|I love A5 or digest sized books|
Zak Smith's latest release Frostbitten and Mutilated (March 2018) is about a cold, harsh land and the amazons that inhabit it. The players enter for whatever reason (probably making money in the untamed north) and begin a cycle of events that could end the world. By default the attempt fails, but more on that later, for now lets start at the beginning.
I really OSR/DIY D&D book for their A5 (digest sized) books and the general quiality of binding and paper choice. The next thing I notice in almost any book is the art, Zak had previewed a lot of this on his blog but seeing it in print is another thing. I really like black and white art (because I'm color blind) and Zak brings so much depth to his pieces. By far, my favorite is a frost giant reaching down to grab the viewer. All of the pieces have the potential to enthrall me for hours and distract me from the text within.
|Frost Giant of the Hatemountain|
The book starts out with a bit of advice from Zak about playing the environment. See, the rough landscape and inhospitable cold are not merely that, it are the ultimate foe of the party, the lands seeks to destroy those who interlope, crush the weak, and basically wreak all of humanity that it can. Those who can survive here are changed by the icy cold. Amazons born on the ice, witches with strange ways and new magic, and animals smarter than we. The animals are an interesting bit that make the land feel different from the usual dark fantasy. Opinionated goats, envious rats that seek to take all the humans build and wolves who don't stop until they get one of you. The animals here are truly unique to this land and have a voice of their own, if you can speak with animals.
The arrival of the party (re)starts a Groundhog's Day like cycle of failure to summon the demon Belphagor the Beast, trapping them until they deal with the powers that are trying to summon it or they succeed and end the world. Its a unique spin on an adventure that I have tossed around in my head a few times. The staging is sound and the reasons make sense, if I do run this, I will make sure the party goes through at least one cycle and restarts. There are two dungeons in the book, one plot related and the other one I'd like to drop into my current world. They both breathe the atmosphere of the setting and expand upon it to the players. Giving the players some knowledge of the setting is one of the harder jobs of the Dungeon Master and having a bit of help is a good thing.
After 100 pages of mostly setting and exposition come the crunch, the first of which is two new classes. The Amazon and the Witch. Both of these take a base OSR class (fighter and mage, respectively) and add a random roll to level ups instead of traditional gains from attaining new levels; like the Alice class in A Red and Pleasant Land. These are some great thing like a plus to an ability, weapon making, damage resistance, souring milk with a glance, bathing or eating requirements, modifications to spells and so many more differentiating abilities to make each character unique. These thing are going to make their way into my current campaign as boons and curses. This section of the book rounds out with substances, survival and some really good (like I'm going to use it RIGHT NOW) advice for running a wilderness sandbox.
The last bit is random tables. Adventure elements for making innocuous connections into adventures, random locations for adding to the map, Amazon divination results and tables to make new amazon tribes, twenty drastic measures to rid yourself of a curse, non-player confrontations for figuring out why these two groups are hanging out, mutations, two treasure tables; the regular 'I search the body," and "If you look closely," descriptive combat injuries for spicing up combat, random encounters and rival NPC parties for quick determination of who the party stumbled upon. Again most of these are going right into my current campaign in some form or other. I really dig random tables and the quality of these goes beyond the regular to the outlandish and sometimes gonzo that I've come to expect from OSR/DIY D&D.
Overall another success for Zak Smith, I can hardly say a bad word about it, but if I did I would say that Zak's writing is a bit above my grade level and I need a dictionary to read it. Also this is a hard thing to just drop into a regular 'vanilla' fantasy game. If you've already established a base line for regular orcs and goblins, then you may have a difficult time getting buy in from the players. Even though I will probably not play this through as a campaign, I will definitely cherry pick