Ever since I first played D&D in my old geography classroom, horror has been a huge part of the game for me. The first bad guy I ever fought was a skeleton. I ventured away from the rest of the party in a dungeon, in the pitch black, with little idea of where I was or where my friends were…Blue River is my attempt to recreate that sense of tension, of knowing there is something going on, but not knowing what that thing is. If I could create a setting that was large enough to explore, yet contained enough to feel claustrophobic, and an enemy to be feared and pitied in equal measure, then I would have succeeded in my goals, and would be a very happy man.
My first draft of Blue River (which you can have a look at here – the map I used was almost completely identical to the Blue Water Inn from the Curse of Strahd (here). Guess where the name came from!) felt complete. My antagonist felt real to me, her motivations felt true, and the location felt vibrant and exciting; filled with secret passages and intrigue.
Now, for anyone who is interested in playing this adventure, please stop, forward this on to your DM, and skip ahead to the final paragragh. Spoilers this way lie.
The story centres on the Blue River Inn, an old establishment owned by the young Byrinson family in a small woodcutting village by the name of Harthwaite. The town lies on the Long Road running north from Waterdeep. The couple, Peter and Lyra, live with their small daughter Diana, running the inn and associated tavern. Tragically, Peter loses his life to illness, and years after that, now a young girl, Diana is killed in a tragic accident. Overcome with grief, Lyra unwittingly slips on some ice while mourning Diana, and is killed. The players take up the story a year later; the new owners are struggling to keep a once vibrant inn alive, the players the only living souls in the place aside from the barkeep. When the haunting begins they are left in the main hall with the, now dead, barkeep, and the knowledge that a spirit is now walking the halls of the building. As they explore the place they begin to piece together the story, until they finally approach the well where Lyra died. Here they must make the right moves, or risk their own deaths at the hands of the vengeful and despairing wraith.
When I finally ran the adventure as a one off for a smaller group, my players did what the best players always do…they made my story better than I could have imagined. They took the bare bones characters I handed them and led them through my house of horror, picking up on things I hadn’t even considered. I ran with it, adapting the story to fit their narrative, culminating in the party going to the well long before I thought they were ready. They were offering themselves up for a TPK, and I knew it. But them Liam, in an inspired piece of roleplay, pretended to be Klein, Lyra’s lover after the death of her husband. He gently took the ashes Lyra had wanted to scatter around Diana’s favourite flower patch, and placated the spirit in a beautiful display of love that I simply hadn’t expected. It was inspired, and, in my own context, hugely moving.
The weekend before I wrote this adventure my wife, who was pregnant at the time, started bleeding. We tried to put this down to a perfectly normal bleed that (for some reason) simply isn’t talked about or mentioned. Two days later it became very obvious this was not the case. Finally, on the Monday, we got to see our baby for the first time, four weeks after it’s heart had stopped beating. Blue River came out of this; the despair Lyra felt was my own, and the agony I saw in my wife, and so to have a player (who I can only imagine had no idea the personal significance of the act) end the adventure in such a beautiful manner is something I will publicly thank him for now.
In hindsight, months removed, there are improvements that can be made. The house was too small to truly encounter Lyra at random, and so she felt more like a cutscene than an enemy to avoid. The small girl who follows the party, I feel, doesn’t have enough clues to guide the players to her true identity, and the ones that exist are a little to obvious. The house itself simply needs to exist, rather than being the work of someone else (as great as that work is). So I have begun to rework the story, and to tie it into my own campaign setting; the world of Talomire. Today, the house was brought to life. No longer a simple tavern, Blue River is an estate, bought from a failing noble line by a merchant looking to settle down with his new wife. With larger grounds, more rooms, and a combination of wide open spaces and tight rooms, the map has textures it previously was missing. The story will remain largely the same, but will be expanded so that it can more easily brought to life.
Okay; it is now safe to read – all spoiler free from here-on-in.
Blue River is a labour of love, and the first adventure I feel is complete enough to even bother publishing a draft of. Please, feel free to run it yourselves, to send feedback and to let me know what you think. The huge amount of descriptive text (sorry DMs!) is more due to my own running of it, and wanting to fit in specific details. I hope to cut this down for the final release.
So thank you, I hope this entertained or helped you, and I hope you enjoy The Blue River Incident as much as I have enjoyed creating it.