Showing posts with label OSR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OSR. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Warhammer, Warhammer 1 2 3 4 Smutty, Bloody Pictures, Ecstasy


Comic creator Kieron Gillen has a Warhammer blog over on Tumblr. I didn't realize this, and I never thought that I would talk about it, but he brings up some similar points to things that I've talked about with the old Warhammer stuff, and other British properties, like the Nemesis The Warlock comic by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neil and published by 2000AD.

Read Gillen's post and we can talk about it on the social media where you found a link to this. If you didn't find me directly sharing the link, tag me in it.

He talks about the Warhammer (although he probably meant Warhammer 40K) and how it related to Nemesis:
It’s worth noting that one of the other primary Warhammer influences - and I’d argue THE primary influence on 40k – also uses this dichotomy. 2000AD’s Nemesis the Warlock and associated stories use Law and Chaos, but writer Pat Mills almost always comes down on the side of Chaos. In the universe of Nemesis, the Termight empire of Earth wages a war of genocide against the rest of the galaxy to bring the jackboot down on them forever, chanting catchy slogans like Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave. The diverse aliens have to oppose them. The humans are, without a doubt, the bad guys, and “order” is just another word for “monstrous Imperialism”. The humans are grotesque parodies, but the aliens are also explicitly freakish, but their bizarreness bears no relation to their morality. It’s okay to be a freak. It’s better to be a freak – or rather, better to be what Order would label a freak.
I don't have any direct evidence drawing a line between either Nemesis or 40K directly influencing each other, but I've said for a while that the story of Nemesis The Warlock could be seen as the Imperium of Man from 40K as viewed through the eyes of aliens and Chaos. For those who played the more recent versions of the 40K role-playing game (from Fantasy Flight Games and now out of print) you could almost view Nemesis as being a Black Crusade campaign.

One of those dream projects that I have on my list is one of the few OSR projects that I would want to do. Basically it would be my homage to the Realm of Chaos books. It would be four books, one for each of my reinterpretations of the Chaos Lords and their various followers and retinues, specialized character classes pertaining to them, and other fun things like new spells.

Maybe one day some one with the money will let me collaborate with people like +Alex Mayo and +Benjamin Marra on these books. The books would be fun, but they definitely wouldn't be kid friendly.

Gillen pointed this blog post out in his most recent newsletter, which you should checkout.

Also, if you don't get the reference in the title of this blog post, listen to some L7.




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Burlesque House Siege Pre-Release


Dungeons & Donuts blogger Kiel Chenier is looking to recoup his Gen Con 2016 expenses. Chenier is selling a pre-release version of the adventure Burlesque House Siege (the adventure that he ran at the con) to make up the money that he spent on badge and housing.
On the outskirts of town is the Maison Derriere, a bawdy burlesque house that's been providing entertainment and thrills to people for decades. You spent the night and had an amazing time...
...only to wake up in the morning to find the building is about to be attacked by a bandit army.
Join a group of dancers and performers in defending their home from waves of bandits and thugs in this LGBT-friendly adventure for tabletop roleplaying games. Compatible with D&D (all editions), Pathfinder, Dungeon World, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and more.
Kiel's details about the adventure:
This is a "Buystarter Release"
The adventure text and design is complete, but the layout and final art have not been completed. Buying the adventure now gets you the current version of the adventure, and the updated final version when it's released in September, 2016.
The final version will cost $8.99, meaning you save $3.00 by purchasing Burlesque House Siege! early.
Help out a fellow designer and GM.



Monday, August 24, 2015

Vornheim Returns

Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi and a copy of the new print run of Vornheim.

The blog has been quiet for a while since Gen Con. Who knew that getting a house ready for going to market was so much work? I certainly didn't. I also didn't expect to haul as many bags of rock as I have the last couple of months. Regardless, "real life" work has eaten up all of my free time of late, and cut into my ability to write both here, and over at Bleeding Cool. Being a grown up sucks.

So, this post isn't about my talking about the fun of landscaping and painting. No, it is to talk about the eminent return of Zak Smith's Vornheim supplement. Today, Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi informally announced that the new print run of Vornheim was done, and ready to be flung out into the world again. The second print run is double what the first was, with 4000 copies this time. Considering that Smith's latest A Red & Pleasant Land has just about gone through its print run in 9 months, I expect the second printing of Vornheim to move just as quickly (if not faster).

For those who do not have a copy, you might be asking "What is this Vornheim of which you speak?" Ostensibly an OSR product, I see Vornheim's place now as being more the opening shot of the OSR offshoot that has been named "DIY D&D." Where the OSR would be philosophical and exploratory about discovering the play styles of older games, and revisiting the older rulesets in a way that would make them available again in ways that wouldn't require spending hundreds of dollars on eBay, the DIY D&D movement focuses on play that is happening now, with or without older rulesets, and how you can create material that grows organically from play. In a way, DIY D&D is very much a return to the idea of the early days of the hobby, the idea that groups generated the material that they needed for their table themselves, using their chosen ruleset as their foundation.

When gaming became big business in the 90s, there was a move away from this idea, mostly because gaming companies wanted to make money from campaign settings, character option supplements and many other things that groups had previously made mostly for themselves. Yes, some of these things would eventually be published, like the Arduin Grimoires or any of the Judges Guild material, but that consumerism wasn't the focus of gaming groups.

With the release of Vornheim, Smith triggered a return to that Do-It-Yourself mentality. Yes, Vornheim was published in book form, and pieces of it appeared over time on Smith's blog, but the primary idea of Vornheim isn't to sell you something that you drop into your game world and play until you kill all of the monsters in it. No, the idea of Vornheim is to teach how to do it yourself, how to build a city that will engage and intrigue your players and get them to want to have their characters explore it. This is why Vornheim's subtitle is The Complete City Kit.


The idea of Vornheim the book is to give to GMs a set of tools that will allow them to create their own interesting and unique fantasy cities. There have been a lot of fantasy city settings over the time of gaming as a hobby, and a business. What makes Vornheim so different, and much more useful in the long run, is how it shows GMs and players how to make their own worlds, their own cities. The setting of Vornheim is an example of how you can use the tools in the book Vornheim to make a city. It is a worked example, and not just a bunch of stuff thrown together to fill out a book, because the setting of Vornheim was developed over years of play. This is the two big things for DIY D&D from my viewpoint: make things that are useful for your game and use your game as the basis for what you make.

There is a huge amount of different between the feel, and utility, of gaming material that is written for the sake of filling a book, and material that is written to fill in the gaps in a campaign. While our hobby was built on the idea of the latter, it has evolved into being about the former. Big books are written to fill spots on supplement treadmills, because gamers have been conditioned to let game designers do their thinking, do their working for them, instead of realizing the simple reality of tabletop gaming: the best stuff is that which grows out of play, at the table. Getting back to this mindset is what makes DIY D&D so important, probably in some ways more important than the OSR out of which it grew.

The reason that Vornheim and Red & Pleasant Land have sold so well isn't just that they are so much more creative than a lot of what is being made in the D&D space,  but because of the idea that they give permission again to GMs and players to do more than just engage with material as it it, but to make it their own. Our group ran Red & Pleasant Land as a classic Marvel Super-Heroes game set in 1970s NYC. Would we have done this without the idea of DIY D&D? Probably, but we're probably also not the most representative of gaming groups either.

