I’ve known Mike Evans for a long time, starting with reading his blog, way back in the mists of 2009. In the years since, we’ve exchanged emails, commented on one another’s posts on G+, and generally moved in the same circles. In that time, I’ve come to admire his creativity, his industry, and, above all, his perseverance in pursuit of his dreams, perhaps the greatest of which is his Hubris campaign setting, published in 2016.
Being an (increasingly) old and out-of-touch person, I didn’t get around to seeing a copy of Hubris: A World of Visceral Adventure until a few weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of Mike. I mention this both to thank Mike and to be upfront about our connections to one another. In my experience, many people expect a certain degree of detachment and objectivity from something purporting to be a review. If so, what follows most certainly isn’t a review so much as a collection of thoughts occasioned by reading Hubris. Even so, I hope these thoughts will nevertheless prove useful.
Hubris is an original setting for use with Goodman Games’s Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, presented in a large 348-page book. Like so many third-party DCC RPG materials, Hubris is weird. I don’t mean that negatively. What I mean is that it goes off in unexpected directions, mixing and matching stuff that generally isn’t put together (or at least that I wouldn’t put together), and then cranking it up to 11. You only need take a look at Mike’s version of Appendix N to get a sense of what I’m talking about: a stew of Lewis Carroll, Robert E. Howard, Army of Darkness, Princess Mononoke, and Metallica – just to name a few of its eclectic “literary” sources. To call it “a sword and sorcery campaign setting,” as the cover blurb does isn’t to do it justice, but then I’m not entirely sure what would do so.
For me, whose own tastes in fantasy tend toward the prosaic, what really sets Hubris apart is its wild creativity, starting with its additions and changes to the DCC RPG rules. There is, for example, a new table of occupations for starting characters. Simply reading the table gives you a good idea of what the setting of Hubris is like. There are alien abductees, chimney sweep children, flimflam artists, nosey neighbors, pig wrestlers, and snake handlers, to name but a few. There are also five new races, each with their own table of occupations. It’s amazing how much flavor is packed into this single table, except that this isn’t the only table like this. Hubris is positively packed with imaginative tables, which both efficiently present the setting without the need for lots of encylcopedia-style exposition and inspire players and judges alike.
There are four new classes, too, such as the Dr. Jekyll-like alchemist, fiendish blood witch, bestial druid, and stealthy shadowdancer. These are in addition to the aforementioned five new races, which function as classes like those in the DCC RPG rulebook. Wizards get four new patrons (in addition to freakish, living spellbooks), while clerics get twelve new gods. And, of course, both classes get new spells and other game mechanical goodies. This is all good stuff, but it’s the kind of material you’d find in almost any RPG setting book.
But the real glory of Hubris is its presentation of the setting itself. Instead of long, faux-academic entries on the Great Plains of Unbidden Sorrow or the Land of Perpetual Stone and Mire, we’re treated to short overviews of the setting’s regions, followed by tables, tables, and more tables. Some present rumors and adventure hooks, while others typical encounters, “the lay of the land” (that is, unique locales within a region), or even more specific content (such as the effects of bathing in the Black Pool of Inexplicable Ecstasy or your opponents in the Arena of Blood). It’s frankly a brilliant way of presenting a setting, one that gives judges lots of leeway to mold it to their needs while still providing plenty of details to hang their hat on.
Hubris also offers many more tables for the judge, all of which combine utility with flavor. There are tables for ancient and forgotten demigods, bandits, grave diggin’, herbs, taverns – just about anything you’d need in the course of play. That’s another aspect of Hubris that comes through in reading it: Mike has clearly used this setting extensively. Its content is geared toward play rather than simply being an exercise in creativity. Hubris is a big book, yes, but it’s filled with very practical material. This includes the magic items, monsters, and, above all, starter adventures (one of which is a funnel). Reading through this, I found myself wanting to run my own Hubris campaign and, because of the material included in its page, I felt like I could.
If I have a complaint about Hubris, it’s that it’s pretty gonzo. It’s a kitchen sink setting filled with mutants, bird-men, half-demons, steam-mechs, sex prophets, and dinosaurs, among many, many other things. At times, it’s a little too much. I occasionally felt overwhelmed by it all. But, as I noted above, one of the glories of Hubris is its presentation, which is highly customizable. Don’t like some aspect of the setting? Change it or get rid of it entirely. Want to add something to it that you think is missing? Go right ahead. There’s no One True Hubris, except perhaps the one you’re using at your own table and the book makes it extremely easy to turn it into the setting you want it to be.
Ultimately, that’s why I was so inspired by Hubris. There’s no doubt that some of the material included in its pages is terrifically imaginative, but it’s the presentation that really grabbed me. Mike Evans has done a remarkable thing here, providing us with a toolkit that is simply packed with tools of every conceivable shape and size. Even if you’re not interested in using a single thing directly from Hubris – and I’d be amazed if anyone could read it and not want to swipe at least a couple of things for their own campaigns – you’ll have your eyes opened about how to introduce a setting and its details.
Hubris is terrific. I cannot recommend it highly enough.