Review: Exalted Order of the Mystic Moose
Exalted Order of the Mystic Moose is a 27-page adventure for Cairn created for the 2023 A Town, A Forest, A Dungeon Jam.
In Short: This is a densely-packed and well-crafted forestcrawl with great faction play, an engrossing setting, flavorful monsters, and eye-popping art.
Adventure Summary: A forest of massive, ghost-filled trees is in high tension between the native woodcutters who understand the forest, traders coming in from the south, and a mystical order convinced that all human settlements in the area must burn. Between these competing factions are a wealth of richly described locations with unique creatures and challenges for players to overcome, including a dungeon set in a mansion sunk in a swamp.
What I Liked: It wouldn't do this adventure justice to just say "everything" here, but I am sorely tempted to. I had to stop myself multiple times while reading the adventure from throwing out a positive review before I'd even finished reading.
To be a bit more specific, the art alone is worth the price of the adventure, but there is so much more. The forest is very well fleshed out with a unique ecosystem of ghostly trees and various horrific monsters—the long owls, seeking to plant ghost trees in human corpses; cursed walking trees that form from that planting; a creepy guy who will swallow everything you're holding; a ghost that consumes magic items with a mouth in her forehead; moths that steal treasure to flaunt on their backs; wide-eyed weirdos who just follow around the most interesting person they can find without harming them, just being weird—I could go on, but the adventure is just full of these wonderful things.
The writing throughout is tight and evocative, not wasting too many words, but always leaving you with enough to know what to do in each location. And there's a lot of locations, plenty for hours of exploring the forest. Most locations also have some form of forest inhabitants fully fleshed out with motivations and relations to other inhabitants or factions, and many with potential quests they can pass on to visitors.
Really, at this point you should just stop reading this review and pick it up to read yourself so you can understand. It is very, very good.
What I Didn't Like: The long owls creep me the fuck out. I love them as an in-game monster, but I have a hard time looking at the illustration. It's just too unsettling for some reason.
On a more serious note, I'm unsure how the recommended faction goal mechanics would work out in play. After a certain number of encounters with a faction, they advance one step in a series of three steps toward their ultimate goal. The author admits this could lead to conflicting steps between factions where their goals are in opposition, and says that "You will have to use the fiction and your logic to decide what happens." This will probably work well enough for most wardens, and I don't have a set of good faction mechanics myself to recommend, it just seems to me this is the one place it could be improved.