Outside of all of this, Vornheim is a great toolbox for a fantasy GM to have. It ranks with the Midkemia Press book Cities for usefulness in creating and filling out a fantasy city. One of the things that makes Vornheim useful is the fact that most of the tools are designed to be used on the fly. I don't think that I have gotten as much use out of a random chart as I have the "I Search The Body" chart in Vornheim. The Urbancrawling rules let you make sections for your city on the fly. The front and back cover drop tables speed up combat and creating adversaries for the PCs. There are a lot of useful things to be found in this book.

Not only that, but there is going to be a renaissance of use of this book. People will be using it at their tables, and bloggers will be talking about how great it has been to use it in their games. Those 4000 copies are going to go a lot more quickly than anyone thinks, and then they will be gone for a while again. Does anyone really want to be one of the people who has to watch everyone else talk about how cool this book is, and how much they've enjoyed it in their games? Don't be that person.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Quick Looks At Whitehack And The Complete Vivimancer

After today, the blog will go radio silent for a couple of days while I deal with the last minute stuff that comes with Gen Con happening on Wednesday. Be sure to follow my Twitter for up to date information and scintillating pictures of airports while I travel from Tampa to Indianapolis on Wednesday. Also, +Ethel B will be posting to the blog during Gen Con as well, so watch for what she will have to say.

So, before the radio silence I wanted to get a couple of short, capsule reviews out of the way while they were still on my mind. Neither of these are really new books, but they are new to me.

I am thinking of giving Labyrinth Lord a try for the next fantasy game. The group has played a lot of Swords & Wizardry, and I have nothing against that game however sometimes you need a palate cleanser. I ordered a couple of books from various sources to use as resource for when such a game  arises. The first book to arrive was Gavin Norman's The Complete Vivimancer. I had heard good things for a while about this book, and I have the PDF of Norman's earlier Theorems & Thaumaturgy, which had a lot of interesting ideas in it.

I love weird fantasy stuff, and I love spell books for fantasy games (they are my favorite types of supplements for fantasy RPGs), so this should have been a big hit for me. Guess what? It was.

This slim A5 books is basically a "splatbook" for the Vivimancer class created by Norman. They are a spell-casting class that focuses on "bio-sorcery," which is, for all intents and purposes, magic that impacts the body. Whether via sorcerous genetic alterations to people, animals and plants or through physical or mental alterations to the Vivimancer or their targets, there is a lot to add to games in this book.

Campaigns with the Vivimancer will probably quickly move to horror, and even body horror, genre explorations, so if you don't want these elements in your campaigns then this might not be the book for you. However, even if you just use this book to plunder for new spells for the Magic-Users in your campaigns, instead of using the Vivimancer wholesale, there is still a lot to get out of this book. The Complete Vivimancer contains a write up of the new class, 130 new spells (and complete "Basic" and "Advanced" spell lists for the class), a sampling of squicky new magical items and some rules for the use of magical laboratories in your games.

Obviously, with the basic similarity of many OSR systems, this book can be used not just with Labyrinth Lord, but with Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess as well. In fact the Vivimancer would probably be at home in most Lamentations games. I would let parents be the judge, but this book probably wouldn't be suitable for most games with younger players involved in them. You can even use this book with your Basic and Expert D&D books to bring a weird fantasy edge to your games.

I can't wait to use this in my next fantasy game. The fact that flipping through the pages have given me many ideas, not all of which are player-character friendly, is a good thing. I thoroughly recommend this book and suggest that everyone who runs an old school game grab a copy of it.

Next up is Whitehack. I have to give a shoutout to +Brian Isikoff for this book, because he had a copy of it sent to me a couple of months ago now. Based off of the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox rules, Whitehack does the unthinkable...it streamlines those rules. Whitehack is available in two versions the "Standard" edition (which I have), which contains all of the Whitehack rules, and the "Notebook" edition, which contains all of the rules and 192 pages of "notebook" space that you can use to fill in with notes for your campaign, characters or anything else that you might want to use the notebook space for. The notebook edition is a pretty cool idea.

I think that our regular group would enjoy the Whitehack rules, but since we are an online only group, the lack of a PDF version of the rules makes this a hard sell. $28 might not be a lot, but it is a lot to spend on something that we might end up only playing for a few sessions. Honestly, this lack of a PDF was about the only thing that I didn't like about Whitehack.

One thing that others might not like about Whitehack is the fact that there is no art in the book. Just rules. This would be a deal breaker for many, but wasn't as big of a deal for me. The design and layout of the book reminded me of a textbook almost. Keep in mind before making a snap decision that the book is only 64 6x9 pages. There is a lot packed into those pages, however.

Everything that you need to play is in the book. Instead of the standard D&D classes, this game goes with more abstract character classes: The Wise, The Stong and the Deft. These classes are much more archetypal than your standard D&D classes, which means that you can build a lot of concepts that might not easily fit into the standard classes with Whitehack classes. Another concept, which I think was inspired by video games, that was interesting was the idea "rare" character classes. The idea of rare classes is that they aren't available as starting characters, but are "unlocked" if a character dies during a campaign, in case a player would be interested in creating a different sort of character.

Spell effects are similarly abstract, and instead of traditional spell lists you instead create your characters spells on the fly, using their class and descriptors as guides to what the character might be capable of doing.

I like the abstraction in this game. Old D&D was already a fairly abstract game, so you don't loss much in translation when you abstract it further. Whitehack would be a good game for people who are looking for some more modern approaches to the workings of games, while keeping the simplicity and abstraction of old school D&D.

If is definitely worth checking out, along with The Complete Vivimancer. These two books are examples of why we are in such a golden age of gaming right now.

Well, there probably won't be any posts until I arrive at Gen Con (you never know if this would change), and if you are a reader of the blog and attending Gen Con please try to track me down and say hello. Check the link to my Twitter feed at the beginning of this post, and my post about Gen Con from the other day, for the most up to date information about where I may be while at the convention.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land


Gaming needs to be weird.

We have enough derivative, sanitized content for our games. The family friendly, all-ages part is covered. We need more singular visions and high concepts, and less creation by committee. This is where Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land comes in.

On the surface this supplement for your D&Desque game of your choice is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland meets Bram Stoker's Dracula, where they get into a sort of first fight, but the complexity in this book is much more than that. There are vampires, and there are weird creatures from beyond the Looking Glass, but there is much more to this book than a rehash of Dungeonland or Ravenloft.

Our group just came off of a six month campaign using this book as one of the inspirations for our game. Instead of D&D or a retroclone, however, we used the classic Marvel Super-Heroes game that TSR put out in the 80s. One of the central conceits of A Red & Pleasant Land (RPL) is that there is a "slow war" going on between vampiric factions in what may, or may not, have once been Wonderland. I interpreted that in our game as the vampires being sort of "unstuck from time," and not experiencing it in the same way that others (in our case the player characters) experienced it. In fact each powerful vampire that they encountered experienced time differently from the others.


Good RPG supplements/adventures are toolkits, whether they are intended to be or not. You should be able to slice and dice a well done RPG supplement and repurpose it to do what you want. RPL passes that test with flying colors. In fact, for many people it is probably for the best that they do dig into the book and make the pieces fit with the sort of games that they run, and the sort of world that they want to create. There is a lot of weirdness in this book, and it isn't all in easy to digest chunks. Smith assumes that there will be some level of remixing done by a GM and presents his material in such a way to make changing the text accessible. He may not make it easy, but he does provide the tools.

Much like in his more explicitly toolbox book Vornheim, RPL has a lot of random tables that allows for the quick creation of random content on the fly. Since players are notorious for zigging when they should zag, it is good to have some back up that allows you to create things as you go. The Alice character's player in our game got extensive use out of the Random Objects table, when she decided that the Alice would be able to randomly pull things from the pocket of her pinafore apron. It is tools like this that makes a GM's job so much easier at times.

