Raiders of the Serpent’s Sea: Player’s Guide

*Originally published at British Fantasy Society

After Greek Mythology, the Norse gods are probably one of the most well-known pantheons in human history. Of course, that includes the real-world history of northern European countries such as Sweden or Norway, and by extension, the Vikings All of this makes compelling material available to people seeking inspiration for their own games. With that in mind, Raiders of the Serpent Sea by Arcanum Press is a Nose-inspired 5e compatible mission that has a free player’s guide available now. What does that free player’s guide offer to the Norse-lore curious gamer?

To begin with, a decent amount of content is available. There’s a history of the setting called Grimnir, including world maps. Additionally, there are character options such as class archetypes for Rangers, Wizards, and Bards (oh my!),  new playable races (Wicker and Tallfolk), and even more beyond that. It would be entirely conceivable to think that this could become a resource in and of itself for people that wanted to make use of the world but didn’t want to commit to a larger campaign.

One observation though, Arcanum probably could have strayed a bit further from the source material to craft this world. It can be tough when borrowing from actual mythology and folklore, and it can be a fine line between determining too much and not enough of the actual lore. Players need something they can immediately relate to avoid reinventing the wheel. That being said, Arcanum could have at least tried changing the names such as of the gods they were referencing, such as Yoten and Hel. The cool, almost post-apocalyptic approach to the story is fun, but it’s too obvious where the original ideas came from. The setting and world are solid, but feel a bit less innovative than they could have been. 

For a free product, the Raiders of the Serpent Sea is fairly substantial. It’s something a DM for the 5e game could pick up and use for a campaign. There’s a lot of new stuff, but also some stuff that won’t look new at all. If you want to add a little Norse flavour to your campaign without drinking grog out of an animal’s horn, this could be a way to do it.

Bastard King of Thraxford Castle

*Originally published at the British Fantasy Society

As the sun sets over Thraxford Castle, the population carries on with their lives like nothing is amiss. The only catch is that everyone within a thousand feet of the castle is trapped within the confines of a powerful curse. Not for the faint of heart,  Bastard King of Thraxford Castle by Leyline Press, publisher of Shadows of Mogg,  is an adventure for mature  OSR fans. Players will send their characters into a gruesome castle populated by citizens that appear doomed to die and rise again over and over. 

Everything about this quest is saturated with the “old-school” spirit of role playing games. According to the website, the module takes inspiration from real life history, specific modules from D&D, i.e. The Lichway by Albie Fiore, and cult horror films. All of these things permeate the adults only quest from start to finish. Fans of throwback gaming will really appreciate this one and they really nailed the aesthetic and tone.

Unfortunately, the Bastard King appears to still be building the castle, so to speak. It’s missing a bunch of key elements such as a clear objective, rewards, NPC/foe stat block for more than a couple of random encounters, what level is it for, and so on. During the first read-through I’d thought it was a setting to be dropped into a campaign, but the website lists the product as an ‘adventure’ available through the publisher’s Patreon account. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, and in its current state  Bastard King of Thraxford looks incomplete. The potential for this adventure is high, but it isn’t yet realized because there are many holes in it. From its inspiration to the material that has already been elaborated upon, this quest has a fantastic grim and gritty atmosphere. When it’s complete, this could be a great module, but until then Bastard King of Thraxford Castle is just a pretty cool work-in-progress.

Conan: Shining Kingdoms – Sons of Vidarna

*Originally posted on the British Fantasy Society

Warring factions are a perfect foundation for conflict. Political rivals with a history of blood? Brilliant! This is the backdrop for Sons of Vidarna, a new Conan one-shot from Modiphius. This isn’t the Montagues versus the Capulets. This is Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and the stakes are a bit more savage. Player characters will be working for House Sattari investigating a vicious plot for revenge, requiring them to track down the scheming mastermind in order to conclude the quest.

This is a fair challenge for players of all experience levels. Everything is tightly woven together, and there are some notable characters with great stories populating this inexpensive module. What’s great about this adventure is that it is the kind of material that scratches that itch for something straightforward, grim, and gritty.

One of the main components of this module is the setting. Pretty much everything takes place in slums referred to as The Maul. What would have really made this quest better would have been to play up the environment even more. What else populates skid row in the world of Conan? An adventure like this one is an opportunity to introduce players to a place they didn’t previously know, and that would have helped Sons of Vidarna stand out more. 

As far as one-shots go, this one doesn’t break the mold, but that’s OK. It’s not necessary that every published product tries to recreate what’s expected. Sons of Vidarna is a tried and true formula that gives players a chance to trade blows with cutthroat thugs, explore harsh city streets, and uncover dark secrets. It would have been nice to learn more about the setting, but maybe it will be treated in future publications. This is a decent mission for a group that wants a “beer and pretzels” night at the gaming table. Kick in a door, punch first, ask questions later, and have some fun. If that sounds good, then perhaps your next game night is sorted. 

Le Voyage Dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès (1902) – Silent film as inspiration

It never ceases to amaze me how much is available in the public domain. Volume alone is enough to be a topic of discussion, but some of the actual works are themselves part of the respective canons. Do not fear the public domain! It is your friend.

It’s also a fantastic place for entertainment and inspiration. Take for example the silent science-fiction film Le Voyage Dans la Lun (A Trip to the Moon) by Georges Méliès (1902). It is firmly in the public domain, and available via numerous websites. (Embedded below for your convenience.)

The story of the film is that a group of scientists, that look suspiciously like wizards, launch themselves to the moon in a giant bullet, explore the terrain, fight some aliens, and then go home. What’s not to love?

