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Horrors of the Shroud: The Death-Mother RPG Review

Posted on October 31, 2008 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Introduction
This PDF is described by its author as a “World Seed,” a small idea that has no home in ay particular world that you can pick up and drop into the fertile soil of your own game world. You can nurture it and watch it grow in to hours of adventures, exploration and heroism. This is an excellent idea, as most market research has shown that the majority of D&D games that are being played right now are not set in Eberron or The Forgotten Realms but rather in Steve’s World, Jimmy’s Land or some other Random Homebrew Campaign Name Here.

If the designers of supplements, especially 3rd party designers, want to succeed in business, then this is the sort of model they should follow. This world seed is like a tiny universal computer part, able to drop into anyone’s home “machine.” In so far as that was the design goal of the product, it is a success. Whether or not this seed will come to germination remains to be seen.

Overview
This is a short work at only 10 pages, but with such a small price tag ($1.99) it is quite well produced. The work sets up a strange area where undead have risen en masse and gives you some new sample undead that you can build an entire adventure around. The monsters are mainly for use in the Heroic Tier of D&D 4E, though with some slight modification and the rules already laid out in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, one could easily push these monsters up into the paragon tier as well.

The monsters, such as the Death-Mother for which the book is titled, are appropriately frightening and their position as leader/controller monsters makes it easy to imagine basing an adventure around the discovery, battle and destruction of one or many of them.

My biggest problem with the book is that despite a great opening where I am introduced to this strange frozen wasteland turned exotic steamy undead haven by the name of The Shroud, I am given no more development of that kernel of an idea. I know they are purposefully trying not to describe everything in great detail so that it can be used by everyone, but I would have liked to have seen a one page list of suggestions on possible geographical features, hazards common to the area and a mention of a possible point of light within The Shroud. I don’t need a three page write up with NPC details on the hidden town within The Shroud, just some additional suggestions to ground the usage of the excellent monsters presented within.

Artwork
The PDF is in full color and is taking full advantage of this medium’s ability to do great art infused layouts. The art is not amazing in its quality, but it certainly gives you good pictures of the undead fiends arrayed against you as a PC. One picture that portrays the massive maw in the womb of the Death Mother, despite its simple presentation, is especially disturbing.

In the end, the simpler but clean style of art is most likely a better choice for this book. Anything more realistic would most likely be too graphic given the macabre subjects (undead creatures giving birth, the eating of corpses, etc.) being dealt with.

Writing
The writing of the book was clear and concise. There was no wasted space of any kind and the monsters were given enough detail to strike fear into the hearts of the PCs while still giving them a fair idea of what they were facing.

I would have liked to see just a little more development of the idea of the lands of The Shroud. The last page did give several very interesting adventure hooks, but these had nothing to do with the original concept presented in the introduction relating to The Shroud. Perhaps in the next book we may get some additional ideas or a page detailing “How to Use this Area in Your Game” beyond the offered adventure hooks.

The concepts behind the monsters were both wonderful and incredibly frightening. The idea of this bloated corpse dragging herself across a battlefield or cemetery consuming corpses and birthing “live” zombies is remake Dawn of the Dead level creepiness.

Rules
The rules of the book are all in line with the design standards of 4E. Upon my reading I did not see any glaring errors or design flaws. The material would easily drop into anyone’s homebrew 4E game with no adjustment.

One slight problem with the design of the solo monsters (the Death Mother and the Bone Mother) was that they were just a bit too complicated. A level 7 solo monster should not take up more space on the page than a 26th level pit fiend. I know we are all adjusting to the greatly reduced stat block of 4E and our goal as designers is to create unique and memorable monsters, but that can be done without a column and a half stat block. My recommendation to the author for future seeds is to look at the Monster Manual and see that these monsters really don’t need that many unique abilities, even solo monsters. Note that the designers do not make this same mistake with the standard and minion monsters which I found to be compelling and dead-on design wise.

Upsides
• Good clean presentation
• Easily drops into any campaign world
• Very disturbing and visceral threats for your PCs

Downsides
• Solo monsters are slightly over-complicated
• Not enough development of The Shroud or suggestions on how to use it

Score
Style: 5
Substance: 3.5
Overall: 4 (A solid pick-up if you are looking for a great undead themed adventure and you can’t beat the price.)

Review by Vincent R. Venturella

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One Response to “Horrors of the Shroud: The Death-Mother RPG Review”

  1. Fred Hicks says:

    Thanks for the review! All of your points are good ones.

    Some specific commentary (not meant to be defensive in any way, just offering some of my perspective for clarity):

    The Shroud isn’t meant to be a worldseed completely contained within the Death-Mother product. The Shroud is a worldseed concept that exists to facilitate products like the Death-Mother. As we mention in the product, you can find out more about the Shroud concept at our website. Still, it’s a fair critique — we could stand to make the message about the Shroud a little more clear and direct, i.e., “You won’t find everything about the Shroud in this product. You’ll only find one thing about the Shroud.”

    I agree the solo monsters have a bit more verbiage and powers than are strictly necessary. I could have ditched the skull lantern/skull bomb stuff from the Death-Mother entirely and she’d still function nicely. That said, I really wanted them in there. Mea culpa. 🙂

    I *do* lay out the monsters at a font size that’s 1pt larger (9pt instead of 8pt) than they lay out that information in the Monster Manual, so that makes the writeups take a bit more space as well.

    Reply

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