Thursday, November 11, 2021

Plays Well With Others: Modern Occult Horror Games

Been thinking a lot about all the modern supernatural games I have (and I think I have all of them) and in particular the ones that have come out from the Old-School gaming scene.  These games all cover roughly the same sort of topics and themes but they all do them in different ways that I keep thinking they would all work great together. 

OSR Modern Occult Horror RPGS

In other words, it sounds like a perfect topic for a Plays Well With Others

So the games I am talking about are Dark Places & Demogorgons, We Die Young, Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, and my own NIGHT SHIFT.  These are the big modern supernatural, occult horror games from the OSR. 

I have reviewed these games in the past.

Obviously, I have not reviewed NIGHT SHIFT. Reviewing your own game is incredibly tacky and remarkably dishonest. 

I have covered many of these games in other Plays Well With Others too.

With the addition of Dark Streets & Darker Secrets to my occult library, I wanted to revisit some of these ideas. Though I want to take a different approach today.

With this Plays Well With Others, I am going to mention each game and talk about what can be used from that game in any of the other three.  In some cases, this is easy like moving from Dark Places & Demogorgons to We Die Young which are essentially the same system.  In others, it will be converting characters from one system to the other. 

At the core of all four games (three systems) is the old-school, the OSR, design.  All of these games have the same "godfather" as it were in Original or Basic D&D.  They have the same uncle (mother's brother), the d20 SRD. And their mother is all the D&D games we all played and the supernatural, occult, horror and urban fantasy media we consumed when not playing. 

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets
Dark Streets & Darker Secrets 

This is the newest game, for me, and the one on my mind the most.  Thankfully it is also the one that has the most to offer all the games.  

For starters, the classes can be imported rather easily into the other three games.  In particular the Tough, the Nimble, and the Smart can be used as subtypes of the Veteran or Survivor in NIGHT SHIFT or as a class in We Die Young.  Maybe not so much for DP&D since those are supposed to be kids. The Gifted of DS&DS is similar to the Supernatural in NS.

The real gift of DS&DS is all the tables.  Someone online described the game as a great toolkit game. Some of the best ones to use in all games are the Complication table (p.20), Weird Items (p.32- 33), almost all the Gear. The Magic and Psychic backlash tables are also fun. ALL the artifact tables. The various "signs" in Chapter 7.  In fact, pretty much all of Chapter 7 to be honest.

Survive This!!

Both Dark Places & Demogorgons and We Die Young from Bloat Games use the same Survive This!! basic rule system, so right out of the gate they are compatible with each other.   Dark Places & Demogorgons focuses on kids in the 1980s and We Die Young on young adults in the 1990s.  So there is a continuum there for any that wish to use it.  There are plenty of "classes" in both games that can be used and mixed and matched.  Like DS&DS there are a lot of great toolbox-like tables and ideas that can be imported into another game.

I can easily see a game then of people in their 30s in the 2000s with large chunks of DS&DS mixed into the Survive This!! system.  Would this game be called "Survive This!! Dark Streets" or "Dark Streets, Dark Places, Darker Secrets & Demogorgons?"  I don't know, but I LOVE the idea of kids experiencing weird shit in the 80s, taking a bunch of drugs to forget them in the 90s (both DS&DS and WDY have these) and finally having to deal with this shit all over again in 2000-2020s as older adults.  Very "It" if you think about it.

Dark Places & Demogorgons We Die Young

The jewel though in the Survive This!! (and there are many) though HAS to be the DP&D Cryptid Manual.  DS&DS takes a toolkit view on monsters.  NIGHT SHIFT has a minimalist view (a very OD&D view if I can add) on monsters.  But the Cryptid Manual gives us a proper monster book.

Of note. Both DS&DS and We Die Young use the newer D&D5-ish Advantage and Disadvantage mechanic. Albeit in slightly different ways.  I have been using this in NIGHT SHIFT as well and find it works better for me than a simple +3 or +5 to rolls

Also, both games have a Madness mechanic.  I like the one in We Die Young much better.  Bits from DS&DS could be added to this, but in general, I think I'd use the one in WDY. 

We Die Young also has some really cool races that can help fill out the "Gifted" of DS&DS.

Don't forget you can get the new Hardcover version of Dark Places & Demogorns on Kickstarter now.

NIGHT SHIFT: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars
NIGHT SHIFT: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars

I talk a lot about NIGHT SHIFT here and with good reason, I am quite proud of the work I have done it.  It fills the void in my life left by the Buffy RPG and everything I wanted from all three editions of Chill, but never exactly got (no slight on Chill, fantastic game), a little more approachable and less nihilistic than Kult, and none of the baggage of The World of Darkness (though I do get the urge to play that again.  My oldest want to give it a try sometime).

Dark Places & Demogorgons makes some assumptions in the game that makes it what it is.  The characters are kids and there is also the Jeffersontown setting, all of which are central to the game and make it work.

Dark Street & Darker Secrets is on the other end of the spectrum with no assumed setting other than "The City" which also works fantastic for this game and one of it's great strengths.

In between those two, we have NIGHT SHIFT (and We Die Young, but I'll get to that).  NIGHT SHIFT does not have a default setting. There are different levels of difficulty you can configure the game in, Cinematic, Realistic, or Gritty.  DP&D would be Cinematic, DS&DS is the poster boy for Gritty, and WDY is around Realistic.  So I would use ideas from those games to inform my choices in the three levels of NS and vice-versa. 

