Wednesday 28 March 2018

[Review] Echoes From Fomalhaut Issue #01: Beware the Beekeeper!

Let's start with a confession! I'm biased with the work of Gábor Lux (aka. Melan). His reviews in the long forgotten hungarian diskmag Chaos Ultra, his posts and articles about adventure design, his released modules, and the few session I played at his table influenced my taste in gaming to a great deal. Without him I probably wouldn't know about the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, HackMaster, or Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar. Thus it was a no-brainer for me to buy the first issue of his fanzine once it's out. Well, that didn't go exactly as I planned. A month ago I was one of the lucky bastards who won the first issue on a small hungarian rpg convention.

The issue came in a brown envelope. Within were a 40 pages long saddle-stitched digest booklet, and a folded unkeyed city map printed on sturdy paper. The black and white illustrations are a mix of professional art by Denis McCarthy and Stefan Poag, maps and some amateurish drawings by Gábor Lux, and a few public domain pieces. As usual, Gábor ignores the time-old convention of grids, a stylistic choice that will probably drive some people crazy.

The first article is Bazaar of the Bizarre, a d100 chart for generating the nature, persona, wares, and the latter's complications for a mechant. It's full of evocative ideas, and baroque vancian language - the latter meaning you might have to look up some results in the vocabulary. But rolling speaks more than talking about what's on the table, so let's generate some traders!

  • An arrogant, dreamy drunk is selling glass panes, at reduced price, as a form of penitence.
  • A flamboyant, gaunt maid is selling noble titles, on brink of insolvency.
  • An oleaginous aesthete is selling jewelry, with certification, everything must go.
  • A hypnotised crusader is selling souls, to fulfil a prophecy.
  • A deranged dervish is selling secrets, from a demon dimension.

Okay, this is pure gold. I can see myself using this table in the future.

Next page is a small chart and a few sentences about generating caravans and caravan goods. Short and useful. Under them are a few paragraphs about the system used and how the fanzine's assumptions are different. Moving on!

The Singing Caverns is an adventure for levels 2 to 4. This a relic from Gábor's Wilderlands campaign, with serials filed off - the titular caverns were originally a cave system under Haghill. In 15 digest pages you get a two level dungeon with 49 rooms, two maps, and some illustrations. That's no small feat, and it's mostly thanks to Gábor's style. There is no bullshit, no fillers: you get straightforward, but evocative descriptions, with the most important parts even highlightet by bolding.

The dungeon itself has plenty of interesting sections to explore, including a tavern, a bandit hideot, a wizard's lair, ancient baths, mushroom caverns, an underground glade, the lair of mossmen, and the den of the Beekeeper. There is a lot of opportunity for roleplaying thanks to the large cast of interesting NPCs who aren't necessarily hostile. One notable exception is the Beekeeper, who is an insane druid turned into a Jason-like indestructible serial killer that's followed by swarms of bees. He either ignores others, or murders them, takes them back to his den, then conserves their corpses in wax. The dungeon isn't heavy on fighting though, the focus is more on exploration and interaction, for which it provides plenty of weird places, graffitis, and objects to tinker with (which is all fun and games, until someone dies).

Philtres & Dusts is three pages of alchemical substances - dusts, potions, bombs, oils, prices included. Included are a dust that makes the dead talk (and has a 1 in 6 chance to resurrect them as vengeful wraiths), various colorful essences that have different effects and can be mixed to turn into another kind of essence, and a potion that torments the liars. Good stuff, it's well worth adding them to your loot tables.

Red Mound is a small adventure site: the burial cavern and altar protected by the Red Men, who won't go further than the lowest sacrifical chamber. This place focuses on exploration and interaction too: all the PCs can encounter here are giant scorpions and giant fire beetles. The real danger here is a glasslike two-handed sword +3 held by a giant's skeleton, and the altar on the top. The former is a cursed item that punishes weakness, cowardice, and losing it, but can shoot heat rays from its blade once the curses are broken. The latter can cause insanity, but those of strong will get a visit later by Mnoyór of the Colour Eye Cannot Behold, an alien god that grants cool powers, including the ability to summon invisible primaeval slime at the low price of sacrificing 44 victims to it fortnight.

Morale & Men is a short ruleset for finding retainers and handling morale. It's short and solid, and the mention of "Bledsawian level demographics" made me chuckle.

The Mysterious Manor is an adventure for levels 2 to 4. Knowing Gábor's obsession with manors I wasn't surprised seeing one pop up in the fanzine. Much shorter than the Singing Caverns, this adventure introduces a three level dungeon with 23 rooms on 9 pages. The house originally belonged to a now extinct family, but currently it is guarded by goblins, orcs, ogres, hell hounds, all in service of the pirate captain Saydir the Kassadian (a level 8 fighter you don't want to mess with). While there are only a few encounters here again, two of them is huge and best avoided, especially at the recommended levels. Hidden treasures, inscriptions, and devious traps await the adventurers, particularly those who descend to the haunted tombs.

The booklet ends with two pages of more unkeyed maps, and an advertisment of Helvéczia.

Don't let the small size fool you: this baby is jam-packed with actually useful articles. The Singing Caverns alone are worth the price and provide more adventure in raw hours than most OSR products or DMs Guild shovelware out there! Echoes From Fomalhaut does not try to distract you with pretentious art, juvenile crap, boring rants about days long gone by, or any other kind of useless nonsense. It wants you to play, and gives you some sweet tools to do that.

The modules credit their playtesters.

Tl;dr: The first issue of Echos From Fomalhaut delivers a good amount of GM-friendly content, and does that efficiently. You can buy it in the EMDT store in print or on DriveThruRPG in pdf.

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