Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

An overlooked OSR gem: Lesserton and Mor

Lesserton and Mor, written by Joel and Jeff Sparks of Faster Monkey Games, is a product that I don’t think has received its due. It’s a fantastic, unique, flavorful, and versatile sourcebook for a premade city and its neighboring open-air megadungeon, and it’s incredibly cool. (Update: And it’s now free in PDF!)

For starters, just look at this glorious Peter Mullen cover:

The late, great Steve Zieser did all of the interior art, and his style — like Mullen’s — matches up beautifully with L&M’s “dirty British fantasy” aesthetic.

The hook

L&M has an awesome premise: The ancient city of Mor, “mankind’s proudest achievement,” was sacked by barbarians, and then destroyed in a mysterious cataclysm. The refugees of Mor made their new home next door, and grew that ragged settlement into the city of Lesserton — “the adventurer’s paradise,” a home base for those brave and foolhardy enough to venture into Mor to claim its riches.

Lesserton is fully described in L&M, from districts to buildings to personalities to laws. But Mor is not — Mor, you make yourself. It’s even possible to roll it up as you play, creating new hexes and populating them as the PCs venture into unexplored territory (along the lines of my own Hexmancer).

What’s inside

L&M is a shrinkwrapped bundle, old-school style: a wraparound cardstock cover, unattached to the three booklets inside. The loose cover doubles as a map of Mor, intended to be filled in as you go. Inside are three books: a ref’s guide to Lesserton, a thinner players’ guide to Lesserton, and a guide to rolling up your own Mor.

Lesserton reminds me of WFRP’s Middenheim and Terry Pratchett‘s Ankh-Morpork — two of my favorite fantasy cities — but it’s also its own animal. It’s populated by a ragtag mix of people, including many part-ork (“orkin”) folk descended from the original invaders of Mor, and home to all manner of gambling houses, pubs, and brothels. (“Fantasy Mos Eisley” would also be decent shorthand.)

The Referee’s Guide to Lesserton plumbs its depths rather well, and packs a lot of stuff into 68 pages. It’s not chaff, either — it’s stuff you’ll actually use at the table (like another of my favorite city books, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, which I’ve written about on Yore).

There are regular pit fights, places to rob, weird shops where you can buy weird shit, normal shops that will sell you adventuring gear, and on and on. There’s a whole section on carousing, which I now realize I missed in my look at carousing in D&D from 1977 to present, and it’s great.

I loathe homework in RPGs, but I love players’ guides to settings; for me to be happy, players’ guides need to be extremely well done, or they’re just homework. The Player’s Guide to Lesserton is extremely well done. For starters, it’s 16 pages long.

What’s the city like? One page, boom. Where is X? There’s a map on the back cover. “I want to get shitfaced.” Covered. “I got too shitfaced, where do they take drunks here?” Covered. “Where do I gamble/drink/fuck?” Covered.

Also covered are lots of things that feel very Lesserton to me. For example, Brinkley’s Assurity Trust will, for 100gp, sell you a bumblebee pin that signals to the orkin tribes who live in Mor that there’s a ransom for your safe return. That’s brilliant! L&M is full of touches like that; it’s designed for play, not just reading (or worse, endless, droning setting-wankery), and it shows.

Finally, there’s the Referee’s Guide to Mor, plus its companion map. This booklet (28 pages, also a great length for what it needs to do) opens with useful background on Mor — what was where, what sort of city it was, and the like. That gives you a good foundation for improvisation during play.

The balance of the book is a framework for generating your own version of Mor, hex by hex, either in advance or on the spot. Random terrain, random buildings, random encounters, special areas (caches, dead magic zones, excavations, etc.) — pure hexcrawl goodness. It even covers generating the orkin clans who call Mor home.

Awesome possum

Put it all together, and L&M is a hell of a toolbox. To stretch the toolbox analogy a bit, it’s like a toolbox that contains some top-notch tools you’re likely to need, as well as the parts to make the ones it’d be more fun to create yourself, and an owner’s manual to help you make the most of both.

I rarely hear anyone talk about Lesserton and Mor, which is a shame — it’s a true gem of a setting. I rate it a 10/10, and heartily recommend it.

