D&D General The thread where I review a ton of Ravenloft modules

der_kluge

Adventurer
Plus, the look on your player's faces when they realize they are staying at a Dead and Breakfast is golden, especially when they are offered the honeymooner's special and look at each other to make sure no one is paying for the special tea...
Ok, that's actually delightfully brilliant, and I might have to steal that!

The OP really should take a look at House on Gryphon Hill. Whilst it’s loosely based on The Strange Tale of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde*, it’s very much Hammer in its approach to what is a rather dry and understated novel. The architecture, the locations, the technology, the NPCs, the overwroughtness all reek of the Hammer house style.
I've already catalogued like 60+ modules. Jesus, as if I don't have enough to look at! That one will take time to ingest, and I know it's pretty much universally panned in most reviews I've read of it. But it might be fun to give it a read one of these days.
 

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I've already catalogued like 60+ modules. Jesus, as if I don't have enough to look at! That one will take time to ingest, and I know it's pretty much universally panned in most reviews I've read of it. But it might be fun to give it a read one of these days.
The issue with it is it's very difficult to run (even by Ravenloft standards). But, as the 2nd adventure, it had a key role in establishing the setting. If you read that it will make understanding what the writers where trying to achieve in the later adventures a lot easier. And some later adventures reference events in this one directly (the one with the vampiric mindflayers certainly does). It also has some excellent "gothic" maps.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
Look! More reviews!! Some of these are slogs to get through... but this batch is mostly good! In case you can't tell, I'm mostly starting with some of the lower-level stuff first, since I'm primarily interested in piecing them together into a campaign.

Night of the Walking Dead ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This module takes place in Souragne (think, New Orleans) amidst a swamp. It’s worth noting that even thought the module is advertised as being for 1st to 3rd level, it requires a total of 9 levels. Some of the fights, as written, would be a TPK for a smaller 1st level party. To start, the PCs make their way through said swamp, possibly have a few random encounters with the wildlife, until they find a small Vistani camp. The Vistani give the PCs some dire warnings, and some information about what’s up ahead. The fortune they can deliver is a little heavy on the foreboding, but it could just as easily be ignored, or just done randomly to feel more natural. The Vistani camp has their wagon on a small island in the swamp, with no real explanation as to how it got there. In the morning, if the PCs choose to camp with them, through heavy-handed means, it magically disappears without a trace. Yea, ok.

Finally, the PCs find Luc in a shack in the swamp. He’s catatonic from recent events (one of his brothers died). A playthrough I read of this online had Luc playing the banjo, and honestly, that’s just brilliant. Despite not being able to communicate well, he follows the PCs back to town of Marais d’Tarascon. There’s a decent description for all the major buildings in town. After a few days, the PCs watch a strange funeral with a zombie in a coffin – banging on the coffin from the inside.

What follows from here is a little a confusing. There’s an attempted murder by one of the main villains (or, at least, the brother of the main villain), and there are zombies, and eventually the PCs end up at the brother’s house, where they find a bunch of ghouls, and they kill the brother, and then all is right with the world, except no, it’s not. Then finally, a literal army of zombies descend upon the town. The PCs are supposed to then find the dead brother, who’s now a zombie lord, and defeat him. Once that happens, the zombies wander off.

Ok, there’s a lot going on in this module, and a fair amount of it is a little convoluted, and maybe a bit messy. But all of it is quite salvageable, depending on how you want it to play out. A lot of this feels like it’s wrapped around the plot device of the Hyskosa scroll. If you don’t care about that scroll, you could easily substitute it for something else, and suddenly this thing might start to make a little more sense, ironically. It’s not entirely clear to me why Jean (the alive brother) tries to murder people. He’s insane, I guess? When the zombie lord is killed, all the zombies just wander off? You don’t even have to use a zombie lord for his. Marcel could be a wight, too. Those can create zombies as well. And 4 ghouls in the Tarascon estate is probably a TPK for a 1st level party, so you’re going to have to adjust this. At any rate, like every Ravenloft module, this one requires some cleaning up, but all in all, it’s solid, especially for the set dressing, the NPCs, the detail of the town, and the (mostly) believability of the plot.



