by Yves Geens
Publisher’s Blurb: “The inside of the detached cover has the map of the subterranean village of Blackeswell. It’s a site-based module. No quests or plots. The word “Fungus” is in the title for good reason. This is a creepy, mushroomy, fungusy adventure. If you are like me, you love that squishy, slimy, over-ripe botanic feel of lots of vile, rotting fungus in your D&D. This module has you covered. This is the best, most original fungus module of all time. It gave me some shudders. This is definitely the scariest of the three Psychedelic Fantasies modules.”
This is a tight and dense ten page adventure, packed and delivered like a UPS truck. DCC does a great job providing kick ass adventures. Psychedelic Fantasies does the same great job, but in a different manner. Looser and denser than DCC and providing great value, this line brings to life a … freer? form of the game. It describes situations, without the need to appeal to mechanics. As a result we get an adventure of imagination. No explanations of WHY the X is Y. No attempts to describe everything in sight. It IS … now deal with it. This is a refreshing view, and is closer to my platonic ideal of a prepublished adventure than the vast majority of published material. SHOW, don’t tell, is the phrase of the day, and this adventure shows us. Because it shows it supports the DM during during play. “Bob is evil” only tells us Bob is evil and communicates nothing. “Bob is pulling the legs off of a spider” shows us that Bob is evil and tells us a LOT about Bob. This adventure shows.
It’s a village with something going on … a fungus infestation. There’s no overarching quest, or plot, or anything else. Nothing is assumed about why the party is there. You can drop this into anything you’ve got got going on and use it. At best, it’s implied the party has heard about the infestation of fungus and is getting there before the authorities cordon off the place … getting in to do some looting before The Man stops you.
In one quarter of a page we are introduced to the background. In one quarter of a page we have the rumor table. In one quarter of a page we are presented the current situation. The encounter locations start. No muss. No fuss. This is the perfect sort of thing for an adventure of this type. Essentially, you are presented with what everyone nearby knows about the village. Then you’re presented with a series of rumors that can be used as hooks. The innkeeper is a miser with a hoard. There’s a powerful wizard with an apprentice. There’s some high-value mining going on. Once the party gets to the village they can use the rumors as a springboard to adventure. Go find the wizard. Go loot the gems, or the innkeepers hoard. This is gameable content. It’s not trivia. It helps drives the adventure forward and gives momentum. This is so, so important. The rumors, and the background, are directly related to pushing the adventure forward. They point you towards areas of the village where interesting things may happen. Likewise, the current situation of the village provides the general background of the CURRENT status of the village. This part could be slightly stronger, but it does a decent job of laying out the general descriptions that can be used for the rest of the adventure.
“Lying facedown in a puddle of his own face.” Oh my. That’s visceral. The encounters here tend to two sorts. Either they are quite brief, like a burned down oil merchant, or an infested green grocer, or they are more involved. Even the briefer ones are interesting, like the barbershop with a bloody torso, the extremities torn off and playfully hidden around the shop. The shorter ones tend to be a monster encounter (the barbershop) or a treasure, maybe with a tick (the grocer, or the abandoned homes.) The longer ones tend to have something more involved going, and also tend to be Places of Note, such as the Inn, the Church, or the Wizards tower. There are a smattering of NPC’s still around to interact with, rescue, and get help from. There are others that, while lucid, need mercy killing. The descriptions here are all good ones. Each paints a scene, showing instead of telling. They act as springboards to imagination.
As with everything else in this line, the monsters and treasures are all unique. Nothing from the book and everything wonderfully mysterious. The Putrid Supper monster forces rotten bits down your throat, causing you to gag and retch. The magic thimble and needle repairs even magical garments. Blaster rifles blast (and even an NPC has one!) You can climb inside a robot and maybe even fuse with it. There are fungus-ish healing pods. As the tagline says, No Orcs, Fireballs, or +1 swords inside this baby.
On to the negatives, and there are a few. There’s a wandering monster table, and, being Petty Bryce, this is the worst thing in the adventure. It’s just a series of monsters. I like my wanderers doing something, as a kickstarter for the DM building on the action. Petty complaint #2: “Check for wanderers every turn” could be instead written as “Check every turn for wanderers, 1 on a 1d6.” The various ways to check for wanderers is a pet peeve of mine, along with travelling and sight distances in overland maps.
There’s also at least one encounter, a very hard one, that could be telegraphed better. ZOG is 12 HD. Everything in the adventure is bizarre, so it’s hard to tell is bizarro #1 is tougher or easier than bizarro #2. Sprinkling a few dozen corpses around the building should do it. Otherwise it’s a random death trap roll out of nowhere. I’ve got no problem putting in a tough monster or a deathtrap, but the players should make a conscious choice for their characters to engage it. Otherwise it’s random and unfair.
Finally, the map could be better. It’s a simple line drawing on a piece of graph paper, handmade. I don’t care at all about that. What I’d like t see on the map are more … annotations? Sights, smells, piles of corpses. It is, essentially, just a village map drawn in rectangles. There was a serious opportunity missed for the map to add more to the adventure. I’m big on published adventures being a Play Aid for the DM. The map should communicate more than just the numbers to look up the room. This one doesn’t do that.
I like this adventure; it meets my high standards. I’m keeping it AND am a bit disappointed I can’t get these in print form anymore, but must rely on PDF’s. Now the hard part. There’s something wrong with it. I’m not sure I completely understand what it is. I’m generally pretty solid in my opinions, but from here on out in this review you are encountering some assertions that I’m writing down in order to see if I believe them. The room descriptions are dense. They are also shortish. That’s what I want. There is also some kind of wall of text thing going on, if you can describe a four sentence room as ‘Wall of Text.’ Adventure design is, I think, a delicate balancing act. You are presenting as the publisher states “unconstrained imagination” and yet you need to do so in a way that’s easy and convenient for a DM to use during play. Do you need to use a highlighter in preparing the adventure? If so then something is wrong. Usually the room descriptions are full of trivia and you need a highlighter to pull out the one sentence that is critical. In this adventure things are so dense that … I don’t know. My head is spinning. I THINK there’s some kind of additional … organization? structure? convention? needed in presenting the unconstrained imagination to the DM. Certainly, I’ll take this over industry norm any day. Unconstrained Imagination is what you should be paying for, not well organized (ha!) generic trivia.