Great bundle deal (only today!) and Kickstarter from Red Moon Medicine Show

driftwood-verses

I’m a big fan of Red Moon Medicine Show. Clint Krause makes interesting and weird stuff for the OSR crowd.

Here is a review for The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem and some reviews of Vacant Ritual Assembly, a zine.

Clint is running a Kickstarter for his newest project The Driftwood Verses:

The Driftwood Verses is a gloomy, nautical fantasy campaign setting for old-school tabletop role-playing games. It’s directly compatible with Lamentations of the Flame Princess and more broadly compatible with a large selection of traditional systems. The contents can be used as a stand alone setting or slotted into your existing kitchen sink fantasy campaign as a distinct region in a larger world.

It features art by Sean Poppe. It looks great. Clint’s stuff is an insta-buy for me.

You can convince yourself of the quality of his work. For today only you can get Red Moon’s entire back catalog of PDFs for USD $1: Don’t Walk in Winter Wood, The Stygian Garden of Abelia Prem, and Vacant Ritual Assembly 1-5 (a 95% discount):

affiliate links: DTRPG or RPGnow.

May Update: The Black Hack, Whitehack and Sword and Backpack

What’s new?

I have been adding and updating two new resources lists to my blog:

Both are neo-OSR-clones and worth a look. I’ve written a 7-part review series about Whitehack and another review about The Black Hack.

I’m pondering some hacks for The Black Hack (TBH). My ideas are:

  • a mix of Sword and Backpack (see below) with TBH: free-form and minimalist
  • a mix of Scarlet Heroes, Whitehack and TBH (I’ve written about “Whitehack Heroes” before): “heroic” and old-school
  • a mix of Searchers of the Unknown (SotU), 1974 Style and TBH: ultra-lite

I’ve already begun work with Searchers of the Black. Unfortunately, I can’t find a way to incorporate TBH’s armor mechanic with SotU’s basic task resolution.
Also, it looks like neither SotU nor 1974 Style are available under the OGL or Creative Commons. I will still need to contact the authors. However, there are countless variations of SotU, so it will likely be okay to make another hack.

Furthermore, I’m playtesting Cecil Howe’s Sword and Backpack Booklet Edition. It is a fun ultra-lite/free-form fantasy game for young adventurers. It is also free.

Four Against Darkness Followup

Two weeks ago I posted my playtest of Four Against Darkness (4AD).
There were some follow-up questions and I also promised to give away 5 PDF copies of the game.

First, the questions:
How does this compare to Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits 1?
They are similar. ADTA is an introductory role-playing game with a focus on dungeon-crawling. ADTA can be played as a standard RPG with a Game Master. Or it can be played solo.
The mechanics are also very easy.
I must admit that I’ve only played it once and it’s been some time. Without re-playing the game I can’t really say if one is better than the other. I’ve skimmed ADTA and it looks like it will give you the same experience as 4AD.
The dungeon-generator looks to be simpler and there are no boss monsters.
The game is a tad cheaper (USD $6.95 instead of $8 for 4AD).

How does it compare to similar boardgames such as Descent? (Other than waaaaaaaay cheaper)
I’ve played Descent once, a friend of mine has the game. I can’t remember the mechanics anymore. Descent has some story elements and AFAIK you can’t play it solo. But the board game parts are of course much cooler.
I’m not sure how you can compare these two. They are probably both dungeon-crawlers but I still see Descent as a board game and 4AD as a pen and paper game.

Now, the giveaway. Done with random.org:

  1. Steven Kornegay
  2. Nikolay
  3. Rynath
  4. John Payne
  5. Bob Bersch

I’ll contact the winners via email.

Thank you for reading my blog. I will do some more giveaways in the future, so stay tuned.

Playtesting Four Against Darkness

In the Solo RPG G+ community Wes Camp had some posts about a solo dungeon-crawler called Four Against Darkness (4AD) by Ganesha Games.
It is available for USD $8.00 as a PDF from DrivethruRPG (affiliate link).
It is a simple old-school inspired game that only uses six-sided dice.

You create 4 adventurers from the classic tropes (warrior, rogue etc.) and create a map as you go.

4ad

If you’re interested in the game, scroll down to the end, please!

Let’s try it out!

I have 4 heroes: Kurm (Warrior), Warren (Cleric), Yselda (Rogue) and Bonifatio (Halfling).
Default marching order is Krum, Yselda, Bonifatio, Warren.
I use Alex Schroeder’s gridmapper for the map.

So, this is the entrance room that I rolled up:

4ad-1

And there are 8 goblin swarmlings (lvl 3, treasure -1, morale -1). My adventurers will attack, let’s see what the goblins’ reaction is: flee.
This counts as having defeated the monsters, and I can gain loot… which is a scroll with a random spell… Lightning Bolt. I will give that to the Rogue. It looks like every class except Barbarians can use scrolls. Wizards are the best at using them but I have none in my party.

So, obviously, my heroes are quite almighty. At least that’s what they think. So let’s look at the door on the left.

4ad-2

An empty corridor. The search reveals a secret door!

4ad-3

The adventurers will spy into the room. There are 6 Fungi Folk, lvl 3. We will attack as we will have surprise (and I want to test out the combat rules).
You need to roll at least the monster level to hit them, in round 1 they count as level 2 monsters because of surprise.
The Fungi don’t flee but stand their ground.

So, the rules are a bit unclear about what happens when your attack roll explodes (you can reroll any 6 and add it). My first attack roll netted a 15 in total.
Explosive Six Rule on page 6 says:

… In combat, this will let you kill multiple minions with a lucky blow. …

Later, on page 20:

Minions are encountered in large numbers. They have 1 life each. Every successful attack kills one. …

The Quick reference sheet says:

Attack procedure: (d6 + modifiers)/Monster level= number of minions slain. 1 is always a miss. 6 is always a hit.

That means that Kurm’s attack whirlwinds through the Fugi Men and slays them all. That’s 3 gp for the party.
Kurm can make an XP roll because the party has defeated more than 10 minions. Success, he’s level 2 now!

So, let’s take the door on the south.

4ad-4

It’s a trap! Spears coming out of a wall, 2 characters are attacked: Yselda and Kurm.
Both can evade (pfuuh). The party finds a piece of jewellery, worth 130 gp. Sweet!

Next room (room 5):

4ad-5

It’s empty but the party finds 1 gp. Back to room 4 but wandering monsters sneak up upon the group: 11 skeletal rats (lvl 3 undead)!
Every rat attacks one party member and then the remaining 7 attack the Cleric because undead hate Clerics. After some rounds, the fight ends with now dead undead, Warren with 2 wounds and Bonifatio with 1 wound.
The Warrior, Kurm, was able to level up and is now level 3.

The party now enters the room/corridor north of room 3. It’s an empty corridor, the search reveals a Clue for Yselda.

4ad-6

Next room, empty.

4ad-7

Searching it reveals a secret door. We peek into it, it’s empty:

4ad-8

Let’s enter the corridor and search. Hidden treasure! 117 gp but the gold is protected by a trap (lvl 4). Yselda, the Rogue, tries to disarm the trap. Success!

The party follows the corridor and takes the next door, another empty corridor.

4ad-9

Another empty room:

4ad-10

The next room contains 10 vampire bats (lvl 1). The party wants to see their reaction. They flee.
Another XP roll, this time for the Rogue. Success, she is now level 2.
4ad-11

Hm, up until now I’ve only encountered minions and vermin, no boss monsters and not that much treasure. Let’s see if the next room (a dead end) will have some.

4ad-12

Nope, it’s completely empty. Now I need to trace back and hope that no wandering monsters attack (1 in 6 chance).
Room 11: nope.
Rom 10: nope.
Room 9: nope.
Room 8: nope.

Now the party can go further north.

4ad-13

6 skeleton rats, the party waits to see how they react.
Ok, they fight. Must have seen the cleric.
But ultimately they stand no chance, although Warren had to heal himself. He rolls for XP and levels up.

Not a time to give up.

4ad-14

(I added grey empty boxes to show that there are two corridors which the party can follow).

But finally, a boss monster! An Ogre, but he’s not the final boss. Lvl 5, 6 LP, does 2 points of damage.
The party has no mercy and attacks. The Halfling tries to hit it with a sling first and then needs to switch to his daggers. The others attack in melee.
After 2 rounds of attack, the Ogre flees. The Cleric levels up because the party has defeated a boss monster.

Now, treasure! Hm, measly 5 gp.

Let’s stop here for a moment.

Some Thoughts

The basic rules are simple. But there are some fiddly bits which slowed down gameplay a bit. Dungeon-generators are generally pretty slow as you need to roll the tables. However, 4AD does a good job here. It uses only d6s and eschewing useless tables like wall decorations. That means that you create the necessary stuff.

The dungeon wasn’t very exciting, though. I always have fun with mapping, so that part was ok. But the chances for empty rooms or minor monsters (vermins and minions) are much higher than the more interesting stuff. Makes sense in one way but is not very thrilling.

Different from Ruins of the Undercity (RotU) there are no deeper levels. This will be a future supplement for 4AD. Also, the encounters are not scaled in level. The maximum level for player characters is level 5. A roll of 4 on the boss table is always a Medusa, level 4. In RotU the number of monsters and what kind of monster you encounter depends on your Average Party Level. In this regard, RotU is complete as it is able to simulate more dangerous areas for high-level characters.

