Monday, December 30, 2019

EE: Reading Review of Esoteric Enterprises

So Emmy "CaveGirl" Allen published Esoteric Enterprises. Apparently in the workings for at least two full years, this thing is a beast at 247 pages.

This is not at all a thematic genre I generally look into. Having a look at the Appendix N, I've watched most of the TV entries, and about half the comics. But not much else. So thematically I'm not the target audience of EE.

This read-through review might appear overly negative (if counting the amount of Not-So-Good bullets). It's easier to point out criticisms than to stop and appreciate the quality this game packs.

Also bear in mind that I haven't played a single session of the game. I need to test it at the table.

TL;DR: this thing is very good. For 12$, the PDF version is a steal. Even if you never intend to run this, worth it only for the referee facing tables and tools. Pages 104-110 on the section on how to run a (OSR-like) RPG are a concise write-up that I enjoyed immensely. EE could have benefited from an editor's pass.

As a result, I really want to play this. It bumped to the top of my Games I want to Run list. Ping me to get something started.


You can find the full table of contents in the Drivethrurpg preview.

Esoteric Enterprises can be roughly divided into several sections:
  1. how to create a character.
  2. the basic rules of the game.
  3. spellcasting and magic.
  4. about 40 pages of how to run RPGs (including traps and hazards and treasure tables).
  5. how to generate the Undercity map and its complexes (dungeons) for the full sandbox experience.
  6. about 60 pages on how to roll up factions and the bestiary.
There are 8 classes in the game.
Bodyguards are akin to barbarians or dwarves from other OSR games, Criminals are your Thief/Specialist, Mercenaries are Fighters, Occultists are your Magic User, and Explorers are reminiscent of halflings, with good saves from the beginning of their careers and excellent in Athletics/Stealth.
Then we have Doctors, which have good healing as well as a very loose (ruling based) capability to do medical experiments. Players into body horror or creative minds will benefit.
The Mystic is a mix or cleric and warlock. They ask a patron for spell favors.
And the Spook seems just like a blast, where you can play a mutated humanoid with powers. Wanted to play a werewolf, or a vampire? Now you can. But of course, you have to start from the bottom.

The Good

  • This thing is full on packed. 247 pages of content. Random tables left and right.
  • The black & white no-art variant is really appreciated. Easy to print out the tables you need at your table. Ditto for the generous preview available at drivethrurpg.
  • Highly compatible with B/X. The classes are all in the familiar format. Many similarities with LotFP (1-in-6 skills). There's even guidance on how to make it work at Appendix O.
  • Pages 30+31 are golden, and sometime similar should be in every game. Easy to print out and hand to the players (especially newbies will appreciate it), so that they understand what sort of characters they can create and how.
  • Lots of tools for running a game. Tons. Random tables galore. Magic items, loot, rumors, grimoires. You name it.
  • Random Undercity generator.
    • Given Gardens of Ynn and Stygian library, this was kind of expected.
    • It follows the dice dropping technique (aka reading the tea leaves), similar to what I saw in Dark Deeds in Last Hope for Shadow of the Demon Lord.
    • The dice drop is used to map out the Undercity (a big map where your sandbox campaign will be taking place), the Undercity complexes (dungeons and maps for exploration) and fleshing out the factions.

The Not-So-Good

  • There is no character sheet! I get that I can make my own in Word in half an hour. But this is somewhat expected for a full blown game like this one. Here's one I found online.
  • The pdf is not bookmarked, slowing down navigation and digital flipping.
  • It seems the whole thing could have used a tighter editing phase. There are formatting issues. Capitalization is inconsistent at places (see pg. 8 for instance: "Intelligence" and "intelligence", "mercenary" vs. "Occultist"). Also some typos. Table 13 for example should read "Armour" at the top left-most column.
  • There is either a flow problem, or an assumption as to what the reader knows. Example: there are numerous references to a "turn" (in the 10 minute exploration rate), but the term is introduced way into the book. People familiar with OSR games will know what this is. But someone new to these games could have benefited from some extra assistance (this is a minor pet-peeve; I assume almost nobody will run this as their first RPG).
  • It could have used some further bolding and highlighting. Take pg 34. The attributes could have been bolded and/or indented.
  • At pg 36, where skills get explained, I assume that a 6-in-6 is not an automatic success, but rather the LotFP standard of roll 2d6 and fail only if you roll 6 on both dice. But I didn't see that explained here? Ditto with 0-in-6.
  • When Rolling up the Undercity, I would have liked a visual diagram example of the procedure. Luckily, there's a blog post with one.
  • The PDF seems poorly optimized. There are no hyperlinks.
  • The art and images do pass the desired mood across to the reader, but I get the feeling that contracting some artists, and assigning a bigger budget to this could've had excellent results.

No comments:

Post a Comment