2019/10/15

OSR: Review: Into the Wyrd and Wild

Produced, written, and mostly illustrated by the one-human team of Charles B.F. Avery, Into the Wyrd and Wild is Veins of the Earth, but for forested wilderness. Does it work? Sort of.

Note 1: Because I'm fussy, peevish, and peculiar, this review also has an enormous negative bias. You've been warned. I also haven't playtested any of the creatures or mechanics in the book.

Note 2: It seems like there are distribution and communication issues related to Kickstarter fulfillment.

Into the Wyrd and Wild

Comparisons to Veins of the Earth jump out immediately. Both books use the same visual language. It's hard to show off in one screenshot, but if you've read Veins, you'll immediately see what I mean. Sections are organized in the same way.

Given the similarities, it seems odd that Patrick Stuart, Scrap Princess, or Jez Gordon are not acknowledged anywhere in the book. Imitation is (according to some) the sincerest form of flattery, but this might be more than imitation. I don't know.

The Rules

The Law of Equivalent Exchange
In Veins, 1sgp = 1 hour of light = 1/300th of the amount of food a person needs every 3 days.
In Wyrd and Wild, 1gp = 1 supply (i.e. =1 day's worth of rations = 1 day's worth of water = 1 day's worth of lamp oil).

This... doesn't make sense to me. Firewood is scarce? In a forest? Are food and water are significantly limiting factors above ground?

Sure, the food rules in Veins are a bit messy but they're consistent. The point isn't to pay for food. It's to steal food, eat weird things, and make desperate deals. Scarcity is a crucial element. It's baked into every part of Veins. Light is scarce, food is scarce, food is light, light is money, and everything hates you.


Great books come from consistent choices in the same direction, and Veins is full of consistent choices. Wyrd and Wild is not.


Exhaustion
The real expedition-limiting mechanic doesn't seem to be Supplies. Instead it's Exhaustion. Exhaustion stacks. Reach 6 levels of Exhaustion and the PC dies. No save. It's not easy to remove Exhaustion in the Wilds.

PCs gain Exhaustion by, essentially, fucking up: not sleeping, not eating or drinking for a day, getting diseased, getting injured, or getting knocked out. Fuck up 4 times and you're likely to bail on the expedition. I'm not completely sure this will work in play. What if one PC has, through no fault of their own, 4 levels of exhaustion, while the rest of the group has 0? Does the party retreat and risk the one character only, or pull out and waste time and effort?

Surviving the Night

Wyrd and Wild has rules for making camp. Roll 1d6 for food, water, and shelter (3d6 total). Dice that show 4-6 are successes. Failures grant levels of Exhaustion. Failures can be cancelled by spending a Supply.

There's a strong 5E flavour in this book. Advantage and Disadvantage are reference throughout, and there are statements like "Proficiency in a relative skill like Hunting, Foraging, or Survival grants advantage on these rolls." Now if I buy a book on the Wylderness, I'm expecting something more than a skill name. Hunting, Foraging, and Survival are the things this book is about.

Surviving the Night is an interesting resource-tracking mechanic, and it presents the players with crucial choices, but the Supply mechanic is the weak link. If 1 Supply = 1 firewood and the PCs are in a forest... Or if 1 Supply = water, and they're camped near a stream...

The Hunt
Hunting rules are a great addition to this book. They're a bit fiddly but I've rarely seen mechanics for days-long hunts in RPGs, so it's a good attempt. Tables of setbacks and boons are always useful.

Cleaning A Body

These rules are also fiddly and... unnecessary? They're adding a layer of abstraction to something that should be a straightforward declaration. The tables are mediocre compared to others in the book.

Phases of the Moon
If you want GMs to track phases of the moon, providing a handy one-page time tracking sheet with moon phases on it seems like a good idea. The "Special Moons" are neat but a bit vague. "Magic spells are twice as powerful, but have a chance of backfiring horribly."

The Call of the Wyld
The equivalent of the Effects table from Veins.


Becoming Lost

Oh boy, more mechanics!

Madness
Ditto.

Right, here's bit of advice. You've given the poor reader (i.e. the GM) 15 pages of things they need to track, do, and remember without giving them any reason why they should bother. The book works hard to convince you not to use it.

Veins goes: 1) Intro, 2) Bestiary, 3) Factions 4) Rules, 5) Mapping
Wyrd and Wild goes: 1) Intro, 2) Rules, 3) Bestiary, 4) Factions 5) Mapping

Introducing a setting via its monsters is a very good method. Putting crucial rules first seems smart, but it also makes the book less immediately evocative. When it comes to RPG books, pudding first, then meat.

Throughout the rules, it seems that smart choices and sensible plans are very rarely rewarded. Randomization is king. Nature is capricious, but OSR games are all about avoiding risk via good plans. If there's no way for the players to dodge these risks by player skill, why bother having them?

Bestiary

Every paragraph has a bold, all-caps first line. See the screenshot above. Sometimes this line contains critical information, so the reader could quickly skim just the bolded lines and get a sense of the monster. Sometimes the line is just the first line of the paragraph. I don't like it. It breaks up the text. It feels like I'm lurching from paragraph to paragraph.

Most of the monsters in Veins are difficult to summarize. Even if the prose is ultraviolet-purple, words are rarely wasted. The description flows. Sometimes it flows in directions that aren't terribly useful at the table, but they're still interesting to read.

The monsters in Wyrd and Wild could have used an editor. Condense, cut, and focus. 

They are man-made monsters. Byproducts of a ritual that mortals accidentally uncovered, with no concept of what they meddled with. That being said, they are loyal monsters.

