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

Saturday 31 October 2020

Halloween Horror '86

The Dare is a Call of Cthulhu scenario which very much wears its influences on its sleeve. It is a horror scenario of Cosmic Horror, so obviously H.P. Lovecraft and Call of Cthulhu. It is a haunted house scenario, so obviously any number of haunted house horror films and short stories, but also—just a little bit, ‘The Haunting’, the classic introductory scenario for Call of Cthulhu, which goes all of the way back to 1980 and Call of Cthulhu, First Edition. It is inspired by Call of Cthulhu, Third Edition, Call of Cthulhu, Fourth Edition, and Call of Cthulhu, Fifth Edition—certainly for its look. It is inspired by the horror films of the late 1970s and 1980s, including Halloween, Poltergeist, Evil Dead, The Lost Boys, and more. Above all, it is inspired by the kids’ adventure and kids in peril films of the 1980s, so The Goonies, Stand By Me, Monster Squad, E.T., and more. This rich source of inspiration has been mined in recent years by Roleplaying Games such as Free League Publishing’s Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was, Renegade Game Studios’ Kids on Bikes, and Bloat Games’ Dark Places & Demogorgons: The Roleplaying Game, but also most obviously on the silver screen by Stranger Things.

So The Dare is a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, in which the players take the role of preteens who are dared by a school bully to enter a haunted house on Halloween. Published by Sentinel Hill Press—best known as the publisher of the Arkham Gazette, following a successful Kickstarter campaignThe Dare is written by Call of Cthulhu veteran Kevin Ross. Designed as a one-shot, ideally for four or five kids and ideally to be played on Halloween, it began life as a tournament scenario, which has now been updated to be run for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. As a one shot set in the eighties, The Dare works as a palette cleanser for veteran players, likely going all in on the period motifs—Sony Walkman, leg warmers, genre knowledge gleaned from video nasties, and so on, but it also works as an introduction to Call of Cthulhu for new players, made all the easier by its parred back ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’ mechanics designed to fit the genre. It could in fact, be the defining experience with Cosmic Horror for the kid investigators, who as adults grow up to become investigators into the Mythos in the nineties, noughties, and beyond!

The set-up for The Dare is simple. School bully Roger Simmons has dared several of his victims to enter the Barnaker House, an abandoned and dilapidated home on the edge of town, and spend not just any night there, but Halloween! As the house wheezes and groans around them, their senses assaulted by the stench of mould and decay, of animal urine and faeces, the sound of scuttling in the walls and from room to room as the light from their torches skitter about them, a storm blows up and it looks like the investigators are there for the long haul… As they suffer the taunts and jibes of their bully, will the investigators find out if the house is really haunted? What horrors await them as they try to last the night?

To support this, The Dare is fully plotted out together with floor plans of the Barnaker House, stats and descriptions of all of the NPCs and the monsters. This includes suggestions as to what the NPCs will do location from location, but also gives suggestions as to how to adjust the tone of the scenario from location to location. These are set at the US film ratings of PG and R, the former minimising the violence, the gore, and the death, emphasising menace and anxiety, the latter being more visceral in its inclusion of gore, violence, and injury. Essentially, the difference between The Goonies and Evil Dead.

Mechanically, The Dare uses the Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition rules. It presents the core rules to the roleplaying  game, but it also strips them back to present what it calls ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’, a simplified version of the rules. Notably, the rules condense the eighty or so skills of Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition down to just fifteen. So instead of Psychology, Be a Pal, Be Bossy rather than Intimidate and Persuade, Sneaky in place of Sleight of Hand and Stealth, and Spooky Stuff rather than Occult and Cthulhu Mythos. The most notable addition to these skills is Play with Matches, which covers setting things alight, building traps, using chemicals, and so on, all of which should serve as a spur for the investigators’ invention. Overall, these stripped-down rules could easily be used to run other ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’ type scenarios, or even slotted into an anthology of ‘Gateway’-type scenarios in which the investigators are kids.

Rounding out The Dare is a short essay by Brian M. Sammons, ‘Grab the Machete or: How I Learned to Stop Going Insane and Love 80s Horror Movies’. It provides a brief overview of the genre and suggests ten films that the Keeper and her players should watch as inspiration. The Dare also comes with ten ready-to-play ‘The Call of Kid-thulhu’ investigators. These are all designed to be played as girls or boys, and come with alternative names and space for boy or girl photos. There are some thirty or illustrations included in the pages of The Dare—each based upon a photograph submitted by one of the Kickstarter backers, which can be used by the players to illustrate their kid.

In terms of its horror, The Dare really revolves around its PG and R ratings and the classic confined space of the haunted house. Played using just the PG rating and it would even work as a scare ridden one-shot suitable for a younger, even preteen audience. Switched to the R rating and The Dare becomes a more visceral affair, much in the mode of the film It—though without the coulrophobia—and so is better suited for mature players. For the Keeper there are plenty of staging notes throughout, though she will need to handle one NPC with care. One option might be for the NPC to be played as a Player Character Investigator working hand-in-hand with the Keeper, but if not, and the players work out what is going on beforehand, it really is up to them to roleplay within the genre until their Investigators know. 

Physically, The Dare stands out because although written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the layout for it is of Call of Cthulhu, Third Edition. It not only fits the period setting of the scenario, but it fits the scenario’s sense of nostalgia too and gives it a certain, delightful charm. The maps are perhaps a little plain and it needs a slight edit in places, but the artwork is excellent. The theme is applied to the front and back cover, which is done as the cover of a video cassette.

The Dare is a superb one-shot, one that manages the odd combination of being both nasty and charming, all infused with eighties nostalgia, from start to finish. Not just in the style of the story, its tone, and set-up, which can be creepy or horrible depending on the rating selected, but very much with its look. The Dare also suggests a style of play and provides a set of mechanics to support that, both of which deserve revisiting in future releases. Whether you are visiting the eighties for the first time or going back again for another go around, The Dare successfully double dares you with a one-shot of Halloween horror.

Friday 30 October 2020

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Cabin Risotto Fever is an investigative horror scenario set in the depths of winter in Canada, involving a missing academic or two, an Italian antiquary, and a bone warming dinner. If the scenario is run as written, then the Game Master will have prepared said dinner and actually dish up during play! As with other scenarios from Games Omnivorous, Cabin Risotto Fever is a system agnostic scenario, but unlike previous scenarios—The Feast on Titanhead and The Seed before it, it takes place in the modern world rather than a fantasy one. Specifically, northern Canada in 1949. However, just like The Feast on Titanhead and The Seed before it, Cabin Risotto Fever 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.)

