U2 Hangman's Noose (Paizo 2008)
By Nicholas Logue
D&D 3.5 edition for level 1 characters
Ten years to the day after the most horrible injustice in Absalom's history, an implacable spirit returns to have his vengeance upon those who sent him to the gallows. Unfortunately for the heroes, they are among the jury of the damned, and come dawn they will all hang if they fail to find the true culprit.
The adventure is 32 pages long, cover price of $12.99 American.
- 2 pages of credits/legal/advertising
- 4 pages of background
- 7 pages of detailed NPCs (the Jurors)
- 10 of detailed location-based adventure in a deserted courthouse
- 5 pages of event-based adventure (hourly events)
- 2 pages of setting material irrelevant to the adventure
- 2 pages of new monsters
- 2 pages of maps on the inside covers (one is irrelevant)
Depending on how thoroughly your party explores or how mission oriented they are, some encounters will be bypassed. In my estimation, there are:
- Approximately 14 combat encounters
- Approximately 1 negotiation/role-play encounter*
- Approximately 4 encounters with things to examine or discover
- Approximately 5 "haunt" (trap) encounters.
*in addition to the negotiation encounter (event #7), there is plenty of opportunity for roleplaying, as the party is accompanied by 8 NPC jurors, each of which has a unique background and motives. Presumably a good GM will provide roleplaying opportunities with these NPCs at any time during the adventure.
The adventure is designed like a typical slasher-horror style movie, such as Friday the 13th or a Nightmare on Elm Street. Each hour for the first 6 hours an NPC is gruesomely killed. 10 years ago, the innocent executioner was falsely accused of killing his wife and child, and was hung for the crime. About the time of the conviction, an earthquake rendered the area unstable, and the courthouse was boarded up and abandoned. It is the 10-year anniversary of the injustice, and all of the original participants have been gathered to be killed off one-by-one by the executioner. The party must find the true culprit and hang him before dawn in order to put the executioner to rest.
The party are cast as surviving relatives of four of the original Jurors (who have died in the 10 years since the injustice was committed. One Juror, "Sveth", is in disguise. He was not a juror, just a friend of the executioner, and is disguised as one of the original jurors. Sveth has drugged and kidnapped all of the other jurors (including the party), though Sveth pretends to have been kidnapped himself in order to insinuate himself with jurors. Several surviving jurors had various motives for convicting the executioner, including some that wanted vengeance, some that were paid off, and some that were charmed. The judge and Prosecutor are also brought back into the courthouse to answer for their parts in the injustice 10 years prior.
The two main problems to trying to run a "Friday the 13th" adventure in a D&D game is that the party could simply kill the bad guy, or else they could run away. The module has solutions for both of these problems: The executioner is a special undead creature that is able to reform every hour (like a Lich) unless his spirit is put to rest by exposing the true offenders and bringing them to justice. The location (the courthouse) is somehow magically protected so that anyone that tries to leave through a window or door finds themselves back inside the courthouse.
Strengths of the Adventure
The 8 surviving jurors are very well detailed, with memorable quirks and character that make it easy to play them and easy for the players to keep the many NPCs straight. Each hour, one of the jurors is killed in a suitably ironic or humorous method, as is standard in the slasher genre.
Weaknesses of the adventure
The executioner's ability to reform may seem unfair to some players. While the result is admirable, (it forces them to try to solve the original crime rather than simply fight there way to a solution,) it is a bit unconventional. The party may not know that the executioner is an invulnerable CR5 opponent.
The magical warping that keeps people trapped in the courthouse is a very potent DM Fiat, and some player may consider it unfair.
All of the NPC jurors are killed off without giving the players agency to change the outcome. It is pretty heavy-handed. In most cases, the NPC slips away, and is shortly afterward killed. The party is always able to hear something happen, and arrives just as the NPC juror is killed—too late to do anything about it.
Two of the NPCs jurors were simply following orders, having been charmed by a sorcerer that was paid off by the true villain. It seems somewhat unfair that they should be killed for their "crime", but not all victims are deserving in the slasher genre.
I don't give much weight to text density and cost per page... I'd rather pay a lot for a small clever mystery than pay a little for a huge repetitive monster bash.
I don't give much weight to new monsters, prestige classes, and magic items... they can add a little variety to an adventure, but to me they are minor decoration.
1. Interesting and varied encounters (I look for unique encounters, allowing for a variety of role and roll playing.): (3/5)
Most of the encounters are with undead creatures of one sort or another, though there is a variety of undead. There are different types of undead in almost every room, some of which are not at all necessary to the main plot, other than to pad out the adventure with extra combat. For example, there is a Ghoul-Stirge (a flying ghoul that drinks blood like a stirge) that lives in a belfry. There is a baliff coffer-corpse, a ghast priest and even a skeletal dog that once belonged to a judge in the courthouse.
There are too many "haunt" encounters. "Haunt" encounters are like traps, except that they are undetectable. An example of a Haunt is something strange happening, like a grandfather clock suddenly clanging, or books flying off of a bookshelf, or something like that. The haunts act in other ways like traps, getting either an attack roll or allowing a saving throw, and inflicting some small hit-point or ability damage. Unlike normal traps, there is no warning about haunts, and no way to prevent them. It is a simple random thing where the players are passive recipients of damage.
The entire adventure takes place in a large courthouse. There are a variety of rooms, such as courtrooms, prison cells, judge's chambers, jury deliberation rooms, storage rooms, morgue, and torture chamber. It is still a pretty small location as far as adventures go. Almost every room has some type of undead in it.
