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Strange Stars
by James S. I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/18/2021 10:01:39

It is a a pretty good setting. Hard Transhumanist Space Opera with a Barbarella or Star Crash vibe. There is no FTL other than Hyperspace Gates (which I love). There are no gaming rules so you can adapt it to any setting. I own the OSR and Fate versions. I would love to see a version for D&D 5e. That would be awesome.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars
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Prison of the Hated Pretender
by Kenneth C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/21/2021 09:22:21

Love this module. One of the better "teaching module" for old style play - small, and has lessons for players & referees alike

https://wanderingwombat.home.blog/2021/07/21/prison-of-the-hated-pretender/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Prison of the Hated Pretender
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Prison of the Hated Pretender
by Christopher W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2021 20:23:18

This is a great little adventure. In addition to this, it is a great introductory adventure both for new players and new GMs. I really wish there were more of this kind of thing with solid GM advice for running old school games. I have been running games in a variety of sytems for a year now, and the broad strokes of the guidance are things with which I'm already familiar. Even so, Gus L's advice improved my understanding of a few nuances. I would love to see similar adventures introducing important ideas behind other elements of play, such as hex crawls, developing a home base, or a setting. Presenting the guidance as sidebars to aid in running the specific adventure provides a more immediate feedback loop compared to reading a variety of essays published in blog posts and trying to apply that to unrelated adventures which may or may not be designed in a way to support the advice. I love this. Great job!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever-Dreaming Marlinko
by Rowan W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/16/2020 16:04:42

Best weird fantasy module I've seen. Not for kids.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever-Dreaming Marlinko
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Strange Stars
by Gus L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/10/2020 11:26:40

Causey is one of the best stylists to come out of the mid-aughts blog scene, though he seems underappricated for his considerable contributions, and Strange Stars is full of style. Like most of Causey's works (Weird Adventures comes to mind) this is a setting, sadly systemless, that takes an underutilized fictional genre, here dayglo post-human pop space opera, and offers a unique appraoch to it. The art and layout are top notch and polished, while the content is wonderful background and inspiration for any space opera game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Stars
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Prison of the Hated Pretender
by W. B. M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/30/2020 20:58:44

Hydra Co-op raises another head! 'Prison of the Hated Pretender' is a small and complex adventure location which is now mated with new supplimental material, commentary, additional art, 5e conversion stats, and a couple useful versions of updated maps.

What you are getting here is a well-made and well-reguarded "intro" or "teaching" adventure from the 2010's D&D revival blog scene, converted and expanded into a 20 page 'zine suppliment that wants to help you run and play fun games set in a wierd, sad and dangerous place. It is worth your consideration and your bucks.

You can read a review of the origional here: https://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/?p=1254



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Prison of the Hated Pretender
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Prison of the Hated Pretender
by Ava I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/30/2020 11:59:09

This adventure has been a classic intro adventure in the online RPG sphere for years, and for good reason. The adventure itself is well-structured, imaginative, and gets right to the point, and now comes packaged with oodles of Gus' inimitable wisdom. Definitely check it out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Prison of the Hated Pretender
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/27/2020 15:33:34

A solid introductory adventure for the OSR/retro RPG style of play, usable for DMs of all skill level. Highly recommended!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lorn Song of the Bachelor
by Gus L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/27/2020 07:40:42

I ran Lorn Song of the Bachelor a while ago and it's a wonderful adventure. A living regional sandbox, A mythic journey into the psyche of a demigod, a mystery and a jungle adventure that manages to avoid the typical supported by art and writing that work well together and offer up the sense of an actual place. Simple to run, evocative, well paced and a foray into the unusual both grounded and coherent.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lorn Song of the Bachelor
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Lorn Song of the Bachelor
by Thalib N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/22/2020 09:42:04

This was a pleasure to run at my game! The adventures is evocative and feels cohesive. The best part of this book is how to-the-point it is as the descriptions and formatting give you just enough information to run with it. I'd argue you can even run this adventure without having to read the whole book ahead. The only page flipping one might need to do is to get to the bestiary, which is tied to some of the random encounter tables.

