Wednesday 29 December 2021

[REVIEW] Swords & Sewercery

Swords & Sewercery
Swords & Sewercery (2021)

by Jeff Simpson

Published by Buddyscott Entertainment Group

Levels 2-5

Hello, and welcome to part THREE of **THE RECKONING**, wherein entries of the infamous No Artpunk Contest are taken to task. This promises to be both a treat and a challenge, as the competing entries were written with an intent that is close to my heart: to prove, once and for all, that the power of old-school gaming is found in a fine balance between finely honed and practical design principles, and a strong imagination. That is to say, it is craft before it is art, and this craft can be learned, practiced, and mastered. The following reviews will therefore look not for basic competence – it is assumed that the contest participants would not trip over their own shoelaces or faint at the sight of their own blood – but excellence. The reviews will follow a random order, and they will be shorter than Prince’s original pieces. One adventure, the contest winning Caught in the Web of Past and Present, shall be excluded for two reasons: one, the author plays at my table (and I have previously played in his one-offs); and two, I am going to republish it in an updated edition. With that aside, Deus Vult! Let Destiny prevail!

* * *

Sewer levels are the ugly runts of computer games; the retarded, poor, red-headed orphans everyone enjoys kicking while they are down. Accordingly, designing a sewer level people will not reflexively write off as crappy is a bit of a challenge. It is easy to see why sewers get a bad rap. Not only are they unpleasant environments, they tend to self-limit the kind of things you may meet in them: yeah, there are the rats… and wererats… and I guess cultists and thieves… yeah, maybe an ooze or an otyugh. Surprisingly few people do more with their sewer dungeons, and this will not do. It is time to make sewers great again!

Swords & Sewercery is a short and sweet module describing a city block and the sewer passages underneath. Short, in this case, means really short: each of the two environments gets a little more than one page, and individual keyed areas tend to be two or three lines in length. There is a further page with a comparatively lengthy background on the city of Salo and its factions, as well as an appendix with wandering monster charts, rumours, and new monsters/treasure (they bend the contest rules… slightly). This, is, clearly, a minimalist affair, usually the domain of disappointing sludge. And yet… it isn’t, and the reasons for that are the scope of the material and the imagination on display.

First things first, this is a comparatively large affair crammed with stuff. A lot of mini-modules tend to be 16-20 pages with a playable area of 8-12 locations (if that); Swords & Sewercery has 18+6 above ground, and some 31 in the sewers. That’s a handful! There is precious little empty space left on two excellent maps; furthermore, the encounters tend to have good conceptual density, high interaction potential, and a strong style. They embody Bryce Lynch’s favourite hobby horse, “expressive terseness”. The above-ground section is a teeming slum of questionable establishments and dirty backyards to get stabbed (or, as it happens, get dragged off by ettercaps or torn apart by a gargoyle – ouch!). The clients of illicit drug dens rub shoulders with bandits, members of Salo’s busy secret police, and Resistance operatives, all of whom operate deposits, safe-houses and shops in the area. There is a lot to this single city block, from a cockfighting ring to street food vendors and a holy brothel. It is the condensed essence of Lankhmar, Haven, City State of the Invincible Overlord, and similar sinful cities rolled into one.

I am Once Again Asking For Your Financial Support

It gets even better underground: this is, in fact, an exceptionally interesting sewer, populated by a criminal underworld of bizarre NPCs and strange encounters. There is an undermarket selling junk and scraps, a sewage conduit where lepers pan the effluvium of an upscale restaurant for gold crumbs, a crazy goop-bottling machine operated by an insane Magic-User (with magical drinks to sample), and the residence of an ogre mage who keeps a group of mongrelwoman concubines. Most of these encounters transcend standard investigate/fight/flight responses – things can get fairly complex and non-linear, as the inhabitants know of things they want and can offer knowledge or items in exchange. You can run errands, rat your allies out, meet monsters completely out of whack for the designated level range, and have a whale of a time. Even some of the comparatively minor encounters have good stuff like “There is an otyugh eating garbage here”, or a ceremonial fountain used by cultists, and inhabited by a water elemental. Things that don’t force you on a single course of action, but let you develop your own schemes. All of this is complicated by an encounter chart which has an honest-to-goodness grell on it. Way too good.

