Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday, 24 January 2022

Jonstown Jottings #52: Underwater Quest

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—

What is it?

GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a four page, full colour, 1.45 MB PDF.


The layout is clean and tidy. It is art free, but the cartography is excellent.


Where is it set?

GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest is set in the swampy area area in southern Dragon Pass, near the sea, between the city of Nochet and the ruins of Lylket. Unless the scenario begins en media res, the events which lead into the scenario take place in Sartar. Ideally this should be near the Delecti Marsh.

Who do you play?
Player Characters of all types could play this scenario, but a worshipper or priest of Heler or other Water god might be useful.

What do you need?
GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and The Gateway Bestiary.

What do you get?
GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest details a partially flooded complex consisting of several rooms, five of which are detailed. Here hidden behind a quadruple-locked door can be found Daliath’s Well of Wisdom, a source of his sacred water. The complex is inhabited by several randomly selected water-themed monsters, including Deep Ones, Kelpies, Shark-Men, and Water-Leapers. Notably, the Deep Ones are at odds with the Shark-Men, but that is the only real dynamic element in the complex.

The reason why the Player Characters are searching for the Well of Daliath is because several undead spies have unmasked at the various tribal courts of Sartar, each magically disguised in a way never seen before. Although they were defeated, they had done untold underhand and disruptive deeds. It is suspected that Delecti, the Necromancer at the heart of the Upland Marsh, is behind these attempts, and the tribes fear his spies may even have gone as far as impersonating kings and chieftains. If someone can find the Well of Daliath and drink its waters, they will gain the wisdom sufficient to be able to identify these spies.

As with other titles from this author, GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest is all about the destination. The background is flexible in terms of timeframe, but is underdeveloped with little explanation as to what the Well of Deliath is, what its waters do, and what Orlanth did within the Well. The complex itself is anything other than interesting and does not offer anything beyond combat challenges. This is not to say that there not an interesting story or scenario in the all too few pages of GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest, but they consist of the backstory and the legend, which of course the author effectively ignores. The nearest the author gets to this is suggesting that GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest be used as a sequel to GLORANTHA: A Trek in the Marsh

GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest is not badly written for what it is, but very much like the earlier GLORANTHA: The search for the Throne of ColymarGLORANTHA: A Trek in the Marsh, and GLORANTHA: The Avengers of Earth Temple, it is underwritten and leaves plenty of development work for the Game Master to do before she brings GLORANTHA: Underwater Quest to the gaming table. Probably more than it warrants, since if the Game Master is going to have to do that development work, she might as well grab the map and start from scratch.

Is it worth your time?
YesGLORANTHA: Underwater Quest contains the germ of an interesting scenario if the Game Master is willing to completely develop the set-up, add the flavour, and the detail, which of course the author failed to do. Then of course, the Game Master can do something about making the dungeon interesting.
NoGLORANTHA: Underwater Quest is a self-contained dungeon bash which the author kindly leaves all of the interesting detail, stats, and flavour to be found in the back story for the Game Master to develop herself. Cheap, cheerless, characterless, and charmless.
MaybeGLORANTHA: Underwater Quest is yet a perfect showcase of how to take an interesting idea, all but ignore it, or at least leave it up to the Game Master to do anything with, and instead write an uninteresting dungeon bash for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Gloranthaso if the Game Master wanted to know how not to do it, she should start here. 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

Pawsome Action!

The Ages of Man have long since passed and the Old Ones are no more. They bequeathed the world and their relics to the ones that they worshipped, rather than the ones that served them. Thus to the Cats rather than the Dogs. Where the Dogs have the one kingdom, that of Pugmire, the cats have six fractious Monarchies, scheming and plotting to outdo each other. The Cats of these Monarchies sent explorers hither and thither, often looking for the Relics left behind by Man, even over the mountains to the north—though none go there today, and once the means to sail the Acid Sea was discovered, over the horizon. Trade would flourish initially between the Monarchies via House Korat and the Kingdom of Pugmire, but differences led to the relationship breaking down and war being declared. The War of Dogs and Cats could not be fought effectively, thus Trillani Persian von Mau convinced the six Monarchies to come together, sign a Treaty of Unification, and become six dynasties governed by a Ruling Council with Trillani elected as Monarch. Thus the Monarchies of Mau was formed. The Kingdom of Pugmire is its greatest rival, but despite the many differences between the two kingdoms and Cats and Dogs, there is peace. The war ended in stalemate, with Waterdog Port, the source of the initial dispute ending up a neutral city. The Monarchies of Mau still faces enemies from without and from within. Badgers raid and plunder, and monsters of all sorts are constant danger, the worst being the demons and the Unseen that threaten the existence of Cats—even impersonating them, whilst the individual Monarchies still attempt to learn each other’s secrets, and the Cult of Labo Tor, consisting of fanatical Rats and Mice—who otherwise live peacefully in the gaps between Cat society—steal the artefacts of Man to study and so discover the path through the Maze of Ignorance and so become like Man. In response to these dangers, to learn more about the world, and to foster co-operation and learning between the six Monarchies, Trillani’s Trailblazers was formed. Teams made up of Cats from all six Monarchies as well as from the unaffiliated Cats of the Shadow Bloc serve in Trillani’s Trailblazers.

