The sequel to SSI’s first D&D computer game was a little odd in that it was also a sequel to the novel Azure Bonds. On top of that, the TSR adaption of the game into a module carried the code “FRC2”, implying that the codeless Ruins of Adventure should have been FRC1. Ironically, while the SSI games continued, this was the last one TSR turned into a traditional adventure module, leaving Curse of the Azure Bonds the only module with a FRC code.
While physically similar to the previous module (a 96-page perfect-bound softcover), in many ways it is its opposite. Where Ruins felt messy and incomplete, this one is clear and well-presented. Where Ruins was confined to a small city, this one goes on the road with extensive travel. Where Ruins was a small campaign sandbox, this one is a railroaded plot-driven adventure. A small bit of discontinuity is that Ruins of Adventure implied that anything more with Tyranthraxus will happen up in the north of FR5 The Savage Frontier, while this adventure turns west and south to the Dales/Cormyr heart of the original boxed set (and focus of Azure Bonds), the first game product to return to the main area of Ed Greenwood’s campaigns.
Azure Bonds and Ruins of Adventure/Pool of Radiance are considered to have both happened around May/June 1358 DR, and this adventure starts in October. History (of the Realms) has not been kind to this adventure, with the 1358 DR portion of the timeline getting crowded. The Time of Troubles (Avatar trilogy) is supposed to happen from June to October 1358 DR (effectively wrapping up as this, published earlier, adventure starts). Later reworkings of the timeline apparently move Azure Bonds back to 1357 DR, while Pool of Radiance is now set in 1340, which pretty much destroys the setup for this adventure.
The module gives two general ways for things to begin: an ambush in which the party is defeated (the numbers, power, and tactics are good enough to make it likely if never guaranteed), or just skipping to waking up in Tilverton with about a month of memories missing. There are some disadvantages to that, as there are a couple of extra encounters meant to ‘prime the pump’ with some relevant information, but that can be provided a bit later.
There… has been a lot of ink/electrons spilled over the years about how bad an adventure start this can be. It can work, and can certainly be the natural fallout of the course of a campaign, but when forced like this, it shows that the adventure is a fairly heavy-handed railroad. Despite the fact that it is meant to feature the party from Ruins, this is an adventure that needs some real player buy-in and it may be best to run it by starting a new group waking in Tilverton. The good news is that the bulk of the characters’ gear and equipment is left to them, as the villains want capable adventurers for their plans. (Though as there are no pre-made characters provided, figuring out that gear for a new party will take a little effort.)
In fact, the adventurers could just go back to their previous business if it weren’t for these strange magical blue tattoos with five sigils they got somewhere….
The bulk of the module splits up into five sections, each one being a mini-adventure dealing with one of the organizations behind the ambush and tattoos. The first section happens in Tilverton, and picks up a couple threads of ‘current events’ from the original boxed set, while also paralleling part of the novel (poor Giogi does a repeat performance, but still doesn’t get any game stats, even though he gets kidnapped in the adventure, and would go on to be the main character of the novel The Wyvern’s Spur in about a year).
Once business is taken care of in Tilverton, the module opens up a bit. A quick, but informative, two page gazetteer of the area of the module outlines the area and an appendix has a collection of encounter tables for the region. The party should have some idea of what, and some of the who, they’re dealing with at this point, and have places to go. And if that isn’t enough… the module hits them over the head with an informative dream (with repeats after every section is finished). Of the four remaining problems for the party to deal with, three of them are legal targets at this point, with the last saved for the end fight.
With a bit better information management, the need for dreams (sendings from Elminster, that meddler) wouldn’t be necessary. Defining ‘hooks’ from each of the middle three groups to any others not yet handled isn’t hard. A bit tougher is saving the last for last without getting heavy handed. Veterans of Ruins of Adventure should recognize the fifth sigil that almost no one else knows of easily enough. As written, the module allows the players to know where he is fairly easily, but possibly too soon. It’s also a little vague, as the party could end up confronted with a (huge!) barrier with no immediate entrance if they approach from the wrong direction.
The final part of the adventure both works and doesn’t. It doesn’t necessarily feel climatic. Actually, it feels a lot more arbitrary than the other sections, which have a bit more life to them (somewhat literally, with the amount of undead around). On the other hand, this isn’t too hard to improve on: First, if the characters are veterans of Ruins of Adventure, the rematch against the villain should have a lot more punch for them. Otherwise, it mostly requires playing up how much he masterminded everything, and brought this entire plan together! Time to ham it up!
An appendix at the back of the book gives information on the prominent NPCs, repeating information on Alias, Dragonbait, Azoun IV, Akabar, Olive, and Elminster from FR7 Hall of Heroes nearly verbatim (if a bit edited). Fzoul Chembryl and Vangerdahast have extensively rewritten entries. A few new characters, plus the descriptions of a few magical items (/macguffins) are provided, though most of these should get killed off in the adventure. The only truly new bit of lore is a full entry for Alusair Nacasia (Azoun IV’s daughter and heir). On the other hand, the module has a lot more to say geographically. Tilverton (which only had a mention in the entry for Tilver’s Gap as a whole) is provided with a full-page map and some description. A full-page map is given of Voonlar… which isn’t all that important a location in the module. As well, most of the map of Shadowdale and the map of Myth Drannor are repeated from the original Cyclopedia.
Curse as the Azure Bonds is often described as just the game version of the novel Azure Bonds, instead of a sequel, which probably explains the re-use of almost all the primary and secondary characters of the original. But while the characters wake up in the same situation, and with much the same questions as Alias, the novel picks up a lot of weight as the questions start going into the actual nature of Alias herself. The use of plug-in characters for this adventure means there’s no opportunity for that, and the adventure sticks with the initial surface story of the novel with different villains all the way through. That is, in essence, the nature of many poor sequels.
Despite that, the different demands of a novel and RPG adventure allow this module to stand well on its own. Unlike the previous Ruins of Adventure, this is runable without a bunch of extra prep work. However, it also requires much more player buy-in. Beyond that, however, it comes down to whether the players would rather stay in one place and see it improve as their efforts pay off, or if they’d rather be more of a wandering band seeing the sights (and there are a lot of sights to see in the Forgotten Realms). In both cases, they are built around a fairly episodic structure with an overarching campaign behind them.