If you are reading this blog, you are on the outskirts of a phenomenon called the “OSR” or “Old School Revival” (or the R might stand for Renaissance, depending on who you ask). The OSR is not really movement and the only real unifying principle I see is that it is an intersection of do-it-youselfers (DIY) & players of older games (“old school”). So the point is that while the OSR might not have much in common on the particulars of their game table, there is an inordinate number of people in these circles who are publishing their own stuff. It’s mainly the ease of self-publishing that made the OSR possible. Anyway all that preamble is just to get around to saying that I’ve had the pleasure of helping out on a few projects and one of the ones I’ve gotten the most use out of was an innovative little module/rules-lite game called “Out where the buses don’t run,” a free horror game/module written by Dylan Hartwell, aka The Digital Orc. Since then he’s been steadily releasing inexpensive but highly imaginative modules for D&D and D&Dish rpgs. The latest is an ambitious booklet called “Verloren : the rufescent and the atramentous.” (Yes, I had to look those words up. I’m not convinced it sounds better than Verloren : the red & the black, but then again he’s probably trying to avoid giving a false impression that this is a setting based on Stendhal’s novel.)
Anyway I say it is ambitious because it sketches out a city of 200,000 and its environs, all ripe for looting and the doom of foolish adventurers. He knew better than to try to give a detailed key of city such size; instead we have reasonably short summaries of key people, places, and things. No description of the market district and how many fishmongers there are vs. cheesemongers nor a list of inns. Just important stuff you couldn’t pull out of the air like cults and factions and how they might come into conflict and how those conflicts might involve the PCs. Similarly there are some adventure hooks, again with just enough to get the wheels turning, a handful of places outside town that will certainly be monster-haunted, and nine new monsters. About half the monsters look like stuff I’d use in any D&D and half are more setting specific, but all are interesting and/or disturbing.
In other words the booklet has just enough fluff to give the DM a mental image of the place and just enough meat for several sessions of gaming. After you use some of the hooks and get the players “into” the setting, a competent DM could run with this for a long time. Should the PCs succeed in freeing the city, it would make a nice base for further explorations.
The big picture is that the once-mighty city of Verloren underwent a mysterious catastrophe that has isolated it and placed the city under the yoke of a hidden, and horrible, master, that the players might identify and might figure out how to defeat and might save the city from. It says it is for characters level 5-14, which is quite a range but basically communicates that the mission is fairly grand and it may take a lot of ingenuity, or serious firepower, or some combination of the two to solve the problem.
The challenge is that using the city as written will require introducing a large, lost city to your campaign. I assume most D&D campaigns would be able to accommodate this but it might not jibe too well with a standard vanilla published setting. Even so, the threat Verloren faces could be focused instead on some city in your game world. If you are creative and clever enough to run D&D, you should be up to the task. The only question is, would you enjoy shipping your player characters to a lost, isolated city for an extended adventure cut off from the regular campaign world. It sounds like a winner to me, but then again my campaign has characters exploring the dream world and the moon alongside ‘regular’ dungeons and a pit that may lead to hell itself, so maybe I am just more open to this sort of thing than usual.
Dylan very generously sent me — with no strings or expectations for a review, let alone a good review — a hard copy. It’s a stapled digest of just 30 pages, counting the cover as it includes maps. Dylan illustrated the thing himself, and he does a decent job there; if some of the illustrations are rough, they do have a very consistent feel to them of darkness and doom. At just $4 as a pdf (or $5 for a print copy) it is a good buy. Dylan is clearly getting better and better at layouts and design and his editor, thank dog, was not me! Stop by the Digital Orc for more info.