No Delivery

No Delivery has flaws and problems, but there are some really interesting ideas played with here that I haven’t seen in an RPG before.

I like to open reviews with a discussion of whether or not you should play the game I’m reviewing. No Delivery makes my life hard, because that recommendation is conditional. I think if you’re someone who has an interest in game design and the extent to which you can design interesting systems within systems, No Delivery is worth looking at. If you just play games to… well, play games, it’s a little more complicated. I’ve created a simple test below.

  1. Do you like classic turn based RPG’s?
  2. Do you like body horror/squick?
  3. Did you feel that the ending to Lost and How I Met Your Mother were well done and satisfying?

If you answered yes to at least 2 out of 3 questions above, I think you might enjoy No Delivery. It’s $5.00 and you can buy it here. For everyone on the fence, or quite possibly attempting to get themselves off the fence, I’ve written the rest of this article.

Let’s start with the setting shall we?

Not pictured: dead guest in claw machine, creepy animatronics, cursed arcade machines, piles of trash and plates.

Theme-wise, the game is… fine. It’s okay. It takes place in a haunted/infested/might-actually-just-be-a-giant-perpetually-animated-building-that-breathes-life-into-inanimate-objects-within-it-because-of-a-satanic-ritual Chuckie Cheese inspired shithole.

ED NOTE: The autocorrect above just suggested that I correct shithole to shibboleth, which is… wow. Amazingly on theme, and also why is that in the dictionary?

It’s not that the theme is bad, it’s just that if I had to compare the general tone and aesthetic of the game, it would be the bastard child of Five Nights At Freddy’s and Binding of Issac. All of the attacks that give the “Nausea” status usually involve shitting on things. You kill a man by baking him in an industrial microwave oven. This is an accident, not deliberate. There are a fair amount of slashed up corpses and news articles about missing children and families. There are gift boxes that try to eat you, and you fight cursed/broken animatronics. The horror and humor is much less subtle, and much more Cronenberg then Stephen King.

I don’t love horror, I don’t love FNAF, and I played Binding of Issac in spite of the artistic theme. I’m not sure I’m the right person to be looking at No Delivery’s theme. So take this with a grain of salt: while the theme grabbed me, I never liked it or enjoyed it. The best thing I can say about it is that it’s surprisingly well polished for what it is, with death screens, dialogue, and sprites working together to bring that old-timey rotting corpse of a entertainment franchise atmosphere.

Now let’s talk mechanics. No Delivery is a fairly classic turned-based RPG, but with a few big twists. Your characters don’t level up, and you don’t construct a party. Instead, you are given a single random character, and each time you die (more on that in a bit), you get another random character from the pool of classes you’ve unlocked, and you continue on. In addition, there’s no mana or secondary resource. Almost all skills are powered by either health or items, and many of the items will give you other items when used. When you eat food, you’ll be given dishes and trash. Both can be sold for money, or used by attacks from some of the other classes (e.g., the waitress can throw dishes, and recycle trash). This can lead to some very neat resource engine moments, but often gets hamstrung by the way that the game’s dungeons, “Wrong Turns,” work. Outside of the leveling and items, it’s pretty classic “You take a turn, I take a turn” RPG stuff.

My biggest issue with the game’s combat mechanics is how party construction works, or to be more accurate, how it doesn’t. A large section of the game is spent running random dungeons, called Wrong Turns. You go from room to room, and some rooms have a chance to give you an extra Ally that you’ve unlocked, and add them to your party. While this would be fine, it’s entirely possible to go an entire Wrong Turn without getting one party member and the end result is a very screwed up action economy. I failed a boss fight several times before getting a party member with a stun, who I then used to stunlock and clear that boss without taking a point of damage on the next run. The biggest issue I have with the random party/lack of party is that it cripples the interesting engine mechanics I mentioned up above. Without a diverse enough party to use different items, many items you pick up will feel useless. (Looking at you Ammo, and by extension Batteries. I played 16 hours and rolled a Security Guard ONCE.)

The drowned waiter spends health for almost all their skills, but has no way of recovering it outside of items, or with any level of efficiency. The mascot though…
In theory, there’s some cool synergy between a class that can heal, and a class that must spend health as its primary resource, but because you never really know your party composition ahead of time, you don’t really so much get to “Build teams” as “Try to find some way to salvage your current situation before you’re eaten by a living trash compactor”.