Overall, I had a lot of fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ultraviolet Grasslands - Free Introduction
by Fox C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/03/2020 16:06:26

There is good reason UVG has won awards. The book just oozes style that is hard to find in the 3rd party RPG market. Get the full copy!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Ultraviolet Grasslands - Free Introduction
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The Dungeon Dozen
by George M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/21/2020 18:45:20

It's very OSR in a gonzo sort of way, but the ideas and inspiration flow fast and strong. Highly reccomended for most any underground fantasy venue- it will keep your players on their toes.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Dungeon Dozen
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Azurth Adventures Digest Issue 1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/02/2019 09:36:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first (and so far, alas, only) installment of this ‘zine depicting the lands of Azurth, a hilarious take on fantasy as seen through the lens of old-time Loony Toons/Tex Avery clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 30 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

We begin this ‘zine with an introduction by the commodore Cogburn Steamalong, a navy captain who also happens to be a steam construct, and who proceeds to present comments on the material provided within. This character is also fully statted with a proper statblock; that being said, the HDs are missing from the write-up, and the Perception values are incorrect. This, unfortunately, is bound to be symptomatic for the remainder of the ‘zine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: The pdf begins play with 4 different islands, the Motley Isles, and the brief gazetteer is actually really nice and playful, and the whole section is supplemented by a new creature, the dread Frogacuda! This statblock is mechanically the best thing in the ‘zine – it’s a solid write-up and gets all the math right. It also fits in well with a region that has a settlement governed essentially by ritualistically consulting a magic eightball. In these instances, the supplement feels very much like someone had made a Monkey Island/D&D-crossover. A fluff-only pirate generator is also included – 24 names, 24 occupations, 12 notable traits and 12 trinkets act as a solid little supplement. A pirate captain generator with 12 names, 12 ship-names, 12 instances of stuff the captain is known for and 12 pieces of exotic beauty makes for the second generator.

The pdf also includes notes on the homelands of frogfolk (here called “frox”), the chain of fools (An archipelago where you don’t want to tread), a massive mechanical fish. Weird indigenous bird-people “amazons” (well, kind of…) in service to a male priest caste may be found, and the pdf contains 10 smaller entries as well – it should be noted that both Motley Isles and the Candy Isle, which acts as a module of sorts, come with nice full-color artworks. There are no keyless, player-friendly versions included.

The following discussion of the Candy Isle does contain a few minor SPOILERS. Potential players may want to jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? So, the Confection Perfection is basically a divine pastry, and it acts as a linchpin for the angle to explore the location – the Candy Isle! This region, including all of its inhabitants, is made of sweets. The indigenous gummy people (shown on the cover) are an interesting angle, and we do get top-down AND side-view map versions of their temple – once more without a player-friendly version. The mini-module does not have read-aloud text, but does note random encounters. The general presentation is nice, though the set-up would have benefited from a bit more space. And yes, they do want to sacrifice the PCs on their chocolate-y altar. /SPOILERS

That being said, the module also exemplifies well a misconception that is common for designers coming from old-school games to 5e, namely that an abbreviated statblock suffices. They do not, and I don’t get why this booklet doesn’t provide properly presented and laid out crunch when it has proven that it well can. To give you an example, you can read the following: “Melee brittle candy spear (+3, 1d6+1/1d8+1 piercing), Ranged (+3 1d6+1); S +1, D +0, C +1, I -1, W +0, Ch -1;“ You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that the ability scores are missing, and that statblock formatting is not even close to acceptable. There also are errors in these shortened statblocks, and this puzzling inconsistence annoyingly also applies to two sample NPCs, who also get the formatting of features wrong – when the very same booklet offers two instances where they’re correct. I don’t get it. At all. And yes, these NPCs also have more relevant errors in their stats.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, there are a lot of glitches herein – much more than in Mortzengersturm. Formatting, as noted, often needlessly diverges from established 5e-standards. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard that is mostly b/w, but uses full-color for boxes, maps, etc. – this is a surprisingly nice-looking book, courtesy of Jeff Call’s neat artwork. The cartography by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis is also nice and full-color, though the lack of player-friendly versions is a bummer. I do not own the print version, so I can’t comment on it. The pdf lacks any type of bookmark, making navigation an unnecessary hassle.

