Flayed Whistle of the Marked Trace Review


So ... slow work day? Every day?
Flayed Whistle of the Marked Trace was authored by Rabenwonne for Levels 1-2 for system neutral.
I swear I'm never drawing again for my own adventures...everyone in this contest has great art!!


Alright...I'm going to start off by saying--this is not your typical adventure. It even states that on the cover--"...adventure of twisted tales." What's your typical adventure? Well it's the type of adventures we like to read reviews about on Bryce's site where backstories aren't long, areas are short and easy to scan and etc. etc....but this is an "adventure of twisted tales" so I see it as more of a story teller type adventure. Not only that but it encompasses the fairy tale vibe....

I break this down into Pro's and Suggestions. Let's take a look.

Right off the bat, we got a long backstory--about a page. This is usually a negative in most adventures, but I'm making it a positive for this review. Why? Because this adventure is based on a fairy tale...you NEED a tale to get that fairy tale vibe..right? So I think moreso than other adventures, this type of backstory IS needed to capture that vibe.

So we learn about the major NPC's and their drama and then Rabenwonne spins a wildly creative curveball--a secret becomes an entity on its own! It's basically the main villain in the adventure. Immediately, that pulled me into the fairy tale vibe. To help us keep track of the major NPCs, there is a character chart which shows how everyone is interconnected. Awesome!

The adventure has a wilderness map and gives a general layout of the lands. A few descriptions in the map allows DMs to build upon the land and incorporate their own stuff. It gives a brief description of the landmarks--this is great!
There is a city and it's in a star-like fortification. That goes great with the fairy tale vibe.
There is the trope of coins being tossed in the magic fountain--which is completely fitting in this adventure.
I liked the random encounters in the city and that there are both day and night differences.
Overall, the maps are good and easy to read. And there are also player maps in the back or possibly for online play.

I like the illusionary wind that people can’t hear in one of the rooms. I can see my players trying to figure that mystery out. That sort of stuff keeps people on their toes. Along the lines of the illusionary wind, I like the weird, glowing fungus thing.

I loved the wine spirit….my dwarf character would snatch that and carry it with him. Again, these are the type of things that fit into a fairy tale and it works great.

I love the ghost of Sir Herribert..coming out and brags about his deeds. Could use some examples (i.e. I killed Grubvastik the Red Dragon by myself, blah blah.”) to help the GM, but I loved the roleplay aspect this brings to the adventure.

Then the adventure goes up a notch with the fairy tale vibe in that people play music to keep safe from the dire moles. So this gives a whole reason why this whistle was made and how the history of the NPC's have twisted it all up. I felt like I just read a tale from Disney.

Did I say the art looks great yet? Well it is! I love all the rat paws everywhere--it keeps with the whole theme.
The Coph Caves--there is a section for the NPCs which is great.
I also liked the general creepy vibe of the city--it was mysterious and makes people wonder what's going on here.

First off, the adventure is not very GM friendly as far as scanning it during play:
1. Could use a table of contents (I'm a TOTAL hypocrite--I didn't put one in mine either. Damn it!). :geek:
2. Using Italics for the description of the Flayed Whistle can get hard to read when using it in paragraphs.
3. Overall, the adventure is not easy to scan to find information quickly during play. Bolding, bullet points and/or indents would help the scannability.

The main issue of those 3 is #3. So let's explore that a bit.
There is an area where if PCs watch servants, they can find information about the basement or they could discover information about the prince. But all of this is embedded in paragraphs. They would of been more clearly seen in a table or with bullet points.

I'd prefer to see names of rooms as a title before describing them. For example 2. Conference Room: then the description of the room could go after it. This was done in the city part, but not in the basement. Having that title is a useful tool when playing because you can immediately visualize the room instead of having to read a bit to determine what's going on. It also breaks up the sections a bit.

