Manor of Dread is a horror adventure by Phil Weasley, Sebastian Yūe and Walter Srebalus.
This adventure is primarily aimed at a party of four level 6 characters, but can be scaled for 4-7 players at levels 5 to 7. It includes small and easy adjustments you can make to encounters to fit the power level of your players’ party, ensuring that combat isn’t too easy or too hard. The adventure lasts about 4 to 6 hours, so you’ll most likely need just one or two sessions.
As expected of a primarily horror story, there might be certain elements that people might be uncomfortable with, such as body horror in the form of mutations and human experiments, as well as a focus on spiders. All relevant content warnings are in both the DMs Guild page and in the adventure primer section; in addition, the writers mention you can use the TTRPG Safety Toolkit to ensure all the players are OK with what happens during a session.
The story is divided in four parts.
Either through local rumors, or because someone directly tasked them to, the players find themselves investigating a mysterious manor surrounded by strange mists. Once they approach, the fog completely surrounds them and they find themselves unable to leave. Their only option is to enter the mansion and see what is going on.
The exploration of the mansion makes up most of the adventure. The players experience various hauntings and encounter various ghostly apparitions, some hostile and some not, while they slowly discover what happened to the inhabitants. They meet with the illusory imprints of the last people to enter the mansion, and through conversations with them as well as their own investigation of the rooms, they discover that Casandra, the owner, performed some disturbing arcane research. She used living people in various experiments, attempting to expand her understanding of both magic and the human (and inhuman) body – culminating in murdering her own husband and experimenting on her own infant child.
At the climax of the story, the players confront Casandra and all the horrors she has created, and they have to decide how to handle the results of her twisted experiments.
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An interesting aspect of this adventure is that it combines different styles of horror. There is a heavy supernatural element, with the presence of ghosts, the mists, and the whole haunted mansion feel. On the other hand, Casandra’s experiments give off a more clinical, medical body horror feel.
When the players have their run-ins with each individual encounter, the horror aspect is well described and quite evocative, be it in relation to the supernatural or the experiments. However, there is a slight issue in the greater scope of things: the two different styles do not necessarily clash, but they do seem disjointed. In general, some details are left unexplained, such as how the mists actually came to be; there is also a mention of cannibalism that seems a bit off-handed.
However, I can’t say this seriously detracts from the experience; this is a quick one-shot, so obviously there is no need for a fully fleshed-out background for everything. Things make sense, the horror works, so overall I’m satisfied.
Editing & Art
There are no errors in the text that I could see, and the layout was also well-made. In terms of art, there aren’t many pieces included, but they are quite nice. In particular, there is an image of Casandra as well as one of her baby which are quite creepy, with the colors and lines giving it an unnatural feel. There are also some nice maps of the manor included, with different versions for the players and the GM, as well as with/without grid.
Overall, Manor of Dread is an interesting one-shot that blends the supernatural and clinical horror. Despite some of my misgivings, I would recommend it if you want a short horror adventure that also offers some ideas you could carry forward in other sessions.
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