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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Pookie Reviews the Witches

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

B/X Boxing Match: OSE vs. BX RPG

One question I have been getting since I purchased both the Pacesetter BX RPG and Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials is "which one is better?"

Truthfully I am not really interested in "better" but instead "which is best for me" and "which one satisfies it's design goals best?"

Well, lets have a look!


Before I start let's agree on some terms and shorthand.

B/X refers to the D&D Basic and D&D Expert Boxed Sets edited by Tom Moldvay (Basic) and David Cook and Steven Marsh (Expert). 

BECMI while it might not come up, refers to the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal sets edited by Frank Mentzer.  Unless a distinction needs to be made I am always referring to the B/X versions of Basic and Expert rules.

OSE refers to the Old School Essentials set from Gavin Norman and Necrotic Gnome. In truth I also mean OSE and the Fantasy rules.
OSE-Advanced refers to OSE with the Advanced add-ons; classes and spells.

BX RPG refers to the BX RPG by Bill Barsh and Pacesetter Games and Simulations.

The "Gold Standard" for any comparison is the B/X set.

I want to state unequivocally that I am very, very fond of all four of the above-mentioned games and they all have a place on my table.  Each one is used in my games. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.

Match 1: How well does the game emulate B/X?
So our first match is how well does each game emulate the source material of B/X.  
If we are talking "Rules as Written" then clear winner here is OSE.  If we are talking "Rules as played" then it can be a toss-up between OSE-Advanced and BX.  Both offer different takes on B/X + Advanced.  
I can recall my first paladin character was made in a mix of Expert and Advanced rules.  Eventually, BECMI would give us a Paladin, but mine was pure B/X.  Both sets offer a paladin class (among others) and they are roughly equivalent. 



Match 2: Layout and Art
The OSE game is a marvel of layout efficiency, modular design, and artistic expression.  There is not a ton of art in OSE, but what there is packs a punch.  Both OSE and BX feature "old-school esthetic" in terms of black & white art.  This is not a detractor, but rather a feature for me.
My biggest issue with OSE's layout is that it is TOO efficient and sometimes that leaves it feeling a little bit sterile.  Efficiency and modularity are two of the set's design goals so it is hard to fault them here.
BX RPG needs another round of QA check, but otherwise, it also meets their stated design goals.
OSE edges out here. 

Match 3: Options
Out of the box BX offers more options than core OSE. More classes, races, levels, spells, and levels. Here OSE's strength of emulation works against it.  If you have B/X and can play it without looking things up then OSE Core has little more to offer you.  
Adding the OSE-Advanced options makes it more attractive to the current B/X player looking for more but not wanting to dive deep in the AD&D ocean.  Still, even with these options in place, BX RPG edges out OSE.
Both games are promising even more options in the future so this one could be close for some time to come.

Match 4: Playability
OSE is so well organized it not only edges out the original B/X in this regard but even the well organized BECMI.  OSE though works best for players already experienced in B/X or any flavor of D&D. The modularity of OSE rivals that of 4e.  That is not a slight, but rather a compliment. The layout and modularity of 4e was a design masterpiece. 
BX RPG is less organized, but there is so much explanatory material that it is perfect for newer players or someone with no experience with B/X and wants to give it a try.
Verdict? If you have B/X experience then OSE is best. If you are new to B/X then BX RPG.

Match 5: Price per Value
This is much harder.  Both games are priced well. 

The physical BX RPG boxed set comes with books, adventures, and dice for US$50.  Though it is hard to tell exactly what is in the box from Pacesetter's website.  So I am not sure what is exactly in the box other than the rule books. This is just the physical books, no PDFs.

The OSE Boxed set can be configured in a number of ways on the Necrotic Gnome website. The Classic set, closest to the B/X game, is available in a box with hardcover digest sized books and PDFs for €60,00 (presently about US$68.50).  You can add on the OSE-Advanced options. 

OSE has a sturdier box and hardcover books and comes in a single volume option.
BX RPG has good box with room for dice and adventures.

So lower price entry for the boxed sets for BX RPG.  More buying options for OSE.

