Showing posts sorted by relevance for query B/X companion. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query B/X companion. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

B/X Companion is Mine!

I had this cool plan of doing some 4E writing tonight.  A couple of things that have been stewing in the back of my head.  That is till I came home to this:

Yes that is the B/X Companion in all her glory.  The product I think I have been waiting for for close to 30 years.  Sure I have had books that have covered the same ground, and books that made this book obsolete, but somewhere, deep in my psyche there is still that 12 year old version of me wishing he could take his cleric to 15th level.  

The B/X Companion does not disappoint.  Let me just say that if this isn't exactly how it was going to be, then I'd be hard pressed to know what it would have been.  I am reading through it all now and I am purposefully NOT comparing it to the BECMI version of the Companion rules.  Maybe later, maybe even later but before this is posted.  But right now I only want to compare it to the B/X books of which is it is, well, a companion too.

The cover of course is very much part of the original scheme.  The three principle characters, the fighter and the two wizards (or maybe she is a cleric, that could be a "light" spell, though she has a torch too) stand in front of their followers.  They braved the dungeon, the wilderness and now they are ready for the next adventure.  So are we.

For those of us that grew up with the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert sets, the Companion book feels very familiar.  The layout is similar, the flow is similar and even the art has a familiar feel.  If you own the Basic or Expert books then finding something in the Companion book is trivial.  I turned right to the character rules and took a glance at all the tables.  Yes sir they run from 15 to 36, just like promised.  Clerics still top out at 7th level spells, but eventually they get 9 of them.  Wizards still go to 9th level, and get 9 of those too.
Fighters get more attacks per round (as they should) and thieves get more abilities.

There are plenty of new spells here.  Many look like they take their inspiration from the products that came after, the Player's Handbook or the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, but nothing is an out right copy.  It does have the feel like Becker sat around one day and thought, what are some good spells and what level should they be.

There new monsters and advanced versions of some others.  The Greater Vampire nearly made me laugh out loud as I had done the exact same thing after reading and playing the Expert book for so long.  My Greater Vampire was a photocopy of Ptah from Deities and Demigods with some fangs drawn in.  I never claimed to be an artist.  Te monsters all seem to be appropriate for the levels, though a few more in the 30 HD range might have been nice, but not really needed.

The BIG additions here though are the ones that were most "advertised" back in the day. 
Running a High Level Game  is great advice for ANY edition of the game.  It gives this book the same place as say, the Epic Level Handbook for D&D 3.0 or even the Epic Tier for D&D 4.  Chances are very, very good I'll be using the B/X Companion in my next D&D 4 game in fact.

Related are running a domain and running large armies.  Battlesystem would later give us these rules for AD&D, but here they are much simpler to use.  Again, something to consider to port over to other versions of the game.

I loved the new magic items and can never get enough of those.  I also liked the part on the planes and how it is totally left up to design of the DM.  I wonder how many people out there will re-invent the Gygaxian Great Wheel for their B/X/C games?

Others have reviewed this book already and my insights won't add or subtract to those.  A particularly insightful one is by James over at Grognardia.  I concur with a lot of what he had to say, with the possible exception of his take on demi-humans and frankly I have no idea what I would have done in Becker's place as I am not fond of level limits or even demi-humans as classes.  That being said lets put this product in context.

I would have liked thicker covers to be honest. This book I am afraid will not wear so well.  I would also LOVE to have it as a PDF.  I don't bring a lot of books to the table anymore, I bring a laptop.  So can you hear me JB!  Sell me a PDF! :)

Companion to Basic/Expert Rules
Obviously this is where it works the best.  But there is something here that I don't think others have tapped into just yet.  Companion makes the Moldvay/Cook rules a complete game.  With these three books you now have a complete D&D game.  The only thing really missing is a "C1" module or maybe a BXC one.

Companion to Labyrinth Lord/Basic Fantasy
The new Becker Companion has a lot it owes to Labyrinth Lord (LL) and Basic Fantasy (BFRPG).  While maybe not directly, these two games showed that there is a market out there for "Basic" styles of play.  Both LL and BFRPG take the modern 1-20 level limit for human classes.  Companion is 15 to 36.  So some adjustments need to be made.  There are a few differences in the how each of these books calculate XP per level, and how they do spells.  But nothing so complicated that a a good DM couldn't figure out.  
Personally if I were playing a LL/BFRPG game, I'd go to 15th level and then switch over to B/X Companion. for the next levels to 36.  OR even go to 20 and use B/X Companion as a guide to levels 30 or even 36.
Frankly the homebrewiness of it all has me very excited for anyone that has decided to throw their lot in with "Basic" D&D.

