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

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 offer 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.


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

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