Monday, October 31, 2022


 For Halloween we covered The Shining, Gremlins and A Nightmare on Elm Street: 

Sunday, October 30, 2022


A couple of years ago I released a game called Strange Tales of Songling, a horror RPG inspired by Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio* and movies like Mr. Vampire and A Chinese Ghost Story. I'm currently working on a new game using the same system. That won't be out for a while, but in the mean time, Strange Tales of Songling makes a perfect Halloween one-shot (or even a short campaign) and I wanted to give some adventure design advice for it as that is a question I am frequently asked about. 

For anyone in need of a quick adventure, I would point them to Head of the Teahouse which I put on the blog a couple of years ago, or to the four sample adventures in the rulebook. You can also check out The Starlit Inkstone, which is a small sandbox I put together for the game. For those who want to make original adventures but are having trouble, this section is provide some guidance. What follows is simply what has worked for me, so feel free to try it, but ultimately use what works for you. 

Also a note on availability. The PDF is available HERE, while the print version can be found HERE (our PDFs and our print books are on different sites which has created some confusion on where to find the print editions). 

What is Strange Tales of Songling?

Just to cover the basics for those not familiar with the game, Strange Tales of Songling uses a modified version of the Network System, which was originally a rules light RPG that became more complicated in different incarnations. It takes the latest version, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, and brings it down to the essentials and adds character paths so that it isn't a point buy system (players have some choices for powers and skill allotment but these are all determined by their path). The simplified system is smooth, very simple, and fast. I think this is essential for horror because it reduces things like needing to look up rules in the book. 

It is designed to be played as monster of the week. The game is packed with monsters and while each individual adventure allows for maximum freedom, for the purpose of making one shots and short term horror campaigns more feasible, it is assumed there will be an adventure that everyone buys into that evening. I sometimes called this approach a contained sandbox because it doesn't have any expectations beyond the starting point. The characters can spend the whole adventure running from the threat screaming or engaging all the elements, it doesn't matter. Generally it is meant to be played either as a one shot or as a 10 session campaign (and longer campaigns string together many ten session campaigns that are multi-generational). 

Making Adventures for Strange Tales of Songling

I get asked a lot about making adventures for Strange Tales of Songling. I don't know why, it is not one of our better known games I believe, but when I hear from people, this is normally what they ask me. They also often express reluctance because they worry they don't know enough about the genre or history to run an adventure. I am going to address both these concerns here.

First on not knowing enough. I studied history in school and one thing I like to do with history is take a positive approach where people are encouraged to learn but aren't fearful of making mistakes. One of the worst ways I saw history taught was being overly critical, belittling people for their lack of knowledge or draining any enthusiasm they had by stealing their confidence and excitement. It is also a critical tendency I can fall into myself (especially if I am watching a movie for instance that has notable historical errors). With time I learned to relax more about this stuff and as a result, I became better at learning history. To be clear I am not an expert in history, I was merely a history student and continued to maintain an interest in history after I graduated.

This kind of thinking, especially with gaming, unless it is fueling your excitement and driving you to really dive deep into research, isn't necessarily good for getting a campaign off the ground nor is it good for developing interest in a topic. 

Don't get me wrong, I think its good and important to learn history as well as you can, and to understand what you don't know, but I also think everyone comes to it at different experience levels and with different areas of knowledge. I generally read more history books than novels, but one thing that makes me keenly aware of is just how much I don't know (sometimes it is like the more you learn, the less you realize you understand about the depth of a topic). 

Here I would say a good approach is to understand its okay to be a beginner on any topic in history and learn what you can, while also understand that even people who know a great deal, often get things wrong. When you are starting out on a topic learn what you can but you need to keep your mind flexible to incorporate new information as it comes to you. It is easy for example to develop a rigid sense of history around the first source you read, which is setting yourself up for issues down the road (your first source may have errors, may be out of date information, the source may reflect one school of thought in history but you might need exposure to others, or you may only be getting a simplified narrative that is more actively debated). The point is it is an ongoing process, it is not a mountain you need to climb and reach the top of. 

