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Troika! Numinous Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/11/2020 05:08:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This rules-lite RPG clocks in at 111 pages if you take away the front cover, TOC, and introduction; a simple character sheet is included in the deal. NOT included in the above page-count would be the inside of front cover and back cover two-page spreads, which contain the most referenced rules – this decision btw. makes running the game much smoother. If you include these in the content count, we’d arrive at 115 pages instead. My review of this RPG system is primarily based on the hardcover print version, which is 15.4 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm in size, but I have also consulted the pdf-version.

Now, at this point, I have to note something important – while this game indeed is an “old school renaissance-”type of game, it is NOT one based on D&D or its iterations, instead using Advanced Fighting Fantasy as its basis, a game I admittedly wasn’t familiar with until I got into Troika. Much like “Into the Odd” and similar games, we do deviate from the classic 6-attribute set-up, though Troika! Deviates imho even further from the classic set-up. While I have thus tagged this as “OSR” due to its aesthetics, it should be considered to be its own beast. If anything, Troika behaves more like a Post-OSR game than any others I’ve covered so far.

Instead of d20-based mechanics, you only use d6s. Regarding dice notation, d666, for example, would mean rolling 3 dice in sequence and then adding the results together, with each denoting e.g. the 10s, 100s, etc.: Rolling a 3 on the first d6, a 2 on the second and a 5 on the last would mean you’d consult entry 325. Most checks will be done using 2d6, which you use to try to roll under or against a target value. The latter is known as “roll vs.” in the system. A double 6 is a failure.

Character generation is a swift process: First, you roll d3 +3 to determine Skill, argueably one of the most important values in the game. Skill behaves as a kind of proficiency bonus – you add it to all skills you have, and these do include spells.

Then, you roll 2d6 +12 – this is your Stamina. Stamina is your hit points. If it’s reduced to 0 and your turn would come up or a turn ends, you die. In non-combat situations, your friends get one chance o prevent your death. Going to negative Stamina kills you instantly. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Stamina, and you can eat provisions to regain d6 Stamina, but only 3/day. I like this – it makes food matter, and means you are less reliant on heal-bot-y classes.

The third important value would be Luck. You roll d6 +6 to determine your Luck. When the GM calls for the “testing of luck”, you attempt to roll under the current luck score. Regardless of whether the test was successful, you reduce the current Luck score by 1. You may always choose to NOT test your luck, which is an interesting angle here. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Luck, to never exceed the starting maximum. Finally, if you have a tie in combat, you can test your Luck – on a success, you break the tie in your favor; you can also test your luck and, on a success, add +2 to the damage value. I strongly suggest playing with the optional rule to test your luck to avoid death – on a success, you instead are wounded, incapacitated, etc.

And that is basically already the core chassis of the engine, though combat does work in a pretty radically different and interesting way: During combat or in situations where determining sequence of action is important, you assemble a bag (the game calls this Stack): You take a container, put an assortment of differently colored dice, chits, coins or similar markers inside; all enemies share one color, and one chit or marker is included per enemy; a player is assigned a color, and there will be a final token of a distinct color that marks the end of the round. The GM will then proceed to blindly draw a chit/die/marker from the container, its color determining who gets to act. It should be noted that players get two such markers each, and that enemies with e.g. abilities like (initiative 2) get 2 markers each. Henchmen contribute 1 marker, and are played by the GM. After acting, the drawn token is removed from the stack. Once the end of the round token is drawn, all tokens are put back in the bag. Magic, poison, and similar ongoing effects are resolved at the end of the round. If enemies grossly outnumber the PCs, or are essentially mooks, you can make use of an enemy initiative limit for them; this is a neat variant rule, for it lets you maintain the danger of facing e.g. a mob, while also keeping sheer enemy numbers from necessarily overpowering the PCs. At the end of the round, once the round-end-token’s been drawn, you shuffle all drawn markers back into the stack.

As you can glean, this makes combat a pretty risky and chaotic endeavor – particularly combat against many enemies; while you only rarely will be doing nothing due to the tendency to roll versus as a response to attacks, combat as such turns out to be fast and lethal. It also manages to feel pretty different from similar rules-lite systems. The unique initiative system of Troika! does an excellent job of portraying the chaos of combat, but it also means that tightly-formulated plans and tactics will only very rarely work as intended. This is obviously a design goal of the game, but it is one to bear in mind and explicitly call out, since some groups enjoy that. The focus of the game, obviously, is more on individual contributions to combat, and improvisation in the chaotic fray, less about party-encompassing tactics and strategies.

There is a card-based initiative alternative available, but I do not own the cards, so I can’t comment on them.

Now, the pdf does codify pretty tightly how combat actions work, what’s possible, etc., and delaying has you put your chit back in the bag, so it’s much less reliable than in comparable systems. Attacking is a roll versus. Ranged attacks are opposed by shield or dodging, melee attacks by other melee attacks; ties mean that neither managed to hit the other in the case of melee attacks. Moving more than 12 feet takes up an action, and shooting into melee has all targets associate random numbers and determine who is hit; casting spells requires Stamina expenditure, and that you roll under your spell, or roll versus a target. Interesting: In order to draw an item in combat, you have to roll equal to or higher than its position in your character sheet, making item retrieval chaotic, but also allowing you to plan your inventory. It’s simple and exceedingly smart. Like it! When you win a Roll Versus an adversary in combat, you inflict damage – you roll a d6, and consult the charts inside the book’s front cover (again, smart placement!) – roll and weapon (or monster size) determine the damage caused, which is deducted from your opponent’s Stamina. If you roll a double 6 while attacking, you strike a Mighty Blow, win the exchange and inflict double damage – and yes, the engine notes what happens if both combatants do so. Double 1s mean that you fumble and lose the exchange, and the opponent increases their damage roll on the chart by 1. If both parties fumble, they deal damage to each other, with both adding 1 to the damage roll referencing the chart.

Now, to give you an idea: A few weapons ignore up to one point of armor (which btw. serves as Damage Redcution), while others require at least two hands to use. As noted, you roll a d6 and reference the damage tables.

A sword hit can deal anything from 4 to 10 damage; 4 of its 7 entries (d6, plus one entry for damage rolls with bonuses, i.e. 7+) dealing 6 damage; an axe only deals 2 damage on a 1 or 2 on the damage roll, but can deal 2 more damage on the highest 3 entries. This is more easily illustrated with hammers, which have a minimum damage value of 1, and a maximum of 12. Two-handed weapons, particularly fusils and greatswords, are obviously king when it comes to maximum damage capabilities, clocking in at mighty 18 and 24 for the 7+ entries. The two spells causing direct damage are also included here, and, for reference, the minimum damage caused by dragon fire is 6, the maximum a whopping 36 (sans bonus still 24)! And yes, all of these values do not include the potential for mighty blows. The maximum starting Stamina you have is 24. Did someone say overkill?

Cover makes it harder to hit, shields impose a penalty on damage rolls. Armor imposes a penalty on the damage incurred, but does take up item slots. Armor comes in three categories, ranging from -1 (lightly armored) to -3 (heavily armored), and armor takes up as many inventory slots as TWICE its protective value, so 6 slots for heavy armor! To give you an idea of how much armor can matter: Let’s say, someone is hit by a greatsword, and the damage roll comes up as a 6 – that’d be 14 damage! If the victim was wearing heavy armor, they only take 8 damage, as though the damage roll came up as a 3.

Now, regarding these inventory slots: You can only carry up to 12 items. Small items (or ones with a low weight) only take up one slot – e.g. arrows. Unless you go overboard – though that is left to the individual group’s discretion. Large items, like pretty much anything unwieldy or two-handed, take up 2 slots, and carrying more than that imposes massive penalties. So, if you want to play a heavily armored guy with a gretsword, you have a grand total of 4 slots left…choose wisely.

As noted, attacks are executed as rolls versus. But how do you roll that? Well, it’s 2d6 + your Skill value, + advanced skills, if any. Advanced skills are the catch-all term for pretty much anything ranging from spells, to skills, to other abilities. Stealth, Acrobatics and the like are handled the same way as e.g. mathmology (esoteric insight into math, pressure, angles, etc.). Thankfully, the game comes with a pretty well-codified list of such skills. Riding, running, making poisons – all handled as advanced skills. (And yes, being a pilot of a golden barge, for example, is very much part of the deal.)

How are advanced skills determined? Well, they are determined by the Background you choose. A d66-array of those is provided, and these basically represent both your race and class. Each background gets their own distinct page, which, while aesthetically-pleasing, also means that there is quite a lot of dead real-estate in this section. On the plus-side, each of the backgrounds comes with a genuinely novel artwork.

You could end up as a member of the society of porters and basin fillers, as a rhino man, a poorly-made dwarf (endlessly mocked by your fellow created dwarfs), a monkey monger, a parchment witch…or something more mundane.

What’s a parchment witch, you ask? Well it’s one of the things that make Troika! stand out. In many ways, this game has two draws – the uncommon engine, and the implied setting.

