5E Adventure Review: The Marionette

DDAL04-04 The Marionette continues the D&D Adventurers League storyline, “Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts”, with an adventure that draws together storylines begun in previous adventures. It might also have just a little too much content in it; not really a problem for home games, but certainly one for convention and in-store play. It has been reported that a DM whose group has a more leisurely playing style than my own took nine hours to complete the adventure! It didn’t take us that long, but many groups will have trouble running this in four hours.

The Marionette also highlights all the problems that The Executioner has. Key information you need in this adventure is meant to be revealed in The Executioner, but its original version fails to highlight or even allow the players to discover it. However, we can take heart in that a revised version of The Executioner is currently being prepared for release; I’ll review it when I get my hands on a copy of it to see if the revision fixes its issues.

Back to The Marionette. The adventure is basically two parts: an attack on the village, followed up with an exploration of a deserted manor. There are many revelations here about what’s going on in Oraşnou, some of which are revealed in a creepy dream sequence that is a highlight of the adventure; it’s presented as an environment that the players get to interact with during the vision. This is superior writing.

The village attack consists of four scenarios. As far as I can tell, it is intended that the group splits up and handles each scenario at the same time; with success or failure at the tasks affecting the course of this and future scenarios. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite clear by how it’s structured. This section would have been greatly improved if there had been one (short) section of boxed text at the beginning of the attack describing the four scenarios and explicitly telling the players that they can’t deal with everything without splitting up.

This section could also be quite dangerous, especially if, as intended, the party split up. There’s a definite possibility of one or more PC deaths. The situations are good and evocative, however.

The manor is very nicely constructed, with a selection of tricks, traps and monsters with which you can challenge your players. What it lacks are tracks for party trackers to follow. With most adventures, I wouldn’t mention this as a flaw, but there are a number of features here that make me very curious as to how the NPCs enter and leave the house.

The description of the surrounds is also a little lacking. The front door goes into the ground floor, but the side doors enter the basement! How does that work?

The house could vary wildly in length depending on the route the players take. It’s a boon for home players, but if you’re limited in time, guiding the players to the more important encounters should be considered.

What The Marionette has is a lot of invention. It has a few issues with its structure and I’m concerned that (once again) players might not learn enough about what is going on, but at its core it is a very solid adventure.

3 comments

  1. rkalaniz

    Merric. I appreciate your review. You always give honest, sometimes brutally so, assessments and observations. You are correct about the blurb missing regarding splitting up the party during the undead attack. It’s also funny you mentioned the tracking issue because that also came up in a game in which I recently DMd. As for the side doors being lower than the front, the manor is perched on a cliff that slopes down so there is grade such that when you walk around the house the back is lower than the front. I meant to describe that or offer a side view, but alas, I forgot. And finally, regarding the amount of content, that is a fair critique, and something I think we all knew going in. That’s is the reason iI added the DM tips at the end. Anyway, I’m glad there were parts that you did like. Keep up your reviews. It is definitely good for the community. I recently purchased your debut adventure from DMG and liked it very much. Nice job.

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    • MerricB

      G’day, Robert! Indeed, I liked a lot of the encounters in the adventure very much. When I review the current DDAL adventures, I’m very aware that people are still playing them, so I try not to give away the Really Cool Stuff they’ll discover. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cassandra

        I finally started reading through your reviews today, because I’m due to run The Ghost Sunday and wanted to see if other people felt the same way about it that I do. When I got to this review, however, I wanted to chime in.
        The Marionette is one of my favourite mods so far. I referred to the doc of recommended edits before running it, which helped clarify some of the issues with stat-blocks, but story-wise it was very well done, especially when compared to, say, the executioner.

        I’d made a character (with the Haunted One Background) who, coincidentally, had a backstory quite similar to the main villain in this module. Said character was also attempting to bring back a loved one. So when I read 4-4 I was as excited to play it as I was to run it. Unfortunately, when my opportunity to play arrived, our DM failed to pace the module effectively and we fell victim to the propensity for The Marionette to run long. The last two encounters were both rushed with no opportunity for Roleplay. I was disappointed… My catharsis! D: …but, having run it myself, I can imagine how the interaction would have gone. Unfortunately, the other players at the table might have found the ending lacking a little in resolution.
        Which is not an inherently a problem with the module. Our DM should have been more aware of timing, but there is possibly too much packed into this mod and I’m not sure where the fault lies.

        As far as the module not being clear on whether the group is meant to split up, or where the paths around the sides of the house lead, I can see the potential for confusion on a quick read through.
        The attacks on the town state that the characters may split up to complete multiple missions and that any that they don’t attempt are failed. I took that to mean that they were intended to split up. Which is reinforced by the text stating that once everyone has participated in one scenario the townsfolk drive off the ghast if he’s still up. Each scenario also has a blurb that gives a rough idea of what’s happening, to give the characters an idea of how difficult each encounter might be.
        I felt that it was fairly clear that at least two of them could be handled by one party member. Maybe this is only because I read through the module several times before running it. The downside to this was that both tables that I participated in, as DM and player, had a party of only 3 or 4 people, so completing them all was impossible. So no, there’s no box text telling the characters to split up. I figure that’s something a DM can manage to convey to the party, as I felt it was made fairly clear to us.
        I did resort to giving my table the opportunity to make int or insight checks to better determine who was cut out for which task, however, when the descriptions went over their heads and they started sending the warlock to do the str based mission and the cleric to do the sneaky task lol.

        Now the side entrances did throw me for a second, when I first looked at the ground floor map and saw no side doors, then I remembered the description elsewhere in the module about the house being on a slope/cliff/ravine and realized they were on the lower level map. Perhaps this description could have been repeated at this point in the module, but a minor gripe and something that should be figured out fairly quickly if the DM has familiarized themselves with the module.
        It would be a module that would be a little harder to cold-run, admittedly.

        Still, enjoying the reviews and a different perspective. And am now excited to experience the others that I haven’t played yet, and to get my face pushed in in 4-10 through 4-14 next weekend.
        Cheers, and keep up the interesting posts.

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