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Friday 17 February 2023

The Other OSR—7 Aboard the Schackel

The world is dying. It no more than a few scattered lands on the Endless Sea, the beleaguered inhabitants and other survivors scrabbling for one last scrum of comfort, even at the cost others, as the prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisks are coming true. Seven Miseries as predicted in from The Calendar of Nechrubel – The Nameless Scriptures and the seventh Misery will herald the actual end of the world… In north-western Kergüs, Blood-Countess Anthelia cries out for colour and warmth from her white stone castle in the black glass city of Alliáns, yet in her ice-wracked lands, everything the fragile countess touches, looks upon, and breathes upon is drained of colour. Yet she remains on her throne, clinging to her throne, her youth, her power, and the traditions that ensure that all is right and proper. That includes the treatment of those at her court whom she would count as a rival. No ruler may sentence a member of their court to death. The death of a rival is the rise of the martyr. There are ways and means of treating and punishing a rival that leave him ruined, if not destroyed, rather than death. For the rivals of Lady Anthelia of Kergüs, the Blood Countess, there is Her Lady’s Schackel. This is a prison hulk, once a great ship of Kergüs’ navy, now adrift on the Endless Sea, scored by acid rain, haunted by ghosts and ghasts, and seemingly unwanted by the Endless Sea, but unable to come to shore. Worse, ‘the 7’, those who were once rivals or enemies of the queen and confined to Her Lady’s Schackel have mutinied and escaped their confines, if not the rotting hulk of their prison, their profanities constantly warping the cabins and hallways of the vessel so that no two decks are alike and every deck is different each time someone enters it… Everyone knows that there is an abomination aboard that will soon come ashore and when it does a Misery will fall on the world. Until then it waits aboard the prison barge floating on the Endless sea.

This is the set-up for 7 Aboard the Schackel, semi-randomly generated prison-crawl adventure published by Bite-Sized Gaming following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It is compatible with Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing. It includes tables to create Player Character motivations, plots, room and location contents, random events and sounds, curses and trinkets, the state in which the surviving members of the former crew can be found, full details of the seven escaped inmates, and more.

Set-up for 7 Aboard the Schackel begins with the tables ‘2d4troubling Ties’ and ‘2d4 Conceived Plots’. For example, the ‘Lady’s Man/Woman’ entry in the former places the Player Character in fealty to Lady Anthelia who has tasked him with slaying the abomination aboard the barge, whilst the entry in the latter table places Förtära as the primary target abomination aboard, an obese woman who has entered into a bargain with a great beast from the depths of the Endless Sea and is ready to birth a cold foetus on the land which will inherit the remaining land… These two tables provide different motivations and primary enemy for any play-through of the prison-crawl, but in play, the Game Master rolls dice to populate and detail each deck of the Her Lady’s Schackel and does every time the Player Characters move from one deck to another. This includes returning to a deck that the Player Characters have already visited or explored. What the Game Master is rolling for is appearance and placement of a member of ‘the 7’, any ‘Servile Cretins’, ‘Covetous Souls’, ‘Crippled Captives’, and ‘Butchered Flesh’. Named creatures will not reappear if they are killed and the number of dice rolled each time a deck is re-entered if the Player Characters manage to clear a deck. There are five decks on the Her Lady’s Schackel.

The bulk of 7 Aboard the Schackel is dedicated to the denizens aboard the Her Lady’s Schackel. These start with ‘the 7’, monstrously fallen men and women sentenced to imprisonment aboard the prison barge. They include the ‘Falskhet, the False King’, able to command—temporarily—those he strikes with his sceptre, but also cause a target’s bones to snap and pop with his ‘Cruel Wrath’ and suffer any damage he would instead with ‘Egotistical Leech’. In his former life, he was a scapegoat for a failed uprising against Lady Anthelia and now unleashes his anger and resentment against her on anyone around him. All of ‘the 7’ are described in similar detail with clear stats and a background and an agenda. In addition, the denizens include ‘tenth-spirits’, the spectres of those given as a tithe to the Endless Sea and cursed to stay in its cold embrace rather than pass on. They include Thera, a young girl still clutching a seaweed doll and in a search of a parent and even Törgar, the dethroned and dishonoured captain of the Her Lady’s Schackel. The Servile Cretins are lingering, broken creatures which remain aboard the vessel, like the ‘Blick’, plucked eyes animated by profane magic which cast about their withering gaze.

One issue with 7 Aboard the Schackel is the focus upon its denizens, monsters, and creatures. It leaves relatively little room for the tools to help the Game Master detail the Her Lady’s Schackel. There are tables for rolling random room names and mostly useless trinkets for the Player Characters to find, but little else. This leaves the Game Master room, of course, to create her own descriptions, but more prompts and suggestions would have been useful. Another is that randomising each deck every time the Player Characters enter a deck is time consuming and potentially means more work for the Game Master. If that is the case, an option would be to create a deck’s layout and description just the once per playthrough. Lastly, one issue with 7 Aboard the Schackel is the use of the word ‘cretin’ to describe some of its denizens. It is derogatory and potentially offensive.

Physically, 7 Aboard the Schackel is presented in the artpunk style of Mörk Borg. It does mean that it places it is not easy to read and that may impede play. The artwork is decent, a dark, twisted swathe of the grim and the brutal.

7 Aboard the Schackel brings to life an almost living ship, its random elements giving it a flexibility that a standard scenario would not necessarily possess. In fact, not running it as a campaign scenario would mean not making the fullest use of this feature. It would work as a one-shot, with the Player Characters having different motivations for going aboard the Her Lady’s Schackel and possibly with a trimming of a deck or two, as a convention scenario also. In whatever way it is used, 7 Aboard the Schackel is a bloody and brutal grim dark prison crawl caught between the Endless Deep and the end of the world.

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