Edit: It can be purchased here!
Layout and Such: I like the design and layout and found the page art very nice. He uses a classic illustration you better recognize!
Editing and Style: The adventure has a nice, conversational style that imparts a mood without overwhelming you. The writing is crisp and fun to read. The editing is great.
Content and Adventure: Try to come up with an adventure in an urban setting that is fun, engaging, able to be dropped into almost any campaign, and still has a unique hook. It is hard.
Howard pulled it off.
He uses rarely-seen monsters, a nice master villain, unusual layouts and floor plans, and a nice hook to craft a simple, fun adventure that is still capable of being adapted and changed.
My Score: Four out of Four
How I edited it: I don't know about you, but no module hits my table unchanged. This is no knock on any designer, but it needs to fit my campaign.
1) I changed the Cloak of Witchery to a unique item from my campaign called a Cloak of Night because the item in the adventure doesn't fit my campaign and the party needs a Cloak of Night.
2) I changed the monsters to the stats I use. Very minor.
3) My family has owned bakeries for generations. I worked in one as a kid. I moved three of the dark creepers into the bakery as bakers, etc. simply because one person could never run a bakery single handed. Also, I wanted them to be described (see below).
4) I had the cat 'familiar' move about and be seen. Back In The Day, bakeries had cats.
How I set it up: The background events were changed a bit but the sorts of things the adventure counts on (demon summoning, especially) cause ripples in my campaign. Various people began having premonitions, dreams, or received orders from others who did.
The bakery was placed in the city of Adrian in the Seaward area.
The Wife played Fiona, an elf fighter/mage 2nd/2nd
Son One played Athanasius, a human cleric, 3rd
Son Two played Starkiller, a half-elf fighter/mage/cleric 3rd/2nd/2nd
Son Three played Graystar, a human mage 3rd
Son Four played Akira, a human monk 3rd
Fiona and Graystar, who share a mentor, were directed to go to Adrian because of portents in the stars.
Athanasius and Starkiller were sent by the dreams of a religious sister at their seminary.
The Master of the Monastery of the Order of the Way informed Akira that the Man with the Eldritch Fists needed to be in Adrian.
The group, who all know each other at least a bit, met on the road just outside the village of Suthurst a day's ride away from Adrian. There was snow on the ground but the weather was unseasonably warm when they arrived.
At the Wyvern's Nest Inn they encountered a baker named Delb who told them of a mysterious baker who had appeared just before Christmas and how anyone who ate her goods seemed almost compelled to have more of them. He was convinced that magic was afoot and spun a convincing story of menace. he also warned that she had been hired to provide all of the treats for the City Council during the Epiphany festival; she could spread her control to the town leaders in one meal just 4 days hence!
The party set out as early as possible, facing another unusually warm morning. As they passed the village of Oldtock at about 8 am it began to rain hard and the wind picked up as the temperatures dropped. By the time they reached the village of Perlflite Lodge at noon the winds were over 20 mph and the rain had turned to sleet. After a quick meal of stew and tea in Perlflite Lodge they pushed on, keenly aware of the limited time and fearful of being snowed in.
Before they made it to Highridge, the last village between them and Adrian the sleet was heavy snow and the temperature was well below freezing. They lost the trail for a time, but Fiona, a doughty sea elf who grew up trapping mink in the mountains of the northern coast, found the road quickly.
It was almost sundown when they finally reached Highridge, home of the famous Bar of Giant's tavern. Exhausted (and taking some submission damage from the cold!) they decided to forge on to the city. They finally reached the city 3 hours after sunset, and were let in the postern by the guards, all of whom were amazed at their risk taking.
I had randomly generated the weather at it was a mini-adventure by itself!They settled into the Hobgoblin Hall Inn and met with Drelb's wife who explained more about the bakery and its mistress, Ystala. They met a merchant who had come to town for the Fur Fair two days after Christmas and who had intended to leave the very next day for home. Instead, he remained at the inn closest to the bakery (the Hobgoblin Hall) and ate there 4 times a day, spending all of his profits and abandoning his wife and children for Ystalla's muffins.
That sounded less euphemistic before I wrote it.Athanasius and Graystar surreptitiously examined the furrier's purchases with spells. They saw that the bread and muffins radiated evil and necromantic magic! Athanasius cast Purify Food and Drink on the cruller the furrier was eating and it transformed into a putrid mass of over baked mess. The furrier immediately leapt up and rushed out into the subfreezing night to get another!
