Usherwood Publishing takes us back to junior high
By Joe Bingaman
Usherwood Publishing, the makers of the popular Usherwood Adventures setting for First Edition and OSRIC, have an interesting line of adventures titled “High Adventure from Middle School”. Loved by some critics, hated by others, this line is meant to be a novelty line. To quote James D. Kramer, the publisher, from their blog, “‘Novelty’ meaning, it’s intended to be a quick read of nostalgia for how were playing back in the late 70’s through early 80’s.” Cloud World of Arme is part of this line, and if you enjoy just short sketched notes, while making the filler on the fly, like we did in the old days, this adventure is for you.
All the adventures in this line are from actual adventures ran by their authors in junior high school. Cloud World of Arme, by the talented Keith Shaw, is no exception, as it is his follow up to the G Series. This adventure, though, instead of following the natural giant progression to Stone, 13-year-old Shaw went straight to Cloud giants, which is an interesting move considering how the G series was going before it slid into the D Series.
The book’s uniqueness continues, as the book uses a font that appears like handwriting, and a page that looks like college-ruled notebook paper. This is “an intentional design element,” according to Kramer, “The original intent for all these products is to simply scan what existed at the time we created it. Unfortunately the author’s handwritten originals were in a pencil so light as to be completely unusable. Thus, the use of a hand-writing style script.”
The bulk of the adventure gives you the data. Basically, what you get is all the stats on numbered encounters. The numbers correspond to a hand-drawn map that appears to be the original map that Shaw drew in the early 1980s. Each encounter has the monster’s stats, anything unique about that particular monster, and treasure, if there is any. Again, there is very little fluff, so if you are a game master who requires this to run an adventure, this is not for you. However, if you have an idea for a story and just need the encounters, this is perfect.
Cloud World of Arme is spread across 5 clouds, with a palace on the final cloud. Shaw’s 13-year-old mind seemed to jump around with the encounter types, throwing everything from skeletons, zombies, and a red dragon to demons, aerial servants, ogres from Lolth, and knights into the mix. Adding in the ogres from Lolth in was a nice touch, as it leaves a nice exit to the D Series to keep the progression going. It lacks in a solid foundation for why all these different creatures are working with the Cloud Giant “governor”, but that was common when we were young; if it looked fun and hard, we did it. This definitely captures that spirit that we forget so easily as we grow and mature as players and game masters.
Definitely the most challenging aspect of this adventure will be the main chamber, as there are at least 20 giants and 32 knights, along with the “governor” in there. This is definitely not an easy task for any adventuring party, especially one of 12th to 14th level if you follow the G Series up with this. This, again, shows the overzealousness of our young minds as we tried to emulate Gygax to the best of our ability as game masters.
Overall, the concept of both the adventure and the series are excellent. Shaw, while not really sticking with a theme, did a great job at the age of 13 making this adventure a nice follow-up (and a tie-in) to the G Series. Usherwood Publishing came up with a unique concept by making these look as if they were old notes from a junior high student. The best part of this is, according to Kramer on Underwood Publishing’s blog, “it’s free because it is a novelty product, just as all the other adventures that appear within the High-Adventures from Middle-School product line.” So there is no risk at all to check this one out.