Categories
Books Tabletop RPGs

The Night Land seems ripe for gaming

I just started reading William Hope Hodgson‘s 1912 weird fiction work The Night Land (paid link ; also available as a free ebook). I’m interested in it in large part because the setting sounds fabulous — and rather well-suited to gaming.

I say “sounds” because I’m not that far into the book yet. It’s a strange animal: It’s almost 600 pages long, there’s no dialogue (and, based on reading about the book, there won’t be any later on, either), and the prose isn’t conducive to quick reading.

What piqued my interest was the snippets on Wikipedia, and tell me this doesn’t seem like it’d make a great setting:

The Sun has gone out and the Earth is lit only by the glow of residual vulcanism. The last few millions of the human race are gathered together in a gigantic metal pyramid, nearly eight miles high – the Last Redoubt, under siege from unknown forces and Powers outside in the dark. These are held back by a shield known as the “air clog”, powered from a subterranean energy source called the “Earth Current”. For millennia, vast living shapes—the Watchers—have waited in the darkness near the pyramid. It is thought they are waiting for the inevitable time when the Circle’s power finally weakens and dies. Other living things have been seen in the darkness beyond, some of unknown origins, and others that may once have been human.

Something about this reminds me of James MacGeorge’s Black Sun Deathcrawl, which is part of what made me want to dig deeper.

The Redoubt is basically a city-dungeon (composed of over 1,300 individual cities), or a Shadowrun arcology on a grand scale — eight miles tall, and five miles wide at the base. I have no idea how feasible it would be to try to model the whole Redoubt as a dungeon in-game, but I’d love to see it done.

As for the Watchers, check out this gallery of Stephen Fabian‘s Night Lands artwork. It’s great imagination-fuel, even if you ignore the Night Lands aspect entirely.

I don’t know if I’ll finish The Night Land, as it’s competing with a million less-dense things I could be reading, but I’m looking forward to getting to the weird bits.

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs Zines

Zine roundup: Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols, issues 1-6

I love weird gaming zines, and Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols[1] is one of my favorites. I bought the compilation of issues 1-6 on Lulu ($17), and it’s a delight.

If you like Castle Amber, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, or Anomalous Subsurface Environment, you’ll dig WMLP. It’s got gonzo, it’s got science-fantasy, and it’s got funhouse — but it’s also a mishmash in the spirit OD&D, with its mélange of component elements and influences.

Bryce Lynch turned me onto WMLP with his review of issues 3 and 4. Bryce is a brutally frank reviewer, and our tastes in old-school gaming books are pretty similar, so when he gushes about something I generally buy it.

Here’s one of Bryce’s highlights:

The encounters here are exactly what you would expect from an OD&D adventure. A little goofball, a little weird, a lot of THE FANTASTIC. It is the type of feel I equate with OD&D and exactly what I’m looking for. A world where everything seems fresh and new again and the players get to experience something similar to the very first time they met a gelatinous cube or a fell in a bit [sic]. It’s the world of Whimsy and Wonder.

The artwork is wonderfully OD&D-esque, too. Here’s the cover of issue 2, by “Dr. Brainus Mangenius, Psy D.”

Beneath the Ruins: Kihago Megadungeon

The highlight of issues 1-6 is also the anchor of each issue: the levels of the Kihago megadungeon, by Alex Fotinakes, collectively titled “Beneath the Ruins.” If that title sounds familiar, it’s because the first level of Kihago is also offered in Beneath the Ruins, the first volume of the Psychedelic Fantasies series of modules.

Lately I’ve been reading OD&D and really digging it, so the idea of an OD&D megadungeon is right up my apple cart. The presentation is sparse, without read-aloud text, and short on background — basically my favorite approach across the board. More than enough to run with, but not so much that your creativity is stifled.

