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Stock Art - Banshee
Publisher: 1manstudio
by Jonathan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/30/2020 10:41:07

Fantastic piece of art. It really pops out of the page with textured ectoplasm (if that's a thing!). I used it for the cover of my RPG (credited) and I'm delighted with it. Brilliant design - I'll look out for more from Critical Hit!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Stock Art - Banshee
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The Vemora
Publisher: Basement Games
by Jonathan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/21/2020 06:09:11

The Vemora is the first scenario published for Forge Out Of Chaos by Mark Kibbe back in 1998. It retailed back then for $7.98 and consists of a 28-page staple-bound book with colour cover art (by Paul Butler) and some B&W interior art (by Mike Connelly & Don Garvey who worked on the original rulebook), including two maps and lots of drawings of rooms and enemies discovered during the scenario.

I must point out that this is a MUCH better PDF reproduction than the Forge Rulebook: no missing pages, clean images, only the two dungeon maps are slightly off-level.

The module features a detailed NPC and two new monsters (mutant animals, nothing special) and a small amount of information about the setting. The scenario is set in the realm of Hampton, where, nearly a century ago, High King Higmar ordered the construction of Thornburg Keep and its underground sanctuary to house a precious healing artifact, the Vemora. Then a plague arrived that proved resistant to all medicine and magic and Higmar ordered the evacuation of his stronghold. Since then, monsters have moved in to inhabit the underground levels (as they do!) as well as a couple of groups of marauding humanoids (Higmoni and Ghantu) looking for loot. The Vemora itself remains hidden and inviolate, deep underground.

Rumours of adventure bring the PCs to the village of Dunnerton. Recently, the monster known as a Cavasha attacked the village and blinded its defenders, including the Elder's son. The Elder wants the PCs to hike out to Thornburg Keep and retrieve the Vemora, to use its magic to heal his son. The cover of the book depicts the very Lovecraftian Cavasha attacking the village. It's an exciting scene, with villagers falling blinded after it uses its gaze power. Unfortunately, the Cavasha itself never features in the scenario, so this picture is a tease, really.

Dunnerton is sketched out in essential detail only. There's a Dwarven smith who will offer free armour and weapon repairs to PCs working for the Elder; a Sprite trader runs the store; the Drunken Dragon Inn offers lodgings and a brief rumour table; and there's a temple of Shalmar, Goddess of Healing and the priest, an Elf named Jacca Brone will accompany the party if they need a healer. His character sheet is provided in full along with some pointers for the GM to roleplay him.

The underground keep is only two levels, with about thirty rooms on each. Room descriptions are detailed and there's careful Referee advice about using skills like Plant ID and Tracking, giving out experience checks and likely monster reactions.

The dungeon has a lovely tone to it. There's a pleasant frisson to investigating a fallen stronghold, working out what each room originally was and gathering clues about the fates of the inhabitants. Some rooms have a spine-tingling quality when magical fires ignite to welcome newcomers for the first time in decades. The humanoid raiding party reveals itself thrugh tracks and ransacked rooms, so the PCs will deduce they are not alone in the complex. There is a smattering of simple unintelligent crittes to fend off and a coupe of more threatening monsters on each level, but nothing that should overwhelm a careful party, and it's possible to negotiate with the humanoids and even unite against a common foe.

Finding the Vemora involves tracking down three keys hidden across the site as well as discovering its vault in the Royal Chambers on the second level. A pit trap could deposit the whole party into the second level against their will and teleport arches could give the party access to the Royal Chambers right from the first level.

The map is cleverly constructed, with the first level radiating form a central spine of halls that give the players direct access to the Great Library, which houses a nasty monster but clues to recovering the Vemora. The second level has a donut-structure, with the Cell Block and Royal Chambers forming separate spurs. This sort of rational layout is fun to explore and can be exploited by tactically-minded players.

This is an exemplary tutorial dungeon for a novice group of players. Conversion to D&D is super-easy, barely an inconvenience. In fact, it has all the best features of Basic D&D Module B1 (In Search of the Unknown), while being tighter and more focused: the quest for the Vemora, and the collection of keys to unlock it, gives structure and purpose to the adventure, rather than aimless wandering.

The limitation of the scenario is that this is all it is. Exemplary tutorial dungeons are all very well, buteven back in 1998, the sort of dungeon adventure The Vemora provides was pretty dated: it might perfect the formula of In Search of the Unknown, but that means perfecting something already 20 years old at the time.

Nonetheless, some Referees will want to adapt this, dropping the Cavasha into the dungeon instead of those undead Magouls and doing a bit more with the plague mystery.

In conclusion, if you play any sort of OSR RPG or any iteration of D&D and come across a cheap copy of The Vemora, don't disdain it. It's a little gem of an introductory dungeon that provides the right balance of mystery solving, exploration, combat and a sense of wonder. There's a bunch of noob adventurers out there who will remember it fondly if they get a chance to cut their teeth on it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Vemora
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Forge: Out of Chaos
Publisher: Basement Games
by Jonathan R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/06/2020 03:37:22

Four stars for the actual game but there are serious technical issues with this product. The PDF version for sale here is a simple scan from the physical edition: this means some of the pages are mis-aligned and there is banding on many of the tables and larger art panels. More seriously, pages 66-67, 82-83, 86-87, 126-127, 140-141 and 162-5 are missing: a glossary and some important rules and examples about "pumping" magic spells, details on several different types of spells as well as the first pages of the monster bestiary. That's 14 pages of missing material! I'll make the missing pages available on my fan site www.fenorc.co.uk as PDFs. For these reasons, it's impossible to recommend this PDF version when physical copies can be found through online sellers at a similar price

Forge Out of Chaos is an indie tabletop RPG from the '90s. It failed to find an audience at that time, since the unreconstructed dungeoncrawling experience it offered in a generic fantasy world fell sadly behind what new products from the big companies were offering. But there are good ideas and innovative mechanics here. It was held up by Ron Edwards as a definitive "fantasy heartbreaker" in a seminal 2003 blog.

Forge is worth a second look if you are drawn to the 'Old School Revival' in tabletop RPGs. If you want to reexperience the classic modules and scenarios but find the latest iterations of D&D too fiddly, you'll be looking back to the '80s or '90s for a rules engine. Sure, you could dust off Basic D&D or even AD&D. But Forge is in many ways closer to the original dungeoncrawling ethos than AD&D, offers more nuance than Basic D&D and it stands up pretty well if you think of it as OD&D v1.5.

I'd advise interested readers to check out the elegant 3-tier skills system and the cute bespoke spell system. Yes, the spells are a stale repertoire of dungeon classics but that's great for dungeon-based adventures. Familiar PC elves and dwarves are here but the memorable PC races are the cyclopean Ghantu, the albino Dunnar and the wheezing pacifist weasels called Jher-em.

Only the monster compendium lets Forge down. These critters are either direct D&D pastiches or else carnivorous birds with silly names. But the game is so closely adapted from D&D that it's no problem to port across your favourite monsters from that game.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forge: Out of Chaos
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