20 Things #8: Cultist’s Lair (system neutral)
This installment of Raging Swan Press’ system-neutral #20-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The 8th installment of the system-neutral dressing-series by Raging Swan press wastes no time and begins with 10 cultists with a personality – from affable halfling couples to scarred dagger-wielders performing “sacred” duties or sheltered wives finding “purpose” in a cult, the characters provided indeed have personality – they are, obviously, system-neutral and thus stat-free, but should be considered to be worthwhile, nice write-ups of persons and worthy angles to pursue/include in your game.
A table of 20 odds and ends to find in a cultist’s lair adds some nice rolelaying/investigative potential: Why are there uniforms of the militia here? What’s the story behind those feathered animal masks (the original “Wicker Man”, anyone?), sealed scrolls with missives? There is a lot of nice material providing further angles here. A total of 4 unholy books, from the tome of sibilant terror to the libram of ineffable damnation complement the selection here.
The next table would be an old one – 20 Things to find on a cultist’s altar would actually be, entry for entry, the reproduction of “20 Things to find on an Evil Altar” for GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I – why the rename of the table? No idea, but it is something to be aware of when you use both books and wanted some different dressings here. Since “cult” implies secrecy more often than not, some emphasis on stealth/subtlety here as opposed to in-your-face evil altar would have been nice to see here. The 12 items to be found on the altar similarly overlap.
That being said, I have not seen the entries of things to loot from a dead cultist’s body before, unless I am sorely mistaken: Beyond curved bronze knives, 3-pronged candlesticks and shattered mirror shardsSecret compartments in shirts, bloody rags, pierced nipples and vaguely humanoid-shaped fetishes add an appropriate sense of the creepy to the proceedings.
The next table, pertaining 20 effects affecting an (evil) altar, has also be slightly renamed, but otherwise is taken directly from the GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things Volume I book, providing slightly more overlap here. Once again, more subtlety regarding the entries could have provided a more distinct angle, but that may just be me complaining at a high level.
The final page does end on a high note, though: 20 vile things to be found in a cultist’s lair provide faint outlines of summoning circles, gold-encased demon skulls, pools filled with red liquid that emits a silver glow, statues sewn together from humanoid parts…grisly and cool. Additionally, the pdf suggests a 10-entry array of unpleasant things happening upon touching these vile objects, which range from horrific visions to becoming evil for 24 hours, speaking in ancient tongues or learning the true name of a powerful entity…who now obviously wants the PC dead, make for unique and cool twists.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Additionally, the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use – kudos for going the extra mile there! The pdf sports some nice b/w-artworks.
John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst and Mike Welham all are pretty much authors that guarantee to me that I’ll at least kind of like a given book: They have in common that they are talented, creative and have a way with words that may even evoke unique concepts with a scant few pages; in short, their dressing-books are generally amazing. This is no different, to be frank – the new dressing providing within these pages is excellent and up to the highest level of quality. The 2 reprinted dressing pages similarly rank among the better ones are quality-wise, are nice…but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they could have emphasized the “cult”-aspect more.
Due to their origin as dressing for a more generally applicable theme, namely evil religion, they feel a bit less subtle, a bit less rickety and “culty” than the other dressings. So yes, while the new material is enough to warrant the fair asking price for those of you who already have the big book, I couldn’t help but find that emphasizing the oftentimes illegitimate nature of the cult more and/or modifying these tables would have elevated this dressing file further. By no means bad and still a worthwhile purchase, this is the reason I can’t go higher than 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
You can get this nice dressing file here on OBS!
You can directly support Raging Swan press here on patreon!