Sailing Aboard the Widow (5e) (patreon request)
This eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
My reviews of the eventure-series were requested by my patreon supporters.
Eventures, in case you’re new to the series, are rules-lite mini-adventures that focus on roleplaying and not on combat and similar components. The pdf does list a dressing-file from the #20-series you can use as a supplemental file to this eventure, and the module is roughly contextualized as part of the duchy of Ashlar region, that integrating the eventure in another setting is a no-effort job. The module is imho best suited for characters level 1 – 4, though it can be made to work at higher levels, provided the GM is willing to invest a bit of time.
The pdf provides pretty detailed information about the crew and NPC passengers (6 NPCs in total, with information on background, personality, secrets and read-aloud text for them); said NPCs do list references to 5e’s default NPC-roster, which means you have full mechanics arrays to reference if required.
Speaking of read-aloud text: The keyed locations on the eponymous Widow do come with read-aloud text. Supplemental to the NPC and location set-up, we have 6 whispers and rumors as well as 6 minor events; these minor events, in an interesting twist, come in a sequential offering, so if you roll them a second time, the event actually diverges in how it is realized. These dynamic events are rather helpful. This is clever and interesting and maintains some replay value for the GM. I like it. The module itself takes place in the form of a sequence of events interacting with locations and NPCs and remains relatively free-form due to that fact. So, in spite of a relatively linear progression of event-based triggers, the adventure never structurally degrades into a railroad. This is very much player-driven.
Keyed locations? Yep, the Widow comes with a proper b/w map of its 3 decks; while the map has no size noted, it does sport a grid, which makes running it under the customary 5 ft. x 5 ft. assumptions rather easy. Much to my chagrin, no version of the maps without their labels is included.
Now, the eventure is all about a journey by boat, yes, but there is a significant difference between this module and comparable travel sidetreks, in that it is a mystery module; one could even claim that it’s a horror module, and one that has a sufficiently-subdued fantastic angle as to make it viable for low magic settings like e.g. LotFP-ish takes on our world, or for games like Call of Cthulhu. The module retains a pretty well-wrought free-form angle for its understated, and yet efficient horror/mystery angle: Slowly but steadily, a genuine sense of wrongness is established, and the presentation of clues and web of secrets laced throughout the module does a great job executing the theme.
And yes, I know that this is VAGUE. But I really do not want to SPOIL this one.
Anyways, another important thing to note would be the system-integration: Raging Swan Press publishes their content for 4 systems as per the writing of this review, and that sometimes hurts the execution for a given system. At least for the 5e-version of this eventure, I am happy to report that this is NOT the case here. While I would have liked to see a sidebar dealing with auras and troubleshooting “detective-magic”, the module actually does a better job pulling off a mystery than many comparable modules I’ve seen, and its 5e-conversion is not simply “skin deep”; it actually uses proper phrasing and checks.
And this cannot be understated: It is amazing to see a module for the system that does not devolve into a big monster jumping out and being bashed to smithereens. The fact that this eventure managed to stick to its themes of subtle, yet ever-increasing wrongness and unease? I love it for that.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with neat b/w-cartography. I just wished we got player-friendly maps as well. The pdf comes in two iterations, one for screen-use, and one optimized for the printer. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.
Bart Wynants delivered a truly pleasant surprise for me here; this little eventure knocks at least 90% of so-called horror-adventures for any iteration of PFRPG or D&D straight out of the water by realizing a crucial fact: You can jam as many bones, liters of blood and guts on something as you like, it won’t become more creepy, just more gross/grotesque (and that *can* work; most of the times, it doesn’t), and as soon as you can put a pointy stick in it, it’ll eventually be killed by the party.
Instead, this focuses on atmosphere. On providing a framework of something that feels *wrong*, on that growing, slow-burn sense of unease, and damn, does it do that well. This is not the “creepy monster jumps at you” school of mystery/horror; it is the more poignant, harder-to-pull-off style. And the module pulls it off. In literary allusions: This is more akin to James, Machen or Aickman than to Stephen King or Clive Barker.
Now, usually, I’d penalize the module for the lack of player-friendly maps…but it genuinely doesn’t deserve it. This is a great change of tone and pace, particularly for a game like 5e. I adore this, and considering the limited page-count and budget it had to pull off its excellence? Impressive indeed.
5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended if you want a change of pace from modules that can be solved by murder-hoboing everything.
You can get this cool mystery module here on OBS!
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