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

Friday, 20 March 2020

An Early Modern Retroclone Anthology

17th Century Minimalist from Games Omnivorous is an Old School Renaissance roleplaying game of small-time tricksters, conniving thieves, stalwart ex-soldiers, swashbucklers with panache and gambling debts, and minor physicians, banding together out of necessity and the need for coin (glory optional). The rules-light Class and Level roleplaying game set in the seventeenth century which features firearms, no magic, a task-based experience system, and a fast, deadly combat system, was introduced in 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, and whilst it was complete in terms of rules and mechanics, what it lacks is a scenario. One issue with the 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook is that it lacks an adventure, but fortunately, its setting and its mechanics are compatible with any number of Old School Renaissance scenarios set in the Early Modern period, of which many of those published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, including the author’s own The Squid, the Cabal, and the Old Man as well as No Better Than Any Man, Scenic Dunnsmouth, or Forgive Us, would be suitable. In addition, 17th Century Minimalist has its anthology of adventures with the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder.

One of the physical qualities of 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook is that it feels handmade, or at least, artisanal. This continues with 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder, which comes as a sturdy card folder which contains five separate adventures, each presented in its own folder in an almost postcard format on the same cardstock as the folder for the full set. Each presents a relatively short adventure, more of a detailed outline rather than a full scenario, which can be run as a one-shot or a convention scenario. The format means that each is easy to handle, although in some places, the text is perhaps a little small and cramped to read with ease.

Opening up the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder, the first adventure is ‘Hedge Death Maze’. As the player characters are passing through remote, but mid-sized town, they learn of a challenge extended to anyone by a local noble. He has grown a fiendishly difficult hedge maze on his estate and promises gold to anyone who can defeat it. After showing off his estate—a zoo of exotic animals, Greek statuary, a gallery of paintings depicting scenes of slaughter, and a library of diverse, often macabre books—and thus his enormous wealth, he blindfolds them, deposits them in the centre of the maze, and challenges them to find their way out.

‘Hedge Death Maze’ has physical component in that each player is given a map of the maze and then thirty seconds to draw his route out of the maze. Then the Game Master collects these and plots each player’s and each group of players’ routes of the maze, placing four or five encounters along the route of each player or group. All of these encounters have a Greco-Romano theme, drawn from both myth and history, and grow in increasing difficulty from the first to the fifth. As the name suggests, this is a ‘death maze’, quite possibly the closest that 17th Century Minimalist will get to an actual dungeon, which throws challenge after challenge at the player characters—singly or in groups, all for the entertainment of the sponsoring noble.

‘Hedge Death Maze’ highlights not just the differences in wealth between the nobility and the peasantry, but also the arrogance of the nobility in what is a lavishly wasteful display of money. It also highlights the place of the player characters somewhere in between, but at the same time at the beck and call of the nobility. This is a theme that 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder will return in later adventures, including the next adventure, ‘Ticking Time Bomb’.

In ‘Ticking Time Bomb’, the player characters are hired by a merchant to transport a locked chest to another merchant in a town roughly a week or so away. This is a more straightforward scenario, an on-the-road adventure of encounters ordinary and odd, capped off with a run-around to try and make the delivery. Nominally set in Italy and parodying the mercantile wars between conflicting city-states of the period. There is scope here for the Game Master to expand this into a mini-campaign, slotting adventures—for example, ‘Hedge Death Maze’—along the route as well as the given encounters.

‘Black Plague Now’ is the first of the five adventures which runs to a six-page folder rather than four and the first to be really player character led rather than the motivation being provided by an NPC. The player characters arrive in a river port struck down by the bubonic plague with the aristocracy having fled, people dying, and no one in charge. With the townsfolk in disarray, this is perfect opportunity for chancers like the player characters—but for what? ‘Black Plague Now’ is sandbox situation which asks the player characters what they will do in the face of a naturally occurring horror and allows them to go where they want and do what they want. Bring aid to the town and its current population? Slaughter everyone just to make sure and take over? Set up a haven for robbers and bandits? The adventure suggests all of these and their possible outcomes, supporting them with a good map of the town marked with places of note and rules for just what happens if one of the player characters happens to come down with the plague…

Similar in length to ‘Black Plague Now’, ‘Cluster Fuck Inn’ is an event driven scenario in which the player characters are hired to rob an inn. This inn is run by a member of the Rosicrucian order who is rumoured to possess an important alchemical formula. Unfortunately, the rumours mean that other parties are interested in obtaining the formula and it just happens that the night on which the player characters execute their planned heist, so does everyone else! Mixing secret societies, science and alchemy, double-cross, and more, as the title suggests, ‘Cluster Fuck Inn’ quickly descends into a fun farce as the Game Master piles event upon event. The scenario’s initial encounter, which turns out to be with a black cape wearing man whose name just happens to be Oliver Reed (!), sets the tone. One issue with ‘Cluster Fuck Inn’ is that the Game Master will need extra dice to add to the Initiative bag used to determine order in 17th Century Minimalist.

‘Wild Witch Chase’ takes place in a town beset by a series of tragedies and odd events, none of which can be put down to nature. And if they cannot be explained by nature, then something unnatural must be responsible. Which means witchcraft! The mayor asks the player characters to investigate. Armed with a map of the town, the player characters will need to investigate and interview the townsfolk if they are to gather clues and evidence—the latter needing to be solid enough to send any accused to be burnt at the stake. This will be against a background of a town rife with paranoia and distrust and continued daily events. Some twenty-five or so NPCs are provided as potential suspects and hooks for the investigation as well as the map, the structure of the scenario being freeform and player character led. One issue with the scenario is that it does not list any of the uncanny events prior to the player characters’ arrival and another is that there are elements from the backgrounds of the NPCs which the Game Master will need to set up prior to the arrival of the player characters, both of which would help her build the sense of moral panic and suddenly fervently religious beliefs that the scenario demands. In general, there is no right way to solve this ‘Wild Witch Chase’ and there is the distinct possibility that the chase may all be for nothing…

Physically, the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder is very well presented. It is a gorgeous little artefact, employing the same art style as 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, so has illustrations suited to a child’s all too dark storybook, as well as solid maps by Dyson Logos. As good as it looks and as good as it feels in the hand, the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder does need another edit and all too often it feels just a little cramped, as if it is pushing against the limits of the format.

The 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder contains five solid scenarios, each of which explores aspects and themes pertaining to the seventeenth century—alchemy and science, secret societies, witchcraft and paranoia, the effects of disease, and more. The one issue it does not touch upon is the religious schism which runs throughout this period, hopefully that will be explored in a future scenario. The themes also make the scenarios adaptable to other roleplaying games set during the period. The scenarios do require a little more preparation than the format suggests, but once done, the Game Master can run these more or less straight from the folders. Also, with some effort, the five could be strung together to form a campaign, perhaps with ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ as the framing device. The Game Master may want to write an encounter or other small scenario or two to flesh out such a campaign, but the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder has the potential to support a complete campaign of 17th Century Minimalist, its five adventures matching the five Levels attainable by the player characters.

The high-quality nature of both 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook and 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder does actually make you wish that they were available together. They deserve a ‘white’ box—or rather a blue box given the eggshell blue of both 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook and 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder—of their own, along with a set of dice and of course, a 17th Century Minimalist Initiative bag. Which only goes to showcase how much the two go together and if have one, you want the other. Much like 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder is not perfect, but it not only ably supports and matches the brutal charm and flavour suggested in 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, but highlights them and enables the Game Master and her players to explore them.

No comments:

Post a Comment