The other thing to know is that once you clear a Wrong Turn, you lose the additional party members, and while there are a few other special party members you can get, they leave as soon as you’re no longer in the fights you’re expected to use them in. It’s kind of a bummer. The item transformation/resource mechanics are one of the coolest things about No Delivery, but they don’t get as much time to shine as they could.

There’s a lot of pixelated B-movie gore of this sort in the game.

So, if I don’t love the theme, and parts of the gameplay feel a bit hamstrung, why do I still think this game is very cool? Well, ultimately, it has to do with the engine the game is made in. Despite what it might be named, RPGMaker isn’t actually super easy to make interesting or good games in. Most of the time I’ve tried to make projects with it, I’ve either felt constrained by the engine, either mechanically or in terms of design space.

No Delivery utterly breaks that mold, though. Within what feels like almost entirely vanilla combat mechanics, it manages to build a really interesting item based resource system, even if it could be fleshed out a bit more. It manages to execute its “gross out” theme despite being built in a game engine that is made to create fantasy fluff. It even does some really neat things with enemy sprites, hiding information about them so that they appear as a single pair of eyes, but morph into a whole face when you select them as an attack target.

For me, this was the value of playing No Delivery: a reminder that really cool mechanics and systems can always be constructed, and that it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. No Delivery is not the most polished or clean experience, but there are legitimately really interesting ideas and mechanics at play here. For an almost entirely one-person project, it’s impressive.

While I wouldn’t play through the whole game again, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how neat the item mechanics are, and wondering what else you could with them in if you expanded them.

No Delivery is $5.00 on itch.io, and if you purchased the itch.io Racial Justice Bundle a while back, you already own it. Do yourself a favor and play it.

Didn’t Make the Cut – itch.io Racial Justice Bundle

All filler, no killer.

Another week, another set of games from the itch.io racial justice bundle. These are primarily games that simply didn’t get their own full article about them, either because there wasn’t really a lot to say (LAZAKNITEZ), I couldn’t play them (Troika), because I refuse to do so out of spite and dislike for the game (Oikospiel). Having said that, let’s get to the games

LAZAKNITEZ – PC/Multiplayer/Singleplayer
LAZAKNITEZ almost works for starting a trend of games with names that are nonsense words, until you boot up the game and realize that it’s just a very 90’s spelling of Laser Knights. And that’s exactly what the game is. You slide around a 2D plain, jousting on the back of your laser horse, and firing from your laser lance. I played this one for a few rounds and then put it down. It’s not bad. Just very light on things to do/see. Once I’d played a bit, and felt like I had seen most of the powerups, I was done.

Oikospiel Book 1 – PC/Singleplayer
I don’t like Oikospiel. I think that it’s stupid. It plays and looks like a fever dream made by someone who just imported every 3D model they could get their hands on into Unity and it should also probably come with an epilepsy warning.

Oikospiel is what you would get if you took Timecube and made it into a video game instead of a website. I have some questions for whoever made this game, and primarily they’re things like: “Are you okay?” and “Do you need help?”

TroikaPen and Pencil RPG
Mechanically, I didn’t see much in Troika that impressed me, but I also didn’t actually run a game. The initiative system seems neat, in which you randomly draw tiles from a bag and then whoever’s tile you drew takes a turn.

The flavor though, is incredible, and I honestly wish there was more of it. It has a very old-timey science fiction sort of vibe, and the closest thing I can think to compare it to is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, or perhaps the sorta of weird science-magic of The Wizard of Oz.

For example: the book has stats for a sort of snake that doesn’t sneak up on you, but instead offers reassurances and a well placed “It’s alright, I’m here now” in order to get you between its coils so that it might crush and eat you. The starter adventure in the book involves convincing a sentient gas in the elevator with you that you would really like it if it could take up a bit less of the elevator, on account of the fact that it’s drowning you. The stat block for a “Tea Set” gives you a bonus on etiquette checks as long as you have time to prepare tea for the person you’re trying to impress.

The reason that Troika doesn’t get a larger section to itself is primarily that since this is a website for reviewing games, and I haven’t run a game of it yet, I can’t review it. But definitely worth a read.

