May 172019
 

Pop Culture Catalog: Vice Dens (SFRPG)

He shot first!!!

This super-sized installment of the Pop Culture Catalog-series  clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.

Okay, as always, we begin the supplement with a recap of how the smooth and easily integrated fandom perk-rules work, which have been the rather cool mechanical skeleton underlying these supplements. This supplement contains 10 different vice dens, all of which provide their own fandom perks; while nominally located within Everyman Gaming’s and Rogue Genius Games’ shared Xa-Osoro setting as a backdrop, implementation into other settings is rather painless. (As an aside: “Hyperspace Station” is shorthand for the IP-.less reference to Absalom Station – once you know that, integration of the star system becomes even easier.)

Vice dens, obviously, sometimes deal with topics that folks consider to be taboo at the table; while I, personally, do NOT have such lines, I know plenty of folks that are traumatized by their experiences to the point that certain topics seriously impede their fun; as such, this book proposes a discussion and an easy classification: “Lines” are lines that should not be crossed; “veils” are when you fade to black. It is really nice to see these topics acknowledged and how maturely they’re handled here – they neither champion undue censoring, nor present an insensitive trampling of individual sensibilities, providing a compassionate and feasible model to deal with topics that some may consider to be taboo. This pertains primarily how things are handled at the table, mind you – the content herein is VERY tame as far as I’m concerned; at the most conservative, I’d consider this to be PG-13; probably even below that.

Anyhow, we start with the Busty Dragon Inn – and yes, this *is* a genius reference to the classic inn in Sandpoint – the formian construction crew that moved it to space misread an “r” for a b” – which gives the den its unique and hilarious icon – yep, as has become the tradition with Pop Culture Catalog-installments, each vice-den gets its own logo! Doubling as a mordello and tavern, it nonetheless manages to keep it classy and both aspects separate, yet entwined – it sounds like a rather wholesome example of the establishment type, as far as I’m concerned. The fandom perk represents that as well, netting Diplomacy as a class skill, or a +1 bonus to it if you already have it. And no, that “m” is NOT a typo – it is part of the vice-den terminology established herein, which btw. also explains the difference of e.g. an adult theater from a strip club. And before you ask: Yes, these topics are handled in a PG 13-friendly and tasteful manner.

Digiyu would be an underground adult entertainment club that offers a cyberverse server set apart from the larger servers; inaccessible to government networks, it allows for the fulfillment of fantasies in a virtual space, be they forbidden or simply outré. The illegal nature of this alternate cybervserse and the decadence of experiences offered provides a +2 insight bonus to Will saves vs. Charm effects, +2 to opposed Sense Motive and +2 to the DC of social skill checks made against you as a fandom perk. ISAAC (Imperium Substance And Abuse Center) is something I have never seen before in a RPG-supplement – it seriously warmed my heart. It’s a safe space for drug users, following a government-approved plan after realizing that criminalizing substance-abuse actually enhanced the problem.  These institutions dramatically reduced the rate of overdose deaths and crimes, and the perk nets a +2 enhancement bonus to resist drug and addiction effects, which increases to +4 in the center. I love this. It genuinely touched me and made me happy to see it here.

The Howling Esir is an ultranought star citadel run by the genderfluid gnoll High Prajah Jexijar Homerender, and is basically the opposite of wholesome – it is a massive, nasty slaver’s operation, and “fandom” here denotes more having survived interacting with these folk; as such, it decreases the DC to recall information on related topics by 5 and nets +2 to the DC of Charisma or skill checks that gnolls or slavers attempt against you. Now, the above touched on slavery – later in the pdf, when all vices are discussed in detail, some very clear guidelines are provided – slaves are not for PCs, slavery is always evil, etc. – I like that the pdf takes a moral stand here.

