Dead in the Water is a scenario for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, the spiritual successor to Gamma World published by Goodman Games. It is designed for Zero Level player characters, what this means is that Dead in the Water is a Character Funnel, one of the signature features of both the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game it is mechanically based upon—in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. In terms of the setting, known as Terra A.D., or ‘Terra After Disaster’, this is a ‘Rite of Passage’ and in Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients, the stress of it will trigger ‘Metagenesis’, their DNA expressing itself and their mutations blossoming forth.
Dead in the Water is published by Savage AfterWorld and is a scenario for between twelve and sixteen Zero Level Player Characters—so three or four players, which takes place on and off the coast of The Rainbow Sea in the light of the ‘Horizon Star’ which causes the sea to glitter… The scenario begins in the fishing village of Narleen, with the Zero Level Player Characters either as residents or visitors. Either way, the Player Characters are present when screams are heard, and the village’s alarm bell is sounded. When they respond, they discover several waterlogged corpses dragging themselves out of the surf and into the village, where they claw at and grapple several of the inhabitants. The Player Characters have the opportunity to help here and in doing so come to the attention of Narleen’s village headman. Examination of the strange corpses discovers a strange thing—each corpse is host to a small squid-like creature residing in its mouth and also reeks of a powerful odour, the same as a flammable liquid to be found on The Island of Fire, a forbidden isle in The Rainbow Sea. This means that the source of the waterlogged, but animated corpses that have attacked Narleen and other villages, must be The Island of Fire, and so the village headman tasks the Player Characters with going to The Island of Fire and put an end to the attacks. This will be their Rite of Passage.
If the attack on Narleen is the first act of Dead in the Water, then the second is the sea journey to The Island of Fire and the third is exploring The Island of the Fire. The sea journey will be for the most part, quite straight forward, there is a chance for further attacks from the swimming corpses and other things, but perhaps the most fun (or frustration) will come when roleplaying and interacting with the captain of the boat they take to the island. The simple fact is that he cannot speak, so players and Judge will need to engage in a round or two of miming and hand signals!
The Island of Fire turns out to be a Site of the Ancients. There is an ecological feel to the initial exploration, but once inside the towering structure at the centre of the small island, it is revealed to be a technological site. There are some secrets to be discovered, as well as various artefacts, which are appropriate to the location rather than just random. Now despite The Island of Fire having a limited number of locations, there is a pleasing sense of scale to them and at least one of them should invoke a sense of wonder in both the players and their characters. However, this sense of wonder quickly turns to horror as the antagonist at the heart of scenario literally looms into view. The climax on—well, technically, under—The Island of Fire should be frantic, desperate, ad dangerous, whether it involves fight or flight! The Player Characters should ideally prepare themselves by grabbing whatever artefacts they can and by the end of the scenario, will hopefully have survived and gained enough Experience Points to become First Level.
Dead in the Water is just sixteen pages long and reasonably well illustrated and edited, and the maps decent. Some of the illustrations capture some of the adventure’s scale, but some are just a little silly. Just what are Beavis and Butthead doing in Terra A.D. and arguably, do you just not want the waterlogged corpses to grab them and pull them overboard? If there is anything missing in Dead in the Water, it is perhaps that it would have been nice to have seen more of the base presented—though there is nothing to stop the Judge from expanding it herself.
Whether played as a Character Funnel, or even as a short encounter for First Level mutants, Dead in the Water is a likeable scenario which should offer a session or two’s worth of play. Dig into it and it has a combination of a zombie film meets Alien in its feel, which is nicely transposed to an interesting environment, making Dead in the Water a slightly creepy mix of Science Fiction and Horror.