You should be playing Dungeon World
Low Life is a 144-page, hardback setting and campaign book for Savage Worlds written by Andy Hopp. It's published by Studio 2 Publishing and retails for $29.99. The book was written for the Revised Savage Worlds rules (not SWEX), although the two are compatible, just like any of the older setting books. Since there are a lot of SW reviews out there, I'll be focusing exclusively on the setting specific information in the book, and skipping over any explanation of SW mechanics except in direct reference to Low Life.
How does the back cover describe the book?
Sword & Sorcery Adventure in a shattered world inhabited by the descendants of cockroaches, worms, snack cakes, and stranded aliens. Discover the arcane secrets of hocus pokery, dementalism, smellcasting, and holy rolling. Battle hideous beasts, risen from the rubble of ancient civilizations. Enjoy a light lunch at the Primordial Soup Kitchen. Mutha Oith is a world of grand adventure and deadly peril; a world of conflict and danger. It is a land of epic heroism and great evil, a realm of horror and violence, a bold land where even the lowliest cockroach can become a king by his own sword and the most wretched gob of filth can become a gawd.
Are you werm enough to follow your destiny? Do you have the nuggets to take your rightful place among Oith's most valiant heroes? If so, strap on your esophagator hide shield, pick up your poo flinger and your big ass cleaver, mount your pygmy slog, whisper a prayer to Jelvis, kiss your larvae goodbye, and open the goosin' book. The muck-riddled road to epic adventure stands before you...
Andy Hopp is best know for his art and it's in full display in Low Life. The book is lavishly illustrated with a ton of great, evocative, cartoony, outlandish illustrations. Wait, that's an understatement. This book is filled with great art - virtually every page has something on it. If there's a fault with the art, it's simply that not everyone is going to appreciate the style or subject matter. There are also lots of interesting, humorous marginalia. Even the choice of background and color in the book (it's full color though it might not be obvious at first) is outside the norm: it's done in a great set of muted tones (predominately brown), and offset by colored borders, which fit the setting perfectly. The book is beautiful in my opinion and needs to be .
The book is well organized and laid out, with the humor extending to these bits. For example, the table of contents is titled Innards (Table of Malcontents). This is quite thorough and is helpful since the book lacks an index. Keeping with the non-traditional approach is the fact that the book doesn't really have any chapters but is simply divided in to sections which fall under various headings and sub-headings. It begins with an overview of the setting, going through the history of "Mutha Oith" which is supposed to be our own Earth after every conceivable form of natural and unnatural disaster has befallen it. We're talking post-apocalyptic taken to the extreme: nuclear and chemical warfare, alien invasion, a pair of close comets, natural disasters, and a dimensional rift are all involved in turning the Earth into a "ruined sludge puddle." These events are known as "The Big Flush" to the inhabitants of the recovered planet.
How bad is it on Oith? Humans are gone. In face, the Hoomanrace is nothing but a mythical creature, now mutated beyond all recognition. Instead the world is populated by a mixture of bizarre, or even downright disgusting sentient races. Like what? Check these out:
* Bodul (Being of Dubious Lineage) - Boduls are what is left of the human race, now horribly mutated beyond all recognition. We're not talking about just having an extra set of arms here - boduls look nothing like humans.
* Cremefillian - the heavily contaminated and irradiated remains of snack cakes (you might know the joke about Twinkies have any unlimited shelf life). They've become sentient over time.
* Croach - evolved cockroaches.
* Horc - descendants of a race who came through a dimensional rift from a place called "Middle Oith."
* Oofo - what's left of the aliens which invaded the Earth. They're now stranded here.
* Pile - magically animated piles of sewage (you can literally play a walking, talking pile of shit).
* Smelf - the other race that arrived via the dimensional rift from Middle Oith. I guess these guys didn't head West.
* Tizn't - the evolved remains what was once the Earth's wildlife. You take a few different animals and meld them together to create something that "Tizn't this, tizn't that."
* Werm - evolved worms.
Okay, so all of these might be pretty hard to picture in your mind. Fear not, Andy provides pictures of each and wow, some of this stuff is as weird looking as it sounds.
After the races section, the book includes a list of setting appropriate SW skills, along with a host of new, flavorful edges and hindrances. Amongst the new hindrances, you'll find things like Armless, Hoardosaurus, and Wuss. For edges, these include things like new arcane backgrounds (more on those later), Bouncy Behind, Really Smell Guy, and my personal favorites: Evil Twin & Good Twin. What are these last two? If you die, you are instantly replaced by your evil/good twin from a parallel universe - they look just like you (well except an evil twin has a goatee), but are really evil/good. It's a wacky edge that in the hands of the right player could be a lot of fun at the table.
The book also includes a few pages of details about the "faiths" of Mutha Oith which are irreverent parodies of modern religions. Some examples include Boorglezarianism, Hoomanitarianism, Jeezle Freakism, Jemima's Witnessism, and Stanism. There are also a lot of cults and minor religions including the Ice Cream Socialists, and the Templars of the Dong (who worship their king the Ding of the Dong, a Cremefillian). Yeah, this stuff really is weird.
Low Life offers a slightly different flavor on Arcane Backgrounds from standard SW. Mechanically they all are pretty much identical to SW, but in terms of flavor, arcane users come in a few very different flavors. These include:
* Contanimator - specializing in animating & controlling waste and trash
* Dementalist - mind over matter (sort of psychic) powers.
