A couple days after “Devil’s Advocate” went up (which by now is a Platinum Bestseller with 4.9/5 star rating on DMs’ Guild – you can see my post about it here) Justice asked me if I’d be up for working on his next project: an adventure with clowns, in time for Halloween. Obviously, I was.
And that’s how “Step Right Up” came to be: Justice Arman / Norse DM wrote it all, got some beautiful art from great artists, and I put it together.
“Step Right Up” brings players to a carnival full of attractions, with clowns, rides, shows, and free sweet milk… until it all changes into a carnival of horror, with monsters and spoiled, curdled alchemical milk changing carnival-goers into milk thralls!
There’s a strong ‘spoiling’ theme in the adventure, and this inspired the design and layout the most.
I’ve started with a pristine set-up of white, purple, and gold to create a vintage feel. Between paper with stripes and classical ornaments, the book opens with a frontispiece, inviting the players – and their characters – to the carnival.
After that, things go… spoiled. As you read through the adventure, you start noticing small details on the background. A spot here, a spill there… Soon, the background starts getting spoiled and dirty, like carnival tents covered in mud and spilled milk.
Justice wrote the adventure in a way that allows the players to enjoy the carnival both before and after the Big Evil Plot Reveal. In fact, all of the attractions in the adventure have a sweet and spoiled version, depending on when the characters visit them.
With that duality in mind, I’ve designed the attraction pages to cover both options simultaneously. That way, the Dungeon Master has all the information at hand, and can mix pre- and post-reveal information for better foreshadowing if they want to.
While the book is edited and formatted according to DMs’ Guild style guide, it steps away from the usual ‘D&D’ layout style, introducing a fresh set of headers and fonts. It was important to me to embrace the old-school, vintage feel of a carnival – without going for the overused ‘carnival’ fonts and design tricks. I kept the ornaments simple, in pale gold, to not take the focus away from the beautiful art pieces commissioned for this adventure.
The book also includes two handouts: a leaflet that can be handed to the players to introduce them to the carnival, and fortune tickets. I’ve made the leaflet in a generic ‘circus’ style, so not to spoil the milky surprise. The fortune teller’s tickets are also in two versions: one with standard ‘fortunes’, and their spoiled version gives the characters spells, perks, and other surprises.
In short, working on this new project for Justice was a blast. I had great fun balancing the vintage carnival feel with just enough ‘spoil’ to keep in vaguely creepy. It’s a horror adventure but it’s not a gore-fest. It’s much more clever, subtle, and insidious. I love it.