Tears of the Burning Sky is the 6th adventure in the War of the Burning Sky adventure arc for 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons. It has all the elements anyone could want in a 4th edition game: high level, fast paced battles, exploration of an interesting location and a compelling story that keeps nonstop pressure on the characters to add that hint of tension that makes 4th edition games so compelling.
The adventure is well written with a complex plot, well described, unique rooms and a wide variety of creatures to challenge the characters. Even the NPC’s that the characters bump into are well thought out and interesting rather than just static backdrop that the players bump into one time in one spot and never see again. They have their own agendas and the authors go to sufficient lengths to ensure that their plans are described well enough that a DM knows what the NPC’s will do under almost any circumstances that might come up.
Tears of the Burning Sky does an excellent job of conveying all the gritty, combat oriented adventure of older versions of D&D with the action packed, dynamic stories and combats that fourth edition does so well. In fact, the central encounter of the adventure is a complex, multilayer death trap that would fit in well with any version of D&D done utilizing the flexible attention grabbing system presented by 4th edition. Even more in keeping with classic D&D style, the trap is easy to bypass if the characters find all the right clues and put them together properly.
This complex plot does not begin with the Tears of the Burning Sky adventure, it is a continuation of a larger plot started in the first of the War of the Burning Sky adventures. In fact, the prologue of this adventure is a portion of the larger story that has kicked off the entire adventure arc. Fortunately, for those involving themselves in the middle of the story and for those seeking further information about the world and plot the War of the Burning Sky Player’s Guide and the War of the Burning Sky Campaign Guide are both available for free online.
Though this complexity and continuity are to be commended for the overall plot, there are several places in Tears of the Burning Sky where interactions with NPC’s hinge on meetings with the PC’s in prior modules. While this no doubt does a great deal to give the players a feeling of immersion and that the story is continuing from chapter to chapter, no suggestions are made about how to change these NPC’s interactions should a DM run this adventure as a stand alone or begin the plot with this module. This may not be a problem for experienced DM’s who can undoubtedly substitute their own NPC’s into the scenario or eliminate the portions that depend on the NPC’s entirely, but for newcomers to the role of running a game, it could prove troublesome. This level of interwoven connections would also not be a problem if the adventure was intended to be played only as a part of the larger War of the Burning Sky arc. However, it is specifically stated that the module can be played as a stand alone adventure. While this is, technically true it cannot be done easily. The problem could be alleviated with a simple sidebar detailing how to bypass the necessity of using each NPC or ways to introduce them within the adventure.
The descriptions of the locations in Tears of the Burning Sky are nicely executed and interesting, as are the locations themselves. The feel for the rooms and situations that the characters find themselves in, as well as the overall tone of the adventure are conveyed in clear but evocative language and will help the players immerse themselves in the story. Unfortunately, the creators of the adventure were not quite as eloquent in their descriptions of the monsters the party faces and the NPC’s they encounter. Out of the dozens of creatures the party meets in the course of the adventure, only a handful have descriptions. In fact, it was not until I reached the stat block section of the adventure and noticed the creature types that I realized that a great many of the monsters were gnolls and orcs. This is a situation where the strength of the product shows a weakness. It likely would not have occurred to me that the creature descriptions were missing were it not for the fact that the location descriptions are so well done and thorough.
As usual, in a product offered by one of the smaller, independent companies, there were more than a few spelling and layout issues in this module. The most glaring of these was probably the inconsistent way they listed recharge probabilities for the powers of the monsters. Some places had the cool, visually appealing little dice symbols with the number of pips showing the refresh numbers. Other places just had the boring old numbers. It would not have been annoying if either method had been used consistently, but once the nifty, gimmicky dice symbols were used, it was frustrating to see the plain numbers in other places, especially since the dice symbols are the way Wizards of the Coast represent the information. This issue, along with some of the formatting and spelling errors seemed as though they could have been easily eliminated if someone had simply gone over the product after it was written and laid out.
Another issue I had with the module was the placement of the mechanical information for the encounters. While the descriptions of the rooms and the timeline of the story are in the first half of the book, the stats of the monsters and traps are in the second half. While this is just a thematic choice on the part of the creators, I don’t like the idea of having to flip to the back half of the book to see what the players will be facing when they enter a room at the first half of the book. I would have much preferred to have the stat blocks listed after the room or plot point descriptions so that all the information was in one place. Fortunately, the page numbers are noted in the encounter descriptions in the beginning of the book and the page numbers of the encounter descriptions are listed at the top of each stat page.
Overall, Tears of the Burning Sky is a good module. A skilled GM can fit it into an ongoing campaign with a little work and creativity, though a novice should stay away unless he is running the adventure as a part of the ongoing arc that it is a part of. Clearly, being a piece of the larger puzzle is where the adventure truly shines. Having read this module, I’m curious about the overall plot and I suspect that Tears of the Burning Sky makes a spectacular portion of the larger War of the Burning Sky arc.