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Mad Monks of Kwantoom
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/14/2018 04:52:06

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive setting-supplement/adventure clocks in at 229 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial/introduction/ToC, 5 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement leaving us with 219 pages of content. The pages are laid out for 6’’ by 9’’, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper, should you choose to print this out and have sufficiently good eyesight.

This review was requested by one of my patreons.

Soooo…oh boy. Where to start? This is the second supplement by Patrice Crespin that can be used as a GM-less solo-adventure/campaign, so that would be the first use of the book. The basic formula of the engine of playing the game sans a GM, the best and most impressive aspect from “Ruins of the Undercity”, has been retained – here, the city is the eponymous Kwantoom, while the dungeon would be the 1001 Pagodas of Death. Since I already covered the mechanics and design-paradigms of GM-less playing in my review of aforementioned book, I am not going to bore myself or you by just repeating the same information with filed off serial numbers. Suffice to say, it works, from an engine stand-point, and admirably so.

That being said, the Ruins-book did suffer from a lack of distinct identity, details and usefulness beyond its procedurally-generated dungeon-aspirations.

I honestly did not expect this book to go to such lengths to change that. Mad Monks of Kwantoom does sport, again, like ruins, a single page of background, but proceeds to provide a potential for adaptation to a more Western medieval environment. As before, we assume Labyrinth Lord as the default rules-set – but this is where the similarities frankly end.

You see, this book, beyond its solo-play options, also doubles as basically a massive Oriental Adventures-style sourcebook for LL. This includes no less than 5 races: Bungayas, Kappas, Kitsunes, Tanukis and Tengus are covered – all with proper ability score modifications, minimum scores, level caps – the old-school gaming staples you expect. This would also be a good place to note that, yes, the red annotations are back – however, this time around, they actually are genuinely funny in many instances, providing a tongue-in-cheek commentary that made me smile time and again. Balance-wise, I have no complaints regarding the respective races and how they are presented.

A total of no less than 7 variant classes can be found in the book as well. If you don’t meet the minimum requirements, you just get them when using this in solo-play – and no, the monks don’t need to be lawful. They’re mad monks, after all! The variant monk provided clocks in with Str 12, Dex 15 and Wis 15 as requirement, and Wis as prime requisite. They get d4 HD and have a maximum level of 17. They do get a couple of restrictions and may deflect even magic and they even get a short-rest like, limited HP replenishment 1/day. When fighting without weaponry, they choose one of 8 martial styles, which modifies abilities, damage and AC. And yes, standard monk is still possible. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 12th level provide unique abilities. All in all, the variant monk is a potent class as far as LL is concerned, but sports a surprising survivability and is fun and more precise than what I expected. I really like the fact that it sports some player agenda.

Fakirs would be ascetic monks who get limited cleric spellcasting at higher levels, as well as gaining control over weight etc. Kabukis are…well kabuki-ish monk performers. We also get notes on ninjas, ronin monks and shapeshifters (who later gain limited magic-user spellcasting), while swordmasters/kensai are basically the weapon-using monks. The rules-language for these variant classes (if you’re familiar with new school games, think of them akin to PFRPG’s archetypes in that they modify the rules-chassis of the class) is pretty precise and allows for a sufficient amount of choice and differentiation, which is really neat. Advice on increasing the power of monks, if desired, is btw. provided. We also get notes on multiclassing as well as a brief FAQ regarding these new rules-components.

Now, I’ve claimed before that the structure of this book is akin to “Ruins of the Undercity”, and while this is true, it is at the same time an imprecise generalization. You see, the city of Kwantoom is actually much better in differentiating its sections – it is not abstract to the same point: You choose a district, check for encounters and events, check search chances for shops, availability, recruiting and then rinse and repeat, as required. So yes, we’re actually differentiating between different subsections of the city, which contributes a lot to making the city-section feel more organic, alive, and less redundant. In short: The replayability is not simply based on generic set-pieces, there is simply more soul here. And yes, we get a full-color map of the city. The scope is also different: There simply is much, much more going on per district. This goes to the point where, honestly, this makes for a great setting supplement for dressing in Oriental Adventures-style settings. Similarly, returning for leveling also includes notes on purchasing houses, etc. and 20 different special events that may happen upon returning to the city, making the experience more modular.

In fact, this unique and intriguing component of the pdf, the honestly interesting quality of a sourcebook, also extends to the magic items. For example, there are 4 unique crickets. Yes, crickets. Yes, live crickets. There also are 6 different magical fortune cookies. And jasmine bows. Magic masks and puppets…so yeah, this is amazing. Honestly, I’ve seen a TON of WuXia-themed gaming sourcebooks, but the focus on unique ideas here is amazing and I’ve seen most of these item classes never before. So yeah, impressive. Now, it should also be noted that the book introduces lucky charms – no less than 100 of them. They have a break condition, and when a character violates it, they cease to function. Moreover, they can take a multitude of shapes – a table of 25 entries, with sub-entries, ensures that lucky charms will remain unique and engaging.

