Before reading any further I need to make one thing perfectly clear.
This is not a tabletop RPG where you play as goats. I know, I was disappointed too.
On cracking open the colourful PDF I instead discovered a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition adventure module by Fainting Goat Games set in their uniquely crafted Goatlands realm. Given that this is a module I will not be reviewing the entirety of D&D 5e but instead focusing on what this little package of adventure brings to your table
Spiders on the Storm is designed for a single sessions gaming to challenge a group of level 1 players and crank them up to second level- perfect for starting out a new campaign, yes, but also introduces a fresh new setting for long time players. The Goatlands are a piece of a collaborative world of which little is known but the developers express their passion for fleshing it out more and more with every addition. All of the core rules from your typical 5e campaign remain true here but with some flavourful additions; New Gods, locations and powers are just a taste of what the mini-book offers.
Picking up the module you’re presented with a tight knit adventure following your band of greenhorn heroes into a monsoon of dangers that will lead them to one of Panalane’s more humble communities. From there a hunt for creepy crawlies begins that offers a generous variety of possible event triggers and even some moral choices- did you save the bright eyed half-elf? Do you have what it takes to bring running water back to the lands?
And it shames me to say that only now, while writing this review, am I struck by the musical reference to ‘The Doors’. I can only hope this is a recurring trend in their future adventures.
The game provides quick pacing and generous difficulty (so long as you don’t go round picking fights in the woods) which is appreciated for a module aimed at first level characters with only a few strategic options. This soothing hand can also be seen in handy toolbars for the rules explanations that save time thumbing through tomes and provide helpful side notes- a blessing for DM’s cutting their teeth on the standard 5e formula as well as minimising downtime.
SoTS also encourages XP rewards for adventure milestones on top of typical achievements which is excellent for modular play, and since this is a level one adventure there are no troubles adapting into an existing experience curve from previous sessions.
We also see the welcome return of Complication resolutions, addressing possible outcomes that might otherwise throw a group off the tracks. In older books these could often come across as extraneous, however I found myself reading through a particular encounter thinking “What if the PC’s choose to do this instead?” which was then immediately addressed by a complications tab, so clearly they’re in the right headspace with this.
These extra tabs and hint boxes are welcome but can run a little too ‘wordy’ in places, favouring elaborate examples and explanations where a simpler phrase would have sufficed. It by no means brings down the experience but does require additional reading time for the GM which can require some skimming when actually playing.
Here is where I would also throw in my two pennies about how the setting is a ‘generic fantasy’, the straight gin of epic adventure. But as I was talking over the world with a partner in crime they asked me why I’d consider starting up a new table in a general fantasy setting when there are so many weird alternatives available. Answering quickly enough to surprise myself I found the answer was; “It has so much character.” Yes, like a lovingly painted miniatures terrain it’s the attention to detail that has bled into what makes Goatlands such a unique feeling setting.
Most of the exposition you’ll find in its pages connect to the overarching Goatlands world encouraging your parties to continue playing into the greater environment the book heartily expands on- such as the Great God Pan, an obvious tie to the titular setting, who is much closer to the Old Ones than a playful forest friend. Images of Pan’s Labyrinth should be flooding to mind (you’re welcome).
A great example of outside thinking is the meagre settlement encountered early in the adventure which has been built into a derelict aqueduct! A novel idea hosting colourful NPC’s such as the friendly half-orc who’s never encountered another of his species and has shameful, fearsome dreams of slaughtering his neighbours. It’s a painted array of characters that give the game many opportunities for make-shifting new adventures and alliances out of an otherwise finite set of instructions.
So let’s imagine you braved the storm and your party is level 2 and ready for more. What is there to see in the rest of Panalane, our stepping stone into the Goatlands?
Aptly described as an Elizabethan inspired kingdom in decline the larger world the characters can move into is emerging from a dark time of plagues and terrors. Specifically a plague which turns people into lycanthropic wolves and rats, which is already in my top five apocalypses of all time. Whether the lands around Panalane flower into a new renaissance is supposed to be down to the actions of the player and the (hopefully benevolent) favour of a Princess looking to restore the glory of their homeland.
All of these locations are illustrated in the module with colourful and pleasing mapwork, alongside a roster of details for almost every point of reference you could ask for, which makes it clear just how much passion is being poured into the project. If I had one critique of the artistic direction I feel there could have been more artwork to convey the bizarre imagery, as there’s only one or two pictures in the book aside from maps and layouts. While the example illustrations are clean and easily followed I would love to see an artistic interpretation for the Goddess of ‘unwanted children’!
For my final words, SoTS is neat and well-presented keeping things simple and encouraging- making it a great stepping stone for new players and especially for newer GMs who can appreciate the good layout. Having played module books from numerous systems I can say this makes a great introductory adventure and, as something to bring out as a one shot module, provides more replayability than many other paid books I’ve used in the past. If you haven’t worn your 5e handbook to dust already consider taking a ride on the storm and see where it takes you.
And good luck getting your aqueducts working!