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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Monstrous Monday: Beasties II from Night Owl Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Review: Shadowtide: A Blue Rose Novel

Shadowtide: A Blue Rose Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can get this book in a lot of places.

Monday, March 4, 2019

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

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


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

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

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

Review: Serpentine - Oldskull Serpent Folk

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

PWWO: Serpentine in Other Old-School Games

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

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

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


Union of the Snake: The Second Campaign

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2E

This one has been a long time in coming.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (Compleat Second Edition)

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Review: Dark Places & Demogorgons Cryptid Manual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Dark Places & Demogorgons: The Ghost Hunter's Handbook

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

Thankfully Bloat Games hears you and has what you need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Crash Override

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: Tomorrow Dies Today!

I have not done any reviews in a while and my pile is getting tall, metaphorically speaking.
The first one on my pile is a different sort of game for my blog, but not something I am unfamiliar with.  Back when I first got married and before we would do those old "How to Host a Murder" games with our friends.  We would have everyone over a meal and a murder.  It was fun.  This new game reminds me a little of that.

Tomorrow Dies Today
Tomorrow Dies Today is a 10+ player one-shot LARP (Live Action Role Play) by Sean Mooney designed to be played in two to fours hours.  So perfect for a dinner party with some friends who all want to be super-villains.  For your $20.00 you get a 135-page book with 11 character profiles.
Don't worry, this is not 135 pages of rules to memorize. 

The rules of the game are covered in the first 20 pages.  What follows next are the 15 or so pages for the Narrator of the game (doesn't have to be the host of the party).  Then each character gets 8 pages of descriptions and details. These details also include various props and mannerisms.

Print out the characters and review the rules with the group and go!

The basic plot is General Goodman has built a doomsday weapon and he has brought all his most loyal henchmen (the players) to witness his greatest glory! Except. One of you is a traitor!  You now spend the rest of your evening figuring out who that person is, or hiding it if it is you.

The rules exist somewhere between the free-form, if slightly scripted, play of How to Host a Murder and the "points and dice" play of an RPG.  Characters do have a character sheet/book and they do have points.   The Betrayer can be a different character each time you play, so that gives it more flexibility than others I have read and played like this.

While the setting can be "Mid 2000s" frankly I think it would be a crime not to set it in the 1960s.

For me, I'd invite my friends over for dinner, give them their characters ahead of time and let them do some free-form role-play, improv about their characters over for dinner and then get right into it.

I can also see this working well at a Con. 

So for 20 bucks you get a game for 10 people for 2 to 4 (or more) hours.  That really is a steal.

The art is great and the writing is very clear.

You can see some of the art on their Facebook Page.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Mighty Protectors

"We believe in heroes because, ultimately, we believe in ourselves." - Jack "King" Kirby

I am spending some quality time with +Jeff Dee and Jack Herman's Supers RPG Mighty Protectors, aka Villains & Vigilantes 3.0.

Mighty Protectors (MP) is the update to the venerable supers RPG Villains & Vigilantes (V&V). In fact it is billed as the version 3.0 of the game.

V&V was the first supers game I ever encountered.   Jeff Dee got his start on D&D doing some of the classic module art and book art for the 1st edition game.   So the game has some obvious D&D roots.
V&V was unique at the time (and still somewhat in MP) in that in the game you play yourself.  You work out with the other players what your strength, endurance, intelligence and the rest are and then you roll randomly on a table of super powers.  It's a very interesting and fun concept that we completely ignored.  Back in the day we liked playing a "multi-verse" so our V&V characters were our D&D characters in a supers universe.  The stats were the mostly the same and both games had levels.  Plus it gave us excuses to have strengths of 50 or more (human max is 18).  I remember it being a very good time.

As typical of many old school games there are lots of random rolls, charts and a fair amount of math involved. I went back recently to make a character and was thrilled to see that Monkey House Games had an Excel character sheet pack.  The math isn't hard really, but Excel is still faster.

Even though we got a V&V 2.1 a couple of years back, V&V was itself in a state of limbo with a long, ugly legal battle between creators Dee and Herman vs. former publisher Fantasy Games Unlimited.  Last year everything got sorted out and Mighty Protectors was Kickstarted.