Some rules in 4AD are a bit unclear. One example you can see above. Another is when monsters flee. At some time in the rulebook, the rules state that you cannot loot the bodies of fleeing monsters. Later, the book tells you that if monsters flee they count as defeated and you get their gold anyway. So, there is a mismatch here.
I’m also not sure how to fit the different rooms and corridors together. Should I flip some of the rooms so that doors match each other? Or should I just slap on the next room regardless if it fits?

The Halfling class was underwhelming. I think the other classes are stronger or more useful. The Halfling has his Luck roll but at least at low levels that doesn’t count for much and he is very weak with attacking and defending. The Rogue can disarm traps and the others also have their own gimmicks.

Moreover, the book could be better organized. As a first-time player, I had to flip a lot. The rules for combat are scattered amongst the chapter for “Encounters” and “How to Attack Monsters”. And these chapters don’t follow after each other.
On the plus side, there are three pocket mods and two quick references which you can print out. That helps a lot.

My first impression is that this is a solid game. It is fun and the rules work.
I will need to playtest it a bit more for a better understanding.

The winner takes it all

I’m giving away 5 PDF copies. Just comment below and I will draw random winners on May 15th.
Don’t forget to give me some way to contact you (email, G+, twitter etc.). And you’ll need a DrivethruRPG/Rpgnow account.

The product itself contains a contest which you can enter if you post a review or playthrough. You can win lifetime supply for the game by the author. Hawt!


Links:
Four Against Darkness (affiliate link), PDF USD $8.00
Cave of the Kobold Slave-Masters (aff), PDF USD $2.00
Gridmapper (might not work in all browsers)

The Black Hack review

The Black Hack

Maybe you are stumbling over this review at DTRPG/RPGnow or maybe you’ve picked it up on G+ or Twitter.
And you are probably reading this because you are an OSR fan. Perhaps you’re wondering if The Black Hack is worth your time and money. Or maybe you are just interested in my opinion. (Thanks.)
Either way, you are probably familiar with old school Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) games.

The Black Hack (affiliate link) sells itself as

… a super-streamlined roleplaying game that uses the Original 1970s Fantasy Roleplaying Game as a base, and could well be the most straightforward modern OSR compatible clone available. If speed of play and character creation, compatibility, and simple – yet elegant rules are what you yearn for. Look no further!

You might want to know if the product can keep its promise. In a moment, we will take a look at the game. At the end of this article, you really should be able to decide for yourself.
I know you’re wondering: such an effort for a 2 dollar product? But you will surely agree that people only want to spend their time and money for things which they hope will be valuable for them.
So I’m writing a review for a 20-page product. Please note that this is a reading review.

You must know that I’m a great fan of lightweight systems and of course I also like old school games.

Alright, let’s get this out of the way: this is a modern OSR clone. That means that it is old school D&D at its core with some tweaking and some ideas from more recent games.
It’s not a hipster “indie” game per se, it’s not a newer version of D&D nor is it a (straight) retro-clone (like Delving Deeper and such).

First of all, the game uses the standard array of stats. Roll 3d6 in order. You can swap two stats. If you roll a 15+, the next stat must be rolled with 2d6. Basically, you end up with pretty well-rounded characters as the bell curve output of 3d6 ensures that you most of your attributes end up somewhere between 8 and 13 anyway.

4 classes: Warrior, Cleric, Conjurer, Thief. No races.
Classes have armor and weapon restrictions. Weapon restrictions are silly as the attack damage depends on your class, not on your chosen weapon. So a Warrior always deals 1d8 with a weapon, be it an axe, a sword or a flail. And Clerics always deal 1d6 damage but are only allowed blunt weapons. The author probably wanted to stay true to the OD&D roots.

The core mechanic for the game is roll below a stat on a d20. No saving throws, this is also handled with an attribute check.
Time and turns are a bit weird. The author renamed rounds into Moments and turns into Minutes. And Minutes can also be Hours or Days. But because that’s not very intuitive, both terms are spelled out (i.e. Minutes (turns)). I don’t get the need for new names. Additionally, the author doesn’t explain the duration of a turn.

There are some deviations from standard old school fare in the Black Hack.
Armor provides protection via Armor Points (AP). For example, Leather has 4 AP and reduced damage by that amount.
Only the players roll dice. The rule is hidden but edit: It’s not really hidden. The text doesn’t directly say “Only the players roll dice” but it states what you need to do to attack or defend: if a monster attacks, the player might make a check to try to avoid. That means the GM doesn’t roll an attack roll.
For example, if it’s possible to dodge the monster’s attack, the player makes a Dexterity test. Powerful opponents make a test harder but the basic mechanism is the same.
Movement is abstract and uses 4 ranges: Close, Nearby, Far-Away, and Distant.
When your Hit Points are reduced to zero, you are taken Out of Action and must roll a d6 on a table. Results vary from KO’d to Dead. Let’s hope that Lady Luck is on your side.

