The Red Prophet Rises (OSR)

The Red Prophet Rises (OSR)

This module clocks in at 30 pages of content, already disregarding pages devoted to editorial, front cover, etc. The module was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Okay, so “The Red Prophet Rises” is an adventure intended for 3-6 characters of levels 3-5, using the For Gold & Glory ruleset based on 2nd edition. This means that we have THAC0s, descending AC, HD, morale noted, etc. – when all’s said and done, this means that conversion to pretty much any OSR-rules system is pretty simple, as the statblocks etc. note a lot of information. Even an activity cycle, mind you!

The supplement includes 5 new spells that may be encountered/learned, all of which have a strong blood magic type and properly note the classes and spell-levels. They are pretty darn evocative – Spear of Blood, for example, targets a corpse or injured target, crystallizes blood from the source. With an attack roll that employs the Wisdom bonus, the spear is flung into a target, dealing damage. Damage exceeds that of e.g. magic missile, but the requirement of blood source plus attack roll makes this clock out. There also is a delightfully gruesome self-boost/buff that makes the caster bleed from eyes and mouth with a burbling scream, praising the Bull God. Even per se less evocative spells that deal damage have an angle that makes them stand out – such as pronouncing a forbidden word with the curse of sanguine castigation. What about animating blood in serpent form? Or a spell that controls blood of targets for a gruesome puppetry-spell? Yeah, pretty cool. Three new monsters are included as well, all featuring a pretty detailed summary that explains their roles as well as their combat behavior.

The module also features 14 new magic items that follow a similar design paradigm – their names are bolded for convenience, and XP-values for them are provided.  The items also manage to do something that precious few modules get right – they actually feel MAGICAL. They also are smart – there is, for example, an item that can increase weight – basically a magical anchor. Or what about the gourd of the old blood? Imbibing from that one makes you forevermore hear the heartbeats of those nearby. Sure, it can drive you insane, but it’s so helpful to prevent being targeted by those pesky assassins. Oh, and yeah, you can go berserker afterwards. What about a magical gypsum stone that can heat the surrounding area? There is but one item I’m not happy with – Veindrinker, a battle axe +2 that heals the wielder with each hit and animates the slain as bloodless corpses. Clearly an evil item, it is not intended for PC-use, as it requires the weekly death of a humanoid. That being said, the item would be better served if it had the caveat that only non-harmless creatures can be used to heal the wielder. Otherwise, those trusty murderhobos will be carrying a bag of kittens around to massacre and heal up. And infinite healing exploits are not fun, regardless of the game. That being said, a GM can and should limit this one to NPCs or add such a caveat.

Okay, that being said, the module does more: There is an appendix listing the friendly NPCs to be encountered with full stats AS WELL AS descriptions/read-aloud texts. Oh, and guess what? We get the same treatment for the hostile creatures as well! This is some next-level awesomeness. Furthermore, the final page is devoted to a super-handy monster cheat-sheet that lists all the combat-relevant components on one handy page. It should come as no surprise, but the module does feature random encounter tables, as well as a pretty extensive rumor section. It also has a strong angle that hasn’t been done in any other module I’m aware of: The primary hook of the adventure is that a paladin can get their steed here! The hook is supported by a proper vision you can paraphrase. It should be noted, though, that the adventure does not necessarily need this angle to work – it can be run perfectly fine without that. Reaction tables and the like are included as well.

Indeed, if the above was not ample clue, the presentation of the information herein is exceedingly effective: Each keyed locale features first a brief description, and then a bullet point list that makes it very simple and convenient to parse information. The b/w-cartography of the module is pretty detailed and sports grids etc. – while a few of the numbers on the maps are slightly pixilated, I found myself not minding this for once, as the locations themselves are smartly laid out. Unlike many a module, this one has a pretty strong focus on allowing the PCs to engage with it in a variety of ways; indeed, it is rather nonlinear. The module can and will run vastly differently for different groups due to the clever dungeon design. Case in point: The module has a SCHEDULE. Yep, a full table that notes when what happens each day, rewarding PCs for doing their legwork/reconnaissance! Oh, and before you ask – yep, the module does reference this table internally when required, making actual implementation of the schedule easy and seamless for the GM. Not only does this show smart design, it also makes the entire module more dynamic and alive.

