Menace in Ravenreach (5e)
The 5e version of Menace in Ravenreach clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.
Okay, so first things first – while this module is part of a two-part mini-series (the second part of which is “Mystery in Ravenrock”, named after the fortification), this very much works smoothly as a stand-alone scenario. Nominally intended for characters level 4th to 7th, I’d suggest in favor of sticking to the lower level range if your player characters tend to gravitate to the higher power-levels.
As far as the setting is concerned, this module is situated in a borderlands-style frontier in both physical location and themes; aesthetically, this is very much a Lost Lands module that hearkens closer to the tradition of Greyhawk; it feels gritty and pretty down to earth, which is a plus in this instance. As a touch I greatly appreciated, for example, the module does suggest trade good equivalencies if you want to emphasize the remote location; this remains optional, but it is a touch that imho rather enhanced the atmosphere of the environment.
Ravenreach is a small town carved from the wilderness, courtesy of the stalwart and firm Baron of Raven’s Reach Bartholomew Blackraven, and a proper settlement overview has been provided. Nice: In the 5e-iteration, there is a table for the random effects of the foul-smelling brews the local alchemist concocts. A minor downside of the module would pertain the cartography featured – while the module does contain a properly, grid-using map of the initial scene, of the Ravenrock border fortress and of one encounter site, all of which come btw. as full-color maps and don’t have annoying numbers or the like and thus work in the context of VTTs and as handouts sans breaking immersion, there are no maps of the general region or the starting border village provided. While e.g. Raging Swan Press’ offerings provide a plethora of options there, it is something that a few people might consider to be a detriment.
A downside of the 5e-version: All but one of the original 4 handouts of the PFRPG-version have been purged in favor of other material (read: more monsters).
Speaking of which, the supplement also is rather detailed regarding its rumors on various matters, differentiating between different topics to inquire about; kudos for that. There is one more thing you definitely need to know about regarding this adventure, and that would be its rather unique focus: This is not a location-driven module per se, and doesn’t focus on a given environment or singular storyline. Instead, the module can be considered to be a means of establishing Ravenreach as an environment with its own peculiarities. The module establishes a series of encounters that run the gamut from the quick combat to the mini-dungeon, which, as a whole, cover more than one season. This is, in a way, a module concerned with the long narrative, and this is definitely something I appreciate. It also enhances the usefulness of the material within beyond the confines of the module. It is rather easy to dissolve the module into its constituent encounters and e.g. intersperse them into your own adventure.
The module does feature a pretty significant amount of read-aloud text for many encounters, and the book does feature two new magic item and a couple of unique NPC statblocks. Regarding those: The book is smart in that is doesn’t waste wordcount on stock characters. As far as wordcount is concerned, the adventure does something pretty clever – it uses default statblocks for 5e-critters, and then proceeds to list individual proficiencies and similar deviations from the standard stats, offering some serious variation there. Indeed, if you’ve been wondering – the extra page-count of the 5e-iteration stems from the expanded bestiary appendix. Beyond the NPC stats (which also provide stats for the local captain in this iteration), we also get a small bestiary featuring e.g. prehistoric beavers and the like. Since 5e does not yet have the same wealth of monsters as PFRPG. this expansion makes sense. Much to my pleasant surprise, this chapter also provided quite a few full-color artworks for the critters, and the 5e-statblocks are properly portrayed in full details, with the rules integrity of the material rather commendable. If the small tidbits above were not indicator enough, it’s here that we can see the module going beyond the call of duty regarding the demands of 5e.
All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving deeply into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, if the “call to adventure” style handout doesn’t do the trick, the module offers a bar brawl in the fully mapped “Dancing Bear” tavern against the 4 Gretis brothers (thugs in 5e instead of multiclassed characters) as a means to get the PCs on track for the adventure; those that slay one or more of the brothers may find themselves under arrest and press-ganged into the service of the local lord, which, while an old trope, is also pretty classic, and can be executed rather well. Smarter PCs that avoid casualties may find themselves in a position where they will have a better basis for negotiation.
Either way, the PCs are taken by Captain Jeremy Thorn to the keep, to see Master Minder, the local wizard who is neither friendly, nor that well-versed in social graces, and tasks the PCs to find a troll. Oh, and return the beast alive. Fun!
