Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review: Castles & Crusades Codex Classicum

The Castles & Crusades Codecies series are great books to add some flavor and history to your game.  While overtly for the Castles & Crusades game they can be used by nearly any game.  I reviewed the Codex Celtarum a while back and I loved it. So I picked up all the others.
Since I am currently on a big Greek Mythology kick, let's have a look at Castles & Crusades Codex Classicum.

Castles & Crusades Codex Classicum
For this book, I am reviewing the PDF only since that is what I have at hand at the moment.
The PDF is 146 pages with color covers and black & white interiors.  The art is up to the high standards you should expect from Troll Lords with plenty of evocative art from Peter Bradley.   Like the other books in this series, this one was written by Brian Young, who has the educational background to tackle these books.
Brian introduces us to the material with an apology that this book could have been twice as large and not cover everything.  Indeed, the book's scope is ambitious with what we normally consider Classical Mythology; the stories of the Greeks and the Romans with some Etruscans thrown in for good measure.  Ambitious indeed.

Note: There are a couple of errors in the hyperlinked table of contents in the PDF, but nothing that keeps anyone from enjoying the book.

Chapter 1 covers the actual history of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans...or as much as can be done in 20 or so pages.  There are actual history and mythical histories.  The myth in this section and book takes heavily, as can be expected, from Hesiod's Theogony.  It's like being back in Freshman Classics all over again!  The section, for its brevity, is well thought out and hits on the big pictures and themes.  I suppose if you want more you can always read Theogony yourself.  In fact, do that, anyone that is a gamer should have a basic understanding of the Classical Myths.

Chapter 2 details the all-important geography of the area.  Why "all-important"? Because the Greeks and the later Romans were products of their environments; their history, religions and myths were influenced by their geography to an extreme extent.  From the Greek city-states of early antiquity, to rise of the power Athens and Macedonia and in the literal center of it all, the Mediterranean Sea.
Again, this chapter is a quick overview, but a better one than I have seen in other game books.
This chapter also covers mythical locations (but not the mythical worlds just yet).  Remember to the Greeks these places were places just as real as everything else.  One could, if they so desired, walk to the underworld. That is if they knew the way.
This chapter also introduces the Explorer/Adventurer class.  Something that feels right at home in the world of the Greeks or the worlds of Gygax.  Some should convert this to another system and see how it plays out.

Chapter 3 features the monsters and beasts of the Classical World.  There are a lot of old favorites here and well as new representations of other favorites.  Of course, this is one of my favorite chapters.  Greek myth got me into D&D via the Monster Manual and there are a lot of monsters here that get right in the 1979 nostalgia.  My only disappointment here is that is no art of any of the monsters. I know we all know what most of these creatures look like, but I still feel a little cheated in not getting enough Peter Bradley art.

Chapter 4 is my favorite.  Monsters got me into D&D and RPGs, but it was magic that kept me coming back. Chapter 4 features Greek and Roman sorcery and magic including necromancy and prophecy.   Even the most casual reader of the classic myths should know how important Oracles are to the tale.  From Jason to Perseus to the tragedy of Oedipus, Oracles move the story forward. Here we get our next class, the Oracle (with notes on how these mouthpieces of the gods work in the other Codies).  Unlike the Pathfinder Oracle, this one is not a spellcaster but a reader of omens. It also requires a fairly experienced player to play to make proper use of it.
Also featured here is the Nekuomantis, or the classical Greek necromancer.  In many ways, this is the true necromancer before RPGs got ahold of the archetype.  These characters speak to the dead to learn secrets and the future.

Chapter 5 deals with the Gods and Titans and other immortal creatures.  It is fairly comprehensive compared to all other game books and very helpful in populating the ranks of the Immortals.

Chapter 6 focuses more on the humans and mortals of the world.  The heroes and their issues.  The basics of the Greek and Roman armies are also covered.  This chapter also introduces the Gladiator class.

All in all a great overview but also leaving me with the desire for some more.  Still I rather enjoyed it and can see a lot of uses for it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review & PWWO: Maximum Mayhem Adventures

Mark Taormino of Maximum Mayhem Dungeons is in the final week of his latest creation, Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #6: Moving Maze of the Mad Master.

I thought today might be a great time to discuss his previous adventures.


#1 Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen
This adventure, written by Mark Taormino might be an homage to the first Palace of the Vampire Queen adventure, but it is more likely an homage to those meat-grinder, total-party kill, fun-house dungeons of the late 70s early 80s. There is a basic plot here, enough to get you in the door and moving along, but really this adventure is about killing things and avoiding getting killed. Example, in one of the first encounters you have to run a gauntlet and get past a bunch of fire giants and their hell hound pets. This is "room 1". It is downhill from there. It has demons and other vampires in the wander monster table. Liches, demons, succubi, greater devils, nearly 50 vampires in total, tons of other monsters and of course the Queen herself, Lady Neeblack.

This is not an adventure to challenge the resolve of hardy role-players. This is an adventure to survive and leave a trail of bodies behind you. It is old-school, but old-school through the eyes of 40-somethings looking back on their times as teens.
The adventure itself has a great lead-in to get you interested, but that is just the carrot on a stick, most people buying and playing this module are going to want to jump right in. Another example (this is not a spoiler), you are captured by Lady Neeblack and told you have to run through her crypts for her amusement. The conceit is the characters will feel coerced into doing this, so they slide down a passage to the previously mentioned Fire Giants. In truth, my players wanted to jump in like they were doing a dive at the pool.

Though to claim people will play this for nostalgia reasons is completely unfair. Mark did a great job of this. The rooms are detailed and what detail! There are interesting encounters and Lady Neeblack herself should really move up the ranks as one of the more memorable NPCs ever. In fact I am hoping that she comes back for a sequel sometime soon. Just like a good Hammer villain she should find ways to come back from the dead. Mark Taormino, this needs to happen.
The text of the book is big, easy to read and despite the "old school" claims still has boxed text to read (screw you Grognards! I still like boxed text even when I don't use it.) Each room is unique and feels like it belongs. Plus the "Hanging Coffins" themselves are the coolest idea in vampire graves since the Lost Boys.
The proof of any adventure is not in the reading but in the playing. So I played it. It rocked.

