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

Thursday 29 February 2024

1984: Toon

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.

—oOo—

It is interesting to note that two of the hobby’s mostly highly regarded humour roleplaying games were co-designed by Greg Costikyan and both were published in 1984. One, the dystopian Science Fiction roleplaying game, Paranoia, published by West End Games, was most obviously published in 1984, because after all, that was the year that George Orwell’s eponymous novel is set. The other was Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game. Published by Steve Jackson Games, it was based on an original idea by Jeff Dee which was inspired by a conversation about genres that nobody had then yet designed roleplaying games for. As its title suggested, that genre was cartoons. Not the cartoons of Saturday mornings, but rather the short, sometimes violently anarchic cartoons of Warner Bros’ Looney Toons, Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry, and Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies and others. This is a genre that almost everyone is familiar with, making the resulting roleplaying game incredibly familiar in terms of what you were playing and the world in which it took place. However, Toon also asked a great deal of its players in terms of how it was played, because in many ways it was asking them to do everything which other roleplaying games had taught them to do.

In almost every other roleplaying game, the player not only wants his character to survive, to grow, and to thrive, which invariably means plotting and planning, and taking the time to come up with the best tactics or strategy to achieve all three. Not so in
Toon. Let alone the fact that a character in Toon cannot die—only fall down for three minutes of real time—the play is all about the immediate. What does my character want? How does he achieve that right now? What is the simplest and more direct way of getting that? It does not matter if that direct way is not the most logical, for it serves its purpose right now. So rather than ‘think before you act’, the credo of Toon is ‘ACT before you THINK’. The roleplaying game will even punish a player if he thinks before he acts or attempts to think before he acts, rendering his character Boggled and unable to do anything until his next turn. This is a roleplaying game played at high speed, even breakneck speed, in which the action passes from one character to the next in a flurry, in which Short Subjects and Feature Films always take place in Anytown, Outside of Town, The City, and Outer Space, where there is always a mailbox close by to receive that thing you just ordered, logic has a way of being illogical in an entirely logical way, coincidences are perfectly normal and to be expected, cause and effect might go one way for a character, but not another, and nobody reads the fine print until you write it and persuade everyone as to its veracity.

Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game is a roleplaying game with a genre that everyone will know and will understand how its worlds work, supported by simple, fast-playing mechanics, good advice for the Animator—as the Game Master is known, and four Short Subjects and one Feature Film. One of the Short Subjects is designed to teach the game and so with a quick read through and copies of the characters ready, the Animator really could be running her first game in fifteen minutes.

A character can be anything. An ant, a robot ant, a sea serpent, a kangaroo, a pig, a parakeet, and so on. He can run and talk, take part in the Cartoon Olympics, go to Outer Space, and more, whether he is a Milkman, a Retired General, a French Chef, or a Cowboy. He has four attributes—Muscle, Zip, Smarts, and Chutzpah—which determine how strong, how fast, how intelligent, and how pushy he is. They are range in value between one and six. Each attribute has a number of skills, which range in value between one and nine. He will have a natural enemy, such as a cat for a dog or a park ranger for a bear; a Belief and a Goal, for example, “I hate elephants” and “Stop the hunter from hunting me in Rabbit Season”; a possession or two; and Shtick. A Shtick is an amazing ability that breaks rules. For example, a Bag of Many Things from which innumerable objects can be drawn, Shape Change, Hypnosis, and so on. Mechanically, they are rolled for just like skills to see if they work.

To create a character, a player rolls a six-sided die for each of the four attributes. Species, Occupations, Beliefs, and Goals can selected or rolled for, or selected, whilst Natural Enemies are always chosen. The base value for each skill is equal to its associated attributes, but a player has thirty points to divide between them. Alternatively, a character can have a Shtick, which costs five skill points and always begins play with a value of five. This cannot be increased during character creation, only later through experience. The process is quick and easy and takes five minutes.

Doctor Freuderick “It’s pronounced ‘Frederick’” von Mesenme (Actually Joe from Pittsburgh)
Species: Human
Natural Enemies: Patients and other doctors
Belief: I always know what is best for my patients
Goal: Get rich
Hit Points: 9

Muscle 3
Break Down Doors 3, Climb 3, Fight 6, Pick Up heavy Things 3, Throw 3

Zip 2
Dodge 7, Drive Vehicle 2, Fire Gun 2, Jump 4, Ride 2, Run 4, Swim 4

Smarts 5
Hide/Spot Hidden 5, Identify Dangerous Thing 7, Read 5, Resist Fast Talk 8, See/Hear/Smell 5, Set/Disarm Trap 5, Track/Cover Tracks 5

Chutzpah 6
Fast-Talk 9, Pass/Detect Shoddy Goods 9, Sleight of Hand 6, Sneak 6

Shticks
Hypnosis 5

Possessions
Medical Diploma from The Republic of Užupis University of Universal Study, Pocket Watch, Pipe (for bubbles), medical forms

Mechanically,
Toon is simple. To undertake an action, the player rolls two six-sided dice, and aims to roll equal to or lower than the skill or attribute. It is a simple yes or no mechanic. Situations where there is an opposed roll, such as a fight or a chase or a competition, the outcome is determined by who rolls successfully and who fails. Thus, in a chase, the character who makes a successful roll with either Drive Vehicle, Run, or Swim will get away from the character who fails his roll, whereas if both make a successful roll or fail, neither makes any progress. Combat uses the Fight or Shoot Gun skills, with brawls and bust ups being opposed rolls. In general, if neither side is successful, that is, makes a successful roll whilst the other fails, then after three rounds of both making successful or failed rolls, both characters fall down exhausted. If a character is successfully hit in a fight or shot, then he suffers a six-sided die’s worth of damage. If he loses all of his Hit Points, the character will Fall Down. This is bad, but not actually that bad, because unlike every other roleplaying game, the character is not dead. Instead, he is out for the count, but can bound back, because that count is three minutes of real time. After that, the character and his player are back in the game with full Hit Points, ready to play.

The mechanical aim of play is to earn Plot Points. These actually reflect how well a player has roleplayed his character and served the genre of the Short Subject or the Feature Film. Each Short Subject and Feature Film has a budget to divide amongst the Player Characters at the end, but a player can earn more when his character makes another Fall Down, roleplays the character’s Beliefs & Goals, has his character make a Natural Enemy Fall Down, roleplays his character in a clever or entertaining fashion, and even for making the Animator laugh. Conversely, he loses them if he does not roleplay the character’s Beliefs & Goals or if the character is made to Fall Down by an NPC. Plot Points are used to increase a Player Character’s skills and shticks, including buying new shticks.

