Electric Bastionland (2020)

Electric Bastionland (2020) is  a sort of expansion or revised restatement of Chris McDowall’s earlier game, Into the Odd. In it, you play treasure hunters living in a strange world, trying primarily to get out of debt.

There are three main things you should know about this book. First is that no one wants to be a treasure hunter – you wouldn’t be if not for the fickle hand of fate and the nefarious debt you accrued. In this way, your character is not defined by who they are, but rather by who they used to be, so instead of character classes, Electric Bastionland has 100 failed careers. All of them are strange or colorful or otherwise unusual for a TTRPG (Masked Horrorist, Fashionista, Editor-in-Hiding) and all of them imply much about the world. They’re pretty brilliant.

Speaking of implying the world, artist Alec Sorensen does quite a bit of that too. The illustrations never show you too much that is concrete, but taken together, you can’t help but piece together a picture of the place (and maybe some sounds and smells too). His work here is an excellent argument for using a single artist on a project in order to achieve a unifying tone and sense of place. I just plain like his work, too, and a limited palette (in this case black and white and yellow) is always a good style choice.

Finally, while the system is fast and light and stands with the best fast and light systems, what really impressed me was the workbook section in the back, geared towards GMs assembling and running games. Everything, from encounter building to NPC creation to basically making anything for the game is laid out in simple, direct language that breaks down not just the how-to, but also the why. It is less instructions on how to GM, more a flowchart for how to broadly think about GMing. Required reading, even if you don’t intend to run Electric Bastionland.

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