Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review: "Beer of the Gods" by the GagMen

Beer of the Gods is a free module published by the comedic podcast collective GagMen.  The adventure is pitched at low-level characters and written for the Basic Fantasy Rules.  However, even without knowing anything about BFR, I found the statistical information pretty easy to translate into the OSR systems that I prefer.

I wasn't familiar with the GagMen when I picked up Beer of the Gods, so after my first readthrough of the module, I tuned into their jam session for it: Episode 33 (February 19, 2015) of their podcast series.  There's a lot to take away from the podcast, not least of which is the usefulness of airing one's ideas to a group for feedback.  A lot of self-publishing designers would do well to copy the GagMen's method, even if they choose to keep their ideas private.  I also think that anyone wanting to run Beer of the Gods could benefit from tuning in and perhaps picking up some of the ideas that didn't make the final cut.

The .pdf is 21 pages cover to cover.  There are characterful illustrations within to help set the irreverent tone.  One of my few complaints about Beer of the Gods is that it doesn't have any maps!  Although the scenario is structured so that it could probably be run without them (and indeed, navigation will owe more to luck than planning), I still would have liked a definite site layout with which to work.

GagMen cooked up a slightly silly but enjoyable premise for the adventure.  Bubbles McDuff of the beer gnomes of Potwallow beseeches the aid of the party in retrieving the legendary Kettle of Aegir.  Along with the hazards of meddling with the artefact that produced beer for the Norse Gods, the party has to deal with the quarreling heirs to the Grabob brewery and some surly dwarves besides.  Beyond what the players will learn more or less automatically, Gagmen have provided a few paragraphs of additional background information plus longer character profiles to help the DM out.  Certainly this is not comprehensive detail, but I'm fairly confident that anything more the party wanted to learn or do in the run-up to the adventure proper could be improvised.  There are also a couple of hooks for giving the adventure more complexity if the DM wants to explore them.

As for the action itself, it's rather unusual.  I won't spoil this module, but suffice it to say that GagMen gave a lot of thought about how to implement their theme without just frustrating the players.  A possible complaint is that the adventure is a bit of a "railroad", in that the players don't have too many decisions to make.  There are certainly problems to solve and one can imagine a few inventive solutions to them, but Beer of the Gods doesn't present much of a tactical challenge.  Still, being led by the nose through a short scenario - probably just one session - is unlikely to seriously offend any but the most contrary players.

Along with the adventure components, Beer of the Gods has a couple of extras loosely related to the scenario.  There's a one page list of deities associated with alcohol and drinking - my favourite is Centzon-Totochin, the "Aztec God of the Four Hundred Drunken Rabbits" - and a few insightful paragraphs on the use of powerful supernatural entities in role-playing games.  Both of these could see use in the campaign more broadly, whether the party plays through the scenario or not.

My rating is 4/5.  GagMen have served up a fun palate-cleanser, suitable for most groups.  The lack of challenging decisions is what keeps the module from being a "5/5", but it would have taken quite some genius to maintain a light tone while still getting the players to wrack their brains!  This is a thoughtful work created for the benefit of DM and players alike.  I strongly recommend making time for the GagMen and the Beer of the Gods.