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

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: B/X Gangbusters

The latest game to take over the Old-School gaming scene like, well, gangbusters is the new B/X Gangbusters; an update to the old TSR Gangbusters.

Gangbusters is a new game from Mark Hunt based on both the original Gangbusters and Basic/Expert D&D.  At first, I was a little wary of this.  It seemed a little too close to trademarks and I have seen some shady stuff.  But it turns out that Mark legally owns the Gangbusters trademark and this has been a dream of his for some time.  Reading his posts about it online you get his enthusiasm and it is contagious.  So does it live up to the hype? Let's check it out.

Gangbusters is an old school game built on the Basic version of D&D; or at least a suitable clone of it.  So if you know that game you how this one works. 
Characters have a choice of class; Brutish, Connected, Educated, and Street Smart. And each class has six levels, complete with level titles no less!

Each class gets a good write-up and running them through my memory of Good Fellas, The Untouchables and the Godfather I think they cover just about everything.  My tastes would run more towards Private Eyes so Connected and Street Smart would be great for me.

The alignment system here is Law vs. Neutrality vs. Dishonesty.  It works. It works rather well, to be honest.   

There are a lot of lists of equipment with 1920s costs.  For historical games, I love this stuff. 
There are guides for playing characters and playing in the time period.  

Part 3 is the newest material, Piece Of the Action, covers playing the Gangbusters game. A lot of great information here. 

Part 4 covers Game Mastering or Judging. This covers running a city.  Now, this is where I commit heresy, but there some great stuff here I might steal for other B/X style games.  This also covers awarding experience points.

For Part 5 we get Investigations.  Part 6 deals with Law Enforcement and Part 7 handles The Encounter.  The big gem of Part 7 is the table of vehicles. 



Part 8 is Wandering Adversaries and that is our "Monster" section.  It is 100% or at least 99% compatible with every other OSR game.  Though these are city adversaries of the 1920s.  You get adversaries like Angry Mob, Cat Burglars, Gangsters, Klansmen,  Moonshiners and more.  I have to admit, I now want to send a coven of my witches after a group of klansmen. 

Part 9 covers Combat.  This is expected stuff, but the really cool thing are the Saving Throws.  Gangbusters gives us, Moxie. Quickness. Toughness. Driving. and Observation. Really, how awesome is that?  

There is an optional section here that grabbed my attention. Mysterious Powers allows you to play as Golden Age heroes.  That is a very, very interesting development.



The game comes as a PDF and a Print on Demand book. Color covers and Black & White interior art.   It comes in at 63 pages.  The game is also released under the OGL.

How Does it Compare to Original Gangbusters?
By using the "Basic" system there are a lot details in the original game that are not needed in the newer game.  For example, skills are less of a game mechanic in the newer game.  The original Gangbusters has more detail on various weapon effects but the newer game is far better organized. 
OG Gangbusters weighs in at 64 pages, as was common for TSR at the time and a smaller font.  So it, in general, has more text, but that doesn't mean more game in this case. 

All in all. Gangbusters is a great game.  Part of that greatest comes from Mark Hunt's enthusiasm and his obvious love for this game.  Personally, I would get it for that alone, but thankfully the game here is also great all on it's own.   

If you enjoy the 1920s, Gangster films or even, like me, B/X D&D and related games, then this is a must buy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Monster Manual

For today's Monstrous Monday I want to do another review. For this one, it still follows my 'Back to Basic' theme I have been doing all year even though it is not a Basic-era D&D book.  It is though one of my Basic era books.  The book is the Monster Manual and it was just about 40 years ago that I first held this book in my hand.

This is the book. This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs.

But how does one review such a genre-defining classic?

My son had made himself a triple cheeseburger covered in bacon, onions, and mushrooms.  I asked him how he was going to fit that into his mouth. He said, "with determination".

How does one review such a genre-defining classic?  With determination.

My History
The Monster Manual was the book for me.  The one that got me hooked.  The one, sitting in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL that I became the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddesses and monsters.  So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy.  Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet.  So I borrowed his and read.  And read.  And read.  I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.