Wrap-Up

Nothing this week that really jumped out at me. I loathe Oikospiel, LAZAKNITEZ reminds me of the sorts of things I’d play for 20 minutes before switching to something else on sites like Newgrounds. Troika is a fun read, but I feel like it would be tricky to pull off without a party that was really willing to lean into the weird-wonderness. If playing these games is the art of separating wheat from chaff, this week was all chaff, no wheat. Take care, and I’ll put more stuff up as events warrant.

Siralim 3 – It Is Eh

After 8 hours, I don’t know the names of any of the monsters in a monster collecting game. I’d say that’s a bad sign.

I really want to like Siralim 3. But I don’t. I’m not sure why. Let’s talk about that.

Some of my most played games overall are Path of Exile, Pokemon, and Disgaea. On my Switch, Diablo clocks in at about 120 hours, and my Disgaea 4 save file has about 160 hours on it, and a few of the endings. We could talk about how much time I’ve got in PoE, but that would involve noting the questionable use of several thousand hours of my life. So let’s not instead, and say it’s my second most played game of all time.

So when I say Siralim sounds like the bastard child of those three genres, I feel like the end result should be, “Hey, I’m gonna play this forever.” And according to Steam, I have played about 8 hours.

I’m not sure why then that when asked how I feel about Sirilim, my answer is sorta just, “Yeah, it’s fine.” But the thing is, I’m not sure I’d actually recommend it.

Siralim 3 is a 6v6 RPG battler. You wander from randomly generated realm to realm, collecting monsters, leveling them up, and fighting forward. The game has extensive scripting and macro capabilities, letting you more or less just automate fights if you wish, and you can even make said scripts conditional. Of the monsters, I’ve seen about 30-40 of them, and they all seem to function pretty differently. Finally, the game has a weapon and spell gem system, and on top of that, you can craft and recraft those items with different modifiers.

So, we have a lot of systems with interesting tactical depth regarding equipment, (PoE/Disgaea), massive variety of characters (Disgaea/Pokemon), and a massive replayability and grind automation to just make the happy numbers go up (PoE/Diablo).

And yet the game still feels very meh. I think this is a two part problem, at least partly based on the artwork and the writing of the game. The artwork is… fine. But it’s not inspiring. I don’t really love any of the monsters in the game. None of the creatures feels like they’re part of “my team”. They all feel pretty interchangeable. In fact, I decided to see if I could name any of them, and uh, I can’t. Not off the top of my head. Despite playing for 8 hours.

The writing ranges from “Yes, this is writing” to “Bad”. It’s not gonna win any prizes, and I don’t think it’s trying to.

If I had to try to pinpoint why I don’t enjoy the game, it would come down to two main things: first of all, the general feel of the game itself is pretty bland. Despite being mathematically and mechanically interesting, it feels dull to look at. This makes it hard for me to ever really get invested, or push through the boring bits for the next cool thing. There’s nothing Siralim is going to show me that I’m excited to see, be it boss, dungeon, item, etc.

The second thing is that Siralim feels a bit overwhelming. I recognize that this might sound a bit rich from someone who claims to love PoE and Disgaea, but in both those games, I’m usually interested enough in continuing to play the game that I end up caring about whatever bullshit system they make me learn. I’m willing to learn how stacks, orbs, auras, etc. all function because I want to see more of the world and story. (Hello, all 10 other people who care about the lore in PoE, whats up?)

So, would I recommend Siralim? No. Would I buy it again? Also, probs no. I don’t think it’s bad. But the lack of compelling writing or interesting things to look at in terms of art means that I have zero desire to continue learning it’s system and mechanics. Siralim is clearly someone’s game, the newest version, Siralim Ultimate just raised $90,000 on Kickstarter. But it’s not my game.

Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – Review Part 2

An RPG Module Review

Module NameThe Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

AuthorsRCG Harlow/Rosemary CG (Same person. First link goes to her stuff on DM’s Guild, second link goes to her twitter.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E for 4-6 Level 4 players

Price – $4 (We were given a review copy for free.)

Well, there was a three week gap between this and our part one review, which is… sub-optimal. But life happens, things go on, and most importantly, we did finish the adventure!

If you want to read the first part of the review, you can find it here.

