Adventure Review: Bandits of the Rampant Horror by David Posener from Raging Swan Press

Words have power. Horror is a strange one however. It denotes many different concepts. Horror might refer to a feeling of fright or something causing such a feeling. It also manages to encapsulate an entire genre of work in books, movies, and television. But what horror actually *is* differs wildly from person to person. Some folks are scared witless at a single drop of blood, while others seem under the spell of horrific deeds done to people on screen… There’s a huge margin between a bloodied scratch and the depraved acts performed by the Jigsaw Killer in the Saw movies upon his victims. Or as Othello says in Shakespeare‘s play: “On horror’s head horrors accumulate; Do deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amazed; For nothing canst thou to damnation add greater than that.”

So what does “horror” mean to David Posener in Bandits of the Rampant Horror from Raging Swan Press? The horror in this case is more than the hint of terror achieved by the fey hands of the Knights of the Rampant Horror, a group of eight spriggans who live for
torment and death. These twisted spriggans have sworn fealty to Baron Tallega, the worst of the lot, a creature who thrives on causing dread and pain in any who would stand against him. The ettin bard made up of the personalities of Canerous and Vercherix entertains the troops with duets, music, juggling, and dance. And standing behind these foul beings is something worse… a varguille with a plan.

Bandits manages at once to be creepy and utilitarian, the perfect adventure to drop into a campaign if your players haven’t seen enough evil of late. The Order of the Rampant Horror may exist in any wilderness area bordering civilized lands so these cruel creatures can put their plans into motion. And what plans they are… Baron Tallega isn’t a pleasant individual on the best of days, but even he may not have any clue as to what’s on the horizon. Wheels within wheels are in motion and Varisthu, the varguille oracle, is on the hunt for the scabrous grail, a cup steeped in the blood of a beheaded jabberwock. I won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that the end game here will keep PCs and NPCs alike busy if it ever comes to pass.

I love the idea of warped chivalry, and the Order of the Rampant Horror will easily find a home in just about any fantasy campaign. The Order was formed by the Baron for three goals – to dominate their enemies, see the Baron ascend to an even more powerful position, and reclaim the scabrous grail. Tallega is of course a power-mad creature bent on total control of his domain. His knights are merely tools to achieve that end. And Tallega himself is an unwitting pawn in Varisthu’s game.

The cool part of this lovely scenario is that it can be used by constructive GMs in many ways and be spread across several adventures. Perhaps the PCs might meet a few of the knights one at a time doing deliciously cruel things in the name of their master. Then they learn that the Baron is behind it all, meeting the other members of his warped court – the ettin bard, a fey-touched harpy who serves as the Baron’s current mistress, and the mysterious Varisthu cloaked and hidden like a simple clergyman. Should the vile grail find its way into their evil clutches… bad things will happen.

My favorite parts of this villainous group is the bardic ettin and the varguille himself.

Canerous and Vercherix as  ettin bards are the Odd Couple trapped in the same body, which would make for some serious entertainment playing them as a GM. Sure, they have talents – singing, juggling, dancing – but the battles between the two distinct personalities would be a challenge to play in and out of combat. Plus, now I want to see if I can set the lyrics of “Jacaranda Knights” to music and play the song on my guitar. I may only have one head, but we’ll see how I do.

Varisthu as a varguille on the other hand is just creepy. He walks like a zombie, but is something else entirely – with every fiber of his being on finding the scabrous grail. I want to know more about his back story. Where did he come from? Who summoned him to this plane? And why did they set him to find the grail? Curious minds want to know!

Writing and layout-wise, this is a standard Raging Swan product. But I was surprised to find a typo on the contents page. I’ve reviewed several Raging Swan products and not noticed any others, which makes this the odd man out. That said (it’s a very minor thing after all – one misspelling), the NPCs are described beautifully, with mannerisms, notes on personality, and combat tips, which really sets the stage for some interesting adventures. Posener did a great job. And the interior art goes a long way to helping picture those scenes – with art from Gary Dupuis, Rick Hershey, Matt Morrow, and Maciej Zagorski from The Forge Studios as well as some art from Standard Stock Art: Issue 1 from Small Niche Games.

I’ve been looking for creepy adventures as we get closer to Halloween 2011 and Bandits of the Rampant Horror definitely fits the need. Check out more information at the Raging Swan website and pick up a copy at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow today!

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