Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Pacesetter Games & Simulations' BX RPG

So far it has been a good couple of years for fans of the classic B/X version of the D&D game.  This is one edited by Tom Moldvay, David Cook, and Steven Marsh.  It is certainly one of my favorites.  This scene has been dominated by the success of Necrotic Gnome's Old Schol Essentials, but it was not the only boxed set dedicated to BX D&D to come out in 2019.

The other was Pacesetter Games & Simulations' BX RPG designed by Bill Barsh.  
This set had a different approach and design from OSE. Different enough that I happily back both Kickstarters for both products.  While BX RPG can, and does, stand on it's own, comparisons to OSE are natural and merited. But I will keep them to a minimum.

The BX RPG from Pacesetter G&S was Kickstarted back in March of 2019.  There were some delays, but there was also a lot of communications so I never really worried.  In December 2019 I got my boxed set and the PDFs were sent out a bit before.

The boxed set and books were only available via Pacesetter's own website, BX store,  but now you can get the PDFs from DriveThruRPG as well. 

For this review, I am going to consider the box set, the softcover books, and the PDFs.

The main design philosophy behind the BX RPG was "remaster" the B/X rules into a whole and then split the material between a Player's Guide and a Dungeon Guide for Game Masters. The boxed set also included some adventures and dice, depending on your pledge level.

Pacesetter has a fun esthetic that shows a love and appreciation for the old-school rules but still manages to differentiate themselves in a world where every publisher wants a bit of the nostalgia dollar.   

Ultimately Pacesetter, like many publishers these days, is a one-man shop of Bill Barsh.  This leads to a consistent vision but also slows things down when the guy writing the material is also the guy editing the material and the guy shipping the material.  Sometimes this shows.

104 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art.
The BX RPG is split into the Player's Guide and the Dungeon Guide.  The Player's guide has all the information a player needs.  The book is broken down into creating a character, the character classes, spells, and other abilities of the classes.  Following the basic design goals, the information in this book largely cleaves close to the original B/X game. So things like the ability scores and their bonuses work the same way.  There are some optional rule sidebars, like giving max hp at 1st level and so on.  Likely things we all did anyway.  They are not part of the core rules and are presented as options.

This is one of the larger changes to the standard B/X rules.  In the BX RPG we have the same "Basic Four" of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief.  We also get the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger.  Some classes get some additional abilities. Clerics have spell progression to the 9th level (but only up to 7th level spells are featured in the book).  Magic-users can use cantrips or 0-level spells in a fashion similar to what I have done with my Witch classes. Makes sense, it is an easy way to add minor spells to a Basic-era game. Druids, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers all get their expected abilities and powers.  They are a pretty good Basic interpretation of some standard Advanced classes. Fighters, Monks, Rangers, and Paladins all get extra attacks per round as they advance. 
The Necromancer is a truly new addition.  It takes the "place" of the Illusionist. Their XP totals are bit more than the Magic-user. While they do not get the ability to use cantrips, they control undead as a Chaotic Cleric might. Spell progression is a bit faster compared to a magic-user, but their selection is more limited.  It might be interesting to compare this Necromancer to the others I have seen in the past.
All human classes have a maximum of 18 levels.

Since this is a B/X remaster, races are classes as well.  This RPG gives up the same trinity of Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling, and adds the Gnome and Half-elf race/classes.  There are some changes to these classes as well. Dwarves are limited to level 15, Elves to 18, Gnomes 18, Halflings 15, and Half-elves 18.  Gnomes and Half-elves have magic similar to elves. In fact, not much differentiates the elf from the half-elf save that the half-elf gains the fighter's multiple attacks per round and elves are better with a bow.  Halflings though get some minor thieves abilities which are a great addition and something that should have been part of the B/X rules in my opinion. 

