Red Hand of Doom (2006) is a 3.5 edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure by Richard Baker and James Jacobs for levels 6-12.
Red Hand of Doom pits the characters against an overwhelming horde of hobgoblins and monstrous allies loyal to Tiamat. In an interview promoting the adventure, Rich Baker describes the concept. “My initial vision was to make my best swing at a challenge that comes in countless fantasy novels: The Army of Evil is trying to conquer everything. A lot of adventures use the orc horde as a backdrop and motivation, but then make the heroes go off and do ‘standard’ dungeon-delving to find the McGuffin that will then defeat the horde. I wanted to create and adventure that cast the heroes in the role of ‘captains of good,’ doing things that directly affected the course of the war.”
While engaging, this plot could mire characters in a series of battles against more and tougher hobgoblins. Few players would enjoy such a grind, so the design sets the heroes in a variety of missions that span the threatened region.
“The heroes face crucial tests in rallying allies, helping the local rules to determine strategy, spying on the Red Hand horde and scouting its movements, and directly confronting the bad guys on the battlefield. Some of that involves old-fashioned dungeon-delving, but a lot of the adventure takes heroes back and forth across the landscape, doing a hundred different things to stop the Red Hand march,” James Jacobs explains. “The PCs will find themselves in small towns and sprawling cities at either end of the adventure, and in between they’ll visit pastoral valleys, tangled forests, rugged mountains, and monster-infested swamps.”
Red Hand of Doom avoids serving a programed series of encounters where any failure derails the plot. Reviewer Jukka Särkijärvi writes, “In Red Hand of Doom, it’s fully possible for the party to royally screw up. There are many options open for the player characters and the writer have accounted for all the likely scenarios.” The adventure creates a sense of urgency as player race to evacuate a town, or cut off an invading force, or break down a road block.
The adventure doesn’t defy every expectation. “The first parts of Red Hand of Doom are the combat-heaviest D&D material I’ve played through, and they never once got boring,” Särkijärvi writes. “Each combat had a clear reason for being there, interesting enemies, and some tactical depth.”
Instead of pitting players against tougher and tougher flavors of hobgoblin, the adventure swaps in undead, hell hounds, giants, and other creatures. “Whenever we had the chance, we mixed things up by adding non-humanoid foes,” James Jacobs says.
The designers wrote Red Hand of Doom after Wizards of the Coast released two massive dungeon crawls in City of the Spider Queen and Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. From those releases, Jacobs took a lesson: “Don’t succumb to the lure of the enormous dungeon. They may be fun to design, but dungeons with 100 rooms are a bear to adventure through. I tried to keep the dungeons in Red Hand of Doom fairly small and took pains to give each of them a unique theme, feel, and flavor.”
The book benefits from a series of designers’ notes. “These notes are intended not only to provide advice on how to run a particularly tough encounter, but to explain why we made some of the decisions we made,” Jacobs says.
The notes also help DMs run the adventure. “We decided to open up the design a bit and make an adventure that was friendlier and a little less work for the DM to run,” Baker says.
“In addition, they provide an insight into how adventures are designed, and should hopefully help DMs to design their own adventures.”
Ron Whitaker from the Escapist describes Red Hand of Doom this way: “The party can use guerilla tactics, spy on the advancing horde, venture into a lich’s lair to deprive the horde of its undead minions, and finally take on the horde itself, with the preparatory actions coming back to aid or haunt them. It’s a superb adventure, and one that any D&D fan should play.”
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