Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: H1 Bloodstone Pass

Here is another review of an old adventure from my collection.

For more, see my reviews page.

by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson
TSR 1985
$4.99 in PDF

Bloodstone Pass was the first adventure module written specifically for the Battlesystem rules system. If you don't know Battlesystem, it was a mass combat system for AD&D, with counters representing from 1:1 (heroes) to 10:1 (fodder-types) figures per counter. It basically let you play out tabletop-wargame style battles that were fully compatible with the AD&D rules, just by adding a few abstractions and stats to deal with masses of troops at once. The boxed set came with some battles, but H1 Bloodstone Pass came out with a campaign.

It is set in the Forgotten Realms, between Vaasa and Damara. To be strictly accurate, it's set in a pass between those lands, but it doesn't mention the Forgotten Realms. I've never been clear if those were always part of the canonical setting and just preceded it, or were added in to accommodate these lands. The module treats them largely as names.

The adventure setup is one that screams out for pre-gens: the PCs are refugees from war. They've lost the majority of their hard-won magic items, all but a few coins in their pockets, and all of their holdings, henchmen, hirelings, followers, and titles. They're destitute, or at least as destitute as high-level adventurers with a couple of choice magic items can be - opportunity knocks. I say pregens because I've rarely met a player willing to accept "you've lost everything and you're starting over" gracefully.

The PCs get caught up in a Seven Samurai-esque situation. After a place-setting encounter with a traveling menagerie that needs assistance, the PCs get recruited for 5 silver a day (that's 1/4 of a gp) to come help a village fight bandits.

The bandits turn out to be the spearhead of an evil army with appropriately high-level backing. The village naturally has a cast of characters, a beautiful woman to romance, an aging leader to impress, a stern cleric to wear down into friendship, and so on. Most of them seem to come right out of central casting, but here it adds rather than detracts. If you're going to be wandering heroes on the rebound recruited by a village for a pittance to fight evil, don't you want the rest of the staples of the fiction?

The adventure has a series of encounters that can lead to conflict or alliance, profit or loss, and determine how much the village can draw on nearby communities for aid. They're pretty interesting, but also a bit obvious. Players willing to take small chances and be heroic will do fine. Players unwilling to take risks and suspicious of traps at every turn will be safer but lose out.

The actual Battlesystem battles are interesting - they escalate believably, and include at least one challenging battle that really takes advantage of the enemy's magic and the weakness of the good side. It all functions on a timeline, giving the PCs a limited time to organize the army, build defenses, deal with challenges within the village (and roleplay them out, naturally), recruit allies, and so on. It's a tight schedule, and the picklist of things to do adds up to more time than the PCs will have.

The enemy forces are pretty straightforward, but include plenty of mid-to-high level heroes and leaders for the PCs to tangle with. They neither feel overwhelmingly powerful nor too weak to challenge high-level PCs.

The adventure came with new (and more attractive) die-cut counter sheets for Battlesystem, fold-up houses for the village, pre-filled out roster sheets. Even the pregenerated PCs come as front-and-back printed roster sheets. The module has a solid series of tables to determine the villagers as needed, and maps of specifically interesting buildings. There is also a map of the area and a map of the bad guy's camp.

Overall, the adventure is straightforward but well done. Impress the recruiters with an unrelated task, get recruited, find some allies, fight the bandits, and then fight the final battle royale. All well done.

How is it for GURPS?

This might do well with GURPS Mass Combat, if you modify it with Tactical Mass Combat, both by David Pulver. Straight-up, the intent is to play out battles. The battles aren't a backdrop for adventuring, but rather adventuring is a backdrop to war. Characters set up primarily for individual adventures, and players uninterested in winning a tabletop battle, will struggle with this regardless of system. The smaller-area largely tactical nature of GURPS spells will mean the battle is more about soldier vs. soldier than in AD&D. That will apply equally to both sides, however, and should even out.

Overall: It's a very good adventure for Battlesystem and AD&D. It does its job, and is well set up to provide a GM with all the detail needed to run the village and the war, and for the PCs to deal with the village and win that war. It's one of the better modules I ever purchased, and it's so very different from the rest.

War Stories: I played this adventure when it came out. I didn't run it, I played it solo. That might seem strange, but honestly, for Battlesystem, did I really need a DM or an opponent? I just ran both sides ruthlessly and saw who won. In my case, the PCs did, mostly because I think the field was a little slanted toward them. If you make the right choices you can make the peasant army into a pretty tough force, and if you're willing to dump magic quickly and furiously you can reduce losses pretty effectively. I really enjoyed playing out the series of battles.

The counters it came with still see action as individual orcs, peasants, swordsman, archer, etc. in my current games. I'd play this again, given a solid chance, but I'm not sure I'd run it. I don't have a group right now that seems really into playing all-day tabletop wargame after wargame.


  1. You might want to see my review:

    It answers your setting questions in the first two paragraphs. (Completely separate when it was published.)

    1. That's kind of what I suspected. They're kind of oddly placed, and see more like a throw-in in the FR. And like I said, in H1 they get no detail beyond enough to get a war started.

    2. The initial boxed set absorbed as many of the preexisting adventures as it easily could. Vassa & Damara were added from H1-H2. The Desert of Desolation (I3-5) was squeezed in, and the Korinn Archipelago from N4 was added to Moonshae.

  2. I was always interested in bringing Wargame elements to the GURPS tabletop, but it never happened - for dedicated campaigns, my most regular player was of the opinion that the outcome of a battle should already be pre-determined, or the hero alone gets to do some thing to turn (or lose) the tide.

    We did dabble in converting the mechanics into a Mordheim knock-off, though.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...