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Fever Swamp
by Sean C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/24/2021 15:06:19

Love this creepy crawl so much that I also bought the hard-back! This thing is jam packed with swampy goodness creepy denizens, dangerous locales, and unique creatures. It's small but potent, with every bit of page space used for the quite condensed sandbox (swampbox?). Even the front and back inside cover are, respectively, a hex map with key and a quite nasty random swamp diseases table. It's ostensibly a low-level area, but low level characters will want to be very cautious and may spend a decent amount of time hiding or running away. I could see it being a quite challenging mid level adventure with only a little extra GM prep time, and the swamp itself and the many tables in it could be endlessly reused. I'm going to use this for one little excursion Lankhmar based party is going to make into the Great Salt Marsh!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever Swamp
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Very Pretty Paleozoic Pals: Permian Nations
by PETER O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/25/2020 11:26:59
THIS IS A MUST COP FOR TROIKA! FANS
  • it's a compete sphere, and a wonderful framework illustrating how one can flesh out a sphere to feel like a real, living and breathing place
  • all the illustrations are fantastic, cover to cover! Sam Mameli and Evey Lockhart have very different styles that go together like some sort of weird combination of bubblegum icecream and a mint cappucino: it's poggers and it works.
  • Melsonian Arts Council does not f^ck around when it comes to production values. The writing sings, the editing is smooth, and the layout and graphic design are top notch. Another fantastic book from Melsonia.
  • IT'S A COMPLETE TROIKA! SPHERE PEOPLE!
  • Writing by Evey Lockhart makes this an absolute no brainer purchase. If you're still reading at this point I assume it's because you don't know the wonderful force of nature that is Evey. Strap yourself in, you just found your new favourite RPG writer.
  • 1312


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Very Pretty Paleozoic Pals: Permian Nations
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Very Pretty Paleozoic Pals: Permian Nations
by Sam C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/12/2020 21:27:33

The majority of the internal art is hard to make out and not in the same style as the cover (and kickstarter page). In the print version, it's almost impossible to decipher due to being too dark, this especially makes the maps a chore to look at and reference. If you don't care about art this book is a delight, but if you expect the internal art to be along the same lines as the cover, you might not be too happy with this one :(



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Fever Swamp
by Guy P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/20/2020 04:51:27

Among my favourite setting books, I love its simplicity, usability & originality. The art and monsters are very cool



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fever Swamp
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The Undercroft #10
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/14/2020 09:46:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The tenth installment of “The Undercroft” (and final one prior to its only recent reanimation) clocks in at 34 pages (disregarding editorial, ToC, etc.). my review is based on the print copy, which is a staple-bound classic zine (6’’ by 9’’/A5).

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request for a prioritized review via a direct donation.

So, let us start off with a winner: Sándor Gebei delivers Babel Square – a market square that would feel perfectly at home in DCC’s Punjar, Lankhmar, Shadizar or one of the weird metropoles out there, be they of a planar or more mundane variety; the veil is then, and sounds, sights and smells are noted. Various general types of activity by time of day are provided alongside 12 sample encounters, 8 rumors, 20 strange objects to be found, 6 unconventional payment methods (including temporary voice removal, memory extraction via leeches and more), and 7 interesting landmakrs and places add further to it – the only thing keeping this from being a perfect little set-piece would be the lack of a map.

The second article is one of my favorites in the entire ‘zine’s run – it’s title is an edged, wrong-looking glyph-thing, for the sake of the review’s readability called “nameless taint” from here on out. For this is about a taint that infects characters if their players are interested, it is a corruption, wherein not even the abstract glyphs remain consistent, set against the backdrop of the occulted kingdom, fallen to the nameless taint; 4 items from this tainted realm are provided, all interfacing with the crisp and concisely-presented rules, and there are three spells that cannel the power of these horrible taints; the article also presents essentially a template that allows you to make husk-monsters consumed by this nameless taint, alongside two notable husks – high-level bosses, if you will. Oh, and the corruption of the characters has 10 long steps – that do provide serious benefits, but also erode your ability to understand names and the like. You lose your identity to it, but you might well learn to conjure the flailing shards of the nameless taint… Not only is the glyph angle cool and unexpected, the article by Luke Gearing also has SERIOUS Dark/Demon Souls-vibes, and is captivating enough to warrant translation into pretty much whichever system you’re actually playing. This one warrants getting the zine on its own, at least in my book.

The shortest of the articles in this installment, Greg Gorgonmilk’s miscellany of 4 different magic items: The dead faerie in a lamp can emit light that not only reveals the invisible, it also renders stone transparent! That’s cool. Even cooler: Knocking on wood snuffs its light – but here, the item is less precise than it should be: Can others knock on wood? Or just the wielder? The item has a second little hiccup: It implies that the wielder must invest hit points in it: “The luminosity will last 1 turn for every (temporary) hit point invested by its bearer.” Okay, does this entail a process? Can the damage be healed? Is the hit point returned if the light goes out or is suppressed by knocking on wood? Not sure. This is an extremely cool item, and easy enough to salvage, but I wished the rules lived up to the cool concept. Tetrograts are miniscule, stationary golems that will decry “It is a lie” when a lie is spoken in their presence. A range for this effect would have been nice to see. The cloak of beards is made of regal…well…beards, and grants you Charisma 18, and those within 30 feet that fail to save against its enchantment are convinced that the wearer is a king of the noblest kind. Serious folklore vibes here – nice! The Quintessential is not an item, but a legend, of a despot who sought to vanquish all differences between people and turn them into a homogeneous neutral state. It’s a solid legend.

The final article herein, penned by Ezra Claverie, depicts the ruins of the elven ship- and submarine yard/officer’s clubs; the tantalizing and strange default setting assumed by the author’s articles makes me once more wish for a fully realized campaign setting, but even without context, this is interesting – for against this backdrop, two creatures are provided – one horrific and subtle, the other weird and grotesquely hilarious, and both are unique and essentially puzzle-monsters – they are complex threats that are not easy to beat, but at least one of these things will need to be bested to enter “The Officer’s Rest”, the ruins of an at-once magical officer’s club, where strange mixology, magical frescoes and more may await. This article was inspiring in the best of ways, and while I wished that the creatures had been presented in a slightly less wall-of-text-y manner to parse more easily, they are unique enough to require preparation anyway. I’d once more like to reiterate: I really hope that we get to see a fully realized campaign setting in this strange post-imperialist world, ravaged by bio-mago-technical warfare.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and we get quite a lot of cool b/w-artworks. The stapled softcover is a neat classic ‘zine.

Whereas #9 was all quantity, this issue focuses more on quality: Sándor Gebei, Luke Gearing, greg Gorgonmilk and Ezra Claverie deliver articles that I absolutely adored; heck, I’ve actually used the majority of the content herein in my games, often with blatant disregard for the intended system and some serious conversion work – because the ‘zine is THAT GOOD! Even when I do have nitpicks and complaints regarding rules-precision, these are few and far between, and the strength of the respective concepts? That’s formidable indeed. Add to that the VERY low price-point, and we have a definite winner here. Usually, I’d probably have settled on 4.5 stars for this one, due to its minor hiccups in the rules. However, I just can’t bring myself to do that. The majority of the articles herein simple deserve being called “excellent” As such, my final verdict will be 5 stars, and this does get my seal of approval; it’s one of my favorite ‘zines in the entire Undercroft.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #10
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The Undercroft #9
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/11/2020 05:18:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The ninth installment of „The Undercroft” clocks in at an impressive 64 (6’’ by 9’’/A5) pages of content, already sans cover, editorial, etc. My review is based on the perfect-bound softcover of the ‘zine, which, while meaty enough, unfortunately does not note its name on the spine.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request for a prioritized review via a direct donation.

This zine’s content is designated as OSR in a general sense – most of the content assumes LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) as a default system, but the degree to which the material is faithful to the system varies by author. However, the thematic fealty is evident: This is a ‘zine for mature audiences, and this issue in particular tackles sometimes puerile and sometimes horrifying, really dark themes. If you’re sensitive to such themes or easily offended, you might want to skip this issue.

Okay, so first thing you need to know, is that this zine contains a surprising amount of classes, fleshed out until 10th level, with the first being Benjamin Baugh’s “Skinned Moon Daughter” – the skinned moon is a rare phenomenon in the north; daughters born under its auspice are…different. They spook animals, making for poor hunters and fishers, but they do change – born with a wolf’s stomach, they can subsist on carrion, undergoing changes as they indulge; ultimately, when maturing, they learn the song of the Skinned Moon, and can then proceed to coat themselves in blubber and fat, to eb swallowed by creatures, which they then control from inside for a month. The class gets d6 HD, has Wisdom and Charisma as prime requisites, may use one-handed and thrown weapons, and usually are clad in a beast, and thus wear nothing. The class caps at 10th level, and has a minimum Constitution of 9. I love this class for a narrative game, though it does require an experienced referee to pull off, as the beasts can potentially be vastly superior to the other characters. That being said, controlling a beast of more HD than the daughter becomes unreliable, so this needs to be considered carefully. Cool: Twins born under the Skinned moon can combine their powers, and being married to one comes with blessings…but also restrictions, making the class feel like something taken straight out of myth. As you could glean from the note on prime requisites, the class is balanced more for LL (Labyrinth Lord), OSE (B/X), etc. and does require some conversion when used in LotFP – or in Wolf Packs & Winter Snows, which seems like the perfect system for this class.

