Reviews from R'lyeh

[Fanzine Focus XVIII] Crawl! #2

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 & 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 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 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 a mixed bag, Crawl! #2 is surprisingly focused, as announced by the issue’s subtitle—‘The Loot Issue!’. Published in June, 2012, what the issue does is explore the role of treasure in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, highlighting the fact that treasure is a relative rarity in comparison to Dungeons & Dragons and other retroclones—its fantasy world lacks the piles of gold and hoards of magical items and gewgaws found in other fantasy roleplaying games. In the first article, ‘Loot!’ the editor builds a means of determining treasure types from one simple table—the ‘Random Loot by Monster Type’ table. This breaks down the treasure finds by monster type, so ‘Humanoids with Weapons’, ‘Dragons’, ‘Demons’, Un-dead’, and ‘Other Monsters’. What a character finds—the roll modified by his Luck bonus—actually does not vary all that wildly, so handfuls of coins, a few gems, and so on, though a character is more likely to find cursed items with the Un-dead. Further tables expand upon the one table, one in particular adding ‘Items of Note’. These are not necessarily magical, but whether charms, bottles, scrolls, books, and the like, they are valuable, at least to someone. Magical items can be found, but they are rare—really rare in comparison to Dungeons & Dragons—and they are anything other then generic. So no mere +1 swords

Instead, the fanzine offers ‘Lucky Items’. These are items which not only have a Luck bonus or a ‘magical’ effect, they also have a story. They can also be created during a play, such as when a warrior uses a weapon for the first time and it inflicts a critical wound or a wizard carves a staff from a branch of tree that the wizard witnessed being struck by lightning. Now the Luck bonus or ‘magical’ effect may not always work and it can degrade and even be lost over time, but idea is that over time, instead of a player character discovering yet another shield +2 or Dagger +1, he will come to favour certain weapons or items of equipment, and perhaps they might grow with him as the story and legend of his doings are told, becoming Lucky, and ultimately, Legendary as looked at in ‘Legendary Items’. (Though this does not stop him from discovering the Dagger +1.)

All together, these three articles form a trilogy, one that nicely builds upon its subject matter without the reader necessarily noticing until the end. Although the mechanics for Lucky items are slightly more complex than that might be found in standard Dungeons & Dragons, they make such items fickle—rather than unreliable—and thus more fun. Overall, this trilogy is good alternative to the rules given for Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, adding depth, but also highlighting the differences between it and Dungeons & Dragons

This difference is further highlighted in the fourth article. ‘OSR Conversions: Treasure!’ As this series of articles details, there is a great deal of difference between how Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the Old School Renaissance handles treasure. This details how the Judge can take an adventure for another retroclone and adapt its treasure element to Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. So this extends the utility of the previous trilogy in enabling a Judge to run more scenarios without losing the flavour of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Jon Marr of purplesorcerer.com provides the first of several articles by other authors in the second issue of the fanzine. This is ‘Honest Orkoff!’, a personality from his Sunken Cities campaign, a generally trustworthy merchant of Mustertown who if he is not interested in making a purchase from you, then can put you in touch with someone who will be interested. Just three are described in a lovely line of patter from the merchant, each really being a little vignette or encounter that the Judge can develop and bring into her game. Colin Chapman offers new rules for both shields and helmets with ‘Shattered Shields’ and ‘Helmet Law!’. The former suggests that shields can be shattered in a single blow in order to offset damage that might otherwise greatly injure a character, whilst the latter details how a helmet can do the same, but if used in that fashion there might be unintended consequences (as detailed on the accompanying table). Much of this will be familiar from any number of retroclones from the past few years or so, but to be fair, these rules would have been nice additions for a more brutal style of game in 2012 and they still are in 2020.

Lastly, Colin Chapman takes the reader shopping. In ‘Helmets & New Shields’, he adds new rules and new types of armour, such as bucklers which can be used with ranged weapons and as weapons and the check penalty to all actions whilst wearing various types of helmets. In ‘Killin’ Time!’ he lists several new weapons, such as Bullwhip and Maul, and the rules for using them, along with notes and suggestions as to which Classes from the  Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game can use them. ‘Be Prepared!’ covers food and lodging, tools, miscellaneous items, and more—even prosthetic items!


Physically, Crawl! #2 is surprising. The layout is clean and tidy, uncluttered and easy to read. The artwork is good too. Overall and though it is a fanzine, there is a feel of professionalism in terms of how Crawl! #2 is presented. If Crawl! No. 1 was a good first issue, then Crawl! #2 is better. The presentation is cleaner, tidier, and easier to read, making the content more accessible. That content itself is useful, helping to develop a Judge’s Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game campaign in terms of how she handles treasure and how treasure can be made important to the player characters, and then making combat more bruising and battering with the rules for shields and helmets. 

Jonstown Jottings #15: Humakt, Raven, and Wolf

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha 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?
Humakt, Raven, and Wolf is a short scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha involving a Heroquest to obtain help in searching for something.

It is a fifteen page, full colour, 6.50 MB PDF.

Humakt, Raven, and Wolf is well presented,  decently written, and sparsely illustrated with solid artwork. It needs a slight edit in places.

Where is it set?
On the Heroplane.

It is suggested that if the Game Master wants to run Humakt, Raven, and Wolf as part of the scenarios that form the campaign in and around Apple Lane found in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, that she run it as part of the scenario, ‘Dragon of Thunder Hills’.

Who do you play?
The player characters should ideally be heroes of Sartar. One the player characters really should be a Humakti.

What do you need?
Humakt, Raven, and Wolf requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. If being run as part of the Colymar campaign, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack will be required. 

What do you get?
Humakt, Raven, and Wolf is a short, simple Heroquest which ideally should take no longer than a session to play, although it does involve a lot of combat and that can take time. Based on the myth of how Humakt found a way to track down the dead following the theft of his sword by his brother Orlanth, by enacting the heroquest the player characters will not only enforce the strength of the myth, but gain help in finding what they are searching for. (If run as part of the scenario, ‘Dragon of Thunder Hills’, this will be the location of the dream dragon Yerezum Storn.)

Humakt, Raven, and Wolf gives simple rules for getting the player characters onto the Heroplane and takes them through the six stations or steps of the Heroquest. The majority of these do involve combat and the Game Master will need to take care that she does overwhelm the Humakti player character and his colleagues with two many opponents before the final encounter. One requirement of the heroquest is that the Humakti test his love of his family, but that immediately raised the question what to do if the Humakti lacks the Passion of Love (Family). Fortunately, the author provides a solution.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Humakt, Raven, and Wolf presents a short scenario in which the Game Master can pull her players and their characters into of one of Glorantha’s many myths, especially if one of them is a Humakti warrior. It is a particularly good to run as part of the scenario, ‘Dragon of Thunder Hills’, but may be run at any time the player characters need help in looking for something—a person, a thing, information, and so on. 
No. Either because you do not have a Humakti amongst your player characters or because running Humakt, Raven, and Wolf as part of the scenario, ‘Dragon of Thunder Hills’ is just overly specific in terms of time and place.
Maybe. Humakt, Raven, and Wolf is short and relatively easy to slip into a campaign, but really only works if one of the player characters is a Humakti.

Jonstown Jottings #14: Night of the Quacking Dead

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha 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?
Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead is a short supplement which presents undead Ducks and their consequences for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a nine page, full colour, 4.86 MB PDF.

Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead is well presented and decently written.

Where is it set?
In and around the Upland Marsh in Sartar.

Who do you play?
Adventurers of all types would work with Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead, but Humakti character would be an appropriate choice. A good Duck would leap—just not very high—to strike back at the nefarious plans of the Necromancer of the Upland  Marsh.

What do you need?
Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead requires both RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary. Both the  supplement, Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes, and the magazine, Wyrms Footnotes #15, may be of use for their further background to the Upland Marsh.

What do you get?
Behind its cartoonish cover, Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead gives an introduction to the Upland Marsh, a scenario seed and associated NPC, and three undead creatures, all of an anatine un-nature.

The introduction examines the relationship that the Ducks—or durulz—have with the Upland Marsh and the unspoken truce they have with the Delecti the Necromancer. It also provides rules the environmental effects of fighting in the marsh which will be important should the Game Master develop the scenario seed in Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead. This has the newly declared Sword of Humakt, Orlaventus Great-Bill, putting the call out for adventurers to join him on an excursion into the marsh. He wants to locate and destroy those members of his family who were killed by the undead whilst the Ducks were taking refuge in the marsh as a result of the Lunar Duck Hunts and who have themselves raised from the dead. For the adventurers he makes promises about finding legendary treasure. Unfortunately, this hook for the player characters is undeveloped, leaving the Game Master to come up with ideas herself. At the very least, one or two suggestions would have been helpful.

The main focus of Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead though, is on presenting undead Ducks. This includes both the Duck Zombie, which unlike most undead, has the advantage of being already adapted to the terrain, and the Duck Skeleton. Lastly, the Duck Goliath is literally a ‘Frankenduck’s Monster’ of a creature, stitched together from the body parts of various, typically ill-suited creatures, but always with the head of a Duck. Facing a Duck Goliath would be a suitable encounter for the given scenario seed—or make for a bizarre encounter anywhere in or near the Upland Marsh.

Again Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead falls into the category of ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’ and is a very specific—geographically specific—addition. Ultimately, Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead is of limited use, but if a Game Master wanted to use it, it is a pity that the scenario seed was not quite as developed to help the Game Master a little more.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. If you are running a campaign or adventure set in Sartar and are planning for your adventurers to venture anywhere in or near the Upland Marsh, then Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead is worth your time and interest. The Duck puns are just a bonus.
No. If your campaign or adventure is not set in Sartar and will not going anywhere near the Upland Marsh, or Ducks do not play a role in your campaign, then then Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead is unlikely to be of interest to you. The Duck puns may also be off-putting. 
Maybe. A devout Humakti warrior would travel far to strike at the unwholesome undead of the Upland Marsh and who knows what such a warrior would encounter when he got there, let alone what he might have been sent to retrieve? Yes, Monster of the Month #3: Night of the Quacking Dead is very specific in terms of its geography, but a Game Master could develop reasons for the player characters to travel as far as the Upland Marsh. The Duck puns are just silly and you should be fine with that.

The world is damned, and you don’t care

The seas rise. The forests spread. Crops fail. Wars continue without reason. The dead walk the land. Peasants suffer taxes, plague, and worse. There is no hope. All is despair. The world is dying, reduced to a handful of lands amidst the Endless Sea. The prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisks are coming true. In the great cathedral to the god Nechrubel in the city of Galgenbeck in the land of Tveland, the arch-priestess Josilfa heeds the prophecies whilst the inquisition of Two-Headed Basilisks hunts down the apostates and heretics who would commit of the ultimate of taking their lives rather than meeting the apocalypse with eyes wide open. Before Galgenback lies Graven-Tosk, an ancient cemetery ringed by a tangled, spreading forest at the heart of which stands the gothic black Palace of the Shadow King, from whose crumbling halls the Shadow King’s sons—and only sons—go out to wander the cemetery ruins to trick passing travellers and those who would delve into the grave, all to further enhance the misery of men. To the east is Grift, located on a peninsula separated from the rest of the lands by the bottomless Múr over which span three giant bridges. Múr once ensured that the city-state was a bastion of hope and light from the plague-ridden, war-torn lands on the other side of the bridges, but now the rock upon which Grit stands cracks and nightly spawns monsters, the bridges shriek and scream, and King Sigfúm heeds the prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisks and prepares to march his peoples over the cliffs and into the seas. In the west lie two kingdoms. In north-western Kergüs, Blood-Countess Anthelia cries out for colour and warmth from her white stone castle in the black glass city of Alliáns, yet in her ice-wracked lands, everything the fragile countess touches, looks upon, and breathes upon is drained of colour. To the south-west, the paranoid, corpulent, and crazy King Fathmu IX obsesses over the prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisks even as he viciously raids and taxes his peasantry to ensure his seat, the city of Schleswig, maintains its gaudy opulence. Between them all is the Valley of the Unfortunate Undead, its crypts rumoured to be home to one of the Basilisks, its soil said to be lethal, its air roiling with deadly despair…

This is the world of Mörk Borg, meaning ‘Dark Fortress’, a Dark Ages, a Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It is a doom-laden, death metal driven, dark fantasy roleplaying game set in a grim-dark world of despair in which the last remnants of mankind with the will to act work themselves up to perhaps plunder the crypts and graves of those fortunate enough to have left this land or even stand up against the forthcoming apocalypse. It is rules light, with minimal, player-facing mechanics, in fact so light, it can be played with or without Classes. The rulebook comes with everything necessary to play—rules, setting, a bestiary, a guide to magic, and a short, bloody dungeon.

Yet make no mistake, what grabs you from the start about Mörk Borg is its look. Behind its striking, even shockingly yellow cover with its subtly reverse-embossed illustration of a skeletal warrior, the hardcover consists of vibrant swathes of pink and yellow which contrast sharply with the stark blocks of heavy black on white and heavy white on black. A jumble of fonts—gothic fonts being the mainstay—flood its pages and the whole book has the look and tone of one thing—the heavy metal fanzine. This is not amateurish though, more artfully designed—especially with the silver and gold foil pages—and nor is it all solid tone colours though, full illustrations being quite subtly worked to further enhance the sense of despair and menace, such the fully painted image of the human heart placed behind the text which explains Hit Points. Overall, the layout and look of Mörk Borg is brutal and stark, in your face and constantly remind you of the doom that hangs over the world. 

Once you open the book, you are straight into the game. There is no explanation as to what a roleplaying game is and what roleplaying is. And that is fine. Mörk Borg is not a roleplaying game for anyone new to the hobby. It does carry a warning though, that it is really not suitable for anyone under the age if sixteen. Which is probably true.

Mechanically, Mörk Borg starts with the end of the world. The Game Master can roll for what Miseries befall the world, predicted in a series of psalms from The Calendar of Nechrubel – The Nameless Scriptures. So, it might be “Behold the Endless Sea, where Leviathan causes waves to be as mountains.” or “As at the beginning, so at the end, all manner of fly and wasp shall fill the air.” The seventh Misery will herald the actual end of the world, but how far away that is can be determined by the Game Master enabling her to set the rough length of her Mörk Borg campaign.

Mörk Borg is humancentric, the player characters being the men and women unlucky to be alive in this dark age. A character is defined by four abilities—Agility, Presence, Strength, and Toughness. Of the four, Presence is the odd one out. It is not just used for Charisma checks, but also for perception checks, ranged attacks, and casting spells. The four abilities range in value from -3 to +3, these being equal to ability modifiers found in Dungeons & Dragons and other retroclones. Character generation though depends upon whether you are using the Classes in Mörk Borg. If not, a player rolls for his character’s starting weapon and equipment, and then rolls four six-sided dice and drops the lowest for two abilities and three six-sided dice for the other two.

Kratar
Agility +2 Presence +3 Strength -2 Toughness 0
Hit Points: 6
Armour: No armour
Weapon: Warhammer (d6)
Equipment: 110 sp, waterskin, two days food, backpack, metal file and lockpins, sacred scroll (Grace for a Sinner)

If using character Classes, Mörk Borg offers six. Although optional, they do add flavour to the setting as much as they enhance what a player character can do. Three of the Classes are equivalents of classic Dungeons & Dragons-style Classes, whilst three are particular to Mörk Borg. Fanged Deserter, Gutterborn Scum, and Esoteric Hermit are the equivalent of Fighter, Thief, and Magic-User respectively, whilst the Heretical Priest is an adherent of an unholy faith, the Occult Herbmaster is a mixer of potions and poisons, and the Wretched Royalty is fallen noble. Each Class determines what dice a player rolls for his character’s abilities, armour, equipment, weapons, and origins, and can either be selected by a player or rolled randomly like everything else.

