Halls of the Blood King, D&D adventure review

By Diogo Nogueira
Necrotic Gnome
Levels 3-5

With the rising of the Blood Moon, the accursed abode of the Blood King returns to this world. The lord of all vampires comes to claim the blood that is owed to him. His halls contain treasures and secrets that would make any ambitious adventurer abandon reason and caution to seek them out. Will you risk your soul for gold and glory in the Halls of the Blood King?

This 56 page adventure details about a forty page manor home of an interdimensional vampire king. Good formatting, stuff to do, and some decent imagery lead to mountains of fun for every blood bag that dares enter! 

So, vampire king lives in this little manor home and pops around the multiverse, demanding tribute from all the vampires on the world he lands in, before moving to the next. Things are going great! Well, except for the blood spiders that have gained an intelligence and have their own mock court. But they are fun to watch. Oh, and that vampire hunter living inside, plagued by the morally questionable stuff they’ve done. But, hey, they are fun to watch and torment also! (How fucking ennui is that! “Yeah, I keep a psycho around and, yeah,. They sometimes kill people. It keeps things interesting around here …”) And, then, there’s the alien fungi in the basement. Bu, it’s fun to experiment on. Hope it doesn’t get out of hand and destroy all life on the world. And, of course, then there’s hidden rebellion within the home, the princess wanting to go her own way, with her followers. Then there’s the visitors, a motley crue of vampires, people pretending to be vampires, people studying vampires, and the list goes on. Minor players, but they all have goals and personalities and can be leveraged. Mom is upstairs. She wants to be reunited with her vampire king son. She’s a banshee now. Is he REALLY her son, like she says? What happens when you introduce the two? Or, hey, that mirror upstairs? The one that the vampire king put all of the kind parts of his soul in to? What happens, do you think, when he looks in to THAT mirror? And then there’s the little scale model of a solar system. With a sun. And little planets. That are actually planets full of living people, just very tiny. Also, fuckng with it could create a black hole that sucks everything in in a 30’ radius. Also, that black hole could swallow up the vampire kings heart, that he keeps stored nearby in a safe place. 

From that we can gather more than a couple of type of interactivity. We’ve got some traditional faction play. Then we’ve got some good NPC’s thrown in, both with their own explicit interactions with the adventure (mom, the mirror) and some opportunities to non-specifically exploit (the guests come to visit.) These three type of people could all be leveraged by the party, or use the party to their own ends, or just eat/kill the party. Then we have more traditional environmental interactivity, with the solar system, cause and effect, and some flaws, like the heart, hanging around. Wanderers are doing something. The guard barracks has one thrall who is reading a love letter from home and has ALMOST broken out of his thralldom. Shit is going DOWN in this place. All we need now is a dumpster fire full of gasoline to be wheeled about!

It’s clearly been designed for ease of use at the table. I don’t know if it’s Gavin (publisher) Diogo (writer) or Geist/Crader/Urbanek (Editing) but it feels like someone actually gave a shit when putting this together. The map is interesting, easy to read, contains notes like locked doors, and has rooms with monsters clearly marked on it with their names. The map, a handy reference sheet of vampire traits/abilities, and the wanderers table are right up front, the first three pages of the adventure, so as to act as an easy to locate reference for the DM. There’s a decent and yet short summary of whats going on in side the manor, as well as a little section on expanding things and consequences. All of this is fucking greta. A poster child for how to do things. There’s even a summary of all the treasure in the adventure, added up, where it is, and then how hard it is to loot it. There’s a little timeline with a couple of entries to keep the party moving. The room entires, proper, have bolded keywords, followed up with more keywords in a less-is-more type room description. There are bullets to describe things to follow up with. Monsters and NPC’s have short and sweet keyword descriptions. Some things have explicit notes on how they react (Desires blood!) and what to do. The sections expanded upon are not formulaic, but rather situational. IE: not every room has an explicit Lighting section. Or every monster an Appeasement section. 

Looking at a monster description we get this for the Shadow Hounds: Dark as the night (reflects no light). A face that is largely its maw and small red eyes (can swallow a head). Long and tall but very lean (as if stretched). That will also actr a good example of a room description. Imagine room features as the bolded words and follow up/enhancement information as the stuff in the parens. It’s great. It leaves dark corners in your brain that it works quickly and efficiently to fill in. This sort of format is, as I’ve mentioned a few times now, one of my favorites. I think it’s one of the easiest for a beginner to use effectively. It’s by no means the ONLY way to do things, but it is an effective and I think easy to grasp way that necessarily keeps the verbosity to a minimum.  There’s so much more. Notes on windows and balconies and using them. The art in this is pretty well matched, pulling off the interdimensional vampire stuff decently well, and add to the descriptive text, especially for the monsters.

