Category Archives: Reviews

Acquisitions Incorporated Review for D&D 5th

First let me confess that at one point I watched a good deal of the live show this material is based on.  But with the departure of Chis Perkins who really was a great comic straight man and DM I have lost interest in the series. So I was sort of the audience for this book like a year or 2 ago.  But with the growth of D&D and most of the new players exposure coming from show like Acquisitions Incorporated this book seems like a no brainer for Wizards of the Coast.

So the concept of Acquisitions Incorporated is Adventuring group as Corporation with a Comic twist.  Think The Office with swords. While the concept of adventuring group as a guild or company or guild is older than D&D.  I think this concept has potential for a solid campaign setting.

This book contains a campaign to take characters from level 1 to 6 based on the idea that the players are starting a new Franchise of Acquisitions Incorporated with the characters gaining a level each chapter instead of the carrot on a stick XP. Which I like and it makes sure that the campaign moves at a decent clip. The adventures are pretty good but mostly standard fair find the pieces of an Artifact that is can destroy the world before someone that wants to use it for evil.  I think what separates this from just your run of the mill Fantasy game is the downtime activities to help you build your franchise, live in the town, or investigate the mystery.

There is a section to help you build characters for this game and these are a new path for a City Barbarian, character backgrounds, race, and spells. The City barbarian is interesting as a kind of mob enforcer and the Spells have a new component type where every time you cast it  the original creator gets a gold.

Humor elements and the characters of the show are woven into the DNA of this book but is not as intrusive as you would think. This book is dense new people that pick this up expecting to be laughing as much as watching the show will probably be disappointed as this book is good fan service but lacks what makes the show any good the people that bring it to life and fails to transcend to something more.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh Review

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is a recent release from Wizards of the Coast for the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition roleplaying game. In the interest of full disclosure, we here at Full Metal RPG were given this book free of charge by Wizards of the Coast for the purposes of review, and will be raffling off the limited edition cover variant. Ghosts of Saltmarsh (GoS) is a series of nautically themed adventures, some of which are part of a linked narrative, while others are stand alone dungeon crawls. The adventures are appropriate for various character levels, not necessarily flowing into each other easily. Often there are level gaps between where one adventure would end and another would begin, or no threads tying the narrative together.

The intro of the book details the town of Saltmarsh, and is easily the section from which I would derive the most utility. Set in Greyhawk, Saltmarsh is not part of the current Forgotten Realms default setting, but there are sidebars about porting things over to other settings in the line. The town is laid out and explained in a way that makes sense. The various dramatis personae and factions dwelling within the town are explained with enough detail to allow the GM to flesh out and explore the politics and tensions. The are mentions made to the Pirate Kings and various kingdoms, but no details given on those factions, so expect to do some additional research if you would like to include any of that content in your game. Saltmarsh is listed as having a population of 5,000, with 100 active guards, which feels incredibly high given the talk about how much smuggling is reported to occur. That is one guard for every 50 people. Assuming the average family is 4 people, each guard could personally inspect 3 dwellings a day without having to exceed a five day work week. How good are these smugglers? Or perhaps how lazy are these guards? That quibble aside, the town would make for a nice grim dark low fantasy location for something like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or something more OSR and less epically heroic than D&D. At a certain point, the type of characters you grow into in the World’s Most popular Roleplaying Game are no longer going to want to hang around what is basically a glorified fishing village.

After the chapter on the town come the adventure modules. There are seven in all: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, Salvage Operation, Isle of the Abbey, Final Enemy, Tammeraut’s Fate, and The Styes. Finally, the book contains three appendices: Of Ships and the Sea, Magic Items, and Monsters and NPCs.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is billed as a haunted house adventure, which I found an intriguing prospect. As someone who loves horror, I was very interested in what they were going to do with this concept. The answer, disappointingly, was that the house is not really haunted at all, and is instead a fairly standard “murder all the baddies” room by room search. This felt like a missed opportunity to do something really unique with the line and grow it in a new direction. The adventure is fine, but nothing remarkable. I would do something different with it, playing more on the haunted house angle.

The next adventure, Danger at Dunwater, is intended for 3rd level characters.  Continuing off of the first, it sends the characters on a mission of diplomacy to some lizard folk. While the leader of the council impresses on the characters that this is an information gathering mission, it is entirely possible to slaughter your way through the dungeon and not bother with negotiation at all. Given the usual way these adventures run, this is how I would expect things to play out. I prefer this adventure over the one that preceded it, as smart characters can avoid a fight entirely, though I would certainly make it very clear from the outset that killing absolutely everyone is not the desired solution of the town leadership. With branching paths and multiple means to success, this tale is one of the more compelling to appear in the book, though by no means the best adventure.

Following the crawl through the home of the lizard folk is Salvage Operation, and adventure for 4th level characters. This adventure is not connected to the first two in any way, and sends the party off to retrieve a chest from the cargo hold of a nearby shipwrecked craft. The confines are tight and the idea of exploring a derelict craft is appealing, but I wish it had gone for a more supernatural theme instead of the more standard fantasy creatures employed. Spoilers: Servants of Lloth show up! Good old Lloth, who as the Drow spider goddess of course makes perfect sense as a villain in an adventure set at sea. I suppose octopuses have eight legs, too, so maybe there is some kinship. I wish they had played up that angle, honestly. This is shortest adventure in the book, coming in at all of seven pages.

Next is Isle of the Abbey, intended for 5th level characters. The town would like to claim a small, strategically located island in order to build a lighthouse. The island is home to burned out abbey, which is itself home to cultists who survived a recent attack by pirates. Getting on the island involves making landfall on a beach, with threats buried beneath the sand. From there the party explores the ruin and drives out the remaining cultists. Rather standard fare, honestly.

Continuing the story from Danger at Dunwater is the Final Enemy, an adventure for characters of 7th level. Having either murdered all the lizardfolk, or agreed to aid them against a common foe, the party is once more sent on a reconnaissance mission is the stronghold of the Sahuagin. This is a slog through a dungeon packed densely with foes. It is possible to complete the investigation without needing to resort to violence, but not probable given the number of threats contained within the confines. There are some nice set pieces here, and it can be a little overwhelming in spots.

Next is Tammeraut’s Fate, an adventure for 9th level characters. The characters are sent to investigate an island recently reclaimed by a religious order. Of course, something has gone terribly wrong, and the party must perform a room by room exploration to ferret out the enemy and stop a terrible evil hidden in the depths of the sea. Spoiler: It is Orcus. It is always Orcus. I do not know why you cannot have an adventure without Orcus showing up as the bad guy at some point, but here he is, for anyone who was worried he would not make an appearance in a nautical adventure and the writers might use a more appropriate villain instead. When I think of the ocean, I think of Orcus and Lloth.