Quillnach
Occult Herbalist
Agility +1 Presence -3 Strength -1 Toughness +1
Hit Points: 6
Omens: d2 (1)
Armour: Furs (-d2 damage, tier 1)
Weapon: Femur (d4)
Equipment: 50 sp, waterskin, four days food, portable laboratory, donkey, silver crucifix, heavy chain (15 ft.), red poison (two doses), Southern Frog Stew (four doses)
Origins: Raised in the old frozen ruins not far from Alliáns

Mechanically, Mörk Borg is simple. A player rolls a twenty-sided die, modifies the result by one of his character’s abilities, and attempts to beat a Difficulty Rating of twelve. The Difficulty Rating may go up or down depending on the situation, but whatever the situation, the player always rolls, even in combat or as Mörk Borg terms it, violence. So, a player will roll for his character to hit in melee using his Strength and his Agility to avoid being hit. Armour is represented by a die value, from -d2 for light armour to -d6 for heavy armour, representing the amount of damage it stops. Medium and heavy armour each add a modifier to any Agility action by the character, including defending himself. This is pleasingly simple and offers a character some tactical choice—just when is it better to avoid taking the blows or avoid taking the damage?

In addition, characters have access to Omens, of which a character typically has one or two a day. They can be used to deal maximum damage on an attack, reroll any die—not just that player’s, lower the damage die rolled against a character, to neutralise a critical success or fumble, or to lower the Difficulty Rating on a test.

Instead of magic, Mörk Borg has scrolls. There are twenty of these and they can either be ‘Unclean’, for example, Foul Psychopomp, which summons zombies or skeletons, or ‘Sacred’, such as Enochian Syntax, which gives a command which must be blindly obeyed. Although any character—of any Class or none—can use a scroll, they cannot be used whilst wearing medium or heavy armour or carrying a two-handed weapon. Once a character has a scroll, he can use it or his other scrolls a random number of times per day, each time requiring a standard Presence test to succeed. Fail and the character will suffer one or two points of damage and is dizzy for an hour, so cannot use any scrolls. A roll of a one is a critical failure and means that the player must roll on the Arcane Catastrophes table, the best results of which can simply kill the character…

Optional tables for the characters add terrible traits, backgrounds or ‘Troubling Tales’, and what Two-Headed Basilisks might demand of them, whilst for the Game Master, there are tables of occult treasures, corpse plunder, bad—and only bad—weather, and more, enabling her to create dungeons and adventures with just a few rolls of the die. A dozen or so monsters are listed, plus ‘Rotblack Sludge or The Shadow King’s Lost Heir’, a short dungeon.

As physically fantastical as Mörk Borg is, the design is not necessarily the easiest to use, although a summary of the mechanics is included inside the back cover and the idea is good. In addition, some of the imagery may not be to everyone’s tastes, it being heavy, oppressive, and often of an occult nature. It is though in keeping with the doom metal genre which inspires the game (and its own soundtrack).

As a Grim Dark roleplaying game, Mörk Borg would work with other content too. It would work perhaps as the last days of the Kingdom of Alberetor from the other Swedish fantasy roleplaying game from Free League Publishing, Symbaroum. Then again, it more easily plugs into various scenarios for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay, such as A Single Small Cut or the infamous Death Frost Doom .

The style of Mörk Borg’s look makes it look more complex a roleplaying game than it is. The simplicity of the rules is hidden by the oppressive feel of the graphic design, but this graphic design imposes its Grim Dark, doom laden atmosphere on player and game alike, and is carried over into the mechanics, which support suitably brutal play in a world free of moral certainties and weighed down by a portentous sense of doom as it draws to its end. Mörk Borg is the roleplaying game your mother warned you about during the Moral Panic of the eighties—brutal, in-your-face dread and despair, a low and bloody guitar riff of a game.

On the Star Frontier

The year is 2260 AD. Two years ago, the United Terran Republic and its allies won the Terran Liberation War, forcing the mighty and ancient Reticulan Empire to sue for peace after twenty-five years of uprisings and war. For some one-hundred-and-seventy-five years, Earth and Humanity had been repressively suborned as the Reticulan client state of House Thiragin, the Earth Federal Administration. Humanity was allowed to expand and establish colonies, but in return had to commit auxiliary troops to serve in the wars against House Thiragin’s rival houses in the Reticulan Empire and other alien species, and was subject to both a tight rein on its economy and Reticulan abductions and bio-technological experimentation. The latter not only resulted in the confirmation and development of psionics among humans, but also the creation of Human-Reticulan Hybrids. Besides having a higher likelihood of possessing psionics, Hybrids were favoured by House Thiragin and dominated the Earth Federal Administration government, the loathed Federal Security Apparatus, and the Exalted Order of Fomalhaut, the latter the Earth Federal Administration’s state sanctioned faith. Ultimately, it would be an unexplained mass abduction of children by the Reticulans that would trigger the Terran Revolution and it would be troops who had served with House Thiragin, known as the Returnees’ Circles, who would form the backbone of the Terran forces in the revolution.

As of 2260 AD, the United Terran Republic is a presidential republic attempting to switch from a wartime to peacetime footing; to expand coreward to explore and establish new colonies and make contact with lost ‘black’ colonies established in secret from the Earth Federal Administration; and maintain vigorous defences against Earth’s former master, the Reticulan Empire to rimward. Although there is trade and contact between the United Terran Republic and the Reticulan Empire, the two states are wary of each other and a state of cold war exists between them. The territories of the United Terran Republic and the Reticulan Empire come together in an area known as the Terran Badlands, along with a third interstellar power, the Ciek Confederation. Located within the Terran Badlands are two client states supported and maintained by the United Terran Republic, the Reticulan Technate and the Ssesslessian Harmony. The first of these is governed by the rebel Technocratic Movement, consisting of Reticulans who supported the Terran revolution, whilst the latter was given to the serpentine Ssesslessians as a new homeworld after theirs had been glassed by the Reticulans.

This is the set up for These Stars Are Ours!, a near future setting published by Stellagama Publishing for use with the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document from Samardan Press which details the core rules for a Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System. If the Third Imperium of Classic Traveller draws upon the Imperial Science Fiction of the 1950s, then These Stars Are Ours! draws upon another sub genre of the same period—UFOlogy and ‘little green men’. Or rather, ‘little grey men’, for the Reticulans are akin to the Greys of UFO lore and their spaceships and starships are saucers. What these point to are the space opera or  pulp sensibilities of the These Stars Are Ours! setting, and these sensibilities continue with the other alien species to be found across known space. These include the Cicek, aggressive and personal glory-obsessed warm-blooded, humanoid reptiles complete with tails; the snakelike Ssesslessians, a theocratic species with a complex pantheon who served the Reticulans as assassins; and the Zhuzzh, pragmatic, opportunistic, and nomadic insectoids who all but worship technology and who are inveterate tinkerers rather than designers and innovators. There are other races to be found across known space, but these are the main ones to be found in the Terran Badlands. Behind them though are the ‘Precursors’, one or more ancient species who disappeared millennia ago following a devastating war leaving behind mysterious ruins, who may have seeded and manipulated species across known space and who may be the forebears of numerous species.

Now despite the strong nods to both pulp and space opera sensibilities with these alien species, These Stars Are Ours! is not really a pulp or even a space opera setting. This is because it still uses the dry, technical mechanics and terminology of the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document—and thus ultimately of Traveller. So it employs Tech Levels, Maneuvre Drives, Jump Drives, Parsecs, Sectors, Subsectors, the Universal World Profile, and so on.  Looking to the sources of inspiration in the book’s appendices and it is clear that the tone and feel is other than Pulp Sci-Fi—so Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy; films such as Alien, Outland, and Serenity; television series like Babylon 5, Dark Skies, and Space: Above and Beyond; and computer games including Mass Effect, UFO: Enemy Unknown, and Dead Space. The Science Fiction of These Stars Are Ours! is much drier than straight space opera, but the inclusion of both the film Serenity and the television series Firefly point towards another influence and that is the Western genre. Much like both of those sources, These Stars Are Ours! is set after a devastating war, during a period of reconstruction, much like the years after the American Civil War. 

Now as much as there are similarities between the aftermath of the American Civil War and the aftermath of the Terran Liberation War—or the Terran Rebellion as the Reticulans call it—there are numerous differences too. The most notable difference is that These Stars Are Ours! presents an obvious and very alien enemy in the form of the Reticulans whilst moving the Human-Reticulan relationship into one of a cold war. Yet it retains the sense of distrust and resentment that arises from a period of occupation and civil war, which in the United Terran Republic—and beyond of These Stars Are Ours! is aimed at Reticulan Hybrids—humans genetically modified as embryos with Reticulan dna—who were seen as collaborators.

In terms of background, These Stars Are Ours! is richly packed. Not just with a history of the Terran Liberation War, but also the state of the United Terran Republic and its politics, military and intelligence agencies—notably CRC-32 which provides the military and government with covert Psionic Intelligence (or PSINT) support and its civilian research counterpart, the Psionic Research Institute (or PRI). It also covers the major corporations in the United Terran Republic, along with religion and spirituality, legal system, and various criminal and terrorist groups. It covers the various alien races in similar detail, from the Reticulans of the Reticulan Empire and the separatist Reticulan Technate to the eight-limbed, two metres tall, crustacean-like Klax who serve as security forces for the Reticulans, whilst of course adding details about their various biologies, psychologies, and societies. Where a particular alien species is available to choose as a player character, notes are given on how to play them. 

As well as Humans, These Stars Are Ours! offers the Cicek, Reticulans, Reticulan Hybrids, Ssesslessians, and Zhuzzh as playable races. The main major difference in the setting to the more familiar Traveller is that Psionics are more freely available and that Psionic Strength is added as a seventh attribute. In terms of Careers, These Stars Are Ours! uses those from Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, but adds another twenty on top. Those available to Humans are the most diverse, including Teran Navy and Terran Police as well as Terran Naval Infantry and Teran Marines. For the most part,  the new Careers reflect the past quarter of a century that Humans have spent at war. If a character is a Psion, then he will serve in CRC-32 or the PRI, depending upon his Psionic Strength. Those of the Alien species are not as diverse, apart from the Reticulans, typically presenting one Career per species—essentially much like Basic Dungeons & Dragons did Race as Class. There are Event tables for all of the new Careers and the character rules also allow for cybernetics and cyborgs.

Creating a character in These Stars Are Ours! is the same as Cepheus Engine System Reference Document or Traveller. A player rolls two six-sided dice for his character’s seven attributes and then chooses a Career for him. Over the course of the Career, the player will add skills and other benefits to the character. A character may have an illustrious career, be discharged following an injury, and so on. The process will require a little flipping back and forth between These Stars Are Ours! and Cepheus Engine System Reference Document, especially if a player decides on a career not in These Stars Are Ours! Either way, the process is a lengthy one.

Our sample character was one of the elite of the Earth Federal Administration who was in training to become a politician and administrator before he discovered the extent of Reticulan activities in Terran space and defected. He was tested for psionic capability and recruited by CRC-32 and constantly trained throughout his career. He was on active military campaign in the last years of the Terran Liberation War, but was captured and held captive until the armistice between the United Terran Republic and Reticulan Empire was signed.

Brigadier Jeffry Ennes
Reticulan Hybrid Age 50
Elite-2 (Rank 3: Manager)/CRC-32-6 (Rank 5: Brigadier)
7B5C8B-D
Admin-2, Advocate-3, Carousing-o, Clairvoyance-1, Comms-1, Computer-1, Gun Combat-1, Jack-of-All-Trades-2, Leadership-1, Liaison-0, Linguistics-0, Medicine-1, Melee Combat-0, Reticulan-1, Telepathy-3, Teleportation-3, Vehicle-0, Zero-G-0
History: Political Infighting, Psionic Training, Strange Science, Advancement, Psionic Training, Battle, Captured.
Benefits: Explorer’s Society, CR 30,000, Pension: CR 12,000
Traits: Bad First Impression (humans only), Engineered (TL13), Notable Dexterity, Weak Strength, Psionic.

In terms of technology, These Stars Are Ours! is roughly Technology Level 11, with military equipment and technology being typically Technology Level 11 and Technology Level 12. This means that starships are commonly capable of Jump-2 (travelling two parsecs in a single jump), fine gravitics is being developed, fusion power is freely available, and so on. Reticulan technology is generally higher, most notably shown in its mastery of gravitics and longer Jump ranges. As befitting the setting, their ships are saucers rather than the sleeker, if not streamlined ships deployed by other races. Some six ships—starships and small craft—are detailed and given deck plans, and where necessary civilian and military versions are both given. They include the Reticulan Abductor and Saucers, the Ssesslessian Infiltrator, Zhuzzh Scavenger, Cicek Raider, and Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport. The latter is the only Terran ship, which is perhaps a little disappointing, but given the post-war state of the United Terran Republic, these ships are commonly available to purchase and are used as by free traders. Plus the fact that it happens to look not unlike the Firefly class is likely to make it a popular choice with the players (if not their characters). 

Some seventy or so worlds of the region Trailing-Rimward to Terra are described as part of the Terran Borderlands. The latter lies at the point where three interstellar powers meet—the Reticulan Empire, the Cicek Confederation, and the United Terran Republic—and contains the two Terran client-states, the Reticulan Technate and the Ssesslessian Harmony. Each of the worlds comes with its own Universal World Profile and a fairly detailed description, though this can vary in length from one to as many as five paragraphs. Along with the accompanying star map, this gives a good-sized area for the player characters to explore and to support that, These Stars Are Ours! comes with a dozen patrons. These range from supporting a colonisation on a ‘jackpot’ planet and transporting a Reticulan diplomat—hopefully her money will be enough to overcome any lingering antipathy towards the Reticulans, to the exploration of a Precursor site and a hunt for a celebrity’s missing yacht. They represent a good mix of adventure types and make good use of the background to the setting. These Stars Are Ours! is rounded out with a pair of appendices, one a bibliography of inspirations, the other various news entries or Terran News Agency Dispatches, which the Game Master could develop into scenarios of her own.

Physically, These Stars Are Ours! is simply and clearly presented and there is a good index. The few illustrations are decent, the star maps clear, and the deckplans good. As much as the content is interesting and engaging, what lets the setting supplement down is the editing. At worst someone has edited the book, at best no one has, and in places, the unpolished writing in These Stars Are Ours! does sometimes make a cringeworthy read.

If there is anything missing from the These Stars Are Ours! setting it is perhaps a few more starships to individualise the setting some more and certainly some personalities. Apart from the president of the United Terran Republic, no individuals are really mentioned, so the history and setting do feel slightly impersonal. There is no advice for the Game Master, but anyway, she should be able to come up with scenarios and campaign ideas from the background material given in These Stars Are Ours!.

Although using mechanics derived from Traveller, the setting of These Stars Are Ours! is very different to that of Traveller. It is not ‘high’ or Imperial Space Opera, but has a harder, rougher edge to it, drawing from a source that is more pulp Sci-Fi in its sensibilities even as the Cepheus mechanics serve to reduce said pulp tendencies. Nevertheless, These Stars Are Ours! draws deeply upon its source material of UFOlogy and ‘Little Green Men’ and infuses them with a frontier, almost Wild West feel to present a very accessible setting in terms of background and size.

