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Friday 21 February 2020

Friday Fantasy: Lorn Song of the Bachelor

Published by Hydra Cooperative, LLC, Lorn Song of the Bachelor is an Old School Renaissance fantasy scenario for the roleplaying game of your choice. If choosing a retroclone, it works with any that use ascending Armour Class, and in terms of setting, it would work with any which involve elements of colonialism, imperialism, and mercantile adventuring companies, such as the East India Company or the Dutch East India Company. So it would work with Arion Games’ Maelstrom as much as it would Triple Ace Games’ Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age! or the same setting as Hot Springs Island or that of Crypts of Indormancy. It would also work as far off location in Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel. The scenario does also mention the use of firearms, but they are not integral to its play and the Game Master can easily ignore their inclusion.

Obviously, the scenario’s themes of colonialism, imperialism, and mercantile adventuring companies are contentious issues, even difficult ones for some, but the author of Lorn Song of the Bachelor makes clear that they are unavoidable given the legends and history of the region that the scenario is based upon, and that they are open for the players and their characters to explore and make choices about. To that end, no obvious incentive is provided to involve the characters in the situation detailed in Lorn Song of the Bachelor.

Although it is a sandcrawl of sorts, Lorn Song of the Bachelor is quite different to the previous sandcrawls published by Hydra Cooperative, LLC, such as Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Misty Isles of the Eld. It is as far away from the Hill Cantons as can be imagined, being a riverine and dungeon crawl inspired by a story from the island of Borneo. It shares much with the lovely fanzine, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom—crocodilian gods, forgotten monkey-empires, dangerous waters, and exotic fantasy—and indeed, they share the same author, Zedeck Siew. And just like MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled KingdomLorn Song of the Bachelor feels humid, sweaty, and sun-drenched, strange, and exotic.

In essence, Lorn Song of the Bachelor is all set-up. At the far reaches of a river, in the lands of the tribe known as the Gleaming Fins, grow great trees from whose heartwood can be extracted a valuable incense, Dreaming Agaru, which aids divination of all sorts with flashes of true inspiration. So the Company sends trade factors and loyal mercenaries—all bad teeth and bad breath—up river to trade and harvest the heartwood of these trees. Yet that trade is threatened by the Bachelor, a giant albino crocodile, which has been the scourge of the river for centuries, having killed all of the other crocodiles. Long has it preyed upon the boats of the Gleaming Fins tribe, upending them and tipping the men into the water to be snapped up. Many times the tribe has hunted the great riverine beast, even killing it, but always it returns. Is the Bachelor a god? Is he immortal? Now it takes the Company’s boats too and so threatens its investments and revenues.

The most obvious way into this for the player characters is to be hired by the Company—akin to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness—but what they will discover is faction upon faction within the lands of the Gleaming Fins. The one-armed, silver painted Vartu Si Sartu, Gleaming Fins chief wants the Company gone; the untattooed, jade finger-nailed and abacus-wielding Company merchant, Machivir Sanna Krau, wants the Bachelor dead; and the wrinkled, incense-infused, firefly surrounded witch and midwife, Sati Wu Sati, wants the curse of the Bachelor on the river lifted and the breaking up of the crocodile cult dedicated to him. These are not the only factions and not the only motivations threading their way through Lorn Song of the Bachelor. The player characters will need to weave their way through these to learn the secrets that lie at the literal heart of the Gleaming Fins territory.

Lorn Song of the Bachelor is presented in a sparse fashion. Descriptions are kept to a minimum, often supported with a table or two of further elements waiting to be found and interacted at each location. There is often a bullet-point or list-like quality to the writing, making it accessible and easy to work with. In terms of scale the adventure really only consists of eight locations, each roughly a half day apart, and a small dungeon of just seven locations, a ruin left over from the Monkey Empire. Here the descriptions are richer and weirder, perhaps even more wondrous.

Of course, the presence of the Bachelor, the albino god-crocodile, lurks throughout the scenario and will become an active threat whenever the player characters are on or by the water. Unsurprisingly, this is very likely to occur given the location of various places in Gleaming Fins territory, and ideally it should, since the Bachelor is mystically linked to parts of this land and should he be hurt, there are repercussions for these locations. This perhaps one of the two weakest parts of the scenario in that it does not seem quite strong enough in effect and will need to be carefully worked in by the Game Master. The other is that the solutions to the scenario, there being several given the number of different factions present in the region, are not clear. Now part of this is intentional, as after all, they should not be obvious, but the players will need to work as hard to get at them as the Game Master will in presenting them.

Physically, Lorn Song of the Bachelor is a lovely little book. It is well written with its peoples and personalities, its places, and its strangeness being described with a very simple economy in terms of its words. Whilst the cartography is clear and strong, the minimum of description in the writing is paired with utterly delightful artwork, light, if not ethereal, ranging from the inhabitants of the Gleaming Fins lands and the weird objects found there to the strange vistas of the Monkey Empire ruin and the bestiary found at the back of the book.

The isolated and exoticism of Lorn Song of the Bachelor does mean that it may not be easy to add to an ongoing campaign, since it may well be far away from the campaign’s main locations. However, that does not stop it from being a lovely little adventure, a mini-sandbox into which the player characters can come and explore and perhaps aid one faction or another. It is simply presented with artwork which evokes so much of the strangeness and exoticism of the Gleaming Fins lands. Although the formatting means it looks simple, there is a lot of detail and flavour to Lorn Song of the Bachelor which together evoke visions of a very different world and of a very different fantasy to which a Western audience is used.


  1. Any idea where a reasonably priced copy can be obtained in the UK, because it sounds cool but I'm not paying the price of the book again for P&P?

  2. Sorry, no. The only thing I can suggest you do is ask the publisher. It might know of a retailer.