Nymphs of rain and despair, the Greek deity Dionysius, a mortal shepherd stolen from his world, and the jealous god Hastur… Who would ever imagined that Peter Pan and the King in the Yellow would mix so nicely? That is precisely the theme of the Pan, His Majesty In Yellow (PMIY), a beautiful hexcrawl for Old School Essentials, currently in his last week of crowfuding.
After a brief introduction (and a poem!), the book opens with a nice “Once upon a time…” section devoted to the weird and mysterious life (and death) of Hyas or Pan, touching not only upon the original source, but also in Greek mysteries and the Hastur legendarium. These days I am usually wary of background in OSR modules (as I don’t by OSR for that reason), but PMIY managed to make it not only succinct (just 2 pages) but also very flavorful. After it we get a d66 Things Pan Might Say, followed by more details on the (very weird) Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. In PMIY, Pan is the centre of a struggle between Hastur and Dionysius (or his nymphs). As a result, Pan’s spirit is fragmented and quite mad, split in different personas (including Captain Pan, a pirate, and the evil King in Yellow), while Hastur seeks to reclaim him. If this sounds confusing and dream-like that is precisely the idea. It works beautifully with Hastur’s own mythos. Yes, we get (various) stats for Pan and they are all scary!
The next part is a full description of the Neverborn Islands, including maps (one with hexes), encounter tables, and the weird planar rules of the fantasy realm. “Fantasy” is the word here. The Neverborn Island operate on dream logic and much of the new mechanics are about that: memory loss is a constant threat and death is not the end (this last bit is perhaps the most distinguish factor in PMIY, a campaign setting where forgetting who you are is a lot more dangerous than dying). However, travelers be aware: Pan CAN kill you (permanently). Oh, and yes, if you believe hard enough you CAN fly! The unique mix of new rules makes the Neverborn Island a very interesting scenario to visit and I am already tempted to attach it to most of my current settings just to see what will happen.
Each part of the Neverborn Islands get a small but flavourful description, followed by a few adventure hooks. My favourite locations are those where the dream-like atmosphere and “unrealness” of the setting are highlighted, such as the Dog’s Cemetery. There are a lot of cool references here and there, such as in the Emerald Island and in the Hydra’s Teeth. After the gazetteer, we are presented to the Underhome of the Neverborn Islands (i.e., please insert you favorite dungeon here) and to Carcosa. Both Hastur and Carcosa itself are more of a background threat than a NPC and a location, and PMIY recommends using them to generate an atmosphere of dread and alienation.
The next part of the book is about Denizens, which ran from wonderfully
illustrated bleeding trees, blue wolves, and mermaids, to a surreal version of
Captain Hook (the undead fairy-slaying pirate, who pillaged Carcosa). Yes, we get
a description of the Jolly
Roger Pan, together with a map! PMIY’s
version of the crocodile is called the Chronodile, a magic warping gargantuam monstrosity.
Creatures have stats for OSE, but use some concepts from D&D 5E, such as
legendary actions (which work quite nicely in my opinion, but leaves some of
the creatures really tough). Other Denizens include the various faeries, Sir
George (THE Sir George), the gingerbread demon, a statless Hastur (but with
stats for his shadows), the Kraken, Ladon (the famous Hydra), Lost Children,
among others. There is a lot of stuff here. PMIY also offer new magic items,
including Captain Hook’s coat, the Chronodile Scale, and (of course) the
Tatters of the King.
PMIY is a unique book. The flavorful atmosphere, mixing Barrie’s original work with Greek mythology and Ambrose’s Carcosa is so cool that I would still recommend the book even if there were not stats for the Denizens. The fact that the author uses the “original” Hastur and not the Cthulhu pastiche is a plus for me and the part of the setting that I like most. I think that the unique Denizens are a bit too powerful, especially those that use 5E-like mechanics, but that is counterbalanced by the normal monsters, most of which are there more to be interacted with rather than fought (especially the fairies, mermaids, and Lost Children). Finally, it is impossible to read PMIY and not compare it with Neverland by Andrew Kolb. Neverland picks Peter Pan after the events of the original novel and extrapolate a unique OSR for hexcrawling (while updating the setting in matters of sensitivity). Its monsters are some of the best of the OSR. PMIY is widely different. It is a fever-induced mélange of Classics, Ambrose’s alienating Weird Tales, and horror. Both Neverland and PMIY are amazing works and I am happy to have them in my collection. That said, Neverlands is a flavorrful but traditional hexcrawl, while PMIY is a surrealistic, cruel, and tragic scenario. You can visit the Neverborn Islands and try to make sense of it, but if you try to engage it as traditional hexcrawl you will end mad or in the belly of Chronodile in a short time (and yes, that is a compliment!). PMIY reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands at its best: a dangerous and beautiful world that doesn’t make sense where your goal is to keep your wits and survive until you can scape it. In fact, I like it mix of fantasy and horror so enthralling that next time I won’t send my players to Ravenloft, but to the realm of Pan, His Majesty in Yellow, below the Hyades and above Carcosa.