Monkey Business (OSR)
Okay, the first thing you’ll notice upon downloading this, is that you get an archive that contains 6 files – one is a read me, while three are cheat sheets; the other two files are Monkey Business, and the “Appendices”-file – which may be rather misnamed, but I’ll get to that below. The adventure booklet is 51 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover left blank, 1 page editorial, 1 page introductory quote, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 46 pages; the Appendices booklet clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 52 pages of content. The booklets are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5).
Now, I have received print versions of these booklets in exchange for a fair an unbiased review, and said booklets are saddle-stitched and rather nice; the author is currently working on PoD, but if that takes a while, you might contemplate asking for such a copy. Anyways, I primarily used these booklets in my review, though I did also double-check the respective pdfs, obviously. Suffice to say, as per my usual policy, receiving print copies made me move this up in my reviewing queue.
As far as rules are concerned, this employs the Labyrinth Lord (LL) rules, which means, in case you’re not familiar with them, HD-ratings, descending AC, saves referencing class tables, and movement rates that tend to assume 90’ (30’) as the default, but which can oscillate rather significantly. Morale values are included. From my experience, conversion from LL to other OSR-rules systems is pretty simple; in this instance, the relative danger of the adversaries herein means that I can see this working in more high-powered OSR-games very easily. Important for purists: The module borrows the advantage and disadvantage terms from 5e, so if you dislike the use of those, be wary of that. The booklets are intended to provide gameplay for low to mid level ranges, and I’d second this – the tougher challenges work best in the mid-level range and remain dangerous there.
Okay, so, the formal part out of the way, let us talk a bit about what this is, and what it isn’t. Monkey Business proudly wears the DIY-component of DIY OSR as a huge badge; this is NOT a finished adventure you just read and run – instead, it is an exceedingly reusable toolkit with a part of a story, a set-up; the rest happens, for better or worse, in emergent gameplay. Personally, I’d argue that it’s fairer to review Monkey Business as a toolkit, rather than as an adventure, for that is where an obviously serious part of the focus went – so that’s what I’ll do. One thing you need to be aware of: The text throughout is very conversational in style: “Well. Who doesn’t like cannibals?!” and similar interjections suffuse the text of this supplement, and don’t stop throughout – the like usually rubs me the wrong way, but considering the themes of the adventure, I found it oddly appealing – when it stayed out of explanatory sections or rules.
While the toolkit components are obviously entwined with the specific situation presented within these pages, the toolkit component per se can be utilized beyond the scope of this booklet and its themes, so let us start right there, with making the actual site of the adventure/sandbox we have here – a vast, gonzo jungle.
Gonzo? Yeah, and I mean big time. This is closer to the fourth-wall breaking, pop-culture referencing original iteration of Crimson Dragon Slayer or to Fever-dreaming Marlinko, than to the other Hill Cantons books; in a way, “gonzo” is a not a descriptor for the genre here; it *IS* the genre. There is intrusion of 1920s tech, plentiful quoting of exploitation-themed movies and pop-culture references, and the very concept of the book; so if you don’t like that sort of thing, this might turn you off. It should also be noted that this comes with a “Mature Content” warning – that, at least to my German sensibilities, is not necessarily required. Then again, the themes include drugs (central to everything herein), and there are some fade-to-black-style mentioning of sexual intercourse. And a LOT of swearing, so if that sort of thing bothers you, you have been warned. The author is also not a native speaker of English, and while I have read plenty of non-native speakers writing lavish prose, there are a couple of glitches in this one: Some examples for glitches include “under her ban” – as a fellow German, I understand the origin of this one: “Unter jemandes Bann stehen” in German means “to be under sb’s spell”; “set/sat” and similar (near-) homophone errors are more common hiccups herein. That being said, I have seen plenty of books by native speakers that fared worse.
Thankfully, you can get this module for PWYW, so if those are potential deal-breakers for you, you can check out the book and leave a donation if you enjoy the material.
The generators included herein are somewhat entwined with the content of the module, so there will be some SPOILERS below. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great!
So, the central theme of the book would be “intelligent drug pusher apes and monkeys.” Told you this was capital letters GONZO. These fellows are the primary antagonists, and as such, you begin the jungle generation by taking a hex-map, and putting their base smack in the middle – this is the Gorilla Headquarters, a no-longer-abandoned temple. The other “factions” are ruins, cannibals, mushroom people, and aliens.
