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Sunday 5 December 2021

Hexagonal Horror

Best Left Buried is a fantasy horror roleplaying game in which characters venture into the crypts and caves below the earth in search of secrets and treasures and there face unnameable monsters, weird environments, eldritch magic, and more… Whilst deep underground, they will be under constant stress, face fears hitherto unknown, and the likelihood is that they will return from the depths physically and mentally scarred, the strangeness they have seen and the wounds they have suffered separating them from those not so foolish as to descend into the dark. Published by Soul Muppet Publishing, one of the more accessible versions of the roleplaying game is Best Left Buried: The ZiniEdition or A Doom to Speak – The Crypt Collection 1: Rules because it presents  its contents in discrete, self-contained chapters or ‘Zinis’. This includes an anthology too of fifteen mini-dungeons and mini-locales reduced to the ‘Zini’ format, just four pages per entry, many of which can be found in this A Doom To Speak Megabundle.

Released at DragonMeet 2021, A Garden Most Foul: A rot-choked fever-nightmare adventure for Best Left Buried is the newest zini, another four-page pamphlet scenario. This takes the Player Characters into the Garden of the Demon Postulix, deep in the wilderness, part of an expedition led by Lord Amador Gregory to discover the Tree of Life and its miraculous fruit. It begins with the Player Characters, having been told that the Demon Postulix grants eternal life, standing at the entrance to a low tunnel which runs through the high hedge of thick thorns surrounding the garden. The inside consists of a mini-hexcrawl of a single hex containing seven smaller hexes. The terrain under foot and the general conditions is mostly foul—as the title promises—ranging from thick, boot-sucking mud to fields of jagged boulders which almost seem to want to bite passers-by. In between are landscapes which resemble acres of rolling slabs of muscle and fat, copses of trees from which hang strange pods, a fungus infested cave, abscesses containing hives of rotten insects, and freshly tilled fields sown with fragments of bone…

A Garden Most Foul is a relatively light mini-adventure and there is a sparseness to it—no surprise given its length. Nevertheless, it possesses a weird and disturbing atmosphere, which comes of its disparately themed hexes being mashed up against each other. The location is also sparsely populated, with just the one NPC, two singular monsters, and the one monster type. There is room too for the Game Master to expand the fungus infested cave, perhaps connecting it into any one of the fungal-themed and Mushroom Men populated adventures written for the Old School Renaissance. There are moments too when the Cryptdiggers will find themselves being hunted, likely leading to clash between a great abomination and the unwholesome beast it rides. The story though suffers from a paucity of plot and what there is perhaps a little too obvious. Plus the personalities involved are underwritten. On the plus side, this does mean that there is plenty of scope in the zini for the Game Master to expand and develop A Garden Most Foul where necessary, whether that is expanding the plot or adding an NPC or two—with there being room aplenty for both.

Physically, A Garden Most Foul is also fairly unpossessing. The only illustration is on the front cover and is that of the two singular monsters—an abomination and the beast it rides. It nicely captures the utterly unwholesome nature of both. The zini is well written and easy to grasp, so that the Game Master could prepare with very minimal preparation.

A Garden Most Foul is short, weird, and self-contained. All features which make it easy to run, with very little preparation time—though perhaps in terms of plot and personalities, if the Game Master has some time, then she should develop both. The minimal preparation time and the self-contained nature means that for Best Left Buried, it is incredibly easy to pick up and get to the table. It also means that it is easily dropped into any distant wilderness location and it can be just as easily adapted to the fantasy roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice, especially ones which embrace the weird and the horrifying—for example, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Shadow of the Demon Lord. Simple and sparse, A Garden Most Foul: A rot-choked fever-nightmare adventure for Best Left Buried is ready to fill in a space when the Game Master needs it, or waiting for development to bring out little more personality and plot.

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