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

Friday, October 23, 2020

DMSGuild Witch Project: 5e Witches, Part 3

Going to look at some more D&D 5 Witch classes today. Today and the rest of the week I am going to look at some of the smaller PDFs.  Usually less than 20 pages.

For these DMSGuild classes, I am going to still follow my own rules and guidelines to make sure I am giving these a fair review. 

Witch Class
by Todd D

This PDF is eight pages, all content. The PWYW price is set to $0.00, but following my guidelines $0.80 or even a buck would be good. There is no art but the layout is good. This is one of the earliest witch classes submitted to DMSGuild.

This witch is more like a warlock, but that is what it is advertised as. These witches appear to be manipulators of Fate. These witches also use Wisdom as their spellcasting ability. Instead of pacts or traditions, this witch has "Heritages"; the Traditionalist, the Blighted, and the Clairvoyant. Each one gives the witch some different sorts of powers. Ends with a spell list. At eight pages it seems a bit thin but does exactly what it said it was going to do.

It is less like a witch and more like a "Hedge Warlock" in my mind.  Granted, this is not a bad thing at all. 

Toss the author a buck and wish them "Happy Halloween."


Witch Class for DND 5e
by Dani Sankovich

This PDF is 8 pages, all content. The PDF sells for $0.50 PWYW, so under my 10 cents per page guidelines. Since it is also all content and no filler, so $1.00 would be appropriate here. 

The class is a full 20 levels with spell casting to the 9th spell level. There is a max Spells Known per level. The ability for spell casting is Intelligence. 

These witches have a "Binding Locus" that gives them their power. This also grants them abilities at certain levels. Binding Loci can be Arcane, Void, Wilds and Entity. The Entity is somewhat like the Warlock's patron and has a few more powers.

We end with the spell list. No new spells.

It's Halloween, go ahead and give them $1.00.


Witch Class (D&D 5e)
by Brian Barnshaw

This PDF is 11 pages (1 title, 1 legal, 9 content) and no art. The layout is clean but the background image makes it a little harder to read.  

There is some background given, relating the witch to the druid. It is fine, but I don't quite think it came over the way the author wanted it to. 

This witch is a full caster of 20 levels and to the 9th level of spell ability. This witch is also a wisdom caster and has ritual casting.  These witches also gain a familiar.

The archetypes are known as covens, as expected. There are two Creators and Hag's Disciple.  The Hag one is expanded based on the type of Hag. 

There is a spell list, but no new spells.

Again, each one gets at the witch from a different point of view and works well within that point of view. It might be interesting to build a Grand Coven with a witch from each of these.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

DMSGuild Witch Project: 5e Witches, Part 2

Going to look at some more D&D 5 Witch classes today. Today and the rest of the week I am going to look at some of the smaller PDFs.  Usually less than 20 pages.

For these DMSGuild classes, I am going to still follow my own rules and guidelines to make sure I am giving these a fair review.

Witch Class 5E
by Donald Armstrong

This pdf is 15 pages (1 title, 1 legal) and selling at $1.00 PWYW, falling below my 10 cents per page price threshold.  The PDF itself reminds me a bit of the style and presentation of an Unearthed Arcana article, but with art. I am sure that is the author's intent.

This class has a bit more flavor than others, with a little more background for the witch. It takes a specific point of view on witchcraft but is easily adopted or adapted.  Like most of the other DMSGuild witches, this one is a full 20 levels with casting to the 9th spell level ability. This one also has a limit on the total number of spells the witch can know.  The witch gets some powers common to all witches and some that specific to their coven.  The common powers are known as Witchcraft (naturally) and revolve around channeling life energy. 

The covens include the Celestial, Fey, and Infernal. There is a spell list and four new spells.  So this gives it an edge over many of the others. 

There are a lot of neat ideas here and many worth looking into deeper.

D&D 5e Witch Class
by Nils Kjesem

This PDF is 18 pages (1 title, 17 pages content). There is no art and no layout above what can be done in a simple word processor. It also only sells for $1.00, so that evens everything out.

This witch is at 20 levels, but only progresses to the 5th spell level ability. Interestingly enough this witch also uses a 1d8 for HD, so making her a little tough than other witches. This one also puts more details into the various familiars the witch can get.

The archetypes are referred to as "Teachings" here. There are Fortune Teller, Herbology, and Sigils. 

We get a spell list at the end.  

Some interesting ideas, but it feels a bit like a rough draft rather than a completed product. Then again for $1.00 you can buy it and detail it any way you like. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

DMSGuild Witch Project: 5e Witches, Part 1

Going to look at some more D&D 5 Witch classes today. Today and the rest of the week I am going to look at some of the smaller PDFs.  Usually less than 20 pages.

For these DMSGuild classes, I am going to still follow my own rules and guidelines to make sure I am giving these a fair review.

The Witch Class
by Spencer Dimmick

This one is 15 pages (1 title, 1 legal, 13 pages content) and sells for $1.99. There is no art.  This class is a full 20 levels, with spell casting to the 9th spell level ability.  This witch also has a number of spells known per level. Spellcasting is based on Intelligence.

This witch has a number of special powers and more granted by their Practitioner's Path. These include The Hedge Witch, The Seer, The Maleficent, The Familial, and The Weaver. So a few more than average. Each has a nice solid witchy feel to it and can fill many niches for the witch class. 

Also detailed are more powers for the witch and the list of witch spells. No new spells are included.

For 2 bucks it packs a lot of punch.

Witch Class: Cackling Guidebook for lonely Spellcasters
From Ingo Könemann

This PDF is 9 pages and $1.00 PWYW. There is no art but the layout is nice. 1 page for the title and 1 page for legal and changelog, bring the content down to 6 pages.  This class is a full 20 levels, with spell casting to the 9th spell level ability. 

This one is interesting since your "Source of Power" determines your spellcasting ability. You may choose Intelligence or Charisma. This witch is also a ritual caster.

Covens grant the witch some "secret spells" starting at the 2nd level and special powers.

The Covens are Coven of the Beast, Coven of the Storm, Coven of Nature.   

There is a list of spells, but no new spells. 

Both have some good points but I'd like to see them expanded a bit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

DMSGuild Witch Project: The Witch

Going to look at some more D&D 5 Witch classes today. These are all just called "The Witch." Since that was also the name of my first witch book back in 2012 I thought I should check them out.  As it turns out I have one for each primary spellcasting ability, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. 

For these DMSGuild classes, I am going to still follow my own rules and guidelines to make sure I am giving these a fair review.