From the central hex (hex A) that contains the Gorilla HQ, you move clockwise through the adjacent hexes in a spiral pattern, and designate them with letters. You roll a d100 for every hex field: The d% of the roll determines the Elevation of the hex, while the d10 of the roll determines the Complexity of the field, which denotes how easily it is traversed. The two parts of the d100 also determines the number of vistas that may be found 1 – 3 on either die means one vista, 4-6 two vistas, and 7-10 three vistas. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we’ll just be rolling lots of d100s and putting the numbers down on the cheat-sheet, one for each hex. Then, we check the results: There are 9 different sub-categories of the table: So, for example, entries 01 – 10 denote mountains; 21 – 30 denotes lakes and moors – you get the idea. Each number has its own little entry. If some rolls make no sense in proximity to each other, you can modify them relatively easily on the fly. These categories feature something important for the whole generation process, the component of the engine that generates setting-inherent dynamics: The resource-level, or RL. Each category has a resource level ranging from 1 – 4, with some of the individual entries modifying resource level further. The presence of underwater lakes or deep caverns can mean essentially an extra environment with extra resource levels, while e.g. a jungle-less plateau can reduce resource levels by -2. You also put the resource levels down in the hex cheat sheet.
We have now established the lay of the land – now, let’s return to the factions. For each faction, you roll a number of d6s equal to the resource level, and compare the results with the respective “faction” table (ruins are a faction primarily because the engine treats them as such!) – anyhow – each faction has several things they might or might not have: The result of the resource level roll is used in a point-buy manner to purchase stuff: Mushroom folk can pay for a village circle with 6 points, mushroom artworks cost 1 point, and the mighty Father Shroom costs 14 points, with a maximum of one per hex. Gorillas mighty be constructing roads (5 points), seed hidden stashes (1 point per stash) or create a hidden base for 10 points. This is generally a really amazing system, and I kinda wished we had more entries for each faction, particularly because each faction has a kind of threshold value – usually 15 or 20: If the resource level exceeds these values, we have each ruins with still functional magic properties, apes proceeding to the next phase of their master plan, or there might be an alien ship around! This system is elegant, pretty easy to grasp, and made using the generator, surprisingly, pretty FUN for me. Perhaps it’s my German nature, but I loved this little engine and how it gamifies what would be potentially bland busywork. It also appeals to my OCD-tendency of providing details for everything, giving me a solid framework that suffices for fluid gameplay. Is it required? No, not exactly. And I think the threshold value for the completion of Phase 1 is much too low. But it does almost feel like engaging in a Sim Gonzo Jungle-like mini-game.
You write down what each hex has for the factions, and you can obviously expand upon this engine, add other factions and effects – the elegant system is exceedingly easy to modify. Heck, you could go full-blown RTS and make the replenishment of creatures slain contingent on resource levels, cost points, etc. – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s now take a look at the cannibal village generator – for this one, we roll 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1 d10, 1d12 and 1d20 all at once. The sum of these rolls is the basic population. The pattern your dice show on the table, like on a die-drop table, is copied (doesn’t have to be perfect) on the Cannibal Village cheat sheet. D4s represent sick huts; d6s represent big communal huts; d8s storage huts; d120s initiation huts; d12 is the shaman’s hut, and d20 the chief’s hut. You check each of the entries, which influence reaction rolls, culture, and sometimes have quest angles. These results also indicate the presence of potent individuals like magic-users and more potent combatants. If you roll the same number on two different dice, that indicates a strong bond between the inhabitants of the respective huts. As written, these dice represent abstractions, but with minor modifications, you can use additional dice and modify the system by e.g. throwing more dice. A minor complaint regarding didactic sequence – the sum of culture modifications is called “basic culture”, which can cause some slight confusion regarding terminology, and its actual use is explained AFTER these tables; the culture value is used as a modifier to the reaction roll (2d6 +/- basic culture).
Now, I mentioned before that this has a kind of resource management engine, right? A tribe uses resources equal to 1/10th of its population (rounded up to the closest multiple of 10) per week, and a tribe gains Resource Level times d6 per week – so abundance may quickly turn to famine on unlucky rolls. This engine is elegant, cool, and really helps propel gameplay – I just wished the book did more with it. Apart from facilitating the illusion of an organic, dynamic world, this has no real repercussions. Storage, feasts and events, raids, etc. would have helped. Resources also always remain abstract, so if your players want to steal them, you’ll have to improvise regarding weight, etc. This generator is really cool, but it doesn’t live up to its full potential.
