By Michael Raston Gorgzo Games Ordure Fantasy d6/OSR Lower Levels
The Cape of Old Daemons is on the fringes of The Red Sun Kingdom. Ancient wrecks and ruins of an age filled with magic and technology are littered across the cape. The Prodigal Caravan, a nomadic tribe of wizards has settled here, attempting to pick clean the ruins. A camp of Red Sun Agents watches over them, ensuring anything of value is returned to the King. Tension simmers between the two groups, while beneath the earth The Hookmen plot the downfall of all …
Let’s see …
A one page Mork Borg called Putrud Dungeon Rites of Pestilence? PASS.
A Frog God adventure about St Patrick’s Day? PASS.
A Joseph Mohr adventure about the city sewers? PASS.
See, I CAN learn new tricks!
A vaguely science fantasy setting that seems to be a mashup of Gamma World and Dark Sun? TAKE MY MONEY!!!!
This 21 page “hexcrawl”/setting describes 24 adventure regions and seven home base regions. It is flavorful enough, but its use of random tables detracts from play rather than enhancing it, reading to an incomplete vision. I’ve got three things to talk about here. The mythology of the setting, the use of random tables, and the nature of hex crawl encounters.
We’ve got the Prodigal caravan a group of wizards that live in towers on top of giant wagons. A huge camp gathering. They act as a kind of home base and faction. Then there’s the Red Sun Men, agents of The Undying Autarch, The Red Sun King. Skin tight leotards covered by voluminous robes. Another faction. This, alone, should give you an idea of the ideas set forth in the booklet and how they hint at deeper mysterious, and the joy that brings to the DMs mind. The designer starts off solid here. He hints at things. Brief imagery, that encourages your mind to race to fill in the gaps. Which is exactly what good writing should do.
The setting is a kind of Gamma World/Dark Sun thing. Oracle of War made me view Dark Sun in a new light, scavvers on the edge of civilization, but was still a little too … staid. Slightly less control was needed on the edges, a Deadwood like place with little government … but slightly more than the implied Gamma World setting of “only your TL1 village of twenty huts remains.”
And the setting isn’t exactly post-apoc, at least not how its generally imagined. This isn’t the magical ren-faire post apoc of Dark Sun or the recognizable future post-apoc of Gamma World. There are no guns or cars. It’s more “here are three small pink pyramid crystals.” It’s more like a crashed spaceship tech in which you have absolutely no foundation in figuring out what things could do. This is great since it multiplies the mystery, and, it also begs the question What is Post Apoc? Why is this setting post-apoc? It is because its described that way. Ruins, finding weird things in them. That’s post-apoc. But, if you find some ioun stones in a fantasy dungeon is it post-apoc? With just a little tweaking what you could have here is a kick ass Points of Light game, just like in most other “borderlands” types games, but without the implied tech. Hmmm, maybe that’s it: this is a post- apoc setting without the implied futurism of Gamma World or the retro-steampunk shit of Dark Sun. It’s DIFFERENT.
Oh random table, what hath thou wrought? Everything in this is generated by a random table. Each of the “hexes” gets three rolls of a d6, and three different d6 tables describe the hex. There are six of each type of hex and six entries on the tables. Thus you are getting some kind of unique combination, but not much else. Thus you might roll what the exterior of a Bone Ruin looks like, “sloppy slag heaps cooled molten metal dripping from exhaust pipes jutting from the ruin. Combine this with a roll on the interior table “Choked with metal middens of cogs, chains, screws, bolts and the like. These crawl with palm sized rustmites (Health 1), fat and vicious from the neverending feast of scrap. Rustmites will attack if their middens are disturbed, swarming and easily melting flesh with acid dripping mandibles.” And then a roll on the “filled with” table: “A thick iridescent dream fog – stalked by rainbow drenched silhouettes who shimmer out of existence when examined.” Ok Mr DM, run that!
But, why is this content being generated randomly? These are a couple of sentences each, for each of the three tables. This is not a minimalistic wandering table with another motivations tables in order to spark some in-game riffing quickly. These are the core locations. They are finite. Why are they random? I have to think that the content would have been better,m the locations more interesting and more interconnected, if the designer had kept this randomness out and had just rolled and created their own, and then tweaked them to build them in to more than the sum of their parts. The location map is set up for the DM to roll ahead of time and record the results on it, which is nice, but why? Why random? It feels like people don’t know how to use random tables anymore. (Also, the map icons for two of the locations, the vat fields and vt gardens, are VERY similar. I might have given them a bit more differentiation.)
This is a hex crawl. It doesn’t have hexes and there are no crawl rules, but it’s a hex crawl. There are locations that you travel from place to place and you get a brief little snippet of text that the DM must then turn in to an adventure. That example I gave earlier, do reread it. That’s whats generated for one “hex” in the bone fields. (Ok, there’s two more tables for exploring chambers inside.) From that the DM has to run the game. I’m not saying it’s bad, but what I am comparing it to is a typical hex crawl, because that’s what is most resembles. Not from the “we go visit locations outside standpoint” but rather from a “now run a game from this hit of text” standpoint. Is that an hour of gameplay? A session? Who knows, it depends on how much the DM riffs on it. And herein we have the hex crawl dilemma. Things like Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown have THINGS. “Here is a thing.” Here is a giant parrot bird. There is no action or situation implied. “This hex contains a giant bird that looks like a parrot.” Wilderlands and John Stater hexes tend to present situations. “12 dwarves are hunting a giant bird; they started as 100.” One implies a static thing while the other implies a dynamic situation. Guess which is better? This is less Wilderlands and more Isle. It’s generating locations to explore (which to be fair IS what its supposed to be doing) but they don’t feel like situations, they feel static. Really really well described/evocative, but, more static than dynamic. Again, I think, the nature of using a table to generate it rather than designing it.
Faction play is present, as the publishing blurb implies, and the loot and “mutations” (unfair! They don’t seem like mutations at all. This just seems like a freaky place) are great. The whole fucking thing is great. I love the world this thing takes place in. I just don’t think it follows through to its potential because of the random generation and the static environments that tends to create. I REALLY fucking like it though, but, Gamma World is number one in my heart of hearts.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. You get to see how the tables are used in the generation of serfs in the home base area. Not a great example of locations explored, but it does give you an idea of how things are going to go.