Sunday, June 26, 2022

Morrow Project - Liberation At Riverton, A Review

Liberation at Riverton - Wikipedia

My first meeting with the Morrow Project came in the guise of Different Worlds Magazine, Issue 33 which I inherited along with two issues of Dragon, a copy of the AD&D 1e Players Handbook, Moldvay Basic Set, and a handful of modules. The meeting was brief. A short module featuring a plague carrying biker gang along with some Q&A of the authors. But it wormed the game into my brain and eventually I scrounged pdf's for it out of the corners of the internet and read through them. 

And I was charmed. Its an old, idiosyncratic game but interesting in its presentation of details and has some surprisingly well made modules. So as I reread the Morrow Project's books I will be reviewing them, in hopes that this might introduce other folks to the game. 

Now the obvious place to start would be the actual ruleset. But I shall do however I please, and instead we're starting with the very first module, "R001 Liberation At Riverton." 

The Premise 

Players are team members of the "Morrow Project" (a secret enterprise to assist in rebuilding civilization after nuclear war) cryogenically frozen to wait out the imminent apocalypse which indeed, comes and goes. They wake up 150 years later in a 'bolthole' with supplies, armaments, and amphibious assault vehicle. Their mission is vague "fulfill the project's goals: help people, and make contact with prime base and other teams."

The players awaken in the vicinity of 'Riverton' a town of unnamed location*, near a National Guard training camp which was nuked during the war, although the nuke fell south of target. The town was subsequently razed in the war's immediate aftermath during fighting with refugees and marauders. Present day the town has been reduced to numerous isolated farmsteads and a small "town" in the southeast of the old ruins proper. 

Ruling over the locals are the 'Imps' (derived from MP, the contraction of Military Police), remnants of the National Guard unit who had been stationed at the nearby camp. Over the years supplemented and supplanted by recruited vagabonds. They have a stockpile of military equipment, including small arms, mortars, jeeps, three trucks, and three tanks. The Imps spend their time roving about confiscating supplies and terrorizing the locals who are resigned to their fate. 

Into this enter the players.

* The town of Riverton and the national guard camp are in fact, blatant serial number filed off versions of Grayling, Michigan and the nearby Camp Grayling. The regional map itself is an almost 1 to 1 reproduction of the local area (just compare the two on google maps).

Layout & Art

The module is very much a product of its time, and quite home made to boot. Information comes variously in dense, hard to scan blocks or in easy to read, broken up sections. Of spelling errors there are numerous. Nonetheless there's a clear amount of effort put into it, and its certainly far from the worst layout I've seen! It does its job (not to mention the printing quality and subsequent scan quality of the pdf I'm using are partially to blame for bad readability). The section describing the Imp camp is well laid out in particular.

The art meanwhile is sparse and also of homemade quality, nothing to write home about but fun in that charming early RPG game way. The maps provided for both the camp and town are a tad hard to read, but do their job. The keying is adequate, but given the size of many of the maps, as well as the blank space, on the page it might've been more useful to just write out building and room names rather than muck about with numbering/lettering.

The regional map feels superfluous, and does not provide all that much usable information. No particular farms are shown, nor an outline of the local ruins. And given the discrete nature of the module's few points of interest, it's fairly easy to run it as a theater of the mind pointcrawl. That said, it is still useful to know the relative positions of the town to the camp, the local lakes, and the old roadways running throughout. And I cannot fault the module too much for this map, given that it is typical of many other rpgs of the time (not to mention that point crawls didn't exist as a concept yet :P). 

Farmers & Townies 

The locals get a big, rambling, multi-paragraph long write up. They are a simple, isolationist lot, largely defined by their fear of the Imps*. While the write up is long, hard to scan, and repetitive in places, it does provide a good sense of their character and provides actionable information for how they'll react to both players and player actions.

Of the locals, the townies (who live in the small, mapped out 'town' beside the overgrown ruins) get the most description and their meaningfully differentiated from the farmers in their attitudes towards the Imps. Not true factional difference, but difference none the less. A blacksmith and his son (who salvage metal from the ruins), an innkeeper and his family, a "store" (run by wandering horse traders whose stock was stolen by the Imps several years ago), a doctor (former wandering "emdee"), and two farming families. In addition there's a ruined farmstead, the family mysteriously poisoned after refuting the Imps. 

The secret of the farmstead is later revealed to be radiation poisoning from a "blue undead" one of the Morrow Projects few fantastical elements. A sort of radioactive zombie-ghoul, that the Imps keep in an old munitions bunker.

All together the module provides several npc's, hooks or at least interesting details for most, and provides an interesting problem for the players in that most of the locals are cowed by the Imps and too scared to take any action. Much of a play through might be sussing out the willingness of various townies and farmers to fight, or convincing the others. 

*An important note. There’s several (at least four cases I think) of implied and pretty-much-just-outright-stated sexual assault in the module. None directly “shown” but aftermath and history of it springing from the Imp’s abuses are prevalent. 

The Imps

These fellows get a large chunk of writeup. Most of which is dedicated to describing their compound and equipment.

