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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

RPGPundit Reviews: Scenic Dunnsmouth

This is a review of the RPG adventure "Scenic Dunnsmouth", published by LotFP, written by Zzarchov Kowolski (yes, two "Z"s, that's not a typo). The book is 112 pages long, a softcover with a colour cover (an eerie picture mostly consisting of a weird artifact from the book: the time cube).  The interior art is black, white and red; and consists mainly of NPC sketches.

Physically, the book is pretty enough, though not nearly as gorgeous as "Isle of the Unknown", the last product by lotfp I reviewed (and praised for its physical appearance but totally and now famously trashed for its content).  On the other hand, I'll tell you right now the content is quite a lot better than Isle (thankfully!).

So, Scenic Dunnsmouth is a setting/adventure sourcebook, and it is a sandbox setting on the whole done right; albeit a micro-sandbox that only covers a small town and its very immediate environs.  There is a particular "gimmick" to this book which is that every time you run it, you "generate" the town; this is done by rolling 14 dice onto a sheet of paper.  Where the dice falls indicates where the locations are found, the numbers on the dice indicate variable levels of certain qualities that can affect how far along certain chronological details of the setting are developed at the time of the PCs' arrival.  Then you draw a series of regular playing cards to determine which inhabitants are available in this version of the town (each card is keyed to one particular NPC). 

This means that every single time you run Dunnsmouth, the particular set of inhabitants of that town will be different, and the setting will have a different dynamic.  There's also a particular monster, and a particular magical artifact, and depending on the roll of the dice these will have different levels of influence over the town.

It is, undoubtedly, gimmicky.  But as far as gimmicks go (and I'm not a fan of gimmicks), its a pretty good one.  The same could have been more or less accomplished through the use of random tables, but the method the author chose instead probably makes generation easier and less time-consuming.  It also means the book will have a decent re-use value, even if certain players may have run into Dunnsmouth in a previous campaign. The method itself is explained in a very straightforward manner, and an example is provided at the back of the book (which I suppose a GM could use if he was too lazy or in too great a hurry to generate the town himself).

As for what the setting/adventure is like, well, the not-extremely-creative but very evocative title says it all; get it? Its like Dunwich or Innsmouth, a weird little town in a forgotten corner of the world that's full of creepy families and dark secrets.  Made for relatively low-level play (the book's back cover says lv.2-5), the point here is to have a mostly investigative game, potentially with some big end-fights.  As usual when I review adventures, I won't go into too much detail about the particulars, especially the two big problems in the town, since I don't want to spoil it for anyone.

What I can say is this: the town is not entirely generic, certain people are identified by real-world nationalities, for example, and the town has a vaguely 17th-18th century feel to it.  But on the other hand, elves are mentioned, and there's magic and monsters.  None of these details are so significant that you couldn't easily transfer the setting to fit into any forgotten corner of most standard fantasy worlds.

The town has a couple of townsfolk that are particularly important and are almost always present: "Uncle Ivanovik" (a 'crazy old hermit', or so says the initial description), Magda (an "aging but still sultry Roma magic-user", or so says her initial description) and Father Iwanopolous (the local priest who has become "a little unhinged", or so says his description).  Aside from the basic buildings and the Church, there are a number of potential special locations (termed "kickers") that can appear depending on die rolls; these are the kind of locales (for the most part) that might exist in a small town (a tavern, a sawmill, an old fort, a manor, etc.) but obviously each will have their own weirdness about them.

The bulk of the randomly-determined population belong to one of four families (determined by the suit of the playing card used to generate them). There's the "jovial" Duncaster family, the haughty Dunlop family, the Samson family (who are a family of "angry, inbred hillbillies"), and the Van Klaus family (who are proud and xenophobic, and have an ancient shameful secret).  Each potential member of each family is described with somewhere around half a page to one page of text (with details on how to modify them depending on certain conditions during town generation).

The book itself has no coherent pre-designed "adventure" as such; some sample reasons are provided as to why on earth the PCs would go to Dunnsmouth, but then the game itself is all Sandbox.  It would involve meeting the various townsfolk in the various locales, and depending on how the town is generating either eventually or very quickly discovering what details are horrifically wrong about the town.

If you like both Sandbox play and "Creepy Towns", you're very likely to enjoy this adventure.  Of course, if the freeform style of a sandbox is not your thing, you may have trouble with this book.  I'm not sure just how many times you'd really want to use it as a GM, but the random town-generation system does certainly permit for the town to be made different enough each time that at least it would not feel truly repetitive.


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