The Beast is the first adventure of the new D&D Adventurers League season set fully in Barovia. The adventure, a two-hour affair written by Alan Patrick, is a strong one. It tells the tale of the characters arriving in the village of Oraşnou, a village that relies primarily on trading furs with the Vistani to ensure it has the supplies it needs for the winter. With the two trappers responsible for the bulk of the furs having gone missing in the days before the characters arrive, the villagers of Oraşnou look upon the adventurers as their potential saviours…
Writing a good D&D adventure is hard. Writing a good D&D adventure set in Ravenloft is even more difficult. A lot of the regular tropes just don’t work.
So, when an adventure like The Beast comes by, I’m very happy.
The adventure basically follows the structure of Introduction – Thematic Travel Encounters – Revelation – More Thematic Travel Encounters – Ending. To aid in replayability – and to allow the DM to lengthen the adventure if required – there are a selection of 12 travel encounters to choose from, half of which are combat encounters, and the other half that aren’t (and are more varied in approach).
The adventure-as-written suggests that one of these travel encounters takes 30 minutes, but this is likely only true of a combat encounter, and even then if you are slow at resolving combat. It’s likely you’ll use more than one of the encounters to lengthen the adventure, which is certainly what I did. Although a random die roll to select the encounter is suggested, I prefer choosing. This is especially true due to certain encounters being ones that don’t fit my DMing style. Why use them when there are better options?
The actual story of the trappers is wonderful, horrible and sad: everything a Ravenloft story should be. The players can deduce parts of it before the end, but it has enough fantastic details to still surprise them with new revelations. Where the implementation gets into trouble is when it relies too much on dice rolls for the players to discover information; there’s one interaction in particular that worked much better for me when I just let the players know all the information the NPCs knew rather than relying on dice rolls. This does indicate my changing approach to investigations; the “roll well to learn more” has been a feature of investigation games for a very long time.
As with most DDAL adventures, there’s no art, and not much in the way of maps. The map that is here is nicely presented, although not particularly complex. The writing and editing are pretty good.
The adventure tends to run a bit shorter than you’d expect, even when you add additional encounters, but this is largely due to the speed of D&D combat at low levels. The story is so strong that you don’t really want to extend it overmuch: get to the good bits and leave the players with an intense experience. Ultimately, this is a strong, affecting adventure, tinged in tragedy. It’s an excellent continuation of Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts.