Game: Last Rites of the Black Guard
Publisher: 12 to Midnight
Series: d20 modern
Review Dated: 5th, February 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
The Last Rites of the Black Guard is a professional d20 Modern adventure. That makes it a rare supplement. It’s a horror too; twice as rare.
In many respects Last Rites is something new. It’s by 12 to Midnight and they’re not quite (not yet) the highest profile d20 publisher out there. This means your players might not have heard of them, don’t know what to expect from them and probably haven’t read the adventure either. You should be able to throw a few surprises at them. Now that’s a rare thing too. I wouldn’t count on trying this trick twice though as quality products like Last Rites of the Black Guard are likely to introduce 12 to Midnight to a wide range of gamers.
Yeah. This is a review of an adventure. If you’re worried about spoilers then stop reading now.
It’s also worth noting that GameWyrd has a preview of the adventure too. You’ve got to watch for spoilers there too.
The Last Rites of the Black Guard uses photographs throughout. Photographs of real people – actors, really, since they’re playing the NPCs – and it uses photographs of props. These photographs, styled as Polaroids, are inserted alongside the adventure text and then repeated again at the back in an easy handout section. You do sometimes see photographs in RPG supplements or magazines and I find that they’re rarely impressive, rarely worthwhile and that they ruin the fantasy atmosphere. That’s just the thing though – the Last Rites of the Black Guard isn’t fantasy; it’s d20 modern, it’s set in a world very much like this one. I think the photographs are a great way to conjure up /that/ atmosphere. I think the photo-real works here. Being able to show your players a picture of an actual woman or, better still, a strange glowing light caught just on the edge of the image is a great way to inject a touch of “today realism” into the game.
Atmosphere is important. This is a horror adventure after all. There’s help from 12 to Midnight here. Tips and suggestions are offered now and then in boxed off sections and along with an illustration of one of the 12 to Midnight crew. Just to recap; photographs for the pretend stuff and illustrations for the real people. I’m an arrogant sot; I don’t think I need tips and tricks so I’m pleased that these asides manage to be fairly discreet even though they can be quite large. On the other hand, if I was unsure about d20 modern or just an altogether newbie then these sections are easily good enough to actually be helpful. No, they don’t just state the obvious.
The Nazis are the bad guys. The Nazis actually did mess around with the occult and this makes a good backdrop for this d20 modern adventure. A notorious Nazi scientist is found dead in Rosetta Texas. He had been hiding and had managed to remain undiscovered and so there is a little bit of newspaper coverage once the authorities finally work out who the corpse is. Nicely there’s a newspaper handout to give to the players. The most likely route in for the players is when the dead man’s neighbour reports poltergeist activity in her house. Yeah; it really will help if the player characters are some sort of easily contactable investigators or similar. It’s hard to see the PCs getting involved with Ms Gray’s troubles, to any serious extent, if they’re not. 12 to Midnight have a few suggestions to help if your PCs aren’t investigators. Perhaps Ms Gray is an ex-girlfriend of one of the characters. I think it’ll be easy enough to dump Ms Gray too, dump Rosetta, dump Texas and virtually all of the adventure structure and take the backdrop, the rituals and all the side effects off and into your own campaign. You can put these trapped souls anywhere. This is a good plus point for The Last Rites and not a negative. There are ideas here that you’ll want to use. There are ideas here you can use.
A quick summary of the back plot would mention experiments on unfortunates during the Nazi terror as the evil doctor investigates immortality and the occult. There are rituals and partial successes. Unluckily for Ms Gray one of the local authorities who winds up getting involved in the discovery of the dead Nazi and his collected trappings is up to no good either. I know, I’m being a little coy about that last point but sometimes player are naughty and don’t always turn away once they reach the spoiler warning! The partially successful rituals have resulted in over a hundred tormented souls being trapped and associated with the body and it is these unsettled spirits which are causing the supernatural problems in the area.
Quite a few of the possible resolutions, I think, to the adventure will see the PCs managing, somehow, to break the cause and effect of the haunting but not freeing these souls. It’s very possible that the players never realise what is going on and never really scratch the surface of the 50 year back plot. I think it’ll be up to the skill of the GM and the scope of any follow up as to whether this is a good thing or not. Either way it’s a morbid twist but if the players don’t realise this then it’s a useless twist. If the characters do stop the haunting but leave the souls trapped then the gates are wide open for future encounters, more trouble and further exploration of the background. This adventure from 12 to Midnight is an effective introduction of the Nazi occult legacy into a d20 modern campaign. The adventure itself is designed to suit 2 to 4 players of between levels 1 and 5. That’s quite a large range of levels but that’s also probably the range of experience GMs will want to introduce lurking Nazi occult dramas too.
12 to Midnight might be a fairly new and fairly small d20 publisher but there’s no sign of any teething problems or inexperience in this product. It’s a professional PDF; bookmarks, a crisp and clear layout, no bloated images, a thorough table of contents near the start and the important printer friendly version. The colour photographs and the maps from the adventure are missing from the handout section in the printer version. It wouldn’t have been a printer friendly version if they had been there.
No, I’m not going to go a whole pre-written adventure review without using the phrase “I’m not a fan of pre-written adventures” but if you’d been wondering when that would crop up then you’ll probably know there are always some pre-written adventures which manage to prove me wrong. Normally it takes either an exceptionally well designed non-linear adventure or just a successfully different adventure to impress me. The Last Rites of the Black Guard isn’t particularly linear. There’s certainly no sign of the dreaded “Go here. Do this. Go here. Do this.” but there’s very little scope for the players to stray too far off the beaten track as they investigate a pair of haunted houses. Similarly, the adventure isn’t particularly clichéd either but much of that is attained from having neither a dungeon nor zombies present. Mind you; Nazis again? The Last Rites of the Black Guard is a worthwhile adventure and it’s not one that I feel the urge to write off as something any GM could have produced. The Last Rites is just different enough, just flexible enough, professional and easy enough to pick up in a hurry to make it just the sort of adventure you’ll want when you need to turn to pre-written adventures.
It’s a shame horror, especially subtle horror, and d20 modern aren’t more popular because I’d really like to see the d20 market with a couple more vibrant companies like 12 to Midnight.