Thursday, 19 November 2020

[REVIEW] Hideous Daylight

Not so hideous cover art

 by Brad Kerr

Published by Swordlords Publishing


This 34-page module presents a small, self-contained adventure location, along with a situation which encourages non-linear investigation, and can lead to a range of different outcomes. Set  in a surreal place combining idyllic beauty, otherworldly strangeness, and lurking horror, it is almost as if it is meant to be getting a good score on this blog. Which it will.

In Hideous Daylight, the characters will investigate Hollyhock Gardens, a large, walled preserve used as the royal hunting grounds, and consisting of a variety of environments including forests, a lake, a hedge maze, hills, and other sites of interest. The garden has recently been beset by a magical catastrophe causing a very localised perpetual noon. The sun never sets within the walls, and slowly but surely, the place is going to hell as animals are driven mad, things fall apart, and weird creatures from another dimension start to emerge. Knights and adventurers who have tried to set things right have not come out.

Hideous Daylight plays as a small hex-crawl (19 hexes are described, most with one point of interest) with two mini-dungeons (a hedge maze and a subterranean locale). The action is largely non-linear exploration, where the characters can piece together what happened and what they should do from the environment, dead and hiding NPCs, and other clues. The locations combine the familiar with the uncanny, and the beauty of an orderly garden with a strong element of survival horror. There is a very good range of encounters here, from the straightforward to those which invite creative solutions (without specifying what they “need” to be, a common mistake of puzzle-oriented encounters), as well as meetings with the garden’s bizarre denizens. For an old-school module, it is very low on loot, although this could be remedied fairly easily.

Exploring the garden is complicated by a well-realised random encounter chart which contains multiple powerful opponents a low-level party has little chance of defeating, but may successfully evade until they figure out what to do with them. Another group of beings, found at both keyed locations and on the chart, are extra-dimensional entities with weird behaviour and inscrutable purposes. These freakish “anomalies” lend another layer of strangeness to the magical landscape. There are interesting choices and consequences: not only are there multiple ways to conclude the adventure, there are victory paths which will bring much more trouble than they solve (and it is entirely possible that overlooking or misinterpreting clues will lead to this point).

Hideous Daylight employs a simple format that is quite handy and well-structured without going into weird hipster layout. Information is easy to find and nicely cross-referenced, and the style is clear and helpful. This is the kind of functionality that is easy to take for granted, and later miss in other modules which do not measure up.

In conclusion, Hideous Daylight is an imaginative, well-written scenario that encourages and rewards open-ended exploration and creative thinking; presents a surreal place with uncanny encounters, and it is user-friendly too. It is a yardstick of a good adventure. If you are this good, you are good.

This module credits its playtesters, and has a special thanks section too!

Rating: **** / *****

Not so hideous interior art


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