Friday, July 30, 2021

Kickstart Your Weekend: Necropolis

Dangerous Journeys Necropolis
Gary Gygax's Necropolis is an odd bit of my personal RPG history. About 25 or more years ago, before I had kids I was working downtown Chicago, this gave me access to the transit rail system and dozens of libraries.  While Wizards of the Coast was scanning and putting up old AD&D modules for free on their website the number of scanned PDFs was non-existent.   So I did what anyone with my resources would do. I checked out all the RPGs books I could from various libraries.  I was young, just married, working on my Ph.D., and had no money.  

In my searches, mostly for books written by Gary Gygax, I found Dangerous Journeys. While the game system was terrible (sorry, it is) I loved the background fluff.  So much so that I add his Ægypt to my own world. I read the Dangerous Journeys and Mythus version of Necropolis many times over. I even finally got my own copy (which I frustratingly can't find right now!!).

It became a central part of my desert region, the Deserts of Desolation and Death, and merging it with bits of Dark Sun is has become the capstone adventure for my Second Campaign.  Though instead of using the DJ version I am using the d20 version from Necromancer Games, published some 20 years ago.   I should note that The Mystical Trashheap blog has a nice conversion of the DJ version to AD&D.

So imagine my excitement when Fog God launched their newest Kickstarter!

Necropolis: An Epic Adventure in the Desert Sands

Frog God Necropolis

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/necromancergames/necropolis-an-adventure-in-the-desert-sands-for-5e-and-sw?ref=theotherside

So this is for 5e and S&W.  While both are nice, it is the 5e version that I am going to use the most since the Second Campaign is a 5e game.  Since it is the capstone I am going to have to make it a bit deadlier.  I am just not sure if I need the hardcover version since I want to print it out to write notes on.  BUT I also don't want that wear and tear on my printer.

Delivery is scheduled for the end of the year, so that works fine for me, even if it is a little late. 

I just need to figure out which level to pledge at.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

One Man's God: Japanese Mythos

D&DG Japanese Mythos
It's been a while I figure today is a good day for another One Man's God. A brief review of the purpose and "rules" here.

The purpose of One Man's God is to see how I can take the creatures of the various mythos as they appear in the Deities and Demigods and see how they could have been represented as AD&D demons. NOT Abrahamic religion demons, or even esoteric or occult demons, but AD&D demons as they appeared in and defined by the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II.  

That is my first rule.  So no need to come at me saying "X culture did not have demons."  Not only are demons in D&D not real, no demons are real, so by that logic no culture has demons, but all cultures have stories of demons and stories can be retold.

Also, this is NOT a criticism of the research methods of the original authors and researchers of the Deities and Demigods.  It is easy for me to criticize sitting here in my office chair in 2021 with access to pretty every written book, scholarly article, and more in any language at my fingertips.   They had the local library.  So another rule is I can't criticize the material based on what I can research now.  I can use research from now to help inform my opinions, but that is all.

I can look a little beyond my sources here (D&DG, MM, FF, and MM2) to see what could fit into these based on the rules above.  But I am not going to add to much more beyond that. That's what Monstrous Monday is for.

Ok? Cool?  Great! 

Today I want to hit one that was HUGE back in the 80s. Japanese Mythos

Growing up in the 80s you could not help be nearly overwhelmed with references to or from Japanese culture.  Well...not real Japanese culture, a weird American version of it for mass consumption.  Ninjas, karate, Richard Chamberlain running around in a kimono on TV in Shōgun, and more than I can remember.  I even got caught up in it all and found some Japanese myths to read, in particular the tales of Momotarō (the Peach Boy). 

It was odd that almost none* of what I read connected back to the myths in the D&DG.  Now I see that their myths are too widely varied, complex, and even some had not been translated to an easily consumable English version.  Some concepts in Japanese do not have good English equivalents. My first year in grad school I took Japanese as an extra elective, I found it extremely fascinating and remarkably difficult.  The Deities & Demigods even touches on this with the concept of Kami.  We would use the word like "god" or "spirit,"  even in the Goddess Amaterasu we get the word "Omikami" or more appropriately, Ōmikami.  

*I will talk about what did connect.

The Gods and Goddesses

Despite how interesting these myths are and how much they were likely used, there are only five pages of them in D&DG and only 13 entries.  There are heroes, which is really important for the tales, most of the stories of Japan are about the exploits of the heroes. Of these, I only recall reading about Yamamoto Date.  But that has far more to do with Me not reading everything on Japanese myths.

Of the Gods the best known are the trinity of Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess, "the great august deity"), Tsukiyomi (the Moon God), and Susanoo (the God of Storms and Seas).  Now, these are the stories I know well.  I am remarkably pleased that the depictions and stats match up well with my personal ideas of what these gods are.  Amaterasu is easily the most powerful god in this book, thankfully for the mortals, she is Lawful Good.  In my games, there was no greater foe of the undead than her. And let me just say I am so pleased the authors did not take the easy way out and make Susanowo Chaotic Evil and went with the more appropriate Chaotic Neutral.

A couple of Goddesses that I remember reading about didn't make it in.  I mean I easily see why, but still, it would have been nice to see them.

Ame-no-Uzume

Ame-no-Uzume is the Goddess of the Dawn and for her role in the story of Amaterasu and the Cave she is the Goddess of Revelry.  In many ways the "darker" versions of Amaterasu and Ame-no-Uzume can be found in my "Nox" and "Syla" the goddess of the Dusk and Near Dark.

But back to Uzume.  I am not the first to point this one out and many others more read than me have done a better job.  But if you want to bring Ame-no-Uzume all you need to do is turn a few pages back to the Indian myths and bring over the similarity named Ushas, the Goddess of the Dawn. Her stats are pretty much perfect as is.  

Isshin-ryū Mizo-Game
Mizo-Game

Oh, Mizu Game. How you have vexed me over the years.

So WAY back in the day I decided to take karate lessons, their was a local place that was offering Isshin-ryū Karate and I decided to join.  I spent a couple years doing it. I was good, not great, but I felt like it achieved my then goal of getting some extra exercise.  The important part for today is the Isshin-ryū patch.  I was told that the half-woman/half-dragon goddess on the patch was Mizo-Game a Sea Goddess.  So naturally, I wanted a character that worshipped her.  But outside of Isshin-ryū I could not find out anything about her.  And you know what?  I STILL can't.  Every so often I get the idea to search for her again and I have only limited success.

Now with this post, it's going to mess with my search algorithms even more! 

I had hoped to find a goddess I could borrow from other myths, like I do for Uaume, but nothing came up.  She would be a Lawful Neutral demigoddess of the sea.  She related to dragons and to the other gods.

Mizo Game in Isshin-ryū

Demons

While this is all fantastic. There are no monsters here, let alone any demons. 

A while back I talked about the Yaoguai or Chinese demons.   The name means something like "strange ghost" or "strange devil."  In Japan, similar creatures are called Yōkai. Which also means "strange apparition."

In my games, Yaoguai and Yōkai are both different lineages of demons that are related.   There are no creatures listed in the D&DG that would count.  The closest we get is the Ogre Mage, also called the "Japanese Ogre" in the Monster Manual.  BUT that creature is obviously based on the Oni. 

