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

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Review: T4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996)

T4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996)
We are now up to 1996.  Games Designer's Workshop, unfortunately, had folded at the end of February 1996. At this time the rights to Traveller reverted back to Mark Miller.  So Mark started Imperium Games to produce a new game called "Marc Miller's Traveller" but most called T4 online.

It has, as far as I can tell, the least amount of supplements for its game line but that is not a huge surprise. 

T4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996)

PDF. 194 pages, color covers and color inserts, black & white art.

For the purposes of this review I am only considering the PDF from DriveThruRPR. There is a softcover POD that includes the color plates, but I do not have that. 

There are a lot of familiar names here including Larry Elmore doing some of the interior art.  

This game is set at the dawn of the Third Imperium, so in the opposite direction timewise the latest versions were going.  It makes it pretty clear that setting wise at least is that this is not a sequel or continuation of MegaTraveller or Traveller: The New Era.

I will note I am not coming into this one blind. Even back then I had heard how this particular edition was riddled with errors and it there is a page (or two dozen pages) of errata out there.  I am not going to consider that, nor do I even know if they are included in this file. I am going with no, but I'll check them out later. 

Chapter 1: Roleplaying in the Traveller Universe

This is the typical "what is a role-playing game" and "what is Traveller" sections.  It is all very similar to the Traveller Book.

Chapter 2: Character Generation

This feels an awful lot like Classic Traveller. In particular, again, the Traveller book.  There are more careers here and you get more skills.  It also doesn't look like you can die in character creation anymore, but you can be injured and discharged. You still go through background, homeworlds and advanced education, and more.  Very familiar I am sure to the seasoned Traveller player.  Speaking of familiar, our good friend Alexander Jamison is back.  An error, on page 24 Ranks are mentioned (ok, cool same as CT), but in the tables on 29-32 have ranks of E1 to E9 and O1 to O10, Enlisted and Officer. 

Chapter 3: Skills

For the first time, the skill list seems a bit smaller than in the last two editions.  The chapter not huge and the skills are explained well.  

Chapter 4: Task

This is a short and sweet chapter.  Only 2 chapters. BUT a couple of things. First, we are now using a "Roll under" system which I am not a fan of.  And there are all these "x.5" die rolls.  I had forgotten about all the weird-ass die mechanics the late 90s flirted with.  This is not the worse, but it is certainly no fun. I mean the task resolution is not terrible, but there are better ones. Much better ones. 

Chapter 5: Ground Combat

This is a bit larger than tasks but still smaller than other versions.  While there are changes due to the task resolution system it still reads a lot like Classic Traveller.  In fact the range bands are now back! 

Chapter 6: Equipment

The shopping chapter! One thing I notice is that computers (I know I harp on this, sorry it's my thing) seem to have really advanced.  Though I have to point out the "advanced" computers of the Dawn of the Third Imperium are on par with the one I use now to write this. Minus the holographic display.   But all in all a big improvement.

I am getting the feeling that somewhere between CT and T4 there is a great Traveller game.

What I am not getting yet is how the tech of this time differs from Classic Traveller's implied tech. This is supposed to be 1100 years before the LBBs.  

Chapter 7: Surface Vehicle

This covers vehicles that are not starships.  I do want to take a moment and comment on the improved art of this edition.  Traveller never really had what I would call inspiring art. It had functional art and it had good descriptive art, but never anything like "wow that looks awesome."  Some of the art here is of the awesome category.  

Chapter 8: Spacecraft

One of my favorite chapters of past editions.  Again starship computers are better handled.  Creating a ship is a little like creating a character.  There are even some nice photo-like pictures of starships.  This section reads a bit differently than the others. Also the tables are organized by layout space rather than how they need to be consulted.

Chapter 9: Space Travel

Guess what is back? Yes! The equations! This whole section is very reminscent of the Classic Traveller books.  Though I will admit I do not recall the grisly "Low Lottery" from previous editions.  This isn't Star Trek folks.  

Chapter 10: Space Combat

This chapter covers combat and it is a bit different. I'd like to say it looks faster, but I have not tried it out at all. Again I'll need to stat out a few ships and give them a trial run. Maybe I could run that Freetrader Beowulf rescue mission I have wanted to try.

Chapter 11: Psionics

Each edition Psionics gets a boost. The material here is again largely similar to Classic Traveller, but now there is a Psiconist service. That's new. I wonder if Babylon 5 was any influence here. 

Chapter 12: World Generation

This is also a copy (more or less) from Classic Traveller. No world forms here though.

Chapter 13: Encounters

This is a combination of both the Encounters and Animal Encounters sections. This makes sense really. This is also all word for word from The Traveller Book. The more I red the more déjà vu I am getting.

I mean, can you tell which book these two sections are from.  There is a small hint.



Now I am not complaining here.  In 1996 when this came out the original Classic Traveller was 20 year old. The books were long out of print and GDW was gone. For someone who say played Traveller in High School, skipped all the other editions due to college and now was, oh I don't know, sitting on the train commuting from home to Chicago and back to home every day, this had to be a very welcome sight. 

Chapter 14: Referee's Introduction

Our Game Master section.  Not word for word from the Traveller book, but close enough.  OR at least the feeling is the same. This does include some details on improving skills.

Chapter 15: Running Adventures and Campaigns

This is similar enough to the Traveller Book's "Referee's Guide to Adventuring."  I am not sure is the authors (and there is plenty of evidence that there is more than one voice here) wanted to ignore everything after MegaTraveller OR were not allowed to use anything.  I don't mean text I mean ideas. I think I wanted to see more here.

Chapter 16: Trade and Commerce

Again similar to other editions of Classic Traveller. Did text search and found it is largely the same text as Book 7, Merchant Prince. And again not a complaint here.

Chapter 17: Exit Visa (Adventure)

This is the same adventure from the Traveller Book. 

Chapter 18: Rubicon Cross (Adventure)

This one is completely new as far a I can tell. In fact my online search for it pulled up references to T4 and the errata sheets. Guess I'll grab that. 

Library Data and Index

The Library Data is pulled from Classic Traveller. Is it a copy? Yes. And sadly it preserved the focus on the current year being 1105 and Year 0.  So the entries on "Dating Systems" and "Holiday Year" only make sense from a later perspective.  Ok, I suppose it was possible that Cleon I proclaimed the current year as the Holiday year when he assumed power. 

The Index is pretty good.

What do we know?

Well. Let's extend my D&D analogy here to the breaking point.