The B/X Companion vs. the BECMI Companion
Ok, I know I said above I wasn't going to do this, but after re-reading James's post over at Grognardia and his post on the Mentzer Companion I felt it was worth a look.
Now I am no expert on the Mentzer era of the rules.  I had moved to AD&D by the time they were out and I never owned them.  I picked up the Rules Cyclopedia a while back and got all the BECMI boxes on PDF back when Wizards sold them on DriveThru.
Both Companions cover similar ground.  The spell progressions and XP look about the same (given that they use simple math, no surprise).   The BECMI Companion only goes to 25th level, not 36 like the B/X Companion. The BECMI Companion generally speaking has more detail than the B/X one, but that is not really a nitpick since the abstraction of the rules in B/X is greater to allow more with less; just like the B/X books it was modeled after.  

Final Tally
I like this book. A lot.  It makes me want to pull out my ratty Basic and Expert books and play Moldvay/Cook era Basic D&D again.   In the mean time, I think I'll just have to satisfy myself with converting some D&D 3.0 or 4e characters over to Companion,  just for the fun of it.

One thing that did disappoint me though was the lack of the OGL.  There is a lot of really cool stuff here and it could be shared.  I suppose that something like this, talking to Johnathan Becker is always the best the way to go.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Special: C is for Companion

Yes I know. No A-to-Z posting on Sunday and C is Monday's letter.  But I do have a C for Monday.

The Companion Edition of D&D was one of the near mythical books for me growing up.  As I mentioned yesterday that I began my game playing with the Basic/Expert, known today as B/X, sets from the early 80s.  The expert took the game from 3rd to 14th level and the Companion book was then going to take the game from 14th to 36th level.  Even though I knew of AD&D at the time, I thought that the Companion book was going to be the way to go. So I waited for it.
And waited.

And waited some more.

Finally I gave up waiting and dove into AD&D instead, leaving Basic D&D behind.  Eventually a Companion Rules Set did come out.  But it was for the new Mentzer-edited Basic set (now called BECMI) and I no longer had any interest in it having discovered the world could also have Assassins, half-orcs and 9 alignments.

I did manage to read it once.  I was in college and it was at Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale. Of course now AD&D 2nd Ed was the new hotness and I had no desire to look backwards.   What I saw though at the time did now impress me.  I think the entire Mentzer set at the time (AT THE TIME mind you) made me think of it as D&D for little kids (now I see it differently).

Fast forward to the Old School Revolution/Renaissance/Resurgence/Recycled and I have re-discovered the Basic sets (all of them) in their imperfect glories.  And I am not the only one that must have felt a little gipped by not getting a Companion book for B/X.
JB over at B/X Blackrazor designed his own Companion rules.
If it is not exactly what the companion was going to be, it is really, really close.

I have gushed on and on (and on) about how much I love this book here and elsewhere.  If I went on anymore then Jonathan owes me advertising. ;)

But I have to add this. B/X Companion I think is the best embodiment of the what is the spirit of the OSR, not to diminish the to efforts of others (hardly at all), but the B/X Companion gives us something new, something that we didn't have before.  Something, for me at least, that I have been waiting years for.

I only have two issues with the book.  First I want a PDF of it.  It is  my only old school book that I can't cart around with me everywhere. Though now according to JB the pdf is on the way! Second I wish he had used the OGL so others could expand on it, make modules for it.  But no big deal, I am just thrilled to have it.

Speaking of which, I did get a chance back in the day to get my Companion fix in.  My DM ran the module CM2 Death's Ride under AD&D and it nearly killed us all.  In a perfect world I'd run Death's Ride again using the B/X Companion.  Maybe one day I will.

In general I like the idea of the Companion rules, either of them. They take the rules into a different place; a place that the Basic or Advanced rules had not previously done well.  The idea of running a kingdom or even traveling the planes.  Great stuff.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Basic Clones

I was going to do Bunnies and Burrows today, but I wanted to stick a little closer to my home turf for this one.
BTW if you like, check out Bunnies and Burrows. It really is a classic and a piece of RPG history.

But today I want to talk about Basic Clones.
In the OSR (Old School Renascence) a Basic Clone is a game that emulates the rules of Basic D&D, or about the time frame of 1978 to 1984.  I talked about the D&D Basic Game last year and ACKS yesterday.  In fact I talk so much about it here it has it's own label, Basic.

D&D Basic was always my favorite system for quick and fast play.  D&D Basic has been long out of print and usually can only be found at places like Noble Knight Games or Ebay. So I was thrilled when the Basic clones began to come out.