Now, as far as the exploration of the basically infinite, procedurally-generated dungeon goes, it does follow the same paradigms as Ruins of the Undercity – we get starting geomorphs (12, this time around), monster matrix, and tables upon tables to determine chambers, corridors, etc. – so the structure per se is different. However, there are two crucial differences that adds an impressive amount of unique character to the dungeon as you generate it. The first of these would be the massive Wah Tung Match Co. monster manual: The aforementioned company created cult classic, colorful renditions of monsters and characters on their matchboxes – no less than 48 unique creatures are provided for select pictures taken from these, all sporting pretty detailed background information.

The section on personal goals for characters has been greatly expanded, and we once more get a table f quirks and former backgrounds. There is more that sets this apart from its predecessor, namely the fact that we actually do get a secrets-chapter. This chapter contains basically exciting boss-encounter/special rooms – some of which sport subtables, while others significantly modify the sequence of events encountered thereafter. This chapter provides some really cool components, and builds on the gloriously weird angle some of the entries sport.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good – apart from a few minor hiccups, I noticed no serious glitches, with rules-integrity being surprisingly concise for the amount of content provided. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with red annotations and is printer-friendly. The full-color cartograhy of Kwantoom is nice and the use of the Wah Tun matchbox pictures for monsters is genius and flavorful. Big kudos there. The pdf comes with nested bookmarks, though they could be a bit more detailed. I can’t comment on the print-version, since I do not own it.

Patrice Crespin’s Mad Monks of Kwantoom make good of the promise of “Ruins of the Undercity” – the book is an actually engaging GM-less solo-adventure, courtesy of the amazing backdrop, the bonkers ideas, gonzo components and vast amount of internal differentiation options. The book doesn’t become redundant and the unique secrets and more detailed goals help further to make this work as an engaging module.

Beyond that, the book actually manages to excel at being an amazing GM toolkit for old-school Oriental Adventures as well. Instead of just retreading the same old tropes, the book takes the high road and embraces the gonzo aspects of the mythologies and its tropes, succeeding in actually providing a distinct voice that goes beyond a simple retread of the same information we’ve seen time and again.

In short: This is somewhat of an “eierlegende Wollmilchsau” – an egg-laying wool-milk-pig; if you’re not familiar with the German expression, it’s used to denote a non-existing über-animal that serves all functions. This book is just that and works surprisingly well on many levels: The variant monks and races should work sans snafus in all LL-campaigns; the monsters are unique and the magic items creative. The tables and dungeon-generation aspects can be used by a GM for random dressing and loot and the secret-section basically provides set-piece encounters. Kwantoom as a city is also interesting – in spite of mostly existing in tables and stuff that happens. In short, no matter how you look at this book, it delivers.

It also manages to secure its own flavor and identity, which is another big plus. In short: This is an inspiring book well worth the asking price. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mad Monks of Kwantoom
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Ruins of the Undercity
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/08/2018 04:29:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is a toolkit for GM-less, solo-gaming that clocks in at 74 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/introduction, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 68 pages of content. It should be noted that pages are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, which means that you can fit up to 4 pages of content on a given sheet of paper when printing this – provided, your sight’s good enough, that is.

This review was requested by one of my patreons.

All right, so, this is a GM-less solo-adventure generator, which means that the only target demographic, the reader, will be also the one who’ll experience the potential SPOILERs…and that puts me, as a reviewer, into a bit of a conundrum. If I discuss the details of the adventure itself, I will automatically SPOIL it….but at the same time, I can’t just discuss this in broad strokes. Thankfully, this is not just a solo-adventure per se – it is not a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience; instead, it basically acts as a kind of DIY-procedural-generating dungeoneering experience, where the single player and rolling the dice replace the random generation methods that would usually be taken over by, for example, a CPU.

This means that the supplement is pretty much defined by a ton of random tables for monster, trap, magic effect generation, etc. - these represent an alternative use of sorts – even if you’re not interested in GM-less solo-gaming, you may well derive some use from them. Now, rules-wise, this supplement employs Labyrinth Lord as a default, which is, for once, also the system I’d strongly recommend that you use for the supplement, at least when using it as intended. Why? Even minor modifications of the simple base engine can lead to more work on behalf of the player, and you’ll be rolling a lot of dice.

