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

Sunday 3 December 2023

ACE! fun

ACE!—or the Awfully Cheerful Engine!—is a roleplaying game of fast, cinematic, action comedy. Published by EN Publishing, best known for the W.O.I.N. or What’s Old is New roleplaying System, as used in Judge Dredd and the Worlds of 2000 AD and Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition, this is designed to handle anything from ghost hunting in New York to mercenaries operating underground in Los Angeles and everything in between, whether heroic galactic guardians, vampire slayers, or even cartoon animals fighting crime. Beyond being fast, cinematic, action comedy, it is meant to be multi-dimensional time-hopping, genre-mashing in terms of what it can cover, so long as the combination can still be enjoyed with bucket of popcorn and extra-extra-extra-large bucket of whichever coke variant you prefer. The core rules for ACE! are short, just forty pages in length, but a tenth of those are devoted to a long, rambling, and silly introduction by designer Sandy Petersen which will lead you into thinking that he is dead and speaking from beyond the grave. (Fortunately, he is not, but if you want to run a scenario in which he is and the heroes have to rescue him from hell, then ACE! might be a good start.)

A Hero in ACE! has a Role; four Stats—Smarts, Moves, Style, and Brawn—rated between one and five, stats for Defence and Health, and Trait. A Role can be a Talking Animal, another species like an Alien or Goblin or Vampire, a figure out of fantasy such as a Ninja or a Knight, an occupation such an Actor or an Inventor, or a Superhero. A Role provides a special ability, for example, a Kangaroo packs a mighty punch, so inflicts an extra point of damage, whilst a Trait, is a descriptive adjective which primarily serves as a complication, but under the right circumstances, might even be helpful. For example, cynical, Punk Rock, or Vain. To create a Hero, a player divides twelve points between the four stats, adds a Focus—an area of specialisation or expertise—for each Stat, which gives a bonus when using the Focus, and then selects a Role and a Trait. The process is quick and easy.

Name: Dino
Trait/Role: Clumsy Dinosaur Detective
Health: 8 Defence: 9
Karma: 6

Smarts 2 (Perception 4)
Moves 3 (Juggling 5)
Style 2 (Persuasion 4)
Brawn 6 (Brawling 6)

Mechanically, ACE! uses handfuls of six-sided dice. One die is a different colour, the Calamity Die. To have his Hero undertake an action, a player rolls a number of dice equal to the appropriate Stat or Focus. An Easy Target Number is equal to ten or more, Hard twenty or more, Herculean or more, and so on. These rolls are open-ended as rolls of six explode. If a one is rolled on the Calamity Die and the roll is failure, something goes disastrously wrong for the Hero. The nature of the disaster is determined and narrated by the players of the other Heroes, always for comedic effect. Fortunately, every Hero also has a number of Karma points. These can be spent to add an extra die to a roll, reduce the damage suffered by an attack, negate the effect of the Calamity Die, or to instigate a Flashback to reveal a previous event or action which helps the current one.

Combat in ACE! uses the same rules. Initiative is determined by the Moves Stat and mêlée by Brawn, ranged attacks by Moves, unless the Hero has the Brawling Focus or Shooting Focus, respectively. In either case of the latter, the result of the roll has to be equal to or higher than the defendant’s Defence value. Damage ranges in value from one for a punch, two for a club, and three for a pistol to four for a machine gun, and five for a bazooka. Heroes in ACE! do not die, but they can be knocked out.

ACE! also adds rules for magic with the addition of the Power stat. In fact, the Power stat can be magic, psionics, the power of prayer, and so on. It just depends on the type of game being run, but the Power stat can be used to do anything in the game—it just costs a point of Karma per use. There is no list of spells or psionic abilities, but a player can easily come up with ones of his own.

For the Director—as the Game Master is known in ACE!—is given a selection of ready-to-use Extra, from Mooks to specific Extra, like a Dark Lord and a Tyrannosaur. What ACE! does not have is an adventure. Instead, it points to adventures already available, such as ACE #2: Spirits of Manhattan and ACE #3: Montana Drones and the Raiders of the Cutty Sark and presents a list of inspirations. These range from Ghostbusters, Dangermouse, and Guardians of the Galaxy to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Star Trek, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course, ACE! is itself inspired by the Ghostbusters roleplaying published by West End Games in 1986 and the publisher’s own W.O.I.N. or What’s Old is New roleplaying system.

