Review of A Red and Pleasant Land

A Red and Pleasant Land is… a great deal many things. It’s an art-book, with gorgeous illustrations throughout. It’s an art-piece, with beautiful binding, paper texture, rich colour and even has a silky ribbon-bookmark. It is a campaign setting for a role-playing game, with a unique, bizarre and yet familiar environments full of unique characters. It is a sandbox, with countless places to explore, strange characters to interact with and frightfully dangerous (and usually insane) antagonists to meet (or avoid). It is a resource for Game Masters, full of fascinating random tables to create endless locations, dungeons, creatures and people. It’s also immensely fun to simply pick up and flip to a random page to read or gaze at the illustrations.

This product is a great example of how a gaming supplement can be more than just its text content. The book itself reflects its material and setting: it has an elegant yet slightly mad look and feel, just like a Victorian novel about high society vampires or bloodthirsty queens. In other words, handling the book and reading the pages immersed me into the world that its author created.


The author, Zak Smith, is an incredibly imaginative and creative person. While he is seen as a controversial or confrontational figure within the gaming community, his contributions are, without a doubt, worthy to the hobby. Regardless of one’s opinions of this author, I’d strongly recommend that folks give this book a chance.

The material is roughly split into two halves: descriptions of the setting’s locations, creatures and characters and then many pages of richly detailed random tables and tools for GMs to invent and create wonders.

There are some very witty things in this work. While many of the standard Wonderland tropes are included, they’re handled in really clever ways. I won’t go into detail, because I feel that these are to be discovered by the reader: it’s part of the charming experience of reading this book.

A Red and Pleasant Land is one part Through the Looking Glass and one part Hungarian/Romanian vampires. This happened to be a happy coincidence to this reviewer, as I happen to be in the process of writing a campaign set in a location that is based on 17th century Transylvania. This work just happened to be right up my alley, but I’ve read and reviewed several rpg campaigns lately and so I feel that I can attempt to be critical of elements that I dislike or that I feel are “off”.

While this is officially a supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and is, by default, compatible with OSR games such as Labyrinth Lord, I felt that this could easily be used with any edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Any rules or stat blocks are minimalistic and easy to adapt. I actually look forward to running it myself in the recent fifth edition of D&D and maybe, someday, in Dungeon World.

When I GM this, I plan of covering the gaming table is a feverish mess of props including: a deck of cards, a set of Tarot, chess pieces and, of course a chess board for any combat encounters. I’ll perhaps serve blood-red tea…

I’ll have to keep this brief as it is the day after Christmas and I wish to be with my family and away from my computer. Once again, I whole-heartedly recommend a Red and Pleasant Land for any enthusiast of role-playing games, Lewis Carroll, vampires, old-fashioned books or even simply art lovers.

The author’s blog (sometimes NSFW)

You can go buy it here!

BONUS LINKS: Alice Character class conversions for other games:



Review of Revelry in Torth


Revelry in Torth (by Venger Satanis) is a location-based sandbox adventure inspired by pulp Sword and Sorcery and Lovecraft. It is a 39 page book with a color cover and has grayscale interior artwork. This is a review of the PDF version. Sadly I have not had an opportunity to playtest it yet.

Background and Setting Information

The book begins with a couple of pages of fiction: two moody short tales and a bit of background info about the setting. All of this content sets the tone: good stuff so far. Everything is easy to read (except for a few exotic alien or demonic names) and contains many familiar tropes found in the author’s works (for example, those accursed snake-men are always up to no good).

There are two new classes: the Shadow Priest and the Wandering Minstrel. Both gain a new spell-like ability at each level, each of which are usable once per day.

The Shadow Priest doesn’t specify any level progression or saving throws, but since it lists some prerequisites I’m assuming that it is a template that is added top of another class (similar to the Compendium Classes in Dungeon World). All of the abilities relate to shadowy effects. There is one power at level 5 that is a save or “die” (which is reversible under specific circumstances). This seems a bit overpowered to me but I’m not familiar with many OSR specialty classes with which to compare: I’m only familiar with the core classes presented in Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

The Wandering Minstrel is a slightly different take on the Bard, and it uses the level progression of a Thief or Rogue class. Each of its abilities consistently relate to music or social charms that manipulate the emotions and minds of others. As an aside, when I first read the name of this class I was expecting a take on the “Wandering Jew” figure: a character who is cursed with endlessly wandering the land until something very important and earth-shattering happens. I might use that idea some day.