The next 50 or so pages of the 104-page book are dedicated to spells.  They are sorted by class and then by level.  Clerics and Paladins share a list. Magic-users, Elves, and Half-elves share a list. Druids and Rangers share a list. Necromancers have their own list. Gnomes have their own list as well.
Like B/X and BECMI some spells can be reversed.  
There are redundances in the lists. For example spells like Light and Wish appear on multiple lists and the spell is repeated each time for those classes at the appropriate level as opposed to the B/X standard of "See 1st level magic-user spell of the same name" or listing all spells alphabetically and including what class can cast it, like 3rd Edition does. The advantage to this is if you have the PDf you can print out all the spells for your class and have them all attached to your character sheet.  Nothing jumped out at me as being particularly new in the spell area. There are few non-B/X, non-BECMI ones ported over from Advanced and some logical extensions of spells, like Wall of Bone for Necromancers. Again this largely fits in with the design goals of this set.  

There is a somewhat plain, but very pragmatic (often the same thing) character sheet at the end. 

The art is very much old-school inspired though I think some may call it "anime-inspired."  I actually rather like the art and love the cover.  The halfling, in particular, is great and from now on thanks to this and James Spahn, all my halfling will have mutton chops. 

The book could have gone through another round of edits and QA checks. There are some typos and some layout oddities. I am only mentioning them because others have. I only found the ones I did because I was looking for them.  Though one sticks out.  The Cleric spell chart going to level 9.  Hard to say if this is a typo (or editing mistake) or if clerics really do get 8th and 9th level spells and those will appear in a future product. 

112 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art.
One of the best features about the BX RPG is taking the base B/X game and redoing it all to split the Player's and Game Master's material into two books.   Makes it great for when you have a group and can get extra Player's books.
The Dungeon guide covers the basic rules including adventuring, combat, poison and granting experience.  These rules go into more detail than their B/X counterparts and more akin to the detail we see in BECMI.  There are more examples given for situations as well.  If you were a brand new player of Game Master for the B/X system then this set is a pretty good start to get you going. 

A large bulk of the book is dedicated to creatures.  Here is a good mix of both the Basic and Expert sets with a few more thrown in for good measure. A lot of detail is given to the creatures.  Additionally, the stat blocks are bit more robust than with other Basic-era games, but not quite the detail we see in the 2nd ed AD&D game. Monsters are grouped by type, Animals, Giants, Dinosaurs, Dragons, Undead, and so on.  So if you are an old hand at this the monsters are easy to find, if you are new it might take longer. There are new monsters sprinkled around here and there. Some are new-to-B/X and some are new new.  So it is nice to get a little more variety. 
Demons are mentioned and this is the first explicit notice to check out another product and to wait for future ones. It seems the universe is telling me that Demons are a good thing for Basic-era games.

Gods, Demons and the Planes
In the first bit of overt world-building, the BX RPG takes place in Pacesetter's Misty Isles setting (Print, PDF).  There is note stating that more setting material will be available in Fall 2020.  Some gods are mentioned and they seem to be practical "D&D" like gods.  There is not a lot here, but enough for clerics to jot down a god on their sheets.  Demons seem to be like the D&D standards so far. No stats or names are given here.  

Treasure, Charts, and Appendicies
This section follows the monsters much like day follows night.  The usual treasure is covered here with a lot of magic items. There are no intelligent swords. 
Monster to hit and save charts follow. Along with Cleric turning, and Object saving throws (nice to have).

A sample dungeon in next and it is an excerpt from the module BX2 the Haunter Tower which is included in the boxed set (print, pdf). It's a nice intro to be honest and I got a solid Basic Set vibe from this. That is intentional of course. 

There are also random tables of monsters, dungeon settings/encounters, random treasure and even curses and monster summoning tables.

There is a bit on demi-humans using other classes. This book falls on the side of yes there are dwarf clerics and elf thieves, they just don't go on adventures. Though Game Masters have the ultimate say.