The second class presented would be the Doctor, penned by Patrick Stuart. The class is essentially an archetype for the fighter class, using the chassis for attacks, HD, saves, etc. – however, the doctor may not cause LETHAL damage and no class features work while encumbered. The doctor can heal damage caused by trauma at the rate of 1d4 per 10 minutes of work. Additionally, in combat, the doctor can prevent death of a target of -4 hit points or lower: On the doctor’s and referee’s turn, you roll off with a d10: The doctor gets their Intelligence bonus to the roll, the referee the number of HP the target is under zero – there are three stages, and a doctor’s success moves up a stage, a referee a stage down. If the doctor triumphs, the target stabilizes at 0 HP; if the referee prevails, the target dies. 1/session, the doctor can identify a process or item – personally, I prefer in-game time to designate mechanics. Doctors also get a control hold that behaves like a garotte and inflicts d6 damage, with damage pausing only at exactly 0 hp. At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, you get to roll a d6 and gain a new ability – these include e.g. getting essentially advantage on all saving throws versus magic, but at the cost of magic never working for you due to your rationalist outlook. You could be an atheist, immune to clerical magic – but also their healing, and incapable of keeping silent in the face of agents of the divine. I generally like these double-edged abilities, but couldn’t help but feel that, when used back to back to other classes in LotFP, this one feels very…special? Not in a necessarily bad way, mind you, but I couldn’t help but feel that it should have been a part of a whole array of such class tweaks. On its own, it feels oddly specific. I also am not the biggest fan of rolling for class features, as that can kinda wreck your planned character story, but that’s easy enough to rectify.

Daniel Sell is up next, with pretty much the antithesis to this approach of the singular – “Everybody is an adventurer” replaces all default classes with a general class, the adventurer. Everyone starts with 16 in all saves, and a fighter’s experience and level progression, and a +1 attack modifier. Each level, you choose fighting, learning, or cunning. Fighting nets you +1 attack modifier d8 HD, -1 on poison and breath saves, and -1 to a save of your choice (can also be poison/breath); learning nets you 2 skill points, d6 HD, and -4 to “saves of your choice” – okay, how many? Two? Three? No clue. This issue also extends to cunning, which nets you d6 HD, “2 points lost from saves of your choice” (how many??), and 3 random spells from any class or level. You cast spells as you wish, with a MP (Mana pool); you calculate this by adding your highest and lowest ability score. Casting a spell costs the spell’s level in mana, and you recover 1 MP per hour of rest; if you usually wouldn’t eb able to cast a spell due to not meeting its level requirements, you pay double MP. Still, this means that you can theoretically cast 9th level spells at 1st level. I really dislike this system. It feels rushed, its eliminating of level caps makes magic-users frickin’ OP, and the ambiguous verbiage regarding save progression isn’t impressive. Odd, usually Daniel Sell’s designs tend to be precise and well-wrought. If you want a modular class engine for LotFP; I’d consider the system presented in Undercroft #4 to be superior to this one.

The final class selection here in would be presented by Evey Lockhart – not one, but 4 new classes are provided, all with starting equipment noted, all with a theme of being broken, ostracized and volatile – if the world of her Stark Naked Neo Savages and Sanguine City States series is ever fully realized, it’ll be these classes I’ll use to play in it. The classes are intended to replace the standard LotFP classes, but imho work well enough if inserted as a single class. The detached are numb and make for excellent tanks – while sedated by alcohol etc., they take less damage, are immune to emotion effects, and always act first when not surprised. Okay…so what if two detached participate in a combat? The fallen was once something more – and still has the Preacher-esque ability to issue command a limited number of times per day…and they can cast a few spells…exactly ONCE each. Not ONCE per day, ONCE…it’s the last dying fire inside, and each new level unlocks an additional exceedingly potent such spell. Pariahs are foreign, ostracized…they are a bit like a cross between specialist and fighter, potentially able to pick up Bushcraft and Languages quickly, and might be familiar with strange weaponry. Perhaps the most interesting of these new classes, though, would be the partners in crime. Yep, you get to play two utterly co-dependent individuals. The class acts as a variant skill specialist, and is pretty powerful, balanced by the fact that you have some serious baggage from the past…and, well, the fact that this co-dependency is really nasty. Playing these should render you really paranoid of AoE damage…that being said, the partners in crime are seriously stronger than the other classes; some minor tweaks and more things to do for the pariah and detached would have been nice.

The supplement has more to offer, though – Barry Blatt, who gets the whole historic angle rather well, presents 101 uses for a hanged man, drawing deeply from medieval and early modern superstition, though the article’s title is somewhat misleading, as it instead can be likened to a brief occult research system, with the moss of dead man’s hair being of particular interest here, and modular steps provided; this may be me being a prick, but I wasn’t a fan of part of the article being outsourced to a blog, but yeah. As a whole, I enjoyed this, and I’d certainly love to see Mr. Blatt tackle an entire book of such step by step procedures for harvesting and applying strange substances.

Luke Gearing provides something rather disturbing (and appropriately-illustrated by Sean Poppe) – The Sickness. It’s essentially a magical STD that transforms you slowly into a grotesque, slimy tumor thing of orifices and secretion – statted as a monster, btw. And yes, this is scary and one of the instances that needs to be handled with care. Speaking of such stuff…

…was LotFP’s “Fuck for Satan” not enough of a screwjob (haha) regarding players? Are you fed up with your party and want to TPK them in arguably the most stupid and dumb way I’ve ever seen in a published offering? Okay. The ‘zine has something for you. Chris Lawson’s Cockdicktastrophe. It’s not a monster in the traditional sense. It’s a penis with penis hands, penis-eyes, etc., and if you are tired of warning players away from a locale, this is essentially a multi-page cut-scene without any player agency or stats. It’s just “everything becomes penis and fucks, you die.” It has an illusion of choice, but that’s it. I never thought ‘d say this…but I liked the penis-monster in FFS more. This is probably the worst article in the entire run of the Undercroft. I don’t see any serious use at a table, and even in gonzo tables, it has no agenda. Wasted page-count, imho. The comic-like artwork is kinda cute, though.

Finally, we have the largest article herein, “Nine Summits and the Matter of Birth”, penned by Ezra Claverie; like the author’s other offerings, this one has a backdrop of a strange blend of the fantastic, horrific and colonial themes, and makes me really crave a fully-realized campaign setting. But before I go further: This is not for the faint of heart – the subject matter deals with anti-natalism, stillbirths, (forced) abortion and nihilism. In case that sort of stuff bothers you, consider this to be your TRIGGER WARNING. Oh, and SPOILER WARNING as well.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? So, we have essentially a micro-setting that is roughly Polynesian as intended backdrop, though changes to other settings are very much possible; this culture has developed a strange and much-ostracized tradition, the “Circle of Unbirth” – think of these individuals as fervent anti-natalists, including their 12 sacraments and ritualistic magic, which includes causing stillbirths, quench any form of sexual appetite, etc. – and in this region, rules by the 12 clans, these beings may actually be helpful. You see, an inscrutable entity with insufficient comprehension of the mortal sphere ( somewhat akin to the one in Rafael Chandler’s “No Salvation for Witches”), the Generative Authority, has tainted the land, and the article presents the tools to make an adventure out of the horrors that happen due to its meddling – births will result in zoa, i.e. from the monstrous births will be birthed more things attached to it – think of Human Centipede, save that the new things sticking to the old ones grow ever more in mass with every birth – a table of zoön mass in kilograms, with comparisons noted, is presented, including the associated HD. There are also subtables that let you determine the type of creature the zoön’s latest part resembles, usually represented by a 12-entry table (mammal table is only 9 entries); weird: table #3 (probably amphibians) is missing from the ‘zine – you roll a d6, and table #3 is just not there.

What do you do with these monstrous births? Singular occurrence? Full-blown local or global apocalypse? All that’s up to you. Same goes for the role of the circle – are they an evil opposed to the cosmic evil? Truly DARK saviors in this time of horrors? The article provides some guidelines, but is, as a whole, about as uplifting as reading Philipp Mainländer. Unlike many comparable modules, I don’t see a way in which you can make this premise funny – it’s GRIMDARK in the most extreme form. It’s not my place as a reviewer to comment on the like, but even as an ardent fan of Ligotti and someone with pretty nihilistic convictions, I don’t see this being fun for my group. YMMV, of course. If you want to really out-edgelord someone, this toolkit will do the trick.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, but not as tight as usual for The Undercroft. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and the original artworks by Matthew Adams, Jeremy Duncan, Sean Poppe, Anxious P. and Cedric Plante deserve special mention – I particularly loved Cedric Plante’s stylized renditions of the skinned moon daughters.

Benjamin Baugh, Barry Blatt, Patrick Stuart, Daniel Sell, Luke Gearing, Evey Lockhart, Chris Lawson, and Ezra Claverie really did deliver something here; it feels, in many ways, like a means to edgelord LotFP, and frankly, in many ways, it’s successful. This tackles seriously taboo subjects, with particularly Ezra Claverie’s adventure toolkit/mini-setting being pretty much the bleakest piece of RPG-material I’ve seen in a while. That being said, I think this may be the most uneven Undercroft I’ve read so far – the classes range in precision and power by quite a lot; then again, I’d used the moon daughters and Evey’s wicked classes in a heartbeat. Daniel Sell’s article disappointed me big time with its imprecisions. Patrick Stuart’s fighter archetype is per se cool, but uneven as well, with some abilities significantly better than others, and a sense of a global context missing; it feels like a teaser for a longer book I’d enjoy, but on its own, the doctor feels a bit forlorn. Luke Gearing delivers big time with his monster, and I’ve made clear that I really don’t enjoy the waste of a pages for a prolonged “haha, you die”-troll for players. That may be me.

More so than any Undercroft before, this issue is a matter of taste; personally, I frankly didn’t like a lot of the content, with some aspects feeling rushed, tables cut, material on an external blog, instead of where I need it when I want to use the material at table and have the booklet before me.