Most of the Imps we learn are thugs recruited from wandering brigands and are a foul, brutish lot with simple discipline, of which, quote "there are no good ones." They're the nasty bad guys to beat up essentially. However they are neither a unthinking horde nor are they without internal divisions! A detailed breakdown is given of how the Imps structure themselves (in a corrupted form of US army structuring)* and a write up of their officers. 

The officers are divided up into four "nco's" (sargents essentially) and two "co's" (lieutenants all) all overseen by a simmering gout stricken "captain." Each is fairly well written up in terms of personality, and plenty of hints are given at how eager each is to go at each others throats. 

Of equipment both weapons and misc. gear is described well, with information as to how exactly the Imps use each. Giving a complete picture of their tactics. Though the information is bit spread out and could be condensed into a 'battle plan' section. All the equipment in working order feels a bit extensive, but 150 years is a short enough time that I can buy it since its been taken care of consistently and is described with signs of use, wear, and inhabitance. 

Of this I must also level my biggest criticism. That the Morrow Project suffers from an inordinate love for military gear, devoting altogether too much time to statting up the specifics of particular guns (though mercifully confined to the appendix for the most part) and vehicles leading the system and its adventures to flag in other areas. I find that the cultures of the post apocalyptic world aren't explored nearly as much as I would like. 

Next comes the camp map and keying. All of which is goodly done, with many little details that add to the previously mentioned tactics, or simply provide implications and inspiration. 

* While structure is described, exact numbers for each element (squad, platoon, etc) are not given. I would guess that the writers assumed the reader would be familiar with the terms.  


The module finishes up with a rough outline of how play should go. While it does feature players auto-colliding with a recently pillaged farmstead, as a means to introduce them to the situation (and likely push them into aligning with the locals forthwith), it is largely open ended. More of a guideline for how the situation might play out unaltered upon player's introduction, than any kind of railroad. 

Taking it alltogather, I would say that....

The modules strengths lie in its sandbox design that presents an immediate situation for the players to involve themselves in (granted, a very black and white one, but an immediate conflict none the less). With both a small social web to navigate and a dangerous and powerful opponent of whom the means of defeating is left open ended.

The modules flaws lie in the lack of stronger factions (though that is a halfhearted criticism since most of the npcs can be easily fleshed out into more dynamic factions from their description) and various small details of layout, system, and style which make it clunky to work with, but are far from sinking it as an adventure.  

It works well either as a one shot hack and slash, shoot em up, or as an introduction into the post apocalyptic world for the players. However in the latter case some good hooks, implied or stated, to the broader world will have to be contrived by the referee. 


All together a solid little module, and a strong start to this review series. 

Random Thoughts 

Where are the Imps making or getting the alcohol to fuel their vehicles? 

An easy way to tie Riverton into a broader region would be to have the Imps trade with a nearby distillery or perhaps have oil fields (there are small oil fields near Grayling in real life) to fuel their vehicles. 

The real Grayling sits right on the I75 Highway that cuts up the whole of Michigan and down down into the southern states, while likely in no great repair, it could be a connecting route for traders and their ilk. Of course the Imps are likely holding trade up with taxes and tariffs. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Deep Country : The Guano Isles

How the Gold Rush Led to Real Riches in Bird Poop | At the Smithsonian|  Smithsonian Magazine

Out where deep country meets deep water, on a handful of rocky islands under the baking sun, layers of bird shit strata have hardened into rich, white gold. Blasted, chipped, and shoveled out. Loaded into freighters to take back to Bastion where it becomes saltpeter, fertilizer, and all manner of products. 

Among the innumerable sea birds might be found...

1-4: d8 Convict Shovelers - STR 13, 3hp, Shovels & Picks (d6), Manacles, Grimy Overalls. Want to escape from this life sentence of grueling labour. Watched over by a lone, surly Guard - 6hp, Whip (d4), Musket (d8), Officious Hat.
1 : Hauling bags of guano down a dangerous cliff to be loaded onto a barge.
2 : Watching a fellow prisoner be whipped for killing a gull.
3 : Fistfighting, a distraction so that another convict can steal a stick of dynamite. 
4 : Sitting about and refusing to work despite overseer's threats.

5-8: The Great Auk - STR 18, 10hp, Stomping (d8), Snapping Beak (d10). Wants to eat tiny tasty things, like you.
5 : Goofily chasing panicked convicts along the shore. 
6 : Bobbing its head, flapping its wings, and practicing its mating display.  
7 : Grooming its feathers in the sun. 
8 : Swimming about, unbeknownsteadly hunted by an obsessive sea captain in his rowboat. 

9-11: d8 Egg-Eaters - DEX 15, 5hp, Cudgels (d6), Bird Masks, Camouflage Feather-cloaks. Want to become like the island's sea birds and encourage others to that end. 
9 : Stalking a clueless surveyor, intent on kidnapping him for induction.
10 : Dancing a ritual out on the cliff-tops, concluding with one leaping off and transforming into a cormorant. 
11 : Perched atop the rocks practicing gull-calls.

