As promised, here’s the full review for Kelvin Green’s adventure Forgive Us. Since this is one I’ve actually played, I’m going to include commentary from my players as well as my own; since I had to adapt it directly to my campaign, I’ll also add in notes on the conversions and the tools I used. This will be relatively spoiler-free: if you want more details, check the session reports (here and here). Note that I haven’t run the secondary adventures yet.
The full module is available here.
Overall Rating: 8/10
In essence, this is a One-Page Dungeon (or rather, a series of them) writ large, by a master of the form. Mr. Green’s expertise shines through in the tight and easy-reading/playing prose. On the opposite side of that equation, some elements (mostly information about secondary NPCs and magic items) were neglected in that focus on clarity and simplicity. There are a few minor playability issues; a map error, a mystery with one vague clue which can stone-wall the party. The flavor and mood, however, more than make up for them.
The main adventure in Forgive Us (formerly Horror Among Thieves) is fun, fast, and brutal. The location is flavorful, with an evocative and consistent theme. The treasures are engaging, the traps make sense, and the final moments will likely make your players brown their collective trou.
On that note, my parties are careful and heavily-armed – but this is a seriously threatening adventure. If you run it as-written, it will definitely give a 4th-level party a hard run for their money – as long as you can keep the PCs from leaving the location. Fortunately, it’s almost certainly going to pull them in tight until they hit the bitter end.
But don’t just take my word for it, listen to my players:
(The Doctor): “That.. was the most Metal game of D&D I’ve ever played”, “Silver makes a man rich. Nice furniture makes him feel wealthy.”, “At first, when I found out what that d20 was for, I was miffed I hadn’t rolled a second. About 30 seconds later, I was really glad”.
(The Archaeologist): “The details were wonderfully consistent.. and the maps were just detailed enough but not too detailed”
(The Fighter): “Murderous”.
hireling Henchman): “I got class levels!”
The next two adventures are shorter (or much longer, depending on how the PCs react). Both can be used to great effect when the party returns to one of their old haunts. Indeed, it seems almost like both were written for a DM who’s saying, “Well, they’ve gone back to that first town from 3 levels ago.. now what?”
In Heaven, Everything is Fine is well-suited as a hex-crawl element or special encounter; a contained area with a simple but cleverly-disguised problem the PCs can fix. To use it, however, you will need either to generate a large number of NPCs, or cannibalize an existing “village” adventure or NPC portfolio supplement. It has a fantastically set-up series of Weird encounters that should keep your players skittish but interested.
Death and Taxes is more of an encounter or political scheme than an “adventure” per se. It resolves an NPC’s story arc and adds a Nemesis to the party’s roster of enemies. Treasure per se is limited, but the loot is excellent. To engage the PCs, it depends entirely on the players’ fondness for an NPC (which it kills off-screen). It’s not exactly an appropriate module to run early on, or for the seriously hacky-slashy crowd.
All three adventures also contain many nods to Hammer Horror or its descendents, and a few tributes to other classic films or roleplaying products.
Detailed breakdown under the jump.
Problems first: there were no information at all for any of the NPCs outside the immediate encounter area. It’s a moderate ding, and one I rapidly took care of, but it makes getting the players into the location a little harder (especially since the best method of accessing it is.. talking to these non-existent NPCs.). Likewise, there’s a completely un-defined magic item in the area.
Finally, there’s a minor error in the maps. A walkway in the warehouse is about 15 feet too short on the left-hand side to accurately reflect what’s there based on the text and the other maps. It’s a simple adjustment but it’ll screw with your players if they’re careful sorts. The maps are otherwise excellent – well-placed for running the adventure, and Jacquayed like a champ.
The PDF worked beautifully on both my desktop and tablet. The many well-placed bookmarks make it easy to rapidly switch between pages as you need to cross-reference locations and NPCs. Each page of the booklet is laid out with the information you need to run what’s on it, with (again) excellent hyperlinking.
The historical background, both factual and fictional, is simple but quite useful.