Genre-wise, this is a Sword & Sorcery adventure, situated in some borderlands though one could easily argue in favor of it being dark fantasy. What do I mean by this? Well, this is a pretty bloody module, obviously, but it’s not grimdark; neither does it revel in excessive gore. (Unless you want it to…) It also has a very unique angle, in that it does not feel like a system is taken to express preset sword & sorcery tropes with it; instead, all the items and spells and components are used to make the atmosphere emerge from within. The rules are not bent to generate an effect. This is not a D&D-iteration used to express the themes, it is the themes emerging from play. I have seen precious few adventures pull this off. As an aside for all fans of WFRP – if you make the Bull God an aspect of Khorne, this is pretty much an instant WFRP-adventure. As far as environments are concerned, this works imho in any region that can sport a canyon – I could see this work in anything from the frigid north to the blasting heat of the deserts, provided a sufficient amount of uncivilized tribes can be found. Difficulty-wise, it should be noted that this is probably closest in aesthetics to DCC-adventures – it is deadly, yes, but the challenges faced are founded on the principle of player-agenda; this very much focuses on roleplaying over rollplaying, and smart players will have a good chance of survival. Those PCs that think they can murder-hobo through the module by simply charging in? They’ll lose their lives upon bloodsoaked altars.

Okay, and this is as far as I can go without diving into serious SPOILER-territory. Potential players should seriously jump to the conclusion. You’ll hate yourself to bits for spoiling this one.


All right, only GMs around? Great! The people of the bull, wiry and beardless, are a harsh people tempered by life on the wind-blasted plains. When the outsider Khazra came and smote the chieftain, pronouncing himself prophet of the Bull God, things changed Driven by blood-shrouded visions of conquest and a crimson paradise, the tribe embarked on a grand pilgrimage across the plains, towards a canyon, where a featureless obsidian looms – here, so the prophet proclaimed, the bull of infidels would flow in streams, opening the gateway to the crimson paradise – and thus, with Khazra’s proclamation, a ritualistic revelry of sacrifice, bloodsport and orgiastic revels commended. Nearby villages were raided by the people of the bull, drugged by the hallucinogenic Crimson Tear, a flower growing solely on battlefields. Thus, the barbarians lair within the canyon, drugged (which btw. does have an impact on the rules and explains some of their bloodthirsty, fanatical behavior!), feeding the Obelisk That Thirsts with precious red.

Meanwhile, the steed touched by the forces of good is forced to act as a beast of burden, opening the lid of the pit of sacrifice. The PCs only have 7 days to stop the slaughter enacted by the people of the Bull, and if they’re smart, they’ll scout the region beforehand – the presence of the aforementioned schedule means that smart players will have a much easier time dealing with the adventure. I mentioned before that the module uses schedule and encounters to generate a sense of authentic, dynamic content, right? Well, guess what, this is even further enhanced by the presence of a multi-stage alarm system and detailed notes on responses to the PC’s intrusion. If the PCs are smart, they can time their assault, for example, so that the hunters are currently outside. Disguising and infiltration – all possible. Indeed, the whole region is subdivided in thematic regions, such as “champion’s quarters”, allowing the GM to quickly and precisely grasp the layout of the caves and canyon.

Even on the micro-level, the sheer attention to detail is astonishing – bookshelves note secret forging techniques (with actual impact on the rules!), tables contain a plethora of detailed items, and an alchemy lab, well-hidden, does come with a 20-entry long, one page spanning table of effects for experimenting with things that the PCs don’t understand. There is, for example, a vial with petrified wood inside – which emits a bloodcurdling scream. This is the result of random experimentation, mind you – and results in a wandering monster check, which is a great point to mention that the module is generally very fair – harsh, but fair. Traps make sense where they’re placed, and risk-reward ratios are tightly balanced in creative ways.

The first part of the module, unsurprisingly, deals with the canyon itself, and covers 27 keyed locales. And OH BOY. What a canyon it is. To quote the module: “A massive rough-hewn bust of a bald man with a lengthy braided ponytail glowers down from the 50 foot high rock outcropping that divides the canyon. Narrow stairs cut through the rock face ascend to rope and wood-planked bridges that connect the canyon walls to the rock outcropping.” This is not designated as read-aloud text, but frankly, it established a better atmosphere than many modules designating such text. You can picture it, right? The massive face, the canyon walls? Somewhere between Ozymandias and Savage Sword of Conan’s mind-boggling vistas, this sets a grand stage – and it’s but the introduction. Freeing prisoners and uneasy allies are just a few of the options available to the PCs as they explore this place, and indeed, smart PCs may find allies even among the People of the Bull – if, and only if they are smart..So yeah, this is decidedly not just a hack and slash module – you can attempt to play it as such, but it’ll probably wipe out the PCs.

