There’s something about a side quest that gives me a great deal of satisfaction, both as a DM and a player. Maybe it’s a lifetime of playing video games like Dragon Age, where I’d wrap up everything I could before moving onto the main storyline. But even in a tabletop RPG, sometimes I just want to skip out on the epic plot and deal with something minor, interesting, and most importantly, finite. But making that something worth playing can be tough to do.
A side quest needs to reinforce the themes of the campaign and allow for character growth, while not really advancing the overall story. So it can’t just be a random villain-of-the-week, because stopping that villain just stalls the plot without adding to the overall sense of lore in the game. And I don’t play D&D to live in the world of CSI. I need some serious character advancement, even when we’re taking a break from the plot.
So I was extremely happy to see the release of a fantastic standalone adventure from DMs Guild author Merric Blackman. Death in the Cornfields is a horror themed short story, which any DM can run in just a single night. And it should certainly be played at night! Merric writes in his summary that his Barovian-inspired adventure “does not have a happy ending.” With a warning like that, you should probably play it by candlelight.
Without giving too much away, let me just say that Death in the Cornfields does two things very well. First, it’s a great side trek into Ravenloft. It’s mysterious without being too big of a mystery for one session. It’s concise, creepy, and best of all, complete. Merric has done an excellent job telling a full story in such a short moment. Players are going to remember this one.
And really, that’s my favorite part of this adventure. By ensuring from the outset that there won’t be a happy ending, players are forced to confront how an unhappy conclusion affects their characters. The session after you play Death in the Cornfields will certainly start with a conversation about how everyone dealt with the horrific events of that dark day. Small events that lead to meaningful character growth? I couldn’t ask for anything more perfect from a little side quest.
Are you a 5E D&D Superfan? Then the DMs Guild is for you! Check out this marketplace of fantasy ideas for the latest in what D&D fans are writing, all using an official license from Wizards of the Coast and the official Forgotten Realms setting! Every episode, Rich scours the Guild for the most clever and ingenious options to add to your campaign.