By Wayne Canepa Wyrd Valley Press 5e/OSR? Level 5
What do you get when you mix Kakfa, Lovecraft, Camus, pirates, ghosts, graffiti, magpies, swamp monsters, philosophy, the spirit world, and an unimaginably large wall? Well, this book. … you are newly arrived and find yourself stranded on the mysterious, mist-shrouded island of Anon, in the strange city of Vestige—where ghosts mingle with mortals as if it were commonplace. However, you won’t have much time to gawk before you become swept up in a Kafkaesque adventure—and even more danger! You must overcome challenges and puzzles, uncover hidden secrets, come face to face with madness, the fragility of life, and the absurdity of existence to escape this place. Can you maintain hope in the face of impossible odds? Will you survive nefarious pirates, dangerous creatures, or the land of the dead itself? And, if your character dies while exploring Anon, your adventure won’t be quite over…
This 128 page source book uses about 41 pages for a plot based adventure. A COMPLEX adventure. In a baroque setting described in the sourcebook section. The setting is mostly a city, and interesting enough to steal bits from your own bizarre big city. The adventure is a fucking mess, as all plot based adventures are when they get too big and try to handle too many deviations from the norm.
Well, the designers have the fucking marketing down pat. “What if you took Albert Camus’ hope in the face of Franz Kafka’s futility and H.P. Lovecraft’s fear and paranoia, mixed in some existentialism, and certified continued existence after death?” Yeah bitch! Take my fucking money! In practice, this turns out to be a kind of standin city for 19th century Lond, maybe a bit like that Sean Bean Frankenstein series, with the bureaucracy from that Discworld city thrown in. Oh, and there are ghosts and skeletons everywhere, living in the city.
So, some kind of pseudo-19th century London with a decent helping of Brazil mixed in. I can get behind that.
There’s no intro, though, shit just starts coming at you, and it’s a little confusing to make out the setting because of that. On top of that you’ve got to wade through some, uh … high brow bullshit statements, we’ll call them. “Memento Mori / Memento Vivere is designed to be many things, but need not be all those things to everyone.” and “What would such a world look like? We wanted to explore it, and we wanted to share that exploration with others” and “It is a philosophical foray into the meaning of life and death” Ok, sure, what the fuck ever. It’s a setting.
And a decently flavorful one. One of the random things is a mime with a consumptive cough. That’s cool. Or, a description of the red light district that goes “A red light district full of smoky cabarets, unruly bars, ample brothels, gambling halls, fight clubs, opium dens, pawn shops and fences, grifters and snakeoil salesmen, lurking cutpurses, and countless hangovers. Named for its many copper doors.” Uh. yes. Fuck. Yes. That should be what every D&D red light district is. And the setting hits on this stuff time and time again in the various encounters in the city, the city districts, the factions, and so on.
It’s also got stupid shit, like level 9 guards and some level 5 fighter guy whos the hero of the mercenary fighter corp. So, a mess, but a delightful one and just dripping with flavour.
But, this blog ain’t about no setting reviews! It’s about adventure reviews! What about that adventure that’s included, Escape from Ghost Island?
OH. MY. FUCKING. GOD. IT’S. A. MESS.
So, it’s a plot based thing. And a COMPLICATED plot based thing. There’s a flowchart. I can get behind a flowchart, to help sort things out for the DM. But, not when the flowchart needs a flowchart. And, of source, its railroady, because its a complicated plot thing. As the adventure justifies by saying “As this book is as much a foray into philosophy as it is an adventure, consider this a Kafkaesque element added to the adventure.” Uh huh. Or, maybe, work on the rewrites until you don’t need to do that?
It starts with someone getting killed. No problem, people come back as ghosts in this setting! And, of course, there’s Speak with Dead! But … the killers used a poison that prevents ghosts from manifesting after death. Uh huh. And thus it goes.
And, of course, there’s, I don’t know, it feels like multiple pages, in which the designers have inserted themselves in to the adventure. That’s NEVER a good sign.
The various scenes in the adventure are complex, but nearly impossible to piece together. The format selected is so … disconnected? From itself that making head or tails or it, much less quickly scanning a scene to run it, would be nigh impossible without actually make this adventure a major part of your ongoing lifestyle. This thing SCREAMS the type of incoherence that a CoC adventure can only dream of being.
There are ideas here, but the degree of abstraction and irrelevant detail is overwhelming.
This is $25 at DriveThru. If it weren’t $25 I’d pick it up to steal parts for my city game. The city shit is gold.