Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: Smile With Us, Friend

Full disclosure: The author has provided me with a copy of the product for review.

Smile With Us, Friend is a short (22 pages, including cover, title page, table of contents, map, four full-page illustrations, and two pages of OGL legal stuff) adventure location written by Edward Lockhart of Violent Media.  It's a quick read, with brief but evocative descriptions, minimal stat blocks, and just enough background for a game master to get a good sense of what the place is all about.  The PDF is cross-linked, so clicking on, say, a location on the dungeon map will take you to the relevant area description, plus there's a clickable navigation bar at the bottom of every page should you need to refer to another section at any time.

The layout is clean and sharp; content is neatly organized with clear headings.  Graphic design is pleasing to the eye without being distracting.  Illustrations are uncomplicated, capturing the unnerving alienness of the creatures in the module with rough strokes and the sharp contrast of orange-against-black color schemes.

Now, on to the meat of the product.  Smile With Us centers around a small cult of humans-turned-spider-things, whose invitations to join them cause hideous mutations in those who decline.  It's unabashedly weird, in ways both overt and subtle, but it's a weirdness that could easily coexist with classic fantasy tropes.  Whether your game is made of weird stacked on top of weird, or you just want to spice up a vanilla fantasy campaign with a dash of weirdness, it's worth a look.  You could drop it into a Grimm fairy tale faux-Europe, a Lovecraftian New England, or an ersatz Middle-earth without breaking the integrity of the setting.

If you're the sort of game master who likes to have everything fully fleshed out right out of the box, so to speak, Smile With Us might seem a bit sparse.  It doesn't have a specific plot, nor are the environs around the lair detailed or any connections to the wider world specified.  If you're the sort who prefers to use published material as a jumping-off point for your own imagination and not be written into a corner by a module author, however, that's a feature rather than a bug, and the module is loaded with possibilities.

The cult's lair is an underground complex of a dozen or so described areas for a party of adventurers to explore.  Besides the cultists, there are a handful of new creatures, one of which is mildly dangerous and the others innocuous but creepy.  You won't find any standard orcs or ogres here, and the atmosphere is the better for it.  Treasure is mostly in the form of household baubles and trinkets, silver, and...hats (it makes sense in context!) rather than gold, gems, and jewelry.

Eight cult member NPCs are detailed, each with a distinct personality, appearance, and mannerisms.  Who and what they are generates conflict with the (not otherwise detailed) local villagers, but with an absence of malice.  They're antagonists without necessarily being villains, and that's something of a rarity in D&D-like RPGs in my experience.  Most of them are even sympathetic characters in their way, all the while they make your skin crawl, which makes for some interesting choices and great role-playing potential.  Played well, they could evoke pity and humor as well as horror and revulsion. 

Given the power level of the NPCs and the amount of loot, it's probably best suited to smallish parties of beginning adventurers. Higher-level parties won't be seriously threatened, but could still enjoy a good role-playing experience if overt violence is taken off the table.  The dungeon does include a portal to another world, in which more seasoned parties might find greater challenges, though.  Only a few tantalizing hints of that bizarre place are provided to seed your imagination; the rest is up to you.

Other than a few instances of words you couldn't say on broadcast TV, which you don't even have to speak out loud while running the module, the material seems perfectly suitable for younger gamers as well as those of us who got our RPG start way back in the 20th century.  I'm looking forward to running it for my nieces and nephew.

Bottom line: If you and your players relish role-playing, interesting ethical dilemmas, and a hearty dose of whimsical weirdness, it's well worth the price of $3.69. 


  1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it, I hope it unnerves everyone at the table.

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