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

Sunday 23 June 2024

Discovering Numenera

Civilisations rise and fall, and even transcend, and they all leave their mark on their landscape. Islands of crystal float in the sky. Massive machines, some abandoned, some still operational, wheeze and groan to purposes unknown, thrust high into the sky and deep into the ground. A plain of broken glass stretches to the horizon. The Iron Wind whips across the landscape, fundamentally transforming all caught within its cloud, flesh and non-flesh alike, into new forms. Enormous humanoid statues drift aimlessly across the sky, their purpose long forgotten. A castle continues to expand and grow as more people settle within its walls. The Great Slab stands thousands of feet high and almost ten miles square, a block of synth, metal, and organics, its sides slick with a reddish-black oil that prevents anyone from climbing it or discovering the entirely different ecosystem on its top. Scattered across this landscape borne of nanotech, gravitic technology, genetic engineering, spatial warping, and superdense polymers are smaller devices, all together called numenera. Artifacts that protect the wearer with an invisible force field, arm him with a weapon with the power of the sun, or a pair of lenses that allow the viewer to read any language. Cyphers that when thrown detonate causing a singularity to rip at the fabric of the universe, ingested give the ability to see ten times as far as normal, or fires an anchoring magnet which then creates a bridge. Oddities like a musical instrument which only unmelodic notes, a cape that billows in the wind even if there is no air, or a synth disc that restores a single piece of rotten fruit or vegetable to being fully edible. These are all waiting to be discovered, utilised, and even traded for. The ill-educated may look at all of this and call it magic, but most know that these are the remnants of past ages civilisations—civilisations that reached the far depths of space, engineered planets, toyed with reality, sidestepped into other parallels, and more, waiting to be found, examined, and their secrets revealed. Many devices can be found and worked, some not, but all know that the knowledge of how they are made has long been forgotten. This is the Ninth World.

The Ninth World is our Earth a billion years into the future. It is one continent, still settled humans, though some are abhumans—mutants, crossbreeds, the genetically engineered, and their descendants, or they are visitants, who have come to Earth, but are not native to it. Many reside in the Steadfast, a collection of kingdoms and principalities that exist under the watchful benevolence of the Amber Pope, whose Aeon Priests of the Order of Truth revere the peoples of the past and their knowledge and technology. The Order of Truth not only studies the past and its technologies, it tries to find a use for them to the betterment of the peoples of the Steadfast. The peoples of the Ninth World make use of the technology that they can scavenge—and which the Aeon Priests tell them is safe to use, turning it into armour, weapons, and everyday devices and tools to enhance the mediaeval technology they currently possess. In particular, they employ numenera—Artifacts, Cyphers, and Oddities— bits of technology leftover from past civilizations, that may have an obvious function; may have once had an obvious function, but what that has been lost and the device is put to another use; or may have once had an obvious function, but what that was, has been lost and can no longer be discerned.

The is the setting for Numenera, a Science Fantasy roleplaying game of exploration and adventure the very far future, originally published in 2013 by Monte Cook Games. It is often forgotten what a big hit Numenera was, introducing a style of play that looked familiar—the exploration of labyrinths and complexes—but placing it in a very different genre and thus shorn of that familiarity and its historical constraints. Numenera would go on to win the 2014 Origins Award for ‘Best New Roleplaying Game’, the 2014 Ennie Award for Best Writing, the 2014 Ennie Award for Best Setting, and 2014 Ennie Award for Product of the Year, be the basis of its own set of mechanics in the form of the Cypher System, and introduce new ideas in terms of roleplaying, such as player-facing mechanics and Game Master Intrusions, a new way of narratively increasing tension and awarding Experience Points. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, the second edition of Numenera is split into two volumes, Numenera Discovery and Numenera Destiny. Of these, Numenera Discovery, presents the setting of the Ninth World with everything needed to play including character creation, rules, Cyphers, a bestiary, advice for the Game Master, and some ready-to-pay scenarios. Numenera Destiny expands the setting with new Player Character archetypes, salvaging and crafting rules, numenera, scenarios, and more, all designed to facilitate campaign play in charting the future of the Ninth World is part of that play.

Numenera Discovery opens with some setting fiction, ‘The Amber Monolith’, before going on to explain what the Ninth World is and how it differs from other roleplaying games and even from how the world is viewed in the here and now, whether that is a more cosmopolitan outlook, an acceptance though not an understanding of the technology of the past, and a medievalism without the burden of history. The rules and mechanics are clearly explained before the character creation is explained.

Characters in Numenera are primarily humans in one form or another—visitants are an advanced option and one of three Types—Glaives, Nanos, or Jacks. Glaives are warriors, either wearing heavy armour and wielding heavy weaponry or relying on light arms and armour to give them movement and agility. Nanos are sorcerers, capable of tapping into the Numenera to alter reality or learn more about it, wielding ‘Esoteries’ to command nano-spirits. Jacks are somewhere in between, being flexible in what they can do, capable of learning to fight, using ‘Esoteries’, and more. At their core, each character is defined by three stats—Might, Speed, and Intellect, and a descriptive sentence. This sentence has the structure of “I am a [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]”, where the noun is the character’s Type; the adjective a descriptor, such as Clever or Swift, that defines the character and how he does things; and the verb is the Focus or what the character does that makes him unique. For example, “I am an Intelligent Nano who Talks to Machines”. A player will also need to assign some points to the three Stats and choose some options in terms of Background—how the character became a Glaive, Nano, or Jack—and select some skills from the Type. The choice of descriptor and the verb further defines and modifies the character, whilst the Background and the Connection help hook the character into the setting. Characters begin at Tier One and can advance as far as Tier Six, gaining skills and abilities along the way. An appendix details some non-human character options.

Here, though, are the first major changes to Numenera Discovery. Whilst Foci remain relatively unchanged, there have been changes to the Descriptors. Notably, this includes both ‘Creates Unique Objects’ and ‘Leads’, which have been removed as essentially what they did is covered in the second book, Numenera Destiny. One new addition is ‘Speaks With a Silver Tongue’, which makes the character highly persuasive. Of the three Types, the Glaive and the Jack have undergone tweaks to varying degrees to make both more interesting to play. The Fighting Move options for the Glaive now include ‘Aggression’, ‘Fleet of Foot’, ‘Impressive Display’, and ‘Misdirect’, as well as ‘No Need for Weapons’ and ‘Trained Without Armour’. These allow for some interesting combinations, such as ‘Aggression’, which grants the Glaive an asset on attacks whilst hindering Speed rolls against attacks, and ‘No Need for Weapons’, which increases damage from unarmed attacks, so the Glaive becomes a brawling berserker. ‘Fleet of Foot’ lets a Glaive combine movement with actions, and with ‘Misdirect’ which enables him to deflect attacks at him back at others, he could zip around the battlefield disrupting attacks.