As a quick aside, this entire book is inspirational that way. Either because it taps into familiar media (such as Frank Herbert’s Dune or even the Bible) or simply due to the author’s creativity. I frequently stared off into space thinking of evocative desert landscapes with eerie constellations forming in the sky, foretelling doom and terror. 

Next is some information about the setting, grouped under a few different headers: what a native PC of Torth would know (including what they’d know of history and of some grim portents), an overview of the five historical “ages”, and a rundown of the four most prominent tribal groups, which are kind of like this setting’s races (but without that sort of mechanical distinction).  Each of these tribes have their own core beliefs, favored factions or cults, typical behaviors or philosophies and even colour schemes (a nice little way to help the players recognize each one during encounters). Most of them seem to favour occult study: a nice surprise, as I was expecting warrior-centric tribes.

After there’s information on three secret societies or cults: each of them are appropriately ominous and worship sinister figures. A GM could mix and match these tribes and cults to create a great variety of NPC allies or antagonists. It would be cool to give each of them some defining physical characteristics in order to further differentiate them, such as vibrant color skin tones as on Barsoom or animal traits from those of frogs, insects or, very fittingly, serpents.

Magic Use in Torth has its own unique twists as well. The biggest irony of the setting is that magic and sorcery are taboo and distrusted. Which is interesting considering that three out of the four most prominent tribes appear to value study of the occult, demonology and sorcery. This may be one of the reasons for so much inter-tribal strife, for each tribe, and faction, has their own ideas on how magic works and who’s most worthy to use it. I like this idea very much.

There’s mention of a magic-enhancing drug that feels like an homage to the Spice in Frank Herbert’s Dune. I felt that this was appropriate, considering that both Dune and Torth seem to draw some inspiration from middle-eastern folklore and terminology. Sadly I could not find any descriptions of these drugs other than very brief, yey interesting, flavor text. There is, however, a specified mechanic for nasty side-effects for them. I admit that I was a little confused by this, but then again, most OSR games are gleefully cruel this way.


The Main Location: Aryd’s End

The main location for this adventure, Aryd’s End, gets its own section. There’s some history, which has nods to Lovecraft, and what I think is another nod to Dune: a secret twist about the city’s established defences. I may have read this last part incorrectly, but my interpretation of it sure felt exciting. I began to hope that this great story hook gets used in the adventure itself (sadly, it doesn’t, but it might in the sequel).

There are descriptions of a quirky cultural habit, as well as some sayings: most of which are ominous, of course, but one or two made me chuckle. I rather enjoyed the small section on cuisine: there are some neat things in there, as well as a possible adventure hook (hint: the town’s precious honey comes from bees… giant bees who live in a mountain!).

There’s a quick rundown of a few interesting locations within town. It is implied that these buildings will all be featured in the adventure later on.

Lastly we get introduced to some important NPCs. These include the rulers of Aryd’s End and their closest associates. There are some neat possibilities here, in terms of motivations, but I wonder how these characters will ever be used in the adventure itself, or how any of their secrets will come to light (regardless, it was entertaining to read this part). These characters are all kind of scummy and would fit in well in the lecherous and “backstabby” courts of Westeros.

The last page before the adventure is a table of Rumors. Each player character will know one of these, determined randomly, and it is recommended that the GM decides on their accuracy or whether to use them as supplementary encounters or hooks. These rumors are mixed in terms of practicality : some are about vague and high-level background material, others could be used directly in social or combat encounters. In addition to this table is a sidebar that presents an Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. This can be used to simplify circumstantial dice modifiers. Those familiar with the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons will know what this means, although the actual rule is handled a bit differently.

The Adventure

The Adventure takes place within and around the city of Aryd’s End. The author recommends that the party begins about a day’s journey away. There is a table of random encounters (usually monsters); there are some interesting beasties here (the Giant Oozing Slug Brain with Spider Legs stands out) but I don’t find much use for random monster tables in general. After that, there are a few encounters and a mini-dungeon, all of which, I feel, were included to set the mood, if nothing else.

