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Harbinger House is an RPG module for the Planescape universe in the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game. It is written by Bill Slavicsek.
- Title: Harbinger House
- Author: Bill Slavicsek
- Format: Paperback (Also available as a PDF from paizo.com)
- Publisher: TSR Hobbies
- Pages: 64
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0786901543
- ISBN-13: 978-0786901548
- Release Date: July 1995
A succubus with an unquenchable lust for power is turning the Cage into a ripping madhouse. And the Lady of Pain ain't pleased. . . .
Something's foul in Sigil, berk. A mad slasher prowls the streets, leaving a trail of bloody clues in his wake. Leatherheads boldly court the Lady of Pain, longing for the sharp touch of her shadow. Even the silent dabus're acting barmy, a sure sign that the Lady herself is uneasy. Are these strange events tied to a madhouse full of spell-touched sods ready to slip the bonds of mortality? A curious body'd better step carefully. After all, the dead-book's full of fools who wished for power-or got in the way of another berk's wish.
Harbinger House is a Planescape adventure for four to six characters of 4th to 7th levels. From Sigil to the Outlands and back again, the heroes must piece together a puzzle that could shake the Cage to its foundations. A dark secret of the multiverse wails to be discovered in the lunatic asylum called Harbinger House, and only the player characters can shape its power-for good or ill.
The Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set is required to run this adventure. The Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix, In the Cage: A Guide to sigil, and A Player's Primer to the Outlands are recommended to enhance your enjoyment of this adventure.
The following review is taken from RPG.net:
Reviewed By: Darren MacLennan
I never got into the Planescape setting myself, but I do know that it was one of the most popular AD&D settings released during that version’s run. It was a remarkably unique setting – a single city, called Sigil, that has doors leading to every plane of existence, including both heaven and hell. The actual flavor of the setting is very much like lower-class Victorian London, complete with its own (waaaaaaay overused) slang and a number of colorful factions which competed for influence. It’s very much like the Thief series, or China Mieville’s novels.
Now, the setting had a few problems. Probably the biggest one was the slang, which lends character at first and quickly sinks into constant repetition thereafter. Like somebody in the forums said, there were only about twelve words in the slang vocabulary of Sigil, and once you’d used them all up, they started getting stale in a hurry. On the other hand, Sigil’s unique setting creates the opportunity for some truly unusual gaming situations – like this one, for instance.
Harbinger House is about a house in Sigil which is dedicated to keeping madmen safe until they can fully advance to godhood – except that most of the people kept within aren’t potential gods at all, but just people with innate spellcasting abilities and a healthy shot of insanity. The only way to sort them out is to wait until somebody becomes a god. Harbinger House is about somebody who decides that they don’t want to wait, and sets about speeding the process up through ritual murder. But the ritual murders are also screwing with the background machinery of the city, so that the servitor creatures of the Lady of Pain are acting in remarkably strange ways. Another escapee has created a cult dedicated to worshipping the Lady of Pain herself, which usually results in certain death for anybody who tries it – except that he’s done so, and lived. On top of all of this, there’s a species of demon who’s orchestrating all of this for its own ends.
The first part of the scenario is essentially a murder mystery, with the PCs attempting to discover who’s been committing a series of odd murders within Sigil. The evidence chain leading to the real killer is fairly straightforward; there’s no single piece of evidence that’ll sink the investigation if they miss. There is one clumsy bit where an insane woman provides a prophecy of the next murder for the PCs, which may come across as too easy for GM’s who are interested in making the players work for their bread and butter. It’s more of a setup for the rest of the adventure than anything else.
One awkward situation occurs at the end of this part of the adventure, in that the murderer manages to make an escape through a door to a particular dimension. The scenario assumes that the characters won’t be able to follow him through, but I can easily imagine that the PCs would simply jump through after him. In addition, there’s a bit of railroading, as the scenario explicitly states that the murderer can’t be killed during this initial fight. On top of that, as the next scenario begins, the PCs are asked by a senior NPC to find the murder and bribed by a woman who asks them to retrieve her brother, stolen away by the other insane god-to-be. It’s symptomatic of the days of AD&D – it feels as if the characters have to be bribed or pleaded into acting, rather than acting according to their own personalities.
The chase leads them to Ecstasy, where everybody’s essentially blissing out in search of personal development. A fun place to go? Yes, sure, but not particularly entertaining, as the clues gathered here are essentially just backstory that the players probably won’t even care about. Fortunately, one of the killers is on hand to burn a temple down and have a major fight in the burning building, complete with a hit point table to keep track of just how damaged the temple is. Again, however, the scenario relies on keeping the killer alive, rather than letting the PCs whack him and walk away. There’s a cheat involving making the PCs think that the killer is dead, but nobody’s going to be fooled by that. It’s a cheap melodramatic advice to keep the scenario on its rails.
On top of that, the PCs also have to keep track of two threats, one of which they’ve never met. I can easily imagine them returning to Sigil in the hopes of finding him again after he disappear, or forgetting about the one to chase the other exclusively – which makes sense, but the scenario presumes that they’ll continue chasing the Lady of Pain worshipper while letting the serial killer’s trail lapse a little. The next section is kind of interesting, a city where the inhabitants are trapped by their own bitterness – but the scenario introduces yet another escapee from the celestial madhouse, this one working for the mysterious behind-the-scenes demon. He seems to come out of nowhere, and it’ll leave most players thinking exactly that.
The end of the scenario actually works better than the first two parts – it’s a dungeon crawl through a celestial madhouse, its inhabitants driven nuts by the demonic power and the gods-to-be free to do what they want. (I’m reminded of the Asylum level in Thief 3, actually.) Most of the fun’s going to be had from dealing with the various inmates – they’re not bad, and they’ll provide challenge to the party. One inmate imitates the PC’s perfectly, down to channeling their best wepaon through his wooden spoon. Another’s constantly surrounded by figments of his own imagination, which attack on his command. They’re a little more gimmicky than I’d like – twins who represent optimism and pessimism, for example, more Darkwing Duck than Arkham Asylum. The chapter ends with a four-way fight in which the PCs have to try to figure out not only who to kill, but with what and why. (It isn’t difficult, but there’s a particular outcome that impulsive or right-brained PCs might come up that works well for everybody.)
Ultimately, it’s an adventure that just seems to squander its best assets. There’s just so much that can be done with the idea – an asylum for mad, potential gods – but the adventure just totters around without really doing anything with it. In addition, the demonic presence – fuck it, it’s a succubus – seems to not to serve any real purpose beyond manipulating the two major players in the game. I would say that you could skip it without much difficult; take the core idea and do something of your own.