By Philippe Ricard Self Published OSR "Low Levels"
[…] this zine details the tunnels and sewers beneath a dystopian fantasy city, full of beekeepers and taxidermists and pigs and sorcerers.
This 24 page “Adventure” details an underworld/under the city environment with a five factions and eleven locations. It is both trying too hard and not producing enough, although it goes through the motions quite well. It is probably not an adventure. Or even a city supplement. More of an idea, communicated over drinks at a bar.
A repressive city (described in two sentences) houses a seedy underbelly in the underverse underneath. Not really sewers, but interconnected locales frequented by seedy types and their factions to get things done and advance their nefarious plans. In to this we throw the PCs and watch the ensuing hilarity.
Alas, all is not well though. For while this has the elements of decent supplement, they are not tied together or, I think, useful in a way that the supplement can be meaningful.
Our underworld of the city has five factions. Taxidermists. Beekeepers. Wild Hogs. Bees. Wizards in to platonic shapes. Just from this you can see where this supplement is going. PoMo, or, as Mo would say: Weird for the sake of being weird. On top of this you get a kind of vibe coming off of the Matrix#2, with this confluence of weird individuals (like The Architect and Merovingian) represented by The Tax Collector or The Sorcerer Supreme, and then mash that up with Victorian Noblemen and maybe the seedy underbelly stuff from that recent Sean Bean Frankenstein series. And, I must admit, I find that kind of seedy theming quite interesting and playable. Well, if we warp Taxidermists in to “Body Snatchers” and manage the leap in believability that Bee Keepers are a credible faction.
In spite of having factions, and monster reference sheet, and mind maps for faction relations, and terse and evocative setting locales … the place doesn’t work.
There’s no real adventure, or treasure, for a short game and it’s not big enough/oriented correctly to be a support system for a larger multi-month support location for your parties locale town. You only get eleven locations, plus a few more rando places to stumble upon. And these locations tend to be iconic, like The Courts, The Bridge, The Black Market, and so on. These are roughly described, outlined I might say, to give impressions of a much larger world and their place in it. Not a place you hack, loot, and move on. Iconic locations would then imply, I think, that this is meant to be a supplement to your normal city. A place the party can visit time and again for info, supplies, rumors, etc. And yet, this seems too small to support that. The map is an abstracted pointcrawl, which it kind of a definitive guide to travel. If you want to go to B then leave in the east hallway from location A. It seems too small and cramped to serve as a major support for five factions the base of an entire city.
And, getting past the beekeepers again, I don’t see the purpose this fills. Too small and iconic to be an adventure, but too cramped and … knowable? To be the support for a major campaign in the city above. The factions have very basic goals but nothing to really fire the imagination. Dont get eaten. Get more pigs, and so on. They are more long term instead of the short to medium term specificity that could fire off as hooks for party shenanigans.
It tells us early on that: “The PCs are the flame to the fuse, and it remains to be seen whether they survive the explosion which will invariably ensue. Whenever possible, ask yourself what consequences arise from the PCs’ actions—“who will this piss off?” This is great advice, and a great attitude. But it just doesn’t follow through with enough specificity on the ground. More like general guidelines than an adventure, but too cramped and not enough intrigue to support longer play.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see the intro, Tax Collector dude, and four of the factions. From this you need to intuit that, while flavourful, it is more of an idea that you could ten create content around using these elements, then it is a support for adventure.