To Hell & Back Again
If Pixar were to ever make a crossover film with Mad Max and the Heffalump I imagine it might look something like To Hell & Back Again by Donathin Frye and Kienna Shaw. Seriously, Lulu the Ollyphant looks like Bing Bong and Lumpy created an offspring. And I love it! And seriously, check out the Infernal War Machine behind Lulu. I’m ready to traipse around a dystopia. Grab your dice and eschew your friends this time because this adventure can be done solo. Perfect for when schedules don’t align or when you’re feeling misanthropic. I suspect though that the misanthropy will dissipate once you start interacting with Lulu.
As a young adventurer you are eager for work and when you see an advertisement for an “easy delivery job” that’s paying 200 gold pieces you’re sure to accept. Once you find your way to the floating house you will meet Shandalar. He asks you to deliver a flagon of mystery liquid to a lady who lives in Cloakwood. Accompanying the flagon, he is also providing a message to her regarding his mushrooms. What Shandalar didn’t necessarily share with you is that you’re going to Hell. He doesn’t lie to you. It just sort of happens.
Once you’re in Hell, you’ll stumble upon the aforementioned Infernal War Machine (yeah, you’ll get to take it for a spin) as well as Lulu who I’ve been raving about. She is instrumental in this adventure but you’re free to treat her however you like. I chose to treat her with kindness because I found her endearing and that lifted my spirits. She offers some comic relief (not in the slapstick style), pertinent information, and useful items.
Your ultimate objective is in finding the lady that Shandalar asked you to locate. But you will also face other challenges and consequential decisions along the way. Even though it’s a solo adventure (of which I’ve reviewed no fewer than six at this point) it’s a tad more linear than others I’ve experienced so far. But only subtly so. You may face the same scenes regardless of your previous choices, but those choices may completely change the current scene’s outcome. You may or may not find the Lady in Green for Shandalar. And even if you do, you may not convince her to return to him.
You may even leave this adventure under an annual contractual obligation to a devil named T’an-mo. You could try to kill her. Or reneg on your deal. Up to you. But kiss your loved ones good night if you don’t keep your word to her.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on everything that goes on in this adventure and that’s because I don’t want to give away too much. This isn’t an adventure you’re going to read cover to cover before running it (even if you did adapt it as a DM with players you may not want to do that). That’s something wonderful about these solo adventures, aside from bringing your character if you don’t want to use one that’s provided, there’s no prep work on your part. Just sit down and start playing.
Donathin and Kienna have created a great adventure and they did a superb job with the layout and production. The pages are riddled with hyperlinks (i.e. “go to A9”) so you don’t have to scroll a lot to navigate your next steps. I won’t say the aesthetics are stark but they are spartan. Proof that sometimes less really is more. There can be a happy medium between a white background and a textured one that leans more to blank end of the spectrum. In short, it’s not overdone. Despite using a few art sources, each piece complements the other and that elevates the whole product quite a bit for me. I understand that most Guild creators are creating these passion projects with limited resources sometimes. But even still, they don’t have to look like they were cobbled together by amateurs. This one doesn’t.
If you’ve never done a solo D&D adventure, what are you waiting for? This one—as most others—explains exactly how to handle leveling, running NPCs and monsters, and even character death. Aside from the dice, To Hell and Back Again has everything you need to start solo-ing.
- professional layout and design that isn’t overdone
- good writing that reads as well as any fantasy fiction
- long-lasting and consequential results for your actions
- wonderful characters with a lot of depth
- a little less free-form than some other solo adventures I’ve played
To Hell and Back Again is available on DMs Guild for $9.95.