I’ll freely admit that I’m biased against 3rd party adventure modules for 4th edition. Wizards hasn’t exactly made it easy to modify the character builder, especially since the web relaunch, so any new power, item, or feat presented is much more difficult to use.
At the same time, the soul of a good adventure is the story, not the mechanics within, so with that in mind I started on the adventure see what lies within.
The story centres around a haunted orphanage. The backstory of the orphanage is presented clearly and concisely, and immediately had me interested. The delivery of the story is largely given through player handouts. Eight pages of handouts, in fact, which is a lot for a 24 page file. Each player, the book recommends, should get a different set of handouts as they all experience different kinds of paranormal haunting.
This kind of information distribution is a move I haven’t seen recommended since Paranoia. It does force the players to communicate to one another in character, which is always a chore for a GM to enforce, and the idea that one player might be hiding something is, quite frankly, more terrifying than any narrative twist the story can bring about. Bravo.
The clever ideas, however, are met with unfortunate execution. There are a few spelling errors, poor use of typography, and pixilated, greyscale maps really make the entire product feel amateurish. One amusing error confusingly recommends handing one of the handouts to a good “roll player” — the derisive term for a person who rolls dice instead of actually plays a character. It’s hardly a dealbreaker, but it detracts from what could be a much better product.
As far as the story itself, it’s D&D, so you already know how much of it goes. Enter a location and systemically travel through each room liberating it of treasure and killing the creatures inside. Fortunately the game keeps the exploration high and the encounters low, a welcome change from games which seem like they pad out their story with more random encounters than a console JRPG. Each room is well described, and has enough flavour text to clearly differentiate it.
Yet it still suffers a little from the meaningless fight syndrome. The first encounter is a level 1 fight with wolves on the road, which manages to be nothing more than a formality before the real adventure begins. Sure, they’re possessed wolves, but ultimately it’s an exercise in meaningless slaughter. A level one encounter is so easy that it might as well not be there.
The other two fights (level 3 and 7, respectively) are more interesting, but only the final poses any real challenge to a party within the level 3-5 range recommended. There are enough interesting “screw you” powers to scale up the difficulty; think Monster Manual 3 as opposed to Monster Manual 1. The capstone fight could actually give a level 3 party a run for their money, except that every fight also has a back door skill challenge which allows players to negate a number of enemies with minor actions.
So is it worth it? For me, it turns a 2 hour session prep time into a 30 minute run, so if you value your time, then yes. It doesn’t doesn’t feel like a WotC publication, but there’s an old school charm I haven’t seen in a long run of official work. It’s enough that it won me over, despite my misgivings of third party products.
Plus it will set you back only $3.45. Most players have individual minis which cost more than that.
[tags]D&D, Dungeons and Dragons, 4e, Review, Mini Adventure[/tags]