Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Author: Matthew Dawkins
Artists: Durwin Talon and Brian LeBlanc
Genre: They Came From Beyond the Grave! horror roleplaying supplement
Pages: 10 pages
Price: $1.99 in PDF at DriveThruRPG
They Came From Karnstein’s Cabinet of Curiosities offers players and storytellers a new set of tropes in the form of a creepy curiosity shop, its terribly curious proprietress, and a sampling of strange objects sure to send players to their grisly fates.
At the heart of Karnstein’s is a great idea that’s also a classic horror bit: that picking up the wrong trinket at the wrong place at the wrong time might well doom you. It helps to expand Beyond the Grave into both earlier and more modern horror periods; if you want to run your own version of Cabin the Woods, this is the supplement for you. The descriptions of the various objects give a nice sense for Karnstein’s voice allowing you to drop her in and repurpose her in whatever campaign you might be playing. Likewise, many of the objects themselves have one-shot worthy backstories.
The humor in Karnstein’s will either be hit or miss, depending on your tastes. While most of the artifacts have something of interest, something that opens a path for narrative, one is —without exaggeration— just a sex toy. A joke about not having a flared base isn’t followed up with a clever subversion or a riff on the dangers of sex in a horror movie or even something twisted on the dynamic of pleasure/pain; it’s really just a fancy box for a vibrator.
Karnstein’s interior art is in keeping with the horror motif, but its cover leans more heavily into the sexploitation elements of late 60s and 70s horror cinema, especially with its nipples and allegorical bodily fluids. Again, your mileage may vary here. Sex and horror have long been intertwined, but while some may chalk it up to a genre-appropriate homage, others will find it tasteless. Either way, it doesn’t seem to be rooted in the content of the text itself.
Karnstein’s Cabinet offers some fun new hooks, but it’s not necessarily a must-have even for fans of the series. For storytellers who’d like the official rules on swapping artifacts for Tropes, it’s a fine addition (and, at $1.99 an exceedingly low risk investment), but otherwise, there’s a deeper well of inspiration to be had elsewhere, even from the other releases in the series.