Since there’s no sound you can imagine the actors saying whatever you want. I would love to run a “Caption this!” campaign for this movie, and I suspect the submissions would be fantastic. Overall, it’s only twelve minutes long, but well worth your time, especially if you like genre fiction. After seeing the movie in it’s entirety, it’s hard not to see influences and references to this classic piece of cinema all over the place.

It’s place in history is cemented, but as a piece of art it’s easy to see how old it is. The whole time I watched it, I had the impression I was watching a piece of theatre. Everything was always facing the camera. The sets and special effects look to have been made as if they were for a stage production, but not film as we would imagine it being in our current day and age. Don’t forget, that movie is over 100 years old. Cinema was brand new back then, and it was essentially a completely new and innovative way of telling a story. Everyone was still habituated to live theatre, but it was clear that there was an understanding that film was a new way of telling a story.

Personally, I think this is great stuff. It’s easy to understand the story and has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Cinema as a medium has clearly evolved beyond this, but it’s hard not to appreciate the influence something like this had. What’s more, it’s a quality production. They made an effort to create this film. Even contemporary B-movies can look low budget compared to Le Voyage dans la Lune. The creativity is great, and most importantly, you get the sense that the people involved were having fun.

For gamers, this is a story that could easily be used at the gaming table, probably even beyond just a one-shot. With D&D releasing Spelljammer for 5e, an old film like this is the kind of “old ways meets new mays” that would serve a science-fantasy campaign well. This classic piece of film is just one more reason to consider turning to the forgotten gems of yesteryear.

It really isn’t easy to take inspiration from something like this. Imagine how people felt when they were inventing the first airplane, or first realized international communication was possible. The prospects for something like that are immense. Take a moment and reflect on the immense joy someone might feel after successfully flying to an extraterrestrial body such as the moon or Mars. The sheer euphoria of actually being able yo say, ” I did it!” must be incredible. Meeting alien lifeforms? Fleeing captivity and a successful return voyage home? All of it is great stuff. Creators in any medium can draw upon this absurd old sci-fi movie and themselves dreaming up ideas for their own new works. At least that’s how I feel.

Star Trek Adventures IDW Year Five Tie-In

*Originally posted on the British Fantasy Society

What happened after the original Star Trek was cancelled three years into its five-year mission? As the introduction explains for Star Trek Adventures IDW Year Five Tie-In, there is a space that was never really filled in between the original show’s last episode, and the first movie. Attempting to explain that gap, publisher IDW created Year Five for the Star Trek comics, and now Modiphius brings that content to the Star Trek Adventures Role-Playing Game.  

It might not be Star Trek’s official canon, but this book is all about providing new options for players. Something that is specific to this particular supplement is that some of the art looks like it was taken from, or inspired by the comics. The effect gives this a slightly different aesthetic than other books in the Star Trek Adventures line, making it stand out a little. 

It is a very short supplement, offering two new factions, Aegis and the Originalists which could be used for very compelling missions. There are also three new life path options, I’Qosa, Iotians, and Tholians, as well as non-player characters, including Gary Seven, a character that did appear in the original series. Finally, there are new vehicle options. That’s a fair amount of stuff in about two dozen pages.

Unfortunately, being familiar with the comics might not be necessary but may help. Not knowing the storyline developed by IDW might leave one feeling a bit lost. It would be information but without much context. 

As a concept, this is a great idea. There is a gap in Star Trek’s timeline that was never filled in. As Modiphius works around that gap, IDW created a way to fill in the missing time. Having this supplement bridges that empty space in Star Trek’s history, and offers a clean continuity for other supplements. 

Additionally, this proves that there is material that can be re-adapted to the game line beyond the television shows and movies, although it probably helps if players are familiar with what is being re-created. Star Trek is a multi-media franchise, and there is a rich tradition of material that can be drawn from by Modiphius to expand the game. Moving beyond the large and small screens makes sense, and hopefully, Modiphius publishes more books like this one.

Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20: Operation Falling Crystal

*Originally posted on The British Fantasy

In strategy, there’s a saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend…”, but is that true? Operation Falling Crystal for Achtung! Cthulhu 2d20 by Modiphius pushes player characters into a difficult position, forcing them to make tough choices. If that wasn’t tricky enough, this mission features the mysterious Mi-Go, as well the threat posed by the Nazi occult division Nachtwölfe. Alsom, this time, the Second World War comes to the shores of the United Kingdom. Are the players prepared to stave off the threat?

On its surface, this is a very simple mission. The PCs simply need to go to excavation to ensure that a supply of blauer crystal is secured and made available for study, all within Britain. You’d even save money on petrol getting to the action! Almost seems like a vacation compared to the horrors taking place on the continent, right? The reality is much more complicated, and the PCs are going to find themselves facing challenging foes and tougher choices. 

Those choices are what make this an interesting adventure. Rather than force the characters into a combat-intensive scenario, the mission veers off in another direction. What’s more, PCs will reap what they sow, so to speak, and the PCs must choose wisely. 

What might not sit well is that the decisions players make about how their characters proceed in this mission can have a profound effect on it. This isn’t even about the rewards at the end of the mission, although those may be impacted as well. How events play out can become exceptionally difficult based on the choices players make, maybe even killing off PCs. This feels a bit like railroading, although it won’t be obvious until the mission is over. There’s one clear objective, but there are a couple of different paths towards that goal.

All in all, this mission offers a very clearly presented one-shot. It’s definitely playable in a single session and offers a respectable mix of action and ethics. This would be quality material for a variety of players, regardless of their experience. Adding the oft-forgotten Mi-Go to the action gives this mission a slightly different feel from other Lovecraftian stories, even among other content available for A!C. Players will need to carefully weigh the outcomes of their actions, and be prepared to suffer potentially nasty consequences in order to win the day.