What NIGHT SHIFT has to offer these other games are our "Night Worlds" or mini-settings.  Any of these can be used in any of the other games and the other games can be used to add more details.  Jason's "The Noctnurmverse" can be supplemented either by or used in DS&DS.  The "City" in DS&DS becomes the Noctnurmverse's Pittsburgh.  Or dialing back the Way-Back Machine use it with We Die Young in the 1990s.  My own "Generation HEX" benefits from the ideas on playing kids in DP&D.  You could even take Generation HEX and play it as a DP&D setting if you wanted.  My "Ordinary World" can be used in DS&DS IF you ever decide to move out of the city into the suburbs. 

I already talked a lot about how NIGHT SHIFT and Dark Places & Demogorgons can be used together.  The same logic applies when adding in the other two games.  In fact one place where this might work great is my own Sunny Valley, OH game of the Buffyverse in the 1980s rather than the late 90s/early 2000s.  This works well since a.) NIGHT SHIFT was made to fit the "Buffy-shaped" hole in my life and b.) DS&DS takes a lot of cues from and was influenced by Buffy in all media.  I might just be the best melting pot for all these games. Or crucible. Time will tell.

Putting it All Together

Honestly, there are just too many ways to combine these four games into something you can use.  Start with one and add what you need.  Start with two and be pickier about what you add from the others.  One of the ways I am using it is in my Life-Path Development ideas. Each game represents a different point the characters' lives and each is used to model that time.  The obvious reasons are that DP&D takes place in the 80s with kids, WDY in the 90s with younger adults, and DS&DS and NIGHT SHIFT go beyond that.  To go with personal experience, I was living in Chicago proper in the mid to late 90s and then in the suburbs after that.  To use my ordinary world example my progression would look like this:

DP&D (high school, small town) -> WDY (college, college town) -> DS&DS (grad school, city) -> NIGHT SHIFT (adulthood, suburbs).

In a weird way, it makes sense to me.  But I am not stating up myself. I don't live in a magical world, I live in this one.  BUT I do have my Drosophila melanogaster of these sorts of experiments, Willow and Tara.   I have done stats for them for Dark Places & Demogorgons and NIGHT SHIFT.  Doing ones for We Die Young and Dark Streets & Darker Secrets would be easy enough.  BUT.  Those are not the same characters really. They fall under my "Alternate Reality" versions rather than "Lifespan or Lifepath Development."   Though doing DS&DS versions of Willow and Tara should be in my future.

No for this I need a character that has been around for a while, for that I am going to have to turn to my Iconic Witch Larina.

Fortunately for me, the witch is one of the few character classes/archetypes/concepts that can be found in all these games (the weird psychic is as well, but witches are my thing).  So building a witch feels right.

I worked up all the sheets and this is what I ended up with.  Purple is the color of all of Larina's sheets. Click for larger. 

Dark Places & DemogorgonsWe Die YoungDark Streets & Dark SecretsNIGHT SHIFT

Dark Places & Demogorgons

It's 1984 and Larina is 14 and 4th level.  She lives in a small town where her mom runs a spice shop and her dad is a Professor of Anthropology and teaches music.  She is called "creepy girl" by the kids in school.  At this point, she is shy and can't quite understand why others can't see the strange things all around them. 

Most of these adventures are of the "Scooby-Doo" sort; short ones that are resolved by the end.  Easily Monster of Week sorts.

We Die Young

We are moving to the early 90s now and she is 7th level. Larina is in grad school and is now Larina Macalester. She was married at age 19 but obviously, it is not working out well.  She is living in Chicago while her estranged husband is still living in Ireland. Her stats nudge up a little but she largely is similar to her 1DP&D version.  There are some differences between the two types of Witch classes (and DP&D still has others) but nothing I consider earth-shattering.  I did get to add her two tattoos. One is a protection tattoo (a large Triple Moon Goddess on her back) and one on her left wrist that allows her to cast a magic bolt. 

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets

Things are getting darker.  Larina is now 35, 10th level, and back to going back to using "Nichols" as her last name.  Her complication is she is hiding from her ex-husband who was in the IRA.  (NOTE: I actually played through this back in the early 2000s.  The big twist was that while she was hiding out, her ex had moved on and was living his own life with his new wife.)  I wanted to use my new idea for Sanity by having it as Intellect +  Willpower /2. BUT for Larina here both scores are 17 giving me an average of 17. 

NIGHT SHIFT

Here is the one closest to my heart, obviously.  She has more spells, but this is expected at 13th level. 

As expected the powers don't always match up right and I could have taken more care in aligning the spells with each version. But I figure that these changes can be chalked up to learning and experiences.  I do feel that all versions reflect the character at the time well.   

Looking forward to trying this with other characters to see how they work out. Also, I am keeping all of these books together to use as needed.  By themselves, they give me a wonderful experience. Together they give me an epic experience.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review: Dark Streets & Darker Secrets

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets
Dark Streets & Darker Secrets has been on my "To Be Reviewed" pile for a very long time.  I grabbed the PDF when it came out, but set it aside for the longest time because I was working on a bunch of other things and didn't get the chance.  I picked it back up and really enjoyed it. So much so I also picked it up in hardcover Print on Demand.  