At least we come to the final adventure, and the standout for me: the Stye, for characters of 11th level. This is a street level, Lovecraftian style murder mystery with dark conspiracies and an evil cult. It is probably the best arc of the lot, however at 11th level are characters really interested in skulking back alleyways and dealing with peasants getting murdered? It is a shame that so many of the iconic and disturbing monsters are reserved for characters reaching a point where they can venture to other planes and take in strange, otherworldly sights. 

There are three appendices, the first of which covers ship stats and ocean travel, which I suppose is useful for people who want that level of detail and immersion in their game. This seems like it would have been good information to have at the front of the book, given that several of the adventures involve travel over open water and will likely require the characters to have access to a ship. There are rules for ship combats and environmental threats and challenges, along with tools for undersea and shipwreck adventures. The next two entries cover magic items and NPCs and monsters appearing in the book, which is to be expected. Nothing too controversial. This is the portion of the book most likely to entice the nautically inclined.

In terms of physical quality, this is a Wizards of the Coast product, with high production values and the quality of art, maps, and construction you would expect. You will not be disappointed in the book as an artifact. WotC makes quality goods.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh is an odd little book. Clearly not meant for new GMs or players, it is a nostalgic uplift of older modules from various sources. The different adventures all orbit around the sea, but it all feels disjointed. I would expect GoS to appeal to older, more experienced gamers, the kind of people more than capable of taking an old adventure and tooling it to the current edition themselves, should they so desire. Perhaps it is merely meant for aquatic enthusiasts, but the lack of rules for pirates or a royal navy faction would seem to limit the appeal to that audience as well. It gives rules on constructing ships and ocean travel and environmental threats, but was this something the community was clamoring for? I have been disconnected from the Dungeons & Dragons world for so long that perhaps this is the case. In the end, I would expect the people this type of content speaks to know who they are, and completionists will purchase a copy because that is the nature of being a completionist. I would have a difficult time recommending this book to anyone who is not enthralled by the core concept and the idea of oceanic adventures. There is not enough there to entice me to do much with the book.

Wrath & Glory Review

Wrath & Glory is a game from Ulisses Spiele North America, based on the popular Warhammer 40,000 setting by Games Workshop. This game is not an evolution on the Black Industries and subsequent Fantasy Flight editions of the Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying, but a ground up rebuild. Gone is the d100 percentile system, and in its place the designers have built a d6 system. I think this is a solid choice stylistically, as Warhammer 40k players are very familiar with d6s and should have quite a few of them lying around, particularly if they have bene playing the most recent edition of the miniatures game. Given that the primary market for this game would be fans of the tabletop wargame, this makes a lot of sense.

Weighing in at just over 450 pages, this is a decent sized book. The hardcover has a matte finish that is pleasant to the touch. It is full color and has a number of evocative illustrations, many of them pulled from the miniatures game. There are two ribbons provided for keeping track of relevant pages or points of interest in the book. The sector map is very well done. Everything feels very polished and professional.

The first forty pages or so are an introduction to the game, with twenty odd pages devoted to the setting, which is not an adequate amount of space to get into the meat of the universe. There is so much going on in the lore and meta of the game that attempting to condense all of it down would be a herculean undertaking. Broad strokes are given the various factions within the imperium, the forces of chaos, and a handful of the xenos races. This is not a significant problem since, as previously stated, the people who are likely to buy this game are likely fans of the setting already. However, if some kid off the street buys this they are in for a surprise when they realize how deep that rabbit hole goes. There are entire wikis and youtube channels simply devoted to exploring the voluminous lore or the Warhammer universe.

The next section covers the rules of the game, which are rather crunchy. The core mechanic is assembling a pool of d6s, determining the difficulty number, and looking for 4,5, or 6 results. 6s are treated differently than a 4 or a 5 and may offer additional effects if certain criteria are met. One die is always the wrath die and rolling a 1 or 6 on this die has its own special effects. Additional success beyond what is needed can be shifted in various ways, such as to speed up the time needed or gain extra information. Honestly, the rules can feel a bit fussy. There is a lot going on here, and this is before getting into Wrath points, Glory points, and Ruin, which are each acquired and spent in different ways. Individually these are far less powerful than the older fate points, but you get a whole lot more of them. Combined with shifts, Wrath, Glory, and Ruin are the methods by which you can inject some narrative tricks and flare into the game, and they work well in that capacity. Or you can just get rerolls with them, which is… fine. I guess.

The book then goes into character creation, which is 140 plus pages of rules on the various tiers, which set the expected power level of the game, different archetypes that can be played, including Chaos, Eldar, and Ork characters, and character advancement. You can level a character up to another tier if, for instance, someone really wants to play an Imperial Guardsman in a game with Space Marines and not die horribly in the first three minutes. The main focus of this book is the imperium, and there are a healthy number of imperial archetypes to choose from. Everything from Scavvys to Rogue Traders to Techpriests. If it is an Imperial group and you want to play it, you probably can, unless you are looking for the Custodes or something, but then your entire game is going to focus on standing around the golden throne making sure no one gets too close. Chaos, Eldar, and the Orks only have a handful of options available by comparison, and I would expect them to be built upon in subsequent releases. I understand including them in the core book, but it feels like they would really benefit from a deeper exploration in the future. I imagine most of the major factions will get a treatment, perhaps baring the Tyranid and Necrons, where free will does not exist in any real sense.

Following character creation, we have combat rules. Unsurprisingly, Wrath & Glory has a heavy focus on combat and doing damage. In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war, after all. The combat rules, much like the core rules, get finicky. You will need to compare your attack roll against the target’s defense to see if you hit, then compare your damage roll against resilience to see how much damage is done, then the enemy may or may not get a soak to see how much of that damage gets downgraded into stress vs wounds. There are rules on fighting mobs, grappling, critical hits, multiple actions, scattering, called shots. It gets overwhelming pretty quickly. When I ran the game, I did it using the stripped-down rules from the quick start I found even those to be unwieldy. I do not love all the various subsystems and special cases found in this section. It all got to be too much and required several rereads. The initiative system is a very curious beast. There are no rolls. The players always get to nominate one of their characters to go first. Then the GM picks an NPC, then back to the players. This is easily my favorite innovation in the game, as it leads to tactically interesting choices and discussions among the players. Do they want the Space Marine to try to mow down the mob, or have the Psyker try to neutralize the leader first? There are tools to spend Glory, for players, or Ruin, for the GM, to seize the initiative, altering this flow a bit. It works really well at the table.