Beyond the canyon containing the people of the bull and their orgiastic revelry, the module actually offers more – much like a multi-part Savage Sword of Conan saga, there is more – beneath the canyon lies a dungeon, abandoned cellars of a now ruined wizard’s tower, where true evil looms. Down in the pit of despair, in the dark, may be found – a summoning circle contains a massive, demonic arm rising from the floor, the entity trapped for untold centuries; floodgates and ghosts can be found – and there is the Keeper of Names – a magical construct that will progressively start to name the PCs if they don’t retreat – and names have an inherent power to them. The Keeper can annihilate those it names in detail, progressively unraveling their sense of self in a sort of weaponized nihilism powered by cosmic principles. I love this! I love it even more because it is a puzzle boss fight that rewards clever tactics by the PCs and makes the creature feel like a proper construct. And then, there is the obelisk – an inverted black pyramid at the top funnels, drop by drop, blood to the obelisk, where currently essentially a proto-vampire god lies entombed and trapped – the blood sacrifices of the people of the bull will awaken an obsidian lord in service to this thing…and the obsidian might spread. The boss fight against the obelisk’s creatures, with round by round effects both rules-relevant and cosmetic, represents a great, dare I say, nigh perfect conclusion for the module, with plenty of ideas for further adventuring, for I have touched on only a fraction of the components featured within.

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language level, very good on a formal level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard that evokes, down to the font used, classic adventures. The artworks featured within are b/w, plentiful, and well-chosen. You may know some of them from other publications, but even with my plentiful experience, I’ve seen a couple of them for the first time. The cartography is b/w and quality-wise and regarding its functionality beyond reproach, though I wished we a) got a key-less, player-friendly version, and b) that the maps were a bit higher res. I’d really love to see player-friendly modules – and I’m sure that the many VTT-fans would agree. I can’t comment on the electronic version’s merits, but the print version is perfect-bound, with glossy covers.

The information design of this module, penned by Malrex and PrinceofNothing, is excellent, and so are the details; the way in which…
Who am I kidding? I’ve strained very hard throughout the review to not burst out in jubilation, so let me make this abundantly clear:

This belongs in the library of any self-respecting GM. Period.

I don’t care if you’re playing PFRPG 1e or 2e, D&D 5e, OSR-games, DCC, 13th Age, WFRPG – if you even remotely enjoy dark fantasy or sword & sorcery, then you MUST OWN this module.

This adventure is not only a great reading experience, it actually plays better than it reads (!!) – it is a resounding rebuttal to several notions: It shows that new school type of narratives and old-school emergent gameplay are not at odds; it shows that you can write a module that feels like a lost TSR-classic (one of the good ones!) and improve upon the formula; it shows that you can use mainstream D&D-based rules to weave a sword & sorcery storyline without requiring a ton of tweaking to systems and implicit assumptions.

It also is, in my humble opinion, one of the very few examples where module-writing has been elevated to an art form.
And I don’t mean that in some hipsterish BS type of way; I mean this in the truest sense of the word. It is a very subdued and subtle process – one that is more evident in e.g. Trollback Keep. In that module, the use of leitmotifs and their contrasting was more readily apparent. In this module, EVERYTHING makes sense; the authors obviously share a deep understanding of not only what makes the tropes of sword & sorcery and dark fantasy work, they also know how to IMPLEMENT them within the context of the game, all while retaining an almost obsessive sense of plausibility. They clothe this pitch-perfect implementation of tropes and details within a rules system with panache aplomb, making the module’s plot and scenario slide into the system like a ruler into their regalia. Adding a constant sense of dynamic, lived-in worlds to the whole just puts the icing on the cake – if this module was a character, it’d be Thoth-Amon or Kulan Gath, in regal strides, surveying all below as they kneel. There is a sense of majestic rawness and harshness to this adventure that is hard to describe and even harder to evoke.

This is on par with the best of Harley Stroh’s sword & sorcery work for DCC. This feels like someone read the entirety of Savage Sword of Conan, wrought a distilled essence from it, and by some eldritch alchemy, crafted a module from it.

In short, this is a benchmark-level masterpiece against which all other modules in the genre will hereafter have to be judged. And many will be found wanting. This was released last year, but I only got around to reviewing it due to my health situation this year. As such, this gets what it rightfully deserves – full 5 stars, my seal of approval, the “Best of”-tag as one of the best sword & sorcery modules I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering, and this is a candidate for my top ten of 2019.

You can get this masterpiece here on OBS!

The Merciless Merchants are currently kickstarting a a mega-adventure that is, looking at what I've seen from them so far, a no-brainer - but they are not as well-known as they should be, considering how good their modules are. So if you want to support truly outstanding adventure-writing by criminally-underrated authors, please supportthe kickstarter for the City of Vermilion here!

You can also support Malrex making modules here on patreon!

Finally, if you consider my reviews to be helpful, please consider leaving a direct donation or joining my patreon. Thank you.

Endzeitgeist out.