Since that time I judge a gamebook on the "Monster Manual" scale.  How close of a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to the scale limit of holding the Monster Manual for the first time?  Some games have come close and others have hit the mark as well.  C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Also, I like to go to the monster section of any book or get their monster books.  Sure I guess sometimes there are diminishing returns, Monster Manual V for 3.5 anyone?  But even then sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other gamebook.  Even the 1st DMG, which is a work of art, had to wait till I was older to appreciate it.  The Monster Manual grabbed me and took me for a ride.

The Book (and PDF)
The PDF of the Monster Manual has been available since July of 2015.  The book itself has seen three different covers.


Regardless of what cover you have the insides are all the same.  The book is 112 pages, black and white art from some of the biggest names that ever graced the pages of an RPG book.
This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry.   The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, the first AD&D book.
The book contains 350 plus monsters of various difficulties for all character levels.  Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here.  Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D, even some of the art is similar, and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

Eldritch Wizardry gave us the demons, but the Monster Manual gave us those and all the new devils.  The Monster Manual introduced us to the devils and the Nine Hells.  Additionally, we got the new metallic dragons, more powerful and more diverse undead and many more monsters.  We also got many sub-races of the "big 3". Elves get wood, aquatic, half and drow.  Dwarves get hill and mountain varieties. Halflings get the Tallfellows and Stouts.   So not just more monsters, but more details on the monsters we already knew.

While designed for AD&D I used it with the Holmes Basic book.  The two products had a similar style and to me seemed to work great together.  It was 1979 and honestly, we did all sorts of things with our games back then.  The games worked very well together.



Flipping through one of my physical copies, or paging through the PDF, now I get the same sense of wonder I did 40 years ago.

Thankfully, you can get the PDF of the Monster Manual for just a little more than the hardcover cost 40 years ago.





Sunday, September 22, 2019

Deserts of Desolation & Death & More

It's a blah rainy day here in Chicagoland.  Great day to do some prep on my Desert portions of my Second Campaign.

I am currently re-reading all the desert adventures I own and working out a coherent narrative.

Right the idea is the PCs head out to the desert in search of the reptile cult that has been plaguing the land.

The adventures are:

The Desert of Desolation series:
and the Desert Nomads/Temple of Death series:
and then the two stand-alone adventures:
The adventures span several designers, worlds and even games, but all link back to the idea of ancient Egypt.  Known as Eyrpt on Oerth, Ayrpt on Mystara, and Aegypt in Gary Gygax's original Dangerous Journey Necropolis and then later Khemit in the 3rd edition version.  I combine them all into one place I call "Ærypt". The series is called "The Deserts of Desolations and Death".

But I am missing some bits.  Originally I thought that I could gloss over some of the missing ideas (at least in terms of my campaign plans) with B4 The Lost City, but there are some issues there.  One the module is too low of level to fit with what I want exactly, also I ran the kids through it years ago so likely they will remember it even with some changes.  But most of all the Elder Evil Zargon is a bad or more exactly problematic fit for the current game.  Besides if I do bring back B4 it will be as part of a game using Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as Eric Fabiaschi often talks about.

No, I am going to need something else.  Thankfully something almost exactly like what I need dropped into my lap.

Cha'alt
Venger Satanis sent me a copy of his latest publication in exchange for a fair review, but it was on on my radar anyway.  There are a few reviews ok for it now, so I am going to gloss over some of the "reviewy" bits in favor of how I am planning on using it.

Cha'alt is 218 pages, full color, desert-themed adventure in Venger's normal gonzo style.  The rules are his O5R system which is a mix of OSR and 5e, so it works with just about any game. 
There is a "Campaign Map" of sorts with twelve areas, but only a few of them are heavily detailed.   The campaign map and the sandbox nature of this adventure gave me a few ideas for use in my own desert-themed games,  so that made the review worth it to be honest, but there is a lot more here than just that.

Like all of Venger's books there is a high-quality production value here.  He is not afraid to spend the money to get high-quality artists and layout.  Also, true to his style, there are plenty, ok LOTS, of tongue in cheek pop-culture references throughout the book. Ranging from 80s nostalgia to yesterday's internet humor. 