Far from perfect, something that should be obvious to anyone, the author included. The utter minimalism of the encounters is limiting, even if they are overflowing with cool basic ideas. There is a sort of depth, coming from play, layering and refinement, that is just missing. For example, the streets level and the sewer level are connected, but not interconnected; they do not form a single whole where you can decend a sewer hatch and emerge in the back room of that brothel-temple. The same is true of the various plot threads, which do not reference each other across the two parts. Ironically, the conceptual density is just too much at times. The material feels too busy, without sufficient empty connecting material to let it breathe and develop a sort of pacing. It is a non-stop sugar high. And of course, a lot of the monsters don’t have stats. (Is this trend going to be the defining feature of “No Artpunk”? I remain unconvinced!)

Swords & Sewercery is not a refined module. It feels like the result of a hell of a brainstorming session; more properly, the beginning of something rather than the ultimate product. A draft-version before the playtesting session where the pieces fall into their correct place? Something like that. However… there is something here that’s really good, the crazy leaps of imagination and enthusiasm from the OD&D era which is rare to see these days. High energy. It is easy to imagine the author fitting together a bunch of similar city blocks (perhaps leaving some space empty) into a massive CSIO-style map, and doing something similar with the sewer/undercity section. Not over-polished, not over-produced, just fixed up a little and expanded just slightly. THAT would easily be a formidable city supplement, with a clear path to a 5/5. Make it happen!

No playtesters are credited in this publication. Woe!

Rating: *** / *****

Monday 27 December 2021

[REVIEW] Tower of the Time-Master

Tower of the Time-Master
Tower of the Time-Master (2021)

by Ben Gibson

Published by The Merciless Merchants

Levels 1-3

Hello, and welcome to part TWO of **THE RECKONING**, wherein entries of the infamous No Artpunk Contest are taken to task. This promises to be both a treat and a challenge, as the competing entries were written with an intent that is close to my heart: to prove, once and for all, that the power of old-school gaming is found in a fine balance between finely honed and practical design principles, and a strong imagination. That is to say, it is craft before it is art, and this craft can be learned, practiced, and mastered. The following reviews will therefore look not for basic competence – it is assumed that the contest participants would not trip over their own shoelaces or faint at the sight of their own blood – but excellence. The reviews will follow a random order, and they will be shorter than Prince’s original pieces. One adventure, the contest winning Caught in the Web of Past and Present, shall be excluded for two reasons: one, the author plays at my table (and I have previously played in his one-offs); and two, I am going to republish it in an updated edition. With that aside, Deus Vult! Let Destiny prevail!

* * *

An infiltration adventure focused on what it says on the cover, Tower of the Time-Master presents a three-dimensional dungeon environment inhabited by a powerful Magic-User and his retinue. The tower’s nameless, immortal (?) builder has mastered time itself through controlling a peculiar, enormous time crystal, reaching into past eras to draw his guardians. Since the player characters are low-level, the guardians are relatively formidable, and the Time-Master is really bad news if encountered, this adventure is an exercise in stealth – which can mean social subterfuge as easily as the old grappling hook on the parapets. There is no set purpose to the module – six good adventure hooks are provided for use, which can radically change the flow and objectives of the adventure you have inside the tower (ranging from an assassination mission to getting out from imprisonment to chance burglary after finding a lost invitation letter). This is really well done.

Tower-based dungeons have obvious design problems which are acknowledged by the author, and which he tries to address in this dungeon. Tall and narrow structures do not allow much in the way of interesting navigation and non-linear room connections, as already seen in Tower of the Elephant – Conan climbs up, then goes straight down the stairs encounter from encounter. This is, accordingly, a large tower with a respectable footprint and eight above-ground plus two below-ground levels. In the interests of modern layoutry (layoulatry?), level maps and keys are presented on a single page each to make for easy reference. Certainly, page-flipping is nicely kept to a minimum, and the whole text is more or less accessible. (Caveats later.)