Grimmerspace: Abattoir 8 (SFRPG)

EZG reviews Grimmerspace: Abattoir 8 (SFRPG)

This massive module clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 15 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 70 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Wait, first, let’s talk pregens – level 1 and 2 pregens are provided, with ready to print out character sheets – and guess what? 22 pages of them! Yeah, that is quite a load of work off your shoulders.

This module begins with 4 – 6 PCs at 1st level and, at the end of the module, PCs that survive should have 2nd or 3rd level; a handy appendix lists XP by encounter zone for your convenience. What’s that, you ask? Think of those as the same as a part or sub-chapter, focused on a general region. Think of an encounter zone as a sub-level of a dungeon. I’ve certainly played scenarios with less meat on their bones than one of the encounter zones herein has. While these XP-by-zone-guidelines are provided, the module does suggest leveling up depending on the demands of the story instead. And yes, you read that right -there is a very real chance of PC death here; this is not a cakewalk – after all, Grimmerspace is a science-fantasy horror setting! This module is the first part of a two-parter that may be expanded further, but rest assured that it works rather well as a stand-alone adventure. As a horror-supplement, the usual disclaimers apply – if you want happy-go-lucky, then why are you checking out a horror module by none other than Richard Pett? ;)

Kidding aside, this pdf is actually rather neat in that it (like future Grimmerspace supplements!) has a chart that shows you the TYPE of horror! Does your group really dislike religious themes or excessive gore? One look at the chart and you’ll know what to expect and make an informed decision. Really neat!

There is another aspect to Grimmerspace that everybody, including potential players, should know: It takes a radical departure of sorts from Starfinder’s default assumptions, in that it reframes very basic assumptions of the very space opera/science-fantasy themes of the games to better suit its needs without making serious incisions into the game: You see, Grimmerspace’s default-setting, the Gliding Rim Galaxy, is pretty humanocentric and saw a constant expansion of the “safe zones” of space towards the edge. It also was utterly mundane – only in recent years, a strange phenomenon started introducing magic as a new force – there is a Tear, and with it, magic has come to the G-Rim (the parlance for this frontier – and reason for the term “Grimmer” for the hardened locals…)

It should also be noted that this module comes with a pretty massive FREE map-pack. This map-pack contains a gorgeous, isometric full-color map of the adventure’s location, and also provides handout-style versions of the full-color artworks presented within. (YES! This should have been industry standard ages ago!) Beyond that, we get jpg-versions of the respective encounter area-maps in full-color – two of them per map, in fact. Yep, we do get GM-versions AND player-friendly versions! AWESOME.

Speaking of which – the module begins with a distress call that just begs to be printed out and used as a handout…and guess what? Yep, we do get a handout for it. It’s not the only one: Anotehr note is provided, and a mini-game of sorts comes with an isometric map/visual representation that also acts as a handout.

As far as GM-skill is concerned, this is one of the most newbie-friendly horror-adventures I’ve seen in my reviewing career. It comes with a full page of mood-setting dressing, including a check-list to determine how often you used them – oh, and darkvision gets different entries! Why? The chemicals freed make darkvision capable of seeing certain protein-splatters, which can be really disturbing! Similarly, there is a neat survival-aspect, with an environmental protections-tracker-sheet included. As far as supplemental materials go, this seriously raises the stakes for the game! It should also be noted that the pdf provides a lot of very well-written read-aloud text, and supplements them with pro-tips in sidebars that help you troubleshoot potential problems, provide guidelines, etc. Heck, it even provides guidelines of when session-breaks would make sense. Kudos!

On a technical level and more relevant for veteran GMs would be that this module makes rather clever use of general level-features/hazards – from power surges to loose cables and hot hydraulic sprays, there are several such hazards that are tied to PC-actions; these can be used to enhance the danger of the situation and provide what I like to call “global” effects, adding to how organic the station feels. Beyond these, we have “electroconductive” as a new condition – because you#re wet, you more easily conduct electricity. THANK YOU. Particularly in the slightly more scifi-centric Grimmerspace, this makes ample sense.  It should come as no surprise, but yes, there are different adventure hooks provided, and yes, the adventure does come with its own rumor table for PCs that like to think of their PCs as capable of doing some research beforehand. Also relevant: Details like whether or not detect thoughts works? Yep, they’ve thought of that! Oh, and technically, this is NOT a linear module!

