Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reviews: Back into the Blue

Today I want to look at two products for the Alpha Blue line by Kort'thalis Publishing and +Venger Satanis; Girls Gone Rogue and Universal Exploits.

Full Disclosure: I received both of these PDFs in trade for a fair review.
Fuller Disclosure: I had already bought Girls Gone Rogue and had it in my review queue anyway.

Full Frontal Disclaimer: These products sit behind an Adult verification wall on OneBookShelf. By clicking, you are giving tacit, if not implicit, consent to see such things.  Don't whine if you see something you don't like.  These are not for the easily offended. 

Ok. So Alpha Blue is Venger's infamous "brothel in Space" source book that also includes a brief system for play.  I reviewed Alpha Blue a while back and I really enjoyed it.  I opted at the time to use this book along with some other Old-School inspired Sci-Fi books including White Star. Keep in mind that Alpha Blue nor these books are overtly compatible with any of those other games, but Venger's system is simple enough and these books are written in such a way that they are easily adapted for use.

Girls Gone Rogue 
Girls Gone Rogue (GGR hereafter) is an 80-page supplement for Alpha Blue.  The book expands on the options and tables found in Alpha Blue. There are additional character options and lots of tables but really sets this book apart, and makes it a must have for AB fans, are the adventures.
If you are a fan of Venger's style of mixing and matching various pop cultural references then these adventures are a real treat. In particular, the mixing of Galaxina and Ilsa She Devil of the S.S. is quite fun really.  Venger obviously grew up on a steady late night Cinemax. Actually, that explains a lot of GGR to be honest.
This one is a bit harder to judge in terms of a game book.  I will say that if you enjoy Alpha Blue, then this is a good buy and will be very useful.  If you don't like Alpha Blue then GGR will be more of the same really.  Though there are a some that would enjoy the adventure seeds for use with other games.

Universal Exploits
Universal Exploits is a 110 page book for Alpha Blue. UE tackles the universe beyond the space station Alpha Blue.  Like Girls Gone Rogue it is an expansion, but it also setting material.  The universe is a big and dangerous place.  Well, dangerous in the same universe that has a space brothel/space station orgy happening.  Or maybe that is just a result of some the horrors going on around them.  There are also some short adventures/scenarios you can use. Again, these are presented system-neutral/system-lite so they can be used for just about anything.
In truth this reads a bit like a collection of Traveller articles, that is if Traveller went really gonzo.  Or, chances are, like many used to run Traveller anyway.
The real treat comes in the form of the special Alpha Blue Character sheets.  Honestly every game should have great looking Character sheets and these are among my favorites.

So. Who should buy these books?
Well it's pretty simple. If you have Alpha Blue or like playing it then these are "must buys".
If you play some other Sci-Fi game and want to add a little "Sleaze" to your "Scum and Villainy" then these are must buys only behind Alpha Blue itself.
If you like lots of pop-culture references, especially ones that are more R or even NC rated, then this is also for you.  But if that is the case you already know this.

Who should avoid this?
Well normally when reviewing a product I stay away from these sorts of discussions.  But in this case, I will say those who are easily offended should not bother.
More to the point with me though is don't go into these books expecting to find a lot of material you can use for other, non-sci-fi, games.  Can I use it with say a Modern game? Sure, but there are a lot of conversions I'd have to do.  Not game mechanics, but style.

Both books are a lot of fun and I am certain I can still find a lot to use here even in my PG and PG-13 rated games.

I do want to mention the cover art.  Both are fantastic and really, really shows what you can do when you put your heart and soul into your games.



Now. If you are like me reading through all of this and referencing back to Alpha Blue and some of Venger's other products you might be wondering "when is Venger going to focus his eldritch eye on 'Heavy Metal'?".

Well while reviewing this Venger sent me a link to his newest Kickstarter.

Trinity of Awesome!


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1575519826/trinity-of-awesome

Looks like a lot of fun.  If it goes the way that Universal Exploits did it will grow into 5-6 adventures.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monstrous Mondays: 5E Monster Books

I LOVE Monster books. Always have.  One of the first, if not THE first, book I ever saw for an RPG was the AD&D Monster Manual.  My love for these books has never waned.

So of course, I am going to grab the new Monster books for 5e!


I am rather pleased with both of these, but Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press edges out in terms of things I want to use.  There are just a lot of really great monsters in this book.
Including some I will use in my current Come Endless Darkness game and some for the War of the Witch Queens.

They have their own version of Camazotz which I am dying to use.


I have not compared these stats to the ones I worked up a while back,  But I think I will use these new ones since the players did not kill Camazotz the first time.

There is also a new Witch Queen featured in the book.


She is based, somewhat, and named after the Scottish witch Nicnevin.   I will have to do a conversion of her sometime soon.  Having someone that is the "Daughter of Scáthach" is just too cool to ignore really.

I am not ready for a review of these just yet. But stay tuned.

