Saturday, 28 March 2015

Hill Cantons Compendium II - Review

Hill Cantons Compendium II - Review


Hill Cantons Compendium II, Chris Kutalik & Mike Davison, Hydra Collective, Corey Ryan Walden, Slumbering Ursine Dunes
Author/s: Chris Kutalik & Mike Davison (Hydra Collective LLC)
Price: $0 - Pay what you want
Format: PDF
Page count: 21
System: OSR (0e/1e/insert retroclone here)
Year: 2015

Procrastination is a funny thing - you often end up places you would not expect to. Today was no exception, as I stumbled upon the Hill Cantons Compendium II. The PDF is free to download, and for anyone running a 0e-styled game (or AD&D or Labyrinth Lord or whatever) I recommend checking it out. Actually, you know what? Check it out even if you're not running any of those systems.

You may be asking why. Well, for starters it's free. If that isn't appealing enough, then how about the fact it includes a very brief setting overview, a bunch of new classes, and a whole swathe of random tables?

The Good.
Right off the bat I'm going to say it: I like this. When I began reading I thought okay, another home-brew setting where I don't understand the in-joke references, but between that thought and finishing my read-through, something clicked. I like how sparsely defined the setting is, and while I would never use it (because I have my own imagination, and thrive on designing my own settings), it had some interesting bits that I would certainly steal - like the idea that there is a rather 'normal', seemingly magic-less hub of civilisation, whereupon the further one ventures out things get weirder and weirder. It describes in loose terms the socio-political setup, and the idea of 'hostels' - multi-storied buildings of (usually) ascending swankiness. The world seems to be an amalgam of weird fiction, sci-fi and swords & sorcery, with some more traditional fantasy tropes, but due to the brevity of the work it's a little difficult to be certain.

Then it gets really fun. The Compendium adds some new classes like the Black Hobbit - chaotic and black-hearted halflings; Chaos Monk - think bad 80s kung-fu movie characters made into a class; Feral Dwarf - crude, cave-men dwarves; Half-Ogre - mank, stinky, disgusting beings; Mountebank - illusory trickster; Pantless Barbarian - the name really says it all; Robo-Dwarves, War Bear and White Wizard - magic-user/cleric/druid combo. My personal favourites were the Black Hobbits (the little bastards), the Pantless Barbarians (because LOL), White Wizard (I've long thought the cleric class should be ditched and replaced with a magic-user class who can cast cleric spells too), and the Mountebank (cos I love all things thief). I found myself knee-deep in half-ogre faeces, chuckling to myself at a few things written therein. It's quite tongue-in-cheek, and very self-conscious.

The tables too, make a great addition to this compendium, and I can see myself using them just for NPCs: "Bob looks at you with..." *rolls dice* "...sad eyes - 'my parents didn't love me', he finishes".

The compendium is funny, useful and even rather innovative (if I may use that word, despite the fact EVERYTHING under the sun has been done already).

The Bad.
When something is free, one shouldn't really complain. However, I'm still of the opinion if you're going to bother with something do it right. My only complaint, if it even is a complaint, is at times I felt a little excluded from the text, almost as if this was used in a campaign, but then wasn't properly or extensively explained to the intended audience. Then again, I've been doing this hobby long enough that I actually don't care. I'm an adult, I don't need to be spoon-fed by a gaming company, and I can sift through the ideas to find the gems; which in this case is very easy to do. I noticed a few proofreading errors here and there, though honestly no more (or less) than my Adventures in Highwold supplement. The description for Isle of Tolmin and the House of the Axe was completely omitted. Is that a big deal? No. I didn't pay for it. Too, given my own experiences with writing and self-publishing, once something is 'complete' and published, it's only then that you notice the mistakes, but by that time you really can't be assed to correct it.

Conclusion.
You still haven't downloaded it??!

But seriously.