That being said, I can see people loving what I didn’t – I certainly know quite a few black metal fans who’d really get into the bleak adventure outline presented by Ezra Claverie; I can see people love Patrick Stuart’s doctor. And I can see an annoyed referee getting a kick out of the prolonged read-aloud “hehe, you die”-troll. I just can say that this issue…wasn’t for me.

As a reviewer, this leaves me with the mechanical glitches here and there, which contribute to the overall notion of a rushed issue in comparison to earlier offerings. Still, it is VERY hard to not get something cool out of this ‘zine. Hence, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #9
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Troika! Numinous Edition
by Lachlan R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/04/2020 09:39:32

Troika! is a delight.

I initially purchased the PDF copy here at DTRPG but realised almost immediately that I needed to own a physical copy. This book is a work of art all on its own and truly illustrates what this genre is capable of. The writing, art, and layout work to create something wholly unique and alive. The game design is bold, whimsical, and offers a new style of play to anyone looking to stride away from a certain other TTRPG. I find myself returning to Troika! simply to reread the wonderful character backgrounds and monster descriptions. It's a treat. Buy it, read it. Enjoy.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! Numinous Edition
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Something Stinks in Stilton
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/11/2020 07:17:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages (laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5), already not accounting for front cover, editorial, etc.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the indirect request of my patreon supporters  - more on that below. My review is based on the softcover version, which is a saddle-stitched softcover with pretty solid and thick paper – particularly the covers are more sturdy than I expected from a ‘zine. Why call this ‘zine? Because it is the unnumbered eighth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine.

This module is intended for level 1 – 3 characters (I’d recommend 4-6 characters and a moderately well-rounded party; particularly a specialist/thief should be included), and is a surprisingly fair offering. PCs reap what they’ve sown, and while death is very much possible, it feels fair. The module has no read-aloud text, and should indeed be carefully prepared by the referee, as it’s a dense module that will most likely happen during a single evening in- and out-game. The module offers only one map, for one of the main adventuring complexes, and no unlabeled player-friendly map is provided for it. The map is b/w and is rather detailed, sports a grid, but no scale noted. If you run this, I’d suggest preparing a map for an Inn, as well as one for a shed. Considering the surprising amount of moving parts and things to interact with, I’d recommend this to the experienced referee.

The module uses bolded red text to allow for the quicker parsing of information (good); magic item formatting is different from the standard, but consistent with how The Undercroft has formatted magic items, and is pretty precise. As is the tradition with magic items in LotFP, magic items are DANGEROUS. The supplement includes a single new nasty save-or-suck spell that I’d generally recommend not fall in the PCs hands, but then again, this module was written for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), so very potent low-level magic-user spells are less uncommon. Plus: The referee can relatively easily eliminate this aspect.

This module is almost absurdist in its horror and has a couple of really dark themes, so if horror themes generally offend you, steer clear. This can be heart-rending and pretty brutal; it can also be characterized as absurd and funny in a really dark way, the latter aspects blending with horror into this utterly unique amalgamation.

Okay, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

Stilton is an utterly unremarkable village thorp that once was famous for its cheese. Now, 1730, it suddenly is rising to prominence once more, with everybody craving that delicious Stilton Blue, courtesy of one Cooper Thornhill. The party is hired by the man’s sister-in-law, who is played for laughs as a contact: She is an unpleasant woman, badgers her husband, and while she doesn’t want Cooper to suffer, she hires the party to find out about the cheese’s secret – after all, it’s making Cooper rich. Clever PCs will realize that they are not the first sent on this errand.

En route to Stilton, the party will be attacked by bandits, including a particularly burly one who seems off – a nice introductory battle, and one that doesn’t necessarily have to result in the party being killed: Handing over money etc. is very much possible. Also a plus: What looks like a random encounter actually has bearing on another NPC, who will arrive later than day.

Now, Stilton per se is pretty unremarkable: There’s not much going on beyond “The Bell Inn” here; a hysterical man in prison (whom the party may actually never meet) claims that his wife’s vanished, but the people at the inn seem to be friendly. Okay, cooper’s wife seems to be mentally handicapped, and so is his ox of a son, but the man behind the cheese? Nice fellow. The local food makes copious use of the blue cheese used in Stilton, and indeed, tastes phenomenally – though it does have some weird side-effects: It can make characters tough, but dumber, enhance their sexual attraction to cows, make them gain weight or the like – the cheese is definitely weird, but not that harmful…right?

Well, things turn slowly more threatening among all those nice people, as the storm rages outside and the local scallywag has words with Cooper outside. If the bandits weren’t taken care of, a robbed lady arrives and is given shelter for free in the cow-shed…Cooper seems like a nice man…but his cowbell-wearing, daft son seems to be drawing strange figures into the condensation.

All of this is very British – an almost League of Gentlemen-esque depiction of rural life, including this sense of threat and danger underlying it.

The module itself? Well, it takes place during the stormy night. The PCs are assumed to investigate, and we get a VERY detailed timetable for what happens when, and from the (possibly robbed) guest to the local guard to other NPCs, there is quite a bit of potential for introducing dynamic factors as complications or reprieves for the party. Ultimately, the party will need to secure an entrance to the cow-shed (with Cooper’s key?) and find a trapdoor here – this trapdoor leads towards the small, mapped dungeon mentioned before, and it is here that the horror underlying the pragmatism comes to the fore.

You see, Cooper had two kids: James (the now incredibly strong, but dull man upstairs), and Heather – and they found this ancient complex. Inside, heather found a stone arch and then proceeded to activate it. In a kind of somewhat halfway competent manner. Emphasis on “halfway.” You see, Heather stumbled through the arch, and turned into a grotesque cow-human hybrid thing (illustrated in a rather graphic and disturbing manner); her changed physiology leaking blue milk. When James tried the milk, her turned into an imbecile, and when Cooper’s wife turned into a problem, she also got a nice glass of milk.

The complex down here hides an impromptu shed for the man-cow things…which also get a sort of slow regeneration. The weird meat served upstairs? Guess where it comes from…And the missing travelers? Many can be found here, grotesquely-mutated and often deprived of their limbs. While Cooper cares about his girl (the only cow-thing kept in a human manner), the others? Well, not so much. This becomes particularly evident in the impromptu slaughterhouse, where a half-alive cow thing (once aforementioned missing lady) may convulse while hanging on the meat-hook, spraying blood everywhere. Worse: She was pregnant. When Cooper realizes this, he’ll have a breakdown that clever PCs can exploit…should the timeline provide the angle.

Oh, and the arch? It’s guarded by what happens when you shove a proper cow through – a ravenous and extremely dangerous cow-thing called Daisy, which is a pretty sad combatant; a frightened animal full of pain. The full horror might well become apparent if the party experiments with James’ magical cowbell (which allows for communication with the mooing cow-things), or if they stumble through the arch, for the latter will make the affected see all others as cow things…

What struck me as most effective here, though, was Cooper and his son: He is no scheming mastermind, just an incredibly pragmatic man – a man whose pragmatism has turned into truly gut-wrenching, sickening villainy…and yet, he’s no (totally) inhumane monster.

There are no easy choices here. There is no clean slate or happily ever after regarding the horrors in Stilton. The module covers some advice for PCs trying to contact authorities or the like, and the module can go in quite an array of different directions. The spell mentioned before is btw. a means to transform targets into cow-things on a failed save – permanently. The effects of the milk and cheese, as hinted before, are clearly depicted…and as a whole, well, as a whole, this situation can have vast repercussions for both the party and the world. But unlike many LotFP-publications, these consequences are always the result of the actions of the party, not of a random roll of the dice.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column no-frills standard with bold red highlights, and the b/w-artwork provided are effective at conveying the horror at hand. The cartography is b/w, sports a grid, and is detail-wise nice, but a VTT-version sans labels would have been nice. Similarly, getting a map for Inn and cowshed would have been awesome.

Oli Palmer’s (to my knowledge) first module is a resounding success. It is novel, featuring themes I haven’t seen executed this well before; it is very detailed, and contrasts its funny and somewhat ridiculous premise with truly gutwrenching horror. It is extremely effective, and I genuinely love the adventure.

On the downside, the cartography could be more extensive – this isn’t particularly convenient for people like yours truly, who suck at drawing maps.

Now, I mentioned an exchange with a patreon supporter before: I was asked to recommend an introductory module for a LotFP campaign that’s better than Tower of the Stargazer. Emphasis on “campaign” – i.e. on prolonged play that embraces high impact concepts, but isn’t all about randomly ending the world.

This module is just that. It perfectly hits the grotesque horror notes, but also features a humor often absent from comparable modules. I LOVE this adventure as a person.

As a reviewer, the map-situation is pretty much my only true gripe with this, which is why I’d usually round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars. However, at least to my knowledge, this is the author’s freshman offering, and oh boy is it awesome for that! Traditionally, the freshman offering gets a bit of leeway, which is why my official final verdict will round up from 4.5 stars. This also gets my seal of approval for the execution and audacity of the concept. If you don’t mind the map-situation and like horror, consider this a must-buy recommendation right here!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Something Stinks in Stilton
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Troika! Numinous Edition
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/11/2020 05:08:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This rules-lite RPG clocks in at 111 pages if you take away the front cover, TOC, and introduction; a simple character sheet is included in the deal. NOT included in the above page-count would be the inside of front cover and back cover two-page spreads, which contain the most referenced rules – this decision btw. makes running the game much smoother. If you include these in the content count, we’d arrive at 115 pages instead. My review of this RPG system is primarily based on the hardcover print version, which is 15.4 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm in size, but I have also consulted the pdf-version.

