Welcome back to our series of reviews of some of the works from the Fall 2020 RPG Writer Workshop. Each review will be followed with a brief chat with its author(s) where we will be delving a bit deeper into some of the aspects that most intrigued me. Every two days there will be a new review and mini-interview out, so keep tuned to discover some of the amazing things that these bright new authors are coming up with.
Spoiler warning: It is simply not practical to review a product without mentioning anything about it. I have attempted to remain vague where possible, however I can not guarantee that you will not learn something about the adventure by reading this review
Declaration of interest: I am part of the affiliate program for OneBookShelf. If you use the links provided in this article to purchase a product I get a small kickback from it.
Riddles of Ravenfair by Stephanie Guerreiro Lourenço
An adventure for D&D5e, included in the DMsGuild Fall 2020 RPG Writer Workshop bundle 3.
In a nice twist on the usual “missing child” plot, Riddles of Ravenfair proposes a puzzle packed adventure that should be an intriguing delight for the right party.
Set in the Forgotten Realms, though it could be easily adapted to any setting, the adventure revolves around the problems of Ravenfair village, where children and mothers have been going missing. The scenario starts by introducing the players to this charming little village. Well designed and fleshed out with plenty of NPCs, it serves as a nice starting area for the adventure. The villagers each have a brief description in the dramatis personae at the start of the adventure for easy referencing by the DM, and are likable enough to get the players invested in their survival and opinions. The player characters are quickly alerted that something is wrong and start on what is a missing persons investigation which leads them into chapter 2 and the rest of the adventure.
It is in this chapter that the characters set foot in the forest that the villagers seem so scared of, and where they will spend most of the adventure. To reach their goal they must make their way through this foreboding woodland, overcoming various puzzles along the way. The scenario provides sufficiently creepy descriptions that help justify why no one else would dare step over the boundary line, and avoid characters straying too far from the path. The characters will face three puzzles in this chapter testing their monster knowledge, their logic and their riddle solving capabilities. The adventure provides clues to help the players out if they are stuck, depending on the result of checks made by their characters. There is also a way provided to avoid the puzzles all together, though the characters will face combat instead. If your players are more likely to prefer combat to puzzles however, this might not be the adventure you want. After a really wholesome meeting with a treant, the characters make their way into Chapter 3 to face off against some of my favourite villains in D&D: hags!
After a relatively brief jaunt through a cave system, with another puzzle required to enter, the characters get to what might be one of the most well written hag encounters I’ve seen. The hags themselves are very well written but more than that, the author has captured their tormenting nature exquisitely. They offer riddles in exchange for information, playing with the characters, always sure in their intention to kill them anyway. If you have any intention of playing a hag coven in an adventure then this is a perfect place to start. The nature of the hags also makes the rest of the adventure make more sense, as the players realise that all the hoops that they’ve had to jump through to get here are just the hags amusing themselves. The adventure wraps up nicely after this, with a return to the village and it ties up the various loose ends.
While there is combat in the adventure, including one difficult climactic battle, the puzzles are the stars of the show. It provides an array of puzzles that should test the various mental aptitudes of your players, and they should each be able to find at least one or two of them engaging depending on their preferences. It would require very little work, and the author has already provided plenty of hints how, to remove combat from this scenario entirely if you want to really shake things up. Unlike a lot of more puzzle based adventures, this scenario is also well themed, with the riddles and challenges making sense with the monsters employed.
In conclusion, this is the perfect adventure for a group that delights in riddles and puzzles. Its investigative nature leads itself well to several roleplaying encounters and suits players that prefer to talk before a fight. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to more classic combat orientated scenarios and is well worth a look if you’re looking for a nice change of pace.
Behind the Screens
Hello Stephanie, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Now, the stars of this adventure are definitely its puzzles. Few adventures really lean so heavily on them as you have done here. What made you want to focus on this element, rather than the more usual structure of mainly combat with a few puzzles to break up the rhythm? Were you worried that this might put some people off the adventure?
Thank you for interviewing me! I recently played a video game called Strange Brigade with my husband and was inspired to use a puzzle theme in a D&D setting. I found the game really fun and challenging so I began by creating the structure of the adventure and including as many puzzles as I could, without it being over-bearing! With regards to scaring people off – I think my main intent was to create something I know I’d enjoy writing and playing – and that in enjoying the writing process, hopefully anyone reading and experiencing it would enjoy it too! Who doesn’t enjoy a good puzzle!
The combat in this scenario is almost secondary. Did you ever consider making it a completely “pacifistic” adventure, with no combat at all?
I did consider it, but I thought it would be shame to remove all the combat scenarios as it would quicken the pace of the story. The perfect mixture of combat and investigation is key for great pacing and I hope that, in some way, I’ve managed to give everyone the right tools to experience that. On another note, I think it’s great that GMs are taking stories and adapting them to their group – there’s nothing stopping players from playing this adventure as pacifists, and one of my objectives was to allow this to happen.
In my opinion, hags are the perfect end boss for a riddle heavy scenario, and I think you’ve done a wonderful job in presenting them here. I love hags, and I’m often disappointed in how they’re presented in official material, where they’re generally just monsters that cackle a bit more. How did you capture their nature so well in this scenario?
I tried my best to give them some personality – each hag in the coven has her own desire and personality. I find it’s also important to give hints about their temperament, for example, the creatures on the Random Encounters table created for this adventure are “personalised” by the hags. They’ve been toyed with and changed for the sadistic entertainment of the coven: boars are painted pink and satyrs can only talk backwards; or whatever the GM decides is a fitting “prank”!
A lot of adventures that we see coming out of the RPG Writer Workshop are setting neutral. While your adventure can be easily adapted into any world, you’ve taken special care to tie it into the Forgotten Realms lore. Was there a particular reason behind the choice of Chondalwood and the Eldreth Veluuthra?
The Forgotten Realms is the setting I know the best – so initially it was out of comfort. I then began researching creatures I wanted to include and found the most fitting setting within the Forgotten Realms. From there I researched Chondalwood and its history and adapted the adventure to fit it in as best as I could. The Eldreth Veluuthra were a part of that history and although I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include it at the beginning, mainly due to their xenophobic views, I decide to keep it as I felt it was “historically accurate”. It isn’t the core of the story however, so it can easily be removed.
The length of your adventure is quite consequential for a first time author, probably being among the longer ones reviewed in this series. Were you daunted by what had to be done at any point, or was it all planned out from the start?
When I started the RPG Writer Workshop, I read that we should aim to write approximately 14 pages – I definitely got carried away! That was mostly due to wanting to include the number of puzzles and enemies I did, which was planned from the start. I never found it daunting though, I enjoyed it too much!
Before we end, do you have a favourite puzzle for our readers, from your adventure or anywhere else?
That’s a hard question to answer! Within the adventure “Know Your History” is my favourite – the hints are scattered throughout the story and there are many components to it so it feels more challenging than some of the others. Outside of the adventure, my husband gifted me with a letter which turned out to a series of puzzles (similar to an escape room, but in letter format) which revealed a secret message at the end. That was one of the most fun gifts I’ve ever received, which probably makes me quite the nerd!
Thank you again, and I hope that we get to see many more adventures from you in the future!
Until next time, be more kind,