Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review: CA1 Calidar Dreams of Aerie

I make my last stop on my vacation in Calidar to an honest to god Flying Circus!
Monty Python quotes and references are as much a part of the D&D experience as anything else really.  Let's be honest, how many games start out as "Excalibur" but end up as "The Holy Grail"?  Well now, thanks to Bruce Heard and Calidat you can bring a real live Flying Circus to your games.  The Monty Python references might be light in the book, but the games will abound with them.

CA1 Calidar Dreams of Aerie
PDF, Hardcover and Softcover, 132 pages, Color covers. Color and Black & White interior art.

I am reviewing the PDF and softcover book from the Kickstarter.

Dreams of Aerie is for the Calidar world setting, but let me say this upfront, you can use this anywhere with any system. The book uses the Calidar game system, which is not really a system but a short-hand way of talking about stats.  If you have any of the other books you will know what this is and how to convert it.

The book is part source guide and part mystery adventure. The setting is the Amazing Flying Circus a traveling circus that flies overhead.  There is some great in-game/in-universe background to this circus and how it is no longer at its hey-day, but it is also attempting to reclaim its former glory.

Now. If this is all this book was, then it would still be a fantastic bit of work.  But we do get a lot more.

The circus is home to all sorts of entertainers as well as misfits and those rejected by society. In many ways it mirrors a real circus from our, or most worlds.  It is also a religious monument to one of Calidar's gnomish gods, Belgomeer.  That gives it a nice twist.  I'll discuss this more at the end.

We get a great cast of characters including the Ringmaster, Vox Hammerdin, aka The Great Mirabilis.  That's a hell of a name! Based on his style and personality I think he must be related to my Crazy Omar.  There are so many interesting NPCs here I could spend pages talking about them, but instead, I will leave it at that and let you discover them on your own.  These NPCs are needed because of the adventures character can have here.  There is a cult plot to take over the circus, a murder, rival factions, and 11 different guilds that make the circus work. Oh and the dragon in the middle of the maze on the lower decks.

That makes up the first 30 or so pages of the book.

What comes next is the adventure hook for the players. The players, and characters, can be hooked in on the circus' arrival alone or get a letter from the Ringmaster or even the local Mayor.  The main mystery deals with the disappearance of the show's "Bearded lady", Branna “Stubble” Briarchin.  She has been in fact murdered in part of the plots of the cult of Balladoo-of-the-Hoo, who are trying to take control of the circus away from the followers of Belgomeer. The PCs need to uncover the murder and cult plot.  But even if you and the players are not interested in this hook, there are plenty of reasons to visit a Flying Circus.  Let's start with the fact that it is a flying freaking circus!  The murder and cult plot though are well done and plenty of clues are provided for the GM to hand out to the players when they find them.  It also gives them an excuse and leave to explore the entire circus.

There is a detailed description of all parts of the circus, all three decks, with some beautiful maps and art here.  The layout by Calidar's cartographic expert Thorfinn Tait is fantastic.  This book is not just fun to read it is gorgeous to look at.  This part covers about 110 pages of the book. So yeah, really detailed.

There is an appendix with character stats, but keep in mind that most people you run into here are not meant to be fought. These are not "monster" stats even if the person you encounter might be a monster in a different situation.  This adventure is about solving a murder and stopping a cult, not "killing things and taking their loot".  You can use this with any system, but the mindset has to be this is a mystery to solve.

The appendix also covers some "Random Events" to keep the players moving along while other things are happening.
There is a great index of all locations. A 1d20 rumor mill. A banner advertising the circus. And some pre-rolled characters to use.

I have said it before but it is true here, Dreams of Aerie punches way above its weight class.
At 130 pages and $6 for the PDF, there is a lot here.  A complete circus, a FLYING circus no less, a murder mystery and a cult faction war.

The Circus as Setting
While the circus is set in the World of Calidar it can easily be used elsewhere or all by itself.  While reading through it I could not help but think back to the old Ravenloft Carnival product. The two might work well together, in particular some of the NPCs. Plus I can't ever resist adding more horror to my games.

Two of my favorite movies are Vampire Circus and of course Tod Brownings Freaks. Both have strong horror themes.  So I guess I find circuses kinda creepy.

The Circus as Religious Center
Dreams of Aerie was written WELL before the third season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  This season featured a traveling circus full of "pagans" dedicated to the "Great God Pan." Yes. very much in the Arthur Machen vein.  The Amazing Flying Circus is not a collection of the world's misfit monsters and rejected myths.  At least not in the way it was done on CAOS.  There is the faction fighting between the followers of Belgomeer and Balladoo-of-the-Hoo in Dreams that I can build upon.  There is a lot of cult-based conflicts here.

So, in the end, what do we have?  We have a hell of a product with a ton of great ideas, opportunities, and something that can be used in pretty much every game.

Please visit the DriveThruRPG page to see some excellent samples of the maps.

If you want to run a circus adventure then THIS is the one you need. Full stop.

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