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

Friday, 3 July 2020

Jonstown Jottings #23: Petty Spirits

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 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?
Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits presents four minor spirits for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eight-page, full colour, 911.74 KB PDF.

Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits is well presented and decently written.

Where is it set?
The four petty spirits may be found almost anywhere in Dragon Pass, although some may not be found in the Praxian Wastes.

Who do you play?
Shamans, farmers, and redsmiths will be interested in some of these spirits.

What do you need?
Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits requires both RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary

What do you get?
Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits presents four different, minor spirits which can annoy, interact with, or even be used by the Player Characters. The four are Bronzebiters, Lily’s Eyes,Premonitions, and Seed-Eaters. Each is broken down to cover its ecology and both superstitions and rites related to it, as well as stats.

Bronzebiters are red mouths with black teeth which devour the bones of Air and Storm gods—or bronze. When they attack bronze, it appears pitted and discoloured, or diseased. They are a nuisance, but also a warning to oil, polish, and maintain a weapon. They cannot enter a space sacred to Gustbran, the god of redsmiths, and Praxian shamans will bind them and send them against enemy tribes.

Lily’s Eye spirits are flowers with tiny eyes which grow in the Spirit World before they manifest and grow in the Middle Realm—especially in wild, fertile areas. Oddly, Aldryami consider them to be spies, as do Orlanthi. Lily’s Eye spirits can be plucked, their magical properties being highly valued by shamans and alchemists.

Premonitions are manifestations of the Movement Rune which carry a glimpse of the future from the far Outer Regions of the Spirit World, where boundaries grow vague, and Eternity draws near.

Seed-Eaters are small rural Darkness spirits with long snouts used to rummage through the furrow of plowed fields, plucking up and eating seeds. They like spiritual foods linked to Chaos—strife, disease, and hate. Despite this, they are associated with Mallia, the Goddess of Disease.

On one level, these are four inconsequential spirits which the heroes should not be bothering themselves with, but on another there is scope with each one to add flavour or detail to an adventure or scenario. The presence of Seed-Eaters might suggest the influence of Mallia and thus work as a clue, but the passing of the seasons could be indicated by the annual ceremony to win their favour. Similarly, Red Mouths might be a simple annoyance, but perhaps be the indication of an attack by the shaman from a rival tribe. 

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits gives the Game Master four interesting spirits that can be used to add small, flavoursome details, and serve as clues, challenges, and so on.
No. Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits consists of details too small to really bother about—especially if the Player Characters lack a shaman.
Maybe. Monster of the Month #6: Petty Spirits are mostly colour, mostly the small details, and some of the four are easier to use than others. 

Friday Fantasy: The Feast on Titanhead

Somewhere on the far reaches of Europe’s north, high amidst its snow-covered mountains lies the Dorag Passage. Recently, a scientific expedition consisting of botanical cataloguers, geographers, geologists, and even a noted alchemist, led by Hastik Melmark, headed into the region. It has been weeks, even months since the expedition has been heard of, and perhaps there are rumours of nightmares and hysteria plaguing the sparsely settled regions near the Dorag Passage. Does the expedition need rescuing or simply checking upon? Is there any truth to the rumours? Perhaps the Player Characters are employed to conduct that check or need to find Hastik Melmark—or another member of the expedition—for reasons of their own. This is the set-up for The Feast on Titanhead, a weird-fantasy, Lovecraftian-tinged scenario of body horror which echoes Death Frost Doom by way of The Thing From Another World. It is also a heavy-metal, grind-core interpretation of the Manifestus Omnivorous.

Published by Games Omnivorous, The Feast on Titanhead is a system agnostic scenario of fantasy horror which would work with any number of Old School Renaissance retroclones. The most obvious one is Lamentations of the Flame Weird Fantasy Roleplay, another is the publisher’s own 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, but with some adjustment it would work with Cthulhu by Gaslight or a darker toned version of Leagues of Gothic Horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration  and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age!. Take it away from its European setting and The Feast on Titanhead would work well with Mörk Borg as they share a similar tone and sensibility. Notably though it adheres to the Manifestus Omnivorous, the ten points of which are:
  1. All books are adventures.
  2. The adventures must be system agnostic.
  3. The adventures must take place on Earth.
  4. The adventures can only have one location.
  5. The adventures can only have one monster.
  6. The adventures must include saprophagy or osteophagy.
  7. The adventures must include a voracious eater.
  8. The adventures must have less than 6,666 words.
  9. The adventures can only be in two colours.
  10. The adventures cannot have good taste. (This is the lost rule.)

