Friday, August 18, 2023

Double Review: Monkeyblood Design's "Chewer of Fingers" and Professsor Dungeonmaster's "Deathbringer" RPG

A few weeks back, Mr. Jackson and I decided to play a quick one-on-one game to pass a Saturday evening. For the system, we grabbed Professor Dungeonmaster's ultra-light Deathbringer. And for the adventure, Monkeyblood Design's Chewer of Fingers, described as a "grim, old-school introductory adventure intended for The Midderlands setting."

For those perhaps unfamiliar, The Midderlands is a fantasy setting based on a grimdark medieval England, described by the author, Glynn Seal, as a "green and unpleasant land." Fog abounds, as does a thesaurus-full of shades of green, along with an equivalent number of venomous NPCs and critters. Monkeyblood published the original volume, as well as a number of supplements, via successful Kickstarter campaigns. For people following the current Dolmenwood Kickstarter, Midderlands bookends very well with that setting, and both were used within Red Dice Diaries' "CSI Midderlands" campaign for anyone interested in seeing how the two settings mesh. I've seen discussions that the Dolmenwood setting is intriguing, but some people are less attracted to the fairytale tone of the setting. The Midderlands may be worth a look for people who prefer a darker, more grounded, tone.

So here we go:

I made up a 1st level character of each of the five provided classes in the two-page game system, choosing three to pit against the adventure: a deathbringer (fighter), grimscribe (mage), and plague doctor (sketchy healer/alchemist). Chargen took about five minutes each. More on Deathbringer below.

We considered truncating the adventure, but ended up running the full scenario, which we finished in around 3 hours.

The hook is to investigate and (hopefully) capture a serial killer (the eponymous Chewer) who has escaped from a local gaol.

The PCs started their adventure by saving a "mud cow" for an old lady at her decrepit farm.

Mud Cow
After freeing the irascible beast, the party scraped the mud off themselves and accepted a bag of turnips in reward. Clearly going to be a treasure-heavy session...

They entered the hamlet of Fetterstone, getting lodging at the local inn. On advice of a patron, they escaped to the neighboring tavern for better food. Here, they did the usual get to know the natives spiel, asking around about the escape and posted reward.

Here is where Deathbringer and Midderlands serendipitously dovetailed perfectly. For the tavern doors swung open to reveal a witchhunter, seeking to determine who the newcomers to town were. In both systems, they are fanatical hunters of spellcasters and their ilk. My grimscribe had to do some fearless talking to allay the fellow's interrogations and suspicions.

The following day, the party spoke with the guard captain, and investigated the gaol, including the scenes of several crimes. Some sleuthing, and the party revealed the methods and avenue of escape.

Tracking the escapee through the surrounding bog, the party confronted the final fight.

One PC survived. At least he didn't have to split the treasure.

Area map

Impressions as a player: This is a very good one-shot, with a combination of themes to keep various types of role-players engaged: problem solving, role-play, mystery, combat. A mixed pool of players will likely find something they can enjoy within the session. 

Glynn's excellent cartography, illustrations, and evocative names provide plenty of inspiration and atmosphere for the session. The tone is very consistent, with descriptions reinforcing the atmosphere of a hardscrabble little community and the gaol. This is typical of Glynn working well within his created world.  

pregen character portraits

An excellent setting for an evening's mystery in the moors. I'll definitely pull it into my folio for one-shots.

On to Deathbringer:

Deathbringer is published as a two-page rules-light RPG. The rules provide chargen for four PC types, basic guidance for modding the game from other OSR or similar systems, and the general game model is straight D20 system. The tone:
All characters are human. No one can see in the dark.
No clerics. The gods of Deathbringer are indifferent.
Spellcasters have been hunted to near-extinction.
Character stats are based on bonuses only (+1 etc.) for the six standard ability scores, with the bonuses distributed from eight "build points" selected by the player. 

The rules outline all the bare necessities needed to run: General success/failure guidelines, the Deathbringer dice (Each player gets an extra 'Deathbringer' d6 per level for a one-time bonus), character abilities, combat/spellcasting, and healing. For a scant two pages, the system contains a lot of content and flavor, including random tables for character background, critical successes, and spell failures (casters roll for successful casting, with "interesting" side effects for a Nat1). 

The bare-bones format necessitates a few shortcuts. No spells, monsters, etc., are included, but the mechanics allow for a direct conversion of material from the usual suspect systems (Chewer of Fingers, for instance, is written for Swords & Wizardry, and no significant conversion occurred). I selected standard B/X spells for my grimscribe.

The game is probably run best with an experienced DM, who can either convert ahead of time, or on the fly, and is comfortable with making quick judgement calls. I enjoyed playing the characters, particularly the grimscribe, who became the primary PC of my team. 

The game does have the flexibility for campaign/multi-level gameplay, and includes a brief section on leveling. 

As with most rules-light games of their ilk, Deathbringer works well as a one-shot system, allowing for quick chargen at the table. The implied setting (as described within the character classes and rules) is grimdark, inspired by WHRPG and similar systems. As I noted above, it worked very well for our Midderlands scenario, as the two products likely have similar influences. Fast, deadly, and evocative. A no-nonsense buy recommendation.


  1. Excellent! I thoroughly enjoying using both the adventure and the rules. Deathbringer was ao closely aligned to typical OSR style games that any DM experienced with those should be able handle on-the-fly conversions.
    Chewer is a perfect introduction to the Midderlands. The setting is familiar enough that no long-winding speeches are necessary to make the table understand where things stand. Yet, the lands are evocative and unique enough to make it unsettling and mysterious. Of all the settings, since the beginning of D&D, none make me want to venture into them as much as the Midderlands. Mr Seal has created something unique and astonishing, something that stands above all others.