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

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Doom of the Savage Kings (DCC #66.5) - Actual play review

Doom of the Savage Kings (DCC #66.5) is DCC adventure by Harley Stroh (if you don't know DCC, read this). Here is the blurb:

A Level 1 Adventure

High above the windswept moors and darksome woods, the village of Hirot is under siege. Each night, as the sun sinks beneath the western mountains and the candles burn low, a devil-beast stalks the village streets, unleashing its savage fury on the living. From warlord to pauper, crone to child, no one is safe.

Defeating the immortal hound will require more than mere blades or even spells. To slay the beast, the characters must delve into the mysteries of the land and its Savage Kings. Only then, armed with relics forged from a bloody past, can the most cunning and courageous of adventurers challenge the hound of Hirot!

Why did I buy/read this? I find many DCC adventures interesting. So I've gathered some for my current sandbox, including this one. I ran it using my Dark Fantasy Basic, which required some mild adaptation.

This DCC module is somewhat of a classic; I've heard people say good things about it before, but I hadn't tried it. So I just inserted the village of Hirot into my sandbox, a few rumors, and the PCs eventually went there to investigate. 

My players are currently in the third level. There were three of them, with three first level hirelings. I changed some stats, but not much. So, while I felt that the adventure looks hard for 3-4 1st-level PCs, I cannot say for sure. This is not meant as criticism, however; the adventure is fair, and players with some experience will avoid some of the worst traps in their way (and, if they decide to take on a dozen enemies at once, they'll get their fair "reward"...).

This is a typical DCC adventure: cool ideas, good maps, good art, some weirdness and humor. In fact, it feels a bit less weird than some DCC adventures I ran before: there's a village, and obvious threat, a small dungeon (in a barrow-mound), a magic weapon, a witch...  It has a "classic" feel,  like a scene straight out of Three Hearts and Three Lions

Still, the bits of weirdness are all interesting, creative and coherent: the snake-ghouls, the demonic hound, the cursed swamp, and so on. This is about the right balance between creativity and familiarity for me. 

As for the adventure structure, it is the "focused sandbox" that is common in modern adventures: the goal is more or less clear, but there are multiple ways to get there (one of them being obviously more likely). There are decent amounts of exploration, social interaction, and combat. There are great creatures, NPCs and traps. There are enough places and people in 20 pages to create multiple different situations without ever putting the PCs in a railroad. Likewise, the dungeon is not linear and has multiple entrances.

(I must add that I really like the format and contents of this dungeon - it is clever, creative, coherent. I had some difficulties understanding the map for a moment, but that might be just me).

Like most DCC adventures, each monster and magic item is peculiar: there are no goblins and skeletons in adjacent rooms, nor simple "+1 spears": things always have a small distinction or two at the very least. Magic items might be a bit too abundant for 1st-level adventurers, but this is a dangerous adventure for them, so I think it's fair.

The only baffling thing about the adventure is one particular scene that takes less than one page: the PCs get ambushed for no apparent reason, by NPCs they were, in theory, trying to help - and they also kill their hirelings automatically, which feels like a cheap shot. A direct confrontation in these circumstances felt harder than facing the hound (in my game, the PCs managed to win due to being high level and a failed morale check, but I don't know if this would be available with 1st level PCs). It is unclear if there is room to negotiate to avoid a fight (the NPCs are willing to surrender), or if it would be possible to still deal with the village after such a battle. In my games, the PCs considered simply leaving after that, the village be damned, but ultimately they decided to face the hound (I would have accepted any decision, obviously).

I mention this not because it detracts from the adventure - it doesn't - but only because I think the DM should think about this specific scene before running the module.

And, by the end, having a few loose threads might prove very useful for my sandbox...

Overall, I found this to be an awesome adventure, above average even when compared to other adventures I've picked because they were specifically recommended.

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Usable? Yes! This one is well organized and straightforward.

Inspiring? Yes! A bitt less weird than some DCC adventures.

Bloated? No. It has the right size.

Tiresome? Not at all.

Clear? Yes, mostly.

In short: As you can see from the overview, this adventure succeeds in each of my five criteria. This is probably a first here. DCC adventures are usually good; this one has a bit more social interaction and a bit less weirdness than others. Because of that, it feels like a great adventure to start a DCC campaign. Recommended! Get it here.

