[Zzarchov Kowolski] EZG reviews The Price of Evil (OSR / NGR / system agnostic)


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank for notes, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due a patreon supporter asking me for helpful horror tools.

So, what is this? This is, essentially, and adventure toolkit that allows you to create a wide variety of haunted houses, with a first use of the generator taking approximately 30 minutes to make an adventure. But this booklet is more than that.

First of all, this is available as a pdf – I also have the limited edition Adventure Omnibus Vol. 1 that included this one among its pages, but this book is currently not available to the public, so pdf is where it’s at.

Rules-wise, the supplement provides material for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival, Zzarchov’s criminally-underrated roleplaying game), and generic OSR materials, including HDs and e.g. features like regeneration noted; NGR works a tad better than the generic OSR-angle, but frankly, this book is relevant for any D&D-adjacent fantasy game; if you know what you’re doing, you can use e.g. PF 1’s haunts and quickly use the material you generate here – just add stats. Same goes for 5e, DCC, and yes, PF2. This is pretty much relevant for any fantasy/horror game.

If you’ve been playing horror modules in your D&D-adjacent system and are a really good horror GM, or if you’ve run e.g. Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ by now infamous classic “Death Love Doom”, you’ll probably have encountered a response that is understandable: At one point, the party might decide that exploring/cleansing the hell-hole that you created was simply not worth it – get the torches, ladies and gentlemen. This book does something that may be easily overlooked, but which is super simple – instead of riling against the party being a professional elite team of supernatural-stuff exterminators, the kit embraces it wholeheartedly, and uses the angle to motivate the players and PCs to tackle haunted houses in the way they’re intended to be tackled.

How? By setting a price on everything. The notion is the valuable thing here, not its implementation – once more, application to any system is super simple. The idea is genius in its simplicity: Haunted houses are places nobody wants to live in, right? So they’re available for a few gold pieces…and then, you just have to purge the place. Well, guess what? Every room has a value noted, and throwing lightning bolts around, much less torching the entire place, destroys the investment made. The party is incentivized, by their own greed, or their employer’s interests, to not destroy the place. (Hence also the title.) So, super-clever angle that gets rid of ludo-narrative dissonance (Buzzword used, and actually within the proper context? Check!) from the get-go, got it – but how does it fare as a generator?

The generator uses a degree of abstraction, and focuses on rooms conceptually in relation to each other. Doors between rooms are explicitly noted, and merged rooms count as one. Each room is generated by taking a playing card from a standard Poker deck, and comparing the number and suit, with the relation to nearby cards (pairs, full houses, etc. matter) impacting the contents of the room and the haunted house as a whole. Some rooms are marked with an asterisk, and these are never merged, and some rooms may be unique. Two rooms are mandatory – master bedroom, and kitchen. If these are not dealt, you choose a location and turn it into the respective room of the same suit.

The pdf uses a helpful type of information design, with text in yellow indicating items that are not part of the seller’s manifest, and rooms with items that are printed in blue, there is a potential secret door to another adjacent room with an item with a blue outline. All those aforementioned “blue” items? Described in detail – so no, you don’t have to guess how a secret door might work, the book actually describes HOW you can open these secret doors.

The standard house is divided into four floors, with stairs always included – the floors are ground floor, cellar, upper levels and tower. A pattern to put down the cards is provided for each floor, and there are alternate patterns in the back of the book, but frankly, you can devise your own layouts with literally zero hassle.

Here, things become interesting, and the two smart components are combined: Each room has components listed, with associated prices. These components, if destroyed, decrease the resale value of the house. Some of the rooms laid down in the patterns for the respective levels of the house are actually color-coded: The best hand in these influences the type of spirit infesting the house, and the spirits are depicted in a manner that makes it very easy to translate them into phenomena, haunts etc. for any system: The spirits have names, descriptions, and note how they can be enraged, how they can be defeated, and the powers they might be able to manifest. Additionally, such spirits usually need to be fought in the witching hour, and the pdf provides a simple system to simulate the escalation seen in horror movies – during the day, the spirit has 0 haunting powers, and over the course of the night, these increase…with the witching hour, the apex of the spirit’s power, being the time when they need to be bested. Here is another thing: Each room notes room powers for the escalating stages of haunting – take the first room, the observatory: At first, we only have a sense of vertigo looking at the stars; then, as the night progresses, the floor might start to dissolve above the vast void of the universe, and at witching hour, oxygen and heat might accompany this phenomenon. The suggested deadliness of these room-based powers tends to be noted with helpful skull-icons (In NGR, these indicate the die size of stress incurred), and an icon of a hand rising from the grave, in red, denotes a power that’ll continue until stopped. There also are rooms that have powers contingent on the suits, or unique contents.

Otherwise, the card value of the drawn card determines a few things: The suit denotes, unless otherwise noted, the room’s specific condition, with heart being the default; spade indicates an occult impression; club indicates damage, and diamond, fitting, the presence of an additional valuable item present.

If all of that sounds helpful, but dry, fret not – this is Zzarchov Kowolski we’re talking about, one of the probably most criminally-underrated designers out there. For bathroom room powers, the pdf notes “Look, it’s a bathroom. We’ve all seen the Ghoulies. You can think of something, but I shall not dignify the obvious options.” Zzarchov’s trademark dry, black humor actually managed to make reading a generator fun (!!) – and yes, before you ask, the supplement manages to be rather creepy as well as funny. And yes, manor grounds are covered.

Note how I mentioned the best hand mattering? If you draw a royal flush, you’ll have an evil god; a full house indicates that, well, the house itself is just evil. Demons, serial killers, spiteful misers, white ladies, bogeymen, insane spirits, good ole’ Bloody Mary…or what about a leprechaun? Obviously, these are only a start – you can easily just supplement your own, favorite spirits/critters. Oh, and for jumpscares, the pdf covers both groundskeepers and cats. Obviously.

The pdf introduces a brief OSR-system for insanity, which uses aforementioned skull icons as the indicator of oppression points, but frankly, there are plenty of better and more detailed insanity tables out there.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a smooth and neat two-column b/w-standard, with colors used for smart conveying of information. The pdf sports several really nice original b/w-artworks, with Alex Mayo providing both layout and artwork. The pdf is layered, allowing you to turn off art and gudies/grids, should you choose so. Much to my chagrin, the pdf sports no bookmarks, which makes navigation a bit of a hassle. Unless you happen to own the excellent Omnibus hardcover already, I strongly suggest printing this pdf. The lack of bookmarks would usually suffice to cost this supplement a star…

…however, this is a plain genius generator. I mean it.

Not only is this a pleasure to read, oh now. It actually delivers results that are better than many handcrafted mansion-crawls out there. It is also ridiculously broad in its options for application.

You could conceivably use this generator for years on end for e.g. your Halloween-game and still get new results. From level 1 to 20, a moderately capable GM can not only provide challenges for any level, it’s also possible to use this generator for pretty much any system that is even roughly D&D-adjacent. Moreover, it’s exceedingly easy to modify the generator with your own entries.

In short: This is one of the rare supplements that fully transcends the systems for which it is intended, creating a universally-relevant, wonderful and consistently creative experience.

The Price of Evil, had I owned the book when it was released, would have made my year’s top ten list, it’s that good. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this book gets my EZG Essentials-tag as a super helpful and rewarding GM tool that has a ridiculous re-use value. If you want to be able to make glorious haunted houses with minimal fuss, get this ASAP!

Endzeitgeist out.

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