By Craig Patterson Momentous Malice Productions 5e Level 2
The frontier village of Timberhollow is the kind of place no one had ever heard of until its fortunes took a turn for the worse. The timber and pelts which formerly flowed out of Timberhollow to the markets in the nearest towns have ceased delivery, and rumor spread by travellers is that the woods surrounding the village have become haunted by a pack of especially savage wolves – wolves who attack anyone trying to enter or leave the village. The villagers must be starting to get desperate – and the merchants who once sold their goods in the neighboring larger settlements are beginning to worry that their business has dried up for good. The call has gone out for capable adventurers – whether for gold, glory, or charity – to investigate and save Timberhollow. Little do those adventurers know that there are even more sinister forces at work in Timberhollow than rumor would suggest.
Thise eleven page adventure uses five pages to describe a werewolf in a village and the dumb-ass druid trying to stop it. It’s a short thing that is trying to bring in some roleplaying and more complex environment than usual for this sort of one night adventure. When it’s being specific it’s good and could use a little more build up and some additional clarity in its NPC relationships. And A Wall of Text overhaul. And, I believe, it’s on the list because of a request from its designer.
Sometimes you can tell what a designer is going for, even if they can’t communicate it well. That’s the case with this adventure. You can tell the designer was going for this isolated in the woods village thing, paranoid villagers, a kind of claustrophobic feeling, no one knowing whats really going on, people afraid, and so on. That comes though, no necessarily primarily because of the writing, especially, but because of the elements layered on top of each other. You get that the designer wants that, they just can’t yet write/layout well enough to communicate that in a way that really supports the DM.
So, the town of Timberhollow is cut off. No pelts or timber coming out. No merchants going in. Viscous pack of wolves killing everything that moves in the forest and on the road that cuts through it to the village. This initial set up is, potentially, supported in two ways: the hooks and the journey to the village.
We get five hooks. A group of merchants hire you to restore the flow of goods. The Church of the Goddess of Commerce hires you. You’ve got a friend in the village. An innkeeper hires you to check on his friend. These are each presented in about as many words as I’ve typed here, and as generic and throw-away as I’ve typed here. Yes, I know, hooks don’t matter. But when they ARE included I feel the need to comment, and, a good hook that is present is a bonus to the adventure. But these four, they are just generic hooks. With no real meat on them, or specificity to help bring them alive. But, there are hints, here and there. “By any means” is tacked on to the merchants hook. And, the extreme genericism of the Church of the Goddess of Commerce makes me want to play that abstraction to the extremes, for laughs. Finally, the last hook, a druid circle hires you to dispel a rumor that an evil druid is behind the attacks …and quietly eliminate them if there IS a druid behind it. It’s the “quietly eliminate” that, like the “by any means” that starts to work on the DMs imagination. Its these sorts of things that start to lead the DM down a path. Rather than five aggressively generic hooks it would have been better to take one hook, say the merchants or the druids, and use the space to bring it alive with a little more specificity. Play up the “by any means” or the Shadow Merchants Council or the weirdness of the druid circle, etc. Better to do one thing well than five things terribly.
Then there’s the “1 to 2 days travel” to the village, through the forest. I’m sure you can see the issue with putting “ 1to 2” in the travel times. But, anway, you get four possible encounters to help foreshadow the situation, with a suggestion that the DM include one of them. First off, great idea. Use the travel through the forest as foreshadowing to set a mood. Play up the oppressiveness and claustrophobia of a thick forest. Get the players in the mood and jumpy. But, this is essentially unsupported. There’s a table of four possible encounters and just the words “As they travel they could encounter any of the following.” I might suggest that, in an adventure of this type, this section could have beenbetter supported. A little more in the way if the encounters, and the journey, words playing up the environment and the vibe and so on. Of the four encounters we get an abandoned wagon with corpses of humans and horses, bearing signs of wolf attack. That’s pretty good! And one about mysterious symbols carved in a tree, Abyssal or druidic, vague and ominous. A good idea, used to good effect in Blair Witch, but it could have used a few examples of that vague wording. The tree’d commoner and a simple “ambushed by 6 wolves” is less interesting. So, you can get the idea of what the designer wanted, but it’s not quite there.
This continues in the village. We get the following text upon arrival: “Their arrival is not only a special occasion, but a marvelous sign of hope to the beleaguered villagers, and they beg the player characters for reassurance that their ordeal is nearly over. All villagers whom the party encounters try to usher them on to the village inn, where a hasty gathering of the village council is about to take place.” Aggressively abstracted, no specifics. This is a key part. The village is isolated, the people scared, but little beyond abstraction. And no real overview of the village, of the weirdo house with all the wood carvings outside, or the junkyard, or the ostentatious church. We’re left to the individual descriptions of those locations to learn those things.
