REVIEW: Alberetor – The Haunted Waste (physical game)

REVIEW: Alberetor – The Haunted Waste (physical game)

The dead lands are calling.

Released: DriveThruRPG
Free League
Genre: Tabletop RPG
Developer: Free League Publishing
Publisher: Free League Publishing
Release date: 20 July, 2021

Ambria is aflame. Civil war rages across the land, and former friends and allies are turning on each other, as some wants to replace queen Korinthia with a new ruler, and other remain loyal to the person who brought them victory against the dark lords and brought them to a new land. And in the middle of all of this the queen is suddenly missing.

Alberetor – The Haunted Waste is the fifth part of the Chronicle of the Throne of Thorns campaign, and as the name implies sees the players travel to their former homeland, Alberetor. While it’s written as a continuation of the campaign, it can be played without having played previous parts, though at the risk of some events losing their impact if the players are not familiar with what happened before. Also, while technically playable without the Game Master’s Guide and the Monster Codex, playing without both of those books might be an uphill struggle. As this is a review of an adventure, there will be some spoilers, so unless you’re interested in running it yourself, turn back now or you’ll just ruin some of the surprises the adventure has to offer.

Also, full disclosure, I’ve not played through this adventure, though I’m pretty familiar with Symbaroum, which I wrote a review for earlier this year.

The Setting(s)

Alberetor – The Haunted Waste comes with descriptions of three separate locations and enough information to use these even if you’re not going to run the actual adventure.

The first is a war-torn Ambria. There’s far more information about the civil war than is needed for the adventure, including a timeline of events, some of which will take place when the players are away, and a description of how the war shifts on a month by month basis. There are also some ideas for adventures sprinkled in. The civil war is brutal, with neither side seemingly having an upper hand, and behind the scenes is a third faction who are doing their best to turn the events into their favour, a cult known as “Sacred of the Old Blood”, lead by the queen’s own half-sister, Duchess Esmerelda. Where the players fit in with the civil war is really going to depend on their past actions in the campaign, and what they value.

Most of the adventure will be taking place in Alberetor. This is the former homeland of the Ambrians, which was ruined during the war with the Dark lords. The majority of Alberetor is tainted, and even if you can find food and water there’s no guarantee that that will be safe to eat or drink. There are still a few areas that are safer than others, and a few people are still holding out, either because they’re unwilling or unable to move, though these get fewer and fewer as time goes on. A few caravans still make their way through these lands bringing valuable supplies and information from the north to the scant few inhabitants who remain. Roaming the lands are both undead and abominations, looking for living prey to sink their teeth into, and even the weather can quickly turn dangerous for any unprepared or unaware travelers, as things like corrupted rain can quickly turn a bad situation into an even worse one.

There’s a fare bit of information regarding running adventures in Alberetor, including events for overland travel, information about the ruins that litter the land and treasures that can be found in and around these ruins, and more information about the how and why regarding how Alberetor became the way it is. Much of this won’t even be very relevant for the adventure itself, but is meant for the GM to use if they want to create their own adventures set here. There are also four key locations (including the camp on the south side of the Titans (the mountain chain between Ambria and Alberetor)) that get fleshed out further, though there are some places in Alberetor that would have been nice to see a bit more information about though, not because they’re necessary for this adventure, but because they’re important for the region, and would have given any GM who want to run adventures set here a bit more to work with.

The final region that gets described is Lyastria, the former home of the Dark lords. Lyastria looks, at first glance, to be a far safer place than Alberetor. The land looks healthier, and there are even animals here. But Lyastria is by no means a safe place to be though, and the dangers are, if anything, even more insidious than those of Alberetor. Most of the people, if you can call them that at this point, who live here are undead, most of which make a pale mockery of life with their actions. Anyone who’s seen the original Dawn of the Dead (not the remake!) might recognize the descriptions of how they act. Lyastria is the least fleshed out of the regions, and running a purely Lystrian-focused adventure would require more work from the GM than either one set in Alberetor or Ambria during this time period.

The Player Characters

Before we start talking about the adventure proper it’s worth taking a short detour into talking about the player characters. If you’ve played through all the previous adventures in this campaign then chances are that the player characters are both quite strong and have pre-existing relationships with other characters and factions in the world.

The adventure assumes that the players will earned about 300 experience points, of which about 250 have been spent on more or less combat focused abilities, and that they’ve also got a fare amount of money as well as good equipment. Trying to play through Alberetor – The Haunted Waste with characters that are significantly weaker would likely not be very fun, as the opposition is pretty stiff. You can actually get by most things in The Haunted Waste without combat, but having a party of non-combat characters would mean that mistakes that very quickly result in a total party kill.

Because the adventure is set in Alberetor rather than Ambria past relationships won’t have a huge impact on the adventure, beyond act one. And the writers did a pretty good job accounting for the fact that different groups might have ended up doing vastly different things in the past four adventures. As long as they’ve not done something as drastic as killing the queen (who’s a central figure in the adventure) most parties should be playable here, even if they’ve made themselves enemies with the royal family.

The Adventure

Alberetor – The Haunted Waste is a somewhat linear adventure focused around a couple of key locations. It’s expected from the adventure that players will go from point A to point B to point C, though exactly what they do at each location is up to them, and none of the locations just have one “correct” solution. They’re more presented as open-ended problems to be solved, and the GM will ultimately have to be willing to improvise a fare bit, depending on what crazy schemes the players come up with.

The adventure sees the players trying to follow the footsteps of the queen, as she’s trying to find an artifact that will allow her to claim the throne on Symbar, something that would give her more power over the region than some people would be comfortable with seeing one person have. If the players are for or against the queen does not really matter, as long as they understand the importance of what’s about to happen, and what the consequences of inaction might end up being. Loyalist characters might end up having to re-evaluate their stance when they run into the queen’s sister, who’s been gravely injured by the queen. Has the queen gone mad? Or is that really the true queen who’s been sitting on the throne for all these years?

