This adventure is set in that most enlightened of places, a lunatic asylum: which until recently has had a good reputation with the work it has done amongst those who are in poor mental health. However, of late things have deteriorated, and a number of reasons are supplied to persuade your players that looking into what is going on may be worth their while. They may have been contacted by a relative of one of the inmates, be asked to look for someone who has gone missing (and the trail leads there) or be sent on official business. Of course, you may come up with an idea of your own to get them through the door...
To begin with, the characters will probably want to seek general and background information in the city of Niarva, on the outskirts of which the Witten Asylum is to be found. It is a sharply-stratified and wealthy city, and sufficient detail is provided to make it come alive as a city in its own right, rather than just somewhere you pass through briefly. The overriding mood here is contrast, between the wealthy rulers and the rest of the citizens who are virtually on the breadline and live in squalor. A couple of taverns, a temple and several other businesses are described so that the characters can wander around interacting as they please during this part of the adventure (or indeed any time they visit the town).
The second chapter covers an initial visit to the asylum, with the presumption being that the characters choose to make their first visit openly (although of course they may be spinning tales as to the reason for their being there). Within, assuming the characters gain access, things are not in good order, the patients being kept in dreadful conditions and little signs of any treatment of their illness being in evidence. Several are presented in neat thumbnail descriptions that an inventive DM can use to present the true state of affairs. Throughout, the characters are likely to be supervised by asylum guards, and their movements will be severely limited. To bring this visit to an end, an encounter is provided for the DM, a disturbance caused by a 'small problem' that will necessitate the departure of any legitimate visitors to the facility. (This incident is connected with what is really going on here, by the way.)
Once thrown out, two options are provided for the characters' return to the asylum. One person they might encounter in Niarva knows a secret way in and they may choose to seek his assistance. The other suggestion is for a nocturnal visit. These two alternatives are the content of the next couple of chapters.
Chapter 3 deals with a covert entry by means of the sewers under the guidance of a local rogue. If groping through sewers isn't an unpleasant enough thought, the meeting place they will be given is in the local graveyard! It is all very atmospheric and very dangerous, characters choosing this route will need all their courage and combat abilities to reach their goal. Descriptions are excellent, and worth review by anyone planning a sewer-based adventure. Suitably, if the characters make it through the sewers, they emerge through a privy.
Chapter 4 gives a full run-down on the asylum, whether the characters have arrived via the sewers or found some other means of entry. Again, descriptions are wonderfully atmospheric and will aid the DM in creating a nightmare effect. The amount of detail is impressive and suggests a facility in which a lot is going on irrespective of the characters' presence, an alternate reality in which life goes on even when there are no player-characters around to interact with it, always the sign of a good adventure. Assuming the characters are determined enough to search the whole place, they will find the truth underlying all that has been going on here and - with skill and a strong sword arm - ought to be able to defeat it. The consequences of failure will not be good!
There are notes on winding up the adventure, several versions depending on how you got the characters in to it in the first place and on what they did while there. Also, there are a few thoughts on further adventure possibilities.
Appendix 1 contains full details of the main NPCs, each being presented in sufficient detail when linked to their descriptions in the main text to allow the playing of that NPC as a rounded character, not just an information source or opponent in combat. Appendix 2 details all the magic items to be found during the course of the adventure. Finally, Appendix 3 has notes on all the monsters to be found, some of which are quite original. Some handouts including a weird diagram to find, and maps of the town and the asylum, are also included.
Overall it is an interesting and well put together adventure that should prove a challenge, but not one that cannot be surmounted by good play and a bit of luck when it comes to combat.
[4 of 5 Stars!]