All right, that out of the way, the supplement assumes the backdrop of Cryptopolis – a total of one page is devoted to describing this backdrop, depicting a sprawling metropolis on the desert sands, with sunken civilizations and tombs below – this section is inspiring, but also unfortunately very brief, which taps into one point of criticism I have regarding this supplement – but we’ll return to that later. This backdrop also influences the magic items that can be found in the city and in the dungeon – magic babushs and turbans as well as artifacts tie into the per se interesting, if painfully sparse, lore. While the formatting of these items is per se precise, it does sport a few cosmetic deviations from wording standards, though none that per se influence rules integrity. In a somewhat odd decision, red notes in an unusual font are provided here and there and throughout the pdf as annotations of sorts – specifying, for example, that a magical scimitar that allows you to fight underwater sans penalty doesn’t help you actually breathe underwater. Whether you mind that this is not included in the rules language of the item per se or not, depends on your preference.

Now, running solo requires some considerations: You first calculate AL (Average Level): You add up all character levels, divide by 3 and round up. Multiclass characters multiply their level by 1.5, rounding up. Final results below 1 are treated as ½. Beyond the AL, character progression is pretty simple, so creating characters of higher levels is not difficult.

The ingenious and smart decision here, though, would be the routine: You establish a routine for “In the City” and “Into the Ruins” – the first routine handles city crawling, equipment purchases and selling, the second dungeon exploration. Here, we determine marching order, resting, etc. In the adventure log (sheet provided), you’ll note down e.g. detecting etc. – this is very important, for putting things down on the log prevents you from cheating and randomly determining who is hit by attacks etc.

Now, the city time comes with a randomly-determined time spent covering shops etc. and finding equipment, with a massive array of tables. 20 different city events and encounters can be found, though the respective set-up for them is pretty bare bones.

In the dungeon, a total of 6 mini-geomorphs to start off exploration are provided, and from there on out, we roll on the main table: We can get corridors, doors, chambers, stairs, dead end or wandering monsters – these all point to their own subtables. Doors, for example, can be 5 different types; 3 door locations can be found and we get 4 spaces beyond doors. In corridors, we have an illumination subtable, which btw. is not found for chambers per se. That being said, whether or not you roll on all of these tables depends on your own preferences; the strength of the system as presented is the fact that you can pretty seamlessly expand all these tables. Traps can affect the first line, whole group or a single target.

The pdf also sports a full table of magic effects, and there are a lot of different loot tables as well. Now, as far as monsters are concerned, this would be where the AL mentioned before comes into play: AL is compared to a matrix and thus determines the chance of the respective monster levels. If a monster is encountered in its lair, you roll on a different table, but on LL’s hoard class table. Monster tables for random encounters range from level 1 to 10. The entries refer to either LL’s books or the new critters herein. The more complex critters come with a sequence of default “AI instructions” – Death knights lead with fireball, follow up with power word: stun, etc. – if you’re familiar with how for example monsters work in e.g. Frostgrave, you’ll know how this works here. As a slight aside: I wished we got slightly more complex behavioral patterns here – or variations. While this would take up a ton of real estate, it could also render repeat encounters more versatile and less redundant. (1-3: Spell A; 4-6: Spell B…)

The pdf also contains some suggestions for character goals in campaign games as well as a massive table on character backgrounds and quirks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – not perfect, but really smooth, considering that this is the company’s freshman offering. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with usually color being only used for the annotations mentioned before. Pretty minimalist, but printer-friendly. The pdf sports a couple of artworks, but if you’re familiar with stock art, you’ll be familiar with the pieces herein. The pdf actually comes with moderately detailed bookmarks, though e.g. sub-sections like magic turbans etc. don’t get their own bookmark – in short, it’s better than no bookmarks, but not yet perfect, particularly considering the solo-gaming angle. I cannot comment on the PoD-version, since I do not own it.

Patrice Crespin’s “Ruins of the Undercity” is at once a resounding success and a failure. It is a resounding success in providing the means to generate a solo, GM-less playing-experience with the Labyrinth Lord rules and achieves its goals in that paradigm with a resounding success. It can also be employed to “learn” the procedures of adventuring on your own; while many supplements explain rules, there is an implicit methodology that veterans often forget, so yeah, there is definitely value here.

At the same time, if rated based on the merits as an adventure, I’d consider this to be a failure. Any good GM knows that the details and unique components are what makes an adventure stand out; the terrain, the stand-out rooms, the bosses…and while the module does sport a couple of intriguing items and artifacts and goals, it sacrifices the details in favor of general appeal and replayability…and is worse for it: While you can generate an infinite array of dungeon levels with this booklet, my issue is…that they become somewhat redundant, somewhat bland. The little bit of lore that is here, is actually really cool, but it’s too little to make the city or the dungeon really come to life, to engage me. Then again, I’m a sucker for stories and indirect storytelling, so if you don’t mind procedurally-generated dungeon-crawler games, then you’ll love this!