Masterful Maps
As a mapping challenge, this is as good as towers get. There are multiple access points: front and back entrances, windows and parapets, all with their own risks and benefits. There are ways to gain entrance peacefully, and ways to land the company in enormous trouble if they miscalculate their odds. This is the beauty of thievery – plan a heist based on the information you have (there is a short but rather good rumours chart), look how much it sticks, and improvise when it falls apart. The tower allows for planning, which is a plus. It is also comfortably three-dimensional, with multi-level staircases, trapdoors, shafts, and hidden passages/rooms. This environment would work decently as a Thief mission, and this is meant as a compliment. Guard schedules, servants and apprentices use the tower day and night (their positions and patrols might have been annotated on the maps, but this can be done by the GM as well), and they have their own small-scale conflicts and hangups which attentive players may exploit.

The module key is less successful. It communicates its intent well, and it is not one of those crappy ten-room dungeons, but the overall scenario is missing something. With a title like The Tower of the Time-Master, it holds an implicit promise for a place where you could find some really crazy stuff from other timelines and realities – but the real surprise is how sober and safe it is. It has a strong sense of fantastic realism that hangs together well and provides rational explanations for how and why things in the tower work the way they do work, but it lacks a sufficient taste of the truly fantastic. So, say, there are a few relatively small dinosaurs, and a magic crystal that can offer youth at a dangerous price, and a display room with pre-historic flora and fauna, and a talking skull, but overall, 90% of the tower is guest bedrooms, servant’s quarters, even a buffet. A room called “Twisted Shrine” is only twisted because “this formally correct shrine to local saints shows neglect with the incense bowls long empty and most of the icons dusty”. One might expect a DINOSAUR ROOM where you walk into a different timeline with a T-Rex in pursuit and a TIME STASIS ROOM with time travellers in cryogenic storage (there is a Gallery of Statsis, but it is much less ambitious) and even a STOREROOM with discarded astronauts’ equipment and caveman stone tools. This sort of material is entirely lacking. The TIME-LOST UNDERWORLD (great name!) has an “Under-Pantry”, a “Wine Cellar”, a “Cold Stream” and a “Path Below”, plus an unkeyed second underground level where you may find dinosaurs and their eggs coming through a portal (which is a good start).

There are two issues with old-school design as well. One, the tower’s monetary treasures are not “modest” or “meagre”, the place is positively impoverished. One of the Time-Master’s main henchmen has a workshop filled with delicate self-made art that’s worth all of 150 gp, and the Time-master himself has a precious wind-up watch also worth 150 gp, plus a supposedly awesome throne carved out of a single, enormous bone piece (2500 gp, 416 XP each for six PCs, so your 3rd level fighter only needs to sell ten of these to gain a level). This can be addressed by adding more treasure and valuable artwork where sensible, and bumping up the gp values. The magic items are very nice for a low-level party, although it is unlikely the tower will ever be cleared out.

More seriously, the adventure has no monster and NPC stats. The GM is instructed to consult the rulebooks for general monsters, and just make up stats for NPCs. This is a terrible idea, especially when the action gets going in a reasonably compact, interconnected space, and you need stats pronto for a deinonychus, three guards, servants (one of them a classed NPC), and  one of the Time-Master’s confidants. It is not a case of missing Hp or equipment – they have no stats, from lowly scullery maids to the Time-Master himself (a high-level M-U with a large repertoire of memorised spells). Quick, where can you find deinonychus stats? (Hint: I looked it up, and it is not in the 1e Monster Manual or the Moldvay/Cook booklets). Quick, what magic items does the Time-Master carry? The answers are not there. Was it because it did not fit? Certainly not, since many of the levels have ample white space where this material could fit perfectly (and add to the “no page turning” principles). There is an NPC relationship chart that could have been replaced with NPC and monster stats. There is a one-page copy of the OGL that could have been replaced with NPC and monster stats. The omission is so enormous it is almost puzzling.

