Weird Wastelands - 3rd Party Review

Libertad

Hero
Looking good! I love the last bit of artwork; never have I imagined I'd feel sorry for a purple worm.

Regarding the BFG, I can see CharOps types to comb through the rules to get around its inherent limitations. "No, you see, this class feature's teleportation ability only references size, not weight, so I can use it to safely flip the cannon right-side up!"

I am a bit curious if the writers already have a "solution" in mind, or if making it a puzzle even they don't know the answer to is meant to encourage creativity.

The use of a decreasing dice to represent gradual loss of ammunition is interesting; I feel that I'd have to test it in actual play, but it seems a reasonable balance between counting individual bolts and bullets vs making them a non-issue. I do still feel that this can end up making casters, particularly warlocks, a more attractive option in that cantrips don't run out...unless it turns out the sourcebook has something for that as well.
 

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Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
Looking good! I love the last bit of artwork; never have I imagined I'd feel sorry for a purple worm.

Regarding the BFG, I can see CharOps types to comb through the rules to get around its inherent limitations. "No, you see, this class feature's teleportation ability only references size, not weight, so I can use it to safely flip the cannon right-side up!"

I am a bit curious if the writers already have a "solution" in mind, or if making it a puzzle even they don't know the answer to is meant to encourage creativity.

The use of a decreasing dice to represent gradual loss of ammunition is interesting; I feel that I'd have to test it in actual play, but it seems a reasonable balance between counting individual bolts and bullets vs making them a non-issue. I do still feel that this can end up making casters, particularly warlocks, a more attractive option in that cantrips don't run out...unless it turns out the sourcebook has something for that as well.

Yay! Iz fren!!! How ya doing, man?

As to the BFG, this text may prove illuminative: "Most arcanotech wonders are enormous, immobile, and built on sites of magical power necessary to fuel their effects. Since wonders are nearly impossible to transport, creatures must travel to them to use their powers, and entire communities have developed around the most well-known wasteland wonders."

The author's intent is clearly that if you mess with these things, you will break them. Instead, you bring enemies to the BFG, or use it to crack otherwise insoluble problems (like a box that won't open and for which you have accidentally destroyed the key, as an example). In short, these are items with limited utility that require ingenuity to use effectively.

As to the ammo / cantrip issue, that's not really something the book addresses. Remember that cantrips don't add an ability modifier to the damage, so in base 5E, that's part of the balance between a cantrip and a weapon attack (yes, agonizing blast exists, but that's a hefty cost for resourceless damage). In short, the designers aren't trying to necessarily fix base 5E issues, but rather to hack 5E to allow a different mode of play. That necessitates fixing some base 5E issues with things like tiny hut, but the designers limited their scope to problems with this mode of play.

Alright, kids, now we're going to look at Chapter 5: Wastelands Locations! This is the beefiest chapter in the book, clocking in at 115 pages. It contains eight adventure locations in the wastelands that the PCs can visit. Three of them are Tier 1, three are Tier 2, and one each for Tiers 3 and 4. Because doing an in-depth review would stretch out my already-cramping hands, I'm going to be giving you a 30,000 foot overview of each location, along with the central tension and my thoughts.

Before we get into that, though, this section is the meat of the book. It's about 50% of the book's value prop, and a make-or-break chapter for the text. So I will be examining it with a critical eye - if you think I'm missing or misinterpreting anything, please let me know.

Tier 1 Locations:

The Last City of MAN - MAN stands for Mage's Alliance Network, a pre-apocalyptic magic group who built a city out here to take advantage of ley lines. Structurally, this is a procedurally generated dungeon-crawl that resets every time there's a sandstorm. See, the city got swallowed up by the desert, so every time the sands blow around, new stuff gets buried and new stuff gets unearthed. So each time the PCs come back, you generate a brand-new Lost City via some really interesting die drop mechanics. Even more interestingly, because this is a known place in the world, there are other scavengers, wastelanders, etc., traveling around, so you have a decent chance of built-in social and trading play between groups, as well as a great way to introduce a rival adventuring party. It comes with its own treasure tables, factions, monster lairs, random encounters, ruins, tricks, traps, rumor tables, etc. Also, it's crawling with psionic ghouls (thools), who practice life-draining psycho-cannibalism. This is outstanding work and I love it. Great job!

