When you find yourself with a group of players, an evening of gaming, but nothing planned – a short, open-plotted adventure can provide an essential lifeline. In The Miller’s Tale, you have just that – a dark mystery and some interesting personalities – presented in a compact PDF adventure format suitable for any fantasy, or pseudo-historical, setting.
The Miller’s Tale is a 9-page PDF adventure, with a cover, an advert on the back page and a page of credits. Published by Serpent King Games. Black and white, aside from the cover, the PDF uses a two-column format.
The PDF features three illustrations, all surprisingly evocative. One features a piece of jewellery, another a lonely, desperate ghost, wandering the chilly hills around the large village of Jib’s Hollow, and final one is the cover. Of all the images – by Jon Hidgson, the current Cubicle 7 art director and long time collaborator in art for Dragon Warriors – the cover image has an odd power to it I can’t quite describe.
I include the cover with this review, as describing it wouldn’t quite do it justice. I suggest it makes a fine point of reference for the players in the progression of the adventure. A lonely mill stands atop a hill, grey clouds glowering overhead, and a river stained with blood issuing from beneath the mill wheel. Really quite affecting.
The Miller’s Tale is a open-ended murder mystery adventure, written by Kieran Turley, and notionally aimed at groups playing Dragon Warriors – though the adventure has only one or two elements of non-generic content. A GM can easily adapt this adventure to her game of choice.
The first page – The Beginning – provides an overview of the plot. The PCs approach the large village of Jib’s Hollow, seeking rest, food, work or otherwise, and meet the ghost of Martin the Miller. The distraught ghost begs the characters to uncover his killer and save his dear wife, Anne, from imminent peril. The ghost can offer little more information or assistance, drowned in the mill pond by an unknown assailant. Beyond a gnawing sense of danger, he can give no help either on the bad feeling he has about his wife.
The rest of the adventure boils down to 2-pages of key characters, a page of locations, and a half-page detailing the killer – with statistics for Dragon Warriors – and the tool that assisted in the miller’s demise.
As with any good murder mystery, the cast of personalities involved can blame their own bad habits, selfish ways, and petty secrets for the complications facing the player characters. If everyone led blameless lives, there could be no doubt about what went down here. However, a bundle of dark secrets in Jib’s Hollow means the murderer can hide behind a web of lies and keep the player character’s thoroughly occupied.
The GM actually has quite a powerful murderer to play at the heart of this tale, but his personality and motivations means he will not do anything too forceful or forward about those meddling adventurers. On the other hand, he can definitely cast red herrings far and wide, and certainly wouldn’t decline an opportunity to take out a player character if left on their own.
I would really have liked a diagram showing the relationships between the participants and their locations, peppered with a few notes about their motivations. While the text holds this information, I would have found a pictorial representation for reference really useful. Then again, I can easily create one myself and stop being so lazy…
The Miller’s Tale relies very strongly on role-playing and exploration of the setting, piecing together clues from interviews with the key personalities and visiting notable locations. When they have enough clues and notes, the characters will undoubtedly see the hole in the midst of the tale where the real culprit lies – and then the one and only likely combat encounter might erupt.
If you have a group of players who prefer brawn and steel over wit and wile, The Miller’s Tale will not appeal. Otherwise, you have a well-presented cast of characters and locations here, sufficient to fill an evening with deception, lies and cold blooded murder.