By Kai Putz Self-Published LotFP Level 3?
A witch that had been burned returns. Her bones need to be recovered. A contract needs to be destroyed. An otherworldly ally of hers has to be faced. Where? How? Try to learn that from the panicking villagers. It is the only way to learn it. Vengeance of a Burned Witch is a one-session side-quest where talking to the NPC is vital for solving the adventure as a whole. It is not a big affair, and it has in-build set-backs to deliberately frustrate the players a bit. But in the end, success will be so much more sweeter for it. …oh, did I mention that no riches and no impressive magical items are to be gained? And that it is yet not a “nega-dungeon”? Take my word on it.
This fifteen page adventure details the efforts to put down a witches vengeful spirit. It magnificently channels a realistic set of events and situations. It is also plagued by burying important bits deep in paragraphs. If the information transfer could be improved I would give this my highest rating.
This is, basically, an investigation. The party finds themselves in a village when shit goes down and they need to figure out what to do. A lot of adventures revolve around that concept. This one does it right.
I’m a big big fan of this. It is a mess but it also does a couple of things that REALLY get me going in an adventure, both as a player and as a DM. First, the motivations of the people involved, their reactions and so forth, are extremely relatable. It makes sense, how they react and what they did in the past. This sort of relatability makes the adventure much more visceral, IMO, while playing. It’s easier for the DM to relate to the players and it makes a larger impact on the players AND helps them then relate to the people involved, the villagers in this case. I’m not talking about some emotional catharsis nonsense, but rather the relatability that spawns empathy that comes from normal people caught in a situation. It’s not right, or wrong, but just some shit happens and you’re caught up in the situation. Time to muddle through it.
It also has a good sense of folklore involved, at least in relation to a witch. Again, this deals with relatability and the immersion of the players in to the adventure. There are these THINGS that we all know, deep down in our souls. It comes from a lifetime of having been immersed in the tropes and stories of witches and the like. The adventure, by leveraging these cultural concepts, makes a much larger impact than it otherwise would. It’s a witch. Or is it? The woman in question was the local mid-wife. And herb woman. Ok, so now we’re starting with the modern historical witch then? Oh, also, she was the local whore. Hmmm, now things are getting more interesting. We’re now adding a degree of realism to the situation. Oh, also … she’s an actual witch, having sold her soul and made a contract with an otherworldly entity. Ok, now we’re talking! This is a MUDDY situation. She’s not mentioned as evil … in spite of what selling your soul though a written contract might imply. There’s no actual background in the adventure of her being evil. It’s exactly the sort of “not explaining” that makes a concept much more powerful than explaining every would. Also … her vengeful spirit can’t enter the church. Makes sense, right? Also, you need to find her bones (she was burned at the stake a year ago) to put her to rest permanently once the local priest blesses them/consecrates them. Oh, and you need to destroy her contract, the one written on hide and signed in blood. Note the obvious connections to the vampire myth, how you have to do more than just kill the thing. It’s a process. There’s a ritual.
And the people involved? A simpleton who hides in his childhood hidey-hole and swore an oath to god that he will not break Not To Tell. There’s a challenge for the party, twofold! The local bailiff, who, once the witch appears, heads upstairs to the attic, rope in hand, muttering to himself. The panicked villagers hiding the church, signing, praying, etc. This shit is GUUUUD!
The designer points out, explicitly that there is no exposition dump in the adventure. The players can’t work a checklist. They have to pull information about of a group of scared shitless villagers, all of whom know different bits of information. That’s the key. That’s part of what makes the design of this investigation better than most. It’s not working a checklist.
When the witches bones animate there’s the sound of a burning pyre present. Then you find her bones at the bottom of a well they are covered in mud, from the bottom of a mostly dried up well … the way wells are. It’s the specificity of the detail, the way it MAKES SENSE.
Ok, on the bad. And that’s one minor point and one major one.
The designer is not a native english speaker. That’s not a big deal. There’s an occasional grammer issue but it doesn’t detract from the adventure. And their vocabulary and ability to describe the conditions and emotions of the situation is far better than the crap that comes from most english speakers. But, there’s an exception to this. At a few points the witch makes explicitly threats and these are the only points where explicitly dialog comes in to play. These parts, maybe three phrases/threats by the witch in the adventure, are substantially weaker thank the rest of the adventure. It seems clear this is an EASL issue and they stick out, greatly, being a good deal weaker than the rest of the adventure. “Remember me, you feckless lot?! The time for my VENGEANCE has come, and it will start with YOU, Avner!!” So, you can get from that what the intent is, and yet it comes across less eerie or horror and more … I don’t know, trope or telenovela? Overly formal, maybe? In any event, this sort of dialog is probably a place for extra attention, in general, from our EASL friends.
The second is the general formatting of the adventure. It’s basically just a normal text/paragraph formatting style. This is augmented, in places, by bullets. There is, for example, a list of interesting places nearby, essentially a rumor location table, of places the villagers might mention, like the old mossy standing stone or the hole in the ground no one has been down in. (The designer, noting correctly, that adventures spend to much time describing only the pertinent places, leading the party to place too much emphasis on them. The rumor locations are never mentioned again in the adventure but solve that “checklist” issue well.) But these sorts of checklists are few and far between. Most descriptions come in paragraph form and the information is invariably buried in them. You need a highlighter and you need to take notes. Good, good content, evocative content, is buried and you have to fight to pull it out. The designer needs to find a way to solve this issue. It could be better paragraph writing, or selecting different formatting options, or better bolding or some such. But, it’s going to need to happen.
I could mention a few more things. Maybe toss in a few more words about what the panicked villagers do, in the inn, in the church, at home, etc. Not a lot, just to get the DM’s juices going.
This is not an epic adventure. It’s full of the foibles of a group of villagers. And that’s what makes it a good concept for an adventure. I’m giving this a No Regerts, for that reason alone. If it would have helped me run it more then it could have received my highest marks.
At one point, a ghostly spirit in a hut passes through the center beam. When it does so the whole hut skates as if the beam was struck by a ram. Because that’s what the fuck happens in a hut when a ghost passes through a support fucking beam. That’s specificity.
A good job in fifteen pages.
This is Pay What You Want at DriveThru, with a suggested price of $1. The description states the entire thing is available for preview, which I believe since it’s PWYW, but, the full preview is broken. 🙁