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Saturday, 4 November 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: Trinity of Awesome Returns +1

This is a review of the supplement-collection "Trinity of Awesome Returns +1", written by Venger Satanis, published by Kort'thalis Publishing.  It is a review of the print edition, a roughly 50 page softcover with a full-color wrap-around cover featuring a detailed realistic sci-fi drawing that depicts female nudity that, while artistically skillful (in my amateur opinion, at least) looks more like something you'd expect from some kind of vanity-press erotic fan-fiction novel than the cover of an RPG product.

Like the previous Trinity of Awesome, which I reviewed earlier, this volume is a collection of various separate scenarios, for different game products made by Venger. Let's see if they're worth purchasing, and by whom.

The first scenario in the book is "High Stakes Q'uay Q'uar". Aside from the senselessness of putting an apostrophe between a Q and a U, what's it about? For starters, a scenario for Alpha Blue.
The product begins by presenting a couple of new Alpha Blue professions: the Xenologist and the Pick-up Artist. The former is a guy who is an academic student of alien races. The latter is just like what it sounds like: a smarmy dude who knows how to hit on women for sex.

Speaking of sex, the next section has Alpha Blue going to its logical conclusion, and providing a set of benefits and special powers derived by having in-game sex. So if your character has sex in the game they can regain use of a limited-use ability, getting to do one action with double the dice, or getting a single re-roll. Because if there's one thing every table needs it's a mechanical incentive to get the greasy 350lb unkempt dude next to you to graphically describe his fantasy diaper-fetishist session with an NPC shemale dominatrix to you. Fuck's sake.

Then we get into the setup of the scenario itself. The PCs start out beside a corpse (with the GM being left to determine just how they relate to said corpse). The dead man turns out to have been invited to a game (the aforementioned Q'uay Q'uar) that is the largest tournament of its type ever. The planet where it is taking place is also featuring a convention of the Universal Pick-Up Artists Association. There's additionally a table provided, in case it's needed, of other possible random reasons why PCs would want to go to the planet.

The rest of the adventure includes encounters with strange nebulas, parallel versions of the PCs, a blatant (and I suspect IP-violating) appearance by SNL's David S. Pumpkins, and his skeletons (who are part of it), a femme fatale, a "professional space slut", a Pick-up Artist (who is depicted in a generally favorable light), and a character named "Quay-Gon Jizz". Yes, seriously.

As to the game of Q'uay Q'uar itself, we're not really given a description of how to play it or anything, just a very basic and utterly random mechanic to determine whether you win or lose money betting on it. By "utterly random" I mean that it's pure luck, there's no element of skill or anything you can do to modify your odds of winning (or losing). This is really unfortunate, since if I was making a game-within-a-game as the central motif of an adventure, I would damn well make up that game; or at the very least create a mechanic where players could have some kind of influence over whether they succeed or fail at said game!

There's also some tables to roll up extra NPCs, complete with their "general disposition", why they're there, and what they're wearing.

The section ends with a couple of Alpha Blue work-sheets. They give the GM a bunch of questions to help add material to the campaign, and a page to list your influences, details, prominent NPCs, locations, and 'things to remember'.

All in all, this is a pretty typical Alpha Blue adventure. That is to say, a big fucking mess. Lots of utterly random shit going on, nothing much making a lot of sense, silly NPCs, and utterly sophomoric sexual humor of the sort you'd expect from the mind of a twelve year old who's just discovered wanking but doesn't quite know what to do about it.

Next up we have an "eldritch pulp/investigative scenario" designed for The Outer Presence, called "His Flesh Becomes My Key". It starts out as a serial-killer case, that turns out to be something more sinister. Part of the background premise is that reality is on a "dimensional fault line" and that the boundaries of reality are loosening, so that for example the writings of a decadent-fiction author named "Thomas Alhazred Lovejoy" (you can guess who he's meant to be) ends up leading readers toward insanity.  To reflect all this there's a random mechanic/table for PCs to experience different degrees of emotional/psychic sensitivity to weird events. These range from 'subtle vibrations' all the way to recurring nightmares and seeing weird symbols in your daydreams.

In the scenario the PCs are given a call by a friend/contact who is trying to solve the case of a serial killer, who recently murdered a college co-ed in Miskatonic University. He mentions Lovecraft -er, Lovejoy's books, and asks to meet with them. But he never shows up.

From there, the PCs can start to investigate to resolve their contact's disappearance. They can talk to his business partner, or the police detective who was his friend and link to the local law enforcement. They can get a hold of his notebook, and visit his apartment. They can also meet with their contact's "sexy prostitute girlfriend", who is likely to end up being murdered in a highly gruesome fashion (some of the details of which are very explicitly stated in a gratuitous and unnecessary way, including an illustration, because it's Venger).