Which one is for you?
I hate to dodge this one, but that is really up to you and the games you are going to run.

For me? I am happy to have both systems. I think there is a slight edge on BX RPG for players and a similar edge for Game Masters for OSE.  The options of BX RPG make it more attractive to the player and the OSE-Advanced books work fine with BX and B/X (even BECMI).  The organization of OSE makes it a dream to run and find things.

One thing for sure for me, if I were to run either game I would invest in about four or five extra player books for the players.

BX RPG Player books can be bought here, PDF and Print.
Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Player's Rules Tome, PDF and Print/PDF.
(Note if you are outside of Europe you might want to go with this site for OSE products.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

BECMI: Expert Set review

Moreso than the D&D Basic Set it was the D&D Expert Set that defined what "Basic-era" games were for me.  So it is with great excitement that I delve into the BECMI version of the D&D Expert Rules.

I have reviewed the older, Cook/Marsh version of the Expert set and if you want to read that review it is here.  I will be comparing this set of rules to that, but also how it fits into the larger set of BECMI rules.  Let's begin.  Once again I will be covering the Print and PDF versions of this book.

D&D Expert Rulebook
The 1983, BECMI version of the D&D Expert Rules are "Revised" by Frank Mentzer, but "by" Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.  I would contend that once again there is a large amount of Frank in these rules. The book is 64-pages, softcover, with color covers and black & white interior art.  All art is credited to Larry Elmore.  Anne C. Gray is listed for "Editing."

So right away we are given a notice in my book that this version has been edited to be compatible with the D&D Companion rules with adjustments to combat, saving throws, spell acquisition and a new thieves table.  So right away this labels my print book as a Second Printing (or later).
This is interesting because the PDF on DriveThruRPG is a First Printing.  So there are differences.
I will point them out as they come up, but you can get some detail on them from Wayne's Books.

Like the previous Expert book, this one comes with a warning that this is not a complete game and you need the Basic Rules in order to play. There is some brief mention of their being older versions of the game, but to go with the rules printed here.

Unlike the Basic Set with two books; one for Players and one for DMs. This book is presented as a single 64-page volume with player and DM sections.

The introduction covers what an Expert D&D game looks like.  There are more options for the players in the classes, as well as exploring outside of the dungeon. That was a big deal to me back then! Also, character levels will go from 4th to 14th level! That seemed extremely high to me back then.

Player's Section
In the player's section, we learn that some classes, the demi-humans, will hit their max levels now.  Also, there are new features to spells such as affecting other things and they can even be reversed in some cases for a different effect. We also learn that spells not can cause damage but they can change saving throws, to hits, and even morale of others.  Spells are expanding!

Classes are presents and in the case of the Cleric and the Magic-user so are all the reversed spells and the new spells. Clerics can reverse a spell as they wish, Magic-users can't, they have to memorize the reversed version.  Now we are told that Lawful Clerics will not use a reverse version of a spell and in some cases, I see that, but when dealing with light or dark the effects of casting the spell into someone's eyes is the same; blindness.  So DM's be wary.

Clerics get an expanded table for Turning Undead including the ability to actually destroy the creatures! How freaking cool is that?  And the table gives us a spoiler, there are Vampires in these rules. As a young horror fan, this was great for me.

Level Titles are still used and that makes me happy.  Also having the saving throws with the class is great, no more having to dig for those.

The formatting and layout of the classes is still very clean and organized well.  Again the vibe I get is that the designers of 4th Edition D&D took their cues from this edition.
Poor fighter though only gets half a page.  Demi-humans, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling, only get 1 pages in total.
Expert is not your ruleset if you like to play demi-humans.

The section on Adventuring covers a lot of new gear and the important factors about wilderness adventuring. First up, how you gonna get there? So horses and water travel become very important.

Dungeon Master's Section
This makes up a vast majority of the book, at 40 pages.
Again, like the Basic book topics are organized alphabetically.  In the B/X books there was a mention of cutting up your books and organizing them in a binder. Here you could cut out individual sections and organize those! But maybe copy them first or print out the PDF.