A few notes. 

The adventure notes that “Many vampires are within.” Yeah, no fucking shit man! Level 3 my ass. This are not fake vampires but the real fucking deal. I’m not even sure Level 5’s would fare well. I like an unbalanced situation, it forces the party to approach things obliquely. I THINK things are handled well here. The wanderers are not 7HD vamps but guards, spiders, and the like. The one wandering vampire encounter is with some dinner guests looking for the dining room, something that can clearly be a social encounter. But man, that dining room! Thats the Steading feast hall on steroids!

More importantly though …

There’s something missing. A vibe? A feeling? A joie de viv? Something like IMAGINED rather than designed. But none of that is fair, for it it IS designed then designed in a way to put the imaginative forward. This is not a hack job of an adventure. It was tuned and tweaked and sweated over and that effort shows, easily. But it just feels like there’s something lacking. I don’t know what. Maybe it’s the timer, with the place disappearing in ten hours. Or the party hooks being a bit weak (It appears, go inside and X!) It’s context, and then moving the parts around to more relate to that context? This is a very, very good adventure and yet I’m struggling. The lack of whatever it is I can’t name would in NO way keep me from running this. It’s better than 99% of the adventures out there, easily. I dn’t know, someone will tell me and then I’ll know, I guess. It’s not something that one can put their finger on, or even recognize, I think, easily. Most people won’t care, and that’s fine, because this is a good adventure.

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is nine pages and shows you some interesting pages, to be sure, but none of the actual location pages. Bad Gnome! No mushrooms for you tonight!


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46 Responses to Halls of the Blood King, D&D adventure review

  1. Chainsaw says:

    Love Diogo’s work, glad this turned out well. Cover fucking crushes it!

  2. I didn’t know about this guy at all. Looks good.

  3. Gnarley Bones says:

    Waiting for the hard copy.

  4. Daniel says:

    Vai Brasil!

  5. Brandon Hale says:

    I enjoyed it as well. For me, I think what is missing might have been in the map itself. It’s rather small for what it’s supposed to be and doesn’t do anything particularly inspired with the layout. But I don’t think that’s the issue you had. What you might be getting at is the lack of impact the adventure seems like it would have in the world and in an ongoing campaign. Maybe if the princess also wanted to stop planes hopping and just stay put for a while, that would have helped.

  6. Edgewise says:

    If I were to guess who was mostly responsible for the formatting, I’d look especially at Geist and Crader. That pair has had their hand on everything coming out of the official Mothership line. Flashy high-usability is their thing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Just looked at a lot of this guys stuff.



    Seriously, this stuff reminds me of Elfmaids and Octopus’s Pocket Mods. It has a punk vibe and gives you the tools to make something for your players

  8. Anonymous says:

    Just say you like it instead of jumping back and forth between “It’s good” and “hmmm i dont know, something is missing. I dont know what is missing. Its almost like nothing is missing?”

  9. Awesomeness, fun, sense of humor? I think a couple of those people hate me, and I don’t read stuff by people who hate me, so take my wisdom with salt.

  10. Gavin Norman says:

    Hi Bryce, Gavin (publisher) here. Thanks for the review, so glad that you enjoyed the adventure! A couple of notes:

    About the format and the focus on usability: This is the standard format of the new batch of OSE adventures, based on the format I used in my previous adventures (The Hole in the Oak, Winter’s Daughter). Thanks to you here as well — I’ve been an avid reader or your reviews for some years and your insights have been very influential in developing this approach to structuring adventures.

    About the DTRPG preview: I guess you were looking at the quick preview maybe? The full size preview includes 3 pages of area descriptions.

    • Anon says:

      Glad to hear this writing style is an OSE standard–I was wondering if adventures written by other authors would use it. Winter’s Daughter is just so damn _useable_.

      Will definitely pick up physical copies when they become available. And it’s nice to see the comment section didn’t derail this time around ?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Congrats, Gavin. Your new format rules!!!

  12. Vagabundork says:

    Official OSE adventures are good but I also feel they lack something, and when I think about it hard, I can only come uop with a guitar simile: On one hand we have are Eric Clapton, every note is exactly where it should be, there are no mistakes, but he makes an electric guitar sound like an acoustic guitar. On the other we have Jimi Hendrix, and JimiHen plays guitar with his teeth!

