By Thilo Graf
This adventure from Headless Hydra Games is 27 pages long, 1 page front/back cover, half a page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 24.5 pages of adventure, so let’s check it out!
The pdf adheres to the two-column formatting standard. Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches or typos. The only strange decision of the formatting is that the front and back cover are on the same page, which is a pity as the cover image is nice. There are also some enumeration-dots missing on the last page. Once you check the file out, you notice something immediately: The layout is GORGEOUS. Apart from Green Ronin, I’ve seldom seen such an appealing, awesome layout: K. Axel Carlson did an outstanding job. The same goes for the nice pieces of b/w-artwork – they are nice and professional, especially nice is the b/w-artwork of the academy one can show to the PCs. The 3 maps of the academy are also nice – the cartographer Butch Curry did a good job. The adventure is designed for 4 to 5 characters level 5-6 and includes information to scale it to 3rd or 7th level. While it is set in Headless Hydra’s Mor Aldenn-setting, it can easily be transferred to just about any city that could house an elite boarding school.
That’s about all I can say sans spoilers, so potential players beware and jump to the conclusion.
This adventure is INTELLIGENT and detailed: The basic plotline is that one of the instructors of an elite-boarding school for noble children to be trained as fighters wants to stage a hostile take-over of the school. He does that via the help of a sorceress who is in fact, without his knowledge, a hag with her own agenda. Armed with the arcane knowledge, he digs up the remains of the one instructor that died in an accident (which has been hushed over and is more or less forgotten) and forces the spirit to haunt the academy to scare the pupils away, ruin the reputation of the school and open his own school. Note that he is not evil, though, and wishes for no-one to get hurt. The hag (part of a coven) has her own agenda and want to eat the children. The hauntings have already driven away several pupils when the PCs are approached by the headmaster.
After a cool, challenging and detailed investigation, the instructor fakes his death and the PCs hopefully find the missing remains of the instructor before facing a challenge like I’ve never seen before in an adventure: Going on a field-trip with a bunch of children. That’s right, the PCs will have to look after a lot of children, defend them against a hill giant and, of course, thwart the plan of the hags, who will try to lure the children to their doom via illusions.
This is where the adventure COULD take a very dark turn indeed, although the adventure specifically advises against this, I wanted to mention that the imagery of the hag-encounter is worthy of authors like e.g. Richard Pett.
The adventure concludes with the PCs returning to the school and the final confrontation depending on the amount of information they unearthed.
The adventure features the instructors and 19 sample pupils with their own personalities and social dynamics.
I really like good investigation adventures. Unfortunately, they tend to be few and far-between and this adventure is actually a prime example of a GOOD investigation adventure. There are several clues to unearth, more than one path towards victory, massive roleplaying encounters and a fine plethora of personalities. More interestingly, though, is the fact that I haven’t ever read an adventure like this. Set in a boarding school, not mean-spirited at all but with this almost dream-like quality to transform into a nightmare. This adventure can be as mature or as funny as you wish and the author Ron Lundeen has done a terrific job of capturing a unique flair that has not been done thousands of times before. I highly recommend this adventure to any DM who wants to master an interesting investigation that he doesn’t have to artificially complicate for the players to be a challenge. I recommend this to the hard-core ROLE-players out there. It’s a great purchase and my only criticism is with the minor formatting glitches, resulting in a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. Excellent job!
The Haunting of Soldragon Academy is available from: