Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Great Deal: Monty Haul #1

Monty Haul is a sweet little ‘zine written for 5e D&D but with its feet firmly planted in the Old School cool. It gives off a bit of an ‘80s DRAGON vibe but is a lot more friendly with a stronger personal tone. TL;DR: some neat stuff to make spell-slingers more S&S/Lovecraftian eldritch, plus other goodies worth checking out.

Disclaimer: I backed the Kickstarter and got a sneak peek at #1 so I could help with proofreading. More than that, Mark Finn is an awesome guy I used to hang out with every chance I had when I lived in Austin (which mostly meant seeing him at conventions like ArmadilloCon). He's a literal raconteur of exceptional skill. And his brother was my therapist for a while. I think Mark rocks on and off toast.

More importantly for this discussion, Mark is a widely recognized Robert E. Howard scholar. (And yes, Amazon gives me a kickback if you buy from that link). So when he talks about Swords & Sorcery, he knows whereof he speaks. And he worked for Chessex in the ‘90s. The dude has been around and he has some stories to tell.

So, what is Monty Haul? Mostly material Mark’s created for his home game: homebrew rules, world-building, monsters, and other fun stuff that isn’t what you’re finding elsewhere.

Monty Haul #1 is dedicated to spell-slingers, specifically wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers. Because he’s writing for 5e, this means subclasses. Because it’s Mark, they’re not the usual sort of stuff. For instance, he’s got a new warlock patron, the Yellow King, who gives your warlock the power to blast enemies with mind-jarring visions of Carcosa. There’s a new sorcery origin, eldritch ancestry, that allows you to pick from three different flavors of eldritch horror (the Black Goat, which is all about chthonic deities and tentacles, the Void Dweller who are all about warping time and space, and the Deep Ones with their aquatic powers). My favorite bennie for these comes at 6th level: whenever you take physical damage, your eldritch birthright boils out from under the thin shell of your ruptured flesh, allowing you to deal greater unarmed damage to your attackers. The more hits you take, the more wrongness erupts through the holes in your skin, and the more dangerous you become. There’s also a new school for wizards, That Which Man Was Not Meant to Know, that starts off giving you some AC bonuses (due to your extreme paranoia) and ends at 14th level where the simple act of casting your spells causes psychic damage to those who can see and hear you.

There’s also a trio of “monsters” designed to plague spell-slingers specifically. I put monsters in quotes because these things have no stats; if you can see them, you can squish them pretty easily. But each is a parasite that infests the body. The ear worm is a sort of anti-babble-fish, translating the words you hear into a random language you might not understand. There’s also the mind mite (aka the brain cloud) that eats spell slots.
If you’re not into spell-slingers, there’s still some good stuff for you, including a nifty melding of the TSR-era reaction table with 5e’s social skills that I’m now using in my campaigns.

My favorite section is probably the Design Notes for a Magical City. This is not a keyed map of a magical city, but instead ideas Mark has used to make one of the city’s in his homebrew campaign more magical. This makes them very easy to slap a new coat of paint on and drop into your home campaign.

Even better, the first section is Mark’s design notes for all the different sections, the why’s and wherefore’s of the choices he’s made. Since you know why he made the choices he’s described, you’re in a better position to judge how useful his work is for your campaign and how you might want to tweak it for optimal performance at your table.

You can get Monty Haul #1 at as a .pdf. I’m not sure if there are options for getting it in dead tree form if you missed the Kickstarter (you might contact Mark directly if that’s something you’re interested in).