Littered throughout this gaming supplement, you’ll have tantalizing, deliberately obscure hints at an implicit setting that truly did capture my interest. Why? Because e.g. the world/plane-model employed, as well as the tone, reminded me less of traditional D&D-esque games, or even other science-fantasy settings, but instead made me flash back to a distinctly British artistic movement, namely the metaphysical poets. This sentence can be found in the introduction: “A science-fantasy RPG in which players travel by eldritch portal and non-euclidean labyrinth and golden-sailed barge between uncountable crystal spheres strung delicately across the hump-backed sky.” There is a very British, subtle humor underlying the setting, and indeed, quite a few of the backgrounds feature herein are, in a way, illustrations of poetic conceits. If that sounds too brainy, let me try explaining it in a different way: Know how Tolkien’s fantasy is pretty much the corner-stone of D&D-esque aesthetics? Troika is at once pre- and post-Tolkien; it is aware of the conventions and has room for them, but instead of being defining fundamental features, they are but one tiny aspect of the implied setting, which instead draws upon both ancient/well-established and contemporary aesthetics to create something radically different.

As a less theory-burdened example: Parchment witches, just fyi, would be undead that can’t give up on splendorous living, thus coating themselves in perfect paper skin. Rain and flame and not popular among them…And yes, several of these backgrounds do actually sport additional rules beyond the list of advanced skill values and possessions. The book also provides some guidance to make your own backgrounds. If you do want to play a renegade rhino man golden barge pilot, that ought to be possible, for example. Consequently, the growing 3pp-scene for Troika has a LOT of backgrounds out there.

This focus on the strange and fantastic is a huge strength of Troika – however, if you’re like me and enjoy lavishly-detailed settings, you won’t necessarily find the like here; Troika, by design, implies rather than states. It does not as much introduce a sample setting, as it introduces a sample aesthetic, which you then proceed to apply in variations to your respective spheres.

This notion of permissive creativity does also extend to the sample spells noted: the classic sentry-spell, for example, has the wizard pluck out a piece of his mind and is risky: It distracts the caster and destroying the smidgeon of the caster’s mind can cause a nasty shock. If you cast “Zed”, you disappear, never to be seen again. Magic is just as odd and weird as the plethora of backgrounds; numbers in brackets after spell names denote the Stamina cost, btw. Presence (1), for example, makes you feel as though watched by a patriarchal figure – some might take solace from that, others not so much. In case you were wondering, the book does include a bestiary, and enemy stats are actually simpler than those of the PCs. Each of the monster entries does come with a d6-based generator to determine the target creature’s mien. The sample monsters cover both the new and old, with novel twists: Goblins serve as vanguard of a labyrinth-creation civilization, lizardmen gravitate to being dull and fat. I also loved to learn that manticores are bibliophiles, and a sympathy snake crawling up your leg may make you despair at the awfulness of life. Totally okay to let go, as the predator mourns with you your demise in their jaws.

Advancement is simple, fyi: Upon using a skill successfully for the first time, you add a tick next to it; upon resting, you roll 2d6 and try to beat your current skill-level. On a success, you increase the skill by one, but you may only do so for up to 3 per rest; after a rest, you delete all ticks made. Improving past 12 requires rolling another 12 to improve by one point. This does mean that characters with lower Skill values will probably have a quicker experience of enhancing their advanced skills.

Anyhow, I was talking about aesthetics, and this is probably one of the strongest features of this RPG – beyond the artworks by Jeremy Duncan, Dirk Detweiler Leichty, Sam Mameli and Andrew Walter, the physical book also does something exceedingly smart – the matte paper of the hardcover is tinted in different shades – one shade for each chapter, making the book look a bit like a pastel rainbow on the side. Making characters? Yellow. Basic rules? Green. Advanced skills and items? Blue. You get the idea. This makes using the book easier, and speeds up the instances where you might need to look up something. The book also does a good job cross-referencing materials. I never felt left alone with a question, I always knew where to look. So yeah, the aesthetics of the implied setting and its presentation form a rather tight unity.

This edition of the game also features an introductory adventure of the most uncommon sort in many ways: The “Blancmage & Thistle” takes place in a strange hotel (with mandrill guards!) of chrome and gold, and focuses very much on jumpstarting a new game and teaching the rules. The adventure is about reaching the “Feast of the Chiliarch” on the 6th floor of the hotel, with two per se very railroad avenues available; the PCs can switch between them, if desired – one would be the stairs, and one the elevator. Both are potentially deadly in genuinely novel ways, and I have NEVER seen a module like it. I usually loathe railroads like this, but it seriously worked for me. A minor nitpick: The adventure hooks available at the feast have their cross-referencing off by 2 pages – the table is found on pg. 106, not on page 104. tumble weed rolls by Yeah, I know – I had to find something to complain about, right? The cartography by Dirk Detweiler Leichty is ART, and something I really loved seeing; that being said, I’d have very much appreciated a key-less version of it, and one could state that it is somewhat low on the utility side of things – I can’t picture dimensions of areas or the like from it, so if the like bothers you, that may be one thing to bear in mind. Now, I could comment on the individual challenges of the module, but I don’t want to spoil the details beyond components that are featured in the introductory scene. Let’s just say that the mandrill guards are the least weird thing. No, not kidding.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, further improved since the first iteration of the game that I covered. Layout and artwork, as noted, as important to Troika! – they underline the sheer oddity of the setting, and their conscious refusal to employ tropes associated with most fantasy artwork create a unity with the uncommon system – the totality feels different from most RPGs, and this works particularly well because of how the aesthetics underline the system. The hardcover is a beautiful book; I usually am no fan of fancy pastel-colored paper, but Troika makes it work rather well. Paper is matte and thick, and the binding of the book is sturdy. The pdf has bookmarks for the respective chapter headers and tables.

The numinous edition of Daniel Sell’s Troika! game is a very different type of game from the ones I usually enjoy; as you all know by now, I am usually rather concerned about the consistency and balancing of systems and settings, and gravitate towards long-term campaigns. Troika is a lethal system, particularly sans the optional rules that allow you to prevent death. The exceedingly flat power-curve means that the game works best for burst-like games, shorter campaigns, and the like. The PCs will never become truly robust, retaining a high degree of fragility. The advancement does allow you to quickly improve, and in many ways, Troika is perhaps best envisioned as a game that is perfect for groups that quickly are bored with a setting, with a character. The game is lethal, but not in a “screw-you” kind of way; instead, it posits all the possibilities of the crystal spheres under a hump-backed sky and asks you “Okay, what can you envision playing next?” If you’re looking for long campaign play, this is not the best system for that; if you’re looking for a huge accumulation of jamais-vus, however? Then Troika delivers in spades.

Troika is NOT, I repeat, NOT a game competing with D&D, Pathfinder, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc. – instead, it is a strange and compelling vision of a game that plays differently, that has different aesthetics. For once, I definitely did not feel like an advertisement slogan lied to me – “The other world’s favorite RPG” hits the nail on the head for me. Troika will not replace DCC or an iteration of D&D for me; it doesn’t try to. If you want your vanilla Tolkien, or the oomphteenth rehash of Planescape, Spelljammer, etc., then this is not what you’re looking for. Instead, it shows you how different old-school roleplaying can be in experience, themes, etc. – and what more can you ask for? This is the game you want to check out if you want to see gaming as a cooperative artform.

As an important aside: The Melsonian Arts Council has done several tremendously awesome things: From community copies to different wealth levels that allow poor individuals screwed by capitalism to get the book, Troika is a system that not just preaches an aesthetic of being alternative…it genuinely lives up to that. If I ever get to meet the author, he’ll get a hug, a firm handshake, or a manly nod, and a beverage, if applicable, from yours truly for that.

As a whole, I consider the numinous edition of Troika, with its streamlined and gorgeous presentation, its unconventional aesthetics and its unique system to be a resounding success. If you’re burned out on the big, common systems, give Troika a spin – I am confident that it’s nigh impossible to finish reading this book and playing the game without having at least a few inspiring Eureka effects. 5 stars + seal of approval, highly recommended for pretty much everyone, particularly if you feel that your game has gone stale; even if you’re not interested in the game, the wealth of ideas herein may well jumpstart your imagination once more.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! Numinous Edition
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Troika! Numinous Edition
by Jakob S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/25/2020 05:44:24

I think Troika! is going to be my favourite minimalist gonzo science fantasy game for a long time, maybe even forever. And by minimalist, I don't mean that there's little here - quite the contrary, the page-count might be relativeley low, but every character concept, every spell, every monster and even item is packed with implicit world-building. You'll have to figure out how it all fits together in your game, and you need to be open to just letting the setting develop in whatever direction it will take. The rules are based on the British Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, but much more deadly. The quite random initiative system is strange (you are not guaranteed to get to initiate an action in a turn), but it works because in Troika!, if you attack someone, your opponent always has the chance to hurt you back, so you'll probably get to do something even if your initiative token doesn't come up in a given round. In fact, I'm very happy to get this kind of gonzo material with a system that is not about classes and levels; most of the weird, minimalist goodness always seems to be for Old School Dungeons & Dragons. The Troika! system is much more rules-lite, and, as I feel, much more functional. This is Planescape meets Monty Python, with some dashes of Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett and (I think) K.J. Parker.

