Game: The Witch of Loch-Durnan
Publisher: Mystic Eye Games
Series: The Hunt: Rise of Evil d20
Review Dated: 19th, September 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Hmm. Traditionally I’m not a fan of pre-written adventures. Most just don’t seem to be worth the money. Most just seem to be dumbed down (so they can be printed in a realistic number of pages) scenarios that any amateur GM could write. They’re just not value for money. There is one clear way in which a publisher can start to claw back up that important value for money scale and that’s to start chaining their published scenarios together, to produce stand alone adventures which can also be part of an engaging campaign. The Witch of Loch-Durnan is designed so that it follows on nicely as a sequel to The Pit of Loch-Durnan and yet adaptable enough so that it doesn’t have to. You don’t need to have a copy of the Pit of Loch-Durnan to get the best out of Witch and nor do your players need to have finished the first adventure. In fact, there’s plenty of advice on how to get the ball rolling and this includes those unfortunately (but oddly likely situation given typical RPG players!) where important characters that should have escaped after the last adventure were actually caught by the PCs. You should consider this review to be a spoiler.
By hook or by crook you’ll get the game set up and the important events happen. Each of these events or important scenes are designed so that the key parts are likely to happen no matter what… and yet without railroading the players too much. For example, the players can talk the villagers out of searching through the woods for the witch the blame the recent problems on but then the villagers still want to search through the woods for the troublemakers whoever they may be. Searching through the woods is the important event here – although dragging the innocent witch in is an ongoing play in the scenario. Such tormenting of the innocent is a good example of the gritty fantasy of Mystic Eye’s Gothos / The Hunt game world. The Witch of Loch-Durnan is written so that you don’t need to be playing in Gothos. The religious structure of the village is very much Gothos-esq but can be manhandled to fit pretty much anything going. If you are using Gothos then you’ll be pleased to see that peppered throughout the book in healthy doses are tips and extra rules as to what’s going on with Dream Rifts and the like. The only thing you can’t do without in the game is the cracked crystal containing the demon Warphit.
The Heroes’ Welcome is the open chapter for those players who’ve been to Loch-Durnan before. They could have left it in very different states and the help here works about soothing things out so everything’s ready to go for the rest of the book. There’s also a snippet of a comment here in the case that the characters are entirely new. The bulk of the chapter, though, is spent describing the physical location of the town along with a series of maps. If you want there’s a table of events to plunder here and that’s one of the touches which start to raise Witch of Loch-Durnan above those pre-written adventures that don’t really appeal to me. However, as the momentum of events build up and the details of minutia (monster stats, for example) then this freedom begins to ebb away.
The next act describes the Attack on the Bekford’s Place. It’s a standard combat encounter except the assailants are a little unusual. Unusual enough to have most characters to wonder what’s going and for most players to form pet theories of their own. The attack on the Bekford’s Place sums up the adventure nicely. It’s fairly straight-forward and the concept is far from original… however, there’s enough of a decent twist to the traditional storyline, enough quality and plenty of professional gloss to pull the adventure up a star rating from the usual.
The third act is the Witch Hunt – except it’s not all that vital that the Witch is actually hunted and that’s a good judgement call since it’s the sort of ethical decision players are good are recognising and making their feelings known about. The act is likely to quickly become yet another combat scene and again there’s just enough of a quirk to save it from the “orc bashing” space on the shelf. The creepy fog can be used to great effect by canny games masters. As a matter of fact, the book recommends that the GM has at least some experience.
In the act/chapter “Of Men and Monsters” is another combat scene. However, it’s a combat scene as produced by people with the time to sit down and write something worth selling (and worth buying). Rather than a collection of stats there’s an orchestrated attack sequence. It’s more of a small battle or persistent skirmish than a melee. The adventure is written for a group of four 5th to 7th level characters and if they’re below this and the GM doesn’t modify this act then the characters won’t make it any further than this. They might escape with their lives but only by fleeing. There are 83 creatures out there in ready to take a bite out of the heroes at this point and that’s a frightful number. Some are weak, some are strong and some of the blighters fly. Of all the possible scenes that demand an experienced GM this potential battle in the fog is it.
The fifth act moves the battles to these monsters and into the cave complex that the characters may or may not already know about. Here the book spares paragraphs to help the GM if the characters have been up against the crystal before and offers up a few comments if they’ve not. This act, Retribution, is a fairly standard dungeon crawl and even though some of the monsters are tougher I suspect the PCs will be more in their element here. I would say that this is one combat act too many but in order to get here the PCs will have had to made the case with the villagers for more action. Unlike the times when the monsters attack this assault is one planned and acted on by the players. It’s a decision they’ll make. This subtly might be lost if you’re with a combat happy dungeon crawl group but in that case they’ll probably not care.
Then there’s the wrap up and I think this is the most interesting part of the book. The PCs will likely be left with a demon-infected crystal that they can’t destroy and yet are likely to conclude they can’t leave at Loch-Durnan either. If they take it with them they’ll slowly grow worse the wear for being too close to it. Sure. It’s a dilemma I’ve seen done in games before but never with a pillar of crystal that you need a wagon to move around! There’s no sneaking this particular corrupting magical item passed guards without a lot of effort and planning. You might even spawn the age old, Tolkien famous, campaign to destroy awkward item out of the encounter.
At this point we’re only halfway through the book. The last half of the Witch is spent presenting the required stats for the creatures and a “mutant generator” for making more. There’s a host of extra maps here too for those times when the PCs start to wander around and explore – as good PCs are want to do.
As a way of conclusion I wont claim that the Witch of Loch-Durnan is particularly clever or insightful. That said; the Witch does pitch itself at a neglected genre of the dark fantasy. The adventure has just enough freedom of movement to earn it another point too. There are events that’ll happen and move forward whether the PCs take an active interest or not and the story will be told one way or another. These two notches pull this pre-written campaign up from the normally below average realms of pre-written adventures and into the healthier side of the scoring.