[Review] Winter’s Daughter (B/X); Lirazel Remembers the Fields We Know

[Adventure]
The King of Elfland’s Daughter (2018)
Gavin Norman (Necrotic Gnome)
Lvl 1 – 3

Winter's Daughter | tenfootpole.org

Finally. Finally someone gets it. Rather then divorcing DnD further from its fundamental components by the introduction of random noise, someone has gone back to the wellspring of fantasy and tapped from it deeply. Spencer, Dunstany, and beyond even that, to Faerie tales of yore. Combine this with modernized version of presentation that cuts out all the fat and leaves nothing but sweet, nourishing, life-giving content and you’ve got yourself 32 pages worth of damn good adventure.

Winter’s Daughter is an intriguing crossbreed between a standard tomb-crawl mixed with a social adventure where the PCs are actors in an age-old love story between a long-dead knight and a princess of faerie. Taking place in the excellent Dolmenwood Setting, a Dunstany-esque enchanted forest situated on the borders of Faerie and the real world, Winter’s Daughter is a fine low level adventure that manages to marry charming flavor with good adventure design.

The format is highly readable. Liberal use of boldpoint, sub-headers and bullet points is made to ensure that the essential elements of a room are conveyed without bothering to re-iterate in thick chunks of text the mundane trivia of a room. The result retains all of its flavor but can be scanned quickly and absorbed in the hind brain.

Door
Granite slab (seals the mound).
Overgrown (covered in lichen and
sweet-smelling wild roses).
Moving the slab: Requires a cumulative STR bonus of at least 4.
Breaking the slab: Takes 6 turns. Cumulative STR bonuses reduce this
time. (Minimum 2 turns.) If the ritual in area 2 is still underway, the hooded men
are not happy about the noise.

This is combined with a delightfully archaic feel. Nothing in this adventure feels like it is taking place in Lamps-powered-by-continuous-light Tielfing Arcane Archer Land. Armies of knights and Faeries fighting over control of the enchanted forests. Monotheism. Enchanted rings. Wards to seal off the Border between Faerie and the Waking World.

There is a bit of backstory and hooks before the adventure gets going but it is effectively compartmentalized for ease of absorption. In short, the terrible Cold Prince, who once ruled Dolmenwood in clutches of eternal winter, was banished to Faerie centuries ago. In that last battle, the Knight who was perusing a forbidden romance with his daughter fell and was entombed. Wrothful, he imprisoned her within a tower. The pact they swore means she still insists on holding the wedding feast until his spirit can be re-united with her.

The hooks here are all good and stem from classic faerie tale premise, like the lady contacting one of the PCs in your dream, to the slightly more grounded You Get An Inheritance as Distant Descendant of the Knight (possibly true or untrue) to the more workmanlike Tomb Robbery.

The faerie-tale feel is maintained impeccable throughout the adventure. Talking frogs, faerie Goblins with strange powers, Evil Enchanters sacrificing by Circles of Standing Stones, Faerie Banquets, which if tasted cause one to always yearn for the lands of Faerie. The atmospheric components really elevate this piece above your standard dungeon crawling fare.

That shouldn’t take away from the fact that the tomb proper is short but sweet. A second entrance makes for that all important nonlinearity and there is a classic mixture of lethal obstacles that can be circumvented by solving some sort of riddle, magical obstacles (a mirror that freezes anyone that looks in it that CAN BE MOVED! YAHAAH. INADVERTENTLY A WEAPON!), floating skeletons and delightfully christian chapels and wards. Good on Dolmenwood for using The One True God for maximum medieval flavor btw. Eventually you cross into the border between the Tomb and Faerie, drawn closer by the link between the princess and the knight.

And good job on the monsters. Contrary to popular belief I don’t hate reworking of classic monsters in adventures, I merely hate SENSELESS AND ARBITRARY reworkings for no discernable reason. Dolmenwood reworks its creatures so they become MORE faerie-like, MORE interactive. The trolls of Dolmenwood are mossivorous fairies. Their favourite delicacy is moss that has grown on the corpses of a sentient being. This leads them to murder. The reward for laying the princess to rest here is either faerie jewelry or a wish, appropriate to the situation.

There is within possibility, if the Artpunk movement does not smother it, the return of a DnD that embraces player agency and sand-box orientation, but also deeply sunken mythological or fantastic roots. A DnD that is flavorful without sacrificing direct useability. A DnD with worlds that exist beyond the confines of modules. A DnD that is shorn from bland corporate nonsense or self-referential navelgazing but does not fall into epileptic fits of nonsensical gibberish. And I say to ye, to look to modules like Winter’s Daughter to guide the way.

There’s some nagging to be done at the symmetrical map and ultimately it’s a relatively short adventure, perhaps 14 rooms, that can probably be completed in 1-2 sessions. There’s a good balance between social encounters and more deadly ones, with most of the adventure’s inhabitants being immediately hostile.

Otherwise treasure is appropriate and nonstandard, silver mirrors, enchanted wafers, silver crucifixes, Faerie Blades whose nature may be gleaned from faded mosaics in dust-clogged Mounds.

There are some open-ended possibilities not immediately within scope of the adventure that make for interesting possibilities. The Wards can be dispelled, opening the gate to the Domain of the Cold Prince. So too, merely having her wedding does not mean the princess is freed from her imprisonment in the forlorn Tower.