Basic Fantasy is one of my favorites.  It is a simple game that covers the Basic D&D feel, but incorporates ideas from the later Advanced D&D game. Namely is splits up race (elf, human, dwarf) and class (fighter, cleric, magic-user).  In other words it was D&D like how I used to play Basic D&D anyway.  It is flexible, easy to use and totally free.

Labyrinth Lord is the biggest and arguably the most popular Basic clone.  It is closer to Basic D&D than BFRPG is, but for me it lacks a little of the charm.  Not to say that LL isn't great, it is and both lovingly sits on my shelf.

Dark Dungeons is another Basic clone aimed at emulating the old Rules Cyclopedia.  It is a good effort but feels a bit off to me.  Can't quite figure out why though.

Last year I also talked about the Companion rules. When the B/X version of Basic came out we were promised a book called the Companion rules that would take characters from 14th level to 36th level.  We did get one, but is was part of the BECMI version of Basic and thus not 100% compatible and you would have to be a HUGE D&D geek like me to even care about the differences. Or you have to be these guys, since they wrote their own.

B/X Blackrazor came out with his B/X Companion which I have talked about extensively here and is currently sold out. But it is a great book.

Another book is called the Companion Expansion by Barrataria Games.  It didn't get the same level of hype as the B/X Companion, but it covers much of the same ground.  I have not looked at them together to see how they cover similar topics, but they seem very compatible.  You can get the PDF of Companion Expansion for free at DriveThruRPG and a print copy for 16 bucks at Lulu.

My love for Basic D&D and the Basic clones is what prompted me to make my new witch book, The Witch, for Basic Era Games.  Look for that later this month!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Complete B/X Adventurer

I got my copy of the Complete B/X Adventurer in the mail about a week or two ago.

What do I think of it?

Well, it certainly lives up to it's hype and to it's predecessor the B/X Companion (BXC).  Though there is no emotional investment on this one for me.  I waited for the B/X Companion for almost 30 years.  I waited for this one for only about a year or less.

I am going to make comparisons of it to B/X Companion AND to the old Bard Games "Compleat Adventurer" series (Adventurer, Spellcaster, Alchemist).   I think both comparisons are fair.  The first is obvious, but the second I want to explain.  It is obvious in the construction that this book owes a lot to those previous books.  The author, Jonathan Becker, acknowledges this in his Introduction.  I did the same with the first book on Witches I ever wrote back in 1999, so I might be predisposed to like this.
There is also a feel to this book that reminds me of the later Bard Games books, The Arcanum and the Atlantis series.

In all three cases the books provide additional classes, spells and magic with additional rules that can be added with little effort to your game.  We saw something similar from the official D&D books in the Unearthed Arcana books.

But getting on with the review proper.

The physical book is now perfect bound, not stapled, and it comes in at 62 pages. The cover doesn't try to invoke any other old-school product I am aware of, but I could be wrong.  This is a good thing really since it should have it's own identity. BXC very much wanted to invoke the images of the old Basic and Expert sets.
Table of Contents is on a page, not the inside cover.

Ready to play!
Now on to the meat.  We get a nice introduction from Jonathan Becker about how the book should be used.  It does indicate compatibility with Labyrinth Lord, LoftFP and Swords & Wizardry.  Though I don't see the compatibility licenses those products require.  I hope that is not an issue, but something that the author should look into.  Also this is not an OGL product, so no license and no OGC.  May not matter to you. In terms of buying.  I supposed if someone wanted to use some of this material in say an adventure that was broadly compatible Becker would give his permission (and he has said as much if I recall correctly).  For me I like to operate in the safe harbor of the OGL.  But this doesn't detract my opinion from the book at all.

First up we have charts on random head gear.  While this section is very good, it feels completely random. Not in terms of the tables, but why does the book lead off with this?  I would have made this an appendix or part of a later chapter.  Oddly enough the class table does not include any of the new classes in this book.  Move this to the back in future printings I say.  This follows with class exceptional traits.  Also very cool.  This one would belong here, but I would have put it after all the new classes.  Again, this does not have all the new classes listed.  Sure use the sub-class idea with Witches as a type of Magic-User.   Follwing this firearms. Again move to equipment.  I might not ever use this, but my son wants too (he read the book before I did).

Next up are all the classes.  These are the gems of the book in my eye.  The classes get about a page each.  So this will be nice to print out the PDF pages and re-org as needed.   The classes are Acrobat, Archer, Barbarian, Bard, Beastmaster, Bounty Hunter, Centaur, Duelist, Gnome, Mountebank, Mystic, Ogre-Kin, Scout, Summoner, Tattoo Mage, Witch, and Witch Hunter.

