Let me preface this review by saying that I am coming from the point of view of a player who initially played the three adventures as a PC rather than as a GM who ran the game.
This means that I come from the perspective of how it ended up not how it was supposed to end up. Nonetheless, I feel that the GM that ran the adventures stayed very true to what was presented with an exception or two which I will note.
My initial impressions were that this was a decent setting for 3E. The Gm presented us with some reference aids that helped us get along a little bit, but honestly, most of the players came to the game with characters meant for the generic Greyhawk setting. This probably didn’t totally aid our ability to fully function in the steam punk society.
This stems from an issue that often the current situation has the industry following. It is much cheaper and easier to produce an adventure for a 3E setting than it is to write the sourcebook. This however, in my opinion is backwards, and it would be much better for all involved if a more well presented knowledge of the game setting was available before any adventures were released for it. Certainly, we, as players, would have had an easier time preparing for the setting if we had more than a couple handouts that gave very small basics. Another issue is that we started playing the adventures before all 3 modules had been released. Extra slices of game setting information were provided in the adventures, but what good is it knowing the languages available and necessary only in the third book when you’ve made characters already and played through the first two with them?
That aside, the initial flow of the game was nice. We played the three modules over the course of 4 months. Honestly, we did not finish the third (I’ll get to that in a moment). There were some really interesting events and characters in the adventures, and without giving a spoiler type review here I would say that the first book was pleasant to go through. The GM in particular, took some time to make some of the scenes presented top notch and often downright amusing. While it was a good adventure, we the players saw it for a first part of a trilogy and were willing to accept some shortcomings on the basis that it would set up the following two books. If I had to place a major shortcoming to this book, it’s the motivation of the main “villain” character as to why she’d lay out a whole town with what she had to do. There’s no reason behind it other than to give the characters something to do.
Let’s move on to the second book. By this time the party is pretty familiar with the character of Alexia. She’s the main NPC that guides the storyline of the Witchfire trilogy. This is where I’m going to hit on the main flaw with these adventures as we the players saw it. That is, the character of Alexia controls all of the major plot points of the game and does things for extremely illogical reasons. First of all, more than half of the party was sympathetic to her cause, but the authors of the books want them not to be. The information presents her with a set of goals that most people would probably have the same as her if they had the opportunity. The authors want the party to act purely to move the adventure along. Well, we got through the adventure, but the party didn’t do what they wanted. This put the GM in a spot because he didn’t believe that there was any reason for Alexia to force the party’s hand into combat.
By the third book, I had become totally skeptical of the whole trilogy. I was going through the motions because that’s what the authors apparently wanted. None of us were surprised at what we were expected to do and we went about doing it. This is where the whole thing totally lost us. They put us through a killer dungeon crawl. We’re expected to have a thief in the party, but we don’t. We’re expected to know languages from the setting which weren’t presented until the third book. The dungeon has tons of traps including some instant death ones. Well, one trap took out half the party. The remainder went on to find that the whole navigation of the dungeon meant nothing. The party could have sat outside of the dungeon, waited for Alexia to show up, waited for her to clear all the traps and do what she’s supposed to do, because after going through heck, that’s exactly what happens, she comes in and does everything anyway. We stopped there. Most of us too disgusted to want to finish the adventure, the rest of us too unnecessarily dead.
The GM noted several times that the adventures were good reads. I got to look at them somewhat after the fact, and I do agree that they are moderately well written, but that there seems to be a lot of superfluous set up information that is never really presented to the party. Additionally, the GM said that the organization of the books sometimes put information in obtuse places that were well out of the way to where they should have been. Understandably the GM is expected to read the adventures before he runs them, but to have to memorize the layout or to have to make footnotes for stuff that should already be referenced properly in the book is rather out of line with my expectations for modern gaming material.
All in all, the world setting is neat. The world sourcebook should have been written before these adventures were released. The adventures are written well if not intuitively. The plot and substance are very poor at best.