Game: The Fiery Trial
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Series: Babyon 5: d20
Review Dated: 19th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
This book is one of the reasons why I’m sure Mongoose Publishing will make the Babylon 5 RPG license work where others have failed. The Fiery Trial is one of the many supplements the British company will produce for the line.
The Fiery Trial is a 128-paged paperback. It’s in full colour. Inside there’s a combination of illustrations for maps and devices and stills from the B5 series.
The text switches from black to italicised blue to highlight those paragraphs GMs can read allowed. There’s a blue backdrop for stat blocks. The best use of the colour is for the collection of double-paged Universe Today newspaper handouts. These handouts really should help ease the suspension of disbelief and draw players in the Babylon 5 world.
Yeah. handouts, paragraphs for GMs to read, maps, you’ve guessed it. The Fiery Trial is a pre-written adventure. If you’re worried about spoilers then go read something else on the site.
Actually, I lied. The Fiery Trial is a collection of adventures. A set of four linked together by a continuing story arc. The book is rather keen to have GMs surprise players and let them discover that these apparently one-off adventures are actually leading up to something greater. I don’t see why this review should spoil that surprise.
This is what happened in B5. The first session was closer to the stand-alone episodes until the final episode brought everything together. The blurb of the book claims this approach, the story arc, is a brand new concept among roleplaying games. This is far from a brand new concept in gaming. I’ve seen it used successfully for years now. It’s a particularly successful approach in LARPS and, better still, in MU*s. Numerous sci-fi MU*s advertise when one arc is about to conclude and another begin since it’s a good time to join.
It might be worth noting that the very first instance I remember where a GM explicitly encouraged players to think along these lines was one when the Babylon 5 TV show was given as the template to follow. Each night’s roleplaying can be seen as an episode and the whole the game, the campaign, can be seen as a story arc (at least one).
I happily rubbish linear pre-written adventures. Anyone can write a dungeon crawl. As the published adventure moves away from the linear structure the happier with it I become.
On that count, The Fiery Trial has its fair share of pros and cons. The cons aren’t too serious; they’re about level for a published adventure. The individual adventures in The Fiery Trial aren’t especially impressive. They’re presented as well as any linear set can be; in a series of encounters which can be dealt with the players as appropriate. Helping to blur the edges a bit are the side adventures, these are short scenarios, nicely mapped to Season One, which pads out the four main modules in the Fiery Trial.
The mapping to Season One is an important Pro for The Fiery Trial. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that the reason to buy The Fiery Trial is to see how it’s possible to run a Babylon 5 game that doesn’t hang on the coattails of the TV’s show characters and yet which gets involved in the key events.
Take the “Infection” episode for example – the characters get involved in the aftermath of that. They don’t try and take down the super warrior or anything like that, they simply have the option of trying to buy some of the flaked off remains of the creature if they track any down.
It’s B5 as the players know it but there’s no chance of messing up the canon plot. In the introduction to the book, we’re told that the GM will be warned whenever there’s a danger of player’s actions clashing and conflicting with events on the TV series. Saving flagrant cheating in the form of OOC information being used IC I can’t see any risk of this. In fact, I didn’t notice any such danger warning sign in the book either.
“Hello Mr Anderson,”
No, not a line from the Matrix but something one of your players might say. Mr Anderson is the glue that holds the four main modules of The Fiery Trial together.
In module one Mr Anderson hires the PCs to find out what happened to some missing scientists. He doesn’t tell them that they’re “kidnapped” by the Llort. I put kidnapped in quotation marks since the Llort have no notion of possession. As far as The Fiery Trial is concerned the key point here is to introduce Mr Anderson to the players, to have him fail to mention that he works for IPX and for him to come to trust the PCs.
In module two the PCs have the tougher task of breaking an NPC out of a Drazi prison. This module, “Raid on Ranasha”, is likely to feature spacecraft fighting.
This is great if you have got a pilot and an aggressive group. I just fear that a diplomatic group might stop to talk – oh; this is the inherent danger in these pre-written adventures.
Module three is classic B5. Even the side-adventures are very much in the style of series; for example, it is likely the characters will meet an NPC with a distinct relationship to Mr Anderson. In this module the players find themselves dealing with alien artefacts, scientists in trouble and trouble from the Rim
The last main module should see Mr Anderson trust the characters enough to have them partake in really important missions. Anderson is likely to die in this module.
The summary in the book says that he does die – but I just can’t bring myself to railroad players like that. It seems very likely he’ll die, it’ll take a miracle to save him and as unlikely as that is I don’t think it should be ruled out. He’ll die through treachery, another NPC in the group killing him. The module is supposed to be about recovering a cache of data from Narn territory but that goal is likely to fade into the background as events overtake the group. Oh. This Narn territory is in Quadrant 37.
It’s important to note that the time setting for these set of adventures is Season One. It’ll conclude as Season One concludes. The players may well see the strange alien craft cut through the Earth Alliance Hyperion cruiser.
Just as B5 overlapped story arcs (the Telepath War, for example, wasn’t nicely contained in just one season) it’s possible to use The Fiery Trial alongside a homebrew story arc. It’s also possible to use The Fiery Trial if you’re not following the B5 plot as laid down by the series.
The Fiery Trial is linear but it’s broad. The players have room for some lateral moves but the start and finish conditions are pre-defined. If you have to go with linear campaigns then you should look for this sort of breadth. The Fiery Trial’s momentum is simple; Mr Anderson wants things done, but this is effective.
On one level the campaign is a sequel collection of adventures but on another (and as a key success for the book) this sequence is only going to become clear to the players after the fact.
Better still, the sequence of events is going to leave your players thinking, “D’oh!” happily cursing sneaky GMs. If you insist on spending your money on linear pre-writes then make sure they’re like The Fiery Trial.
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