This being an adventure-review, the following obviously contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump ahead to the conclusion.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Abattoir 8 is an agricultural place that handles food processing, distribution and also acts as a trade hub of sorts. Maintained by the Attien Combine, t orbits the automated agricultural outpost Conviction. The PCs arrive on Abattoir 8 via one of the so-called slingshot ferries, but no one is to be seen. If you’ve played Dead Space 1 (the only creepy one in the franchise), you’ll have a good inkling of the atmosphere that expects you. No necromorphs abound – instead, we have Big Boy Thrask as basically an insane cyborg-slasher-cannibal villain – and easily one of the most striking and gut-wrenching murder-tableaus I’ve seen in a RPG – two of his victims have been decapitated, their bodies turned into clothes-wrapped meat, their arms reimagined as sausages that touch; the victims’ decapitated heads have been placed on the meat-piles in a grotesque caricature, facing each other…and as a final kick, “Love is…” has been written in blood between them. This is some Grade A+ twisted gore! Thrask is btw. the fine gentleman on the cover – and yes, he has custom items. His statblock provides a couple of unique tricks – and, interestingly, he has some smart (and scary) tactics that interplay with aforementioned global effects/hazards – and his goal is kidnapping PCs and dragging them to his aptly-named murder closet. Did I mention the mad zero-G welder who wrecked a section of the station, requiring that the PCs face the cold vastness of space (and, potentially, end out there?)…or the fact that all of this, including the global effects I mentioned in my examples so far, are actually all from the first encounter zone? Did I mention the guy who had his head replaced with a thunk (the cattle-equivalent), and said macabre head? Stuffed with grenades. OUCH.

Yep. The mechanic-turned-crossover of Hellraiser and Texas Chainsaw Massacre? That’s kind of the prologue. Sure, a prologue that wants to dismember you, and that seriously hunts you through the complex, but a prologue of sorts nonetheless. You see, the escape shuttle? It is way up there, between the two massive silos that make up Abattoir 8. And guess what? Getting up those silos? Easier said than done! The PCs can, for example, attempt to get up the malfunctioning thunk silo, where robotic arms can be rather dangerous….but the reprocessing plant is no better: Singapore-style interior fields, where dangerous harvest bots abound – and yes, they have long, sharp blades… That being said, it may actually not be that bad of an idea (from a story-perspective) to have the PCs  traversing  the thunk silo fall – why? Because zone 3 is the abattoir, and it is disturbing. Hardcore. You know, I’ve grown up in the middle of nowhere; I’m familiar with butchering, where meat comes from, etc. – and I’ve seen industrial meat-processing up close. It’s not pretty. Now, picture a malfunctioning super-high-tech version of that – a huge pile of half dismembered carcasses, drones that summarily execute anything that moves and process it…it’s visceral. Really, really visceral. The module is more than just a sick serial killer, industrial processing gone haywire and the like – it also features insane cannibals! Oh, and two people that actually can be talked to and reasoned with. Okay, one of them may be totally bonkers, a cannibal, and someone who’s been eating his own arm…but hey, in this place, that’s as good as it gets…right?

The module concludes with the PCs hopefully taking the fully statted escape vessel towards the Scavenger’s Voice – or safety, if you don’t want to get on board of the Grimmerspace train. But seriously, after this adventure, I’d be very surprised if that’d be the case.

Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard that is easy to both read and print out (you can save a bit of ink/toner by turning the border off), and yet aesthetically pleasing. The full-color artworks depicting key-scenes deserve special mention: They are drop dead gorgeous and on first-party quality levels. The hand-drawn maps, with full player-friendly map support, the handouts and presence of cool isometric maps to complement the more tactical top-down maps is another plus. While the pdf has bookmarks, they are somewhat rudimentary and are only labeled (incorrectly) as “_GoBack” – a minor snafu there, but one more than made up for by e.g. the handouts!

This is the most hard-R horror adventure Richard Pett, Rone Barton and Lou Agresta produce so far; grisly, visceral and brutal, Abattoir 8 is more than shock-value; it’s not just heaps of gore; it is disturbing because it makes perfect use of the blending of anxiety at the industrialized and automated process, the fear of consumption, and the vastness of space. In short: This is an extremely effective scenario, and is absolutely glorious. It’s also the one of highest quality FREE products I’ve ever seen. Where other companies provide a brief sidetrek, a teaser, a race, we get a fully-functional, inspired horror adventure here – FOR FREE! This is absolutely awesome, and personally, I can’t wait to hold my Grimmerspace books in my hands!

My final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval, given without hesitation. This also deserves my "Best of..."-tag as one of the best FREE adventures I've seen. What are you waiting for? There currently are no better deals for Starfinder out there! A masterclass premium adventure for FREE! Download it now!

You can get this glorious adventure here for FREE on OBS!

You can get the FREE map-pack here!

And, obviously, you can (and should) support the massive Grimmerspace Kickstarter here - it went live TODAY and is already funded. With an all-star author-cast, Sean Astin as creative director and none other than Lou Agresta and Rone Barton at the helm, these scifi-horror books look awesome. (And I've seen interior art - worthy of more than one cackle, gibber and drool!) Oh, and even if you've so far avoided Starfinder, fret not - there are pledge-levels that ALSO include the Starfinder rule books!! Check it out here!