Death House (from Curse of Strahd) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Death House is a module in Appendix B in the Curse of Strahd campaign setting. As it is 5th edition, I would like to think the writers would have moved beyond pale imitations for plot hooks and railroading, but alas, the very introduction features two ghost children (nothing creepy about that, right!) in the street, asking the PCs to take care of some monsters in their house. Any interactions with the children reveal them to be illusions. At this point, most rational people would leave, but no – the mists force them into the house. Lame. A more interesting hook would be just giving your PCs a key to the place, randomly. Maybe it is delivered by a courier, or just shows up outside their room at an inn. That’s already more interesting, and less heavy-handed than what’s going on here. The module is only 10 pages long, plays out more or less like a dungeon-crawl, and is designed as an intro adventure to CoS, and is for 1st-3rd level PCs.

This is a tough, tough module for a party of 1st level characters. Like, several TPKs worth, honestly. It could probably be scaled down a bit (it doesn’t need to be 4 ghouls, it could be 3, or even 2). 5 shadows is also nightmare-inducing. The crux of the adventure involves exploring the house, meeting the children – ultimately putting them to rest, and placating the spirits of the cultists who lived here. The house is inextricably tied to Barovia, but with a few changes, it doesn’t have to be. All in all, it’s a pretty solid adventure (with a few tweaks), though if you do plan on running this for 1st level characters, to be very careful.



House of Lament (Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft)
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This module originally appeared in the 2e Darklords supplement. There, it was presented solely as a combination of a location mixed with some story and maybe some stat blocks, along with several other darklords.

There are quite a number of haunted house type adventures in the pantheon of Ravenloft modules. This is another one, though it’s execution is quite a bit different than the rest. The module gives you a fairly complex backstory involving the house and its spirit inhabitants, but instead of a dungeon crawl (there is some of that), it’s much more engaging and interesting. The module has you performing a séance in order to glean information about the house which is, frankly, a chef’s kiss approach to this module, and so on-brand for the setting.

There are a variety of endings to this – some far better than others, and will likely create a bit of discussion from the player’s to try and reason out which approach makes the most sense. But the variety of NPCs here, the spirits at play, and the variety of this quest are all top-notch. My only real beef here is that this module is probably a TPK waiting to happen for a party of 1st level characters, as the module suggests. In order to be survivable, you’d have to really pull back on the combat here. It would be far easier to scale this up, and then make the creatures more terrifying, which would only add to the module. I would recommend a party of 3-5 in all actuality. Out of the book, it might be easy, but very easy to scale up.



The Evil Eye ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Evil Eye is designed for a party of 4-6th level characters. The introduction is straightforward – get the PCs interested in a strange Vistani blacksmith outside of town. That shouldn’t be too hard – just make the town’s blacksmith incompetent, and have people talk about the “better” one just out of town. There are numerous other hooks for this, but most just seem overly complicated. Once they find the smith, the PCs see he has a sickly infant with him. A decent amount of text is devoted to what happens if the party kills the guy, which is kind of nuts, in my opinion. I’d curse my entire party if they did that and make them all reroll characters. Of course, they can choose to help him, and they learn that his dead wife visits the child at night to nurse the baby. Creepy, but ok.

There are a couple of things here that probably should be mentioned that could be triggering for some people. A ghost nursing a baby? Yea, that could be problematic. But even more so, is that if the PCs mess up somehow, the baby could die. Now you’ve given all your PCs the “baby-killer” achievement, which could also be super triggering for some people. This also goes directly against my own redline which is “no violence against children”. So, this module walks a very thin line here. Of course, as GM, you have final say over whether the child dies or not, and if you let it die, you’re more a monster than anything in any monster manual.