The Cats of the six Monarchies of Mau are all different. House Angora is one of scholars and intellectuals, House Cymric of diplomats and negotiators, House Korat of soldiers and tacticians, House Mau of leaders and judges, House Rex of explorers and outsiders, and House Siberian of traditionalists and medics. All of these Houses have held a monarchy before Unification, but there are still many minor Houses, organisations, rebels, and outsiders who have a voice in the kingdom, and they are represented by the Shadow Bloc. However, all Cats of the Monarchies of Mau are the same. They value privacy and secrecy, they commonly believe in reincarnation and are by nature spiritual, and they fear and have a common enemy in the evil that is the Unseen. They also adhere to the Precepts of Mau—Always trust our instincts, always reward loyalty, always respect an honest duel, and always pounce upon minions of the Unseen. Without these tenets, the Cats of the Monarchies of Mau are no longer worthy of the adoration of Man.

This is the setting for Monarchies of Mau, the feline sequel and companion roleplaying game to Pugmire. Published by Onyx Path Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaignMonarchies of Mau, like Pugmire before it, employs the Open Game Licence for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. This makes Monarchies of Mau easy to pick up and play, which should be no surprise given the delightful accessibility of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Like Pugmire, it presents a streamlined version of the rules, takes Player Characters from First to Tenth Level, and it can also be played in tandem with Pugmire, so that group could play an all-Cat game, all-Dog game, or a game of Cats and Dogs.

Cats in Monarchies of Mau have a Calling, a House, and a Background. A Calling is what a Cat does and is the equivalent of a Class. Six are given—the charismatic Champions (Fighters), intelligent Footpads (Rogues), wise and intelligent Mancers (Wizards), charismatic and enduring Ministers (Clerics), wise and enduring Trackers (Rangers) who hunt the Unseen, and strong and dextrous Wanderers (Monks). Now these Classes are not the exact equivalent of those in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, for example, Mancers do cast necromantic spells and Ministers are almost bardic in their means of spellcasting. Unlike the Dogs of Pugmire, the Cats of do not have a Breed as such, but rather the vocations of the six Houses. This neatly avoids Monarchies of Mau having to detail each and every contemporary breed and also establishes the various noble families within the kingdom. A Background is what a Cat did before becoming a hero and answering his Calling. Just eight are given, ranging from Common Folk and Criminal to Scholar and Soldier. Lastly, a Cat will have an Ideal, a Mystery, and a Flaw.

A Cat’s Calling will provide him with a view on the other Callings, on the Precepts of Mau—each Calling favours a different part of the Precepts, his Stamina Points, skills, and rucksack (equipment), plus his first Secrets. The latter are of course, a Cat’s special abilities and powers and are akin to the proficiencies or feats of Dungeons & Dragons. Another Secret and an ability bonus will come from a Cat’s House, and then more rucksack contents and skills from his Background. Six examples of each Calling are given as well as six possible Unusual Circumstances by which a Cat gained a particular item in his rucksack.

Creating a Cat involves selecting a Calling, a House, and a Background, plus skills and Secrets. Mancers and Ministers also have spells. Unlike in other roleplaying games, the core abilities are not rolled for, but assigned from a given set of values. The creation process is generally straightforward and a player is nicely guided through the process, step-by-step. One noticeable absence is that of Alignment, instead replaced by how each Calling favours a different Precept, but without laying too heavy a paw on the player’s shoulder.

Our sample character is Philomena von Angora, a Mancer who after completing her training continued conducting research in her House’s extensive libraries. Recently she was assigned to shepherd a visiting researcher from the Shadow Bloc, a Minister named Winifred von Forest. Together they conducted extensive examination of the ancient papers and they became friends, and then Philomena found herself falling in love with her. Before she could express her feelings, Winifred disappeared and nobody seemed to recall that she had been at the library. All was that left was the bone focus which Winifred von Forest said belonged to her father. With her friend missing, Philomena has left the library and joined Trillani’s Trailblazers.

Philomena von Angora
Level 1
Calling: Mancer
House: Angora
Background: Scholar
Proficiency Bonus: +2
Stamina dice: d6
Stamina Points: 6
Defence: 12
Initiative: +1
Speed: 30
Abilities: Strength -1 (08), Dexterity +1 (12), Intelligence +3 (17), Wisdom +2 (14), Constitution +0 (10), Charisma +1 (13)
Skills: Know Arcana, Know History, Know Spirituality, Search, Sense Motive
Secrets: House Secrets (Angora), Light Armour Aptitude, Mancy, Simple Weapons Aptitude, Voracious Learner
Spells: Chill, Eldritch Blast, Feather Fall, Prestidigitation, Unnatural Rebuke
Rucksack: Spear (1d8), padded light armour, Bone Focus (Borrowed from a friend who disappeared), common clothes, bottle of ink, ink pen, parchment, small collection of books, belt pouch with plastic coins

Ideal: …Studying the Unseen
Bond: …My love for a Cat of another House.
Flaw: …Return the item I know not be in my possession.

