Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Game Review: Super Blood Harvest 1-3

Scenario introduction, Super Blood Harvest 2
Art and text by Dirk Detweiler Leichty 
©2019 Dirk Leichty
: Dirk Detweiler Leichty
Publisher: Self-published / Swordfish Islands
Marketplace: Swordfish IslandsDrivethruRPG
Engine: Dirk! / Mark of the Odd 

The Super Blood Harvest books are a trio of short role playing games with integrated scenarios that run on a pared-down version of the Mark of the Odd engine specifically called Dirk! Created by the artist and developer Dirk Detweiler Leichty. An omnibus in hardcopy is available through Swordfish Islands.  (I have the PDFs separately from the Swordfish Islands bundle they released at the beginning of the Lockdowns i  2020)

Each of these three scenarios involves player characters as escaping prisoners of-,veterans of a war against,- or people living in the ruins of an empire ofv ampires from outer space, or dealing with the aftermath of - a vampire invasion. It draws a fair amount of its inspiration from Gothic science fiction like Lifeforce, Vampire Hunter D, and Invaders from Space, as well as from the art and comics Mobius.

These games embrace strong video game aesthetic. The pre-generated characters are offered in a page meant to mock up a character selection screen. The final page of Super Blood Harvest reads "game over". And most of the adventure is presented as a dense isometric map drawing in marker and coloured pencil that strongly evokes classic NES era isometric games like Solstice, Snake Rattle and Roll, and Marble Madness.

Cover spread, Super Blood Harvest
Art and text by Dirk Detweiler Leichty 
©2019 Dirk Leichty

Extremely tight versions of the rules are explained on a single page in each super blood harvest book. In addition, a separate Dirk! four page rule book is available with more detailed explanation if one is needed.

These adventures are designed to be fast and lethal, and make me think of the "Nintendo-hard" games I grew up on in the 80s. Players will likely go through several characters before either having to start the scenario over again after a TPK. It will likely take most groups multiple tries to escape the dungeon particular to Super Blood Harvest and Super Blood Harvest 2. I expect that Super Blood Harvest III would have a high PC turnover rate as well.

What I love

Showcasing Mark of the Odd 

Super blood harvest really shows off the compact nature of the Mark of the Odd system. The rules are summarized in less than a page, and even a manual that gives you the full treatment takes less than four. Characters in the original Super Blood Harvest take less than two lines of text. It does not, however, offer any of the mechanics that make Mark of the Odd excellent for long-term campaign play.

Later characters come accompanied with more elaborate mechanics for their abilities, and often take up half of an A5 page each. Even that is fairly compact.

Super Blood Harvest III focuses on survival in a world that was devastated by wars with space vampires where killer robots still hunt and kill indescriminately. It is a setting book with as well as a role playing game with a large number of dungeons and systems for exploration.

Cover spread, Super Blood Harvest 2
Art and text by Dirk Detweiler Leichty 
©2019 Dirk Leichty

The Artwork

The maps and art of Dirk Detweiler Leitchy in many ways define the Mark of the Odd experience. His work appears in Silent Titans, Electric Bastionland, and a number of other MotO games. It is also the same artwork I praised liberally when reviewing Troika! Numinous edition.

Dirk's art style is a mix of Art Deco, Surrealism , and Cubism that captures an idea in a non-representational way that adds to your understanding of the game. His art helps build the game world beautifully. Even where they don't represent action, they always have a strong sense of motion and energy. 

The maps in the Super Blood Harvest books use strange colour schemes, and bizarre, energetic, slightly grotesque art that keeps you wanting to read the books.

Cover spread, Super Blood Harvest
Art and text by Dirk Detweiler Leichty 
©2019 Dirk Leichty

Maximum Pulp!

Playing unlikely heroes attempting to escape a spaceship of vampires from outer space, searching an ancient vampire temple on Mars, or attempt to survive a wilderness filled with mad killbots left over from The Vampire Wars is such a fantastic mix of pulp and B-Movie fun that it is hard not to be blown away by the sheer concept. it is an idea I've seen a few times in movies, but never thought I would see executed well in a role-playing game. And it isexecuted well, in part because he was smart enough to use the minimalistic system that leaves a lot to the GM.