There's a fuller review here on my blog: https://swanosaurus.blogspot.com/2020/01/troika.html



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #7
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/21/2019 04:12:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The seventh installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 22 pages (not counting cover, editorial, etc.; laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5) of content, so let’s take a look!

The default system intended for this ’zine would be LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and, as always, the material can be adapted to other OSR-systems with relative ease, particularly since the stats are presented in a way that references e.g. plate mail, etc. instead of fixed values. This is a horror/dark fantasy supplement, and as such, reader discretion is advised – if you’re easily offended or triggered, consider this to be your warning. This review is based on the saddle-stitched softcover of the ’zine. This installment is all about creatures and things pertaining to them.

All right, we begin with Evey Lockhart delivering the goods, in spades: Lavishly-illustrated, we are introduced to the Omnicorn, aka the Freedom Beast. Picture a unicorn, a truly majestic steed – and yet, twisted, for it bristles with all defensive measures of mother nature – antlers, horns, spines; it could be a force for true change, as it seeks to topple despots…but, ironically, it is incredibly dogmatic in its adherence to radical revolution – a contradiction that will make it turn violent. Like pretty much anything. ANY, and I mean ANY (in the largest allcaps you can imagine) form of authority must be toppled. The creature’s blood, freely given, can end compulsions, so there is ample reason to engage with the beast in a roleplaying manner. Oh, and the beast comes statted (AC noting “as plate”, and unique effects of the attacks possible. This thing is deadly, glorious, and a thoroughly fantastic critter that oozes roleplaying potential. A pitch-perfect, darksome twist on a central irony. And in an age of online-activism, for good or ill, thinking about whether we behave omnicorn-wise might be a smart strategy…

Luke Gearing also has something to contribute here – the mezzo-worm: Things of the speed of runaway trains (this should specify at least a reference-value of something that exists in the game; for comparison, the omnicorn notes that it’s twice as fast as a warhorse); these gigantic worms generate a labyrinth, where stragglers are lost, for the tunnels connect space and time, which is probably the most interesting aspect of these things, which sets them as a plot device apart from other such worms. Still, I’ve seen the author do better.

Ezra Claverie is up next, and presents the decoherence wights – elves exposed to a necrobaric bomb, infected with colonizing anti-life; the lore presented about the Last War made me want a full-blown campaign setting here. It’s genuinely that good. With swarms of horrid things and the chance to contract decoherence fever, with different types (including decoherence polyps) provided, this is an amazing entry regarding its flavor; the sequence of presentation also makes more sense than the author’s previous offering, but there is no comfortable formatting; you still have to parse the entire text, and no traditional statblock is provided. That being said, the sequence of presentation is not as confusing here, and you can read the wights in a more efficient manner. It’s not perfect, but the strong concept carries the article and makes it worth perusing and implementing.

Daniel Sell presents a section that can be explained as a new context for the classic orc – tapping into anxieties such as devolution, this one is clever, in that it is written in essentially a scientific jargon reminiscent of social-Darwinist agendas, so is the content presented truly reliable? The whole tone seems to suggest otherwise, but the details also provide tidbits that make orcoidism and the like scary, or at least, unsettling. This juxtaposition of tone and subject matter, and the unease created by both, is genuinely smart. Like it!

Finally, we have James Holloway providing Old Sigvor, a truly twisted and delightful take on the witch-trope – the hag has fused with trees and became a twisted plant/crone-hybrid, now seeking to make more hybrids. It’s a straightforward angle, but one that has been executed rather well here. Big kudos, and once more, a creature I’d definitely consider using/adapting in the Witcher RPG or Dolmenwood.

Conclusion: Editing is well-executed in a formal and rules-language level; formatting is more consistent in this installment than in the previous one, though the creatures are not consistent in their presentation: Old Sigvor has, for example, proper AC and the like noted, while the other creatures reference at times analogues from the system – or not from it. The stitch-bound softcover is a nice booklet to have. All creatures have cool, original b/w-artworks.

Daniel Sell, Luke Gearing, Ezra Claverie, Evey Lockhart and James Holloway provide a ’zine of high-concept, high-quality critters; with the exception of the mezzo-worm (which is a bit quaint in comparison), I adored every single critter herein, and the mezzo-worm, were it not contrasted with Luke Gearing’s previous work and the other gems herein, would have received a warmer reception. Anyhow, the ’zine is slightly inconsistent in its creature statistics presentation, and that is a bit of a big deal for me; however, after much deliberation; I decided to round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, and I’ll also grant this my seal of approval, for the sheer amount of really well-made horror critters herein that demand being used. If you even remotely enjoy twisted, dark critters, check this out.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #7
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The Undercroft #6
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/14/2019 12:17:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The sixth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 26 pages (laid out in 6‘‘ by 9‘‘/A5) if you ignore the editorial – though I did really enjoy it this time around – the text flows around a medieval image of the Rittertod (Knight’s death), with the text on the left and right of the artwork continuing the previous paragraph independently from each other, only to once again coalesce below – kinda like an alternate timeline in textform. …this made me sound like a pretentious prick, right? Sorry.

Anyhow, rules-wise, the default system intended for this ’zine would be LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and, as always, the material can be adapted to other OSR-systems with relative ease. This is a horror/dark fantasy supplement, and as such, reader discretion is advised – if you’re easily offended or triggered, this is your warning. This review is based on the stitch-bound softcover of the ’zine.

Okay, so, the first article (penned by Forrest Aguire) deals with Jonas Ludolf, the celebrated Flemish tapestry cartoonist (XD), who embarked on a trip towards Formosa to learn from the best of Eastern philosophers; of his effects, only the tome known as Ludolf’s Folly remains – a grimoires penned in an opium haze, referencing places like Leng – the storied item is depicted in detail, which is pretty awesome. Content-wise, the book has a genius angle that LotFP, if the company is smart, should take under serious consideration as a new magic system: You see, the book contains various spells you may be familiar with, like divination, detect invisible, wizard’s eye, etc. – you can see a divination focus here, but the exciting thing? Ludolf was in the throes of various drugs and insights while scribbling his notes, which had a dual effect: ANYONE can cast these spells…or at least ATTEMPT to cast them. You roll 1d6, and on a 1 or 2, the spell works…and on higher results? Catastrophic failures. These actually relate to the spells: Take wizard’s eye: A mild failure may end up with you vomiting eyeballs; a more serious one might see you blinded for months, and a really bad failure may see your eyeballs pop from their sockets, with obvious consequences. I love the book’s story, though it primarily makes sense for low-fantasy games; why use a potentially fatal spellbook if you can easily cast a spell? So yeah, the appeal might be slightly limited, but that notwithstanding, I consider this to be pretty much the best suggestion for a global modification of LotFP’s magic system. Having a whole book that provides this treatment to all spells? I’d put down money for that.

Things get weird with Evey Lockhart’s contribution, which provides two unrelated artifacts from other dimensions – these have nothing to do with each other, but their combination can be rather fatal. The unknown disk may be held in place to generate a portal to the strange, overgrown post-apocalyptic jungle-world beyond; the pyramid of flesh is more visceral: It’s what it says on the tin, with each side of the super-quickly regenerating and thus indestructible pyramid sporting a line, a fold, like a mouth or eye pressed close. Turns out, it’s both – the mouth-eyes might open, and contact to flesh will see the pyramid fuse to you, potentially requiring amputation. It also replaces your innards potentially, which can result in vomiting worms and becoming oddly inhuman; attached to the head, it bombards you with secrets. ALL THE TIME. What your childhood crush thought about you, what someone did – no rhyme or reason, all the knowledge of the cosmos, but no filter. If the pyramid is inserted on the disk, things go horribly wrong – the first couple of times, the effects are vast swathes of destruction, annihilating everyone in an ever closer-drawing circle…and eventually allowing a horrid chthonic entity access to our reality. Yes, this being is properly statted. I enjoyed this one as well.

Daniel Sell provides what would have been my favorite section herein – the Wolfmother. A twisted fairytale that is truly horrific, haunting the Kairnlaw, where the men marry early, and not well, before the stag-dreams; the fear of the entity includes potentially forced marriages, which can be pretty frightening proposals. Unmarried gentlemen in the region have a 1 in 20 chance of attracting the Wolfmother, a woman with the face of a wolf, dressed for a spring wedding. She will offer a gift – and those not offered one must save vs. magic to wake up. The person offered the gift can choose to refuse the gifts or accept them – the gifts are delightfully twisted: An immovable rope with a tied sorcerer dangling from it; a song so beautiful, it might strip you of your ability to enjoy music…the gifts are unique and strange. Accepting three of them will make you leave with her, never to be seen again. If you refuse the Wolfmother, she will attempt to rape the character (she has the might of an Ogre), to give birth to resentful wolves that will hound the character. Here’s an issue I have with this otherwise genius critter: It doesn’t provide stats, which is legitimate for horror-creatures that behave more like story obstacles (see Undercroft #2 for a great example on how to make a creature-as-story-obstacle work); however, there is a good chance that the Wolfmother will be fought, and needs to be faced in combat. The text even notes: ”if defeated..:”, so the absence of stats is a downside. In spite of this, any GM who likes dark fantasy/horror with a fairy-tale-ish slant should consider this to be a gem: I’d see this as a great creature for the Witcher RPG or Dolmenwood, for example.

