Malevolence, a stand-alone Pathfinder adventure for characters of levels 3-5, challenges the characters to explore a haunted mansion, discovering the horrors that currently filled the house and – perhaps – the horrors that took place in the past. Malevolence takes a trope of a setup – one of the characters has inherited an old mansion – and spins a web of horror elements that will shock characters and thrill players.
Malevolence explores a variety of types of horror and has a lengthy content warning. Most noteworthy (at least based on my play experience) is that, in addition to what I think most players would expect from a lengthy horror module – things like body horror, gore, mental and physical trauma – Malevolence contains significant elements of domestic violence. They are an integral element of the plot, not something I would consider severable from the module. As with any horror module, Malevolence requires a group of players who are interested in this sort of thing and a GM who can set a spooky mood without going overboard.
For players, I’ll note that Malevolence has a great story and excels when the characters must focusing on that whole ‘encountering the horrors of the present to learn about the horrors of the past’ thing. The module is at its best when its sticking to this central plot, although the mood might fade during unrelated combat encounters.
Note that parts of the review below contain some spoilers for the adventure, and those who hope to play the adventure may wish to turn back now.
Running Malevolence well will require the GM to really read the whole book before things begin (yes, yes, it’s better for every adventure, but it matters more for some than others), and I think that’s a good thing. The GM needs to know the whole backstory of the place in order to get the significance of the various hauntings and other manifestations. Because most of them tie directly back into one (or more) of those plot/horror elements that the adventure is weaving together.
As I noted above, one of those thematic horror elements is domestic violence. The family who once lived in the mansion came to a rather bad end, and the characters will learn about the family, the betrayals, and the violence that ensued … and encounter the results of that horror, of course. That’s the most personal, resonant and, in a lot of ways, the most horrific aspect of the adventure. Another major thematic horror element is body horror, as the central figure’s plans involved extracting brains. Also, a character might take a drill to the eye (you’ve got to lean into some vivid description on that one, GMs). The third primary thematic horror element is cosmic horror, with the central figure’s becoming wrapped up in an even older efforts involving the Dark Tapestry. Because the Dark Tapestry and undeath are involved, elements of Desnan religion and the servitors of Pharasma to get involved.
Now, I said “most” of the threats tie into these overarching thematic elements. As I noted above, what seems like the weakest element of Malevolence is some of the combat encounters. There are some encounters that are essentially some unrelated monster who happened to wander onto the grounds and set up shop in a particular room. I know that there’s an expectation of a certain level of combat in Pathfinder, and a need to provide enough experience to get the characters to level up at the appropriate pace (Malevolence does not use milestone levelling). But combat can break the mood of a horror adventure, and I think Malevolence might have been better served some more XP-providing noncombat encounters. As a GM, I would consider nixing some of these encounters and making up the XP somewhere else.
Still, Pathfinder players are typically far from combat averse, so a group of players who will really get into the horror plot will still have a creepy good time playing through Malevolence.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy. Strange Assembly may earn commissions from affiliate links in this article.