The remainder of the book covers adventuring, weapons and equipment, cybernetics, vehicles, voidships, psychic powers, corruption, and mutations. The vehicle rules need more attention and fleshing out. The decision to give them defense, resilience, and wound ratings like the characters is not one that I love, though I do understand why it was done. They had to keep it brief and focus on the characters. It was simply an odd choice given how almost everything else has special rules. Perils of the warp and Corruption have their own specific systems that have to be interacted with, for instance. Psychic powers have the potential to be seriously unbalancing but are also a hell of a lot of fun. The book culminates in a bestiary, which offers a selection of iconic foes with which to harry the hapless protagonists or slow them down slightly if they are playing Space Marines. The enemies have threat ratings to give you a sense of how they should be employed against the different tier levels. A genestealer is a significant problem for a Tier 1-2 party, but an inconvenience for Tier 4 characters.

In terms of the experience, the game does give you the feeling of being in the world of Warhammer 40,000 in a way that previous incarnations sometimes struggled with. The percentile system was often times unforgiving, and while that was fine for a game like Only War or Dark Heresy, you needed to be rather generous with bonuses when playing Death Watch or Black Crusade to make characters of that caliber accordingly epic. In Wrath & Glory the Space Marine feels like a Space Marine. The Guardsman feels like a Guardsman. The characters work well, and each one had something unique and interesting about them mechanically. With that said, the grim dark and perilous nature of the 40k universe has been replaced with a far more heroic sensibility. Traditionally there are not any heroes in the lore, just degrees of awful, and a sense that everything is continually getting worse for the galaxy. This tonal shift is something Games Workshop has been making in the core game, with the reintroduction of the Primarchs and a focus on the Imperium as somehow being the good guys, despite being fascists that willingly sacrifice tens of thousands to keep the astronomicon glowing and subjugate entire worlds to fuel a war machine that has spun out of control. #horusdidnothingwrong

I would recommend Wrath & Glory to any fan of Warhammer 40,000 who longs to play a game set in that universe, if only because it is effectively the only way to do so. With the implosion of the Fantasy Flight/Games Workshop alliance those books are all out of print and notoriously difficult to come across at rates that do not border on extortion. Simply understand you will be interacting with a traditional style game with a heavy focus on combat and few bolted on narrative tricks. It gets the job done, and in the end, that is impressive enough given the source material.

OmegaZone Review

OmegaZone is a game I picked up at GenCon last year. It sat on my shelf for a while, as we are currently awash in post-apocalyptic role-playing games: Gamma World, Mutant Year Zero and the related anthropomorphic animals and robots book, Tiny Wastelands, Apocalypse World, Mutant Chronicles, Degenesis, and Dystopia Rising currently on Kickstarter. OmegaZone consists of a setting guide and deck of cards. It is not so much a full game as a toolkit meant to be run using the Fate Accelerated System. This is not called out on the exterior of the book itself, but instead on a small box in the corner of the cards. The main component seems to be the deck of cards, with the text as supplement, which I found to be a curious design choice. Normally cards are the peripheral, a value add to the game play experience.

Character generation consists of drawing a couple character definition cards and one mutation card. You are then left to build off of what you drew to fill in the details of the character and their motivations. The options here are all fairly standard fare, and nothing too outrageous or game breaking. Once you have done this, you add a High Concept and Trouble aspect to the character and you are more or less done. The cards define your approaches, so depending on what you draw, you may be wildly capable in certain areas, and completely useless in others, or have a low spread across the board. This cedes a great deal of the player’s narrative control and agency to random chance, which I do not love, but I do not see another workable approach when you are using cards for this mechanism.

Digging into the game, the setting information contained is fairly constrained, which is likely a function of needing to fit the relevant information on to a standard sized playing card, along with art and design components. The cards themselves are well made and feel nice. They certainly did not go cheap on them, which is good, because this is a concept that relies heavily on the cards and is going to live or die by them. The art is fun and fanciful, which fits the wacky feel of the game. The settings, called Locations, on the cards consist of the Location name with a one sentence description, a couple sentences on a Group that can be found in the Location, and a sentence or two on the Leader for that group. The Locations are expounded upon in the book, by which I mean you get one or two additional paragraphs about that area and the leader character found within.

For example, one Location, The Reach, is described as: “The Reach is treacherous, but riches are there for the taking.” What does that mean? It is entirely up to the GM to expound up on that one nugget to make it meaningful. The book itself does not provide any additional information as to what the author envisioned for The Reach. Is it an old technology park? A military compound? An underground bunker? That is up to you to decide, at which point you have created everything yourself anyway.

If you are looking for an out of the box setting that is ready to go, I would recommend the Mutant Year Zero zone books instead. While there are some good story seeds and interesting ideas in OmegaZone, you are left to do the heavy lifting and world building. There is a section that discusses generating your own Locations, but only to the extent you get the same three item block of information. The Mutant Year zone books, conversely, are fully fleshed out and more or less ready to go without much work from the GM. I am a big fan of presenting me with more information and letting me carve away and shape the area to my tastes. There is more to work with that way.

My major criticism of OmegaZone is that there needs to be more of just about everything. Fitting all of the mutations, items, locations, and story seeds into a single 52 card deck means not much space could be given to anything, which really narrowed what was able to be presented. This book could easily have been twice as long and likely would have benefited from it. The settings and story seeds should have been their own deck, giving more room to breathe life into the world and give the characters more options.

With so many options for post-apocalyptic games at the moment, it is difficult to recommend OmegaZone over something like Mutant Year Zero, which is far more developed, or Gamma World, which clearly inspired OmegaZone. The decision is going to depend entirely on how you feel about the cards and using them as the primary driver for the game. It does benefit from being incredibly cheap compared to the other options, with the deck usually costing $12 if you find it at a convention. A pdf of the cards can be had on Drive Thru RPG for $8, and the Setting book PDF is $10. Personally I don’t know that I will get much use out of OmegaZone, as I tend to love and collect these type of settings, and already have plenty of material to work with.

Mutant: Year Zero Review

Mutant: Year Zero is a post-apocalyptic role-playing game by Free Play League and distributed by Modiphius.  This book was recommended to me by Michael Collett from the Friday Night Roleplaying club. I am unabashed in my love of post-apocalyptic games and settings, and while the genre is incredibly popular for video games, published role playing games in this vein seem few and far between. The grandfather of these is, of course, Gamma World, which was a wonderfully weird look at life after the great mistake. Mutant: Year Zero has a darker tone.