If not, however, then this will be basically a huge amount of tables that won’t bring you too much joy. Rating this, then, is a tough job. As a person, this did nothing for me, apart from honest appreciation for the chassis presented. As a reviewer, though, I do have to take into account that this may well be exactly what you’re looking for. If you are less spoiled regarding what you expect from solo-adventuring, or if you don’t mind expanding tables, then this may well be what you’ve been waiting for. Ultimately, though, I can’t bring myself to see this as anything but a mixed bag – mechanically and design-wise interesting, but a bit too generic for its own good. My official final verdict will hence be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
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Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival
by Eric F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/01/2017 09:58:59

"When omens portend ill fortune for the city, the priests call upon a Dragonboat Festival: a racing competition gathering swift boatmen from all over the continent. Their ancient chants call forth the powers of the undying, waking the Flower Liches from their distant graves. For a week, the liches roam the city freely, and oversee the race, taking the losing crews as tributes and sacrifices. Once the Dragonboat Festival is finished and the liches disappear, the city's prosperity is magically replenished, and all the monetary wealth the citizenry had before the festival — player characters included — is doubled."

I was recently sent a copy of "Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival" From Kabuki Kaiser is both adventure & setting resource book that can be dropped into your home campaign. The adventure channels as much of the Wuxia ghost vibe as it does the Asian pulp Dungeons & Dragons vibe as the author can pack into one of his efforts. This is an adventure that dips liberally from its sources & the warped imaginings of its author. Much like his Mad Monks of Kwantoom OSR campaign & setting book the mythological/pulp Asian world of P. Crespy Flower Liches presents a world & adventure that is both familiar & utterly new. In point of fact both of these products would work extremely well together. The artwork, lay out, & presentation is a bit different then other efforts of the author/designer, in this adventure everything dovetails into a seamless product that presents a world of the weird & very dangerous centeral to its setting. There are things to do, experience, and dangers ever present within '/The Flower Liches of The Dragon Boat Festival'. This adventure centers around the party circling and creating weirdness for the party to get themselves into all kinds of trouble.

If presentation is everything within an adventure then this one has some stunning writing, plots, and OSR artwork. The combination reminds me of a Saturday afternoon Kung Fu theater flick. Slick on its presentation and long on its adventure hooks! Everything is double downed on in this adventure from the Kung Fu action to the supernatural horror. Here's an adventure where the dangers to PC's pale in comparison to the weirdness infecting the adventure throughout. PC's are going to have their hands full and clocking in at ninety five pages there's plenty of dungeon and supernatural action to be had. This is a Labyrinth Lord adventure but it has the look & feel of a Lamentations of the Flame Princess line effort but without the lingering adult nonsense to get in the way of play. 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' is clearly easily adaptable to any OSR game. There is a sense of whimsy but deadliness about this adventure & it stands to reason that it would given the writer's passions for Asian culture & pop culture Kung Fu. The fact is that dungeon master has another full stop world book & source book in this adventure for a full South Asian style setting. This works as a set up for a full campaign starting city point in such a campaign. From hirelings to starting equipment 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' is clearly designed for such a purpose & very well designed to do this at that! 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' works with both Labryth Lord & The Advanced Companion in equal measure. The real strength of 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' lays in the fact that it serves as a fantastic source book for 'Mad Monks of Kwantoom'. In this regard its a great source book & add on for this or really any pulp Asian flavored style campaign setting. But it really fits into the world of 'Mad Monks'. Because of its mini game included the adventure has some solid replay abilities. The hirelings, background, encounters, etc. are all inductive of a popculture far East and it works. I can also see 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' being used for a post apocalyptic world such as Mutant Future in which cultures are looking to the 'Ancients' for their divine inspiration. The liches take full advantage of the gullible human fools & the result is the world spot lighted in this adventure/source book.

Another possibility that 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' could be used for a human centric land in 'Apes Victorious' where these humans have used the power of the liches to resist the onslaught of the advancing ape army. So adjustments will have to be made to use 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' with Apes Victorious. Another possibility for campaign use is to drop the setting of 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats' into 'Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition' whole sale again there is a bit of adjustment as a possible South Asia analog. For Sword & Sorcery play this is an excellent book & tool kit to add such a mix. In closing is this isn't a perfect to kit to add to the mix of campaign play for old school style campaign. It clocks in at ninety five pages & to tell the truth I wish there was a bit more fluff connective tissue with this book. There needs to be more here and it I want to know more about 'this' world and not simply use this book as another drag & drop book for campaign play. So in closing a solid four out of five for 'Flower Liches of the Dragon Boats'.

