Step 1: Judge the book by its cover.
The first thing drawn to my eye when looking at Ten People You Meet In The Undergarden is the verdant imagery reminiscent of a heraldic sigil, specifically referring to the tree at the center.
As we further explore the reaches of the cover, we can notice a sense of decay in the collage aesthetic, specifically in the top right hand corner where we are given a numbering of this Zine. #1 implies that this is the first of hopefully many additional notes in a symphony of content.
At the bottom of the book, we see the creators, Kari Aldrich, who I am not familiar with, and Sam Mameli, who I know to be a talented artist. Additionally we see a note that this is a Troika Sphere, so we know that this book will contain a world of its own, this is doubly pressed upon us by the fort tortle in the bottom right.
I appreciate that Sam took the time to create a Fortle of his own.
The dayglo yellow color of the cover is also reminiscient of a classic tabletop zine, and it makes me smile and sets the expectation that the interior will follow along the same trend.
Step 2: Turn the page anyway.
The first thing we see, as we open the book, is a reiteration of the heraldic imagery of the tree on the shield as well as the title of the book, from a functionality standpoint this is traditional and does not follow the more recent trend of "cramming as much information into the book as humanly possible."
What this tells us and is later reiterated as we turn to the next page, is that this book will feature more of an artistic tabletop representation, the content will certainly be useable, however, it should be valued not just for its mechanical contributions but also its artistic notes.
Step 3: Isolate the Meat.
The first piece of content presented to us in this book, is the stat block of Anne Fredd, a Shrub Kngiht of the Church, which church? Well we don't quite know, nor will that information be presented to us.
We're given the traditional Mien table as a Troika "enemy" might have, although this character is not necessarily presented as an enemy to us. In addition, we are given the stats of this "enemy."
This is a standard presentation of a Troika "enemy" and there's nothing better or worse that could have been done here, there are no particular "unique abilities" nor anything to push the boundaries of what Troika offers in an enemy, which is A-OK, again, this is less of a book of innovation in mechanical terms and more an incredibly functional slice of Sam and Kari's imagination.
Step 4: What's the value of THIS book?
The value of this book is in the writing, or at least that is the case for me. Kari does a fantastic job of showcasing this world, at first ostensibly ravaged by malefic insects through the introduction of this character Anne Fredd.
We are immediately given a page of content for a sympathetic hero, this could be used by a Games Master or Guide or Dungeon Master or whatever you call the person who runs your games to set the tone of the location, or scene where Anne exists.
The writing itself is exquisite, Kari's writing is straight-forward and well presented, the editing is incredibly good for a "one-person writing team", better than I could imagine doing myself given how text-blindness creeps up on me after I've written something.
Her armor shines in the moonlight, and sat next to her is a huge broadsword in an old, ornate golden scabbard, encrusted with gems. Her silver helm covers everything but her eyes, which are so still and placid when she is on guard duty that she looks like she might be made of plaster.
This is evocative and beautiful text, well paced and well written, and it creates art in your mind that Sam's choice of collaging the page doesn't intervene with, it acts in a wonderful symphony that I find deeply compelling, it draws me in and makes me wants to learn more about this Sphere.
Step 5: A summary of the above, and reflection.
The PDF can be found here. If you're looking for inspiring content and beautiful art where the pieces of the sum enhance the whole, this is a wonderful product to pick up.
It is not mechanically innovative, it is not doing something inherently new or introducing new bound tomechanical concepts. Although at times it does stretch the "humanity" of something so general as a Hedge Maze, what it is really doing is presenting you a unique and beautiful world born of two people, a talented artist and a talented writer and editor.
I would enthusiastically recommend this book, and it's a steal at just $5 for the PDF.
I will update this post with links when there are future physical copies available.
Thanks for reading and as always, if you hate me or my reviews, you can reach out on twitter @liefbread, or directly to my email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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