Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Monday, March 30, 2020

Monstrous Mondays: More Monster Book Reviews

Been kinda busy the last few days.  Today is my last day of vacation, so back to work tomorrow. We set up a pro Role20 account this past week and we are going to try that out.  Maybe I'll even run a game or two online.

I went looking for a monster today for something I am working on.  About a couple hours into my search of PDFs it dawned on me.  I have a lot of monster books.  I mean an obscene amount.
One of the problems I run into is not finding a monster but finding the monster and 4 or 5 different versions.


These books are my big "go-to" books for monsters.  Even though they have significant overlap each one offers me something new and fun.

Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary
PDF and Hardcover, 457 pages. B&W Interior.
If you ever only buy ONE product from BRW and the Adventures Dark & Deep line then make sure it is this one.
I love monster books. I have said so many, many times. But I also hold them to a high standard.  While I Will gladly buy any monster book, few get my high praise.  Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary is one of those few.
Let be honest upfront.  We have seen most if not all the monsters in this book somewhere else before.
Most are in the SRD or from other Open sources. The new ones are great, but they are ideas we have seen.
And none of that matters.  This is still a great book.
At 457 pages (pdf) it is a beast. Monsters are alphabetically listed by areas you would find them in.  So Wilderness and Dungeon is by far the bulk of them, but there are also Waterborne (fitting in with the rules) and "Outsiders" or monsters from the other planes.  But I am getting ahead of myself.
The book begins with two monster spell casters, the Shaman and the Witch Doctor.  Shades of similar classes from the BECMI RC to be sure. But they work here great and frankly I know someone will want to use these rules to play a Shaman one day.  Heck I once tried a Wemic Shaman in early 2e days myself.  Maybe I'll see if I can do that here.  The classes are not detailed and they don't need to be. The do what they need to do.
The Monster descriptions are a bit like those found in OSRIC though there are some interesting additions.
Each Monster has a Morale, like that found in Basic and 2nd ed, though it is not a score but an adjustment.  Attacks are listed in the stat block, though they are the attack types. This is most similar to "Special Attacks" in other rules.  Also wholly new are "Weaknesses" which is an interesting idea and one I think other OSR publishers should adopt.  Each monster then gets a couple of paragraphs of text.  Many are illustrated thanks to the highly successful Kickstarter for this (more on that later).  The illustrations are great too as you can see here.
All the monsters have General, Combat and Appearance sections in their write-ups.
Unlike 2e (and 4e) monsters are not confined to one-page entries.  Some have paragraphs, others just a few lines.  This is good since I think we would have something like 1000+ pages.  I think I read there are 1100 monsters in this book. Maybe 900.  Anyway it's a lot.  I spot checked a few monsters I thought might not be there, but sure enough they were.  Ok so the ones that are Closed via the OGL are not here, but I was not expecting those.  There are some alternates and stand ins if you really, really need them though.
The book sections are:
Wilderness and Dungeon, aka Most of the Monsters
Underwater and Waterborne, larger than expected, but not surprised given the material in the core books.
Prehistoric Monsters, always nice to have; Dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals.
Extra Planar Monsters, your Outsiders.
Appendix A details creating your own monsters.
Appendix B has something I didn't even realize was missing till I started reading the stats; a basic psionic system for psychic strikes.
Appendix C covers random creatures from the Lower Planes.  This is the first "Gygaxian" touch I have noticed in this book.  Reminds me of a really old Dragon magazine article from years ago..
Appendix D is magic resistance table
and Appendix E covers the abilities of Gods.
All of this in a PDF for just under $15.
I have mentioned before that Joe gets his work done and gets it done fast. Well this is not only no exception but it is the new benchmark.  Joe ended his kickstarter and then got printed books out to people 6 months early.  Let that sink in for a moment.  In a hobby where we tolerate (although not quietly) Kickstarters with delays of 18 months, Joe and BRW are out there, turning out product and getting it to people early.
You should buy a copy of this book on that principle alone.
So should you get this book?
If you like monsters then yes.  If you need monsters for your oldschool game then yes.  If you want to support Joe and the Adventures Dark & Deep system then yes. If you want to reward good Kickstarter behavior then absolutely yes.

Lots of good reasons to get in my book.  It is also the best book in his line. Kudos to Joseph Bloch.

Amazing Adventures! Manual of Monsters
PDF and Hardcover, 95 Pages. B&W interior art.
The Amazing Adventures Manual of Monsters manages to give me monsters I have seen before, but with a whole new take. I mean a mummy is a mummy right? Well...your old monster book won't tell you how it reacts when you fire your .38 into it. But beyond that, this book also has a lot of new monsters. Enough to make it worthwhile in my opinion.
Also as an added bonus feature is an appendix of monsters from different countries. So fight that Kelpie on its native soil. Or tangle with the machinations of the Greys.
If you play Amazing Adventures or Castles & Crusades then you need this book.

Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure
PDF and Hardcover 178 Pages. B&W interior art.
This is the main monster and treasure book for C&C. Here you will find what I call the "classic" monsters from the great Monster Manual. If you are familiar with 3.x then these are all the monsters from the SRD in C&C's format. There is plenty of new text here though to make this more than just another SRD-derived book. Like all the C&C books the art and layout is great. I have the physical book, the pdf and a printout of the PDF and all read great.
The Castles & Crusades Monster stat block is a nice combination of Basic's simplicity, 1st AD&D's comprehensiveness, and some 3.x style rules. Saves are simple (Physical, Mental or both), AC is ascending and there is a "Challenge Rating" stat and XP all factored in. Honestly, it really is a synthesis of the best of D&D. Grabbing a monster from another source and converting it on the fly really could not be easier.
This book though is more than just a monster book, all the treasure and magic items (normally found in a Game Master's book) are here. This is a nice feature really. One place to have your encounter information.
This really is a must-have book for any C&C fan. 178 pages and full of everything you need.