Friday Fantasy: The Tomb of Fire

Arc Dream Publishing is best known as the publisher of the Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game, the roleplaying game of conspiratorial and Lovecraftian investigative horror, but in 2019, branched out into publishing for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition with its ‘Swords & Sorceries’ adventure line and two releases for its ‘Broken Empire’ setting. The first of these was The Sea Demon’s Gold, an adventure offering more dangers than rewards, and doing so in a weird, dank, and squelchy environment, with a strong undercurrent of the Lovecraftian. Where The Sea Demon’s Gold roughly threw the adventurers ashore and into a clammy dungeon, the second scenario, The Song of the Sun Queens, took the player characters to a southerly kingdom and there enmeshed them in its sisterly rivalry, before leading them out onto sun bleached savannah in search of a great treasure.

Each of the two scenarios so far have has had parallels with certain historical regions. So with The Sea Demon’s Gold the feel was that of the Hellenic world, and with The Song of the Sun Queens, it was the kingdoms of Africa. The third scenario in the ‘Swords & Sorceries’ has a Middle Eastern feel to it. Designed for five characters of Third Level, the structure of The Tomb of Fire feels a whole lot like that of The Song of the Sun Queens in that the player characters have travelled to the edges of the civilised world in search of a great treasure. In The Song of the Sun Queens, it was Ndame, the Land of the Sun that they travelled to and from there to the ancient, cursed ruin known as Juakufa where a great treasure is said to rest. In The Tomb of Fire, the Player Characters travel to the Rahaman oasis, in the dry land of Kahlar, at the edge of the great Mahjur Desert, seeking the Tomb of Fire, a ruined temple dedicated to a now forgotten god. It is said that like Juakufa, the Tomb of Fire is filled with great riches, but the local inhabitants will warn that the tomb is warded by great spirits deadlier than any man can defeat. 

For the players, the adventure begins with everyone’s favourite roleplaying activity—shopping. Or rather preparing for the three-hundred-mile trek across the inhospitable Mahjur Desert to Jahiz. This trek forms the first part of the adventure, supported by detailed rules for handling its gruelling nature and a table of random encounters. Including a Ranger in the party will help, but either way, one character will be serving as guide and one as animal handler. There is just the one given encounter on the way which nicely, creepily foreshadows the sense of weirdness, distrust, and uncertainty which runs throughout the adventure. Once in Jahiz, they are welcomed by the Bashari, a deeply spiritual people who will constantly offer them prayers to their god, the Lord of Storms. They will be hospitable, once they learn of their interest in visiting the Tomb of Fire, will direct them to visit their high priest in the Temple of the Sky atop the single mountain which looms over Jahiz. He will question their motives, but explain that the Tomb of Fire is the prison of an immortal enemy to the Bashari, a devil of earth and fire known as Kallahaab. He will take Good-aligned characters into his confidence, that he has been warned that evil men are trying to break into the tomb and free Kallahaab and that he needs good men to ensure that they fail and that Kallahaab remains imprisoned. If the player characters are not Good-aligned, then their coming has been foretold, for they are ‘evil men’…

So ideally, the characters must be Good-aligned or particularly deceptive to get the directions out of the priest, but otherwise Neutral- or Evil-aligned characters will need to find their own way. The journey to the tomb will be interrupted by another band Bashari, the Paladins of the Hidden Flame. They are also friendly, but will denounce the Bashari of Jahiz as fools for not worshiping Kallahaab, the true ruler of the land who was betrayed by the Lord of Storms. They want the player characters to free him. This then sets up the dilemma at the heart of the Tomb of Fire—which faith is the true faith and who to trust? This comes to a head in the tomb itself, which although small, merely consisting of six locations, will constantly test the player characters’ faith. This includes a confrontation with Kallahaab within the tomb itself, who will be very persuasive when it comes to suggesting that the player characters free him, including promising to reward them with Wishes if they do…

There is a lot of roleplaying depth to The Tomb of Fire. All of the NPCs, whether human or monster, are interested in the player characters and in persuading them to their cause. So the players will need to decide who to follow, which will be based on two factors. One is their Alignment. The scenario does favour Good-aligned characters, but takes Neutral- and Evil-aligned characters into account. The other is the spirituality of both factions of Bashari, constantly expressed throughout the scenario and full of clues as to what is to come. The Tomb of Fire is not a scenario to be approached in too bullish a fashion, there being a subtlety present in the story that the players and their characters might otherwise miss and so land themselves in the fire… Now that said, the denouement of the scenario will require careful preparation and handling upon the part of the Dungeon Master as there is a great deal going on, whilst the aftermath is underwritten, in that it does not fully explore the consequences of the player characters’ actions, particularly if Kallahaab is freed.

This latter issue points to another problem with The Tomb of Fire and ‘Swords & Sorceries’ adventure line and the three releases so far for the ‘Broken Empire’ setting—and that is a lack of context. So far all three scenarios have been set far from the ‘Broken Empire’ and all three have been set in separate locations, so there is no sense of connection between the three and thus no sense of sharing the same world. This makes each scenario easy to pull out and work into a Dungeon Master’s own campaign world, but there is no world building between them which might otherwise have come about had the three scenarios so far been linked. The lack of context means that the player and their characters do not have any grounding in the setting, so it is harder for them to engage with it.

Physically, The Tomb of Fire is fantastically presented. The maps and writing are both good, but the artwork is excellent, full of character and rich detail, and like those in The Song of the Sun Queens can all be shown to the players as they progress through the scenario.

The Tomb of Fire is again relatively short, offering two to three sessions of play. It feels rich and deep in terms of the setting and its people, pleasingly embroiling the player characters in religious rivalries that provide a really good mix of roleplaying and action—often with an element of horror. Like the previous scenario, The Song of the Sun Queens, it presents more of a setting that nicely draws upon on cultures other than Western fantasy, but again leaves the Dungeon Master wanting and needing more. 

Jonstown Jottings #13: The Duel at Dangerford

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha 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 Duel at Dangerford is a scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, a confrontation between Sartarite heroes and a vengeful Lunar army.

It is a thirty-seven page, full colour, 5.11 MB PDF.

The Duel at Dangerford is well presented,  decently written, and illustrated with publicly sourced artwork. It needs an edit in places.

Where is it set?
As the title suggests, The Duel at Dangerford is set in Dangerford—specifically on the Isle Dangerous—as well on the road to Runegate. In the official canon of Glorantha, this takes place in the Storm Season of 1625, but due to the vagaries of the author’s campaign and ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’, in The Duel at Dangerford it takes pace in the Storm Season of 1626.

Who do you play?
The player characters should ideally be heroes of Sartar. The scenario works particularly well if one of the player characters is a Humakti.

What do you need?
The Duel at Dangerford requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack to play. To get the most out of The Duel at Dangerford, the Game Master will need access to The Coming Storm: The Red Cow Volume IThe Eleven Lights: The Red Cow Volume II, and The Glorantha SourcebookTo get the utmost out of The Duel at Dangerford, the Game Master will also need access to Wyrm’s Footnotes #12, Wyrm’s Footnotes #15the Dragon Pass board game, the Argan Argar Atlas, King of SartarArcane Lore, and Troll Gods—although the last seven are really only of note or use if you are dedicated Gloranthaphile and have copies in your library.

In terms of the narrative, the player characters will also require an outspoken rival, ideally set up beforehand. If The Duel at Dangerford is run as part of the scenarios included in RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, this could be someone at the court of Queen Leika in Clearwine or if the Game Master has run ‘Cattle Raid’, then this could be a member of the Malani tribe.

What do you get?
The Duel at Dangerford is a simple scenario at its core. Divided into three acts, it begins in media res with the player characters on the road to Runegate with the Colymar Tribal Host, having answered the call to war in the face of an imminent invasion by a Tarshite Provincial Army. Following a council of war, the player characters are sidelined to Dangerford in order to protect the flank of  the Colymar Tribal Host of the Sartarite Army. As they make their way there, they spot both a second column of Tarshite soldiery heading towards to Dangerford, no doubt to cross the river there and conduct a flanking manouevre as was feared, and the fact that the column is led by no less a figure than General Fazzur Wideread, one of the greatest figures of the age. The player characters must therefore rush to Dangerford and find a way of stopping the advancing Tarshite forces, and it just so happens that the Isle Dangerous is a legendary duelling ground, where the Humakti rules of duelling are upheld by an ancient hero.

Unfortunately, as simple a scenario as The Duel at Dangerford is, it could have been a whole lot more simple. The problem is that it is overwritten, the author dwelling just a little too much on details and information that is not really pertinent to the scenario, either in the scenario’s extensive footnotes or annoyingly, in the text itself. So in a lot of cases, it is more hard work for the Game Master than it should be to prepare and run The Duel at Dangerford, but then it is underwritten else where, in particular not really giving information on how the the player characters go about performing a certain ritual on the Isle Dangerous. What is happening here is that the author is showing his love and knowledge of Glorantha, and whilst much of that information is interesting and whilst there is a certain joy to the writing, it is fundamentally just a little too much—certainly for anyone without that same degree of love and knowledge. Especially since the scenario suffers in places as a consequence.

In addition, The Duel at Dangerford comes with four appendices. The first contains a poem that the the author wants the Game Master to read out during the scenario, the second the author’s feedback on the scenario, ‘The Smoking Ruin’—all ten pages of it, some suggestions for expanding the scenario, ‘The Dragon of Thunder Hills’ from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack; and some stats for any Tarshite militia the player characters might encounter during the scenario. To be fair, this is all interesting content, but it is not useful content as far as The Duel at Dangerford is concerned—except the stats for the soldiery. The poem is optional, the author’s feedback on the scenario, ‘The Smoking Ruin’ is lengthy and not relevant, and the notes on expanding the scenario, ‘The Dragon of Thunder Hills’ are very much optional. Now if the Game Master is planning to run ‘The Smoking Ruin’ or has not yet run ‘The Dragon of Thunder Hills’, then both feedback and notes are useful, but they do feel as if they should be in a fanzine rather than here.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. The Duel at Dangerford presents a fantastic opportunity for the player characters to be heroic—especially if one of them is a Humakti. 
No. Either because your campaign is not set in Sartar or you have already run the Battle of Dangerford. 
Maybe. The Tarshites and their Lunar allies are sure to launch another invasion of Sartar—at least in your campaign—and The Duel at Dangerford could be adjusted to fit, just as the author adjusted his to fit.

Short, Sharp Cthulhu

Collections of short scenarios for Call of Cthulhu are nothing new—there was the 1997 anthology Minions, but that was for Call of Cthulhu, Fifth Edition. That though was a simple collection of short scenarios, whereas Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror is both a collection of short scenarios and something different. Published by Chaosium, Inc. for use with either Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition or the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, it is a trio of very short scenarios—scenarios designed to be played in an hour, designed to introduce players to Call of Cthulhu, and designed to demonstrate Call of Cthulhu. All three have scope to be expanded to last longer than an hour, come with pre-generated investigators as well as numerous handouts, and designed to be played by four players—though guidance is given as to which investigators to use with less than four players for each scenario, right down to just a single player and the Keeper. All three are set in different years and locations, but each is set in a single location, each is played against the clock—whether they are played in an hour or two hours—before a monster appears, and each showcases the classic elements of a Call of Cthulhu scenario. So the players and their investigators are presented with a mystery, then an investigation in which they hunt for and interpret clues, and lastly, they are forced into a Sanity-depleting confrontation with a monster.

Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror starts out though with an extensive introduction—or reintroduction—to the core rules of Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. This is to help the Keeper introduce the rules herself to her fellow players, whether sat round the table at home, playing online, or at a convention. In turn it discusses the investigator sheet, using Luck, skill rolls, bonus and penalty dice, combat, and of course, Sanity. Included here are references to both the Call of Cthulhu: Keeper Rulebook and the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set with pertinent points marked. The only thing not included here that perhaps might have been useful is a list of these references, possibly at the end of the section. Otherwise this is all very useful, if not as a reminder, then at least as a means of the Keeper having to avoid flipping through another book.

Each of the three scenarios is tightly structured and follows the same format. This starts with advice on the scenario’s structure, specifically the timings if the Keeper is running it as a one-hour game. Then it discusses each of the four investigators for the scenario, including their notable traits and roleplaying hooks, what to do if there are fewer than four players, and what if there are more than four, before delving into the meat of the scenario itself. All three are very nicely presented, clear and easy to read off the page in terms of what skill rolls are needed and what the investigators learn from them. As well as really good maps—for both players and Keeper, but it has to be said that the maps for the Keeper are thoroughly impressive—which depict the different locations of the three scenarios in three dimensional perspective, each scenario comes with a sheaf of handouts, suggestions as to how each of its four investigators react when they go insane, and lastly, four investigator sheets. What is notable about these is that they are not done on the standard investigator sheet for Call of Cthulhu. This does feel off brand, but presented as straight text, the information that a player would want, or need is easy to find and easy to read.

So to the scenarios themselves. They open with Leigh Carr’s ‘The Necropolis’. Set in 1924 in Egypt this is a classic set-up, four members of an archaeological expedition excavating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings when the worst happens—they are entombed themselves! The quartet are driven to explore and discover as much as they are to escape, but the latter becomes more important when something appears to be inside the tomb with them! First though, they need to stop whatever is in the tomb with them because it seems very, very hungry… Of the three scenarios in the anthology, this has the largest area for the investigators to explore, consisting of five rooms rather than the single rooms of the other two. It is also probably the pulpiest in tone and style, and if the solution for dealing with the monster is a cliché, it is entirely in keeping with the genre. More of a locked room horror mystery than the other two, veteran players will enjoy the links to both Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian lore.

‘What’s in the Cellar?’ by Jon Hook switches to upstate New York in 1929. Arthur Blackwood, a respected local attorney is on trial for the bloody murder of his wife in the cellar of his family’s ancestral holiday cabin and is likely to go to the electric chair. He claims to be innocent, that his family is cursed, that there is a genie in the cellar who murdered his wife. Blackwood’s business and his defence team are desperate to keep him from being given a death sentence, so ask friends, family, a private investigator, and a psychiatrist—the latter to help prove that Blackwood is not deranged—to investigative. Although the opening scene takes place in New York, this is essentially a one-room scenario—the cellar. Here the shelves that line its walls are stocked with clues amidst the tools and bric-à-brac you would expect to find in a rural cellar. Again, there is a race again time—although neither players nor their investigators will be aware of it—before something goes wrong and the investigators find themselves trapped with something nasty in the cellar.

Lastly, Todd Gardiner’s ‘The Dead Boarder’ takes place in Providence, Rhode Island at the start of the Great Depression in an utterly mundane location—a single room at Ma Shanks’ Boarding House. All four of its investigators have rooms here and all four are worried about a neighbour of theirs. Apart from the late-night prayers, he was always nice and quiet, but has not been heard from for a couple of days. So being neighbourly, they gather to check on him, they are aghast to discover when the door to his room is unlocked, him lying on the floor in a bloody mess. Since no one has been seen entering or leaving his room—and everyone would know if they did—what happened to him? Of all the three scenarios in the anthology, this is the most detailed and the richest in terms of its play. All four of the pre-generated investigators have different motives for entering and examining the room, sometimes motives which will clash, so the investigators have more personal drives other than the need to survive. Where in the other the scenarios the investigators do not have an obvious time limit on their actions, here they do, as the police have been called and will arrive within the hour. So this will also drive the investigators to act. Overall ‘The Dead Boarder’ nicely brings the horror home, or at least to the room down the hall.

If perhaps there is an issue with Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror, it is with the monsters. Now they are not all the same, but they are the same in terms of being unstoppable, appearing from nowhere, and so on. This though comes from the format of the three scenarios and its built-in time limit, and really this would only be a downside were a group to play all three in quick succession. The monsters are also not drawn from Call of Cthulhu canon, so any player expecting them to be might be disappointed, but there is no need for them to be and there are plenty of other scenarios and campaigns where they appear anyway.