* By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Adding skills and feats makes OSR games SIMPLER

Most of the time, adding stuff makes games more complex, while removing unnecessary parts makes them simpler. One example I like to mention is the "slow" tag in B/X weapons*. B/X is such an elegant game that it's hard to find things to simplify, but they're there.

* The "slow" tag serves no purpose, and in fact it makes weapons LESS balanced by making a battleaxe even worse when compared to a sword (notice that dwarves CAN use regular swords so they'd have little reason to ever get an axe), in addition to making quarterstaves less useful and less realistic (they are not a particularly slow weapon). Another example is Holmes Basic, which makes things even worse, causing the heaviest, most expensive weapon to be the least useful. More about that here.

Since I like elegant, almost minimalist, games (especially B/X), I'm very careful when adding new stuff, and most of my house rules are meant to make things simpler (e.g., uniform XP tables).

However, there are times when adding stuff makes things simpler. Well, maybe not "adding", but expanding, streamlining. 

Skills are one example. The topic is heavily debated in OSR circles, but I think most people will agree with this example:

B/X Halflings can hide in the woods with 90% chance of success. In dungeons, they can hide in cover or shadows with 2-in-6 chances. Thieves, OTOH, have 10% to 99% chance of hiding in shadows. So, for a similar activity, we have two different systems (1d6 and 1d100 - for the same class!) and two different "progressions" (static for the Halfling, progressive for the thief).

A single "stealth" or "hide" skill would make things much simpler - and also instantly resolve the age-old question of "what if other PCs want to hide"?

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) was one of the first games I've used that did exactly that (using 1d6 for everything). My own Dark Fantasy Basic uses 1d20 instead of 1d6. Using only d100 would work equally well.

TBH - "streamlining skills" is the minimum I expect from a Basic clone (here are some).

And giving EVERYONE skills allows you to build your own Ranger, Bard, Thug, etc., WITHOUT adding different classes. A ranger is a fighter skilled in nature, etc.

The same probably applies to feats. I counted 35 "classes" (in fact, just selections of feats to differentiate the fighter-ranger from the fighter-barbarian, for example) in Old School Feats. It has only 21 pages.

Compare this, for example, with rangers (and halflings) that have their own special abilities, saving throws and XP tables.

(In other words - sub-classes ALSO make the game simpler when compared to many distinct classes).

This is all more or less obvious. The reason I'm writing this is that I wrote a brief sketch of my Minimalist OSR and realized that, even in a game with fewer than 20 pages, adding skills makes things a lot simpler.

Anyway, take a look at the link. It is a work in progress, but I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

20 rumors about the City of Evil

A "City of Evil" is part of many dark fantasy settings... Carcosa being the first one that comes to mind, and Babylon the original evil city. You can find more inspiration here. For this post, however, I found inspiration elsewhere...

1. It is built of gold.

2. The queen sits naked on the throne.

3. It's a dwelling place for demons and unclean spirits.

4. It deals in jewels, myrrh and fine linen.

5. Its wine is often poisoned.

6. It attracts merchants and sailors from the whole world.

7. It is home to a beast with ten horns and seven heads.

8. Anyone can become a king.

9. The radical leaders are blinded in chains.

10. People become beasts to avoid the pain of being human.

11. The land around is barren, no oasis in sight.

12. This land is called "bat country" for a reason.

13. Soulless men stand silent on the streets.

14. A prophet sheds light on the lost.

15. People get stabbed in the dark.

16. Everyone is eager to throw the first stone.

17. Poisonous fumes and venomous come out at night.

18. A killer prowls the street searching for vengeance.

19. When the stars align, war will break.

20. The city will be burned to the ground, destroyed in an hour.

(If you like alt/prog metal, the source should be obvious... thanks A7X! Images by AI)

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Of Dice and Men (book review)

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It was suggested by my good friend Jens, who wrote his take on it here. We are planning and reviewing four books simultaneously this year, and this is the first of the bunch. I haven't read his review yet (from a glance, it looks a lot deeper and more detailed than mine!), so let's see how it goes...

