Written by Christopher Bishop
MD2 is the second product from Simon Todd in the Sins of the Father story arc. MD1 was released at Gary Con in 2015, and the intent is to have this be a series in five parts. My review sticks only to the second offering in the series, but man oh man, if the rest of the series are anything like this module is, DMs and players alike are in for a treat.
Simon Todd’s writing style is evocative of the Appendix N era of writers. His descriptions are full and yet razor precise in detail. He just relays information in a straightforward organic fashion that separates this module from its peers in several ways. One example is his change of narrative tone based on NPC and the clear motivations he gives to the NPCs. One lord does not want the disgrace of the family line being revealed, one lord seeks to end his life in adventure before the curse can, and a wife rails against the male side of the family’s pride issues to beg of the players to find the answer to the curse that may soon claim her beloved husband’s life. Awesome!
The story takes place in the valley of Highcliff Gard. The vale has been overlooked by a decaying tower called Harken’s Folly, belonging to a family beset by a curse that claims the male heirs before they reach their 40th year of age. Simon Todd also takes time in the preamble to clearly place the status of racial tensions in clear view. The authors take on non-human races was very Poul Anderson; Broken Swordesque would be an understatement. That alone endeared the module to me.
The player characters are brought into the plot by a bard sitting around the tavern telling the tale of Lord Agrail. The bard tells of his confrontation and eventual distrust of the Erie Folk (Elves and Dwarves and Faerie Folk in general.) Lord Agrail found gold and mined it up, angering the Erie Folk Lord. The Erie Folk at first placed a curse upon the vale, for which Lord Agrail banished them. In the end, the conflict was only resolved by the death of his son, his eventual confrontation with Lord Macklevan, and both of their supposed demise. The curse lifted from the people of the vale but still remained firmly attached to the Harken Family. At the end of the Bard’s tale a missive comes from Lady Harken requesting the newly arrived adventurers to come to her hall for a “mutually advantageous” offer whilst speaking nary a word of it to anyone. A player of ours was roleplaying a bard himself, and horrible at secret keeping, so he announced to everyone in the tavern that he was riding to the local Lord’s aid. So much for secrecy! The dice gods bit him in the tush later.
The players are then set upon a quest to discover what lies behind a recently-revealed hidden door in Harken Hall. To top it off, they have to avoid detection by the guards who are loyal to the lady’s husband, and follow his orders to the letter. Her servants kindly remove plaster from the hidden door area and do their best to conceal the secret entrance. The player characters are ushered into the secret cellars beneath the hall.
Where the module falls a bit short is the numerous spelling errors which could have easily been avoided using a spell checker, or Grammarly. A good editor could easily fix this issue too. Still for the grammar aficionados out there, be warned, errors do exist but are in no way gamebreaking or disruptive. It is what one has come to expect from small independent efforts such as MD2. In my humble opinion, it gives it that quaint Judges Guild type charm. You feel as if you are one step removed from an actual gamer reading it, and that is kind of nice.
Back to the crux of the adventure, the ambiance is established upon entering the first stairwell. It’s lined with runes of warding against the Fae. Some of the descriptions do great service to making the players well aware they have entered the abode or secret sanctum of Lord Agrail. One of the pure delights is how well the objects in the module actually serve purpose beyond being pretty background for players to ignore. Over and over through the module you will see commonplace items that served a real purpose for the original denizens that, if overlooked, will cause part of the mystery to go unsolved (or present further difficulties later on.) Clearly the author meant to follow in the fashion of Gygax adventures for players to be in constant search-and-loot mode.
The adventure proceeds as equal parts mystery and dungeon crawl that really gets the players deeply involved. Discovering the extent to which Lord Agrail was willing to go against the Erie Folk is a delight. Player characters begin to question his motivations, as one of our players put it “He really seems like his malice did more damage than the Erie Folk.” We played through the module in 2 different sessions. Our player characters began to flux back and forth between sympathy and anger, directed at both Lord Agrail and the Erie Folk. Both sides were wrong in their handling of things. Both sides were also alien to one another, and both parties were guilty of doing very little in an attempt to understand the other side’s point of view.
The artwork is amazing. Simon Todd‘s black-and-white illustrations are stunning. It’s easily something I would expect from the likes of Frog God Games or even Paizo in terms of quality level. The layout of the module is clean. The maps are perfect for the setting. The sandbox you are given is perfect for insertion into anyone’s campaign. Whilst being just one of a five-part series of interlinked adventures, MD2 THE CURSE OF HARKEN HALL does perfectly well on its own merit.
My final grade for this product is an A!
Keep Rolling them bones,