The Witch by Jeroen Boogaard

This pdf is 8 (6 pages content, 1 cover, 1 page of spells) pages at $0.50, so right under my ¢10 per page guideline.  The pdf is full color but light on art. Mind you, that is not a big deal here since the art it does have is used to good effect. 

Presented here is a full 20 level spellcasting class similar in feel to the Pathfinder witch, including minor (five of these) and major hexes (also five of these).  They get a full 9 levels of spell casting slots and Intelligence is their spellcasting ability.   These witches also get an herbalism ability.  Their subtypes are known as "Covens" so that is a good thing.  There are the covens of the dragon, the ancestor, and of the wild.  Each coven gets some special abilities and additional spells.

There is a spell list on the last page, but no new spells.  There are some minor typos, but nothing that impedes the understanding of the text.

The Witch by Dave Rich

This PDF is 15 pages (1 cover, 10 pages content, 3 pages of Appendicies, 1 legal). No art.  The pice is $3.00 PWYW.  So twice my ¢10 per page guideline. 

This one presents the witch class with four archetypes and a sorcerous origin.  We get a full 20 levels of the witch class. Spellcasting is based on Wisdom, and the witch gets a full 9 levels of spellcasting.  This class has a limit on the total number of spells known.  For example, the witch has a full 22 spell slots from 1st to 9th level, but only knows 17 spells.  you can choose to forget a spell of lower level when a higher one is available.  Witches gain familiars here and have a number of unique powers.

The Archetypes of the witch are called Entropic Spirals here. There are the Spiral of Life, Spiral of Fate, Spiral of Bewitching, and Spiral of Glamour. There is a list of spells, with an expansion to cover Xanathar's Guide.   

Appendix A covers a sorcerous origin for witches. Appendix B details the author's thoughts on the creation of this class; namely Terry Pratchett's Discworld and Mage: The Ascension. 

Some neat ideas and I like the sorcerous origin.

Class: The Witch by Calum Brough

This PDF is 11 pages (1 cover, 1 table,  2 pages of spell list).  I don't recall if I paid $1.02 for this or $1.27. Either way right around my ten cents per page.  There is no art. 

This class is designed to be an arcane variant or compliment to the Druid.  A full 20 levels (as expected) with spellcasting to the 9th level of spells.  This class is a Charisma-based spell caster. There are some witch powers here, some are copied over from the druid.

The Archetypes for this witch are the Maiden, Mother, and Crone.  Each archetype has some nice powers to go along with it.  There are no new spells.



Each of these comes close to the idea of the witch, but not the ideal witch. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Shadow Week: Review, GAZ13 The Shadow Elves

Today is the start of my "Shadow Week" where I am going to spend some time with various Shadow Elves and Shadow Fey products. Today in lieu of a Monstrous Monday I want to talk about a classic Basic D&D (BECMI) resource, GAZ13 The Shadow Elves.

The world of Mystara/The Known World doesn't have Drow, but they do have Shadow Elves that fill the same ecological niche, but not the same mythological niche.  Like the drow, the shadow elves do live underground, are harmed by bright light and separated from the main, light elf, race many centuries ago. And that is where the similarities end.  

To understand the Shadow Elves best it is helpful to understand a bit about the world of Mystara and their Immortals.

For the unintiated Mystara does not have gods, but rather immortals, that help guide the affairs of mortals. The immortals in question here are Rafiel and Atzanteotl.  I will deal with them in the review, but sufice to say that Immortals of Mystara tend to meddle in the affairs of entire races.  Shadow Elves are a prime example.   This book is also one of the first introductions to the Hollow World of Mystara.

GAZ13 The Shadow Elves

This book is a 103 pdf, larger PoD book.  It was originally published in 1990 and it was written by Carl Sargent and Gary Thomas. Cover art is by the fantastic Clyde Caldwell with interior art by the equally fantastic Stephen Fabian.   The book was designed for the Dungeons & Dragons, aka Basic or BECM line.  I am reviewing the PDF and PoD version from DriveThruRPG.

The book is split up into a Player's Section and a Dungeon Master's Section. While each is numbered starting at "1".  The table of contents (printed) starts with the Players Section, but the book (PDF and POD, and hyperlinked bookmarks) start with the DMs section and then the Player's section. The Player's section does say "READ THIS BOOKLET FIRST!"  So I think I am going to star with the Player's Section.  This only makes sense since all DMs are also players.

Player's Section

This 32-page section introduces us to the book and to the Shadow Elves. This section also includes the very helpful "Other Books to Use" which gives some resources that would be helpful for a player dealing with the lands of the Shadow Elves, mostly GAZ 5, The Elves of Alheim and GAZ 10 The Orcs of Thar.  I also found that GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri was also useful. 


Here we are introduced to the Immortal Rafiel and how he and his works have really guided the Shadow Elves to their modern state after their split with the Light Elves. This covers the history of the Shadow Elves as they know it. It is an interesting read and does exactly what it supposed to do, separates the Shadow Elves from the more popular Drow. You get an idea for the size of the Shadow elf realms (larger than any other country covered by the GAZ series.) and how the various settlements/cities are connected.  You get an overview/example of a day in the life a Shadow Elf. The importance of the Shadow Elf shamans (clerics) and the "Soul" crystals in the birth of a new Shadow Elf is covered and how important each birth is.  (This is something that is actually revisited in 5th Edition D&D Elves).  

There is a great section on Creating and Playing a Shadow Elf. This speaks to the strength of D&D BECMI. It can easily allow a new race/class without "breaking the rules" as it were.  Shadow Elves can advance farther than surface elves. This is explained by their unique nature.  New skills for Shadow Elves are also covered.  There are also many "new" spells for Shadow Elves.  I say "new" since many are from AD&D or alterations of other D&D spells.  Additionally, you can play a Shadow Elf shaman (cleric).  It is one of the best examples of playing a D&D / BECMI Shaman.  The Shaman has a few more spells, most of these are newer though there are some reused AD&D spells.  Note: I say "reused" not imply that these spells are somehow lesser, they are not.  They are all (for the most part) new to D&D BECMI, but players of other editions will recognize them.  

The player's section has a yellowish background. It does not make it difficult to read at all, but it does make it visually separate from the DM's section.

Dungeon Master's Section

This section is 64-pages with inserts.  The Immortal Rafiel is the primary focus of this section, or at least his importance is stressed.  He was not the genesis of the Shadow Elves, but he certainly shaped their evolution. He is the center of their religious life and since religion features so much in their everyday life, Rafiel is central to everything. 