Physically, Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror is very presented, the choice of photographs is decent, the maps are good, and a great deal of the artwork can be used to show the players during play. In terms of design, the trio are also multi-function scenarios. They can be used as demonstration scenarios, though they are not long enough for the traditional four-slot of a convention game. They can be used as one-shots, as written or expanded in terms of game length by ignoring the suggested timings. They can be added to an existing campaign, but with each being written for their set of pre-generated investigators, this will take some adjustment upon the part of the Keeper. They can be used to introduce investigators, perhaps as flashbacks or prequels, and to explore their first encounter with the Mythos, rather than say, all of them having been run through ‘Alone Against the Flames’ or ‘Paper Chase’ from the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. Lastly, they can be used to introduce players to Call of Cthulhu and how it is played. Each of the three scenarios in Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror is flexible enough to support these functions and if not in terms of place, could also easily be adjusted in terms of date.

It would be fantastic to see more scenarios written to the format of Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror, whether as more demonstration games, one-shots, longer convention games, or investigator introductions to the Mythos. Overall, Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror delivers three, short doses of horror and does so in an engaging, well designed, and multi-functional fashion.

Brave New Mutant: Year Zero

At the end of the fourth and most recent campaign and campaign set in Free League Publishing’s Mutant: Year Zero post-apocalyptic future, there remained one big question, “What happens next?” Since 2014, the publisher has been exploring the place of mutants with Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, anthropomorphic animals with Mutant: Genlab Alpha, robots with Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and by with each release revealing a bit more the world and the disaster which brought it to its current state. Each release also saw the four different groups encountering one or more of the other groups for the first time, if only fleetingly, in the wake of the events which played out in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, all four groups are together and interacting with each other. This is the new world of Mutant: Year Zero presented in a mini-campaign for setting, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death.

Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death takes place in the Zone, the region first explored in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. The default Zone is The Big Smoke—essentially bombed out, flattened, and ravaged London—but it can easily be moved to the Game Master’s own Zone. All that it requires is a long body of water which boats can easily travel up and down. Advice is given on how to run it as a stand-alone adventure, but really Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death is designed to be run as part of campaign, specifically after Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and ideally after Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, Mutant: Genlab Alpha, and Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying. In addition, to get the best out of Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death, the Game Master should also have run Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator. Since the campaign takes place after the events of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, there no restrictions on what type of characters the players can roleplay—be mutants, animals, robots, or humans. This is one of the features of the brave new Mutant: Year Zero world.

As Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death opens, the world has changed. There is more trade and interaction between the different groups, there are more boats on the river, and so on, but there are ominous signs. In the depths of a snowy winter, there are disappearances around the Ark, including of people important to the Player Characters, and there are shadows in the sky—vehicles which float in the air and move fast. The Player Characters come across a Zone Rider—one of the couriers who carry messages back and forth across the Zone—under attack by a band of orderly and well-equipped soldiers. If they come to the Zone Rider’s rescue, or from a contact later on if they decide not to intervene, they learn of a mysterious new organisation known as the Army of the Dawn. It has recently taken over a wretched junktown to the west and renamed it Dawnville. The Player Characters are tasked with travelling to Dawnville, which is shortly to stage a wrestling tournament, to find out more information. To prepare themselves for that, it is suggested that the Player Characters visit two other places to conduct some investigation and learn what they can about the Army of Dawn. The first is a trading post run by Oscar Battenburg, an enclave Human from Elysium I known to trade slaves to the Army of Dawn, the second is the Showboat Saga, which travels up and the river putting on entertainments and which recently visited the Dawnville.

The Player Characters are also given a deadline—the wrestling tournament takes place in a week. To get them across the Zone in time, the Player Characters are lent a big-wheeled all-terrain robot vehicle and given some equipment. It is also likely that they will have been able to scavenge the guns and the armour of the Army of Dawn soldiers who attacked the Zone Rider—in particular, the tin helms which give the Army of Dawn soldiers the look of Great War soldiers. In comparison to a normal Mutant: Year Zero campaign, the Player Characters will be able to zip across the Zone, and with initially three locations—or as Mutant: Year Zero terms them, ‘Special Zone Sectors’—there is scope for the Game Master to run random encounters and ‘Special Zone Sectors’ of her own in between these three.

Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death actually consists of five ‘Special Zone Sectors’, not three, although the first three can be run in any order, followed by the fourth and fifth in that order. Each of these locations is nicely detailed and includes full stats for each of the NPCs, clear maps—both full illustrations of the locations and floorplans where needed, and events which play out when the Player Characters visit them. The five ‘Special Zone Sectors’ are all different in scope and theme. So ‘The Showboat Saga’ has a certain extravagance to it with its comparatively lavish performances and restaurant which becomes a mini-murder mystery, whilst ‘Dawnville’ is essentially ‘Bartertown’ from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—complete with the equivalent of its own ‘Thunderdome’, which of course is where the wrestling tournament takes place. For the most part, the encounters involve a fair degree of stealth and subterfuge as well as combat. Certainly, the wrestling tournament will appeal to characters and players who like physical combat.

So what is going on in Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death? Well, its events do stem from what happened at the end of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium and the fact that it involves an army—the ‘Army of Dawn’—points towards a new force wanting to conquer the whole of the Zone. This is a genre staple, a new military arising to threaten the fledgling communities working to survive in the weird world order of the post-apocalyptic planet, but it well handled in Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death

Now Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death describes itself as a campaign, but at best it is a mini-campaign. With just five ‘Special Zone Sectors’, this is really more of scenario than a campaign and the first few, ‘The Showboat Saga’ and ‘Battenburg’s Trading Post’ in particular, are short, playable in a single session, two at the very most. The later ‘Special Zone Sectors’ are longer and more involved, and it will probably run to two or three sessions. Fortunately, the fact that the first few ‘Special Zone Sectors’ can be run in any order provides the Game Master with room to add her own content and perhaps bulk up Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death a little.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death is well written, nicely presented in full colour with excellent cinematic-style artwork. Some of the illustrations show scenes that can happen in the campaign and the likelihood is that the Game Master will really want them to happen—such as a gunfight aboard an airship—because they look fun! However, it does need an edit in places and some of the artwork still has Swedish signs and writing on it. The campaign also comes with some good handouts, including newspapers and event posters, both a sign of the growing new civilisation of Mutant: Year Zero. These handouts though, are not collated at the end of the book.

As a campaign—or really a scenario—Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death begins to show what the new world of Mutant: Year Zero is like, the beginnings of new civilisations.  It returns to the openness of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days after the closed and confined worlds of Mutant: Genlab Alpha, Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and of course, it brings each of the inhabitants of the four campaign settings together much post-apocalyptic roleplaying games of old, such as Gamma World.  In fact, with the new set-up, a Game Master with access to those old post-apocalyptic scenarios written in the early 1980s could actually adapt them to the world of Mutant: Year Zero. Overall, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death shows us what the new world of Mutant: Year Zero is like and has the Player Characters confront the first threat to it in an action-packed scenario. It is though, just the next chapter. 

Friday Filler: D-Day Dice

D-Day was a momentous event at the end of War World 2, marking the major assault by the Allies on a Europe which has been under occupation by the Nazis for four years. This single combined forces action has been the subject of numerous books and memoirs over the years, as well as films such as D-Day and Saving Private Ryan, television series like Band of Brothers, and boardgames such as D-Day and Axis & Allies: D-Day, both from Avalon Hill Games, Inc. Many of the board games which explore D-Day are simulations, typically hex and counter wargames. This means that they will only appeal to a certain type of gamer, the wargamer, and typically, they can only be played by two participants, each of whom commands numerous units, which depending upon the game can be squads, platoons, squadrons, battalions, regiments, and more. Yet modern gaming can and often does approach its subject matters with different mechanics and ways of playing. So it is with D-Day Dice, which combines co-operative play, dice mechanics, and a timing mechanism, all played against the board rather than another player. Originally published by Valley Games, Inc. in 2012 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, in 2019, Word Forge Games published D-Day Dice, Second Edition, again following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Designed to be played by between one and four players, aged fourteen and over, D-Day Dice, Second Edition can be played in roughly forty-five minutes, or less once the players get used to the mechanics or lose. In the game, each player controls a Unit of soldiers assaulting one of the beaches fortified by the Nazis as part of their Atlantic Wall. These Units come from one of four Allied nations—the USA, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada—and will be represented by a single die on the map and supported by a Reference Card and a Resource Tracker. Each turn the players will roll dice to generate resources and use to be able to survive on the battlefield whilst supporting each other and building up a force strong enough to get up the beach and breach the bunker. All this is against the clock and difficult odds. To win, every Unit must assault the bunker and survive—that is, have at least one soldier alive at the end, but if all of the soldiers in a Unit are killed or a Unit cannot advance up the beach before time runs out, then everyone loses and the Nazis win!

Open up the box for D-Day Dice, Second Edition and you will find an eighteen-page rulebook and a twenty-page scenario book; four Reference Cards and four Resource Trackers—one for each nation; six double-sided map boards providing twelve different scenarios; over one hundred cards, representing Specialist soldiers, items, vehicles, and award; thirty tokens; and thirty-two dice. Each of the map board represents a particular historical target, starting with Exercise Tiger, the Allied rehearsal for D-Day, through Omaha Beach and Pointe Du Hoc, up to Pegasus Bridge. Divided into various Sectors, they are marked with obstacles such as land mines and barriers. Many have certain conditions, such as Sectors where there is just room for a single Unit, have requirements to enter, and certain loses which need to be met—for example a Specialist or an Item—before they can be entered. Matching these conditions and maintaining enough Soldiers to keep going will challenge the players throughout D-Day Dice.

Of the thirty-two dice in D-Day Dice, Second Edition, four are black and are rolled when German weapons inflict damage on a Unit. Four are Unit Markers, used to track each Unit’s movement on the map and how much time the Unit has before it must move—either to an adjacent Sector or forward into a Sector closer to the bunker. These is a Unit Marker for each of the Units in the game. The other twenty-four—six per Unit and player—are ‘RWB’ or ‘Red-White-Blue’ dice and lie at the heart of the game. These dice are red, white, and blue, and each player has two of each colour. Each die is marked with six symbols that represent the resources in the game. Star symbols are used to Rally Specialists to a player’s Unit; Soldier symbols—single and double—add Soldiers to a Unit; medal or Courage symbols are used to draw Awards which grant various bonuses or to advance a Unit up the map; and Tool symbols generate Item Points with which to purchase Items. Lastly, Skull symbols cancel other die results if they appear in a player’s Final Tally.

On a turn, each player will roll his six ‘RWB’ dice. He must keep and lock two of them, but can reroll or keep as many of the other dice as he wishes. After the second roll, he must keep and lock another two, but can keep more if he wishes. After the third roll, all of his dice are locked. This is his Final Tally used to generate the resources for that Turn, which are recorded on the Resource Tracker—which requires a little assembly before first game—and spent in that same Turn. Resources are not kept from Turn to Turn.

This is simple enough, but D-Day Dice adds a couple of twists to the dice mechanic. One is that is if a player rolls a ‘Straight’—one of each symbol on every die, he earns a free Award rather than purchasing it with multiple Award symbols. The other is if he rolls three identical symbols on different dice, so the same symbol on a Red, a White, and a Blue die. This grants a ‘RWB’ bonus. So three Skulls or ‘Dead Man’s Gift’ has a player’s Unit finds equipment on a dead soldier’s gear bag; three single Soldiers grants ‘Reinforcements’ which join a Unit; and three Medals or ‘Battle Cry’ inspires a Unit to go above and beyond the call of duty. Now it is not merely a matter of each triple combination granting a ‘RWB’ bonus, because the actual bonus is different for each nation. So for ‘Battle Cry’ for the USA either grants two Stars or enables a Unit to advance into a new Sector without meeting its requirement, but for the United Kingdom, it grants three Soldiers or it enables a Unit to advance into a new Sector without meeting its requirement. These little variations add flavour and variation to each of the Units.

A Turn consists of six phases. In Phase One, the players roll the dice and then do the Upkeep—recording resources generated in Phase Two. In Phase Three, they adjust Unit Markers, turning the die each Turn until the fifth face shows an arrow indicating that the Unit must move in the next phase. In Phase Four, each player can Rally a Specialist, Find an Item, or Draw an Award, depending the results of the ‘RWB’ dice that Turn. A Specialist adds an ability to a Unit, such a Runner which enables a player to give another Unit resources and Items no matter where they are on the map—otherwise they need to be in the Sector to either give or trade resources. Specialists are also important in the game because some maps require them to be sacrificed in order for a Unit to be able to advance. Such Specialists cannot be rallied again, that is, there are no replacements. Items are single-use items of equipment like the Flamethrower which reduces the Defence value of the bunker or the Despatch Case which lets a player copy the Final Tally of another Unit. Awards are again one-use cards and add a great effect to play, for example, the Bronze Star enables a Unit to stay in a Sector for one Turn longer, whilst the amazing Victoria Cross enables a player to determine every player’s Final Tally that Turn.

In Phase Five, each Unit which wants or to Move must do so. This is to a new Sector—either to the side or forward. A Unit cannot retreat or revisit a Sector. In Phase Six, Combat, each Unit takes damage according to the Defense value of the Sector it is in. Damage reduces the number of Soldiers a Unit has and if reduced to zero means that the Allies have lost. If a Unit can get into the Bunker, it will take a lot of damage, so a Unit will need to find Items which reduce its Defense value sufficiently for the Unit to survive assaulting it and so help win the game. This does not have to be done simultaneously, one Unit can successfully assault the Bunker and its player wait for the others to arrive. Once every Unit has attacked and held the Bunker, then the game is won. 

Physically, D-Day Dice, Second Edition is very well produced. Everything is done in full colour, the card stock is good, everything is readable in the Rule Book and the Scenario Book, and the dice feel good in the hand. Perhaps the map boards are a little small and they do not quite sit as flat as they should, but really, these are minor niggles. A better explanation of how the Bunker is assaulted might have been useful for less experienced players.

The rulebook for D-Day Dice, Second Edition also includes notes for solo play as well as adding Victory Points to the game. It ends with some advice on how to play too. The Scenario Book comes with three training missions on Tiger Beach as well as the other eleven maps. Pleasingly, each scenario comes with a dedication to the men and units who fought there along with the specific details about the map.

The twelve map boards and the four different nationalities—and then the addition of the Victory Point rules—give D-Day Dice, Second Edition a lot of replay value. As does its short playing time. It is also easy to set up again, so if one game is lost, it is not difficult to set up another and start again. Whether playing solo with a single Unit or multiple Units—which will take longer to play, but does keep the game’s co-operative element, D-Day Dice, Second Edition is tense and challenging to play. This is especially so on the later maps as you would expect, but it is not just because the players are relying on random dice rolls to determine how they plan and what they can do.

Throughout the game, the players are forced to think ahead and plan what they need on the route they are going to take up the beach, but this changes from map to map. Get that wrong and the game will be lost. So having learned one set of conditions to advance on one map, the players have to learn to prepare for a whole new set of conditions on another map. This is in addition to the game’s co-operative element which will often force Units to congregate in order to swap the game’s various resources. This may be an issue for the more casual player, but not for the experienced board or wargame player.

The ‘RWB’ dice and mechanics are not only clever, they also add some pleasing theme and variation to the different nationalities, though sometimes you wish that there was a little more of this national flavour and theme. That said, they form the foundation upon which a narrative can be told as D-Day Dice is played, as Specialists are Rallied, Vehicles and Items found, and Awards won, and a Unit makes its assault on the Bunker.