Now, at this point, I have to note something important – while this game indeed is an “old school renaissance-”type of game, it is NOT one based on D&D or its iterations, instead using Advanced Fighting Fantasy as its basis, a game I admittedly wasn’t familiar with until I got into Troika. Much like “Into the Odd” and similar games, we do deviate from the classic 6-attribute set-up, though Troika! Deviates imho even further from the classic set-up. While I have thus tagged this as “OSR” due to its aesthetics, it should be considered to be its own beast. If anything, Troika behaves more like a Post-OSR game than any others I’ve covered so far.

Instead of d20-based mechanics, you only use d6s. Regarding dice notation, d666, for example, would mean rolling 3 dice in sequence and then adding the results together, with each denoting e.g. the 10s, 100s, etc.: Rolling a 3 on the first d6, a 2 on the second and a 5 on the last would mean you’d consult entry 325. Most checks will be done using 2d6, which you use to try to roll under or against a target value. The latter is known as “roll vs.” in the system. A double 6 is a failure.

Character generation is a swift process: First, you roll d3 +3 to determine Skill, argueably one of the most important values in the game. Skill behaves as a kind of proficiency bonus – you add it to all skills you have, and these do include spells.

Then, you roll 2d6 +12 – this is your Stamina. Stamina is your hit points. If it’s reduced to 0 and your turn would come up or a turn ends, you die. In non-combat situations, your friends get one chance o prevent your death. Going to negative Stamina kills you instantly. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Stamina, and you can eat provisions to regain d6 Stamina, but only 3/day. I like this – it makes food matter, and means you are less reliant on heal-bot-y classes.

The third important value would be Luck. You roll d6 +6 to determine your Luck. When the GM calls for the “testing of luck”, you attempt to roll under the current luck score. Regardless of whether the test was successful, you reduce the current Luck score by 1. You may always choose to NOT test your luck, which is an interesting angle here. Resting for 8 hours lets you regain 2d6 Luck, to never exceed the starting maximum. Finally, if you have a tie in combat, you can test your Luck – on a success, you break the tie in your favor; you can also test your luck and, on a success, add +2 to the damage value. I strongly suggest playing with the optional rule to test your luck to avoid death – on a success, you instead are wounded, incapacitated, etc.

And that is basically already the core chassis of the engine, though combat does work in a pretty radically different and interesting way: During combat or in situations where determining sequence of action is important, you assemble a bag (the game calls this Stack): You take a container, put an assortment of differently colored dice, chits, coins or similar markers inside; all enemies share one color, and one chit or marker is included per enemy; a player is assigned a color, and there will be a final token of a distinct color that marks the end of the round. The GM will then proceed to blindly draw a chit/die/marker from the container, its color determining who gets to act. It should be noted that players get two such markers each, and that enemies with e.g. abilities like (initiative 2) get 2 markers each. Henchmen contribute 1 marker, and are played by the GM. After acting, the drawn token is removed from the stack. Once the end of the round token is drawn, all tokens are put back in the bag. Magic, poison, and similar ongoing effects are resolved at the end of the round. If enemies grossly outnumber the PCs, or are essentially mooks, you can make use of an enemy initiative limit for them; this is a neat variant rule, for it lets you maintain the danger of facing e.g. a mob, while also keeping sheer enemy numbers from necessarily overpowering the PCs. At the end of the round, once the round-end-token’s been drawn, you shuffle all drawn markers back into the stack.

As you can glean, this makes combat a pretty risky and chaotic endeavor – particularly combat against many enemies; while you only rarely will be doing nothing due to the tendency to roll versus as a response to attacks, combat as such turns out to be fast and lethal. It also manages to feel pretty different from similar rules-lite systems. The unique initiative system of Troika! does an excellent job of portraying the chaos of combat, but it also means that tightly-formulated plans and tactics will only very rarely work as intended. This is obviously a design goal of the game, but it is one to bear in mind and explicitly call out, since some groups enjoy that. The focus of the game, obviously, is more on individual contributions to combat, and improvisation in the chaotic fray, less about party-encompassing tactics and strategies.

There is a card-based initiative alternative available, but I do not own the cards, so I can’t comment on them.

Now, the pdf does codify pretty tightly how combat actions work, what’s possible, etc., and delaying has you put your chit back in the bag, so it’s much less reliable than in comparable systems. Attacking is a roll versus. Ranged attacks are opposed by shield or dodging, melee attacks by other melee attacks; ties mean that neither managed to hit the other in the case of melee attacks. Moving more than 12 feet takes up an action, and shooting into melee has all targets associate random numbers and determine who is hit; casting spells requires Stamina expenditure, and that you roll under your spell, or roll versus a target. Interesting: In order to draw an item in combat, you have to roll equal to or higher than its position in your character sheet, making item retrieval chaotic, but also allowing you to plan your inventory. It’s simple and exceedingly smart. Like it! When you win a Roll Versus an adversary in combat, you inflict damage – you roll a d6, and consult the charts inside the book’s front cover (again, smart placement!) – roll and weapon (or monster size) determine the damage caused, which is deducted from your opponent’s Stamina. If you roll a double 6 while attacking, you strike a Mighty Blow, win the exchange and inflict double damage – and yes, the engine notes what happens if both combatants do so. Double 1s mean that you fumble and lose the exchange, and the opponent increases their damage roll on the chart by 1. If both parties fumble, they deal damage to each other, with both adding 1 to the damage roll referencing the chart.

Now, to give you an idea: A few weapons ignore up to one point of armor (which btw. serves as Damage Redcution), while others require at least two hands to use. As noted, you roll a d6 and reference the damage tables.

A sword hit can deal anything from 4 to 10 damage; 4 of its 7 entries (d6, plus one entry for damage rolls with bonuses, i.e. 7+) dealing 6 damage; an axe only deals 2 damage on a 1 or 2 on the damage roll, but can deal 2 more damage on the highest 3 entries. This is more easily illustrated with hammers, which have a minimum damage value of 1, and a maximum of 12. Two-handed weapons, particularly fusils and greatswords, are obviously king when it comes to maximum damage capabilities, clocking in at mighty 18 and 24 for the 7+ entries. The two spells causing direct damage are also included here, and, for reference, the minimum damage caused by dragon fire is 6, the maximum a whopping 36 (sans bonus still 24)! And yes, all of these values do not include the potential for mighty blows. The maximum starting Stamina you have is 24. Did someone say overkill?

Cover makes it harder to hit, shields impose a penalty on damage rolls. Armor imposes a penalty on the damage incurred, but does take up item slots. Armor comes in three categories, ranging from -1 (lightly armored) to -3 (heavily armored), and armor takes up as many inventory slots as TWICE its protective value, so 6 slots for heavy armor! To give you an idea of how much armor can matter: Let’s say, someone is hit by a greatsword, and the damage roll comes up as a 6 – that’d be 14 damage! If the victim was wearing heavy armor, they only take 8 damage, as though the damage roll came up as a 3.

Now, regarding these inventory slots: You can only carry up to 12 items. Small items (or ones with a low weight) only take up one slot – e.g. arrows. Unless you go overboard – though that is left to the individual group’s discretion. Large items, like pretty much anything unwieldy or two-handed, take up 2 slots, and carrying more than that imposes massive penalties. So, if you want to play a heavily armored guy with a gretsword, you have a grand total of 4 slots left…choose wisely.

As noted, attacks are executed as rolls versus. But how do you roll that? Well, it’s 2d6 + your Skill value, + advanced skills, if any. Advanced skills are the catch-all term for pretty much anything ranging from spells, to skills, to other abilities. Stealth, Acrobatics and the like are handled the same way as e.g. mathmology (esoteric insight into math, pressure, angles, etc.). Thankfully, the game comes with a pretty well-codified list of such skills. Riding, running, making poisons – all handled as advanced skills. (And yes, being a pilot of a golden barge, for example, is very much part of the deal.)

How are advanced skills determined? Well, they are determined by the Background you choose. A d66-array of those is provided, and these basically represent both your race and class. Each background gets their own distinct page, which, while aesthetically-pleasing, also means that there is quite a lot of dead real-estate in this section. On the plus-side, each of the backgrounds comes with a genuinely novel artwork.

You could end up as a member of the society of porters and basin fillers, as a rhino man, a poorly-made dwarf (endlessly mocked by your fellow created dwarfs), a monkey monger, a parchment witch…or something more mundane.

What’s a parchment witch, you ask? Well it’s one of the things that make Troika! stand out. In many ways, this game has two draws – the uncommon engine, and the implied setting.

Littered throughout this gaming supplement, you’ll have tantalizing, deliberately obscure hints at an implicit setting that truly did capture my interest. Why? Because e.g. the world/plane-model employed, as well as the tone, reminded me less of traditional D&D-esque games, or even other science-fantasy settings, but instead made me flash back to a distinctly British artistic movement, namely the metaphysical poets. This sentence can be found in the introduction: “A science-fantasy RPG in which players travel by eldritch portal and non-euclidean labyrinth and golden-sailed barge between uncountable crystal spheres strung delicately across the hump-backed sky.” There is a very British, subtle humor underlying the setting, and indeed, quite a few of the backgrounds feature herein are, in a way, illustrations of poetic conceits. If that sounds too brainy, let me try explaining it in a different way: Know how Tolkien’s fantasy is pretty much the corner-stone of D&D-esque aesthetics? Troika is at once pre- and post-Tolkien; it is aware of the conventions and has room for them, but instead of being defining fundamental features, they are but one tiny aspect of the implied setting, which instead draws upon both ancient/well-established and contemporary aesthetics to create something radically different.

