This module clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 4 pages editorial, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
This book was moved forward in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for an unbiased and critical review.
All right, so, from the get-go, let me make one thing perfectly clear: This is not a module in the traditional sense…or rather, it actually is. What do I mean with this cryptic statement? Basically, this is a wide open sandbox, like some of the best Frog God Games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Raging Swan Press offerings – what we have here is basically a mini campaign setting, suffuses with encounters and adventure hooks to develop and pursue – and it is actually better off for it, but more on that later; first, let’s discuss why this setting is unique.
The world of Torth is not a nice place – beyond Kort’thalis Publishing’s emphasis on the mythos and its dark deity-like entities, the first thing a forlorn traveler will note as he arrives on the dunes of these wastelands is the absence of the sun, for, generations ago, the most powerful magic-practitioners of the world utilized the very sun to annihilate the android uprising that sought to end mankind; ever since, Torth’s eternal night is illuminated by the 7 moons, which also feature in the way locals measure the time. With the catastrophic cataclysm, the dragons of old vanished and the world would have been doomed to suffer an eternal winter, but thankfully, the planet houses vast catacombs wherein arcano-technical supercomputers generate sufficient heat to stave off this dire fate…at least for now. With civilization in ruins, new settlements have arisen from the bleak sands and one of said cities would be Aryd’s End, where the lion’s share of this module takes place.
If that sounds awfully scifi for you, then probably because it is…or can be. The emphasis on the technological aspects is subdued enough and one can, should one choose to, alternatively run this as a straight homage of Robert E. Howard-esque Sword & Sorcery – indeed, the cover’s rendition of the ruling trio of Aryd’s End should drive home pretty well that, beyond the dark aspects in both theme and world-building, this very much could be a place you can find in a given novel by the old greats f the eminent genre. From a fluff-perspective, the general sense of immersion is significantly enhanced by the inclusion of well-structured information on what current Torthians know, which also includes the aforementioned means of tracking time and popular sayings that help depict the natives with sufficient local color.
Compared to other Kort’thalis Publishing-supplements, the supplemental rules provided do feel more streamlined and refined: Two character kits/archetypes are provided with the Shadow Priest and the Wandering Minstrel. Both have in common that they no longer focus exclusively on a narrative function and instead manage to provide abilities (like permanently turning a foe into a shadow, destroying him…until the intervention of another shadow priest…) that drive narratives in an intriguing manner, while also sporting more details: AoEs and a more precise rules-language show the growth of the author. Beyond that, it is my happy duty to state that, beyond OSR, 5th Edition aficionados will have an easy time converting and running this one: With Dis-/advantage and similar terminology strewn in, conversion work is rather simple and fast, particularly regarding the numerous storied magical items featured in this book, which coincidentally also constitute one of my personal highlights in this book: Take e.g. the trident sandstorm, once aligned with the seas, that can now control the very sands. The new spells provided herein suffer, comparatively, a bit from more ambiguity, but radical subjectivism‘s option to eliminate an item from the perception of those subject to the spell, to give you one example, is pretty awesome.
Now before I go into the spoilerific sections of this review, let me talk about one component: This module is billed as “mature content” and I understand why: Much like the traditional Sword and Sorcery genre, it is a brutal, dark world that is depicted here. At the same time, I never considered the offering excessive in either violence or sexual content – none of the artworks, for example, depict nudity. In fact, most music videos nowadays sport more. As a German, I do not share the experience of cultural sexual stigmatization, but still – I quite frankly have wracked my brain for quite a while and couldn’t come up with anything within these pages that could be considered offensive. Sure, it’s dark, but Game of Thrones is literally more violent and sexual. Perhaps I’m odd, but I’ve grown up with Conan-tales and comics and as such, am of the firm conviction that this module should not be considered problematic in any regard. So no, we have neither offensive, nor gratuitous sexuality or violence here – they are themes, of course, but the module handles the whole matter tastefully.
All right, that should cover the basics, onwards to the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! This sandbox assumes the PCs will enter Aryd’s End via one way or another – and, in its dust-choked streets, it will be only a matter of time before the PCs are drawn into the Byzantine power-games that are played here: 4 tribes with customs etc., one more savage/problematic than the other, esoteric schools and 3 secret societies follow their agendas in the streets and behind silken curtains, as the masked revelers of the city follow they debaucheries and excesses. Within the alleys and roads of Aryd’s End, mysterious stranger with golden masks may warn you of Shaitan’s brotherhood; you may witness (or even participate) in the conspiracy-driven murder of a noble and be framed for it – and there is so much more to find. The rumor-table sport hooks galore and beyond the walls, giant oozing slug-brains that enslave minds, scorpion-squids and lethal tentacle-armed gorillas await foolish adventurers as just the perfect supplement to their diet.