It’s set in 1625 in England; I ported it to 1690’s Tangiers with approximately an hour’s work. There is a random name generator in the back for the intended period, which is fast and easy-to-use. I used the random generators linked to quickly roll up more detailed traits for the NPCs (note that I only used about half the quirks generated for each person, or took the most eye-catching) and new, Arabesque names for the NPCs. I was running with party members at half the recommended level, so I also adjusted the leveled elements. One specific point from the playtesting: a kind DM with a low-level party should probably cut back the check interval on the one disease presented – to somewhere in the 6 hours to 1 day range – if you want them to be able to get outside help.
The PDF was easy to mark up with sticky notes, and the entire experience was thoroughly enjoyable. This, I might add, from someone who prefers to work with printed materials.
There are several open ends in the main adventure which would let you link the adventure in to pretty much any other subterranean fun-zone or city adventure you’d care to run, which makes it even easier to port.
As far as further modularity – the individual scenarios are independent, but they’re woven so tightly it’s hard to pull most of their sub-elements out. Notably, though, the table of treasures in the back has a number of interesting and unique items (none of that “100gp necklace” BS), and most of them would be at home in any hoard. There’s also an interesting cult stronghold you could pull for a city-crawl.
It’s a pretty straight Body Horror adventure, with some pulp elements. It’s not freaky Weird, but certainly got the desired response from my players. Effective horror (as opposed to “what the fuck is that?”) is hard as Hell to pull off well, because it relies on drawing the players in and getting them to spook themselves. The thing that sold mine on it was the consistency of detail, the continuous callbacks/references to other parts of the module, and the clear but not explicit story it told.
If you like side-boxes or don’t do subtle, this isn’t the adventure for you.
Player Engagement: 10/10
An entire page is devoted to possible adventure hooks, all of them reasonable; the adventures are designed to drop in to almost any situation as easily as they plop into a location. It’s easy to run away, but every body seems to demand more investigation, there’s just enough treasure to keep the players looking for “the real loot”, and once you’re in deep enough, running means Death Frost Doom-level apocalyptic consequences.
Subjectively, my players were table-sober almost immediately and deeply hooked; they demanded to keep going as soon as we could get back around the table, and the second session ran over by almost 4 hours. They were scared for their characters, and even the NPC.
Treasure Engagement: 8/10
The main treasures are well-described, and all are given evocative illustrations. You could even print out the page and make an old-school Treasure deck with them. Bulk goods use the “(x)SP worth of goods” dodge, but it’s fairly easy to work around, as well as being stuff characters with a legitimate motive wouldn’t be stealing. But really, how many of them exist? The remainder are well-presented and thoughtful: smart and amoral players are going to walk away with a lot of valuable toys that will tie them even more intimately into your overall campaign world.
The traps in Forgive Us are all well-placed and logical: one also provides an interesting tactical option to clever players. On the other hand, the main puzzle’s only clue is a single, easily-missed item – and it has no apparent relationship to what it solves.
The secondary adventures’ puzzles, however, are much better-handled, with multiple and clearly-related clues.
The frontspiece is a very good imitation of a period title page and woodcut, and the typography is consistent and attractive. The maps are suggestive and an excellent supplement to the room descriptions, giving the module a cramped and “lived-in” feel. They blend well with the pages, and the text flows very cleanly. The main treasures are each given evocative illustrations. You could even print out the page and make an old-school Treasure deck with them.
The rest of the character art, however, is done in a Western cartooning style. Though well-executed, it didn’t jive with the mood the rest of the main adventure evoked. It’s a combination of personal taste and cultural connotations, but the main “oh shit” illustration just makes me giggle.
Bottom line: Fun, clean, and easy to run; the problems are easy to work around, and they’ll all be on your side of the screen. Forgive Us gives you a hard-hitting horror adventure that will fit into almost any campaign with a minimum of adaptation, plus an overworld hex and an interesting NPC conflict. I loved it, and I paid about half again what it costs online.