Violent death

Spelljammer module review

gaming modules rpg 5e scifi dnd

With the release of Spelljammer for D&D 5th Edition, I decided to break out the second AD&D Spelljammer module Skulls & Crossbows. I'm looking at it particularly with quick conversion in mind, but also for story and general usefulness. The seventh adventure in the book is called "Violent death."

Violent death

This adventure deviates from the formulæ so far, in a few ways. First, it's recommended for players level 7-10. Secondly, while it does start with the same vague story hook that the PCs "find out about some piracy in some region of Wildspace", the actual hook is a shipwreck, and most of the adventure is essentially a dungeon crawl through an abandoned tradesman (that's a Flying Fish Ship in 5e.) It's spooky, mysterious, and completely unlike anything they've done before.

The abandoned ship is the Sculpin, and the adventure provides something for most of the rooms on the map. Some rooms are empty, so those are skipped. The Flying Fish Ship of 5e and the Tradesman of 2e are identical ship designs, so there's really no conversion to be done. There aren't many actual threats on the abandoned ship, so you don't even have to look up that many monsters, and the ones you do are in the standard Monster Manual.

The mystery of the ship is the driving force in this adventure. Your players are going to try to piece together how the ship came to be in such a state, and while not many clues are officially provided, I was constantly coming up with ideas as I re-read the adventure.

Death ship

As written, the cause of the wreckage returns to the scene of the crime. There are reasons for it, but frankly I didn't buy it. I think in my game, I'll probably try to influence my players to follow some clues and hunt down the enemy, instead of just having the enemy show up. Should they decide not to, then the enemy can return to initiate battle.

The enemy is called Manara, and I won't describe her to avoid spoilers. Even in 2e, Manara is too high a CR for a level 7-10 party. The adventure doesn't assume that the players are going to defeat Manara, and in fact if anything it seems to suggest that it's more likely that smart players will run away. A player could possibly die from this fight, but it usually only takes one death or near-death for the party to get the message.

You could nerf Manara by swapping her out for something with a lower CR. I can think of a few good Kobold Press stand-ins, and at level 7-10 a standard vampire is also a reasonable option. The "problem" with Manara escaping, though, is that you're then left with an outstanding powerful foe who your players are likely to believe is the big bad. That could be fine, depending on how you run your game, but it could also be an inconvenient red herring.

I anticipate that for my game, I'll keep Manara as she's written (taking her stat block from her creature type in the Monster Manual.) Players will run, or else the elven naval fleet, whom they'll have hopefully allied with in the previous adventures, will show up and rescue them from Manara's clutches. But I do think it's likely to be a tricky encounter. The players are going up against a monster 10 levels their superiour, and she has a death wish. It's a pretty good recipe for a TPK, but then again 5e equips player characters with a lot of tools to survive, and this adventure in particular provides the chance for players to discover some extra boosts in their fight.

Violently happy

This adventure is as inspiring and troubling as it is atmospheric and foreboding. I'm very eager to run it, and I'm pretty sure it's the best adventure in the book. Then again, I'm only on page 26 of 64, so there's still every chance that it's going to get even better. Next up is "Forgotten but not gone," which is surely an adventure starkly different from this one, because why would anyone put two near-identical adventures, one after the other? That would be ridiculous!

Skulls & Crossbows cover copyright by Wizards of the Coast, used under the fan content policy.

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