Physically, ACE! is cleanly presented with lots of colour artwork. If there is anything to grumble about ACE!, it is perhaps the lack of an opposite to the Calamity Die. So, either a Hero can succeed, fail, or fail catastrophically, but cannot succeed with elan or great success. The most obvious would be to have a roll of six on the Calamity Die count as this if the roll succeeds or if a certain threshold above the Target Number is rolled. This though will be down to the Director rather than the rules.

ACE! is lightly written and designed. It is easy to pick up and play, and it wears its inspirations on its sleeves or rather, in its Roles. Whether Ghost, Druid, Archaeologist, Con Artist, or Stuntman, ACE! draws on a lot of genre sources for the types of Heroes that the players can roleplay, each one pointing to one or more films, comics, or television series. The lack of dramatic success in the mechanics means that it cannot necessarily be as cinematic as perhaps it wants to be, but the Flashback option for Karma use adds a fun storytelling option and the rules for magic or Power are pleasingly open and flexible, but without being overpowerful. ACE!—or the Awfully Cheerful Engine!—is just that, an awfully cheerful, light system that is easy to pick up and play whether inspired by a particular film or setting or mashing their genres together.

5 Rooms Good, Four-Fifths Bad

So, the first room presents a challenge, such as trapped or hidden entrance or is protected by a guardian placed to keep intruders out. The second room contains a puzzle or roleplaying challenge, like a chessboard puzzle across the whole floor or dirt floor filled with snakes. In the third room, the Player Characters will face a trick or a setback, which might be a one-way exit or a collapsed ceiling or the means to defeat the villain, but which is broken or has parts missing. The climax comes in the fourth room, when the Player Characters are forced into a battle or a conflict, for example, a villain already alerted to the progress in the previous rooms, a villain who offers to settle the dispute with a wager, a duel, or a villain who threatens to break the very item that they have come to get. Then at last, in the fifth, and last, room, the Player Characters gain their reward, are given a revelation, or come upon a plot twist, which could be another guardian in the chest of treasure, that the whole series of rooms have been set up to further another villain’s plot, or that the villain turns out to be the mother of a Player Character. This is the set-up for the ‘5 Room Dungeon’.

As explored in The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons, the idea behind the concept of ‘5 Room Dungeon’ is that they can be slotted into any location and their short length means that they quick to run, quick to create, easy to move around in an actual dungeon, and easy to integrate into an existing dungeon. All this as opposed to the classic megadungeon, which takes a great of planning and design, months if not years to run and play, and is not as flexible or as easy to integrate. The ‘5 Room Dungeon’ can played through in a single session and together, offer a complete adventure and dungeon, but one very much in miniature, both in terms of time and design. Published by Roleplaying Tips Publishing, The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons is a guide to the concept of the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ and more. It takes the format of ‘Entrance And Guardian, Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge, Red Herring, Climax, and Plot Twist’ and applies it to other genres, like the horror genre and running battles, it adds in further tools, whilst also adding new ones. The basic book does with a few examples of a ‘5 Room Dungeon’, some as worked through examples, others as ready-to-play examples. Then it goes one step further. It gives examples. Even more examples. Reader submitted examples. Eighty-seven of them. Really. Eighty-seven of them. The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons is three-hundred-and-sixteen pages long. Two-hundred-and-fifty-five pages of that consists of sample ‘5 Room Dungeons’. Two-fifths or eighty percent of the book.

In some ways, the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ format is reminiscent of the short dungeon encounters that appeared in the pages of magazines and fanzines, independent of their origins and flexible enough that that they could dropped into the pages of the Dungeon Master’s own dungeon. The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons goes beyond that to use the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ format as not just as dungeon-specific, but an encounter format. The Player Characters need to get into a nightclub to steal some evidence? That can be a ‘5 Room Dungeon’. Want to have the Player Characters engage in a mass, but not necessarily be aware of the whole picture? That can be a ‘5 Room Dungeon’. Want to run a short horror adventure? That can be a ‘5 Room Dungeon’. The author’s methods and advice builds from this, adding Game Master moves such as effects and feedback/counteraction loops, which a fan has taken used to present the Mines of Moria encounter in The Lord of the Rings as inspired by inspired by Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It is a lovely bit of interaction between the author and one of his patrons and it is one of the best examples of the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ format presented in the book.