Ruin generation follows a similar paradigm, once more starting with a die-drop like throw of dice, but omits the d4. Instead, you roll a d100 – which is the ruin’s limit; if you make larger ruins, you add 50 to this roll. Additionally, you put a circle divided into quarters on the table where you roll – upper left denotes ruins being above and plain, lower left that they are in the plain and hidden, etc. You then take the dice from left to right where they fell, and reference brief and basic tables to denote first impressions, inside, features, etc. – minor complaint: There are three entries designated as “1.”, which made this aspect of the generator somewhat hard to grasp at first glance; once more, the procedure how to do this is explained after the tables. Granted, the generator walks you through its use, and once more, the pattern and even/uneven numbers denote connections, with hidden spaces designated by dotted lines. The results of die rolls are detracted from the initial d100-roll, and you keep rolling for as long as this budget is not emptied. I like this per se as an idea. Two complaints: 1) The treasure is not formatted properly (and PAINFULLY boring); 2) I fail to see the benefit here; where the village generator resulted in dynamic environment and gameplay-facilitators, this one is an awful lot of work for a backdrop generator sans dressing; particularly the ruin budget (the d100 from which you subtract your rolls) is an unnecessary complication without much benefits. Using simply a point-buy method would have probably been a) simpler and b) quicker. Speaking of treasure being not exactly exciting – there is a 1-page jungle treasure generator, and it’s honestly not very exciting; it has you roll 4 dice, and doesn’t really deliver anything interesting.
The final generator lets you make your own monkey monsters – and it’s per se a cool one: 4d10 to determine body, fur, tail and face, 4d6 for organization, intelligence, abilities and motivation, done – that’s pretty smooth…but lacks stats or mechanical meat. This is particularly evident regarding the abilities, which e.g. talk about howling potentially causing sonic harm when executed by a group. Okay, how much? Range? How many monkeys required? Where is the means to determine HD? Monkeys that automatically return as undead? Heck yeah! Stats? Nada. This is a good dressing-generator, but it falls short of immediate usefulness at the table to make mechanically-distinct adversaries. The appendices also contain a fully mapped Gorilla HQ (including sideview, etc.) designed by Mark Van Vlack, which is actually a pretty nice compound – I enjoyed this one as the culmination!
Now, remember that I mentioned those pop-culture references? Well, this is nowhere more apparent than in the bosses (also collected, alongside other stats, in its own chapter) – there is, e.g. King Kolossus, who grows whenever he’s hit; there’s a drill sergeant (Seargent[sic!] Mincy) who gets to continue attacking as long as he hits; there is Bling Kong, a gorilla super-scientist (The Brain) and his Pinkie-henchmen…and, of course, there are monkey ninjas, orangutan drug pushers, former noble turned scrummy drug addict Tarzang…you get the idea. Somewhat asinine: The stats sometimes omit abilities that the creatures have – King Kolossus, as the module notes, has the power to command addicts – guess what’s never managed in the bestiary section? Bingo. This is particularly grating regarding Bling Kong, who shreds armor, and breaks bones – guess what’s not mentioned in the statblock? Bingo. You have to essentially cobble together the combat stats from both books. It should also be noted that “The Brain”, RAW, has “devices with effects as a level 20 magic-user has spells.” This fellow is working on a tank. That’s imho overkill. If a GM even remotely play this fellow to his full capabilities, he will ANNIHILATE the party, regardless of their plans – particularly since there is no limitation provided for these devices. Here, a little generator to determine devices and effects would have made sense. Or at least give us some cursory rules for their use to set them apart. Can the party use them? No clue, but I assume that the answer’s “no.”
But what is this module actually about? Well, the party finds themselves in the jungle, and there are several rumors and adventure hooks provided. So, essentially, the gorillas and other apes are subservient henchmen controlled by a sentient fungoid rhizome – the drug furthers its nebulous agenda: Simians consuming the drug become super-intelligent, thus explaining their sudden leap on the evolutionary ladder; other species experience different effects: Goblins (like The Brain’s Pinkies) become suicidal and explode upon death, making them essentially Warhammer goblin fanatics (Heck yeah!) minus the ball-and-chain. Tarzang is a junkie, as noted before, and dwarves become stronger, but slowly turn to stone; halflings experience a sort of devolution, and poisonous reptiles? Well, these have their poison changed into an even more potent drug! Normal reptiles under the effect may end up possessing you and make you engage in unpleasant activities – pretty random, that one. Other animals have their own entries and display erratic behavior, and yes, the book species what it takes to get off the drug – cold turkey, essentially. Here’s the thing: For humans, the drug is a potent boost, and may result in special powers in a select few. Half their Intelligence is siphoned off while under the influence, though – this siphoned off Intelligence of magic-users is used by the fungus in some manner that I genuinely failed to understand and grasp, even upon rereading it multiple times.