The mists surround the party at the conclusion of, well – we’ll call it “ACT I”. Here, they find themselves on an island in a river. Here they meet a bully of a man and his hunting retinue after briefly coming to terms with their surroundings. The encounter seems largely unnecessary, because shortly after that, the party meets a river boat captain (did I mention both the captain and the hunter are werewolves?). In an excessive amount of text, the captain explains he won’t let the Vistani on his boat but agrees to the take the rest to town. It’s mostly here so the captain can describe his prejudice against Vistani and seems to serve as a bit of foreshadowing.

At night, the boat captain attacks the party (of course), and flees if the fight doesn’t go his way. This fight could go in one of three ways as I see it – the party all dies, the party kills the captain, or the captain gets away, and then groggily pretends that he was asleep the entire time when he rejoins them. Only stupid players would be fooled by that ruse. Also, it’s possible that one or more PCs could be inflicted with lycanthropy at this point.

Assuming nothing has gone sideways by this point, the PCs arrive in Karina, in the domain of Invidia. At the port (assuming they arrive by boat), they encounter Malocchio, a creepy 10-year old boy, who tries to kill some other children by unleashing large casks of wine onto them. The author of this module really hates babies and children, it seems.

The party once again meets the hunter they briefly encounter in Act II, though again it is only meant to be a brief interlude. And he even offers to pay them 5 gp per day to locate his love, Gabrielle. He has horrible taste in women, it seems. There’s a LOT that happens in Karina, and a lot of it would be cool and great fodder for some excellent role-playing but might take a very seasoned GM to pull off effectively.

Next, the party encounters the Zarovan Vistani camp. The Vistani tell the PCs they are here to find Malocchio, the young demon boy. The last part of this adventure sees the closure of many different storylines, and has several possible outcomes. In the end, the PCs can possibly earn the trust and even favors from a powerful Vistani tribe, which the GM could easily use to propel further adventure from. Suffice it to say, there’s a LOT going on in this adventure, and as this review is already long enough, allow me to summarize at this point.

This adventure is excellent! But there’s SO much going on, it isn’t a module for inexperienced GMs. You could, in theory, drop the entire first part, and just start the module with the Vistani tribe asking for help hunting down Malocchio. But I think that would be a mistake, as it introduces such an interesting assortment of characters, and can be a good vehicle for transporting your characters to where you need them to be. You could also largely ignore the werewolf captain, or at least downplay him, as he seems kind of unnecessary to me. The “werewolf” bar in the city is completely over the top, and also kind of gratuitous. Nothing more is mentioned about the baby, but presumably he is cured when the curse is broken by the Vistani tribe. I don’t think this module is perfect, really, but there’s so much that’s good here, it’s hard not to give it 5 stars.
 

I've run Death House and House of Lament (VGR, it's a remake). Death House is terrible, and House of Lament is mediocre. It's mostly an excuse to plug the spirit board. Who owns Ouija? Oh, it's Hasbro, what a coincidence!
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
FYI, some of the modules on my docket to look at next:
Night Swarm (from Dungeon #61)
Castles Forlorn (god have mercy on my soul)
Circle of Darkness
Sea Wolf (Dungeon #55)
House of on the Edge of Midnight (Dungeon #76)
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
I've run Death House and House of Lament (VGR, it's a remake). Death House is terrible, and House of Lament is mediocre.
I agree that Death House seems pretty straightforward. If I run it, I'm changing the hook into it, and moving it out of Barovia, since my campaign isn't set there. But I'd be curious to hear what makes it so terrible?

House of Lament looks excellent! But obviously my read-through can't compare to an actual play. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
For those who are curious to know what my campaign looks like, this is what I've constructed.

The first session is one of my own creation. I'm still working on it, but I'm planning on starting the PCs off in an Insane Asylum. Somewhat inspired by Bleak House, I suppose. The PCs awaken there with absolutely no memory of who they were, or how they got there. They are aware of a couple of items in their possession - these will be keys and mist talismans that will take them to some of the various quests I have lined up.

