This is a review of some fine stuff - a love letter to the amazing products to com out of the OSR the last few years. Im slowly winning with my gaming want list. Most recently I received a big package fresh from Gencon including a vaginas are magic t shirt which is my first purple tshirt. I just got my DnD cyclopedia to so im pretty happy. The only products mentioned here I've been possibly bribed by here include one by Patrick Stewart and one by Venger Satanis. I'm happy to review stuff. last thing I was given asked me three times for feedback and I requested a press release and information they didnt give and Im still unsure it is a limited utility gaming or a street art portfolio book.
Probably one of biggest Issues I have about any RPG setting or product Is how easily can I slot it into my own use and how much can I make it my own. I think probably the bulk of gaming consumers are not that imaginative and like vanilla products use familiar conventions. Oldschool gaming meant less products period and DMs would convert even a traveller adventure in White Dwarf to DnD or found ads as inspiring as the articles for adventure design. You had to be creative. Nowadays I think originality ids a turn off for most gamers. I have friends with every DnD5 product who say they don't have time to be read other games or write content. Personally I cant help it and wouldnt want to live without imagination. It is not a chore to have your own ideas. Most of my gaming career I only used my content and for 20 years I only bought Cthulhu stuff (Im not enjoying new stuff as much as success had made more like vanilla DnD). OSR stuff might might mess with the mediocre with imagination. DIY spirit, originality, subversion or adult content to some degree.
Hot Springs Island
Really two books. The field guide is a smaller book detailing previous expeditions then the big black book is the "The Dark of Hotsprings Island". Let me say the PDF did not do them justice. I was interested as soon as I saw the kickstarter and they delivered very fast really (Im still waiting for my MCC with no extras). I dont normally like narrative stuff and took me longer to like the field guide from the digital version. Now I have the print version I take it all back. The books are beautiful. The smaller field guide makes more sense in print and is moore usable. The big black book is thickly illustrated, has well designed information and is well written. You could play here for a long time and it is among the best "Island" adventures ever up there with Griffon Island (yeah griffin mountain is great too).
The art is incredible. Many women illustrated have necks arched back or heads missing but besides this the art is amazing. Lots of tentacles too. I especially like the salamanders as a hybrid of BX and 1st ed versions as the ADnD ones really bugged me and should have just had another name, but this version I'm sold on. Magic items are incredible and and if I run it will make me want to be more generous than normal. There is a bit o repeated information but overall they are some of the best RPG books ever. Period. As a person who often dismisses RPG books for paper stock or waste of space these books do not comit these sins. Stark B&W is so much more readable than the faux worn over designed game book by so called top end publishers. Im hoping they win every award for this the creators deserve it. The material is familiar to classic dnd but edgier and can be enjoyed by classic adventure fans and the grimdark esoteric freakbag gamers too. The art implies more adult content than the text. The ruined city is freaking amazing.
Veins of The Earth
This is a vision of stark horror seldom seen in gaming. The book is a impressive fat little heavyweight with thick paperstock, mostly grey with black and a spot of red. I like Scraps art and admire it but aesthetically it is pretty much opposite my english comic realism tastes I aquired being a slave in a comic studio for twenty years. Here it works - the art is like HPL writing lacks specific detail and lets your imagination fill in the gaps. For a setting writhed in darkness it works here and it compliments Patricks writing well. The layouts are solid too. It is kind of intimidating and I haven't got too far in yet. Some bits Ive read on the blog. My own writing is condensed cliches and a edge added. Patrick is one of the most original writes in gaming. He is lucid and evocative and sometimes my brain feels weary from having to think and not being mollycoddled with predictable drek. There are lots of good rules for caving, lanterns, climbing and more. Guide to making random tunnels reminds me of the sections in Vornheim which I ended up using even though it was against my usual tastes. So I will try them. The rule sections are well laid out adding to their utility.
I sometimes find reading Patrick's blog a bit intimidating because I'm forced to think rather than be railroaded by convention. I think the theme here is the book is mould breaking. A typical DnD gamer would find things to use here but it is not you TSR underdark or anything like by own. It is a unforgiving pit of despair. For a LOTFP game set here the book well suits the weird horror theme only more humourless and soul crushing. You could use this cover to cover or just grab random bits in ant underground setting. It will ad a whole new edge to my Underland for those ancient forgotten caves that even monsters dread. Scraps art reminds me of the spidery things you find in the bottom of the sea or a deep cavern. I look forward to using this little black book of horrors to scare players and possibly wack them with it.
Some notes on other OSR titles
The new standard of OSR books is very high and design (or is it all mostly Jez) a big part of it, moving away from they over design of pathfinder and dnd and more like 80s chaosium or text book like. Yet the maps especially on anything in a book by the Zac push the envelope. While I love the books of Dyson and their utility, Red and Pleasant land plus Blue Medusa take game maps to strange new places and push the usefulness of maps. Blue Medusa especialy for utility and weirdness.
