Issues abound on this one.
From the beginning this module falls short on what you need to know to run encounters.
To start with you come across a (camp?) that adds really nothing to the story. There is a Hellrider who is supposed to be long dead, (like, measured in years) but the campfire is still smoking.
I will say I LOVE that this encounter gives advantage on a check to someone with the soldier background.
The bulleting on this encounter, however, makes it tough to track what pieces the players need to come across. This is a good chance to write box text that highlights the stuff that you want players to interact with.
Clunky, but a fine encounter.
THE GROVE is where most of the problems I have with this module are.
Entering the Grove:
References a DC10 WILLPOWER Saving throw. Please, proofread.
It gives NO reason anyone would ever have to make that save, because there is no reason that people would eat a fruit, other than a player being chaotic stupid.
It talks about how you run into devils, beasts, and mortals who are addicted to the fruit and wasting away, which sounds cool, and then they aren't in any of the encounters below... The corruption is referenced, but there is no reason ever given that a player would become corrupted.
This is a good chance to use one of those warped, effect of the land Regional Effect madness like the legendary creatures have in Mordenkainen's. Something fun to start the adventure.
There is a random table of encounters that you are supposed to use for the middle of the module, 10 of them in total.
Most of them are really bad, incomplete encounters.
Encounter 1: Carnivorous Plants
This is supposed to be an ambush, and I guess it works for that, but in truth this is an encounter that a party will just run from. It's too easy. An open clearing, and an assassin vine. This is tier two, virtually all back liners (which is what the plant is written to attack) have a teleport ability like misty step. Without other information about the clearing the encounter literally becomes teleport out, nuke it. The accompanying flower is pretty meh as well.
This reads as something that is supposed to not be a threat but using combat for this is a big-time waste. You have everyone roll for initiative, and move through the order twice, for something that isn't really a threat except to maybe a smaller party of 5th level players.
Replace it with a trap or similar.
Encounter 2: Fallen Devil
You come across an old devil that lives here. He might help the players he might not. All he wants is a treant’s heart, or soul coin charge.
References are made to contracts he has been tied to his staff, but nothing about the contracts he has made, or what contracts he would want to make.
Encounter 3: Great Oaks Fall
This one is pretty good, but it's so damn vague about what the players can do to avoid killing the treant if they want to get involved.
Also, the box text doesn't really make sense. It says the treant is bent over the flower (indicating it's above the thing) but then it says that liquid is pooling around the treant and pouring onto it.
Anti-gravity ooze is what I went with, which is cool, but we need to paint a clear picture here, which this box text fails at. The area is vague, like the rest of this mod.
Another failing of the box text is that it doesn't tell you what the other basics of this encounter are, (The treant is being waterboarded sort of) it's in pain, etc. These are the sorts of stuff you put into box text, IMO, not in the "What do they want" section. The treant being in pain isn't something that it wants.
Encounter 4: Harvest Farm
A tree that you have no real reason to approach and becomes an odd vague combat encounter if you get attacked by the tree. No information on why the tree might attack the players, just that it could. It might follow its devil hedge trimmers wishes, or not. Who knows!?
I love the contract here but is of very limited value.
Encounter 5: The obelisk! It doesn't tell you what will make this encounter friendly or not, it just is an encounter? What makes them want to fight? Etc.
Encounter 6: The Pit. I love that this encounter has a clear order of operations. Touch the spike, spring the trap, get in a fight. If you are smart and examine things you can avoid it.
And then it's a DC 11 DEX save, which if you have a paladin, everyone will make.
This encounter is fun in design, and while I think the execution is slightly flawed, it's pretty good. More like this.
Encounter 7: Tree of Skin
Another tree that is straight up an encounter that players might just go, "We walk around it."
The encounter here is sort of, I don't know, odd. I didn't run this one, but it also suffers from the same sorts of issues when it comes to sequence and hooks.
Encounter 8: The Sickened Orchard.
Exploding trees, this is the way that you can get corrupted, I guess. Except it's based on a DC13 DEX save, and based on the box text, you just send a monk or rogue through them, double dashing, and they won’t be near the tree when it explodes. Or if they are, well, Evasion is a thing.
No word on how many trees there are, how the grove is arranged. Is it one ring of trees? 5?
All you get for this is some of the Angel Seed, which is not super useful.
Encounter 9: Troop of Woe
A potentially funny encounter, except the what do they want section on this one falls super short. They are supposed to be arguing and squabbling, as imps do, but there is nothing for them really to argue about, because they don't seem to want anything. They don't want to fight, (And will run if looped into a fight.) Very Underwritten
Encounter 10: Untainted Husk
This is fine, it's just a place where they can rest safely.
However, nothing else about the module suggests that making camp in the woods is excessively dangerous. There isn't really any sense of urgency or dread.
Heart of the Grove:
The devils contract info here is useful, except the players have no real way of finding it out without mind reading. The Devils seem to be wishy washy overall.
The unicorn doesn't make sense, she is filled with pride, but also shame, there are details about the tree, but my players were really confused by the description. I don't know if that was a falling of mine or the module, but the real failing is in the solution.
There is a DC 13 perception check to see the body binding the Unicorn, and a DC17 to see that they are, "pretty dead, bro."
A unicorn has healing abilities, and on top of that, has high wisdom, (with a passive perception of 13)
There are only two ways to play the unicorn that make sense. Delusional or stupid. If delusional, then it should be referenced that demonstrating that her friend is dead will be like, blamed on the players. If stupid, then revealing it might point her wrath at the devils. Since that is the route taken by the module, that is the assumption I would operate under.
Personally, to solve the problem of the Unicorn literally never looking at her friend, I would make her blind. Give her blindsight to 30 feet, so she literally can't see the condition of her friend until the players arrive. It solves the delusion or dumb problem and provides a more interesting social encounter. You could even make it part of the contract; she gave up her sight to save the one she stared on each day so lovingly.
T H E M A T I C S.
I didn't run the bonus objectives, (not a long enough window at the con) but looking them over they actually look pretty good. In retrospect I wish I had skipped the traversal table and just run the bonuses, because the two of them are interesting and fun looking.
The story rewards seem to have no long-term effect at all, which robs success of meaning. How about advantage on something involving Dara, or the ability to reduce travel times as the unicorn helps you find steeds in the hellscape. This is not really a writing problem, but did let down my players (who initially were very proud they saved the unicorn, until they realized that they would never see her again, because other DM's are running other modules, and are not going to go, "oh for those of you that have this award, the unicorn is here, for the others you don't see her."
I have run a LOT of the adventure modules, mostly from Season 8, and Season 4, and this one required way, WAY more prep and improv than any other I have run.
I can see what this module wants to be, but it's very underwritten throughout. I recommend skipping it, unless you want to buy it as a resource starting point to develop your own garden of evil thing.
Don't run this blind. Don't run this without a lot of prep. You are going to want to write yourself complete encounter guides for all of these, and come up with your own solutions, because there is a whole lot of nothing.
Hardest AL Module to run I have encountered, without being rewarding or fun for that difficulty. Mostly wasted potential in the concept.
1 out of 5