Saturday, 27 June 2015

NPC Toolkit Tables

Over the next few months I'll be working on a booklet (that may turn into a book) of NPC-related tables. Of course, this may even expand into something bigger. I already have some ideas of where this whole project could progress, but I am fundamentally interested in creating a set of useful tools that can be used in-game to quickly generate ideas.

My tables follow a d100 design thus far - because the more ideas the merrier right? Other tables may not follow this progression, but for now they will. I released my "Dispositions" table earlier this week, but I have added another two to the complement:

1. NPC Appearance Table

Corey Ryan Walden - D&D Random Table

2. NPC Professions Table

Corey Ryan Walden - D&D Random Table

Both can be found under the "Downloads" tab on my blog. I will hopefully make time to update and add to these tables over the coming weeks and months, eventually providing a whole package of tables. 

Happy gaming!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

NPC Dispositions Table - D100


NPC Dispositions Table

      I.   This table can be used to determine an NPC’s personality or traits.
                             II.   This table can be used during a chance encounter, or for a known NPC’s ephemeral reaction or current mood.
  III.         Roll 1d100 and match the result to the table below; this is the NPC’s disposition.
  IV.         Repeat to your heart’s content.

Campaign Journal: AS&SH The Anthropophagi of Xamboola (Session 8)

SPOILER ALERT: This journal is extracted from an unpublished and upcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea adventure I am currently completing. This account eventuates from the playtest. You have been warned!

Visitors to the desert-city of Xamboola beware! Demoniacal cachinnations and dull totemic drumbeats sound nocturnal from the outskirts of the city. Too, vile shrieks echo in response to the nightmarish noises, making even those of heroic aspect shudder in repulsion. Residents do not tarry to lock themselves in their homes at night, for something sinister lingers in the fringes of the black of night. Whisperings and warnings intimate that foreign guests residing at the inn of one Aramis D’athak oft disappear at night, never to be seen or heard from again. Where they disappear is not known, nor do the people of Xamboola speak of the hellish noises that darken their oasis city in the gloom of night.

Session 8: Corridors of Unnerving

The Party

Sint the Pict Ranger (Level 3)
Heron the Kimmerian Druid (Level 3)
Xechies the Kimmerian Warlock (Level 2)
Grimnear Hothgar the Viking Berserker (Level 3)
Xjelko the Ixian Thief (Level 3; Hireling)

Part I: Death of the Daemon Rat & the Satrap's Avarice

A huge nauseous rat, scuttled from the dark recesses of the dungeon, as a dozen of her children rushed into onslaught. The mother rat had red eyes and swollen nipples oozing putrid milk, onto which clung blind ratlings. Although the dungeon delvers dashed the crazed rats to pieces, Sint and Grimnear succumbed waves of nausea as the angry bites of the rats racked their bodies. The battle was fierce with some close calls, yet the delvers survived. As Sint and Grimnear dashed the monstrous she-rat to pieces, an explosion of blood and gore rained on the survivors as the large rat emulated. The remnant of the smaller rats died whining deaths.

Afterwards various treasures were recovered, along with the thankful platitudes and rewards offered by Xill - a pearl necklace and a serviceable shield. Returning to the daylight, and relative normalcy of Xamboola, the party began selling off their various plunders. Xechies and Heron nearly met their deaths as they requested an audience with the satrap. The satrap took advantage of their naivety and told them he would take the jewellery they offered, instead of their lives. The two hurriedly left his audience, avowing amongst themselves never to return to him.

At the bazaar a new hireling was located, a youngish tough named Xjelko who claimed his expertise with dungeoneering. For a small fee (30p/month) he agreed to join them as their "thief".

Part II: A Chasm & A Gem

Returning to the depths of the ruinous palace, pursuit of neglected treasure hoard was decided. Where squire sharptooth had met his demise, and where Grimnear had come close, a wealth of treasure had been located. Getting it was the problem. Grimnear knew from painful experience that the whole chasm was riddled with horrid moulds and fungi, yet the lure of untold wealth proved deleterious where common sense should have prevailed.

