Game: Slavelords of Cydonia
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
Series: Grim Tales
Review Dated: 12th, July 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Yus. Pick up Slavelords of Cydonia and you’ll feel that is has the “Yus Factor!”. This is a chunky hardback and, to be honest, this is what you’d expect for any adventure supplement that promised to take your players from Level 1 to Level 20. Chunky adventure supplements enjoy the “Yus factor”.
According to Bad Axe Games an ‘adventure supplement’ is a product which contains an adventure and has room for standard supplement-esq rules. Slavelords of Cydonia has over 230 pages – it has room for both an adventure and supplemental rules.
One of the reasons why Slavelords of Cydonia appeals to me so much is that it’s a Grim Tales supplement. It’s a low fantasy supplement. Or it’s a gaslight London supplement. Or it’s a modern age supplement. Or it’s a post-apoc supplement. Herein lies Grim Tales’s strength (not to be confused with Grimm, also well respected) – it’s about a style of play rather than a genre/theme of play. Slavelords of Cydonia and Grim Tales are pretty grim at times – players are likely to be, er, well, slaves at some point.
Holy silt. If you’re worried about spoilers then flee now. Flee! Flee! Flee!
I don’t think the fact that the players are likely to become slaves is much of a spoiler. If they didn’t see it coming from the title of the book and the fact that they’re level one to begin with then they’re blooming unlikely to be reading this review.
Slavelords of Cydonia is also an unusual type of adventure – handy since I don’t think the usual, scripted, linear adventures work very well. The fact of the matter is that your players will do something that the linear plot didn’t expect. They will. Face it. Slavelords of Cydonia deals with this issue in an intelligent way (and as the professional extension of the way many of us have been designing our own notes for years now). Slavelords of Cydonia is modular. It’s not modular in the sense that it contains a linear module/adventure but modular in the sense that the GM can pick or choose plot points, adapt and respond as needs be to get players from outcome A to outcome B.
Slavelords of Cydonia achieves this mean feat by providing the framework an experienced GM needs to make things happen. I should note that the book makes no apologies for requiring an experienced GM – but, once again, if you’re reading this then you probably are. We know what the NPCs are up to. We know what the players need to learn to set the mood for the next chapter and we know what they shouldn’t learn yet. We have locations and some nice events. What we don’t have is the step-by-step walkthrough through which we neither need nor expect to happen. If the players are mean to a NPC then they can expect no help but if they are helpful to an NPC then they’re more likely to be their friend – the GM can moderate this. Of course, it’s also possible that if the players are helpful to an NPC that the NPC is a Lethid spy sent to win their favour.
Oh! Such are the tempting plot twists of low fantasy. I suppose I should also say that if don’t have Grim Tales (why not?) and if you’re not fond of low fantasy (why not?) that the book provides conversion suggestions for you. You can take a spell caster from another setting (Grim is low magic) and use them here but it is worth noting that this tome begins at a very low level.
Slavelords of Cydonia might be a low fantasy (if you want) adventure but it is set on an epic scale. Taking characters from level 1 to level 20 is no mean feat. We begin on Earth but quickly ramp up the exotic flavour from there! To find the beginning of the plot you must go back to a time now low to history. To a time where the cruel Sli’ess Empire (lizards, don’t you know) ruled Earth from… yes, Atlantis. We need to go back to the first Lethid War when the unfathomably evil Lethid race moved across the stars to defeat the Sli’ess. By the end of the book you’ll never want to see the word “unfathomably” beside the word “evil” again. If “unfathomably evil” has something of a Lovecraft ring to your ears then your ears are not alone.
