Showing posts with label basic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basic. Show all posts

Monday, August 10, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 10 Want

When it comes to RPGs I really don't have a lot of "Wants."

I have been successful in my career so many daily needs of home, food, and health are all covered.  
I certainly don't *need* any books or games. I have enough here to last me the rest of my life and then some.

Though I do think back to a time when a combination of my low income, lack of access and lack of choice produced some Wants in my RPG life.  

The biggest examples of these are my various witch books.  

I have often said that the main drive behind everything I write and publish is a reflection of the wants I had of growing up in the 80s. 
I write the books I wanted to buy back then, but couldn't.  Sometimes that couldn't was because I could not afford it or didn't have access to a good Local Game Store. But most often it was because the books I wanted didn't even exist. 

So really nearly all my "wants" are in the form of "I want to write this book." or "I want to run this game."
And there are a lot of those.

I am currently working on two separate projects (well...more than two, but these are the two I am talking about today).  I have alluded to them both in passing, but I guess today is a good day to make them official.

First, and since today is Monstrous Monday it is good to mention it, is my book on monsters.

The Basic Bestiary: Monsters from the Other Side is my homage to the Fiend Folio and the source of many of those monsters, The Fiend Factory from White Dwarf magazine. 

This book takes monsters that have appeared in my various witch books and monsters that have been featured on Monstrous Mondays.  So very much like the Fiend Folio.  I have even retained the alliteration of the original monster books.  Like the Fiend Folio I am including some new, never before seen monsters as well.  Also like the Fiend Folio/Fiend Factory relationship not all the Monstrous Mondays monsters will go into this book. I am going to leave some of the sillier or snarkier monsters out.

It was the original Monster Manual that got me into D&D all the way back in the 70s.  This also stands as my homage to that.

Presently the book is 220+ with 300+ monsters and no art yet.  So far on par with the original monster books.  The final art for the cover is not yet set and there will be a soft-cover version for fans of "Basic-era" D&D and a hard-cover for fans of "Advanced-era" D&D. While I love the Fuseli art, it predates my beloved Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood art by about 80 years.  But, given the source material, it is quite apropos.  Though I might look for something that works better as a full cover. I am just loathed to not use this somehow.  Unless I can find something from say, Hieronymus Bosch. but he is even further outside my Pre-Raphaelite time period.

Second I have what I have been calling my "Last Witch Book."

The High Secret Order: The High Witchcraft Tradition is going to be the culmination of everything I have written about the witch to date.

Every witch book under the Basic-era Games banner I have written was designed to capture a particular Zeitgeist of playing.  Daughters of Darkness captured the witch as an evil temptress vibe.  The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch captured that Fall/Winter of 1979 when I was heavy into mythology and picked up the Monster Manual for the first time and my experimentations with the Holmes Basic book.  The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch was not going for any particular time save for the fun of Halloween.  The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch was made to capture the time playing Moldvay/Cook & Marsh B/X D&D game and my times discovering both Norse and Celtic myth as an alternative to Greek myths.

As the last Basic-era Witch book this book covers the time of me moving away from Basic-era D&D towards Advanced D&D. Though it is less about a "time" and more about a "process."  I can go with the process of moving from Holmes Basic (and their promise of a witch class) to AD&D.  I can go with the Greyhawk supplement for OD&D as the first real springboard towards what would become AD&D. Or I can go with my own process of moving from B/X Basic to AD&D and a time when we all mixed all the above freely and without concern that we were "doing it right."

Such things might not matter to you, or they might. I just want to capture that time/feeling and make it solid just for a little bit. My gift to that young teen in the middle of the mid-west who could not get his hands on the books he wanted. Let alone books with witches and demons in it in the 80s in an extremely White-Christian small town.  My book is the book form of the Santana song "Hold On" which consequently is from the same time period.

Again. Like Basic Bestiary above the art is not 100% final. I like Daniel Gardner's painting, but again he is outside of myPre-Raphaelite time period. The "compatible with" designation is not on yet since I am not 100% sure which game I want to make this compatible with.  I have a few choices, but the idea is to capture the proper feel of the time and I need to look to a clone ruleset that does the time in mind well.  Just like Children of the Gods was my time with Holmes, Blueholme Rules was a perfect fit. Basic Bestiary will go with Labyrinth Lord

So far my research into my last witch book is moving ahead, but not a lot of writing yet.