Ezra Claverie’s Furnace Athropoids are next – these are essentially power-armors for a race of alien explorers accustomed to scorching heat. As such, their suits are potentially dangerous to be around; more importantly, their telepathic messages can influence the brains of stupid humanoids, and cause compulsions. I should love this. The writing is excellent. And yet, this is easily one of the weakest offerings in the entire run of the Undercroft so far. The rules-relevant material is buried in flavor-text, and inconsistent. At one point, the text suddenly mentions different HDs, and flavor-text and rules-relevant information is blended everywhere. Using the material herein is a total mess, and having proper sequence of presentation, proper stats, would have made it shine as much as the concept per se deserves.

The final section also showcases how multiple HD-creatures work – Anxious P. Introduces the most twisted creatures here, with the Noble Giant families. We begin with essentially a confession/diary of a kind of crypto-anthropologist researching the giant family called the “Manifold Crust-Whippets”; these giants lair in a state of primitive savagery, and the author claims they do not differentiate the Self from Want, which is an interesting take to make the giants less human. Indeed, the scientist seems to develop a strange and disquieting obsession of trying to be like them (making this a great read) – as it turns out, this is due to the drugging pollen the plants they bring around. They also have a honey-angle on a mechanical level, and there are guidelines of how giants of different sizes and local populace interact (“fight or flight”-size, etc.), with stats grounding the content in mechanics. The effective horror hits at the end of the scholar’s account – when he witnessed what they do in their disturbing orgies with the bears they capture, when the small clues fall into place. It’s not pretty. Honey…could kinda work as lube, you know…This one really made me shudder. It’s that well-written.

Conclusion: Editing is generally very good on a formal level; formatting and information sequence, as noted, could be better in some of the sections herein. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with two nice original artworks. The print version is certainly worth owning.

So, this installment of the Undercroft penned by Daniel Sell, Anxious P., Evey Lockhart, Forrest Aguire and Ezra Claverie had a tough job – I consider the Undercroft, alongside with Dolmenwood, to be one of the best ’zines out there, easily. The Undercroft features some of the best pieces of content I’ve seen, and is remarkably bereft of filler. Against this backdrop, this installment struggles slightly. For example, I absolutely adore Forrest Aguire’s grimoires in every way, but I couldn’t help but feel that it would have warranted an application of the system to the entirety of the gaming system in a full-blown book. Daniel Sell’s Wolfmother is a GENIUS creature, and it’s so close to being perfect, but the need to stat the creature’s combat encounter, etc. makes it less comfortable to implement than it should be. And then there is Ezra Claverie (whose writing I love) clearly struggling with the presentation of the concept – only to have the next article, Anxious P.’s giant families, showing how it’s done. (As an aside: I always love what I read from Anxious P. – please write a big book. Please? Publishers, get on it!) As a whole, this Undercroft-zine feels uneven not in the quality of the concepts, which are awesome, but in their precise implementation and scope. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars.

That being said, if you even remotely consider the concepts in this installment to be cool, get it – it’s certainly worth the low and fair asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #6
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The Undercroft #5
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/01/2019 08:45:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine sports 30 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), already disregarding the usual front cover, editorial, etc., and this time around, we have a focus on strange and dangerous magic items.

The installment is intended for LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, and as such assumes a pretty low player character powerlevel, and the fact that magic is both potent and dangerous. Adaption to other OSR-systems is easily possible, though in high magic worlds, many items herein will some of their appeal.

As before, the Undercroft deals with HORROR content, or at least with a fantasy style that is rather dark, so if you’re easily offended, you may want to steer clear.

Okay, that out of the way, Chris Lawson has contributed two sections to this ‘zine, both of which I consider to be a success: The first of these would be the smiling goat’s horn, a mummified goat’s head attached to a curled horn – blowing it will cause all nearby farm animals to become thieves and steal valuables to present to the owner of the horn; then, they will proceed to sing like a classically trained choir, making sleep nigh impossible. They can’t be slain anymore, and will only leave the owner’s side to steal more – until full moon hits, where a pack of wolves will hound the owner. Said wolves can eat the farm animals, granting them final death, and the owner some peace and quiet. In the aftermath, a black goat will come – and it will feast upon the owner’s corpse at one point. It’s inevitable. This oozes folklore, twisted and weird, and is just frickin’ awesome. I love this item, its narrative implications, its angles – it feels magical. Huge kudos! The second item Chris Lawson contributed, would be a monocle, the Opticaphobicascope, which must be pushed, painfully, with the eye into the socket. The item has powerful benefits and can help discern a lot, but it also causes the character to embark on a form of introverted solipsism based on an egocentric projection of the wearer – represented in three stages of madness. I love this one as well – it has this visceral touch, the downsides are pronounced, and the detailed, multi-stage madness engine? I’d love a book full of those. Two definite winners.

Oliver Palmer presents the next item, the Washer Woman, a cursed porcelain statue that will displace items the wearer has, if left, it will be present. It will not respond kindly to being smashed. It is a classic, annoying, and eerily efficient creep-factor I enjoyed seeing. Frank Mitchell presents us with something utterly different, in that his contribution actually consists of the highest power-level possible – 7 artifacts that are a twist of a RPG classic, namely the sundered rod. Instead, we are presented here with the body parts of the sundered god. Left arm and right arm have different properties, legs share their properties, and torso, head and phallus represent the remainder of the parts. (As an aside, if you count the legs as separate parts, we arrive at LotFP’s occult 8 as a leitmotif, which was probably intentional.) The sundered god is btw. none other than Baphomet – and e.g. the left arm may be wielded as a weapon that causes those hit to save or die, but also demands the same from the wielder. The right arm creates revenants, but allows for no control over them; the phallus is addictive and can really make having your own cult super easy – if you manage to not become addicted yourself, that is. Oh, and it can result in those really volatile, murderous types of unhealthy, obsessive love. But hey, nobdy’s perfect. And before you ask – yes, the parts of the sundered god can be grafted onto the living. Or, you know, you could place severed heads on the torso etc. And yes, we learn about the none-too-pleasant consequences of assembling this sundered demigod thing again. Tl;Dr: Don’t. No, seriously. …oh boy, you’re playing LotFP, of course you’ll now assemble it, right? Damn, what have I done…

The final article in the ’zine was penned by none other than Melsonian Arts Council’s master Daniel Sell, and is titled “The Precocious Abundance of Holy Mountain.” How an abundance can be precocious, I’m not entirely sure, but oh well – perhaps it’s a joke I’m not getting. The article contains 6 different devices with a dark science-fantasy slant, for they are intended for use with the setting implied by Rafael Chandler’s excellent horror bestiaries, the Teratic Tome and Lusus Naturae. To be more specific, they are intended for use in the rather gore-and fluid-centric SlaughterGrid adventure, and while I am not a big fan of that module, per se, I think that the material would have enhanced my experience. It should be noted, that the items can easily be used in other contexts as well. We get, for example, rules for aqua gravis (including what happens if you drink a little, or lots of it, or when you burn it). Custodians are kinda sentient, humanoid, small shapes sans head, with a hole in a surface reminiscent of cooling magma, and a layer of aqua gravis used for communication. Interacting with them, and making more, is touched upon. There are the Ven gates, connected to a race trapped in a moment nigh the end of time (for good measure); there would be exigentia, automatic science-fantasy surgeon machines that are…well, not 100% reliable. The best illustration herein would be the twisted lung spider – a leather muzzle that seems to consist of scissors of all kinds. These things, when activated, will drill into your torso, pop your lungs, and breathe for you. You can’t talk, not scream or groan, and the thing now breathes for you…and renders you immune to all poisonous fumes. Hey, that’s something. Finally, the SlaughterGrid itself is also contextualized properly. If you play SlaughterGrid, play it with these added.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language, I noticed no serious snafus. The ’zine adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and the magazine sports quite a few rather nice b/w-artworks. The ’zine’s physical version is a nice stitch-bound little softcover, with sturdy covers – no complaints, and that’s the version I’d recommend.

Daniel Sell, Chris Lawson, Oliver Palmer and Frank Mitchell provide a thoroughly enjoyable ’zine of twisted magic items with serious drawbacks, but also amazing flavor and cool effects. If you’re looking for a particularly vicious item, look no further than this humble ’zine. All killer, no filler – 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #5
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The Undercroft #4
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/17/2019 12:13:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Undercroft clocks in at 24 pages, minus one page if you take away the editorial; this is laid out, as always, in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look! My review is primarily based on the stitch-bound softcover version.

As always for the ‘zine, the rules employed are LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, but conversion to other OSR rules-sets is not particularly taxing. Theme-wise, this is a horror-supplement; the easily-offended or squeamish need not apply.