The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons also includes advice on making encounters intense, avoiding the TPK or ‘Total Party Kill’, how to work secrets into campaign and their effects, using spikes of danger to add a sense of threat and thrill to a scenario, to add features to a dungeon and develop ideas around them, and more. All of it presented in a short punchy style befitting its origins as a series of blog posts, which makes it easy to read and digest. There are lots of ideas and lots of good advice, the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ core format fundamentally serving as a design framework as much as a constraint to help the Game Master focus upon what she needs. Of course, what The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons does not do is step back from the format to look at its use in the wider framework of a Game Master’s campaign. Nor are the limitations of the format fully explored, the primary possibility being that the format could become too limiting in the long term or too familiar. Nevertheless, the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ format is a good starting for the Game Master and useful tool to have.

Unfortunately, the book takes a nosedive in quality, if not quantity, when it comes to the examples. The eighty-seven varies widely in terms of length, from half a page to five pages. There are pirate treasures to be discovered, delves to be made on a drowned realm, a haunted house to explore, and tombs aplenty to be plundered—and a whole lot more. The problem is none of them are edited, none are given stats, and the longer ones are often so overwritten as to be unreadable. Wading through the morass of raw text to get to the good ones is a disappointingly dispiriting challenge in its own right. There is nothing wrong with reader-submitted or inspired content, but the author has done nothing to curate them or even organise them, so that in the printed version, their use is severely hampered because there is index or categorisation. Consequently, the Game Master has to read all eighty-seven to not just find the good ones, but to find out what their themes and ideas are, so that she can take ones she wants to use because they fit her campaign or she needs one to quickly prepare a scenario for the next session. This is slightly less of an issue in the PDF because that can be searched through, but nevertheless, the utility factor of the eighty-seven worked examples never arises from being a hard slog.

Arguably, what The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons should have done or would have been better, is if the author had curated the examples or even run a competition to present the best of them in this book. Or even included the eighty-seven in a book of their own rather than in The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons, which would have given space for the author to present several (ideally five), fully worked, fully explained as to why he included this or that and why it fits the ‘5 Room Dungeon’ format, that put his ideas—and his ideas alone—into practice. That would have made the book shorter, infinitely more useful, Game Master friendly, and so much easier to use.

Physically, The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons is punchily presented in its first sixty as befitting its origins as a series of blog posts. The remaining two-hundred-and-fifty-five pages are unreadable, unprofessional, and unbearably uncurated and undeveloped.

There is no denying that The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons is full of good advice designed to help the Game Master create an exciting encounter for her players. The book shows how that advice and its format can be used and applied to different genres and situations, from the dungeon to the battlefield, and that is all good. However, The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons is poorly supported, even burdened, by the content and examples that it has chosen to showcase its ideas. Given that four-fifths of the book is so poorly presented, it begs the question, is The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons actually worth it? Well, yes and no. As a free PDF, available to download from the publisher’s website, of course. As a PDF to purchase, possibly. As a printed book? Definitely not. Ultimately, the Game Master will get some good advice and ideas on how to write and prepare quicker dungeons and encounters with The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons, but has to weigh that against being given a deluge of raw ideas whose utility is negligible.

Saturday 2 December 2023

Community & Consequences

Deep in the water-logged, sodden neighbourhood of Mire End comes word of a crime so bad that it transcends the criminality rife throughout its streets and alleys. A crime that has the potential to arise the ire of the community which is indebted to and reliant on the ‘services’ provided by the Hohler Gang and its affiliates, which both runs crime throughout the neighbourhood and taxes everyone by collecting protection money. Mire End is notoriously poor, damp, and forgotten, left to rot by The City and the neighbouring Three Canals Metropolitan Authority, the latter possessing relative wealth and the drainage system that Mire End lacks. The crime is child slavery. Granny Nicely is rumoured to be abducting children and putting them to work, if not necessarily with the tacit support of the Hohler Gang, then at least with its leaders looking in the other direction whilst taking her protection money. If the Hohler Gang will nothing, then it falls to the Troublemakers, the community activists who want to make the streets, alleys, and homes of Mire End better for its inhabitants. This is the set-up for Nicely, Done, a short scenario for A|State, Second Edition, published by Handiwork Games.

