D&D 5e Module Review: Clucks of Despair
A few months ago I’d noticed a new D&D blog had popped up called Quest Chests. I checked it out and immediately noticed that it’s pretty damn slick looking.
They reeled me in once I saw the “Download Your Free Adventures” button in the middle of the screen. You don’t have to sign up for their newsletter to get the three free adventures, but I will say that it has had some solid handouts and tools for both players and DMs.
So, I took the plunge and asked my group if they wanted to do a one-shot.
I’ve put my group through the wringer as of late. Bless them, they’ve put up with a lot of play-testing for various reviews. We needed a morale booster. Something fun and with enough potential to churn out some laughs, but still be a fully fleshed-out adventure.
Then I saw the cover art of a goblin and three chickens jumping out of a treasure chest. Needless to say, Clucks of Despair, had already impressed me.
Clucks of Despair is a role-play heavy adventure module for a party of 3-5 3rd-level characters. The party has been asked by a local group of farmers to investigate a goblin cave where chicken fights are taking place. The goblins have been stealing the farmers’ chickens and attracting criminals and seedy individuals to the surrounding area.
The party is tasked with disbanding the chicken fights and returning as many chickens as they can back to their rightful owners. This is no easy feat due to the fact that the cave is crawling with goblins, mercenaries, bugbears, and traps!
Our heroes will have to find a way to infiltrate the caves and convince the goblins to end the fights for good. Will they charge in with weapons drawn, or will they take a more diplomatic approach?
The rest of this review is going to feature spoilers. Tread with caution!
There are multiple ways to read the module, two of which include the two different styles that the PDF comes in, one-page and two-page.
The other way is to use an online interactive version of the quest which includes quite a few extra features such as sound effects, links, and pop-ups for things like creature statblocks and NPC cheat sheets.
I didn’t mind the interactive version, but I found myself using the PDF when it came to game-time. I found the font to be a bit small in interactive version and the zoom feature was too aggressive for what I needed. If I could have just used my mouse wheel to zoom-in I probably would’ve stuck with the interactive version.
There are also tables of random encounters and NPCs that were exclusive to the interactive version. I wish they were included in the PDF versions as they could’ve been useful, especially for people that don’t like to use a laptop or tablet at the table to run their games.
The entirety of the module takes place inside of a filthy cave system furnished with all of the creature comforts you’d expect goblins to have. You know, chicken feathers, bones, blood, and trash! There’s also a bar, a jail, and of course, an arena for the chicken fights.
One of the cool things about the setting is that lighting plays a significant part in the module. Any area that’s unlit is off-limits and are against the rules to enter. The rules are strictly enforced and present dire consequences to those who don’t follow them.
The setting of the surrounding area is mentioned, but only in passing as a way to set the scene for the story. The Amber Valley could be substituted for any small farming village and the Leogrove Forest could be changed to any other forest. The module doesn’t tie any significance to these two places.
This makes it easy to use Clucks of Despair as a side-quest or in-canon one-shot for your game. For me, this is a big plus. The less work that I have to do to incorporate this into my campaigns, the better.
There are a handful of named NPCs throughout the module. Most of these have some importance to the story, but if the party doesn’t bother to interact with them they won’t miss out on much.
However, there are 3 NPCs that are pretty significant for the party to have at least some conversation with. They are the major players of the story so to speak.
The first is the goblin boss, Cluq, who created and organizes the fights. He is charismatic, sleazy, and highly allergic to chickens. He rules with an iron fist and has a list of 4 rules that he has his goblins and bugbears enforce.
Oh, he’s also rich as hell, and not just by goblin standards. Since he fixes the fights by having a trusted handful of his underlings hurt the chickens before a fight he can control where the money goes. He has a hidden treasure room full of wealth.
The second is Cluq’s archnemesis, Maggothands, who has sworn revenge upon Cluq for setting up a trap which permanently disfigured Maggothands. This drunken goblin will eagerly ally himself with the party if they will take care of Cluq for him.
The last NPC of note is Jameson Cook. An animal activist and drifter who, with his magical bag of holding, intends to rescue the chickens. How? He has no idea. However, with some direction from the party, they may be able to use his bag of holding to their benefit.
One cool thing I’d like to point out is that Clucks of Despair includes a handful of hooks for the module. There are 2 plot hooks to give you an alternate way that the party can begin this quest such as stumbling upon a drunken group of brigands that just left the caves.
There are an additional 5 campaign hooks that you can use to call-back to the adventure later on in your campaign. These hooks will be more or less useful depending on what your party does, who they talk to, and their success in their endeavor.