So yes, The Feast on Titanhead adheres to all ten rules. It is an adventure, it is system agnostic, it takes place on Earth, it has one location, it has the one monster (the others are extensions of it), it includes Osteophagy—the practice of animals, usually herbivores, consuming bones, it involves a voracious eater, the word count is not high—the scenario only runs to twenty-eight pages, and it is presented in two colours—in this case, black and grey. Lastly, The Feast on Titanhead does lack good taste. Be warned, this scenario is one of gut churning—in some cases, literally—horror, bodily fluids, and madness. To that end, the scenario includes a sense of ‘Contagious Pyschosis’, a fairly brutal countdown and timing mechanism which drives the Player Characters into insanity and the maw of the monster at the heart of the scenario. This is quite a blunt mechanic and if the roleplaying mechanics that the Game Master is running The Feast on Titanhead with has sanity or madness mechanics of its own, she may want to substitute those instead of using the ones given.

The play of The Feast on Titanhead is actually quite straightforward. The Player Characters will ascend to and Dorag Passage, and after a nasty encounter with weirdly behaving beasts of burden, they descend into a series of passages and rooms uncovered by Hastik Melmark’s expedition. Here in a strange, horridly fetid and organically bloody complex they are likely encounter the former members of the expedition, their possessions, signs of madness, odd energy, and vomit-inducing monsters. The encounters get odder the deeper they penetrate into the complex until they get to the centre of the complex and the scenario, where they can confront the inhuman force behind what is going on. That is, if they get there. Although The Feast on Titanhead presents two options in terms of motivation for the Player Characters to get to the adventuring location, but once inside, there is a dearth of clues or hooks for them to find which would drive them onwards and pull deeper into the complex—though there is the possibility that a Player Character could be snapped up and taken there already, hopefully motivating to rescue them. Balanced against this is the scenario’s weirdness and its ‘Contagious Pyschosis’ which may actually drive the Player Characters to flee before they learn anything.

Much of the problem in The Feast on Titanhead is that it only names three NPCs. Two are members of the expedition, one being Hastik Melmark, whilst the third is a treasure hunter. The latter is left up to the Game Master to develop and decide what he is going to do and how he reacts with the Player Characters—the advice being rather slight. Of the expedition, there is relatively little sign, no real clues as to what they discovered, and so the Player Characters never quite have anyone to actually care about or emphasise with. Ultimately, the Player Characters will only actually learn or gain hints as to what is going on if they penetrate into the complex’s furthest reaches and defeat the monster at its core—and that is a difficult prospect.

Physically, The Feast on Titanhead is a black and grey book a sperate card cover. The map is on the inside of the card cover and the internal illustrations reflect the heavy-metal, grind-core interpretation of the Manifestus Omnivorous manifesto. It needs a slight edit in places, but is overall quite a sturdy product, being done on heavy paper and card stock.

The Feast on Titanhead is short and brutal, it being possible to play through the scenario—and win or lose (even if they survive)—in a single session. It needs fleshing out somewhat in terms of Player Character motivation and drive to delve deeper, and if played as part of a campaign, any failure upon their part—again, if they survive—may have a profound effect upon the future of that campaign. In need of some development upon the part of the Game Master, The Feast on Titanhead probably works best as a heavy-metal, grind-core, bloody body horror grindhouse style one-shot.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Miskatonic Monday #41: A Wealth of Knowledge

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.


Name: A Wealth of Knowledge

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Leith Brownlee
Setting: 1930s Miskatonic University 

Product: Scenario
What You Get: 1.22 MB eighteen-page, full-colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: Somethings have a greater thirst for knowledge than you do. 
Plot Hook: When your need to find a book to pass an exam is greater then worrying about missing students and academia, are your priorities straight?
Plot Development: An impending examination, a better stocked new library, missing friends, an all too friendly librarian, and a deadly book depository.
Plot Support: A tight plot and a new Old One.


Easy to adapt to other periods
# Easy to set in Lovecraft Country
# Easy to add to a Miskatonic University campaign
# Straightforward plot 

Forewarns the danger of reading too much

Linear plot
# Needs a better edit
# No maps
# No illustrations
# No NPC write-ups
# Underdeveloped plot

# Easy to adapt to other settings
# Possible addition to a Miskatonic University campaign
Underdeveloped and linear

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Your Loop Starter

As its title suggests, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is an introductory boxed set for Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was. Published by the Swedish publisher, Free League Publishing, this is the roleplaying game based on the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, in which young teenagers explore the Sweden of an alternate childhood. It is rural small-town Sweden, but one in which its streets, woods and fields, and skies and seas are populated by robots, gravitic tractors and freighters, strange sensor devices, and even creatures from the long past. To the inhabitants of this landscape, this is all perfectly normal—at least to the adults. To the children of this landscape, this technology is a thing of fascination, of wonderment, and of the strangeness that often only they can see. In Tales from the Loop, it is often this technology that is the cause of the adventures that the children—the player characters—will have away from their mundane lives at home and at school.

