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; if you have the choice, I’d suggest using the NGR-versions.
Secondly, this is a so-called buystarter. This is a term the author uses for an interesting concept: You purchase basically a completed manuscript; each day, the price of the project goes up slightly, as proceeds from the product’s sales are reinvested in artwork, layout, etc. Zzarchov Kowolski has done so twice before. (Yes, reviews of those projects are coming.) So yeah, sufficient interest provided, the adventure’s formal criteria will improve; hence, I will rate this with a WIP-status in mind.
Now, why did I move this ahead in my reviewing queue? Well, it 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), random tables for the ice-covered wilderness.
There are roughly 3 different, completely different ways, in which the module can be tackled: 1) 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 are provided. 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…
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.
Editing and formatting are good; since this is not yet the final version, I am more forgiving regarding formatting inconsistencies and the like. Layout adheres to a no-frills 1-column standard of black text on white paper. The version I reviewed does not yet have interior artwork. The cartography in b/w by Dyson logos is great, though I wished we got player-friendly versions. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment in my book.
I ended up enjoying Zzarchov Kowolski’s pagan holiday adventure; it is a dark yarn set in an age of ignorance, but it does have its fun components. Structure-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple ways in which the module can be tackled and the open-ended problem-solution options taken into account. 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 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 ad 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 pretty much is 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.
Now, as mentioned, this is a buystarter; that means it currently does not sport a couple of things I’d usually consider to be crucial – bookmarks, player-friendly maps, formatting – these show definitely that this is a WIP project right now. As such, it wouldn’t be fair to judge it according to the same standards as finished projects – if this was the final version, I’d probably be less lenient. Right now, this is an incredibly inexpensive offering, and it provides some seriously different takes on the themes; as such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars. It has the potential of becoming a proper 5-star adventure…or to drop to 3. Only time and this project will tell. We’ll see. If the above sounded interesting, then check it out – every day means a slight price-increases…and, as mentioned before, it will vanish on the 25th…
You can get this neat dark fantasy holiday-module here on OBS – but ONLY until the 25th of December!