Sunday, February 11, 2018

Your RPG Is Great: On the Shoulders of Giants

Kickstarter-exclusive cover

On the Shoulders of Giants is the breakout supplement from 15-year old RPG wunderkind Chance Phillips. After a tremendously successful kickstarter campaign (1337% funded), OSG was released to the world in full-color pdf and print-on-demand, which I am happy to say is fully worth your money.

OSG is a difficult book to summarize, because it manages to cram a lot of content into its slender bindings. I would dare say that not since Vornheim has so much been said in so few pages, which is all the more impressive for the sheer amount of art that designer Glenn Seal has managed to cram in. Within this module are 18 unique pieces by the eminent Scrap Princess, ranging from the macabre:

Dinner time in the tunnels.

to the strangely beautiful:

This deserves to be framed.

to the nightmarish:

"I AM NATURES CRUELEST MISTAKE"

If the pictures above haven't given you an idea of what this is all about, let's start again from the beginning. OSG posits a world wherein the Greek pantheon Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and Dionysius have waged war upon each other, to their mutual destruction. From their godly carcasses were born maggots, and from the maggots Men, each inheriting an aspect of the god they live in and feast on. It's all very Lamentations in that dark fantasy/grindhouse way, so fans of other such works (Fire on the Velvet Horizon, Veins of the Earth, and Carcosa come to mind) will find quite a lot to love here.

So far as interacting with the world, the book offers four new character classes (the Conspirator, the Corpse Worker, the Prize Fighter, and the Witchdoctor), who for the most part  play surprisingly different from both each other and the existing LotFP classes. Conspirators are your conmen, your masterminds, your big-picture guys and gals always three steps ahead of their opponents. Prize Fighters are your glass cannons, strong but fragile; that makes Corpse Workers your tanks, hardy but lacking punch. The real cream of the crop here is the Witchdoctor, which uses a new system of magic titled "Experiments," allowing them to perform terrible atrocities for the sake of power. The interesting thing here is that experiments require materials, and that nearly all of the experiments must be performed before combat begins (preferably before you begin your expedition!): of the thirteen experiments detailed here, only two can be performed in a single round, and of those one must be prepped beforehand.

This necessary foresight lends a deliberate and cautious tone to adventures. It is entirely possible to plan several expeditions for the sole purpose of obtaining the materials needed to perform the necessary experiment to proceed further. In a video game this would be meaningless grind; here it's progress through gritty resolve.

The next two chapter revolve around equipment (mostly maggot-based) and monsters, each distinct and unique to the setting. Once again, fans of VotE and FotVH (god these acronyms) will be pleased with the offerings. Of the three pictures above, the second illustrates the Sky Squid, a living, fungoid transportation device. The third illustrates the Maggot. I hate it. I hate its face, I hate its tiny arms, I hate that they function as infants in this world. If the word "hate" was engraved on every nanoah, ignore that.

The penultimate chapter is devoted to an adventure outline, "The Gray Pools." This lays the groundwork for a campaign based around finding and exploring the titular pools, areas of intense magic activity that warp and distort anything that enters them. It also introduces that most beloved and maligned RPG mechanic of all: psionics. While not my thing personally, I must say the system here is one of the more elegant I've seen. I'll need to run it in order to see how it plays at-the-table. The book ends with a brief Appendix N (I'm a fan), and the hope that I can find time to run this with friends.

Though it is slightly against my intent for Your RPG is Great, I do have two small gripes with OSG. One is the file size: even the printer-friendly file weighs in at 33 MB, and the regular file clocks in at a hefty 113 MB. That is nearly 3 times the size of VotE for a document 1/6 the length, and it might be frustrating for those like me who generally keep their RPG collection on the cloud to have to download it every time. The only other complaint I have is that some of the writing comes off as stilted. The talent is clearly there, it simply lacks the polish that invariably comes with experience and a keen eye for flow. As I said, minor gripes.

I would be happy to see an expansion to On the Shoulders of Giants. What it has laid the groundwork for is impressive, and where it has striven to distance itself from other, similar products the classes, monsters, bloody psionics it has shown great promise. Get yourself a new editor and someone who knows how to optimize pdfs (my door is always open) and you've got a great career ahead of you, Chance, because Your RPG is Great.