A couple of things though to get started.  Dark Streets & Darker Secrets (DS&DS) is a modern occult horror game based on old-school style mechanics. I also have a modern occult horror game based on old-school style mechanics.  So I am aware that any criticism I might lay on this game could come off as sounding self-serving. I want to always be aware of this and have you the reader keep this in mind as you read my review here.  Also the author, Diogo Nogueira, also lists the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG from Eden as one of his inspirations.  This game was also Jason Vey's and my inspiration for NIGHT SHIFT.  Jason and I met while working on Buffy.  NIGHT SHIFT was designed to fit "the Buffy shaped hole" in our lives as I have said before.  So both games come from very, very similar backgrounds with very, very similar goals.  That all being said, DS&DS is NOT in competition with NIGHT SHIFT.  Nor is Diogo a competitor.  I consider him a colleague.   Both Dark Streets & Darker Secrets and NIGHT SHIFT can, and do, live on my shelves and game table in complete peace with each other.  I am going to spend some time tomorrow talking about how both games (and two more) can be used together.   Today though I am going to talk about where DS&DS shines (is that the proper word for a "dark" game?) and what it does. 

So let's get to it.

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets

by Diogo Nogueira.  222 pages, hardcover. Color cover with black and white interior art.  For this review, I am considering both the PDF and the Print on Demand hardcovers from DriveThruRPG. 

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets (DS&DS) is a modern occult horror game from ENnie Award winner Diogo Nogueira. The book is digest size so it fit well with many "old school" style books of the last 10 years.  It not only fits on the shelf physically but thematically as well.  The game is based on Nogueira's earlier works Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells and Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, so out of the gate there are more resources for this game if you desire.

The game itself is a gritty, modern occult/supernatural horror game.  The normal humans are just slightly above average for the most part and the monsters are way more powerful.  Immediately I thought of it as a bit of Chill mixed in with Kult. The feel is very much "humanity alone against the darkness."

The book is laid out in eight chapters with some appendices.

Chapter 1: Introduction  

This chapter covers the basics of what is in the book.  

Chapter 2: Character Creation  

If you have played any old-school-like game in the last 45+ years you have an idea what this chapter is about.  The differences here fit the tone of the game.  Character attributes are rolled using a 2d6+3 (not a 3d6 or even 4d6 drop the lowest), this creates a narrower band of character attributes, 5-15 but still on the same human range of 3-18.  There is a chance to increase these later on.  The attribute themselves are a simplified version of the Basic 6; Physique (combining Strength and Constitution), Agility (Dexterity), Intellect (Intelligence), and Willpower (Wisdom and Charisma).   Once those are done you create a character concept which is a basic couple word description and not a backstory.

After this, it is time to choose the Archetype or essentially the class of the character.  They are The Tough, The Nimble, The Smart, and The Gifted.  These align with the attributes above. The Gifted is special in that you can be a spell-caster or even a supernatural creature like a vampire, werewolf, or even an alien.  Each archetype also gets a "recovery roll" which decides how quick they can bounce back from injury. 

Since this is a gritty sort of universe all characters have a complication. These can come into play in the game to keep things "difficult and exciting" for the characters.  It includes a d66 table (roll 2d6 and use the rolls like d%.  Traveller people know this one well). 

Then you pick out some gear. If it is mundane gear you have it. You also get some weapons and "weird" gear. These are detailed in the next chapter.

Finally, we have derived scores. Vitality (Physique + Level) are your "hit points."   Sanity, or mental stability, is equal to your Intellect.  Now I have mentioned before I do not like how many games handle insanity or madness.  Sadly this game is not an exception.  I spent a few years working in a mental health facility back when I was in grad school.  There is no relationship between intelligence and mental health.  In fact, I had one guy who was schizophrenic and could speak 3 or 4 languages including German and Swahili. He learned I also spoke German and would use that when he wanted to talk about the other clients "in secret" to me. So yeah. I am not really a fan of this one. I'd rather roll a 2d6 and then add a bonus from Willpower (and maybe Intellect) to get my Sanity score.   There is also Luck points which are like fate points or drama points (everyone starts with 3) and Money.

Chapter 3: Gear  

Covers mundane gear, expendable gear (like ammunition and things that wear out) and even some weird gear.   Weird items are the best part.  Every character has one weird item they start off with.  This is easily explainable either they found it and thus introduced to the weirder world OR they have always had it and the world is waiting for them.  There is a d100 table that covers a bunch of different sorts of items.  Note, we just get the names of the items, what they do will be discovered in-game. 

Additionally, drugs, services, illegal goods, and money points (abstraction of money carried) are also dealt with. 

Chapter 4: Rules of the City  

Here are our basic rules for the game.  Everything is an attribute check (roll under your attribute modified by level and difficulty).  There are some neat quirks.  There is an advantage/disadvantage system here called Positive and Negative rolls. Rolling on your attribute is considered a critical success. You roll lower than your attribute to succeed, BUT higher than the difficulty.  So if something has a difficulty of 8 and my attribute is 12 I have to roll a 12 or lower BUT also higher than an 8. So only rolls of 9, 10, 11, and 12 will get me a success. 

Players can add a Luck roll to their challenges. This is not a matter of just adding points. You have to roll a d6. If it is equal to or lower than their luck score then you get to make a situation more favorable. 

This chapter also covers sanity and madness. You lose Sanity if you encounter something strange and fail a Willpower test. Difficulty set by the situation. Points lost also can vary. When the character's Sanit score reaches 0 then they get a Madness.   Thankfully there is no list of "madnesses" here.  Most game designers get these horribly wrong anyways.  In game you get a minor "quirk" on your first loss.  If you suffer 4 losses then the character has succumbed to madness and can't be played. 