Toxic Alchemical Sump - This is the site of a Eberron-style airship that crashed and now has its reactor leaking into the surrounding countryside. The Sump is full of these toxic chemical pools. You can dredge the pools to find cool gear in there, or try to siphon off the sludge for alchemists elsewhere, but doing so is dangerous. You might acquire the arcane paroxysm (a parasitic spell - this is really freaking cool), or an explosive elemental imbalance, which is what I thought my sister-in-law had before her BPD diagnosis came through. These are all awesome. For example, here's the text on the explosive elemental imbalance:

pTQF4N5.png

YEAH. God, I want to run that so bad - that's a fantastic problem to put on your players. The rest of this location has a magicore (not a manticore, mind you, a magicore), and some of the best art I've seen:

TcUTQkM.png


There's so much to love here. Great job again!

Tradetown - A decent starting town, Tradetown becomes an adventure location as the pressures within it come to a boiling point. Multiple factions start fighting over Tradetown, and the people in charge change what goods are available, what the rules are, and even parts of the terrain. There are a bunch of great shops and NPCs included, like the Colossal Repository of Arcanotech Paraphernalia (or CRAP), and one tiefling who follows the PCs around her store with "a very obvious customer service voice."

Full suggested encounters are provided with links to other locations, a full-page NPC generator that lets you create a bunch of different options for new NPCs, new shops, arena events, and a really neat monster called a "Feast Beast."

This is pretty solid. It's not as tight as the previous two, but there's plenty of material here for essentially reinventing Tradetown as several different towns across the Wastelands. Good.

Tier 2 Locations:

Deep Green - Our first Tier 2 location! This is set up as a giant alchemical sinkhole turned into a resort and spa run by (I kid you not) techno-otters.

fOc8hcW.png


If you can't make this thing adorable, WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING??
Unfortunately, the techno-otter spa is built over an aboleth trapped in the sinkhole, and it's been steadily enslaving the otters with it's aboleth nonsense over time. As the party spends time here, it comes into contact with things that seem weird, but that most of the otters insist are not, in any way, weird. I think this is going to throw some parties, and I think this is the weakest dungeon in the book. While the techno-otters are a nice touch, there are too many elements of whimsy for the horrific elements to fully come off. Note that weakest does not mean bad. Deep Green is a solid attempt, and worth your time, but ultimately not quite what I'm looking for.

Derbytown - The second-largest settlement in the Wastelands, Derbytown is all about vehicles. It is situated in the massive ribcage of some long-dead beast, creating a huge arena where all manner of Mad Max antics take place. There are details around the town's leadership and assets, including a sentient car named Vectro-3000, full rules for betting on the demolition derby, a squamous magnedon (flightless electromagnetic dragon that eats scrap), full rules for various types of racing (along with examples of play! POINTS!), and several interesting encounters (like where the sentient car gets worried that its owner will replace it). This is interesting and fun to read, as well as being pretty on-point for the genre. Good job!

Rust Wastes - Hoo boy. So the Rust Wastes are like if the Transformers franchise was set in WWI. It's a massive robot battle between the AutoForged and MimiCons. I'm not making those names up; they're in the book. This seems weirdly disconnected from the rest of the world? You'd need to do some work to plug this into the wider world, probably more than you needed to do with Deep Green. The main draw here is that there's a lot of arcanotech scrap lying around waiting to be pillaged, but it's incredibly dangerous to do so. There's rules for technovirus (machine sickness that turns you into a MimiCon) and tetanus, as well as a solid dozen fun locations and NPCs scattered amidst the pages.

And the puns continue:

DyqC1YQ.png


If you get all of these references, pat yourself on the back.
The Rust Wastes are ultimately not a terribly strong addition to the area, but can at least serve as a source of Tier 2 - 3 loot with an ongoing storyline. It's fairly decent, but will require some work to avoid jarring the world and tone.

The Basalt Palace - Our only Tier 3 location. This used to be a pleasure house for rich magi - not just sex, but literally anything you could want, since it basically created an illusion of anything you could imagine. Structurally, this functions as a depth crawl. If you don't know what that is, you should check out Gardens of Ynn and Stygian Library by Emmy "Cavegirl" Allen, a fantastic creator. If you don't want to lay money down, see this Alexandrian article: Pointcrawl Addendum: Depthcrawls. The short of it is that they are a procedurally generated way of creating a location that you dynamically explore. Very fun, very interesting. This one clearly is drawing inspiration from Gardens of Ynn and aiming for a melancholic, tragic vibe.

