Eberron: Boromar Ball

Boromar Ball is the third Adventurer’s League adventure set in the Eberron campaign setting.  I gave a negative review to the first release, What’s Past is Prologue. Based on the weakness of that adventure I decided to wait on picking up the second adventure, Murder in Skyway.  But this was one I really wanted.  I will buy any adventure that features the PCs crashing a fancy party.  They’re always a hoot and it’s a trope that I want in every campaign I run.

But because this is the third adventure, I need to figure out what I missed plotwise.  It seems that the Boromar Clan (The Halfling Mafia) have stolen a message from The Swords of Liberty, an anti-monarchy terrorist group in Breland.  The message was to Merrix d’Cannith, the Lex Luthor/Tony Stark of House Cannith.  The message is at the Boromar’s compound in Sharn.  It’s encoded, but they will break it eventually.  Fortunately, the clan is holding a party in a couple days which provides an ideal time to steal the message.

I like the way the adventure describes NPCs.  The member of the Sharn City Watch who gives them the quest is described as “the earnest young cop” on a TV show.  A Halfling Fence with an axe to grind against the Boromars is an “insufferable barista/pawn shop owner with a bit of charm.”

I have mixed feelings on the way this scene with the Halfling Fence who has the information the PCs need.  The important things to communicate here are 1) the message is at the Boromar mansion and there’s a party tomorrow. and 2) For some money he is willing to provide a sketch of the grounds with information about security.  For what it’s worth, I’m going to start taking points off adventures that ask the PCs to provide bribes to NPCs.  Gold is too scarce now to waste on plot coupons.  Fortunately, the PCs don’t NEED this information.  I do like that the adventure says if they Intimidate the guy he tells the Boromars that they’re coming.

Also this adventure carries over the “Playing the Pillars” sidebar that was in the last adventure I read.  I’m not a fan of this sidebar because it seems pointless.  I get why they think they need to put it in.  Because This Is Season 8 Goddamn It and we are going to break the reputation Adventurer’s League/Organized Play has of being all combat adventures with lousy opportunities for roleplaying.  The problem is that this the scene where you give the players the job.  It is BY DEFINITION a roleplaying scene with NO COMBAT and NO EXPLORATION.  Hell it is hardly a roleplaying scene.  For a combat option, the adventure suggests throwing in a mugging or barfight.  If you throw in a barfight here at the start of the adventure you are the wasting the player’s time.  For the exploration pillar, the adventure says maybe the PCs try to infiltrate the Boromar compound early which means the party isn’t going on but the security is all there which isn’t really exploration, it’s the PCs skipping parts of the adventure. It’s not smart but it’s certainly not exploration.  Then for the Social Pillar it suggests that the bartender keeps interjecting with games of chance and bets.  That’s not social, that is adding to the scene.  It has no bearing on the adventure or playing the existing scene.  It’s jangling keys to no purpose.  It feels like I’m getting bent out of shape over this minor thing but this sidebar just baffles me.

I’m convinced that The Powers of WOTC are putting a gun to the writer’s head saying this sidebar must be included for each “act” of the adventure.  I’m convinced of this because I have yet to see one of these sidebars make sense.  It’s the scene where the goddamn PCs get information about the goddamn adventure.  There is no goddamn opportunity for goddamn combat or goddamn exploration.  Y’all, the objective of Season 8 re-formatting should be providing ALTERNATE methods of achieving objectives and more specifically LESS COMBAT.  Not jamming a barfight at the start of the adventure for no story reason.

*Sigh*

As an optional objective the PCs can plan for their heist…Wait why wouldn’t they?  Okay anyways, the adventure suggests that everyone has time to do one thing in preparation.  Right away, throw that out, the PCs have 24 hours worth of actions to prepare.  I would also throw out the Gold costs for forging a document if the PCs have a Forgery Kit or Disguise Kit to make a disguise.  Hopefully someone gathers information because that would tell the PCs that the party is Invitation Only.  Other curious things the PCs can learn are that the Boromars have lots of rare art, there’s a fireworks show, the cops in this area are on the take,  the party is being catered, and most interesting, there’s a secret tunnel to the mansion.  Not sure that’s DC 10 information but whatever.

I like the description of the party, at least what little there is.  It’s full of NPCs and guards and potential things to do.  You could very easily level up the security here to use this map for a different adventure.  Although I would suggest increasing the treasure if only to tempt stupid PCs who might think to steal traceable art and jewels from the Mafia.

I like this map but there really isn’t as much description of the party as one might hope.  There are NPCs but not really anyone who stands out.  There are no hooks for future adventures.  There are no suggestions for how to proceed in the adventure, it kind of just hopes you figure it out.  There is nothing that suggests, “A PC invites The NPC with the key to the safe to dance and lifts it during the performance.”  Or say, “We punch out a guard and the Halfling PC takes their uniform.”

The adventure spends too many paragraphs describing the halfling villa rather than providing interesting things to do at this party.  I would rather have a map of one ballroom loaded with NPCs and people to talk to rather than an exhaustive map of the mansion with its closets and bedrooms.  The implication here is that the mission here is stealth rather than subterfuge.  The writer put more thought into describing this map than describing the story and the adventure which is unfortunate.

Curiously there is no stupid sidebar about playing the pillars here in the meat of the adventure where I would expect to see one.

There are a couple bonuses objectives.  The first one is that the PCs could go to the Cogs to prevent Daask, a smaller and more violent criminal organization from bombing the party.  There is no option given for capturing the bomb at the party or what the bomb will do, specifically, to the mansion.  Really it’s just an optional combat.  More canny players would probably want the bomb to go off if only to strike a blow against the Boromar Clan.  There is also the possibility that maybe the characters are chased.  Again this is just for the sake of having a combat which is smart since someone probably wants to get in a fight by this point.

I like this adventure a hell of a lot more than “What’s Past is Prologue.”  If anything it provides better bones for a great adventure rather than being a great adventure but it is refreshing to see something for AL that really is combat optional, the idiotic suggesting of a bar fight notwithstanding.  I would give this one a B-.  It’s very straightforward and the whole Party Scene is just not fleshed out enough to be more than adequate.