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.

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