Wild Character Concepts 

Super Blood Harvest 2 in particular offers really strange and over-the-top character concept that showcase the freedom now I can come from working in a system that does not have mechanics for everything. Player characters going to be AI driven power armour, space pirates, rolling spheres of soul matter that eat ghosts, or psychic test subjects. The mechanics for each remain incredibly simple and straightforward.

Growth Points 

Some Players Will Bounce Off ofthe Video Game Aesthetic

map segment from Super Blood Harvest 
By Dirk Detweiler Leichty
©2019 Dirk Leichty
I discussed this at length in a different article, adding elements of video games into a tabletop role-playing game will work for some players and repel others. It took me a little while to stop bouncing off of it where it appeared an Index Card RPG CORE 2e, but now has won me over as an approach.

Adding elements of a classic Nintendo game serves as an amazing shorthand to explain the style of play. The combination of character select, game over, front, and text layout immediately invoke 1980s computer gaming. With that comes expectations of the game being lethal and needing to be replayed multiple times thankfully, the game is light enough weight to make that possible.

I think the same effect might have been possible with material that imitated Roger Corman movie posters with potentially more buy-in. 

Total Lack of Boilerplate 

The Super Blood Harvest games do a poor job of crediting their creator, (he uses a screen name rather than his full name.) It offers no copyright data,  making it difficult to know what licensing is the into use. The the Mark of the Odd is not credited in my collection of PDFs. I am all for a minimalism, but some of these things make it much easier for me to give credit where it's due and look for other products by the Creator or using the engine. I do not know if this problem is fixed in the Omnibus. I offered get the impression that the individual PDFs were not intended for the marketplace as they were distributed in the lock down bundle.

Highlander Syndrome

The three Super Blood Harvest books have nothing to do with one another except in terms of their basic concept of humans versus Space Vampires. I would have loved to have seen these work as sequels so that players could have carried a player character from one game to another. Or enough consistency in the lore to suggest that these are the same world centuries apart. It reminds me of the movie Highlander 2, which had immortals cutting each other's heads off, but otherwise had nothing to do with the plot of the original Highlander film.

In the case of a Super Blood Harvest III, it is thematically quite different. Rather than being a survival horror, it is a Gothic sword & planet campaign setting. It includes rules for procedurally-generated Wilderness Adventures across war-torn Mars, and features more Killer Robots than space vampires.

But is it Gamable?

The Super Blood Harvest books are some of those product we see from time to time that are more Art than an RPG: they are beautiful, wild, and creative. However, when I first looked at them I had my doubts as to whether or not they'd be particularly playable. The PCs in the latter two boojs are almost too weird just to play with ease, the maps are beautiful, but they require some creative interpretation to read. Many powers are described, but require on the fly hacking and adjudication by the GM. 

Overall, the Super Blood Harvest games are challenging to run. They require a lot of cognitive work on the behalf of the GM. I can certainly see that a great number of the people who have purchased this product did so to admire it more than to play it.

I won't accused Super Blood Harvest of being entirely a matter of style over substance, but it is clear that style was the first concern and gamability secondary. After a few test plays, I did find that I could make use of Super Blood Harvest, but that it is more work than it needs to be.


Super Blood Harvest is an example of some of the strengths of the Mark of the Odd system. It is so light that the rules take practically no space at all. It requires a certain amount of work on the GM spark to adjudicate, but also is not encumbered by needlessly large set I've complicated rules to handle things like vampires and ghosts eating spheres.

It is certainly a triumph of both the imaginative mind and artistic talent of Dirk Leichty, is a pleasure to look at, and certainly sparks the imagination, even if it is not something you're likely to use at the table as written.

Overall, I would describe it as good, weird fun presented beautifully and that takes maximum advantage of the preexisting elegant design of the Mark of the Odd system. Held up as an example of the engine, I would say that it is a great representation of what the engine can do, and a paragon of the culture that informs Mark of the Odd game design.

1 comment:

  1. Cool. I've never seen this one. Labyrinth has the simple rules explained up front, and is mostly an adventure book. I like that.

    I checked out another book that felt like art over usability, Mork Borg. Interesting book, for sure, but for such a simple system it kinda took me a minute to figure it out.