A|State, Second Edition is a roleplaying game of community and conflict, set in The City, a metropolis of baroque, dystopian Dickensian contrasts, between rich and poor, high and low technology, law and order and crime, and so on. The Troublemakers—the Player Characters—are members of a community who banded together to form an Alliance, staking out a Corner and working to protect and improve the Corner and its surrounding community that they call home. In the process, they will travel across The City, further than any other members of their community, discover secrets, and more importantly, in returning to the Corner, bring usually unwanted attention upon themselves and their community, and accrue trouble. The Corner itself is not predefined, but created collectively during the roleplaying game’s set-up process and through play, the players and their Troublemakers can expand and upgrade its features in ways which grant them further benefits whilst also having to protect the newly added Claims.

Nicely, Done is, in fact, a very short scenario or mission for A|State, Second Edition. It is designed to be played in an hour or two and in the process, both showcase the roleplaying game’s mechanics and how the roleplaying game is played. It comes with four pre-generated Troubleshooters who make up an Alliance in Mire End. These are an Activist, a Ghostfighter, a Lostfinder, and a Sneakthief, the Ghostfighter and the Lostfinder being signature Player Character types in A|State, Second Edition. They are also paired so that the four Troubleshooters and their players can take advantage of the roleplaying game’s Trust benefits. Nicely, Done is designed to be played in three stages. In the first, the Troubleshooters will roleplay and roll to gather information, and then in the second, decide what their plan is, either assault, deception, stealth, or social. The third stage consists of playing out the mission itself. Full details of Granny Nicely’s tenement workshop and its occupants are given, including the details for her, her thugs, the leader and members of a Hohler-affiliated gang, and the Mob, with illustrations of each. There is also a really nicely done map of Granny Nicely’s tenement workshop. However, it is the Mob that is important here. This represents the reaction of the wider community to the news that Granny Nicely is abducting children and forcing them to work for her, and its anger and response is measured by a clock. Tick off all six segments of the clock and the Mob will attempt to do what the Troublemakers have failed to do, which is to rescue the children and deal with Granny Nicely, though with rotten consequences. The clock for the Mob is both a timing and a narrative mechanism, but it is not the only clock in Nicely, Done. There are two or three others which can come into play depending upon the actions of the Troublemakers.

Besides the Mission and engagement of the Troublemakers and their players, Nicely, Done suggests possible consequences and ways in which the scenario can be expanded. Here is where Nicely, Done disappoints. The conclusion consists of a single paragraph and the three possible consequences run to a line or two each. Even in a scenario as short as Nicely, Done, both conclusion and possible expansions are very short. It leaves the Game Master with a lot to do. The other issue with Nicely, Done is that it does not include the community building aspect of A|State, Second Edition, the staking of Claims to expand the Troubleshooters’ community out from their initial Claim for their Corner. However, there are new rules for involving guns and the consequences of doing so, and for Trust, Care, and Noise and Attention and their consequences.

Physically, Nicely, Done is very well presented. The artwork is excellent, the writing decent, and the map nicely done. In particular, the artwork is given space to breath, the first ten or so pages of Nicely, Done being dedicated to showcasing the artwork and introduce The City. That said, none of it is new artwork, all of it has come from the core rulebook for A|State, Second Edition.

Nicely, Done is bit of an odd product. It is too short to be a full scenario and it does not have an explanation of the Trouble Engine used in A|State, Second Edition for Nicely, Done to be considered a quick-start. It is more of a demonstration scenario for the Game Master who already knows the rules to A|State, Second Edition to run the game or a scenario which the Game Master can add to her own campaign. Ultimately, Nicely, Done is a decent little scenario, but it does leave you wanting more.

[Free RPG Day 2023] A Taste of the Moon

Now in its sixteenth year, Free RPG Day for 2023 took place on Saturday, June 24th. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3, Fil Baldowski at All Rolled Up, and others, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.


