Monday, May 10, 2021

Something about Sewers: Ultan's Door 3 Review

This is IIRC the second sewage-related thing I have reviewed in the hoary life of this blog, the first being Daniel Bishop's commendable and filthy thing which you may find here.

I am generally weary and leery of Kickstarters. It's too bad, because it does seem (despite my anxiety) an ideal way to get a nice thing made in our byzantine capitalist system. A great list of the things i've kickstarted shows many amazing projects, a very few merely modest ones, and only one (that's right 1!) failed Kickstart: a beer that didn't get made for WayneCon a few years ago. Why my distrust? I don't know. Politics or summat

Before I begin the review, I'd like to state very upfront that I do not condone nor glamorize the use of REAL drugs and other substances, nor do I wish to demonize people in the real world who suffer from substance abuse disorders. I myself am beholden to two or three substances for my tenuous, dreary real-world existence and without Carbamazepine, Fluoxetine, and Caffeine I would be a juddering, shuddering shell of a man - incapable of joy or focus or safely operating heavy machinery.

I received the hard copy of the first "Through Ultan's Door" zine a few years ago, I think. The envelope came and I was surprised because I did not clearly recollect kickstarting the thing. And I downloaded the PDFs and my favorite things about it were: 1) portal-bility - there is a door to the land of Zyan, a dreamland, which you can use as is (that being, it's in Ultan's shop) OR you could pop the door anywhere you like. 2) the art - I am a longtime fan of the works of Russ Nicholson and his work appears therein, and also the other artists have striven for a similar feel: reminiscent of musty Fighting Fantasy books and John Blanche and the Fiend Folio - speckled and black and white and sort of 'gauzy' and C) also the setting of Zyan and its inhabitants are more 'implied' than entirely given freely, thick and cloying prose and many adverbs and adjectives and pleasing consonance. D) The ramshackle feel of the place - rundown, poorly maintained, sinister in disrepair. Rotten? Corrupted? yes, yes I think so. Not to give too much away, the encounters in TUD1 are delightfully weird - not weird in a bullshit sense like HOW THE FUCK CAN I PLAY THIS BULLSHIT but weird but real-enough in an unsettling fashion, as if in fact plucked from an unhealthy dream.  Masks are everywhere, the law of Zyan is ominous and alienating, and trickle-down economics are a literal thang. Plenty of rotten loot to steal, enemies to make, and hinted-at worlds to explore if only you can get there...

Well, in Through Ultan's Door 2, you really CAN get there. there's much more at that point to travel along and see and do. I love much of the setting of the second one, and the art is again fantabulous, Huargo and Nicholson and all them really sell it. I might critique that the second book strays slightly-but-not-irredeemably into the "arthouse Grant Morrison bullshit with lots of scribbly titties" thing that Zak peddled so hard, and overall the tone and feel is nicely brought over - maybe Dream is more concentrated in this zone? But the second issue begisn to give full access into the Sewers 'Neath Zyan, which (to my mind) is maybe the most chock full of potential yet of these.

I dimly recall, as if through secondhand opium smoke, that the city of Bastion from "Into the Odd" had a great sewer beneath it that was ripe for adventuring in and it was oft' played in and blogg'd about. Our own variant of the city had stretch that was so enormous that you could fly a rented dirigible-taxi through it in a action-packed chase. Zyan's Sewers as described in Through Ultan's Door #3 are full of danger, rotten things, hallucino- and entheogens, secret passageways and grottoes; all the usual things you might expect in a fantasy sewer. I've not ever partaken of opium  - well, codeine a couple of times during some rough illnesses a few years back - but TUD#3 gives me that same uneasy, cloud-headed feeling of cozy familiarity - languid? yes! fervid? yes, that too? Wan? most definitely.  Drifting in my tin trading-kayak down the sewer river, I espy a fat clutch of crab eggs and a handful of coins secreted to a pylon, there, and the grip on my gigging-quant grows slippery with sweat! What has been a lackluster venture marked with legal entanglements and an unrequited crush on a courtesan in the city above could now turn into a profitable expedition. But hark, what heaving mass of catfish-faced flesh approaches from beneath the foetid current!!??? And is that a barque of masked pirates coursing toward me yonder the next rapid?

Yeah, kind of like that. I mean, it's nice. There is a nicely-rendered character option/idea about a real-world protagonist drug-shifted into the imagined play-world, and I worry about the glamorization of heavy tragic drug use - I would probably not allow my kiddo to delve into TTRPGs with these zines, and of course I do not believe one ought to make light of real world problems like opiate addiction or sexually transmitted illnesses or narcissism-driven petty legal feuds that can only be won by the wealthiest party! But there is much to plunder from Zyan should you brave what is beyond Ultan's Door! Most of it would not even require combat

In my mind's eye, I have inserted Ultan's Door in a pawn shop in our local Tours-en-Pays (from Castle Xyntillan) and of course there is a spell-scroll somewhere that will allow entry into The Gardens of Ynn, and in one desolate corner of a dungeon, a wraith peers into a bottle that contains a dungeon that contains a labyrinth that contains a city that contains a spaceport, and above in the night sky there is a station wherein travel to any point in the galaxy is provided and that is how my brain works.

incidentally, Gus L has vaslty expanded one of the piratical encounters given only a few paragraphs in the secret-sewer portion of the first volume. When I say 'vastly', I mean Gus ably turns an entry about sewer pirates into a 40-odd page excursion with lore and factions and legal intricacies aplenty (Gus is a lawyer, hisself, if I recall rightly and so knows the tedia of it and also i think he's a pirate probably)

Also, weird and fun diseases, nuns, automata, lurid candies, startling monsters, interesting magic items and spells, and more sewage-coated fun than you can shake a punting-pole. There is much more than what i have merely hinted at in my impressions, here, and I've not yet scratched the surface on the second part of this issue (yes, two volumes in this issue, and a separate 40-page scenario, a handout of additional diseases, and a separate confectionary-based adventure-scenario-possibility)

So much for relatively little moneys! If you did not Kickstart the thing, then I urge you to hasten yourself and find Through Ultan's Door #3, and also 1 and 2. The whole crew of artists, layout persons, and editors (many people that have esteem for anyways!)  have done a bang-up job, and much cheaper than an opium problem, I imagine

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