If you have played V&V in the past then there is a lot here that is familiar, but also a lot that is new, updated or revised.  Levels are gone, replaced with Power Levels that work like Power Levels in Mutants & Masterminds.  This is actually a big leap forward in my mind and gives you more flexibility. While you should start out with a "Standard" game (150 total CPs) you could do a "Low" powered game (100 total CPs) or even a "Normal" or "No Powers" game of 50 CPs. Or take it the other direction with "High" at 200 CPs.  There are mechanics in game, such as ability and power caps that make it so each character in each Power Level is roughly the same power.  Sure you can mix "Low" with "High" or even higher.  Also gone are the six attributes cribbed right from D&D.  Now you have four Basic Characteristics (BC) that you can randomly determine, point buy or assign.  These are Strength, Endurance, Agility, Intelligence, and Cool.  If you are translating these from V&V then the numbers have slight differences.  But more on that later.

Instead of talking about MP isn't in relation to V&V, I'd rather talk about what it is in relation to itself.

The book is 164 pages, softcover, with black & white art and color covers all from Jeff Dee himself.  I am reviewing both the softcover book and the PDF.  It is a nice mix of some classic V&V art, newer V&V art and even newer still MP art.  If you are a fan of V&V then it feels like V&V from the very start.


The book is set up to look like "legal code" rather than chapters.  So there is section "1.1 What is a Superhero" and section "2.1.16.1 Character Concept".  That makes it sound like it is very dry, but it isn't.  It reads more like a continuous document.

Section 1.0 starts us off with an introduction to the Mighty Protectors game and a brief overview of what is a Superhero.  I thin this bit is important because it sets the stage for what this game is about.  This is comicbook superhero emulation.  Not necessarily movies or TV Supers, but comic books in particular.  This goes back to the origin of V&V when Jeff Dee and Jack Herman were sitting around trying to decide who would win in a fight.  This late 70s/early 80s comic vibe is played out till today in this game.  My takeaway?  This is a game that predates the "Bronze Age" or even "Modern Age" of comics.  It was built with Pre-Bronze, late Silver Age tools.  Can it do Modern Age? Yes, easy. Can it do TV? Of course! I think back to the time when V&V was new and imagine what would it have been like to have these comicbook-based TV shows we have now.  But the game will work the best when the heroes are good, the villains are evil and superhero teams get along and fight for a common cause.  There can be (and are) shades of gray here. Heck even the original Bowhunter (from V&V and MP) a good guy had a villainess as a love interest.
We round out Section 1 with materials you (aka Dice) and support online.

Section 2.0 Character is huge. In fact, it covers the next 100 pages.
Here we cover Character Generation (2.1) which also covers randomly determining stats, point buys and the V&V classic, Playing as Yourself.
I am not going to lie to you. There are charts and there is math to do here. The math is not complicated, but it is part and parcel of the game.  For me this is part of the old-school charm of this game and I would not want it any other way.  If this is an issue for you there is the Excel Character Sheet pack. It does all the heavy lifting, but you do need Excel. Note: I got it and uploaded it to my Google Drive and it works just as fine with Google Sheets.

Section 2 is really the heart and soul of this game.
However you go about your character creation you are given (or implied to have on Random generation) a number of Character Points (CP).  I also have called these "Creation Points" since they are mostly used in Character Creation.  You can get them, later on, to improve abilities, powers and gain new ones.  But for now, we have a budget of points (described later 2.1.16.2 Ability CPs) to spend or use randomly.


Now here you can go the Point buy route and buy BCs (2.1.7) and Powers (2.1.15). OR you can go completely random.  If random then you roll six abilities, two for offense and two for defense and Miscellaneous Abilities and keeping four. Also taking two random weaknesses.
There are a number of derived stats (Hits, Power, Base Damage) and ones that deal with origin (Gender, Age, Weight) and background (where are you from, your legal status, superhero license).  In general, this is easier than V&V.

The Abilities are covered under Section 2.2 Abilities.  In truth, this could have been its own chapter/section.   Abilities cover what your hero can do.  The abilities are described in terms of effects.  So there is a Power Blast ability, this can be any sort of blast that say in not covered elsewhere.  There is an Ice Blast, a Laser blast, a Fire blast, a Sonic blast...and so on.  The granularity of the system allows you to fine tune these abilities to a large degree.  While the default is 10 CPs per power you can break it down into increments of 5 CP or even 2.5 CP.  Each Ability is scaled with the others so a sonic blast at 10 CP should be the same a Power Blast at 10 CP.   Working with your Game Master and other players you can really fine tune a hero any number of ways. This also means that any given concept of a character can also be created multiple ways.  You can spend (and I have spent) hours creating all sorts of characters.