Now the game is designed for OSRIC but can played with 1st or 2nd Ed AD&D. I played it with 5th Edition D&D. I just replaced the monsters and made a character sheet for Lady Neeblack. I ran the same group of people that I had taken through the original Palace of the Vampire Queen and we all treated it as an unofficial sequel. I worked out well enough. We all had fun, but if this module reads as a deathtrap on paper it's a killer in the playing. So make of that what you like.
Personally I would love to run it again using AD&D1

#2 Secret Machines of the Star Spawn
Let's play a game of what if. What if the Expedition to the Barrier Peaks had been written in the 80s instead of the 70s? What if there were influences of Star Wars, Buck Rogers, 50s sci-fi movies and just a little dash of 70s Blaxploitation?
You might get something like The Secret Machines of the Star Spawn, but it would not be as good as the module Mark Taormino wrote. The module follows a similar flow of the other Maximum Mayhem Dungeons; something weird is happening, there are rumors, a long history of strangeness and a thin excuse to go adventuring. What they PCs will uncover is...well I don't want to spoil it. It's no shock that this adventure will feature a downed starship and some lasers. But it doesn't end there. In truth there is a lot to really, really like about this adventure. In a different setting, the monsters would be scary ass deadly and really, really awesome. Also there is so many references to pop culture, espeically sci-fi and 80s pop culture, that it would be pointless to address them all. The rock band KILL was one of my favorites. Designed for OSRIC, I played bits and pieces of this using D&D5. Though it would work just as well with AD&D1, Castles & Crusades or any other OGL based clone game. The one issue I have with it (and very minor) is that players that didn't grow up in the 70s and 80s would not get all the jokes. I ran Hanging Coffins for my kids and they loved it, but some of the jokes fell flat on them here. No surprise they have no context for them. I thought they were hilarious to be honest. Loved the Pinball Wizard! If I were to run this again I would either merge it with a little bit of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and run a huge Star Spawn mega-adventure. Or I'd run it as is with some disposable characters and guys that grew up in the 80s too.

#3 Villains of the Undercity
What if the Keep on the Borderlands was destroyed and then humans came in and built a new keep on top of the ruins. Let's also say the caves of Chaos have been cleared, but not all the monsters were killed. Where did they go? What did they do? Now invite the Slave Lords from the A series over. You would get Villains of the Undercity! This adventure is an ode and homage to the great dungeon crawls of the day. While this adventure fits the gonzo style of the other Maximum Mayhem Dungeons this one can also be played straight. Well...sorta. There is a crazy Halfling Illusionist Assassin, but that is for the players to figure out.
With this adventure, anyone that has ever been inside a classic dungeon will find something to love. There are lots of deadly traps, monsters and puzzles to figure out. Of course plenty of treasure too. This adventure is also the one that I can see fitting into a larger campaign, even with adventures from other publishers. I was mentally placing it in Greyhawk or even Dolmvay. Just really a lot of fun.
Like the B and A series it takes so much nostalgia from, this is an introductory module.  But just because it says character levels 1-3 it is still expecting some experienced players or very experienced players with somewhat fuzzy memories!  Like the MM modules, this one is action and combat. Yes, there are some puzzles to solve and everything is deadly.

#4 Vault of the Dwarven King
Another what if scenario for you.  What if the dwarves of Moria were completely crazy for Indiana Jones?  Well, you might get something like Vault of the Dwarven King.  There is the aforementioned vault, part of a vast underground dwarven city.  There is a giant monster that's on fire.  There are also mine-cars, goblin moonshiners, blue trolls and dwarf tossing.
There is a thin coating of silliness over a really fun and REALLY deadly adventure here. All to reclaim the lost dwarven artifact, the Fireheart.  But does it belong to the dwarves or the goblins?  Will you even live long enough to find out?
Like the adventures that came before it, it is an unapologetic romp down memory lane.  This adventure though, maybe more so than any of the others might be more accessible to anyone that didn't grow up in the 80s.  The biggest nostalgia pull is, of course, the Lord of the Rings movies, in particular, Fellowship of the Ring, but that is only one (though very loud) note.  There is enough going on here to keep every player on their toes and their characters running.   This one is also the most classically "fantasy" than the others which also draw on sci-fi, horror and crazy humor.

#5 Palace of the Dragon's Princess
Palace of the Dragon's Princess might be my second favorite adventure in this whole series right after Hanging Coffins.  The premise is very similar to the classic Palace of the Silver Princess.   In this case, the Princess is trapped by a green dragon and you must go rescue her.  Sound easy?  You obviously have not paid any attention to the other four adventures in this series.
This one has a lot of background information, more so than the others.  We know a lot more about Princess Francessca than we do about Lady Neeblack the Vampire Queen (Could Lady Neeblack be Princess Francessa's dead mother??!!?).  There is a knight, a dragon and Torgo. Yup, a nice riff on MST3k with Torgo and the Master.  But is the princess REALLY in danger?  That will be up to the Gamemaster to decide.  There is a lot going on here and because of the backstory a lot more that a crafty DM can add.  I am a touch disappointed there were no three-headed creatures like the Ubues, but that is fine. They were silly enough then.
Like the Vault of the Dwarven King this one is more classically fantasy and it is also one best ones in the series to "run straight".  Meaning you could strip out some of the silliness and have a pretty deadly, serious adventure if you wanted.
In any case, this is one is a lot of fun and a worthy addition to the line of Maximum Mayhem Dungeons.

So check out Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #6: Moving Maze of the Mad Master.  It looks like "Willy Wonka in Hell" so you know it will be fun.

Plays Well With Others
The Maximum Mayhem Adventures are designed with 1st Edition/OSRIC in mind.  But If you organize them in level like this.


I can't help but notice a solid campaign of levels 1 to 14.
Just like B/X D&D.


With some tweaks, mostly to the monsters and alignment, you could have a solid set of adventures for the B/X line of D&D.  Sure they are a bit tough and have some out-there elements, but nothing that B/X couldn't deal with with the right DM.

I have not tried this yet.  I have played these adventures using D&D 5th edition, but I can't see why it would not work.


Plus the boxes look nice together.
Isn't this how we all played back then anyway?  Mixing our AD&D and BD&D all the time.  I think I first went through the A-Series using the Expert set anyway.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Review: B/X Essentials

To celebrate 40 years of playing D&D I am doing a year-long celebration I am calling Back to Basic.  While I got my start on Holmes Basic, it is the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert that really lit my fires.

It should be no surprise then that I am a big fan of Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials (soon to become Old School Essentials) line. 


Gavin has been producing some great content for a while now via his Necrotic Gnome label. His Theorems & Thaumaturgy and Complete Vivimancer are among my favorite Old-School books.

His Kickstarter for Old School Essentials is funded and going into its last days now.  While this is going on you can still get copies of B/X Essentials.

For these reviews, I am using both the PDF and Print versions of these books.

B/X Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources.  The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format.  All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green.
A moment about these covers.  They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement.
All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off.  Everything is easy to find.  Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.

B/X Essentials: Core Rules
The Core Rules weighs in at 34 pages and gets to the very heart of the B/X Essentials line.  The essential Essentials as it were. It covers Ability scores in general, sequences of play and all the basic rules needed.  Combat is covered separately. Magic also gets a bit of coverage here in general terms and including how spells can be researched and magic items made. 
The rules have been "cleaned up" from their obvious predecessors.   Focus is on readability and playability here.  In fact all the entries under the basic rules are alphabetical, so finding something say like Movement, is easy.  In the original rules it took a bit of digging to actually figure out how much a character moves.  This was vastly improved in later editions of the game, but here it is very succinctly spelled out. Other rules are equally made clear.
Since the "Basic" and "Expert" rules are combined here there is an economy of word usage here.  As much as I love my Basic and Expert games, sometimes you need to consult both books when a situation comes up.