As a less theory-burdened example: Parchment witches, just fyi, would be undead that can’t give up on splendorous living, thus coating themselves in perfect paper skin. Rain and flame and not popular among them…And yes, several of these backgrounds do actually sport additional rules beyond the list of advanced skill values and possessions. The book also provides some guidance to make your own backgrounds. If you do want to play a renegade rhino man golden barge pilot, that ought to be possible, for example. Consequently, the growing 3pp-scene for Troika has a LOT of backgrounds out there.

This focus on the strange and fantastic is a huge strength of Troika – however, if you’re like me and enjoy lavishly-detailed settings, you won’t necessarily find the like here; Troika, by design, implies rather than states. It does not as much introduce a sample setting, as it introduces a sample aesthetic, which you then proceed to apply in variations to your respective spheres.

This notion of permissive creativity does also extend to the sample spells noted: the classic sentry-spell, for example, has the wizard pluck out a piece of his mind and is risky: It distracts the caster and destroying the smidgeon of the caster’s mind can cause a nasty shock. If you cast “Zed”, you disappear, never to be seen again. Magic is just as odd and weird as the plethora of backgrounds; numbers in brackets after spell names denote the Stamina cost, btw. Presence (1), for example, makes you feel as though watched by a patriarchal figure – some might take solace from that, others not so much. In case you were wondering, the book does include a bestiary, and enemy stats are actually simpler than those of the PCs. Each of the monster entries does come with a d6-based generator to determine the target creature’s mien. The sample monsters cover both the new and old, with novel twists: Goblins serve as vanguard of a labyrinth-creation civilization, lizardmen gravitate to being dull and fat. I also loved to learn that manticores are bibliophiles, and a sympathy snake crawling up your leg may make you despair at the awfulness of life. Totally okay to let go, as the predator mourns with you your demise in their jaws.

Advancement is simple, fyi: Upon using a skill successfully for the first time, you add a tick next to it; upon resting, you roll 2d6 and try to beat your current skill-level. On a success, you increase the skill by one, but you may only do so for up to 3 per rest; after a rest, you delete all ticks made. Improving past 12 requires rolling another 12 to improve by one point. This does mean that characters with lower Skill values will probably have a quicker experience of enhancing their advanced skills.

Anyhow, I was talking about aesthetics, and this is probably one of the strongest features of this RPG – beyond the artworks by Jeremy Duncan, Dirk Detweiler Leichty, Sam Mameli and Andrew Walter, the physical book also does something exceedingly smart – the matte paper of the hardcover is tinted in different shades – one shade for each chapter, making the book look a bit like a pastel rainbow on the side. Making characters? Yellow. Basic rules? Green. Advanced skills and items? Blue. You get the idea. This makes using the book easier, and speeds up the instances where you might need to look up something. The book also does a good job cross-referencing materials. I never felt left alone with a question, I always knew where to look. So yeah, the aesthetics of the implied setting and its presentation form a rather tight unity.

This edition of the game also features an introductory adventure of the most uncommon sort in many ways: The “Blancmage & Thistle” takes place in a strange hotel (with mandrill guards!) of chrome and gold, and focuses very much on jumpstarting a new game and teaching the rules. The adventure is about reaching the “Feast of the Chiliarch” on the 6th floor of the hotel, with two per se very railroad avenues available; the PCs can switch between them, if desired – one would be the stairs, and one the elevator. Both are potentially deadly in genuinely novel ways, and I have NEVER seen a module like it. I usually loathe railroads like this, but it seriously worked for me. A minor nitpick: The adventure hooks available at the feast have their cross-referencing off by 2 pages – the table is found on pg. 106, not on page 104. tumble weed rolls by Yeah, I know – I had to find something to complain about, right? The cartography by Dirk Detweiler Leichty is ART, and something I really loved seeing; that being said, I’d have very much appreciated a key-less version of it, and one could state that it is somewhat low on the utility side of things – I can’t picture dimensions of areas or the like from it, so if the like bothers you, that may be one thing to bear in mind. Now, I could comment on the individual challenges of the module, but I don’t want to spoil the details beyond components that are featured in the introductory scene. Let’s just say that the mandrill guards are the least weird thing. No, not kidding.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, further improved since the first iteration of the game that I covered. Layout and artwork, as noted, as important to Troika! – they underline the sheer oddity of the setting, and their conscious refusal to employ tropes associated with most fantasy artwork create a unity with the uncommon system – the totality feels different from most RPGs, and this works particularly well because of how the aesthetics underline the system. The hardcover is a beautiful book; I usually am no fan of fancy pastel-colored paper, but Troika makes it work rather well. Paper is matte and thick, and the binding of the book is sturdy. The pdf has bookmarks for the respective chapter headers and tables.

The numinous edition of Daniel Sell’s Troika! game is a very different type of game from the ones I usually enjoy; as you all know by now, I am usually rather concerned about the consistency and balancing of systems and settings, and gravitate towards long-term campaigns. Troika is a lethal system, particularly sans the optional rules that allow you to prevent death. The exceedingly flat power-curve means that the game works best for burst-like games, shorter campaigns, and the like. The PCs will never become truly robust, retaining a high degree of fragility. The advancement does allow you to quickly improve, and in many ways, Troika is perhaps best envisioned as a game that is perfect for groups that quickly are bored with a setting, with a character. The game is lethal, but not in a “screw-you” kind of way; instead, it posits all the possibilities of the crystal spheres under a hump-backed sky and asks you “Okay, what can you envision playing next?” If you’re looking for long campaign play, this is not the best system for that; if you’re looking for a huge accumulation of jamais-vus, however? Then Troika delivers in spades.

Troika is NOT, I repeat, NOT a game competing with D&D, Pathfinder, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, etc. – instead, it is a strange and compelling vision of a game that plays differently, that has different aesthetics. For once, I definitely did not feel like an advertisement slogan lied to me – “The other world’s favorite RPG” hits the nail on the head for me. Troika will not replace DCC or an iteration of D&D for me; it doesn’t try to. If you want your vanilla Tolkien, or the oomphteenth rehash of Planescape, Spelljammer, etc., then this is not what you’re looking for. Instead, it shows you how different old-school roleplaying can be in experience, themes, etc. – and what more can you ask for? This is the game you want to check out if you want to see gaming as a cooperative artform.

As an important aside: The Melsonian Arts Council has done several tremendously awesome things: From community copies to different wealth levels that allow poor individuals screwed by capitalism to get the book, Troika is a system that not just preaches an aesthetic of being alternative…it genuinely lives up to that. If I ever get to meet the author, he’ll get a hug, a firm handshake, or a manly nod, and a beverage, if applicable, from yours truly for that.

As a whole, I consider the numinous edition of Troika, with its streamlined and gorgeous presentation, its unconventional aesthetics and its unique system to be a resounding success. If you’re burned out on the big, common systems, give Troika a spin – I am confident that it’s nigh impossible to finish reading this book and playing the game without having at least a few inspiring Eureka effects. 5 stars + seal of approval, highly recommended for pretty much everyone, particularly if you feel that your game has gone stale; even if you’re not interested in the game, the wealth of ideas herein may well jumpstart your imagination once more.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Troika! Numinous Edition
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Troika! Numinous Edition
by Jakob S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/25/2020 05:44:24

I think Troika! is going to be my favourite minimalist gonzo science fantasy game for a long time, maybe even forever. And by minimalist, I don't mean that there's little here - quite the contrary, the page-count might be relativeley low, but every character concept, every spell, every monster and even item is packed with implicit world-building. You'll have to figure out how it all fits together in your game, and you need to be open to just letting the setting develop in whatever direction it will take. The rules are based on the British Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, but much more deadly. The quite random initiative system is strange (you are not guaranteed to get to initiate an action in a turn), but it works because in Troika!, if you attack someone, your opponent always has the chance to hurt you back, so you'll probably get to do something even if your initiative token doesn't come up in a given round. In fact, I'm very happy to get this kind of gonzo material with a system that is not about classes and levels; most of the weird, minimalist goodness always seems to be for Old School Dungeons & Dragons. The Troika! system is much more rules-lite, and, as I feel, much more functional. This is Planescape meets Monty Python, with some dashes of Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett and (I think) K.J. Parker.

There's a fuller review here on my blog: https://swanosaurus.blogspot.com/2020/01/troika.html



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #7
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/21/2019 04:12:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The seventh installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 22 pages (not counting cover, editorial, etc.; laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5) of content, so let’s take a look!

The default system intended for this ’zine would be LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and, as always, the material can be adapted to other OSR-systems with relative ease, particularly since the stats are presented in a way that references e.g. plate mail, etc. instead of fixed values. This is a horror/dark fantasy supplement, and as such, reader discretion is advised – if you’re easily offended or triggered, consider this to be your warning. This review is based on the saddle-stitched softcover of the ’zine. This installment is all about creatures and things pertaining to them.

All right, we begin with Evey Lockhart delivering the goods, in spades: Lavishly-illustrated, we are introduced to the Omnicorn, aka the Freedom Beast. Picture a unicorn, a truly majestic steed – and yet, twisted, for it bristles with all defensive measures of mother nature – antlers, horns, spines; it could be a force for true change, as it seeks to topple despots…but, ironically, it is incredibly dogmatic in its adherence to radical revolution – a contradiction that will make it turn violent. Like pretty much anything. ANY, and I mean ANY (in the largest allcaps you can imagine) form of authority must be toppled. The creature’s blood, freely given, can end compulsions, so there is ample reason to engage with the beast in a roleplaying manner. Oh, and the beast comes statted (AC noting “as plate”, and unique effects of the attacks possible. This thing is deadly, glorious, and a thoroughly fantastic critter that oozes roleplaying potential. A pitch-perfect, darksome twist on a central irony. And in an age of online-activism, for good or ill, thinking about whether we behave omnicorn-wise might be a smart strategy…

Luke Gearing also has something to contribute here – the mezzo-worm: Things of the speed of runaway trains (this should specify at least a reference-value of something that exists in the game; for comparison, the omnicorn notes that it’s twice as fast as a warhorse); these gigantic worms generate a labyrinth, where stragglers are lost, for the tunnels connect space and time, which is probably the most interesting aspect of these things, which sets them as a plot device apart from other such worms. Still, I’ve seen the author do better.

