Shadowbrook Manor (2010)
Patrick Kennedy (Goblinoid Games)
Levels 1 – 3
If you didn’t know this already, this review is FULL of spoilers.
Goblinoid Games is the original publisher of Labyrinth Lord, one of the first “commercial” retroclones on the market with the stated intent of recapturing the feel of oldschool games. Shadowbrook manor represents the second attempt in the series, and is essentially an emulation of Tegel Manor, condensed into 33 rooms. It does what it wants to do very well but is ultimately a somewhat simple adventure.
The wizard Tazimack the Red was a mighty champion of law. His exploits are renowned throughout the realm. However, in his old age he became obsessed with thwarting death. After prolonging his existence for centuries with elixers, sorceries and finally the blackest of necromancies, death finally claimed him in the end. Fortunately for you he left all his magical shit in his house!
The hooks are pretty weak but they all get the job done. From stumbling across the mansion as you wonder through the forest to waking up next to it with amnesia to a letter of inheritance. The last one wouldn’t bother me as much if it wasn’t VERY similar to the one in Tegel Manor (where a Paladin of the Rump estate attempts to pawn off his mansion to a bunch of gullible morons i.e the players) but I suppose this is meant to be a homage.
The mansion proper is a solid dungeon. Multiple means of egress, nonlinear exploration you name it. If I have one criticism to level against it is that it is too dense. T.Foster leveled the same critique against my own adventure and while I disagree that this was the case I see what he means. Virtually EVERY room in Shadowbrook manor has monsters and/or treasure in it. Everything is significant. There is virtually no blank space. The larder? Filled with yellow mold and a can of magic spinach labelled “whupass.” The cloakroom? Two magical cloaks amidst all the mundane ones bitch! I found only one room that actually had nothing but description going on. Its overwhelming, every dungeon needs a few rooms with nothing significant going on because intermittent reward is a far more effective reward strategy.
There is a lot of Kuntz-style hidden depth going on. The master bedroom can only be entered via the fireplace, which has a fire-elemental in it. In the Master bedroom you can find an electrum key. The key, along with a combination that can only be gotten from a clockwork bird if you used speak with animals on it. Paintings of vistas that can not only be sold but also studied so they can be teleported to later. A bizarre Easter egg in a astrological room that can only be accessed by doing something really cryptic.
This place is LOADED with magical items. It’s unreal. Most of them are unique or in some way distinct (i.e Can of Whupass that functions like a potion of super heroism). The Monty haul quotient is offset by a liberal smattering of cursed items in between all the good stuff but for a level 1-3 adventure there is an excessive amount of magical shit. Good unique stuff too, almost all of it limited use (I vastly prefer items with one or a few charges). Crocodile tears make all monsters feel sorry for you so they won’t attack for a turn. Unerring sling bullets, make-up that reduces your age etc. etc. The formidable blade Eleanor, that is a an absolute bitch to possess as it constantly tries to provoke fights, is insanely jealous, emotional, co-dependent and so on. Perfect. I also like it that there are some items that are useful but with a trade off (a crystal ball with a 5% chance to render you permanently blind for example).
Brrr, what else. The monsters are pretty good if waaaay over the top, entirely in the spirit of Tegel Manor. Zombie butlers, skeletal groundskeepers, an animating albino ape rug, an evil brain in a jar. It even does some special encounters really well. A lit chandelier causes shadows to detach themselves from the wall, a closet spawns a skeleton per round etc. There is no opportunity for faction play and everything is hostile, but its pretty creative in how it goes about it.
At the risk of handing in my gamer-card, this adventure seems almost too lethal. It is rarely unfair but there are encounters galore that could definitely lead to a TPK if the party is not unusually careful. A nerfed Banshee, a petrification trap in the door (albeit a masterfully telegraphed one credit where it is due), mirrors of opposition, cursed items and so on. The adventure is very generous with treasure so high lethality is an absolute necessity to offset that but how many adventures have a percentage chance of exploding if you fiddle with a bizarre device in the basement? There is a 12th level necromancer stuck in a jar of cookies that will magic jar your ass! Absolute Balls to the Walls!
Other then the immense density of the thing, the adventure is a little annoying for not mentioning the prices of obviously valuable objects like silverware or paintings. In addition it introduces the Grue, a monster that only exists in magical darkness and has a 5% chance per turn of eating you (i.e Zork reference) but it never mentions it anywhere in the adventure. I feel this thing needed a little bit more editing.
Pros: Pretty solid encounters. Unique magical shit. Lots of wacky weirdness going on. Basically Tegel Manor v2.
Cons: Too dense. Deadly/Montyhaul. Needed more editing. Basically Tegel Manor v2.
I’m vaguely reminded of The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem, not in the sense that its also a manor based adventure but in the sense that while its good its a bit too simple to get worked up about it. Its just a more focused, more compact Tegel Manor with zero filler. The encounters are all really solid and if all you are looking for is that oldschool dungeoncrawl feeling then Shadowbrook Manor will probably not disappoint. It’s short, its dense, it’s pretty good, check it out if you are into that sort of shit. 7 out of 10