Once the party reaches Aryd’s End they are beset by a variety of encounters, most of which seem to to involve one or more NPCs approaching them and pulling them deeper into the meta-plot or into the general mood of crazed revelry. There are a handful of encounters that, if ignored, can cause huge catastrophes or otherwise greatly affect the setting.

There is one crucial event at the very start which affects the players regardless of how they deal with it or not. What I like about this is that it isn’t railroading – per se. The players don’t have to do anything specific or aren’t expected to react in a scripted way. Nevertheless, this one encounter triggers the main “plot”, if you will, and sets things in motion. I like these kinds of encounters because they give a goal to an otherwise aimless sandbox. Along these lines are one or two encounters that reveal a timeline, of sorts, which will come to pass. This also, theoretically, focuses the players into doing something proactive.

creepy monster
Strangely, this amazingly detailed image is super-tiny. I was surprised that it didn’t get a full page!

There are a handful of locations for the players to explore with some NPCs to interact with, including a curiosity shop and a bordello. Sadly, neither location has much detail other than basic descriptions and a key NPC or two for the players to socialize with.

There is one encounter which does feel railroad-y: the party is summoned to audience with the King, which cannot be refused. If the party isn’t interested, they will be forced into doing so; if they fight, they will be hunted and killed. I’m not crazy about such encounters, and would rather handle this sort of thing differently (example: I’d have one of the king’s aides personally invite them as guests for a big party, which would feel more subtle and yet allow for more frenzied decadence).

The rest of the encounters follow the same formulae: an NPC approaches the party and gives them an ominous bit of advice or warning; an event occurs which moves the story forward, whether or not the party decide to get involved; an NPC encounter which may or may not be hostile (depending on the party’s reputation, current condition or behavior) or a micro-dungeon to explore and loot.

While all of this felt a bit simplistic and straightforward, it all felt very atmospheric and ripe with chances for interesting roleplaying. Despite one or two encounters that kind of forcefully involve the characters, this adventure is rather open-ended. Because of this, I would have liked a few more locations to explore or things to encounter if the party goes off randomly. If I ever run this, I’ll bring out Vornheim to fill in the gaps, for sure.

The last two pages cover some magic items and spells. A few of the magic items have cool background stories and at least one nifty power that goes beyond the “mundane” +1 bonus. They’re all suitably thematic. The spells are interesting, if not disturbing.

The Afterword illustrates the author’s design goals and plans. He mentions that this is the first part in a trilogy and so I’m eager for more. I admit that after The Islands of Purple-Hearted Putrescence, I’m a bit spoiled: I was expecting a few more random tables of unique encounters and setting-building material.



  • a lack of a table of contents; the content felt a bit disorganized
  • the headings were sometimes unclear about what each block of content was about
  • the runic glyph watermark on every page was a bit distracting (note that this is a pet-peeve of mine: many RPG publishers do this)
  • I would have liked a few more locations or random tables of encounters (not strictly combat ones)
  • as with other works by the same author, some features contain subject matter unsuitable to all tastes


  • lots of rich flavour, colour and mood: it would be easy to create your own material or to hand-pick suitable stuff from other works to add to the setting
  • very memorable encounters: this book can be mined for ideas and inspiration
  • really nice artwork and maps
  • easy to read text and layout: friendly conversational tone

Overall I liked this work, although not as much as the Islands of Purple-Heated Putrescence (IPP). The setting, while open-ended, felt a bit “smaller” than I expected. I’d like to see more information about the key location, Aryd’s End. Regardless, I found a lot of the material very inspirational: whether I end up running this or not, I can mine this for ideas. I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Revelry in Torth is available at Drive Thru RPG.

Review of The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence

This is an RPG campaign setting of about 110 pages with lots black and white illustrations (nearly one illustration per page, some full-page) and has roughly 20 lists and tables of various types used for character building, encounters, rumors and other rich setting material. There are 2 maps: a full color one and a black and white, numbered hex version for the GM. Also there are nearly 30 magic items, over a dozen new spells and about 120 different map encounters.