Experimenting with makeshift rope tricks, and finally hammering caltrops and hooks into the cavern walls, a descent was negotiated, which avoided the toxic billowing mould clouds. And what a hoard was discovered! Armour, an otherworldly dagger, an axe, and other various treasures were hurriedly bagged. Thanking whatever gods they appraised the delvers continued into the depths of the ruined undercity.

After retracing steps, moving cautiously, and encouraging Xjelko in his crafts, some headway was made into the eerie undercity. Various routes were discovered. Some rooms yielded treasures, but the whole place was uncanny and quiet. Too quiet. Navigating some perplexing corridors another iridescent gem was discovered. It appeared much like the one Grimnear had previously touched - thereafter transporting him into the gallery of the ancients, and almost to his doom. With these compunctions in mind, the group began to back away from this gem, avoiding any majick it may contain. Something strange overcame Grimnear and Sint, and they strove immediately for the gem. It would be theirs! Oh how it glowed! Greedily they grasped for it, and it became a physical struggle. Before bloodshed occurred Xechies covered the gem with a cloth, shaking Grimnear and Sint out of their strange state.

Part III: The Eerie Chambers Below

Thereafter an amphitheatre was discovered, capable of seating at least 100, though now empty. Behind a curtain at the front of the amphitheatre was another chamber. Walking confidently into this room, Grimnear tumbled through a trapdoor and into a circular pit. Immediately a gruesome, slithering oozy creature began to engulf him. The party assailed the ooze. Although Grimnear could feel it attempt to paralyse him, he shook off the feeling, pulverising it into jelly.

More creepy corridors were discovered - doors with odd runes, opening into passageways with seemingly no purpose; corridors which seemed to be used to steer people down, as one might steer cattle or sheep; altars with dried blood; other detestable spaces. 

Retracing their steps the delvers found a strange passageway with a one-way filmy peephole, in which an occupant could spy into another room. It appeared that the previous denizens had stood in this hallway and watched guests without the others' knowledge. Shivering slightly in repulsion, the group inevitably decided to bunk down for the night. Although creepy, this seemed the safest haven. In this area they found some cultic robes which Heron stuffed into his pack.

During the night, as the others slept, Xechies awoke to see that Heron had donned one of the strange black robes...

Adventure Rewards

162xp for defeating 18 Rats
700xp for defeating Daemon Rat
300xp for defeating Slithering Slime
2845xp for treasure
1000xp for using +2 leather armour
1000xp for using +2 laser dagger
600xp for using axe
300xp for using potion of diminutiveness
400xp for using potion of extra healing
4000xp for using wand
1000xp for using bracelet charm
1800xp for attendance and role-playing

2821xp each

Previous Post - Session #7 The Rats In The Walls

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Review: The Manse on Murder Hill

The Manse on Murder Hill - Joe Johnston // Corey Ryan Walden
Author: Joe Johnston 
Price: $1.99 (RPGNOW)
Format: PDF
Page count: 50
System: Taskboy Games (Labyrinth Lord)

Year: 2015

In an ideal world I would have published this review some time ago. Due to various intruding responsibilities I have literally pried the time from the clutches of the space/time continuum, and just generally said "damn you" to my generally incessant manic life.  +Joe Johnston messaged me on G+ and said: "I would like to send you a PDF copy of Manse on Murder Hill" Well, who am I to argue with him? Of course I said yes! The progeny of that encounter is the very review you now read.

The Manse on Murder Hill is a Labyrinth Lord adventure for levels 1-3. The adventure states 6-10 players can run through this adventure (big group!). The background of this module revolves around the town of Little Flanders - and pertains to a mansion atop Fairview Hill. 15 years ago a whole bunch of nasty stuff happened within the mansion, and the townsfolk have avoided speaking of the manse since. Recently children have gone missing, and the small village has begged the PCs to provide some aid - offering reward of course. 

Like Johnston's other adventures, the premise is laid out clearly and simply. For anyone seeking a quick adventure, and not have to worry about plots within plots, within sub-plots this is a useful convention, and I again laud Johnston for his clarity.

