Fever Swamp is a hexcrawl adventure written by Luke Gearing and published by The Melsonian Arts Council which is also responsible for the creation and distribution of “The Undercroft,” the superlative Lamentations of the Flame Princess zine.
Fever Swamp weighs in a a breezy 26 interior pages, with game info printed on both the inside front and back of it’s hardcover. I discovered this book on Kickstarter back in say, October, when I was just beginning my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign that I ran up until very recently as part of a club at my favorite local game store. That adventure was a combination of The Croaking Fane, modified from it’s DCC stat line to accommodate Scenic Dunnsmouth, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess module. Both of those supplements had swamp themes and worked together well, so the concept of a drag and drop region that I could populate them in resonated with me.
The Kickstarter funded and delivered rapidly and on time with little to-do. I had actually sort of forgotten about the game when one day package from the royal mail showed up, I wasn’t even expecting it.
Before we begin I think it’s important to define the concept of the hexcrawl. A hexcrawl is a module that presents a map laid out on hexes for the party to explore. It’s smaller than a continent or a nation, but larger than the typical “village surrounded by woods” motif that we all know. A hexcrawl is like a module in that there are lots of hooks for the party to explore and encounter, but unlike a module in that there is no story or linear plot. As our friend Diogo Nouriga reminds us, the plot will unfold as the characters take actions.
The book is fast to read and easy to use. There is not an over abundance of description, so you can get right to using it, right away. The proper nouns and important aspects of each set piece are bolded for easy reference as you flip through the pages. Rather than overwhelming you with info about the specifics of the setting, each new thing is presented in a sentence or two that allows you as the GM the freedom to come up with the details of what you want to do and how you want to present the subject matter.
There are a wide variety of things to do in the swamp, with a robust random encounter table. There are wandering undead, cultists, tribespeople and outlaw enclaves along with the shit you would expect like alligators. The tribespeople, which in lesser hands could have been portrayed in a really problematic way, instead come off as eerie and strange adding to the feeling of the setting without making you feel like a bloody handed imperialist for including them.
Riffing on the horrific undercurrent of LotFP products there are ample opportunities for post modern takes on fantasy, and plenty of room for creeping horror, all the way up until the moment when you sick a gore-splattered hellraiser statue golem or shambling mound of undead on the party. I come away from my LotFP campaign bummed that I didn’t get to run the subterranean temple in Fever Swamp because I think I prefer it to the one found in The Croaking Fane.
I just want it to be said that I don’t have a lot of cons for this book and my first instinct was to just give you pros and say that’s that. I’m putting these in here for the sake of well roundedness and to help you, the listener, make a more informed decision.
First, the art in this book is serviceable. I’m not down on it, I actually kind of like it. I do feel like it undercuts the ambiance of the story, though. It reads a little cartoony at times and I wish that it had been darker, a little more brutal and challenging.
Next, some of the plot points are a little tropey. I acknowledge that I was shoehorning two other modules into the map, and the venn diagram like overlap with those modules was one of the things that drew me to Fever Swamp in the first place. That said, it has in it a lot of the same stuff that these other books do. A sunken temple to a forgotten animistic creature god, a backwater cult that worships the deity that has forsaken them, for instance. Honestly, I had wanted to use the book more heavily, but as the similarities with other source material I was using started to mount, I had to draw it down.
My last point is peevish because it’s the absolute easiest thing to change, but the naming conventions in the book were not great. Again, it’s the easiest thing to change so it’s a small gripe. But if you are just flipping pages madly, looking for an NPC to throw in and you land on one of these dudes with the not great names…well look you can’t just use them straight out of the book is all I’m saying. Who knows, you probably won’t have the same problem I did. I ended up with a traveling-roma analogue named Sloane in a moment of weakness though and I wasn’t stoked.
Overall I give Fever Swamp a 5 out of five, my highest recommendation. If you love swamps, toads, cults, southern gothic, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, go out and buy this book. You can find it for sale on Melsonia.com for 16 pounds which is like 22 bucks or thereabouts these days.