Are Oni demons or yōkai?  I am going to say no. The tales of Momotarō, also known as the Peach Boy, feature many Oni, and while they are powerful and even a little supernatural, but they are not really demons.  Sadly even branching out into the Oriental Adventures does not help here.  Though there are also Ushi-oni that are very much yōkai and Oni are said to have come from the "demon gate/"

For demons and yōkai it would seem I am on my own and I have a lot more research and reading to do.

No Yōkai here.

Expect to see some Yōkai in future Monstrous Mondays. Will I reclassify Oni as demons?  No idea yet.

It's too bad that with all the material out there on Yōkai that so little to almost none made it into AD&D.

There is only one more set of myths left in this series and I am hoping it will be a big one!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Review: DragonRaid

The DragonRaid RPG
I have been planning this review for a bit now, but upon hearing of the death of the creator, Dick Wulf, I am opting to move it up a bit. 

Full Disclosure: There is no way I can give this a complete review because I don't know enough about the source material.  I mean I know it, but not enough to for the level of play this learning game would require of me.

I have mentioned before that I have known about DragonRaid since at least the mid-80s. I was both amused and fascinated by it then.  When I learned more about it I was a little more impressed.

The Game

DragonRaid got a lot of grief in the gaming communities I was a part of.  I had some Christian gamer friends that thought it was a cheap attempt to capitalize on their faith and some even did not want to mix their D&D and belief.  As an Atheist, then and now, I thought it was interesting. As someone who was interested in psychology then and someone with degrees in it now I also thought it was an interesting way to learn something, in this case, Bible verses.  I always wanted to see the game for myself.   

One thing I have to keep in mind that this "game" is not really an RPG, but a teaching tool in the form of a role-playing game. 

The game's author and designer was Dick Wulf, MSW, LCSW, who is, as his degrees indicate, a licensed Social Worker and holds a Master's Degree in Social Work.  He had done a lot of work in psychotherapy and ministry. He also played D&D and Traveller. So it seems he actually likes and knows RPGs better than the guys who gave us Fantasy Wargaming!

Plus I have to admit the ads in Dragon Magazine always looked really interesting.  I mean seriously, that is an evil-looking dragon and should be stopped and those look like the brave warriors to do it. Even if they need some more armor*.  (*that is actually a point in the game! more later)

Ad for The DragonRaid RPG

A while back my oldest son and I saw this game at my FLGS and I told him all about it. He is also an Atheist (as everyone in my family is) and he wanted to get it so we could play the other, evil, side.  He wanted to do something with the dragons in the game (he loves dragons) and I of course wanted to bring witches into it (cause that is my raison d'être).   Plus this copy still had the cassette tape in it.  I mean that is just beyond cool really.  So yeah I grabbed it with every intention of having a bit of a laugh with it.

I might be a witch-obsessed Athiest, but I am also an educator and not really an asshole.

The truth of the matter is spending this past week with the game I just can't take a piss on it.  The author is just too earnest in his presentation of this game.  There is love here, and scholarship, and frankly good pedagogy behind the design.   I don't normally mix my professional education background with my game design work.  Yes, they can and they do mix.  But when I am writing a book on the Pagan witches for Old-School Essentials I am not trying to write a historical treatise on the pagan religions of Western Europe during the time of the Roman Empire.  I'll try to keep my facts in line, but I can't serve two masters. I have to write what is best for a game.

DragonRaid also doesn't serve two masters. It serves one and makes that work for both pedagogical reasons (to help young people understand Christianity and their Bible better) and game design reasons (to have a fun roleplaying experience). 

For this DragonRaid succeeds in a lot of ways.  For this, I simply can't do anything else but admire this game and its design.  So no playing dragons here, or me coming up with a witch class to fight the characters.  I might do that at home, but I am not going to be a jerk about it.

Besides look at everything, you get in this box! I mean seriously, this is some value.

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 1

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 2, Lightraider sheets

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 3, so many books!

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 4, counters

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 5 documentation

I even got the cassette tape! I don't have anything to play it on though.

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 6, and honest to goodness cassette tape!

What do you get?

New Player Briefing
Red cover, letter-sized. 16 pages.
This is the first book all players need to read over.  This includes the LightRaiders (player characters) and the AdventureMaster (GM).  The background is really kind of fun.  The world of EdenAgain is like an idealized Earth meets Narnia.  There are humans, regular (OnceBorn), and the TwiceBorn. The TwiceBorn are the ones that follow the Maker and Overlord (thinly veiled versions of "God" and "Jesus").  There is a lot cool details on how Abaddon and Kakia, both described as dragons here, have tempted the world to evil.  

I rather like the idea of this book.  A brief 16 page (large font) booklet to get new players into the game.  It is something that is usually handled by the "What is an RPG?" and "Introduction" sections of other games.  There is cool parallelism between this book and some of the intro to playing material found in Red Box/Mentzer Basic D&D.  Makes a lot of sense since both red books cover similar ground and have the same goals.

The World depicted here is a bit simplistic, but that is also by design.  The players are supposed to explore it all together.

DragonRaid World


Rulebook
Blue cover, letter-sized, 24 pages

The Rule book covers the Basic rules for all players. 
It covers character creations (thankfully we also have the worksheet for that), how to use the StarLot and ShadowStones, Ability checks, and the various forms of combat and armor.  I can't help but feel there was also a bit of a wargamer in Dick Wulf.  

The division of the books into Red and Blue does give me solid B/X and BE Basic vibes.  I am sure that Dick Wulf was familiar with those and chose to emulate their feel even if "Basic" and "Expert" are not really a good way to describe his books.  More like "Novice" and "Basic."  But the idea still holds.

The Light Raider Test 
Orange cover, letter-sized, 44 pages
This is the first of our adventures for the LightRaiders and it is in fact set up as a first mission. It is introduced in the New Player Briefing/Red Book.  Here it is a full-blown adventure complete with player handouts and cue cards for verses. 
Players have to rescue a LightRaider, fight a giant (or drink him under the table), and fight some goblins.  It is noted that any LightRaider that dies goes to Paradise. 
This adventure is fairly straightforward to the point of almost being a railroad.  Well...not quite. I mean the player's options are limited and a lot relies on random rolls.  I suppose as a new LightRaider and AdventureMaster this makes things a little easier.  There is another reason for this. The adventures have certain academic goals or learning outcomes.  These are usually met via the design of the game and altering these would mean the designer could not really tell if the learning goals were being met. Great for a curriculum, not ideal for an adventure. 

Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls
Light Green, letter-sized, 78 pages with 28-page insert.
This is the second adventure and it is much more expansive. Here the LightRaiders must brave the castle of the dragon Thuella and rescue the captive LightRaider Zekion and recover the two parts of the Sacred Scrolls.  Along the way, they can meet a unicorn (a type of angel here) and battle orcs and cave spiders. 

These adventures, minus the quoting of scripture, would make ok D&D-style adventures. There is not much in the way of treasure and the goals really are very different.  DragonRaid players learn through these the power their LightRaiders have via faith (and therefore themselves).  

