The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse
With the release of Ghosts of Saltmarsh, every nautical-themed adventure is rising to the surface gasping for air. Here’s an adventure that came before the wave.
Here’s what it says on the tin…
An adventure for D&D 5E
Rumors of a rampaging sea monster have ground shipping traffic to a halt in the harbor. The players discover that the Jade Lion has gone missing near Skyhorn Lighthouse and learn they must brave the open seas and cutthroat enemies in order to save the crew from a murky fate!
The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse is an adventure for 5th-level characters. It takes 5-7 hours to complete.
The Arcane Library
23 pg. PDF
Let’s cut to the chase. This adventure is about a lighthouse (welcome back). It has fishpeople, except this time they’re electric eels. It has a summoning ritual, except this time they’re summoning water elementals. And it has boats. Why are we reviewing this? Because the product design is exceptionally good. So let’s talk about that…
Kelsey Dionne writes for game masters. She doesn’t write for readers who won’t play or other adventure writers. She writes her games to be played, and she does it well.
The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse makes a dozen decisions that nod to this practice, but what I like is how they conclude with one viewpoint. Her products know what it means to have pacing. Not three-act structures. Or rising and falling actions. Or a hero’s journey. But practical, non-theoretical ways to control pacing.
There are no read aloud boxes. Instead each element is given one or two sentences. These same elements are then listed as bullet points. If something like a 10-foot stone wall is prevalent it gets bolded everytime it appears. These are the nods that make the adventure easy to run. But that’s not the innovation.
The innovation is how the adventure breaks down into scenes. Each page is one scene. The top of the page starts it. The middle develops it. And the bottom shows how to transition to the next one.
This product states that if a scene has been resolved, the dungeon master should transition to the next one. You know when it’s resolved because each scene has its conflict or “dramatic question” outlined. What’s unique is how the dungeon master is instructed to transition to the next scene as soon as the tension is over. For example, if combat is decided, Dionne says you should summarize it.
Yes. To all the gods of the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Birthright. Yes. That’s pacing. We all know combat can become rote. There’s always something else to roleplay. Finally, permission to move on in a DMs Guild adventure.
I cannot stress how important good adventure design is. It makes good things great. Boring things good. Bad things tolerable. Because this adventure is so user-friendly you can punch up the boring stuff, pivot away from bad stuff, and never miss the real jewels.
This adventure has a decent range of encounters from appeasing pirates to chopping up baddies while waist-deep in water. It’s a solid spine to riff on. Time you’d be wasting doing prep on other adventures.
The writing isn’t especially evocative. It all reads too familiar. The docks are choked with boats. The lighthouse has a blazing beam of light that spins slowly. None of the descriptions are visceral. None of these feel like new sentences.
This adventure has new monsters, character summaries, hyperlinks to SRD web pages within the text. There are even links to youtube videos with walkthroughs. If you’re the sort of person who has a Fantasy Grounds account, this adventure is compatible. And if you’re a luddite there’s a printer friendly version too. It’s a holistic production, something you’d notice if you played other adventures.
Buy or not buy?
Yes. It’s free. If you’re going to be running any campaign near a coast you can have this in your back pocket. It’s a good adventure. It’s not short but it’s not bloated either.
Here’s what you should do, get this adventure for free and give it a look. If you like what you see, go to drivethrurpg.com and buy stuff from The Arcane Library. Sitting down with this adventure was a pleasure. It respected the craft. A couple times I smiled because it felt like a letter from another dungeon master. They deserve to be paid for it.
Don’t forget to buy it on drivethrurpg.com. The author gets a bigger cut of the profits there. The DMs Guild gouges creators with a 50% takeaway.
Clayton uses the profits to shotgun nitro coffee.