Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Potpourri: Updates, 5e Musings, and Purple Islands

Long time, no blog! It blows me away how time flies. I didn’t really mean to neglect my blog for so long but a lot of things kind of came together at the same time to sap my motivation and take me out of the mindset. The main thing has been my father’s failing health. For a while, I didn’t have any idea what would happen or how immediate things could be, so I didn’t take on any really large projects (like the zine) and kind of just felt unmotivated. 

When I blog, I like to have something substantial to say or offer. I’m not really a prolific designer or writer. From time to time I have shared gaming news, but honestly, between Tenkar’s Tavern, OSRToday, and OSRNews, you will always stay informed of what is going on without any help from me. I used to do a lot of 4e hacking, but I've really said everything I want to say about it and already came up with all of the alternate rules that I wanted. I use G+ as my main means of posting these days because it allows you to share little bits of info without having to do full-blown blogs. I am +JeremyfrothsofSmith on there btw, if you want to link up. 

At any rate, I am going to attempt to be more productive this year. I will probably do more reviews, as that is something I think can be helpful. I tend to shy away from a lot of DMing advice, as the best advice I can give anyone is to just run a ton of games and learn from your own mistakes. I probably won’t do a lot of 5e hacking, as I like it quite a bit the way it is, especially given the alternative rules in the DMG.

I haven’t said a lot about 5e but I do think it is interesting that almost every single bone I had to pick with 4e has been addressed with it. I'm not suggesting WOTC reads my blog or anything, its just that a lot of my issues with 4e must have been nearly universal. Lets take a quick look at 4e issues I have addressed here and what 5e did about them.

-Sunrods-no longer exist in 5e
-Skill Challenges-wiped clean by the wrath of God
-Bloated skill numbers-gone
-Magic Item treadmill-gone
-Monsters-simplified, strengthened, recall my updated stat block in all the right ways
-Immediate Actions-severely curtailed
-Slow combat/Options bloat-bitch slapped

I can go on and on, but every single thing I have ever had an issue with with 4e was revisited and tweaked. What is left is a modern feeling D&D with obvious old-school influence and spirit. They did a great job.

So whats up with 4e Forever #2? Well I have a ton of good articles and now that 5e has sort of blown over and gotten fully released, you can expect it finished sometime…”soon”. It will be the final issue as I move onto a different zine project that I hope will support multiple editions (including 4e and 5e). More on that later. Here is a review for you!


I owe Mr. Venger Satanis a review. At one time I hoped to be able to run his module, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence (henceforth “PI” for Purple Islands) in return for him giving me a PDF copy. Once real life happened, things changed. I sheepishly let him know I wasn’t going to be able to run it any time soon and he was cool about it and just asked if I might review it sometime. So here we are.

If you have been around OSR circles for the last few years you have likely heard of Venger. He is extremely prolific and has a ton of energy. He posts blogs or G+ community updates near-daily, has had several products come out over the last couple of years, some funded by successful Kickstarters, and is someone that constantly looks to interact with the community and start conversations about gaming. He isn’t afraid to detail his failures or learning experiences along with his successes, and he has a very strong point of view. 

The first thing that grabs me about PI, as well as his other work, is the art. It often evokes the glory days of 70's fantasy art. Lands of barbarians in loincloths and chainmail bikini-clad women in bondage. Its very nostalgic and eye-catching. The art throughout PI is world class and gives the best artwork of the OSR (Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Dungeon Crawl Classics) a run for the money. Wonderful cartography (including some standout pieces from Dyson Logos), weird drawings, evocative monsters; the artwork alone is reason to flip through the module. 

There’s that word again, “module”. This thing is not a typical adventure module. It is more like a mini-campaign setting, with a new class (his twist on the Monk), all sorts of alternative rules and random tables, new monsters and items, and a well-designed hex crawl set in a bizarre land. To call it a module doesn’t quite do it justice. There are a LOT of ideas here. The production quality and layout is excellent.

I am a sucker for hex crawls and this one really delivers. The hexes have really nice, original adventure seeds that DMs can easily expand on. I saw a criticism in another review about the wildly varied power level of the monsters, but that is something I EXPECT in my games. Sometimes running like hell is the wisest decision. Venger does a good job with creative monsters (some pulled from Lovecraft and the like), developing multiple island “factions”, and coming up with an original history for the place that evokes the weird pulp fantasy novels and serials of the early 20th century.

This is the kind of product that you could take and develop a whole campaign around. The extra rules help reinforce the flavor and make for a unique feel. I also enjoy his writing style; its conversational and you quickly get the feeling that this is a guy who loves gaming. Its no surprise that people have taken notice of him and that he already has released another successfully funded Kickstarter project, Revelry in Torth.

If you are going to run this for your players, I would probably start them in the 4th to 7th level range. One thing that is a little different is that some of the dungeons and underground areas the characters can encounter have maps but are not stocked. This works for me; it allows DMs to inject their own ideas into the setting. Personally I would just grab some random tables and jump in. To others, this might seem a little strange though, a little unfinished. 

I don’t recommend this to anyone that insists on anything approaching “realistic” medieval fantasy. I wouldn’t quite call it gonzo, though a few bits fit that term. It is probably best enjoyed by a lighthearted group that enjoys sci-fi and horror crossing over into their swords and sorcery. You can play this pretty much straight from the page with any fantasy OSR system. Conversion to 5e will take a little bit more time, especially with the monsters. If you decide to run this I would splurge for the print version so that you and your players can more easily enjoy the art and cartography.

Venger is definitely an original voice with seemingly endless ideas. It will be interesting to follow along with his design career to see what he comes up with next.