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

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Review: HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (AD&D 2nd Edition)

HR1 Vikings
With the end of One Man's God on my mind, I wanted to make this week a little more special.  To that end I wanted to spend some more time with Norse Myths and Vikings.  So with on thing ending (almost) I have mental energy (or "Spell slots" as the kids say today) to do something a little newer.

I have long been a fan of the AD&D 2nd Ed. Historical References books.  I have used the Celts one over and over again with many different versions of D&D and I have been pleased with it.  The scholarship on these is a bit better than the Deities & Demigods, but I attribute this to a better budget and more space to explain what they were doing. 

Also, the focus was a little different.  The D&DG took myths and tried to fit them into the AD&D framework.  The Historical References took the myths and described how to play an AD&D game in that world.

It's Norse Week so let's start at the beginning with HR1 the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook.

HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (AD&D 2nd Edition)

For today's review, I am only going to consider the PDF version of this book from DriveThruRPG. I lost or sold back my original in one of my moves or collection downsize.  I will mention details from the physical book as I remember it, but my focus is on the PDF for the details.  In most cases the material is 100% the same, the difference coming from the fold-out map, which is separate pages in the pdf.

HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1992), by David "Zeb" Cook.  Illustrations by Ned Dameron and cartography by David C. Sutherland III.  96 pages, black & white with full-color maps.

The first book of the Historical Reference series covers the Viking raiders of Scandinavia. It is not a separate game world per se, since it deals with Pagan Europe after the fall of Rome, but it is a fantastical Europe where dragons fill the seas, troll-blooded humans walk among us, and somewhere out there in the wilderness, a one-eyed man wanders the land.

Chapter 1: Introduction

This chapter covers the very basics, starting off with what people usually get wrong about the Vikings.  These guys are not Hägar the Horrible or even the interpretations of Wagner.  They do point out that "Vikings" are also not really a people, but a lifestyle that some people engaged in. 

This section also covers how to use this book, specifically how to use this book about Vikings and the history of their raids with the AD&D 2nd Rules.  We get into more specific details in the next chapters.

Chapter 2: A Mini-Course of Viking History

Starting with the raid at Lindisfarne in 793 CE the book covers a very basic history of the Northmen's lands, the lands they raided, and their culture and history.  The focus here though is through the lens of an AD&D game, not a historical introduction.  The book is clear on this. 

Details are given, with maybe extra focus on England and France (though they are not called that yet) but that is fine.  There is a very nice timeline running across the top of the pages of this chapter that is rather handy. The time period, roughly 800 to 1100 CE agrees with most of the scholarship on "Viking History" so that works fine for here as well. 

There is a nice list of settlements and cities the Vikings targeted. Not a full list, but it gives you an idea of how much of Europe, Northern Africa, and even parts of Asia the Vikings would roam.  

There is a page or so of suggested readings. Likely the best at the time.  The chapter does set you nicely to explore these ideas further.

Chapter 3: Of Characters and Combat

Here we get into game writing proper.  We start with what races you will find in a Viking-themed campaign.  Obviously, we are talking mostly humans here. Humans can gain a "Gift" something that makes them special such as "Rune Lore" or "Bad Luck" or even a Seer.  There is a new "race" the Troll-born. These are stronger than average humans due to troll-blood in their veins. They get a +1 to Strength, Constitution and Intelligence but a -1 to Wisdom and a -2 to Charisma. They have Infravision and are limited to 15th level in their classes. They are not born with Gifts.

Next, we cover the changes to the Character Classes from the PHB. Fighters on the whole tend to be unchanged as are Rangers and Thieves.  Classes not allowed are Clerics, Paladins, Druids, and Wizards, though specialty mages are allowed if they are Conjurers, Diviners, Enchanters, Illusionists, Necromancers.  While this could be a negative for some I like the idea of limiting classes for specific campaigns.  Two new sub-classes of the Warrior are added, the Berserker and the Runecaster.  Both do pretty much what you might suspect they do.  The berserker is actually rather cool and while the obvious roots here are the barbarian and berserker monster from AD&D 1, there is enough here to make it work and be interesting too. Runecasters know runes as detailed in the next chapter.

The "forbidden" classes can be played, if they are outsiders. 

Lip service is given to the detail that the Vikings were predominantly men.  Though new archaeological finds are casting some doubt that they were exclusively so.  This book does give some examples of how warrior women were known.  They emphasize that player characters are always exceptional. 

There is a section on names (including a list of names), homelands, and social class.

In the purist AD&D 2nd ed section, we get some new Proficiencies.

runes
Chapter 4: Rune Magic

This covers Rune Magic. An important feature of Viking Lore. What the runes are and how to use them in AD&D 2nd Ed terms are given.  A lot of these are minor magics, say of the 0-level or 1st-level spell use.  I personally don't recall them being over abused in games, but they are a really nice feature to be honest.

