Lost on the Road – Andre Kruppa
This one-session scenario for 4-6 players, by Andre Kruppa of Game Soapbox, presents a story of mounting wonder, tension, and entrapment where players must uses all their cunning, puzzle-solving abilities, and role-playing skills to survive. Though system-less, Lost on the Road is very thorough and detailed, making it easy to adapt to any system or even run free-form. The story too, while nominally placed in 1930’s New England may be set in nearly any time or place the GM’s desires. It may also be dropped neatly into an on-going campaign though, as the author warns, the adventure had at least 50% lethality in playtest.
The story is broken into 3 acts and throughout Mr. Kruppa offers clear summaries, background information, and staging advice, even including estimated playtimes for each scene. A detailed listing of all the NPCs, optional pre-generated PCs, a wealth of player handouts and GM aids (maps, letters, helpful summaries, etc.) complete this scenario. The PDF uses a mix of pleasing fonts, is illustrated with thematic photographs and stock-art, and thoughtfully comes in both a color and a black-&-white version.
The adventure sees the player-characters investigating the disappearance of a good friend, only to fall victims to same fate: entrapment within into the fairy-tale realm of the Fae-like Elder Ones. Only through a combination of trickery, bravery, and cunning can the PCs hope to see their own world again.
Act 1 sets the mood for the game with subtle hints and strange occurrences. There is a lot of set-up in this act and not a lot of opportunity for role-playing. Also the last scene ends with the PCs being taken prisoner, which some players may find frustrating. Still, handled with care, I believe the slow build-up can be fun and intriguing.
Act 2 brings the PCs into the castle of the “Elder Ones” and the heart of the adventure. Here the party meets these powerful and alien “hosts” (the Lord and Lady, the cruel Secretary, the conniving Crone, the babbling Mad One) as well as other mortal “guests” (a true knight, a blind harpist, an arrogant story-teller). After a feast, where they meet the assembled company, the PCs (if they behave themselves) are free to wander the pocket realm in which they are trapped. The PCs must gather information from various NPCs, including their missing friend (now transformed into a cat by one of the capricious Elder Ones). This is a vital act; violent, stubborn, or taciturn players may find that they do not have the needed resources to successfully survive act 3 (and may not even survive act 2). The GM must also strive to make clear the cruelty and danger of life in the castle, otherwise some PCs may decide to live out their days in the Elder Ones’ gilded cage.
After the build-up of act 1 and the resource gathering of act 2, act 3 hinges entirely on the actions of players. As such it is very open-ended. The goal is escape, but this can be secured only with permission of an Elder One. And since the Elder Ones are much too powerful to oppose directly, the players must be clever indeed to see their homes again. Several strategies are suggested include: recovering a Cold Iron sword capable of killing the Elder Ones, discovering and using the True Names of the Elder Ones, and striking Faustian bargains with the wicked creatures.
Lost on the Road is an unusual but solid adventure requiring a healthy mix of social, mental, and artistic adroitness from the players as well as the GM. The NPC write-ups are detailed and very important for a proper running of the scenario. Setting the proper mood is very important for this game, but the numerous player handouts and Mr. Kruppa’s advice and read-aloud texts makes things easier. Pacing may be an issue as some players may feel constrained by the earlier scenes and a GM should be prepared for this.
Finally, I can’t help thinking Lost on the Road would make an excellent prologue for a game of Changeling: the Lost.