In terms of game play,
Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game begins before Player Character creation. This gives a description the base elements of the game, how the skills work, a quick introduction to Plot Points, and some advice the Animator. All this in preparation for ‘The Cartoon Olympics’, a Short Subject designed for the Animator and two players. Taking place in the Anytown Anydome, this sports event will see the Player Characters compete in boxing matches, javelin toss, and marathon to determine the winner. They will also have to deal with Judge Mole, who of course, is blind as and also armed with a deadly starting pistol, and a bunch of monkeys. Although intended for two platers, the Short Subject includes a quartet of potential Player Characters, such as Mack the Mouse, Olga Hippopovna, Fred Bulldog, and Fifi La Feline. This is an easy to prepare Short Subject that can be brought to the table very quickly.

It should be noted that
Toon also emphasises adversarial play, a feature also shared with Paranoia. Player Characters can have conflicting goals even as they work collectively towards the objective of a Short Subject or Feature Film, but more often than not, they are directing competing against each other, as in ‘The Cartoon Olympics’, and unlike in other roleplaying games, there can be a winner. Offset that though, with the fact that Toon is designed for ephemeral, one-shot play rather than campaigns, so even if the same Player Characters appear in a subsequent Short Subject or Feature Film, the events or outcome of a previous Short Subject or Feature Film will not have any real influence on the next one.

Beyond both ‘The Cartoon Olympics’ and Player Character creation,
Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game explains how Beliefs & Goals, skills, and shticks all work, plus there is good advice on being the Animator. Ultimately, this boils down to keeping things moving, throwing in sound effects, playing to the genre, and transmitting the right atmosphere to her players. The advice also stresses that the most important aspect of being an Animator is to remember that the Animator is in charge, and that anything she says goes. That said, the Animator should always be open to ideas from her players and when it counts, she should act crazy.

Rounding out
Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game are another three Short Subjects and one Feature Film. The extra Short Subjects include ‘The Cartoon Olympics Strikes Back!’, which really just expands on ‘The Cartoon Olympics’ with a single page; ‘I Foogled You!’ sends the Player Characters into the jungles of Darkest Africa (conveniently located Outside of Town) in search of the famed Foogle Bird, which involves lots of swinging on vines with a Tarzan-like character and his wife; and ‘Spaced Out Saps’ in which members if the Space Aeronautics Patrol Squad or S.A.P.S., take a trip to the Moon (conveniently located Outside of Town) and investigate strange activity involving The Martian and The Martian Dog. The Feature Film is ‘The Better Housetrap’ in which the Player Characters are trying to hide out in a newly built house, only for them to discover that the house is actually robotic! Each one of the Short Subjects and the Feature Films can be played in a single session and each wears its inspirations firmly on its sleeves.

Physically,
Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game is cleanly, tidily laid out and organised. It is liberally illustrated with entertaining cartoon artwork. The roleplaying game is well written and easy to read and grasp.

—oOo—
Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game was reviewed not once, but twice by Dragon magazine. First by Michael Dobson in ‘New heights(?) in silliness’ in Dragon #92 (December 1984), in which the opening line is, “TOON™, The Cartoon Roleplaying Game, appears at first glance to be just an elaborate joke.” before he qualifies this with, “…TOON is a genuine good idea – an original (if unlikely) concept in role-playing – that is enjoyable, fastmoving, and incredibly silly.” Although critical of the roleplaying game’s use of Plot Points, which he felt were, “…[A] holdover from traditional role-playing games that doesn’t quite fit the TOON spirit. In a straight adventure game, a character’s potential to improve may be important as a tool to motivate the player and to keep a campaign going. In TOON, this approach doesn’t make sense. Cartoon characters never get “better.”” Nevertheless, Dobson described Toon as “Inspired silliness…” Jim Bambra would follow this up in Dragon #144 (April 1989) in ‘Role-Playing Reviews’. He described it as “…[A] classic – a game which deserves the attention of everyone looking for a dramatic change of pace and emphasis in their role-playing.” before concluding with, “The TOON game provides an excellent change of pace and a shift of emphasis away from the more serious role-playing games. I highly recommend it as an evening’s entertainment and as a cure to role-playing blues.”

In ‘Notices’ in Imagine No 21 (December 1984), Mike Lewis was equally as positive, concluding his review with, “Toon is a very refreshing change from the usual run-of-the-mill rpgs which have been appearing recently. The game very firmly puts a sense of humour back into rpgs. If you are interested in cartoons, then Toon is an essential purchase — but even if you aren’t, try it for a change. I am very impressed with the ideas behind this game and hope that it gets more support than most minority RPGs have done in the past. It deserves it.”

R.A. Greer reviewed
Toon in Space Gamer Number 72 ((Jan/Feb 1985) and like Jim Bambra would four years later, described it as an antidote to the roleplaying blues, saying that, “TOON is a quick cure for all your roleplaying ills, a fast-acting balm to be applied directly to your funny bone, speeding you back to those uncomplicated days of roleplaying when it was fun!” His conclusion was equally as complimentary, stating that, “TOON is a gen for those willing to work with it a little bit. (The game should have been published with a qualified Animator stapled inside.) It may not replace the weekly fantasy game, but it’s great change of pace. It is also a great introduction to roleplaying for that new to the hobby and really allows experienced gamers to let down their hair. Almost all of TOON’s problems can be solved by applying this simple maxim: “If you want to do it, exaggerate it; if it’s simple, complicate it; if you’re in a jam, take all steps to make it worse.” Follow these simple rules and you’ll advance the plot and add to the fun. Congratulations to Steve Jackson Games on a job well done.”

None other than Larry DiTillio reviewed Toon in ‘Game Reviews’ in Different Worlds Issue 38 (Jan/Feb 1985), awarding the roleplaying three stars out of four and praising its writing, stating that, “[Greg] Costikyan has clarity, wit, and the good sense to be brief, as well as an obvious love for cartoons. The rulebook not only reads quickly and easily, it makes you eager to play the game.” He advised that, “Role-players of a basically serious nature and gamemasters who prefer rigid detail are advised to stay away. On the other hand, for a few hours of silliness, Toon can’t be beat and is a refreshing change from the ofttimes leaden pace of other role-playing games. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s simple.”

