The Inn of Lost Heroes (2010)
Peter C. Spahn (Small Niche Games)
Level 3 – 5
Time to trade in the simple, synth-laden, iron-pumping and shotgun-cocking 80s for the fire-and-hairdye powderkeg gender-ambiguous wonderland of the modern day. Today we are doing a horror-adventure, not the most common format for adventure in the OSR, even in a genre that relies so strongly on Sword & Sorcery tropes. Let’s dive in.
The Inn of Lost Heroes by Peter C Spahn is another great outing in the adventure series that would later be united under the somewhat haphazard banner of the Chronicles of Ahmerth setting, presenting a 30-page adventure for characters of levels 3-5. The layout typical of Blood Moon Rising is replicated here as well, with minimalist art (not very good) and a legible but very simple layout and map.
The premise of the Inn is simple yet complex. Tried and true yet unique. An Inn, frequented by adventurers, burns down with the people still in it, all caused by adventurers. The mother, the only survivor, hangs herself, but not before pronouncing a terrible curse of vengeance upon all members of the adventuring profession. Enter the Inn of Lost Heroes, the undead real-estate equivalent of a trapdoor spider with very specific dietary requirements.
The Silent Hill comparison gets made at the structural level of the adventure. The adventure takes place entirely in the Inn, but the Inn shifts through three ‘worlds; The normal world, the Ash World and the Have-a-fucked-up-bossfight world. The map of the normal Inn is given and any changes in the “Ash World” (comparisons with the Dark World of Silent Hill very much in place) are noted in boxes. At first everything seems alright and the party just chills out in an Inn with some adventurers and a nice family and their kind old dog. There are tips on how handle the roleplaying. Unfortunately for the Adventurers, a Fight breaks out (they CAN avoid it but the Asshole adventurers will just pick a fight with someone else), setting fire to the inn and lo the past is repeated. The adventure is actually kind enough NOT to railroad players, giving them a chance to escape and avoid the adventure entirely (though Peter C Spahn uses EVERYTHING of the Animal and thus you are given an option to reintroduce the Inn of Lost Heroes elsewhere).
The adventure is a horror adventure and it works because it paces itself properly. All the NPCs, including the doomed family (who can certainly play an important role but are there also to die so everything is properly scary) are introduced first, meaning you might actually give a shit when they inevitably croak. There is even a deranged former cleric tragically trapped in the Inn whilst trying to banish the evil that has been cursed and that mutters cryptic warnings that only make sense in retrospect. Nice.
After the fight it’s FUCK YOU time. The lovable Inn of yesteryear is transformed into a charred ash-heap surrounded by permanent darkness and monsters. With the area outside the Inn having all the habitability and charm of the hypothetical offspring of William Hope Hodginson’s The Night Land after it mated with and then ate Stephen King’s the Mist, you may now wander the transfigured Inn, encounter its messed up inhabitants and figure out what the fuck is going on along with the rest of the band.
The aforementioned inhabitants are likely to interfere. The GM is given full discretionary power in using several random encounters, (probably wise in a horror adventure since the pacing of such a beast is hard to codify) but it shines with its monster section. Charred or Insane heroes, trapped eternally. The family dog, turned into a monstrous critter, who shall attack people that were unfriendly to it (though there is a way to assuage its wrath). And of course, the recurring horror of THE CHARRED HAG, the flaming manifestation of the wrath of Evelyn, wifu to a barbecue mix. A monster that can only be permanently killed by solving the adventure, who burns people to a crisp and regenerates injuries, and whose very appearance sets the entire Inn aflame? Single nigh unkillable monster that appears multiple times in the adventure. This is the stuff!
The adventure goes beyond mere aesthetics in conveying the horror vibe, setting it apart from something like Death Frost Doom, whose main claim to horrific fame is its (admittedly terrific) aesthetic. Inn of Lost Heroes requires the characters to be maimed or hampered if they complete parts of the adventure by retrieving fragments of an amulet, hidden in rooms that are only accessible in the Ash World. This section feels the most video-gamey, but in a good way if that makes any sense.