At this point though it is very, very obvious who this game is marketed to.  All of the art is whiter than the Sound of Music. You would think that there would at least be a little color.  Note: There is one darker-skinned character figure in the cardboard character cutouts.  Still though. Pretty much mayo sandwiches on white bread with milk here.

DragonRaid Book covers


Adventure Master Manual
Green cover, letter-sized, three-hole-punched for binder, 124 pages

Pretty much what it says on the cover. This is Adventure Master's book. Unlike all the other books, this one is looseleaf and three-hole-punched.  This is likely because a.) the designer wanted the Adventure Master to have a place to insert their own notes (a good idea) and b.) a lot of educational materials in the late 70s and early 80s were produced this way.  Also, there is the notion that a lot of Bible study material came published like this.  How do I know?  Back when I was working my way through college I was a night janitor at a Southern Baptist church.  If I had not already been an Atheist then those people would have convinced me.   Sadly the box, while large and sturdy, is not big enough to put a three-ring binder inside.  

Some material is by necessity repeated here.  We get more background on the OnceBorn and the other creatures populating this world that are not LightRaiders.  The OnceBorn are slaves to the DragonLords.  They might live like kings but they are slaves according to the rules.  They may seem happy but they are not we are told.  Of course no matter how evil an OnceBorn might be we have to remember that they deserve redemption; so killing them is out of the question.  

This book also includes another adventure, "Adventure as the Castle of the Falls." This is to give the Adventure Master some practice having players using the WordRunes.  Like all good Game Master books this has a section on becoming a better Adventure Master.  Nothing gamers have not seen before, but good advice all the same for the starting Adventure Master.It is good the box comes with so many adventures since there is not really much in the way of guidance on how to create adventures.  The caveat I will toss out is there are a lot of adventures that can be bought from their publisher.  Another caveat is that this is still more adventures than I am ever likely to run or play with this game. 

There are some Difficulty level charts that are keyed to the various abilities the LightRaiders have. Nice, but not portable to other games really. There are some good ideas on various dragon attacks, but again they central to the mythos and mechanics of this game.  Doing anything else with them would require a lot of work. 

Lightraider Handbook
Yellow cover, spiral-bound, digest-sized, 140 pages.

Now this one is a very neat product.  It has all the rules and even some basics on the creatures encountered, but it is designed for the players to use at the table. It is spiral-bound so it lays flat at the table.  I know the costs are prohibitive, but I do wish more companies would do this.  OSRIC would be a fine choice for this to be honest.  In fact I made my own spiral-bound copy of OSE a while back for this exact same reason.

Spiral bound player's books


This book also contains all of the Word Runes the players will need.   The creature backgrounds (but no stats) are also a nice touch.  I guess that any D&D player, even if new, is going to come to the table with ideas of what a dragon, goblin, troll or orc are.  DragonRaid has slightly different versions of these.  Shorthand if it is not human or a normal (or talking) animal, it is evil.  Tieflings? No way! Elves are even evil here. Well. Maybe not evil, but certainly surrounded by evil beings, and to reclusive to do anything about the evil around them. 

DragonRaid Player's Guide


Audio Cassette Tape
Thankfully you can go to the official Lightraider Academy website to get the audio files from the tape. 

Two Dice
D10 (StarLot)  and a d8 (Shadow Stone).
I kinda like that they give each die a bit of character.  The clear d10 is your StarLot and it is the one you will use for most rolls.  The darker d8, the Shadow Stone< is the one the forces you are fighting will use.  There is an obvious bias here towards the forces of good. 

History of the StarLots


Additionally, the box contains:
  • Character Sheets
  • Character worksheets (I used a spreadsheet for mine)  
  • A Correction sheet
  • Letter from Dick Wulf, MSW
  • Registration Letter
  • Counters (Heroes, Dark Creatures, NPCs)
  • Battle Grid (x2)
  • Ad for “Spiritual Warfare Posters”

This company is all in on this game and I have to admit I totally admire them for it. 

Final Thoughts

As I discussed back in the Character Creation challenge, a lot of the very random rolls you make can really help define who your character is. That is great, but it also confines your character in certain ways.  There are ways to increase abilities you want over ones you don't want, but this game like many others, has you play to your strengths.  Sure in the early 80s people were fine to have a character only defined by the numbers on the sheet; today?  Not so much.  

I will admit that I never felt "talked down to" as a gamer while reading this.  Yes, it is designed for someone with far less experience than myself or my readers, but all the same, the advice in the game always came across as helpful and never condescending. 

Also, I never felt "called out" as an Atheist here.  Sure by the game's standards I am one of the DragonSlaves and even though I consider my life to be good, great even, it is not truly so.   Ok. Whatever.  I am also not as attractive as an elf, strong as an orc, or interesting like a tiefling.   Though my lack of experience with Bible verses and my complete lack of desire to ever memorize any will limit my involvement with this game.  Likely to just this review.

Fighting a Dragon in DragonRaid
The quality of the materials is top-notch.  I am not sure which "printing" I have, but no dates are past 1984 on my books and it still has the cassette tape.   I did notice when doing some research that my box did not have a copy of the purple cover "The Moon Bridge Raid" nor did it have the stickers.  Maybe because I didn't buy it directly from the publisher? Looks like that the Moon Bridge Raid is in later editions/printings and these also included a CD.  So I am really rocking it old-school!

Note: A little digging online tells me there was a newer printing with 1998 and 1999 dates on the books.  Likely this is the printing that had the CD.

Digging deeper EdenAgain seems to be a planet that humans crash-landed on.  Looking at the art one assumes it was only white people on the ship. They had a copy of the Bible on their spaceship.   So is this one a post-apocalypse game?  Could characters from my Star Trek: BlackStar or Star Trek: Mercy games find their way to EdenAgain?  I mean that is not to different than the Star Trek Discovery Season 2 episode "New Eden."  Except the people of New Eden, aka Terralysium, combined all of Earth's faiths including Christianity, Hindu, Judaism, Bahá'í, and Wicca into one.   Not very much in line with what DragonRaid would have wanted.  Discovery Season 2 was fairly heavy with religious symbolism. 

One thing implicit in the game is that all other creatures except for humans do not have souls and can't be saved.  I did not get a clear read on animals and talking ones in particular though I know the rules are in there somewhere.  So ALL creatures would be considered evil; in fact the manifestation of sins.  That giant destroying a village? Evil. Kill it! That dragon eating all the maidens in the country? Evil. Kill it!  That orc sitting on a rock picking his nose? Evil. Kill it! Sleeping baby troll? Evil. Kill it! Get the idea?  There are no shades of grey here.  A human OnceBorn in charge of a child slavery ring is not to be killed.  The goblin that did nothing else but let you know about it so it can be stopped has to be killed.   That goblin isn't a real living creature but sin-made flesh.  Which is kind of cool if you think about it, but also a little too conservative for my tastes.   Combat is physical and is lethal. Combat can also be spiritual.  