If you want to read our DM’s thoughts on running the module, you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Two brief notes before we really dive into this article.

This article will contain spoilers for the module. We’re reviewing it, and we can’t review it without talking about the content. Which means spoilers. You have been warned.

There’s also one part of the module that’s not quite fair for me to review. I’ll go into why later, but to put it simply things went a bit off the rails as the end. Who’d have thunk?

Overall, my opinion on Shirakawa remains more or less the same as it did part one: it’s a strong module where the NPC’s are written well, and it has a bunch of interesting monsters that are outside of the traditional fare of role-playing games.

The module’s primary weakness is that it gets a bit linear near the very end. It also feels like most of the combat gets a little less brutal as things go on.

I say ‘most of the combat,’ because my players didn’t actually do the final fight. They mostly just surrendered to become slaves/concubines of the big bad. So yeah, guys, I love you, but god damnit. I even made custom tokens for the fight and everything. And then you all just surrendered into slavery to quasi-immortal fox demon in the shape of a women.

Really?

Really guys?

Even after she told you that she EATS PEOPLE? And was going to eat the 13 year she had taken hostage?

This is why I don’t feel super confident assessing the combat: because it’s quite possible that if your players don’t fall head over heels for this fox lady, it’s going to end up being a brutal battle.

I wouldn’t know because mine offered to be her slaves and/or concubines. I think a lot of stories have a hero who falls to the dark side, but I don’t think many of them have heroes who just fall for the dark side.

In either case, everyone enjoyed playing the module. If you have a few bucks to spare, I’d highly suggest picking it up. The ending is well written, as long as your players at least like… try to defeat the final boss, but I wouldn’t know. It does set up another one shot, Return to Shirakawa Castle, where I’m gonna make them face off against their old PC’s.

Other then that, I don’t have too much else to say. I’m gonna close out this article with some uploaded images of the maps I made for some of the fights. Feel free to use them if you end up running the module on your own.

Central Castle Area
River running through small forest with bloody footprints
Large destroyed house in middle of grove, with dead trees above it, and alive trees and a path leading to the house below.

Running Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – DM Thoughts Part 2

We finished Shirakawa Castle! Here’s where I screwed up running the game.

Whoof. Secrets of Shirakawa castle, finally finished. While the module is strong, there are a few places where I feel like I massively screwed up, or could have run things much better. Our actual review is up over here, but lets talk about running the module shall we?

This post will have specifics on running the module, and spoilers. While the other post talks about the module as a whole, this post is just talking about things that I wish I had done differently.

#1. Sei – The Friendly NPC
One of the things I feel like I really suck at the most is having NPC’s with the party, and Sei is a fantastic example of this. Sei’s role in the adventure is to be sorta guide/hint source to the players, while also providing flavor, a bit of lore, and in one situation, combat backup.

However, because I was afraid of using Sei too much, I didn’t actually use them in a single combat encounter, which meant there were multiple encounters where they were just sorta…. standing to the side, and then going “Oh yeah, that thing you just fought. It was a X/Y/Z.” I think that if I wanted Sei to be a more active part of the game, I needed to include them in combat, and to actually have them be a critical part of the team, so that their reveals of their backstory and other such things feel meaningful.

What would I do differently? I think I’d try to have Sei help the party more in certain situations, and decide how they’d react to various things in advance. The players need to care about Sei for some parts of the story to be meaningful, and that means including them in combat. It might even be possible to turn them into a semi-PC if I was to run the module again. I don’t know if this would solve the problem, but I think it might be better.

#2. Managing the NPC’s
Being a social deduction module, Secrets of Shirakawa Castle has quite a few NPC’s, and they’re written quite well, including a very strong list of relationships and such at the back of the module. Each of them has information, secrets, and other such knowledge….

So when I forgot about two of them that was a problem. A big problem, when they’re supposed to be used as a key part of revealing the last bit of the mystery.

Whoops.

What would I do differently?
There are a lot of NPC’s. If I was to run the module again, I’d would make sure to introduce all of them, and for the ones that the players don’t encounter, have them run into them either at the bath house, dinner, or some other point. The players need to meet them. And since there are only a total of seven NPC’s, it wouldn’t be that hard. I’d want to give the players more time to investigate, meet them, and actually get to know them. So when they die, it feels worse.

