As I had mentioned in the next to last post, our group was short on numbers that weekend and we decided to try out Taylor's latest purchase, Shadow of the Demon Lord. We had already finished one adventure the hard way (by dying), and since David had shown up and we'd only burned through two hours of the night, the group set off on character creation, except for Angela, who asked if she could play her Clockwork again. I said yes, saying this could, theoretically, be hundreds of years after Taylor's adventure was set, since we weren't really using the setting stuff on these trial runs.
Warning: The body of this post contains spoilers to the Shadow of the Demon Lord module A Year Without Rain!
Not having anything prepared and not wanting to wing something while learning a system, I decided to go on Shwalb Entertainment's site and purchase one of their modules. After looking at the starting level tiers for each, I decided on A Year Without Rain, which noted that it was for Starting/Novice characters. This seemed like a good place as any to start, and help me get a feel for how the company constructs scenarios.
I asked everyone to give me how long they had been in Asylum, the village where the adventure starts in, asked them to give a quick description of where they would like to start out in the town, discussed some interesting characterization points for the characters, and off we went.
It all starts just as the sun begins to rise, when an older couple out for a walk come across a body face-down in the road. For such a small town, any event draws attention and many people crowd around, mumbling this and that, guessing who the body could belong to, even placing wagers on identity and cause of death. Samyra, the town's mayor by default, shows up and begins to organize the scene, turning the body and discovering it belongs to a cowherd that lives just outside of town. Known to be a mean drunk, he was easy to ignore and never caused much harm, so it is surprising to find him dead, especially when, upon closer inspection, he seems to have had all the moisture removed from his body.
Samyra asks for volunteers to go out to Braidon's shack and see if anything is amiss. The PCs eventually get assigned when nobody really steps forward, by virtue of standing closest to the body when Samyra looks up. They leave immediately, and come to the cabin a short time later to see it covered, inside and out, with chalk drawings depicting terrain not local to these parts and a beautiful woman with flowing hair. Paul's Changeling realizes just now that he has a locket with a picture of this same woman, and wonders if maybe this is why he was drawn to this new town. Nothing is out of the ordinary, other than the drawings, so they head back and report what they know, then retire to their own devices.
On the following day, a second body is found. This of the seamstress Glyssandra, apparently dead in the same circumstances as Braidon. The group goes back to their duties as a posse looking into these incidences and find that Malery was the one to find the body, so they talk to her. She's very stand-offish until someone asks what kind of contact the two women had previously. When Malery admits the seamstress was doing a job for her, the group turned the heat on and pressured her enough that she admits to hearing a laughing voice and seeing the figure of a woman descending into the well at night.
The posse immediately ask for a few things from Samyra to descend into the well and make their way, finding a small passage off to the side of the shaft which leads to old doors with the seal broken. Undeterred, the four of them head in and work their way through a small maze of passages, killing some large spiders, a magical construct made of living sigils, and a few dastardly traps before finally hearing the giggling they had been told of before and seeing a shadowy figure charge toward them. The posse fly into battle with the bound demon, but in the end, though they fought bravely, they were no match for the minion of evil known as The Laugher in the Well.
Thoughts on A Year Without Rain
Though we all enjoyed the module, I must offer a word to those who wish to use A Year Without Rain as a beginning module: This thing can be HARD. The lead up takes a bit of tying everything together, and unless your group really is on top of their game and asking the right questions, they could falter in the early stages and a string of deaths could begin piling up bodies.
One crucial piece of advice I have for anyone wanting to run this module is also to consider letting their players hit Level 1 when they can get the Malery reveal. You might not feel it fits the pacing of Shadow of the Demon Lord to level mid-adventure, but The Laugher is no joke, and she can easily chew up a group, even if you have someone dedicated to using the Distraction mechanic the whole fight and everyone else swinging away at her (like my group.)
Now, I'd read good things about this game, but never expected it be as good as all the hype I'd seen for it expressed. Combat was simple, fun, and only slow because of poor rolls throughout the session. Overall, we were all impressed with the simplicity and flavor offered by Shadow of the Demon Lord, and have since played a campaign that's now on a short hiatus. I've even been working on a Dark Sun hack for it, but that's for later.