Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Review: Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

Disclaimer: I am credited as a co-author of one of the articles in the zine, and I received an author's copy free of charge.

Gábor Lux, known as Melan on most tabletop gaming forums, is an author of great imaginative power. My first contact with old school gaming was his game Kard és Mágia (Sword and Sorcery), and his modules (in English mostly published in Fight On!) were of utmost influence for me back then. The first issue of this new zine, titled Beware the Beekeeper!, is a mixed bag of adventures, random tables, house rules, and miscellaneous goods.

The very first article is a d100 table to generate interesting merchants (with suitable descriptors, persona, goods, and complications). It may result in things like "a hungry justiciar selling slaves bearing secret identifying signs" or "a hypnotised explorer selling privileges at reduced prices" (both rolled just now). As it occupies the very first spread of the zine, it's very easy to just pick up and use whenever needed.

Then we find some simple rules for generating caravans (number of carts and guards, the type and value of the goods carried). Again, very universal. At the bottom of the page are laid out the systemic assumptions of the zine. There isn't much to discuss here. Knowing these assumptions make it very easy to decide whether one needs to adjust NPC levels and the value of treasure hoards, though.

The next article is the largest in the zine, detailing the Singing Caverns. There are a lot of things going on in this two-level dungeon: bandits, an orcish tavern, ancient graves, a potent magic tree, a crazy druid, etc. 49 areas in 15 pages (including the maps, illustrations, and prerolled - and unarranged! - hit points). Gábor aims for "good vanilla", and it is indeed some very sweet vanilla. The maps are drawn without grids, and they include a lot of connections between the levels. I tried to read the entries in the order a methodical party would encounter them, and that required some unnecessary page-flipping (but then again, the whole thing is only 15 pages). The total loot obtainable is a little below 9,000 gold pieces (including gems, jewels, and valuable goods), plus some magical stuff.

Then we get a handful of alchemical goodies, suitable for any laboratory or witch's brewery. Most of them are colourful reimaginings of already existing potions and spells, but my favourites are the so-called "essences" that come in a handful of varieties. They have very distinct uses, and they can be experimented with by mixing them together.

Next we find Red Mound, a 5-area location in the Broken Wastes. It's all abandoned and void of encounters (save for some fire beetles scavenging and giant scorpions hunting); very atmospheric. However, the party may find a powerful but cursed sword, a portal to wherever the referee deems it leads, and an altar, where a sacrifice might just grant something powerful.

Before the last adventure we have yet another short article, this time about hirelings and morale. The rules are translated from a Hungarian B/X variant called Kazamaták és Kompániák (Catacombs and Companies). Modesty dictates I say no more.

The last article is another low-level adventure location, a ruined manor now inhabited by goblins and orcs working for a pirate captain. The manor holds many secrets in its 23 described areas. There is significantly less treasure than in the caverns before (and most of the good stuff is very hard to get one's hands on). Still, most inhabitants, including the orcs, are not hostile by default, and the numerous 3D connections here again make it an interesting experience as far as exploration goes. Plus, through his lieutenant the party may get to be introduced to a powerful patron, which is always nice.

The POD and PDF versions are on their way, and so is the second issue (along with an unrelated adventure from the author, as well as a translation of his second game, Helvéczia). I do urge you to purchase the hand-stapled version, though, as it comes with a complimentary unkeyed city map printed on sturdy paper. Go get your copy here.

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