9298 RA1 Feast of Goblyns Adventure Review






9298 RA1 Feast of Goblyns was published in January of 1991. It was designed by Blake Mobley and features some excellent cartography by Karen Fonstad. This module was the first to be published for the Ravenloft Campaign Setting, and came with some goodies that probably should had been in the box set, namely an official Ravenloft Character Sheet that you could photocopy, and the card-stock cover was a Ravenloft DM Screen.

While this module sees good reviews, it also has some curious issues, namely the author, Blake Mobley wasn’t one of TSR’s top designers. Ravenloft designer Bruce Nesmith was a busy guy, but his Ravenloft module (9338 RA3 Touch of Death) wouldn’t be published until November. Feast of Gobyns had a lot of work to be done, and to be designated to Mobley, says something. What this something is, I have no idea. Mobley is best known for “The Complete Bard’s Handbook

The most glaring issue is Goblyns’ inconsistency, while much of it is Gothic Horror, there is a huge section that is notably not, and this thing was play-tested! It was featured and play-tested at The GEN CON®World Fair in Nov-Dec of 1990, which brings to mind more questions than answers. RA1 was clearly in development at roughly the same time as the BlackBox. According to its own description, Ravenloft was designed for short one-shot adventures, and Feast of Goblyns is huge! This is not a one-shot at all. This giant thing will take you a long time, and right out of the gate, it is impossible to play core to Ravenloft because the weird fantasy section is hack and slash. Blake didn’t have access to all of the setting rules when he wrote it. That much is clear. But what also is clear is TSR’s lack of faith in the Ravenloft product, and then they turn around and feature it at GEN CON? Was this influenced by sales? I don’t think so, The Black Box had only been in stores for a couple of months prior to GEN CON. I suspect that it was stuff like this that was driving the TSR employees absolutely crazy. The inside story of Feast of Goblyns is probably more intriguing than the module itself!

The Module: This thing is a mixed bag. It has amazing work, its influence can still be felt at my game today, and it provides information that is core to the setting and that you can’t get from any other product, and this module is absolutely terrible. I’ve never ran into a product like it.

It does a much better job of explaining how the DM can change his behavior to better run gothic horror games, this has carried over to every game that I play, as the mantra is a simple one: Describe the world as your PC’s see it.  This module was critical to me learning the art of DMing, even if I never ran the thing as written. Like many 2e era modules, this one definitely over-steps its bounds. It is one of those traps that allow players to “experience events” which increases sales but destroys a new DM’s ideas on what the game is about. If you chop it up, and just use sections for your own purposes, this is an excellent module! If you run it, or attempt to run it, it is an utter failure.

One of the greatest things that it gives you, is the map of a huge inn. This thing can be recycled over and over again, even if it is a forced perspective map (which I detest), it maps a large tavern/ inn that one would find in a large city or along the side of a major road.

Another influence that it has had on my game is the STAT Blocks, it has a great template that I still mimic today, it changes the order of the stats found in the MM so that important info is easier to find fast, yet also contains things that may come up during play, but it is kept out of the way. I am sure that this wasn’t the first time that this specific STAT format was used, but it was the first time that I had seen it. I own lots of modules, and in my opinion, the formula presented in Feast of Goblyns is the best, and the one I use to make my own NPC and monster notes so I don’t have to flip through the MM all game.

MONSTERS

What really sets Ravenloft off from the other settings is the encouragement to modify the monsters, Feast added two good ones; it added a Greater Wolfwere, maxing it out so that it is very formidable, but it also took a monster that was a very interesting choice.

Before we play Dungeons and Dragons, the Goblin is a terrifying monster of legend and lore that has survived all the way up to today, which says something. Adults may not believe in goblins, but children do! Once we play D&D we reevaluate our thinking of goblins, to us they are very minor and low level things, all of the horror has been stripped from them and to a jaded D&D club, just the mentioning of them insight groans and complaints. The D&D goblin is the lowliest of the low level monsters, so I find it interesting that that is exactly where (I presume) Blake Mobley started, which I really like. It took the weakest monster in the DM’s arsenal, and it restored it to the terrible goblins of our youth, and made it once again the nightmare that it once was. Because it gets you thinking about this, and it does a good job of it, it silently encourages the DM to look at all of the monsters in the same light. Many of the creatures that we use predate the game itself, the creators of the game gave them stats, and some of these stats were muted down to challenge low level players, they had become only mechanical things. Giving these monsters a deeper look, and to modify their stats to better reflect their legendary attributes, while considering why our ancestors feared these creatures, and then put them into their own environment, forcing your player characters to enter the world of that monster, in all of its terrible glory! That makes a monster NPC really come alive.

Unfortunately Feast of Goblyns didn’t do that. They took higher powered goblins and put them into your typical D&D goblin environment, and made them somebody else’s stoolie, changing nothing.  You’d figure by the title that they would be the centerpiece of the module, but they really aren’t, which is unfortunate. I think that Goblins were a great choice to modify. In many cases we can leave the monster stats alone and improve how we describe them, just because a monster has more hit points and an easier time hitting doesn’t make the creature scarier, it just needs to do what it has to do, and in the case of goblins, their low stats were more of a hindrance and inaccurate to start with.

SUMMARY

Actually rating this thing is tough, on one hand it is amazingly inspiring and contains great material that a DM can use for a very very long time, but as far as its function as a complete game, it falls flat on its face. I believe that much of this module was never intended for this specific product. I think that it was thrown together very quickly using material that had already been completed for other projects that had been canceled. The designer, Blake Mobley was given a pile of fantasy maps and told to make this gothic horror, and he wasn’t given a sufficient deadline to complete the project. The gothic horror stuff is excellent, and stands out. All of the good things give this product a C from me, and that is kind of sad, because it should be higher, yet because of problems, it should also be much lower.

I would recommend this to a new DM, but as a trick. It will give him many suggestions on how to run a game, but it will also prove to the DM that not all modules are even functional as is. It is best to break them apart, dissect them, and know that all modules are full of errors and not worthy of any of the trust that you want to give them. Buy a product, but steal borrow what you want from it for your own games. Feast of Goblyns really helps you develop your critical eye, there is a lot of chaff to be found among the wheat.

For advanced users, this product is awesome, just for the maps alone. Even the fantasy stuff is great if your players found some hole in the wilds and spontaneously choose to go inside. It works! It has lots of potential, and can save you lots of time in building maps that you really don’t want to, and that are interesting and unique. I still use it today! Not for its intended purpose, but I still use it.

Before closing, I do want to make one more quick comment in regards to the DM shield that comes with this product, it is designed for the original Black Box, and can also be used with the Red Box. It can be used while running the updated versions, but not all of the material will be accurate. It is nice if you are just learning the Ravenloft system, and you are a total noob, but it is so limited that I quit using it years ago in favor of the Core AD&D Screen.

I would go cheap on this one. The physical copy ($20-$30) is a nice to have, but since you’ll be ripping it apart anyway, the PDF is just as good. You don’t need the Ravenloft PC Sheets, those are just stupid, as part of the point of running a Ravenloft game is to keep your players in the dark in regards to mechanics, and the PC sheets have some right on them.


2 comments:

David Baymiller said...

Good review. We tore it apart and took what we needed as well. Good bits in there.

Ripper X said...

I want to say that I have only found one module that I was able to run, as is. The rest I prefer to rip apart. I know that people run modules, but I haven't ever had much success with them, usually I just get bored.

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