B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment
The Classes and Equipment book comes in at 44 pages.  It begins naturally enough with character creation.  Some details, such as Ability scores, are detailed here, but also give a call back to the Core Rules book.  Still, though everything is here to make a character.  For practice, I made a 7th level Cleric just using this book. It went extremely fast and very little need to flip pages back and forth.  I just needed to use the Spells book to pick out spells.
The modular design of the B/XE system extends to this book as well. Each class begins on an even-numbered page and extends to the next odd-numbered page.  You can then hold the book flat, put it up two-pages at a time on your screen,  and read everything you need in a glance.   I really appreciate this level of attention paid.  Many books do not do this and in fact, look like they were just run off on Word's PDF converter.  There is more attention put into the layout here than in most products and to me, that is what sets this above the others.
The classes represented here are the 7 classics; Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief and the three demi-humans, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.  True to B/X these are "race as class" classes.
Equipment, money and of course weapons are covered in the next half of the book.

B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
Cleric and Magic-User Spells would have been my favorite book if B/XE had come out in the 80s.  Right now it also has my favorite cover from the entire series. Seriously, I love it.
The book itself has 34 pages and covers all the Cleric and Magic-User/Elf spells in the game.
All the usual suspects are here.  Again when making my recent Cleric I used this book. 
The modularity again is a huge boon for this book and game.  Adding a new class, like the proposed Druid and Illusionists? Add a new book easy! 

B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures
At 48 pages this is one of the two larger books in the series. This book deals with adventuring and what sort of things you can find on those adventures. So there are traps, monster tables, and all the treasure types and magical treasure.
Again we see where combining the Basic and Expert rules gives you a much better idea of what is going on in these "dungeons".
This is also my second favorite cover of the line. 

B/X Essentials: Monsters
Ah, now this is a book I would have loved back in 81.  Also coming in at 48 pages this book is about monsters and nothing else.
Stat blocks are concise and there is none of the bloat in the descriptions that appear in later editions (ok to be fair that bloat was demanded by players).   The book is fantastic with my only reservation in I wish it had been illustrated more.  But even that is fine.
I can easily see a "Monsters 2" and "Monsters 3" sometime in the future for this line.

In truth, I can't say enough good about this.   Is it 100% brand new material?  No, but that was also never the design goal.  The books do exactly what they say they are going to do.  If I were starting with a new group using B/X-flavor D&D I would be hard-pressed to come up with a reason NOT to use these books.

B/X Essentials: Demihumans of Dolmenwood
This free product is only 8 pages long and is only in PDF. It is the only genre and world-specific book in the line covering the Dolmenwood, the shared setting used by Necrotic Gnome.   This book includes two new races, the Fairy Elf and the Woodgrue, both fairy races of the Dolmenwood.  There is also a listing of some Fae lords and ladies.



A Bit about OSE
Old School Essentials expands on these rules and reorganizes them some more.  There is a Basic Rules that takes place of the Core book and then a Genre book that covers classes and other "D&D" like topics.  I imagine that different genre books will have other rules and classes.

Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
This free 56-page book covers all the basics of the OSE line.  Picking it up you can see the stylistic changes from B/XE to OSE.  Also this book covers just about everything you need to play right now.  It includes the four human classes, some rules, some spells, some monsters, and treasure.  Enough to give you a taste of what OSE will be like.
It has the same modular design as B/XE so finding things is simple, leaving more time for play.
There is no interior art in this free version, but that hardly detracts from it.

I am really looking forward to seeing OSE out.  But until then I am going to enjoy playing with B/XE!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Review Monsters of Mayhem #1

This has been sitting on my desk forever begging me to review.  Today seems like a good day for it.

Review: Monsters of Mayhem #1
Monsters of Mayhem #1 is the latest monster tome from the Mad Wizard himself, Mark Taormino.  Mark has made a good name for himself in the Old School D&D scene producing some top rated gonzo adventures.  So it should only seem natural that he would turn his attention to making an equally gonzo and fun monster book.  Which is exactly what he did.
Monsters of Mayhem is 36 pages of monsters for old school games using OSRIC, coughAD&Dcough.
I am reviewing both the physical book and the PDF.
The book is black & white with color covers and "blue map" inside covers.  There are 48 monsters here, most illustrated.
The monsters themselves are all fun and all of them are very deadly, or at least they could be in the hands of a sadist DM.
Many have appeared in his adventures, but there are some new faces here as well.  Also many will invoke a feeling of nostalgia for anyone that played AD&D back int he 80s.  Some are fun, like "The Little Green Bastards" (aliens), some are nostalgic like the "Astral Drifter" and "Star Spawn", and others are just plain disgusting (in a great way) like the "Block of Hungry Flesh".  Others still are very deadly like the infamous "Vampire Lich".
Our cover girl is a Demonia Gigantica which was one of the very first monsters I used from this book.



The style reminds you of the old school, early 80s, style of books.  Save for how over the top everything is it could pass for an 80s book. Well, that and the production values are top-notch.

I high recommend this book.

There is a lot packed into 36 pages here.
For $10.00 you get a lot and will really spice up your game a little.

If you want to pick up a dead-tree version then check out Mark's newest Kickstarter, Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #6: Moving Maze of the Mad Master.


Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: Blackest of Deaths Ashcan Version & Kickstarter

Bloat Games has been putting out some quality games for a little bit now and they are certainly the new "It" company in the Old-School scene right now.  Their newest Kickstarter is now up, The Blackest of Deaths - A Dire Old School Fantasy RPG and I have been given access to the "Ashcan" copy of the rules.   Let's have a look and see what this Kickstarter is all about!

There is The Blackest of Deaths - Dire Old School Fantasy RPG - KS Sneak Peek on DriveThru now. It is free so have a look.

The Rules
We are greeted on the very first page with a "Caution" and "YOUR CHARACTERS WILL DIE."  I think that sets the tone for the game quite well.  The aesthetic reminds me of Dungeon Crawl Classics mixed with HackMaster to be honest.   Not my usual vibe, but I like what I am reading so far.
My favorite is the line "yes, this is the type of game your grandparent’s preachers warned them about in the 70s & 80s!"  Ok then!

We start out with what are the two big "rules" of the game;
1. "Rulings vs Rules", there is no rule for everything in that can happen in the game.  The GM is in charge and will make up what they need to make up to keep the game going.
2. The Core Mechanic.  Roll a d20 and d6 at the same time.  If the d6 comes up 1 you get a Hinderance. If it comes up as a 6 then you get a Benefit.  2, 3, 4, or 5 are ignored.  There are also Advantage and Disadvantage rules.

The character Attributes are the same, but instead of a range of 3-18 you just have your pluses or minuses.  Max is 3, the lowest is -2.  You start with 10 hp +/- your Con score.  The only way to get more is via magic!  There is no leveling up! This is you.
To offset this all characters have some Luck points.
Armor and Dex scores don't add to "AC" but reduce damage given.

There are four races, elf, dwarf, goblin and human.  Races can raise or lower your scores.
There are six classes, Assassin, Barbarian, Monster Slayer, Necromancer, Ranger, and Street Rat.
They work as you expect, each one with a specialized purpose.  Monster Slayer has a unique talent for killing a particular monster you choose for example.
There are a limited number of spells (no levels) and most deal with combat.
Equipment and weapons finish off the Player's Section.

The GM's section is the other half of the book.
We go over the basic rules again and discuss some difficulty checks.  This is where the game's "New School" roots show from under their "Old School" dye job!   But in truth, it all works great.