During the first act there are some hard to avoid combat encounters, and this is where having characters who can defend themselves comes in real handy. Even this early in the adventure the potential opposition is deadly.

Act two is where things get interesting. Here the players will be traversing Alberetor, in order to find out where the queen has gone. Apart from the caravan station there are three major locations here, each being quite different from the other two. Like a castle besieged by a starving and dying population, or a monastery with an invisible daemon stalking the hallways. The locations are both varied and give the players plenty of options regarding how they want to approach them. There are some guidelines for what might happen if the players try some specific things, and enough information about the major NPCs that it’s not too hard to figure out how they would react depending on what the players do. It would also be pretty easy to skip areas in case you don’t like one or more of them, or if you want to shorten the adventure a bit, and just place the clues in another location.

The final act sees the party enter Lyastria and this region just has two key locations described. Bright Haven, the seat of the dark lords, where Queen Korinthia was imprisoned during the war, as well as the resting place of the thing that’s needed to make the throne of Symbar safe to sit on. Bright Haven is a great location that is both creepy and offers a lot of room for the players to come up with their own solutions. This has the potential to be the true highlight of the adventure, particularly if the players are good at coming up with interesting plans. The stronghold and the surrounding city is populated by the undead, most of which barely hold on to the last traces of their humanity, and the players need to find a way inside the stronghold, preferably alive and without making the area so dangerous to travel through that they have no way to get out of it.

Sadly the final showdown leaves a bit to be desired. The actual location, which I won’t spoil, is great, and there’s an interesting conflict here, but it feels like the outcome is not really up to the players. Their actions can make it so that certain important characters live or die, and they get to roll some dice, but there’s one big event that they have no real say over, which is there to tie in with the next (and final) part of the campaign. And sadly this makes the player characters feel more like spectators than people who truly have a say over how things will go down.

Apart from the major locations there are also events that can happen as they travel, most of which are not necessary for the adventure, but fleshes out the world, and makes Alberetor and Lyastria feel like the dangerous places they’re supposed to be. As the players are going to move over relatively long distances sprinkling in some events here and there sprinkling in some events here and there might be a good idea. One thing worth keeping in mind when running an adventure in a region like this is that working in replacement characters might not necessarily be all that easy, so if a player character dies you’ll have to be creative. There are still people moving about in Alberetor and Lyastria though, so it’s not impossible to find some way to get new characters into the party.

Sprinkled through the adventure are also callbacks to past adventures, both ones that were part of this campaign, and standalone adventures. These callbacks feel organic, and not distracting. Most of them are small things, a place mentioned earlier, a person who the players might have run into, and if you’ve not played the adventure they’re referring they’ll just blend in with everything else. These callbacks do a good job at making the world feel interconnected, without making it feel small.

Handouts & Other Material

Alberetor – The Haunted Waste comes with quite a few handouts that can be given to the players during important moments. There are 5 letters in the back of the book that can be photocopied, as well as maps of the region, and there’s also a separate (free) 30 page PDF that gives more printer friendly versions of those handouts, as well as pictures of important NPCs, and some of the items the players are likely to find. This PDFs also has two maps of the region, one being a standard map, and the other being a hex-map. The hex map has colour coded hexagons that shows how corrupted nature is, similar to the hexagon map of Davokar in the GM’s guide.

The handouts are well made and it is nice to get something physical handed to you during play, rather than just a description. Handouts like these also helps players remember things, if they feel uncertain about some detail they can just check the handout and read it for themselves. The fonts used that are supposed to make them look handwritten are not necessarily the easiest one to read though.

Layout & Art

If you’re familiar with Symbaroum (and you probably are, why else would you be reading a review for the 5th adventure in a campaign?!) the layout of Alberetor – The Haunted Waste should look familiar. The book is divided into chapters, with each “act” of the adventure having its own chapter, and the description of each of the three regions being in that specific chapter of the book. The layout of the book is overall good and it’s easy to find any relevant information you’re looking for. There are also clear indications of where and when different handouts should be given to the players, with pictures of the relevant handouts as well as page references for them being shown in the sidebar.

The art this time is not made by Martin Grip, who was responsible for most of the art in the core books, though this should not come as a surprise if you’ve read some of the past adventures in the campaign. While the artists have their own somewhat cleaner style the art still feels like it fits in with the rest of the Symbaroum books, and is very good. The art also does a good job at showing the GM what some important scenes look like and some if it could be shown to the players. More art would have been nice, but what is here is great.

Closing Thoughts

As I said in the introduction, I’ve sadly not had time to actually sit down and play this adventure, though I have played through a couple of Symbaroum adventures at this point, so there might be some things I’ve missed. Some issues don’t necessarily become clear until you’ve actually played an adventure after all.

It’s nice to finally see Alberetor get fleshed out and while it would have been even nicer to get more information about the region, there’s still plenty here for a GM who wants to make their own adventures. Combined with the descriptions of the civil war there’s a lot stuff here for a GM to work with. Running a campaign focused around the civil war would be both entirely possible and probably quite fun.

As for the adventure itself , the main strength of it are the different locations. Each location gives the players a very different challenge to overcome, and even if you don’t intend to run the campaign you could take the locations and use them in your own adventures. I do have one major criticism of the adventure though, and that’s how the players ultimately have little say over where the story goes. They’re more treated like spectators, with the queen and her half-sister being the true main characters of the story. That’s a pretty big criticism, but I still think that Alberetor – The Haunted Waste is worth getting, as the adventure overall is pretty good. And if you’ve already got the previous parts, you probably don’t need any convincing to get this one anyway.

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August 2021

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