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Friday 10 September 2021

Friday Fantasy: Macdeath

Macdeath is an adventure for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Critical Kit, it is designed for a party of four to five Player Characters of low- to mid-Level and is intended to be played in a single session, either as a one-shot or as part of an ongoing campaign. It involves a theatre troupe, a fairy circle, a performance, and a murder! Whilst self-contained, it would be easy to adapt Macdeath to the setting of the Dungeon Master’s choice, so long as the setting involves the fae and fairy-kind. Most fantasy roleplaying settings—especially for Dungeons & Dragons—feature this, but the Ravenloft setting would be particularly appropriate, as would any with a Renaissance feel. However it is used, Macdeath is fairly straightforward and involves a mix of investigation and interaction, with almost no combat.

The adventure revolves around the Orb Theatre Troupe, which in recent years has become renowned for its highly entertaining theatrical productions. This is due to the prolific output of the troupe’s founder and bard, Willard Rattlesword. Both his fame and that of the troupe have even spread beyond the Material Plane and so Titania, Queen of the Summer Court has commissioned Rattlesward to write a play and have the troupe give her and her entourage a command performance. This is due to take place in Whimsel Grove, a demiplane half way between the Material Plane and the Emerald Plane. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned. The Queen and her companions arrive, but are disappointed to find not the troupe’s lead actor, Penrod Peppin, performing the lead role in that evening’s performance, but his understudy, Ned Hackett! Worse, not only is Ned’s performance wooden and stilted, when they are directed to find out where Penrod Peppin has got to between acts in the hope that he can come back and save the play, the Player Characters discover him dead in his trailer! Even worse than that, Penrod Peppin has been murdered!! And even worse than that, when the faerie queene discovers that the performance is going to be cancelled, she still demands an entertainment—find out who killed Penrod Peppin, find how Penrod Peppin was killed, and why Penrod Peppin was killed. Then present her with a trial at her court!

Macdeath is thus a murdery mystery play set at that most classic of locations—it could only be more classic if it was set at a country mansion—a theatre. The Player Characters must search the locations, question the witnesses and suspects, gather the evidence, and form a hypothesis, and present it to Queen Titania. With just a cast of just six suspects, eight locations, and a handful of clues, this is not a very difficult mystery to solve, and to be fair it is not meant to be. This scenario is meant to be played in a single session or evening, which means that everything, including the murder should be wrapped up within that time. Short though, does not mean that it is not entertaining. The cast are sufficiently detailed and along with the members of the troupe, the Dungeon Master is given a handful of pixies, rarebits, will-o’-wisps, and dryads to play, the latter able to give clues and nudges as necessary. These veer very much into the whimsical and should be fun to roleplay.

Much like a Shakespearian play that Macdeath is a ‘play’ upon, the scenario is a three act play and the Player Characters are very much doing different things in each one. In the first, they are performing the first of act of the play, which itself is called Macdeath; in the second, they are investigating the murder; and in the third, they are presenting the evidence at the trial. It is also both a locked room murder—the victim’s trailer is locked, and a locked room investigation and trial. Or rather, a locked Whimsel Grove murder and a locked Whimsel Grove investigation and trial. The Player Characters have to perform the play, investigate, and litigate all within the limits of the Emerald Plane.

The scenario is supported with full NPC descriptions, though not necessarily with full stats as they are not intended for combat, details of the Emerald Plane and its various fairie denizens, as well as fae gifts that Queen Titania can hand out, the best being a Bag o’ Cats, from which a cat can be drawn at random and to stay, it must tell a secret. There are several good handouts too, including the full four-page script for the first act of the play.

Physically, Macdeath is decently done. It needs an edit here and there, but the artwork is excellent. The handouts are decent too.

Macdeath—and to be clear, it has nothing to do with The Tragedy of McDeath for Warhammer Fantasy Battle—does have a problem, and that is in its set-up. It requires the Player Characters to be actors and performers, part of the Orb Theatre Troupe. This may not sit well with every player or indeed every Class, and it also means that it might be harder to set up and use, especially in an existing campaign. This may make it difficult to run. That said, there are Classes which would work well with this set-up. The Bard obviously, but also any Class which relies on Charisma. Unfortunately, Macdeath does not support either set-up, so no real advice on using existing Player Characters or pre-generated Player Characters for use when it is run as a one-shot. A good Dungeon Master should be able to come up with either though.

The short length of Macdeath means that it does not outstay its welcome, keeping its plot fairly simple and mixing in plenty of whimsy along the way, so that it has the feel of a television series murder mystery, though of course with magic and fantasy flavour. Overall, Macdeath is an enjoyable different scenario, emphasising and showcasing the interaction and investigation aspects of Dungeons & Dragons, and in the process, the roleplaying too.

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