You may want to read my interview with the author to better understand the creativity infused within Yoon-Suin.
There's an old Chinese proverb that goes something like this, "May you purchase interesting RPG books." Some say this is a curse, others a blessing or blessing in disguise. Certainly, interesting gaming aids can be useful, often a breath of fresh air amongst the stale stacks of standarized volumes; however, there's a reason why the mainstream marginalizes such books: they're weird!
For those who like encounter locations and NPCs that sound more like poetry than utilitarian statistics and prefer to enjoy the journey rather than forge ahead to the destination wearing blinders +1, I heartily recommend Yoon-Suin the Purple Land. Of course, this assumes the reader is using (or at least familiar with) an OSR roleplaying game such as 1970's and 80's Dungeons & Dragons. If he is, then the reader is in luck. The OSR is like RPG haiku. And that's exactly what the Purple Land is.
For every familiarity found somewhere in Asia (fakirs, opium, tea, temples, etc), there's something fantastical (slug men, topaz dragons, and giant cockroaches that eat the city's garbage). It's a labyrinthine framework of strange oriental adventure as dictated by Jorge Luis Borges who'd been reading way too much Tolkien in the shadow of Thomas Ligotti. It's more magic realism than purple prose, though some readers will get a sense of both.
The following is a passage rich with intrigue, benefit, and misfortune - all the hallmarks of an enticing encounter...
The Lagoon of Exquisite Dreams. A lagoon filled with strange rays which twist and turn in the darkness; the lagoon itself may be bottomless. Swimming in the lagoon will bring the swimmer into a dream-like fugue state, where his body floats suspended. This period lasts indefinitely unless a dispel magic spell is cast. During the period of suspension the swimmer recovers all hit points (within one day), heals diseases and poisons (within two weeks), and heals lost body parts (within a month). On initially entering the lagoon the swimmer must save versus death magic or panic and drown.
The author, noisms, is British (I assume) and affects that way of spelling certain words. For instance, "artefacts". Speaking of which, I love the Ancient Artefacts section on page 127. There's a special method of activating and understanding an unknown item accompanied by a table for describing such items and unfortunate events if the aforementioned special method calls for it.
In fact, no Yoon-Suin campaign will ever be exactly like another because almost the entirety of this setting is experienced by randomly rolling on tables. This may be sublimely welcome, inconveniently frustrating, or something in between, depending on the reader's preferences.
Every time I think I've caught a grammatical error, I read it again only to discover the fault was mine - his clever and unorthodox turns of phrase merely catching me off guard. That's when you know you're in good hands. The writing is not only good, it has a fascinating flavor. For instance...
Beyond the quaysides and the harbours of the Yellow City which cluster the vast mouth of the God River are the jewels of the Southern Sea - the Topaz Isles. A myriad of rocky islets that stretches all across the Gulf of Morays like so many necklaces. those members of the League of the Road who are expert in such matters say that the isles rose to the surface because they were belched forth from the blazing hot depths of the earth and cooled in the ocean; they brought a rich vein of gem stones with them that has never been fully mined.
The beginning of the book gives us the lay of the land in detail that seems somewhere between obsessive and arbitrarily subjective. The majority is comprised of tables for all kinds of things... noble houses, tea shops and opium dens, shrines, golden wormlings, revolutionaries, elephant racing, rumors, pirate treasure troves, mercenary guilds, and a whole lot more. Most tables are prefaced with a paragraph or two detailing either how to best use the table (from the author's point of view) or describing what's going on within it.
The rest is made up of creatures and locations. The bestiary is short but sweet. You've got entries such as Undead Amphisbaenid, a squamous, limbless, burrowing worm-like reptilian thing; a Were-Moray Eel; Ogre Mage; Tiger Spirt; etc.
Here's a sample location...
A giant tenebrous worm which has formed a cocoon of shadows in an exceptionally dark glade which sunlight never reaches. It can spin darkness itself into a web, shooting tendrils of un-light at intruders which hit automatically and prevent movement indefinitely; only magical light can repel them.
Personally, I think the sparsely used artwork is kind of neat, quirky, and almost infectious, albeit limited in expression. However, I would have preferred something else or alternative artists to go along with it.
Armor class is the old, descending system only. While I expected to see both, leaving ascending AC out isn't that big a deal.
Dwarves? Within moments of digesting the travelogue, I believed I could actually hear the world cry out for yellow elves, instead. Or something as strange as grasshopper and crab men.
From my reading and discussion with the author, I realize just how personal this work is. So, I have a feeling that any criticism (no matter how constructive) or advice on "improving" Yoon-Suin would fall upon deaf ears. Yoon-Suin is a visionary work and it is ultimately his vision and his alone. This is the way the author wants it, and that is that.
Even though I and other readers may believe the work may suffer here and there for its idiosyncrasies, I admire the author's balls (one yellow, the other purple). This kind of niche publishing is all about aesthetics (rather than sacks full of cash) and most of those come down to personal preferences we just happened to inherit along the way, collected like pretty rocks upon the path of life. More often than not, dumb luck is our biggest inspiration, our oldest teacher. Though, fortunately for us, noisms' collection of stones captivate rather than disenchant.
Reviewed by Venger Satanis