Swords and Wizardry Monstrosities
PDF 544 Pages. B&W interior art.
Some of these monsters we have seen before either in the SRD or other books.  That though does not detract from its value as this is a 540+ page book. In addition to all that there are some new monsters.  The cover is very evocative of the old-school (pre-1980) covers.
There is much in common between this book and The Tome of Horrors. Each monster is given a page of stats, descriptions and a plot hook.  While ToH used some recycled art, this all seems to be new art.  Even Orcus (which we now have 3 listings for) is new.  Actually, the art is pretty darn good and I don't mind the occasional repeat of a monster to see some new art.
Honestly, there is so much great stuff in this book that even with the occasional repeat monster this is still a top-notch collection. If you play S&W then this is a great monster book to have.
I am even going as far as to say it is a must-have for any serious S&W GM.

Tome of Horrors Complete (S&W)
PDF 688 Pages. B&W interior art.
What can be said about this product? The original Tomes of Horrors were all great products that featured and number of "old school" monsters from previous editions of the game all under the OGL. It even had a breif "tutorial" on how to add these beasties to your own products. Now those very same monsters are back in one huge book "updated" to Swords & Wizardry stats. Nearly 700 monsters, all ready for your game. In addition to art and stat blocks for every monster there is also an adventure hook for each one. The monsters have been "scaled down" to fit the S&W rules better. One minor nit-pick. The original art is used (which I am happy about) but in their efforts to redo the layout sometimes that art is reduced in size (making it hard to see) and other times the art is placed over some text. Not often mind you and not enough for me to downgrade this product.
Now what I would like to have is one "Ultimate Tome of Horrors" that has the Pathfinder and S&W stats together with the plot hooks.

I have a few more I like.  I'll have to post about them the next time I run out of monster ideas!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: Old-School Essentials

One of the hottest Old School Clones to hit the market recently has been Gavin Norman's Old-School Essentials.  Simply the game is a restatement of the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert Ruleset for Dungeons & Dragons.  It has combined, cleaned up and modularized.

It has also been a HUGE success.  First, there was his already well-received B/X Essentials line, then the crazy-successful Kickstarter which brought in €160,390 (or $175,000).  Now you can find it in your FLGS or for the next week as part of the Bundle of Holding.

Boxed sets are cool.
It really has been a well-deserved success.

For this, I am going to review both the hardcovers and the PDF releases.  But first a word on the physical, hardcover books and boxed set.   Gavin has really set a new bar in the elegance of rule presentations.  The books are clean, crisp and the layout is fantastic.  The hardcovers are solid and the boxed set box is both attractive and sturdy.  My wife even picked it up and commented on how gorgeous it is.

This is the new mark for Old-School gaming. These books, while lighter on the art, are some of the best put together books from any other Old-School/OSR publisher.  This includes LotFP, S&W (so far) and it even edges out Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperboria.  Sorry guys, but this is the new gold standard.



Old-School Essentials
The Old-School Essentials (OSE) is a re-organization of the Basic/Expert rules from 1981.  Thus the Core Rules feature the basic four character classes of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif.  There are also the three "demi-human" classes of Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.   The rules are divided up into different books both in the PDF and Hardcover versions as well as a combined Rules Tome.

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

If you are on the fence about OSE then this is the place to start.  Grab it and you will be up and playing in no time.
My only disappointment about this product is there is no print option!

Old School Essentials: Core Rules
PDF and Hardcover, 80 pages
The Core Rules weighs in at 80 pages and gets to the very heart of the OSE line.  The essential Essentials as it were. It covers Ability scores in general, sequences of play and all the basic rules needed.  Combat is covered separately. Magic also gets a bit of coverage here in general terms and including how spells can be researched and magic items made.
The rules have been "cleaned up" from their obvious predecessors.   The focus is on readability and playability here.   like all of the OSE books every entry of a rule is presented on facing pages.  So you open up the book and everything you need on the subject is right there.  Only rarely will you need to turn the page.
In the original rules, it took a bit of digging to actually figure out how much a character moves.  This was vastly improved in later editions of the game, but here it is very succinctly spelled out. Other rules are equally made clear.
Since the "Basic" and "Expert" rules are combined here there is an economy of word usage here.  As much as I love my Basic and Expert games, sometimes you need to consult both books when a situation comes up.  This book though is more than a handy index, it takes that notion from the B/XE Core Rules and expands it into a much more playable game.
The philosophy of the Core Rules is just that, everything you need to play regardless of the genre.  Included in the boxed set (and an expected purchase) is the Classic Fantasy Genre Rules.  This is what takes the Core Rules and makes it into a "Basic-era Fantasy Game".  So in simpler language, this is Basic D&D.  You do need a set of Genre Rules to be able to use the Core Rules, but there is enough there if you are an aspiring game designer to make up your own. Say Roaring 20s, or Space or Horror.  Anything really.
The book has some really, really great old-school feeling art as well. Just fantastic stuff really.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
These are the rules to allow you to play in any sort of "Basic Fantasy" style game.  Here get our character classes of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif and The three "demi-human" classes of Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.  If you are familiar with the Basic/Expert games of 1981 then this is home territory for you.  Human classes are limited to 14th level and demi-humans vary.
In addition to the classes (half the book more or less) we go into Equipment, mounts, hirelings and building strongholds.  So yes, everything that concerns players from level 1 to level 14 or retirement.
This is one of the three required books by the players.  The others are the Core Rules and then also Cleric and Magic-User spells (if they are playing one of those classes).
Like all the books in this series the layout is crisp, clean and a model of efficient use of words. From a User Experience point of view it is an absolute gem.
The art is likewise fantastic with full color spreads throughout the book.



Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
Cleric and Magic-User Spells would have been my favorite book if OSE had come out in the 80s.  Right now it also has my favorite cover from the entire series. Seriously, I love it. It just oozes eldritch weirdness.
The book itself has 48 pages and covers all the Cleric and Magic-User/Elf spells in the game.
All the usual suspects are here.  Cleric spells go to level 5 and magic-user spells go to level 6, just as expected from the B/X sources. Again, when making my recent Cleric I used this book.
The modularity again is a huge boon for this book and game.  Adding a new class, like the Druid or Illusionists? Add a new book easy!  In fact, we see that is exactly what was done.  Expandability is the key here.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Monsters
PDF and Hardcover, 80 pages
Ah, now this is a book I would have loved back in 81.  Also coming in at 80 pages this book is about monsters and nothing else.
Stat blocks are concise and there is none of the bloat in the descriptions that appear in later editions (ok to be fair that bloat was demanded by players).   The book is fantastic with my only reservation in I wish it had been illustrated more.  But even that is fine because the illustration we get are fantastic and very reminiscent of the old school monster books.
There are also NPC encounter tables and monsters listed by HD.  The utility of this book is top-notch.
I can easily see a "Monsters 2" and "Monsters 3" sometime in the future for this line.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Treasures
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
Some games merge their Monsters and Treasures books and I can see the logic of that.  These are separate books and after using them for a while I like the separated.  Just like having a Monsters 2 or 3 books, more treasures can also be introduced.
This covers all the expected treasures and includes one of MY favorite things from early D&D, sentient swords.   The same clear and concise layout here as in all the books. Quite a treat really.
That cover might be my second favorite in all the series.

That covers the "Core Boxed Set."



You can pick them all up in PDF at DriveThru or from Necrotic Gnome's website. OR get a physical box from your FLGS or again Necrotic Gnome's website.



Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome
PDF and Hardcover, 296 pages
If you are a fan of the old "Rule Cyclopedia" version of the BECMI rules then this is going to be a treat for you.  The Rules Tome combines all of the "Core" and "Classic Fantasy" rules into one large and gorgeous tome.  There are three different cover versions.  I have the foil JShields version, the Andrew Walter is the standard version and in many ways, I like it better!  It is the same art on the Box Set, so I am happy to have both.  This book includes:

  • Core Rules: Rules for character creation and advancement, adventuring in dungeons, the wilderness, and at sea, magic and combat.
  • Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules: Seven classic classes (cleric, dwarf, elf, fighter, halfling, magic-user, thief), complete lists of weapons and adventuring gear, extensive lists of vehicles, mounts, and vessels, mercenaries and specialists for hire, rules for stronghold construction.
  • Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells: The complete set of 34 cleric spells (from 1st to 5th level) and 72 magic-user spells (from 1st to 6th level), for use by players or cleric, elf, and magic-user characters.
  • Classic Fantasy: Monsters: A selection of over 200 classic monsters to challenge adventurers of all levels.
  • Classic Fantasy: Treasures: A hoard of over 150 wondrous magic items.

So everything you need for a full fantasy game.
Should you get this one or the individual books?  That is up to you.  The combined volume is obviously cheaper.   But all are enjoyable.
I have a Rules Tome for me, a set of books for the table and a couple extra players' books (Core Rules and Genre Rules).



Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy Referee's Screen
PDF only, 10 pages.
The one thing that B/X lacked was a proper GM's screen.  Yes, BECMI had one, but not B/X.  Well OSE has you covered, or screened as it were.
This product has 10 pages (1 cover, 1 OGL page and 8 pages of screen) for standard 8-panel, landscape orientation screens.  Purchase the PDF and print them out.  Easy.
The cover art is Peter Mullen's core art. So there are ways to get all the cover art...covered I guess.

All of these combine into a fantastic Old-School experience for those of us that grew up on B/X and for those that didn't.  It is just a really fantastic game.



But what if your tastes run to the Advanced end of the 80s RPG experiences?
Well OSE has not forgotten about you! The modularity of this rule expression pays off here when you can easily add on new rules, classes, and spells.

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules
PDF and Hardcover, 56 pages
Like many in the early 80s, I moved from the B/X version of the World's Greatest Game to the Advanced version.  But also like many, I never forgot my "Basic" roots and thought for all it's "Advancements" there was still something special about the Basic game.
Well OSE hears you.  The modular design of OSE makes adding material that is considered "Advanced" to be quite easy.  Granted this is not the first Retro-Clone to do this, but this one does it in such an elegant fashion.
Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules adds new classes and new races. For new races we get drow, duergar, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, and svirfneblin (yes deep gnomes!)  Also true to the advanced rules this book pulls race and class apart.  In truth this was one of the major benefits of the Advanced game and that is true here as well.  For new classes, we get acrobat, assassin, barbarian, bard, druid, illusionist, knight, paladin, and ranger. There is also rules for multi-classing, something I always want to add to my basic games.  Some additional rules on poison and magic are also included.

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
Much like the Cleric and Magic-User Spells book this one covers Druids and Illusionist spells.  Again the modularity of the game pays off here.  You can play Advanced Genre Druids and Illusionists OR you can just use the Cleric and Magic-User classes respectively and this book to play a Basic Druid and Basic Illusionist and not even buy the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules book.  It would be better to pick up that book, but the way everything is written you do not have too.
This covers the usual suspects of spells again.  The Basic style presentation is fun and it is like seeing these classes and spells through new eyes.  It really is a testament to the system and the authorship.



These two Advanced books will fit in your Black Box set very easily.
Sadly no room for dice.



I have nothing bad to say about this set or these rules.
If I had ONE wish, and maybe only one, it would be for a spiral or coil bound version to have at my game table to lay flat.  But I suppose I could always print it out and put it into a three-ring binder.
I might just have to do that.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review: Reimagined: Fanfic Role-Playing Game

Ok, now this is a fun one. At least it made me smile.

