Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review: Pyramid #3/89 - Alternate Dungeons II

Cover Art
Alternate Dungeons I, which I haven't reviewed, is one of my favorite Pyramid issues. I think comparing this one to that one might be a bit unfair, but it's hard not to when the title alludes to it. I don't think this issue is bad, and it has some high points, but whereas the first one was rock'em'sock'em awesome start to finish, this one is... good with peaks and valleys. Let's take a look at this issue, article by article.


Itsy bitsy contents.
If the title didn't tip you off, and it really should, this is a Dungeon Fantasy issue, and almost solely a Dungeon Fantasy issue. Havens and Hells and The Secret of the Explorers are a little more framework agnostic, but still heavily slanted to the likelihood that someone reading them would apply them to a Dungeon Fantasy game or a spin-off of similar. So, to truly get your money's worth from this issue, I'd recommend having and enjoying Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2 first, but there are tidbits from other books and Pyramid issues that are called out as well, like the Far-East theme article Eastern Adventures giving some thoughts on deeper integration of the styles from Martial Arts, and The Titan's House being a dead wringer for Combat Writ Large in Pyramid #3/77. Let's take a look at the articles now.

Havens and Hells

This 10 page article is brought to us by Sean Punch and describes a somewhat grim fantasy setting in the abstract. It doesn't especially require any books, but the Basic Set and Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2 are quietly assumed. The premise is that heroes called collectors travel across barren lands tainted with evil and monsters (titular hells) to find supplies for cities protected by wards (the titular havens.) The most interesting twist in this world is that collectors never permanently die, and instead follow a special modified version of the Extra Life mechanic with some nods towards the mechanics in Impulse Buys.
There is one more big secret behind the setting, but I choose not to give that away in case GMs feel like running the setting. Altogether I find the setting really interesting, thought provoking, and inspiring. By itself, it is pretty good, but as it is written in a very abstract way, it is easy to even further remix the premise and apply it to other settings where immortality is a cruel joke, and there is no end to the fighting.

Eastern Adventures

This 9 page article, by Christopher R. Rice is a guide to giving a far east flair to Dungeon Fantasy, like you might see in Japanese ninja or sengoku anime or Chinese war dramas and kung fu films, or otherwise. The article recommends Dungeon Fantasy 1-3, Magic, Martial Arts, and Pyramid #3/61 (I don't have it, but I keep hearing good things about it. I didn't feel like there was anything in the article that was impenetrable without it.)
The article starts off with some lenses for the Dungeon Fantasy 1 templates and advice on making the new versions feel genre appropriate. Especially detailed are the rules for the Martial Artist template and the Samurai lens for Knights and Swashbucklers. After the professional templates, a guide to adjusting the races from Dungeon Fantasy 3 is presented, changing the original templates slightly here or there. Two new races are also included, both well designed with interesting mechanical benefits and drawbacks. We have about two pages of new Power-Ups, some general purpose, and some specifically targeting Martial Artists. There are a handful of interesting new modifiers for equipment, then some advice on repurposing rules from Dungeon Fantasy 2 to fit the setting. It ends with a rule for a new method of conflict resolution that is easily translatable to any Dungeon Fantasy game.
Overall, a lot of good content that can be used with or without the far eastern feudal bent. Nothing is particularly worth pointing out, but I do really like the fencing perk, but there is nothing bad at all either.

Eidetic Memory - The Titan's House

This is a mini-adventure from David L. Pulver that deals with invading the house of a giant. The write-up is 8 pages long, and this is followed up by three maps. The challenges, obstacles, and battles revolve around the concept of everything being huge. Giant doors, giant rooms, giant stairs, giant bees, giant chickens, giant treasure and so forth.... how do players deal with giant treasure? I guess that's the struggle to figure out for the players. The "dungeon" is annotated as 24 rooms, almost all of them have something interesting to do and all the descriptions do a good job of setting the scene.
I'd really like to integrate this into a game at some point, but I just haven't gotten an opportunity so far. There is a really nice bestiary that can be reused for other situations as well, so that's a nice bonus. A lot of the adversaries in the list are really strong though, owing, of course, to them being giants, but it is a nice bonus from an adventure that can take 1-2 sessions provided everything goes right.

Random Thought Table - The Secret of the Explorers

This 2 page article by Steven Marsh is about the premise of what happens when adventuring is illegal, but the characters decide to pursue dungeon delving anyways. It's an abstract rapid fire of short thoughts to get you thinking and brainstorming about how characters would need to work politics, the black market, law enforcement and so forth to make it work. Altogether an interesting concept, but not for me.

Short Bursts - Five Best Places to Nearly Get Killed Before You Die

A one page teaser by Matt Riggsby for the new version of Car Wars. It reads like a travel listicle detailing some fluff, apparently, about locations from Car Wars. I dunno much about it, so I feel unqualified to speak to it, though nothing jumps out as this being more than an ad.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

This issue is for real core enthusiasts of the Dungeon Fantasy line. I like little bits from everything, and the short adventure and the Havens and Hells piece are both pretty inspiring, but it sits in this weird area where I have nothing downright awful to say about it, but I don't feel very enthusiastic about it. "Not a waste of money" is the best I can say.

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