Harvest of Sorrows
by Dan Crawford
Reviewed by James Rand
This was Dan Crawford's entry for the 1997 Halloween Contest. The results weren't in at the time I wrote this review, but it easily could have taken first place. It's that good.
What's good about it? The plot, for one thing. Dan describes it as 'linear' in the accompanying textfile, but don't be fooled. It's not a straight line we're talking about here. The plot takes some interesting twists and turns and it wasn't until just before the final dungeon that I knew for sure who the real enemy of the mod is.
The hacked music is great and suits the mod perfectly. My only complaint with it is that Dan didn't use it enough - most of it was concentrated in the opening stages of the story, and I felt there were some tense scenes later in the mod that could have used it. The art hacks are a mixed bag. Most of them are gorgeous and some of them are absolutely indispensable to the mod, but one of them (the blue cave set) I didn't care for much and wasn't really needed. (I would have rated it a point higher in hacks if he hadn't used the blue cave set - the cemetary set in particular is incredible.
I have no idea where Dan got some of his imported art - I've never seen it before in my life, and I collect Ravenloft UA art. It's great, and fits the tone and visual style of the mod perfectly (which blew my mind, considering the "hodge-podge" look most UA designers, including me, often settle for). In fact, the hacked walls, backdrops and frame, and imported artwork, all fit together within the autumn visual theme perfectly.
The events are all well-written, too. Dan's small town of Cold Creek feels much more real than any other town I've visited in a UA mod; no "armor" and "weapon" shops, here... Dan's townfolk are farmers, fishmongers and other 'real' people. I love it. The random encounters in the forest area are well-written, atmospheric and plentiful, and the low incidence of actual combat in them actually serves to heighten the fear and tension, because you don't know whether any given event is going to lead to deadly peril or not...
I only wish the later half of the mod could have kept up the level of quality set by the earlier half. The hacked music, used to excellent effect in the earlier parts, is conspicuous by its absence in the very climax of the mod. The main villain, while well-portrayed in his interactions with the party, is given no motivation or explanation for his awfulness, and the plot devices used to give the party magic weapons to use against him and to rescue them at the end of the mod seem somewhat awkward and contrived. I would speculate that the last part of the mod was completed in a rush in order to meet the contest deadline.
Don't get me wrong. The later part of the mod isn't bad. Or even mediocre. It's damn good. It just doesn't live up to the standards of excellence set by the earlier half.
There are a few technical elements that could have been better handled (being asked if you'd like to leave a place as soon as you arrive at it), but these could be easily cleaned up and may already have been by the time you read this review. Ditto for the one (and only, in the whole mod) spelling error I saw.
Overall, this is an awesome mod. Players, download it now. Newbie designers, take note - this is how it's done.
* Plot Matter: 8
* Artwork: 9
* Hacks: 8
* Text: 9
* Events: 8
* Originality: 8
* Errors: 6
* Total Rating: 80%