Monday, 2 January 2017

Review: Slügs!

I prefer the first two weeks of the new year over Christmas, because that's when the best presents I ordered for myself usually arrive. This morning the postman finally brought me my order from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There were two items in the box: the already reviewed Broodmother Skyfortress (which is even more amazing in hardcover format), and the dirt cheap Slügs!, which was also LotFP's Free RPG Day product last year.

Slügs! is a 36 pages long digest monster supplement. It's written by James Raggi, who introduces 16 unique slugs you can use in your campaign. An intriguing choice, one that has a huge gap to fill because mollusks are extremely underused in D&D. It's a pity, they are weird and disguisting things - which are also the two of Raggi's specialties, so my expectations were high in this regard.

I can't complain about the quality. The color cover is outstanding, and the interior black & white illustrations are pretty good too. The artists knew when to get serious, funny, trippy, or weird. Those who are looking for the hardcore visuals seen in other LotFP products will be disappointed though, there isn't much disturbing stuff here except for two sexual themed pictures.

Raggi starts the book with ranting about the rpg industry in the introduction, which is not devoid of some finely delivered Trumpish rhetoric. Will this product make gaming great again? While slimy invertebrates aren't enough to save the OSR, this book proves that they can make your campaign better! This book is fun to read, full of imaginative new creatures, and silly pop culture references that made me grin like an idiot.

My favorite is Slügatron, a robot in disguise who on Saturday mornings will take you on random adventures. The Sluggish Slug spreads apathy, slowly turning everyone within a few miles into me during my university years. An encounter with the Love Slug will answer the ages old question about what perverted things the player is willing to do with for a few extra levels. Then there is the Christmas Slug, who eats junk, leaves a delicious trail, and carries treasure in his hanging colorful tumors.

Of course Raggi didn't forget about those who want to mess more directly with the PCs either. They will get what they are looking for in the Acid Slug, Glass Slug, Rock Slug, Vomit Slug. My only disappointment is the Mentallo Slug, which provides funky adventure opportunities, but otherwise feels very bland despite his huge brain. I was hoping for some psionic powers in vein of Carcosa.

The best thing I got with this book aren't the monsters themselves though, but Raggi's writing kindling my creativity. After reading the Slügs! I came up with a dozen new creature, so I've got almost twice as many creatures than what I paid for!

If you are ordering anything from LotFP do yourself a favor and put this book into your cart. It's inexpensive, and you're also doing a favor for the community, because the sooner his stock is out, the sooner Raggi will put up the Pay-What-You-Want PDF.

Tl;dr: Slügs! shows you how mollusks can improve your campaign. You can buy it HERE.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

The End is Nigh!

Well, at least for 2016 in my time zone... It has been an interesting and eventful year for me, but I'm not going to waste anyone's time with retrospects and boring lists. Since the reboot the blog's page views were steadily growing with each post, which was a very uplifting experience. I want to say a huge thank you for all Vorpal Mace readers. I promise I'll keep delivering reviews in 2017, and since I'm going to start a few new campaigns next year that will mostly use stuff of my own creation, be prepared for some gaming material you can actually use. Happy New Year!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Review: Broodmother Skyfortress

Holy fucking shit! I have totally forgotten about this! Broodmother Skyfortress was one of the many concurrent indiegogo campaigns Raggi ran as an experiment more than four years ago. From around two dozen campaigns only four got funded. Many considered this  whole affair a failure and forgot about it - including me. No wonder I was surprised when a few weeks ago the release of BMSF was announced.

Broodmother was written by Jeff Rients, who is one of my all-time favorite OSR bloggers. While others were busy rambling about how thieves ruined D&D, admiring obscure rules from the DMG no one ever used, or having dick measuring contest about who is the grognardest of all, Rients let his imagination run wild in fun and evocative articles. I'm not saying he didn't have some tedious posts about things I couldn't care less about, but I've found him to be far more entertaining and helpful than others. Thus my expectations were high.

Those who supported the indiegogo campaign didn't exactly get what they were initially promised, and I'm sure none of them will complain about that. Instead of a 32 page digest-sized module LotFP published a 170 page booklet that's full of DM advice and Jeff's best posts besides the adventure. That's what I call overdelivering!

Before delving into the contents I have to halt for a bit to praise Ian MacLean's brilliant art. Just take a look at the cover! It's a huge ass elephant-shark hybrid bursting through a door to slaughter soldiers with an anchor. It looks wicked cool. It makes me want to read it. It makes me want to run it even before reading a single word. The interior art is just as good as the cover. It's full of energetic comic style illustrations about these ugly bastards ruining iconic stuff, adventurers getting the short end, and the author doing all kinds of silly things. My favorite is the homage to a classic Exalted cover, which will make your eyes bleed. The adventure is accompanied by two maps, which besides showing the cartography have the random encounter charts on them. It's as useful as it sounds: incredibly.

