Supplement Review: The Stealer of Children by Peter Spahn from Small Niche Games

Of late, I’ve had the opportunity to review several quality books from small publishers and seen how well a product can be produced even on a budget. That said, occasionally I come across a product with a great concept where something fails to grab my attention and hold it the whole time. The Stealer of Children (TSoC) by Peter Spahn from Small Niche Games for Labyrinth Lord falls into that category. This is one of those “it’s good, but…” reviews.

The Stealer of Children - Small Niche GamesFirst, the good. Honestly, I think the adventure described in TSoC is excellent. The world is wide open and ready for an enterprising GM to quickly pick up the pieces and work them into an existing world or campaign fairly easily. It’s a 31 page PDF that details a sandbox ripe for the picking. In broad strokes, you get a farming village with a problem. Something is stealing their children. Can your group of 3-6 1st level characters solve the mystery and save the missing kids?

The village is nicely detailed with established NPCs and areas ready for your PCs to explore. Will they start at the tavern? Visit the abbey? Chat up the villagers? It expands past that, with a local area filled with unique bits and pieces ripe for expansion. Plus there’s a good bit of history to the area, which makes the whole world seem bigger and more layered. Plenty of room to grow with a group of characters.

Two of the really cool bits of the book for me were the Rumor Table in the Rumors and Information section and the Tanglewood Random Encounters section. As the PCs explore the village and talk to some of the NPCs, they will learn snippets of the story of the fall of House Lansing and its lasting effects in the area via the Rumor Table. Not all of the rumors are helpful, but they definitely aid in breathing some life into the inhabitants. The Tanglewood Random Encounters on the other hand are separate smaller descriptions of various areas and NPCs the PCs might encounter as they enter the eerie ancient forest. Some of these encounters would be fun to expand on, such as the Unlucky Artist who was in town doing portraits and came to a bad end.

The adventure has a wide open feel and some fun battles for the beginning characters to get their feet wet and use some strategic thinking as well. The book layout, though a simple two-column approach with bold headers, worked fine for me. The art by Luigi Castellani, though sparse, definitely offered a solid glimpse at the world the adventure inhabits. And the maps from Tim Hartin were pretty good, showing the various important locations for combat.

So as you can see, there’s a lot to like here.

Now let’s move to why I think the module didn’t engage me as much as I would have liked. Though all the information is found within the pages of the PDF, I found the writing style a bit sterile and unemotional. When reading the story of how Lord Albert Lansing’s son went missing, I should have felt outrage and fear as a parent. Instead it felt like I was reading a technical document.

“…Driven by grief, Lord Lansing entered the Tanglewood seeking help from the forest spirits that were said to dwell within…”

Perhaps it could be a bit more emotionally charged…

“…Though he and his men sought the missing son anywhere they could think to look, Lord Lansing was desperate. In a grief-fueled haze, he entered the ancient Tanglewood to seek the help of some of the forest spirits rumored to dwell there, knowing it was a last resort and wondering what the price might be for any aid rendered…”

I’m still not convinced that’s the issue, but it’s something to consider. I know that many old school adventures had a dry writing style, so it may just be the style, but I think the writing needs a bit more punch. Maybe I’m spoiled, but I thought Atarin’s Delve was better.

If you’re looking for an introductory adventure to use for new Labyrinth Lord characters, The Stealer of Children is a fine choice. Plenty of options throughout the book should offer a great variety of roleplaying and combat encounters to keep the party busy for quite a while, plus plenty of juicy hooks to expand on should the GM choose to do so.

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