As we have come to expect for scenarios from Games Omnivorous, Cabin Risotto Fever 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 (though like the older scenarios, those others that appear 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, tangerine and black. Lastly, Cabin Risotto Fever does lack good taste—though that will either be ameliorated or exaggerated by the quality of the scenario’s singular handout and how the players and their characters react to it.

It is 1949, and Professor Martin D. Ernst from the Department of Anthropology at Schuylkill University has led an expedition into the wilds of northern Labrador in order to locate and explore an ancient Algonquian ritual site. The expedition is funded by Italian antiquarian, Rubicondo Bronzetti, who also accompanies the expedition, as does Professor Ernst’s researcher, Solomon Silverberg. It is three weeks since the expedition has been heard from, and a team of rescuers is being sent to check on them. The scenario suggests a Forest Ranger and his apprentice, another professor of anthropology, and a native shaman. It outlines the basics of the four Player Characters, all of whom should be easy to create using the roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice. In fact, Cabin Risotto Fever could be run straight from these descriptions should a playing group want a very light game in terms of its mechanics.

What Cabin Risotto Fever does include mechanically, is rules for handling Sanity. These require four tokens per Player Character. When a Player Character sees, hears, or experiences something weird or unsettling, the Player Character’s player rolls a six-sided die. If the result is less than the number of tokens the Player Character has, the Player Character suffers a minor panic attack and looses a token. The Player Character may also learn a piece of random information pertinent to the situation in Cabin Risotto Fever. At two tokens, and then at one token, the Player Character suffers a worse panic attack and another effect, determined by the roll of an eight-sided die on the included table. These effects range from attacking a fellow Player Character to a case of unfortunate micturition. Of course, should a Player Character lose all of his tokens, then he becomes an NPC.

Cabin Risotto Fever requires some set-up, some of it traditional, some of it less so. It is suggested that the playing space be lit with candles for atmosphere and that a fast and light roleplaying game be used to prevent any impediment to roleplaying. That is the traditional. The non-traditional is the preparation of the risotto that is the scenario’s singular handout—or is that dishout?—or prop, that should be served during the play of the scenario. The recipe for the risotto al midollo in full is included in the scenario.

The focus for Cabin Risotto Fever is the cabin—as much as it is the risotto. Here the Player Characters will encounter the expedition, its members surprised to see them, but welcoming all the same and happy to invite them to dinner. Events will play out as the Player Characters poke around the cabin and interact with their hosts, some of them random, and of course, the horror of the situation slowly dawning upon them. The likelihood of course, is that the players will realise what has happened, but not their characters—and it is their realisation the players are roleplaying and reacting in horror to.

Physically, like The Feast on Titanhead and The Seed before it, Cabin Risotto Fever is well presented. It is darker and gloomier in tone given its choice of colours. The single location of the cabin is mapped out inside the separate cover. The map is detailed, but suffers a little from forced perspective. Some of the chosen fonts are a little difficult to read, but overall, Cabin Risotto Fever is easy to read. The illustrations have a heavy oppressive feel and many can easily be shown to the players during play. It needs a slight edit in places, but is overall quite a sturdy product, being done on heavy paper and card stock.

As with other scenarios which adhere to the Manifestus Omnivorous manifesto, Cabin Risotto Fever is nasty, brutal, and short, it being possible to play through the scenario and even survive in a single session. It is also easy to run using a wide variety of roleplaying games. 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 Cabin Risotto Fever would work well with Mörk Borg as they share a similar tone and sensibility.

Whether used as a one-shot, or added to a campaign, Cabin Risotto Fever is easy to prepare and set-up for a night’s single session of juicy, meaty horror. Indeed, the only thing difficult to set up is the risotto itself. 

Monday 26 October 2020

1981: L1 The Secret of Bone Hill

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. 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.


Designed by the late Lenard Lakofka, as the first part of a trilogy, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is a scenario for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Published in 1981, it presented something a little bit different for the world’s preeminent roleplaying game at the time—a sandbox, a town in which the adventurers could base themselves and explore from, locations to explore not just outside of town, but within its confines too, and an absence of plot. Or least an absence of a plot which would ordinarily drive or pull the Player Characters to explore the locations of keyed adventure module, for example, U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. In essence, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is really a setting source book rather than a traditional roleplaying scenario, one that would lay the foundations for the two scenarios which would follow, L2 The Assassin’s Knot, and eventually, L3 Deep Dwarven Delve, and would together form the ‘L’ series or the Lendore Isle trilogy.

The full history of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, as well as the option to purchase a reprint are available here, but of course, the original came in the classic format for TSR, Inc. scenarios for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition and Basic Dungeons & Dragons, a simple black and white booklet inside a separate card cover, inside of which were printed the scenario’s maps. The scenario introduces the town of Restenford and Isle of Lendore, part of the Spindrift Chain, far to the south in the World of Greyhawk setting. It recommends that the module is designed for novice and intermediate players, preferably between two and eight, using Second Level to Fourth Level characters. Then it begins not with a description of the town of Restenford or the Isle of Lendore, but wilderness tables and rumour tables, before going on to describe various wilderness locations around Restenford. These are located on the various around and overlooking Restenford, and include a temple where worship to the God of Chance takes the form of gambling, a den thieves, various campsites for travellers—and potential hirelings, and more.

The key location described here is the eponymous Bone Hill, atop which stands a partially ruined castle, around which there are signs of it having been under siege some time in the past. There is an odd atmosphere to place, occupied as it is during the day by a small tribe of Bugbears, and a small horde of the Undead during the night. There are some odd monsters too, such as the Ghoulstirge, a type of Stirge which not only feeds on your blood as standard Stirges do, but also paralyses its victims. Encounters above ground are relatively safe, but below ground they get nasty—more Undead, including a Wraith, a tough fight for adventurers of any Level, and they get weird, and even a little wondrous. Above ground there is a potions workshop where the concoctions are combinations of standard potions, such as a Potion of Longevity with a Potion of Speed, thus actually making use of the Potion Miscibility Table from the Dungeon Master’s Guide (!), but below there is a mirror which pulls the viewer in and forces him to fight himself, some not-Beholders (!) with treasure to guard and treasure to share, and afternoon tea with a surprisingly pleasant skeleton!

