The standing stones at the heart of the ancient forest known as the Wyrwoode once was the headquarter of a savage druid cult. But those barbaric days lie in the past. Or do they? Children are being kidnapped on new moon nights as fairy raiders from the old forest rampage throughout the Downs. Are you going to be the hero that brings peace to the duchy? Or are you going to use for evil the secrets discovered in the fairy realm on the Other Side?
This is a 48 page adventure in the woods with a fey theme. There’s an old wood with a few weird things in, but notably a ring of standing stones. On the new moon you can get to a shadow realm on the fey side, with a bunch of fey themed encounters. The encounters are trying, but the writing comes off as mechanical and bland. They also tend more toward the prescriptive side of the descriptive scale, meaning they tend to the long side of things. Cursive fonts on the maps are not a plus, nor are boring wanderers. The idea behind this is good, but the execution suffers much.
I’m fond of fey-themed adventure,good ones anyway, that come with a heavy dose of old folklore in them. The strengths of this adventure are when it’s channeling that sort of thing. Standing stone with portals to elf lands under a new moon, rivers to drink from, fairy/mushroom circles, a classic folklore ogre on a bridge, old barrow tombs and humans abducted by the fey, goblins as merchants and nixies in the water … and saintly bones that can be used as a ward against the fey. This has a smattering of each in it. Many, if not most, of the creatures have some ability to talk to the party. In the case of pixies you have to put up with them. In the case of others you have to beat them in to surrender or bribe them in to friendliness. Most have a smattering of what they know about nearby. This adds some length to those encounters but make no mistake: anything you can interact with other than stabbing, or who doesn’t just fight to the death, is a positive mark.
Many minimally keyed adventures have expansive text, and this is no different. By minimal keying I mean a rather simple set up. The text expands on that, but not really in a useful way. Generally this is by endlessly droning on about what the room used to be used for, or describing the room in minute detail … neither of which have much to do with the core concepts of the room and/or adventure. They describe the wrong things. This adventure doesn’t do that, but it does go down another minimal keying/expansive text route. An encounter with pixies is a page and a quarter. It’s the usual pixie encounter; they fuck with you. A quarter of the text is what they know about the other encounter locations. There’s a fairy ring that takes up some text, along with a random table. The rest is a “pixies fuck with you” text expanded to fill the space. Note that this isn’t example of how they fuck with you, it’s just the saying “there are pixies & they fuck with you” in eight different ways. Nothing specific. No examples. The ability to expand an encounter in this way is truly magnificent. A river crossing is half a page. An ogre on a bridge is TWO PAGES. One column to describe a wrestling match. One column to describe a riddle contest. A column about paying a toll. It’s prescriptive in that is describe a lot of IF-THEN and goes in to more detail than necessary on mechanics, and generic in that it tends to be mechanical in its descriptions. But each has a nugget and the nugget is good. Dozens of bare skulls or pale faces looking up at you from the depths of the river with a blank, dreamy stare. The ogre is a former king, enslaved by the elf fey. There’s just too much ADDITIONAL text, and that subtracts from the overall encounters rather than adding to it.
It has some decent magic items in it, like the bones of the saint that can be used to turn fey. That’s a nice old world vibe. It’s a location that you’re going to have to bring your own adventure to. There are some hooks offered, but they are not very interesting. The usual ‘someone got stolen by fairies’ stuff, and not very much more than what I just typed. You’re going to have to bring your own reasons for the party to get involved and dig in to the site. But even then, the adventure suffers. The old road reads directly to the standing stones. Most of the encounters are off to the side in the woods, but there’s not really much reason to go there, if any. Likewise on the other side the Court of Thorns castle is visible, meaning there’s really only one encounter that’s going to pop before then. It needs more interrelated things to get the party moving around between the encounters. A rumor in the castle, sending the party to the barrows, which send the party to … and so on. It’s not that I’m suggesting every adventure needs that narrative, but that this one lacks the motive to explore the obvious locations.
The middle section, in the Fey Castle, also suffers from a mismatch in genre. The adventure switches from an encounter-based one to a social one, as you interact with people in the court. But it’s still described in typical room/key format. It COULD turn in to a hack, but it almost certainly starts as a social adventure and that is just cumbersomely described in typical room/key style. It doesn’t help that many of the rooms have the same occupant types and they get a full stat block in each room, even though there is already a full stat block on the same page for the same set of creatures. This is a great example of where a reference sheet could have helped. Pulling out all of those stat blocks would have GREATLY reduced their number and page count, delivering an adventure that was easier to use at the table for the DM.
The preview on DriveThru is nine pages long. It doesn’t really show you anything though but the introductory text and a little background.