This is a grim and unforgiving take on life among the ashes. The technology level is decidedly modern, lacking the fanciful science fiction elements common in Gamma World or Fallout. In some ways, it is even low tech, with the absence of computers and cellular communications. If you have a working vehicle that is a luxury.  You may have a gun, but you rarely want to use it, as bullets are the currency of the world and must be tracked. You also need to keep track of food, water, and your rot level if you hope to survive long. Life is hard in Mutant: Year Zero, and the game is as much resource management and base building as it is exploration and fighting.

The core of the game is rooted in the zone map. This is effectively a hex crawl, where you go in search of food, water, and supplies. There is a mechanic to randomly generate these zones within the map, which is how I first began running the game. I found this to be a shallow way to experience the world. You miss out on the detail and strangeness inherent in such a setting if you are merely rolling dice and populating an area according to tables. After the zone is generated, the players roll dice to navigate the area and the result of that roll determines what they encounter and any items they find. At early levels it is possible to roll up a death trap for the characters, and if they roll poorly in response, wipe the entire party. While this is thematically appropriate, it can be unsatisfying to be victims to the whims of fate to this degree.

In contrast, the book offers a handful of fleshed out zones for players to interact with, and these are where I think the game shines. You can take multiple approaches and handle the situation in smart ways. It encourages and rewards immersive play. I found interspersing these more crafted areas amid the randomly generated squares to be the best approach for running the game. Sadly, the core book does not give you enough of these, so it is wise to supplement with the zone books for the line, invent your own, or find zones other places. Such as, perhaps, a Zine. Like Survivalism, which is available on the Full Metal RPG patreon.

Shameless plugs aside, Mutant: Year Zero feels like it is really two games married together. There is the exploration part, where you are going out and searching for resources, and there is the Ark, your home base. At the start of each session you generate a new threat, by either rolling or drawing from a deck of cards Modiphius will happily sell you. After this is done, you undertake projects. These are things that increase the technology level, defenses, or resource generation abilities of your Ark. You can build a stable, functional society, or opt for a cannibal death cult that destroys anyone they come across.

The Ark is deeply political environment, ruled over by competing bosses and nominally overseen by the eldest, the last true human of which you know. The mind of the eldest has started to go and the future is very uncertain. Further, mutants do not survive past 30, so if a solution is not found soon, your people are doomed to extinction. The bosses are jockeying for position, and a number of the threat cards are centered around the ark, and existential threats to your scrappy society, both internal and external.

It is possible to run entire sessions either in the Ark or out in the wasteland. The flavor of each is very different. In the wasteland everyone cooperates to find resources, fight off monsters, and survive. Back in the Ark the players had a tendency to split apart and each scheme with different bosses and factions. When the end came for players in my game, it was inside the Ark, as a result of their actions or the wheels set into motion by others.

There is a story underlying all of this. I will not get into it, as I want to avoid spoilers and found it slightly underwhelming. It is not terrible, it is simply a tad predictable and uninteresting, all told. I did not use much of this material when I ran the game myself, but if meta plot is your thing, there is a meta plot here you can run with should you so desire.

The core mechanic involves rolling d6 to resolve actions. There are three types of dice needed: Attribute, Ability, and Equipment. It helps to have different colored dice for these, and Modiphius will happily sell you exorbitantly priced custom dice. 6s represent successes, and 1s are potentially bad. If you do not generate any successes, you have the option to push the role, but doing so causes the 1s rolled to have a negative effect. You either take attribute strain, or your equipment suffers damage.

The game is called mutant, and you are playing a mutant. Character creation is a point buy system, where you start by picking your role, and then assigning attributes and abilities based on that role and its special ability and talents. Mutations are randomly generated, which can make things a bit lopsided. In our play through we had several characters who rarely used their mutations, and others who used them every opportunity they had. Mutations are fueled by mutation points. Mutation points are generated when you take attribute strain, or at the start of each session if you are at 0. Using mutations forces you to roll a number of dice equal to the mutation points spent. On a roll of 1, something unexpected happens and you roll again. A further roll of 1 means you permanently lose an attribute point, but gain a new mutation. The other results have their own effect, but the two ones are effectively the death spiral that is built into the game. Once your attributes are low enough your character is no longer playable.

One final quibble is availability. Mutant: Year Zero suffers from a problem that seems all too common among the Free Play League games: Finding a copy can be an absolute chore. You can, of course, order from the publisher over in England, which can nearly doubles the cost of acquiring the game. The alternative is hunting across multiple game shops until you manage to stumble across a copy and then snatch it up like Gollum grabbing the Precious.

I like Mutant: Year Zero quite a bit. It is not as gonzo as I had initially hoped for, and the resource management and bookkeeping portions can be a bit tedious, but it is a really fun game to run and experiment with. I feel like the zone books are almost necessary to get the maximum utility out of the game, and it really could use a games master book to expand on zone building, adversary generation, creating maps, and offer a toolkit for modifying the game. It is a gritty, dark take on a genre that is often portrayed as weird and humorous. There is a lot here to like and you should pick it up if this type of game interests you. Assuming you can find it.

Review: Stormbringer 1st Edition

A few weeks ago my friend Adam Sink bought me a copy of Stormbringer first edition rulebook that he found on the shelf of a used bookstore for fifteen dollars. Knowing that I was in the midst of collecting a mammoth Stormbringer collection, he texted me, asking if I wanted him to pick it up on my behalf. I demurred, saving money for Gen Con. Adam, the sport that he is, picked it up anyway as a gift.

Any man, I sure am glad that he did.

Stormbringer is set in the world of the Young Kingdoms, the realm where the Elric portion of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle of novels takes place. It deals with a failing empire in conflict with nascent powers and the fate of tragic figures driving this world into an apocalypse that has been foreseen, but which the characters are powerless to prevent.

The 144 page softcover book is actually the manual that came inside of the 1st Edition Stormbringer boxed set. This was published in 1981 by Chaosium and is written by old school roleplaying luminaries Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin. The art for the book is wonderfully evocative and composed by Frank Brunner.

The copy Adam found for me was sans boxed set, which is why it was priced so attainably. The boxed set comes with a fold out map of Michael Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms and some other play aides, but everything you need to play the game is contained inside the covers of the manual. Additionally, I have like 4 other versions of the Stormbringer RPG so I’m up to my eyeballs in maps of the the Young Kingdoms anyway.

