One of my favorite tropes in television is amnesia. It requires nothing more than commitment to the premise and allows for actors (and, therefore, players) to break out of their comfort zones and/or experiment with new personas. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the episode ‘Tabula Rasa‘ from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The amnesia trope is also a perfect fit for a bottle episode. Sometimes a campaign needs a bottle episode, a break from the main storyline(s) allowing players to roleplay anew or just really dig in with one particular issue, trait, idea, or spell/weapon. It act as a sort of palate cleanser. Sometimes what might be a minor detail or find becomes something really cool or useful later, which is always a welcome development.
Damen Bolton’s The Hourglass is an amnesia adventure that not only provides ample room for roleplay but also has plenty of action foregrounding the overall puzzle of player identity. It gives DMs and PCs (Dungeon Masters, Player Characters) a chance to flex their mental gaming muscle. If embraced by players, The Hourglass can be wildly fun.
“You find yourselves in front of a massive shattered hourglass. With no memory of how you got here. It is up to you to find out why.
Throughout this module, 4 player characters will regain memories for their randomly assigned character. Secretly learning about their character’s personality and ulterior motives. Giving each player their own secret objectives to complete throughout the adventure.”
Bolton has written this adventure for at least 4 players between levels 2 and 3. However, it could accommodate one or two more players and/or be bumped up level-wise, but each of those actions would require attentive revision by the DM. This is because The Hourglass is an adventure where DMs have to play as actively as players while also maintaining their usual duties.
Although designed for random assignment of ready-made characters, it wouldn’t be difficult to do a sort of random shuffle within an already established party. Bolton suggests literally cutting up character sheets and giving them to players in pieces as they progress. Doing so makes each player a puzzle unto themselves, which can be very fun. PCs could also just be given blank character sheets and as they progress taking actions and rolling checks be told their stats allowing them to fill-in the blanks as they adventure. Point is, this is a creative touch giving flair without it being extraneous.
Bolton has also written a good deal of script for DMs, should they want it. Yet at no point does the script hinder variation as it conveys the moments and triggers where PCs need to make encounter decisions. Because PCs have lost their memory, the rooms of this dungeon become foes (the map provided is easy to follow and intuitive). There is the opportunity for players to really experience fear at what is around the corner or what could happen in a room if they take a wrong step. It can lead to maddening stupefaction or free-wheeling decision making with both being as fertile as the other.
The ready-made characters are a nice fit of a party and the story’s action involves several twists and big reveals. Players could adapt Bolton’s adventure to their own campaign without much difficulty in terms of PC interaction. It would make for a fun meta-game sort of evening if PCs swapped characters. Overall, the adventure runs smoothly giving players plenty of leeway while handing DMs simple, adaptable parameters. Also, The Hourglass doesn’t just give PCs an opportunity to roleplay, it actively encourages them to break out of their standard gaming habits making it a valuable gaming experience.
Recommended Party: If players decide to ignore the ready-made characters, then I’d suggest this adventure feature a cleric, a Wild Magic sorcerer, a monk, and barbarian as such a party would give just enough space for players to think they were something else.