Whilst the Nano is unchanged, the biggest changes have been made to the Jack. Named for ‘Jack of all trades’, the Jack never quite felt distinctive enough between the Glaive and the Nano. Although there is some crossover still between the Glaive and the Jack with abilities such as ‘Trained in Armor’ and ‘Fleet of Foot’, but the new abilities like ‘Create Deadly Poison’, ‘Critter Companion’, ‘Face Morph’, ‘Link Senses’, and others all serve to make the Jack unique rather than being a bit of both the Glaive and the Nano, but not fully one or the other. One major addition is a set of suggested Cyphers that each character type can begin play with.

“I am a Clever Jack who Speaks With a Silver Tongue”
Tier One Jack
Might 10 (Edge 0)
Speed 12 (Edge 0)
Intellect 16 (Edge 1) Effort 1
Cyphers (2): machine control implant, visage changer
Oddities: Small square cage that puts whatever single creature is inside it into stasis
Tricks of the Trade: Face Morph (2+ Intellect), Late Inspiration (3+ Intellect), Flex Skill
Skills: Interactions Involving Lies or Trickery (Trained); Defence Rolls to Resist Mental Effects (Trained); All Tasks Involving, Identifying, or Assessing Danger, Lies, Quality, Importance, Function, or Power (Trained); Persuasion, Deception, and Intimidation (Trained); Lock Picking (Trained) Inability: Studying or Retaining Trivial Knowledge (Hindered)
Equipment: Book of Favourite Words, Clothing, two weapons, explorer’s pack, pack of light tools, 8 shins Connection: You’re drinking buddies with a number of the local guards and glaives.
Origin: Born Lucky

Mechanically, Numenera Discovery—as with the other Cypher System roleplaying games which have followed—is player facing—and in its original version, arguably was one of the first systems to be player facing. Thus, in combat, a player not only rolls for his character to make an attack, but also rolls to avoid any attacks made against his character. Essentially this shifts the game’s mechanical elements from the Game Master to the player, leaving the Game Master to focus on the story, on roleplaying NPCs, and so on. When it comes to tasks, the character is attempting to overcome a Task Difficulty, ranging from one and Simple to ten and Impossible. This is done on a twenty-sided die. The target number is actually three times the Task Difficulty. So, a Task Difficulty of four or Difficult, means that the target number is twelve, whilst a Task Difficulty of seven or Formidable, means that the target number is twenty-one. The aim of the player is to lower this Task Difficulty. This can be done in a number of ways.

Modifiers, whether from favourable circumstances, skills, or good equipment, can decrease the Difficulty, whilst skills give bonuses to the roll. Trained skills—skills can either be Practised or Trained—can reduce the Difficulty, but the primary method is for a player to spend points from his relevant Stat pools. This is called applying Effort. Applying the first level of Effort, which will reduce the target number by one, is three points from the relevant Stat pool. Additional applications of Effort beyond this cost two points. The cost of spending points from a Stat pool is reduced by its associated Edge, which if the Edge is high enough, can reduce the Effort to zero, which means that the Player Character gets to do the action for free—or effortlessly!

Rolls of one enable a free GM Intrusion—essentially a complication to the current situation that does reward the Player Character with any Experience Points, whereas rolls of seventeen and eighteen in combat grant damage bonuses. Rolls of nineteen and twenty in combat can also grant damage bonuses, but alternatively, can grant minor and major effects. For example, distracting an opponent or striking a specific body part. Rolls of nineteen and twenty in non-combat situations grant minor and major effects, which the player and Game Master can decide on in play. In combat, light weapons always inflict two points of damage, medium weapons four points, and heavy weapons six points, and damage is reduced by armour. NPCs simply possess a Level, which like the Task Difficulty ranges between one and ten and is multiplied by three to get a target number to successfully attack them.

Experience Points under the Cypher System are earned in several ways, primarily through achieving objectives, making interesting discoveries, and so on. However, they are not awarded for simply killing monsters or finding treasure. There are two significant means of a Player Character gaining Experience Points. The first is ‘GM Intrusion’. These are designed to make a situation and the Player Character’s life more interesting or more complicated. For example, the Player Character might automatically set off a trap or an NPC important to the Player Character is imperilled. Suggested Intrusions are given for the three character Types and also for all of the ninety or more Foci. When this occurs, the Game Master makes an Intrusion and offers the player and his character two Experience Points. The player does not have to accept this ‘GM Intrusion’, but this costs an Experience Point. If he does accept the Intrusion, the player receives the two Experience Points, keeps one and then gives the other to another player, explaining why he and his character deserves the other Experience Point. The ‘GM Intrusion’ mechanic encourages a player to accept story and situational complications and place their character in danger, making the story much more exciting.

The major mechanical addition is the ‘Player Intrusion’, the reverse of the ‘GM Intrusion’. With this, a player spends an Experience Point to present a solution to a problem or complication. These make relatively small, quite immediate changes to a situation. For example, a Cypher or Artifact is expended, but it might be that the situation really demands the device’s use again, so the player decides to make a ‘Player Intrusion’ and at the cost of single Experience Point, give it one more use of charge or a player wants to reroll a failed task.

Creatures and numenera—Artifacts, Cyphers, Oddities—receive their own sections. There is a wide selection of both in Numenera Discovery, though with very little change between this edition of the roleplaying game and the first. A nice touch is that for each of the creatures, the Game Master is given an ‘Intrusion’ which he can use to make the encounter more challenging. One notable aspect of Numenera Discovery is that the Player Characters are limited in the number of Cyphers that they can each possess by their Type (Glaive, Nano, or Jack). Possess too many and a Player Character’s Cyphers begin to have side effects, sometimes dangerous ones. The people of the Ninth World know this and distrust those with too many. This limit is both a game mechanic and a setting mechanic. It both enforces the fleeting nature of Cyphers and the need to use—because using them is fundamentally cool—whilst at the same preventing any player from just hoarding them.

