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).

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Mini-Dungeon #1 - An Exercise in Gridmapper

This is a mini-dungeon that I used in my AS&SH campaign (you can check the play report here). It was accessible through a trapdoor in a storage room in a Dagonite village. I redid the map in Gridmapper (my very first attempt using it) and typed the key verbatim from my notes. Where not noted, assume doors can be opened without much hassle.


Dungeon Key:
  1. half-empty barrels of sour wine
  2. rats, guano
    rusty equipment, decayed barrels
  3. locked
    carvings of fishy motifs
    copper candelabras, no candles
    tunnels to the underground temple
  4. broken mirror, blood, meat
    silver chandelier (600gp)
  5. ajar
    2 guards sleeping (HD 1+1; AC 7; 1d6; ML 7)
  6. locked
    rebellious villager (prisoner)
  7. 2 guards sleeping (HD 1+1; AC 7; 1d6; ML 7)
    oubliette → chains, manacles, a young girl (werewolf)
    (HD 4; AC 5; 1d4/1d4/2d4; ML 8)
  8. locked
    old rug, chairs and benches knocked over
    old clock → inside a topaz (500gp)
  9. ajar
    coffins → 4 ghouls (HD 2; AC 6; 1d3/1d3/1d6 + paralysis; ML 10)

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Upcoming OSR Games

It has been quite some time since I made a list of upcoming OSR releases. Here are a bunch of games I am looking forward to reading.

Avatars & Annihilation
I have talked about Van Noa's game in my first "upcoming OSR stuff" post already. Since then, refinement of rules and editing has taken place, as well as some playtesting over Google+. There is no release date set, though.

Beyond Dread Portals
A game/setting to be published by D101 Games, sort of reminiscent of Planescape. There's a baroque, corrupt city with gateways to many other worlds. Intrigue and dimension-hopping adventures are to be expected.

Break!! RPG
A recognisably OSR game influenced mostly by JRPG and anime tropes. D&D-esque in mechanics, although not a proper clone. You may want to check the dev blog and the game's website for further information (and I suggest you do).

Chanbara
A Japanese-inspired OSR game, built off the Swords & Wizardry chassis, from the author of the Flying Swordsmen RPG. Check out his blog for further information.

Eldritch Tales
An investigative occult game by Raven God Games, similar to Silent Legions and Black Books. Uses the S&W:WB chassis.

Faerie Tales &  Folklore
A game set on a historic but mythological Earth. It is mostly notable for being Chainmail/OD&D-based, and for its design goal of borrowing directly from mythology, rather than through secondary sources. The author has made a couple previews available on Google+.

HMS Apollyon
I don't think there is anyone in the OSR who is unaware of Gus's HMS Apollyon setting: it's an imaginative horror megadungeon environment in the bowels of a gigantic ship full of weird shit. Not long ago a Player's Guide was published - and now we have this.

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs
A gritty Dark Age game not long after the fall of Rome inspired by Germanic legends and mythology. The author has been posting a lot about his design process that you might find interesting.

Monster Dungeon Quest
A game that truly wants to capture the adventurous and gonzo spirit of old-school games. Uses a descriptors (things are Powerful, Useful, or Cheap; pick two) and stunts (like Wushu) for resolution. Check the website for further information.

Wulfwald RPG
A continuation of Raedwald, Wulfwald is an Anglo-Saxon game about a bunch of outlaws doing missions for a Thegn in exchange for his protection. Basically, black ops in a fantasy world reminiscent of the early middle ages. There is a Google+ community dedicated to the game.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Grim Tales Combat Redux


I have been slowly working on Grim Tales (a dark fairy D&D-esque game with an implied setting; sort of my contribution to the thematic games list) behind the scenes, but it was actually Brendan's latest post that inspired me to finally work out my Reactions.

Characters are basically either proactive on their turn or reactive in others' turn, but being reactive is just that: you forgo being proactive. I still need to work out the numbers, though, but playtesting will surely help with that.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Snippets from Grim Tales Combat Rules

In dramatic situations, such as combat, the sequence of events becomes increasingly important, so determining who may act after whom is necessary. Participants (PCs and NPCs alike) roll 1d20 + Wits (+other bonuses if any) to determine their initiative score, based upon which they are placed in the Combat Queue in decreasing order. Equal scores favour PCs, and further ties are broken by negotiation between the players.

The first character in the Queue takes two actions (either two Minor actions, or a combination of a Major and a Minor action), then they are placed to the bottom of the Queue, and the next person takes their turn, and so forth. Characters may have a Reaction even when it is not their turn to act. That, however, puts them on the defensive, and they are placed right below the participant whose action they attempt to counter, thus delaying their own turn.

Major actions include melee and ranged attacks, charges, and most actions aimed at significantly altering the opponent's state. Minor actions include readying a weapon, reloading a crossbow, or traversing the battlefield (distances are handled in abstract Zones). Reactions are the likes of parrying an attack, rolling behind cover, etc.

If an attack hits, roll two six-siders called Red and Black. Damage depends on the weapon wielded (light weapons deal the lowest of them, heavy the highest, and medium equal to Red). If Black is a 6, it also triggers the weapon’s special effect.

Damage is deducted from the target's hit points. When someone loses all of their hit points, they become Incapacitated. When an Incapacitated character takes Damage, they receive an Injury, that applies one of the following three conditions to the character: (1) scarred, (2) maimed, or (3) dead. Each can only be opted for only once.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Grim Tales Hexcrawling

This post sums up the streamlined hexcrawling procedures I developed for Grim Tales. This lacks the tables referenced in the rules (except for the master level "Event Table"). I'd like to thank Gavin Norman, whose recent blog posts really inspired me.