Advanced Adventures: Bitteroot Briar (OSR) This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 9 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look! This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon...
This pamphlet roleplaying game is essentially a hack of Chris McDowall’s popular underground game “Into the Odd.“ Pamphlet RPG? Well, yeah. The game is essentially 4 pages – one 2-page pdf for players, and one for the GM. If you print them, you can fold them alongside two dotted lines into a pamphlet like the ones you’d get in theater, etc. Much to my pleasant surprise, the game comes in two iterations – one for the A4 paper-size convention, and one for the US letter-size. Kudos for going the extra mile there.
One third of a page is the same for both the player booklet and the GM booklet: These contain the artworks that you can see on the cover – essentially, that’s the equipment list, and small indicators note the damage die of a given weapon – these range from d6 to d10, just fyi. Weapons that deal d10 damage require two hands to wield, and small items come in bundles of 5.
Character creation is simple – roll 3d6 four times, and you may swap two rolls. Strength (STR) denotes fighting, fortitude, etc.; Dexterity (DEX) is used for sneaking, athletics, etc., and Willpower (WIL) is your persuasion, shooting, tech understanding, etc. The fourth roll denotes the slugs – that’s the term used for ammo and currency.
After this, you roll a d6 for Hit Protection (HP); once this is depleted, you can suffer critical damage – 6 entries are provided for that, and you essentially can lose parts or be knocked out. If HP reaches 0, damage is applied to Strength, and once you take Strength damage, you make a Strength save to avoid critical damage.
Attacks and saves are handled the same way – you roll a d20 under the related ability score; 1 is always a success, 20 is always a failure; if you have advantage, you roll an additional die and choose the better result; the inverse holds true for disadvantage.
If it’s unclear who acts first, the player must make a Dexterity save to act before the enemy. On the player’s turn, they can move and perform one action. How far? Alas, not stated. Nor is initiative clearly explained – I’d suggest using the Death is the New Pink standard there.
A character dies at 0 Strength; at Dexterity or Willpower the character is paralyzed or catatonic, respectively.
But back to character creation: You then roll a random mutation and choose a specialty, and pick one weapon and 2 items. To randomly select a mutation, you roll a d6 twice: The first die indicates whether you check the combat mutation, utility mutation or mental mutation table. Each of these subtables comes with 6 mutations. Combat mutations include firebreath, acid spit, crushing pincers, etc.; utility mutations feature camouflage, web-spinners, regeneration, etc., and mental mutations feature mind control, inducing horrible visions, etc. These don’t feature range, but do come with a general duration formula – 10 minutes per experience level. When you use a mutation, you roll a d4; on a 1-2, you decrease the die size of the mutation by one; if the mutation already has a d4 for its die, it is spent for the day. Elegant.
What are specialties? Well, these are essentially the class-features/feats/Special abilities of the game. If you’re an assassin, you bypass HP and deal d12s damage versus helpless or unaware targets. Melee or ranged specialists are included, as well as being lucky (1 reroll per session). There is one that lets you always act first (what if multiple beings have this?), and there is one that nets a loyal pet.
The game features 4 fleshed out level titles for experience levels, and progression is based on finished adventures. In order to level up, you have to rest in a safe place. You gain 1d6 HP and roll a d20 for each ability score – if you roll higher than your ability score, it increases by 1, to a maximum of 20, and you get to choose either a new mutation, or a new specialty.
Now, regarding items: Basic items cost 1-5 slugs; weapons cost their damage die (I assume, maximum number) in slugs, and armor costs 10/25/60 slugs; armor acts as DR, with a maximum of 3, obviously. You can carry up to Strength items, weapons and armor; anything beyond is unsafe, but that aspect is not elaborated upon.
These are the pieces of information presented on both pamphlets; on the player pamphlet, we also have 2/3rds of a page devoted to essentially a character sheet, where you put HP in the drawn heart, armor in the drawn armor, melee weapon damage in the nail-studded club, ranged weapon damage in the drawn gun – the sheet is self-explanatory, and smooth – I like it. Chow, water and ammo also have their icons to track them.
Oh, and this humble pamphlet gets something right that many full-blown games botch: 1/3rd of one of each pamphlet’s pages is devoted to a nice, hand-drawn b/w-hex-map of the jungles of Ixx – and guess what? The version in the player-pamphlet has no annoying numbers and is player-friendly. Nice.
The GM’s pamphlet explains 7 interesting locales briefly – from the adventurer’s home (Scrapwheel Village) to the glowing maw, swamp rig, etc. – I liked these brief touches, and travel + random encounter tables for travel is included, as well as 6 entries of one-sentence adventure inspirations. Speaking of adventure: 1/3rd of the GM’s pamphlet is devoted to a sample adventure, the lair of the clonelings: This little dungeon is pretty nice, considering the very limited room it has, and we get a solid b/w-map here as well – oh, and guess what? It manages to be non-linear! A minor niggle: The dungeon references a WIS save, when that should reference WIL instead. Yes, I am nitpicking.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout is subservient to the requirements of the pamphlet formula, and the aesthetics deserve special mention – from the char sheet part to the maps and items, the b/w-drawings are nice and capture the vibe this goes for. The pamphlets have no bookmarks, but since they’re literally two pages each, that would have been patently absurd anyways.
I got Karl Stjernberg’s “Mutants of Ixx” on a whim, and promptly forgot about it. I shouldn’t have. This is a great example of efficient gaming minimalism in practice, and does a lot of things right. In fact, more than right. There are precious few concessions made to the minimalist presentation, and while a GM obviously will have to expand this when running it, there will only be the range and movement issue to truly contend with; both of these could have been easily clarified without breaking the formula or taking up too much space. So no, this is certainly not perfect.
HOWEVER, and some people will be surprised by this: I prefer this tiny booklet over DIY RPG Productions “Death is the New Pink (DitNP).” Not only in themes, which are subjective, but in character progression engine! Where DitNP uses essentially arcana substitutes, this little booklet presents a robust engine for both mutations AND class features that is easy to expand, and rewarding to use, taking a step away from the item-defined component. I genuinely think that this booklet has a better designed basic framework, and one that is very simple to build on. I love this from a design perspective – it’s incredibly elegant.
Now, it is not as streamlined, or expansive as DitNP, obviously – this is me comparing a 2-page booklet with a game that almost sports 100 pages. This pamphlet game is fiercely DIY in its aesthetics, and it’s not as precise as DitNP; I do have to account for that in my verdict. But I still seriously prefer it for what it achieves in its ultra-essentialist frame. As such, this is one of the few instances, where this gets 4 stars, but also my seal of approval. If you’re looking for a rules-lite post-apocalyptic game that can theoretically entertain you for years, for 2 frickin’ bucks, then get this.
You can get this cool game here on OBS for $2.00!
Missed Death is the New Pink? You can find it here!
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