A good fifth of Numenera Discovery is dedicated to the setting of the Steadfast, its environs and beyond, literally, The Beyond. This is anything that lies outside of the nine kingdoms of the Steadfast and the Beyond the Beyond is also detailed. One such location Beyond the Beyond is The University of Doors, a place of learning found in an alternate universe that can only be reached via one or more hidden doors—getting to the door could be an adventure in itself. These sections are full of interesting details and places—such as the ‘mud’ city of Nihliesh, built atop an ancient, but immobile city-vehicle; that the lady Anatrea of Castle Aventur hosts salons for scholars and nanos, such is her fascination with numenera; and that a sphere of an unknown black material is rumoured to constantly roll across the Plain of Kataru. Several organisations besides the Order of Truth, including the Convergence, whose members value numenera as much as the Order of Truth, but for themselves rather than for society itself; the Angulan Knights, who are dedicated to humanity’s advancement and have the blessings of Order of Truth and ride the great xi-drakes as mounts; and the Jagged Dream, a secret anarchist cult dedicated to engineering conflict on a massive scale, are also detailed.

Similarly, a good tenth of Numenera Discovery is dedicated to advice for the Game Master on running the game. This covers how to use the rules, how to build a story, and how to realise the Ninth World. There is guidance on how to use GM Intrusions, including as a narrative tool and as a resolution mechanic, along with plenty of examples; handling the flow of information, when to have the players roll dice, how to encourage player creativity, and a lot more. There is advice on running the first few sessions and beyond, as well as suggestions on how to use the Ninth World by shifting the genre, for example, by making it a post-apocalyptic or weird horror setting, a look at what sciences and technologies can be found across the Ninth World, and numerous scenario ideas in addition to the three scenarios already included in Numenera Discovery. The three are each very different. ‘Taker of Sorrow’ is an introductory scenario for both players and the Game Master, an investigation into an outbreak of monsters, weirdly mouthy and emotional lumps of carnivorous flesh, that are plaguing the route the Player Characters are travelling on. It includes some diversions that the Game Master can place in the Player Characters’ way—and even places the second adventure, ‘Vault of Reflections’, nearby as a diversion, but otherwise, ‘Taker of Sorrow’ is a straightforward affair. That second scenario, ‘Vault of Reflections’, focuses on exploration and encounters with the weird technologies left behind by a previous age, whilst the third scenario, ‘Legacy’ is an investigative affair set in and around a university. Notably it uses an abbreviated adventure format that links its various scenes as a flowchart, and relies on a mix of stealth and interaction than the previous two scenarios. All three scenarios are new to this edition and do a decent job of showcasing the types of adventure possible in Numenera Discovery.

Physically, Numenera Discovery is very well presented and put together. Although it needs a slight edit in places, the book is well written, and everything is easy to grasp. Above all, the artwork is excellent and this is a great looking book.

As a second edition, the changes introduced with Numenera Discovery are more adjustments—for example, the tweaks to both the Glaive and the Jack character types and the addition of the Player Intrusion mechanic—to make the roleplaying game more interesting to play rather than a series of wholesale overhauls. Otherwise, the innovative rules and mechanics remain the same and as playable as ever. The fact that Numenera Discovery has not been changed since its publication shows how little needed to be changed to make what was a good game simply better.

Numenera Discovery is a very complete introduction to the Ninth World and more. It has everything that a Game Master and her players need to play Numenera—rules, scenarios, advice, the lot—and it remains the definitive edition of the core rules for Numenera.

Saturday 22 June 2024

Mutant Miniature Mayhem

Since 2015, we have been able to leave the Ark and explore the post-apocalypse, perhaps discover what happened, and even search for somewhere safe to live alongside the different groups. First with the mutants of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, then with the uplifted animals of Mutant: Genlab Alpha, the robots of Mutant: Year Zero – Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and with the surviving humans of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium. These four books consist of campaigns in their own right and they come together in The Gray Death, but the relationships between these diverse groups is not always an easy one and with resources scarce, including artefacts left over from before in the Old Age, it can lead to these very different groups coming to blows—and worse! This then, is the set-up for Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars, a skirmish wargame set in a post-apocalyptic future which takes place in an area known as the Zone.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is a complete skirmish game which comes with everything that you need to play. This includes miniatures, rules, dice, cards, terrain, and more, all designed to be played by two players, aged fourteen and up, and plays in roughly ninety minutes. An expansion, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Robots & Psionics adds a second set of factions so that four players can play. Published by Free League Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is notable for a number of things. Most obviously, that it is set in the Mutant: Year Zero universe, and not only that, but it is compatible with the four setting and campaign books for Mutant: Year Zero and the Year Zero mechanics such that it is possible to take a Player Character from one of the roleplaying games and adapt it to Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars. In fact, fans of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Mutant: Genlab Alpha will recognise many of figures in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe as being based on the artwork from those books. As will fans of the computer game, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Both Dux, a duck hybrid, and Bormin, a pig hybrid, are included as miniatures in the core game.

Further, it is designed by Andy Chambers, whose wargames pedigree is unparalleled—Necromunda, Battlefleet Gothic, and Warhammer Fantasy Battle for Games Workshop and Dropzone Commander from Hawk Games. Altogether, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe sounds like an attractive package—and that is before you even get to open the box.

Inside Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars can be found ten miniatures, over eighty cards, over one hundred tokens, ten custom dice, three sheets of cardboard terrain, a map sheet, a measuring rule, and a rulebook. Open the book and the first thing you see is the map sheet and the cardboard terrain. The map sheet is thirty-six inches square, on heavy paper, and double-sided. Both show a rough scrubland in green and brown, whilst one of them has a dual carriage way running across it. The terrain is done in full colour and on heavy cardstock, slotting together easily to create a total of ten pieces, consisting of walls, trees, and the ruins of buildings, some of them with an upper floor. The terrain also comes apart easily for easy storage. The measuring rule and the tokens are bright and breezy and easy to use and see. The dice consist of two sets, the yellow base dice and the black gear dice, and they are easy to read and feel good in the hand. The cards come in two sizes. The standard size cards consist of the character cards which list each character’s stats, starting gear, and mutations. They are double-sided, one side showing the character healthy, the other when he is bloodied. Other standard size cards depict obstacles and monsters that might be encountered during play. The small cards consist of the starting equipment and mutations for the characters, as well as artefacts that can be found and are often being fought over in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars.

Then of course, there are the miniatures. These are done in 32 millimetre, a durable plastic, and divided into two sets of five. One set of five from the Ark Mutants and one set of five from the Genlab Tribe Mutants. The Nova Cult Mutants and the Mechatron Robots do not appear in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe, but are included in the expansion, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Robots & Psionics. All ten miniatures are highly detailed and highly individualised and really stand out in play. Lastly, the miniatures, cards, and dice all sit in their own tray which has a lid, for very easy storage. There is even an empty slot on the try in which the game’s tokens can be readily stored.

