Friday, 8 March 2013

The Whole Hole: A Gadabout’s Guide to Mutha Oith: Vol. 01 Keister Island review

The Whole Hole: A Gadabout’s Guide to Mutha Oith is intended to be a series of supplemental books expanding on the Mutha Oith setting from Andy Hopp’s tongue-in-cheek post-post-apocalyptic Low Life role-playing game. Volume 01: Keister Island (V01KI) deals, not surprisingly, with the continent of Keister Island, also the starting setting for the plot point campaign found in the core book Low Life: Rise of the Lowly.

Let me start of by saying that just physically this is a beautiful book. At 222 pages, the book is chock-full of wonderful drawings and cool maps; only a small number of pages don’t sport any artwork whatsoever. V01KI is a perfect example of how having the same person both write and illustrate makes the resulting product more than just a sum of its parts. Personally I’m not convinced yet by the new, smaller format, but it admittedly does make the book easy to carry around and use around the table.

There is a lot more flavor text in V01KI as compared to Rise of the Lowly and I’m glad to say Hopp’s writing is just as funny and whimsical as his artwork. The book is presented as written by a famous explorer and we view the world through his eyes: this really does a lot to flesh out the setting and gives it a great deal more depth, even when it sometimes turns into a historical yarn which doesn’t provide the game master (or Boss as (s)he’s called in Low Life) with immenintly gameable material. The book is a blast to read, period.

To get the most out of V01KI it is advisable to own a copy of the core rulebook Rise of the Lowly, as V01KI doesn’t rehash already established races, creatures and arcane backgrounds to name a few, and since every idea penned by Hopp is unlike those of any other role-playing game you might know, readers without prior knowledge of the setting will probably have a hard time keeping up.

V01KI starts with a general introduction to the island, dwelling briefly on its many diverse wilderness and fluminous areas before moving on to two locations which feature prominently in Rise of the Lowly: the Garden of Smellemental Glee and the Bitchin’ City of Floom. Ninety pages of the book deal with Floom alone, and I must say it does wonders to make the locale come to life. Running the Rise of the Lowly campaign with the help of V01KI suddenly becomes a breeze, as you now have some sixty detailed points of interest and colorful NPCs to populate the city with. If you plan on running the plot point campaign, I would recommend V01KI for this chapter alone. In this part the book also cleverly provides the Boss with dozens of ideas for possible adventures, often in the form of a short hook when describing a particular locale or character, which is a good thing as V01KI sadly doesn’t feature any ready-made adventures.

It should also be noted that in many places the descriptions are necessarily brief and will require quite some work from the Boss to make them work in a on-going campaign. The other twenty-odd towns of Keister Island get a total of twenty-five pages among them. Also some interesting adventure locales are hinted at, such as the Temple of Smellemental Evil, but you will have to make the place up from scratch if the players actually want to venture there. Of course this is an understandable restriction due to space constraints unless Andy Hopp wanted to produce a tome the size of a phone book, but prospective Bosses should keep in mind not everything in V01KI can be played straight from the box, so to speak.

The rest of the book deals with new rules and game-mechanical features and additions. Like Rise of the Lowly, V01KI is intended to run on the Savage Worlds rules so this mean very little in the way of pages filled with stat blocks. Some new Edges and Hindrances are introduced; setting rules such as Body Buddies and the hilarious Gubertinct; new equipment; an expanded bestiary featuring a few doozies such as the Lichenthrope, the Sphincs and Some Kind of Weird Worm-like Thing With Teeth On Its Face; and three new playable races. Of these last the Funguys are by far the superior addition; the other two, Flews and Snells, I found to lack mechanical uniqueness compared to the existing races and miss a certain iconic quality that made the races from Rise of the Lowly such instant classics. Some of the new critters such as Shmurves or Blor Porples might have made more interesting player races.

Priced at $29.95, I fully recommend Vol. 01 Keister Island. It has charm by the bucketfulls and is still one of the most unique role-playing settings out there, even six years after the original publication of Rise of the Lowly. It won’t win over anyone who did not care for Low Life to begin with (game masters who are of the opinion locations, groups or creatures based on the theme of butts or poo have no place at their gaming table need not apply), but below the surface layer of often nonsensical and adolescent (though family friendly) humor lies a rich and satisfying world just waiting to be explored and used as the backdrop for awe-inspiring, glorious adventures, courtesy of the mad brilliant mind of Andy Hopp. Oh, and watch out for Throbbance the Grope, that guy really is a muthagooser.

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