There’s Snow Place Like Home by Jonathan (@DndDuet) and Beth Ball (@GroveGuardian)
A merry misadventure for duets or small groups of 4th level characters.
Beautiful old illustration, Away to the Mountains by Warwick Gobble (what an awesome name!) used for the cover. (https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrat-
“This wintery adventure is perfect for one-on-one play or small groups. The one-shot plays off several of our favourite holiday stories and traditions, and we hope it conjures magical memories and new experiences for you as well.”
Whisked away to the snowy demiplane wonderland, the players find themselves asked by a kindly snowman with a corncob pipe to help the kindly Eladrin and goodly Gnomes who are trapped in ice and dreams of sugar plums, respectively. It’s a mission to save the Gifting!
How to Use this Adventure
Clear examples and explanations of the layout and format of the adventure are provided.
Advice on how to handle the adventure for groups or duets is also provided with resources for Sidekicks, including Sparkle the Snowman who can be found in the appendix, as well as tips for handling and scaling combat on the fly.
Three example hooks to get the party to the wintery demiplane are provided, including a direct tie in to Waterdeep and the discovery of a magical snow globe (which could also be found anywhere appropriate), the players encountering a mystical snowstorm that transports them or being transported listening to a wonderful hearthside tale.
The adventure is split into three parts:
In Part 1 the party arrive and help to wake a sleepy town of Gnomes.
In Part 2 they assist their new friends on their dangerous journey to confront Count Cringle.
In Part 3 they must deal with a conniving Elf and a dirty Devil to save the holidays!
The dramatic personae are listed with brief descriptions and background, including Sparkles The Snowman, three Gnomish Cheermeisters whose job is to maintain peace and tranquillity, Pyotr Decorovich, an ambitious elf with awakening arcane powers, Belsnickel, an impish devil, and Count Sebastian Cringle, Winter Eladrin ruler of Cheerington.
Part 1: A Sleepy Town
A cute flavour quote and a short, sweet boxtext set the scene for the party’s arrival and their meeting Sparkles the Snowman.
The various knowledge Sparkles has about Cheerington and the situation are laid out in bullet points allowing for quick, easy reference, along with a brief description and advice on using him as a Sidekick for Duets, or just to lead the way for groups.
A town of snoring, snoozing Gnomes.
The cause of the situation, a combination of magically corrupting coal and a powerful sleeping enchantment, and what the players need to do, destroy the evil coal, are explained in a helpful box, though for the players it will be a case of exploration and experimentation.
The town has a number of buildings to explore all with clearly set out characteristics, as well as three expanded locations. These include the home of a conspiracy theorist who can provide spurious information, a tavern containing a drunken polar bear and a particularly effervescent gnome, a jolly general store containing a strangely familiar toy adventurer, gingerbread guardians (as well as advice on how to handle the combat to keep it fun and swift) and some cracking new festive magic items I’ll get into in the appendix.
There is the chance for a lot of fun in this sleepy town, but once all the Cheermeisters, which are given tangible descriptions and their information laid out in bullet points, have been awoken it’s time for a meeting and action.
Part 2: Through the Forest and Through the Fields...
The party head through the dangerous wilds towards Castle Cringle essentially acting as classic caravan guards, but what they face is anything but ordinary.
Four random encounter can be rolled at two points on the journey, but as long as the party can handle it, I’d recommend using all four as they are so awesome and flavourful, including a Christmas Tree hiding dangers, a field of terrifying snowmen, being stalked by parent and child yeti and the amorous dangers of magical mistletoe! And this is before the attack of rabid flying reindeer that try to make off with members of the party!
A survival mechanic for dealing with the cold and being away from the Gnome’s source of heat is included, adding extra peril to wandering off and leaving the Gnomes to it, as well as for tracking any poor soul stolen away by reindeer. There are also various other bits of information the Gnomes can give over the course of the journey.
Part 3: The Devil’s in the Details
This section containing the infernal factory and Castle Cringle are laid out room by room for maximum flexibility and exploration, though advice is given on how to get things moving if players aren’t in for the full dungeon crawl.
The factory is a grim place overseen by Fiends and a wonderfully classic door puzzle mimic. Can the party free the Elves, seize the means of production, defeat the Devils and find a way into Castle Cringle?
In the castle the party face the devil, Belsnickel, and the impish Elf, Pyotr Decorovich, inspired by the character from German folklore who punishes bad behaviour and Zwarte Piet, a helper of Saint Nicholas of Moorish descent, originally portrayed as an enslaved demon, who is unfortunately often portrayed in blackface. Thankfully there is no blackface here, despite being described as “covered in soot”. While I’m sure writers meant no offense, it is good to be aware that this character can be seen as problematic. However, the character Pyotr as presented has depth, an understandable (if not agreeable) reason for his actions and seeks redemption if given a chance.
Both NPCs, their motivations and history are described in detail, including how Pyotr found themselves in this position, his attempts to escape and dying words (if he is killed) and the Devil’s machinations for the untainted this demiplane.
Just an aside, in researching these characters I came across the fact that some of the non-ecclesiastical aspects of European folklore regarding Saint Nick or Sinterklaas are heavily inspired by Norse mythology, Odin and the Wild Hunt specifically. I definitely need more epic Norse in my Christmas! Additionally, Odin’s ravens are another possible source and inspiration for Zwarte Piet.
The Castle also contains a number of rooms to explore and things to see, including Imps battling their own gingerbread abomination, cobbled together from broken bits, Cookies of Healing, Cringle’s diary with some scandalous revelations that make me wonder whether this demiplane might be in the Domains of Dread, making Count Cringle a Dark Lord! I have to say when diaries and notes are included in adventures, I much prefer to see them written out in full and included in the appendix for the option of giving handouts, especially when the tea is as hot and exciting as this!
The adventure has two main endings, dependant on the slaying or sparing of Pyotr, with the ultimate happy ending relying on a successful Persuasion. Either way, the party are paid and each given a wrapped magic item as a gift and reward, with the advice to roll on the referenced magic item table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Finally, all return home with the aid of a magic orb, clicking their heels together and all saying, “There’s Snow Place Like Home” in unison, evoking The Wizard of Oz.
The appendix contains an adorable map of Cheerington and a dungeon map of Castle Cringle, which is provided gridded and without grid as separate downloads. Unique statblocks are provided for Belsnickel, Gingerbread Man, Rabid Reindeer (and leader Red Nose Variant) and Sparkle the Snowman. The new magic items are also listed with stylised illustrations, and they really are a delight that somehow balance Holiday fun and ridiculousness with genuinely being rather helpful. These include, Box of Baubles (containing wind-up toys with homunculus stats), Cringle’s Curious Catapult, Mug of Heating and Cooling, Perma-Candle of the Seasons, Stocking of Holding and Terrifying Tinsel.
This is a gloriously quaint, fun and silly adventure with some weight and bite in the tail. There’s Snow Place Like Home draws on many of the wonderful, bright and strange elements and tropes of various Christmas, holidays and kids’ stories to create an adventure that could be played and enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age and experience. Each section opens with overhead quotes from a location or from the carols of Cheerington, while the clear layout is brightened by the lovely watercolour images and motifs that have become a regular feature Grove Guardian Press adventures.
This really is perfect for a Holiday one shot and an absolute steal at the ridiculously low price for the quality and care contained within!
Once we’re home and recovered from visiting family, I will be running this for my partner ASAP, as we keep the Holidays rolling until February in our house!
[5 of 5 Stars!]