Take The Long Way Round To Ragged Hollow

A great small sandbox for old school gaming.


The Merry Mushmen have made a name for themselves as the masterminds behind Knock! Magazine. This periodical offers lively discussion about the OSR through design articles, rules hacks and short adventures. They moved into publishing full fledged adventures with Nightmare Over Ragged Hollow last year supported by a Kickstarter. The company worked with original designer Joseph R. Lewis to beef up his Ragged Hollow Nightmare with more encounters and more strangeness to make it an adventure suitable for the first three levels of any old school game. Was the adventure a dream to use? Let’s play to find out.

Most adventures follow a classic setup where the players come into town, discover a nearby problem and then head off into a dangerous location to solve it. Ragged Hollow shakes up the idea by placing the big problem in the middle of town. A strange energy field has arisen around the Temple of Halcyon in the middle of town. Nobody outside the field can get in and nobody in the temple can get out. Everyone soon discovers that strange nightmare creatures now walk the streets at night as well. It’s up to the players to figure out what’s going on as they investigate leads, suss out rumors and try to find a way inside the temple’s energy field.

The adventure plants the players in a tiny sandbox within the sandbox. There are small stories to resolve in these outlying areas before the temple plot. Some of them connect back to the main story within the temple, others do not. The adventure offers a small taste of what makes sandbox stories fun as they pick which leads to follow first rather than a linear plot to follow. I found these outer plots to be the most engaging. I loved the goblin market where players can buy things beyond equipment to be an unusual idea. I also liked the rivalry between a giant blackfish and a giant beaver, each of whom offers some cool items if they go and mess with their rival. Speaking of rivals, the book offers two sets of them to vex the players. There’s a lot jammed into these quests that even if the players run at the temple in more or less a straight line, elements can be peeled off for later enjoyment.

The players also feel a little pressed for time as they soon discover the field is shrinking. That makes their choices matter and I like how putting the main storyline in the center of town keeps a big reminder of the overall problem in everyone’s headspace. Not to get too deep into spoilers but the people inside the temple won’t last forever. The GM should remind players who might be slow to engage the main plotline that lives are at stake. Everyone in town that they like has someone trapped inside. Bringing back a body to that beloved NPC should be a heartbreaking scene.

Once the temple is breached, the adventure becomes more of a classic dungeon crawl. It’s here that the designers clash a little bit with some classic design principles. They assume that players, after not being able to get into the temple initially, will give up until a way in reveals itself after about a week in game time. There’s also an assumption that the players will make short runs into the temple and take time to rest and recuperate rather than try to clear it all in one go. Making assumptions about player action is a risky business. Whenever you assume players will go one way, they are almost assured to never go that way. I would have liked to have seen some clever guidance on how to make sure players take these paths rather than hope they get the hint by trying and failing over and over.

Despite these small design quibbles, Nightmare Over Ragged Hollow remains a great small sandbox that hits the things I love about old school gaming. It’s got weird magic, interesting locations to explore and an open road for players to take in multiple directions. If you’re looking to kick off a campaign that likes these ideas, consider this adventure for your opener. It's built for Old School Essentials but it can be used with any similar system with a minimum of fuss.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland


This always boggles my mind when somebody includes it in an adventure. Who does this writer play with that would behave like that?
Writing adventures for publication is hard, so I don't mind this stuff. Sometimes you have to "bound the rails" as it were, so in moments like these, I'd just straight up tell my players (either in session zero if it's not too spoilery, or in the moment if it is), "Hey, this part's something you'll have to come back to. Until then, the sandbox is yours to play in." To me, it's a smaller-scale moment of getting everyone on the same page about the limits of the campaign.


Herr Doktor
"Hey, this part's something you'll have to come back to. Until then, the sandbox is yours to play in."
Having something be impossible for the moment isn't a problem per se, as long as there's something else for the players to pursue that seems useful to their goals. But the article phrased it as if the PCs would just be spinnning their wheels for a week. That might not have been what actually happens in the adventure, and if so I retract my criticism.

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