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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Goblin it up

Rebel Minis is better known as a designer and manufacturer of miniatures and wargames rules, but following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it has published its first roleplaying supplement. This is Dark Hold Goblin Adventures, which describes a setting that can be dropped into most fantasy worlds and uses Savage Worlds, the slightly Pulpy set of mechanics published by Pinnacle Group Entertainment. The choice of mechanics is no surprise since Savage Worlds is designed to handle skirmish level war gaming as much as it is roleplaying. Where Dark Hold Goblin Adventures is different to most other RPGs is that just like Vampire: the Masquerade and the Monsters! Monsters! RPG, the players do not get to take the roles of heroes doing the right thing. Here they play Goblins, small grovelling goblinoids, scratching out an existence in the very tunnels and catacombs where stalwart heroes of the surface races delve for secrets and treasures… As fractious and as warty as goblins are, they do stand together against such interlopers (except of course, when they might just kick the tribe’s chief off the top step!).

Dark Hold Goblin Adventures is set in the Dark Hold, a valley that was once home to a great Dwarven fortress-dungeon over a mine. Long abandoned, the valley is now home to various goblin tribes, some living in the upper tunnels and workings of the mines, others actually in villages on the surface. Some adventurers venture into the Dark Hold and delve into the tunnels below, but most rarely go further than Trade Town, the town at the exit of the valley where the Goblins go to trade. The goblins themselves are small, dirty, and ornery, but also tenacious, cunning, and stubborn. They also come with oversized noses, fingers, feet, widely varying looks, but always with the ability to see in the dark and eat, enjoy, and digest the inedible. Others have Benign Mutations such as warts that make them tougher to hit, longer noses for sniffing and tracking, and so on. There are some though, that know ‘Crystal Smything’. Such Crystal Mages learn to mine the geodes and then carve them in crystals into which Powers—the equivalent of spells in Savage Worlds—can be implanted until used. ‘Crystal Smything’ is not a perfect science though and crystals can be carved with flaws that cause side effects when tapped to use the Powers implanted in them. These might cause the Crystal Master to become all thumbs, cowardly, pedantic, shrink in size, a megalomaniac, or worse…

Everyone in Dark Hold Goblin Adventures plays a Goblin and takes the same Racial Template. Character creation is otherwise standard for Savage Worlds, though various new Edges are provided, including Benign Mutation, Arcane Background (Crystal Master), Lucky Item (an item that essentially will not break), Disgusting Spew (the goblin can spit acid), and Goblin Leader (re-rolls allow the use of a better die type when spending a Benny). No new skills are added bar the aforementioned Arcane skill of ‘Crystal Smything’ and no new Hindrances. Some ideas are given for character Archetypes as is advice on playing low level characters, but in general the advice on creating Goblin characters is somewhat underwritten. Dark Hold Goblin Adventures includes the one rule change in that critical failures—rolling double ones—on any Trait test always results in a critical failure as it cannot be bought off with a Benny.

In terms of background, the focus is definitely more on the goblins and their gods rather than the area above and below the Dark Hold. In fact, the description of the Dark Hold is quite broadly drawn, specific details often being given in the supplement’s various adventures rather than in the region description.

Several adventures are given in Dark Hold Goblin Adventures, consisting of three full adventures plus eight mini-adventures. The first of the full adventures is the introductory adventure, ‘Who Wants to be an Adventurer?’. This has the chief of their tribe sending the player characters after his cowardly son who has disappeared down some dark and mysterious tunnels. This is a straightforward dungeon crawl, quite nicely detailed, but rather linear. It is followed by ‘Goblin Faire’, which sends the player characters to the annual fair held in the Dark Hold where they can compete for hand of the daughter of the hosting tribal chief in competitions involving belching, flinging cow pats, jousting with hogs, hunting for grubs, and rat races. This offers lots of things for the player characters to do and get involved in, so it seems odd that the scenario includes a plot switch that involves another missing goblin and the need for the player characters to descend into another set of tunnels. This time it is the tribal chief’s daughter that has gone missing, but whereas in ‘Who Wants to be an Adventurer?’ this lead to a linear dungeon crawl, the Game Master is given the flexibility to run the encounters in the order that he wants. The Game Master also has a greater number of NPCs to handle and perhaps a means of handling and tracking the results of the various competitions could have been provided.

The third and final full adventure, ‘Pursuit of the Perfect Pig’, offers much greater variety in terms of things to do, although it is very much a traditional quest-type adventure. One of the tribe has had a vision of a ‘humie’ astride flying, winged pig and since all goblins loving riding pigs, capturing a flying pig would make the player characters’ names. This is a fun adventure, a sneaky mission to get in past Orc guards and workers as well as the mad wizard experimenting with his pigs. It is followed by six short adventures, each just a little too long to be a ‘One Page Adventures’. ‘Temptation’s Lonely Heart’ sends the player characters off to search a newly revealed mountain mining complex in search of a giant crystal; ‘Should We Eat It?’ presents a dilemma—save a Humie baby or have it for tea; and ‘Kitchen Chaos’ requires the player characters to save the tribe’s special soup. In ‘Pig Hunt’, the player characters need to find a pig worthy of riding in the pig jousting competition in the next goblin fair; ‘Tomb Raider Raiders’ sends the player characters off in search of a rumoured magical sword; and in ‘Mushroom March’ the player characters get involved in a cooking competition. The six one-page adventures offers plenty of variety and should offer something different from the similarities between the fuller adventures.

Rounding out Dark Hold Goblin Adventures are three appendices. The first gives a selection of new creatures particular to the Dark Hold, whilst the second lists several new items. The third gives a collection of pre-generated characters, either to use as sample player characters or as NPCs. In general, these showcase what goblin characters should be like better than the archetype suggestions given earlier in the book.

Physically, Dark Hold Goblin Adventures needs another edit. The writing in general good though and the artwork is decent. The issues with underwritten advice for creating characters and the lack of variety between the main adventures are not insurmountable and the appendices and short adventures make up for both with a little effort upon the part of the GM. Get past those issues and what Dark Hold Goblin Adventures presents is a lighter option, comic in tone, and more rough and tumble in comparison to the usual fantasy adventuring fare.