Eric Fabiaschi Swords & Stitchery Blog Want to see more support on this & other OSR products? Subscribe To https://swordsandstitchery.blogspot.com/



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival
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Ruins of the Undercity
by Dennis Z. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/09/2017 16:05:59

It's basically Appendix A from the AD&D 1e Dungeon Master's guide rewritten, possibly with more detail than you actually want. I would encourage you to provide the monster and treasure generation tables from whatever system you're actually using(Labyrinth Lord is the default system and it has you covered there) because what has been provided is rather minimal. Just enough to get you started. I should also say that I dislike the campaign setting but this is not an obstacle. Players will doubtless use their own imaginations so a detailed review of it is unnecessary. But the dungeon generation tables are just fine, although they could have been better arranged (print them and paste them together in a way that makes it easy for you.) Anyway, the price is right. So if a solo or GM-less dungeon crawl is what you want you should be able to get five bucks worth of game play from this product.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
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Castle Gargantua
by J.S.A. L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/18/2017 05:19:33

This is a wonderful little toolkit for building your own megadungeon, and I can say from personal experience that it works really well at the table to generate a dungeon on-the-fly. Some caveats: I would recommend reading the whole thing through first and being very familiar with the material. Also, there is a really nifty "roll all the dice" mechanic to generate each room, and that eliminates the problem of rolling on multiple tables. However, I would highly recommend using different brightly-coloured dice to make reading the results as smooth as possible.

From experience, it also helps to tell the players that the dungeon is randomly-generated ahead of time. Also: There is a great "snakes and ladders" worksheet that helps generate different-flavoured environments within the dungeon. I would print that out and put it in front of the players, so they can see the mechanics at work. It means breaking immersion slightly, but I believe it's worth it; showing players what's going on "under the hood" adds to the excitement at the table, and makes it clear that both the DM and the party are exploring the castle together.

Castle Gargantua has a very distinctive grim (Grimm?) gothic fairytale feel to it. It also makes reference to real-world locations and characters (e.g. the Duke of Parma, the Crucifixtion of Jesus(!), etc.). It's fairly trivial to strip that all that out and reskin it, however, and even the size of the dungeon could be modified relatively easily (just count each square as being 10 feet instead of 60 feet, and ignore all the stuff about gigantic enemies and furniture). However, it's obvious that Castle Gargantua would work best "out-of-the-box" in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, with the setting assumption of a pseudo-historical 16th century Europe. Nevertheless, as I said, it would be pretty trivial to run it in any old-school system, in any fantasy setting.

Finally, Castle Gargantua can be used away from the table to generate a dungeon room-by-room ahead of time, helping the DM to design the dungeon themselves. Seasoned DMs may not need this kind of structure, but novices will learn a great deal by going through the book this way. And the castle itself is so flavourful and distinctive that even an experience DM might appreciate chanelling their creativity through ideas that Castle Gargantua brings to the table.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Gargantua
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Ruins of the Undercity
by Michael R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/09/2016 22:40:19

This product taught me how to play d&d. Much more useful tutorial to the hobby than just reading rulebooks!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
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Ruins of the Undercity
by Daniel C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/08/2016 00:08:34

Ruins of the Undercity is a great module to use in a solo Labyrinth Lord campaign. The Undercity has plenty of old school atmosphere, particularly for a randomly generated dungeon. You can take the results of the dice rolls and use your imagination to make it your own unique Undercity.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
by Denis M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/07/2016 06:29:07

This was one of the first products I bought here and lead to my exploration of the OSR in general. While derivative of the random tables in the DMG, it expands them with flavor . This came to me at a time when I had no regular gaming group, and not only helped fill that gap, but lead to the successful creation of a long term online game revolving around a megadungeon. The tone is excellent, and I love the callbacks to the Fiend Highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Gargantua
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/22/2016 05:42:01

---- original review: http://dieheart.net/castle-gargantua/

This is a guest review by my awesome friend Claytonian! Enjoy!

Background

Castle Gargantua (hereafter CG), by someone that goes by the nom de plum of Kabuki Kaiser (real name in the work if you really want to know), is the self-proclaimed biggest mega-dungeon in the history of the OSR. Well, the size is much more an issue of the fiction than of anything that might be quantifiable if we compared the thousands of dungeons in the nebulous movement that is the OSR, but what I discovered in my read-through is that CG does represent something epic and interesting in scale, and it will most likely keep your players occupied for quite some time.

I have heard of the literary classic Gargantua, and even included a book about toilet paper substitutes as an homage to it in one of my own dungeons. However, I must admit to not being overly familiar with it, so I think some of the references included in CG will continue to go unnoticed by me until I read CG's appendix N. Any product with an appendix N is already ahead in my esteem, and CG has 10 works as recommended reading, including R.E. Howard's Red Nails and E.E. Gygax's Against the Giants. The product feels like it draws from a lot of sources, and, to its benefit, it comes across as a fairy tale straight out of the early modern period of European history.