So, let us begin with the crunchiest article contained within – penned by Marc “Lord Inar” Gacy, we have an alternate take on LotFP, attempting an engine to present a class-less system: Characters get 10 points at character creation, 4 on every subsequent level, and use the fighter’s experience progression. Saves start at Paralysis 14, poison 13, breath weapon 16, magic device 14, magic 15. The standard hit points gained are d4, with each subsequent die-size costing +1 point.; after 9th level, the fixed hp gained for free amount to 1, +1 per character point spent. An improvement to hit costs 2 pts; at 1st level, you can choose +2 to hit for 5 pts. An attack improvement may only be taken once per level. Saving throws may be taken twice at character creation, once per level. 2 points for +1 to each save, or for +2 to two of the five saves; for 1 pt., you get +1 to two of the five saves. A single skill point costs 1 point; for 3 points, you can get +2 in a skill. An improvement in an attribute also costs 2 points. Moving up a level in cleric spellcasting costs 3 points, magic-users pay 4 points.

Racial and class effects, such as being agile or being able to memorize an additional spell, gaining press, etc. –all covered. The system does present a full page of sample kits – 20 are provided for your convenience. The system acknowledges that its results are slightly weaker than standard classes, but ostensibly make up for that by the added flexibility. Whether you consider this to be true depends – for example, you get cleric spellcasting and HD as well as the save improvements over the default rules for 6 points, leaving 4 more points for you; however, the default cleric gains levels quicker. The same can’t be said for the magic-user, whose XP-thresholds are higher, making the class-level take on the magic-user actually better in pretty much every way. This doesn’t break the game, but it’s something to be aware of. Personally, I would have actually loved to see more different, unique abilities. All in all, a solid offering I ended up enjoying more than I figured I would.

Luke Gearing also has something for us – Smother. A kind of abstract infection that subsists on noise and light, the cool tentacle-y b/w-artworks here didn’t seem to fit the text as well as I figured they’d do – we essentially have a thing that seeks to consume sound and light, only defeated by starving it. Contact can result in a whole table of debilitating effects, as its non-attacks (attempts to grab the delicious sound-sources) instill catastrophic vibrations in the targets. These are cool, but getting an idea how well it hits/ a more traditional statblock would have made the entity a bit easier to implement.

Anxious P. also has a creature for us (also provided the deliciously surreal artwork), and one I am happy to say I really love – it reminded me of one of my current favorite tracks, Selofan’s “Shadowmen” – picture the Dream troll as a grotesque thing existing in the luminal state between waking and dreaming, a painfully goofy thing eliciting at once repulsion and pity, a stalker whose reality bending powers are contingent on sight. The combat effects the creature features make it genuinely interesting, and communicating about its presence will be hard, as memory sifts away like a bad dream. Even how it’s hit and how you can force it into combat are unique – a winner of a creature, as far as I’m concerned.

As in the former installment, master Barry Blatt returns with a complex encounter/faction-set-up that has been expertly-contextualized within the framework of the Early Modern period. (Seriously, I appreciate all the tidbits, including e.g. notes that discrimination was focused on faith and not race and the like – well-researched!) This time around, the article isn’t about horror in the traditional sense, instead focusing on the more psychedelic aspects we sometimes associate with LotFP. 3 sample NPCs, a unique magic item and a whole array of suggestions on how to get the PCs involved are provided.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! A soldier in a London-trained band, ones James Hendricks, has managed to get his hands on one of those early 5-stringed guitars, playing with his buddies Noel Reading (viola da gamba) and Michael Mitchell (tabor) in London’s bar-scene. They are living the high life, accusations of Ranterism notwithstanding. Of course, the Puritans want them banned; Things become more complex when you take an English Catholic magic-user/musician into the fray, which includes a plot to mention a demon’s true name banned in a music instrument…and then there would be the clever Jesuit spymaster and his assassin troupe. This makes for a great “meta-quest” – you know, one that happens in between adventures, slowly building up between scenarios. Love it!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, but not as tight as in previous issues – I noticed a couple of typos, and rules-language components also were not as precise. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features quite a bunch of really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment. Personally, I’d suggest getting print. That being said, the front/back cover of this issue is not as hardy as the one used for the other Undercroft-‘zines, making it feel slightly cheaper.

The fourth Undercroft offers a nice array of options – I particularly liked Barry Blatt’s unique encounter/plot and Anxious P.’s creature. The class-level LotFP-engine is cool and something that the game may want to take a look at for the second edition, particularly under the premise that more things could easily be added to the material. What’s here is cool, but getting more would have had the chance to make this a true must-implement option. All in all, I did consider this one to be a tad bit weaker than the previous Undercrofts; not by much, but enough to make me round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #4
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The Undercroft #3
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/01/2019 06:10:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 23 pages, one of which is the editorial, which, unlike in many comparable publications, I actually find myself reading more often than not; this leaves us with 22 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5); my review is based on the print copy, which is a well-made saddle-stitched booklet.

Okay, so you’ll notice something pretty unique here, in that this ‘zine contains 2 different articles and a short story; the short story is penned by Alex Clements and focuses on what happens when a youthful warrior and an old warrior meet at a bridge and come to an impasse that has to result in bloodshed. There is a distinctly black, English humor here that I very much enjoyed, and considering the political climate, you could well read it as a parable. You could. Personally, while I was duly amused by it, I didn’t get anything truly out of it, having seen the topos executed before. I also couldn’t help but bemoan the lack of game-relevant components here. This would have been a really cool encounter, with both individuals statted properly, preferably with esoteric abilities, but I digress.

As always for the ‘zine, the rules employed are LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, but conversion to other OSR rules-sets is not particularly taxing. Theme-wise, this is a horror-supplement; the easily-offended or squeamish need not apply, though the horror herein is more cerebral and esoteric, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Anyone can throw guts a wall and say “Oooh…scaaary!” – the content herein is scary because of its context and implications.

Sicne we started at the back, let us continue like this: The ‘zine contains an article on an esoteric magic-user casting tradition of sorts, penned by Daniel Sell: The Cunning Men of the Fern Court. Okay, how do I describe these? Know Gavin Norman’s Drune from his Dolemnwood setting? You know, the forest-dwelling weirdo spellcaster-order with their strange rituals? Well, the cunning men are a bit like Drune, if the Drune were even more like crazy and scary hermits. Illustrated in a striking manner by Matthew Adams, they are drawn to the forest by visions of a black sun; naked they pass through the dense undergrowth, asking questions about bird migration, looking for answers. If the Drune are a semi-malignant conspiracy/cabal, the Cunning Men are a conglomeration of batshit-crazy, inscrutable hermits that engrave spells into their own flesh – and yes, rules for how much is lost by killing them, by taking damage, etc. are provided. The write-up contains no less than 21 distinct spells this strange tradition has brought forth. In a nice choice, the left-hand border contains the spell’s stat-information, making reading them pretty simple while conserving space. All their spells are designated as magic-user spells, with proper levels noted.

There are 7 1st level spells: Babble makes a target within sight, well, babble, and thus be incapable of enunciating anything. There RAW is no saving throw, which makes this spell capable of locking down even the hardiest of spellcasters, which renders it less suitable for other OSR-games that more frequently use magic-users as non-sociopathic madmen. In LotFP, it is less of an issue, but can potentially allow lower level characters to kill off potent spellcasters – such as a certain psychopath in Better than any man, to mention one. The Spleenful Led requires having a part of the target’s body, but on a failed saving throw, renders the target incapable of finding their way. Protection from Rain does what it says on the tin, and read entrails is a kind of haruspex that nets answers depending on the HD of the target sacrificed – mainly a narrative device. Pick up Sticks is cool – throw down sticks, and a scaling number of HD worth of creatures must obsessively pick them up on a failed save. The Even Flow is essentially a diagnostics spell, and umbilicus only has a short range, but temporarily links two targets (save if unwilling) and makes them share damage taken evenly.

We proceed with 7 2nd-level spells: You will know Nothingness disassociates the caster from paltry concerns such as cold, pain, etc. and lets them reroll checks and saves pertaining those. A Fire Walks With Me is not only in name a Twin peaks homage – the effect, traveling one league per step, also mirrors some of the classic series’ oddities. Nice! Zoanthropy is a nice take on beast shape-style spells, allowing for the assumption of animal form; staying too long, past a mystic date, in that form, alas, may see your mind become as the animal. A Curse to the Unjust requires strangling a woodland creature with rose vines, ripping them open with bare teeth, and then spitting the resulting viscera at a target – on a failed save, the target has to adhere to a rigor of pacifism for a couple of days, on pain of death of the stipulation is broken. Brittle Twigs and Bird Songs lets you break a twig, as stand-in for a target’s bones, who must save of suffer a broken appendage. A Tower of Thorns; A Wall of Vines makes rose thorns burst painfully through the skin of an individual. Do Not trust the Owls requires that you rip a tongue out of a target with your teeth; said tongue then acts as a squirming lie-detector and helps against illusions. Delightful.

