Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Grime and Gore: A Review of Gathox Vertical Slum 2: Quake Alley Mayhem

Disclaimer: I was approached by David Lewis Johnson, the author and illustrator of Gathox Vertical Slum as well as GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem, about writing a review. I agreed, on the condition that I share my honest thoughts about the game and provide this disclaimer. For purposes of the review, I was provided a PDF copy of the book by David.


Book: Gathox Vertical Slum



Gathox Vertical Slum 2: Quake Alley Mayhem is a highly-lethal, tournament-style module for use with the original Gathox Vertical Slum setting book (which you can find my review of here) and a party of 3-6 level 1-3 adventurers. The book itself is compact and lays out a small but dense dungeon full of traps and enemies, as well as rules for tournament play as well as suggestions on how to fit it into an ongoing campaign in Gathox. It continues the gonzo sci-fi elements found in the first book but increases the intensity and lethality of the world. With one or two minor caveats, I would give GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem a hearty recommendation for any lover of old-school roleplaying products who already has the original Gathox Vertical Slum.  



Setting and Rules

In GVS2: Quake Alley Mayhem, a team of gang members are tasked with infiltrating the Grist Mill - a safe house run by another gang of alien freaks called Kermen - and retrieving Vaclav's Holy Driver, a weapon of great power and importance. The hideout is several sub-stories deep and littered with traps in every room. As if that weren't enough, every 20 minutes, and mini-earthquake occurs, potentially endangering the PCs. Between the enemy guards, traps, and earthquake mishaps, GVS2 proves to be a highly lethal adventure, which the book estimates to be ~80% in playtesting. While I personally don't have an issue with this, some players might, and it will be the DM's job to inform any potential players of this fact. 

Aside from the lethality, one particular quirk of GVS2, is as the name suggests, earthquakes. These happen on a strict 20 minute timer, and are responsible for mishaps which escalate over time as well as opening and closing various doors inside the Grist Mill. This system works well to keep the intensity and pressure up on players, especially for tournament play. However, as quakes escalate, they can be intensely punitive to PCs, especially of a low level who are more likely to fail saves and have fewer HP left after previous encounters. 

The rules that cover tournament play are simple and straightforward, with the DM awarding points for one of five types of actions. If the DM is planning on running the module as part of a campaign in Gathox, GVS2 outlines how to award RP (reputation) to players and their gang instead of tournament points. 

Overall, the added timed elements are clearly delineated and work well, as does the method for awarding points in tournament play. 

Quality and Quantity

Quake Alley Mayhem is compact and punchy. Every room in the dungeon contains something of interest, such as a trap, puzzle, enemy, or all of the above. As was the case with Gathox Vertical Slum, the writing quality is descriptive without being verbose, and appropriately weird for the setting. The artwork is sketchy, grimy, and punk as hell - perfect for the tone of the book. There's just enough to get the imagination flowing without feeling like it's just there to take up space between the text sections. Overall, the quality of the book, both writing and illustration, is top notch, and there's enough to feel substantial for a small tournament module. 

My only small gripe is that I wish there were an inclusion of either an "I Loot the Body" table, or details of treasure to be found besides the macguffin. While those are things any good DM can draw from other sources (including the main Gathox book), it would have been nice to have at least a small table of new or unique Gathox-flavored treasure included. I loved the uniqueness of the items in the main book and was looking forward to more of the same.

Layout and Ease-of-Use

The layout of GVS2 follows closely in line with the original, utilizing a nearly identical layout style and the same font (though in a larger size.) Text never flows (with one exception) over from page to page, ideas are presented neatly with appropriate headers, and wonderfully evocative illustrations break things up well. 

Page 14 contains the 3 maps used for the dungeon, which are simply illustrated and easy to use. My only complaint here is that the maps don't appear again anywhere else in the book, making it so that the DM must flip back and forth between the maps and room descriptions. The solution here is quite easy, however, and would only require the DM to print the page out separately for quick reference. 

Once again, all tables are re-presented together at the end of the book, as well as several pre-gen characters on original Gathox character sheets. Also included at the end is a module tracking sheet for tournament use and an new death and dismemberment table. 

Overall, the book is laid out well and is easy and efficient to use.

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