tldr; This is a good low-level adventure with excellent design and presentation. The enemies could be stronger and the traps could use more sign-posting, but this would make a good introduction to role playing for first time players. It works well as a one-shot in traditional European-style fantasy settings but easily serve as the start of a Dolmenwood campaign.
Winter’s Daughter by Gavin Norman is a short adventure for D&D (there are versions for both 5E and the only Basic/Expert rules) set in the dark fairy tale setting Dolmenwood, which Norman has been fleshing out through his zine Wormskin and a few published adventures like this one. I hadn’t read any other Dolmenwood material before reading this and I felt like it provided enough background to be comfortable running it without reading anything else, but I did end up reading the free “Welcome to Dolmenwood” PDF before the session just to be sure.
The adventure has garnered a lot of praise for its format. It comes with two sets of maps. One unkeyed version that you can show the players, and a keyed version that includes brief descriptions of all the locations. Each location also gets a longer description in the text, fleshed out in bullet points. Most locations get their own page. That means it’s a much quicker read than its long page count suggests.
I ran this with three experienced role players using The Black Hack 2E as a stand-alone one-shot. It was our first time using the 2E, though all but one of us had played the first edition of Black Hack as well. The PCs started at third level. The whole thing, including character creation, took just under three hours.
Like pretty much everyone else, I have to praise the format. This is super easy to use at the table. It’s easy to find the write-ups for each location and because no write-up sprawls beyond a single page it was safe to assume I had all the details for any given location (the one exception is that magical items are described separately from their locations, but I didn’t that to be a problem).
The writing was clear, I never had to guess as to what was supposed to be going on in a particular location or what an NPC’s motivations were.
It’s a great introduction to Dolmenwood. It doesn’t assume any knowledge of the setting on the part of the GM or the players, which makes it a good starting point for those wanting to explore this particular setting but it’s general enough that you could drop it into other fantasy settings, though it would take some reskinning to use with a non-European setting. The adventure is self-contained enough to be a satisfying one-shot, but it could easily be a campaign starter as well. In short, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you use it.
I liked the flavor of the adventure. It’s a mix of darkness and whimsey. It’s weird enough to be interesting without going off the deep end. Personally, I like the deep end and it looks like the more you delve into the Dolmnenwood, the weirder it gets. But this adventure seems like the sort of thing that would appeal to more traditional fantasy fans as well as those of us with a taste for the bizarre.
There are lots of opportunities for role playing with the NPCs. Plus the NPCs were easy to role play, thanks to keeping their motivations clear and simple.
I wish each location description had a short, one or two sentence summary before all the bullet-pointed lists. The lists are great for running the adventure at the table, but having a short introduction regarding what’s going on in each location would have been helpful on the first read through.
I also wished the unkeyed maps didn’t have the secret door and secret compartment marked on them.
I wish I’d run this with level 1 or 2 characters. The combats didn’t seem very challenging for a party of three third level Black Hack 2E characters. The PCs were able to hack and slash through much of what they faced. They didn’t have a spellcaster with Dispel Magic, but if they had that would have made the whole adventure a cakewalk. I did forget to use the opponents’ armor pool, which would have made them harder to kill. So the lower challenge level is partially on me. It may also be partially a system thing: I suspect Black Hack characters are at least a little more powerful than equivalent level B/X characters, but it’s been a while since I’ve played or run Basic D&D. Regardless, if I ran this again I’d either run it with lower level PCs and/or up the damage rolled by the opponents.
I wish there were some hints in room 7 about how to undo the mirror’s paralysis effect. There’s not really any reason to think that Cure Light Wounds, which, mechanically, restores hit points, would work. And if your PCs are delving under the cover of night, they could have hours of game time to wait before sunlight is even an option. That makes the mirror a pretty harsh trap given that there’s not, at least by my reading of the room, any way to avoid having to make a paralysis save when they enter the room. The player whose character was frozen by it rolled up a new character because it took the other players so long to figure out what to do. If I run this again I’ll probably come up with some other thing for the mirror to do.
I wish there were some notes on what the wedding between Princess Snowfall-at-Dusk and Sir Chyde is like, in case the PCs want to stick around for it. After all, it’s an event the NPCs have been waiting hundreds of years for and the PCs made it possible.
I wish there were some notes on what might happen if the Drune successfully complete their ritual.
I let the PCs use the crack in the sky to escape Fairy, though it’s not mentioned as something they can do in the text. That escape route does raise the question of why the Princess hadn’t tried that herself, but otherwise the PCs would have simply been stuck in Fairy since they didn’t have a spellcaster with Dispel Magic.