Original LBB Traveller is OD&D's LBB.  I called the Traveller Book the "Holmes Basic" of Traveller, but in retrospect I think Moldvay Basic & Cook/Marsh Expert is a better fit.  That makes Traveller Starter Edition the Mentzer BECMI D&D.  Traveller 2300 is SPI's DragonQuest, Mega Traveller is AD&D 2nd Edition, and Traveller the New Era is 4th edition.

So what then in Marc Miller's Traveller? Since it is closest to the Classic Traveller line it is the 1991 Black Box or The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game produced in 1994 and edited by Doug Stewart.

So who is Marc Miller's Traveller for?

In 1996 that answer was easy. It was for anyone that wanted to play Traveller that did not have access to the older Classic Traveller books and did not care for the New Era.

In 2022? Well. That is a harder one to answer. Today Classic Traveller is easily available in a variety of formats and editions.  And I have not even started with Moongoose Traveller or the Cepheus Engine materials. IF there had been more material on the start of the 3rd Imperium here then that would give it a solid reason for setting alone. If the rules had been updated more with that 20 years of Traveller experience then that would have been a solid reason.  Sadly neither of those are true enough. That added to the errors, the typos and some weird design choices make this a Traveller for the die hard fans only.  That is NOT a bad thing.  Just for my money I still prefer my Traveller Book.  

Now what I might do, since I have the PDF and this is easy. Is go through it all and just print the updated sections I like and slot them into my Traveller 3-ring binder. I have a tab for "4" I could use AND I put in, or pencil in, all the errata I want or need.

I do want to point out again that the art in this book is phenomenal. There are some seriously good pieces that look like they come right off the cover of some great sci-fi novel. I like to think that was the intent.  I am sure it makes for a gorgeous PoD book. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Review: Traveller: The New Era (1993)

Traveller: The New Era
"Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be better than before
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone."

Fleetwood Mac's 1977 hit "Don't Stop" came out the same year as Classic Traveller.  It was also, more or less, the theme that covered the intro the 1990s.  Newly elected Bill Clinton had used it as his campaign theme song and even Fleetwood Mac got back together long enough to play it at his inaugural ball in 1993.  Think about the start of the 90s for a second.  Everything seemed possible then.  I was in Grad School, working part-time (only 60 hours a week) for the Navy writing code. I was taking classes, and teaching. I had broken up with my long-time girlfriend and soon started dating someone who would in just a few more years be my wife!  So yeah the future was full of endless possibilities in 1993.

Traveller: The New Era feels like the most "1993" game ever.  Tomorrow was here and Yesterday (Classic Traveller if you will) was gone. 

For this review, I am only considering the PDF I just downloaded from DriveThruRPG.  My original one was corrupted and I was wondering if I was even going to get to do this one today.  I saw the PDF in DT was updated back 2014, so I grabbed a new one.  Glad I did.  I remember my first one was very hard to read and the text was blurry.  This new one is much clearer. I also recall that some of the pages had a green background, this one does not.

Traveller: The New Era (1993)

PDF. 386 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.  Oddly there are no PDF bookmarks in this file. The book is also available as a softcover PoD.  I have no idea which printing this is. I understand the first printing had a few errors. 

This book is a beast. I think (not 100% sure) that this was a boxed set of different books. 

One of the first things I noticed about this edition is that Frank Chadwick and Dave Nilsen are listed for Game Design and Marc Millar is only listed for Design of the previous version of Traveller.  I remember some of this back in the day, but for now, I am going to focus on just what is in the book. 

The book is divided up into various large sections. The table of contents seems to deny my guess that this pdf was separate books at one point. Ok, no problem.

Introduction (and History)

This is our introduction to the Traveller Universe. The History section is the most important for this edition since it sets up how this is different than the previous editions.  For starters, the Imperium has completely collapsed.  Classic Traveller was taking place roughly around 1110 of the Imperial Calendar. MegaTraveller dealt with the aftermath of the Emperor's assassination in 1116.  This Traveller jumps ahead by 85 or so years to the 1201 "The New Era."  Honestly from a design/edition perspective, this makes a lot of sense. 

It is a neat background and welcome (in a manner of speaking) to older players but new players likely won't care about this.  The "world" of TNE is very different than that of MegaTraveller of Classic Traveller. Even at just a few pages it is still more background than we got in the LBB of Classic. 


Character creation in TNE feels similar and different at the same time. You are still rolling 2d6, though now it is a 2d6-1. This changed the average from 7 to 6. There are still six attributes that are roughly the same. TNE has Strength, Agility, Constitution, Intelligence, Education, and Charisma. Classic Traveller had Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social. So similar.  TNE also offers a point spread of 36 to distribute if you prefer.  We are still using the UPP, only now a 666666 denotes an average character instead of 777777. Abilities are determined, then the background generation begins.  Like previous versions of Traveller, you decide on a homeworld (which can affect some abilities) and work out your starting careers.  

This version seems to have more careers than previous versions, but keep in mind I am only looking at core books for now. Character generation covers about 43 pages total. So quite a lot really.  NPCs cover about 8 pages, with a nice playing card system to determine motivations. 

The character creation rules now make no assumption of species or gender, so that is left to the player. Thre are 5 pages of alien templates to add to characters at the end of this section.  There are Hivers, Vargr, Aslan, Zhodani, and Droyne.  

The New Era

This covers what is, well, new for this version of Traveller's universe.  These are the AI Virus, the Star Vikings, and The Wilds.  I don't need to know much about Traveller or TNE to know these elements were not well received.  The Virus reads like how we looked at computer viruses in the 90s.  The flowchart looks like something you would find on a Mac Quadra 900 (btw I consider that a Feature, not a Bug).

I can see a smart AI virus attacking all sorts of computers, but even today we have good anti-virus software and still a couple of dozen operating systems (I count 7 or 8 different ones in my house alone) that do not transmit viruses to each other even when networked.

The Star Vikings seem like an inevitable addition to the game.  The Wilds, likewise.

All of this seems like an attempt to provide a little more chaos around the "edges" of the star systems.  That is, give the PCs more to do and ways to make it through or hinder them in some ways.


A little more than a quarter of the way through we hit the Referee's section.  The system seems closer to that of Traveller 2300 than it does of Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller. There are now d20 rolls added to the rules. Reading through in detail now there are a lot of d20 rolls. More details are given on how to make the rolls than I recall in MT or CT.

Skills are discussed in terms of what they can do. And the Referee gets some adventure ideas.  This section is only about 70 pages. I was expecting a bit more. 

Worlds & Travel

Now, this is a meaty section of about 100 pages. The world generation system feels similar-ish to other Traveller games, no point reinventing everything I guess. Though there is a lot more detail here.  It does look like it can create worlds much the same way as MegaTraveller.

