All right, this series is running a bit longer than I'd originally anticipated (a problem with stream-o-consciousness blogging I suppose), and I've got plans for this evening (movie, then drinkies with friends)...hopefully I'll be able to bang this out and do it justice.
Continuing right where we left off:
A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, despite having what I consider to be the worst cover art of the whole series, is actually the first module in the series that piqued my interest in the series as a whole...and that's saying something. One should not underestimate the value of cover art in helping someone decide to make a purchase and I'm sorry that Dee's color painting isn't nearly as good as his black-and-white stuff (oh, and just for the record, I found Roslov's art...especially the Elf!...on the cover of A2 to be the best of the series).
A3 has a LOT to recommend it. I said in my prior post that I think that the best published adventures each offer something new that helps inform play and gets players (and especially DMs) to take their level of play "up a notch." Aerie of the Slave Lords does that in several ways.
1) It's a challenging adventure, especially considering the level of characters involved. The storoper is not a total "F-You" type monster (it's auto-non-save attack only works twice), but it's pretty vicious. The shambling mound (a personal favorite) is pretty f'ing tough for the pre-generated characters or PCs of a similar power level. And the traps (especially in the entry level are pretty tough). A LOT of the monsters are of the "lone, tough" variety...the golem, the minotaur, the mimic...as opposed to the lesser "horde monsters" (orcs and hobgoblins) seen in the first two modules...and how sick of those are we by the time we get to A3?
2) In addition to two dungeon areas, the module offers a complete "Slaver City" in the form of Sunderham. Granted earlier modules (T1, N1, D3) offered cities as part of their adventures but Sunderham combines the completeness of the Village of Hommlet (or N1) with the wickedness of Vault of the Drow. If you're playing A3 in a non-tournament style (i.e. sans time limits), Sunderham is a great town to explore and hang out...hell, evil PCs might even be tempted to switch sides and join a slaver guild!
3) The use of NPCs. I'm scratching my head, but I can't think of another earlier module that makes better use of NPC adventurer-types as villainous "monsters." The illusionist is excellent (and probably a necessary warm-up to A4!) and a great encounter for an under-utilyzed PC class. But the final battle with the Slave Lords is the piece de resistance. A showdown against five high level NPCs? With coordinated tactics mapped out? That's not something you see every day in an adventure module and is the truly "new" thing A3 has to offer. Other adventures offer one or sometimes a pair of adventuring class NPCs (a pair of monks in C1, a couple of high level Drow with lesser fighter "minions"). But the combination Fighter-Assassin-Cleric-Magic-User-Monk is pretty badass, and gives PCs a taste of "their own medicine" as they get to feel what your typical monster experiences when faced by heavily armed adventurers of different stripes working in concert.
I REALLY like A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords. At under 30 pages, it packs quite a whallop of adventuring goodness.