Horror out of Hagsjaw review

By Levi Combs
Frog God Games
S&W
Levels 4-5

Travelers have long considered Hagsjaw a place to avoid. The town is known to outsiders by whispered tales of witches and strange doings in the old days. Once terrorized by a wretched coven of witches known as the Karnley Hags, the town was held in a grip of fear that saw its citizens oppressed and its children stolen. Anyone who dared oppose the hags was viciously murdered. When the witches were eventually overthrown and hanged in the town square, they muttered a unified curse with their last breaths, promising nothing less than misery and doom for all who remained in Hagsjaw. That was a century ago, and now Hagsjaw is little more than a forgotten watering hole. Time has not treated the decaying town or its folk kindly; it seems to die out more and more as each generation passes. The farms at the edge of town are empty of cattle and crops, the town’s buildings are crumbling, and even the sagging roofs of the abandoned, twin steeple church don’t look like they’ll hold up much longer. There’s little left to suggest that the town hadn’t withered away completely… until recently.

This 22 page investigation adventure is fairly straightforward and OOZES with flavour. Mostly horror/investigation, it’s basic form should translate easily to just about any genre, from CoC to Modern and maybe even to SciFi. The evocative writing is long and there’s significant room for improvement in that area.

Let’s start out with two important notes. First, I love decrepit towns and villages and adventures in them. Second, I think that adventures with a strong horror theme translate well to almost every genre and RPG system. If you’re allowed ANY supernatural in the system then horror is horror and good horror adventures tend to use simple non-genres specific creatures (ghosts, witches, etc) of which the theming is more important than the specific stats, and the themes tend to genre-hop well. 

Horror this is. The creatures you face are a blobby-like gelatinous human-ish creature … stat’d as a gibbering mouther. But because the emphasis is on the description rather than just saying “there’s a gibbering mouther in the church” it allows the creature to translate well. It’s a gelatinous blob/human/form creature first. This is EXCELLENT. The emphasis is on the creature and what the stats say is of secondary important. Flavour tends to always triumph over mechanics. This extends to the strange lights on the edge of the foggy forest … and a cliff. Will of the wisps. The use of generic “witches” and a witch coven in the backstory. That crosses genres well. They come back, as a kind of spirit of posession-ghost, taking over villagers and then charming more. That translates well. And then you have a mob of villagers, possessed, bribed, etc. Again, translates well. A straight up ghost? Yup, translate well. Maybe the only thing that doesn’t translate well is a halfling and a stayr. The halfling feeds you information because he was alive to see the witches hang, originally, a hundred or so years ago. Turn them in to an old man and shorten the time a bit and it works. The satyrs could just be degenerate villagers in the woods, ala HPL, and it wouldn’t loose anything. It might even work better, if The Old Gods didn’t play a part in your game world. Anyway, takaeway is that a well-written horror adventure relies on themes, like hanged witches, 3’s and the like, and this is a well written horror adventure. Not exactly scary, but you FEEL the creepiness viscerally.

And you feel it not only because of the well executed themes but also because the writing is evocative.  This great writing extends even to the hooks. Throw away hook. The worst ever. Caravan guard. Sent by the church, etc. But given fresh breathe by how they are written. The caravan guards? The first line is “Storm’s a comin’ … we better get off the road.” BAM! Instantly sets the tone, even before someone says “that place don’t nobody e’eer go.” Twist the language. Torture it. But communicate the FLAVOUR to the DM, and this does that. And it does it over and over and over again. Great, well written sentences. Great word choice that makes you FEEL the scene, and therefore be more likely to translate it to the players.

The writing here is very sticky. You remember the FEEL of the place. Which is good because it’s not organized very well. Details are buried in those evocative paragraphs. While they do a great job conveying a vibe that vibe is useless to the DM at the table running it if they can’t remember it. This is typically solved by writing text that’s easy to scan. But paragraphs don’t scan well without bolding, italics, bullets, whitespace, indents, etc. And this don’t do that. What is DOES do is bury information in weird places. The local farm has a great little thing about whipperwools. But that information, that there were hundreds, isn’t where you need it. The farm doesn’t tell you that, a person will tell you that. It needs to located someplace where it’s useful to the task at hand: an NPC communicating it. Otherwise it’s useless text that clogs up the DM’s ability to scan the text while running the game. And it’s TOO good to give up. This happens over and over again. Great NPC’s, over written, or, perhaps, not organized well enough to easily run them during play. (And the NPC’s are really really good. From the old coot to the rando’s you can throw in. Tropes, leveraged, are a good thing when done well.)

