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Friday, 8 October 2010

A Tourney! A Tourney! A Publisher's First Tourney

Blood Moon Rising is the first offering from publisher, Small Niche Games. A scenario written for use with Goblinoid GamesLabyrinth Lord, it can be easily adapted to other Old School Renaissance Retroclones or upgraded for use with the Advanced Edition Companion, the supplement that turns Labyrinth Lord from Basic Dungeons & Dragons in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. It comes as a 34-page 4.39 Mb black and white PDF with a one colour cover and is designed to be played by a party of three to six characters of first to third level.

The scenario takes place in the village of Garanton, best known for the five day religious festival its hold each year to honour a local hero, Tormic Garan or Saint Garan the Mighty, Lord of Battle. The Feast of St. Garan attracts warriors and adventurers from far and wide, hoping to gain his blessing and win fame and fortune fighting in the daily games that are held over the course of the festival. It also attracts local traders who set up a small market, while a troupe of players present various entertainments throughout. It is assumed that the player characters are attending the festival to support a relative or colleague, or if a Fighter or Dwarf numbers among the party, to participate in the games and so gain the Blessing of Saint Garan. Not only that, but the winner of the Honour Games will be crowned the Champion of Saint Garan and be entrusted to keep and wear the Mantle of Saint Garan for a year.

The adventure describes itself as a freeform “sandbox” adventure, meaning that the adventurers are free to roam and explore and encounter persons and locations presented within its pages. This is not really the case, as while the adventurers are free to roam, they will in the main be reacting to events that occur over the five days of the Feast of Saint Garan. These include events both mundane and outré. Typical of the former include a lusty barbarian falling in love with one of the adventurers, a band of pickpockets working the festival, and caged beasts getting loose; while the slaughter of livestock, attacks on local farmsteads, bat-winged demons flitting across moonlit sky, and cruel orcs prowling the nearby forests typify the latter.

The author has worked a lot of detail into Blood Moon Rising. Initially it feels as if he is giving us too much information as he presents the ancient history of Garanton, its current situation, and its inhabitants. It only clicks into place once both the day-to-day events of the festival and the twenty possible random encounters are explained and give the adventure a sense of structure. This is where Blood Moon Rising comes alive presenting the Labyrinth Lord with innumerable means in which to engage his players with both “role” playing and “roll” playing challenges. Some of the events and encounters take the characters out into countryside around the village, while others present opportunities for them to learn the truth about blessed Saint Garan.

What Blood Moon Rising is not, is a dungeon adventure. There are just two underground locations in the adventure, both of which are very short. The first of the adventure’s problems is the actual location of both of these places. It is never made quite clear where they are, a problem that is exacerbated by the adventure’s maps which are underwhelming and unhelpful. Given that the adventure is meant to be a free roaming sandbox affair, the maps are too basic to support this kind of play. The second issue is that the village of Garanton is never really brought to life. This is due to the author’s focus upon the Feast of Saint Garan, and while this is will not be problem during the events of Blood Moon Rising itself, it will be if the Labyrinth Lord wants to use Garanton as the base for further adventures and if the author wants to write the sequel that he hints at. The last issue is a lack of plot hooks aimed at the Cleric and Thief classes. Given that the scenario is built around a festival devoted to Saint Garan the Mighty, Lord of Battle, it is no surprise that there are opportunities aplenty for Fighters and their ilk to get involved. There is also one hook specifically given for the Magic-user, but for the Cleric and Thief classes, there is naught. The author will need to look at all three of these issues if he does write that sequel.

Physically, Blood Moon Rising is a text heavy affair. Under illustrated, it is not always an easy read, but the Labyrinth Lord will find a wealth of detail within its pages, particularly for the festival itself and those attending it.

Despite the author’s claims, Blood Moon Rising is not sandbox adventure. Let alone the fact that its maps do not support that style of play, the scenario is too tied into the events of the Festival of Saint Garan for the adventurers to wander blindly. Instead, it is a strong, event driven adventure that supported by lots of engaging encounters and NPCs, should provide several sessions of thoroughly enticing play. Structuring a scenario around a tournament has always been a good way to present a roleplaying adventure – both the King Arthur: Pendragon and Legends of the Five Rings RPGs have proved that, and Blood Moon Rising proves that it works just as well for Labyrinth Lord and its ilk.