The Secret of Karnov Mansion – Jeff C. Stevens
This adventure is suggested for 4th – 5th level characters. Personally I think it should be for perhaps 5th-6/7th, I’ll explain why later.
The Secret to Karnov Mansion is a fascinating idea for a quest. The party are invited to a dinner by Argo, a caretaker and cook for an aristocratic family called the Karnovs. This adventure hook works well in my opinion, as experience tells me that adventurers love to be flattered!
SPOILERS AHEAD – you can scroll past
Once the party reach the mansion, all is not as it seems, the Karnov’s begin in good spirit, showing grace and courtesy to the adventurers, providing delicious drinks and food and showing great interest in their endeavours. However, as the dinner is about to start in full, the adventurers are dropped into a basement by a hidden trap door, beneath their table.
I really like this idea for an adventure opening, previously ‘forced capture’ has been frowned upon by other reviewers, but I feel like in this adventure it feels less like a capture, and more like an extended trap.
The basement into which they fall is the start of an extended maze, created by the Karnov’s from the garden/zoo of the mansion’s previous owner. There’s a bit of backstory there which I won’t spoil for you, because I love it (it features heavily in taxidermy, and I’m a zoologist, so obviously I think it’s great!).
As the characters travel through this maze, it becomes clear they’re in a game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the powerful Karnovs, who have an ingenious way of escaping using magic amulets (although some details of this need clarifying in my opinion).The adventurers have to navigate through trapped gateways, facing off against deadly beasts, namely tigers (as you might assume!), as well as the Karnovs themselves. I like the feel of this, Jeff has suggested that this adventure be incorporated into a Barovian-style campaign, and I think this cat and mouse style, paranoia-filled gameplay works well.
The party also encounter story elements during the maze, as well as a few riddles. I’ve mentioned before how much I like riddles and puzzles, as well as a consistent storyline. Bonus points from me!
The adventure culminates in a mass battle against the Karnovs. Here is where I think things get sticky. Weretigers are CR 4 base, but most of the Karnovs also have class features, which I think probably boost them above CR4. The Karnovs will be injured from previous maze escapades, but even still a party of 4 4th level characters would probably go down here.
To surmise, I do think that this adventure is interesting, it has a great story that captures (literally) my attention, as well as an interesting dungeon. I do worry that some of the combat may be too difficult for 4th level players and I do think a few things need clarifying, but nothing major.
I would certainly recommend buying and trying out this adventure, it has great reviews already and I think it would make a great one session quest, especially in a gothic horror campaign!