Friday, September 29, 2017

Furt Digs Into Tequendria: Fantastical Roleplaying by Scott Malthouse.

Well, here goes nothing. I've decided to try a sporadic series of reviews that don't actually use a rating system or come with any kind of deep, profound experience with the subject material at hand. I just really like whatever I've found, and I wanna share it with others.

As my first random not-review, I've chosen Tequendria: Fantastical Roleplaying by Scott Malthouse, published by Trollish Delver Games. It is a Pay What You Want PDF with the very forgiving suggested price of $3 USD. I picked this book up from the DriveThru a couple of months ago for $1, because that was literally all I had left in my bank account at the time. But after having read through it, I will absolutely go back and do justice to the product.

Tequendria is a world of weird fantasy inspired by the writings of the equally weird Lord Dunsany. If that name doesn't ring any bells, he was an early influence on the writings of HP Lovecraft. If that name doesn't ring any bells, I don't know what to say to you. While certainly not dark or cosmically horrific in any way, it's a quirky sort of fantasy with its roots in the pre-Tolkien world of fiction and poetry. There are many small gods with odd jobs throughout the world, travelers and outlanders are strange curiosities, and the grand, cosmic scheme of things rests upon the long but finite slumber of the Dunsanian over-god, MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI

(Here's where I give my major complaint about the setting given the established willingness to include Dunsanian deities: there is a distinct lack of Skarl the Drummer, who is my favorite being from The Gods of Pegāna. Other than that tiniest of obsessive quibbles, all is good.)

It's a world where magic is uncommon and sometimes untrustworthy. There are however ancient crypts to delve into and monster-filled wilderness to explore, and so the makings of a classic adventure as we might know it do present themselves. Just don't expect to amass thousands of gold Shards according to level or have guaranteed magic items and +5 Weapons or Armor while doing so. The geographic regions and place names are all deliberately exotic in that old-timey and charmingly English sort of way, with perhaps my favorites being the Plains of Khartoov, and The Pits of Snood.

Mechanically, the game runs on the so-called Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying (USR) System. It is indeed simple, with characters being defined by a mere three attributes, skill bonuses called Specialisms, and the unique Ability and other background elements provided by the Character Archetype chosen upon creation.

The Archetypes available run a wide range of options that help to make each character feel like an outsider in their own world, such as Celador Knights who have taken a strict vow of silence, Long Wizards who stand at over 8ft tall and smoke copious amounts of crushed drake horn, or a lonely little Ember Goblin who just wants friends that don't die in lava.

Three guesses as to which is my favorite. The first two guesses don't count.

Non-combat challenges not dealt with via roleplay are done through Contested and Non-Contested Attribute Tests.

Contested tests involve two opposed actors, such as foot racers. Whoever rolls higher in an Attribute test, wins the test.

Non-Contested tests are for one actor and some force or obstacle which lacks agency, like climbing a gorge. Rather than beating another roll, the character tries to meet or exceed a Target Number, not unlike D&D rolls vs DC. Specialisms come into play here, providing bonuses to one's roll if it's the right type of action. There are no combat specialisms.

Combat functions like a series of Contested attribute tests, with combatants rolling defensively or offensively. The system takes several cues from D&D staples, such as the standard Movement Speed of characters being 30 feet, and being able to make Defensive maneuvers to get a small boost to attack avoidance that turn. But there are various situational modifiers which can complicate battle, such as having the higher ground or one combatant tripping the other. A list of Conditions exists as well, from the benign state of being in Cover, to being Hypnotized, Unconscious, or worse. 

When characters level, they gain hit dice and a bonus equal to 1/2 their levels for various combat rolls, with the exception of damage- the amount of Hits you'll be taking away from an enemy is almost always dependent upon your spell or weapon. This creates a situation where (in my imagination, not having played the game yet) low-level combat can be very lethal to those who are unwary of two d6 attacks in a row. At the same time, high-level play doesn't fall into the trap of combat being a long slog because of everyone having massive hit point pools and comparatively small means of damage. Players and monsters alike are capped at level 10, so death always remains a risk- even for the god or two detailed in the Creatures of Tequendria chapter.

Magic is decidedly unlike more mainstream RPG systems in that everyone casts from Hit Points. As I read through this section, I got both fond and terrible flashbacks to my time playing through the Sorcery! adventure book series by Steve Jackson Game's Fighting Fantasy property. Magic is also a lot more volatile, with casting failures being possible without any outside threats or distractions, though mercifully a fizzled cast doesn't drain your life. Critical casting failures are not so kind, however.

The PDF is 78 pages in total from cover to last page, though 24 of those pages are dedicated to a chapter on Selected Works of Lord Dunsany himself. There are three short stories included, and they each do an excellent job of adding to the feeling and themes of the book. For people who have never read anything Dunsanian and don't know up to that point whether the inspiration is genuinely there in Tequendria, these stories may serve to "legitimize" and confirm it.

I noticed that there were very few pages of nothing but text (aside from the stories mentioned above), as every few columns of information are broken up by small, thematically appropriate images. The 12-point font is standard and the spacing is good, making it difficult to skip over lines or accidentally reread something, if your brain is the type to do that (mine is).

The artwork in this book is quite a mix, but all of it is pleasant. Black and white sketch-styled pieces such as the cover image predominate, but there are also several muted or full-color illustrations throughout. They variously evoke the art styles of 1970s D&D manuals, 19th century watercolors, medieval tapestries, or Dante's Inferno engravings. I also spied a few pieces of modern and seemingly public domain art, such as one of a Flying Polyp (this game has Lovecraft references as well!). But whether the book is a mix of art sources or just very judiciously selected from the internet, it's well-put-together.

All in all, this book is quite nice, and a steal at the gentle asking-price of $3. I would highly recommend checking it out if Dunsanian fantasy is something you're interested in checking out for a small change of pace.

I also think that one could homebrew a pretty sweet Hyperborean campaign out of this, if more chilly and barbaric settings of a Clark Ashton Smith flavor are more to your liking.

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