All of this (obviously) leads into supernatural terror involving a supernatural serial-killer, gateways to weird dimensions and terrible rituals, and a kind of cyclical trap that can only be escaped in one specific way.

All in all, this adventure scenario is not bad. There's some gratuitously creepy content that could go beyond the limits for some readers, but I guess that's at least partly to be expected. There's also some clever twists and turns. I'd say it's decent overall, if you can stomach it.

Next we get to a lengthy adventure called "Stairway of V'dreen".  Venger isn't explicit about just what game this adventure is for. Since it's a pretty weird adventure, and all of Venger's game include considerable weirdness, you could probably use it for several games, though some hints indicate it might fit best with Crimson Dragon Slayer.

The adventure starts out with the player characters happening upon a large metallic structure, half-buried. Going inside they run into a guy named "Doctor Ezbub" who is a "scientist from another world". He is on the verge of opening a portal to another world, which is in grave danger.  A random table is provided in case the PCs decide to interrupt the Doctor's experiment.

Anyways, assuming the portal is (eventually) opened, the PCs can explore the world of V'dreen. It's a weird world, with thin air and the occasional whisperings of forgotten gods (both covered by random tables, again). There's also a d30 random table for professions of typical V'dreenians; these are all odd professions, things like "colorist of artificial fish", "proprietor of midgets", or "grape dryer". There's also a set of random tables for the weird creatures that can be encountered on V'dreen. Then there's a list of NPCs not originally from V'dreen that find themselves stranded there. And some other characters; for example a wizard who "specializes in capturing and selling female humanoid slaves" (of course, because it's Venger who's writing it).

And an explanation of what V'dreen is. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that it's a sort of dying world, where the PCs might be able to restore it to its former glory (or will more likely just die there).  While on V'dreen the PCs might run into three major factions: some hostile "insect savages" that will definitely be a problem, a faction that just might be allies, and another that's sort of in-between.

There's a number of other encounters, a magical stairway the PCs must ascend, and a horrific beast trying to stop them. There's a kind of twist hinted at repeatedly in the adventure that is amusing, but I'd be doing big spoilers if I mentioned it here. At the end of the quest, if it is survived, there's a three-option choice to be made, only one of which will actually set things right.

This adventure has some clunky bits and imperfections, but ultimately I'd say it's pretty good. I could see it fitting into just about any moderately-gonzo game. It doesn't have the kind of pervasive silliness of the earlier Alpha Blue adventure, but it does have a lot of weirdness. Which makes it a bit more to my tastes.

And of course, because this is "Trinity of Awesome", we get a fourth installment too (I guess that's the +1). In this case, it's "Guarding Galaxy XXX". This scenario is described as being for Alpha Blue, where the PCs have to protect galaxy XXX from it's current "guardians", a group of "lovable losers in space".

For some unfathomable reason, this is the only supplement that begins with a description of "what is Alpha Blue", and even explains some of the basic mechanical concepts of play. This leads me to wonder if this scenario wasn't originally intended for some other publication?

Anyways, Galaxy XXX is a "retro future" galaxy where the carpeting is shag and characters "are as desperate and horny as those in the real world... if not more so". Because it's Venger.

The scenario starts with the PCs waking up on a colony ship from deep hibernation. There's quite a bit of strong-arming in the setup, since it requires that they accept being sent on a mission to stop the entire galaxy from falling into massive warfare, and Venger's suggested way of making this happen is to just invent a massive debt for the PCs with the mission as their way to pay it back. What follows next is an apparent totally-random non-sequitur with a phone-sex scene. Then there's a decontamination shower that has a 1/6 chance of randomly killing each PC. For no apparent reason.
After that, a silly random vending machine table.

At this point, I'm not sure what's the more troubling reality: is this part of the book a product of Venger not putting any thought at all into his writing and just not giving a fuck anymore, or is it the product of careful consideration? Which would be worse if true?

Next there's a mission briefing scene that de-evolves into an attack by a tentacled horror, again with a chance that one PC could die in an incredibly stupid way (to say nothing of the possibility of dying in combat, which is at least fair).

Then the adventure keeps right on railroading into yet another nonsense scene with three stupid wizards and their half-dozen female sex slave (because it's Venger). This part includes a random table to determine the PCs reaction to one of the slaves winking at them. Seriously.

