The Vast in the Dark

Author – Charlie Ferguson-Avery (@CharlieFergaves)

Where to Buy – https://feral-indie-studios.itch.io/vast-in-the-dark

I’m a sucker for a good liminal space, and even more so for TTRPG products that deal with them. The Stygian Library and The Gardens of Ynn are two of my all-time favorites (shout out to Dying Stylishly Games), and now I have a third product to add to that list of beloved settings.

The Vast in the Dark (TVitD) is a 25-page zine Kickstarted by Charlie Ferguson-Avery as part of ZineQuest 3. It is packed with information necessary to run a game in the Vast; a dark, crumbling stretch of wastelands and ruins sprawled out endlessly, populated by adventurers, horrors, and everything in between. Decay and loss are the cornerstone themes of The Vast, and spending time exploring the ruins can result in ego death and the complete loss of self over time. Hooray!

Though the zine is only a couple dozen pages, it is full of fantastically flavorful setting information, including a handful of unsettling monsters and factions populating the ruins. And I mean exactly that. They’re great, but there’s only a few of each. I wish there were more of these, especially the monsters, but this is a short zine and not some lengthy setting book so I should probably stick to judging what it is and not what it isn’t.

The zine also includes detailed rules for generating explorable hex maps of the Vast. These maps can be of a variety of different scales, from regional maps showing a large swath of the Vast to much smaller dungeon-scale maps for players to delve in. Many games claim to make DMing hex map adventures so easy, DMs can run a full night of exploration with little to no prep. Many games lie. TVitD, however, seems to be true to its word.

To create a map, drop a handful of dice on a blank hex map, draw in what sort of features are on the map based on the number on the die, and then you’re good to go. As players explore the ruins, the DM can roll to see what features the room has and what encounters, if any, occur. Unlike the monsters and factions, the section on location features feels full of enough options to sustain a game. Aside from that, the zine provides a handful of other light rules, such as navigation, inventory keeping, and going mad from exposure to the Vast.

I found TVitD to be wonderfully inventive and original, and I guarantee I’ll be using ideas from it in my home campaign for years to come. Every bit of eerie and alien lore and every particular piece of evocative art felt carefully crafted to elicit the exact experience the author intended. The fact that my biggest complaint about this book is that it left me wanting more is telling. If The Stygian Library is a novel, TVitD is a poem. And that’s not a bad thing, really. It just means that every word and image needs to carry more weight. Thankfully, they do.

DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this game, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. Also, you folks know the Shadowfell? I’m using The Vast in the Dark to describe it from now on. The bleakness. The alien darkness. It’s perfect.

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