Disclaimer: We received a Limitless Adventures encounter pack in exchange for an honest review.
Second Disclaimer: This review will contain plot spoilers for Legends from Aeramis episode 12, “The Secret of the Lionheart Inn”. I’ll mark the relevant portion at the bottom of this review if you have not yet listened, but you can read safely until you see that red, bolded word.
One of the most difficult parts of being a dungeon master, at least in my opinion, is coming up with interesting and engaging content and encounters for your players. Anyone can throw a pack of goblins at the party, distribute some gold, and call it a day. But there’s no story there, no meaning or impact on the party. Just a couple of sacks of XP in the way of loot. Some people and players may be okay with that, and hell having a few encounters like this may be okay over the course of a long campaign, but generally I’m not satisfied with such simple encounter design. The problem becomes figuring out fun ways to prevent those simple encounters from stagnating the game.
DMing can be hit or miss in this regard. What I may consider a fun challenge or interesting mechanic may end up being frustrating for the players or easier than I foresaw, and this ends up not being fun. ?That’s going to happen; things will fall flat, and everyone needs to be understanding of that and move on from it. But D&D’s ultimate goal is to be fun; if you’re not having fun there’s something wrong, and while the players need to bring the right mindset and meet the DM halfway, it’s ultimately the DM’s job to ensure that everyone is having fun.
Resources like the products sold by Limitless Adventures are a huge help in this regard. You should head over to limitless-adventures.com to see what they have to offer. They sell PDFs with various tools for DMs to utilize in their adventures. Most of their products are encounter packs, having a good 10 or so short scenarios laid out complete with stat blocks for creatures, likely skill checks that the party may attempt, any treasure to be found, and a short description of how the party may encounter the challenge. These are already gold for any DM struggling with encounters; a nice laid-out challenge with the difficulty already figured out. But what’s really valuable are the Further Adventure segments, which offer suggestions for where the encounter could go next, opening up an entire sub-plot for the party to unravel.
For example, the preview page for their Swamp encounters pack has the party stumble upon a group of will-o’-wisps gathered around a chest, with one of them gleefully calling out that they found treasure. The will-o’-wisps are pretending to be fairies, lying about treasure (the chest is empty) in order to lure adventurers into a pit set up before the chest. This, already, is more interesting than “you are attacked by 3 will-o’-wisps.” This gives the monsters a purpose and reason for being found in the first place, making the world seem that much more genuine. But then the question becomes; now what? The PDF has idea for that covered.
Maybe the will-o’-wisps didn’t make the pit fall, which was dug by a group of trolls that are coming back. The sudden appearance of those trolls can change up the combat challenge; fighting two different kinds of enemies is always fun for players. Maybe the party discovers the body of a nobleman in the pit, including his signet ring. Maybe there is a mass of rats in the pit that start to attack the party once they fall in, again changing up the combat with more types of enemies. What’s fun for the DM is that these ideas can and need to be expanded upon.
My own thoughts? The trolls and will-o’-wisps aren’t actually working together, so they end up fighting each other as well as the party. After the fight the group discovers that these trolls are carrying a sword, one of a set of two that an NPC had earlier reported missing. The party can track the troll’s backwards to find their lair, locating the second sword and some other loot
The nobleman was reported missing earlier in the campaign, and his nephew has needed his signet ring back in order to gain rightful ownership of his lands or the realm will take them from the family. The nobleman has a letter on his person as well, implicating that a member of a rival family tricked him into coming out into the swamp in the first place, and possibly dug the pit which eventually ended the man’s life.
The rats could be in addition to any of these ideas, complicating the combat further.
This is the value of Limitless Adventures’ products. For these encounter packs you, as the DM, still have some thinking to do. But most of the hard work has been done for you, letting you springboard off the ideas and ultimately making your game still your own. More detail for these suggestions would be welcome, but as it stands they work well to get the brain thinking.
Other products are on offer as well. They do have some fully fleshed-out quests and plots available, as well as quest chains for PCs of particular backgrounds or classes, locations and stores for urban locations, magic items, and random encounters for official Wizards of the Coast modules such as Curse of Strahd or Storm King’s Thunder.