Lastly,
Toon was reviewed in ‘Open Box’ in White Dwarf Number 63 (March 1985) by Stephen Kyle, who awarded it nine out of ten. He concluded that, “For anyone who likes cartoons, then Toon is definitely worth looking into. It concentrates more on the Warner Brothers/Hanna Barbera type of American cartoon, rather than the more sophisticated British product like Dangermouse. Nevertheless, all of us have favourite cartoons or characters and Toon enables you to recreate them easily and with a lot of fun. I just hope it gets more support than most minority RPGs.”
—oOo—

Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game does have one single problem—and it is a big one. That is the degree of buy-in that a Game Master and her players need to have to play and enjoy Toon, the willingness to accept its implied anarchy and mandatory impulsiveness of ‘ACT before you THINK’, and to break the learned habits of playing roleplaying games. A player unwilling or unable to make that adjustment is not going to enjoy or appreciate the fun that Toon has to offer.

Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game is and was a groundbreaking roleplaying game, because of its treatment of the cartoon genre and its humour, although numerous roleplaying games have visited its genre since. It is simple, even simplistic, but the simplicity of the rules and the mechanics means that Toon is incredibly easy to teach and just as easy to grasp, and when it comes to its genre, Toon has the most accessible, most familiar genre of almost any roleplaying game. After all, who has not seen a Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry cartoon? Which absolutely makes it great for convention play. That said, whilst it can be used as an introductory roleplaying game, it is not written as an introductory roleplaying game, so is best suited to be run by an experienced Game Master who can adapt to its fast pace and over the top, silly play. Similarly, this is a roleplaying game whose speed and tone is something that experienced players will also have to adapt to in order to get into the spirit of the roleplaying game and its silly, cartoon humour. Essentially, this is not a roleplaying game which the Game Master simply decides to run—her players have to buy into the whole concept, big anvil, stick of dynamite, and all.

Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game is undemanding fun that in the hands of a good Animator awards energy, inventiveness, and impulsiveness. Toon – The Cartoon Roleplaying Game is the roleplaying equivalent of a tonic, a great pick up and play roleplaying game that enables the players to engage in all of the mayhem and madness of their favourite childhood cartoons and after they Fall Down, get back up and dive right back in.

Monday 26 February 2024

Jonstown Jottings #88: The Bully Bird

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 Glorantha, 13th 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?
The Bully Bird is a “A monstrous predator packed into two pages” for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which presents a creature and three hooks to use the creature in a campaign that the Game Master can develop and run as a single session’s worth of play or possibly longer.

It is a two page, full colour 329.59 KB PDF.

The layout is tidy, the artwork rough, but serviceable.

The creature and the scenario hooks can be easily be adapted to the rules system of the Game Master’s choice.

Where is it set?
As written, The Bully Bird details a creature found across Dragon Pass.

Who do you play?
The Bully Bird does not require any specific character type, but the Bully Bird is hated by Orlanth-worshippers in particular, and anyone who keeps alynxes, such as Odayla or Yinkin worshippers.

What do you need?
The Bully Bird requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha only.

What do you get?
The Bully Bird details simple, but very large creature, roughly four times taller than the average man and the size of a mammoth. It is a giant bird that talks and pecks its way back and forth across Dragon Pass, able to fly, but only with the benefit of a running start. It will stalk and eat anything it likes, but not men, though it is capable of defending itself by pecking or grappling with its beak or flapping its wings in a strong strike. Having escaped into the mortal world from God Time following a botched heroquest, it has become both a terror across the region and a much desired trophy for hunters, who are seen as being either very brave or very foolish for wanting to hunt it. One reason to hunt are its magical feathers, which either make magnificent trophies or can be used to attract predators when hunting.

In addition to describing the Bully Bird, how it came to be in the mortal world, and giving its stats, The Bully Bird includes three plot hooks. These will have the Player Characters preventing it being accidently caught by Summons of Evil cast by a clan, the Bully Bird becoming infatuated with a Player Character, and the Player Characters becoming involved in an attempt to banish the Bully Bird. These are thumbnail descriptions at best, and the Game Master will need to undertake a fair amount of development to have something readily playable.

One aspect of the Bully Bird which would have have benefited from further development is the heroquest that enabled it to escape God Quest. That might have better prepared the Game Master who wants to run a heroquest to banish it or it might even set up the possibility of the Player Characters having performed the original heroquest that set the Bully Bird free in Dragon Pass!

Ultimately the usefulness of The Bully Bird will depend upon if the Game Master does not mind adding another creature to Glorantha, especially as one as ridiculous as the the Bully Bird, and does not mind developing the included scenario hooks.

Is it worth your time?
YesThe Bully Bird adds a strange beast to Glorantha that can be seen lurking here and there throughout Dragon Pass before the Player Characters go hunting for it just as in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark.
NoThe Bully Bird is just a bit too gonzo, even silly, and needs too much effort upon the part of the Game Master to effectively use.
MaybeThe Bully Bird is fantastically absurd, a looming presence which reminds others of the dangers of heroquests gone wrong and with a bit of effort its plot hooks can be developed in something worth running..

Miskatonic Monday #265: Mad Sci – How to Train your Shoggoth

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: Kurt Havelock

Setting: Miskatonic University
Product: One-shot
What You Get: Thirty-eight page, 142.16 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: Miskatonic Mad Science
Plot Hook: Cartoonish capers with chemistry and whatnot causes chaos
Plot Support: Eighteen NPCs, one map, and sixteen Mythos monsters, plus one robot.
Production Values: Plain

Pros
# Entertainingly cartoonish art
# Interesting set of NPCs/Mythos Monsters
# Variant Great Race of Yith
Myxophobia
Teraphobia
Science Anxiety

Cons
# EDU as a stat is NOT stupid
# Variant Great Race of Yith
# All set-up, no plot
# No staging advice
# No investigation
# Unusable as written without a lot of effort

Conclusion
# All set-up, but no plot, investigation, adventure, or advice on how to use it
# Actually more the bible for an anime-style Saturday morning Miskatonic University mad science cartoon

Sunday 25 February 2024

An Ubersreik Quintet

The two great features of the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set were twofold. First, in ‘A Guide to Ubersreik’, it introduced Ubersreik, the fortress-town in the south of the Reikland, and its surrounding duchy that are in turmoil after an announcement from the emperor that unseated the ruling House Jungfreud. It left the town’s burghers and minor members of the nobility spotting an opportunity to take control themselves and much of this was explored in ‘The Adventure Book’, which provided a five-part mini-campaign and more story hooks. This was the second great thing about the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set—lots to roleplay. Although Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set was in part designed to set the Game Master and her players up reader for the majestic The Enemy Within campaign—after all, almost everything is in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Fourth Edition is—what if instead of leaping into that campaign, the Player Characters wanted to stay in and around Ubersreik? Fortunately, and almost immediately, publisher Cubicle Seven Entertainment began publishing scenarios set in and around the Duchy of Ubersreik, so the Player Characters could not only continue their involvement in the political upheaval in the town, but also explore its surroundings.

Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik continues the series begun with Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik, by collecting the next five scenarios in the series—and more, in another handsome, if slim, hardback. The five take the Player Characters in and around the Duchy of Ubersreik, but do not stray very far from the river port at its heart. In the process, they will face an uprising by the recently dead, investigate a local legend, get caught up in a whodunnit, search for a serial killer, and find themselves wrapped in a con job. The scenarios are also flexible. All can be taken and dropped into the Game Master’s campaign, used in conjunction with the Rough Nights & Hard Days campaign anthology, or used as part of The Enemy Within. However, where Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik felt like it constantly wanted to push the Game Master, her players, and their characters onto the path that would lead into the events of The Enemy Within, none of the scenarios in this anthology do. Instead, they are standalone affairs that can be run in episodic fashion in and around the duchy, all the better to be free of any connection to The Enemy Within. One thing missing from all five is the ‘Shaking Things Up’ appendix with advice for the Game Master on running the scenario, alternative hooks to get the Player Characters involved, and a list of possible connects to not only the other five scenarios in the volume, but also other parts of the Empire. Although the lack of suggested connections means that the five scenarios in the anthology are less obviously flexible, at the same it enforces their independence away from The Enemy Within, though of course, they do work better in conjunction with the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set.

The anthology opens with ‘Deadly Dispatch’ which opens with one of the Player Characters receiving a mysterious package. Opening the package reveals that it contains a puzzle box and opening the puzzle box—the scenario suggesting either Intelligence checks modified by appropriate skills and talents or brute force as possible methods—reveals its contents to be quite probably blasphemous. Of course, brute force also destroys some of the evidence, but not all of it. Investigating the address label reveals that it has been given to the Player Character in a case of mistaken identity and investigating the addressee reveals that it should have been sent to a local river woman. She turns out to be easy to find and nervous when she is found. This is because unfortunately, she has become the front woman for a necromancer who has designs on Ubersreik. This is all a good set-up, supported by two well written NPCs in the form of the river woman and the similarly reluctant, but undead Estalian duellist who is the necromancer’s bodyguard and servant. In comparison, the necromancer himself feels underwritten as does the fact that the plot ends with a zombie uprising. Nevertheless, zombie uprisings are invariably fun and ‘Deadly Dispatch’ is a serviceable scenario that can be played through in a single session.

If ‘Deadly Dispatch’ is straightforward, then ‘Fishrook Returns’ is just a bit obvious in its plotting. The whole of Ubersreik is talking about the return of Fishrook, a notorious highwayman who has been holding up and robbing coaches and wagons on the roads around the city. What is significant about the highwayman’s return is that he is dead, having been hanged for his crimes a century ago. But this Fishrook wears the same bird-like mask and dresses just as flamboyantly, so is this the real Fishrook returned, his ghost, or someone impersonating his legend. A local noblewoman, Gutele von Bruner, bored and enamoured by the legend is determined to find out and hires the Player Characters to find out. Unfortunately, there is not really much of a mystery as to the identity of who the new Fishrook is and it is likely that the Player Characters will very quickly put two and two together and realise that it is actually Gutele von Bruner. There is a bit of a run around to capture her, but where the scenario gets interesting is deciding what to do with her, because after all, she has committed several crimes. This is particularly tricky if the Player Characters are still part of the city watch as they are in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set. Do they upset the nobility by pushing for a trial and causing a bigger scandal, get a very reluctant town council involved, or upset almost everyone else by brushing it under the carpet and letting Gutele von Bruner get away with it? At this point, the scenario opens up and becomes much more Player Character driven as they try to negotiate the way out of the legal and social mess that Gutele von Bruner has landed them in and the Game Master will need to respond as necessary. Although there is advice for the Game Master, this second half of the scenario is much more difficult to run and so needs much more preparation time to understand the various possible outcomes.

The third scenario, ‘Double Trouble’, is a classic country house murder mystery. It begins with the Player Characters being invited to visit the home of a young poet because he wants to hear of their adventures and adapt them into verse. The atmosphere in the poet’s home is tense and nervous, and not because he has invited what his mother considers to be riffraff onto the family estate, but because of the other reason that he wants the Player Characters there. The poet is also worried about the rash of recent and sudden disappearances from amongst the staff on his family’s estate and the odd behaviour of his mother, and he wants the Player Characters to investigate. When they do, the Player Characters discover similarly worried and nervous staff, hear odd movements in the night, and so on, their efforts hampered by the attitudes of the staff who do not trust them and the efforts of the murderer. With a scenario being a murder mystery in a country house and having a title like ‘Double Trouble’, it would suggest that a twin is involved—and it is. Sort of. The scenario includes a good floor plan of the family estate and some well NPCs, though again, as in ‘Deadly Dispatch’, not the true villain of the piece. There is also good advice on what to do if the Player Characters accuse the villain too early on and pleasingly, it culminates in a scene in the drawing room in which the Player Characters will have to identify the murderer, explain his actions and motives, and convince everyone of their solution to the case. In other words, a classic ‘I suppose you’re wondering why I gathered you here today…’ scene and the scenario even uses that phrase for the title of the actual scene! ‘Double Trouble’ is a cracking little scenario that puts a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay spin on a classic genre to very entertaining effect.