The Good
Like its recent brother Tranzar's Redoubt, The Manse on Murder Hill is attractively presented. In fact it is a re-presenation of an earlier work of Johnston's - receiving a retroactive polishing. Compared with the original, this is a much-needed improvement, and thematically it looks very elegant alongside Tranzar's. The illustrations are very reminiscent of a TSR module but not in a kitsch way. The cartography is clean and clear. My favourite "artistic" piece within the module however, had to be the Appendix E: Little Flanders map. It reminds me of the tiles in the game Carcassonne. The booklet also comes with five player handouts, dovetailing with the narrative of the module - a bounty notice, three letters and an "arcane scroll".

The various tables within The Manse are interesting. I particularly liked the menu. Rather than the standard fantasy fare of "mead" or "ale", differing descriptions were given, adding a bit of local flavour to the adventure. I do similar things in my own games, so call me biased. A common issue I experience in adventures is determining the level of assistance NPCs are willing to provide adventurers. Luckily Manse details this fairly explicitly with a table dedicated to the amount of clerical aid PCs can likely expect, and the prices associated with this help. I have a sneaking suspicion the illusions table (found within the mansion itself) borrow fairly liberally from Gygax's DMG appendices. I like this touch, and again, in my own adventure writing this is something I have to do. The rooms are almost overflowing with monsters, but the odds attributed to the random encounter table took this into account, being balanced and reasonable. 

Another addition I found useful is the inclusion of training opportunities for players. If you're running a game where training is mandatory for levelling (I do), this is a welcome addition. I mean, duh, I could probably work out a few places where would-be levelees can train, but having it mentioned outright is both useful and respectful of this style of play - which is sometimes overlooked in other editions/games.

The intelligent use of monsters was certainly a welcome change from the mindless hoard mentality. The monsters in The Manse are not imbecilic automatons, but actually have a manifesto, and will stick to it. This creates a sense of verisimilitude, and becomes less of a computer game (clear the level), and more of a role-playing game. 

The Manse is an adventure that can be run with minimal prep. Running it on-the-fly might be a stretch - a good read is necessary first - but thereafter you could happily run four sessions at least with virtually no extra work. Overall the feel of the place has throwbacks to the haunted house in U1, and is definitely old school. Some traps were lethal, some illusory, but they were largely well executed (if you will excuse the pun). The odds of locating traps were reasonable, and when saving throws really mattered little bonuses were offered to avoid the most deleterious effects. I imagine these little mechanical tweaks cut down on the party attrition rate. 

Various mundane items within The Manse were novel. One item was a tome whose contents actually had some internal detailing, rather than the usual:

" find a book." 
"Awesome! What does it say?" 

This gives the LL/DM/Ref some good ideas to play with. The adventure concluded with a few further adventure hooks, which I thought was a nice finishing touch.

The Bad
Although I give this work a positive review, and overall I feel like it's a very solid effort, there were a few quibbles. I felt like the latter half of the mansion adventure was far more interesting than the first part. Initially it's a very tropological D&D adventure - small town, evil orcs, goblins and kobolds. If you love this about D&D you're probably prone to enjoy the entirety of the adventure, if not, you may find it a little prosaic. The latter part really shone in my opinion, and it seemed very much like an adventure site of two halves. 

One part of the text discusses pre-generated characters appearing in the index (pg. 5). For the life of me, I could not find these pre-gens! The game also assumes you are using Labyrinth Lord, and apparently omits some monster statistics - referring the reader to the LL rules. This is not really an issue for me, and I'm sure anyone buying this will be capable of converting it to whatever edition they're using, but I thought it worth mentioning in case it's a deal breaker for the reader. Another niggle was the d40 rumour table. I don't own a d40, and it is a little annoying to have to mentally work out how to make one. Fortunately there are instructions on how to use two dice to create a d40, but this is a little clunky. Probably not an issue for many, but it bears mentioning.