While the Player's Section gives us the Shadow Elves as they see themselves, this section gives us Shadow Elves and their history as the Immortals see it.  Their story begins 6,000 years ago (5,000 BC) when Mystara was young and Blackmoor was a magical and technological global power.  The elves were living in what would become Glantri until 3,000 BC when Blackmoor was destroyed and the Great Rain of Fire happened. Mystara was knocked off her axis and ice caps melted and new ones froze.  The Shadow Elves sought safety and sanctuary underground.  

Here they encountered the followers of Atzanteotl, and evil Immortal, and some began to follow him, but most moved on and soon found Rafiel.   Now here is where things get uniquely "Mystara". Rafiel was a Nuclear Physicist in Blackmoor.  The explosion that nearly destroyed Mystara was his reactor. OR his reactor saved him when the Rain of Fire ( not to be confused with the Rain of Colorless Fire from Greyhawk) happened.  In any case, this former human now leads and protects the Shadow Elves. Back to history, there is a nice objective timeline that covers what the Shadow Elves have done in their time below the surface.  Including learning that others did survive (they thought all life had perished) and what they want to do about Alfhiem. Here you learn also that there are some false beliefs purposely put into the player's section that are corrected here.  For example, the "Soul Crystals" do not contain or house the souls of elves as all Shadow Elves believe, instead they are bits of the Radiance (from under Glantri) that are the nuclear equivalent of magic or the magical equivalent of nuclear energy.  Science and Magic get blended a lot when dealing with Blackmoor. 

Shamans and their roles are also covered in more detail here.  It is here since there are secrets that a Shama learns as they progress in levels that are supposed to remain unknown to them at lower levels. A really nice way of doing it if you ask me. This includes some new Shamanic spells. 


The geography of the Shadow Elves' lands is covered. Including the towns, major cities, and the passageways in between. Also covered are the possible location of more soul crystals and how many.  We also see the different types of animals living near or with the Shadow Elves including the "Skinwing" or a flying dinosaur they use for patrols.  This is reminiscent of both the Mahars of Pellucidar and the running lizards of the drow.  A couple of other monsters are presented, but I would have liked to have seen some more. Likely these would have been covered in other Gaz products. 

There is a neat little section on what everyone else thinks of the Shadow Elves include Glantri scholars, orcs, elves in Alfheim, and a dwarf.  Later on, we also get what Shadow Elves in other lands are up too. 

Several important NPCs are also covered including Rafiel and Atzanteotl. 


There is also a Shadow Elf specific character sheet.  I stress function over form. 

The PDF has maps you can print out and the Print version has the maps bound in the pages. 

The text is easy to read if it is a scan of a printed document. 

The PDF is $9.99 and the softcover POD + PDF is $18.00.  If you are getting the POD it is worth it to add the $2 to get the PDF to print out the maps and character sheets.

Using this Book and Shadow Elves

If you are unfamiliar with Mystara then some of the ideas mentioned inside will sound "out there" to other D&D players. Nuclear explosions? Post-Apocalypic Elves? Immortal physicists? Aztec like humans living in a Hollow Earth?  But they are all perfectly sensible in a Mystara campaign.  

The writing of this Gazzateer is top-notch, easily one of the best, and right up there with GAZ 3.  The Shadow Elves are also a little more interesting than Drow in my opinion.  Their lives make perfect sense once you see things from their own point of view. They would in fact make a fine replacement for the Drow in many games. 

The player's section would work "AS IS" for most versions of D&D.   Shadow Elf Shamans are easily converted to future D&D Clerics.  Adding them as a race or type of elf is also very easy.

Honestly, they are perfect for anyone that wants to play a Drow but wants something that is a little different. 

For my Week of Shadow, I want to come back to these guys a little later and see how they might fit in to other types of Shadow Elves / Shadow Fey.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Review & Class Struggles: BX Options: Class Builder

Over the Summer Erin D. Smale released his BX Options: Class Builder book as a guide to how to build custom classes for the B/X, Basic-era, style games.  Of course, I had to grab it. I love making new classes and anything that involves a little number crunching is great in my opinion.  

Though I will admit I was at the same time worried that this would just be a rehash of the formulas used in Dragon Magazine #109.  Well, I am happy to report it is not, and there is more to this book than just that.  In fact, the author even points out in the book the original system.   My back-of-the-napkin calculations tell me that for levels 1-14 they both should give you the same numbers.  But more on that in a bit.

I am going to break this up into a normal review and then follow with a Class Struggles.

Review BX Options: Class Builder

The BX Options: Class Builder was released originally has a special edition print version via The Welsh Piper's website over the early part of Summer 2020.  The book later came to DriveThruRPG in a 2nd Editon mid Summer 2020. I will be covering the DriveThruRPG version only today.

The PDF is 82 pages, full-color art covers, with black, white, and blue color inside.  The interior art is all b/w from various stock art publishers from DriveThruRPG.  The advantage of this is the style of the book is very likely to fit into all the other books you might have in your collection.

The book is broken down into two larger sections. First is the class builder itself and the calculations for it. Second is a collection of Classes and Sub-classes for B/X D&D and clones, with the math worked out.  There are also a few Appendicies.

The layout of the book is very, very clean, and easy to read.  The PDF is bookmarked and the table of contents is hyperlinked.

After the Introduction, we get right into the builder itself.  There is a single page of explanatory notes (that is all that is needed) and then a worksheet (a plus for the PDFs!).  


After this, there are descriptions of basic abilities (armor, weapons, prime requisites), special abilities (thief abilities, spells, powers), restrictions and "Locked" abilities.  All with associated XP costs.

These numbers are then added up.  The Base XP is then plugged into one of the four base classes (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Theif) for experience levels 1 to 14 (B/X standard).

Simple really.  And that is only the first dozen pages.

The rest of the book is dedicated to "rebuilding" each of the four base human classes and the three demi-human classes.  All seven also include various sub-classes.    For example, the Cleric is built first and the numbers match those found in most clones and the original sources.  Class variants cover new variant classes that add, change and/or remove abilities from the Base class.  In the case of the cleric different types of Gods they can worship are covered.  These are designed not to differ too wildly from the base class.  

After the Base class and Variant classes the Sub-classes, with calculations and full XP tables, are covered.  Again in the case of the cleric there is a Crusader (more combat, less spells) and a Shaman.

This is repeated for the Dwarf (Elder), Elf (Archon), Fighter (Barbarian, Beast-talker, Beserker) , Halfling (Warden), Magic-User (Necromancer, Sorcerer), and Thief (Assassin, Bard, Scout) classes. 