Chapter 5: ...And Monsters

Monsters are discussed here, starting with which existing monsters can be used from the AD&D 2nd Monstrous Compendium.   Following this some altered monsters are given.   For example, there is the Gengånger which is a zombie with some more details.  

Dwarves and Elves are given special consideration, as are trolls and giants. 

There is not however any "new" monsters in the AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendium format. We will get those in the Celts book, but that is next time.

The section is split with a "centerfold" map of Europe.

Vikings map of Europe

Chapter 6: Equipment and Treasure

Vikings were Vikings because of the treasure they sought.  They also had the best ships in Europe at this time. So let's spend some time with these.  

We start with a section on money. For the game's simplicity, these are reduced to a couple of systems.  Coins are usually categorized by make-up and weight.  There is some good material here really and something that most games should look into. 

Treasure covers the typical treasures found.  Also, treasure was a central piece of Viking lore; it was how chieftains paid their men, it was what they stole from others, and it was also how they were paid off NOT to steal.   Some space is given to Magic Items as well. This is an AD&D game after all.  Some "typical" magical treasure is discussed and some that are not found at all.  A few new items are also detailed. 

Chapter 7: The Viking Culture

This chapter gives us are biggest differences from a typical AD&D game.  For illustrative purposes, we follow a young Viking, Ivar Olafsson, in a year of his life.  Now I rather liked this because it gave me a character situated in his life and culture.   While it is not the most "gamble" material it is good background material. 

There is a section on Social Ranking and a little more on the role of Viking women.  I think after 6 seasons of watching Katheryn Winnick kick-ass as Lagertha in Vikings, this section will be read and cheerfully ignored. That is great, but this bit does talk about, and support, the image that Viking women had it better than their counterparts in the rest of Europe.

We also get into the sundries, quite literally; Food, drink, homes, farms, and trade. There is a section on religion with lots of nods towards the AD&D 2nd Ed Legends and Lore. 

Chapter 8: A Brief Gazetteer

AD&D 2nd Ed is celebrated not really for its advances in game design or rules, but rather the campaign worlds.  This book, and this section, in particular, is a thumbnail of why these celebrations are merited.  Or, as I call it, just give me a map! This section is more than a map and maybe not as much as the famed Mystara Gazetteers, but the relationship is not difficult to pick out.

This covers, rather briefly (as it says in the title), the lands the Vikings would roam to. And there are a lot of those! In addition to the lands of Europe, Africa, Asia, and yes even North America, we get the fantastic worlds of the Vikings.  If I had done this book this would have been Chapter 2 or 3 at the very least.  This chapter is all too brief in my mind. 

We get a longship design at the end and in the PDF what was the fold-out map.

--

So in truth a really fun resource.  The AD&D game material is there, but this book could be used with pretty much any version of D&D or even many other games.  3rd Edition/Pathfinder players might lament the lack of Prestige Classes, but the Rune MAgic section can be easily converted to a Feat system.  5th Edition Players would need to work the Berserkers into a Barbarian sub-class/sub-type, but that would be easy enough. 

It is not a perfect resource, but it is really close. I am really regretting selling off my physical copy now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Review: DragonRaid

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

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

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

The Game

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

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

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

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

Ad for The DragonRaid RPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 1

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 2, Lightraider sheets

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 3, so many books!

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 4, counters

The DragonRaid RPG Box contents 5 documentation

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

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

What do you get?

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

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

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

DragonRaid World


Rulebook
Blue cover, letter-sized, 24 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

DragonRaid Book covers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiral bound player's books


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

DragonRaid Player's Guide


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

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

History of the StarLots


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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

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

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


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

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

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

Format

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

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

The round goes to Swords & Wizardry.

Swords & Wizardry

Classes

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

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

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

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

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

Old School Essentials

Monsters

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

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

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

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

The round goes to OSE. 

Game Play

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

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

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

Final Round

So. Who is the winner here?  

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

Boxed sets


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review: Witch+Craft, a 5e Crafting Supplemental

Are you a fan of Studio Ghibli movies?  Well, I am and the authors of Witch+Craft, a 5e crafting supplemental are as well. And this book proudly and openly displays that love.  But I am getting a little ahead of myself. 

I backed this project as a Kickstarter a while back and it came with the book, PDFs, and all sorts of great add-ons like wallpapers and spell and magic-item cards (PDFs).

So I am going to be reviewing the hardcover book and the PDFs from the Kickstarter.  I am uncertain if the PDFs from DriveThruRPG are 100% the same or not. 

You can purchase the hardcover from the publisher's website and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG or also from the publisher.

Witch+Craft, a 5e Crafting Supplemental

Witch+Craft is a full-color hardcover 214-page book.  The theme of the book is decidedly high magic, and a style of high magic infuses all aspects of the lives of the people of this particular vision of the 5e fantasy universe.  This book is exactly the opposite of "grimdark," wherein magic is everywhere and it is a tool to be used to make things better.   I state this upfront because that is the pervasive philosophy of the book.  It works, and it is a great one to have.  But it will have to fit your style of gaming and campaigns.  I knew this on the onset, and lets be honest, the cover gives this away, but if this is not your kind of game there is not a lot (there is some!) that this book can give you.  