CG doesn't really mention it on its RPGnow (Onebookshelf) page or inside its covers, but it really seems like it was written with Lamentations of the Flame Princess[^1] in mind, considering the setting details, but it could just be a bit of a coincidence considering the classic Gargantua was published in the early modern era. Whatever the intention, it would fit really well in an LotFP campaign, due to things like the languages and adult themes that pervade everything.

Usefulness

I had heard that CG was a good mega-dungeon generator, something that might even be used on the fly. How successful is it at those goals? I'd say it does a pretty fair job at such a gigantic task. The innovation is that CG has no set map (rather one will be generated by play if at all). Instead, there is a generator that is laid out much like a board game, but I'll try to not give away all its secrets. Suffice to say, the board tells you what section of the book to pull rooms from (there are four categories), and you improvise the little details based on the rooms. Rooms are peopled with combinations of monsters, weirdness, traps, and treasures, but only half the time. 50% of the room will be empty, save for furnishings, which might be of fantastic scales, but improvisation will be helped by thinking about the room's purpose.

The board includes tiles of a color that indicate special sections, and they each have an actual map, history, and denizens. As these are like small dungeon products on their own, a good GM will want to have at least one read ahead of time, so they can manage the game without slowing everything down.

There is a bit of concern that GMs might have to slow down to read individual monster, trap, and treasure entries outside of the special sections too, but the creativity of all of these things make the extra effort worthwhile. There are a lot of clever monster abilities and puzzles for the players to figure out.

One of the sections deals with the cruder aspects of human nature and has lots of sex and bodily functions mentioned. CG itself points out that most mentions of sex have been confined to just the one section, and you can skip it, but be wary of the occasional one outside of it, and know that you'll be triggered if you are the type of person that gets triggered by triggery things.

All things considered, you'll probably want to read all the entries for each section before you run it. That could take a lot of time, but as I said, it's a worthwhile endeavor. CG is filled with interesting things. I got a bit of the same vibe that I got when reading another OSR work, Deep Carbon Observatory, in the sense that there is a wistfulness to the things you are reading about. However, CG is far less personal in tone and thankfully has fewer typos.

The dice will also tell you useful things like when to add halls, stairwells, and more. All the usual polyhedral dice get employed in CG.

So I don't think it will be the fastest you've ever spun out a dungeon room at the table in real time, but good things come to those who wait. The innovations and creativity spun into CG make me really want to give it a go at the game table sometime.

Nitpicks

There are a couple typos. Nothing major, but one table (page 8) did have a result follow directly after it's preceding result without a new line to denote it.

There are some descriptions that carry over to a new page, but nothing confusing. The layout of the special rooms section is a bit confusing at a glance because what look like headings are actually subsections of the numbered paragraphs they follow. However, once you are aware of the format, it is no problem whatsoever.

The thing about flipping a coin to decide furniture sizes is a bit odd in a game where a die could decide things with equal probability.  I'm really just nitpicking now.

The vocabulary includes some old and obscure terms. The GM will probably want to look these up ahead of time and hope to remember what they mean. It would have been nice is some of them had parenthetical information. For instance, instead of just saying a guard is wearing a "morion", it could say "morion (helm)."

Aesthetics

The art is not really a selling point in my opinion. The text stands on its own, thankfully. In any case, art is subjective, and you can see how you feel about it on the RPGnow page, but <b>don't let it keep you away</b> if you don't like it. The art seems to be dispersed in a semi-random fashion. For instance, the image of porcine orcs appears six pages before they are detailed.  The special section maps will appeal to any fans of Dyson Logos' style, but they are, ironically, very concise things compared to the usual sprawling works he is known for. I'm happy to see them there, though!

The text and its layout are very pretty. It uses colors, sizes, and font choices that make it easy on the eye. I was able to read it all on my computer, and that is not usual for me. The dungeon generator board shares the color scheme but opts to have weird shapes for each of its sections. This seems to have no game function, and it just looks kind of silly in a faux-edgy kind of way. The room record sheets at the end are crisp and lovely looking, though.

Other Considerations

The text is probably not great for pre-teen DMs. Not just because of the sex, but also some of the hard to understand vocabulary for rooms and items. Well, I say that, but maybe our culture has too many hangups about sex and maybe kids could afford to learn ten dollar words every once in a while. Overall though, this is a product for a mature and self-sure GM that can handle lots of little processes.