One facet of this game that can't be ignored is the production value.  While the art has not aged as well it is still objectively good.  The layout is clean and easy to read.  The material is grouped together well.  The redundant text isn't really redundant at all since this is designed to teach.  The box is sturdy as hell, and mine is still in fantastic shape.  No idea about the cassette tape, but everything else in the box is top-notch.  A spiral rules guide for the game table is something that makes so much sense other companies should have been doing it (I know...cost).   

While character creation can be a chore, the core rules are pretty simple.  Percentile rolls vs some cross-referenced charts based on abilities.  Roll high.  With players using the d10s, sorry, StarLots and the bad guys using the ShadowStones (d8) advantage always goes to the LightRaiders. 

In the end, I am glad I purchased this game even if it took me forever to do anything with it.  I am never likely to play it or run it, and while there are some great ideas here I am also not likely to mine it for any.  I have to give the late Dick Wulf major credit.  He had a vision and a love for this game and it shows on every page.

Links

Here are some collected links if you want to learn more about this game.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

SPI's Demons (1979)

SPI's Demons game
I celebrated my 26th wedding anniversary over the weekend.  I have now been married for over half my life!  We went downtown to see the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. I got us the Premium tickets, and glad I did, we sat through the whole thing twice!  It was completely amazing. We ate at a new fusion Thai place and of course, no date night is complete for us without a stop at a bookstore.

Since so many of the bookstores we used to go to over the last three decades are closed, we stopped at Half-Price Books.  

I found this little gem, SPI Demons.

At first I thought it was an add-on or supplement for the DragonQuest RPG.  They look rather similar really.  But closer examination revealed that it was really a board game.

In any case, I could not say no to this. Besides, look at that cover!  That demon is fantastic!

I got it home and since it was late I let sit on my dining room table for a bit.  I finally got around to looking at it yesterday.  Turns out that only is this game whole, and unpunched it looks like it is near mint condition!

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Ah. Nothing says the late 70s like oil shortages. 

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

It is a rather attractive game in a late 70s War-Games-bleeding-into-RPGs way.

I posted some pictures of this over the weekend and I was reminded that TSR bought SPI back in the day and absorbed them.  WotC who now owns all of TSR's IP also owns SPI.  They could rerelease this if they wanted to.  Sadly there is really no reason to.  The cash cow in that arena is D&D and even DragonQuest, who could do well, suffers from comparison.   TSR, like them or not, straight up murdered SPI and the body is too dead to Raise Dead.

BUT that doesn't mean *I* can't perform a bit of Necromancy myself! 

This game could feed into my "Traveller Envy" quite well.

DragonQuest & Demons

The obvious thing to do here is use that Demons map of Albania and do it as a DragonQuest Hex crawl.  And I mean a proper Hex crawl that also just so happens to be filled with demons and wizard hunters.   The magistrate or wizard hunter's angle of the game also made me think of THIS unholy abomination.

DragonRaid vs. Demons

Maybe instead of "EdenAgain" the DragonRaiders are in the old country fighting demons?  That one is a bit of stretch really.  Also I would need some sort of converter to sit in the middle; likely D&D.  Though these both will contribute to my War of the Witch Queens campaign. 

Warlocks & Warriors & Demons

These two games share a lot of similarities in tone and publication time.  Both are essentially the bridges between war games and RPGs as board games. Both feature a wilderness area to explore, monsters (demons) to defeat, and treasure to collect.  Slightly higher on the complexity scale than Dungeon! but not quite full-blown RPGs.   You can read my overview of Warlocks & Warriors here

Demons from Mayfair and SPI

These two do not have a lot in common other than name and subject matter.  But both would be equally fun resources in my games. 

Like I say though I might not figure out how to get these to all work together (or even some of them) but it will be fun trying.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Shadowcat

Here is another monster that has been rolling around in the back of my head for a bit. I am fairly certain I came up with this one while reading old Dragon magazines back in the day.  It is not 100% original, but then again nothing ever is. My take on it though I think is unique or at least new enough to merit a posting of it today.

I imagine this creature is distantly related to the Displacer Beast, but for OGL reasons I can't claim that. 

Artwork © 2021 Eric Lofgren, used with permission. All rights reserved. Sale #30805661
Artwork © 2021 Eric Lofgren, used with permission.
All rights reserved.
Shadowcat
Large Beast, Magical

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Chaotic [Chaotic Neutral]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
  Flying 180' (60') [18"]
Armor Class: 1 [18]
Hit Dice: 7d8+7**** (39 hp)
  Large 7d10**** (46 hp)
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite
Damage: 1d6+2 x2, 1d8+2
Special: Fly, etherealness, hide in shadows (90%), magic resistance 30%, senses (night vision, smell), speech, telepathy 
Save: Monster 7
Morale: 10 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: None
XP: 2,050 (OSE) 2,100 (LL)

Str: 16 (+2) Dex: 18 (+3) Con: 13 (+1) Int: 12 (0) Wis: 12 (0) Cha: 14 (+2)


Shadowcats are, as the name implies, great cats from the plane of shadow.  They manifest in physical form on the mortal planes but can become ethereal at will.   They appear as large cats, usually panthers or lions, with shadow black coats and large bat-like wings. They can walk or fly as they choose. Shadowcats have telepathic abilities they use to communicate amongst themselves and can use it to learn the language of anyone they come in contact with. They can then speak using human languages.  Despite appearances, Shadowcats are not related to Lamassu, though they may be distantly related to sphinxes. 

Shadowcats are experts in stealth. Their superior abilities to sense prey via smell, night vision, and even taste means they can surprise on a roll of 4-6 on a d6.  Likewise, they are only surprised themselves on a 1 on a d6.   Shadowcats come to the mortal realms to hunt prey. They are carnivores and prefer to hunt magical beasts though they have been known to hunt humanoids from time to time.  

They are intelligent creatures but driven by the hunt. They will attack with a claw/claw/bite routine, often stalking their prey on the ground and then using their wings to jump and attack from above.  When fighting they typically keep their wings folded up to prevent them from becoming damaged.

A group of shadowcats is called a "pard" with an alpha female, 1 to 2 breeding males, and the rest younger male and female offspring.  Both males and females will hunt, only the alpha female does not hunt.  A pard will venture to the mortal planes to partake in a hunt that usually lasts 2 to 3 months then they will return.  Younger males are always challenging the older male for breeding rights and if a single shadowcat is encountered it will be an outcast male.  Shadowcats have no need for or interest in treasure.  

Sometimes a shadowcat can be employed by a chaotic wizard or demon lord of sufficient power.  As natives of the plane of shadow any spell that can bind a creature from other planes can be used on a single (usually independent male) shadowcat.  Members of a pard cannot be bound.  These bound shadowcats will typically agree on a length of service if they are also allowed the freedom to hunt as they choose.  Larger specimens can be used as mounts.

Shadowcats and Shedu despise each other.  This has little to do with alignment. The shadowcat's telepathic abilities can be heard by the shedu and vice versa. Heard might be putting it mildly, the abilities of one interfere with the other.  Also, the shedu are often offended at the actions of the shadowcat; choosing prey to hunt.  Shadowcats find the shedu to be pompous and arrogant.  While their fights will rarely become more than grandstanding threats, a large pard has been known to attack a shedu.  Often the shedu's greater magical ability, and their ability to make strong allies, give them the edge. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Kickstart Your Weekend: Celts, Demon City, and Anime

A few Kickstarters today that look like a lot of fun.

