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

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Devoid

The crew of the Pavel Sukhoi, an Albatross Class Armed Explorer, has been assigned to the Rizpah-160 system on a search and recovery mission. Operated by mankind’s preeminent space exploration and transport company, Galilee Heavy Industry, the Pavel Sukoi is to enter orbit above Rizpah-160B, recover a probe, Mother Three, and then descend to the surface to recover the three landers it launched to explore the planet below—the comically named Sister Nancy, Sister Sledge, and Brother Ben. Galilee Heavy Industries does not like to waste equipment, but it also wants to keep the fact that Rizpah-160B is potentially habitable a secret. Whilst in orbit, the Pavel Sukhoi is also conduct further surveys, but the Player Characters are assigned the recovery missions. This is the set-up for Darkness in the Void – A Sci-Fi Call of Cthulhu Scenario Set on an Alien World, a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition published Stygian Fox as part of its ‘Cthulhu Tomorrow’ setting.

Unfortunately, Darkness in the Void – A Sci-Fi Call of Cthulhu Scenario Set on an Alien World is spectacularly uninteresting. To begin with, the plot, such as it is, is little more than series of mechanical rolls and skill checks to see how well the Player Characters recover the lost pieces of technology, enlivened by alien species of tree-like hunters which will attack the Player Characters, who expected to run away. The scenario calls the Player Characters Investigators just as you would in any other Call of Cthulhu scenario, but the scenario does not call for any real investigation. The scenario is written for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, but does not involve any of the Mythos. Of course, there have been plenty of scenarios published for Call of Cthulhu which do not involve the Mythos and it is perfectly acceptable to have a non-Mythos horror scenario for the roleplaying, but to not make that fact clear until fourteen pages into the scenario when discussing the rewards and repercussions? Similarly, there is no scope for interaction or roleplaying either, since whilst six pre-generated ‘Investigators’ are provided with the scenario, they lack roleplaying hooks or hints as to the relationships between them which might have engendered or encouraged roleplaying.

Worse, Darkness in the Void completely fails to follow through on the promise given in the blurb on its back cover. It states, “The planet holds mysteries and terrors the likes of which they have never dreamed of, or experienced in their worst nightmares.” There are no mysteries whatsoever in the scenario, and whilst being attacked by an alien species, might be described as a terror, it is such a raging cliché that it will probably bore both the Keeper and her players. Some possible mysteries—the other regions of the planet might hold other horrors and treasures, the Pavel Sukhoi might detect a strange alien signal or remnant of an alien civilisation, are suggested under ‘Further Adventures’, but why promise them on the back cover if the scenario is not going to deliver and simply leave them for the Keeper to create?

Worse, there is an interesting setting behind Darkness in the Void, one which involves Galilee Heavy Industries’ links to the Mythos. Like everything else which might be labelled ‘interesting’ in Darkness in the Void, it is only hinted at. Salo’s Glory, another Science Horror scenario for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition published by Stygian Fox, addresses it in more direct fashion and does involve the Mythos.

Besides its thin plot, Darkness in the Void includes basic deck plans of the Pavel Sukhoi, details of the various pieces of equipment the Player Characters will use throughout the scenario, new skills for the Science Fiction setting, stats for various NPCs and two alien species, and the six pre-generated Player Characters. The illustrations are at least decent, especially of the pre-generated Player Characters, In fact, they may actually be the best thing about Darkness in the Void. Otherwise, Darkness in the Void is poorly written and developed, intermittently edited, but on the plus side, the layout is decent and it is in colour.

Darkness in the Void – A Sci-Fi Call of Cthulhu Scenario Set on an Alien World might be written for Call of Cthulhu, but it is not a Call of Cthulhu scenario. It is at best—and it should be made clear that there is nothing in this scenario which can be described as ‘best’—a Science Fiction scenario with a plot that is not only paper thin, but so much of a cliché, it would have been labelled trite at the dawn of the genre. How a scenario so unremittingly boring and uninvolving could have been foisted upon Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition beggars belief. Avoid at costs, and if you have bought it, seriously, not only ask for your money back, but ask for compensation for your time and effort. Stygian Fox should be paying you to read this scenario, not the other way around.

Maritime Mutant Mystery

Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is the twelfth release for Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic, the spiritual successor to Gamma World published by Goodman GamesDesigned for Second Level player characters, what this means is that Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is not 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. By the time the Player Characters in Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths have reached Second Level, they will have had numerous adventures, should have understanding as to how their mutant powers and how at least some of the various weapons, devices, and artefacts of the Ancients they have found work and can use on their future adventures.

Mutant Crawl Classics 
 #13: Into The Glowing Depths the Player Characters in a totally unexpected direction—under the sea—but begins in assuming fashion with the party travelling somewhere. The where is not important, but it means that the scenario is easy to set up or add to a campaign, because essentially, it is a side trek adventure. An interesting and engaging side trek adventure, but a side trek adventure nevertheless. On the journey, the Player Characters come across a small tubular building in a clearing which is clearly built by the Ancients and is being ransacked for artefacts by a band of the mutated humanoids known as Tri-eyes. After persuading the Tri-eyes to leave, whether through force or bribery, the Player Characters have  the opportunity to investigate themselves and hopefully find some useful devices left over from the Great Disaster which befell the Ancients. Unfortunately, their curiosity and their greed first gets them trapped, and then flings them into great danger.

Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths will pull the Player Characters out of their comfort zone, because it takes place entirely under the sea and on the ocean floor. This is an environment which the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game has not yet explored, so no one has any idea idea of what the undersea world of Terra A.D. is like—both in-game and out of game—until now. What is revealed is the undersea world was only beginning to be explored and inhabited before the Great Disaster, and much like the world above, the seas of Terra were affected by the nuclear, biological, chemical, nanotech, and other weapons of mass destruction used in the Great Disaster. However, it took a lot longer, being protected initially by the oceans. Like the world above though, there remains pockets and outposts of civilisation from before the Great Disaster, and it is to one of these that the Player Characters find themselves in what should be an epic opening scene.

Many of the adventures for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game combine a mix of exploration and combat, often in what are the isolated remains of buildings, facilities, outposts, stations, bunkers, museums, and the like of the future, now long in the past of Terra A.D. Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths does this too, but it differs because it involves a plot and a number of tasks which the Player Characters must complete in order to finish the scenario, survive, and save the world. Consequently, the scenario feels more proactive, providing the Player Character with objectives and things to do, rather than just exploration and extermination.

The Player Characters find themselves  in an undersea outpost, partially flooded and only partially operational. They will find themselves sloshing through half-lit and darkened rooms, in a series of mini-quests. The first of which is restoring power, the second holding off an attack against invading forces, and the third preventing a further invasion—not just of the undersea outpost, but the whole of the surface world of Terra A.D.! Throughout, the Player Characters are guided by the A.I. which runs the outpost, a surprisingly benign presence in comparison to other computer intelligences found in the world of Terra A.D. (Or Science Fiction in general, especially post apocalyptic Science Fiction.) She—and it is a a she—impresses upon the Player Characters that time is short and invasion from the depths below is imminent.