The GM decides about advancement. There are no experience points, for every milestone a character gains a level.

Additionally, the Black Hack uses the now popular Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic (think Barbarians of Lemuria or D&D 5e). While there are some guidelines when these apply (for example when you use a weapon you’re not proficient with), the rules are really vague on this. Eventually, the GM will need to decide when to apply this formula to make tasks harder or easier.
There are no rules for combat maneuvers or other fancy stuff. That means that the mechanics only cover the basic attacking and defending moves. Everything else you need to come up on your own, call for an attribute check and maybe roll with Advantage/Disadvantage.
And that’s where you must decide if that’s ok for you or not. If you like minimalist and rules-lite games, you might embrace the freedom. If you want a bit more crunch or just a list with some more options, this game falls flat on its ass. The Black Hack doesn’t reinvent the wheel but asks you to draw from your previous gaming experiences with old school games.

What I like about the ruleset is how it handles equipment. Consumable items have a Usage Die. A quiver of arrows has a d10. You need to roll it and when you roll a 1-2, you step down the die until. When you roll a 1-2 on a d4 item, the item is depleted.
I like how this makes bookkeeping much easier. Chapeau!
I’m a bit miffed about the equipment list, though. For instance, one-handed weapons are missing. Yes, a starter character gets one weapon of choice for free but what if I want to buy an additional ranged weapon?

Classes are imbalanced. Interestingly, characters start with much higher Hit Points (HP) than typical. For instance, a Warrior has 1d10 + 4 starting HP. Conjurers only have 1d4 + 4. So in the worst case scenario, you end up with 5 HP.
Still, that’s not as bad as it sounds. That’s because monsters strangely deal less damage than characters.
PCs can do between 1d4 (Conjurer) and 1d8 damage (Warrior) at level 1. A monster with 1 HD (Hit Die/Dice) deals only d4 damage (or a static 2 points).
Per default rules, a fight can be pretty boring. There is no way to make a fight mechanically interesting except the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic (again, there are almost no guidelines for when to use them in combat). Well, there is a rule for critical hits. And why are characters much more capable than monsters of the same level?
I’m a bit surprised about the four range increments because there are no rules for tactical movement. The basic rule is that on a turn every character can move somewhere Nearby and still make an action (i.e. an attack). You can forgo an action and move further etc. But still I wonder why there is a need for four combat zones. Of course, melee attacks are only possible at Close range. The range for ranged weapons is not defined in the book. That’s because there are no ranged weapons included in the equipment list. So the GM will have to come up with her own rulings.

What about spells?
There is a spell list for Clerics (Divine Spells) and one for Conjurers (Arcane Spells) with the typical stuff. Clerics gain their first spell at level 2. So a 1st level Cleric can’t cast spells. A 1st level Conjurer only can cast one spell.
The game uses spell slots. You can only cast as many spells as you have slots per day.
I don’t want to spell out the whole rulebook (see what I did here?), suffice to say that they are no big surprises here. It all fits snugly into the rest of the game and the base mechanic of making an attribute check.
Clerics can try to banish undead which can be a consolidation for the lack of spells at first level.

There is no GM section per se, the rules are scattered across the whole book. But as The Black Hack is minimalist, that’s not a problem.
As a GM, you have two pages of monsters at your disposal.
But notice that spareness comes at a cost. Strictly speaking, the rules are incomplete and you won’t understand them if you aren’t already familiar with role-playing games.

A word about the appearance: The book is nicely laid out, text and tables are easy to read, good font choices. It’s 20 pages total, including the cover and the OGL at the back of the book.

The price of USD $2.00 is fair.

tl;dr

The Black Hack is a rules-lite neo D&D clone. I like the mix of old school feeling and newer innovations.
However, the game is not without fault. At times, the game text just stays too vague for my taste. And why does the author insist on weapon restrictions when the damage value is fixed per class? Plus, the balance between monsters and characters feels off. Is the game supposed to be more heroic? If so, why don’t characters start with max HP at first level? And why are spellcasting classes that restricted at first level?
That said, as the target audience, I like The Black Hack. Yes, it’s the millionth D&D clone but it fits my preferences. It feels elegant and fun.
Suppose that you are not a rules-lite OSR gamer with a taste for modern tweaks, then you will probably much more critical of the rules.
I want you to discover for yourself if this description fits you or not. Then you will know if The Black Hack is worth a shot.


