Menace in Ravenreach (OSR)
The OSR version of Menace in Ravenreach clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 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.
In case you were wondering: As always for Frog God Games, the rules employed are Swords & Wizardry.
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 for the most old-school experience.
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 OSR-iteration, there is a table for the random effects of the foul-smelling brews the local alchemist concocts, though personally, I preferred the 5e-version there. 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.
Disappointing: All but one of the 4 original handouts of the PFRPG-version have been cut without replacement content.
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 one new magic item and a couple of unique statblocks. A peculiarity of the OSR-version: Due to the condensed nature of statblocks in this iteration, pretty much everything, from random critters to townguards, gets stats. There is no defaulting to standard statblocks required. While this sheer number is interesting, it does not necessarily reflect artistry in their creation – depending on what you want from your old-school monsters, this may come as a bit of a downside: There are no detailed ecologies or the like (understandable), but there also are no particularly engaging or interesting signature abilities among the monsters, something which has, in recent years, greatly enhanced quite a few amazing old-school bestiaries and adventures I’ve drooled over. If anything, the monsters should be considered to be solidly crafted, but not necessarily artistic in their implementation. They make copious use of critters from Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors Complete – and I’m not a big fan of either bestiary.
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 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.
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. A peculiarity in the OSR-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…which is a pretty deadly surprise in S&W…
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 travelling 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.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – the OSR-version has been done with solid craftsmanship, accounting for adjusted gold values and the like. 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 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. However, while Jeff Harkness has delivered a well-wrought S&W-conversion of the adventure, I can’t help but consider this to be the least interesting version of the module. It does what it’s expected to, and that’s it. Compared with the wealth of rules the PFRPG-version can draw upon, and the extra details provided for 5e, this version is missing PFRPG’s extra handouts and 5e’s extra critters and material, gaining not much in return – a few dressing tables to emphasize the narrative focus of old-school gaming would have gone a long way there. In a way, this feels like “this’ll do.” All in all, a solid conversion, but when compared to the other two, probably the weakest one; if you’re good at converting complex systems on the fly to S&W, then I’d suggest going with the other versions. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
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