Level advancement is a form of Milestone advancement that looks like it should work rather well.  Again individual GMs can (and should) alter this to fit their needs. 

Chapter 5: Combat  

Like many RPGs combat gets a special chapter even if it is just a particular form of the rules stated above.  But if one is going to fight the armies of darkness then one is expected to actually fight.  Reading through this you get the idea that yes the characters can be tough. You also get the idea that the things they are fighting are a lot tougher.  While there are a few ways the players can save their character's bacon, there are still a lot of grisly ways to die in this game. 

Chapter 6: Sorcery and Psychic Powers  

Ah, now this is the meat of the game in my mind. A Gifted character can be a sorcerer, a witch, a psychic or some other type of creature.  Their powers and how to use them are detailed here.  Regardless of the origin or the nature of the powers, game-wise they are treated in similar manners, the difference largely being different Backlash tables.  How they are played can vary wildly.   I mentioned that this is grittier game than one would see in say a Buffy-like game. The previously mentioned Backlash is one and Corruption is another.  These include simple things like a "witch's mark" to changes to one's body and mind or just getting pulled right into the Abyss.  Pro-tip, don't botch your rolls.

A very nice (and long) list of powers is given with their effects.  While the list is long (60 entries) it is not exhaustive. 

Additionally, Arcane artifacts are covered. How they are made, what they do, powers, cost (to make AND to use), and some samples.

Chapter 7: Running the Game  

This covers the world of DS&DS.  There is a bias (is that the right word? Preference is better) to an urbane game.  Thus the title really.  Outside of this there is no set theme or even setting. This would be a sandbox game if it were a FRPG. What we do get here is a ton of tables full of ideas for a a game, campaign, or an entire world. 

Chapter 8: Monsters  

Our Monster chapter differs from other games in that there is not a bestiary here per se, but example creatures and the means to make others of a similar nature.  So for example there is a Cultis section that covers some sample cultists from 1-3 HD to demon-possessed leaders of 4-8 HD.  This includes a table of "What are They Doing?" and "What do They Want?"  A very effective means of repurposing content.  The more powerful the creature the more detail they need obviously, but there is not a lot of detail in most cases.  This works well here since the players (mostly the GM) provide all the details.  There are powers listed for random creatures as well.

Appendix O: Optional Rules 

Here are a group of optional rules you can add to your game. Things like Drunken Luck, Daring Points, Single Hero games and Multi-Archetype (Multi-Class) Characters. 

Appendix I: Inspirational Materials  

Covers the various books, movies, TV Shows, and other RPGs for inspiration. 

Appendix S: Simple Scenario Structure  

This discusses how to build a quick scenario and an example.

We end with a Character Sheet (and a Form Fillable one is provided with the PDF) and the OGL statement.  I do feel the need to point out that Nogueira has released this game as 100% Open Gaming Content.

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets certainly lives up to the hype and has a lot going for it.  If you have a world already in your mind and just need a system to flesh it out then this is a great choice for you.  In this respect, it is very similar to old-school D&D. No default world type, just the tools to play in the world of your imagination with some assumptions built-in. 

If you are looking for huge meta-plotting like the World of Darkness or even the baked-in mythology of Buffy the Vampire Slayer you find that here, which is refreshing. The players all have maximum flexibility to do what they want and that is the key strength of this game.

Dark Streets and Colorful Sheets


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

These are the Soul Cages

I know I am running behind on this one.  Super busy at work and the last few posts here have been ones I have been sitting on for just this time.  But I am going to pause on today's scheduled post to do this one instead.  Plus the Internet is down in the Chicagoland area as of this writing, so I might as well do this.

Back on Halloween, the news came out that Pathfinder Drops Phylactery From In-Game Terminology. Instead of using "phylactery", It is a Greek word to describe the Hebrew word "Tefillin" which Jewish people will keep small scrolls of the Torah.  They have decided to go with the term "Soul Cage."

Maybe not these Soul Cages exactly.

As you can imagine the RPG folks on the internet freaked out.  Especially it seemed to me people that at the same time claimed they don't or no longer play Pathfinder, let alone Pathfinder Second Edition, the game, and the only game, this effects.

Personally, I find it confusing that so many roleplayers out there have so little imagination.

Nor do I even see what the trouble is.  So a company, Paizo, drops a term they are uncomfortable with.  THEY feel it is disrespectful.  At no point have I heard they changed due to a complaint. They did it as a creative choice.  Are some gamers now suggesting that a company can't change the terms they use to better suit their products/games?

No. This is fake outrage from the same lot that gets mad any time anyone decides to deviate from the holy writ of Gygax. 

Personally. I have been using Soul Cages for years. I was even talking about it with liches and succubi over a decade ago and as recently as this past year. I am likely to keep using them too. 

Don't like the term? Fine. Don't use it.  Want to keep phylactery? Fine, keep it. It likely isn't going to change in the game you are playing now anyway. But honestly, unless you are playing Pathfinder Second Edition, why do you even care?

Monday, November 8, 2021

Monstrous Monday Review: Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Beasts

Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Beasts
Joseph Bloch at BRW games is really the model of how you should run a Kickstarter.  When I look at a Kickstarter I want to know that the person running it has experience.  The Kickstarter for Book of Lost Lore & Book of Lost Beasts was back in July. We were promised the books in March of 2022.  I believe I got mine in late September or early October. Was there padding? Maybe, but I don't care. Getting books just a couple of months after pledging is still pretty good.  Not to mention this has been true for the other five I have backed from Joseph/BRW.

