The Reavers of Harkenwold from the DM’s Kit gets a few nods in these discussions, but the one adventure that seems to come up repeatedly is Madness at Gardmore Abbey which won a silver ENnie this year. I didn’t buy this adventure when it came out – both groups of characters in the Parsantium campaign are now in the paragon tier and it’s a heroic tier adventure – but I thought I should get hold of a copy and perhaps run it as a one-off mini-campaign. I’m glad I did. Madness at Gardmore Abbey is very good.
The adventure comes in a boxed set and consists of four booklets, two poster maps, counters, dungeon tiles, two magic item cards and a replica of the famed Deck of Many Things. I loved the 2nd edition boxed sets and it’s nice to get something similar here, but I have a few quibbles with the format. Firstly, the box is flimsy and is about twice the depth it needs to be – presumably the old skool 2e boxes with the lid are too expensive to produce these days. I remember reading somewhere that some of TSR’s boxed sets lost them money for every copy sold! Secondly, I’m not sure why there need to be four booklets, rather than one big one. The adventure also uses the full page or double page spread format for encounters which Dungeon magazine has since ditched, meaning there is a lot of flicking back and forth from one book to another – probably not the most user-friendly way of doing things.
These grumbles aside, the content is excellent. The adventure has a very flexible, freeform structure, allowing the DM to use as many or as few of the locations and encounters as he or she likes. There are several different ways to get the PCs involved in the plot, and, like I6 Ravenloft, the adventure uses cards, this time from the Deck of Many Things, to randomly determine key facets of the story, so making it different each time it is played. The Deck itself plays a vital role in the plot as the PCs wander the Abbey, gathering the cards to assemble the complete set. This isn’t the first adventure to do something like this – there was a great scenario in Dungeon many years ago called House of Cards by Randy Maxwell (in issue #19) which also featured this idea – but it’s such a great magic item that it’s well worth a revisit here.
Over 30 encounters make up the adventure. These are a cool mixture of entertaining combats, skill challenges and roleplaying, and I was interested to see that the latter encounter type has its own xp system: the DM sets a timer and awards xp for every 15 minutes of roleplaying that advances the story. I don’t want to give away too much here to any of my players that might be reading this, but the different sections of the Abbey all have their own unique identity, including areas touched by the Feywild and the Far Realm, and there are some interesting NPCs to interact with, including several fun villains as well as the return of Lord Padraig (or Podders as we called him) from Keep on the Shadowfell.
Overall, there is enough in this boxed set to keep a group of heroic tier adventurers busy for many sessions, and I’d like to try and find some time to run this in the future. Highly recommended.