An RPG Module Review
Module Name – Murder At Moonveil Manor
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.
- Introduce the Characters/Setting
- Introduce Conflict between characters
- Crime Occurs
- Confront the Perp
And horror goes something like this.
- Characters arrive at location.
- Some small strange things happen.
- Characters attempt to leave/get help, only to discover they are trapped/bridges have been cut, communications severed, etc.
- 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.
- Introduce characters and setting.
- Introduce Conflict
- Small Strange Things Happen
- Crime Occurs
- Characters(NPC’s) are picked off one by one
- 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.
- Kill the PC’s (Not horrific, just a death. It happens.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.