This section also includes the Encounters and Animals sections from previous versions with some modifications.  Same with space travel. 

Interestingly enough the Psionics section, usually stuck into the back of the book, is now here. I still think it should be with Character creation, but ok. It is also expanded.  In the realm of purely new-to-a-core-rules material, there is a sections robots. Even if it tells us there are nearly no production facilities for robots still operational outside of the Spinward Marches in the New Era. 


The next nearly 100 pages deal with all forms of combat. From personal to space combat. The rules are updated and seem to cover most situations. Hard to tell without doing it. I am still thinking I need to run simulated combat for each version to see how they are.  Do something silly like a Borg Cube vs the Death Star or a Colonial Viper vs an X-Wing vs. a Buck Rogers Thunderfighter. 

Combat is different than other versions of Traveller.  

There is some advice here too on using minis in a game. Their recommendation is to paint them all white to make them easier to see.  "Step 5 Admire your Work" is something I do naturally!

USS Protector

Equipment & Technology

The section covers roughly 40 pages. I can't help but notice the effect that Star Trek: The Next Generation has seem to have had here.  Med bays and medical scanners look like they were taken from a Federation garage sale.'s not that bad. Excuse a little levity on my part here.  We still have a section on drugs. 

We are keeping the same assumptions (and rules) about Technology Levels which is still hanging out at TL 16.

Computers have fared a little better in this edition. At least the batteries of the future are closer to what we have right now. I hate to harp on this, but my phone today can do nearly everything on pages 340 to 343.  I am being unduly harsh here I know.

The section of Starships though once again fills my heart with longing for the stars.  Many of these I am familiar with.  You may not have been on the internet talking about Star Trek or starships, but I certainly was.

Crushing it
Flashback to when I called the ending to S2 of Picard nearly 30 years ago.

The last few pages are worksheets for Characters, Combat charts, and the Index.


So. My feeling on Traveller TNE is that it was an attempt to keep Traveller moving forward.

I have gone through the TNE book more and compared them to my "Gold Standard" the Traveller Book and I am now seeing a lot more differences in terms of rules than I did on my first couple of read-throughs.  This is the issue with reading a gamebook vs. playing the game.  Further research outside of this book lets me know that other GDW games of the time were using the same rules.  This is expected really.  Game companies began to discover that using one system in-house was much cheaper in the long run.  Not only did it mean you could hire fewer people to write, but you could also lift large sections of text from one game to fill in for another.  This does create an issue though.  There are two different writing "tones" here. I have no evidence but I am going to say the older-ish material was Frank Chadwick and the newer stuff was Dave Nilsen. 

Rereading the rules prior to this post it dawned on my why I felt so much of it was familiar. It was Traveller-speak, but the rules were an old favorite of mine Dark Conspiracy.  I rather liked that game back in the later 90s when I first encountered it and was looking for a new horror game to be my "home game" (spoiler, it was CJ Carrella's WitchCraft that won that battle!)

This an interesting idea though. Dark Conspiracy + Traveller The New Era would make for an interesting BlackStar-like game.  I am sure I am not the only one who did that.   Given the post-apoc feel of TNE I am not sure that hoards of undead would not feel so out of place, to be honest. 

So we have a system that the older players don't like and newer players can't get into in a setting that the older players hate and the newer players have no investment in.  Sound about right?

Still. There are some ideas here that I might mine.  I am glad I have the PDF but I am not picking up the PoD anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Review: MegaTraveller (1987)

MegaTraveller Players' Manual
It is 1987.  The year I graduated from High School and my first year in University.  I knew about MegaTraveller, anyone that read Dragon Magazine even as infrequently as I was then knew about it.  But again it is not a game I played.  I do recall seeing it* played at a local con (SIU had a bunch of them) but (and this is the asterix) I could not really tell if it was Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller at the time.  They had a lot of cool spaceships on a black hex map.

I would not actually read MegaTraveller until the late 1990s.  I was working on my Ph.D. and commuting all over Chicago.  I found a local library that would honor my U of I Chicago library card and they had a copy of the MegaTraveller Player's Manual.  I can't recall my impressions of the time all that much, just a memory of being on the commuter train and reading it.

Rereading it now I find the rules are largely similar to Classic Traveller.  I know some clarifications and changes have been made but I am not qualified enough to pick them out. 

The thing that is most obvious is the setting.  The Emporer has been killed along with all his heirs and his assassin is claiming the throne.  And so are about half a dozen or more people.  So the empire has fallen and this is called the "Time of Rebellion."   Does Traveller have...Star Wars envy??  I am sure that is not 100% true.  

I have NO data to back this up, but my perception is that MegaTraveller was a hit. I think it appealed to people that wanted to play but not have to get into 10 years worth of back product.  In many cases my D&D analogy extends here with MegaTraveller as AD&D 2nd Edition.  The Jim Holloway art certainly helps that along. 

My understanding is that MegaTraveller came as a boxed set. With Players's and Referee's books. Today you can get them as PDF via DriveThruRPG or from Far Future Enterprises.  I will be considering the PDFs from DriveThruRPG for these reviews.  It is nice to have these now after so many years.

In general, the scans are ok to good.  Some attempt has been made to clean them up, but they are obviously scanned from printed products and not the original files. They are OCR'ed and have bookmarks.  The scans look fine on my PC and on my iPad, but I don't think they would work well for Print on Demand yet.

MegaTraveller Players' Manual

PDF. 108 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art. 

This book covers everything the player needs to create a character, including Basic and Enhanced options, learn about the core mechanic (and the Universal Task Profile), skills, combat, and psionics. 

Reading through this I do get the feeling that this is a cleaned-up and updated version of Traveller.  While I can see the larger changes, the subtle ones are less clear to me.  My impression is that a MegaTraveller character could operate in a Classic Traveller game. 

Layout and rule-wise there are a lot of clarifications. For example, Page 9 details Task Resolution and the Universal Task Profile.  This would be called setting a difficulty level in other games.  There are the levels of difficulty and what you need to roll over (3, 7, 11, and 15) which is different (slightly) than the "just 8 or better" of Classic Traveller.  Rolls can also be altered by skills, risk, time, and other factors.  This page gives a great overview and the first place I see a real improvement.  Now my understanding is that many of the rules here came about in various publications, both books and supplements from GDW (Merchant Prince and Mercenary seem to be prime sources here) as well as periodicals.  IT IS POSSIBLE that by 1986 people were playing with rules that resembled this.  This the codification of all of those rules.

Character creation, both basic and Advanced/Enhanced are covered.  This is largely similar to what I saw in Classic Traveller (CT) except I did not see anywhere where you can die before mustering out.  The tables have been expanded to include military and non-military careers including Scouts and Merchant Princes.  Even the example is a Doctor now. 