This adventure is well stocked, there is nearly something in every room. I like to have sparser dungeons, as I feel they make a bit more ecological sense, but I applaud Johnston's efforts at cramming this place full of baddies. At times however the dungeon ecology felt a little bizarre - undead and some goblinoids in adjacent rooms. Is the locked door really going to keep the undead out, especially if they're ravenous for the taste of flesh? But once again, a stylistic choice rather than any inherent flaw.

Final Thoughts
Should you buy The Manse On Murder Hill? Undoubtedly and unequivocally yes. It is a nice little adventure, self-contained and quaint. It has some delightful trimmings in places, that other authors either overlook or ignore. You can tell a lot of thought has been put into this module, and it is richer because of it. The quibbles I have are very subjective, and are stylistic more than anything. I liked Tranzar's Redoubt for the zany flavour, but I feel like The Manse is probably a more cohesive piece. If I had to choose between the two, and knowing the contents of both, I would probably choose this current work. The price is almost laughably cheap. What have you got to lose besides $1.99?

I really admire Joe's tenacity - this guy is an indie designer in the truest sense of the word. I know he works very hard to make these adventurers. For what is presumably a one-man operation he is doing a fine job indeed! Thanks for another adventure Joe. 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Campaign Journal: AS&SH The Anthropophagi of Xamboola (Session 7)

SPOILER ALERT: This journal is extracted from an unpublished and upcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea adventure I am currently completing. This account eventuates from the playtest. You have been warned!

Visitors to the desert-city of Xamboola beware! Demoniacal cachinnations and dull totemic drumbeats sound nocturnal from the outskirts of the city. Too, vile shrieks echo in response to the nightmarish noises, making even those of heroic aspect shudder in repulsion. Residents do not tarry to lock themselves in their homes at night, for something sinister lingers in the fringes of the black of night. Whisperings and warnings intimate that foreign guests residing at the inn of one Aramis D’athak oft disappear at night, never to be seen or heard from again. Where they disappear is not known, nor do the people of Xamboola speak of the hellish noises that darken their oasis city in the gloom of night.

Session 7: Rats In The Walls

The Party

Sint the Pict Ranger (Level 2)
Heron the Kimmerian Druid (Level 2)
Xechies the Kimmerian Warlock (Level 1)
Grimnear Hothgar the Viking Berserker (Level 2)
Estorane the Ixian Thief (Level 3; Hireling)

Part I: An Infestation Problem

An adventurer's plunder is a worthy hoard, and after selling acquired goods, the companions' pockets jangled heavily. Resting at Saturn's Luck, Sint became enraged when a couple of patrons insisted on drinking well into the night. Frustrated he left, heading for the Slippery Eel. Therein, as usual, the inn was uncannily empty. Follwing discourse with the owner Xill, it was ascertained that a hefty rat infestation was to blame for his problems, which he superstitiously described as a "curse". Agreeing to at least broach the topic with his ass-kicking friends, Sint decided sleeping on the floor of Saturn's Luck wouldn't be so bad after all.

The next morning, at the behest of Sint, the group considered their plans, and decided they could spare the time to investigate the problem for Xill; after all, the cannibal problem wasn't such a problem anymore. It could not be said their motives were entirely altruistic however - Xill promised Sint a handsome reward if their mission was successful. Descent into the basement was the logical starting point, as the horrid scuttling appeared to originate from beneath the floor.

Part II: The Altar of Aurorus

The basement was of thick stone, incongruous with the upper levels of the Eel, and suggestive of archaic undertones. Upon prying through various crates and boxes a group of rats, sized as small dogs or large cats threw themselves on the Xechies. Suffering the sharp teeth of these feral opponents Xechies submitted to unconsciousness - though the party acquired some wealth, and discovered a trapdoor beneath a discoloured flagstone.

Heaving mercilessly against the trapdoor, the heavy rusting finally surrendered, revealing an ominous spiralled staircase descending into the unknown. At the bottom of the staircase a sizeable chamber of antiquated origin opened out widely. A dais with a 12-foot idol was in the northern end, the southern corner had a stairwell slick with urine and faeces, while sagging curtains draped over the north-west, and north-eastern corners of the room. Amidst this were various crates and boxes, which looked ancient, but nowhere as aged as the pre-apocalyptic room.