The next section for DM's is designing adventures, and in particular Wilderness adventures and town adventures. Humand and demi-human lands are also covered.   This is broken up by a "center fold" of tables and the maps of the Known World and the Grand duchy of Karameikos.  These maps though have something added, they have to locations of the then-current B and X series modules (B1-4, X1-5).  Interestingly it places B3 in Karameikos when previously it had been in Glantri.


This is the book that also gave us the BECMI version of Hommlet, the town of Threshold.

Next up are the Monsters.  Always a favorite.
The monsters here a largely the same as the B/X version of Expert. There are some monster missing, but I know (spoilers) that they will reappear in the Companion Rules. But what is really missing here is some of what I considered the most classic art of D&D.  From what I can tell some of the monsters have been rewritten for this version. Stats are the same but the text does differ.

We end with Treasure and Magic Items.

Overall the Expert set represents a huge leap forward for the BECMI game so far.  Taking the action outside is a, well....game changer.

People often comment on how much gameplay is actually in this box, and they are not exaggerating. From levels 1-14 is some of the best gameplay D&D has to offer regardless of edition.

Once again we also have a collection of wonderful Larry Elmore art in this version. Though I wish there had been more.


D&D Expert really is where the D&D game is really built.  This is not AD&D and it is not the little brown books, this is really a different sort of game.  Yes, AD&D and D&D can cover the same sorts of games, and there are plenty of places where the rules are the same, but it is also here you see the most differences. This was true for B/X Expert and true for BECMI Expert.

The tone of the Expert rules feels different too than AD&D.  There is a lot that can be done with this game and the feeling is there is even more just over the next hill.  Maybe, maybe, more than AD&D, D&D Expert set really captures what is best about the whole D&D experience.

Like it's predecessor, the BECMI Expert set comes with a copy of Isle of Dread, which is just as much of a learning tool for DMs as anything in the rules.   I will discuss that adventure and it's  importance (it is the only BX to BECMI book to get the updated trade dress) to the D&D line next time.

Comparisons with the Cook/Marsh B/X Expert Set


Comparisons are naturals since the Cook/Marsh Expert set was such a big deal to me.

The two sets compare well and cover largely the same information.  There are some minor differences in some numbers and on closer inspection there are a couple more missing monsters than I thought.  But otherwise, the two versions are very, very similar. In fact, I do recall people using this version of the Expert Rules with the previous Moldvay Basic Rules.  But we mixed and matched our rules all the time.


There is a big difference here in how thief abilities work between the B/X and 2nd Printing of BECMI Expert as well as some of the spell progressions.  But this is more of an artifact of the changes between First and Second (see below) printings of the Expert book.

It should be noted that BECMI Expert promises us a Companion rule set that goes from 15 to 25, but B/X Expert tells us that Companion rules will go from 15 to 36!

Comparisons with First and Second Printing

Ah.  Now here there is a bunch more differences. Far more than what you would expect to be honest, but it had to be edited to be brought in line with the new Companion set.  Some of these have been mentioned, but it bears looking at in detail.


Again we see the thief abilities getting a radical change. Thieves of the First Printing are more like those of B/X.  Thieves of the Second Printing take a HUGE hit on their Open Locks rolls, 99% versus 72% at 14th level. Additionally, all the Hear Noise rolls are now percentiles versus a roll on a d6. Though they all seem to work out to be roughly the same.



Spell acquisition is different with generally all the spell-casting classes getting better at spells.
Saving Throws are different.

One thing I did not do was compare either to AD&D, I know there are a lot more differences especially when it comes to XP per level.

With the Basic and Expert now BECMI can go toe to toe with B/X.  Both iterations of the D&D game are still largely the same and that is good and by design.  A lot of new Basic and Expert books are coming out for the BECMI version of Basic/Expert that will still work fantastic with those of us who were still playing B/X and AD&D.

Both BECMI Expert and B/X Expert sets came with the adventure module The Isle of Dread, which is as much as a second rule book as one can get from an adventure.  I will detail the Isle in my post tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2020

BECMI: Basic Set Review

How does one go about reviewing a game I know so well but in a book I know very little about?  More to the point how does one review a classic?

