After Tomb of the Serpent Kings and Doctor Boros Menagerie, I’ll buy anything Skerples releases.
His adventures are clever, a little strange, and don’t take themselves too seriously. But more importantly they’re so well organized that I can run them with minimal prep.
I’ve said it over and over again: I’d rather buy sub-par adventures that have excellent presentation than spend 4 hours trying to pry genius from 100+ pages of two-column small text. Luckily the authors that put a lot of thought into their presentation ALSO tend to put a lot of thought into the content of their adventure. Funny how that works.
Anyway, Murder Mansion continues Skerples’ trend of excellence as well as providing a really FUNNY dungeon crawl experience. Plenty of adventures have jokes or puns, but few are actually funny. This one is. My players were laughing and sweating through the entire adventure.
If your group can get into the casual beer-and-pretzels mood, then Murder Mansion will be a blast from start to finish. Especially if you use a light OSR system like Tempered Legacy.
Murder Mansion describes itself as a “Challenging Funhouse Dungeon”. Let’s break it down:
I was dubious at first. I don’t play RPGs for “Challenge”. I play them for stories, fantastic scenes, crazy creatures, and to see my players
suffer portray colorful characters.
In this case, “Challenge” means “Usually Fair”. While the mansion is filled with TONS of deadly traps and creatures, almost all of them are well telegraphed for careful players to recognize. In fact Skerples starts the adventure by criticizing a lot of other “challenging” dungeons:
“Some of the traps in classic funhouse dungeons seem like jokes designed for the module’s author and the GM to share, with the poor players left frustrated and baffled. I’ve tried to make Magical Murder Mansion entertaining for everyone; even the deathtraps and surprises should get an joyful “oh no, I can’t believe we walked into that one” from the players. The GM knows it’s a trap. The players know it’s a trap. But someone’s got to open that door.”
In addition to the design of the traps themselves, the adventure includes a lot of good GM advice about how to handle traps in a fair way:
“I suggest giving them warnings about traps by describing what they see: blade slit in walls, hinges for pits, holes for spikes, tripwires, little sparks coming out of a lock, etc. Don’t tell them “there’s a trap here,” but make it clear that something’s not quite right.”
“The interesting part isn’t spotting the trap, it’s what the players decide to do about it. Do they set it off? Try to go around? Try to disable it? Lure an enemy into the danger zone? Shove a hireling in and duck behind a sofa?”
Thanks to the clever design of the traps, and the solid advice included for the GM, I felt fully prepared to tackle this adventure. My players were not as prepared, of course, but that’s the fun!
Seriously, the maps and layout are FANTASTIC! So easy to run.
Funhouse dungeons are my jam. I love ‘em. The crazier the better.
The term “funhouse” can be used in a negative way, since the label is used to describe adventures that bend or break most rules of logic. Usually there is a contrivance to explain why all these mismatched elements are present in the adventure. “The last room was a goblin lair, but this room is a giant candy fountain?! Wouldn’t the goblins want to eat the candy themselves?”
I can see why some people find Funhouse adventures off-putting, but I run a pretty casual beer-and-pretzels kind of game, so I embrace the weirdness.
And Murder Mansion is pretty weird!
The PCs are tasked with exploring the house of a talented wizard who was also a mean prankster. The adventure starts with this brilliant obituary:
“Hubert Nibsley was peerless among gentlemen. In his spare time he helped blind orphans and burn victims. He was sympathetic and charitable to the meanest residents of the city. No guest left his house hungry, thirsty, or impoverished if he could help it. Whenever disaster, fire, or calamity struck our city, Hubert was often the first on the scene. In his few idle hours he practiced many subtle jokes and tricks. His funeral was extremely well attended by crowds of diligent mourners, some of whom remained in vigil well into the night, and even now I am certain many citizens mention him in their daily prayers.”
As the players explore Hubert’s house they get a sense for what kind of asshole genius he really was: a bored one. Half-finished experiments, rooms built only to taunt would-be robbers, and many trapped creatures who somehow fit right in.
In addition to the traps and monsters are piles of strange loot. Gold and jewels lie about, often trapped. But clever PCs can turn the traps themselves into weapons or tools to be used against the rest of the mansion. Magical sock armor, burning coat-hooks, and explosive coffin-gas are just a few of the gizmos that clever players could use for their benefit.
I never review an adventure until I’ve played it. So far I’ve run a couple sessions of Murder Mansion with a few more to go before we finish exploring everything.
Some things that happened (CLICK ME FOR SPOILERS):
OH! And the map. The players get a blank version of the mansion map to draw in. In practice it doesn’t really work, since the rooms are small and it slows down the game. “No, the room is 10ft wide for the first 20ft, then opens up into a 45 foot cone that extends for…”
However the map is very nice for players to get a sense for the layout and see how much of the mansion they’ve explored. I recommend having the players make a point-crawl map with connections between rooms. Then use the provided map to shade in what they’ve explored.
In short, it was a blast; my players had a great time, and I can’t wait to play it again. I want to stress again that I made it very clear from the start what kind of game this was going to be. “You will all die in horrible, stupid ways. Only by being careful, clever, and lucky will you succeed. Embrace failure.” My players were totally on board, and the adventure delivered in spades.
It also hepled that I ran the game using Tempered Legacy, a system specifically designed to alleviate lethal adventures and dungeons.
If you prize detailed lore, low-magic, and traditional fantasy settings, then you’ll find Murder Mansion to be frustratingly weird and chaotic.
If you are looking for something that doesn’t take itself too seriously while still offering a deadly challenge to your players, you can’t do better than Murder Mansion.