Review TRPG

Esoteric Enterprises (1/2)

I was feverishly browsing the Melsonia store late one evening and scrolled past Esoteric Enterprises. A moment of longing, remembering how quickly it had sold out… but wait! A different product has red Sold Out text on it… EE doesn’t have that! COULD IT BE?

It could and it was and now I am reading Esoteric Enterprises (or at least I’m using it like a sort of bed-desk while i type) and I want to show you why I’m so hyped.

Pitching OSR Games

I’ve been thinking about genre and pitching OSR-style play to my buds. My groups almost exclusively choose D&D5e and I feel like the assumptions of 5e with regards to fantasy are totally baked in to everyone’s brains. It’s Super Heroic Fantasy, which is cool, but it’s as if that *is* fantasy. I guess my point is that it’s hard to pitch “D&D but less magic” or “D&D but everyone’s a human and you die really easy.” It feels like you’re removing an important element of the genre rather than changing genre.

My one non-5e game was an online sci-fi game which used Macchiato Monsters but I reskinned it as Macchiato Moons with the 🌗 emoji which I think is very clever thank you for noticing sweetie.

SO I’ve been liking the idea of playing an OSR game in a non-fantasy genre. My favourite until now was Death is the New Pink which is a cool Mad Max post-apocalypse Into The Odd game. I was totally struck – it feels like a better fit for Into The Odd than Into The Odd. You want Mad Max / Borderlands post apocalypse nonsense? Well, post apocalypse goons are highly replaceable, mutations abound and the starter adventure begins with a waterslide. This may still end up being my pickup game, but fitting in neatly to the OSR-with-complementary-genre thing that i’m going for is…


A modern-day, occult underground setting by Emmy Allen. Horrible Wounds. Medical Experiments. There are 9 pages of build-your-monster-PC. I like it very much and I think I’ll roll a Spook right now.

Making a Boy

I got 9-15-15-11-8-14 hey that’s pretty sweet. I’m a Construct with Lightning Speed. So, I always have a 6 for initiative and have double movement. Construct comes with the usual pros and cons, with the interesting stipulation that I –

always fail against mind-control

– since my creator was obviously going for “pliable and easy to direct”. That’s intense! But kind of awesome, I’d love to have to plan around that with my party. I like that it’s *always fail* instead of disadvantage, as would be my expectation coming from 5e. I imagine this is the sort of thing that people might homebrew, so you could do that if you want the game to be OBJECTIVELY WORSE (he said, teasingly.) I love this, though – there’s a lot of implied genre & world building in there and interesting possible gameplay situations.

You could say that disadvantage vs mind-control would have the same effect without being so brutal, but the thing is: that’s not bad enough for me to worry about as a player. That’s a minor tactical concern. AUTO-FAIL? Well, now I KNOW that I’m going to be a danger to my friends if we don’t work around this. Ugh that’s so fucking cool and I probably would never have come to that conclusion without being challenged on it. This kind of mechanic is in other Spook types, too. 

Anyway, they’re pretty much finished other than bookkeeping. I have an improved 2-in-6 chance for Charm, Contacts, Driving and Stealth (I love that the Skills spread is fully black it’s so easy to flip to) and a Spook’s Resources stays at 1 forever. I’m struggling to think of a good concept, so looking at other powers I could take later… Detachable body parts is fun, Huge Size lets you keep getting bigger, at the moment I’m imagining a Transformer but I’m not sure how genre that is! I mean I could always be a transformer with human organs or something. Some kind of dude-vehicle. I just caught myself worrying about being too ~out there~ but this is literally what the Spook class is for. So, yeah, he’s a man-machine, mostly vehicle parts, has some kind of relationship with a black market garage or something. I like it. It just occurred to me that he might have been built to serve as a message runner, since the Men in Black likely make telecommunications often-too-risky. He would have likely made Contacts through needing to navigate the underground safely. I’ll leave it at that for now but I’ll briefly tell you about the awesome…

Magic System

 You choose between a book-learnin’ arcane caster (Occultist) and a grant-spells-i-beg-of-you ‘divine’ caster (Mystic.) There is nice differentiation between the two and both can use Experimental Magic which is extremely up my alley – essentially, you describe a way you modify a spell as you cast it and roll a check to see if you succeed. Experimental magic, and a lot of magic related stuff, has random consequences and there are very good tables for when this happens.

The spells themselves are in Rank tiers, similar to spell levels in 5e but with a less confusing name. They’re also way more fun. My favourite on a quick flip through is Octopus Flesh, where you make someone all rubbery.

GM Section

The first section, Preparation, lays everything out really well: gather your players and talk about the kind of game yall want to play; familiarize yourself with the rules but remember that they aren’t rigid; generate a network of factions for the occult underground on p172; generate the layout of the undercity on p148; generate some job hooks on p118.

As a serial procrastinator I think this is super important – the problem of “I want to run a TRPG but I don’t know how” can seem insurmountably large, but this section breaks the problem down into a set of manageable (and fun!) tasks. Honestly, I found it inspiring!

Moving on, loads of good advice on GMing this style of game here, all recognizable stuff for people who know this style of play but I think this advice section sets itself apart by being relatively complete and concrete. So, all your bases and lots of common problems are covered, and with plenty of specific examples. I will definitely be coming back to this book to refresh myself in future.

I’ll skip over a lot of the content here, but here are the broad strokes:

  • Reputation system that effects your encounter roles
  • Guidance on exploring the undercity
  • Guidance on running heists(!)
  • Rumours & Events tables
  • A whole bunch of undercity hazards
  • Sicknesses and curses
  • Treasure tables!
    • Includes a table of ~75 named grimoires with spells, cool effects on the reader, or both. I love this table.
  • Magic items!

ALRIGHT we’re all caught up, I apologize for basically just showing you a Table of Contents there, it feels kinda wrong to just not mention all of that Very Good Stuff. However, I’m most interested in going through the process of prepping a campaign, so I’m gonna call it here and make a start on Part 2!