The Queen of Spades

By Artem Serebrennikov
Self Published
Level 7

Six murders in a single night! A major city in the Forgotten Realms is rocked by a series of gruesomely bizarre deaths of notable citizens. What mysterious murderer could have slain six people in different corners of the city? Why did the criminal leave a playing card at each scene? Could a high-stakes card game that happened ten years ago explain the goings-on? And, most importantly, is the goddess of misfortune personally involved?

This 77 page murder mystery adventure is divided in to three parts. While it coversthe bases, in a good way, in having a murder mystery at a higher level, it does so by making parts one and two irrelevant to the main arc. And dear god is it ever wordy. 

This assumes a magical city ala Forgotten Realms, and isn’t going to work well if you’re not down with a magical renfaire. No digs intended, it’s just the environment the adventure uses. And no city described, which is fine, except the specific locales, which is also fine. It’s what I expect and want in an adventure like this.

Ohs nos! Five people died last night in bizarre ways. The underworld, or the guard, hire the party to figure out what’s going on. You go visit each one. You get a multi paragraph description of the site, which doesn’t really tell you anything except setting the scene … which could be A LOT shorter and more evocative. Then you a multi-paragraph section on the victim and how they lived their life. Then you get a couple of paragraphs on their Dark Secret (they each have one) which are all related to spreading out some red herrings. Then you get a long section on how they actually died. In every case its some freak accident. Then you get a section on witnesses. Yeah, it’s long. Then you get a page or so on clues in bullet format, each one VERY long. It’s fucking LONG. I’m not digging through all that shit to run this. And the clues are in a weird format, with no bolding or such to direct you as to which clue paragraph relates to what described in it, making referencing it hard. And then there are just weird things like “There’s a trunk.” in the clue section. Well, how the fuck do the party know there’s a trunk? It’s not in the overview description for the DM. I guess the party just asks “DO we find anything else” and the DM just spends ten minutes reading everything and telling the players as they stumble across it? Anyway, you get why SPeak With Dead and Divination works … everything wa an accident.

In part two you go visit some locations that are not murder scenes, that the clues at the scenes have led you to. There are people to talk to. These sections are are LONG. A couple of pages, no bolding to help direct you. Lots of shit you don’t care about. Lots of shit to dig through as you are running it.

But, none of those locations matter. And none of the deaths matter either. After each location explored you have a 25% chance of running in to Mr Bad Luck, the immediate cause of everything. And then after some questions some mercs show up that were hied to kill him/bring him back to the main baddie. You then go hack up a gambling den to stop the plot to summon blah blah blah. Did I mention how long the descriptions of the gambling den are?

So, is it a murder mystery? No. Nothing you do matters. You’re just killing time, as one seemingly does in almost every 5e adventure, till the plot trips over you. Just put in no effort on the investigation of the bodies, put in no effort on the follow up locations and you get the adventure handed to you then. That’s why it can be run as murder mystery: nothing you do matters. 

If the crime scenes and locations could be shortened, to only about a page each by removing all of the excess shit, and if the descriptions were quite a bit more evocative, then, I guess, you’d have the usual 5e adventure that has the party killing time on Wednesday night gaming session “investigating” something until the main plot happens. I’m being a little harsh here, since this the way of 5e, but, you can’t call something a murder mystery where nothing you do matters.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is eighteen pages. More than enough to see some of the body locations, etc and get a sense for how wordy it is.

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10 Responses to The Queen of Spades

  1. Artem of the Floating Keep says:

    Well, poop. That was harsh, and probably deserving in some parts.

    I honestly tried to keep the MUCHO TEXTO to manageable levels. However, as I distinctly remember one of your commenters writing (I paraphrase), “Things tend to get wordy when you aim something more non-standard and complex than “20×20 guard room, 3 orcs, they attack”.

    While I agree than the end of Chapter II might be a little be on the nose, I thoroughly reject the railroading accusation:

    *You can explore any murder site in any order you want, in any way you want (magic, non-magic, skill use, player experience etc.), and there are plenty of clues, as per the famous Three Clue Rule by Alexandrian. If they sleepwalk through the case, they probably won’t have established that all are near-impossible freak accidents, and they won’t have found the cards, making everything much more difficult.

    *In Chapter II, the players slowly learn the story of “Mr. Bad Luck” from different perspectives (again, with a very free rein on how to interact with very different NPCs). If they meet “Mr. Bad Luck” without amassing enough information about him, they won’t understand his importance. His would-be murderers might get away. The players might not understand “Mr. Bad Luck’s” explanation if they have been sleeping through the case. Again, real chance of failure here if you’re not paying attention. And the chapter explicitly exhorts the DM to get to the end of the chapter if the PCs already know enough! No busy work here!

    *In Chapter III, everything is open-ended as fuck. Sneak into the gambling den. Or masquerade as a high roller and James Bond your way in. Or slaughter everyone. Repeat the same in the (Jacquayed) cult dungeon. Make a deal with the bad guy (girl!). Or kill her as well. All are valid approaches, all are explicitly supported in the adventure, and are sorely unnoticed in your review.

    In any case, I thank you for the harsh beating. You’ve been lenient on my previous attempts (The Divine Alligator, Kallista’s Floating Keep). I honestly thought you’d like this, I was sorely mistaken. Anyhow, I’ve learned my lesson and will try to do better in the impossible quest of writing a D&D mystery that works.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >The Queen of Spades
    lol lmao

  3. Reason says:

    How did playtest groups go slowly learning the story of Mr Badluck? Were they primed for a mystery adventure?

    My group would probably be aimlessly wandering, starting a riot or only just realising not to stab everybody in face so quick by now.

    • Artem of the Floating Keep says:

      spawn of kyuss

      Well, if starts by the party being hired to investigate an apparent murder, it kinda telegraphs that it’s gonna be a mystery, amirite?

      The playtest went swimmingly in this regard: the party start noticing the pattern at the 3rd murder scene somewhere (BTW, they are not ALL accidents, Bryce is being inconsistent with the truth here).

      They realize that the playing cards they find at each scene better be important, and rushed to the local (legal) gambling den at the first opportunity. Not a huge leap of logic if you ask me. From what I’ve heard from my pals running it, this seems to be more or less the default approach.

      (Oh, and there’s plenty of opportunity to stab people and monsters if your party is so inclined)

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