Skills are detailed and this list seems to get larger with each new edition.  What I like about MegaTraveller is that skill advancement is right after this section and much clearer. 

Character creation and skills take up half the book.

SIDE NOTE:  A lot of the tables and other character creation details (like character flowcharts) are set to one page or two pages.  So printing out material from your PDF is easy.  I can take a page with me to know what my character needs to do to advance for example or keep a list of all the skills with me.  Page 9, the UTP is a prime example of this layout feature.

Combat comes up next.  Again not a surprise since combat is an important part of Traveller.  I don't think I expressed this before, but maybe MegaTraveller makes it more obvious, but combat looks like it is a deadly affair.  Again, no practical experience here, but going through the numbers I am surprised I did not notice it before.   There are charts of weapons and damage, but not the catalog of guns we found in Traveller 2300. 

The last dozen or so pages cover special rules, like mapping and special types of combat.

At the end, where it always is it seems, is the section on Psionics.

Throughout the book, there are little boxed texts that give some more background on the fallen Imperium.  Little bits of history and background to add flavor.  This new time period is the big deal with this edition. 

The inside cover maps of the Spinward Marches and the Third Imperium look like they were taken from a previous version of Traveller.  The Imperium map is dated 1115 and this game takes place in 1116 and beyond.

MegaTraveller Referee's Manual
MegaTraveller Referee's Manual

PDF. 108 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art. 

The Referee's Manual opens with the various factions vying for control in the Imperium.  Just a page, but it really set the tone for me. I can see how this would be a great game to play with the various factions working with and against each other for ultimate control while the PCs work whatever angles they can to either get more power or just stay alive.  I was skeptical of change when I first read it, but now re-reading it many years later I am very excited about it. 

This book covers similar territory as the Players' book, save from the game master's perspective.  Again I am drawn in by the parallels of the format and layout of this game as AD&D 2nd Ed. which will hit the stands in another 2 years.  I am not suggesting TSR copied GDW but instead that this was something that was a logical extension of many 2nd Edition games released around this time. 

There is a longer breakdown of Tasks and resolutions here that makes me happy to see. I never ran a Traveller game, but with this book I think I could.

Star System and World Creation is next including a discussion on world profiles. It is detailed, without being overly so, and will get any Ref going on world creation.  It doesn't have the same feel to me as the Classic Traveller section doing the same thing, but I think that is fine.  Lots of tables here and no equations to solve.  Kinda miss that. 

Sections on Animals and Encounters are similar to their Classic Traveller counterparts.  Detailed enough to keep you going for a while  

Trade and Commerce cover the next 10 pages.  Again, brief but enough to start. I imagine that entire books can (and maybe have) been written on this topic. I also imagine that this is an area where the Imperium's fall would also be a prime place for adventures.  Smuggling cargo, protecting shipping lanes, getting something like medical supplies to another part of the system but other factions want to stop you or steal what you have?  Yeah, lots of ideas.

Craft Design and Evaluation cover the next 34 or so pages. More craft seem to be available to the MegaTraveller character/group than the Classic Traveller ones. If this review is late in posting it was because I was making starships again.  With CT I like system building more, here I like starship building more.

This is logically followed by Starship Combat

We end with a couple of stellar maps. 

Reading through these now I kind of lament not getting in on this fun back then.  Classic Traveller with all its supplements, and add-ons, and alien modules, and board games seemed like a steep hill to climb.  I erroneously felt MegaTraveller was the same way.  Just looking through was DriveThruRPG and FFE have on their sites it doesn't seem to be that much to me know.   It is still far more than want to buy right now and far more than I'll ever play, but it is nice to know it is all there. 

More Notes

It appears that MegaTraveller, in addition to being a pencil and paper RPG was also a couple of video games, as if my Traveller Envy wasn't enough already. MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy and MegaTraveller 2: Quest for the Ancients were released in 1991 for the Atari ST and MS-DOS systems and in 1992 for the MS-DOS and Amiga systems respectively.  These might be fun to try and find for the retro-gaming computer I built over the winter. 

GURPS Traveller

GURPS Traveller was released in 1998 for GURPS 3rd Edition.  It covers the same time span as MegaTraveller, but there was no rebellion.  I guess the idea was to preserve the feel of Classic Traveller. 

I like GURPS well enough, but I have stated before that GURPS has no soul to it; at least not to me. IT's too bad really since I do enjoy a good Universal game.  Their supplements have always been top-notch though. I have never been so happy to spend money on game I know I won't play.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review: 2300 AD Traveller: 2300 (1986)

2300 AD Traveller: 2300
A new week and a new set of rules to read over.  This week I am going for a span of 20 years. Traveller, in its first 10 years, stayed pretty consistent and took me about two weeks to work through.  The next 20 years are going to be much faster.

I am going to start off with one today I only know very little about.  Traveller: 2300 also known as 2300 AD.  

Before getting into any books or research here is what I do know.  This was supposed to be the start of a new line for GDW.  It dealt with the earliest time in the Traveller Universe, specifically 2300 AD on Earth. There was a tie-in with their Twilight 2000 game line.   In 1986 I was very deep into AD&D to exclusion of all else save for college prep. 

So this one is 100% new for me.

2300 AD or Traveller: 2300

Ok. Let's do this one right from the start.  This is not really a Traveller game.  While I am sure many people worked it out so it could be the past of Traveller, my very, very limited understanding of the history of Traveller's Imperium suggests that likely isn't.  But I am sure people with better knowledge than me can say for sure.   Since I have a sci-fi game set more or less in the 2300s I figure why not pick this up to see what it is like. 

For this review, I am only considering the PDF available from DriveThruRPG.  I *thought* I had bought it from FFE years ago, but I can't find my copy.

PDF. 131 pages. Color cover, black & white interior art.  The scan is OCRed and bookmarked.  The scan of the cover is rough, but the interior looks better. 

The Introduction reads like many RPG books. "This is an RPG", "here are some expectations." And so on. 

Player's Manual

History covers the history of this setting with the horrible nuclear war in 2000.  I must have been sleeping. I am kidding of course, RPGs are great fun but they have not been great at predicting the future really. Now I have no way of telling, but I think this is basically the same history as GDW's other game Twilight 2000. It certainly feels the same. I never played the game myself.   This history section covers the fall and rise of humankind as they venture out into space by the year 2300.  Wars and geo-political rivalries are also covered and how they still affect the day-to-day lives of humans on Earth and in Space.  This flows into the next section.