Specifically, Tales from the Loop is set on Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, which lies to the west of Stockholm. This is the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—the world’s largest particle accelerator, constructed and run by the government agency, Riksenergi. In addition, the Iwasaka corporation of Japan has perfected self-balancing machines, leading to the deployment of robots in the military, security, industrial, and civilian sectors and these robots are employed throughout the Loop and its surrounds. Meanwhile, the skies are filled with ‘magnetrine vessels’, freighters and slow liners whose engines repel against the Earth’s magnetic field, an effect only possible in northern latitudes. There are notes detailing the particulars of life in Sweden in the 1980s, but the culture is radically different—especially in terms of its (almost Socialist) government—to that of the USA and so Tales from the Loop includes an American counterpart to The Loop, this time located under Boulder City in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, near the Hoover Dam. Here the particle accelerator is operated by the Department of Advanced Research into Technology and there is an extensive exchange programme in terms of personnel and knowledge between the staff of both ‘loops’. Similarly, the description of Boulder City and its Loop include plenty of notes on life in the 1980s and as much as the two cultures are different, there are plenty of similarities between the two.

Since its publication in 2017, Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the ’80s That Never Was has won many awards and Tales from the Loop itself has been developed into a television series to view on Amazon Prime . The Tales from the Loop Starter Set is released in time to coincide with the release of the television series and is designed introduce roleplayers to the world of the roleplaying game—whether they have watched the television series and want to try Tales from the Loop or are experienced roleplayers wanting to try something different. It comes with everything necessary for the Game Master to present—and both Game Master and players alike—to roleplay a mystery within the Loop over the course of an evening or two.

The Tales from the Loop Starter Set comes in a surprisingly sturdy box. Open up and the first thing you see is a set of Tales from the Loop dice—some ten in all, with the number six on each of them replaced with the symbol for Riksenergi, the Swedish government agency which built and ran the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics or ‘The Loop’. Underneath that is a double-sided map of the region around the Loop. Roughly A3 in size, this depicted the region of Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren on the main side, whilst on the other is marked the area around Boulder City, Nevada. The map is full colour and printed on thick paper. Below that there are five sheets, one for each of the five pre-generated player characters. Marked ‘Kid 1’ through ‘Kid 5’, they are again double-sided and include a Popular Kid, a Weirdo, a Jock, a Computer Geek, and a Bookworm. All five are part of the same gang and have connected relationships, and they have background and illustration on the front and the stats on the back. Like Tales from the Loop, they give suggestions which pertain to both the Swedish and the American Loops. Here this consists of names, so the player character Frederik is given the name Chad when playing in the American setting.

Lastly, there are two books in the Tales from the Loop Starter Set. These are the ‘Rules’ and ‘The Recycled Boy’ booklets. The former presents the game’s rules and explains how Tales from the Loop is played, and is marked, ‘Read This First’. The latter contains the scenario and is marked ‘For The Gamemaster Only’. The ‘Rules’ covers everything in four chapters—‘Welcome to the Loop’, ‘The Age of the Loop’, ‘The Kids’, and ‘Trouble’. The first of these, ‘Welcome to the Loop’, introduces the setting of Tales from the Loop and explains what roleplaying is. It does decent job and is backed up in the examples of play throughout the book. It also gives and explains the ‘Principles of the Loop’, essentially the six fundamental elements of the setting which set it apart from other roleplaying games. These are that ‘Your home town is full of strange and fantastic things’, ‘Everyday life is dull and unforgiving’, ‘Adults are out of reach and out of touch’, ‘The Land of the dangerous, but kids will not die’, ‘The game is played scene by scene’, and ‘The world is described collaboratively’. These nicely sum up the world of the Loop, that Kids will explore a world just outside their homes which is full of scientific marvels and mysteries, one that the Adults are unlikely to really appreciate, being wrapped up in their problems and dramas—problems and dramas which are likely to have an impact on the Kids on an ongoing basis. Although dangerous—the Kids can be robbed, beaten up, mocked, and so on, they cannot be killed (though they can be forced to leave the game due to trauma). The collaborative element of play means that not only can the Game Master set scenes, she can ask her players to do so too, and she can also ask the players to describe and add elements to the setting too. What this means is that Tales from the Loop is a game in which the story is played out together, some of the setting elements are worked out together as well.

 ‘The Age of the Loop’ describes the setting for the Swedish and the American Loops. As such, anyone familiar with the contents of Tales from the Loop will recognise the much shorter descriptions given here. Here though it sets the scene for the scenario to come rather than the full game, so is done in broader strokes. For anyone new to roleplaying or new to Tales from the Loop, perhaps what is interesting here are the cultural and political differences between Sweden and the U.S.A. Of the two, the Swedish Loop is the more interesting because it is different, the outlook and attitudes of its inhabitants presenting more of a roleplaying challenge because of the differences. Essentially, despite the presence of the Loop making many things different, the American Loop still feels too familiar from film and television, so too easy to fall into clichés.