The rules booklet runs to just twenty-four pages—and half of that is dedicated to the core set’s five scenarios. Each character or miniature is defined by four Attributes—Ranged, Melee, Survival, and Health. Ranged and Melee covers the types of attacks a miniature can make, Survival a measure of how well he avoid the dangers of the Zone or take advantage of them, and Health indicates how much damage he can take before he is Broken and cannot act until he recovers. Miniatures also have Mutations and Modules. The Modules are specific to Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Robots & Psionics, whilst everyone else uses Mutations. Ark Mutants use physical mutations, like ‘Acid Spit’ and ‘Four-Armed’, whilst ‘Antlers’ and ‘Flight Response’ are used by the Genlab Alpha Mutants. These are activated in play using M-points, which a player acquires by pushing combat rolls or from Zone cards.

Mechanically, anyone who has played Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days or any roleplaying game from Free League Publishing will be familiar with Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars. They all use the Year Zero engine. This involves a player rolling six-sided dice and aiming to roll one or more successes, indicated by the Radiation symbol. The dice pool will be made up of two dice types. The yellow Base Dice are rolled for a miniature’s Attributes, whilst the black Gear Dice are rolled for any weapons he is wielding, armour he is wearing, or item he is using. One success is enough to hit, but more Successes indicates more hits and more potential damage inflicted. If the attack is a miss or the player wants more Successes, he can Push the roll. This allows him to reroll any dice that did not roll Radiation symbols or Biohazard symbols on the base Dice or the Explosion Symbols on the Gear Dice. Pushing a dice roll, though, has consequences. If there are any Biohazard symbols on the base Dice generates M-points, whilst Explosion Symbols on the Gear Dice indicate damage has been done to the gear used, reducing the bonuses that the Gear provides. If that bonus is reduced to zero, then that Gear is broken and can no longer be used.

Any miniature which is successfully attacked will take damage equal to the number of Radiation symbols rolled on both the Base Dice and the Gear Dice. Fortunately, armour and cover can provide protection— armour and cover against ranged attacks and armour only against melee attacks. Armour and cover indicate the number of Gear Dice the defending player rolls and for each success or Radiation symbol rolled, the damage suffered is reduced by one. Damage is deducted from a miniature’s Health and if this falls below zero, he is Broken. In which case, the only action he can take is a Recovery action and if successful, he is considered to be Bloodied. His player turns the miniature’s card over onto its Bloodied side, and if the miniature suffers enough damage again to be considered Broken, he is actually Taken Out and removed from the game.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is played as a series of rounds. At the start of a round, an Action Token is placed in a cup for each miniature. Over the course of a round, when a token from a faction is drawn, that faction’s player can activate one of his miniatures who has not been yet activated. This continues until all of the Action Tokens have been drawn and each miniature activated. When activated, a miniature can do one of two options. Either enter Overwatch so that the miniature can make a ranged later in the round, or take an Action. This can be ‘Move & Attack’, ‘Aimed Fire’, ‘Charge’, ‘Recover’, ‘Assist recovery’, ‘Simple Operation’, ‘Activate Mutation/Module’, and more. All of the Actions are clearly explained and many are accompanied by an example. The rules also cover finding, using, and losing artefacts, and adding Zone Tokens which add a random event determined by drawing a Zone Card. These might indicate that the miniature has discovered a ‘Rot Hotspot’ and must make a Survival Test, gaining an M-point if it is passed and a point of damage if failed, set off an event in the scenario with a ‘Trigger card, or disturbed a monster in the Zone, such as a Razorback or a Landshark. There are only four monsters in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars, but they are all nasty.

In addition, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars includes rules for campaign which allows the miniatures to improve and keep a single found artefact each between scenarios, a guide to converting characters from the roleplaying games, and solo play. The latter allow a player to play on his own or co-operate with another, the rules suggesting that this is a good way to teach the rules. The advice is that solo play should not involve too complex a scenario. There is also a quick and dirty guide for a player creating his own characters, but the player would have to provide his own miniatures.

Play in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars continues until either one faction has all of its miniatures are Taken Out or have left the table, or the scenario objectives have been achieved. There are five scenarios in Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars. These start with ‘Throw Down’, a simple scrap between factions for artefacts and Victory Points gained from defeating the other side, but with a time limit set by a worsening shower of acid rain! They continue with ‘Block War’, which has the same objectives as well as Victory Points gained from holding buildings. Others involve a street fight for juicy loot, a chase, and the defence of one faction’s ark. They are all fairly straightforward, uncomplicated affairs. For veteran wargamers they may be too basic, but for anyone new to the hobby, they are fine.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is easy to learn and set-up. From opening the box to setting up, the first game can be ready in thirty minutes. The rules are light enough to read in that time and setting up the first scenario and the terrain is very easy. Then once it is set up, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars is fun to play. It helps that the artwork on the cards captures the vibrancy, weirdness, and grottiness of the Zone, and the miniatures reflect this. There is a giddy absurdity to leading a mutant with insect wings, another wearing a diving helmet who can give off spores, and another who can eat the Rot that poisons everyone into a scrap against anthropomorphic duck armed with a crossbow, a boar-man with a giant club who charges into battle, and Moose-man who can gore with antlers, all fighting over a flamethrower, cooking pan that can be worn on the head as armour, or a speed limit sign that can be used as a shield! As with any skirmish game, it plays fast with lots of back-and-forth action, the Action Token mechanic means that play can swing this way or that, as can the dice rolls. Plus, as with any other Year Zero engine game, there is always that need to Push the rolls to succeed, but knowing that if you do, there may be consequences. The game is not too tactically complex either, a player needing to take advantage of cover, try and work his miniatures into the right position to get close enough to close with a melee attack, and then when the time is right unleash a devasting Mutation move! The miniatures or mutants are quite hardy, so it take two or more attempts them to be Broken and then again Taken Out, aided of course, by the luck of the Action Tokens and the dice rolls.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is very well put together and every is of a decent quality. The cards and the tokens are bright and colourful, the terrain and the map sheet are sturdy if suitably drab, the dice feel good in the hand, and the rulebook is light and easy to read. Above all, the miniatures are superb and really stand out in play, and are pleasingly individual so that you do get attached to them.

Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is very impressive, very complete, and above all, very accessible. A veteran wargamer will pick this up with ease and appreciate its fast-playing, light mechanics, whilst anyone new to wargaming will be eased in those same light mechanics. Anyone who has played any of the roleplaying games that this skirmish game is based upon will find much that is familiar and also pick the game up with ease. All will love the miniatures that capture the weirdness and wackiness of the Zone. Mutant: Year Zero – Zone Wars – Skirmish Mayhem in the Mutant: Year Zero Universe is fun, fast, and sometimes freaky with the mutations, a great skirmish wargaming adaptation of the Mutant: Year Zero setting.