Given its Dungeons & Dragons-derived mechanics, it should be no surprise that Monarchies of Mau is a Class and Level system. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, the Levels only go up to Tenth Level, at which point a Cat is considered to have Grey Fur and cannot advance any further, although he can still go adventuring. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, a Cat who goes adventuring in Monarchies of Mau does not earn Experience Points, but is awarded a new Level after a few good stories and when the Guide—as the Game Master is known in Monarchies of Mau—decides is appropriate. When he does go up a Level, a Cat gains both Stamina and Stamina dice, spellcasters—Mancers and Ministers gain more spells and spell slots, and at every other Level, a Cat’s Proficiency Bonus increases. Every Level, a Cat gains an Improvement, which can be to improve an Ability score, select a new Aptitude or House Secret, or to refine a Secret the Cat already possesses. For example, a Champion can refine his Honour Challenge Secret, which enables him to force an opponent to engage in an honour duel, by using both Charisma and Strength rather than just Charisma to force the associated Saving Throw or allowing an opponent to decline and take a penalty to his Saving Throws. These tweaks and refinements give Monarchies of Mau a sense of the cinematic and heroic action as well as providing some variability in terms of Cat design.

Mechanically, Monarchies of Mau looks much like Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, but on a closer look, there are tweaks and refinements to the rules too. The most feline of tweaks is the Pouncing rule. When a Cat takes the Ready action and studies a situation, his player rolls the resulting action with Advantage! Perhaps the most notable addition is that of Fortune and the Fortune Bowl. A session begins with the Cats in an adventuring party having two Fortune in the Fortune Bowl. A player can earn more Fortune for the Bowl by roleplaying to his Cat’s personality traits in a way that makes the game interesting, by being an entertaining player, coming up with a good plan, and by playing to his Cat’s instincts. Much of this is up to the discretion of the Guide, but a player can force the Guide to add Fortune to the Bowl by having his Cat intentionally fail. However, where in Pugmire any Fortune Points acquired by a Dog are automatically added to the shared Fortune Bowl, in Monarchies of Mau, a Cat can favour himself rather than the group and keep it in his own Fortune Pile. Fortune in the Bowl can be spent—and this is a permanent spend—to gain a reroll on any dice roll and keep the higher result, to allow a spellcaster to cast a spell if he has run out of spell slots, and to interrupt the initiative order and take their turn now. Further, some Secrets require Fortune to be activated.

Again, magic in Monarchies of Mau looks like Dungeons & Dragons, but with a tweak or two. In terms of flavour, the magic of Monarchies of Mau has a darker edge, involving the unusual and the unnatural, for example, the Mancer employing necromancy. Mechanically, magic in Monarchies of Mau can go wrong. If a player rolls a botch—a critical failure—on a spellcasting roll for his Cat, intentionally fails a spell to gain Fortune, or an opponent rolls a Triumph—a critical success—on a Saving Throw, then a spell backfires. It is up to the Guide to determines the outcome and effect when this happens. Lastly, besides the Mancer and the Minister, Cats of other Callings can take the Magic Aptitude Secret and thus become a Dabbler, knowing just a handful of spells.

Another major difference between Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire is the way in which Cats and Dogs treat Masterworks, the Relics left behind by Man. They are still divided into ‘Relics’, such as the Boots of Climbing or Chameleon Cloak; ‘Fixes’ like Explosive Eggs or Potions of Haste; and ‘Wonders’, such as the Flame Twig or Picture of Health. Now, just as with Pugmire, the world of Monarchies of Mau is being a post-apocalyptic world, the conceit is that what these items really are, is items of Old-World technology. However, they cannot so easily be mapped back onto our own technology, but then the conceit is not necessarily that important in play. The big difference between Pugmire and the Monarchies of Mau is that Dogs share and even revere Masterworks, whereas Cats study them, attune to them, and they break them in just the right way so that they can absorb the powers they contain. For example, the Charged Collar provides a temporary defence against bludgeoning attacks, but when broken down in the right way and absorbed, the Cat is Resistant to such attacks. Further, when refined, the effects of the absorbed Charged Collar can make a Cat immune to bludgeoning attacks and can even manifest a lightning barrier! This has a number of effects. It both makes Masterworks more powerful and more personal to a Cat, and mechanically it partially offsets the fewer number of Secrets a Cat has versus the number of Tricks a Dog has in Pugmire. The combination of this is drive a player and his Cat to explore the ruins of the Monarchies of Mau and beyond in search of the Masterworks, providing a base motivation in addition to those born of a Cat’s Ideal, Motivation, and Flaw. However, the Masterworks section is quite small and is very likely going to be exhausted relatively quickly.