The book covers the story of D&D from its predecessors (like Little Wars and Kriegsspiel) through its birth with Gygax and Arneson, until D&D Next (Fifth Edition).

Being familiar with the subject, I thought the book provides a good overview of D&D's history. It is told from the point of view of the author's own feelings and relationship to gaming and D&D, which is often distracting.

For example, the book includes "fiction" excerpts of a homebrew campaign the author participated in, trying to draw parallels between his party's adventures and adventures the rise and fall of D&D. While the campaign does seem interesting, it is not really relevant to the history of D&D. Later on, the campaign excerpts is abandoned in favor of fictional excepts of LARPing and his own campaign setting (which also sounds cool enough).

While I do understand that the goal was probably to make the book a bit less "dry" and not a simple succession of historical facts, I was more interested in D&D's history than the author's feelings. He does spend too long talking about the campaign, dice rolls, feeling "nerdy", and various 3rd edition rules.

In any case, I do appreciate the author taking the time to get up close and personal; he plays wargames, goes LARPing, and describes several RPG experiences. 

In addition to his own experiences, the author talks about people who were playing D&D in 2010, or people who had a big influence of D&D in their lives, work, etc. It is, indeed, not only a story about D&D, but also about the people who play it - even those that have no influence on the development of the game.

While I'm somewhat familiar with D&D's history, I couldn't spot anything inaccurate or any novelty. The book is meant to be understood by people with no D&D experience, so there is lots of explaining of basic concepts. I do think the book glances over Basic D&D and 2nd Edition, and  barely talks about other RPGs, but overall it is comprehensive.

It ends overly optimistic about 5e, which is understandable - at the time, we hadn't seem the 2023 OGL  debacle... [I jest, I jest! Well, kinda.]

I should mention I read "Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons" in 2022. In comparison, Empire is much more focused on Gygax and D&D's history than the author and D&D players. Both are interesting reads. I found neither thrilling, but I got what I was looking for.

In short... a decent read, good if you know D&D history, great introduction if you don't.

(Now go read Jens' take if you haven't yet!)

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

GMs day sale (2023) - OSR & classic D&D picks

GMs day sale has arrived, so let's update my post from last year with the current offers.

First, let me remind you that most of my books are included in this sale! If your tastes are similar to mine, take a look! They are mostly compatible with OSR games (except for a couple of 5e books - "Manual of Arms").

Now, let's see what other favorites are there...

Big discounts!
These products seem to be about 30% off and I find each of them interesting. The first two are my own. Some are also mentioned (and further explained) below:

Teratogenicon, my monster maker (check the previews!).
Dark Fantasy Basic, my B/X neoclone.
Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe Edition (review of the original version);

Classic D&D
This are some of my favorites, also 30% off. Explanation here.
Monstrous Manual (2e) - the current price is RIDICULOUSLY LOW for such a a great book.
Dark Sun boxed set.

Goodman Games
In addition to the amazing Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC RPG), I really like The Dungeon AlphabetThe Monster Alphabet and The Cthulhu Alphabet. They are near system-less and full of awesome stuff to inspire your games. I still haven't read How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck but it is also on sale. All of them 30% off.

They also publish awesome adventures; alas, few are on sale, but fortunately Doom of the Savage King, the one I am currently running, is 30% off! Recommended! Same for Jewels of the Carnifex, which I reviewed here.

Necrotic Gnome
Several Old School Essentials titles are also on sale in addition to the heavily discounted Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome. I really like Old-School Essentials. It is basically a concise, well-organized version of my favorite D&D (B/X). The SRD is great. the version that interests me the most is the advanced version - it is NOT an AD&D clone, but B/X with many new options taken from AD&D, dragon magazine, etc. For players and DMs.

Sine Nomine Publishing
Worlds Without Number is probably the hottest "new" (released in April/2021) OSR title on sale. I have only read the free version briefly, but seems very good overall, and I've appreciated many other titles form the same author, including Scarlet Heroes and Silent Legions (maybe my favorite OSR take on horror and Lovecraft).

I think that's it for now. If you know any other books on sale that you'd recommend (especially if it is 30% off), let me know in the comments and I'll add it to my list. Feel free to promote your own products!

These are all Affiliate links - by using them, you're helping to support this blog!