Again, a myriad of rats surged upon Grimnear as he sifted and kicked through the boxes, and an onslaught began. Finally the vile rats were destroyed, though not without Xechies suffering a festering, swollen wound - the bite of the vermin. Searching the room yielded two secret doors, though it was decided to retreat while fortune smiled. 

Part III: A Demon in a Cage

After some rest and restoration, the group returned and began searching one of the secret chambers discovered on the previous delve. A bed, and a bookshelf were discovered in the north western room. Xechies pocketed a leather-bound tome, while Sint tucked away a cedar box filled with curious vials. Grimnear drew back the curtains flanking the room, when 5 skeletons armed with halberdiers emerged, surprising all. After a furious melee, Estorane lay dead, and the others injured. The skeletons possessed some preternatural ability to stave off damage, and the fight had been traumatic.

Estorane was burnt on a funeral pyre, while the others recovered. Deciding against hiring any additional or immediate help, the group returned again, this time exploring the second hidden room. This contained a rusted-iron cage, though with no door. Inside was a 7 foot skeleton, that could only be described as a demoniac being. A sorcerer's circle was engraved on the floor, and it was decided to leave that be...who knew what devilish sorcery it was? The group slipped out the door, not before Sint pulverised the skeleton into calcified dust.

Descending carefully, down the urine-covered stairwell, the group encountered a dungeon hallway. It was filled with the bones of human-like creatures, largely ape-like in aspect. A surge of rats emerged, though something far more sinister lingered at the back of the dungeon...waiting...

Adventure Rewards

180xp for defeating 20 rats
300xp for defeating 5 skeleton halberdiers
500xp for recovering Kthulhu statue
1250xp for recovering 5x robes
900xp for recovered vials
224xp for recovered treasure
1800xp for attendance and role-playing

831xp each

Previous Post - Session #6 A Cyclopean City

Friday, 5 June 2015

Campaign Journal: The Anthropophagi of Xamboola (Session 6)

SPOILER ALERT: This journal is extracted from an unpublished and upcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea adventure I am currently completing. This account eventuates from the playtest. You have been warned!

Visitors to the desert-city of Xamboola beware! Demoniacal cachinnations and dull totemic drumbeats sound nocturnal from the outskirts of the city. Too, vile shrieks echo in response to the nightmarish noises, making even those of heroic aspect shudder in repulsion. Residents do not tarry to lock themselves in their homes at night, for something sinister lingers in the fringes of the black of night. Whisperings and warnings intimate that foreign guests residing at the inn of one Aramis D’athak oft disappear at night, never to be seen or heard from again. Where they disappear is not known, nor do the people of Xamboola speak of the hellish noises that darken their oasis city in the gloom of night.

Corey Ryan Walden Anthropophagi of Xamboola

Session 6: A Cyclopean City

The Party

Sint the Pict Ranger (Level 2)
Heron the Kimmerian Druid (Level 2)
Xechies the Kimmerian Warlock (Level 1)
Grimnear Hothgar the Viking Berserker (Level 2)
Estorane the Ixian Thief (Level 3; Hireling)
Squire Sharptooth Ixian Cannibal Torchbearer (Hireling)

Part I: Out of the Barge and Into the City

A stygian river flowed past the dead witch's house, and around a cavernous bend. Squire Sharptooth, Grimnear, Xechies and Estorane climbed aboard the witch's barge, while Sint and Heron walked the scoria path instead. Around the bend a dark cyclopean city was beheld. Dismounting the watercraft the adventurers coalesced and began exploring. The city was monolithic. Towers, spires and odd geometry comprised the city, and a greenish-mauve tinge permeated the air perplexingly.

After some exploration a sword, a locket and the huge skull of a one-eyed humanoid was discovered. Additional expedition into the nearby structures detailed the original residents of the city - alien-like entities with star-shaped heads. Though, their disappearance was not recorded on the cartouches left behind in their structures. From within a tower, Grimnear spotted an opening in the sheer cliff face behind the city. 

