Monday 7 September 2020

Review: Skaldic Sagas

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).

James M. Spahn's Whitebox Viking game was a-coming well before the demise of Google+ - and now it's here! Powered by the same engine as The Hero's Journey 2nd edition, Skaldic Sagas is a tight little fantasy game focussing on community and kinship and viking shenanigans.

Monday 24 August 2020

Review - The Hero's Journey 2nd edition

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).

When it comes to Whitebox-based materials, James M. Spahn is definitely the first name that comes to mind. After all, he's penned White Star, White Box Compendium, White Box Omnibus, and Untold Adventures - among other things.

The Hero's Journey is a game unsurprisingly also based on Swords & Wizardry Whitebox - but note that even though the base is clearly recognisable, the end result isn't readily compatible with it (as such, it's in similar shoes to Helvéczia and Exemplars & Eidelons).

Note that this review is concerned about the 2nd edition of the game (although I have written a shorter piece about the original (released in 2016) on EN World).

Monday 27 April 2020

Review - Best Left Buried

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).

Best Left Buried is a fantasy horror game, where the protagonists are poor schmucks exploring dungeons or dungeon-like environments (called Crypts). It advertises itself as an OSR game (according to the system category on OneBookShelf), but it should be noted that the game isn't strictly D&D-esque.

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.