I have in my hands a new adventure for D&D 5th Edition and I am ready to review it for you. “Claws of Madness” by Chris Van Der Linden of LoreSmyth knows how to capture my attention from the start, by the cover. It reminds me at once of adventures like “Forge of Fury” and “The Standing Stones” with the picture of a man, shocked by a sudden mutation, long purple tentacles coming out from his body, his face contorted in pain and surprise. The first step in building a good adventure module, is an attractive cover, able to entice and intrigue the prospect reader. A point for LoreSmyth’s guys!
The inside of the module is in line with the expectations. I really like both the page setting and the general layout, with bold strokes and light and dark contrasts: it reminds me a lot of a comic strip. All is neat and orderly, the choice of colors too, with a well-chosen contrast between the pearly background color and the gray-blue frames: the reader do not get bored in reading even the digital version of the adventure. The graphics are supplemented by maps, both 3D and more classical two-dimensional maps for dungeons and structures. They have an old-looking style but at the same time precise and well described. The foundation is there and it is definitely nice. But we come to the part that most interests us: the adventure and its contents. The module of 38 pages, including the cover and maps, is written as introductory adventure for a group of 4 first-level players. The players are in a small coastal town, Sestone, easy to insert in any context or running campaign, and are immediately immersed in the mystery that surrounds the small outpost. I do not much go into the plot because I do not want to spoil the content but the adventure has all the classic requirements that a module, especially an introductory one, should have. There is a mystery to be solved and investigations to do, an exotic place to visit, specifically an abandoned monastery in the heart of a small island, 10 miles away from the coast. And then there’s a worthy villain, the inevitable dungeons to explore and new creatures for the most experienced players that might get bored in front of the “usual” kobolds or goblins of the first level. Finally, there are many hooks and good ideas to expand the story and to carry on independently. Unless LoreSmyth team has plans for a sequel too. Read on and perhaps they themselves will give us an answer to this question.
To conclude: it is difficult to speak of the adventure without the risk of spoiling the surprise and reveal the mysteries that are at the basis of the pleasure that I personally experienced in reading it but “Claws of Madness” is really a great introductory adventure that you can use to introduce new friends to the best game ever or as a “stand-alone” adventure to test the capabilities of to test your regular players.
I mentioned a sequel. There will be one or not? I hope so! But we ask directly to Chris Van Der Linden who was eager to answer some of our questions.
1) Our first question, as predictable as it might be, it is our way to break the ice, in order to allow yourself to attune with our readers. Can you tell us about yourself? Who are you? When did you start gaming, and how did you approach to it? What are your favorites games? Do you still play?
I got into roleplaying through luck. When I was about 16 I liked visiting our local comic book store, where they also sold Warhammer and other such games. It was only after a few years when me and a couple of friends tried D&D. I remember clearly our first adventures were using the old Shadowdale book and the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I was the DM and none of us really knew how to play. Looking back we played entire first sessions without ever touching a single die, just roleplaying and having fun. I still play, but only rarely with a group of friends. I enjoy the writing and production part of roleplaying now and having children and busy day jobs makes it harder to play weekly.
2) Pick an adventure and I will tell you who you are! Each of us has a module, an adventure or in general an old product he is emotionally tied to. We of EPK are in our forties, and as such, we are tied emotionally to BECMI D&D and AD&D 2nd Edition. Some of our favorite stories and adventures are X1 – Isle of Terror, X2 – Castle Amber and I6 – Ravenloft. Do you have some treasured memories from an old adventure?
For me this would have to be the Shadowdale book by Ed Greendwood, published in 1993 by TSR. It was my (our) first encounter with characters such as Elminster and I loved the Dalelands ever since. This was well before the Wizards days and I have very fond memories of this era of books. So much that for example the interior illustrations style for The Claws of Madness was inspired by it. I wanted to emulate that same “classic” feeling of those almost medieval etchings. Games such as Magic the Gathering and D&D have such extremely flashy art these days, I can’t help but love these old coloured designs. I think with LoreSmyth I’ve tried to find a balance with that nostalgia and modern day products.