Part II: Scaling The Cliffs

Undressing his armour, Grimnear's viking physique was tested as he began an ascent of the cliffs, finally reaching the top after a partial fall. Grimnear squatted in the tunnelled opening, hastening to tie a length of rope to the rock so as to relay his friends up to his vantage. Sint's grappling hook was put to good use too, and after an hour or so the company stood within the thin tunnel, bored into the rock. 

It wasn't too difficult to progress down the tunnel, however at various intervals a blank stone wall would impede their progress. Estorane had scant difficulty discovering secret doorways, and thus progress was continual. During one such expedition, an illusory floor gave way to Grimnear and Squire Sharptooth - the pair plummeting into a vast chasm. Sharptooth splattered on the rocks below, though the hardy and barbarous viking miraculously survived. His senses reeling, Grimnear began choking on a noxious fume that emanated from within the chasm - some vile and poisonous fungi. With expeditious wile, Xechies trussed two lengths of rope together, tossing it into the chasm for the Berserker to grasp. Those at the top pulled, and soon Grimnear lay panting atop the chasm, injured and shaken.

An outlet to the tunnel was thereafter discovered, bringing the company into the mirrored room where Moloch had met his doom. After some rest, and the consumption of Heron's goodberries the party began exploring an isle in the cyclopean city with a single domed structure - previously unexplored.

Part III: Galleria of the Ancients

Shoving the door of the domed structure asunder, the company walked into a room filled with serpentine men, cobras and two cannibals. Chaotic melee ensued. Heron became poisoned and paralysed from one of the snake-men's venomous bites, while Xechies managed to put a significant remainder of the enemies to sleep. The berserker, ranger and thief slew the others rapidly. But all concern faded as the company beheld what was contained within the domed room...

A gem, iridescent and magnificent glowed on a pedestal. A wide staircase, some thirty feet across descended into the unknown. The gem, previously considered to be but a fable, was surrounded.
"I'm going to grab it" the viking announced, the glint of goldlust in his eyes.
None tried to prevent him.
Feeling the surreptitious pull of majick, Grimnear frantically tried to will it away. Fortune denied him, and he disappeared from that very spot. 
"Damn it!" said Sint and Xechies in unison.

In the innards of this decadent undercity, Grimnear reappeared. He was in a loathsome room, filled with glass cabinets. Inside the cabinets were various horrors: otherworldly creatures, and animals, mummified and preserved. Some were wrapped in bandages, others petrified and on display, lewd and blaspheming nature itself. Antediluvian curses and incantations were inscribed on papyrus parchments, likewise entombed within the cases. High above Grimnears head, a single circular exit was evident, though with no hope of exit, Grimnear waited. Not a minute had passed, before his only hope of escape closed, entombing him with these incomprehensible horrors!

The remainder saw no other option but to descend the staircase in search of their friend. Xechies, Sint and Estorane hurriedly descended the stairs in the domed room, searching for their friend. The staircase terminated in a prodigious room, of startling dimension. The walls were blue, with various frescoes. In the middle of the room was a fountain, atop which a lone statue - a one-eyed man - was perched. Three doors indicated exit from this chamber. The companions chose the first on the left. A hallway departed into two chambers. The first appeared to be quarters of some priestly acolytes, while the latter was surely the province of some long-dead high priest, as vile acts were recorded on the wall, lauding the priest's dedication to whatever faith was practiced. It was shudderingly repulsive.

Two secret doorways were discovered within. One, a niche holding a black stone (which Xechies immediately pocketed), the other, a claustrophobic passageway. Continuing into the bowels of this labyrinthine complex, a room appeared. The room contained a single bed, and a bureau. Lying, and appearing asleep on the bed, was a magus. Curiously a layer of dust had settled on his forehead in the time he slept. The companions snuck through the room, in an attempt not to wake him.

Without, a passageway curved like a sickle, though branched. One passageway was left unexplored, while the other was pursued. It led to a sheer staircase descending to a circular lid. Around the staircase loomed a bottomless gulf. Any false move would result in instant death. With much trepidation the descend was initiated.