It succeeds, but for me, that's not really what I'm looking for in a postapocalyptic wastelands vibe? This is essentially a Chernobyl situation, where the party is trying to keep the spell reactor from fully melting down. Doing so, unfortunately, requires a bunch of other things to be destroyed (including the Feast Beast who keeps Tradetown from dying out, and parts from Vectro-3000). So we have a significant promise of bringing back something from the Old World, but at the cost of sacrificing something they care about. That matters, and it should land, but for me it kind of misses the mark.

I want to be clear that this is not a failing on the author's part; it's a very taste-based critique. For you, this may be exactly what you're looking for. But for me, this goes hard on tragedy and sacrifice, and I'm here for gonzo weirdness. Good stuff, well executed material, just not my bag.

The Gates of the Afterlife - The lone Tier 4 location. This is where the gods sealed themselves off from the apocalypse, and sealed shut the gates to prevent spirits from leaving the material plane. So there are a ton of ghosts here, along with all kinds of extraplanar beings. Occasionally, the ghosts form into a ghost storm, a cyclone of angry undead ripping up the landscape. The Gates remain shut because the gods' remaining servants defend the guardian gate, and because the Infernal Recruiters faction also want the Gates to stay closed. So if the PCs are going to punch through, they're going to need a lot of firepower. Like the demonic living artillery that's bound here. Or the three lich-bros who are each running a mutually exclusive con on each other and the PCs at the same time. Or the xenobactrian ("alien frog" apparently) warlord just hanging out in the soulfurous fumes. Not sulfurous fumes, "soulfurous fumes." It's well done and solidly built. Good job!

This is meant to be a capstone, with a lot of things the PCs can interact with and use. It's toyetic as all Hell, and interacting with it has massive implications for the campaign writ large. Want your postapocalypse to get started getting better? Well, I hope your PCs hang in there to level 20! ;)

So all in - how are these locations? Well, out of eight, we have two that are great, four that are good, and two that are decent. None of these are bad, and all of them have something to offer. So on a 4.0 scale, (4.0 = great, 3.0 = good, 2.0 = decent), this gives us a GPA of 3.0. If Sturgeon's Law applies ("90% of everything is crap") that's batting well above replacement.

Or, if we're saying that this chapter is the meat of the product, then it ain't prime rib, but it's a damn good sirloin!
 


Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
I'm doing well, can't complain. I'm planning on getting back into reviews this August after taking a bit of a personal vacation.

I love the names for all the tiered locations, too. Last City of MAN and Toxic Alchemical Sump sound like something you'd see when browsing metal music albums.

Take the time you need, man. Your reviews always encourage me to start a new one on my end!

Alright folks, this time we're going to delve into the final chapter of Weird Wastelands: Friends & Foes! This chapter on monsters is 22 pages long, and only has about 11 statblocks. If you think that's light, well, you're not wrong. However, we're going to see a reason for that here pretty quick.

First up, WebDM introduces two monster templates: the arcanavore, and the spell-warped. The arcanavore is a kind of creature that's been twisted to feed on magical energy. It gains nearly a full page of abilities and other changes, including two extra Hit Dice, some utility spells, and the ability to eat spells (net impact to CR is +2). This ability comes in two flavors (see what I did there?) that are basically dispel magic and counterspell. And if you're thinking, "Why not just give it those spells?" the reason (as far as I can tell) is range. You can try to fireball an arcanavore from 120 feet away, and as long as it can see you, it can try to eat your spell.

These things are nasty. Also, I can't wait to drop them on my players!

We also get an arcanavore stirge, which is a great example of putting your own advice into action!

After that, we get a spell-warped template, which makes the creature a lot beefier, but also gives it a couple unique-ish abilities drawn from two random tables, like a troll's regeneration, or cockroach legs that give it a climbing speed, or the ability to give out diseases when it hits with a melee attack. OOF.

The example given is a spell-warped ettin that is covered in bulbous acid-filled pustules - every time it gets hit, the hitter takes 12 acid damage. It also has a blinding spit attack as a bonus action, so it's significantly more dangerous than a regular ettin.

