Module Retrospective - The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

I plan to do one of these module retrospectives every week or so, I also plan to keep these relatively spoiler-free. In order to do this I will simply give some of the highs and lows without a tremendous amount of detail.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh or module U1, is first on the chopping block. This module is suggested for play with characters at levels 1 through 3. Read on to see how it fares.

Originally released in 1981 and written by Dave Brown and Don Turnbull, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, or SSoS from here on, was the first in a series of three modules developed in the United Kingdom. To me the module has always managed to convey a unique sense of "Britishness". There is even an interesting aside in the beginning of the module regarding some of the differences in spelling between the UK and US. They also explain that Americans may find the text a little "flowery".


  • There is a lot offered in this package, essentially you are getting two smaller adventures in one module. One with a haunted house atmosphere and another on a ship.
  • The setting and plot are different from your average fantasy tropes and may not end up being what you initially expected.
  • The module unfolds nicely and outcomes could be somewhat different for a second playthrough with another party.
  • There is a nice difficulty curve to the module as well as a natural stopping point between the two halves, at this point characters are expected to return to the town of Saltmarsh and this in itself could be considered a micro-adventure of sorts.
  • The DM gets to do a little role playing and the adventure requires the DM to juggle a few balls in the air. These are positives to me, if you consider them negatives, be forewarned.
  • Great old school art, particularly the full page illustration on page 14 by Stephen D. Sullivan.
  • Although the module is suggested for characters at levels 1-3, I would not recommend it for a party of amateurs. This module is designed for a "smart" party to get the most out of it. Not to say that a party could not bash their way through, but ultimately the savvy and canny player is rewarded accordingly with experience (I like that tremendously) as well as treasure. This could be seen as a positive to some.
  • The module requires an experienced DM as there is a good bit to consider in regards to some of the enemies encountered, their movements, and party actions that can result in varied outcomes.
  • The town of Saltmarsh is not mapped for the DM. You are left to create your own version following the modules basic template and instructions.

This module offers a lot to the player in terms of varied approach and just as importantly, is a blast for the DM as well. Often the involvement of the DM is taken for granted but one of the strengths of SSoS is its ability to "work" the DM yet remain clear, concise and engaging at the same time.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is one of the best modules I have ever been in the DM's seat for. I remember reading it for the first time and thinking that it was unique, I had played quite a bit by that point so maybe it was just leaving the dungeon, so to speak. Upon re-reading it for this post however that uniqueness came flooding back and I feel confident in saying it has withstood the test of time.

Final verdict: Highly Recommended.




  1. I've ran this module a few times, and played it in too, and always enjoyed the experience. It is, for me, what games of D&D are all about, and has no doubt influenced me greatly.

  2. Nice review. This was the first module I picked out for myself from the list of TSR products, based solely on the evocative name.