3) The Claws of Madness is a product for the fifth edition of the world’s most famous tabletop rpg (and for us, also the best). Before beginning to unravel your adventure and speaking of your future projects, we would like to know what are your general impressions about Fifth Edition D&D. What are the aspects of game that you appreciated the most? Tell us, of course, if there are aspects of the game that you did not like and aspects that you, as a game designer, would like change or “fix”.
Interesting question. I have to admit I see myself much more as a storyteller than a game designer, but obviously both are important. I think each game system has its things to love and hate. What I appreciate about the 5th edition is mainly its simplification, an attempt to provide a solid rule system without overbearing the players. While I love editions such as 3.5e you can’t deny it was a little harsh in places and certainly when we were younger our group didn’t understand half of it. However, when designing a roleplaying I am equally deeply invested in providing a compelling story and roleplaying opportunities. Rules versions will always be debated, no matter how well designed, there’s always people who don’t like it. And that’s fine.
4) And here we are: The Claws of Madness, heart and the main reason for our review and interview. Tell us first, how was born the idea for this module and if it is based on your personal games experiences or if it is an original idea, specifically developed for this adventure.
The initial idea for The Claws of Madness came out very organically. I had always wanted to create my own DnD adventure and I just started putting some ideas down. I was heavily influenced by classic (at least to me haha) adventures such as The Sunless Citadel and The Forge of Fury so in parts I wanted to capture the same feelings I had from back when I played those with my friends. When things started to shape up more seriously, I started to talking to fellow designers and they advised me to use the OGL system so I could more freely publish and sell the adventure. This led to many changes to the story and gameplay. For example my initial drafts had a MindFlayer, which obviously was ruled out if I didn’t want to violate the OGL. While it seemed limiting at first I quickly appreciated the challenge it posed: Creating much more of my own original content. And it was during this period that I created the new key characters such as the mysterious Narkul, he existence of a Realm Rift and custom monsters such as the Mangkoon and Far Touched.
5) Let us remind to all our readers that, starting November 25th, the adventure will also be available at DriveThrouRPG. We would like to know from an emergent game designer such as you, what you think about the DM’s Guild and this new way to publish products. Do you think it’s an opportunity or it is a deterrent for products like yours?
As with the debate about which rules system is better, I think the choice between the DM’s Guild and DriveThruRPG are largely dependent on what your goal is. If you like creating products that use Wizard’s Forgotten Realms setting, the DM’s Guild is great. While the revenue’s are lower you do get the benefit of being able to draw upon a world that countless designers have invested in building over the years. That’s worth a lot if you think about it. I mainly chose DriveThru because I wanted to release my book under the OGL license and have as much freedom outside of that. I don’t believe in new digital outlets ever being a problem to business, they are a huge opportunity. You just have to understand how to market your product online, and that goes well beyond simply putting it in a digital store. I’ve run many startup companies so I have a firm grasp of what it takes to reach an audience. These days it’s easier than ever for anyone like me to create something, put it online and reach an audience. So there’s no excuse: Make a good product and promote it smartly and you will reach your audience.
6) Now I’m going to ask you an inevitable question. It would be a great disappointment if the Claws of Madness stayed as a standalone adventure. Do you have in your mind a sequel? Can you give us some insight about it?
Yes! There will be a sequel and it will be called The Flight of Vorden. I’ve started development about a month ago upon popular request from my many playtesters. They were captivated by the story of the Hand of Narkul and wanted to know all about it. This really motivated me to make a follow up. My aim is to create it in a way so that it can be played standalone, but also as a direct continuation of Claws. If you like to stay up to date please follow LoreSmyth on Twitter and Facebook.
And that’s all folks! Thank you to Chris and the staff of LoreSmyth for answering to our curiosity and giving us some fantastic news as a preview. We will not miss the opportunity to follow your future projects.
I say farewell to you with the hope that you have good playing times and see you soon to the next EPK review!