Compendium Review: The Dread House (Danny O’Neill): 4.5 Stars
The great house stands alone in the night, abandoned for more than a generation. Stripped of its beauty and glory by the ravages of time, it has become a fell place, shunned and avoided by all. Rumors persist that the home is haunted, and that ghosts can be found roaming its halls during the day and night. None challenge the rumors, for those that go into the house return broken or mad, or do not return at all.
Dread House is a system-flexible series of horror modules that is full of options and great moments of terror centered around a timeless house and the ghosts which inhabit it. While, because of its sheer breadth of content, the book is sometimes difficult to navigate or keep the information straight, it’s amazing flexibility, ambiance, optional rules, and number and variety of adventures makes this a great purchase for any table who likes to run horror.
System Flexibility. These series of adventures can be played in three different systems–D&D 5e, Pathfinder, and Call of Cthulu. The fact that they’re able to get three systems worth of content in a 290 page supplement while still having more than one long adventure is impressive. The rules and suggestions for how to use each adventure for each system is relatively clear, though somewhat hard to keep track of in a “macro sense” throughout the module. Still, this product gives you a lot of “bang for your buck.”
Setting Flexibility. The different modules allow for a lot of opportunity to play during a lot of different time periods. Options range between the 15th and 22nd centuries, and include periods like the roaring 20’s, the renaissance, and the distant future. These possibilities just add to the fact that there’s something for everyone in the product, and the replay value is very high.
Ambiance. The ambiance is classic horror and relies on the narrative and environmental cues to invoke a sense of dread. Though the type of horror is restricted primarily to that of ghosts, it’s done in a such a way that even this normally tired trope works to provide a slew of horrific encounters and an overall narrative that accomplishes its goal.
Introduction. At nearly 13 pages, the introduction to this product might seem long, but it is packed with useful information–some is fluff, but most is useful in running the adventures. The most generally useful section is the recommendations for increasing the horror of the game which includes rather unique suggestions like dressing up in costumes, dimming the lights, and even sending out spooky invitations to the game.
The most essential section is how to navigate the product’s layout of using three different system options. It accomplishes this primarily by color coding but at different times seems to assume there are default systems you’re using, and so doesn’t always follow the color coordination. Still, a very helpful section too read through, and the product would be unusual without it.
Optional Rules. The optional rules near the end of the book add another level complexity, fun, and engagement. With optional rules for fear and sanity, and two new rule sets for “soul points” (ability drain and negative energy damage) and “Ghost Touch” (special magical weapons), there’s unique ways to customize your sessions that add both breadth and depth. The optional rules are well designed, welding together narrative and mechanical finesse to provide an awesome and setting appropriate method of layering mechanics onto an existing foundation.
Adventures. The adventure option in this product range from “micro” length to mini-campaigns. While they are meant to stand alone, they could be inserted into a larger horror campaign, or even strung together. They’re well designed with engaging encounters, excellent narrative, and vibrant NPCs. There isn’t a single adventure in this product I wouldn’t run at my table.
Navigating the book. With everything packed in this book, it’s frequently hard to navigate. I occasionally had to go back to the beginning to remember certain rules, the layout sometimes feels cramped, and it’s hard to tell which part of the product you’re in. The table of contents is two pages long and in mini-paragraph form. It doesn’t always follow it’s own suggestions of color coding based on system. The TOC is not interactive and there’s no bookmarks to quickly get around the 250+ page document.
None of these make the product unusable, of course, but it takes a little more cognitive energy and time to prepare your session.
The Dread House comes is 4.5 Star material, and is Highly Recommended for anyone who wants to run horror sessions. While there’s moderate navigation issues within the document, they are far outshined by the quality design and the amount of variety the product provides. You can pick it up by clicking on the picture below.