Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Anomalous Subsurface Environment (ASE 1): A brief, positive, and poorly-written review

I can't say I love megadungeons as settings to run a game in. I find them a pain to reference, follow up on, design in interesting ways, or feel very engaged in. There's a bit of funhouse excitement to them, but I often find myself feeling strapped for ideas of what to put in them, or to keep track of what the hell I had planned in the sprawling expanses of the dungeons. That's why, for instance, as much as I find much of Stonehell Dungeon a fine read, it's not something I would thrown into my campaign.

That said, I picked up Anomalous Subsurface Environment (ASE 1) on a lark because it's not just a dungeon, it's a gonzo science-fantasy dungeon. (Actually, I accidentally ordered two copies, and I need to find someone to trade copy number two to....) The gonzo science fantasy element, in and of itself, was enough for me to find it worth perusing. And it's good fun. It has lots of funhouse elements-- and its own mystery. But more exciting, ASE 1 is also a serviceable campaign sourcebook for a post-apocalyptic D&D game in and of itself. While I would not see myself running a game in the setting, it was a hoot to see the many references to a beloved TV inspiration from my junior high days, Thundarr the Barbarian. The setting's evil sorcerers and the Moktars are obvious connections, but other Easter eggs abound, especially the fine reference to John Boorman's Zardoz. The high-tech weapons, the explanation of the origins of goblins, elves, dwarves and halflings, and the remarkably jaded and amusing explanation of the setting's gods all serve as fodder for any DM to raid for ideas.

The writing is crisp, the ideas in it range from gonzo to just outright clever, and I have probably read through it two or three times in a piecemeal fashion just to find some inspiration to keep my head full of weird gaming goodness.

I'm not sure that really counts as any sort of decent review, but if you enjoy what I do but also appreciate polished, professional and thoughtful writing, go to Lulu and give Wetmore some cash for his goods.