The remainder of magic-user spell-levels each get a single spell, so, in ascending order: At 3rd level, we have Path of Guilt requires a painful scrubbing of soles until bleeding raw, but nets you 6 in 6 Stealth – you are perfectly silent, but leave bloody marks. Love this one! The Subtle Heart requires drinking boiling honey and amber, but may well cure all of those nearby – provided they are not killed by the light, that is. Very cool! Unmasked was developed to retain the knowledge on skins, but can be used offensively. It takes off the skin in one fell swoop, so don’t let the weird old man touch you, unless you want to die particularly painfully…A Black Sun Climbs the Ladder of Heaven makes you see the black sun and die (coincidentally, this could be a great way of inserting Black Sun Deathcrawl-sidetreks…), but the caster also risks death on a failed save. Even on a success, the target has to stare at the sky – but not the caster…

The Nature of Blackness, All in Glass makes the caster emit light that will make targets on a failed save turn into horridly mutating and growing floods of exponentially-growing flesh, with a 2-in-3-chance of becoming blind, deaf and insane each. Looking away does help, but being caught in a flesh’s flood will result in damage and horrible scars. This is a delightfully gruesome spell, but fails to specify the extent of the affected target’s flood of growing flesh, which makes the spell not work properly as written. Bloody Roots imprisons a target below the earth, and has a tree grow from the cyst; fruit from the tree will open to reveal animals who speak of the imprisoned, but only to the young and lonely. At one point, the tree will split and reveal the formerly imprisoned, made anew. Dissolved in the Subtlest Middle Air is a campaign ender. The caster first gyrates spasmodically and painfully, and if the caster does not die, they turn into a glob of mutating material, growing with each target consumed, gaining ever more XP and powers – all to encapsulate the world and save it from the black sun. Alas, this once more does not codify the extent of spread/mass of the mutated thing – it’s a cool scene and angle, and I love the searing light vs. black sun leitmotifs in these spells, but this one, once more, needs to be more precise.

The second massive article is penned by Barry Blatt, who really excels at the quasi-historical early modern horror that many of the best Lamentations books sport. Here, we have essentially a fully depicted faction that comes with 4 fully statted NPCs, one fully-stated monster and a properly codified spellbook. The faction is super-easy to integrate into an ongoing game, and any referee worth their salt can craft a module by simply having the PCs encounter these folks. There even are a couple of read-aloud sections provided or you to paraphrase.

All right, to explain them further, I will have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Okay, so “Van Steen’s Company” is, as the ‘zine properly contextualizes regarding history, a bit of an odd sight – we have a Calvinist mercenary company of uncharacteristically efficient and well-behaved soldiers that seem to not be as fond of pillaging, murdering and/or raping as usual. They also set up camp a every Friday, and then only move again come Saturday dusk. Weird Dutch folk, right? Well, they are iconoclasts, but they are NOT Dutch – in fact, we have folks here that have managed to adapt Rabbi Loew’s writings – and unlike clay golems, which require whole congregations worth of prayer and magic, it turns out that people can be turned into obedient demi-golems, spell-ensorcelled terminator-like soldiers with devastating squad combat – you don’t want to face these head-on! Personally, I like to picture them as a combination of Solomon Kane and the Terminator, as a squad! And yep, the captain, magic-user, etc. are all statted. Are they good? Wholly vile? You decide. Love these!!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, as noted, a few of the spells are less precise than the others. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with really cool original b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment – I strongly suggest printing this, or getting the inexpensive print version.

This installment of the “Undercroft”, more focused than the previous ones, benefits from sticking to themes – I was exceedingly pleasantly surprised by the esoteric-feeling casting tradition and delightfully grisly, ritualistic and yet, folksy spells. The faction/module-set-up by Barry Blatt is a highlight indeed and also represents a great little angle. While I wasn’t too keen on the short story, and while the rules of a few of the spells could have been a bit tighter, this is still a steal of a ‘zine if you even remotely enjoy horror. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #3
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The Undercroft #2
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/17/2019 13:35:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second installment of the Undercroft-zine clocks in at 21 pages (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5) if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I own the print copy, which is stitch-bound, well-made little booklet as far as ‘zines are concerned.

Anyhow, important to know: While nominally, the content herein is designed for use with the LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) system, the majority of the articles contained within are not only pretty rules-lite, they actually can be applied rather easily to other systems – to the point where I’d consider this to be almost system neutral. So yeah, if you’re playing 5e or PFRPG or the like, it’ll be easy to adapt the materials within.

Okay, that out of the way, it should be noted that this ‘zine’s installment is devoted to HORROR. Not dark fantasy, not “kinda creepy let’s kill undead”, but frickin’ horror. While it also features components that are strange, the ‘zine is actually effective in what it does, so reader discretion is advised.

The most “normal” article within this booklet was penned by Tony A. Thompson, and is situated smack in the middle of the ‘zine: On a two page spread with the artwork, cleverly situated in the middle of the page, making smart use of the binding chosen. The article contains 12 different potions, suitable to teach PCs not to drink any weird liquid they find – there would, for example, be one that makes the characters’ toes fall off, to be replaced by tiny hooves. Severe disorientation, blindness, smelling breath, flesh oozing from the mouth – some seriously nasty effects here, and it should be noted that these make for interesting complications/side-effects as well. Overall, the rules-component is almost non-existent here, which may be a plus or downside, depending on where you’re coming from.

The ‘zine also contains three different monsters, illustrated by Matthew Adams in a stark and intriguing style that captures ScrapPrincess frenetic energy while being more concrete and defined – I really enjoyed his art style and wished we got to see more of it. The creatures are, for example, the nightmare fodder storkman, whose long legs stride through mist that sedate the legs of those caught in it – while they steal babies to place them at the threshold of other households for an inscrutable agenda. Briar witches haunt old ruins, and each word uttered in her vicinity will cause damage – and strengthen her. These witches can cause the growth of briars and brambles, and emit screams by spending hit points they absorbed. The artwork seems to show her with a rose in her mouth, which made me shudder. Finally, the snailing is a man with a snail’s shell on the back – transformed by their miserly nature into obsessive and dangerous collectors. All of these don’t have stats, but their concepts speak for themselves.

Daniel Sell’s “The Visitor”, also illustrated by Matthew Adamas, does come with stats – the entity is a weird, preternaturally quiet supernatural serial killer who enjoys invading homes and paralyzing targets, arranging them in grisly tableaus, mummifying its victims. Seriously twisted! Less horrific: Tobis. That’s short for Transplasmic Organic Bifurious Inductors, these entities can help stabilize magic and represent essentially a kind of unique homunculus that comes with special variants that have their own rules as well. Nice.

Speaking of which: Simon Forster contributes a brief short story, “Blood”, which, while slightly experimental, was a great read! Kudos! Simon Forster also presents the little scenario herein, which ties in with another article.

In order to talk about the brief module (which could jumpstart a whole campaign), we need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? A perfectly circular pool somewhere in the wild contains a massive ring at the bottom – once the curious adventurers pull it, the water willd rain into the sealed wizard’s laboratory/cave complex hidden beneath – and the water will erase the binding of That Which Slips Between. And this alone is worth getting this ‘zine if you even remotely like horror. Seriously. This entity gets its very own article, penned by Luke Gearing.

It is inspired. You see, the entity is essentially a nigh-unstoppable, strange force. To quote the start of the article: “It moves towards you. Its gait leisurely. Each step It takes moves too far towards you, the distance seeming to warp with every step. A nightmarish child-drawing of a human figure – a jumble of lines masquerading as a man, a stick figure given malignant life and purpose…” The entity comes with stats, but it can’t be harmed, it can’t be slain – I can just be contained. Its actions are not guided by mortal sense or dramaturgy – there is a generator to determine its actions, with 20 different entries, random directions and some rumors provided. These tables are GOLD. One of the things that makes the hounds of Tindalos and similar entities like Slenderman work so well, is that they seem to adhere to inscrutable rules – this is the case here. For example, the entity might move to the lowest depression within a 500 foot radius, then kill anything in that depression. It will kill anything that moves into the depression. After finishing its work, it will stand perfectly still for 6 minutes and 34 second. Time and its rules imposed on the creature, observing, roleplaying, is the only way to have a chance to deal with this utterly horrific…THING. It is genius, amazing and thoroughly glorious. It is genuinely SCARY.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, where applicable. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and as noted, the artworks featured within, particularly for the monsters, are awesome. The adventure-site gets a nice piece of b/w-cartography, but no untagged player-friendly version.

Daniel Sell, Simon Forster, Matthew Adams, Tony A. Thompson and Luke Gearing have created a humble little ‘zine that made me redefine what I can dare to hope from regarding ‘zines. This supplement is literally all killer, no filler and That Which Slips Between alone warrants getting this supplement. If you even remotely like horror, get this. The entity is so cool, I’m tempted to use it in pretty much all systems GUMSHOE, CoC, etc. – the monstrosity is just brilliant, and I’d pay serious bucks for a whole book of entities of this caliber. All in all, an excellent ‘zine for horror-fans, well worth 5 stars + seal of approval and my “Best of”-tag. Highly recommended!!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #2
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Troika!
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/11/2018 05:57:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This rules-lite RPG clocks in at 50 pages if you take away the front cover, TOC, and introduction; a simple character sheet is included in the deal. My review of this RPG system is based on the softcover print version, which is 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) in size. The cover of my print edition could be considered to be NSFW by particularly conservative standards, so please beware below – the review does sport a photo of the print copy below.