Heroes of Tara Player's Guide

Heroes of Tara
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1955128460/heroes-of-tara-players-guide?ref=theotherside

5e? Irish myths?  Yes, please!  I mean what else do I need to know here?  No. That's pretty much all I need!

Pixies, Wyrms, Demon City – Three Mini Role-Playing Games

Demon City

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dyskami/pixies-wyrms-demonicity-three-mini-role-playing-games?ref=theotherside

While Dyskami Publishing has some issues left over from the Guardians of Order days and...I am not quite sure how I feel about that, I did love BESM.  These new books for TriStat are exactly the sort of things I loved.  Hell, I even had my own Demon City in the works, but I am happy to put that down of other projects. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #125

Dragon Magazine #125
Been a bit since I did one of these I thought this might be a good time to pull this one out. 

Dragon #125 comes to us from a magical time in ancient history known as the Fall of 1987.  This issue is from September 1987 in particular.  I just met this girl from the dorm next door. She had already kicked everyone's ass in cards in her dorm and now she was over at mine to humiliate everyone here.  So yeah we quickly became friends, then best friends and sis years later we were dating and today is our 26th wedding anniversary.   So yeah, I look back at this time rather fondly. 

Dragon #125's special feature is Chivalry.  Not a bad choice with all the Arthurian movies I have been watching this month.  The cover art by Roger Raupp is a great portrayal of Arthur vs Modred. 

Letters include one to remind us the Wormy has appeared in 100 issues at this point. Sadly the end is near.   Also mentioned is Finieous Fingers which hadn't appeared in Dragon for a long time. There is also a letter about religion in D&D and the DragonRaid game gets mentioned. 

Nice ad for the Science Fiction Book Club.  This would have been around the time I joined for the second time and I see a number of books here I still have.  This was my transition phase of moving out of dark fantasy and into horror proper. 

Forum has the usual collection of deep cuts for the game.  One, in particular, discusses a letter from #121 about parthenogenesis in Amazons and delves into the details of the mating habits of harpies.  Is this Dragon Forum or Penthouse Forum?  Likely to have the same level of "Dear Editors, I could not believe this, but this really happened..."

The first true article comes up and it is a neat one.  Nigel D. Findley gives us The Ecology of the Greenhag.  The central idea revolves around the notion that all hag types are born of the mating of a Night Hag and various humanoid species.  It is a neat idea really.  I like that the Night Hag has a gestation period of 13 months. Greenhags likewise can give birth to an Annis after their "quite frequent" matings with ogres or hill giants. No indication on how the Sea Hags or other hags fit into this.

Ed Greenwood is up with a Realms article.  This was the start of the Golden Age of the Forgotten Realms.  The article, Woodlands of the Realms, covers magical and mundane trees and forests of the Forgotten Realms.  You have to give the guy credit, he came up with some good stuff even in the minutia such as this.  

Our special section of Chivalry begins next.

The Code of Chivalry by Mark Easterday gives us some knightly orders and what to do with them. There are benefits and drawbacks for PC Knights and even a simple system for honor.  It is nothing Earth-shattering, but it has appeal in it's simplicity. It is also something more people should be doing with knights, cavaliers, and paladins. 

Nice big ad for the Time-LIFE Mysteries of the Unkown series, now frustratingly incomplete at your local used book store. 

Time-LIFE Mysteries of the Unknown

Thomas M. Kane is next with Meanwhile Back at the Fief...  This one covers all the duties of a feudal lord. There are some details on day-to-day activities and tables of odd occurrences.  I seem to recall some similar rules in the D&D Companion set. These came after that so I wonder how they compare.  

Armies from the Ground Up by James A. Yates is next and deals with the hows and whys of raising an army in an AD&D game specifically.   Again, very useful to have. 

A "new" section that was going to be semi-regular is up, Lords & Legends.  I have no idea how much or for how long it continued. A quick Google search shows it came up at least one more time.  This is entering as bit of a "Dark" time for me and Dragon.  I was in college and any spare money went to food, school supplies, or...other school supplies.  It is "dark" in the sense that it is a period that is unknown to me.  I remember reading this issue back then, but my Dragon purchases would be only for special occasions like the October issues. 

For this Lords & Legends from Katharine Kerr we have three lords of the Age of Chivalry; Count William of Orange, Bertrand (nephew of William), and Count Rainouart of Tortelose.  All from the Chanson de Roland ("Song of Roland").

Our last article in this series is Glory, Danger, and Wounds by Garry Hamlin.  This article also draws on The Song of Roland for inspiration and deals with battle and honor for Cavaliers. Large battles and private duels are discussed.  More importantly how such battles and duels should and should not be used. 

The Best for the Best covers elite espionage agencies for Top Secret and is a rare non-Merle M. Rasmussen article. This one is from William Van Horn and it is more proper for the Top Secret S.I. game that Rasmussen did not develop. 

For our centerpiece, we get a new "mini" game from David "Zeb" Cook, Clay-O-Rama, a miniatures battle game where the playing pieces are made from clay or Play-doh. You get some friends, some dice, some pencils, and some modeling clay (Play-Doh is recommended) and you get started making your Claydonian to do battle. Make sure you leave some clay/playdoh aside for missiles  The rules are really simple, you move, you attack, you calculate damage. The whole thing takes up three page and a cover.  Pull it out of your magazine and you are good to go.  It does look like silly fun, to be honest. 

Clay-o-rama

Our fiction selection is by Lois Tilton titled The Passing of Kings.

Lee Ian Wurn is up with a rare post-Gary Greyhawk article. In the Bazaar of the Bizarre, we have the Magical Maps of Greyhawk.  We get magical maps that more or less are the magical GPSs of their day.  The article though gave me an idea.  What if there was a giant magical Bazaar, like what you find on Deva in the Myth Adventures books by Robert Lynn Asprin.  I could make each article a stall, like you find in those giant flea markets or the vendor's room at Gen Con.  And just to be that guy, the stalls have the same number of the magazine they appeared in.  This shop of magical maps is found in stall #125.

Jeff Grubb is up with Plane Speaking. This time featuring the Positive Quasi Elementals. There are only three, Radiance (Fire-Positive), Steam (Water-Positive), and Mineral (Earth-Positive). The Lightning (Air-Positive) appeared in the Monster Manual II.

The Game Wizards talks about the new Dragonlance Adventures hardcover.  This was a rather popular book with my small group in college. There were a lot of ideas I freely stole from it for my own games.  I also thought it was odd about the hard cap of 20 levels.  Now that is normal. 

A Second Look at Zebulon's Guide comes to us from Kim Eastland and covers all sorts of errata and clarifications.  I was out of Star Frontiers at this point having switched over to FASA Doctor Who and Star Trek. I have heard that Zebulon's Guide changed things but I will admit I do now know to what degree. 