The first of these beings was brought into existence when an animal was buried alive under the foundation of a shrine in what was a coincidental ritual, done as some crude and cruel protection charm. What surprised everyone was that it actually worked.
The concepts are, on average, pretty good. Friendly slug-parasites. Skunk apes. Weird elves. I'm trying to focus on the text because the art is so damn good that it threatens to make even mediocre ideas seem excellent. More on that later.

There is no random encounter table in the PDF.

Some tables include "You encounter a group of ruffians or xenophobic sorts." or "Hostile Fauna: A wild animal seeks you out. Roll a random wilderness encounter."

Encounters occur "less and less closer to a new moon". There's a +25% chance of a wilderness encounter at a waning gibbous moon.


But there's no table of wilderness encounters anywhere I can find! I've gone through the PDF twice and searched for terms. As far as I can tell, it's not there. The closest thing is the Wilderness Dungeon table (see below), with "The Danger" and "Secret or Treasure", but the entries don't seem to correspond to anything in the bestiary and there are no page number references.

Spells & Items

I just skimmed these. They seem pretty decent.

The Dungeon of Tree and Stone

Rules for making a dungeon out of a wilderness area. Instead of corridors, paths through the grass. Instead of rooms, clearings, dens, sites, and loci.

I like the idea of making a standard 6-mile hex into a dungeon. The actual mechanics, as usual, seem a bit fiddly, but the core concept is neat. Slap some areas down. Draw some lines between them. Stock them.

Aside from a few changes to make it 2D, this is the cave mapping system from Veins of the Earth.

Dolmenwood does a better job of strange forest adventures, though getting into Dolemwood is currently rather expensive, just because there's so much material. Hopefully the upcoming campaign book puts the scattered pieces together. Gardens of Ynn has a great bestiary and "trackless wyrd-wilderness" exploration mechanic. But this system seems functional.

Wild Flora, Diseases, Hazards and Traps, I Search The Body,

Again, I just skimmed these.

Why aren't these by the Bestiary? Why separate the Dungeon section from Hazards and Traps?

Random Trails and Paths, A Wilderness Dungeon

Why put the Wilderness Dungeon name tables and variant tables down here, mixed in with other tables to make them difficult to find in a hurry?

There are tables of descriptive text for walking through the woods.

Incidentally, I don't like the table format. The grey is a few points too dark.

Look, I said I was fussy and peculiar.

A Hundred Wyrd Locations

Same as the 100 Caves from Veins of the Earth, but (because there's more to work with above ground) extremely varied. An excellent tool for stocking a hexcrawl or wilderness area.

Game Aids

No time tracking sheets, but condensed and very tidy rules for resting, hunting, etc.

Prose

There's a lot of prose in this book. Pages and pages of descriptive and explanatory text. No editor is listed. The text sometimes slips into informality.
Since that day, the gods have sicced every beast of fang and claw to bring Eí-Criomòran down.
A harsh round of edits could have cut some monsters from 2 pages to 1, or trimmed a few duplicate results from tables, or fixed a few ambiguous sections.

Veins of the Earth
is defined by its prose. Love it or mock it, there's a monster description that starts off "BUDDHA WAS WRONG". It speaks directly to the reader as a modern human trying to run an imaginary elfgame. Wyrd and Wild can't quite decide who the reader is, or what level of informality and 4th-wall-breaking is required.

Art

My god, the art.

It's a truly beautiful book. The art by people other than the author (Alex Coggon, Alex Shearer, Brieaunna) is also good... but it sticks out, just because the style and tone are often slightly different. According to KS comments, the physical copies are also astonishing. It's a pleasure to flip through the PDF pages and revel in the illustrations. Any weaknesses in descriptive prose are cancelled by the overwhelming volume and quality of the art.

Conclusions

  • The bestiary section is worth reading.
  • Despite being referenced by several rules, there is no random encounter table.
  • The rules sections have useful ideas, but rely on randomness and a weak scarcity mechanic.
  • The book's layout is state-of-the-art in places, but collapses into a miscellaneous jumble in the last third. There is no index.
  • The PDF is poorly optimized. Layers cannot be hidden. There are no bookmarks. The table of contents is not hyperlinked.
  • The art is gorgeous.
  • The general feel is cargo-cult Veins of the Earth. Sections and tools added without really knowing why, or checking to see if they're the best option for a wilderness adventure. 
Pretty to look at, nice to hold, but if you buy it, consider that it might sit on your shelf forever.

This book needed editing and playtesting. A one-human shop is great, but paying for editors and doing thorough and extensive tests in a variety of system is crucial. The result is a book that's beautiful but not as useful as it could be. A bit more testing, a few different choices, and this could have been an all-time classic.

5 comments:

  1. Yeah, I just read this and I agree completely on the idea of "cargo-cult Veins of the Earth". I have several issues with the overland dungeon system. It's pretty much having multiple hex fills, but doesn't add anything to it. There are multiple interconnected node paths but there is no mechanical difference presented. I'm gonna limit myself from ranting on end about how much this book disappoints, and just stating that I'm flabbergasted that there were 1542 backers and untold others who paid 20$ for this.

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  2. Thank you for this review!
    I'm currently working on my next book and this critique is beyond helpful. I have no excuses to any of the critiques and thank you for the positive notes. Thank you for taking the time to review my book, I absolutely love your work and this is damn near an honor for me.

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  3. Good review, but i feel more strongly about it, i absolutely LOVED this book, one of my favorites on my shelf and have used it a bunch already. Charles did an amazing job on this product.

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  4. That Veins of the Earth thing is really weird. Flattering, I suppose.

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  5. Veins of the Earth may be the most beautifully laid out book in the OSR. I guess some form imitation was going to happen.

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