As always: If you consider my reviews to be useful, please consider donating to my patreon - every little bit matters!

Endzeitgeist out.


What Ho, Frog Demons! (OSR)

What Ho, Frog Demons! (OSR)

The fourth Hill Cantons book clocks in at a massive 112 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 106 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a fair review. My review is primarily based on the print version, to be precise, on the full-color version. That POD-version has one full-color artwork inside, but uses a better quality of paper, so personally, I’d recommend paying the extra buck for the better quality paper. Unlike previous Hill Cantons-books, this one does have proper bookmarks, making navigation of the pdf version, which I also consulted, painless and simple.

Now, if you’ve been following my reviews of the Hill Cantons books, you’ll know that I am a fan of these strange books; if you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know that the previous releases include the wilderness area of the SlumberingUrsine Dunes, the city-supplement Fever-Dreaming Marlinko and the Misty Islesof the Eld.

Rules-wise, this employs the Labyrinth Lord rules, which means use with B/X is painless, and conversion to other OSR rules isn’t too difficult either. The overall region depicted is best suited for low to mid-level play, and the two adventure-locations included are designated for 4 – 7 characters level 2 – 4. It should be noted that one of these locations is much more dangerous than the other; indeed, the fully-fleshed out locations can be rather deadly and will probably serve to challenge higher level parties as well with minimal fuss.

This book, then presents the hexcrawl umbrella-setting that includes all of these previously-released locations and more, contextualizing them in the greater canton; there is no content overlap with these previous releases.

I’d be somewhat hard-pressed to find a common theme between the Hill Cantons books released so far; while Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Misty Isles of the Eld both feature a somewhat psychedelic metal aesthetic with some surreal components and pretty subdued pop culture references, Marlinko as a city and its content was more gonzo and tongue-in-cheek. This book, then, is closest to Fever-Dreaming Marlinko in theme, in that is it stuffed to the brim with nerd-culture references, particularly regarding the (OSR-)roleplaying scene, and can be designated as capital letters GONZO.

This book does not necessarily take itself all too seriously, and as such, whether this hits the spot for you, humor-wise, will determine significantly how much you enjoy this. It should be noted that the book does include profanity, so if you’re sensitive to the like or easily offended, you will have chances to take umbrage here.

It should be noted that the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

Only referees around? Great!

All right, before we get into the nit and grit of the material herein, it should be noted that the book contains a “bucolic village generator”, which includes a name-generator (including inappropriate monikers), strange villager quirks. These are…well…quirky. To give you an example from the table:

“Sad-faced men and bright-cheeked wives paint bluebirds and vampires and pig designs on sandals. Every sunset and every sunrise the men are strapped to holy cows and spanked with the sandals. The villagers are adamant that this keeps the vampire pigs away.” If this made you smile, then chances are that this has quite a lot to offer. The generator also includes d8 rustic and strange characters, 20 misadventures to have around the canton villages and even a proper carousing table.

The book also contains a bestiary section, which features the alkonost, a giant bird with a long neck and the head of a woman, and an entrancing and dangerous song that makes the listener forget progressively more of their own being. The bukavac is a pretty hilarious (and deadly) predator: The hexapod attacks in a unique manner. To quote the book: “The bukavac attacks by jumping above its chosen target and, bizarrely hanging in midair, pounding them to a pulp with its six feet. The resulting red ruin is then scooped up by its long tongue. This jump is invariably accompanied by the joyous hell-scream of “BWAAAAHHH!” – theoretically charming, if it were not for the carnage that near-invariably follows.” In case you haven’t noticed: Yes, this book is suffused with a lush and precise prose that often manages to blend the creative with the hilarious. Few books over the years have entertained me to this extent.  The book also provdes stats for the dwarf-hobbit crossbreed Kudůki, characterized by extreme identity-confusion. Robo-dwarves and vodnik alongside wereworms (with a nightmare-fuel artwork) may be food, and of course, there are frog-demons to be found. Quite a few of them, actually. (As an aside: There will be a stand-alone supplemental Frog Demon generator at one point, but so far, the hydras haven’t finished it.)

And then there would be the deodands. As a fan of Vance’s writing, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the hydras managed to score the rights for the inclusion of this cult critter. But they are indeed played for laughs, and in a way that may break the immersion of some folks. There is, for example, a purple-skinned variant, the zeodand, that targets folks with sophistry and useless arguments. Oh, and the main lure of deodands? They try to lure in folks with time-share offers. No, I am not kidding.

