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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole

To get the obvious out of the way, the supplement, Kefitzah Haderech: Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals has absolutely nothing to do with the ‘Kwisatz Haderach’, the Bene Gesserit programme in the Dune series of novels by Frank Herbert to create a male capable of bridging time and space that would inadvertently culminate in the form of Paul Atreides. Although both ‘Kefitzah Hadereach’ and ‘Kwisatz Haderach’ both derive from the same Hebrew phrase, ‘Shortening of the Way’, Kefitzah Haderech: Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals is actually a supplement for the Old School Renaissance which explores and presents ideas on how to use portals to other places in your Dungeons & Dragons-style game. Published by Lost Pages, responsible for the excellent Burgs & Bailiffs fanzine, it is a systems neutral supplement, which means that its contents can be used with most fantasy roleplaying games, although that fantasy is essentially the high fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons.

Kefitzah Haderech: Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals begins by stating what portals are and the role that they play in a game, that is, as plot points. They are a means to ‘cut to the chase’, to get to the next chapter without the need for all that necessary mucking about with time, travel, encounters, and so on. Of course, they also allow connections to be made between distant points in a game world or setting. The supplement quickly runs through the  various types of portal and portal networks, what might be perceived on the other side of a portal, and how much is known about them and how access to them is gained about them. Thus it covers one-way portals and portal relays; how knowing what is on the other side is safer than not; and whether portals are a secret or widely known and part of the world. There is some discussion of the potential dangers in their use for the player characters, but on the whole this feel like a bit of a gallop to get to where the author really wants to go…

Which is to the ‘PORTATRON: Holistic Portal Opening Generator’, which can be best described as the supporting structure to the point of Kefitzah Haderech, which is to present ‘The Infamous d666 Quick Portal Destination Table’. To get there the Referee needs to roll a few dice first, these determining the portal form, the keys—if any—to the portal and their names, and how and where they are constructed. Once done, the Referee can roll on the PORTATRON for what the portal looks like, where it can be found, what makes it unsafe, what makes the key special, and then… The Referee can roll three six-sided dice and so generate any one of over two hundred destinations (in addition to those in his own campaign). So roll the dice or pick an entry and the Referee can send his players to a hidden treasure room via a one way portal; on to the main table at a cannibals’ banquet; or somewhere in deep space, in a halfling village inside a giant flying penguin golem. So almost anywhere and everywhere. At which point, the ‘PORTATRON: Holistic Portal Opening Generator’ becomes an ideas generator for adventures and the Referee has a bit more work to do if he wants to develop the adventure from there...

Rounding out Kefitzah Haderech: Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals is an equivalent of ‘Appendix N’, the section at the rear of the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons devoted to its literary inspirations. In this supplement, ‘Appendix N’ is devoted to inspirations for portal use drawn from computer games, roleplaying games, and other media. It is engaging read to round off the supplement and just like the contents of ‘Appendices N’ contains further entertainment and inspiration for the Referee. Doubtless there are other sources not listed here, but it is a decent start.

Physically, Kefitzah Haderech is a slim, digest-sized paperback. It is very lightly illustrated and although it needs an edit here or there, is decently written. 

Unfortunately, Kefitzah Haderech: Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals feels a little too light. It does not go into as much depth about its subject as said subject deserves, a mere four pages or so before the Referee is expected to get the dice out and start rolling on tables. It feels as if a small article for a magazine has been abutted to the reason for Kefitzah Haderech—the ‘PORTATRON: Holistic Portal Opening Generator’. This sounds like Kefitzah Haderech is a bad supplement, but it is not, it is just that it is a light treatment of it portals and portal travel and it may not have the detail that some Referees might be looking for. Kefitzah Haderech: Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals is a good introduction to the use of portals in fantasy gaming and the ‘PORTATRON: Holistic Portal Opening Generator’ is useful as an adventure generator too.