Disclaimer: I purchased Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence was graciously given to me for the purposes of review by Kort’thalis Publishing. Opinions within this review are mine and those of my co-author, Nick. One word of warning, the subject matter of the products reviewed within this post are of a mature content. Consider yourselves advised.
If you spend any time in the OSR community, chances are you have heard of Liberation of the Demon Slayer, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, or their author, Venger Satanis. The man is as prolific as he is creative, and you can check out his old school gaming blog here.
I picked up Liberation of the Demon Slayer as a module to convert for Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACKS) and began running it for one of my many groups. When Venger put out the call for 13th Age players & reviewers to look at Islands from the stand point of using it in a 13th Age game, I jumped on it. It turns out a lot of what I would say about one module, I would say about both. Therefore, I am going to do a combination review. I also have one of my editors, Nick (who is part of a special 13th Age project I will talk more about in 2 weeks) joining me on co-writing this review, specifically as it relates to 13th Age.
Liberation of the Demon-Slayer & The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
Liberation of the Demon Slayer is a 68 page PDF, and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence clocks in at 110. Both are available from Drivethrurpg.com. The look of the two books are similar. The layouts are nice and clean, black and white art is liberally used throughout, and they have a very old-school theme which is in-line with the darker fantasy themes of the products. Both books also contain fantastic old-school dungeon maps by Dyson Logos. Island’s island maps were done by Alyssa Faden, who also created the Dragon Kings map I mentioned in a prior post.
To call either of these books a ‘module’ does the writing a disservice. What you are getting in each is about 60% adventure, 35% creative new rules for use in that adventure or any OSR game, and 5% game-world information. It is key to keep that in mind as you sit down to read them. There are a ton of great ideas to mine from these books in settings, rules, and encounters.
Liberation begins with 12 pages of setting-specific information as well as some new mechanics. Ideas like Dark Secrets, where a player may re-roll ability scores by rolling for a random dark background event, or Venger’s simple adaptation to the Vancian magic system to allow mages the chance to retain spells are fantastic additions to the OSR DM’s house rules.
The meat of the book is a dungeon-crawl adventure where the characters must descend into a local dungeon to claim the sword called Demon Slayer and protect the townfolk from an annual evil. Venger gives us a dungeon filled with typical fantasy tropes mixed with Barrier Peaks elements and a dash of Lovecraft. Venger’s love of the weird shines through, and the twist within the legend of the Demon-Slayer is sure to get a response from the players.
Islands is a similar beast, but instead of pulling from the tradition of dungeon-crawls, it returns to the idea of a hex-crawl. The book starts off with 14 pages of new rules: Venger’s take on the monk class, a way of task resolution for OSR games that are rules light, more Dark Secrets, another new magic system overlay, and more. Given the free-form nature of hex-crawl sandbox campaigns, Venger gives a solid setup for DMs running this adventure. The sandbox is explained and a number of helpful tools are given: background on the islands, encounters, factions, and story ideas.
Following these tools are 41 pages dedicated to the various hex encounters that your players will need to resolve as they explore the three Islands. The gonzo inhabits the islands in droves. Cyber-men, Hell’s Angels, and drow all move over the island for their own inscrutable reasons. Treasure ranges from phasers to Pumping Iron with Arnold DVDs. The last 8 pages cover new spells and some great new artifacts you could lift and drop into any OSR game.
And now for the meat of the review; I was asked to look at these books specifically as it relates to ACKS and 13th Age.
For ACKS GMs, these are ridiculously easy to convert. Stat blocks contain Hit Dice, AC (just subtract 10 for ACKS AC), and damage, which is all you need to come up with your ACKS stats. Liberation works great as a large dungeon to drop in your region, it ties in with the Order versus Chaos theme of ACKS, and you can uses the adventure background as is without having to tie too much back to the world of Razira (the world of Liberation and Islands). However, if you are needing a kickstart to a whole new world, Liberation works great for that as well. Razira, plus some of the house rules which will require some monkeying to fit ACKS, will set you up for a great start to a campaign.
Islands fits even better, as it provides you with a starting region to hex-crawl in. You will have to overlay domain stats, add a city or two (or just add the islands off the coast of a more law land), and you are practically good to go. It’s a bit of work, but if you are looking for a region to drop higher level PCs in or lands for them to conquer, the Islands would work.
Converting these books to 13th Age would be tougher, but not impossible for a GM. You could ignore the standard leveling system of 13th Age, and use a more narrative-driven milestone leveling system very easily. One character level per two levels of the dungeon sounds about right, and would give Liberation a level range of 1 – 3. There is still plenty of story in Liberation to latch onto, but you would want to pick and choose each level’s main gist, then go from there.
The factions listed as major players in Islands would be a great point for creating Icons. The Purple Worshipers, Overlords, the Children of Light, etc. This would also help focus the players for a more traditional hex-crawl game and bind Islands more tightly to the 13th Age mechanics. Monster conversion would also be more difficult than an ACKS conversion. Venger is super creative and came up with some great ideas for encounters, but a lot involve non-standard monsters. Keep that in mind as you are considering these books, but the 13th Age DIY monster rules are great for these types of situations. Personally, I would mine the books for themes, ideas, and over-all plots rather than a direct room-for-room, hex-for-hex conversion to 13th Age.
Nick’s take on a 13th Age conversion
I feel that at the very core, converting Islands to a 13th Age campaign might be more difficult than its worth. Islands was created to fit into an OSR genre, and 13th Age is not an OSR game. A PC in an OSR game is usually one step away from disaster and dying, and Islands captures that feel perfectly. 13th Age is quite the opposite in the way PCs play powerful, heroic types of characters. That being said, I think there are a lot of great ideas, encounters, and launch-points a GM could use in their own campaign. If your campaign is set in a weird place or has some multi-dimensional travels, you will find plenty of supplements to take from this book.
Vengen said of Islands, “It’s not the end-all, be-all of fantasy worlds; merely a familiar taste with hints of something else… something distinctively weird,” and I would have to agree with that wholeheartedly.
I could not review these books without including a couple of cautionary asides. The first is a warning on taste. Venger presents some great material that any DM could use for their games, both in story and mechanics. However, some of it is not going to be in everyone’s wheelhouse. This is not typical fantasy fare, nor is it a standard deviation from it. A lot of the material in these products are outlier territory…like laser pistols, Hell’s Angels, and Arnold Schwarzenegger DVDs outlier. This can be a turn off for some people, so be aware of your own tastes before purchasing these books.
The second is a warning of content. Both of these books have a mature warning on them, and they earned it. They contain graphic and dark content, and there is a fair amount of nudity in them. Some of the themes themselves are quite dark; slavery, rape, and sex are just a few of the topics mentioned within the books. I know that a lot of gamers, myself included, don’t deal with these topics at the table, not just because of personal views but because of player boundaries.
It is hard to say if the creative content outweighs the cautionary content. That is up to you. There is a wealth of information in each book worth more than the cover price they carry. Venger has taken two of the classic OSR tropes and done them justice. However, the mature content is sure to cause a number of people to pause before buying. Caveat Emptor.