Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Review - Esoteric Enterprises

Disclaimer: Note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you or the publisher).

Esoteric Enterprises is a modern occult horror dungeon crawling sandbox RPG. It is a synthesis of the premise of World of Darkness and the structured gameplay of old-school D&D, where outcasts and/or adventurous souls venture below the city and become involved in all sorts of illegal things, rub shoulders with the underbelly of society, ally themselves with vampires, and get in the crossfire of various gangs, cults, and supernatural big baddies.

The author, in an interview, describes the game as follows:

    This is a world basically like our own, except magic is real, and dangerous, and wildly illegal. Of course, plenty of things are dangerous and illegal – such as drugs and organ-legging and bank robberies – so the worlds of organised crime and the supernatural have become inexorably linked. Things are only like our familiar world on the surface; beneath every city there is a literal underworld, where strange things hide from scrutiny, and the reckless or desperate traffic in things humans really shouldn’t be meddling with.

The mechanics are chiefly based on Lamentations of the Flame Princess with a few twists here and there. The game also comes with a robust system to generate various underground factions and undercity locations to facilitate the sort of free-spirited dungeon crawling and conspiracy the game is built for.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Mini-Review: Mazes & Minotaurs

This one is, I believe, the last mini-review I originally wrote for EN World but never got around to publish, slightly edited.

Disclaimer: The article includes affiliate links.

Back in 2002, Pault Elliot wrote an article about how different D&D (and the whole TTRPG scene) could have been if its inspirations were different; say, Jason and the Argonauts and the Odyssey instead of Conan and the Lord of the Rings. Olivier Legrand became fascinated with the concept and soon began working on such a game that could have existed back in the 70s, first on his own, and then collaborating with Paul himself. Eventually, the fruit of their collaboration was the design of Mazes & Minotaurs.

Mazes & Minotaurs was not just a design experiment, however. It was minimalistic, amateurish, and even parodistic, but it was a game to be played, nonetheless. Soon the original version received numerous supplements, and then a major revision, bringing us the advanced versioní of the game, which is now available on DriveThruRPG.

A shtick of M&M is that every product is written as if it were a re-release of something from the 70s or 80s, and a whole fake history of role-playing games is constantly referenced (like MAZECON and the Griffin magazine), which makes it a hilarious read on its own. As noted above, however, M&M is not merely a parody; it is a fully functional game with a simple but powerful core.

M&M has a slightly tweaked list of Attributes (Might, Skill, Wits, Luck, Will, Grace), whose modifiers are used extensively to calculate various secondary statistics (such as melee and missile attack bonuses, and saving rolls like Danger Sense and Mystic Fortitude). There is no standard resolution mechanic per se, even though every test is made using the familiar mechanic of "d20 + modifiers vs. target number". There is no skill system either (just like in the early editions of D&D), but there are various Background Talents detailed in the Companion.

The Players Manual describes twelve classes (such as Centaur, Lyrist, Spearman, and Thief). They differ in their starting Hits (the equivalent of hit points), primary attributes, and special abilities (everyone gets two or three of these, except for casters who only have their spells). Combat is very straightforward, but the supplements detail a fair amount of special maneuvers. Magic uses spell points (called Power Points), and every caster class has access to six unique spells.

The Maze Masters Guide provides information regarding the setting (called Mythika), whose bare-bones descriptions are further detailed in a series of articles (cf. Atlas of Mythika). It also has a handful of random generators (adventure plots, city states, temples, mysterious islands), and an easy-to-use monster creation system (the actual monsters are presented in the Creature Compendium; circa 200 opponents of various types and power levels).

Mazes & Minotaurs is an amazing work of love. It retains the simplicity and familiarity of old-school D&D, while improving upon it at the same time. There are a lot of supplements covering a wild range of topics (new monsters, mythic items, classes, and adventures), yet the game remains simple and elegant. And the best part is that the entire product line is completely free.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Kazamaták és Kompániák - Advanced Classes

The second edition of the Hungarian retro-clone, Kamazaták és Kompániák is imminent, and even though it won't be available in English, I've decided to make certain key elements of it available for an international audience - partially because if I ever decide to run something B/X-like in English, I'll most certainly pick KéK over OSE (after years of extensive playtesting and fine-tuning, I just prefer it to B/X).

Below you will find the six "advanced" classes for the Hungarian retro-clone, Kamazaták és Kompániák (abbreviated, for it is but a reference work) - next time we look at the spell lists for magic-using classes (and as before, the devil's in the details).

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Kazamaták és Kompániák - Basic Classes

The second edition of the Hungarian retro-clone, Kamazaták és Kompániák (Dungeons & Companies) is imminent, and even though it won't be published in English (as there are already enough B/X-like games), I've decided to make certain key elements of it available for an international audience - partially because if I ever decide to run something B/X-like in English, I'll most certainly pick KéK over OSE (after years of extensive playtesting and fine-tuning, I just prefer it to B/X).