This is a relatively simple, short, atmospheric little delve into a place on the borders between Fantasy and Reality. It lacks the complexity of something like Magician’s House, but it does present a stunningly focused, charming jaunt into Dolmenwood that drives home the fact that DnD is not just well-designed non-linear dungeons, traps and slimes.

****

Shoutout to Frog Gode for the excellent recommendation.


14 thoughts on “[Review] Winter’s Daughter (B/X); Lirazel Remembers the Fields We Know

  1. And finally we arrive at Gavin Norman…

    He’s one of those rare old-school renaissance men that writes modules, settings and his own retroclone and has been successful at all three. I think he’s the new Raggi, but without the edginess and associating with perverts. You might want to check out another Dolmenwood tomb module of his, The Ruined Abbey of St. Clewd. Its in Wormskin issues 3 and 4.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nothing wrong with a one or two shot. These days, nobody under pensionable age can commit to week upon week of elfgames, with the ravages of the gig economy being what they are and mental tumult so prevalent among the barely employable. Unless they’re making an Actual Play job out of it, of course. I would rather see a body of work which respects the most common circumstance of play – the casual – and aligns with that. Spare me your sandboxes, avast your crawls: give me brevity, give me vibes.

    This ‘un looks good. Efficient without sinking into mundanity. More presentation like this please. Having seen the kind of overwritten, incoherent crap that can win Ennies these days I am convinced gamers need re-educating by a patient hand and the lash.

    Like

    1. Good short adventures are also easier to fit into a wider setting, so it’s not like more output of modular work would come at the cost of reducing support for sandboxes.

      Like

    2. Once every 2 weeks as an Ideal or your game dies, realistically once per month. My resolution is to treat my new game like sprints with attainable short-term goals and minor intermissions to provide room for periodic refinement, which can hopefully be strung into an enjoyable period. Once per week on a week day for 1-3 hours online might be a sneaky way to go about it.

      I will echo the Necromancer J.T. in that the true sublimity of DnD is something that cannot be tapped until well into a campaign, yet it becomes all the harder to find this time. A problem. Dedication, re-use of sessions for enjoyable online content, refinement into publication, the energy efficiency of play sessions must be increased if DnD is to survive.

      The best teacher is to kill them, seriously, they get pretty cautious, but you don’t want it too high or they become like the albino mutant bikers from Mad Max: Fury Road.

      Like

      1. “…the energy efficiency of play sessions must be increased if DnD is to survive.”

        Agreed. Everything is moving faster… time, attention, and gratification. Designers have to keep up or get left behind.

        Personally, I’m not big on faerie tales, but I can see the appeal. The author’s Old School Essentials is most likely the real winner. If you want great adventures, start with a great interpretation of the rules.

        Like

  3. This sounds great. I am running an OA campaign which has a lot of fairy-tale touches just due to the nature of the setting. Would you have a list of these type of adventures out there by chance?

    Like

    1. I’m working on optimizing my Tags so it becomes easier to find stuff, so maybe one for genre one for adventure type? I’d recommend Bryce’s Dungeon Magazine reviews for OA adventures in dungeon, as its chock full. As for the rest, Mines, Claws & Princesses, all the Chronicles of Ahmerth Stuff are the ones I know, you might want to dig through the Reviews section if you want more but I haven’t labeled it.

      Like

      1. (wrong comment I replied to)

        One for genre would be good – especially “faery tale” or something.

        Thanks PoN. I am planning my next campaign and something more faery tale based campaign would be fun. Been a while.

        Like

  4. Well reviewed. This clearly a strong adventure, with an easily usable format, and an excellent preview on DriveThru. Yet somehow I can’t fall in love with it. Bryce made a good point in his review: writing the background out in bullet point style is helpful for the referee to get an overview, but it runs the risk of failing to inspire. I would like to see a couple of paragraphs of material to stimulate the creative juices of the referee, as well as the summary. For me, Daniel Bishop did this sort of thing better in FT0 Prince Charming: Reanimator. I think I may be in the minority on this one.
    I would agree with Fake WWW that there is nothing wrong with short, drop in adventures. They actually get played. I would suggest the young are the ones who have the stamina for the epic adventures. We ancient creatures couldn’t manage G1-3 D1-3 Q1 or Night Below anymore.

    Like

    1. Speak for yourself there Gramps. Before the celebration of Christ’s Birth I shall have long campaigns as of yore, by hook or by crook, in flesh or online, and all the jeweled lustre of blogosphere reviews will pale in comparison to the splendour of my play reports. I record this in my Oath Book!

      But as for that other stuff, I know what you mean. Might I suggest that it there is only so much one can do with under 20 rooms and the atmosphere, while delightful, is too diffuse to really penetrate the lower echelons of the brain where we keep or love for true archetypical dungeon stuff.

      Like

      1. Further evidence (beyond the photos from the meeting of the Three Sages) of your youth: adding entries to a Book of Oaths. We old codgers prefer a Book of Grudges.
        Fair point about brevity, but I feel part of the job of an introduction is to make the (potential) referees think “I’ve got to run this one.” I also like to see notes about playtesting/development.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s