Here’s a first for this site: RPG material! For some context and a side of bona fides I’ve spent years playing and occasionally running games in all sorts of systems. Generally speaking I tend towards Call of Cthulhu and lightweight dungeon crawls, but over the last couple years I’ve tried to broaden my horizons and explore some more indie fare like Troika or Tunnel Goons. OK fine, the latter is another light dungeon crawl, but at least it doesn’t involve giving Wizards of the Coast money.
The incomparable Jared (he of Spearwitch and much more) offered to send some reading material my way. To be clear, I’m reviewing all of these exclusively as books as I haven’t personally run them. The lens I’m using is one of how enthusiastic I am about the content as well as whether or not I’d use it in a game of my own. Let’s get started.
Wet Grandpa – What a title, yeah?
Wet Grandpa is a dire and genuinely sad adventure path/setting supplement compatible with D20 games. Reading through it is liable to give you mild to medium depression, but like, in a good way? It feels like a cross between Huck Finn, modern day dying Appalachia, and Innsmouth all bundled together and cast into the river to die. Its NPCs and hazards are strongly rooted in the setting, from the titular Grandpa and his burgeoning connection to water, to families just trying to scrape by as their world decays around them, to all manner of horrible local hazards and wildlife, some of which is far from mundane.
The actual physical book itself deserves mention; a bound-but-not-covered production as bizarre as it is fitting, giving just touching and reading the thing a thematic vibe few books possess. It feels like it’s been damaged somehow, presumably from rough conditions and a long list of readers, only to be rescued and restored for sale. You’re reading something you shouldn’t even know exists, much less own, and yet here it is and here you are. It’s unsettling. I like it.
If you couldn’t tell I very much appreciate WG, but actually playing it comes with provisos. Few RPG tables are going to be able to run this to the fullest as it requires appropriate characters, a system that doesn’t break it, and serious commitment from all parties involved. This is a melancholy thing and it needs to be handled with just the right amount of finesse. I think this would be a particularly challenging task given its tone and setting, but an equally rewarding one for groups willing to brave its waters and play something outside of their comfort zone. At the very least it’s definitely worth a read.
Acid Death Fantasy – This one’s much more straightforward; a Troika supplement that manages one of my favorite tricks in all of RPG-dom: establishing an evocative setting without spending reams of pages on direct storytelling. Instead it’s told via actual usable information contained within its backgrounds and roll tables. Make no mistake, by the end you’ll have a strong mental image of this place and how it works, but aside from a 1.5 page intro none of that will have been told to you outright.
ADF doesn’t take place where the core book of Troika started. Or maybe it does, just far away? Troika materials are weird like that, with worlds ever shifting and characters bouncing between them. Either way the world of ADF is still sci-fantasy, but less Douglas Adams and more Frank Herbert. You saw the cover, you knew the Dune comparison was coming.
If I were to voice one negligible complaint about ADF it’s that I’d have liked a bit more art, but that’s only because what’s here is absolutely incredible. Gorgeously detailed with plenty of color (which may have been part of why there’s not a ton of it), there isn’t a single piece here I wouldn’t hang a print of on my wall. So I guess that isn’t really a complaint. Huh. Guess this book is excellent then.
Crypts of Indormancy – Very much the opposite of ADF, CoI is an old school adventure path cranked up to 11. I’m torn because I adore the aesthetic and tone of this book but the content itself left me cold as an actual crypt. It reminded me of reading old D&D books, with loads of worldbuilding and gratuitous levels of detail that essentially leave the GM with no job but to dictate the book directly to their players. Reading CoI felt like I was being regaled with someone else’s campaign stories without any of the context or personal investment. It’s well written, sure, but I find it difficult to care much less be interested in running it.
That said there are folks who are going to adore this. A crypt this detailed could bring a massive amount of entertainment to the right group of grognards. It’s filled with maps, art, and resources aplenty so you’ll never want for handouts, and players love handouts. It’s also elf-y, and they were not friendly elves, meaning this is a rare adventure in which both pro and anti-elf players will find something to latch onto. There is absolutely splendid craft here, make no mistake. It’s just not for me.
Fever Swamp – Fever Swamp offers yet another completely different kind of resource, this time a setting book. The book details a single location filled to bursting with people, items, monsters, and massive amounts of horribly unfortunate swamp problems. If you can think of a negative effect that’d be at home in a swamp it’s almost certainly present in Fever Swamp, but worse than you could’ve possibly imagined. It is a miserable place to the point of being comical. One of the results on the disease table can give a player debilitating diarrhea that triggers every time they roll a 5 or worse on a d20. For any reason. Immediately. With two saves to recover lest you poop yourself to death. Isn’t adventuring fun?
After all that talk of misery would I run or play a game set here? Oh absolutely. It’s a horrible place and that’s exactly what makes it great! No one expects a trip to a swamp to be a pleasant affair and FS has already done all the work for you in providing a sandbox full of trash and used needles. Players will love how much they hate this; I know I do. Fever Swamp is a place you should never go, a nightmare place to die, and as such I highly recommend a visit.
Fungi of the Far Realms – Thus far we’ve covered two adventure paths, a supplement, and a setting book, all with varied applications. FotFR is entirely different. Do you know someone who’s really into RPGs but hops around from multiple systems, or maybe you’re not sure what they play in the first place? This is the best gift you could give them. I’ll explain.
FotFR is one of my favorite forms of fiction: a bullshit reference book. You know the kind of tome players find in tabletop and digital RPGs, the one filled with practical advice and information for in-world flora and fauna? This is one of those, but you can touch it. Literal hundreds of pages of fantastical fungi, all randomizable for parties that decide to look down to the ground, as well as additional roll tables in the back for a bit of extra fungal fun. Every single entry comes with a full-color piece of art as well as information on the ‘shroom in question. You will never struggle to come up with an effect for that one player who likes to eat whatever they find ever again.
If it wasn’t clear from the above this thing is amazing, both as a book and as an object. From a functional perspective the amount of content it can inject into your games is frankly astounding, and its gorgeous production makes it a joy just to read and use. The amount of potential entertainment this could provide for a curious party is endless. This was my favorite of the books Melsonian sent out and one that I intend to keep on hand for all of my games going forward regardless of system. I highly recommend considering the same, it’s a singular work that deserves your attention.
Books provided for review by the publisher.