This covers the bulk of the book (some 50 or more pages) and really is a value-add in my opinion.  Some of those classes we have seen in other sources, but others are new or have new ideas.  The Necromancer for example can create golems.  Great if you think that the golems have the spirits of the dead in them or created Frankenstein-style.

Since this system is aimed at B/X level play, the obvious clone to support it is Old-School Essentials.  It is not an "Old-School Essentials Compatible" product as in with a logo, but acknowledgments to OSE are made.  So it would be fair really to compare the overlap of classes between this and OSE-Advanced.

The overlap is where you expect it to be, what I call the common Advanced classes (minus a couple); the Assassin, the Barbarian, and the Bard. There are some "near" overlaps as well. 

The OSE Assassin compares well to the BXO-CB Assassin.  Their XP values do differ, but not significantly so. BXO-CB Assassins have more HP. Both classes have the same skills. 
The Barbarians compare well enough with the BXO-CB Barbarian having more HP again.
Bards have the most differences.  BXO-CB Bards have more XP per level, less HP, and fewer overall spells.   I don't consider any of this to be "game-breaking" or even "game-stretching", just different flavors of the class.  Rename one "Bard" a "Skald" and there you go. 

Shamans are a little bit like Druids and Crusaders are bit like Paladins, but different enough to provide some nice flavor to the game.

The Appendicies cover a number of topics like adding various thief abilities, a break down of the core seven B/X classes, skills, equipment, spell failure, home terrain, animal special abilities and abilities for higher-level characters.

The book is very high quality and has a lot of utility for all sorts of B/X uses.  Working through the numbers it works great for levels 1-14.  If you extend it to level 20 this would affect the numbers for spell casters.  For example, Magic-users in BX/OSE gain spells to level 6, for a 2,400 XP addition.  If you take this to level 20 Magic-users gain up to 9th level spells, this would be 3,600 XP added to the base.  GRANTED this book does not claim to support above level 14, or more to the point, spell levels beyond level 6.

Class Struggles

How does this work in the real world? Or more to the point can it work with classes I have worked on.


Printing out the sheet, which is great thanks to the PDF, I worked out what my own Witch Classes would end up.  Now please keep in mind I am going to do some things beyond the scope of this book so any issues I might encounter are not due to the Class Builder but more likely my use of it.

I already mentioned there are differences in the Bard class. The author even points out that these differences are really expected and that is OK because it will vary on how each group decides to use a particular class.  So with that now as a given, going deeper into this and expecting some variation is fine.

I went through the math on this for my witch class.  I will not go into the details here because I created a Google Sheet you can see for yourself.  Note you will need the Class Builder book to know what these numbers actually mean.  I am going to talk about the cases that vary.




Long time readers might recall I did something similar using the Dragon #109 system a while back.  In fact the spreadsheet is the same with the Dragon #109/Thoul's Paradise test on the first tab and the BXO:CB test on the second tab.

If the Thoul's Test tab is displayed, click on the next tab arrow to go to the Class Builder Test tab.


The "Thoul's Test" goes back to a couple of posts made by Thoul's Paradise that I discussed: 
So a couple issues right away.  Witches cast arcane spells, but they are not quite the same as those a Magic-user can use, there are more divine spells really.  Especially for the Pagan Witch.  
What I opted to do was make the "Witchcraft" spells worth 200xp to 300xp per level. A nice split between what the Divine (100xp) and Arcane (400xp) spellcasters have.

The witch also has Occult Powers. These are spell-like abilities. Since they can be used more often I gave them a cost of 250xp each.  Though 300xp per would have been fine too.

In the end I came up with something pretty close to the numbers I have been using forever and published for close to 20 years.   The differences are so trivial as to be considered error or even "noise."

These are also very, very close to the numbers I got using the Dragon #109 system.   I have not compared it to the system used in ACKS Player's Companion, but my memory of the system and playing with it when it first came out tells me that I should also expect similar numbers.  Especially since the ACKs system and the Class Builder System both use the same BX base and assumptions of 1-14 (or so) levels of play.

Going back to a source the author and I both have used, Breeyark: Building the Perfect Class, I realized that the author of that resource IS the author of this book. The systems are different but are built on similar premises. Also, they should grant the same or very similar results.

The BX Options Class Builder is a very fun book with some great class choices as an added bonus of some worked out classes.   There are no spells offered for the new spell casting classes, but that would have been way beyond the scope of the book anyway.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Welcome September! Night Shift and Mages

It's September.  The start of Meteorological Fall; the actual Autumnal Equinox is still three weeks away. But change is in the air and there is a change at the Other Side as well.

I have a new banner up. I am planning to do a lot more with Night Shift in the coming months.  

Night Shift was designed to replace many games in my library, but that doesn't mean I am ready to stop playing or talking about those games yet. 

In fact last night I was reminded about a game I really love and I really should do more with.  

Satyros Phil Brucato had posted about a book he had done and it really reminded me how much I love Mage.  Both Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Awakening.  Though I lean more towards Mage: The Ascension.   But the post was about his book, Mage Made Easy: Advice from That Damn Mage Guy.

Part of the Storytellers Vault (a bit like DMSGuild, but for White Wolf/Onyx Path games) this book is about...well...Mage, made easy.

Now. Anyone who has ever played any version of Mage is likely to be incredulous about now.  I mean, Mage is many, many, many things. Sometimes too many.  But easy?  No. Easy is never a word used with Mage.  But Phil is the Mage expert.  Mage: The Ascension 20th is close to 700 pages and he wrote the bulk of that.  So if he is telling me that MME is something I can read in 60 pages, well I am going to pay attention.

And I am glad I did.  

While I am conversant in most Mage matters, I do not by any stretch consider myself an expert, or even an advanced player.  I am quite enthusiastic though.  I found Mage Made Easy to be a nice breeze guide of solid advice that did two things right away for me.  First, it made me want to play Mage: The Ascension again and secondly it gave me solid advice that is good for many modern supernatural games. 

The book is very heavily focused on Mage and Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary in particular.  

It shows you how to use the vast Mage meta-plot OR discard it altogether (that's me!).  It gives you some fantastic archetypes to try out and even solid advice on Mage's biggest issue, Paradox.

Plus the art, as expected, is fantastic.

While I do say there is good advice for any modern supernatural game, the advice is also very Mage specific.  This means to use this book it helps to have a basic working knowledge of the Mage RPG.  Once you have that then translating this advice to your own game, be it Mage or something else, is pretty easy.  BUT that is going beyond the scope of the book and not the fault of this book if it doesn't work out.  But advice like "start small" or "start with the characters" is ALWAYS good advice.

