Short Module Review: Down Came a Black Bird (Stacey Allan): 4.5 Stars
The people of Saltmarsh are anxious and afraid; they pull their hoods down tightly and daren’t look up to the skies; they board their windows and block their fireplaces at sundown. A small band of children are in grave danger, having unwittingly brought a curse to their home. This is a town in dire need of heroes!
In Down Came a Blackbird, author/artist Stacey Allan makes her solo debut with stunning clarity and leaves no doubt that she is among the next wave of multi-talented creators whose content is to be lauded. Down Came a Blackbird is everything you want in a module–a mix of genres, and amazing plot, great NPCs and roleplaying, and great combat opportunities. In all things but its linearity, this adventure is a shinning example that new authors can produce timeless works.
Combat. Whether it’s fighting a swarm of gulls (more terrifying than it sounds), or defending against an ambush, all the combat encounters are creatively complex and mechanically meaningful. In fact, it wouldn’t matter what you fought, Stacey Allan’s “Philosophy of Combat Encounters” would assure it’s engaging, unique, and challenging. In the last battle, for example, in one of the middle encounters the author uses wave mechanics, terrain, bystanders, and encounters within the encounter to make a well-rounded and challenging (yet scale-able) battle.
Roleplay. This adventure is great for tables who like an even mix of roleplay and combat. Some of the encounters are solvable in multiple ways. The roleplay opportunities involve a variety of different skill checks, so all the players should be able to participate. They vary in consequence from “just for flavor” to “impacting the whole adventure.”
Plot. The plot is well-written and interesting, involving nods to horror, mystery, nautical, and even comedy (the flying row boat is both genius and comical) themes. It involves just the right amount of foreshadowing, and slowly unfolds in perfect pacing for the PCs to put the pieces together. In a Hitchcock meets “evil lovers” plot, the entire table will find itself smiling again and again as the revelations and encounters mount.
NPCs. The NPCs generally possess unique voices, backgrounds, and motivations, and evoke a range of emotions from empathy, annoyance, fear, and hate. While not all the NPCs are developed to this extent (nor can they be expected to), all of the important ones are. The DM should have a lot of fun playing everything from a young boy to an old lady, and the players will have fun interacting with a variety of people. Notes for how to roleplay the important characters are also included!
Linearity. If there is one weakness in Allan’s work, it is that the module is highly linear, boarding on “railroading”. With little room for deviation, or suggestion for what to do when players fail or get distracted, certain players or groups may get slightly frustrated being pointedly guided from one scene to the next. Even so, sometimes linearity can work or be forgiven, and because everything else in the module is so. dang. good, I’m tempted to overlook the issue.
Down Came a Blackbird excels in almost every way possible, and shouldn’t be overlooked just because of it’s singularity of plot. We are giving it 4.5 Stars and it comes Highly Recommended for just about table, but is a must have for Saltmarsh. If you appreciate our reviews and plan to purchase this product, please click the picture below to do so!