The Illuminerdy recently received a copy of Knight Owl Games’ The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia, an OSR sourcebook we were initially eager to review on title alone, because wow. The book draws inspiration from Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator, a tone that’s immediately evident within the first few pages.
The opening chapter describes the strange city of Meatlandia and its villainous Meat Lord with far more seriousness than either of those names have any right to command. The following pages contain more uses for meat than even Alton Brown has dared dream, from Meat Mechs to Meat Magic – I cannot make this up.
I would love to tell you about the hilarious fun and useful tricks of Meatlandia, but the truth is I could barely get through the 92-pager, and not for want of a copy editor.
Sharing unfortunate similarities with some other OSR products, The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia is awash in casual misogyny that makes it difficult to enjoy the mountain of meat puns dripping down every page. The women are all virgin daughters, cortesans, mothers or crones, with no exception. The soldiers and leaders are all men. In fact, the language throughout the many tables and descriptions often assumes the players and/or their characters are both male and straight. While none of it feels malicious, it does all feel oblivious and it’s too ever-present to easily ignore.
As an example, two of the first three female NPCs mentioned are key players in the ironically-named Bardic Brotherhood – ‘Sugar Sam’ and ‘Honey Ham.’ One is described in terms of her numerous boyfriends across the city, while the other’s description leads with “demure” and goes on to talk about the pet she used to love “more than most women love their husbands.” That’s 18 pages in.
There are other offenses (looking at you, “Rustafarians”), as well as a liberal use of mental illness and “insanity” as a the regular go-to detriment for PCs and “flavor” for NPCs, all amounting to a book that might be fun to play if it weren’t so busy getting in its own way.
System-wise, Meatlandia is written for a hybrid of OD&D rules and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, lending to the sense of chaos in an out-of-character sense as much as in-character. This is oddly contrasted with the rigidity of a whole chapter for randomly rolled chaos effects, which might be the book’s greatest selling point if they didn’t feel so unmanageable in play.
Many of them involve either random encounters that could stall a game while a GM looks up monster numbers (since OD&D statblocks are not exactly small) or effects like “roll up a second character” that could eat the whole session in a heartbeat. Chaos Storms in general read like they are meant to be real-world phenomena, throwing the actual game into chaos rather than just the situation for the characters.
Outside the aisles of random chaos tables, the class variants are perhaps the other redeemable element of The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia, but again, poor execution quickly drains the life out of otherwise fun ideas. The Chaos DJ, for example, has an ability that lets the player play a song and have the character do something which the song describes, like summon Pink Robots, or perhaps set the roof on fire. Each song can only be used once, keeping things fresh and forcing players to beat least a little clever in their selection.
Great concept, but before you break out your Hamilton/DMX mash-ups, know that you have to play each song all the way through to the end (there goes my “American Pie/kill the target with a falling plane” plan). Also, the Chaos DJ has a 5% chance per level to ignore what the player wants to do for the round, opting to do the opposite, even if it proves destructive to themselves or their allies. It’s explained as part of the Chaos DJ’s awareness of the Fourth Wall and their manipulation by the player. Again, creative concept, but by 10th level there’s a 50% chance your character will do the opposite of what you tell it to, which seems more frustrating than fun in practice.
It’s very sad for me not to be able to recommend a book that involves things like “Carnomancers” and random encounter tables with “panda bear” on them as a legitimate threat, but there’s just too much getting in the way of The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia for it to be an enjoyable book as-is. Ironically, carving out a few choice bits here and there may be the best way to approach it in the end.