The fourth scenario, ‘The Blessing That Drew Blood’, is another murder mystery, but this time more procedural in nature and set on the streets of Ubersreik, with the Player Characters undertaking a lot of detective footwork as they slog from one murder site to the next and from one witness interview to the next. In fact, there are a lot of witnesses to interview and a party of Player Characters without a decent Charm between them is going to be at a disadvantage from start to finish. This is something the scenario acknowledges, noting its heavy reliance upon the Charm skill and suggesting alternative interpersonal skills to use such as Gossip and Intimidate. Throughout the investigation, the Player Characters will be watched with keen interest by a strange trio that include a cat and a dog, and beset by incidences of explosive bodily expression or sleepiness at just the wrong moment… Are they connected and if so, what is their interest in the Player Characters and their investigation? It turns out that they are working to ensure that the culprit responsible, a musician famous across the empire, succeeds, because they are all in the service of Slaanesh. The strange trio willingly because they are former daemons attempting to get back into Slaanesh’s good books and the musician half-heartedly because if she fails to kill the required number of victims, she loses the musical ability that has made her rich and famous.

‘The Blessing That Drew Blood’ is another scenario with a good set-up and a great cast of well-drawn and colourful NPCs, including a veteran agitator and muckraker, a scared initiate of Morr—who may also serve as the Player Characters’ patron for the adventure if needed, a hail and brimstone Sigmarite Warrior Priest with shameful secrets, and a bartender who attempts to avoid answering every question lest he gains a reputation as an informer! And then there is the trio of ex-daemons whom the Game Master can have some fun with inflicting horrid, if temporary, afflictions upon her Player Characters. Unfortunately, the scenario is not as clearly laid out as it should have been and some of the information does not always match in the text. Nevertheless, this is a good adventure that fans of police procedurals will enjoy a great deal.

The fifth and final adventure in the anthology is ‘The Grey Mountain Gold’. The Player Characters are hired by an ambitious young man who believes that he has got hold of a map which shows the locations of the treasures rumoured to have been left behind when the Dwarven Clan Harataki had to flee the Karak of House Harataken from constant Greenskin assaults and wants their help to mount an expedition. Only it turns out that not only is he gullible, but he has been targeted by a gang of charlatans, because of course, the map is fake. How far the Player Characters are taken in by the conmen is another matter, but complicating the problem is that the remnants of Clan Harataki are based in Ubersreik and when Queen Vilda of Karak Branar gets to hear about it, she is less than pleased to learn that someone is going after treasures that rightfully belong to her and her clan. The other dwarves of Clan Harataki, in comparison, are incensed and with their ire up, are quite happy to give the culprits a good thumping, all of which sets up a scene where the Player Characters are chased through the alleys of Ubersreik by mob of disconsolate dwarves! This is an entertaining set piece, though one not helped by the lack of a map. One of the pleasures of this scenario is seeing a con in action with the Player Characters being caught up in it rather than being the target per se, whilst another is seeing a signature Career from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, that of the Charlatan, in action. Of course, if the players and their characters are unhappy at the end of the scenario because they did not actually have a chance to mount an expedition to Karak of House Harataken, then this scenario does actually show them why it might be a bad idea.

One of the aspects of Ubersreik which is not explored in full in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set or Ubersreik Adventures: Six Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik, is what happened to the ruling House Jungfreud after it was unseated by the Emperor. This, though, is explored in Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik. House Jungfreud has fled back to its ancestral seat of the neighbouring Duchy of Black Rock, a grim and gloomy place best known for its coal or ore mines, where Graf Sigismund von Jungfreud alternates between glowering and preparing for war, wary of the Emperor’s next steps. All of this is detailed in the penultimate section of the book, ‘A Guide to Black Rock’. This details the craggy, rock-strewn moorlands, it various town and settlements, mines along with a list if miner’s slang, the site of a ruined abbey which along with its monks and nuns was put to the torch for heresy and is still haunted by a tomb banshee who was the former abbess, the source of Neufaljung ink typically used to sign death warrants, Castle Neufaljung—seat of House Jungfreud—and its inhabitants, and the various plots whirling around the castle and the duchy. Alongside this are numerous hooks and sidebars that the Game Master can develop into scenarios and plotlines, and overall, this a good introduction to the duchy with plenty of information for the Game Master to work with.

Lastly, Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik does actually return to the subject of The Enemy Within, but in an unexpected fashion. This is as consequences of the campaign, as if there is another group of Player Characters involved in it rather than those in Ubersreik. This further divorces Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik and its events away from those of The Enemy Within beyond those consequences, whilst allowing the Game Master to take them into account even if she has no intent of running the campaign herself. Alternatively, a group of players could actually play both, but with different characters, so that the one set of characters experience the events of The Enemy Within and the other characters’ activities if only vicariously. It is a nice addition and interesting to the campaign from a different angle even if it does give away a lot of detail about The Enemy Within.

Physically, Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik is very well presented. The book itself is a handsome hardback and the book’s artwork—especially in its depiction of the NPCs—and cartography are both well done. However, the anthology needs an edit to fix final errors and to make sure that some of the plots and their information is clearer.

Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik is another solidly impressive set of scenarios that enables a group to continue playing the campaign begun in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set, whilst also being flexible enough to be set elsewhere in the Empire and the Game Master’s campaign. ‘A Guide to Black Rock’ very nicely expands upon the source material in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set, but really the two standout scenarios in the anthology both involve murder—‘Double Trouble’ and ‘The Blessing That Drew Blood’. Although it is a good anthology of scenarios in general, the Game Master who has set her campaign in Ubersreik is definitely going to want to run the scenarios in Ubersreik Adventures: More Grim and Perilous Scenarios in the Duchy of Ubersreik.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Country Cousins

One of the great things about
The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings, the second edition of the acclaimed The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild published by Free League Publishing is The One Ring Starter Set. Why do you ask? Well, because it lets us roleplay members of the Hobbit community whom we not normally encounter. Drogo Baggins, Esmeralda Took, Lobelia Bracegirdle, Paladin Took II, Primula Brandybuck, and Rorimac Brandybuck, in many cases the parents or relations of three of the Hobbits who would form part of the Fellowship of the Ring decades later. Under the direction of the scandalous Bilbo Baggins, the quintet went off and had adventures of their own in the Shire, whilst at the same time The One Ring Starter Set presented the Shire for the roleplaying game itself. Sadly, the five adventures had to come to a close and with it the chance to play those characters again. Fortunately, there are available a number of sequel adventures, including Landmark Adventures, that can be run as part of, or after, the events of The One Ring Starter Set, or simply added to an ongoing campaign for The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings if it is being run in or around The Shire. The Ghost of Needlehole proved to be a sharp little ghost story, whilst the Mines of Brockenbores took the Player-heroes to the far north of the Shire to inspect a mine! Sackville-Baggins Estates takes the Player-heroes to the far south to explore a growing threat that comes to a fruition at the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Sackville-Baggins Estates describes the farmstead to the southeast of Longbottom, which lies on the very edge of the Shire. This is the estate of Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the latter the infamous cousin of Bilbo Baggins, known for her covetous and grasping nature and her desire to own Bag End. Despite the poor quality nature of the farm’s ground, Otho and Lobelia have enriched themselves growing Southern Star pipe weed, which although of too poor a quality to sell to other Hobbits, is sold to Men and merchants in Bree and beyond. Where Lobelia is sour-natured and inquisitive, her husband is dour and ill-mannered, and their son, Lotho, is ill-tempered and lazy with a perpetual scowl on his face. Otho is also secretive and rarely welcomes visitors—and with good reason.