Bolding make things stand out—for example, the potion of invisibility in room 12--I almost missed it, whereas Potion of Invisibility or even Potion of Invisibility would pop out a bit more. Yes, I know...Italics...but when it's short like that its not as hard to read.

More evocative words could be used. "Small" was used a lot in descriptions. Of course, English is not the author’s first language and I think she did a great job overall writing this in English! Das ist gut Anstrengung! (did I say that right?)

Room 3—could have some examples of type of stuff in the shelves, types of ingredients, etc. Maybe even an opportunity to put in a table of random stuff to make things interesting. This helps the GM not have to come up with something on the fly if players ask what's inside. Same with 18. Chest of belongings—give examples...maybe some are valuable?

Describe, don’t tell:

“7. This is the entrance and exit that the drude uses whenever the masquerades as a washerwoman and hides among the servants. Behind a knight’s armor on display is a secret spot for eavesdropping.”

Maybe the room is not very dusty because its used all the time by the drude...or maybe the door is well oiled and easy to open...other clues that the room is well-used instead of telling us that the drude uses it.

“16. The drude found a way to build a secret chimney that leads the smoke up behind the laundry room where the smoke mingles with steam. The drude uses this fireplace to cook whenever she feels the need for a hot meal.”

This is an attempt for things to make sense and I totally understand why you wrote it like that...but you need to think about if this will ever come up during play? Maybe if characters find themselves in the laundry room and got sniffs of smoke it would make sense to leave this in here or if it was another entrance into the basement, but it’s not useful info DURING play...it clutters up text and hides important bits. Another way to incorporate the chimney is that maybe some trinket is hidden in there.

So, I wrote some other comments while reading the adventure which I think hammers in my last point:

If there wasn’t a backstory—how would the characters know the ‘story’ of whats going on? What makes them curious about the prince or the king’s affairs? What gets the characters into the basement? Rumor tables and adventure hooks could assist with giving the PCs clues on what's going on. The city especially could of used a rumor table to help the players learn of the story.

AHA! YOU DID DO THIS! I found the plot hints...great! But I think they would be better in the beginning so the GM has a grasp of what's going on in the beginning.


It's obvious to me that the author has a great grasp of what makes a excellent fairy tale. I think that vibe was captured perfectly. The adventure is there too as well as a mystery component...but what is needed is a few tweaks/tools to make the adventure easier to use for the GM during play.
I could totally see this adventure for young children to get them to play a tabletop roleplaying game and I'd want to see more of them.


8, 8, I forget what is for
Yeah, I though this was a great example of the rare situation where backstory positively contributes to gameplay and the DM's understanding of the module.


A FreshHell to Contend With
Sorry for taking so long to react!

Thank you so much for your review, Malrex! I was delighted to read the pros and I can definitely see how your suggestions would support the GM during a session. And, yes, I can just fully agree on some descriptions being too much. I think my second adventure will differ. But, overall, I think I am just happy. The adventure's not perfect, but who can manage "perfect" on the first try? 😚
I had fun coming up with the story and I loved making the illustrations and maps - although I should have started WAAAAY earlier.
Maybe I'll get something done on the next contest as well, to me they look like a regular thing on here.

Well, I do not feel like discussing every tiny aspect of your critique on here, I hope that's fine. But I will definitely give my best to improve and this review is beyond helpful. :)


Should be playing D&D instead
The Flayed Whistle of the Marked Trace - Review

The background of this adventure cuts both ways - while necessary to establish the vibe and to set the DM up for running things, it contains a bit too much background stuff that the players will never see. It's even embedded itself into the NPC section, stretching things out over at least six pages. There's even some scattered around in the monsters section. I can appreciate a Fairy Tale game with a rich backstory, but we must remember that the story of any RPG is meant to revolve around the antics of the players, not on everything that comes before them.

A lot of this adventure strikes me as one of those "for reading, not playing"-type adventures that get a lot of flak in the community. While admittedly charming and pretty to look at, the first and foremost job of any module is to be used for play, and this one doesn't appear to be designed that way.