Thus Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is played out in several steps, beginning with what is effecting the abduction of the Player Characters by the A.I. of the outpost. Then following an explanation, exploration of the outpost’s various levels to find the means to restore power—the latter involving an excursion along the seabed, followed by the defence of the outpost and then the attack on the invaders. Consequently, the scenario is really written in two halves. The first details the outpost itself, whilst the second the events which propel the scenario’s plot forward, culminating hopefully in the successful defeat of the invasion and saving of both outpost and life on Terra A.D. itself!

Both the outpost and the A.I. itself are described in some detail, the latter important because she is a major NPC in the scenario. The outpost is mapped out in pleasing detail, including wavy grid lines rather than straight to indicate locations which are under several feet of water. It is a lovely touch. If perhaps there is an issue with the scenario, it is that the outpost A.I. advises the Player Characters on much of what works and how, aboard the outpost, replacing the usual artifact checks of the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. In some ways, this unavoidable, since there is so much in the outpost that the Player Characters have to know how to work in order to complete the scenario and if the players have to roll, there is a chance of failure.  Another issue of course, is that the scenario opens a whole new world in the form of the subsea environment, but never goes beyond the outpost. Hopefully this world will further detailed in a future supplement or sequel scenario.

Physically, behind a suitably briny cover, Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is cleanly and tidily laid out, clearly written, and decently illustrated. As already mentioned, the maps are really nicely done.

Mutant Crawl Classics #13: Into The Glowing Depths is a real change of pace and environment for the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. As a side trek scenario, it is really easy to add to a campaign, but it is also a thoroughly engaging scenario for both player and Judge, opening up a whole new world in Terra A.D., one which will hopefully be revisited again in Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, as there really is a lot to explore.

Friday, 2 December 2022

The Other OSR—DURF

DURF: An Adventure Game For Brave Adventurers
is a rules-light dungeon-fantasy roleplaying game in the vein of games like Knave, Troika!, and Into the Odd. In fact, it is inspired by and draws from those roleplaying games in terms of its design. For example, it uses an Inventory Slot mechanic for both the equipment carried by the Player Characters and the casting of magic from Knave, and employs the three attributes, deadly combat, and absence of Classes commonly found in the lighter micro-clone designs emanating from the Old School Renaissance. The result is a generically light, retroclone-derived roleplaying game which emphasises the risky nature of combat, simplicity of rules and play, and the need for preparation prior to setting out on an expedition, whilst also adhering to reduced bookkeeping, quick character generation, and a simple advantage system. DURF is also intended to be hackable and purchasers are encouraged to alter and adapt as is their wont.

DURF includes rules for creating Player Characters, straightforward rules for handling most situations, opposed rolls, and combat, spells and spellcasting, NPCs and monsters, and magical items. Where possible, individual elements of the rules are kept to just a single page, and even when placed across two pages, the rules and their supporting content—for example, spellcasting and the spells themselves—are constrained to a page each. It makes everything all very accessible. There is no adventure in the core rules, but given that DURF is a rules-light dungeon-fantasy roleplaying game and Old School Renaissance adjacent, finding a ready source of dungeons and adventures should not be too difficult.

A Player Character in DURF has three attributes, Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower, initially rated between one and three. They can go as high as eight. A Player Character also begins play with one Hit Die, which is rolled to determine if wounds suffered are fatal. He also has a number of Inventory Slots, and begins play with two Supplies, which can be swapped with common dungeoneering equipment during play, a dagger, three random Belongings, and some gold. A Player Character can be created in mere minutes.

Dirk the Dice

Strength 2
Dexterity 3
Willpower 1

Slots 12
Supplies 2
Gold 90
Spells: Drain Life
Belongings: Dagger, Light armour, Tonic of Health


Mechanically, DURF uses a simple roll of a twenty-sided die whenever a player wants his character to act. An appropriate attribute is added to the result and if the result is fifteen or more, then the Player Character succeeds. Opposed rolls are simply determined by the highest result. Instead of Advantage and Disadvantage mechanics of rolling extra twenty-sided dice, DURF uses Buffs and Breaks, rolls of six-sided dice. Individual Buffs and Breaks cancel each other out, but if a Player Character has one or more Buffs, only the highest is counted and added to the player’s roll, whilst if the Player Character has one or more Breaks, only the highest is counted, but is subtracted from the player’s roll. Buffs can be gained from any number of factors, but a Player Character can gain a Buff by Pushing himself. The downside is that the Player Character takes Stress and this fills an Inventory Slot. This can only be done when a Player Character has an empty Inventory Slot.

Combat is fast and employs opposed rolls. This is Strength versus Strength in mêlée combat and Dexterity versus Dexterity in ranged combat. The winner inflicts damage equal to the weapon he wields. Armour reduces this damage, but is damaged in the process. A roll of twenty is a critical hit and inflicts double damage, whilst a roll of one means the weapon is worn and inflicts less damage until repaired. Any damage left over is suffered as Wounds. When this happens, the player rolls his character’s Hit Die or Hit Dice and if the result is less than or equal to the number of Wounds currently suffered, then the character dies. Whenever a Player Character acquires a new Level, his Hit Dice also increase by one, and consequently increase chances of his survival.


Spellcasting in DURF is available to any Player Character. If a Player Character knows or learns a spell, he can cast it. This requires a roll against his Willpower and causes Stress, further filling the Player Character’s Inventory Slots. A roll of one indicates a Blunder, the accompanying table giving a number of entertaining options, including gaining twenty pounds (potentially weight or gold) or a small gnome turning up, ringing a bell as he shames the Player Characters. Accompanying the rules is a selection of twenty spells, which include the familiar such as Levitate, Charm, and Turn Undead, but also the more interesting, like Grasp of Yahzahar which enables the caster to grab his opponents and pin them with shadowy hands.

Rounding out DURF is a guide to creating NPCs, hiring Hirelings—probably a necessity given the deadliness of the mechanics and game play, rules for converting monsters from the Old School Renaissance, and some sample NPCs/monsters, like the Echo Gecko, Dragon, and Eelfolk. The Game Master will definitely need to adapt or create some more. Lastly, there is a selection of magical items and rules for their use.

What distinguishes DURF is its Inventory and Slot management rules combined with the Stress mechanics. DURF is likely to become a roleplaying of resource management as each player manages what his character can carry and then, if he can cast spells, how far he is willing to exhaust himself, gain Stress, and literally choose between what he can carry and what he can cast. This is not new, having been seen elsewhere in the Old School Renaissance, but DURF is a roleplaying game whose designer admits his influences. In roleplaying game designed to be one of purely ‘dungeon-fantasy’, they are notable though.

