Friday, August 31, 2012

Blood and Treasure: Player's Tome in Review

I received a comp copy of the PDF of John Stater's latest game: the Player's Tome for Blood & Treasure. I have to say that I like what I am seeing. This isn't a retroclone, it is something that might be better classified as a "second wave" OSR game. Instead of trying to recreate an earlier edition of an out-of-print game, like most in the OSR had done previously, John has taken the know-how that he gathered while developing material for various versions of Swords & Wizardry, as well as working on the Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords & Wizardy, and has applied what he has learned to the d20 3.x SRD.

Like I said, he isn't recreating another older ruleset, he is taking the approach of simplicity and utilitarianism that is a hallmark of so much OSR work and he looked at how he could simplify the 3.x SRD material and still keep it as something that is recognizable as being derived from those rules. Has he succeeded?

I think that he has. Obviously, I'm not getting the full game from just the Player's Tome but there is enough of the game in there for me to come to some conclusions. This isn't the work of someone who hates modern games. Far from it, this is the work of someone who loves fantasy gaming but doesn't like the complexity that comes with a lot of contemporary games. That's a mind set that I can completely relate to. The whole reason for my jump into retro-gaming over the last couple of years is because I had gotten tired of the complexity of a lot of the games out on the market today, and wanted games that were simpler. This lead me to games like Swords & Wizardry and OpenQuest and Warrior and Wizard.

This isn't a perfect game, but few are. The game itself is definitely strong, and complete. The layout of the book is a bit lackluster, and the fonts are a bit small. I'm sure that was a choice so that page count could be reduced, but these eyes aren't as good as they used to be (particularly with reading PDFs). The art is a mixed bag, but the "iconic" character art for each of the character classes is phenomenal, which might be why some of the other art left me a bit cold. I also have to say that the iconic character art is some of the most inclusive art that I have seen in a fantasy game in a while.

Presentation aside, the rules are strong. John has streamlined a lot of the complexity down to a manageable level. At the same time he has kept the elements that are recognizable as being a part of the 3.x rules. Feats are still a part of the game, streamlined dramatically, and optional. Skills have taken a cue from some of the ideas coming out of the OSR and are based off of saving throws. This is a mechanic that I liked when I first saw it on a gaming blog, and I like the variation on the theme that John has done for Blood & Treasure. There are plenty of spells (most of the book is taken up with spell lists, even though the spells too have been streamlined), which fixes something that I don't like about a lot of old school clones. In their desire for fidelity to the source material, I think that magic-users and clerics tend to get shortchanged. It is nice to see that there is plenty of magic to go around.

This is a great game that a lot of people are going to be talking about for a long while.

Should you buy this game? Hell, yes. Organization and presentation aren't the best, but I'm sure that this will change with future editions. For a game done by an amateur layout person (since there is no layout credit in the book, I am assuming that John did the layouts himself), the book could have looked a lot worse. Underneath that, however, there is a strong fantasy gaming engine that more than makes up for any shortcomings in presentation. Blood & Treasure is the next Castles & Crusades, and I think that publishers like Troll Lord need to look out because there is some serious competition for them to be found in this game. Don't just take it from me, however. Go out now (there's a handy link at the top of this post) and buy yourself a copy of Blood & Treasure. You won't be sorry.