Trey Causey can do better. This digest, alas, while amazing and funny regarding its ideas and creativity, is mired with an unfortunate amount of errors in the rules, non-standard rules-syntax and things that Mortzengersturm did better. I want to like Azurth as a setting, and I genuinely do and want to see more, but this digest, alas, remains a flawed supplement. Add to that the lack of bookmarks, and we have a bit of an issue on our hands. And I really wish this wasn’t the case.

The supplement perfectly shows that it can get 5e right, only to then shrug and fiddle those inconsistent half statblocks together, to botch math etc. Much like the candy theme, this started with a smile, and then proceeded to develop into a moderate tummy-ache for me. That being said, this is still an inexpensive supplement with great ideas – I just wished their implementation had been better. My final verdict, alas, can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Azurth Adventures Digest Issue 1
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Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/31/2019 06:55:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look

So, did the cover remind you of old Tex Avery cartoons or old-school loony toons that were fun and not necessarily politically correct? Well, then you’ve nailed the aesthetics of this adventure. The art by Jeff Call is nigh perfect for the novel and interesting take herein that consciously draws upon quite a few nostalgic components – Mortzengersturm does look a bit like a lion king-usurper planning on establishing a 1000-year reich of hyena. (As an aside – the Icelandic version of “Be prepared” does indeed quote a 1000-year reich, so I’m not drawing this comparison out of my own behind.)

The prismatic peak mentioned in the title is btw. a n oblique, massive prism, with the fortress on top. Nominally intended for 3rd level characters, the adventure is on the easier side, provided the PCs don’t try to murder-hobo everything. The module can result in PCs dying, but as a whole, it is not too tough.

Beyond being often genuinely FUNNY and quirky, the module does another aspect of module design that we only rarely get to see – it presents a pretty well-wrought linear railroad. This module is not about emergent gameplay, instead opting more for a type of fun ride. This is also enforced by Mortzengersturm providing basically a kind of guided tour that is represented as a kind of unique boardgame-like alternate map. I liked this as a notion.

Formally, the module sports a few instances of read-aloud text for singalong and to help the GM get an inkling of how Mortzengersturm acts, of his colossal ego, but as a whole, the module requires that the Gm conveys the quirky and funny aspects of this adventure properly. The module has quite a lot of blank space available to the on each page, as it adheres to a one-column standard; however, the module uses this room wisely, providing short-hand abbreviated statblocks, brief dressing tables and the like. Much to my pleasant surprise, the module gets one thing right that many OSR publishers designing for 5e botch – the full and proper stats (for saves, etc.) are presented in the back of the module, providing the useful abbreviated stats where required in the module, while also sporting the full stats, should you require them. I like this. Considering this, it’s kinda puzzling that not all of the relevant stats are presented in their full array.

There is another aspect that the module gets formally right in a pretty nice manner, only to fall slightly short of excellence – that would pertain the 8 pregens. The pregens are conceptually awesome. There is an asterian (Jetson-like robot lady) monk; a frogling, a dwarf called “Minmaximus” (you see, dwarves are pretty feeble in the setting) etc. – all come with their own artworks and are genuinely cool. Features have their names bolded, but not italicized; spells are erroneously bolded; and worse, we don’t get proper ability scores, just the modifiers noted. The pregens are great for convention play and do their job for a oneshot, but considering how unique their angles are, I found myself somewhat dissatisfied by their rudimentary depiction. Reading that roguish archetype for a character would be player’s choice, but should be one that grants spellcasting also irked me – it defeats the purpose of pregens to, you know, think about how to build your PC. I did notice a couple of instances where the rules of the statblocks may or may not be correct, as with what’s here, it’s impossible to adequately reverse-engineer the material reliably.