Big ad for Mayfair's updated City-State of the Invincible Overlord

City-State of the Invincible Overlord

Role-Playing Reviews is next covering three fantasy adventures.  This is another one of the articles that would get WotC into trouble despite their good intentions.  The article is Copyrighted 1987 by Ken Rolston, which means he likely still held the reprint rights. The adventures in question are The Grey Knight for Pendragon, Phantom of the Northern Marches for MERP, and Treasure Hunt for AD&D.  We learn something we had suspected at this time, that the term "Module" was growing out of fashion. So for the adventures Rolston lets us know that the Grey Knight is one of the best he has seen, Treasure Hunt is a fantastic adventure for 0-level AD&D characters, and Phantom is wonderful.

The Role of Books covers some of the new releases for the last quarter of 1987.  There is the Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son, a couple from Harry Turtledove, and the debut (more or less) of Peter David who later go on to be one of America's most prolific authors.  

Jeff Grub's Marvel-Phile is up with some enemies for the Incredible Hulk; Abomination and Zzzax, and an ally, Doc Samson.  I was thinking about Abomination just the other day while trying to decide if I should include the Hulk movies in my Marvel re-watch that I might never get around to.

Gamer's Guide has the classified ads. I wonder how many of these places were still around. 

Convention Calendar covers the cons of Fall 1987.

Three pages of Snarf Quest, a page of DragonsMirth, and three of Wormy.

Some interesting bits to be sure, but nothing that jumps out to me to be used today.  The Greenhag stuff is fun, but I have taken my hags into a completely different direction really.  While everyone talks with glowing nostalgia for the Dragons prior to these (and I do as well) there is a lot between 1987 and 1997 that I never read and only have briefly glanced at.  So that might be my new sweet spot for The Old Dragon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

B/X Boxing Match: OSE-Advance Fantasy vs. Swords & Wizardry

Time for another round of Boxing Match. Unlike the last Boxing Match of OSE vs. BX RPG where I was comparing more similar systems.  This time I am going with the current big heavyweights in the OSR.  These games also feature somewhat different systems and different rules assumptions.


To start off both games, Old School Essentials and Swords & Wizardry allow you to play the same sorts of games.  You can even assume that an adventure, or supplement, or whatever written for D&D (any Pre-1997 version) can be used with either of these two games with about equal amounts of conversion needed.  In my mind, the conversion is so negligible that I am not going to factor that at all in my comparisons.

Also in terms of the game that these two are drawn from, both games live in a strange liminal space between D&D and AD&D.  That is at least if we are considering OSE Advanced Fantasy.  OSE builds on a base of B/X era D&D and adds some elements of AD&D.   Swords & Wizardry starts with a base of OD&D and what that would become in AD&D but keeps the rule abstraction at the B/X level.

Looking at the total number of pages is not likely to be very helpful here.  Both games have different levels of modularity baked in so adding or subtracting things is very easy for both.

Format

Both sets split their rules up into various books. Overtly there are Player books and Gamemaster books.  Among the player books are also books dedicated to spells and magic.  OSE books are in hardcover format, S&W are soft covers.   There are fewer pages to the S&W books overall, but considering their smaller, sans-serif font I feel that content-wise they are mostly the same. 

Swords & Wizardry nudges ahead in one way. Their set includes a set of seven polyhedral dice. The addition of a GM's/Referee Screen that fits into the box makes it stand out.   

The round goes to Swords & Wizardry.

Swords & Wizardry

Classes

Just going with "out of the boxes" classes these two games compare well in terms of "base" classes. 

In the Swords & Wizardry Player's Book, we have the following: Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Magic-user, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, and Thief.  Classes have a maximum of 20th level.

In the OSE-Advanced book, we get: Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Knight, Magic-user, Paladin, Ranger, and Thief.
There are also the "race as class" variants of: Drow, Duergar, Swarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Halfling, Half-orc, and Svirfneblin.  The level maximum is 14 for humans and variable for others.

S&W has Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans for races.  OSE has all the above-mentioned race-as-classes as races for other classes as well. 

The clear winner of this round is OSE-Advanced, but in truth, S&W is doing exactly what they set out to do leaving these extra classes and races for others to define. 

Old School Essentials

Monsters

Oh, I do love my monsters.  All the usual suspects are here with both cleaving very close to their spiritual god-parents. So lots of overlap with the Monster Manual for example.  Part by design, part by nature of the d20 SRD.

By the numbers, Swords & Wizardry Monsters and Moar Monsters have 56 and 62 monsters (118 total) covering 44 and 24 pages respectively. 

Old School Essentials features 205 monsters over 65 pages for their "Basic" book and 327 monsters over 107 pages for their "Advanced" book.

So for these sets, the round goes to OSE, but keep in mind that Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors bring their monster totals to over 1,400. 

The round goes to OSE. 

Game Play

Honestly, the differences here are so trivial. Combat might be faster in S&W, but that can be open to debate.  The modularity of OSE makes it a great game to have at the table where everything is easy to find and the facing page layout makes everything easy to read at a glance. 

You can use just about every classical resource or adventure with either with no issues.

Both games come with two separate adventures. I reviewed the OSE ones here

Final Round

So. Who is the winner here?  

We are. That is who.  We live in a time of unparalleled choice and access.  Determining which of these games is going to be splitting hairs at best and even then there are still a dozen or so others that fill their same niche.  Not to mention all the original material still out there. 

Boxed sets


Monday, July 19, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Qliphoth, Gamaliel

One of the things I am most looking forward to in my Basic Bestiaries is developing new and different demonic lineages. One of these I have spoken about in the past is the Qliphoth.

The Qliphoth are the discarded husks of primordial beings.  It is natural to think of them like the husks or used exoskeletons of cicadas, or even the skins of snakes. Since these beings were more than mortals currently are and became even more ascended, their husks are more than just leftover skins or skeletons.

Case in point the Gamaliel.  

Gamaliel as a Sensory Homunculus

When the Primordials shed their "husks" or "peels" to be the Luminous Beings, one such husk was their dark sexual desires.  As hyper-intelligent immortal and immoral kindred, their desires were particularly dark. As they shed their evil desires their conscious and subconscious sexual desires and yearnings became the Gamaliel.

Gamaliel based on the Sensory Homunculus
Gamaliel

Medium Fiend, Qliphoth (demon)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic [Chaotic Evil]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
Armor Class: 8 [11]
Hit Dice: 6d8+6*** (45 hp)
Attacks: 2 hands, 1 tongue + special
Damage: 1d6+1 x2, 1d4+1
Special: Cause delirium, Qliphoth immunities
Save: Monster 6 
Morale: 12 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: None
XP: 1,250 (OSE) 1,280 (LL)

Str: 14 (+1) Dex: 14 (+1) Con: 18 (+3) Int: 12 (0) Wis: 7 (-1) Cha: 2 (-4)

The Gamaliel, or the Obscene Ones, were among the first of the Qliphoth to be formed.  They appear as medium-sized nearly humanoid-looking creatures.  Their hands, feet, lips, tongue, and sexual organs are enlarged to grotesque sizes in comparison to their otherwise small bodies.  They always appear nude as a mockery of the forms their progenitors eventually took on. They may appear as male or female.

