Yuletide Terror

Yuletide Terror

This massive Christmas mega-adventure clocks in at 119 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 6 pages of SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 107 pages of content, making this the single largest Christmas module I have ever read and played.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

Before we dive into the main meat, let us talk about a couple of peculiarities: One: The layout in full-color is gorgeous and sports a ribbon on the right side of the page, which denotes the act/part of the adventure you’re currently in. This makes navigation more convenient, so that would be one plus. Another plus would be that we get a total of 4 pages of player-friendly maps for the battle/exploration-relevant sections, all in full-color – big kudos for their inclusion. It should also be noted that the adventure makes use of the PHENOMENAL skill challenge rules provided in the Skill Challenge Handbook.

You don’t have perhaps the single most important crunch-book I know, the thing that should be CORE? Well…you should get it. But even if you don’t, you won’t need it to run this adventure. Skill Challenges are easy enough to grasp so you won’t be puzzled by their inclusion. The appendix also explains the system, so you can run it easily. It should btw. also be noted that two new, nice occult rituals can be found herein, though I’ll comment on these when they become relevant.

It should also be noted that the adventure is set in the picturesque town of Hollyglen, which not only comes fully mapped and with proper settlement stats, but which features its own little summary in the appendix.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without going DEEP into SPOILER Territory. Only naughty folks would peek now, right? From here on out, only folks intending to GM the module should read on.
All righty, only GMs around? Great! So, the adventure very much is cognizant of various tropes associated with Krampus and Kringle – within the context of this adventure, Krampus is nothing short of a demi-god, one nasty fellow who was eventually vanquished by none other than Nicholas Krindl, fabled mortal herald of Odin. The Yuletide celebration is hence the commemoration of this epic victory. The PCs have arrived in the sleepy and picturesque town of Hollyglen, where they meet Melilion Parinda, local wizard, who, in the tradition of clueless folks in any dimension, is currently doing some hasty last-minute shopping. She invites the PCs to stay at her place, as a blizzard is approaching and all rooms at inns etc. are occupied. There is just one condition: The PCs should chaperone her son and his friends, while the adults attend a fancy gala. Thing is, her son Wesley is 13. (As an aside: The mansion is provided with detailed, nice full-color maps – as noted before, including a player-friendly version.) Beyond room descriptions, the respective events also come with proper read-aloud text, making the adventure, as a whole, really friendly towards GMs that are less confident in improvising captivating prose.

Yeah, he reacts as positive to babysitters as you’d expect. The young man and his friends do as I would have done in that age: He seeks to prank the PCs and make their life miserable. As an apprentice to the sorcerous arts, and with fellow kids that are similarly not ordinary, the PCs will have their hands full in a massive multi-phase skill-challenge. Now here’s the thing: The kids rank among the most well-rounded kid characters I have seen in pretty much any roleplaying game supplement: There are multiple reasons for that: For one, the kids come with full intrigue-style write-ups for social influences – and succeeding in gaining the trust of the kids will provide tangible benefits for the PCs during the adventure. This whole section only works because, well, the kids are proper characters, not annoying cardboard cutouts; the PCs may very well want to befriend them. (As an aside: If the full, social write-ups don’t suffice: The kids come with full-blown NPC-write-ups and detailed stories in the appendix. The adventure really goes above and beyond here.)

Now, know how I mentioned an occult ritual? Wesley tries to cast whisk away on the evening winds, one ritual, to send the PCs to the gala, embarrassing them and gaining a bit of independence. Alas, he makes a crucial mistake: The ritual’s second page is missing, and so he ends up casting a bastardized version of the ritual, using summon the bonded soul as the second half. The results are unexpected. You see, a certain demi-god like entity was *just* in the process of rekindling his divine power. The ritual interrupted that and ended up calling KRAMPUS. Yeah, the CR 21 Krampus. He is NOT amused.