I keep saying "last witch book" because there are other things I want to do. I'd love to write some 5e material and I even have a good idea for a 5e series.

I have a Blue Rose book coming out soon which I am pretty happy with and I have had a desire to write some more for BESM4 after picking it up earlier this summer.

So there is a lot I want to do.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 9 Light

Hmm. Light. Light has not been on my mind very much lately.

Shadow has.

Often when talking about light one also brings up dark as in the opposite of, or the absence of, light.  If you pay any attention to what is going on in the world of D&D publishing now there has been a strong push to change, or alter, the nature of certain "dark" races like Drow and Orcs.  I am not going to get into that today, nor do I even find the topic particularly interesting.  Want "good" Drow? Ok. Fine have them. Want good orcs? Sure! They existed in 2nd Ed, nothing new here. My Desert Orcs have been portrayed as "good" since I came up with them.

But if an "evil" race or species can be good, then a "good" race can also be evil.  I pretty much play elves as xenophobic assholes who really don't give two-shits about humans and frankly are just hoping they all kill themselves off.  Are they evil? No, but they are not "good" either.

But extremes are dull. They are cartoon versions of the people I want to represent.  Give me nuance. Give me flaws AND strengths.  Good and Evil. Light and Dark.  

Give me Shadows.

I got to thinking back in June when I was doing my BECMI work I picked a copy of the Shadow Elves guide for the BECMI system.   The Shadow Elves of Mystara are more interesting than Drow.  They are little more nuanced than the Drow are, and this was back in the late 80s.

While reading this I could not help but think of the Shadar-kai from newer D&D. The Shadar-kai from 3rd and 5th Edition D&D are a type of elf/fey, but they were more human-like in D&D 4 where they got the largest treatment.  

There is also the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press which are also interesting.

Between all these treatments there is something I am sure I can use. 


Friday, August 7, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 7 Couple

I could go a number of places with this one, but I think I know what, or more to point, who I want to talk about.

Back when I was working The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition I wanted to go back through my years of notes, not just on witches and witchcraft or even my notes on playing a B/X-style game, but on who were the Pagans I was trying to represent.  So I took a two-pronged approach.

Lars and Siân from HeroForge

First. I looked to the rules I was going to be using.  In this case, it was the Old School Essentials from Necrotic Gnome, in particular, the Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules. That was the feel I was going with.  

I wanted to create some characters to mimic the feel of a "pagan world."  At the same time I was organizing my other RPG books and was thumbing through the game Keltia and it's companion game Yggdrasill.  Both really captured the feel I wanted in a "Pagan World" game.   So I took two character concepts from here, one from each game, and looked to translate them into OSE, Rules As Written.

What character types fit this notion of both Celtic and Norse/Scandinavian Paganism?

Simple. The Druid and the Bard.  Both classes have their roots in Pagan Europe and might even be two of the most "pagan" classes out there save for the Barbarian. 

Since my iconic witch Larina is often used to test my new witch classes once they are written, I wanted these two other characters to be my tests for the materials I was still writing.  I like to keep my variables to a minimum when playtesting, so starting with established classes is always my first choice.  If Larina is my witch, then these are the parents of the witch.  Who they were now was easy.

Introducing Lars & Siân

Since I was playtesting a Pagan game I used our world circa 350-500AD.  Lars is a Bard from Denmark. He was a member of a raiding party heading towards the British Isles.  I choose to ignore the Romans there for this since it worked out better for me.  The ship that Lars was on was beset by terrible storms (same sort that would bedevil King James over a 1000 years later) and his ship, and all the raiders were lost.  
He washed ashore in Wales (they had gone through the English Channel.  I never said they were good or even smart raiders) and was encountered by the locals where they nursed him back to health.  They recognized that he was a bard (or a skald in his own language) and thought it would be ill-advised to harm him.  He was given over to the protection of Siân, a druidess.  If this sounds familiar then I essentially ripped off the story of Amergin Glúingel and his journey to Ireland. Though Lars was not a Milesian.
There was some initial mistrust, but soon they fell in love and consummated their relationship on Beltane night.  Some 38 weeks later, Larina was born.