In the book Smith gives you all of the pieces that you need to run the "slow war" of the setting. You have all of the important, powerful NPCs and their various "warring" factions. It is easy to take all of these pieces and repurpose them for the game at hand. Don't want to set your game in a loose, fantasy Eastern Europe? Take all of the factions and drop them into a 1970s New York City instead. Use the Pale King and the Colorless Queen as the overlays for famous people of the era and have them play out their strange, involved intrigues against the backdrop of the 70s nightclub scene instead.

Now, if you're playing a D&D game you really don't have to worry about how you're going to fit the pieces of the book into the puzzle of your game, at least not as dramatically as we did for ours. All of the monsters will fit fairly easily into a campaign, and many of them aren't all that much stranger than a lot of the creatures that you would see in the early days of RPGs.

One of the absolutely biggest selling points for me is the Alice class that I mentioned earlier. It is sort of like a Fighter, and sort of like a Thief (Specialist if you play Lamentations of the Flame Princess), with the wit and mercurial nature of Carroll's signature character rolled into the writeup. I like the random special abilities that the character receives at leveling up, because it fits well into the conceit of Carroll's Alice. And, really, are there many other characters who are as ready for the strangeness of a fantasy RPG campaign as Alice?


A Red & Pleasant Land is as much a mimetic weapon pointed at your campaign, infecting it with rogue ideas and strange, impure thoughts, as it is a game supplement. Putting this setting into your game will change it into something that you may not recognize, and that is a good thing. Instead of the stale old dungeon crawls, explore the castles that can jump and shift when your characters are turned around. Where up can be turned into down without you realizing it. If you want a more "social" campaign in your game, there are the factions of the Red King, The Red Queen, The Colorless Queen and all of their servants and creatures aligned, and unaligned, to explore and interact with. The social structures are given as many rules and details as are the monsters that you can fight in the game.

Definitely check out this book and bring it into your games, either in part or in whole. I think that you are going to like the variety that it brings to your game. A Red & Pleasant Land is one of the best books to hit gaming this year, and it is probably one of the best books for gaming in a very long time. Side by side with Smith's earlier Vornheim and his "redo" of James Raggi's DeathFrost Doom you can get a world of gaming that is outside of the ordinary.

Also, be sure to check it out when voting time for the 2015 ENnies happens.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chris Gonnerman's Iron Falcon RPG

+Chris Gonnerman is a machine. I think that when Skynet takes over the world he will finally be revealed as the game design arm of the Terminators.

I mean this in a really good way.

Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy RPG, a retroclone (with a few liberties) of the old school D&D B/X rules, is one of the best of the best of the retroclone crowd. It is clear and concise, and in some places it is actually better written than the original material. With Basic Fantasy, Gonnerman has created a functional and playable game that both honors the past and takes it into new directions.

Now, I know that I am a little behind on talking about this new game of his, Iron Falcon, but I'll admit that is because there have been a lot of games for me to read and comment upon over the last few months. Also, I figured that since Iron Falcon is a clone of the original D&D rules that I wouldn't need it because I already had Swords & Wizardry in my toolkit that I wouldn't need another game that covers the same material. Guess what? I was wrong.

Once again Gonnerman knocks a game out of the ballpark. Unlike with Basic Fantasy, where Gonnerman wanted to recreate a version of the game that he was introduced to and prefers to play, Iron Falcon started more as an intellectual exercise. With the existence of Swords & Wizardry, it didn't seem like he felt there was as much of a need for another game that covers this material...however that didn't stop him and boy howdy am I glad that it didn't.

Don't get me wrong, I love Swords & Wizardry. It has been my go-to fantasy game for a few years now (since our online group started up our first game with it), but there are flaws with it. The organization of the book isn't the best. It can be difficult (even after playing for a while) to find certain important tables during play. Iron Falcon doesn't suffer from these issues. One of the halmarks of a Gonnerman game is excellent organization, and with Iron Falcon he does not disappoint on that front.

From a rules perspective, there really isn't a lot of difference between Iron Falcon and Swords & Wizardry. The main difference seems to be that Iron Falcon uses the traditional system of saving throws, rather than Swords & Wizardry's streamlined approach. This is probably more a matter of taste, but I find myself liking the return to the traditional saves more than I thought that I would.

Iron Falcon probably has more magical items than Swords & Wizardry, but for me that is a bonus. I love having magic items in my games more than I like having actual spellcasters. I'm weird that way.

The writing in Iron Falcon is some of the best among those retrocloning old school rules sets. Just like with Basic Fantasy, the writing in Iron Falcon is clear and concise. He goes the extra bit to try to explain confusing and awkward rules, and that makes these rules a solid foundation upon which to build your campaign. There isn't anything new or groundbreaking to be found in these rules, but that's really not the point of them either.

If I had a complaint about Iron Falcon it would be that (unlike the bulk of the Basic Fantasy library) there isn't an editable version of the rules available. Why you gotta hate on those of use who like our house rules, Gonnerman? The lack of this wouldn't keep me from running the game, but if there is a feature request list out there, I would like to put an editable version of the rules onto that list. Hopefully the devoted and prolific community that has gathered around Basic Fantasy will start creating material for this new game as well. I know that I am tempted to do so.

If you're looking for a simple, streamlined fantasy game that gives you everything that you need to play in one source, you should look more closely at Iron Falcon. It may be that I just reach for it the next time I want to run a fantasy game instead of running another game of Swords & Wizardry.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Lest We Forget...The Goodness of Hulks And Horrors

A couple of years ago, after an ill-fated attempt to run the mess that is Machinations of the Space Princess, and still wanting to give some science fiction role-playing a chance, we switched to Hulks & Horrors for a few sessions for our After Earth campaign. Unfortunately some fluctuations in our group put the kibosh on that game. The one thing that we did enjoy was the system of Hulks & Horrors. This is a great little game that, like so many in our super saturated RPG "market," didn't really gain the foothold that it deserved.

Sadly, there is still a strong "What can I buy now?" element to gaming communities that tend to drive a mentality of "what's next" commercialism. For better or worse, this means that game are bought and then never used before the next wave of games are bought (and not used). I admit that I've never really had a collector's gene (despite all the comics that I own), and the idea of buying things just to collect them, rather than to use them is rather alien to me. My only problem with this whole cycle is that we tend to end up with subpar, or uninspired games that are being produced solely to be put up on a shelf somewhere.

One of the reasons that I liked Hulks & Horrors was because it took the simplicity of a game that I liked (Swords & Wizardry Whitebox) and took out some of the things that I didn't like about that game. As much as I like the simplicity of Whitebox, sooner or later the whole all damage is measured in d6s starts to bother me. Hulks & Horrors isn't derived from Whitebox, so that isn't why I am making the comparison between the two games.  In Hulks & Horrors, Berry went back to the open content of the 3.x SRD and then used them to create his new game, using the paradigms of older editions and an o school style of play.

Part of why Hulks & Horrors succeeded for us was because it was a lot less complicated of a ruleset than Machinations of the Space Princess, in fact Hulks & Horrors succeeded in capturing the old school simplicity that escaped Machinations. Where Machinations added a great deal of unnecessary detail to character creation and combat, Hulks & Horrors kept it simple and made for a much more playable game than Machinations.

Other than the spectacular art from Satine Phoenix, there really wasn't much to Machinations, or to the "Metal Hurlant" atmosphere that it claimed to support. While Hulks & Horrors doesn't claim to support such a style of play, there is also nothing that keeps you from playing this sort of campaign with the game. That is one of the appeals to an old school style of play, the lack of explicit support doesn't mean that you cannot use a game in that style. You can even take Hulks & Horrors sister game (using a variant of the same system), Arcana Rising, and use it to add magic to your science fiction.

