No Escape from New York is a new adventure module for the Crimson Dragon Slayer RPG (written by Venger Satanis). My review is of the PDF copy, which was sent to me by the author for the purpose of review and/or play-testing. Sadly, I haven’t had any time to set up a game, so this critique is purely from a first-time read through.
It is about 20 pages long (not including the cover, back cover and padding pages for print purposes) with very nice black and white interior art all done by Bojan Sucevic. This gives the module a consistent “look and feel”. Once again the layout is done very well by Glynn Seal (MonkeyBlood Design). Once again, as with most of Venger’s books, there’s no index. C’mon you guys!
The adventure takes place in a parallel universe: a post-apocalyptic New York city of 1983. It is an obvious homage to films such as “the Warriors” and “Escape from New York” blended with the typical gonzo pop cultural references found in Crimson Dragon Slayer. The author makes it clear that the tone and themes should be inspired by “late night, low budget 70s or 80s” movies. It is basically an urban sandbox with a few impending threats (vampires, serpent people and lovecraftian horrors) that can be used to give some structure or goals to the players.
The book begins with a brief intro by the author and some general Game Mastering tips. I’ve already read most of these word of wisdom from the author’s book on Game Mastering. But my biggest takeaway from this advice is the idea that the DM should “dress the stage, forget the rest”, which basically means that you should skip putting any extra prep work into NPCs, background fluff and such stuff if it isn’t very likely to come up in play. Instead, improvise and occasionally make world building a collaborative exercise with your players. I personally agree with this method, but I like to keep a few tried and true random tables as a back up. Generally this syncs with my personal style: while I prepare the backdrops and perhaps a few key monsters, I otherwise just go with the flow.
The pre-game set-up involves randomly determining if one or more PCs are actually evil and will end up betraying the party. There are in-game mechanical advantages to causing such inter-party conflict. Fans of the Paranoia RPG, or PvP (player versus player) in general, will get a kick out of this. Myself, I’ve only ever had bad experiences with PvP so there’s no way I’d ever use this feature.
Afterwards there’s a funny table of “Prior Events” for each character (what they were up to between game sessions), which is full of comical references. My favourites: “You taught the Jedi how to get revenge (it didn’t take)” and “Your rock star girlfriend dumped you for a talking duck… or it might have been a duck-billed dwarf”.
Anyway, once the game begins, the party will promptly get transported from Thule (the setting of Crimson Dragon Slayer) to a perverse, violent, sleazy and sometimes revolting New York city. The descriptions of these encounters are pretty funny; but they’re rather R-rated.
There’s an awful lot of things going on in this setting: it’s always night, there’s an over-abundance of neon lights (which may be disgustingly allergenic), colourful, violent street gangs, taxicabs galore and an underground with a subway. There’s even a random NPC prostitute table which will probably infuriate some parts of the gaming community.
While I can get behind the wanton sleaziness and tongue-in-cheek humour of 80s schlock, I kind of wish there were more things for female PCs to do; or at least more for the ladies to interact with. Most of the encounters are set up with straight male characters in mind… to the point that more than ever I’d feel a bit awkward about playing this module with women gamers, unless they were undoubtedly cool with the premise and/or playing male or lesbian PCs.
Overall, the tone is over-the-top and ridiculous. There are so many things going on, so much potential for scenes of violence, comedy, horror and sex that my head is spinning. It really does feel like a chaotic, albeit rich, sandbox setting. I’d encourage any GMs out there who plan on running this to read the entire thing beforehand. The focus on sleaze and sex might not suit every gaming group. I definitely would want to make sure that everyone at my table was very clear about this before springing it on them. I’ve reviewed a lot of Venger’s works but even I was grossed out by several details. I was impressed by the density of game-able material but not so much by the tone and subject matter (but it doesn’t help that I’m not a huge fan of this kind of post apocalyptic storytelling).
As usual, if you’re already a fan of Venger’s other works, or if you love the media that it emulates, you’ll enjoy this module (and it’s cheap too!). If you’re not interested in including lots of sex and grotesque, over-the-top urban sleaze in your campaign, maybe give this one a pass.