Political Geography talks about Earth and beyond of 2300.  America is split up (ok that one is not so far-fetched) with Texas as its own republic (which seems to be a reoccurring theme in a lot of things I am reading right now) and other "American" nations. Mexico is split up. Europe ie, well Europe.  I think the authors overestimate the older rivalries a little.  Germany reunited long before 2000 in a largely peaceful integration and the European Union has been going pretty strong if you ignore Brexit.  

In space we colonies at L-4 and L-5 (LaGrange Points), Mercury (not likely, but I'll go with it), Mars, the Asteroids (much more likely), the moons of Jupiter, and just beyond Saturn.  No mention of Lunar colonies at all here. 

The chapter on Technology is interesting. By 1986 we had seen nearly 10 years of Moore's Law in effect for computers, so the authors of this game give computers a bit more power.  I would argue it is not really enough still, but getting there. There is a bit about AIs and psychosis that feels like something I just read in Robert A. Heinlein's Friday.  There is some detail on transportation and medical sciences as well.

Colonies cover the fifty-five colonies on twenty-nine inhabitable worlds.  Since these colonies are largely extensions of Earth-based interests they are classified by which "Arm" they are in (American, Chinese, French) or which "Finger" of the Arm (Canadian and Latin for America or the French Frontiers).   This is followed by Foundations that provide services for citizens after the collapse of the governments in 2000.

Twenty pages in we finally get to Character Generation.  If you didn't know this was "not Traveller" before then you learn it here.  There are four physical attributes: Size, Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and four psychological ones: Determination, Intelligence, Eloquence, and Education.  You roll a 4d6-4 (generating a score between 0 and 20) and you can re-roll one physical and one psychological attribute.  Strength and Dexterity are altered by homeworld and gravity type.

Like Classic Traveller you have skills that can be determined by Background and Career.  But no hint of dying in Character Gen (is this even Traveller then???).  

This all takes us right to Skills and Careers.

The "Shopping sections" Equipment, Weapons, Vehicles, and Armor follow.  Weapons cover all sorts of guns (as expected) and a few laser-based ones. Vehicles does not cover starships.  The currency of choice is the French Livres (Lv). 

We get some star charts and tables of the nations of the systems.

Referee's Manual

While this is all one file, it was obviously once a boxed set with separate books.  Pages 54 to 105 cover what was the separate Referee's Manual.  I will also point out that the Bookmarks in my PDF stop working well at this point.  There are bookmarks, but they don't always go where they should and are indented oddly.

What would have been the back cover of the Referee's Manual has some really great insight.  It credits Marc W. Miller (Traveller) and Frank Chadwick (Twilight: 2000) as two of the "big name" designers of 2300.  The implication here is that 2300 was something of an in-house game combining elements of Traveller and Twilight:2k.  As a designer myself, I find that fascinating.  Maybe, just maybe, more fascinating than the actual game!  Internally they called it The Game. And it sounds like that played it out from 2000 to 2300 in turns of 5 or 10 years to get us where we were then.

Life on the Frontier covers the implied setting of the Traveller 2300 game. 

Tasks and Combat are largely the same sorts of sections, with combat a special case of task resolution.  Clue #2 that this is not your father's Traveller: 1d10 for task resolution and not a 2d6.  Here you need to roll higher than a 7 with every 4 points above or below that as a target number difficulty. You add your plusses from skills to your roll and if needed an attribute divided by 4 (+0 to +5) range. 

Both Tasks and Combat have charts of successes and failures and what you do with each.

Star Travel finally gets off of the Earth and out into the colonies.  The stutterwarp is travel mode of choice to get to distant stars. There are limitations.  The drives of these ships can travel great distances but have to jettison their spent radioactive fuel in the gravity well of a system.  This process takes some time.  So there is a limiting factor on how far a ship can practically travel.  There is some detail on tinkering with your starship, but not at the level I have come to associate with Traveller.  Space Combat follows right after this.  What is nice about this one is there are some photos of ships on a space hex-grid.  

Ship Listing is the "shopping list" of Starships.  It lacks the "used cars" feel of Classic Traveller. 

World Generation is next.  It covers quite a lot of detail to be honest. More than I expected.

NPCs are next, followed by World Mapping and Animal Encounters

There are some star maps, star charts, and some blank forms for Star Data, World Data, and Colony/Outpost Data.

Also included is a sample adventure, The Tricolor's Shadow.  It has maps, adventure ideas and two scenarios to run. 

Two alien species are introduced in the end, The Kafers and The Pentapods.  They are presented as NPCs only, not as playable species.


Traveller 2300 is not a bad game to be honest, it just isn't really Traveller is it?  I would be better with it IF I could try to figure out a way to make it work with more up-to-date history. But by that point, I could instead use it as a guide and run a Classic Traveller game and limit it to this time period and location.  

There is another issue with playing this sort of game.  Traveller 2300 suffers from our collective inability to really predict the future.  That is no slight on the designers, that is just human nature.  Compare the tech in this game to that of The Expanse RPG.  Both cover humanity's first step to the solar system and beyond.  Both cover roughly similar time periods (2300 vs. 2359) and both can play the same sorts of games.  In Traveller 2300 you have the stutterwarp to get to extra-solar planets and int he expanse has the ring gates.  The differences lie in the subtle predictions.  Computers are much more powerful in the Expanse, but FTL tech is non-existent (save for the ring gate).  Traveller 2300 has FTL (in a limited fashion by design).  Compare both to say Star Trek of the same period, neither has anything at all like the Ambassador Class Enterprise-C. 

Still this is a good game for a grittier version of Traveller, if you don't mind the system change, or for an advanced version of Twilight 2000.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Review: Traveller Alien Modules (1984 - 1987), Part 1

Alien Module 1 Aslan
Before I get into the next phase of Traveller evolution I thought it behooves me to spend some time with the major Alien races we encounter in Traveller.  Indeed, it was the aliens and the ads for the first three books in Dragon Magazine that made me want to go back and check out Traveller some more.

All of these are available via DriveThruRPG and Far Future Enterprises.

Alien Module 1 - Aslan

PDF. 44 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

While not the first Traveller alien I encountered, this is the first module or data file for the various aliens Traveller has to offer.  This one seemed like a no-brainer to me at the time.  I had read Joan D. Vinge's "psion" earlier that year and between the Caitian and Kzinti (introduced to me by Star Trek) I was primed to want a Cat-like race in space. 

The book covers the basics. Aslan physiognomy, which includes some evolutionary details and how it plays into their current civilization. Their political structure (or almost lack thereof) is also discussed. While the Aslan (named such by the first human explorers to make first contact) are described as proud warrior race, they are not really a unified one. 