#3. Running the Module with a Three Week Break

This one wasn’t really my fault, but it was something I failed to consider, and led to some pretty…. rough parts near the end. The module is built on making you care about the NPC’s, and it uses the first half of the module to do this, building up them, their relationships, and their secrets. The last quarter or so is more combat, encounters, and fights, and the weight of those encounters relies on you caring about those who have been murdered.

What would I do differently?
This one is simple. Secrets should be run as either a 6-7 hour one-shot, or if split into parts, the DM needs to find a way to bring the players back, and make them care about the NPC’s again. This might mean improvising or filler, but not using the NPC’s is a big waste of potential of the module.

Final Thoughts – Running Shirakawa well requires the players to buy into the story and the world. As the DM, if you screw up the people, you screw up the module. If I were to run the module again, I would want to focus on the people, their stories, and make sure I don’t miss anyone. Running a game is always a learning experience, and I hope next time I do a better job.

Take care of yourself folks.

Running Secrets Of Shirakawa Castle – DM Thoughts

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish running the Secrets of Shirakawa Castle module this week, but instead I hope to have the second part of the review up next week. If you haven’t read the first part, the link to it is here.

This post isn’t a review, instead, it’s just a collection of quick thoughts on running the Secrets of Shirakawa Castle module before. The primary difference between this and review is that I view these more as areas where I screwed up running the module, and where doing things differently would have been more fun for the players. As such, this post is mostly intended for game masters intending to run the module. So without reading the actual module, this article may not be very useful for you.

The module itself can be bought here, on the DM’s guild.


1. Don’t be afraid to use Sei as part of the investigation.
-I’m always afraid of having NPC’s do too much in games. Its something I need to work on. With that said, the way I ran things, it was almost like he wasn’t there. If I were to do this again, I would try to make him a more active part of the game, especially if I was to run the module as few players as I did. Sei and their lore is a fairly key component to the module, and by downplaying them too much, I think I made things a lot more complex then they needed to be.


2. Actively monitor party resources.
Again, more on me then the module. I wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention to how much HP/Spells/etc my players had. The module isn’t a met grinder, but it is punishing, and with exhaustion and other mechanics in play, it can become very easy to accidentally overestimate how much more the party can take without a short rest.


3. Let the players know that they have options to really explore the castle.
This is honestly my biggest regret. I’m pretty sure it’s how I ran the module, but when collecting feedback at the end, many of my players said they felt railroaded. Here’s the thing: Secrets is very, very open ended. Every room in the castle has a description and something to find in it. There are servants to talk to, a bathhouse to visit, and a small garden and pond. Each of these also has clues and information about the cause of the Yokai infestation. Players really can just wander and explore. If I was to run the module again, I think I would do a short tour of the castle, then have the NPC’s tell the players they can inspect wherever they want, and leave them.

These were my big three take aways. I expect to finish running the module next weekend, and after that I’ll post my final review of it. Hopefully these notes help anyone who ends up deciding to send folks on an adventure of their own!

RPG Module Review – The Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

A fantastic adventure, that pulls from a set of folklore and stories that really don’t get much chance to shine in tabletop RPGs.

Module NameThe Secrets of Shirakawa Castle

AuthorsRCG Harlow/Rosemary CG (Same person. First link goes to her stuff on DM’s Guild, second link goes to her twitter.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E for 4-6 Level 4 players

Price – $4 – (We were given a review copy for free.)

This post will serve as part one of two of the Shirakawa Castle review. As such, its mostly spoiler free. While none of the plot beats are discussed, there may be some info about the types of Yokai encountered, the beings infesting said castle. Read at your own risk! So, lets get started shall we?

There are two big things about Shirakawa Castle that I think might turn people off, and that’s a real shame, because it’s a ton of fun. Graphically, the module doesn’t look amazing. There are no splash screens of amazing art, there are no bright colors. It looks like a word document. The second thing is the names. I’ll talk about this a bit more later, but I really wish a pronunciation guide/glossary was included. Tengu is easy enough to say. Osakabe-Hime, Yamatai, even the namesake of the castle, Shirakawa, not so much. One of the big pieces of feedback I during a post-game wrap up is that some of my players couldn’t remember who was who regarding the human family members.

