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Saturday, 5 September 2020

[Free RPG Day 2020] Little Trouble in Big Absalom

Now in its thirteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2020, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 25th July. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been 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. Again, global events meant that Gen Con itself was not only delayed, but run as a virtual event, and likewise, global events meant that Reviews from R’lyeh could not gain access to the titles released on the day as no friendly local gaming shop was participating nearby. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh has been able to gain copies of many of the titles released on the day, and so can review them as is the usual practice. To that end, Reviews from R’lyeh wants to thank both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy3 in sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles.

One of the perennial contributors is Paizo, Inc., a publisher whose titles for both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have proved popular and often in demand long after Free RPG Day. For 2020, the title released for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is Little Trouble in Big Absalom, a scenario for Level 1 characters. The Game Master will require not only the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but also the Pathfinder Bestiary. The scenario is actually a preview of the upcoming Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide in that it uses Heritages and Feats to be found in that forthcoming supplement. Now in times past, those Feats and Heritages would have been for Goblins, the signature Humanoids who have appeared in numerous Free RPG Day scenarios, but for Little Trouble in Big Absalom they are Kobolds! Five pregenerated Kobolds are provided, ready to play through the scenario.

In Little Trouble in Big Absalom, the five kobolds are members of the Hookclaw clan, which makes its living by digging through and scavenging from the buried ruins underneath the city of Absalom. Although the tribe has never been wealthy or really comfortable, now their miners have struck it rich. They have opened up an undisturbed vault full of treasure and so the tribe needs a stalwart team of scavengers to get in, find out what is there, and bring back the best for the tribe. This is where the fun and games begin, because what lies beyond the freshly dug tunnel is not a vault, but the cellar of a house on the surface. This house happens to be home to kindly old lady, so the cellar is full of wonders and gewgaws and bric-à-brac and whatnot. There are dangers too, of course, all scaled to Kobold size.

Little Trouble in Big Absalom is a madcap style of dungeon or adventure, which does the classic ‘little as big’, ‘ordinary is strange’, and ‘ordinary is dangerous’ tropes. So what might be ordinary to average adventurers is rendered strange by the fact that the Player Characters are Kobolds. One criticism of the scenario is that it does not play upon that as much as it could have done and the Game Master might want to create a table of objects and ‘treasures’ which the Kobolds can find and take back to the clan as this is a great opportunity for roleplaying by the players. Now, Little Trouble in Big Absalom does not do this once, but twice. It is actually divided into two parts. In the first part, the Kobolds investigate the cellar, find some treasures, and deal with some ‘threats’ forgotten about the homeowner. In the second part, the brave Kobolds actually explore beyond the cellar and not only meet the homeowner—the kindly old lady—but get given cookies and asked to do a task. Unbelievably,  this task is to retrieve a hedge trimmer from a neighbour who has failed to return it! Could this scenario be anymore suburban?

In fact, it turns out that the little old lady is incredibly near-sighted and thinks that the Kobolds are children. It also turns out that the garden of the hedge trimmer hoarder is full of dangers too. In fact, it is infested with Lawn Crawfish! Sneak into the garden, beat up any occupying garden crustaceans, steal the hedge trimmer, and the Kobolds can probably get home in time for tea—or at least more cookies. Little Trouble in Big Absalom can either be run as a whole scenario combining both parts or just using one of the parts. It depends on how much time the playing group has. Each part should take a couple of hours or so, which means altogether, Little Trouble in Big Absalom would work as a convention scenario.

The pregenerated Kobolds include a Dragon Mage or Sorcerer, a mushroom farmer Druid with Siamese cat companion, a Rogue who likes to thumb his snout at authority, an ocarina-playing Bard with a penchant for heroics, and a reluctant Fighter who is regarded as hero for driving away an actual adventurer! All find Kobold adventurers come fully statted out with detailed backgrounds and delightful illustrations. They also appear on their own pages so are easy to copy and hand to the players.

Physically, well this is a book from Paizo, Inc. for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, so the production values are as good as you would expect. The illustrations of the Kobolds are delightful, and the artwork is good throughout. The writing is also decent. Little Trouble in Big Absalom may only be sixteen pages long, but as much attention has been paid to this release as any other from Piazo, Inc.

As an adventure, Little Trouble in Big Absalom is a cliché—the little folk (in this case Kobolds rather than Goblins) exploring the big world, the little old lady with poor eyesight who takes them for children, and so on. However, just because the scenario is a cliché, it does not mean that it cannot be fun to play or that it is not well designed or put together. There is a good session of gaming, particularly in terms of roleplaying ‘small characters in a big world’, to be got from playing through the adventure and that is very much down to the quality and production values of the scenario. So, yes, Little Trouble in Big Absalom is a cliché, but that does not mean that the cliché cannot be fun to play!

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