The book is anything but boring. Jeff's conversational voice will grab your attention right from the first sentence, and take you on a journey where he introduces every aspect of DM-ing. The titular adventure about big weird monsters isn't your usual dungeon with keyed rooms, it's an example Jeff uses to show you how to write a kickass adventure. He will analyse every aspect of his work, reveal the reasons behind his decisions, and then give excellent advice about running and customizing it.

Jeff starts this by showing you how to incorporate BMSF it to your campaign, come to terms with it wrecking your setting, get your players motivated to visit the godforsaken place, and start a new campaign if you don't have one already. By the time reach the cast of antagonists you will be already pumped to run this!

If it wasn't clear from the covers, the monstrosities of BMSF aren't your usual D&D giants. They are wicked barbaric beasts that spend their time with operating the sky fortress, raiding settlements, leaving their eggs behind, and doing all kinds of disgusting things. They are godlike, and to illustrate it, Jeff uses a cool mechanic that will surely piss of some grognards: they don't have any AC value, because they are so big you can't miss them, but they have 5 points of damage resistance. With their shitton of hit points it's obvious that battling them is suicide.

There are seven giants, each of them with its own personality, agenda, and disgusting habits. Their rendition is straightforward about what's important, and vague about the small details. What are the tits of the Broodmother like? How are the Terrible Twins conjoined? Who are these giants? Who built the floating castle? Who are the wretches living underneath? You don't get exact answers. Instead, you get options that you can choose from, or completely ignore. Inspiration over instructions. I love it. Thanks to these holes the adventure will need some work before running it, but not too much, and gives you enough help to get it done quickly.

The dungeon has 28 keyed sites, and can be divided into three major sections. The sky fortress is where the giants live their lives and keep the fortress afloat. The surrounding clouds are full of ruins left behind by the original builders. The tunnels below are the home of primitive humans stuck here generations ago. The players can also meet spider swarms, hatchlings, spectral malevolences conjured from an angry dead god's brain, but they will probably have more problems with the enviroment than its inhabitants. There are plenty of objects to interact with, but being careless will have dire consequences. Foolhardy players can quickly turn the exploration into a crazy escape mission in several ways - including tampering with the skydrive, turning off the golden obelisk that serves as lightning conductor, and reviving the dead god that kills 1d6 creatures every turn. Such extraordinary place has extraordinary loot too, but their value is not always apparent.

The second half of the book is a collection of Jeff's best articles, including classics like Carousing, The Living Dungeon, EXPloration, How To Awesome-Up Your Players. Some had minor updates, but they are basically the same articles you can find on his blog. At the end there is an appendix with monster and magic item stats for 3e/Pathfinder fans. It's a nice touch, although whoever converted the monsters forgot to take into account the higher damage values 3e/Pathfinder characters. To achieve the same shock and horror that the giants can have in LotFP I recommend at least doubling the DR values.

BMSF is a module that was worth waiting for. For your money you get a kickass adventure, and some of the best advice the OSR ever provided. This is the magnum opus of Jeff Rients. While I can't imagine he could ever produce anything better than this, I sure hope this isn't the last time we've seen his work published.

Tl;dr: Instant classic. You can buy it HERE.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Review: Underport: Abyssal Descent

Reading Crimhthan The Great's OD&D Blog reminded me I've bought a module called Underport: Abyssal Descent many months ago. Released by Direbane Publishing this adventure promises to be a vintage mega dungeon from the halcyon days of the hobby. It focuses on action, and does not give a shit about encounter balance. Sounds good! The dungeon was written for the Knights of the All Mind ruleset, which seems like an unholy mix of 3e and OD&D. It's unlikely anyone ever used this system other than its author. Thankfully it's easy to convert the stats to any editions of D&D.

Opening the book will immediately invoke the inimitable old-school feel thanks to a layout so bad, it makes even the LBBs look good. Single paragraph, shitty fonts, ugly stat blocks... I'm not sure if it's intentional, but well done! The foreword confirms that the adventure will be a huge mess, with changing styles and a wide variety of influences including Judges Guild, Arduin, and puberty (unless you've forgot about those years, the latter means violence, sex, drugs). We also learn important information like the average heights of tunnels, chambers, caverns, and why didn't the author include wandering monster charts: if the PCs make noise just pull the monsters from the nearest room, or throw them a gelatinous cube. That's a simple and elegant solution I was thinking about using too.

