Saturday, 17 December 2011
review: weird adventures by armchair planet
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy. I'm credited for doing some proofreading.
Overall: 4.5 Maltese Falcons (excellent & original setting for games)
Those familiar with From The Sorcerer's Skull will know of the pulp/noir adventure setting of the City and the Strange New World. One of the most original and engaging settings I've read for some time. A magical New York in a mythic America with ancient Old World roots woven from Great War horror, gaslight mysticism and Age of Exploration folklore hung from a framework of classic D&D, pulp adventure stories and monochrome movies.
Contents: 5 Maltese Falcons (innovative re-imaging of classic concepts)
An introduction to the setting is offered along with pointers to From The Sorceror's Skull and Strange Trails, a free companion PDF. Like all good introductions it's brief and to the point. What follows next is a flavourful guide to the Strange New World.
Information Please offers potted history, calendar and cosmology. Text is interspersed with comic/Ripley's-esque pages. From the downfall of Meropis to the Hell Syndicate, the setting is accessible. Ethnicity is not dodged but part of the setting. The treatment of magic and divine elements is interesting with organised magic and religion counterpointed by wild cards.
A Strange New World takes you on a whistlestop tour of Septentrion (this world's America) and points North and South. Zingara (their Mexico) gets some love and The Ten Ways to Die in Asciana sidebar is a great example how setting can be concise and flavourful.
On A Weird Road zooms in on how Septentrion is divided yet united. Political tensions and divisions are presented as adventure hooks. From the Union to New Lludd and the South, then across the Smaragdine Mountains west to Freedonia, Hesperia and San Tiburon. Each area has distinctive identities and the smaller cities and other locations offer road-trip opportunities.
City Confidential zooms in on the City of Empire and its' four duchies, includes a whistle-stop tour of Empire Island neighbourhoods from Aldwood to Yiantown. The city's infrastructure has opportunities for the enterprising. Monster-hunting, mixing it up with criminal gangs and uncovering mysteries are just some of the diversions the city has to offer. Maps of Empire Island and parts of the City make this easy to visualise.
Weird Menaces offers monsters ranging from re-skinned classics like the brain invader, goon and rust beetle to original twists like the hobogoblin, living house, lounge lizard and skunk ape. Monsters are loosely grouped by type. Minimalist statblocks cater for ascending and descending armour-class systems while providing enough detail for a GM to customise as needed.
Art & Layout: 4 Maltese Falcons (stunning cover, owes plenty to it's dime-novel roots)
If you recognise Doug Stambaugh's homage to the Trampier Players Handbook cover, you're in for a treat. There are adverts redolent of Moore/O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. The layout hearkens to newsprint-era/dime-novel roots with callouts to it's comic-book roots. While I like the Ripley's-style pages, the classic newsprint approach isn't quite to my taste. The artwork is excellent, pieces by Rene Manoquis, Stefan Poag and Adam Moore as well as Chris Huth and Jonathan Bingham among others compliment the text wonderfully.
In conclusion, Weird Adventures is worth your consideration. The blend of pulp, noir and horror makes this a must for fans of those genres. System considerations are kept to a minimum and for those wondering if using public domain media can inspire games, Trey Causey provides a pioneering glimpse into how this works. While ostensibly for d20/d20 Modern, I could easily envisage Weird Adventures using a Lamentations of The Flame Princess chassis with minimal difficulty. And yes, playing spot the shout-out/in-joke is it's own game.