The classes are about what you would expect if you have been in this game for a number of years, but they have their twists.  The gnome, centaur and ogre-kin are obviously race-classes in the Basic/Expert style.  The Summoner is really cool.  You summon creatures to do your magic for you.  So part demonologist, part Pokemon trainer! (ok ok) only really awesome about it.  It is one of the neatest takes I have seen on this ill-used fantasy archetype.  I will discuss the witch and the witch-hunter in detail in a bit.

This is followed by all the new spells that these classes need. It's a good amount, taking up the remaining 20 pages of the book.   The spells are of a good sort and there are a lot of them here.

The art is good and similar in style to BXC, sharing a couple of the same artists. Each class gets an art piece (another similarity to the Bard Compleat books) but the spells doesn't get much if any.  That is too bad since the art is generally very good.

My Thoughts
Again I think I would have put some the beginning material in the back to focus on the classes more.
But I really enjoy all these classes and I think that for my kids old-school AD&D game I would let them choose from this as a possible source.  I can see my youngest wanting to play an Acrobat and my oldest a Bounty Hunter.   I would some tips I have written in the past about converting "Basic" classes to "Advanced" ones, but honestly there is not much here I would change.

Another thought is that most of these classes are stated out to 14th level.  This makes them perfect, obviously, for pure Basic/Expert style D&D.  But there is something else they would work well with, ACKS.
In fact I have mentioned before how well BXC would work in extending ACKS.  Well now you can use the TCBXA as an add on to ACKS.  These two games have different purposes in life, but they fit together rather nicely, and this gives you some new classes to play around with till ACKS Player's Companion is out.

NOW all we need is Jonathan to give us a B/X Companion boxed set.  It can include the B/X Companion, the CBXA, and a brand new module.  I think that would be great!

The Witch
Ok, I have to play special attention to the witch.  Not just because it is a witch class, but because it is different than the other spell using classes.  For starters the witch can cast in groups to cast higher level spells. That is a nice feature really and something very much in tune with the archetypal witch.  The witch is the class in the book that is stated up all the way to 36th level AND built to gain powers to that point, also something I rather like.  Why?  Because a 36th level witch is the only class that can cast 10th level spells.  Yup.  This one goes to 10!

Crafting spells.  The witch does not memorize a spell, but she does have a limit on how many she knows.  The witch needs both a high intelligence (to know the spell) and a high wisdom (to learn and scribe it down in the first place).  So a first level witch with a high Intelligence knows 1+Int mod 1st level spells.  She can also scribe spells of 1st level + how ever many extra levels equal to her Wisdom mod.  I like it.  It is a nice quick way to know what can be done.  In fact I would like to use that for clerics since gods should know ahead of time what spells their flock need and then they just give them to the cleric at that time.

For the witch though I would reverse it.  Intelligence to write or scribe the spell and Widsom to know how many they can cast.  Witches are often called the "Craft of the Wise" afterall.   But all in all I like it.
10th level witch spells are nothing at all to sneeze at.  This is a powerful witch class.

The 10th level spells are a nice solution to the "Coven spells"/"Powerful magic" vs independent witches.  I can't see too many witch covens in groups.  Maybe two or three at a time.  With what JB has done here is given us a way to have powerful magics in groups at lower levels and keep those same magics out of the hands of solitary witches till much later.  This then does not make them a more attractive solution over Wizards/Magic Users.

If you are going to have witches then you should have witchhunters. The ones here are fairly straight forward but they have some nice features.  I like that they get magic, but not as spells but powers.  Sure you could do a multi-classed Cleric-Ranger, but this is B/X not 3.x.  I'd like to give this witchhunter a spin sometime.

Bottom Line
If you enjoyed BXC or even Basic/Expert or other Old School play then this is a great buy.  If you enjoy old school play but are sticking with your clone of choice then I still say get this.  Look at the class list above and decide if any of those sound interesting to you.

I like it and I recommend it.

I'll stat up a witch after a bit and compare her to other OSR witches.

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.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Plays Well With Others: Old-School Essentials

By its very nature Old-School Essentials is easily combined with anything that supports B/X style play.   So it naturally Plays Well With Others
Mechanics are largely easy, what about tone and style?  Well, that is what I am going to chat about today.

This is the obvious mix. So obvious in fact that there is not a lot to say that isn't painfully obvious.  So instead I am going to admire how nice those two black covers look together.   A nice addition to what I tend to call Black Book or Black Box Basic (also because like a Black Box, I throw things in and get things out and don't really care how or why it works as long as it does).

Obviously, any adventure designed for B/X or even BECMI will work with OSE.  At least up to level 14.

