Reviews from R'lyeh

Scenario Sounds

In November, 2020, S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, the classic fantasy meets Science Fiction scenario by E. Gary Gygax for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition received of all things, its own rock album. When it comes to roleplaying, music has long been seen as something to add to the experience, to build the atmosphere, but rarely, the other way, the single by Sabbat, Blood For The Blood God, inspired by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which appeared in White Dwarf #95, the Traveller concept album by the band, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and the work of the band, Gygax, being clearly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, all being the odd exceptions. The Barrier Peaks Songbook, the resulting ten-track concept album from Loot the Body described itself as a psychedelic rock album, though it felt more Prog Rock than psychedelic rock, but to be fair, just as The Barrier Peaks Songbook is an exception in being a rock album inspired by roleplaying, Reviews from R’lyeh reviewing a rock album—or indeed, any music, is also an exception. Nevertheless, The Barrier Peaks Songbook turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable album, adding voice and sound to the weirdness and the contrast of genres at the heart of S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
Fans of Dungeons & Dragons and music inspired by that roleplaying game will therefore be pleased to discover that Loot the Body has returned to that well for another album. Titled, Hex Volume 1, this is not another concept album like The Barrier Peaks Songbook, but rather a collection of songs inspired by classic scenarios for both Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. There are six tracks in the album and they draw from from a diverse range of scenarios for Player Characters of all Levels. The collection opens with a crash of heavy guitar riffs that the chart the rise and fall of the great evil wizard, Keraptis, whose heinous acts drove the warlords of the north to rise up against him. Thirteen hundred years ago he descended into the volcanic mountain with a company of gnomes and disappeared, the mountain of course, being White Plume Mountain from the special scenario, S2 White Plume Mountain. The track, also called ‘White Plume Mountain’ really works as an introduction to the scenario, telling of Keraptis’ dark deeds and foreshadowing just some of the dangers to be encountered should the Player Characters venture into his lair. Perhaps a bit too heavy to be played in-game (but then a light, lute-based version would probably not be as entertaining), but as a precursor to the scenario of the same name, ‘White Plume Mountain’ is a solid introduction and a good start to the album.
It is followed by ‘Dwellers of the Forbidden City’, a more reflective piece of mystery and horror inspired by the pulpy I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City. It warns of the fearsome things to be found lurking within the depths of the jungle-bound city, the sacrificial pool, the alien voice of the Aboleth—in its first appearance for Dungeons & Dragons—inside the adventurers’ heads, the glint of evil in the snakemen’s eyes, and worst of all, “There’s something alive, Something alive in the ruins, There’s something alive, Something alive and it calls”. The tone is very much one of foreboding and brings to life the horror which pervades the scenario itself, but which is often slightly lost in the pulp overtones. The mystery and horror continues, but is joined by decadence and weirdness with ‘Castle Amber’. Based on the X2 Castle Amber, the scenario for Basic Dungeons & Dragons, this captures the listener in the slumber that strands them inside Chateau d’Amberville, home to the louche, the deadly, and merely insane members of the strange Amber family. There is some delightful wordplay here, such as “When you’re inside Castle Amber mingle with nobility, They like their magic like their coffee, Everything’s a little deadly everywhere there’s lunacy, But they try to keep it in the family” which highlights the insular weirdness of the castle’s inhabitants. From its shimmering start, ‘Castle Amber’ never more than hints at some of the secrets to be found inside Chateau d’Amberville, and whilst the lyrics prove to more than worthy of X2 Castle Amber, the music feels just little too upbeat, a little too much for the delicacy of its inspiration.

On the other hand, no delicacy is required for ‘Tomb of Horrors’, a track inspired by the scenario which set the standard for every ‘Deathtrap’ Dungeon which it inspired—S1 Tomb of Horrors. From the punchy opening “Step into the tunnel past the jackal headed man, Make it to the archway if you can, Into the mouth of the devil you lost another friend, Forsaken in a prison without end”, it is a doom-laden warning to any would be tomb raiders and grave robbers wanting to test their skills and satisfy their avarice against the last resting place of the demi-lich, Acererak. Where ‘Castle Amber’ felt it could have been lighter, ‘Tomb of Horrors’ could have perhaps been heavier, but again the lyrics certainly make up for that. Similarly, ‘Ravenloft’ carries some heft to it, a mournful goth-inspired lament based on what is often regarded as one of the best scenarios to be published for Dungeons & Dragons, which is of course, I6 Ravenloft. And yet, as Count Strahd von Zarovich stands on the balcony of his castle, surveying his domain before him, ruing his misfortunes and regretting the decisions he made in the pursuit of love, the lament is restrained from reaching its full impact. The vocals are simply too positive, too smooth to really reflect the regrets in the lyrics. Had ‘Ravenloft’ been sung by a voice like Trent Reznor* or Johnny Cash, its impact would have been stronger.

* Please note that this reference required the input of this household’s resident Goth.
Hex Volume 1 ends on a more upbeat note with ‘Keep on the Borderlands’, an ode to those guards who stand against villainy out on the frontier and the last refuge for travellers who want to journey beyond the civilised lands. Inspired by the classic B2 Keep on the Borderlands, probably the one module played more than any other, whether that is for Dungeons & Dragons or the Basic Dungeons & Dragons it was written for. There is a strong twang of Americana to this last track, drawing parallels between its fantasy frontier and that of the Old West and edging slightly towards being Country & Western.
Hex Volume 1 does not quite succeed in capturing the feel of every old-school hex map or scenario that it draws its inspiration from, and so is not quite as successful as the earlier The Barrier Peaks Songbook. Nevertheless, the album is still entertaining and will enjoyed by anyone who has played through any of the six scenarios it explores in song. In fact, some of the scenarios which inspire Hex Volume 1 could easily inspire Loot the Body to base songbooks of their own upon them—Reviews from R’lyeh awaits a song titled ‘Bree-Yark!’ for The Keep on the Borderlands Songbook. In the meantime, Dungeons & Dragons devotees and supporters of the Old School Renaissance will find much to enjoy in the lyrics and  references of Hex Volume 1.

[Fanzine Focus XXV] Andjang

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support. Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.

Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain is a little different. Penned by Zedeck Siew—author of Lorn Song of the Bachelor—and drawn by Munkao, it is the fourth title published by the A Thousand Thousand Islands imprint, a Southeast Asian-themed fantasy visual world-building project, one which aims to draw from regional folklore and history to create a fantasy world truly rooted in the region’s myths, rather than a set of rules simply reskinned with a fantasy culture. The result of the project to date is eight fanzines, plus appendices, each slightly different, and each focusing on discrete settings which might be in the same world, but are just easily be separate places in separate worlds. What sets the series apart is the aesthetic sparseness of its combination of art and text. The latter describes the place, its peoples and personalities, its places, and its strangeness with a very simple economy of words. Which is paired with the utterly delightful artwork which captures the strangeness and exoticism of the particular setting and brings it alive. Barring a table of three (or more) for determining random aspects that the Player Characters might encounter each entry in the series is systemless, meaning that each can be using any manner of roleplaying games and systems, whether that is fantasy or Science Fiction, the Old School Renaissance or not.

The first, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, described the Death-Rolled Kingdom, built on the remains of great drowned city, now ruled by crocodiles in lazy, benign fashion, they police the river, and their decrees outlaw the exploration of the ruins of MR-KR-GR, and they sometimes hire adventurers. The second, Kraching, explored the life of a quiet, sleepy village alongside a great forest, dominated by cats of all sizes and known for its beautiful carvings of the wood taken from the forest. The third, Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, takes the reader into a forest where its husband Time moves differently and the gods dictate the seasons, Leeches stalk you and steal from you that which you hold dear, and squirrels appear to chatter and gossip—if you listen. the fourth takes you into the mountains.

What rumours do you hear from Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain? That it is taboo to put down old racing dogs, but bad luck to keep them, so they are sent to the dog heaven that is the Mountain. That you will never see a graveyard there. Instead the dead are dumped in their rice paddies, one corpse per field. Which why their rice crops are so rich. That witchery runs in the people’s blood and they like to buy minor curses from you. Andjang is a place of mystery, but its wan and thin inhabitants want to trade. They want metal goods, wine, fabrics, livestock especially, even slaves, and in return, their meaty black rice is known for its capacity to boost energy and the circulation of the blood, the region’s strangely red loam soil always guarantees that the next crop is a bumper one, and the rattan puppets that bud fruit from the top of their heads when a certain spell is cast. The puppet will obey anyone who eats the fruit, and the locals use them as ‘beasts of burden’ instead of the animals they strangely lack. Perhaps, the Player Characters can sign on as guards on Risala’s cattle train?

If the Player Characters visit Andjang, they will find the kingdom to be stranger than the rumours. None of the villages, each nestled in a valley below the mountains has any animals. Weapons, some murderous, some gossipy, others cranky, have settled into retirement in Andjang, but perhaps they might be traded or stolen out of retirement? The villagers live by three laws. The first is a blood tithe paid in a monthly parade. The second is the recognition of the kingdom’s boundary, marked by megaliths bearing the dog sigil, part of treaties signed with the gods which invading armies lose their way, carnivorous beasts losing their senses, wild spirits freezing… The third is obeisance to Andjang’s prices and princesses, their wishes are law, and they are the only ones who will arrange audiences with the Queen, their mother. And they appreciate gifts.

Yet untold numbers of the kingdom’s Royalty are dumped into the forest to die. There they learn to work together, then hunt to survive, and then they hunt each other. When they leave the forest, they are scarred, but worthy of a name. They are marked though—some have eyes that shine at night, loud joints that constantly pop, a servant trailing behind constantly touching the gold paint which covers them, a detachable head which can reattach to any decapitated corpse, and more.

The palace stand high atop a crag above the valleys with their single villages. Seemingly ruined, it is home to the languorous Queen who spends each day stretched out on a throne that is as much day bed as it is throne, accepting visitors and petitioners who have trailed their way up the mountain and waited weeks to see, her nights stretched out in her boudoir in the mountain cave behind the palace, her open air bath containing two pools. One is full of water, the other is of blood. Below, the caves stretch into the mountain, beginning with a grotto containing a lake of blood… Elsewhere in the palace, the kitchen appears connected to the palace gaol, the treasure house is full of weapons clamped to their stands and pardons from the lowlander cities, and every guest room has a tap out which flows blood. Time may seem to pass differently from room to the next, breathing and knocking seems to come from the walls, and children marked with a tattoo of open eye wander from room to room…

Besides a poster map of the palace, the Game Master is accorded table upon table to add detail and flavour to the encounters, personalities, and things found in the valleys and the palace. These add to the atmosphere of the kingdom, which is one of the oppressive Gothic, heavy on the suggestion that the Queen might be a vampire, but never openly stated. There is a creepy weird feeling throughout, of being watched, of blood being vital to the kingdom, of paranoia, and more. However, much like the earlier Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, the issue with Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain is not immediately easy to use. Again because of the remote nature of the kingdom and because it is difficult to engage the Player Characters until they climb up to Andjang. That is its biggest weakness. It has the hooks—both ethnographic and cosmological—but it is a matter of getting the Player Characters there, but once there, the kingdom oozes a creepy charm of its own.

Physically, Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain is a slim booklet which possesses the lovely simplicity of the Thousand Thousand Isles, both in terms of the words and the art. The illustrations are exquisite and the writing delightfully succinct and easy to grasp.

In terms of story, Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain is easy to use once the Player Characters get there. There are hooks and plots which the Game Master could develop and engage the players and their characters with, and the setting is easy to adapt to the world of the Game Master’s choice, whether that is a domain on the Demiplane of Dread that is Ravenloft for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition or a remote kingdom in Hollow Earth Expedition or Leagues of Adventure. However it is used, if the Game Master can get her Player Characters to its borders, Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain is creepy and weird, a beautifully and simply presented vampire kingdom off the beaten track.

—oOo—
The great news is that is Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, Kraching, Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain, and the others in the Thousand Thousand Isles setting are now available outside of Malaysia. Details can be found here.

[Fanzine Focus XXV] Black Pudding #5

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showcased how another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & DragonsRuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will be compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.

Black Pudding is a fanzine that is nominally written for use with Labyrinth Lord and so is compatible with other Retroclones, but it is not a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style  fanzine. For starters, it is all but drawn rather than written, with artwork that reflects a look that is cartoonish, a tone that is slightly tongue in cheek, and a gonzo feel. Its genre is avowedly Swords & Sorcery, as much Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as Conan the Barbarian. Drawn from the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ house rules and published by Random Order via Square HexBlack Pudding’s fantasy roleplaying content that is anything other than the straight-laced fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons, but something a bit lighter, but still full of adventure and heroism. Issues onetwo, and three have showcased the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ house rules with a mix of new character Classes, spells, magic items, monsters, NPCs, and adventures. Black Pudding #4 included a similar mix of new Classes, NPCs, and an adventure, but also included the author’s ‘OSR Play book’, his reference for running an Old School Renaissance game, essentially showing how he runs his own campaign. Published in August 2018, Black Pudding #5 is more of a return to form, a mix of new character Classes, spells, magic items, monsters, NPCs, and adventures. It does, however, begin to suggest a campaign setting.
Black Pudding #5 opens with ‘Standing Stones of Marigold Hills’. This is a mini-sandbox consisting of a series of hills strewn with tombstones and graves, with many of the latter occupied with the undead and the region by the spirits of the dead. Some of these occupants are given thumbnail descriptions for easy portrayal by the Labyrinth Lord. The tombstones were once tended to by the Marigold Witch, but although she is long gone, it is said that she left her spellbook behind. Perhaps it is in one of the tombs? The Book of Marigold is also detailed as is the fact that it will avoid being ‘captured’ and the three spells it contains. These spells are cartoonishly inventive, such as Arrow Road, which creates path of arrows which the targets of the spell must follow, and Marigold Charm, which creates a sphere of pungent aroma that renders those inside immune to poison, gas, and insect attacks, but at the cost of a reaction penalty and inability to surprise anyone.
The second adventure is ‘The Rat Queen Dies Tonight’, designed for Player Characters of Fourth and Fifth Levels. It is a thirteen-location, fairly linear cavern complex, sparsely written, but nicely detailed. The Player Characters trail a band of marauding rats to this complex and discover what appears to be at first a scavenged tomb then hot and steamy caves. The secret is that the Rat Queen has entered a pact with a demon and according to that pact, she dies tonight! Are the Player Characters the means of fulfilling that pact or is there another solution? There is lots of treasure to be found, including Malefysto’s Grimoire of Nefarious Incantations, another book of spells. These are all fire-themed, such as Malefysto’s Hands of Fire, which gives the caster flaming fists that he can even throw them like mini-fireballs, and Malefysto’s Eyes of Doom which turns the caster’s eyes black and his gaze capable of vaporising anyone he looks upon! The spellbook will be a suitable reward for any Wizard, but there is plenty of treasure to go around and the scenario itself is fun.
 ‘Adventures in the North’. The details a small region taken from the land of Yria, the ‘Doomslakers’ campaign, dotted with independent villages and dwarf strongholds, the latter abandoned after the blue giants known as the Norg drove them out. Even now, the dwarves plan to take their lands back. It takes the traditional concept of the barbarian north and its frosty weather, adds big tables of encounters and rumours of the north, and new monsters and magical items. The new monsters include the Ice Witch, a twisted, cold-hearted woman who lives in an icy house or cloister with her sisters, can cast numerous cold and ice-themed spells, and can be healed from or even reflect cold attacks. When slain, they can rise again as Witch Wights which seek out the warmth of the living, and some Ice Witch matriarchs carry a Staff of the Ice Witch, which will might freeze anyone who grasps it, can cast further spells than those of the Witch Wight, and once a month, conjure a blizzard! There is a lot packed into the four pages of this and it is great to some setting content from the author’s own campaign. Hopefully this will be supported with an adventure or two and more support in future issues.
Black Budding is renowned for its one-page, slightly tongue-in-cheek new character Classes and Black Pudding #5 is no exception with a total of three. The first is the Ninja, which does everything you would expect. The Ninja cannot wear metal armour or wield two-handed weapons, but is good with ranged weapons, a better backstab attack than the Thief potentially inflicting a deathblow, is adept at stealth and can throw flash and smoke bombs. Each Ninja comes from one of eight Ninja Orders which sets certain requirements for being a Ninja, such as the Red Finger order requiring its members to wear red gloves and those of the Morbid Moons to honour the undead! The Ninja Class feels nicely done, but perhaps slightly overly potent in comparison to other Classes.
The Orbii is an ancient race of protectors, said to have served the Daughters of the Moon. They fight as Thieves, but each has a single special talent like being able to forge weapons and armour, including magical weapons and armour at Fifth Level or being able to track and forage. They can also pray to the Moon Goddess once per day to gain ‘Moon Luck’, such as a kiss which heals the supplicant or teleporting the character and his allies anywhere they like! The Boola is the buxom matron of wild places and mother to secrets, who fights as a Cleric, can listen to nature to learn its secrets, and is accompanied by one or more animal companions. Both are thematically strong, the Boola essentially a variant upon the Druid Class.
The monsters in the issue begin with a quartet of unconnected and a quartet of connected creatures. The former includes the Star Troll, wise in cosmic wisdom and with a penchant for Elf flesh; the Ipzee , a cave-dwelling many-toothed thing which cannot be pushed over, swallows its treasure, and whose teeth can be turned into wands; the Ninja Devil, packs of miniature devils which practice Ninjitsu and assassination; and the Angry Shell, a grumpy if multi-lingual sea beast with a great shell who hates to be disturbed, but which might be bribed to talk. The connected creatures are the Arqod Illuminara, the Arqod Champion, the Arqod Dreadling, and the Arqod Sauropod. The Arqod Illuminara are ancient mind-bending, hyper-intelligent humanoids from the time before, always accompanied by their fearsome zealot Arqod Champions, almost suicidal, perpetually hungry for live flesh (and brains and bones) Arqod Dreadlings, and perhaps riding a great Arqod Sauropod, whose ichor can be harvested for its magical properties, and when not serving as beast of burden, likes to play practical jokes by pretending to be small hills. There is something very much of the Alien Universe in these creatures, the Arqod Illuminara being a little like the Engineer for example. Each of these creatures is accompanied by thumbnail descriptions—sometimes a little more, illustrations, and stats, all enough to be both entertaining and playable.
One of the best on-going features in Black Pudding is ‘Meatshields of the Bleeding Ox’, a collection of NPCs ready for hire by the Player Characters (or in a pinch, replacement Player Characters). There is a decent range of NPCs given here, such as Iko Rain, a Fourth Level Ninja whose turn-ons are infiltration and turn-offs are yaks, turtles, and big fights, and The Beast of Bogl, a Four Hit Dice Beast who likes food and fighting, hates talking and not eating, and will not carry anything. Much like the monsters, they each come with full stats, thumbnail description and portrait, as well as a list of their abilities and how much they can be hired for. Unfortunately, seventeen is too many, just as they did in Black Pudding #4, and as inventive and as fun as these are, they do begin to like place fillers rather than actual gaming content.
‘They Come… But What Are They?’ is a one-page NPC/monster generator. With a roll of a handful of dice, the Labyrinth Lord can create the encounter’ looks, alignment, magic, special defences and attacks, toughness, and more. It is quick and dirty and useful. Rounding out The Black Pudding #5 is a quartet of detailed magical weapons. Zam is a +2 sword which can read magic and grant levitation once a day, but really wants to kill Dark Elves; Traumch, a Chaotic +2 battle axe which can smash armour and deals double damage against unarmoured opponents and the undead; and Riveredge and Moonbeam are +1 swords, the first granting water breathing, increased swimming speed, and the ability to walk on water, whilst the second inflicts double damage on lycanthropes and can capture moonlight and shine like a torch. All four are nicely themed and interesting enough that any character capable of wielding them would have fun with them. Lastly, on the back of the issue is a new character sheet for the retroclone, this time laid out as the face of the demon statue being plundered on the cover of the Player’s Handbook for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. It is silly certainly, but a bit of fun, and a nice nod to the origins of the game.
Physically, Black Pudding #5 adheres to the same standards set by the previous issues. So plenty of good, if cartoonish artwork to give it a singular, consistent look and lots of quite short articles, that are in places are underwritten. The obvious issue with Black Pudding #5—and indeed, any of its issues, is that its tone may not be compatible with the style of Dungeons & Dragons that a Labyrinth Lord or Game Master is running. The tone of Black Pudding is lighter, weirder, and in places just sillier than the baseline Dungeons & Dragons game, so the Game Master should take this into account when using the content of the fanzine, but Black Pudding #5 does something that previous issues have to dated avoided. That is, showcase parts of the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ campaign and that lifts Black Pudding out of just being a madcap medley of monsters, Classes, and NPCs.
Again, just as in previous issues, Black Pudding #5 has too many NPCs and whilst there is still room for ‘Meatshields of the Bleeding Ox’, it should ideally be reduced in size to make way for other content. Especially the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ campaign which deserves more attention in the pages of the fanzine. Once again, Black Pudding #5 combines a slightly gonzo style and look in a professionally published package offering fun new content and the promise of more of the ‘Doomslakers!’ campaign setting.