In his desire to become the
‘wealthiest Hobbit in the Shire’ and appease his wife, Otho has entered into a secret pact with a man from the south. This is to provide information about the doings of the Shire, and in particular, the comings and goings of Gandalf the Grey. The money he is paid comes from the purse of Saruman the White... Over the years, Otho’s farm has doubled in size and seen an increasing number of visitors, working the fields and transporting the harvest away. These are a mix of ne’er do wells from across the Shire and men brought in, many of whom work the spy network that Otho has established on behalf of Saruman. Ultimately, the investment that Saruman has made in the Shire will pay off with the Scouring of the Shire.

Sackville-Baggins Estates includes a rumour and old lore about Otho’s farm and both he and Lobelia, a random event that brings the Player-heroes into contact with one of Otho’s agents, descriptions of all three NPCs—Otho, Lobelia, and Lotho, and a description of their farm. There is a lot of information given here and as a Landmark Adventure, what it does is develop the back story to the events at the end of The Lord of the Rings. However, this is not an easy Landmark Adventure to use. To begin with, there is relatively little to explore and not much more to discover. Then, when Otho’s perfidy is revealed, how does this play out? What are the consequences? How does it affect future events in the Shire given that they are written in stone? Then there is an even darker plan upon the part of Otho, which the adventure suggests, but again, the consequences are not explored in any depth.

Sackville-Baggins Estates is neatly presented and is well written. The map is rough, but workable.

Unfortunately, as welcome as Sackville-Baggins Estates is, it is simply not as good as the previous The Ghost of Needlehole. It does a very nice job of filling in the back story to the events that lead into the later events of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and the Scouring of the Shire. In terms of gameable content, Sackville-Baggins Estates will need development upon the part of the Loremaster to be effectively useful in her campaign.

Screen Shot XII

How do you like your GM Screen?

The GM Screen is a essentially a reference sheet, comprised of several card sheets that fold out and can be stood up to serve another purpose, that is, to hide the GM's notes and dice rolls. On the inside, the side facing the GM are listed all of the tables that the GM might want or need at a glance without the need to have to leaf quickly through the core rulebook. On the outside, facing the players, can be found either more tables for their benefit or representative artwork for the game itself. This is both the basic function and the basic format of the screen, neither of which has changed all that much over the years. Beyond the basic format, much has changed though.

To begin with the general format has split, between portrait and landscape formats. The result of the landscape format is a lower screen, and if not a sturdier screen, than at least one that is less prone to being knocked over. Another change has been in the weight of card used to construct the screen. Exile Studios pioneered a new sturdier and durable screen when its printers took two covers from the Hollow Earth Expedition core rule book and literally turned them into the game’s screen. This marked a change from the earlier and flimsier screens that had been done in too light a cardstock, and several publishers have followed suit.

Once you have decided upon your screen format, the next question is what you have put with it. Do you include a poster or poster map, such as Chaosium, Inc.’s last screen for Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition or Margaret Weis Productions’ Serenity and BattleStar Galactica Roleplaying Games? Or a reference work like that included with Chessex Games’ Sholari Reference Pack for SkyRealms of Jorune or the GM Resource Book for Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu? Perhaps Or scenarios such as ‘Blackwater Creek’ and ‘Missed Dues’ from the Call of Cthulhu Keeper Screen for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition? Or even better, a book of background and scenarios as well as the screen, maps, and forms, like that of the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack also published by Chaosium, Inc. In the past, the heavier and sturdier the screen, the more likely it is that the screen will be sold unaccompanied, such as those published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment for the Starblazer Adventures: The Rock & Roll Space Opera Adventure Game and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. That though is no longer the case and stronger and sturdier GM Screens are the norm today.


So how do I like my GM Screen?

I like my Screen to come with something. Not a poster or poster map, but a scenario, which is one reason why I like ‘Descent into Darkness’ from the Game Master’s Screen and Adventure for Legends of the Five Rings Fourth Edition and ‘A Bann Too Many’, the scenario that comes in the Dragon Age Game Master's Kit for Green Ronin Publishing’s Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Set 1: For Characters Level 1 to 5. I also like my screen to come with some reference material, something that adds to the game. Which is why I am fond of both the Sholari Reference Pack for SkyRealms of Jorune as well as the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack. It is also why I like the Gamemaster’s Toolkit published by
by Modiphius Entertainment for use with Dune – Adventures in the Imperium, the roleplaying game based on the novels by Frank Herbert.

Dune – Adventures in the Imperium: Gamemaster’s Toolkit comes with a four-panel screen and a Game Master booklet that contains tools and advice on running a campaign for Dune – Adventures in the Imperium as well as adventure hooks, intrigues, and more. The screen itself is a sturdy affair, as is standard for the hobby today, but in portrait format rather than landscape. This is not as easy a format to use, plus it does have a much imposing presence at the table. The front of it depicts a map of Arrakis, or rather the known map of Arrakis at the time of the events of the novels. So, the northern polar region around Arrakeen and Catharg with the surrounding shield wall and The Great Flat, Funeral Plain, and Habbanya Erg to the west and the Deep Desert to the east. Done in sandy shades of yellow and brown with the startling blue of the polar ice cap at the centre, it is an imposing presence at the table. On the inside, the outer left panel list Skills, Drives, Traits, difficulty levels, and the skill test procedure, whilst on the inner left panel summarises the use of Determination, challenging Drives, how to add to the Game Master’s Threat pool, and the uses of Momentum. The inner righthand panel covers the rules for conflict and the attack sequence, plus the costs for spending Advancement Points, whilst the outer right panel has sections for creating NPCs on the go and generating story hooks. Throughout, every section has a page reference number so that the Game Master can check for further details or an explanation in the Dune – Adventures in the Imperium core book. Overall, there is a clear and pleasing simplicity to the Game Master’s Screen, and it is easy to read and use.