Well as my oldest son says, "with determination."

In this particular case, I am going to review the actual boxed set I was able to pick up a few years ago, the PDFs from DriveThruRPG and I will compare it to the version printed in the UK.



Basic Set (1983)
The third set of books to be released as the "Basic set" was the Mentzer "Red Box" Basic that would become the "B" of the BECMI line.  So many copies of this set have sold that it has become synonymous with "the Basic Set" and "the red Box" in D&D circles.  The set itself contained two books, a Player's Book (to be read first) and a Dungeon Master's Book (to be read by the DM).

Already we have a departure from the previous Holmes (1977) and Moldvay (1981) Basic sets.  While those older sets had one book for rules (48 and 64 pages respectively) and an included adventure (B1 and B2 respectively) this set only has the two books.  This is not the issue it might seem at first since this set features a rather infamous solo adventure and a programmed adventure that can be used with a DM.

The box set also came with dice, a crayon for coloring in the numbers, and some information about the RPGA.

It is helpful to look at the books independently.

The Player's Book
The Player's Book is 64 pages, color art cover, black & white interior art.

This is the familiar D&D game. The title page tells us that this is Dungeons & Dragons created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.  The editor, though many will say the actual architect of the BECMI line, is Frank Mentzer.  He is so tied to this edition that it is also called the Mentzer Basic book.

While Holmes did a good job of organizing the Original D&D game into something that could be used as and introduction to the game (or too AD&D maybe), it was the Moldvay edition that really tried to make an introductory game to new players.  The Mentzer set takes this to the next level by giving us a true introduction to the game.

The target audience is 10-12-year-olds but it takes care not to talk down to the audience, there even seems to be a choice in language to try and educate as much as possible too.  TSR expected their target audience to be young, educated, and (for better or worse) male.  But I will touch on that later.

Up first you are taken on one of the most infamous solo adventures ever.  You are playing a fighter and you have to investigate a dungeon.  You meet a cleric named Aleena, and a goblin and an evil wizard named Bargel.  The rest is a tale told in many taverns across the known world. 
While I have a number of issues with the solo adventure, and I'll discuss those elsewhere, it is an effective tool for grabbing people and getting them into the game.  The adventure explains aspects of your character and makes them salient in the situation. In the education biz we call this "situational learning" and it is an effective tool.

After the adventure, we get to the part where your character is explained to you. What the ability scores mean, what the saving throws are for, how to hit with weapons.  It is the "what is Roleplaying" section of every other RPG book writ large.

There is another Solo adventure, with some nods to the two M series for solo dungeons.

So now that the player knows the basics of play the various character classes are introduced. Here we have the Cleric, Fighters, Magic-User, and Thieves for humans and Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings. The text is very, very explanatory.  Great for a brand new player but feels wordy to me now.  Granted, these were not written for someone with 40 years of experience.  Heck, no one had even a quarter of that yet when this was written so my point of view is out of sync with the design goals of this game.

Looking over the classes I notice a few things.  The class descriptions are very self-contained.  Everything you need to know about playing a Cleric for example is right there. Including the Saving Throw tables WITH the class.  A vast improvement over the constant flipping through pages we had to do with AD&D at the same time.   Also, I noticed how weak the thief was then. No comparison to the Rogues of later editions.

The design elements of the self-contained class pages is something we will see again in D&D 4e and 5e.  It is very effective and if you are like me and like to print out your PDFs then it also gives you flexibility in organizing your version of Basic.



There is a solid emphasis throughout the book on how playing together, and working together, as a group is the best experience.  There also seems a little extra emphasis on how the Players are not the Characters.  It feels wonderfully 80s when the was the moral panic that kids would start to act out like their characters and meet the fate of poor Black Leaf and Marci.  Today people online refer to their characters in first person and laud their achievements as their very own.  What a difference some time makes.

We get to alignment with a strong prohibition against playing Chaotic or Evil characters. Retainers and other topics.  There is even a solid Glossary (I mean really who does this anymore? I miss them!) to help in supporting my point of view of D&D as a learning tool.   There is even a small section on using minis, character sheets, and other aids.  There is even a nod to AD&D to remind players that this game, D&D, is not AD&D.