It is also important to remember you don't need to position yourself as an expert to the group. This is something I hear a lot from people. They feel like they must be an expert in a topic to run a game around it. It is good to research, but I've also seen many people never start down the road of learning about a genre they had a budding interest in, because they were afraid of this. You are the GM, but you can be honest with your players about your level of knowledge. When I first started running classic horror games at 14, I knew only a fraction of what I came to know about the horror genre, gothic literature and classic horror movies that I came to know over the course of my campaigns. When I ran Call of Cthulhu for the first time, I had only just started reading Lovecraft. If you know about the genre and the topics that relate to it, then that's great, it will definitely give you a huge leg up. But there isn't anything wrong in my opinion with learning about a genre on the job (and running a campaign is a good way to learn history because you will be more curious as you read and you will have active questions that arise from the campaigns that you can take into your reading and give it better focus).  

I mention all of this because Strange Tales of Songling is inspired by Chinese anomaly accounts and by its history. It sets things in a surreal dreamscape realm inspired by China, which is intended to make things easier for GMs, but it is also clearly taking inspiration from real history. Even in a fantasy analogue, GMs not well acquainted with the history, have expressed reluctance. So I encourage people to relax, understand they can learn while they are running the game, that they can draw on the knowledge of their players as well if they are worried about disrupting peoples suspension of disbelief by getting some cultural detail wrong. You'll get better as you go, you can work with your group together to support the campaigns overall foundation of knowledge. 

All that said there are great resources out there if you do want to research more before starting. I always recommend reading survey books covering the period you are interested in emulating (so pick a dynasty for example and get a book that covers the history of that dynasty), reading a general survey book or a two volume survey book of Chinese history (so you can get the larger picture) and then read what you can about government, institutions, etc. If you are less of a reader, you can try documentaries. 

Additionally you should read Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. I would also suggest viewing the movies that Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio has inspired (films like A Chinese Ghost Story, Painted Skin, The Enchanting Ghost, etc). You can also watch movies like Legend of the Demon Cat, The Bride from Hell, and Legend of the Mountain. And there are more recent remakes of many of the above too. For example there is a 2011 version of A Chinese Ghost Story, and there is even a 2020 version I believe (I haven't seen the 2020 version but have heard about it). In addition the original A Chinese Ghost Story has 2 sequels which are both great. In Strange Tales  of Songling I provide a more in depth list of films, but you can probably find many more possibilities doing searches for Chinese horror online and by looking up lists of media inspired by Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Some films are hard to find copies of or for rent in digital form (it took me forever to obtain The Enchanting Ghost for instance). It also looks like streaming services are getting more of this content.  


The basic way I made adventures for most of my Strange Tales of Songling campaigns was to read an anomaly account (this could be from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or from another writer), then use that anomaly account as inspiration for an adventure. The reason I do this is because when I originally started reading Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese studio to find inspiration in my Ogre Gate campaigns, I noticed that each story worked so well for generating a supernatural adventure idea. They are the perfect length (most aren't too long) and they are more interested in describing the strange and conveying a concept than in telling a story with a clear structure (some do have a structure but some just describe an unusual occurrence). 

I got more mileage out of Pu Songling's stories than any other single source, and that is why I wanted to write Strange Tales of Songling. They just work well for helping the GM come up with adventure ideas. It isn't necessarily a 1-1 translation from the anomaly account to the adventure, but they serve as excellent starting points. In each one you are going to find something, whether it is strange magical item, a place, a monster, a villain or scenario. 

Once I read the story I took about twenty or thirty minutes to think about it and shape it into something gameable. I intentionally started reading one story a few hours before a session to force myself to come up with adventure content before the games. What I found happened is either the story presented the perfect monster for an adventure as written, or it sparked an idea for a monster or situation. 

As one example, when I read the story The Monster in the Buckwheat, it gave me the idea for Physician Jixian, in the Starlit Inkstone, who transformed his wife into a creature resembling the one from the story, that haunts the fields around his house to protect him. 

Because this is monster of the week, try to read with the aim of finding a villain or monster. The story itself might not have a monster. For example, there is a story about a man who becomes obsessed with a rock, and it is only vaguely supernatural by the end. But it gave me the idea for an adventure for Ogre Gate where a man was in love with a spirited stone and it led to this scenario

Other times I would read one story, get inspiration from one or two elements, then read another and combine them. You can also do this with other media, for example watching something like Black Magic and weave that into a Pu Songling account. 

Another approach is to simply start with a monster from the Strange Tales of Songling book. A good piece of advice for adventures, but especially horror adventures is: start with the villain. If you find a monster that inspires you, then already have half of what you need for an adventure. It is just a matter of creating a scenario around that monster. And as with combining Pu Songling stories, you can combine monsters in a scenario. 

