is behind such a threat.  The author set up a number of possible lines of investigation, ranging from questioning the estate staff, to meeting the guests, to meeting with the leaders of various faiths at the three temples.  As the Characters have only 8 hours to investigate the matter, the author set time frames for traveling around the city districts, and for speaking with the various suspects and witnesses.  The times are given in 15 minute increments to make math simple, so the Dungeon Master and Players will know how long it is taking for the investigation.  At three points in the investigation, skill challenges are required to complete an interview or interrogation, but most discussions require just a skill check or two.

I really like how the investigation is structured, and knowing there is a time limit adds a nice sense of urgency to this part of the adventure to keep its pacing high and interesting.  The author has a firm grasp of when a skill challenge makes good sense, as opposed to a simple use of a skill check, and the investigation is likely to be conducted by splitting the party in order to cover as many leads as possible.

The only downside to this investigation is that it really is only a vehicle for the Characters to meet the major NPCs of the plot, and to get the impression that the Tyrant Gods forces plan to steal the banner.  The players can also find out where the hidden temple of the god of tyranny is located, which is helpful later in the adventure, but otherwise, the investigation provides little more than an interesting way to get background about the plot about to unfold.  There is one plot twist, involving poisoning the guests at the banquet, but aside from that, the investigation will not prevent the attack on the estate.

Of course, the heroes investigation does not go unnoticed, and when they gather together to compare notes from the investigation, the adventurers will be ambushed!  The followers of the Tyrant God want to wipe out the party for asking too many questions, and will fight to the death if necessary to remove the meddlesome adventurers.  Of course, canny heroes will take the opportunity to capture the Tyranny cultists, and question them, and even more information will be revealed about the impending attack.  And although the captives will reveal the impending assault and even naming the leader of the attackers, the author does not make any provision for making arrests, getting additional guards from the city watch to help at the estate, or other logical steps.  The plot just continues on, although now the heroes are well warned in advance.

So it comes as no surprise that during the dinner party, which hopefully will at least be poison-free after the heroes’ intervention, the forces of the god of Tyranny attack the Ticker Estate and attempt to make off with the banner.  This encounter is a massive Level 12 free-for-all, with almost 40 active NPCs on the battlefield, although 17 of them are non-combatant guests which will try and flee, or huddle in corners.  The Player-Characters are provided assistance in the form of the high priests of the War God and Sun God, adding two 8th Level Controller/Leaders to the heroes’ party.  There is also mention of estate guards, although there is no listing in the encounter for how many estate guards there are to assist.  There is a stat block for them, and while these minions do no damage, their power to cause adjacent enemies to grant combat advantage is a fairly potent assist to the heroes.  One nice touch the author adds was in providing a bit of “swashbuckling” to the fight – there are ropes and a couple heavy (high damage) chandeliers to use as movement powers and attack powers during the fracas.

While the encounter should turn out to be fairly balanced and winnable by the heroes, it is likely that the leader of the Tyranny forces will get the banner and flee using a flight power, leaving the adventurers to mop up the remaining forces.  Sadly, the fight is likely to be a drain on party resources and patience, consisting of two 8th Level Soldiers, four 7th Level Brutes, and a dozen 6th Level  Artillery – this fight will almost certainly degenerate into a long and drawn-out at-will slugfest.

After the fight, the Characters can pursue the banner to the secret temple of Tyranny, discovered during their investigations.  There are only two encounters at the temple: the entry guards and the final showdown in the temple itself with the banner-thief and two angels of the god of Tyranny.  Presumably, the temple is fairly empty because most of the forces were sent to the Tinker estate for the assault.  The entry guards are mainly artillery, but they do have position and cover, making them a fairly serious threat to the heroes.  The final encounter against the “boss” – a 9th Level Elite Skirmisher – and the two angels of Tyranny is fairly routine, but the author did add some interesting traps and hazards in the temple to increase the challenge.  The traps can be controlled by someone at the altar grabbing the rod of trap control secreted there, making the traps a little more dangerous to deal with.

Overall Grade: B+

Conclusion
Overall, The Golden Banner has a pretty solid plot and some good concepts in it, but the execution could have been a bit better.  The initial investigation could have been a bit more dynamic, with the Characters able to affect the course of the adventure by their discoveries, rather than be swept along the plotline for the ride.  The only real affect the heroes have is to protect the party guests from the cultists, but are unlikely to stop the villain from absconding with the banner and forcing two more encounters at the hidden temple.  But the adventure is still worth a look at, given the rather modest price, and enterprising Dungeon Masters might add a couple tweaks to make it work to their liking.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card

  • Presentation: B+
  • - Design: B
  • - Illustrations: A-
  • Content: B
  • -Crunch: B
  • -Fluff: B+
  • Value: A-

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief
Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.

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