+Venger Satanis's Liberation of the Demon Slayer was released more than a month ago at this point and has been sitting in my pile since about 3 minutes after its release. I've read over the adventure more than once and have struggled a lot with how I would approach reviewing this massive work. Don't get me wrong, I may hate to give bad review but that doesn't stop me from giving them, and let me be clear and up front, Liberation of the Demon Slayer is not a bad adventure; quite the opposite really.mini-campaign/adventure
No, the struggle has been with how to approach my review. LotDS is more than just an adventure or mini-campaign, however, it is also less than a setting guide or OSR rule set. In the end it is all three but not whole one or the other. This aspect alone has been keeping me from this review. However, the time is nigh, the calender is in the correct alignment and my daughter lost tablet privileges allowing me to more easily ready my .pdf of LotDS on the go (seriously, smart phones and RPGs don't mix). Given the length of the Liberation as well as the multiple aspects that the book encompasses I've made the decision to split my review into two-parts. The first will be about the alternate rules that +Venger Satanis adds into the d20 based rule systems that can be used with this adventure and the setting as presented in the first 25 pages of LotDS.
Obviously, spoiler ahead.
Liberation of the Demon Slayer Review – Part 1 The moons around the dead god go 'round and 'round
The setting of LotDS is an interesting one. It isn't new but it includes a lot of elements from a lot of different sources, time periods and literary sub-genres to create a world that both feels like Thundarr the Barbarian and Lovecraft as filtered by Howard.
Razira, the world that the game takes place on, is no ordinary planet but a sleeping god (or being of immense and cosmic level powers) by the same name. How long this god has slept is not apparent in the material of the adventure but given the aeons long history of lesser dark gods, interdimenional travelers, wars and plots I would gather that this god has been out of it a very long time.
The history of the world, Is vast and painted in enough broad strokes by Venger that while the referee is given a framework, the walls, floors and interior design deceptions are all his or hers. It is a generalist's approach to world building and that, as both a game designer and referee is a very good thing. For many reasons the generalist approach works best for the setting that Venger created due to who some of the movers and shakers of the setting are. Let us be clear, it matters not if Devils are Lawful and Demons are Chaotic … they're both evil races that will do what needs to be done to further their goals and that chiefly means lying out their shiny read back ends.
That's right, the devils and demons run this show, shadow masters behind everything that goes on yet they themselves are puppets to even higher beings. It is an interesting change, to go from setting after setting in which such abhorrent evil is just a side note to that evil being the core of all the bad and evil in the world. It really makes the reader wonder, if on Razira evil is cancer that good must eliminate or if it is the other way around.
When Dungeons and Dragons 4e came out the designers talked about “Points of Light” in a world of darkness, on Razira, I am not seeing points of light, just shades of gray fading to black as the big point of the adventure, the giant mystical object sought after, shows with a very swift punch in the face. The setting, and in particular the mechanics of magic and objects created by magic, forces both the referee and the player to make choices and sacrifices for the “greater good”.
The biggest suggestion I could make to any referee and one that Venger doesn't is to make elves off limits to players. In Venger's setting they are deliciously different than their typical high-fantasy name-sakes and as such would serve much better as something whispered in the dark by the players rather than a wolf right next to them.
This of course serves as a bad segue into the next section which is on the additional and alternate rules that Venger presents in the first 20 odd pages of the mini-campaign. To be blunt there is a lot here in terms of suggestions and ways and alternatives to your typical d20 almost anything. Of particular note (and what we will be focusing on here) is the inclusions of “Free-from Magic”, motivations, dark secrets and explosive damage (but what about fortune!?). I'm focusing on these for several reasons, the first being that I've been thinking of similar things for Eira, second they are the most fun and unique things about the suggested alternate rules and lastly because I want to.
First up is magic! It is no secret that magic and I do not get along … at all and honestly that does not change with LotDS. What does do, however, is give me insetting reasons to dislike magic. Why? Because magic comes from the demons and devils mentioned above! As to the rules, Venger gets rid of the traditional “fire and forget” style of magic that has plagued the d20 style games since the beginning and replaced it was a roll and fail system that is adjudicated with a success/failure table. I like this, I like it a lot and have been working on something similar (See this blog post) for a while now. It adds more rolling which I am never a fan of, but makes the magic-user of more use than the he is in other magic systems. Add to this the bizarre effects that could happen from the misuse of magic items and the increased effectiveness of a spellcaster that doesn't decide to just start raining destruction down on the world and it is honestly a lot more fun. Still, I don't like magic so I was little surprised that given the properties of so many things in the game that Venger did not create a corruption mechanic for spell use as that would have fit excellently with the themes throughout the rest of the adventure.
Motivations and Dark Secrets are an excellent edition that I was not surprised to find given Venger's background in White Wolf products. Motivations are what drive the character and Venger provides a table for 8 motivations a player may have (although I assume that a good referee or player may include alternate ones) and range from the typical greed to learning to be self-sufficient. Dark Secrets are a trade off, get a reroll on a bad ability score in exchange for lusting after your sister. Venger didn't include a limit to the dark motivations but I would draw the line at two, if World of Darkness should me anything it is that too many “flaws” can kill a game. Both factor into another mechanic called Fortune which adds bonuses to a roll of the player's choice but is not replenished unless the character plays to his or her Motivations or Dark Secrets. In a way all three are mechanic based carrots on a stick to get the players to roleplay instead of the overly cliche'd term “rollplay”. However, that is not the true case as none of the mechanics punish for not roleplaying as fortune does replenish over time regardless of the ability of the player to play his character's lust for his sister to a hilt or not.
Note: Lusting after your sister is note actually an option but I was watching Joe Dirt this morning.
Finally the most mechanic-y of the alternate rules presented by Venger is the exploding dice. If anyone has played NwoD they know what these are. Essentially if your longsword does d8 damage and you roll an 8, than roll again if you get a 4 you did 12 damage if you roll another 8 roll again. It is possible (although statistically unlikely) to roll upwards to a 100 points of damage on a single attack. This for me is the most troubling of the new mechanics and the only one I didn't use as I thought it made things potentially too overpowered (after all the monsters should be allowed to as well, right?) Still, I can see this being a fun event at any game table in the same way a natural 20 does and in the end the players having fun and sometimes getting to feel bad-ass is important.
The rest of the review will be up eeither tomorrow or Thursday depending on time and how well my kids allow me to sit and type nearly three and a half page of overview/review. However I will be splitting my rating for this review into 3 areas with a final over all to come with the final part.
Setting – 5 out of 5. Despite being a broad-strokes setting the atmosphere and potential history of Razira are full of greatness and I hope we get to see more of this setting by Venger.
Rules – 3 out of 5 Over all very good, I think something are a bit clunky but they are suggestions more than dogma and being that the post Dungeons and Dragons d20 movement is all about tinkering I see no problem with ever replacing, forgetting or adjusting some of the alternate rules. In particular I think explosive damage needs a limiter placed on it so that no one can be “too lucky”.
Agree, disagree? Tell me in the comments maybe you can get me to change my mind on those dice?