Now, I could get into a whole screed on the differences between this edition and any other. Some of those differences are big, some are nuanced, but they are beyond the scope of this review. My purpose here is to inspire you to go on eBay immediately and hunt up a copy of first edition Stormbringer, regardless of its condition, regardless of whether it has the box and the dice and all that crap.

But in order to go forward I have to go back a little further first. See all of this was presaged to me by none other than Sunderland’s resident wizard Jamie over a year ago via Instagram.

Jaime owns and operates Colosseum Rex in Sunderland, UK,  and I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about him here before. But In case you haven’t, I’ll catch you up. I met Jaime on Instagram back in 2014. At the time we would just talk about roleplaying games that captured our imaginations. He lived in the UK. I lived in LA. As the years have passed, Jaime has constantly challenged my perceptions of roleplaying and pushed me to explore more and be open to new ideas. As a thinker and a student of tabletop gaming he’s always about a year ahead of me. I find it incredibly vexing, but if past precedent is any kind of future predictor, whatever Jaime is up to now – will be the fad that I’m binging on in twelve to fifteen months.

One day on Insta he called out my love of the OSR movement directly. I wish I could find the quote. But his point was simply “Do we even need an OSR movement when there are so many great old games laying around, waiting to be rediscovered and played?” Of course, even after a spirited round of debate with him, I still believe that new blood exhuming old ideas and breathing new life into them is a necessary force in the roleplaying community and an objective good. I don’t think the brilliance of Diogo Nogueira’s “Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells” or James Vail’s “Xas Irkalla” would be with us if we didn’t have young blood developers looking back in order to find the way forward. But I will say that Jaime’s argument opened my mind to taking a deeper look at games that had more or less run their course by the time I was discovering the hobby in the very late 80s, early 90s.

So that brings us to Stormbringer first edition. I started reading it on a lark. There was something about the way the high weight pages of the manual felt in my hand that took me back to my teenage years when I would spend all day on the weekends or when school was not in session, draped across a couch reading a softcover Vampire manual. Seized by this nostalgia I began to read the book carefully from the inside cover, and fell in love with a brilliant and beautiful game that as far as I am concerned never got the attention or the lifespan it deserved.

Now this is the part of the review where we would usually start breaking things down into bullet points, pros and cons. I’m going to forego that tradition for this game because I don’t think that kind of binary thinking serves old school games very well. There are aspects of this game that some people will delight in, those same aspects will make others climb the walls with frustration.

I will say this as a downside: Stormbringer books are very difficult to get a hold of. In the last year since I have gotten serious about collecting them, I have noticed that their prices have risen sharply, and they were not cheap to begin with. If you are a compulsive collector of things of beauty, consider this before starting down the path of collecting Stormbringer: you cannot have just one.

You cannot have just one core book, one edition, one sourcebook. Once you have partaken of this game, you have no choice but to have them all, and some pieces will come at great cost.


Character creation in Stormbringer should really be called the character lottery. It’s clear that Ken St. Andre didn’t have balance on his mind when he was writing this game. And on some level that’s fine. The Elric cycle of novels doesn’t have much to do with balance. The central protagonist of the novels is the monarchy of one of the world’s greatest empires and he spends his time in the novels chumming around with everyone from scum of the earth adventurers to merchant princes to everyone in between.

Indeed, a very small percentage of the characters in the Stormbringer game will be mind-bendingly powerful. Predominantly magic-users, they will harness the power of demons, slay anyone who dares to stand against them and carve the history of the Young Kingdoms. Everyone else will pale in comparison to their raw power. All of this is determined in the character creation phase by rolling dice. Your ‘race’ your class, your attributes are determined for you by prescribed dice roll. There are very few choices you, as the player, have any say in during this phase. Honestly, if the GM were to lay out 4 or 5 pregenerated characters before the campaign began and let the players discuss which one they wanted to play, there would be more agency and selection. A typical Stormbringer character could be generated by a computer program. Now, as I said, some players will embrace this ‘winds of fate’ style of roleplaying. Others will reject it.

The Stormbringer system is sort of weirdly math-y. It’s a classic OSR style percentile, where the higher your percentile is in something, the better you are at it, and there are incentives to roll low. If you are a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Dark Heresy enthusiast you will recognise this game design principle.

While reading, there were times when I would marvel at the system’s simple elegance. Other times I found myself wondering why anyone would bother with this. Overall I found it to be really fun, at least on paper, I haven’t had a chance to run this thing yet. There are lots of unique subsystems dealing with fractions of percentages that at times I found kind of tedious and burdensome. But then there were subsystems that got no constraints at all like the winged men of Myrrh’s ability to fly without defined restrictions, which I thought was amazing.

Combining both the idea of subsystems and power level, a huge part of the Sorcery section of the book details systems that player characters will rarely, if ever, have the chance to use. The magic of the Elric universe is arbitrated by demons. Humans have no ability to wield magic on their own, and must impose on bound demons to borrow their power. Still, the ability to bind a demon is so rare, difficult and risky, it’s unlikely that a PC will ever get to have the experience. The rules seem like they were included largely to cover NPCs, but Ken St. Andre doesn’t tell us this straight out. He waits until the very end of the magic system and then sort of alludes to it, but I think that a lot of players in the 80s sort of glossed over his warning.

I’ve heard that there can be weird problems with this version of the game where people are binding demons to every damned thing in hopes of getting bonuses out of them, which is clearly against the intention of the book, although there are no rules prohibiting it. I guess it’s one of those classic John Wick style situations where the rules end up defining the incentives of the players.

All in all I really can’t say how much I love Stormbringer as a game, the first edition in particular. I could go on and on, but this review has already been our longest yet, so I won’t. I have some guys on deck to play and now that I’m done reading the book, I’m stoked to start the process of putting together an adventure and setting at date to journey into the Young Kingdoms.

Meanwhile,you may be saying to yourself, “yeah, that’s all well and good, but I’ve never read any of those Elric novels. Is this review even aimed at me?”

First, yes it is. And if you haven’t read Elric, get out there and do it. The original Elric cycle of novels is currently out of print in America, and it’s a shame. I recommend hitting up eBay and purchasing some of the Berkley Fantasy silver softcover editions as cheap as you can. The ones with the pictures of Elric on the cover, portrayed as a haunted and lonesome figure.

