Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition supplement
Rating - 3: useful for many campaigns
Interesting, challenging encounters designed for plug-and-play in your Dungeons and Dragons campaign. These are designed around the "kick in the door" cinematic style of play that 4th Edition seems to assume, with some small amount of set-up and ideas for expansion. Every level gets a linked set of three fights.
The book has three recommendations for using it. One is the plug-and-play approach I mentioned: pre-made encounters for your campaign, a tool for the experienced dungeonmaster. Second is as DM training, providing modular bits for practice. I am not sanguine about this, because it would be training the DM in the combat-focused approach that reduces the game most of the way back to tabletop wargaming (nothing against wargaming, just that role-playing games have grown in a different direction). Third, as a competitive event where the DM is trying to kill characters with defined obstacles. Could be fun, probably not conducive to a campaign.
Each encounter assumes miniatures. Each recycles some map pieces from D&D modules. Depending on your view, that is a nice bonus or a craven way of trying to extract funds, but the dungeon tiles are reproduced in sufficient detail not to demand additional expenditure. The tiles are arranged so you can plausibly keep the encounters separate, rather than wondering why the orcs in the next room are just listening to you slaughter their friends. You could argue on some, but let's say that stone has great sound-absorbing properties, and it will not matter to you if you are playing kick-in-the-door. The fight is the point, so just set up at the start of it.
The format is standardized, good, and stays out of the way. Each delve is three encounters. Each encounter is two pages. This repeats what I said about the core books: great effort was taken to keep everything visible when you have the book open, rather than flipping between pages. Open the book, there is one fight-unit.
I always support Wayne Reynolds cover art. The female warrior's equipment is perhaps questionable, with the usual fantasy habit of showing off skin in places where heavy armor should not. As usual, the open-bodice breastpiece is defensively sub-optimal. She must be amazingly strong to wield a sword as broad as her thigh in one hand. And about those thighs: are those some kind of metal-banded garter belts holding up the stockings? I love his drawing style, but I question the fantasy depictions of ladies' equipment. The tiefling wizard is showing off his nipples, but his robe was never providing much protection anyway.
The fights are interesting, combining a theme with a bit of variety. Some of the variety is questionable, but you can plead cinematic style. Some of them look inappropriately difficult. I trust the designers on the encounter level math, but they are very fond of ending with party level+3 or +4 fights, and you can construct some very difficult encounters by combining the right creatures that synergize. Flipping through, we have a level 1 party facing 2 level 4 enemies, a level 1 elite, and 8 level 2 minions. That EL3 fight is bad enough to include a sidebar on running away. The level 30 delve ends with a level 30 solo supported by 2 level 27 elites and 3 level 24s, in a room with hazards that only affect the PCs, and the big guy can refill his hit points twice with another feature of the encounter. How about throwing a level 8 elite against a level 3 party, along with his 3 friends (levels 4, 4, and 5)? I was surprised when I found a "solo" enemy that was actually alone, as opposed to one fight that has two of them with support.
Enemies get complete stat blocks, so you will not need to flip through other books. You can run this just fine without owning a Monster Manual. The stat blocks can be a bit hefty, so hopefully the DM is sufficiently experienced by the time s/he gets to bosses that have half a page of abilities. Streamlining that was one of the points of 4th Edition.
The editing could use some work. Some are little things, like spelling or forgetting that they re-named a monster and having its stat block refer to its generic base type. Others look like victims of the editing process that keeps everything on two pages. There is a throne with three gems, each of them with a special function; only two gems are described. One fight refers to a protective aura from the previous room, but the previous room never mentioned it. One room has a trap that is confused about whether it works north-to-south or east-to-west. The environmental hazards of the rooms are most often the culprits; they presumably received less attention than the monsters. It starts to feel like each delve has a landmine for the unwary DM.
On the whole, it has some nice set pieces that I could use or adapt when running a game. It is more flexible than a pre-made adventure, which requires more work if you want context and not just combat, but some question the quality of the context provided in the pre-written modules. Because of editing issues and the need to be aware of a half-dozen things in each fight, such as environmental hazards or bosses with many abilities, these will still require some preparation even if one is just running them as context-free battles. After all, if you are playing these as "kill the character" competitions, you want to win.