While the focus is on Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Ed. (Mage20), I found there was good advice here to apply to my particular favorite flavor of the game in Mage The Sorcerers Crusade

Makes me wish I had a Mage game going, to be honest!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 27 Favor

Today is my younger Brother's Birthday.  I also always associate this day as the real first day of the Fall Term.  I have been in academia for so long (all my life really) that my calendar still pivots on the Fall term.

So my youngest son started his senior year last week. My older son can't go back to culinary school just yet. My Fall term started on Monday.   Time to clear up old summer projects and move into new Fall ones.

And for this, I am asking for a Favor.


I want to get a few more of my books out into the hands of reviewers.  

So if you are interested in reviewing one of my witch books or even (or especially) Night Shift, drop me a note. You can post below, but send me an email so you can include all your contact details and where you plan on leaving your review.

Thanks! 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Pookie Reviews the Witches

Mathew Pook over at the Reviews from R'lyeh has taken on all my latest Basic Era Witch books.

His Which Witch series reviews my Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games, The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era GamesThe Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch TraditionThe Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition, and the Warlock.

In general I think his reviews are fair, but I tend to enjoy the Pumpkin Spice witch more than he did.

So give him a read and see what he has to say!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: Trollbabe (Troll Week)

Now we come to something different.   Confession time. A lot of what you have read this week was written a while back.  My plan was to have a bunch of "Troll" related posts ready to go so they could be autoposted during Gen Con.  I was going to include pictures of the Flying Buffalo booth and T&T games, and the same with Chaosium.  

Sadly that was not to be.  So I was going post these earlier, but the discovery of this old CD-Rom backup I found with the Trollbabes RPG changed my plans again.  So pull the posts from autopost, make some edits to reflect my new thinking and boom! Troll Week was born. 

Trollbabe was not part of my original plans, but now it is hard to think of Troll Week without it. 

Now I am going to freely admit this game still has some mystery for me.  For starters, the copyright date on the book says 2002.  The CD-Rom I pulled it from was labeled "2015 Backup" but many of the files seem to be from 2008.  There is a shortcut to the now-dead Adept Press website to the Print version.  The shortcut says "Print Ed - Buy Later".  Sadly, later was too late.

So I don't know if this is the First Edition or the Second Edition.  Nor do I know how to tell the difference.

The point might be moot anyway since I also can't find a place to buy the PDF or, more to my wants, the physical book.   Maybe Ron Edwards will re-release it at some point like he did Sorcerer (the Kickstarter Edition for that is on the same CD-Rom).

Trollbabe (2002)

Trollbabe by Ron Edwards. 47 page PDF. Color cover, black & white interior art.
This game comes to us from Ron Edwards of The Forge, the one-time source of tons of interesting indie games.  It is a good example of his "Narrativism" part of his GNS Game Theory.   I am not going to get into GNS Theory here. I think it has some merit and as a theory, it does have value, but today is not the day to dig into that.  No today is about Trollbabes.  What is a Trollbabe? Well. That is sort of the question you get to answer with this game.  Trollbaabes are all women, there are no Trollbros, and she is half-human, half-troll.  How did that happen? You decide the game is not just agnostic on this issue, it flatly refuses to answer it.   In any case, your Trollbabe is tall and strong. She has troll horns and big "80s-style" hair. 

Since this is a narrativist, or what some would call Story-telling, game there is really only one stat. Your Number.  This is a number from 2 to 9.  Where do you get it?  You pick it. But before you do let us consider how it is used.  There are three types of interactions; Fighting, Magic, and Social.  
To do Magic you need to roll OVER this number on a d10. To Fight roll UNDER this number.  To perform a Social interaction roll whichever is better (over or under) and include this number.
Example. Let's go with my new troll witch, Grýlka the Trolla. Since I see her more of a magic-using character I want Magic to be her best.  So I choose 3 as my Number.  I don't see her as being much of a fighter really and an extreme number like this works well for magic and social.
Number: 3 Magic: 4-10 Fighting: 1-2 Social 3-10
If I have to get into a physical fight I am going to have some issues.
Choosing a 5 or 6 gives you a balanced character that can do a little bit of everything, but for my Grýlka here I want a character that thinks all problems can be solved with a bit of talking or throwing some magic around.

You can specialties to your interactions.  They do not add much mechanically but can add to the narrative and can prompt some re-rolls or other situations.  There are some suggestions but I am going with what fits my character concept.  For Fighting, I am going with "Staff" or Handheld weapons. Grýlka has no training in weapons other than to pick up a large stick.  For Magic, I picked "Witchcraft" or Troll Magic. this is likely to cause problems in areas where witches are feared more than trolls are. For Social I picked "Inquizative", Grýlka is very curious about her world, her magic, and how they all fit together. 

Next, you are encouraged to describe your character.  So Grýlka is a very tall, 6'5" trollbabe. She has large sheep-like horns pushing out of a nest of white-tinged-with-green hair.  Here eyes are green and her skin is olive toned. She does have two small tusks on her lower jaw.  She looks very strong (17 STR in D&D).  Her clothing reminds you of druids' with well worn, but well cared for leathers of muted greens and browns. She wears a headdress made of sticks to keep her long hair out of her face. 

Once you have your character the Game Master will then describe a situation you are in.  If D&D always starts in an inn or bar, then Trollbabe always starts with your trollbabe walking down the road.  
So a situation might be "you are walking along a well-trodden dirt road when you hear someone yelling 'help! fire!' you see smoke ahead and a barn on fire."  This is called a Scene. You are encouraged to interact with the GM on what happens.  So let us say that Grýlka comes into this scene.  Being Inquizative she wants to know what is going on. Seeing the fire she goes to the well and magically commands the water to come out and quench the fire.  I add that she speaks to the well in Trollspeak.
I roll, lets say I get  6. That is greater than my number of 3 and in range of Magic.  The water leaps up out of the well and quenches the fire.  There is a pause of shock and then the villagers all cheer! Grýlka is invited to a feast in her honor.  Of course, if I had rolled poorly then there would have been other things to happen.
Maybe there would have been a conflict.  If the player calling for the conflict is the GM and against my character than they can decide what type the conflict is.  Maybe it is a good old fashioned "villagers with pitchforks!" So the interaction is Fighting. Crap, Grýlka only has a 1 to 2 on that. Maybe it is time to run.
You can also combine types for other effects. Maybe Fighting + Social if she is trying to scare off the villagers by looking mean and strong.  She is strong, but not really mean.  

Modifiers are also discussed, since Grýlka was talking to the well water nothing was added.  But if the water had been in a river, and thus "wilder" her Troll Magic or Witchcraft might have given me a +1 or +2 on the roll. 

