The Waking of Willowby Hall, Dungeons and dragons adventure review

By Ben Milton
Questing Beast Games
Level 3

The manor of Willowby Hall is under siege by a giant, enraged at the theft of his magical goose. The band of thieves has taken shelter within the manor’s crumbling walls, cowering with their ill-gotten poultry as the building shakes itself apart. But something else is stirring. The giant’s rampage is slowly awakening a Death Knight from its black slumber, and once it rises it will call on the bones of the manor’s old residents to drive out the intruders. Will the party loot the manor of its ancient relics, or succumb to the blades of its skeletal guardians? Who will make off with the goose and its golden eggs? Will anyone survive the giant’s onslaught? The only way to find out…is to play.

This 32 page adventure features about thirty one rooms in a fanciful haunted two level manor home. With a rampaging cloud giant outside. It’s a classic situation dungeon. You think up some situation, then dump the party in to it and giggle as all hell breaks loose as they try to loot the fuck out of everything and not get themselves killed. Ben is not just “Not a fucking idiot” but actually knows what the fuck he is doing, and it shows.

It looks like this is a part of Zinequest 2, from Kickstarter, and ran in February of 2020 for two weeks, making about $13k. Delivery was promised in December 2020 and appears to have dropped in February of 2021. At first I was like “Man! $14k in two weeks! Sweet sweet lucre! If I could do one of these every two months then …” and then, after looking at the dates, I was like “oh man, the fucking stress! Dude must have been sick with it!” The results, though, are clearly with it.

Three adventurers break in to a cloud giants cloudy home and steal his goose, rumored to lay golden eggs, and run off, being chased by the giant. He’s grabbed the locals town bell from their church and is using it like a flail. The adventurers have run in to an old abandoned manor home, rumored to be haunted. Thus far we have: angry cloud giant in a silk dressing robe with a bell flair, nutso adventuring party, haunted manor, and Mildred the horrible magical goose. That’s a GREAT mix of shit going on and the fucking adventure hasn’t even started yet! Ben does this in just a couple of intro paragraphs and it sets the tone for whats to come.

This has a fanciful tone to it and is alluded to in that intro. The cloud giant with the goose that MIGHT lay golden eggs. He’s in a dressing gown. His name is Tom, a very respectful name for a giant and sometimes for trolls. That, alone, would bring the fanciful air of the folk tale to the adventure (which I have a well known LUV for.) Midred is the perfect name for the goose and making her a horrible wretch, who honks, bites, and runs away, is perfect for this adventure! Our adventurers that stole her are Helmut Halfsword, Lisbet Grund and Apocalypse Ann the magic user. Perfect names for this sort of adventure (And an art style that complements perfectly.) But, this is no kiddie game. While it makes allusions to folklore and has a lot of very relatable things because of that, this is not a kiddie adventure. Castle Xyntillan has  fun and fanciful air to it, a lightheartedness. If that’s one end of the spectrum and Shadowbrook Manor is the other end then this is somewhere in the middle. Not humorous, but a kind of setting up the environment for things to take a turn. I’m a big fan of D&D play with that tone. (I might note, also, that if this were for 1st levels then it would be the perfect intro dungeon for brand new players introduction to D&D. It’s accessible. Hmmm, maybe you can do it at level 3 also, it just makes them less squishy, which might be good for noobs, but not so much shit on the characters sheet as to overwhelm them?)

You get VTT maps. The inside cover has a layout of the map, along with notes around the edges for DM’s quick reference. Perfect. The room format has a brief sentence, with bolded words, with bullets and indents providing “i look closer” information. Perfect format. I could write a lot more about this. I don’t know, maybe I should. Whatever. I like the format. Basically, you get a one sentence intro, with a bolded word. It will have some bullets, indents under it. Then another paragraph with another bolded word or two, and some indents/bullets under it. Scanning the room, as a DM, is trivial. Reading the room to the players is easy, you’re just noting the first sentence above each bulleted section. Little mini-maps dot the pages, to give context for where the party is and whats inn the next room over. 

Ben has, it appears, taken the “no room keys” gauntlet. I have vented repeatedly in the past about adventures with no rooms keys. They try to describe using just text. Or, they put the room in some non-alpha format with no actual room keys. Ben also has no room keys. There are no numbers on the map and the room names, while on the mpa, are not in alpha order. But, wait, there’s more!

He DOES have rooms keys. They are page numbers. Breakfast Room P. 24. Music Room P18. With a big giant Breakfast Room on page 24 to help the DM locate it. Thus the index serves as the room key. Clever boy.