Reimagined: Fanfic Role-Playing Game

Reimagined is a "fanfic RPG" in which you take some other world and run with it.
If you have ever read (or written) fanfic or have a personal "head-canon" (or even know what that is) then this might be the game for you.

The author, Katarzyna Kuczyńska, comes in with some solid street cred, just different than what I have seen in the past.  This is a good thing.

The game is for two players using the X-Card system (a system I was not very familiar with).
You decide on the fandom, what level of romance you want (Gen, Lime, Lemon and Smut), what sort of story you want (lots listed) and who the charaters are and what the themes are.

Now you and the other player work out your do's and don't (or yeses and noes) and move on the storyline.
You have some tables you can roll on with a d6 (which makes it a game and not a series of collaborative storytelling).  The tables will depend on the tone of your game and type of story.

The players go back and forth being the "actor" and the "director".   I think with some tweaking it could be modified to accommodate more people and thus more characters.  This is one of those games where people that really know each other is where it would work the best.

There is also an example of play given and some examples of the worksheets filled out.   I love the example card shown of "Captain Carol and the God of Thunder" a Superhero story with Lemon (aka steamy) levels of Romance and tension.  On the Noes are "Children being hurt", "torture" and "alcohol" ok, fine and on the "yeses" are Dragons!


Images for illustrative purposes only...

Among our themes are "Superheroes Showing off", "Passionate Foreplay" and "Space Battles" you know...I am enjoying this one more and more.
The main storyline, "Heroes team up to save an alien planet using their powers and spaceship."

Seriously, how does that not sound like fun?


Seriously off the top of my head, I came up with about 30 fandoms this would work with.  Even some I wish I hadn't (gives the Mallfoy-Granger shippers some side eye).

I'd have to try it out. You need the right group to do this game with, but I think it would be fun. This is a very different sort of game for me and I want to try it out.

The PDF is full-color at 39 pages.  There are also extra sheets included.

All for $3.00. That's pretty good really.

Plays Well With Others: BlackStar

Of course, this got me thinking.  If this works well like this, maybe I could use the Story generation functions of this game in my other games.  Sit down as a Session 0 to determine what we all want to do out of a series.  IF that series is media-tie in, say like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, or anything, then it might be a good starting point.

So.  Let me try it with BlackStar.

BlackStar is part of the Star Trek Fandom, but it also has heavy doses of Cthulhu.
It's going to be Dark, but Gen.  Sorry, there won't be time for romance among the stars for this crew, I'll save all of that for the Captain and the Thunder God above.

It is an Alternate Universe and partial crossover. 
The only character I know right now is Captain Valerie Beaumont.  BUT she is not in charge of the ship.  She was supposed to be, but it has been taken over by NPC Commodore Taggart.  He is the project leader and a complete dick.  So that will make up some of the interpersonal dynamics.

I want to cover the themes of "Horror in/of Space", "We are not alone", "Science as a Candle in the Dark" and "Adventure! ...but don't go insane."

I am saying yes to Monsters, Insanity, Death, and Visions of Hell.
I am saying no to Vampires, Klingons (sorry!) and no to Deltan and Betazeds.  Not because I don't like them, I love them, but empaths will have a really bad time here.

These are the voyages...
Yeah.  This sounds like fun.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Reviews: OSR Mars

I have always been fascinated with Mars.  Not just the Mars I used to look at through my telescope as a kid, but also the worlds of Burroughs, Wells, Smith, Heinlein, and more.
I have often, very often, wanted to run an OD&D game on Mars, or rather a mix of Barsoom, Wells, and the Mars of DC Comics.

So one of my "Holy Grail" items has been Gygax & Blume's Warriors of Mars game. Though every copy I have ever seen is so far out of my price range.  Usually over $1,000 and one I have seen for $4,000!

I like Mars, but not that much for something I am also going to house rule a bit on. 

Thankfully, we have many talented people in the Old-School games scene that can help me with my Mars obsession.

Warriors of Mars - Barsoom by "Doc"
Up first is a fan reproduction of the Warriors of Mars book.
This is from the OD&D Forums by a user named "Doc".  The PDF was reformated by Jason Vey and done up to look like an OD&D book with permission from Doc.   The book also called Warriors of Mars uses the art from the original and naturally feels like an OD&D book with better typesetting.  At 28 pages it covers the basics and the focus is more on D&D than the original 56 pages TSR Warriors of Mars which also used a lot of Chainmail rules.  I am happy this one is out there since it gives me a basis of comparison for future books.  Plus it lets me know that I really don't need to spend 1000 bucks.




Now getting to ones you can buy.

Warriors of the Red Planet
by Al Krombach with art by Thomas Denmark and published by Denmark's Night Owl Workshop.
The PDF is digest-sized, single column, with black & white art from Denmark (so you know it looks great). At 128 pages it is a good-sized volume.  And all for $8.00.  They could have made it $10 and still it would have been a great price.  Overtly the book is for Swords & Wizardry.
This game is more inspired by Burroughs than actually being Barsoom.
There are five races to play, Ancients, Elevated, Exotic, Humans and Unliving. And four classes, Fighting Men, Scoundrels, Mentalists, and Scientists.   Each class goes to 10th level.
Mentalists have powers, Scientists have gadgets and they both work roughly like spells.
There are rules for character creation, equipment (including swords and rayguns), and several examples of play. 
While I said it is overtly for S&W, there is Ascending and Descending AC and "Basic-like" saving throws.
There are some great monsters added to this as well.  Any of which can be ported over to any OSR games if you wish.  Many are recognizable from Burroughs, but there are plenty more as well.
Some of the races get more detail in the appendix.  While an Exotic can nearly be anything (with random tables to boot!) some of the more common types are listed here. As per Burroughs we have Red, Green, Black, White and Yellow Martians.  Earthlings on Mars are also discussed.
Appendix A covers all sorts of random terrain, building, missions, and the unexplained along with weird science artifacts.
Appendix B adds the eldritch to Mars with the Sorcerers of the Black Gate.
Appendix C adds an optional skill system.
Appendix D covers ship to ship combat.
And finally, Appendix N (yup) covers suggested reading.
Again, this is a great book and 100% compatible with other "old-school" books from Night Owl Workshop. And easily worth twice the cover price in my mind.