A Taste of the Moon is a story for Vampire: The Masquerade, Fifth Edition suitable for a coterie of four to six neonate Anarchs. It is the second title to be released for Free RPG Day by Renegade Game Studios after Cobra/Con Fusion for use with its G.I. JOE Roleplaying Game and its Transformers Roleplaying Game. It can be played through in a single session as a one-shot or worked into the Storyteller’s own chronicle. It is set in a city large enough to have had a meat-packing district, nominally an American one—but could easily be adjusted to the city of the Storyteller’s choice, whether that is in the USA or elsewhere. The scenario requires some set-up in determining the Sires of the particular Player Characters, but beyond that, nothing extra is required other normal preparation upon the part of the Storyteller. The core rules for Vampire: The Masquerade, Fifth Edition are required to play A Taste of the Moon.

A Taste of the Moon opens en media res. The Player Characters are together, waking to find themselves in a night club, the Velveteen Bunny, felling slightly strung out, the body of a ghoul in the same room with them. Did one of them kill the ghoul? Well yes, and which of their vampires exactly it was, is for the players to decide between themselves. Worse, the ghoul belonged to the sire of one of the Player Characters, so they have to go before the sire and seek absolution. The sire will forgive them in return undertaking a task for him, and that is finding samples of Cherry Moon, a new type of blood that does not spoil and gives the imbiber a fantastic rush. Blood spoils a few hours after being drawn from the source, so having a type which does not is huge advantage. The investigation will lead the Player Characters back to the scene of their crime, the Velveteen Bunny. The problem is that finding a source is difficult, but finding the actual source is a whole lot more difficult.

A Taste of the Moon is primarily set-up. There is good advice on how to set the scenario up and how to use it in play, and there is not one opening scene, but several. There are four alternate opening scenes which could be used instead of the given one, plus there are hooks which the Storyteller can develop if she wants to use the scenario as part of her Chronicle. These are followed by numerable complications, ranging from the various Player Characters’ sire wanting a sample of Cherry Moon, and as word spreads of the Player Characters’ interest, more and more local Kindred come out of the woodwork wanting some too. With the addition of a complication or three and a handful of further adventures, along with the stats for the antagonists, and what A Taste of the Moon actually is, is a toolkit to run the adventure. The plot kept short and simple, a couple of locations are described, and the bulk of the text is dedicated to NPCs that the Player Characters will run into and have to deal with as their investigation proceeds.

Rounding out A Taste of the Moon is the coterie of pre-generated Player Characters. There are six, a mix of thirteenth and twelfth generation vampires, consisting of two Brujah, a Caitiff, a Malkavian, a Gangrel, and a Toreador. Unfortunately, this is where A Taste of the Moon is disappointing. There are points where the dots in a Player Character’s skills does not match his description. For example, Melika Red is described as charming and brutally honest, but has no Persuasion skill and does have the Subterfuge skill. Then she has a single level in Presence, but it is attached to ‘Lingering Kiss’, a power not available at just the single level. Cassandra Barrantes has the roleplay hook of “Use Obfuscate to leave an awkward situation you don’t want to be part of.” but no dots in Obfuscate. The problem is that the mechanical design of the characters has been rushed and so they are full of inaccuracies. Now, this is not difficult for the Storyteller to fix—indeed, Renegade Games Studies has done exactly that with the PDF version of the scenario—but she should not have to. 

Physically, A Taste of the Moon is well presented. It is clean, bright, and tidy. The artwork is excellent. Barring the issues with the pre-generated Player Characters, A Taste of the Moon is a good set-up for a scenario—in fact, several good set-ups for a scenario—which are followed through with the plot. Once past the set-up, the plot itself is quite straightforward. Overall, A Taste of the Moon is solid support for Vampire: The Masquerade, Fifth Edition.

Friday 1 December 2023

The Other OSR: Operation S.A.N.T.A.

Traditionally, roleplaying scenarios involving Christmas have the Player Characters doing one of two things. Either Santa is unable to complete his round the world trip and cannot deliver of the presents to boys and girls everywhere, so the Player Characters have to complete the task for him, or Santa’s grotto is under attack or he has been kidnapped, probably by the Elfish Workers’ Collective or decidedly non-Christmassy Trolls, and so the Player Characters have to go and save him. In the process, the Player Characters save Christmas and everyone is happy. Which is boring and a cliché and does not exactly reflect that sometimes Christmas is not always as good everyone hopes and sometimes it is even rotten. So, for a change, why not have a Christmas roleplaying scenario is also rotten and horrible? Why not make Father Christmas the evil for change? Why not run Operation S.A.N.T.A., an anti-festive scenario in a world where it turns out that Santa is a horrible tentacled alien who has turned the North Pole—technically Greenland—into a dystopian, nuclear waste spoiled horror-land, Polar Bears are still grumpy and hungry, but Penguins turn out to be anarchists able to talk and use tools, the latter very badly. Operation S.A.N.T.A. is not going to ruin Christmas for you, but it might make you appreciate the one you are going to have, because it serves up the worst December the twenty-fifth that you can imagine.

