Review – A Friend in Need 5E
This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was moved forward on my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
First of all, before I go into details: This module is intended for a younger audience – basically, this is intended to be a very kid-friendly module. To be more precise, for the age-range of about ~ 6 years. I ran the module in my playtest with a mixed group spanning the ages of 4 – 11 and the players that had most fun were those in the lower ages, so personally, I’d suggest this approximately for ages 4 – 8.
The adventure does take into account the changed requirements of the target demographic – namely by calling out when a good time for a break would be, when to guide them by incorporating suggestions into your “What do you do?”-questions, when to explain the discrepancy between character and player-knowledge…the like.
For parents not sure whether their kids can handle “killing” adversaries, an alternate wording is provided as well, with the defeated “returning home.” The copious amounts of advice provided are generally not only welcome additions, they tend to be very sound.
Distribution of candy/gummibears used as monster-substitutes on the map is a pretty sound advice, since it prevents instances of jealousy and kill steals, while still providing immediate gratification. Puzzles, where included, do mention less complex alternatives for younger audiences and means for the GM to make how items work immediately evident-
All right! Children/players, in case you’re reading this, please jump to the conclusion. No one likes a cheater and I’m going to explain the adventure now. If you continue reading, you’ll only make the adventure boring for yourselves and have an unfair advantage that will be noticed by your GM. Please do what’s right and jump to the conclusion.
The monastery of the monks of the kneeling wind is a tribute to the elements and, visually inspired by Japanese aesthetics, well-represented by a truly beautiful full-color map. Alas, all things must end, and so did the time of the monks – and after they were gone, the crystal dragon Azhuryx chose this place to rear her precious wyrmling Kurisutaru. Alas, once again, trouble brewed and the mother dragon did not return from a hunt, leaving Kurisutaru terribly bored with only the companion soulbound doll left for him, yet cautious of strangers. One day, Kurisutaru saw a child folding origami and was left overjoyed when he saw dragons among the figures crafted – he thus swooped down to talk with the magical prodigy Azumi, who, in a panic, conjured forth an origami crane (made possible via the new spell, which has been properly converted to 5e) and sent it forth – said crane is what jumpstarts the module in earnest, as the PCs happen to find the origami swan and read the cry for help on it.
In order to reach the monastery, the PCs have to start climbing the mountain (a great way to btw. use the exhaustion mechanics) and on site, the exploration can commence – the PCs can for example brave the most huggable earth elemental I can imagine. It should also be noted that the research and prior knowledge, when player and PC-knowledge diverge, can allow for an easy and painless teaching of 5e’s relatively simple skill rules-
A Wisteria tree whispers to the PCs that the key to Azumi’s location is hidden in the koi pond and indeed, swimming in can yield it. Underwater, the PCs encounter a friendly, awakened koi who breathes bubbles on them and wants to talk to them: He’ll give them the key, if they answer a simple riddle. This would be as good a place as any to note that the statblocks of the wondrous creatures encountered have been converted rather well to 5e’s mechanics.
Beyond the moon-viewing tower, there are animated dog statuettes that may attack. In PF, these statuettes were pretty strong, but in 5e, they, at least to me, represent a missed chance. You see, 5e very much focuses on a sensible rock-paper-scissors-type of gameplay with the variant damage-types, resistances and vulnerabilities: Making the dogs resistant to e.g. slashing and piercing weapons would have been a nice way to teach the kids about these mechanics. It’d also make sense and is something most groups would get right from the get-go: Back in the day, my PCs simply assumed that skeletons would not be susceptible to piercing, for example – it makes sense. Alternatively, a vulnerability would have made sense…but that is me nitpicking.
The PCs will also have a chance to test their mettle against the spirit of a non-evil undead weapon master of the monks in honorable combat. In the lavishly-rendered map of the complex beneath the monastery, a Sudoku-puzzle beckons alongside a friendly test of the PCs, focused on whether they can distinguish reality from illusion, while another requires balancing on a rope to swing a bell…in an interesting twist, the spectral teachers of the monks may provide guidance in-game to stumped players. This is btw. also where disadvantage and the like come into play more.
