I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone (old-school RPG review)

Disclaimer: the publisher has sent me a review copy of the book (in PDF format).

Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone [affiliate link*] is, like other recent games, a mix of old school mechanics with some new school sensibilities. Specifically, it uses a combat system similar to Chainmail (with 2d6 rolls and d66 tables) but resembles modern D&D (especially 5th edition) in other aspects, such as skills, unified XP tables, backgrounds, etc. It also has some aspects of Basic D&D (race-as-class) and other interesting ideas, both original and from other editions/games.

The book starts with a few pages introducing you to RPGs - good, but not especially necessary for most of us, I'd think - and then starts describing the area that gives the book its name:

Mehliu is a coastal valley to the west of Minassi, an
important dwarven region. It’s a wild and secluded
place, dotted by dark forests and rolling hills. It’s a place
of blood and bone, but also of adventure and magic.

In the past, Mehliu was a no-man’s land, relegated to
the beasts. When the elves forced their tyranny over the
trolls, many sought refuge in the valley, and they were
soon followed by humans and dwarves alike. It was an
uneasy peace at first, but Mehliu was isolated enough
not to instill even more anger against the elven tyrants.

As you can see, you've got the "usual suspects" of fantasy creatures (elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.), but they are used in creative ways, with elves being the aggressors and trolls apparently being invaded twice over (although they resemble ordinary monsters int he bestiary).

This pattern will be followed in most of the book: usual concepts with small creative twists (for example, sorcerers replace magic-users, and clerics use Charisma instead of Wisdom).

Anyway, the next few pages describe this setting with just the right amount of detail for my tastes, answering all the relevant questions (where to find weapons and treasure, how to learn spells, who is the ruler of the valley, etc.).

It is all very clear and straightforward, and it reads like it is meant to introduce new players to the area (or the game, or even RPGs in general).

After that, the characters classes are described: Warriors, Clerics, Sorcerers, Thieves, Dwarves, and Elves.

All classes get a single XP table, a few distinguishing characteristics, and a new feature every level (until level 12). They also have a list of starting equipment, which is helpful.

I really like this part - classes get flavorful traits, but never become too complex.

Customization is achieve trough skills and (optional) backgrounds, such as alchemist, archer, barbarian, etc. They function like feats with additional equipment. This is also a great idea, since it allows you to enough variations to player characters without hassle.

Customization is achieve trough skills and (optional) backgrounds, such as alchemist, archer, barbarian, etc. They function like feats with additional equipment. This is also a great idea, since it allows you to enough variation to player characters without hassle.

Equipment and gear is pretty straightforward, nothing odd or groundbreaking here.

Next, we get the rules of the game, that are simple yet effective. With valuable old school advice, this part contains something resembling an OD&D version of 5e's proficiency bonus - which works well - in addition to saving throws, group rolls, reactions, followers, etc., all with 2d6.

Then there is the spell system. This games avoids the classic "Vancian" method in favor of a 2d6 roll to cast spells. The spell list is short and sweet - and spells have flavorful names and flexible effects. My kind of spell system...

Combat is like the rest of the game: simple (but not simplistic), effective, and 2d6. It is divided in "phases", in the old school style. Damage (equal to the lesser of the 2d6, although there are feats that may change it) is the same for all weapons. Special combat situations are covered here too (camouflage, morale, etc.).

An extensive example of combat carefully explains how to use the rules in practice.

Next comes the bestiary. It is very short - only eight creatures - although you could probably use creatures form other old school games.

Treasure, on the other hand, is very detailed, with a fair amount of examples, both ordinary and magical.

Next, we have a couple of chapters for the GM. One is on GM tips, which contains advice (mostly of the old school flavor, but also dealing with sensitive themes, session zero, etc.), a few random tables (for generating dungeon, encounters, etc.), and an hex map of the whole region. The second contains an introductory adventure (a few pages, probably enough for one session).

The appendices contain name generators for humans, elves, dwarves, etc., and a random adventure generator.

In short...

This book is good at what it offers - a streamlined version of OD&D with modern sensibilities and balanced rules. Organization is good, text is very clear and concise, and the art is simple, but pleasing (see above). The mechanics are very good, and there is enough stuff for players to play and entire campaign from level 1 to 12.

What the game lacks, however, is GM stuff - especially monsters, but also some additional detail on places, quests, etc. In fact, the whole game has a somewhat "introductory" vibe to it, from the "what is an RPG" parts to the slimmed-down descriptions and tight regional focus.

As I see it, this game is good for two purposes: introducing new players to old-school games of the Chainmail type, or, if you already like this type of gaming, adding new, more interesting options to player characters.

* Affiliate links - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!


  1. First of all, thanks for the honest review. It was a down to earth analysis and I'm glad you like it.
    Is Mehliu expandable? Sure it is! I have an extended Bestiary and a full hexcrawl setting to supplement the book -- they were published in Portuguese already, and I was testing the waters with Mehliu before releasing more stuff. Maybe we'll see them published in English as well soon... Who knows?

    1. My pleasure! I am looking forward for the next releases!