The company Love Solutions brew stimulants; but they have another place, one with pretty nasty NDAs: This not-really-legal place would be Love Rock, and here, more potent aphrodisiacs (and chemical conditioning) may be found; as a fandom perk, we get +1 to Charisma-based checks and skill checks, which increases to +2 when used in checks to increase Relationship Scores (as per Advanced Skill Guide). Phantom’s Fair is a cool idea that oozes SFRPG’s science-fantasy flair: It is basically a demiplane housing a black market, with the planar anchor easily moved – and those entering it must be unconscious. This blends slightly macabre aesthetics (patrons e.g. may be found in the tavern known as “Open Grave”) with a touch of Pratchett’s moving shops. Fans reduce the Culture DC regarding the underworld by 5, and there is a chance that you can score a discount – but an equal chance that the King of Phantoms and associated request a favor of you that you should not refuse. It never involves harming yourself or friends and allies, but refusal will result in serious ostracizing – when using the great Advanced Skill Guide rules, a whopping 50 Infamy!

Second Skin, developed by the genderfluid elf Parquon Delveair, is truly interesting – it is basically a means to experience sensory deprivation in a whole-body latex bubble that also can be adjusted to stimulate the user as desired, coupling relaxing, massage, pleasure and a deceleration from the rigors of the Nova Age. The breathing exercises enforced by the experience nets fans a +1 enhancement bonus to Will-saves vs. emotion effects. If all of that doesn’t sound to compelling, and you derive pleasure from cold steel and carbon in your appendages, whatever they may be, then you may want to check out Rex’s Reliable Arms – an institutionalized weapons dealer, Rex is the kingpin of weapon dealers, and, in a twist I did not expect, is REALLY law-abiding! The line of the kobold suffering from anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and ADHD also made me interested here – each of them on its own could easily spark adventures. Rex may be on medication for them, but yeah. Rex’s frantic ramblings decrease the Culture check to recall information on weapons by 5, and the fandom also nets you a +1 to skill checks made to repair weapons. Rex is a cool character – I’d actually love to see the fellow developed further!

The Wobbly Orbit is led by two kasatha, and represents an institutionalized cantina. The two managers Tycha and Zimo seem to be rather snarky, and the fandom perk allows you to recall knowledge untrained, and 1/day spend 1 Resolve when attempting to recall knowledge untrained to get a +5 bonus on the check. Finally, there would be The Ziggurat, operated by kitsune billionaire Tashinado Tymira. The clan once ostensibly set fire to the equivalent of the library of Alexandria – but, well, they didn’t. Instead, the underground library now may hold the largest stash of pre Nova Age lore anywhere. The fandom nets you 1/day, subject to GM approval, a +1d10 bonus to skill checks deemed rare or obscure, provided you pay 1 Resolve Point.

This is not, however, where this massive installment of the series ends – instead, we get a massive chapter on drugs, including rules on slipping them in a creature’s food and noticing. The format presented here is interesting, as it presents a more varied approach to drugs than the SFRPG core rules do – all drugs are assumed to be available at all item levels, with higher level versions being assumed to be more concentrated or magically/technologically-enhanced. A drug has a base price, and a price modifier, which is applied to the drug when purchasing it illegally. Each drug has a Type that notes, well, the type of the drug, as well as means of ingestion. A massive table lists the Drug save DCs by item level, and this DC is also used to calculate the addiction disease save DC to which you’re exposed when consuming the drug; this means that high-level characters don’t become flat-out immune to drug addiction from certain drugs, which is an excellent rules operation I wholeheartedly support. Tracks and effects are noted, and the pdf contains 18 different sample drugs that include twists on the core rules-drugs like dreamshiver, but extends beyond that.

Brawn, for example, enhances Strength for the purposes of bulk limit and nets a scaling bonus to the limit increase and the boost to Athletics and Acrobatics, depending on item level. On the fantastic side, e.g. corpseflower pollen auto-stabilizes for some hours sans Resolve expenditure, and grants a bonus to saves vs. death effects. Hemihigh, which I previously mentioned in my review of the awesome Blood Madness Corruption, is refined from the condensed material of blood space – it can expose you to the corruption, but it also nets a boost to Intimidate and to damage rolls with melee and thrown weapons, which is pretty brutal and tempting…on the more mundane side, rules for marijuana, opiates and nicotine are provided as well. What about a Fallout-style brew that makes you bioluminescent. The hallucinogenic ninetailed fox brew, a draught made from akata resin that enhances your ability to hold your breath, rapture dust and pesh would be further examples. This chapter is inspired, and the scaling drug-rules should genuinely be core in my humble opinion – fyi: The table lists three different price-categories per item level, allowing you to simulate local prohibitions and scarcity.

