Review: Family Ties

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2003

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

"Malefex myth and Scottish legends come to life on Dorra and its up to the PCs to sort things out."

Family Ties is a standalone adventure scenario for Principia Malefex, the mature game of modern horror role-playing, published by Ragged Angel Ltd. Family Ties is a slim 24-page A4-sized stapled booklet, with a black-and-white front cover and interior artwork. The cover suggests a dark and gothic setting, but this artistic license exaggerates certain elements of the module. Family Ties is written by Alison Whetton with artwork by Gunter Hofer.

This is an overtly magical scenario; it begins with the PCs being all but kidnapped by a Malefex mage, who wants them to contact her sister and report back. In reality, the mage actually wants the PCs to serve as "stalking horses" to flush out the identity of another mage living in the Outer Hebrides. The mage (Ms Sayles) is prepared to pay, threaten and/or kill (as necessary) to have the PCs accept this mission. There are various safety-measures suggested to ensure that the PCs do play along and prevent the game degenerating into an immediate battle with Ms Sayles.

The action then moves to the isolated Scottish Island of Dorra in the Outer Hebrides. While Dorra is a fictional place, the descriptions of the island, its buildings, its people, and even the difficulties in travelling to and from Dorra are all believable, giving the scenario the right degree of verisimilitude to sustain the supernatural elements.

Although the PCs should have minimal difficulties in completing their assigned objective, life becomes much harder when they become inadvertent victims in a mighty spell. Malefex myth and Scottish legends come to life on Dorra and itís up to the PCs to sort things out. Multiple means of doing this are suggested, with advice on their likely success and consequences. Similarly, the PCs will have to cope with the aftermath. The credits wonít start rolling just because theyíve broken the spell; rather, there will be loose ends which have to be resolved, particularly if they have a "cover" to protect. All this reinforces the reality of the scenario. In case the plot goes awry, a set of alternate endings are helpfully provided.

The final third of Family Ties is devoted to appendices and an Index. All the main characters are fully described in terms of Principia Malefex stats, with the mage Janice Sayles being positioned as a potential future nemesis for ongoing campaigns. The other appendices include a set of new skills for the game and useful maps of the local pub and Dorra.

Family Ties is a well-written, solid scenario, which could, with a bit of effort, be converted for Call of Cthulhu or d20 Modern use. The only problem with Family Ties is that the beginning plot hook has to "railroad" the players to get them into the main plot (which is not a railroad). Some players may rebel at this point, preventing their characters reaching the real meat of this scenario or even surviving to see another sunrise. Seasoned Malefex players will know when to bide their time and await a more opportune time to challenge an overly arrogant mage. Family Ties demands careful gamemastering and cautious skilful play.

Editorís Note

Family Ties is published by Ragged Angel Ltd., and further information can be found on their website at