On the plus-side, the drug is a perfect in-game validation for the presence of so many cannibals – eating human flesh dampens its effects. Oh, and if you’re an elf? Well, then you’ve just entered a dangerous area – you see, elves drop essentially comatose, and the monkeys attempt to get them home. Why? Because they are connected to the mushroom and used as a kind of living RAM, sending them into a disturbing shroom-Matrix. For what purpose? That’s never specified – the book has this super-asinine insistence that the high-concept stuff remains up to the GM. No. That’s literally the reason why get modules.
But wait! Weren’t there other factions? Yep, and they are pretty awesome: The aliens masquerade (VERY BADLY) as British gentlemen explorers. Okay, they may fire plasma guns at cuddly animals (because they’re really afraid of small and fluffy things) and their camouflage is pretty sucky, but they are essentially the wild-card. They have powerful weaponry, and while they don’t grasp the intricacies of humanoid mating protocols and the like, they certainly are a welcome addition, and a good way for the GM to provide some help in combat against the superior simian forces. And yes, the book covers different romance options. Here’s a clue: They will be awkward and quite possible not fun. The aliens come with their own surprisingly detailed random encounter/event table that makes it very obvious that something’s off – the juxtaposition of the uppity British explorer trope with weirdness works well here, and the section actually had me a chuckle a few times.
The other faction would be mushroom pygmies (who, like monkey ninjas, get a kick-ass original artwork by Mark Van Vlack) – these fellows are easily one of the most hilarious takes on the mushroom man trope that I’ve seen in a while: They are friendly, and unless you’re high as a kite on fruit they offer, you’ll not really be able to communicate with these harmless fellows – before that, their speech sounds like farts and giggles, with occasional exclamations of “Yippieh!” Even after that, the pdf suggests communicating in Dadaist manner, and as though affected by a draw of helium – bonus points if you actually do that at the table, when roleplaying them. This may not be groundbreaking, but the levity provided by these genuinely friendly folks was very much appreciated – and in an interesting angle, they are good, but serve the evil fungus-network: They figure they have to balance the deeds of their deity. Oh, and eating them temporarily grants you super-powers, with their dots denoting the ability. Just don’t become too greedy. They reminded me of Zzarchov Kowolski’s Gnomes of Levnec, non-grimdark gonzo edition, and I sure as hell mean that as a compliment. Annoying: The can do something about the monkeys when they grow a Father Shroom” as per the generator rules, but otherwise are harmless. No stats are provided for either, though. The main book references the appendix book, but no mechanical information is provided, just a general notion for the GM to make it badass. That’s not helpful.
There is another micro-faction/surreal cadre of encounters contained herein – a traveling circus, whose performers were changed by the drug in strange ways. Hopelessly knotted contortionists, pantomimes that create actually existing things, trapped in an invisible labyrinth…these NPCs are genuinely cool, particularly in one instant, where a potent enchantment requires clever roleplaying to solve: Affected characters tend to become aggressive and hear the opposite of what’s said – and this needs to be understood and exploited to break the spell. LOVE that! Did I mention the magician, who is essentially Penn, with hapless PCs filling in as Teller…with the minor issue of potential death and mutilation, of course? Even beyond those, we get a surprisingly detailed and cool list of random encounters and some guidance regarding setting of the scenery etc. – and that’s it.
Yeah, there is no real masterplan provided – partially due to the focus on generator-powered emergent gameplay, sure, but also, well…due to that aspect of the book simply ending. This is a crazy set-up. Throw in PCs. Watch. End-game plans, NPC motivations and the like? The meaning of it all, if any? You’ll have to come up with that yourself.
Editing and formatting leave something to be desired on both a formal and rules-language level: On a formal level, as mentioned, there are quite a few typos and sentence-structures that feel a bit off; you can easily discern what’s meant, but particularly when the conversational tone intrudes upon explanatory text and/or rules and sports such hiccups, things can become a bit grating, which is a pity, for quite a few of these digressions are genuinely funny. On a rules-language level, I am primarily annoyed by some (but not all!) special abilities being split between description and stats, requiring you to cobble together the actual stats. Formatting of rules-elements can also be off at times, but that particular snafu happens rarely. Layout adheres to a 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) one-column b/w-standard, with the artworks sourced from thematically-suitable public domain, and, as noted before, some surprisingly neat original b/w-images by Mark Van Vlack. The HQ of the primary antagonists is presented in a nice b/w-map, but no player-friendly version is included. Inexcusable as far as I’m concerned: The pdfs lack bookmarks, making navigation painfully inconvenient. I STRONGLY suggest printing this; without the ability to reference my print copies, particularly considering the generators and split stats, I’d have been much more annoyed.
