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

Friday 17 June 2022

Cloak Crawl

Wizards are known for their eccentricity, none more so than Riblerim the Unsure, Master Diviner, for when he set out to create and build a theme park, it was not only wondrous and whimsical, but it was also actually constructed in an ultra-dimensional realm woven into his cloak. It consisted of several themed islands floating in a golden sky connected by a winding monoriver plied by cute animal-themed boats and Giant Flying Galapagos Turtles. It was both a private refuge and somewhere to receive guests, known to its creator as Riblerim’s Interesting Place, but then it became something else—a sanctuary! During the Great Needle Pusher Purge, all seamstresses and tailors, long suspected of sorcery, one and all, were persecuted and driven into exile, which of course, led to the Great Wearing of Nothing but Rags. That is, naturally, all forgotten now, but the question of what happened to all those fleeing needleworkers and clothcutters and more, remains one of much debate… What happened though, was that Riblerim the Unsure came to their aid. Refusing to watch the seamstresses and tailors be persecuted and driven out, he established ‘Costumiers with Latent Arcane Magicks Refuge Initiative & Motivation Scheme’—or CLAMRIMS, for short—and sought the exiled, freethinking clothiers and modistes, and offered them shelter in what had previously been wholly a sanctum for just himself and his guests. A sanctum that he drew about himself and thus carried with him everywhere he went. Then Riblerim the Unsure disappeared. That was fifty years ago…

In more recent times, Cambros, the sari-draped Warbot, has been seen wandering the land, wrapped in a great cloak, said to have belonged to his friend, Riblerim the Unsure. He wants to find his friend, whom he is sure can be found in the cloak. In return for the Player Characters’ aid, he offers adventure unlike any that they have been on before and great treasures to be found, and with his uttering of the Passcode, they are whisked into the cloak and the weird and wonderful world of Riblerim’s Interesting Place. They find themselves in the Welcominarium, an island complete with a wizard’s tower in classic style, a large orientation map marked with ‘You Are Here’ and an arrow, the Slips aYe Olde Gift Shop shaped like a wizard’s conical hat, and a dock on the monoriver, at which the animal themed boats—the horsey, the rocking pony, the seahorsey, the unpiggie, the pegaswan, and naturally, the teacup too, all sit ready to transport their passengers elsewhere. That elsewhere consists of several islands floating in the sky, around, above, and below the Player Characters. They include the feudal mini-kingdom of Avalon; the springiness of Bouncy Island, complete with white pellet rafting; the constant end of day Sunset Island; the benighted and lovelorn Adult Island; and the ostentatiously studious Island of Special Interests.

This is the set-up for Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park, a highly detailed, but systemless sandbox scenario whose sense of wonder and whimsy combine the classic funhouse style of dungeon with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is published by Mottokrosh Machinations, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, a publisher best known for Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm, an Old School Renaissance adjacent roleplaying game of retro science fantasy. Numerous suggestions are given to get the Player Characters to and then inside the cloak—or rather into Riblerim’s Interesting Place. The default arrival point is the Welcominarium, but the Game Master is free to have them end up wherever seems the most appropriate, or fun. From there, the Player Characters are free to go wherever they want, or at least wherever the animal themed boats (or the teacup) will take—including up stream as well as down. Each island is a realm of its own, consisting of three or more adventure sites all following a particular theme. For example, Avalon is home to a fairy tale castle where tourneys and jousting are held to appease the self-appointed queen, Moronoe, nearly surrounded by dark forest lush with game and the domain of secretive druids. There is a seemingly endless cosplay closet at the dock where the Player Characters will alight, one which they can enter and select a suitable outfit for their time on the island. In comparison, Bouncy Island seems all but deserted, yet it does have its ruler, an Elfin figure whose cloak appears to mimic his moments and who can often be seen frolicking up and down the White Pellet Rafting route. Like many of the inhabitants, he knows many secrets of the Riblerim’s Interesting Place and might be persuaded to share one or more if the Player Characters are willing to brave the dangers of The Plastic Gauntlet—which like the rest of Bouncy Island, has definite springiness to it.