There is a good sized monster section with the monsters in a very distilled format.  Just the essentials.
All the favorites are here and it is easy to see why and how these monsters will mow through most characters.

There is also a good-sized section on treasure and magic items.

The game is fast to pick up and lethal.  It is close to an OSR "Beer and Pretzel" game to be honest.  Great for a single night or weekend or even as a side-quest with a "Magnificent Seven" style adventure.

The Kickstarter
Well, one thing you know.  The rule book is finished and ready to go, it's now all about those stretch goals.  And there is a good set of those!
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ericfrombloatgames/the-blackest-of-deaths-a-dire-old-school-fantasy-r?ref=theotherside

As of this writing, the game is funded (in the first 2 hours!) and they are at the first stretch goal of 20 more monsters.  There are plenty more where that came from too.

Really looking forward to seeing what this game does.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Isaina Lyd’ar for The Witch for Swords & Wizardry White Box

I don't think it is hubris to say I know my witches.

My first knowledge of Thomas Denmark was when I picked up a copy of the absolutely fantastic d20 book "Way of the Witch" by Citizen Games.  His work is featured throughout the book and on the cover. For me, it really helped define the feel of that book and the classes involved.


Since then I have worked with nearly all the authors of that book and Christina Stiles and Megan Robertson joined me on the Strange Brew d20/Pathfinder project which we all felt was the spiritual successor to Way of the Witch.   Sadly Citizen Games was a casualty of the d20 bust.
The text lives on in Strange Brew and the art lives on with Thomas Denmark.

So it was not a big surprise, but a pleasant one all the same, when I saw the art for Isaina Lyd’ar in Beasties II.    In fact, I have seen it before.


I was very, very pleased that Thomas could use his art again in his own products.  It is too good to let lie forgotten in an out of print book.

It is only fitting then that his "magic-user" should really be a witch in the proper sense.  She is 100% Open OGC in Beasties and my The Witch for Swords & Wizardry White Box is as well, so it is a perfect match in my mind.

Isaina Lyd’ar
Human Female
4th level Witch, White Witch Tradition
(or perhaps Sinderan Tradition)

Strength: 11
Dexterity: 13 (+1)
Constitution: 12
Intelligence: 14
Wisdom: 14
Charisma: 18 (+3)

HP: 12
Alignment: Neutral Good
AC: 7 [12] (Leather Armor)
Saves Base: 12
THAC0: 18 [THAC20: 19]

Equipment: girdle of stealth, this confers near invisibility for 3d6 turns. It takes half a day to recharge.

Occult Powers
Familiar: Visions* (instead of a familiar Isaina gets dreams that instruct her on what spells she needs.)
Herbal Healing

Spells 
Cantrips (6): Arcane Mark, Dancing Lights, Knot, Lift, Mend, Object Reading,
First (2): Locate Animal or Plant, Protection from Evil
Second (2): Extra-Sensory Perception, Sleep

Description From Beasties 2:
Isaina has always been an outsider. She would rather talk to animals than humans. When she does make friends she is incredibly loyal and close. She always thinks about how her actions can lead to the greater good, and she believes it is each individuals responsibility to bring more happiness into the world and reduce suffering.

She often has visions and haunting dreams of a coming disaster. She is driven to prevent these from really happening.

She is a bit too enamored with ale, wine, and intoxicants and is occasionally willing to try out new experiences.
Section 15:
The White Witch for Swords & Wizardry White Box. Copyright © 2018, Timothy S. Brannan, Other Side Publishing
Beasties 2, Copyright 2019, Night Owl Workshop

Now that is a cool character.  Can't wait to use her in a game.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Beasties II from Night Owl Workshop

Now I have gone on the record, many, many times, talking about how much I love monster books. My first glimpse into D&D was way back in 1978-79 when I first saw and read the Monster Manual.  Very few books have come close to that feeling of unlimited potential.  So when a new monster book comes out, I have to take a look and usually grab it.

Beasties II from Night Owl Workshop has something of a pedigree in my mind.  The art and text are from none other than Thomas Denmark.  He is responsible for some of my favorite art during the d20 boom, in particular, Citizen Games' "Way of the Witch".   Plus I LOVED Beasties I so grabbing this was a no brainer for me.

Beasties II is a digest-sized book. 90 pages with black & white art. According to the sales text on DriveThru the book contains:
27 Monsters
8 NPC's
40 Drawings
1 Map
Article on Goblinology

The book follows the same format as Beasties I. Like the first Beasties it certainly punches above its weight class in terms of monsters and content.  All the text and art is by Denmark himself. 

The book is designed for "Original Fantasy Rules" but plenty of conversion notes are given for OSRIC and Basic Fantasy.  There are also some conversion notes for Nite Owl Workshop's other games Colonial Troopers, GuardiansWarriors of the Red PlanetRaiders of the Lost Artifacts and Freebooters.

The definition of "monster" is certainly very old-school too, with some traps, "minor monsters", and NPCs included for good measure. 

But the REAL reason to get this book is goblins.  There are several goblin hybrids; Blorc, Bugbearzerker, Gnomblin, Hoblin, Hoblin (Cruel), Koblin, Zoblin and a whole article on Goblinology or the Ecology of the Goblin.  Frankly, the book is worth it for all of this alone. 
Seriously. If you like goblins then grab this now.

There are also some undead and some really fun fiends.  The Drumph gets a full publication so that is now.  A new aquatic humanoid race is introduced, the Shahatha.  I rather like them to be honest and will be porting them over to my 5e game.

The NPCs are also a lot of fun.  One, Isaina Lyd’ar, reminds me of the work he did for Way of the Witch.  So much so I might convert to a White Box Witch.   She looks like she would be fun to play. Maybe she is a Sinderan Witch tradition.



So a lot of great content for $4.  Plus the entire work is released as "Open" under the OGL so that is a nice touch.

Bookmarks in the PDF would have been nice as well as a PDF clickable table of contents, but that is a minor thing really.

If you love monsters get this book.
If you love goblins you REALLY need to get this book.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Review: Shadowtide: A Blue Rose Novel

Shadowtide: A Blue Rose Novel

The trouble with most "gamer fiction" is you can practically hear the dice being rolled in the background.  Sometimes, and it doesn't matter how compelling the story, you can't bu help see or hear game terms being thrown about.
Thankfully that is NOT the issue here with Shadowtide: A Blue Rose Novel by Joseph D. Carriker, Jr.

Carriker gives us a story we can get into and characters we can care about, that is the job of all good storytellers; whether that medium is a novel, a play or a role-playing game.  In this case, we get a good novel that preserves what we like or want from the RPG but still satisfies as a novel.

The story opens with the disappearance (likely murder) of two envoys from the Sovereign's Finest.  The Sovereign is Queen Jaelin of Aldis and her envoys are tasked with helping out where they can and mostly fighting the forces of evil. The two envoys are tracking down a reported case of Shadow Sorcerery in the Veran Marsh east of Aldis.  Shadow is more than just black magic, it is a taint of the unworldly, of the unnatural.  Contrasts are turned up in Aldis, the evil are very evil and the good...well the good try to be very good, but as this book reminds us even the Envoys of the Queen, the very symbols of good, have to make hard choices.