Jens Durke’s Monkey Business (with contributions by Mark Van Vlack) is a tough nut to review. On the one hand, it does a lot of things right. At no point does Monkey Business devolve into a “Lol, oh so random!” disaster, the most common pitfall of gonzo modules, particularly ones that seek to retain a sense of plausibility. And indeed, this module, in spite of its weird factions and Hitchhiker’s Guide and Donkey/King Kong references always retains this ephemeral plausibility, of making sense within its own bonkers world. In short: This never devolves into numbing weirdness for weirdness’ sake, like e.g. “Isle of the Unknown.” It is cartoony and funny, but those aspects are contrasted with the more mundane aspects of the jungle, thus avoiding falling prey to becoming a numbing sequence of quirkiness. They have (mostly) a singular source, they have a raison d’être, if you will. That’s pretty important to me
It is also very much evident that this is a passion project, a freshman offering, and a very ambitious one at that. The attention to detail provided for the system to render the jungle dynamic? It is genuinely amazing, and particularly if you want to simulate a dynamic hex-wilders with different factions, this aspect of the module will be a godsend: Just reskin the factions, and you could e.g. simulate a conflict of tribes in the prairie, you could simulate city-states clashing, etc. – I absolutely ADORE this toolkit. Heck, from Carcosa to the pretty much any other long-term wilderness, I’ll be tweaking this one. It’s a seriously awesome tool for detail-oriented dynamics.
It is genuinely inspired.
However, not all generators can claim as much – as mentioned, the ruin generator is, at best, over-engineered for what it delivers. If it resulted in actually interesting material, it’d be amazing, but the individual entries are painfully obscure and cookie-cutter. And this dichotomy between bombing hard and being nigh genius extends beyond that. The mushroom pygmy faction is awesome, detailed, funny – contrast that with the absence of any notions of what their Father Shroom is, how it works, etc. Or random encounters that have subentries like “Playful and colorful birds” featuring in the same table as “A group of animals working together to build some sort of machine from earth, bones, stones, wood and spit.” “Make it magnificent and scary!” has no place in a dressing table. That’s what dressing/encounter tables are for, so the GM doesn’t have to come up with it.
And this is Monkey Business’ primary issue: It is very apparent where the authors’ passion lie – these sections tend to be funny, clever, and often provide some nice roleplaying cues as well. The other sections, though? They feel like afterthoughts. In a way, it is pretty apparent that, at one point, the author wanted to be done with this – as a module, Monkey Business is simply unfinished. From the wildcard super-weapons of non-simian factions not properly codified to the split stats, we have a couple of instances where the module struggles. This is most apparent due to there not actually being a plan beyond phase I (which is to spread the drug) – I was reminded of certain gnomes from South Park:
- Spread the Drug
This is a half-finished module in many ways; there are SO MANY ideas herein, and a LOT of them are great – but go nowhere. Okay, so reptiles possess you! Cool! Do they have an agenda? Will there be a new shaman tradition to exorcise reptile spirits? With the presence of super-science, why are there no super-science items, and instead we get one of the lamest treasure tables ever? (Seriously, not one cool piece of loot. Not one. Okay, perhaps one: Tarzang’s sword is kinda funny, but its rules are not codified well.) Answer: Because the author wasn’t interested in that. We get efficient, cool generators for cannibal villages – but no such dynamics for the other factions. We get the utterly unique and often genius circus performers that are seriously super-creative…but their abilities often don’t go into enough depth. I mentioned the pantomime, whose performance becomes real, right? Okay, so can e.g. the ability to see invisible see the labyrinth he’s trapped in? Can you just walk though it? Does the labyrinth exist only for him, or only once you’ve seen it/believe in it? I LIKE roleplaying-based abilities that can’t just be solved by rolling the dice, and this module BRIMS with them. However, they often just shrug and ignore the mechanical representation that should accompany them. The circus folk? They are normal humans. Kinda. The strongest man alive, whose even barest of motions can cause devastating damage? Awesome. What’s the range? No clue. He also suffers from banana-phobia, something I can relate to. See, it’s funny. It’s weird in a good way. It’s unfinished.