The shortest chapter is ‘The Kids’. This describes what the various elements on the character sheets are—age, attributes, skills, Luck points, items, Drives, Problems, Pride, Relationships, and Conditions—and how they affect game play. Each Kid has four attributes—Body, Tech, Heart, and Mind—and each of these has three associated skills. Both are rated between one and five. Luck points are used to reroll dice and younger Kids have more Luck points than older Kids as they are simply luckier. Items can dice if appropriate to the situation, a Drive pushes a Kid to act and to investigate mysteries, a Problem is a personal thing related to a Kid’s home life and will get him into Trouble, Pride is what a Kid values and can get a Kid into Trouble as well as help him, and Relationships are between the other Kids in the gang as well as another NPC. So Dave or Isak might have the Drive of ‘I am fascinated by self-balancing machines, I’ve always wanted a robot of my own’, the Problem of ‘My parents are getting a divorce, but my dad hasn’t moved out yet’, and the Pride of ‘I know how that works’. Dave’s item might be an electronics toolkit. All of the various elements of a Kid are clearly explained and easy to understand.

Lastly, almost a third of the ‘Rules’ is devoted to the last chapter—‘Troubles’. This explains how the dice work and the dice pool mechanics in both Tales from the Loop and Tales from the Loop Starter Set. Known as the ‘Year Zero’ mechanics, dice pools are formed from a combination of a Kid’s attribute and appropriate skill, or just the latter if no skill applies. The player rolls the Tales from the Loop dice and if a six—or a Riksenergi symbol—comes up, the Kid succeeds. Failures can complicate situations or impose a Condition upon a Kid, like Upset or Exhausted, but a player can push a roll and get a reroll, though this is not without its consequences. Typically, only one Riksenergi symbol is needed for a Kid to succeed, but more challenging Trouble may require more. Sometimes extra successes can be used to add further narrative elements to play, such as to find out more information about a machine and its maker, not only beat a bully, but upset him, and so forth. Lastly, the ‘Troubles’ explains how the game’s skills work and give some bonus effects for those extra Successes.

‘The Recycled Boy’ is half the length of ‘Rules’ and contains the scenario of the same name. It presents a four or five scene mystery which can be played out in a session or two. Written to be run in either the Swedish or the American Loop, it concerns a fellow student at the pre-generated characters’ school who has begun acting oddly. Its plot feels suitably eighties, being too dissimilar to films of the period, though perhaps the title of the scenario might be a bit knowing. Either way, it is a good first scenario for Tales from the Loop, presenting a problem which can be best solved through roleplaying rather than other means and it would be easy for a Game Master to add it to her campaign.

Physically, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is well presented. Notably both books are presented on glossy paper rather than the matt paper of the Tales of the Loop core rulebook. The package as a whole does need a slight edit in places, but throughout, is illustrated with Simon Stålenhag’s fantastic artwork. Everything is of a high quality and presents an attractive product, especially if you have not looked at a roleplaying book before.

However, there is a problem with the Tales from the Loop Starter Set and it is very simple. There is just the one scenario. What this means is that there is not the easy, next step to take after playing ‘The Recycled Boy’. Now of course, there is the Tales of the Loop core rulebook and Our Friends the Machines & Other Mysteries, but another scenario would support the continued interest of the Game Master and her players more immediately rather than forcing them to cast around for their next scenario. As good as the scenario is in Tales from the Loop Starter Set, it is difficult not to compare it with other recent starter or beginner boxed sets and be somewhat disappointed because they offer more value for money. Similarly, if a gaming group already plays Tales from the Loop, then the Tales from the Loop Starter Set only provides the one scenario—though one which is only available in the Tales from the Loop Starter Set—and so does not offer as much value for money as it could. That said, it comes with another set of dice for the game and good maps of each Loops, as well as the scenario.

Yet the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is a solid, well-presented package. As an introduction to the alternate, fantastic world of Simon Stålenhag’s artwork and the roleplaying game based on it, the Tales from the Loop Starter Set is enjoyably accessible and attractive, presenting a good first step into an eighties that never were.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

1978: G3 Hall of the Giant King

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles—and so on, as the anniversaries come up. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.


Over the years, Dungeons & Dragons has returned again and again to face its tallest foe—the giants! Most recently Wizards of the Coast pitted adventurers against them in 2016’s Storm King’s Thunder, the sixth campaign for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, but their first appearance was in a trilogy of scenarios which began with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and continued with G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, before concluding with G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The three would subsequently be collected as G1-2-3 Against the Giants, which itself would form the first three parts of the campaign that would be collected in 1986 as GDQ1–7 Queen of the Spiders. In 1999, these three modules would be reprinted as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Silver Anniversary Collectors Edition boxed set and more properly revisited in Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff. It would be followed in 2009 by Revenge of the Giants, the first ‘mega-adventure’ for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, and then of course, in 2016 with Wizards of the Coast’s Storm King’s Thunder. For anyone interested in reading or running the series for themselves, G1-3 Against the Giants is available as a surprisingly inexpensive reprint.