It amused me to use these characters, ones really brand new to me, to be the parents of a character I know so well. 

Lars
Lars, son of Nichols 
Lawful Male Human Bard, 12th level

Str: 13
Int: 17
Wis: 16
Dex: 14
Con: 13
Cha: 18

HP: 42
AC: 5 (leather armor, ring of protection)

Spells
First: Detect Danger, Predict Weather, Speak with Animals
Second: Cure Light Wounds, Obscuring Mists, Produce Flame
Third: Hold Animal, Protection from Poison, Water Breathing
Fourth: Cure Serious Wounds, Summon Animals

Lars, despite his name, is not based on Lars Ulrich. If anything he based on a combination of Donovan and Van Morrison. 


Siân
Siân nic Stefon 
Neutral Female Human Druid, 12th level

Str: 10
Int: 16
Wis: 18
Dex: 12
Con: 12
Cha: 17

HP: 38
AC: 5 (leather armor, ring of protection)

Spells
First: Animal Friendship, Entangle, Faerie Fire, Predict Weather, Speak to Animals
Second: Barkskin, Create Water, Cure Light Wounds, Obscuring Mists, Slow Poison
Third: Call Lightning, Hold Animal, Protection from Poison, Tree Shape, Water Breathing
Fourth: Cure Serious Wounds, Dispel Magic, Protection from Fire & Lightning, Temperature Control
Fifth: Commune with Nature, Control Weather, Transmute Rock to Mud, Wall of Thorns


I once said "I don't explore dungeons, I explore characters" and I had a great time exploring these two.

It's like reading the Superman stories that take place on Krypton before the planet explodes. Here I explored the Pagan world before Christianity took over (appealing) AND two characters that shaped one of my most important characters. 

I loved using HeroForge to make these as well.  Lars has Larina's face and hair color. Siân has the same body and staff as my first version print of Larina so many years ago.  This pleases me to no end.  Siân's face is that of a half-elf with human ears since I consider her to have a bit of sidhe blood in her, but that is true of all the Welsh I think. 

I might have to get these. They are two of my new favorite characters. Plus I am so pleased with how the different versions of Larina turned out I am going to have to get her mom and dad!

For those that are curious, yes, I am working on a Digest sized version of Craft of the Wise. Out very soon I hope!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Troll Week Starts Tomorrow

I have been working from home since March 15th or so. It has been great really, work has provided me with all the tech I need. I wanted to make my life a little easier so I also set up my kid's old gaming computer in my office.  They still use for playing D&D online via Discord and Roll20, but I use it to test various things.  The computer still has CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives.

While digging through some old back-ups I found a download folder I had thought had been lost.

On it was a copy of Ron Edwards' "Trollbabe" RPG. 
I was reading through it and forgot how much fun it was.  It also got me thinking about trolls, troll magic, and all sorts of related topics.

I remember back in the earliest days of my Dragon magazine reading and getting mail-order catalogs from Games Plus and the Dungeon Hobby Shop one of the products that always jumped out at me was Runequest's TrollPak.  

It was the exact sort of deep dive into a singular topic that appealed to me then and now.  Of course at the time I thought it might be related to Tunnels & Trolls.  When I discovered it wasn't I figured I could convert it and have a Troll-focused game.

You can't read a bunch of myths, legends, and fairy tales about witches and not run across the occasional troll.  They are all over the place.   Especially any of the stories of Northern Europe.

What I never liked though was how the trolls of myth and in particular the trolls from the Hobbit looked and acted nothing like the trolls of D&D.  Sure ogres are fine, but thin rubbery dudes that regenerate? Not so much.  As time went on I of course saw where the D&D trolls came from and why they were chosen; a stronger differentiation between ogres and trolls needed to be made.  But I still never really liked them.

In my games I made a new troll, the Earth Troll, that was more like the trolls I saw in the books I was reading.  These trolls were often the lackeys of hags, in particular, the Wood Hag.  These were much closer and I would later go one to make more trolls.  The idea here that trolls are highly adaptable to their environment.  They are Lamarckian Evolution played out in D&D.  Put a troll near water and in a couple of generations, they are adapted to it.  

But one thing I never did and will do this week, is adapt Troll Pak and Tunnels & Trolls to the Trolls of D&D.