So, now that we’ve gotten those small issues out of the way, how does the rest of the module play? Well, it’s a ton of fun! For starters, nothing in the module feels like a traditional monster. There’s no goblins or orcs. Instead, you get a menagerie of strange and bizarre creatures, including a giant foot that demands to be washed, a three tailed cat, kappas, and super small group of creatures called Yanari, tiny little men that like to cause havoc.

The module gives each of these their own statblock, attacks, descriptions, and even gives a bit of info about their behavior. To me, the Yokai are one of the strongest parts of the module, brimming with personality, and with interesting mechanics. The aforementioned Yanari for example, have the ability to swarm up a character and tie them to the ground. Each creature has something special about it, and also tends to have its own unique weakness, as you might expect from something of myth. In addition, most of the encounters can be handled non-violently, if you have players who would prefer to talk things out.

The module isn’t all combat encounters however. Players will most likely spend a decent portion of time exploring the titular castle, and interacting with it’s inhabitants. And this is where one of my second favorite things about this module comes in: The NPC Profiles.

Most of the time, when you get an NPC profile, you tend to get a few traits, or maybe a background. Shirakawa Castle does both of these, and then goes beyond, laying out for the DM the relationships each of the characters has with each other. Since a large portion of the module is investigation, this is a lifesaver when it comes to things like whose sleeping with who, or remembering grudges or problems. For me, this is one of the strongest parts of the module, since it prevents any sort of “Wait, but X said that Y is…” or stuff of that nature. For me, it made the NPC’s far more real then just being servants at the castle, or the lord, or the lady. And it made it much easier to roleplay them. It also prevents the problem of “Well, I thought they would encounter this NPC here, but instead X,Y,Z happened, what would they say?” Combined with the monsters, this is what really sells the module to me.

I’ll post part two of this review after we finish the module, but overall, my players had a ton of fun. While the module might look a little amateurish at a glance, the level of detail in the monsters and NPC’s mark it as anything but. It’s a fantastic adventure, that pulls from a set of folklore and stories that really don’t get much chance to shine in tabletop RPGs. That isn’t say it is perfect, but it’s weak points are only in presentation, and a few additional things that would be nice to have. If your players are board of facing the monsters of European myth, or you want a great mystery module with varied and interesting combat, I’d definitely recommend.

Afterword: I’d usually put my thoughts on running the module down here, with things I could have improved/changed, etc. But because this post is so long, and this review will be in two parts, with more specifics and spoilers in the second one, I’m gonna split those out into their own post. But yeah, players really liked it, I had a ton of fun running it.

RPG Module Review: The Great Egg Scramble

Module NameThe Great Egg Scramble

AuthorsDylan Teal

System/Character Level – DND 5E/4 Level 5’s (I ran it with two level 7’s though)

Price – Pay what you want, $2 suggested. ( I had 2$ worth of fun running it, so I bought it afterward.)

I was going to write this post later, and play Minecraft instead, but because I was talked into playing modded Minecraft, my instance is still launching. Seriously, why does this require apparently recompiling my entire game each time I want to launch a mod pack? It’s insane.

So, DND Module Review time! Today I’m gonna talk about a fairly fun adventure I ran last week for two the folks in one of my DND groups, when one person was just dead sick, and one couldn’t make it.

Woo! So, where to start. I actually had a lot of fun running this, and I think folks had fun playing it. It’s a fairly straightforward adventure, with a few encounters, and some custom enemies. It has maps, which is, as always, appreciated. They’re not super beautiful by any means, but they are functional, and the fact that they’re actually included means it won’t be too hard to remake them in whatever software you prefer if you decide they aren’t up to your standards.

While overall I like the module, there were a few places that it did feel a bit weaker/less fleshed out. The first place is the Spring Festival itself. Despite it being a semi-large part of the story, there isn’t much detail in what is actually being sold, whose present, other little bits of flavor. The closest we get is a brief description in the intro, and a few lines about how the party can find most mundane goods they might want, but no magic items, and how they won’t be able to find a horse/cart. And that’s more or less the whole thing.