[Fanzine Focus XXV] The Undercroft No. 13

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.
Published since July 2014 by the Melsonian Arts Council, the frequency of issues of the fanzine, The Undercroft is no longer as regular as it once was. After a four-year gap between the publication of The Undercroft No. 10 and The Undercroft No. 11 in August, 2020, it was something of a surprise to see the publication of The Undercroft No. 12 the following October. In addition, although previous issues provided support for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, the more recent issues have moved away from providing direct support to providing not only support for the Old School Renaissance in general, and thus any fantasy retroclone. The Undercroft No. 11 even went as far to provide support for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition! There is no support for that roleplaying game in The Undercroft No. 13, although there is advice for using one of the articles with it. Otherwise, the issue does feel as if it is moving away from its Old School Renaissance origins.
The Undercroft No. 13 contains but three articles. The first of these is Sándor Gebei’s ‘Familiars for Witches’. This is a list of six dark and disturbing alternatives to the familiars that you might find in other roleplaying games with witches. For example, a witch has three crows, out of whose eyes she can see and cast hexes. Each time she casts a hex via one of her crows, it is set free from the witch’s bidding. When the witch subsequently strangles someone with her own hands, the victim returns to the witch as one of her crows. The other five familiars are of a similar or worse nature.
The main article in The Undercroft No. 13 is ‘So, it’s the End of the World’ by Dennis Manning. This is an exploration of the post-apocalypse genre. It is a solid overview, beginning with asking the cause of the disaster, such as a new Ice Age or extreme flooding from Climate Change or a virus, a plague, or zombie outbreak unleashed as the result of ritual magics or super science, before emphasising that adventures in this genre are about survival and rebuilding rather than delving and plundering. It suggests the use of Resilience value to represent what is essentially a Player Character’s mental Hit Points. If through loss, tragedy, or danger, enough points of Resilience is lost to reduce it to zero, the player rerolls a new total on the next lower die type, potentially gains a Condition, such as ‘Sleeping less than usual’ or ‘Temper tantrums’, and continues playing. If the die type for a Player Character’s Resilience drops below a four-sided die, it is time for him to retire. A table of Conditions is provided as is one for Injury Conditions, although the rules for handling injuries in the same fashion as Resilience are barely discussed.
Other rules for the genre include item quality, barter economics, personal inventory and storage, and detailing and running the homebase. The Player Characters are expected to protect the inhabitants of their base, build and manage resources—represented by die types, and face the consequences of their actions if the inhabitants are upset at all, such as killing or exiling a resident or exposing them to danger. There is a table for this, as there is for individualising the home base, essentially the reason it was selected in the first place. The rules creating and running a homebase and the dangers to the well-being of the Player Characters and the residents are all serviceable. Serviceable and no more, because they are not really anything which has not been seen before, whether in fanzines or other roleplaying games. Of course, if the genre and the set-up is new to the reader, then fine, but if not, the rules feel somewhat out of place in the fanzine, too modern a subject or genre in comparison to the usual Old School Renaissance fantasy that is usual fare for The Undercroft. So it is debatable just much use a reader of the fanzine will get out of them. The lack of examples do not help with this either, and overall, ‘So, it’s the End of the World’ feels as if it is actually the prototype for ‘The Apocalypse Hack’ a la The Black Hack and perhaps might have been suited to a dedicated ‘post-apocalypse’ issue or even roleplaying game of its own rather than sandwiched between two fantasy articles.
Rounding out The Undercroft No. 13 is Alex Clements’ ‘You Have Been Cursed’, a list of mostly minor curses that can be inflicted in the Player Characters for fun and roleplaying potential. It suggests a change to the rules for curses and removing them in Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. In particular, needing a Remove Curse spell of a particular Level to remove a curse, either that or fulfilling the removal terms of the curse. A typical curse states that the Player Character has been cursed by Sainted Bartholomew and consequently badgers hate the Player Character. They will crawl from their cets in the dead of to seek him out, perhaps even take him whilst he is awake, though probably not as badgers are strong, but not foolish. They are patient and they are good tunnelers… As can be seen, not every curse has conditions which can be fulfilled in order to lift it, but all thirty-six are inventive and engaging and are really going to make a player curse his Dungeon Master.
The Undercroft No. 13 needs a slight edit in place, but is otherwise neat and tidy, and enjoyably illustrated. The cover, wraparound in full colour, is weird and creepy. 
The Undercroft No. 12 felt slight because of the long articles, and so does The Undercroft No. 13—for exactly the same reason. Further, as reasonable as they are, not all of the articles in The Undercroft No. 13 fit the fanzine and whilst the individual articles are in no way bad, together the end result is underwhelming rather than engaging.

[Fanzine Focus XXV] Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Another choice is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Published by Straycouches PressCrawl! is one such fanzine dedicated to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Since Crawl! No. 1 was published in March, 2012 has not only provided ongoing support for the roleplaying game, but also been kept in print by Goodman Games. Now because of online printing sources like Lulu.com, it is no longer as difficult to keep fanzines from going out of print, so it is not that much of a surprise that issues of Crawl! remain in print. It is though, pleasing to see a publisher like Goodman Games support fan efforts like this fanzine by keeping them in print and selling them directly.

Where Crawl! No. 1 was something of a mixed bag, Crawl! #2 was a surprisingly focused, exploring the role of loot in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and describing various pieces of treasure and items of equipment that the Player Characters might find and use. Similarly, Crawl! #3 was just as focused, but the subject of its focus was magic rather than treasure. Unfortunately, the fact that a later printing of Crawl! No. 1 reprinted content from Crawl! #3 somewhat undermined the content and usefulness of Crawl! #3. Fortunately, Crawl! Issue Number Four was devoted to Yves Larochelle’s ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’, a scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game for characters of Fifth Level. Crawl! Issue V continued the run of themed issues, focusing on monsters, but ultimately to not always impressive effect, whilst Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection presented some interesting versions of classic Dungeons & Dragons-style Classes for Dungeon Crawl Classics, though not enough of them. Crawl! Issue No. 7: Tips! Tricks! Traps! was a bit of bit of a medley issue, addressing a number of different aspects of dungeoneering and fantasy roleplaying, Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! did a fine job of giving rules for guns and exploring how to use in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.
Published in January, 2014, Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder continues the run of focused issues of the fanzine. In fact, the focus has got tighter and tighter with each subsequent issue such that Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder contains just the two articles—a scenario and an encounter, both of which are written by Daniel J. Bishop, who has written quite a lot for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. The scenario is ‘The Arwich Grinder’ of the title and it is designed as a ‘Character Funnel’. If there is a singular feature to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, it is the ‘Character Funnel’. This takes Zero Level Player Characters—usually four per player—and pushes them through a Zero Level dungeon. Devoid of the abilities and Hit Points that a Class would grant them, a Class is what each of these Player Characters aspires to and can acquire if they survive the challenge each of them will face in the dungeon or adventure. Thus prepared by their terrible experiences they can go onto greater adventures of ever higher and higher Levels. In the meantime, there is the ‘Character Funnel’ in which there is death and danger aplenty, as well as a challenge for the designer, because every has to present the right mix of death and danger if any of the characters are to survive. This is because the characters lack the abilities, spells, and combat acumen that First Level adventurers possess, instead they have to rely upon their luck and their wits.
The scenario begins in almost traditional fashion for the Player Character—they begin in The Hound, the village tavern. Suddenly, a Very Large Man stumbles into the tavern and collapses. Short, but of enormous girth with short arms and legs, he is naked, and also dead. From no discernible cause. However, in his hands he clutches a bonnet belonging to the beautiful Bessie Curwen, one of the Curwen family which has lived up in the pine woods surrounding Arwich Village for long as anyone remembers. The Curwen family keep themselves to themselves, a little odd perhaps and rarely venturing down to the village, but it has always been kind to the inhabitants of Arwich Village. During the very hard winter two years ago, they helped keep many alive with freshly caught food. So the village owes at least a debt of gratitude to the Curwens, and thus somebody must venture up to their family home to find out what has happened and if everyone is all right. That someone will be the Player Characters.
Mention the name Curwen and all good gamers—and especially those with a penchant for Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying—will be thinking of H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ and they would be almost right to make that connection. ‘The Arwich Grinder’ is a Lovecraftian ‘Character Funnel’, but it has elements of ‘The Dunwich Horror’ too, and whilst the setting is the Curwen family home, it is in effect, a dungeon. The Player Characters will climb up into the woods and perhaps after an encounter, find the Curwen family home. It is damp and dilapidated, mould-ridden and malodorous, seemingly abandoned except for the senile and the unhinged. There are signs of slaughter almost everywhere—hooks and cleavers, preserved meats and curing meats, meat grinders, butcher’s knives and aprons, a coppery tang on the tongue, and more… There are pigs too, but seemingly all too few. The Curwen family must have done a great deal of hunting…
The Curwen family seat is described across two storeys, an attic, a cellar, and caves below that. There are some forty or so locations, each full of details—large and small, which constantly nag at the Player Characters. There are of course horrors to be encountered, and like any good ‘adventure’ for Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying, the best solution would be to run away, especially given the capabilities of Zero Level characters. That is, all but nothing. Eventually, whether through the nagging nature of the facts discovered at the Curwen home or direct confrontation, the Player Characters will realise what is going on. Amusingly, the best solution given to what is actually going on in the Curwen household is a cliché favoured by many a fan of Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying.
However, ‘The Arwich Grinder’ does come unstuck slightly when it comes to the explanation of exactly what is going on in the Curwen household. The problem is that author never tells the Judge what is going on and it is entirely up to the judge to read through the scenario and put two and two together. It is actually fairly easy, but effectively doubles the preparation time of what is actually a very easy scenario to prepare and run. In fact, the scenario could almost be run from the page with no preparation, it is that straightforward. There is a time limit in terms of when the Player Characters can explore the Curwen house and means to drive them to act if they decide not to, but it feels a bit forced and perhaps it would be easier to simply move the time frame so that the Player Characters get there when they need to. Another issue is that although ‘The Arwich Grinder’ is Lovecraftian themed, both it and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game lack a Sanity mechanic. Which is fine, since the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is a fantasy roleplaying game, but perhaps the Sanity mechanic could be adopted from Crawl-thulhu: A Two-Fisted ’Zine of Lovecraftian Horror Issue 1? Or indeed, ‘The Arwich Grinder’ run using the rules from that fanzine?

Overall, ‘The Arwich Grinder’ is a decent scenario, which although it does not actually explain what is going on, has it instead become apparent during play. All the whilst skirting around not one, but two short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. It is grimy and atmospheric, and like every ‘Character Funnel’ before it, deadly. The scenario does not necessarily set out to kill the Player Characters—except where it matters, and that gives both room and time for the players to build a rapport with and between their characters, and those of the other players. Which means that when they finally fed into the grinding climax, the deaths of Player Characters are going for just that little bit more.
The second entry in Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder is also by Daniel J. Bishop. ‘But He Sure Had Guts! A Short Encounter’ lives up to both its title and subtitle. It is short and it does involve guts, providing a nasty comeuppance for any Player Character who happened to have disemboweled an opponent in the last few days. The Player Character begins to dream about intestines, seemly alive, seemly wanting to crush? Are they real? Do they belong to someone, perhaps even the Player Character? This is really only suitable for a campaign involving body horror, and maybe even then, it might be better if it remained just a nightmare... ‘But He Sure Had Guts! A Short Encounter’ is weird and not a little creepy, but too short to really build up the atmosphere of ‘The Arwich Grinder’, so it feels very much like an afterthought.
Physically, Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder is decently presented. The writing and editing are good, and much of the artwork is certainly decent enough to be shown to the Player Characters. As to the content, ‘But He Sure Had Guts! A Short Encounter’ is very much an afterthought, whereas ‘The Arwich Grinder’ is intended as, and is, the main attraction. Sometimes it can feel as if there are too many ‘Character Funnel’ style adventures for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. This is no surprise as it is the signature feature of the roleplaying game and it almost a rite of passage for an designer to write one for it. ‘The Arwich Grinder’ stands out because of its Lovecraftian themes and atmosphere and potential adaptation, either for First Level Player Characters or to a modern iteration. Either way, the scenario is easy to prepare and should provide a session or two of grimy, creepy play. Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder provides an atmospheric ‘Character Funnel’ which players of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game who like horror will enjoy.

Jonstown Jottings #44: Wenkarleos

 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 Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—

What is it?
Wenkarleos presents an NPC, his entourage, and associated cult for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.
It is a thirty-one page, full colour, 2.23 MB PDF.
The layout is clean and tidy, and its illustrations good.

Where is it set?
Wenkarleos is nominally set in Tarsh and Sartar, but the NPC and his entourage can be encountered almost anywhere the Game Master decides.

Who do you play?
No specific character types are required to encounter Wenkarleos. Lunar Tarshites, Old Tarshites, and adherents of the Seven Mothers can have interesting interactions with Wenkarleos.

What do you need?
Wenkarleos requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. In addition, A Rough Guide to Glamour may be useful as an introduction to Lunar culture and politics, The Glorantha Sourcebook for recent history, and potentially the sourcebooks on Lunar Tarsh and Old Tarsh available for previous versions of the roleplaying game.
What do you get?
The second volume of ‘Monster of the Month’ presents not monsters in the sense of creatures and spirits and gods that was the feature of the first volume. Instead, it focuses upon Rune Masters, those who have achieved affinity with their Runes and gained great magics, mastered skills, and accrued allies—corporeal and spiritual. They are powerful, influential, and potentially important in the Hero Wars to come that herald the end of the age and beginning of another. They can be allies, they can be enemies, and whether ally or enemy, some of them can still be monsters.
The fourth entry is Wenkarleos, which describes a Rune Lord of the Seven Mothers. The ‘Gold-Giving Son of Gartred’, Wenkarleos of Furtherest is the head of the Gartredi Clan in Lunar Tarsh, a fierce supporter of King Pharandros and stalwart opponent of the Fazzursons faction in the civil war in Tarsh. He dreams of building a ‘Greater Tarsh’, but has been tasked with finding allies to support his side in the civil war. A former hoplite file leader and captain serving under the famous General Fazzur Wideread, he is rarely without a small cohort of troops, whom he trains hard to fight together, and whilst a good swordsman himself—though it helps that one of his bound spirits is an ancient spirit of kopises, he a skilled tactician and magician. In addition, like all Rune Lords, he is accompanied by his own retinue who include a loyal soldier, his Orlanthi lover and spy, and a Lunar sorcerer, who serves as his war caster. All four are fully detailed, including their equipment, their spells, and any allied or bound spirits. Some of these will prove entertaining for the Game Master to roleplay, such as ‘Abeladrus’ Tankard’, occupied by the spirit of a former labourer who possesses defeated opponents and drives them to drink and the Mistress of Unconditional Desires drives her victims mad through visions and sensations as she reveals the unconditional love and acceptance of the Lunar Way.
As well as presenting Wenkarleos and his retinue, the supplement discusses his tactics—particularly the way in which he has drilled his soldiers with certain set manoeuvres, and his extensive use of magic, including the use of the Multispell Rune spell, spell matrix enchantments, and high storage of personal POW, often donated by his loyal followers, who are in turn handsomely rewarded. Both the use of the Multispell Rune spell and spell matrix enchantments are fairly complex, so will need careful study upon the part of the Game Master to use effectively in-game.
It also suggests how Wenkarleos can be used in-game, whether as an ally or an enemy, potentially serving as a source of conflict with Tarshites—Lunar or not, especially if like Vostor from The Broken Tower, has the Passion of Hate (King Pharandros). Thus he can be used to pull the Player Characters into the Tarshite Civil War, and thus later, events during the early years of the Hero Wars and the rise of Argrath Whitebull. There is potential here for a long-term campaign in which as allies or agents of Wenkarleos, the Player Characters will be facing agents of Argrath Whitebull’s allies in the Tarshite Civil War. Either way, Wenkarleos is best introduced early on in a campaign. Of course, an Orlanthi or Sartarite campaign would more likely to see Wenkarleos as the enemy, and that may preclude his use in some campaigns.
Lastly, two adventure seeds are included, though both use as an enemy rather than an ally. A new magical item, Philigos Medallions, is also described. These were made by King Phargentes of Tarsh and grant those attuned with them the Sense Assassin skill.
Is it worth your time?YesWenkarleos presents a potentially interesting ally or enemy who can be used to draw a campaign into the politics of Tarsh and the early years of the Hero Wars, and so provide some time in the spotlight for any Tarshite or Seven Mothers-worshipping Player Characters.NoWenkarleos presents connections to Tarsh which may draw a campaign set in Sartar too far north and as yet, the politics and situation in Tarsh in the period when RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is set, remain relatively unexplored.MaybeWenkarleos presents a potentially interesting ally or enemy, whose politics may radically differ from the Player Characters or the campaign, and who may just a little too complex in terms of his magic to use easily.

The Devil in the Dreamlands

Since the publication of Call of Cthulhu in 1981, the Mythos has proliferated into numerous other genres and roleplaying games, including the fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons. For example, Wizards of the Coast published Call of Cthulhu d20 in 2001, whilst Realms of Crawling Chaos from Goblinoid Games explored the Mythos for the Old School Renaissance. More recently, Petersen Games presented the entities, races, gods, and spells of the Mythos for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, enabling the Dungeon Master to bring those elements of cosmic horror in her fantasy campaign. What though, about using Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition to run campaigns involving cosmic horror in the more modern periods normally associated with Lovecraftian investigative roleplaying—much like Wizards of the Coast did with Call of Cthulhu d20? For that, there is Whispers in the Dark from Saturday Morning Scenarios, also the publisher of Harper’s Tale: A Forest Adventure Path for 5e, a campaign for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, suitable for a younger or family audience. Whispers in the Dark is definitely not, being a horror setting in which stalwart Investigators confront the forces of the Mythos or ‘Yog-Sothothery’, and do not always succeed or come away unscathed—physically or mentally. The starting point is Whispers in the Dark: Quickstart Rules for 5e, and although there is not yet a full roleplaying rulebook for Whispers in the Dark, there is a combined setting and novel.

Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting and its novella, The Devil’s City, which explore the early history of the city of Chicago through its rise and explosive growth to prominence as an important trade and transport hub on the Great Lakes to the World’s Columbian Exposition, the most influential world’s fair in history in 1893 and the horrors which would be revealed within the walls of the World’s Fair Hotel at the hands of Herman Webster Mudgett, also known as H.H. Holmes, arguably America’s first and most notorious serial killer. Inspired by Eric Larson’s The Devil in the White City, the novella serves as a prequel ‘Welcome to my Parlour’, introducing the reader to the five pre-generated Investigators who one-by-one fall prey to Mudgett’s dark desires and those of his master, Atlach-Nacha. It is dark and ghoulish piece, which can be read on its own, but should really be read by each of the five players in readiness to roleplay through the scenario. And of course, the Game Master should also read it as part of her preparation to run it. Overall, it sets the tone for the scenario, which like the novella, combines elements of both survival and body horror. Neither the novella nor the supplement are for the faint-hearted.

Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting opens with ‘People of Color in Late 19th Century America’, an essay written by Doctor Robert Greene II, Assistant Professor of History at Claflin University to share the perspective of those African Americans who were resident in Chicago and helped to build the city. It is accompanied by biographies of the leading Black figures of the period, including Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Nancy Green. No character write-ups are provided of these figures by intention, but the essay encourages a Game Master to use them and the lives of Black Chicagoans to add veracity to her game. Unfortunately, as interesting as the essay is, the authors of the supplement do not support it with scenario hooks and advice, which is a missed opportunity and would have helped a Game Master develop the veracity that Doctor Greene II suggests is possible. One interesting involvement of the leading figures profiled here is that they and other African American activists protested at the lack of an African American pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition, but again, this is not something that the authors of the supplement support.

There are plenty of scenario hooks throughout the rest of Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting. As it progresses through the founding and history of the city, covering in turn the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the founding of Montgomery Ward, the first mail order catalogue in 1872, the Unsightly Beggar Law of 1881, and more. Of course, this includes the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. This is almost the centrepiece of the supplement, and so is explored in some detail. This includes write-ups for many of the figures involved in the event, including its architect, Daniel Burnham, Harry Houdini who performed there, William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody and Annie Oakley of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West & Congress of Rough Riders of the World, which also performed there, but was not associated with the event. Numerous tents are placed along the Midway for Investigators attending the World’s Columbian Exposition to encounter and enter, experiencing bright, sometimes strange proprietors and incidences in an almost carnival-like atmosphere, including cockroach races and the Light of Ra. These are more odd than Mythos.

The various districts and places of the city are presented, including Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, the Yard which form its meatpacking district, Bubbly Creek, a foul, bubbling arm of the Chicago River, Cabbage Patch or Old Town with its St. Michael’s Church built as a haven for German immigrants, and Lincoln Park with its zoo, before expanding out to the surrounding states. However, as interesting as these descriptions are, they lack geographical context as the period maps are too small to use effectively. Numerous organisations—clubs, cults, and coteries are detailed, which can become allies, enemies, and even patrons. They include the Nightworms, dedicated to the preservation, protection, and provision of books of all kinds; the Whitechapel Club, the informal counterpart to the social club of the Chicago Press Club, fascinated with some of the ghoulish incidents its members have reported on; and the Black Star Society, dedicated to spreading the influence of the Yellow Sign. Some of these are aware of the strangeness going on in the city, most are not. The various gangs and organised crime is given a similar treatment, the Italian mob in particular.

Although several of the story hooks in Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting hint at the Mythos, the supplement is not a full treatment of its presence in the city and there is no overview of it in the city. Notable inclusions include the Grobowskis, a pack of Ghouls which police the Yard district with an iron for both mundane and Mythos incidents, and the Chicago Athletic Association, a private club whose inner circle worship Ithaqua and spread his worship through tonics of disreputable source that enhance the athleticism of other members. Its treatment gets fully underway with how parts of the city have influenced the Dreamlands—Abattoir Fields, an unsettling hunting ground overcast with rusty brown, bruised clouds and smelling of copper created by the slaughter of animals in the stockyards; the Conflagration—a land of smouldering rubble and whirling ash created by the Great Fire of 1871; and of course, the World’s Fair Hotel, its presence dedicated and reinforced to Atlach-Nacha by Mudgett. In return, the Dreamlands intrudes into the mundane world, especially in the World’s Fair Hotel.

Besides the main scenario, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’, Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting includes a story arc and a campaign jump-start. The story arc, ‘Hot Night in the Olde Town’ is a tale of gang revenge which begins with a bombing, whilst ‘Procurements & Acquisitions’ is the campaign jump-start. The Investigators are hired by a Chinese man to locate some artefacts that he cannot due to the difficulty of manoeuvring in American society and the racism he faces. The set-up can be tied into the organisations previously described as well as Mudgett and the World’s Fair Hotel, and gives the starting point from which the Game Master can develop further using the material in the supplement.

The main feature in Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting is the ‘World’s Fair Hotel’, its ‘Hotel Staff’—including Mudgett and his co-conspirators, and the scenario, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’. The hotel itself is extensively mapped and detailed, there being some eighty locations across three storeys and the basement. The ground floor consists of retail premises, a hotel on the first floor, and Mudgett’s rooms and other facilities on the third, whilst in the basement, nastier rooms can be found. Extensive descriptions are given of its ordinary rooms, strange locks, chutes, extensive secret doors, odd plumbing, locked rooms which cannot be opened from the inside—some airtight, others connected to pipes which pump gas into the room, surgical tables, acid vats, hanging rooms, and more. The descriptions are clearly marked in red, whilst throughout sidebars discuss other features and rules, such as the infamous lockable chute which delivers bodies from the top floor to the basement, gambling, and the intrusion of the Dreamlands into the hotel. It is its own little world, a murder hotel in which the supernaturally enhanced Mudgett sees all and controls much, and into which the authors want to drive the Investigators…

The scenario, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’, is best played using the given pre-generated Investigators whose backgrounds have been presented in the novella, The Devil’s City. They are Fourth Level Player Characters, each of whom has fallen prey to Mudgett’s predations and awake to find themselves trapped in the basement of their hotel. They must face their own nightmares as well as the horrors of the hotel, and perhaps may learn of their captor’s secrets before they can escape. Essentially, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’ presents another way of approaching the set-up of the hotel and its murderous proprietor, one that confronts the Investigators with the existence of the Mythos much earlier on and more directly than the options elsewhere in the supplement. The scenario is likely to take two or three sessions to play through at most, and leaves what comes next up to the Game Master.

The scenario, whose title references Mudgett’s arachnid master, includes and highlights a number of trigger warnings, including body horror, child ghosts, torture devices, forceful imprisonment, human experimentation, cannibalism, and emotional abuse. This is appropriate and there is no denying the number of strong subjects and themes entailed in ‘Welcome to My Parlour’, but there is potentially another issue with the scenario, that of using the Mythos in this fashion. In other words, using it to explain Mudgett’s monstrous crimes. This is not uncommon in Lovecraftian investigative horror set in the nineteenth century, especially when it comes to the use of Jack the Ripper (and also Sherlock Holmes), the use of which is simply trite. The use of Mudgett and the World’s Fair Hotel does not feel that, primarily because the subject matter is unfamiliar, but that still leaves the matter of using the Mythos in conjunction with both. Fortunately, Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting does not employ the Mythos to explain or provide a possible excuse for Mudgett’s crimes, but rather has the Mythos take advantage of someone who is already a monster and exacerbates his true nature. Of course, running and playing a campaign set in Chicago at the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition means it is difficult to avoid Mudgett and the World’s Fair Hotel, nevertheless,  both the Game Master and her players may want to be aware of the nature of the crimes before beginning play.

Rounding out Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting is a quartet of appendices. For the Game Master there is ‘Welcome to My Parlour Statblocks’; a ‘Gamemaster’s Toolbox’ of Hit Dice, Creature Size, and Challenge Ratings; a list of ‘Publications of the 19th Century’ and ‘Patent Medication Names’; and the ‘World’s Fair Hotel Maps’. For the players it includes ‘The Devil’s City Pre-gens’—the five pre-generated Investigators for the scenario, ‘Welcome to My Parlour’ and ‘New Investigator Options’, which adds a new Ancestry in form of Tcho-Tcho, new Backgrounds including Athlete, Explorer, Religious Scholar, and Teamster, new Feats, and a new Alignment system. The latter switches from the traditional ‘law versus chaos’ and ‘good versus evil’ axes to ‘good versus evil’, ‘order versus chaos’, and ‘selfless versus selfish’. A Player Character typically has one or two of these, and can add another as a result of a major, usually traumatic, life event. Each axis is a scale, designed to provide a player some flexibility in how his Investigator reacts and changes over time. A player is expected to write a narrative description of his Investigator’s Alignment, again providing a player with greater flexibility in how he portrays his Investigator. Although the five pre-generated Investigators are nicely presented, they could have done with clearer backgrounds for players who have not necessarily read The Devil’s City.

Physically, Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting is a well-presented book. The artwork is decent and the maps excellent. It could have done with an index, and in places the writing could have been clearer. The organisation does not always feel logical either, the Mythos sitting alongside the mundane at times when it feels it should have been placed later in the book. In places it feels as if the content has been developed in fits and starts, like Kickstarter stretch goals, and whilst everything seems to have good reason to be in the book, it feels fragmented in places.

Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting is not the definitive supplement for Chicago during the nineteenth century or the World’s Columbian Exposition, whether for Whispers in the Dark or Cthulhu by Gaslight. Which leaves the problem of quite identifying what it actually is, because its focus is ultimately not on the city itself and the great events of World’s Columbian Exposition, but rather on the World’s Fair Hotel, Herman Webster Mudgett, and the scenario, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’, as well as supporting it with encounters and campaign frameworks which lead back to the World’s Fair Hotel. So it feels like three books—one devoted to Chicago, one to the World’s Columbian Exposition, and very much the largest one to the World’s Fair Hotel, Herman Webster Mudgett, and the scenario, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’—rather than just a single, large book. It does not help that there is no real overview of Chicago in 1893—mundane or Mythos related, no clear, easy to use map of the city, and as well-intentioned as the opening essay ‘People of Color in Late 19th Century America’ is, it is disappointing that as upfront as it is, the supplement just does not bring that into play.

There is a lot to like about Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting. The authors provide plenty of information, scenario hooks, and playable content for Chicago, describe the World’s Fair Hotel and Herman Webster Mudgett in ghoulish detail, and present multiple means to bring the Investigators to his murder hotel, but the supplement only feels like a whole sourcebook when it focuses in on World’s Fair Hotel, Herman Webster Mudgett, and the scenario, ‘Welcome to my Parlour’. More of a scenario and a potential campaign set-up, Horror in the Windy City: A Whispers in the Dark Setting needs the hands of an experienced Game Master to develop it into something more than that.

A Cthulhu Collectanea III

As its title suggests Bayt al Azif – A magazine for Cthulhu Mythos roleplaying games is a magazine dedicated to roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. Published by Bayt al Azif it includes content for both Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition from Chaosium, Inc. and Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press, which means that its content can also be used with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and The Fall of DELTA GREEN. Published in November, 2020, Bayt al Azif Issue #03 does not include any content for use with the latter two roleplaying games, but instead specifically includes three scenarios—stated for both Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition and Trail of Cthulhu (and therefore would actually work with The Fall of DELTA GREEN if the Keeper made the adjustments necessary), discussion of various aspects of Lovecraftian investigative horror, interviews, an introduction to Call of Cthulhu in Japan, a review of a recently-rereleased classic campaign for Call of Cthulhu,an overview of Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying in 2019, and more. All of which, once again, comes packaged in a solid, full colour, Print On Demand book.

Bayt al Azif Issue #03 opens with editorial, ‘Houses of the Unholy’, which discusses how the Mythos was and is never one thing, but quite mutable and what we make it, and that in order to do that we should run it and play it, before diving into ‘Sacrifices’, the letters pages. The inclusion of a letters pages lifts Bayt al Azif above being just a supplement, and whilst the letters are most congratulatory, they marks the start of another role for the magazine. Which is to help build a community. The more fulsome content gets underway with ‘Cthulhu in 2019: A Retrospective’. Witten by Dean Engelhardt of CthulhuReborn.com—publisher of Convicts & Cthulhu: Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying in the Penal Colonies of 18th Century Australia and The Apocthulhu Roleplaying Game, this covers the releases, major and minor, through the year, from each of the various publishers, beginning with Chaosium, Inc., before moving on to Stygian Fox, Golden Goblin Press, and Sons of the Singularity. Amateur publications and magazines are not ignored, including Bayt al Azif, and the author also covers Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press and Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game from Arc Dream Publishing, plus numerous other Cthulhu horror-themed roleplaying games, such as Sandy Petersen Games’ Ghoul Island series and the Weird Frontiers RPG (previously known and identified here as Dark Trails: A Weird West RPG) from Stiff Whiskers Press. Notably, it touches upon just a handful of the entries available on the Miskatonic Repository, which in future is likely to become too unwieldy to cover effectively as the number of titles grow and grow. Lastly there is an examination of titles currently awaiting fulfilment on Kickstarter. Each of the various is accompanied by a thumbnail description, enough detail to spur the reader’s interest, but not really a review—although the author does offer an opinion in places. This update dispenses with the references to individual reviews on Reviews from R’lyeh included in previous entries in the series, which to be fair saves spaces as more and more titles are covered. As in previous issues, this is an extensive overview, which again nicely chronicles the year keeps us abreast of anything that the reader may have missed or forgotten.
Bayt al Azif Issue #03 continues the Germanic feel of Bayt al Azif Issue 02. This is because it reprints—in English—content drawn from the German Cthulhu magazine, Cthulhus Rus, which began with ‘False Friends’, a 1920s scenario set in the university town of Göttingen by Philipp Christophel and Ralf Sandfuchs. Its sequel, ‘The Murders of Mr. S’ moves the action to 1925 and Berlin, making it even more suitable to be run using Berlin: The Wicked City – Unveiling the Mythos in Weimar Berlin. When a number of scientists at a pharmaceutical plant in Berlin are inexplicably murdered and the letter ‘S’ written in their blood beside them, the lurid newspaper reporting dubs the killer ‘Mr. S’, the Investigators are hired by one of its owners (who previously hired them in ‘False Friends’) to find out who is responsible and whether there is an ongoing threat to his business. The scenario takes the investigators into Berlin’s industrial district, so has a different feel to it. Although given permission by their employer to investigate events at the plant, the Investigators will be received with a certain reluctance by his partner and a certain disregard by the victims’ fellow Bulgarian scientists, all three of whom are reluctant to talk about their research. With echoes of Fritz Lang’s M, ‘The Murders of Mr. S’ is a decent investigative story, but the Keeper may need to work that little bit harder to make sure that the players and their Investigators make connections with some of the NPCs and so push the scenario to a conclusion.
The second scenario in Bayt al Azif Issue #03 is ‘In the House of Glass’. Written by Gail Clendenin, this is a modern survival horror scenario, a ‘locked room’ one-shot set during the hours of daylight at an arts event. And it does not involve the Yellow King. The Pierce Botanical Conservatory is about to hold a stunning art exhibit by famed glassblowing artist Galen Tisselly, and whether connected to the conservatory staff, donors to the conservatory, or fellow artists, the Investigators are invited there to be present during the installation a few days before the exhibit opens. Played out over three different biomes—mountain, desert, and tropical—after they discover one of the staff dead, the Investigators’ visit quickly turns weird as glass sculptures seem to come to life and stalk them and the great sheets of glass that form the conservatory walls warp and show strange visions. The Investigators will need to avoid the strange things hunting them and locate their source if they are to bring their nightmare to an end. ‘In the House of Glass’ is an enjoyably inventive scenario which takes its inspiration—a pair of historical greenhouses—and combines it with the artwork of Dale Chihuly. The scenario is well written with decent staging advice and good handouts, and should deliver a weird and creepy session of roleplaying.
The third and final scenario in the issue is ‘Operation Ice Dragon: 1960s scenario’ by Rich McKee. This is a Cold War scenario set in a remote military base in the Artic in 1960. Part of United States’ Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line system intended to warn of imminent Soviet nuclear attack,  Ice Dragon Station has recently been subject to a series of strange signals which have interfered with the station’s radios. The government has already sent a team led by a radio expert, Doctor Kreuger, to the source of the signals, but when the Investigators arrive shortly after, the signals intensify and begin driving the staff at the base crazy. They quickly find themselves going after the Doctor and his team, but not before some scary moments in the base. Essentially, Ice Station Zebra meets the Mythos, this is nicely atmospheric piece with certain Pulp sensibilities that make it suitable for use with Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and The Fall of DELTA GREEN.
In the Designers & Dragons series, Shannon Appelcline delivered a five-part history of the roleplaying industry. Of course, that history is ongoing, and as he charts further aspects of it at RPG.net, he continues to update previous histories. As the title suggests, ‘Designers & Dragons Next – Chaosium: 1997-Present’ updates the previous history begun in the series, bringing Chaosium up-to-date, examining its ups and downs of the last two decades or so, essentially spanning  the period between founder Greg Stafford leaving the company in 1997 to his returning and sad passing away in 2018. The history is tumultuous and difficult and most fans of Lovecraftian investigative horror will be aware of much it, but nevertheless, the article is informative and explains the reasons behind Chaosium’s actions over the years.
Although Call of Cthulhu has been published in numerous languages, little consideration is given to how it is played or perceived outside of the English language, so it was a surprise to learn that the roleplaying game is very popular in Japan. ‘Kuturufu No Yobi-Goe: How New Media and Indie Pirate Culture Elevated Call of Cthulhu to the Most Popular RPG in Japan’ by Andy Kitkowski, we get to see how and why. This is a fascinating look at the roleplaying culture in Japan and just how its fans play the game, organise events, and more. It highlights how the Japanese roleplaying hobby enjoy replays of adventures—both in the form of transcriptions and YouTube videos, how many women are playing, and how the Japanese understand H.P. Lovecraft’s racism. This is most interesting article in Bayt al Azif Issue #03, enabling the reader to look at the hobby from a very different perspective and way of playing.
In ‘The Mythos and Technology’ Tyler Omichinski explores how the Mythos might interest with modern technology, suggesting that to properly combine the two, a Keeper would need to research her ideas and be consistent. The author also gives a real-world example, that of the Necronomicon, published by Avon Books in 1977 and asks what would happen if it were actually a scanned version of the Necronomicon. The article is short and really does not do the subject justice, but the addition of a real-world example gives it a little more heft.
Sanity and losing it is a fundamental part of Call of Cthulhu, but it can be difficult to handle and roleplaying. Jared Smith, editor of Bayt al Azif suggests ways of handling the set-up, the roleplay, and the mechanics of Sanity in ‘The Best People Usually Are: Sanity in RPGs’. Paired with ‘Sanity Point Costs: Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition’, it offers good advice and is worth reading no matter how long you have been running Call of Cthulhu
Jared Smith offers just the single interview in this third issue, but it is with the most important person in the history of Call of Cthulhu in ‘Something Never Seen Before: An Interview with Sandy Petersen’. This is with the creator of the roleplaying game, Sandy Petersen, and covers his introduction to gaming, his creation and first playthroughs of Call of Cthulhu, creating for his own company and designing for the video games industry, and more. Like the interviews in the previous issues, is interesting and informative, and is likely one that all fans of Lovecraftian investigative horror would want to read. Evan Johnston continues his enjoyable comic strip, ‘Grave Spirits’, and Jason Smith contributes another entry in the ‘Sites of Antiquity’ series, this time ‘Cappadocia’ and suggests how this series of cave complexes in Turkey could be used with the Mythos.
Physically, with the third issue, Bayt al Azif keeps getting better and better in terms of production values and look. It is clean and tidy, and though it might need an edit in places, the main issue is that some of the artwork veers toward being cartoon-like.
Bayt al Azif Issue #03 is another decent issue of the magazine. It follows on from Bayt al Azif Issue #02 in containing longer articles and a more diverse range of voices. Again, the content from Cthulhus Rus opens up an aspect of the Call of Cthulhu community which would otherwise be inaccessible to the predominately English-speaking community, and of course, the scenarios are not only well done, but they also highlight Bayt al Azif as a vehicle for scenarios that whilst good, are not necessarily commercial enough to be published by Chaosium, Inc., Pelgrane Press, or a licensee.  In particular, ‘In the House of Glass’ and ‘Operation Ice Dragon: 1960s scenario’ stand out here. The former as a creepy, weird, craft-based one-shot, the latter as atmospheric, almost high adventure, but definitely peril on the ice mystery and chase that verges on the Pulp. The highlight though, is Andy Kitkowski’s ‘Kuturufu No Yobi-Goe: How New Media and Indie Pirate Culture Elevated Call of Cthulhu to the Most Popular RPG in Japan’, which is simply fascinating. 
Overall, Bayt al Azif Issue #03 provides solid support for, and about, Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying. With a good mix of decent scenarios and interesting articles, what more could you ask for?

