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Friday 3 June 2022

Friday Fantasy: Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss

A village in peril. The villagers are suffering from a strange curse which leaves them listless and aimless before ultimately killing them. Fields full of sickly looking, ash-coloured crops. A swollen river which smells foul and looks like old blood. Could it be the curse of Ursodiol the Mad, the greatest mind to have ever breached the great Cosmic Void? Ursodiol the Mad who recently died, his body was interred in the nearby crypt of his famous ancestor, G’vane the White, the heroic paladin of Meth, the goddess of justice, judgement, and the soul? This is the set-up for Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss, a scenario designed to be played with Necrotic Gnome’s Old School Essentials, but easily run with the Old School Renaissance retroclone of your choice. Designed for a party of Second to Fourth Level Player Characters, Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss starts with the cliché of the village and a nearby source of peril, and goes beyond that to present have them face a threat of Cosmic Horror confined—for now, that is—within the walls of a mini-dungeon.

Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss is published by Oneiromantic Press and offers one or two good sessions’ worth of play. It is easily adapted to the setting of the Game Master’s choice, needing only the combination of an isolated spot and a river to fit. A simple map of the village is provided, along with a table of random village descriptions should the Game Master be running the scenario as a one-shot and not one, but three sets of motivations to get the Player Characters involved. And if that is not enough, the surviving villagers are throwing the dead onto a funeral pyre when the Player Characters arrive, and three of the corpses get up and start attacking everyone. Including the Player Characters. Opening with burning zombies is one way to get a scenario off to an exciting start!

The scenario is straightforward. The village priest states that the late Ursodiol the Mad and his curse are responsible, points the Player Characters at the nearby crypt where he is buried, and away they go. The crypt itself consists of just ten locations and can be divided into two sections, an outer and an inner section. The outer areas are dusty with nothing seemly untoward going on there, but within the walls of the inner area, it is a different matter. The walls are covered with slime, and everywhere can be found strands of sticky red tendrils… Sticky red tendrils which reach out hungrily for new victims.

At the heart of Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss is the Blood Moss itself, “…[A]n extradimensional protoplasmic mycelial network of nanofibers that feeds on consciousness and hungers for the experiences of sentient beings.” Which means it not only ensnares its victims, it also infects with its spores and draining their intelligence and if they have it, their magic, in the process gaining in intelligence itself and even becoming able to cast that magic. In the scenario, its tendrils creeps through the G’vane family crypt, layering it in a moss and reanimating its victims as nodes through which it can act. This is a scarlet and scary take upon the zombie genre, creating it as an extension of an otherwise seemly sessile monster.

Ultimately, the Player Characters will encounter the true monster—and victim—of the scenario, changed through his exposure to the Cosmic Void and the Blood Moss. Defeat him, and his greatest (or worst) treasure becomes theirs, a four-dimensional object known as The Crystal Tesseract. This begs to be looked into and in doing so, exposes the viewer also to the Cosmic Void. The accompanying table describing the possible effects of staring into The Crystal Tesseract—and you really, really wants to stare into The Crystal Tesseract—only has the twenty entries, but all are nicely odd. At this point, it does feel like a darker, but mini-version of The Deck of Many Things. The Game Master could have a lot of fun inventing entries for the table and expanding it into a much more significant magical artefact.

Physically, Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss is decently presented, the environment of the crypt in particular. Everything is described in either short punchy sentences or bullet points that are easy to read with key points in bold. Each of the ten location descriptions includes its maps taken from the larger map of the crypt with any monsters given in grey boxes. The format, typically across a two-page spread for each room, is simple, clear, and easy to read, giving the scenario an accessibility that makes it painless to run with minimal effort. The maps are decent too, although it would have been nice if the map had been reprinted in side the front or back cover. The artwork consists of public domain pieces and are for the most part, well chosen. The scenario does need another good edit in places though.

If there is one single problem with Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss, it is that naming your primary god in the scenario, ‘Meth’, is simply asking for trouble. There is no way that your players will not rise to taking the mickey out of any Game Master who retains that name. 
Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss is easy to prepare and run, and relatively easy to adapt to a Game Master’s own campaign. The set-up of the scenario is a cliché, but Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss takes that cliché in a challenging and creepy direction, to present an enjoyably weird and cosmic experience on a small scale.

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