Some of my favorite bits from Kihago (spoilers abound, though I’ve tried to keep them fairly mild):

  • The Eye of the Immortal, a TV that occasionally plays episodes of Three’s Company. It’s held in high regard by one of the factions on the first level, the Luminites.
  • Yeast puddles which can infect careless PCs, turning them into yeast zombies if the infection isn’t dealt with.
  • A cloning chamber. You know what rules you need for a cloning chamber? Pretty much none, in my book, and that’s how it’s presented here. In one paragraph, you’ve got a dungeon- and campaign-changing room.
  • Nosferoggu (vampire frogs), flamingodiles (guess!), the drunk ghost of a psionic ninja — Kihago is packed with monsters like these. That kind of gonzo can be hard to pull off (try too hard and it feels forced, phone it in and it feels lifeless), but Kihago nails it.
  • Level four, a vast, wide-open cavern (with some distinct areas), is going to be a playground of interesting stuff by the time the PCs reach it. Kihago has factions and intelligent denizens, and a big, open area is rife with opportunities for luring tougher foes to their deaths, playing factions against each other, etc.
  • And oh, the factions! Level five has bidepal fly-people covered in shit vs. feral cat people. Level four features a savage tribe led by Mike Mickelson, KTLA sports anchor, who found himself (and his control room, which of course you can find) transported to Kihago and decided to make the best of it. And on and on — inventive, amusing, whimsical, but also meaty and rich with inspiration.
  • The wraiths on level 5 who want the head of the summoner on level 3, and will share a valuable secret if it’s delivered to them. Call-backs and intra-dungeon goals are awesome, and I love this one.
  • A closet which hides an energy nexus capable of recharging magic items. It’s hidden, but not impossibly so — a great balance for encouraging exploration.

I could go on — and on! — but hopefully you get the idea. Kihago is a fantastic megadungeon, and one I’d love to run as written. Grab the LBBs and go. (Or another flavor of D&D, but that’s the flavor that seems to dovetail best with how I see Kihago.)

Other highlights

Looking only at Kihago would be doing WMLP a disservice, because it’s not the only gold in them thar hills. Here are a few more highlights:

  • There’s the animator class (issue #1), who can draw stuff and then animate it; after a couple levels, that includes tattoos. The animator’s spell list is all stuff, like doors and animals and so forth. It’s a clever class.
  • Creating a Chimera,” from issue #5, is a page of tables for making patchwork hybrids. Like so: body of an anteater, two zebra heads, two pairs of lobster arms, the legs of a sloth, and it has a wasp stinger. Toss that into a random encounter and see what happens.
  • Need a weird character background? “Something rad!!!!!!![2] (issue #6) delivers: You’re a prolific sperm donor. Or maybe a refugee from the Peanut Butter Wars, or a slave to Lady Jessica. It does settings, too: This place is like medieval Persia, but with sixguns and wagons, and it’s got regicidal vampires.

Because I own it as a book, I look at WMLP as a book. That book, for me, is mainly about its stellar megadungeon — but like delicious gravy, I also get some other fun stuff alongside it. Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols is a great zine, and the compilation of issues 1-6 is easy to recommend.

[1] Confusingly, it’s sometimes referred to as “Wizards Mutants Lazer Pistols.”

[2] Yes, I counted the exclamation points. Such is my dedication to science!

Categories
D&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Patrick Wetmore on keying megadungeon rooms

I love megadungeons. I’ve often thought it’d be fun to design one, but balked because I’m not sure I have the chops and because of the sheer size of the undertaking. The solution to the first part of that problem is to just try it, but what about the second, the fact that it’s a big project?

Cue Patrick Wetmore, who designed one of my all-time favorite megadungeons, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, on keying the first level of ASE:

So I’ve got 100 rooms to key for the dungeon. Following the distribution in the back of the Moldvay Basic rules, that breaks out as follows:

1/6 monster w/ treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/6 monster, no treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/18 trap with treasure = 5-6 rooms
1/9 trap, no treasure = 11 rooms
1/6 special = 16-17 rooms
1/18 unguarded treasure = 5-6 rooms
5/18 empty = 28 rooms

That’s 17 traps, and 17 specials. That’s where all the real work lies. Sticking a bunch of monsters in a room is easy, it’s the creative bits with traps and specials that’s hard.

And bam, just like that I realized I could design a megadungeon. I read that post yesterday, and I started designing one last night.

It’s that last part, about focusing on just a third of the rooms — the special, weird rooms — that clicked for me. Seeing the whole chart from the B/X Expert Set (my favorite version of D&D) broken out into rooms in need of keying helped, too. It’s a classic “eating the whole elephant” situation, and I’d never thought of it that way.