Second place is the second NPC the players encounter, Lupin. While Lupin is fairly central to the module in terms of driving it forward, the module mostly only contains info about what Lupin knows, and what might happen if the players are able to persuade him to talk. For the Townsmaster Lepus however, we get a full set of information, info about his personality, and also a few other little things that help roleplaying him. I personally would have liked to see Lupin get the same treatment, especially since he’s arguably the main roleplaying set piece of the adventure. (The bandits end up threatening you/fighting you, Townsmaster Lepus is generally pretty helpful. Lupin is really the only one where players really can either sway him to their side, or totally fail to do so. )

Outside of these two places however, I generally felt I had enough to work with in terms of tone and flavor for the adventure.

Here’s what I would do differently if I ran the module again:

  1. Flesh out the festival in advance. Create one or two stalls to visit, selling knick knacks and trinkets. At the same time, make it very clear that the NPC’s in town won’t be willing to part with their carts. (My players got hung up looking for a cart in town when a better way is to try to make a deal with Lupin.)
  2. Decide on Lupin’s personality beforehand, and force the players to lead the negotiations. In my game, I sorta decided that Lupin was a bit pissy with the bandits, and had him take the lead in negotiating with the players. I think for more experienced players, having to really talk him into a deal would be more fun, and reinforce his grumpy sort of personality.

Afterthought:

One small part of the module I’m not thrilled about is the killer rabbit at the end. I think this part fits in best if you run the adventure as a one-shot, and want to just kill some of the party members at the end as a joke. Otherwise, it’s not fantastic, because the party will have done about 4 four encounters by this point. (The Bandits, The Dire Hares, The Return Journey, and the Bad Egg.) Throwing the rabbit at them WILL kill someone especially because the rabbit’s decapitation means that any player it brings down to zero hit points gets their head popped off like a marshmallow.

Until the next time I think of something worth posting, cya, and stay safe folks.

Updated: 4/25/2020 – This article linked to the wrong module/author on the DMG. We confused it with the similarly named module, “The Great Egg Hunt.” The module that was played/reviewed/purchased was in fact, The Great Egg Scramble. The article has been updated to reflect this information.

Murder at Moonveil Manor

An RPG Module Review

Module NameMurder At Moonveil Manor

AuthorsVall SyreneMogman Dubloon (Links go to other stuff they’ve made.)

System/Character Level – DND 5E/4-6

Price – Pay What You Want

I was trying to figure out what to write about when a little voice told me “Why not write about one of the modules you played/ran somewhat recently?” I replied “Great idea little voice” and then the voice told me I should maybe disconnect from the voice chat for the moment and work on the blog post. So! Here we are, Murder At Moonveil Manor, a 5E module for characters level 4-6, though I think that if the players were all level 4, you’d want at least 4 people in the party to avoid a TPK. Some of the combat encounters can be a bit brutal. Also, I’m going abbreviate the title to MMM because typing the whole thing out is pretty long.

So, MMM is a neat mostly self contained encounter that can probably be slotted in almost anywhere you might want to put it. As a player, I played through it as part of a Curse of Strahd campaign, where our DM just slotted into the middle/end of the game, in a way that felt mostly like a breather. As a DM, I ran it as a one shot over two sessions when one of our players couldn’t make it for the weekly game, and gave all of them characters that were very different from their normal ones. There were a few reasons for this. 1. It let me play the monsters as brutally as possible. I’ve run into a problem with RPG games where I find them hard to really “teach” some of the more crunchy/mathy mechanics of combat in a good way, because I can’t just kill the players until they learn. Except in a one shot like this, in this situation I can TOTALLY go for the total party kill. And 2. It forced them to play characters that role-wise were very different from their characters, and I think that let me role play them/act them out a bit more.

Both of these runs were played on a set of maps that a friend of mine made, which brings me to my first issue with the module. No maps are included. While this isn’t a huge issue at the start, it becomes more of a problem once you move into later parts of the module, especially the combat bits, and if your players ever end up running around the mansion. I’ll talk a bit more about this later.

MMM sets itself up into six chapters, each chapter being more or less a phase. Acts one and two primarily set the scene, having the players arrive at the manor, meet the others at the dinner party, and then eat dinner. Acts three and four involve the murder of one of the guests, and a start of an investigation into what happened. Acts five and six conclude the story, involving the confrontation with the murderer, and the end of the adventure. As far as gameplay elements go, one and two are primarily roleplay, three is skill checks, and four through six are where the combat encounters begin.

