Fourthcore Alphabet – Brutally Delicious
The Fourthcore Alphabet softcover from Save versus Death arrived at my door today. At first I was concerned because its been raining here in the mountains of North Carolina, and the packaging from Lulu did not look exactly water-tight. Much to my delight, the book was shrink-wrapped to another piece of cardboard inside the box (save vs. water damage… SAVED!).
This book is very similar to one of my favorites released by Goodman Games, The Dungeon Alphabet. Both are full of inspiring ideas for dungeon/encounter design, on handy tables that you can use to randomize the dungeon you’re creating or just read down them for the perfect idea. The Fourthcore Alphabet is decidedly darker and more deadly, which makes sense if you’re familiar with the aesthetics behind fourthcore. To put it succintly for the uninitiated, fourthcore challenges the assertion that 4e characters are nigh impossible to kill. While it generally follows 4e rules, you’ll find a fourthcore encounter or dungeon to be a lot more deadly and macabre.
I’ve been a big fan of the fourthcore genre since I first heard about it from Brian Patterson of D20Monkey, back in February of this year. His review of Revenge of the Iron Lich really made me think of 4e in a whole new light. Once I read RotIL, I was hungry for more. I don’t think its a coincidence that Brian was asked to do the art for the Fourthcore Alphabet.
Lets get to the good stuff. The book weighs in at 65 pages, 8.5″x11″, full-color cover and back, black and white inside, and it is full to the brim with deadly inspirations. Awesome titles like H is for Hellscapes and V is for Violence provide instant inspiration for Dungeon Master Writer’s Block. Several of the pages actually reference other pages in the book. For instance, on I is for Idols, if you roll a 6, “Piles of trapped (49) coins and magic items surround this idol.” This prompts the Dungeon Master to turn to page 49 and roll up whatever deadly traps await under the treasure around the idol. Awesome! Some of the tables have 20 entries so can be randomized on a 1d20, some have 39 entries and can be randomized by rolling 2d20 and adding the result! Sersa could have easily stopped at 20 for each, and I would have felt I got a good value, but with a lot of the tables being 2d20, or having multiple columns or variables to describe a single feature, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Now the not so great stuff. One of the big selling points for me on this book was that I knew Brian Patterson was working on the artwork. At first I thought it was just the cover, which is decidedly awesome. It turns out he did little sketches for each page. (Sorry for the crappy scan.) Which is cool, but not overly inspiring. I was looking for more sweeping art or at least a full page black and white or two. Maybe that was out of the budget for this project, and by supporting this one, future books may have expanded art budgets. One benefit of launching this project as kickstarter instead of a publish-on-demand service like lulu is that you can raise some money to pay for lots of awesome artwork. As I flip thru the pages of Goodman’s alphabet, I’m greeted by two page spreads of dungeoneers encountering the obstacles being described. In fourthcore, I get a sketch up in the corner. Cool, but not hugely inspiring.
Overall, its a solid buy. Especially if your 4e players have become a little to comfortable in their healing surges, and wimpy 5 ongoing damage. This book has it where it counts most, dark and deadly inspiration. I can’t wait to see what Sersa Victory comes up with next!