Krampus walks all over the kids and PCs. He doesn’t kill anyone, but he will defeat them. Soundly. Wesley does have a wish that Krampus owes him…and so the entity tricks Wesley – he spares the kids and PCs, but banishes them to the Krampus Night demiplane, ripped from Krindl when he stole his legendary Crook! Oh, and guess what? Not only did Krampus effortlessly best the PCs. He also has the power of regression – he transforms the PCs into kids! (Here, you can make great use of Childhood Adventures – though, once again, the module has all relevant stats and rules for kid-PCs!)

Turned into children, the PCs and their wards find themselves in the nightmare manor, a horrid reflection of the Parinda manor (separate maps provided). In case you’re wondering: Yes, we get full-blown planar traits! Oh, and the challenges within the manor? They are really, REALLY amazing: Toy slags. A woodgolem made from toys…speaking of which: If the PCs have been good to the kids, they will help the kiddyfied PCs. Cool: The “request aid from kids”-component of the manor’s explanation actually sports proper rules! There are haunts that seek to enforce a polymorph via ribbons, clothes, etc. What about pied piping presents that may lead towards the hungry gullets of mimics? There are trompe l’oeils and redcap carolers (including a delightfully twisted variant of Deck the Halls…)…and the PCs may manage to find one of Krindl’s gnomes, who can fill them in on some particulars: The PCs will need to get the crook from Krampus – without it, the entity makes all the rules here…

At one point during the exploration, the PCs will have caused enough ruckus to attract Rethspalton, the mighty rodent king – and he is preparing a siege! The PCs won’t have long, but they will have some time…and this is perhaps one of the definite highlights in the module. Preparing for the siege is amazing: Fortifying doors, making traps – it’s AMAZING and one of the coolest mini-games I’ve seen in a long while: The PCs can, room by room, convert objects into raw materials! The module even comes with icons that you can place on the map, sample traps, etc. The rules here are amazing and the siege actually requires these tricks – the PCs will have to withstand no less than 5 waves of assailants and yes, e.g. the rodent king is a lavishly-crafted and potent foe.

Once the PCs have managed to withstand the hordes (or just before they fall to them), the friendly gnome will manage to activate the yuletide express figurine – all aboard the magical railway! The demiplane is Krampus’ domain, who has completely corrupted the Krindlworks…but there is hope: While the PCs have no real chance against the entity, Saint Nick may! Thus, the train is en route towards what remains of the Krindlworks…but once more, the foes are not sleeping: The (fully mapped) train will be attacked by deadly elementals…and if these fail to derail it (yes, badass fights on a winter train!!), Krampus will intervene and crash the train…which would be a good time to note that, even if PCs die here, they respawn, as they accumulate negative levels and Wisdom damage – there is no true death here, only the looming transformation into an allip at Wisdom 0. This also means that enemies slain by the PCs are not really dead – if they are smart and use nonlethal means of conflict resolution, they will possibly have an advantage. The module notes checkpoints, which are particularly helpful to avoid frustration when running this for a younger audience – but more on my discussion of that in the conclusion below.

You see, in Act III, the PCs make their way from the crashed train through the Krampus wilds, and there are quite a few neat optional encounters to increase the challenge; personally, I’d also advocate sending all foes really slain by the PCs after them once more: If they were just tied up, they probably are far away, but the respawning dynamics for NPCs are open enough to allow for that… (Adds an unobtrusive reward for behaving heroically…)

Making their way through the snow-blasted wilds, the PCs will have to contend with horrid Yuletide treants and a winter hag guarding the remains of the proud Krindlworks. It is also here that the PCs can encounter Chillsy. Chillsy is amazing. He is an awakened ice golem kineticist. He’s singing his own theme-song while fighting! To give you an excerpt: “Chillsy, the ice golem, is an overwhelming soul, with a kinetic blade and infusions bold and my cryokinetic cold..:” Come on, that is amazing! Exploring the Krindlworks, the PCs will have to contend with all manner of potent, animated gingerbread foes (led by a gingerbread witch!), a creepy poppet witch (still one of my favorites from Paranormal Adventures; as always, all relevant rules provided)…and remember Nightmare Before Christmas BBBEG? Well, there is a representation of the Oogie Bogeyman! (worm that walks bogeyman – really cool!) This thing, as well as a potent orang-pedak, constitute a couple of the dangerous unique creatures that the PCs MUST defeat – for they hold parts of Krindl’s power, who, similarly turned into a child, is imprisoned here.