Much of this history as well as critical response to both the individual dungeons and the collected G1-2-3 Against the Giants is detailed on Wikipedia. This is worth taking the time to read, so Reviews from R’lyeh recommends doing so before returning to this series of reviews. The ‘Giants Review’ series began with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, continued with G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and brings the original trilogy to a close with G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is a direct sequel to G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. In G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, the Player Characters were directed to investigate the recent attacks upon the  lands of the humans—nominally in the World of Greyhawk—by attacks by giants of various types. Against this unheard of occurrence the rulers of these lands hired the Player Characters to deal a lesson to the Hill Giants. In the course of the adventure, the party carried out a strike—and ‘strike’ is the right term—on the Hill Giant steading, because G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is nothing more than a commando raid upon a ‘military’ base. As well as discovering the presence of other giants at a feast held in their honour, what the Player Characters also discover is the scenario’s singular link to G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. It is both figuratively and actually a link, capable of transporting the party to the Glacial Rift of said second scenario. At the end of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the players characters find a similar link which gets them to Muspelheim, in front of the great obsidian valve-like doors of King Snurre’s halls which make up G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King.

From the outset, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is very different in terms of tone and presentation. The scenario is longer—at sixteen pages, double the length of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl—and presents three levels rather than two. It is also wrapped in a triple-gatefold cover than the double one of the previous two scenarios. Where G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl was fog and ice over bare rock, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King consists of a three hundred foot tall, smoking slag heap, its halls and rooms of black and brown worked rock, its special rooms of obsidian and black marble, all lit with torches, braziers, jets of natural gas, and even pools of molten lava. The inhabitants, predominately the Fire Giants, are warier and cannier, better reacting to intruders—more so if the player characters make multiple sorties into the halls. Notably though, unlike in the first parts of the trilogy where the big bosses are placed at the end of the scenario, the likelihood is that the player characters will encounter Snurre, the black-armoured, orange tusked and bewhiskered, bandy-legged, and ugly King of the Fire Giants, along with his bodyguards, very early on in the dungeon. They are literally found in the dungeon’s third room and a careful party could get inside and deal a mighty blow to the Fire Giants and their mysterious backers before anyone can react by killing King Snurre. That though, still leaves his even uglier and wartier wife, Frupy, and a lot of angry Fire Giants. On the other hand, the Fire Giants will react quickly to any intruders and the adventurers could find themselves forced to retreat very quickly. As with G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, a handy bolthole is described at the beginning of the scenario should the player characters decide they need to beat a hasty retreat.

With what is essentially the ‘reception room’ upfront, the areas beyond are given over to communal and private quarters, barracks, storage, guest chambers, and the like. Amongst the more mundane locations, E. Gary Gygax gets to write some interesting set pieces. These include the eerie Hall of Dead Kings—the crypts of the Fire Giant Kings, a smithy heated by molten lava, a torture chamber, and the Temple of the Eye—actually in use as opposed to the strange temple all but abandoned below the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief—where the Drow conduct ceremonies to some unnamed elder god. Some of these encounters veer between incredibly deadly to deadly and silly, though are horrifically weird. The fact that the King’s Torturer can throw a player character into an iron maiden and slam the door shut—killing them instantly, and the Royal Headsman can lop of heads and limbs aplenty with little recourse from the player characters point to just how deadly the adventure is. The silly is the fact that G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King repeats the error of G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl by shoving a very large and ancient Red Dragon atop a huge mound of coins and other treasures into a tiny cavern. This is compounded by the addition of an illusion of a Red Dragon in the adjacent, much larger cavern. It goes against the whole sense of naturalism which permeates the rest of the scenario.

The weird includes the Temple of the Eye and its priests’ quarters. The temple is all unease and a sense of foreboding, swirling lights, purple stone, rusty black mineral block altar, and malachite pillars, where the player characters’ meddling is likely to either kill them, send mad, enrage them, age them, and so on, or under the right—potentially terrible—circumstances grant them just what they need. The quarters of the Drow priests is protected by a Wall of Tentacles, a horrid spell which will reach out with tentacles and beaks to bite, abrade, and constrict those forbidden to pass through it.

The last and third level is entirely different. Rather than worked or polished stone, it consists of natural caverns and is populated by a range of monsters more suited to the environment—Ropers, Piercers, Lurkers, and the like—although in a relatively small area. However, it is currently occupied by a number of visiting forces. These include the Drow, divided between forces divided between Eclavdra and Nedylene, the latter and her forces not only stuck out of the way, but hemmed in by a group of Mind Flayers, also monitoring Drow activities near the service. Beyond the third level itself, a tunnel leads off into the depths... 

