Friday, 15 May 2015

Tranzar's Redoubt: Review

Author: Joe Johnston 
Price: $1.99/$6.99 (RPGNOW)
Format: PDF/Print
Page count: 44
System: Taskboy Games (Labyrinth Lord)

Year: 2015

It wasn't much more than a month ago since I reviewed +Joe Johnston's FREE How To Hexcrawl guide. You may remember that I reviewed it favourably with the caveat that the artwork had room for improvement - though being a free product I could hardly complain. 

When Jo asked whether I'd like a review copy of his new adventure Tranzar's Redoubt I immediately put up my hand. Firstly because I like free stuff, and secondly because I enjoyed his writing style the first time around. It was clear and easy to digest.

The Good
Tranzar's Redoubt is a Labyrinth Lord compatible adventure. It is stated to be ideal for 4-8 characters of levels 4-6. The overall appearance of this work gets a big tick. Tranzar's Redoubt makes good use of appealing fonts, presentable tables, sensical layout, evocative illustrations by +David Guyll and one of +Dyson Logos's distinctive maps. The illustrations are 'classic' without subscribing to an imitable rehash of an old TSR product, as some OSR products habitually attempt. Overall, I can feel the vibe, without being bored by yet another attempt to capture 'the good old days' *

The adventure background is straightforward and involves the namesake of the title. Tranzar was/is a maligned and destructive wizard who unwittingly made a foolish pact with a...tree...for immortality. He was betrayed by the tree, who he had previously saved, and is now in a non-corporeal state within a cave.

Four logical suggestions are provided for 'Getting the Party Involved'. Obviously the DM/Referee/Labyrinth Lord can add additional seeds according to their own whim or purpose. 

The redoubt is filled with horrible vines and pods, which makes an interesting change to the regular, bare-stone dungeon. It provides the adventurers with an additional hazard to navigate too, which can only make life more exciting. Again, the dungeon dressing is described clearly and succinctly. A small table provides vine effects. The effects are largely undesirable, yet not so harsh as to be unfair - generally a -1 penalty to a task, or a small amount of damage. It adds flavour, and has an in-game consequence which I quite like. 

The dungeon (or cave) is relatively simple. There is a secret door to additional chambers, but otherwise the complex is relatively linear. There are some interesting areas like '16. Gold on the Ceiling'. I won't spoil the contents of the room, but the name reminded me of this |m|. The flavour of the adventure is right up my alley, especially the likes of Mr. Gravelskin and his tea party, which very much appeals to my whimsy. There are some definitely lethal perils within this cave too. It's not all fun and games, let me tell you. 

Besides the meat of the adventure there are some other goodies in the end portion of Tranzar's Redoubt. The 'Pretty Little Things' section details the curiosities and magic items to be found within this adventure. 'Creatures Large And Small' provide some additional critters and NPCs unique to the adventure, while 'Under-Over' is a mini wager game. There are 6 pre-gen characters included, all with a brief background to assist getting into the action. Finally there is a player handout 'The Lay of Sword and Crown' - a brief poem detailing the tale of Tranzar. 

The Bad
The 'Under-Over' table I found difficult to comprehend, but I suspect it is actually as simple as the table suggests.The explanation did more to confuse me than clarify, and the examples seemed incongruous with the rules. I wasn't sure what to make of it which is disappointing because I like gambling games. That part of the adventure would have benefitted with some clarification and improvement. There are some substantial treasures within the adventure that may need pruning depending on the style of campaign you're running (I like things to be pretty lean). Clearly that is the liberty and preference of whoever is running the game. I would not consider that aspect to be a flaw necessarily - though it was noticeable. Finally, the map is placed in the middle of the adventure, which from a functional perspective seemed a bit odd. Besides those three quibbles (the latter two being very minor), this product is exceptionally well executed. 

Final Thoughts
Tranzar's Redoubt is a commendable little adventure. I can imagine running this, and even found it to be exciting at times. With the abundance of (free or paid) adventures on the market, you need a product that will stand out in some way. Tranzar's Redoubt stood out to me. It's a solid adventure, with some interesting ideas. It's easy to grasp and is well written. The atmosphere of the adventure was tangible, and I imagine it will gel nicely with any style of fantasy campaign. I can wholeheartedly recommend this. Preferably buy a print copy. 

*If as an author/publisher/artist/whatever, you can actually capture the vibe of 'the good old days' that's great. If you do it well it may even be something special. But progress and innovation involves building on solid tropes and fondly remembered ideas, rather than remaining in nostalgic memory. Therein lies creative decay. The truly great products of the OSR are able to achieve something new in my opinion. These products offer inspiration, without the burden of nostalgia weighing them down, yet remain a distinct homage or celebration of what was loved. 

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