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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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