The best part of the adventure is not actually listed as an enumerated encounter—it is the role-playing that will probably happen between scenes, as the party interacts with the other jurors. This could have been fleshed out a little more for newer (or lazy) GMs, especially with sample dialog. For example, instead of a "haunt" just being some random trap, it could also kick-start a discussion with the NPC Jurors, as the actions prompt them into confessing something or at least starting a conversation on a related topic.
2. Motivations for monsters and NPCs (or some detail of how they interact with their environment or neighbors.): (3/5)
Except for the executioner, all of the other creatures attack mindlessly.
The NPCs jurors have very good back stories, and most jurors have some suggestions on how they act: one is a braggart, one tries to tell jokes, etcetera. This is the strongest element of the adventure, and it could probably have been even better, with sample dialog and actions for many of the encounters.
I particularly liked two of the NPCs. One was Elbin, a failed or wanna-be jester. The author writes "[Elbin] attempts to turn every phrase the PCs utter and tries in vain to make light of the horrible situation. His jokes only add to the unsettling atmosphere". The other NPC that I thought was well done was Allister Wade, a snob who is clever enough to suspect trickery right from the start.
3. Logical (the adventure should obey a sense of logic that clever players can use to their advantage): (2/5)
The adventure certainly obeys a "slasher movie" logic, in that the main bad guy cannot be killed. The main bad guy shows up every hour to kill someone. The bad guy is unstoppable. The only way to stop the bad guy is to resolve some issue related to the "origin story" of the villain.
The adventure provides plenty of clues and opportunities for the party to "solve" the problem. Unfortunately even if they figure out the clues quickly, they will not have an opportunity to resolve the problem until all 7 events have triggered (resulting in the deaths of most of the non-party jurors).
As I've described before, some of these elements don't work so well with standard D&D conventions. When players realize that a killer is about, they'll try to keep the group together, or they'll try to leave. The adventure dictates that the NPCs continue to wander off and get killed beyond the reach of the players. And the player characters are unable to leave the dungeon or defeat the executioner.
4. Writing Quality (foreshadowing, mystery, and descriptions that bring locations and NPCs to life): (3/5)
Fans of the slasher genre will appreciate the background, the mystery ready to be solved, and particularly some of the funny/ironic deaths of the NPCs. For example, Elbin, the wanna-be jester I mentioned above, is killed by having his tongue cut out and suffocating on his blood. Later in the adventure he returns as a zombie to attack the party, batting his severed tongue at the party like a fleshy sap.
One of the major "background" victims, the executioner's son, doesn't show up as a creature or entity that the party can interact with. The other major "background" victim, the executioner's wife, might have made for a good ghost—someone the party could talk with and negotiate with, but instead she is a shadow that attacks the party mindlessly. The executioner doesn't parley with the party at all.
The adventure also contains a map and a few pages detailing the city district where the adventure takes place. Since the party is unable to leave the courthouse, absolutely none of this material is related to the adventure.
5. Ease of GMing (Clear maps, friendly stat blocks, skill check numbers, player handouts and illustrations): (4/5)
The adventure has excellent advice for GMs to bring the NPCs to life. The first portion of the adventure is location-based, and the second half provides hourly event-based encounters. The adventure is very straightforward and fairly easy to read.
There is boxed text. A clear map, and there are 2 player handouts, although they are in-line with the text and would have to be photocopied and cropped before they could be provided to the players.
There are some very good designer's notes included in the adventure: particularly giving advice on bringing the NPCs to life; dealing with one NPCs use of charm spells; and advice on providing clues and keeping the players motivated if they get stuck.
This is a heavy-handed adventure that could be fun for experienced players if they are willing to give up a considerable amount of player agency. It could also be fun for players who are new to role-playing, but who are huge fans of the slasher genre.
I am only a moderate fan of slasher movies, and I am not at all a fan of restricting player agency in a role-playing game. For that reason, I was not very happy with the adventure. My rating is low primarily as a result of the loss of player agency. If you are a "storytelling" GM, and your players are comfortable with some railroading and heavy-handed DM fiat, then this would certainly make for a fun adventure. If in addition to those properties you and your players are fans of the slasher genre, this book is a must-have.
My first thought on reading this was that it was most similar to Agatha Christie's "10 Little Indians", in which 10 people in a remote location are getting killed off, one-by-one, and one of the 10 is actually the killer. The descriptions of the NPC jurors was outstanding, and I was really looking forward to the adventure after I had read the first 1/3. My opinion took a 180 degree change for the worse once I realized that the slasher was unbeatable and that there was a huge amount of visions, haunts, and events in which the players would not be able to act.
The author, Nicolas Logue, suggests that if you have fewer than 4 players, that you should add a juror, and with more than 4 you should remove NPC jurors. I think that although a 12-person jury is the most common for criminal trials in English-speaking countries, it is by no means absolute. It is certainly popular due to movies like "12 angry men", but there are plenty of jurisdictions in America with larger or smaller criminal trial juries, and in a fantasy setting there is even less reason to keep to 12 jurors. I'd run the adventure as-is regardless of the number of player characters. It seems a shame to lose any of the wonderful NPCs. There are some mystical "visions" for each of 4 jurors, that may need to be tinkered with to make the adventure flow if you don't have exactly 4 players in your group.
You can see my other reviews on the forums at GrippingTales