[Free RPG Day 2024] The Great Toy Heist

Now in its seventeenth year, Free RPG Day for 2024 took place on Saturday, June 22nd. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. This included dice, miniatures, vouchers, and more. Thanks to the generosity of Waylands Forge in Birmingham, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day.


One of the perennial contributors to Free RPG Day is Paizo, Inc., a publisher whose titles for both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have proved popular and often in demand long after the event. The emphasis in these releases have invariably been upon small species. Thus, in past years, the titles released for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game have typically involved adventures with diminutive Player Characters, first Kobolds, then Goblins, and then with the release of A Fistful of Flowers for Free RPG Day 2022 and A Few Flowers More for Free RPG Day 2023, and now for Free RPG Day 2024, it is the turn of toys with The Great Toy Heist! This is a short adventure for Second Level Player Characters—of which four pre-generated examples are provided—who are all one of Golarion’s rare ancestries. This is ‘Poppet’. Usually in Golarion and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, a poppet is a small, mindless magical construct designed to serve as familiars and help with simple tasks. However, with The Great Toy Heist, all four pre-generated have achieved magical sentience and so can go adventure on their own.

To get the most out of The Great Toy Heist, the Game Master will need access to the Pathfinder Player Core, Pathfinder GM Core, Pathfinder Monster Core, Pathfinder Lost Omens Grand Bazaar, and Pathfinder Lost Omens Worlds Guide. However, a Game Master should be able to run the adventure with the core rules and further references found in the Pathfinder Reference Document.

The setting for The Great Toy Heist is the Chelish capital of Egorian, notorious for its inhabitants engaging in the practice of devil-worshipping. Not everyone is a devil-worshipper though and in-between the gothic buildings of the temples to Asmodeus, there are ordinary businesses such as The Terrific Toybox. It is famous for the quality of the toys its owner, Gettorio Galla, makes and sells. The shop is sat atop a source of occult magical energy, some of which seeps into some of those toys and so awake them to sentience. These Poppets revere their creator and help her about the shop as well as keeping an eye on when she is not there or asleep. However, a greedy, unprincipled, and wealthy noble, Baron Falgrimous Vreen, has learned about the magical source and decided to take for himself. He found a loophole in the diabolically complicated laws of the city and exploited it to seize the deed to the toyshop and now plans to evict Gettorio Galla and her fantastic creations—including the Player Characters. Loyal to Gettorio Galla, the four Player Characters have decided to break into the mansion of Baron Vreen and steal back the deed to The Terrific Toybox!

The Great Toy Heist opens en media res. The Player Characters have had themselves shipped into Baron Vreen’s mansion and can take the advantage of the head of the house holding a party, to search the for the deed. As players, the scenario gives them time here to go over their characters and introduce themselves to each other before beginning the scenario proper. The first encounter is combat driven, a fun battle with a pair of Imps engagingly called ‘Tsk’ and ‘Tut’, who will taunt and tease the Player Characters throughout the fight. The guidance for the fight suggests making it a very physical affair that takes in the environment, such as climbing and pulling down bookshelves, dropping chandeliers on the Imps, and so on.

The battle, which takes place in the mansion’s sitting room, is the first of the scenario’s three acts. The second is the ‘Manor Infiltration’ in which the Player Characters sneak about the mansion. This is handled not room by room, by more narratively as a montage of scenes in which the Player Characters overcome obstacles and take advantage of opportunities. Through rolling successes and failures, the Player Characters accrue Infiltration Points and Awareness Points, and these can be used by the Game Master to trigger Obstacles, Complications, and Opportunities, such as a ‘Messy Office’, ‘Drunken Guest’, ‘Not Like That!’, and ‘Lucky Break’. Eventually, the Player Characters will find the vault, deal with its guardian, and having found the deed to the land under The Terrific Toybox, escape back home with its future ensured.

Whilst half of The Great Toy Heist is dedicated to the scenario, the other is decided to its four pre-generated Player Characters. These consist of Cutie Killstuff, a pink, fluffy bunny rabbit Barbarian; Hellpup, a hellhound toy and Witch done in leather; Marcella the Marionette, a classic Domino puppet and Rogue; and The Tin Wizard, a clockwork toy Wizard. All four are given a two-page spread complete with background, a guide to playing them in terms of combat, exploration, and healing, , relationships with the other three Player Characters, and the full stats along with a good illustration. These are really very well done, though quite a lot of information for a one-shot scenario.

Physically, The Great Toy Heist is as well presented as you would expect for a release from Paizo, Inc. Everything is in full colour, the illustrations are excellent, and the maps attractive.

The Great Toy Heist is a fun scenario, though very short. The only problem perhaps is the inclusion of Cutie Killstuff, a pink, fluffy bunny rabbit Barbarian. Everyone is going to want to play them and only one player can! The Great Toy Heist is a great release for Free RPG Day 2024, just as you would expect from Paizo, Inc.

Friday 21 June 2024

Friday Fantasy: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar

Dungeon Crawl Classics
Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar
is a scenario for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the tennth scenario for the
Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set.
Scenarios for Dungeon Crawl Classics tend be darker, grimmer, and even pulpier than traditional Dungeons & Dragons scenarios, even veering close to the Swords & Sorcery subgenre. Scenarios for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set are set in and around the City of the Black Toga, Lankhmar, the home to the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, the creation of author Fritz Leiber. The city is described as an urban jungle, rife with cutpurses and corruption, guilds and graft, temples and trouble, whores and wonders, and more. Under the cover the frequent fogs and smogs, the streets of the city are home to thieves, pickpockets, burglars, cutpurses, muggers, and anyone else who would skulk in the night! Which includes the Player Characters. And it is these roles which the Player Characters get to be in Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar, small time crooks trying to make a living and a name for themselves, but without attracting the attention of either the city constabulary or worse, the Thieves’ Guild!

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar is a slightly longer and slightly different scenario to others released for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set. It is also a whole lot weirder, because it involves encounters with an extraplanetary traveller who comes dressed in red and runs around on rooftops, which sounds exactly like you think it does. After all, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar is a ‘A Level 2 Holiday Adventure’ and there really only one holiday where a traveller dressed in red runs around the rooftops. So you have you know who running around on the rooftops of Lankhmar, which to be honest, sounds goofy. It is. However, it is not quite what you expect, so it just about works. Expect the players to groan at you or at least roll their eyes.