Looking forward to seeing what I can come up with!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

B/X Boxing Match: OSE vs. BX RPG

One question I have been getting since I purchased both the Pacesetter BX RPG and Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials is "which one is better?"

Truthfully I am not really interested in "better" but instead "which is best for me" and "which one satisfies it's design goals best?"

Well, lets have a look!


Before I start let's agree on some terms and shorthand.

B/X refers to the D&D Basic and D&D Expert Boxed Sets edited by Tom Moldvay (Basic) and David Cook and Steven Marsh (Expert). 

BECMI while it might not come up, refers to the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal sets edited by Frank Mentzer.  Unless a distinction needs to be made I am always referring to the B/X versions of Basic and Expert rules.

OSE refers to the Old School Essentials set from Gavin Norman and Necrotic Gnome. In truth I also mean OSE and the Fantasy rules.
OSE-Advanced refers to OSE with the Advanced add-ons; classes and spells.

BX RPG refers to the BX RPG by Bill Barsh and Pacesetter Games and Simulations.

The "Gold Standard" for any comparison is the B/X set.

I want to state unequivocally that I am very, very fond of all four of the above-mentioned games and they all have a place on my table.  Each one is used in my games. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.

Match 1: How well does the game emulate B/X?
So our first match is how well does each game emulate the source material of B/X.  
If we are talking "Rules as Written" then clear winner here is OSE.  If we are talking "Rules as played" then it can be a toss-up between OSE-Advanced and BX.  Both offer different takes on B/X + Advanced.  
I can recall my first paladin character was made in a mix of Expert and Advanced rules.  Eventually, BECMI would give us a Paladin, but mine was pure B/X.  Both sets offer a paladin class (among others) and they are roughly equivalent. 



Match 2: Layout and Art
The OSE game is a marvel of layout efficiency, modular design, and artistic expression.  There is not a ton of art in OSE, but what there is packs a punch.  Both OSE and BX feature "old-school esthetic" in terms of black & white art.  This is not a detractor, but rather a feature for me.
My biggest issue with OSE's layout is that it is TOO efficient and sometimes that leaves it feeling a little bit sterile.  Efficiency and modularity are two of the set's design goals so it is hard to fault them here.
BX RPG needs another round of QA check, but otherwise, it also meets their stated design goals.
OSE edges out here. 

Match 3: Options
Out of the box BX offers more options than core OSE. More classes, races, levels, spells, and levels. Here OSE's strength of emulation works against it.  If you have B/X and can play it without looking things up then OSE Core has little more to offer you.  
Adding the OSE-Advanced options makes it more attractive to the current B/X player looking for more but not wanting to dive deep in the AD&D ocean.  Still, even with these options in place, BX RPG edges out OSE.
Both games are promising even more options in the future so this one could be close for some time to come.

Match 4: Playability
OSE is so well organized it not only edges out the original B/X in this regard but even the well organized BECMI.  OSE though works best for players already experienced in B/X or any flavor of D&D. The modularity of OSE rivals that of 4e.  That is not a slight, but rather a compliment. The layout and modularity of 4e was a design masterpiece. 
BX RPG is less organized, but there is so much explanatory material that it is perfect for newer players or someone with no experience with B/X and wants to give it a try.
Verdict? If you have B/X experience then OSE is best. If you are new to B/X then BX RPG.

Match 5: Price per Value
This is much harder.  Both games are priced well. 

The physical BX RPG boxed set comes with books, adventures, and dice for US$50.  Though it is hard to tell exactly what is in the box from Pacesetter's website.  So I am not sure what is exactly in the box other than the rule books. This is just the physical books, no PDFs.

The OSE Boxed set can be configured in a number of ways on the Necrotic Gnome website. The Classic set, closest to the B/X game, is available in a box with hardcover digest sized books and PDFs for €60,00 (presently about US$68.50).  You can add on the OSE-Advanced options. 

OSE has a sturdier box and hardcover books and comes in a single volume option.
BX RPG has good box with room for dice and adventures.

So lower price entry for the boxed sets for BX RPG.  More buying options for OSE.

Which one is for you?
I hate to dodge this one, but that is really up to you and the games you are going to run.