The map of the cave complex was probably one of the highlights of Clucks of Despair for me. There are 5 different variations of the map for you to use. There are “Player Safe” options that don’t have labels or secret rooms, fully labeled maps for the DM, and options with a grid and without a grid.
As I’ve mentioned many times before my group is spread out all over the place. We’re not even all in the same country! So our only viable option to play RPGs is through a Virtual Tabletop program (in our case, Roll20). I was ecstatic to see that there were instructions for uploading the map onto a VTT.
It was awesome that I didn’t even have to ask the creators about this. It was just included in the folder along with all of the versions of the map and two versions of the adventure in PDF format. One PDF is a one-page view of the adventure and the other is a two-page view.
Having a bunch of options to support many different playstyles and preferences is a major theme for this adventure, but this seems to be the case for the other 2 Quest Chests adventures as well.
Running the Module
Clucks of Despair is pretty loose with its writing. There’s a lot of background info that gives the DM information on how the different characters and creatures will act. In fact, this makes up the majority of the module. The adventure portion is only about 5 pages long!
That being said, this writing style works for the type of game that the module embraces. It’s a role-play heavy adventure.
Trust me, there are tons of opportunities for role-playing, whether it’s gaining information to sabotage Cluq with or forging alliances with the shifty individuals that attend the fights, there’s a lot for the players to do.
It doesn’t make sense for this to be a linear dungeon crawl style game. There are too many enemies that will slay the party. They have to play it cool and talk and/or stealth their way through the adventure, but in doing so they open a ton of doors that the DM has to keep track of.
I didn’t find the module difficult to run through. The backstory and background info was very descriptive and gave me all the information I needed to embrace the characters and set up the various traps and guard posts for the cave.
Time to Completion
I will say that we breezed through the module really quickly. It wasn’t intentional, but my group didn’t rely on role-playing their way through the module which certainly would’ve taken up a bit more time.
All in all, it took us just under 3 hours to complete the adventure which is just under the length of 1 session for a typical game for us.
If they were a bit more focused on role-playing rather than stealthing around and had I ran more than 1 or 2 chicken fights the module would’ve lasted a bit longer. Your mileage is going to vary depending on your group’s playstyle.
Tons of Options
As I alluded to previously, there are many ways that the party can tackle the issue. While role-playing your way through to find a solution is by far the most obvious solution to shutting-down the caves (Cluq is charismatic, but he’s got plenty of holes in his plan), it’s not the only solution!
My party opted to look around the caves after they met Cluq and took a tour of the cave. This was of course against the rules, but they were able to stealthily thin the horde of goblins and gain a lot of valuable info about the cave’s layout.
Then they were thrown in jail for fighting and poking around outside of the allowed areas. But even in prison, there are opportunities to role-play and pick up new allies to help you break free and complete your quest.
Every time there’s a setback in the module, there’s at least one way for the party to dig themselves out of it and come out ahead.
Combat is Still a Valid Option
The villagers don’t particularly care how the fights are shut down. They only care that they are. The party isn’t tasked with bringing Cluq back alive.
Fighting and slaying Cluq themselves is certainly one way that the party can put an end to the animal abuse and return the chickens to their rightful owners. However, Cluq is a wily one and will always try to keep himself ahead of the game.
It’s possible to find a way to separate Cluq from the crowd, but it’s going to be difficult to get to him alone and without the protection of the rest of the goblin clan.
As the DM make sure you don’t separate Cluq as a good chunk of his combat strategy relies on him having other goblins around to use as fodder. He’s a formidable fighter in his own right, but he’ll only pose a challenge if he has a couple of allies close by!
Final Thoughts on Clucks of Despair
I thought this was a solid module. It was a bit short, but it’s also 1 of 3 modules included in a free set of adventures. I also don’t think that it was missing anything despite its length, just that it can be completed quickly if the party plays it right from the get-go and/or makes a few good rolls.
My only major criticism pertains to locking the NPC random table and the random events table behind the interactive version of the adventure. While they’re certainly more convenient to use in that format, it would be nice to have them in the PDFs as well. Even if it were just as an appendix at the end of the module.
Having the entire module take place in essentially one small cave system makes it a very easy adventure to drop into any game. It’s also pretty easily customizable. It’s built with the intention that the party won’t try to fight the whole cave of creatures at once. Feel free to beef them up to throw this at higher level characters!
As-is this is a fun side-quest for a group of 3rd-level adventurers on the road to their next big adventure. I’d certainly recommend Clucks of Despair for groups that prefer role-playing to a classic dungeon crawl, or to any group of adventurers that are down to save some chickens!