5E Adventure Review: The Horseman

The Horseman is the penultimate adventure of the Curse of Strahd season of the Adventurers League. It is a two-hour adventure, and it is a relief to return to the main storyline after the diversion of the last two adventures.

The story begins with the adventurers learning from Ixusaxa what is going on in the series. They learn that Esmae, the chief villain, is obsessed with Count Strahd. To become his true love, she has been gathering possessions belonging to Tatyana, which she intends to use in a ritual. She has cloaked her location with powerful magic, and only by finding and interrogating the last of Esmae’s servants, the Horseman, can the adventurers divine her true location.

This exposition is followed by one of the best scenes of the series: the villagers of Oraşnou going mad and killing each other. The Horseman has passed through town, and the adventurers must scramble to save their friends before the villagers perish due to their insanity. There is much potential for the Dungeon Master to make this incredibly horrifying, and the adventure suggests many scenes of madness and despair. You can elevate this into something special. I haven’t managed to, but the potential is there.

After dealing with the chaos in Oraşnou, the adventurers must chase the Horseman through the Quivering Forest. There they meet the last of the Greenhall Elves, who are defending themselves against awakened trees and treants. Sadly, there’s no role-playing in this encounter. Once the elves are saved, they leave without engaging in conversation. It’s a missed opportunity, especially as it would be a chance to reacquaint the party with Aya Glenmiir.

The final encounter pits the characters against the Horseman, a deformed mongrelfolk with incredible abilities. The setting is a cave shrine to Esmae, which contains enough psychically-imbued portraits of her to complete the quest.

The Horseman is extremely dangerous. He has a challenge rating of 10 and possesses both Legendary Actions and Lair Actions. His Mind Blast attack stuns opponents for 1 minute, with a DC 15 Intelligence save to avoid. He gets three melee attacks a round, each one dealing 24 damage. The lair actions may cause every adventurer to become frightened (DC 15 Wisdom save to avoid), or a fall of rocks may bury an adventure and leave them unable to act (DC 15 Dexterity to avoid, DC 10 Strength to break free). A guardian portrait also interferes with spellcasting. Is it too deadly for five level 7 adventurers, the baseline level of the adventure?

It could be a tremendously memorable encounter or a slaughter. Poor rolls from the adventurers may leave them unable to act for rounds. You need to be able to gauge the capabilities of your group and to adjust the Horseman’s abilities and tactics accordingly. The advice proffered for running it for a weak or very weak group is “remove the guardian portrait”. If you’re running a group of four fifth-level adventurers, you’ll need to do more than that to allow them to survive! However, players have found this one of the most memorable fights in the Adventurers League canon.

I find The Horseman has striking imagery, but the encounters aren’t always well constructed. The Horseman himself has a good backstory, but it’s very unlikely to come out in play. The role of Ixusaxa should probably have been taken by Sybil, who appears in the opening exposition, but has nothing to offer. It’s a problem with the structure of the series rather than the adventure in particular: a few too many characters, and information withheld from the players a little too long. The players learning Esmae’s goals in an earlier adventure would have given more context to the strange acts of her servants.

At least everything is now prepared for the finale!

Overall, The Horseman is a strong adventure, but one that requires a good DM at the helm to bring it to its potential. Recommended.

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