The Perilous Puppeteer of Piepenburg

By James the DM
Self Published
Level ?

Terror!  A string of disappearances in the charming town of Piepenburg has left the townsfolk on edge.  Can the players discover the culprit’s identity before the unthinkable happens?

This 32 page adventure is an investigation in to some murders in a small village. A small village of ten buildings, one of which is a toy store. It’s trying, and has the form down, but the specifics and details are a jumble that don’t make sense.

So there’s this group called The Storytellers Collective or something, and they have a writers workshop every month or quarter or something. I tend to get requests for reviews from them around this time, or people pointing me at thier adventures. I don’t understand completely, but somehow I’m on the radar. I got a request to review this one, but not by the designer, so, here we go!

It’s amurder mystery. Murder mysteries face a challenge in D&D, especially OSR D&D. Why does the party give a fuck that someone ELSE is stabbing things? Thus the hook is usually that you get assigned to investigate, or your brother lives in the village or hoping that the party has enough humanity to want to help a random village with random murders in it. And those are the hooks here. Nothing but throw aways, with nothing to them other than what I just typed. Nothing compelling. 

And then there’s the issue with magic. When you can detect a lie, or question a dead body, where’s the mystery? Usually designers go through contortions to solve this, ith invisibility, rings of mind shielding and all that crap. The solution is to make it low level, which is what happened here, but, then, the designer also includes this warning “The adventure also assumes that magic is rare and strange, and that spells to communicate with the dead or detect lies do not exist.” Good luck with that man! It’s like writing an adventure with spaceships and space opera for D&D … uh, sure, but you do realize this is a fantasy setting, right?

Ok, so, small village. Murders in it. About ten buildings that are businesses. The usual. Inn. Church. Mayors house. Guild house. Toymaker. Wait, what? Ok, I set fire to it, kill whoever comes out. Game over. Seriously, man, you gotta do better than this. The village is too small for such a specialized building. It’s obviously him. 

The plot has an initial first encounter, with random villagers getting a brawl in the town square, citing the shitty shitty longtime advice of “getting your players rolling dice!” It’s a non-lethal brawl. If you kill people then everyone turns on the party and the mayor wants answers! But, also, it’s ok, he really wants you to solve the murders also. ?!  If you don’t want to deal with this then don’t put that party in that position. Seriously. You set them up for a combat and then yank the rug out And then try to fix that. If you don’t want them to just kill everyone then don’t do your initial combat with a village brawl.

It’s this kind of design stuff that’s prevalent all throughout. Basic things. Along with even simpler things. Your brawl is interrupted by a scream (the second time a row your scene is interrupted by a scream from elsewhere, transitioning to the net scene.) This time it’s the wife of a dead guy, missing two weeks, holding his mutilated body at the edge of the town square. So. He’s been missing two weeks? And no one saw his body at the edge of the town square? And his wife is the one to find him? Uh huh. 

Read aloud reveals too much. “An adorned statues of a long deadhero”. The party doesn’t know that. Describe it, not the conclusions drawn from it. In the first body read aloud, don’t reveal the fact that there are no footprints, but describe the body, which the designer doesn’t do. And absolutely do NOT have the read-aloud say “The people of Piepenburg recognize him as a skilled healer, but many distrust his methods as “ungodly.” You’re commenting. Don’t do that. Describe. 

Oh, oh! One of the rumours is “Hans the toymaker made my daughter a lovely doll!” This is in the middle of rumours about evil raiding goblins and undead in the graveyard and the like. Just horrors everywhere, and a seemingly random bit of info about the toymaker. Doesn’t matter, since we’ve already burned his place down though. 

There’s a chase scene, because, drama, I guess. If you don’t make your roll then “as fog swirls in and prevents the characters who failed to keep up from making it to the combat.” Great.. Fog rolls in. Deus Ex much? And if you kill the baddie you’re chasing? IDK, he’s important to the plot. I guess you win? Some advice here would be nice.

Descriptions are too wordy, containing useless info like Frank the barber having “A former adventurer ennobled for his rescue of the Countess von Nachtingal,” useless. Means nothing. Advances nothing in the play of the game. A room, described in readaloud, mentions no rug and yet its a major important point in the room. 

Nothing is really described about the odies up to this point. No CSI for the players, or questioning their families, or looing at their graves or anything. 

On the plus side, it does use bullet points to convey information about what people know It does this well. 

