Thursday, December 11, 2014

Product Review: Proteus Sinking

Thanks to the beneficence of Oakes Spalding (and a meager application of talent on the part of your humble host), I am in possession of Proteus Sinking, the eighth in Geoffrey McKinney's 'Psychedelic Fantasies' line of adventure modules.  The author is Björn Wärmedal; McKinney being the publisher.  This post is my review of the module.

McKinney's stated idiom for the Psychedelic Fantasies products is thus:
Each stand-alone adventure module in the Psychedelic Fantasies line revels in unconstrained imagination. Every monster, every magic power, and every magic spell is a unique and never-before-seen creation of the author. No orcs, fireballs, or +1 swords will be found within. Leave the familiar behind to explore hitherto undreamed of wonders...
This is an admirable objective.  Additionally, McKinney has opted for a 'no frills' presentation.  No artwork is included in the product; the only non-text items are location diagrams.  McKinney may have implemented this policy for cost control reasons or perhaps he does not want to constrain the reader's imagination with defined iconography.  Proteus Sinking consists of ten pages of text (two columns) and one page of diagrams.  Currently, the Psychedelic Fantasies modules are available for $2.95 each (discounted from $3.50), so price should not be an obstacle.  (Actually, Proteus Sinking is offered as “pay what you want” with a 'suggested price' of $2.95.)

I do not think that any spoilers I may divulge are particularly ruinous given the ad copy of the product:
This adventure is set on a crashed starship of gelatinous beings. You do not have to wait until the PCs are high-level to get them into crazy sci-fi weirdness, for this module is for character levels 1-3. Start them off right away with the crazy. Don't let the Globo-Zen, Globo-Disco, and hallucinogenic mushrooms fool you into letting your guard down. This dungeon will kill you.
This indicates – to me at least – a poor man's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  I still hold this opinion after studying the product; not that there's anything wrong with being a poor man's Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  Additionally, the following terms portend a 'gonzo' sensibility and an attempt at humor:  “crazy sci-fi weirdness,” “Globo-Zen,” and “Globo-Disco.”  I don't have a problem with either gonzo or humor, but they are not appropriate for every campaign.  More importantly (for purposes of this review), I don't think that gonzo and humor necessarily equate to 'psychedelic'.

According to my Second College Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (© 1978), 'psychedelic' means “of or causing extreme changes to the conscious mind, as hallucinations, delusions, intensification of awareness and sensory perception, etc.”  Examples of my conception of 'psychedelic' include Agent Cooper's dream sequences in Twin Peaks and Dave Bowman's journey 'Beyond the Infinite' in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  For something called a Psychedelic Fantasy, Proteus Sinking doesn't bring much 'psychedelic' to the table.  Had this adventure been branded as Quirky Quests or Wacky Escapades instead of Psychedelic Fantasies, I would have approached the product with a different mindset.  As it is, I find myself disappointed.  It's not that I don't like the adventure; if I genuinely disliked it, then the title of this post would have been 'Proteus S(t)inking'.

Let me try to explain my disappointment.  The premise of the adventure is “a crashed starship of gelatinous beings.”  So far, so good; the psychedelic potential is apparent.  We have alien gelatinous beings...except there's no communication barrier.  The crashed starship is positioned at a 30° angle relative to the ground; fortunately, however, artificial gravity is still working in the ship.  Doubly fortunately, the ship's gravity is equivalent to that which the player characters normally experience; so no inconvenience is posed.  Gelatinous beings (or “Globonauts” as they are called) ought to be able to tolerate gravity of various strengths and they shouldn't necessarily require artificial gravity at all.  The floor plans of the three decks consist of straight corridors and angular rooms; they could easily abut any given dungeon geomorph.  Globonauts wouldn't need straight corridors or angular rooms or levels.  I would imagine the interior of a starship used by gelatinous beings to consist of tubes and cavities; the concept of 'floor' would be relative.  According to the module, “The inside of the ship is almost completely metal – steel or harder.”  That's a human notion of what the inside of a starship should be like.  Why should Globonauts be limited to this paradigm?  Why should the ship even be solid?  What about a gelatinous ship for gelatinous beings?  Why not an organic, 'living' ship?  I'm not feeling the “unconstrained imagination.”

Proteus Sinking is not without some clever ideas.  Spalding considers the adventure to be “charming” and “whimsical.”  Read his take on it should you like a counterpoint to my peevish analysis.


  1. Interesting counterpoint reviews. His explains the disco concept, which makes a little sense, but the "seeking happiness" vibe is kinda silly.

    I trust your viewpoint more. Geoffrey won't be getting my suggested 2.95!


    1. Aliens should have alien motivations. The ‘Happy Quest’ aspect doesn’t really have anything to do with the adventure. I guess it’s included to let the DM know these entities are benign under normal circumstances.

      Although players know what “disco” means, their characters shouldn’t. I don’t have a problem with aliens trying to maintain morale in a disco, but describing it as a disco is silly.

  2. None of these I've read reviews of so far sound particularly psychedelic.

  3. Interesting review. Definitely gave me some food for thought! :)