Friday Fantasy: The Weird That Befell Drigbolton

Something fell to the earth in the middle of the night. It landed on the moors with a flash of light that turned night into day, made the hills tremble, and created a crater within which it pulses, alien and unnatural, exuding a jelly that the local folk from the nearby hamlet of Drigbolton lap up and consume with gleeful abandon. Now they dance and cavort, knowing their lives are about to change, for why else would they have been given the gift of star-jelly? As the firmament above hangs cracked open, others are taking an interest in the hamlet in the northern edge of the great wood known as Dolmenwood, an ancient and bucolic place of tall trees and thick soil, rich in fungi and festooned with moss and brambles, the haunt of the fey, witches, arcane druids, and rife with dark whimsy. Word has travelled amongst astrologers, seers, and wizards of all types that a star has fallen and when there is a fallen star, there is star-metal, a rare metal sought by many a great alchemist. Others may have heard that The Black Book of Llareggub, a notoriously repressed and rare tome of occult lore, has been seen in the region, whilst others worry that the fallen star is the work of a previously unknown Arch-Mage—surely it is in the best interests of the authorities to confirm that such a figure is operating in the area?

The is the set-up for The Weird That Befell Drigbolton, a scenario published by Necrotic Gnome, for use with Labyrinth Lord, but very easy to use with other retroclones. Designed for a party of Player Characters of Third and Fifth Levels, it is set in Dolmenwood, the great forest region currently only explored through the fanzine, Wormskin. It takes place in one hex, roughly six miles across, focusing in on and around the hamlet of Drigbolton, and is designed as a one hex, hexcrawl—or sandbox. Drigbolton lies at the heart of the hex, one of only four manmade features in the region, with another six consisting of bogs, caves, cliffs, lakes, pools, and woodland. The other feature is the crater where the star landed. The geographical limitations of the scenario means that essentially the whole hex and the adventure could easily be transplanted to a setting other than Dolmenwood, though the weird nature of the scenarios means that it may not fit that setting.

Besides the three hooks to bring the Player Characters—and if playing The Weird That Befell Drigbolton as a one-shot, why not mix-and-match the three to provide differing motivations and drive some in-party friction?—to Drigbolton, one of the major features of the scenario is the passing of time. In most of the major locations in the scenario, events will take place whether the Player Characters are there or not, so if the party arrives at a location two or more days into exploring the area, events will have already happened. This gives the scenario a strong sense of time passing and as the events get weirder and weirder, a sense of urgency as they escalate towards something… Though the Player Characters are unlikely to know quite what until it is too late.

Whether drawn by the lure of star-metal, the location of The Black Book of Llareggub, or rumours of a previously unknown Arch-Mage, the Player Characters will make their way to the hamlet where they find the Drigboltonians in high glee, giddily guzzling down pot after pot of the star-jelly, ladling it into their recipes, traipsing back and forth to the crater to collect yet more in whatever container they have to hand. The Player Characters will be encouraged to join in their religious fervour, but will be otherwise will find the Drigboltonians friendly and helpful, ready and willing to share all manner of rumours and conjecture as to the nature of what fell from the sky. This should spur the Player Characters to visit locations beyond the hamlet and so learn more. The likelihood is that this will include the Crater itself, the Oath House—home to the local ‘hearth-laird’, an old customary position in this region and the nearest thing that the scenario has to a dungeon, a nearby bog, and more. Wherever they go, the Player Characters will encounter the weird again and again—and increasingly weird. This starts with the lack of graveyards in Drigbolton, the Drigboltonians instead having a Room of Repast in their homes, where they keep their dead relatives, ancestor-worshipping them, and ritually, symbolically feeding them. Elsewhere, they will find fornicating statuary, learned taxidermy, ambulatory cuts of meat, awoken beasts high on the star-jelly, colours given to vagrancy, and that is just in the scenario’s set locations. The Weird That Befell Drigbolton also comes with multiple random events—environmental effects such as a sudden, localised downfall of purple rain or the sky being filled with laughter, encounters both mundane and weird, like a human maiden and hunters hunting unicorns or an awakened fox.

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is primarily an investigative and an exploration scenario, one with a countdown to something apocalyptic, unless the Player Characters intervene, though initially they will be unaware of the countdown. The likelihood is that the Player Characters will be overwhelmed by the weirdness that oozes and drips from every page, because the Game Master is presented with a wealth of weirdness and peculiar persons in and around Drigbolton portray. For the Game Master who enjoys the weird and roleplaying a wide cast of NPCs, many of them are going to be such fun to roleplay and she will find much to relish in The Weird That Befell Drigbolton.

However, The Weird That Befell Drigbolton could be better organised and certainly its maps could have done with a key, rather than having to flip through the book to find the right location description. This has been fixed with a reference sheet, but that is separate to the book. Another issue is that the writing is not as direct as it could be, so it requires a little more preparation than it really should. Then there is the issue of what happens after the countdown. This is left up to the Game Master to decide, but a suggestion or two might have been helpful.

Physically, The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is well presented. Although the writing could have done with a tighter edit, the artwork is decent, capturing much of the weirdness described in the text and all suitable to be shown to the Player Characters.

The Weird That Befell Drigbolton is probably just a little too weird and apocalyptic to serve as an introduction to Dolmenwood in an ongoing campaign, but as a one-shot or perhaps culmination of an ongoing campaign, it dishes out strangeness after strangeness inspired by both H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space. Then like the star-jelly itself, Necrotic Gnome bakes the bucolic fruitiness of Dolmenwood into The Weird That Befell Drigbolton’s mix to serve up a rich concoction of peculiarities and aberrations.

Jonstown Jottings #43: The Howling Tower

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 Glorantha13th Age Glorantha, and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

—oOo—

What is it?
The Howling Tower is a scenario for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It is based upon a scenario originally written in 1992 for use with RuneQuest III.

It is a thirty-four page, full colour, 35.07 MB PDF.
The layout is clean and tidy, and the artwork bright and colourful, almost cartoonish in places.
Where is it set?
The Howling Tower is set in and around the Upland Marsh in Sartar in Dragon Pass.

Who do you play?
A Lhankor Mhy priest or scholar, especially one with an interest in the Empire of Wyrm’s Friends, will have an interest in events will have an interest in the scenario, whilst any Humakti will relish the opportunity to strike at the undead in the Upland Marsh.

What do you need?
The Howling Tower requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the Glorantha Bestiary. In addition, RQ Adventures Fanzine #2 will be useful for an NPC who may be of interest if the Player Characters want more information about the Empire of Wyrm’s Friends. Tales of the Reaching Moon No.19, Wyrm’s Footnotes No.15, and Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes may also be of interest to the Game Master, but are absolutely not necessary to run The Howling Tower. The scenario Duck Tower is also referenced, but again, not necessary to play.
What do you get?The Howling Tower details a location in the Upland Marsh and the journey to get there. The tower is noted by those who venture into the marsh and those who live not far from its edge for the great howls of pain which seem to emanate daily from its walls. The Player Characters will be drawn to the tower after finding a map dating back to the time of the Empire of Wyrm’s Friends which shows its location. The map also has a verse on the back in Auld Wyrmish which suggests that further knowledge or treasure can be found within its walls. The map should ideally belong to a Lhankor Mhy priest or scholar, whether that is a Player Character or an NPC willing to hire the Player Characters as protection. If none of the Player Characters can read Auld Wyrmish and so translate the verse, the scenario suggests two alternative solutions.
Travel to the Upland Marsh is relatively easy, the Player Characters going via Runegate to the village of Two Sisters. There they can pick up rumours and perhaps even hire a guide, Erasthmus Quark, a Humakti Duck, who could easily become a replacement Player Character. The trip into the Upland Marsh will be unpleasant, not only because of it being soggy underfoot and the fetid stench of the marsh, but also because the party is likely to run into insect swarms, snakes, ghouls, zombies, and worse. The journey to the tower will probably take a day or two at the most—the scenario is not clear about the route taken—and the likelihood is that the Player Characters will be relieved to get there. The Upland Marsh is a vile place with numerous environmental hazards as well as creatures.
The Howling Tower itself is a four-storey tower, relatively small, but long abandoned and dilapidated. The tower contains a number of nasty traps, though some of their potency has waned over the years, but only two encounters with monsters. Both are still deadly, and their nature is such that their Armour Points are very high, so unless the Player Characters have Rune magic to back them up, they will find them difficult to defeat. The major foe encountered in the scenario is fairly complex in comparison to most monsters, and the Game Master will need to give its description a very careful read through before having the Player Characters face it. The rewards to find in the Howling Tower may not be obvious, especially for players new to Glorantha, but they are present, and for the most part, they favour users of Sorcery.
The Howling Tower feels a little bit like an ‘Old School’ dungeon crawl, but one for RuneQuest and Glorantha—though a very short one. It is nicely detailed though, with plenty of flavour and a little bit of history to make it interesting as well as potentially deadly. It is easy to add to a campaign, especially if there is a Lhankor Mhy priest or a Humakti warrior in the party. In addition, The Howling Tower includes a description of the village of Two Sisters and five NPCs who might be found there or nearby, who can be used as NPCs or even Player Characters. This includes an adventurous Magisaur!
Is it worth your time?YesThe Howling Tower presents a relatively short excursional and exploration scenario that works well if the party includes a Lhankor Mhy priest or a Humakti warrior, or both amongst their number.NoThe Howling Tower is harder to run if the party does not include a Lhankor Mhy priest or a Humakti warrior, or both amongst its members and perhaps the Game Master does not want to take her campaign into the Upland Marsh.MaybeThe Howling Tower involves messing about in marshes and getting overly involved in dangerous history, and perhaps the Player Characters are not quite ready for that, but the scenario is relatively short, easy-to-prepare, and potentially an introduction to Ducks.

Blue Collar Sci-Fi Horror Zero

It has been almost thirty years since there has been a roleplaying game set in the universe of the films Alien and Aliens, but that roleplaying game—the Aliens Adventure Game from Leading Edge Games in 1991—is primarily remembered for its complexity and emphasis upon combat over horror. That said, the publisher did produce Aliens, a highly effective treatment of the film which was also one of the earliest co-operative board games. However, Free League Publishing, best known as the publisher of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the ’80s That Never Was, obtained the licence and published Alien: The Roleplaying Game in 2019. Drawing from the films Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Prometheus, this explores the future of mankind in the late twenty-second century, where out on the frontiers of space, colonists scratch a living on barely terraformed worlds, starships towing mammoth refineries processing resources leave for the inner worlds with their crew in hibernation, corporations own and run worlds, rivalries between corporations escalate in cold wars and hot wars, and the United States Colonial Marine Corps attempts to keep the peace. Out on the frontier, in the coldness of space there are secrets too, some corporate, others unimaginably ancient, many of which will get you killed or kill you. There are rumours of old ruins, of impossible aliens, of lost colonies, and coverups—and maybe they are more than rumours, perhaps they will get a person killed too. This is the set-up for Alien: The Roleplaying Game, its future one of body horror, survival horror, corporate malfeasance, dark secrets, and worse…

Alien: The Roleplaying Game has three themes and is designed to be played in two different modes, suggests three different campaign models, and uses the Year Zero engine. The three themes are Space Horror and Sci-Fi Action, combined with a Sense of Wonder, whilst the two modes are Cinematic and Campaign. Cinematic mode is designed to emulate the drama of a film set within the Alien universe, and so emphasises high stakes, faster, more brutal play, and will be deadlier, whilst the Campaign mode is for longer, more traditional play, still brutal, if not deadly, but more survivable. Of the two, the Cinematic mode is suited to one-shots, to convention play, and as introductions to the mechanics and setting of Alien: The Roleplaying Game. To date, the only scenarios available for Alien: The Roleplaying GameChariot of the Gods (also found in the Alien Starter Set) and Destroyer of Worlds, are written for the Cinematic mode. The three campaign models are Colonial Marines, essentially military missions like Aliens; Frontier Colonists—miners, prospectors, and settlers trying to survive for a better life on an all but barren planet; and Space Truckers—starship crews hauling goods and resources, as in Alien. The Year Zero engine, first seen in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days and Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the ’80s That Never Was, employ pools of six-sided dice for fast and easy play. Like other roleplaying games, the publisher has released a set of dice for use with Alien: The Roleplaying Game, which add thematically to the game, but are not absolutely necessary to play.

The setting for Alien: The Roleplaying Game is the Frontier, a region of space which begins on the edge of the Outer Veil, runs through the Outer Rim, and out into deep space. Whilst the Outer Rim is extensively colonised, the Outer Veil is not, but is abundantly rich in mineral resources. Governments, corporations, miners, and colonists have all swarmed into the lawless, often harsh region. Colonies are rough places, many established on worlds where atmospheric processors transform the atmosphere into something breathable—for the most part, and their inhabitants do not always get along with their neighbouring colonies. Armed conflicts and rebellions are not unknown, and if corporate security forces cannot deal with an issue, then the United States Colonial Marine Corps are sent to deal with it. The Frontier is dominated by three polities. The most influential is the United Americas, a merger of North, Central, and South America into one nation, which also operates the Colonial Marines and the Colonial Navy. The other two are the Three World Empire, an alliance of the United Kingdom, Japan, and India, said to be in the pocket of the Weyland-Yutani corporation, whilst the Union of Progressive Peoples is a socialist state formed by China and Russia and other states. The Union of Progressive Peoples is resource poor and currently in a cold war with the United Americas. In addition, the Independent Core System Colonies is a loose conglomerate of privately-owned worlds, many of them by corporations, all with their own governments. None of the worlds of the Independent Core System Colonies are trusted by the other powers.

The default year for Alien: The Roleplaying Game is 2183—three years since the destruction of the Hadley’s Hope colony on LV-426, the disappearance of the USS Sulaco, and the closing of the prison and lead works on Fiorina 161. These unexplained events have led to a loss of trust between the United Americas and Weyland-Yutani, with many Frontier colonies caught in the middle. Rumours abound of strange discoveries and things going as result of these events, fuelled by Space Beast, an underground book written by a former convict on Fiorina 161. Meanwhile tensions are rising between the major powers and the corporations, leading to a redeployment of military and security forces which results in colonies being left to defend themselves the possibilities of pirates, hostile lifeforms, or invasion. Meanwhile, resources need to be hauled from the Frontier to the Core Worlds—or at least the Outer Veil, colonists and prospectors need to eke out a living, and United States Colonial Marine Corps needs to protect the peoples of the Frontier…

A Player Character in Alien: The Roleplaying Game is defined by four attributes—Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy, each of which has three associated skills, for a total of twelve skills. For example, Heavy Machinery, Stamina, and Close Combat are associated with Strength, whilst Observation, Comtech, and Survival are associated with Wits. All skills also have stunts which come into play when a player rolls two or more successes in an action. For example, Stunts for the Manipulation skill include persuading an opponent to do what you want without them expecting a favour in return, the opponent doing something more than was asked for, such as lending a piece of equipment or extra supplies, or simply impressing an opponent enough that they will help later. Both attributes and skills are rated between zero and five. A Player Character also has one or more Talents, essentially advantages that give him a benefit in addition to his skills, either associated with the Player Character’s career or a general Talent. For example, the Kid Talent of ‘Beneath Notice’ means that the Player Character can often escape horrible situations unscathed, his player being allowed to reroll critical injuries, whilst the general Talent of Nerves of Steel, means that the Player Character can keep a cool head and receives a bonus to Panic Rolls.

In addition, a Player Character has a buddy and rival from amongst his fellow Player Characters—intended to create tensions and roleplaying opportunities; Personal Agendas—again to create tensions and roleplaying opportunities, but also to earn a player Story Points—which can be spent to gain automatic successes, for his Player Character; and both equipment and consumables. The latter consist primarily of air, food, and water, for whilst there are monsters—inhuman and human, out there on the frontier which will kill you, so will a lack of the right consumables.

Character creation first involves selecting a Career. They include Colonial Marine, Colonial Marshal, Company Agent, Kid, Medic, Officer, Pilot, Roughneck, and Scientist, and each defines a Player Character’s key attributes and skills, and options for Personal Agenda, Appearance, Signature Item, and Gear. It is also possible to play an Android as a Player Character, and whilst they are generally stronger or more intelligent, in game terms they cannot push rolls, do not suffer Stress, and never make Panic Rolls. Damage done to them is more critical and needs to be repaired rather than healed. Fourteen points are divided between the four attributes and ten points amongst the skills. Then the player selects the character’s buddy, rival, Personal Agenda, Appearance, Signature Item, and Gear. The process is relatively easy and quick.

Name: Wilhemina LazarusCareer: Medic
Appearance: Short, tidy hair
Personal Agenda: You are addicted to a strong painkiller. Protect your stash—and your secret.
Signature Item: Last psych evaluation: “All clear at last.”
Gear: Surgical Kit, D6 doses Naproleve

Stress Level: 0
Health: 2

Strength 2
Agility 3
Wits 4
Empathy 5

Talent: Compassion

Skills
Manipulation 1, Medical Aid 3, Mobility 2, Observation 2, Survival 1

Mechanically, Alien: The Roleplaying Game uses the Year Zero engine first seen in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. The rules are light and fairly quick, with dice rolls primarily intended for dramatic or difficult situations such as combat, hiding from a strange creature bent on doing unspeakable things to you, making repairs in a hurry, and so on. To have a Player Character undertake an action, a player rolls a number of Base dice equal to a combination of attribute and skill (or just attribute if the Player Character lacks the skill), aiming to roll one or more sixes. One result is enough to succeed, whilst extra successes can be used to purchase Stunts, like halving a task’s time or doing extra damage in combat. Although one Player Character can help another, Alien: The Roleplaying Game—just like the films it is based upon—will involve often conflicts between Player Characters as well as NPCs, especially when Personal Agendas clash, and where opposed rolls come into play from such situations, successes rolled by either side cancel each other out. This is particularly the case in the Cinematic mode. If a Player Character fails, or wants to generate more successes, then his player can push the roll. Although this can only be done just the once for each roll, it can generate successes, but it also leads to the core mechanic in Alien: The Roleplaying Game—Stress (and panic)!

