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Enter the Magical Murder Mansion
My take here serves as both a review of the module, and the broad impressions of running the adventure over the span of two different groups and 15 gaming sessions. With the first group we ran 3 sessions before the game fizzled out, using Knave. The second group (The Calaveras) however, managed to clear the mansion in a whopping 12 sessions, with lots of shenanigans and fun, using Macchiato Monsters. Despite their extreme caution and cleverness, yeah, MMM is rather unforgiving:
|our body count: 3 PCs and 6 retainers|
Product Details Quality
|my mad method: traps in red, monsters in green marker, treasure underlined green, monster HD on margin, purple marker things to interact with|
About the Adventure
|screenshot from Roll20; few rooms were left untouched|
A lot happened in our run. So for brevity's sake I'll condense some highlights here (in no order):
- A sneaky doppelgänger infiltrated party, after the PCs returned to town for supplies leaving a dead retainer behind in the mansion. She's alive! (yeah...). We later had both the false retainer and a PC killed by reading a false tome with explosive runes. Self immolation; first and only TPK.
- After blowing the blue whistle, unaware of what it would unleash, they summoned a blue behemoth. Causing great havoc amongst the veggie-mites, enough to distract them and steal their key. A PC had to play a bit the toreador role, though.
- Sampling weapons of the futuristic armory (85: Weapon Alcove), one by one, to fend off against three not-so-hidden mimics. The rat-in-a-stick-shooting-laser-beams-through-eyes staff was a highlight for the players!
- They convinced a complacent kiln-fired-zombie-maid to take an acid shower.
- They used the
garbage disposalsphere of annihilation hole to get rid off probably the biggest threat of the dungeon, the Callowfex, by meticulous and slow herding. This is after a previous PC died in there by the doppelgänger (see first point) pulling the lever at a capricious moment.
- Deducing with careful note-taking, and thanks to careful reading of the 47: Record Room who the real Esmeralda is (19: Prison).
- Quickly skadoodling out of the mole dragon's den with a pissed off and rampaging mole by "sacrificing" Sophie the thief hireling. All of this with pissed-off teeth eating feys on their heels.
You probably can detect a pattern here. There were a lot of dangerous situations, and my players had great success in turning the mansion's traps against some of the most dangerous monsters. This emergent play is one of my favorite parts of the OSR, hands down.
There were also a good number of "nope" situations. Where the players hesitated, decided to circle back to another section of the mansion, etc. They suspected furniture or another room feature and immediately closed the door, didn't pull the lever, etc. This of course got penalized with more random encounters, draining HP, abilities and so on. Their choice. But we had enough of these instances where I do wonder if the dungeon was too "passive". Or setting a timer to the adventure would have worked better: the manor will self-destruct in two days, the local authorities will seize the contents themselves, etc.
To spice things up, and because I hoped to continue the game after MMM, I introduced a rival adventuring party. Against my expectations, the PCs ended up befriending them and joining forces to clear the upper workshop portion of the adventure.
- 47, Record Room: this meta game gimmick has the trouble of voiding the players of useful information. Latest visitors are not listed, and I feel that could have helped the referee (for instance Esmeralda Spugs in room 19). In the first game, the group felt deflated. In the second I added that and it was a success.
- 54, Art Gallery: there is a ton of information to hand out when describing this room and the paintings. The lack of doors to nearby rooms didn't help us resolve it.
Non-talking monsters. There are perhaps too many, clearly outweighing those players can talk and negotiate with. My group had to deal with a considerable amount mimics, giant spiders and paper snakes. Perhaps granting a bigger role to the doppelgängers and the ghosts could have helped here? Making them proper factions? Not sure.
Also, the aforementioned point of bolding or underlining of important room keywords to make the descriptions easier to parse during play is another quibble of mine.
This concludes the review.
The adventure has a clear goal in what space it's trying to fill, and it delivers in spades. Increased verisimilitude compared to other funhouse dungeons was something I liked and worked well, and the main adventure structure (with the 4 keys) was well received by my players. Deadly traps and situations are not too capricious or random; clever players will be rewarded. The whole adventure evokes a Saturday morning cartoon feel.
Plugging MMM into an existing campaign is likely tough and not advisable (too many crippling traps, or wonky magic items). We didn't do it. Rather, it should be used as a singular affair for experienced players seeking some challenge. Removing the second floor and placing the spellbook directly after the 4 keys could make it a shorter run, perhaps for a single sitting? This is pure speculation on my part.
The PDF version is more than enough, ideal for print & play, there's really no need for a physical version. Price to content ratio is a steal, and it belongs to any OSR collection as a masterclass in the space it's trying to fill: funhouse dungeons. Very much recommended.