By Charles Rice Apocalyptic Games OSRIC Level 1
You patrol the streets of the Gentry Quarter, a once-prosperous neighborhood, now a ramshackle mess of tenements, crime, and homelessness. Last night a tenement housing the working poor was the site of a massacre. Was this some dark sacrifice by the Star Society, or the work of a deranged lunatic acting on deadly desires no sane man can comprehend? From your base on the Wary Cog you have been dispatched to investigate this brutal mass murder and bring the perpetrators to justice. You are members of the Vigilant, a thoroughly corrupted effigy of a once proud guild, charged with keeping order in a chaotic city of 100,000 souls. You are not adventurers. But you have a duty.
This fifteen page city adventure details fourteen-ish linear events where the party take the role of the city guard in a corrupt locale. Great concept, some good local color, but the linearity and railroad nature, along with game design issues, make me question the way delivery on the premise is attempted. Setting? Yes. Adventure? No. Warning: I LUV me some city adventures.
The setting is one in which the party represents the city watch, or a small part of it anyway. Everyone in power has been killed recently, the city is controlled by the underworld criminals, there’s an old inept figurehead in progress, and the guard is corrupt and relies on press gangs to enforce and bulk up numbers when they need them. Great fucking environment for a game. You’ve got a boss, to give you assignments, and who takes bribes and lets people you catch go. You’re assigned gear at the beginning, blood-stained leather armor with arrow foles in it, falling apart, etc. Perfect setting of the tone. Your fat,overweight, corrupt guard sergeant wades in the the crowd, at one point, swinging his sap to crack a few skulls. There’s police and then there’s little people, as the movie says. The adventure does a great job, over and over again, in re enforcing this kind of environment. Corruption. Moral decay? Or maybe endemic crime just under the barest of pretexts of control? I don’t know. The irony of this being released, right now, is not lost on me. It’s also interesting, I think, in that the party is put out there, with no enforced morality, and just have to engage. They could be corrupt or they could change the system, I guess. Or try anyway. That’s a good job. Hmmm, I said “setting” earlier. I’m not sure that’s the right word. There might be a seperate setting book, I don’t know. There’s not much setting in this so I can’t really say the setting is good. Maybe I mean “the tone is interesting.” You get just enough background and flavour to get you in to the tone of the adventure and setting, but there’s really not much background data at all on the city. Which is fine, I guess, even if there is a separate setting book … or even if there isn’t. The tone makes the entire thing easy to understand where to take things, even if there are not supporting resources for the DM.
NPC descriptions are good. Short. A burst of memorable description, one sentence of background and one or two of attitude/motivations. Easy to scan, sticky. Easy to run NPC’s. Exactly what is called for in an adventure. The IDEA for an adventure, a bronx slumlord killing his tenants and burning down buildings so he can rebuild and remodel and flip for profits, is a pretty classic one, as anyone aware of Bronx documentaries can attest.
But the entire execution of this adventure is FUCKED.
It’s a scene based railroad with the party going from scene to scene and interacting with it before the next scene happens. There no investigation as much as their is being told where to go. For the first “clue” I’m fine with that. The boss/sergeant tells you, with his experience, who may be involved based on the MO. But when that happens repeatedly, it makes one question why the party is even involved at all. Why play the adventure if the choices are thus limited? A sandbox environment in a fleshed out neighborhood this is not. One sergeant clue? Good kick off. Multiple? Nope.
And then there are scene transitions that make no sense. You’re in “dingy central park” one moment and in another you’re walking down a busy city street, with no idea of how the transition happened. It doesn’t make sense. There wasn’t a clue leading you to the next scene. Its just you’re in the street now. In the street scene some dudes release a monster to attack you, in the crowded city streets. And they run away. And there are chase rules. But, presumably, they get a ten minute head start as the party fights a 3HD giant lizard? The chase rules make no sense to me. I mean, the actual advice on running the chase are good, but it doesn’t seem like it would get there given the headstart the dudes get? I don’t know, maybe they hang around until the party kill their monster and THEN the chase starts? Scene transitions don’t make sense in this adventure.
I’m also not sure of the actual game mechanics. Low trease in a gold=xp game is rough. You do get double XP for capturing people, and are paid off for killing people and monsters. Both of these are nice ideas, in concept, but the overall issue of handling the GOLD=XP issue isn’t really address. Low money, low magic, I’m good with. But you then need to balance it, XP wise. There is one story reward, 200XP, maybe, but I’m not sure the balance is there.
So, good setting idea. Good adventure concept. Good NPC descriptions. Poorly executed with some raised eyebrows about the mechanics of the game system decisions.
This is $2 at DriveThru. There is no preview. Or level indication on the cover or in the description. Basic basic flaws, those are.