Physically, DURF is cleanly, tidily laid out. The roleplaying game is well written, easy to read, and quick to learn. It is lightly illustrated in a comic style.

If DURF is missing anything, it is a scenario. Not necessarily to see how the game is played, since the rules are very light and easy to understand. Nor is it to see what the world of DURF is like, since there is no world implied, since DURF is meant to be a rules-light dungeon-fantasy roleplaying game and we know what such a world is like from Dungeons & Dragons and its numerous iterations. Rather, the point of having a scenario or dungeon in DURF is to get to the point where the Game Master can start running DURF and her players can start playing it. DURF is obviously designed so that it takes minutes to create a Player Character, so why not make it minutes to start play after that?

Overall, DURF: An Adventure Game For Brave Adventurers is what you want in a micro-clone. Rules light, quick to play, deadly where it counts, and open to tinkering and development if the Game Master wants too.

—oOo—

Lair of the Gobbler: A Dungeon for Low Hit Dice Adventurers (1-2 HD) is the first official adventure for DURF. It is not part of the core rulebook, but is available to download. It details an eight-room dungeon location in a hill in the Barrenmoot Swamps, which the Player Characters will discover is where a missing chef is being held. The complex has a muddy, sodden feel to it, its locations nicely detailed and flavoursome. As per DURF’s remit, it is very easy to prepare and the Game Master should be able to run through it in a session or two.

Friday Faction—Dice Men

The influence of Games Workshop upon the hobby—certainly in the United Kingdom, let alone beyond—cannot be underestimated. From its founding in 1975 to its current status as a FTSE 250 company, Games Workshop has come to represent the gaming hobby and latterly the wargaming hobby to first the United kingdom and later the world. Notably it imported the first commercially available copies in the United Kingdom of Dungeons & Dragons and as the first distributor and publisher of licensed versions of the new rulebooks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, it would grow and grow the hobby in this country. Its main vehicle for this would be White Dwarf magazine, which would not only support Games Workshop’s titles licensed from publishers in the USA, but also its own growing range of board games and roleplaying games. So Apocalypse (or The Warlord) and Talisman, the Judge Dredd Roleplaying Game and Golden Heroes, and many more. Its spin-off, Citadel Miniatures, produced licensed miniatures and its own, ultimately leading to Warhammer The Mass Combat Fantasy Role-Playing Game and from there, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Alongside this, Games Workshop opened retail shops, if not on the high street, then at least close by, thus enabling games enthusiasts to pick up the latest games and miniatures, but also beginning that long road to normalisation and wider acceptance for the hobby, as well as being somewhere where hobby enthusiasts could meet. The refocus of Games Workshop in the late eighties and eventual buyout from the two surviving founders—Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson—in the early nineties would send the company down a different path to the company that it is now. That though, is another story, and not the one told in Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop.

Written by Sir Ian Livingstone with Steve Jackson—two of the three founders of Games Workshop—Dice Men is a memoir of the company’s first fifteen years. It begins with the two of them, together with their friend John Peake, deciding to set up their own games company. Initially, this was producing wooden puzzles and games, along their gaming fanzine, Owl & Weasel, but when a copy of that fell into the hands of the co-designer of Dungeons & Dragons, E. Gary Gygax, they were first offered a copy of the game to review, then placed an order to sell, and then were offered the distribution rights for the United Kingdom. Proselytising the merits of the first roleplaying game in the pages of Owl & Weazel and then White Dwarf, Livingstone and Jackson, now without Peake, would build the company as a games wholesaler, a magazine publisher, and then a retailor, with its first shop at Dalling Road in Hammersmith, and an events organiser, with Games Day. The company would publish its board games, beginning with Apocalypse: The Game of World War III, Doctor Who: The Game of Time and Space, Valley of the Four Winds: An Epic Game of Swords & Sorcery, and Warlock: The Game of Duelling Wizards and become a licensee for numerous roleplaying games as well publishing its own. Time and again, Games Workshop would publish fondly remembered titles, many of which have been reprinted since or remain in print today. Setting up Citadel Miniatures too to support fantasy gaming in general as well as Games Workshop’s own titles, ultimately of course, lead to Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Physically, Games Workshop would grow too, moving from a flat to an office, the latter with Livingstone and Jackson living out a van, before opening the company’s first shop at Dalling Road, acquiring offices and warehouse space at Sunbeam Road, Citadel Miniatures opening premises in Nottingham, and so on, with many of the addresses being familiar to British gamers from the eighties. The book also looks at other aspects of the authors’ involvement in the hobby, most notably the Fighting Fantasy series of solo adventure books—detailed in You Are The Hero, but also the beginnings of the computer games industry.

Along the way, there are plenty of asides. They include Steve Jackson’s search for a copy of The Warlord, the map and key for ‘The Inner Temple of the Golden Skeleton’—Livingstone’s first dungeon, the authors’ first trip to Gen Con, and more. There are other contributors, including various employees, notably Bryan Ansell, who was so important in establishing Citadel Miniatures and eventually taking the company in a new direction. There is also a lovely message from Gail Gygax, the wife of the late E. Gary Gygax, highlighting how Gary felt about Ian Livingstone. In the main though, 
the voices heard are those of Jackson and Livingstone. There are controversies and failures along the way as well, but not many. Such as the time Games Workshop received a letter from Lucas Film because of an advert, the newspapers’ assertion that the company was distributing Mayfair Games’ War in the Falklands board game, and of course, Ian Marsh’s infamous acrostic in White Dwarf #77!

Physically, Dice Men is an engaging read, but what really catches the eye are its photographs. The book is lavishly illustrated. They begin the company’s first orders for its own games, covers for all of the copies of Owl & Weasel, catalogue covers, flyers for Games Day and Dragonmeet, photographs from these events and the authors’ Gen Con trip, White Dwarf covers, beautiful reproductions of figures from Citadel Miniatures, and more. The book is as much a visual history of the company as it is a personal memoir, and it is clear that the authors have dived deep onto the archives to pull out so many of its photographs.

Dice Men is not a history of Games Workshop. That book is yet to be written, whether of the first part of its history—the period covered here, or of the second part, its more recent history built around its own intellectual properties. It is instead a memoir, and so a personal history. As interesting as it is, to an extent this limits its readership. It is not necessarily going to be of interest to the fan of Games Workshop who has no interest in the company’s origins and for the roleplaying historian, it may not be critical enough. Yet what shines through is the hard work that both authors put into building and developing Games Workshop, as well as their love of games and gaming. 

For the role-player of certain age—especially if British, or the role-player with an interest in the history of gaming, then Dice Men: The Origin Story of Games Workshop is an absolute must-have. This is a sumptuously illustrated trip down memory lane for both reader and the book’s authors to look at the beginning of an institution and the gaming hobby in the United Kingdom.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Jonstown Jottings #70: Spirit Hunt

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.