Plus I also like to see that the person running the knows what to expect. So I look to see how many they have backed.  If it is a low number, or worse, zero, then I stay away. That is not the case with BRW Games.  

That is all great and everything, but does the book hold up to all this excitement?  Let's find out.

Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Beasts

This is one of two books that were part of BRW's Summer 2021 Kickstarter and the one I was looking forward to the most.  The reasons should be obvious to anyone who has read my reviews over the years; I love monster books and consider the 1st Edition Monster Manual to be one of the greatest RPG books ever written.  Sure there are better-written ones, but few that have had the impact of this one. 

For this review, I am considering the Hardcover I received as a Kickstarter backer and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  BRW does their print fulfillment via DriveThru, so I conveniently have my PDFs where I expect them and I know what sort of product I am getting in terms of Print on Demand.

The book itself is 132 page (about 128 of pure content), full-color cover and black and white interior art.  The layout and art is a tribute to the "2nd covers" of the AD&D 1st Edition line. So it looks nice with your original books and other OSR books designed the same way. 

Old-school cool

Old-school cool

Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Beasts is a collection of 205 monsters for the AD&D 1st Edition RPG.  The book feels familiar (in more than one way) and can easily be added to your AD&D game.  The monsters are alphabetically listed. At the start of the book, there are some details about playing Monster spell casters (Witch-doctors or Shamans) as well as some other minor rule changes/alterations.  These chiefly involve whether a monster has psionics or not, and how an undead creature is turned.

Additionally, there is more detail on the monster's treasure. While a Treasure Type is given it is asl broken down between Treasure Value and Magical Treasure.  Monsters all get a Morale bonus listed to indicate if they will flee combat.

In the Preface, Bloch gives us a bit of history on his Adventures Dark and Deep RPG.  While this book carries that heading, it does not use the Adventures Dark and Deep RPG rules except as noted above. IT uses the tried and true AD&D 1st Ed system.  Also it is noted that many of these monsters presented here already appeared in his Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary, which I reviewed here.   The Bestiary is 450+ pages and has monsters from the SRD plus more in the Adventures Dark and Deep RPG format.  So you could convert them back to AD&D 1st Ed if you wanted.  But this current book, the Book of Lost Beasts, has the new monsters from the Bestiary plus a few more already converted.

The brings up a good question.  Should I buy this book? 
I am going to say yes, but here are some caveats. If you have the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary AND you are comfortable enough converting then maybe you don't need this.  If you play AD&D and want more monsters then you should get this.  If you don't have the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary and like monsters then you should get this.  If you are like me and just love monsters and already have the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary then you should get this.  I hope to make these points a little better below, but do keep in mind that some people have seen these monsters before.

That is just one of the ways this book feels familiar.  The other way really lives up to its name of the Book of Lost Beasts.   This book feels like Bloch took the Monster Manuals I and II (and to a lesser degree the Fiend Folio) and set out with the goal of "What monsters are missing?" and got to it.  For example, the Quasi-Elementals are more filled out.

Another great example of providing us with "what was missing" AND giving us something new are the ranks of nobility of the Dao, Djinn, Effrti, Madrid, and Rakasha. While these creatures are found in the Monster Manuals and expanded on in the ADD Bestiary, they get a longer and more detailed treatment here. 

After the 205 or so monsters there are appendices on Treasure Types and a random Creature for the Lower Planes generator. These were very popular in the pages of Dragon Magazine if you recall

The PDF is currently $9.95 which is a good price for a PDF of a monster book, and $24.95 for the hardcover.

One minor point, the book was not released under the OGL.  Doesn't matter for play or use only if you wanted to reuse a monster in an adventure.  Though given the use I have seen of the OGL over the last 20+ years this is also likely not an issue. 

If you are looking for a new monster book for use in your AD&D 1st Edition games then I can highly recommend this one.  Plus it will look great sitting next to all your other AD&D 1st books.

BRW Games Lost Books

 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Chromatic Dungeons, Part 4 Final Thoughts and Wrap-up

Chromatic Dungeons
Edited to add:  Here are all the parts to this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

I am ending my week (or so) with Chromatic Dungeons today. It has been a real treat going through this game.  There is a feeling here of the first time I went through the AD&D 1st Ed Player's Handbook in terms of the potential I feel for my games.  There are some really great ideas here I plan to use, either running a CD game or adopting them for my other Old-School games.

Ancestry & Heritage

Along with such products such as Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e from Arcanist Press and the new material in Pathfinder 2e, this is the way all games are going to move towards. I could go into the racist history of why "race" was originally used starting with examples from the Victorian age and moving on to practices in educational and biological "research" but the truth is the people that are least likely to change are also the most likely to ignore all of that. So what's the point.  I don't teach fish to read and I don't try to talk to people who have their minds made up.  I am convinced that we will see this in D&D 5.5/5r and it will soon migrate to other, even old-school, games.

I am likely to give it a try in my OSE-Advanced games. I would likely tweak it a bit more to fit my needs a little better.

