|Covers for Lands of Legends: Mundane |
©2021 Axian Spice
Publisher: Axian Spice
System : OSR / Mörk Borg
Lands of Legends are thus far is two sets (Grim & Mundane) of two zines. Each are presents a series of 10 locations and 10 encounters each for 10 different terrain types commonly used in Dungeons & Dragons. Making each issue 100 encounters or 100 Adventure locations; each described in a single paragraph. These are often completely System Neutral, but roughly a quarter of them have mechanics - usually saving throws - for an OSR game. They include the OGL5 license in the back of the 'zines.
The Mundane Volume is designed to set the baseline and format for the series. It's locations and encounters will fit in most Fantasy games, no matter what level of magic and fantasism you are using in your game. Most of the events and locations are at least plausible, if not real-life hazards and dangers that a person could stumble across on Earth, or a world very much like it.
The Grim volume is designed with Gothic and grimdark settings in mind. The Encounters in it tend to be Bleak, often full to the gills with body horror, curses, and genuinely horrific and bleak events. It is ideal for use with Mörk Borg* or Lamentations of The Flame Princess.
*I will confess to not yet owning a copy of Mörk Borg, it is going on my review wish list. I'm going to have to sell a lot of Adventures to be able to pick it up, though.
I've had my eye on lands of Legends for some time, as the project is crossed my Twitter feed once in a while. I have even used elements of the Grim Locations issue in one of my campaigns based on what I read in the demo on drive-thru RPG. When Giuseppe Rotondo offered me a copy of the full for review, I was absolutely ecstatic, and I am most definitely not disappointed! The sheer level of creativity that went into this Zine is staggering.
(Now I just have to get him to send me Aces High as well.)
What I Loved
I am an absolute sucker for a weird mimic encounters. I have been using mimics for all kinds of dirty tricks played on player characters since I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in 1986. And, I have used outsized mimics myself, but I am particularly fond of the encounters that use them here. Grim locations offers to impressive giant mimic encounters that stood out to me oh, the first being a mimic so huge it can no longer move that poses as part of a cliff face. The other is and in that appears in a place the characters who clearly remember did not have one before, and that is devoid of life. This is a huge mimic posing as an in in order to consume Travelers along the highway. Both standing ideas.
Many of the encounters in both encounters events are non-combat. May involve strange end unusual NPCs, frightening Omens, Lost Treasure, or Adventure hooks. Any random encounter table could be enriched by adding a few of these into it.
Curses and Cursed Items
Curses have been an increasingly neglected part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience over the years. When they do appear, they often offer only a boring penalty. Grim Locations and Grim Encounters up the curse game. Many of the encounters include cursed items, are there cursed locations that will afflict a character if they act in a way that offends the spirits or gods. One of my personal favorites involves a marsh in which a number of scarecrows are buried upside down. If the player characters remove the scarecrows, they will free demonic Ravens that emerge from the muck and hound the player characters.
Lands of Legends has some repeat themes, such as witches, cannibals, and possession. However, there is no shortage of new and interesting encounter scattered throughout the books. Despite each book having 100 things, it never seems repetitive or the same from section to section.
|Cover to Lands of Legends: Grim|
©2021 Axian Spice
I particularly enjoyed the Grim issues. The guys at Axian Spice went above and beyond to provide dark, grotesque, Gothic, and often gut-churning horror. There is some kind of nasty for everyone. As a guy who still loves a good slasher movie, and rented every horror movie in the small video store in his hometown as a teenager, I can't say how much I appreciate well-done Horror in role-playing games, especially as it is so very rarely done well.
I think the use of the word mundane comes from a mistranslation of what it means. The mundane and counters and locations are anything but. These are usually realistic and down-to-Earth places and encounters taken to the extreme. We see some of the harshest places on Earth, like Salt Lake and sulfur-based represented for use in a Dungeons & Dragons clone.
Often the locations and Encounters in the Mundane set are given a touch of low fantasy that keeps them from being anything but mundane. For example, we see an Amazonian tribe of painted women to fit in them the harsh desert. Or we see folk who live in brackish water taming crocodiles to use as living boats.
Most of the locations or encounters in the Mundane volume would feel at home in a Conan novel. I wouldn't describe them so much as mundane as Harsh or Wild. Most do not need Magic to explain how they exist.
Man vs. Nature
I have spent a considerable amount of energy in Deathtrap Lite trying to make Man vs Nature a viable theme even in a scalable fantasy game like Dungeons & Dragons. One of the things that the Mundane volume does well is describe some of the most harsh and hostile environment that you might be able to find on Earth such as salt lakes, volcanic fissures full of toxic gases, crystals that trap ancient bacteria, labyrinth-like forests inside canyons are valleys that make it difficult to find your way. These settings would be perfect for setting that Man vs Nature scenario, so long as that GM is willing to enforce things like monitoring food supplies, and making it hard to use magic to solve survival problems.
Art & Design
I have a few specific quibbles about the design of the seeds, but in general I want to say I love the layout and I love the artwork. Federico Martinetto and Ceresa Matteo over at Aside Studio ought to be proud of their design.