Links:
The Black Hack (aff), USD $2.00 as PDF
The Black Hack Sorrowset & GM’s Screen (aff), USD $1.50 as PDF
OGL web version of The Black Hack by Bruno Bord

 

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls by Ken St Andre, Liz Danforth, and James Peters

This is a guest review by Wilhelm Person. Thanks for reading.

Deluxe-Tunnels-and-Trolls

This Deluxe edition is the ninth edition of a game first released in 1975 by Ken St Andre as a simpler alternative to D&D, that focused on entertainment rather than simulation.

I had to look that bit up on Wikipedia. There has been a T&T based CYOA sitting on my shelf for years, but beyond that Tunnels & Trolls hadn’t really registered on my radar as an RPG. When I got the offer to review it for Sophia’s blog I accepted mostly to see what is all was about. These are my impressions based on reading the game.

The book

I got the game in PDF format, it is a massive tome (file?) of 386 pages US-letter. It is formatted with two columns per page and quite readable, even on screen.

The book is divided into four sections. First the actual game itself of about 160 pages. Then a 60-page section of advanced and alternative rules. 60 pages are devoted to introducing the default setting – Trollworld. The book even includes 40 pages of adventures, one of which is a CYOA style single player affair. Various appendices make up the remainder of the page count.

There are loads of really nice black and white retro styled illustrations breaking up the text.

The rules

The rules are simple, on par with early D&D or most of the current OSR games.

Character generation follows the following pattern: Roll 3d6 for the eight stats, with the neat twist that any triple roll, 1-1-1, 2-2-2 etc, are rerolled and added to the initial roll for potentially infinite stats. Select a class from Warrior, Wizard or Rogue (who is something of a mix between the two others). Select a race from Human, Dwarf, Elf, Hobb (hobbit), Fairy or Leprechaun, which gives multipliers for the stats. Fill in a couple of other fields, buy gear and the character is ready for play.

Saving throws are made against the stats, and also covers skill use. Stat+2d6 against a difficulty level (doubles are rerolled like the stat rolls during char gen) to succeed.

Close combat eschews to-hit rolls, just roll damage directly. Both sides in the combat roll and add up their damage. The party that got the lowest total distributes the difference as they please as taken damage. Ranged attacks involve a saving throw to hit, and if successful the damage goes directly to the target, instead of going into the general pool for distribution.

There is a magic system with a whole bunch of different spells that cost Mana to throw. If the cost is paid the spell is successfully cast.
Character advancement is done in baby steps with the player spending experience points to raise the stats one step at a time.

Simple, right? There’s a bit more to it, some various special cases and so on, but I think you could join a game of T&T with the above summary and do just fine.

The setting

The Trollworld setting is whimsical, strange, random and other such things. Here are the first couple of sentences describing the dragon shaped continent of Rrr’lff:

Plate tectonics had nothing to do with it. The major landforms on Trollworld acquired their
current shapes through the efforts of the Great Wizards who entered the world from Elsewhere. Rrr’lff, the Dragon Continent, was formed by Shangingshing-shingingshang, the oldest and greatest of all dragons on Trollworld.

And so it goes on for sixty pages. Not very coherent, but loads of curious details and strange places. A treasure trove for anyone looking for inspiration for some whimsical and strange adventures.

The setting and rules aren’t heavily coupled, it would be trivial to separate them and use either with other products if desired.

The form

The form is traditional, a GM runs adventures for players.

However, there’s an interesting twist in that the players are expected to play a couple of characters a piece. With the recommendation of two to five players, that means that a party of around 10 characters that waltz around Trollworld killing monsters and looting their treasures shouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

Conclusions

The rules are complete for the genre, and pretty well written. I can see them being used as a drop in replacement for the rules of any OSR game, though stat conversions are a bit more work than usual due to the eight stats and different paradigm of combat system.

I get a retro feel from the Trollworld setting. A certain zany everything goes kind of deal. Just reading a couple of paragraphs at random should give me enough material to run a session without much further planning.

The form is traditional. There are some guidelines for the prospective GM on what to do when running the game though perhaps not much explanation of how to do those things. There are a couple of ready to run adventures included in the book, for anyone who’d like examples of how the game could be played.

Will I play it?

Perhaps …

The friendly names of spells go well with the overall style of the game (e.g. “Oh go away” and “Poor baby”), but they don’t sound very majestic to me. Perhaps I’m too used to the D&D spell names. The setting is random, but I can definitely work with it.

The huge parties of characters seem like an interesting concept. Like an Ars Magica troupe, but everyone goes on adventures together.