Inside his prison Grimnear could feel his breath becoming short, and his grasp on reality fading. He envisioned hellish scapes, plains of fire, and wicked demons with curved swords. He felt the very floor beneath him begin to shift, and he lunged onto the top of a cabinet, as the floor dropped into the bottomless gulf. Above he heard scratching, as though someone or something was attempting to enter the circular iron lid above.
"Arrrrrrrghhhhhhhh!!!" the berserker screamed. This situation had become too much for him, and he felt his sanity begin to expire, amidst the abominations that surrounded him.

After much toil, the lid was destroyed form above, and Grimnear was hauled out. Though he strangely did not seem himself...

Adventure Rewards

172xp for defeating four cobras
428xp for defeating four snake-men
48xp for defeating two cannibals
30xp for finding locket
300xp for finding black stone
600xp for finding two-handed sword +1
1800xp for attendance and role-playing

676xp each

Previous Post - Session #5 A Goddess In The Undergloom

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko: A City Adventure Supplement For Labyrinth Lord

Author: Chris Kutalik
Price: Unreleased

Format: PDF/Print

Page count: 69
System: Hydra Cooperative (Labyrinth Lord)
Year: 2015

NOTE: This review is based upon a pre-release PDF copy Chris sent me. It is without the maps, and I imagine is still subject to some change. 

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko - Chris Kutalik Review Corey Ryan Walden

With vibrancy, imagination and healthy dose of all things phantasmagorical, Chris Kutalik presents Fever-Dreaming Marlinko. Marlinko takes the idea of a traditional city-setting to pseudo-psychedlic realms, while maintaining the common sense and cognition of a living, breathing city.

Having reviewed Slumbering Ursine Dunes only recently, +Chris Kutalik's work has been fresh on my mind of late. And as I mentioned in the SUD review, I really do feel like he brings something pretty unique to the collective OSR feasting hall.

Like its predecessor, prior to reading a single word of Fever-Dreaming Marlinko I knew I needed it. The cover artwork had me wishing I was the one publishing a work with such a poignant cover. It reminds me of a pocket plane where myriad portions of the world's cultures have been vomited into one hazy, kaleidoscopic, psychotropic medley. The flamboyant purloiner bedecked in Shakespearean attire, with one hand grasping voraciously for whatever he can steal, while his fat conniving master 'welcomes' a newbie to Marlinko is perfect. The one-eyed, mutilated, hooded man who has just happened to squeeze his head into the picture reminds me of some sort of medieval photo-bomb: "Aha!" he exclaims, "Here I am! In your picture!" The moustachioed and mohawked gentleman is probably the city's high-priest of the Sun Lord who was just wanting a "nice picture for the Marlinko newsletter, before this goober got in my way."

 Okay...I'm getting a bit carried away here...

Beyond the cover, things continue to provoke one's imagination and shake off the cobwebs of lethargy. The city supplement begins with a tale of one seeking knowledge at the  "Serene Guild of Seers, Augurs, Runescasters and Wainwrights", a guild who, as the tale progresses, appear to be the real-deal albeit prone to rites of asterism, spectacle and a good dash of charlatanism. I found this tale easier to follow than the Slumbering Ursine Dunes equivalent, and like Kutalik's usual tales, this one had me snorting with amusement. It's the sort of thing I inflict on my players as tomfoolery and exaggeration make the best stories. 

Marlinko, a city of 7000 souls, is divided into four quarters or 'contradas', all with their own unique systems of beliefs, mythologies and symbolisms. One event certain to bring the otherwise disparate quarters together is "The Black Race" an annual chariot race of convicts. All four quarters are described within the supplement, and honestly, there is some really useful stuff here. Think of Gary's harlot table, or the more eccentric elements of the AD&D DMG and you're on the right track. It's kind of like a city version of Hommlet but if Gary had been chowing on magic mushies. This particular gem had me literally aghast, before succumbing to an elongated period of laughter...