Stress in Alien: The Roleplaying Game is designed to build and build over the course of a scenario, particularly in Cinematic mode. It is not gained just for pushing a roll, but also for firing a firearm in fully automatic mode, suffering damage, being attacked by a fellow crewman, when someone is revealed as an android, and so forth. For each level of Stress suffered by a Player Character, whenever that Player Character takes another action that requires dice to be rolled, his player not only rolls the Base dice as usual, he also rolls a Stress die. So, the more levels of Stress suffered by a Player Character, the more dice—Base dice and Stress dice—his player has to roll. This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it increases the chances of rolling successes, but on the downside, any ones rolled have negative effects. First, they prevent the roll from being pushed; second, they trigger a Panic Roll. This requires the roll of a six-sided die plus the Player Character’s current Stress level. Results of six and below have no effect, but results of seven and above include a nervous twitch which increases everyone’s Stress level, dropping an item, immediately seeking cover, screaming, fleeing, going berserk, and more. Although rest and recuperation can reduce Stress, for the most part, over the course of a scenario, a Player Character’s Stress is going to grow and grow...
For example, Wilhemina Lazarus is the doctor on a colony world whose colonists have been attacked individually and bloodily murdered. The colony leader has also been attacked, but survived and revealed himself to be an android. Doctor Lazarus’ Stress Level is currently two. When another victim is brought in alive, but unconscious, she gets to work attempting to render medial attention. Her player will roll a total of nine Base dice—five for her Empathy, three for her Medical Aid skill, and one for Surgical Kit, and two Stress dice. Unfortunately, Doctor Lazarus’ roll does not generate any successes, but neither do any of the Stress dice generate any ones. Her player decides to push the roll. This automatically increases her Stress Level to three and adds another Stress die. The situation is proving difficult and again, Doctor Lazarus’ roll does not generate any successes, but neither do any of the Stress dice generate any ones. Normally, a player can only push a roll once, but the Compassion Talent allows a second Push for skills based on Empathy. Again, this automatically increases her Stress Level to four and adds another Stress die. Her player is rolling nine Base dice and four Stress dice. This time, he rolls five successes on the dice, but a one on a single Stress die. This means that Doctor Lazarus saves the colonist’s life, but her player needs to a make a Panic roll. Her player rolls a single six-sided die, and adds her current Stress Level, which is four. The result is seven, and Doctor Lazarus develops a Nervous Twitch, increasing her Stress Level as well as the Stress Level every Player Character nearby.Stress in Alien: The Roleplaying Game represents an ‘adrenalin clock’, one which winds up and up to the point where a Player Character’s ‘flight or fight’ response is triggered. Once that is triggered, the Player Character may driven to take the right course of action and survive, reflected by good rolls, but conversely, bad rolls him being overcome with his own fear and suffering a panic response. The Stress mechanics very nicely model and support the rising sense of tension seen in the films that Alien: The Roleplaying Game is based on, and it is easy enough to take these Stress and Fear rules and map back onto the members of the cast in those films.
Combat in Alien: The Roleplaying Game is designed to be straightforward, but with one or two tweaks to fit the setting. One of these is Stealth Mode, the initial state for any combat situation. This is designed to cover hidden movement by NPCs and other unknown threats, attempts to detect hidden movement and threats, and the like before actual combat occurs. The rules also cover Initiative—handled by draw of a card, rated between one and ten; actions—a Player Character receives a Fast Action and a Slow Action or two Fast Actions per turn; ranged and close combat; damage and critical injuries—the latter suffered when a Player Character’s Health is reduced to zero, some of them deadly; and Overwatch, the ability for trained soldiers to monitor a particular area and be ready to shoot when something happens within it. Other hazards covered in Alien: The Roleplaying Game include starvation and dehydration, the cold vacuum of space, fire, explosions, disease, and more. Not necessarily in a huge amount of detail, but enough to cover most situations.

In terms of background, Alien: The Roleplaying Game presents a range of gear, polities, colonies, and more. The gear covers weapons, including the classic Armat M41A Pulse Rifle; equipment, like the Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader and M316 Motion Tracker; food and drink—the latter stressing the importance of free coffee on star ships and space stations; and vehicles, including the USCMC UD-4L Cheyenne Dropship. Various spaceships and stations are described, as is life and travel in space, and there are rules for space combat too, these being designed to be short and brutal. They are also supported by a solid example of play. What is emphasised throughout is the Alien universe and so that of Alien: The Roleplaying Game is one of retrofuturism, with the rough and ready nature of living and working in space and on the Frontier, and that technology is built to be rugged and work, rather than all gleaming white and flashing lights. However, technology is constantly breaking down and is becoming difficult to repair, so is regressing on the Frontier. Throughout, there is a wealth of information and small details, which can be used to flavour the setting, such as bottles of purified water being a luxury and that Paul van Leuwen, the Interstellar Commerce Commission representative who revoked Ellen Ripley’s flight status is now investigating alleged alien encounters. Throughout Alien: The Roleplaying Game there are sections entitled ‘Rumour Control’, which examine some of the stories and hearsay, from encounters with aliens to corporate shenanigans, which spread across the Frontier, and which can be used as potential scenario hooks.

For the Game Mother—as the Game Master in Alien: The Roleplaying Game is known—there is further discussion of the roleplaying game’s themes and some advice on running the game, although this is relatively light. In general, despite the relatively light nature of the mechanics,Alien: The Roleplaying Game is not necessarily best suited to be run by an inexperienced Game Mother. The advice on running in Campaign play, although supported by various tables for generating jobs, star systems, colonies, encounters, and scenario hooks, is also fairly light. Novgorod Station, a transfer station located in a mining system is detailed and mapped out as a starting point for a campaign.

And then of course, the alien species of the Alien universe receive their own chapter. These include the Engineers of Prometheus, the Neomorph of Covenant, and the classic Xenomorph of Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3, which receives the most attention of any of the species detailed in the chapter. Of these, the Engineers, whilst discussed, do not receive any game stats, but all of the others do, along with lengthy discussions of their life cycles and capabilities, from egg to face hugger to chestburster to scout to soldier to queen, and more. Every alien species has its own table of attacks, which the Game Mother can select from or roll on, and what they highlight is just how nasty these creatures are, as well preventing any encounter with them from getting stale. Even Colonial Marines, fully equipped with modern weaponry, are going to have a hard time facing many of these aliens, and just like the film, Aliens, that is how it should be. In addition, a number of other species are also detailed, native to other worlds. Overall, this section should fuel numerous scenarios in Cinematic mode and encounters in Campaign mode, although encountering such creatures in Campaign mode should be rare.

Rounding out Alien: The Roleplaying Game is the Cinematic scenario, ‘Hope’s Last Day’. This casts the Player Characters as colonists on the moon LV-426, infamous from Alien and Aliens. Returning back to the colony base after dealing with a maintenance issue, they summoned to an assembly of all the colonists, but the call is interrupted by a scream and a gunshot. What is going on? The Player Characters—five pre-generated ones are provided, each with their own Personal Agendas—are already aware of the one of the colonist being infected with a parasite, so could it be to do with that? As written, it is a sandbox built around the colony, with the Player Characters often being driven to explore it further, or run away from whatever they find. Ultimately, either the Player Characters will all die or some of them will manage to escape via the corporate shuttle which arrived the day before. The scenario is quite short, providing two sessions of play at most, and more likely a single evening’s worth. As an example, Cinematic scenario, it plays well enough and the Personal Agendas do provide the Player Characters with strong motivations, but it is a bit short and does not support the players creating their own characters.

Physically, Alien: The Roleplaying Game is a visually stunning looking book. The layout is clean and open, the text organised into boxes that makes it easy to read and view it on the page. Although it needs an edit in places, the book is well written and there are some enjoyable nods to other sources in keeping with the Alien universe such as the William Gibson script for Alien 3, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and even the film, Outland. However, it is the artwork which truly captures the reader’s attention. It is truly impressive, in turns creepy, scary, majestic, awe inspiring, even mundane, whether it is depicting colonies or core worlds, the men and women of the Frontier, the cold blackness of space, the xenomorphs, or encounters with the strange and the mysterious. Much like Free League Publishing’s Symbaroum, which has its own art book with The Art of Symbaroum, the artwork in Alien: The Roleplaying Game deserves its own artbook. Which is no surprise since they share the same artist.

It is difficult to really find fault with Alien: The Roleplaying Game. One issue may be that its layout involves a lot of blank space—in this case, the blackness of space rather than white space—but the use of space in Alien: The Roleplaying Game gives the content room to breath and standout, actually making it easier to read. Another might be that it does not feel tactical enough when playing Colonial Marines and other military forces, but Alien: The Roleplaying Game is not skirmish roleplaying game and it is not about fighting the Xenomorphs, but surviving an encounter with them. More of an issue is that the layout with its washed-out colour palette may not be easy to read for everyone. Perhaps the main issue is that it is difficult to know what a game of Alien: The Roleplaying Game played in the Campaign mode is like. There are tools for providing story hooks and plenty of setting material on the rulebook, but with just its single scenario of ‘Hope’s Last Day’ and both Chariot of the Gods and Destroyer of Worlds being the only scenarios available, and all three written for the Cinematic mode, we are yet to see what the Campaign mode is really like.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game is not just a roleplaying based on the Alien universe. It is also an excellent introduction and overview of the setting, which when combined with the superb artwork, should please any fan of the Alien universe. As a roleplaying game, Alien: The Roleplaying Game provides everything that a Game Mother needs to run a game in the Alien universe, bringing together the straightforward, fast-playing mechanics of the Year Zero engine, a very well done treatment of the background, and an entertainingly fearsome Stress and Panic mechanic which captures the feel of the source material, all beautifully packaged, to present a nasty, brutal, and often forgiving space horror roleplaying game. Roleplayers have long wanted a good treatment of the Alien universe, and in Alien: The Roleplaying Game Free League Publishing has not only given them that, but given us a scarily playable retrofuture, a great Blue Collar Sci-Fi Horror roleplaying game, and an outstanding adaptation of the source material.

An Onslaught of Options

One of the great features—amongst many—of 13th Age is how it handles characters, making each Player Character unique, emphasising narrative gameplay elements, and upping the action. Published by Pelgrane Press, a wide range of character Classes were presented in both 13th Age and 13 True Ways, but one of the aspects of 13th Age is that Player Characters can only advance to Tenth Level. What this means is that campaigns are relatively short and new campaigns can be begun relatively easily and relatively regularly, so having a wider range in terms of character choice is always useful. Now whilst presenting new Player Character Classes has not been the focus of titles from Pelgrane Press, it does mean that there is scope for other publishers to provide a Game Master and her players with such options. This is exactly what Kinoko Games has done with Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, which added the monstrous Abomination, the destiny-shaping Fateweaver, the mind-bending Psion, the berserking Savage, the dashing Swordmage and the dark-souled Warlock to 13th Age.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths, the second supplement from Kinoko Games also expands the number of options available in 13th Age. However, unlike Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, it does not add any new Classes. Instead, it goes back to the fifteen Classes presented in 13th Age and 13 True Ways—the Barbarian, Bard, Chaos Mage, Cleric, Commander, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Necromancer, Occultist, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard—and adds to them, sending each of the Classes in new directions. Essentially each comes with a host of new Talents and Class-specific features, but that is not all to be found in the pages of Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths. The supplement also includes new rules variants, new Races, and a whole new starting point for any 13th Age campaign, all of which will work with 13th Age, 13 True Ways, Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, and of course, Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths starts with a host of new rules, clarifications, and variants. The new rules include Advantage and Disadvantage, exploding dice (rolling and adding again when the highest number on a die is rolled), and increasing or decreasing dice step-by-step, and to be honest, none of these rules are new if you are aware of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the Old School Renaissance in general. However, they are new to 13th Age and the new Class options in Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths makes use of them. The variant rules provide an alternative means of players rolling the abilities for their characters, suggests granting a single ability increase at every Level rather increases to three every few Levels, using Icon relationships as a bonus in skill checks, and amusingly, ‘The Plushie Rule’, in which a player who brings a stuffed toy to the table to represent his character’s familiar, receives a bonus from the Class’ usual list. Lastly, ‘Taking Risks’ allows a player to double down after failing a roll. Instead of opting to accept the consequences of the failed roll, but still succeed and thus ‘Fail Forward’, a player can ‘Take a Risk’. If he succeeds, then there are no consequences, but if he fails the roll, the consequences are bad—bad! This might be Lasting Pain which causes disadvantage on all Saving Throws; a Hand Injury, which causes disadvantage on all Melee and Ranged attacks; and so on… For the most part, this means that ‘Taking a Risk’ is a more personal option for a player and his character and a player can avoid the party-affecting consequences of the usual Fail Forward option.

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths provides thirteen new Races—Elemental Souls, Half-Ogres, Leomars, Nyama, Orcs, Pixies, Ratkin, Shadowborn, Star Children, and the Vorhai. Elemental Souls are the descendants of followers of the Four Elemental Lords who were defeated by chromatic dragons in a past Age and infused their remaining power into them so there are Elemental Souls of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. Half-Ogres are simply Brutal and can attack at Disadvantage to inflict double damage; the feline and proud Leomar have a greater resistance to fear; Nyama are shapeshifters, able to change into wild animals; Orcs are full-blood Orcs, dangerous because they have a greater chance of inflicting a critical strike, at least initially in a battle; and Pixies can fly, their weapons do poison damage, and they can shrink any one normal-sized object down to Pixie-size. Ratkin are rodent-like humanoids, known for their love of family, and their Stench which is strong enough to daze anyone nearby; the Shadowborn are humanoids native to the Underworld, able to slip into the shadows to escape a fight; a Star Child has come down from the stars and is simply blessed, able to freely choose a single at-will spell to cast, typically once per day; and the Vorhai or Greyskin are a race of magically created warriors from a past Age, who possess a single Adventurer-Tier Talent from the Fighter Class. Not all of these new Races are going to interest a Game Master or her players, but they do lend themselves to some interesting possibilities. How about an all Orc, Half-Orc, and Half-Ogre campaign built around serving the Orc Lord? Or an Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, and Pixie focused campaign built around the Elf Queen or the High Druid? That said, simply throwing these thirteen into the mix with those from 13th Age and 13 True Ways is likely to dilute their abilities and those of the other Races. Perhaps it might be better to mix and match, build a campaign around them, and so on?

Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths also provides rules for mixed Race Player Characters and a selections of new Feats—both General and Racial. The former include ‘Bribery’, ‘Heirloom’, and ‘Icon Lore’, whilst the latter include ‘Ancient Grudges’ for the Dwarf, ‘Human Ingenuity’ for the Human, and ‘Pixie Dust’ for the Pixie. There are a lot of feats here and certainly the Racial feats could have been listed by Race rather than alphabetically, as they would have been easier to choose from. The bulk of Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths though, is devoted to the new Talents and features for the original fifteen Classes. Each one comes with some suggestions as to the play style that each new set of Class options offers. For example, ‘Bouncer’ provides a Barbarian brawler with a series of wrestling moves, Bulwark enables him to fight with a shield and sword like a Viking or Saxon warrior, ‘Giant Blood’ lets him be a classic two-handed sword wielding barbarian, whilst ‘Primal War Dance’ turns his battle rage into a defensive dance and ‘Raging Storm’ unleashes lightning damage upon an opponent with every melee attack! For the Cleric, there are over thirty new Domains, from ‘Air/Storm/Thunder’, ‘Animal/Beast’, and ‘Archery/Hunting’ to ‘War/Leadership’, ‘Water/Sea/River’, and ‘Winter/Ice’, each with accompanying Feats and spells, whilst the Druid undergoes a revision. It takes the six Druid Talents from 13 True Ways and replaces them with circles—Circles of Decay, the Fang, Feysong, the Land, Life, the Moon, and War—each of which has its own Talents, spells, powers, or flexible attacks. For example, the Blighted Stench Talent means that the Druid is followed everywhere by the smell of decay, and is granted a bonus Necromancer spell and the Blighted Stench spell, which inflicts poison damage on two nearby enemies. Combine this with other Talents like ‘Festering Maggot Aspect’ or ‘Life Leech’, and spells such as Summon Giant Bug or Creeping Thorn Ivy, and what you have is whole new way of playing the Druid Class, one that is just a little weird and definitely creepy, almost a Class unto itself—and that is just one of the six circles, each of which different in character and tone. This revision of the Druid is possibly one of the more complex options in Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths, but nevertheless, delightfully thematic.

The Fighter has always been a Class to make interesting, and whilst far from uninteresting in 13th Age, in Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths the Class has even more options to make it interesting and flavoursome. ‘Air of Authority’, for example, enables a Fighter to hush a room or a mob, ‘Lock & Load’ turns a Fighter into a fast shot with a crossbow, and ‘Ultimate Combat Reflexes’ enables a Fighter to act any time in a round! The Class is accompanied by a list of new Manoeuvres, like ‘Get a Read’ which grants the Fighter’s player a question about his opponent and ‘Staredown’ which sends the Fighter into the face-off with an opponent, which either can lose. Similarly, the Necromancer is given a host of Talents and spells, such as ‘Bloodseeker’ which turns the Necromancer’s origins into vampiric, and enables him to detect heartbeats of the living, heal by drinking a cup of blood, and empower his next spell with double damage, whilst his ‘Disgusting Display of Depravity’ Talent can strike fear into his opponents! Perhaps the most fun spell will be Zombombie, which summons a zombie which can detonate with a putrid explosion! Elsewhere the Chaos Mage gets entertainingly silly spells such as Frogsplosion, which creates two exploding frogs, and Princessification, which turns a target into an Elven princess, whilst the Wizard goes back to the classic version of the Class with its magic and its many, many spells being built around the eight schools of magic—Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, and Transmutation. However, there are only spells for seven of the schools, Necromancy being the province of the Lich King and a whole other Class. Every Class has options upon options, multiple ways to play them like this.

Penultimately, Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths presents the ‘Novice Tier’. This is a means of exploring the Player Characters’ adventures before their careers really begin, essentially taking them from Level Zero through the three mini-steps of the ‘Novice Tier’ up to First Level, and covering everything from Backgrounds and One Unique Thing to Levelling Up and Encounter Design for Novice Characters. The latter feels somewhat short, and it would be nice to see some adventures written for this mini-Level. Lastly, the new magical items consist of new musical instruments for the Bard, and does include some silly items like the Battle Didgeridoo and Lightning Kazoo.

Physically, Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths is tidily presented. The book is decently written, but the artwork does vary in quality. Much of the artwork is decent, but the black and white artwork is rarely as good. Some of the colour artwork does veer slightly towards the ‘Chainmail Bikini’ school of art, but only a few pieces.

13th Age is a roleplaying game with plenty of options in terms of character choices, and that only grows with the addition of 13 True Ways. Essentially, thirteen different Classes, each with direct ways to play them. Dark Pacts & Ancient Secrets, the previous supplement from Kinoko Games, only added to that with six new Classes. Which of course, is no bad thing, because having options—and having more options—is always good. Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths is a whole book of new options, one that returns back to the official character Classes. With just ten Levels of play in 13th Age, the choices in the core rules and 13 True Ways may not necessarily stand up to too much repeat play, but a supplement like Dark Alleys & Twisted Paths, incredibly rich in character options, provides the means to invigorate an existing campaign or build a new one.