I love the bit on Troll vs. Human magic.  I plan to use this as a guide when playing Grýlka in other games.
Trollish magic is all about invoking and communing with the untrammeled wilderness, of any kind. It usually deals with “whole areas,” like a river, a lake, a mountain, the sky (ie immediately above), groups or types of animals nearby, and similar. It is especially effective or nifty when performed in groups.
Human magic is an individual scholarly art, based mainly on altering body function or behaviors. It is performed mainly through hypnosis, potions, and other “stagey" methods; a typical spell is cast by opening a phial and spraying a fine mist about, or by lighting a special candle and intoning a mesmerizing chant.
Grýlka is very much about trollish magic.

As this is a Narrativist game an important factor is Relationships.  If your Trollbabe forms a relationship with an NPC lets say you can control that NPC, though the Game Master has input.  So after saving the village an NPC falls madly in love with Grýlka.  We agree to let the NPC follow her around so he can prove himself worthy of her. This NPC then will try to do heroic, even stupid, actions to prove his worth and valor.  The Scale of this relationship starts out small, just this yet unnamed NPC and Grýlka.  This can change as the game goes on.  Maybe this NPC is really supposed to married to another village's daughter and now Grýlka has inadvertently caused an issue between these two villages. 
Details on Relationships between characters are also given.

There is a section on Adventures, some more details on Magic, and finally a discussion on the Narrativist style of Trollbabe and a glossary.

Trollbabe is a fun game that can be played by as few as two people. In fact the smaller the group the better.  This is not a bug, but a feature.  The aim here is not to kick in doors and kill monsters, but to have an adventure.  
As the GM for this, I personally would work up some sort of Narrative arc similar to Joesph Campbell's Heroic Journey.  But that is my take, other GMs can do something else. 

What I like Trollbabe, and Narrativist/Story Games in general, is I can use them a layer on top of more crunchy games. Trollbabe does this particularly well with the type of troll I have been talking about all week. Something like Monster Hearts for example works well with games like Buffy.  Yes. I can do the same thing with role-playing, so think of this as guided, or better yet, scaffolded role-playing.



On its own merits, Trollbabe is a lot of fun. Great to play with a small group or even for a couple of one shots.

In any case I would love to see a Third Edition of this. 

EDITED TO ADD. I did find this link for the PDF, http://indie-rpgs.com/unstore/games/title/Trollbabe

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Tunnels & Trolls (Troll Week)

Tunnels & Troll might be one of the first "clone" games ever, but it really is a proper game in its own right.  The story goes that creator Ken St. Andre was browsing through the original D&D rules and thought he could do better than that so he sat down and created the first Tunnels & Trolls game in 1975.  D&D was barely a thing on the wider scale, though very popular still, and here comes T&T.

Over the years T&T has been updated, re-released, and otherwise seen many ups and downs the game itself has continued and has a dedicated fanbase.  It is easy to see why. T&T is easy to learn, has some neat little quirks, and is just plain fun.  Plus if you ever get a chance to meet Ken St. Andre at Gen Con then PLEASE do it. He is a great guy.

The name, Tunnels & Trolls, almost wasn't. It was almost Tunnels & Troglodytes, but that name was shot down by his players.  Since then the troll has become a sort of synonymous with the game and St. Andre himself. His twitter handle is @Trollgodfather and he runs Trollhala Press.

Tunnels & Trolls now holds the distinction of not only being the oldest RPG still published by the same publisher, Flying Buffalo, but also still controlled by its original author/designer. 

The RuneQuest Connection
Yesterday in my review of RuneQuest's Trollpak I mentioned that in my earliest days I thought Trollpak was a supplement for Tunnels & Trolls. Indeed both games did feature a lot of troll iconography.  But I think two it may have come with one other obsession of mine. Elric. I was (still am) a HUGE Michael Moorcock fan and I loved the Elric books.  I saw the game Stormbinger and I knew it used a similar system to both RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu.  I also knew that Ken St. Andre had worked on Tunnels & Trolls and Stormbringer.  I guess in my young mind I conflated all of that.  While I might never see my goal of a full Tunnels & Trolls/Trollpak mashup, my dream of an epic Stormbringer/RuneQuest/Call of Cthulhu crossover might still happen!

I have owned many different versions of T&T over the years. I have loaned some out, another is just gone (it is with my original AD&D books I think) and still at least one I resold in a game auction when I needed the cash.  I miss each and every one.
Thankfully I now have the PDF of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls the most recent version and the one that is easiest to get.  I will be focusing my review on this version, with recollections of previous editions when and where I can.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. 2015 Ken St. Andre, published by Flying Buffalo.
348 pages, color covers, black & white interior art (mostly) and a full color section.
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (dT&T) is a massive volume at 348 pages.  
The PDF is divided into Chapter sections, but more importantly, it is split into five larger sections; The Basic or Core Game, Elaboration, Trollworld Atlas, Adventures, and End Matter.

The Basic or Core Game
This covers the first 11 chapters and 160+ pages.  This most resembles the T&T game I remember playing sparingly in the 80s. This covers the basics of the game such as rolling up characters, equipping them, combat and magic.  T&T uses all six-sided dice for everything, so getting started is as easy as getting the rules and raiding your board games for dice.  Because we NEVER did that in the 80s.
Character creation is a bit like D&D and other RPGs from the time (or more accurately other RPGs are like D&D and T&T).  There are a few quirks that make T&T stand out.
Exploding Triples allow for some extraordinary characters. When rolling your 3d6 for stats (like D&D) if you get three of the same number, all "1s" or all "6s" for example, you re-roll and ADD the previous total.  In D&D rolling three "1s" is a disaster, but in T&T you then reroll and add that 3 (1+1+1) to your new roll.  Roll three "6s"? Reroll and add 18! T&T has eight abilities, Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Speed, Intelligence (IQ), Wizardry, Luck, and Charisma. They all map pretty close to D&D with the others Speed, Wizardry and Luck doing what they sound like. 
Kindreds, not Race. With all the discussion of the word "race" in D&D (yes, it is old and problematic and yes it should be replaced) T&T "solved" this issue by going with Kindred (and long before Vampire the Masquerade did).  This also leaves character creation open to all sorts of Kindreds. 
Personal Adds. For every point in a physical ability over 12 (the upper end of average), characters get +1 to their personal adds. Physical stats are Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and Speed. These adds are combined and then used in combat.
Saving Rolls. All skills and nearly everything else use a saving throw like mechanic for resolution. The most common is a Luck roll, but others can be used.