Most of their products are available for $1.99, with a few available for $2.99. This is a pretty reasonable price for some great DM tools, comparable to other products on DMsGuild (which Limitless Adventures also has products on). I’ll definitely be looking into purchasing more content for Legends from Aeramis. The PDFs are well put together, and the cheap price means you don’t have to hurt your wallet to get some great ideas for your game.
Which brings us to the spoilers.
After destroying the wraith Arinlen the party (man I need to get them to pick a name for themselves) discovered a phylactery, presumably that of the Black King of the eladrin who, according to history, blew up himself and the entirety of his people some 9,000 years ago. The phylactery was placed within the Vault of the Institute of the Mind, Camden’s sect of the blood hunter Order.
The party was sent to Crosswarren, one of the largest cities of the Realm, to look for work, presumably to keep them out of the way while the Order prepares to assault the Black King’s dungeon. Camden’s mentor, Dieter von Kanff, gave the party a contract for a haunted inn on the outskirts of the city. They met an eccentric businessman named Eric Barlon, the individual who put in the contract, and the party made quick haste in reaching the inn and beginning their work of clearing it out.
In the inn, known as the Lionheart Inn, the party many creatures of differing natures; a few spirits and specters, a flaming skull, and abundance of mimics, various animated armors, and finally the ghost of Leo Malcolm. Leo was the owner of the inn, murdered some three decades ago presumably by his wife, though she was found dead some days later.
The initial encounter from Limitless Adventures was titled “Ghost Writer” in the Haunted Locales pack. As detailed in the PDF, the party would encounter a ghost, its throat slit, trying and failing to write something. Should the party become violent the ghost would attack. Should they remain non-aggressive and make the right decisions the ghost will attempt to possess one of the PCs, allowing it to pick up the quill and paper and write its last will and testament. The ghost will then pass on, its purpose binding it to the earth completed.
From the moment I read this I liked the idea of it. Part of the inspiration for this campaign is the Witcher series, and in it Geralt (the player character) often finds nonviolent methods of solving his problems. This is because Geralt understands that not all monsters are evil, and while many must be killed regardless of this fact because they pose a threat, some can be rightfully relocated or put to rest. This encounter deals with a “monster,” but the best solution for ridding the inn of the ghost is a nonviolent one, meaning it fit well into that ideal.
So I wondered; why is the ghost tied to the world? Murdered, sure, but the desire to write something needs to be the key. I didn’t like the “last will” idea; for whatever reason it didn’t feel overly interesting. Instead, what if the ghost was trying to tell people something but had been unable to for all these years? The identify of its killer, perhaps? Maybe his wife killed him; that’s a bit of a trope, but what if I mixed it up a bit. What if there was a doppleganger involved? Maybe the purpose of the ghost is to tell someone that truth; that his wife was a doppleganger, a secret he discovered when she killed him.
Things expanded from there. Lowell, who plays our death-loving cleric Leander, has been asking for a haunted house for months. This seemed like a perfect time to include one. Somewhere the idea of a haunted inn came into my mind; a large building that can function as a non-linear dungeon for the group. I had the idea for an old keep that was converted into an inn by the previous owners, liking the dark stone-walled building that could have a lot of rooms in it. I got to play around with a lot of smaller encounters from there, ideas I’ve wanted to use but needed the right scenario; a black pudding dropping down from the ceiling in one room, for example. An abandoned tavern with ghost-inhabitants that reveals itself to be a trap set by a group of specters. Dark shadowy undead wandering the hallways of the dungeon searching for prey. A row of armor that animates all at once, turning their heads toward the party after they walk by. A flame skull hiding in the basement, because flame skulls are just cool.
The original encounter, just one ghost trying to write a message, turned into an entire dungeon and three sessions worth of content. More than three sessions, because the party hasn’t quite closed the book on this story yet. I wish I could talk more about it, but suffice to say I did incorporate one or more of the Further Adventure ideas into the story. The doppleganger had a plan, that much I’ll reveal. Perhaps you can figure it out already.