Hive of the Overmind is a Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC) adventure module for 0-level characters. MCC encourages starting a campaign with players running 2-4 zero level characters in a “zero level funnel adventure.” Most of the zero level characters die with survivors becoming first level characters (called “seekers” in MCC). In sum, you start MCC by running a pack of zero level characters in an intro game funnel. Most of the “zeros” die in the funnel. The survivors pick a class and become first level MCC characters.
This is an unusual and brutal start to an RPG. The only thing I can compare it to is the old Paranoia game. In Paranoia your character is in a future gone wrong. Each character has multiple “clones.” When your character died, a clone was uncorked with all memories and skills of your deceased character up to the moment of the predecessor’s death. Permi-death only occurred when your character and all of its clones perished. Paranoia was renowned for a huge casualty list and frequent “total party kills” (TPK).
My review of Hive of the Overmind is based on two things. First, I and five others played in the module at a MACE game convention. Each player ran four 0-level characters for a total of 24. All 24 died in a TPK. Second, I purchased a pdf from http://www.goodman-games.com. I’m hoping to avoid spoilers. My review is aimed at GMs considering purchase.
Hive of the Overmind has 20 pages. Fifteen are encounter descriptions, maps, results tables and other information directly related to the scenario. The remaining five pages are illustrations (mostly possible game encounters) and advertising. No pregenerated characters are provided.
There are multiple problems with the module. First, characters “awaken” in a combat situation with no escape route. Characters are on a tiny six-hundred-foot-high plateau. The design forces characters to follow a largely linear path holding few choices with no retreat possible. I prefer players having more options.
Second, there are not one but two impossible to defeat combat opponents. The only way to “win” is persuading one impossible for zero level characters to defeat opponent to destroy the other impossible to defeat opponent. Characters will largely watch from the sidelines as one super-powered foe destroys the other over-powered opponent. I prefer modules with more than one way to solve the quest.
Third, there is a potential total party kill room. That is not in and of itself a problem. My problem is the TPK is utterly unknown to the players and can be randomly triggered. Enter a room. Do nothing obviously dumb. Everyone dies. Game over. In my play experience our handful of zero-levels survivors managing to reach this room died. Game over. I dislike TPK traps triggered by anything except very bad player decisions.
My GM who ran this module at MACE did a fine job. The total party kill room was run as written. The players were experienced with RPGs in general and most had experience playing Mutant Crawl Classics
Fourth, there are two means of escape. One involves mind control and the other is obtaining a super high-tech item and escaping inside it. Survivors are now newly minted first level characters owning a super powerful vehicle. This would be a play balance game breaker. If the zero levels win, most GMs would remove the item from future play. I view this as “well played. Now I’m taking away the spoils of your victory.”
I would extensively modify this module before running it. I would change the location to somewhere players could escape from. I would provide player motivation with something other than, “you are trapped with only one way forward.” I would replace the two super powered opponents. Placing the encounter in a less isolated locale makes modifying or removing the two means of escape rather easy.
You might get the impression that I think this is a bad module. That is not the case. Many ideas and encounters in Hive of the Overmind are quite clever. The main opponent is interesting. Excepting the TPK room and the two over-powered opponents, there is good play balance. And by “good play balance” I mean a fun gaming session with perhaps a 50% kill rate. Unfortunately, I cannot describe and praise the many good points of this module without disclosing a lot of spoilers.
On a ten-point scale, I would give this module a 5. This is not fun as written. The module has many fun ideas and could be easily modified. But absent modifications I do not consider this to be a fun 0-level funnel adventure.