The text is incredibly verbose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an RPG that wraps the mechanics in so much text before. To run the game I’d either have to make my own rules summary, or back up a couple of editions to a time when the book was slimmer. To jump in as a player at a con or join an existing game? Yes, sure, it would be nice to see the mechanics in action.


Link:
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls @DTRPG: PDF, USD $19.95 (affiliate link)

The Temple of The Squirrel God of Greed

This is a guest review by Jaye Foster.

Temple of Greed

Temple of Greed (aff) is systemless dungeon by Daniel Neffling that is designed for use with OSR games. This is my first encounter with an OSR dungeon, so expect me to end up commenting a little on the genre as well.

Buried Treasure

Just a page of text is all your given as both backstory and suggested plot hooks. The temple is all that remains of a wealthy cult to a god of greed, hence why it’s filled with treasure. And that’s the hook; greed. It’s a dungeon adventure for the greedy or those in desperate need of money. There’s no more offered to help the GM entice their players into the dungeon. The god and the cult aren’t even named, indicating how dry the description is.

The dungeon/temple itself is a fairly linear set of rooms filled with traps and puzzles. These are the focus of the adventure as no monsters are to be found. Which makes sense as the only things in the temple are locked doors and treasures. I would describe the traps has hardcore, in that quite a few of them are of the Save or Die variety. Those that don’t kill you outright will certainly leave a nasty and permanent mark. This is not a dungeon for players attached to characters. Particularly as the temple itself contains no contextual warnings as to their presence or any in-setting clues as to how some of the traps can be resolved. It would irk me as a GM to have to give players out-of-character information to for them to progress.

Like other single themed adventures, if you’re going to insert this into a running campaign, be prepared for there to be characters with little to do. The temple of greed will engage rogues and healers but will leave combat and magic specialists with little to do. In several places, the text reminds the GM that trying to force doors by strength or spell results in unpleasant things happening to the characters. On top of this, it’s feasible that the adventure could dissolve in just one player solving everything and the others just tagging along.

As a bonus, the book provides a variation on the cleric class by Edward Lockhart. Keepers of the Watching Squirrel are dedicated to the practice of greed in the service of their fluffy rodent god. They function almost entirely as a cleric but with only selfish motivations. The greed based restrictions and spells are amusing but still useful in play. The class has the potential for both comic fun and dramatic character development.

Art of Avarice

The dungeon map is by Dyson Logos so you can expect his usual level of quality. It’s a nice little isometric map and it’s pleasing to see the extra care taken to add some scenery around the entrance. For its use in Temple of Greed, I would have arranged it landscape on the page and certainly added a key. You can work out what is and what isn’t a secret door but a legend would have helped. The caption text could have been better integrated.

The rest of the artwork is a mix of stock images and some linework drawn by the author. This linework has a consistent blocking style to it that conveys well what the interior of the temple looks and feels like. The stock is of various different styles but does fit well with the text it supports and isn’t used to pad the page count. I’m not sure what the cover artwork is trying to achieve. It looks reminiscent of a transport network map.

Treasure, Laid Out

I recommend printing this temple out, particularly the main map. Though each section is numbered, and this numbering used in the description, I had to flip back and forth between text and graphic repeatedly. Preventable if each section/room was repeated with the text. Once you’ve familiarised yourself this happens less, but it was an avoidable annoyance. You’re also going to want to spend time marking out a copy of the map as to where the traps and secret doors are. In several places the text is not clear where important items are located. The location of one trap in particular only becoming clear by an inference in text of what’s beyond it.

Nuffling’s writing style is blunt with short sentences. He appears to dislike using adjectives to add depth to descriptions. There’s also a tendency towards rhetorical questions and exclamation marks as a way to add colour. Generally, the information present is clear and understandable, though a piece of indistinct terminology did trip me up. What, exactly, is a plate on a door? Lockhart’s writing is better, with much more flow and character to the prose.

Compound of Interest

The Temple of Greed is a utilitarian dungeon. It’s cohesive and maintains a consistent theme. As a puzzle dungeon, a campaign interstitial or as a part of a quest for cash, it works. The text would benefit from some additional description as it reads as dead and empty, like the temple itself. If you want no frills and brutal function, it’s worth looking at. I’m a bit greedier, so I would be looking for more character.


Link:
Temple of Greed (aff): PDF USD $1.70, print + pdf bundle: USD$4.47

A Review of Castle Gargantua by guest critic Claytonian

This is a guest review by my awesome friend Claytonian! Enjoy!

