Thursday, 5 April 2018

Artefacts Sought by the Lord of Oblivion

High up in a wind-blasted plateau over the Blackfang Mountains stands the tower of the archwizard Thuzziak. The old master of the arcane hasn't left his abode in over a century. Reportedly, his collection of magical items includes the legendary Staff of Power. The mountains are plagued by demon-worshipping orcs and wyverns, while the plateau is home to an enigmatic tribe of satyrs, whose pipes inflict madness upon mortal men.

In the misty Mirror Realm ruled by Mal-Lam, the Fearful Symmetry lie many ancient artefacts. Among them is the sought after Mask of Lunacy. This pocket dimension is accessible through a number of magical mirrors found in places where the dimensional boundaries have been weakened by potent magics.

The powerful Gauntlet of Doors is said to be kept in the Floating Palace of Medusa the Opulent. The palace constantly changes its location, but it returns to Aigos Island once every month. The isle is ruled by Queen Bellatrix and her merry women, but the jungles are home to more feral dangers, such as vicious raptors, burrow-dwelling utu, and rhino-sized grey leopards.

The craters of Luna hold more than just the moonsilver mines of the grey folk: one of the massive tombs of interdimensional raider gods is believed to contain the Sword of Annihilation, the deadliest weapon ever wielded in combat.

The Tablet of Stars is known to be hidden in the Inverted Pyramid of Madness found in the hot and dry Red Desert, home only to crazed dervishes, fearsome nomads, and ungodly scorpion-men. The treasures in the pyramid are guarded by nefarious traps and deadly magic.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Review: Echoes from Fomalhaut #1

Disclaimer: I am credited as a co-author of one of the articles in the zine, and I received an author's copy free of charge.

Gábor Lux, known as Melan on most tabletop gaming forums, is an author of great imaginative power. My first contact with old school gaming was his game Kard és Mágia (Sword and Sorcery), and his modules (in English mostly published in Fight On!) were of utmost influence for me back then. The first issue of this new zine, titled Beware the Beekeeper!, is a mixed bag of adventures, random tables, house rules, and miscellaneous goods.

The very first article is a d100 table to generate interesting merchants (with suitable descriptors, persona, goods, and complications). It may result in things like "a hungry justiciar selling slaves bearing secret identifying signs" or "a hypnotised explorer selling privileges at reduced prices" (both rolled just now). As it occupies the very first spread of the zine, it's very easy to just pick up and use whenever needed.

Then we find some simple rules for generating caravans (number of carts and guards, the type and value of the goods carried). Again, very universal. At the bottom of the page are laid out the systemic assumptions of the zine. There isn't much to discuss here. Knowing these assumptions make it very easy to decide whether one needs to adjust NPC levels and the value of treasure hoards, though.

The next article is the largest in the zine, detailing the Singing Caverns. There are a lot of things going on in this two-level dungeon: bandits, an orcish tavern, ancient graves, a potent magic tree, a crazy druid, etc. 49 areas in 15 pages (including the maps, illustrations, and prerolled - and unarranged! - hit points). Gábor aims for "good vanilla", and it is indeed some very sweet vanilla. The maps are drawn without grids, and they include a lot of connections between the levels. I tried to read the entries in the order a methodical party would encounter them, and that required some unnecessary page-flipping (but then again, the whole thing is only 15 pages). The total loot obtainable is a little below 9,000 gold pieces (including gems, jewels, and valuable goods), plus some magical stuff.

Then we get a handful of alchemical goodies, suitable for any laboratory or witch's brewery. Most of them are colourful reimaginings of already existing potions and spells, but my favourites are the so-called "essences" that come in a handful of varieties. They have very distinct uses, and they can be experimented with by mixing them together.

Next we find Red Mound, a 5-area location in the Broken Wastes. It's all abandoned and void of encounters (save for some fire beetles scavenging and giant scorpions hunting); very atmospheric. However, the party may find a powerful but cursed sword, a portal to wherever the referee deems it leads, and an altar, where a sacrifice might just grant something powerful.

Before the last adventure we have yet another short article, this time about hirelings and morale. The rules are translated from a Hungarian B/X variant called Kazamaták és Kompániák (Catacombs and Companies). Modesty dictates I say no more.

The last article is another low-level adventure location, a ruined manor now inhabited by goblins and orcs working for a pirate captain. The manor holds many secrets in its 23 described areas. There is significantly less treasure than in the caverns before (and most of the good stuff is very hard to get one's hands on). Still, most inhabitants, including the orcs, are not hostile by default, and the numerous 3D connections here again make it an interesting experience as far as exploration goes. Plus, through his lieutenant the party may get to be introduced to a powerful patron, which is always nice.

The POD and PDF versions are on their way, and so is the second issue (along with an unrelated adventure from the author, as well as a translation of his second game, Helvéczia). I do urge you to purchase the hand-stapled version, though, as it comes with a complimentary unkeyed city map printed on sturdy paper. Go get your copy here.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Review: The Nightmares Underneath

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

The Nightmares Underneath is a monstrous game sewn together from various bits of both classic and modern games; it combines both old-school and modern design sensibilities in an exemplary way. The basics are simple, but it seems quite complex at first as it addresses a plethora of situations that may arise in play.