Then there are the Drow themselves—the existence of which is the big reveal in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. Famously, this is their first appearance in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and the end of the module includes their full write up as if they had been included in the Monster Manual. This feared, even infamous, Race of Dark Elves has continued to feature in Dungeons & Dragons ever since, but here they remain mysterious and intriguing. The contingent in and below the Hall of the Fire Giant King is led by the warrior-priestess Eclavdra, many of them wielding a new magic item, Rod of Tentacles

In terms of plot, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is rather hit and miss. There are links to the wider plot in the correspondence found in the Council Room, including instructions given to King Snurre by the mysterious ‘Eclavdra’ about bring together various other species, including Ogres, Orge-Magi, Cloud Giants, and other in readiness to attack the lands of civilised Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and so on. In these scrolls is the first mention of the ‘Drow’, the allies of—or rather the power directing the Giants. Perhaps one of the best links to the wider plot is that rooms in the Halls of the Fire Giant King are potentially put aside for the Frost Giant Jarl and his wife and Chief Nosnra and his wife—that is, if they survived the events of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl respectively. Its inclusion not only points to the wider involvement of the Hill Giants and the Frost Giants, it points to the effect that the player characters have had on the ongoing campaign. In other words, that both Hill Giant Nosnra and the Frost Giant Jarl and their respective wives are there because of the player characters. Another really nice touch is that Queen Frupy actually has a Potion of Giant Control for using on her husband, Snurre!

Yet in other places, plot within the scenario is either sorely underdeveloped or overused. Not once, not twice, but four times NPCs in the scenario are subject to ‘Curse your inevitable betrayal’ plot lines. There is Ombi, the Dwarf who was once Snurre’s slave, but is now his advisor; there are three Rakshasas—who even King Snurre distrusts, but who the player characters we are told, are sure to see as “…trusted friends and associates”; a Human female Thief, who will help out before running off with any loot she can—including that stolen from the player characters; and Boldo, King Snurre’s former lieutenant who will do anything to get back in his majesty’s good books despite having been locked up for his lack of deference. All four will eventually betray the player characters should they be prepared to befriend them, though the Dungeon Master will need to determine exactly who the Rakshasas look like and what they want as no advice is given to that end. Similarly, the Titan NPC who will ally with the player characters—and the only potential ally who not actually portray them—is left up to the Dungeon Master to develop in terms of personality and motivations.

However, what this does means is that there are much stronger roleplaying elements in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King than there are in the first two part parts of the trilogy. Most of this will be with the various traitorous NPCs already mentioned, of whom Obmi is the most notable given that he would appear again in E. Gary Gygax’s work on the World of Greyhawk as the ‘Hammer of Iuz’ and as a villain in Gygax’s Gord the Rogue novels. Then there is obvious rivalry between Eclavdra, the envoy to  the surface world from below, and Nedylene, the Drow sent to check up on her. Neither NPC is really developed and again, this is left up to the Dungeon Master to handle.

In terms of the overall plot, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King both delivers and disappoints. Yes, there is the big reveal about the power behind the hostile activities of the giants on the surface world—the Drow, and there is no denying the impact of that. However, no information is given and again, another tunnel or exit leads off to the next part of the campaign, which at this point feels like it should be complete with the publication and play through of G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King. The next part is, of course, D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth and so it is actually far from being complete.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is rewarding in terms of the treasure that the player characters will be able to carry away from its halls and caverns. In comparison to their lesser brethren in the earlier modules, the Fire Giants are rich. Most carry gems about their person, but both King Snurre and Queen Frupy have much, much more. Some of this though, is locked up in vaults and even then, hidden. Often the player characters will find it challenging to uncover it, whilst getting back to the civilised presents a whole other set of problems...

For all that G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King describes the Fire Giants as being tough opponents, and able to cleverly react to the intrusion by the player characters, the advice on how they react is underwritten. With the Throne Room and both the quarters of King Snurre and Queen Frupy so close to the entrance of the hall, there is the possibility that either or both of them are killed early on in the player characters’ sorties into the Fire Giant lair. What happens then? How do the survivors react? Given that the purpose of the scenario for the player characters is as the module states, “…to slay fire giants and all who associate with them.”, why is there so little advice to help the Dungeon Master here? Now of course, this is an ‘Old School’ module and yes, that means that the Dungeon Master is left to decide these things for herself, and whilst that is intentional, it leaves the Dungeon Master with a lot of variables to work through when preparing the adventure.

Physically, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is again a slim booklet, but sixteen pages rather than eight. Again, the booklet is cramped, but E. Gary Gygax again packs in a lot of detail, especially in the descriptions of Queen Frupy, of King Snurre’s vaults, Ombi and his quarters, the Temple of the Eye, and so on. The maps are generally clear and benefit from being across three levels rather than two. Unfortunately, the artwork is mostly terrible. In fact, the best piece of artwork is Dave Trampier’s profile portrait of King Snurre himself.


G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King was published at a time when there were few magazines in which they could be reviewed. In many cases, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King would be reviewed when it was published in the collected G1-2-3 Against the Giants in 1981. For example, this is the version that Anders Swenson reviewed in Different Worlds Issue 20 (March 1982). He wrote of G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King that, “The fire giants live in a well-constructed dungeon complex inside a volcanic mountain. This is simply a tough nut for the adventurers - the giants are in a place constructed for defense where they can repel a sortie with secondary positions, impromptu barricades, and ambushes. The designer expects this to
be a running battle.