The story begins with a trio of envoys.  I would say "unlikely" but in truth the envoys are a varied lot. We have Soot who is a Rhy-Crow, or an intelligent crow with the abilities of an Adept. Morjin Brightstar, a lovable rogue and rake who works best alone, but is constantly falling love with whomever he meets.  A note. Morjin is a character who in a lesser hand would have been VERY annoying.  But Carriker invests a lot of attention and dare I say love into Morjin that you feel for the guy.  He is a former Roamer, a nomadic culture similar to the Romany of our world, but he has been exiled from his clan.  So it becomes easy to see how his happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care nature hides a profound sadness of what would be a good heart.  Finally the last of our trio is Ydah (pronounced EE0dah). She is a Night person, or what might pass for a half-orc in other books. She is the fighter to Morjin's lover.  She is also recovering from recent grief and hides her sadness behind a gruff exterior and a desire to beat the living crap out of people. Which she excels at. 

The trio finds themselves in a hidden smuggler's town called Serpent's Haven.  Where basically everyone is a criminal or descended from a criminal of some sort.  Their mission here is to discover what happened to other envoys and figure out what the nature of the Shadow they were looking for.

I don't want to spoil the plot, but suffice to say it involves cults, crazed cultists, a Dark Fiend and the ever-present danger of Shadow to all that are around it, friend and foe alike.

Naturally, comparisons will be made to the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey, of which Blue Rose is inspired by, but those comparisons are mainly superficial here.  Sure one can tell a "Valdemar" story with Blue Rose.  One could also tell this story with Blue Rose.  The differences to me lie at the heart of what Shadowtide and Blue Rose are really about.  The characters of both the novel and game try to do Good with a capital G.  But often the only choices they have are goods with a little g.  They can't fix every problem.  The difference I think then between a Blue Rose character and say a D&D character is that it is the good they can't do is what bothers the Blue Rose characters, and this makes them want to do and be better next time.

That is certainly true for our trio of heroes here.  Morjin feels bad about how treats certain people when he knows he has worked towards the greater good.  Ydah feels bad about having to kill (and kill she does) cultists, but she needs to stop an even greater evil. Soot, well Soot has some problems all his own and shows us how dangerous the cult they are dealing with is.

In the end, the characters care about their actions. They care about how others see them as envoys and they care about how others are treated.  They know there is injustice in the world, even Ydah mentions the stares she still gets in "enlightened Aldis", but they are working to make things a little bit better.  Because they care they are not the "murder hobos" of other games or stories and we care more for them as well.

The book ends, but room for a sequel is left open. I certainly hope so. The characters are entertaining and the mystery they are delving into is a fascinating one.  Kudos to Carriker for giving us characters whose motivations I believe and whose stories are compelling enough to make me want more.

You can get this book in a lot of places.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Snakes. Why did it have to be Snakes?

A little something different today for MM.  I want to talk about snake people.


Snake people, serpent folk, Ophidians, Yuan-ti whatever you want to call them they have been a staple of fiction and D&D since ... well likely forever.

They were common enough in the pages in the Conan that even as a casual reader of the pulps I had heard about them.  They have had a prominent focus in AD&D with the Yuan-ti; so much so that there are one of the very, very few monsters that are IP and Closed to the OGL.
So yeah, they come with some history.

I think it is also that snakes seem so loathsome to humans.  There is just something "evil" about them in our collective subconscious.   That makes them a great old-school threat.

Review: Serpentine - Oldskull Serpent Folk

Serpentine - Oldskull Serpent Folk from Oldskull, aka Kent David Kelly is a nice RPG for adding and using Serpent Folk, known as Serpentine here, in any old-school like game. The book is 41 pages with cover and OGL statement. Everything is 100% open minus the usual trade dress and some names.  The book is full color, but mostly public domain black and white art.
The purpose of this book is to bring together various mythos and stories together to present a cohesive whole narrative of a primordial race of serpent people.  In this respect, it works rather well.
History and Pre-History of the Serpent Folk. Drawing on the works of Dunsany, Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith Kelley weaves a history (or Hisssstory!) that combines the Hyborian Mythos and the Cthulhu Mythos, with other myths of the world added for good measure.  While overtly for the Oldskull world it can be added and modified as any game master needs.  One of the reasons it works so well here is that Kelley draws on some primordial myths and legends.  The same that influenced the authors of the stories being used.   Quotes from those authors are found throughout this book.
Up next we get a Serpent Folk Truename Generator.  A useful tool to help you name all those NPCs (or even PCs) you plan on using.  This is followed by Description or what your serpent folk looks like.  A section on Ability Minimums, Maximums and Modifiers is next. After that are sections on Behavior, XP modifiers, and views on Alignment.
There is a list of serpent folk deities from other myths.  It is a good list, but I have a few issues with some of the gods on it; for example Brigid. But the vast majority I see why they are there.  Mostly Serpent Folk are going to worship Yig and/or Tsathogga, though Set is a close runner up.
We get into a section now on Class Options for Serpent Folk. Most are going to fall into the various fighter classes and thief-related classes.  Also presented here is the new Soul Slaver class, which combines Cleric, Shaman, and Necromancer all in one serpent-related class.  It's a good class and it adds a lot of flavor to the Serpent Folk.  I might tweak it to be less Necromancer and more Shaman myself, but that is only personal bias, not a shortcoming of the class.  Basically, the class draws on the souls of the deceased to perform magical feats. There are spell lists, mostly from the classical B/X and Advanced sources.    They advance as Magic-Users, but have their own spell progression and, in a nice old-school touch, level titles.
There is also a section on Racial Powers serpent folk get and what kinds of snakes they are likely to summon.  This also included specail attacks and special limitations.
There is a nice section on how Serpent folk get along with Dragons (spoiler, they don't) that really sealed the deal for me.  I have been using various serpent-like races (Yuan-ti, Naga) as the ancient ancestral enemies of the Dragonfolk (Dragonborn) for years.
We end with a recomended reading list.
So for just $3 and a little over 40 pages this book packs a lot in.  There are so many cool ideas it is hard to figure out where I want to start with it.  I think that since Kelley tapped into some primal myths here that all gamers have an idea of these creatures, he just put it down in writing for us.

PWWO: Serpentine in Other Old-School Games

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea has been my obsession over the last few weeks. Given the background of both AS&SH and Serpentine, it should really be no surprise then that I see the two of them working quite well together.  With the addition of Serpentine you can really "punch up" the stats for Sanke People in AS&SH. Already an interesting monster, now with this addition Snake People go from "just another monster" in the Bestiary section to potential Big Bad material.  Growing cult activity? Serpent People. More dinosaur sightings? Serpent People.  Increased slave trade? Yup. Serpent People.   Plus AS&SH and Oldskull Serpentine draw from exactly the same sources. They just rearrange things in a different order.  Both books feature Yig and owners of one book should find it to be of positive use when used with the other book.