It should be noted that the module does contain a brief sneak-peak of Yanth country, a unique region in the realms of Azurth. As noted before, this is a fun-house-like ride, and as such, the module makes no qualms about its primary hook, getting the Whim-Wham stone, being a pretense – alternative hooks are also provided, but ultimately, this module is all about meeting an oh-so-civilized and only slightly cannibalistic wizard-turned-manticore.

From here on out, the SPOILERS will reign. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great, so the PCs ascend the peak via the surprisingly fast Snailevator. Parrot-faced hippogriffs and a patented evil-guy-screen guard the entrance, faced by sunflowers with unblinking eyes inside – eye-rises, one of Mortzengersturm’s creations. Goblin cooks and magical food ingredients/spices (such as slow thyme, which can, you know, slow targets…) may be found as well – the goblins being blue, as Mortzengersturm has modified their goblin smile vats. (As an aside – the artwork is just adorable, and goblins herein are played for laughs in a pretty cool way!) I mentioned that this is funny – and this extends to the hippogriffs: You see, at one point, the PCs can save a horse from being eaten by them, but said being is actually a dwarf polymorphed into horse form.

At the end of Mortzengersturm’s self-indulgent tour of his genius, of boasting and self-aggrandizement, he’ll inevitably attempt to dump the PCs in a pit where failed experiments await – the monsters faced here are actually menchanically-interesting. From the gruebird to a naga/clown-crossover (the Mocka), the module sports quite a lot of delightful monsters.

A boogeyman may be encountered, and there is a former Chantreuse, now washed up and turned vampire who may come originally from our world. And yeah, treating her with respect is a very smart idea . Did I mention the Spider from nowhere, who can only spell his words? Well, there are a ton of such creative NPCs herein. This is chock-full with great ideas and genuinely amusing and novel ideas, presenting a type of fantasy I haven’t seen before.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – for the most part, the module does a good job regarding both, but it also sports a few instances where it blunders in the details. If you don’t mind minor hiccups, you’ll have no trouble using this module. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with the original artwork lending a great and unique visual style to the module. I can’t comment on the print version, as I do not own it. The pdf, in a totally jarring decision, lacks bookmarks, making navigation a pretty big pain. I strongly suggest printing this when running it.

Trey Causey’s first trip to Azurth is a module I’d love to recommend more unanimously that I ultimately can. I absolutely adore the Tex Avery/loony toons-angle regarding aesthetics, and this is a genuinely funny adventure with a unique villain that could come straight out of a classic cartoon. The unique monsters and cool locations are like a highlight reel, and from vaults to NPCs, this is brimming with passion and cool ideas – to the degree where the adventure actually makes a linear module work.

That being said, there are a few rough patches in the pregens, there are no player-friendly versions of the maps, and there are no bookmarks for the electronic version. All in all, these factors conspire to make it impossible for me to rate this as highly as I’d like to, and thus, I can’t go higher than 4 stars. However, for presenting a novel and indeed, inspired type of fantasy, this does get my seal of approval in spite of its shortcomings.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mortzengersturm, The Mad Manticore of the Prismatic Peak
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What Ho, Frog Demons
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/06/2019 08:08:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth Hill Cantons book clocks in at a massive 112 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 106 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair review. My review is primarily based on the print version, to be precise, on the full-color version. That POD-version has one full-color artwork inside, but uses a better quality of paper, so personally, I’d recommend paying the extra buck for the better quality paper. Unlike previous Hill Cantons-books, this one does have proper bookmarks, making navigation of the pdf version, which I also consulted, painless and simple.

Now, if you’ve been following my reviews of the Hill Cantons books, you’ll know that I am a fan of these strange books; if you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know that the previous releases include the wilderness area of the Slumbering Ursine Dunes, the city-supplement Fever-Dreaming Marlinko and the Misty Isles of the Eld.

Rules-wise, this employs the Labyrinth Lord rules, which means use with B/X is painless, and conversion to other OSR rules isn’t too difficult either. The overall region depicted is best suited for low to mid-level play, and the two adventure-locations included are designated for 4 – 7 characters level 2 – 4. It should be noted that one of these locations is much more dangerous than the other; indeed, the fully-fleshed out locations can be rather deadly and will probably serve to challenge higher level parties as well with minimal fuss.