No Alignments for Sentient Humanoids

Again, this is a sea-change in many games.  I have no issues with it at all.  I have had good orcs for years, and a lot of mostly neutral ones, and scores of completely evil ones.  Yes, yes, insert Tolkien arguments here...BUT as much as I adore the Professor and his works, he is not my DM.  Neither is Gygax, or Arneson, nor any others.  I get to decide what my world does or does not do.  Goblins are already all over the place in regards to alignment for me, I am even getting to a place where Drow might not all be evil. Yes the vast, vast majority of them are demon-worshiping sadists. But not all of them.  Interestingly enough, the one humanoid I have always seen as Always Evil are Gnolls.  Something the Gnoll Sage line rejects. 

Again there are things going on here that are just on paper that I have been doing (and posting about here) forever.

Which Witch to Use?

This is my blog so I want to talk about which witch I would use with this RPG.  Design-wise Chromatic Dungeons can be used with just about every or any version of D&D or clones thereof.  So by that logic, any of my witch books should work fine.  But some work better than others, to be honest.

Chromatic Witches

Given when my Chromatic Dungeons books came in the mail I also got my new Pumpkin Spice Witch mini with some Candy Corn Dice.   So I have always felt that my Pumpkin Spice Witch book for Advanced Labyrinth Lord would be perfect.

Chromatic Pumpkin Spice Witch

Rule wise the Classical Witch or Amazon Witch is a better choice. But in any case, if you are playing CD then use the XP values in the CD books and the powers from whichever book you choose.

Personally, I like the idea of Fleabag coming into a "Home, Hearth & Heart" and having a conversation with Becky my Pumpkin Spice Witch.  She would offer them a PSL (though I see Fleabag more as an herbal tea drinker) and go on about their fur ("It looks so soft! Do you use conditioner? We have one here that I LOVE, it's on the house! Wait, you are not allergic to lavender are you?") and have a nice conversation about witches in the world.

In true Chromatic Dungeons fashion though I think there should be a coven with a witch from every Tradition I have represented.  So Pumpkin Spice, White, Green, Classical, Amazon, MaraAiséiligh, Winter, Faerie, Aquarian, Maleficia, Hedge, and Pagan.  That would be a lot of fun.  Not sure how they would all get along though.  Chromatic coven to be sure.

Pumpkin Spice Witch


Thursday, November 4, 2021

Review: Chromatic Dungeons, Part 3 The Gnoll Sage

Edited to add:  Here are all the parts to this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

Heading into the last of my three-part series on Izegrim Creations' Chromatic Dungeons game.  Today I want to review the first 5 issues of their Zine-like publication The Gnoll Sage.  What it adds to Chromatic Dungeons and what you can get out of these even if you are not a Chromatic Dungeons player.

The Gnoll Sage, #1 to #5

The Gnoll Sage

For this review, I am considering the PDFs from DriveThruRPG as well as the printed, digest-sized, soft-covers I received via Kickstarter.

Each book is 24 or so pages with Issue #5 coming in at 42 pages.  Color covers and black and white interiors. Each one is released under the OGL so a couple of pages go to the license statement.

On the surface, there is a strong influence from Dragon magazine, but not in the way say Gygax magazine tried to do.  The influence here is easily one of someone that had read and grown up on Dragon and wanted to recreate the feeling rather than the actual layout.  It serves The Gnoll Sage (TGS) well.  

The unifying thread through all these issues is the involvement of "Fleabag" the eponymous Gnoll Sage.  Not Phoebe Waller-Bridge (but that would be hilarious) but an intelligent, erudite, be-spectacled, and maybe a bit of a pacifist, Gnoll who presents topics from the issue/zine from their point of view.  I personally rather like it.  It fits well into the idea that no humanoid race in Chromatic Dungeons has a default alignment.  The funny part, for me at any rate, is I have often agreed with this idea on my blog EXCEPT for Gnolls.  Maybe I'll give Fleabag a try anyway.

Each zine has a main feature, usually depicted on the cover, and other details like some magic items, equipment, spells, and so on.  There is a comic section reminiscent of "Dragon Mirth" as well.  There is an editorial in each issue talking about the issue and what might be coming next. 

The material presented in each issue is overtly for the Chromatic Dungeons game, but it is all written in such a way, with extra notes when needed, that it can be used with just about any 80s or 90s versions of *D&D or any clone that emulates them.  In particular, I felt they would be very handy to use with B/X D&D or Old-School Essentials. 

The Gnoll Sage #1
The Gnoll Sage #1

The first issue details the Mrav Covjecka, a group of insectoid/humanoid hybrids that need humanoid blood to nurse their brood. We get an "Ecology of" article as told to us by Fleabag. A monster statblock that can be used by any d20 based game including D&D 5. 

There is also a brief adventure featuring the new monsters.  There is the humor section, some new magic items, some NPCs you can meet, a section of new spells and upcoming topics in future books. 

There is also the OGL statement at the end.


The Gnoll Sage #2
The Gnoll Sage #2

In this second issue we are given the Animist class which is designed to replace classes like "the Witch doctor" or Shaman or even "Spirit Guide."  This is a good thing since the term Animist encapsulates all of these ideas. It is a divine spellcaster in Chromatic Dungeons terms, but can easily be ported over to any other D&D/Clone.  It could also be tweaked and added to D&D 5 if you like.  The class and all it's powers take up 18 of the zine's 28 pages.  I have not played it yet but it looks pretty solid.

The remainder of the book is given over to humor, the look forward, and a copy of the OGL.


The Gnoll Sage #3
The Gnoll Sage #3

The third issue of The Gnoll Sage gives us the ecology of a monster introduced in the Chromatic Dungeons hardcover, the Mushropod. In the Ecology Of article, we get more details from our Gnoll on the Scene, Fleabag as they let us know what they have uncovered about the sentient mushrooms.  Again the stat block reminds me of a 5e one, but everything here lends itself well to use of any 20th century D&D or clone.