We are given a bit of their history and their forays into space and their encounters with the Imperium. We get a bit on their psychology, which includes the territorial nature of the males (explained the loose confederacy) and their ritual duels.  

The next large section is Aslan character creation. This covers the basic character creation going back to the 3 LBBs and "Expanded" character creation for other types of characters. 

We are also given background on the Aslan homeworld, worlds within the Imperium, and a bit on starship design.  There is even some detail on the Aslan language, at least in terms of names.

For 44 pages it is pretty well packed.  There is not a lot of "fluff" here, mostly all "crunch."  So no fiction from the point of view of an Aslan mercenary or a human living on an Aslan world.  Just the basics and enough to get you going on to your own adventures. Honestly, it is all you need. 

This was the Alien Module I wanted the most back in the day.  Researching it now I see that a lot of people did what I was going to do with it; mix in liberal amounts of Kzinti and some Caitian as well.  Plus I was going to have psionic ability be a bit stronger in Aslan women. A nod to a lot of the scifi I was reading at the time.  I also noticed just as many people complaining about others doing exactly what I wanted and described!  Yes, the Aslan are fine just as they are but I also like my ideas too.  Thankfully this book lets me do all of that.

Alien Module 2 - K'kree
Alien Module 2 - K'kree

PDF. 44 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

These aliens were very alien to me.  While I could relate to the Aslan and the Vargr, these centaur-like aliens were very different and thus pushed a lot lower on my "wish list."  I don't even think I had read any of this book until I picked up the PDF ten years ago.

This book is set up much the same as the Aslan book and the future books in the line. I found the bits on K'kree psychology most interesting. As herbivores, they tend to be peaceful (ETA unless you are a meat eater). This combined with the race's inherent claustrophobia goes to explain that while they had Jump technology they had not expanded as fast as other races.  

We do get the sections on history, politics and governments, space travel and starship design, and the language section on creating K'kree names. There is a section on character creation as well.

This Alien Module also gives a few pages on adventures with or about the K'kree.  So a little bit more background here than on the Aslan, but I think needed since this species is so different.

Reading this 10 years ago I was not overly impressed I think.  Today I am of a completely different mind and would like to see these guys used more.

Alien Module 3 - Vargr
Alien Module 3 - Vargr

PDF. 50 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

While I knew about the Vargr, they were the big three alien races GDW was advertising back in the day, my first *real* interaction with them was way back in the early 2010s when I was looking for new ideas for Ghosts of Albion adventures.  I stumbled on one from White Dwarf #62, "An Alien Werewolf in London" about a Vargr in Victorian London.  It was an odd adventure, but I gave it go for Ghosts and always wanted to try it again with Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space. 

This book is a bit larger than the previous two, largely because there is a lot you can do with these guys.  Also they are the most fun in terms of history.

Vargr look like Terran wolves because generally speaking that is what they are.  They were transplanted from Terra (Earth) to their homeworld by the Ancients over 300,000 years ago.  Now 300k years is not enough to evolve any stock into something like the Vargr so they had been artificially engineered for intelligence and survivability.  They share a number of physical characteristics of both humans and canine stock but have some minor differences as well.  They still have the psychology of pack hunters following a charismatic leader and working in small, but somewhat unstable, groups.  Pack membership can change and leaders can be followed or discarded at any time.  This has had two effects on the Vargr. One their history is a confusing affair with no one narrative of what happened.  Most of their 300,000-year history is largely unknown to them.  Also it leaves them with no central government nor even any type of government that could be considered "typically Vargr."   See why these aliens can be fun!

We get the now usual sections on character creation along with a brief language update for names. Some basics on the Vargr worlds and space travel.  

We also get a section called "Gvurrdon's Story" which is given to us from the point of view of a Vargr.

This makes up the "Big Three" in my mind.  I know more were introduced soon after (and I will get to them) but these are the ones I associate the most with Traveller.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Review: Castles & Crusades Codex Egyptium

Castles & Crusades Codex Egyptium
Today I present the last (so far) of the Castles & Crusades mythological Codices.   This one takes away from Europe and back further in time to antiquity.   It was also one I was really, really looking forward to and I am not disappointed.  

Castles & Crusades Codex Egyptium

Nothing gets people excited quite like Egypt.  A kingdom that began at least in 3,100 BC to the time of the Romans, it has missing time where "nothing really happened" (according to one Prof. used to joke) that lasts longer than the entire history of the United States. It is an impressively long amount of time and even one that seems incalculable. There is the old saying. "Man fears time, but Time fears the Pyramids." 

This codex takes on the "newer" Codex format.  This is one makes the new format a little clearer. The "Chapters" covers history and mythology with some game material while the "Appendicies" are game material proper. 

For this review I am considering the PDF from DriveThruRPG and the hardcover edition.  Again our author and designer is Brian Young.  Color covers, and black and white interior art. 

Chapter 1 The Black Land Arose (Geography and Worlds)

This chapter begins with a basic map of the lands around the Nile and even up to the Mediterranean Sea and out East to the Fertile Crescent.  This chapter covers the geography of these lands and a bit on the people. To call it brief is a massive understatement.  We are talking about nearly 3,500 years of history and people and change.  While the Egyptians were notoriously resistant to change and very xenophobic, there is still a glossing over of history here.  Of course, this is again a gamebook and not a history text.  No problem then, there is more to come. 

Chapter 2 From Early Darkness (History and Mythic Background)

This covers the history, real and mythical, of the lands. This covers the stone age (Paleolithic) to all the Dynasties up to the Fall of Rome in terms of real-world history.  The remaining covers the mythical history of Egyptian creation and gods. 

Chapter 3 Presided over by the Divine (Gods, Goddesses and Supernatural Figures)

This chapter opens up with some spiritual concepts like priests, mummification, souls, and the afterlife.  For the Egyptians, the afterlife WAS life. Everything they worked for the afterlife.  The gods and their place in the afterlife is also discussed.

Chapter 4 Rife with Charms and Spells ( Magic in Egypt)

As with many ancient societies, magic was not "Supernatural" but a part of nature and that has never been more true than with Egypt. Various words of power are discussed and listed. Descriptions of the Egyptian "wizards." 

Chapter 5 Neter and Netert - The Divine

Egypt is the land of Gods.  Lots and lots of Gods. Here only some of the Gods are detailed. Since Egyptian history is so long that even the gods changed.  There are 40 pages of gods here.  Some are listed more than once as their roles changed over the centuries. Young has a Sisyphean task here, trying to catalog all the gods that Egpyt has had.  Even if it not complete it is the most complete one I have seen in a game.

