Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Weird Dread Machine

Gus L over at Dungeon of Signs has released another in his series of free adventure pdfs, Dread Machine. As with all of Gus's products its got good layout for a free product and is enlivened by his appropriately stylized art and maps.

Gus says of the adventure: "Designed to be used in any fantasy setting, it is not intended to be especially strange or outside the norms for most traditional fantasy adventure games." While I think this is true, in the sense that it's implied setting seems to be a pre-industrial sort of world, I think it sells the the flavor of the module short. I would say that Dread Machine (like most of Gus's rpg work) has a vibe of the New Weird about it, like the world of China Mieville, Jay Lake, or K.J. Bishop. While I think many will view it as similar to the sort of gonzo flavor Old School D&D is often touted as having (and sometimes actually did) there is a coherence (or the illusion of coherence) that sets it apart from the mere gonzo, and an attention to (to coin a term) "fantasification"--seeing sci-fi elements through a fantasy lens. This is something I tried to do a lot with Weird Adventures and something that is different from the approach to sci-fi elements of say Expedition to Barrier Peaks.

Not that you have to be interested in any of that to enjoy the adventure. It's deeply "old school" in structure and setup but adaptable to any school you want. Check it out.

And while you checking things out, I think Dave Johnson's gonzo Grandpappy Cromdar's Whizbang Zoo! may not hit the same notes as Dread Machine, but could go on the playlist of "old school made new."


Gus L said...

Thanks for sharing this Trey. I guess what I meant in the preamble is that almost every other PDF up there is for either ASE's Land of 1,000 towers (unabashedly gonzo science fantasy) or my own "Fallen Empire" setting (unplayed and mostly something I'm fiddling with trying to sidestep Fantasy roleplay genre tropes, or at least push them towards Virconium and away from Tolkien).

Dread Machine and the smaller Prison of the Hated Pretender are meant to be easy enough to drop into anyone's campaign - world's full of Scottish Beer Dwarves and Sad Beauty Elves where St. Cuthbert's priory sits in the midst of Homlett Square. Yet I don't want to write "Orcs in a cave - the Adventure" (as I like to call B10 King's Festival) so my sensibilities seep in - but with Dread Machine I'm putting effort into constraining them.

I explicitly want the technological elements to ancient alchemy from another sinister plane not cuddly steampunk up for adaption by clever players. I also set the weird in a distant area and constrain it. The murderously rustic halfings of the Yellow land aren't especially weird in any kind of non-vanilla fantasy way - and one can always rename them "Stinkfoots". My goal was sort of a journey into weirder and weirder as the players first cross the Yellow Land, then delve into the strange canyon and finally into the machine itself.

Trey said...

Thanks for the further elucidation, Gus. It's good stuff. I think anyone can find a use for it.

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

This sounds friggin awesome! Thanks Gus and thanks Trey for the heads-up.

Jim Shelley said...

That is a very nice layout and an impressive amount of game material as well. Cool stuff!

Trey said...

@greg - You're welcome.