Once you have your monster you can flesh out a backstory, which shouldn't be too long but should inform everything else. You will probably grow a small cast of NPCs by doing this. Not every adventure has the same number of characters but usually there are other people involved which will help make for a more interesting session. You might want to strive for simplicity though with your first session: i.e. a small village or temple with a monster that has been contained for centuries but recently unleashed by some fools actions. 

After your background, or at the same time, you need to establish a place. In terms of maps, locations and other details that require research, there is a very simple piece of advice I can offer: find you sources first, then build your adventures around them. So if you know you want to run an adventure set in an interesting location drawn from historical china, look up maps and floorpans, city layouts, etc. Once you find something concrete, then build your adventure around it. This is a lot easier than making an adventure around a specific town, or a particular type of place, then trying to find maps and information about those places.This will save you hours of time.  

One thing you might want to do, especially if you are overwhelmed by cultural details and feel like you don't have enough information to bring your scenario to life, is focus on one mundane aspect of the time period. For example, you could read about apothecary shops and just learn the details that you can about those. That way you are not trying to bring everything into the adventure and you aren't researching dozens of topics. 

A good way to find topics is in survey books. Usually there will be section on daily life and in those sections starting points for things you might want to explore. As an example I just opened a random page in Dieter Kuhn's The Age of Confucian Rule (a book about the Song Dynasty), and came to a paragraph about suburban life and one about the Traveling up the River at the Qingming Festival painting. The first paragraph describes the scroll painting of Kaifeng. Something like this is a great resource for a GM to draw on (you can look up the Qingming Scroll). And the next paragraph talks about how scholar officials were engaging in commerce through front men, so they could rent out property, guesthouses and start companies. A detail like this is great to bring into an adventure. You can create a scholar official and the merchant serving as his agent, and perhaps a property like an Inn or a shop, or even some other business venture. You will need to do more research on commerce but at least you know what to research and you aren't burdening yourself with more than one big topic for this adventure. This will help give you places and NPCs beyond just your monster. 

One of my favorite books is Commerce and Society in Sung China. It is very dry, but has all kinds of information on trade, transportation of goods, and markets. One of my favorite things to do for an adventure was to look up a particular topic like a specific trade good such as sugar, and use that to help establish details in my adventure. The section on rice for instance includes information about cultivation, rice brokers, transport and rice shops (and later in the book there is a section on types of markets). So if I wanted to do an adventure about a river vessel haunted by ghosts, I would have a lot of information to make that believable. And perhaps more important than believable it would help me identify gameable challenges, conflicts, etc. 

Again, you don't need to spend days or weeks researching for a three hour adventure. You might not have that kind of time, but you still may be interested in slowly bringing in these kinds of details. If that is the case, but you still want to bring in something historical, look up a single short article on any topic close to your period and read it with the intent of finding some detail you can include and build upon (you can get a free JSTOR account which will allow you to read three articles at a time, or you can go to your local library or use its digital database). 


Once you have all your material, you need to put it together in a way that is gameable and in a way that functions well on its own at the table. So figure out who your antagonist is, what characters are working with that antagonist, if any, what characters are in opposition to that antagonist, if any, etc. 

At a certain point, whether you have the information you need or not, you will have to put pen to paper and map out anything that needs mapping, create characters in need of existence, and develop any plot elements that need to be in place for the adventure. 

Most important is your antagonist's motivations and goals. This is true in any horror story but I think one of the things that does set Chinese Horror apart is how much it tends to this. The ghosts and monsters are quite well fleshed out, and often have interests and drives that are more like humans. This is a setting where not all monsters need to be enemies of your player characters. 

If you need to you can bring in anachronisms to fill in details. Movies to do this all the time. Sometimes because it is useful for plot reasons, but other times, you need something familiar to stand on because you don't know what would have been there. If you are looking at an adventure you need to run in two days, and you had all these other details you need to sort out, and can't figure out how morning markets work, draw on something you know just for the purposes of having something (for example a farmers market). 

In terms of time, I think you should strive to get your prep to under 3 hours. Your first few adventures will probably take more time, but you ideally get to the point where you can put something gameable together in three hours. For Strange Tales of Songling, because each adventure can just be a scenario surrounding a single monster if you need it to be, more than that is not only necessary but you might be creating too many details to be remembered during play. Simple is usually better. 

