Tuesday 18 November 2008

Asteroid 1618 by Jeff Rients, who has scoffed all the drugs so you don't have to

Asteroid 1618 by Jeff Rients (of the famous Jeff's Gameblog) is a Worldwide Adventure Writing Month (WoAdWriMo) 2007 entry. A science fiction (with a dash of fantasy) adventure set on a planetoid called Asteroid 1618. It's a bonkers romp through the psychedelically fuelled insanity of a broken mind. It's as nuts as it is brilliant. Throw your Sci-Fi campaign players into this adventure and they'll walk out with mouths so wide open that it'll look like their jaw bones have been stolen by an overzealous tooth fairy. Excuse any nonsensical hyperbole you might encounter during this review, it's entirely inspired by Asteroid 1618. It's based on the Encounter Critical (EC) RPG but you really don't need EC to use this adventure.

The setting

Asteroid 1618 exists in the Vanth subsector of the likely future of the human race. Rampantly horny giant space dragons cause smash up the previously sane order of things while two familiarly named human empires the Klengon and the Vulkins make Tolstoy (war and peace) on each other. The Vulkins win and expand with some space travel, even against the control of the Galactic Domination Bureau. The end result is a fractured Vulkin Empire spread across a load of worlds. Confused? Then you're thinking too hard. Just let the lunacy wash over you like a Douglas Adams book, absorb the nonsense and it all starts becoming, well, sense. If you've read the EC RPG page, you'll understand why.

The setting contains a number of 'worlds' that you can lob your characters at. Each one has its own tech level and description, varying remnants of the Vulkin empire. Each planet is a cornucopia of ideas, from planets rammed full of bionically enhanced creatures through the sixth layer of hell (no really, Dante's actual sixth circle of hell) to a human tomb. It's taking every ounce of strenght not to delve into details. You might, as a player, want to hand a link to this review to your brain addled GM to throw into your campaign. Do so at your own risk. And that includes my players. Most of the crazed brain melt occurs on the Asteroid, which has a map and enough background to fuel an entire campaign. There are some additional rules to assist in being on the Asteroid. A domed city is the easy place to play but the rest of the asteroid is fun too - with environmental factors (and low gravity if you were short of humorous hooks) brought in to add flavour. The supplied adventure is crux of the book (as you might expect) having twists, turns and a large spoonful of unhinged-itude. I'd like to say more but it would spoil it for you if you ever planned to run it. If you get bored playing through this largely linear adventure, you probably bathe in beans, peel oranges with your forehead and think the Pixies' 'Where is my mind?' is your biography.

The book

The style is rough-and-ready homebrew (and I'm talking about the sort of homebrew booze you made at University, which could be used as paint stripper), in keeping with the original EC rules. It is a little difficult to read and you might laugh at the simplicity of the graphics but they fit perfectly. They are appropriately placed and contain enough detail. There are some typos and the grammar goes for a tea break now and again but then you must remember that it is a WoAdWriMo, created in a month. Given that, there's 83 PDF pages of content and more than half of that is spent on the adventure, which is a blessing. The daftness does wane in places but not such that the book becomes boring. If Jeff had spent one iota more time on it, then it would cease to be in keeping with the original system, so I can only praise him for the masterstroke of picking EC as a base for his WoAdWriMo entry. It's the sort of thing I wish I'd thought of first.

To conclude

Asteroid 1618 is crackers. A delightfully illogical brainfart. Roleplaying games should not be written to be humorous and, in a way, Asteroid 1618 isn't. It's very serious about its silliness. If you're running a quite straight campaign and you want to incorporate a bit of wackyness in (perhaps for a Christmas bit-of-fun session), you might get the characters on hallucinogens and throw them a bit of 1618. Or perhaps as a multi-session adventure, you might see if the players can play it straight on an Asteroid gone mad, the aim being to keep your sanity when confronted with Rient's unsound mind. It might be a difficult sell if your group are not used to playing in madcap scenarios, if your group turn normal scenarios into madcap ones at the drop of a hat, then they might feel very much at home on Asteroid 1618.

Disclaimer: Jeff, to my knowledge, is not actually clinically insane. Nor has he scoffed all of the drugs. Being a fair man, he'd probably share them out. ;-)


Zachary Houghton said...

Great work, Rob! 1618 is one of a kind, and Jeff did great work, entirely keeping in the spirit of EC.

Rob Lang said...

Many thanks, Zach.

It's difficult to keep a review sane when the subject matter is raving mad. I really enjoyed reading it, it almost stands up as a good read by itself. I was going to review EC with it but I think EC as a game would be a near-impossible sell for any GM to run a group in. 1618 had plenty of elements any Sci Fi could be inspired by.

Certainly makes a change from the huge number of D&D clones I sift through.

Jack Badelaire said...

Sigh...one more gaming product to add to the "must get ASAP" list. Thanks for the review! Now, if I could just find a way to slip this into the gaming notes pile for my Traveller GM...

Rob Lang said...

Badelaire, you're welcome. In this case, "spiking" your GM's gaming notes might just work out badly for your character, or the team. I will guarantee that you will be wearing confused faces at the end of that adventure! You can, at the very least, point your GM here.

Jack Badelaire said...

Believe me Rob, spiking the notes with something potentially very unfortunate for my chums and I is the least of my worries in that campaign.

And I'll have to keep the blog a secret for now - otherwise I wouldn't be able to complain in safety on my own blog (insert self-serving cackle).

Jeff Rients said...

Thanks for the very kind review. I feel it is only fair to mention that a very few of the 'errors' in the text were intentional. Not many, but enough to give my easily bruised ego some solace. ;)

A brief note for the truly discerning collector of gaming oddities: Thanks to the kindness of S. John Ross, evil overlord of Cumberland Games & Diversion, Asteroid 1618 was briefly offered as a print on demand product in the Cumberland lulu storefront. You can't get it there any more, but at least one copy has surfaced on eBay.

Ron said...

Excellent review, and indeed this is a great adventure from Jeff. I suppose I am one of the totally insane ones: "The Mesmerators of the 65th Quadrant" is and was our gaming group when we run EC, and we have had no problem playing it straight across the book. It actually runs really well as a system if you ask me, but then again, I've got some weird takes on games and this one worked well for us because of that. If you can find someone, Rob, nuts enough to run it you should give it a try in a group setting.