More than half of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is devoted to detailing the town of Restenford, its keep, and their inhabitants. Besides the keep and its inhabitants, this description includes the town’s inn and tavern, homes of individuals such as Pelltar the sorcerer, Felix the mercenary, and a bait shop—Restenford being a fishing port. Notably, it includes a Burnt Guard Station, the shell of a guard station which has fallen into ruin, an actual adventuring location within the town itself. Throughout, there is a wealth of information given all of these locations, both in town and out, so if the Dungeon Master needs to know about animals, encounter probabilities, and what an NPC is equipped with, then she is well served by the module. However, what L1 The Secret of Bone Hill does not do is give support in terms of NPC motivation. Few of their descriptions include suggestions as what they want, and certainly no reason why they might hire the Player Characters. For example, there is a spy in the town from a rival duchy, a mentally ill abbot with designs on the daughter of the Baron of Restenford—though the Dungeon Master is advised to keep this a secret until she runs L2 The Assassin’s Knot, and a merchant whose nephew is interested in learning magic.

Rounding out L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is a short bestiary of new creatures in addition to several monsters given earlier, like the Ghoulstirge. These include the Spectator, a Beholder-like creature which readily guards treasure hoards, and the Stone Guardian, a new type of golem. This is followed by ten sample Player Characters, ranging from Second Level to Fourth Level. Most of them have at least one magical item.

Physically, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is what you would expect from a TSR, Inc. module for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. The layout is clean and tidy, it is easy to read, and the artwork varies in quality—the back cover seems particularly poorly handled. Some of it, is actually very good. Overall, the maps are very good, but perhaps could have been better organised. However, the organisation of the module—rumour and wilderness tables first, then the adventuring locations, including Bone Hill, and lastly the description of Restenford—feel almost backward, but are more higgledy-piggledy than helpful.


Initial reviews of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill were less than positive. For Anders Swenson, writing in Different Worlds Issue 16 (November 1981), the issue was one of scale and randomness, stating that, “There are problems with the material as a scenario - a lot of the encounters seem to be random in nature, not closely related at all to any of the other groups of NPCs and monsters on the map. Given that the Baron of Restenford has a handy military force, why are these nests of monsters within a day’s march of his castle? How can the farmers gather their crops if the random outdoor encounter table is as dangerous as it is? And so forth.” In Ares Nr. 12 (January 1982), Robert Kern said, “The good news is that TSR is publishing a new module for low level characters. The bad news is that it might require a more experienced DM to overcome it omissions and shotgun method of presenting information.” Although he praised the functionality and description of the Restenford given in the module, he was far from positive in considering the motives for the players and their characters in exploring the region around the town.

Conversely, Jim Bambra, reviewing L1 The Secret of Bone Hill in Open Box in White Dwarf No. 35 (November 1982), were more positive. He wrote that the descriptions of both town and wilderness were “particularly colourful.”, such that “A good feel of the area is given and the whole module provides an excellent background for a campaign.”, before lamenting that, “Unfortuately [sic], it provides little more than this on a long term basis. L1 primarily sets a scene, with adventures along the way. Parts of L1 are not needed until the arrival of L2 and so trying to run this module on its own could prove to be a frustrating experience as the designer has given little indication of what L2 will contain or how many more modules there are likely to be.” However, he suggested that with the publication of its sequel, L2 The Assassin’s Knot, the module would be enjoyable and awarded the module a score of eight out of ten.


L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is regarded as a classic, but as a classic, it is a problematic one and it would have been a problematic one at the time of its publication. Geographically, the compact and dangerous nature of the region around Restenford with its cluster of threats and busy encounter tables, does feel just a little too forced, but neither of these is insurmountable, and it is possible to suspend any sense of disbelief that this might give rise to. However, the real problems are that as a module, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is not ready to play and it does not have a plot—or at least a hook to play and adventure there. Indeed, the nearest it gets to plot is the blurb on the cover: “Danger lurks in the Lendore Isles. Bands of evil creatures prowl the hills overlooking the town of Restenford, seeking unwary victims. Now you have come to this sleepy little village looking for adventure and excitement. You seek to fathom the unexplored reaches of Bone Hill and unlock the mysteries of Restenford.”

Obviously, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is not designed as a plotted adventure, but as a sandbox, but as a consequence of the lack of plots and hooks, it needs to be taken apart and be prepared as a playing environment, rather than as a straightforward plotted adventure. Reasons need to be developed for the Player Characters to come to the Lendore Isle, let alone go exploring and adventuring there. After all, the minimum Level for the Player Characters is Second rather than First Level, so they will have had some previous adventures. The inclusion of the extensive rumour tables support this, but nevertheless, the Dungeon Master still has to pull them out and link them to locations described elsewhere in the scenario, to create hooks which will pull her Player Characters into the setting and the plots that the rumours hint at, but are left undeveloped and unexplored. This process is not really helped by the lack of motivations for the many NPCs to be found in the module—the villains in particular, and it is not helped by the scattershot organisation which presents the adventuring locations first rather than the starting point for the Player Characters that is the town of Restenford.

There is a lot of gaming potential in L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, but as one of the first sandbox adventures, its design—which is almost like a sandbox itself in its organisation—does not match its potential. It needs a lot of effort upon the part of Dungeon Master to even begin to work well, who will have to pull it apart and rebuild it around plots and hooks that she will have to develop. Fortunately, there is a wealth of detail in its pages for the Dungeon Master looking to develop L1 The Secret of Bone Hill into a more fully rounded adventuring environment. Far from being a plotted adventure, L1 The Secret of Bone Hill is more of a sourcebook and a toolkit awaiting the input of an experienced Dungeon Master.


For further information about L1 The Secret of Bone Hill and its author, Lenard Lakfoka, the Grognardia blog posted an interview with him in 2009. The first in three part series can be found here and is well worth taking the time to read.

Sunday 25 October 2020

Funnel & Scoop

Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is the tenth release for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, the spiritual successor to Gamma World published by Goodman Games. It is the third scenario designed for Zero Level player characters, what this means is that Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is a Character Funnel, one of the signature features of both the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game it is mechanically based upon—in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. In terms of the setting, known as Terra A.D., or ‘Terra After Disaster’, this is a ‘Rite of Passage’ and in Mutants, Manimals, and Plantients, the stress of it will trigger ‘Metagenesis’, their DNA expressing itself and their mutations blossoming forth.

So whilst Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is a Character Funnel in the classic sense of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game it is very different to any other Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game scenario before it—and for three reasons. First, it includes a plot which will drive both the Player Characters to act and events forward. Now this is in comparison to the majority of the other scenarios for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game which are reactive in nature, that is, the Player Characters typically reacting to a danger that threatens their home and sees them going out to deal with the threat. Now this is not to say that there is not an external threat involved in Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans, but rather that it is better used to drive the plot. Second, it moves the setting of the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game—as much as there is one—forward, and third, explores more of the genre in ways that previous adventures for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game have assiduously avoided.