There are three basic and one extra character classes. Warriors, Wizards, Rogues and the Specialist.
Kindreds include Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Fairies, Hobbs (Halflings), and Leprechauns. Each kindred then gets an ability multiplier. So if you are a dwarf and you rolled an 11 for Strength  your multiplier is 2 for a 22 strength! But your Luck multiplier is .75 so if your rolled a 12 it is now a 9.  Other attributes effected are height and weight. Fairies have multiples here of 0.1 and 0.01 respectively.

The equipment list is what you would expect with some odd improvised weapons (rocks) and even guns (gunnes) but these are still rather primitive in nature. 

Saving Rolls are covered in Chapter 5 and gave us what is essentially a dynamic Target Number mechanic YEARS before anyone else did.  You determine the level of the Saving Throw (difficulty) times that by 5 to get your target number. Players roll a 2d6 and yes doubles are re-rolled and added.
It's a simple mechanic that works well. 

Chapter 6 gives us some talents. Or things you can do other than wack monsters. 
Chapter 7 cover enemies and monsters and is a whopping 3 pages!  But that is nature of T&T monsters can be abstracted from just a few simple numbers.
Chapter 8 covers combat. If I remember correctly combat in T&T was a fast affair.  The rules support this idea. 

Chapter 9 is of course my favorite, Magic. There have been more than a few times I have wanted to adopt ideas from here for my D&D games.  In the end though I have kept them separate.  Spell levels go to 18 though you need some superhuman Intelligence and Dexterity scores to cast them (60 and 44 respectively).  Spells have a Wiz (Wizardry cost) so it works on a spell-point like system.  The spell names are something of a bit of contention with some people and my litmus test for whether or not someone will be a good player in T&T.  If they don't like the names, then I think they will not be good for the game.  Among the spell names are "Hocus Focus", "Oh Go Away", "Boom Bomb", "Freeze Please" and more.  I like them I would rather have a fun name than a boring one, but I am also the guy who made spells called "You Can't Sit With Us", "Live, Laugh, Love", "Oh My God, Becky!" and "Tripping the Light Fantastic".

Chapter 10 is Putting it All Together with general GM advice.  Chapter 11 covers the Appendices. 
This constitutes the bulk of what makes up the T&T game. 

Elaborations
This section consists of rules additions and other topics.
Of interest here is Chapter 13, Other Playable Kindreds.  This likely grew out of T&Ts sister game, Monsters! Monsters! In dT&T these stats for playing have been brought more inline with the M!M! book for more compatibility.   The attribute multipliers from character creation are repeated here for the main kindreds, and then expanded out for others of the Familiar (or most similar to the Good Kindred, like goblins, gnomes, and pixies) to the Less Common like lizard people, ratlings and trolls!  To the Extraordinary like ghouls and dragons.
The means in which this is done is so simple and so elegant that other games should be shamed for not doing the same.
Later on languages, more talents and accessories (minis, battle mats, virtual tabletops) are covered.



Trollworld Atlas
This section covers the campaign world of Trollworld.  A history is provided and the major continents are covered as well as a few of the cities. This covers about 70 pages, but it is all well spent.
This section also features some full-color interior art including some great maps.

Adventures
Pretty much what is says on the tin.  This covers the two types of adventures one can have with T&T; a solo adventure and a GM run adventure.  
Everyone reading this has experienced a GM run adventure.  But where T&T really sets itself apart are the solo adventures. This is a reason enough to grab this game just to see how this is done.

End Matter
This section contains the last bits.  Credits. Afterwords. Acknowledgments. A full index. Character sheets and a Post Card for the City of Khazan!


I am going to put this bluntly.

Every D&D player, no matter what edition, needs to play Tunnels & Trolls at least once.  They should also read over the rules.  I don't care if you walk away saying "I don't like it" that is fine, but so many of the things I see so-called seasoned D&D players and game masters complain about has a fix or has been addressed already in T&T. 

Like I mentioned with Trollpak who solved D&D's "evil race" problem back in 1982, Tunnels & Trolls fixed it in 1975.

Beyond all that T&T is an easily playable game with decades of material and support and thousands of fans online.  If you don't want to buy a copy to try out then find a game at a Con.  

Is T&T perfect?  No. It lacks the epic that is D&D.  If D&D is Wagner then T&T is Motzart. Easier to approach, but no less brilliant. 

For under $20 (currently) you get a complete game with enough material to keep you going for years. Plus there is such a wealth (45 years now) of material out there that you will never run out of things to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: Trollpak (Troll Week)

In many ways, 1982's Trollpak from Chaosium (and then later Avalon Hill, then Chaosium again) is the reason for my decades-long fascination with trolls in RPGs.

Like many gamers my age, it was the ads in Dragon magazine where I first came in contact with Trollpak. The ads were quite effective too.  Going back to Dragon #65 we get a dissected troll with it's guts all hanging out.  Nothing like that EVER appeared in D&D.

Back then for some reason, I thought this product was for Tunnels & Trolls and not the very obvious RuneQuest.   Even when I learned the difference I still wanted to combine Trollpak with Tunnels & Trolls, something I am attempting to try this week.

Sadly I never knew any groups that was playing RuneQuest so getting my hands on one to view was non-existent.  And my gaming dollar was stretched as it was back then, so buying it blind for my D&D games seemed a bit of a risk for me. 

Reading over the PDF now and some of the very few reviews I see that I certainly missed out and wonder what my trolls would be like today had I owned this back in the 80s.  These days I think I am fairly set in my ways, but is still there is so much here to use.  So let's get into it 



For this review, I am considering the PDF version of Trollpak that is currently being sold on DriveThruRPG.  This is a reprint of the original Trollpak from 1982.
216 pages, color covers, black & white/monchrome interior art.
By Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen for Runequest 2nd Edition.
The original box set of Trollpak contained three books (the "pak" part); Uz Lore, Book of Uz, and Into Uzdom.  The PDF combines all three into a single file.  The PDF was released in 2019.
The books correspond to the PDF sections, "Troll Legends and Natural History", "Creating and Playing Troll Characters", and "Adventures in Trolls Lands" respectively.


Uz is the name the trolls of Glorantha give themselves and how their creation is central to the lore of the world.  Already this set is going to be the sort of deep-dive into a topic that you know I love.

