The Waking of Willowby Hall was funded via a Kickstarter campaign as part of ZineQuest 2. It comes as a thirty-two-page adventure built around thirty-three named locations across the three floors of Willowby Hall and eight NPCs plus various monsters. The house is not mapped out and detailed once, but twice. First in the module’s opening pages, marked with thumbnail descriptions and page number references, the latter actually more useful than simple numbers. Second, in the latter half of the book where full room descriptions are given accompanied by a complete floorplan with the particular rooms highlighted. It feels a little odd at first, but flipping between the two is actually not as awkward as it first seems. None of the individual rooms in Willowby Hall are mapped, but it is a classic mansion which when combined with the engagingly detailed descriptions is easy to visualise and portray. The NPCs are each given half a page, including stats, personality, and wants (or motivations) , plus a fetching illustration. This includes Mildred the Goose, who is essentially there to do two things. One is to motivate her previous owner, Tom Bonebreaker, and the other is to annoy the hell of out the players and their characters. If it appears that the Dungeon Master is playing Untitled Goose Game with Mildred, then both she and Mildred are probably doing their job. Tom Bonebreaker however, is accorded a full page to himself as he is the scenario’s main threat. The scenario’s other threat is also given its own page.
For the Player Characters, the first difficulty is getting into Willowby Hall. Several reasons are suggested as to why they might want to enter the mansion. This includes a couple of classics—one of the Player Characters inheriting the mansion, the other the mansion being the retreat of an occult society which collected rare artefacts and books—as well as the Player Characters merely passing and being hired by the local villagers to retrieve the bell. The latter will probably lead to the Player Characters negotiating with the giant campanologist for the bell and he will want his goose back, which means they will have to enter Willowby Hall. With the other ideas, they will are unlikely to encounter this and instead the Player Characters will just need to make a run for the mansion. This is made easier in the scenario because it advises that Tom Bonebreaker be on the other side of the building when they make their run across the overgrown lawns to the mansion. Alternatively, the Player Characters could begin in the mansion itself and the adventurers simply charge in with goose in hand and the giant on their tails. Once inside, the Player Characters are free to explore as is their wont, but then their problems are only beginning…
The Player Characters’ first aim is probably going to be working out what is going in the house as they explore its halls and rooms, the second being to locate the trio of adventurers and probably, Mildred. As they make their search, there is the constant sound of the bell being rung outside and the eye of Tom Bonebreaker appearing at one window after another, and if the giant spots anyone, the immediate danger of him reaching in to grab whomever he can. The tolling of the bell though is a timing mechanism and as it clangs again and again, the house changes. Slowly at first, and only slightly, but then more rapidly and more obviously. This builds and builds, giving The Waking of Willowby Hall a timing mechanism, one which can easily be adjusted for single, one-off play at a convention or slightly longer play as part of campaign. It gives a sense of dynamism to the scenario.
Physically, The Waking of Willowby Hall is clearly and simply presented. The maps are easy to use, the descriptions of the various rooms engaging, and the illustrations excellent in capturing the personalities of the NPCs. In fact, they are so good that you almost wish that they and Willowby Hall itself was available as a doll’s house and a set of paper standees to use as the Player Characters explore the mansion and that giant eye keeps appearing at various windows. Add in some sound effects—at least the sound of the bell and the honking of the goose—and what a scenario that would be!
The Waking of Willowby Hall gives the Dungeon Master everything necessary to run the scenario, not least of which is a great cast of NPCs for her to roleplay—and that is before you even get to Mildred. After all, what good Dungeon Master would turn down the opportunity to roleplay a goose? The Waking of Willowby Hall is great fun, both raucous and ridiculous, combining elements of farce with a classic haunted house and a countdown ’til the bell tolls for thee.
An unboxing of The Waking of Willowby Hall can be found here.