Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Murder in Baldur’s Gate (Dungeons & Dragons)

Murder in Baldur’s Gate (Dungeons & Dragons)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Page Count: Special (See Review Below)
Cost: $29.99 ($22.97 at Amazon.com)
Release Date: 08/20/2013
Get it Here: Amazon.com

Murder in Baldur’s Gate is the first adventure for The Sundering event, which is meant to serve as the transitions between Four Edition and D&D Next. In fact, Murder in Baldur’s Gate is far more than a single adventure as you are getting a full campaign of adventures where your participation will actively shape events to come, ala Shadowrun Missions or Legends of the Five Rings. Murder in Baldur’s Gate is actually five pieces in one collection, similar to the old box sets from Second Edition AD&D, albeit in a flimsy casing that feels like wrapping paper and will easily be destroyed soon after opening. I would have preferred a box, a slipcase or something to the wrapping that holds the two books and DM screen together in one package, but it is what it is. Just remember to be very careful with the casing if you want to keep it intact.

The three physical pieces of Murder in Baldur’s Gate are quite awesome. There is a sixty-four page Campaign Guide which gives an incredibly in-depth look at Baldur’s Gate, the people who live there and nearby locations. This is by far the best and most detailed location guide I’ve seen D&D get since the days of Second Edition AD&D. I am just impressed with the level of detail and quality here. Every major event that hit Baldur’s Gate, from the Time of Troubles to the 1990s video games by the same name are referenced here. Regardless of your genre preference, the campaign guide is so amazing it’s worth the sticker price alone. Personally my favorite part is a reference to GIANT SPACE HAMSTERS, which haven’t been seen since Second Edition and are one of my favorite creatures from the TSR era of the game. Plus, if Giant Space Hamsters are back, can Spelljammer be far behind? That makes me excited and happy all at once. Again, the Campaign Guide is one of the best things Wizards of the Coast has put out for Dungeons and Dragons in many a year and it’s just very well done. It’s too bad that the cover a flimsy material similar to comic book covers from the late 70s/early 90s. Of course the cheapness and shotty materials of the covers is something that haunts this entire package and it’s a damn shame.

The second physical piece to Murder in Baldur’s Gate is a thirty-two page adventure and like the Campaign Guide, the adventure is awesome. As you flip through the pages you will notice a lack of any mechanics or stat blocks whatsoever. That’s because Murder in Baldur’s Gate is designed for use with multiple versions of Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically it can be used with 3.5, 4th Edition and the upcoming D&D Next if you are a playtester for that rules system. I love that Wizards is providing you with the option to any of these rules sets, although I would have liked to have seen first and second edition AD&D get a nod too. Ah well, if you’re a fan of those systems, you probably have all the monster and mechanics you needs to play this in one of those older versions, right?

So if the stats for Murder in Baldur’s Gate aren’t available in the physical package, where do you get them? Why as a PDF download from the Internet of course. No, not from DNDClassics.com, but from the official website for The Sundering. The pieces are hidden on the website though. You have to go looking for them and you’ll find them buried under the media tab. Scroll down and you can find two more tabs for Murder in Baldur’s Gate – one for all the monster statistics and one for even more campaign events and adventures. You can find the pieces much easier by going here though. On one hand I love that you can download these pieces and that they are being made available to everyone for free as a way of enticing them to purchase the whole package. At the same time, what happens when The Sundering goes away and Wizards of the Coast closes the web portal down? How will people get these pieces then? Why not just include them in the Adventure Guide to begin with? It’s not like both PDFS, clocking in at a combined thirty-four pages would have significantly raised the product price. Hell, you would have had two books at approximately sixty four pages then. Besides, I’d have paid more to have physical copies of the PDFs (and for sturdier covers) and I think most people would too. Basically my thought is offer the whole thing as a physical package or completely digitally – don’t half and half it and it pleases no one.

The fifth and final pieces in the Murder in Baldur’s Gate collection is a sturdy and glossy four piece DM screen. The front of the screen features some nice artwork along with a full map of Baldur’s Gate and a list of all the districts in the city. The DM’s side of the screen has all sorts of neat charts to help them out. There’s a random shop generator, a random NPC name generator, and extremely detailed list of locations and important items within Baldur’s Gate, a random encounter table and more. There are no mechanics due to the nature of this piece being system neutral, but the DM screen is gorgeous, handy and made of high quality materials – which makes me wonder why they didn’t do the same for the covers of the books and casing in this collection. Okay. I’m don’t bitching about the tissue paper like quality of those cover, I swear.

So as you can plainly see from this review so far, Murder in Baldur’s Gate is worth it just for what you get in this collection. Yet we still haven’t talked about what the adventure entails. Well let’s see what we can do without spoilers. Murder in Baldur’s Gate is a direct sequel to the Baldur’s Gate video games but out by Bioware, Black Isle Studios and Interplay in the 1990s for the PC (Now available for iOS devices too I believe). The campaign is an open ended one, where a murder of a MAJOR character from D&D lore sets off a chain of events involving the machinations of a dead god and his attempts to be reborn and turn a mortal into his chosen one. The PCs are the only ones who can deal with the events that threaten to tear the city apart via riots, rebellion and wholesale slaughter. That’s a lot for characters ranging from Levels 1-3, but in truth, all of the major NPCs and enemies are highly nerfed from the power level they should otherwise be at. A character who was roughly 20th Level in 2e is only Level 6 here, for example. The campaign can unfold in a myriad of different ways and the actions of the player character will determine who becomes the Chosen of the God of Murder. DMs will be prompted to keep a tally on all three possible Chosen. The adventure will tell you how one of the three can get a notch on their “track” and when the climax comes, whoever is furthest along the track becomes the Chosen. This is a wonderfully done adventure and I love how events can greatly change based on who the PCs ally with and what events they decide to prevent, witness and aid in. This means you can play or run the campaign multiple times and see thing unfold in a very different way each time. I love this. As well, at SOME POINT you are supposed to be able to go to The Sundering’s website and log in the results of your campaign with the person becoming the Chosen the most out of all the logged campaigns being the official canon one. I like that. It gives far more incentive to be a part of the campaign, especially if you are a D&D loyalist. The campaign is one of the best I’ve seen Wizards put out for D&D in roughly a decade as it does everything right. It’s well written, open enough that players don’t feel forced down a particular track and planned out for even the craziest PC decisions. Murder in Baldur’s Gate is definitely one of the best campaigns I’ve seen written this year (along with White Wolf’s The God Machine Chronicle) and it really is a toss-up as to who will win our award for Best Campaign this year.

So is Murder in Baldur’s Gate worth it? I think so. I love that it is open enough to be used with three different versions of Dungeons & Dragons. I think the Campaign Guide is one of the best products Wizards has put out in some time and that the adventure is extremely well done. If this is a sign of things to come for D&D Next, then I’m on board, especially with how fun and well done Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle was. As Murder in Baldur’s Gate is a system neutral affair and the adventure is designed for beginning characters, this is a perfect time to start trying D&D for the first time, to try and come back to it if a new edition of the rules turned you off, or even to use the awesome products in this collection for another system you prefer like Castles & Crusades or Swords and Wizardry. Definitely consider Murder in Baldur’s Gate a must buy for any D&D fan, regardless of edition wars. Now let’s hope Legacy of the Crystal Shard is as well done.

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