By Jason Sholtis Hydra Cooperative S&W Level ... 1-?
SO YOU SURVIVED OPERATION UNFATHOMABLE? The Odious Uplands await! You and your brave companions, fresh from their terrible sojourn into the Underworld emerge into the untamed wilds of Stonespear Province, crushed for an eon beneath towering glaciers until a sudden thaw, and bathed in the dim radiance and ineffable influence of the Chaos Aurora! A land home to all manner of unique megafauna, vicious saber-toothed apes, Woolly Neanderthal rangers, scarcely describable entities staggering forth from the Underworld, and of course other adventurers seeking their fortunes.
This 170 page setting/hexcrawl features a home base as well as “upper mastodonia”; a weirdo OD&D locale that tends towards the primitive, imagined as only Sholtis could. Evocative beyond reproach, if you can hang with the Dungeon Dozen and handle some sticky descriptions then you’ve got a winner here.
I should mention, up front, that I like this designers work. I think his website, Dungeon Dozen, is one of the best D&D resources available. Operation Unfathomable is one of my very favorite adventures. It’s one of the few I own in hardcopy. It is the ONLY adventure I have ever gifted someone. I like his brand of genre.
We have to cover the weirdness thing first, since I feel like that’s going to be the thing that the stick-up-their-asses crowd focuses on. There’s always been weirdness in D&D. From your black monoliths and fish-people, to Wilderlands to ASE1. Scholtis leans weird. Not gonzo. Weird. Yup, there’s a dude riding a giant preying mantis. If you’ve got giant preying mantii then it makes sense that someone would eventually ride one, correct? (Not shown: the 100,000 idiots who tried, failed, and died) And, perhaps, that “Not shown” is the key to this. We’re not talking about a magical ren faire. No Continual Light street lights and blackhole garbage disposals. It’s not commoditized. Life is still strange and risky. As if the conditions in the dungeon, which might give you a +1 STR or might turn your head in to an insects, are shown, in society. Yup, there’s the dude at the bar with the insect head. No, we don’t ask about that. But it’s all firmly rooted in the normal world. There’s a lot of weirdness floating around, but the world is not weird … even though it is. A part of this is the relatable conditions that Sholtis works in. You can understand what’s going on. One dude thinks that the local indigenous people, hippy cavemen are “better people than humans (he’s not wrong!) and resents them accordingly.” Comeone now. That’s one of the most human things I’ve seen written down about human nature and it’s in a D&D adventure. The adventure, most of the NPC motivations, and monsters for that matter, make sense. Things are relatable, even though weird. It’s not generic. It’s not abstract. It’s relatable.
Present, here, is a town. A starting base. Fort Enterprise. The last of civilization, slightly outside the bounds of the civilized lands, in the wild north. Run by a King Conan, barbarian gone to lard, but still believing in the nurturing power of the wildlands. Ready to tame the surrounding lands of monsters. And make some loot. And a bunch of degenerates hanging about ready to farm, fish, timer, and exploit the environment. You’ve got a great home base. It’s absolutely an adventurers town. Weirdo wizards. Weird tax rules. Idiosyncratic clerics. People (and giant slugs …) out to make a buck. That slug? An effete emissary from the underworld, a trader, hole up out of sight as a guest in the Governor/Barbarians manor. Yup, an effete slug trader hawking underworld ale. Did I mention that the God-Kings emissary in town is a lich? Just there to make sure the Gvernor/Barbarian pays his taxes. Yup, the empire has Citizen Lich’s. And more than a couple are present in town. As is a local troop of the empires soldiers, looking for miscreants outside of town, searching people, especially adventurers, confiscating interesting things found. Gotta keep the party on their toes and this does that. A shanty town, a lake full of monsters. A couple of godlings hanging around. This club has it all! A great starter town. And EVERYTHING aimed at interacting with the party and inciting adventures and presenting great situations to explore with them. Rocking place.
There are about forty or so described location scattered around the Upper Mastadonia map, along with numerous other “generic sites”, meaning “you find a corpse here” or “you find a fungal thing here.” Something akin to the “pit traps” on a map, these have tables that you can use to expand on the encounter, providing for a constant background of themes popping up. Some of those fourty or so locations are also mini-dungeons or a few rooms.
