REVIEW: Hand of Glory

Hand of Glory is part of Type40’s ongoing series of ‘adventure seeds’.

What you get for your $9 is a short, single-session adventure designed to be run with minimal preparation. You also get a set of pre-gens, and a selection of beautifully-designed handouts. What you do not get is very much of anything else.

The adventure opens with some uncharacteristically aggressive scene-setting: The group are a bunch of hill walkers who happened to have wandered into the wrong pub on the wrong night. Drugged, chained, and dragged off into some sort of sinister pocket universe, the group find themselves caught between an ancient evil and a group of desperate parents. Unable to escape and forced to deal with the consequences of other people’s actions, the group spend the entire adventure getting up to speed on what happened and using this information to make a decision on how the situation will play out in the future.

The structure of the adventure is very similar to Type40’s second ‘Adventure Seed’ Endless Light in so far as the group don’t really have a lot to do other than make a decision. As with Endless Light, the basis for making this decision is not easy to pin down but the characters do get to wander around, make some interesting discoveries, and confront the mythos prior to making what boils down to an ethical choice.

While Hand of Glory does come with a set of pre-gens and a reason for their being at the pub, I did not use them. I chose instead to use the text of the adventure as a set of writing cues for creating an adventure that fit into my group’s ongoing campaign. While it may seem unfair to judge a published adventure by the yardstick of how well said adventure took to being radically reworked, I will say that Hand of Glory felt less substantial than either Endless Light or One Less Grave.

The root of the problem is two-fold: Firstly, while the hand-outs for Hand of Glory may be pretty, they are considerably less useful than those provided in either Endless Light or One Less Grave. In both of those adventures, there was something to be gained from exploring the adventure locales while the maps and plans that came with those adventures helped both in creating an atmosphere and making the locales seem more real. Hand of Glory does have a map but the map is to a place that the group doesn’t really need to investigate and the rest of the hand-outs are drawings of monsters which, though good, are actually less interesting than images that can be found online. Secondly, Endless Light, One Less Grave, and Mummy of Pemberley Grange all take place in ‘the real world’ and so the lack of detail is never that much of a problem as it is easy for the group’s collective imagination to fill in the details. Hand of Glory departs from this formula by having the adventure take place in ‘another world’ and the lack of imagery or descriptive writing results in a place that feels almost too insubstantial to hold the attention. As a GM, I found myself having not only to write a lot of additional descriptive text, but also to bulk out the players’ exploration in order to inject a bit of atmosphere into the locale.

Consider for example Endless Light: there is a scene in that adventure where the group have to climb into a cave in order to recover a load of oil drums for the lighthouse keepers. This not only gave the group something to do and forced them to investigate a scary space, it also forced the players to think about their interaction with the world and what their characters were doing in it. Just asking them how they got a load of oil drums up a rocky incline forced the players to picture the scene and worry about what was in the caves thereby making the caves ‘come alive’ in their heads. There is nothing like this provided in the text of the PDF and so I had to come up with some stuff about having the characters find their bearings in the wood, and clamber over some downed trees that turned out not to be trees.

One of the weirder quirks of this series is that while NPCs do feature in the adventures, they are either cleared off-stage or swept to one side when the action begins. This is something of an odd decision given that a lot of these Adventure Seeds feel like murder mystery evenings but it is definitely weird in this situation as the players are literally trapped between two groups of intelligent, communicative beings who have their own sets of needs and desires. Rather than giving us some proper backstory or putting some effort into designing a couple of memorable NPCs, the adventure simply states the NPCs desires and leaves it at that. Given that this adventure is all about a conflict between two groups, it would have been nice if the PCs had had the chance to maybe broker a truce and find some common ground between the two groups. Instead, the lack of NPC definition means that the NPCs feel more like pieces of scenery than opportunities for negotiation and roleplay.

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