The setting for Monarchies of Mau is explored in some detail, explaining Cats and their Houses, culture, technology, and more in some detail, as well as their enemies and rivals. It also looks at the Ruling Council as well as Trillani’s Trailblazers, the organisation which by default the Player Characters are expected to join and thus adventure. Notably, it takes the reader inside the Lounges where Cats of all stripes gather over mugs of catnip tea and saucers of milk close by the fire, whilst Rats and Mice stick to the shadows of the corners. Whilst various locations in both the lands of the six Dynasties and beyond the Monarchies of Mau are described as well, there is plenty of room for the Guide to add her own setting material. Some of the secrets of the setting are explained here and also in the chapter for the Guide, which is well written and includes suggestions for running Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire together—and even for adapting the setting to other rules systems!

In addition to the advice and further examination of the setting, the Guide is provided with a decently sized Bestiary, covering Animals, Bandits, Cats, Dogs, Badgers, Rodents, and more. That more includes monsters and the Demons of the Unseen, and some of these are nasty indeed. For example, the Breathtaker steals into camps at night and steals the breath of Cats, Bone Burrs are insect-infested skulls which attack Cats, and Witch Demons possess Cats and has the power to reflect or even absorb the spells of Mancers and Ministers! Lastly, Monarchies of Mau includes an introductory adventure, ‘All Hail the Rat King!’, in which the Player Characters are sent to investigate a sudden wave of Rat immigration in the town of Strudniksburg. Designed for First Level Player Characters, it can be played using the players’ own or the six pre-generated characters given as examples at the beginning of the book.

Physically, Monarchies of Mau is, like Pugmire, a lovely book. Again, it is full colour and illustrated with some fantastic artwork. In keeping with the darker tone of the setting, the artwork also has a darker feel to it. The book is also well written and like Pugmire, commentary is given by a pair of in-game characters. One to provide guidance for those new to Monarchies of Mau, the other to explain how it differs from other roleplaying games.

Pugmire was a roleplaying game about being a ‘Good Dog’ and gaming with a pack, but Monarchies of Mau pulls away from that. There is greater sense of individuality to the Cats in Monarchies of Mau, in terms of roleplaying, the mechanics, and the setting. The Cats are caught between this individuality and the collective need for co-operation. At a personal level, this can be seen in the choice between choosing to add Fortune to his Personal Pile or the group’s Fortune Bowl, but at a national level it can be seen in the necessity of the six Monarchies of Mau to co-operate despite their scheming against each other. This scaling means that Monarchies of Mau can do dungeoneering and exploratory adventures as much as it can inter-House rivalries and politics. There is a darker tone to the roleplaying game too in the monsters the Cats face, and also in the magics, especially the necromantic magics of the Mancer, they employ. There is thus much more of the horror genre to Monarchies of Mau, and that in combination with the darker tone, makes less suitable for a younger audience. These are of course, elements which the Guide can choose to adjust up or down as is her wont.

The darker tone and horror elements of Monarchies of Mau mean that it is not quite suited to being a beginning roleplaying game, despite its Cats being cute, and the individual versus group dynamic may divide a group as much as it sets up some interesting roleplaying choices and dynamics. Monarchies of Mau is not quite as accessible as Pugmire, or necessarily as easy to play, but it does present an entirely different, but still exciting and fun point of view from which to roleplay and explore their shared world.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Starship Dustbowl

Death Ziggurat in Zero-G is a scenario for Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship. The first Science Fiction roleplaying game and the first post-apocalypse roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha is set aboard the Starship Warden, a generation spaceship which has suffered an unknown catastrophic event which killed the crew and most of the million or so colonists and left the ship irradiated and many of the survivors and the flora and fauna aboard mutated. Some three centuries later, as Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants, the Player Characters, knowing nothing of their captive universe, would leave their village to explore strange realm around them, wielding fantastic mutant powers and discovering how to wield fantastic devices of the gods and the ancients that is technology, ultimately learn of their enclosed world. Originally published in 1976, it would go on to influence a whole genre of roleplaying games, starting with Gamma World, right down to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic from Goodman Games. And it would be Goodman Games which brought the roleplaying game back with the stunning Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition in 2016, and support the forty-year old roleplaying game with a number of supplements, many which would be collected in the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’.

Death Ziggurat in Zero-G is designed an introductory scenario and campaign starter for players new to Metamorphosis Alpha and the Starship Warden. Ideally this is with the tribe of Mutants and Humans based at Super Shop Mart, but the scenario includes some notes on how to use it in an existing campaign. It consists of three parts. In the first, the Player Characters go about their daily lives as members of the Super Shop Mart Tribe. Sometimes standing guard duty or examining newly brought in technological artefacts of the Ancients, but at others being sent out to find food, water, or other artefacts, raid or see off a raid by another tribe, and so on. In the middle section, the Player Characters discover the remains of a cryostasis facility and a strange artefact—the detached, but preserved head of the very crotchety Professor Cardunkle. Initially, all he wants is a new body for his head—any body will do, which can result in some hilarity because of the incongruity of the head of an old man being attached to something totally ridiculous. Eventually though, he will want his own body back and knowing where it is, Professor Cardunkle both directs the Player Characters and promises great treasure. This third and last part of the scenario consists of exploring the ruins of another facility whose internal structure has more or less been turned upside, which represents a challenge in itself.