There is a very brief adventure featuring these guys, some humor, three new magic items, some new NPCs, and a new spell. We end with the State of the Business note from Waibel where he mentions his Rise of Authur project.  If you follow him at all online now (late Fall 2021) you have seen the characters he has been working on. 


The Gnoll Sage #4
The Gnoll Sage #4

Now here is one I was quite excited for.  This issue introduces us to the Psionist class for Chromatic Dungeons or any other clone.  We start with some fluff with Fleabag and the aftermath of the Mushropod attack from the last issue. Fleabag describes a unique "spellcaster" they had met who what not a spellcaster at all. We then get into the class proper.  Now I am very particular about my psychic and psionic using classes. Even to the point where I have a preferred term (it's "psychic" btw) and I need them to be very different than my spell-using classes. Also if their powers can be built up over time with disciplines, then all the better.  This class satisfies two of those three. The class is flexible to use just about anywhere and easy to introduce. In fact, with the most minor of tweaks, a 5th Edition class can be found here. The psionist can choose one of three disciplines; Psychometabolism, Telekinesis, and Telepathy.  There are powers with each one and they grow as the character levels up. 

We also get an ersatz Mind Flayer in the Mind Eater and some comics.  In the State of the Business, we learn this was the last issue of the original four set, with issue #5 coming as a stretch goal.


The Gnoll Sage #5
The Gnoll Sage #5

This issue is the last of the Kickstarter issues and also the largest so far at 42 pages.  This issue covers the Ecology of the Orc and sets out to challenge our notions, or at least stereotypes of orcs.  This is introduced in the starting fiction with Fleabag challenging the party to think about what sorts of orcs they might be dealing with.  What follows is a very long Ecology Of and details of seven very different Orc clans.  

In the Ecology Of we learn the basic structure of an orc clan including numbers, leadership, and organization.  What follows are descriptions of seven example clans.  They are, briefly: Small Clans are the various orc clans represented in pretty much all other RPGs.  The Iron Shield Clan, a group of orcs more interested in making weapons, and selling them, than using them. Yellow Fang, a group of plains orcs that wear the skins of their enemies as clothing. Chaka Plains orcs are not pacifists per see, but understand the value of life and death and respect it. Meet them peacefully and you will be respected, meet them with violence and they will happily escort you to your next life. There are the sea-faring orc pirates and privateers of the Red Sails, but they only attack the wealthiest of ships.  There are the imperialistic and arrogant orcs of the Baildan Daguulalt (Empire) that combine the best, and worst, characteristics of Imperialisy Britain and the Roman Empire. They are brilliant and utterly convinced of their own superiority, in fact they made the cover.  Finally the orcs of the Silver Glacier might be the most dangerous of all these clans. 

That is a lot! There are still a couple of magic items, some comics, new spells, and some hints about the next issue and a new class The Commander.

Each issue runs for $5.00 for the PDF and $6.00 for the print or print/PDF combination. 

Their digest size makes me think they will fit in well with the newest versions of Old-School Essentials or Swords & Wizardry. So even if you don't play the Chromatic Dungeons game, these are still great resources.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Review: Chromatic Dungeons, Part 2 "Advanced" Rules

Chromatic Dungeons RPG

Edited to add:  Here are all the parts to this series: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

Today I want to cover the big game in the Chromatic Dungeons line.  I call it the "Advanced" game, but the name on the cover is just Chromatic Dungeons RPG.

Note.  I do want to point out that nowhere in the game nor in any online conversation has Roderic Waibel or Izegrim Creations called these rules "Advanced."  This is just what I am calling them to differentiate them from the Basic Rules.

Again for this review, I am considering the hardcover I got as a Kickstarter Backer and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.

Note 2: I'll make allusions to the Basic game here.  This is only to describe how these rules go above and beyond the basic rules.  At no point in these rules did I see something that had you refer to the Basic rules for more details.  This rulebook is complete on its own.

Chromatic Dungeons RPG

330 pages, hardcover, color cover art, black & white interior art.

If the Basic Game was meant to invoke feelings of the 1981 Moldvay Basic set then this book is clearly influenced by the earlier AD&D 1st Edition core rules. It is a hardcover for starters, larger, and provides more details for playing a CD game.

The rules are largely in line with and much more compatible with each other than say Basic D&D was to AD&D.  This is one of the biggest reasons I was excited about this particular game.  Back in the day we played D&D and AD&D interchangeably and tried to deal with the rule contradictions the very best we could.  Here those contradictions do not exist except in the way that specific rules override general ones.  Characters are more detailed, as are spells, monsters, and a host of other options, but never in a way they feel contradictory to the Basic Rules.  Characters can move fairly freely between the games. 

Ability Scores are chosen the same way 4d6 and drop the lowest.  Here the general modifiers of the Basic game give way to specific ones for each ability and subscores, ie. to hit and damage adjustment for Strength, number of spells for Intelligence, followers for Charisma, and so on.  Ability Checks are handled in the same fashion.  Scores still cap at 18 for rolls or 20 with bonuses, but the charts go to 25 for the use of exceptional characters and monsters.