—oOo—

What is it?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a five page, full colour, 1.13 GB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy. It is art free, but the cartography is excellent.

The map can be found here.

Where is it set?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is set in or near Esrolia. It is suggested that it be set in the hills between Helerdon and the Doktados mountains.

Who do you play?
Player Characters of all types could play this scenario, but as written they are expected to be connected to Esrolia. A Player Character with either Hate (Lunars) or Hate (Lunar Empire) can be driven to undertake this scenario.

What do you need?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the Glorantha Bestiary.

What do you get?
GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt details the hiding place of the Nyctalope sent by the Red Emperor in 1610 ST which successfully assassinated Queen Valinalda of Esrolia. The Player Characters are either sent by one of the Esrolian Queens or Ernalda’s priestess to destroy the spirit, have to do so as part of a heroquest, or simply stumbled across the lair. The scenario provides the basic background, a set of random encounters, and the floorplans of the ruined shrine where the Nyctalope is hiding.

Although the map is excellent, GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is uninteresting. There is perhaps an engaging and intriguing scenario which explores the hunt for the spirit which assassinated Queen Valinalda, GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is not that. The Game Master could develop it further, especially if one of more of the Player Characters is from Esrolia, is related or has links to one of the Queens, or actively hates the Lunars. However, there is no roleplaying or interaction involved here, no mystery, no anything except combat. So why bother starting with this when there so little to work from?

Again, the Game Master should download the map by Dyson Logos and use that to create her own scenario. It would be unlikely to be any worse or more uninspiring than GLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is and it is definitely less expensive.

Is it worth your time?
YesGLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is straightforward and easy to run, and requires relatively little effort to prepare.
NoGLORANTHA: A Grim Pilgrimage is another self-contained mini-dungeon which the author kindly leaves much of the interesting detail, stats, and flavour to be found in the back story—as is his standard practice—for the Game Master to develop herself. Cheap, cheerless, characterless, and charmless. Not mostly, but completely.
MaybeGLORANTHA: Spirit Hunt is straightforward and easy to run, and requires relatively little effort to prepare, but the Game Master could easily come up with an alternative which was interesting and involving.

Miskatonic Monday #156: Along Came a Crystal

Between October 2003 and October 2013, Chaosium, Inc. published a series of books for Call of Cthulhu under the Miskatonic University Library Association brand. Whether a sourcebook, scenario, anthology, or campaign, each was a showcase for their authors—amateur rather than professional, but fans of Call of Cthulhu nonetheless—to put forward their ideas and share with others. The programme was notable for having launched the writing careers of several authors, but for every Cthulhu InvictusThe PastoresPrimal StateRipples from Carcosa, and Halloween Horror, there was Five Go Mad in EgyptReturn of the RipperRise of the DeadRise of the Dead II: The Raid, and more...

The Miskatonic University Library Association brand is no more, alas, but what we have in its stead is the Miskatonic Repository, based on the same format as the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons. It is thus, “...a new way for creators to publish and distribute their own original Call of Cthulhu content including scenarios, settings, spells and more…” To support the endeavours of their creators, Chaosium has provided templates and art packs, both free to use, so that the resulting releases can look and feel as professional as possible. To support the efforts of these contributors, Miskatonic Monday is an occasional series of reviews which will in turn examine an item drawn from the depths of the Miskatonic Repository.

—oOo—
Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Alonso R. Serrano

Setting: Jazz Age Lovecraft Country
Product: Scenario
What You Get: Seventeen page, 2.60 MB Full Colour PDF
Elevator Pitch: All that glisters is not gold.
Plot Hook: A hunt for a missing geologist lands the Investigators in a hole.
Plot Support: Two NPCs, five handouts, one map,
and two Mythos monsters.
Production Values: Variable.

Pros
# Potential addition to a Miskatonic University campaign
# Creepy use of replicated sound
# Keeper could prepare the soundbites
# Decent handouts
Geologically themed one-shot
# Crystallophobia
# Petraphobia

Cons
# Needs an edit
# Short investigation
# More action than investigation

Conclusion
# Short investigation leads to a confrontation with a near unstoppable geologically alien monster.
# Along Came a Crystal uses the replication of soundbites to creepy effect. 

Sunday, 27 November 2022

An Excellent Engineless Elevensome

There is a gap between the one-shot and the campaign that is rarely filled. The gap between the one or two session scenario and the campaign that will run over the course of years in multiple sessions. The gap between one-shots like Viral and Lady Blackbird and full campaigns such as Impossible Landscapes and The Curse of Strahd. It is this gap where the shorter campaign takes place, somewhere between say four or five adventures and say, a maximum of twelve. Yet the hobby does not often campaigns of such length, tending towards the extremes in terms of length rather than the median. That though, is not an issue with Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I. This is a collection of eleven mini- or micro-settings, each complete with a background, character options, NPCs, a detailed mini-campaign, adventure seeds, bonus material, and more. Taking in everything from collecting ghosts to return to Earth from across the Solar System and running the rails between bubbles of stable reality to playing the stock market which measures and tracks the worshippers of your god and searching signs of intelligent life on a distant planet as you become that life, this anthology brings a together a plethora of weird and wonderful campaign ideas designed to be played in three to four sessions (but can go longer if the extra content is used).

Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I is published by MacGuffin & Co. following a successful Kickstarter campaign and the first thing that you really need to know about it is that it is systemless. There are no stats of any kind in the book. Which means that the Game Master will need to put in some extra effort when preparing one of the book’s campaigns, providing the necessary stats and abilities, and so on. However, after explaining what a roleplaying game and a micro-setting is, the authors do discuss the choice of system in the book’s introduction. What is great here is that they suggest a number of different roleplaying games, pairing them with each of the various micro-settings in the book. These range from Fate Condensed, The Black Hack, and Cthulhu Hack to Savage Worlds, the Cypher System, and Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Now any of the micro settings in Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I can be adapted to the rules system of the Game Master’s choice, but the suggestions can lead a Game Master and her players to try out a new set of rules or if they already know one set of rules, the Game Master can pick up this book and prepare the setting paired with her preferred rules straight away. (And then look at the other settings.) It should be noted that two of the settings carry content warnings, but these are kept short and to the point.

Each of the settings and campaigns in Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I follows roughly the same format. It opens with three pages of background, followed by a page or so each of character ideas and locations. These initial pages are for both player and Game Master, but the remaining pages, beginning with ‘Secrets’ are clearly for the Game Master’s eyes only. This is followed by a list of NPCs, the mini-campaign itself—consisting of four adventures, the latter full of surprising twists, before being rounded off with a handful of adventure seeds and some bonus content. The latter can be as simple as a bonus adventure, but can also include further character ideas and tables for creating random elements in the setting. The book itself is rounded out with bonus content for all eleven campaigns.

Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I very quickly gets on with the first setting and campaign—and it grabs the reader from the off. ‘Ghost Ship’ combines Dead Like Me with Office Space, but in space! When somebody dies, their spirit passes on, but only on Earth. Which is a problem when someone dies off-world. Someone has to collect the ghosts—some of whom are not always friendly and need to be harpooned!—and return them to Earth. The setting classifies the ghosts by belligerency, and has the Player Characters as ghost collectors discovering that there is much more going on and that some of the ghosts really do not want to go back. It is followed by ‘Twisted Rails’ in which the Player Characters crew a steam train ferrying freight and passengers from one Bubble of stable reality to another, riding the rails which have been laid across the chaos in between that resulted when reality broke down. The Player Characters will have to contend with rail pirates on parallel lines attempting to capture their train. This campaign is accompanied by tables for creating new Bubbles. The third campaign, ‘Not Far to Bermuda’, gets a bit weird. It is set aboard the Wanderlust, a large passenger liner which has been on the Atlantic Islands Cruise for at least two-hundred-and-ninety-four days. Fortunately, the food has not run out, though it varies unexpectedly, and whilst discipline and society has not exactly broken down or broken out into violence, it has coalesced into a series of cliques which need to be carefully navigated. This is where the Player Characters come in, being members of the hospitality staff, such as poolside entertainer, excursion leader, or events manager, whose old roles seem to have fallen away as the trip has continued. Quite where the ship is and where it is going is the focus of the campaign as the voyage continues.

‘Guardians’ is a flashback to the seventies and rural France with the Player Characters as nuns whose reputation and conduct has resulted in their being seconded to the ‘les Sœurs de Notre-Dame de la Vérité’ (‘The Sisters of Our Lady of Truth) whose duty is to guard ‘la Fosse de l’Enfer’, literally a ‘Pit of Hell’. This campaign can vary in tone from dark comedy to psychological horror and comes with a table of options for the dark secrets that each of the nuns is harbouring, and plenty of suggestions as to what exactly is in the pit. This is potentially the darkest of the campaigns in the anthology. ‘Atlantis City’ goes under the sea to explore what happened to the mythical lost city when it was sunk in ages past. It turns to gambling and becomes a den of vice and criminality, the aquatic equivalent of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. As the Player Characters take over a casino, they have to contend with the Kingdom of the Merfolk and the Deep Ones of the Deep Collective attempting to muscle in on the vice trade along with rival casino crews and city politics which have been dominated by the same family for millennia. The other darker setting in the anthology is ‘Duskhollow P.D.’, which combines hard-boiled detective stories with horror in a weird interzone urban sprawl where the rain never stops and where the crimes can involve cults, sorcerers, revenants, and more, including something squamous. This campaign differs from the others in that there is no one secret to what is behind the nature of the city, but several which the Game Master can pick and choose from, and rather than run a campaign with a beginning, middle, and end, be run as a series of one-shots into which the Game Master can insert the clues. Of all the campaigns in Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I, it is not a case of ‘run and done’, but intermittent cases which can be run in between other campaigns.

‘MIX: Missing In X-mas’ is the jolliest of campaigns in Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I, but starts with a bang. It is Christmas night and Santa Claus has gone missing somewhere over Germany. Where could he be? This is no Nightmare Before Christmas, but the Player Characters—Elves, Reindeer, Gingerbread Persons, Snowpersons, Nutcrackers, and Toys—have to leap into the breach to continue the deliveries as well as discover quite where Father Christmas has got to. The campaign comes with a big table of presents to deliver and plenty of drops down the chimney to go wrong and get out again without any child being the wiser to the presence of the Player Characters. ‘Primetime Colosseum’ is a campaign in which the Player Characters are gladiators in an Ancient Rome where myth and magic are real, including resurrection potions. So gladiators can fight and die and come back and fight again. The various roles are not so much inspired by classic gladiator types, but by modern wrestling. The campaign itself sees the Player Characters and their gladiatorial school hit primetime, find fame and fortune, and suffer the consequences. Of all the campaigns in the anthology, ‘Wizard’s Staff’ feels the most familiar in which the staff and assistants of the notoriously evil enchanter Balphior who have to step up and fill in after he goes and dies in unsurprisingly bizarre circumstances. They are going to have to cover in his absence and survive the avaricious interest of others if they find out about their master’s death. This requires a degree of cunning and subterfuge, but can be comedic too.

The penultimate campaign is ‘Start-Up Culture’. This is a world in which the gods are real and their power and influence via the number of worshippers they have is tracked on the OSE or ‘Oracle Spiritual Exchange’. The players get to create their own god, such as the ‘God of Reluctant Teamwork’ or ‘God of Lazy Afternoons’, and power said god up the OSE by proselytising and gaining worshippers. Rounding out the anthology is ‘Fixer Upper’, a piece of straight Science Fiction in which the Player Characters are robots surveying a planet—the ‘Fixer Upper’ of the title, in the far future to determine three things. If it is suitable to be inhabited by humans, if it needs to be terraformed, and if it is already occupied by a species exhibiting ‘Personhood’. As the players roleplay through the campaign, their robots not only explore more of the world, but begin to diverge from their programming to the point where they are the ones exhibiting ‘Personhood’. It is a fascinating philosophical piece in the vein of Philip K. Dick with which to close the anthology.

Physically, RPG Micro Settings Vol. I is very nicely presented. It is done in full colour, with artwork and typography which is different for each and every campaign. This gives each a distinct feel and makes them standout when browsing the book.

Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I offers some memorable, fully developed campaign ideas which it combines with flexibility in terms of choice of system and running time—any one of them could be run in the suggested three to four sessions, but also easily extended with the plentiful story hooks and seeds. Odd Jobs: RPG Micro Settings Vol. I is an exemplary elevensome, full of good ideas and entertainingly brilliant concepts that you will want to run as a Game Master and roleplay as a player.

—oOo—

Both Reviews from Rlyeh and MacGuffin & Co. will be at DragonMeet on Saturday, 3rd December, 2022.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Cosmic Anarchy

NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution
would normally be reviewed as part of the Fanzine Focus strand, but it is not really a fanzine. Although originally intended to be part of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest for 2022, the publisher decided to do it on its own via Itchio, when Kickstarter moved ZineQuest from march to August to coincide with Gen Con, its format—A4 rather than A5, its singular content, and the production standards all move it away from the ’zine ethos and look and towards a more professional product. As a result, it stands somewhere between a fanzine and prozine. It is a trend which has been growing with each successive ZineQuest, to the point where it is quite difficult to determine the difference between a fanzine and a publication simply using the format and the promotional support of ZineQuest to present a whole scenario or even an RPG. NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution does itself no favours in making a such a determination. Although the cover can be described as Punk Art and Punks are the protagonists of its scenario, the style and layout of the first issue’s content evokes neither Punk Art nor a fanzine sensibility, and the glossiness of the first issue just does not scream Punk! However, whether or not NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution is ’zine or not ’zine, it does not meet the criteria to fit the Fanzine Focus strand, but it does include content which is interesting and which does involve Punks.

NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution – Issue #1: “The Five Techniques” is published by Pent Up Press and contains a single scenario designed to be run using Trail of Cthulhu or Cthulhu Dark. The former is the clue orientated roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror from Pelgrane Press and the latter the rules light RPG of Lovecraftian investigative horror designed for simple, minimalist play. It could easily be adapted to the roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror of the Game Master’s choice. What makes the scenario stand out is its time period—the 1970s, its setting—Northern Ireland, and its protagonists—members of punk rock band. The set-up is this. The would-be Investigators are members of The Gutters which formed in London. The band’s bassist, Ciaron McCarthy, has died and his bandmate, Mickey Grayes, has persuaded everyone to give Ciaron a proper Punk wake in his home village of Conhale in County Armagh in Northern Ireland. This sets up some fantastic tensions. The Punks themselves are very much the ‘fish out of water’ amidst the tensions of the Troubles. Not just their clothes, but their anti-establishment sentiment will make them standout in the conservative society of Armagh, already tense from the locked down presence and influence of the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary supposedly keeping them safe from the IRA.

The Investigators will feel and experience this tension almost from the start. The journey from London has been long and tiring when the Punks are stopped by an IRA checkpoint and questioned. The villagers are reluctant to talk to the interlopers, but will warm to them with a drink or two. The British Army will take a seemingly mild interest too—at least initially. All whilst the Investigators suffer odd dreams, or even daydreams of dreams, spiral patterns are marked here and there, and then one of their number runs off…

As written, “The Five Techniques” is systemless, but the scenario includes notes on running it in either Cthulhu Dark or the GUMSHOE System of Trail of Cthulhu. The latter comes with stats for some NPCs and new Investigative and General Abilities, all musical in nature. For either system, there is a set of tables for creating the background of the Punk, covering ‘Creating Your Punk’ and ‘Getting the Band Together’, as well the scenario’s set of dreams and four decently done handouts.

Whether run for Cthulhu Dark, Trail of Cthulhu, or another roleplaying of Lovecraftian investigative horror, “The Five Techniques” is more folk horror, more Green Room meets Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, rather than Lovecraftian horror per se. It also adheres to the style of play of Cthulhu Dark in which the Investigators can only confront the Mythos. They cannot fight it directly, for it is too powerful, too unknowable, and such efforts are doomed to end in failure, resulting in the Investigators’ deaths or insanity. Thus “The Five Techniques” is more Purist than the traditional Purist mode of Trail of Cthulhu to the point where the motivations of outré threat are never explained and the Game Master is not expected to explain them either. Only in the epilogue which each player gets to narrate for their Investigator is there time to wonder at what happened and the horror of it. Here though, is where “The Five Techniques” does not support the Game Master as the scenario does not say about the responses to what happened for those living in and around Clonhale, whether the villagers, the British Army, the R.U.C., or the I.R.A. There will be consequences and it would have been useful to be given pointers as to what they might be.

Physically, NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution – Issue #1: “The Five Techniques” is busily presented with plenty of decent artwork and good handouts. The writing is decent and the plot sufficiently straightforward that the Game Master can easily run this in a single session or as a convention one-shot. In addition, the scenario has a pleasing historicity, which includes the appearance of Northern Ireland’s most famous Punk band.

The seventies is a period which has been little explored in Lovecraftian investigative horror, and much of what has, has been inspired by the Grindhouse, exploitation cinema of the period. NO FUTURE: Lovecraftian Horror Meets the Punk Revolution – Issue #1: “The Five Techniques” shifts Lovecraftian investigative horror to the seventies in a historical sense and location, placing the unknowable against a framework of real-world tensions, making the already fraught situation all the more fraught, the result being a unique for Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying.

Just Another Bug Hunt?

The search and rescue call was coming from somewhere in the asteroid ring. It was faint and difficult to track. But you found the source and you did it before anyone did. Which was good, because the source, a science station on Asteroid N0 looked cold and abandoned. Whatever happened here was a while ago. If it was abandoned or empty and nobody else had got there before you, that meant salvage. Maybe some tech or Gems you could sell back at the Iron Ring, the inhabited heart of the Tenebris System, last refuge of humanity following the Gem War and the slow contraction of the universe. The domes of the station on Asteroid N0 looked like easy pickings with whomever had sent out the distress call dead or long gone, and nobody to get in your way. And if there were any survivors, they would probably be so grateful that they would either pay you or not even be bothered when you took your payment in kind. So you all went in because it was going to be easy. That was you first mistake. The abandoned station was inhabited, but not by man. Pink insect-like things, with ragged wings and four eyes on each side of their heads, and a sharp needle-shaped proboscis that extended out of their mouths again and again. They reacted to your lights and they got between you and your shuttle. No way you could get back. Which meant you were trapped and needed to find a way to get past them, maybe get some answers, find out what happened here …Or just find a way to survive. Just seven hours of oxygen left.

This is the set-up for STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module. Published by Squid Ink Games via Deeply Dapper Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign, STATION X3N0 is a scenario for Death in Space, the Swedish blue-collar Science Fiction survival roleplaying game about hope and co-operation in the face of nihilism and an uncaring universe. It is designed to be played or used in one of three ways. First, as a solo adventure, or ‘solo station crawl’, in which the station’s various locations and the clues to what happened are revealed procedurally. This can be done by the one player or even by a group of players, but without the Referee. Second, as a standard module with a group of players and their characters. Third, as a source of material.

Almost two fifths of STATION X3N0 is dedicated to solo play. The module opens with a pair of pieces of fiction before explaining what the module is and how to use it. Beginning in Room 0.0, the player sets out to explore the rest of the station, moving from room to room, location to location, discovering clues and records of the missing station personnel’s activities, building an idea of what happened at Station X3, and hopefully finding a way to get past the alien monsters or off Asteroid N0. Some locations are linked to specific locations and the player can decide to simply move to one of these, but he can also roll d66 to randomly generate the next location. (An alternative method using a deck of playing cards isa also included in the book.) This leads to a chaotic feel and layout as play proceeds, but it also adds a degree of weirdness to the already claustrophobic nature of the module. Whenever the player enters a new area, he marks this off on the ‘Area Tracking Log’ which is at the back of the book. He also rolls two six-sided dice and if he rolls doubles, marks this off a box on the ‘Disturbances Track’. This has several rows and several boxes marked in bold. When a box in bold is marked off, the player rolls for a random encounter, with more dice being rolled for boxes marked off on the lower tracks. This means that as a player explores further into the station and rolls more doubles, the more dangerous and deadlier the encounter is likely to be. In addition, the player has a limited supply of oxygen—just seven hours.

