Last post I checked out Chronicles of Ahmerth by Peter C Spahn and I commented on its label of ‘dark fantasy,’ noting that the way CoA was written, it did not seem to differ overmuch from regular fantasy (which is certainly not without its share of horrific inhabitants). With Blood Moon Rising, the first adventure for Chronicles of Ahmerth (it actually predates the setting so it may be adjusted to virtually any campaign), it is easier to imagine the type of setting and play Spahn had envisioned.
Blood Moon Rising is a module for characters of levels 1-3, taking place in the village of Garanton during the 5 day festival of Saint Garan, a local hero-saint. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants, evil forces are stirring up in Hildor Bluff and the true origins of St. Garan are somewhat more sinister then they appear at first glance.
This is a mystery adventure. A good mystery adventure! The premise seems simple but the execution is complex and allows for many different courses of events. It’s also packed full of low fantasy charm and it builds up tension quite masterfully.
It all begins with the village of Garanton and its environs. It seems simple, mundane even; quarries, meadows, creeks and a single Abbey and tavern. The Abbey is run by the Brotherhood of St. Garan, and they are all fighters, usually former soldiers. Perfect for a somewhat obscure regional saint based around fighting evil. The village is loaded with NPCs, both locals and warriors from fareoff lands come to compete in the festival games with the aim of winning the right to bear the coveted Mantle of St. Garan for ONE YEAR (and other assorted benefits). There is an astonishing diversity (of the writing kind, not that kind) of characters, particularly if you take into consideration many are 0th level characters or fighters levels at best. Many of the NPCs are written so they can be useful in solving the mystery of the festival of St. Garan, though others can act as foils. Amorous giant female mercenaries, a thief that pretends to be a fighter (and will rob the party blind if hired), an evil wizard posing as a Tanner (who offers to coat the PCs spellbook in a fire/water proof coating, meanwhile copying their spells) who has come to investigate the ruins of Castle Vyn, a nobleman’s bastard turned mercenary company captain who serves as a rival in the games/huge asshole that picks fights etc. There is even a fully described (2 paragraphs per NPC, just enough!) circus troupe that adds so much colour but doesn’t neccesarily directly impact the adventure, unless the PCs or the GM figures otherwise.
The main focus of the adventure is the Festival of St Garan. Each day fighting men can compete in a challenge usually based around ability score tests (e.g archery, crossing a river on a series of upright wooden poles, rock lifting etc). Points are added and the victor at the end of the festival gets to don the mantle of St. Garan. What sets it apart from other such events is that participating in each event either ties into the unfolding mystery or has another tangible benefit. An observant character may note the rocks used for lifting are quarried and contain inscriptions, which if translated contain a cryptic hint as to the nature of the legend of St. Garan. If you fail the river crossing you get swept downstream, but not before you catch a brief glimpse of an Orc of the Red Moon (this adventure was published before CoA presumably) tribe in the bushes! Anyone who competes particularly well in the Archery contest can purchase a bow from Tull the Bowmaker at half price! It’s the little details that both incentivize PCs to participate.
Blood Moon Rising almost perfectly racks up the tension. The first day the PCs get approached by a local artist who offers to paint them, and some cows are found slaughtered. A party of armed fighters sets out to find the culprits…and comes back with two wild dogs. The artist dissapears the next day, the situation gets worse and worse until it finally cultivates in an all out assault by hideous Night Demons (if the attack is not stopped before that, which is perfectly possible). What rocks is that the situation is not neccesarily linear, and the adventure offers you several “random” encounters with NPCs as a means of steering PCs in the right direction should they miss any of several clues.
The big reveal, other then a fucked up gate leading to the strange realm of the Night Demons, is that St. Garan, who was said to have slain great evil when he was alive, was actually part of the trio of evil bastards that ruled the land in long forgotten times. They fell to infighting and one of them, an asshole cleric, built a gateway in an attempt to summon a powerful demon to end the fight (about on par with a balor). Everything did not work out as planned and unfortunately some artist excavated the gate he constructed, which only opens on the light of the moon.
There are actually three, for lack of a better word, adventure areas within Blood Moon Rising. Even the Blood Moon Orcs, which appear to be a red herring at first glance, have an objective tied into the plot and provide a reason to explore another site, the Tomb of St. Garan, which ties into the mystery. The doors won’t open unless it is night…and there is a riddle that hints at this!
It’s all very well entwined without seeming convoluted. The Tomb of St. Garan is like a three-room dungeon…but what magnificent rooms they are. Ceremonial rooms revealing the debauchery of the Garanic Knights, animating stone statues that have a special way of both defeating AND bypassing them, Evil Wight human-skin cloak St. Garan etc. etc. The Night Demon Realm is sparse in encounters, but the quality of the encounters is, again, awesome. Props for making the Night Demons distinct and memorable btw, silent Nightgaunt-esque horrors that reproduce as larvae and burst into flame within the light of the sun.
Even upon completion, Blood Moon Rising is never lazy, offering several possibilities for follow-up adventures (if you didn’t kill the Wight, the Gate of Kura’Drim etc. etc.). It’s this meticulous attention to detail and perfectionism that works in its favour. It is like an opposite Deep Carbon Observatory. It does not bury you under mountains of creative encounters, it instead picks a few, works them out, and makes sure the whole is a cohesive, seamless adventure. Well done.
What else? The treasure is alright. The odd Item+1 (with description), precious gems and both the cloak and sword of St. Garan are unique magical items. Nothing mindblowing but it gets the job done (and of course the cloak is secretely cursed).
Level indication is 1-3 which means that 1st level PCs had better hire some sellswords if they are going to survive the last encounter (giant smackdown with at least 2 4-attack demon’s per PC but there is at least the possibility of encountering the demons before that happens to provide advance warning) or the Wight encounter or any number of encounters. Still, they are PCs and I shouldn’t underestimate them.
The Random Encounters are great btw. Mundane shit like an escaped pig or a bored peasant wife trying to seduce a character (and stir up trouble) alongside great encounters like the ‘Devil Horse,’ a near untameable beast that proves to be a great mount if actually tamed and broken or a wandering minstrel offering a magical dagger for 150 gp that he clearly wants to get rid off. Do you take it?
Despite the timetable of events and the overview of NPCs and ways for them to assist with the party, this is a medium prep adventure. Assure that the GM knows the principal NPCs, the timetable and that he knows how to run something atmospheric (the dungeons are easy to run).
Pros: Charming mystery/horror adventure. Great use of NPCs and events to create a certain atmosphere. Proper use of tension and escalation. Random encounters add charm and depth.
Cons: Fuck if I know, this thing is good. Maybe a bit too lethal for 1st levels?
Final Verdict: Blood Moon Rising is a peculiar kind of great vanilla OSR event-based mystery/horror adventure that teaches us that you don’t necessarily need to rely on bizarre encounters, stylistical flairs or weird settings in order to make a compelling adventure. Dark Fantasy indeed. Great job! 8 out of 10.
Interested? Get it here: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/83083/LLA001-Blood-Moon-Rising