There are ghosts. They want things. The NPC party is running around. The giants bell is slowly “waking up” the haunted manor. The giant serves as a focus to keep the party on the move as he looks in windows and reaches and swings his bell flail … the related waking up also serving as a timer for the party. Thus there is motivation for the party to move their asses in and around the manor. 

Descriptions and great. A harpsichord says “Playing anything else causes thousands of harmless black spiders to swarm out over the PC’s hands. Save or scream in terror until removed.” A scream, of course, causing a wandering monster check. As does that horrible magical honking from the goose. There is A LOT to do in this adventure. Buttons to push, so to speak, and things to interact with, flee from, and leverage to your own ends. 

Great fucking adventure. Knave. Youtube channel. Phat kickstarter loot. Good adventure. Beautiful spouse. House in Malibu. But, alas, no cabal membership.

This is $7.50 at DriveThru. The preview is thirteen pages and shows you nearly all of the adventure. Great preview. Check out that preview even if you don’t buy it. You can see the format he’s used, both in the map and the keys, and get a sense of the interactivity.

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18 Responses to The Waking of Willowby Hall, Dungeons and dragons adventure review

  1. Anonymous says:

    Well done Ben! I hope other adventure writers take the time to look at tWoWH to see how you laid out the adventure to ensure that it is useable at the table!

  2. Daniel says:

    Great and funny little module. Loved it.

  3. eriemountain says:

    Just printed this for my 13yr old son to run for his buddies tomorrow. He wanted something he could prep quickly, and he was really pleased by the open, gm-facing structure of WoWH. Said one read through was all he needed to feel ready – no highlighter necessary!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Glad I pre-ordered this one! Can’t wait to actually run it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Pitty about the railroad set up and start to the adventure, have to save this for a one-off. Sounds like something to run with the kids.

    • Ben Milton says:

      What railroaded set up do you mean? The PCs aren’t forced to do anything.

      • Anonymous says:

        Curious to hear more on this

      • Anonymous says:

        @ Ben: I haven’t read it yet so my apologies if I got this wrong, the situation Bryce outlined above is that the adventure begins by throwing the PCs into a set situation:

        “It’s a classic situation dungeon. You think up some situation, then dump the party in to it….”

        “Three adventurers break in to a cloud giants cloudy home and steal his goose, rumored to lay golden eggs, and run off, being chased by the giant…The adventurers have run in to an old abandoned manor home, rumored to be haunted.”

        If PCs are forced to start an adventure in a particular manner, that’s a railroad beginning.

        • Emanuel says:

          The adventurers breaking in to the cloud giants home are NPCs not the player characters.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Emanuel. Ok, thanks for clarifying, that wasn’t clear from Bryce’s review. How and why are the PCs in the mansion and why do they have the magic goose then? Or do the other adventurers have it?

          • Alex says:

            It’s an OSR adventure, so however you want 🙂 It just describes a location/situation, although there are three hooks suggested.

            As for the goose: as the intro suggests, the other adventurers stole it…or at least tried to.

        • chaeska says:

          Like others pointed out, the goose theft and the 3 NPC adventurers are just part of the hook / backstory. If ran in a campaign, the mansion is just an adventure location – players might hear some rumours about it in the nearby village and come to explore it or not.
          The NPC party serves to increase the chaos and number of moving pieces / factions in the ‘dungeon’. Also, if you run it as a one-shot and don’t feel like generating characters, you get a full party you can use.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think what they’re trying to say is that the adventure has a specific, pre-existing scenario and “time-line” associated with running it, rather than it being a stand-alone, re-usable location with repeatable/random events. This was a bit of a surprise to me as well, considering Ben’s strong OSR opinions.

    As written, there is a strong implied lead-up storyline that would be tough to re-use with plausible continuity. You would have to find some reason for the whole debacle to happen again (maybe it happens all the time?), or change it up completely which would require a bit of rethinking to hit all the notes again. That said, the adventure is awesome, and having a scenario built-in is not necessarily a bad thing. But it does somewhat hinder the adventure’s viability for use in an open/persistent table or West Marches campaign.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s just a situation to drop your PCs in, dude(ss). It’s not a railroad, it does not follow a “”time-line”.” If the PCs show up at Willowby Hall following whatever hook you’ve thrown their way, they discover the one-giant-army siege-in-progress. There is no saying how long that cloud giant has been here banging his bell against the walls… That’s all! You are done. Now play.