Buy this if
  • You are looking for something that will surprise and delight you and your players for countless hours.
  • You are looking for a good, self-contained campaign with a cohesive theme and goal (let's get to the end and make Gargantua suffer!).
  • You are looking for LotFP, Against the Giants, and Dungeonland feels.
  • You are looking for the fun of a fun-house dungeon, but with the logic of a fairy tale.
  • You want to challenge jaded players bored by all the Monster Manual's usual fare.

[^1]: It does suggest Labyrinth Lord and LotFP as exemplars of OSR rules sets.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Gargantua
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Mad Monks of Kwantoom
by Ahimsa K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/28/2016 12:44:09

I haven't played this yet, but after a read-through it is an entirely creative and inspiring supplement. I will roll up a few characters as soon as I get a chance, which for me is always the mark of an engaging game.

It looks great. The art is rad (though the cover to my eyes isn't quite as awesome as the rest) and it's put together well. I like the comment font a lot, it's a neat way for the writer to really clarify and emphasize key points. I played Oriental Adventures again a few years back and while it was fun, this would have been so much more epic.

If I have a complaint, it's that it feels much more faux-Asian than truly Asian. No Korean Old-Boy weirdness or Burmese political shenanigans. But that's not the point of this book and I'm not really blaming it for that.

The solo adventure looks like a lot of fun. And the monster manual alone is worth the price of admission. I'll definitely add a few of these to my random encounter tables.

As a final note, the Adventure Island module blurbed in the back looks very promising.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mad Monks of Kwantoom
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Castle Gargantua
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/27/2016 07:49:22

Excellent production value, design and writing. The game offer you a randomly generated and ever changing MEGA dungeon and totally deliver it. Generating the dungeon on the fly while playing also work well and better than the previous books of the same collection. Castle Gargantua contain a meta map and several special encounters maps, naturally since you randomly generate the dungeon you will have to map the rest of it yourself (work as intended). The themes are dark but this is included in the description. Quite a inspiring product.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Gargantua
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Castle Gargantua
by Eric H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/27/2016 05:35:23

+Kabuki Kaiser has hit it out of the park again with the latest release of Castle Gargantua. Castle Gargantua builds on some of the mechanical ideas of procedurally generated adventuring that were featured in Ruins of the Undercity and The MadMonks of Kwantoom, although neither of those are required to use this product to the fullest.

The book is written for Labyrinth Lord or Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules but is generic enough that it could be used as is, or easily converted, to any OSR rules system. I personally think this would make a terrific Dungeon Crawl Classics setting as well.

Where Castle Gargantua departs from the previous works is that this time the sourcebook is intended to be used by a standard group of players with a GM. Of course, as the author contends you could run this with a solo group with little in the way of conversion. All of the tools are presented to organically develop an adventure that has the ability to surprise both players and Judge alike!

The setting for these mechanics is the eponymous Castle Gargantua, a giant magical castle of unknown origins that changes for each group that dares venture through its corridors and chambers. There are some general themes that tie the whole structure together, including guardians, beginning entry points and the sometimes giant structure of the place. For instance, instead of the standard 10' square, a grid square is assumed to be 60', creating a rather large adventuring environment.

All parties begin able to enter through the giant front doors of the fortress, but from there, things can go anywhere. Each time the party enters a new room the GM throws all the dice and consults a very concise and tight table that gives him the type of room, exits, contents, ambience and specifics on monster, treasure and, of course, weirdness. There is a meta tracker called The Big Picture, that gives the GM an easy mechanic to tie a cluster of rooms together with various themes such as Stone, Blood, Lust and Wine.

As if this wasn't enough there are also random Gold areas that can be encountered. A Gold area differs from the rest of the dungeon because they are mini adventure/lair areas that are completely stocked and ready to go. In fact, these can easily be pulled out of the implied setting and run as mini-dungeons, or plopped down into your favorite megadungeon.

I am no art critic, but I know what I like. and I like the art in Castle Gargantua. The cover is by Jeremy Hart who also does some interiors along with David Bouchacourt de Puytorac. The illos are clean and very evocative of the dungeon themes where they are presented. The cartography for the Gold encounter areas is done by the unparalleled +Dyson Logos .

The only negative I could say about Castle Gargantua is that it looks like it could play a little over the top with the weirdness, and that may not be a fit for every group out there. On the other hand, Kabuki does give advice on how to tone down some of the more adult themes that can present themselves, and those same restraints could easily be applied to tone down the weird.

