Module I14 Swords of the Iron Legion sits at a crossroads of Dungeons and Dragons: It is the last of the fabled “I” series modules. It is an early Forgotten Realms adventure. It is a set of BattleSystem scenarios.

In all, it’s a disappointing note for the I series to go out on.

In form, it is a slightly large adventure module: 64-pages with a detached cover. The contents are a collection of eight loosely-connected adventures, plus three pure BattleSystem scenarios. All the adventures have a common general background, and are supposed to happen in sequence… an unspecified time apart. While it is mentioned that you could run them as part of a campaign, there is no support for actually doing so. This is an anthology, with each adventure written by a separate author, and it shows, with different styles, amounts of information given, and pretty close to zero linking between adventures (one NPC shows up in two of the adventures, with no acknowledgement of this fact). Also, the recommended level for the PCs goes up by about two each time, meaning that the DM of a campaign would have to find something for the PCs to do each time before steering them towards the next battle/adventure from the module.

All of this is set around the Vilhon Reach, in parts of Turmish and Chondath, an area that would not get any further exploration for years. There’s not a lot said about the region in the module, though a few things do come up. A nice touch is a reproduction of the appropriate area of the poster maps from the Campaign Setting box set on the interior cover. The cover also has the map for the climatic battle of the series, and a chart of all monster types encountered in the module.

As a set of BattleSystem combats, they’re not too bad, the scenarios start out small, though maybe not as simple as could be desired, and move up in scale and scope from there. The three ‘firefights’ (pure BattleSystem combats) are relatively small, and while uncredited, also suffer from uneven writing. Sadly, while there’s good tabular stats for all the units in each battle, the commanders (needed for each unit, plus possibly brigade and army commanders) are all buried in the text. Now, the PCs should be taking part, often as commanders at various levels, but it would much better to display the basics for these too. (And in some places, including one of the firefights, I don’t see the commander info at all.)

As AD&D adventures, any one of them could be dropped into a campaign, some with more trouble than others. At that point, their success will largely depend on having a group that wants to go adventuring and likes the idea of commanding a small body of troops enough to want to play out a miniatures battle at the end of the adventure. A rare breed in my experience. My initial thought when seeing this module was that it would be the adventures of the commanders of a mercenary company as they accept various contracts, so that miniatures combat would be part of the buy-in to the campaign. I still think that’s a workable idea, and would lead to a much more cohesive module than this collection of battles that normal adventurers just happen to stumble into (and given the original Campaign Set outlined a number of mercenary companies, a reasonably obvious one).

Fine, but you still have the bare bones of a Vilhon Reach campaign that a DM could flesh out into something workable, right? Well….

The biggest problem with these adventures as a set, is that they all have a supposed common thread, they’re all part of the machinations of a daemon who’s using this fighting to further goals elsewhere, and it is all invisible to the players. Even the final climatic battle isn’t designed to let the PCs in on what’s happening. They get briefly told that this one daemon that they’ve never heard of (though they might have encountered him disguised) has been instigating wars to get souls to power a doomsday machine. No big discovery, just a bit of background info-dump. And the info-dump isn’t even complete or entirely correct (more invisible machinations).

The main feeling I would imagine a party feeling after the final adventure is frustration. I think some of the other adventures are worth a look, though I don’t know that I’d want to run any of them ‘straight’. But it’s just a nice idea, with some good production (I really like the combined monster statistics table), and a severely lacking execution.