Sholtis writes ‘sticky’ descriptions. The locales are memorable. You ran riff on the information present, make it your own, expand on it. You understand what the core concept is and have enough to run with it. Evocative. It’s really quite a skill to be able to produce locale after locale like this. But, that should be no surprise given the Dungeon Dozen. What they are not are terse. We’re looking a couple of paragraphs for most places with some bullet points. This is augmented by offset boxes and other formatting, that helps bring clarity to specific things, but, I’m talking about the main concept/description/idea. The communication of that core overview. The one that I say is sticky and helps you run the area. Yeah … that one is a little long. This is a prime case of needing a highlighter. You’re gonna need to read everything, at least once, in prep and then maybe highlight about two words in each area. That, combined with the art, should let you recall enough to run the place almost on the fly. Sure, you might miss a detail or two, but the locales really are pretty sticky. The dungeons, and other locations, tend to fare a bit better in terms of “easier to scan”, but the scannability is an issue in most areas and with most people, places and things. We’re not talking pages and pages of text here. But there will absolutely be agame pause while you absorb for a couple of minutes.
Otherwise, great setting. Lots going on. Lots of ways for the party to get in to trouble. Perfect for making friends, and pitting them against each other for fun and profit. Really a great setting if you can roll with the given genre. It’s not gonzo. It’s not ASE1. But it’s more than, sy, Xyntillian.
This is $15 at DriveThru. The preview is seven pages. And it suuuuuucccccckkkkkkkssss! Showing you nothing of import. The art, though, implies whats to come.
Agree 100%. The only downside to this product is that it took approximately one million years to complete the KS. But it’s a nigh-perfect adventure setting. Canonical, even.
Speaking of which, there has been some discussion in the comments about what Bryce considers an adventure versus a setting. This is definitely a setting. So I think that Bryce’s use of “setting” is just as a pejorative term for something that only provides a backdrop. The Odious Uplands lacks a singular focus; there are plenty of mini-hooks within it, but no overarching plot.
Everyone likes a good sandbox. For sandbox adventures, of course! (BTW I agree that Bryce uses the “setting” term loosely as you describe. Basically not enough content to adequately run an adventure in).
‘So I think that Bryce’s use of “setting” is just as a pejorative term for something that only provides a backdrop.’
More like bryce will gush over his pal’s product even if it’s the type of thing he claims not to review
Sounds like this has actual dunegons/keyed out adventure locations with maps in it though. So that’s different to a setting supplement.
Poor guy needs something to buoy his spirits while slogging through the mire, drek and cruft of the “OSR”. Let him like what he likes.
It’s often forgotten that there was a balrog PC in the original Greyhawk game. It’s always been weird.
Could the 1st level balrog PC get slain facing a single goblin? Would explain why it dropped out of the PC list early on.
It’s pretty silly that you could play a Balrog. Way too powerful and if you scale its power level way down, is it even a Balrog anymore? I get it that some people like the wide open, anything goes nature of OD&D but some of that stuff was batshit crazy and not in any good way.
Jason does super fun work (OU one of my fave adventures of all time) and I love his art (really really talented). Glad I backed this one even if it took a while.
I am very excited to figure out a way to get this into my game. As has been mentioned, I’d been waiting a loooooong time. It’s a fantastic book. There are some unfortunate editing and layout faceplants, but the overall quality is just ridiculously high. A deserved “the best” for the content — and the art.
OU was what I was running when I did something like 45,000 points of damage to your character the evening we first met at the bar at GaryCon VII! The best!
But you kneel down in front of distracted lava godlings, bad things can happen.
Haha! Yeah, super fun – one of my favorite con games of all time! Sitting in the bar, drinking beer, rolling dice. You did a fantastic job, man. Great memory!
Sounds like a story we should hear more about! 😀
I loved Operation Unfathomable, and there’s lots of stuff to love about this. However, I found myself kind of disappointed by Odious Uplands.