The trek to secure a troll will lead the PCs into the wyvern mountains, with several landmarks noted, and the suggestion of 0-2 wilderness encounters per landmark lightening up the journey, until the PCs find a particularly nasty troll to shackle and drag back. A peculiarity in the 5e-version would be that we do get random encounter tables, which I certainly appreciated.
Once they have the fearsome brute in shackles, the PCs will be ambushed by spriggans under the command of the daughter of an elven enchantress killed by Blackraven; whether or not she survives is accounted for. Returning to Ravenreach, soothsayers will predict an early onset of a harsh winter, so the PCs might well earn their keep as mercenaries while settling in for winter, and indeed, the second part here deals with encounters during these darkened months. Speaking of which – the module provides handy sidebars for cold weather and the like.
The PCs will be pitted against particularly nasty trolls responsible for a wayside massacre, escort a wagon train through the biting snow (and either cross an icy lake or a dangerous, rocky ridge – with individual challenges) to Camp Rough’N Ready – where fans of Witcher 3 may find a nice easter egg where the PCs may inadvertently find themselves fighting (for glory and wagers) a fist-fight with a black bear. Odd: There is one page that has an obvious snafu where two lines of text seem to have superimposed versions of themselves; pretty sure something went wrong in layout there, but that part is cosmetic. A plus-side of the 5e-version: Optional encounters and general structure is laid out rather clearly.
In the spring, Captain Jeremy Thorn has another opportunity for the PCs – a mule train is set towards the silver mine Dimthinlode, where, en route, once more there should be more intriguing encounters. At the silver mine, the player characters will be called upon to investigate a cavern the dwarves broke into. The traveling experience through to the mine is provided and manages to evoke a pretty nice sense of exploration –and yes, the troll-leitmotif of the encounters on the road is further emphasized here. The module also features some stats for classic hazards, as well as two magic weapons.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – the 5e-conversion of the module has been undertaken with surprising care, going above and beyond what was required – this does not feel like a conversion, and indeed, there are quite a few touches where the module does feel different from its original iteration. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard that, for the most part, adheres to classic Frog God Games-aesthetics, with blue highlights thrown in. The artwork and cartography are both full-color and rather nice – as noted, the wealth of critters gets quite a few full-color artworks. As mentioned before, the presence of player-friendly maps constitutes a big plus for me. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print-version, since I do not own it.
James Thomas provides an uncommon adventure here – the long narrative is something we only rarely get to see done well, and here, it is executed with surprising panache. In an age where elevator pitches often end up disappointing, it’s nice to see an adventure that focuses on low key aesthetics that don’t browbeat you with some KEWLoneoneleven!!! Concept, and instead focuses on just establishing a concise mood and rapport with a given environment. While the lack of a map for the geographic region/village constitutes a bit of a detriment, the module per se doesn’t necessarily require it to work. The pretty modular approach allows for simple and quick expansion of the subject matter, or for the insertion of this adventure’s content into different contexts and campaigns, which is another plus.
Somewhere between a series of encounters, a module and a regional setting book with mini-adventures, this module provides a fun and well-wrought old-school yarn that captures the elusive spirit of grittier old-school gaming rather well. Indeed, if anything, that is the module’s central appeal, at least to me – the tone. It feels down to earth, yet sufficiently fantastic, and the sense of pure age and tragedy suffusing the small components are what elevate this adventure for me personally. On a mechanical level, it’d have been nice to see a few tougher tidbits, but that should not deter you – if you’re looking for an adventure that gets the gritty tone done right (and part II will deliver some serious payoff; no, not spoiling its nature here!), go check this out. Particularly since Richard A. Meyer has went beyond the call of duty converting this adventure to 5e! If you have the luxury of choice, regarding versions, then my advice is as follows: If you want to use in conjunction with kingdom building and the like? Then the Pathfinder version makes more sense, as the system simply has more material for that type of gameplay. However, if you’re going by content and context, I’d probably recommend this version over the PFRPG – it feels like it has seen this touch of extra care and development to make an already nice module shine. My final verdict for this version will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.
You can get this well-wrought conversion here on Frog God Games’ store!
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