D-Day Dice, Second Edition is a clever implementation of modern game mechanics—dice rolling, co-operative play, timed play, and against the clock—to explore an old theme in a new way. 

Retrospective: Plunder

By 1980, RuneQuest had begun to mark itself as a roleplaying game and setting in the form of Glorantha, which was very different in comparison to other fantasy roleplaying games. It was skill-focused and emphasised every player characters’ faith and belief system and world view in the context of the world of Glorantha, especially in the form of the superlative Cults of Prax. Then came along Plunder, a supplement detailing some six-hundred-and-forty pre-generated treasure hoards and forty-three magical treasures of Glorantha. Plunder does not add as much to the world of Glorantha, but it does support it, both in terms of the mechanics and the background.

The first half of Plunder consists of ten tables, each an eight-by-eight grid, thus providing sixty-four results in each table. In each space is the listing for a treasure hoard that the player characters might be found in their intrepid adventures in Glorantha. This might be nothing; 38 Clacks; 406 Clacks, 364 Lunars, 30 Wheels, and a single gem or piece of jewellery; or 1068 Clacks, 1383 Lunars, 332 Wheels, four gems or pieces of jewellery, and a special item. When the Game Master needs to determine the contents of a hoard, he turns to a table and rolls two eight-sided dice to get a result. Two further tables enable the Game Master to determine what the gems and jewellery are if there are any and what the special items are if there are any. So the gems and jewellery might be an excellent gemstone worth 900 Lunars or costume jewellery worth 45 Lunars, and special items might be a scroll written in Stormspeech which grants a +5% bonus to the Dagger skill if studied, an eleven-point Power storage crystal, or a wand with the Glamour matrix on it.

Mechanically, this all ties into the use of Treasure Factors from the second edition of RuneQuest, recently republished as RuneQuest Classic. Treasure Factors are are means of determining how much loot a monster or an NPC might. The Treasure Factor for any one creature derived from its Hit Points, combat skills, how many extra dice are rolled when it inflicts damage, armour, combat spells, special powers, any poison used, and any extra attacks. If there is more than one monster or NPC, their individual Treasure Factors are added together, and the final value broken down into groups of a hundred. When it comes to using Plunder, the Treasure Factor is used to determine which table the Game Master will roll on when it comes to generating the hoard for a monster or an NPC. So for a single Trollkin with a Treasure factor of six, the Game Master would roll on the very first table in Plunder, but add a whole lot more Trollkin and mix in a Dark Troll or two, and the Treasure Factor rises rapidly so that the Game Master will be rolling on a table later in the book. In general, if the Game Master knows the Treasure Factor, she can generate a treasure hoard with just a handful of rolls.

The second half is dedicated to just some of the magical devices to be found on Glorantha. These range from the marvellously mundane, such as the Golden Torches which never go out, even underwater or in great darkness or Soup Bones which can always be boiled to provide soup, to amazingly magical, like Tora’s Hammer, a stone Warhammer wielded by a hero during the Dawn Ages who slaughtered untold numbers of Mostali with it and which returns to the hand if thrown, and Glass Butterflies, tireless magical messengers which will deliver a spoken phrase anywhere in the universe! Many are very particular in terms of who can use them, such as Morokanth Thumbs, black lumps of thumb-like flesh which when Power is sacrificed, the thumbs can attach to a Morokanth’s hands and enable him to be as dextrous as any human, whilst others are tied to a particular cult. For example, the Lightning Bands once worn by the bodyguards of a high priest of Orlanth Thunderous, which when imbued with Power, enables the wearer to blast out a bolt of lightning via a spear. There are treasures from the Aldryami and the Mostali, Chalana Arroy, Chaos, Kyger Litor, Dragonewts (and from Dragonewts), Waha, Stormbull, and more. Some have more generic links such as Fire or Sky cults.

Every item follows the format. A description, followed by a listing of the cults associated with the item as well as those friendly, hostile, or enemy to it; a discussion of how common knowledge of the item is, ranging from common to one of a kind or owner only; its history and the procedure required to use it (and sometimes make it); and lastly powers and value. The latter should one come up for sale. For example, Bajora’s Shield is a large iron shield with a glowing Death rune on it. It is associated in friendly fashion with Humakt and knowledge of it is automatically known to Humakt’s cult, though it is a cult secret, it is famous and one of a kind. Its history is that it was originally carried by Bajora, a friend of Humakt who sacrificed his life to save Humakt from a thing of Chaos. All that was left of Bajora was his shield, which Humakt carried for the rest of Godtime in his honour. Humakt refused to use it though and so since time began, none of his followers can either. They do know of the shield’s powers, so anyone wielding it and wanting to use if to its fullest powers needs to be on good terms with Humakt’s cult.

The procedure to use it requires the wielder to be a Rune Lord of a cult not an enemy of Humakt. He must then sacrifice a point of Power. Once attuned it grants a +20% bonus to the wielder’s Shield skill, the same effect as the Shield 4 spell when in melee, Light spells on command with no expenditure of Power, and immunity to Sever Spirits when cast anyone other than a Humakti. The value 120,000 Lunars and selling it would offend any Humakti (although buying it to donate to the temple is fine).

One issue perhaps is that a few of the items are unlikely to come into play, for example, the Aluminium Tridents of various sea cults, and of course there are some treasures which are unlikely to fall into the hands of the player characters—mostly Chaos related. Plenty of the others though will be desired by the player characters and some will certainly be subject of great hero quests. If there is an issue with the selection it is that there are few treasures related to the Air and Earth cults, but that is likely due to the contents of Plunder, like Cults of Prax before it, being set in Prax rather Sartar and its surrounds.

Physically, Plunder is again a book of two halves. The first is tables—large, open, and easy to read tables, but tables nonetheless. The second is more open, with one or two entries per page. Some are illustrated, some not, but the artwork is decent, if a little ‘Swords & Sorcery’ in style in places. If any of the artwork is disappointing, it is the cover, which comes from the ‘chainmail bikini’ school of female depiction in fantasy. The skull panties are a notable feature.

At the time of its release, critics could not agree about Plunder. In Space Gamer Number 33 (November 1980), Forest Johnson said that, “About half this book is not very useful. It consists of a shorthand method for generating treasure. (This does nothing to lighten the real work – adding up all those cursed treasure factors.)”, but ended on a positive note, concluding that, “The lack of exotic magic items has heretofore been a weak point in RuneQuest. These items have authentic Gloranthan flavour, complete with history and cult affinities. The discreet use of these items will add spice to a campaign without reducing it to Monty Haul.” Conversely, writing in The Dungeoneer’s Journal Issue: 25 (February/ March 1981), Clayton Miner said, “The variety of the items, and the detailed information included with the great treasures is sure to make this book very useful to Judges. Of more use to a Runequest Judge is the first section of Plunder, which presents easy to use tables for determining that value of a lesser treasure…” and that, “…[T]his book would make a welcome addition to a Judge’s stock of Runequest items. Plunder is definitely a useful piece of work and shows a great deal of imagination, and the only question I had with the book as a whole is, why so none of the items listed under Treasures of Glorantha have a negative side effect on the user.”

Other reviews were more balanced. Oliver Macdonald, reviewing Plunder in White Dwarf No. 25 (June/July 1981) awarded the supplement just five out of ten, adding that, “All points considered Plunder is an interesting but by no means essential RuneQuest play aid, certainly not worth buying if you have a limited budget.” Plunder was reviewed by John Sapienza, Jr. in Different Worlds Issue 12 (July 1981). Of the first half, he wrote that, “I think that a bit of reflection will let the GM realize just how dull it is putting treasure descriptions together, particularly those that get improvised during gaming. Once you realize this, the usefulness of this play aid makes it attractive.” He was more positive about the second half, saying that, “…[T]he treasures are, by and large, not out of balance, and most of them come complete with cult associations that provide effective limits on their use. Other limits are the tendency of certain races to take offense and kill the wearer, such as a suit of dragonewt skin armor. Use this at your own risk, in other words. Neat.” before concluding that, “Plunder is a useful idea, and well done. I recommend it to all RQ GMs.”

Plunder is a curio from a bygone age and another style of play. That style of play is one in which plunder is important. In Dungeons & Dragons, it was treasure and it would directly count towards the number of Experience Points a character gained in addition to that gained from killing monsters. In RuneQuest and Glorantha, the plunder paid first for any dues you owed to your cult and temple, second any monies owed to a cult, temple, or guild for prior training, and third for any skill or spell training undertaken with your cult, temple, or guild. Certainly in RuneQuest II, all of this would cost a character thousands of Lunars. Not so in the latest iteration, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, which presumes that a character’s training has already been paid for, though a character still owes his tithes to his cult and is encouraged to purchase further training. So there is less of an emphasis today on plunder when roleplaying and exploring Glorantha, as evidenced by advice given in the back of the core rulebook to cut the value of the treasure found when playing classic scenarios. 

So, forty years ago in Glorantha, the need for treasure was greater. Player characters had debts. Thus, the Game Master had to seed his scenarios with plunder aplenty—well not too aplenty because the characters had to have a reason to be coming back for plunder and the peril which went with it—and that took time and effort. Forty years ago then, the tables in the first half of Plunder were useful as they helped speed the process. Not so now when they feel redundant. Similarly, the second half of Plunder with its listing of forty-three magical treasures was useful forty years ago because so few of them had been then detailed in the early days of RuneQuest. So the forty three were useful, many of them tying into the cults described in Cults of Prax and so helping to build the world of Glorantha just a little further. 

Conversely, at this point in the history of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the current iteration of the roleplaying game has the same problem—few if any treasures of note have been detailed. There is background and detail to many of these forty-three items that the Game Master could bring them to her Glorantha today and they would still work. Doubtless, new supplements will appear detailing new treasures of Dragon Pass, but the conversion process is anything other than challenging. Until such a supplement is published, Plunder is actually more than a curio.

There can be no doubt that Plunder is no Cults of Prax, for it is very much a curate’s egg. Its dual focus and character—divided equally between the mundane and magical—mean that one half is at best utilitarian, at worst bland, whilst the other by comparison rich in detail and flavour. Conversely, the Game Master is likely to have got more use out of the Treasure Tables than the individual items, even if they are mundane, but nevertheless, the actual treasures in Plunder further showcase the more fantastical nature of Glorantha.

Disappearing a Disappearance

In classic Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying, news of the weird and the unnatural is spread by letter, by newspaper, and by word of mouth. Information spreads slowly. Not so in the modern age. Information spreads as fast as social media picks up on it. So when an Internet video of woman, crying and shouting about a community that does terrible things, including taking women and children, whilst society takes its money and looks the other way, before suddenly vanishing, screaming in agony, goes viral, it is sufficient to attract the attention of Delta Green. In response, the highly secret government agency assigns a cell of agents to investigate and establish what happened in the video, but not only investigate. If there are any signs of continuing danger, the agents need to save lives; if there are indications that this was an incursion of the Unnatural, they need to locate its source and stop it; and if this was due to an incursion of the Unnatural, they need to establish a mundane narrative for the video, make sure that nobody suspects Unnatural phenomena to be the cause; but above all, they need to make sure that nobody learns of Delta Green.

This is the set-up for Delta Green: Hourglass, a short investigation for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and Lovecraftian investigative horror published by Arc Dream Publishing. It can be played using the roleplaying game’s full rules or those from Delta Green: Need to Know. It also includes notes for running the scenario with agents who members of the Program—and thus members of Delta Green, and those who are Outlaws—thus not members of Delta Green. Like Ex Oblivione before it, Hourglass is another slice of horror which explores the subjugation and corruption of the innocent—though in not quite as brutal or obvious a fashion—and like Ex Oblivione before it, Hourglass also has links back to the very foundation of Delta Green, though not as obvious. In fact, the agents will probably have to dig deep into the scenario in order to find them, but their very presence suggests both a greater framework for both Hourglass and Ex Oblivione—though one that it not necessarily obvious—and the far wider influence of the peoples and things which drew the attention in 1928 of what would one day become Delta Green to the unnatural.

Were it not for the video, the community of Hourglass would be unremarkable. In fact, the only thing of note is the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, a staunchly conservative and insular commune of Christians with grounds just outside the town. A commune which the woman who disappeared belonged to. Could this be the community that woman was raging about before she disappeared? That the woman was a member of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is easy enough to determine, learning more than this will prove to be a challenge for both the agents and their players. Although insular, the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is an accepted part of the Hourglass community, it pays its taxes, and if its interpretation of Christianity is counter to that of the town’s devout Catholics or evangelical Christians, then it is at least Christian. So the town authorities are reluctant for any agents—if they become aware of their presence—to investigate either the disappearance of the women, believing the video to be a fake, or the Church of the Twelve Martyrs.

Most investigations by Delta Green require a degree of delicacy and so it is here. Agents who jump readily to conclusions or run headlong into examining the Church of the Twelve Martyrs may quickly find their efforts blocked or even themselves reassigned and under investigation. If they take a more systematic approach and dig into the clues and evidence before they approach the church’s compound, they will be better prepared. Even so, getting anything more than hints that there might be something weird going on with the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is going to be difficult for the agents. The compound seems to be normal enough, including a ranch and a farm as well as the church, but there is tension and a sense of paranoia in the air. Hopefully this should be enough to persuade the agents to tread carefully, for if they do not, the members of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs will react in an all too paranoid a fashion. There should be no doubt that its members will go to almost any lengths to protect the church’s secrets—with any luck the agents will have picked up on this after investigating the video. When the members of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs do react, the Handler is given some fun—sorry, I mean nasty—ways in which to mess with and torment the agents. Some of these are quite subtle, but others are enjoyably weird and brutal. These though will need careful staging by the Handler since the players may feel like she is messing with their characters. It is here perhaps that Hourglass could have done with some staging advice on how to handle that. (I would suggest taking the player aside to explain the situation and then letting him roleplay it out.)

Just as it is difficult for the agents to investigate the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, it is equally as difficult for the Handler in two ways. First in maintaining a balance between the paranoia of the various NPCs and their unleashing all hell on the agents, and second, in supporting the investigative efforts of the players and their agents without frustrating them in the face of some very careful and very paranoid NPCs. Another problem with the scenario is that it does have a high number of NPCs for the Handler to deal with. The difficulty of the investigation in Hourglass is really highlighted by the fact that resolution deals more with what could wrong and the subsequent repercussions than with effect of a successful outcome, though of course, the odds are against this. 

Physically, Hourglass is a slim, cleanly presented book. As ever, the artwork is excellent, but the area map feels as if it should have more detail and although there are floorplans of the church on the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, there is no map of the compound itself. It needs a slight edit, but the scenario is otherwise well written.

Delta Green: Hourglass showcases how far the forces of the Unnatural will go to work themselves into society, how far they will go to prey upon the weak, and how willing they are to corrupt the innocent. Coming to this realisation will be undoubtedly be horrifying for the agents and their players, but getting to it is not easy. Delta Green: Hourglass presents a challenging scenario for both Handler and players alike, and with its potential for frustration, is best suited to an experienced gaming group.