Also because the game doesn't emphasis adventures unfolding in any particular way: it just kind of drops players into a situation or scenario involving the supernatural, and allows them to tackle it from whatever angle, that frees you up a lot. You don't have to worry about planning out sequences of events. You just need to know what is going on and build things well enough so you can adapt as the players make their choices. 


I touched on this in the above sections but I think creating a sense of place is very important for the atmosphere of these adventures. My very first Strange Tales adventure was inspired by a story about a family of foxes awaiting an impending disaster. I used this and blended it with a region modeled after the mountain area in Legend of the Mountain. I populated it with an inn, a house where the foxes lived, and tried to create a dreamy mountain landscape for the adventure. Keep in mind this first adventure was in the afterlife (I originally intended Strange Tales of Songling to be a system I used when characters died as a way of having a method for them to fight their way back to the world of the living). 

The fated disaster was a powerful martial hero who was going to appear and annihilate the foxes at an appointed time on the evening the player arrived. It was extremely simple, but it had a sense of place and even a small ecosystem with just those two little locations fleshed out on the map (there may have been a small village too but I can't remember). There were also other key places like dangerous bridges between yawning drops in the mountains. This was just meant as the characters entrance into the afterlife where he would make an important decisions over whether to protect this fox family and face a foe more powerful than himself (he lost all his Ogre Gate powers and started as a level one Strange Tales character in the afterlife).  


The adventure isn't what you prepare, it is what occurs at the table. So what you prepare should lend itself to responding to the players actions. If the players try to negotiate with the Hanging Ghost, you will need to have an idea what that ghost wants and what it values so you that it is easy to react smoothly. 

Also you will get things wrong, you will run adventures that don't work how you planned, you will also have off nights. I think the best way to approach this is to relax when that happens, remember this is just a game, the stakes are extremely low, and try to learn from those moments when they happen. Even a skilled GM can have trouble when playing with a new group of players. It takes time to find what works and what doesn't. So if you start to bomb running a session, then make a point of staying calm and trying to analyze why the session is bombing. 

There are also two basic types of adventure for Strange Tales of Songling, and I used to alternate between them: adventures out in the world of Songling, and Adventures that come to the players at their abode. The system assumes players spend their time back at their residence between adventures. So I alternate each level, first having them go on a monster of the week adventure out in the world, then having an adventure come to them (whether that be a ghost who haunts their house, strange happenings with a mad sorcerer come to ask for employment, etc). This works well because even in the small 10 session campaign structure if gives the players a sense of belonging, and increases the stakes. It also allows you to explore things like the player characters family. 


To summarize: relax, don't worry about being an expert, but also don't become too rigid when you do start learning more; start by reading one story to inspire each adventure, then build it around a particular monster or villain, create a sense of place and a backstory. Use the advice above for things like conducting research, managing your time, and identifying the easiest ways to have a solid map foundation for your adventure. 

*Note that there are many translations of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. The Penguin Classics version linked is highly digestible but not comprehensive (and aims more for beauty of language than accuracy of terms). If you want a more complete translation with greater emphasis on accuracy you can look into the Chinese Classics four volume edition. There are quite a few others available as well. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022


The Town of Danvers is directly adjacent to the city of Salem, and it was formerly known as Salem Village: the place where the Salem Witch Trials were sparked in 1692. Modern day Salem, was Salem Town, where the trials and hearings took place. If you live here, or if you visit the North Shore and come see these places for yourself, what is interesting is the stark contrast between the two places regarding the memory of the Witch Trials. Salem goes a little overboard. It has commodified the Witch Trials like an amusement park, whereas Danvers shows almost no signs of the event (it even changed its name from Salem Village to Danvers in 1752). 

If you drive through Salem you will see historical locations and memorials associated with the Witch Trials. For example, there is the Witch House, the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin who participated in the trials, where you can take a self guided tour. There is also the The House of Seven Gables, sometimes just called the Hawthorne House (which is my personal favorite), this has no direct ties to the events themselves, but is the home of Nathanial Hawthorne who was a descendent of John Hathorne (one of the lead judges in the Witch Trials) and author of the House of Seven Gables. Hawthorne likely changed the spelling of his name to draw attention away from this association. There are also many more questionable locations like the Salem Witch Museum, which is one part hammer studio style wax figure re-enactment of the Witch Trials, one part Wicca shop. A lot of people incorrectly tie the witches of Salem to modern day Wicca but there is no evidence for this. Those accused, with the possible exception of Tituba who was from Barbados*, were Christians who locals believed to be classic witches (those who made pacts with the Devil and signed his book in exchange for power). There are also countless guided ghost tours, psychic studios, and more. It has become a hub for people interested in the paranormal. There is even a statue dedicated to the TV show Bewitched (which was quite controversial when it was installed). During October, so many people come to Salem that it creates traffic in all the surrounding communities. Halloween is a month long celebration in Salem. 