That all being said this book is a fantastic resource for anyone that has ever said "can I use magic to make BLANK?" Where BLANK is anything and everything from clothes that clean themselves, to self-sorting spell components, to fire that heats but won't burn, to well...half a thousand things I have heard from my kids in their 5e games.

While I may have started this review with who this book is not for, who it absolutely IS for is anyone that has ever played an Artificer in 5e or an Alchemist in Pathfinder 2e.

What this book doesn't have, despite the name, is a Witch class.  Ah well. 

Witch+Craft table of contents

Introduction

We get the basics of this book. In bold letters right in the first line of the first paragraph we get : 

This book is about making things.

You have to appreciate this. Some RPG books are never quite as clear as to what they are about. This book is also about rounding out your character with Trade Classes.  Though Trade Professions would likely be a better term. You can take these along with your Fighter, Wizard, or whatever levels. I will get into more details in a bit.

Chapter 1: Domestic Magic

Part 1 of this chapter covers the basics of crafting. The six-step process is listed and then detailed. 

  1. Blueprint. You propose a project.
  2. Challenges. The GM imposes a Difficulty Level based on the specifications of the project. They will also list the base materials required to make the crafting attempt at all. (7 levels total)
  3. Preparation. You may prepare for the project in order to improve your chances of success.
  4. Craft Action. You begin the project, rolling to qualify your success.
  5. Fine-tuning. After the rolls are in, you may choose to expend bonuses to alleviate any potential flaws.
  6. Appraising. When all is said and done, the item is created, and its features and flaws known.

The rules here a pretty simple and even elegant in their own ways.  It does add to the 5e system as a new sub-system.  So while old schoolers will not even blink an eye it does feel "added on."  Now this is not a bad thing.  It feels like the best system for detailed craftwork, as opposed to say "just roll a d20 and beat this DC."

Part 2 deals with Trade Class basics.  This is just a tracking system on how you get better with crafting.  Class is kind of a misnomer here since it is not a D&D Class.  Trade Profession might have been a better choice.  These professions/classes can progress through Tiers (not levels) and have different kinds of media they work in; crystals, drafting, living arts, metals, textiles, and wood.

Part 3 covers Techniques. Or how you can do things.  This also covers tools.  They are presented like feats but are attached to the Tiers. For example "Green Thumb" does more or less what you think it does.  The prereq is "Living Arts or Wood."  While presented like a feat, it does not have any "combat" advantages.  Certainly lots of role-playing advantages.

Part 4 is Picking Your Trade Class.  Here are the actual classes/professions. They are based around the media above.  So someone that works with crystals could be Glass Blower or a Mason or a Jeweler. The builds cover what other materials you can work with, what tools you have, and starting techniques.  Each media get three example builds.

Chapter 2: Cape Verdigris

Cape Verdigris is a setting where all of this crafting and domestic magic can be seen in use. It lists places of interest, guilds, shops, and many major NPCs. It is designed to be added to pretty much any campaign world. 

Chapter 3: A House of Plenty

This is a 40-page complete adventure of a different sort.  The goal here is to restore an old manor house to it's former glory using the crafting skills they have learned in this book.  So in TV shows, you are trading Sci-Fi or Shudder for HGTV. There is something interesting here and I really admire the authors' choices here.  

Chapter 4: Spells

This chapter covers 12 new spells to use in conjunction with the rules.  

Witch+Craft tspells


Chapter 5: Familiars

Also what it says on the cover, this introduces 10 new familiars. Many are fey, others are animals. Greater familiars are also presented here. If you wanted a soot familiar like the ones in "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Spirited Away" then this chapter has you covered.

Witch+Craft

Chapter 6: Items

Not just magic items but a whole bunch of mundane and domestic magic items as well.  The blanket of napping is an easy favorite. 

Witch+Craft items

Appendices

Here we get a collection of various stats. 

Appendix I. The NPCs from Chapters 2 and 3 get their writeups here. Why not with the chapters? Easy, in the chapters, you are supposed to be focused on who these people are how you interact with them, NOT what their combat stats are. 

Appendix II covers unusual trades like healers and wandmakers.

Appendix III has various boons and flaws of the items crafted. These can be minor, major or magical/dangerous for boons and flaws respectively. 

Appendix IV is a list of crafting obstacles.

Appendix V cover crafted treasures

Appendix VI is Awakened Objects. So lots of monster stats here.

Appendix VII covers the stats of various objects; HP and AC.

There is a very attractive character sheet in back. The next few pages cover all the designers and artists that helped make this book possible.  There is also a list of Kickstarter contributors. Sadly there are a few typos here with some names cut off, some listed more than once.  Mine isn't even listed at all. 