Operation S.A.N.T.A.
—or the Strategic Annihilation of a Nefarious Tentacled Alien—is published by Beyond Cataclysm following a successful Kickstarter campaign, and includes stats for use with two different, Old School Renaissance adjacent roleplaying games. One is Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing. The other is Troika!, the Science Fantasy roleplaying game of baroque weirdness published by the Melsonian Arts Council. That said, the technical nature of the setting means that it would work better with Troika! rather than with Mörk Borg, but the tone of Mörk Borg fits Operation S.A.N.T.A. better than Troika! does. That said, Operation S.A.N.T.A. is easily adapted to the roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice.

At the top of the world and thus at the heart of the scenario sits Rødt-På-Hvidt, an alien tentacled being, all red and white—or rather red on white—which crashed to Earth in Gertrud Rask Land, the very northern-most tip of Greenland. Its exact plans are unknown, but it has twisted both the land and all those who enter the region where it holds sway. Thus, has arisen the legends of the Elves in red and white with thin stature and pointed ears, but that is the least of their mutations. Aerial reconnaissance has revealed bear patches of rock, free of the ice, clouds of toxic mist, zones of unexpected life in the arctic region, and deep pools of liquid radiation. Few stand against Rødt-På-Hvidt, who continues his experiments unhindered, his ‘Elves’ loyal and his ‘E.E.’ Elite Elves troop ready to defend the strange patch of land that is his. The Polar bears might snap and claw at the Elves if they could, for they hate Rødt-På-Hvidt, but only slightly more than they hate everything else. The Penguins would bring down Rødt-På-Hvidt immediately, were it not for the fact that every action needs a mandate of the masses and so vote on anything and everything, and they are too busy putting up subversive posters and developing an amazing array of fish-flavoured ice cream. Then of course, there is the United Nations, which would like something done about the region, so it might suggest that Canada or the USA investigate…

Operation S.A.N.T.A. suggests reasons why the Player Character might have come to Gertrud Rask Land and how and why they got there, but suggests that the players develop these in play too. The majority of the scenario is dedicated to describing the locations of the region, from the Polar Bear Compound and the Elfanage to the Power Plant and Santa’s Grotto Lair. Each is given a page or two of detail and a colour illustration or map which neatly depicts the location. The locations are presented with a minimal of fuss, enough for the Game Master to bring into play, but still leaving plenty of room to add or create content of her own. The monsters are given similar space, if not more, to help them come to life, especially the Elves and their mutations. Included alongside that are the Nisse, mythological creatures from Nordic folklore associated with the winter solstice and Christmas. These can replace the Elves already in the scenario or even be included alongside them if the Game Master wants to add an element of factionalism to the play of Operation S.A.N.T.A.

Physically, Operation S.A.N.T.A. is presented in big bold colour. Suitable then for a Christmas celebration, but not one of jollity and joy. Operation S.A.N.T.A. twists the annual festivities into a journey into the unknown, to face anarchy in the Arctic and horror for the holiday, but not in the traditional way. Operation S.A.N.T.A. serves up a scenario that is as poisonous as Christmas can be, fouls the festivities, and could just make Christmas an utter catastrophe. 


YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE manages to be both fantastic and a failure. Fantastic because it describes an intriguing setting that begs to be played and explored, whilst being very rules light, but a failure because it never once tells you what it is and it cannot do this this because it does not know itself. However, this does not mean that it cannot used to create and run an exciting mini-campaign aboard its massive floating garbage scow, but to do that, the Game Master will need to do something that the authors of YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE fail to do. Which is to pull back, look at it as a whole, decide whether it is a sandcrawl (trashcrawl?) with factions, locations, and motivations, or more focused with locations and location adventures. As written, it is mix of both, which clash not only together, but also with the higgledy-piggledy mix of ideas from different contributors. Another issue is the format, which is that of a fanzine. YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE was published via Kickstarter campaign as part of ZineQuest #2, but make no mistake it is not fanzine. At least not in the traditional sense. YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is a setting supplement using the fanzine format, an increasingly regular outcome as the ZineQuest events progressed from year to year. Effectively, YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE has all the messiness and sensibility of a fanzine when what its content called for was something less than an amateur approach to its design and detail.

