5E Adventure Review: Shadows Over the Moonsea

Greg Marks’ Shadows Over the Moonsea is one of the great adventures of the first season of the D&D Expeditions line. It’s not an easy adventure to run, and there are elements that I don’t think quite work, but it can never be faulted for its ambition.

The adventure sees the adventurers travel to a small island inhabited by inbred villagers, as they search for reports of a ghost ship marauding the Moonsea, which is also getting closer to their home base of Phlan. It’s a creepy adventure, and nothing is quite as it seems. Even when everything seems to be revealed, Marks is able to pull off one last plot-twist. I love the scope of this adventure, and it sets up a few elements that are built on in later adventures in the series.

The adventure is very heavy on role-playing, and there’s only the briefest nod to a “dungeon”; mostly combat will occur outdoors. As with many D&D Adventurers League adventures, there’s a strong investigative element.

You’re probably going to get sick of this complaint by the time I finish reviewing these adventures, but it would be nice to have more maps: particularly one of the Moonsea’s coastline, and one of the island and village. They aren’t as necessary as in some adventures, but I do notice their lack.

One of the best aspects of the adventure is how many approaches players can take to investigating the mystery of the island. There’s more to discover than time to do it in, and so each group discovers different things, which means each time I’ve DMed it they players have created a new storyline. The adventure does have the potential of running long with a role-playing heavy group, although I’ve always finished it within the four hours it suggests. The main problem I’ve had as a DM is working out how to present information to the players; in particular, describing the village so that they remember it is something I struggle with. Are they not investigating important buildings because I haven’t described them properly? It’s a good reason to draw a (labelled) map of the village and its surrounds for their reference.

The final encounter – combat aboard a ship – is tricky to run without miniatures. I’ve run it with and without, and I much prefer giving the players a visual cue in this instance. It can be done without, but there are enough combatants and restrictive terrain to make it challenging to describe effectively. It’s also a difficult encounter if the players aren’t prepared; the DM may need to make additional modifications over those suggested if the party is first level.

There are enough rough patches that I can’t unconditionally recommend this adventure, but if you’re willing to put a little work into it, I think you’ll find the end result is very rewarding. It’s certainly one of my favourite D&D Expeditions.

(This is also an adventure which no-one quite seems to know the name of. The Adventurers Guild advertised it as “Shadows On the Moonsea”. The Dungeon Masters Guild has it as “Shadows of the Moonsea”. The actual adventure uses “Shadows Over the Moonsea”, which is my preferred version, so I’ve gone with that).

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