Ezra Claverie is up next, and presents the decoherence wights – elves exposed to a necrobaric bomb, infected with colonizing anti-life; the lore presented about the Last War made me want a full-blown campaign setting here. It’s genuinely that good. With swarms of horrid things and the chance to contract decoherence fever, with different types (including decoherence polyps) provided, this is an amazing entry regarding its flavor; the sequence of presentation also makes more sense than the author’s previous offering, but there is no comfortable formatting; you still have to parse the entire text, and no traditional statblock is provided. That being said, the sequence of presentation is not as confusing here, and you can read the wights in a more efficient manner. It’s not perfect, but the strong concept carries the article and makes it worth perusing and implementing.

Daniel Sell presents a section that can be explained as a new context for the classic orc – tapping into anxieties such as devolution, this one is clever, in that it is written in essentially a scientific jargon reminiscent of social-Darwinist agendas, so is the content presented truly reliable? The whole tone seems to suggest otherwise, but the details also provide tidbits that make orcoidism and the like scary, or at least, unsettling. This juxtaposition of tone and subject matter, and the unease created by both, is genuinely smart. Like it!

Finally, we have James Holloway providing Old Sigvor, a truly twisted and delightful take on the witch-trope – the hag has fused with trees and became a twisted plant/crone-hybrid, now seeking to make more hybrids. It’s a straightforward angle, but one that has been executed rather well here. Big kudos, and once more, a creature I’d definitely consider using/adapting in the Witcher RPG or Dolmenwood.

Conclusion: Editing is well-executed in a formal and rules-language level; formatting is more consistent in this installment than in the previous one, though the creatures are not consistent in their presentation: Old Sigvor has, for example, proper AC and the like noted, while the other creatures reference at times analogues from the system – or not from it. The stitch-bound softcover is a nice booklet to have. All creatures have cool, original b/w-artworks.

Daniel Sell, Luke Gearing, Ezra Claverie, Evey Lockhart and James Holloway provide a ’zine of high-concept, high-quality critters; with the exception of the mezzo-worm (which is a bit quaint in comparison), I adored every single critter herein, and the mezzo-worm, were it not contrasted with Luke Gearing’s previous work and the other gems herein, would have received a warmer reception. Anyhow, the ’zine is slightly inconsistent in its creature statistics presentation, and that is a bit of a big deal for me; however, after much deliberation; I decided to round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, and I’ll also grant this my seal of approval, for the sheer amount of really well-made horror critters herein that demand being used. If you even remotely enjoy twisted, dark critters, check this out.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #7
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The Undercroft #6
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/14/2019 12:17:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The sixth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 26 pages (laid out in 6‘‘ by 9‘‘/A5) if you ignore the editorial – though I did really enjoy it this time around – the text flows around a medieval image of the Rittertod (Knight’s death), with the text on the left and right of the artwork continuing the previous paragraph independently from each other, only to once again coalesce below – kinda like an alternate timeline in textform. …this made me sound like a pretentious prick, right? Sorry.

Anyhow, rules-wise, the default system intended for this ’zine would be LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and, as always, the material can be adapted to other OSR-systems with relative ease. This is a horror/dark fantasy supplement, and as such, reader discretion is advised – if you’re easily offended or triggered, this is your warning. This review is based on the stitch-bound softcover of the ’zine.

Okay, so, the first article (penned by Forrest Aguire) deals with Jonas Ludolf, the celebrated Flemish tapestry cartoonist (XD), who embarked on a trip towards Formosa to learn from the best of Eastern philosophers; of his effects, only the tome known as Ludolf’s Folly remains – a grimoires penned in an opium haze, referencing places like Leng – the storied item is depicted in detail, which is pretty awesome. Content-wise, the book has a genius angle that LotFP, if the company is smart, should take under serious consideration as a new magic system: You see, the book contains various spells you may be familiar with, like divination, detect invisible, wizard’s eye, etc. – you can see a divination focus here, but the exciting thing? Ludolf was in the throes of various drugs and insights while scribbling his notes, which had a dual effect: ANYONE can cast these spells…or at least ATTEMPT to cast them. You roll 1d6, and on a 1 or 2, the spell works…and on higher results? Catastrophic failures. These actually relate to the spells: Take wizard’s eye: A mild failure may end up with you vomiting eyeballs; a more serious one might see you blinded for months, and a really bad failure may see your eyeballs pop from their sockets, with obvious consequences. I love the book’s story, though it primarily makes sense for low-fantasy games; why use a potentially fatal spellbook if you can easily cast a spell? So yeah, the appeal might be slightly limited, but that notwithstanding, I consider this to be pretty much the best suggestion for a global modification of LotFP’s magic system. Having a whole book that provides this treatment to all spells? I’d put down money for that.

Things get weird with Evey Lockhart’s contribution, which provides two unrelated artifacts from other dimensions – these have nothing to do with each other, but their combination can be rather fatal. The unknown disk may be held in place to generate a portal to the strange, overgrown post-apocalyptic jungle-world beyond; the pyramid of flesh is more visceral: It’s what it says on the tin, with each side of the super-quickly regenerating and thus indestructible pyramid sporting a line, a fold, like a mouth or eye pressed close. Turns out, it’s both – the mouth-eyes might open, and contact to flesh will see the pyramid fuse to you, potentially requiring amputation. It also replaces your innards potentially, which can result in vomiting worms and becoming oddly inhuman; attached to the head, it bombards you with secrets. ALL THE TIME. What your childhood crush thought about you, what someone did – no rhyme or reason, all the knowledge of the cosmos, but no filter. If the pyramid is inserted on the disk, things go horribly wrong – the first couple of times, the effects are vast swathes of destruction, annihilating everyone in an ever closer-drawing circle…and eventually allowing a horrid chthonic entity access to our reality. Yes, this being is properly statted. I enjoyed this one as well.

Daniel Sell provides what would have been my favorite section herein – the Wolfmother. A twisted fairytale that is truly horrific, haunting the Kairnlaw, where the men marry early, and not well, before the stag-dreams; the fear of the entity includes potentially forced marriages, which can be pretty frightening proposals. Unmarried gentlemen in the region have a 1 in 20 chance of attracting the Wolfmother, a woman with the face of a wolf, dressed for a spring wedding. She will offer a gift – and those not offered one must save vs. magic to wake up. The person offered the gift can choose to refuse the gifts or accept them – the gifts are delightfully twisted: An immovable rope with a tied sorcerer dangling from it; a song so beautiful, it might strip you of your ability to enjoy music…the gifts are unique and strange. Accepting three of them will make you leave with her, never to be seen again. If you refuse the Wolfmother, she will attempt to rape the character (she has the might of an Ogre), to give birth to resentful wolves that will hound the character. Here’s an issue I have with this otherwise genius critter: It doesn’t provide stats, which is legitimate for horror-creatures that behave more like story obstacles (see Undercroft #2 for a great example on how to make a creature-as-story-obstacle work); however, there is a good chance that the Wolfmother will be fought, and needs to be faced in combat. The text even notes: ”if defeated..:”, so the absence of stats is a downside. In spite of this, any GM who likes dark fantasy/horror with a fairy-tale-ish slant should consider this to be a gem: I’d see this as a great creature for the Witcher RPG or Dolmenwood, for example.

Ezra Claverie’s Furnace Athropoids are next – these are essentially power-armors for a race of alien explorers accustomed to scorching heat. As such, their suits are potentially dangerous to be around; more importantly, their telepathic messages can influence the brains of stupid humanoids, and cause compulsions. I should love this. The writing is excellent. And yet, this is easily one of the weakest offerings in the entire run of the Undercroft so far. The rules-relevant material is buried in flavor-text, and inconsistent. At one point, the text suddenly mentions different HDs, and flavor-text and rules-relevant information is blended everywhere. Using the material herein is a total mess, and having proper sequence of presentation, proper stats, would have made it shine as much as the concept per se deserves.

The final section also showcases how multiple HD-creatures work – Anxious P. Introduces the most twisted creatures here, with the Noble Giant families. We begin with essentially a confession/diary of a kind of crypto-anthropologist researching the giant family called the “Manifold Crust-Whippets”; these giants lair in a state of primitive savagery, and the author claims they do not differentiate the Self from Want, which is an interesting take to make the giants less human. Indeed, the scientist seems to develop a strange and disquieting obsession of trying to be like them (making this a great read) – as it turns out, this is due to the drugging pollen the plants they bring around. They also have a honey-angle on a mechanical level, and there are guidelines of how giants of different sizes and local populace interact (“fight or flight”-size, etc.), with stats grounding the content in mechanics. The effective horror hits at the end of the scholar’s account – when he witnessed what they do in their disturbing orgies with the bears they capture, when the small clues fall into place. It’s not pretty. Honey…could kinda work as lube, you know…This one really made me shudder. It’s that well-written.

Conclusion: Editing is generally very good on a formal level; formatting and information sequence, as noted, could be better in some of the sections herein. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with two nice original artworks. The print version is certainly worth owning.