As the player explores, he will find objects and clues. The objects his character can pick up and take with him, but the clues require careful examination. There are over forty clues to be found, and they can be computer terminal messages, audio transcripts, and physical notes. Some of the terminals are unlocked, but others are locked or broken. This means that the player will need to find a way to unlock the terminal or repair it, the latter requiring components which the player will need to find. However, repairing a terminal takes time, as does reading more than the one clue available at a terminal, in either case, the player marking off another box on the ‘Disturbances Track’. What this highlights though, is that in play of STATION X3N0, a player is not always going forward. This is because it is primarily location driven, and a player can return to locations that his character has previously visited.

Played as a group, but without a Referee, STATION X3N0 is different. Of course, the players cannot split up and the play and exploration are both co-operative and interactive. Even in the claustrophobic environs of the station, there is a sense of support rather than isolation. For the second option, played as a group with a Referee, as a standard roleplaying adventure, STATION X3N0 can still be played with the locations generated procedurally, but exploration and actions are still against the clock using the ‘Area Tracking Log’ and its ‘Disturbances Track’. However, the Referee is provided with further information to help her run the scenario. This includes an actual map of Station X3’s layout, full stats and writeups of the station’s fourteen missing staff, and the complete background to the station and the events, and details of the aliens. This provides everything that the Referee needs to run the scenario, although the fourteen staff write-ups do not necessarily add anything to game play.

Lastly, the third way in which STATION X3N0 can be used is as a source of material and content that the Referee can use in her games. To that end, the Referee is advised that she should do this if she wants and there is additional advice on adapting the scenario to other roleplaying games of blue-collar Science Fiction survival horror, most notably the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG – Player’s Survival Guide and Alien: The Roleplaying Game. This is useful, certainly in the case of the former.

Physically, STATION X3N0 is well presented. It is decently written, the clues are engaging, and the artwork decent. Where some readers may have a problem is the use of colour on the book’s black background. A lot of the entries are in white boxes with black text, which is easy enough to read, but other sections are purple on black, and whilst that may ad to the scenario’s sense of claustrophobia and isolation, it is not always easy to read.

STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module has one big problem. Its formatting and flexibility in how it is played, together with the clues and location details all add to a claustrophobic, atmospheric play experience, really shine through. Its design means that it can be played by one player and experienced, and then that player could take the role of the Referee and run it for other players, which is an option rarely offered in a scenario. However, as a story and a set-up, STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module does not offer anything original, just another encounter with aliens in space which want to implant their eggs in you. And despite STATION X3N0 being set in the Death in Space universe, it does not make use of its setting and consequently, it feels like it should be for another blue-collar Science Fiction survival horror roleplaying game. For example, the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG. In fact, STATION X3N0 would work great for the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG. That said, if you want to play a bug hunt, xenomorph encounter style scenario for Death in Space, then STATION X3N0 gives you that and it does it well. Did Death in Space need a bug hunt, xenomorph encounter style scenario? Well, that it is open to debate. What is not, is that it definitely does not need another one.

STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module is an entertainingly atmospheric adaptation of the classic trapped with bugs in space set-up with a strong sense of isolation and horror for Death in Space which surprises with its flexibility.

Friday, 25 November 2022

Holiday Hullabaloo

Xcrawl
is one of those originally clever fantasy settings that you wonder why nobody had ever though of it before. Originally a setting for the d20 System and published in 2002 as Xcrawl: Adventures in the Xtreme Dungeon League, what it did was take the concept of dungeoneering and turned it into not only a spectator sport, but an arena sport, in the process combining the razzmatazz of American sports with the bloodiness of Roman gladiatorial combat. Xcrawl is set in an alternate fantasy eighties where America is ruled by Emperor Ronald I and all of the fantasy races of Dungeons & Dragons have survived to the modern day, many living in the underworlds below each of the continents, whilst others sign up to work as ‘monsters’ and NPCs in the area. The Player Characters form teams and by successfully beating defeating Xcrawl runs, work their way up the different leagues, becoming famous and picking up sponsors on the way. The setting was adapted to Pathfinder, First Edition with the Maximum Xcrawl Core Rule Book, and it has been announced by Goodman Games that there will also be a version compatible with the publisher’s flagship Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game in the form of the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game. Until then, fans of the Xcrawl setting or fans of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, can experience the setting with the scenario, Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil.

Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is a short scenario for Second Level Player Characters which can be used in one of two ways. First, it can used as written, with the Player Characters are dedicated Xcrawlers looking to break into the next league up. Second, it can be run as some kind of weird dream for Player Characters who come from another fantasy setting and awake to find themselves fully aware of where they are and what they are about to do. Either way, the players will be using standard Dungeon Crawl Classics Player Characters rather than those creating the earlier versions of Xcrawl. Of course, with the forthcoming version of the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game—or its XCC beta rules—the Judge could run Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil using a version of those rules and thus the appropriate Classes of Athlete, Blaster, Jammer, Gnome, Half-Elf, and Half-Orc. (Alternatively, pre-generated Player Characters can be downloaded here.)

Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is set in Toronto on New Year’s Eve and the Player Characters are members of a Division III team which has unexpectedly found itself entered into the Toronto New Year’s Eve Xcrawl. If successful, they are assured of sponsorship and opportunities for promotion. All it will take them is heroic play, dedicated teamwork, and the occasional grandstanding. However, the gods—or rather the one god—has decided to intervene and turn the event into a raucous, alcohol-sodden festival which can be enjoyed by everyone, including the Player Characters, the event staff, and the audience, and if that disrupts the event, that just adds to the fun. Drink is a recurring motif throughout the adventure and is supported with rules for various degrees of inebriation, from being tipsy to wrecked. Also included are a glossary of terms particular to the setting and several rules that the setting requires. These include the Mojo Pool, which each Player Character has and which provides points that can be spent as modifiers in play. They can be gained for rolling a natural twenty in game and for exciting game play, but all are lost whenever a player rolls a natural one. However, a player cannot use them on his own character, but instead must give them as bonuses to his fellow players’ characters. This encourages teamwork, of course.

A Player Character can also grandstand and work the crowd. This is a Personality check and earns a Player Character a point of Fame. Expressed as a percentage, this is measurement of the Player Character’s recognition. However, it does not actually have any mechanic effect in Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil. So unless the Judge has access to the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game, the inclusion of the Fame rules have no effect as the scenario takes place entirely in the area.