The Other OSR: Death Test

It is impossible to ignore the influence of Dungeons & Dragons and the effect that its imprint has had on the gaming hobby. It remains the most popular roleplaying game some forty or more years since it was first published, and it is a design and a set-up which for many was their first experience of roleplaying—and one to which they return again and again. This explains the popularity of the Old School Renaissance and the many retroclones—roleplaying games which seek to emulate the mechanics and play style of previous editions Dungeons & Dragons—which that movement has spawned in the last fifteen years. Just as with the Indie Game movement before it began as an amateur endeavour, so did the Old School Renaissance, and just as with the Indie Game movement before it, many of the aspects of the Old School Renaissance are being adopted by mainstream roleplaying publishers who go on to publish retroclones of their own. Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, published by Goodman Games is a perfect example of this. Other publishers have been around long enough for them to publish new editions of their games which originally appeared in the first few years of the hobby, whilst still others are taking their new, more contemporary games and mapping them onto the retroclone.

Yet there are other roleplaying games which draw upon the roleplaying games of the 1970s, part of the Old School Renaissance, but which may not necessarily draw directly upon Dungeons & Dragons. Some are new, like Forbidden Lands – Raiders & Rogues in a Cursed World and Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style!, but others are almost as old as Dungeons & Dragons. One of these is The Fantasy Trip, published by Metagaming Concepts in 1980. Designed by Steve Jackson, this was a fantasy roleplaying game built around two earlier microgames, also designed by Steve Jackson, MicroGame #3: Melee in 1977 and  MicroGame #6: Wizard in 1978. With the closure of Metagaming Concepts in 1983, The Fantasy Trip and its various titles went out of print. Steve Jackson would go on to found Steve Jackson Games and design further titles like Car Wars and Munchkin as well as the detailed, universal roleplaying game, GURPS. Then in December, 2017, Steve Jackson announced that he had got the rights back to The Fantasy Trip and then in April, 2019, following a successful Kickstarter campaignSteve Jackson Games republished The Fantasy Trip. The mascot version of The Fantasy Trip is of course, The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition

The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition is a big box of things, including the original two microgames. So instead of reviewing the deep box as a whole, it is worth examining the constituent parts of The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition one by one, delving ever deeper into its depths bit by bit. The first of these is Melee, quick to set up, quick to play game of man-to-man combat. It is designed to be played by two or more players, aged ten and over, with a game lasting roughly between thirty and sixty minutes. The second is Wizard, which brings in more options in terms of tactical play because it introduces magic to the arena. Although the two integrate well, Wizard is more complex and harder to learn, yet offers more for a player to get into. The third is Death Test.

Death Testactually consists of two adventures—‘Death Test’ and ‘Death Test 2’—both originally published as MicroQuest 1: Death Test and MicroQuest 1: Death Test 2 in 1980. The new, combined edition comes in a box which contains the two adventures and some sixty-six new counters. Both require the map from Melee and can either be played using just Melee or a combination of Melee and Wizard. Both can also be played in a number of ways. They can be played solo, one player or several players against the adventure, instructions being included in the text as to how any monsters or NPCs will react to the player characters. They can be played with a Game Master controlling and rolling for the monsters and NPCs, whether is with just one player or several. They are designed to be played by between one and four characters. Ideally, these should not be beginning characters, but unfortunately ‘Death Test’ does not say how experienced the player characters should be. In addition, although having more characters in play will provide more tactical options—especially if they include a wizard, they do reduce each character’s final score at the end of the test. If they get to the end of the test, that is. In this way, ‘Death Test’ sets its own difficulty. It is easier with more characters, but the rewards will be less.

The background to ‘Death Test’ has the character—or characters—travelling to the city of Ardonirane, which is ruled by the famous and powerful war leader, Dhallak m’Thorsz Carn. He is once again hiring mercenaries, but will accept only those that pass a test—enter the labyrinth beneath his palace and there fight animals, monsters, prisoners, wizards, and rival would-be employees—and survive! Although there is treasure to be found, what matters to Thorsz is the mercenary’s or mercenaries’ performance. The more foes they defeat or kill, the more they will rank in his estimation and the higher position they will attain in his army.
The labyrinth consists of twelve colour coded rooms connected by a series of corridors. There are no doors, but entrances and exits are marked by black curtains, or rather black magical illusions which the player characters can sometimes pass through and others not, but which they can never see through. This means that in order to find out what is in a room, one or more of the player characters must enter said room. Most of the time, they can leave the way they came. Each room then is its own discrete encounter and with just a dozen of them, it allows for variety of denizens and challenges. ‘Death Test’ is not a dungeon in the traditional roleplaying sense though, the focus being more on combat—as the background suggests—than exploring, finding traps, and so on. Nor is it really a roleplaying adventure, a ‘programmed adventure’ certainly, but not a roleplaying adventure as there is very little, if any, roleplaying involved. That said, run ‘Death Test’ with a Game Master and one or more players and then there are opportunities for the Game Master to roleplay and bring some of the NPCs to life and thus for the player characters to interact with them rather than fighting them.
Consisting of one-hundred-and-sixty-seven entries over seventeen or so pages, there is a greater physicality to ‘Death Test’ in comparison to other solo adventure titles. This not surprising though, for Death Test is an expansion for a man-to-man combat game. So instead of sitting down and reading through a book and rolling dice as necessary, this is definitely an at the table affair with the map, the counters, and the dice in front of you. In further comparison with those other solo adventure books, ‘Death Test’ has a greater replayability factor. Only score enough points to get hired as a recruit? Well, why not try again to see if you can attain a better position or try it with a different mix of characters?
‘Death Test 2’ is double the size of ‘Death Test’. Again, it can either be played using just Melee or a combination of Melee and Wizard, but it can also be played using Into the Labyrinth, which covers roleplaying, character creation and experience, and advanced magic and combat rules for Melee and Wizard. Like ‘Death Test’, it can be can be played solo, one player or several players against the adventure, instructions being included in the text as to how any monsters or NPCs will react to the player characters. They can be played with a Game Master controlling and rolling for the monsters and NPCs, whether is with just one player or several. This is certainly the case if ‘Death Test 2’ is run using the rules from Into the Labyrinth. Unlike ‘Death Test’, ‘Death Test 2’ is intended for a party of four characters rather than between one and four, and it includes advice as how experienced the player characters need to be, for like ‘Death Test’, it is not designed for beginning characters. ‘Death Test 2’ can also be run like a traditional dungeon adventure, and this is supported with advice on adding it to a campaign and on expending gained Experience Points.
The background to ‘Death Test 2’ is that Dhallak m’Thorsz Carn is unimpressed with the candidates to join his army who succeeded at getting through the labyrinth in ‘Death Test’. So he has another built, one which is more involving and more challenging. Consisting of some two-hundred-and-eighty-seven entries over thirty-six pages, ‘Death Test 2’ only adds a few more rooms in comparison to ‘Death Test’. The increased number of entries allow for more detail, more things to happen, and more things for the characters to do. There are traps and puzzles, a greater range of monsters to encounter and magical items to find, players will find their characters tested in other ways than combat—‘Death Test 2’ includes the need to make Saving Throws. This is a richer environment for them to explore and no mere complex of arenas to enter and fight in. This does not mean that ‘Death Test 2’ is not a combat focused adventure—it very much is—but it is written far more like a traditional solo roleplaying adventure and presents a richer playing environment, so is far more engaging. 
Physically, both ‘Death Test’ and ‘Death Test 2’ are plain, simple booklets with paper covers. Behind the full colour covers, they are black and white throughout. Each is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is excellent throughout.
Of course, of the two, ‘Death Test 2’ is better than ‘Death Test’. It is more detailed and offers more options than just combat, plus it supports more roleplaying, especially if Into the Labyrinth is being used. On the downside, because it has more secrets to be found, it is not as readily replayable. In other words, there is less of the simple board game to its play than there is in ‘Death Test’. Yet ‘Death Test’ should not be discounted. Its simplicity means that it can more readily be replayed, and it is easier to both set up and play. At its very simplest, ‘Death Test’ provides a reason to play Melee and/or Wizard than just fights in an arena.
Death Test is a good combination boxed set, presenting two solo adventures of differing complexity and detail that offer a great deal of flexibility in terms of their set-up and play options. More so than traditional solo adventures. If you have Melee and/or Wizard, then you should put yourself through the Death Test—both of them.

Telegraphing Ticket to Ride

Since 2007, the 2004 Spiel des Jahres award-winning board game Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder, has been supported with new maps, beginning with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. That new map would be collected in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 2 – India & Switzerland, the second entry in the Map Collection series begun in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia. Both of these have proved to be worthy additions to the Ticket to Ride line, whereas Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 3: The Heart of Africa and Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland have proved to add more challenging game play, but at a cost in terms of engaging game play. Further given that they included just the one map in the third and fourth volumes rather than the two in each of the first two, neither felt as if they provided as much value either. Fortunately, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania came with two maps and explored elements more commonly found in traditional train games—stocks and shares in railroad companies and the advance of railway technology. The next map collection in the series, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West, explore a common theme, but each offers very different game play.

As is standard with the Map Collection series, both maps in Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West will require the use of the train pieces and train cards from a Ticket to Ride core set. Designed for between two and five players, it includes fifty-eight Destination Tickets cards, two Bonus cards, and sixty-four Track Pieces. The map board is played vertically rather than horizontally and depicts the rail routes across France. The very first thing that strikes you about the France map is that nearly all of the routes are blank—not grey, but blank. Single routes are coloured as standard, nearly all of them running west from Paris to Nantes on the Alantic coast and from Paris north to Le Havre on the English Channel. Besides the city to city routes, the map has links to four countries—Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, and grey ferry routes to the island of Corsica. The routes on the Destination Tickets include the standard city-to-city routes as well as city-to-country and country-to-country routes. The bonus cards are the Globetrotter card for the most Destination Tickets completed and the Longest Route card for the longest continuous route. The Track Pieces come in the standard colours of the Train Tickets from a Ticket to Ride core set and are either two, three, four, or five sections long.

At the start of the game, each player receives eight Train Cards and five Destination Tickets—of which a player must keep three. He also receives forty Train pieces rather than the standard forty-five. On his turn, a player can do one of three things as per Ticket to Ride. Either draw two Train Cards, play Train pieces and claim a route, or draw new Destination Tickets. What prevents a player from claiming most of the routes is that they are blank, so before a player can claim a route, he must lay the track first. After a player draws two Train cards, he also takes one of the Track Pieces and places it on one of the blank routes. That route can now be claimed by anyone, including the player who placed it. When the route is claimed, the player places the requisite Train pieces, claims the points, and removes the Track Piece which goes back into the regular supply from where it can taken on any of the players’ subsequent turns.

There are also routes which cross over other routes. When a Track Piece is laid over one of these, it renders all of the other blank routes it is played inaccessible and means that nobody can claim them. It is possible that when a player does this, he will block shorter routes to cities that another player might want to get to, forcing him to take a longer series of connections that he had originally intended. And in a game where a player has forty Train pieces rather than the standard forty-five, this may well mean that a player will finding himself running out of Trains if this happens too many times.

So, in order to connect the cities or countries on the map, a player has to build the routes first. Fundamentally, what this means is that when a player lays a Track Piece, he is signalling to the other players where he intends to build. Sometimes the other players can use this against him, for example, by claiming the route before him or by placing a Track Piece of a colour on a connecting route which they think he does not have Train Cards for. A player could also place a Track Piece elsewhere on the map completely away from where he actually needs to build as a means of misdirection. As the game progresses, there will be more and more Train Pieces on the board, which will often limit what and where a player can place a Track Piece. In these later stages of the game, the placement of Track Pieces is not always relevant and does feel like an unnecessary step, slowing the flow of the game down.

At its heart, the France map for Ticket to Ride adds another set of choices for the players to make, not just what routes they claim, but what routes to lay first. So, it is more complex whilst at the same time the colour of the routes change from game to game. Overall, the France map is more complex to play and so not quite as light as other Ticket to Ride maps, and longer to play because more decisions need to be made. So the France map is definitely one for Ticket to Ride devotees rather than a family audience.

Designed for between two and five players, it includes fifty-eight Destination Tickets cards, two Bonus cards, and sixty-four Track Pieces. The map board is played vertically rather than horizontally and depicts the rail routes across France. The very first thing that strikes you about the France map is that nearly all of the routes are blank—not grey, but blank. Single routes are coloured as standard, nearly all of them running west from Paris to Nantes on the Alantic coast and from Paris north to Le Havre on the English Channel. Besides the city to city routes, the map has links to four countries—Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, and grey ferry routes to the island of Corsica. The routes on the Destination Tickets include the standard city-to-city routes as well as city-to-country and country-to-country routes. The bonus cards are the Globetrotter card for the most Destination Tickets completed and the Longest Route card for the longest continuous route. The Track Pieces come in the standard colours of the Train Tickets from a Ticket to Ride core set and are either two, three, four, or five sections long.

At the start of the game, each player receives eight Train Cards and five Destination Tickets—of which a player must keep three. He also receives forty Train pieces rather than the standard forty-five. On his turn, a player can do one of three things as per Ticket to Ride. Either draw two Train Cards, play Train pieces and claim a route, or draw new Destination Tickets. What prevents a player from claiming most of the routes is that they are blank, so before a player can claim a route, he must lay the track first. After a player draws two Train cards, he also takes one of the Track Pieces and places it on one of the blank routes. That route can now be claimed by anyone, including the player who placed it. When the route is claimed, the player places the requisite Train pieces, claims the points, and removes the Track Piece which goes back into the regular supply from where it can taken on any of the players’ subsequent turns.

There are also routes which cross over other routes. When a Track Piece is laid over one of these, it renders all of the other blank routes it is played inaccessible and means that nobody can claim them. It is possible that when a player does this, he will block shorter routes to cities that another player might want to get to, forcing him to take a longer series of connections that he had originally intended. And in a game where a player has forty Train pieces rather than the standard forty-five, this may well mean that a player will finding himself running out of Trains if this happens too many times.

So, in order to connect the cities or countries on the map, a player has to build the routes first. Fundamentally, what this means is that when a player lays a Track Piece, he is signalling to the other players where he intends to build. Sometimes the other players can use this against him, for example, by claiming the route before him or by placing a Track Piece of a colour on a connecting route which they think he does not have Train Cards for. A player could also place a Track Piece elsewhere on the map completely away from where he actually needs to build as a means of misdirection. As the game progresses, there will be more and more Train Pieces on the board, which will often limit what and where a player can place a Track Piece. In these later stages of the game, the placement of Track Pieces is not always relevant and does feel like an unnecessary step, slowing the flow of the game down.

At its heart, the France map for Ticket to Ride adds another set of choices for the players to make, not just what routes they claim, but what routes to lay first. So, it is more complex whilst at the same time the colour of the routes change from game to game. Overall, the France map is more complex to play and so not quite as light as other Ticket to Ride maps, and longer to play because more decisions need to be made. So the France map is definitely one for Ticket to Ride devotees rather than a family audience.

If the France map from Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West is different to Ticket to Ride, the Old West map is really different. First, it is designed for two to six players, something that rarely features in a Ticket to Ride game. To support this, an extra set of Train Pieces—in white—is included in Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West, along with a white scoring marker. It also comes with fifty Destination Tickets, two Bonus cards—Globetrotter and Alvin, eighteen City Markers, and the Alvin the Alien Marker. The map is again played vertically and looks like a standard Ticket to Ride map, that is, a mix of coloured and grey routes (rather the blank ones of France map). It depicts the western half of the United States of America, from Roswell and Wolf Point in the east to Seattle and San Diego in the west on the Pacific coast. A single ferry route runs from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

At the start of the game, each player receives five Destination Cards and must keep three. He also receives three City Markers to match the colour of his Train pieces. As part of the set-up, each player places one of his City Markers in the city of his choice. This is important because when a player begins claiming routes and placing Train pieces, he must start from the city where his City Marker is placed. And then when he next claims a route and places Train pieces, it has to be connected to a route he has already claimed. He cannot claim a route that is not connected to a route he has already claimed. So just like the France map, players on the Old West map are telegraphing where they are building to, if not more so!

