Saturday, October 16, 2021

(Earthdawn 1e) Mists of Betrayal

There's an uncanny feeling to reading an introductory adventure after you've just spent months reading all the lore books. The plot of Mists of Betrayal brings the PCs to some of the setting's most iconic locations (they have to take a package from the town of Haven, near Parlainth, and deliver it to the Blood Wood), but those locations are still in an inchoate form, lacking many of the details that made them so iconic in the first place. For example, with the Blood Wood, "Though your eye tells you they are but foreign plants, you sense a subtle wrongness as you gaze at them." Vague.

It's no great fault, though. What would I even be asking for? That things be finished before they're started? "Hey, FASA, why didn't you develop the blood wood in full detail immediately after the core, but years before the publication of The Blood Wood?" It does, however, go to show the merits of reading books in order of release. If I'd seen Mists of Betrayal in its proper context, before even the release of the Barsaive boxed set, I probably wouldn't even have noticed.

The structure of Mists of Betrayal is familiar to anyone who's ever played an open world rpg - travel to a distant part of the map as part of a fetch quest, and then when you get to your destination discover that the NPC can't give you the item you've been sent to fetch until you go to a third location and slay a monster. It's pretty obviously a scripted tour of Earthdawn's setting elements (at one point you're attacked by plot-irrelevant orks and you get bonus xp if you can defuse the situation without violence, thereby learning the valuable lesson that Earthdawn orks are basically just people) and it would be churlish of me to complain that it was overly workmanlike. Nonetheless, this is a book that's doing a job, and that job isn't necessarily telling a good story.

I mean, it's not a bad story. There's this town that is held captive by a Horror who takes the form of a creepy mist, and a corrupt elven official has made a deal with the monster to feed it slaves in exchange for magical knowledge, but the source of those slaves is the Theran empire, whose spies are trying to foment unrest and chaos in the region. The most interesting thing about it is the way it blatantly sets up the board for future adventures, but if the players start asking questions and pulling at threads, they can get involved in the setting in some pretty fundamental ways.

The downside is that this story is told mainly through the device of having the players achieve a goal and then pulling the rug out from under them and giving them an entirely different goal. You wandered into a village and the leader pays you to kill a monster - great, but the monster has a magic item so now you have to go to Haven to get it identified - the wizard can do it, but he wants you to deliver a package to Blood Wood and pick up the herb he bought with the Everliving Flower - oh, they're very grateful to have this priceless relic returned, but they can't give you the herb until you figure out why this one guy is dealing with Theran slavers - oh, he's taking them to this creepy village, but now you're trapped there too because you lost the fight with the slavers . . . and so on.

It's a little railroady, is what I'm saying. There are sections that just straight out tell you that certain characters must survive, and parts of the plot hinge on PCs making very . . . specific decisions that they might not even realize are plot critical. For example, when the PCs return to the Blood Wood after freeing the creepy village, they have to take the same path back in order to be ambushed by the villain. "If the adventurers decided to enter Blood Wood at any point other than the one from which they left, feel free to launch thorn men and hostile blood elves at them until they either die in combat or wise up and take the proper bath."

Bad form, Mists of Betrayal. Bad form.

On the other hand, maybe I'm overthinking this. You go to a variety of fantasy-adventure type locations and once there, do a variety of fantasy-adventure type things, and that's probably enough. Maybe it's okay for an adventure aimed at new players to . . . streamline the decision making process that gets you from scene to scene. In any event, I'd call Mists of Betrayal "decent." I don't want to run it, but of the adventures I've read so far that I don't want to run, it ranks near the top.

Ukss Contribution: The bartender at the Midland Inn (presumably so named because it shows up roughly halfway through the adventure) is a lady troll named "Legbreaker." She also doubles as a bouncer, but the thing I love most about her is she's got a tough, gender neutral nickname and it's not even a thing. She's called "Legbreaker" because if you start more than the expected amount of trouble, she'll break your legs. That's the beginning and the end of it, and it's a tidy bit of representation, especially for 1993.


  1. Obsidimen are also essentially genderless, if I remember correctly. Or maybe it was worded that though they were called obsidiMEN that some chose to be more feminine, usually after hanging out in other namegiver communities.

    Which all reminds of the adventure I played thru, which involves an obsidimen leading a group of bad NOCs that have taken over a village and terrorize the inhabitants .

    Maybe you get to that one?

  2. Okay, just had to google to jog my memory

    Infected is the adventure book