    OSE is closer to Clapton, there’s no punk, grime, trash, noise in Clapton/OSE. I don’t know it we can say it lacks these traits, because they are not necessary. The fact I prefer JimiHen doesn’t mean other wouldn’t genuinely prefer Clapton (and not just being snobs).

    • Nobboc says:

      I don’t agree, but I like the allegory. Let’s play… I did not read the 3 new adventures, but to me, Dolmenwood, Hole in the Oak and winter’s daughter are the Beatles style of adventures (more Mcartney than lennon maybe). Rients’ Brooodmother is zappa-esque. Ben Milton is Talking Heads. Gus L. sounds like Elliot Smith. Harley Stroch is T-rex. still looking for The Clash…

      • Vagabundork says:

        My classic music comparison was, DCC and LotFP are very metal, but while DCC is Electric Wizard, LotFP is Emperor. And now I also say that Mörk Borg is Melvins.

        The Clash… Yeah, I don’t think there is, but Mutant Future is more punk than most (Mutant Crawl Classics is pop trying to be punk, Green Day style).

  13. JKW says:

    Vagabundork, I’m just taking these adventures and squeezing into DCC. That seems a little more Hendrix to me…

  14. Starmenter says:

    Re: something missing

    The premise of a dimension-traveling mansion ruled by the king of all vampires is great. The illustrations are all grotesque and ornate, strong Vampire Hunter D vibes. The map is just a basic, square manor floor plan with under forty rooms. You’d think the Blood King would live in a crazier, sprawling gothic castle. In several places the art doesn’t even match the map or writing. For example, the illustration of the Monstrous Door on page 11 is terrific, but it looks much, much bigger than the actual size of the door on the map. I know art criticism isn’t something this blog does, but in this case the concept, the writing, and the art are out of sync. I think that’s what’s throwing Bryce off.

    The whole concept feels like it should have been toned down to match the actual size of the dungeon, or the dungeon should have been expanded into something much bigger.

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t know about Bryce, but for me, your comment was spot on.

      • Brandon Hale says:

        Agreed. Better stated than what I said. Palaces are freaking BIG. Both Buckingham and Versailles have over 700 rooms. You’d think a degenerate interdimensional vampire king would get somewhere in that ballpark. If it had been 40 wings, not rooms, that could have worked.

    • Vagabundork says:

      Now that you mention it, I guess you’re right. A non-euclidian map would be great, but maybe it would make it unplayable as written, or very hard (like Silent Titans maps, which are very playable but only after you study them deeply and for some time).

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      Yep. I’m a big fan of Necrotic Gnome, but this one is a let down. This reads OK on a first view, but you apply the key to the map and it falls flat. The entire manor is a square and not a large one. There’s one hallway and all the rooms lead off of it. There’s a tiny second level and an even smaller cellar. The minarets and towers depicted in the artwork don’t exist. Neither floor has a *single window,* I hate to say it, but it’s a mapping fail.

      Because all the rooms feed off one hallway in a small, enclosed space, the “factions” presented don’t really work. There’s a vampire hunter, for example, trapped in this warehouse who, according to the text, has been hiding and waiting for her time to strike. But, she’s not. She’s just in a room off the single hallway, about 25 linear feet from the Vampire King himself, literally right next to the armory. It’s doesn’t work.

      I wonder if the map was drawn after the text was written. There are references to the vampires “hunting the hallways.” There’s one hallway; it’s a short hunt.

      When OSE’s “house system” works, it works well. I personally don’t think it works well here. For example, there’s a guest room and the LARGE, DECORATED WOODEN BED, and the MARBLE-TOPPED DRESSER WITH SILVER MIRRORS are highlighted as is the OLD OAK CLOSET. This is followed by a description of what’s in the closet and, more importantly, how to get to the hidden compartment within.

      Oh, and there’s a banshee in the room. That’s mentioned last. One would think that would be the biggest-attention-getter present. The first thing a DM might want to know.

      I guess I don’t get this product. It’s written *too small.* The manor of THE Vampire King, vampire of all vampires, ought to be a grand thing. Some room should be given to fit the factions. I wonder of the piece isn’t constrained by its format, e.g., they literally ran out of room. Because the book, and literally its pages, are small, there’s 11 pages in before the actual adventure is reached. The Rumor Table takes up an entire page. That’s not necessary, give some of that space to content. I realize there isn’t room for a Ravenloft-esque gothic castle, but the publisher chose the medium, they should have gone bigger.

      • Melan says:

        Caught this comment, and you are right – it is all damn too small. Not this specific neo-old-school module, but most of them, even good ones written by imaginative people. They need more room to breathe.

