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Sirenswail by Dave Mitchell

This entry is part 30 of 30 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this quite a while after finishing the book. This was given to me by my friend Ahimsa Kerp, to whom I shall be returning it soon.  

Dave Mitchell’s Sirenswail is a 2016 old-school adventure. It’s basically The Wicker Man in the age of Cromwell with some magic and weirdness mixed in. The historical setting is, obviously, because it was designed for use with LotFP, but you could adapt it to any old-school game and, with some work, to any setting you’d use for an elfgame. 

It’s a part of that familiar subgenre of adventures focused on a small town with a dark secret—or a few dark secrets. This has proven perennially popular in old-school games, probably because it’s easy to make such a locale adjacent to the most traditional adventure locales—wilderness and dungeons—but also because so many of us read “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” as kids and thought to ourselves what a great D&D adventure it’d make.

I thought Sirenswail was not bad for a first effort, despite being a bit bare-bones. The layout and art are about what you’d expect for something self-published on Lulu: serviceable, basically. The locale is organized and clear enough that I got a pretty good idea of how I’d run it after the first reading, though I did find myself skimming it. (There’s a fair bit of backstory at the front of the book that would be useful for someone who’s really concerned about authentically running the historical English setting, but which I don’t much care about these days.)

After I finished reading it through, I found myself thinking about what preparations and changes I’d need to do if I were ever to run it myself. I’m guessing I’d be making a cue card set for NPCs, or at least a quick-reference for them, with some bullet point notes about how to present each character individually as a distinct person. I’d also probably want to think about what cues I’d use to signal that the two communities the PCs will encounter are very different. (The way that, in The Wicker Man, you as a viewer know that something is deeply off on Summerisle pretty much right away, even if it doesn’t drive out the cop investigating the town.)

I’d probably also expand the material in Sirenswail a bit in terms of adding some more random tables for my own use, and some more magical oddities that characters could run across, and also would probably add some more likely locales for adventure nearby, since there’s just the one and it’s pretty simple. (In my experience, it helps to have an abandoned tower or crypt in the area because… well, because “small village with a weird and scary secret” is a familiar setup for something awful, and some players will avoid such places unless you give them a very compelling reason to visit.) I’d also want to redraw the map, because I found the one in the back difficult to read. Oh, and I’d probably weird up the bestiary a bit, to give the setting some flavor that goes beyond what I could improvise on the spot.  

That does give me an idea for a totally different game project I’d like to try write, though… hmm. 

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