See, and this is, kinda, where the book loses me. I’m not embroiled within the politics and bickering that one can see in the roleplaying game scene, at least not to the extent that others are. And still, I found a metric ton of wink-wink-nudge-nudge “eastereggs” – of course, there is the Staff of the Ragygi as a treasure. It can, oddly, be used to backstab, and lets the wielder cast Nystul’s Magical Kickstarter, which works as Magic Aura. …if you didn’t get why this somewhat annoyed me, you have more of a life outside of RPGs than I do. ;P Kidding aside, there are a TON of those wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments; more so than even in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, and here, they somewhat…bothered me. Unlike in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, there is no dungeon made on a weird character’s concept from the Hill Cantons campaign. (Though there are plenty of notes how stuff from that game worked out – this time around, I considered these tidbits to be inspiring!) Instead, we have a ton of such meta-jokes.

The per se challenging Frog Demon Temple, for example, has a sidebar that displays “D10bestsellers of Hot Hell” that includes “Three Word Title: A Guide to the Naming of Products Auteur and Ludic” or “The Iron Doom Crawling Red Monolith of the Cursed Pod-God Maze.” Did these make me chuckle? Yes. Yes they did. Heck, we even get an artwork of the cover of “Applied Hedonics”, which made me grin indeed. None of these meta-jokes are bad; they’re genuinely funny. There simply are…so…many…of them, that it started to break my immersion. Seeing an illustrated frog demon idol that looks like Kermit? AWESOME. Aforementioned jabs and meta-jokes? Cool. But their accumulation can start to wear on you.

This is purely my personal opinion, but I think the Hill Cantons are better when their humor is less in your face; it’s the contrast between the regularly fantastic and the gonzo strangeness that makes them work; for me, Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Misty Isles of the Eld hit a better balance there. This, however, is, and let me emphasize that, HIGHLY subjective. It may also be a genre thing – I tend to mind such references less in scifi or space opera games than in fantasy. So no, this will not negatively influence the final verdict, but for once, I found myself wishing I got less of the allusions and references herein.

Now, I briefly mentioned that the book does mention in a few places how it worked in the original Hill Cantons game: One such example would be Bad Rajetz, a settlement known for the production of fetish-wear, which, alongside the condo-reference, was the second jarring anachronism that I really didn’t like. (And I’ve been practicing BDSM for the better part of my adult life) – it just comes out of nowhere. The notes here state that the factions in the original game had a 4-way Red Nails-ish standoff, which frankly made me want to see that adventure, that context. Instead, I got a throwaway anachronism-oh-so-quirky line.

On the huge plus-side of things, there is a ton to be loved herein as well: We have an inconvenient, but immaculately-constructed highway fashioned by Hyperboreans; we have strange signposts that are rumored (accurately, as it turns out!) to be cursed. We have some of the best rumor-sections I have read in any book – false components are italicized for your convenience, and most rumors are actually pretty damn creative and oftentimes funny adventure hooks that tie in with the other Hill Canton books. Such references are clearly and precisely noted, which brings me to the component of usability – this book is extremely well-crafted in that context. You won’t need to do a lot of flipping back and forth, with stats noted where required, important information highlighted by being bolded, clever use of italics, etc. As one minor formal complaint, three “see p. XX”-remnants have remained within the book.

The book, somewhat like Marlinko, also features an array of truly intriguing encounters, both for the individual locales and for the cantons in general. From the war-bear PREVED! (who likes to intrude upon humans in certain circumstances, yelling at the top of his lungs) to the daughter of freakishly honest and racist Fraza, the characters succeed at the great tightrope act of being both intriguing and amusing. A lady with a hierarchy of husbands who then ritually consume the least favored husband, strange trees, the horned oracle “Ozbej the Gighacksian” (yep, another wink-wink-nudge-nudge-moment), talking badgers, a context for the FREE “Tree Maze of the Twisted Druid” and more may be found. It is impossible to even touch upon all the components herein without bloating this review beyond any usefulness.

So, let us talk about the adventure sites: The Frog Demon Temple is a straight-forward dungeon-crawl, and I’ve touched upon some of its peculiarities before; it is intended to be deadly; the PCs may or may not take a brief trip to a salon where frog demons lounge in the Hot Hells and, in a cool angle, finding one of the primary hooks for the dungeon exploration is actually pretty difficult.