The maps looks very nice, though some of the aesthetic could be sacrificed in the name of user-friendliness (for instance, the mountains on the hex map are hard to make a practical use of, especially because they aren't locked to the grid in any way). Bonus points for adding both player-version and DM-only maps to the module; I've always found that to be a supremely helpful and considerate addition.

Some physical descriptions would go far in the city key. If my players rolled up to the barber shop, I don't think I could get away with simply describing it as "where the famous barber works".

Plot Hints is a good section which really helps connect the background stuff to the adventure, but a Hint is different than a Hook, and I'm just not certain that the hints given will spur any definitive action on the part of the players. You may want to include a more definitive "call to action", so to speak, or maybe start the adventure with a scene.

The art is fantastic. Absolutely stellar job! I especially like how you've connected the NPCs to their portraits in a way that I'm more likely to recognize Erkmar by his face rather than his name. That long-haired guy is Erkmar to me now.

This thing is laid out in a way that makes sense to read, but is not optimized for play. There's a lot of description and backstory, but little of it is stuff that a DM can directly tell his players - this means a lot of unpacking and repacking information for the DM, and a lot of scanning big blocks of text to find specific nuggets of information.

You have a nice area around your city, very nicely filled out. The only problem is that there appears to be no reason for the players to visit any of it. You've hidden away to connection to Mount Coph; what happens if the players don't find the hidden passage under the castle? For that matter, you also make it clear that going under the castle is dissuaded by pretty much everyone... so what happens when the players don't go under the castle? I'm all for player agency, but I believe you have to give them a bit more to work with, otherwise they'll just be confused as to what they can do or where they ought to go.

I like the outcasts of Mount Coph, very distinct and I get good story vibes from them, albeit with perhaps a bit too much unnecessary details about some of them (as reviewers are fond of saying: "show, don't tell"). Some more guidance as to how and when to use them would be beneficial, even just how to use them to lure the party to Mount Coph, or how they can help the party, or whatever.

I see "Dire Moles" on the random encounter table, but no stats with it (or cross-reference to stats, or "use same stats as...", etc). I eventually found their stats in the section describing Mount Coph, but this isn't exactly practical for the random encounter. Likely just an oversight, nothing game-breaking.

The "Wine Spirit" encounter is confusing - it's attacks do no damage, yes? It just makes someone drunk? I guess that might make the later encounters tougher (if any, this thing is sparse on enemies), but I guess I just don't see the point of it - it poses no danger and at most a mild inconvenience - I could excuse this if there was a bunch of other fights to synergize the penalty with, but again, this thing is sparse on the fights.

There are some instances where elaboration is called for yet not provided. For example, under the castle: "17 - Underground branch of the river separated by a gutter that can be opened if the mechanism is understood by the person trying." How can I expect the players to understand the mechanism when you haven't even told me anything about it? I think the better solution is to describe the mechanism and how it is meant to be used, then let the players try to figure it out, rather than just saying "it works if they figure it out".

A lot of room descriptions are about what the room is used for rather than what the room looks like. As a DM, I can't use any of that; I need to know what I need to describe to the players.

6.5 out of 10. A very good first try and a very pretty design, but ultimately too stuffed with fluff and less practical than it should be.


Should be playing D&D instead
And the third review.

The Flayed Whistle of the Marked Trace
By Rabenwonne

General Structure

The structure is well done, moving from big to small and from general to specific in the whole thing.
You start with an intro, then backstory and the eponymous Whistle, then NPCs. From there we go over the kingdom of Myragen (Germany) to the city of Melahn (Hameln) to the palace, the basement and from there to the outcasts of mount Coph.
All is well ordered and one can quickly find what is needed.

