By Andrew Foster Self Published City of Mist
An aging catholic exorcist and assessor needs the crew’s help in banishing the alleged evil spirits surrounding a young boy. What kind of terror could bring a once steadfast priest to the breaking point ? Could a mere child really be the harbinger of something evil or is something else at play? Whatever it is, it’s quickly spreading to the nearby neighbors who are being plagued by the all too real events colored by death and terror. If that wasn’t enough, people are starting to believe the rumors about a previously captured serial killer who is on the loose again. Will the crew be able to save the residents of the 36th Street Apartments in time before their own living nightmares consume them?
This 25 page adventure is the usual spooky dream time investigation adventure of a modern horror nature. It has nice touches here and there and, surprisingly, doesn’t reach TOO far in to the pretension that the marketing hints at. It also has no idea how to support the DM. Or write read-aloud. Or format a section for scanning. And, I take offence at the subject matter.
This adventure centers around a kid who is the living manifestation of The Spirit Of All Life, the aboriginal creator who also created the dreaming. Or is the dreaming? I don’t pretend to understand. All I know is that a white kid is the aboriginal creator. Can you do this in a home game? Sure. Should you shit all over gypsies in a published adventure? Probably not. It’s in bad taste and things suitable for a home game are not always suitable for a published adventure.
So, I don’t know where to start with this. I bought it explicitly because it looked like pretentious edge lord shit. Read that marketing blurb again. “What kind of terror could …” and, the best of all, the last two lines of the other marketing blurb are “… ultimately come face to face with their own demons, and hopefully find the wisdom to help a hurt soul come to terms with their grief.
“ Uh huh. Grief? Uh huh. The characters own demons? Uh huh uh huh. Fucking masterful pretention that is. How could this adventure be anything other than the full on catharsis that we all seek from a tuesday night of gaming with beer and pretzels!? Finally, my deep held truma regarding the search for meaning in a world inherently devoid of it shall be resolved and no longer will all love me and despair but I shall remain Galadriel. Or, I’m gonna have some more Campairi and roll my eyes.
So this kids mother dies. He starts making people have nightmares, including a priest who comes to exorcise him, a psychiatrist who examines him, and basically everyone in his apartment complex. The party enters at the behest of the priest, does some basic investigation of the priest, psych, and the apartment complex. They go to the kids apartment, find a THING has happened, and go to the roof to find the kid pulling the entire complex in to the dreamtime. The only real conflict here is with shadow monster things from the dreamtime. This seems lame to me, much in the same way that I bitch about designers using humanoids too much in fantasy adventures. When every threat is supernatural the tone of the game changes and becomes substantially less visceral, with, I believe, less perceived threat of the players characters. The fantastic made mundane.
It’s a pretty standard adventure of this type. You get a call from the priest. Go to the church and fight nightmare monsters. Investigate. Go to the next place in the chain, the psych’s office. Fight nightmare monsters and investigate. Go to the apartment complex and investigate and fight nightmare monsters. Find the kids apartment and have the “emotional” ending. 95% of all modern adventures go this way, be it the modern genre of the post-90’s time frame. They both do it. You know, the plot thing.
I’m going to cover a few interesting things about this. First, the monsters/people, etc have a few bullet points in them to help run them, atmospherically. One of them “Creeps along the walls silently like a fluid shadow”, or “Whispering and snickering near you” or “Bang and scrap at the doorway where Father Stone has barricaded himself in” or “Dissipate right in front of your eyes with a terrible screeching noise.” I talk frequently about specificity and in supporting the DM with some advice. These are excellent examples of what I’m talking about. It’s specific examples that the DM can either include directly or riff off of, instead of generalized advice. It’s not text heavy, or dragging on for paragraphs. It’s bulleted for easy reference. It’s exactly how the DM should be supported for a shadow nightmare monster might act and/or interact with the party.