This book, then presents the hexcrawl umbrella-setting that includes all of these previously-released locations and more, contextualizing them in the greater canton; there is no content overlap with these previous releases.

I’d be somewhat hard-pressed to find a common theme between the Hill Cantons books released so far; while Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Misty Isles of the Eld both feature a somewhat psychedelic metal aesthetic with some surreal components and pretty subdued pop culture references, Marlinko as a city and its content was more gonzo and tongue-in-cheek. This book, then, is closest to Fever-Dreaming Marlinko in theme, in that is it stuffed to the brim with nerd-culture references, particularly regarding the (OSR-)roleplaying scene, and can be designated as capital letters GONZO.

This book does not necessarily take itself all too seriously, and as such, whether this hits the spot for you, humor-wise, will determine significantly how much you enjoy this. It should be noted that the book does include profanity, so if you’re sensitive to the like or easily offended, you will have chances to take umbrage here.

It should be noted that the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. . Only referees around? Great!

All right, before we get into the nit and grit of the material herein, it should be noted that the book contains a “bucolic village generator”, which includes a name-generator (including inappropriate monikers), strange villager quirks. These are…well…quirky. To give you an example from the table:

“Sad-faced men and bright-cheeked wives paint bluebirds and vampires and pig designs on sandals. Every sunset and every sunrise the men are strapped to holy cows and spanked with the sandals. The villagers are adamant that this keeps the vampire pigs away.” If this made you smile, then chances are that this has quite a lot to offer. The generator also includes d8 rustic and strange characters, 20 misadventures to have around the canton villages and even a proper carousing table.

The book also contains a bestiary section, which features the alkonost, a giant bird with a long neck and the head of a woman, and an entrancing and dangerous song that makes the listener forget progressively more of their own being. The bukavac is a pretty hilarious (and deadly) predator: The hexapod attacks in a unique manner. To quote the book: “The bukavac attacks by jumping above its chosen target and, bizarrely hanging in midair, pounding them to a pulp with its six feet. The resulting red ruin is then scooped up by its long tongue. This jump is invariably accompanied by the joyous hell-scream of “BWAAAAHHH!” – theoretically charming, if it were not for the carnage that near-invariably follows.” In case you haven’t noticed: Yes, this book is suffused with a lush and precise prose that often manages to blend the creative with the hilarious. Few books over the years have entertained me to this extent. The book also provdes stats for the dwarf-hobbit crossbreed Kudůki, characterized by extreme identity-confusion. Robo-dwarves and vodnik alongside wereworms (with a nightmare-fuel artwork) may be food, and of course, there are frog-demons to be found. Quite a few of them, actually. (As an aside: There will be a stand-alone supplemental Frog Demon generator at one point, but so far, the hydras haven’t finished it.)

And then there would be the deodands. As a fan of Vance’s writing, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hydras managed to score the rights for the inclusion of this cult critter. But they are indeed played for laughs, and in a way that may break the immersion of some folks. There is, for example, a purple-skinned variant, the zeodand, that targets folks with sophistry and useless arguments. Oh, and the main lure of deodands? They try to lure in folks with time-share offers. No, I am not kidding.

See, and this is, kinda, where the book loses me. I’m not embroiled within the politics and bickering that one can see in the roleplaying game scene, at least not to the extent that others are. And still, I found a metric ton of wink-wink-nudge-nudge “eastereggs” – of course, there is the Staff of the Ragygi as a treasure. It can, oddly, be used to backstab, and lets the wielder cast Nystul’s Magical Kickstarter, which works as Magic Aura. …if you didn’t get why this somewhat annoyed me, you have more of a life outside of RPGs than I do. ;P Kidding aside, there are a TON of those wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments; more so than even in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, and here, they somewhat…bothered me. Unlike in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, there is no dungeon made on a weird character’s concept from the Hill Cantons campaign. (Though there are plenty of notes how stuff from that game worked out – this time around, I considered these tidbits to be inspiring!) Instead, we have a ton of such meta-jokes.

