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: This article includes affiliate links.
Fear and Fury by Stefan Terry
An adventure for D&D5e, included in RPG Writer Workshop bundle 3.
Rooted in some of the lesser known aspects of Greek mythology, Fear and Fury, is a story of dirty dealings and double crossing, as the party tries to save the region of Korens from the veritable series of disasters that have befallen it. The players will have to carefully investigate the goings on in the region and have their wits about them if they don’t want to face divine retribution, or be overwhelmed by the dynamic combat encounters.
The characters start their adventure in the region of Korens, which is made up of three hamlets under the control of Lord Astor. This is perfectly fitting with the setting, and would be perfect in a Theros, or any other Greek inspired, campaign. The recent ravages of drought and raider attacks is evident in the descriptions, and the villagers will quickly direct the characters to the local lord who is offering an award to anyone who can help them with it. The task is relatively simple, and the objectives are clear, the characters have to kill the bandit leader, known as the Kindly One, and in return Lord Astor will bestow upon them a considerable reward. In reality, the bandits are in the pay of Lord Astor, who is using them to steal from the locals before he leaves, and the Kindly One is in fact a Fury who has been sent to punish him for his misdeeds.
The characters must engage in an investigation of the local area in order to find the Kindly One, and along the way they might discover further details that hint at things not being quite what they seem. There is quite a complete list of details that the characters might find depending on the results of their checks. It might of been nice to have slightly more guidance here for when and where they might find the information, to personalise it a bit more to the setting, but this is a minor problem in what is otherwise a robust investigation. The party will likely be attacked by bandits at some point on the road, providing yet more clues to what is happening in the region.
They should finally make contact with the Kindly One, discover her true identity and her point of view with what is happening. This will lead to them having to make a choice. Either sticking to their word with Lord Astor or siding with the Kindly One against him. This will likely depend in part on how much they have found out before hand, and therefore how willing they are to trust the Kindly One. This will also test how willing they are to give up on a significant reward in order to do what is right. Depending on their choice, the adventure will end in either fighting Astor or the Kindly One. In both cases the fights are dynamic, with the number of enemies adjusting to the number of party members, and keeping up a flow of new attackers until the “boss” is defeated. The adventure concludes after these fights, detailing what happens next. Conclusions are also provided to cover other eventualities, such as what happens if the party kills everyone, always a possibility worth considering.
The module has several nice additions to it. For anyone running a Theros campaign it’s worth it just for the Fury and hoplite stat blocks that shake things up a bit. There is also a very nice magic item that is an interesting way of dealing with the curse mechanic, which varies depending on how you acted with its former owner. It’s an engaging adventure that showcases some of the lesser known entities in Greek myth. It contains a very solid example of providing information during an investigation, with multiple clues leading to the same conclusion to help the players along. Fitting with the more investigation orientated design, the fights are few but challenging, sufficient to engage more combat orientated players. An excellent addition to any campaigns based on Greek mythos, or if you want a one-shot to change up the setting a bit.
Behind the Screens
Hello Stefan, and thanks for agreeing to this interview. There has been somewhat of a revival for Greek mythos lately, with Hades or the Song of Achilles for example. Are you a long time fan? Or is this something that just grabbed you and you had to write an adventure for it?
I’ve been a fan my whole life. I’ve got a copy of the The Hero with a Thousand Faces and a statuette of Athena on my shelf, and grew up surrounded by those stories. There are ceramic tiles depicting the trials of Heracles and the story of the Minotaur hanging in my family’s laundry room! I tend to borrow from mythology from around the world, but I’ll admit Hades definitely inspired a resurgence of the old Hellenic stuff in me as much as anyone else!
All together, I counted 16 pieces of information that the characters might find during their investigation, and that’s without the extra bits that they might be able to deduce from the descriptions of the environment or the actions of their enemies. What moved you to make sure a consequential investigation adventure?