In Danvers you could drive through and have no idea that this is where the Witch Trials began. In fact, if you did know, and wanted to see some of the sights, you would have a very hard time finding any of them without local guidance. A good example of this is the Salem Village Parsonage, which is where me and my friends went for a recent visit. 

Not only is the parsonage the house where the events of the witch trials started, it wasn't even uncovered physically until 1970. Built in 1681, it served as the home of Salem Village's ministers. Salem was notoriously quarrelsome and appointing a minister apparently took some effort and was divisive. They chose Samuel Parris in 1689 after going through three ministers in quick succession. In 1692, this is where Samuel Parris was residing whenhis daughter Betty Paris, and Abigail Williams, his niece, suffered fits that led to accusations of witchcraft. They accused Tituba*, a Barbadian slave owned by Parris. They also accused Sarah Good and Sarah Osbourne of witchcraft. From there the panic spread to other parts of Essex County, leading to over 200 accusations, 30 convictions, and 20 executions, with 19 hangings and one unfortunate soul, Giles Corey, being pressed to death by rocks and boulders placed on top of a wooden board (a very slow process). 

Today the parsonage is nearly impossible to find. All that remains are small stone cellar foundations and to reach it you must walk between two houses on a residential streets. It is tucked away where you could walk by and have no idea it is there. 

Not far from here, still in Danvers, you can find the remains of Danvers State Hospital, which was the basis for Arkham Asylum. Now it is just apartments, but a portion of the central building remains standing (see above). It has very striking Gothic Revival red brick, which you see quite a bit of here (a number of churches were done in this style). 

There are other spots in the area to visit in Danvers, like the Rebecca Nurse Homestead (which was unfortunately closed at the time of year I made this visit). 

*My understanding is it isn't known what religion she believed in, but she did confess (which some say means she didn't have the fear of hell those who didn't confess had). She also may have been Native American. A lot about her is debated or unknown. She was imprisoned for a year but her case was ultimately dismissed and what became of her after that is unclear. 

Monday, October 24, 2022


This is a short series for Halloween gaming, where I run the book of Crypts for players who haven't experienced 2nd edition Raveloft before.


Book of Crypts is an adventure anthology for Ravenloft 2E, released in 1991. It has been many years since I ran any of these adventures. There were three adventures I remember running pretty regularly from it: Bride of Mordenheim, which I used very often as an introductory adventure; Blood in Moondale and The Dark Minstrel.  When I've gone back to 2E Ravenloft in the past, I ran stuff like Feast of Goblyns and The Created (the module not the supplement). Because I wanted to do a campaign leading up to Halloween and I was hoping to give my players a glimpse into the history of this line from the 2E era, I thought it would be fun to run Book of Crypts entirely as written, on its own terms. If this goes well, I hope to do other adventures, like Castles Forlorn in the future. 

Book of Crypts was written by Dale Henson and J. Robert King (I loved his Ravenloft Novel Heart of Midnight when I was young). It was edited by Anne Brown, J. Robert King and Jean Rabe.


Another aspect of this short halloween campaign is I will be using the 2E revised PHB and DMG. Personally I prefer the 1989 edition, but that is difficult for my players to find (the revised PHB and DMG are readily available on Drivethru). This is a system I like going back to on occasion, because it was the main system I grew up playing (I played 1E for a few years prior to 2nd edition being released, but all through middle school and high school we played 2E).





The first adventure is Bride of Mordenheim and it was fun going back to something I haven't read in a long time. These are my initial thoughts reading through it this time around. 


There is also a short introduction on Fear and Horror at the start of the book, which I might get more into later as this is a key feature in many of the Ravenloft adventures (Feast of Goblyns has a similar section). These are just some initial observations. I will post again after I run it next week.


I used to run Bride of Mordenheim a lot. It is a very good introductory adventure (though it is meant for characters levels 2-4: so not an adventure suitable for 1st level characters). This definitely comes from a very different period in D&D history, and not all the books are the same, nor are all the adventures in this particular book the same in terms of adventure structure. Bride of Mordenheim is very much about getting into the action and there is an adventure that is going to unfold.