The set-up focuses on Canyon City, a settlement atop an isolated and difficult to climb mesa which divides a canyon where the inhabitants have found peace and solitude from the dangers of the world beyond.The rich soil atop the mesa means that the inhabitants of Canyon City have had time to grow and learn, and actually advance from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age and so when the Player Characters enter into the wider world, they are not only better equipped, but also have an understanding of the basics of the technology they might find out there. For example, they know how power cells work and they know how to replace them. This will give the Player Characters a slight advantage in play and means that in the play, they will not be quite so clueless about the devices they might find. However, as a tribe, they do not practise the Rite of Passage common to other tribes, or indeed other Character Funnels for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, and so will be at a disadvantage when facing the rigours and dangers of the wilderness beyond the mesa. (That said, the scenario does not really present the Player Characters with a lot of opportunity to find loot and so exercise their ‘advanced’ technological knowledge.)

Unfortunately for the Player Characters and their home of Canyon City, the region suffers what appears to be an incident of wondrous weather. Under dark clouds, radical rainbow-hued rainfall falls on the mesa, forming a black gloop which adheres to everything—inhabitants, crops, livestock, and more—and suffocates all it encases. As the tribe sees its future threatened by this strange incident, one the Elders comes forward and declares that in order to survive, the tribe must conduct a Rite of Passage, and since the Player Characters are of the right age, they are the ones to go forth and seek a solution to the tribe’s problem.

Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is divided into three acts. In the first, they must make their escape down the mesa, either by taking a steep route down its side or negotiating passage to the ground below. It is on the way down that they are contacted—supposedly by a god—which promises to help the Player Characters in their quest, but only if they help him with a task. (And they really should, since the scenario is not really going anywhere if they decline.) There is the chance here for the Judge to ham up the portrayal of the god when roleplaying him, and even create the object of the god’s quest.

The second act is much more tradiational in its play, the Player Characters needing to explore a ruin from the time of the Ancients which will be familiar to the players. Act three is where Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans takes a radical turn. Here they are literally scooped up and brought to the future—or is it the past? At their destination, the Player Characters have a chance to fulfil their second quest, whether through persuasion or intimidation, and so lead to their original problem being addressed.

Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is quite a short adventure, just sixteen pages in length, and likely to offer no more than a couple of sessions’ worth of play. It offers a mix of exploration and confrontation, as well as an odd puzzle to solve, and that is traditional enough in a Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game scenario, but where Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans departs from the norm is that it has the Player Characters encounter the remnants of the Ancients and for a little while, interact with them. Ideally, it should suggest to the Player Characters that there is more to the world than ruins and that there are greater forces at work—none of which have been hinted at before.

In comparison to previous scenarios for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, this one is very light in terms of artefacts to be found and other rewards. That though, is not really a problem for as short a scenario as this and given that this is a Character Funnel, the real reward is survival and enough Experience Points to gain First Level. Which in fact, unlike other Character Funnels can occur during the play of the scenario rather than than at the end of it. Which would greatly increase the chance of a Player Character surviving should he attain First Level. The other reward in the scenario is ways to find the Patron AIs from which the Shaman Class is granted its spells or wetware programs. This is not something that is particularly addressed in the roleplaying game and it is a pity that the process of how a Shaman goes about making contact with the Patron AI has not been explored.

Physically, Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is neatly and tidily presented. The cover is eye-catchingly pulpy in its style, whilst the internal illustrations are all good. The maps though are very nicely done and very easy to use.

Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is the most different, the most radical scenario so far for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. The fact that it advances the Player Characters’ technology base and exposes them to aspects of the genre not really explored in the game to date, means that the Judge’s game world is going to be changed by Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans. The fact that it comes with a plot also makes Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans a refreshing change as well as a radical one. Hopefully if there are more scenarios for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, they will explore more of the world hinted at in Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans and more them will come with plot. In the meantime, Mutant Crawl Classics #10: Seeking the Post-Humans is an engaging and enjoyable scenario, a fun Character Funnel which works as a campaign starter or a convention scenario.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Broken and Brilliant

Redfield Valley is so utterly bucolic and idyllic that there is almost no reason for anyone to go there. Unless of course, you grew up there or you have recently come into property there or you are returning the ashes of a friend to his home there or a fugitive you are hunting for is said to have taken refuge there or you are investigating rumours that the valley might actually be full of treasure or… Or whatever the reason, you and your fellow Player Characters are visiting Redfield Valley, best known for its rich, red soil, Vakefort—the dullest outpost in the Imperial Army, and that is it. Redfield Valley really is nothing to write home about. Oh perhaps after visiting the villages of Crownhill and Appleton, the inhabitants might come to you with some help dealing with some Goblins who have kidnapped several of the locals, but that is about as much excitement as you would expect to find in Redfield Valley…

And then KABOOM! And fazacck! And fire and really sharp, eye-stinging glitter (not kidding) and… the sky falls on Redfield Valley.

Now, the green, bucolic landscape of Redfield Valley has been turned into a blood red mud churned hellhole, littered with debris that crackles with strange energy from a city, whilst the Old Tusk promontory to the south is a steaming caldera, towers lie on their side, cracked and open, roads in the sky appear to climb to nowhere, and a dungeon appears to spiral into the sky. None of this was there before the fall… What has happened in Redfield Valley? Who unleashed the devastation and what secrets will it reveal?

This is the set-up for Shards of the Broken Sky, a campaign for 13th Age, the roleplaying game from Pelgrane Press which combines the best elements of both Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition and Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition to give high action combat, strong narrative ties, and exciting play. Designed to take Player Characters from First Level to Seventh Level, it is a sandbox campaign set in 13th Age’s Dragon Empire. It supports different motivations and play styles, is designed to support Player Character relationships to the setting, and which really could be played more than once—though with different Player Characters—and each time their motivations would make the campaign very different in tone and flavour. It is also both brilliant and broken.

What is going on in Shards of the Broken Sky—and this explanation is clearer and more straightforward than any given in the book, and something that the authors should have led with, but failed to do so—is that Redfield Valley hides an incredible secret. It is actually the cover for an ancient prison and repository for all of the ancient secrets and dangers that Dragon Empire—and in particular the Emperor and the Archmage do not want anyone to know about or to get hold of. In Ages past, the Archmage hid these secrets behind wards which prevented access to them and built Vantage, a flying city-fortress-prison, to monitor, control, and protect the wards. Neither the wards, Vantage, or the roads that led up to it could be seen from the ground unless you had permission and knew the way. Now, something or someone has caused Vantage to come crashing down to earth, depositing an apocalypse upon Redfield Valley, causing death and devastation, weakening the wards it was built to maintain, and over the course of Shards of the Broken Sky, failing and so unleashing and revealing all of the secrets and threats Vantage was intended to hide.