The premise of the game is that the mortal realms (collectively called the Kingdom of Dreams, where law and science provide the ruling ideology, as opposed to most fantasy setting's pagan idolatry) are threatened by incursions from the realm of nightmares. The upper levels of these dungeons resemble the mundane world to a certain degree, but the deeper one goes, the more surreal and alien (dare I say nightmarish) they become. Most people are helpless against the influence of these nightmare dungeons and their denizens', except for the player characters.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Review: Return of the Woodland Warriors

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Return of the Woodland Warriors is a fantasy game inspired by animal tales. The protagonists are anthropomorphic animals, heroes and protectors of the Abbey. They go on Quests to protect the weak, save the innocent, and punish the unjust. It is a fairly light-hearted game in tone, simple in design, building on well-trodden traditions. This review makes no comparisons to the original edition of the game (published in 2011).

Monday, 12 February 2018

Review: Quarrel & Fable

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy by the author.

Quarrel & Fable is a simple and concise game that tries to emulate the mood and feel of the Fighting Fantasy books (so in a sense it is a cousin of Troika!). Systemically, it is a hack of Maze Rats (which started as a hack of Into the Odd itself).

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

OSR Games in 2017

I have made a number of posts concerning available and upcoming OSR/D&D-esque games in the past, and I decided I will continue making these summaries, as they are low effort posts that help me keep focussed on writing and creating.

In 2017 a total of 70 OSR/D&D-esque games were published in English (81 in 2016).
16 were variations of The Black Hack (24 in 2016).
8 were second or revised editions of previously published games (9+ in 2016)
In terms of genres (where stated explicitly), there were 2 sword & sorcery games, 4 sci-fi games, 2 zombie survival games, and 4 post-apocalyptic games, and a number of other genres were represented by at least one game as well (such as cyberpunk, espionage, fairy tales, prehistoric fantasy, pulp adventures, steampunk, superhero, and western).

Sadly, none of the games I posted about here were among them. There still were other highly anticipated releases, such as AS&SH 2E, Blueholme Journeymanne Rules, SWN:Revised, and White Star Galaxy Edition, and a handful of happy surprises (at least to me), chiefly the new version of Engines of Empires and the revised edition of Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow.

There already have been a number of OSR releases this year, but I intend to make a separate post about the scene's current state in early April. A list of previously unmentioned upcoming games will hit the blog soon, too.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Review: Five Ancient Kingdoms

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sales without extra cost to you).

Five Ancient Kingdoms is an old-school D&D-esque game focussing on adventures in a vaguely Middle Eastern fantasy world. The terms and game mechanics closely resemble those of D&D, but there are a couple differences as outlined below.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Thematic OSR Series

I have talked about thematic OSR games in the past. What I mean by the term are D&D-esque games that are not merely clones (e.g. Labyrinth Lord or Delving Deeper) or house ruled variants (e.g. Dungeon Questing or Blood & Treasure), but rather games rebuilt to serve a niche setting or campaign structure (e.g. Wulfwald or There is Therefore a Strange Land) or very particular genre conventions (e.g. Arcana Rising or Silent Legions). It definitely isn't an objectively measurable property of games, and it's more of a continuum than a binary attribute (that is, the easier it is to simply reskin the game without changing the mechanics, the more abstract it is, therefore either more divorced from its theme, or the less unique its theme is). I would like to note, though, that virtually any mechanical change introduced will result in a slightly different game, and I'm not arguing the opposite.

In the following weeks, I will take a closer look at some of the games I consider thematic to some degree and discuss how they tweak the rules or call attention to the specifics of the genre or setting through the mechanics and procedures (including adventure generation tools).

These reviews are compiled from extensive notes I took while reading (or often rereading) the games in question, and they follow the same formula. First, I describe the game system and its most significant departures from the original games. Then I list the things I liked the most about the game (be they design choices, layout, or just a clever little tweak), then the things I didn't like. There ought to be a lot of subjectivity involved in this, but I try my best to make the list as relevant as possible for those who feel otherwise (and for them, the whole thing should be a simple list of features). Finally, I write about how the game approaches its premise and whether it falls short in some areas (again, in my humble opinion). I plan on releasing one such review every other week, and I have written a handful of them in advance, just in case. I have identified more than 20 games that fit this series (a few of them are yet to be published at this point).

My main goal with all this is to shed light on some of the more neglected games and present the state of a particular segment of the OSR. I don't intend to bash on products, but I will obviously point out their shortcomings (again, from my point of view). Familiarity with the structure and terminology of D&D-esque games is assumed (e.g. HD, AC, saves, etc.).

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review: Stalkers of the Elder Dark

This a reading review of the recently published Stalkers of the Elder Dark. It is a game of cosmic horror in the veins of Call of Cthulhu and Silent Legions. It is a small game (roughly 12k words on 94 pages of 6×9 inches) with very few mechanical widgets, set in the 1920s, and the cosmic creatures, grimoires, and alien technology greatly resembles the Cthulhu mythos (although it also alludes to another product by the authors, Opherian Scrolls).