The adventure is gonzo as I mentioned, so there is a fair bit of science-fantasy thrown in for good measure.  Enough that is t makes me think it too is also a good fir for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The levels are more in line with AS&SH than my current campaign, but that is fine. Though in either case, I'll need to figure out what to do about the giant sandworms, spider droids, and hunter-killer robots.

In true old-school fashion, there are plenty of random tables and charts. Advice for surviving in the desert and plenty of new monsters.

The Black Pyramid
The biggest feature of this book is the Black Pyramid. 
The obvious inspiration for this portion is the venerable Lost City, but again through a darker, slightly warped lens.  As with the rest of the book, this section is full self-referential humor and nods. So of it works, some of it doesn't. Adventure-wise the pyramid is full of eldritch weirdness.  At 111 rooms not all of them are great, but there is enough here to keep the players all busy and adventurers entertained.

There is a lot of fun to had with Cha'alt.  I have quite a lot of ideas of things to do with it, none of which are as it was designed.   Still, there is a lot of material here and plenty of ideas. For me, I am likely to remove many of the sci-fi elements if I run this as part of a campaign, or at least tone them down if I run it using AS&SH.

If you are familiar with Venger's work then you will find more of this here though this might be his best looking work to date.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Review: Blueholme Journeymanne and Prentice Rules

It's been a year of Basic-era games for me and I want to talk about one of my newest favorites today.

Earlier this week I talked about the new D&D 5 Essentials Kit, I wanted to have another look at my own roots, the D&D Holmes Basic Set.  The Holmes set is one of the few versions of the D&D games you can't get from DriveThruRPG.  You can, however, get the Blueholme game from Michael Thomas and Dreamscape Design.


Blueholme comes in two different versions, the introductory Prentice Rules, and the full Journeymanne Rules. I will cover both here.  In this case, I am reviewing both the print books from Lulu and the PDF versions from DriveThruRPG.

Blueholme Journeymanne Rules
118 pages, full-color covers, b/w interiors. $9.99.

Blueholme is a retro-clone / what-if of the first Basic Set edited by John Eric Holmes.  Sometimes called "Blue Box Basic" or "Blue Book Basic".   At 118 pages it is a complete game.  If that sounds light, then you are right!  Blueholme is a "rules" light old-school game much in the same way that Holmes was.  Don't let it's light-weight dissuade you.  This is a feature, not a bug.
On the surface, the Blueholme Journeymanne Rules (BJR) looks like any other retro-clone in the OSR.  Once you dig into it you will see the differences are from the source materials.

Foreward.  We start with a foreward (not forward) from Chris Holmes, the son of John Eric Holmes and the reason why there was a Holmes Basic set to begin with.  It gives these rules a bit of gravitas if you ask me.

Part 1: Introduction covers what you should expect to see in this book and the general tone of the book. Like everything else it is short, sweet and to the point.

Part 2: Characters deals with character creation.  All game developers should have a look at these first two pages to see how the economy of words pays off.  In the first two pages, we cover all the steps in creation.  Rolling stats (3d6 in order), choosing a species (I prefer this over "race"), class, and everything else.  The six ability scores are covered and what they do.  SURPRISE they do much less here than in other OSR games.  Essentially these are the means to get a bonus when leveling.  Eg. Strength provides no bonuses in combat. Constitution does aid in hp it points, Intelligence still helps in learning languages. But that is about it really.  Only Dexterity helps to hit and then only + or - 1. Dexterity is central to combat, but more on that later.
For species, there is nothing specific listed outside of humans.  For anything else have a look in the Monster section and pick something! Want an elf, dwarf or orc? Go ahead! Goblin? Yes! Dragon? sure, work it out with your GM. Black Pudding? Sure...work it out with your GM.
It is very much the way the original D&D and Holmes D&D games worked.
Classes are the basic four; Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief.  Fighters do not get more attacks as they level up, but can cause more damage.  There are rules on Combination Classes or what we also call Multiclassing.  If your base creature type has more HD then there is a table of adjustments.
Alignment is broken down to just five, Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, True Neutral, Chaotic Evil and Lawful Evil.
Coin and Equipment is next. Note that all weapons do 1d6 points of damage per hit as per the OD&D and Holmes BD&D rules.