Therefore, Tower of the Time-Master offers you a decent, solid infiltration scenario, but not the content that would make the infiltration make you really go “Whoa!” once you are in. It did not have to be over the top gonzo like Ghost Tower of Inverness, or even RJK’s ambitious, flawed Tower Chaos, but there could have been more to it. In that respect, Tower of the Elephant still has it beat, shitty linear map and all. Needs more elephant-headed guys from Pluto and weird star gems, damnit.

This module credits its playtesters. Excellent!

Rating: *** / *****

Wednesday 22 December 2021

[NEWS] Helvéczia – Spanish Edition Crowdfunding Campaign, and Further Plans

Helvéczia: the Spanish edition

Some half a year after the publication of the Helvéczia RPG, it is time to announce some big news on the horizon – and to take stock of where the game is, and in which direction it is going. So far, 275 of the 500 copies have found a new home, which is quite nice for something a bit off the beaten path! Moreover, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive; and particularly so from people who have sat down and actually played the thing. Historical (okay, pseudo-historical games) games are a minority interest, making them a hard sell, so to learn that those who have tried it have liked it, and are running adventures or planning campaigns, is the best kind of news.

Which brings me to the big announcement: Helvéczia has been translated into the Spanish, and an initial print run is now up for a crowdfunding campaign. Outremer Ediciones is a new publisher (although one run by experienced gamers who have previously worked with other imprints), and their interests lie in “translating unusual, curious or personal games into Spanish that have never been seen in our language”, as well as original Spanish small print projects. Other games, namely Lands of Legends, Thousand Suns, and Thud & Blunder are also scheduled for later release. This is a noble mission, and I am particularly honoured that Helvéczia has been the first game to be selected for release – especially since Spain is the birthplace and common setting of picaresque stories, including our ongoing Catalonia campaign.

The initial package is
currently being crowdfunded on Verkami, a Spanish crowdfunding platform. There is a nice print version for a princely €40, which includes the rulebook, the regional and adventure supplement (Ammertal and the Oberammsbund), nine maps, a calendar for strict time records, and a deck of Hungarian cards – free shipping within Spain. The digital collection of the same is €15, which may be the most affordable way to obtain the game in Latin-America. (The publishers have informed me that they will gladly ship to Latin-American countries, and you should feel free to contact them to figure out potential shipping costs – these may be steep, but they are steep everywhere these days.)

A number of stretch goals are also in play. These are for a number of extra adventures (on which more below), and the box at €8,500, which will then be added to the physical orders. These will be nice, sturdy boxes like the original, strong enough to withstand even the dreaded International Shipping (I have only received reports of three damaged boxes, not bad from a sample of 275). As for the adventures, they are written, playtested, and only need translation into the English, from whence Mr. José Carlos Domínguez Agüera of Outremer Ediciones (who, I might add, sounds like a Helvéczia player character by such an excellent name) shall adapt it to the Spanish. What to do with the English manuscripts afterwards? Well… that much ought to be obvious!

I am once again asking for your financial support...

Here is where you can come in if you have an interest in a Spanish edition.
So far, about half of the €5,500 target has been met on Verkami, with 32 days left of the 40-day campaign. This is, as they say, “slow but steady”, i.e. it is not on fire, but it has been adding money consistently, a few more backers every day. If the current pace keeps up, it will be funded, but with a niche game from a relatively obscure corner of the hobby, I would assume it needs a little more attention. So, if you are either interested in getting the game in Spanish, or know someone who would like this sort of thing, now is the time to spread the word! It may make for a good present for your friends, or if you think the idea is terrible and/or the author is a jerk, a good way to annoy your enemies. I assure you, they would absolutely detest receiving a copy of Helvéczia in either print or PDF, and they would especially resent getting the three-game pack for a mere €110.

As it stands, the Helvéczia rulebook and Ammertal have been translated in its entirety, so the game can be released with a relatively painless editing/production effort once it funds. A
free 40-page demo version (24 MB) has already been made available with example characters, and the Seven Knaves introductory adventure (a really short tutorial to teach the basic rules and introduce new players to the setting). This booklet is more than sufficient to try the game for yourself, and as I understand it, it has been demoed successfully at various virtual conventions and online games (the Bat Plague is a harsh master, even in Spain!). Of course, it also means you can read the summary and make an informed decision. Outremer Ediciones and Yours Truly would both be delighted.