Castle Gargantua

Background

Castle Gargantua (aff) (hereafter CG), by someone that goes by the nom de plum of Kabuki Kaiser (real name in the work if you really want to know), is the self-proclaimed biggest mega-dungeon in the history of the OSR. Well, the size is much more an issue of the fiction than of anything that might be quantifiable if we compared the thousands of dungeons in the nebulous movement that is the OSR, but what I discovered in my read-through is that CG does represent something epic and interesting in scale, and it will most likely keep your players occupied for quite some time.

I have heard of the literary classic Gargantua, and even included a book about toilet paper substitutes as an homage to it in one of my own dungeons. However, I must admit to not being overly familiar with it, so I think some of the references included in CG will continue to go unnoticed by me until I read CG’s appendix N. Any product with an appendix N is already ahead in my esteem, and CG has 10 works as recommended reading, including R.E. Howard’s Red Nails and E.E. Gygax’s Against the Giants. The product feels like it draws from a lot of sources, and, to its benefit, it comes across as a fairy tale straight out of the early modern period of European history.

CG doesn’t really mention it on its RPGnow (Onebookshelf) page or inside its covers, but it really seems like it was written with Lamentations of the Flame Princess1 in mind, considering the setting details, but it could just be a bit of a coincidence considering the classic Gargantua was published in the early modern era. Whatever the intention, it would fit really well in an LotFP campaign, due to things like the languages and adult themes that pervade everything.

Usefulness

I had heard that CG was a good mega-dungeon generator, something that might even be used on the fly. How successful is it at those goals? I’d say it does a pretty fair job at such a gigantic task. The innovation is that CG has no set map (rather one will be generated by play if at all). Instead, there is a generator that is laid out much like a board game, but I’ll try to not give away all its secrets. Suffice to say, the board tells you what section of the book to pull rooms from (there are four categories), and you improvise the little details based on the rooms. Rooms are peopled with combinations of monsters, weirdness, traps, and treasures, but only half the time. 50% of the room will be empty, save for furnishings, which might be of fantastic scales, but improvisation will be helped by thinking about the room’s purpose.

The board includes tiles of a color that indicate special sections, and they each have an actual map, history, and denizens. As these are like small dungeon products on their own, a good GM will want to have at least one read ahead of time, so they can manage the game without slowing everything down.

There is a bit of concern that GMs might have to slow down to read individual monster, trap, and treasure entries outside of the special sections too, but the creativity of all of these things make the extra effort worthwhile. There are a lot of clever monster abilities and puzzles for the players to figure out.

One of the sections deals with the cruder aspects of human nature and has lots of sex and bodily functions mentioned. CG itself points out that most mentions of sex have been confined to just the one section, and you can skip it, but be wary of the occasional one outside of it, and know that you’ll be triggered if you are the type of person that gets triggered by triggery things.

All things considered, you’ll probably want to read all the entries for each section before you run it. That could take a lot of time, but as I said, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. CG is filled with interesting things. I got a bit of the same vibe that I got when reading another OSR work, Deep Carbon Observatory (aff), in the sense that there is a wistfulness to the things you are reading about. However, CG is far less personal in tone and thankfully has fewer typos.

The dice will also tell you useful things like when to add halls, stairwells, and more. All the usual polyhedral dice get employed in CG.

So I don’t think it will be the fastest you’ve ever spun out a dungeon room at the table in real time, but good things come to those who wait. The innovations and creativity spun into CG make me really want to give it a go at the game table sometime.

Nitpicks

There are a couple typos. Nothing major, but one table (page 8) did have a result follow directly after it’s preceding result without a new line to denote it.

There are some descriptions that carry over to a new page, but nothing confusing. The layout of the special rooms section is a bit confusing at a glance because what look like headings are actually subsections of the numbered paragraphs they follow. However, once you are aware of the format, it is no problem whatsoever.

The thing about flipping a coin to decide furniture sizes is a bit odd in a game where a die could decide things with equal probability.  I’m really just nitpicking now.

The vocabulary includes some old and obscure terms. The GM will probably want to look these up ahead of time and hope to remember what they mean. It would have been nice is some of them had parenthetical information. For instance, instead of just saying a guard is wearing a “morion”, it could say “morion (helm).”

Aesthetics

The art is not really a selling point in my opinion. The text stands on its own, thankfully. In any case, art is subjective, and you can see how you feel about it on the RPGnow page, but don’t let it keep you away if you don’t like it. The art seems to be dispersed in a semi-random fashion. For instance, the image of porcine orcs appears six pages before they are detailed.  The special section maps will appeal to any fans of Dyson Logos’ style, but they are, ironically, very concise things compared to the usual sprawling works he is known for. I’m happy to see them there, though!