Two column style is used throughout the whole adventure. Pictures and diagrams are interwoven with the layout in a nice way and little touches like rat footprints or little rats running around add to the whole look.
This is a good looking adventure all in all 😊

The Adventure is on the high side regarding usability at the table. Everything is clear, tables are instantly recognizable, a good use of bolding and italics throughout… all in good order.
Stats for monsters are on the small side of things but everything one needs is there.
The Maps are embedded into the adventure directly, but an appendix contains all maps again, marked and unmarked for DMs and player use.
The Backstory is a bit long though that can be excused as it is a rather complicated situation that needs some explaining and after reading it once the rest of the adventure is enough to keep one going. A helpful personal relationship diagram will befuddle you at first, but after reading the NPC section it’ll be a good reminder of who wants what from whom.
One small gripe is the basement dungeon… titles for the rooms would have been nice.

The overland map is well done and gives a good overview of the region. The style takes a bit of getting used to, especially the way mountains are drawn, but this isn’t a dealbreaker here.
There are some points of interest on the overland map (villages, a mine,..) these are nicely done, add some atmosphere and interesting points… but feel a little disconnected as a party really has no reason to go there. Some hooks or connections would’ve done a great deal here.
The city map is nicely done. A little bonus is the fact, that it is an actual map from the city of Hameln, touched up and all. Again the city is done nicely, enough points of interest to adequately describe it.
The dungeon maps (Castle basement and mount coph hideout) were done by myself after I received detailed notes from Rabenwonne.
While I don’t want to sound too arrogant I think they’re nice and get the job done 😊

General Plot
A scorned woman (the drude) makes a deal with the very king who rejected her and creates a changeling son for him and wife. She then poses as a staffer on the palace and begins to manipulate the prince to her own ends… which are surprisingly not that bad.
The prince has blue hair so a barber is hired to regularly color his hair black so nobody notices his strangeness. The barber is sworn to secrecy and paid a handsome sum, this makes the head treasurer suspicious and he begins to see the barber as some sort of blackmailer. He goes to the drude, makes a deal and kills the barbers dog and turns him into a whistle… because that seems to be the way things roll in Myragen… Hey it’s a fairy tale 😊
The Barber told the dog his secrets, which will now get out if anyone plays the whistle. Being in a fairy tale, the secret has a mind of its own and doesn’t like to be known to just about anyone, so it summons shadow rats to punish the ones that led the secret out: The king and the barber. To further complicate matters is the fact, that the flute (the flayed whistle) is now in the hands of the young changeling prince, who likes to play it every now and then. This has the side effect of slowly turning all children of the city into changelings themselves and sapping them of their life force.
And whatever the majority of people in this kingdom believe will magically come true…

You still there? Good.

As you can see there’s a lot going on here.
It is all presented in a long backstory and the NPC section.
I personally liked the long background and it worked well to convey the themes, information and feelings of the adventure. Still I think one could trim the whole background part down by a third and loose neither style nor substance.


Should be playing D&D instead
The mashup of two fairy tales works well and creates an interesting situation for a party to meddle in. The idea of a secret coming to life and being furious for being told to anyone is great and really helps with the whole fairy tale vibe.
The fact, that the kingdom changes according to the majorities belief is also a nice touch, though this could’ve been used more. Still a good DM will get his kicks out of this adventure and has sufficient material at hand to have a good evening or two with his group.

The language is all in all good. There are some passages that could’ve been done better. But for a first offering from a non-native speaker I think it is good.

This adventure has a diverse cast of NPCs which are central to the plot. They’re all well defined, a specific NPC section tells you all you need to know. Add to that a nice relationship diagram and you’re good to go.
The NPCs are unique and each plays his or her part in the plot.
While there are no stats for the NPCs this can be excused in most cases as they’re really not meant to be fought.
Still the Drude should’ve stats as well as spells and such. For the “main Villain” of he adventure she is a bit to undefined in that respect.
I also disliked the fact, that the treasurer Eike really has nothing to do with the plot except of creating the Whistle. Giving him some goals or such would’ve helped here.
Still the NPCs are well done, you get a distinct picture of them and the situation, which is great in my book.