There is also an index and the OGL statement.

The book really fantastic and joy to look at.  The art is great, the layout is wonderful and very easy on the eyes.

The audience for this book is a little slim.  There is nothing in this book really that would help in combat, defeating the next big bad (unless he challenges you to a bake-off) or any of the things that people typically associate with D&D.  This is much more of a narrative presentation with a lot of role-playing potential.  

One of it's strengths though design-wise is that since the crafting system is not inherently tied to D&D5 is can be lifted out and added to other games with only minor tweaking.  For example, Chapters 1 to 3 could be lifted out and added to something like Blue Rose AGE edition with a little work.  

I would like to recommend this to Old-School gamers. I could something like this working well with a game like Old-school Essentials or The Hero's Journey. But even those games tend to be combat-heavy at times and really don't have much in the way of the need for various crafting. Not to say that some groups or players wouldn't, it's just not universal.

This book is best for the younger D&D 5 player that got into D&D after a steady diet of Minecraft and the ones that loved crafting items in MMORPGs. It is also great for any DM that wants a better handle on making items of any sort.

Witch+Craft


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Review: Old-School Essentials Adventures

One of my fondest memories of gaming has to be the Summer of 1982 playing this weird-ass hybrid of AD&D first ed and D&D Moldvay/Cook B/X. I think I played every weekend to be honest.

While a lot of games have come really close to this feel, the one that now comes the closest has to be Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Old-School Essentials Adventures

There are a lot of great clones out there but right now nothing is scratching my old-school itch quite like OSE.  I got my Kickstarter package a bit back and while I was engrossed with the rules of the new books, I utterly failed to give much attention to the two included adventures. That is until I started hearing people talk about them more online.  I went back to them and you know what?  They are really kind of great.

For this review, I am considering both the hardcover copies I got with the Kickstarter and the PDF copies from DriveThru RPG.

Both books are 48-page, full-color books. The maps are printed on the inside covers with encounter areas labeled on the maps.  The books are A5 format (5.8" x 8.3", 148mm x 210mm).

The Incandescent Grottoes
The Incandescent Grottoes
by Gavin Norman

This is an introductory adventure designed for characters level 1-2, written by OSE creator Gavin Norman with art by Nate Treme. 

The adventure could be considered a dungeon crawl along the lines of Keep on the Borderlands, but like so much of OSE it taps into how the games were played rather than written. The dungeons of IG *could be* like the Caves of Chaos, but more accurately they are played like Caves of Chaos were played back then.  What do I mean?  Well, there is a demonic cult here, The Cult of the Faceless Lord. There are factions within the dungeon and how they interact. Plus goals for the various groups of monsters. There are tables of treasures and random occurrences to make exploring this dungeon something players can keep coming back to. 

The rooms and areas a very nicely detailed and the whimsical art really adds to the dream-like qualities of the adventure.  There is even a dragon waiting for the characters at the end!  Ok, it is not a very powerful one, but to 1st and 2nd level characters it is powerful enough.  There are some new monsters (the aforementioned dragon) and lots of great encounters.

While there is no overt meta-plot here, one could easily see this as some sort of introduction to a cult of Juiblex vying for control of the Mythic Underworld. 

A bit about the name.  I can't help but notice that a 1st level adventure into the "Mythic Underground" can be read as "I(n) Can Descen(d)t."  I am sure this is intentional.

Halls of the Blood King
Halls of the Blood King
by Diogo Nogueira

Diogo Nogueira has been racking up an impressive list of RPG publications and getting him to pen an adventure for OSE is quite a score.  And the adventure is pretty much what I hoped it would be like.

This time the artist is Justine Jones. If the art of Incandescent Grottoes is dream-like then the art here is nightmarish.  I mean that in the most positive way. 

The adventure is set up in a manner similar to other OSE adventures. We get maps with major encounter areas, descriptions and relationships of the major factions/NPCs/Monsters.

The adventure itself is a castle of a vampire lord for characters of 3rd to 5th level.  

Detail-wise this adventure lives somewhere between the sparse-ness Palace of the Vampire Queen and the detail rich Ravenloft.  I don't want this to sound like there not a lot of detail here, there is, but there is no over arching epic here.  This is great since it allows you to take this adventure and work it into your world much easier.   For example with a tweak or two here and there I could make this "Halls of the Blood Queen" and add it rather nicely to my War of the Witch Queens campaign.  This would work out well since I am using OSE for that.  The only thing stopping me is I have so many Vampire Queens now!  But still, it would be fun and very, very easy.

The adventure is also rather good and looks like a lot of fun.

If these are examples of how adventures for OSE are going to be written in the future then OSE is going have a nice long shelf life.  While neither adventure is revolutionary in design or concepts they are really good adventures.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Review: Bunnies and Burrows 3rd Edition (2019)

Bunnies & Burrows has always been one of those games that elicits a variety of responses from gamers and non-gamer alike.  Most often it is "really? there is a game of that?"