Now, while this RPG has been released by Melsonian Arts Council, it is not necessarily one we’d associate with classic OSR gaming in all but the most extensive of ways. Much like “Into the Odd” and similar games, we do deviate from the classic 6-attribute set-up, though Troika! Deviates imho even further from the classic set-up. While I have thus tagged this as “OSR” due to its aesthetics, it should be considered to be its own beast.

Instead, you only use d6s. Regarding dice notation, d666, for example, would mean rolling 3 dice in sequence and then adding the results together: Rolling a 3 on the first d6, a 2 on the second and a 5 on the last would mean you’d consult entry 325. Most checks will be done using 2d6, which you use to try to roll under or against a target value. The latter is known as “roll vs.” in the system.

Character generation is swift and painless: You roll d3 +3 to determine Skill- Skill behaves as a kind of proficiency bonus – you add it to all skills you have.

Then, you roll 2d6 +12 – this is your Stamina. Stamina is your hit points. If it’s reduced to 0 and your turn would come up or a turn ends, you die. Going to negative Stamina kills you instantly. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Stamina, and you can eat provisions to regain d6 Stamina, but only 3/day, so.

The third important value would be Luck. You roll d6 +6 to determine your Luck. When the GM calls for the “testing of luck”, you attempt to roll under the current luck score. Regardless of whether the test was successful, you reduce the current Luck score by 1. You may always choose to NOT test your luck, which is an interesting angle here. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Luck, to never exceed the starting maximum. Finally, if you have a tie in combat, you can test your Luck – on a success, you break the tie by adding +2 to your value.

And that is basically already the core chassis of the engine, though combat does work in a pretty radically different and interesting way: During combat or in situations where determining sequence of action is important, you assemble a bag: You take a container, put an assortment of differently colored dices, chits, coins or similar markers inside; all enemies share one color, a player is assigned a color, and there will be a final token of a distinct color that marks the end of the round. The GM will then proceed to blindly draw a chit/die/marker from the container, its color determining who gets to act. After acting, the token is removed. Once the end of the round token is drawn, all tokens are put back in the bag. Magic, poison, etc. is resolved at the end of the round. As you can glean, this makes combat a pretty risky and chaotic endeavor – while you only rarely will be doing nothing due to the tendency to roll versus as a response to attacks, combat as such turns out to be fast and lethal. It also manages to feel pretty differently from similar rules lite systems. One of my didactic concerns here would be that it’d have been nice to explicitly state how many chits a PC gets in the summary of initiative rules.

There is a card-based initiative alternative available, but I do not own the cards, so I can’t comment on them. You can find them here.

Now, the pdf does codify pretty tightly how combat actions work, what’s possible, etc., and delaying has you put your chit back in the bag, so it’s much less reliable than in comparable systems. Ranged attacks are opposed by shield or dodging, melee attacks by other melee attacks; ties mean that neither managed to hit the other in the case of melee attacks. Moving more than 12 feet takes up an action, and shooting into melee has all targets associate random numbers and determine who’s hit; casting spells requires Stamina expenditure. Interesting: In order to draw an item in combat, you have to roll equal to or higher than its position in your sheet, making item retrieval chaotic. Double 1s are failures and may force rolling on the “Oops”-chart of the spellcasting system; Double 6s on damage basically constitute critical hits, here called “mighty blows”, dealing double damage. Opposed mighty blows are noted.

Cover makes it harder to hit, shields impose a penalty to hit. Armor imposes a penalty on the damage incurred, but does take up item slots. I already mentioned these – you can only carry up to 12 items. Large items take up 2 slots, and carrying more than that imposes massive penalties. Now, damage is chaotic: You roll 1d6 and compare it plus its bonuses/penalties with a table; heavy percussive weapons can ignore 1 point of armor. As a whole, this makes the defense of characters mostly up to their attacking skill.

But how do you roll that? Well, it’s 2d6 + your Skill value, + advanced skills, if any. What’s that? Well, that’s what most folks will picture when reading “skills” – from sword-fighting to Stealth, to Strength, to Astrology, Blacksmithing, etc., this aspect of the system is very wide open – though thankfully, the core array of skills is codified: You will know, for example, that Run and Ride are different advanced skills.

How are advanced skills determined? Well, they are determined by the Background you choose. A d66-table if provided, and these basically represent both your race and class: You could end up as a member of the society of porters and basin fillers, as a rhino man, a poorly-made dwarf, a monkey monger, a parchment witch…or something more mundane. What’s a parchment witch, you ask? Well it’s one of the things that make Troika! shine beyond the basics. Littered throughout this gaming supplement, you’ll have tantalizing, deliberately obscure hints at an implicit setting that truly did capture my interest. Parchment witches, just fyi, would be undead that can’t give up on splendorous living, thus coating themselves in perfect paper skin. Rain and flame and not popular among them…And yes, several of these backgrounds do actually sport additional rules beyond the list of advanced skill values and possessions. The book also provides some guidance to make your own backgrounds. If you do want to play a renegade rhino man golden barge pilot, that ought to be possible, for example.

This does also extend to the sample spells noted: the classic sentry-spell, for example, has the wizard pluck out a piece of his mind and is risky: It distracts the caster and destroying the smidgeon of the caster’s mind can cause a nasty shock. If you cast “Zed”, you disappear, never to be seen again. Magic is just as odd and weird as the plethora of backgrounds, and the booklet does include a brief selection of sample items as well as a mini-bestiary. Each of the monster entries does come with a d6-based generator to determine the target creature’s mien. The list here is more conservative than I expected to see from the book, but e.g. goblins as vanguard of labyrinth-creation civilization, dull and fat lizardmen are nice tweaks. I also loved to learn that manticores are bibliophiles, and a sympathy snake crawling up your leg may make you despair at the awfulness of life. Totally okay to let go, as the predator mourns with you your demise in their jaws.

Advancement is simple, fyi: Upon using a skill successfully for the first time, you add a tick next to it; upon resting, you roll 2d6 and try to beat your current skill-level. On a success, you increase the skill by one, but you may only do so for up to 3 per rest; after a rest, you delete all ticks made. Improving past 12 requires rolling another 12 to improve by one point.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard and the booklet does come with quite a few amazing and weird artworks by Jeremy Duncan. The softcover is a saddle-stitched softcover with solid production values regarding the paper thickness.

(On my homepage, you can see photos of my print copy here.)

Daniel Sell’s Troika! game is deliberately vague and tantalizing, and some may call it “unfinished” – that would not be truly the case, though. Instead, it provides just enough to jumpstart your imagination with its oddities and peculiarities. The system is simple and elegant, though it can become very deadly very fast; defensive options are less potent, and eating a mighty blow can pretty much end PCs quick; similarly, bad luck in the initiative system can be lethal. This is a swingy system by design.

That being said, the game does level out pretty fast: Even veterans can and will die, so if you’re looking for long-term campaign play and pronounced character-attachment, then this may not be for you. However, if you are looking for an easy to pick up, weird, and often inspiring little system that plays differently from all other OSR-systems out there, that feels both old-school and fresh…then this is definitely worth checking out.

My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika!
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The Undercroft #1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/11/2018 04:13:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of this ‘zine clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content; the electronic version also includes a 4 page cover-file, which sports 1 page front and back cover and 2 pages of maps. I do own the physical copy of this ‘zine, and it is a surprisingly nice, saddle-stitched pamphlet (both electronic and print version are 6’’ by 9’’/A5), with red covers – stark, paper-quality wise nice, particularly considering the low asking price.

My review is thus primarily based on the print version, though I have taken the electronic version into account as well. It should also be noted that this is a LotFP-fanzine, employing the rules of the system, and, more importantly, as such it adheres to a dark/weird fantasy horror-aesthetic, recommended for mature folks. It’s not explicit in any way, but deals with dark themes.

After a brief introduction, we begin with the first article “Rewriting the Cure Disease Spell”, penned by Alex Clements. Okay, I usually try to go neutral review-robot, reserving my opinions to the sidelines and conclusion, but this, when I read it first, was an eye-opener of unrivaled proportions as far as what I expected from ‘zines and what I expect from them. Why? Because the article if pure frickin’ GENIUS. It is ridiculously simple, but it is something that has, at this point, found its way into all my games in one way or another. Yes, all of them. PFRPG, DCC, 5e, OSR-games – it doesn’t matter. I use this. Because it’s genius in its simplicity. The idea is as follows: A disease has an infection vector and a save (which is converted, should you need to, easily enough). Oh, and not all diseases are instantly cured. Syphilis suddenly makes sense in a world where clerical healing exists, for diseases can now have DHP – Disease Hit Points. These denote, in short, the number of times you need to cast the spell to cure it. In more complex games, you can tie this to At Higher Levels, caster levels etc. – or, well, not. There is a minor formatting snafu here, in that spell-references are capitalized, instead of italicized per the LotFP-standards. Similarly, multiple failed saves often come with progressively weirder effects – amazing.