From what you get in the game, I think that Hulks & Horrors supports a sort of classic star traveling science fiction with elements of the 40k Universe. You could very easily dial up the 40K-ness of the "setting" of the game with the addition of monsters and some back story.  The existing classes (Pilot, Scientist, Soldier and Psyker) could easily be ramped up to support this. For Judge Dredd fans, you could easily reskin the classes to be departments of the Justice Department and run with it. One of the reasons that I like the Scientist class is because its inspirations are a mashup of Doctor McCoy and the Doctor.

Like many old school inspired games, Hulks & Horrors doesn't have an explicit setting. Instead the ideas of the setting are revealed through the details of the character classes, and through the monsters included. This is what makes games like this so easy to hack. For example, I would say that the one thing that Hulks & Horrors would not do as well out of the box is to support a Star Wars-inspired kind of game. You could add on to it to do that, Jedi-inspired classes are a dime a dozen out there on the internet, and because of the game having the commonality of D&D as the base, conversion is fairly easy.

So, really, this is a lot of words telling you to go back and check out an overlooked game that deserves more love than it receives. I think that it will pay you back with hours of gaming fun, and stories to tell your fellow gamers for years to come.

Friday, April 17, 2015

That Big Swords And Wizardry News

There was a quiet announcement made today regarding the next "edition" of the Swords & Wizardry retroclone created by +Matt Finch, and published in its "Complete" version by Frog God Games.

For those who don't know, Swords & Wizardry is a clone of the earliest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, before there were Basic or Expert versions and long before there was an Advanced version. Published as a boxed set, this edition of Dungeons & Dragons was three booklets...Volume 1: Men & Magic, Volume 2: Monsters & Treasure, and Volume 3: Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. There were also a handful of supplements for these rules as well: Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, and Swords & Spells.

Swords & Wizardry comes in three versions: Whitebox, Core and Complete. Whitebox covers the initial three booklets of the D&D rules. Core uses the first three supplements and parts of Greyhawk. Core uses the three booklets and the stuff from Greyhawk and Blackmoor. [I'm sure that I got one of those wrong and someone will correct me.]

So, this summer there will be a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money for a new printing/edition of Swords & Wizardry. What makes this newsworthy is that the fact that the graphic design, layout and art direction for this new edition will be an all-woman team of artists and designers lead by +Stacy Dellorfano, the founder of the online gaming convention +ConTessa. The art for the new edition will also feature new iconic characters that are female and people of color. In a way, the old school is stepping into the "new" school and with this edition of Swords & Wizardry we see Frog God Games bucking the perception that OSR/old school gamers are all conservative and reactionary individuals, interested only in continuing the status quo. Good on them for that.

This couldn't have come at a better time. It was only a few months ago that the latest edition of D&D was under fire from conservative elements of the tabletop gaming community for "insufferable PC propagandizing" for putting language saying that it was okay to play gay or transgendered characters in the game (not that anyone really needed permission for that anyway). I have said before, and I say again, that I don't like elements like these to try to claim any form of gaming of their own, and I am more than happy to see tabletop gaming dragged into the 21st century (even if some of the people are kicking and screaming).

There will be more to come on this...


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem Kickstarter and Interview

There's a new adventure module being Kickstarted that fans of Lamentations of the Flame Princess (and other OSR games) should look into: The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem by Red Moon Medicine Show. The 24-page module is already written and (with backing) will sport artwork and cartography (with keyed locations). The setting seems to fall into the weird-fantasy/Gothic variety and you can check out the background story on the Kickstarter page.


At the time of this writing, the project has just shy of two weeks left and is on the verge of funding. Which, for adventure modules, is quite good. It's easy to see why it's doing well in a quick run-down of the Kickstarter page (as I like to do): the video is interesting -- the information it does present is all visual and gives a glimpse of what you (or your party) may be in for; key information is bold and easy to notice -- it's easy to skim the page and learn everything quickly; the funding goal is very reasonable; and there are a good spread of pledge levels -- including some that are very easy to get in on. Also, the image that the title is on is pretty sweet.

As an added bonus I had the chance to ask Clint Krause (of Red Moon Medicine Show) some questions about The Stygian Garden and its Kickstarter:

Dorkland!: This is at least your second Kickstarter. What did you learn from the first project that you've applied to this one?

Clint Krause: When we did the Kickstarter for Don’t Walk in Winter Wood, there was still a lot of creative work to be done once the project had funded. For example, we added a bunch of scenarios and other stuff as stretch goals. I found that I had a very hard time working creatively under the pressure of a fully funded campaign. My normal writing process is very slow and plodding with lots of tinkering and revision and re-imagining. The pressure created by our success made it very difficult to write that extra stuff. It came out okay (actually, one of those bonus scenarios has become my favorite scenario for the game), but I definitely learned a lesson. When we do a Kickstarter now, it’s important to me that all of the major creative work is done and all that remains is finishing work. It’s much less stressful that way.

DL!: This Kickstarter project is a little different from most in that the bulk of the material is already finished (sans art and maps) and there are no stretch goals. Why go this route? What are the benefits for you and for the backers?

CK: This ties into the previous question, but the idea is that this is essentially just a pre-order for the book. By now, everybody who uses Kickstarter has probably been burned by some unscrupulous creator and I don’t want that to ever happen with our projects. I want to deliver and do it in a timely way. Delays are inevitable, but it helps tremendously if the lion’s share of the work is already done.

We didn’t do stretch goals for this project because we didn’t need them. Kickstarter is a very flexible tool and there’s no need for every single project to be a big fucking cash grab. It can also be a very focused in-and-out sort of thing. That’s what we’re going for.

DL!: Are the print copies going to be print-on-demand or from a print run and why that choice, for you, over the other?

CK: The print copies will be POD through Lightning Source/OBS. We’re doing fulfillment ourselves though (even though it’s more expensive that way). Cas and I have learned that we really like doing fulfillment on our projects. It lets us add a personal touch to the packages and make sure that our backers get a premium experience. After the backer copies are all distributed, the book will become available POD on drivethrurpg/rpgnow.

Right now POD works best for us on most projects. We don’t generally have the volume of sales that would justify large print runs. If I were to do a run of something, it would be because I wanted to do something specific with the physical book that I could not do through POD.

DL!: What are some of the inspirations that went into the adventure module?

CK: I was inspired to get into OSR publishing by The Sleeping Place of the Feathered Swine by Logan Knight and Deep Carbon Observatory by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess. After reading those, I felt like I could really have some fun with a project like this.

The Stygian Garden was inspired by a bunch of different things. My first thought was that it would be cool to do something like an underground version of the Winchester Mystery House. I was also thinking of Bothwell Lodge near Sedalia, Missouri, which I visited many times as a kid. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection between extreme wealth and fringe spirituality. There’s this great quote from the architect Robert Stacy-Judd. He said "architecture consists of frozen symbols, which can be thawed into a palatable language where measures and motifs are words and sentences."  When those frozen symbols are inspired by an eccentric viewpoint on the supernatural, the resulting “words and sentences” often tell an interesting, unnerving story.

The module also owes a debt to classics like X2 Castle Amber and House of Strahd. The song Unforgiven II by Metallica provided some imagery. The films As Above, So Below and The Taking of Deborah Logan were fresh on my mind at the time.

DL!: The adventure is for OSR titles of all natures, but you specifically mention Lamentations of the Flame Princess. How does this adventure fit with what Lamentations is about?

