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

Saturday 11 February 2023

Escape from Ixx

It opens with a disaster as the ship is caught up in the Eternal Storm and driven onto the rocks of the tropical island. As the vessel sinks and the survivors are harassed by hungry, hungry amphibious horrors, the survivors must find their way ashore and onto the strangest island amidst the tropical sea. Atop its high cliffs they can see across their new home. It is covered in thick jungle, the land pierced by sharp crags, stretching down to soggy swamp, and then to a coastline pockmarked with cave mouths. Even as the survivors make their way to safety of Wrecktown, the wreckers are coming the other way to pick over the wreckage of the ship. All too quickly, the survivors discover that there is no straightforward way off the island and they will have to search for a means far and wide across its strangeness. As they search, the survivors will encounter dinosaurs, mutants, things not of this world, weirdness, and more. This is the Isle of Ixx and the survivors are trapped until they can find a way off the island.

This is the set-up for Isle of Ixx, a roleplaying game and mini-campaign, that is in part Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, the television series Lost, and S3 Expedition to Barrier Peaks for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. Written and drawn by Skullfungus and published by Games Omnivorous, it is a sandbox of varying environments and mysteries, which uses Into the Odd as its mechanics. What this means is that the players can create their Survivors in a few minutes and this combined with the starting mini-adventure that gets the Survivors off their ship and onto the island, means that the Game Master can be running the campaign in the first session. The campaign is relatively short, primarily player driven and often deadly, meaning that not every Survivor is necessarily going to get off the island. Survivors are easy to replace and bring into play though given the speed of their creation.

A Survivor—or Player Character—in Isle of Ixx is lightly defined. He has three Abilities: Might, Move, and Mind, which range in value between three and eighteen. He also has a six-sided die’s worth of HP, or Hit Protection, rather than Hit Points, a Starter Package, potentially a Companion, and some coins. To create a Survivor, a player rolls three six-sided dice each for the Abilities and one die for the Hit Protection. Then by cross-referencing the value of the Hit Protection with the Survivor’s highest Ability, he receives a Starter Package. A Survivor with either low Hit Protection or a low Ability will receive a more powerful Starter Package, including an Arcanum, whilst a Survivor with a high Ability or Hit Protection, will receive a more mundane Starter Package. Thus, a Survivor with six Hit Protection and a high Ability of twelve would start play with a spiked bat, some warpaint, and a jug of moonshine, whereas if the Survivor’s highest Ability is nine and he only has two Hit Protection, he begins play with a rapier, a flintlock gun, breastplate, an alien idol, and an extra Speciality. A Speciality is a perk or skill, such ‘Land Crab’, which grants +1 armour bonus whilst on land, and ‘Smuggler’, the ability to hide things. The feel of Isle of Ixx—much like Into the Odd—has the feel of Dickensian weird science fantasy, but here combined with weird tropical fantasy.

Ermengarde Baritch
Might 8 Move 10 Mind 15
Hit Protection 3

Speciality: Dirty Fighter

Starter Package: Mancatcher (d6), Net, Bait, Rat in a Small Cage

Mechanically, if a Survivor wants to undertake an action, his player rolls a twenty-sided die against the appropriate Ability, aiming to equal to or under to pass. Initiative in combat is managed with a Move save if needed. Combat is equally as simple. A player rolls the die for the weapon used to determine how much damage is inflicted. The target’s armour is subtracted from this and the remainder is subtracted from first his Hit Protection and then his Might. This necessitates a Might Save and the possibility that the Explorer will be unable to act. Should a character lose all of his Might, he dies. It takes only a Short Rest to recover lost Hit Protection, but a Long Rest lasting a week to recover lost Ability points. Saves against Mind are used for several things, maintaining morale of course, but also in a pinch, maintaining civil discourse with others, and more interestingly, to sometimes use the Profane Powers.

The Isle of Ixx is described region by region and the adventures the Survivors can have there. Lowlands Adventures describes the Devil’s Reef, Wrecktown where the Survivors are likely to find a base of operations, and the Hermit’s Spire where Milliam the Hermit spends his days tending to the plants and meditating in the chrome tower. In High Jungle Adventures, the Survivors might come across a nest of Terrorbeaks, delve into the Overgrown Spire broken open by vines, or explore the ancient cities of the Pale Ruins or the Charred Ruins. The Great Swamp Adventures hide further signs of ancient technology, whilst the Ocean Adventures is home to numerous caves in which can be found shipwrecks, a colony of the fish-like Drowned Ones worshipping their cyclopean god, and more. All of these adventure locations are described in succinct detail, and each of the various regions is further supported by a table of events and a bestiary of Humans, Drowned Ones, and Mutants as well as Terror Lizards—both carnivorous and herbivorous, terrors aquatic and airborne, violent vegetation, and more. There is scope too, for the Game Master to add her own content, the roleplaying game including five numbered, but otherwise blank maps for her to fully describe and populate, perhaps using the quartet of spark tables intended to inspire her imagination.

Physically, the Isle of Ixx is a lovely little book. Clothbound and compact, it is profusely illustrated in a bold cartoon style that captures the often-eldritch strangeness of the island, from the roaring terror lizard on the front cover to the cartography of each and every adventure site, in a way that cannot be described as anything other than cute. Another nice touch is that the various sections of the book are colour coded according to regions—not always adjacent to each other—marked on the main map. It makes for easy reference back and forth.

Isle of Ixx takes the concept of the microclone—as typified by Knave, Into the Odd, and Mausritter—and extends it into presenting not just a miniature, stripped down roleplaying game complete in a few pages, but also a complete roleplaying setting and campaign. Together setting and campaign set up the situation, provide mysteries and weirdness to be found, and give an objective for the Survivors to achieve and all in a few pages more. Isle of Ixx physically feels like the perfect campaign to own and hold in the hand, let alone play, yet is a superlative example of succinct design, not just in terms of its physicality, but also its descriptive content and its roleplaying possibilities.

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