By Liam Murphy Self Published 5e Level 4
The characters recently did Gellan Primewater, a local merchant from the Town of Saltmarsh, a great service by recovering property deeds worth a large sum of money, that he had long thought lost. In return Gellan throws a party for them on his pleasure ship, the Primewater Pleasure. However, this weekend cruise is plunged into chaos when one of the guests is murdered. The party must dive in and find the murderer before the ship gets back to shore, and the murderer can escape.
This 38 page adventure details a murder mystery investigation aboard a small-ish ship. It understands how a murder investigation should go in D&D, but it fails somewhat in the presentation of the facts. Meaning it knows whats important but it doesn’t necessarily, yet, have the ability to implement it in the best way possible.
D&D Murder adventures have a rough go. D&D is built for exploration, so many divination spells are lower-levels to help the party with their explorations. They act as a tax, to keep your MU away from too many fireballs, in case that princes isn’t actually a princess. But Murder stories rely on a lack of information, something that the low level divination spells actively work against. Thus murder plots in D&D have to be very low level adventures, before the party generally has access to those spells, or have to go through a number of contortions … chief among which is the dreaded Ring of Mind Shielding. Basically, if you find yourself in a murder investigation you should just slaughter anyone wearing a magic ring.
But … this adventure recognizes those issues. It states up front the issue. And it suggests some work around to the problems, including just letting the party do their thing instead of gimping them. It notes the DM must have the ability to jostle things around based on the parties actions, and so on. This is all great. It does smart things like putting all of the NPC’s up front in the adventure and describing them, then a brief overview of the ship, all before getting to the “plot” based/investigation portion of the adventure. It knows that in a murder adventure the NPC’s and the parties interaction with them tends to be the most important part of the adventure. It is, after all, generally a social adventure, muyrder investigations.
After the little “plot” sections (which is really just the first-ish murder) then there’s a section that puts the various clues in their own bolded section. If the party wants to investigate X then it’s pretty easy to find tex text on X in that section. This is all great. There’s even a little mind-map-ish thing that shows the various relationships between all of the NPC’s. Liam has thought things through. They know whats important and whats not in a murder investigation and are working towards that end.
Working towards that end, not “succeeded.”
While the basics of the organization are well understand, IE: what NEEDS to be accomplished, the actual implementation of it is somewhat lacking. Let us take, for example, that NPC section. It spends a lot of time detailing the NPC’s. It’s got good section breaks on the various aspects of each individual, from Motivations to Means to Reasons to Be Nervous/Red Herrings, and so on. But then it has a section called Notes on Roleplaying.” This is the real meat and potatoes of the NPC, their quirks and how to play them. And it’s all kind of mixed in together in a paragraph. There is also, if you can believe it, too MUCH whitespace. A more compact format, easier to read at a glance, would have served the adventure far better and made things easier for the DM. That Mind-map? It’s really just the basics of the relationships. Bob is Franks butler. Tim is Joe’s cook. This is good, don’t get me wrong, but if some personality quirks were added, and/or motivations and/or means, and/or … well, you get the picture … that one page mind-map would have then become a mini-reference sheet for the entire adventure, making running the social aspects much much easier.
The plot portion and the ship description likewise have some issues. Using long paragraph forms to describe things, bolding, breaks, and more emphasis on the important things, bullets, and so on, would have helped the DM locate information much more readily than the stand paragraph prose format.
It does a great job though, on giving advice on how to handle ability checks. And the adventure itself is a reward for the party; its linked to the Ghosts of Saltmarsh book, and the boat trips might be thought of as a rich guy taking you out on his yacht to thank you for doing something for him in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign adventure. (And, I think, the adventure would have been better to have given that comparison up front. It IS the hook, but “day out on a rich guys yacht” and/or “three hour tour” would have put the party in a certain mindset that could have then ben upended with the murder mystery coming along).
There are other weird things, like, in the end of one room description we’re told that this guest is the only one that doesn’t lock his cabin or trunk. Well, that sort of general information is not exactly something that belongs in one specific room, is it?
Still, again, there’s an understanding of how things SHOULD go, so even if the implementation is not great the fact that it knows what it SHOULD be doing means that the basics are covered. And implementation takes practice. I’m sure the designer will only get better.
This is Pay What you Want at DMSGuild, with a suggested price of $1. It’s free, so essentially the entire thing is a preview, but the preview proper is 21 pages. This lets you see A LOT, including how the NPC’s are organized. That alone is a good thing to look at, to see how they were organized. You can see that the right concepts were understood but that the implementation was not quite up to perfection.