Designed for two or three Player Characters of Second Level, the other reason why
Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar is different is because it is an investigation. This is not a type of adventure that the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is known for, but the one thing that the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set has encouraged is a wider range of scenario types. Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar begins with the discovery of the body of one of the Player Characters’ contacts in strange circumstances—they find him dead on the roof of his building with a living pine tree growing through him! All of which occurs under even weirder skies, as only tens days before, thick clouds settled over the city and have yet to move, plunging Lankhmar into a perpetual, unnatural darkness that means it remains gloomy even in the middle of the day. The clouds have yet to move and no one has any idea why!

The scenario is split into two parts. The first is the investigation. This
leads the Player Characters back and forth across the city, first attempting to discover what the strange tree is and where it comes from and the rash of victims whose deaths have occurred in exactly the same fashion. In the process, they run into some surprisingly useful and interesting NPCs. This includes a gardener and a member of the city constabulary who actually thinks that the Player Characters can help, though of course, his boss wants to pin the murders on the Player Characters and throw them in gaol! Which should not be a surprise, since they do keep hanging around murder sites. Then there is the strange figure in red on the rooftops...

The investigative process is eased for the Judge with the inclusion of an
‘Investigation Map’ which handily links all of the clues together and for the players and their characters with ‘The Rumour Mill’, a list of possible rumours that the Player Characters can easily pick up by visiting their usual haunts and plying their fellow patrons with a few drinks. Pleasingly written in the vernacular and sounding just a little English with the use of words such as ‘tosspot’, these are handy means of directing the players and their characters back on track. The investigation process though, is not all talk and looking for clues. The likelihood is that there will be a couple of fights along the way, a possible confrontation with the city constabulary, and if that is not enough, the Judge is given two combative events to throw into the mix. One of these, ‘New (Possibly Old) Friends’, can be tied back to previous scenarios, such as Masks of Lankhmar or Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #1: Gang Lords of Lankhmar.

Completing the investigative half of
Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar leads to the second half, the ‘Confrontation’. This is where the action really happens as the Player Characters locate the lair of the culprit behind both the murders and the strange weather and attempt to stop him. It is a classic Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar ending, the Player Characters having to sneak into the building and ascend to the scene of the final confrontation, the likes of which we have seen before from the author. This is not to say that it is not either badly done or detailed, as it is nicely detailed and a fitting culmination to the investigation, just similar to ones we have seen before.

The scenario does come with a nice pay-off for the Player Characters and as well as gaining the satisfaction of saving the city, should earn a contact or two in the process. Rounding out Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar leads is a pair of appendices. The first is the aforementioned ‘The Rumour Mill’, whilst the second is ‘Khahkht of the Black Ice’. This details the villain behind the scenario, a god-wizard from Nehwon’s far north, around the Frozen Sea, much feared and whispered of by the Mingols. In fact, any Mongol Player Character may be already be aware of him. ‘Khahkht of the Black Ice’ presents him as a possible Patron, along with the benefits of invoking him and suffering taint from him, as well as his three spells, Ray of the Anti-Sun, Craft of the Chill Smithy, and Khahkht’s Icy Breath. Khahkht is definitely a cruel and uncaring Patron, even evil, and certainly a wizard would have to be similarly evil or desperate to pledge himself to him. His inclusion then is suited for use with NPCs rather than Player Characters.

Physically, Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar is well presented. Both artwork and cartography are good, with some entertaining action scenes depicted.

If there is an issue with Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar, it is in its set-up. This requires the Player Characters to know the victim at the start of the adventure and to have his death be meaningful at the start of the start of the adventure, the Judge needs to add him to an earlier scenario. Given that this is the tenth scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set that makes it a bit difficult to set up unless the Judge is waiting to have every scenario to hand before running her campaign. Another issue is the ‘holiday’ or ‘Christmas’ element of the scenario which feels as if it was levered in almost sufferance rather than willingly. There is no denying that it is silly, but fortunately, it is not particular intrusive.

Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar #10: Unholy Nights in Lankhmar is an engaging mix of investigation and action, as well as roleplaying, which under the unnaturally cloudy skies over the city of Lankhmar, feels just a little like film noir.

Unseasonal Festivities: Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024

The Christmas Annual is a traditional thing—and all manner of things can receive a Christmas Annual. Those of our childhoods would have been tie-ins to the comic books we read, such as the Dandy or the Beano, or the television series that we enjoyed, for example, Doctor Who. Typically, here in the United Kingdom, they take the form of slim hardback books, full of extra stories and comic strips and puzzles and games, but annuals are found elsewhere too. In the USA, ongoing comic book series, like Batman or The X-Men, receive their own annuals, though these are simply longer stories or collections of stories rather than the combination of extra stories and comic strips and puzzles and games. In gaming, TSR, Inc.’s Dragon magazine received its own equivalent, the Dragon Annual, beginning in 1996, which would go from being a thick magazine to being a hardcover book of its own with the advent of Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. For the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024—as with the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2021, the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2022, and the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2023the format is very much a British one. This means puzzles and games, and all themed with the fantasy and mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons, along with content designed to get you into the world’s premier roleplaying game.

Despite what it says in the introduction, the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 is not quite a book for everyone. This is because its content is really geared to towards players new to roleplaying and Dungeons & Dragons, with lots of advice on how to get started and what choices to make, and overviews of many different aspects of the roleplaying game, its settings, and history. This is not the only content in the book though and there is some of it that will be of interest to more experienced players, especially the community creators content. As usual the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 is replete with excellent artwork drawn from the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, a handful of puzzles, and spotlights thrown on some of the baddest villains in Dungeons & Dragons.

Published by Harper Collins Publishers, Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 opens with a ‘Quick Start Guide’, a flow chart that takes the reader step-by-step how to get into the hobby and start playing. This begins with finding your people and deciding who will be the Dungeon Master before moving on through character creation, session zero, and all the way to the first session and afterwards. It is simple and it is clear, and it begins a guide that runs through the pages of this annual. It continues with ‘A History of D&D’, a fairly broad timeline that brings the roleplaying game up to today, when its future remains unknown as we await the arrival of a new edition later this year. ‘Finding a Game’ under ‘Roll for Inspiration’ suggests options for finding other players, such as playing by post, playing at a games store, or playing online, again giving each option a thumbnail description, a starting point rather than full advice. ‘Roll for Inspiration’ also suggests ‘Playing in Alternative Settings’, including Science Fiction, Steampunk, Noir, and more. Some of these suggestions point to actual Dungeons & Dragons books such as Curse of Strahd for a Gothic setting. Other entries under ‘Roll for Inspiration’ give a guide to combat, creating your own campaign settings, and more.