Full disclosure; I received a gratis .pdf copy of Castle Gargantua but ordered the premium color hardback on my own dime cuz it is that good!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Seven at One Blow
by Terry O. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/27/2016 01:07:41

I come to this review from a Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) perspective. One of the features of DCC is its zero level funnel, where peasants roll the dice of fate (i.e., adventure) to see who dies, and who emerges a lvl 1 hero. Seven at One Blow takes an alternative view of this feature, but devotes more attention to it. This is an entire gaming system (with DCC influences, hence a chapter called "The Funnel of Doom") and an adventure. What I like is that it cohesively stitches together many ideas I see bubble-up repeatedly thought the rpg community: zero-level peasants, emergent abilities, classless PCs, and "old school" play.

Characters are classless zero levels, with only race, occupation, traits, and personality initially determined (just 4 items). Ability scores are emergent, rolled as needed. Situational resolution is handled by a roll-under ability score mechanic, generally referring to half the ability score unless the player can convince the GM that she's "skilled," the the full score is used (excellent chance for character development) There are injuries (crits) and fumbles, and a luck mechanic. The book provides a guide of converting any OSR system to this paradigm. Characters don't "level" through experience. Instead they can choose additional abilities, even very minor (non-DCC) deterministic spells, "cantrips" and "orisons", as well as abilities called "gests." In other words, there is no "level 1." One just becomes a more experienced peasant =). There is a section with advice on designing adventures, with useful tips whether you run this system or not. There's an excellent chapter of example play; this emphasizes many "old school" practices and is worth a read. Finally, you get a hex crawl at the end, packed with tables of plenty usable, and inspirational material.

Although it's pitched as a "Survival Horror Comedy Hack," it doesn't have to be that. The system is general enough to be high fantasy, low fantasy, etc. It's more of an alternate take merging together particular mindsets of play.

This is an excellent value and well worth your time. Buy it!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Seven at One Blow
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Castle Gargantua
by Don F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/26/2016 14:13:48

It's in interesting idea, but I didn't care of the actual implementation. I wanted more ACTUAL maps. I doubt I'll use this.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Castle Gargantua
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Seven at One Blow
by Eric F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/15/2016 20:22:39

There are games with a degree of old school comedy and a sort of dark fairy tale vibe to them; then there is the Seven At One Blow rpg. This game thrives on a dark comedic mess for an OSR retroclone system meaning that the system runs like a well oiled machine but it takes PC in very strange directions. This game takes every trope from D&D & turns it on its ear. This is a dark and very funny game on many levels. You play the ordinary guy whose thrust into a terrible and dark adventure, will you survive? This doesn't mean the game isn't fun by any means. This is a 'Pay What You Want' OSR retroclone gaming system. This game is perfect to play a pick up game as a beer and pretzels game on the weekend but its one that takes full advantage of those 80's comedies and 90's survival horror movies that plugs into the dark fairy tale aesthetic; "A survival horror comedy plug and play hack compatible with everything OSR, that you can play right off the bat.

SEVEN AT ONE BLOW is an OSR RPG hack in which the characters are always ordinary people cast into extraordinary situations. Because of this, the world is insanely cruel, and even the lowest monsters are creatures which seem to come straight from horror movies, possibly teenager action-horror movies. That would probably be the end of it if the characters weren't so lucky. They have this luck on their side, a perpetual beginner's luck that will help them escape the most desperate straits and let the situations explode into nonsensical hit and miss heroism." Try and imagine being in one of those classic fairy tale cartoons or movies. Now try to imagine that you as an ordinary person are trying to survive against the darkness of a D&D adventure with a twist. This is a dark comedy game with its heart and soul dedicated to having your PC's having a good time. They have several systems in the game such as luck, and other minor abilities that can aid you in surviving. The systems here are perfect for the sort of mucking about with things that are best left to adventurers and the like. Since they're not available well you and your lot will have to do. Everything is complete here from PC generation to fully realized to a setting sand box adventure straight out of the gate. This is a perfect game to get kids into an adventure campaign with some cartoon hijinks deep into world of high weirdness. This game excels at pre code cartoon weirdness and its fully compatible with other OSR games. Which means you could effectively run Tomb of Horrors with this game system with a little conversion. Here's what I love about Seven at One Blow, everything is right between the covers from PC set up to fully scored characters out the gate and it includes a great little sandbox adventure setting to boot. Also its compatible with Castle Gargantua for a whole campaign settings worth of adventures. What I really love about this game is that there wasn't a Kickstarter, endless internet commercials for it, or a ton of repeat OSR marketing. It has been simply published and its gloriously dark, fun, and works on so many levels. Want to play a game where your PC's are classic cartoon characters but cast in the roles of butcher, baker, and candle stick maker trying to survive against a witch, hag, vampire,etc. This is the game to use. The systems are well laid out, the play very intuitive, and the game design is sharp. Seven At One Blow comes just in time for the grim days of 2016 as a breath of funny and terrifying fresh air. Grab this one, I highly recommend it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Seven at One Blow
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