If I got this in my capacity as a developer, I’d send it back with a lot of “develop this” and “cut this” notes attached; the book buckles under the weight of a vast amount of awesome ideas, which regularly suffer from the execution simply being not nearly as precise as they should be. Which is kinda heart-wrenching for me.
You see, in spite of its copious amounts of flaws, I genuinely LIKE Monkey Business. In fact, more often than not, I found myself loving some aspect of the adventure and its kits. But these moments always were cut short by some sort of obvious oversight, by some component that feels painfully phoned in, at least in direct contrast to the cornucopia of genuinely neat ideas directly preceding it.
And yet, I can’t call this a failure either; the procedural generation systems, even when their presentation isn’t always as smooth as it should, genuinely are inspiring and they represent a truly valuable tool. Many of the special abilities, if you care to iron off the rough patches here and there, similarly are absolutely inspiring. And then you notice that the generator for monkeys lacks proper codification for the few special abilities it notes. And then you realize that yet another entry tells the GM to make something cool up. No. Just frickin’ no. That’s what the frickin’ module is for. If I feel like it, I’ll do that anyways, on my own terms.
How, by Asmodeus’ goatee, am I supposed to rate this? What we have here is a flawed indie production with glitches galore, one that feels like it just stops and tells the GM to do the heavy lifting for several key components. At the same time, we have pretty mighty tools that allow you to procedurally generate complex environments and a pretty darn amazing dynamic landscape with different factions – and said tools can easily be transplanted into pretty much any context. There is serious value to be found herein. In many ways, Monkey Business is saved by this system, and by it being available for PWYW, which is, considering the amount of effort and time that went into this, stunning. You can easily check out the book, and leave a tip if you like it. I’m willing to bet that if you even remotely enjoy gonzo ideas, then you’ll find some cool angles herein.
This module/toolkit is, when all is said and done, a prime example why it’s important to have someone edit or develop your material; with some polish and refinement (and all the half-finished bits completed, perhaps a treasure table that is not an analgesic), this could easily have been a 5 star + seal of approval masterpiece; heck, it could have ended on my top ten lists. As presented, this is one of the most frustrating books I’ve read all year; It could have achieved true greatness, and has several hints of brilliance, but like Tarzang, Slacker-King of the Jungle, squanders its potential. If anything, this module shows that the author is smart, has potential. Ironically for a German author, the crucial flaws can be summarized as a lack of discipline when it comes to rules, and once more, ironically for Disoriented Ranged Publishing, a lack of orientation and direction, of meta-structure. (I’m German myself, I’m allowed to crack that admittedly sucky joke.)
On the other hand, Monkey Business is, with precious few exceptions (Treasure! Ruins!) not boring and oozes genuine creativity; it s impossible to not experience a strong reaction to this, whether positive or negative. As a person who is well-versed in rules-language and design, I genuinely loved a lot about this book. When I started analyzing it, though, the flaws and shortcomings started piling up. As a reviewer, many of these can be considered to be dealbreakers – from the missing bookmarks to aforementioned snafus, there is unfortunately also a lot to be contrite about. I find myself at once wanting to recommend this to everyone, and to tell everyone to steer clear; “Zwei Herzen schlagen, ach, in meiner Brust”, to paraphrase good ole’ Faust.
To sum it up: This is, on a formal level, not a good adventure; it relegates too much of the heavy lifting to the GM, is too unfocused and flawed; however, it also is an inspired adventure toolkit, and the procedural generators, even the one with the weakest execution, are exceedingly useful if you are looking for a concise, detailed engine. You can love or hate this for a wide variety of reasons; this is a deeply flawed book. But it is also a deeply inspiring one. Rated only in its function as an adventure, disregarding the formal hiccups, this’d be a 2-star product, simply due to being unfinished. As a toolkit and book to scavenge ideas from, this’d be closer to the vicinity of 4 stars.
As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars. If you even remotely like gonzo themes, please download the PWYW and take a look. This is worth your time and HD space. And I’ll also do something I have only done once before, I think, in my entire reviewer’s career: For its mighty toolkit-functionality, this gets my seal of approval as a symbol of how much I, as a person, liked this and the sheer amount of utility I’ll get out of the engine in years to come.
I sincerely hope that there will be a refined, revised and expanded edition at one point. With the proper refinement, this could easily turn into a gonzo masterpiece.
You can get this deeply flawed, but also inspired pdf here on OBS for PWYW!
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