Bastion Ein Sof ZERO (OSR)
This tiny booklet consists of 25 pages of content, not accounting for editorial, etc. – why do I call it “Tiny booklet”? Because it is basically a means to gage interest in an alternative setting for Chris McDowall’s much-beloved rules-lite “Into The Odd”-game; as such, it can be run with the rules presented for Bastion (the regular game) or for Electric Bastionland, and it could be considered to be a weird sort of fantastic post-apocalypse. As far as other OSR-games are concerned, conversion will take some effort, as Into the Odd employs a 3 attribute-based system etc. – for a detailed discussion on the system, please consult my review of “Into the Odd.”
As for the dimensions of the booklet: If you’re reading this review on my homepage, you can see the direct comparison to a 6’’ by 9’’ (A5)-zine; if that means nothing to you, think of the Bastion Ein Sof booklet as slightly taller than a CD-booklet, but also slightly less broad.
I do assume familiarity with “Into the Odd” in this review, so that might explain if something seems puzzling.
All righty, that out of the way, let us dive in! The booklet has a few minor tweaks as far as rules are concerned: We have, as before, three distinct attributes, for which you roll 3d6 at the start of the game: Strength, Dexterity and Charm. Your HP (Hit Protection) is equal to the difference between the lowest and highest ability score rolled, and thus should range between 0 and 15; the booklet does note that it ranged from 1 – 15 (accounting for 3 equal scores), but as a whole, this does generate a broader variance between better and worse characters than the usual table of Into the Odd-based games. Considering the limitations of space in the booklet, that is to be expected, though. Saves are based on a simple roll under attribute mechanic; 1 is always a success, 20 always a failure.
Weapons inflict 1d6 damage, two-handed weapons 1d6 +2 damage, and ranged weapons are two-handed, and inflict 1d6 damage. Another oversight or omission due to a lack of room would pertain one-handed ranged weapons, such as pistols, which are mentioned, but don’t per se have a rules-representation in the booklet. On the plus-side, items, ranging from acid to alchemist’s fire, do come with proper “stats”, which are annotated in a column on the side. The text there is slightly smaller, so if you do have an impediment to your sight, that’s something to bear in mind. A d66-table of items can be found, and e.g. the use of canaries, mules, ferrets, etc. is noted in clear and precise ways fitting for the rules-lite system.
A d66-table of careers can also be found within the booklet, with each career featuring a question for the character to contemplate. These are rather intriguing and help building the setting, for it does come as a kind of quantum setting: The booklet begins by providing statements and posing questions, such as: “Everything is lost. (What have we found?).” This reminded me, in a good way, of the way in which e.g. Black Sun Deathcrawl’s doom-laden pronouncements operate´; minus the notion of everything being bleak, obviously, but yeah. The currency has names – copper buckles, silver glaives, etc. and is based on a silver standard, but no name is given for gold coins, even though e.g. the treasure section does reference gold. Anyhow, it should be noted that you can’t just shop – you spend 8 copper buckles and then roll on the d66-table. If we ever get to see a proper setting book for this, I do recommend expanding the goods for sale.
Now, the quantum setting that is slowly unveiled by PCs and GMs as one plays is great and all, but there is plenty to go around without that, and oh boy, is it interesting: Bastion has fallen, was destroyed – and in a way, so was the world. The Angels, the Bene Elohim, have come, and purged the world, so now, the scattered remnants of humanity survive only in the shadows of the giants. These are not really perceptible, though a halo-like glare may be seen. There are, probably, around 10 giants remaining, with each of their shadows, standing in silent vigil, housing a metropolis of approximately a million. 2 sample giants are provided (and the end of the booklet does offer names for angels and giants, as well as associated concepts); these include Rhea, who often moves her limbs, which means that many structures in the associated metropolis, looking over a wasteland of rust and wrecks, are impermanent. Epimetheus, on the other hand, is calmer, but rarely ceases to talk – which means that the local populace knows esoteric knowledge whispered to them in their sleep, such as the precise number of cells in their bodies, or the thoughts of the last whale as it went extinct. This is narrative gold and inspiring.