This book is, in essence, a sandbox setting, but there is much more to it. About half of the book is composed of notes, tips and additional rules to make the whole experience more immersive and unique for both the GM and for players.

There’s simply lots of material in this product:

Game master notes and advice

The Foreword paints a sympathetic portrait of the author’s mindset, expressing a view of the RPG hobby as a form of escapism from the traditional expectations of storytelling as well as from daily monotony. The tone starts off as light-hearted and conversational; the author sounds friendly and considerate.

The Introduction includes some short but good advice on how to manage the players’ expectations. There is a suggestion for GMs wanting to maintain the decent level of strangeness of the setting by striving to keep some baseline of realism. I believe that this is good advice in any campaign: if everything is always weird, fantastic, horrific or grim all of the time, then none of it is. An occasional dose of “mundane” reality in a game world helps to contrast other extremes. Good advice so far.

After there are descriptions of positive gaming techniques that can be used by both GMs and players. I’ve encountered similar advice in other books and gaming blogs under the moniker of “Yes, and…”. The author also emphasizes collaborative exchanges between GMs and players. I was pleasantly surprised to find this in an OSR product.

Altogether I was pleased by the author’s tips and tricks to bridge the gap between perceived new and old school gaming styles. This was pretty refreshing to me because I feel that gaming styles don’t have to be broken up into walled up factions or schools: there’s more overlap than we’d like to believe and that gamers are much more complex than we give them credit for. But I digress…

Alternate Rules

Within the campaign notes is a very nifty d6-based task resolution system called VSD6. This system could be applied to many different games (especially OSR ones without formal skill lists). I found it familiar with Apocalypse World-based systems: it includes the possibility of varying degrees of success and failure (of which I’m a fan of). The basic version is tidy and simple: if you’re familiar with similar concepts, like the ones in games like Dungeon World, then you’ll get it right away. Then the author provides an advanced version of the rules if the GM wishes to fully embrace it. Good stuff in here and very modular: however, be warned that I’m not very good at math, so I may have missed any issues with probability. I “feels” like a good and workable system and that is good enough for me.

Also included are some extra rules for things like combat and travel to better reinforce some of the core thematic elements of the setting.

Playtest Notes

Since this book claims that it is compatible “with virtually every fantasy paper & pencil tabletop roleplaying game”, I decided to use the latest (5th) edition of Dungeons and Dragons. There were two reasons for this: I find that it is just enough of a rules-light system that grants enough freedom to make rulings on the fly (which is suitable to OSR style games) and because it is the latest game that I had sold onto my players.

The drawback was that we’d miss out on a few features, such as the VSD6 system mentioned earlier, but I fully integrated the varying degrees of success of this mechanic into D&D’s Ability Checks. Since the many tools for character building and for generating encounters are rather system-agnostic, we didn’t have any issues. So I agree with the claim that this is a very system-agnostic or at least flexible module: your group could easily use this with your preferred OSR, D&D or D20 game of choice.


Character Building and Hooks

This book contains several lists of character-defining hooks and traits that can help to integrate player characters into the setting. I believe that this type of extra detail is hugely beneficial as it gets players more invested or interested in the game’s mood. Most of these list items consistently promote the weird, the mysterious, the fantastic and the horrifying. One could end up with a really twisted PC with a troubled past and/or very dark alterior motives.

The Darker Secrets section has a list that is meant to be used during character creation: specifically while rolling attribute scores. Basically, if a player requests a re-roll they roll on this list to gain a dark secret or character flaw. If you’re doing it the old fashioned way (3d6, in order), odds are that you’ll roll at least once or twice. These interesting traits are almost all sinister, horrifying or twisted background elements that could completely define a character. Some of them remind me of the weird, crazy stuff found in modules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

In the wrong person’s hands, these traits could be extremely disruptive without GM supervision or group buy-in. I know my players’ tastes and limits very well, but if I was playing with strangers, I might omit one or two of these items as they could rub some people the wrong way.

There are also some cool background flashbacks and a list of possible rumors that each character can know about the Islands (some false, some true). I felt that these were thoughtful and considerate additions. I appreciated all of this extra character-driven fluff: it’s one thing to present a hexcrawl, but to go an extra mile to provide motivations and goals to interact with the sandbox is very good design.