Part 3: Spells covers all the spells that can be cast by Clerics (1 to 7 spell level) and Magic-Users (1 to 9 spell levels). These are not huge lists and some spells are different than other books representations of them.  Make sure you read before you assume a spell does what you think it does.

Part 4: Adventures covers just that, what the characters do and where they do it. This section is very reminiscent of the similar sections in both Holmes and Moldvay Basic.  The breadth of the information is wide, but the depth is low since it depends on the Game Master to make calls on what is happening in certain situations.

Part 5: Encounters would be called Combat in other books, but the name change fits.  We start with lots of tables of monster encounters at various levels and various locales. Combat, damage, and healing are also covered.  The initiative is determined by Dexterity score. If there is a tie then a 1d6 is rolled with highest going first. AC is descending with an AC of 9 meaning unarmored.
We get tables of attack matrices and saving throws too.

Part 6: Creatures deals with all the creatures you can encounter as friend or foes.  There are plenty here and brevity is the key.  For example, Demon gets a single entry and some tables to determine what it looks like. You can also choose your character specifies from these entries.  All the usual suspects are here. I in particular like the "pumpkin-headed" bugbear; a nod to the OD&D rules. There are a lot of Lovecraftian monsters here as well. They are the ones credited for creating the vast "Underground" where the adventurers find their fortunes. There are also plenty of "Appendix N" style creatures like intelligent apes and monsters out of Pellucidar and of course dragons and dinosaurs and undead.

Part 7: Treasure has both individual and hoard types with plenty of magic, and cursed items.

Part 8: Campaigns is a guide for Game Masters.
We end with a character sheet and a solid index.
The PDF is bookmarked, but the Table of Contents and Index are not hyperlinked (minor thing really).

The book is well laid out and easy to read. The art is all new and works fantastic with the book. Solid old-school feel to it., if slightly better than what we actually had back then.  It reminded me more of Moldvay era art than Holmes, but that is fine really.



Blueholme Prentice Rules
63 pages, mono-color covers, b/w interiors. Pay What You Want.

The Blueholme Prentice Rules came out first as a preview of the Journeymanne rules.
These rules cover the basic rules as the Journeymanne rules, save only to level 3.  In this respect it is actually closer to the Holmes set than the maine (manne?) rules.

In character creation, the choices of Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are given. The same basic four classes of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief are here.

From here the Prentice rules parallel the Journeymanne rules, there is just less of them.  This is a truly Basic set of rules with everything to get you started for the price of dice.

The Prentice Rules has the same cover art, albeit in a monochrome format (not unlike Holmes) and features Public Domain art inside from Henry J. Ford. Now personally I LOVE the art. These old images from old fairy tales really sets the mood for me and gives this game a different feel.

Bluehlome Prentice Rules are a perfect solution for someone wanting to get into an Old School game and does not know where to start or what to do, and maybe not spend a lot of money upfront.  For a PWYW PDF and print copies under $6, it has replaced Basic Fantasy as my OSR game of choice to hand out to people I want to introduce to old-school play.

Additionally, there are some full-color character sheets and an introductory adventure.

Blueholme is a great addition to the vast and growing library of OSR games.  It might be one of my favorites, to be honest.

You can find Dreamscape Design on the web at:

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

D&D Essentials Kit: Unboxing and Review

Today I want to spend some time with the new D&D Essentials Kit.  I had held off buying this when it first came out.  It was only available at Target stores and it is designed to get people up and going in the D&D 5 game that does not have prior experience with D&D.  That is not me. Plus buying one means that someone new might not get a copy.  But I kept hearing really good things about it and the sales I have heard are really good.  So I opted to pick up a copy now.

Since I prefer to buy my game materials from my favorite local game store, I will pick up another one when they are released to games stores in September.  I am likely going to donate that copy to my kid's local high school gaming club.  It will be well recieved I am sure.

So for $25 what does the Essentials Kit have and what can you do with it?  According to the back of the box we have:
  • 64 Page Rulebook
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Adventure
  • Double-sided poster map
  • DM's screen
  • 6 blank character sheets
  • 11 polyhedral dice
  • 81 cards describing magic-items, NPC and conditions
  • Access codes for D&D Beyond


Opening up the box we see:


The adventure has a familiar feel of all the D&D 5 books.