But, well beyond that, we haven’t covered the basics, right? Well, guess what: The pdf does no shy from talking, in a tasteful and non-explicit manner, about sex toys, sex work, and the differences of institutional and underground businesses, with licenses in 6 steps correlated to minimum level and item level limits. As an aside: It was thoroughly awesome to read a vision of the future where sex work is treated with an enlightened perspective, where securities are provided and regulations don’t necessarily ostracize them. Two big thumbs up! (And if you want, you can still have the seedy, nasty underbelly cyber-noir stories via underground businesses; funny aside: This’d make e.g. Judge Dredd-like characters actually allies of the institutional, legal workers…this made me smile.) After this, we discuss the different types of drugs, from depressants to the psychedelic effects-producing enactogens to hallucinogenics, stimulants, etc. Being also indebted to the whole fantasy-angle, literature is included here in its own section, and as someone who can attest to the rapture of a good book, well, I liked that.

Speaking of which: Exposing minors to vices is a crime. Oh, and there is another thing I really loved here: In the section that discusses weaponry, guess what? There are rules here to make space more believable: Weapon registration (including rules for looking up registered weapons) and licenses; the pdf also suggests that some place may require the merciful fusion to be affixed to weapons, which makes sense. In space, blowing a hole in the station could wreck it, and if everyone’s armed to the teeth, it’s just a matter of time before things escalate, so having some checks and balances here (and yes, you can ignore them…but why? They may for some nice investigation avenues…) enhances my sense of plausibility. And if you’re really pro-guns, setting them to stun in the make-believe RPG, so to speak, shouldn’t irk you, right?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re top-notch on a rules-language level, and just as precise on a formal one – apart from one instance of “craft” instead of “crave” and very few such minor blunders, I noticed nothing to complain about. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the full-color artworks within drawn by Jacob Blackmon generate a unified aesthetic. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Alexander Augunas has surpassed himself here; the Pop Culture Catalog-series is a great breath of fresh air, because it is rather light-hearted, yet inspiring. Here, I feared this’d go into dark places, and while it tangentially does, it creates a vision we see all too rarely in science-fiction: That of a future that’d be awesome to live in. There are those that say that the measure of a society lies within how it handles its misfits, its criminals, its vices – and in the Xa-Osoro system, this would indeed mean that the place is enlightened in the best of ways; this feels a bit like Star Trek, a bit like Firefly – not like a grim noir trip down Altered Carbon territory (though it does allow for that as well). The writing here oozes a warm-hearted, compassionate kindness that was really amazing to see.

You don’t care about the fluffy feels? All right, this is still awesome for you: The differentiated drug-engine makes them viable and tempting, dangerous options throughout the adventurer’s careers and vastly enhances the appeal of this often underdeveloped aspect of the mythologies of our games. They are, in fact, so good that I want more, and this mean that this gets my EZG-Essentials tag for SFRPG. This is a must-own addition for the game, and I seriously hope Paizo’s taking a cue here. Beyond that, the inspiring ideas and compelling vistas presented, all the adventuring potential in these pages, leave me with practically no choice – not only is this the so far best installment in the series, it gets 5 stars + seal of approval and also is a candidate for my Top ten of 2019. Get it. Seriously. As an aside: Even if you play another scifi RPG, the wealth of ideas herein may warrant getting this all on its own…just sayin’…

You can get this amazing, inspired supplement here on OBS!

Missed the excellent Advanced Skill Guide? It can be found here!

The Blood Madness Corruption I mentioned can be found right here!

If you’re enjoying my reviews, please contemplate supporting my patreon here!

Endzeitgeist out.

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