The Rats that plague the Kingdom come in three different kinds, each with their own specific style and rules. While the whole adventure is rather light on the mechanics the three different rat types work well because each has a unique ability.
There are some more monsters hidden in the text or in the random encounter tables (Dire Moles), but these are mostly bare bones… a few stats and a word or two of description. It’s nothing special but it will work for any good DM.

There is very little treasure or items in this adventure.
There’s the flayed whistle, which gets its own section with rules and all. It is a powerful artefact that basically shifts lifeforce and racial traits towards and away from the one playing it. Thus one could increase ones HP and saving throws for each week, while simultaneously shifting his racial traits onto others. This could be used to great effect by a smart group… one problem though, the whistle only affects children… so you might have a nice moral dilemma going on… or not, depending on the group 😉
The rest of the adventure is very light on treasure. There are some things in the dungeon, but nothing really extraordinary (potion of invisibility, light sources,…).
The shadow rats have their own small mechanism to determine treasure, where you basically make a random roll to see what can be found with each rat. This is a nice little mechanic, it touches a bit on the “rats steal stuff” theme that is going on in the city… but it will probably get old quick and be too much of a hassle for many a DM to roll every time a rat is slain.

The whole adventure is system neutral. Stats are given in the most basic form (HP, AC, Attacks and Damage, Special stuff,…) which works… but I for one would’ve loved a bit more.
There are some small mechanics here and there… in general, when an effect or something is described there is a small mechanic to support it. This works, but again it is really bare minimum.
One can surely work with it, but for my taste it is too light on the mechanical side of things.

All artwork is original and was done for the adventure. All of it is in a nice black and white style and one can see that it was all done by one person. This ties the adventure together in a special way. The pictures of the NPCs are much appreciated and really help to imagine them.


Should be playing D&D instead
The Flayed Whistle of the Marked Trace.
The Flayed Whistle is central to the plot and does its job admirably. The marked Trace is also there in two different versions: Al rats converge on the palace and the barbers house, and all hints lead to mount coph and the outcast.
All in all I’d say the theme was done nicely and with a hefty dose of creativity.

General Impressions
A good first offering. It is light on treasure, has almost no mechanical support and simply feels a bit unfinished. Now these would normally be pretty rough dealbreakers in the OSR, but in this case some of it can be forgiven. First because the adventure is based on fairy tales and thus the feel of it is more important than the system. Second because what it does right it does damn well.
The background may be a bit long, but when you’ve read it all you have a really nice powderkeg situation at your hands, which can be milked for all its worth. And while there is little to support it in the adventure you basically get a tiny border kingdom complete with map and points of interest here.

A DM may need to go over the adventure and add mechanics, stats and treasure… but for me that’s not that big of a problem.
In most cases Adventures are bought for two reasons:
1. to have something play ready for an evening or two
2. to have something you yourself wouldn’t have thought of

While the Adventure fails in regard to point 1 it succeeds greatly in regard to point 2.

7 from 10

One to go then were finished. I'll try to get it done the next few days ;)


A FreshHell to Contend With
I just think.... it's his area of expertise. He has won some contests in the past. Why should I NOT want his criticism?


8, 8, I forget what is for
There is no worse fate than becoming estranged from your wife.

Therefore, nothing to gain...much to lose.


A FreshHell to Contend With
Thank you for the clarification, Squeen. Don't worry, that was quite safe for Grützi, I asked for his opinion and I wanted him to be really honest about it. Otherwise, how could I improve? ;)

I, personally, don't know anybody who got estranged from his/her partner over such a trifle. Thank god.

About Flayed Whistle:
I thank you all for the feedback. I have thought about it and you're just right. There are quite a few things I should work on, especially in regard to rules and usability during a game session. Malrex has offered his help and Grützi is pointing out good examples here and there. I think I've learned quite a lot through the contest - and it was fun. So thanks :)