The text and its layout are very pretty. It uses colors, sizes, and font choices that make it easy on the eye. I was able to read it all on my computer, and that is not usual for me. The dungeon generator board shares the color scheme but opts to have weird shapes for each of its sections. This seems to have no game function, and it just looks kind of silly in a faux-edgy kind of way. The room record sheets at the end are crisp and lovely looking, though.

Other Considerations

The text is probably not great for pre-teen DMs. Not just because of the sex, but also some of the hard to understand vocabulary for rooms and items. Well, I say that, but maybe our culture has too many hangups about sex and maybe kids could afford to learn ten dollar words every once in a while. Overall though, this is a product for a mature and self-sure GM that can handle lots of little processes.

Buy this if

  • You are looking for something that will surprise and delight you and your players for countless hours.
  • You are looking for a good, self-contained campaign with a cohesive theme and goal (let’s get to the end and make Gargantua suffer!).
  • You are looking for LotFP, Against the Giants, and Dungeonland feels.
  • You are looking for the fun of a fun-house dungeon, but with the logic of a fairy tale.
  • You want to challenge jaded players bored by all the Monster Manual’s usual fare.

Link:
Castle Gargantua (aff): PDF USD $5.00, PDF+Softcover USD $9.99, other options available


  1. It does suggest Labyrinth Lord and LotFP as exemplars of OSR rules sets. 

2016 – the state of the blog

Dear readers, I just want to let you know that the blog is a bit slow going at the moment.
For 2016, there are some personal changes for me ahead which don’t allow for so much free time to spend on my RPG hobby.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed that the post frequency has gone down.

At the moment, I’m focussed on learning to code. As a beginner, this is really difficult for me as it requires a completely different skillset. It can be very frustrating but I’m putting my hard hat on.
Additionally, there is a new baby coming (soon!), so sleepless nights are guaranteed…

I have some stuff and some ideas for the blog on the backburner, for example reviews of Castle Gargantua (aff) and Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (aff).
Both look very promising from a first screening.

So, thanks for reading the blog!

dot and angry: how to adjudicate actions like a boss

As someone with limited experience on how to run a game, I’m always interested in learning more about it.
Most of us just fall into the role of the Game Master and start somehow without a predefined system. But it’s still a good idea to question our procedures to become better.
That’s why I enjoy reading blogs with Game Mastering tips, for example, gnomestew or the Alexandrian.
Another blog I can recommend is The Angry GM with the header “RPG advice with attitude”. And that’s what it is: really good information packaged into veeeery long texts and swearwords.
While I’m personally not a fan of the style, the substance is pretty great. It’s useful for many types of games although the author concentrates on fantasy RPGs à la D&D.
One of my favorite articles is Adjudicate Actions Like a Motherf$&%ing Boss! where Angry goes into detail on how to resolve actions (skill checks and all that jazz). Be warned, it’s a wall of text!

For my own reference, I created a flowchart with dot. With dot, you can create charts from plain text. It doesn’t create the prettiest graphs, but it’s neat if you want flowcharts without worrying too much about making it pretty and fiddling around with a graphical interface. Plus it’s easy to edit and to expand your graph if you need to.

Here is my dot code for the file:

digraph {
label="How to adjudicate like a Boss"
nodesep=1
node [shape=diamond]

start [label="GM presents the scene", shape=box, style=rounded]
response [label="Player decides response\n(intention vs. approach)"]
actionp [label="Is the action possible?"]
determineo [label="Can the action fail?\nIs failure risky/interesting?"]
usemech [label="Use game mechanics"]
outcome [label="GM decides an outcome"]
end [label="GM describes the result of the action", shape=box, style=rounded]

start -> response [weight=8]
response -> actionp [label="what (success/failure) &\nhow(what mechanics)?", weight=8]
actionp -> determineo [label="yes", fontcolor=darkgreen, color=darkgreen, weight=8]
determineo -> usemech [label="yes", fontcolor=darkgreen, color=darkgreen, weight=8]
usemech -> outcome [label="determine skill/ability etc.,\nroll dice", fontcolor=darkgreen, color=darkgreen, weight=8]
actionp -> outcome [label="no", fontcolor=red, color=red]
determineo -> outcome [label="no", fontcolor=red, color=red]
outcome -> end [label="intention -> outcome = success/failure?\napproach -> consequence = what has changed\nin the world?", weight=8]
}

If you want to follow along, install a program which can run Graphviz dot (see the link above). With Linux, it’s pretty easy just to install the Graphviz package. 1

And now my output when I type in
dot adjudicate_like_a_boss.dot -Tpng -o adjudicate_like_a_boss.png:

adjudicate_like_a_boss

If you like Angry’s article this flowchart might be useful to you. And if not, perhaps it’s still fun to try dot.


  1. other useful tutorials and links are here, here & here