There’s a new Monk class included as a character option. I first I assumed that this was another version of the D&D trope of the Kung-Fu warrior (I first encountered the “Monk” with 3rd edition), but I was mistaken. This is an intriguing take on the concept of a sort-of Cleric mixed with traits of a cultist. Again, very appropriate to the setting.

Playtest Notes

When we did this section, I allowed players to re-roll their background traits and flashbacks if they were not happy or seemed uncomfortable with their results. Surprisingly, nearly all of my friends were cool with their results, although afterward I read out a few of the more disturbing ones to hear what they thought: some agreed that they didn’t really feel like dealing with the subject matter of one or two of the darker options. My instincts were correct upon initial review: if you don’t know your players, you may want to spend a bit of time reviewing these lists before using them. But otherwise they liked what they came up with: it all really helped to set the tone and they liked the pre-game character hooks. Some players really got into it, adding more fluff to the setting. It was rather awesome.

Most of my players were already familiar with the concept of setting tie-in hooks during character creation. They bought into it very positively. I had introduced it back in the day with Dungeon World and have been using that feature ever since. I still appreciated the fact that this module had these traits included because it saved me some work. It was a welcome feature and I wish that more pre-written adventures did the same.

Setting Features

This book also contains plenty of material to emphasize the setting’s mood and lore. These options are consistently imaginative, horrifying, disturbing and weird. A word of warning: some of these events could end the game rather quickly, so the GM better be familiar with these lists before the campaign starts.

There’s a brief, high-level chronological history of the Islands as well as ways to generate their “wants”: it appears that the Islands themselves have some kind of sentience. Players can be rewarded for behaving in certain ways if they match up with the “personality” of the setting itself. Really cool and creepy: it reminds me of Ravenloft.

There’s a random list/table that makes spell-casting crazy and unpredictable, reminding me of the Wild Magic table for the Sorcerer in D&D 5e and of the Psychic Backlash tables in Dark Heresy (which were always good for a chuckle and/or a groan).

The rest of this section covers more atmospheric and thematic elements of the Islands. There are expanded rules for making Magical Swords unique and cool (definitely a re-usable resource for a GM), as well as a short table reminiscent of the critical injury charts from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. There’s also lists of stuff that happens while the characters sleep, different and occasionally disturbing forms of island currency, dangerous alien weather and a few different explanations for the titular Purple Putrescence, one of which is a huge twist that was quite the surprise to me. The author suggests that this one in particular is purely optional, but I’m very much eager to use it. I’m very certain that it is an homage to something from film or t.v.,, but I can’t quite place it…

There’s some stuff about various Crystals that may be found: each type (or color) has various features and utilities. Many of them have weird or nasty side-effects such as attribute draining. I thought that these were neat but I can see some players not wanting to use them after their stats start dropping. The author includes some brief advice on how to incorporate these items to better suit the style of your campaign. Good stuff.

There’s a section covering the main factions of people living on the island, as well as tables to randomly generate NPC encounters. What I liked about this section is how each group of villagers that the characters encounter can differ greatly from each other depending on recent events, their relationship with other settlements and even their attitudes toward the PCs. So while each faction may have universal traits they are not monolithic in their behaviors and values (a trope that I’m bored to death with in traditional fantasy and sci-fi media). Kudos to the author for this. Those of my readers who are familiar with the books by Sine Nomine (ex Stars Without Number) will feel a familiarity with this section as a useful, quick tool to create NPCs and settlements.

Each faction (race) is pretty unique and interesting in terms of goals and motivations, although superficially most of them could appear as robed cultists to the players (with two obvious exceptions). But I’m always glad to get away from the usual token Tolkien-isms, though.

Finally there’s a Wandering Monster table full of surprises and unconventional beasties. There are some brief stat-blocks, but the main descriptors were sufficiently imaginative and useful. This table looks very easy to use with any d20 or OSR system.

The author notes that all of this material is optional. One could pick and choose which parts to use to better suit their own gaming style. While I’ve seen some of these ideas here and there in other RPGs, it is very handy to have them all in one place along with the campaign.