The adventure is 88 pages long, with a seperate 18 pages long file for the maps. The dungeon has more than a dozen levels, big and small ones alike. They are scans of old drawings that were never cleaned, full of stains and smudges. Until you get familiar with them it can take some effort to find out what's going on, and where the different labels are. Once you can see through the Chaos you will find a real gold mine! The maps are full of exciting names, like Tita Luigi Bomba's Castle Hold, Battle Caves, Prime Material Gate To Abyss. Names like these are a perfect way to pique my curiosity in no time. They sound interesting! I want to check them out! I want to know what's going on there! To make things even more olde school, there is a cross section of the levels too.

Not only there are many levels, but they are varied too. The module starts in an underground pirate hideout, then continues to the depths through a mining complex, a crossdresser overlord's castle, the battle caves, a monk's hold in a mushroom forest, a "multi-dimensional demiplane Hellscape prison", and other weird places until the aforementioned gate is reached at the bottom of the Eternal Pit.

The encounters are just as colorful as the environment. The adventurers can meet both classic and unique monsters during their delve. What I really love about them is that these creatures aren't just put in a room to be slaughtered: the book is full of scenes where something is actually happening! A bar with drinking skeletons! Drunken pirates causing fire! Hobgoblins planning a rebellion against their king! Fire giants having sex! An insectoid creature disguised as a crying little girl trying to lure victims to their doom! I could go on all day about all the amazing happenings of this dungeon.

The writing is short, rough, and goddamn evocative in the beggining. The descriptions could've been even more effective with more powerful choice of words, but they are still miles better than your average dungeon room read aloud text that gets bogged down by unnecessary details. It's a pity the style changes dramatically midway. The encounters become more static, the descriptions longer, the levels less interesting. Sometimes I felt the author being tired, maybe even a bit burnt out. This doesn't mean of course that the lower levels are rubbish, but they aren't as good as the upper ones.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this product to anyone interested in megadungeons and early homebrew adventures. It's my favorite historical artifact besides the Rythlondar chronicles. I wonder if the Necropolis of Chaos, a sequel promised at the end of the book will be released too one day.

Tl;dr: Underport is an authentic old-school megadungeon with exemplary upper levels, and a bit weaker lower levels. You can buy it HERE.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Review: Appendix N Adventures Toolkit Add-Ons

The end of the road is here! Since I have already finished the adventures only the add-ons are left to review. These include mini adventures, magic items, monsters, even a religion! They were meant to compensate for all the delay and the adventures Brave Halfling Publishing never delivered.  There are seven add-ons and three extras, so let's start the reviews instead of wasting characters on more empty blather.

Since some people were confused, I think I should nention that I haven't received these in print either, with the sole exception of The Shigish, which is on the back of a paper I've got when the Ruins of Ramat were sent to me the second time.

Pages are digest size, except Add-On #7 and Extra #3, which are Letter size.

Add-On #1: The Green Orb

A six pages long adventure (with one empty, one for the OGL, and one for an illustration). Rule of
thumb: whenever they say adventure in the extras they really mean "one-shot" or "encounter". The background tells the story of an old wizard, who travelled through the planes to learn how to control the Green Orb, an artifact which can animate plants as malign creatures. Then he got murdered in a small cave by thieves. That's an epic failure for a planeswalking wizard if you ask me. The rest of the booklet tells in lengthy details how the plants, roots, fungi of the cavern will animate and harass the players who take shelter there. There are some ideas about expanding the adventure, and making it harder. The latter includes such marvelous ideas like throwing in more monsters, but my favorite is making the whole place only 5' tall so the PCs can't use their weapons. A good challenge is exciting, it tests the player's abilities, who will feel satisfied once they have earned victory. Taking away the (often hard earned) abilities of the PCs isn't a challenge, it's just a cheap punishment. Also, who the hell takes shelter in a cave where it's impossible to stand up?

Add-On #2: Gifts of the Only

A four pages long adventure (with one for the OGL). This is an encounter with a pool that during the night changes how magic works. On moonless nights the pool becomes a gate to the an alien plane, thus making it possible for the Only to enter our world. Combat against him is futile, but he will grant a wish for a sacrifice. There is a neat chart with bizarre ideas how those wishes may manifest, and a small detail that makes this weird faceless creature even more interesting: the sacrificed creature recovers on the other side of the pool, because the Only (nomen est omen) only wants some company, since he is the sole creature on his plane. Thus a sacrificed player might return later. Confrontation with a former comrade you sacrificed sounds fun! I was pleasantly surprised by how unusually imaginative this little encounter was compared to most of the line.

