By +kreg Mosier
LAIR OF SWORD & SORCERY: ONE DUDE'S OPINION
From the "About" section of the website:
"If you can imagine it spray painted on the side of a van, its Kartharka.
If you can put it on the front of any Heavy Metal album cover it’s Kartharka.
If you cast it in pewter and glued a marble to it and sold it at a flea market it’s Kartharka.
If you can draw it proudly on your notebook cover in math class it’s Kartharka.
If you’d wear it on a patch on your jacket it’s Kartharka.
Kartharka is metal, steel, gold and iron, Kartharka is mystery, doom and high adventure."
OK, time to talk about Lair of Sword & Sorcery by Spooky Room Productions...which is to be exact. He is a one-man show, doing all Art, Writing, Sacrificial Offering, and whatever else is required. There currently exist 2 issues (the aptly named "Issue 1: Demonboard" and "Issue 2: Combat") which are like $6 each. You can purchase them online at:http://lairofswordandsorcery.blogspot.com/
First of all, lets get this right out of the way: Lair of Sword & Sorcery(hereafter LoSS) is not a Retroclone, and that's OK by me. It shares a lot of the same aesthetic and has definitely been influenced by the classics, but that's where the similarity ends. LoSS is more so informed by lowbrow (in a good way) media, Heavy Metal magazines, Hard rock, and a return to a more "Play"-focused activity, resplendent with plastic Dinosaurs and Fantasy Army Men on a homemade playmat. There are no dry erase leatherette roll-up mats, no Reaper Bones, no trees made with the exacting detail of a HO train enthusiast. This is like a fantasy game by a kid in the early 80s who maybe heard cool stories about D&D, but was so cut off from consumer culture that his only hope of playing was to make everything up top to bottom by himself. Ripley's excitement is infectious, and it flows through both Issues. And by "Issues", I mean comic book-style issues. LoSS has cleverly chosen the comic book/zine format for each rulebook, with a promise of a third underway and more to come. In this way, the rules are modular and can build off each other, with each issue adding more details and rules. They are well put together, but I did receive them folded in half. I understand they were certainly easier to ship that way, but the OCD part of me started eye-twitching until I could flatten them out to get rid of the creases. ;)
So begins Issue #1. With only 7 or 8 pages of lore about the world of Kartharka, the bulk of the issue is all about making our "Demonboard" and accessories. The Demonboard is your play space and consists of a black bristol board with 1" squares and awesome brick patterns, created with your very own stamper that Ripley shows you how to make! We're then told how to make the walls to create our underworld, which can be arranged however the adventure requires, as well as Demonblocks which are cool baked bricks that can be arranged as walls or terrain features. (again, full instructions are given to make your own.) You get the sense that you NEED to do this before going on...like getting the right ingredients before using a new recipe. Without the Demonboard, it just won't be LoSS.
You're not going to believe it, but thus ends Issue #1. Nary a rule in sight, which may leave some gamers perplexed and shaken to their very core. I'm exaggerating of course, but god knows someone somewhere will be incensed by this fact, so I'm declaring it right here. You'd think you don't need Issue #1 if that was the case, but you'd be WRONG. You need Issue #1 because I say you do, and because the DIY bits are just plain cool, and I guarantee that at the very least you'll get some ideas to use at your own table. (DEMONBOARD, Son!)
Issue #2 begins with additional lore about the setting: the Winterlands, the mining capital Stroh-Branoch, and a leading bit about what it means to be a Hero in Kartharka. All are chock-full of flavor and provide just enough details to give you something to start with, then fill in the blanks yourself later on.
After this, we get to character creation and combat, which is essentially high roll wins, loser takes damage. It's simple as all get out, and the totality of the rules as presented herein basically present you with a Skirmish game. Ripley even says as much later, including a section on SOTA, or doing "Something Other Than Attacking". (an equally simple affair of roll dice, beat a difficult level)
The maps included are well done, and the Art is serviceable. Nothing in these books is going to make you jump out of your chair and declare a new paradigm in game design evolution. This isn't the detailed campaign publication of an OSR luminary, it's not the delicately bound gold thread-stitched latest in vanity press. This is a spiral bound notebook of a highschool madman, or group of Scrapbooking moms high off their glue who are really into Game of Thrones. I shit you not, it's also probably one of the most refreshing game books I've read in a good long while. This by no means diminishes the quality of anything else I've purchased, but LoSS is a whole 'nother thing. It's a one-man labor of love...with ringmail and a bloody axe and like, a crazy helmet with just a slit for eyes and ram horns and a damn pentagram.
My final verdict? If the scale was from one Krull Glaive made from cardboard and thrown at your cousin, to a Crown Royal bag of ninja stars made in Coach Nelson's Shop class, I would have to give this thing an oversized novelty Viking Helmet with a KEEP ON TRUCKIN'bumpersticker on the back. I know, right? It's that good.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I had zero contact with Ripley beyond the cursory "hey dude, sent you $12 LET'S DO THIS", and I paid for the things myself. I wasn't asked to write about it, but figured that like me, most of you had never heard of it and might be curious. Also, I'm not a writer and don't pretend to be, so un-grit your teeth because the bad man is going to stop writing now.)