Dune – Adventures in the Imperium: Gamemaster’s Toolkit comes with a four-panel screen and a Game Master booklet that contains tools and advice on running a campaign for Dune – Adventures in the Imperium as well as adventure hooks, intrigues, and more. The screen itself is a sturdy affair, as is standard for the hobby today, but in portrait format rather than landscape. This is not as easy a format to use, plus it does have a much imposing presence at the table. The front of it depicts a map of Arrakis, or rather the known map of Arrakis at the time of the events of the novels. So, the northern polar region around Arrakeen and Catharg with the surrounding shield wall and The Great Flat, Funeral Plain, and Habbanya Erg to the west and the Deep Desert to the east. Done in sandy shades of yellow and brown with the startling blue of the polar ice cap at the centre, it is an imposing presence at the table. On the inside, the outer left panel list Skills, Drives, Traits, difficulty levels, and the skill test procedure, whilst on the inner left panel summarises the use of Determination, challenging Drives, how to add to the Game Master’s Threat pool, and the uses of Momentum. The inner righthand panel covers the rules for conflict and the attack sequence, plus the costs for spending Advancement Points, whilst the outer right panel has sections for creating NPCs on the go and generating story hooks. Throughout, every section has a page reference number so that the Game Master can check for further details or an explanation in the Dune – Adventures in the Imperium core book. Overall, there is a clear and pleasing simplicity to the Game Master’s Screen, and it is easy to read and use.

The Game Master booklet expands upon the chapter on being a Game Master in the core rulebook, first suggesting the types of conflict that the Player Characters might be involved in a scenario for Dune – Adventures in the Imperium. These include humanity versus nature, humanity versus civilisation, humanity versus tradition, humanity versus other humans, and so on. It supports these with eighteen different story seeds each of which includes a dramatic hook, an immediate call to action, locales, what is at stake, and the nature of the opposition. For example, in ‘Forgotten Vendetta’ under Kanly or humanity versus other humans, the Player Characters’ House may find itself the target of Kanly from a Minor House over an ancient and otherwise forgotten slight and a War of Assassins has already begun or in ‘The Star Pilgrims’ under Wilderness Survival for humanity versus nature, there is a race on to locate and investigate a crashed starship recently uncovered from the sands—just how old is it? No stats are provided and the Game Master will have to develop them into something playable, but they are good starting points.

To help the Game Master, the ‘Adventure Generators’ is a set of tables to create all of the elements of a scenario. This starts with title structure, key character type involved, location, object or animal, concept such as revenge or calamity, and institution or group. Following this are tables for a starting point for the adventure, involving the Player Characters and an enemy, before revealing the plot and identifying the antagonists and their aim. Further tables throw in problems and obstacles, a hidden hand behind the plot, and the supporting cast and NPCs. It is suggested that this is then mapped onto an intrigue map, with tables further tables given to detail the NPCs. All of this is supported by a really good example of how an adventure generation works which can easily be adapted to the Game Master’s campaign. All the Game Master has to do is supply names and stats and the plot is ready to play.

In addition, Game Master booklet includes four Intrigues as both inspiration and ready-to-develop examples. These dive into the conspiratorial aspect of the Known Universe, including the Bene Gesserit’s Missionaria Protectiva attempting to craft a new superstition with which to manipulate the Fremen, the Bene Tleilax scheming to obtain the secrets of the Bene Gesserit breeding programme, investigating the low yields of spice recovery from the harvester cleaning crews, and the Ixians attempting to scavenge the remains of an ancient spaceship. The latter could be tied back into the earlier ‘The Star Pilgrims’. The Locations add three example places that the Game Master can add to her campaign. They include a smuggler base, a sample House which serves as an information broker on Arrakis, and a House-run passenger spaceship. These nicely detailed, complete with full NPC stats, and again fairly easy to insert into a campaign.

Physically, the
Dune – Adventures in the Imperium: Gamemaster’s Toolkit is well presented. The screen itself is sturdy and easy to use, whilst the Game Master Booklet is clean and tidy and easy to read. If there is an issue, it is that the Game Master will need a bag in which to store its various parts and not lose them!

The Dune – Adventures in the Imperium: Gamemaster’s Toolkit is a solid resource for the Game Master. The screen will always find a use, whilst the contents of the Game Master booklet is really something that the Game Master will dip into as necessary and as an addendum to the Game Master advice in Dune – Adventures in the Imperium. This can be as direct inspiration using its almost ready-to-play content or as a series of prompts for the Game Master’s imagination.

Friday 23 February 2024

Friday Fantasy: The Land of the Eight Cities

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8:
The Land of the Eight Cities is a bit different, just like the previous entry in the line, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #7: A Dozen Lankhmar Locations. Unlike the majority of the releases for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the releases for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set, both of these are supplements rather than scenarios, although Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities does actually include a scenario. Where Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #7: A Dozen Lankhmar Locations provided the Judge with a wide range of locations and businesses and NPCs that she can use to bring the city of Lankhmar to life, what Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities does is open up the wider world of Nehwon to what is at heart a city campaign. It follows in the footsteps of the heroes of author Fritz Leiber’s tales of the adventures, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, as they struck north across the Inner Sea and into The Land of the Eight Cities. Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is both a guide to the country and to playing in that country, as well as a guide to how it was developed from original source material. Plus of course, it comes with its own scenario to get the Player Characters there.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities introduces The Land of the Eight Cities, located in and on the edges of the Forest Land, across the Inner Sea from the city of Lankhmar. Six centuries ago, it was settled by Lankhmarts who came searching for resources including lumber, ores, and gems, who established its first cities and effectively turned the region into a colony of the city. That changed three centuries ago, when eastern nomads filtered through the gap between the Barrier Mountains and the Inner Cities and assaulted city after city, eventually capturing all of them. Yet they did not sack the cities, but instead occupied them and adopted their ways! In the centuries since, The Land of the Eight Cities and the city of Lankhmar have become uneasy trading partners, The Land of the Eight Cities trading its ready supply of lumber, ores, and gems in return for the grain and meat farmed around Lankhmar. Despite this strong relationship, the lords of the Eight Cities still fear invasion by the Overlords of Lankhmar. It has also a similar relationship with the barbarian tribes of the Cold Wastes, trading for their furs, amber, and ivory via the cold city of No-Ombrulsk, but constantly needing to patrol against the pirate ships from the north. The supplement also presents details of the peoples of The Land of the Eight Cities, its government, and its gods. The latter consist of the Gods of the Forest and the Red God. The Gods of the Forest are worshipped by the majority of inhabitants of the region and personify their belief in the inherent spiritualism of the ancient trees and verdant wildlife. The Red God is a deity of blood and slaughter, and is worshipped by soldiers across the region and in particular, by the gladiators who fight in the arena in the palace-house of Lithquil, the Mad Duke and ruler of the city of Ool Hrusp.