Serpentine features the often used Clark Ashton Smith god, Tsathoggua.  Here he is considered to be a god of the Serpent People. AS&SH has the god Xathoqqua, which is the same god.  There are some differences in how they are portrayed in each book, but gods are supposed to be mutable.  Of course, the best source for Tsathogga (yet another spelling) is from the Frog Gods themselves in their Tome of Horror Complete.  Here he is presented as a demon, but that is perfect for me really. The same book (and the Tome of Horrors 4) have the Inphidians, which are their versions of the Yuan-ti, save Open for the OGL. Speaking of the Frog Gods, in their Monstrosities book feature Ophidians, a name I have also used in the past, as snake men.

The OSR games Blueholme and Adventurer Conqueror King System both have rules within their systems to allow Serpentine player characters. All you need really is the Serpentine book.


Union of the Snake: The Second Campaign

The heroes of the Second Campaign, my D&D 5e nod to old-school gaming, have already had their first encounter with the Yuan-ti.  They have encountered other snake-like creatures and reptiles worshiping snake gods, but everything is about to go into overdrive when they hit their desert-related adventures.

While the campaign is 5e based there is a lot of old-school influences in it.  I plan to take a bunch of the material above, put it in a blender then bury it in a desert for 3,000 years and see what comes up.
For me a lot of it is leading up to the ultimate confrontation with Demogorgon.
Borrowing from Advanced Labyrinth Lord I am using Demogorgon as the cult leader behind the snakes and snake men.  This fits in with my use of the blood apes as one of the three factions the worship Demogorgon; with human cultists and Ophidians/Snake Men/Serpent Folk being the other two.  The campaign will take a solid desert/Egyptian turn here soon.  I just need to figure out the Set-Apep-Yig-Demogorgon connection.

Of course, there will be creepy ass snake-men and cultists. All part of the alchemy of my past. Yes. My influeces for this are an forgotten Dirk Benedict horror movie and Duran Duran.  My game, my weird ass childhood.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2E

This one has been a long time in coming.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Compleat Second Edition)

This is the newest version of the AS&SH game and there are few notable differences between it and the first edition, but it is still the same fun game from Jeffrey Talanian and the sorcerers over at North Wind Adventures.

I will be reviewing both the PDF and the physical copy. I purchased these via the Kickstarter a while back so no review was expected or asked for.

Where to begin with this massive tome?  Well, let's talk about the book itself.  The book is massive at 622 pages.  The covers are full color and the interior art is a combination of mostly black & white with some new full-color pages; most to designate larger sections of the book.

Some of the art and text is held over from the First Edition, but since this book is designed as a replacement that's fine with me really.  It is more than that too.

AS&SH2e is a complete game. Everything you need except for dice is here.  There are player's sections and a game master section.  I will work through them all.


Volume I: Swordsmen & Sorcerers covers character creation. We have the same basic material we see in all games, what is an RPG, how to play, dice, how to generate stats and so on.  I gloss over it here because I know my readers know all of this but to a newcomer to the game these sections are written with a lot of clarity.  I do think that most people coming to this game will be coming from other RPGs, but this is still good material.  The bulk of this volume (over 120 pages) is devoted to classes.  We still have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Theif.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock with the addition of a new to this edition Huntsman.  The Magician has Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch. with the new to this edition Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest,  and Shaman and the new Runegraver.  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist, Scout and the new Purloiner.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes.  The classes look pretty well balanced. The new classes also feel right with the Cryomancer, Huntsman, and Runegraver falling into the "why didn't think of these in 1st ed, they are so obvious!" category.
Each class has a "Fighting Ability" and a "Magic Ability" which relates to attacks. So yes, even magicians can get a little better in combat as they go up in level.  It's a great little shorthand and works great.  So a 4th level Fighter has a fighting ability of 4. A 4th level magician still only has a fighting ability of 1 and a cleric 3 and thief 3.  Subclasses can and do vary.
AC is descending (like old school games), BUT with the Fighting Ability stat it could be converted to an ascending AC easily.
Races are dealt with next. They include Amazons, Atlanteans, Esquimaux, Hyperboreans, Ixians, Kelts, Kimmerians, Lemurians, Picts, and Vikings along with the catch-all "Common" race of man.  No elves or dwarves here. Alignment is a simpler affair of Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, Chaotic Evil and Neutral.
There are background skills and weapon skills. Also listed are some gods and plenty of equipment.


Volume II: Sorcery deals with all the spells of the various spellcasting classes. At a little over 80 pages, there are a lot of spells here.  Even more impressive when you consider that the highest level spell is only Sixth level.


Volume III: Adventure & Combat covers the next 60 or so pages of what is essentially the Player's section. It deals with combat in all its forms. So combat, mass combat, saves and conditions.  Siege combat, strongholds, waterborne adventures, and combat. A great collection really of some of the "Best of" ideas I have seen in many games, but it all works really nice here. It has been expanded on from the 1st edition.
Now there are some differences here between AS&SH and say "Normal" or "Standard" D&D.  There are things like group intitative, the Fighting Ability figures more in than actually level and others.  Please be sure to read this section carefully when running your first game.

Volume IV: Bestiary kicks off what is the Referee's section. Now it is no secret I love monster books so for the next 130 pages we get all sorts of monsters. The format is most similar to Basic or Labyrinth Lord, and it is full of the usual suspects with some Lovecraftian Horrors, and even remnants of alien and bygone ages. "Demons" are here, but no devils. I know NorthWind has a Player's book out now, but a Monster book would also be fantastic.  Thankfully nearly every Clone or OSR monster book can be used with this with minor tweaks.

Volume V: Treasure covers the next 50 or so pages. Among the magic items are things like Radium Pistols and other sc-fi artifacts. Very pulpy. It also includes some rules on scribing spell and protection scrolls. There is even a small section on Alchemy in Hyperborea. Very useful to have really.

Volume VI: Hyperborea Gazetteer is our last volume. It is a great bit that I can easily drop into my game. The lands are a pastiche of Howard, Vance, Lovecraft, and Smith.  If these names mean anything to you then you know, or have an idea, of what you are going to get here.  This section has been greatly expanded from the previous edition. Included here are the gods again and a little more on religion.  Basically you get the idea that gods are either something you swear by (or to) or get sacrificed to by crazy cultists.  So yeah, you know I am a fan.


Appendix A: Referee Advice is just that.  One page and straight to the point.
Appendix B: Weather in Hyperborea. You mean it does more than snow? Charts that help you figure out the temperature and conditions at any given time.  Also useful for other games.
Appendix C: Rogues Gallery. Some NPCs, or what I guess we could call the Iconics of AS&SH.  All are easily recognizable from the art in the book.  No iconic witch though...hmmm. All are listed at 1st, 5th and 9th levels.
Appendix D: Introductory Setting. This gives us the Town of Swampgate. It's a pretty robust setting with some adventure keyed in.

I have said it once, but I will repeat it here.  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is hands down one of my most favorite retro-clone/OSR/Old-School games.

For me, it is another example of striking the perfect balance between B/X D&D and AD&D1.  This one leans more towards the AD&D side of the spectrum, but the power level, the grit, the overall vibe is far more B/X.  THEN you add in material from Lovecraft, Howard and Clark Ashton Smith? Well, that is the perfect icing on the cake really.

