By Zzarchov Kowolski Self Published NGR/OSR Level ?
Down in Yon Forest is a seasonal adventure about a small town dealing with the threat of Krampus and torn between the Holy Church and the Old Gods in dealing with him.
This thirty page adventure details a small village full of children that need to be saved from Krampus, with a couple of small dungeons nearby that might help you do that. Editing is weirdly poor on this, with the usual Zzarchov layout issues that lead to wall of text syndrome. Which is too bad given the finery contained within.
No, you can’t buy this ZZarchov adventure. I picked it up at GenCon, I guess, at his physical booth. I wouldn’t normally review/seek out something like that, but, I own it now and it was next on the pile of physical books to review. Also, it’s a holiday adventure. I fucking LOATHE holiday adventures and don’t seek them out. But, it’s the next on top of the pile, so, here goes …
Hey, it’s not bad!
More than anything else, you need to know that there is an integrated … naturalism? to this adventure. I think that’s true for a great many ZZarchov adventures, but it strikes me, here, much more so than many of his others. This naturalism immerses you in a world that WORKS. It makes sense. Little things, thrown in the text, to make the locations visceral, or to make situations, for clever and observant players, work out. Or not. The shit here makes sense. It’s not thrown in your fucking face. It just IS. And that IS makes this entire thing so much more than the sum of it. It’s got all the best parts parts of, say, a Harn 100 Bushels adventure making sense, without all of the garbage appeals to realism that drag a text down. The things here either make you really FEEL the vibe of a place or are useful tools for exploitation. And that is, one hundred percent, exactly the fuck how you write one of these things. Sure, other settings can other vibes, but, ideally, you want these places to come alive and make sense. I’m not even sure that’s the right phrase, make sense, but I hope you get what I mean. And Zzarchov does a fantastic fucking job of doing it.
The setting here is the pseudo-medieval europe that he generally uses. Not quite as modern, it seems, as the general Lamentations setting. A little more rustic. Or rough around the edges. The Holy Mother CHurch has gotten some shit done, but things are also very much not under control. In this one we’ve got a remote village in winter. Up on a hill, a wooden palisade, about ten to fifteen small homes inside of it, a wooden gate protecting it. A cemetery and a mill outside of it. And, smack dab in the middle, a plume of smoke and still embering ruin of a church with a big black cauldron out front. Looks like the local priest had a bit too much of the wassail he was brewing for christmas eve, got drunk and knocked over some candles and burned the place down, burning himself to a crisp in the process. Oops. Oh, also, all of the kids hide out in the church every christmas, consecrated ground and all that, to keep from getting stolen by Krampus. So, no consecrated ground this year. Oops. Good thing the party just showed up!
ZZarchov gives you some options here. First, there are notes on Krampus getting in to houses, and how long that takes. He wants kids, not to fight the party, so some small details on coming down chimneys and how long things takes. Then, he gives you more options. There’s an inn nearby with some mercenaries in it. You could go bring them back to help defend the village. Also, they are drunkards, hate peasants, and will need some motivation … and booze. And pay. Or, you could go seek out the witch nearby. She eats kids also, so, you know, Krampus could cramp her style. Also, there’s a fort nearby (dungeon option number one) with a chapel in it. It has a slight Black Death problem. You could check it out and if its ok then haul the kids there to wait out the night in that chapel. It’s also got a slight gargoylse problem, it turns out, with a holy shrine keeping them at bay, kind of. And they are SHITS man. There are some absolute deathtraps here, created by the gargoyles. Or grotesques, as named in the adventure. Again, the slight touch of realism to bring things a little more visceral home. Anyway, silver, iron … home the party pick up on the clues in the place or they are gonna get F U C K E D! Ah, oh, it looks like, also, the miller is KIND OF a pagan and knows of an old god The Winter King, that would probably keep ol Krampas at bay. But hes locked up since the church came through a hundred years ago. You could go free him. (Dungeon option number two.) He’s not that bad. Old god shit, so, you know, be polite and make an offering kind of shit. He gonna be pissed if you stole any of his items of office, like his 20k bear belt. Hey, did I mention the vampire that lives there also? Turns out he’s trapped, since the burial mound for the inter king is on an island in the middle of a river, running water and all. He might also be an option for anti-krampusing. And, he’s got these great elf-ghoul/thrall things running around. Another great concept here, bringing things a little more to life. Of course! That brings much more colour to the situation than just the normal dirt scum thralls.
In accepting that this isa bit of an open-ended adventure, I must accept that the winter kings lair, the witch, the miller (who knows all about the winter king … and is a hidden pagan to boot! … did I mention that an examination of the priests body shows that his throat was slit before being burned? Itss those little thrown-in details that add SO much depth to a ZZarchov adventure!), the vampire, the inn and the abandoned fort won’t ALL be discovered and used by the party. Which is a fucking shame … but also a side-effect of the little regions that we all adore so much to play in!
And for the downside … the fucking editing and layout sucks ass. More so than usual in a Zzarchov adventure. There are SEVERAL editing misses in this that should have been caught. I almost never mention shit like this, but, for whatever reason, they stood out in this one to a distracting degree. And it’s formatted as only a mother could love. Just raw paragraphs with some blue and red text here and there, instead of bolding I guess. Sure. This could work. Theoretically. If you had a genius doing the work. You don’t have to go all OSE here, or Dungeon Age or whatever. But, hey, maybe just do SOMETHING to ease up the old burnden on the 6pt font?
So, hey man, great holiday adventure! The exception to the rule! Too bad the suckers reading this can’t buy it. Maybe they should come seek you out in person at a con? Decent job here.