OSE & Maximum Mayhem Adventures
Mark Taormino's collection of crazy gonzo adventures run from levels 1 to 14.  Are you thinking what I am thinking?  Well, today is the flip-side of a PWWO on Maximum Mayhem Adventures I did a while back.  If you want to know more about those adventures, hit that link. 

While the adventures are overtly and specifically designed for OSRIC/AD&D1, I have had a great time running these under B/X style rules.  I also find that none of the deadliness is lost here.  If anything the fun factor is increased.

OSE & Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Another popular choice of mine for PWWO.  For this, I would use the Advanced Fantasy options of OSE.  AS&SH can be trimmed down to "Basic" style play easily enough.  So the two games can meet in the middle, system-wise.  Style-wise there is more to overcome.  AS&SH is a "Black Sabbath" album.  Deep, rich with darker tones and cold nights.  OSE is a "Yes" album. ├ćtheric, it is journey of expected highs but also surprising depths.  The demi-humans of OSE-AF bolster the newer classes of AS&SH.  IT might not be a mix that all people like, but it does appeal to me.

OSE & the B/X OSR
There are so many products out there that support B/X style play these days and there is no way I could cover even all the ones in my own collection.
But here are few.

Does B/X or OSE *need* psionics? Likely no.  Is it better with it? I think so!  Richard LeBlanc's Basic Psionics Handbook is a great book and a fun psionic system.  One he could redo for OSE if he wanted.  But like all things psionics, it's a choice.  As it is now it is a perfect fit.

The same is true for any number of Monster books.  I mentioned that OSE would easily support Monsters 2 and Monsters 3 books with no issue.  Hell. With all the OGC sources a Monsters 2 and 3 could be made that mimic the monsters in Fiend Folio and Monster Manual 2.

OSE is not the only Basic-game in town.  Blueholme cleaves closer to Holmes Basic, but it's 1-20 levels provide a little more play (though those last 6 levels are not as fun as the first 6) and Labyrinth Lord provides the same.  LL has their Advanced versions too if you are planning an "Advanced Fantasy" style game.  This takes it in a slightly different direction, but ultimately (for me anyway) it makes it possible to play a "cleaner" version of the D&D/AD&D hybrid we used to play in the early 80s.  Purity is for water, not games.

OSE & BX Companion

Eventually, someone will ask for an OSE Companion book.  Taking OSE to level 36 or Immortals.  Well, you can wait for one or use the one we are all using now.

A while back I posted How I commit heresy with Adventurer Conqueror King. I can do the same thing with OSE.  Johnathan Becker's magnum opus is as much of a love letter to BX as OSE is.  While B/X Companion doesn't work as well with say Labyrinth Lord of Basic Fantasy (the main Basic clones at the time) it does work great with OSE.

Basic-Era Witches

I'd be remiss if I didn't point this out.  In fact, while working on this post and taking these pictures I am once again hit with the idea of how well this would all work out for my War of the Witch Queens campaign.

So OSE has been giving me no end of pleasure and I don't see that stopping anytime soon.

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: Back to Basics

Here we are. 2019.

Towards the end of 2018 I was thinking how much I miss Basic D&D. In particular B/X flavor of Basic D&D.  So with some of my left-over Christmas money, I went out and got some new Basic-era games.

Up first is Michael Thomas' own BLUEHOLM, both the Prentice and Journeymanne Rules.
Designed to emulate and then extend the Holmes edition of D&D Basic.  The version I cut my teeth on now 40 years ago.

That would be enough to keep me happy for a long time really, but it is not the only thing on my table.

Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials is a recreation and reorganization of the Basic and Expert rules.  Like those famous boxed sets (and my favorite version of Basic D&D) this version only goes to level 14.  There is a lot to be said for this.  Some really, really fun adventuring can be done at this level.   I promise a full review soon, but let me just say these books look fantastic.

Of course, you can use Jonathan Becker's B/X Companion and The Complete B/X Adventurer with these, but that is defeating the B/XE design philosophy (but still would work and be fun).

If extending your B/X experience is your bag, then pick up Mark Craddock's B/X Ascending gives you more classes and plenty of new options. 

I have to say, Mark has really stepped up his game.  This is a great looking book.

Not everything I want to do this year is 100% B/X basic, but they are still B/X related.

What is B/X without it's two most iconic adventures?  I already had Into the Borderlands, but now I got Isle of Dread updated versions from Goodman Games.  The originals work fantastically with all the books listed above and 5th edition as well.

Also on my table is an update to one of my favorite clones.

Dan Protector's Labyrinth Lord in it's new Advanced incarnation is really more like the D&D we played back in the day; freely mixing Basic and Advanced D&D.