      Contra to what you say, the initial set-up is actually quite robust: if the PCs even leave without the goose, the cloud giant may still be doing his thing if they come back. By your logic, any adventure in which there are multiple factions cannot be OSR because it pre-supposes a particular initial situation between the factions involved.

      • Anonymous says:

        No need to get defensive! Ben is an excellent creator and I meant no offense to his design. Like I said the adventure is awesome. It’s just clearly more of a one-shot scenario than a re-usable, old-school dungeon, which was surprising but not an inherently bad thing. Just an observation, is all 🙂

        But, to respond to your qualms… There is most certainly a timeline. The adventure starts out with “Yesterday…” then “This morning…” and then “Just a few minutes ago…” and lays out a series of events that lead up to the scenario that the adventure lives in. That’s a “timeline”, my dude. And the timeline involves discreet events that cannot be repeated, unless you want to have yet another group of adventurers steal the goose and have the giant take the bell again and they flee to the house and the same situation re-occurs (not really something I would do).

        Also, as the adventure progresses, the dungeon itself gets destroyed so there is a built-in concept that this adventure happens once. Of course, you as GM can adjust things, but by far, it makes the most sense as a one-shot. (reminder, it’s still a really really cool one-shot)

        Like I originally said, you can do work to make it not so “moment in time” specific, but you still have to do that work. Other adventures that include factions don’t necessarily create an elaborate and specific scenario that can logically only play out once, as it’s presented. So, no, I don’t think my logic applies to any adventure with factions.

        • chaeska says:

          This is a very, very odd and specific complaint, to be honest. I can think of very, very few adventure locations – especially published ones – that can be revisited ‘as written’ by PCs without major adjustments. It’s as if you expected a dungeon crawl or just a generic location and got an adventure instead and are complaining about it. 😉
          Players always interact with each location as they explore it and bring about major changes (including eliminating whole factions) and if nothing else gather knowledge about the layout and such. The only truly re-visitable adventure site I can think of is a completely randomly generated dungeon, where the only thing you do is crawl, meet wandering monsters on a 1 and you roll for loot in each room. 😉 Re-visitable, yes, but quite bland precisely due to a lack of flavorful background – not something I would expect to get published but rather made up on the spot by a DM with random tables.
          While it is true that there’s a very specific event happening at the mansion, I don’t know what the problem is. It all depends on the kind of setup / hook you want to run. The first page isn’t meant to be read aloud to players verbatim, so they don’t HAVE to know about the Cloud Giant’s attack and the whole goose heist – maybe they even shouldn’t know. So it’s not as if the events listed in the book will happen whether PCs visit the mansion or not. If they decide not to go there or visit at a later stage, then you just hold off the scenario until the do visit it; you can even make the giant attack after the PCs have already entered the mansion (there are various suggestions of introducing the adventure outlined).
          It’s not as if you have to simulate the attack happening in the background without player interaction and then the PCs come back and all they find is a burned down ruin, ha, ha!
          Unless you mean the very specific situation of the adventurers visiting the mansion, fleeing it cause it got too dangerous for them and then they cannot come back because the mansion is assumed to have been destroyed?
          Yeah, and so what? First of all there are easy, easy ways around it as long as you’re creative in the slightest (mansion not destoyed but damaged, giant and NPCs might be gone, something else is now destroying the seals).
          Second of all, the escalating danger mechanic is pretty slow with only a 1/6 chance of the threat level increasing every 10 minutes, assuming PCs are quiet.
          That’s 30-40 minutes per seal on average – you will have gotten at least 2 hours of play time out of this adventure before anybody could reasonably start thinking about leaving the location.

  7. Sandra says:

    My dorks found this place today (as part of a larger sandbox). The players did not wanna go in there (even though they knew about the goose and, for extra hook strength, they had an NPC friend inside). Instead they killed the giant (one of player chars also died in the fight). Which makes the fact that every room and every encounter check presuppose the giant being alive (and that his bell strikes are triggered, and in turn trigger events in the house) kind of awkward.

    The text assumes that the players run in there. “Once inside, PCs will find that it is much harder to get out again.” Yes. They figured as much before going in.

    So, one or the other might’ve been workable: the wonky “they show up and the gisnt is inside and they might wanna sneak in” start, or the “the house changes fundamentally as the bell strikes it” mechanics, but together was a match made outside of heaven. Also the “these things gradually happen to the house” is not my fave setup.

    To the module’s credit, the giant is fun to fight with climbable beard and robe, and “beard loot table” ?, and the house does have some interesting stuff even without being “awakened”. But that start is a headscratcher for sure.

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