Vs. Stranger Stuff: Krampusnacht (VsM Engine)
This module-compilation/series of connected vignettes/deluxe-sized adventure clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 29 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!
Originally, this was intended to hit sites in time for Christmas, but due to my injury, the review fell by the wayside. Since then, I’ve been asked by one of my patreon supporters to move this up in my reviewing queue, so there we go – a holiday module! (As an aside, I like to plan ahead, so yeah, reviews are, in a way timeless, right?)
Anyhow, this compilation takes place in the meta setting of Crestview Hill, and a player-friendly map has been included in the pdf. A sample character sheet is also part of the deal, and we get a charming, hand-drawn map of a sample default house of the town. This pencil-drawn map, while sans scale or the like, doesn’t require them either, courtesy of the VsM Engine’s relative simplicity and focus on narratives. Anyway, it should be noted that this was released for the first season of Vs. Stranger Stuff, which means that it may end being somewhat easy when employed in conjunction with the second season’s rules. These rules are btw. included in the download, though personally, I’d very much recommend getting the excellent second season.
This book contains a series of 6 brief “adventures”, which you generally can complete in a single session of playing each, potentially even within an hour in some cases – these should be considered to be more akin to encounters; fast groups may even tackle more than one in a protracted gaming session. I will continue to refrain to them as “Adventures”, since that is the nomenclature employed within. The adventures can also theoretically be taken out of sequence and played as stand-alone modules/encounters/expansions for your scenarios with a bit of work, should you choose to – module #1 and #6, though, are pretty obviously ones that should be run in their intended spot when using this as a mini-campaign of sorts. I should mention, though, that these respective adventures behave more like chapters of a unified narrative, so basically, you should consider them part of a bigger adventure. It should also be noted that this does have an optional connection you could develop to Vs. Stranger Stuff: Send in the Clowns.
All right, got all of that? Great! So, in order to discuss these, I will have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great!
As for the flavor of the backdrop: Crestview Hill is suffering from the dwindling logging industry and, apart from a small plant, it’s pretty much a piece of rural Americana in decline. A recent focus of general anxiety on the youth of the town for petty crimes has blown up to a “crime wave” (Too soon for a “war on crime”, though…), and when a pentagram was spray-painted on a back wall, a healthy slice of satanic panic entered the fray. The leader of this outrage mob would be Montgomery Batefield, member of a wealthy local family.
We start these events as the adults are living it up at the Community Center, while the well-liked Jenny Winslow, a teen, does the babysitting for a lot of the neighborhood families – the PCs are thus gathered, watching some cool late night movie, when Jenny comes in bearing popcorn and pizza. The idyllic evening is interrupted by a phonecall, and Jenny seems to be agitated – she seems to be fighting with her boyfriend, her parents don’t approve of him, and since the town is considering a curfew, he tries to convince Jenny to run off with him. Visibly rattled, jenny will leave the PCs to the tender screen, to wrap some presents – and after a while, the PCs can hear thumping upstairs…and a cold breeze will be blowing from upstairs.
Investigating will yield a present, crudely-wrapped, with oozing liquid seeping from it and leaving a trail behind. Approaching the grisly package will see it develop stubby limbs that will carry it back into the room – where they’ll see the Krampus. He pronounces a sentence (Big kudos for getting the German right!), leaps from the window…and the present attacks! It btw., obviously contains the dismembered bodyparts of poor Jenny, animated as a corpse puppet. Phones are dead…and what to do now??
Well, module #2 sees the PCs trying to get to their parents – as they pass the department store, they witness little elf-like creatures vandalizing the Department Store; the PCs follow them, probably, but ultimately will have to best them in the manager’s office, where they show that they are grotesque imps – killing the weak and annoying critters sees them burst into flames…but on the plus side, the PCs can restock here!
Entering Maple Street will have the PCs witness Krampus dragging away 3 kids in chains – kids the PCs go to school with! Seeing the PCs, he’ll fling his chain up a tree and face the PCs! But before he can reach them, he mysteriously bursts into an icy, snowy flurry – from here on out, the freezing wind will act as a global penalty to PC draws, and when the PCs dislodge the chain to free the PCs, they’ll witness the chains animating as pretty tough adversaries.
Continuing, the PCs can see that there’s a power outage in the cold – all save the blaringly-lit house of Mr. Stern, which features the excess of blinking and flashing lights. Passing near, the strange lights will start to color themselves a wicked red, bathing the streets in a putrid, pinkish-red glow, as the plastic decorations are filled with unearthly life and attack – including reindeer and a snowman…and once these have been taken care of, plastic Santa will come as a pretty tough boss.
While the others are site-based, the 5th sequence is not – Cruel Christmas has the PCs see ominous signs of violence – blood splotches on snow banks, hoof prints in the snow, a car with holes punched in…with piles of crashed cars as strange barriers…and when the PCs hear a gunshot ringing, they will witness deputy Dewey bleeding out, skewered by a zombie reindeer! Powerful and deadly, there are plenty of them…and they’ll herd the PCs towards the Community Center. It is here that Batefield used his occult knowledge to dupe the townsfolk into contributing their energies to the subtle summoning of Krampus. The smartest PCs get to engage in a Brains challenge to come up with a couple of deductions that may or may not be true, depending on the GM: Depending on how complex you’d like to make the showdown, you can use multiple components of the potential Krampus-binding to modify the showdown, for the adults have been drugged. It’s up to the Kids to stop the cultist and Krampus – both of which are potent foes…nice angle, btw.: Particularly good children may be invulnerable regarding Krampus, for he can, after all, only hurt naughty children. (And yep, going outside is a convenient justification to declare PCs naughty if you have a group of goody-two-shoes.)
The pdf closes with notes on how to handle longer adventures such as this, as well as suggested rewards.
Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice one-column or two-column full-color standard with a nice mix of photography-style b/w and full-color artwork. The cartography is nice and full color. Downside: The pdf is not properly bookmarked, which constitutes a comfort detriment.
Lucus Palosaari and Rick Hershey provide a nice Christmas mini-campaign for the Vs. Stranger Stuff game. The series ticks off all the different takes and takes on a particularly apocalyptic tone that I didn’t expect here; not content with a series of standard vignettes, this goes one step further, and is better off for it. Global effects and pretty tough challenges that can be customized, particularly in the ends, represent pretty cool components. I kinda wished that the connective tissues here had been a bit more pronounced, that there had been a bit more interconnectedness and consequence between and within the sections of the module, but this is me complaining at a high level – the finale and start and overall atmosphere make up for being mechanically somewhat straight.
All in all, I do consider this to be a fun, well-wrought mini-campaign. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this fun Christmas module here on OBS!
You can get the awesome Vs. Stranger Stuff Season 2 here on OBS!