For me? I am happy to have both systems. I think there is a slight edge on BX RPG for players and a similar edge for Game Masters for OSE.  The options of BX RPG make it more attractive to the player and the OSE-Advanced books work fine with BX and B/X (even BECMI).  The organization of OSE makes it a dream to run and find things.

One thing for sure for me, if I were to run either game I would invest in about four or five extra player books for the players.

BX RPG Player books can be bought here, PDF and Print.
Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Player's Rules Tome, PDF and Print/PDF.
(Note if you are outside of Europe you might want to go with this site for OSE products.)

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.

Classes
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.





Races
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. 

Spells
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. 

Creatures
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.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

That's So Raven! Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos for BECMI

Raven by Luis Royo
Back in 1987, I was a freshman in college. My then Favorite Local Game Store was also my Favorite Local Used Book Store.  They sold new books, used books as well as new and old gamebooks.  I got a copy of the first printing Deities & Demigods here along with scores of old copies of Dragon and White Dwarf.  

One book they always prominently displayed was the American versions of Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos.  

I never grabbed the book but as an 18-year-old guy, I always was attracted to the covers. I even had a character named Raven, who like the cover, was blonde and had a pet raven.  I was vaguely aware there were more books in the series, but never knew how many. 

Over the last couple of years, I have been on a quest to find and read all the Raven books by "Richard Kirk" who was, in reality, the pen name of authors Angus Wells and Robert Holdstock.  Both wrote Book 1 and then they alternated with Wells on Books 3 and 5 and Holdstock on Books 2 and 4.

Well, I succeeded in my quest and I found them all and read them.
While they are not...good...they are fun little romp in late 70s Swords and Sorcery (and Sex, but not as much as the Corgi covers hint at). Sometimes described as a mildly ribald Red Sonja or a less ribald Ghita Of Alizar. The books however perfect for game fodder. 

Others have reviewed the books and I went back and forth on whether I should do the same.  So instead I am just going to link out to some of the better reviews and retrospectives for your own reading.

I figured there are five books in the Raven saga and there are five rule sets in the BECMI series.  
Seems like a good fit.  Plus it let's me try out each set of rules with a character.

I also did this with my very first character, the Lawful Cleric Johan Werper. While I find him interesting I figure you all would like to see Raven more. Also I wanted to get a good feel for how the fighter works in all sets AND the advanced fighter paths from the Companion rules.  So let's get to it!

Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos

Raven from Heroforge
The story Raven begins with that of a runaway slave girl named Su'ann. She is reduced by a mysterious warlock-like character named Spellbinder who recognizes that she is "the pivot on which the world turns" partially because she is also protected by giant Raven and he senses something in her.  Spellbinder and Su'ann, now calling herself "Raven" hook up with a band of outlaws and pirates.  They go from adventure to adventure but all the time Raven is training with swords, spears and what would become her "trademark" a set of throwing stars.  It was the 70s man.  Raven though is not training out of boredom, nor even for the higher purpose fate seems to have, but is very vague about, for her.  She wants to kill her former slave owner the Swordsmaster Karl Ir Donwayne.  
While Raven is the cover girl and the eponymous main character, the events are all narrated and told by Spellbinder many years after the fact. Even the scenes where he was not present.  

The story is one that is simple, but close to many FRP gamers. Raven wants to kill Karl Ir Donwayne. How is going to do that? Well, they need to Skull of Quez to appease this ruler to get to Donwayne. But they have to find the mysterious island first and then kill the beast-men. And there are shadowy loners, men with mysterious pasts. Raven jumping in and out of bed with Spellbinder, Gondar the Pirate captain, and even Krya M'ystral, the Queen and sister of the ruler they were trying to go see.  This is all in the first book.  There is a nice gory battle with Karl Ir Donwayne too, but he comes back in future books to bother Raven some more.

We never get a satisfactory end to Raven's story.  Book 5 just ends.  Though all the books are told from Spellbinder's point of view they could be out of order.  We do know that Raven met some sort of end between Book 5 and Spellbinder's remembering which seems to take place many years later. Maybe she became that agent of Chaos after all.

For this I am going to stat up Raven for each rule set in the BECMI rules, trying to feature what I feel are the best parts.  I am also going to try to feature what I can from what she was doing in the books.

