Friday, November 9, 2012

Further Hells of Mayfair Games ~ A Look Into The Hell & Back Boxset With Review & Commentary

The Realms of Fantasy products  From MayFair games isn't technically part of the Demons line at all but part of the Role Aids line. This one To Hell & Back is by the late Nigel Findley. Back in the day at a particular GenCon I got a chance to meet Nigel. He was a very, very nice person & possibly one of the most prolific game designer/writers/editors out there. He was an extremely talented but driven person who was taken way too soon from this one & the gaming world. You can learn more about him through wiki Here & from a  friend of his  personal account of  working with him Here
To Hell & Back 
 The Blurb on the back doesn't cover half of this product of infernal design & simplicity. The box set is a stepping stone into the world of Dantian, Arthurian horror, & beyond. So here's the blurb from Amazon:

The boxset of  To Hell & Back full of Old School/New School goodness. Love the parchment style maps in this one. 

FULLY COMPATIBLE WITH AD&D 2ND EDITION. No new worlds to conquer? Look no further. To Hell and Back contains an atlas of the fantastic realms of classic literature for your characters to explore. Choose from five different worlds: * Atlantis, the legendary lost continent, where power-hungry lords plot the conquest of the surface world. The mist-shrouded isle of Avalon, where the priestesses of the mother-goddess hold secrets mortal man was not meant to know. * Faerie, home of the mischievous sylvan races and their ancient enemies, the goblin tribes. * The eight pits of Dante's Inferno, where the damned are consigned to eternal torment befitting their sins. * Selene, city of eternal twilight where vampire lords rule and humans are mere cattle for their unnatural hunger. ~ To Hell and Back includes: * 38 pages of hole-punched statistic sheets describing creatures from each of the five realms. * An 80 page atlas of the realms of Atlantis, Avalon, Faerie and Selene featuring new player-character races, character classes, magic items and spells. * A 64 page guide to Dante's Inferno, featuring a complete adventure that takes a party of adventurers to hell and back. * Fold-out maps of the five realms." 
I've used this product possibly over twelve to fifteen times when the dreaded DM's block kicks in. This is a product that fills a couple of important niches in a DM's tool kit. The lay out to this product is very nice. 

Monsters are each laid out for their areas that they appear in the product. You get monsters from the realms of Atlantis, Avalon, Faerie and Selene. These are sold, nasty pieces of work that can make pretty short work of a party. 
This is a prop/spell book with Dante flavored spells through out. Along with bits & pieces from the various realms. 

There's a letter of introduction from a former adventurer whose journeyed through each of these realms. 

The graphics presentation puts you in the mind of a Dantian damnation each spell wheeling the (moron) PC closer to Hell's lure. The whole thing reads like some sort of demented tour guide to the realm infernal & beyond. 

Book one in the box set deals exclusively with Dante's Hell. The sights, places, monsters, adventures,etc are all their in detail,. the adventures are very,very dangerous. These all could very easily be converted to your favorite retro clone but its going to push a campaign right into the Gothic horror vein real quick 

 The whole of Book one is Hell its history, politic, & what have you. This isn't the Demons line Hell but with little prompting the two could be mingled easily. This whole thing would make an excellent addition to a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign world. 

There lots of suggestions throughout for actually setting up a campaign within these realms. The whole thing feels like a sick introduction to a twisted horror/Gothic campaign waiting to happen! 
We start diving into book two we're literally taken to the various realms where the weirdness of these planes starts to sink in. Selene is especially memorable for I ran the city for a bunch of Vampire the Masquerade 1st edition players who were "Tired of the simple game play of AD&D and the blandness of OD&D." They barely escaped the place with their PC's lives in place. 
Book two is perhaps one of the most useful for those wishing a Lovecraftian adventure without the cumbersome history that goes with the Old Ones & Cthulhu. The trepidation's of Atlantis in this one are nasty horrible, & very dangerous. This is one of my favorite depictions of Atlantis out side of  the old Bard Games stuff.  
The layout is very quick & very clear. This book lays out Who, What, & Where very clearly. The Atlantis stuff would be perfect for a Mutant Future or Labyrinth Lord Game where the players are dealing with the machinations & horror of the place. These folks are very nasty power block that can appear in the background of an entire campaign on their own. 
Atlantis is laid bare to use. Its contents are easily accessible. These aren't the Atlantians from Warlords of Atlantis. These are the nasty cult like hidden below the surface folks who have their hands in everything from necromancy to inbreeding at its finest.
Faerie is a land of Chaos wrapped in a world of memory, nightmare, & dreams. This place could easily sit right next to HP Lovecraft's Dream lands as a counterpoint. This isn't a storybook land of milk & honey. This is the darker side of Jim Henson's Labyrinth. The whole place is connected to Arthurian lore & legend as well as Avalon which has its own little dark side to it. Tread lightly in these realms or you may end up with the head of an ass or worse. 
Selene is very carefully laid out & the vampire city has never been as fully explored as in this product. Everything is laid bare here. This place makes "Salem's Lot" look like Sunny Brook farm. Vampires are kings of the night & the stuff of  nightmares. This realm is their capital & the place is pure poison for adventurers & especially those do gooder classes. Rangers, paladins, etc. While a realm of surreal horror in French literature this place is a haunted house of vampiric godlessness waiting for adventurers to blunder in. 
Using The Hell & Back Box Set With Your OSR Games 

The Hell & Back Box set isn't by any means a perfect product but its influence can have profound appeal to an OSR campaign. The PC who find themselves dealing with these places are going to be in for a surprise. The whole box set is written from the perspective that each of these locations will have lots of influence on the world around them.
For example if the various places list in the box set were to start bleeding through to a campaign world the situation could be come very dire very quickly. The monsters in the box set are all distinctive enough to cause incredible problems. Faerie could well become the focal point for a weird alien invasion situation with the PC druids caught in the middle.
The eight hundred pound gorilla in the box set is the Hell of Dante. This isn't a subtle Hell. This is a full balls to the wall demons are going to tear into your cosmos & only the PCs can save the world. From the monsters to the location this is a central campaign piece. Its too easy to use this place as the usual horror movie theme park. Look to the original source material for ideas. The whole box set reeks with Gothic atmosphere. There are certainly enough ideas to be raped & pillaged from Dante's original to keep eight or nine campaigns going.
The retro clone system to use with this is really a personal choose of the DM & players. Since 1st/2nd edition AD&D is so close this isn't really an issue. Personally  Lamentations of the Flame Princess comes to mind or the fine products of Goblinoid Games.
 So is this product any use at all with a game like Mutant Future? Surprisingly yes it is! This box set could present five weird alternative worlds that could be the cause of or a side effect of a reality shattering apocalypse  Then there's the creatures/monsters of the various realms that might be finding its way through the Lovecraftian apocalyptic world of Mutant Future. The horror might come into the revelations of the other realm's influence or causing of the Apocalypse in the first place. Atlantis or Faerie are two candidates but Hell is the big contender  for this type of world. And the PCs dealing with the various demonic critters presents scads of horror rpg opportunities.
 There are lots of possibilities here & this box set can still be had relatively cheaply from ebay & other places. I've seen several of these box sets going for 30 to 40. The going rate is about 15.00 which isn't bad considering what you get in the box set.
 All in all a very cool box set from another age of role playing. 

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