Up here in the mountains, the sun sets fast. The path has narrowed yet again as it diverts into this small slot valley. A gentle stream parallels the path; it’s pretty, but the smell of rotting vegetation dissuades from lingering long. In the lengthening shadows, birdsong seems oddly muted. As the forest clears a bit up ahead, a small manor upon a little pond comes into view. The birds have gone completely still.
This 24 page adventure (with 17 additional pages of maps) is a “missing persons” investigation at a remote manor, targeted at “zero prep.” I can quibble a lot with atmosphere and order or pages, but it largely accomplishes what it should.
First things first: this adventure claims to be everything you need for a night of fun. Even a brief expose to the cesspool of adventures will reveal that MANY adventures make this claim. This thing gets very close, so close I’m willing to say the marketing is truthful. If you print this out and spend about 5-10 minutes reading it then you can play D&D tonight as soon as the players show up.. This is a non-trivial accomplishment. It’s success revolves around two points: the support materials and the making the adventure clear to the DM. First the support materials, which make up most of the adventure page count, like, 15 pages worth. Pregens. A brief one-page overview of d20 rules, some little paper minis. Maps. What’s in your backpack.
The adventure, proper, is about four pages. It is, essentially, a one-page dungeon, or at least maybe a four page dungeon? One page DM map with notes on it, and then a second page with a relationship mind-map and room key and two pages of overview. Thus it accomplishes it’s “two page dungeon” in the same way Stonehell did, by providing a reference page to use during play and then a couple of pages to look over and read that you almost certainly DONT use during play. It’s an effective format. The background/supplemental information pages get you in to the vibe of the adventure, giving you the broad strokes of the adventure so you can get the core ideas and concepts going on. The “one page” (or two, in this case) then act as your DM notes for actually running the adventure.
I find this very interesting because I think it both matches the way most people create their home adventures and it tries to address head on the issue with communicating vision in a product. I suspect many people, when creating an adventure at home for use in their games, get an idea and maybe sketch out a VERY rough map and do some kind of VERY minimal key, just to jog their memories. They kind of know what they want to do in their head and then the reference map/key is just some very brief notes. But the vibe, all that really makes the adventure come alive, is in their head. It’s that aspect that separates a good writer from a bad one. Can you get the vibe out of your head and and down on the page so the DM reading it can understand it, really understand what you’re trying to do. Then, the references pages, the map and room keys, are just again the simple notes that we all use during play. And that’s fucking hard to do.
This adventure, proper, is an investigation. An old man summons you to his manor because his butler is missing. There are two servants and his daughter in the isolated manor. You talk to people and poke around. Investigations don’t work in D&D unless they are at a low level, which this is. At higher levels there’s too much magic available that destroys mystery. THis makes sense in a deathtrap exploratory dungeon but doesn’t transfer well on other types of adventures … except at lower levels. There’s a mind map present which summarize the personalities and how the people relate to each other. This is PERFECT for a social adventure like an investigation. The NPC’s, and how they come alive, are a major part of these things and mind maps do a good job of summarizing that information in a way that’s easy to reference.
It could be better in a couple of areas. The descriptions could be quite a bit more evocative, to help with at horror vibe. Likewise the NPC’s could use a little more in the events category to drag out play a bit more. The setup is a kind of gothic romance horror, but the gothic horror vibe doesn’t come through very well in the “two page” notes. Some names on the map, in addition to or instead of numbers, would have been helpful. “Masters bedroom” is more informative than “room 6” for these small locations. And I’m NOT a fan of italics on the character sheets. My eyes are old.
This is PWYW at DriveThru, with a suggest price of $0. This is a decent low-prep adventure with an interesting format that I think others could build upon. With a little DM provided atmosphere it would be very good.