RPG Review: Coliseum Morpheuon

My newest review is up on RPG.net! Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

Coliseum Morpheuon is, in its own words, “an Extraplaner [sic] plug-and-play mini-setting and adventure for 16th-20th level characters, wholly compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.” It’s a patronage project by Rite Publishing, and the primary designers are Clinton J. Boomer (of D&D PSA and RPG Superstar fame) and Jonathan McAnulty. It’s a 128 page PDF and my review copy came with a number of separate PDFs with terrain and paper minis specifically for the adventure, which was a really nice touch.

Look and Feel

The front and back cover art is very nice, though the back cover text has a startling number of misspellings and grammatical errors. I found that a bit off-putting. Luckily the rest of the book doesn’t have that high a rate of editorial flaws. Inside, the layout is nice if not brilliant (I especially like the border art, but am dubious about the font choices especially within boxed text) and the interior art is good if not super frequent.

Contents

Chapter One is about the Plane of Dreams, where all this takes place, from the Shores of Sleep to the Slumbering Sea. It owes a lot to H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. It explains it briefly in both fanciful and technical game terms.

Chapter Two explains the art of “Dreamburning,” which is an interesting mechanic. A character’s hopes, aspirations, and dreams are turned into actual game effects in the lands of Dream, and can be used up by the character, or even destroyed or stolen. It’s a good mechanic – you have a limited number, so those who don’t roleplay at all have a resource management mechanic to play with, and also burning or gaining Dreams is reflective of actual changes to the character’s psyche, so if you are into the roleplaying it can be extremely interesting. And especially for a high level game, it adds some additional strangeness and risk that can add a new dimension to the usual grind.

Chapter 3 describes four denizens of the Dream. These range from the “chittering dream eater” to the iconic denizens of Leng.

Chapter 4 gets into the Island of the Coliseum Morpheuon itself, a land of coherent dream afloat in the Slumbering Sea, and its demented and depraved ruler, the Khan of Nightmares. It hosts a large bazaar-city whose most salient feature is the Great Coliseum where the Games go on endlessly, which contains charming locales like the Pagoda of Patricide. As a cosmopolitan city, it serves as the Waterdeep/Sigil/Sharn/Absalom of the setting. It’s pretty cool, but described only very briefly.

Chapter 5 narrows down to focus on 16 major denizens of the Coliseum itself and provides full writeps and stats for each. This is where a lot of meat is generated, and that’s good, because you can always make up more weird dream locations but NPCs for a 16-20th level campaign are hellishly hard and a lot of the work for an GM. This one chapter is as large as all four that came before put together.

Anyway, these NPCs aren’t your usual cast of characters. They are as weird as you’d expect high level denizens of a dream realm to be. The Dragon of the Ghostdance meets Jack of Diamonds, a “Lifespark Psion-Killer” who looks like an anime robot critter out of Neon Genesis Evangelion. There’s Kahnzadeh Sukhbataa, an “Advanced Transforming Shield Guardian Clay Golem Fighter 3,” the Solstice King, and the Pasha of Swirling Ashes. None are stock high level goons, they are all lovingly crafted in their complexity. There’s a lot of high level goodness packed into this chapter, and it’s worth looting for high level extraplanar NPCs or opponents on its own.

In Chapter 6, we move towards the adventure part of the program, with an overview of the Damnation Epoch, a specific tournament with the Cup of Desires as its prize, that is the primary adventure hook. Since they assume you have complex 16th level characters with huge backstories of their own coming into this, the authors take a toolkit approach and let you piece together a plot with chunks they provide instead of laying out a linear adventure path. The PCs, as a team in the tournament, are given a benefactor (one of the heavy hitters from Chapter 5).

Chapter 7, An Invitation to Damnation, is the first part of the adventure proper. It introduces the PCs to the realms of Dream, the Coliseum, and the games. It’s a lot more linear than the rest of the product, but I suppose that’s somewhat inevitable.

Chapter 8, The Tests of the Coliseum Morpheuon, is a set of adventure seeds for PCs once they’re established in the place. Then Chapter 9, The Tests of the Damnation Epoch, is about what actually happens in the arena – a set of 10 specific trials that the tournament consists of. Many teams participate, but few make it out. Chapter 10, Secrets of the Coliseum Morpheuon, is about larger plots to weave into the campaign. You could just run the Tests of the Epoch in Chapter 9 and have a straightforward “kill and kill again” campaign, or sprinkle in the Tests of the Coliseum in Chapter 8 to mix it up more, but it’s the Secrets of the Coliseum that proposes more high level goals the PCs may be trying to accomplish the and milestones towards them.

Then we have three appendices. The first two describe a couple opposing teams in detail, the Dirges and the Gray Feathers, one evil and one good, but both worthy opponents. They are fully statted up and have intriguing backstories. The third has four pregen characters, also complex and weird – no “Hi I’m Bob the 16th level fighter” guys here. If you don’t need pregens, you could use them as another opposing force. My only complaint here is that they don’t cite their references, making it hard to go find more information. Like one PC is a “Wyrd” and another is an “ironborn.” Are those from some other book? (Probably so, the OGL declaration in the back mentions a bunch of other works). But which? Having some codes that show where the various bizarre race, class, feat, and other power options are from would be invaluable.

Conclusion

I found myself wishing Coliseum Morpheuon was about three times longer than it is. It takes on an extremely ambitious scope in 128 pages, and as a result you often get very terse coverage of its contents. The text is very evocative, however, and provides a great framework for you to create a fantasia upon. And the hardest part, the high level opponents, are done up in detail, so the work you have to do is more the fun stuff than the soul crushing detail work of high level builds.

It’s just the bare bones of a setting, but more than enough to get started, and at that level tossing in a weird location and so many interesting and detailed NPCs means the adventures write themselves.

Coliseum Morpheuon is a rarity – a viable campaign for very high level PCs. It’s innovative and very well written. I give it a full 5 for substance. I have to dock it one point for style because of the lack of referencing and awful rear cover typos. I hope they fix those before they go to print; it sets an unfairly bad impression to see that on the outside of a work. But overall, it’s excellent and I would definitely run it for my gaming group.

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4 responses to “RPG Review: Coliseum Morpheuon

  1. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to do a review of our product.

    Steve Russell
    Rite Publishing

  2. I love the D&D PSAs… Might have to take a look at this product.

  3. Pingback: Netsol Blogs » Blog Archive » Tuesdays & Teasers: What is Rite Working On? (Nov 2010)

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention RPG Review: Coliseum Morpheuon | Geek Related -- Topsy.com

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