Thursday, October 14, 2010

[Review] Blood Moon Rising

Authors: Peter C. Spahn.
Contents: 32 portable document format black and white pages, 1 title page, 29 pages of adventure, 1 page of  advertisements, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Small Niche Games.
Product Code: SNGLLA001.
Retail Price: $4.95.


An adventure for 3-6 characters of levels 1-3, Blood Moon Rising takes place in and around the small village of Garanton. It consists of a description of the settlement, short history of the locality in which it is situated, a five day festival itinerary, and three short encounter areas that become of interest during the course of the celebrations. The electronic product appears to use relatively large verdana font and spacing, which is easily legible, and presents the text in two columns with half inch margins and a header and footer decorated with a narrow celtic border pattern. Each page contains about 600 words, giving the whole document a total count approaching 18,000 or so. There are four maps, one of the village and three of the encounter areas, and four illustrations, the best of which is reproduced on the front cover and has a very gothic feel. Of the other three, there is a very dark and almost indiscernible image of warrior with an axe, a crudely drawn moon symbol, and what appears to be an image culled from a medieval manuscript of two Germanic knights duelling. The writing is clear and workmanlike, rarely dwelling needlessly on ancillary topics or over lengthy descriptions, which makes for agreeable and uncluttered reading.

Whilst the method by which the player characters are introduced to the village of Garanton is left up to the game master, the adventure unavoidably takes place against the backdrop of the five-day Feast of Saint Garan, whose tomb is nearby. The events and random encounters likely to take place during the course of the festival take up eleven pages, and the six pages of character descriptions and statistics towards the end of the module largely pertain to those individuals associated with these. As the festival progresses it becomes increasingly apparent that something untoward is occurring in the vicinity of the settlement, the result of the excavations of an inquisitive soul, whose actions accidentally reopen a portal to another plane, unleashing a plague of "night demons" and result in his own disappearance. Meanwhile, a number of orcs are attempting to open the long sealed tomb of Saint Garan, having been set to the task by their shaman, prompted by signs, portents and visions related to the impending release of the night demons. Active and motivated adventurers may drive off the orcs, uncover the secret of the saint in his tomb, reclose the portal and rescue its hapless victim, not to mention become embroiled in acts of murder and thievery in the village itself.

This is an adventure with a strong timeline, and keeping the action moving over the course of several days of game time will require more than the contents of the module, even with its robust selection of random and scripted encounters. However, there is plenty to build on, and it should pose little problem for a seasoned game master acquainted with settlement based adventures. The broad selection of non-player characters is diverse and occasionally amusing, such as "Big Annamar", a large barbarian woman with an affection for “little folk” and a poor reaction to rejection. Opportunities for role-playing abound, particularly with some of the relatively unsavoury rival adventuring groups present for the festival. The local inhabitants are of similar interest, and the larger world context is hinted at in the fact that there are no clerics amongst the local priests, all of whom are presented as fighters. Should the player characters be successful in putting an end to the night demon attacks, the village of Garanton would make a good base for further adventures, and in the traditional style it is hinted that the encounter areas already discovered may lead to larger underground complexes with greater evils to be faced and treasures to be won.

Technicalities and Errors

Happily there are very few editing errors to be found in this module, and it is particularly pleasing to see a true minus used over the less aesthetically pleasing, but more usual, hyphen. The only typographical errors that were noticeable was the occasional missing space as in the case of "battle axe+1”"on page twenty-four, but it seems to be applied so consistently in the text that this may be a house style, though it looks ungainly to my eye and a space is used on page eighteen outside of a statistics block. As noted above, an experienced game master should have no problem keeping the pacing, but there should perhaps have been some advice for the neophyte. The maps are not pretty and two appear to be crammed into the columns, but they seem to be useable enough, though the scale of one square to twenty feet is perhaps slightly overly ambitious. Whilst in line with the random charts in the rulebooks, the amount of treasure available does seem rather a lot, resulting in very quick advancement for low level adventurers, and it might have been a good idea for Spahn to have addressed this in some way. Finally, the name of the new monster seems rather unimaginative; "night gaunts" immediately leapt to mind as an alternative, but others can no doubt do better!


Non-dungeon based adventures are difficult to write, as they lack the structure that a restricted environment provides. Spahn has taken a reasonable approach here in using a timeline to substitute for that lack and has created an interesting locale for the players to explore. The night demon attacks are a little flat as written, but their execution is really largely in the hands of the game master anyway. Where this adventure falls short is when it comes to dungeon exploration, and that is admittedly a subjective criticism given the nature of the module, but expanded subterranean areas beyond the sparse four pages provided could only have improved the whole, even if left relatively incomplete. By the same token, more information on the plane of the night demons would have been welcome, particularly what lies beyond their mausoleum sanctuary. Of course, the inclusion of such additional material might also have driven the price beyond the target range, and there is little that could be reasonably omitted that was provided, save perhaps the details of the back story. All in all, this is a well thought out adventure, well edited, and worth the price. Last of all, it is worth noting that player characters who do too well may find an unexpected drawback in the prize!