        And it is not like Ravenloft is some mega-module. It is just a regular module-sized place, and densely keyed at that.

      • PrinceofNothing says:

        This matches the gist of my review of the thing. And of course, the faction play is ham-handed.

        • Gnarley Bones says:

          I’ve heard similar concerns about Holy Mountain Shaker, which is on its way to me. I have to seriously ask if the *format* is constraining these adventures. The choice has been made for these handsome digest-sized 48-page books, BUT the small pages hold a small amount of content. A Rumors Table, by itself, eats up and entire page, as does a Random Happening/Wandering Monsters Table. Combined with the OSE House Style of showing a portion of the map on every page, that leaves little room for actual content. This adventure *clearly* needed some room to run and that’s my understanding of HMS as well.

          I would not invoke the dreaded “Art Punk” label against Necrotic Gnome. I respect Gavin quite a bit and I think his work is pretty much the best out there right now … but, I don’t know how I get around concluding that this product is shackled by its form.

          • Gnarley Bones says:

            As Melan points out, Ravenloft, the UR-AD&D vampire module, is 32 pages long, stats out a true gothic castle and still has room for background, wandering monsters, new monsters and magic items, and even a card game!

          • PrinceofNothing says:

            I make no such denunciation, although Rejec is certainly running headfirst in that direction. Paradoxically, while I don’t like it, I think HMS is much stronger then HotBK. The scale of HMS is about right, it’s more Tintin then Faffhrd & the Grey mauser sure, but its fantastical, there’s replay value, it attempts to tackle something sprawling, there’s a payoff at the end etc. etc.

            HotBK feels like someone learned about the OSR by reading Bryce’s standards, then immediately started writing adventures, and the result is something that makes the right moves but is ultimately very constrained and artificial.

            Like many others, the 3rd party modules for OSE are stronger then the official line.

  15. Reason says:

    I mean, I can see why they avoided a huge gothic castle for 1- usability issues & 2- already done with Ravenloft. I mean it DOES have an infinite library, plane’arium, torture room, gardens, dungeons, secret mockery spider court etc.

    With 40 rooms & all that creative juice in there, I get the feeling it won’t “play” or feel small. There are thematic & description-wise very distinct areas that lend a sense of “new/different” when players reach them. Every time you leave standard 10×10 or square “normal” rooms into the garden or blood spider lair or planetarium and it feels new the place grows in the players minds as they form a new visual schema. It’s not just same same, it’s a ton of visuals & memories & imprints. So 40 rooms done right can feel big in play.

    When you go castle size you end up with a megadungeon really. Totally different style of play. Doesn’t seem what they were going for at all really. You get the relatively boring filler rooms, barracks slogs etc- OR the project grows exponentially as you try to find the creative juice for all the extra rooms and it becomes too much to explore in a single mad dash.

    With this size, you can bet the players are going to hit enough of the highlights in any given run for the place to shine. And it’s manageable for the DM. I can dig it.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Bryce liked this but others hate it!? Why is there discord here

  17. Anonymous says:

    How do they differ in the things they look for?

    • Reason says:

      What do you look for in a D&D module?

      To answer that might be more efficient than me doing your thinking for you on what any different person might possibly want from a product.

      Or do you expect an objective and absolute truth across people on such a product?

  18. Anonymous says:

    The complaint i heard a couple times was no substance with easy to use style

    Like a big mac

    • Gnarley Bones says:

      I have this. Let me say, first, that I do like it. However, I don’t think I would run it as written; it needs a new map and, as a result, some expansion.

      The writing is good, clean, evocative. You could just pick it up and play.

      However … despite the wonderfully weird writing and great art, the map is essentially a big square. I really can’t grok the disconnect there. It looks like the guildhouse from B2. This is the castle of *the* Vampire King and the dungeon is a Soviet-era block. As a result, you get weird things like a vampire hunter trapped in the castle and “hiding out” from said King but (and I’ll confirm this tonight) being only about 40 linear feet from the King behind a pair of doors and well-traveled hallways. The whole hiding thing doesn’t really make sense.

      I certainly get that one doesn’t want to just ape the (freaking fantastic!) I6 Ravenloft castle, BUT that and the ensuing Ravenloft line had several great gothic dungeons and, when presented with a Vampire King’s “Blood Halls,” the creators have to anticipate that the Players are expecting something special – especially when the cover depicts a delightfully twisted fortress with numerous writhing towers. My gripe is that it’s “smaller” than the big writing.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Could this subject be done well small scale?

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