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko - Chris Kutalik Review Corey Ryan Walden

...and let's be honest: as soon as I read the word "Bathhouses" I knew where this thing was headed.

Alongside the lewd and camp, are some interesting NPCs with varying agendas. Often the random encounters are meaningful, with real consequences should certain people or creatures become affronted or killed. This inclusion should make any party consider their actions, before destroying the 'random encounter' in a blaze of self-righteous murderhoboism - as my players are prone to doing. This is a city where you should probably behave - and indeed it plays out more like an "adventure" than a featureless respite from adventure. In other words, it's a continuation of whatever adventure the party is already engaged with. This is my preference with a town or setting of any description, it should be memorable and actions should mean something.

Important NPCs are described, usually accompanied by an illustration, while a hearty rumour table is provided.

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko - Chris Kutalik Review Corey Ryan Walden

There are two main adventure sites within this supplement: "Lady Szara's Town Manse" and "Catacombs of the Church of the Blood Jesus". Both provide a good source of adventure, and of course the Labyrinth Lord/DM can inject their own adventures within this setting too. Deities and religious organisations are described herein, as is "Crime and Punishment", reminiscent somewhat of the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets, though with less complexity involved. An assortment of hooks and further adventure ideas are presented, and finally like Slumbering Ursine Dunes, the Chaos Index is featured. The Chaos Index is basically a cumulative eco-ambience that is effected by party actions and events - used for generating "the ebb and the flow of the Weird".

There is a tidy guide to buying and selling within Marlinko, which includes animals, mundane items, hired help, special drinks, or eliciting the services of spell casters. Speaking of hiring people, there is an excellent mechanic - modified depending on how a party treats their hirelings. Parties who mistreat or abuse those they hire can expect a bad reputation or a shakedown by a "Wobby Giant"! This system, in my opinion, is much more logical than the redshirt mentality sometimes accompanying hirelings*. 

And what city supplement would be complete without a bit of carousing? Luckily Fever-Dreaming Marlinko provides options for all types of revelry, though there can be some very dire consequence when "Losing Your Shit" occurs. "Losing Your Shit" is a clever mechanic that may be used after a night of debauchery. A saving throw is required lest some deleterious event occur - and oh boy, will they occur. Party with caution!

Finally, included within the Fever-Dreaming Marlinko appendix is a Bestiary, a "Tiger Wresting Mini-game", two new classes, common names within Marlinko, and a pronunciation guide.

Final Thoughts
If a wealthy NPC owning an "all-weather tiger pit" appeals to you, and you generally like your games to be loud and chaotic, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko is a must-have. Compelling city supplements are rare like mind flayer's teeth. They're either mundane, or overly lurid in execution - filling the same genre-weary bucket that inevitably gets tossed overboard (I'm looking at you Pathfinder) - or they're just not pragmatic for actual use. 

Fever-Dreaming Marlinko is a very refined piece of Kutalik's, maintaining a level of sophistication and polish that the earlier works lacked. My usual caveat of "it was good, but sometimes hard to digest" need not apply here. Even the Labyrinth Lord/DM possessing no desire to run a game in Marlinko specifically, will unearth ample ideas portable to any town or city. I found it immediately useful. Frequently a published setting holds little interest for me. I typically feel I can do better. In this case however, a full blown Marlinko adventure is concretely appealing. This supplement is a commendable departure from the typical fantasy-city I find so mind-numbingly boring.

My pre-release copy does not have the final maps, though seeing +Luka Rejec's previews, I imagine we're in for a treat. It is preemptive and unsubstantiated to suggest Marlinko will receive the acclaim Vornheim did, though I will confidently say it should at least be a contender. Yes, I found Fever-Dreaming Marlinko to be that interesting. I'm dying for a hardcopy. 

For those of you frowning at your screen, distasteful for my apparent subjectivity I will say this: put simply I enjoyed it immensely, and would certainly recommend it. 

*By that I mean, a hireling should be more than a redshirt or a disposable no-one to be mistreated or abused by the PCs. Well I guess they can be, but like any action, there should be consequences.