Whats my plan for all of this?

Well I hope to do some more Basic-era type posts and products.  Swords & Wizardry was a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, but Basic is my true love.

So let's see what 2019 can bring us!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Seoni, Pathfinder Iconic Sorceress, B/X style

Seoni might arguably be the most popular of the Pathfinder iconic characters. She is certainly one of my favorites.  She might not exactly be a witch, but she is close enough.

A few things have come together over the last couple of weeks to make me want to do this post.
First,  there is the new Seoni statue Kickstarter that I posted about this morning.
Secondly, I have really been getting interested in B/X again (as if my interest ever waned) thanks in large part to Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials line which looks like so much fun.

With the Art & Arcana book out I went back to the cover of D&D Basic which was the inspiration for the Pathfinder Core Rules book cover that introduced us to Seoni in the first place.

I also did stats for Feiya so long ago, so it seems right to me to also convert Seoni as my "second favorite" Pathfinder Iconic.

The witches three. Larina, Feiya, and Seoni
So I thought it might be fun to see how Seoni converts to B/X era D&D.  Of course in Pathfinder she is a Sorceress a class that B/X doesn't have.  But they do have the Magic-User which the ancestor of the Sorcerer class.  But I am contractually obligated to provide Witch stats too! ;)

For fun, I will do the Magic-User stats using only Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials: Core RulesB/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment, and B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells.

For her witch stats, I will use D&D Basic and Expert with my Basic-era Witch book.

I took her ability scores from her 1st Level iconic version to represent her stats as "rolled" but will base these off of here 12th level iconic version.  In the case of her Magic-user stats I rearranged her Int, Wis, and Cha to better fit the magic-user rules.  For her Witch stats I left them as-is.
For her other items like equipment and feats I tried to convert or perserve those the best I can within the rules of B/X D&D.

12th level Magic-User

Strength: 10
Intelligence: 18
Wisdom: 10
Dexterity: 14
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 13

Death Ray or Poison:  9
Magic wand or devices: 10
Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone: 9
Dragon Breath: 12
Rods, Staffs and Spells: 11

Hit Points:  26
Alignment: Lawful (Lawful Neutral)
AC: 3 (unless using spells to protect herself more)
To Hit AC 0: 14

Familiar:  Blue Skink ("Dragon") (Basic Magic-users did not have a way of gaining a familiar. So this is a DM-fiat).

First (4): darkness (light, reversed) magic missile, read magic, shield
Second (4): continual darkness, detect invisible, invisibility, web
Third (3): fire ball, haste, lightning bolt
Fourth (3): charm monster, dimension door, wall of fire
Fifth (3): cloudkill, pass-wall, wall of stone
Sixth (2): control weather, death spell

Equipment: Amulet of Natural Armor +3, Ring of Protection +3, backpack, potions of cure wounds, scroll of fly, wand of magic missiles (32 charges, 7th level), staff of wizardry, dagger

So not exact copies of all the spells are found in the B/X era, but enough that I am fairly happy with this magic-user build.

Now. What if Seoni were a witch?  Valeros certainly thinks she is...

"I wonder about that witch and her schemes."
- Valeros, companion, friend and erstwhile lover of Seoni.

12th level Witch, Dragon-blood Tradition* (Blue)

Strength: 10
Intelligence: 10
Wisdom: 13
Dexterity: 14
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 18

Death Ray or Poison:  8
Magic wand or devices: 9
Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone: 8
Dragon Breath: 11
Rods, Staffs and Spells: 18

Hit Points: 26
Alignment: Lawful (Lawful Neutral)
AC: 3
To Hit AC 0: 14

Occult Powers (*the Dragon-blood tradition is something I have been playing around with for a couple of years now. Not ready for prime-time yet.)
Familiar:  Blue Skink ("Dragon")
Minor: Draconic Magic: Lightning Bolt (once per day Seoni can call on her draconic patron to cast Lightning Bolt).

Cantrips (6): dancing lights, detect curse, false glamor, flare, mend, spark,
First (4): burning hands, darkness, minor fighting prowess, spirit dart
Second (4): burning gaze, invisibility, produce flame, spell missile
Third (3): continual fire, dispel magic, fly,
Fourth (3): charm monster, intangible cloak of shadows, magic circle against evil 10'
Fifth (2): hold monster, primal scream, waves of fatigue
Sixth (2!): mass agony, wall of roses

Equipment: Amulet of Natural Armor +3, Ring of Protection +3, backpack, potions of cure wounds, scroll of fly, wand of magic missiles (32 charges, 7th level), dagger,  Staff of Enchantment

Witch-Seoni has a totally different feel to her than Magic-user-Seoni.  I would say that as a Dragon Witch her spells manifest in ways that remind one of a dragon.  Primal Scream, for example, would be the roar of a dragon. Produce Flame would be a spark of electricity that creates fire,  Mass Agony would come out as electricity like a blue dragon's breath, and so on.

