Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Review: Weird Adventures

Now that I finally have Megadungeon! finished and out the door, I can turn my attention to other distractions, particularly my copy of Trey Causey's new pulp campaign setting, Weird Adventures, which arrived in the mail last week.

I know I'm late off the mark on this; Weird Adventures has been out for some time now, but I was holding out for the hard copy, which came out some weeks after the PDF release, and needed to be delivered 'by sled dog' as Trey jokingly commented, to my home in Winnipeg.  Consequently, there have already been several reviews posted within the OSR community that describe what the book is all about, and I don't mean to retread well-covered ground.

Suffice to say, much of the flavour and detail of this setting is provided in Trey's vignette-style posts and his free supplement, Strange Trails, which can be found on his blog, From the Sorcerer's Skull, while Weird Adventures is the foundation that provides the context for these essays.  The book is divided into four parts: an overview of the world in general, a more detailed overview of the continent of Septentrion (North America to you and me), a detailed guide to the City (a weird and lurid version of New York City), and a bestiary of weird menaces.

What I really want to talk about is the physical product, itself, which is one of the most beautiful and professional-looking books that I've seen come out of the OSR community.

Weird Adventures is available as a PDF download, a perfect bound softcover, or hardcover.  I opted for the digest sized softcover, which is my favourite format for game books.  When I received it I was struck by just how similar it looks to a pulp fiction magazine.  My copy of Weird Adventures would fit right into a stack of Weird Tales magazines, which immediately sets the mood for what is to come.

The interior of the book is lavishly and profusely illustrated, which really helps to convey the tone of the setting.  One such example is this illustration of City denizen, Nick Scratch, by artist Seth Frail:

One glimpse at this picture and I have a pretty good handle on Nick Scratch; the little horns on his forehead, the expensive suit, the pack of smokes and banker's lamp on his desk, and the view from his window are all my imagination needs to figure out what this guy's deal is.  I barely even need to read his write-up, which just confirms what I had already figured out.

This is just one example; the book is full of evocative illustrations such as this.  Another aspect of the book that needs to be mentioned is the layout and choice of fonts, both of which support the text with additional flavour; the book is cleanly laid out and easy to read and the various fonts all suggest a 1920's pulp periodical.  This feel is further supported by advertisements for Djinn Cigarettes, Brown Jenkin Whiskey, and classifieds at the back of the book.  In short, I don't think I've ever seen a game book that so effectively evokes the look and feel of the genre it emulates, and Trey has set a new standard for what such a book can be.

While I'm a huge fan of early 20th century pulp adventure, having read a lot of Doc Savage books as a kid, (indeed, GURPS Cliffhangers remains one of my all-time favourite source books) I've never actually run such a campaign, as I tend to stick primarily with sword & sorcery or modern espionage games.  Nonetheless, Weird Adventures offers a lot of gaming inspiration even if you never run the campaign as written.  One of the things that really impressed me was how many parallels there are between Trey's world and my own City States of Lemuria sword & sorcery campaign setting, and it gave me some great insights in to how my world would likely evolve and what it would look in 2 million years.

For that matter, there is much within Weird Adventures that can be ported directly into a sword & sorcery fantasy campaign: hillbilly giants lurking in the mountains, infernal crime syndicates, not to mention the City, itself, which could easily be re-imagined as a city-state in a fantasy setting.  Also, since the menaces in the bestiary are given old school D&D stats, they are directly usable with old school game system of your choice.

I should mention, however, that aside from the bestiary, Weird Adventures contains no game mechanics whatsoever.  This is purely a descriptive setting book and it provides no advice on how to run a Weird Adventures campaign.  Though the bestiary is described using D&D stats, the setting itself is completely system-neutral.  If you do want to run it using an old school D&D ruleset, you may need to do some work to tweak character classes for a modern setting and come up with rules for vehicles, firearms, etc.  Of course this also leaves the door wide open for Trey to publish a follow-up book with the nuts and bolts of running a Weird Adventures Campaign, with character classes and equipment specific to the setting - which is something I'd dearly love to see and would buy in an instant.


Dan said...

Nice review Sean. Got my copy a couple days ago too. :) Its a great book.

Also in reading Trey's blog I became aware of The Goon comic and I've got some of trades on order for that too as it looks really fun.

Trey said...

Thanks, Sean. I'm glad you liked it. I've have echo the credit you give to the artists. Everybody turned in some really great work.