One of the things I like about this opening section and the paragraphs that follow is they do a good job, at least for me, of capturing a surreal dream like monster of the week style adventure (which I do enjoy). It can be heavier handed than I would normally run things, but with Ravenloft I find it works pretty well. I do plan on explaining to my players this is different from how I normally run things and I think they are all pretty good about playing something as it was originally intended.


A good example of some of the heavier handedness would be a moment like this:

Some of this stems from it being an introductory adventure. I used to use this adventure in a similar way to the Aleena adventure in the in red box. It is a useful way to walk the players through many of the key elements of Ravenloft, and to give them exposure to the fear and horror mechanics. Overall it is very focused on story and atmosphere.


There is more room for choices as the adventure goes on, but it tends to anticipate things in terms of if players do A, if players do B. It can easily be made more flexible, but for my purposes I am going to run it purely from the text.


It is also an interesting choice to start the Anthology with Mordenheim (who is the setting's Victor Frankenstein analog), and to lean into the Bride of Frankenstein as inspiration in the title. It starts the anthology on a very clear note, and one of the strengths of Book of Crypts (at least from what I remember) is its variety of tones. The adventures are all pretty distinct.



The adventure is still fun to run (last time I ran it was probably the 90s), and I particularly like a couple of things about it. I think most importantly, it is specifically designed as an introduction to the Horror Check and it does a good job of that (one of our characters failed his Horror Check and went into a violent rage towards the experiment and towards Victor at the end of the adventure. It is also interesting because it really isn't that combat focused. There may be a confrontation at the end, and in my case there was, but even that fight, can easily turn into a conversation that doesn't have to be resolved through fighting. This is an aspect of this adventure and of Ravenloft in general that worked so well for me when I first became a Ravenloft fan. 


In our case, because one player was lost in a violent rage, fighting happened and reached its inevitable conclusion, but because Mordenheim is mostly disinterested in the PCs and focused on his experiment, he isn't the sort of antagonist whose goal in the adventure is the destruction of the party. I think the GM also has a lot of room to run Mordenheim (and a key NPC they introduce) as he or she thinks is natural based on his entry in the RoT boxed set. 


It is also very good at establishing mood and works well as an introduction to the anthology of adventures. I like that it goes right into Lamordia and Mordenheim, because it sets a clear tone. In the RoT boxed set Mordenheim is explicitly described as "...Ravenloft's 'Doctor Frankenstein,' loosely based on the character from Marry Shelley's classic Gothic novel....", so they aren't coy about what he is in the setting. Using him in this first adventure provides a pretty stark introduction to the world and/or to the anthology. 


Some of the issues I noticed with it are mostly things related to the structure and presentation. There is the railroading I pointed out earlier, which went well with my group but I explicitly prepared them for things like that (I don't know how it would have landed if they thought this was just one of my normal sessions). I think less of an issue than that though (because the book is pretty clear that it is railroad here, it isn't doing it accidentally so its at least a conscious choice) is some of the details in the boxed text (which generally are quite good) aren't always sufficiently elaborated upon in the rest of the text. 


As an example there is a moment in the adventure where, if the Players are loud going up a set of stairs, Mordenheim props a chair against the door to the room he is in (from outside the room) and it doesn't explain how he does so while remaining in the room itself (i.e. did he use a secret passage to go in the hall and place the chair, did he use some kind of rope or device to put the chair in place, etc). It is possible in this or in other instances I missed a brief explanation but read it three times and didn't see any. That said, it is fairly easy to extrapolate and were I running it more as part of a normal game, I would have done so, but I was in D&D history mode, trying to run it as close to the intention as possible and so I found that aspect challenging because it wasn't always clear what the intention was. I do think most GMs can adapt pretty easily to these missing details, the only thing is it would be best to consider these parts of the module in advance so your answers all make sense. There are similar issues with things like some of the secret passages that are mentioned elsewhere in the adventure. 