Start with book one, Elric of Melnibone. It’s a quick read and it will change the way you look at fantasy. At least that was my experience when I first read it after college, after by dear friend Ben Bailey had been on me to read the novels since the early days of high school roleplaying. I suggest that you take a look at book two as well, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. If after reading them you don’t want to go any further, that’s cool, everyone has different tastes and you’ll get only respect from me for broadening your horizons. But check out at least the first two books, you owe it to yourself as a gamer and a game master.

Second, while a love of Moorcock and his novels make the perfect accompaniment to this game, they should not be seen as prerequisite. I would highly recommend Stormbringer 1st edition to any OSR player for it’s dark feel, it’s grit and it’s fatality. I would recommend it for it’s baroque magic system, it’s strange creatures, it’s exotic lands and it’s prevailing sense of doom.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay tried to capture what Stormbringer had already created: hopeless adventures in doomed world. But Stormbringer did it first, and I think did it better. Jaime had it right in a certain way, and I encourage my fellow OSR throat slashers to get out there and find a copy of Stormbringer 1st edition for their collections.

Review: The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods

The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods

I bought this book years ago, back when it was first released. I recall reading it at the time and not particularly liking it. I was much more a traditional gamer back then, and I found the idea of my role-playing group playing themselves in the game to be very strange, and I did not care for how incredibly rules light it was. After all, the point of games is to inhabit a character, and how could such a simple system capture the complexity of a real person I know? Prior to giving away a copy of The End of the World: Rise of the Machines, the Full Metal RPG crew decided we wanted to give the game an actual play to decide what we thought of it collectively. Being the only one with a core book, I was on deck.

First up, we need to talk about the rules a bit. There are six abilities split among the three categories: Physical, Social, and Mental. Two per category. They roughly correlate to more familiar concepts in gaming. Vitality is Strength and Endurance. Dexterity is nimbleness and the ability to work with your hands. You get the idea. You a rating from 1-5 in each ability, and that is your target number to roll equal to or under on a d6.

There are no skills, instead under each category you have an advantage and a trauma. An advantage is something related to that ability that might help you on a roll. A trauma is something that might hinder you. Sticking with the physical category, an advantage would be Distance Runner, while a trauma would be Clumsy. These add a positive or negative die, respectively.

To make a test, you start with 1d6, then you can add a positive d6 if you have a related advantage in that category, and additional d6s if you have equipment, situational advantages, or assistance. Next you have to add in negative dice if you have a related trauma, or situational disadvantages like darkness or needing to rush the job. It helps to have different colored d6s for this reason. You make your roll. Any negative dice cancel out positive dice showing that same number on a one to one basis. After doing that, if you have any positive dice that are equal to or under your ability, you pass! Any uncanceled negative dice add stress under the category you rolled against.

Each of the three ability categories has a stress track. Three levels with three boxes in each level. As those boxes are ticked off, the player comes closer to death, or insanity, or whatever terrible fate awaits them. It is called the End of the World, not Uncle Fuzzies Fun Van, which… is probably also pretty terrible.

You can trade levels of stress for additional traumas, which is the death spiral of the game. As you gain more trauma, you roll more negative dice, leading to more failed checks and more stress until you die.

Ok, enough bookkeeping. What did we think of the game? Speaking for myself, I had an absolute blast running this. It was fun and frantic, which was only amped up given that we were play testing with a two-hour time constraint. Character creation was really easy. After all, who knows you better than yourself? With our sheets in hand, we started playing.

I opted to run the scenario covering the rise of Cthulhu, That Which Cannot Die. Right away that started things off in a pretty dire situation. The game starts at the very table you are sitting it, with the very people you are sitting with. This makes determining equipment fairly easy. What is there immediately around you that might be of use? From there, the players more or less drove the narrative as they decided where to go and what to go. I only had to act as the arbiter of the current state and function of the world. I killed myself as quickly and brutally as I could, because I do not like the idea of running a GM character and it set the mood for what was to come.

The game is fun. It is great beer and pretzels game. I could easily see running it as a darker, more somber affair. It would make a good con game, as well. You can stretch or contract the timeline as much as you need to for one shots or a longer-term game, though you do need to keep in mind that it is very lethal.

The system, which I initially did not care for, runs really well and stays out of the way. Players can argue for or against positive and negative dice on checks and it works nicely. Provided you can keep failing forward, there is never a loss of things to do. It almost works like a background system from other games. The players know what they have studied and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and provided you are all keeping each other honest it is really easy to take test and determine outcomes. There were no arguments over the rolls as went, just people deciding what to do and then doing it.

The game understands what it is about and it delivers on that understanding. This is the end of the world. There is not going to be a positive outcome. Even if you survive, you may come to envy the dead as monsters or robots or aliens ravage what is left of civilization and struggle to survive in the ruins. Our game was dark and comic. It could easily be more tragic if run slowly and built up. If the idea of playing an end of the world scenario is appealing to you, then you will find something to like in this series.

You get five scenarios to choose from. If Cthulhu is not your speed, you can try on Quetzalcoatl, Ragnarok, Revelation, or Nature rising up to destroy humanity. They each offer their own set of challenges and awful ways to die. It is not a setting book, so you need to do some lifting to fit events and suggested scenes into your game, but that is remedied easily enough.


This is going to turn off a lot of trad gamers. The game is extremely narrative, and the players are playing themselves, so you have to cede almost all control to them. That can be a very unsettling feeling for the traditional crowd. Combined with the really light rules and grim dark nature of the game, it can be off putting to people who want to smash monsters and take their loot.

The trauma system could get too real for people who are suffering from real, deep seated traumas. It is best not to drill too deeply there and let the players decided what they comfortable with putting down and dealing with. Players can always opt to play a character instead, which would be a fine solution. Depending on the direction you are taking the game, an X card may be reasonable to have on hand.

Other Thoughts:

Wrath of the Gods is unrelentingly brutal. Unlike other games in the series where you fight aliens or zombies or robots, you cannot fight the gods. The best you can do is keep running and staying one step ahead of the mayhem. I suspect Rise of the Machines would be a game where you at least stand a change of fighting back, whereas in Wrath of Gods if you decide to fight a Star Spawn, you are probably getting ripped in half.

Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I had a feeling I would enjoy it more returning to it with a fresher sensibility on what gaming is and what I want out of games, and I was not disappointed. It was a really good time and I would easily run this game again. In fact, I will likely pick up a couple of the other books in the line as well for future game nights. It is fun. It runs well. It is narrative. That checks off three big boxes for me right away.

I Believe in Star Trek

I sat down to write a discussion about Star Trek’s latest television series, Discovery.