A Red and Pleasant Land
While Gygax took the creepy childrens classic and just mad them a place for murder hobos to kill weird stuff conceptually Zac takes it somewhere far stranger. The ide is strong and simple and could be a hidden broken part of your world or a dimension to visit. Hungarian Vampires and Alice in Wonderland as a idea is easy to grasp. The encounters and creatures are creepily unpleasant with own agendas. It is something I could slip in a campagn for a while and it has a mood you can work with and the frameworks to create adventures like vornheim are flexible and interesting. This and Vornheim are great for the fly be the seat of your pants make it as you go style of DMing I endorse.
I might mention this too because initially I just nabbed a few tables and put them in my gaming folder and left it. I thought some stuff like drop tables and using letter forms were gimmick stuff I wouldn't touch but I found myself using them. I think I could find myself using it even more as I break out my comfort zone. Ive designed and used many cities and Pt Blacksand from FF is still my favorite. Ive done so much city content I didnt think I had room for something like this. A book that keeps growing your interest is a good book. Lots of city products I mostly use the maps and find them overly detailed and actually leave little space to move for a DM like Waterdeep. Some of the city designs in early 2nd ed Forgettable Realms books left me cold. Probably my favorite city products in the past have been thieves world and the RQ3 Cities book reprinting most of the tables from it. Catalyst books are interesting but often toooooo looooong and I feel unless I use building as a complex adventure seed the locations are too much. There were some good Dragon articles too with brief NPCs and locations. More stuff like this which Vornheim does aplenty.
Maze of the Blue Medusa
While the above books are more sandbox crawls this book is a dungeon. The dungeon design and book as a work on infographics is incredible. It is a entertaining read also. The downside to me Is I feel I couldn't run it right. The inhabitants have history, relationships, curses and conundrums which the book clearly elucidates. But I struggle to keep it in my head. I guess running DnD tropes is a shortcut that most products use. I like to work with cliches and subvert them and add griminess of history and vice. Blue Medusa has a Alice in Wonderland feel. You enter a painting. You meet lots of strange characters and being DnD you possibly kill and rob them. I guess I like the Old TSR dungeon booklets for brevity ans simplicity and established tropes. You didnt have to read them lots and you could get your head around the plot from one read and run it. I might also just plunder ideas or slot a village into my setting and working with DnD tropes makes this easy.
I find Blue Medusa more like art - it has lots of content. I feel Intimidated that I cant wrap my head around it all despite the most amazing user accessibility of any adventure ever. It isnt the only Megadungeon to do this to me. Stonehell Is huge but I can grasp it and Its simple history. I wont worry about getting it right because I will mess with it and add content as I go and make it fit in my setting. It's tropes are easy to grasp. ASE is a complete setting and complex but it fit into my Planet Psychon setting seamlessly. Devilmount is a fun setting and dungeon but I find the religious history throughout the dungeon a bit overly detailed and inflexible and doesn't quite gel with my tastes. I guess with most of these other products I feel I could steal bits from them and run them quickly. Devilmount religious lore scares me for a product claiming to be written by a speed and metal guzzling teen but I can still get my head around it.
Medusa I feel I could reread several times and study it for a long time. I feel I want to di it justice and run "right". Which most things don't give me that feeling. If there was a course at Uni on Dungeon Adventure Lit this could be a few weeks work. I almost feel a reader or cliffs notes or a map with flowchart boxes of character inter relationships might help even though all that information is inside. Like fans made a guide to running Masks of Nyarlathotep bigger than the actual adventure something like this might be good for Medusa. It has lots of breadth and depth. Possibly I could damn the torpedoes and run it anyway and maybe the third time I would feel I was getting somewhere. I can see myself reading it over again for several years. It is unlike anything I would make which is a blessing and challenge. Don't let my misgivings put you off It is more my shortcoming not the books. I would not change anything about it which is about as high a praise as I can come up with.
I love Anomalous Subsurface environment and all the fantastic extras Gus on Dungeons of signs has created. Im tempted to print all together and bind into a book. Fit seamlessly into my Psychon game and we played for six months and the players enjoyed it. The setting was such a distraction from the dungeon players advanced levels a bit out of sync but as a gonzo tourism gaming experience it is great. Lots of weird characters, good art and all wrapped in a great setting with lots of tables. Close to how I run my games anyhow. I wouldn't say no to a new layout using some new school info graphics. Occasionally I misread the traps and spoiled them. More traps than monsters. I hate puzzles but liked the nes here.
As I said above ive considered running Devilmount in Planet Psychon too perhaps one day. Stonehell would be a comfortable fit in my "classic" setting and i feel i could mess with it lots and not have to read it in too much detail or worry about the setting or history.
I guess DnD saves everyone lots of time with it's tropes, assumptions and shortcuts, Even with the broken continuity between editions. I guess the unifying feature of the OSR is that it pays homage to these traditions but might also rip on them mercilessly. Sometimes this means you need to read the best works harder to appreciate them. You can speed read cliches and not miss much.