The per se challenging Frog Demon Temple, for example, has a sidebar that displays “D10bestsellers of Hot Hell” that includes “Three Word Title: A Guide to the Naming of Products Auteur and Ludic” or “The Iron Doom Crawling Red Monolith of the Cursed Pod-God Maze.” Did these make me chuckle? Yes. Yes they did. Heck, we even get an artwork of the cover of “Applied Hedonics”, which made me grin indeed. None of these meta-jokes are bad; they’re genuinely funny. There simply are…so…many…of them, that it started to break my immersion. Seeing an illustrated frog demon idol that looks like Kermit? AWESOME. Aforementioned jabs and meta-jokes? Cool. But their accumulation can start to wear on you.

This is purely my personal opinion, but I think the Hill Cantons are better when their humor is less in your face; it’s the contrast between the regularly fantastic and the gonzo strangeness that makes them work; for me, Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Misty Isles of the Eld hit a better balance there. This, however, is, and let me emphasize that, HIGHLY subjective. It may also be a genre thing – I tend to mind such references less in scifi or space opera games than in fantasy. So no, this will not negatively influence the final verdict, but for once, I found myself wishing I got less of the allusions and references herein.

Now, I briefly mentioned that the book does mention in a few places how it worked in the original Hill Cantons game: One such example would be Bad Rajetz, a settlement known for the production of fetish-wear, which, alongside the condo-reference, was the second jarring anachronism that I really didn’t like. (And I’ve been practicing BDSM for the better part of my adult life) – it just comes out of nowhere. The notes here state that the factions in the original game had a 4-way Red Nails-ish standoff, which frankly made me want to see that adventure, that context. Instead, I got a throwaway anachronism-oh-so-quirky line.

On the huge plus-side of things, there is a ton to be loved herein as well: We have an inconvenient, but immaculately-constructed highway fashioned by Hyperboreans; we have strange signposts that are rumored (accurately, as it turns out!) to be cursed. We have some of the best rumor-sections I have read in any book – false components are italicized for your convenience, and most rumors are actually pretty damn creative and oftentimes funny adventure hooks that tie in with the other Hill Canton books. Such references are clearly and precisely noted, which brings me to the component of usability – this book is extremely well-crafted in that context. You won’t need to do a lot of flipping back and forth, with stats noted where required, important information highlighted by being bolded, clever use of italics, etc. As one minor formal complaint, three “see p. XX”-remnants have remained within the book.

The book, somewhat like Marlinko, also features an array of truly intriguing encounters, both for the individual locales and for the cantons in general. From the war-bear PREVED! (who likes to intrude upon humans in certain circumstances, yelling at the top of his lungs) to the daughter of freakishly honest and racist Fraza, the characters succeed at the great tightrope act of being both intriguing and amusing. A lady with a hierarchy of husbands who then ritually consume the least favored husband, strange trees, the horned oracle “Ozbej the Gighacksian” (yep, another wink-wink-nudge-nudge-moment), talking badgers, a context for the FREE “Tree Maze of the Twisted Druid” and more may be found. It is impossible to even touch upon all the components herein without bloating this review beyond any usefulness.

So, let us talk about the adventure sites: The Frog Demon Temple is a straight-forward dungeon-crawl, and I’ve touched upon some of its peculiarities before; it is intended to be deadly; the PCs may or may not take a brief trip to a salon where frog demons lounge in the Hot Hells and, in a cool angle, finding one of the primary hooks for the dungeon exploration is actually pretty difficult.

The second fully-fleshed out scenario would be more unique – it is a genuine horror-satire, and it WORKS. It lampoons its genre just enough, stays serious and dangerous just enough, to be one of the precious few instances where a satire adventure actually is properly playable, fun to play, funny, and challenging. You see, Ritek, son of Ritek, doesn’t have an easy life. Being secretly an evil priest is hard, particularly when your second half is also…evil. The constant complaints about a lack of social advancement, about sufficient self-case, etc. made him snap one day. ““Did you remember to send the gilt-and-gore-edged invitations to the latest moonlight coven coffee and cake soirée to the Lumpeks, the Neprespans, and those neophyte Novaks?” In a midlife crisis moment of rage, Ritek slew his wife Maliska, buried her, and inadvertently created a funnel for a demonic spirit to inhabit a beet, which then proceeded to grow to monstrous proportions. When the village foreman attempted to…ähem…do things with the beet, he became BEETNIK ZERO!