Over the course of the campaign, the Player Characters will constantly find themselves delving into dungeons that are not dungeons and dungeons that are not dungeons which play with perspective and geometry and time. They are almost bookended by a pair of tombs, one full of traps inspired by Grimtooth’s Book of Traps, the other full of the deadliest of traps that the Old School Renaissance has to offer, and which would ordinarily never ever otherwise appear in an adventure for 13th Age, but also include an Area 51-like bunker which served as a repository of magic; the Shattered Spine, a wizard’s tower fallen and broken on its side; a valley of dinosaurs, all ready for the Orcs to raid and die in order to grab the gargantuan beasts as mounts; Magaheim, a golden city suspended over a volcano inhabited by demons and Dwarfs and their offspring, where the Game Master can play all of the noir storylines amongst its corruption and bureaucracy; the Winding Gyre, a floating maze which spirals into the sky and will see the Player Characters leaping up and down from one lump of rubble to ruin, again and again; and a living dungeon where the Oozes which may not be what they seem.

There are amongst them some incredibly inventive scenes. They include the Corpse of Kroon, dead and falling, but frozen in time, which the Player Characters can scale again and again in order to steal the magical items he implanted in his body; a wizard’s sanctum frozen at the moment of its destruction, its fixtures and features flung into the air around which the Player Characters must manoeuvre to fight; and a warded and party-frozen battlefield with the feel of the trenches of the Great War. All of this is fantastic and it is where Shards of the Broken Sky shines—and shines brilliantly. Not just because of these scenes and the inventiveness of these dungeons, but also because the campaign can be played in different ways. It is a mystery in which the Player Characters investigate dungeon after dungeon to determine who attacked Vantage and brought it down on Redfield Valley? Is it a heroic rescue mission in the Player Characters work to save the inhabitants of Redfield Valley and prevent the dangers warded by Vantage being unleashed upon the wider Dragon Empire? It is a campaign of survival horror, in which the Player Characters must survive and fight the dangers unleashed by the fall of Vantage? Is it a classic heist, in which the Player Characters raid the aftermath of the fall of Vantage for loot and glory? Is the new landscape of Redfield Valley simply somewhere to explore and delve into its newly revealed secrets? Shards of the Broken Sky can be played as any one of those or even combined.

However, to get to this brilliance, it takes a lot of effort upon the part of the Game Master—and that is where Shards of the Broken Sky is broken. And intentionally so. As a campaign, it is not just a sandbox, but a toolkit which the Game Master has to take the parts of and put together, taking dungeon after dungeon and encounter after encounter, and plugging them into the character Levels which the Player Characters are at. Shards of the Broken Sky provides numerous dungeons and encounters with which to do that. The Game Master also needs to work hard in order to bring Player Character motivations into play. This will primarily be done through their relationships with the thirteen Icons of the Dragon Empire—the Archmage, the Crusader, the Diabolist, the Dwarf King, the Elf Queen, the Emperor, the Great Gold Wyrm, the High Druid, the Lich King, the Orc Lord, the Priestess, the Prince of Shadows, and the ancient evil Dragons known as the Three—each of which has their own reasons for taking an interesting in Redfield Valley and the fall of Vantage. To support that, Shards of the Broken Sky provides adversary group after adversary group for the various factions and Icons with an interest in the remnants of Vantage, which the Game Master can plug into the campaign depending upon which the Icons the Player Characters have relationships with and which may or may not have been responsible for what has happened. Primarily these will appear as random encounters which the Game Master will work into the dungeons throughout the campaign, with the forces of the various Icons often appearing and working against the efforts of the Player Characters. These random encounters are in addition to the various monsters and encounters given for each location, as well as the Tension tables for each dungeon which ramp up the pressure on the Player Characters as they delve deeper—or even sometimes higher—into the dungeon.

As well as providing numerous adversary groups, Shards of the Broken Sky includes new monsters, new Icon-specific monster abilities to customise agents of the Prince of Shadows, new treasures, and new optional Player Character Races. The latter includes the Lava Dwarves, who can deliver a blistering heat at attack once per battle; Oozefolk, whose melee attacks do acidic damage when they are Staggered and whose touch might be acidic—an interesting defence if swallowed; and the Ophidians, legless, four-armed serpent folk with poison fangs. All make an appearance in the campaign as NPCs, and could then appear as replacement Player Characters or in the ongoing campaign once Shards of the Broken Sky has been completed. The new magical items include fading items whose power drain away from one scene to the next and various items derived from the crystals that were built into the walls of Vantage, whilst the monsters range from Pie Mimics and Kroon’s Foot Lice to Wicker Golems and Rainbow Puddings!

To fully run Shards of the Broken Sky, will need more than a few books. Not just the core 13th Age rules and 13 True Ways, but also the 13th Age Bestiary and 13th Age Bestiary 2 and the Book of Loot and Book of Loot 2. Other books, such as The Crown Commands, Fire and Faith, and High Magic & Low Cunning will be useful, but are likely optional. The excellent Book of Ages may be useful as a reference in certain dungeons of the campaign.

Physically, is in general well-presented. It needs an edit in places, and whilst relatively lightly illustrated, there is some great artwork throughout. However, of the maps that there are, many are too dark to read with ease, whilst others are comprised of icons that indicate the relationship and links between various locations. These are not often easy to read. Enjoyably throughout though are the authors’ advice and playtest feedback which provide a commentary throughout. That said, the authors could have been more upfront about the plot to the campaign and what is going on, rather than leaving it for the Game Master to discover as she reads through the book. Lastly, Shards of the Broken Sky is not actually an easy read, but that is due to it being written as a toolkit rather than as a linear dungeon which would be the case with almost any other mega-dungeon or campaign for the fantasy roleplaying game of your choice.

Anyone going into Shards of the Broken Sky expecting a more traditional, even linear campaign, even as a sandbox, is likely to be disappointed. It is simply not built that way, and in comparison to such a campaign, Shards of the Broken Sky is broken. However, Shards of the Broken Sky is designed in that way by intent because it is a toolkit, a book of parts—each of which could be extracted from the book and used on their own in a Game Master’s own campaign—that are designed to be used by the Game Master to build around her Player Characters and their Icon relationships to create her own version of the campaign. Which of course does more work upon the part of the Game Master, but if done right will make the campaign more personal to the Player Characters. Neither the Game Master nor her players are going to be able to put the Shards of the Broken Sky back together, but they are going to be able to take its brilliant brokenness and build a great campaign together.

