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Scourge of the Scornlords: Meatlandia Book III by Ahimsa Kerp and Wind Lothamer

This entry is part 26 of 56 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts go anywhere from a few weeks to a month after I’ve read them. I read this particular book last week, though! 

Before I begin, some disclosures:

So, with that out of the way:

Scourge of the Scornlords is a supplement for old-school RPGs from the Meatlandia series by Knight Owl Publishing. It’s been out for a while, and I backed it on Kickstarter, but since I use a parcel forwarding service, I received my copy a fair bit later than the rest of the world, and only had time to sit down and read through it back in May. 

Knight Owl Games is best know for the “Meatlandia” books, a series of old-school RPG settings that are deeply weird and iconoclastic. The Chaos Gods of Meatlandia was a bizarre setting featuring meat magic, an urban setting, and chaos storms; Annalidia, the setting of The Worm Witch was sort of a Pacific Northwest-ish wilderness setting with worms front and center. Scourge of the Scornlords is the third setting book in the series, and it features a post-apocalyptic weird wasteland campaign setting. 

Except that to say that is to underemphasize its weirdness. Scorn Lords reads (and plays) like a fantasy cross between Mad Max: Fury Road, Dune, Beastmaster, and M. John Harrison’s Viriconium.1 Imagine the deserts of the 80s Conan movies, except with triceratops-drawn war machines, weird oasis-cities run by immortal, semi-divine mages, ant-people adventurers, and just enough of riffing on Dark Sun to give it a familiar vibe while totally not feeling like Dark Sun at all. The setting ends up feeling like a lived-in, authentically strange setting, I think in part because of the way the Scornlands are elaborated in the book. 

Most of that elaboration is actually indirect. There is some direct discussion of the Scornlands as a setting (which takes up the first 30 or so pages of the book, and includes mechanics for dehydration), plus a page or two of history for the GM’s eyes only, but a lot of what the book establishes about the setting is implied through things like new character classes, equipment listings, a section on Psionic Powers, another on the “Scorn Lord” NPCs who rule the region, a sizeable Bestiary, and a few pages of Referee tools with tables for generating loot, villages, combat vehicles (and vehicular combat rules), a Giant Insect generator, and more. I’m a a big fan of worldbuilding being implied in directly-gameable material, so I found all of this deft and thoughtful. 

I think there’s some cool mechanical stuff as well. My own tendency is to make things increasingly complicated—which makes people flip, flip, flip through the book—Scorn Lords keeps things pretty simple. The dehydration rules are simple. The Psionics are simple (and reminiscent of the cleaned-up Psionics of AD&D 2E, from what I recall.) The new classes are straightforward. The new monsters are simple (and somewhat brutal, in some cases, in a way that feels right to me). Kerp and Lothamer have applied lessons learned from earlier supplements to this book, and you can see it. The illustrations are very solid, too, giving a distinct and particular feel to the Scornlands.   

Along with the hardback I got as a Kickstarter backer, I also received a copy of Scoundrels of the Scornlands, a softcover zine-style booklet of NPCs, vehicles and mounts, and village maps. It seems like it would be handy for a GM running a game within the setting: a handful of NPCs that are ready to go is never a bad thing to have. The back of that booklet contains a short Appendix N with list of influences even more wide-ranging than what I mentioned above. (I was surprised, but pleased, to see Turbo Kid on the list, for example: it’s a fun influence!)

Also included was a solo RPGing pamphlet titled The Solitary Scornlands. I haven’t tried it, but it looks like a cool little minigame, designed for players to explore an alternate Scornlands with a feel similar to the original. 

I mentioned above that I was lucky enough to have the chance to participate in playtesting of this book, and I can say that I really enjoyed this weird, wild setting with all kinds of bizarre secrets and nooks and crannies for characters to explore. Some of the locales we visited were so vivid and particularized that I was actually surprised not to see them in the book! There’s clearly plenty of inspirational material for GMs to drawn on, but also a lot of room to work in weirdness from other sources if you want to. The GM may have to elaborate on their own, beyond the villages they generate using the tables in the book, but with a setting as wild as this, it’s likely not hard to incorporate a really wide range of materials. I think there are many weeks’ worth of material to explore here even without that kind of work if wilderness exploration and survival are something you’d like to explore in your games.  

All in all, I was impressed by The Scourge of the Scorn Lords, and that they’re putting out great stuff for old-school gaming! It’s also a complete coincidence, but they’re running a Kickstarter right now, so check it out if you like that kind of thing!

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  1. The latter wasn’t actually an influence—I asked—but  I still felt strongly reminded of “The Pastel City.”

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