Author: Seren Briar (@faefatale_)

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Alrighty, bust out your Funk & Wagnalls and turn to the “Fungus” section. Are you there yet? Good, because you’re going to need a deep understanding of how mushrooms work to play/appreciate decay. Well, that’s not entirely true, but it’ll certainly help! Actually, put the encyclopedia down. I’ll just include a bevvy of links throughout this review so you can live out your childhood dream of becoming an amateur mycologist.  

In decay., players create characters that are “Fruiting Bodies” of a terrible new fungus that wants nothing more than to spread and to consume. Unlike your garden variety (heh) mushroom, these Fruiting Bodies are ambulatory AND predatory, working together to inoculate all the occupants in a given locale and turn them into their mindless hosts. Still, this fungal form has its limits. For example, Fruiting Bodies don’t have arms or hands, so players need to be mindful of this when describing their actions. I am a firm believer that character limitations foster creative problem solving and I love seeing this baked into games, especially ones designed for one-shots.

The game consists of only two moves, the aforementioned “Consume” and “Spread”. When trying to do one of these two things, the players roll a small dice pool and count their successes. If the player gets enough successes, they generate “Hyphae”. These Hypha can be spent on a variety of things later in the game, such as adding or removing a die on a future roll or healing a wound. The cleverest part of this design is that the pool of Hyphae are shared by all Fruiting Bodies and if they ever run out, there are consequences for all.

Please, spare me from the consequences of my actions!

The GM, or “Mycelium”, has the traditional role of describing the world and providing challenges for the Fruiting Bodies to overcome. They’re also responsible for tracking the progression of hosts inoculated by the characters. Each time the game progresses to a new scene, inoculated hosts progress to a new stage of infection. I can see this bit of bookkeeping getting tedious, given that there are often multiple hosts per player and six distinct stages for each host to progress through.

Still, the stages are so full of wonderful body horror, any Mycelium worth their filaments will be happy to push through tracking host progress to get to the good stuff. I mean, I can imagine my player’s reactions when I describe a host as having their teeth and nails turn “spongey”. Bleugh. Sadly, it can’t always go well for an invading fungus. If a fruiting body dies, players can create a new character from any Host that progresses to Stage 6. Hope is only entirely lost if all Fruiting Bodies are destroyed before they can accomplish their goal.

In one page, decay. succeeds in providing an engaging horror RPG that feels both unique in terms of its setting and familiar in terms of the roles available for players. For that, I have to tip my cap…

Get it? Because mushrooms have…

Never mind.

DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this game, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. Also, if this whet your appetite for mushroom-based games, might I suggest Fungi Force?

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