A Nightmare at Hill Manor transcends what I expect from a Free RPG Day product. I expect a tight little quickstart that features a newly released game the company wants to highlight. I was so excited about the release of Changeling: the Lost, for instance that a bunch of people I knew got an online game going using rules based solely on rules and stats presented in the quickstart which came out a few weeks before the core book.
Hill Manor is something a bit more ballsy. After the short introduction on roleplaying and the World of Darkness setting there is a 28 page boilerplate chapter on the entire World of Darkness core rules setting. Well, not all of it. Since the "adventure" takes place entirely in an apartment complex there are not rules for vehicles and the like. I don't know how they compressed pretty much everything you need from nearly 200 pages of the core rulebook down to 28 but it seemed pretty solid even covering Virtues and Vices, Derangements and an appendix at the end on ghosts. My first new World of Darkness was a free promo download of the core rules which they offered here one October, so while not new it is impressive. If you're hoping to save money by downloading for free or $5 for the paperback not everything is there but enough for the casual player.
I am also very glad that they highlighted the "Blue Book" line of mortals in the WoD so prominently. Nothing is here that is not in the main rulebook. It's a straight-up ghost story free of vampires and the like. There is one template-level character as a non-player character but since players only deal with his ghost it remains a mortals-only game.
Another aspect that improves upon my Changeling quickstart is that the story is presenting in White Wolf's Storyteller Adventure Series (SAS) format with scenes nicely plotted out with non-linear gameplay figured in. The story itself is solid. It's hard to break free from the pack when it comes to haunted house stories but the author presents a number of suggestions for suspenseful gameplay and ways to amp up the fear and terror. Fear and terror are hard to pull off in a game and ghost stories are timeless so it is hard to make them unique and gripping but a good Storyteller should be able to pull it off. Many of the suggestions I saw expanded upon in Glimpses of the Unknown (released later the same year) so that purchase may also be worth your time.
The pre-generated characters were all interesting as well as the allied NPCs. The antagonists were a little one dimensional but which ravening ghosts aren't? You can always improve upon the backstory if you think you can come up with something better. I can see where some players might feel a bit railroaded by the plot as you cannot leave the haunted manor after the start of gameplay but that's a common enough trope in ghost stories of this type. Isolation is a core element.
I would still buy the Core Rulebook if you like what you see here, but for a free download or $4.99 softcover this product really packs a lot of material and is good advertising for White Wolf's brand as a whole.
[4 of 5 Stars!]