Chapter 6 Using Egyptian Mythology In Airhde

For the first time the Codex covers the Troll Lords' homeworld of Aihrde.  Parallels are drawn between the gods of Aihrde and the gods of Egyptian.   The advantage here, beyond the page, gives a nice mixing pot (Aihrde) that all the other Codices can be mixed. 

Appendix A Names This covers names for all sorts of people, PCs, NPCs, Gods and more.

Appendix B Social Classes The various classes in ancient Egypt.  Note that social class was ironclad; you didn't move around between them. 

Appendix C Defended by Fierce Warriors (The Military and Soldiers) Covers the different sort of warriors.  None are different from the Fighter game-wise, but there are a lot roleplaying ideas here.

Appendix D Chariots The high tech of the ancient world. It could not be understated that this was the implementate of war for the time. 

Appendix E The Sphynx A little bit of background on the creature.

Appendix F Where Monsters And Demons Dwell The creatures of ancient Egypt. 25+ creatures here and each one is more interesting than the last to be honest.  I am hesitant to say this is the best chapter, but it is really fun.

At the end is a really nice bonus map.  The map is included with the PDF.

Map of of the Universe

While there is a lot of information in this book, it still makes me want more.  I have a feeling that to do this topic justice we would need a 500+ page book. I can't even begin to imagine what Young had to do to pare it down this much. 

Eygpt is just so damn interesting.  There is so much here to play with that my cup runneth over with ideas. I honestly don't even know where to even start to be honest.

With all of these Codecies, one would be tempted to combine them all.  Build something akin to Lands of Adventure or Man, Myth, & Magic.  While I could see this working somehow in Aihrde or a homebrew campaign, I would avoid it for a purely mythic Earth where I feel this would work best. 

For my money and time, play these various codices in their own times and their own places.  For me, that would be the best way to really get the feel for them. Nicely they are written in such a way to allow pretty much anything. 

I understand that Dr. Young is working more of these.  I am really looking forward to them! 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Review: Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum, 2nd Printing

Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum, 2nd Printing
If there was any doubt where Dr. Brian Young's true love lies in this series, the new second printing of the Codex Celtarum should dissolve those.   This new book brings the original Codex in line with the other codies in terms of style and feel.  This new book is also expanded to 256 pages, up from the previous 178 pages.  It is without a doubt also my favorite of the codies. 

Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum, 2nd Printing

For this review, I am considering both he PDF and hardcover copies.  256 pages with color covers and black & white interior art. 

The Codex Celtarum is written by Brian Young.  He is a gamer and an academic in Celtic history and languages and an all-around nice guy.  Honestly, he is the kind of person I want writing this sort of thing.  You talk to him and get the feeling that he could immediately tell you a story from the Mabinogion and it would roll off his tongue like the bards of old.  This is the guy you want working on your Celtic game.


The first thing I noticed in his introduction was his acknowledgement of the differences in legend and in history and where he was putting his cards.  For me, as someone that has had to have the same tug of war, the value of this book went up several degrees.   

Before moving on to the book itself I spent a lot of time with Castles & Crusades again, this time from the point of view of a Celtic-themed game.  Like the others in this series, it could be used with any D&D-like game.  Now at this point it should be noted that the design of this book is to play in a Faery realm, so it is something you can drop into any game world.  There are some game-based assumptions made, but nothing to keep you from making this your own.

This section also talks a bit about the changes from the 1st to 2nd printing.

Chapter 1: In Lands Far Away

This covers the lands of the Celts and how the Castles & Crusades player can drop their game into this world.  The advantage here is this 2nd Edition does talk about how you can use the Codex Germanica along with this.  This covers not just the expected British Isles, but all (mostly all) Celtic Europe. 

Chapter 2: Mythical Locations

This brief chapter discusses mythical locations like Hyberborea and the Hercynian Forest.  These lands were assumed to be real just "over there."

Chapter 3: Once Upon A Time 

This chapter covers the history of the Celtic real-world universe including the various wars that happened at the dawn of time and various involved countries/lands in Europe.  

Chapter 4: Otherworldly History

This is the "myth" part of the mytho-historical background of the Celts.  It overlays the stories of the gods and other powerful beings on top of the history of the Celts.  This chapter is rich in storytelling and follows a tale very familiar to me, but there are always new things to read and learn.

Splitting Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 into two separate and distinct chapters is good since for most books on the topic they are intertwined so much that it is hard to tease out the "myth" and the "history" from the mytho-historic events. Certainly one has had a profound effect on the other and I think Young demonstrates this well.  

Also while I am 100% behind his enthusiasm here (and I share it) we have yet to see anything game-related and we are 75 pages in.

Chapter 5: The Otherworld of Faery

This chapter covers the various "otherworlds" (yes plural) of the lands of Faery. Usually tied to a physical location in the real world.  It reads like an unreal Gazeteer of Europe to be honest, a mist-shrouded tour into a land that is similar but still very different. The faery lands don't have the same rules of nature as the mortal realms. So there are some tables about the odd passage of time or the nature of the land.  

Chapter 6: There Lived a People 

ALmost everything you want to know about the Faery races.  This includes traits faeries can have and their weaknesses.  This also includes a list of the giants of Wales.

Chapter 7: Great of Magic and Power 

This details, what else, magic.  If human wizards study magic and human priests pray for it then the Fae ARE magic. The distinction is not a subtle one.  The magical powers here are listed as spells. So they can be used by the fae as if they were spells, but that robs them of what makes them so interesting. Instead, go with the suggestion in the book that each member of the fae gets a number of special powers based on their intelligence.  And there are plenty of powers here!  If you are anything like me and love magic, spells, or powers for characters then this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  

It is one of the largest chapters so far and has the most "game" material.

Chapter 8: With Great Gods and Lords 

This covers the gods, demigods, and named faeries of the lands. There are no stats for these gods or heroes.  Why? That is easy. They are not meant to be killed or even interacted with.  They are the legends of this land. If you have any familiarity with the gods of Celtic myth and legend you can find them here. 

Appendix A: The Druidic Order This covers the druid classes for Castles & Crusades within the Celtic world. There is the Druid (Wisdom), the Celtic Bard (Charisma), and the Druidic Seer (Wisdom).

Appendix B: The Secrets of the Druids This appendix covers the Ogham writing and runes.

Appendix C: Druidic Spells What is says, the spells the various druid classes can use. 

At this point, I wonder if all three could not have been combined into one Appendix. 

Appendix D: The Enchanted of Faerie Here we get a nice discussion on Faery Metals and how they can be used.  There is a list of divine items (artifacts in other games) listed by the owner; that's right the Gáe Bulga is not just lying around waiting for you to find it. No this +8 spear (!) is well in the hands of Cú Chulainn.