Worriment on the Wirral

The once prosperous town of Thorston has fallen on bad times. Located on the Dee Estuary on the south side of the Wirral in the north-west of England, industrialisation and trade has passed the former fishing port by as the estuary silted up and merchant shipping favoured the city of Liverpool opposite the north side of the Wirral. Roads degraded, leaving only muddy tracks leading into the town, the railway station was torn down, and so the town was left isolated, at first declining, then mouldering and dilapidated, more and more of its sodden buildings abandoned. Apart from the few remaining inhabitants, Thorston has in more recent times become a haven for vagrants, drifters, criminals, and other ne’er do wells looking for refuge away from the authorities in the nearby cities of Chester and Liverpool. Whether locals or incomers, all of the inhabitants have learned to lock their doors at night or barricade themselves in, for it is not safe to be on the streets of the port after nightfall. As rumours grow of missing students and missing hikers on the nearby Heswall Dales and a missing church minister, the inhabitants of elsewhere on the Wirral shun Thorston more and more, claiming that there is a sign across the road into the town which reads, “Condemned. Stay clear for safety.” And so Thorston’s decline continues…

This is the state of Thorston, a town with history which goes all the way back to the Vikings, as detailed in Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee, which brings the Mythos to the northwest of England. Published by Stygian Fox Publishing for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh EditionThorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee is a combination of setting and scenario intended for use with the Hudson & Brand, Inquiry Agents of the Obscure campaign framework, but which would also work as part of a general Cthulhu by Gaslight campaign. It presents a location and  reason to enter what is known as ‘Fox Country’, essentially Stygian Fox Publishing’s equivalent to Lovecraft Country, but with a longer sense of history. To that end, Thorston is the equivalent of dread Innsmouth, yet despite it being a fishing port, it is not home to a mixture of Deep Ones and their hybrids, but rather a variation upon another Mythos race which has long co-existed with mankind, whilst the nearby Roman city of Chester as its answer to Arkham (although there is no obvious equivalent to Miskatonic University).

Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee can be broadly divided into four sections. The first explores Thorston, its history, its inhabitants, and its secrets. The second presents the nearby city of Chester, essentially a jumping off point for anyone investigating the Wirral and Thorston, whilst the third is the supplement’s scenario, ‘Supping with the Devil’. The fourth explains the mythology key to ‘Supping with the Devil’ and the town. With less than a hundred inhabitants, the supplement focuses on just a handful of locations and NPCs. These are primarily The Ship & Bowl, the town’s only inn and its proprietor, Maud, and Harris & Sons, and its proprietor, Daniel Harris, and what remains of the town’s only church, St. Hilda’s. Notably both possess and are connected by ‘Rows’, an architectural feature also found in nearby Chester, which consists of a covered pedestrian, but otherwise open walkway on the first floor, giving access to shops and other premises on the first floor, with other shops and other premises on the ground floor below. 

The description of Chester is relatively short, enough for Investigators passing through, but not staying for any length of time, and enough for the Keeper to flavour her portrayal of local NPCs. The NPCs in Thorston itself are actually all decently done, whilst the Mythos forces involved in the town and scenario nicely draw upon British and Celtic myth. Several hooks are provided to get any Investigators to Thorston, mostly revolving around missing persons. The scenario in the book though, ‘Supping with the Devil’, has them employed by Joshua Armitage, a wealthy Liverpudlian merchant who wants to develop Thorston into a seaside resort, complete with pier and promenade. He sends them into the blighted town to ascertain its condition and to get a feel for the place, having them stay a single night. The investigators will find the few inhabitants cold of manner and ill-disposed to talk, their rooms at The Ship & Bowl dank and unpleasant, and their sleep interrupted by door handles rattling and scratches at the window. During the day there are few people on the street, and strangely for a seaside town, an absence of seagulls. ‘Supping with the Devil’ is, in the main, an exploration scenario, the Investigators examining the few remaining buildings in the town, hopefully driven to examine more and more until some of its secrets are revealed—or at least hinted at, and the town’s dark side can react… Up until that point, the scenario is player-driven, but then the NPCs may come to drive the Investigators, perhaps necessary if the players and their Investigators simply decide that the best course of action is to flee. The Keeper may want to create a few more NPCs, in particular some of the vagrants, drifters, criminals, and other ne’er do wells who have taken refuge in Thorston. These can at least populate some of the seemingly abandoned buildings—which will also benefit from some window dressing too—and add colour, as well as their perhaps hinting at some of the mysteries and secrets in the town, falling prey to the evil present, perhaps foreshadowing events which might befall the Investigators…

Physically, Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee is engagingly presented. Done in full colour throughout, the cartography and illustrations are in general, well done throughout. Some of the maps are a little small, whilst others do not work as double-page spreads, and there are differences between the two maps of the town. However, Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee is let down by the writing—or rather by the editing. Parts of the text are overwritten and repetitive, and whilst there is an editor listed in the credits, there are no signs that Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee has actually been edited.

Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee is essentially Innsmouth and the scenario, ‘Supping with the Devil’, its equivalent of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. As inspiration goes, that is no bad thing, but neither are they direct copies, for the differences in tone and scale—the town of Thorston and its inhabitants being smaller in scale give them a flavour and feel of their own. As does setting in the Purple Decade of Cthulhu by Gaslight. Plus, there is a sense of English squalor to Thorston and environs. Despite the disappointing lack of editing, there is a lot to like about Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee. It wears its inspirations on its sleeve, but in entwining them with local myth to create an atmosphere that is both monstrous and English, Thorston, the Shunned Town on the Dee serves as an enjoyably rotten introduction to Fox Country.

Jonstown Jottings #42: QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds

 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 Glorantha13th 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.

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What is it?
QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds presents one-hundred-and-one backgrounds for characters from Sartar created using the character creation rules found in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a one-hundred-and-ten page, full colour, 4.78 MB PDF.
The layout is clean and tidy, and whilst the only illustration, ‘Ons voorgeslacht in zijn dagelyksch leven geschilderd’, is on the front cover, it is appropriate.
Where is it set?
QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds is set in Sartar in Dragon Pass.

Who do you play?
No specific character types are required to use QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds. Instead, QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds can supply a background for whatever the type of character is being created.

What do you need?
QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha only, although HeroQuest: Sartar-Kingdom of Heroes may be useful when refering to the twenty-four classic tribes used in QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds.
What do you get?One of the features of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is that the process of character creation results in nicely detailed characters with both personal and family background. However, as much as the end result is nicely detailed, the process is a lengthy one and if the process is followed through on the complete family history, then a great number of different names is required to fill out all of the family relationships. There is of course a quick method provided in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, but the results are not as involved or interesting.
QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds—the ‘QAD’ short of ‘Quick And Dirty’ is a potential solution to this problem. At least for Sartarite characters, other homelands being covered by other entries in the QAD: Family Histories series. The supplement provides one-hundred-and-one pre-generated family histories, each with a potted history, list of family and extended family members, starting passions, and effects upon the character from the history, such as skill increases, reputation increases, boons, heirlooms, and so on. All of which had been generated using the ‘Step 2: Family History’ of the character creation process in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.
Each entry fits on a single page and is organised into five sections. The Heritage section lists the homeland, tribe, clan, lineage, and family trade, and the Ancestral Focus section the character’s favoured family members—grandparents, parents, and so on, who will appeared the Potted History which lists the events they were involved in, including the character, from 1582 to 1625. The History Effect lists the effects that the history has on the character’s Passions, Skills, extra money, and so on. Lastly, the Family Relations section provides the names and dates of the character’s grandparents—maternal and paternal, both parents and their siblings, and then the character and his or her siblings and their dates. These are all arranged neatly into separate boxes—the Family Relations almost like a family tree, and so are easy to read.
QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds explains each of its sections and some of the choices made by the author in a very clear manner. In particular, the does differ slightly from the process given in ‘Step 2: Family History’ of the character creation process in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. To counter the high possibility of a character’s predecessors all dying during the process of Family History generation, it allows for guardians and other relatives to play a role in the Family History. It also addresses some of the issues with the ‘Step 2: Family History’, such as possessing both a Hate and a Loyalty to the same individual; family trades which seem incongruous, for example, Grazelander fishers; and the distinction between the passions, Hate (Lunars) and Hate (Lunar Empire). For the most part, QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds—as do the other titles in the series—that the player and the Game Master be inventive when addressing these issues and explore the possibilities they suggest. For the passions, Hate (Lunars) and Hate (Lunar Empire), QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds assumes that the two passions are different and that Hate (Lunars) refers to specifically to Lunar Tarsh as ‘Lunars’ and Hate (Lunar Empire) to the Empire itself. Should there be a clash, it is suggested that a possible alternative be taken, like Hate (Chaos), or substitute Hate (Lunar) with Hate (Lunar Empire). 
Using an entry from QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds negates the need to work through ‘Step 2: Family History’ of the character creation process in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha which lends itself to multiple applications. First, it can be used to make a Player Character quicker and more easily, whether a player needs a replacement character following the death or retirement of his previous one. Second, if a player does need a replacement character following the death or retirement of his previous one, it can be used to flesh out an NPC already in play which the player can take over as his Player Character, either temporarily or permanently, rather than find some way of introducing a wholly new Player Character at a moment’s notice. Third, it can be used to help create Player Characters quicker and more easily if a playing group is planning a quick session of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Fourth, it can be used to flesh out NPCs quickly and easily, including during play, whether that is to determine their history or whether the Player Characters want to see if they have anything in common with the NPC, especially in terms of their histories. Fifth, it can be used to round out part of a Player Character’s or NPC’s background. For example, in presenting various family members in the Family Relations section, QAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds is also providing lists of names which can be used to fill out details about the Player Character’s or NPC’s own family.
Is it worth your time?YesQAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds takes all of the hard effort of the dice rolling and note taking of character creation in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and reduces its most involved step to a single roll. Simple, easy, and quick, whether you need an NPC detailed or a new Player Character ready to go.NoQAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds takes all of the fun and the inspiration out of the most interesting step of character creation, and simply mechanises it. Plus RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha already has a quick method. Further, your campaign may not be in Sartar or involve Sartarites at all.MaybeQAD: Family Histories – 101 Sartarite Character Backgrounds is a potentially useful tool, but is definitely not vital to playing or creating either NPCs or Player Characters in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

Cthulhu Classics IX

From one week to the next, Reviews from R’lyeh writes reviews of new games and supplements with an emphasis on Call of Cthulhu and other games of Lovecraftian investigative horror. This series concentrates on Call of Cthulhu and other games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, but not those recently released, but those of the past. There have been innumerable titles published over the years and this is an opportunity to appraise them anew, often decades after they were first released.

Having looked at the releases from Games Workshop, culminating with Green and Pleasant Land: The British 1920s-30s Cthulhu Source Pack, Reviews from R’lyeh now moves on to another early licensee for Chaosium, Inc. This is T.O.M.E. or Theatre of the Mind Enterprises, a publisher best known for the titles it released for use with Call of Cthulhu and Gardasiyal: Adventures in Tékumel, the 1990s roleplaying game set in the world of Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. Between 1983 and 1984, T.O.M.E. would publish five collections of scenarios—The Arkham Evil, Death In Dunwich, Pursuit To Kadath, Whispers From The Abyss And Other Tales, and Glozel Est Authentique!—for use with Call of Cthulhu, Second Edition. It is the third of these titles, Pursuit to Kadath,  which is the subject of this review.
Pursuit to Kadath consists of two separate scenarios. The longer of the two is the titular ‘Pursuit to Kadath’, whilst the bonus, much shorter scenario is ‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’, which can be run after ‘Pursuit to Kadath’. From the outset, the title itself suggests the Dreamlands and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, if not the city located either north or below, the plateau of Leng. However, Pursuit to Kadath has nothing do with Kadath, the title here referring to a fictional location in Turkey. The use of the title then, is symptomatic of many of the early campaigns and anthologies for Call of Cthulhu, which would include Lovecraftian references in their titles, but not make use of them in their actual content. That said, apart from Horror on the Orient Express, the two scenarios found in the pages of Pursuit to Kadath are some of the very few to be actually set in Turkey. Title issues aside, the very good news is that Pursuit to Kadath is very much a huge improvement over the first two titles from the publisher. Both The Arkham Evil and Death in Dunwich have deservedly poor reputations because essentially, they are early attempts at writing scenarios for Call of Cthulhu, which simply do not work. Or at least, require a great deal of effort to make work and even then, not necessarily work to the greatest of effects. In comparison, Pursuit to Kadath is a huge improvement because it has a plot which makes sense. It is far from a perfect plot, but it makes sense. It also has an intriguing beginning and it also comes with a lot of historical background and information. However, like its forebears, Pursuit to Kadath is not without its issues. 
Set in 1923, Pursuit to Kadath casts the Investigators as students at Miskatonic University, who are also members of The Sunday Group, a prestigious social club. They may be rich enough to be members, but if not, they may have been sponsored for membership on academic merit. The scenario opens with the Investigators in the library when Darryl Stewart, a fellow member, shows then a weird photograph which has appeared on the front page of a newspaper. The caption on the photograph reads, “FLYING ARM!” and purports to show a bloodied arm which seems to have been brutally ripped from the shoulder of a policeman who subsequently died and is now floating the air. Several witnesses, including the photographer, have sworn that this is what they saw, but both Darryl and the Investigators can see another figure in the photograph and instead the arm floating in the air, it is firmly in the grasp of this figure, a figure which looks awfully like Nils Lindstrom, fellow student and Sunday Club member, and son of a Chicago senator. Further, in the photograph, Lindstrom is holding a bag used by 1st National Bank to transport money and there is a separate report of a bank robbery on the front page. So did the normally shy, mild-mannered Lindstrom rob the bank and if so why? And what drove him to commit such an act of sheer bloody violence? And why can the Investigators see him in the photograph and not others?
In addition, as fellow members of the Sunday Club, the Investigators have attended the same social events as Lindstrom, including a party at which they will recall strange events took place. Many of the attendees, including Lindstrom and the Player Characters, were hypnotised, and Lindstrom had a strange reaction. This was followed by a seance. Could this account for his now apparently even stranger behaviour? As they look into his strange behaviour and track his activities, the Investigators will find themselves following his trail from Boston to New York, where he seems to be inveigling himself into local high society and perhaps courting a young lady his family regards as a suitable match. Mundane help comes in the form of Lindstrom’s father who also wants to know what his son is doing, whilst Mythos help—or at least advice—comes from a strange dream with the Serpent Man who previously appeared in The Arkham Evil. Ultimately, Lindstrom does not tarry in New York for long, setting sail across the Atlantic towards the Belgian Congo with the Investigators on his tail. The Investigators are expected to follow, but towards the end of the crossing, the captain of Lindstrom’s vessel urgently broadcasts a message warning that he has been forced to divert to Turkey.
When the Investigators reach Turkey, they encounter one of the great set pieces in ‘Pursuit to Kadath’. This is the fishing port of Selefko, located on Turkey’s southern coast, Lindstrom’s vessel beached and broken on the shore, the town seemingly abandoned, but with the sound of the call to prayer emanating from the town’s mosque. The only inhabitant is Ahmed Mohammed Mohammed, a mighty, Anglophobic, scimitar- and musket-wielding warrior, who has been sent to deal with the devils who came ashore in Selefko and began preying upon the town’s inhabitants. He will brook no interference from the Investigators, but potentially, could become an ally, if only temporarily, in tracking down the source of the threat which befell Selefko. Ultimately, the Investigators will climb up Alacadaq Mountain on Lindstrom’s trail and descend into the mountain to face him before he can bring about final plans.
At its heart, ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ is a chase scenario. The Investigators start the scenario on Lindstrom’s trail and follow it all the way to Turkey, only catching up with the oddly behaving student in the scenario’s final scene inside Alacadaq Mountain. And what a richly detailed trail it is! Strange behaviour, a bank robbery, missing memories, bloody murder after bloody murder, an odd artefact, a diplomatic incident, and a vampire showdown on the streets of Selefko! Which makes for a very heavily plotted scenario. In fact, Pursuit to Kadath is not only a very heavily plotted scenario, but a scenario which is heavily plotted twice—and heavily pre-plotted at that! 
The issue is that the first half of the scenario is devoted to explaining both plot and background, along with any necessary stats, and so is much of the second half—though to a lesser extent. Further, a fair degree of the beginning investigation is done as a flashback, which involves a fair degree of exposition. What the Keeper is meant to do is follow the plot in the second half, but draw heavily from the first, but what it does instead, is effectively double the effort required to run Pursuit to Kadath. Especially in its preparation.
The heavy double-plotting of ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ is not the scenario’s only problem. The second is getting the Player Characters involved. There are no hooks except, ‘a fellow member of the society you belong to, is acting oddly, so why not for the good of the society, investigate?’ Which is essentially asking the Investigators to investigate because there is a plot there. Later on in the scenario though, NPCs contact the Investigators directly to ask them to continue their enquiries, at which point they have much more motivation. 
Third, in terms of plotting, the scenario’s denouement is severely underwritten with no explanation as to exactly what the Investigators are expected to do to thwart Lindstrom’s plans. A strange artefact would also appear to play a role in the scenario, but no proper explanation of what that role is given, certainly as far as the denouement is concerned. At best, it would appear that the Investigators are expected to rush in, all guns blazing, which feels more Pulp action than Lovecraftian.
The fourth problem is the poor handling of the Mythos in ‘Pursuit to Kadath’. The primary entity involved is Yig and his servants, a set of eleven Dragon Warriors that the Father of Serpents created to fight the other gods. Lindstrom has been possessed by one of these Dragon Warriors—who also appear on the artefact—and cuts a bloody trail from Boston to New York and then onto Turkey in an attempt to prepare himself to summon his master in an underground temple. With the benefit of hindsight and numerous scenarios for Call of Cthulhu and other roleplaying games of Lovecraftian investigative horror, this does not feel like any depiction of Yig and his servants seen anywhere else. Even at the time of the publication of Pursuit to Kadath though, it was noted how much the depiction of the Mythos and its entities differed from that seen in the source fiction and in Call of Cthulhu itself. Elsewhere the inclusion of a Serpent Man makes sense, but a scene involving both Ghouls and a Nightgaunt feels just too much, whilst the creation of vampires feels more Hammer horror than Lovecraftian.
That said, the scenario is very well supported. There is a quick guide to creating students at Miskatonic University, very basic, but years before 1995’s Miskatonic University: The University Guidebook and 2005’s Miskatonic University. This is accompanied by a list of the degree requirements for numerous academic courses at the university, which whilst interesting, is difficult to bring into play and looks wholly arcane to anyone who has not been to an American university. There is a good mix of handouts, some very plain, others made to look like period documents. Some of them though, like a local railway timetable feel superfluous. In addition, there is a sensible guide to hypnotism and what was widely believed about it in the nineteen twenties, a guide to handling languages, and a guide to Turkey in the early nineteen twenties. Overall, lots of useful and interesting material.
Despite these faults, ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ is a big improvement upon the earlier The Arkham Evil and Death in Dunwich. The plot is almost coherent—twice, and the background material is solid and useful. It could be run today, but only with some effort. Not because it is necessarily bad, but because the two plots need to be deconstructed and put back together as ‘a’ plot to provide some much-needed clarity. The Keeper might also want to rework the elements of Mythos, again to add clarity, and then perhaps decide what to do about the vampires. One option would be to push the Pulp elements of the scenario, perhaps enough to use it with Pulp Cthulhu: Two-fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos. It would require no little effort upon the part of the Keeper, and it is debatable whether that effort is worth it, but ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ is probably the first scenario from T.O.M.E. which has the potential to be worth it.
The bonus scenario in Pursuit to Kadath is ‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’ by E.S. Erkes. Much shorter than ‘Pursuit to Kadath’, it is again set in 1923 and where ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ ends in Turkey, ‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’ begins in Turkey. Thus, it could be run as a sequel to ‘Pursuit to Kadath’. The Investigators are hired by Ghazi Mustapha Kemal, the leader of Turkey—he would only add Ataturk to his name in 1934–to locate a missing British archaeologist, Quentin Halward. Halward is an expert on Troy and the Turkish government fears that word of his disappearance will cause it undue embarrassment. Halward was last seen in the company of two Russians. This should push the Investigators to make enquiries amongst the Russian community in Istanbul, which quickly involves them in a web of intrigue between the White Russian emigres and the official and unofficial Soviet personal in the city, as well as a strange Islamic sect with a reputation for having worshipped demons. Ultimately, the Investigators’ enquiries should lead them from Troy to the Crimea and Halward’s whereabouts.
‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’ is shorter and more direct than ‘Pursuit to Kadath’. It is also very much better written and would be easy to run today, just as it would have been at the time of publication. Its use of the Mythos is better, if only because it is greatly reduced. Really all it does is add a new Mythos race, one which was the basis for the Cyclops legend. Unfortunately, ‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’ does end in a fight, which is not particularly interesting. However, all of the running around and intrigue in Istanbul with the Russians should be fun to roleplay.
Physically, Pursuit to Kadath is decent enough, or decent enough for 1983. The cover is uninspiring, but the artwork inside—apart from the random skulls used to separate sections, is not too bad. Similarly, some of the handouts are not too bad either, and whilst the maps merely okay, they at least clearly depict what was intended. The use of period maps adds an element of verisimilitude, but are either too small or too dark to really make use of effectively.
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Reviews of Pursuit to Kadath at the time of its release, were surprisingly positive. Writing in Fantasy Gamer Number 4 (Feb/Mar 1984), Warren Spector said, “Pursuit to Kadath gets an almost-unqualified rave. TOME has offered so much background material, you don’t even have to play Pursuit to Kadath to get your money’s worth – you can just incorporate all the background information into your own campaign. And they’ve even included a second – albeit brief – scenario in the back. You just can’t ask much more in an RPG module.”
However, when reviewing ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ in particular in White Dwarf 54 (June 1984), Nic Grecas wrote that, “There is one other aspect of this scenario which caused me some disquiet — the background mythos which is presented in this scenario in respect of a certain deity (to say which one would, of course, spoil a rather large amount of the scenario’s mystery) seems to me to be at odds with Lovecraft’s own writings and also with some of the information in the main rules. Fortunately this forms a part of the background for the keeper only and with very little work can be reconciled with Lovecraft and Chaosium. This was a regrettable lapse on the part of TOME, but in a game system which was written as a ‘labour of love’ by a group of people who strove to recapture the atmosphere of brooding terror found in  Lovecraft’s work, it is fortunate that these misconceptions do not intrude into the body of the scenario.” He concluded though, that “These points apart, Pursuit to Kadath is a fine scenario which, if well managed, can produce and excellent ‘crescendo of terror’, but beware; the final scene could be a terminal experience for many of the investigators!”. He was equally as positive about ‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’ and of Pursuit to Kadath in general that, “All in all, both scenarios are most creditable.” before awarding it eight out of ten.
Similarly, William A. Barton would highlight the differences between the Mythos of Pursuit to Kadath and its portrayal elsewhere, when he reviewed all five of the Call of Cthulhu titles from T.O.M.E. in Space Gamer #71 (Nov/Dec 1984) with ‘Whispers of Things Lovecraftian: TOME’s Cthulhu Modules’. In providing an overview of the line published to date before reviewing, the fourth release from T.O.M.E., Whispers from the Abyss and Other Tales, he wrote, “TOME’s offerings are all intended for CoC, though, in some instances, the Cthulhoid connection has been tenuous at the best. … This is a tendency for which TOME has received some criticism.” before continuing with, “Pursuit to Kadath was TOME’s worst offender in this regard. While the main scenario and shorter bonus, The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali, did have more Cthulhian references than their predecessor — including Nyarlathotep, the Al-Azif, Yig, Father of Serpents, and a new Cthulhoid race, the Alskali (one-eyed giant cyclops) —  the mix of non-Mythos occult materials were even more pronounced. Yig, in particular, was distorted beyond almost beyond recognition as far as any past references. The greatest criticism that can be leveled against this scenario, however, is its name: In the stories of Lovecraft and his imitators, Kadath was the mythical land of dreams — or a blasted plateau in the cold waste — as noted in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Yet in Pursuit, the Kadath of the title is a town in Turkey, not the Lovecraftian Kadath at all. According to Rawlings,*TOME felt that a scenario set in the surreal Kadath of the Mythos would be too difficult to do right, so they opted for the more concrete setting of the “real” Kadath. The title was not an intentional deception.”
* Presumably Steve Rawling, who provided extra content for Pursuit to Kadath.
Pursuit to Kadath was awarded three out of four stars by Steve List in Different Worlds issue 38 (Jan/Feb 1985), who wrote, “In Pursuit To Kadath, TOME has produced an excellent package of material for Cthulhu players and added some interesting lore to the ‘things Man was not meant to know.’ It is well worth acquiring.”
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It is surprising that Pursuit to Kadath received so much praise at the time of its publication. Perhaps we have become spoiled by the quality of the content which is being written for Call of Cthulhu, and has been written for Call of Cthulhu over the years. Even so, better content was being written than Pursuit to Kadath in 1983. Of the two scenarios in this volume,  ‘The All-Seeing Eye of the Alskali’ is merely okay, but ‘Pursuit to Kadath’ is a double-stranded suety mess that is overly plotted, suffers from a Mythos mélange, and is underdeveloped where it counts. And yet, Pursuit to Kadath is not irredeemably terrible, just not irredeemably bad enough that its potential can still be seen and that you wish it could have been better.