CK: Well, first of all LotFP is the game I’m running on a regular basis. The module is taken directly from my campaign. I think LotFP is a wonderful articulation of the classic game. As a brand, LotFP has set a precedent for creepy, atmospheric, location-based modules. The Stygian Garden harkens back to James Raggi’s earlier modules like Death Frost Doom and Hammers of the God. There are still traditional fantasy elements (elves and dwarves and stuff), but they are set loose in an eerie, dangerous environment.  It ends up playing like a slow burn horror film.

DL!: There seems to be a horticultural theme (going by the background and, well, the name) in the adventure. Why is that? What kind of role does it play in the adventure, if any?

CK: Plant-based imagery is wonderful to work with. Plants are creepy in that they are so prevalent yet so alien and they eat us when we die. These things are tied deeply into our subconscious. The module also features a number of valuable and useful plants that can be recovered by crafty adventurers. This led my players to start their own unusual garden.

DL!: Lastly, if you were to stumble across a Stygian Rose -- what would you do with it?

CK: Cas told me I should have it studied and duplicated so it could benefit a lot of people, but I wouldn’t be that forward thinking. I would probably put it in a safe and keep it until someone close to me died. Then, at the funeral, I’d leap onto the coffin while shouting “wait for it! wait for it!” and shove the thing in the cadaver’s mouth. Hopefully, the stories about the rose are true and it’d be one hell of a magic trick.

We here at Dorkland! would like to thank Clint for taking the time to answer our questions and if you would like to know more about The Stygian Garden be sure to check out its Kickstarter (still running) and Red Moon Medicine Show's website.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

More Aihrde Kickstarter From Troll Lord Games

Now in the last few days, Troll Lord Games is having a Kickstarter for their Codex of Aihrde, the long running setting that has appeared in many of the Troll Lord Games supplements and modules over the years. I spoke with Stephen Chenault about the book and what people can expect from it.

Dorkland: Congratulations on the success of another Kickstarter. To what is the secret to success for Troll Lord Games and their Kickstarters?

Stephen Chenault: There are two sides to this coin. First, and foremost, we owe it to the community. It’s quite extraordinary. I think many people have played Castles & Crusades for years and enjoyed the game, but also they’ve enjoyed watching it grow, expand and become ever better. The other side is our online presence. Troll Lord Games has a very large online presence, from Instagram to Facebook, from a our Troll Dens Blog to Twitter; even our homepage is a portal where you can go and watch movie clips, view funny memes, heck you can even find out what movie’s are playing in your neighborhood…and also find out what Troll Lord Games is up to. These two together make it possible to get the word out to a large number of people about the game and what is coming. Throw in a nice helping of boons and stretch rewards and we have a remarkable record.

DL: What is it about Kickstarter that works for you as a publisher, and as a creator?

SC: At its heart Kickstarter is a funding program, and that’s where it gives TLG the real edge. It essentially allows us to test products, to see if they are well received or will be well received. That in turn allows us prioritize projects we are working on, or would like to.

DL: What are the origins of the setting of Aihrde? Is this the world that you have gamed in yourself, and others can now journey through themselves?

SC: Yeah, we started gaming along time ago and in the midst of all that there was one adventuring party we kept returning to. Level progression was very, very slow, and this allowed us to really explore the setting that slowly evolved around it: Aihrde. Back in 2000 when we launched the company we needed a fourth book to get a discount from the printer, having nothing readily on hand, I compiled all my notes on Aihrde, hashed em out, finalized the map of the central areas (the Lands of Ursal), and before long I had a 24 page setting book, The After Winter’s Dark Fantasy Campaign Setting. From there it just kept expanding.

DL: What has inspired the creation and development of Aihrde? What would be the “Appendix N” for the setting?

SC: J.R.R. Tokien’s The Silmarillian. I always loved this work, the Lord of the Rings is an epic tale, but the Silmarillian is more so. It relates the story of all things in Middle Earth, the tale behind the tale. That’s what I always thought made the Lord of the Rings so tangible. It was a story in a world that was complete…not just some names and places…but tales and stories that stretched from the beginning to the end. The first 120,000 words of the Codex of Aihrde follows a similar track. It is actually a stand alone book called the Andanuth. The Andanuth is the creation mythos from the beginning of Aihrde to the present.

DL: What sets Aihrde apart from other fantasy worlds and fantasy game settings? Why should people pick up The Codex of Aihrde and support the Kickstarter in its last days?
Aihrde offers the best of all worlds, so to speak.

SC: As mentioned above it has an extraordinary amount of depth to the setting, the mythos are covered from the beginning to the present, allowing both player and game master to really dig into the setting and its characters. In Aihrde there is true context. An ancient artifact can be placed in “time” so that what they are and were weaves with any ongoing adventure or story. The background is loaded with adventure hooks, an almost limitless supply of them.

Also, the peoples that occupy the setting aren’t unusual, they are giants and trolls, dwarves, humans and elves . . . creatures we are all very comfortable with. This allows one to pick up the setting, move any game they want to it and keep playing. No need to worry over shoe-horning a strange fantasy element to it.

The setting itself is placed 90 years after the world was conquered and controlled by the Winter Dark and the dark god Unklar. It is a world reborn on the foundations of the old. This allows anyone playing in Aihrde to guide the direction of the setting as best fits them. It is very open, much like Castles & Crusades.

But in the end, I think Aihrde offers a world rich in texture, one you can enter and become lost in. The stories range from the epic to the mundane, from the Red God’s war with the Val Eahrakun, to the dwarf maid Mette’s rage at her husband’s death (and the magic of his blue hat).

Plus, did I mention those giant, spring-roller mounted maps?


DL: For you, what is the coolest element to this Kickstarter? What are you most looking forward to getting so that you can play with it?

SC: Me personally?, it has to be the giant spring roller mounted map. This is something you can mount to the ceiling or wall, or place in a tripod and set up while you are gaming. This map will be one giant,  39 inch wide and some 30 inches tall map that you can raise or lower from the mounting assembly (like the  ones you see in schools). That’s a must have for my game room.


DL: What is on the Troll Lord Games Agenda for the upcoming year?

We have a very exciting year. We will fulfill the last few Kickstarters in the first quarter, then launch the Victorious RPG, work with Brimstone Comics to adapt their comics to the Castles & Crusades Siege Engine, as well as work with the folks over at Abyss Walker to explore his fantastic fiction in a C&C environment, and we’ll wrap up the year with the long awaited Adventurers Backpack, a kind of Unearthed Arcana for C&C and of course Gods and Monsters of Aihrde. It is going to be a great year.

Thank you to Stephen for talking with us today. The Codex of Aihrde Kickstarter ends on January 5th, 2015.


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Slumbering Ursine Dunes

Are you one of the people who didn't back +Chris Kutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes on Kickstarter who is on the lookout for a good module for your old school D&Dish games? Well, you are in luck because the PDF is now available via fine purveyors of RPG materials online.

This is not your cookie cutter adventure. I really liked the weirdness of the adventure (War bear soldiers? Yes, please.) and Kutalik's use of a Moorcockian influence that wasn't Elric. I am not hating on Elric, it is just that there is a lot of good stories by Moorcock that didn't feature everyone's favorite albino sorcerer. It is good to see some of them making it into the inspirations for a role-playing adventure.

Written for Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord retroclone, you can easily fit this into a campaign for any game build around similar mechanics to those of the early editions of D&D. With a little effort you could probably even run this with D&D 5e.