BX Mars
This is a newer book from Michael Gibbons who also does the illustrations.  Here we get a full (8.5" x 11") PDF at 104 pages with Black & White art.  The author makes a note that the B&W art fits the mood of the game and I can't say I disagree.
This book also is more inspired by Burroughs, but the DNA is a little more obvious here.  Also, the book is designed to be used with B/X style games, this also goes to level 10 (not level 14 as some B/X games).  That's also great by me. 
The classes and these are race-classes, are Princess, Warrior, Thark! (no idea why the ! is there), Menton and Terran.  The classes are pretty much what you think they are. A couple of points. Princess is only open to Red Martian women; there is no Prince class (and sadly no Purple Martians).  The Menton is a psionic using class with powers detailed in the book.
There is also something called "Mastery" which works a little like Feats from 3/4/5e but has a solid B/X/Old-school feel to them. They work quite well here.
There is a Campaign/World-building history here.  It is some good background and fun to add to any game whether you are playing as straight-up Barsoom or something else.
This book has a completely different feel than the other Mars books out there.  While all the books I have looked at list mostly the same sources as inspiration, this one comes closer to Heavy Metal than most.  Also if I ever wanted to play a Herculoids game this would be the first book I'd grab.
The art has a really cool style that I don't often see in modern RPG books, but it fits this one perfectly.

If I wanted to describe the differences between WotRP and BXM, I would say WotRP was later Led Zeppelin and BXM is Blue Oyster Cult.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Reviews: DMs Guild Picks

Been spending some time on the DMSGuild to see what sort of products are there.  In general, I have been a bit underwhelmed.   Here are a few that caught my attention.

Class: Elven Cavalier
I have said before that someone out there picked up Dragon #114 and instead of fixating on the witch class like I did, they fixated on the Elven Cavalier.   Well, that person might be Christopher J. Ferguson.  I will look into some of his other works later, but right now let's focus this.

The PDF is 5 pages and $1.00.  The first thing I notice is that the art is largely taken from The Hobbit movies.  I am not sure what the rules are at DMSGuild, but I am still pretty sure this is a copyright violation.
The background makes it difficult to read in some places and some of the font choices also don't help.  The class is a fairly good replication of the 1st Ed AD&D class from Dragon #114.

From a D&D 5 perspective, I am not sure where this class is supposed to live. It does not seem to be part of the core classes where variants are built like sub-classes.  This could have been a sub-class of the Paladin or Fighter for example.
It's too bad really, I was hoping for more.

Witch Class, D&D 5e (inspired by Dragon #114 witch)
Another one from Christopher J. Ferguson.
This is a 9-page $1.00 PDF with color interiors.
I love the art for this one, but the background image makes it harder to read and difficult to print. He starts with a bit of history of the witch in D&D, but I am not sure if the author knows how far back this class actually goes. That's fine the focus here is on the Dragon #114 witch.

This witch uses both Intelligence and Charisma for spellcasting and is a divine spellcaster. There is a distinction between White and Black magic witches. I like the "A Blessing and a Curse" idea here. It's a nice touch. The witches also get a lot of powers in addition to their spells. Some, like the candle magic powers, really do invoke the memories of the old Dragon Magazine witch. There are even 5 new spells. I had hoped that since this was inspired by the Dragon witch that there would be High Secret Order spells too, but the author did not include those. There are some good ideas here.

I have been reading a lot of scholarly works on myths and legends and I have wanted to see more from a Shaman class.  Here are two.

The Shaman - A New Take
From A Point of Inspiration, this PDF is full color and has 9 pages. It is Pay What You Want with a suggested price of 50 cents; it is worth more than that.  This is presented as a new full caster class with two archetypes, the Witch-Doctor and warden.
The class is good, but could use a little more detail, even a little history would be fun.  Even at twice the price it is still good.  There are new powers, but no new spells.
This class has spellcasting foci, like a fetish or idol, which gives it a nice feel. Wisdom is the spellcasting ability. This class also has some spirit based powers that are interesting. The relationship here is similar to the cleric and druid is similar to the Sorcerer-Wizard-Warlock one. I think I would have liked to have seen this class use something more like the Warlock style spellcasting to be honest, but what is here works fine. IT's a good class, but I am left want more.
The PDF is nicely designed and it looks like a fun class to try out.

Shaman Class (5e)
Another Shaman class, this time from Michael Wolf.  This is also PWYW, with a suggested price of $0.00.  It is worth a lot more than that.  The book is 17 pages.
This is a pretty full class with new archetypes, a new type of magic including using spirits, and a few new spells.  The book is pretty well researched and because of that this Shaman is a much fuller class.
This one does fill that "Warlock" niche for divine spell-casters.
If you want to try out a Shaman class then this is not just a great choice, it is one of the better products I have grabbed at DMSGuild recently.






Monday, November 4, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: D&D Creature Catalogs

Something a little different today as I wind down from that crazy October.
One of the things I wanted to do with my "Back to Basic" year was also to get some more reviews in for some the basic era products I enjoyed the most and for the products that also contributed to my love of the game.  These would both be products by TSR and third party products of the time and of more recent years.