Don't forget to include the hashtag #MonsterMonday on Twitter or #MonsterMonday on Google+ when you post your own monsters!

Special thanks go out to +Justin Isaac for letting me know about this book and that it featured Camazotz.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Sizes

Kind of a late post today.

I was Lulu looking to fill some of the gaps in my OSR/Old-School collection and noticed  a pretty even split between the 6"x9" (or OD&D) and 8.5"x11" (Basic & Advanced) form factors.

In general which size of books do you all prefer?


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Endless Darkness: The Road So Far

This song seems appropriate here...
I have been talking online with a lot of people who are doing the same thing I am; running the Classic Modules from 1st Edition using the new D&D 5 rules.  So I thought I would post a summary and talk about where I am going next.

The Background
The characters all belong to a group known as the Order of the Platinum Dragon.  They are mostly made up of the children of the DragonSlayers (my 3.x game).  They began their adventure like so many others....or so they thought.

Here are the adventures in chronological order (links take you to the blog post where I talk about their game).

T1 Village of Hommlet (forgotten by the characters, played as a flashback)
B1 Into the Unknown
B2 Keep on the Borderlands
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill
X2 Castle Amber
I6 Ravenloft
C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness
A1-5 Slave Lords
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
G123, G4 Against the Giants  (where we are now)

Then we do:
D12, 3 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Vault of the Drow
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits
(Q2) Queen of Lies
CM2 Death's Ride
H4 Throne of Bloodstone

The adventure began in The Inn of the Welcome Wench (T1). Here they discover the main plot of the "Cult of Chaos", but a battle with Lareth the Beautiful and Bargel left their memories wiped and two of their party missing (the Warlock Croulie and the Pyromancer Cynder).  The remaining party delved into the Castle Quasqueton (B1) and it's dungeons where they discover one of the Chaos Stones.  This leads to a vision/memory of a long ago battle.  They travel to the nearby Keep (B2) where they take on some hirelings, Uno, Duo, Tres, Quatro and their leader Cinco ("played" by Danny Treo) to investigate the Caves of Chaos.  Here they discover a temple dedicated to ancient demon god and more on the Cult of Chaos.

They then traveled to the monastery on Bone Hill (L1) and a group of missing wizards. Again there is a rumor of the Cult of Chaos, but also the involvement of several "Hyena Men".
Following the trail of the Hyena Men, the party is sucked up in a mysterious fog, here they find themselves in a strange land (actually the past) and a strange Castle (X2). More knowledge is gained about the Dawn War and for the first time they hear the phrase "Beware the Endless Darkness".  Here they meet up with the "wizard" (actually a warlock) Skylla.  They travel the mists for a while till they come upon the Villiage of Barovia and the terrifying Castle Ravenloft (I6).   They stop Strahd and his plans to blot out the sun, but not before Skylla is taken away by an army of ghosts.

They meet up with another party and tackle the famed Ghost Tower of Inverness (C2).  They recover the Soul Gem and hear the phrase "Beware the Endless Darkness" again.

Leaving the Ghost Tower they hear rumors once again of the Hyena-Men (Gnolls and Gnoles) and a slaving operation. They have long suspected, but now get confirmation that Gnolls are servants of a Demon Lord (keep in mind my players don't have the wealth of history of D&D we all do). They also find out that the slaves are all being transported elsewhere by human agents.  They discover the Cult of Chaos is also behind this operation and the Drow, long forgotten, are also involved.  
The Order manages to destroy the slaver operation and even convince an Earth Dragon and Red Dragon to reawaken the dormant volcano to destroy the island.  Before leaving the island with rescued slaves the Earth Dragon (an actual dragon) tells them to "beware the coming darkness".

Returning the slaves to the Duchy of Urnst they see the Sun go completely black.

Or maybe this is a better choice
The sun is out and there is a council of the greatest mages (ie their characters from the 3.x game) in Greyhawk.  The plan is worked out to relight Moradin's Forge.  It's light and life giving heat will keep everyone alive till the sun can be put right.  In the meantime the world is besieged by monsters and undead.   The Council of Greyhawk scrys for any remaining sun-related magic items.  Even the Sunsword from Ravenloft is out. The party is sent to a jungle (C1) because an artifact is found there that is related to the sun.    The "artifact" is the dying Mystarian Sun God (Immortal) Ixion, whom the characters knew better as "Cinco".  He and his four brothers were all gods of the sun, they were killed by vampire god Camazotz.   Cinco/Ixion gives the character his heart, Camazotz was not able to get it in time, to use to relight Moradin's Forge.

With the world now on life-support, the Council sends groups of adventures all over the world to find out what is going on.  The Order of the Platinum Dragon is sent to investigate raids made by some giants...

They know they are fighting against the clock.  Moradin's Forge is a powerful artifact that the gods used to create life, but once it is lit any one can use it. Undead are swarming all over. New monsters and monstrosities are everywhere and the Priests of the Sun gods are powerless.