I will admit I was and am a fan of the original 1976 Edition.  I never really got to play it, save for one time, but that was it. It was fun and I wrote a review for it

I did, however, spend a lot of time back in 2007 rewriting the Bunnies & Burrows article on Wikipedia.  Not only was I and others able to get the article to Good Article status, but I also had a Furry Advocacy group offer to send me money because of it.  I just asked them to donate the money to the Humane Society.  I didn't want my edits called into question if I Was doing them for pay.  I was doing it to further my own RPG knowledge.

So when the Kickstarter for the new edition from Frog God Games came up, well yes, I had to back it. They delivered it and it looked great. And I promptly put it on my shelf never to be seen again.  I was cleaning up some shelves to make room for more Traveller books when I found it.  I figure I should give it a go again.

If you have never checked out this game then I say do yourself a favor and remedy that. This is a great piece of the RPG past and should not go ignored.

I am going to review Bunnies & Burrows 3rd Edition from Frog God Games.  For this review, I am considering both the PDF and the Print version I received from Kickstarter.  There is a Print on Demand version, I have not seen it. 

Bunnies & Burrows, 3rd Edition

Bunnies & Burrows 3rd Ed comes to us from Frog God Games. Maybe more well known for the Swords & Wizardry line of books than rabbits, this game is still a solid contender for the Old School market. More so I say than some other games that people think of as "Old School."

In this game, you play rabbits.  Not anthropomorphic rabbits. Not mutant rabbits. But normal, everyday, common in your backyard rabbits.  If this feels a bit "Watership Down" then you are right on track.

Part I: Traits and Characteristics

Characters have 8 base traits, Strength, Speed, Intelligence, Agility, Constitution, Mysticism (was Wisdom in 1st and 2nd Ed), Smell, and Charisma.  Different Professions (Runners, Spies, Shamans...) all have a primary trait.  Traits are rolled like D&D, 3d6, and the bonuses are similar. 

Every profession gets some special abilities. So for example the Fighter gets a double attack and a killing blow.  It is assumed that your starting character is a rabbit or bunny. 

Bunnies & Burrow art

There are other choices too, Raccoon, Jackrabbit, chipmunk, skunk, porcupine, opossum, armadillo, and gray squirrel.  With the examples given, other small furry wild animals could be chosen.

Bunnies & Burrows

Part II: Playing the Game

This covers the rules of the game and more importantly, the sorts of things you can do in the game. Covered are important topics like Habitats, Grooming, Sleep, Foraging, Diseases, and dealing with other animals and at worse, Man-Things.

There is a huge section on encounters and how basically everything out there is harmful to you. There are predators, humans, dangerous terrain, rival animals, and the ever-present search for food and water.

There are many sample scenarios and even a few mini-games to play.

Part III: For the Gamemaster

The last part covers the last half of the book.  It has a lot of information on setting up a game, how to roleplay, and stats of all sorts.  A lot of rival and predatory creatures are also listed in what would the "monster" section of other games.




There are a bunch of maps, scenarios, and encounters all throughout the book.  There is no unified theme, nothing that ties them all together, other than "survive as a little thing in a world full of bigger, scarier things."

There is certainly a lot of Role0playing potential in that. 

Bunnies & Burrow art

Bunnies & Burrow art


Bunnies & Burrow map

B&B makes you feel like it could all be happening in your backyard.  That while we Man-Things sit on our decks and grill our burgers and drink out ices tea, there is a world not that far from us distance-wise, but one that is as different and far away as we can get. A world of survival just under our noses. 

The game is quite attractive in terms of color and art. It looks fantastic.

There is a feel from this, I am going to call it the S&W effect, that I didn't feel when reading the original game.  This is a polished game that is trying to feel old. As opposed to an old that was trying to feel polished.

The original B&B looks cheap by today's standards but it was such an "out there" idea for the time that it felt more important than say the representation it got in RPG circles.  This new B&B has a similar feel, but maybe lacks a little of the gravitas of the original.

In any case, it is a fun game, and one every gamer would at least try.  I don't think you can call yourself an old-school gamer unless you have played it at least once.

Real bunnies love B&B

This game is Simon Bunny approved!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review: Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide 5e
I am on record as being a big fan of Green Ronin's Blue Rose setting, both in its True20 and AGE versions.   There is just something about it that I find very, very compelling and think it makes for a fantastic game and game world.

I am also on record as being a huge fan of D&D 5th Edition.  While it wont replace my beloved Basic D&D it will sit on my shelves and game table very happily right next to it.  

So what happens when Green Ronin decides to take their Blue Rose world and used the D&D 5th edition rule system?  Well, you get the best of both worlds!  Let's look into this RPG chocolate and peanut butter creation and see what we have.  My only fear is that some of the things that made Blue Rose so special might get lost here.  Let's find out.

The Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide (5e)

For this review I am considering the PDF and POD versions I purchased from DriveThruRPG.  Note: As of the date of this writing the POD is no longer available. I suspect this has to do with the change in printing costs for "Premium Color" prints.  There was a successful Kickstarter (that I missed) to fund a traditional print run.  It looks like there will offset printing ready for your FLGS by the end of 2021.  I guess I better hold on to my now collector's item!

The book is 176 pages with full-color art throughout.  Once again the cover art is by the incredible Stephanie Pui-Mun Law who has given us the look and feel I associate with Blue Rose.  All of the art, as far as I can tell, has been used before in the AGE version of Blue Rose.  I do not see this as a problem. The art is so tied to Blue Rose for me that I would have a difficult time seeing anything else.  So this is a positive in my mind.

It is hard to believe that it was four years ago that I reviewed the "new" Blue Rose AGE edition (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  So a lot of what I said there will apply here.  

You do not need the Blue Rose core rules to play this, but you do need the D&D 5th Edition rules.

Introduction

This section from developer Steve Kenson introduces us to Green Ronin and Blue Rose.  It is a nice reminder that Green Ronin's DNA is deeply sequenced with D&D.  Many of the founders and developers at GR can trace their careers back AD&D 2nd Ed, D&D 3.x, and D&D 5.  These are not "johnny come latelys" these are people with a strong and credible background in game design and D&D in particular.   This also covers some naming conventions.  "Sorcery" from the True20 and AGE versions has been renamed "The Occult" here, so as not to confuse with the sorcerer class.  Similar distinctions are made later on with Priests and Clerics when dealing with the various theocracies.

Chapters 1 through 7

These chapters all deal with the history, people, and geography of the World of Aldea.  They are,in order, The World of Aldea, The Kingdom of Aldis, The Theocracy of Jarzon, The Khanate of Rezea, The Thaumocracy of Kern, The Matriarch of Lar'tya, and On the Borders.

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

While these sections are nearly identical to similar sections in the Blue Rose core rules AGE edition, they are not a copy and paste.  I covered those in Part 2 of my Blue Rose review.  The differences here are now largely one of rules setting.  Details have been edited to better fit the D&D 5e rules.  

This also works well as an overview for anyone wanting to play in Aldea regardless of which rules (True20, AGE, D&D5) they want to use.

Chapter 8: Aldean Ancestries

We are moving away from the old concept of race in D&D and I could not be happier.  This chapter gives us a good example of how this can be done moving forward.  There is a natural familiarity here for anyone coming to this version of BR from the True20 one.  The ancestries of the world of Aldea are here and how they can be played in D&D 5.  If you are thinking ahead then YES, you can now use Rhydan and Sea-folk in your regular D&D game.  

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

What was "race" is not split off into Ancestries (your "genetics" as it were) and Culture (where you were raised).  This is particularly useful in the cosmopolitan world that is Aldea and in particular Aldis. Sure you might a Night Person, but you were raised in a villa on the Northside of Garnet.  Your best friend is a Sea-folk and you spent more time on the waterways than whatever stereotypical things people think Night Folk do. Sure you might be naturally strong and fierce-looking, but the only battles you have ever been in are the Poetry competitions in Garnet. Which by the way are pretty damn fierce in their own right. In my Blue Rose games, Garnet has annual poetry competitions that have all vibe and energy of an epic Rap-battle.  The top prize is a lot of money, but more importantly, bragging rights.

I would like to say this should be back-ported into D&D, but I am pretty sure we will see this in future versions anyway.  This is an improvement.  Character customization at a new level.

Chapter 9: Aldean Classes

Ah. Here is what I waiting on.  Blue Rose AGE and True20 versions only has three classes.  An while this works remarkably well, D&D has a bit more.  So in the proud tradition of so many D&D 5 books, this book offers new takes on all the standard classes.  I want to focus here on just a couple I really like.  

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

The Monk gains the Blue Rose Spirit Dancers in the Way of the Spirit Dance and makes it better than the sum of it's parts.  I have never been a big fan of monks, I have only played one in my 40+ years of gaming.  The Blue Rose spirit dancers were a great concept, but again, not something I would play.  This new Way of the Spirit Dancer Monk is better than either and yes I would play one.  Imagine an acrobat with ballet training and grace and mix that in with aikido and karate.  Yes, that is basically Gymkata (Gods of Light help me) but so much better really.

Paladins get the Oath of the Rose and really just become the Knights I was always playing in BR anyway, but nice to see them on paper.

Warlocks.  You knew I was coming here. We get two Patrons here (from the Primordial Gods), the Autumn King and the Winter Queen.  A Winter Queen warlock is indistinguishable from how I like to play witches as to be the exact same thing.  But honestly, I expected nothing less from Steve Kenson and line developer Joseph Carriker. 

Wizards get a little psychic in School of the Psyche.  I would run wizards with a pretty tight hand in Blue Rose 5e. Not because of the lack of magic, just the opposite, there is a ton of magic in this world. 