All of this, and thus, Death Ziggurat in Zero-G, takes place in a closed environment, a great dustbowl known as the Silver Waste, a desert of polished, silver dunes whipped up and scoured by daily endless sandstorms and nightly freezing temperatures, where several tribes eke out a desperate existence. There is lack of permanence to the region due to the constant sandstorms and no one knows what lies beyond the Silver Waste, though in one direction stands ‘The Great Mirror’, a gigantic, flat, reflective wall which stretches as far as the eye can see left and right, and then from the ground high into the sky. The scenario only describes the Player Characters’ Super Shop Mart base of operations and the scenario’s endpoint, the ‘Death Ziggurat’ of the title in full detail, but several other locations are also described and these, when combined with the table of missions for the Player Characters’ tribe and table of random encounters, should actually provide a playing group with several sessions’ worth of play before it moves on to the scenario’s main plot. The sandbox element of the scenario also means that the Game Master could develop and add her own plots and content if she so desired. This would add depth to the scenario as well.

The plot to the scenario is by no means new, but it is nicely dressed up and layered with its post-apocalyptic future and rough environment. It does provide the Game Master with a fun NPC to portray whilst leaving scope for to develop and portray the other NPCs in the region. There is a not a great deal of treasure or artefacts to be found in the Silver Waste, and in many cases, finding what there is involves a lot of work, but to be fair, the point of 
Death Ziggurat in Zero-G is not on finding goodies, but discovering its secrets and finding a way out. There is promise of powerful artefact though—no less an artefact than an entirely new colour band with the blessing of James M. Ward, designer of Metamorphosis Alpha—the incredible capabilities of which will have factions beyond the Silver Waste fighting with both each other and the Player Characters to possess!

For the Game Master, there is some staging advice on running Death Ziggurat in Zero-G, but in general, this is an easy scenario to run. Perhaps the oddest aspect of running the scenario is that to get the most out of Death Ziggurat in Zero-G, it is suggested that the Game Master be multi-lingual or even use coded speech such as Pig Latin. This is to roleplay another aspect of the scenario rather than Professor Cardunkle, and intended to confound the technologically illiterate Player Characters rather than the players. This may prove to be a challenge for the Game Master, so another option might be record some phrases, perhaps done by a computer voice, as part of her preparation. If the Game Master is multi-lingual, then she can have some further roleplaying that aspect of the scenario.

One issue with Death Ziggurat in Zero-G is that beyond the limits set by ‘The Great Mirror’ and the inclusion of the new Colour Ring, it does not necessarily feel like a scenario for Metamorphosis Alpha. This is because its inclusion of base names such as ‘Super Shop Mart’ and ‘Me Depo’ feel more grounded, better suited to a planetside apocalypse like that of Gamma World or Mutant Crawl Classics, rather then being set aboard a giant generational colony spaceship like the Starship Warden.  That said, the Player Characters of the Super Shop Mart tribe will have no idea that they are aboard a spaceship at all, so that is not necessarily an issue for them. Plus of course, the Game Master could just run Death Ziggurat in Zero-G as an Earth-bound starting scenario for Gamma World or Mutant Crawl Classics and no-one would be any the wiser.

Physically, Death Ziggurat in Zero-G is cleanly presented. The maps are nicely done as are the illustrations, and the whole layout matches that you would expect of title from Goodman Games, feeling very much as it does for Dungeon Crawl Classics or Mutant Crawl Classics.

Overall, Death Ziggurat in Zero-G is a solid starting scenario. It has plenty of scope for the Player Characters to explore a mini-apocalypse as well as its main plot, and is flexible enough place aboard the Starship Warden as intended, or else where.

Micro RPG II: Lost in the Fantasy World

For every Ptolus: City by the Spire or Zweihander: Grim & Perilous Roleplaying or World’s Largest Dungeon or Invisible Sun—the desire to make the biggest or most compressive roleplaying game, campaign, or adventure, there is the opposite desire—to make the smallest roleplaying game or adventure. Reindeer Games’ TWERPS (The World's Easiest Role-Playing System) is perhaps one of the earliest examples of this, but more recent examples might include the Micro Chapbook series or the Tiny D6 series. Yet even these are not small enough and there is the drive to make roleplaying games smaller, often in order to answer the question, “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a postcard?” or “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a business card?” Although a micro roleplaying game, Lost in the Fantasy World fits all of its content on the two sides of a single sheet of paper.