So, this installment of the Undercroft penned by Daniel Sell, Anxious P., Evey Lockhart, Forrest Aguire and Ezra Claverie had a tough job – I consider the Undercroft, alongside with Dolmenwood, to be one of the best ’zines out there, easily. The Undercroft features some of the best pieces of content I’ve seen, and is remarkably bereft of filler. Against this backdrop, this installment struggles slightly. For example, I absolutely adore Forrest Aguire’s grimoires in every way, but I couldn’t help but feel that it would have warranted an application of the system to the entirety of the gaming system in a full-blown book. Daniel Sell’s Wolfmother is a GENIUS creature, and it’s so close to being perfect, but the need to stat the creature’s combat encounter, etc. makes it less comfortable to implement than it should be. And then there is Ezra Claverie (whose writing I love) clearly struggling with the presentation of the concept – only to have the next article, Anxious P.’s giant families, showing how it’s done. (As an aside: I always love what I read from Anxious P. – please write a big book. Please? Publishers, get on it!) As a whole, this Undercroft-zine feels uneven not in the quality of the concepts, which are awesome, but in their precise implementation and scope. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars.

That being said, if you even remotely consider the concepts in this installment to be cool, get it – it’s certainly worth the low and fair asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #6
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The Undercroft #5
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/01/2019 08:45:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine sports 30 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), already disregarding the usual front cover, editorial, etc., and this time around, we have a focus on strange and dangerous magic items.

The installment is intended for LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, and as such assumes a pretty low player character powerlevel, and the fact that magic is both potent and dangerous. Adaption to other OSR-systems is easily possible, though in high magic worlds, many items herein will some of their appeal.

As before, the Undercroft deals with HORROR content, or at least with a fantasy style that is rather dark, so if you’re easily offended, you may want to steer clear.

Okay, that out of the way, Chris Lawson has contributed two sections to this ‘zine, both of which I consider to be a success: The first of these would be the smiling goat’s horn, a mummified goat’s head attached to a curled horn – blowing it will cause all nearby farm animals to become thieves and steal valuables to present to the owner of the horn; then, they will proceed to sing like a classically trained choir, making sleep nigh impossible. They can’t be slain anymore, and will only leave the owner’s side to steal more – until full moon hits, where a pack of wolves will hound the owner. Said wolves can eat the farm animals, granting them final death, and the owner some peace and quiet. In the aftermath, a black goat will come – and it will feast upon the owner’s corpse at one point. It’s inevitable. This oozes folklore, twisted and weird, and is just frickin’ awesome. I love this item, its narrative implications, its angles – it feels magical. Huge kudos! The second item Chris Lawson contributed, would be a monocle, the Opticaphobicascope, which must be pushed, painfully, with the eye into the socket. The item has powerful benefits and can help discern a lot, but it also causes the character to embark on a form of introverted solipsism based on an egocentric projection of the wearer – represented in three stages of madness. I love this one as well – it has this visceral touch, the downsides are pronounced, and the detailed, multi-stage madness engine? I’d love a book full of those. Two definite winners.

Oliver Palmer presents the next item, the Washer Woman, a cursed porcelain statue that will displace items the wearer has, if left, it will be present. It will not respond kindly to being smashed. It is a classic, annoying, and eerily efficient creep-factor I enjoyed seeing. Frank Mitchell presents us with something utterly different, in that his contribution actually consists of the highest power-level possible – 7 artifacts that are a twist of a RPG classic, namely the sundered rod. Instead, we are presented here with the body parts of the sundered god. Left arm and right arm have different properties, legs share their properties, and torso, head and phallus represent the remainder of the parts. (As an aside, if you count the legs as separate parts, we arrive at LotFP’s occult 8 as a leitmotif, which was probably intentional.) The sundered god is btw. none other than Baphomet – and e.g. the left arm may be wielded as a weapon that causes those hit to save or die, but also demands the same from the wielder. The right arm creates revenants, but allows for no control over them; the phallus is addictive and can really make having your own cult super easy – if you manage to not become addicted yourself, that is. Oh, and it can result in those really volatile, murderous types of unhealthy, obsessive love. But hey, nobdy’s perfect. And before you ask – yes, the parts of the sundered god can be grafted onto the living. Or, you know, you could place severed heads on the torso etc. And yes, we learn about the none-too-pleasant consequences of assembling this sundered demigod thing again. Tl;Dr: Don’t. No, seriously. …oh boy, you’re playing LotFP, of course you’ll now assemble it, right? Damn, what have I done…

The final article in the ’zine was penned by none other than Melsonian Arts Council’s master Daniel Sell, and is titled “The Precocious Abundance of Holy Mountain.” How an abundance can be precocious, I’m not entirely sure, but oh well – perhaps it’s a joke I’m not getting. The article contains 6 different devices with a dark science-fantasy slant, for they are intended for use with the setting implied by Rafael Chandler’s excellent horror bestiaries, the Teratic Tome and Lusus Naturae. To be more specific, they are intended for use in the rather gore-and fluid-centric SlaughterGrid adventure, and while I am not a big fan of that module, per se, I think that the material would have enhanced my experience. It should be noted, that the items can easily be used in other contexts as well. We get, for example, rules for aqua gravis (including what happens if you drink a little, or lots of it, or when you burn it). Custodians are kinda sentient, humanoid, small shapes sans head, with a hole in a surface reminiscent of cooling magma, and a layer of aqua gravis used for communication. Interacting with them, and making more, is touched upon. There are the Ven gates, connected to a race trapped in a moment nigh the end of time (for good measure); there would be exigentia, automatic science-fantasy surgeon machines that are…well, not 100% reliable. The best illustration herein would be the twisted lung spider – a leather muzzle that seems to consist of scissors of all kinds. These things, when activated, will drill into your torso, pop your lungs, and breathe for you. You can’t talk, not scream or groan, and the thing now breathes for you…and renders you immune to all poisonous fumes. Hey, that’s something. Finally, the SlaughterGrid itself is also contextualized properly. If you play SlaughterGrid, play it with these added.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language, I noticed no serious snafus. The ’zine adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and the magazine sports quite a few rather nice b/w-artworks. The ’zine’s physical version is a nice stitch-bound little softcover, with sturdy covers – no complaints, and that’s the version I’d recommend.

Daniel Sell, Chris Lawson, Oliver Palmer and Frank Mitchell provide a thoroughly enjoyable ’zine of twisted magic items with serious drawbacks, but also amazing flavor and cool effects. If you’re looking for a particularly vicious item, look no further than this humble ’zine. All killer, no filler – 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #5
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The Undercroft #4
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/17/2019 12:13:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Undercroft clocks in at 24 pages, minus one page if you take away the editorial; this is laid out, as always, in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look! My review is primarily based on the stitch-bound softcover version.

As always for the ‘zine, the rules employed are LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, but conversion to other OSR rules-sets is not particularly taxing. Theme-wise, this is a horror-supplement; the easily-offended or squeamish need not apply.

So, let us begin with the crunchiest article contained within – penned by Marc “Lord Inar” Gacy, we have an alternate take on LotFP, attempting an engine to present a class-less system: Characters get 10 points at character creation, 4 on every subsequent level, and use the fighter’s experience progression. Saves start at Paralysis 14, poison 13, breath weapon 16, magic device 14, magic 15. The standard hit points gained are d4, with each subsequent die-size costing +1 point.; after 9th level, the fixed hp gained for free amount to 1, +1 per character point spent. An improvement to hit costs 2 pts; at 1st level, you can choose +2 to hit for 5 pts. An attack improvement may only be taken once per level. Saving throws may be taken twice at character creation, once per level. 2 points for +1 to each save, or for +2 to two of the five saves; for 1 pt., you get +1 to two of the five saves. A single skill point costs 1 point; for 3 points, you can get +2 in a skill. An improvement in an attribute also costs 2 points. Moving up a level in cleric spellcasting costs 3 points, magic-users pay 4 points.

Racial and class effects, such as being agile or being able to memorize an additional spell, gaining press, etc. –all covered. The system does present a full page of sample kits – 20 are provided for your convenience. The system acknowledges that its results are slightly weaker than standard classes, but ostensibly make up for that by the added flexibility. Whether you consider this to be true depends – for example, you get cleric spellcasting and HD as well as the save improvements over the default rules for 6 points, leaving 4 more points for you; however, the default cleric gains levels quicker. The same can’t be said for the magic-user, whose XP-thresholds are higher, making the class-level take on the magic-user actually better in pretty much every way. This doesn’t break the game, but it’s something to be aware of. Personally, I would have actually loved to see more different, unique abilities. All in all, a solid offering I ended up enjoying more than I figured I would.

Luke Gearing also has something for us – Smother. A kind of abstract infection that subsists on noise and light, the cool tentacle-y b/w-artworks here didn’t seem to fit the text as well as I figured they’d do – we essentially have a thing that seeks to consume sound and light, only defeated by starving it. Contact can result in a whole table of debilitating effects, as its non-attacks (attempts to grab the delicious sound-sources) instill catastrophic vibrations in the targets. These are cool, but getting an idea how well it hits/ a more traditional statblock would have made the entity a bit easier to implement.

Anxious P. also has a creature for us (also provided the deliciously surreal artwork), and one I am happy to say I really love – it reminded me of one of my current favorite tracks, Selofan’s “Shadowmen” – picture the Dream troll as a grotesque thing existing in the luminal state between waking and dreaming, a painfully goofy thing eliciting at once repulsion and pity, a stalker whose reality bending powers are contingent on sight. The combat effects the creature features make it genuinely interesting, and communicating about its presence will be hard, as memory sifts away like a bad dream. Even how it’s hit and how you can force it into combat are unique – a winner of a creature, as far as I’m concerned.