Treasure is light for a S&W game. But it’s also got versions for 5e and Pathfinder, so I suspect no one upped it for S&W. The Frogs could do a MUCH better job in that regard. It would help better communicate that they give a shit about S&W.  Although … layout seems cleaner and more modern than the Frog adventures I remember in the past, the memories anyway, so maybe they are stepping up their game? Anyway …

Let’s talk some magic treasure! How about this? “This silver ring is fashioned to look like monstrous, overlapping claws clutching each other in a circular pattern. Once each day, the

wearer can summon forth a swarm of disembodied, clawed hands that crawl over one creature  …” Great physical description (again that evocative writing) and effect (that then gets a mechanical description, but, at least it starts with the non-mechanical.) A certain potion is “horrible-smelling black ichor.” Good writing, even if “horrible smelling” is a conclusion that is telling instead of showing.

The adventure design relies on the party being nosy nellies. Or, ratherm a mob attacks them the first night and the party is expected to follow up on that if they have not followed up on things previously. There’s also a trip in to the woods which I don’t think is telegraphed as clearly as it could be. Essentially, half the adventure lies in the woods, or comes from it, and there’s not much i9n the way of pointing people to that as the next step. Easily solved by a DM dropping some hint in questioning, but, still, a slight weakness in the adventure there.

The whole things FEELS like someone who had never seen an RPG write an adventure and then stat’d it for the mechanics and that’s a VERY good thing. And I don’t mean the mechanics are wonky or don’t make sense, they do. I mean it feels like someone came up with ideas and then looked to see what the closest thing mechanically was to them. That’s a great way to design. It’s not a blob because it’s a gibbering mouther. It’s a gibbering mouther because it’s a blob. The church in town is boarded up and you have to break in. But it feels more like a real world imagining of a boarded up church you’re breaking in to then it does some kind of fantasy lockpick/knock kind of thing. The basement of a farmhouse is unnaturally cold. IN a supernatural adventure? Really? Yes, it has brown mold. Shit makes sense in this. You can telegraph it, it makes sense, layers still won’t get it, until AFTER The encounter, when they are kicking themselves. That’s good.

You probably can’t save the village from the decline it was going through. But, if you save the villagers then “They carry the names of these heroes with them as they tell tales around the campfire or trade news with those traveling through.” The actions have consequences and the parties fame will grow. That’s a good reward. 

So, overall, a great adventure. I’d recommend this if it were organized a bit better. As written, it is highlighter and note taking fodder to run it. It’s the designer’s job to ensure I don’t have to do that. Design is good. Evocative is good. Interactivity is good enough. But it needs better organization. And I got No Regerts saying that.

Also, there’s no level designation anywhere on the cover or product description. That’s a MAJOR fail by the publisher.

This is $8 at DriveThru. The preview is only four pages and doesn’t show you ANYTHING of the adventure except the background. That’s a shitty preview. A couple of town entries, or a page of encounters is what should be in the preview, to let the buy know what kind of writing to expect.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/303758/The-Horror-out-of-Hagsjaw–Swords–Wizardry?1892600

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8 Responses to Horror out of Hagsjaw review

  1. Planet Algol says:

    Huh, I wonder what else this Levi Combs has done?

    • Evard’s Small Tentacle says:

      Looks like FGG released 10 plus modules recently. Some of them are retreads from other editions, not sure if all of them are (most seem to have been part of anthologies and such, now split out).

  2. doublejig2 says:

    It’s not a blob because it’s a gibbering mouther. It’s a gibbering mouther because it’s a blob.

    There’s some truth to this, eh.

    • Bryce Lynch says:

      Envision first.

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        If only more PLAYERS would realize this before/during making a PC instead of stitching together flesh golems made of rules and pretending they’re alive. If they did, I might be interested in a more modern system.

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