Synopsis: Tasked with uncovering the culprit behind a series of grisly murders, DMSGuild writer-turned-Wizards-author M.T. Black does it again in Red Jack: A Masque of the Red Death Adventure, the first in what looks to be a series of Gothic earth 5e adventures.
Review: Veteran author of the Guild, M. T. Black recently released a 5th Edition update to the 2nd Edition Ravenloft variant, Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales with a quick 1st level one-shot scenario centered romp through nineteenth-century London. In the adventure, the players are tasked with solving a string of grisly murders amidst the squalor and depression of early industrial sprawl.
Black does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the age, laying out very interesting places such as police stations, alleyways and pubs, stocked with great characters, all reminiscent of the time period. Characters go on what amounts to essentially a murder whodunit in the spirit of a Sherlock Holmes novel and are bound to enjoy themselves along the way. The descriptions of each investigative point are spot on, even if they are only given a brief bit of backstory which actually helps to ensure the module moves along at a brisk pace. A nice map, a nostalgic period-piece handout and the overall design are minimalistic and further accentuate the overall tone of the setting.
The setting itself which is actually very intriguing as Black has altered some fundamental features of the way game mechanics work in the world. Set on a Gothic Earth, magic and firearms exist in this imagined alternative reality which is really expertly implemented by the author. The rules for sanity, hinted at in the DMG are given a chance to shine under Black’s capable hands. Player’s may be in for a treat, or shock, when they discover the way things work in this world, but I think it’s a nice touch that really adds to the mood overall.
The entire adventure has a distinctly Call of Cthulhu feel, with much less of the oppressive sense of impending insanity and global destruction. Black does a great job of transferring the spirit of that system to 5e and if you and your player’s are looking for an excellent 5e mystery adventure reminiscent of Cthulhu or gaslight crimes, Red Jack is definitely what you need.
So what are you waiting for? Buy Red Jack: A Masque of the Red Death Adventure now on the Guild for less than a shilling, at only 2.95.
Now…Is it Horrific?
Fear (Safe and Sound). The tone of Red Jack is much more procedural than emotional, with a definite weight tipped in favor of the players through much of the interactions, lessening the overall fear of danger until the story revs up in the second half.
Setting (Nostalgic). The setting is spot on, with excellent descriptions of 19th Century London. The squalor and oppressiveness is seamlessly written into the adventure and DMs should have no problem giving characters evocative descriptions of the world as they make their way through Gothic Earth. Black is clearly taking the first steps in a Gothic world-building and it shows in his attention to the era and to the drawn-out nature of the exploration.
Consequences (Sparingly). A touch more of impending doom may have given this adventure a more significant horrific feel, as players may be more invested in the outcome of the investigation as opposed to the actual threats to their physical well-being or mental health. The sanity rules, fleshed out from the outset of the module would have been very interesting to see if given more weight throughout the story, especially at certain key scenes where players pursue ghoulish inquiries.
Suspense (Slow-burn). As a procedural, the adventure shines in giving players suspenseful and occult-laden clues throughout. Much like the fear, the suspense is slightly muted by the uncertainty of culprit at the outset, but skillful DMs should be able to drop hints throughout to offer perceptive players a bit of spine-tingling insights.
Is it a Horror? Verdict: Suspenseful Crime Drama