White Dwarf was the exception and managed to review the trilogy of G1 Steading of the Hill Giant ChiefG2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King together in Open Box in White Dwarf Issue No. 9. However, this did not mean that they were reviewing independently of each other, the late Don Turnbull concluding, “In summary, there are three D&D scenarios which have been very carefully planned in considerable detail, both individually and collectively; they have been presented in exemplary fashion and are fit to grace the collection of the most discerning. They require skill in play (which is right) but also require a party of high-level characters, and my one regret is that they were not aimed at parties more likely to be readily available to players (though, in fairness, you can't expect a weak party to take on gangs of Giants). No DM should be without them, for even if he never gets a chance to run them, they are a source of much excellent design advice.”

However, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King was reviewed separately in Space Gamer Number 44 (October, 1981) by Kurt Butterfield. He wrote that, “The scenario is well thought out and nicely detailed.  DMs will find some intriguing special instructions given for deviously playing several of the intelligent inhabitants of the dungeon. There’s also some useful and interesting information on the Drow (dark elves).” before continuing, “This is definitely not ab easy dungeon, and since the monsters are quite strong and numerous, players will often be hard put to survive. Many of the monsters could be left out and this would still have been a challenging adventure.” He concluded by writing, “I advise all DMs who are looking for an exciting, worthwhile adventure for their players to pick this one up. You wont be disappointed.”


G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King brings the ‘G’ series of adventures to a big, challenging finale—if not necessarily a conclusion. In comparison to G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, it is undeniably a better dungeon. Perhaps not quite as atmospheric, but better and more interesting in terms of individual locations, plotting, and roleplaying potential. Unfortunately, neither the plotting nor the roleplaying potential is as developed as it should be, that is, sufficiently enough to be helpful to the Dungeon Master, and ultimately, enough to explain the reasons for what is going on between the Drow and the Fire Giants. There is though a sense of scale and grandeur to G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, the enemies and big and tough, the halls are tall and eerie, and there is a sense of mystery to the place in uncovering just what is going on (as much as the module explains everything). Unlike G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, the dungeon in G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King does not feel as static, but much of what is going on is confined to individual locations rather than the whole complex and perhaps in as organised a place as the Hall of the Fire Giant King, the module could have done with a schedule of events to give some idea of what its various inhabitants are doing and when. Again, this something that is left up to the Dungeon Master to decide. 

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King is a big, bruising, even brutal dungeon crawl. It will take clever gameplay and tactics upon the part of the players and their characters to survive, but just like G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl before it, G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King needs a lot of input from the Dungeon Master to bring out the best of its details.


It should be noted that Wizards of the Coast collected and published G1 Steading of the Hill Giant ChiefG2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King as part of Tales from the Yawning Portal for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. It is a pity that Goodman Games would not have a chance to revisit, develop, and update the series as it did for B1 In Search of the Unknown and B2 Keep on the Borderlands with Original Adventures Reincarnated #1: Into the Borderlands. Certainly there is some archival material in the early issues of Dragon magazine, such as the examination of these modules as tournament adventures in Dragon 19. In the meantime, the next review in the series will be of Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff.

Jonstown Jottings #22: GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass

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 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?
GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is a short supplement for for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a five page, full colour, 9.71 MB PDF.

GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is decently presented and organised. It
needs a slight edit.

Where is it set?

Dragon Pass.

Who do you play?

Adventurers of all types who could come across curios, novelties, gewgaws, and the like.

What do you need?

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It can also be run using the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure.

What do you get?
A single table with fifty entries.

GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is a short—a very short—supplement containing one table. On this table is listed fifty entries listing gewgaws and trinkets and curios and knickknacks that you could find amongst an NPC’s personal possessions. For example, “A bronze clasp, once belonging to the belt of a fierce Orlanthi fighter. It resembles the head of a trollkin.” or “Something which resembles a brass bracelet, but it is instead a decoration for the central horn of a triceratops domesticated by dragonewts.” Some of them are even ever so slightly magical, such as “A miniature wicker boat. When a copper Clack is put in it, a faint, illusory image of Jeset the Ferryman appears for a moment.”

Is it worth your time?
Yes. GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is an inexpensive way of adding verisimilitude to your RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha campaign.
No. GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is simply too expensive and does not offer enough value for money for what you get, plus the small details do not always matter.
Maybe. GLORANTHA: Trinkets from Dragon Pass is expensive for what you get, but who knows what you might find packed away on that Issaries merchant caravan?