This is what came out instead. I hope that you take something from it. As a piece it’s probably a more sentimental diversion than I am usually used to making. I just want to assure you as we depart that I’m not trying to jerk you around here, I guess this was just a thought that was waiting for the right time to be written, and once it began, it could not be stopped.

Alright, so Star Trek and I go back a long ways.

It’s been my theory for a long time that my father was some kind of undercover nerd. I have these memories, very early in my life of my dad calling me over to the couch and saying, “Watch this, this is neat.” and it was the old Star Trek that was on, the one with William Shatner. I have a similar remembrance of him introducing me to Doctor Who in this way, when it was repeats of the Tom Baker stuff filling out the Sunday afternoon time-slots on PBS in the early 80s.

Now, I don’t think that my dad was a nerd like me.

I don’t imagine for a second that he thought that I was going to go off all half cocked make a religion out of it like I did. And maybe he wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about science fiction with me if he could have seen into the future.

Later on, when I was a burgeoning adolescent carrying around role-playing books in my backpack and going to Star Trek conventions and arguing with people over which comic book artist was better, Todd McFarlane or Jim Lee (Todd McFarlane), my father would look at me with these stoic, skeptical eyes, as though I was an interloper, some strange alien that he had invited into his home. I remember him narrowing his eyes as I would walk by, this weird kid with ill fitting clothes, an affected vocabulary and brightly colored, yet esoteric priorities.

And, I mean, I get it.

My father was a man’s man. He loved the outdoors. He wore aviator sunglasses as he hiked up the sides of mountains. He collected rifles and loved to hunt and camp. He would work on cars barehanded, his sleeves rolled up exposing forearms covered in thick, coarse hair and black with motor oil. I think he saw himself as sort of a Hemingway type figure and he projected that well. It was difficult not to get caught up in his self mythology. Certainly, my mother and brothers saw him that way.

I have this memory, and it used to be crystal clear, but as I age it becomes continually more murky and indistinct. It’s of my father standing on the back porch of my childhood home, gazing silently at the horizon as the sun set, slowly smoking a pipe. As darkness fell, in the stillness of the summer night, all that you could see of him through the window was the small, burning ember.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think it ever occurred to my father that someone would try and make a passing interest in science fiction into a way of life. To him it was just sort of a fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon: watch an old show and think about how weird things might  be out there somewhere far, far away from here. And, I guess I could say it became sort of “our thing” over the course of my life. It was the way that he related to me, as difficult as I could be to relate to, and I am grateful to him for it.

So, throughout the 1980s, when the original Star Trek motion pictures were being released, my father would make the time to take my brother and I down to the movie theater to see them. I remember the first one, so fucking long, the only one that is really, truly, a science-fiction film, and I was just a little kid squirming around in the uncomfortable theater seat, oblivious to what was actually happening in the movie.  

I have much more clear memories of him taking my brother and I to see “The Voyage Home,” (The One With The Whales) and “The Final Frontier” (The One Where They Meet God). When “The Undiscovered Country” (The Last One with the Original Actors Where They Are All Old), came out, he called my brother and I out of school and drove us from the remote, small town that we lived in at the time, to the capitol city an hour and a half away so that we could see the film on opening day. After the movie was over he took us to a record store where bought me a Public Enemy baseball cap. This was in 1991.

Now this is one of those weird moments where there is a difference between what I remember and what the historical record suggests.

It goes a little something like this: My father hated the institution he called “commercial television.” This was any TV in which shows are sponsored by advertisers in exchange for room to project advertisements during commercial breaks. My father was some kind of strange, muddled communist-socialist in his outlook, and he detested the concept that advertisers could pay for time to indoctrinate people through the medium of television, especially his children. So in my house, growing up, we were restricted to watching commercial free, public television.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was immune to this stricture. My father believed that the values presented in Star Trek (atheism, wonder at the vastness of the universe, science and order overcoming adversity, post-scarcity/post-racism social structures, vague-pajama-wearing-space-communism) were worth dipping ever so briefly each week into the teeming cesspool of crass consumerism. So each week, we were allowed to break our fast of commercial TV and watch a single episode of Star Trek.

Now, I remember this as being Sunday nights. A brief scan into the historical record however, suggests that Next Generation episodes premiered on Monday nights. This was at the height of syndicated television however, and it’s entirely possible that in the late 80’s/early 90’s the people of Arizona were getting their Star Trek nearly a week late. There was no consumer grade internet then, so I don’t think that anyone noticed or cared.

It was a special thing we all did, my brothers and my dad. We would gather around the television and watch the show together. Later, as my father drove us home from school, we would all three of us talk about what had happened in recent episodes. As I remember it, as a kid approaching adolescence I began to be drawn into the saccharine interpersonal relationships of the bridge crew, but my dad always wanted us to discuss the philosophical/ethical conundrums of each episode. Or the sci-fi-time-travel-paradoxes which were, as he put it, “neat.”

After Star Trek: the Next Generation went off the air in May of 1994, the center of that tradition kind of unravelled.

Deep Space Nine was not a good show, at least not in the way that Next Generation was, and we stopped gathering to watch it regularly. I was a teen ager when the terrible Next Generation movies started coming out and I went to see them with my brother, or with my friends, and in the way of a kid, I don’t think I even asked my dad to come with me, all young a flush with the desire to grow up quickly and assume the perceived freedoms of adulthood. I don’t know if it even crossed my mind.

The last memory of watching Star Trek and my father was the premier episode of Star Trek: Voyager in 1995. Paramount, the movie company that has owned the rights to the Star Trek franchise for decades, was launching a  new broadcast television station, with a new Star Trek show as it’s flagship program. I was all revved up to watch it, because, at least back then, I got revved up pretty easily over new stuff. I recruited both my brothers to watch the debut episode with me.

We were half was through the first episode when my parents came in on a commercial break.

“Your dad has something he needs to talk to you about.” my mom says. Okay we say, this already seemed a bit weird as we didn’t do this kind of stuff in my family.

My dad then explains very quickly that he hasn’t been feeling well lately and he’s been to see the doctor. It turns out that he has some kind of brain tumor and they are gonna hafta take it out. It’s going to be a long year, he says and he’s gonna hafta go to the hospital a lot. He’s gonna have radiation therapy. All this shit is gonna be very expensive kids, so don’t expect much for Christmas.

Worst case scenario, he might die.

After this my parents leave the room. The TV was on mute for the commercial break and during this informational update, the show had started again. We turn the sound back on but watch the remainder of the episode in silence.

I remember it not being very good.

In June of 2017 my father passed away after more than a two decades of declining health.

