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The Standing Stone
Reviewed by Shane Ivey, ©

Format: Game
By:   John D. Rateliff
Genre:   Fantasy
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
Dungeons and Dragons adventures skew toward the dungeon-crawl. It's in the name, after all; and with so much hacking and slashing in the game, players often just move on to other titles if they want a little more subtlety in their action. Occasionally, though, an adventure like The Standing Stone comes around to challenge those expectations.

A word of caution: it is difficult to discuss an adventure like The Standing Stone without giving a couple of secrets away. If you expect to play in the adventure, you might want to move on without reading further. You have been warned.

The Standing Stone is an adventure of mystery and action for 7th level heroes. It is set in Ossington, a remote forest village far enough from civilization to be placed in any normal D&D campaign. The action unfolds when the player characters witness (or possibly prevent, though it will be tough) the massacre of a handful of villagers at the hands of a ghostly knight called the Horseman. The heroes find the town terrorized by this threat and others in the forest, and they must unravel the mystery behind the dangers to protect the innocent and set a terrible evil aright.

The mystery is what sets The Standing Stone apart: after the black-and-white opening scene, the players will face twists and surprises at every turn. They might well come out of the adventure perfectly satisfied that they have defeated the menacing evil while leaving the true villain of the story untouched. This isn't moral ambiguity, though, as much as a deviously clever arrangement of background and characters: the evil really is evil, and the good really is good, but it's not always obvious which is which.

Like the mystery behind it, the characters and setting will make running The Standing Stone an especially fun challenge. Forest towns are nothing new, but Ossington and its environs are rich with memorable imagery, locations, and history, with influences from Tolkien and pre-Disney fairy tales of the grimmest (Grimmest?) kind. The characters also are interesting, from the deadly Horseman to the strange bard called the Cuckoo, the mad town druidess to the dithering Elder Murdows.

The encounters are dangerous but fluid, allowing players to determine the course of the adventure more by their behavior and decisions than by die rolls and feats. It can be a straightforward wilderness trek, with woods and caves as a quick break from dank corridors and mazes; or it can be a challenging mystery with intrigue, problem-solving, and good old-fashioned moral dilemmas. That flexibility is not seen often enough in D&D, especially in recent excursions like Forge of Fury or Speaker in Dreams. But if that's what your players are after, don't worry: there's even a crypt and a tricky maze to give the biggest dungeon-junky a fix.

Several endings are possible in The Standing Stone, and which one comes about may surprise the DM as much as the players themselves. That, alone, should catch every DM's interest. If you're looking for a change of pace, The Standing Stone has it. Put your players in the forest, bring on the Horseman, and see what happens next.

Shane Ivey is producer and TV editor for RevolutionSF.

 
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