Angels are inextricably linked with the concept of Daemons – “Daemons” is a turn that is slightly inaccurate; it does refer to Into the Odd’s arcana, but casts them in a brilliant, new light: You see, angels may not be slain, but whenever they are critically hit (would have been nice to at least briefly recap what this means), they change form. When they are killed, this also happens. A sample table sports ideas that range from viruses to twin objects in mirroring spaces, and the daemons, all magic items, if you will, thus are extremely risky – breaking one or having it “burn” out may reshape it into an Angel, for a Daemon is, ultimately, just that – an Angel shaped in the guise of an item. This adds a stigma and danger to everything that is pretty brilliant. Two sample angel stats are provided. Oh, and there is another thing: The PCs are hunters, expendable or honored enough to venture forth into the blasted world from the safe shadow of giants (which daemons may enter, but angels may not) to gather the giant’s tithe – this would be the equivalent of 7 silver glaives, but it may be paid for in blood, body-parts, etc. This is known as “The Giant’s Debt”, and at the end of each session (adventure would make more sense…) the PCs must pass the “Gates of Heaven” and pay their due; inability to pay it, or a refusal to do so, can have catastrophic repercussions – 2d6 are rolled. On a 7+, all of mankind suffers from the giant’s displeasure!
The booklet also contains a brief, unmapped sample mini-adventure; what follows are minor SPOILERS for it. If you want to go into it sans any prior knowledge, please jump ahead to the conclusion.
“Illustrious Hod”, in which the PCs venture forth across reddened ice to find the ship “Illustrious”, which has been infected by an angel; from creatures in a state of perpetual freezing and thawing to leech-men and the like, this module, brief and unmapped though it may be, oozes atmosphere, and provides a surprising amount of means to resolve it – or not. Sure, it will require some fleshing out, but it is really smart and makes great use of the unique angel-concept. And no, I won’t explain more regarding that.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, slightly less refined on a rules-language level, but that may also be due to the space-constraints of this booklet. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with a pretty large margin on the side that is used to cram more, often rules-relevant text into the booklet. While not ideal, it does its job, but is something I’d contemplate solving differently in a final iteration. The booklet is stitch-bound, and uses public domain artworks in b/w with surprising panache – I am a big proponent of the use of public domain art for certain books, and here, it works perfectly.
Joe Banner’s “Bastion Ein Sof” was something I ultimately purchased on a whim, and I’m glad I did. The sheer strangeness of the setting oozes imaginative potential, and I found myself trying to close-read the booklet time and again, trying to squeeze out as much as possible from it. Something about the setting resonates with me on a deep level: The eternal nature of angels, the giant’s silent vigil, the concept of civilization in the shadow of these entities: There is something profoundly lyrical and captivating about this whole setting, something that makes me absolutely adore what has been done here. This is inspiring in all the right ways, and I found myself genuinely frustrated that, as of the writing of this review, there hasn’t yet been a full setting book released. This strange and fantastical fantasy-post apocalypse of angels that, in weirdness, eclipse those of Neon Genesis Evangelion, has managed to strike its claws into my mind. I couldn’t help but wanting to run this setting after reading the booklet – and that is something I rarely experience anymore. The concepts just won’t leave me, and I genuinely want more.
That this seems to be print-only for now is a tragedy, and made me recall the “Pernicious Albion”-teaser by Lost Pages, which has, to this day, seen me sift periodically through the ether, looking for a campaign book. On the plus-side, in contrast to that booklet, there are still a few copies of “Bastion Ein Sof” available, and whether you want to play this by the rules, or just want some inspiration for a truly different and strange alternate world or plane, this delivers in spades.
As a reviewer, I do have to take the minor limitations of the booklet into account, and thus, I can’t grant this the full 5 stars. Particularly the meta-end-of-session tithe can be rather annoying when run RAW; thus, I will round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, but still bestow my seal of approval on this. For the low asking price, you get an inspired and tantalizing glimpse at a truly unique setting, one that I really, really want to see more of.
You can get this exclusively (at least to my knowledge) here on Melsonian Arts Council’s shop!
Missed the rules lite Into the Odd-game? You can find it here!