The first symptom is a popping sound from the belly. It can happen at anytime, and the afflicted never feel it coming. They’ll be having a friendly chat one moment, then pop, and now they’re trying to kill people.
Faux Pas is the breakout adventure by Team Hocus, a collective that includes long-standing members of the OSR “art-punk” community Beloch Shrike, Anxy, Christian Kessler, and Jarrett Crader. It’s a tight 32-page PDF that promises guts and gore galore in the small town of Opeth, which has recently come down with a case of the mean reds.
(They’re like the blues, but suddenly you’re afraid you’ll kill your family and you don’t know why.)
There’s no shortage of one-note adventures on the market today, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all bad. Lots of campaigns can make use of weird backwater towns and dungeons divorced from the context of the greater story. They’re fine, in that they take up space that would otherwise be occupied by random wilderness encounters or a one-page dungeon dredged from the depths of a folder of print-outs. But there’s a certain kind of one-shot that I particularly like, and that’s the kind that plants the seed for further discussion. Tomb of the Serpent Kings does this with the chasm; Blood in the Chocolate does this with the implications of a world of addictive chocolate. These “open-ended” one-shots are useful because they allow for all contingencies: if the players don’t care much for the adventure, put it in the past and move on. If they do, however, want more, the ground is laid for entire campaigns worth of content by following up on the leads set by the module itself.
Faux Pas achieves this in a particularly elegant way by introducing a kind of narrative self-destruct button. Should the players choose not to engage with the problem plaguing Opeth (the most likely outcome, more on that later), it will sort itself out eventually in a most gruesome fashion. Thus, only by actively participating in the adventure does it become an important part of the world at large. In fact, I find no real reason why players should be forced to encounter the town at the onset of its troubles — introducing Opeth a week before or after would still allow for an interesting time.
Art and Layout
Faux Pas is presented as a single-column PDF, and makes full use of the medium in a very refreshing way. The type is large and easily readable, and a liberal use of bold text, italics, and small caps to denote important concepts gives the document the feeling of lecture notes.
Tip: though it’s not explicitly spelled out in the text, Bold Italics are NPCs and direct quotes from them, BOLD SMALL CAPS are important events, BOLD SMALL CAP ITALICS are locations, and Italics are items, and information only the GM knows.
All of this — the font size, the PDF bookmarks, the font styles — comes together to make possibly the most immediately readable RPG product I’ve seen in a long time. A single glance at a page can give you everything you need to run an entire encounter, no page-flipping or ctrl-f’ing required.
The art is delightfully weird, and ranges from collages reminiscent of punk zines to hand-drawn illustrations of key rooms and items. Though it seems that Anxy was responsible for all of the art, it does lacks the sort of uniformity that you would expect from such a short module. I could never get a handle on why certain parts were felt deserving of illustration and others not, and some pieces left me scratching my head to figure out what they described at all.
There’s an artistic philosophy that says you should draw what you can’t write, and write what you can’t draw. As far as I can tell, each of the illustrations here are direct representations of the text, although the association can be hard to find sometimes.
The maps, however, are truly wonderful, done in that artsy-Maze of the Blue Medusa/Vornheim way of writing location names and information directly on top of the location in question. Once again, not a single thing is sacrificed in the name of immediate readability, and yet the information given is vague enough to players that I wouldn’t feel I was giving anything away by printing out the maps and laying them in the center of the table.
Ah, herein lies the rub. Everything in an RPG — the layout, art, maps, medium — are in service to the almighty Play. And despite everything, I can’t see myself running this successfully without making my own changes.
Remember when I said that PCs will probably not engage with Opeth? Well, short of locking them in, Resident Evil 4 style, there’s really nothing of interest to them here. Faux Pas tries to ameliorate this by recommending the GM place an important NPC in the town, but immediately hamstrings that idea by suggesting that they’ve already popped by the time the PCs arrive. If your PCs are anything like mine — wary, battle-scarred, distrustful — they will undoubtedly walk into a town full of raving-but-not-immediately violent psychopaths before immediately turning around and walking out. Assuming they don’t do that, the only way to proceed with the adventure is to jump into the town well and swim 15′ down to enter a narrow passage that leads to a dungeon. This is inconceivable unless the NPCs guide them to do it, and they’re all too loony to make that connection.
It’s a crying shame, too, because I think the dungeon is one of the best-designed areas here. It turns in on itself and plays with verticality like the best of the old-school dungeoncrawls, and the payoff at the end is legitimately very interesting. But for the dungeon to work as an area of interest, it has to be seen as significantly different from the surrounding areas. And while there are a few encounters and NPCs that will vaguely hint at something interesting being in the well, they’re lost in the chaos of other NPCs that will just as easily point the party in the direction of the Castle or Church, areas of definite interest but no plot significance.
Faux Pas: A Good Idea Faithfully Presented
What this leaves us with is a conundrum: should Faux Pas be judged as a module, or as a supplement? As a module, it is hard to recommend as-written: outside of the initial reveal, there is little to keep any but the most do-good heroes from leaving, and even less to lead them to meaningful progress. As a supplement, it sets the stage for a very interesting idea and presents a unique setting that can be adapted to ensure that idea is seen through to its conclusion, albeit with some necessary tinkering on the part of the GM.
I look forward to seeing more from Team Hocus. There’s a lot to love about Faux Pas, and given that this is their first attempt (collaboratively) they’ve produce quite a fun little product. I’ll probably run it with my group, adjusted ever so slightly: a backdoor route to the dungeon from the church or a trail of yellow slime coating the inside of the well should be all it needs to go down smooth.
Faux Pas is available as a watermarked PDF for $4.00 from RPGNow. Have you read it, or run it yourself? Let us know in the comments what you think of it.