12 to Midnight, Inc.
Author: Preston P. DuBose
Page count: 39 pages including maps, handouts, OGL; (printer-friendly) 31 pages including OGL
Price: $6.50 at RPGNow
Brainwashed is an adventure designed for four 4th level d20 Modern characters. The adventure is a horror-style setup, with a nostalgic, Call of Cthulhu/Lovecraft feel. It is an adventure in which the PCs are hired/recruited/asked to investigate one thing, but may find out that things aren't as they seem, and regardless, they must resolve the situation.
Brainwashed begins with a page from the author, detailing how Brainwashed was intended to be bundled with another product (Fear Effects), but things didn't work out that way. As a consumer, I've never been interested in author's notes – I'm not terribly interested in what they went through to get the product to me. As a beginning author, however, author's notes can be interesting. Sometimes, though, they still just add a page to the count.
Following the author's notes are play notes and the GM's Background. This is where we learn of hippies, a commune, strange objects, and even stranger behavior. It even contains a little snippet of in-character fiction.
I admit my bias here – I generally don't care for the short pieces of fiction found in many gaming products. I understand why they are included, but in my opinion, they take up space I'd rather see used for more game information. Besides, my games never end up like the sample fiction.
Following this is a plot synopsis. To the author's credit, it states that what follows is only one way the events may play out, and it is not even necessarily the optimal way the events should play out. I hope that this will relieve some GM's of the worry that things are proceeding the way the module says they should.
The synopsis is interesting – I read it, and thought "Ha! These people are so much more subtle than my groups." I do believe that there are groups out there that could do this adventure in a covert manner – mine isn't one of them.
After the plot synopsis, we get to the adventure proper, beginning with the involvement of the Player Characters. There are several recommended reasons and relationships described for involving the PCs. These are classic, straight out of Call of Cthulhu methods, including a relationship, reputation for dealing with oddness, or familiarity with the area. One possibility it lacks, and I can see why it was excluded, it ideas on how to have the characters simply stumble into things.
Each section has a subsection at the end entitled "Did you remember to:" It then lists a few elements that are important to the adventure. For example, in Section 1, the characters are tasked with retrieving someone from the commune/compound (see comments on the GM's Background). At the end of this section, Did You Remember To lists the following:
"Provide the heroes with a photo of Russell and hire the heroes to bring him back for “deprogramming'?"
"Establish Russell’s connection to Harmony Farm [the commune/compound]?"
"Arrange for the heroes to meet Russell’s roommate?"
This is excellent. I can't count the number of times, particularly in Shadowrun games, where I've forgotten little snippets and then had to work them back into an adventure at a later point. All adventure writers should learn from this example, and include such reminders in their works.
The adventure proceeds form here. I am going to avoid talk of the adventure itself; I would hate to inadvertently spoil it for potential players. Suffice it to say, the PCs investigate, find unusually happenings, and (hopefully) deal with it.
The adventure takes place near Pinebox, Texas. The author includes a small sidebar with brief, but useful information concerning Pinebox. Brainwashed has numerous sidebars. Some provide information about the setting, while other provides tips on what character might do, and other possibilities. Overall, Brainwashed makes excellent use of these sidebars. I truly wish more adventures made use of these snatches of information.
The printer-friendly version removes the sidebars from the main text and consolidates them at the end of the adventure. I would rather have the printer-friendly version include the sidebars in the same locations as the graphics-heavy version. By moving them to the end of the text, their section-based utility is removed.
Next is the Cast of Characters – you know, the stat blocks for important NPCs and such. Brainwashed is designed for d20 Modern, but does not use standard d20 Modern stat blocks. Perhaps this is because the author dislikes the standard d20 Modern stat block design. If so, I understand this. I can't stand the stat blocks for d20 Modern. I find them very difficult to read, especially during combat scenes. However, the stat block design for Brainwashed isn't much better. These stat blocks condense some of the information into tables, with oddly ordered entries, and other information in paragraphs. A simple line-by-line stat block would be more effective.
After the Cast of Characters is Appendix 3: Experience and Mechanics. This section provides good advice on scaling the module for parties that may be more or less powerful than the recommended 4th level group. This is a useful section – I rarely get to run adventures for groups of the appropriate levels, and tips for scaling are always appreciated.
The last part of Brainwashed contains handouts and maps. When I looked at this section, I had another Call of Cthulhu flashback. The handouts are clean, clear, and easy to use, and certainly bring fond memories of CoC adventuring. Especially interesting is one handout of handwritten text scribbled over with crayon.
Layout and Style
The layout for the graphics-heavy version is simple – standard two-column text. The font size is large enough to allow for quick and easy reading (and scanning). Brainwashed has several sidebars and tables, all of which are useful, except the primary color is purple-ish, and the font used in the tables is quite a bit smaller than the main text. The font size and purple-colored rows can cause some difficulty when trying to read the contents of the tables.
Each section is numbered like X:Y:Z. Subsections are X:Yy:Z. This is not problematic, and may actually be helpful, but it does remind me of some war games I've played.
The printer-friendly version does away with the purple color, and as a result, is much easier to read.
Brainwashed does not have much art, if you discount the handouts. The art that is available is fair quality (barring the cover, which is unattractive), and serves its function well enough.
The OGC of Brainwashed is generous – nearly everything is open, except for a few small elements.
The documents are unlocked, allowing you to freely copy and paste as desired. In addition, the Table of Contents in the graphics-heavy version is linked, allowing for quick access to each section.
Brainwashed isn't the greatest adventure of all time, but it's pretty good. Especially if you're interested in a horror adventure in the vein of Call of Cthulhu, from which Brainwashed draws much inspiration. The sidebars are useful, and the handouts are very good. Brainwashed should provide an evening or two of fun, involving gaming.