Fabric of Fear

Even before coming to the hobby you heard about things like Ravenloft and Tomb of Horrors. Usually, somebody said the phrase “like Tomb of Horrors or…” they usually mentioned the Fabric of Fear. I’m not huge on Tomb but Fabric was loads of fun.

This module put a lot of emphasis on variable experience and the very first table in the book is a d20 Fear Table full of things like spiders, shadows, banshee and bats, things like thats. The idea was to roll once for each player to “weave the fabric of fear itself.”

The setup went that there was this cave, sort of a combination of a door-to-the-underworld like in Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern mythology and that “only what you take with you” cave that Luke entered on Dagobah, with the end result being oddly similar to Galaxy of Terror (released later that year) in some respects. Anyway, to enter the cave was to swim in the very primodrial shadow of Creation from which all fear and horror issued, a pocket-hell. If one entered and allowed himself to become afraid then the creatures therein would destroy him. If he survived long enough to reach the innermost depths he would face a grim mockery of himself that bore evidence of every sin, evil thought and misdeed he had ever committed in life. Every wound he had ever received would still ooze. Total Dorian Gray territory, then. So at the end of it the party fights themselves.

The point of all of this is to kill some necromancer who specializes in terror magic, holding a valley in his thrall, uses the sweat of terrified men to power his infernal altar to Orcus, etc. I found this to be the most pedestrian part of the module, so I usually gloss over it.

Fabric of Fear did three awesome things:

  • The table at the beginning of the module represented a suite of rooms. The DM would choose from those rooms, stringing them together with dream logic. You had to have at least 1 room associated with each element you rolled on the Fear Table, but you could have any number of them and scale it according to party size; I played with 5 players so I had 25 rooms.
  • You had to defeat your ‘dark mirror’ to emerge back to the surface, but during the encounter if you controlled Arcus the Elf, you sort of controlled AN Arcus the Elf, and if you didn’t save against confusing spell effects, the player could be running Evil Arcus from the time they left the cave until they faced off against the necromancer, at which point the DM flips the script and either takes control of the PC or instructs the player to just be evil now. Never had a problem getting players to just kill their friends once they find out they were dead anyway.
  • The Necromancer was feared for the ability to summon a horrible beast whose exact nature was not entirely known, what with people not surviving and all. So what you got when you talked to NPCs or gathered clues in the fabric of fear was Blind-Men-And-The-Elephant hints about *aspects* of the creature.It’s a horrible giant snake. It’s a furious feral wolf. It’s an ungulating mass of blood. And of course the exact creature is some indescribable mass of all of these. I really liked that the players just got this compoundingly-horrible image in their head as time went on, building up the payoff, but, for reasons Zak has gone into before, the actual creature, while effective, lacked the oomph other parts of the module did because I suspect everybody was picturing a different critter.

I think it read better than it played but then I only ran it once. I’m sure that with some different configurations, or a little hacking (further customizing some rooms, making the necromancer more interesting) it could be a little bit more than just a spooky-dungeon-digression. Still, when I’m looking at modules at all, I could do a lot worse than a cave full of skeletons and banshee and worm-eaten doppelgangers.


One Comment on “Fabric of Fear”

  1. Zak S says:

    nice. i especially liked the “described before it is seen” monster

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