I am pretty happy though with both builds.

Don't forget to check out the Seoni statue Kickstarter ending really soon.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reviewing the Classics, B/X Edition

I love the Basic D&D game and the B/X version in particular.  I love it's simplicity and its ability to be adaptable to just about anything I want it to do.  So I was thrilled to death that the B/X pdfs starting showing up on DriveThruRPG, even if I knew that also meant that there was little chance of them getting reprinted.
B/X was also one of the first systems I own every product.  There are still some AD&D items I don't own and even some later editions, but B/X was and still is one of my favorites.

I have picking up all the B/X material I can on

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
If you are like me then this is it. THIS is what D&D was. Sure I had read a friends Holmes/Blue-book Basic set and I knew of AD&D through the Monster Manual. But this is the D&D book that started it all for me. This is the one that set fire to my imagination.
This is a complete set of rules. Character creation through to 3rd level. Monsters, treasures, dungeons. Everything that ever was or will be D&D had it's start right here (more or less). Honestly this book is not worth 5 stars here. It is worth 6 out of 5.
I almost would say that if I could only play one version of D&D ever, then this might be the one. It lacks the complexity of AD&D or 3e, but anymore I see this as a feature.
64 pages plus cover. Marbleized dice and crayon not included.

D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
This was the 1981 followup to the D&D Basic set. Designed for the Moldvay Basic there was even a little bit about what to do if you had the Holmes Basic.
This expanded the game to level 14 and for most of us it was all we needed for a very long time.
I loved the introduction of all the new undead like Vampires and Spectres (was a big horror fan even then) and that little map of the Known World. I starred at that map for hours, learning lands and names of places far off and never were.
Plus all the new spells! The options of spells for my cleric and magic-users were beyond my 11-year old brain's reckoning at the time.
At 5 bucks this is a criminal steal. I wore my old copy of my expert book out, now I have a PDF to go back too anytime I like. Combine it with the Basic book and some adventures and you are set. Everything you need to play D&D just like the good old days. No skills, no feats, no attacks of opportunity, but plenty of flexibility and action.
I love newer games, but this is the one. The one that keeps me coming back. Back to the Keep, back to Glantri and back to D&D.

B1 In Search of the Unknown (Basic)
This is my "go to" adventure anytime I want to start up a new group or game.  It's a ritual for me, roll up characters and run them through the halls of the lost Castle of Quasqueton. I still have my copy that I bought all those years ago and it was also one of the first PDFs I purchased from WotC. I never really expanded on Roghan the Fearless or Zelligar the Unknown save that they were long dead and their Castle was now overrun with monsters.
It is one of those adventures I can run with zero prep time and each time I learn something new or remember something I forgot.
This module is simple, easy to use and can adapted to any campaign world and even any game.
It is a perfect module for the Basic game.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (Basic)
I once read that more people have played through the Keep on the Borderlands more than any other adventure. Of that I am sure. I have run scores of new players through it myself including a new generation of gamers.
The module hardly needs an introduction and it really is almost immune to review. Who cares that the Caves of Chaos look like some sort of Monster Condo where all these different creatures live together until those meddling humans show up from the Keep.
Going to the Caves is rite of passage. It is the hallmark of a real honest to Pelor adventurer.
If you don't have it you can't really call yourself a D&D player.
Just remember, "Bree-Yark" means "I surrender" in goblin. Yell it out really loud.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (Basic)
Another classic. B3 has had a storied history, but the module we all actually played has a special place in many gamer's hearts.
For starters it is a Basic module, and lot of material in it is aimed at new DMs working on their craft. While the programmed text of rooms 1 to 6 might look quaint by today's standards, there is a lot of good things here.
For starters the basic premise of the module is a fun one. An Evil artifact, an innocent princess, a dashing rogue on a white dragon. Lots of the cliches of fantasy gaming, but all are played earnestly and not a hint of irony is here.
The module itself is not without issues as mentioned elsewhere. The map of the castle is enough to drive a sane mapper crazy and some of the NPCs (like the green elf "Protectors") are annoying. But all that fades when you discover the Eye of Arik and destroy it.
I recently re-ran this one for my kids using the D&D 3.5 edition rules. Worked great.
If you are new to the Basic D&D game (B/X flavor) then this is a great adventure to get.

