In the Red – First Thoughts

A copy of ‘In The Red’ and the GM screen was provided by Brian for a fair review. We do not charge for any type of content. I let Brian know before writing the review what the format was going to be as I would not be playing the adventure. Brian had no editorial control over the review.

It’s been said every which way but that’s because it is true: it has been a weird year. The ongoing restrictions in Scotland have meant that my ability to play games and then review them, has been limited at best. The situation had meant turning down some games for review or taking them on with the caveat that it may be months before I get to play them.

This is a long winded way to brace you for something a little different today. I took on a request from local designer/publisher Brian Tyrell, who we interviewed recently, to review his introductory RPG adventure called ‘In the Red’. This is a system agnostic adventure, but also has his own light RPG system as part of it called ‘Dungeons on a Dime’. I only really review RPGs I’ve run and in the case of this I have not found the time to run it. However I didn’t want to leave Brian hanging especially as the book has recently hit stores. I guess this is an even more long winded way of saying this is going to be a first look at the book and GM screen without me having played the adventure. This will be a first for the site so we shall have to see how it goes.

‘In the Red’ is intended as an introductory RPG project, designed from the ground up to introduce the reader into the core concepts of what a roleplaying game is, what the role of the GM is and give them an adventure to run and a light system to run it with. Apart from its aim to get you into the hobby you can also use the adventure with any system you are particularly taken with as a city romp involving stolen magical games, criminals with an axe to grind, and a strange wizard.

It’s a good looking book

From the introductory side of things the adventure comes with the obligatory ‘what is an RPG?’ section which you can just skip if you are here for the adventure. It does a good job of laying out the stall of an RPG and especially the GM responsibilities. The book definitely assumes that if you bought this book you are going to be running the game, and I think that is probably a reasonable stance to take.

The adventure itself is spread throughout the book, each chapter introducing a different faction/character that will get involved with the heroes over the course of the session. I can’t see this adventure lasting more than a session, but that is in its favour as a stepping stone into the bigger RPG world.

Rather than being a rigid structure with read-aloud text and a path to follow, this adventure is very open, allowing the GM and players to find their own way through the maze of the story. I personally really like this as I am a great believer in having a loose structure that the GMs and players can improve around. The adventure has a light, breezy feel to it with lots of ideas and hooks to get things going and keep them moving.

To help the GM there are some lists of city events, dwellers, shops and ideas about how to run combat in the narrow stress and exposed rooftops. There are lots of great jumping off points here, inspiration without being prescriptive.

Finally at the back of the book we have the Dungeons on a Dime system, a light touch system that to you can use to run ‘In The Red’, A really nice addition here is that at the very back of the rules it lists other systems you might want to run the adventure with a brief look at the weight, and merits, of each one.

One of the better GM screens I’ve ever seen

Brian was also nice enough to send me the DM screen that relates to the adventure. This is really one of the better GM screens I’ve seen with useful tables that you will actually use as a GM on the inside and a summary of actions you can take using the DOAD system on the outside. Good solid screen, with lots of space to spread a book out behind.

I wouldn’t be doing my job without addressing a concern. I love improvising, it is core to my GMing style and the games I choose to run. The loose structure of the adventure really appeals to me as I can see me absorbing the elements and running it in my own style. I do wonder if that would be overwhelming for a new GM though, who might prefer the structure of something with a bit more of a rigid path, text to read out, and a little more hand holding than ‘In The Red’ provides. It seems like a great adventure that is full of possibilities, but sometimes lots of routes can lead to you getting lost.

I think ‘In The Red’ is a really great introductory RPG product. It eschews hand holding, for guidance, read-aloud text for colourful hooks, and complicated rules for a light system that does the job without overwhelming. It’s well laid out, written, with nice art, and doesn’t cost the earth. I can see it being a great present for someone looking to take their first steps into roleplaying.


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Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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