I have a lot of adventures sitting on my gaming shelf, gathering dust. Some I?ve run, others I intend to run, and others will probably never see any use at all. The problem with adventures is, unlike rules supplements, you really can?t use them for much other than, well, running an adventure.
It?s for this reason that I love the PDF medium. I can store an awful lot of PDF adventures on a CD or hard drive, where they can then sit nearly invisible until I need them. When I?m ready to run the adventure, I print everything off, make notes in the margins, highlight important stats, and otherwise deface the adventure in ways I?d never dream of with a traditional book.
Mansion of Shadows marks Green Ronin?s return to d20 adventure publishing. This book is the first in their Bleeding Edge line, which has the stated goal of providing adventures with good story, ease of use, compelling encounters, and modern design. That?s a pretty tall order to fill, but Mansion of Shadows lives up to expectations.
The adventure itself is well designed. The author does a good job leading the PCs along the necessary path while still giving them choices (or, occasionally, the illusion of choices.) There are a number of helpful sidebars (cleverly labeled ?Off the Rails?) that give advice on how to keep the adventure moving in the right direction. I thought these were a nice touch, and I appreciated the insight they gave into the design and flow of the adventure.
Reading through this book, it?s clear that the author is trying to be as helpful as possible to the DM. In addition to the ?Off the Rails? sections, there are sidebars giving advice on tactics, notes on roleplaying and running various scenes, and other considerations. This sort of help, well not always needed in a well-written adventure, is certainly welcome when things don?t go as planned.
One of Mansion of Shadow?s strengths is the way it handles roleplaying scenes. For most NPC dialogue, the authors wisely avoid long-winded boxed text. Instead, the adventure describes the relevant NPC?s attitude and motivations, and then summarizes the key points he / or she is supposed to get across to the PCs. The DM is then free to roleplay and embellish as much as he and his group want. This furthers the story while leaving the level of roleplay firmly in the hands of the DM, where it belongs.
The plot of the adventure is clever, and at times rather dark. I liked the backstory, and the events are concluded in an exciting way that either wraps things up completely or leaves them wide open for future adventures, depending on the DM?s discretion. There were, however, a few plot points that didn?t quite flow as well as the rest of the adventure. For example, the dinner scene leaves things completely in the hands of the PCs, and it?s hard to predict how they?ll react. To his credit, the author realizes this, and gives plenty of advice for keeping things on track.
The problem, though, is that the NPCs in this scene are all horrifically and obviously evil, but in order to keep things from devolving into a bloodbath, the DM must play them as somewhat subtle. It?s not a difficult thing to do, but successfully running this scene involves downplaying the NPC descriptions in the book?which is a counterproductive design.
Another scene that might prove troublesome involves a potential combat with a mob of some 200 angry villagers. While most of the adventure is heavy with advice, we?re basically left on our own at this potentially game stopping moment. The presented solution is to run the combat using rules from Green Ronin?s Advanced Player?s Guide. If you don?t have that book, the author recommends running the battle as a narrative (i.e. just make stuff up) or running a small representative battle between the PCs and a smaller force. I think the latter of the these two options is the best, but I?d prefer that the book detail this representative battle for us, rather than just list some suggestions and leave the work up to the DM.
As something of an added bonus, Mansion of Shadows gives a lot of background information on the adventure?s setting. There is quite a bit of detail here, and an industrious DM could expand on it to run a number of adventures in and around the Kirsvald region. I was also pleased to see the inclusion of pregenerated PCs, something that makes even more sense in an adventure geared toward 1st ? 3rd level characters.
Also, a handful of rules that first appeared in other products play a part in the adventure. I thought these were well used, and it?s always nice to see an adventure utilize resources from the greater d20 community.<br><br>
<b>LIKED</b>: Mansion of Shadows is a really good product. In some ways, it?s greater than the sum of its parts. There?s something about the way its written that makes it self-contained and very open-ended at the same time. Reading through it, I found myself planning for a ?Return to?? style adventure that could easily follow later in the campaign. There is lot of good information here, and the Bleeding Edge line promises good things for the d20 adventure market. I?ll be adding Mansion of Shadows to the ?plan to run? section of my bookshelf?er, hard drive.<br><br><b>DISLIKED</b>: The plot sequence was at times spotty, especially during the mass combat scene. I also found some of the darker elements of the plot a bit clich?d. Evil can walk a fine line between disturbing and cheesy, and I think that a few of the villains came close to being caricatures.
I also worry that the PCs might not get the opportunity to learn a lot of the background behind the Mansion and its dark inhabitants. As the DM, I was treated to the whole story, and I want my players to experience that as well. The way the adventure is written, it really falls on the players themselves to take the initiative to learn and explore. If they don?t, I think they?ll miss out on some the things that make this adventure so good.<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Very Satisfied<br>
[4 de 5 Estrellas!]