1987: Block Mania

1974 is an important year for the gaming hobby. It is the year that Dungeons & Dragons was introduced, the original RPG from which all other RPGs would ultimately be derived and the original RPG from which so many computer games would draw for their inspiration. It is fitting that the current owner of the game, Wizards of the Coast, released the new version, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, in the year of the game’s fortieth anniversary. To celebrate this, Reviews from R’lyeh will be running a series of reviews from the hobby’s anniversary years, thus there will be reviews from 1974, from 1984, from 1994, and from 2004—the thirtieth, twentieth, and tenth anniversaries of the titles. These will be retrospectives, in each case an opportunity to re-appraise interesting titles and true classics decades on from the year of their original release.
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Sometimes the choice of game to review is not yours to make. So, it is with this review. The death of Richard Halliwell, the co-designer of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, as well as Space Hulk and Dark Future was announced on Monday, May 3rd, 2021. Although not a player of wargames, I am a fan of what he designed and created. This is a review of one of his many designs, all of which were popular and well received.

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In the twenty-second century, the majority of the citizens of Mega-City One live in vast tower blocks, each a cramped claustrophobic world unto its own. Each block has its own shops, schools, hospitals, parks, and more, its citizens resigned to a life of rampant unemployment and welfare benefits and rarely needing to leave the confines of the block. Everything they, if not want, can be found within the confines of their block, so as boring and as frustrating as their lives are, to each citizen, their block is their home and their identity, and if their lives are boring and frustrating, it is not the fault of the government—there is no government, then they need someone else to blame. That someone else is their neighbouring blocks. Perhaps the citizens, or blockers, of these neighbouring blocks are too rich or too poor, too noisy or too quiet and untrustworthy, too arrogant or too cowardly, unfriendly or hostile, or… Or the reason does not matter, because it is enough to turn a simple insult of one blocker made by a blocker of a rival block, a juvie rumble between rival blocks, or even a pre-emptive strike by a rival block is enough to aggravate the rivalries between blocks into an all-out confrontation between their citizens and their city-def squads. And an all-out confrontation between the citizens and the city-def squads of rival blocks can turn into a war! A war that can escalate into one block invading the other and planting bombs and setting fires sufficient to bring the whole block down! Of course, that is until the Judges, the combined policemen, judges, juries, and executioners of Mega-City One respond to the conflict and intervene to bring it to a permanent end!

This is the set-up for Block Mania, a two-player board game for players aged fourteen and up set in the Judge Dredd universe. In Block Mania, each player takes control of a single block—Sammy Fox or Buddy Holly Block—and the enraged citizens or Blockers who reside there. Armed with flamers, missile defence lazers, missile launchers, spit guns, and stump guns, City-Def units, Crocks (senior citizens), Juvies, and Spugs (really mean Juvies) will attack their rival block or defend their own. Futsies (suffering from Future Shock) will go crazy and attack anyone, Fatties rolling on belliwheels will charge and squash their rivals, Mobs will go on the rampage, Juvies and Spugs can scrawl really demeaning and demoralising graffiti, the alien hungry, hungry Kleggs will fight for anyone and chomp anyone they can, and demolition charges can be laid, firebombs places, and fires set, both of which will severely weaken a Block—and may even bring it down!

Block Mania is played out over two boards placed side-by-side and which each depicts a vertical side view of each Block. Laid side-by-side, they are connected by Mega-Ways for vehicle traffic, Pedways for foot traffic, and a Sky-Rail for quick transit. Both Blocks have balconies from which attacks can be launched and targeted, and upon which units aboard Power Boards or wearing Bat Suits can launch themselves or land. Inside movement can be eased up down the Block via the Elevators, down via Grav Chutes, and across the open spaces of Civic spaces. Once inside, Banks can be looted, really demoralising graffiti can be left in Civic spaces, Shopping Malls can be looted, and Power Houses can be switched off, which turns off the elevators, pedways, and lights! Besides the two boards, Block Mania includes some one-hundred-and-eighty counters, depicting the various units and pieces of Armoury (guns) and Hardware (equipment). Each unit has three stats—Command Value, Strength Value, and Movement Allowance. The Command Value is its cost to be activated, the Strength Value is its defensive score, and the Movement Allowance how many movement points it has when activated. Armoury counters have a damage bonus and a range value. Most of the counters are an inch-square, though the conditional marker counters, such as Fire and Collapse are a little smaller.

As well as moving his counters around the two maps, a player also has Mania cards, which give him certain bonuses and advantages during play as well as adding flavour. There are fifty-four of these and they are double-sided. One side is the Justice side, and depicts the forces and equipment that the Justice Department will deploy against the two warring Blocks—and thus both players—in the End Game phase, such as ‘Stumm Gas’, ‘Kleggs Go Home’, and ‘Riot Foam’. On the other side, the Mania cards depict events and bonuses which will benefit a player when used. For example, ‘Reinforcements’ lets a player deploy two units without paying the Command Point cost, ‘Kleggs’ allows a player to hire the mercenary aliens or take control of the Kleggs already in play (so control of them can switch back and forth), and ‘Kaboom!’ which has a player’s City-Def secretly plant a thermo-Bomb in the rival Block and allows him to place three Fire markers anywhere in the enemy Block. Throughout the game, each player holds three Mania cards and always draws another one at the end of his turn, so each player should play one every turn. Lastly, there are two books in Block Mania, both in landscape format. One is the Rulebook, the other is The Blockers’ Manual, a reference to the various counters and Mania cards.

Set-up involves placing the two boards side-by-side, each player receiving three Mania cards with another sixteen set aside for the Endgame phase, and receiving four random Blocker counters and their Hardware or Armoury counters if necessary, and again drawn randomly. They are placed wherever a player like sin his Block. The rest of a player’s counters—Blockers, Armoury, and Hardware—are placed in cups or stacks face down, so that they can also be drawn randomly. The game is played in turns each comprised of four phases—Command, Defensive Fire, Combat, and End Phase. In the Command Phase, the active player rolls the game’s two six-sided dice to generate Command Points, and then spends them to deploy new Blockers, activate Blockers in play and use their Movement Allowance to move, and spend on extra movement. No Command Points need to be spent in the other phases, but the limited number of Command Points per turn, except when a player rolls very well or plays the right Mania card, will force a player to focus on a few—even just one or two—units per turn, and thus make a few choices per turn. Overall, this should keep play relatively brisk.

In the Defensive Fire phase, the non-active player can shoot at adjacent enemy Blockers and in the Combat phase, the active player can attack—shoot or close assault—with his Blockers, make Loot, Arson, or Firefighting attacks against a target square. Rolls of six or more on the dice succeed for most actions, although in combat, the target’s Strength is deducted from the roll, whilst the damage bonus for the Armoury counter is added. During the End phase, rolls are made for chances of Collapse, Fire damage, and Catastrophic damage. Both Collapse and Fire damage causes Structural Damage markets to be added to a Block, though Fire damage can be prevented from spreading by firefighting. More Structural Damage markers in a square increases the likelihood of a collapse and the addition of a Collapse marker, and if a player rolls five dice and the total is lower than the number of Collapse markers, down comes the Block!

Play continues until the Mania cards run out and the Endgame begins. This means that a game should never last more than thirty-six turns before the Endgame is triggered. When it is, the discard pile is then shuffled, along with the sixteen cards set aside at the start of the game. A player must play one card on his turn and must use the Justice side of the card, not the Mania side. A Justice card will typically remove a Blocker from play, so the Endgame turns into a race to do as much damage to the rival Block before a player runs out of Blockers. The game ends when the last Blocker is removed from play or if both Blocks have collapsed. At this point, each player receives Defeat Points for damage done to his Block, locations Looted, graffiti left in his Block, Blockers defeated, and a whole lot of Defeat Points if his Block was brought down. The player with the least amount of Defeat Points is the winner and is given official permission by the rules to taunt his actually defeated opponent.

Block Mania is raucous, silly fun, and chaotic from start to finish. Which it should be, because none of the Blockers are necessarily trained soldiers and they are not acting in a co-ordinated fashion, often just grabbing what Armoury or Hardware that they can and rushing to attack the rival Block or defend against the invading Blockers. Which is modelled with the random drawing of Blockers, Armoury, and Hardware counters, and the randomly determined number of Command Points a player receives each turn. Plus, once any fires are set alight and bombs placed, there is always the increasing chance of the whole thing, including a player’s Block collapsing. And arguably, there can be no greater joy than seeing your rival’s Block collapse. It does not matter that you are going to spend decades in an Isocube when your inevitable arrest by a Judge comes to pass. Ultimately, the forces of the Law and Justice—and no to say life (or the game)—are against you, but after all, your rival’s defeat is greater than yours!

Block Mania is also complex fun in places too. The idea that you would get so angry and so crazy as to actually attack our neighbours is satirically funny in a dark way, especially with some of the Blocker units each player gets to deploy. Of course, much of this is drawn upon the satire of the Judge Dredd comic strip and universe, but in Block Mania, a player can have a Futsie scrawl in Civic space, Crocks fly between the Blocks on Power Boards and Loot a Bank, and Fatsies with Belliwheels trundling across the Pedway to slam into the City-Def on the other side. Which is all great fun, but thirty years on some players might have an issue with the idea of actively working to bring down a tower block. That said, this probably less of an issue than it would have been in the past. The complexity comes in some of the fiddley little details, such as working out how movement works, as it is often dependent upon where a Blocker is and what means of movement a player wants it to use—by foot or Elevator or Grav Chute or Pedway, and tracking elements of the game, such as fires and collapses. In comparison, combat is fairly simple.

Physically, Block Mania is well presented. The boards and counters are done on thick cardboard and illustrated in full colour with artwork drawn from the Judge Dredd universe, as are the Mania cards. The two books, the Rulebook and The Blockers’ Manual are done in the shades of blue and white and are neat and tidy. The Rulebook includes both Designer’s Notes and Players’ Notes, the latter some advice for play. The Rulebook does need a careful study, because there are lots of little rules that apply in different situations, and that does mean that Block Mania is anything other than a casual game.

Block Mania was originally published by Games Workshop in 1987. It was not the first time that Games Workshop would visit the Judge Dredd universe, having previously done so in 1982 with the Judge Dredd board game. However, despite Games Workshop being better known for publishing the much-loved Judge Dredd The Roleplaying GameBlock Mania always remained a fondly remembered game. The subject matter was also popular enough to be the subject of another game, Judge Dredd: Block War, published by Game and A Curry in 2018. Then in 2020, Rebellion Games, the games arm of the publisher of 2000 AD republished Block Mania and its sequel, Mega Mania, as a pair of handsome limited-edition replicas. This is the version of the board game being reviewed.

It would be inaccurate to describe Block Mania as being wholly British Ameritrash. Yes, the game comes with an H-Wagon or two’s worth of theme and applies that throughout, and yes, the game includes a fair degree of randomness, whether that is the random drawing of Blocker, Armoury, and Hardware counters, or the random determination of Command Points from turn to turn. Yet, Block Mania is also a classic counter and dice wargame, no surprise given that it is designed by Richard Halliwell, the co-designer of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and in the use of Command Points, the game has the feel of a miniatures wargame where the limited activation of units from turn to turn is a feature. Plus, there are some complexities in the mechanics which means that it is not as much of a throwaway game.

Rowdy and clamorously chaotic, Block Mania is a darkly funny, satirical game. It is far from a perfect game, but it is a fun game to play and it is a brilliant adaptation of its source material.

The Myconid Mile

The Long Hard Mile: A Solo Adventure is a scenario for Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship. The first Science Fiction roleplaying game and the first post-apocalypse roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha is set aboard the Starship Warden, a generation spaceship which has suffered an unknown catastrophic event which killed the crew and most of the million or so colonists and left the ship irradiated and many of the survivors and the flora and fauna aboard mutated. Some three centuries later, as Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants, the Player Characters, knowing nothing of their captive universe, would leave their village to explore strange realm around them, wielding fantastic mutant powers and discovering how to wield fantastic devices of the gods and the ancients that is technology, ultimately learn of their enclosed world. Originally published in 1976, it would go on to influence a whole genre of roleplaying games, starting with Gamma World, right down to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic from Goodman Games. And it would be Goodman Games which brought the roleplaying game back with the stunning Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition in 2016, and support the forty-year old roleplaying game with a number of supplements, many which would be collected in the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’.
The Long Hard Mile: A Solo Adventure is something different for Metamorphosis Alpha. It is an update—is that a ‘backdate’?—of a scenario which originally appeared as Metamorphosis Alpha: The Long Hard Mile for use with Metamorphosis Alpha, Fourth Edition, for use with the classic version of Metamorphosis Alpha. It draws from a storyline where the Starship Warden runs into an invisible asteroid filled with mushroom and crystal life forms smashing a hole in the ship’s hull and letting in a rash strange new lifeforms which seem to want to take over the ship. Feeling that it was in need of transition piece which tied the collision to the events aboard the Starship Warden, the author wrote The Long Hard Mile which both explored the consequences and presented the first solo adventure for Metamorphosis Alpha.
Several weeks ago, the ship hit something hard and the world about the village seems to have shaken again and again, followed by strange changes. New plants roaming and killing, a nearby valley, once wooded, now filled with giant mushrooms taller than the trees they replaced, and deadly plants everywhere. The hero of the story is equipped with the best that the village has to offer and sets out to investigate. The first thing he sees upon reaching the head of the valley is three high tech weapons mounted on tripods, with signs of burn marks on the ground and trees ahead of them. Why are the weapons there and what were they being fired at, are just some of the initial questions to be answered in the opening entries in The Long Hard Mile. As the Player Character explores the valley, he will plunge into Fungi Forests, find himself stabbed and spiked by strange flora, make friends with a piece of mobile artillery, get battered and spoken to by fungi, and ultimately discover some of the valley’s hidden secrets.
The Long Hard Mile: A Solo Adventure is relatively short and runs to just twenty entries. It is fun, and mechanically, it does involve a high degree of combat, but there are two or three scenes involving some roleplaying too—especially if the scenario is run as a standard adventure with a Game Master and several players. The combat scenes will require reference to the Metamorphosis Alpha rules, but in other scenes where a player needs to roll dice, the mechanics are explained in the entry. The scenario includes two pre-generated Player Characters, Scar-Lock and Lock-Scar. The former is a Pure Strain Human, the latter a Mutant Humanoid. Their character-type will not have any effect upon their explorations of the valley, although Lock-Scar does have some advantage in have various mutations which will help him in a fight. If the Player Character manages to survive and escape the valley, he should be able to bring back several weapons along with a few secrets and the means to end the threat which has emerged since the crash and taken over the woods.
Once a player has run through The Long hard Mile in solo fashion, there is nothing to stop her from running the scenario as an adventure for a standard group. This is relatively easy given the limited number of entries in the adventure, but to make it little easier, the Game Master should draw up a map of the various encounters so that it will be easier to plot the Player Characters’ movement from one location to another. As a solo adventure, The Long hard Mile is playable in an hour, but as a standard adventure, a group should be able to complete it in a session or so. And like so many supplements and scenarios for Metamorphosis AlphaThe Long hard Mile works with almost any post-apocalyptic roleplaying game, from Gamma World to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic.