One thing the rules mentions is that if you are new to V&V/MP you might want to read over Sections 3.0 to 5.0 to get a feel for the rules and task resolution.  It's pretty good advice really.

Section 3.0 covers Saving & Task Rolls.  This is everything that is not combat related.
Every BC, except Strength, has a save roll.  These are noted as some number X-, meaning you need to roll X or less on a d20.  While I am not a fan of roll under mechanics (just my own prejudice) it works here.
Background (3.0.2.1) is a broad category of skills. So no one really cares how well Superman can drive a car or even if he knows what is going on in the Stock Market, save how it relates to his background as a Reporter or even growing up on a farm.  Clark will know the major crime families in Metropolis and maybe what is a good growing climate for a particular grain.  So we do not have the granularity of skills that we would in say Mutants & Masterminds or even Silver Age Sentinels.
Other interesting rules are include Opposition tasks and Inventing (3.1.3), or using your Inventing Points (IPs) to customize powers on the fly.  Something that is not really a new ability but the different use of an existing ability.  It's pretty clever and again fits with the comic book origins.  Think about how many times Superman used his heat vision for something other than setting things on fire. Rearranging the ink on a page comes to mind.

Section 4.0 is Combat.  This section is obviously quite important. I HIGHLY suggest using minis here. The rules imply this and recommend it, I am saying it is a must.  Here HeroClix or HeroForge is your new best friend.  Of course Legos, D&D minis or even pawns are fine too.  This is particularly helpful when dealing Knockback rolls in case you or a target are blown back by an attack.



The combat, once you get the hang of it, moves rather quickly.  Yes, there are a lot of options such as multiple attacks and two-handed attacks, sneaking and other things that can modify the rolls.  It's my experience though that most players will emulate a superhero and have a couple of signature moves.  These will then become second nature for both the player and the GM to roll.  Again we are rolling low on d20 where a "1" is a potential critical hit and a "20" is a potential critical fumble.  Another roll is required after that.  Even items that require a lot of charts say improvised weapons, become faster with use and a GM's screen.

Section 5.0 Physics handles all the ways you can break things or things can break you.  It's actually more than that, but that is a start.  It ends with an example of play.

Section 6.0 Being a Superhero covers the roleplaying aspects of playing a costumed superhero. This is a little more "in-Universe" than the other sections.  If you are using MP to play in another world you can modify this to fit your own needs, though the rules were written with these realities in mind.

Section 7.0 The Mighty Protectors Multiverse. Is very much In-Universe.   Jeff Dee has commented elsewhere online that early versions of V&V were fairly universe agnostic.  This setting described here has developed over the last nearly 40 years of gameplay.  Indeed, reading this book and see names like Maxima and Bowhunter made me happy.  I knew these characters back in the day and seeing them again is like seeing old friends again. What follows are 15 pages of groups, people, places and things in the MP Universe.

Section 8.0 Gamemaster Section covers Gamemastering advice and rules which includes creating your own adventures to creating your own world. If you don't want to convert your favorite comic book story (Hollywood has been doing it for years!) there are tables for random adventure creation.  This section also covers Experience and Wealth Rewards.  Finally, we get to section 8.6 Converting V&V 2.1 Characters. Good guidelines, but I have preferred to just rebuild them from the ground up

The game is a lot of fun, but it is not without it's own issues.
For starters there is no index in the book.  Minor thing in the days of PDFs with full-text searching, but it's not there on my softcover while sitting on my couch trying to figure out the stats of Arrow's Oliver Queen.
The game also took me a bit to figure out properly before it clicked.  Once it clicked everything else was easy.
The game is wonderfully old-school, but that can also be a bug (not a feature) for anyone coming from Mutants & Masterminds or other games with full-color interiors.

All in all it is a really great game that has all the old school charm of V&V.

If you are a fan of the original Villains & Vigilantes then I would check this out.  If you want a supremely flexible and easily modifiable game then I would also check this out. OR if you are like me and a fan of supers games it is worth a look.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Love Will Be Cruel: Carmilla for Die For You

All week I am doing RPG conversions of the Web series Carmila. Today I am going to shift my focus slightly and look at a Role-Playing Game that was directly inspired by Carmilla.

Growing Up is Weird
Die For You by Rose Bailey lists Carmilla as it's primary inspiration.  Though given the name I can't imagine that HEX was also not an inspiration.
Die For You is a slim book, only 13 pages. Character creation and rules are all, understandably really simple.  Designed for 2 to 5 people, one game master and four players, I think it could be expanded.  It also has that feel of a game that could also work with rotating GMs.