All eight cities of The Land of the Eight Cities are detailed, most of which are cramped settlements of close-set, steep-roofed wooden buildings threaded through by narrow alleys which are set in forest clearings where the forests literally come right up to the edge of the settlement. Few have walls or the fortifications found in the south, the surrounding areas being laced with traps and treetop watch posts with troops also keeping a hardy eye on the narrow roads to and from the cities.

The secrets of forest around the cities include stats for a typical gladiator of the Mad Duke, a Kilyolsho tribesman, a member of the desert tribe to be found on the other side of the Barrier Mountains, Ool Hruspian Marine who serves aboard the Ool Hruspian ships assigned protect the city’s merchant fleet from pirates and Sea Mingols. Two new creatures are given, the bear-like Luhr-beast and Pack Bear, the latter of which can be trained to carry items for a master, as well as fight for him. There are new Bensions and Dooms too. ‘Bear-blooded’ is a Benison which gives a Player Character bear blood, not only enabling him to roar like a bear and scare off animals in the forest, but also allowing him to have a trained pack bear that can understand commands and fight for the Player Character. The other Benison is ‘Mining Claim’, whilst the Dooms are ‘Blasphemer’, which makes the Player Character an apostate in the eyes of the priests of the Gods of the Forests, and ‘Treader in Ancient’ which curses the Player Character to followed by something discovered in the ancient black ruins deep in the forest, though he cannot recall the exact events of his first encounter with it or what it is. Both of these Bensions and Dooms are designed initially for natives to The Land of the Eight Cities, but outsiders who live there for some time may also gain them. Both the Gods of the Forest and the Red God are described in terms of being patrons, and there is a table for carousing in The Land of the Eight Cities instead of using the one given in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set.

The included adventure in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is ‘Introductory Adventure The Tooth of No-Ombrulsk’. Designed for Player Characters of Second Level and Third Level, it begins with them coming into possession of a treasure map, pointing to the location of a stolen artefact. This is The Tooth of No-Ombrulsk, sacred to a whale-god worshipped in the northern city of No-Ombrulsk. The adventure is more of a mini-adventure, consisting of just eleven locations and describing a long-abandoned and ruined watchtower where the artefact has been hidden. It has a tomb-like quality, being laced with a number of traps, those these are not the only threats that the Player Characters will face. There are some sea-themed monsters as well as another pair of factions also after the artefact, including a very nicely done, desperate and vengeful priest of No-Ombrulsk. ‘Introductory Adventure The Tooth of No-Ombrulsk’ is nicely detailed as you would expect for Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the consequences of the Player Characters successfully gaining possession of the artefact are well thought out, but it only gets the Player Characters to the very tip of The Land of the Eight Cities and does not actually engage with the content presented elsewhere in the book. Thus, the Judge and her players will have to wait for something more definitive that will take their characters into The Land of the Eight Cities.

Rounding out Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is ‘Appendix A: The Fritz Leiber Papers Collection’. This details Michael Curtis’ trip to the University of Houston and its Special Collection department to examine the Fritz Leiber Papers it holds as part of the research to create the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. In particular, it looks at the draft version of ‘The Tale of the Grain Ships’ which would ultimately become The Swords of Lankhmar. It is this draft which Curtis draws on heavily for Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities and he discusses this before delving deeper into the many items in the collection. This includes swords, early maps, screenplays, and even correspondence with E. Gary Gygax. For fans of Fritz Leiber and Lankhmar, and both Gygax and the Appendix N, this is a fascinating read and a great addendum to both the scenario and the box set.

One of the issues with Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is that it has relatively little source material upon which to draw from. Consequently there is a brevity to the content of the supplement, though some Judges will see this as a boon as it gives them room aplenty to develop their own content. However, the supplement is missing content which would have been useful. This includes maps, both of The Land of the Eight Cities and the Eight Cities themselves, and whilst the inclusion of the two Patrons, the Gods of the Forest and the Red, is more than useful, the lack of spells particular to them is not. Similarly, the supplement mentions several times that strange, ageless structures are to be found in the forests of The Land of the Eight Cities, but these are not detailed beyond suggesting that they might have been built by the same people who built the black temples upon which Lankhmar is built. Of course, this leaves plenty of room for the Judge to develop her own, but something beyond mere hints would have been useful.

Ultimately, the problem with Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is the paucity of information. There is always the feeling that there should be more information, but this is not the author’s fault, as there is relatively little information about The Land of the Eight Cities for him to draw on. Nevertheless, he has been able to develop a fair amount of detail and add to it, from what was available. The rest is up to the Judge to develop herself.

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is well presented. The artwork is good and the one included map for the scenario is likewise good. One oddity to note is that the illustration of the Pack Bear is included on the previous page below the description of the Luhr-beast, a bear-like creature. Which suggests the possibility of there being a non-human anthropomorphic bear-like species in The Land of the Eight Cities. Which is not the case, and will only become clear when the reader flips over the page and continues reading.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities opens up the possibility of the Player Characters—thieves, pickpockets, burglars, cutpurses, muggers, and anyone else who would skulk in the night—escaping the City of the Black Toga and going on wilderness adventures and visiting other cities. It is unfortunate that the included adventure, as decent as it is, does neither. Similarly, whilst the rest of the information in the supplement is also decent, especially given the constraints faced by the author in terms of source material, it is only a starting point. This limits its usefulness for the Judge, whilst also leaving the setting open for her to develop as part of her own campaign. Thus, whilst there is a lot of interesting information in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities, none more so than in the appendix, this is not a supplement that the Judge needs to have as part of her campaign. Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #8: The Land of the Eight Cities is very much an option, if then, an interesting option.