While I think this general structure is fine, the biggest issue I have with the module is the following: MMM tries to be too many things at once, and it suffers for it. While the adventure sets itself up as a murder mystery, it’s really more horror themed then anything else. The problem is, these two themes sorta clash with each other.

The general progression of a mystery is something like this.

  1. Introduce the Characters/Setting
  2. Introduce Conflict between characters
  3. Crime Occurs
  4. Investigation
  5. Confront the Perp

And horror goes something like this.

  1. Characters arrive at location.
  2. Some small strange things happen.
  3. Characters attempt to leave/get help, only to discover they are trapped/bridges have been cut, communications severed, etc.
  4. Characters are picked off one by one, until the single remaining survivor escapes/defeats the threat.

The structure of MMM though, is something like this.

  1. Introduce characters and setting.
  2. Introduce Conflict
  3. Small Strange Things Happen
  4. Crime Occurs
  5. Characters(NPC’s) are picked off one by one
  6. Investigation
  7. Confront the Perp

It doesn’t really follow either structure, and the nature of the game means that both times I’ve played it, I’ve never seen the players attempt to leave the house. The Scooby Gang doesn’t book it back to the mystery machine when a horrible monster shows up, and neither do PC’s. If you put a dead body in front of your players after a dinner, they will assume this is a puzzle for them to solve, not a danger to be avoided.

This becomes a problem because the module wants to set up all the guests, so that you have suspects, but it then procedes to kill them off one by one, meaning that the mystery aspect of the game solves itself. It also means that any effort you put into setting up conflict between the guests ends up being fairly moot, because by the time it switches genres, the players don’t have a huge amount of time to investigate either. (The module also doesn’t give any dialogue suggestions for how to really run the interactions between the NPC’s, and frankly having to role play two NPC’s arguing with each other isn’t too much fun for your players. )

Secondly, of the seven NPC’s only four of them ever really feel like reasonable suspects, and two of those characters get killed off real fast, bringing you back down to two characters. I don’t really consider a coin flip an investigation.

So, does the module do horror well then? Well, sorta. Some parts of the module work really well, including the mimic attack, the mini-book mimics, and the fight with the murderer and the heart of the manor. The other parts not so much.

After part four, the rest of the manor activates, and this leads to traps being placed in each of the manor rooms. ( Again, maps would be nice here. ) Most of these traps are not remotely horrific or supernatural, and will either do one of two things.

  1. Kill the PC’s (Not horrific, just a death. It happens.)
  2. Not kill the PC’s (Also not horrific, they lived, why would it be horrifying?)

In addition the activation of ANY these traps more or less immediately gives away the identity of the murderer to any player/character. ( Because frankly, if I saw a set of stairs turn into a razor blade shredder, my assumption would not be “Hmm, it must be someone who doesn’t own the house” )

The conclusion of the module, a fight against the murder and the animated heart of the manor feels much better, and does a good job of hitting more of that horrific tone. The stat blocks for the manor heart itself are also pretty decent, and seem to have been well thought out. I would say that this conclusion/wrap up are overall the strongest parts of the module as written.

Overall, Moonveil Manor isn’t amazing, and it isn’t terrible. It’s all right, and I can imagine it slotting decently into another. I think the strongest parts of MMM are some of the fights, the few bits of flavor the module actually chooses to include, and the fact that it can most likely be slotted into almost any campaign very easily as a sort of one-shot/breather type game.

If I was to run it again, here’s what I would change up.

  1. Maps for each room. The lack of maps hurts, and I used some made by a friend who was the one who ran me through the first time. This is good, but it makes the whole house into one big things, instead of letting players really be in a location, where a lot of the module is based around encountering and exploring these rooms.
  2. Re-skin the traps. Given that they already give away the identity of the murderer, and the a lot of the flavor text is based around the house being this eldritch horror, I’d replace the sand pit with a gnashing mouth, the blunderbuss with whipping spikes, etc.
  3. Give the PC’s a reason to attend the party, other than “You were invited to a party”. I think this would encourage people to be a bit more interested in the house, and perhaps a bit more proactive about trying to solve things/protect the NPC’s.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll post more of these as I play em/run em.