As if to continue violating every rule of decent adventure design, Venger tells us that because they're wizards, the PCs can't do anything to harm them. At least they get on with explaining to the PCs that there's a doomsday device, the guardians of this galaxy have it, and the wizards will pay a reward for it.

What follows involves a planet named "P'oon", some aliens called Klyngons, a genetically-enhanced warlord named Khaan (who will demand fellatio from the PCs... because it's Venger), and the doomsday device threatening Alpha Blue itself.

What it doesn't have is anything even remotely resembling the Guardians of The Galaxy, which was the one parody one would have expected from this scenario.

Seriously, this last scenario is pretty much utter shit. Even if you don't mind the corny alpha-blue humor, and even if you don't mind the sophomoric sex-scenes, it's just fundamentally horrible adventure-design. It's pure railroading, tons of author-fiat, random death for stupid reasons; it's like one of those adventures where the GM just wants to 'tell a story' to the PCs without any of their agency getting in the way, and on top of that the story was actually written by his mentally retarded little brother.

So what to conclude about this Trinity of Awesome? Much the same as the last one. It's a mixed bag. Some of the parts are quite decent, some are bad.
But in a way, that's not all that relevant. What will mostly matter is just how much you can bring yourself to like Venger's creative idiosyncracies as a game/adventure designer.  I'm not saying it's an all or nothing proposition; actually, there's kind of a spectrum of just how much Venger any given person can stand. Where you fall on that spectrum will determine how much utility you could get out of this product, because the stuff in the book runs the gamut of the spectrum from "mostly normal with an interesting twist and only one or two stupid attempts at sexual material" to "outright godawful with so much sexual smarm that it makes you briefly wonder if Tracy Hurley wasn't right" (note: she still isn't and never will be; and at least Venger, unlike Tracy, does something in the hobby - weird and occasionally sex-offenderish creepy though it may be- instead of just complaining about how much they hate the hobby).

So to determine if you will find this adventure material useful, it doesn't really hinge on what system you use (even if you don't use any Venger game at all, because there's not that much actual system content in here). It doesn't even hinge on what your ideas about game design are. It pretty much hinges on just how much weirdness for its own sake you like; how many bad jokes, pop-culture references and silly names you can tolerate; and how much rampant and fairly infantile sexual content you can stomach. If you were to score all of these, and all three were AT LEAST a 3/5, then maybe you will find this book useful. If it's anything lower than that, you will not want this.


Currently Smoking: Blatter Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best

EDIT to add: I find myself obligated to clarify that in fact there are separate Q'uay Q'uar rules, which are available and were in fact sent to me by email along with the print copy of this book I'm reviewing. Because that was some time ago and I'm not used to reviewing any material aside from print, I utterly forgot about that, for which I apologize.
It should also be amended to note that in fact there is a minor way in which characters with a gambling skill get a slight edge in the amount of money they can win in the scenario itself, which I overlooked. It also notes in the text that psychics, zedi etc might be able to use special powers to cheat.


  1. Q'uay-Q'uar is a real game. You may have forgotten, but I emailed you the game board and rule files just a couple weeks ago. There's also ways to improve your performance in the scenario text.

    1. Yes, you're right. I did forget. I'll edit to amend that.

  2. Thanks for the amendment, hoss! I was busy running Alpha Blue and whatnot at Game Hole Con when I stumbled upon your review in my g+ stream. One last point of order - you omitted the fact that the hypothetical greasy, fat, unkempt dude describing his deviant sexual exploration also has cheeto fingers.

    And, yes, "cheeto fingers" will soon be incorporated into the Alpha Blue lexicon. Hmm, I sense a crowd-sourced definition approaching with my zedi senses...

  3. Here's a link to the official Alpha Blue entry for "cheeto fingers":

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I find it funny that you felt the need to include "right-wing" in your description of me, as if that somehow had something to do with my objections to your erotic gaming style.

      I'm a social libertine in every sense. I'm quite sure I've had more and kinkier/crazier sex than you have. Which may be why I don't find it at all interesting to have a group of fat nerds, half of them adult virgins, acting out sexual fantasies they will never be able to fulfill at the gaming table.

      I don't object to it because I'm anti-sex. I object to it because you give sex a bad image.

    3. I didn't include the "right-wing" descriptor because of your attitude towards sex or Alpha Blue. Right-wing is how I think of you. There wasn't any particular judgement there.

      Maybe you've had more kinky/crazy sex than I have, maybe you haven't. Doesn't concern me. Nor does my players' real world sex lives interest me while I'm running a game.

      Alpha Blue is my sleazy escape into a space opera that I can't live today. One, because I'm married with children. Two, because we're still a long way from colonies on Mars and blasters at our hip.