Lost in the Fantasy World is a roleplaying game in which a group of children is magically transported to a fantasy world complete with magic and monsters. Once there, they are each given an amazing artefact by a mysterious Mentor, which enables them to come to the plight of the peoples—and they have many plights—and so become heroes. Yet, they still want to return, and ultimately, will have to choose between going home and the powers that the artefacts grant them. How the children get to the fantasy world—going on a strange ride in an amusement park, being sucked into a weird old book, going through a very small door in a scary abandoned house—suggests the inspirations behind Lost in the Fantasy World. Narnia, perhaps? The Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series? Well, definitely the latter, and that definitely comes down to nationality. 

Lost in the Fantasy World is designed by Diogo Nogueira and Diogo Nogueira is Brazilian. Now where the Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series might not be held in the highest regard in the English-speaking hobby, it had more of an impact in Brazil where it was more popular. To the point the Renault launched an advertising campaign in Brazil for one of its vehicles based on the Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series and it was very well done. Published by Gallant Knight Games, Lost in the Fantasy World is not retroclone in the Dungeons & Dragons sense, but is definitely inspired by it.

A Player Character in Lost in the Fantasy World is simply defined. He has a name, concept, four traits, and an Artefact. The concept, such as ‘Brendan, the quiet D&D geek’ or ‘Emily, the bolshy cheerleader’, defines the Player Character, whilst traits can include a quality like ‘Athletic’ or ‘Good with his Hands’; an object such as notebook and pen, a football, or a torch; a companion like a pet rat or a baby unicorn; some training or knowledge, foe example, ‘Read up on all the myths’ or ‘Works in my dad’s garage’; or a relationship with another character, such as ‘David is my best friend’ or ‘I always have to keep an eye for Andrea’. At the beginning of the game each Player Character will receive an artefact and have some idea of what it can do from its name, but not exactly what. What, exactly, it can do, will be developed during play. For example, the Torch of Unending Light, the Pipes of Piercing, or the Buckler of Shielding.

Tristian the inquisitive musician
Fine singing voice (Trait), I must protect my sister, Monica (Trait), helps his grandmother with the garden (Trait), Catapult (Trait)
Artefact: Lyre of the Living

Mechanically, Lost in the Fantasy World is direct and simple. When the outcome of a situation is uncertain, both the player and the Mentor—as the Game Master is known—make a Resolution Roll. This is the roll of a six-sided die each to which the player can add a +1 Modifier for any pertinent Trait, the Expenditure of an Adversity Token, a great description of his character’s actions given by the player, as well as the situation itself, the later mostly provided by the Mentor. Whomever rolls highest, narrates the outcome of the situation or scene.

If the player’s roll is lower, then he earns an Adversity Token, which can later be used to gain a Modifier. A player can also Push the roll, which allows him to make the Resolution Roll a second time, but if it is failed, the Player Character temporarily loses a Trait. Use of a magical Artefact enables the player to make the Resolution Roll with two dice—or even three dice if used in a creative and exciting fashion—and the highest result used. Combat uses the same mechanics, the winner of the Resolution Roll narrating the outcome and the loser temporarily losing the use of a Traits. A lost Trait can be recovered in time, but a Player Character or a monster or NPC is ‘Taken Out’ if they lose all of their Traits. They are not dead, but cannot act decisively and are at the mercy of other Player Characters or even their opponents.

For the Mentor there are several suggested opponents and obstacles complete with Traits which she can bring into play and there is also some advice on running Lost in the Fantasy World. The role of the Mentor is actually twofold. First, she serves as the Referee, and second, she actually roleplays the Mentor as character in the game world, who guides the Player Characters to some extent, mysteriously presenting them with both opportunities for adventure and rumours and hints as to the way back to the Player Characters’ home world. Ideally, there should be a balance between the two, a pull and a push, the push to undertake more adventures and help others becoming stronger as the players narrate new and more interesting capabilities for their Artefacts. However, Lost in the Fantasy World does not fully support that notion. There is no mechanical means provided to model the balance between the Player Characters’ supposed desire to help and their desire to get home. Perhaps some kind of countdown or count-up which a player can roll against to determine which of the two desires that his character follows, such that ultimately the pull towards one or the other becomes too much.

Physically, Lost in the Fantasy World comes as a simple pamphlet which folds out to just a single sheet of paper. It is nicely, simply presented and the artwork has a certain charm, but the pamphlet does need another edit for all of its brevity.

Lost in the Fantasy World is a clever little concept which draws upon something often ill-regarded by Dungeons & Dragons fans and develops it into a simple narrative, storytelling game. It is easy to learn and quick to play, but ultimately does not quite follow through on its concept when there was very much room and scope to do so. Hopefully, Lost in the Fantasy World, Second Edition will do that.

Friday, 21 January 2022

Jonstown Jottings #51: Grungnak Fearless

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford’s mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

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What is it?
Grungnak Fearless presents an NPC and his entourage, and trinkets for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a twenty-eight page, full colour, 1.83 MB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy, and its illustrations good. It does need an edit in places.