The Lethid are tentacled psions and whereas they might be the obvious blend of Mind Flayer and Lovecraft at least they are a good and interesting blend. These alien baddies are the behind the scenes terrors for the first couple of chapters. They’re truly scary. I think one great example of how scary the Lethid are is the fact that the players may never realise who their enemy actually was in chapter one…
It’s jolly easy to write adventures when your players are slaves. It’s easy to send them off on hairbrained missions or have them fight in the gladiator pit. Or both; classic. Slavelords of Cydonia is aware of this fact and keeps this chapter particularly loose and this suits me well. As an example of how thorough Slavelords of Cydonia is – whilst being “hands off modular” – is that we have from the supplement a couple of pages of slave gladiators and gladiator plot ideas… and there’s no compulsion to have the PCs as gladiators in the first place. It’s this flexibility which helps push the adventure supplement into the mighty tome (with the “Yus! Hefty supplement!” feel) that it is.
The adventure section has these plot hooks, it has NPCs and locations as well as a succinct set of GM eyes cartography.
The other half of Slavelords of Cydonia is the “supplement side”. To this end we’ll note that the Appendices begin at page 158 – so that’s half the book.
We have a whole appendix on the humanoid reptiles, the six sub-species, know as the Sli’ess. Just for the flavour let’s list the six sub-races; the Sli’ess’ra are the high snakes (bosses) of the lot, we’ve the Sli’ess’lor, the Sli’ess’suul, the Sli’ess’bru (the gator warriors), the Sli’ess’yul and the half-blooded abominations the Sli’ess’got. The Sli’ess are divided into houses and bloodlines. Appendix A also dabbles in new spells.
Appendix B focuses on the lethid. I’m in two minds about a resource section which beings; “Little is known – or will likely ever be known – of the Lethid”. Fortunately, Slavelords of Cydonia does not play silly buggers with us and tell us all about the Lethid. And yes; cosmic alien horrors from beyond the void are on topic here.
By the time we reach the next appendix horrors like the Plasma War Golem and the Aurag (Beast of Infinite Wastes) are on topic too and the players are much more likely to have to deal with them. In fact there’s a nice balance of creatures in the bestiary.
Appendix D is a true appendix in that it gives us the full stat blocks for previously truncated entries. Slavelords tries very hard to ensure that you have all the stats you need on the same page as any encounter or plot strand you might be dishing out of the players.
Let’s just skip the equipment section because no one wants to fall asleep and rush on to the mass combat rules. I must admit; mass combat is a thoroughly unexpected twist and bonus from the book. Slavelords of Cydonia present one of the most abstracted mass combat rules yet – and one of the best. To be harsh (and let’s be) I maintain it’s still too bitty for my tastes (having to deal with each unit) but its over in a few pages and that’s a jolly good sign.
I really quite liked Slavelords of Cydonia. I’m not a fan of linear junk as my players will avoid it like true experts (do your players still explore dark basements alone or venture out on wolf invested moors without silver, no? neither do mine) but I do admit that Cydonia has cracked this thorny issue by simply crediting the reader with some intelligence. I think the average Slavelords of Cydonia reader will be of above average intelligence so this assumption should work out for the best. Whereas I appreciate Cydonia’s method of preventing adventures to the GM I’m not convinced there’s really enough here to take players smoothly from level 1 to level 20. There are about 230 pages; I wonder how many experience points a page that works out to be? Only half of those are plot pages too. I suspect the GM will have to weave a substantial amount of plot themselves.
Is the meta plot the easy part and are the individual scenes the hard part? Slavelords of Cydonia hopes this is not the case.
I thoroughly enjoyed Slavelords of Cydonia. The book is a great idea resource. It’s an uber-plot worth running and has enough help in its mass of pages to make it easy enough to run – though the work needed on the GM’s side should not be understated. It’s a credit to Slavelords that I see that the GM will need to do plenty of work and yet it’s very tempting to run the game.
I’m not sure how much of a stand alone supplement the book is. The supplemental rules support the new adventure bits (and most adventures offer that, at least) but it is possible to cherry pick bits from this tome and use them yourself.
I think if you’re a Grim fan then you should consider Slavelords of Cydonia strongly. If you’re a fan of coordinating with paid-for adventures then snap up this hefty hardback before they rise the price to over $40 ( US $35 at time of writing) . If you’ve no desire for uber-plot input then I think it’s fair to say that although you’ll appreciate Slavelords of Cydonia’s style that you probably won’t use the book.