The premise is clearly meant to generate adventure and excitement but versimilitude is preserved, albeit it only just. For a moment I was afraid the adventure would degenerate into a fucking TEST YOUR MIGHT adventure where you solve the puzzle by ROLLING REALLY HIGH (the worst section in Return to the Tomb of Horrors what the fuck was Cordell Smoking when he did that one room?), you can use intelligence or tactics in 3 of the 4 challenges, with the third being almost a straight up combat.
After you make it through the challenges, each meant for a single character class but theoretically solvable by anyone (and you can always request the aid of the many surviving NPCs after all), it is time to make a choice. Face Evelyn and put her to rest…or get out now while you can. The Cleric guy is convinced everything will sort itself out and the Nightmare will end if you lay her to rest, restoring everyone back to life. If not, everyone remains fucking dead. He thinks. Do you take that risk? Time to kill each other so a burning ghost can be put to rest!
Man that last section is set up perfectly. Two encounters. One a room of charred heroes drinking glumly at a table and Evelyn Mortigan, inconveniently shrouded in a cloak of fire so she may not be approached. She offers the gift of immortality to whoever survives a fucking battle royale to the death BETWEEN THE PCs. Genius. Solving the adventure restores everyone to life from the Nightmare world so you won’t have to play in a team where everyone has three notches from the kills they made on other players but still holy shit that is some fucked up stuff. A very clever way to evoke horror as something that you INFLICT UPON YOURSELF BY CHOICE, not something that merely happens to you with no escape.
If I must offer some criticism, beyond the art, which could have elevated the work into stylistic horror perfection but is instead very barebones, the random encounters are uneven. Giant Flies with the faces of the Mortigan Children? Great! Fire beetles and a Phase Spider? Not great in an adventure like this. Go for horrific, thematic bugfuckery or leave it out. What IS appreciated is a list of hauntings you can use to phantasmagorically fuck with the PC’s brains some more while they wander the Inn.
What else? The NPCs are good but not stellar (I like the 18 S pugnacious halfling that picks fights), the inclusion of the insane cleric is fucking perfect and textbook horror, the entire adventure exudes a truly nightmarish vibe that I have not seen since and I think that concludes my fucking review of this adventure. There are no new magic items beyond the Amulet (which is a quest item essentially) and a non-magical crest item and the mundane treasure is alright (i.e various gemstones and jewelry) but nothing special but FUCK THAT that is not what this adventure is about.
Innof Lost Heroes does its fucking job when it needs to. A frankly very atmospheric and terrific outing into outright horror from a writer that shows us you CAN do interesting shit without resorting to bizarro rules, bizarro settings or Pygmy rape gangs. Inn of Lost Heroes makes a successful foray into horror territory, a battlefield roughly equivalent to Russia during an Ice Age as far as DnD is concerned, and returns triumphant and laden with spoils.
of the Will for the OSR!
Pros: Hot diggity damn that is some fine ass use of foreshadowing and atmosphere. Great monsters. Overal terrific nightmarish horror vibe in the tradition of Silent Hill
Cons: Art is unspectacular which could have elevated the piece but instead falls flat. Use of standard DnD monsters like Fire Beetles diminishes the work, a thematic faux pas. It feels like Donkey Kong suddenly showing up in an episode of the Handmaid’s Tale (I’d imagine, I do not watch degeneracy).
Final Verdict: I’m not sure I’d consider it an instant classic but it’s a damn fine adventure for anyone who is looking for some horror to break up the Dungeoncrawling. By my own metric I am fucked since I don’t consider it on par with Many Gates of the Gann, Deep Carbon Observatory or Slumbering Ursine Dunes but damn it’s fine. Well done. 8.5 out of 10.
Check it out here folks: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/84401/LLA002-The-Inn-of-Lost-Heroes?src=also_purchased