Friday 23 October 2020

Friday Fantasy: Wizards & Spells

There is no denying the continued and growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, with it having appeared on the television series Stranger Things and the YouTube series, Critical Role, it no longer being seen as a hobby solely the preserve of typically male, nerdy teenagers and young adults. Yet as acceptable a hobby as roleplaying and in particular, playing Dungeons & Dragons has become, getting into the hobby is still a daunting prospect. Imagine if you will, being faced with making your first character for your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? Then what monsters will face? What adventures will you have? For nearly all of us, answering these questions are not all that far from being a challenge, for all started somewhere and we all had to make that first step—making our first character, entering our first dungeon, and encountering our first monster. As well written as both Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook are, both still present the prospective reader and player with a lot of choices, but without really answering these questions in an easy to read and reference fashion.

Step forward the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ published by Ten Speed Press. This is a series of introductory guides to Dungeons & Dragons, designed as primers to various aspects of the world’s leading roleplaying game. Each in the series is profusely illustrated, no page consisting entirely of text. The artwork is all drawn from and matches the style of Dungeon & Dragons, Fifth Edition, so as much as it provides an introduction to the different aspects of the roleplaying game covered in each book in the series, it provides an introduction to the look of the roleplaying game, so providing continuity between the other books in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ and the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and the core rulebooks. This use of art and the digest size of the book means that from the start, every entry in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ is an attractive little package.

The first in the series, Warriors & Weapons provided an introduction to the various Races of Dungeons & Dragons, the martial character Classes, and the equipment they use. Second is not Wizards & Spells, the companion to Warriors & Weapons which covers Clerics, Sorcerers, and Wizards—and more, or indeed any of the other spellcasting character types in Dungeons & Dragons. Instead the second book in the series is Monsters & Creatures. As the title suggests, this presents an introduction to the monsters, creatures, and animals that the prospective player may well have his character encounter on his adventures, many of them—like the Beholder, the Mind Flayer, the Owl Bear, and more—iconic to Dungeons & Dragons. Equally, the third in the series is not the eagerly anticipated Wizards & Spells, but Dungeons & Tombs, a guide to the dungeons, tombs, castles, crypts, cave networks, and other complexes which populate the many fantasy words of Dungeons & Dragons. However, the resulting book is disappointing, overly specific in terms of its treatment of the roleplaying game’s infamous tombs and dungeons.

So, it is with some pleasure—and no little wait—to finally have a copy of the much-promised second in the series, Wizards & Spells, to review. It is even more pleasurable to discover that what turns out to be the fourth book series is a return to form after the disappointment of Dungeons & Tombs. Like the previous entries in the series, it is written as an illustrated introduction to the magic of Dungeons & Dragons—spellcasters of all stripes, notable examples of each stripe, an examination of spells of all Levels, and a plethora of magical items. It is very much a companion to  the first book in the series, Warriors & Weapons, focusing on the spellcasting character Classes of Dungeons & Dragons and the spells they can cast instead of the martial character Classes of Dungeons & Dragons and the weapons they can wield.

As with Warriors & Weapons, this mystical-centred entry into the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ is divided into three sections. The first section examines six of the character Classes at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons. These are bard, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Each is accorded a full, double spread which explores what each Class can do. Prefaced by a handful of questions, each highlights the Class’ features, gives a broad description of the Class, and lists the Equipment and Attributes key to the Class. So for example, of the Cleric, it asks if the character has a purpose, seeks to inspire others, and wants to serve a higher power? All, of course, pointing to the possibility that the character wants to be a Cleric. The Cleric’s six Divine Domains are explained and then their role in society is important because the gods are real and can bestow blessings and power upon their faithful, which of course, includes the humble Cleric. The description notes how a Cleric’s magic is defined by the god he worships, and that a Cleric will often answer his god’s call to go off on adventures and undertake various tasks for him. The Equipment and Attributes explains what arms and armour a Cleric wields and wears, the importance of his Holy Symbol, how he channels Divinity from his god to cast his magic, and that the Cleric is a scourge of the undead.

Thus, in just a couple of pages, Wizards & Spells provides a quick, easily accessible description of the Cleric Class and what it does. Then it does the same for each of the other five spellcasting Classes, looking at, for example, the Bardic Colleges for the Bard, the Druidic Circles for the Druid, Draconic Bloodlines for the Sorcerer, the Pact Boon for the Warlock, and the importance of the Spellbook to the Wizard. Each is followed up by an exemplar of that Class, drawn from Dungeons & Dragons canon. Thus, for the Wizard, the mighty Mordenkainen of Greyhawk fame, is described, including his history and background, personality, and more. Three of his many spells are also described, such as Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Faithful Hound, and Mordenkainen’s Sword. Elsewhere, the writeup of the Gnome Warlock, Zanizyre Clockguard, whose patron is the dread Tiamat, Queen of Evil Dragons, includes a description of his Dominate Dragon spell, and the reputation of Florizan Blank, as a ‘Dandy Duellist’ who combines dance moves and swordsmanship, whilst also employing the Blank Mask, a pink carnival mask which when worn, enables him to appear as any person he likes—fictional or real life.

Rounding off the section is a flowchart, which if followed, a prospective player can quickly decide what Class that he might like to play. It is quick and easy to follow, and a player soon knows which Class he wants to look at in more detail. It would however, seem more appropriate for the flowchart to come before the description for six Classes, so that the reader can progress forward from the flowchart rather than flipping back…

‘Types of Magic’, the second section, covers everything from the eight schools of magic—ranging from Abjuration and Conjuration to Necromancy and Transmutation, the differences between using rituals and scrolls, and how spells are cast. None of it is covered in any great detail, but this is still more than enough information for a prospective player to grasp the basics of how spellcasting works. The bulk of the second section, however, is devoted to spells—in fact, over a third of Wizards & Spells is devoted to them, from Cantrips such as Message and Prestidigitation all the up to the Meteor Swarm and Shapechange of Ninth Level. Every spell is given a description and a number of tips on its usage. Thus for Web, it states that the spellcaster should have points or surfaces upon which to anchor the webbing, that they are flammable, and that in addition to be commonly used as an offensive spell to capture and hold the caster’s enemies, it could also be used as a cushion to soften someone’s fall or to detect someone or something that is invisible in the webbing! The section covers an array of spells from the eight schools, and that includes Necromantic spells like Speak with Dead and Create Undead, along with healing spells such as Cure Wounds. Notably throughout, what Wizards & Spells does not do is divide the spells depending whether they are divine or arcane in nature, or indeed, by Class. Perhaps here the ‘Types of Magic’ might have benefited from such a distinction, if only to give a greater indication of what sort of spells a player might like his character to be able to cast and thus what Class he wants to play. However, the descriptions are entertaining and the tips fun.

