Thursday, May 16, 2019

Meet The OSR's Most Underrated Adventure Designers, The Merciless Merchants

One of the harsh lessons of life is that talent doesn't equal success. Timing, who you know, and so many other variables come into play. Any aspiring musician knows this. I know from my day job that over 80% of all job openings are never advertised. They go to internal candidates or their friends and family members. By the time a job is advertised, you can be competing with lots and lots of people.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that if talent was enough, the words "Merciless Merchants" would be on every OSR enthusiast's lips.

This isn't to say the Merciless Merchants haven't been mentioned; the notoriously picky Bryce Lynch of Ten Foot Pole has sung their praises (more than once ), with their adventures making his favorites list. Others have given them good reviews as well, save for some of the art, which I will get to later.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself. Who or what am I even talking about? Well, the Merciless Merchants are a collective of sorts that produce OSR adventures. The founding members, Malrex and John Bertoni, adventured for years in their home world of the Dragonback Mountains, then decided to put all of their dusty binders and notebooks from those escapades to use. They were soon joined (on a dare no less) by Prince of Nothing, themselves a reviewer from the Lynch school of "Here is what I TRULY think." Justin Davis rounded out the group first as an editor, now contributing to design as well.

I noticed some of their products on DriveThru mainly because they were creating content for the For Gold and Glory retroclone, which emulates 2e AD&D. Nobody really creates for FG&G, so I took a look.

Now, the world is littered with adventure modules. I can't tell you how many I have that I have never even read. Maybe hundreds. I am glad I looked though. Since then Malrex has sent me some review copies, and this quickly led to me backing his Patreon, kind of a subscription service to his adventures, some of which go on to further refinements before being officially released.

When it comes down to it for me, great adventures really boil down to cool hooks and locations. That is what you get with the Merciless Merchants stuff. Their Scorchfire adventure has been turning around in my head since I read it. The party surfaces from a dungeon to find the area burning. From there, it is all sandbox and free play, with a bunch of great encounter locations scattered about. It is a really great adventure. And I am reasonably sure you have never heard of it.

It is hard sometimes to take a chance on something sight-unseen. You can download Kellerin's Rumble for free/pay-what-you-want. Personally, I think you should just wait on free-shipping Lulu codes, head over, and buy the lot.

The biggest criticisms usually come down to the art. They are currently relying partly on purchased clip art, which is never really tailored exactly to a product's need. But lots of great art costs money, and we end up with a chicken and egg conundrum. You have to sell to make money, spend money to sell more. Round and round we go. Personally, I find their adventures so good that I feel really forgiving about the art.

Anyway, they have big goals, including eventually Kickstarting some setting material. If successful, this should nip the art talk in the bud. What I really hope will happen is that some talented artist out there will just join up with the Merchants and become sort of the "house artist". The sky would be the limit.

Or...maybe not. You never know. Like I mentioned at the beginning, talent is no guarantee of success. If it were then the Merciless Merchants would be lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills.

Find out more about the Merciless Merchants and their products HERE.

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  1. I'm floored and completely humbled by your post. Wow! I'm overwhelmed. This was wonderful to see today--you made my year! Thanks so much for your kind words. We are having a lot of fun putting our stuff together and its made better when hearing people are enjoying it. Thanks also for all your efforts with your podcast and patreon for spreading the word about ideas and what people are working on out there that relates to this amazing hobby. --Malrex

  2. Yes indeed thank you very much for the gracious feedback. We got allot more coming your way, and yes the art is a sticking point. May have to provide more of my own.. Thanks again! Jon Bertani ;)

  3. Yeah, I have been very impressed by their work. Definitely top-tier stuff.