|Delve! First Issue Cover
I just picked up a copy of the new zine Delve! (the PDF version) by the OSR artist Johnathan Bingham. If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Bingham’s work, he has done the cover of the OSRIC module The People of the Pit (shown below), the cover of the recent Lands of Ara Compendium, and many other things (here is a pretty good collection from his blog). He plans on selling a print version too sometime soon, but the PDF includes pages formatted to easily print yourself (in addition to the standard formatting; see more about this below).
The form factor is digest-sized, which is very nice for tablet reading. The zine itself is about 40 pages of content. In actuality, the entire contents of the issue is a module, which includes a number of new spells, magic items, and monsters (easily usable stand-alone as well). The vibe is what I would consider Lamentations-style Weird Fantasy. Quick take-away: as a PDF module, this is a fantastic steal for $5. Recommended. I have a few suggestions, but most of them apply to published modules in general and should not be read as overly critical of Delve! in particular. Now to the details.
The module features the lair of a diabolical disease wizard (Calmos Vectos Mori), and introduces a new school of magic called pathognomancy. The writing style is very dense, and paragraphs sometimes stretch almost over entire pages. This would be a hard module to run without making referee notes prior to play. This writing style reminds me of AD&D 1E modules, and that is probably intended, as the system given is OSRIC (though it should work just fine with any of the major retro-clones).
|Cover also by Mr. Bingham
Some event hooks are provided, but the meat of the adventure is a 12 room site. From a read-through, it looks pretty challenging; I would guess around 5th level AD&D (though that will obviously vary based on party and magic items possessed). There are several good disease oriented effects tables, a laboratory full of dangerous things for inquisitive PCs to play with, and a table of evocative extraplanar locations (though a 3d3 table is just silly; it should be a d20 or d30 table).
All the new monsters and magic items are illustrated, though the spells are not. The contagion guards remind me of Bioshock (that’s a good thing). The layout is uniformly nice, though the AD&D spell format and lack of spell illustrations leads to lots of unused white space on the spell pages. I must admit, I don’t understand the appeal of the AD&D template formats. Why not use a more compact format similar to a monster stat line? For example, which would you prefer? AD&D:
Level: Magic User 2
Range: 40 ft
Duration: 6 rounds
Area of Effect: One Person
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 4 Segments
Or stat line:
Bloat, MU2 spell, 40 ft, 6 rounds, one person, VSM, 4 segments, no save.
Would anyone familiar with AD&D or OSRIC not understand the stat line version? And it uses an order of magnitude less space. Oh, all the spells, monsters, and treasures are open game content, which is appreciated.
I think all modules, but especially ones written so densely, would benefit from play aids in addition to (but not replacing) the prose. One possibility is the one page dungeon, another is Courtney’s set design outline format.
|Tacked on to the end is the print format
I mentioned above that the digital version of the zine includes two formats; standard digest and printable. This is a nice touch, and makes it possible for people without a duplex printer (like me) to produce a hardcopy. I would like to see other publishers go the same route, though it is slightly disconcerting to have both formats in a single PDF rather than a zip file containing multiple PDFs.
Bingham is also one of the authors participating in the current LotFP adventure campaign; his offering is Strange and Sinister Shores. The precis is interesting, and if the first issue of Delve! is anything to go by, S&SS will be quite good (if it is produced). One of the downsides to making all the projects compete against each other during the same month is that the slightly less known have been overshadowed by those authors with more established followings. Almost half-way into the campaign, I think it’s pretty clear that this was a bad decision. The offerings should have been done sequentially (perhaps one per month), so that community enthusiasm could focus on one at a time.