And thus, we have a beet spawn epidemic that will slowly consume…not much, beyond a few backwater villages and folks. The folks in the hill cantons are incompetent, but not THAT incompetent. The bumbling evildoer’s wife is now a harmless ghost and tries to pin the infection on Ritek, while the demonic beet seeks to spread its influence! Today, the sty, tomorrow the world! The book presents an index that allows for the simple tracking of how far the beet infection/cult has spread, and the fields of the hamlet Ctyri Ctvrt is depicted in a modular point crawl, which allows you t use it an infection index 0 (boring hamlet mode) and at higher infection levels. There is, much to my groaning, an Onionator to be encountered. (This, once more is something that, while kinda funny, I could live without. This is just “lol, oh so random” – it’s trying too hard.) On the plus-side, even though the book does make fun of the notion, there is a sidebar that proposes 5 “Jane Austen – unglamorous backwater edition”-style sidequests I found hilarious and fun it their relatable pettiness.

The PCs can witness a ginormous Beaver that is regularly renewed by beavers, tuber-beetles and cows as a result of the infection, and obviously, time is of the essence. Beyond the general environment, the more detailed aspects of this part of the book are fully mapped as well, making this one of the precious few genuinely awesome and replayable funny adventures I’ve read over the year. And yes, it can be played as creepy. In fact, I’d recommend in favor of playing this with a straight face – makes for a great contrast to the outrageous and gonzo angle.

As a whole, I consider both detailed locations to be resounding successes, which continues the trend started in Misty Isles of the Eld, where the individual adventure locations started to become as awesome as the general setting/world/wilderness.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, with only very few typo/oversight-level snafus. On a rules-language level, the book is precise and well-wrought. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard without much frills, and the book has A LOT of awesome, original b/w-artworks. The cartography in b/w is similarly great, but much to my chagrin, we do not get player-friendly, unlabeled versions to print out or use in conjunction with VTTs. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked (FINALLY!), and the perfect bound softcover features the title on the spine. On my copy, a bit of the color bled to the spine, but that’s just cosmetic.

Chris Kutalik has a thoroughly unique voice, and Luka Rejec (also responsible for the artworks) makes for a great co-author. This book, as a kind of encompassing regional source/adventure-book, had a tougher job than the previous Hill Canton books, and as such, it is fascinating to note how good it is. Extremely usable, this DRIPS ideas on every page, with easily half a year worth of surreal and fantastic gaming, at the very least, that can be wrung from its pages.

That being said, I am pretty sure that this book will be more divisive than the other Hill Canton books. It is very strongly tongue-in-cheek, and not everybody will consider the sheer sequence and extent of insider-jokes and meta-humor to their liking. Personally, I vastly preferred the Misty Isles of the Eld’s balance there. That being said, humor is very subjective.

As a reviewer, this leaves me with the formal criteria, and frankly, I found myself positively surprised by both adventure locales. The horror-satire module is genius and exceedingly fun and funny; the dungeon-crawl may be the strongest dungeon featured in the whole of the Hill Cantons books so far, provided you can stomach the insider jokes. Still, this is one excellent book, and one that has a voice unlike any other; it attempts a tone we usually do not get to see, and in the instances it succeeds, it does so triumphantly – to the degree where, frankly, I consider this a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018 in spite of its humor not always hitting home for me. It is different, creative and plain fun, and perhaps, just perhaps, the roleplaying games scene needs more books like this; books that drive home that we shouldn’t always take our little elfgames too seriously and embrace what they are…fun. Unsurprisingly, my final verdict will be 5 stars, and this does get my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
What Ho, Frog Demons
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