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Friday 21 December 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: The Ogre Gate Inn and the Strange Land of Li Fan

This is a review of the "Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate" sourcebook, "The Ogre Gate Inn and the Strange Land of Li Fan"; published by Bedrock Games, written by Brendan Davis.  This is, as always, a review of the print edition, which is a softcover book, 191 pages long, with a full color cover depicting some wuxia heroes. The interior art is black and white and features a variety of wuxia-style art, as well as some impressive city mapping and and floorplans.

I should note before I proceed that I have a business relationship with Bedrock Games, in that they're the publishers of my Arrows of Indra OSR RPG. I don't think that this will affect the quality of my review, but for the sake of transparency I felt I should mention it anyways. I had nothing to do with the creation of this sourcebook or the original Ogre Gate RPG, and I don't make any money from this product or this review.

If you're not familiar with the Ogre Gate RPG you may want to take a look at my earlier review of Ogre Gate here.

This new product is a sourcebook, detailing the land of Li Fan, a client state in the south of the Zhan Dao empire which is the key state of that setting. Li Fan as a region is, to quote the introduction to this book, "the most suited for Strange Tales type-adventures". It is the land where the evil Demon Emperor first entered the world; and the land and its people are "still infused with the energy from that cataclysmic event". The Ogre Gate Inn is a central part of the setting, and is here presented as an exploratory adventure.

The first chapter of the book begins with an overview of the geography and culture of Li Fan. It has strange effects throughout the land, including pockets of microclimates, a forest of trees with orange leaves, and badlands with unusual creatures. This land is adjacent to the Banyan region, the wilderlands where the great martial heroes of the kingdom live, keeping hidden from the wicked Demon Emperor; alongside all numbers of strange sects and cults isolated in the border regions.

Li Fan is a protectorate of the demon king's empire, ruled by a local king.  As a backwater, it is more conservative than the empire, and the power of clans is very important. Details are provided in the first chapter regarding the King, his chief ministers, the political structure of the land, and the most powerful Duke in the region (who has ambitions to one day be king). There's also information on social classes in Li Fan, which work on a rigid social hierarchy.
There's also information on the local hierarchy, common dishes (noodles are the staple food), local culture, the army, and political tensions.

Next, you get a list of important legendary figures: there's the legendary Bandit King Zhang Kang, Hu Gao and Zhou Hua who were a famous heroic couple, and General Mao Mei who was a female general that led resistance against the Demon Emperor (she died at the battle of Ogre Gate).
You also get information about local deities, and also the local superstitious fear of evil water spirits.

Chapter 2 is "the gazetteer of Li Fan". It starts out with some encounter tables; but starting out with noting that (as per above) there's a higher chance of there being danger near bodies of water, from the evil water spirits.  Included on p.12 is a hex-map of the Li Fan region. It is, like the maps in the Ogre Gate main book itself, quite detailed. Li Fan itself is only a very small, narrow section of the area covered by the map, while the rest of the area is populated by wilderness areas.

There are specific gazetteer entries for locations shown on the hexmap. These include such interesting locations and groups as the Bone Fortress of the Bone Breaking Sect, the Demon Maelstrom and Dragon Tooth Cavern, the Emerald Mines, the city of Fan, the Four Demon Pagodas, the Hall of Pristine Beauties, the Red Gecko Mountain, The Temple of Enlightened Disarray, Tiger Clan Fortress, and more. There's about 65 pages of material covering a wide varieties of locales. This includes some locations that only get about a paragraph of text, but others get much larger treatments; including some spectacular maps of cities or buildings, complete with keyed rooms with descriptions, descriptions of organizations and NPCs, and more. In other words, plenty of these are ready-made for encounters and scenarios.

The next chapter is "The Ogre Gate Inn", and it's a further exploration of one specific place, in the form of an adventure.  The Ogre Gate Inn is "a place frequented by thieves, martial heroes, and the scum of the empire". It's the last stop before the great desert or vast forest. A fantastic map of the Inn along with it's lower levels is provided.

The adventure for the Ogre Gate Inn covers chapters 3-6, so roughly 70 pages. It is really a kind of straightforward dungeon adventure, with the PCs having to deal with a group of bandits who have taken over the Inn, and then exploring the two lower-level areas; the first being the tomb of an ancient general, the second, a great treasury of a bandit king.

The adventure includes a list of fascinating characters at the Inn, which are fully detailed in the NPC section in chapter 6. There's also a clever set of tables of daily or hourly events, that give the place a strong sense of vibrancy. A local map is presented of the immediate environment surrounding the Ogre Gate Inn.

The adventure itself is very interesting, as a kind of alternative-genre fantasy dungeon. It is in some ways going through the same motions as you would in a D&D module, but the content and cultural context is totally different! In a similar way to what some OSR games have done (my own Arrows of Indra and Lion & Dragon among them), Ogre Gate has a very specific culture-context that is done in an all-in kind of way. This is NOT "oriental adventures D&D", which is still basically a western setting with oriental facade. It is very, very Asian, written by someone who knows his stuff.

After the adventure, we get to chapter 7, which adds some new Kung Fu Techniques and Rituals that appear in this book which did not appear in the Ogre Gate main book. These have such wonderful names as "Blast of the Dragon Breath", "Busting Fists of Master Liu", "Eluding Viper", "Granny Chang's Flailing Daggers", etc.
Chapter 8 presents "Objects of power and equipment", which again present about 20 new artifacts not from the original rulebook. Chapter 9 is the "new monster" section, but this chapter includes a large number of stat-blocks for different NPCs from various sects and groups, ranging from common groups to the cultists of certain monasteries (one of the details of the Ogre Gate RPG is that since each school has their own special techniques, it makes it very difficult to just provide generic statblocks).  You also get some great wuxia-style monsters, including "Crystal Priests of Quijun", bone demons, demon monkeys, mercury golems, owl-monkeys, and a few others.  This closes off the book.

So, to conclude about "The Ogre Gate Inn and the Strange Land of Li Fan": do you already own and like the Ogre Gate RPG? If so, this is definitely a product you're going to want to buy!

Do you not own the Ogre Gate RPG, but might want to? This book adds another reason for doing so.  It should be noted that Ogre Gate has its own system; it's not even remotely an OSR game, so if that's where you come from (as I imagine many of my readers do), you'll have to work out if you want to get into an all-new all-different system. But if you're open to a new game system, Ogre Gate is really a remarkable game. The system is decent; the setting is spectacular.

What about if you have no interest in playing the Ogre Gate RPG? Can you still mine this system? I'd say yes. If you want to run, say, a D&D or OSR game in a Chinese-mythology-inspired Wuxia context, there'd be a ton of setting material available to you. You could get the main RPG, which presents an incredibly vast setting, or you could just take the material in this book as a smaller setting, the sort of thing that would work for shorter campaigns or for a side-visit to a distant part of your setting, it could be very useful. Of course, you'd have to totally wing the conversion of the NPCs and monsters, and undoubtedly some of that would require some work and a lot of the fine detail of the martial powers would probably be lost in a conversion to a D&D/OSR system.

On the whole, it's a very admirable work.


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