Cards.



The map of the Sword Coast.


The DM's screen.  It is similar to the DM's screen sold separately, but this is made of thinner material.


Character sheets. These are thicker paper than photocopier paper.


The rulebook covers nearly everything characters will need for levels 1 to 6.



And dice. 1d4, 4d6s, 1d8, 1d10, 1d%, 1d12 and 2d20s.

The Essentials Kit covers a bunch of material and it is a fantastic introduction to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game.  The rules are clear, cover all the necessary topics and items.

The Essentials Kit is designed to work with the Starter Kit, but in truth I felt the Essentials can stand on it's own.


Certainly together they make for a complete game.  The Starter Set has more monsters and another adventure. 

I think that there was a missed opportunity here to call these the Basic and Expert sets.



The easy comparison here is to the various Basic Sets we have gotten over the years for D&D.



One of the complaints of the Starter Set was the lack of character creation rules. There were some other complaints that I felt were overblown. But let's look at this new box and ask the basic question "can I run a D&D game with just this box?"

The answer is yes, of course you can.  But are the elements here? Certainly.
I went through my Holmes and Moldvay Basic sets (Metzer is similar enough to Moldvay for this) and picked out rules sections to see what they have and how the Essentials compares.

This is what I came up with:

Item/Rule/Topic D&D 5e Essentials Holmes Basic Moldvay Basic
Character Creation Yes Yes Yes
Ability Generation 4d6, drop lowest or array 3d6 3d6
Character Races Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human
Character Classes Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief
and Race-as-class
Levels 1 to 6 1 to 3 1 to 3
Spells Yes (Bard, Cleric & Wizard) Yes (Cleric & Magic-user) Yes (Cleric & Magic-user)
Equipment Yes Yes Yes
Combat Yes Yes Yes
Monsters Yes, in included adventure Yes Yes
Magic Items Yes Yes Yes
DM's Section Yes, in included adventure Yes Yes
Running Adventures Yes Yes Yes
Sample Adventure No (but includes a full adventure) Yes Yes
Full Adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak B1 Search of the Unknown B2 Keep on the Borderlands
Character Sheets Yes No No* (but a page you can copy)
Dice Yes (11) No (Chits) Yes (6)

All three sets align well in terms of what you have.  You can start a character, choose one of four races and one of five classes and take them from 1st to 6th level with this box. And with this box there are already blank character sheets.

Like the boxes of old, save for my Holmes set made during the Great Dice Drought, all have dice.  All have included adventures and all have character creation rules.
Will Dragon of Icespire Peak go down in history like Keep on the Borderlands?  No. But it is still a very fine adventure.

The weak point of this boxed set as a complete game are the lack of a huge variety of Monsters.  Holmes featured 58 monsters.  Moldvay had over 70, more with variants and sub-types. Essentials has 33.  Still, a good amount and all three sets cover the same ones.  I don't see this as an issue since monsters can be downloaded from the SRD or the online Basic Game.  The Starter Kit also has Monsters as well.

So. The new Essentials Kit is a great starting place for people wanting to learn D&D 5 and have never played D&D before.  It is also good for anyone new to D&D 5 but has played other games in the past; though I would direct those folks to the Player's Handbook.

At 25 bucks the entry price is low enough for a casual gamer. 

The woman at the register at Target asked me if the game was for me or my kids.  I admitted it was for me, but my kids play.  She was telling me how popular the set has been and it was flying off the shelves.  I told her I knew, since this was the fourth Target I had been at in the Chicago'burbs looking for it.  She said her son had asked for it and she got it for him.  Now he and all his friends play at her house.  Cheaper than a video game and she knew where they were and what they were doing to whole time.

I think. No. I KNOW that Wizards of the Coast did the right thing putting this in Target stores.  If this gets the word out more about our hobby, then fantastic.

My next plan is to do some sample characters.  I have a new Bard, Cleric or Druid, and a Fighter I want to try out using just this box and do the same characters with the new Pathfinder.  Could be fun to see which character creation process "feels" the best.

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.


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