When a player claims a route, he can also place one of his City Markers in the city he is building to if the city does not have one already. This costs two extra cards of the same colour as the route just claimed. Or a player can use Locomotive (or wild) Train cards.

The placement of City Markers not only affects what routes a player can claim, it can also affect what points he will score for claiming a route. If the route claimed is connected to a city with a City Marker, the points go to the player who owns the City Marker—even if that is another player! If the route connects two cities which both have City Markers, then the two who own the City Markers score the points score the points. If it happens that the player owns both City Markers at either end of the route being claimed, then he scores twice—one for each for City Marker—even if the route is being claimed by another player!

What is interesting here is that play on the Old West map—like the France map—involves the players signalling to each other where they planning to build next. On the France it is with the Track Pieces and not always quite as obvious, but on the Old West map is more obvious because each player must claim routes which connect to his existing network. The addition of the City Markers brings an element of area control to the game because players will want to avoid connecting to cities which have other players’ City Markers in them as it costs them points to connect to them. Conversely players who have City Markers will want other players to connect to these cities for exactly the same reason. Of course, the likelihood is that the players will have to connect to cities with other players’ City Markers in them in order to complete their Destination Tickets. This is especially so with more players as they compete for the same routes.

The Old West map includes a variant. This involves Alvin the Alien, a character from the Ticket to Ride: Alvin and Dexter expansion released in 2011. Fortunately, that expansion is not required to play this variant as a cardboard counter is provided to represent Alvin the Alien. In this variant, the Alvin the Alien counter is placed—naturally, or unnaturally, enough—in the city of Roswell. The first player to claim a route which connects to Roswell also captures Alvin. This scores him an extra ten points and he has to move the Alvin the Alien counter to a city which he controls, including his starting city. If another player then connects to the new city where Alvin the Alien is now located, then he scores ten points and has to move Alvin the Alien to a city that he controls, and so on, and so on. This can occur multiple times, but the player who has control of Alvin the Alien at the end of the game scores another ten points.

The effect of this variant is to counter the inclination for players to not want to connect to cities already connected to by other players, especially if that city contains a City Marker. This is because connecting to a city with Alvin the Alien in it will score the player points and score him more if one of his cities contains Alvin the Alien at the end of the game.

Thematically, the Alvin the Alien variant does not really suit the Old West map. Of course with the inclusion of Roswell on the map it does, but this is a map of the Old West and not the modern west of the post-Roswell alien saucer crash.

Physically, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West is for the most part, the same high-quality product we have come to expect for the Ticket to Ride line. Both maps are large, mounted, and clear and easy to use, both sets of cards are easy to read and orientate to the board, and the rulebooks again, clear and easy to read and understand. The new plastic Train pieces are serviceable, but the cardboard Track Pieces do feel somewhat cheap in comparison. They are not done on thin cardstock, but not thick cardstock either. They are also a little fiddly in play. Thematically both maps and cards match their settings, so there is a richness of colour and style to the France map and cards, whilst those for the Old West are dusty and dry. Certainly the Old West map feels as if you are playing the expanded half of the North America map from the original Ticket to Ride (which leaves one to wonder if there might be the equivalent of an Old East map covering the eastern half of the United States, and if there were, could the Old West and Old East maps be joined and played together?).

So both maps in Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West are about telegraphing to your fellow players where you intend to claim routes next. Each map presents a different solution though and thus different challenges for the players. Of the two, Old West is the easier, even more direct when it comes to claiming routes and so will be easier to play by the more casual audience, whereas France includes a greater complexity which forces every player think about the routes they need to claim, not once, but twice—once to build and once to claim. Overall, the combination of new mechanics and challenges serve to make Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 6: France + Old West a solid expansion which will definitely appeal to the Ticket to Ride devotee.

An Early Modern Retroclone Anthology

17th Century Minimalist from Games Omnivorous is an Old School Renaissance roleplaying game of small-time tricksters, conniving thieves, stalwart ex-soldiers, swashbucklers with panache and gambling debts, and minor physicians, banding together out of necessity and the need for coin (glory optional). The rules-light Class and Level roleplaying game set in the seventeenth century which features firearms, no magic, a task-based experience system, and a fast, deadly combat system, was introduced in 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, and whilst it was complete in terms of rules and mechanics, what it lacks is a scenario. One issue with the 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook is that it lacks an adventure, but fortunately, its setting and its mechanics are compatible with any number of Old School Renaissance scenarios set in the Early Modern period, of which many of those published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess, including the author’s own The Squid, the Cabal, and the Old Man as well as No Better Than Any Man, Scenic Dunnsmouth, or Forgive Us, would be suitable. In addition, 17th Century Minimalist has its anthology of adventures with the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder.

One of the physical qualities of 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook is that it feels handmade, or at least, artisanal. This continues with 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder, which comes as a sturdy card folder which contains five separate adventures, each presented in its own folder in an almost postcard format on the same cardstock as the folder for the full set. Each presents a relatively short adventure, more of a detailed outline rather than a full scenario, which can be run as a one-shot or a convention scenario. The format means that each is easy to handle, although in some places, the text is perhaps a little small and cramped to read with ease.

Opening up the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder, the first adventure is ‘Hedge Death Maze’. As the player characters are passing through remote, but mid-sized town, they learn of a challenge extended to anyone by a local noble. He has grown a fiendishly difficult hedge maze on his estate and promises gold to anyone who can defeat it. After showing off his estate—a zoo of exotic animals, Greek statuary, a gallery of paintings depicting scenes of slaughter, and a library of diverse, often macabre books—and thus his enormous wealth, he blindfolds them, deposits them in the centre of the maze, and challenges them to find their way out.

‘Hedge Death Maze’ has physical component in that each player is given a map of the maze and then thirty seconds to draw his route out of the maze. Then the Game Master collects these and plots each player’s and each group of players’ routes of the maze, placing four or five encounters along the route of each player or group. All of these encounters have a Greco-Romano theme, drawn from both myth and history, and grow in increasing difficulty from the first to the fifth. As the name suggests, this is a ‘death maze’, quite possibly the closest that 17th Century Minimalist will get to an actual dungeon, which throws challenge after challenge at the player characters—singly or in groups, all for the entertainment of the sponsoring noble.

‘Hedge Death Maze’ highlights not just the differences in wealth between the nobility and the peasantry, but also the arrogance of the nobility in what is a lavishly wasteful display of money. It also highlights the place of the player characters somewhere in between, but at the same time at the beck and call of the nobility. This is a theme that 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder will return in later adventures, including the next adventure, ‘Ticking Time Bomb’.

In ‘Ticking Time Bomb’, the player characters are hired by a merchant to transport a locked chest to another merchant in a town roughly a week or so away. This is a more straightforward scenario, an on-the-road adventure of encounters ordinary and odd, capped off with a run-around to try and make the delivery. Nominally set in Italy and parodying the mercantile wars between conflicting city-states of the period. There is scope here for the Game Master to expand this into a mini-campaign, slotting adventures—for example, ‘Hedge Death Maze’—along the route as well as the given encounters.

‘Black Plague Now’ is the first of the five adventures which runs to a six-page folder rather than four and the first to be really player character led rather than the motivation being provided by an NPC. The player characters arrive in a river port struck down by the bubonic plague with the aristocracy having fled, people dying, and no one in charge. With the townsfolk in disarray, this is perfect opportunity for chancers like the player characters—but for what? ‘Black Plague Now’ is sandbox situation which asks the player characters what they will do in the face of a naturally occurring horror and allows them to go where they want and do what they want. Bring aid to the town and its current population? Slaughter everyone just to make sure and take over? Set up a haven for robbers and bandits? The adventure suggests all of these and their possible outcomes, supporting them with a good map of the town marked with places of note and rules for just what happens if one of the player characters happens to come down with the plague…

Similar in length to ‘Black Plague Now’, ‘Cluster Fuck Inn’ is an event driven scenario in which the player characters are hired to rob an inn. This inn is run by a member of the Rosicrucian order who is rumoured to possess an important alchemical formula. Unfortunately, the rumours mean that other parties are interested in obtaining the formula and it just happens that the night on which the player characters execute their planned heist, so does everyone else! Mixing secret societies, science and alchemy, double-cross, and more, as the title suggests, ‘Cluster Fuck Inn’ quickly descends into a fun farce as the Game Master piles event upon event. The scenario’s initial encounter, which turns out to be with a black cape wearing man whose name just happens to be Oliver Reed (!), sets the tone. One issue with ‘Cluster Fuck Inn’ is that the Game Master will need extra dice to add to the Initiative bag used to determine order in 17th Century Minimalist.

‘Wild Witch Chase’ takes place in a town beset by a series of tragedies and odd events, none of which can be put down to nature. And if they cannot be explained by nature, then something unnatural must be responsible. Which means witchcraft! The mayor asks the player characters to investigate. Armed with a map of the town, the player characters will need to investigate and interview the townsfolk if they are to gather clues and evidence—the latter needing to be solid enough to send any accused to be burnt at the stake. This will be against a background of a town rife with paranoia and distrust and continued daily events. Some twenty-five or so NPCs are provided as potential suspects and hooks for the investigation as well as the map, the structure of the scenario being freeform and player character led. One issue with the scenario is that it does not list any of the uncanny events prior to the player characters’ arrival and another is that there are elements from the backgrounds of the NPCs which the Game Master will need to set up prior to the arrival of the player characters, both of which would help her build the sense of moral panic and suddenly fervently religious beliefs that the scenario demands. In general, there is no right way to solve this ‘Wild Witch Chase’ and there is the distinct possibility that the chase may all be for nothing…

Physically, the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder is very well presented. It is a gorgeous little artefact, employing the same art style as 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, so has illustrations suited to a child’s all too dark storybook, as well as solid maps by Dyson Logos. As good as it looks and as good as it feels in the hand, the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder does need another edit and all too often it feels just a little cramped, as if it is pushing against the limits of the format.

The 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder contains five solid scenarios, each of which explores aspects and themes pertaining to the seventeenth century—alchemy and science, secret societies, witchcraft and paranoia, the effects of disease, and more. The one issue it does not touch upon is the religious schism which runs throughout this period, hopefully that will be explored in a future scenario. The themes also make the scenarios adaptable to other roleplaying games set during the period. The scenarios do require a little more preparation than the format suggests, but once done, the Game Master can run these more or less straight from the folders. Also, with some effort, the five could be strung together to form a campaign, perhaps with ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ as the framing device. The Game Master may want to write an encounter or other small scenario or two to flesh out such a campaign, but the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder has the potential to support a complete campaign of 17th Century Minimalist, its five adventures matching the five Levels attainable by the player characters.

The high-quality nature of both 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook and 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder does actually make you wish that they were available together. They deserve a ‘white’ box—or rather a blue box given the eggshell blue of both 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook and 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder—of their own, along with a set of dice and of course, a 17th Century Minimalist Initiative bag. Which only goes to showcase how much the two go together and if have one, you want the other. Much like 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, the 17th Century Minimalist: Mini Adventure Folder is not perfect, but it not only ably supports and matches the brutal charm and flavour suggested in 17th Century Minimalist: A Historical Low-Fantasy OSR Rulebook, but highlights them and enables the Game Master and her players to explore them.

Friday Fantasy: The Touch of the Beast


The Touch of the Beast is a low-Level Old School Renaissance scenario published by SoulMuppetPublishing, best known for the retroclone, BestLeft Buried. Inspired by the eighteenth-century French fairy tale, La Belle et la Bête, and the 1991 Walt Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, it is a dark tale of forgotten history and obsessive horror on the eve of the French Revolution. This period setting makes the scenario a little difficult to use in the more traditional fantasy roleplaying of the Old School Renaissance, but there are roleplaying games with which it will work. These include both 17th Century Minimalist and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, as well as All For One: Régime Diabolique, though with some difficulty. Further, because The Touch of the Beast is stated up for Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons, the scenario is relatively easy to adapt to the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice.
The scenario is set in France in 1789 during the Ancien Régime as the peasants and bourgeoisie of the Third Estate drive the nobility of the Second Estate out of their feudal holdings. Thus, castles and chateaus are being left empty, so ripe for plundering! One such chateau lies outside of the village of Alsace, rumoured to be still left untouched by the villagers and by robbers. It is also rumoured to be occupied by some terrible beast, but no one in these enlightened times believes such twaddle. Two occupants of the village take an interest in both the castle. One is an ex-soldier who wants them to confirm the existence of the castle and determine whether it can safely be plundered, the other is a young woman who claims that the castle and the great beast which resides within its walls are cursed, and that this curse is spreading… She wants an end to this curse before foolish bandits or robbers blunder into the castle and inadvertently unleash the curse on first the villagers, then beyond…
Getting to the castle is an arduous trek through increasingly worsening weather; getting into the castle and wandering around its halls and grounds will prove to be less of a challenge. In fact, the adventurers are free to wander around the castle at will, which seems to be uninhabited, but filled with the signs of it having been inhabited. The furnishings and fittings, decorations, gewgaws and nick-nacks are all indicative of the wealth lavished on the castle and its grounds by the ‘former’ occupant of the castle. The castle—consisting of three storeys—harpsichords, fine wallpaper, fancy dresses, porcelain plumbing, paintings, chandelier, and more. There are odd, even weird things to be found in the castle too, such as a room filled with wax, a thick red carpet which seems to sway in a non-existent breeze, and a wardrobe which spews clothing.
All of this is mapped out storey by storey, but then room by room. So The Touch of the Beast includes a map of the grounds, each of the castle’s three floors, plus its cellars. Then accompanying each entry in the room by room description is an excerpt from the main map showing both the room and its adjacent corridors and rooms. These sub-maps are typically on the same page as the room descriptions, although on occasion they only appear on the opposite page. What this means is that although The Touch of the Beast is perhaps a little cramped in places and a little busy, the Game Master has been given an easy means of tracking the progress of the player characters through the castle and its grounds. In effect, this is not just room by room, corridor by corridor, but page by page, and all this without the need for constant reference back to the main storey maps by the Game Master. On the downside, the likelihood is that The Touch of the Beast would be a much shorter book without this admittedly useful map feature.
Now despite appearances, the castle is not uninhabited. Strange creatures lurk in certain rooms—and lurk is important here, because The Touch of the Beast is not a scenario with a random encounter table. Instead, the behaviour of the inhabitants is reactive in nature, responding to the actions of the player characters, and to support this, the scenario includes certain triggers which will cause the inhabitants to act. When this happens, certain of the inhabitants will actively hunt the player characters. For this though, the Game Master will need not one ordinary deck of cards, but four! And from these decks, the Game Master will just use the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace cards to form four separate decks. One of these is the Starter Deck and whenever the player characters make a noise in certain locations in and around the castle, the Game Master will draw a card. If the Ace is drawn, the associated inhabitant of the castle reacts and begins hunting the player characters, certain seemingly random events such as all naked flames flaring or time seeming to skip. Then the next deck is added to the current deck, and so on and so on. Make too much noise, in too many locations, and draw too many cards in the wrong order, and the player characters may themselves being hunted by multiple inhabitants!
Unfortunately, having four separate decks is possibly too much to ask of the Game Master. It is a pity that no other means of handling the inhabitants’ actions is suggested and likewise, it is disappointing that the Game Master is not warned ahead of time of the nature of the set-up which the scenario requires. Also, the grounds of the castle do feel underwritten in comparison to the castle itself, and despite the castle being depicted as having walls and towers, they are not described.
In terms of theme, The Touch of the Beast is based on both the French fairy tale, La Belle et la Bête and the 1991 Walt Disney film, Beauty and the Beast. So yes, there is a curse which can be lifted as per both sources of inspiration, but the main monsters are more inspired by the Walt Disney, being greatly weird and twisted versions. It does seem a pity though that the corridor of grasping arms from 1936 film by Jean Cocteau was not included. In terms of design, The Touch of the Beast echoes a number of classic dungeon designs. Perhaps the earliest is X2 Castle Amber for Expert Dungeons & Dragons with its madhouse feel, but S1 Tomb of Horrors for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition follows as a close second for the design of its touch or interfere at your peril, no Saving Throw, you are dead, nature of its traps. It also feels similar to several scenarios for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying in that devices from other times and places can be found within the walls of the castle.
Physically, The Touch of the Beast is scrappily presented and does need an edit in places. It could also have been better organised—especially at the start—to help the Game Master prepare the scenario. The artwork though, is decent, and the cartography is big and easy to read. It is also clear that some thought has been put into organising the maps and room descriptions to make the scenario easy to run.
The Touch of the Beast is a fairly simple scenario, more weird and creepy rather than out and out horror. The combination of its period setting and use of familiar fairy tale as inspiration serves to make it accessible—though the scenario does lay a trap or two for anyone who is too familiar—but not necessarily easy to use in a campaign or setting. That said, the scenario is relatively easy to adapt to a Game Master’s campaign or setting of her choosing.

