By Olobosk Swordfish Islands Electric Bastionland-like thing RPG/Adventure/One shot
Is a random word generator likely to produce as good a play as Hamlet?.
A trash planet. A sphere of coagulated space junk. Layers upon layers of generational garbage piled up on itself thousands of times over. Rumours run wild around the nearby sectors and beyond that invaluable treasures lie beneath the trash heaps of Epsilon 5.
This 28 page thing is both an RPG and an set of rules to procedurally generate an adventure environment. If you can accept “procedurally generated” then it does a decent job. I cannot, and therefore his review will almost immediately go off on a tangent.
It’s a floating ball of trash the size of a planet, with corp cargo ships dropping off more all the time. There are simple RPG mechanics attached (based on Electric Bastionland, the product says) and a few pages devoted to procedurally generating an adventure environment, with 24 locations and some treasures and creatures, for the pregens to explore.
There’s a location naame, a few evocative words, and then a sentence or two of DM notes. So, for Acid Lake we get (formatting removed): Bubbling, Glowing Green-Yellow, Smells Sour Flotsam rafts of jumbled junk drift on the surface. d4 DAMAGE per turn to any organic matter submerged within. We’ll roll a creature and a treasure and then it’s up to the DM to make something of it. Monsters are suitably described, so, for the Virtual Shades we get “Neon blue, two-dimensional amorphous hologram, flickering and distorting as it moves.” Again, a decent description, focusing not on their backstory but on how the party will interact and experience when they encounter them. Which is what the fuck a monster description should the fuck do. Ok, and there’s a single Neo-Rose as a treasure “A genetic accident, suited only to growing in the unique trash riddled soil of EPSILON 5. Its pungent odour, reminiscent of rose and paint stripper, never fades even when picked.” So, as a DM, maybe, there’s this acid lake and some rickety platforms on it and the party sees the middle one has this single neo-rose on it and the lake is full of these Victorian holograms out boating. Oops, I’m getting ahead of myself. The locations take up three pages, the creatures about four, and about the same for the treasure. The restis a map, location tracker, die drop thingy (*sigh*) and some basic mechanics/rules. The takeaway here is that the creature descriptions, and variety, is good (although a little swede to the robot/mechanical side of things, ala Tomb Adventures being one-note stuffed full of undead.) The location descriptions vary from pretty interesting (a village made up of clones of one woman! Acid Lake!) to Mega-corp shipwreck and dirtyy needle dumping ground. Which offer less of an environment to explore and more “here is hazard while you having a fight” sort of location, out of 4e.
And now, we necessarily diverge in to our tangent: the convention game. The One shot. From OSR convention competition adventures to the CoC one shot to things like these, unique little games with little adventures attached. This is a genre unto itself. Sure, you can turn it in to a campaign, but its not really suited for that. Sure, it could be used as a night or two of adventuring for a Traveller game or some such. But it will suffer from the same problems.
For both, I find the adventure lacking.
There’s really a lack of motivation here. It’s just a place to dive for trash treasure, with little holding the adventure together beyond that. I’m not saying it needs a plot, but there is nothing really here other than the procedurally generated stuff, and that hits the same nerve that many people complain about megadungeon play: why? Because it’s what we’re doing tonight, do you want to play or not? IE: you need a motivation for your character. But, in these one-shot and/or convention games, you need more than that. Or, rather, more than that helps a lot. I mean, I’m still there to waste four hours having fun, but a little assist from the designer, beyond the pregens, helps. You need something to kick things off, or a goal, and that’s just not present.
And then of course there’s the fact that it’s procedurally generated. I don’t know who started this trend. It needs to stop. Procedurally generated dungeons don’t work. They cannot wor, by their very definition. There is no way that you can have a satisfying experience RIGHT NOW AT THE TABLE with some ad-hoc dice rolls, at least in comparison to an adventure location that has been designed, agonized over, and fits in well with the surrounding location, all thanks to the designer. Is this just emulation of what others have done? Are people afraid of actually designing a room/dungeon? I mean, what if the designer had rolled on their own tables, taken inspiration from the results, and then crafted the results, after hours of work, in to a more coherent experience? Do you really want to assert that would not be the better play experience?
What’s the downside? It’s not random? So what. It’s a one-shot fucking around game. A location that is likely to never be revisited again, either in a campaign or as a one short fucking around game or at a convention. Why the fuck do you care about it being an adventure generator? Why not make something really good instead? Because, of course, an adventure is different than “a tool to help inspire you to write your own adventure.” Why … we’re not saying that’s what this is, are we? That would mean it has misrepresented itself, and we all know how I feel about being cheated.
So, ok writing, good monsters. As an idea generator it may be ok. As an adventure I think it fails at its “most likely to be a one shot” genre experience. Or, rather, succeeds more than the usual procedural adventures do but still fails in the quality of the overall experience.
This is $5 at itch.