Rounding out Wizards & Spells is a description of numerous magical items—weapons, staves, wands, magic armour, potions, rings, cloaks, and more. Included along with are wondrous items, such as The Sunsword of Ravenloft fame, and the Staff of the Magi, the Wand of Wonder, both of which are given a double-page spread, whilst lesser wondrous items, like the Bag of Holding and Boots of Speed, are given shorter descriptions. All of these are accompanied by full colour illustrations that support the descriptions.

Physically, Wizards & Spells is an attractive little hardback, just like the other three titles in the series. It is bright, it is breezy, and it shows a prospective player what he can play, both in the art and the writing. Further, the art shows lots of adventuring scenes which can only spur the prospective player’s imagination.

One advantage of Wizards & Spells being released last is that it means that the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’ ends on a high note rather than the disappointment that is Dungeons & Tombs. However, Wizards & Spells is as good as Warriors & Weapons, to which it is a companion, showcasing Dungeons & Dragons and introducing the prospective player to what he can roleplay. Together—and really, they work together, and they should be together, because as a pair they cover all of the Classes in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and a little of the types of adventures such characters can have. Further, as with Warriors & Weapons and Monsters & Creatures, Wizards & Spells can sit on the table during play as a reference work, not necessarily as something that a player would know, but as something that his character might know.

Overall, Wizards & Spells is a decent little book, which nicely rounds off the ‘Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guides Series’. It serves as a solid introduction to magic for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and serves as a solid companion to Warriors & Weapons as well as gift to the young prospective player of a mystical character.

Monday 19 October 2020

Jonstown Jottings #29: A Tale of Woodcraft

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 Glorantha13th 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?

A Tale of Woodcraft is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eighteen-page, full colour, 13.15 MB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy, and the illustrations good. It very much needs another edit.

Where is it set?
A Tale of Woodcraft can be placed anywhere where an Aldryami forest is located adjacent to a Human settled area. It also requires a route which has been rendered impassable, for example, a ravine crossed by a broken bridge, a river in flood, or a mountain pass blocked by a landslide. The scenario also requires an area where agents of the Lunar Empire might be operating.

The default given area in A Tale of Woodcraft is Sartar.

Who do you play?
No specific character types are required to play A Tale of Woodcraft, but Troll characters or characters with Lunar connections will be at a disadvantage. A literate Player Character might also be useful, but not absolutely necessary.

What do you need?
A Tale of Woodcraft requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in GloranthaRuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary will be useful. 

What do you get?
A Tale of Woodcraft is an on-the-road adventure, much like the earlier Vinga’s Ford, also from Beer with Teeth. However, where Vinga’s Ford has a specific location, A Tale of Woodcraft has flexible geographical requirements.

The scenario finds the Player Characters on the road when they find their route blocked. This can be because of a flooded river, a landslide, or a broken bridge—the latter the default in A Tale of Woodcraft. The likelihood is that the blockage will take days to clear or repair and so an alternative route is suggested—a rough path which will take the Player Character up and around the obstacle via a high tor. They are not the only ones on the steep route though, they are followed by a group of older men and a group of Aldryami seems to be pacing them on the path opposite. It quickly becomes apparent that the two groups are coming to meet each other for a ceremony, and that this is a regular occurrence. However, the tense nature of the meeting is threatened by the inadvertent appearance of the Player Characters as does the discovery of a strange box nearby…

A Tale of Woodcraft involves two plot strands that nicely dovetail into each other, one of which at least, may have consequences for the Player Characters for years to come. One is the ceremony, which involves formally confirming a longstanding peace between the nearby tribe and a decidedly prickly Elf, the other the contents of the box, which once determined, are likely to lead to a confrontation with some fairly tough opponents. Whilst the latter is likely to offer the opportunity for some combat in what is the scenario’s climax, the former involves a mix of roleplaying and exploration. This requires some delicacy upon the part of the Player Characters, lest a diplomatic incident occur, and ancient, near-forgotten hostilities break out once again…

However, the scenario feels slightly overwritten in places and the Game Master will need to give it a careful read through prior to running it, especially to understand its plot strands. That said, it comes with some interesting further plot hooks and the story nicely mixes tradition with inadvertent foul play.

Is it worth your time?
YesA Tale of Woodcraft presents an entertaining roleplaying challenge, a mystery, and some action, that all together neatly packaged on route somewhere for easy addition to a campaign.
NoA Tale of Woodcraft is not worth your time if you are running a campaign involving Lunars or Trolls, or set far away from the Lunar Empire.
MaybeA Tale of Woodcraft needs a careful read through prior to being run and maybe too complex for a simple sidetrek-style adventure.

Sunday 18 October 2020

#WeAreAllUs: The Adventure of the Great Hunt

In 2020, King Arthur Pendragon is thirty-five years old and in that time it has seen five editions, the last of which–apart from some minor updates, appeared in 2008. In that time, the award-winning King Arthur Pendragon—still the preeminent roleplaying game that explores Arthurian legend, has not received a quick-start, a means of introducing the setting, the mechanics, and the style of play. That changes with The Adventure of the Great Hunt, the quick-start designed to introduce Pendragon, Sixth Edition released  to observe the third anniversary of its designer’s—the late Greg Stafford—passing. As with any good quick-start, it is designed to introduce and explain the core rules, provide a scenario which can be played in a single session, and the pre-generated characters necessary to play. The new version of Pendragon is intended as Greg Stafford’s ‘ultimate’ edition and whilst the style and play of the game remains the same, there are a number of modifications to the rules—as evidenced in The Adventure of the Great Hunt.

For anyone coming to The Adventure of the Great Hunt via King Arthur Pendragon, rest assured that the fundamentals have not changed. Players take the role of knights seeking Glory and honour during the reign of Arthur, King of the Britons; a knight will primarily be defined by his physical attributes—there is no equivalent of the Intelligence stat in Pendragon; a knight’s personality will be defined by thirteen pairs of opposed Traits, such as Chaste and Lustful, Just and Arbitrary, and Valorous and Cowardly, which can guide his decisions, help him pass (or fail) a moral test, influence others, and so on; a knight may be swayed by his Passions, such Love (Family) and Hate (Saxons); and the mechanics still involve the rolling of a twenty-sided die.

The rules to The Adventure of the Great Hunt and thus the basics of Pendragon, Sixth Edition—whether coming to Pendragon for the first time or having played previous versions of King Arthur Pendragon, are explained with no little efficiency. It covers the core mechanic—rolling under a skill, attribute, trait, or passion, on a twenty-sided die, with the critical success being equal to the exact value of the target, and a natural twenty being a critical failure. It also explains how skills, traits, and passions can be rated above twenty. Traits and Passions of sixteen or more, are of course, something that a Knight is considered to be Famous for, whilst he is Exalted if they are twenty or more. The Adventure of the Great Hunt explains the results when Passions are invoked, typically an Inspired +5 bonus to a skill on a success and an Impassioned +10 bonus on a critical success, but a loss of a point of the Passion on a fumble as well as several days of melancholia—or oven madness, depending upon if the Passion is Famous or Exalted. Mechanically, Passions are a great way of Knight gaining a bonus to his next actions, but they are simply great roleplaying hooks too.

