The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor

By Tim Callahan
North Wind Adventures
Levels 4-6

Your party have travelled northeast from the great city of Khromarium, through the unforgiving expanse known as the Lug Wasteland. You undoubtedly seek greater riches in the north: ruined tombs secreting ancient artefacts, deep caves filled with long-lost Atlantean technology, or strange villages built atop sacred Hyperborean burial grounds that brim with pre–Green Death treasures. Finally, after having emerged from the treacherous bogs, you set up camp on a craggy outcropping that provides dry land and a modicum of protection from the crawling unknowns. Straightaway your attention is drawn by a nearby light source, a fire not more than a hundred yards away. Through the cacophony of croaking frogs, buzzing insects, and hissing slimy things, a shriek of pain knifes through the air.

This 52 page adventure describes a manor house with 35 rooms that is stuffed full of things to stab. Some decent rumors and magic items are added to encounters that have a certain life and interconnected nature … that the signature North Wind “lets fuck this up by writing a novel instead of an adventure” style is then added to.

I thought this time it would different. A North Wind adventure not by Talanian could be an interesting thing. A different take than the creators, using the same reskinned AD&D setting but brining a different style. How wrong I was. I guess AS&SH self-selects, or Talanians hand as co-developer is too evident.

I’ve got a certain amount of respect for someone true to their vision, even if that vision is WRONG. I see this time and again, and suspect its true for Advanced Adventures as well. It’s good to have a vision but you need to know when you have blinders on and do something about that. North Wind in general, and this adventure also, tend to focus on a novelization sort of description rather than a playable description. And, comic book guy, don’t be a shit; “playable” doesn’t mean boring. I’m fan of archaic words, nonsense words, tearing gramme apart, and so on, all to the end of creating an evocative environment. At first glance this adventure does that. You can certainly find a lot of twenty dollar words and archaic sentence structures. But it’s sin, I believe is in putting those before playability. What’s more important, creating an evocative environment or playability at the table? If we accept “evocative” then we justify 10,000 word room descriptions. We we accept “playability” then we leave ourselves room for both, the evocative description is important, but it must be a slave to playability.

These are the sins of Paizo, and North Wind in general, and in which this adventure seems to fall into. The actual keys are only about twenty pages long, averaging one or two a room. Backstory and timeline are enumerated, and wilderness encounters get a page of text, or at least a column.

The first sentence of room four, of the manor, is “Though far less barren than the area immediately outside the crumbling defensive walls, …” Nite the indirect passive writing style. Perfect for a novel, a love letter to the Appendix N heroes of North Wind, but absolutely shitty for playability. Long descriptions in passive voice, writing in a backwards style, forcing archaic word choices that are dry instead of vivid. We’re left with an adventure full of thralls and apen-men that somehow comes off as boring and dry.

I will say that, in places, it almost seems like two separate authors. The entire wilderness section is a mess, full of these column long novel descriptions of rooms, and this carries over in to certain parts of the manor. But other parts of the manor seem terse by comparison, only four sentences per room. Here’s room 3A “The smell of rodent urine consumes this area. In the southwestern corner, stairs spiral about a newel up to the first floor. The northeastern corner is piled with sand, leaves, shredded rope, tattered cloth, and other debris in a three-foot- tall, five-foot-wide mound, where rest 6 giant rats. The rats exhibit timidity and will retreat deep into the debris at the presence of men, but if the nest is poked or prodded, they will react violently.” That’s not so bad. Needs a little formatting and whitespace to fight some wall of text issue, but ok. Smell hits the party first, a basic description that’s not half bad with tattered and shredded things, and then the monster reactions. Not rock star, but not enough to botch too much about. But that room description, and others like it, stand in stark contrast to the columns of text that seem to consume other rooms, as well as their overuse or archaic structure.

I like the setting, a manor besieged by ape-men, evil folk and creatures inside, and it’s got some non-boring magic items mixed in and an encounter or two that are more than ok, with the vast majority being imaginative enough to handle an AD&D style. I just wish it were playable without making struggling over the text and highlighting it.

The rooms have some interconnectedness, or at least some theme areas, with thralls, apen-men and so on all being around in certain sections … always a great idea. But the initial description of the outside doesn’t dwell on the ape-man sige, even though their are all about outside (on roofs) doing weird things. The party needs to see the shaem on the roof with with bubbling cauldron at the start, not have that part hidden in text deeper inside the adventure. “Let’s see, what do you see? Hang on, let me look through every room description and check and see what you can see from outside …”

It’s also more than a little hack-y. Essentially, everyone is an enemy. The evil ape-men are trying to stop an even greater enemy, but, hey, ape-men. The thralls look friendly, but attack. Shit gets old fast.

Do you just read D&D books instead of playing? Great, buy this.

This is $10 at DriveThru. The preview is worthless, showing you nothing of what you are buying.

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12 Responses to The Beasts of Kraggoth Manor

  1. Yora says:

    The first thing I noticed is that the introduction does not introduce you to anything. It tells you the adventure starts in a swamp, but I had to read it three times to figure that out.

  2. Handy Haversack says:

    My group is in the middle of this one. Or near its end? It’s a little hard to say! It’s only now when I’m flipping through again in response to your review that I’m seeing how much connective work I did that was not made easy by the adventure as presented. But that said, the bones are there.

