Review: Harried in Hillsfar

As a way of easing myself back into playing D&D “publicly” (i.e. not just for my kids or solo), I set up a couple of mini-campaigns on Roll20 to run according to Adventurers League rules. This way, I would have an easy time finding players and also an excuse for doing so in an episodic, open-table fashion.

DD_Out_of_the_Abyss_Rage_of_Demons_symbolThe first of these two campaigns follows the Rage of Demons storyline. Rather than run Out of the Abyss as I’d initially planned, I decided to run some of the Expeditions adventures from the Dungeon Masters Guild. Specifically, I first chose “Harried in Hillsfar” (DDEX3-01) because Wizards of the Coast had made it available for free via Dragon+.  Also, I’d wanted to check out that particular storyline as it had both the Underdark and demons, with a heavy dollop of madness mixed in.

That particular module consists of five scenarios or “mini adventures”. WotC seems to think each of those should run in about an hour each. In my experience, they take about an hour and a half to two hours each. The setup for the adventure overall focuses on the rantings of a madman. Somehow, the players realize he is actually prophesying, and they turn that into clues that lead to five separate scenarios. That felt really weak, but I ran with it anyway because, with a public group, we didn’t really have time for an in-depth “session zero” to get the group together. I would have liked a better introductory hook.

The scenarios themselves vary. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the first two felt too much alike: go to a farm and discover a mystery, then halfway resolve it by trying to be heroes. (That first scenario nearly led to a TPK – some of the demonically-affected creatures can present a significant combat challenge!) The third scenario felt even more disconnected from the overall storyline. However, I really liked running the fourth and fifth, and the reactions of the players (especially to scenario four) indicated that they really felt immersed: creepy stuff was happening and they had to work to figure out how to resolve things.

Grabbing it and making it your own will allow you to deal with that rough setup, which is mostly just a problem in the way the AL set up this particular content. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend running this as an adventure. Think of these instead as five encounters (or maybe just the last two) that you can drop into your campaign to foreshadow some great evil stalking the world or just to set the tone with demons and undead and cultists.

Do the simplest thing that could possibly work

XKCD "Board Game" comic

my backup plan

So this weekend I’m going to run some D&D at a local makerspace (TheLab.ms has an open house Saturday evening for anybody in the Dallas-Plano area). I’m probably going to use “Searchers of the Unknown” by +Nicolas Dessaux or some variant thereof, because you can’t get much simpler and call it D&D. Microlite20 would work just about as well and for the same reasons.  Several of the folks who have expressed interest in playing also noted they’ve never done this before, and the open house will  almost certainly provide a fairly raucous environment.

I remain unsure about what dungeon to use, though. Here again, I’m partial to the simplest possible approach: here is a dungeon, go get the treasure and try not to die. Normally I’d go with “Goblin Gully” by +Dyson Logos for this, but my kids are likely to play and they’ve been through that one before (albeit not all the way to the end). So I think I will quickly stock an existing map or try to pick something simple from the One-Page Dungeon contest entrants in the past. Of course, any suggestions on this would be welcome, because I have a lot of level 1 modules in my archives and such but need to do this in a way that satisfies two conditions: (a) family friendly-ish (i.e. no Death Frost Doom even if I love it), and (b) approaching the platonic ideal of “old school D&D”. If it goes well enough, it could end up being an open-table setup where every few weeks I show up with another dungeon level or two, but one step at a time.