My personal pledge is thus: if the game funds, even on the basic level, I will ensure that all backers shall receive the adventures in some form – in Spanish or English. This much I can promise.

Now, how do they say “Fight On!” in Spanish?

* * *

What does the current crowdfunding campaign portend for the English version? Nothing directly, but it gives me a good excuse to work on translating the game’s supplemental materials into the English (which would also be the basis of a subsequent Spanish translation). In its first edition, Helvéczia had already collected a number of published adventures, and since they have already been written and laid out, all that remains is translation (my idea would be for an A4-sized compilation, about the size of Ammertal). The following modules are planned – these are mostly the length of the scenarios in Ammertal.
  • Countess Apollonia’s Beauty Treatment of Countess Apollonia: Visit a small, prosperous spa town, where a group of aristocrats have discovered a novel method of restoring youth and physical beauty. Everything goes like the Brandenburg hop, but then the story takes an unexpected turn… Open-ended city adventure with scoundrels, degenerate nobles, and a race against time!
  • Ill-Gotten Merchandise: A wilderness adventure where the company is hired by a petty local noble to recapture the estate he had lost to his brother in an unfortunate card game. Things go wrong at the worst possible moment. Can the players save the day? Will they want to?
  • Gudmundshof: A letter of invitation leads to the nest of the venerable von Ammertal family, where the nobility of seven lands has gathered to make merry and discuss the affairs of the world. Some, however, have infiltrated the party for the sake of personal enrichment, or to play mischief on their generous hosts... Social intrigue / dungeon crawl module set in a castle of noble eccentrics.
  • The Cloister's Secret (by Krisztian G. Laszlo): "Foul weather, a chariot stuck in the mud, and then an unexpected refuge of a monastery with clean beds, company, and plentiful dinner: all is well if it ends well. But it doesn't. What started as the end of a bad day will continue as a most peculiar night!
  • The Serpent Girl (by David Barsony): “Here, we shall learn why Berma Grünwald and Philbert Ostbruch missed their wedding; who and why gets in the way of lovers, and what kind of trials a person who would unravel the whole tangled history has to endure.” Short but sweet.

Wilkommen in Zwillings!
These were all materials developed and published in 2014-2015. The second edition playtest has produced a new corpus of material, some in rough manuscript form, some as handwritten notes. These will make for a second regional supplement, along with the attendant adventures. These shall take the company to Zwillings canton, a backwards and lightly populated corner of Helvéczia, where only a single town and a handful of smaller villages stand surrounded by deep forests. Yet Zwillings is also haunted by a long history of heretics and fallen kingdoms, weird saints and disreputable cloisters. Zwillings was the focus of the second arc of our original campaign, but at that time, I was too burned out to publish the resulting materials. These will now be collected for the game’s new Hungarian edition (since Ammertal is already well known here). A second canton will also be included, but I haven’t yet decided which. It might be Castelmarte, an Italian-speaking conquest under the yoke of a Helvéczian vogt, or the picturesque and rich small towns around the Graubundsee and its seat, the dark city of Heiligengrau.

Until then, enjoy the game, keep those cards handy, and always give the Devil his due (whether it is gold or gunpowder)! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 15 December 2021

[REVIEW] The Well

Well, Well, Well!
The Well (2021)

by Jon Bertani

Published by The Merciless Merchants

Levels 1-4

Hello, and welcome to part one of **THE RECKONING**, wherein entries of the infamous No Artpunk Contest are taken to task. This promises to be both a treat and a challenge, as the competing entries were written with an intent that is close to my heart: to prove, once again, that the power of old-school gaming is found in a fine balance between finely honed and practical design principles, and a strong imagination. That is to say, it is craft before it is art, and this craft can be learned, practiced, and mastered. The following reviews will therefore look not for basic competence – it is assumed that the contest participants would not trip over their own shoelaces or faint at the sight of their own blood – but excellence. The reviews will follow a random order, and they will be shorter than Prince’s original pieces. One adventure, the contest winning Caught in the Web of Past and Present, shall be excluded for two reasons: one, the author plays at my table (and I have previously played in his one-offs); and two, I am going to republish it in an updated edition. With that aside, Deus Vult! Let Destiny prevail!