On the very first page, we get an "in-universe" side-bar about how trolls living near or amongst humans begin to become more human-like and how both groups eventually take on an equilibrium.  
This sets the stage for this book in two very important ways.
  1. This book is steeped in the lore and legends of Glorantha. So teasing out pieces to use in other games might be trickier than I first expected.
  2. These trolls are NOT one-dimensional collections of hit points and potential XP and treasure.  If you prefer your monsters to be mindless evil races to just kill then this book will be wasted on you. 
Book 1: Uz Lore, Troll Legends and Natural History
We get right into the myths and legends of the Uz people/trolls.  We get a feel right away since we get a listing of the Seven Sacred Ancestors of the Uz even before the Gods.  It is right before the Gods sure, but the importance of these ancestors is emphasized. We learn that "Uz" means "the folk" in the Uz language. So the Mistress Trolls (akin to the troll mother race) are the Uzuz.  Dark Trolls, the corrupted "evil" trolls are the Uzko. And so on. Speaking of the language we also learn that the mother tongue of the trolls is a debased form of the "Darktongue." So in D&D terms "Trollspeak" could be a corrupted form of "Abyssal" or something like that. I think in old forms of D&D anyone who spoke the Chaos alignment language could speak to trolls.  

Speaking of Chaos.  The Law - Chaos access is also present in RuneQuest, though not as an alignment as in D&D but as elemental forces.  Another clue that these are your D&D trolls comes up that trolls are often seen as agents of Chaos WHEN IN FACT they were really some of the first victims. 
Let that sink in for bit.  If that were published today there is a certain segment of the hobby that would be screaming that they don't want "social justice" politics in their games.  But this is from 1982, from two of the titans of the RPG industry.  

The section continues with more history and recounting of great troll battles. There is a quasi-academic feel to this and that is really fun.   An example is an experiment a troll researcher did on a troll and a trollkin (a smaller version of troll) in which they were locked in a room with various items and the researcher recorded what they ate.  The point here is that Uz trolls can eat and will eat almost anything. 

We learn there are many kinds of trolls (as to be expected). The Mistress Race is the mother race of all trolls. They are ancient and wise and claim to predate all other races and even the world itself.  The other races of trolls are the Dark Trolls (your stock evil trolls), great trolls, cave trolls, sea trolls, and the diminutive trollkin.


We even get details on troll senses and how they differ from humans. Differences in trolls from region to region. Even a troll evolutionary tree and "prehistoric" troll cave painting and idols, there is even a six-breasted "Venus of Willendorf" style troll idol of the troll mistress race.
There is even details on the types of pets trolls keep. 

There is far more detail about trolls in this 64 page section than in all five editions of (A)D&D.
Nearly everything in the section is system neutral.  While it is tied to the world mythology at a fundamental level, it can be used in any game.

Book 2: Book of Uz, Creating and Playing Troll Characters
This section/book is all about creating a troll character to play in RuneQuest.  Before we delve into this let's have a look at this from "Playing Trolls,"
It is tempting to use trolls as monsters with weapons.
However, they are intelligent creatures who have survived despite gods and men. Several traits set them apart from humans as well, and they naturally exploit those special traits to their advantage. You should do so as well.
D&D players may have issues with playing races as evil or not, but RuneQuest had it figured out in 1982.

You can randomly roll which troll sub-species your character is from, with a 1% chance you are from the Mistress Troll race and 63% chance you are a miserable little trollkin.  Adjustments for all the types are given. Your troll can be wild, semi-civilized, or civilized. You can roll for social rank and equipment.  You can even see what starting spells you have since all trolls have some magic. You can even figure out what you were before you became an adventurer. 

Trolls are a matriarchal culture. So various home habits are focused around this.  For example, the more husbands a troll leader has, the higher her social standing. Looks like my troll character Grýlka gets to pick out a couple of husbands!
BTW, I LOVE the troll greeting when offering you hospitality in their lair.  They cover your head with a blanket or hide and say "I extend my darkness to protect you."  I am totally going to use that in my next adventure. 

Some gods are covered next and their worship. They have goddesses and gods of spiders, darkness, insects (very important to troll life), and the hunt. There is even a goddess of healing.
Coverage of domesticated giant insects is also covered since these creatures often serve the same function as domestic mammals in human life. 

Some new troll types are also covered.

This section by it's very nature is more rules-focused, but there is still so much here that is just good that it can, and should, be used in any other FRPG.

Book 3: Into Uzdom, Adventures in Trolls Lands
This section covers going on adventures in lands inhabited or controlled by the Uz. 
This section is very rules-focused as well with the first part covering random encounters in troll lands. 
There are also sample/small adventures like "The Caravans" which details a troll caravan of a heard of giant beetles.  Imagine this long train of trolls, some in wagons, others walking and in between hundreds of giant beetles being led like cattle in a long line.  Quite a sight really.  Another is traveling to a troll village and NOT treat everyone like a walking collection of HP.  This one is fantastic really for all the troll alcohol available and whether or not your human character can handle any of them in a drinking challenge. 
There are five larger adventures here and several smaller ideas for seeds.  The best thing though is the inclusion of a "mini-game" of Trollball.  This game is played like football and is supposed to be a reenactment of a battle from the dawn of time.  The "trollball" itself used to be a now extinct insect so other things have been used like badgers and in rare occurrences a bear, but most often it is a trollkin.   The teams each have seven players and one can be a great troll.  They are sponsored by a Rune Lord.
The game is brutal and sometimes deadly, but since there is a religious element to the game anyone killed on the field is brought back to life by the gods whom the game honors. Full stats for the Sazdorf Wackers and Tacklers is included so players can try their own hand at Trollball, but warning, the troll gods might not raise a dead human. 

There is just so much to love about this product. It is jammed packed full of ideas.  Part of me wants to adapt my D&D trolls to use these rules and another part of me wants to insert the Uz as-is into D&D as their own race or something akin to High Trolls.  

Trolpak was updated in 1990 when RuneQuest was being published by Avalon Hill.  It was then split into the Trollpak and Troll Gods. 

The "new" pdf restores all the content back to the 1982 edition. 



Reading it now after so many years I am struck with a couple of thoughts. The first is what would have happened to my own games had I picked this up and used it in my games?  Would my trolls today have a decidedly Uz flavor about them?  What else would have changed?

Also, reviews in Dragon Magazine for this are glowing and heap high praise on this book and they called it a leap in game design.  It was, but it was not a leap everyone would take.  RuneQuest/Chaosium did this for trolls like Chill/Pacesetter had done for Vampires.  There are s few others I can think of.  Orkworld did it for Orcs for example.  But still, these sorts of deep explorations are rare. 

So if you are over one-dimensional monsters and are ready to expand your options then this is for you.
If you are RuneQuest player of any edition then this is also something you should have.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Pacesetter Games & Simulations' BX RPG

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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





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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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




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

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








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

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

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


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

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

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

I am likely to spend some more time with this set.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...