12-15: Fortinbrasic Marines - (detachment) STR 15, 8hp, Muskets (d8), Shakos, Red Cockades. Want to evict the Bastionese industrialists from the islands which they claim belong to their (Failed) City. 
12 : Unloading a cannon from a landing boat amid the surf and squawking gulls. 
13 : Lost, their officers argue over a poorly drawn map. 
14 : Torching a collection of mining shacks and taking people prisoner. 
15 : Miserably encamped, eating spoilt tinned meat. 

16-18: d2 Steam Lorries - Ponderously hauling guano along the rocky paths. Each crewed by a Driver and Stoker - 4hp, Pistol or Coal Shovel (d6), Flatcaps. 
16 : Flying along at dangerous speeds in the hands of a joyriding convict, pursued by crew. 
17 : Taking a pack of investors from Bastion on a tour of the island's mines. 
18 : Broken down, scalding steam venting everywhere. 

19-20 "Ghost Of The Isles" - Bertrand Obel, Ex-Naturalist : WIL 16, Sheets, Wailing. Wants to drive everyone from the islands leaving them pristine, utilizes his Phobic Lamp - those caught in the light see the worst thing they can imagine. 
19 : Charging down a hillside yelling, driving a storm of panicked gulls ahead of him.
20 : Hiding behind a rock, quickly sketching an interesting sea-bird.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

30 Minute Dungeon : Crypt Of The Bird Demon

Once again, per the methodology from Priestess of Spiders.

Idea : The aviary burial crypt of an ancient demon meant to be kept locked away 

Hook : Wizard's paying you to crack open this tomb and bring back its contents

Encounters :

A. 1d8 devil peacocks with flaming eyes and golden tail feathers, prowling about crooning praises of their lord. 

B. 2d4 tomb guardians wrapped in scripture-inscribed cloth, lugging copper-swords, bellowing warnings at interlopers. Detest the peacocks, pity the skeletons.

C. 1d4 golden skeletons aimlessly whispering, grasp at the living in hopes of dragging them back to their slumbering master and having their flesh restored in reward. 

Key :


A long hall with lead seal inscribed into the floor and ceiling, both glow sickly, stepping over or under it causes lightening to arc between and electrocute the intruder. 

The avian demon itself slumped over an iron throne bound in copper chains, surrounded by decaying gold skeletons and hung with gilded ornaments. If disturbed it will grasp the nearest living creature and drain its soul, reinvigorating it enough to burst its bounds. It desires an appropriate retinue, and more souls, offering tempting rewards.


An entrance chamber cut into the red sandstone leading to a massive lead door inscribed with warnings in a dead tongue. 

Twisting baffle-maze, all made of spirit thwarting zig-zags, many warnings written upon the walls. 

Tomb warrior niches set into the wall, the inhabitants long since crumbled to dust and fabric scraps Sorting through reveals corroded anti-magic copper swords and copper circlets


An inscribed lead sphere with cylindrical section unscrewed from it, hung from the ceiling in a copper-framework. The unscrewed section glows sickly. Reinserting it will activate the thaumatic bomb within which will explode in 5 minutes compacting the entire tomb into a localized singularity.

Non-Player Character

The nameless scribe whose sigil-tattooed body is invisible to spirits, constructs, and demons. He constantly repairs the tomb wards with chisel and hammer. Tek tek tek. Made immortal by hiding his soul in said chisel. Sleeps in a hidden wall-niche. Gives stern warnings, but is friendly and eager for conversation and new things. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

30 Minute Dungeon : Amphitheater Of Ghost & Brigand

File:El Coliseo de Roma (Hubert Robert).jpg - Wikipedia

Per the methodology from Priestess of Spiders.

Idea : A haunted and overgrown amphitheater complex used as a hideout by brigands

Hook : Rescue the son of a merchant whose being held for ransom

Encounters :

A. 1d6 brigands, flaunting cockades and toting knives and pistols, on patrol. Swaggering and joking among each other, not really expecting anything. 

B. 1d4 ghosts, singing and muttering their lines, will ask you to join in a play, if satisfied they will gift you a silver gilded thespian mask, if refused they will conjure up a miniature tempest.

C. The brigand prince, dressed in plundered finery, mediating a dispute between two brigands over the proper ownership of a bejeweled goblet, a duel looks to be in order. 

Key :


A web of strings hung with bells across the easiest approach into the amphitheater, if disturbed the ringing will alert 1d6 brigands who will come to investigate. 

A makeshift fire-pit surrounded by 1d8 snoring brigands who roll and shift uneasily in their sleep. A very large and obvious iron key ring hangs on the far wall.


The stage, wooden boards sagging and pierced through with growing trees in places, looking up you can see the whole of the encircling bleachers.

Old musty prop closets, digging around unearths two intact silk robes and a tarnished silver amulet

gnarled tree growing out of the stands, its roots split apart the stones allowing one to easily drop down into an old dusty under-passage. 


The acoustics when standing in the seats are perfect to amplify any sounds three-fold and let you displace it as though a ventriloquist anywhere in the structure. 

Non-Player Character

Umberto, an amateur con artist the brigands mistook for a noble and are holding captive. He has made friends with the ghosts who occasionally visit him to put on miniature dramas, though they are reluctant to help him escape.