I think one of the strengths of tabletop games like DnD is that it allows for more complex or nuanced mysteries and investigations for players to dig through and solve than, say, video games that necessarily have more rigid systems. They’re a great way to just let players do their own thing, and as a player it feels great to pick up on some small detail that turns out to be significant! They also add some mechanical weight to world-building, and I’m a major proponent of better integrating narrative and gameplay.
Do you have any advice for DMs wanting to run or design an investigation?
Little details are much more important than smoking guns. Antagonists feel “stronger” in a mystery if they have more control over the information available, and trickling out hints builds suspense much more effectively than handing out the answer outright. The best way to start off, I think is to let the players observe that something is amiss, but not tell them what it is or why so that their own curiosity drives them to find the answer. They’ll be much more inclined to engage with something that they want to know the answer of than something that someone else wants them to know. Also, don’t be afraid of false information. There’s clues to be had in lies and red herrings as much as actual evidence!
You haven’t slacked on the combat side of the adventure either. One thing that is recurrent in your encounters is that enemies keep arriving, maintaining constant pressure, until the “boss” of the fight is defeated. Is there a particular reason why you wanted to add this mechanic, rather than the “fixed number of enemies” that we usually have in an encounter?
I’m often surprised to learn that this sort of thing isn’t more common considering the more open nature of DnD, but the short answer is that it helps make the bosses themselves seem stronger. Action economy is a big deal in 5e, so the steady influx of relatively-weak-but-not-completely-harmless enemies helps keep the pressure on and prevents players from just completely overwhelming the bosses with turns. Think of them like lair actions!
During play-testing, I found that different DMs used these enemies differently, too. I had one just front-load all of the enemies they thought would show up from the start for one fight, which made the encounter much harder on the players, and another DM just popped enemies in and out to adjust the chaos level on the fly. Even if DMs don’t run encounters exactly as written, the non-standard structure created some unique experiences!
One of the items in the adventure changes depending on how the characters act, going from cursed to possibly awakened. I’m not sure I’ve seen this mechanic elsewhere. Was it something that you wanted to do specifically to incorporate the sort of “gift from the gods” that we see in Greek legends? Where the characters are cursed by the gods, or bolstered by them, depending on their opinion.
That’s exactly right! The Greek pantheon (and really most pantheons) is full of fickle deities, and having one artifact that helps or hurts depending on their opinion of you felt natural. I don’t know if 5e has an awakening system outside of Unearthed Arcana or other non-standard rules, but there have been systems like it in the past, and I love the idea of artifacts that have a life of their own and are affected by narrative events in general.
I really want to ask. Why the pomegranate on this cover page? I know of a few myths that invlove them but nothing specifically to do with furies.
Pomegranates are closely associated with the underworld in Greek/Roman myth, which is where the Furies are from. They don’t play any major role in any of the Furies’ tales as far as I know, but I made them a motif since they’re a recognizable symbol and as an easter-egg for fans of the old stories. Plus the whole thing is set in an agrarian countryside, so it’s a little nod to that, too. Partly, though, as the person who did all the art, too, it was something I could do quickly and still have a striking, recognizable cover without giving anything away.
Should we expect more Greek inspired adventures in the future? Will we be seeing the other Furies for example? Or do you want to move on to other ideas?
I’ll definitely be pulling from Greek mythology more in the future, though I don’t have any specific plans for the Furies. I’m a big fan of gorgons, and I’ve been thinking about doing something inspired by the trials of Heracles (or Hercules, if you prefer), though that might have to be a larger-scale project. I’ve also been working on an illustrated collection of unique magic items that I hope to finish before long.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add before we end?
Thanks for doing these interviews! It’s fun to get a peak behind the curtain. I’ve certainly been enjoying them. I designed this little one-shot to work both on its own, as part of an episodic adventure, or even as a module to slot into an existing setting! All you need is an arbitrary stretch of countryside. I know I’ve been part of campaigns where a quick detour would have been nice to bide time for planning the main thread.
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,