Save Yourself from Hell is a one-shot scenario. It is flexible enough to be dragged out to 2 or 3 sessions if the players really want to play things out in detail. All over it are Venger’s familiar trademark of gonzo sci-fi sleaze, with dashes of horror (especially of the Lovecraftian persuasion).
While written for Venger’s VSd6 system (which is used by Alpha Blue, Crimson Dragon Slayer or even the Outer Presence) this module is simple enough to be used with other game systems. To be honest, while I like the VSd6 rules, I appreciate how easily Venger’s adventures and settings can be ported over into other games.
I acquired the PDF complimentary from the writer himself, Venger Satanis. I’ve done several reviews of his works in the past, which you can see here on my site.
The PDF is 20 pages, including the cover, credits and 6 full-page illustrations, so the actual content is about 12 pages long. This is a one-shot scenario, so the brevity is intentional.
My review is of the “print-friendly” PDF, which was absent of watermarks (the text is black on a plain white background). Nothing wrong with the colourful version; the watermarks are non-obtrusive. This is just how I prefer to read PDFs.
Visuals and usability
As usual the artwork and design flourishes do not interfere with basic readability. The illustrations are very good, the typography and layout excellent. As usual, Monkey Blood design did another real fine job.
The cover painting depicts a beautiful, innocuous scene that could grace the cover of any science fiction work: it is actually kind of atypical from the gonzo sleaze of Alpha Blue. Calm before the storm. It has elements of a still-life, even (one wonders about the significance, if any, of that dish of sea shells and coral).
An aside about branding
It seems like Venger and Glenn Seal (Monkey Blood design) have settled on a style guide of sorts. Body text and headings consistently use the same standardized fonts and formatting between all of the recent publications. This is great and I think that they should continue down this path. The Korthalis Brand, so to speak.
Rules update: “Pulling a Stunt”
SYfH includes a new rule for all of Venger’s Vsd6 system (Alpha Blue, Crimson Dragon Slayer and even for The Outer Presence). The basic gist is that each PC may perform a neat manoeuver once per session (although there are rare, remarkable circumstances that allow this ability to recharge).
The caveat is that the Stunt has to be believable in the established fiction. For example, a PC couldn’t suddenly pull a space dragon out of their pocket. But they get to fully narrate what they intend to do and it happens with the DM’s consent. Very interesting.
This scenario includes a surprisingly mature and serious rule. It is important that each character explores and dwells on a past tragedy or shame. If, by the end of the scenario, the character gets some form of closure, they get a high-powered moment of “Spotlight” time.
Admittedly this raised a red flag in my mind: after all, part of the fun of Alpha Blue is it’s light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek sense of escapism. However, the suggested table of past traumatic events contain nothing squicky. None of these suggested traumas involve the character being a victim; they’re all about shameful mistakes, misunderstandings and failings. I’m quite impressed with how Venger handled this!
…and then the adventure starts and we’re right back on the silly sleaze train. The abrupt change in tone is hilarious.
The Adventure Hook
The description of the first encounter, and the introduction of the first NPC, sets the tone perfectly. It’s grotesque, X-rated, slapstick.
Basically the party gets hired, in some form or another, to find out what happened to an exploratory space ship.
There’s a very interesting feline (like, literally) NPC in this adventure. His connection to the PCs transport ship can be determined randomly via a table. This character is a quirky but useful addition to the party; one that I’ve never encountered before in a RPG module. Again, kudos to Venger for this idea.
The adventure kicks off in media res with a bounty hunter attack and his minions. A nice chance for an action scene within the confines of the ship.
There’s a quick stop en route to the adventure because the ship needs to refuel. The station includes a Hooters-type place which, once again, is shameless in it’s sleaze factor. It’s like whenever the adventure starts to feel like traditional science fiction, we get “Blonde space waitress bimbos in tight pink and white uniforms” who have a 2 in 6 chance of offering extra kink to the protagonists.
There’s a random table of interesting events, one of which is an obvious homage to Space Balls, but which could quickly change the encounter to one of frantic action-horror due to the fallout.
There are several interesting NPCs here that the party might encounter (or will encounter as passengers and even a fascinating stowaway). This entire section reveals the author’s love of Science Fiction, I have to say (well, also of B-Movie sleaze, but that’s par for the course).
A series of events
The rest of the adventure is structured as a bunch of things that happen. As pointed out at the beginning, each of these can be breezed through (some even skipped without greatly affecting the final outcome, I think) or each could be the basis of an entire “episode” or game session. We’ve got
- a space battle that kicks off by another joke from Space Balls
- the discovery of an escape pod and its quirky NPC passenger
- an awful reveal about some NPC crew members
- Space Cthulhu and a doomed ship (time clock sets off before imminent destruction)
- Space Cenobites that screw around with PCs and NPCs alike
- A climax reminiscent of the film Event Horizon (the title of the adventure itself is a huge reference)
For such an intense, action-packed and horrific setting as the X-III starship, I’m curious about the absence of a floorplan. There are plenty of chances for haunted house exploration, intense chases and a ticking timebomb race to save the universe (or just to escape). Strange.
The end of the book contains another few tables for name generation and NPC personalities. A small bonus, mostly an afterthought.
Of all of Venger’s works, this one has the greatest range of tonal shifts. You’ve got so many extremes: kinky sleaze, cheesy comedy, cosmic horror and disturbing Clive Barker-esque grotesqueness. It’s all over the place. The obvious references make this the most gonzo of all of his gonzo works. It was a bit jarring at times: I would definitely stretch this out to a campaign, not 2-3 quick episodes.
There’s a lot to do in each event, but the events happen regardless of what the players choose to do. This isn’t a railroad: there’s a LOT of options for the players. This could end in many ways; just as easily a high-five 80s action movie victory to mind-blasted, torturous madness and death. It just felt a bit like “this happens and then THIS happens and then THIS happens what do the characters do now?” including a bit of “the PCs might get captured here, but that’s another adventure” however, there’s nothing there for the GM to work with; they’ll have to come up with their own side scenarios. They’re all interesting, mind you, but still: the GM will need to do some extra work depending on the outcome of a few of the encounters.
I think that this would have greatly benefited from a few floor-plans or maps. Most of the time the set pieces could be done “theater of the mind” style but it really felt lacking here considering how much of the action occurs in 2-3 of the locations. Glynn Seal does great floor plans; I’m surprised that he didn’t make some for this adventure.
It looks like lots of fun, though. If I ran it, I might trim out a few of the encounters. Some of the sex bits felt a bit gratuitous, some of the NPCs could’ve been given a bit more to do; they get introduced but there aren’t many hooks for them later one (except as potential victims of the horrors in the climax).