This game would classify as a "Story Game" I believe, it has that feel, but I really don't know much about its genesis.

To play you start by Picking a Setting.  Since I am going to go with Carmilla as my example (and I think it sells the game best) I'll give examples from the start of Season 1.   The setting can be random (roll a 1d6) or the group's choice.   We are going for "College" here.

Next comes Creating a Character. Again this is an easier process than most games, but one that should involve everyone playing.  First thing you need to come up with is your Concept.  The examples given are good for us, with some tweaks; “Nosey Journalism Major” or “Disaffected Vampire.”  You can decide if you are some sort of monster or a normal human.
Now define your Want. This is something your characters wants.  Let's go with "Find the Missing Girls from Silas University" as an example.  When pursuing your wants you have a better chance of succeeding, but also you open yourself up more to creating complications.  Looking for the missing girls gets the attention of the Evil Dean that wants to sacrifice them to an ancient demon.   Having conflicting Wants in the group is also a good thing.
Now determine your Traits.  You have three: Feels, Weird and Real Life.  Feels and Weird are ranked 2 to 4 and combined they must equal 6.  Real Life is the same as your lowest score.
Finally, you have Trust.  Trust is another character you trust and this can change from scene to scene if needed.

While this is going on the GM comes up with the Big Bad. This is who they need to defeat to move the story to its end.  Simpler is better. "Vampire", "Nephilim" or "Evil Dean".
Then figure where the game begins and what happens.  "At the big party, a girl disappears".   "In the middle of class, you set fire to all the paper with your mind".  And so on.

Roll the Bones
Rolls come in two types, Challenges (your character is trying to do something or opposed by an NPC) and Conflicts (opposed by another PC).   In Challenges, you roll against the Trait that the GM is most affected.  Each die that is one lower than your trait is a Success.   There are ways to get more dice. You can get help from another character, pursuing your Wants, making a sacrifice, or using your Trust.

A few minutes of set up, getting characters made and you are set to go!

Playing Carmilla
The Setting: Silas University, Freshman dorms. Laura Hollis' room.
Big Bad: The Dean (revealed later)

The Cast

Left to Right: Danny, Laura, LaFontaine, Carmilla, Perry
Carmilla
Concept: Disaffected Vampire
Want: To not do the horrible things her mother makes her do anymore. (Later) I want Laura to be safe.  (Later) I want Laura.
Traits
Feels: 2
Weird: 4
Real Life: 2
Trust: No one, Laura

Laura Hollis
Concept: Nosey Journalism Student
Want: To find the missing girls and maybe date Danny. (Later) I want Carmilla to be safe. (Later) I want Carmilla.
Traits
Feels: 4
Weird: 2
Real Life: 2
Trust: Dany, Carmilla

Danny
Concept: Really tall English Lit TA
Want: I want to go out with Laura. (Later) I want Laura to be safe.
Traits
Feels: 4
Weird: 2
Real Life: 2
Trust: Laura

LaFontaine
Concept: Would-be mad scientist; brainy
Want: To get into med school and figure out all the weirdness on campus. (Later) I want to party with the Demon of Light.
Traits
Feels: 2
Weird: 4
Real Life: 2
Trust: Perry

Perry
Concept: Dorm mom, German major and neat freak.
Want: I want everyone to be normal! Just be normal!
Traits
Feels: 4
Weird: 2
Real Life: 2
Trust: LaFontaine

There. Five characters as quickly as I could write them down.  Take them and throw them into the weirdness.  The game is a lot of fun and could be a really fun experiment to try with some exsisting characters.  Plus they would all work great on a notecard.

The game is Pay What You Want, so if you want to try it, throw the author a buck or two and if you like then toss in a couple more.
You can see more about this game at http://www.fantasyheartbreaker.com.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: Module G123 Against the Giants

Want to get some more reviews in.  I figure since we just finished this one it was a great choice.

G123 Against the Giants

Getting to play AD&D at the height of its popularity was one of the best things about growing up in the 80s.  Even living in a small town in Central Illinois there were multiple, independent D&D groups going on everywhere.  It was not uncommon to hear talk of an adventure, or a rules debate or anything else.  One of the adventures that everyone seemed to be playing was the Against the Giants series.

Talk of Ombi, King Snurre Ironbelly, and Eclavdra were not daily topics of conversation, but they were common enough that there was a shared set of experiences. It was something we all could relate too and talk about even when we knew those other groups were playing it all "wrong"!  It is no surprise then that G1-3 have been ranked as some of the greatest *D&D adventures of all time and have been updated for every version of the D&D rules since it was published back in 1978 (and combined in 1981).