Once the PCs have managed to defeat the horrible lieutenants of Krampus and reassembled the crook, it’ll be time to face off against the entity once more – with a weakened, but still potent Krindl in their corner, they may actually have a chance against the shadowy vestige of the powerful Krampus – the boss fight is amazing: It sports a total of 3 phases, changes terrain and even has a phase, where the PCs fight on their own, caught within their minds – it is glorious and cinematic! Defeating the vestige returns ownership of the demiplane to Krindl and allows the PCs to spend, concealed by the mighty magic of Krindl, one day as kids…or, you know, the change could be permanent, requiring further quests…or, well, if they were defeated and you’re going for a horror-ending, the module even sports a “bad ending” of sorts, which could yield further adventures as well. (Fyi: The fully-powered stats of Krindl are epic: CR22/MR 6; Rudolph has an effective druid level of 20…)

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no undue accumulation of hiccups. Layout deserves special mention: It is GLORIOUS, full-color and really beautiful; the ribbon for chapters on the side is a nice comfort-plus. The module comes with a ton of original full-color artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Yuletide Terror is absolutely amazing. It makes use of all the diverse tools that PFRPG offers: Combat, skills, mini-games, social interaction – this is one of the most versatile modules I have read in a long while. This mega-adventures provides a level of quality you usually only get to see in Kickstarters. Alexander Augunas is a great author of crunch, but if this is any indication, he is similarly gifted when it comes to penning adventures; I frankly can’t believe that this is Alex’ first adventure, at least it’s the first one I got to read. Yuletide Terror is thoroughly impressive, from front to back – even if you do not have all the books used here, the module provides what you need, requiring none of them.

Now, there is bound to be the question regarding compatibility for kids: You see, here things depend WHOLLY on the GM and what the GM chooses to emphasize. I’d compare this to one of the darker 80’s kid’s movies. There are definitely some creepy elements here, so in general, I’d recommend that kids should be at least 8, with 10 being probably a kind of sweet spot. Then again, it’s impossible to make proper blanket statements here; heck, some adults can’t stand anything remotely spooky. A good benchmark would imho be labyrinth, nightmare before Christmas and last unicorn – if these work for your kids, then this adventure should as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong: While this *can* be run as a kid-friendly module, it is one that will challenge and entertain adults just as well; in fact, one could consider this a horror adventure, at least to a point; if you properly emphasize the macabre aspects here and there, then this can become pretty dark pretty fast…but ultimately, how you choose to run this mega-adventure is left up to your own tastes. Both playstyles perfectly work.

Anyway, that’s not the primary achievement of the module: The sheer diversity of challenges encountered, the great pacing and high-concept environments, the lovingly-made NPCS – when the structure, the crunch underlying this module, is analyzed, you’ll realize quickly how good this actually is. We have believable, sympathetic characters, we have an epic threat that requires heroes and a satisfying conclusion-array. The module is interesting from both a narrative, and a structural perspective. Furthermore, and that is a huge plus, at least for me, it is bereft of cynicism. Even if you emphasize the darker aspects when running this, the module very much breathes a sense of wonder and whimsy that is impossible to dislike.

This is not a cynic’s hatred for the holidays made module; instead, this is a lovingly crafted love-letter to all things Christmas-related, as seen through the lens of roleplaying storytelling. Yuletide terror is not only the most massive Christmas adventure I know, it also is, by far, the best. This is a masterpiece that breathes passion, care and is, frankly, fun. Heck, I’d go so far as to say that, even if you hate all things Christmas-related, you may still want to get this. Why? Well, you could still strip off the dressing and have an amazing adventure.

Yeah, at this point you probably won’t be surprised by my final rating: 5 stars + seal of approval. Oh, and yes, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017. Even beyond the holiday angle, this is a module that will be hard to beat.

You can get this masterpiece here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

Down in Yon Forest (NGR/OSR)

Down in Yon Forest (NGR/OSR)

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 adventure here on OBS - but only until the 25th!

Endzeitgeist out.