Floaters in the Mozz Caves (2017)
Unbalanced Dice Games
A true enigma. Unbalanced Dice Games is the OSR equivalent of Batman, a mysterious outsider that hit the scene at around 2014, made a number of bizarre but fascinating projects for a few years and may or may not still be active if the Drivethru page is any indication. Regardless, its most productive and compelling material involve a not inconsiderable catalog of modules. Floaters in Mozz Caves is one of them.
Where do I begin? Everything, from the crappy black and white paint art to the quirky grammar to the deliberate disdain for any sort of layout embellishment screams outsider art, but there is an underlying competence or understanding of D&D whose usual lack tends to cripple similar efforts. You read the introduction:
Blimpkith have taken up residence in a cave. It wasn’t vacant. They’ve finished taking down the Orcs that lived there and the Elves that were trying to wipe it out. Now their Colored Dots, Mozz and other terrible ideas have been unpacked. The party will be the first to stumble into their new home.
And then you consider that this can only be terrible, but with a seeming drunkard’s luck Floaters stumbles through the minefield of obvious pit traps and trips over the finish line to deliver something that is both playable and weirdly engaging. This is definitely art but not artpunk because it is not following any sort of style but its own, or maybe by existing on the opposite end of the axis of artpunk, it still is artpunk.
Writing style is conversational and the grammar choice is odd, to the point that this is either genuine or requires method acting levels of dedication. It feels like the author is at a bar, telling you about his adventure idea. The writing idly references other sections of the text as though the reader is familiar with them but the adventure is not so complex that it becomes an insurmountable hassle.
THIS IS AN ADVENTURE ABOUT INFLATABLE CE CANNIBAL LEPRECHAUNS WITH SUCTION CUP ARROWS THAT CAN SHAPECHANGE INTO COLOURED DOTS ON THE WALL AND SPRAY THE CHARACTERS WITH COMPULSION JUICE SO THEY ARE INCAPACITATED LONG ENOUGH FOR ONE OF THEM TO THROW MOZZ OVER THEM SO THEY BECOME COMATOSE FLOATING BALLOON MEN IN THE MANNER OF CHARLIE AND THE FUCKING CHOCOLATE FACTORY AND CAN THEN BE EATEN.
This is adventure feels like you are in a dream, and harnesses a sort of raw creative energy that is almost childlike. Intersperse this with STRANGE customization to all of the treasure. A wand of fireballs that must be repared by a mage, bracers of AC 5 that look like snakes with a shield in the mouth, a magic sword that gives no bonuses but the wielder is never surprised. The orcs that previously inhabited the cave have made some sort of spray-gun out of the dead inflated bodies of the Blimpkith that can be used to spray them with poison gas. As though there were no pre-existing structures in place, the creation is all like this, but the fundamentals (i.e. treasure placement, reward, encounter variation) all make sense. There’s orcs to befriend/free. A bizarre bossfight with the boss Blimpkith in a swimming pool that extends to cover the entire cave as he summons his water elves. A Blimpkith cook that tries to serve the players fried Elf (sprinkled with the deadly ‘Mozz’). A fat blimpkith that can conjure bows out of thin air, but does not directly attack the players, rather he summons a giant turkey with an iron beak. When was the last time you got killed by a horde of giant fried turkeys?
It sounds like a joke module, which it would be, but there is no hint of self-awareness, no wink at the audience, no dash of irony, which makes it better. The whole is permeated by an earnest sincerity. Yet there is a slumbering competence below this threshold that belies the whole. Some sort of AI experiment, some hermit mystic who touched only the three brown books without having read a single world of fantasy or a very precise troll.
A couple of unarmed Blimpkith are playing with the headless body of an Orc. They have made a chicken’s head as big as an Orc’s head and are trying to attach it. The body spasms and they laugh and giggle. The chicken head cackles and spits. As the party gets beyond the entrance the body stands up. The Blimpkith laugh and notices the party. They start handing the Chicken Man eggs which he uses to throw at the party. The eggs are big and white. When they hit a character they break and let out a very cold yolk substance. The cold does 1d8 HP of damage.
The cave proper is actually well done, there is, gasp, a random encounter table for 4-8 Blimpkith. “Actually double that amount.” Conversation style writing, like it was done in a single draft, stream of consciousness. Nice map, much more complex then it has any right to be, properly labyrinthine and cave-like. There’s a bit of a complication in that the characters might have immense trouble ‘clearing out’ the cavern and the most difficult and likely attempt to do so will result in an explosion that kills both friendly ORC NPCs and then drives out all the Blimpkith so the PCs are now trapped in a cavern that smells of farts besieged by 400-500 Blimpkith.
And THEN it hits you with some nice environmental hazard, the aforementioned Mozz, and the Orc traps, which make no sense, the way the module leads with you finding floating blimp orcs and elves, drifting ominously in the caves…
Lest I give the wrong impression with my Artpunk Crusade, originality is something laudable to aim for, especially in the OSR, but that originality is predicated upon a synergy, an interaction with the game of Dungeons and Dragons. Unbalanced Dice Games, whether deliberately or instinctively, obeys the pitiless dictates of good adventure design while operating in a realm that is far, far removed from anything anyone else is doing. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say its good but it’s interesting and not bad, some useability issues and sheer strangeness notwithstanding.