Monday, April 16, 2012

Augury - Your Whispering Homunculus (Pathfinder)

I’m just back from a short vacation with my family. While I’m preparing a post on my first official (and failed) attempt on race design, he’s the newest review on one of Open Design’s newest product: Your Whispering Homunculus.


Your Whispering Homunculus (YWH) is Kobold Quarterly’s blog most famous series (probably losing only to the Quarterly itself and the Patronage Projects’ news).

Each YWH post is, basically, a small, very specific piece of (delightful, bizarre or humorous but always useful) game material – things like tables for strange tavern recipes, odd villagers, weird weather, local rumors (and superstitions), monsters with tainted blood (or made “unique” by past scars and wounds).

Like forewarned by the author itself (Richard Pett) YWH is “(…) the roleplaying equivalent of spice added to meat to bring out a particular flavor (…)”. It’s the kind of stuff that while nonessential, it’s always flavorful (no pun intended) to enliven the game night when you less expected.

The product YWH brings amazing 34 articles (in 166 pages) of game material. The inner layout is clean and simple, with the B&W interior art being practically non-existent (which make sense for a product of this type). While designed to be used in Pathfinder, YWH is easily converted to D&D 3rd and other d20 variants (in fact, most of its columns are system-neutral).

You have columns like “20 Daft Bets and Dares” (with ingenuous and fun contests that challenge even high-level PCs),  “50 Strange Entertainments”, “20 Holydays” (one of my favorites!), “One Hundred Curious Emporiums”, “One Hundred Pointless Objects” (for those famous empty dungeon rooms), “It Came from the… Toilet?” (yours PCs never will trust a privy anymore), and “A Plethora of D12 Tables”.

As you can see, YWH has a definitely Old School feel to it and is composed mostly of random tables (it reminds me of products like the all-time classic AD&D 1st Dungeon Master Guide and the recent Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide – for which the YWH’s authors was one of the contributors).

Some of YWH’s articles are more rules-heavy, but always with a twist to the macabre and the whimsical. Columns like “20 Malfunctioning or Disappointing Magics” and “Malignant Magic” are full of excellent ideas and point unwaveringly to Richard Pett’s blatant Evil alignment. The various “Undiscovered Bestiaries” are also a good selection of variants for your usual dungeon monster.

Another type of column that is an excellent resource on how to customize even the most ordinary encounters are the “For One Night Only” ones. However, it bears mentioning Pett’s advice on using most of YWH’s tables sparingly – otherwise you run the risk of overloading your players with bizarre and strange happenings, thus lessening their impact.

YWH has a great production value and is an enjoyable reading even if your never manage to use it in your games (shame on you!). The tone of the book – narrated through a dialogue between a  grotesque and hilarious homunculus and it’s evil master – is perfect (and we’re are eventually given stats for the duo). Its dark humor recalls the style of Warhammer FRP 1st, while its more delirious weirdness are totally in line with books like the first Fiend Folio – the fact that Richard Pett is from the UK is thus not a coincidence.

I highly recommend YWH for any d20 fantasy Gamemaster. Because most of its columns still can be found at the Kobold Quarterly site, you may prefer the “Print + PDF” version.