B4 The Lost City (Basic)
Another great Moldvay module. This one is so strange, but so much fun.  I remember playing this one in 8th grade and honestly I had a blast.  It wasn't though till many years later while running it for my own kids did I see it's Pulp fiction roots.   Plenty of great influences can be seen in this from Robert E. Howard to Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith.
To me this one was always on the edge of that B/X divide. Sure it was a B series module, but it could have easily been one of the X series.
Unlike some adventures I played or ran in the 80s I went back to this one appreciated it more now then I did then.

X1 The Isle of Dread (Basic)
Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Ilse of Dread lasts as one of the best Basic-era adventures out there.  In today's frame of mind the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong and Jurassic Park.  It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas and just plain crazy fun.  It was included in the original Expert set and it still had expanded maps and more creatures.  I never understood why the creatures where not just in the main book, but it did make the module special.
What was so nice about X1 over B2 is you had the feel it was more integrated into the Expert rules; it felt like a logical extension.
I ran it again recently with 20+ years between the last time I had ran it and it felt like a very different adventure.  There is a lot of untapped potential here. Enough for several adventures.

X2 Castle Amber (Basic)
This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail for me.  I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I  had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements.  As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.
I did finally get a copy, paid a lot for it and I also got a copy here.
The module lives up to the hype.  It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it.  But for me at that time (the mid 90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection.  It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that is would have been a crime not to bring them together.
This is one of the last of the truly classic modules.

Though not official there have been some great B/X related products.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

BECMI: Expert Set review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We end with Treasure and Magic Items.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparisons with the Cook/Marsh B/X Expert Set

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

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

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

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

Comparisons with First and Second Printing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Complete B/X Adventurer is Mine!

NOTE My updated review is here:

I got my copy of the Complete B/X Adventurer in the mail yesterday.

It certainly lives up to it's hype and to it's predecessor the B/X Companion.
You don't need the B/X Companion to use this, but it certainly helps.

It reminds me a lot of the old Bard Games "The Compleat ______" books. That is a good thing in my book.

I will get a proper review up soon.  But here is the brief one.
I like it.  I like the witch class but the summoner might end up being my favorite.
Can't wait for the PDF so I can have it on my tablet.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Class Struggles: B/X Classes

The last few weeks I have been focussing on various classes and it dawns on me that I need something along the lines of a B/X Class Compendium for myself.  Not to publish or anything, but just my own use.   I also have to admit that I have been following (but commenting as much as I would like) +Jonathan Becker's analysis of the Holmes classes and subclasses.  If you have not read it, please do, it is great stuff.  Yeah it might be nostalgia and navel-gazing, but who cares, it is fun stuff.

Like Becker I am a fan of B/X, aka Moldvay/Cook/March era D&D.  So my class choices will be ones that are largely compatible with that.  It's also no big surprise that most of the classes I like also tend to be magic ones.

Lets see what I have.

Covered many times and many places here.  Yes, I am partial to my own witch, but I am also rather fond of the witches from other designers. While some have this class as a sub-class of the Magic-User but I have the Witch as her own thing.
Warlocks have always been problematic for me.  It was not till I started working on for Pathfinder. I looked a few of these as well.  I am still not 100% certain which is my favorite to be honest.  Maybe the one from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.
But if I am going to have witches and warlocks then I am going to need a witch hunter.  I looked at a few, but I think I will have to go with the one from Jonathan Becker's The Complete B/X Adventurer.

I have maybe played two fighters, proper fighters, in the last 36 years.  But I really enjoy rangers and paladins.
Knights/Cavaliers.  I have not covered these guys yet, but I am rather fond of the Castle & Crusades Knights.
Beastmasters. I rather like these guys and my favorite is from The Complete B/X Adventurer.
If I am going to have a paladin then I am going to want an Anti-Paladin. My favorite is the one from the ACKS Player's Companion.

Covered yesterday, the B/X Rouge could be a replacement for the normal thief class.  With this class I can make a thief, a bard, an arcane-trickster, or any other thief like class. There some templates though I can look at.
The Bard is of particular interest to me really.  A really good bard would be great.
The Occultist is a class from Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is another rogue-like class that I could build using the rogue.

I would opt for the Wizard alternate I have in my Witch book.
For Illusionists I am going with the Basic Illusionist  from +Nathan Irving. I think it is the best choice.
For Necromancers there are so many choices, I might have to make my own.

For psychic classes, +Richard LeBlanc has me covered with his Basic Psionics Handbook. That gives me a Mystic and a Monk.

I have always been fond of clerics. They were the first class I ever played.  I would keep them as is, with the additional rule that they can use the same weapon as their god.
I will also keep Druids and add in a Healer class I made back in the early 80s.