The capacity for The Long Hard Mile: A Solo Adventure to be played as both a solo adventure and a standard adventure, even if a short one in both cases, gives it a versatility that few scenarios possess. It also means that the Game Master gets to play Metamorphosis Alpha for a change, and whether her character—Scar-Lock or Lock-Scar—manages to survive her explorations, he can become an NPC spurring the Player Characters into action and rooting out the mysteries of The Long Hard Mile: A Solo Adventure.

Views of the Warden

The Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players is a supplement for Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship. The first Science Fiction roleplaying game and the first post-apocalypse roleplaying game, Metamorphosis Alpha is set aboard the Starship Warden, a generation spaceship which has suffered an unknown catastrophic event which killed the crew and most of the million or so colonists and left the ship irradiated and many of the survivors and the flora and fauna aboard mutated. Some three centuries later, as Humans, Mutated Humans, Mutated Animals, and Mutated Plants, the Player Characters, knowing nothing of their captive universe, would leave their village to explore strange realm around them, wielding fantastic mutant powers and discovering how to wield fantastic devices of the gods and the ancients that is technology, ultimately learn of their enclosed world. Originally published in 1976, it would go on to influence a whole genre of roleplaying games, starting with Gamma World, right down to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic from Goodman Games. And it would be Goodman Games which brought the roleplaying game back with the stunning Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition in 2016, and support the forty-year old roleplaying game with a number of supplements, many which would be collected in the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’.
Next to come out of the ‘Metamorphosis Alpha Treasure Chest’ is Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players. There is no denying the power of a good handout, whether is the matchbook from the Stumbling Tiger Bar found in Jackson Elias’ hotel room at the start of Masks of Nyarlathotep or the Origami-style elemental stones from The Doomstones campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying or the rotating puzzle from The Chained Coffin for Dungeon Crawl Classics or the opening screen crawl scripts for West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. They engage the players and draw them into the world of the roleplaying game, building atmosphere and a sense of immersion. Yet for most fantasy roleplaying games, handouts take the form of maps, but there is a special case for Dungeons & Dragons. Going all the way back to S1 Tomb of Horrors, certainly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has had a history of including a separate booklet of images keyed to locations in a scenario, so that when the adventurers reach a particular location, the Dungeon Master can flip to the relevant image in the Illustration Booklet and show it to her players. These illustrations brought each location alive and made the Dungeon Master’s task all the easier, and it is from these Illustration Booklets, for S1 Tomb of Horrors or more recently, Dwimmermount, that the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players draws from for its inspiration.
The Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players is simply a book of illustrations of scenes aboard the Starship Warden. Unlike the Illustration Booklets for S1 Tomb of Horrors or Dwimmermount, there is no text associated with the images in its pages. Or indeed, an actual scenario associated with it. What you have instead is literally a booklet of images. Appearing in landscape and portrait formats, one image per page, they include a Tiger Mutant Animal in armour and firing a rocket straight at the viewer—and thus the Player Characters; a woman dressed in the clothes of the Ancients, asleep in her cyropod; and a bunch of scruffy Pure Strain Humans, bearded and armed with flint spears, looking nervously into a strange hole in the wall. Some are humorous, like the four Wolfoids, clearly enjoying themselves travelling in some ancient vehicle, the passengers with their feet, whilst others are horrifying, such as the Pure Strain Human being strapped down by medbots whilst staring at the metal leg they are about to replace his own with! Then some are intriguing, like the entrance to a bunker or a facility marked as ‘Level 5’, the ground before it strewn with dirt out of which protrudes one of the many infamous coloured arm bands to be found aboard the Starship Warden and which will grant access to certain keyed areas.
However, because there is no text in the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players and so each picture is not displaying a specific scene or encounter, these images are not actually intended to be shown to the players—at least not at first. Their initial role is to severe as inspiration for the Game Master, for the Game Master to write scenarios and scenes in which the images can be shown to the players and illustrate what their characters can see. For example, perhaps one of the Player Characters’ friends has gone to serve the Ancients, but when they discover him, they see him about to undergo leg upgrade surgery at the hands of the medbots or during the rites to the holy carp in the lake upon whose shores the Player Characters’ village stands, the giant fish is suddenly attacked by something tentacular. Is this tentacled attacker a mutated beast, a robot gone rogue, or what else could it be?
The all but text free Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players does another thing and that is showcase the artwork of the late Jim Holloway, drawings here each to a brief given by author, James Ward. And they are good pieces of art, interesting, a little quirky, and hopefully for the Game Master, inspirational, and her players, illustrative. And like so many supplements for Metamorphosis Alpha, the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players works with almost any post-apocalyptic roleplaying game, from Gamma World to Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic. Ultimately though, the Book of Handouts – 16 Scenes to Show Players is not a book that a Metamorphosis Alpha or other post-apocalypse Game Master absolutely needs, but short of ideas, it might provide much-needed inspiration for the next adventure.

[Fanzine Focus XXIV] Upper Heleng

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.

Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time is a little different. Penned by Zedeck Siew—author of Lorn Song of the Bachelor—and drawn by Munkao, it is the third title published by the A Thousand Thousand Islands imprint, a Southeast Asian-themed fantasy visual world-building project, one which aims to draw from regional folklore and history to create a fantasy world truly rooted in the region’s myths, rather than a set of rules simply reskinned with a fantasy culture. The result of the project to date is eight fanzines, plus appendices, each slightly different, and each focusing on discrete settings which might be in the same world, but are just easily be separate places in separate worlds. What sets the series apart is the aesthetic sparseness of its combination of art and text. The latter describes the place, its peoples and personalities, its places, and its strangeness with a very simple economy of words. Which is paired with the utterly delightful artwork which captures the strangeness and exoticism of the particular setting and brings it alive. Barring a table of three (or more) for determining random aspects that the Player Characters might encounter each entry in the series is systemless, meaning that each can be using any manner of roleplaying games and systems, whether that is fantasy or Science Fiction, the Old School Renaissance or not.

The first, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, described the Death-Rolled Kingdom, built on the remains of great drowned city, now ruled by crocodiles in lazy, benign fashion, they police the river, and their decrees outlaw the exploration of the ruins of MR-KR-GR, and they sometimes hire adventurers. The second, Kraching, explored the life of a quiet, sleepy village alongside a great forest, dominated by cats of all sizes and known for its beautiful carvings of the wood taken from the forest. The third in the series, Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, takes the reader, if not into this forest, but into a forest.

Stepping into the forest is like stepping into the past. Time seems to pass differently there, and so it is in Upper Heleng, though no native would call it that. Beyond the two great trees which mark its most obvious entry—one dead, the other never not in flower, time passes faster for objects not of the forest. They rot, they rust, teeth fall out. It is almost as if the forest is rejecting such modernisms. Squirrels appear to chatter and gossip—if you listen. A wheezing mouse deer asks for help—it has a woman’s face. Take care lest the Leeches stalk you and steal something from more important than a mere possession—a hand, a child not yet born, a skill, your favourite song… The forest is married to Time and has given birth to many gods who make their home in her arboreal embrace. Each has their own time, some of which are embraced by the natives, some of which are not. The Leech is her eldest, who governs memory, loss, and entropy, and who defends his mother when necessary and whose manifestations stalk and steal from intruders. The Bee is her third daughter, a gibbon-shaped hive of bees whose presence indicates that harvest is here. The Moth is the youngest and the oldest, and governs death for all who die in the forest, able to see out of the spots on the moth he has for a face—and out of all spots of all moths. Anyone who died in the forest may be asked questions through the Moth for he remembers them all, but for a price.

The way into the forest—and Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time—is through a guide. The girl, Wingseed, is keen to take the Player Characters in—though Dangles, her father now living in a dog’s (and thus a god’s) shape worries greatly for her, and will advise them to eat the food grown inside to lessen the effects of time whilst under the canopy. The Player Characters may encounter Sadushan San Di, who quests for the Leech who defeated Sadushan San Di’s liege-lady, Queen Qaidun, and stole her face, but who knows which of the many Leech Spawn now bears that visage? Or Sri Jahisha, itinerant swordfish who wishes to see the un-oceaned world and is borne upon the back of fisherman blessed with magic. The forest nomads with their strange ways, but kindly manner, treating outsiders like children who know no better… Such as Tittertit, the elderly camp chief who does not give a damn and whose armful of monkeys know spells and Scoffysyrup, a woman addicted to the beakroot which is transforming her into a bird. She wants to be free to fly and wants more, but her campmates refuse to gather it. Perhaps the Player Characters have come to aid Sadushan San Di or to purchase trade goods, like the Ghost Antler, infused with the beast’s final instincts at death, the phantom vines which are found hanging in the air and can be woven into nets capable of entrapping the incorporeal, or Quick Honey, the mercury liquid which grants a day’s invulnerability and unerring action in return for the ultimate price, but which all of the gods across the Thousand Thousand Isles want at their table.

For the Game Master there are tables to determine random encounters in the forest and encounters with the forest people. There is also an insert which provides another pair of tables. Both are ‘die-drop’ tables, one a name generator for the people of the forest which with a roll of six dice also generates a personality too. The other is a lay of the land of the forest, a collection of places, the fall of the dice determining the elements of the location where the Player Characters are, or are going, the Game Master building the descriptions from where the dice land. This is not necessarily a map generator, since the land can change, rivers squirm to elsewhere, paths wither and disappear. Essentially, the forest grows and changes, but remains the same.

Physically, Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time is a slim booklet which possesses the lovely simplicity of the Thousand Thousand Isles, both in terms of the words and the art. Together they evoke visions of a very different world, inspired by forest taboos and Bateq egalitarianism, and of a very different fantasy to which a Western audience is used, but the light text makes it all very accessible as the art entrances the reader. However, Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time is not easy to use, the forest crawl being far away and not necessarily easy to reach, but worse, it is difficult to engage the Player Characters with it until they reach its eaves. The Game Master will need to work hard to create motivations and drives for them to travel to Upper Heleng, and that is its biggest weakness. It has the hooks—both ethnographic and cosmological—but it is a matter of getting the Player Characters there.

Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time has not quite the charm of the previous MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom or Kraching, but this does not mean that it is not without appeal. Once again, Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time is beguilingly simple and exquisitely enticing in its presentation of a bucolically strange, but seemingly tranquil land far away from whatever constitutes the main hub of the world and its action.

—oOo—

The great news is that is Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, Kraching, and the others in the Thousand Thousand Isles setting are now available outside of Malaysia. Details can be found here.

[Fanzine Focus XXIV] Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another Dungeon Master and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Another retroclone garnering attention via fanzines is Mörk Borg.
Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory—‘Feretory’ meaning ‘a portable shrine containing the relics of a saint.’ is a fanzine of a different stripe, both in terms of content and style. It is and it is not a fanzine, but it is for Mörk Borg, the pitch-black pre-apocalyptic fantasy roleplaying game which brings a Nordic death metal sensibility to the Old School Renaissance. The format is that of a fanzine, A5-sized, on matte paper rather than the gloss of the Mörk Borg rulebook, but sharing the same riotous assault of electrically vibrant yellow and pink highlights on swathes of black, abrupt font changes, and metallic embellishments. Essentially, production values higher than that typically found in most fanzines, but influential nevertheless, as seen in the recent Knock! #1 An Adventure Gaming Bric-à-Brac. This is because although the origins of the content in Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory are amateur in origin, they have been curated from submissions to the Mörk Borg Cult, the community content programme for Mörk Borg by the designers of the roleplaying game and collated into a fanzine format. And unlike most fanzines is available through distribution. It is essentially, a cross between a fanzine with gorgeous production values and a supplement with fanzine sensibilities.
At sixty-four pages and fourteen or so entries, Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory is also longer than most fanzines. Most of its articles are fairly short though and written and presented in a sparse, often bullet-point style which makes their content easy to digest. It can be boiled down to a variegated array of tables, scenarios, and character Classes, and Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory does not waste any time in getting down to its trademark doom and gloom with the first of its tables. Slipped inside the front cover, ‘The Monster Approaches’ is a quick and dirty random monster generator which with a roll of a handful of dice, the Game Master can create something vile and unnerving to throw at her Player Characters—who are of course, just as likely to be almost, if not equally as vile and unnerving. It is quickly followed by Svante Landgraf’s ‘Roads to Damnation: Travel Across a Dying World’ which provides rules and randomness for travelling across the large island which is all that remains of the Dying Lands. It covers distances as well as events on and off the road, but like all tables has only a limited number of entries, so may be exhausted fairly soon. For a roleplaying game like Mörk Borg, which is designed for short campaigns, this is not so much of an issue.
Longer is ‘Eat Prey Kill’ by Karl Druid, which can work as a companion to ‘Roads to Damnation: Travel Across a Dying World’, providing as it does rules for hunting in the Dying Lands. In effect, it is a set of mini-tables, one for each region of the Dying Lands (indicated by the often-indecipherable use of Gothic script), with each entry on the these mini-tables being a complete monster description and its stats. So in the Bergen Chrypt, a hunter might find a Tunnel Sneak (or it might find him), Nephalix Monkeys who leap from peak to peak on boney wings, tossing their victims down the cliffs below, laughing as they do, or a Ragpie, what appears to be bundle of old cloth near a pile of bones, but which embraces and chokes its victims like a dark cloak. So it is a bestiary of new creatures also, but what makes it grim is not just the table for hunting mishaps, but also what a hunter might find in the belly of the beast he is hunting…
‘d100 Items and Trinkets’ by Pelle Svensson provides exactly that, whilst Anders Arpi, Ben H, Dom Cohen, Ripley C, Johan Nohr, karl Druid, Leander E, Paul Wilde, and Flora v/d B all contribute to ‘The Tenebrous Reliquary’ which is a much lengthier and more table which contains ‘d66 Items of Doom’, including the ‘Plasmatic Idol’ which blood is spilled over it, the blood becomes a poison or the owner gains a temporary boon; a ‘Tyrant’s Tongue’, which when placed in the mouth of a skull, screams the tongue’s final words—over and over; and the ‘Claw of the Sloth’, a dagger whose small cuts can eventually freeze a victim on the spot. All of these items have a grim, dark edge to them befitting the tone of the roleplaying game. They could easily be adapted to other roleplaying games or settings with similar atmospheres. ‘The Tablets of Obscurity’ is a list of ten magical relics of a forgotten mind-cult, essentially stone tablets used like scrolls, whilst ‘The Black Salt Wind’ blows through tombs, palaces, and places deep beneath the earth, such as in the Valley of the Unfortunate Undead and the Wästland plains, its effects random each time, such as burning eyes which weep black tears encrusting the eyes or Old Salt Madness singing to you, telling to either mock or befriend everyone you meet!
Carl Niblaeus’ ‘The Death Ziggurat’ is the first of three scenarios in Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory. The Player Characters are hired by Cretun monks to climb down into a cold and dank sinkhole in the forests of Sarkash to find an ancient ziggurat and prevent a demon laying waste to the world. This is a mini-hexcrawl, set in a freezing landscape, with just a handful of locations, including the ziggurat itself, and even fewer NPCs. Combined with a set of tables to populate the sinkhole with ruins and encounters, ‘The Death Ziggurat’ is playable in a session or two and is easily added to a campaign or run as a one-shot. It also nicely tags the core concept behind Mörk Borg and that is that the world is doomed… ‘The Goblin Grinder’ by Ripley Caldwell moves the action to the city of Galgenbeck which has become infested with Goblins, with the number of its citizens affected by the Goblin Cure growing day by day. Fortunately, a local alchemist has a cure—at a cost of forty silver a vial! The scenario comes with several reasons for the Player Characters to get involved, at least initially, but not necessarily how to take the next step and get them to locations where the scenario is likely to be resolved. Once the Player Characters get to the primary location in the scenario, it is nicely detailed, grim and grimy with a certain grinding crunch to its climax. The scenario needs a little effort upon the part of the Game Master to work, but once done, this again, is playable in a session or two.
‘The Grey Galth Inn’ is not a scenario as such, but rather another set of tables for generating elements and storyhooks when at this, or another inn. So, there are tables for both ‘Would you prefer the Select Menu?’ and ‘Ah, I see, you lack funds’ (watery femur soup or thick ooze soup—ooze is pure—sound lovely), along with tables for ‘Why is the Innkeeper Twitching?’ and ‘Patron traits’. Also included is rules for the dice-based gambling mini-game called Three Dead Skulls. Of course, these tables can be used to generate content and hook the Player Characters into whatever is going on in and around the inn. 
Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory includes four new Classes. These begin with Karl Druid’s ‘Cursed Skinwalker’, a shape-shifter able to assume the form of a singular creature, such as a Murder-Plagued Rat or a Doomsaying Monkey, within a bone-cracking painful minute. The ‘Pale One’ by Tim Rudluff is an alien of weird origins and manner, able to cast a random blessing once per day, but beset by incoherent madness and self-destructive rages, whilst Greg Saunders’ ‘Dead God’s Prophet’ listens to the voices in his head telling him what to do, and is blessed by his dead god, perhaps with poison-seeping stigmata or eyes of holy fire. Lastly, the ‘Forlorn Philosopher’ who studies have failed him and rails at the lies left. The ‘Forlorn Philosopher’ can freely use and understand ‘The Tablets of Obscurity’. Some of these Classes are easier to play than others, the Cursed Skinwalker’  and ‘Pale One’ in particular feeling underwritten in comparison to the ‘Dead God’s Prophet’ and ‘Forlorn Philosopher’, both of which add to the feel and atmosphere of the Dying Lands.
Included in Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory is ‘Dark Fort’, the solo game which formed the basis for Mörk Borg. It is a short, and in keeping with Mörk Borg, nasty solo game. Complete with five character sheets, a player rolls on its tables to generate encounter after encounter, the aim being for the victim/character to survive each room, collect silver, gain a Level, and so on. Once a player has ticked each of the six advancements from gaining a new Level, the character retires, lives comfortably, and just like Mörk Borg, the world ends. It is quick and dirty, even slight, but a nice nod to the origins of the roleplaying game.
Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory can add so much to your fantasy game—especially if it is dark and grim. Its content would work in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Zweihänder: Grim & Perilous, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and others—with a little bit of adaptation. As a supplement for Mörk Borg it expands aspects of adventuring in the Dying Lands whilst keeping them as grim and grimy, as grisly and grotty, and as ghastly and grubby as both Game Master and players would want. Mörk Borg Cult: Feretoryy is a joyously foul and febrile first supplement, offering up a jumble that the Game Master will want to sort through and add to her game.

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