Since today is my day to post about monsters I wanted to hit two products that really enjoyed back in the day.

Now I have gone on and on (and on and on) about how pivotable the AD&D 1st Ed Monster Manual was to my life in RPGs.  So much so that I would later pick up any monster book that came out.   I loved AD&D and played it all throughout my High School days and beyond.   But it was Basic D&D, in particular, the B/X flavor of D&D that was my favorite.  I wanted a Monster Manual for that game.  Eventually, TSR granted my wish.

AC9 The Creature Catalog (1986)
The Creature Catalog (AC9), came out in 1986 and was produced in conjunction with TSR UK and it would be one of the last books to do so.  It shared a name with a series in Dragon Magazine (Issues #89 and #94), which led to some confusion on my part, but that was soon displaced.  A bit of a background story.  My then AD&D DM had grabbed this and let me borrow it. He knew I was a fan of D&D (Basic) and a fan of undead monsters, of which this had a lot of.  I immediately started pouring over the book and loved all the new creatures in it and new versions of some that I considered "classic" by then.   For example, the Umber Hulk (MM1) and the Hook Horror (FF) now shared an entry under "Hook Beast" and the Umber Hulk was now called a "Hulker".  Given the time I just decided it was obviously the same beast and just called that in my version of Mystara and my DM kept Umber Hulk for his version of Greyhawk.  Simple.
Grabbing the PDF a while back I was hit by all these memories of flipping through the book and that sense of wonder came back.  Monsters that I had used in games and have since forgotten about came rushing back to me.
The PDF is a scan of the original book, so the quality is not 100%, more like 80% really.  BUT that is not a reason not to get it. The text is still clear and the pictures, while not high-res are still legible.  If nothing else the "imperfections" of the scan match my imperfect memory of the book.  So point 1 for nostalgia purchase.  The book itself is 96 black & white pages with color covers.
There are about 150 monsters here (151 by my quick count). Some should be familiar to anyone that has been playing for a while, but there are also plenty of new ones that reflect the differences in design tone between D&D and AD&D.
This book is separated by (and bookmarked by in the pdf) sections.  The sections are Animals, Conjurations (magically created creatures), Humanoids, Lowlife, Monsters, and Undead.
There are a lot of fun monsters here, many have made it into later editions of D&D, in particular, the Mystara Monstrous Compendium.
The index is very nice since it also covers all the monsters in the various BEMCI books for a complete picture of the monsterography of the mid-80s D&D.
If you are playing old-school D&D or a retro-clone of the same then this is a great little treat really. The book also has guidelines on where to put monsters and how to make alterations to the monster listing for a different creature.  In fact a lot of what I have seen on some blogs and forums over the last couple years about how to "play monsters" has been better stated here. Yet more evidence that there is really nothing new out there. That and people don't read the classics anymore!

DMR2 Creature Catalog (1993)
The next Creature Catalog (DMR2) came out in 1993 for the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Most of the same monsters that appear in the Creature Catalog AC9 are here. In fact, a lot of the exact same art is used.  The net difference is this book has 158 monsters.
This book is the more customary 128 black & white pages with two, color covers.  The monsters in this version are all listed alphabetically.  This is also a much better scan and a print option is also available.
This book was designed for the Rules Cyclopedia and not BECMI the rules are 99% the same and thus both this and AC9 can be used interchangeably.  DRM2 Creature Catalog came out at the same time as the AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Compendiums so the layout and style reflects that.  The color trim here is red instead of blue.
This PDF does bookmark every monster entry and since all monsters are listed together it is easier to find what you want here.  Missing though is some of the advice in the earlier AC9 version.
But like the AC9 version, this is a fantastic book to use with your classic games or retro-clones of them.
In both books you won't find demons or devils since they were not part of the D&D world of Mystara, but that is not a big deal.   For me, the loss is nothing compared the amount of undead both books have.  Some of my favorite undead monsters to use to this very day made their appearances in these books.  Elder Ghouls, Death Leaches, Dark Hoods, Grey Philosophers and Velyas still rank among my favorites.

If you are only able to get one then opt for the DMR2 version for the better scan quality.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Review: Odysseys & Overlords

Odysseys & Overlords is a new Old-School setting and rules system from Travis Legge and Aegis Studios.  Travis has an impressive bibliography with over 400 publications on DriveThruRPG.  So when I saw these were out I jumped on them as soon as I saw they were published.  I also admit I was drawn in with the Dean Spencer art.

Odysseys & Overlords uses Basic Fantasy as it's ruleset and I think that is a good idea. Of all the clones out there BF is one of the more flexible and easily approachable to new gamers.  If you are using a Basic-era ruleset of your own then it will work with that.  For example, while reading up for this review I compared and contrasted these rules to rules in Labyrinth Lord and Blueholme.  I found no issues.

Odysseys & Overlords Player's Guide
PDF. 56 pages, color cover, b&w interior.
The Player's guide has what you should expect a Player's Guide to have.  Here you get a bit of background on the campaign world of the O&O game.  It's fine, as far as these things go, but I have no emotional investment in it.  It does help situate some of the game-design choices and that is nice.  Still, I see a campaign guide or gazetteer sometime in the future.  Since this is a Basic-era OSR game based on Basic Fantasy races and classes are separate. With this, we get some new races, called genus in this book (a more apt name really).   We get Abyss-kissed, which are like other games' Tieflings though more in-line with this game's mythos. Spellscorched, which cover the same niche as elves only here children of the gods.  Wild folk, humanoids with animal traits and blood. And garden variety humans.  No elves, dwarves or halflings here and that is great by me! (Note: they also do not appear in the Monsters section of the Game Master's book)
Classes include the favorites of Clerics, Fighters, Magic-users and Thieves and also adds another take on the Bard class.  Might need to give that one a try sometime.  Bards do not have spells but do have songs they can learn for different in-game effects.
Additionally, there is a section on equipment. I'll be honest, I don't pay much attention to equipment lists anymore. I have so many games with so much equipment that if I need to find something I am sure I have it OR I can just make it up on the spot.
Spells follow next.   Spells for both clerics and magic-users only go to 6th level.  Personally, I still like my magic-users to have more spellcasting power than clerics and would have liked to see magic-user spells go to at least 7th level.  All the expected suspects are here. 
We get some adventuring rules and finally some combat rules.
The layout and art is really good and has a solid old-school feel. The book just looks nice and fills you with all sorts of old-school nostalgia.  I do wish the book though offered some more new unique classes to go along with the new unique races.   A little more on the world background as it applies to the characters would also have been nice.
There is a character sheet at the end of the book. You can also get the character sheet here for free.