Combat-challenges include dealing with the dragon’s overprotective soulbound doll and some animated objects – here, we do have the resistances, but they apply to all physical damage types – and PCs of level 1 are really limited regarding their magical arsenal, so this section can take a bit longer. A centipede whose poison can cause paralysis upon reducing a PC to 0 hp is another minor snag…or rather, something that could have been solved a bit more smoothly: You see, the pdf does contain a logo-less version of the cover artwork in b/w- yep, like in a coloring book. So, one way to help a player pass the time while the PC is paralyzed would be: “Color this page, when you’re done, you’re fully healed!” – unless, of course, the other PCs heal their comrade first.
When the PCs finally happen upon the dragon, they’ll think they have a deadly fight on their hands…but Azumi intervenes and the PCs have a chance to make friends with the dragon, the positive modifiers of which btw. also entail playing a game of hide and seek with the dragon…and hopefully convey to him that kidnapping others, no matter how well-intentioned, is not a good way to make friends. In the end, though, capable PCs will probably leave on Azumi’s origami riding cranes, with Kurisutaru’s friendship bracelet for a fine, tasty dinner at Azumi’s house – who now has a friend most unique. As a minor complaint, the rules-language of the crane mentions maneuverability, which does not exist in 5e.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a Japanese-looking, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book provides ample of child-friendly artwork from the pen by Jacob Blackmon -more so than in many modules of this size, rendering it a nice, visual treat. The unified and beautiful style also extends to the gorgeous cartography by Travis Hanson, which also features player-friendly versions that you can print out, cut up and hand out to them as they go! Extra kudos for including those!!
Jenny Jarzabski and BJ Hensley have already proven that they can make good crunch; however, as it turns out, they can also write captivating modules. “A Friend in Need” is a great first module for the small ones, breathing a bit of the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies and the innocence conveyed therein. It is not perfect in the 5e-version, but Dan Dillon, being the expert that he is at 5e content, has translated the module very well to the system, ironing out some of the hiccups in the original. At the same time, I do feel that it is, system-immanently evident that the original design was for PFRPG – there are a couple of 5e-rules that could, didactically, be highlighted better. This does not mean that the conversion’s bad, mind you – it’s really good! But it comes close to transcending the original iteration sans making the leap.
Let me state that clearly: The module does a lot things right: The flavor is child-friendly. Even the spirits of the monks, which may evoke a slight sense of creepiness (in a good way), still provide more aid than hindrance. The challenges are diverse and the inclusion of social encounters, riddles and puzzles make sure that the players actually are challenged in more than one way, which is a good thing in any module, particularly so in one intended for kids.
Now personally, I do believe that even small kids can handle a bit more threat and danger than this module featured (see e.g. the pretty serious themes of fear of loss and reorientation in “My Neighbor Totoro”, for comparison), but I will not hold that against the pdf. It should be noted that I ran the original version with a 4-year-old among the players and the module proved fitting for children this young as well, while the kids in the age-range of 8 and beyond would have liked a bit more grit.
Now the good thing here is that, should you not endeavor to cater to a crowd as diverse as I did in my playtest, you’ll have no issue slightly increasing the creepy-factor of the benevolent monk-spirits. In my playtest, I added some minor creepy-dressing to them and thus managed to engage the kids even more – if you heed this advice, though, please make sure you know what your players are comfortable with – a tiny scare is okay, but not more.
How to rate this, then? Now that’s the tricky part: You see, I very much believe that we need more modules like this and Dan Dillon delivers in the conversion.
I have vastly benefited from my roleplaying in both terms of foreign languages, vocabulary, problem-solving and social skills and the sooner we can get such a positive development going, the better. At the same time, I am somewhat hesitant of awarding this per se very good module my highest accolades – I think somewhat more pronounced tweaks to account for and teach system-peculiarities (backgrounds, for example!) could have heaved this to the levels of excellence.
In the end, we are left with one well-crafted module for young children that does not lose any aspect of its appeal in 5e. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for this. While the original version was rounded up due to being Playground Adventures freshman offering, I, alas, cannot extend this courtesy to this version.