All the basics are covered. No pun intended. Ok. Maybe a little one.
Everything the player needs to get started.  They now just need a DM.  Thankfully the next book covers all that.

The Dungeon Master's Book
The Dungeon Master's book is 48 pages, color art cover, black & white interior art.
This book follows the Player's book in terms of layout and scope.

The title page here is largely the same as the Player's Book, but it is a chance for us to reflect on how this game is really the direct descendent of the Original D&D game. Though there is a reminder that Players are not to read this book! Only DMs!

We get right into the roles of a DM here, after covering some brief introductory materials and some common terms and abbreviations.  Looking over these were are still in a time that Pre-Dates THAC0 as a term.

There are checklists of things to do pre-game and during the game and during combat.  It's a nice clear and spelled out version of the same material seen in the previous Moldvay Basic set.  In fact, there is a lot of material here that looks and reads the same.  This is natural since both sets are drawing from the same sources.  It is a bit like reading something you are already very familiar with, but it is still somewhat different and new.  Like trying to read Danish after learning German.  Or maybe more accurately, reading American Spanish after learning European Spanish.

There is a built-in adventure for new DMs that serves the same purpose as the Solo one in the player's book. It is fine, but I think back to my time in running the Keep on the Borderlands and hoe much I learned from that.

The procedures and rules section is all laid out alphabetically. So "Elves" come before "Mapping" and "Time".  Again, I am reminded of the layout seen in 4e and it is obvious that the designers of 4e were fans of this edition.

The next big section is on Monsters.  This section reads very much like the same section in Molvay Basic, some even down to the exact same words.  I don't find this a problem though.  Some people went from Holmes Basic (77) to Cook/Marsh Expert (81) and some people will come from those earlier Basics to this.  There needs to be a continuity of rules. Minus some organization and some clearer directions these are supposed to be the same games.  Yes there are some differences.  I find them to be minor at worst.

Back to Monsters, the section seems to have all the Usual Suspects, give or take a couple.  I did notice that there is much less art here.  I would have loved to have seen more versions of these classic monsters.  An Elmore drawn Thoul? Yeah, that would have been great! Also, this has the only piece of recycled art I have found.  The dragon breath diagram looks the same here as in Moldvay.  That's actually pretty cool.  All new art?  TSR was putting their best on this.  I'll talk more about the art in a bit.

Treasure follows and it is every 1st level character's dreams come true.  Swords to hit those pesky magic monsters! Gold! Platinum! Potions of Healing!! 2-7  hp was all you needed back then to get back into the game.

A nice bit about creating and stocking dungeons with monsters and treasures.  More direction than we got in Holmes or Moldvay to be sure.

We end with some tables for random monsters, saving throws, and a combined index!

Art
The art in both books is fantastic.  Larry Elmore, Jim Holloway, and Jeff Easley at the very top of their game.  They defined how millions view Dungeons & Dragons.  Yes, yes I am a fan of the older stylings of Bill Willingham, Erol Otis, and Jeff Dee, but this was at a new level.  The art was consistent throughout and all of it wonderful.  Sadly it is also a little sparse compared to Moldvay, but I guess there are more pages to fill here.

The UK Edition
The UK edition is a single book about the size of a paperback.  It has the same color (or should I say "colour") cover.  The illustrations are sparse and in this case, all the interior art is by Helen Bedford.



The content is the same, just put into 272 smaller (4.75" x 7.5")  pages. There is even a tiny character sheet that taxes the ability of my glasses.
It sold for £4.95 back in 1986 when my copy was printed.




Legacy
I am going to spend a lot of time this month covering the legacy of the Basic Set and the BECMI series as a whole.  But this is the set. This is the one people think of when you say "Basic Set."
That's a pretty serious legacy.

Join me all month as I talk about all the BECMI books, boxed sets, and related topics.
This week is nothing but Basic.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

June is BECMI Month

Tomorrow is June 1st.  Crazy. Where did April and May go?