Mrs. Drelb described the strange dwarven bakers that worked for Ystala and Graystar suspected they were dark creepers, a menace he had faced across the Dawn Sea in the Bitter Desert.
Examining the cruller the party determined it had low-grade flour, sawdust, ground bone or scale, putrid egg, and some sort of blood in it.
Worn down, the party slept. With guards.
The next day they scouted around the bakery. Fiona was horrified to see people waiting in the cold of a mountain city in Winter for a roll or a donut, obviously suffering from frostbite as they stood in a queue out the door. Akira spoke with some crows and learned that birds and rats refused to eat the crumbs from her goods. Starkiller noted that there were periods when the bakery was empty of patrons, but not many. Graystar sent his familiar, a black cat, to scout around but it saw Ystala's cat and fled, almost helpless with terror. They saw Ystalla, who appeared to be a young, gorgeous woman.
After debate the party simply walked in and began speaking with Ystala. She kept offering them free samples and the party kept talking. She opened a curtain to the back and Graystar stiffened, confirming in person that her assistants were dark creepers. Athanasius began casting Purify Food and Drink and...
...Ystala sprinted back through the bakery at a dead run.
Akira and Starkiller set off after her, but the three dark creepers yanked out daggers and engaged them.
This is when the real fun began.
Akira is called The Man with the Eldritch Fists because he has had two encounters with magic effects that give cumulative +1 enchantments to preferred weapons.He had a 1 initiative and rolled high enough against the dark creeper to stun him, triggering a chance to land a killing blow. A low chance.
He's a monk.
His hands, feet, etc. are enchanted at +2 to hit and damage.
He rolled 03, killing the creeper in one blow.
Fiona and Athanasius killed another creeper with Fiona taking some damage. Starkiller, ever suspicious, stabbed Ystala's cat with his spear.
The cat cursed him out and ran off.
Next round Akira struck first. He stunned the last creeper. His killing blow check?
02. Instant kill.
The party pursued Ystala after healing Fiona.
Seeing that she had descended into catacombs they began searching rooms as they descended a long stair. Two more dark creepers attempted an ambush, but Akira's senses prevented surprise.
Akira struck first. He stunned the first creeper.
He rolled 03. Instant kill.
Son One noted,
"These dark creepers seem to have rather fragile necks."
This began the discussion: was he casually snapping necks, or was he using the Buddha Palm?
The rest of the party cut down the other dark creeper with Starkiller taking a solid blow. He was healed and the party pressed on.
They found a room full of foul ingredients, an obvious bedroom, a strange room with a pillar and statues - but they ignored them all, intent on eliminating Ystala first and searching/looting after.
After descending deep into the earth the stairs turned up and the party came out into a large, dark, open space. A light blazed out and there stood Ystala flanked by - a Skeleton Warrior!
The party was startled by a cry of pain and looked back. A dark stalker armed with a short sword stood behind them with Fiona motionless at his feet, her blood dripping from his sword and pooling on the floor.
Then Ystala ordered the undead knight to attack.
Graystar pulled out a feather token he had found but never identified and threw it down - it turned into a massive oaken door that sealed off the staircase from the dark stalker - and Fiona! Starkiller and Athanasius rushed forward and engaged the skeletal warrior. They both failed to hit it. It missed Athanasius but dropped Starkiller to 1 hit point with a single blow!
All the while Akira was moving to engage with Ystala. As he closed she hit him with a Wand of Magic Missiles, then drew a dagger dripping with poison.
He rolled a natural 20, stunning her.
His killing blow check was 01. An instant kill.
The skeletal warrior immediately rushed to her and donned his circlet, then fell to dust, finally free.
Graystar and the rest opened the door and found Fiona barely alive, and alone. The stalker had fled. They brought Fiona to positive health, but she was done with casting or fighting for a while.
They carefully looted the place (ignoring the room with statues in it) and then brought out Ystala's body. She was obviously a scarred, ugly, very old woman beneath the glamar.
They alerted the authorities and showed them the magical ingredients, etc. and learned the various compulsions had ended with Ystala's death.
The party divided loot and recruited a few henchmen as Fiona healed.
Everyone gained a level in at least one class.
This was a fun one to run and everyone had a good time. The party appreciated a setup very unlike what I would have done and liked the variety.
The offbeat monsters were a great addition.
The party is now on the lookout for unusual things from the 'familiar', so I have plots for years.
The entire 'the monk was a killing machine' thing was hilarious. Those little dice streaks come and go and having 'good luck' is much less frustrating than 'bad'.