He had gotten the tumor out, and for a brief time, seemed like a new man. But I guess the radiation treatment got botched and it slowly ate away at him. It changed him from within. He also was a fan of the drink, my father. My mom is probably going to read this so I won’t belabor the point. I’ll just say this because I think it’s true: he was a good man with a huge heart that didn’t know how to best take care of himself. He left that to other people, and his foresight couldn’t have been better, because in the end they did the very best they could by him, and better than any one person has a right to expect of another.

The father I remembered was larger than life with a cutting intellect. He was sometimes wrathful but always kind. He had a soft spot for the losers of the universe, and he was remained hopeful for them,  he was never miserly with his time or money when it came to their requests. By the end of his life my father was confined to his bed, incapable of walking or caring for himself. His memory was patchy and he spoke slowly, in a voice that was weak and often raspy.

He became so much like a ghost before he even had a chance to die, a pale facsimile of the man that came before.

I don’t really remember our last conversations very clearly, he was so far gone by the end that our talks had become strangely remedial. I can tell you this however, in the final weeks before his death, I asked him what his favorite television show was, that he had ever seen, and he looked up, and I could see in his eyes that he was taking the piss out of me, and in a voice that had become fail with age and abuse said, “Star Trek.” And he smiled.

So what’s all this have to do with Star Trek Discovery, I hear you ask. Well, not much I guess. I was going to tell you all about the riveting shit that happened this season, and all my fresh takes now that the season is over. But all that got kind of lot in the wind up I suppose.

What it comes down to is this: when Discovery premiered, I twisted my brother’s arms into watching it with me. My mom has a bigger television so we decided to watch it, weekly, as a thing at her house. When my mom caught wind of this, she decided that she should make us all dinner. So somehow, completely by accident we created this tradition of meeting at my Mom’s house on Sunday night and eating dinner together and watching Star Trek. In a way that I can’t really articulate, Star Trek, of all fucking things, healed my family. It brought us together when we were slipping apart. It put us in the same room together, breaking bread and laughing and smiling and sure, sometimes getting on each other’s nerves. Star Trek somehow manged to heal us, and to take us back to a different place, a time when we were young and happy and the future was still open before us, and undiscovered country. And for that, if nothing else, I continue to believe in Star Trek.

I don’t really know how to close this out, so I’ll leave you with these words, some of Star Trek’s most important words. They were uttered first by Shatner, then later by Stewart. If you listen, there is something in them, some spirit, some message. I think that is a message my father believed in.

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”


Full Metal Review: Fever Swamp

Fever Swamp is a hexcrawl adventure written by Luke Gearing and published by The Melsonian Arts Council which is also responsible for the creation and distribution of “The Undercroft,” the superlative Lamentations of the Flame Princess zine.

Fever Swamp weighs in a a breezy 26 interior pages, with game info printed on both the inside front and back of it’s hardcover. I discovered this book on Kickstarter back in say, October, when I was just beginning my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign that I ran up until very recently as part of a club at my favorite local game store. That adventure was a combination of The Croaking Fane, modified from it’s DCC stat line to accommodate Scenic Dunnsmouth, a Lamentations of the Flame Princess module. Both of those supplements had swamp themes and worked together well, so the concept of a drag and drop region that I could populate them in resonated with me.

The Kickstarter funded and delivered rapidly and on time with little to-do. I had actually sort of forgotten about the game when one day package from the royal mail showed up, I wasn’t even expecting it.

Before we begin I think it’s important to define the concept of the hexcrawl. A hexcrawl is a module that presents a map laid out on hexes for the party to explore. It’s smaller than a continent or a nation, but larger than the typical “village surrounded by woods” motif that we all know. A hexcrawl is like a module in that there are lots of hooks for the party to explore and encounter, but unlike a module in that there is no story or linear plot. As our friend Diogo Nouriga reminds us, the plot will unfold as the characters take actions.

The Pros:

The book is fast to read  and easy to use. There is not an over abundance of description, so you can get right to using it, right away. The proper nouns and important aspects of each set piece are bolded for easy reference as you flip through the pages. Rather than overwhelming you with info about the specifics of the setting, each new thing is presented in a sentence or two that allows you as the GM the freedom to come up with the details of what you want to do and how you want to present the subject matter.  

There are a wide variety of things to do in the swamp, with a robust random encounter table. There are wandering undead, cultists, tribespeople and outlaw enclaves along with the shit you would expect like alligators. The tribespeople, which in lesser hands could have been portrayed in a really problematic way, instead come off as eerie and strange adding to the feeling of the setting without making you feel like a bloody handed imperialist for including them.

Riffing on the horrific undercurrent of LotFP products there are ample opportunities for post modern takes on fantasy, and plenty of room for creeping horror, all the way up until the moment when you sick a gore-splattered hellraiser statue golem or shambling mound of undead on the party. I come away from my LotFP campaign bummed that I didn’t get to run the subterranean temple in Fever Swamp because I think I prefer it to the one found in The Croaking Fane.

The Cons:

I just want it to be said that I don’t have a lot of cons for this book and my first instinct was to just give you pros and say that’s that. I’m putting these in here for the sake of well roundedness and to help you, the listener, make a more informed decision.

First, the art in this book is serviceable. I’m not down on it, I actually kind of like it. I do feel like it undercuts the ambiance of the story, though. It reads a little cartoony at times and I wish that it had been darker, a little more brutal and challenging.

Next, some of the plot points are a little tropey.  I acknowledge that I was shoehorning two other modules into the map, and the venn diagram like overlap with those modules was one of the things that drew me to Fever Swamp in the first place. That said, it has in it a lot of the same stuff that these other books do. A sunken temple to a forgotten animistic creature god, a backwater cult that worships the deity that has forsaken them, for instance. Honestly, I had wanted to use the book more heavily, but as the similarities with other source material I was using started to mount, I had to draw it down.

My last point is peevish because it’s the absolute easiest thing to change, but the naming conventions in the book were not great. Again, it’s the easiest thing to change so it’s a small gripe. But if you are just flipping pages madly, looking for an NPC to throw in and you land on one of these dudes with the not great names…well look you can’t just use them straight out of the book is all I’m saying. Who knows, you probably won’t have the same problem I did. I ended up with a traveling-roma analogue named Sloane in a moment of weakness though and I wasn’t stoked.

Overall I give Fever Swamp a 5 out of five, my highest recommendation. If you love swamps, toads, cults, southern gothic, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, go out and buy this book. You can find it for sale on for 16 pounds which is like 22 bucks or thereabouts these days.