There are also a couple of new race-as-class Classes for Labyrinth Lord, and a couple of interesting new spells as well. The adventure is interesting and flavorful, and the book has some great art to it. I particularly like the back cover piece (at right). The weirdness of the module is enough to make it stand out from other adventures, without turning into a kitchy weird for weird's sake that can happen in the hands of a less skilled writer than Kutalik.

You also get a selection of interesting new monsters, pulled from Slavic mythology (according to the author) and filtered through the setting, these are more than just reskinned creatures or knock offs of older monsters. They are well thought out and not over powered for the character level of the adventure.

I recommend that anyone interested in modules that are outside of the same old, but who aren't looking for anything that is too out there and that can easily be slotted into an ongoing campaign. Whether you want to use the Slumbering Ursine Dunes as the start for a campaign, or as a sidetrack for characters  looking for new excitements, there are things for you in this module. Reasonably priced at $9 for an adventure with new creatures, classes and spells, there is a little bit for everyone in Slumbering Ursine Dunes.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fantasy Gaming On The British Side: Pelinore

I meant to go live with this a week ago, and got wrapped up in some other things. Better late than never.

I've always been interested in the "British Arm" of the early days of British role-playing. Much like with the "US West Coast" style, they brought a different energy and style to that particularly Midwestern mode of fantasy role-playing and Dungeons & Dragons. The British, after all, are the ones who brought us The Fiend Folio and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying. Of course, they also brought us the Monstermark, so I guess that you take the bad with the good.

What has recently surfaced on the web is a netbook compiling the Pelinore campaign and adventures that were published in Imagine magazine. Imagine was started by Don Turnbull, who had written for White Dwarf (including creating the Monstermark system) and Games Workshop before working for TSR UK.

What makes this document so interesting is that it is a snapshot of an approach to fantasy RPGs that really doesn't exist any more. Some of it still exists in some forms in places like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, but what you get in its current form is different from what you got as a game back then.

If I were starting a new game right now, I would probably dig into The Collected Pelinore as my setting. It is a realized world with interesting NPCs, maps, and some interesting rules variants for your old school D&D-ish fantasy games. One of the things that I found interesting was the section on capturing monsters (instead of killing them) for use in an arena, and how to calculate XP rewards for that. "The Arena doesn't want unfettered aerial monsters - who is going to pay to watch a harpie fly away?" That's just a great quote.

Ultimately the reason that I am spreading this around is because I think that we could use more diversity in our old school conversations. What people like Gygax and Arneson did to give us our hobby was a great thing, but getting to see the weird and wild directions that people take this hobby into is a great thing, too.

Update: Thanks to +Tim Huntley (in the comments), here is a link to a site that has scanned and compiled the original Pelinore into a PDF. I haven't read through this PDF yet, so I don't know how complete it is. The truth may lay somewhere in between this PDF and The Collected Pelinore. This is useful as much as an historical document, much like the Fiend Factory file below.

Update 2: +B. Scot Hoover, the architect of The Collected Pelinore is also archiving the Pelinore modules. Right now you can find two of them (In Search of the New Gods and The Awakening) on his Google drive. In Search of the New Gods is for characters 4-7th level, and The Awakening is for characters of 7-8th level. I'll leave this here for right now, but I will probably break these modules out into their own blog post once a few more of them come out.

A big thanks to +B. Scot Hoover for all of this hard work in preserving a piece of gaming history.

As an added bonus, I give you a compilation of the old Fiend Factory monster articles from the old days of White Dwarf. You may recognize many of these from when they ended up in the Fiend Folio, but these are the original versions of these monsters, as they were first published. Some are for D&D and some are for AD&D (the emphasis changed in the magazine when the new edition of the rules came out). This PDF is old and shop worn, and has been circulating the internet for a long, long time. I'm sure that most of you have seen it by now, but it is still a good artifact and for those few of you who haven't seen it...here it is.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

Own Some Tunnels And Trolls History

Artist Liz Danforth is selling a couple of pieces of art that may be of interest to fans of Tunnels & Trolls. Over at her website she is auctioning off the original art for Two Seconds Later (which was used at the cover art for Fiery Dragon's 7th Edition of Tunnels & Trolls) and Elven Lords (used as the cover for the Elven Lords T&T solo).

The pages for each piece of art give an interesting insight into Danforth and her creative processes with each of these pieces of art. One of the interesting reveals was the fact that, when she started doing art for Tunnels & Trolls, she wasn't exactly sure what a troll should look like. This might explain the iconic look of trolls in the game.


You can check the status on the Elven Lord auction here and the Two Seconds Later auction here. If you have ever wanted to own a piece of gaming history, now is your chance.

Friday, March 28, 2014

David Trampier, 1954-2014

It has been reported and confirmed that iconic TSR Games artist David A. Trampier has died. This is the last known picture of Trampier, from the Carbondale, IL Daily Egyptian newspaper:


Probably best known for his AD&D 1e art, as well as art on the early editions of Star Frontiers and Gamma World, Trampier has a quirky idiosyncratic style of art that helped to define the early D&D experience, along with artists Jeff Dee and Erol Otus.




For those of us whose earliest gaming experiences were formed by this man's art, I can say that he will be missed.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Examining With Great Power: Grim Realism

For those who may not know, With Great Power was a column in Polyhedron magazine that explore campaign and rule variants for the original Marvel Super-Heroes game published by TSR. Rarely longer than a page or two, these articles looked at different ways to play the game, alternate rules, or something in between.

This particular column, written by then line developer Dale Donovan, talks about making the game more grim and gritty. This was actually a common complaint of the game among players at the time. The era not long after the Marvel Super-Heroes game originally came out saw a darkening of comic book super-heroes, and their stories. Frank Miller's classic Daredevil run for Marvel Comics was one of the inspirations for this article.

The rules are pretty simple, and mostly boil down to retasking already existing rules (which is the best way to do variants).

This is what the article suggested that you change to the Karma rules in the role-playing game:

Continue to use Karma as described in the rules. This will, in most cases, keep the level of mortality about the same as in other Marvel campaigns, if that is what you wish. Good role playing though, especially in a grim setting, will sometimes result in a hero giving up his Karma to kill a particularly dastardly foe. In the Born Again story line in the Daredevil comic a few years back, the Kingpin of Crime methodically destroys Matt Murdock's life after he discovers that Murdock is Daredevil. If Daredevil had been a PC hero in my campaign, I probably wouldn't have objected if Daredevil had killed Kingpin in retaliation, especially if the PC Daredevil was role played as mentally unhinged as the comic's Daredevil was.

Use the villain Karma rules (page 20, Advanced Set Judge's Book) regarding killing the underlings of "master criminals." PCs would lose 30 Karma points for each henchman, underling, or goon working for the main villain who is killed, instead of all their Karma. After all, the thugs aren't important; it's stopping the villain that's the goal. And, if some goons get in your way, too bad—they probably deserved it anyway. All other normal Karma rules apply, though exceptions, like the Daredevil example above, would still be possible.

Play the PCs as outright villains. Again, this is not recommended, as it's not in the heroic tradition of the comics or the game, but I can see where it might be fun to play your favorite Marvel villain and trash the Avengers or the X-Men. Use all the villain rules in the Advanced Set Judge's Book, pages 19-21. These rules are intended to help the GM run his NPC villains, but you can easily apply them to PCs as well. This means that PCs would gain Karma for committing crimes, beating up heroes, putting those defeated heroes
in deathtraps, etc.

I know that there are still a number of people playing the original Marvel Super-Heroes Roleplaying Game around the world, games still pop up on Google+ from time to time, so these variants may be useful to players/GMs in those games. They can also be useful for players of the 4C RPG as well.