A Mind Flayer has made a bet with a nobleman. The nobleman bets the mind flayer that he can't take random, boring, scared peasants from around the domains and turn them into heroes. The mind flayer bets that he can. So, he rounds up a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, whatever, and replaces all their memories with "I am a cleric", or "I am a wizard", etc. He then kind of works behind the scenese to kind of move them from adventure to adventure (Where needed), in order to turn them into actual heroes. At the culmination of the campaign, the PCs will have finally gathered enough clues as to who their mysterious benefactor is, and upon entering the noble's estate, will see the nobleman paying the mind flayer 1 GP for losing the bet.

Yes, my campaign is inspired by Trading Places, and the nobleman and the mind flayer are Randolpha and Mortimer.

Here's the outline I have so far.


The Insane Asylum. The PCs are given various items that lead them to some of their next quests - like keys, and mist talismans.

"Night of the Walking Dead" (1-3) needs some work, but the city is great, and the swamp is a perfect place to start here.
The PCs head to Port d'Elhour, in order to procure a boat off the island
On the way to Port d'Elhour - "Peer Amid the Waters" (advance to level 2)
They get invited to a game in "The Spottle Parlor"
Maybe "Undying Justice" - maybe have the inn patron working for this family somehow
"Cedar Chest" might also be a solid adventure to place here, and could be posted on a job board.
PCs get a ride on "The Sea Wolf", which takes them to Richemulot (advance to level 3)
Here, a key they have leads them to the "House of Lament"
Also, they encounter the seamstress in "Invisible Stalker"
The party is hired by the villain in "The Last Dance" -or- they visit "Death House"
Somehow, the party then gets to Mordentshire (advance to level 4)
They could visit "Nightshade" here
A good place for "A Scarlett Kiss" (advance to level 5)
I can place "Castles Forlorn" here
"Lady of the Mists" segues nicely with this one (advance to level 6)
I could conclude with The Evil Eye, which is truly an epic adventure.
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
I should add I'm not actually planning on using D&D rules for this. I'm going to try out "Low Fantasy Gaming" (LFG) by PickPocket Press. The rules seem really solid, and the grittier rules I think will play well into Ravenloft. I'm also going to use Renaissance-era technology, which means I'll allow guns.

Also, in that list, I've referenced a few non-Ravenloft modules. I can include those in my review write-ups, in case folks are curious. I think they will work well in Ravenloft regardless.
 

I agree that Death House seems pretty straightforward. If I run it, I'm changing the hook into it, and moving it out of Barovia, since my campaign isn't set there. But I'd be curious to hear what makes it so terrible?
Its boring, then deadly! It's a big house, and their isn't that much of interest to find in the early part. And what there is is predictable rather than disturbing. That sort of thing is much better when there are plenty of eccentric NPCs to interact with. Reach for the Stars in Keys from the Golden Vault does that kind of thing much better, and would make a good Ravenloft adventure. Then it goes all out to kill the party. Which is what happened when I played it. Note that it is designed for milestone levelling, with the party reaching level 2 when they find the basement, and level 3 when the house awakes. This is rather fast for most tables, and so I would recommend the party start at level 3 - or higher, it's still deadly at 3. And aside from the deadliness, there is nothing remotely scary about it.
House of Lament looks excellent! But obviously my read-through can't compare to an actual play. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.
It's better than Death House, but still needs work. I would ditch the suggested friendly NPCs, who are overcompetent for any but the most inexperienced players (bloody Van Richten again!), and replace them with a Madame Arcate-like (Blythe Spirit) bumblingly incompetent medium. And when things inevitably went bad, my players found this one a little bit too easy to resolve. I didn't use it, but I don't think the "Tyrant's Escape" ending would work - the players are just going to get board knocking him down over and over, and will need to be spoon-fed the solution before they get fed up.
 

The first session is one of my own creation. I'm still working on it, but I'm planning on starting the PCs off in an Insane Asylum. Somewhat inspired by Bleak House, I suppose. The PCs awaken there with absolutely no memory of who they were, or how they got there.
You are aware that the exact start of the Pathfinder Strange Aeons adventure path?
 

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