* Hocus Poker - your "typical" wizard.
* Holy Roller - religious spellcasters.
* Smellcaster - create and use magical scents (function like an alchemist).
* Weirdo - the "weird science" caster.
The differences between these specialties is supported through the rules by restricting the powers available to each, although most of the standard SW powers are available to each. In addition, the book has a few additional powers specific to the setting. Rounding out the character creation material are sections on gear & goods (a lot of what characters carry & treasure would be considered garbage by today's standards), transportation, and weapons. The weapons section bears mentioning because it includes rules for creating unorthodox, makeshift weapons. All of this is pretty much standard in terms of rules, but colorful in terms of flavor.
Beyond the character creation sections, the book includes a brief Gazetteer of Oith, followed by 16-pages of more detailed information covering "The Craptastic World of Mutha Oith." This section is very interesting to read and quite humorous - my favorite part is the map which bears little resemblance to our Earth unless you start turning it in various directions at which point the outlines of continents become more obvious.
The setting portion of the book ends with a bestiary section which details some of the monsters unique to the setting. These include things like the Brocodile, Cheese Leech, Milf, and Odre. A lot of these are illustrated and they're as weird looking as they sound. My favorite is the Hair Bare which are essentially just a pair of squat legs on a shaggy rump...with a big mouth.
Low Life finishes up like most SW setting books with a Savage Tales section, which includes a full plot point campaign. A random adventure generator is also included if a GM happens to be stuck for inspiration.
I suspect a lot of people who just read what I wrote above are saying "WTF?" or have already concluded that the setting isn't for them. I will be the first admit that the setting is bizarre. However, when you scrape off all the poop and fart jokes, the setting isn't really much different than most other post-apocalyptic or fantasy setting. It's just dirtier. The setting is best suited for a group who can see the humor in the setting and engage it. I've run the setting for teenage boys and they loved it - in fact it was incredibly easy for them to engage with the world because the potty humor was right up their alley.
In addition, the included plot point campaign is one of the better ones I've seen. Many of the SW plot points are heavy on the railroading and light on real story; this one's different. The individual plot points are more loosely connected and aren't simply a string of connected fights. A GM also doesn't have to utilize overbearing NPCs (like you see in Necessary Evil) to move the party along and many of the adventures offer several possible approaches to solving the obstacles presented. Best yet, it's flexible enough to allow for party wandering or whims without torpedoing the whole thing. Overall, I find it very creative, both in its story and the characters it introduces.
If I had to identify a weakness of the whole book, it's the use of Savage Worlds for the mechanics. While SW works, it really hamstrings the creativity of the system and tends to make all that wonderful flavor come across like the vanilla that SW is - all those cool races end up boiling down to a few mechanical differences and while the arcane backgrounds are highly creative, in play they all feel the same. To put it in Low Life terms, it's the same crap only in a different wrapper. Personally, I think the setting and even the plot point campaign, would be better served by a lighter, less-combat focused, narrative setting. While I have run Low Life using SW, if I were to play in the world again I would likely use PDQ (perhaps the Zorcerer of Zo version) which I think would suit the game better.
Low Life is a niche product - it's a book that's very much the creative vision of one person and that vision is definitely off the beaten path. While it may not be for everyone, it certain succeeds brilliantly in creating a colorful, unusual, and utterly bizarre sandbox to roleplay within. I don't think there's anything out there like it. Irregardless of what one thinks of the subject matter, there is nothing cheap or unprofessional about the production: The writing, art, and layout are top-notch in my opinion. I own half a dozen of the SW setting books, and this is the most readable and utterly enjoyable of all of them. That said it's also the most fringe setting of all of them and it's not something I could get just anyone to play. I personally think it's a great product and well-worth the money. However, I freely acknowledge it's not a product for everyone (or even most people) and that you should definitely check it out in person if you're unsure.
This review originally appeared on my blog Gaming Brouhaha & includes sample art from the book.
I just purchased this and read the book giving it a 9 based on the quality alone.
I'll post a review and session as soon as I can!
If anyone is interested (and if you missed the thread elsewhere on this website!), Andy is currently running a Kickstarter for a "redredged" version of the Low Life Core Rulebook. (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1359565526/low-life-the-...)
From the Kickstarter page:
Why a new Low Life?
This brand new version of the classic Low Life game features all new full-color art, new writing, new magic, tons of new Edges, Powers, Hindrances, and skills, new locales, new adventures, new monsters, a new layout, and new everything else. It will closely match the hardcover edition of The Whole Hole - A Gadabout's Guide to Mutha Oith - Volume 01: Keister Island and all the other products in the Low Life family. As an added bonus, I will personally sign and customize every book that's backed through this campaign.
Low Life is supported by several related products, including a line of high-quality pewter miniatures, a series of card games and game enhancers, and a horde of other nifty things that will come to fruition if our Stretch Goals are met. You can learn a lot more, and nab yourself some free downloads, at www.muthaoithcreations.com.
Low Life: The Rise of the Lowly uses the fantastic Savage Worlds rules system by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. The Savage Worlds Deluxe rules (less than ten bucks from PEG Inc.) are required to play the game, but not to enjoy the book, which is presented in such a way that all the game related jazz is in the appendices at the back so as not to interfere with the reader's enjoyment of the story. If we reach the requisite funding level I will also produce Pathfinder and Fate Core editions.
Low Life fans, check it out! http://lowliferpg.info