These all are designed well for the World of Aldea, but I'd be crazy not to play a Queen of Winter Warlock.

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

We also get some Feats to help round out some of the powers that characters can get in Blue Rose-AGE.  Not a lot, but 5e is not as feat-heavy as 3 was.  

Chapter 10: Aldean Backgrounds

Aldea is a new world so there are some modified and new backgrounds for it.  The best is the Reawakened.  Or the reincarnation background.  You know I am going to use that!

Chapter 11: Aldean Arcana

This covers the magic in Aldea including the Occult (what was called Sorcery).  Some spells from the Player's Handbook/SRD are marked as "Occult" spells.

I would have loved to see some new spells here, but I would need to go through both the Blue Rose book and the PHB to see if there is anything missing.

We get some new magic items including Ancestral and Rhydan ones as well as Occult Artifacts (great for any game).

Chapter 12: Aldean Creatures

This covers the monsters and creatures we find in Aldea not in the Monster Manual/SRD.  There are some important alterations to some creatures such as Griffons, Centaurs, the Fey, and undead, to correspond to the world better.  We also get Clockwork creatures, "upgraded" Fey Lords, and slightly different Fiends. Rhydan also get updated 5e style stats.

Shadow of Tanglewood

This is an included adventure for four to six 1st level Blue Rose heroes. 

There is an Index and the OGL statement.

While I was worried that some of the charms of Blue Rose AGE would be lost here there is more than enough to make up for it.  I mean there are no stunts or any of the other nice features of the AGE rules. There is no conversion matrix for bringing over characters from one game to the other.  But this book plays to the strengths of D&D 5e and still manages to give us an Aldea that feels special. 

What might have been lost from the AGE (or even True20) version is more than made up for with D&D5.  It's not exactly the same, but it is every bit as fun.

Who Should Buy This Book?

If you are a Blue Rose fan and a D&D fan then get this book.  If you are a Blue Rose player/GM/fan and your group is playing D&D 5 then you should get this book.  If you are a D&D 5 player, and you are curious about Blue Rose, Aldea, and the City of Aldis then most certainly get this book.

One of the great strengths of this book is its ability to introduce the concepts of Blue Rose and its world to a bunch of new players.  Honestly, D&D 5 players should be grabbing this book. 

If I were Green Ronin, I'd put a QuickStart adventure using Blue Rose 5e with some very simple concepts from the game.  Don't include character creation, but instead have a set of pre-made characters including a Night Person, a Rhy-Cat (or Rhy-Bear), a Sea Folk, and a Vata.  Show off their strengths and then get a group of YouTubers to play it. I know my youngest's group would eat this up in a heartbeat.  Slap a giant ad in the back for both versions of the game.

Now I just need a set of Blue Rose 5e dice to go with my set of Blue Rose AGE d6s.

Blue Rose Core and Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: The Runewild Campaign Setting

Putting the Hex into hex crawls.

A while back I mentioned the Runewild Campaign Setting Kickstarter. I was quite excited about it and happily backed it.   I got my books and my PDFs, but it was in the middle of my Covid-19 fueled busy summer last year. The book has been sitting on my desk, mostly ignored since then.

That is a damn shame.

With all the fun I have been having with Van Richten Guide to Ravenloft lately I wanted to revisit this book and see what I can add to it from this book.  The short answer? A lot.  So much in fact that while there are some great ideas in this book for Ravenloft, there is a TON more for my War of the Witch Queens campaign for Basic-era (B/X, BECMI, OSE) D&D. 

So for this review, I am going to refer to both the Softcover print and the PDF.

The Runewild Campaign Setting

Published by Sneak Attack Press, written by William Fischer, art by Joyce Maureira, and Cartography by Toy Fayen.  306 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. Available in PDF, Hardcover, and Softcover versions. For 5th Edition, recommended levels are 1 to 10.  Available on DriveThruRPG and at your FLGS.

The PDF is fully bookmarked with hyperlinked Table of Contents. 

The Runewild Campaign Setting (Runewild) is overtly a "Dark Fantasy fairy tale" campaign sandbox guide and a hex crawl in one volume.  That is it in a nutshell but does not really do it justice.  Best to break it up a little more.  

From the introduction,

This book includes:
  • A history of the Runewild and its surrounding settlements
  • 150 detailed encounter areas for player characters to explore 
  • 8 new Backgrounds and a new Feat: Fey-Touched 
  • 21 unique magic items (like witch embers and the staff of clarity and confusion) 
  • 32 new monsters (including clockwork dwarves, fey lions, giant forest sloths, and the terrifyingly beautiful Golden Bodach) 
  • Detailed descriptions of the histories, motivations, and weaknesses of the witches of the Runewild, including the Whitebone Sisters; Missus Switch, the swine hag; Korthsuva, the Witch of Hours; and the Hag Queen Griselda, Mother of Ogres 
  • New optional rules for exploration and resting 
  • Advice for running a sandbox campaign 
  • Dozens of random tables designed to help GMs make a Runewild campaign their own

That is quite a lot. Frankly, I was just happy getting the material on the Witches of the Runewild, the rest is gravy for me.  I turn the page and suddenly my "gravy" turns into another dessert course when I am introduced to the "Witch Wars."  Oh. This will be fun.

