Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review - Life and Death (d101 Games)

RPGs aren't a matter of life and death, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, they're more important than that.  And anyone who spends large amounts of time designing RPG campaigns will appreciate Life and Death (L&D) by Newt Newport.  Written for Newt's Openquest system, a slimmed-down version of Mongoose Runequest 1 designed under the Open Game License, L&D is an extremely imaginative campaign setting and adventures that resonates well with the distinctly non-medieval tradition of Runequest adventures.  I heartily recommend it.

L&D is set in the Shattered Lands, a setting of 5 city states that all fell under a magical curse 500 years ago and endured centuries of complete isolation.  During that time, their gods disappeared and magical has become extremely limited in its scope.  Some "replacement" cults have now arisen and the objects of devotion are attempting to achieve godhood.  This makes for a fun setting, especially as undeath is pretty common around the Lands.

Newt says in his introduction that the two adventures for the setting aim to embody several themes that he has found running through "d100" adventures through the years.  Those are:

  • Monsters are characters too
  • Treasure is often culturally significant
  • Cultural detail is important
  • Magic is an integral part of the world
  • Interaction with the world is not just based around combat
I have to say that this is a great list, and will use it as a checklist for my own future scenarios.  It's also safe to say that Newt has succeeded in his aims.

Of the two adventures I marginally prefer the first, Dead Pot Country, which takes the characters into a desert area populated by peasants and bandits, a whole bunch of walking dead and a lost civilization ripe for exploration.  Tomb robbers looking for loads of loot are going to be extremely disappointed (and that's probably why most adventurers will be lured to the area), but those looking for the unexpected will be delighted, assuming they survive.

The adventures are written in a particular style that makes them ideal for "sandbox" style gaming.  There is no railroad here.  The setting, characters (including "monsters") and certain encounters are described individually, for the DM to use as he/she feels fit.  This makes them adaptable to almost any DM-ing style.  The storyteller can write the story beforehand from the ingredients provided while the old school referee can let the players explore and drop in the encounters when it seems right.

The second adventure, the eponymous Life and Death, has more of a plot, but it is one that can unfold in a variety of ways.  It takes the characters through from being newcomers to a city, through involvement in political factions to a mythic encounter in the deserted realm of the gods.  All good Runequest-style stuff.

The downfall, however, of area-based settings like this is that they can often be difficult to insert into an ongoing campaign.  L&D, by contrast, could fit quite well into Glorantha almost as written.  The isolation of the Shattered Lands fits well into Gloranthan myth, with the Closing and the Syndics' Ban.  The removal of the gods also has all the hallmarks of a God Learner experiment.  I'm therefore tempted to insert the Shattered Lands into an area of Third Age Pamaltela without many changes. It could even fit into the Second Age, perhaps as an early God Learner experiment (with some appropriate contraction of time) or even, with some tweaks, as a relic of Nysalor's Bright Empire, shattered at the end of the First Age.  If I ever get my Questworld project off the ground (more of that later), I'll drop it in as written.

All in all, an excellent pack, well worth the $12 for the PDF at DriveThruRPG.  If you're in the UK, you can pick it up at Newt's store here.


  1. Maximum thanks for the kind words. L&D was a labour of love that took a little bit too long to bring into the world. Ironically last night I was thinking that no one appreciated it. This morning I woke up and saw a Google alert for this :D

    One minor point, the link you give to my store leads to my store - which means that the game is available in print worldwide :)

  2. Great review! Just getting into OQ, but will definitely pick this up.

  3. I'm about halfway through L&D, and agree that it is a great adventure book. Overall, though, there is less in L&D than in the 'Savage North'.

  4. I intend to review The Savage North soon. Given that I am from Sonderland myself, I have to do it.