The guide to playing and getting ready to play, really begins with ‘Character Creation’, which breaks down the character sheet for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and details the very basics of the process, whilst the ‘Classified’ feature examines the various Classes in the roleplaying game, explaining what they do, their skills, why they are so good, and so on. Thus ‘Casters’ does this for Arcane spellcasters, ‘Tanks’ for fighting types, and ‘Utility’ does it for the Bard, the Rogue, the Ranger, and the Cleric. The descriptions are basic, but their aim is to sell what playing a member of each Class is like and in that it succeeds.

The ‘Heroes & Villains’ section begins big with ‘Vecna and Kas’, the first look at some the signature figures in Dungeons & Dragons. The descriptions are short, but to the point, and richly illustrated, but each comes with his or her own story, a fact file, pertinent points, and so on. In the case of ‘Vecna and Kas’, this includes both the Eye of Vecna and the Hand of Vecna, and his cult. What is really great about the description of Vecna is that it includes a sidebar about the ‘Head of Vecna’, a non-magical item that would lend itself to a great gaming story and gaming legend. It is a great story, but it is not necessarily a familiar one. So, what it shows about Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 is that its author knows or understands the world of Dungeons & Dragons—or at least, has done his homework. Of course, ‘Vecna and Kas’ is also looking forward to the now recently released Vecna – Eve of Ruin. ‘Tasha’ does the same for the Witch Queen, famed for her spells like Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, as does ‘The Raven Queen’ for the divine interloper from the Shadowfell.

‘Mapping the Multiverse’ explores some of the major locations and settings for Dungeons & Dragons. The first location is ‘Candlekeep’ in the Forgotten Realms, presented in rich colour and nicely annotated. It does seem an odd place to start, just a single location, as none of the other entries copy this. Thus, ‘Eberon’ includes a full map of the continent, again nicely marked up, whilst ‘The Sword Coast’ returns to the Forgotten Realms in similar fashion. The world of ‘Krynn’ is treated in similar fashion. ‘Anthologies’ looks back at the last decade of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition by highlighting some of the scenario collections that Wizards of the Coast has published, such as Keys from the Golden Vault or Tales from the Yawning Portal, whilst ‘Shadow of the Dragon Queen’ in ‘Campaign Spotlight’ looks at the return of Dungeons & Dragons to the world of Krynn and Dragonlance. The other entry in the ‘Campaign Spotlight’ sort of brings the numerous settings together with ‘Spelljammer: Adventures in Space’ which takes Dungeons & Dragons into deep space, and potentially to anyone of the settings presented in Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024.

The ‘Bestiary’ feature looks at numerous types of monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. Every entry tells the reader how dangerous the monster is, where it is found, what to watch out for, and their battle plan. The monsters covered include the undead, Illithids—Mind Flayers and the like, giants, and what it terms ‘The Classics’. These consist of the signature creatures of the Dungeons & Dragons game, the Gelatinous Cube, the Mimic, and the like.

The biggest features in the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 are ‘Meet the Creators’. These profile and interview players and creators who have taken their hobby and brought into the public sphere with a podcast. They include Shamini Bundell of RPGeeks, a podcast which combines Dungeons & Dragons with science and Science Fiction; Daniel Kwan from The Asians Represent Podcast is interviewed about Asian creators, representation, and what an Asian perspective brings to Dungeons & Dragons games that he runs; and Connie Chang, of the all-transgender, Person-of-Colour-led podcast, Transplanar, talks about running a campaign about love, yet set in a dark, apocalyptic world. All three of these podcasts have lasted more than the one season and the interviewees have a chance to reflect on how they started, the Player Characters, games played, and their opinions on Dungeons & Dragons. At four pages each, these interviews are the longest features in the annual—and easily its highlight, providing a different and far from unwelcome aspect on playing and creating for Dungeons & Dragons.

Elsewhere, ‘Beyond the Tabletop’ does what it says and look at the hobby away from the table. So ‘Conventions’ gives a very quick guide to the hobby’s big events like Pax and Gen Con, and though it is nice to see Dragonmeet, a convention in the UK, it seems curious not to include UK Games Expo, and ‘More Than a Game’ looks at aspects of the hobby in a similar fashion—cosplay, listening to actual play, miniatures, and more. Perhaps one of the most entertaining entries is ‘D&D in a Castle’, which looks at the event which takes places three times a year at Lumley Castle, a fourteenth century, hosting a long weekend of playing Dungeons & Dragons. It looks a lot of fun and perhaps the apogee of the progress made by the reader of Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 from his reading the first few pages, starting with ‘Quick Start Guide’. ‘Level Up Your Table’ suggests ways to enhance play, such as including ‘The Deck of Many Things’, though it does come with a warning about the derailing effect of its cards. It also ties into The Deck of Many Things release from Wizards of the Coast.

Like all British annuals, the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 has puzzles. In previous editions, such puzzles—or ‘Activities’ as they are titled here—have been the simplest of retheming of perennial standbys, such as having to move the minimum number of matchsticks around to solve a puzzle or a maze or… To be blunt, they did not look much different to the puzzles found in other annuals for other intellectual properties. The puzzles in the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 are better and more strongly themed. They begin with ‘What Type of Player Are You?’, a classic quiz which determines what type of person you are, or this case what sort of roleplayer you are. It is a bit broad in its definitions, but that is the nature of such quizzes. There is also a maze, which is not easy, the wordsearch is done as a ‘Hex Crawl’ in which spell names have been hidden, the Sudoku-style puzzle substitutes symbols rather than numbers and comes in two levels, ‘Cryptograms’ provides a Dungeons & Dragons code-breaking task, and there is an ‘Intelligence Check’, a quiz about the roleplaying game’s lore, much of which is previously detailed in the book. In comparison to previous editions of the Dungeons & Dragons Annual, there are fewer puzzles and not only are they of higher quality, but they are also better themed. In the past the puzzles have always felt like a waste of space, but that is not the case here.

Physically, the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 is solidly presented. There is plenty of full colour artwork drawn from Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and the writing is clear and kept short, so is an easy read for its intended audience.

