Monday, April 8, 2013

Pulp Noir Monday: Weird Adventures (Review)

WEIRD ADVENTURES © 2011 Trey Causey
Way back in 2010 or so when I first discovered so-called "old-school" gaming blogs, one of the first I came across was Trey Causey's From the Sorcerer's Skull - a blog filled with various "fantasy meditations", including one of my favorites -  "Warlord Wednesdays" (reviewing issues of DC's old Warlord comics).

But, what really captured my imagination on the site were frequent posts detailing various aspects of something referred to as "The City." These musings were perfect combinations of evocative imagery and creative re-imaginings of vaguely real-world people, places, and objects with a slightly dark fantasy overlay.

After reading several posts about "The City," I began to want more and was thrilled when the author mentioned that he was going to be putting together a lot of his previous posts plus all-new material into a 160+ page book. I remember one time even commenting on his blog about how it was taking too long to get the book published because I really wanted to read it.

Weird Adventures was published in both PDF and print formats in December 2011 and is the subject of today's Pulp Noir Monday review. Previous posts for Pulp Noir Monday include the TV show, Tales of the Gold Monkey, an RPG gaming supplement, Heroes of Rura-Tonga, and the fantastic comic book limited series, Masks.

What Is It?
Weird Adventures is a 165 page book (including covers and the Open Game License) that provides a campaign setting for adventures that take place in a world of "traditional fantasy role-playing game tropes in an era reminiscent of our world between the two world wars. More specifically,
it’s reminiscent of our world in that era as it has been portrayed in fiction, particularly
fiction published in pulp magazines." [Excerpted from the Introduction].

In the book, you get background on the history of the world, calendar, descriptions of the various types of inhabitants, religion, magic, some basic information on the planes, a map, and overviews of the various continents and countries in the world. All of that takes up the first 58 pages or so.

After that, you get very detailed information on "The City of Empire" (aka "The City"), the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, and which is composed of five baronies. Each barony gets a separate chapter in the book which details things like various buildings, parks, people, and encounters that you could have. All of this information is presented in roughly 80 pages or so.

After this is a section on "Weird Menaces" (new creatures and encounters, such as Brain Invaders, Crabmen, and Ghost Towns), which lasts for roughly the remaining 20 pages.

Cool Bits
If all of the above sounds fairly mundane and what you'd expect from a campaign setting, you couldn't be more wrong. What makes Weird Adventures so unique is its presentation of the City and how it makes use of real-world places, people, and events, then reinterprets them in a "modern" fantasy setting. However, this isn't revisionist history or some kind of alternate Earth. It's its own creation.

An example includes the city of Hoborxen, an alien city that appears to be made of fluorescent glass and which shows itself on moonless nights on the other side of the river. However, the next morning, the fantastic glowing city is missing, replaced by the regular gray smokestacks of plain old Hoborxen. While this sounds just like standard fantasy stuff (a "city of dreams" and all that), the author goes on to detail a bit more about what's actually going on, which involves the disappearance and eventually reappearance of single buildings, whole blocks, or the entire city, and some "foul-mouthed, cinereous, and moth-winged" creatures that buzz around. Sometimes you can hear a women crying or laughing softly. Items lost in other parts of the world sometimes inexplicably turn up here. 

There's also a neighborhood called "Little Carcosa," a mysterious ethnic enclave of narrow cobblestone streets, exotic smells and even more exotic inhabits, famous for its street festival featuring masked participants forming a processing behind a group of somewhat grotesque clowns. 

Causey does a magnificent job of writing up the various areas in the City in a similar fashion - each ripe for exploration, investigation, and discovery. Reading through the book, I kept saying to myself, "I want to know why Hoborxen disappers and where it goes" or "I want to know more about what happens at the end of the procession during Little Carcosa's street festival and who the guy in the pale mask and yellow tattered robes is."

Another thing that's sprinkled throughout the book are little side-bar lists of things, each one of which could be the source of its own adventure. Some examples are "Ten Things Found in the Alien City", the last item of which is an illustrated children's book wherein a little girl and a sinister looking stuffed animal discuss the murder of the book's finder - and the last two pages of the book are missing. That's just one example, but hopefully it properly conveys the amount of dark fantasy atmosphere that's just oozing throughout the book.

Besides buildings and neighborhoods, the author also includes other elements that are reminiscent of 1930s Pulp era New York City, such as jazz clubs, subversive "Red agents," subways, ferries, Cathedrals, immigrants (complete with a "Random Immigrant Encounter Table"), large park areas, taxmen, exterminators, loan sharks... the list goes on and on.

Carefully woven into the setting are the "standard" fantasy races, so we get things like some dirty hobgoblins who get tossed out of an all-night diner, or a "hill-billy giantess" who sits crying while holding a battered suitcase.

A short review like this can't possibly cover all of the adventure hooks included in this book, nor should it. To really get the full potential from the wealth of material in this setting, you need to experience it for yourself in the context in which it's presented.

Who Will Like It
Given the type of setting this is, it should have a relatively broad appeal. Fantasy of the 1930s pulp era should thoroughly enjoy this fantasy take on the genre, and with minimal changes could easily adapt many of the encounters to even "straight" pulp games like d20 Past, Gumshoe, various Savage Worlds settings, or even some old-school Gangbusters by simply stripping out the fantasy elements.

By keeping some of the dark fantasy tones and taking out the races like goblins, dwarves, and the like, the setting could easily be incorporated into a pulp-era Call of Cthulhu game using your system of choice.

Fans of the fiction of China MiƩville and its modern fantasy genre should also respond favorably to Weird Adventures. As the author notes in the introduction, at times the book reads like a Travel Guide to the world, and many entertaining hours could easily be wiled away just going to a chapter on a particular barony and reading it as though you planned to travel there.

The setting is loosely based on the d20 System's Open Game License, but in reality there are very few mechanics in the book, and those that are there are intended for old-school rules-light systems such as Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, and could very easily be adapted to any system you choose.

 Really, if you're a regular reading of this blog and love new and different presentations of fantasy settings, then you'll love Weird Adventures.

WEIRD ADVENTURES
  • Format: 165-page PDF, soft cover, or hard-cover, including the covers, or in print
  • Where to Buy: RPGNow or DriveThru RPG
  • Price: $10.99 (PFD), $15.99 (soft cover), or $21.99 (hard cover)
  • System: d20 Open Game License (relatively system-neutral but designed for OSR type retro-clones)
  • More Information: From the Sorcerer's Skull Weird Adventures announcement page

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: A "brave companion" (bourbon, lemon juice, vanilla simple syrup, and creme to cacao)
Listening: "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great review, Martin. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    ReplyDelete

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