Dark Albion and Cults of Chaos
The author and I seem to be politically opposite and I find him ready to spit sexual abuse over disagreements we have all too regularly even when I agree with him but I do like his books. Arrows of Indra was a previous work I enjoyed by the writer. I still hope to get hard copies some time. Dark Albion is a war of the roses era - tudor style fantasy setting. I appreciate that the fantasy monotheism choices which could easily be changed. Im totally OK with France being over run with chaos frog men (there were humans they just lost). It would make a good LOTFP setting. I love the art. An incredible amount of pseudo historic detail of the sort you would expect from Pendragon. I like the book and would expect a hardcopy to be pretty but I can't say I have met everything in it. The Cults of Chaos book is a must have for everyone who has cults in game. This book is a table filled paradise of awfulness. Some tables repeat some information and perhaps it could be structured some other way but the cults made with this will be fantastic. You can create a cult for every village and get in the heads of cult members easily. Despite our differences I will check out the Pundits future releases. Some of my favorite writers can be problematic. Zac for record has always been kind to me. Patrick only threatened me once for being recalcitrant and is mostly nice even though in reality (spoiler alert) he is neither a starship captain or a pokemon.
Quality wise this book is amazing. One of most attractive books to look and touch I've ever owned. Reminded me of early Stormbringer gaming but less immoral. As a bunch of loose parts Hexcrawl It is great. I can readily steal from it for my Psychon setting. As for facilitating rape, slavery and child murder i don't really mind this content and I think it is more about how you run it and not being vanilla. Nor is it just transgressive for the sake of it. Those people might seem like evil cultists but really they are desperate and willing to do anything to win against alien gods who can only be sated or stopped with vile acts. So many good bits in here to steal. The downside for me is not featuring Carcosa or much like Robert Chambers mythos and I suspect for many It is just a weird horror swords and sorcery and barbarian game. As a starting point it is great. You need a evil spell in any game this is a good place to look. But Id also recommend The Book of Ebon Bindings from the Tekumel setting too.
Another on my must get hard copy of list. This book has everything I like. Sandbox setting, tables to create more, no specific map or system, weird stuff more like Clark Ashton Smith, a lifetime of fun. Sparsely illustrated and evocative rather than illustrative. A drug addled oriental fantasy and one of the few products I would slot into my setting just under the more cooler climate Lotus Empire. This suits my style a gaming well with tables that help you create adventures on the fly quickly and lots of content you can apply. Some of the best rules on Drugs and Tea you will ever find. A rambling land players could explore for months. The tables are simple and flexible letting you often roll one dice or say three on same table while Patrick's suggestion of a phone app or online generator for Hotsprings Island is pretty spot on due to their complexity. Id roll lots of different colour dice and use list of numbers for notes almost like a traveller UPF code.
As a exotic setting I would put this up there with Tekemal and Glorantha (the Orange box set Glorantha had great encounter tables as setting portraits that got me using this method). Yoon Suin has elements of many asian countries but is not like any one which is it's strength. I love history gaming but TSR went too far with lazy history amalgams slapped together around 1990 which diminished several of their settings. Swords of the Diamyo OA1 TSR module was my previous asian gaming hexcrawl setting. Yoon Suin is asiatic but not really trying to recreate any specific nationality or history which is one of it's strengths. My younger housemates gasped when i showed them my copy of oriental adventuress which has a few issues. Not as bad as Gary with his brown and yellow races in Dangerous Journeys but things change. I don't really like LO5R because i find playing samurai no more appealing than SS deathcamp guards. I'm not sure if Ninja were great guys either. For all OA faults it has some virtues and and would probably work in Yoon Suin minus ninja and samurai. It is strange in settings that necessitate accepting samurai killing a village because one person broke the law is ok but sacrificing victims to keep away elder gods is not according to some.
Emulating Yoon Suin could be done more often. Pretty much a perfect RPD setting book.
Gnomes of Levenc, The Horrendous Heap of Sixteen Cities, Anything Hills Cantons especially the Misty Isles of the Eld, Venger Satanis purple Islands and fantasy stuff, Kabuki Kaiser stuff, LOTFP adventures, Revised Petty gods (yes Im to blame for frogs and goat entries).
Books I Still WantI just got my DnD cyclopedia at under half the high end silliest prices but Im slowly winning. Quite a few Gurps Books, Pendragons Savage Mountains, Metamorphosis Alpha city box set, a smattering of old dnd and gammaworld modules, a few RQ books, Tales of the Miskatonic Valley, Unearthed Arcana, the good version of Deities and Demigods, Torg Spacegods and the Cyberspace core book.
I possibly will pick up more LOTFP stuff but I'm not really into running other peoples adventures as are and my players were begging me to write more of my own stuff rather than use canned adventures. I tend to like sandbox settings more.
I could do whole separate posts on RQ and Cthulhu Highlights
The two volume Guide to Glorantha is pretty amazing stuff