Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Psychedelic Fantasies: The Fungus that Came to Blackeswell -- Review

From the moment I heard  about Geoffrey McKinney's Psychedelic Fantasies line, before the first module had been released, I knew it was a good thing, and my kind of thing.

Cheap but solidly produced modules. A short format for ease of digestion and use at the table. A focus on unrestrained imagination, as opposed to "the standard D&D tropes".

Now we have the third module in the series: THE FUNGUS THAT CAME TO BLACKESWELL.

Full disclosure: the module is written by my friend and Berlin RPG cohort Yves Geens. I guess that makes me totally biased. I do feel though that if the module was crap I'd say so. It's not. And of course Geoffrey wouldn't have published it if it was :)

Now to the reviewing part.

I received the module in the post last night, and read through it in one sitting (the advantage of the short format). I've not run it yet, but am very much inspired to do so, having read it.

The short overview of what's going on in this module is: a subterranean village famed for its odd inhabitants (a wizard and an inventor) and its unusual riches (Blackeswell pearls) is overrun by a hostile fungal infestation from the nearby Fungal Jungle. The village and its inhabitants are decimated.

(Note that, although Blackeswell is described as being a subterranean settlement, this has little impact on the adventure. It could be easily placed in an above-ground setting such as a forest, swamp or mountains.)

The main theme of the module, from my reading, is one of despair. There's an almost Raggiesque atmosphere present. Although there are none of the player-screwing-over moments or twists which we know and love(?) from the pen of Mr JER the 4th, the fate of the villagers of Blackeswell is unremittingly tragic and gruesome. I seem to recall there is one single house in the village whose inhabitants have survived with their lives and sanity (seemingly) intact. As for the rest, a twisted variety of fates has met them. Many are simply reduced to pools of gore, their only memorial being the now-futile shop signs advertising their now-ruined wares.

Good stuff. This could be the kind of module where PCs come in hoping to make a quick buck, but end up getting embroiled in trying to work out what on earth befell the village, and what can be done to stop it spreading or happening again elsewhere.

This is one interesting point about the module -- the reason why what has happened has happened is not (unless I've missed something) explicitly revealed. There are hints, and a locus or point of emanation can be discovered, but from my reading it was not clear what exactly caused the fungal infestation in Blackeswell. I'm not totally sure if this is intended or not, but it's something to bear in mind. Referees wanting to work this module into a campaign would be advised to give this topic some preparatory thought, as players will inevitably begin to wonder about what's happened in the village and try to find out what caused it.

In terms of the encounters in the module, each house contains something different. There are plenty of weird fungal horrors to fight or (in many cases more wisely) avoid, some nice treasures to be dug out from the clutches of the ever-present mycelial growths, and some interesting NPC encounters (a few villagers are still alive, and another adventuring party is holed up).

The main theme is (obviously) fungal monsters, which appear in pleasing variety. There are also elements of dimensional magic and sci-fi robotics, which lend a gonzo sub-tone to the module. Personally I'm a big fan of fantasy / sci-fi mash-ups, but strangely I felt that I would actually tone down the gonzo elements when running this adventure. I felt like I would place the focus more on this being a horror adventure, which the wackier elements could detract from. This isn't meant as a criticism -- the sci-fi elements are really well done -- just an aspect of taste as to how I would imagine running this module myself.

All in all, an excellent adventure with a deliciously weird and creepy tone. I am very much looking forward to running it! Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Very good mr. Norman, as agreed your wife and children will not be harmed.


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