You can download a PDF version of the article here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking At & Magazine

Every now and then I'll nose around what the people in my Google+ circles are doing outside of that site. A kind of recent follower of the last few months has been the +& Publishing Group. They do a zine (electronic only, it seems) about AD&D. Not OSRIC, or any of the many retroclones. They talk about AD&D and their AD&D games.

I downloaded the first issue (they're up to seven issues at the time of this writing) and gave it a look. You can see the cover to it in this post. This zine is geared towards the OSR fan, and those who might want to become fans of the OSR.

The layout of this issue of & Magazine is simple and utilitarian. I don't consider this a negative, on the whole, but in this case it does make the reading a bit monotonous on the screen. I will have to look at some other issues another time in see if this has improved. The issue about the Inner Planes does look like it would be right up my alley.

The focus of this issue is low level and starting characters. This is something that I would like to see tackled more often because the fragility of old school D&D/AD&D characters at low levels can be a hurdle for some, particularly those who have never played old school games. Advice from those experiences with play of the game is even more handy.

The article "Tactical Studies Reviews For Novices" has some practical advice for creating low level parties. Combined with the "Keeping 1st Level Parties Alive" article, you get some great advice on how to put together a group of adventurers that will survive (at least their first level) and at least survive to another day. The advice ranges from weapon to spell selection that will optimize your party's chances of survival. Since not every group may have that special player who can do this for the group (as +Josh Thompson does in our weekly group), having someone explain these procedures will really help a lot of starting old school players. Obviously, some may not like some of the advice (like "pull your punches against the characters") but, honestly, this is an activity where everyone is gathered to have fun. I doubt that "fun" for a lot of players entails the wholesale slaughter of their characters over and over. When we were playing Swords & Wizardry I kept things from getting fatal on a number of occasions. or I would at least provide the tools for recovery (if the players saw fit to use them). Of course I have also been gaming for almost 35 so I know when to fold up, and when to hold up, in a game.

Death happens in role-playing games, but I am of the opinion that when it does it should be because of heroic sacrifice or something similar, and not because of stupidity or randomness. I am, however, weird in this regard.

However, as I said, I really liked giving this advice to players and GMs. I would like to see more "primers" on old school play that address survivability in this manner.

One flaw, particularly in the "That Savage Kobold" article, is something that is much too prevalent among elements of old school gamers. That is the whole "grognard" (a word that I don't use in a positive way) idea that "these new kids don't know what they are doing." Combined with a fundamental lack of understanding of how businesses work (which is at least missing from this article) can create a toxic environment. Change is good, my friends. While this article is well enough written, it seems to take its entire basis from a number of misconceptions that could otherwise be done away with.

The article on point buy character creation was also a good one, and fit well into the theme of making survivable first level characters. I like the handling of purchasing high ability scores, it seems like it would help fight min/maxing at that level of the character creation. Balanced? Well, we know my feelings on "balance" in role-playing games. Balance is really just a myth, and a lot of what gets bandied around as being a discussion of balanced character creation has a lot more to do with spotlight time than anything else. There are always going to be occasions when a character is better at something, this is part of the nature of niche protection in games of the D&D stream. Despite this, the article is a good one, and has some interesting ideas that can be integrated into people's games. For people who do not like random ability score generation, point buy can be a good alternative to that, when handled properly.

The rest of this issue is rounded out with the usual fun things: equipment. new magic items and monsters. In this regard, the magazine does not disappoint. I enjoyed the ecology (even though I rarely use these sorts of things in my dungeons) and writeup for the carrion crab. From a GM's view, it seems like a fun little monster to bedevil characters with. I loved the idea of the equipment packs. This is something else that more old school games should embrace. There is nothing as tedious as combing through the equipment lists trying to find the right pieces of equipment and balance out the encumbrance. Bam! Buy a pack...you know what is in it and get a pre-figured weight. Your character is ready for spelunking.

Over all, this was a solid issue and a good start. I look forward to browsing through the site's archives and seeing what else & Magazine has to offer. With solid writing, backed by the experience of play, this magazine has a good foundation to start from, and the few shaky philosophical misconceptions can be worked around. You definitely need to check & Magazine out and download some issues.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Purple Ducks Games' The Twice-Robbed Tomb For Labyrinth Lord

The Twice-Robbed Tomb is an adventure module written by Perry Fehr and published by Purple Duck Games for the Labyrinth Lord system. The module suggests "4 PCs of 3rd level, or 6 or more of 2nd level." The asking price is an easy $2. And, to get the last of the technical bits out, it comes in at 10 pages, including the front cover and an OGL page. The eight pages in-between are packed full of material, more than enough for a single adventure over one or two play sessions.

So, how is it all? Well, the adventure could fit in easily with any campaign or setting (it uses a desert, but could easily be replaced with anything else). If I would have one slight problem with it, it is that the opening hook for the adventure might be a little too suspect. As a gamer, it would make me highly suspicious – which might be its intent – but it could work for your group, or with just some slight editing. There is also a section on rumors from the villagers near the Tomb, which may help get the PCs curious.

Apart from those two little sections, you have the tomb – the bulk of this adventure. I will note that the module does provide two maps – one for players and one for the GM, both in the module and separate printable copies – which are easy to read and use with or without any battlemats. As I mentioned before, this is an adventure you can play through in about one play session as the tomb is not terribly big. However, it does have a trick or two up its sleeves that may keep the party busy for a bit – or even lead to a really out-of-this-world adventure.

Story-wise, this can be placed into an on-going campaign without interrupting anything, used to help further it (with a tweak or two), or as a starting point for a campaign based off what happens within the tomb. As to the story in the module, on its own, it’s a simple, complete story. Nothing terribly complex, but realistic to a fantasy setting.

The part the party cares most about – loot – is present in decent quantities here. A few magical goodies, though not a massive amount – you may want to add a little more to it, depending on preference.

I will take a moment to touch on the art – there are a few pictures in the module to illustrate the monsters and one of them does feature some nudity. The store page for the module mentions this, as well. So, that could be a positive or a negative for you. Maybe both, somehow.

And, lastly, the part the GMs will care about – how quick and easy would it be to run? The answer: very quick and easy. The module has everything you would need – maps, monster stats, flavor text, and plenty of instructions. The flow of the module is also easy to follow and, since there are not tons of pages, getting to the part you need is quick. The tomb is a little linear, but has the potential for the party to “go off track” and find some interesting things. Overall, the prep-time should be minimal, so it’s a good option to pick up right before game day.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Arduin Adventure

As you know, about a month or so ago I received a shipment of classic Arduin material from Emperor's Choice, the current publisher/rights holder of Dave Hargrave's Arduin game and setting. Even with just a few of the books in the line, I have enough gaming material to keep me busy for a long, long time.

As I have been discussing the Arduin stuff on Google+, one of the things that I brought up was that I wanted to see Hargrave's first attempt at a game (the early Arduin Grimoires were really intended as supplements to OD&D) as a stand alone game. Called The Arduin Adventure, this boxed set was a simple, OD&D inspired set of rules for fantasy gaming that could be expanded upon with the Arduin Grimoires. And now, The Arduin Adventure is available in PDF from RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

Dave Hargrave's Arduin and Steve Perrin's "Perrin Conventions" were influential in creating the West Coast style for D&D back in the late 70s and early 80s. Both of these lead to a style of play, and a style of game worlds that were different from the "mainstream" D&D that TSR was selling. This West Coast style lead to The Arduin Adventure and also to Runequest. There are references to DMs and designers like Perrin and Greg Stafford throughout the Arduin Grimoires. Like Bigby and Tenser in the OD&D rules, there are spells and monsters named for both Perrin and Stafford.

