Review: A Ghastly Potpourri

TL/DR: Buy it.

A Ghastly Potpourri is a supplement for the A Ghastly Affair role-playing game. Written by Daniel James Hanley, it contains a collection of material that will be useful for any game set in the late 18th century. It also holds a short story by William Rutter, author of Hunter’s Song. I picked up the printed version, a 6″ by 9″ perfect-bound book.

Please bear with me, because I’m going to veer off course and talk about the title for a minute. It puzzled me. A “potpourri” is a mix of herbs and flower petals. Was it a veiled reference to personal hygiene of the 18th century? This book offers a mix of random material that all blended nicely together. Was this the reason for the title? I hopped out to Wikipedia and took a look at the definition and I saw this gem: “[…] the word pourri means rotten”. Hmmm… So like the stories told in the world of A Ghastly Affair. Dig below the surface and you will find the rot. Maybe that’s closer to the mark?

The contents of the book are certainly not rotten! Much of the material in this collection has appeared on the author’s excellent blog The Engine of Oracles. I haven’t done a side by side comparison of the content, but if you’re a cheapskate, you can probably get all the gaming material for free. I love having it all edited and collected in one place. You’ll also miss out on the short story if you pass this by!

The book starts with several character options. The chapter begins with a short section on “Bildungsroman” character creation. It’s an interesting concept, but there are no real “rules” for how to do this. An example of play would help convey this concept a little better. Next, there are suggestions on how to tweak character classes to better suit the player’s concept. It also has extensive entries for historical, literary, and movie/television inspirations for each class. Scattered throughout the chapter are interesting “sidebars” related to the various professions. As a former archaeologist, I enjoyed the “Mummy Manufacturing” one a lot.

The second chapter is all about magic. The new spells look very interesting. I’m a big fan of how the author has handled OSR magic in his game. He also discusses a couple new magic items. The chapter left me wanting more. I hope will see a Ghastly Grimoire in the future!

Chapters three and four are the monsters. There are a variety of very interesting creatures you can use to bedevil your players. I really enjoyed the “Incarnations”. You could create an intriguing, opium-laced scenario around Kubla Khan. My favorite is Saint “Punch you in the Face” Nicholas.

Chapter five collects various random tables that have appeared on The Engine of Oracles blog. These are really designed for “sandbox” adventuring or to inspire a scenario when your imagination is flagging. “Twenty Dubious Statements by Questionable Occultists” is the hands-down winner here.

The book concludes with a short story by William Rutter. Our heroine, Lila Davenport from Hunter’s Song, is taking the waters at Cheltenham spa when murder most foul ensues. Is it a jealous wife, or is there something more sinister at hand? I’m very pleased to read more about Miss Davenport’s adventures and do hope her chronicler will oblige is with more of her exploits in the future.

I highly recommend this one!

A Ghastly Potpourri is available in print and PDF at RPGNow.


  1. Daniel James Hanley

    You’re on the right track with the title’s intended meaning. A “potpourri” is a nice mixture of things, but I’m giving you a “ghastly” potpourri of pretty little horrors. And yes, I really like how the word “potpourri” now denotes something sweet-smelling, but originally meant “rotten pot”. It’s a perfectly Gothic collision of the beautiful and terrible.


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