The problems with
YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE start with the cover and continue with the first page. Nowhere does YYOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE clearly state what it is. Not on the cover and not inside the book on the first page or any page. Literally, you pick this up and you have no idea what you hold in your hand. There is no doubt that you will be intrigued enough by both cover and the title to ask, “What is this?” Unfortunately, it is a question left unanswered in an unforgiveable failure of design, a failure that goes right back to the lack of overview upon the part of the creators. The point is, it is the role of the players and their characters to discover what YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is through play, not that of the Game Master.

So, the question is, what is
YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE? It is a setting which describes a floating sandbox, a massive trash scow which grinds its way up and down the coast years, heaving into the harbours of towns and cities to collect their rubbish and unwanted gubbins in return for gas to keep the garbage barge’s tugboats running and other supplies, whilst also letting the workers aboard come ashore. The garbage barge could be one of the biggest things afloat, but it is definitely the unloveliest, a towering, leaking wreck, ready to take a town’s unwanted items, whether they are dangerous, embarrassing, or even on fire. It is also a source of employment and the garbage barge is always looking for new employees. Once aboard, they will be responsible for handling and ensuring the safety of the trash collected and helping to keep the garbage barge afloat. What they will discover is weird and wonderful and wretched. Rusting barrels of chemicals which grow legs and go off to seek their fortune as they leach their contents. Talking possums, raccoons, beetles, the latter always ready to tell their life stories—never more than a year long! Baroque pearls to be dived in the oil-slick bilge waters of the garbage barge. A gas lake that threatens to explode and destroy the whole garbage barge. A whole town on fire. The workers will stay in the company town aboard the garbage barge and buy from the company stores, such as a dried fish with living eyes which can be swallowed to be able to breath water for an hour. At the end of the hour, it is vomited up and the user has to catch it so he can use it again! Animal sentinels such as ‘Gentle’, a rat who communicates through expressive shrugs, can be rented and will warn workers of bad air, damps—dangerous mists, and pressure changes. Workers can return from a day’s labour with scrap and barter with it at Kat’s Salvage Armoury—a workshop in a scrapyard in a junkyard on a garbage barge—for rickety devices or even upgrades to devices they already have. Copper mask wizards meet and lurk on the garbage barge, hiding their thefts of beloved objects until they have been forgotten and can be destroyed for the psychological backfire to fuel their magic. ‘Speaking Bettas’, large, floating, and telekinetic floating fish pop out of nowhere much to their chagrin and disdain.

YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE includes two scenarios. The first is ‘Your First Job Is To Keep The Gas Lake From Exploding’, in which the Player Characters are directed to the gas lake—a combination of damned river and drowned slime mould—where they must vent some of the gas before it explodes. It is a great set-up, combining a great set-up with the garbage barge’s pervading sense of industrialisation and decay, and initiating the Player Characters into the weirdness of the garbage barge. Unfortunately, the presentation is not as clear as it could be in terms of the maps and how they relate to each other and how the various aspects of the scenario connect to each other. Much like the fanzine as a whole, it does not pull back to provide an overview and connect everything for the benefit of the Game Master. Worse, it gives the Player Characters a major task to complete, but does not define exactly what they have to do, especially in mechanical terms. Part of this is due to the general lack of mechanics in YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE, but the tasks themselves and their difficulties could have been at least described.

The second adventure is ‘You’re Going On A Trash Dive’. This sets out to find out just how much trash there is aboard the garbage barge and find out just how deep that trash goes. Not so much Journey to the Centre of the Earth as ‘Journey to the Centre of the Garbage Barge’, this is much more coherent affair, with some excellent NPCs, some of whom have other plans for Scoopin’ Jenny, the giant drilling machine. It is also a much weirder adventure in tone than the previous adventure, verging on cosmic horror and veering into obsessive monster hunting a la Moby Dick, though with an ÜBËRGÖÄT rather than a whale. However, the scenario has the potential to underplay the cosmic horror angle very nicely. This is a much better presented and easy to understand scenario, but it pulls strongly away from the tone of the

Rounding out
YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE are a series of tables which randomly determine the smells around the Player Characters, whilst also adding a new Bard College, the Scent Skald, which uses smells to power and target his magic. Other tables provide random items of trash, and of course, encounters aboard the garbage barge. The back cover blurb consists of a Trash Shanty with which the Game Master can either torment or entertain her players—if not both. The tables are great and add a lot of atmosphere, and are just one more thing to like about YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE, whether it is map, Kat’s Salvage Armoury, the talking animals, and the general tone of the setting.

YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is also a problem. Whether it is the inclusion of a radio mast or go-kart, YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is not a traditional fantasy setting. It is a technologically advanced setting, more akin to the early twentieth-century than the traditional medievalism of the Old School Renaissance. Consequently, a roleplaying game with those elements already present would work better, such as Into the Odd or Electric Bastionland. YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE does use the mechanics of the Old School Renaissance, but adapting them or writing your own, would not be too challenging for the Game Master.

YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is a mess. It dives straight into describing parts of the garbage barge without describing what the garbage barge actually is and just keeps that up, more or less, from beginning to end. It is also table-intensive, including one with multiple fount sizes and formats that is eye-wateringly terrible. The artwork is not necessarily great, but it fits the setting of the garbage barge.

YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is an almost incoherent mess. Any prospective Game Master is going to have pull its contents apart to find out how they work and work together, before putting it all back together herself in a fashion that will work for her game and her players. And that is what YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE needs. To be pulled apart, to be put back together, to include an overview of what it is, to decide what it is, to present its contents in a way that is easier and more immediate in its use. And again, the content of YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE is not unplayable and there is nothing to stop a Game Master and her players from getting great gaming experiences from that content, but too many times YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE fails to facilitate that. YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE undoubtedly deserves a second edition and developing into what could be a great supplement. Right now, it remains a not entirely incoherent beta.

Monday 27 November 2023

Jonstown Jottings #86: The Bandit Den

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 Glorantha, 13th 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.


What is it?
The Bandit Den is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which presents a simple, straightforward plot outline that the Game Master can run and prepare for a single session’s worth of play.

It is a two page, full colour 367.16 KB PDF.

The layout is tidy, the artwork rough, but serviceable.

The scenario is can be easily be adapted to the rules system of the Game Master’s choice.

The scenario requires some scaling to match its threat to the number of Player Characters.

Where is it set?
As written, The Bandit Den takes in Hiording lands, but starts in Apple Lane. It takes place after the Dragonrise.

Who do you play?
The Bandit Den does not require any specific character type, but warriors of any kind are highly recommended.

What do you need?
The Bandit Den requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha whilst the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack will be useful if the scenario is set near Apple Lane.

What do you get?
The Bandit Den is a simple strike mission. The merchant Irella Goldfoot has been ‘taxed’ once too often and vows revenge. Consequently, she hires the Player Characters (or if this is played in Apple Lane, appeals to the Thane) to deal with the problem. A Divination reveals the location the bandit hideout, an abandoned hunting lodge. The scenario begins there, with the Player Characters attempting to get into the tumbledown building and attack the bandits. Their access is complicated by a couple of traps outside, but once inside, this a standup fight, either to the death or until the bandits, a desperate, sorry lot, surrender.

The scenario includes a map of the hunting lodge, complete with ‘sad furniture’, a set of stats to adjust match the Player Characters, and a little treasure. It is very easy to prepare and can be run in a single session. However, it is not an original scenario and the Game Master could easily come up with something similar of her own without any difficulty.

It does bear superficial resemblance to Jorthan’s Rescue Redux. However, The Bandit Den benefits from being vastly shorter, much simpler, and far easier to prepare, as well as having a shorter running time.

More scenarios in this format this would be a welcome addition to the
the Jonstown Compendium, but perhaps not as simple in terms of plot.

Is it worth your time?
YesThe Bandit Den is a short and simple, easy to prepare, and there for when a group is a few players short or the Game Master needs a scenario idea in a hurry.
NoThe Bandit Den is nothing that the Game Master cannot create on her own.
MaybeThe Bandit Den might be good to hold in reserve, but it really does not provide anything more special than a filler scenario.