Most of this review focuses on the things I didn't like, because this adventure has a lot of aspects that frustrate me. That said, those problems are mainly with the presentation. The content itself, for what it is, is really awesome. There are five fully detailed adventure locations, each with their own unique feel and intertwining threads between them. There's even a little intrigue in town. The maps are beautiful (though they could be much more useful, see below). The PCs always have a choice of what they want to do, and even the dungeons are refreshingly non-linear (compared to Keep on the Shadowfell, which was basically a straight line with the boss battle at the end). There's plenty of good old-fashioned dungeon exploration, with plenty of weird shrines, secret doors behind secret doors, checkerboad floor puzzles, etc. Good stuff. I haven't seen how the combat shakes out, but it looks like a good mix of easy and difficult fights.
1. My biggest problem is that the descriptions are too verbose. It would just be much easier if the information was presented in a clearer, more concise way. For example, here is a room description:
"The tents of the Fanged Moon tribe shelter the fifteen orc warriors that live in the castle. Normally, five rest in the tents, five idle in area 10, one is on sentry duty in area 9, two keep watch in area 12, and two patrol the curtain wall (areas 3 and 5).
Development: If the orcs come under attack here, orcs dispersed to other areas join the battle in 1d4 rounds (roll for each group). The ogre in area 4 joins the fight in a similar amount of time. Sezibul joins combat from area 16 in 3 rounds."
They really expect me to make four separate d4 rolls and write down which is which at the start of the combat (when I'm already busy rolling initiative for the orcs and listening to initiative rolls from the players)? Why not roll each round to see which group shows up? Actually, why even make it random? It's not like the party is going to have this encounter multiple times. It would be much more convenient if it was written like this:
"There are fifteen orc warriors in the castle. Normally, five are resting in the tents, and the others are in the areas listed below. If combat starts here, orcs from the other areas join the fight on subsequent rounds:
Round 1: Two orcs (area 12).
Round 2: Two orcs (areas 3 and 5).
Round 3: Sezibul (area 16), one orc (area 9).
Round 4: Ogre (area 4), five orcs (area 10)."
The prose style makes it a hassle to run on-the-fly, and I had to reread the adventures multiple times before I understood how to run them. Almost every published adventure has this problem, and it's really annoying.
2. The adventure seems awfully complex, with lots of moving parts. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems like a poor choice for Encounters, as it makes the adventure harder to run.
3. Why does it start at level 2? Who starts a campaign at level 2? Again, seems like a poor choice for Encounters, since 1st level characters are supposed to be a simple starting point for beginners (which is presumably the target audience for Encounters). If I was going to start at level 1, I'd flesh out the goblin encounter before getting to Daggerford, and have that get the players to level 2. I wonder if the adventure was originally written like that and changed at the last minute.
4. As I said, there's a little intrigue in town. But beyond that, Daggerford itself is just a map and a bunch of boring descriptions of boring businesses and the boring people who run them. I don't know why they wasted so many pages detailing the town itself; there's nothing interesting about it. It would really help if there were tables with useful mechanical details (info about the guards and the militia, the kind of equipment available, classes and levels of NPCs, etc.). As is, there's nothing in that section that would actually help me run a game. That's 5 pages wasted. WotC needs to stop paying adventure authors per word.
5. The adventure says you should use the wilderness exploration rules, but doesn't let you do so. The overland maps don't have hex grids (so what am I supposed to do, use a ruler?). There are no random encounter tables. Actually, both those things would be really useful even if they don't assume we're using the exploration rules (and it would have taken fewer pages than all those boring paragraphs about people in town).
6. There are a few smaller problems that everyone already knows about. The monsters don't have XP values. The puzzle on page 53 relies on showing the image to the players, but the image itself shows the solution. The region map has a location marked on it that the PCs aren't supposed to know about. These errors aren't dealbreakers, but they do make me wish they'd put in the extra effort.
[4 of 5 Stars!]