The Giants series began as three individual adventures. They were run as part of the AD&D Tournament at Origins '78.  When later released they became the first ever published adventures for the then new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) game.  Each adventure dealt with raids from a different race of giants; Hill, Frost and Fire respectively. They were aided by other giants and giant type creatures including ogres, stone giants and even a couple of white dragons in G2.  But what really grabbed the attention of many players, and certainly this player, was the big reveal that the masterminds behind these giant raids were none other than the Drow; evil, dark elves that lived underground.  This elevated the adventure from mere dungeon crawl and searching in giant's bags to a conspiracy.  The giant-Drow alliance became Evil with a capital E.

The giants themselves were new-ish monsters then.  Giants had appeared in the Original D&D rules, but all six races were "detailed" in a paragraph.  In the (then new) Monster Manual for AD&D 1st Edition giants were given significantly more space and more details.  It would be difficult to say which really came first, but we do know that Gygax worked on and published the Monster Manual before the Giants series came out.  Notes from one certainly could have influenced the other.
What of the adventures themselves?  I had the chance to play this as a player way back in the early 80s.  So my memories of it are quite fond. So fond in fact that I also ran this adventure with my sons as the players and using the newest edition of the D&D rules.  My experiences playing under 1st Edition AD&D compare very favorably to my experiences running it under 5th Edition D&D nearly 40 years later.


The 32-page combined adventure splits into three easy parts that represent the three original modules.

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Here the characters and the players are introduced to the World of Greyhawk, or at least this small section of it.  They learn that giants of various types have been raiding the local villages and the character have been pressed into doing something about it.  Now the original modules put a threat into the characters to investigate, I find that by appealing to their higher moral codes and motives (and the ability to keep all the treasure) works so much better.

Soon the Steading of Hill Giant Chief Nostra is discovered and even a party of 9th+ level adventurers will soon discover that bigger often does mean better.  Giants, even Hill Giants, are not dumb monsters. They are not bigger orcs or ogres with more hit points.  This is their home and they will defend it.  I am quite impressed anytime I think about how this was run as a tournament.   It took me many sessions to get through all three and when I reran for my kids at Gen Con I had wanted to do each one a different night.  Didn't happen that way.  This adventure requires the players to plan, to hit hard and then run away.  Many times they would send in the assassin to take out a giant and then follow it up with a barrage of magic from a distance.  Combat can honestly be a slog here.  But the action is often very fast paced.  There is a lot going on.



This adventure shares a lot in common with its sibling B1 Keep on the Borderlands. While designed for two different versions of the D&D game, there are similarities that should not be ignored. In fact, I would like to think that they are there on purpose.  Each represents a "beginner" view of dungeon crawling, but the Giants adventures, if you pardon the pun, get more advanced.
This adventure gives only our first clues to the larger conspiracy, namely that the Hill Giants are taking direction from Giants, quite literally further up.  Completing this adventure only leads the characters to the Frost Giants.

G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
Going further up the mountains we get the first hints of how the AD&D game is different than the D&D one.  We now have rules for cold and the wind and most importantly getting lost in the snow.  Like the Hill Giants before, some sections are left to the Dungeon Master to detail.  This is partly due to the desire for a sandbox style play and largely due to the tournament origins of these adventures.

Again in this adventure planning is required. The characters cannot just rush in blindly and hope to overwhelm these creatures.  In fact, assuming they are mere "monsters" is a good way to get killed fast.  The  Dungeon Master is encouraged to play these giants as the personages they are. Sure, Guard #4 in area 19 might not have a name, but he does have a purpose.  Even the white dragon has a purpose.  I could not help but think that the white dragon cloak worn by Snurre had not been one of the Frost Giant Jarl's dragons.  In fact I hope it was. Their haltered of each other is overridden by the fear they feel at the hands of the drow. How powerful are these dark elves?

