Friday Reviews: Brewkessel #1
I was sent a pdf copy of Brewkessel #1 by Kettlesberg Game and have been reading through it over the past week. I'm intrigued by the idea; a megadungeon published on a serial basis, and am curious to see how it works in execution. The first issue shows promise; it's a little rough around the edges, and leaves a bit more work for the Referee than I would typically like to see, but I think the author is aware of this and provides guidance for running the game around these loose ends; they provide strategies for what to do if the party wants to go to a part of the dungeon that has not yet been released, for example.
I will attempt to make the following spoiler free, but it is possible there will be small spoilers, so if you're playing in this campaign you should probably stop reading. The conceit of Brewkessel is that a Hogwartian school of magic -- complete with different Houses, living paintings, and eccentric professors vanished from reality decades ago, only to reappear but recently, changed by the time away. The Referee is given a brief (couple of paragraphs) explanation of where the school went and what happened to change it, but much of the history, and the exact nature of the changes wrought, is unexplained. I'm assuming that the history of the place, and the overarching threat that lurks within, is explained in later issues, something I'm actually totally fine with.
With the school's reappearance some enterprising folks have taken advantage of the fact that adventurers may want to explore it; a witch named Wendilia has set up camp outside the gates with her animal-headed henchmen and is charging fees as well as a share of treasure for parties to enter the grounds of the school. She offers services, as well, such as identification of magic items, use of room keys (as well as payment for any additional keys the adventurers are able to find), etc.
Some of the things I really like about the book:
The illustrations are charming. There are four active adventuring parties currently exploring the school, and each is illustrated as below, with speech bubbles containing rumors.
The dungeon layout. An overall map is given (and, given the nature of the magic school, the geometry of the corridors does not always make sense), and laid out in such a way that it is clear. All of the information is presented logically and cleanly at the beginning; lighting, portraits, random encounters, etc. occupies but a single page.
Something I absolutely love is that in addition to the overview map, each room is drawn in 3d perspective, with the relationship to nearby rooms clearly laid out.
The contents of each room are presented in bullet-pointed format, with standard OSE-style monster stat blocks. Little space is wasted on gratuitous text, and everything is neatly arranged.
Guidance is given for turning the dungeon into less of a sandbox and more of a narrative-driven game (with a BBEG), how to use the single issue by itself, how to expand on some encounters; there's also a couple of pages of magic items, a nice spread of random encounters, rules on adding textbooks, and some other really nice touches. It's a little on the whimsical side for me, but that's a) both a matter of personal taste and b) is vastly outweighed by the thought and care that went into the book.
As befits a sandboxy mega-dungeon, the threats found within range in difficulty. Some threats will be difficult for a 1st or 2nd level party, or are better avoided or negotiated with. The conceit of the dungeon, however, allows for an easy retreat should things get too difficult. It remains to be seen, with subsequent issues, is this is still the case. The players can interact with the various paintings hung throughout the complext, and guidance is given on how specific interactions with a painting may affect others (since subjects within can travel to different paintings), as well as a means to randomize what a given painting contains when encountered.
Overall, I'm super impressed with this project. Issue #2 is currently Kickstarting, with five days left, and I strongly recommend at least checking it out [Note: I have both backed this Kickstarter and the above Drivethru link is an affiliate link].