The book is split into four sections, Running the Runewild, Magic of the Runewild, A Runewild Gazeteer, A Runewild Bestiary.

Runewild Magic

Running the Runewild: This section covers what the Runewild is and a bit of its history.  It also introduces the idea of a Sandbox Campaign.  While many gamers of a certain age will already be familiar with the idea of a sandbox (and even where the term comes from) this might be new to the majority of younger D&D players.  No inditement of their experience; everyone learns something new at different times. This is a good overview of this style of play for the newer generation of players.  

The advice given about Sandboxes vs. Adventure Path is solid and there is even something here that warms the cockles of my old-school heart.  To quote page 10, "e of the greatest difficulties in running a sandbox-style campaign is balancing encounters. In short, there are no balanced encounters in the Runewild."  Players and Characters need to get used to the idea of running away. 

While this might be a shift for some 5e players, it is not a hard or difficult one.  In fact, it is presented in the light of the characters have the ultimate freedom to do what they want.  It is wonderful really and to quote Darkseid from the Synder Cut of Justice League, "we will use the old ways."

The Old Ways describes Runewild to a tee. 

Among the "old ways" are plenty of Random Encounter tables with brief descriptions of what is encountered.  Adventure Hook tables, Scenery tables, Fey prank tables, general Runewild strangeness, random animals, random NPCs, and more.  For new schoolers, this will make the area feel vibrant and alive. For new schoolers, this will feel strangely homelike. Note at this point, 30 pages in, there has been very, very little in the way of stats. An encounter with a Skeleton is listed for example, but where you look up your skeleton is up to you.

We do get into Runewild Backgrounds which are 5e backgrounds.  For 5e they are great really, lots of great information here, and none of them feel overpowering (they grant a skill and a tool proficiency and usually a language) for other games, you can use the native skill system (Trained would be the equivalent in 3e, free Proficiency in AD&D 1.5) or wing it. One of my favorites is a Polymorphed Animal.  You used to be a normal animal and now thanks to strange magic you are human-ish.  Really fun stuff.

Magic of Runewild: This section covers some more game-specific information such as some new feats, curses, and new magic items (lots of these).  But the star attraction of this section has to be the Goblin Market.  There is so much here and frankly, they could have published this on its own and it would have been a great seller.  There are random tables of trinkets, goblin charms, treasures, and of course a list of vendors and encounters.  

Goblin market
“We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”

One thing that I felt was missing from this section? Spells.  There are no new spells here.

A Runewild Gazetteer. This starts out with the hex maps of the Runewild. Numbered just like all old-school hex maps too! The hex encounters are then detailed throughout the chapter with a corresponding Challenge Rating. An improvement from older Hex crawls to be sure.  So yeah the party of first-level characters can enter a CR 0 hex with no problem and come out ok. They can also enter into a CR 10 hex with the same level of difficulty (that is, none at all) but they are not going to leave it as easily!  That's a hex crawl. There are no signs saying "You Must Be Level 5 or higher to Enter" if the player goes there, then their characters will pay the price.

Each hex of course has different levels of detail, but they are all given some quick bullet points to help the DM out.   For example:

2. The Last Tower (CR 4)

  • A ghost haunts the tower 
  • Ten giant rats feast on bandit corpses in the tower’s basement 
  • The bandits carried stolen treasure

Then more details follow.  NPCs are noted ad are monsters. There are maps where needed (even a player's map in a few cases!) and yes more random tables. There are 150 such encounter areas and it covers a little over 200 pages. Some encounters are a paragraph or so, others are multiple pages. 

A Runewild Bestiary: Now you know I love this section.  There are over 30 new monsters, monster variants, and (and this is my favorite) listings of  The Witches of Runewild. This includes a bunch of various witches (mostly hags), new types of hags, and the two major and one minor covens.  Again, if they had sold this separately I would have scooped it up the moment it hit DriveThru.   

Here is an example of one of the witches.

Goodie Sharktooth

There is no Witch Class.  Part of me is disappointed, but another part is happy since I can now do what I want with them. 

The chapter and book ends with Monster Variants. 

The art in this book is quite great and helps give the proper mood for this dark fairy tale land.

Using this with Basic-Era D&D

The book feels like a BECMI Gazeteer.   I could set this outside of Glantri and it would feel right. There are 5e stats, but not a lot.  Most of the monsters have an analog in other games.  For example, if you run this with say, Old School Essentials, just swap out the monsters.  BTW this would work FANTASTIC with the Dolemwood products

Runewild OSE

This is a wonderful book and resource and I am very pleased with it. My only regret with it is I wish I had picked up the Hardbound version instead!