In past years, entries in the Dungeons & Dragons Annual series have proven to be decent enough introductions to Dungeons & Dragons, but did not always feel as if they were not written by authors who knew the world of Dungeons & Dragons very well. Fortunately, the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 feels different. There is a strong focus on the worlds and worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, its settings and its villains, but coupled with a decent guide to getting started and taking the first steps. The interviews with the podcast creators really standout as showing how the hobby embraces and has the space for such a diverse range of creators, which means that players of different backgrounds can see themselves reflected in the hobby. Of course, for the veteran there is less in the pages of the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 that will be new and unless they are a collector of all things Dungeons & Dragons, this is not a book that they need on their bookshelves. As something to receive at Christmas (or not) in your Christmas stocking (or not), the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024 is the best yet to be published by Harper Collins Publishers. It is informative and it is engaging, providing more and more useful details about the world of Dungeons & Dragons before the reader takes his first steps into actual play. It will be very difficult for the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2025 to improve on the Dungeons & Dragons Annual 2024.

Monday 17 June 2024

Jonstown Jottings #91: Skull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood!

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.


What is it?
Skull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which details an escort mission in which the Player Characters are tasked with guiding a Tusk Rider ‘ally’—or intelligence asset—of Queen Leika, along with his unruly boar tusker deep into unfriendly territory along the new border between Sartar and the Lunar Empire, where a blood sacrifice can be made.

It is a possible sequel to the scenario, ‘Defending Apple Lane’, from
the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack.

It is also a guide to the Boarsbeard Clan, a clan whose members have either been kidnapped by Tusk Riders and instead of being sacrificed, were offered to the Dark Spirit of the Bloody Tusk cult, or whose ancestors were. Many of them are not simply Pig-Hsunchen, but Tusk Brother Wereboars! Plus, the Cult of Sawtooth, dedicated to a legendary renegade guardian of the Stinking Forest, whose members consist of a weird mix of Aldryami, Trolls, and Tusk Riders, many of whom serve as scouts.

It is a full colour, seventy-six page, 59.91 PDF.

The layout is tidy and it is very nicely illsutrated illustrated.

It needs a slight edit.

Where is it set?
Skull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! begins in Clearwine, but will take the Player Characters north to cross The Creek and from there make their way to Skull Ruin in the Bone Hills near the boundary of the territory between Alda-Chur and Herongreen.

Who do you play?
Skull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! does not require any specific character type, but Player Characters who are capable warriors and a skilled negotiator are recommended, as is an Earth priestess.

What do you need?
Skull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, and the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary.

What do you get?
Skull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! sets up an interesting moral quandary for the Player Characters. They are chosen by Queen Leika Blackspear of Colymar to escort a very strange ‘intelligence asset’ deep into the territories between liberated Northern Sartar and pro-Imperial Alda-Chur, newly disputed as a result of the Dragonrise. This ‘intelligence asset’ is Penjurlhi, a Tusk Rider, an ‘Aramite’ held captive by the Queen. (One option here is for Penjurlhi to have been captured by the Player Characters as a result of playing through ‘Defending Apple Lane’ from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack.) Penjurlhi has knowledge of the secret routes that the Tusk Riders use to conduct their raids which he is willing to share with the Queen. Unfortunately, Penjurlhi is losing the connection he has with his Tusker and the giant boar is growing increasingly erratic and dangerous. The connection can be reforged, but this requires a sacrificial rite—including a blood sacrifice—at a secret location known as Skull Ruin. This is a series of caves in a snake-like hill and it is in possession of an infamous bandit called Gornorix.

The Player Characters have a chance to discuss the mission with the queen and her advisors before they leave as well as Penjurlhi. They must then travel their way north, arrange means of crossing The Creek, and from there make their way to Skull Ruin. Along the way, an encounter with a Troll warband reveals that the Player Characters are not the only ones interested in Skull Ruin, as Gornorix is holding one of their number captive. It is this Troll captive who will be the unwilling victim sacrificed as part of the ritual to reforge the connection between Penjurlhi and his Tusker.

The quandary for the Player Characters depends upon their views on blood sacrifice. Many cults practice it, but not necessarily with a sentient being. So do the Player Characters follow through with Queen Leika’s orders and let the Troll captive be sacrificed? Do they instead side with the Troll warband and antagonise first Gornorix and then Queen Laika? Or do they find another way of resolving the situation? Numerous options and their possible outcomes are discussed in some detail, helped by the clearly presented motivations of the various NPCs. Full stats are provided for all of the inhabitants of Skull Ruin and the Troll Warband, along with a guide to running the assault/defence of the Skull Mountain, depending upon whom the Player Characters side with. There is also a full list of random things to be found in the caves if the Player Characters have the opportunity and more importantly time—searching some locations can take hours!—to comb through every location. That said, there is a lot of treasure held at Skull Mountain and the adventure includes some nicely done magical items, such as the Plinth Stone Club, made from a piece of a shattered Dragonewt plinth stone, that either drains or transfers Magic Points or drains Rune Points!

The scenario is rounded off with a set of scenario hooks that the Game Master can develop as sequels. In addition, the scenario details the Boarsbeard Clan, whose members are tolerated by both Heortlings and Tusk Riders and are often used as intermediaries between both. The strange Cult of Sawtooth, based in the Stinking Forest, is also fully detailed. Both Boarsbeard Clan and the Cult of Sawtooth should provide a ready source of interesting, often powerful NPCs. The very full Cult of Sawtooth write-up is accompanied with some advice on how to use it and some adventure ideas as well.

Is it worth your time?
YesSkull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! is an excellent scenario which requires careful roleplaying and negotiation upon the part of the Player Characters, whilst still having plenty of scope for combat and action, as well as a moral dilemma at its heart. (The extra background is a bonus.)
NoSkull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! is a challenging scenario morally and the Player Characters may not want to have to deal with blood sacrifice. Plus the Game Master may not be running a campaign in Sartar.
MaybeSkull Ruins: Tusk Riders Need Blood! is a challenging scenario morally and one reason it may not be easy to set up because the Player Characters did not capture a Tusk Rider in ‘Defending Apple Lane’ from RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, and instead killed them all!

Miskatonic Monday #291: Fruit from the Dust

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.

Publisher: Chaosium, Inc.
Author: Michael Reid

Setting: Oklahoma, 1936
Product: One-Location, One-Hour Scenario
What You Get: Eight page, 1.61 MB Full Colour PDF

Elevator Pitch: “Cherry trees will blossom every year; But I'll disappear for good, One of these days.” – Philip Whalen
Plot Hook: Is the tree growing in the Dustbowl a miracle?
Plot Support: Staging advice, three NPCs, and four pre-generated Investigators.
Production Values: Decent

# Short, sharp confrontation

# Needs a slight edit
# Feels like the culmination of a fuller investigation
# Violence the likely outcome

# Short, sharp bloody hour of horror over hope
# Not effective as other Flash Cthulhu titles because the Investigators start from outside the situation rather than from within and are less emotionally invested