"The Storm to Come" is an interesting and varied scenario revolving around a mystery at sea. While the idea of an interstitial "sea adventure" may be well-trod ground, this particular scenario is a useful, well-constructed addition to the canon of one-off adventures. Particularly, it is of note for a focus on detail, well-told mystery, and excellent construction.
The document begins with an introduction, offering a "teaser" description of the adventure ahead, An explanation on how to adapt it into any given campaign, as well as a brief introduction on how the author will unfold this mystery.
As we'll see throughout the document, the author lays a solid foundation, explaining both how the adventure is constructed and laid out to the potential GM exactly what it is they should expect.
The author next moves into reference materials, exploring the setting of the adventure (a ferry ship, termed the Cove Cutter) and providing illustrative maps and a clear description of each room aboard.
Next, the document describes each member of the ship's crew and passengers in detail, providing quick-reference traits, motivations, and an adaptable backstory for each one. Furthermore, the relationship between the characters (particularly the crew) is well-developed, with each crew member of importance tied into the backstory of another. The reader easily gets the sense of how to portray the crew as a living, breathing organization, a "family at sea", rather than an ensemble of quirky, isolated cardboard cut-outs.
As the 'whodunnit' among the ship's passengers lies at the heart of the adventure's mystery, their background focuses more on their roles and motivations within the context of the mystery. There are quite a few red-herrings and well-developed mini-stories in the description of each character, and no matter which NPC the player's investigate, they're sure to get a compelling bit of story out of it.
The author's choice to begin the bulk of the adventure with reference and detail is a solid one, as it is placed both for easy accessibility and reference while running, and also introduces the context the adventure will take place in.
Story and Side Events
The author moves next into a scene-by-scene description of the adventure, splitting his scenes into "Story" and "Side" scenes. They provide a solid table as well as an explanation of how to stitch the two types of scenes together in play, in order to respond both to player interest and actions. At their core, Story scenes advance the mystery plot, while "Side" scenes give the players a chance to interact with the cast of characters central to the adventure. The author places special emphasis in each of the side-scenes on drawing the players and their characters into the scenes, and they give the impression of a very player-driven adventure.
The story scenes are well-written, laying out a series of escalating incidents, a magical fire, a raven familiar, and a well-written combat encounter. The author explains what clues can be gained where, and leaves it to the players to find and eliminate potential suspects in order to close in on the true criminal.
Interestingly, the methods and maneuverings of the story's 'villain' are well-developed, and not simply hand-waved as "magic." Each potential act of sabotage is backed up with a magic spell pulled straight from the DMG, and canny players should be able to piece together a better explanation than "a wizard did it."
The author also avoids a common trap in 'adaptable' adventures by providing examples for each 'adaptable' component. In this way, the adventure is not hamstrung by vagueness, and a frustrated GM is not left to fill-in-the-gaps as is so often the case.
Combat is limited in this particular adventure, but a standout set-piece engagement is included. During a fierce storm (whose origins are tied into the fabric of the adventure's central mystery) the players are beset by aquatic monsters that can be tailored to player-appropriate levels. The author includes a table of potential monsters, divided by level in order to ensure an appropriately challenging fight.
The author makes the best of the ship setting, advising the GM to scatter monsters across the well-developed decks of the Cove Cutter. A mechanic for simulating the rocking of the waves during the storm is also included, and one can expect a number of surprising shifts, slides, and opportunities for tactical thinking as the players and monsters slosh about the ship's hull.
Lastly, mechanics for "going overboard" are included, with due diligence done on how to handle the eventuality of a PC getting slung off the side of the ship.
"The Storm to Come" is a worthy purchase for any GM, especially one with a group that prefers investigative, player-driven games. It can tie neatly into any sea-faring adventure, with more aplomb and detail than is common in other, similar adventures. This reviewer is excited to see where the author's story develops, as it is hinted through the narrative that this is merely the first of several exciting adventures.