Sonntag, 1. März 2015

Chthonic Codex review, revisited




Or, why I have this thing in three different versions


Back in December, I wrote a half-assed review of Paolo Greco's Chthonic Codex, as well as Adventure Fantasy Game, which is the companion game system (but not needed to enjoy and peruse Chthonic Codex).
At the time, I was reviewing the books from the PDFs alone, so the review was focussed on content. The one sentence summary of my review is superficially whimsical, but tightly designed setting with a distinct european feel, and I stand by that.
The other thing that I did not touch on at that time, is the fact that the books themselves are setting artifacts in their own right:
You can drop them into your game as part of a heirloom, a lair, or a McGuffin to find, and have the players pour over them, and try to figure out where the Hypogea are located (underground, near the sea), and then go and explore, enroll into magic academies, and try to best the dangers of the Hypogea.
Sure, you will give the players a manual of monsters, a magic system, and a setting description, but it's awfully (or awesomely) splintered, with lots of opinion pieces, reports by unreliable authors of history, etc. The true history of the Hypogea might be reconstructed by someone who likes to add cross-references to the 200ish pages and I'm sure that there will be little contradiction once you've started to filter out the opinion from what can be derived as factual.
As I said before, I have the Chthonic Codex in three versions: The PDF files, the boxed set, and the handbound book. Either convey the content easily as the layout is remarkably clean and simple, but they still carry it in very different ways.
The PDFs give you all the content, and due to the simple layout it's easily readable. The monstrous manual itself lends itself to be used at the table with a tablet since the images of the monsters are almost  always standalone on a single page, so you can just show that page to facilitate an impression to the players (and if you play online, you can simply share a screenshot, or the pdf view window, without divulging too much).
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Boxed Set
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Phyllis, Artificer
The boxed set is a nicely done box — a step up from, say, the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Grindhouse box — repeating the cover of the three booklets, and leaving enough room to add a bunch of dice and a small rulebook (for example the aforementioned AFG). To keep things from clattering around, a bit of foam has been added to the box as well, which adds a nice touch.
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Part of the Hypogea Map
But there is more: Half a dozen pre-generated characters with wonderful illustrations by Jeremy Duncan, pocketmod-like simple character folios in the form of "magic school membership books" with a spell list folded in, more scroll fragments, and a map of the Hypogea, which is kind of a mix between a traditional map and a point crawl (if you want to know more about the Hypogea map, check out Paolo's write-up on it). The box contents gerrymander the line between hand-out, setting artifact, and game information challenging everyone who thinks crunch and fluff can easily be set apart.
Alas, the boxed set is sold out. You will currently only get the PDFs of the three volumes of the Chthonic Codex from the Lost Pages online store, but maybe, with luck and enough demand, we will see new boxed sets in the future.



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Look at that coptic binding
Now, to the handbound book. If you like handcrafted things, and things that challenge to how stuff is done in the Do-It-Yourself, small-publisher gaming world, this one is for you. Unfortunately for you, the books aren't currently available for purchase and it's up to Paolo to decide whether he will offer them again in the future. With luck you'll find someone who will want to sell theirs, but I guess the chances are slim. I'll also add that I waited quite a while to get the book after ordering it, but it was still faster than a bunch of RPG kickstarters where I pitched in, and here I got what was promised, no less.


One thing that already stood out for the Adventure Fantasy Game is that it's printed on nice, thick, creamy paper, which makes for easy reading and is amenable to be written onto, unlike the glossy white paper you often get from full color reproductions, or from books with a parchment look background which covers and seals the whole page, making annotations harder.


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opens nice and lies flat on the table
The same kind of paper is used in the handbound book, and while I personally struggle with the idea of writing into this beautiful thing, Paolo told me that this is what he encourages and expects people to do. So I will have to overcome my personal inclination of leaving books untouched I guess. Also, if I do what I suggested above and put the book out as an artifact for players to peruse, it will be them adding to the book. (The saddle stitched booklets in the boxed set alas, are printed on white paper, because reasons. I hope that reprints there will be back on creamy paper as well).


Here's how I would use the trifecta of PDF/boxed set/hardbound book: 
  • Use the PDFs for online games and at the table at home as GM copy
  • Use the boxed set for traveling games containing all relevant game material
  • Use the hardbound book with a trusted local game to hand to the players. 
Here's how I used the setting: I jammed it through a more-or-less standard D&D-ish fantasy setting at a ninety degree angle, as to allow players to go and visit the Hypogea and explore it (and it meshed well).


I would recommend Chthonic Codex if you


  • like weird fantasy settings with new monsters and alternate magic systems
  • find "magical society" settings as traditionally presented (in, say, the perenneial Principalities of Glantri) to be uninspiring at best, but still like the idea.

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