This module clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages, so let’s take a look!
Wait, before we do, a couple of notes: One, this adventure sports stats for both NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and general OSR-stats that provide basic analogues for AC, HD, etc.; if you have the choice, I’d suggest using the NGR-versions. Like the more recent of Zzarchov’s adventures, this one comes color-coded: I.e. orange text indicates hidden danger, red indicates overt danger, blue the most obvious detail, and green treasure.
Now, why did I move this ahead in my reviewing queue? Well, I have covered it last year, and since then, it has seen a rerelease in print in the author’s limited edition Adventure Omnibus, which was enough for me to reread and revisit it. It should be noted that this module is only seasonally available. You can get this adventure only for a very brief timeframe: At the 25th of December, it will once again vanish into the ether for a whole year. So yeah, if you are interested in this, you need to act fast!
Now, in case you were wondering: This is not a happy-go-lucky Christmas adventure; it sports the rather dark and dry humor of the author, so yeah – not recommended for kids.
This out of the way, let us dive into the details! From here on out, ladies and gentlemen, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great! So, we all know how Christianity superimposed holidays on pagan traditions, right? Well, The Holy Church did just that (accompanied by copious mockery of pagan traditions) – thing is, they did know that the pagans were on to something: In certain locations, the veil between worlds grows dimmer. While the rhythmic chanting of yuletide congregations held the Krampus at bay just as efficiently as the pagan rites, this year will be a bit problematic. You see, the drunken priest has managed to burn himself alive and, in the process of doing so, he also burned down the church. Joy. (Told you this had a dark humor…)
So, the threat is, basically, that Krampus will take all the children…so what to do? Well, breaking off crosses at the cemetery may be smart (blessed, they can hurt the entity…) and there are a couple of additional complications: A child-eating, horribly deformed witch living in an abandoned mill is one issue; convincing some hussars that the old tale is real may be nigh impossible, but hey, worth a try, right? Islands that house perchten (beast-men) and random tables for the ice-covered wilderness are included – and yes, they are as interesting as we’ve come to expect from the author!
There are roughly 3 completely different ways, in which the module can be tackled, providing more replay value than I have seen in many a module out there:
- The PCs can attempt to delay Krampus; while the entity is too strong to properly defeat (unless they are really lucky), delaying tactics may well work. A breakdown of individual strategies is provided, including countermeasures taken, etc.
- There is also a fortress, abandoned due to plague and now infested with powerful gargoyles, which may yet act as holy ground, holding the entity at bay – but convincing the townsfolk to go there, even if the fully mapped place is cleared, may be tough.
- Thirdly, there is the option of awakening the Winter King, a local pagan deity, currently sealed in his abode, which constitutes another dungeon that is fully mapped and depicted – smart players will not loot everything here and try to be respectful, while not being slaughtered by the undead…and hopefully, also not by the nosferatu interloper, who has no interest whatsoever in seeing that deity awaken…
Cool, btw.: From the bodies of defeated foes, new magics may be unearthed (when using NGR rules), while two grimoires may be found – one is btw. the book of moderate darkness. This dry humor also extends to the magic items – there are several items devoted to the Winter King’s rites, including everlasting cakes.
The formal criteria have VASTLY improved anno 2018! Editing and formatting are tighter than before; Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and is professional and smooth…and the pdf now sports kickass Alex Mayo illustrations! The cartography by none other than Dyson Logos is b/w and smooth, and it has also benefited from the overhaul: We do now get a player-friendly map of the village! This is a big plus. My one gripe on a formal level: The pdf, alas, has no bookmarks – if you get this, make sure to print it for easier navigation.
I ended up enjoying Zzarchov Kowolski’s pagan holiday adventure; it is a dark yarn set in an age of ignorance. There is serious fun to be had here – though it should be noted that this is not necessarily a Christmas module in spirit; instead, we have a dark fantasy/horror yarn that makes use of Christmas tropes, but that becomes very much its own thing. I most certainly consider it to be fun, if not a module I’d play to get into the holiday spirit.
Then again, if you’re like me and have…problems with the holidays, some sort of baggage and want a module that fits the season without hearkening too close to the things we associate with the holidays nowadays, if you want a dry, dark critique on the season, then this is pretty much perfect.
Now, I really enjoyed this module, due to completely different reasons than most Christmas modules; because it is kind of anti, but without resorting to a full-blown inversion or spitefulness; it is a tale of the holidays in a world, where the meaning behind such a celebration may well spell the difference between life and death.The revised edition anno 2018 has significantly improved production values, and as such, the rating obviously has to reflect that. While the lack of bookmarks represents a comfort-detriment, I whole-heartedly recommend this adventure to fans of dark fantasy. My final verdict for the revised edition will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. And due to the massive replay-value, this also receives my seal of approval.
You can get this module, only until the 25th of December, here on OBS!