All of the adventure sites in Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park are nicely detailed—its interior spaces more so. These include both the floorplans for locations such as the Museum of Divination, as well as dungeons like the Tomb of the Last Knight and The Plastic Gauntlet. These are also neatly arranged so that the maps and map keys are opposite each other.

Mechanically, Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park is designed to be systemless. Or rather, written to be used with any roleplaying game, for it does actually have a system of its very own. This is the ‘HAWK’ structure, which stands for ‘Has’, ‘Acts’, ‘Wants’, and ‘Knows’, which is used to describe and define each of the major NPCs who appear in the scenario. The lack of numbers though, has its upsides and its downsides. Obviously, the Game Master can adapt Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park to the roleplaying game of her choice, whether that is 13th Age, the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, Hypertellurians, or Old School Essentials. All would work. The downside is that all together there are a lot of NPCs and monsters to provide stats for, but that is offset by how succinct the design of the individual islands is. The Player Characters are likely to be exploring one island at a time, so the Game Master need not necessarily adapt the whole of Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park in one go.

Given the nature of its setting and many of its inhabitants, it should be no surprise that most of the main treasures in Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park consist of cloaks, mantles, shawls, stoles, and the like. For example, the Dwarven War Cloak is made of thumb-sized iron bars which can interlock to form a personal fortification whilst the Concordant Cowl of Teeth, consisting of an array of molars, incisors, and canines strung together with silver chains, is simply an intimidating—and sometimes—an enraging sight. The other treasures to be found in Riblerim’s Interesting Place are much less detailed and generally simpler in nature, like the Ruby Opera Gloves, enchanted by vampires to make the wearer unnoticeable to humans or the carved soap, a heavy cake of rainbow tulip and hope-scented soap into which has been artfully scratched a trigonometrical formula. Decipher the formula and the Player Character casts Venusian magics with greater power. As with the rest of the content in Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park, none of these items have stats, but their simplicity makes them easy to adapt to the roleplaying game of the Game Master’s choice. Also included is a guide to making the studying and use of grimoires more interesting than mere spellbooks, which could also be adapted to the whatever rules the Game Master is using.

Physically, Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park is beautifully presented, done in retro-lush colours that add to the sense of unreality of Riblerim’s Interesting Place. The cartography is also excellent. If there is an issue with the presentation, it is that the layout is too tight and the text a little too small in places, making the book slightly difficult to read. There is advice though for both Game Master and players on how to handle the tone and some of the scenario’s content, which is clearly marked for each location and includes spiders, demonic summonings—under mostly safe conditions, cannibalism, and more. This is through the use of lines and veils, and the X-card, although the self-contained nature of the scenario’s varying islands do help to separate this more adult content.

As a sandcrawl, Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park differs in that its individual locations, its islands floating on the fabric of Riblerim’s cloak, are discrete and there is relatively little to connect them narratively. This is because this is not really a sandcrawl with factions and the power and influence of its NPCs do not extend beyond the confines of their respective islands. Here perhaps some advice or a table listing what each of the NPCs want and how those wants crossover could have been useful. However, there are threads which run right across the theme park that is Riblerim’s Interesting Place. In particular, a lot of the NPCs that the Player Characters will encounter are the equivalent of staff or actors. They look the part, and they play the part, but their lack of competence in comparison to the Player Characters adds to the sense of unreality of the already strange realm. Similarly, the fact that Riblerim’s Interesting Place has its own currency—Aesopian Rupees—exchanged for whispered secrets, also adds to the unreality as well as driving the players to come up with increasingly interesting confessions for their characters to pay for anything!

With Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park, Mottokrosh Machinations does that ‘thing within a thing, within a…’ just as it did with Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding. However, rather than being constrained by being in a bag upon a bag upon a bag, there is an openness to Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park. The whole of its robed realm is presented to the Player Characters, and they are free to visit any one of its discrete, individual islands however they want, encountering something different on each one, whether that is a genre, a theme, or a tone—or a combination of all three. Capes and Cloaks and Cowls and a Park is sumptuously strange, ornately odd, and richly ridiculous, a campaign within campaign, a robed resort of wonders and whimsy.

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