In my review for the Player's Book I ended with a note on the typos and layout issues. The same problem exists here. Though this time there were enough that a new version of the Dungeon Guide was sent to the backers of the Kickstarter. 

 The differences are about 12 pages and the older version of the Dungeon guide is stapled (like the Player's book and the original B/X books) the newer one is perfect bound.  The PDF only has the newer content.

The Boxed Set
The Boxed set comes with both books plus four adventures and a set of dice.

The adventures are not bad, very "Basic" is all senses of the word, but that is a good thing in this case.

I have been including my copy of B1 Legacy of the Unknown and B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos

While overtly designed for AD&D1/OSRIC and AD&D1/D&D 5 respectively, it would be a great fit for the BX RPG.  In fact, it might fit better.

One thing I did find odd about this set was the fact there is no OGL statement anywhere in the books.  These were not released under the OGL.  While this is not a concern for the average player it does strike me as odd.

In the end this set does what it set out to do. Remaster the B/X rules by splitting up the Player and Game Master sections while adding the material from other sources to round out the game.  The final rules could have used another deft hand at editing, but there are no deal breakers in terms of readability or playability. 

The box can hold more books so I am planning to go over the Pacesetter material I have and see how well it all fits inside the box. 

I am likely to spend some more time with this set.


Gothridge Manor said...

I did not know about this!

charleyp1 said...

I was also in on the kickstarter. Good product overall. I'm of the mind that the ODL statement is unnecessary, unless you are clearly using WotC content. I think nearly everyone throws it in "just in case".

Cross Planes said...

Thanks for reviewing these as I'd only recently discovered them.

The lack of OGL kind of boggles me.

'Evil' Jeff said...

Thank you for doing a review of this product from a different angle. I also backed this Kickstarter at the beginning and have even done a review of it on the Minions & Musings podcast. I would like to comment on a few things you mentioned.

You said "There were some delays, but there was also a lot of communications so I never really worried." If there is one thing about Pacesetter that irks me it was the communication. Also, your definition of "a lot" and mine are different. While I was not worried about getting my product, I was highly annoyed that Bill would post an update and say that further info would be posted in the next few days. The next communication would not occur for 2-3 weeks and this happened on a regular basis.

While Bill is a one man shop, he listed his son, Ben, as the project manager on the Kickstarter. With the way that Kickstarter was run, in my opinion, I don't feel Ben did much of anything. He could have at least been the one communicating and allowing Bill to work on the product.

You also said "Remaster the B/X rules by splitting up the Player and Game Master sections while adding the material from other sources to round out the game." This is a great note. I think breaking things up like this is really the better way to do things. It makes the product similar to the Metzner revision of the BX rules which is the layout I prefer (but now like OSE better).

The last thing to comment on is where you said "The final rules could have used another deft hand at editing, but there are no deal breakers in terms of readability or playability." If you had the initial printed rules (staple bound) of the BX Dungeon Guide, you could not say this. When I first encountered the typos and layout issues (the spell lists missing the last one or two spells in each of the levels was the biggest thing I noticed in the Player Guide), I decided to get very thorough with the product.

By the time the initial product offering had shipped, it had already been noted that the Cleric's Undead Turning table, the random dungeon generator, and the sample dungeon were not in what they printed. I went and found another 12 items that were also missing from the product (those monster summoning tables, the curses table, and others) and informed him on the Kickstarter page. 11 of the 12 items were corrected and put into the revised Dungeon product.

You are correct that "the final rules could have used another deft hand at editing". It is not a deal breaker but more of a heart breaker that people were given a product that is so riddled with issues that could have been caught. There was even a call on the Kickstarter page for him to release the PDFs before reprinting so the community could help him find these issues. I think many people had also backed Gavin's OSE (which went live on Kickstarter a month after the Pacesetter product and delivered just a week or two after the stated date) and poured over the initial PDFs and helped find many issues with misspellings, format issues, and missing info. Maybe Pacesetter should give that a thought.

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