N5: Under Illefarn (1987)

N5: Under Illefarn (1987) kind of takes all the previous threads of the N-series and tries to reconcile them into a whole while also being one of the first modules to introduce players to the Forgotten Realms. It takes into account the zero level character rules from N4 (though it doesn’t expand on them and refers folks who want to use them to the previous module). It also has a bit of political intrigue a la N3 and takes the general structure of “town by adventure sites” from N1. N2 has nothing much to offer, honestly.

It also reminds me an awful lot of RuneQuest’s Borderlands box set, which casts the players as the militia of a settlement, then runs through the various strange things they need to deal with in the course of their job. Such is the case with N5 as well, it winds up being more of a collection of mini-adventures arranged around source material for the town of Daggerford and its environs. The conceit of being militia members is a good one and works well to establish the place as an interesting one to live and adventure in. It reminds me a bit of the approach taken in the 5E Starter Set with the Lost Mine of Phandelver.

Which brings me to how the module teaches. It doesn’t do it with advice and how-tos the way N4 tackles it. Rather, its a bit of show and tell that teaches through play. You adventure and causes and effects happen and you see how they ripple through both the game world and the mechanics. That makes it not ideal for beginning beginners, if that makes sense, but it does a good job for new players who have some basic fluency with D&D. Much better than I expected for an early Realms publication!

I really enjoy Jeff Easley’s cover. Was surprised that the interiors are Luise Perenne, best know for her work on RuneQuest. I didn’t know she did work for TSR, but it makes sense since she’s author Steve Perrin’s wife. One piece by James Holloway is included, too — the dwarves. I also love the one dungeon cutaway — when you label a map “keeping the stairways straight” you’ve probably gone too far.

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