Chaos, it seems, is winning.

What happens next is now up to my players and their characters.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

In Search of... the Holmes Witch

Very recently this image popped up again. This time on Tumblr.



Which started a conversation on the existence, or lack thereof, of the Holmes Witch.
The witch, as speculated then, would have been a sub-class of the Magic-User.
But where did this come from?

Well research into the original Holmes manuscript over at Zenopus Archives, gives some backing to long-held idea that the witch was something added later on in editing.


Gygax himself weighs in on this here, again thanks to Zenopus Archives.
"That mention slipped by me, and all I can assume was that either Eric was planning to force such a class upon me, or else someone editing the work thought it a good joke to play. I never had a PC class of that sort in mind for the game." (Enworld forum post archived at greyhawkonline)

In truth there never really was a "Holmes Witch".  There are "Holmesian-like Witches" to be sure (I classify my own witch class as more "Moldvay"), but nothing he ever wrote himself.

Other discussions
- Recent Google+ discussion that prompted this post
- An older OD&D Boards Discussion
Um, I was promised Witches?
- Holmes Rules: The Witch

Semi-Related
- Tom Moldvay on Witches

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Review: The Wicked Cauldron

Troll Lords has been putting out some quality products since the 3.x/d20 boom days.  This includes not only their own "house" system, Castles and Crusades but also some 3.x material back in the day.
Well now they are dipping their toes into 5th edition and I could not more pleased.

This past Gen Con I picked up their 5th edition version of their adventure A3 The Wicked Cauldron. I already had the C&C version and I wanted to see how they compared.  Especially since D&D 5 really has a lot of ideas that C&C started with.


The Castles & Crusades version is 24 pages and designed for 3-5 characters of 3rd to 4th level.
The Dungeons & Dragons 5e version is 40 pages (larger font) and for 3-5 characters of 3rd to 5th level.

I am reviewing the print and pdf versions.

The premise is a fairly simple one.  There is a ruined ziggurat in the Barren Woods that is the home to many foul things. It also has a long and evil history and currently is home to one of the fabled Witch Queens.  The PCs must investigate and stop her.

The adventure itself is particularly original, but that doesn't make it less fun.  There is a good balance of overland and dungeon exploring, plenty of new monsters to fight, a threat of an ancient evil.  Given that this module is coded "A3" should give you an indication it is part of a larger series, and it is.  It can be played as part of Troll Lords "A" series that began with "Assault on Blacktooth Ridge" and "Slag Heap" and continues in other Airhde products and adventures.  But it can also be played as a stand-alone adventure.
The adventure is very reminiscent of the old Basic adventures of the early 80s, especially B2 and B4.  In fact, it is almost a perfect mix of these two classic adventures.  So in the nostalgia department, it gets a perfect score from me.

My biggest issue with the PDFs and the Print versions are the maps are fairly small.  I can redo them on my own and larger, but having something I can print out or read easier would be nice.

The 5th edition conversion is good and really, C&C is so close to D&D5 as to almost make the conversion unnecessary, but still I did enjoy looking through both to find the subtle differences.  The most interesting changes were to the Witch Queen herself.

The Witch Queen, Neb–Eprethat, is the central figure in this adventure and stopping her is the main goal.  In the C&C version, she is a Lawful Evil 5th level human cleric/wizard.  In the D&D 5 version, she is a Chaotic Evil 6th level human cleric.   In both cases, she could be better served as a witch.

There is no D&D5 witch class (yet) and I am not ready to publically reveal my C&C witch class.  But I can give her a try in my Basic-era Witch.  Though given that she supposedly worships and honors the "Horned One" she could be a D&D5 Warlock too.  In fact a warlock (as per D&D5) makes a lot of sense.


Neb–Eprethat - Witch Queen 
Chaotic Human Witch (Malefic Tradition), 6th level
The Witch stats

Strength: 11 Death Ray, Poison 11
Dexterity: 14 Magic Wands 12
Constitution: 12 Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone 11
Intelligence: 16 Dragon Breath 14
Wisdom: 14 Rods, Staffs, Spells 13
Charisma: 18

Hit Points: 20
Alignment: Chaotic
AC: 1
Dagger +4, Multiattack (allows 2 attacks per round)
To hit AC0: 18

Occult Powers
Familiar: Toad (multiple familiars)

Spells
Cantrips (7): Alarm Ward, Daze, Detect Curse, Object Reading, Open, Spark, Warm
First (3+2): Bewitch I, Cause Fear, Command, Minor Fighting Prowess, Sleep
Second (2+2): Biting Blade, Enthrall, Evil Eye, Hold Person,
Third (2+2): Bestow Curse, Continual Fire, Fly, Ghost Ward


She joins the ranks of the other Witch Queens that I have been gathering.

Can't wait to run this under my War of the Witch Queens campaign.

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