The format here is not bad. The basics are ok. The text needs a heavy edit to keep things focused on play at the table, with reward to relevance and what comes first in a description. The inconsistencies need to be cleaned up. Things need to make sense, in a fantasy setting. Just nothing here to work with in a useful way.

This is $6 at DriveThru. The preview is six pages of the single column version. It shows you the bullets, but they make more sense in a double column view. It’s not a very strong preview

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13 Responses to The Perilous Puppeteer of Piepenburg

  1. Anonymous says:

    $6 for such a poor adventure? Shame on you James the DM!

  2. Adam W. says:

    Burning down the most incongruous building in town is the D&D detective equivalent of questioning the boyfriend.

  3. Sevenbastard says:

    Maybe not putting the solution to the mystery in the title?

    But yeah that puppet guy is dead within two turns of any sane party hearing about him.

  4. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    Ah, infamously hard to write D&D murder mysteries! I’ve recently run a very enjoyable mini-campaign made of mostly investigation/infiltration/whodunnit adventures. Most of them were pre-existing modules for older editions (Bryce’s reviews of Dungeon magazine were IMMENSELY helpful). The final one I wrote myself as something
    of a thought experiment proving that murder mysteries CAN work in 5+ level D&D, or indeed any fantasy games. I’ve requested Bryce to review it a while ago, but he must find 5e and/or Forgotten Realms really off-putting 🙁

    If anyone’s interested:

  5. George Dorn says:

    Designers who either assume detect lies and speak with dead are unavailable or just mechanically block them are just being lazy. There are creative ways to deal with both without just shutting them down, like most people lying when confronted by adventurers, or the corpse not getting a great look at the attacker (but here’s some extra clues for the party that uses the spell…)

    But even if magic is a cheat code to solving the mystery, you can make the adventure about what to do once you solve it. Pulp mystery novels typically end when the investigator accuses the butler, but in a fantasy world you don’t have to have omnipresent police that wrap things up afterwards. Maybe the criminal is allied with the local authorities. Maybe the criminal is somebody important, either to the PCs or to an NPC ally (assuming the players ever care about NPCs). Maybe the criminal flees to a dungeon and the PCs have to run them down. Etc.

    Throwing together a cheap whodunnit that falls apart when players use the tools they’re given is just weaksauce.

    • Adam W. says:

      Yeah being able to walk in to town, cast two spells and know who did it is a feature, not a bug.

    • Artem of the Floating Keep says:


      Regarding speak with dead, the possibilities are numerous:

      1) The assassin was wearing a mask/disguised/shapeshifted/etc., perhaps even actively trying to implicate someone else;
      2) The murder was done using a summoned monster, an illusion, a magic item, etc., and the victim isn’t necessarily knowledgeable about such things;
      3) The victim names the murderer, but he’s too well-known, respected, or has an impeccable alibi, and the results of speak with dead aren’t admissible as hard evidence by themselves;
      4) The killer simply cuts off the victim’s head, specifically to prevent speak with dead (which by itself is a giveaway that there’s a pro at work).

      Speak with dead is essentially an extra witness, and good murder mysteries never hinge on a single testimony.

      • 3llense'g says:

        Indeed, in the only mystery adventure I’ve written, the culprit was a local lord, and the only reason the players were able to apprehend him is because it was set in a major town, so there was authority above him. If he were in a rural setting where he owned everything and everyone in a 10 mile radius, that means you either shut up or get a powerful enemy.

  6. Dave says:

    Now I’m going to put a baroque toy shoppe in the next one-horse thorpe that otherwise has only a single inn and a blacksmith. See what the players make of it, if anything.

    But yeah, introducing a toy shop only when there’s a murder mystery, when everything’s otherwise generic medieval is a pretty big tell.

    On turning miscreants over to the authorities – my take is if you’ve got a paladin or a leveled fighter in your party, he is the authority. You can go find another, higher level paladin or fighter if you insist, but there really isn’t a precinct house full of cops sitting around the way we expect today.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Regarding lying, remember what George Costanza said. “It’s not a lie if you believe it”

  8. Stripe says:

    The Storytellers Collective is going to hang a picture of Brice up at their club house for dart practice.

    I think Frog God Games sells dart boards with his portrait. They come with mustaches pre-drawn on them!

  9. Jonathan Becker says:

    This sounds terrible.

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