Where is it set?
Grungnak Fearless is nominally set in the Big Rubble where the NPC is feuding and scheming to be the fifth ‘Great Clan’ of Trolls or Uz, in the ruins of the city in an event known as the ‘Foreign Bully Feud’. With some adjustments, it could be set elsewhere, and suggestions are included as to where and how to include this NPC in those regions.

Who do you play?
No specific character types are required to encounter Grungnak Fearless

What do you need?
Grungnak Fearless requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the Glorantha Bestiary, and The Red Book of Magic. In addition, the RuneQuest Classic supplements, Pavis: Threshold to DangerBig Rubble: The Deadly City, and Trollpak: Troll Facts, Secrets, and Adventures for RuneQuest will information which will be useful for using Grungnak Fearless in a Game Master’s campaign.

What do you get?
The second volume of ‘Monster of the Month’ presents not monsters in the sense of creatures and spirits and gods that was the feature of the first volume. Instead, it focuses upon Rune Masters, those who have achieved affinity with their Runes and gained great magics, mastered skills, and accrued allies—corporeal and spiritual. They are powerful, influential, and potentially important in the Hero Wars to come that herald the end of the age and beginning of another. They can be allies, they can be enemies, and whether ally or enemy, some of them can still be monsters.

The second volume comes to a close with Grungnak Fearless, a brutal Death Lord of Zorak Zoran, the God of Hate and Vengeance. From her beginnings as a bandit, she has arisen to be a true monster, reveling in murder and mayhem, selfishly pursuing the novel and the new as she schemes, but mostly bludgeons her way to the top. Having amassed a number of followers in her leaden grasp, she is hellbent on taking out her rivals—using any means necessary, but ultimately and preferably at the end of her great hammer, and then eating them. Both as revenge and to see what they taste like. Multiple suggestions are included on how to use Grungnak Fearless. This is as an ally or an enemy and includes a pair of scenarios, one for each option. Both scenario outlines are well written and will help the Game Master develop them further for her campaign.

Grungnak Fearless is herself given full stats and a write-up, including her powerful bound spirits, one of which is a fire elemental! Her darkness elemental is nasty enough, but her command of a fire elemental gives her an edge that is utterly hostile to the outlook of other Trolls. A nice touch is that this is not instant, but takes time and Grungnak Fearless’ Trolkin must carry the wood and kindling to set a bonfire of sufficient size ablaze to summon the fire elemental. She also possesses Stolen Fire, a Zorak Zorani cult artefact which is won by defeating a Rune Master of a Fire/Sky cult in a heroquest, and then drinking his blood. Stolen Fire grants great gifts for any Troll who bears it. 

Grungnak Fearless’ entourage is also fully detailed. This includes her ‘lover’, Bazzik Fineteeth, a Rune Priest of Argan Argar known for the unfaceted jewels embedded in his teeth; the mantis-obsessed Fenhield Mantis-Friend; and Waggul, Fenhield Mantis-Friend’s favouritist Mantis—because he is soooo cute. Stats are also provided for the general Zorak Zorani Warriors and Trollkin Slingers in the would be ‘Great Clan’. As with the other entries in the ‘Monster of the Month’, full stat sheets are provided for all of the NPCs in Grungnak Fearless.

Lastly, Grungnak Fearless details a short-form Rune cult of Gorakiki the Insect Mother in her aspect as Gorakiki-mantis, the subcult worshipped by the Kugurz Clan in the Big Rubble. For use by NPCs or Player Characters, this expands upon the Gorakiki cult with guidelines as to how intelligent manitises can initiate, what is expected of initiates, cult skills, Spirit and Rune magic, associated cults, and a pair of new Rune spells. These are Foreclaws and Transform Head (Mantis), and are as nasty as you would expect, in line with similar transformation Rune spells.

Is it worth your time?
YesGrungnak Fearless presents a monster of an enemy to face the Player Characters, or a particularly challenging ally to keep on side, especially if the Game Master is running a campaign set in Pavis and the Big Rubble.
NoGrungnak Fearless presents a potentially interesting ally or enemy, plus supporting cast, should the Game Master want to include a monster of an enemy to face the Player Characters. However, if the Game Master’s campaign does not involve Trolls or is set in the Big Rubble, and she does not want to adjust the content, it is of relatively little use.
MaybeGrungnak Fearless presents a monster of an enemy to face the Player Characters, or a particularly challenging ally to keep on side, but the Game Master may simply not want to involve the Trolls in her campaign, take her campaign to the Big Rubble, or necessarily make the adjustments to brings it content into her campaign.