Maybe it’s because its a “setting,” not an “adventure,” but many of the locations and encounters are confusing and vaguely described. This thing just seems sloppily edited overall.
The book’s primary MacGuffin which players are prompted to seek is called a “Chaos Converter.” It lies at the summit of a perilous mountain climb, and is guarded by a clever alien god that resembles a giant spider.
Sounds cool, right? Unfortunately, that’s basically all we get. Sholtis tries to give us more: the location even has a map with labeled rooms and descriptions and stuff. However, the things we need to know are never told to us. What does the Chaos Converter LOOK like? What happens if the PCs try to interact with it? What is the Spider God’s personality? What does he want? What will he do when he sees the PCs? This is the stuff where Sholtis shone in Operation Unfathomable, but here it’s all missing!
So the book’s climactic encounter is essentially wasted space, nothing but a stat block for a monster and the suggestion of magical treasure that Sholtis can’t be bothered to actually describe.
Speaking of sloppy editing, by cross-referencing the descriptions with the art on the map, I realized the rooms are mislabeled. Several of the maps in the adventure are incorrectly labeled. This is annoying.
Actually, throughout Odious Uplands, the locations that have maps are weird, because they’re basically all one-room dungeons. There’s only ever a single room that holds something interactive, and the rest are either empty or may as well be.
The inconsistencies continue. There’s a vampire encounter which the book takes three pages to describe. Basically, every night, 1-4 vampire vacationers emerge from out the underworld to frolic through the sleeping countryside and wreak havoc.
They are collectively described as “bursting forth like boisterous drunks,” and “howling with laughter…” unfortunately, the vampires’ individual character descriptions contradict this. One is “dour and taciturn,” another is “the least exuberant”… Basically, while the group as a whole is supposed to be partying, each of the vampires is described as something like “clinically depressed.” This frustrating paradox is never addressed, and therefore I have no idea how to actually play what initially appeared to be an interesting encounter!
Some of the locations also go a bit far for my tastes. There is an inn that has been transported into this strange world from 1970s USA. The innkeepers are hippies from Earth. This is overly cute to me. It shatters the illusion of the fantasy setting, and doesn’t contain anything interesting/playable enough to justify that.
Oddly, considering it took so long to write, the whole thing seems kind of slapdash. I almost wish it had spent more time in the oven, because, as is, it’s undercooked.
Valuable counter-point, especially on the big McGuffin/ major encounter & map errors. Cheers.
What’s the matter with you guys? Can’t you see this is just a massive piece of artpunk? B2 had almost no art. And there’s not even one owlbear in this thing.
Use this ingenuity to write better modules instead of crying about it.
Comic book theming or not doesn’t matter. Take S3; pure gonzo. And its fine. Is everything like that? No. But it is a part of D&D for sure. There is room for that.
The Artpunk guys mostly suck and will never improve because fundamentally it is about engagement, and they do not have any. They do not like D&D and don’t know what it is. And they know this. If the OSR was not the new hotness they would go elsewhere, but for now it is so they are here because they do not have their own identity. All sorts of tricks will be tried to get around this simple truth, but it will never change it.
We are not here for ultra-orthodoxy. However, we are here for D&D. Does this play like D&D, or is this someone larping as a designer so they don’t have to put ‘Starbucks barista’ on the resume of their next application? It sounds like D&D.
Our detractors don’t even have a standard by which to measure our or their own works. It really does not matter if Onan’s mirror is trolling or not.
I could point out a lich and giant slug, both very D&Desque elements, were mentioned, but you are probably trolling. It’s all good. Play the game you claim to like or move elsewhere. That’s all we ask.
Prince you may have started “No Artpunk” but it’s bigger than you now. There are D&Desque elements in Mork Borg too. That doesn’t make this artpunk mashup real D&D. I’m here for D&D too like you. I mean I didn’t want to say anything but your new thing about high level D&D is turning D&D into a superhero game. You used to be more old school. I stick up for your push against artpunk and even bought your modules and ran one of them and you call me a troll. Not cool. Also my sister is a barista so don’t even start with snobby Euro poser stuff like you’re a high class D&D player. You won’t get respect if you don’t respect your own supporters. I know what D&D is and this is not it. Neither was S3, haven’t you heard of Metamorphosis Alpha? Are you getting a free copy of Uplands or something? Even Bryce pulled his punches on this one wtf? I had to speak up. Don’t lose your edge buddy, you should be supporting real D&D not defending this fancy unplayable junk.
