today I'm going to take a look at the two modules Ron Lundeen has so far penned for Headless Hydra Games,
This adventure is 27 pages long, 1 page front/back cover, half a page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 24.5 pages of adventure, so let's check it out!
The pdf adheres to the two-column formatting standard. Editing is top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches or typos. The only strange decision of the formatting is that the front and back cover are on the same page, which is a pity as the cover image is nice. There are also some enumeration-dots missing on the last page. Once you check the file out, you notice something immediately: The layout is GORGEOUS. Apart from Green Ronin, I've seldom seen such an appealing, awesome layout: K. Axel Carlson did an outstanding job. The same goes for the nice pieces of b/w-artwork - they are nice and professional, especially nice is the b/w-artwork of the academy one can show to the PCs. The 3 maps of the academy are also nice - the cartographer Butch Curry did a good job. The adventure is designed for 4 to 5 characters level 5-6 and includes information to scale it to 3rd or 7th level. While it is set in Headless Hydra's Mor Aldenn-setting, it can easily be transferred to just about any city that could house an elite boarding school.
That's about all I can say sans spoilers, so potential players beware and jump to the conclusion.
This adventure is INTELLIGENT and detailed: The basic plotline is that one of the instructors of an elite-boarding school for noble children to be trained as fighters wants to stage a hostile take-over of the school. He does that via the help of a sorceress who is in fact, without his knowledge, a hag with her own agenda. Armed with the arcane knowledge, he digs up the remains of the one instructor that died in an accident (which has been hushed over and is more or less forgotten) and forces the spirit to haunt the academy to scare the pupils away, ruin the reputation of the school and open his own school. Note that he is not evil, though, and wishes for no-one to get hurt. The hag (part of a coven) has her own agenda and want to eat the children. The hauntings have already driven away several pupils when the PCs are approached by the headmaster.
After a cool, challenging and detailed investigation, the instructor fakes his death and the PCs hopefully find the missing remains of the instructor before facing a challenge like I've never seen before in an adventure: Going on a field-trip with a bunch of children. That's right, the PCs will have to look after a lot of children, defend them against a hill giant and, of course, thwart the plan of the hags, who will try to lure the children to their doom via illusions.
This is where the adventure COULD take a very dark turn indeed, although the adventure specifically advises against this, I wanted to mention that the imagery of the hag-encounter is worthy of authors like e.g. Richard Pett.
The adventure concludes with the PCs returning to the school and the final confrontation depending on the amount of information they unearthed.
The adventure features the instructors and 19 sample pupils with their own personalities and social dynamics.
I really like good investigation adventures. Unfortunately, they tend to be few and far-between and this adventure is actually a prime example of a GOOD investigation adventure. There are several clues to unearth, more than one path towards victory, massive roleplaying encounters and a fine plethora of personalities. More interestingly, though, is the fact that I haven't ever read an adventure like this. Set in a boarding school, not mean-spirited at all but with this almost dream-like quality to transform into a nightmare. This adventure can be as mature or as funny as you wish and the author Ron Lundeen has done a terrific job of capturing a unique flair that has not been done thousands of times before. I highly recommend this adventure to any DM who wants to master an interesting investigation that he doesn't have to artificially complicate for the players to be a challenge. I recommend this to the hard-core ROLE-players out there. It's a great purchase and my only criticism is with the minor formatting glitches, resulting in a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. Excellent job!
The second module for today would be:
This adventure is 33 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1/2 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 30.5 pages of content, so let's check out the latest adventure set in Headless Hydra Games' Mor Aldenn setting!
This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS, thus I encourage potential players to skip to the conclusion.
Still here? Righty right, so this is what happens: The Spindleflow River that flows past Mor Aldenn is not only magically contaminated, sporting enchanted trout (see the creature compendium), but also is mildly acidic thanks to the corruption seething upstream. Thus, riverboats are usually very closely guarded. The sabotage and subsequent capsizing of the vessel is thus quite a piece of news, especially due to the valuable cargo - mithril! The PCs hear of this from an old fisher who happens to have witnessed it and immediately should head out - time is of the essence and the chase is on. To drive this point home, the fisher and the PCs are immediately attacked by thugs who fight to kill in order to thin the competition. And the competition isn't dumb, having made sure that no swan boat feather tokens are available in the city.
After that, the job-offers start fluttering in: The raven familiar of the archmage Ardamiron makes an offer, as does the clockwork bird of the mysterious Miller (both notes are included as handouts) and finally Keandra Summersong, the divorced wife of the captain has a third offer for the PCs. Depending on their patron affiliations, their standing in Mor Aldenn and the loot available might change. The choice also influences their equipment, for the Miller for example offers them his clockwork boat and they, of course might also set out on their own. In any case, the things the mithril can be made to by the archmages should provide enticing incentives. Time is of the essence in this adventure, and not only in theory: Every encounter from here on influences the number of haste points the PCs can get and depending on the amount they accumulate, the final encounters will change. The race to the keening crone is on and the hazards ahead sometimes pose hard questions to the PCs of using haste or doing the charitable thing.
The PCs have to brave Spindleflow distillations and the dread harpies there, maneuver their boats through the treacherous waters of the Spindleflow by night (done via an equipment-enhanced skill challenge), brave manticores, haunts and will-o'-wisps, giant leeches, and shipwrecked salvagers beset by a young black dragon to finally arrive at the wreck of the keening crone. The keening crone and its surrounding are depicted in little maps and what exactly is going on depends on the amount of haste points the PCs managed to accumulate: Both criminal mastermind Yem Targus' looters and boggards are interested in the wreck and there may or may not be an ongoing battle or even air inside the capsized vessel. Boggards? Yep, for the true mastermind of the crone's misfortune has already made of, taking its captain hostage. The PCs will have to track the boggard minions to an abandoned complex in the wilderness, where they'll have to brave the forces of Sivix, a dark Naga to claim their reward, as per their allegiance.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches or awkward wordings - neat! Layout adheres to the new, elegant and beautifully-designed 2-column b/w-standard by Headless Hydra Games and the b/w-artworks are top-notch. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. I also enjoyed that we get handouts for two of the offers, though I would have loved to get them on a separate page - they are included right in the middle of the adventure, necessitating you printing out the pages 2 times - once for you as a DM and once for your players. Some time ago I reviewed an overland chase and was rather annoyed that dillydallying had no real consequences in it. This is different. Not only is the mechanic rather easy to implement and use in your own adventures, is also nets quite real consequences.
In fact, I would have loved for the consequences to be even more pronounced, with a greater breadth of difficulty added for dawdlers. And yeah, this adventure is by no means easy, but I would have done so never the less. I do have essentially one gripe with this adventure and that is that the climax is not centered around looting the submerged wreck, but instead a rather bland mini-dungeon.
Just think about it: Make the ship a bit larger, add varying levels of air/water inside depending on the haste points and have the PCs arrive while both factions are battling through the vessel, diving in and out of the water while hunting for the price - it would have been a much more memorable climax and the environmental peculiarities of underwater combat would have made a major or at least moderate exploration much more enticing. This wasted potential is all that mars an otherwise excellent little module and thus my final verdict will be 4 stars. Well done!