We’re working through The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse by Kelsey Dionne of The Arcane Library right now. It’s an interesting take, trying to set things up more easily for GMs to run. Or as it says in the introduction:
This adventure is meant to be run at a glance with minimal preparation and a natural delivery. This required re-thinking the normal adventure presentation a bit.
It comes as a zip with the PDF module and maps in various versions for Virtual TableTops. It also has mini-cards for each of the different NPCs in the module for easy quick-reference, 8 to a sheet of paper, and similar-sized mini-cards for the various special items ready for easy hand-out to the players.
The module is organised with one encounter per page (mostly), with NPCs having a block with a few bullet-point personality hooks, and a “dramatic question” which defines the encounter. Once this is resolved the encounter is complete and it’s time to follow the “transition” at the bottom (which is sometimes a set of options).
Here’s an example of one of the NPCs:
Neeno, NE half-orc bandit captain
“We know you use weighted dice. We’ve caught you, wench.”
• Appearance. Remarkably tidy. Oiled-back hair.
• Does. Looks at his nails and cleans them while talking.
• Secret. Plans to assassinate Gaspar and take his ship soon.
Nice and compact. Name in bold, and the creature type is a link to the stat block on 5thsrd.org, and a couple of traits which can help with the roleplay.
Spoiler alert: Summary of the adventure follows. If you don’t want to know, stop reading now…
No-one is entering or leaving port after a mysterious wave has been carrying off ships, and you are hired to investigate. It’s some eelfolk who have taken over a nearby lighthouse island and the bowl of summoning water elementals, and are using the members of the ships to do the summoning in case the elemental turns on its summoner.
It starts with a fracas in the docks between a couple of ruffians and the one captain who is willing to take the party to the island. On the way they are attacked by a water elemental. They reach the lighthouse, the ground floor of which is taken over by eelfolk. The lighthouse keeper is still there in the upper room with the light.
Eventually the action needs to move through a trap door down to a cavern beneath the island…strangely dropping them into water below rather than onto dry land. They then need to free the crew who are hostages and defeat the additional eelfolk below.
- I admire the aims of the module design.
- The “one-page-per-scene” is useful
- The character summary is a nice format, particularly with some hooks for playing the character
- The maps in the module giving creature locations is useful
- Having VTT maps in the pack with the module is really helpful, particularly in this Covid day-and-age where everything has to be online
- The first encounter with the eelfolk (which is where we’ve got to so far) was certainly a challenge for our party…so much so that they’ve had to retreat
- The NPC mini-sheets is a good idea, though I found myself reverting to my normal 1-2-line summaries on my session notes
- The eelfolk are an interesting addition, and are listed as homebrew monsters on D&D Beyond (Eelfolk, Eelfolk Hunter and Eelfolk Scourge).
Could be better:
- We’ve done three encounters so far and they’ve all ended in combat.
- Ostensibly the first encounter can avoid combat, and it’s set up with a whatever stat as described in this approach to negotiations. However, it doesn’t give enough options for defusing the situation to actually avoid the combat
- The second encounter is an attack by a water elemental
- The third encounter can be bypassed, but the most obvious way in leads straight to the eelfolk, and they are set up to attack anyone who enters
- The route to the caverns below drops you into the water. I can see this is to force the encounter with the hunter shark, but it’s would be a bit strange for the trap door down to the level below not actually go down to the level below
- The character summaries aren’t always directly helpful to running the adventure – some of them seem to be more long-term campaign hooks…which assumes they will actually be in a campaign…
- It would have been good if the NPC mini-sheets actually had the character name on, for example actually having “Sheila Coppertree” instead of the generic “Spy”. And maybe having the characterisation hints on here as well would have made sense
Could also do with:
- It was great to have the maps for VTT, but it would be good to have one or more monster tokens for the eelfolk. I wasn’t able to find anything I really liked – this was the best I found but it wasn’t really what I wanted
- While there are maps for most things, there isn’t a map of the island, so I had to do my own – which may form its own blog post
- It would have been good to have some characterisation hints for the eelfolk as well as the other NPCs. The way they are at the moment they just seem like cannon fodder rather than characters
There is definitely something to be said for rethinking typical module design to make it easier to use at the table, and this does have some benefits. Having everything you need for an encounter on a single page makes a great deal of sense, as does having some characterisation hooks for NPCs.
That said, I didn’t find this module much easier to run than a WOTC book, and I ended up doing the same prep and the same notes as I would for any other module. The NPC minicards sounds a good idea, but I didn’t end up using them in practice (however, maybe I would have done if I hadn’t been using a VTT). What I find really useful is an annotated map with significant features of the different locations listed actually on the map in note form, plus one-line (or two-line) summaries of the key stat and combat information.
My biggest gripe with this adventure, though, is probably not the adventure designer’s fault. It has made me realise that, struggle though I do to create scenarios (particularly city-based ones), I really care about my world and its storyline, and ultimately this wasn’t my story. It looked fine on a read-through, but as we have worked through the module the options and styles have felt less and less comfortable.