Jonstown Jottings #12: Geiron, Lord of Elephants

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha 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?
Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants is a short supplement presenting a great beast akin to a ‘Terror’, but which is not Chaotic, for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is an eight page, full colour, 2.16 MB PDF.

Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants is well presented and decently written.

Where is it set?
Geiron is rarely seen outside of the Spirit World and when he is, it is at one of the oases of Prax and the Wastelands. In particular, the oases of Eiritha’s Print, Greystone Well, and Agape, and once a century for Eiritha’s High Holy Day at the Paps where he joins in the celebrations.

Who do you play?
Geiron, Lord of Elephants, the King of the Elephant Tribe in Genert’s Garden, who sacrificed his tribe at the Battle of Earthfall, so that Genert’s army could flee. Thus, none of the Elephant Tribe survived to swear the Survival Covenant with Waha.
What do you need?
Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants requires both RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary

What do you get?
Behind its excellent cover, Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants describes a great spirit beast whose statures is that of a ‘Terror’, but associated with the Earth rather than Chaos. Full stats are provided for him as well a detailed background which explains why and where he appears in the Middle World. Two adventure seeds are provided, one in which the Lord of Elephants can be hunted and the other in which he must be placated. Lastly, the Geiron Spirit Cult is detailed for the Shaman wanting to worship a long lost great beast. This is supported the unique Rune magic and the specialised Spirit magic associated with the cult and a list of sample Elephant spirits.

Although Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants falls into the category of ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’, this is a nicely detailed addition. If there is an issue with the supplement, it is that the rewards for completing the adventure could have been discussed or included to help the Game Master out a little more.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. If you are running a campaign or adventure set in Prax, Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants is worth your time and interest. Plus in terms of the game mechanics, Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants showcases how to create a ‘Terror’ which is not associated with Chaos.
No. If your campaign or adventure is not set on the plains of Prax, then Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants is unlikely to be of interest to you.
Maybe. An encounter with Geiron might come about as part of a quest and mastodons, which are part of his domain, may be found elsewhere, plus in terms of the game mechanics, Monster of the Month #2: Geiron, Lord of Elephants showcases how to create a ‘Terror’ which is not associated with Chaos.

Jonstown Jottings #11: Spirits of Madness

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha 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?
Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness is a short supplement presenting a new monster and a means of handling insanity in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a five page, full colour, 2.22 MB PDF.

Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness is well presented and decently written, but it does need another edit.

Where is it set?
Madness spirits can be introduced to anywhere where an insane person can be found or to places strong in the Moon Rune, such as Lunar temples. They may be found in Dragon Pass in the ruins of New Lunar Temple—the site of the Dragonrise—and the ruins of Whitewall, as well as sites where the Lunar Colleges of Magic summoned great powers, for example, at Moonbroth Oasis.

Who do you play?
Madness spirits are a variant of disease spirits which inflict insanity rather than pestilence.

What do you need?
Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness requires both RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary

What do you get?
Madness spirits work just like disease spirits in that they initiate spirit combat in order to overpower their victims and infect them with insanity rather than pestilence. Notably they are not attracted to victims already infected by other madness spirits and a shaman already twisted by a madness spirit, might actually try and command other madness spirits to infect others.

Once infected by an insanity—and some ten are listed, from Vestiphobia to Chaophilia—the insanity is treated like a Passion, which the Game Master can check to see if the player character will act in accordance with the effects of the insanity. The Passion also represents the acute degree of the illness. Continued resistance to the insanity is handled by Intelligence checks, which if successful will reduce the Passion, if failed will increase it.

Madness spirits have a trap-like quality, lurking in ruins to attack the unwary and this aspect is nicely illustrated with an fully worked example encounter. Unfortunately, Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness does not explore the idea of those already infected with a madness spirit with examples. Nor does it give any scenario hooks which the Game Master could develop for her own campaign. Another issue is that only ten example insanities are given, but to be fair RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is not a roleplaying game in which insanity plays a major role.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. If you are running a campaign or adventure which involves delving into Lunar ruins or the side effects of the conflict with the Lunar Empire or you want to introduce an intriguing, insidious, and challenging variant of disease spirits, then Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness will be of interest to you.
No. If you do not want to explore or add insanity and its effects to your campaign, then Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness will not be of interest to you.
Maybe. What is included is solid, but unfortunately, Monster of the Month #1: Spirits of Madness does not quite as develop all of the ideas it suggests or support them with an example.

Jonstown Jottings #10: The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha 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 Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is the second part of campaign set in Sun County in Prax, a sequel to Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1. It is an investigative sandbox scenario set on the far eastern edge of Sun County.

It is a forty-five page, full colour, 4.63 MB PDF.

In general, The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is well presented and decently written. It does need another edit and the artwork is a little rough, but the maps are excellent.

Where is it set?
As with Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 before it, The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 takes place in Sun County, the small, isolated province of Yelmalio-worshipping farmers and soldiers located in the fertile River of Cradles valley of Eastern Prax, south of the city of Pavis, where it is beset by hostile nomads and surrounded by dry desert. Where Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is specifically it is set in and around the remote hamlet of Sandheart, where the inhabitants are used to dealing and even trading with the nomads who come to worship at the ruins inside Sandheart’s walls, The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is set in and around Cliffheath, on the eastern edge of the county.

Who do you play?
The player characters are members of the Sun County militia based in Sandheart. Used to dealing with nomads and outsiders and oddities and agitators, the local militia serves as the dumping ground for any militia member who proves too difficult to deal with by the often xenophobic, misogynistic, repressive, and strict culture of both Sun County and the Sun County militia. It also accepts nomads and outsiders, foreigners and non-Yemalions, not necessarily as regular militia-men, but as ‘specials’, better capable of dealing with said foreigners and non-Yemalions.

The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 does not include any pre-generated characters. Six pre-generated members of the Sun County militia in Sandheart can be found in Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1, as well as guidelines to create ‘quirky’ members of the Sun County militia in Sandheart.

What do you need?
The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 requires both Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha

Although not absolutely necessary, the Game Master may also find the supplements Cults of Terror, Lords of Terror, Sun County, and The River of Cradles, plus issues of the fanzine Tales of The Reaching Moon issue 14 to be of use in providing deeper background.

What do you get?
The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is an investigative sandbox in which the members of the Sun County militia based in Sandheart are sent out to a remote area of the county to investigate and purge the area of disease. Infected barley crop has been detected in the annual tithe collected from the ‘out of the way’ farms at Cliffheath. Not only is the presence of detrimental to the health and welfare of the people of Sun County, if taxes are not paid on time then the Sun Dome Temple will be displeased. So the head of the militia at Sandheart wants the mystery solved before calling in their notoriously efficient—or ‘heavy-handed interference’—support.

This being a scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the ultimate culprit behind the infection will be obvious. Determining the who, the what, and the how on the Mortal Realm is another matter, for The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is a complex affair in which everyone has their secrets and the player characters will find themselves crisscrossing back and forth to speak to inhabitants of Cliffheath multiple times. The scenario includes almost fifty NPCs—major and minor—plus ‘monsters’, almost twenty events, and eleven handouts!

In many ways, The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is not a traditional scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Rather it reads and is structured like a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, and like a scenario for Call of Cthulhu, there is a certain insidious nature to its core antagonists. Also like a scenario for Call of Cthulhu and unlike a scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, there is some research involved as part of the investigation, which in this case means visiting the temple archives. The investigative nature of the scenario also means that there is plenty of opportunity for roleplaying, both for the players and the Game Master, who is given good advice for each of the major NPCs to that end.

Essentially, The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is a ‘Police Procedural’ in Glorantha, providing four or five sessions of play. Players who charge in or expect a fight straight off or show a lack of respect will probably themselves in some difficulty, socially as well as in terms of the investigation. That said, there are opportunities in the scenario for combat, for heroism, and for the militia members to make a name for themselves as the scenario comes fantastic climax.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. If you ran Tales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 and are looking for the sequel, The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 is a rich meaty case for your Sun Dome County Militia—even the ‘specials’ of Sandheart.
NoTales of the Sun County Militia: Sandheart Volume 1 is not worth your time if you are running a campaign or scenarios set elsewhere, especially in Sartar as per ‘The Broken Tower’ from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure or in in and around Apple Lane as detailed in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen PackThe Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 would be a difficult scenario to add to such a campaign.
Maybe. Although it would be difficult to involve outsiders in the events or the investigation of The Corn Dolls: Sandheart Volume 2 or the setting of Sandheart and Sun Dome County, many of the elements of its mystery could be adapted to the edges of the home area where the Game Master’s campaign is set.

Sample Dungeon Redux

At its heart, the Old School Renaissance is about emulating the style of play of Dungeons & Dragons from forty and more years ago, and about exploring the history of Dungeons & Dragons, so it is always fascinating to see what its adherents will find after ferreting around in the archives. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is a perfect example of something surprisingly brought back to the attention of the Dungeons & Dragons-playing audience. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is not a new dungeon, having originally appeared in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, published in 1977, and edited by the late Doctor J. Eric Holmes. What Doctor Holmes did was edit earlier example rooms and develop them into a coherent dungeon design, a ‘starter dungeon’ complete with backstory, context, and reasons for the player characters to venture into its depths. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is however a new title, it only being known as ‘Sample Dungeon’ in the original appearance in the Basic Dungeons & Dragons book. The Zenopus of the title refers to the doomed wizard who built the dungeon under his now ruined tower.

Designed for a party of First and Second Level adventurers, The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is actually an update from Basic Dungeons & Dragons, but not for use with a retroclone as one might expect, but for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, Basic Rules, which are free to download from the Wizards of the Coast website. This means that it is also compatible with, and could be upgraded to, Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and of course, with some effort, could easily be adapted to the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice. The adventure has been updated by Zach Howard, who has experience with titles from this era, notably the 'B1' Series: In Search of the Unknown Campaign Sourcebook which he hosts on his site. One thing that is missing from The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is a map of the dungeon itself. A map of the Portown, the location for the dungeon is included, but not of the dungeon itself. This map is available in the sample excerpt of the 1977 Basic Dungeons & Dragons book which can be downloaded from Wizards of the Coast.

The Ruined Tower of Zenopus takes place just outside of Portown, an important harbour town on the trade routes from the south, situated on a headland. It is notable for the ruined tower of Zenopus, a wizard who disappeared some time ago and who was rumoured to be digging into the ruins of the ancient city upon which Portown is built. It is now home to another wizard known as the Thaumaturgist. Portown and its environs are nicely mapped out to fit the extent of the dungeons below the headland whilst still allowing some room for the Dungeon Master to add her own content.

The dungeon itself consists of twenty or so locations, running from ‘A’ to ‘S’. The design of the dungeon is one of discrete locations separated by long corridors and empty rooms, so adhering to the design ethos that there should be plenty of empty rooms. The various locations include some classics, such as the room with four doors and a statue which must be rotated to face a door before it can be opened; a cave of smugglers going about their business; and a high vaulted room, its ceiling smothered in spider’s web. Now by modern standards, the design of the dungeon is basic, even a cliché, but remember this is a dungeon from 1977, from the very start of the hobby. And just because they are clichés or classics, it does not mean that they do not work.

The author though, does not simply update ‘Sample Dungeon’ to Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. He also offers options to make the dungeon more challenging and adds a slew of monsters and magical items. The former include the Cleaning Cube—a lesser form of the Gelatinous Cube, the Veteran Smuggler, the aforementioned Thaumaturgist, Monstrous Rat, and Monstrous Sand Crab, whilst the latter includes the  Brazen Head of Zenopus, Verminslayer Longsword, Lesser Wand of Petrification, and Scroll of Stone to Flesh.

The providence of The Ruined Tower of Zenopus means that it is interesting enough, but the author does even more to make the scenario interesting through a quintet of appendices. The first of these suggests some of the fiction—weird and otherwise—which might have inspired the original author, Doctor J. Eric Holmes, in the design of ‘Sample Dungeon’, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring for the inclusion of the Green Dragon Inn in Portown, Robert E. Howard’s The Tower of the Elephant for the Giant Spider in the cobweb filled Spider’s Parlour, and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward for having a strange wizard dwelling near the town. The second develops the occupants of the dungeon's discrete areas into factions, giving them stronger motivations to help the Dungeon Master roleplay their actions, whilst the third gives twenty rumours and then expands upon each and every rumour to great effect. Here the author provides hooks, both false and true, with suggestions as to how to use them, to involve the characters in events in and below Portown.

The penultimate appendix expands upon the place of Portown and thus The Ruined Tower of Zenopus in the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition campaign, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, itself based on the U Series of scenarios for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition which began with U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh. The dungeon at least is mentioned as a possible adventure site, but not expanded upon. The Ruined Tower of Zenopus does that, suggesting how the scenario would work in and around Saltmarsh. This is very well thought out section and if a Dungeon Master has not yet run Ghosts of Saltmarsh, this is a really good addition to the start of the campaign. The last appendix contains four pre-generated characters. These have been created using the Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, Basic Rules, and so include a Cleric, a Fighter, a Magic-User, and a Rogue. They are decent enough, but they are all Human, rather offering a more diverse set of options.

Physically, The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is 1.83 MB, eighteen page, full-colour PDF. The layout is neat, clean, and tidy. It is perhaps a little oddly presented, in that the town and dungeon come first before the hooks that would get the player characters involved, but that makes sense in that they are an addition to the original rather than what included then.

By modern standards The Ruined Tower of Zenopus feels a little too basic and underdeveloped, so initially it comes across as something of a quaint artefact. Which is not to say that it is a poor dungeon design, but rather that tastes and gaming mores have changed. Of course, there is nothing to stop a Dungeon Master running as is, but the author has provided the means to make something more of it, whether that is the use of the rumours to provide flavour and motivation or developing its place as part of Ghosts of Saltmarsh. It also means that the Dungeon Master could run The Ruined Tower of Zenopus as a Old School Renaissance style dungeon and adventure for a group which is familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition or for a group which prefers Old School Renaissance style play who want to try Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. So what you have in The Ruined Tower of Zenopus is a simple dungeon whose update empowers it with a lot of flexibility, but not just that, you also have a fascinating exploration of an early , ‘Sample Dungeon’.

Pages