    Full disclosure: I have done some editing work for North Wind. Not this product, though.

    I think the strength of the the adventure is that it has two areas at different scales that start in dramatic tension and that can be completely cocked up by the addition of the PCs–that’s always a good basis for things. The general overland area is kind of a ring, with different directions and possibilities for how the party encounters the factions and some clues that tie the locations together. I wish these connections had been made more clear. But there’s enough that mass accumulates around heading for the manor without forcing the choice on anyone. I think the map could even have been abstracted? Or the whole thing put on a map rather than using a few pages of text?

    There’s a lot to like about the set-up at the manor, but, again, some things needed to be more explicit in terms of their function in the factions, and other things (wall-of-text things) should have been dramatically scaled back.

    But there are a lot of non-pure-stab ways this thing could shake out. None of them is made very explicit, and, anyway, the greatest likelihood is that party triggers a meat-grinder of a fight right away. But there are definitely other ways this could go, though the DM is not clued into them by the adventure. For one thing, it’s pretty likely that one or more PCs end up on the other team more or less at the beginning. Only fun can follow!

    My biggest gripe is probably that the besieging mountain apes (ogres) are given a motivation but no obvious method. I had to create the method. They become a lot more interesting when they are fully invested with power to affect the situation.

    The main new monsters are pretty cool.

    Somewhat like Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, there’s a whole nother creepy exploration adventure waiting for anyone who survives the initial set-up. A smart, lucky party could totally leverage that other adventure against the occupying monsters. But it would take a little doing.

    So we have actually had more fun in this one than I expected. But I did have to read it twice before I realized I could ignore the first eight pages and before I had a good handle on how the encounter in the interior would be likely to go. The main monsters are powerful enough that you want to have a decent handle on all their abilities.

    Definitely not a grab-and-go, but I found it yielded its quanta of fun.

    Yora, I don’t think it’s in a swamp, though.

  3. Arjen Lissenberg says:

    I do have to disagree with some comments here. the mountain ape’s siege is specifically elaborated in a special sidebar telling where they are. Also the apes are in rooms/region 1 to 3 of the manor and in region 1 it mentions where the other apes are, the illustrations paint the picture of the siege set up perfectly, the illustrations throughout the module are very utilitarian, even the 2 page comic strip telling the backstory. True, there is a lot of “wall of text” but many of the important key words (monsters treasure etc.) is bolded so easy to locate after the first read through.

  4. Tim Callahan says:

    Thanks for the review! Yeah, the project evolved from a home game centering on the mansion that expanded into a full adventure. You can see me try to mimic Jeff’s prose style — sorry it’s not for you. I had a lot of fun running it and writing it up for others to use. Your feedback is noted.

    • The Middle Finger of Vecna says:

      Tim’s comment has me thinking (a dangerous proposition to be sure!). I think when it comes to adventures that are written like a story and/or with gobs and gobs of superfluous text, the author (not picking on you specifically Tim) doesn’t realize that the way it’s written makes it very hard for anyone to just pick it up, scan it quickly and then run it competently. Can it be done? Sure, not saying it can’t but the effort to get at the meat of the adventure can be substantial. For the author, it’s not a problem because THEY WROTE IT. Of course they can run it. No one knows more about the adventure than they do. This is the mistake that is made when writing these Novelventures (hm, I should trademark that). However, for the uninitiated reader, it’s just too much to wade through to get to the point of being able to run it at the table.

      This is a stylistic choice. It’s a style born out of late 1e, expanded upon in 2e (Dungeon magazine anyone?), and then completely embraced and overblown in 3e, 4e and 5e to the point where it’s just useless padding…..unless….like Bryce says, you are more interested in reading it than playing it. Some people like and want that. Those people buy Pathfinder adventure path magazines. North Wind wants to follow that style as well.

      • reality check says:

        If you had actually read any of the North Wind modules, rather than just parroted Bryce, you would know they’re meant to be played and are not at all in the Pathfinder style. They have all emerged from home and convention play, then been expanded to add new Hyperborea setting detail to increase their shelf life. Check the convention offerings and forums. People run and play them all the time. Sorry if that does not fit the narrative…

      • Tim Callahan says:

        Oh I agree. I am running some 5e published adventures right now and they have SO MANY WORDS and I can’t run them without converting them in my notebook to something lean and efficient. I would argue that the North Wind Adventures are nowhere near that verbose, and they provide a happy medium between simple lists of rooms and overlong narrative descriptions, just enough to establish the tone of the situation. In many utilitarian modules (like Judges Guild stuff), the DM has to do the work to connect the dots and establish tone, while in the North Wind Adventures, the DM has to do the work to read the thing and cut to the core within, but since Hyperborea is specifically a game based on the literature of Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard the language of the text matters. Did I effectively synthesize those three authors? Probably not, but it’s still a fun adventure to run!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Man, what is it about the Internet that makes people so mean? If you don’t like an adventure, by all means, please say so. Indeed, if you think it’s terrible, please say so. But is it really necessary to make comments bordering (at a minimum) on personal cheap shots? Put two people face to face, and they will usually be civil with one another; but put some people on the Internet, and civility goes out the window. The fact that the author wrote in here and made gracious comments speaks well about him. A piece of unsolicited advice: be as critical about work product as you’d like, but try to be civil and professional about it.

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