Odysseys & Overlords Game Master's Guide
PDF. 63 pages, color cover, b&w interior.
This book covers a bit of material not found in the Player's guide. 
Again we get some great Dean Spenser cover art and again we get the same overview of the campaign world.
We get into a section on various encounter areas, including my favorite, Urban Encounters.   Tips on dealing with players, hopeless characters, and weapon and armor restrictions.
There is also a good section on XP advancement and narrative advancement, which has come to be called "milestone" advancement in D&D 4 and 5.  It provides some nice balance. I am using both types in different games and it has the effect of taking the focus away from combat and more onto role-playing for Narrative/Milestone advancement. 
Magical research into new spells and new magic items are also discussed.
There is a monster section following the discussion on dungeons and wilderness exploring.  The problem I have with the monsters here is that you are directed to use Basic Fantasy there are not any new monsters.  Nearly all, save for two, can be found in what I would call the "common canon" of the OSR.  There was a real chance here to set this book apart from others with some new and unique monsters, or at least some rare ones.  It is too bad this chance was not taken.
Magic items follow next. A good variety here, but again I would have liked something unique to this world to stand out.
We end with the Kingdoms.  Ah! now here is the new and unique material I was hoping for.  There is a good amount here to work with without being overly detailed.   The descriptions are good, but a map, even a rough one, would have been great.  Tip: Can't afford a good cartographer?  Scribble one out and call it "an adventures map found in a dragon horde". 
Interestingly enough, there are maps in the books from Dyson Logos, but that causes an awkward mix of the OGL and Creative Commons Licences that I have been told to avoid doing.  Hope this works for them!
I think there is something here to the world put forth, I just would have liked to have seen more of it.

I have not picked up many of the adventures yet, but here is one.

Temple of the Harpies
PDF. 14 pages, color cover, b&w interior, two maps
This adventure is a pretty straightforward affair that can be run in a long afternoon. Designed for four to six characters of 2nd to 3rd level, the character must retrieve a missing child, defeat harpies, kobolds, and an ancient curse and not awaken an army of undead. Suitable for any OSR game or really any d20 based fantasy game with tweaks.  This one also includes some new monsters, which I always like.


I think there is a lot of potential with this line and would like to see more.



Monday, March 18, 2019

Monstrous Mondays: Monster Book Round Up, 1st Ed style

You can never have too many monster books in my mind.  Even I use one or two per book and my players are surprised or go "what in the hell is that!?" then it is money well spent.   Monsters have taught me so much over the years.  Monsters lead me to Greek Mythology. Monsters helped me learn how to write code to create databases and then later helped land a DBA job while I was still in school.   One day I'll update my old Access95 Monster Database, but that will have to be later.

Until then here are some of the monster books I am enjoying a lot right now.

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monsters
For the Blood & Treasure 2nd edition game, but can be used with any Old-school game.  The system is a mix of Swords & Wizardry and AD&D 1st Ed/OSRIC so reading the stats is really easy.
215 pages, over 600 monsters.  Color cover, black & white interiors.
This one has all the usual suspects from the various SRDs and that is fine for me really.  There are some new descriptions and there are new monsters.
There are things in this book that make it more worthwhile than just monster stat blocks.  There are a number of conditions and definitions ported over from 3.x OGC that are very welcome additions to the "OSR Ruleset".  There are guidelines for Monsters as a Character Race which are quite nice.
Another import from 3.x are Monster Templates.  Now you can a Celestial Gnome or a Draconic Goblin among other things.  Really expands your creature database.
There are even four mini-adventures included.
Not at all bad for just under $10.  Highly recommend!

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition Monsters II
The second book for the Blood & Treasure 2nd edition game.  This one has 197 pages, over 500 monsters. Color cover with black & white art.  No this is what we buy monster books for! New Monsters!  At 500 some odd monsters there are some here that can be recognized from the records of myth and fairy tales, (lots and lots of dragons!) but there a plenty of more that are completely new to me to edge it out over Monsters I.  There is similar material from the Monsters I book; conditions, attack descriptions and the like.  But the bulk is dedicated to new creatures for your game. This book also has a Chimerical Monster table for making your own chimeras. Tables on mutant dinosaurs and vermin.  Also a combined monster listing of both books.

If you have Blood & Treasure Monsters then you will want this one.  If you just like new monsters then get this one too.

Malevolent and Benign
Malevolent and Benign has long been a staple on my game table.   128 pages with 150 monsters, all in OSRIC format.   The monsters are all new (to me), with some converted from other OGC sources.  The art is quite good and the feel of the book is something like a Monster Manual 3 or a Fiend Folio 2 really. It sits on my shelf right next to my monsters books, or in theory, it does. It is actually out on my game table more often than not. The softcover is very nice to have and the PDF is fully bookmarked.
The book also has a small section on new magic items associated with these monsters.
For $10 it is a good deal.

