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Use This Ghost To Show Off The World Of Old Gods

A one-shot adventure which evokes the generational horror of Stephen King.


Convention adventures are built to highlight the cool parts of a role playing game. In theory, they are made to make the players wander over into the dealer hall and pick up the main rulebook. They have lives beyond this original purpose. They can be taken home and played with friends as a break from an ongoing campaign or as the kick off to a new one. Best Leave Them Ghosts Alone was the main convention adventure used at Gen Con 2023 and was many players’ first point of contact with Old Gods of Appalachia Roleplaying Game. Written by the head designer of the RPG Shanna Germain, Monte Cook Games sent along a review copy to check out. Did this story invoke the same kinds of shivers that the podcast does? Let’s play to find out.

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the adventure past this point. I consider Best Leave Them Ghosts Alone a great one shot or introductory adventure for Old Gods of Appalachia Role Playing Game.

Best Leave Them Ghosts Alone finds the players returning to their small town of Dismal, Pennsylvania to attend the funeral of a friend. Only the players know that this friend, Ossie, already died once before when they were kids. The kids made a deal with a strange spirit called Rabbit Rabbit to bring Ossie back to life and with their second death, they know that they have to pay the debt they owe for those borrowed years. As it happens, Rabbit Rabbit needs their help dealing with the intrigues of the magical world that winds through Appalachia. It needs the players to seek out a powerful magic user called the Mander Witch to get her to intervene against the forces of darkness encroaching upon the land. Ultimately the players decide whether to help the witch or make deals with things more powerful and deadly behind the moves made by a local coal company.

It’s easy to see the inspirations in the adventure from the generational horror of Stephen King’s IT to Old Gods’ own Cowboy Absher. Familiar doesn’t mean cliche. It’s smart to write an adventure around elements players will find familiar while dealing with an unfamiliar game. The first section is fairly exposition heavy as the players hash out what they were like as kids and how their lives changed after their brush with Rabbit Rabbit. Monte Cook Games uses an unusual advantage for anyone allergic to boxed text. They got Steve Shell, the principal voice for the podcast, to read the exposition in between asking players questions about their past. These passages can help set the scene for this game in the same way that kicking off a Star Wars game blasting the John Williams title track does.

The adventure also offers some good advice on pacing. The four hour time of a convention slot can be a bit of an illusion as games may start early or run late depending on how timely the players are. The middle section of the story is where the GM can tighten or expand the story by adjusting the encounters the players have on the road to find the Mander Witch. In a campaign, this area would be perfect for adding in scenes that foreshadow the campaign arc or deal with character’s personal XP arcs.

When I use this in my game, I’ll probably change a couple of things. Ossie’s death as written is as a random victim of a supernatural accident. I’d discuss having one of the players be responsible - or feel responsible - for their death for a little extra drama and a tug of responsibility to pay back Rabbit Rabbit. I also felt the main villain, while powerful, lacked the inhuman creepiness that makes Old Gods bad guys memorable. Neither of these things made me like the story less. They are the adjustments I would make to personalize the adventure.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

I didn't say it was, but they certainly do appear at con and store demo and organized play games. Unfortunately. And again, I'm confident MCG has considered ways to work around that by suggesting alternate hooks for those who won't play along.
There's not much in the way of direct alternate hooks in the text. That space is taken up by fostering discussion between the players about their character's childhood friendship that summer and how everyone was connected when Ossie died. The idea here is to let the players figure out why they came back and want to help Ossie out rather than spending time forcing the players into the story with a 10th-level bartender setup.

It doesn't seem that unusual to me as a setup in horror games. Cthulhu uses "you get a letter from a friend who died" all the time.

If you're not the kind of player interested in that sort of thing and want a mission given to you by a shadowy stranger in the corner, then this module may not be for you.

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I have run and played this as a one-shot several times (four I think). It is EMPHATICALLY a con one-shot. It has all the tools to build connections between characters before the inciting incident but it is an enclosed/complete story. My partner has brought people to tears (yes, literally) the last few times she has run this at cons with its bittersweet ending.

However, it is a one-shot experience. You have to try to avoid getting on-board the plot. Some will, I am sure. In my tables and my partner's tables (seven in total, I think - playtesting, Gencon, and Gamehole Con), we have never encountered any resistance to joining the plot.

The plot is fairly linear, but that is very much not the point of the adventure. A more complicated plot would falter in a con setting. What distinguishes this scenario is the set-up and the emotional stakes. The characters take the stakes with them as they proceed through the adventure and how the player's navigate this experience with their characters is what will make for a memorable experience. The ending can be amazing if they players' buy in.

This is, by far, the best con one-shot I have ever played or run. I can't give it a stronger recommendation.

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
To me the interesting thing is that Stephen King's got his own genre name now (kinda like the old gent a hundred years ago and a few states over). He does Maine, not Appalachia, but that's what he knows. Certainly from the horror point of view he's been enormously influential, and it's nice to have a name for it.

'Generational horror' is a nice wink across the reality-fantasy boundary, too, because he got his sons into the business.

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