A Day Out at the Circus (5e) (Priority Review)
This eventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.
So, in case you’re new to these: “Eventures” are essentially mini-adventures that focus on events, as opposed to a plot, a confrontation, or combat; this makes them eminently useful as pre-prepared set-pieces that you can enter into the game.
And frankly, a circus is a good call there. I mean, I can easily list 10+ modules that feature a circus; all of them have in common that something goes horribly wrong/sinister. And I get why. However, on a meta-level, this also means that the party of players will be on edge as soon as the word “circus” falls anywhere close to the in-game world.
And this is where this supplement comes in – in it, we learn about the “White Tiger’s Crew”, and their circus; general hooks are provided to get the party to visit the circus, and a 12-entry whispers and rumors table adds further hooks to the fray. If all of that doesn’t suffice, the supplement also has a 20-entry minor events table.
The crew, by the way, is not without their internal struggles and shades of gray decisions to be made when interacting with the party, but the supplement does not run the usual “evil/deadly nightmare circus” shtick. An important note: Whether the circus becomes fully evil, redeemed, or remains in an equilibrium very much might be up to the party. Particularly the tastefully touched subject of slavery is interesting in the context of this circus.
The circus comes with an artwork/handout that depicts a flyer inviting people to the circus, and also features a really nice b/w-cartography by Tommi Salama of the circus grounds and the ship they use to travel. The map sports 6 keyed encounters. The respective acts are described, including an orc and goblin comedic act, blind jugglers, fortune tellers, clowns, a lion tamer, and yes, a freak show. The food cart lists a surprising amount of good alongside prices that are affordable for non-adventurers, and the eventure also suggests a variety of activities.
As far as the 5e-version is concerned, the supplement makes proper reference of the 5e default stats, though purists may scoff at the use of “PCs”, which, as a term, isn’t usually employed in 5e. (And yes, one of my readers asked me to point out when a 5e-supplement uses this term; I won’t penalize a supplement for that, but I understand if that’s the pet-peeve of some people.) Annoyingly, the 5e-version suffers from the same shortcoming as the PFRPG-iteration: This huge list of fun activities for the party to engage in? They have no rules provided. Coal holding, ring toss, etc. – all sans rules, when presenting them would have been very easy.
The supplement concludes with a variety of adventure hooks that go beyond the actual visit to the circus.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules language level, the book omits several aspects that would be handled via rules in 5e. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and features neat b/w-artworks, a cool handout, and neat b/w-cartography. I am given to understand that you get high-res unlabeled maps via Raging Swan Press’ patreon, but I still consider the lack of player-friendly versions here a downside, though not necessarily a crucial one in this instance. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two iterations – one optimized for screen use, and one optimized for the printer.
Jeff Gomez’ trip to the circus is a delightful change of pace for the trope. The circus feels plausible and organic, and taking a break from the “circus nightmare/massacre”-trope is indeed appreciated. There is, formally, nothing to complain about the supplement in that regard.
As far as the 5e-components are concerned, it is severely lacking in actual crunch, though – and in this instance, the very activities that are supposed to, you know, entertain characters and players alike, don’t have any mechanical chassis to make them work. And yes, pretty much every evil circus module has some mechanics, so providing an AC for ring tossing, an engine for the drinking contest etc. would have been neat.
This remains the big downside of this supplement, and the only reason why I can’t rate this version higher than 4 stars.
You can get this supplement here on OBS!
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