DMs Guild Review – Down Came a Blackbird

Investigate a series of avian-related murders with this level 3 adventure centered around the port village of Saltmarsh.

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A review copy of “Down Came a Blackbird” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: Stacey Allan

As a film student in college, I took a whole class on Alfred Hitchock, and one of Hitchock’s biggest films was The Birds, where a New England town is seemingly taken over by murderous swarms of birds for no apparent reason, leading to one of the most stupefying Don’t Go In There moments in horror cinema history.

Down Came a Blackbird,” an adventure designed for 3rd level, clearly draws its inspiration from the infamous Hitchcock film, as the residents of the port town of Saltmarsh have become victims to the increasingly erratic and violent behavior of the local birds. Since this is D&D, it involves a sea hag’s obsession, a violent peryton, and a town in need of some heroes.

I appreciate a well-organized DMs Guild product, and “Down Came a Blackbird” could be a poster child for exactly what I want to see. The first several pages very clearly states the setting and level range, the background lore that the DM needs to know to run the adventure, and the overview that breaks down each of the major plot beats into four parts. Other important information include adventure hooks and how to handle the Speak with Animals spell in case your PCs want to try and chat with a murder of crows.

No matter which hook is used, the PCs arrive in Saltmarsh to find a town assailed by the local birds, including several recent murders. Parts 1 and 2 involve the heroes talking to a number of prominent townsfolk. All the major NPCs are given a role-playing sidebar that feature well-written paragraphs depicting their appearance, mannerisms, attitude, and personality, which is far more interesting and useful than just listing traits, ideals, bonds, etc.

These encounters include saving the local vet from rampaging bird attacks, and investigating a fresh murder site during the first evening in town.

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As the PCs being to piece together the clues, the town calls a meeting, and the sea hag behind it all makes her move by summoning a horde of birds to swarm the townsfolk, along with her love-to-be, the peryton Kraggen, in Part 3. They’re after an egg as part of a ritual to change Kraggen into a humanoid, but it fell into the swamps near town and has been passed around by local kids, who promptly hand over the egg right before the big attack.

In Part 4 the PCs should have enough information to hunt down the hag herself, who lairs in a whale carcass (!) outside town. The final showdown will likely involve the sea hag animating the dead whale and commanding it to dive underwater while her mutated sea spawn attack in an epic climactic showdown.

For a relatively short, linear adventure “Down Came a Blackbird” is very well written and organized. Exploration is limited to the order in which the PCs decide to tackle the few townsfolk, but there are plenty of good role-playing opportunities, including proving themselves to the salty sailor Brynn to learn the hag’s location, and getting a chance to heroically save townsfolk during the big bird attack in Part 3.

Using a whale carcass as a sea hag’s lair is enormously brilliant and fun, and creates a very cool environmental hazard during the final battle. I was a bit disappointed that the lair consists of only the single boss room, however, as PCs, even as low as 3rd level, should be worn down of a few resources before taking on a big bad.

“Down Came a Blackbird” also excels at visualization, including a rich blue tone throughout the book and fantastic artwork. The adventure includes player and DM maps of the two major combat encounters: the town bird attack and the sea hag lair. Both are well-detailed grid maps that look great, with the major caveat that they’re black and white only. The same can be said of the player handouts, wonderful visual additions but could use a bit of color.

Pros:

  • Well-written role-playing notes for major NPCs.
  • Difficulty adjustments for every encounter, scaling from 1st – 4th level.
  • Excellent player handouts and grid maps.
  • Dead whale for a sea hag lair!

Cons:

  • Maps and handouts lack color.

The Verdict: “Down Came a Blackbird” cleverly adapts a classic film idea into D&D, featuring a conniving sea hag, a violent peryton, and multiple murders of crows.

A review copy of “Down Came a Blackbird” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

2 thoughts on “DMs Guild Review – Down Came a Blackbird”

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