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Shadow of the Stranger

By Chris Risberg (Drizzt)

Shadow of the Stranger aka Wormwood placed 3rd in the Fourth Scenario design contest and not too far behind the other top two competitors. It is the third scenario by Chris Risberg (Drizzt) and a conclusion of the storyline throughout his other two scenarios The Forsaken and Brotherhood of the Hand. Both of them were efforts of high quality and this one is no exception.

SotS told a kind of eerie and violent story in an evolving and imaginative way. In this I applaud Drizzt as not many have been able to accomplish this. The plot is well structured and fleshed out quite well.

My only real beef with the plot is the villain. He is character is well developed throughout the scenario, and you even get a glimpse at his past and what made him into the bad guy he is. This is done very well. However, I really do not know how I felt about the bad guy. I surely didn't hate him, nor did I really sympathize with him. His character was told very well, but it was not involving enough for me to develop some kind of affinity with him. Unfortunately, he just turns out to be another one of those guys out to rule/destroy the world. Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all, if there is a good underlying motivation for him to do so. That condition, in my opinion, was not developed to my satisfaction. So for the most part, he's a bad guy does what he does because he's a bad guy because that's what bad guys do. Perhaps not quite that bad, but fairly close to.

Aside from the basic motivations of the villain, the other thing that really did not make me happy was the "coincidental" aspects of a few situations. One example was when some mysterious character working for the villain "accidentally" drops his "key" into the villain's hideout. Another that comes to mind is when you are exploring a trash pit to recover some item, you make friends with this psychic gelantous garbage eating goo. Why does the goo decide to help you? Because one of your friends just happened to be exploring the same trash pit one day and happened to release this jelly from it's prison. There are a few others, but overall, the author handles the necessary "coincidences" well.

Now to move onto the many positives of this scenario which overwhelm the negatives by far. The first thing that becomes apparent are the many innovations employed in this scenario. The most apparent of these is the day/night cycle which brilliantly uses variable town entry to simulate towns at day and at night. Visiting places at different times of day becomes essential. It brought back memories of an old Castlevania game for Nintendo waaaaaay back when.

Another one of Drizzt's little innovations was the use of a 'Cube of Teleportation' which allows you to store destinations and travel to them via the Word of Recall spell. It's a good idea, but the mechanics of the cube were a bit awkward for lack of a better word. I suppose with limitations of the Blades editor Drizzt did his best, so I cannot penalize him there.

There are a few more. Like most good scenarios these days, the use of NPCs that join battles is employed to a limited extent. Nothing really revolutionary, but attractive. Also, there was that item synthesizing machine which was pretty neat. Some battle mechanics were improved such as the use of walls that radiate antimagic fields to simulate an Antimagic Cloud special spell, a neat battle with a massive ice drake that I loved, among many other things that I'll let you uncover on your own.

As for combat, there are some pretty tough fights. At one point, the party is stripped of their items and forced to fight a fairly difficult encounter against the villain of the story. I ended up using the editor to even out the score a bit there, but otherwise everything was manageable. Difficult, but manageable.

Custom graphics were used extremely well. In fact I don't remember a scenario where I was so pleased with their use. Many of them are the work of Tim Farland, so I give him credit for most of this. The graphics for the Empire soldiers used some of his best and the quality of the scenario is definitely enhanced because of it. Also, the use of custom dialogue pics are far better than any other scenario seen thus far. Definitely some ideas for future designers to consider.
Among these innovations were a few 'dungeons' that really stood out. The one that was extremely creative was the 'shadow spire', very hard to describe. Very short and nothing really there, but graphical use really showed the party being caught in this almost tornado of blackness. I know I was really impressed by this.

Well overall, this scenario is one of the best. I'm not sure if I liked the plot on a whole, but I love the way it was told. A few areas felt a bit awkward, but nothing so puzzling it makes the game unwinnable. All of this is overcome by the innovative techniques used within the scenario which are coming hard to do considering all that has been accomplished in the Blades engine thus far. Definitely play it.

My Score -- 8.8

- *i