Below you will find the seven basic classes (abbreviated, for it is but a reference work) - next time we look at the "advanced" classes (described as "classes for wilderness and city campaigns" in KéK), and finally, spell lists for both "basic" and "advanced" classes (and as before, the devil's in the details).

A few notes:

  • Level limit is 6 by default (for player characters at least).
  • Attack rolls are 1d20 + attacker's to-hit bonuses + defenders's AC vs. 20.
  • Morale and hireling rules are roughly as in B/X (see either Echoes from Fomalhaut #01 or Castle Xyntillan for details).
  • On D6 rolls (such as class abilities or random encounter rolls) it is assumed that high rolls favour the party, while low rolls hinder them.
  • XP is awareded for defeating enemies (based on HD and special abilities), recovering teasure (1 XP per 1 gp), and carousing (1 XP per 1 gp).
  • Spellcasting requires memorisation.
  • The default mode of play is dungeon exploration, and hit points are rerolled at the beginning of each expedition.
  • Small weapons deal 1d4 damage, one-handed weapons 1d6, and two-handed weapons 1d8.
  • Helmets may be sacrificed to negate a mortal blow (a variant of shields shall be splintered).

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Review: Kuf

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of the game free of charge.

Kuf is an occult investigative game with a system based on Knave. The player characters are aware that something is fundamentally wrong with "reality", and thus they are drawn into a frantic search for knowledge and power. In the postscript it is explained that the author intended to match seemingly opposite styles of gaming: modern day gnostic horror (like Kult) and old-school D&D (even if some would argue that Knave isn't exactly that, I guess it's close enough).

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Thinking About Spells per Level for Clerics

While finalizing the text of the upcoming 2nd edition of the Hungarian retro-clone Kazamaták és Kompániák, we took a look at clerics. Here's a simple table that sums up XP requirements and spells/day by edition (note that it's an incomplete table; Rules Cyclopedia, although up until level 14 matches Mentzer, grows way beyond that, and so does AD&D). I'm specifically looking at 3rd, 4th, and 5th level spells to gauge power levels. For reference, among others, consider the following spells:

  • 3rd level: Continual Light, Cure Disease, Locate Object, Remove Curse
  • 4th level: Neutralize Poison, Protection from Evil 10' radius
  • 5th level: Commune, Quest, Raise Dead

When you consider that clerics gain access to all the spells on their list (except in AD&D, where 5th spell level and up are provided directly by the cleric's deity), and the fact that the spell list grows a little bit in each edition (for instance, Mentzer adds Cure Blindness as a 3rd level spell and Dispel Magic as a 4th level spell to the cleric's repertoire), you can see the power discrepancy between the editions.

As noted on the summary sheet, a Cook/Marsh cleric gets access to 4th and 5th level spells at level 6 (i.e. 25,000 XP), whereas a magic-user in the same edition only gains 3rd level spells at level 5 (i.e. 20,000 XP). By the time the magic-user gets their first 4th level spell at level 7 (i.e. 80,000 XP), the cleric has already got access to 5th level spells (from 50,000 XP, actually).

In Mentzer (and the Rules Cyclopedia), however, the clerics' power curve is steeper. They only get their hands on 4th level spells at level 8 (i.e. 100,000 XP) and 5th level spells at level 10 (i.e. 300,000 XP), which is comparable to magic-users in this edition (level 7 and 9, i.e. 80,000 XP and 300,000 XP, respectively). Furthermore, for an extra set of 6th level spells, clerics in Mentzer can cast fewer low level spells at the highest levels (although in the Rules Cyclopedia they make up for it as they advance beyond level 14).

AD&D is somewhere between the two B/X editions, with the caveat that clerics have access to 1st levels spells from level 1. They get their 3rd level spells the quickest (at level 3, i.e. 13,001 XP). They receive 4th level spells at level 7 (i.e. 55,001 XP), which is comparable to magic-users (level 7, i.e. 60,001 XP). In fact, magic-users get access to 5th level spells sooner than clerics (135,001 XP vs. 225,001 XP).

Even though the cleric's spell per level table in Cook/Marsh hurts my sense of symmetry, it allows the proliferation of save or die effects. If you think about it, if a party of six acquires a total of 300,000 gp during their adventures (and that's without XP for killing monsters!), their cleric gets access to raise dead - for the same to happen in Mentzer, those 300,000 gold pieces must have been acquired by the cleric alone.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Excellence from the Blogosphere (July-August)

Finally, here's the latest Excellence in the Blogosphere post, this time looking at posts from July and August (with a few outliers as usual).