Saturday, November 17, 2018

What are the Phlogiston Books? A DCC RPG (kind of) review.

What are the Phlogiston Books?

Time for a bit of shameless self-promotion: I was invited by the great Jose Masaga to publish an update version of my Sword & Sorcery DCC classes for the 2nd volume of the excellent Phlogiston Books. And yes that is my first published article for DCC RPG, thank you!

What are the Phlogiston Books? I’m glad you asked. Basically, they’re a Third Party product by Otherselves aimed at a very specific DCC niche: that nebulous moment between the Funnel (or 0-level adventure, where mere mortals become adventures) and a true 1st-level adventure. This is an excellent idea because it’s something that I think is sorely missing in DCC RPG. Because I wrote an article for the 2nd volume of the Phlogiston Books, here is what I’m going to do: I’m gonna give you a full review of the 1st volume (for which I didn't contribute), then I’m going to give a small resumé (for lack of a better term) on 2nd volume. Let’s go…

The Phlogiston Books - Volume 1: A Compilation of arcane material for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is a 62 pages B&W PDF. This 1st volume is dedicated to a very specific fantasy that it dubs ‘rural fantasy’. I’m going to be frank that I’m not familiar with it, although I get a feeling that I read some books and short stories that could be examples of this genre (it certainly has a Cervantes vibe and there is a good deal of fantastic realism in Latin America that should fit it, like ‘O Defunto’, from Eça de Queiroz). Quoting from the sourcebook: ‘the countryside is not the idyllic scenery of pastoral novels or nice postcards; it’s a dangerous place, full of strange creatures, mysterious ruins, unfavorable climate, and tiresome travels’. It is a weird but interesting mix of Weird Fantasy with a realistic 16th-17th setting rural setting. It is a flavor, not a specific place, but it does fit nicely with most players’ view of villages and farms in a fantasy world. However, where most d20 fantasy games consider those places to be starting points for a campaign, the 1st Volume of the Phlogiston attempts to bring such kind of setting to life as the main spot of trouble and weirdness (if you’re also a player of LotFP go read No Dignity in Dead: The Three Brides).

After setting the mood and theme for its material, the 1st Volume brings us a new patron: the Gallow Tree. Basically, your spellcasters get to work for the Tree of the Dead, from Sleepy Hollow. It is an amazing and very flavorful (and pure Metal!) patron, that will fit nicely must DCC campaigns. It also presents a new spell (Human Hunt).

Next we get the Cultist, a new character class. This a d6-class with a Chaotic take on the cleric, representing those powers that really don’t care about healing or banishing. The Cultist, like mine own poor attempt at an Anti-Cleric, is another example of why the DCC Core Rulebook’s Cleric is weird if you try to build a Chaotic or now-Lawful divine spellcaster. It just doesn’t seem to work. Cultists suffer Mercurial Magic, can Spellburn and have very patron-like relation with their master (the example given in the book is Azi Dahaka, complete with a customized Disapproval Table). The Cultist is why I hope the future DCC Annual can “save” the Cleric as class (otherwise, I’m going to restrict my Clerics to Law). Finally, Cultists also gain some roguish skills. I still have to playtest the class.

After that we get some new magic items: a magic sword (or “The” magic sword), the Lamprey Scabbard (which is actually an extraplanar creature), and the Scarezombie (more of a setting plot than a magic item). Both the sword and the scabbard are good beginning magic items for a Funnel party. The Scarezombie is good bit of lore, if your Judge likes to explain who in the Nine Hells can humans survive in settings where things like undead exist. This is the weakest part of the 1st Volume and just occupy 3 pages (yes, this is a compliment).

The next session gives Judges some advices on using Animals as antagonists and flavor for DCC campaigns (which is very useful not only for Funnels but low level adventures). It presents different builds for wolves, including a clearly mythical/folkloric version and is an excellent example of how a simple animal can be more scary than a monster.

Now we get to Superstition. This sections fits nicely with the Scarezombie from above and presents rules for what some RPGs call ‘hedge magic’. Basically, that sometimes all that “peasant nonsense” such as crossing fingers or putting iron nails under the tongue might actually save your worthless 0-level life. The mechanics are simple and flavor, which a nice “price” (basically, if your adventure is using superstition to save his skin, he/she doesn’t deserve XP).

Transplanar Climatology presents tables for weird country weather and possible destinations for lost planar travelers. Just two tables, but both very flavorful and giving tons of ideas. Now we move to Disturbing Rural Encounters, this table has 14 options… I wish it had 50 or maybe 100. This is the “soul” of what I believe is rural fantasy. There’re great ideas here, but the table feels small. Moving on we get Names for cults! Or other weird organizations, which is a three column table for generation (you guess) cult names.

Beaten Cooper is a 0-level adventure for 16-20 characters and covers the rest of the sourcebook. I only say one thing: it has a dragon (it also has 3rd Edition era kobolds if you like them). Yup, it is a wonderful bloodbath and I can’t way to use it. The maps are excellent and the entire adventure is very well written (and hard).

I can’t recommend enough the 1st volume, particularly considering the PDF’s price. OK, now to the 2nd volume. Because I contribute to it I’m going to give you just a small tour.

The Phlogiston Books Vol. II: The Stone Heir is a 58 pages B&W PDF. Its is a bit more expensive than the 1st volume. The inner art and layout are professionally done. Here is what you get:

  • Girl, you’ll be a woman soon. This is my favorite part of the whole thing. This is a series of small Lifepath-like tables (1d6 entries), separated by class, telling what happened after your Funnel adventure and before your first mission as a 1st level character. The tables are excellent and provide plenty of flavor for your characters (besides potential hirelings).
  • Pigs from the Pit is a 1st-level adventure still with a Funnel feel. It was built to be a kind of “follow-up” to whatever Funnel the party went through.
  • The Stone Heir is another 1st-level adventure, but that clearly denotes the party as “famous heroes” (after all, in traditional DCC RPG fashion, 1st-level PCs are exceptional).
  • Adventuring Ties is an interesting idea. It provides a few tables, with “adventure party” templates. After surviving a Funnel, what does your party fights for? Law? Chaos? The Eternal Struggle? Gold? Each options provides ideas for PC replacements, advantages and drawbacks.
  • 0-level initial equipment provides alternative equipment for 0-level PCs.
  • Finally, Sword and sorcery classes for DCC RPG is my stuff, basically a more developed version of this post.

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