Of course, it is nearly perfect out of the box, but it can also lend itself to so much more than what is given us to use between the covers.  I have run Zothique games and Pellucidar style ones as well where all of Hyperborea was either one continent in the far future or underground, inside hollow earth (respectively).

The book is as attractive as it is huge.
I really can't recommend this book and game enough. The new book is great and it will sit next my 1st Ed box rather nicely.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Dark Places & Demogorgons The UFO Investigator's Handbook

I am sitting here now trying to figure out why my DVR didn't record Project Blue Book on the History channel and it got me thinking about another book about UFOs. 
If you were a kid in the 70s and 80s like me and most of my readership then it likely you watched the late 70s show about UFOs and Project Blue Book called "Project U.F.O.".  Oddly enough a lot of people remember the show as being called "Project Blue Book" too.  More Mandella effect I am thinking.  I am also thinking that Josh Palmer was a huge fan of the show then.

Dark Places & Demogorgons The UFO Investigator's Handbook
This book is the latest (for now) book in the Survive This! Dark Places & Demogorgons line.  A couple of things jump right out at me.
First, the cover has dropped the "Survive This!" label.  It is still mentioned on the cover page, but I am thinking that the Dark Places & Demogorgons name has more visual recognition.
Second, that cover is fantastic.  It's a step up from the covers of past books (which are still great, this one is just better) and it invokes EXACTLY the feelings they wanted.  Is that a Whitley Strieber inspired cover? Fire in the Sky?  X-Files?  Yes. To all the above.

Ok, let's jump right in.
I am reviewing both the book and the PDF.  These were not sent to me, I bought them on my own dime.  Noticeable differences: The PDF cover is blueish on my screen (nod to Blue Book?) but the physical copy is more green (Little Green Books?) anyway.  Not important...moving on.
The book is 48 pages with an interior cover page and two pages of OGL.  The font is larger than say your average Swords & Wizardry book at the same digest size.  Color covers, black and white interior art.

The first section covers new classes. We get a good selection of the usual suspects; UFO Investigator (a class I resemble a little too closely at that age), Conspiracy Theorist, Alien Hunter, and Alien in Disguise (for your Starman types).  The UFO Investigator covers your basic Fox Mulder, Carl Kolchak, Scooby Gang, and others.  The Alien in Disguise is the most detailed with various forms and powers. 

Up next are a couple pages of new equipment including the UFO Investigator's kits.  Some adventure hooks, UFO terms, and some misrepresented UFOs.  Enough in a couple of pages to get you going really.

The really fun stuff is next Alien Encounters/Seeds.  Included are the Hexpost Monster, Alien Probers (we know what these guys are all about),  K.U.F.O.O. (an organization), Green Men Attack Gaslight, and the G-Men Come to Town (basically the Project Blue Book).   So if the hooks couldn't get you going these will.

We end with what is one of my favorite parts of all the DP&D books, the Recommended Reading and Viewing lists.  Interestingly enough "Project U.F.O." is not on this list.  Ok, Josh Palmer, this needs to be added to your watch list.

The book is excellent really. Great addition to the Dark Places & Demogorgons game.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review: Dark Places & Demogorgons Cryptid Manual

If I have said it once I have said it a hundred times. I LOVE Monster books.  Any and all monster books. I even grab monster books for games I don't play.  So when Eric Bloat they head monster hunter at Bloat Games asked if I would be interested in looking over his new monster book (Kickstarting today) for his FANTASTIC Dark Places & Demogorgons I screamed HELL YES at my computer.

Now I promise to be fair here but a couple of words of full disclaimer.  First I was sent this book as part of an agreement for a review.  That is no big, I get a lot of books this way and I always try to be fair.   Secondly. Well, look above. I am predisposed to like Monster books and I already love DP&P and cryptids are a TON of fun.  So please keep all this in mind.

Dark Places & Demogorgons: Cryptid Manual is a digest-sized book weighing in at 90 or so pages.  Some bits look like redacted Governmental documents and blood splattered hunter's notebooks.  It's actually pretty cool looking if not 100% original (see Chill, Supernatural and Conspiracy X).  That being said though it is also 100% EXPECTED.  That's HOW I want my 80s monster hunting guide to look like.

The interior and the cover features two-color art (blacks and reds) on glossy pages. Now the gloss might just be my pre-copy version, or not. In any case the color, the art, and the layout are all a leap ahead in terms of style and look than all the previous DP&D books.  If this is the future of their books then the future looks good.

A little over 50 monsters fill this book.  They use the same stat block as DP&D so that also means they are roughly compatible with Swords & Wizardry (I'd say about 99%) and most other OSR-flavored games.  Given the size of the book it fits in nicely with my Swords & Wizardry Whitebox games, so I have another monster book now for that! Each monster gets a page. Some exceptions occur with the Bigfoots and the E.T.s, but still, it's a good bit for each one. 

There are also templates in the back of the book that work like the monster templates from 3.x.  So you can apply the Vampire, Werewolf or my favorite Radioactive, template (among others) to any monster.  Radioactive Bigfoots?  Hell yes!  There is also a table of enhancements and how they change your monster. So now it's Agile Radioactive Bigfoots!
There are some conditions ported over from 3.x (more or less) but very, very useful and I am happy to see them here.

Ok what are some of my favorites?  There is the Almasti, which I also used in Ghosts of Albion. They have a special place in my heart.  I'll likely include Almasti Shamen in my DP&D games like I did with Ghosts.   Old faves like the Bunyip and Chupacabra.  Holy crap there is a Crocoduck!


I have to admit I nearly shot coffee out of my nose when I first saw that.  Worth the price of the book alone in my mind.  Flatwoods Monster, all the various extraterrestrials (Nordics, Reptilians, LGMs, Greys), Hellhounds, the Hodag! (love those things!), Jersey Devils, Skin Walkers, and the Wendigo.  So plenty really and many more.  The monsters mostly come from modern cyptids, but there some classics from myths and local monsters.

This book is great really. While I may have been pre-disposed to like it, it really delivered and then some with me.  The art is great and fun. The layout top notch and the monsters are just too much fun. 

While reading it I could not help but think how well this would also work with White Star or other White Box derived game.   So even if you don't play DP&D (and you should really, it's just too much fun) you can still get a lot of enjoyment out of this book.

This book is currently in Kickstarter and you can get in for as little as 10 bucks.  Not too shabby of a deal really.


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ericfrombloatgames/dark-places-and-demogorgons-the-cryptid-manual-tab

There is a lot more information on the KS page, but trust me. You want this.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Dark Places & Demogorgons: The Ghost Hunter's Handbook

Nothing beats a good ghost story and the early 80s was full of them.  From the old school hauntings of 1981's Ghost Story to 1982's Poltergeist to the old guard in House of the Long Shadows (1983) and even to 1984's Ghostbusters. And this is now where near all. If you loved ghost stories it was a great time.

Thankfully Bloat Games hears you and has what you need.

DARK PLACES & DEMOGORGONS - The Ghost Hunter's Handbook is 60 pages (digest sized) with color covers and black and white interior.  It has the same feel as the other books in this series.  The art is good and I recognize a lot of the names inside. 

