I want to touch on in Songs of Aedragard (SoA) is the consistent theme throughout the module. I did have to look up what Dramatis Personae (characters in a play) and Dramatis Loci (locations in a play) meant but once I understood them, I was so impressed with what Dolande was doing. For me it invoked the same feeling I get when I am listening to Song of Achilles. A sort of tragic and melancholy weight in my chest.
Design and Layout
I want to take a second to really highlight and appreciate the artwork in the SoA. Overall all of it is good. I didn’t see a single piece of art that I was just like “yikes why the fuck is that here” but there were some pieces that I truly enjoyed the moment I saw them. The cover goes without saying but also the black, red and white flowers (p. 33) along with Seille Vinewell (p. 36) and Brandon Blackquill (p. 39).
Art isn’t my area of expertise so while I can’t break down color theory and why the greens and yellows go together so well with the parchment background, I can say that it somehow played into the tragic and melancholy feeling I had from the persistent theme.
As a DM who will likely run this adventure, I like the departure from your standard WoTC layout where you have the NPCs and their descriptions in the back of the book. Having that at the front just feels more…not organic per se but it is definitely something I like better.
I also enjoyed the locations being at the front and scattered throughout the adventure but only because it’s a different take than usual. I wouldn’t have mind if they were only brought up during the chapters/scenes that use them.
My one complaint about the design is the confusing nature of reading the chapters. Yes, I know there was a guide to what I should read when and after but something like hyperlinking the different parts together would have been great – if that is something that can be done in PDFs. So for example if the players chased the wolves from scene one, we hop over to scene three. If there could have been something to click that brings me automatically to scene three and so on and so forth depending on the choice, it would have made this a better reading experience for me.
Dramatis Personae & Conversation
The three-part (descriptors, background, wants) breakdown of each supporting cast member isn’t something I recall seeing in anything I’ve read adventure wise – which doesn’t mean much my memory is terrible – but is definitely something I want to see more of. I’m all about easily digestible NPCs in adventures so I can keep the information straight in my head or with minimal note taking. I am also a sucker for quotes that sum up a scene or a character so the quotes underneath each name was perfection.
The New Rules: Conversations lays out exactly how the NPCs throughout the adventure react to combat and non-combat situations along with explaining wants, types and descriptors. Giving DMs concrete ways to approach roleplaying NPCs is a life saver in my opinion. There is no ambiguity about how these NPCs will react in situations and makes it easier to run them and even diverge from those set behaviors if a situation somehow calls for it.
NPCs Highlight : Torlen and Todek. Torlen Cinderhelm is the daughter of Todek Cinderhelm and if players make the right choices she winds up traveling with them into Aedragard and meets her father who died decades ago waiting for medicine for his wife. I wanted to highlight these two NPCs because despite not getting a lot of page time when the pair were together I had such a visceral reaction to them. The pain of recognizing a long-lost parent that doesn’t recognize you and then the joy of having a final moment of recognition before the parent is put to rest was intense.
Epilogue: Dawn, Dusk and Midnight
I love multiple endings. It adds re-playability for players and keeps it fresh for DMs. I want to talk about the satisfying conclusion, yet openness all three epilogues have. Dawn and Midnight both leave the players alive and The Darkheart Crystal intact which means there is opportunity for the players to either return to Aedragard to find out the sinister secrets of the Darkheart Crystal OR for it to be unleashed on the world.
Dusk unfortunately finds the characters dead and trapped inside the stones of the hospice until someone comes and releases them. At first glance that doesn’t seem to leave a lot of openness but with a little imagination it can be something great. I am imagining fast forwarding the game to the point where some adventurers do come and destroy the Darkheart Crystal and you have a mini-adventure of the players playing as some of the 108 wraiths released on the word spreading their malice throughout the world before a new group of adventurers rise to stop the undead menace that appeared out of nowhere.