Raven, ePic Character Generator


Sheets are from The Mad Irishman

Basic


Here is the Basic version of Raven.  The hardest this is always to guess at what any one character's numbers are going to be. I figure she had good strength and constitution as well as high dexterity since she favors the throwing stars.  Her charisma is very high, not because of her looks, but because she inspires a lot of loyalty from the cutthroats she usually hangs out with.

She is a fighter. No doubt. I also gave her alignment as Chaotic.  She is a force of chaos, but she is also a killer.  For this example, I thought putting her at level 3, or "Swordmistress" (no middle "s" like the books) was appropriate even for her first book.

You can see her full Basic sheet here (click for larger): 



Expert


Fighters don't get a lot in the Expert set. So for her 2nd book I just advanced her to 9th level "Lady" and gave her some magical chain mail.

You can see her full Expert sheet here (click for larger): 



Companion


Ah now here are some changes!

In the Companion rules, we have more going on.  First I wanted to have her become an Avenger or the Chaotic traveling Fighter.  She obviously has no lands to call her own and she is still going about killing things.  But the Avenger gives her some Clerical ability.

Magic is rare and dangerous in Raven's world.  But everyone seems to have some sort of supernatural sort of talent.  So for Raven, I choose spells that fit in with role as the "pivot on which the world turns" and other things like her raven companion.  So things like "detect magic" and "cause fear" made sense. She also got the 3rd level spell "striking" since that covers a lot of what could be a natural talent.

She also gets 2 attacks per round now at 18th level.

You can see her full Companion sheet here (click for larger): 



Master


Master level Raven is really Ultimate Raven.  This is the Raven that goes toe to toe with gods and spirits and comes out unscathed. 

She gets three attacks per round now and I implemented the Weapon Mastery Rules to give her mastery over the sword and her throwing stars. 
She gets more cleric spells, this time to the 10th level of ability.  Some spells are easily explained by her connection to her bird, fate, and chaos.  Others can be explained by natural ability. "Commune" for example is with her bird and the forces of Chaos only.  "Speak with Animals" can be roughly explained by her time with the animal men. Others could be when she was dealing with weird supernatural forces.

She also gets 3 attacks per round now.

You can see her full Master sheet here (click for larger): 



Immortal


This sheet is largely incomplete.  It is also the most different of the other four (printed from my DTRPG copy) and interestingly enough the only book in series that I don't have an American (Royo cover) edition of.  I do have the British Corgi version with the Chris Achilléos cover.  

I made a lot of guesses as to what sort of Immortal she would be and just cheated and made her an Initiate. I might try this again with one of my own characters that I know better. 

You can see her full Immortal sheet here (click for larger): 


All in all I rather pleased with these. I am curious to hear from anyone that has also read these books.
As far as BECMI character I am happy with it.

Links

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Plays Well With Others: BASSH, Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I love my Basic-era games, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI and their clones.
BUT I also love Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The games are similar of course, drawing from the same sources, but there are also a few differences. 

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH) is more closely aligned with "Advanced Era" D&D, but its feel for me has always been more OD&D, though over the last few years I have been treating it as another flavor of Basic.  


I have mentioned in the past that I see AS&SH as a good combination of B/X and AD&D rules.  Essentially it is what we were playing back in the early 80s.  Where I grew up it was not uncommon to come to a game where people would have an AD&D Monster Manual, a Holmes Basic book, and a Cook/Marsh Expert Book.  The rules we played by were also an equally eclectic mix.
AS&SH is like that. It favors the AD&D side more, but there are enough B/X influences that I smile to myself when I see them.

In fact, it works so well with Basic that I have featured AS&SH with other Basic-era books in previous "Plays Well With Others."
I find the game that useful and that inspiring.

Class Struggles: Which Each Game Offers
Originally this was going to be a Class Struggles post, but with the inclusion of the monsters below, I felt it had grown beyond just that.  

If Basic-era D&D lacks anything in my opinion it is class options. Yes. I know the classes are supposed to be archetypes to play anything.  A "Fighter" works for a Paladin, a Ranger, a Barbarian, a Knight, and so on.  But I like a little game mechanics with my flavor.  I also like to have choices.

AS&SH achieves this in a beautiful way that can be adopted by any Basic-era game, but in particular, ones that cleave closest to the original sources and of course Holmes, B/X and BECMI.

