DMs Guild Review: Something Smells Fishy

A press copy of Something Smells Fishy was provided for the purposes of this review.

Designed by: Phil Beckwith
Published by: P.B. Publishing

d&d“Something Smells Fishy” is a murder mystery adventure designed for players of 2nd – 4th level. It takes place in and around the small fishing town of Lartan near Waterdeep, though you could drop it into any coastal town, and concerns a missing shipment of fish that soon becomes deadly.

It’s 30 pages long, with a suggested runtime of 8 hours, and provides DM and player maps of both the town of Lartan and a mini cave-dungeon that represents the action-packed climax.

The story is divided up into four parts, which are supposed to take place over the course of two days. It’s heavily railroaded and designed to give players both clues and misdirection regarding a case of missing shipments of fish, the town’s primary export.

The DM will need to become familiar with several important NPCs, whom the PCs are designed to confront and interrogate at multiple times throughout the story. It’s a very role-playing heavy adventure with a simple but fun mystery plot and easy-to-run enemies and locations, making it a nice low-level, light combat adventure.

I like the way the adventure is organized, beginning with a rundown of all the important clues the PCs should gain in order to reach the proper conclusion. Each important piece of information, including who the culprit is and where the shipments have been stashed, have multiple clues from different sources, giving a bit of wiggle room as to how your players tackle the mystery.

There’s also a lot of nice background information on Lartan and the relevant cast you’ll need, such as Alberto Tortellini the mob-like fish boss, Rondulus the fish factory owner, and Kelsey the fish monger. In case you had any concerns that the tile was just a random joke – yes, it’s all about fish.

Part one is a bit awkward, and frankly a risky thing to do as a DM. It suggests that you split the party and run individual scenes for a party of four (or have to double up on some if you have more).

This could work well or really poorly depending on your group, and would require some finagling if your team has already adventured beforehand. Each scene literally has players arriving to the town from different directions and in much different circumstances (one of them has to escape from prison!) Some of them involve brief bouts of combat, while others are  pure role-playing – you’d definitely want to tailor them to your players.

d&dThat first day continues in part two, as the players are given the task to discover what’s going on with the fish supply. The PCs are given suggestions for different NPCs to talk to.

What follows are lots of different role-playing scenes as the players travel around the town and talk to the mob boss, the factory owner, the fish monger, and the chandler. They gather clues, some useful and some red herrings (like the chandler is having an affair with the fishmonger!). Ultimately they can’t get any actionable intel and are supposed to just go to sleep for the evening, which feels like a tricky thing to force the probably disappointed PCs to do.

On the next day, detailed in part three, the players discover that the fishmonger has been murdered, and the chandler missing. This obviously advances the plot and provides the rest of the clues the party needs. That feels like we’re taking a bit of the power away from the players and simply letting them react to events, rather than letting them be more proactive, but it’s also kind of the way the mystery genre flows.

d&d

There’s more information for the PCs to gather and discover, which leads them to a goblin-filled cave a few miles north of Lartan. There they discover the factory owner wizard has been stealing the fish and keeping them on ice using an Ice Elemental, which is really nifty, and provides an epic final boss fight.

It’s a small but effective two-encounter dungeon, with the finale involving a secret alarm system, a goblin boss, a low-level wizard, and a low level ice elemental in a room filled with dropping icicle traps.

“Something Smells Fishy” plays out like a classic serialized TV drama, with one of our main NPCs being the Who-dunit. The heavy scripting can be forgiven for a mystery that plays out well. I particularly like that you could run this adventure in any coastal town for a relatively low level party, creating a nice drop-in mini-adventure with plenty of role-playing opportunities.

Pros:

  • The adventure is very well-organized, spelling out all the important clues and info the PCs will need, though really all you need is the final location.
  • The mystery is well-paced and satisfying, leading to a reasonable .conclusion without overstaying its welcome, and the little misdirections are a nice touch.
  • I like that an ascending order of information is given depending on how well the PCs succeed on many some ability checks.
  • We’re given a lot of nice background information on the town of Lartan, including extra NPCs the PCs could talk to.
  • The small cave map is excellent, and could easily be applied to a virtual tabletop like Roll20.

Cons:

  • The adventure is heavily scripted; the PCs can’t even advance the plot on their own and must wait until the murder on Day 2.
  • It’s implied that the captured chandler will be sexually abused by the goblins, which feels completely unnecessary and a rather nasty cliché.
  • I’m not a big fan of the way the adventure starts, with splitting the party up into individual mini-scenarios. Make sure your players would be okay with this. Alternatively you could easily start with Part 2.
  • The provided Lartan town map is very low resolution, and unlike the cave dungeon, a separate map file was not provided.

The Verdict: Something Smells Fishy provides a short but compelling murder mystery plot involving a fun cast of fishy characters and a satisfying finale.

A press copy of Something Smells Fishy was provided for the purposes of this review.

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Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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