Beyond the genius base system, we get proper, detailed stats for syphilis, Godrickson’s corruption (with its subtable of strange effects – and yes, you can lose your male genitalia, if any, to this horrid magical disease),the devil’s face tumor, sign of conduct with demons…and, obviously, the plague! Did I mention the glorious parasites or an elf-only curse that can render their magic volatile? Damn, I adore this section. This could carry a whole book, and all sample uses of the system are inspired. This one, alone, makes this a must-own.

Master of the Undercroft Daniel Sell does NOT fall behind this quality in the second section: “The Wager of Battle” is brilliant. In Yongardy, the law is followed and much beloved. Why? Because lawyers duke it out to settle disputes! The peculiarities of 6 different types of law are provided before we get a gigantic 3-page d30-table that lets you determine what a lawyer’s known for, a second section and a caveat. The table is one of the best examples of its kind. Estate lawyers (also known as doormen) battle with huge hammers and shields, while King’s law is enforced in plate and with great swords. I love this. It’s inspired.

Finally, the last section of the ‘zine depicts the “Barrow of the Old King”, which seems to be just a jolly old fetch-quest, to retrieve the ring of an obscure king who ostensibly slew giants. The pdf comes with 11 different random encounters, and the maps noted before, sport asterisks that, apart from referee-decision, are suggested to be when you roll the dice. The adventure is nominally recommended for all levels, but it should be noted that it is deadly and difficult. Players that don’t run may die horribly at low levels; personally, I consider this to be suitable, depending on player skill from levels 1 – 6. As a formal complaint, the monster formatting is somewhat inconsistent, with a few just getting HD-values, while others get hit point values. The adventure sports two levels with 29 keyed locales, spanning the barrow and some caves. Being an old-school module, this has no read-aloud text.

The following represents a brief discussion of the adventure and contains SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, beyond the lavishly-detailed dressing provided for the locations, which is used in really cool ways (mummified-bear-drawn chariot with a trap-door!), we have salt mummies, and there is a chance that the mighty, eponymous king runs into the PCs. If he does, they better run. At 8 HD, he’ll wreck them. Oddly, pantomiming gold-plated skeletons, Dark Souls II-style tripled zombies, sewn together, visions of the dying king…and yes, dumb PCs drinking metal can die in a nice example of a deserved save-or-die. Blasting crystals, risk/reward for greedy tomb robbers…this makes sense and is fair in its difficulty. There also is a unique, magical mace that gains strange effects when doubles are rolled damage-wise: Each of these are weird and come with their own lines of evocative prose that reminded me of the doom-ladden proclamations in e.g. Bloodborne: “And his heart sang of the deep.” is noted before the effects of one of these, for example. It’s a small thing, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of the complex…and there would be corpse lions, disgusting, deadly insects that make up the weird critters that have entered the complex, getting an intriguing write-up, having nasty gummy resin goo, smells noted and reaction/morale modifications. Size notes “A large dog” here, speed “as fast as a house cat while running” – precise values would have been preferred here. Other than that, this surprised me once more. The set-up is so basic and per se tired, but the creative ideas, detailed dressing and creative ideas elevate the module beyond almost every other module I have seen in a ‘zine. This surpasses many stand-alone adventures.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are good – there are a couple of utterly unnecessary deviation from established LotFP-formatting and rules-presentation conventions, which somewhat annoyed me. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column b/w-standard, with artwork chosen from public domain in an atmospheric manner. Cartography is b/w and nice, but lacks player-friendly versions. The electronic version lacks bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort detriment.

Daniel Sell and Alex Clements provide a first ‘zine that is remarkable in a ton of ways. The supplement is absolutely inspired, with all articles being excellent. Not a single one is boring or even mediocre. They all are excellent. Presentation-wise, this isn’t as elegant or gorgeous, but if you value substance, quality-prose and ideas over style, then you can’t do better than to check this out. The low asking price makes this a steal in my book. Now, I do have to complain about the minor formatting snafus and the lack of player-friendly maps, but considering that this is a freshman offering, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform, and this also deserves my seal of approval. Excellent indeed!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #1
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Troika! Initiative Cards
by Peter N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/09/2018 16:19:27

I like these. They are a fun alternative to the dice pull initiative mechanic for Troika!. Construction is good, the cards have a good weight, and they are compact. The art is awesome, Walter's style is bizarre, super cool, and it lends itself so well to the feel of Troika! and other weird RPGs.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! Initiative Cards
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Fever Swamp
by Felix M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/10/2018 20:00:20

Five dollars, and you'll get a living, writhing, steaming swamp, filled with pain and disease, and creatures that leak their way onto your gaming table, and into the minds of your players. It's so very very worth it.

It's extremely functional. I bought a copy at lunchtime, and was running a game almost immediately afterwards. It communicates its tone with profound and useful brevity. It's eloquent, but never outstays its welcome with prose. The illustrations are all beautiful, and serve that same unrelenting tone of oppressive heat and the stench of death.

If you're looking for somewhere to kill a few players of your favourite OSR experience in an afternoon, then Fever Swamp is the place to go.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever Swamp
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Troika! - Free Artless Edition
by Gary M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/26/2018 14:08:52

As an American, I didn't come to Fighting Fantasy until late in life, after years of D&D and its derivatives. This is kind of an OSR version of Fighting Fantasy, and it's fantastic. There is more flavor in one paragraph of this than in a dozen OD&D knockoffs. While there's no given background, and that may turn some people off, the world of the game is given out in little refrences in the character, item, and spell descriptions - a very cool old-school way of doing it, and the rest is left up to the GM and/or players to fill in. With their imaginations! GASP! On the one hand this cries out for expansion, but on the other - it's a set of paints and brushes to create your own masterpiece with. AND simple d6-based rules! AWESOME is not the word. Hit that dowload button and savor!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! - Free Artless Edition
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Something Stinks in Stilton
by Justin I. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/06/2017 18:49:48

I recently grabbed the pdf Something Stinks In Stilton in the very awesome ConTessa 2017 Bundle of Awesome. While I've definitely not had time to run the adventure yet, I've read through it a few times and am looking forward to running it one of these days.

Written by Oli Palmer, Something Stinks in Stilton is a 30 page adventure written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but honestly is compatible with any version of D&D witha little work. Like most LotFP adventures it takes place in the early modern era of Earth. You won't find dwarves and elves, but you will find English folk with a healthy fear of what the Church can do.

Here's the premise:

In the 13th century, Stilton produced amazing cheese. Then the Church came and suddenly the cheese trade died out. Now it's 1730 and the village of Stilton has started producing great cheese again.

The adventure feels like a classic LotFP adventure. There's definitely weirdness and some magic, but no big rewards for players. Much like a Lovecraft story, we're presented with a group of odd rural folk with a big secret that taints those around them. I don't want to spoil the story but so I won't go into details about it.

There's a lot to like in this one. There's an interesting backstory, a quirky cast of characters, and reality warping magic. The pdf has a nice layout too. Important info and or potential character actions are bolded in red. The adventure has a clear timeline and an advice section labeled "Help, the PCs decided to..." Player's never do what's expected, so this is particularly handy.

If you're a fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess and you want a short adventure with some rural creepiness and perhaps a bit of dark humor, Something Stinks in Stilton is a good choice.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Something Stinks in Stilton
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Troika! - Free Artless Edition
by Charles V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/06/2016 13:59:20

Troika is free and awesome. Why are you reading this? Just get it!

OK FINE. The osr fighting and fantasy-based system is easy to understand, only requires d6s, uses skills and 3 stats. There is a base Skill number, your natural affinity for doing things without training, Stamina, which is basically HP, and Luck, which can be used as a sort of Save Against X and for other purposes. Skills range from Running to Jousting to Gambling to Axe Fighting, Etiquette and Trapping. In general the skills are descriptive enough you know exactly how they should be used without looking things up.

So Troika can be used to run the same kinds of games you'd run with OSR DnD. So why use it over DnD? Well, I'd say it's even easier to grok than B/X for a newcomer, and quite easy for an experience GM or player to adapt to. NPC stats are easy to improv up for GMs who, like me, don't want to have to carefully create every idiot who will waylay, oppose, or aid the PCs. The system might not supplant all other OSR systems, but that's fine - it's easy enough to learn that it won't be a burden.

But the genius isn't just the system, it's what else you get: the implied setting that you can see through PC backgrounds, the spell list, gear, and NPCs.

The setting is outstanding. There is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, though the world is more fantastical and magical than science fictiony. It's not like Numenera, where all 'magic' is really science. You have demon hunters and skeptical lammasu and androids (all PC backgrounds). Wizards of various stripe, priests, dwarves, gremlin hunters, and lost invaders from other spheres. It is evocative and unique. It is a world I want to explore.

The writing is also quite funny. The Poorly Made Dwarf pc background, the flavor text for the Troll npc, many of the spells, the Tower Wizard... Sell's sense of humor is sprinkled throughout. He hasn't written a parody of OSR settings or the like; I think that what he has is perfectly playable and can portray Serious Important Things. But I can't wait to see a wizard cast Banish Spirit by explaining 'clearly, sternly, why it is impossible that the spirit could be here at this time.'

So, a cool implicit setting, good writing, and a simple system, which means you're not going to spend a lot of time memorizing or learning odd or obscure rules for various things. It's free. Get it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! - Free Artless Edition
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