* * *

With a title like that, The Well promises something like a dungeon with an evil well, or an evil well that is a dungeon. Surprisingly, the well part is a remarkably small slice of a mixed-profile adventure doubling as the beginnings of a mini-setting. The module gives you the golden combination: a home base in the form of a small frontier town; a mountainous wilderness area; and a dungeon to top it off. This is surprisingly generous from a module written to contest specifications (20 pages max), and broadens its scope to more than mere adventure site. There is a broader context, there are leads to the main attraction, and there are possible links to further adventures (although this latter part is weakly developed).

Let us start with the strong Hook: one of the party members inherits a farmstead. Obviously, this thing will be way more trouble than it is worth, but what player would not jump at the chance to be a Property Owner and important Local Player? It is a little sprinkling of magic. The farmstead, in turn, is found up in the mountains, on the frontier beyond a final town. This small setting is displayed on a good map; done in pencil, and immediately captivating with both its displayed features and blank spaces. What’s the deal with the druids? Do the other farmsteads experience trouble? What’s up that valley? There is instant adventure potential here. Once you are finished with this adventure, the farmstead, the town, and the extended wilderness should generate at least a few more sessions of play, perhaps an adventure arc before you move on to greener pastures. This is not in the module, but it is implied by the module, and that is no small thing: “creativity multiplier” is what a “module” in the original sense ought to aspire to.

The town, High River, is decently outlined in about three pages (including a rumour table). It is probably too much for this adventure, but very useful for the mini-campaign part. We are introduced to a frontier settlement that’s rough and currently down on its luck, ruled by a decrepit Lord Esserick and not quite able to control everything in the surrounding area. It is a nest of Law, but the mudcore kind, with frontier justice, a brothel as one of the main places to see, and brawl-happy violent assholes for residents. It is perhaps a little too heavy on the scene-setting and not sufficiently strong in actually being an adventure platform. In fact, one of the interesting conflicts to be had (what if the players get on the bad side of the mysterious, slightly sinister druids who seem to be at home here) is handwaved away with no druid stats provided, while the brothel’s madame and bouncer are gleefully statted. Still, it does establish a place; northern vanilla with plenty of hops, wood shavings, and a dash of mud.

Prestigious Map
While brief, the wilderness section is decent. Beyond High River lies a fertile bowl of farmland dotted with scattered farms. This is the “you are entering the Wilderness” transition area, and effective at that. It is really the end of human civilisation. The player’s own farm is lovingly mapped (this map will no doubt be the subject of later expansion and development plans as the company returns from their expedition), and serves to introduce the brigands, the module’s antagonists. This tactical combat encounter is a little scripted, and perhaps there may have been a better way of handling it, but to its credit, it does give a strong motivation to press on. The rest of the wilderness is an outline with random and keyed encounters stressing harsh natural beauty, lotsa animal encounters. There could be more of this, and there could have been more of the final dungeon with tighter editing, but it is heavy on mood, kind of a Scandinavia-meets-North-America place (but with mediaeval Europeans as the colonists).

And here we come to the dungeon, the module’s centrepiece, a flawed gem. It works on the level of presenting a place with a “presence”, and a place with decent options for combat and – in a limited fashion – even tense diplomacy. It works as an abandoned dwarf shrine befouled by the presence of brigands. There is strong imagery here, effectively presented in a direct, GM-friendly manner. “The water splashes and burbles over colourful rocks within the stream bed.” “An orchard of apple trees grow along the stream, having gone wild quite some time ago. The tree branches bend heavily, burdened with fruit.” “A triangular fire pit burns with low oddly coloured flames. The flickering flames reveal an arc of runes upon the wall (…).” You can feel it, touch it, smell it. Good. There is some exploration off the beaten path – a clear pool of water with a side encounter. There is a mystery – the shrine, with its insight into the dwarven psyche (“Be thee not of the Folk then let thee suffer in all that thee do.”) and a multi-layered puzzle to reach the sealed section with the true prizes (this is where the titular Well makes its appearance). And the confrontation with the brigands is a very nicely set up, multi-layered combat encounter with reinforcements, flanking, back attacks, and sufficient carnage to serve as a trial by fire for a beginning party, the crucible in which weakness is burned away and true steel is tempered. I shed a few manly tears just thinking about it. Verily! That was well done.

