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Saturday, 30 October 2010

Halloween Horror I.I

The Inn of Lost Heroes is the second scenario from Small Niche Games after Blood Moon Rising. Written for use with Labyrinth Lord, it is a horror themed adventure designed for three to six characters of third to fifth levels, though it really needs four characters, one each of the basic Class types. It should provide one good night’s worth of horror for the Retroclone of your choice, and can easily be slotted into most campaigns taking place as it does entirely within the confines of an inn, the type of establishment where a party of adventurers would want to put its feet up at the end of a day’s hard rest or dungeon delving. Unfortunately for the characters, the night’s rest that they were expecting will have to wait for another day.

The module comes as a thirty-eight page, 2.38 Mb PDF which is cleanly laid out with the occasional piece of heavy ink artwork and the inn’s various maps. While the layout is clean and tidy, it is not particularly sophisticated and the overall effect is that it lacks character itself. To be fair, this is a minor issue, but I did find that it hindered my reading of the scenario, and anyway, The Inn of Lost Heroes has a bigger problem, borne of its content and structure.

At first the inn seems to cater to adventurers, the owners and staff are welcoming, the food good, entertainment is promised, the innkeeper and his sons willing to hear tales of their exploits, and several other adventurers number amongst the patrons. Yet the rowdy behaviour of some of those patrons pitches the player characters into a strange mystery that leads them from the Living World to the Burning World and lastly the Ash World. All whilst still within the confines of the inn. The rules for each three of these self-contained worlds are slightly different and if they are to escape the inn, the heroes will have to negotiate their way from one world to the next, learning more about their smouldering prison. This is as much as a test of the heroes’ endurance as it is a puzzle as they attempt to work out where they are and what is going on. This other worldly nature echoes that of the Ravenloft setting.

Each of the three worlds is described in some detail. Besides the differing descriptions of the inn and its various rooms and locations – inside and out –between each of the three worlds, there are numerous encounters that take place in each version of the inn. This lies at heart of the problem in The Inn of Lost Heroes – the way its information is structured. The differences in the state of the inn between one world and the next require both a careful read and a careful organisation upon the part of the Labyrinth Lord or GM, and even then, running the adventure will still need some flipping back and forth. Another lesser issue, one that also affected the author’s first adventure, Blood Moon Rising, is that the GM has to read the whole of the scenario to really work out what is going on. In other words, this is not an adventure that can be picked up and run without considerable preparation.

So what is going on? The situation in The Inn of Lost Heroes is a case of vengeance from beyond the grave. A revenant spirit wants revenge on all adventurers who stay at the inn, literally trapping them within where they die or manage to escape. Escaping involves undergoing a series of debilitating tests in order to gain what is essentially a key. It is a pity given that the party has undergone so many physical challenges that the final dénouement comes down to a fight with each other rather an opportunity for roleplaying.

While some of the elements in the scenario might be wholly original – then again, coming up with something wholly original in Dungeons & Dragons is always going to be a challenge after nearly forty years – its plot and structure are original in that they are written against the notion of hero worship of adventurers in Dungeons & Dragons. In essence, the twist to the scenario’s set up is that if the player character adventurers are not responsible for what occurred previously, their kind are and they are themselves at least the catalyst for the events in The Inn of Lost Heroes. The strength of the adventure though, lies in the details. The adventure is rich with these, small elements in each of the encounters that the GM can present to his players to provide not just clues as to the nature of their heroes’ predicament, but also atmosphere and colour.

There is no denying that The Inn of Lost Heroes requires an experienced GM. The wealth of detail in the scenario combined with the shifting nature of its setting, mean that it could be an overwhelming experience for the novice referee. Yet its wealth of detail means that the experienced GM has everything at fingertips to run a moody night of horror. Perfect for Halloween.