Add-On #3: The Perplexing Disappearances in Brambury

A six pages long adventure (with one empty, one for the OGL, and one for an illustration). The title is much cooler than the adventure itself. Cultists of Cthulhu lost an intelligent cave octopus. He grew up in the nearby lake and started hunting villagers during the night. The players will have to face him to stop the disappearances. The first half feels more like an outline for an adventure. The second part is about handling knee-deep-in-rwater combat, and increasing the difficulty by adding smaller octopi, hungry gars, or introducing cultists who returned for their property. If all of these were collected and worked out this could become a decent adventure, but as it is it's worth as much as scrap papers with hastily written ideas at the bottom of an average Judge's drawer. The cave octopus stats and description were fully copy-pasted from the DCC RPG rulebook, which is the epitome of laziness.

Add-On #4: The Untimely End of Scaviolus Hitherhill

A four pages long adventure (with one for the OGL). Another pompous title. Did I mention I like pompous titles? This is a decent encounter in dense reeds with the ghost of a former soldier. I like his background, but unfortunately it's unlikely the players will learn the details of his demise. I also like that he can't be beaten: unless his wedding band is returned to his widow he will return evey day to haunt the area. There is some advice at the end again about making the adventure tougher. You won't believe it, but it tells you to add more monsters to the battle. Creative.

Add-On #5: Vance's Merry Men

A four pages long adventure (with less then one for the OGL). There is nothing vancian here, the title is just a trick to grab your attention. This module describes an inn and a band of robbers. The longwinded explanation of their scam was needless, especially the part about how they behave if the adventurers let themselves get robbed. Have you ever seen a D&D party that surrendered to mundane robbers? Me neither.

Add-On #6: Room and Boarded

A four pages long adventure (with one for the OGL). It describes an encounter with dimensional pirates who travel on flying ships. Imagine the following situation: you are sleeping deep in your inn room after a tiring day of adventure, then suddenly the roof explodes and goddamn blueskinned pirates slide down from above and attack. They even have a wizard who can silence spellcasters or enlarge the leader. I like this one! It's an idea with a lot of potential, and also some really good non-monetary loot: the possibility of capturing a spelljammer drakker, and a cool magic amulet.

Add-On #7: Grimic

A four pages long description of a religion (with one for the OGL). Grimic is the most overused gimmick of old-school D&D's history: the red flat sob from the cover of the AD&D1e PHB. This time he is a god of humanoids and savages. There are battle rites described, a simple encounter with worshippers, and of course some rules about tampering with the idol. There are no new spells or even abilities that could replace the turn unholy his clerics lack, there isn't even a spell list. Strangely there are no lizard-men mentioned in the document. This left me cold, mostly because I'm bored of all the reuses of the idol. I think the community should give Trampier finally some rest instead of making him roll in his grave with more weak homages to his iconic image. The only good one I can recall was Kenzer & Co's monster entry in one of the Hacklopedias.

Add-On Extra #1: A Lesson From Turtles

A one and a half pages long description of a weird lake. The player characters can learn arcane knowledge from intelligent turtles, find the leaking facility of the Old Ones, and get murdered by giant clawed mushrooms. It reminds me of Carcosa and some of the better Wilderlands hexes. Short but cool idea for sandboxes.

Add-On Extra #2: The Sigish

A one page long description of tubular otherworldly monsters that grow from 1/2 HD to 3 HD by eating everything they can. Once there is nothing left to devour they break down into small larvae. Their description ends with ideas about using them as random encounter, spell mishap, or trap. An interesting monster I might use in the future with some changes - eg. not limiting their growth to 3 HD. My only gripe with this is the lack of illustrations.

Add-On Extra #3: Laro Chelle the Ring Bearer

Two pages long, with one for OGL. Another third page is wasted on title and header. The rest is about an immortal and ancient halfling who bears a magical ring: the Gift of Death. If the ring is removed from his finger the dead will reanimate in it's one mile radius, and they will be drawn toward it. Furthermore, day by day the radius doubles. This is the kind of NPC-item combo that will be either ignored, or will mess up the setting.

That's all folks! A bunch of unambitious notes, with some rough gems among them. Like the adventures of the Appendix N Adventures Toolkit line most of these are unaware too of what Appendix N or being written for DCC RPG means. These add-ons should've been released as articles in a fanzine, or as a series of blogposts.

Tl;dr: The Add-Ons are a mix of some good, and a lot of mediocre ideas, barly worked out more than the notes you take during a dump. You can buy some of them HERE.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Back in Black

I have moved into a new flat, found a new job, which means I'll have enough free time again for my beloved hobbies. The final chapter of the Appendix N Adventures Toolkit reviews is coming this week, then I will move on to hopefully more delightful subjects. My backlog is full of promising items, and I was lucky enough to play a few weeks ago in Melan's Castle Xyntillan, so there is a lot I can write about.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Interview with the Referee

I'm in the middle of moving to Budapest and looking for a new job. I've lost count of the job interviews I've had in the last two weeks, and probably as many are still to be done. Once this gauntlet is over (around the beginning of November) I will return and continue with my reviews. Stay tuned!