Gamaliel lives for one thing only, sensory stimuli. They want to feel everything, touch, taste, smell and hear everything they can.  Yes, when possible they also try to copulate with anything and everything they can.  They lack the subtlety of the Liliam or Baalseraph or even the guile of Calabim or Shedim.  They are nearly mindless beasts that take no heed of anything but their own twisted desires.

They can attack with their huge hands for 1d6+1 points of damage each.  They may also attack with their tongues at 1d4+1.  Their saliva is such that anyone exposed to it via an attack or touch must save vs Paralysis or become delirious.  This state lasts for 2d6 turns in which case the victim is completely unaware of what is going on around them.  There is a 1 in 6 chance that if they were in a combat situation they will keep on fighting with melee attacks. Targets are chosen at random.

Gamaliel can be easily distracted by auditory and visual illusions. They save at a -2 penalty against such magics and can be effectively distracted long enough to be attacked. 

Like all Qliphoth Gamaliel have the following adjustments to damage types: 
Immune: Mundane/Cold Iron/Silver weapons, Poison
Half Damage (save for none): Acid, Cold, Electricity, Fire (Dragon/Magic/Mundane), Gas
Full Damage: Magic Missile, magic weapons, holy/blessed weapons

Unlike other Qliphoth death (their's or others) is not the goal of the Gamaliel.  A dead foe might have an interesting smell or touch, a live one is more interesting and you can do more with them.  For this reason, the Gamaliel are sometimes considered to be not as evil as other Qliphoth; this is a very erroneous and dangerous assumption. They are every bit as evil.  A quick death is far more merciful than being captured and becoming the plaything of a Gamaliel.

--

The mental image I had of the Gamaliel was immediate. They were life-sized versions of the "Sensory Homunculus" we used to talk about back in cognitive psychology undergrad days.  I always knew I aw going to make a monster out that one day.

They are the Qliphoth counterparts to the succubi with roughly the same HD and some powers.  As I define the Qliphoth more I might increase or decrease various abilities, powers or HD/hp. I might even make them Small sized.  Still working out all the details, but that is where the fun is!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Sword & Sorcery & Cinema: Camelot (1967)

Camelot (1967)
At the risk of sounding really old, I adore Camelot.  Back when I was young I ended up with a second bout of chickenpox.  My parents had a laser disc player back then and this one of the movies they had. I think I watched it a dozen times.  Not a lot of choice really, but it was still good.  I can still recall all the songs.

I have to admit I often judge my Athurs, Gueneveres, and Lancelots based on the examples set by Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, and Franco Nero.  Let's be honest. Vanessa Redgrave is adorable here.  I am not 100% convinced that she did not contribute to me having so many blue-eyed, redheaded characters.

Arthur's meeting with Guenevere is one of my favorites. And I fully admit I still hum "Camelot" whenever I watch another movie about Arthur.

The story here follows, more or less, the T.H. White "Once and Future King" novel.

Arthur's conversations with "Jenny" are really fantastic. I mean the attitudes are more modern, but that is fine since the setting is more Ren Faire than post-Roman Britain. I find Richard Harris' Arthur enthusiasm infectious. 

Also if you ever wanted a better depiction of an AD&D Paladin then you can't do much better than Camelot's Lancelot. The scene where Lancelot is jousting with Sir Dinadan, accidentally mortally wounds and then heals him has stuck with me for years as the example of laying on hands.  I can't help but think this is what Gygax had in mind when he wrote the Paladin class.  

The movie does drag on a bit, it is nearly 3 hours, but I am hesitant to suggest any cuts. 

The scene where Lancelot rescues Guenevere is both profoundly heroic and profoundly sad at the same time.  Give this to Richard Harris, he makes you feel Arthur's pain. 

Arthur, "For what? Revenge. The most worthless of causes."

I might lack the historical gravitas of Excalibur and have nearly nothing in common with real history but I don't care.  

Much like reading Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, I think this is a must-view for any fan of the myths and tales of King Arthur.

Gaming Content

Nothing directly here save what all the tales of Arthur can give us.  BUT given the musical nature of this movie, it does make me wonder if a game where everyone is a bard might work.  Lusty Month of May indeed.

This Lancelot, maybe more than any other, is a great example of a Paladin in D&D.

--

Tim Knight of Hero Press and Pun Isaac of Halls of the Nephilim along with myself are getting together at the Facebook Group I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters to discuss these movies.  Follow along with the hashtag #IdRatherBeWatchingMonsters.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Kickstart Your Weekend and Interview: Roderic Waibel of Chromatic Dungeons

Today I am talking with Roderic Waibel the creator of Chromatic Dungeons which is in the middle of its Kickstarter. Which you can find here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1693797308/chromatic-dungeons?theotherside

Chromatic Dungeons

Tim Brannan/The Other Side:  Let’s start at the beginning, who are you and what do you do?

Roderic Waibel:  I started gaming in 1981 with the Basic Set, and quickly fell in love and moved to AD&D.  Been involved in RPGs every day since, from the first map I drew as a kid, to my first game I wrote in 1986 (I still have a copy of that, and it’s...nothing to be proud of lol).  I’m a project manager as a day job, but have been an indie publisher officially for the past 10 years or so.

TB/TOS: You mention in your bio you have been writing RPGs since 1986.  Anything, in particular, you want to share? What are some of your past hits?

RW:  My biggest commercial success would have to be Compact Heroes.  During my time in the military, portability was a big thing.  It’s one of the reasons why MtG took off for servicepeople; you could easily take it with you while full rulebooks were hard to do that.  So I created a card game that played like a traditional role-playing game.  That won DieHard Gamefan’s Best New Game of the Year in 2011 when it came out.  There are other things I’ve created that I like, but most of those were homebrew systems that never took off.  Let’s be honest, most never do.  Why would someone who doesn’t know me want to play a homebrew system when they have so many officially supported systems out there.  They were all pretty much vanity games.  The only other product that has done pretty well is the megadungeon: Depths of Felk Mor.  I wrote that right when the 5e playtests came out, and is 5e compatible.  It’s written in an old school aesthetic, and chock full of 80s pop culture references lol. Kind of a mix between Cthulhu and 80s cartoon hour.  Yes, that’s a thing lol.

TB/TOS: What are some of your favorite games? Why?

RW:  RPGs are my all-time favorite because I’ve always been very creative and love to imagine things.  Strategy games probably come in second place.  I always have a fond soft spot for Axis&Allies in the non-RPG genre.

Chromatic Dungeons Basic Rules
TB/TOS: Fantastic. Now tell everyone a little bit about your game Chromatic Dungeons.

RW:  Old school D&D was and is my favorite edition.  Not just for nostalgia (admittedly that is part of it, but a small part), but also because of the kind of experience it lends to.  Rulings over rules, speed of play, zero to hero, player creativity and strategy (you can’t assume every encounter should be winnable which is something I see a lot in modern games), etc.  However, it was a product of its time.  That is, catered and marketed to white young males.  As a young white male myself at the time, of course I never noticed anything problematic.  This isn’t a dig at any of the creators of the game, or any of the players of the game.  It was what it was at the time with what we considered socially OK.  But as we’ve grown as a community over the years, we’ve become incredibly diverse.  That diversity should be represented and included.  People other than straight white men like myself should be able to pick up the game and see themselves represented in it.  Studies have shown, over and over, how a diverse group is much more efficient and beneficial than a monocultural one.  I’ve hired a lot of diverse freelancers and editors for this, and I can tell you that the game is much better for it.  