Combat is resolved using opposed rolls against the combatants’ skills, for example sword versus sword or spear versus axe. To make a successful attack, a knight’s player must successively roll under his attack skill and roll better than the opposing knight’s player. It is possible for both players to make successful rolls, in which case the player with the lower result has achieved a partial success and although his knight does not inflict damage, he can use his shield or weapon to help block damage from the incoming attack. The combat system allows for dropped or broken weapons on a Fumble, for a Knight to be knocked down if the base damage—before armour deducts any points—inflicted in greater than his Size attribute, and Major Wounds to be suffered if the damage inflicted after armour stops it is greater than a Knight’s Constitution. Understandably, given the historical period in which Pendragon, Sixth Edition is set, Major Wounds are difficult to recover from. So woe betide any Knight who suffers a critical strike in combat—the base damage for most weapons is four six-sided dice, and critical strikes add another four six-sided dice!

As well as healing, mounted combat, and so on, the last thing that The Adventure of the Great Hunt covers is the squire who a Knight is responsible for training in arms, courtesy, and the other skills necessary to bear the title of knight. In return, the squire is a servant for his Knight and may conduct certain actions in combat, such as rendering First Aid, and bringing a new weapon or a fresh horse should a Knight need them.

The scenario in the quick-start is ‘The Adventure of the Great Hunt’. Set during the Conquest Period of Arthur’s reign, it can be played in one long session or two shorter ones, and is suitable to be run as a one-shot or as part of a campaign. If part of a campaign, the Player-Knights will gain Experience Checks for critical successes, as well as Glory for their actions. If run as a one-shot, the Player-Knights will simply gain Glory, and the Knight who gains the most Glory over the course of the adventure will be the one best remembered in the tales told about its events in the winter months to come.

As the title suggests, ‘The Adventure of the Great Hunt’ involves a great deal of hunting—of creatures great and small, Courtesy, Orate, travel, one of their unmarried sisters, and logistics! The scenario comes with a built-in time limit and it is entirely possible for the players to scupper their Knights’ efforts if they are too inefficient in terms of where they decide to travel to. It begins with the Player-knights as guests at the hunting lodge of Sir Servause le Breuse, a veteran knight and renowned hunter, when suddenly their discussions are interrupted by the arrival of Sir Ector, the foster-father of King Arthur Pendragon! He seeks the aid of Sir Servause le Breuse in either slaying or driving off a fearsome dragon which is ravaging some of his holdings in Norgales (North Wales). There is the chance here that one or more of the Player-knights will valorously, if not prudently, decide to rush off and attempt to slay the dragon himself—or help Sir Ector do so. Fortunately, for more Player-Knights, their host has a plan, and this forms the meat of the scenario.

The plan requires the sweet perfume that is the belch of the panther!

Ordinarily, every other beast in Christendom—and likely beyond, finds this scent to be attractive and fragrant, but not the dragon. To such a fearsome creature, it is a stench, a small so strong it will drive the beast into a torpor, or even deep into the earth. To gain such an eruction, the Player-Knights not only have to acquire a Panther, but also such beasts whose special qualities are so efficacious to a Panther’s digestion that it will emit the richest and most pleasing of belches, and so have the greatest effect upon the dragon! So begins the great hunt!

‘The Adventure of the Great Hunt’ will see the Player-Knights travel back and forth across England to the various locations where Sir Servause le Breuse suggests the desired beasts may be found. Many times, this will see the Player-Knights pursuing various beasts, such as cranes in the fens of Anglia or stags in the nearby forest, on day-long hunts using the given hunting and pursuit rules. However, not every creature can be obtained with as simple a task as a hunt, and the Player-knights have opportunities too to persuade the great and the good of the land to lend them their aid and their beasts. There is even a hunt which will not involve the Player-Knights at all! Ultimately—and if they are in time, the Player-Knights will have assembled their menagerie, driven it Norgales, fed the panther, satisfied its appetite, and have eruct the sweetest of belches imaginable!

Of course, this is all up against the time limit and the Player-Knights may not necessarily have acquired sufficient beasts and not fed them to the panther in time—and so, there is the chance that they will fail. There is also the chance that Sir Ector may not wait around long enough for them to arrive and ride out in one last valorous attempt to drive off the dragon from his lands… So as much as the Player-knights to be successful in obtaining the necessary animals, they really do need to effectively manage their time.

In addition to the stats for the NPCs and various beasts, The Adventure of the Great Hunt comes with six pre-generated Player-Knights. They include an adventuring knight, a champion knight, a courtier knight, a hardy knight, a hunter knight, and a religious knight. The hunter knight will be the most obviously useful, but all of the knights will have a chance to shine in the adventure. The adventure includes a map showing the locations of where the various creatures may be found and the travel distances between each location. The Game Master will not only want to provide the sample Player-Knights for her players, but also some tokens to track the Player-Knights and their various quarries on the many hunts they have to undertake, and probably a calendar to track how many days the Player-Knights have spent on their tasks so far and how many they have left.

As well appointed as The Adventure of the Great Hunt is, there are one or two issues with it. It would have been nice if the pre-generated Player-Knights had been given a single sheet each and perhaps an explanation as to what makes them stand out. That would have been useful for players new to Pendragon rather than just Pendragon, Sixth Edition. Also a list of names, both male and female as the Knights can be ‘Sirs’ and ‘Dames’, would have been useful for ease of play—especially if The Adventure of the Great Hunt is run as a convention adventure, for not only do the players have to name their Knights, they also have to name their squires. Another issue is with the map. It is not obvious where the Player-Knights start. Reading through The Adventure of the Great Hunt, it becomes clear that it is the site of the stag hunt, but it is not clear from the text.

Physically, The Adventure of the Great Hunt is well presented. It is neat and tidy, and easy to read. The illustrations are suitably medieval in style and the monkish marginalia adds to the PDF’s illuminated style.

As has been stated before, King Arthur Pendragon is Greg Stafford’s masterpiece, design classic, a master class in using mechanics to both model its Arthurian genre and to encourage its players to roleplay its knightly character types, in a setting that was a labour of love upon the part of the author. The Adventure of the Great Hunt is a great introduction to knightly adventuring in the time of King Arthur, efficiently explaining the rules and key mechanics before presenting the players and their Knights with a grand challenge, and constantly testing them throughout using a variety of skills, traits, and passions.