The second fully-fleshed out scenario would be more unique – it is a genuine horror-satire, and it WORKS. It lampoons its genre just enough, stays serious and dangerous just enough, to be one of the precious few instances where a satire adventure actually is properly playable, fun to play, funny, and challenging.  You see, Ritek, son of Ritek, doesn’t have an easy life. Being secretly an evil priest is hard, particularly when your second half is also…evil. The constant complaints about a lack of social advancement, about sufficient self-case, etc. made him snap one day.
““Did you remember to send the gilt-and-gore-edged invitations to the latest moonlight coven
coffee and cake soirée to the Lumpeks, the Neprespans, and those neophyte Novaks?”
In a midlife crisis moment of rage, Ritek slew his wife Maliska, buried her, and inadvertently created a funnel for a demonic spirit to inhabit a beet, which then proceeded to grow to monstrous proportions. When the village foreman attempted to…ähem…do things with the beet, he became BEETNIK ZERO!

And thus, we have a beet spawn epidemic that will slowly consume…not much, beyond a few backwater villages and folks. The folks in the hill cantons are incompetent, but not THAT incompetent. The bumbling evildoer’s wife is now a harmless ghost and tries to pin the infection on Ritek, while the demonic beet seeks to spread its influence! Today, the sty, tomorrow the world! The book presents an index that allows for the simple tracking of how far the beet infection/cult has spread, and the fields of the hamlet Ctyri Ctvrt is depicted in a modular point crawl, which allows you t use it an infection index 0 (boring hamlet mode) and at higher infection levels. There is, much to my groaning, an Onionator to be encountered. (This, once more is something that, while kinda funny, I could live without. This is just “lol, oh so random” – it’s trying too hard.) On the plus-side, even though the book does make fun of the notion, there is a sidebar that proposes 5 “Jane Austen – unglamorous backwater edition”-style sidequests I found hilarious and fun it their relatable pettiness.

The PCs can witness a ginormous Beaver that is regularly renewed by beavers, tuber-beetles and cows as a result of the infection, and obviously, time is of the essence. Beyond the general environment, the more detailed aspects of this part of the book are fully mapped as well, making this one of the precious few genuinely awesome and replayable funny adventures I’ve read over the year. And yes, it *can* be played as creepy. In fact, I’d recommend in favor of playing this with a straight face – makes for a great contrast to the outrageous and gonzo angle.

As a whole, I consider both detailed locations to be resounding successes, which continues the trend started in Misty Isles of the Eld, where the individual adventure locations started to become as awesome as the general setting/world/wilderness.

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, with only very few typo/oversight-level snafus. On a rules-language level, the book is precise and well-wrought. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard without much frills, and the book has A LOT of awesome, original b/w-artworks. The cartography in b/w is similarly great, but much to my chagrin, we do not get player-friendly, unlabeled versions to print out or use in conjunction with VTTs. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked (FINALLY!), and the perfect bound softcover features the title on the spine. On my copy, a bit of the color bled to the spine, but that’s just cosmetic.

Chris Kutalik has a thoroughly unique voice, and Luka Rejec (also responsible for the artworks) makes for a great co-author. This book, as a kind of encompassing regional source/adventure-book, had a tougher job than the previous Hill Canton books, and as such, it is fascinating to note how good it is. Extremely usable, this DRIPS ideas on every page, with easily half a year worth of surreal and fantastic gaming, at the very least, that can be wrung from its pages.

That being said, I am pretty sure that this book will be more divisive than the other Hill Canton books. It is very strongly tongue-in-cheek, and not everybody will consider the sheer sequence and extent of insider-jokes and meta-humor to their liking. Personally, I vastly preferred the Misty Isles of the Eld’s balance there. That being said, humor is very subjective.

As a reviewer, this leaves me with the formal criteria, and frankly, I found myself positively surprised by both adventure locales. The horror-satire module is genius and exceedingly fun and funny; the dungeon-crawl may be the strongest dungeon featured in the whole of the Hill Cantons books so far, provided you can stomach the insider jokes. Still, this is one excellent book, and one that has a voice unlike any other; it attempts a tone we usually do not get to see, and in the instances it succeeds, it does so triumphantly – to the degree where, frankly, I consider this a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018 in spite of its humor not always hitting home for me. It is different, creative and plain fun, and perhaps, just perhaps, the roleplaying games scene needs more books like this; books that drive home that we shouldn’t always take our little elfgames too seriously and embrace what they are…fun.  Unsurprisingly, my final verdict will be 5 stars, and this does get my seal of approval.

You can get this amazing adventure/satire here on OBS!

Missed the other Hill Canton books?
Slumbering Ursine Dunes can be found here!
Fever-Dreaming Marlinko is right here!
And the glorious Misty Isles of the Eld can be found here!

You can directly support the creation of Hill Cantons material here on patreon!

Luka Rejec also has a patreon funding unique projects here!

Finally, your humble reviewer would appreciate it, if you would contemplate supporting the cause of providing more reviews. If you enjoy having my reviews around, please consider supporting my patreon here. 

Endzeitgeist out.