Posted on December 17, 2009 by spikexan
Available at RPGNow.com
The television show Supernatural may not be a holy experience for me; however, I hold it in high regards. While critics may pan its “model factor,” I hold that it’s one of television’s brightest shows about darkness. Being one of my favorite shows, I was ecstatic when the corebook was released. While it took awhile for that to happen, Supernatural Adventures followed in a timely fashion. A book of adventures proves to be a tall order for me. I like running my games, not the games somebody else created. Also, I love the series and find myself inspired by it regularly. These two factors play a huge role in my review for this book.
Let’s start with Digger Hayes graphic design. I think Hayes approach to the Supernatural line is the only approach to it. Just about all the hunters we see from the show seem to be a disorganized, messy lot. Hayes’ design for both the corebook and Adventures perfectly captures this. He manages to make the book look sloppy while maintaining an excellent layout (no mean feat). What you end up looking at are lots of Post-It Notes (especially as sidebars), torn pages, a spiral binding that works as a great interior border, and more. The format is a typical two column layout that isn’t distracting (I’ll go into the dangers of distractions later in the review).
There isn’t much artwork in this book. With media tie-ins, artwork tends to be stills from the show, which gets a little tiresome to me. The artwork consists of photography for the cover (which makes sense from a marketing angle) and artwork for each adventure’s introduction. The artwork comes from Dan Bryce and Nick Kremenek. Their direction for the art was dead-on with what would expect from the show. The art looks like snippets from old occult texts (Medieval, in most cases). While it may not be the most jaw-dropping artwork I’ve seen, it’s so well conceived for this book.
There are five adventures in this book. All five average in at about fifteen pages apiece (the PDF is 97 pages). A one-page introduction offers a few insights towards the adventures’ structure and a smattering of solid GM tips geared towards running published adventures. The adventures have a good structure to them. I’ll address one idea that can be applied to this quintet of adventures. Each adventure begins with a synopsis before diving headfirst into rather detailed plots. The Devil is in the details, but a system for tracking the details would be nice. It feels like the creators had the same idea because they created an index for finding all the NPCs in the book.
For me, this isn’t enough. I enjoy the idea White Wolf runs with in their adventures (the Story Cards). Since this book is so interested in Acts and Scenes and other bits of literary breakdown, an outline would not have been hard to cobble together. The introduction also lacked something that fell into the third adventure: rule options. The third adventure offers a new Asset and stats for some more ordinary folk. These would have been better placed in the introduction rather than tucked away in the middle of the book. One other aspect that spans all the adventures is the clever usage of the Caps Lock button. The Cortex system (the rules engine for Supernatural, Serenity, and Demon Hunters) is a difficulty-based system that works off descriptors like Easy, Average, and so forth. Anytime rolls are mentioned in the adventure that are worked into the writing and bold-faced. This trick lets game masters see how much dice play into adventures.
The adventures have quite a bit of range to them. Jess Hartley starts things off with Red Ghost, an investigative adventure set in the American Southwest. George Holochwost offers a rather unforgiving adventure that deals with alchemy. Graeme Davis delivers an adventure that, in my opinion, most captures the feel of the show. Ralph Dula throws a moral dilemma to players in his adventure. Finally, C.A. Suleiman takes a similar turn with questions of morality; however, the situation is wholly different and proves more cerebral than Dula’s.
Going into each adventure proves a disservice on two accounts. One, each of these adventures is so seeded with details that they read more like an outline for a novella than they do a simple layout for a night’s worth (five night’s worth) of gaming. Two, these adventures don’t offer anything concrete to review. There are no new rule tweaks to define. It would be a review based on pure opinion (surprisingly a bit of rational thought finds its way into my reviews . . . go figure).
What I will say is this. Each of these well-written adventures take an aspect of the show (investigations, monster-of-the-week, moral questioning) and builds an adventure atop it. It’s not to say that some adventures don’t utilize multiple layers. Each seems to spotlight one trait over all the others. The show works the same way. Mythos episodes feel different than the comedic ones (and it’s easy to see what you’re getting by the time you’re done with the previews). I suppose I find myself saying what I said about the artwork and layout: the writing fits its subject matter damn well.
For me, the strongest baby in this horrific quintet is Davis’ Hell Hound on My Trail. It deals with a lying demon (gasp) that sells the Hunters a story crookeder than a Coon Hell Hound’s hind leg. The Tsayid makes for a wonderful minor antagonist while the Hunters deal with the main problem (if they figure out that the Tsayid isn’t the major problem). This is the adventure Most Likely to See Action in My Supernatural Campaign, although I suspect five different readers will have five different favorites.
Adventure books are a tough sell for some Game Masters (Be honest. Players never buy the books after the corebook . . . and why would they buy an Adventure book unless they were dirty, dirty cheats?). Most Game Masters have a path for their players to burn through and detouring them (never railroading them) towards an outside idea runs the risk of tampering with the chemistry of the gaming group. This book works to prevent that and proves to do a better job than many adventures I’ve read over the years. I feel like I could drop one of these games on players without them ever knowing any better. With a wife and two kids, that kind of outside help is so very welcome! Creative monsters, mostly mental adventures, and ties to one of TV’s greatest shows prompts me to give Supernatural Adventures these scores:
Layout: Five out of Five Dice (Digger, Nice work)
Artwork: Four out of Five Dice (A rarity in this book, but what exists fits)
Writing: Four out of Five Dice (Good writing, but the placement and glance-unfriendly style proves a little bit of a turn-off)
Overall: (A Strong) Four out of Five Dice (Scarier than Spooky, but not Horrific adventures . . . OK?)
Review by Todd Cash