Well, I have been planning something like this for a bit now and I wanted to spend some time going over the D&D system I have the least familiarity with, at least in a proper sense.

The Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortal Sets edited and written by Frank Mentzer.


Each week I will cover a different set with reviews of the main boxed set, associated products, and topics.  In my case I am also going to compare these sets with versions I am much more familiar with such as the B/X sets from Moldvay, Cook and Marsh, Holmes Basic, and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.

Now I am not going into these reviews blind, I have had experiences with these books before, some experiences even going back to the time when they were published.

But I never played the game using these rules.

When the BECMI rules came out I was firmly in the camp of AD&D.  As the years went on I would adapt some BECMI products to my AD&D game and others I bought out of curiosity or interest.

So this will be a learning experience for me.  I am not expecting any great insights to the D&D game or any esoteric knowledge.  But who knows, maybe there is a tied bit here or there for me to learn.

Can't wait to find out.


Friday, April 17, 2020

PWWO: Calidar, Part 2

A while back I a did a "Plays Well With Others" for Calidar. It's pretty to do, there are a lot of great ideas and it has a system that lends itself well to easy conversion.  After doing a series of reviews I thought another go at another PWWO.

The Reviews
For this PWWO I think I am going to focus mostly on Calidar On Wings of Darkness and related products.  In particular the various magic schools featured in Caldwen.

Given the various conversion guides and the rules presented in the books, mathematical style conversions are less of an issue, the big factor is more how do I replicate the same feel of Calidar in a different game while still preserving what I liked about the original game.

Calidar and "New" D&D


These are the easiest of course.  The level limits for both D&D 5 and Pathfinder are a set 20. So follow along with the rules for 20 levels.  D&D 5 and Pathfinder characters tend to be more powerful than their same-level counterparts in older editions.  Cantrips really boost what a Wizard can do every round even at the lowest levels.  Plus the addition of cantrips can become an interesting element to the wizard school. 1st level wizards/magic-users have a lot more they can do.

Retro-Clones


These conversions are handled by various current products and upcoming products from Calidar.  Plus these mimic the games played by most of the people involved with the Calidar lines.

Calidar and Glantri


Let's address the obvious mix here.  Bruce Heard is fairly well known for his work on the Mystara lines and Glantri in particular.  You can use details from one mage school for the other, they are roughly compatible in style, and it makes either product a little more robust.  You do lose a little of the unique feel of Calidar this way if you set it all in Glantri.  Though what I have been doing is considering setting the caldera on the north pole.  The whole area is hidden away from the rest of the world.  Still playing with this idea.


I am using the "Mystoerth" map for this. I made a globe, and see there is some room up on top. Enough for Calidar?  I have not done the math yet, but it looks right.   I still to play around with it.

That is if my next idea doesn't take over.

Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade


This idea has grabbed my imagination.  Calidar has a great early Renaissance feel to it.  So somewhere between Dark Ages Mage and Mage the Sorcerer's Crusade is a perfect time.  In this case I would use Calidar as is, but the game system would be White Wolf's Mage.
What I have not decided yet is if the various schools represent Spheres (which means Mages would need to attend to multiple schools) or Traditions (which would make the rivalries more intense).
So everyone in "How to Train Your Wizard" would be part of the Euthatoi.   I think just to have some fun I would keep the Verbena out of it unless I work in the Glantri Wokani.

There is a lot I would love to do with that idea.  D&D backdrop, Calidar setting, Mage/White Wolf rules.  The possibilities are staggering, to be honest.

Conversion though is a bigger issue.  The Calidar system is pretty flexible, but it is level-based to a large degree. Mage uses the White Wolf Storyteller system which is a dice pool system. So the conversion books won't be much help here save to figure out some guidelines.  Still maybe if I can dig up a copy of Monte Cook's d20 World of Darkness it might give me some ideas.

WitchCraft


Nothing specific yet.  But if I can convert Mage I can convert this a lot easier.

Most likely I would combine a lot of these ideas to make the schools in Calidar a little less D&D and little more Scholomance if possible.