Appendix E: The Severed Head discusses the importance of taking the head of your enemy.

Appendix F: The Feast Hall details the Celtic hero's feast.

Appendix G: The Celtic Chariot. what it says on the tin.

Appendix H: The Celtic Warrior Society. Gives us a very brief overview of the importance of warriors and how they were organized.  I wish this one had been much longer. 

Appendix I: Accoutrements of War. Deals with the arms and armor of the celtic warrior. 

Appendix J: Strong Feats and Deeds. Covers the tales of the heroes of the Celtic myths and legends. 

Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum
Honestly, Appendices E to J should be combined into a chapter on Celtic Warriors. This is what the other Codices have done. 

Appendix K: Holidays & their Customs.

Appendix L Celtic Themed Adventures.

Appendix M: Monsters

Also, this should have been a chapter. There are 30 pages of monsters here. Many are very familiar to me, but again are closer to their "roots."

Ok. So what can say here?

The book is fantastic and I loved every bit of it.  BUT, I find the new organization of the 2nd Printing to be inferior to that of the 1st Printing.  I felt some of the material could have been organized and combined a bit better. I still find it a delight to read, but is that due to this book or the subject matter?

Again, there is no doubt that Brian Young is not only an expert in this field, he also loves it.  That enthusiasm shows and I am sure he could have written a book twice this size.  I do love the expanded history and the raised importance of the continental Celts over the typically well-trodden lands of the Irish and British Celts.  Looking over my review of the First Printing this is exactly one of the things I thought was missing from that version. Though some of the material from the first edition (some classes) are missing from this edition.  I guess I should keep both on hand.

Still, if you are a fan of Celtic myth, Faery lore, or Castles & Crusades then I highly recommend this book.  Even if you don't play C&C, I would get this book.

Friday, September 17, 2021

#FollowFriday Pauli Kidd and 'Lace and Steel'

It's another #FollowFriday!   Today I'd like to draw your attention a new RPG review site from a great "D&D" author.   

Pauli Kidd gave us the great Greyhawk novels White Plume MountainDescent into the Depths of the Earth, and Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Pauli is still writing, but now she has a YouTube Review channel, Lace and Steel.

Lace and Steel

In particular, she has done some great sci-fi reviews.

Great stuff really.   And I am looking forward to more.

You can find Pauli online at:

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Old-School Essentials 3rd Party Publishers

A new bundle of Old-School Essentials products has been released by Planar Compass and is now available on DriveThruRPG. 

Old-School Essentials 3rd Party Publishers by Planar Compass

It has some rather nice products included.

Here are a few of them.

BX Options: Class Builder

Build or customize your own OSE or Basic-era classes. I covered this book a bit ago. 

Hidden Hand of the Horla - T:1
From Appendix N Entertainment

A nice old-school-style adventure where you seek out the tower of the Hand Mage that has reappeared out of legend. It is from R. J. Thompson and is for characters levels 1 to 3.  There are some great new monsters here, the Goatfolk are my favorite, and some new to BX/OSE spells that Advanced players will recognize.  27 pages with maps by Dyson Logos. It is a really fun adventure and captures the spirit of the modules of the early 80s very, very well.  Buy it for the nostalgia, but run it because it is a great little adventure. 

The Chaos Gods Come to Meatlandia
From Knight Owl Publishing

I thought this was an adventure, but it is actually a mini-setting of Meatlandia and the opposing factions. There are meat mages (you really have to buy this to see them) and various types of bards (three in total).  So new classes, new magic (15 pages of meat mage spells), a city, new monsters, new magic items, and just some gonzo-level weirdness.  I have to say that it is not for everyone, BUT there is an audience that will absolutely love this.  Has a solid Dungeon Crawl Classic meets Lamentations of the Flame Princes meets 80s weird horror.  If it were a movie Roger Corman would have been the director or producer and Tom Savini would have starred and consulted on the monster effects. The whole thing is 90 pages long so you are getting a lot.  Not sure where I am going to use it, but it really begs to be used somewhere.  Retooled just a tiny bit could turn it from gonzo to some serious horror. That is the direction I am likely to go.

Barrow Keep: Den of Spies
From R. Rook Games

For starters, you get this product for OSE, 5e, Troika!, and Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells all in the same purchase! So kudos to the authors for that.  The main book covers the keep and a host of important NPCs. The characters are all assumed to be young adults living within the Keep. This covers 72 pages. There are also some new monsters in abbreviated stats that can easily be used by any game.  

The GM's Scenario packs vary from ruleset to ruleset.  5e is 43 pages and OSE is 55 pages.  As expected these GM packs give you scenario seeds, the relevant players/NPCs, and has you go from there.  The flexibility of this a crazy high. I can see an enterprising GM make this their central focus for dozens of adventures if not an entire campaign. If you don't want to do that then make it a home base for the PCs and have the occasional "stay at home" adventure.  Given how well it is multi-stated use it as a means of moving from one game system to the next.  It is extremely well designed.

Get it for one system, but enjoy it with the other three as well.  This has made me want to look more into the Troika! RPG.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this, Richard Ruane, is a co-worker and friend of mine, though I did not see that at the time I purchased this.

I should stat up an NPC Pagan witch that lives in Barrow Keep.

A Witch's Desire - Adventure for Old-School Essentials
From Earl of Fife Games

This is a fun adventure dealing with a bargain made by your village and the local Witch of the Wild.  She is protecting your village from the deadly winter of the Ice Queen.  Now she is asking you for a favor.  Great notes on surviving cold weather and exploring in the wilderness. Part hex crawl-ish, part quest adventure.  The notes say to make her an 8th level magic-user. I say why not an 8th level witch?

Witch of the Wild
8th level Human Witch, Pagan Tradition

Str: 10
Int: 17
Wis: 16
Dex: 11
Con: 13
Cha: 18

HP: 25
AC: 9
THAC0: 18

D: 10 W: 12 P: 11 B: 14 S: 13

Occult Powers
Familiar: Crow
Cowan: Meepa the Goblin
Herbal healing
Of the Land

First: (3) Call Spirits of the Land, Cure Light Wounds, Glamour
Second: (3) Animal Messenger, Pins and Needles, Seven Year Blessing (Ritual)
Third: (2) Scry, What You Have is Mine (Ritual)
Fourth: (2) Temperature Control, Wheel of the Year (Ritual)

I could certainly use this adventure as part of my War of the Witch Queens.

There are others that I have not purchased yet but plan to.  

And finally also in this bundle,

The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition
From The Other Side Publishing

But I assume you know all about this one.

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.)