Malevolent & Benign II
In many ways I actually like M&B2 more than M&B1.  This book is 110 pages with 150+ monsters.  Again we have a color cover (which is fantastic by the way) and black & white interior.  In fact all the art is a step up.
If M&B 1 was akin to a MM3 or FF2 then this one is the next in line, but with no loss of quality. The monsters are new and quite deadly or at least the ones that are not deadly are interesting.
I have not picked up the softcover yet, but the PDF is fantastic.
10 bucks for the pdf or 20 for the pdf + softcover book is a pretty good deal.  Especially for a bunch of new monsters.



Found Folio Volume One
A collection of creatures from various 3.x sources converted back over to "Advanced era" stats. What it lacks in art it makes up for in the number of monsters (typically two per page). Lots of 3.x faves here, ready for your OSR games!
130 monsters in 70 or so pages.



Honorable Mentions. Almost AD&D1 stats.

Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary
If you ever only buy ONE product from BRW and the Adventures Dark & Deep line then make sure it is this one.
Let be honest up front. We have seen most if not all the monsters somewhere else before. Most are in the SRD or from other Open sources. The new ones are great, but they are ideas we have seen.
And none of that matters. This is still a great book. At 457 pages (pdf) it is a beast. Monsters are alphabetically listed by areas you would find them in. So Wilderness and Dungeon is by far the bulk of them, but there are also Waterborne (fitting in with the rules) and "Outsiders" or monsters from the other planes. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The book begins with two monster spellcasters, the Shaman and the Witch Doctor. Shades of similar classes from the BECMI RC to be sure. But they work here great and frankly I know someone will want to use these rules to play a Shaman one day. Heck, I once tried a Wemic Shaman in early 2e days myself. Maybe I'll see if I can do that here. The classes are not detailed and they don't need to be. The do what they need to do.
The Monster descriptions are a bit like those found in OSRIC though there are some interesting additions. Each Monster has a Morale, like that found in Basic and 2nd ed, though it is not a score but an adjustment. Attacks are listed in the stat block, though they are the attack types. This is most similar to "Special Attacks" in other rules. Also wholly new are "Weaknesses" which is an interesting idea and one I think other OSR publishers should adopt. Each monster then gets a couple of paragraphs of text. Many are illustrated thanks to the highly successful Kickstarter for this (more on that later). The illustrations are great too as you can see here and here.
All the monsters have General, Combat and Appearance sections in their write-ups.
Unlike 2e (and 4e) monsters are not confined to one-page entries. Some have paragraphs, others just a few lines. This is good since I think we would have something like 1000+ pages. I think I read there are 1100 monsters in this book. Maybe 900. Anyway, it's a lot. I spot checked a few monsters I thought might not be there, but sure enough, they were. Ok so the ones that are Closed via the OGL are not here, but I was not expecting those. There are some alternates and stand-ins if you really, really need them though.
The book sections are: Wilderness and Dungeon, aka Most of the Monsters Underwater and Waterborne, larger than expected, but not surprised given the material in the core books. Prehistoric Monsters, always nice to have; Dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals. Extra-Planar Monsters, your Outsiders.
Appendix A details creating your own monsters. Appendix B has something I didn't even realize was missing till I started reading the stats; a basic psionic system for psychic strikes. Appendix C covers random creatures from the Lower Planes. This is the first "Gygaxian" touch I have noticed in this book. Reminds me of a really old Dragon magazine article from years ago. Appendix D is the magic resistance table and Appendix E covers the abilities of Gods.
All of this in a PDF for just under $15.
I have mentioned before that Joe gets his work done and gets it done fast. Well, this is not only no exception but it is the new benchmark. Joe ended his Kickstarter and then got printed books out to people 6 months early. Let that sink in for a moment. In a hobby where we tolerate (although not quietly) Kickstarters with delays of 18 months or longer, Joe and BRW are out there, turning out product and getting it to people early. You should buy a copy of this book on that principle alone.
So should you get this book?
If you like monsters then yes. If you need monsters for your old-school game then yes. If you want to support Joe and the Adventures Dark & Deep system then yes. If you want to reward good Kickstarter behavior then absolutely yes.
Lots of good reasons to get in my book. It is also the best book in his line.

Swords and Wizardry Monstrosities
The first of two HUGE monster books for the Swords & Wizardry game.  This one is also my favorite of the two by just a tiny bit.
This has mostly new monsters but some of the monsters we have seen before either in the SRD or other books. That though does not detract from its value as this is a 560+ page book since in addition to that there are some new monsters. The cover is very evocative of the old-school (pre 1980) covers. I love this cover. There is much in common between this book and The Tome of Horrors. Each monster is given a page of stats, description and a plot hook. While ToH used some recycled art, this all seems to be new art. Even Orcus (which we now have 3 listings for) is new. Actually, the art is pretty darn good and I don't mind the occasional repeat of a monster to see some new art. Honestly, there is so much great stuff in this book that even with the occasional repeat monster this is still a top-notch collection. If you play S&W then this is a great monster book to have. I am even going as far as to say it is a must have for any serious S&W GM.



Tome of Horrors Complete - Swords and Wizardry Edition
What can be said about this product? The original Tomes of Horrors were all great products that featured a number of "old school" monsters from previous editions of the game all under the OGL. It even had a brief "tutorial" on how to add these beasties to your own products. Now those very same monsters are back in one huge book "updated" to Swords & Wizardry stats. Nearly 700 monsters, all ready for your game. In addition to art and stat blocks for every monster there is also an adventure hook for each one. The monsters have been "scaled down" to fit the S&W rules better.
Color covers, black & white interior art.  688 pages (that's right!)

Converting these to AD&D1/OSRIC/Advanced Labyrinth Lord should not be an issue.

Eight monster books and somewhere over 3,300 monsters (lots of duplicates sure, but all unique presentations).
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