Blue Rose AGE


Ah.  Now here is something that would be a lot of fun.
I would need to make some changes to what kinds of magics could be taught at the schools, but AGE is level-based and so should convert well.  Green Ronin already did some of the heavy lifting for me with their converting for Fantasy AGE.

The bottom line is that Calidar gives me a great magic school that I really want to drop anywhere.

Plus it gives a Fantasy-era Breakbills and an excuse to do this:



And any excuse to put more Brakebills into my games is a good one.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Reviews: Calidar Guides for Players

Been spending some quality time with Calidar this week.  Why? because there is a complete lack of flying cities and skyships in my games.  Plus Bruce Heard is a great writer going way back to the TSR days.  Back when I was in college my money was tight.  Ok I was spending it on alcohol. But the point is that I was not buying a lot of D&D books.  What I DID buy were book by Bruce Heard and anything he did for Mystara.

So these new books (and my Professor's salary) are a welcome addition to my life.
Let's get into it.

Game Mechanics for the World of Calidar
12 pages. PDF and Softcover format. Full-color covers, color, and black & white interior. PWYW

Ok, this book is punching WAY above its weight in terms of value to page count. There are some obvious benefits, that I'll talk about and one or two not-so-obvious that also make this a must-have.  I'll get to those as well.  Let's start with the explicit value.
This book is designed to allow any GM or player to use the Calidar shorthand stats I have talked about all week and then convert them to any game system.
The game mechanics used are detailed first. By doing this Calidar is free to depict stats in any way that works best for the world and not necessarily the game system.  There is an obvious "D&D-bias" here but that is fine really, and expected.
Inbetween the text is the numbers conversion chart.  Ranked by percentages the numbers are grouped by ranges you can convert say Level to a Calidar %.  So let's say your game goes from 1 to 14 (like say B/X or OSE) then you can convert a Calidar character statblock using this.  Or maybe 1 to 30 (D&D4) or 1 to 20 (most D&D).  Spend some time with this chart and the translations begin to happen easily.
The game mechanics continue and include a "Philosophy" stat which is a stand in for Alignment. AND it might actually be a better alignment system.  Now I have never had any issues with Alignment myself.  Maybe because I spent so much time with things like the MMPI and other tests that I naturally gave alignment more subtle gradations.  Actually, I think it was more chemistry come to think of it. Take the "alignment chart" in the old PHB or D&DG and think of an electron cloud where a character can move up or down in the shells.
There is also a map of Calidar and the Great Caldera and some brief descriptions of the lands.
Now what else do you get?  Well this conversion table is fantastic for conversions to all sorts of games. Not just D&D based ones.  Yes, the math is not difficult, actually, it is pretty easy.  But I teach math all damn day. I like having something like this.
Secondly, I want to get back to the new Philosophy system.  It works GREAT in CA2 How to Train Your Wizard. It would be great for someone that doesn't like the Law-Chaos, Good-Evil axes.
So grab this. Throw a couple of bucks at Bruce and have fun!

PG2 A Players' Guide to Caldwen
20 pages. PDF and Softcover format. Full-color covers, color, and black & white interior. $2.99

This covers the basics of the Magiocracy of Caldwen. The various Provinces are covered briefly and other aspects of the land.  We get the calendar with months and some astrology.
There is a new race, the Shatim, which are like Tieflings, humans with demonic heritage. These have their own Caldwenian spin on them. 
We also get a Mage Knight class. They are an armored knight that can cast spells. Using the Game Mechanics for the World of Calidar book you can convert them to your game system of choice.
We get overviews on the various cults in Caldwen and their locations, or at least where the majority are located. Appropriate for a land where magic is the real religion.
Currency, tourism and a brief map are all included.
A good resource for players and a needed one for the Game Masters.
It really sets the flavor of what you can expect in the Caldwen mini-setting. "Mini setting" is actually underselling it a bit to be honest. There is so much in the Caldwen books that you forget it was just a piece of the entire Calidar world setting.

I have the softcover books, but these really benefit from being printed out (bad on the color ink though) so I can put them in a binder to lay flat.  Especially when it comes to referencing the maps, which are a highlight of these books.

I can't wait to see where my vacation in Calidar takes me next.

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.


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