Regardless of how much you’d use I believe that all of these colorful options will make any campaign set on the Islands feel unique and memorable. This isn’t just a sandbox setting with things to find, fight and loot, it’s an experience. All of it embraces the weird and fantastic.

Playtest Notes

When I informed my players of the existence of the critical hit charts, the ones who’d played WFRP cheered and grimaced at the same time, which was awesome. We only had one magic backlash occur and it was just bizarre and kind of hilarious (my players were also kind of relieved: in other games that sort of thing usually meant that someone’s face melted off or that a demon popped into reality).

I included a few crystals, but the players became hesitant to use them after they started to lose Constitution and another one got a gruesome skin fungus. I was a bit saddened by that turn of events because I love the crazy devil’s bargain that these items offer.

I decided to have fun with the party and had them encounter a settlement of Snake-men but gave them a troubled condition that made them almost sympathetic. All of that got derailed when the players started telling “snake-talk” jokes (how many s-words can you string together at once for laughs?). They got so carried away with this that I asked them if one of their characters actually said those things. The player nodded with a smirk and so the Snake-men instantly became indignant and tried to capture them as slaves. I was hoping that they’d make unconventional allies but oh well; better luck next time with the ape-men (or not…).

As for the other factions, the players were just skeptical of all these “cultists”, never sure if their intentions were good or ill. Using the faction tables really shuffled my expectations on how the players perceived most NPCs. The weirdness of the setting put everyone on edge a little. After all, a robed cultist usually means “bad things will happen”. One player decided to feign devotion to whichever cause the NPC followed- one time to awkward results when the seemingly benign, white robed missionaries turned out to be planning a genocide of their neighbours. The character’s attempts to graciously back down from participating were pretty hilarious. The last game ended with some tension between the party and those people.

Combined with everything else in the setting, the Wandering Monster table was fun and easy to use with D&D 5e. I had no trouble incorporating whatever the dice created, although it helps that the mood and theme of the Islands is pretty wacky and bizarre. Just about anything goes, to be honest and nothing felt out of place.

Hex map encounters

Things get very interesting in this setting. Up to this point, I was expecting standard weird fantasy but I forgot that this often includes a heavy dose of science fiction. There are encounters with advanced technology, space ships and beings from other worlds or dimensions (unrelated to magical planes). Again, this makes sense because Lovecraftian tropes often include alien futurism intermixed with the arcane. Still, I wasn’t expecting that at all prior to reading the hex descriptions.

There are lots of interesting encounters here. Not all trigger combat: there are lots of things to explore and discover that don’t include any immediate peril or conflict. There are also lots of NPCs and creatures that aren’t hostile by default, but may be depending on the party’s motives and behavior. Some locations have more than one encounter in them, depending on distance, population density or if the party decides to explore some mini-dungeons.

There are plenty of pop culture and cult film references, sometimes quite anachronistic or bizarre. Some are really obvious, others clever enough to be missed by more casual fans of certain media. Possibly my favorite was [SPOILER] Amazing Larry, a nod to one of my favorite Tim Burton movies, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. If you’re a person who can catch this reference, I consider you to be a soul mate.

The monster stats were usable right out of the book with the game system we were using (D&D 5th edition), and seemed to be easily compatible with typical OSR games (Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess). The stat blocks are brief and self-contained unless they’re magic users in which case the GM will have to reference their spell list of choice. It’s all easily adaptable.

That all said, there are some nasty, deadly encounters too. Some of which are Save or Die with very little advanced warning. Old School GMs will probably like these “Gotcha!” traps. They’re not my style, but again, the exact mechanics were easily altered without changing the encounter too much (I used D&D 5e’s Death Save mechanics which at least give the party a chance).

A couple of the encounters had subject matter that might not be a good fit with certain groups of players. Frazetta-inspired damsels in distress, plenty of slave girls and scenes out of horror/sci-fi movies and comics with sexualized peril. Luckily none of those details are hugely integral to each encounter and a GM could easily change or omit them. Basically, even if a reader actively dislikes to include those things, they could remove them without too much effort and still get a lot out of this material.

