T:1 Hidden Hand of the Horla
Over the past few years, small publishers have embraced the “zine” format with the advent of campaigns like Kickstarter’s ZineQuest—there’s been a revival of this small indie format. I recently received several Appendix N Entertainment zines by participating in RPG Geek’s “Pay it Forward” communities. Each zine is specifically written for Old School Essentials; that was the initial draw for me. This review covers The Hidden Hand of the Horla, written by R.J. Thompson.
Legends tell of a Hand Mage’s tower that was once located at the edge of the known realm. Within the walls of this hand-shaped tower, magical experiments were undertaken and treasures hoarded. One day, many years ago, it vanished, and the rumors began surrounding its disappearance. Today, the stories have all but faded into history, but the legend still clings in the minds of some. Only the eldest of the elves know that the tower was, in fact, real. The player characters have gotten word that the tower has recently reappeared in the very spot it once stood. Wanting to be the first adventurers to explore the legendary site, they have set out on an adventure. The Hidden Hand of the Horla is a fantasy adventure written for Old-School Essentials and maybe played with or without the Advanced Genre rules. As an introductory adventure, it’s intended for characters levels 1-3 and should take only one session to complete.
So, there’s the pitch for the adventure. The player characters will not be the first to arrive at the tower, however. An evil band of Goat Folk will arrive and enter the tower not long before the party arrives. The Goat Folk are the main antagonists of the scenario, or so the characters will be led to believe. While mostly true, they must also contend with the Horla. The Horla is the name given to the invisible being in The Horla (French: Le Horla), an 1887 short horror story written by the French writer Guy de Maupassant.
As far as scenarios go, The Hidden Hand of the Horla is decent with a moderately interesting premise. There are several challenges by way of physical confrontations, puzzles, and traps to challenge the players. The Goat Folk provide the most prominent physical threat to the characters, but they should not overlook the small number of creatures present. The Horla, on the other hand, will be the most challenging thing they face if they encounter it. The Horla possesses two abilities—Obsession (Charm) and Possession—that make it a formidable foe. Lastly, Gamemasters will not find “read aloud” text for social encounters. Taking an old-school stance, Thompson does expect the Gamemaster to create their own dialogue for any such encounters.
The Hidden Hand of the Horla also contains three appendices. Appendix A includes the creature catalog for every creature encountered in the adventure. Appendix B lists seven new Magic-User spells, including three spells that exceed the spell level cap of OSE. Lastly, like all Appendix N Entertainment zines, there is an Appendix N listing inspirational media.
Appendix N Entertainment zines, like most zines, are saddle stitched with a cardstock cover. This particular issue has a bright orange detached cover with black and grey text and a large line art illustration adorning the front cover. The interior of the detached cover contains a handout of a puzzle and the map of the hand-shaped tower. The quality of the art varies depending on the artist; some are from the public domain. For example, seven Goat Folk images appear to be from three different sources.
The writing itself is a little underwhelming and occasionally monotonous, resulting in wordy, overwritten descriptions. Where the writing suffers the most is in the editing, or possibly a lack thereof. Although an editor is attributed, it’s unclear if and what standard writing style guide they were adhering to or exactly what type of editing they were performing. Despite my apparent concerns about the editing, I remain hopeful the other zines in my possession are better edited.
As an introductory scenario, The Hidden Hand of the Horla accomplishes what it set out to do—acting as a springboard adventure for Old-School Essentials. All told, it’s a decent scenario, and new and seasoned Gamemasters alike should have no problems running it.
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