Another year, another Bloodstone module. By 1987, the Forgotten Realms had become a TSR property, but the original box set was still a month away when H3 The Bloodstone Wars was printed, so the back cover got the soon-to-be-familiar gold and stone logo, while the front retained the usual AD&D trade dress. At this point, the entire arc had been set, and the end of the module positively talks about the upcoming conclusion in H4. Reverting to the usual practice of a detached tri-fold cover and 32-page book, H3 also included a poster-sized hex-map of the remnants of the Kingdom of Damara.

The module generally assumes that the players have been through the first two adventures and one of them is now the Baron of Bloodstone (the former Baron having retired at the end of H2). If not, there’s a section that talks about how to get them involved, and does a good job with working them into the first part of the adventure, but fails to discuss anything past that, and the party would not be in the position of authority assumed by the rest of the module.

It is now spring, and the module assumes that the players will, naturally, still be working on loose ends, and the maps of the main mines from H2 are repeated, though no key or description is given. The real concern here boils down to logistics. The mines are open, and producing plenty of valuable unfinished gemstone. Now they need to be converted into something more useful—cash, supplies, troops….

This module features another turn in focus. Whereas H2 had BattleSystem as an afterthought at best, going hard down the line of a tough dungeon, H3 returns to large-scale warfare (with a side-order of killer dungeon). This isn’t as lovingly presented as in H1, but there are proper BattleSystem stats for everything (but no pre-filled out forms), and a set of five scenarios outlined, with a general flow chart of how things should progress. This latter is the idea that I think might have gotten edited out of H2 as the Temple started dominating the entire module.

(Warning: I’m talking about plot, such as it is, from here on.)

At any rate, the module assumes that the party will end up escorting a caravan of bloodstones to the nearest major trade city, and the first part does a good job outlining how that should go, and anticipates possible player actions well (such various methods of flying out there). There’s some hints though this section that there’s warfare in the near future, but I think it might need to be a bit more heavy-handed after how it got blown off in the second module. There is enough build up afterwards that it shouldn’t take the party by surprise, but they can lose some valuable opportunities to prepare at this point.

The second major section of the module details the war. The various (now) independent duchies of southern Damara quickly become jealous of the wealth flowing into Bloodstone again, and threaten and attack. Mostly. There’s some detail given to the start of this process, with the nearest barony, Arcata, given some detail. After that, it kind of comes apart. Carmathan attacks… because. The smaller baronies near the old capital? Because. There’s no sense of the leaders involved, no discussion of attempts to negotiate. They mobilize and attack because Bloodstone is successful.

There is mention that while independent, these duchies and baronies are puppets of the Witch-King of Vasaa, who is unhappy at recent events. But that still doesn’t excuse the entire lack of discussion about the attitudes of the various leaders involved. As a pure miniatures campaign, it’s not bad, featuring a logical series of battles that get progressively tougher, that culminate in a battle that’s supposed to turn into a standoff. The hex map isn’t really needed to control the movement of armies, it can be done by feel and narration, but if the players are into it, it’s very handy for that—except for the fact that it clearly marks the secret location of the Grandfather of Assassin’s citadel. Now, the party will find out about it, and go there at some point (very possibly in the middle of all this), but that’s supposed to be a plot point.

Worse, the final part of the campaign makes no sense by the map. Bloodstone has always been known to be one of a pair of passes over the mountains separating Vasaa and Damara, and the less popular one at that. So having the Vasaan army gather a bit south of the other pass makes some sense. Having it head south to the heart of the old kingdom makes some sense, but going west towards Bloodstone might be more productive (okay, fine, the party’s forces should be in the heart of the old kingdom at this point). But, the Witch-King’s citadel isn’t that far from Bloodstone. There should be some fighting in there, even if the pass is easy to hold. No, nothing, no mention of it at all. What makes it especially odd, is the glacier placed between the two passes, and blocking the citadel from where the Vasaan army is. (Later maps do not have this bit of glacier. I recommend ignoring it if you use this module.)

Apart from all of that, the party’s lives are being complicated by repeated assassination attempts. The module has some kindness in that they are targeted on the PCs, and not hirelings and other lower-level targets. At first. During the war, the assassins start going after the various unit leaders, which will start having bad consequences for BattleSystem leadership if they succeed. Finally, an assassin is captured, and the PCs can use him to find the Grandfather of Assassins’ hidden citadel.

This is a trap of course, and the party will get forced to chase him down a deadly gauntlet where he knows all the traps. This is actually an adaptation of an Ed Greenwood adventure in Dragon #64, but where that was an obstacle course, with blunt arrows, this is full of damage-dealing traps and save-or-die poison (at -5). At this level, fighters and clerics can probably take that, but thieves and magic-users could be in big trouble, especially with things like 100 assassins firing poisoned arrows (okay, while there, the party shouldn’t need to face that, and 2nd level To Hit probabilities help). And when needing to force the PCs into something, the writers need something better than a wall of annihilation. The real problem is that the Grandfather of Assassins pops up at a couple points in this run, but there’s no schedule given of what exactly he does, and how long it takes him to do it. It’s just assumed that he always gets out of view of the party and gets to set up as he wants. Somewhat likely, but don’t count on players to not come up with something clever.

In the end, players who are in it for miniatures battles will get far more of what they want this time around, and players who’d rather just continue their adventuring career get something too. This is probably the best attempt at doing battles and adventure there’s been, but it still marks another frustrating change in direction from the previous module. There’s still frustrations this time, but the jarring inconsistencies of H2 are largely gone. The real problem is a lack of personal interaction. The Grandfather of Assassins just acts like an insane villain for the gauntlet run, destroys his citadel if the players succeed, to show he can be a load-bearing boss too, and the leaders of the opposing forces in the war are not fleshed out at all.