Then you’ve got lessons learned mechanically over the past decades we can rely on that should be applied.  Things like ascending armor class that are more intuitive rules.

These two factors together were the driving force behind Chromatic Dungeons.  Currently there is a lot of drama going on regarding comments some of the folks who call themselves OSR or old school have made with the new re-branding of TSR.  But that isn’t what caused Chromatic Dungeons to come about.  Comments like those folks are making the news now because they are big names, but the fact is that for a long time, the OSR community has had to deal with a large portion of fans who have been espousing exclusionary opinions.  I firmly do NOT believe the OSR itself is like that, or that most fans are like that.  But it’s a problem that needs to be addressed because there is a reputation the OSR is getting, and it’s not good.  We can’t deny that.  And as a fan of the OSR, I will do what I can to show how the OSR can also be welcoming and inclusive.  

Thus, about six months ago, Chromatic Dungeons was born in its first iterations.  It’s basically a game that captures the best things about B/X, 1e, and 2e, while applying modern sensibilities and lessons learned since then, and being presented in an old-school aesthetic that represents how diverse our gaming hobby has become.

TB/TOS: What do you feel makes Chromatic Dungeons a step above or better than say current Clones on the market now?  What do you think makes it special?  Or bottom line, why should people want to buy this game?

RW:  Having fun is the best reason to play a game, right?  That’s the ultimate goal?  Many clones out there try to replicate the rules of those older versions extremely closely.  But as anyone who played back then will tell you, many of the rules got in the way.  We simply ignored them.  Chromatic Dungeons applies some mechanical changes to help alleviate that.  The first and most obvious is the move to ascending Armor Class.  But then you’ve also got a revision to alignment, making it much less impactful in regards to driving a PC’s behavior or moral code.  It’s a cosmic force that acts as an influence, not a strict moral code you have to follow.  Traditional racial traits have been re-done as well.  Now those choices only give a few traits, but there is a heritage system instead that anyone can choose that gives you traditional racial bonuses.  For example, you can choose to play a human with the fey heritage (let’s say they grew up in an elven city), so they can gain resistance to sleep and charm, two traits traditionally reserved only for elves.  Another change is getting rid of dead levels.  While not being a robust customized able system like feats were in 3e (that would defeat the purpose of having a streamlined system like b/x), each class does offer something other than a hit point gain at most levels.

And then of course there’s the presentation.  The game is presented to be welcoming and inclusive of everyone.  Making everyone welcome is always a good thing, as it grows our hobby and keeps it alive. 

TB/TOS: You list a few differences from older games on the Kickstarter site.  What was your driving motivation behind these?

RW: I guess I answered that above.  I tend to ramble lol.  The key goal is to capture the feel of gaming back then, but rules changes can be made as long as that goal isn’t compromised.  You should be able to pick up an old module from the 80s and play Chromatic Dungeons with very little conversion.  You should be able to do it on the fly, actually.  That’s important for me to keep.  People have a plethora of material from the old days, and they should absolutely be able to use it with Chromatic Dungeons. 

TB/TOS: The Character sheet looks fantastic and has a great old-school feel to it.  What things from the older games did you want to retain?

RW: The most important is speed of play and player skill.  Players shouldn’t feel discouraged from attempting something with their PC if they don’t have a skill for it.  The less a player references a character sheet, and the more they go to their imagination to describe what they want, the better.  Keeping players engaged is important. However, if players don’t prefer to use player skill for whatever reason, they can fall back on a skill system that is incredibly simple.  It’s a roll under ability system.  If your PC wants to jump up to the chandelier and swing across the room, they don’t need an acrobatics skill to do that.  Simply roll the d20 and if it’s under your Dexterity score, congrats!  This system also makes every point in an ability count.  A gripe of mine from the current system is that there is no difference between a 14 and 15 ability score.

Chromatic Dungeons Full game
TB/TOS: What sorts of games do you see others playing with these rules?

RW:  Like all old-school games, I see people taking bits and pieces of this and applying it to their own games.  Most old-school gamers are also big into homebrewing.  Back in the day, we all created our own worlds and adventures, and I don’t see that as much now.  So I can easily see someone taking an old adventure module and playing Chromatic Dungeons with it.  Or taking the heritage system out of CD and using it for their OSE game.

TB/TOS: Who would you say Chromatic Dungeons is for?

RW:  Everyone.  I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true.  It’s a big driver behind the whole project.  Everyone should feel like they can play this.  However, and there’s always a however, I fully understand that some folks might not find the appeal.  And that’s totally OK.  We all have different preferences, and there is no one-true-way to play the game.   For example, because the game is streamlined, optimizers might not be drawn to it because there isn’t the level of customization options as 3e.  If you were to force me to answer, I’d say this game is especially for those who want a classic feel of gaming with modern design sensibilities, and who were traditionally not represented in those older games.  But really, anyone who enjoys the style of old school gaming, regardless of the diversity or lack thereof, should enjoy this game.  Because the game makes a point to represent people of every demographic doesn’t mean it excludes the traditional straight white male (I would be excluding myself!).  Yes, I’ve heard that complaint as well.

I will add this:  Because no intelligent mundane humanoid has a default alignment in Chromatic Dungeons, there are several people who I’ve heard say this game excludes people who just want the old way of doing things, where all orcs are evil.  I want to be very clear that in CD, you absolutely can still do that.  I’m not showing up to anyone’s house to “cancel” them.  It’s just not the default assumption anymore.  But you as a GM can do whatever you want, and play them however your table feels like.  That’s still a perfectly valid way to play the game. 

TB/TOS: What are your future plans for this game?

RW:  The immediate plans are to put out a monthly Zine that offers new material.  Think of it like a mini-Dragon magazine from back in the day.  The first four are already done, and part of the Kickstarter as a matter of fact.  Writing the fifth one now (really expanding on orcs, their various cultures, etc).

TB/TOS: And finally, for the benefit of my audience, well and me, who is your favorite witch or magic-using character?

RW:  The second fantasy novel I read after the Book of Three was Sword of Shannara.  So Allanon has always had a soft spot in my heart.

I want to add one final note regarding this campaign.  It’s important for me to walk the talk.  It’s one reason why I made it a point to hire diverse freelancers and editors.  This isn’t mentioned on the Kickstarter page because Kickstarter cannot be used as a fundraiser for charities, but I have committed to matching 25% of net profits and donating that to The Trevor Project.  That’s a great charity that helps at-risk LGBTQ youth, and to give them the support they need.  So by supporting this project, you’re not just getting a great RPG, you’re helping at-risk youth who deserve to be treated better than our society does. 

Links

Chromatic Dungeons Kickstarter

Izegrim Creations

DriveThruRPG