This is a great attempt, really, well done, but again, you should just write good adventures instead.
As another of Prince’s former supporters I can tell you are on the mark. I used to read all of his articles and buy all of his 100s of modules and play them and align with him a million percent but this latest thing shows he has completely lost the plot and we, his fans that are totally real and not fake, should get together, disavow everything and fight for what NAP is actually about, which is some sort of Nazi thing.
Showing respect for those weaker than you is what a pathetic socialist cuck would do. How am one to be an artpunk skinhead if they are to platform such abominable attempts at artistic expression? You are worse than spineless, you are boneless. Witches will eat your children
As an avid fan of Cairn and lifetime NAMBLA supporter I must vehemently protest the implication that myself, or any other man in the NSR, and I use the term extremely figuratively, would ever debase ourxelves by playing D&D. The NSR has been created with two, and only two, goals in mind:
1) To lower the age of consent
2) To obsessively stalk and accuse various OSR creators of nebulous misdeeds.
The mere thought that we would ever stoop to something as simple and wholesome as playing D&D, even under deceptive pretense to bring ruin to our hated enemies of the NAP, well sir, it is triggering in the extreme. I am ripping out tufts of my dyed hair in apoplectic socialist fury at the very idea. It is not enough that our genocidal ideology has been slandered in this platformer’s comment’s section by that noxious Hungarian (who has been platformed recently by the evil Ben Milton, a fatwa on him and his infidel ways), but now they suggest that we would play the game of that Yakubian Devil from geneva?
Bryce Here, editing this asshats comment-dont be a fucking dick. I’m leaving the post here for others to see how hateful it is. I can and will ban by ip.
Man… what’s that smell… oh it’s “No Artpunk”. What a mess of talentless, unwashed assholes.
Prince: Don’t get flaccid on us now. You were right about artpunk. The so-called module under review is pure artpunk.
And Gary: Prince and I may be assholes but at least people want to play with us. We play Old School D&D, not comic books like the junk reviewed here.
The NoArts really being their best selves here.
NAP III is gonna be frothing text walls about: biolabs in Ukraine, Hogwarts, pedo pizza parlors, the Shaver mysteries, and Jewish space lasers, isn’t it?
Why would you reply to yourself?
Its just salty guys pretending to be NAP.
NAP III is going to be good adventures like the last NAP.
IS OUR PLAN TO SOW DISSENTION IN THE RANKS OF NO ARTPUNK BY PRETENDING TO BE THEM WORKING YET? MY SHIFT IS ABOUT TO START.
Claims that every criticism or mockery is part of a vast plot against them, and that the supportive repetitions of their own invective or extremism which land badly are “false flag” plots to discredit them are emblematic of the No Art Punk’s paranoid and narcissistic mind.
Like all culture warriors they only have two tricks:
A) playing the victim.
Sweeping statements and obvious trolling aren’t going to help you get out of competing my man. Skill issue it seems.
This is so not artpunk lol
Gonzo is not artpunk
I am waiting for Completely Unfathomable (OU + OU) to come out in S&W format. I did love Operation Unfathomable—one of my favorites of the OSR. It was very OD&D and a wonderful springboard for a DM to riff off of.
No idea bout this adventure itself, but, Bryce, dude…
The Dungeon Dozen is useless. I don’t believe anybody actually rolls on these “”””tables””””. Each one is 12 notions tossed at the wall. They are even written like jokes, with ‘punchline’ entries towards the end! They are meant to be read, not used during your game.
WHAT HERASY IS THIS?!?!
Yeah, I use them in making dungeons, as a kind of inspiration to get a theme or ideas from. Not during a game; that would be terrible
lol yeah, they’re great as sort of “big idea” prompts, or as imagination kindling when building a fresh campaign, not for at-the-table use