Ultraviolet Grasslands: Go psychedelic, OSR-style

by Joseph Brady

This Kickstarter is harkening back to the hallucinogenic tie-dye, post-apocalyptic, mind-warping era of Heavy Metal, Fantastic Planet, and, well, substance abuse. Labeling itself as one part Oregon Trail and one part Dying Earth, players know from the outset that that’s exactly what they’re getting into.

What is It All About?

This is set up as a sandbox campaign with ample interesting locales, which has really lived up to, even embraced, its theme. This is a world where powerful cats rule a nation, elves are diseased humans being gradually mentally unraveled and called into the mists of the forest never to return, insects may rewrite an organism’s basic purpose or perhaps even their soul, and those who are many are yet one collective. Also: werepug. You want an absolutely over-the-top campaign setting? UVG has you covered in spades.

And remember: Oregon Trail. Throughout this entire bizarro landscape, the PCs really do have to ramble along in their Old West-style caravans. And terrible things really do happen to your caravans along your expedition, just like in the old DOS game. Neat!

Many of the game elements may be somewhat difficult to fully realize in rules systems like D&D 5E. While this is usually a downside, in this particular case, it’s kinda the point. How can you incorporate psychedelic elements without a hodgepodge of rules? Easily: with story and imagination! And that is what this is all about. Most importantly, it’s about the shared imagination between the GM and their players.

Off the Board, Into the Mind

“A scurrying sound, almost too low to notice, catches your ear. It is too late by the time you turn your head, your former ally Nostrep’s arms seem both limp and twisted, his eyes skewed at you, budging, foaming from the mouth. He is your friend no longer…” Theatre of the mind for sure! Rules are all well and good, but story is what this is all about. Lucas Rejec, the real author of this book and not a story character or time traveler, has made use of several strategies to make it better suited to the Theatre of the Mind style of game.

Simplified ranges for weapons is a great example. There are three degrees of weapon range: melee, near and far. This is great for just being able to say what you are doing without overthinking it! My usual criticism is that while the D&D books insist the game is ‘supposed’ to be open to any style of play, when the chips are down it doesn’t work out that way. If the GM poorly explains something or someone is not paying attention for a moment, the collective shared imagination falls apart without a clearly defined gridded map for those last five feet you should or should not be in. It’s a headache. They are beside you, close to you, or far away; everyone gets that. It all requires a certain amount of flexibility from the GM and players more suited to theatre of the mind.

Down to the Nitty Gritty

The presentation of information can be a bit of a hazard. Some points are not well explained in the main text, so be ready to check the appendix/glossary… a lot! This is somewhat appropriate for the setting; how much sense should everything make? It’s not really a hard logic setting. Just make sure you have an extra bookmark near the back of the book.

The events also require a fair amount of filling in the gaps. The plot points are well laid out, but how to get from one to the next is open-ended. Personally, I like this kind of adventure book. It’s more about soliciting responses from players. There is a given outline of events, how they get from A to B or skip to C is up to you. If you have troubles with being able to adapt the scenario to suit your team or are lacking in improvisation skills, this might be a bit rough.

Because of this, it’s not really suited to new GMs, but new players may love it. This is meant to be customized, not just a pick-up-and-play. Well, other than one-shots, these never are; only a few GMs out there with a poor grasp of how these things work seem to believe this.

Another benefit to this setting is that it provides a wealth of modernized, bizarre, pseudo-scientific equipment. Do you want to send your party to the future or just have the whole setting on a post-apocalyptic earth or offbeat parallel dimension? All set!

The Kickstarter!

More in the way of good news, the UVG Kickstarter is already fully funded! At over 80,000 dollars from over 14,000 backers, it has shot well past its paltry 15,000-dollar goal. If you are just looking for a PDF, 15 bucks will get you there. For the hardcover book, only 40 bucks! For over a hundred and fifty pages of mind-warping sandbox play, that is a good deal! But you’ll have to act quickly: the Kickstarter ends this Saturday night (or Sunday morning here in Korea).

My Takeaway

At first glance, I wasn’t too into this game, to be honest. But once I started to get my head around it and understand the purpose it was driving at, I changed my mind. I think it would be an exciting and, most importantly, very different kind of setting to run a game in. Go get it people!

The Neon Ziggurat near the Spectrum Palace