The actual monsters include some real doozies:

  • The Feast Beast, an encounter that's intended for non-combat purposes, but functionally serves as a massive walking buffet
  • The Guardian Gate, the actual gate sealing off the Wastes from the divine realms beyond at the Gates of the Afterlife (see the locations, above) - this thing is two whole pages of straight statblock, CR 23, and has at will chain lightning, power word stun, disintegrate, and others.
  • The Magicore, an arcanavore manticore (CR 4) with legendary actions, spell-munching reactions, and a roar that can turn off magic items
  • The Mechaboleth, an outright nuts monster that's basically an aboleth in a crustacean-mech suit (CR 12 and bonkers)
  • The Shadow Chameleon, a CR 13 monstrosity that can switch between forms and whose statblock flows onto two pages
  • The Squamous Magnedon, a CR 16 flightless dragon with a host of fun abilities, like a lightning aura (30 foot range) that hits metal-armor wearers harder, and the ability to magnetize someone's armor.
  • The Thool, a CR 3 psionic ghoul that fashions its' weapons and armor from the living flesh of its victims
  • The Tremble, a CR 1/4 elemental that's a living whetstone who feeds on metal; of course, if you overfeed it (they reproduce when fed), you create the Tremble Swarm, a CR 6 catastrophe that's an unholy combination of gelatinous cube, rust monster, and can also cast a souped-up thunderwave.
The Trembles, as I'm sure you noticed, are not inspired by any Star Trek episodes. At all.

And that's the end of the monsters! The reason for why the density of statblocks is so low is because so many of the statblocks are massive. There are several that flow onto multiple pages, or have to be run as a two-page spread, plus a couple of two-page spreads for art. They're quite massive, and they're great for ideas, but it leaves the pure "value per-page" folks feeling a bit underwhelmed.

So now onto the big question: should you buy it?

Well, that depends on perspective. If you're a player and thought any of those subclasses sounded interesting, it might be worth a shot. If you're a DM and want some interesting survival and navigation mechanics, these have you covered. If you're a DM and want fun and interesting locations to drop in your world's magical wasteland (or any of the various magical planes like Avernus, Gehenna, etc), then this book has you covered as well.

Primarily, I'd recommend this book for DMs who are looking to jumpstart the exploration pillar in their games. This is a great book for anyone looking for new and interesting ways to make "exploring a dangerous location" meaningful in terms of gameplay. That's not easy to do in 5E, but I figure the authors have come as close as anyone to cracking that code.

The PDF should be available on 2CGaming's web store shortly, once physical items have been distributed to backers.

And now, if anyone's still reading...what would you be interested in seeing me review next?
 

Libertad

Hero
That was a pretty neat read. I can't honestly say if I'd use it in any of my own campaigns, but I do like seeing more navigation and survival mechanics. I'm partial to anything that strengthens the Exploration and Social pillars of 5th Edition.

And now, if anyone's still reading...what would you be interested in seeing me review next?

I'm partial to Monte Cook's Ptolus, which recently got a 5e upgrade. I once reviewed the 3rd Edition book a decade ago but ran out of energy, so it'd be interesting to see someone go farther.

If that's too large, then perhaps the Grim Hollow Campaign Guide. It's a pretty neat dark fantasy setting I see talked about a lot, but I haven't really seen many detailed reviews.
 

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
That was a pretty neat read. I can't honestly say if I'd use it in any of my own campaigns, but I do like seeing more navigation and survival mechanics. I'm partial to anything that strengthens the Exploration and Social pillars of 5th Edition.



I'm partial to Monte Cook's Ptolus, which recently got a 5e upgrade. I once reviewed the 3rd Edition book a decade ago but ran out of energy, so it'd be interesting to see someone go farther.

If that's too large, then perhaps the Grim Hollow Campaign Guide. It's a pretty neat dark fantasy setting I see talked about a lot, but I haven't really seen many detailed reviews.
No way in hell am I reviewing Ptolus (it's the One Piece of D&D supplements), but I actually have the Grim Hollow campaign guide. Thanks, friend!
 



DoctorPip

Explorer
The PDF should be available on 2CGaming's web store shortly, once physical items have been distributed to backers.
The PDF is already available. It was even on sale for 25% off not long ago.

As a backer it was sort of annoying to see it already discounted, because physical rewards don't even have an ETA yet. General knowledge suggests them to be over a year away at a minimum, but Communication with both WebDM and 2CGaming regarding the project has been largely nonexistent and WebDM stopped making videos entirely nearly a year ago, so the fate of the project's video stretch goals is unknown.

A post from 2CGaming indicates that the company is struggling after using multiple proxy accounts to skirt Kickstarter's rules about having a limited number of active projects. A post from WebDM indicates that they are burnt out and no longer want to make videos or continue their channel.
 


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