So, what is the Arduin Adventure? It is a fantasy role-playing game, class and level-based, very much in the mold of OD&D. In fact, these codified rules owe a lot to the Holmes boxed set for D&D that helped to codify and mold those rules into something cleaner and clearer. The influence of Holmes' rules, however, are filtered through the imagination of David Hargrave.

If D&D is Tolkien's Middle Earth and Moorcock's Young Kingdoms as filtered through the imagination of Gygax and Arneson, then Arduin takes those influences and a number of science fantasy ones (Star Wars being very important to Hargrave) and pulls them through the psychedelic experience that was the mind of Dave Hargrave. I consider this to be very much a plus because Arduin definitely has a much stronger voice to it than D&D did at the time, perhaps because it was the vision of one person instead of a growing committee. Don't get me wrong, D&D is a great game (I play one of the retroclones of OD&D on a regular basis), but it does not have the voice to it that Arduin has. For some this might be considered a weakness, but I think that it was a strength of the game. I believe that Arduin was the first RPG that was as much the vision of its author, rather than just a way to come up with some rules that could be used within a certain genre. I think in this way, Arduin is the spiritual father of games like Kevin Siembieda's Palladium Fantasy and Rifts. There are a lot of similarities between Arduin and Palladium Fantasy to me (but that is probably something for another post).

Now, while The Arduin Adventure has everything that you need to play, it is really not a complete game. Much like how the Holmes version of OD&D covers only the first three levels of play, so does The Arduin Adventure really only cover the equivalent for Arduin. You have enough to get play started, and play for a bit before having to "upgrade" to a fuller version of the rules in order to continue. If you have The Arduin Adventure and the first three (at least!) Arduin Grimoires you can fill in a lot of the gaps and play for a while. If you're interested, Emperor's Choice does offer a print version of The Arduin Trilogy that contains the first three of the Arduin Grimoires and The Arduin Adventure. This thick book will give you a lot of gaming, whether you use Arduin's native rules, or plug them in to D&D or some retroclone of it. If The Arduin Adventure whets your appetite for Arduin, then I really recommend getting the Trilogy in print.

All of the things that are familiar to OD&D players will make Arduin easy to pick up. The classes are basically the same, races are handled in a similar manner, and spells and advancement are very similar. Moving between the two games would be ridiculously easy. Picking up Arduin will not be difficult, if you already have a familiarity with OD&D or various OSR games that duplicate the experience of it. If you aren't already familiar with the "old school" approach to fantasy games, Arduin may cause some problems for you because it does assume a familiarity of that style of play. However, at 66 pages, reading Arduin and picking up the rules shouldn't be that much of an investment of your time. Whether you want to pick up Arduin in order to learn about an old school game that you may not have known about previously, or if you want to pick it up because you want to supplement your OD&D/OSR games with some new material, I think that you should be picking up The Arduin Adventure (and then moving on to as many other of the Arduin Grimoires that you can find). You will not be disappointed.

Combat is a bit more complicated in Arduin than in OD&D. Dave Hargrave liked his critical hit and fumble charts. Each weapon hits differently, depending upon the Armor Class of a character's opponent. This looks more complicated, but the combat tables in The Arduin Adventure and The Arduin Grimoires make this process much simpler than it should be. Regardless, this is still OD&D at its heart, and that game really only gets so complex. Some may see this added complexity as a boon in their old school games.

On the negative side, this is an ugly PDF, however as it is a reproduction of the original game (layout warts and all), I don't know that I can hold that too much against the publisher. Much like with the older edition D&D PDFs available, this book is an artifact, a reflection of its time. If pretty and shiny is a requirement of your role-playing games, then The Arduin Adventure may not be for you. However if you like rough and tumble RPGs that do at the table what they say they will, you will want to pick this up for your gaming library. And then, go to the Emperor's Choice website and buy more Arduin stuff.

All in all, if you like old school style D&D and you haven't already experienced Arduin, you should buy The Arduin Adventure and kick the tires. I think that you will like what it can bring to your gaming table, even if it is as a supplement to your OD&D/OSR game of choice. Go out now and get your copy.

I still have some more Arduin posts in me. There's a lot of material in the books that I have, and a lot to talk about. I may try to run Arduin, or perhaps an Arduin-influenced Swords & Wizardry game. Really, I think that the only thing that I could ask of the publishers of Arduin to do is to open up some of the content of the game (spells, monsters, maybe even some of Hargrave's original races) under the OGL so that homebrewers and hobbyists and pull Arduin into our games, and maybe even share what we've done with it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Machinations Of The Space Princess Playtests

One of the things that we have been talking about behind the curtain here at the Dorkland! blog is to augment our usual "capsule" reviews (talking about games by reading them) with Hangout-based playtest reviews. Obviously, this isn't something that we are going to be able to do with everything, but when we can do it we would like to provide as many angles as we can.

Recently we played a couple of sessions of +James Desborough's Machinations of the Space Princess game. A couple of the bloggers back the Indigogo campaign, so that got us some early access to the rules. +David Rollins, one of the new bloggers here, ran a couple of sessions of it. We were all excited about the game, many of us being fans of science fiction, and that's what lead us to back, and then play a couple of sessions of the game.

Machinations of the Space Princess, despite calling itself an "old school" game, really owes a lot more to D&D 3.x and D20 Future than it does the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules that were used as the game's starting off point. That isn't automatically a bad thing, but it did cause us some problems with expectations of the game. All of us have previous experience with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which actually caused us trouble during play. Those expecting Machinations of the Space Princess to be the result of the equation of Lamentations of the Flame Princess + European science fiction may be disappointed. The game really diverged quickly from its base and took it into directions that were both heavier (from a rules angle) and more confusing in places.

Like I said, it could be that some of our troubles came up from the fact that we were expecting an "old school" game and instead received something different. Not different bad, but just not the game that we thought that we would be getting.


While we had fun with the game, we felt that much of that came more from the group itself than the game. Obviously what we played was a playtest draft, and hopefully there will be some changes made in the final version that is supposed to be out in July.

The parts we enjoyed: 

Character creation was fun. You can make interesting and varied characters with the system. Some of the rules were a bit confusing as to how many options characters received, but we decided on a ruling based on an extrapolation of a couple of the rules. The game went out of its way to support the weird and sleazy style of science fiction in the Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant vein. There was plenty of support for creating weird alien races for the game. The game did a pretty good job of spelling out what kind of game that it was, and tried its best to support those things.

The parts we didn't enjoy:

The game was fiddly. The game was very fiddly for a gaming touting itself as an "old school" game. There were a lot of moving parts to character creation and combat, and they didn't always work the way that they should have. You can see us having troubles with the combat rules in our playtesting. Being called an "old school" game, our expectations were different from what we got out of the game, and I think how combat worked was a prime example of that. There was also a disconnect to the rules at time, as things were attempted in order to bring "balance" to the game that ended up not making sense in play.

The things that we didn't get to see:

This was a text-only playtest draft of the rules that we used, so we did not get to see the art from +Satine Phoenix, which was an important selling point to many of us in the initial crowdfunding campaign. This isn't a negative against the game. The cover provided, at the time, was a great and evocative piece of art, stylistically idiosyncratic and different from a lot of what you see in games today. Gaming seems to have forgotten its idiosyncratic past in favor of more homogenized experiences. Seeing that style coming back is a good thing.

Once the book is officially released, we may revisit our review of the game.