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.