It also doers this interesting thing, in one place, that tells the DM “Hey, if you want a quicker pace to the game then skip this next section and if you want a slower pace then use it.” That’s interesting advice, especially in one of these plot/investigation things, and something that I don’t think you ever, but rarely, see an adventure do. It’s totally misplaced in this adventure and has you skip some quite evocative content, but, hey, nice idea anyway.
FInally, the designer does have a certain penchant for writing a cliff hanger line of dialog. The hook has a priest calling you late at night and whispering in to the phone in a terrified voice before screaming “I will cast you out and send you back to hell!” Sweet! That’ll wake you up in the morning! As you approach the church, the read-aloud there ends with you hearing a scream coming from within “You have no power in the house of the Lord! Unclean spirit, I cast you out and back to hell!” Uh … fuck yeah! That’s how you write a cut! None of this “What do you do?” interrogatory bullshit.
Ok. I did my good deed for the day and noted a few non-shitty things. Time to Burn it down. Burn it down baby burn it burn it down!
The read-aloud happens as you transition to each new scene location. It is terrible. Dreadfully pretentious. I guess, I could see how it could be ok in a kind of noir-like voiceover. “The silhouetted gothic form of the River- side Cathedral, with its vaulted but- tresses and harsh pointed arches cutting through the thick misty fog looms over you, stopping you in your tracks. Is it awe, reverence or fear?” or “The palpable hopeless- ness reminds you of one of the City’s harshest truths…“Everyone is just a step away from disaster.”” Classic examples of telling instead of showing. You want the party to feel this way, and it’s up to you, as the designer, to write content that gets them to feel this way. I am not so jaded as I let on that I cannot be moved. But, if you TELL me to fell someway them I’m just going to roll my eyes and say fuck you, at least internally, and fuck with the game. You gotta communicate this shit by showing. What can you describe that makes me THINK “a step away from disaster?” Write that.
The designer also leaves shit out. A LOT of shit. They center certain pieces of information as being important to the story and then never mention it again, at least not in a way that is useful for the the DM. A serial killer, back on the loose again? Let’s not mention ANYTHING about him other than give him a stat block for his nightmare version. What the fuck do you do if the party starts to investigate the killer? Asks questions about them? Nothing. Well, “make some shit up”, of course. But, the designer should be supporting the DM in this. Thisa happens time and again in the adventure. The priest is troubled by a past exorcism that went wrong. The demon in the church taunts him about this. The party is sure to ask him about it. But, nothing is provided. Sure, it’s all misleading content, but, fuck, if you’re going to introduce something like this then give it a few sentences to support the DM as the party inevitable follo wup on this lead.
Scenes are also incompletely described. You see a doctor sitting in her chair in one intro paragraph. There’s no fucknig mention of the giant pools of blood that surround her, since she slit her fucking wrists. Or, in another, of a body hanging out the window of the apartment complex that you can presumably see from the street, or the piles of people mulling around in the courtyard. No, you must reach those other locations before those details are shared. And yet, those clues, mentioned before then, lead the party to those scenes. If you open a door to a 20-x20 room with a fucking giant dragon in it then you mentioned the fucking dragon inthe read-aloud. Prominanalty. You don’t leave the giant pools of blood as a follow-up detail. This is not the over-explaining that I blast readaloud for.
I could go on an on on this adventure. I’m particularly disappointed by the lack of dreamtime support, and annoyed at the direct question “whats your worst nightmare” that is asked for the players characters so it can manifest. This is SOOOOO overfuckingused and always not supproted … just as it is here. And the final “battle”/scene on the rooftop is essentially not supported at all …e xcept for a entire page of stat block for the kid. Who the fuck can wade through that during a game while running it? Nothing evocative, nothing to guide.
A locked door mystery without mentioning the door being locked.
This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is three pages. You can get a decent idea of the writing style from it. It’s a good preview.
I recommend watching from 30 second onward. I love how the stenographer is diligently recording the chanting.