Nevertheless, it is still a modest monster lair at the end of a rather linear overland trek of telegraphed breadcrumbs. It is a cruelly good illusion, but it is an illusion nevertheless. On an individual room-by-room level, it is strong; but the structure is weak, and nowhere it is weaker than where it truly matters. Not because it does not have “muh loops”, but because it is a choreographed ride and not dungeon exploration, even if it is moody and knows how to make you scream during the plunge. Even the optional side areas are too small. This is the same problem seen in Temple of 1000 Swords; a module that would need more space to breathe. Perhaps a few sideshows, perhaps just more generous empty space, both inside and outside the main attraction. And it is definitely poor in treasure. It is even poor in treasure by the standards of treasure-light games (say, the better sort of 3e/5e campaign), and definitely by old-school terms, where GP is the spice that makes XP go up. I like it as an aesthetic, but it requires fixing from a gameplay perspective. It would not be too difficult, but it stands out.

Ultimately, the adventure is stronger in its implications, as a mini-setting you can expand on and turn into your own, than in the core element, what is sometimes actually there. (Although, again, what is present is definitely well done). There were contest limitations (length, for one), but one cannot help but immediately demand “MORE!” The writing could be one notch tighter, although we can’t complain: the text is clean and precise, packing a surprisingly decent amount of material into the page limit, while maintaining the gameplay/flavour balance. Still, the correct verdict can only be: “Nice. Very nice. This is quite good for a start. Now let us see the full adventure.”

This module credits its playtesters. Excellent!

Rating: *** / *****

Friday 3 December 2021

[MODULE] Weird Fates, vol. 1 (NOW AVAILABLE!)

Weird Fates vol. 1
I am pleased to announce the year’s last EMDT release, the publication of  Weird Fates, vol. 1, a 40-page anthology of four mini-modules by Laszlo Feher. With cover art by Peter Mullen, and illustrations by Graphite Prime, Cameron Hawkey, and Vincentas Saladis, this collection epitomises “weird fantasy” with its outlandish concepts, strange denizens, and grotesque situations. Meant for an evening or two of play each for 3rd to 6th level characters (more or less), the mini-adventures are open-ended outlines with a strong emphasis on player creativity and a non-linear structure. Short, sweet, and high on imagination (in multiple senses), this is a sure pick for GMs who enjoy a little improvisation.

“A cornucopia of four short, open-ended adventure outlines leading to lands of pure imagination, this collection should astound and entertain any company of players interested in exotic locales, strange individuals, and a generous helping of satire. Herein, you will journey to a tropical island to answer the eternal question, “What is Art?” (or die trying); confront a reclusive artist with a peculiar scheme to enlarge his audience; find the fabled graveyard of the elephants and partake of the fruits of the Tree of Forever Return; and judge a pie-baking contest in a rural backwater where nothing could possibly go wrong... or could it? Some assembly required!”

The print version of the modules is available from my Bigcartel store; the PDF edition will be published through DriveThruRPG with three months’ delay. As always, customers who buy the print edition will receive the PDF version free of charge.


On the Rooftops of Xyntillan!

Cameron Hawkey, who has contributed art to this volume, has recently posted a full rooftop map for Castle Xyntillan! This is an excellent addition to the castle, and an elegant, seamless expansion of Rob Conley’s cartography. Everyone who enjoys rooftop-hopping will get a kick out of this one.

Giant Pigeons Not Included


Christmas Shipping

As previously, my store will be closed for the holidays from around 20-21 December to early January. Currently, shipping takes about one week for most European orders (maybe a few days more for the UK), and a little over two weeks for the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Christmas mail can experience some delays, however, so take that into account.