The Yuthlugathap Swamps (OSR)
This hex-crawl clocks in at 32 pages, minus one page overview of relations with other hexcrawls in the series and a paragraph of editorial, leaving us with roughly 31 pages of content.
Okay, so I’m gonna slightly alter my format for this series: As many of my readers out there, I was duly impressed by Geoffrey McKinney’s Carcosa-book; it left me wanting more; more depth, more weirdness. Well, after a friendly hint by one of my patreons, I started searching the interwebs and found on the author’s lulu-page not one, but four different hexcrawls (of a planned series of 8) depicting the lands of Carcosa. Well, obviously, I got them asap.
As per the writing of this review, there only are saddle-stitched print versions of these modules, which means that I won’t be commenting on electronic features.
All of the Carcosa-hexcrawls in the series share a couple of peculiarities, which I’ll sum up right now (in case this is the first review you happen to find); after that, I’ll go into the details of the respective hexcrawl.
Okay, first of all, these hexcrawls employ AD&D rules, NOT the rules posited in LotFP’s hardcover. This has a couple of drawbacks, but also some benefits. On the plus-side, this means we won’t have to contend with the sucky, sucky classes or the asinine, extremely random HP rules that contributed nothing to the experience. This also means that the VAST amount of twisted rites to bind, enslave and banish Great Old Ones and similar entities has absolutely no place here. For some, this may constitute a plus, as the requirements for these rituals often were rather grisly; on the downside, this eliminates one of the best narrative tools the hardcover provided; the rituals, tied to exotic components and places, were a built-in reason for the PCs to explore this weird realm.
There is another aspect you should be aware of: See that cover image? It’s the only graphical element you’ll find in the whole module-series. There is no interior art, not even a pretense of a basic form of aesthetically-pleasing layout – the modules, basically, are blocks of text. While Hex-headers have thankfully consistently been bolded, and spells are italicized, you e.g. won’t find complex spell-lists – much like the hardcover setting by LotFP, this is basically an overview and toolbox for experienced GMs to expand. The back cover sports the respective hex-crawl map, with per se solid cartography by Dion Williams. There are two problems with the maps that extend to all the maps in one degree or another: Landmarks are noted with graphical elements and so are settlements; there is no redacted, player-friendly map to hand out to the PCs. There also is one annoying component: The hex-numbers and borders are WHITE. While this works with e.g. green swamps, as soon as you try to decipher white numbers on a light blue or yellow background, it becomes annoying.
In case you’re wondering: All of these components imho are significant detriments; if the like bothers you, then you may want to reconsider getting these. You should, depending on your priorities, detract at least 1 star from the final rating if you consider this to be an issue. However, if Carcosa calls and left you wanting more, then read on – personally, while I enjoy a beautiful book as much as the next guy or gal, I am, ultimately, here for content. Considering the niche-appeal of these adventures, my final verdict will assume that you can look past the pretty underwhelming aesthetic aspects of these modules.
Structure-wise, each of the modules begins with a basic recap of some concepts of Carcosa, as well as some general regional descriptions before we get a massive list of the hexes.
All right, all of that out of the way, let’s start with the first of these, The Yuthlugathap Swamps! From here on out, the SPOILERS reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great! Okay, so we begin with perhaps one of the coolest and most high-impact hexes herein: A mound of no less than 100 Tyrannosaurus Rex skulls, piled atop the essence of a vanquished Old One – disturbing this mound can drive a whole campaign, for a life-leeching aura spreads. There is reason it is highly stigmatized by the locals and there are several hexes referencing this dread, cataclysmic place.
The few settlements that can be found in the hostile environments of the swamp are home to peculiar, primitive cultures like the shell people or rock people can be found, but humans of the various colors are not the dominant cultures here. Instead, the supplement provides remnants of the civilization of serpent-folk…and lizardfolk enclaves. Unlike the other Carocsan hex-crawls, these swamps are LITTERED with what feels like a gazillion of lizerdfolk enclaves…which, unfortunately, do not really offer much beyond differences in traditions, weaponry used , etc. – the lizardfolk are the worst part of the hex-crawl and they, unfortunately, are a pretty dominant one. Their respective enclaves do not sport enough differentiation, a fact further enhanced by their annoyingly similar nomenclature, which makes keeping track of their names a bit of a hassle – I like the use of “ssi-“ as a prefix to denote a leader, but really, did we need one-syllable names? To give you a list that is NOT exhaustive: Ssi-Goh, Ssi-Sak, Ssi-Vah, Ssi-Vis, Ssi-Hur, Ssi-Zog, Ssi-Gir, Ssi-Gor, Ssi-Zof…do you get what I mean? There are turtle lizard-men. They do not mechanically diverge from the others. The whole aspect becomes tiring pretty quickly.
Now, this would not be Carcosa without a couple of creative spawns of ole’ Shubby, and we get, for example, a spawn mimicking the golden fleece and similarly delightfully weird options can be found. An undead, buried fetus emitting painful psychic shrieks is certainly the most grim of the hexes, and we can encounter giant animals, plunder serpent-men treasure troves and interrupt the rest of dead sorcerers. So yes, the themes are here. There are some further hexes that stand out, like a Lazarus-pit seen through the lens of Carcosa or a lake of magical, iridescent slime. The dinosaur graveyard depicted on the cover similarly should elicit some wonder at the table.
On the rules-level, I noticed quite a few effects that are tied to “being in the swamp” – an issue here would be that the module does not specify the region meant: The whole hex-map or just the region? Does entering the Boggy Lake count as leaving the swamp? Not sure.
Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect – I noticed a few minor hiccups. As mentioned before, the module does not sport much in any formal aesthetics department, so I’m not going to reiterate its shortcomings once more here.
Geoffrey McKinney’s swamps…are surprisingly the by far weakest part of the series. I expected strange vermin and infections, mutations, full-blown weirdness…and instead, we get an endless parade of bland micro-enclaves of lizardfolk, punctuated with a couple of specks of brilliance. This is the one module in the series that turned into a chore for me to finish and, compared to the others, it almost feels as though another author penned it. It’s not necessarily bad, but I’d also consider it to be on the negative side of a mixed bag. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this hexcrawl here on lulu!