The adventure also assumes a specific course of events. It is pretty easy to adapt if things go in other directions but there is also an art to running an adventure structured like that when the players go in other directions. The adventure assumes the players take a straightforward approach to entering Mordenheim's mansion (they go up the hill, in through the front door, and up the stairs where they meet Mordenheim for the first time). This is perfectly fine, but our party thief, expectedly, climbed the walls and looked for other points of entry. Neither the adventure nor the cardstock entry for the mansion in the boxed set give you the kind of precise details that make running that easy. That shouldn't be an outrageous maneuver in an adventure, and it wasn't, but the way everything is presented, something as simple as going through an alternate point of entry into the mansion, is harder to pull off than it ought to be (because so much of the adventure hinges on the precise path into and up through the house). 


It is still entirely manageable, but because of this structure, I think it might be challenging for some GMs to adapt and it might be hard for them to decide on the fly key details about the mansion. However that said, this adventure and the mansion are very far from dungeon crawls and not really meant to be map centric. So it isn't a huge deal in my mind. Just stuff to consider as players will try all sorts of things and the GM needs to have some rough ideas going in or be very good on their toes. 


There was also, I believe a somewhat substantial error in the text. And this error has caused me to misunderstand an important aspect of it. I always believed there was an unnamed servant (an Igor like character in the adventure) because of the following passage: 


Again many details in the adventure's boxed set are not cleared up in the text that follows so I just assumed there was an assistant character and would give him a name. I also assumed he was helping Mordenheim throughout the adventure (it kind of helps explain some of the things Mordenheim does). But one of my players suggested that "another man" might have been intended to refer to the man's other eye (maybe it was meant to be "the other eye" "another eye"). Or perhaps the text is correct and it refers to an assistant. I read three times through the module and don't recall seeing any other references to a helper (I could be wrong as by the third pass you can sometimes miss details due to familiarity). And I don't recall mention of it in Mordenheim's entry in the Realm of Terror boxed set book: though to be fair I only read that once in preparation for running it. But if anyone reading this feels the error here is in my reading then please post in the comments as I welcome the clarity. 


One thing it does do is provide forks where different outcomes are specified based on different choices or results. They do tend to be binary, but it is nice having those in there. They are also not inconsequential. The different outcomes can be very meaningful. 


Overall I enjoyed running Bride of Mordenheim. I think it is best run in a creative way where you take what is presented as a most likely scenario but try to keep things open so that the players don't feel like they are being led from one event to the next (and I think the intention is this is meant to be the most likely scenario). May have more thoughts, which I will post later. If not, next entry is Blood in Moondale.


Monday, October 17, 2022


Halloween around here is a month long celebration. I've been going to some of the local places of interest for the season. Posting pictures of my latest visit. 

My first stop was High Rock Tower in Lynn. It's an observatory but it's built on High Rock Hill, where John Murray Spear constructed his New Motive Power, an electric messiah meant to usher in a new age for mankind. Murray was a spiritualist who stayed in a gothic cottage on the property in the mid-19th century where he claimed to receive instructions for his mechanical creation from a distinguished group of spirits that included Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adam, Thomas Jefferson, and quite a few more. Lynn was a hub of the spiritualist movement at that time, and he attracted a number of followers. The new motive power was birthed in dramatic fashion but, by most accounts, destroyed by an angry mob. 

I first heard about the Electric Messiah when I interned at the Lynn Historical Society. Since then, I've found the spiritualist movement in Lynn quite interesting. But there isn't much about this if you go visit High Rock Tower. There are people who know about it, but isn't something that gets much attention. 

The tower itself is pretty impressive. It's a pretty unique feature in Lynn, as definitely stands out and isn't something you'd expect to see. While there was a wooden tower around the time John Murray Spear was there, that was dismantled and later replaced by the stone tower that is there today. High Rock Tower is an observatory and open to the public. The tower and the hill afford a tremendous view. 

The view of Lynn from the Tower
Green Block is to protect privacy of a person enjoying the park

I tried, and failed, to capture the scope and beauty of this view. The above view is right into the heart of downtown Lynn, beyond which you can see the ocean (think you can even see Nahant in the distance there). The view below is of a view from another direction into another part of the city. 

The tower itself is fairly simple, with a spiral stairwell that leads several stories up to the observatory. Personally I found the walk up a little vertigo inducing (its perfectly safe but you can see through gaps in the metal steps). 

Red brick is extremely common around here, and even inside the gray stone tower there is a central wall of red brick. 

This spot is a fun place to visit. I went there with friends, and when we got to the park they were organizing a clean-up with volunteers. The only thing I didn't enjoy was the vertigo. After we finished here we headed to Danvers (old Salem Village). I'll post about that in another entry.