Strangely, some of the most interesting entries are the briefest and most vague. There are several hex locations which are basically just “water” or “crashed spaceship”. I felt that it was a bit of wasted opportunity: the book could’ve included a handful of encounter and location generators for these places. I may write up some and share them on my blog at some point.

While not as chaotic and disjointed as other sandbox offerings I’ve read, I did feel that some of these encounters were a little too “random”. While they were all consistent in terms of mood, the overall setting became almost surrealist. It was like feverish crazy dream world. While that is fine in itself, I strongly recommend using all of the setting material and character hooks in the rest of the book (especially the “Fun things to do” Scenario Seeds table) to give some structure or “meaning” to everything.

Playtest Notes

Knowing my players, I changed a few NPCs by simply using the books’ NPC Faction generating lists and tables. So instead of a “voluptuous, red-haired maiden” for one encounter, I rolled up an ape-like Koshi, one of the natives. The tables dictated that he was an escaped prisoner from his tribe (and I grabbed the option that he was royalty). Instantly, I had created a really cool and interesting NPC ally for the party. The players gave him a name and everything: one wanted to call him George and the other Jenkins. It was pretty awesome.

Notes on the art and Design

The Artwork is pretty good but varies in technical skill. Overall the art matches the established themes of the product: weird fantasy horror with touches of sword and sorcery and Lovecraftian overtones. The quality seems to be standard with other OSR materials that I’ve encountered: the best work is on the cover and on the occasional full-page illustration, while the rest is decent and only occasionally kind of amateurish. I liked it, having a fondness for hand-drawn black and white artwork lately, which may be partially due to nostalgia. While digital art can be beautiful I feel that it lacks a certain warmth, so I appreciated the art style of this book.

I can see that some readers would find some of the illustrations problematic. The cover is obvious cheesecake, as are some of the other works by the same artist (Faustie). The vast majority of the artwork inside doesn’t share that tone. However I’m guessing that a person who doesn’t like that style of art in their RPG products won’t likely look into this book after seeing the cover.

Playtest Notes

I showed my players the cover image. The reactions: laughter, a few eye rolls and a few acknowledgments of Heavy Metal magazine. I communicated to them what the campaign style was (I believe my exact terms included “kind of old school gonzo fantasy horror”), so they were not wholly surprised. Still, two of my friends were not crazy about it, but that didn’t stop them from giving the campaign a try.

Other Notes

The Fiction is well written and relevant, adding some context, mystique and lore to the setting. Typically my eyes glaze over when I encounter fiction in RPG books and so I usually skip it all. However my intrigue about this weird setting, and my enthusiasm from what I’d read so far, got me invested in reading it.

The first entry that I read began as standard fantasy fare, name-dropping a lot of familiar tropes but gradually becoming a bit more interesting. At one point it tapped right into good old sword and sorcery style, harkening to Howard and Burroughs and so my attention was kept. There’s some neat stuff going on in the Islands… The Fiction drops a few hints at what is to come.

One complaint that I have is that the first half (the non-hex descriptions) felt a bit disorganized. I would have liked some traditional section headings or chapters to group similar material together. For example, the section on the crystals is separated from a very useful bit on how to adapt their use in different campaign types. I’m not sure why these sections were separated. Similarly, all of the background info and character hooks are here and there: I would’ve liked them all in one chapter, in one place. As one reads this material, though, it all made “sense” because each topic flowed into the next. But during character creation I had to do some page flipping back and forth and I don’t like to do that.


I was very impressed by this product: it was far more than I originally envisioned. There’s plenty of material in this campaign that can make each visit to the Islands very different and unique. A GM can get a lot of re-use of this material. There’s lots of good advice and optional rules that can be used outside of this specific campaign, so that’s a big bonus.

That being said, the “weird fantasy” genre isn’t for everyone. While there’s plenty of comedic and tongue-in-cheek humor, there are some darker elements and some cheesecake that might not be appropriate for some. The cover art might be some hint to this to any potential buyers. But if one can look past that, there’s plenty of cool material in there that I could see as being useful even if you never run the campaign as-is and just use the goldmine of idea generators.

You can buy this product on DriveThruRPG.