The Toronto New Year’s Eve Xcrawl consists of twelve locations and is, like most other Xcrawl ‘Dungeons’ a linear affair. This makes sense, since an Xcrawl can be run again and again and a team’s progress can be measured against that of other teams, and infamous Xcrawls can be rerun at a later stage, in the case of the Player Characters, likely with a tweak or four to take into account the fact that they have gone up a Level or two or three. In the main, the Xcrawl itself consists of three big set pieces, although that was not originally the case, since the meddling god has also made a few changes to the Xcrawl and it no longer runs quite as smooth as the designer originally intended. There is jousting, a sailor cap-wearing devil with horrid biting pugs—one under each arm, paper monsters, riddles and puzzles to solve, and a finale in the cubicle from beyond the grave, complete with Office Zombies, Maintenance Skeleton, and Ghoul Bosses. There are a few side rooms along the way, but these do not represent any significant danger to the Player Characters after the meddling of the god. It should take a session, perhaps two, to play through the whole of the Xcrawl, after which the Player Characters should acquired some decent treasure, sponsorship gifts—some are also available at the beginning of the scenario depending on which sponsor the players selected, some fame, and perhaps a chance at promotion to the next league.

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is cleanly and tidily presented. The map is easy to read and the artwork throughout good.

The change from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game to the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game requires a little adjustment and getting used to because of its very modern setting—at least by the standards of Dungeon Crawl Classics. However, its novelty value is worth it, because the setting is different and the emphasis in an Xcrawl is all on action with some puzzles to solve, and playing to the crowd by being heroic, and so on. Of course, the novelty factor will go when the Xcrawl Classics Roleplaying Game appears, but until then, Dungeon Crawl Classics 2017 Holiday Module: Xcrawl New Year’s Evil is a diverting, entertaining one-shot.

Friday Fantasy: Strict Time Records Must Be Kept

There are several things that you need to know about Kelvin Green. First, he is entirely wrong about which version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the superior. Second, he hates your Player Characters, and consequently, the owners of those Player Characters will hate their Referees. Third, he is very likely to be wrong about which version of D.O.A. is the superior. The latter is relevant because the plot of that film begins exactly like that of Kelvin Green’s latest scenario. Or vice versa. This is because the protagonist of D.O.A. begins film not only poisoned, but dying. This is exactly how your Player Character—and every other Player Character—begins play in Strict Time Records Must Be Kept. Poisoned. Dying. No saving throw. Kelvin Green is a bastard and he made your Referee a bastard for doing this to your Player Character. So now what are you going to do? Go find the antidote, that’s what. Find the antidote, then beat up the person responsible. No, not your Referee. Certainly not Kelvin Green. You could, and that would be understandable, but best not to. After all, who else is going write cruel, evil stuff that you can hate? No, have your Player Character go beat up the NPC responsible. Kill him if you want. Take his money. Do that to all the people watching you go through the dying agony of your Player Character (did I forget to tell you that your dying Player Character will have an audience as he thrashes about in desperation?) and the dying agonies of the Player Characters belong to your fellow players. So, poisoned. No saving throw. Dying. Find the antidote, kill the NPC responsible, and take his treasure. What more of a revenge plan do you want?

Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is a scenario for use with Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. Like other scenarios published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess it is set in the game’s default early Modern Period. However, it is not more specific than that. It defaults to an isolated forested mountain, which could be anywhere in Europe. In fact, the time period is not necessarily set in stone either, and with some slight adjustments it could very easily be set earlier or later, without really having an effect upon the situation. The situation is this… Over the course of the campaign, whenever they got hurt, the Player Characters have consulted a highly skilled, if slightly eccentric doctor. They have consulted him so many times that they formed a friendship of sorts, and so happily accept his invitation to stay at his mountainside retreat. It is at dinner at this retreat that their host makes a confession. He has dosed their meal with a slow-acting poison. Fortunately, he has the antidote. Unfortunately, he has hidden it around somewhere in the house and he is not going to tell them where it is. Also, the poison will kill them in twelve hours. Fortunately, the other guests are safe. Unfortunately, the other guests have paid for the privilege of being entertained by the increasingly desperate antics of the Player Characters as they search the house from top to bottom—and beyond. Cue countdown…

Hence Strict Time Records Must Be Kept.

Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is a player-driven, against the clock scenario with consequences. Not just death, but also tremors, hair loss, upset stomachs (this is being polite), bones losing density, and worse. Then death. What the Player Characters must do is find the antidote. Now given that this whole set-up has been done without the Player Characters receiving the benefit of a Saving Throw versus Poison, this all sounds very cruel. It is. It is also fits the Old School Renaissance, because as the author points out, if it was good enough for A4 Dungeon of The Slave Lords (which although did not start with the Player Characters being poisoned, but with their waking up naked, in a cave, with none of their equipment, they did not get a Saving Throw either), it good enough for him.

To help the Referee there is a countdown along with the effects of the poison and a checklist of the various NPCs and creature to be found in the Doctor’s mansion. There is advice too, for the Referee, on handling time in the scenario, the various NPCs they are likely to encounter, the various options that the Player Characters might take to extricate themselves from the situation (such as making a race down the mountain for the nearest helpful doctor or hospital), and so on. There are other options covered too, the least worst of which is running the scenario as a one-shot.

Just over half of Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is devoted to describing the grounds of the Doctor’s estate and the many rooms of the mansion. The various rooms and locations are described in some detail, although the floorplans themselves are not detailed with any furniture or other fittings. Nevertheless, the floorplans are handy to use and several of the scenario’s puzzles are included as handouts. The layout of the house itself is fairly normal, but the nature of oddities and weirdness and the trap and puzzles that can be found within its four walls means that the scenario lends itself towards the funhouse style of design. That said, given the time constraints of their predicament, the Player Characters are unlikely to explore all of the mansion and its surrounds before they either find the antidote to the poison or the poison kills them. What they will need amongst their number is a Specialist, as that Class’ skills will get a lot of use throughout the scenario.

Although the scenario includes a list of its NPCs at the back, what would have been useful is a list of the possible hiding places where the Doctor could have put the antidote. Otherwise, the Referee will have to through and mark them as possible locations as part of her preparation to run the scenario.

Physically, the scenario is decently presented. The artwork is decent, it is well written, and barring the issue with the antidote location, all easy to set up and run.

The set-up to Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is all contrivance, one part The Crystal Maze, one-part psychological torture (porn) of the Player Characters, let alone their players. The question is, would you as the Referee really run this as a scenario for your players and their characters? How cruel and evil do you want to be to them? That is the question for the Referee. Yet for all that cruelty, there is no doubting the roleplaying possibilities that the situation would lead to—the desperate fights for survival, the rage at the injustice of the situation, the rush to find the antidote. If Strict Time Records Must Be Kept is cruel—and it is, ultimately, the players need to think of it not as their Referee being the bastard who imposed its situation on them, but switch it around and see it as a chance to roleplay out something they might find in fiction rather than gaming. If their Player Characters survive, what a tale they and their players will have to tell.