The streets of Aryd’s End are no less dangerous, though – suffused in the tradition of Lovecratiana, the influence of the mythos, from the Yellow King’s court to Carcosa, can be felt within the post-apocalyptic streets – but only if you know, where to look. Depending on your tastes, the very world may be o a timer, as a mad sculptor seeks to complete a statue that will usher in the rise of the dread Old Ones and end the world of Torth…and trying to stop him may see you killed in a horrible way…or not. Taking a note from how magic is handled in traditional Sword & Sorcery, there is also the intriguing local drug market to contemplate – where vastly improved arcane power is just one highly addictive drug away…certainly, said drugs have catastrophic repercussions sooner or later, but judging from the former adventurer-junkies, not everyone with magical talent sports common sense.
Speaking of the tropes of classic Sword & Sorcery – it is only a matter of time before capable adventurers like the PCs have to come before barbarian king Dran, his beautiful partner, the seductive Yara (who doesn’t wish to ruin her figure – hence her hand-maiden is pregnant…with what may or may not be Dran’s child) and the mysterious shadow priest Viraj – let’s hope the PCs heed the local custom and attend the audience appropriately blood-spattered and they may actually survive the powerplay going on between the powerful figures at the top of Aryd’s End’s food-chain…heck, they may even survive a dark elf assassination attempt, if they’re capable and lucky! And sometime in the future, who’s not to say that they may sit upon that throne themselves, much like a certain Cimmerian?
Perhaps the PCs will also have their chance to stop a berserking head of a summoned elder deity, sent as a magical assassin for some creatures…and in the desert, they may either test their mettle and wits or even begin a relationship with none other than the beautiful Idryssa the Worm Soceress. Of course, more heroically-inclined adventurers may test their mettle against the kidnapping plan of one of the aforementioned secret societies out in the desert…or they may inadvertently awaken the echo of one of the legendary 7 casters of old, upsetting the power-dynamic of the whole region – but all of that, and more, is ultimately up to the players and GM: The seeds are here; the details will happen.
3 well-drawn maps of mini-dungeons partially used in the hooks of this sandbox are btw. also provided in this book.
Editing and formatting are very good, both on a formal and rules-language level, they are more precise than what I’ve read before by Kort’thalis Publishing – kudos! Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the book sports copious absolutely stunning b/w-images strewn through the book. The pdf version f this book has no bookmarks, which is a significant comfort-detriment – I strongly encourage you to get the softcover instead: Beyond the glossy covers, it is a nice book to have in print…and more comfortable to use that way. As mentioned, the cartography provided for the mini-dungeons is nice.
The previous offerings I’ve read by author Venger As’Nas Satanis are suffused and informed by a thoroughly old-school adherence to heavy-metal aesthetics, spiked with copious amounts of Lovecraftiana, Sword & Sorcery and gonzo weirdness. The latter component is less pronounced in this one: Basically, “Revelry in Torth” is a pretty serious setting/module that could have featured in just about any of the classic tales: The writing is superb, the local color sufficiently raw and the vast plethora of things to do, of threads to explore, renders this book significantly more useful than what you’d expect from a book of its size, with the eye-winking here mostly pertaining nods towards the mythos and other classic tales – like in the original stories.
The blending of subdued sci-fantasy aesthetics, mythos, Conan-esque imagery and post-apocalyptic set-ups is sufficiently unique to lend this its own identity, without restricting its adaptability regarding e.g. the Conan-setting, the World of Xoth or even more mundane fantasy worlds, though, in the latter case, I’d still advise for a plane/world/time-jump: Much of the awesomeness of this book derives from the excellent ideas and local color provided for Aryd’s End.
So no complaints apart from the pdf’s missing bookmarks? Unfortunately, no – there is one thing I truly would have wished for: A map of Aryd’s End. As depicted, and this may be intentional, the city and its revelries feel opaque, hazy, dream-like, almost – a bit like an opium-fueled nightmare between wonder and horror, ecstasy and terror. While a proper map would have somewhat lessened this component, it would have also helped GMs envision the sandbox as a whole, helped kicking off the sandboxy aspects by giving the map to the players and asking: Where do you go from here? Now the good thing is that this is intended as the first trip to Torth, with at least two more waiting somewhere down the line – so we may yet see that.
Still, do not let this deter you from checking this out – even as a scavenging ground of fluff, this is worth the fair asking price: The visuals conjured forth are intriguing and unique and any fan of dark fantasy and sword and sorcery in particular can look forward to this book being a great read. My final verdict hence will clock in at 5 stars, omitting my seal of approval only due to the lack of a city’s map. For the electronic version, please detract a star due to the lack of bookmarks…I really recommend the print over the electronic version for this one.
You can get this great sword & sorcery sandbox here on OBS!