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D20 Modern: Skinwalker

Skinwalker

Another fine adventure from 12 to Midnight, bringing a breath of true horror to the peaceful backwater of Pinebox, TX. Somehow I don't think I want to live there...

It is the kind of adventure that has a lot going on, many events will happen regardless of whether or not the characters have picked up on them or are even around. That's good, builds the feel of an alternate reality that they can react to and interact with rather than something staged for them... but it does mean that the GM needs to prepare well, you don't pick up the adventure, flip through it and run it straight off. However, there is a lot of support and information to help you run the game smoothly and well; even though it is designed to allow maximum player freedom in dealing with the situations with which they will be confronted. There are also plenty of ideas for setting the mood for horror, how to create the right feelings in the players... never mind their characters. Some will really only work if you run the game at your house, where you can set the scene without being too obvious about it, while other people prefer to use imagination alone without the aid of mood music and props.

The basic story revolves around the much-heralded arrival of a new logging company and a local man who will go to extreme lengths to prevent them destroying woodlands that he holds dear. Strands of mysticism and evil magic from several traditions are woven together to make his opposition potent and horrific to casual observers such as a bunch of visiting characters. The adventure begins with a set scene to suck them in and get them interested: all they need to be doing is driving down the road nearby. From there on, it's up to them, although there are plenty of events that can occur if they take particular actions or visit certain places as well as the core events that will happen even if they turn tail and flee!

After an introduction for the GM explaining all this, the remainder of the book is divided into three sections - Inevitable Events, It Could Happen and Taking it to Teiden. This matches the nature of the adventure, with the 'Inevitable Events' being those that happen irrespective of the characters' involvement, 'It Could Happen' being the responsive bits triggered by the characters going to a location, doing something in particular or interacting with someone... and 'Taking it to Teiden' being the climatic events that will occur once the characters come face to face with the main Bad Guy who has been causing all the horrific events being investigated. If you are running the game from a computer, the various events are bookmarked from the table of contents so as to make it easy to flip to the one you want.

The opening scene - finding a small child in an abandoned truck on the highway, her Dad having gone into the woods to answer nature's call - is described in plenty of detail, and with material to allow you to alter your delivery depending on what the characters decide to do... including the suggestion that if they are uncaring enough to drive on by, it's best to kill them off straightaway! If you happen to have a copy of 12 to Midnight's Fear Effects - highly recommended if you like running D20 Horror games - suggestions as to the use of the fear rules are given whenever something horrific is encountered. Each event section ends with a 'GM Checklist' covering the important plot points that ought to be brought out during that event - read it before you run that event! Frequent sidebars contain useful background information such as how the local police run investigations and how they'd respond to people who interfere (although the sentence & parole columns on the penalties table seem to have got switched over), and Texas laws on weapon possession.

The 'It Could Happen' covers things like Internet and library research, places they might choose to visit as the characters investigate what is going on and people who they might decide to search out for information. There are also notes on possible Texas Ranger and FBI involvement, as well as some excellent mystical encounters for those who venture into the woods... complete with atmospheric descriptions to make the woods come alive for townie or country players alike.

The final section provides a range of options for bringing the adventure to a climactic close. FBI agents, SWAT teams, helicopters and magic spells all feature large. It ends with a few notes on how the whole thing might be wrapped up, but this depends very much on what the characters do and whether or not they managed to defeat the main bad guy.

Appendices cover NPC statistics (each of which includes a neat profile and sample comments from that individual), animal/monster statistics and the magic involved. Some is drawn from fantasy D20, others from myths of various traditions - American Indian and what is described as Irish Druidism. There is also an appendix detailing organisations which feature in the adventure, and including organisation-specific feats to which their members have access. A chart covers potential experience rewards for dealing successfully with different parts of the adventure, and there are several hand-outs to distribute at appropriate points.

Overall, it is a well-constructed adventure that should prove a tough but surmountable challenge. Although complex, the presentation lends itself to allowing a well-prepared GM to react to player actions wile retaining a good grip on the plot. I'm looking forwards to running it...

Return to Skinwalker page.

Reviewed: 28 January 2006