Saturday, 31 October 2020

[REVIEW] Hunters in Death

Hunters in Death
Hunters in Death (2020)

by Tim Shorts

Published by GM Games

Beginner and low-level

Hello, and welcome to part five of **ZINEMASSACRE*2020**! This year, Kickstarter ran Zinequest 2, their second zine writing promotion campaign. Despite my utter distaste for the idea of a major fundraising platform intruding on a publishing genre for people with more ideas than money, I have to admit Zinequest was successful in motivating a whole lot of gamers to launch their personal projects. While many of them were completely alien to my interests (“A quiet space-faring rpg zine about being alone & not quite being alone.” and “A fluffy D&D Adventure featuring sock puppets, danger and imagination!” are probably for other people), I pitched in for fifteen which looked interesting. Here are the results.

***

One the scale from “meat and potatoes” to “paint-huffing pretentious”, Hunters in Death is way, way closer to the first endpoint. Here are your monster-haunted woodlands, here are your roadside inns and foresters, your goblins and barrow mounds. It is the basic texture of D&D played by the book, and offers more comfort than surprises. It is done decently, both as a coherent whole, and in its individual parts.

The zine provides a small wilderness environment where you can seek adventures. The tiny hamlet of Hounds Head is just one corner of the vast Komor Forest (the author’s home campaign), but its position on the crossroads always attracts peculiar travellers. Hounds Head is small, the proverbial flicker in a points-of-light setting. It has everything an adventurer needs: inn, general store, a smithy staffed by Kovac (a guy whose very name means “Blacksmith”), a chapel, a magic-user’s eccentric residence, and a village leader. More importantly, any direction you head out will make you hit ADVENTURE before you are halfway through the day. There are suitably good adventure hooks to provide a direction if you don’t know which way to begin. Or was that nooses? Yes, someone has been placing nooses around the woods, and hanged bodies have been cropping up with growing frequency. Something is amiss around Hounds Head…

The core adventuring material of this zine consists of three main sections. First, we have a random encounter chart to use during forest expeditions. This starts things on a strong note – more than an afterthought listing a few generic forest critters, this chart includes both commonly encountered monsters and animals, and less frequent locale-specific entries. These meetings can easily develop into mini-adventures of their own, or provide personality and an element of continuity to the campaign. Some of the encounters have sub-varieties, so no two “giant centipedes” encounter will be identical; and monster entries come with a listing of “harvest”, noting the parts a hunter may find valuable to sell. Second is a random table system to seed the 14 barrow sites scattered in the nearby area, generating their environment, inhabitants, and treasures (the grave goods of an ancient people, including their special magic items). This, again, has sufficient variety and surprise to make exploring them an entertaining venture. perhaps you will find a royal treasury, just make sure not to stumble on a Crow temple. The third section describes three mini-adventure locations: a semi-ruined hunter’s cabin that hides a horrifying surprise (this one is a winner, and scared my players witless), a crypt dedicated to a coveted magic item (this is a bit meh), and the mystery of the “hunters” alluded to in the zine’s title.

Hunters in Death is not a zine that will make you go “I could never have thought of this”, but it can fit most D&D campaigns seamlessly. It uses simple concepts and elements, but uses them with skill and fun variety. It has a consistent theme that makes it hang together, with a few genuinely creepy moments. You could take the mini-sandbox and place it in a larger one boxes-within-boxes style, or take it apart and use it as a grab-bag of stuff. I am currently running Hoard of Delusion, a low-level AD&D wilderness/dungeon module as our second wave Covid-campaign, and I found this zine very useful in rounding out the wilderness areas with extra material. It is chicken stock for the tired GM – just add water, some extra ingredients, and heat up to serve.

No playtesters are credited in this publication.

Rating: *** / *****

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