Friday Fantasy: Bastard King of Thraxford Castle

The warning is well known throughout the area. There is a curse upon Thraxford Castle and all who enter its gates. A Curse of rotting flesh, of unlife as one of the undead, for all who die within its walls must rise again at dawn to play out a danse macabre of their lives the day before. It is a Curse lain upon the soldiers and occupants of Thraxford Castle by The Bastard King’s slaughter of his kin. None can leave and all who put a foot within a thousand paces of that accursed place will fall foul of the curse… Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is a macabre, gothic mini-location inspired by both British medieval history, Hammer horror films, and even British Dungeons & Dragons adventures drawn from the pages of White Dwarf magazine back in its heyday, such as ‘The Lichway’ by Albie Fiore (White Dwarf Issue No. 9, October/November 1979). Published by Leyline Press and like The Isle of Glaslyn and The God With No Name before it, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle manages to fit an adventure onto the equivalent of four pages and then present it on a pamphlet which folds down to roughly four-by-six inches. One the one side it provides all of the details of the descriptions of the outer and inner wards, whilst on the other there is a map of the whole of the castle, plus descriptions of the actual keep.

Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is designed for use with Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy and presents a location supposedly on the Isle of Kybaros . Here the Bastard King took his last stand against invading forces after he had risen up and defeated King Hardrada at the Battle of Ashing Hill, and was cursed for his hubris. One of the great scenes later in the scenario depicts this battle—taking place in the castle’s great hall—and if the Player Characters are not careful, they may actually get caught up in the nightly (knightly?) reenactment! The scenario is designed for Player Characters of low to medium Level, and a Cleric, although any party upon discovering the true nature of the situation in Thraxford Castle going full bore slaughtering the undead and attempting Turn Undead, will themselves in a for surprise—the dead rise the following morning, the undead rise again as more powerful creatures of death, and they themselves are trapped for the duration... can the Player Characters discover the secrets  and a way to solve their predicament and that of the inhabitants of Thraxford Castle?

What the Player Characters find within the walls of Thraxford Castle is a theatre of ‘Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol’, in some places a slaughterhouse, in others the inhabitants of the castle now long undead, but still going about a semblance of their former lives. Yet long cut off from the outside world, they have been forced to turn to other means to continue that semblance which resembles a horror show, from the tanner to the food at The Peckled ’Hen, and which should invoke a strong sense of revulsion in the players—if not the Player Characters. Many of these scenes should warrant fear checks of some kind, and it is a pity that not every retroclone does, for Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is very much a horror scenario. Nevertheless, despite the weirdness of undead community to be found in the castle, these are opportunities for roleplay and interaction, and they are the surest means of determining what is going on in the castle—along with exploring both its and its grounds, of course.

Bastard King of Thraxford Castle definitely has Shakespearean overtones—definitely of Macbeth and Richard III—combined with the Gothic, and there is potential for some great scenes during the adventure. The Game Master is given some fun NPCs to portray as well as some good ones to roleplay, including what would be traditionally treated as monsters. The scenario includes a pair of new monsters too, the Giant Undead Maggot and the Giant Undead Botfly. Yet as much as Bastard King of Thraxford Castle makes the Game Master want to run it, there is still a lot that she has to do to get the scenario to the table. Apart from a little background about the Bastard Knight rebelling and defeating, even possibly killing, the previous king, the background to the scenario is underwritten. In a sense, this means the Game Master has a lot of flexibility in dropping Bastard King of Thraxford Castle into her campaign, but it skews too far that way by not giving the Game Master the choice but to do that. There is no explanation of the events of the rebellion and there are certainly no hooks given to help the Game Master get her players and their characters involved.

Physically, and once again, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is a piece of design concision. It is compact and thus easy to store, and unlike The God With No Name, this makes better use of the format, with the inner and outer wards of the castle described on the one side, and the keep on the other along with the map. Besides the cover, the only illustrations in the scenario are those of the new creatures. Those are decent, as is the map of the castle. The scenario does need another edit though.

Although it needs a limited amount of development to make it easier to even run as a one-shot, let alone add to a campaign, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle makes good use of its format and size. In places weird and creepy, Bastard King of Thraxford Castle really goes full theatre of blood, and turns up the horrifying rather than the horror. If the Game Master r wants a short—two sessions or so—bloodily repulsive horror scenario for her campaign, then Bastard King of Thraxford Castle certainly delivers.

Monday, 17 January 2022

Miskatonic Monday #93: The Hammersmith Haunting

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was a Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...


The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.


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Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Kat Clay

Setting: Cthulhu by Gaslight London

Product: Scenario
What You Get: Fifteen page, 12.17 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Who stalks fog-enshrouded fears in Old London Town?
Plot Hook: When the most punctual of men is not on time, there has to be a good reason... or a bad one.
Plot Support: Detailed plot, staging advice for the Keeper, three maps, four handouts, four NPCs, one new Mythos entity, and four pre-generated Investigators.
Production Values: Excellent.

Pros
# Delightfully crotchety old lady
# Delightfully crotchety even older lady   
# Good staging advice for the Keeper
# Solid straightforward investigation
# Good period feel and sense of history
# Diverse cast of NPCs and Investigators
# Multiple outcomes explored
# Handouts for failure and success

Cons

# Requires a slight edit
# Mechanics underdeveloped and presented
# Too linear and too straightforward an investigation for experienced players?

Conclusion
# Engaging period piece of horror
# Delightfully crotchety old ladies two
# Solid straightforward investigation to begin a Cthulhu by Gaslight campaign?