So we are going to go beyond the Basic Four (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif) here.  I'll talk about demi-humans in a bit.

In AS&SH we have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Thief.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Huntsman, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock.  The Magician has the Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine), Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch (an old favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, Runegraver, and Shaman (see BECMI).  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist,  Purloiner, and the Scout.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. Every class goes to the 12th level.


Looking over at the Basic side of things we have a few more choices.  Holmes, B/X, and BECMI all cover the Basic Four in more or less the same ways.  BECMI gives us the additions of Paladin, Avenger, Knight, Druid, Mystic, and the NPC/Monster classes of Shaman and Wicca/Wokani/Witch.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord gives us the Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Monk, Paladin, Ranger in addition to the Basic Four.

Old-School Essentials' Advanced options give us the Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, and Ranger.  It also gives us the new race-as-classes Drow, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, and Svirfneblin.

The B/X RPG from Pacesetter has the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger along with the Gnome and Half-elf.  (Yes, a review for this is coming)


AS&SH classes go to the 12th level.  Basic classes, at least B/X flavored ones, go to the 14th level.  I like the idea of splitting the difference and going to the 13th level. 

Additionally, AS&SH has different cultures of humans to provide more flavor to the human classes.

All the Basic-era books have demi-humans that AS&SH lacks. Lacks is a strong word, the game doesn't need demi-humans by design, but they are still fun to have.  Combining these gives us the best of all worlds! Kelt Elves? Dwarf Picts? Lemurian Gnomes?!  This could be a lot of fun.

Plus the mix of cultures in AS&SH is second only to mix found in BECMI Mystara in terms of "let's just throw it all in there!"

I might let people choose one of the Basic Four and stealing a page from D&D5 allow them at 2nd or 3rd level to take "sub-class."  I'll have to see what the various classes all get at first level vs 2nd and 3rd level.

Monsters! Monsters!
It's can't be denied that AS&SH has some great monsters.  Not only does it give us demons and devils (Basic-era is lacking on both) but also Lovecraftian horrors.  Sure, "At The Mountains of Madness" took place at the South Pole, who is to say there is not a similar outpost in the North? 

BECMI does talk about "The Old Ones" a lot and in the Core Rules is never very clear on who or what they are.  But it is not a stretch to think that those Old Ones and the Lovecraftian Old Ones have a connection.  


Oddly enough these things feel right at home in a Basic game.  If one goes back to the Masters and Immortals sets with the original idea that the Known World is our world millions of years ago this tracks nicely with some Lovecraftian mythology of our world.

I have talked about Demons in Basic/Mystara already, but AS&SH offers us "The Usual Suspects" and then some.  While Labyrinth Lord has always been good about opening the "Advanced" monsters to the Basic world, the monsters of AS&SH are of a different sort.

Maybe more so than the classes these require a bit more conversion.  Here is a monster we are all familiar with (and one I am doing something with later), drawing from the same sources to give us three or four different stat-blocks. 




Well. Not that different I guess. They are left to right, top to bottom, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, AS&SH, OSE, and B/X RPG.

AS&SH looks like a "best of" stats, combining features from both Basic and Advanced. Bite damage does a bit more on the average and the XP value is higher.  But nothing I am going to call game-breaking.

So the AS&SH monsters can be dropped pretty much "as is" into a Basic-era game. 

Anyone that plays these games should have no trouble with this really.

Putting it all Together and then Putting it in the North
It's settled then, AS&SH is part of my "Basic World" and where to put it is easy.
In the Known World of Mystara, there is already a Hyboria. It is one of the features of both D&D (Mystara) and AD&D (Hyperboria, Oerth) just as Blackmoor is (Mystara, Oerth). but Blackmoor is a topic for another day.

While none of the maps can be reconciled with each other to make one perfect Hyperboria, the concepts certainly can. This is something I have been considering since I first got the 1st Edition Boxed set.
I know that my family of witches, the Winters, come from the Hyperborean area.  Likely closer to more civilized areas, but not too civilized.  This became the basis for my Winter Witch book. 

BASSH is Born
So take what I love from AS&SH, mix in what I love from Basic and I have Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, or BASSH.  Yeah. This will be fun.

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