Tuesday, October 14, 2008

REVIEW: Aendryth's Eldritch Compendium

Aendryth's Eldritch Compendium is the latest PDF from the prolific James Mishler of Adventure Games Publishing. This 12-page product (10 pages of text, plus a title/table of contents and a full-page ad for an upcoming AGP product) retails for $2.50 normally, but is currently on sale for $2.00. Either price is, quite, frankly a steal, considering the terrific ideas to be found here. It's true that the PDF is very "bare bones," consisting of three-column pages of small type and no illustrations. However, I'd argue that's a point in this product's favor, since Mishler was able to pack quite a lot of great ideas into only 10 pages and it's great ideas that distinguish AGP's products.

In principle, the Eldritch Compendium is designed for use with Castles & Crusades and AGP's variant Wilderlands setting, but its contents should easily translate into almost any D&D-related fantasy roleplaying game. Mechanics aside, there's plenty of ideas here that should be easily usable in any RPG with a swords-and-sorcery feel. One of the many things I most appreciate about about AGP's products is their high degree of utility. Whether I'm playing OD&D, AD&D, or C&C, I'd be able to pick and up and use them without worrying a difficult process of converting their game mechanics. That may seem like a small thing, but it isn't and it's one that old school gamers should particularly appreciate. In this respect, AGP is following in the illustrious footsteps of Judges Guild: creating products that are packed with ideas and light on mechanics.

The Eldritch Compendium's actual contents consists of two separate sections. The first details twelve new wizard spells, ranging in level from 1-9. The spells themselves are diverse and interesting, with just enough flavor and idiosyncrasies to make them memorable yet not so specific that they'd be difficult to import into most fantasy campaign settings. A good example is the spell Blood Childe, which enables the caster to create a semi-independent clone of himself that might (if he's lucky) do his bidding. The spell description is lengthy and filled with plenty of information on the process by which the blood childe is created and grows over time, as well as the likelihood that the clone is defective in some way and thus prone to rebel against its "parent" when the time is right. Most of the spells are similarly interesting and not always without dangers in casting them, which appeals to me greatly. Also to be found amongst the spells are a few sly references that struck me as the kinds of silliness Gary Gygax and others foisted on their players in days of yore, such as the spell Chirurgeon ex Nihilo, which summons an extra-dimensional doctor of a race called "Djeeps." Long-time fans of Popeye will immediately recognize the race's origins.

The second half of the PDF consists of formulae for the creation of different potions made from the eyes of a prysmal eye. For those not in the know, a prysmal eye is C&C's ersatz beholder, since the beholder is IP of Wizards of the Coast and not part of the D20 SRD. There are eleven formulae -- one for each eye -- and their descriptions not only explain their effects and how to make them, but also the possible unintended side effects of imbibing them. I think these side effects, many of them quite unpleasant for the imbiber, are pure gold. They're exactly what I want to see more of, since they remind players that magic is unpredictable and often dangerous. They very nicely exude a swords-and-sorcery vibe that I think is not only great fun but also in keeping with the pulp fantasy roots of the hobby. Rounding out the chapter is a formula for the creation of plate armor made from the hide of the prysmal eye; it too has potentially horrible consequences. I sincerely hope Mishler continues to create new magic items in this same vein.

If I have a complaint about Aendryth's Eldritch Compendium, it's that it's too short, but that's my love of good ideas talking rather than any objective judgment on the PDF's length. At 10 pages of small text, the product is full of great ideas and a real bargain, even at its regular price. Like Mythmere Games' Eldritch Weirdness, Book One, this product does more than provide new "toys" for use in one's campaign; it provides plenty of hooks from which to hang dozens of adventures. Few of these hooks are explicitly spelled out -- doing so is the referee's job -- but they're there aplenty and they really do inspire me. That's probably the highest praise I can give any product and I gladly give it here.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 polearms

1 comment:

  1. I initially read this as "Andrew Eldritch Compendium," like the former lead singer of goth rock band "The Sisters of Mercy."
    That aside, it sounds like an excellent supplement.