|Magical Murder Mansion|
Magical Murder Mansion (2019)
Before you stands a bizarre creation: a funhouse dungeon that tries to make sense. It is a neatly engineered mishmash, an IKEA nightmare that would pass an EU inspection. You see, the killer cucumbers are all according to directive, and the death ray room will kill you in a fair way. Do not run. You will, in fact, have fun. Welcome to Magical Murder Mansion.
In this module, the characters will explore the haunted house of a crazy wizard who has apparently shuffled off this mortal coil, but not before turning his mansion into a funny deathtrap where adventurers will love to die. Indeed, it will be Hubert Nibsley – and the GM – who will have the last laugh! Where early funhouse dungeons were created through a stream-of-consciousness loose association approach (magical herbs optional), this is a studied recreation of this dungeon subgenre. Tegel Manor, White Plume Mountain and The Tomb of Horrors are cited in the introduction, which lays out the design goals of the module in a clear and transparent fashion. It is deadly, it is full of bizarre stuff, and it is somewhat adversarial, but it is not capricious – a real “thinking man’s dungeon” that plays fair and allows for a lot of open-ended problem solving. Of course, it is also a lesson in the ultimate funhouse design – that poking hornets’ nests is a lot of fun.
Magical Murder Mansion is admirably large and complex by modern standards. It describes a multi-level mansion and its 90 keyed areas – and takes only 15 pages to do so with inset maps and a few illustrations, before dedicating the other half of the module to new monsters and other supplementary materials. The entries represent a good compromise between scope and detail. There is establishing flavour (“Tawdry abstract red and orange wall hangings, badly chewed or motheaten”), and GM information presented in a clear, succinct way tailored for table use (“Small water basin full of light pink oil of slipperiness: makes everything it touches frictionless for 10 minutes”).
Most encounters are things to mess with, traps, or puzzles which are reasonably open-ended and typically depend on observation and a little lateral thinking, which usually represents 40-50% of the mythical “player skill”. The author set out to write a module where even failures make sense in hindsight (“Yup, we did walk into this one”), and has stuck to this vision. The action is mostly non-linear (although there is one gated “collect these four objects” puzzle that’s essential), and after the players go through a few encounters, they’ll invariably start to think up crazy schemes to turn the deathtraps and monsters into an asset to combat other deathtraps and monsters. This kind of emergent complexity is nice to see in a published product.
|Vegetables Gone Bad|
This is not a module for people who like deep immersion, or care for some kind of pseudo-historical veneer over their games. The mansion is completely anachronistic even in D&D’s obviously ahistorical assumed setting (which, ironically, would not have been out of place at a late 1970s game table). It is also filled with gonzo monsters like laser rats, the cool-as-ice wrestling angel, and the veggie-mites, a tribe of animated vegetables. It is all silly, but the monsters are functional, and two (the module’s take on tooth fairies and the mole dragon) are original and quite creepy. It did lack a certain whimsical sense of wonder that’s present in Tegel Manor and White Plume Mountain, which also pitch seriousness out the window, but somehow do better at building an environment that feels magical (the whole "dungeon as mythic underworld" concept). This is, again, a rationalist’s take on these old hallucinatory visions.
It would be unfair to omit the module’s dedication to usability. Dungeon sections are mostly presented on facing pages, one of which displays a partial map of the specific mansion section. The map itself is easy to read, and there is a blank players’ version that could be printed on a larger sheet of paper (something that comes from Tegel). Handy cross-references point to the material you will need. Creature stats are not included in the main module text, but at least they are simple to find in the appendix – along with more useful stuff, like tables for magical accidents and enchanted pools. There is also abundant explanatory text and GM advice about running the module and getting the most out of it.
As mentioned above, Magical Murder Mansion is a sleek, highly polished take on the funhouse dungeon concept. Everything is in its right place, and it is actually quite sensible as some powerful madman’s final prank on the world. Maybe it is just a bit too orderly – it lacks some of the drive and baroque flourishes of the modules it was inspired by, like the Green Devil Face or the Gazebo with a killer vine which has -8 AC and 50 hit points. So what you get is more Scooby Doo than a bizarre Fleischer Brothers cartoon caught on late night TV – which is a criticism only if you were expecting the latter. As a beer-and-pretzels that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it is very well done.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: **** / *****