D&D Module Review: The Secrets of Sokol Keep (DDEX1-02)

I’m starting a new thing (well, two) where I run modules instead of storylines and review them. This is a DM’s review, so there are spoiler things. Player’s should be aware.

Last night, I ran “Secrets of Sokol Keep.” It was my first Tier 1 Module I’ve run in a while and I had forgotten what they were like. It’s also the first I’ve run in Season 8 of AL, so who knows how that affected things. I had 7 players, so more than recommended. That probably changed how the adventure was paced.

This adventure starts with a an awkward the party slowly assembles in a tavern. Trying to be true to the expirement, I let it happen, temporarily rescinding my vow to never bring the party together. Turns out, it was not worth my time. So that’s another confirmation bias added to my quiver.

After that, there’s a bar fight, where the players are supposed to participate in a friendly fist fight that doesn’t have all the participants clearly listed. It’s written as being non-lethal, but only because the writer has never played D&D. My table one-hit-killed three of the commoners. And then there’s no real consequences? In a home game, I would have stated some expectations, and then probably hung the three murderers. But whatev. AL is weird.

This whole adventure is built around a quest that is secretly a murder mystery. It’s not a horrible idea, although there’s a lot of issues with it’s execution. My time in GUMSHOE taught me how unsatisfying clues are when they’re locked behind skill walls. Also, my table was full and I was rushing. If I had to run the mystery again, I would slow it down, (know the facts myself, let the players have the fun of the investigation, and not restrict clues to “oh, you need a 15 in [skill] to progress.” Bleh.

I ended up liking the NPCs. Came up with a fun voice for the groundskeeper that I realized later was based on a minor Simpson’s Character (like, 1 episode (the best episode), at least of the Simpsons I’ve seen…). So that’s neat.

I think if I ran this again, I’d try to play up the NPCs and make it feel like a Scooby Doo episode, up until the is suddenly an actual body. And actual undead, really.

10 Point Scale

Matt’s classic 10 Point Review system has been revived for Module rating!

This is an oddly written adventure. It felt schizophrenic to read. The fights didn’t watch the room descriptions, which were NOT on the map at all, and it was at odds with the overall story. At the table, I was harsh on this adventure because all I could see were the issues it had with presentation, but now with a bit of time and distance, I think it was a good one.

I wasn’t impressed with the baddies in this one. Not enough fights to cement the combat, not enough pointing at the miscreants to make my party suspicious. Maybe if I had more time and wasn’t rushing at the end I could have done the final encounter(s) better. I did like the ninja ghouls. that was great, especially at low level. Ghouls aren’t as scary as they were in Old D&D.

I like the NPCs, but they could have used tweaks. The authors were sure that the innkeeper and his assistant would be the core exposition, but they weren’t. I’d divvy up the roles a little, provide a bit more rumor (fill the tavern with a rowdy, restless, gossiping crowd, for starters) and try to get more information across. I think there are also supposed to be a Faction NPC or two to exposit if needed, but in this season, that’s not a thing I have.

Basically, you never really have all the time you need to prep, and never know what’s safe to gloss over until its too late. Perhaps running more modules will help me laser in on what I need. We’ll see.

The story in this module isn’t great. They use a ghost to plug any plot holes and fix any place where the players get caught. Nice enough to have a safety net, but it’s not a great patch.

This adventure is very flexible. All you need is a body of water that needs a lighthouse and you’re good. Heck, replace the beacon with something adjacent and you can put this anywhere. Change the Black Fists to any form of cop and you’re good. Might be one or two small things, but that’ll get you most of the way there.

And the hooks, oh man the hooks! So many! The tavern you start with has something like 7 NPCs who could continue the story. House Sokol is there if you want to go noble patron on some bigger quest, Black Fists are there if you want to go more cop show, there’s a book of Cults on the Moonsea, that isn’t really important to the plot, but you can spin that to something bigger… so many good places to add a part two.

Rumors of pirates that I had forgotten to drop in to the mix is the seed for the next adventure, it looks like. But I’ll work on that later.

Presentation is where this module falls apart. As I mentioned up top, the module seemed to be going many many different ways at the same time. Then there is a map. Oh, Zarks, the map.

Look, my biggest peice advice for running this adventure is to look at the map for a second, sneer, discard it, then draw one from the text, one that has handy things like doors and passages mentioned in the adventure. And is not rough and hand-drawn.

Really, there is a lot of the adventure that needs tweaks. Use this module as guideline, not gospel.

I do think the final(-ish) room is a great set piece. Glowing statues, altars with bodies that stand up and attack while dead, the ghoul ambush, you could have this be an amazing fight if you have the time. And winning the fight doesn’t win the adventure, which is interesting if you have time to investigate it.

Running It Again

I think this point needs to be emphasized. This is an adventure I’d run again, but with a lot of tweaks.

First, no one has time to bring a party together. I’d quantum them together, then narrate them into the Laughing Goblin Tavern. The bar is filled with angry people and a lot of rumors are flying. Sokol Keep, Sargent Grim, Igan Sokol and the Beacon are phrases you keep hearing pop up again and again.

I’d run the barfight, but remove the D&D from it. Make it a skill challenge. If the party can get to # of players in successes before they get 1/2 # in failures, they succeed in the fight and get extra info from people they rescue. Else, Black Fist, wade in and break up the fight. Try to have this challenge be more narratory than just numbers.

Play up the NPCs that get talked to. AL keeps me from giving out gold, so its harder to quest give, which is an issue. But outside AL, offer silver for answers.

Play up the ferryman as a Scooby Doo villain. The adventure doesn’t have enough suspects. I don’t know who else is a good suspect, but that’s a thing I would work on.

Draw a rough 5 location map for Thorn Island and the Keep. Players should know they can head to the 3 towers and the room, but also know there isn’t much else to the place.

I haven’t tried to decipher the clue, as I was told the answer in the adventure, but have the handout ready to hit a player in the face from a guided ghost delivery if they’re stuck. My players solved the password without even knowing there was a trap, so it can’t be overly hard.

Rebuild the map, separate the rooms, make this a scary place down below. Being hit by the sudden ghoul should trigger an “I knew it” not a “Ah, WTF!?!?” Make he statue super eerie. Use super zombies, not the stupid standard (the DC to stay up is damage – 5, not 5 + damage. Makes it a feature that matters as zombies don’t die

Zarks

Those are my notes. The Secretes of Sokol Keep gets a decent 7/10 from me. Probably worth a gander.

  1. Did I like the Module? YES
  2. Did I like the Villains/monsters? NO
  3. Did I like the NPCs? YES
  4. Did I like the Story? NO
  5. Did I like the Resolution/Finale? YES
  6. Is the story Flexible? YES
  7. Is the adventure well presented? NO
  8. Is there a clever puzzle or complication? YES
  9. Are there sufficient Hooks? YES
  10. Would I run it Again? YES

Hey, Post note. This adventure says it should be about 4 hours long. My party did some rushing and did it in about 2 hours, maybe 2.3 hours. If I had a smaller table, I would have run it a lot slower. (Also, outside AL would make it different as well…) So keep that in mind.

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