Library of Sorrows is my third review of a Braythe: Shattered Realities book. Why have I given so much attention to this world? Because it’s one of the most imaginative settings offered on DriveThruRPG. Heiner de Wendt manages time and time again to create a highly immersive, surreal and modular world. Getting that right is no easy task.
Often, worlds with rich, compelling details become self-contained games. They end up too autonomous and offer little by way of adaptability. The average DM can’t pick and choose what they want or what makes sense for their table. This isn’t always a problem if they’re picking up a whole campaign, but even then, the rigid nature of these books doesn’t leave much room for PC growth.
De Wendt deftly side-steps this pitfall with every bit of content set in Braythe. This world was torn apart by an apocalyptic catastrophe and then stitched back together by some unknowable power. Tethered to other broken worlds with chains the size of mountains, an entire planet now resides in a pocket dimension. The inhabitants struggle to understand the transformation that affected more than their continents.
Being set in a shattered and reforged world offers adventures like Library of Sorrows a treasure trove of surreal and otherworldly material, yet it remains unrestricted and highly modular. This adventure can be injected into virtually any campaign as long as the campaign itself isn’t innately self-contained. If you need a challenging, compelling, and flexible escapade for your adventurers, keep reading.
How does it work?
The Library of Sorrows takes place in the Braythe setting and ties into Faith Reborn. Which is another adventure module.However, the storyline, mechanics, NPCs, etc. operate completely independently. You don’t need to know anything about Braythe to run this game.
De Wendt formats the adventure in what he calls “episodes”. There are 3 episodes, each with interesting challenges, NPCs and story plot points. As I read the module, I found these episodes could easily be read like 3 acts in a movie or book. Transitioning between each act requires a notable accomplishment by the adventurers. For instance, the 1st episode introduces the setting, characters, and inciting incident. To progress to episode 2, the adventurers must find a way to enter the mysterious library. These ancient and spooky ruins are protected by a magical barrier.
I will discuss this challenge a little more when I break down the mechanics.
In episode 1, de Wendt lays out a series of plot hooks to get the PCs to start the module. These hooks include an interesting NPC, a village in trouble, and a McGuffin any adventuring party worth their metal would love to get their hands on. A DM can use any of these prompts, or toss them out entirely. The plot isn’t dependent on these hooks. I will note that these hooks are well-written and fleshed out. You’ll have fun seeing players handle these situations.
The McGuffin takes the form of a mysterious book containing esoteric knowledge. This information ties into other adventures taking place in Braythe, but mechanically it’s still a McGuffin. A DM can easily replace this book with an artifact of their own. De Wendt took the time necessary to insure anyone could make use of this adventure.
What’s it About?
The story revolves around the imprisoned soul of a cult leader. Imprisoned in the nightmarish basement of a library rumored to be full of magic items. The inhabitants of a nearby town find themselves inflicted by a curse. Of course, they believe the spooky ruins of a library that once housed magical artifacts is to blame. A local merchant and Ember Orc (a original Braythe species) wishes to hire a band of adventurers to enter the library and stop the curse.
(I’ve never seen an adventuring party that wouldn’t salivate over a hook like that)
That’s the setup. If the adventuring party needs a little more motivation, throw in the magic book McGuffin or a few rumors about magic items. De Wendt gives you plenty of history about the library to work with as well. It’s seen dark days, and even a brand-new, green DM could find something macabre to intrigue and excite their players.
Once in the library, the adventurers meet ghosts, ghouls, and the Angel of Death. Yep, the heat gets turned up! The story gets teased out and uncovered through clues either found in the library or discussed with trapped spirits. Nothing gets dropped in the players’ laps. They have to earn every inch of progress, but no challenge is insurmountable.
Eventually, the adventurers learn that the Angel of Death has been locked in this prison as a tool to keep an evil spirit bound in a prison. As long as the Angel remains in the library, the soul of a wicked cult leader cannot move on. Which is a good thing. If this guy’s soul ever makes it to hell, he’ll raise a demon army and attempt to conquer the world.
Is that solid BBEG material or what!?
The Adventurers will need to make some hard choices. Library of Sorrows is flexible and offers a variety of optional paths a party could explore. You don’t get railroaded with this module. A DM could run this game 3 or 4 times and get a different playthrough each time. This also means the conclusion isn’t set in stone. How the game ends will vary depending on the choices the adventurers make.
Who’s it For?
Library of Sorrows presents an easy-to-follow yet intriguing story. The PCs will run down clues, talk to NPCs, and combat a wide variety of supernatural monsters. Just about any table could make good use of this module. The writing is easy to understand and leaves plenty of room for improvisation, so you won’t find yourself backed into a corner.
Because this game offers so much flexibility, it’s applicable to any fantasy setting. However, some tables may benefit from it more than others. If you’re running a campaign centered around the supernatural, multiple plains, or the afterlife, the Library of Sorrows will make a good fit. You have ghosts, angels, and the threat of an invasion from hell. You have a lot to work with and can easily build or continue a storyline with this material.
What Level Is It For?
PC levels can vary wildly with this module. De Wendt built a unique mechanic into this game that allows low to medium-strength parties to play this adventure. I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but you can send a level 3 or 10 party into this library and expect everyone to be challenged and survive.
That being said, an experienced group of players with levels 6-8(-ish) characters may get more out of Library of Sorrows than an inexperienced, low-level party. Now, don’t get me wrong. Other types of tables will still enjoy this dungeon. However, the NPCs, story, and dynamic combat scenarios may not be truly valued by green players. This adventure offers a lot of options and opportunities for interesting gameplay. Noobs can get through it and have a good time, but moderately experienced and veteran dungeoneers will see its full potential.
If you have a group of fresh-faced, inexperienced players, try out Orphans of Vinesnake Hill. That adventure is optimal for levels 1-4 and will ensure the PCs use all their abilities. It also takes place in Braythe, so a linear play-through could lead to Library of Sorrows. Save this one for when they’ve earned a few scars and can appreciate the depth of this work.
I’ve read a lot of work by Heiner de Wendt, and I’m not at all surprised by how much I liked Library of Sorrows. Like the rest of his material, this adventure offers an easy read full of intrigue and story. I am also impressed by how adaptable this module is while still providing rich lore and interesting plot hooks. There’s a very narrow line between an overly complex description that weighs a book down and emaciated outlines that barely offer a DM useful content. De Wendt balances upon that line like a tightrope walker without a net.
I’ve personally given serious consideration to running a series of short 1 mission campaigns, and writers like de Wendt are why. This module could be completed in 2 to 3 sessions. If the players were experienced, that is. To be frank, that’s who I want to run this game with, experienced players. Veteran gamers are going to push this module, and it deserves to be pushed. The Library of Sorrows wants to be explored, and I want to explore it.
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If you’re interested in picking up Library of Sorrows, I’ve provided a link below. I’m also providing links to the other reviews I’ve done about the Braythe setting.