Castle of Mirror, 5e adventure review

Runehammer Games
5e/"OSR" (not really OSR)
"Mid Levels"

 The sinister influence of an ageless dragon is plagueing the Westlands with vampiric evil. Can the heroes confront these undying dooms, and solve the riddle of the magic mirrors?

This 39 page adventure describes a castle with a fuck ton of rooms. It’s doing it in a new manner and I can’t, for the life of me, decipher how this thing is supposed to be run. It looks like it’s mostly combat with a lot of abstracted detail, to the point of being an outline. Which doesn’t have to be bad, but in this case is.

Most people run a sort of plot-based game, especially in 5e, and I’m always interested in how those adventures could be done better, to more align with their style  without throwing out the important parts of the game. This adventure is trying something new towards that, but it just doesn’t come off right, for with a traditional exploration game or a more common plot-based one with light exploration.

As best as I can figure out, each major part of the castle is called a “scene.” It’s not like you’d think, based on that word. It’s more like a zone in a dungeon, an area. Each “scene” then has “zones” in it, which you could think of as unnumbered, but labeled, rooms in which something could occur. When you move between castle “scenes” (which are just major parts of the castle) you make a kind of survival roll for the transition, with a failure indicating an encounter before transition and a success meaning you simply transition, with the whole thing being narrated as a montaage. Each scene has about 3-5 zones, just labels like “Causeway, Gatehouse, Crumpled Gate, Battlement, Interior Court”, for example, for the “Main Gate” scene. There are bulleted notes (Yeah) in each scene about “action.” There are about three major areas in this (we’ll call them “levels”) with about eight or so scenes per level. I have absolutely NO fucking clue how the action is supposed to fit in. Are these the things that happen if you fail a survival check? Or they happen in each zone? How do you move between zones? The maps are, essentially, abstracted, although they look like maps, so it’s not real clear how you move from zone to zone or transition to a new scene, or know that you COULD transition to a new scene. Maybe the action happens throughout the scene, with zones just there as “fluff” for the DM to narrate as the action takes place? I have no fucking clue. There’s a supplement, called “5e Hard Mode” that is a separate product that maybe goes in to more detail. In any event, there’s an overview in this on how the scenes and zones are supposed to work, but it still isn’t clear, so that could be improved.  

It’s also not real clear to me that there’s much more than fighting in this. The “Action” notes are GREATLY abstracted, to the point of it being almost an outline, in spite of the scenes being about a column each.  At one point one early room tells us “The machine can be used to glean all kinds of secrets about the castle.” Uh … like what? How does this all fit together? There’s o real summary, or overview. There’s no understanding of why the gate guards attack you but then there are miners in one room that will help you. There’s no order of battle for responses, or even, I can’t tell, if there should be one. 

There is a section early on about themes in the adventure to get the DM to use while describing. Many worlds, vampires, and a dragon. But it’s not really themes, as I would think of them, more “this is in the castle.” There is a dragon under the castle. Uh, ok, great? How does that theming work? There’s nothing here to suggest how to do it, or how to frame it, and it’s described as a fact about the castle rather than a theme. 

There’s a bright spot or two in the town description, with some of the NPC’s having the right kind of description. One dude always seems to be relieving himself outside. ANother is a group of loyalist troops looking for a reason. Those are GREAT NPC’s, they provide a lot for a DM to work with. You instantly know how to run them. To my surprise, about half of them were decent like that, so the designer clearly has some idea of how to write something good, even if the rooms/scenes/zones themselves are a fucking mess. There’s also a hook or two that is more than a little interesting. 

I think I get what the designer was trying to do. Major areas with common elements, and then some sub-elements in ear areas, the rooms. Some things that could happen there. I get it, and I think it has potential as a good format for these sorts of games. As implemented, though, it’s a disaster. There’ nore real anchoring concepts. No real anchoring interactivity (although there does seem to be more than a few role playing encounters, or potential ones, to the designers credit.) The amount of interactivity beyond that is lacking. There’s no real summary of how things fit together, or are supposed to work, as in how the castle and its various groups function. It TOO devoted to the bullet point to convey information, and each scene needs a little overview for the DM, rather than everything laid out in bullets. And the Magic Mirrors? The thing that is supposed to be a major element of the adventure? That’s a WHOLE confusing mess. 

The format here is more than half done. The designer is one to something. It needs more work though, on communicating the ideas to someone OTHER than the designer. 

This is $3.50 at DriveThru. The same is ten pages, with the last two showing four of the zones. I strongly encourage you to check out the preview and those two pages. It’s interesting. The one that makes the most sense is the last, the watch tower. From that you can get, I think, the best idea of how things are supposed to play out.

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13 Responses to Castle of Mirror, 5e adventure review

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love Hank. I hope he sees this and keeps trucking.
    Adventure writing is hard, cant wait to see what he does next.
    His passion and ideas are awesome.
    I know Kelsey D DMs for him. Maybe she can edit and help with layout or something?

  2. Gnarley Bones says:

    Ten (10) pages *before* you get to the meat of the thing!

    Just a reminder that Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is chock full of detail, not an outline, had factions, strategy and it’s EIGHT PAGES LONG.

    Often, less is more.

  3. Commodore says:

    Sounds like another in the “would gladly play in this dude’s game, but darned if I know how to run it from the text” pile. Don’t know how you’d condense that into a tag, but I feel like you could definitely turn that into a tag.

  4. Evan R says:

    I picked this up thanks to tenfootpole not absolutely hating it!

    I really like the scenes and zones format. There are some pre-generated characters here to get started with and two tables of treasure and magic items, though you’ll have to place them yourself.

    Other than the castle and caves, it outlines several locations and NPCs in the area. Unless you simply want to barge in to this castle and start cracking heads, which this module looks really good at setting you up for, there will need to be a lot of fleshing out by the DM. But if you’re so inclined, it looks like enough of a skeleton to support a whole campaign.

    There are many potential goals ranging from kill the dragon, kill the dracula guy, save them from something even worse, destroy the mirrors, destroy the whole castle, or secure mirrors for your own use. The mirror dimensions are also potentially very cool. If you bring your own imagination to the table.

    For some challenges, the requisite power level seems a little out of the OSR ballpark, but who knows there might be a way…

  5. Olav Nygård says:

    I have run the adventure for my group; we only visited part of the castle but it worked well enough. I like that the adventure has a very clear aesthetic, with very distinct encounters/locations.This made it very easy to memorize, and easy to fill in the blanks.
    I didn’t like that there are no puzzles. I accept that the author dislikes this kind of encounters/rooms, and understand his reasoning, but I still think the module is weaker for it.

    I still liked the module, and it’s very easy to pick and choose from, but be advised that it is low on traps/trick rooms.

  6. mAc Chaos says:

    Hank is the type of guy that hates having to read over stuff and loves to just get the executive summary of something and then wing it and let his imagination do the rest in the moment. That probably reflects in the work. But usually it’s pretty great. I’ll be checking this out myself.

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