There are a lot of encounters that either by design or title include references to geek culture media that have caused me to smile or snort quite a few times. A few of my favorites includes an encounter with the horta from Star Trek, getting caught in a battle with the human centipede, and an encounter inspired by the movie Wizard of Gore. Not to mention crossing paths with Red Sonja.
The Lady in the Water
Most of the Encounters in Grim run the gamut from horrid, to gothic, to revolting. But, my absolute favorite in Grim encounters was one that was melancholy. It's an adventure where the player characters see a ghost of a woman floating down the stream. If they follow it, they can find a corpse stuck in the mud. If they choose to bury her they are rewarded with a large amount of experience points. It is one of those rare encounters that establishes a murky ray of Hope in what is otherwise a unrelentingly bleak setting. I think an encounter like this should be included anytime you go all out in grimdark.
The Floating People
A standard encounter that really embodies the mix of fantastical but non-magical that the Mundane volume embodies is "the Floating People." This is a tribe of people that live on the waterways of a wetlands jungle on rafts of living roots and plant matter. While this is Fantastical, it doesn't need magic to explain it. And what makes it more interesting is the idea that this people have a number of customs that they will not reveal in advance, but if their taboos are broken, the player characters will be tossed into piranha-infested waters as a punishment. This captures the essence of some of the best adventure fiction of the 19th century and adds an element of the fantastical without needing to rely on the supernatural to make it work. Low Fantasy at its best.
Witches and Cannibals
The Grim books have a lot of witches and cannibals. I mean a lot of them. If ever we got close to being repetitive, I would say it is where these two particular themes crop up over and over again. That's not to say they are painfully saying me. There's a big difference between an in with freakish chud's in the basement, a flesh-eating mad man in the wilderness, or clergy who being turned into ghouls for desecrating the grave of a local outcast. These very a great deal from encounter to encounter, but I can't help but wonder if we couldn't have used a few more wicked Bay or ruthless Merchants to balance it out a bit.
The Lady in Black (editing fail)
There was one encounter in Grim Encounters that I had to read several times to understand. That is the "Lady in Black." I cannot tell if this was a translation problem or just an editing problem. But there are a couple of sentences in the middle that are garbled. It doesn't make a great deal of difference to the final encounter. You can make out what is supposed to happen from context. But I thought I would pointed out because it was such a proud nail.
Mundane Heading Font
The section headings font used in the Mundane Volume is really difficult to read. It is just a bit too ornate for its own good. Which is a Pity, because otherwise this set of Zines are a Triumph of graphic design.
Grim Color Scheme
I enjoy to the Violet on black color scheme for the Grim Volume. It is different, while at the same time still feeling very Gothic. However I found myself constantly adjusting the lighting on my screen and trying to find the right place to sit to read it.
EDIT: This is only a problem if you are a lazy tablet user like me! There are printer-friendly versions of the document embedded as layers. If you are using a PC, Apple device, or a higher-end Android PDF reader, you can just turn the colored layerz off, and get a beautiful greyscale rendering of the PDF. I have been using my dated software so long, I didn't even know that PDFs could do that! Also, nighttime mode in Adobe fixes this problem, too. I learned something new!
Coming up with a hundred Mundane Locations where magic does not play a role was no easy task. Of all the books, mundane locations is by far the weakest entry. Don't misunderstand: It has plenty of amazing locations and if you are randomly determining an adventure location you cannot possibly go wrong with this book.
However, there are a number of locations that are simply descriptions and offered nothing of interest to them, Checkered grasslands that are frequently windswept, or forests that are simply too thick to travel through at full speed. Thankfully, these only make up about 15% of Mundane Locations. And book more than makes up for them but the ones that do offer fantastic details.
These Zines are beautifully designed, and incredibly well-executed. You're getting 100 locations and 100 and counters in each volume. And there is going to be stuff you will use as long as it fits your theme.
I would say that the Mundane volume is poorly named. It fits well into Low Fantasy, and has a fair number of wondrous and strange location. Just ones that can be explained rationally without magic. Most will also fit nicely into a Medieval or Bronze Age setting. I might have instead called it wild, harsh, or hazardous. Themes of chivalry, heroism, exploration, and natural wonders characterize this volume. It is anything but "Mundane."
The Grim volume is almost guaranteed to have something you're going to use if you are playing in a grimdark or horror fantasy campaign. In fact, I would be surprised if you didn't steal at least 10 to 15 encounters out of each for the early part of your campaign. You definitely are going to get your money's worth of ideas.
Likewise, if you are looking for Low Fantasy with high adventure in wild and dangerous places, I suspect that you will find much that you can use in the Mundane volume.
If I were to level a serious criticism at this series is that the books are beautiful, and probably quite readable in print, but are difficult to read on the screen. I wish that the Grim books had a black and white version to make it easier on the eyes. Especially as the design is otherwise quite appealing.
This is going to be a series to watch as new themes emerge. Hopefully in time we will find surreal, Melancholy, so real, or Savage encounters represented in future volumes, allowing us to wrap hundreds of Encounters in the patient's tailor-made for the campaigns we want to run. I know I am looking forward to seeing what happens next with the series.