Silent Titans, written by Patrick Stuart, actually works.
I originally bought this for the artwork. It’s gorgeous and unique and fresh and worth the price of the book all on it’s own. Go buy it now for a pretty thing on your bookshelf.
Unofficial GM Reference
Now that the artwork is out of the way, let’s be honest:
I did not think Silent Titans would work as an adventure module.
I’ve played a few “gonzo” D&D adventures and most of them were bad. (with one brilliant exception).
At my table touchstones are important. Knights, goblins, druids, magic swords, and wizard towers are all cliche and have been done a thousand times. That’s why everyone knows them. And it makes my job as GM so much easier.
When I say “You see a black stone tower rising above the treetops with red smoke pouring from it” everyone gets the right idea in their heads. I know what they’re expecting and it’s easy to keep all the players on the same page.
The stranger something is, the harder it is to communicate without being boring or confusing.
Silent Titans is bizarre, freaky, and confusing as hell…but somehow it still works. How did Patrick Stuart pull that off? I can think of three things:
1. A Solid Introduction
If you have a gonzo setting then you MUST give the GM an easy way to introduce it to the players. “You teleport and end up in a world where everyone speaks backwards and everything is inside out” does NOT cut it.
In fact I didn’t realize how brilliant this was until I ran Silent Titans for my group.
The intro adventure teaches the players a ton of stuff in really clever ways:
- The PCs have lost their memory
- Time travel is a thing
- Spaces connect in strange, confusing ways
- Apes can fire tommy guns
- Animals wear masks and can talk
- Flashbacks and lost memories are clues to the past
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, the PCs lost their memory? How original…” And it would be cliche and boring except for the fact that:
2. It’s A Mystery
As the players explore this strange land they will experience flashbacks of their previous lives/adventures.
Not only does this encourage exploration it also reminds the players that there is SOMETHING going on, and they can make progress in discovering the truth. I won’t spoil the surprises, but the mysteries presented are surpisingly engaging.
I will mention that the mystery is subtle. It’s something the players might learn about every other session or so. It will NOT satisfy a group looking for Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes stories. But for a group willing to pay attention and dig deeper, they will be rewarded with some neat reveals and story bits as they explore.
OH! Another thing that makes these flashbacks great is the rewards. To make sure the players pay attention to the flashbacks they often reveal a secret or give an advantage to the situation.
Made-up example: “The youngest party member has a flashback where they fell down this well and discovered an old smuggling cache at the bottom.”
In short, the flashbacks are great, and they work.
3. Concrete Effects
Did I mention that Silent Titans is a weird place? Lots of crazy, freaky things can happen. And more often then not those freaky things are communicated mechanically to the player.
Your mileage may vary, but I was impressed how well this worked in practice.
Made-up example: “The character sees everything as it should be, not as it truly is.”
Great…what does that mean for my players at the table? How do I communicate that mechanically? The next line clarifies:
“The character doesn’t notice battle damage, broken roads, or dangerous hazards. Disadvantage on rolls to avoid broken-down threats.”
Ah, that’s much better. As bonkers as Silent Titans gets, it does a good job of staying a “game” rather than a bizarre thought experiment. (Which is a trap that many of these gonzo settings tend to fall into.)
Many have accused Patrick of “Purple Prose” which I took to mean flowery, pointless language. I didn’t see any of that in Silent Titans. If anything he left too many things out!
Stuart’s writing is very evocative, but it can be vague and hard to parse. I had to read some pages several times to understand what was going on. And even then there are a few creatures and scenarios that I have NO IDEA how to communicate to the players. I find this frustrating.
Made-up example: “After passing through the oak pillars, they found their mortal enemy within walls of dripping torchlight.”
While that sentence is cool, what I really need to know is:
“The entrance to the room is between two oak trees. The room within is mostly dark with torches scattered along the edges.”
My other big hesitation in recommending this book is that I’m a huge baby. I’ve always hated the feeling of being scared and my tolerance for horror is very low.
This book has some horrific, gross stuff in it. One of the 5 main “dungeons” is filled with body horror themes and several other locations can be surprisingly dark. I’m still going to run it, of course, but I’ll have to filter some things out for my own sanity.
In spite of my hesitations, I would still highly recommend this adventure.
If you are willing to put in the time and effort to parse this weird, confusing book then you’ll be rewarded with something fresh and utterly unique.
And if the squick isn’t too strong for you, then you’ll find a clever mix of dark humor and bizarre scenes.