Dungeoneering: Bark at the Moon

Illustration by William OConnor.

If I wasn’t bound by time, space and money, I’d probably run every single published adventure I could get my hands on. Now I understand that there’s some pride to be taken from making your own stuff, and there are definitely a great many campaign and adventure ideas I’d like to develop myself. Still, I get drawn to pre-made content because it gets me thinking about how other people approach adventure design and how such designs are presented.

That’s one of the reasons why I decided to run Bark at the Moon, a full-length adventure extravaganza penned by the prolific Robert J. Schwalb for Dungeon 185, last February. While I could have handled the execution better, I’m pretty pleased with it. Bark at the Moon’s premise centers around re-emerging hostilities between eladrin and lycanthropes residing in the Feywild. There are a lot of evocative bits: a town gripped by fear of night time assaults, an eladrin battle maiden spectre and a werewolf lord resented by his clansmen.

The adventure places great emphasis on the passage of time and the use of skill challenges. The former gives a sense of urgency to the adventure and the latter is used to advance player knowledge. Not that my players had any need to feel pressured. They were very intent on learning as much as they could, yet avoided wasting time on making random checks simply because they felt stumped into caution.

The skill challenges are much better than usual as they help the DM in matters of exposition, even if the players start out by simply throwing skill checks around to see what sticks. The only real challenge my players faced was that they didn’t have enough hours to indulge in an extended rest, making the last battles a challenge. Whether or not that was intended design isn’t something I’m going to second guess.

Illustration by William O'Connor.

Still, an important measure of any adventure – in my opinion – is how much stress it can endure from the capricious whims of an adventuring party. I think it holds up pretty well. The antagonist’s deal is pretty broadly defined that a DM can shoehorn just about any idea that the players come up with. In my case, I decided that the antagonist had been posing as a shrine caretaker and had moved a stone marker that represented the uneasy peace that was in place between the eladrin and the lycanthropes.

The most successful encounter I think is the one where the players have to speak with the eladrin battle maiden ghost. I got a lot of RP mileage out of that. It’s an important encounter that serves to give a sense that there are things happening beyond what the party sees before them, and the gist of the encounter is so simple, that a DM can easily run it without much awkwardness (as is usually the case with published skill challenges.)

I think Bark at the Moon follows in the footsteps of HS1 The Slaying Stone: The players get a lot of autonomy on how to solve problems, but the DM gets a decent amount of structure to work around their general unpredictability. The premise is slightly better than Slaying Stone, where instead of hunting for a magical McGuffin, they have to Kill a Foozle who has a very interesting reason for being.

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Comments
One Response to “Dungeoneering: Bark at the Moon”
  1. Thanks for the review—I was considering running this for my group and your post sealed the deal.

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