There’s supposed to be relationships among the people in the village. SOme people hate others, others are in love, but, while these are explicitly stated, you need a vignette or two to make them come alive. A on-abstracted vignette. At a town council meeting we get a flew words about how two people shout at each other or another two have an awkward conversation, but without anything supporting it for the DM to riff on. Instead we get a village that approaches Wall of Text territory, with lots of words (in a small font) that don’t really deliver much. Again, you get where things SHOULD be going but its not really supported well. And, I think, the NPC situation is complex enough, with enough weirdo names, to need a dedicated reference for them.
The village map could use a little more detail, some rises or piles of timber or some such, to make the village investigations more interesting. The Lord of The Hunt angle could be played up a lot more, for feelings of dread. There’s not actually much of a “timber” vibe, or forest vibe going on. Someone in the town meeting says “last full moon” which should set off all of the alarm bells … I’d leave that bit out. The druid is referred to as a a druid instead of a weirdo horned head/antler dude. One guy in the village is very friendly, which of course means the party should stab him immediately because he’s the bad guy. And, again, you don’t get much to help support you, as the DM, in making him friendly to the party. Other than “hes friendly and helpful to the party.” And there’s no real siege going on, at least not one that will be visceral to the players.
Ultimately the adventure is short and straightforward. Travel to the village. Sit in on the council meeting. Go in to the forest to confront the druid. Come back to the village to find a murder and kidnapped villager. Follow tracks to abandoned cabin and save victim. Folow tracks to church and kill werewolf (At level 2?! I have some mental block that doesn’t allow me to understand 5e power levels).
So what we have is an adventure that knows what it wants to do but is too bogged down in the mundane and in aggressive abstraction instead of specificity. I think it’s about the right length for one of these typical plot-based things, and shows some promise that many of them do not (they being by far the most common type of adventure in the modern era.) I don’t think it’s as bad as the 3 stars out of 5 at DriveThru would imply. I suspect the Wall of Text issue/font has a lot to do with that rating, but the padding and lack of specificity and support for key elements of the adventure are what is mostly interesting to me. A hard tune up would make this shine to a journeyman level.
This is $5 at DMsGuild. The preview is two pages and gives you a good idea of what to expect. The formatting/wall issues, and the journey through the forest and some of the town buildings.
I used to teach English lit & writing… I spent 75% of my time emphasising & explaining “show don’t tell”.
In adventure’s it’s the difference between writing down a cool idea- that cool idea which you as the writer can totally pull off at the table because you just jot down the tip of the greater iceberg in your mind- but writing something that _someone else_ can use to get the same effect you can’t just jot down the cool idea. They don’t have the iceberg beneath it. To summon that iceberg you need to sit down & do the hard part, write down a few choice words or details… transform it into specifics.
Tell us how the cool idea manifests… do it in a sentence.
It’s the difference between “Oh and it’s really sad because the woman is so poor she has to sell the clothes she bought for her baby that miscarried…” and between
“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”
One of those just over-explains in a wordy and abstract way while evoking nothing. The other one summons an iceberg by giving the reader just enough to do the rest themselves.
Mmhmm, but that’s hard! Seriously, you actually need to be a good writer to be a good D&D adventure writer.
…and Bryce: Another extremely helpful review. I mean it. You are seriously bending over backwards lately to try and inform and instruct. I, for one, appreciate it very much.
Btw that isn’t my six word story, it’s a Hemingway written to win a bar bet (possibly apocryphal), just to clarify. But damn if it doesn’t make a point.
Yeah, I’ve greatly enjoyed the last few reviews, and this one really puts the product (and its particulars) into perspective. I’m a born-again follower of Bryce’s work… 🙂
Finally, the last hook, a druid circle hires you to dispel a rumor that an evil druid is behind the attacks …and quietly eliminate them if there IS a druid behind it.
His methods have become… unsound.
In 5e, a single werewolf is CR 3, which means it should be an exciting but winnable fight for a party of four second-level characters. Against five characters it’s nominally a fight that’ll take some spells and do some damage but not really have any risk.
*However*, werewolves are immune to non-silvered mundane weapons, and it’d be unusual for second-level characters to have silver or magic weapons. So your fighter and rogue-type characters can’t do any damage at all, and we’re depending on spells and cantrips from the magic-using sorts. Unless you have some good direct-damage spells, it’s going to take the party 8 or 10 rounds to kill the thing, which ought to result in some dead PCs.
If it’s just one werewolf though and they figure out the can’t harm it, surely most players then turn to restraining it- net it, wrestlie it down, tie it up, drown it, hang it, cage it, trap it, snare it… Sure you’re not going to handle _many_ werewolves that way but 4 v1 … maybe