With this book, like the others, we start out with new classes.
The Clairvoyant can see things the others can't (we have a couple "I see dead people" classes already, but this is a good one).
The Parapsychologist is great, but I think it is stretching what it means for a "Kid" class like the core book is filled with.  Though, I guess reading the starting equipment this is also the class that best fit me in High School! Yes, I did write a program to emulate a PKE meter on my TRS-80 Color Computer.
The Mystical Ghost Hunter covers your basic exorcists/cleanser type.
But the class I was happiest to see was the Nullifier!  This is the guy who walks in the room and all paranormal activity stops.  The class might have limited growth, save that they are the ones that will survive any magical attack, but I like them all the same.  In college one of my "hippie" friends claimed I was a "Null" because his Ouija board never worked when I was around! 

Pages 14-24 cover different kinds of ghosts, spectres, and haunts and their reasons for haunting.   This is one of the parts that make this book "and use w/other OSR games".  You can drop these spookies into any OSR game (some will require tweaks) and you are good to go.  They can all be run as-is really; especially if you are playing Swords & Wizardry.    In fact, there is a lot here in the DP&D that the S&W game master can use.

A few pages on what you can find on The Other Side! (uh...Thanks! but I didn't get you anything.  OH! THAT Other Side.)

There are a couple pages on equipment including Ghost Hunter kits to fit your price range.

Next, we have some new ghost-related magic items.
A couple pages of minor and major spells.

And what book on ghosts would be complete without a haunted house? Well, this one taped into that 80s feeling well and gives us a haunted asylum! It's like you guys read my Christmas lists or something!

Information of the J'town Paranormal Society (which feels like it is somewhere between Supernatural's "Ghost Chasers" and Doctor Who's LINDA).

We end with a great, but incomplete, list books, movies, and television shows.

Author Josh Palmer did a hell of a job here and this is a worthy addition to the DP&D line. The book is worth every penny. In truth, at just $5 and 60 pages you are getting a hell of a deal.
Print on demand is coming soon.

It's Halloween. Get out there and bust some ghosts!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Crash Override

 
"Sometimes you need to burn a bridge while you are still standing on so they know you mean business. ... All us witches, past present and future, need to do better...Suffer us witches to live." 
 - Zoë Quinn

This might seem like a stretch here but stay with me on this.  I finished reading Zoë Quinn's Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate, and I am going to make the case this is a book about a modern witch and the witchhunt that came from it.

I want to get into the meat of the book, but let me address the parallels first.

Zoë Quinn began, like many historical witches, as a woman a bit marginalized from the world but found solace, comfort and even expertise in a traditionally "man's space".  For the witches of old this was often medical knowledge in a world of male doctors or religious knowledge in a world of male clergy.  In any case, she was a  woman (or a girl really, she was not much older than my son when this all went down) against a patriarchy.  Does that sound like a feminist theory to you?  It is ONLY if never actually studied feminist theory or have ever used the word "feminazi" in anything other than a derisive tone.  She was attacked and all but pilloried and burned at the stake.  Though virtually speaking she was. She even describes the mob after her as a group of "inquisitors".  The appropriate name really.

Actions speak louder than words and while I had heard and read the words of these internet inquisitors and gatekeepers of their "culture" I don't for a second believe them.  Their claims can be easily dismissed and discarded.  There were no witches on Pendle Hill in 1612. No devil in Loudun, France (1634). There was no devil in Salem (1692), no Satanic ritual abuse in the 1980s and no conspiracy in August 2014 to censor video games*.  (yes there is more than this, but the trouble is sorting through a metric ton of shit to get to it. This is not the place to detail my last couple of years of "ritual filth" reading about this and going to where they "live".)

But like those times, facts do not matter once the mob smells blood in the water, or online.  Quinn is a bit more understanding of her inquisitors, the ones that would see her dead for the audacity of being a woman.  I do not extend to them the same benefit of the doubt; I have seen this play out too many times in the exact same way with nearly textbook results.

Zoë Quinn is a witch, an unburnt witch in fact (her nom de' net in fact), and like the best witches of old, her name and exploits will outlive her inquisitors and tormentors.

She spends the first half of her book recounting her love of video games, finding solace online with like-minded people and discovering that she too could build something or make something.  There were many times I smiled or laughed out loud because I could relate to exactly to what she was doing and feeling.  Then we get to that day in August of 2014 where the mob, spurred on by an abusive ex-boyfriend and some easily dismissed internet rumors decides to act.
I have seen online abuse first hand, I have also stood on the sidelines and watched it unfold like a spectator sport.  So it was not without some personal horror that I listened to what she went through.
Honestly, you have to have zero empathy not be moved here.  Even IF (in all caps) she did the things she was accused of, it doesn't justify the violent outburst here.  (seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?)

There is some repetition, but this is a memoir, not a research paper. It is told like a memoir, with the unedited bits of a person's messy life left in. And the author is quite upfront about that.  In fact listening to it you get the feeling it could have been a "LiveJournal" post AND that is perfectly fine because that is the vibe the author wants.  Listen to her words and what she wants, the book is the ultimate expression of that. It is also almost, but not quite, a requiem for a life lost.  I can tell you, as a former QMHP, she sounds EXACTLY like people I used to counsel after they had dealt with something traumatic or after a significant period of depression.  I do not doubt that these are the words from someone who has in my professional opinion "seen some shit".

The first half had me depressed and sad for this girl. But the second half made happy for the woman she has become and what she has been able to do.  Sure, she can never get back that old life.  In many ways, her tale is the same of that as someone that has suffered a traumatic disease or accident.  In others, it is worse, because she knows if it were not for the actions of others she could go back to that old life and do the things she loved.

The last half of the book's title is "How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate" and she talks about what she has done and what she has been doing and freely admits that she is neither equipped or qualified to do the job that needs to be done.  I hope she will excuse the Batman allusion here (she has a section "You are not Batman"), but she is the hero we need.

She is open about needing more non-CIS, non-white, non-male voices in this fight. Not that we don't need CIS hetro white males, it's just that people like that, like me, are a dime a dozen.  We are.  She is open and even empathizes with the mobs of inquisitors that were after her; not wanting them to be subject to same actions she faced.  She is very cognizant (maybe painfully so) of the limitations of the tech companies and law enforcement.

To top it all off she built the Crash Override Network to help other victims of online abuse.
This alone is worthy of praise.

In the end, her advice is simple, be better to each other online and try to empathize with the human on the other side of the screen.   She knows there is a lot of work to do and this only the start.

Final note. I listened to the audiobook version of this with Zoë Quinn reading it herself.  I think that was a great choice for me, to hear her own words in her own voice, but also to get her to do it.  She knew when to be funny and when to be sad more than some other narrator.

You can find Zoë Quinn on the web here: http://www.crashoverridenetwork.com

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Books Read so far: 2
Level: Initiate
Witches in this book: 1. Keep in mind that "Witch" has never, EVER been an insult in my mind.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Good, but in her own words, flawed.
Best RPG to Emulate it: NA. But the snarky part of me does want to build a ShadowRun game around this with real trolls and real witches.
Use in WotWQMaybe not appropriate, but this was one of many real-life events that got me to write the Aiséiligh Tradition Witch.

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