Mystery of the Mantle’s Pockets (2020)
Lvl ??? (low)
This spot was hit by a fireball explosion. The charred plot of caked dust looks as if the Allfather himself has put out his cigarette here. Occasional pieces of wood are marked by tiny inextinguishable flames, however, they don’t burn down and barely give off any warmth
Привет! Rus: Land of winter, vodka, bears and war. In the shadow of the mighty Kremlin, a small elite cadre of artists, writers and ex-Spetznatz have combined their skills with one mission: To Make OSR for Real Men! A suggestion by the inimitable Zoid ZX, who helped translate Red Prophet Rises into Russian, I’m glad to check out some of the work of our comrades to the East.
Mantle of Many Pockets has a trademark Slavic grimness married to an outlandish fantasy concept. It is Aaron Fairbrook’s the Chest as covered by Molchat Dolma. An enchanted wizard robe of many pockets leads to a murky, timeless realm of ennui, decay and forgotten things. Its inhabitants are deathless and maimed, capable of existing despite their many injuries, doomed to remain imprisoned. In this purgatory, our heroes must escape, or join them for eternity.
In Russia, module is hard. Mantle of Many Pockets is rough, but there’s a purity to its vision that I admire. The map is an actual draft pattern of a cloak, an inverted demi-plane, with the players moving between different areas delineated by the seams, and the boundaries indicated by the outer seams. It takes a while to figure it out which area connects to which other area, and being able to read drafting patterns helps, but the seams are marked with letters to make it clear which area connects to which.
This is at its heart, a puzzle module, where the PCs have to figure out a way out of the Mantle of Ur-Draxa before they sustain so many injuries they become immobilized, or, far more cruelly, sustain injuries (that do not bleed and barely hurt), only to have them turn lethal the moment they exit the cloak and time resumes normally. The idea is reminiscent of the city of Immortals in Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris.
There is an intriguing ambiguity how to actually exit the cloak but the author offers several suggestions that make a lot of sense, from cutting the outer linings with a magical weapon, to enlarging the one pocket in a certain area that leads to a row of cabinets containing forgotten materials.
In your journey through this rubble-heap beyond the spheres, you encounter the detritus of ages: the Consumed. A ragged throng, of all the races, bandits, soldiers, swept up over the centuries and deposited in this timeless realm. Beyond sleep, requiring no sustenance, carrying brutal injuries, some have formed ragged communities, others have succumbed to madness. This lack of differentiation makes sense, and a table is added to flesh them out as desired.
The hands are either severely damaged or missing. To hit: -2, knocks target down with a bodyslam on hit.
Badly shredded, but held together with wires and thread. Hit dice: 2
Carries another of the consumed on his back (like Master Blaster from Mad Max 3). Has an additional attack per round.
There is something archetypal about a region that is castoff and inhabited by forgotten things that runs throughout the body of fiction that is channeled here. You get the impression of a strange and cursed hell, an expanse of black oil, with a silvery horizon, inhabited by broken things. The language to describe them is sometimes coarse, as either an artifact of translation or simply expression, but it is not hard to glimpse the mind behind them.
A group of d8 consumed, frozen in a catatonic stupor.
A decapitated head of a consumed is purposefully crawling somewhere using its tongue and facial muscles.
An item emerges from the membrane (d10): 1. longsword; 2. shortsword; 3. spear; 4. mace; 5. axe; 6. cannonball; 7. chakram; 8. knife; 9. arrow or bolt; 10. bullet. There is a 10% chance that the name of a known wizard or lich is engraved on the weapon.
The areas are similar, landmarks of ancient idols, crumbling curiosities, horrifically maimed inhabitants and what I am pretty sure is a veiled Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Reference . The lord of the realm, Ur-Draxa, meditates atop of his pillar. Encounters are a bit stream of consciousness, the social components with Ur-Draxa or the Grotesquerite could use some elaboration (e.g. does he know how to escape his own realm) but there is a balanced mixture of window dressing, treasure hunting, combat and social encounters so it is not just window-dressing.
An ascetically furnished settlement, housing 2d10 consumed who are either meditating or stuck in a catatonic trance. They are absorbed by their veneration of Ur-Dra and the principles of non-action
The last pages are 200 entries of forgotten things that can be found in the pockets of the mantle, everything from Dead crow, Ladies blaster, has d3 charges (d10+3 damage). Can be considered a magic weapon to the unfortunate Living goldfish, struggling to break free.
Mantle is interesting. The suspended death sentence keeps the whole somewhat rooted in challenge-oriented gameplay and the drive to escape spurs exploration, but much of the power of this module is rooted in its premise, its bizarre contents, a venture into the realm of maimed and forgotten things. I don’t see the dreaded label of generic OSR do much damage to any adaptation, the module being relatively light on any combat. Its nature as a dungeon within an object means it can be dropped into any campaign without much hassle.
There’s plenty of areas where the GM will have to flesh things out a bit. What does a perfect prothetic limb lodged in the still living body of a harpooned white shark do? What exactly does the spell that frees Ur-Draxa do and how does he respond to his suspended imprisonment? Some of it is even left up to the GM deliberately, like the amount of time-dilation that takes place once the PCs re-enter the mortal realm. I have some instinctive inkling that keeping the method of escape somewhat ambiguous while providing plenty of suggestions might actually serve to cushion some of the more crazy PC schemes that are likely to arise.
Teeth. They are much more frequent here among the dust and rubble. Some are of animal origin, some are seemingly human, some are as long as an arm. Roll d6 once per hour and, in the case of a 1, the sparkle of a golden tooth worth 10gp can be spotted.
Mystery of the Mantle’s Pockets is an interesting curiosity, a promising entry by Mr. Ransvind that can very easily be dropped into an existing campaign. The proposed price of 1,5 dollars is certainly worth it. I look forward to further translations. Mid – *** Put a preview up there dudes, show off your work!
Check it out here.
 The Sperm Whale and the Bowl of Geraniums presumably
5 thoughts on “[Review] Mystery of the Mantle’s Pockets (OSR); In Russia Module Crushes You!”
Oh, unexpectedly come across a review of my work in a language other than Russian. Many thanks
Из России с любовью
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Congratulations, man, seems like a very imaginative work. I love a good demiplane adventure, and this seems like a great one.
And this is why I don’t write adventures for publication: I’m just not this creative.
Creativity is important…but! there is always craftmanship, research, refinement through playtesting, finesse or sheer, mind-numbing, awe-inspiring dedication. Jeff Sparks is not one of the most creative authors yet he makes great modules because his mastery of the craft of adventure and rules design. There are many pathways to victory.
I realise that in the confusion, I have left an essay lying on the battlefield, and I shall return to pick it up, but there is a backlog of donations to fight through.
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I’m sure you’ll get to it eventually.