As in the former installment, master Barry Blatt returns with a complex encounter/faction-set-up that has been expertly-contextualized within the framework of the Early Modern period. (Seriously, I appreciate all the tidbits, including e.g. notes that discrimination was focused on faith and not race and the like – well-researched!) This time around, the article isn’t about horror in the traditional sense, instead focusing on the more psychedelic aspects we sometimes associate with LotFP. 3 sample NPCs, a unique magic item and a whole array of suggestions on how to get the PCs involved are provided.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! A soldier in a London-trained band, ones James Hendricks, has managed to get his hands on one of those early 5-stringed guitars, playing with his buddies Noel Reading (viola da gamba) and Michael Mitchell (tabor) in London’s bar-scene. They are living the high life, accusations of Ranterism notwithstanding. Of course, the Puritans want them banned; Things become more complex when you take an English Catholic magic-user/musician into the fray, which includes a plot to mention a demon’s true name banned in a music instrument…and then there would be the clever Jesuit spymaster and his assassin troupe. This makes for a great “meta-quest” – you know, one that happens in between adventures, slowly building up between scenarios. Love it!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good, but not as tight as in previous issues – I noticed a couple of typos, and rules-language components also were not as precise. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features quite a bunch of really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment. Personally, I’d suggest getting print. That being said, the front/back cover of this issue is not as hardy as the one used for the other Undercroft-‘zines, making it feel slightly cheaper.

The fourth Undercroft offers a nice array of options – I particularly liked Barry Blatt’s unique encounter/plot and Anxious P.’s creature. The class-level LotFP-engine is cool and something that the game may want to take a look at for the second edition, particularly under the premise that more things could easily be added to the material. What’s here is cool, but getting more would have had the chance to make this a true must-implement option. All in all, I did consider this one to be a tad bit weaker than the previous Undercrofts; not by much, but enough to make me round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #4
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The Undercroft #3
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/01/2019 06:10:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 23 pages, one of which is the editorial, which, unlike in many comparable publications, I actually find myself reading more often than not; this leaves us with 22 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5); my review is based on the print copy, which is a well-made saddle-stitched booklet.

Okay, so you’ll notice something pretty unique here, in that this ‘zine contains 2 different articles and a short story; the short story is penned by Alex Clements and focuses on what happens when a youthful warrior and an old warrior meet at a bridge and come to an impasse that has to result in bloodshed. There is a distinctly black, English humor here that I very much enjoyed, and considering the political climate, you could well read it as a parable. You could. Personally, while I was duly amused by it, I didn’t get anything truly out of it, having seen the topos executed before. I also couldn’t help but bemoan the lack of game-relevant components here. This would have been a really cool encounter, with both individuals statted properly, preferably with esoteric abilities, but I digress.

As always for the ‘zine, the rules employed are LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, but conversion to other OSR rules-sets is not particularly taxing. Theme-wise, this is a horror-supplement; the easily-offended or squeamish need not apply, though the horror herein is more cerebral and esoteric, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Anyone can throw guts a wall and say “Oooh…scaaary!” – the content herein is scary because of its context and implications.

Sicne we started at the back, let us continue like this: The ‘zine contains an article on an esoteric magic-user casting tradition of sorts, penned by Daniel Sell: The Cunning Men of the Fern Court. Okay, how do I describe these? Know Gavin Norman’s Drune from his Dolemnwood setting? You know, the forest-dwelling weirdo spellcaster-order with their strange rituals? Well, the cunning men are a bit like Drune, if the Drune were even more like crazy and scary hermits. Illustrated in a striking manner by Matthew Adams, they are drawn to the forest by visions of a black sun; naked they pass through the dense undergrowth, asking questions about bird migration, looking for answers. If the Drune are a semi-malignant conspiracy/cabal, the Cunning Men are a conglomeration of batshit-crazy, inscrutable hermits that engrave spells into their own flesh – and yes, rules for how much is lost by killing them, by taking damage, etc. are provided. The write-up contains no less than 21 distinct spells this strange tradition has brought forth. In a nice choice, the left-hand border contains the spell’s stat-information, making reading them pretty simple while conserving space. All their spells are designated as magic-user spells, with proper levels noted.

There are 7 1st level spells: Babble makes a target within sight, well, babble, and thus be incapable of enunciating anything. There RAW is no saving throw, which makes this spell capable of locking down even the hardiest of spellcasters, which renders it less suitable for other OSR-games that more frequently use magic-users as non-sociopathic madmen. In LotFP, it is less of an issue, but can potentially allow lower level characters to kill off potent spellcasters – such as a certain psychopath in Better than any man, to mention one. The Spleenful Led requires having a part of the target’s body, but on a failed saving throw, renders the target incapable of finding their way. Protection from Rain does what it says on the tin, and read entrails is a kind of haruspex that nets answers depending on the HD of the target sacrificed – mainly a narrative device. Pick up Sticks is cool – throw down sticks, and a scaling number of HD worth of creatures must obsessively pick them up on a failed save. The Even Flow is essentially a diagnostics spell, and umbilicus only has a short range, but temporarily links two targets (save if unwilling) and makes them share damage taken evenly.

We proceed with 7 2nd-level spells: You will know Nothingness disassociates the caster from paltry concerns such as cold, pain, etc. and lets them reroll checks and saves pertaining those. A Fire Walks With Me is not only in name a Twin peaks homage – the effect, traveling one league per step, also mirrors some of the classic series’ oddities. Nice! Zoanthropy is a nice take on beast shape-style spells, allowing for the assumption of animal form; staying too long, past a mystic date, in that form, alas, may see your mind become as the animal. A Curse to the Unjust requires strangling a woodland creature with rose vines, ripping them open with bare teeth, and then spitting the resulting viscera at a target – on a failed save, the target has to adhere to a rigor of pacifism for a couple of days, on pain of death of the stipulation is broken. Brittle Twigs and Bird Songs lets you break a twig, as stand-in for a target’s bones, who must save of suffer a broken appendage. A Tower of Thorns; A Wall of Vines makes rose thorns burst painfully through the skin of an individual. Do Not trust the Owls requires that you rip a tongue out of a target with your teeth; said tongue then acts as a squirming lie-detector and helps against illusions. Delightful.

The remainder of magic-user spell-levels each get a single spell, so, in ascending order: At 3rd level, we have Path of Guilt requires a painful scrubbing of soles until bleeding raw, but nets you 6 in 6 Stealth – you are perfectly silent, but leave bloody marks. Love this one! The Subtle Heart requires drinking boiling honey and amber, but may well cure all of those nearby – provided they are not killed by the light, that is. Very cool! Unmasked was developed to retain the knowledge on skins, but can be used offensively. It takes off the skin in one fell swoop, so don’t let the weird old man touch you, unless you want to die particularly painfully…A Black Sun Climbs the Ladder of Heaven makes you see the black sun and die (coincidentally, this could be a great way of inserting Black Sun Deathcrawl-sidetreks…), but the caster also risks death on a failed save. Even on a success, the target has to stare at the sky – but not the caster…

The Nature of Blackness, All in Glass makes the caster emit light that will make targets on a failed save turn into horridly mutating and growing floods of exponentially-growing flesh, with a 2-in-3-chance of becoming blind, deaf and insane each. Looking away does help, but being caught in a flesh’s flood will result in damage and horrible scars. This is a delightfully gruesome spell, but fails to specify the extent of the affected target’s flood of growing flesh, which makes the spell not work properly as written. Bloody Roots imprisons a target below the earth, and has a tree grow from the cyst; fruit from the tree will open to reveal animals who speak of the imprisoned, but only to the young and lonely. At one point, the tree will split and reveal the formerly imprisoned, made anew. Dissolved in the Subtlest Middle Air is a campaign ender. The caster first gyrates spasmodically and painfully, and if the caster does not die, they turn into a glob of mutating material, growing with each target consumed, gaining ever more XP and powers – all to encapsulate the world and save it from the black sun. Alas, this once more does not codify the extent of spread/mass of the mutated thing – it’s a cool scene and angle, and I love the searing light vs. black sun leitmotifs in these spells, but this one, once more, needs to be more precise.

The second massive article is penned by Barry Blatt, who really excels at the quasi-historical early modern horror that many of the best Lamentations books sport. Here, we have essentially a fully depicted faction that comes with 4 fully statted NPCs, one fully-stated monster and a properly codified spellbook. The faction is super-easy to integrate into an ongoing game, and any referee worth their salt can craft a module by simply having the PCs encounter these folks. There even are a couple of read-aloud sections provided or you to paraphrase.

All right, to explain them further, I will have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Okay, so “Van Steen’s Company” is, as the ‘zine properly contextualizes regarding history, a bit of an odd sight – we have a Calvinist mercenary company of uncharacteristically efficient and well-behaved soldiers that seem to not be as fond of pillaging, murdering and/or raping as usual. They also set up camp a every Friday, and then only move again come Saturday dusk. Weird Dutch folk, right? Well, they are iconoclasts, but they are NOT Dutch – in fact, we have folks here that have managed to adapt Rabbi Loew’s writings – and unlike clay golems, which require whole congregations worth of prayer and magic, it turns out that people can be turned into obedient demi-golems, spell-ensorcelled terminator-like soldiers with devastating squad combat – you don’t want to face these head-on! Personally, I like to picture them as a combination of Solomon Kane and the Terminator, as a squad! And yep, the captain, magic-user, etc. are all statted. Are they good? Wholly vile? You decide. Love these!!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, as noted, a few of the spells are less precise than the others. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with really cool original b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment – I strongly suggest printing this, or getting the inexpensive print version.

This installment of the “Undercroft”, more focused than the previous ones, benefits from sticking to themes – I was exceedingly pleasantly surprised by the esoteric-feeling casting tradition and delightfully grisly, ritualistic and yet, folksy spells. The faction/module-set-up by Barry Blatt is a highlight indeed and also represents a great little angle. While I wasn’t too keen on the short story, and while the rules of a few of the spells could have been a bit tighter, this is still a steal of a ‘zine if you even remotely enjoy horror. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #3
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