Friday, 26 June 2020

Leagues of Gammerstangs

As the title suggests, Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is a supplement for use with both Leagues of Cthulhu, the supplement of Lovecraftian horror for use with Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! and its expansion, Leagues of Gothic Horror. Published by Triple Ace Games, it presents a guide and a gazetteer to the English county of Cumbria in the Late Victorian Era, not just the history and the geography, but the Mythos and the folklore, and more. Although it is not a comprehensive guide—being relatively short at just thirty-two pages—it presents more than enough information to bring a campaign to England’s North-West, whether a supernatural campaign for Leagues of Adventure or a Lovecraftian investigative horror campaign for Leagues of Cthulhu. In addition, what few stats there are for use with the Ubiquity system are easy to interpret and adapt to the system of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is Cthulhu by Gaslight for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, Trail of Cthulhu, or even Liminal.

(Note: ‘Gammerstang’ means awkward person in the local dialect.)

Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria details an area of the north of England, bordering Scotland, which is best known as the Lake District—for the lakes Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater, Buttermere, Grasmere, and many others, and as the home of the ‘Lake Poet School’ whose members included William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Since the Victorian period it has been primarily been seen as a tourist destination, but prior to that, it was a source of worked-flint, a frontier of the Roman Empire, a frontier region between England and Scotland, a rural backwater, and more recently, with the coming of the railways, an industrial centre. Yet in ages past, races of the Mythos like the Elder Things and the Fungi from the Yuggoth operated in the region, whilst with the coming of mankind, the Deep Ones migrate to the Cumbrian coast and begin interacting with them. The Celts brought worship of the Shub-Niggurath and avatars of Nyarlathotep to the region, whilst the Romans also imported the worship of dark gods from the far edges of their empire.

Now despite its title of Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria, the supplement actually describes not the county of Cumbria as it is today—which only dates from 1974—but rather Cumberland, Furness, and Westmoreland. (For ease of play, the supplement simply uses Cumbria.) It covers the region in three chapters. The first of these introduces the area and gives its history, geography, a guide to getting there and what to find when you do, the latter including cuisine, entertainment, policing, and so on. The inclusion of a guide to toponyms—Cumbrian place names, the local dialect, folk remedies, and general superstitions all add a pleasing degree of verisimilitude. In game terms, it suggests various Leagues of Adventure faculties to be found in the region, for example, the Anglers’ Club, Bath Club, Mariners’, and Society of Aquanauts share a clubhouse in Bowness-on-Windemere. (The presence of the latter a knowing nod—backed up by an even more nod to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.)

The second chapter is the gazetteer and forms the heart of the supplement. It covers ancient sites, natural features, Roman sites, and settlements, many of which are accompanied by adventure seeds. Thus, the Castlerigg Stone Circle outside of Keswik, whose number of stones is said to be uncountable and at the centre of which is a firepit which when unearthed was a blob of “some dark unctuous sort of earth.” The adventure seed for this suggests that this was the remains of a Black Spawn of Tsathoggua. The natural features include the region’s various caves and lakes, the Roman sites two major forts in the area, whilst the settlements cover its towns and villages, from Ashness Bridge and Aspatria to Whitehaven and Workington. It describes the Dacre family, a prominent Cumbrian family which in the past was split between its worship of Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath, and supports this with a new Bloodline for Leagues of Cthulhu. Tying back to the Lakeland poets and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a notable narcotic ‘Kendal Black Drop’ of the period, better enables users to enter the Dreamlands or simply opens them to the thoughts of the Great Old Ones…

The third chapter presents denizens of the region. They include lists of dignitaries—aristocrats, bureaucrats, clergymen, and Members of Parliament—all names which Game Masters and Keepers will want to research before bringing into their campaigns. The only famous person fully detailed is the bon vivant Earl Lonsdale, known as the ‘Yellow Earl’ for his favourite colour. This may or may not signify something… Lastly, the supplement details a cult, the Brotherhood of the Maimed King. Linked to Arthurian myth, this is horridly both fecund and bucolic and is the content in the book which is probably the easiest for the Game Master and the Keeper to develop into a scenario. 

Physically, Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is a plain affair. It is simply laid out, there are no illustrations, and there are no maps. The latter is more of an issue than the former, forcing even the most casual of readers to do some research to give context to places and features described in the text. That said, any good Game Master or Keeper will probably do more research if she is going to run a scenario or take her campaign to Cumbria, so maps are not as much of an issue as they could be. Still, it would have been nice if there had been one included.

Anyone coming to Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria expecting the Mythos to be running wild across the rolling hills, up and down the fells, along the long the deep valleys of the region, conspiracies of worshippers working to bring about some grand plan to end the world, will be disappointed. Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria is not that supplement. It is broader in its over overview of the region, encompassing the supernatural as well as the Mythos, but layering it under folklore and myth and superstition. What manifestations of the Mythos there are in Cumbria are holdouts, relics from the ancient past, perhaps best left to linger and die off rather than arise again due to some meddling from all-too inquisitive Globetrotters or investigators. Anything in Leagues of Cthulhu: Guide to Cumbria will need some development upon the part of the Game Master or Keeper to turn into a full mystery, but is still worth keeping on the shelf as reference or just in case the Globetrotters or investigators feel like a holiday in Wordsworth country.