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Designed by: Magic Missile Games
Investigations and mysteries are one of the hardest stories to pull off in a tabletop RPG, particularly in D&D, with the core gameplay loop of crawling through dungeons and fighting monsters.
Not only does The Case of Whitebriar Manor provide an effective, layered mystery-adventure, but it also escalates and unfolds over the course of a full Tier 1 and 2 campaign, resulting in one of the most impressive adventures I’ve reviewed all year.
The 200+ page campaign is divided into four acts and a prologue. The prologue doesn’t begin for nearly 30 pages; it’s preceded by an incredibly informative and helpful adventure background, including villainous schemes leading up to the start of the adventure, and details on the city of Everitt’s Grove, where nearly the entire campaign takes place.
The major cast of characters, which this murder mystery campaign refers to as Suspects and Sleuths, is given its own robust section, providing important background information and motivations for our multi-villain conspiracy group, noble families, crime syndicate, and NPCs caught in the middle.
All my reviews contain spoilers, but this is an additional warning if you have any desire to play this adventure, as it’s really something special. DMs – continue on!
The prologue is designed for fresh level 1 PCs, and is a mostly self-contained, low-level dungeon crawl, ironically one of the bigger dungeons in the campaign.
The party is hired to investigate a farm full of mutant rabbits, culminating in dungeon crawls beneath the farm and a nearby mine, with the villainous were-rabbit boss and his giant queen bee ally (named Queen Beelizabeth – love it!).
The prologue adventure has little to do with the main plot of the campaign, but does establish useful connections to the quest-giving NPC (Harland Chops) and his partner (Taldia), and teases a cryptic yuan-ti plot that gradually unfolds through the rest of the story.
Act one kicks off when Dr. Chops goes missing, and his wife’s plea for help back home pulls the party into the tangled political drama of Everitt’s Grove, home to a divinely powered, carefully guarded forest that produces a rare wood as its chief export. The town includes two major noble families vying for control as well as a casino run by a local crime syndicate.
It’s a city ripe for adventure, as the party arrives to find the wife implicated in a murder, with the victim spelling out the name of her manor in his own blood.
The adventure tows a wonderful line between a linear story and an open-ended investigation by organizing each act into a series of scenes. The party is mostly free to tackle these scenes (or have the DM trigger them) in an order, such as checking out the victim’s body in the temple (and the duplicitous priest), exploring the victim’s magic shop (and its many traps and defenses), and chatting with the local justicar, who has had to recuse himself from the investigation.
Each act includes important plot beats that the party should experience before moving on, such as discovering the involvement of the crime syndicate, leading to a climactic assault on the casino in act two, which harbors the lair of the murderer – a black dragon!
There are so many fun and memorable moments as the story plays out, like the vengeful former forest master kidnapping townsfolk for a nefarious yuan-ti plot, a spy with magical disguises posing as the secretly murdered head of a noble family (whose spirit can aid the party as a will o’ wisp), saving a mail caravan from a horde of gnolls, rescuing Tilda from a classic saw-mill conveyor-blade trap, winning the trust (and potential romance) with a would-be spy for the villain, and teleporting to a yuan-ti temple beside an active volcano.
It’s impressive how well the mystery plot unfolds, beginning with a singular murder, and gradually (but excitingly) revealing more nefarious townsfolk conspirators, all with their own motivations, working for a monstrous threat in the form of a yuan-ti seeking to bathe in naga blood and uncover the divine spark hidden beneath the manor.
It’s also impressive that the majority of the campaign, which should take players to about level 10, takes place in the same city – and not on the Sword Coast! The adventure takes full advantage of its thoroughly dissected location, and the party can enjoy meaningful relationships with recurring NPC allies and enemies. It’s all the more satisfying dealing with the likes of Lady Everitt in the final act as she reveals her own entanglement with the conspiracy, and the town’s brewing unrest erupts into full-blown murders and war in the streets, forming a thrilling backdrop for the final act.
I can’t gush enough about how much I love the story structure, but on the other end of the spectrum is the design and layout of the book – it’s distractingly mediocre. The font is too tiny, the art is minimal (and basic stock art), and there’s little in the way of colored text and headings – though I do love that we’re given ample dialogue samples for the many interrogation scenes.
If I were to compare The Case of Whitebriar Manor with other similarly priced and length products on the DMsGuild on it’s layout alone, it’s easily one of the weakest products I’ve reviewed. Content this good shouldn’t be a diamond in the rough, especially with how much content we get, including dozens of new unique monster statblocks and magic items.
Amazing production design and eye-catching layouts can easily elevate an otherwise okay product. Whitebriar Manor demonstrates the opposite effect: I can stomach the poor layout because I absolutely adore the adventure itself, the gold standard for not only how to design a murder mystery adventure, but also how to craft a compelling noir campaign that’s still distinctly D&D.
- Compelling murder mystery that starts small and unfolds into an epic conspiracy plot.
- Crafts an effective level 3-10 campaign centered around a single city.
- Perfect balance of socializing and role-playing, investigation and discovery, and dungeon crawling and combat.
- Suspects and Sleuths breaks down details and motivations for major NPCs, and all possible social and interrogation scenes are given sample dialogue.
- Nearly two dozen full color battle maps for each adventure location.
- Over 50 new monsters and magic items.
- Weak layout and design, including tiny text and minimal art.
- Dungeons and other areas of interest are oddly separated in their own Adventure Locations section.
The Verdict: Underneath its mediocre layout lies an intricately designed, well-written murder mystery and conspiracy thriller that spans a full level 1-10 campaign.
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