In this adventure, it should become obvious that much more is going on than raids and attacks of opportunity. There is a force uniting these giant clans and directing to grim purpose.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King
Here the conspiracy is laid bare and the character will discover what and who is directing the Giants. But first they must survive a live and active volcano.  The walls, for example, are hot to the touch. How hot? Try 2d6 hp damage per touch hot.  The giants here are smart and coordinated by a strong King. They will lay traps and ambushes for the party. They will try to stop them at every turn.  This adventure is not only significantly deadlier than the other two, it is also about 50% longer.  Not only do the players have coordinated giant attacks to deal with, burning walls and King Snurre himself but also hiding out on level 3 are the drow.   For many players back in the day this was their first introduction to the dark elves.  I liken it to the big reveal that Romulans were related to the Vulcans in the original series of Star Trek's The Balance of Terror.  It is something in our post-Drizzt world that we have lost.
Here the Drow are discovered to be pulling the strings, but we don't yet know why.  We do that they are lead by a High Priestess, an unearthly beautiful drow by the name of Eclavdra. She is no monster, but an NPC worthy of her own motives, desires and schemes.
In the last time I ran this adventure my kids figured out right away that they needed to take out the King in order to not die right away. So they hunted Snurre down.  With him out of the way the other fire giants lost their direction and were much easier to defeat.   The red dragon and the drow though were still a problem.  They managed to kill all but two; Eclavdra and her enchanter.   The characters were last seen chasing the drow down to the Depths of the Earth to complete the next series of adventures.

While the books are small, the adventures take a while to run.  The combats can be long and the characters really should take the time to explore every inch of the three giant strongholds.  There is more treasure here than any group of characters need but also there are plenty of prisoners to free and some have information on what is going on.

There had been D&D adventures before this, but this was the first epic.

Legacy
There are good reasons why we are still talking about these adventures today nearly 40 years later.

Some of it, of course, is just good old-fashioned nostalgia.  People loved these adventures then and now they want to share that love with new players today.  That is exactly what I did and there is no shame in admitting it.  But the reason why people loved them is also the reason why they stand the test of time. The adventures are just plain good.  These adventures combined a lot of things that people loved; great locations and sandbox-like play. Iconic and classic monsters mixed with new ones. Not mention an engaging story with memorable NPCs.  When gamers wax nostalgic over adventures like Tomb of Horrors, they think of things like the traps or character deaths.  In the Giants series they also mention things, like the Hill Giant Chief's dining hall, but also they remember names, like I mentioned above; Ombi, Snurre, Eclavdra.  When I played this back in the 80s Ombi nearly killed my whole party.  I survived all these giants just to be killed by a Dwarf with some potions and magic item. Well that and a DM that knew how to make a character memorable.  Imagine my shock and surprise when my kids plan and take out Ombi in two rounds!

This adventure also shaped much of what would become D&D's own mythology.  Giants of any sort working together soon became shorthand for bad news.  The drow, scantly described here, would go on to become one of the most infamous humanoids in all of the D&D worlds. Their underground city, only hinted at here, would be the template for nearly every Drow-realted product written in the late 80s and beyond to the present day.  G123 is not just the seed, it is also the fertile earth of much of what would become recognizable as "D&D".

TSR and then later Wizards of the Coast would go back to the Giants again and again. In 1987 TSR combined the G series with its sequels the D and Q modules for GDQ Queen of Spiders, one of the first Supermodules.  In 1999 they were reprinted and expanded again for the 2nd Edition of the AD&D game in Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff.  In 2009 Wizards of the Coast released Revenge of the Giants for the 4th Edition D&D game.   For the 5th Edition game Wizards of the Coast went back not once, but twice, to giant country with Storm King's Thunder (2016) and Tales from the Yawning Portal (2017). Storm King is more a spiritual successor to the original Giants series, but G123's DNA is all over it.  Tales from the Yawning Portal is a direct reprint of the original Giants adventures but updated to the new D&D 5th Edition rules with new full-color maps and art.  It has lost none of the punch of the original.




Not only have there been official Giant-related products from TSR and Wizards over the years, other publishers got into Giant business.  Notably there is a "missing" set of giants from these adventures; the Cloud Giants. I went to track down a cloud giant based adventure to slot in and easily found 4-5 all based on Cloud Giants. Actually, most of them dealt with a Cloud Giant castle.




Think about it, what was one of the first stories you remember hearing as a child? Jack in the Beanstalk might have been one of the very first.  The giant living in his castle in the clouds with a goose that lays golden eggs and a harp that sings on its own.  Think of the stories from our shared consciousness.  Giants living the mountains, David fighting Goliath, Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Giant's Causeway, the Frost Giants of Norse myth, the Titans of Greek myth, to Attack on Titan, and so many, many more.   These are the tales we tell. Tales from antiquity to last week's Game of Thrones.  It should then be no wonder why these adventures speak to us and call to us to join the battle.
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