Ancestry covers what species you were born into. Dwarves come in Hill, Mountain, and Deep varieties. Elves can be High, Wood, or Deep. Humans and Halflings are back and joined by Gnomes.  A table of alternate Ancestries is also given so you could play Gnolls, Centaurs, Orcs, or Goblins to name but a few.  The system is simple enough that almost any sort of ancestry can be used.    

Ancestry

Heritage, like the Basic game, covers the character's upbringing. This chart is the same as the Basic game, but expanded with more types.  

Character Classes.  This is the first of the really big changes. Where the Basic game has only three basic character types, this one has four major class groups with many sub-classes underneath.  The feeling is that of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea or AD&D 2nd Edition to be honest, with maybe just a touch of 5th Edition D&D.  Each group shares an advancement table for HD calculations and to hit bonus along with a shared Saving Throw table.  All groups share the same single XP per level table as per D&D 3rd through 5th Editions.

The first group is the Divine, which gives us Clerics and Druids. Divine Spellcasters are limited to 7th level spells.  Warriors include the fighter, berserker, ranger, and paladin.  Rogues are the most diverse lot with thieves, assassins, bards, and monks.  Magic-users are arcane spellcasters and they get spells to 9th level.  They include the Wizard and the Sorcerer which is a spell-point-based spell caster. Like the sorcerers of 3rd to 5th edition, they have a bloodline and some examples are detailed.

Multiclassing and Alignment are the same here as the Basic game.  The unified XP chart makes multiclassing easier. Alignment is a three-point system of Law-Neutrality-Chaos. 

Equipment is next. Very similar but expanded over the Basic game. 

Spells is the next largest section of the book and also one of the three that gets the most changes.  Spells are split out into classes with the Divine first (Cleric then Druid) then all the Arcane spells. The spells are all listed out alphabetically.  Included now are staples like Area of Effect, Components, casting time, and saving throws. Each spell also has a school listed. 

Spells with Dean Spencer art

How to Play covers the game. This is roughly similar to the Basic Game, but it is expanded.  Saving Throws are now added to the game. They are an interesting remix of Basic/AD&D and D&D3 style saves.  More on traps, diseases, and hirelings are covered here. 

Combat gets its own section.  Here initiative is back to a d20 (not the d10 of the Basic game). 

The Campaign deals with adventures, granting XP and what kinds of monsters can be found where. It ends with a sample play session.

The Bestiary is the last of the three big changes. Not only are all the monsters expanded on, but there are also more of them.  The monsters are still sorted by categories or groups, but now there are more. There are Beasts, Demons, Devils, Dinosaurs, Dragons, Elementals, Fey, Giants, Golems, Humanoids, Lycanthropes, Monstrosities, Oozes, and Undead. The stat blocks are expanded to give average scores for Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Special Attacks. Special Defenses and Magic Resistance are all now included. 

Old School Monster art

As with the Basic game, many monsters do not have an alignment. Or rather their alignment is listed as n/a.  In the case of animals (Beasts and Dinosaurs), it is because they lack intelligence or awareness. Others like humanoids it is because the Game Master can choose what they want.  Notably, all Demons and Devils are Chaotic, Dragons are split between Lawful and Chaotic along the lines you think they are, Elementals are now properly Neutral, and Fey runs the spectrum.  We get the usual suspects here, nothing jumping out at me as new save for the Mi-Go (not new, but not usual) and the mushropod (sorta new, but certainly NOT usual). 

The Treasure section is also expanded. Included new are Sentient Weapons and rarity tables. There is a new section on crafting items including an ingredient listing with measures of rarity. 

We end with appendices of tables, blank character sheets, indexes, and our OGL statement. 

The PDF is fully bookmarked.

Like the Basic books, this book is filled with evocative old-school style art.  Some of it is from various stock art artists the Old-School community knows, but a good deal is original and new art.  Much of it is clearly influenced by 40 years of playing.  The art goes beyond "Euro-centric" D&D art and a variety of ethnicities, genders, and peoples are represented. 

Old School Art

Again like the Basic books this is really directed at and written for people coming into the Old-School RPG scene anew. While there is a lot to enjoy here if you are an old Grog, and the art, in this case, is a particular treat, the audience that will get the most out of this are a generation younger.  If you still have your original D&D books from the 1970s and 80s you will still find enjoyment here. Especially if you are like me and enjoy seeing the design choices of "D&D's Greatest Hits" here.

The book "feels" like AD&D 1st Ed. Or maybe it is a 2nd Edition clone if that game had been produced later.

Because of how it is built it also feels like nearly anything can be used with it from nearly any area of D&D's history.   

Who Should Buy This?

I said this yesterday about the Basic Chromatic Dungeons game, and it is true for this version as well. This game is a great game to introduce new players, new to RPGs or new to Old-School style games, to the ways of playing of the 1980s.  Sure it is not exactly how we did it, but it is a great compromise between Old and New school.  Finally, someone has made a "Basic" game that works great as an introduction to an "Advanced" game and one that works well enough on its own.  Yes, yes there is Old-School Essentials and Labyrinth Lord that have both Basic and Advanced options, but Chromatic Dungeons' Basic game is truly that, an introductory game, "Basic" and "basic" at the same time and it is the perfect introduction to this "Advanced" game. 

If you are like me and grew up on old-school games and now have a family that loves the newest version of the game then this is a good way to introduce them to old-school play.  OR if you are new school player and want to try your hand at some old school play, but want to retain some of the options that make the new games so attractive, then this is a great game for you.   

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I am posting this as part of this month's RPG Blog Carnival on Indie Games hosted by The Rat Hole.