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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Chronicles of Amherth Setting

                  I was encouraged to check out Small Niche Press’ “The Chronicles of Amherth” setting. This was originally created for Labyrinth Lord which makes it perfectly compatible with all BX/OSE products specifically, and OSR products as a whole. DrivethruRPG had a small press sale and I thought it would be the perfect time to try these products out. The PDF itself is 77 pages and comes with a free adventure all for the cost of $1.49. Once I read it, I liked is so much I invested in the POD which came in at a staggering $5.99.



                Amherth is what I would call a classic D&D setting. The world is humancentric, magic is considered rare (1 in 10,000 people), and it has an ancient past with civilizations that have long since left the world. The book has several different cultures throughout the world each with notes about their creative inspirations. An example might be the Empire of Xanne, which is a Roman inspired area with an Emperor that apparently cannot die. Another example is Guildeland which use to be a part of the Empire but broke free to be a merchant paradise. This was inspired by the merchant princes in the Italian Renaissance. Each entry has a few pages dedicated to fleshing out the environment of the area which give you a good idea of what is going on, but enough room to make you own ideas. I think there is where the strength of the product lays, enough details for clarity, but a lot of room to grow.



                Beyond the world description of the various areas, you get the following (from Drivethru):

-The Gods of Amherth: Twelve detailed gods and how they fit into the setting.

-History of the Ancients: Details of the powerful beings who almost destroyed the world and the legacy they left behind.

-The Known World of Amherth: A detailed overview of the setting's major realms and regions, including the Duchy of Valnwall. (Gazetteer-style guidebooks to follow!)

-New Flora: Twelve new magical plants.

-New Monsters: 40 fully detailed races and monsters for use in your Labyrinth Lord campaign.

-New Magic Items: 22 new magic items.


                If you are the type of person that wants more information, there are three books that expand on the details of the material. There are two guidebooks to specific city-state regions of the world and one book dedicated the Ghoul Lands which is an area dominated by the undead that frequently likes to invade neighboring territory. I believe the PDFs are currently under a $1, with one being pay what you want. Overall, I am quite impressed with this little setting, and I am planning to use this as my setting in my upcoming games.

If you are looking for the book click HERE


PS: Small Niche Press also makes WWII: Operation Whitebox a World War II ruleset based on Swords & Wizardry. I really like it too and the main PDF is pay what you want. You should take a look.



I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Spell & Blade - OSR Retainers Review

 

            This is a quick review of a cool product by Mesozoic Press called Spell & Blade OSR Retainers. I am reviewing both the digital and physical product. What is the product? This solves the problem of having to come up with retainers on the fly. Each 1st level retainer comes on its own card with stats, gear, personality, appearance, and a quirk. It includes the following: 15 Clerics, 10 Dwarves, 10 Elves, 20 Fighters, 10 Halflings, 15 Magic-Users, and 20 Thieves. As you can imagine this makes creating rival adventuring parties easier too by just dealing out a hand. Need a quick thieves guild representative, pull one. Party wants to hire on some added muscle, let them draw and find out.


One of the main uses I see for this is quick character generation too. When I go back to face-to-face gaming, if I get a last-minute addition to the party, pull a card, and let them have at it. I used to run a gaming club at the college where I teach, and I would often have players show up with little to no experience. I had pre-made characters that took time to create and would just give them to new players. At the end of the session, I would allow them to keep the character or make their own PC and transfer the XP and gold acquired in the first session. This deck makes it that easier to do that then ever. At the end of the session have them transfer the card to an actual sheet and you are good to go.

The Card Box

The characters are made with Old-School Essentials/BX in mind but would work for almost any OSR system with light conversion. One point that has been made, and specifically spoken to on there webpage, is that the NPCs have slightly hirer than average stats if you are a 3d6 down the line sort of person. This to me is one of the things that separates it from the official OSE Rouges Gallery. I love the quirky style of the OSE characters, but many of them are quite a bit…quirky. There is nothing wrong if that is your taste, but Spell & Blade is a bit more my speed. These NPCs reflect more of how my PCs in my party look and fit like a glove. If you are a 3d6 straight down the line sort, then these might not be for you. If you are a 4d6, drop the lowest, and place as desired type, these will work well.

Front of a Card

I am not the biggest computer whiz, but I have some experience with printing on cardstock for game materials and I do not think it would be hard to accomplish that with these files. For the time and effort though I would recommend buying the cards from DriveThruRPG. This is my first experience ordering physically anything other than books from DriveThruRPG and it was quite the success. The cards are reasonable, seem as durable as you would expect, and the box fits them nicely. If you plan to use them at the table, I recommend sleeving the cards, but other than that you are all set.

 

Back of a Card

If you want to purchase this product, click HERE.


I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Thursday, September 23, 2021

3 Great OSR Zines

I relatively recently backed/bought 3 new OSR zines and I was waiting to get all of them in so that I could do one review for all of them. That day has come, and I can say from the get-go that I enjoy all three of them and I do not regret getting any of them. Let’s not bury the lead and just get straight into it.

 

#1 – Delver



                This zine was created by James Floyd Kelly and it is specific to support the “random” Dungeon Master. The zine is a collection of random chart, tables, and other little goodies that can add flavor to your game or help with specific circumstances. Charts like, “Keeping Watch”, “Ixra’s Wondrous Tomes”, and “The Auction House” are arrayed throughout the book. Each listing has multiple charts underneath it for added detail. James also has a section in the zine for DM advice called, “The Referee Roundtable” where he passes out some knowledge from his years of gaming. Lastly, you get an entire low-level adventure called “Secret of the Shattered Fist Monastery.” This adventure is designed to be played with Old-School Essentials for 4 to 8 1st level characters. It is a small-ish 3 level dungeon that seems perfect for a one-night starter adventure or a 4-hour convention game. It has an illustrated map and some handouts for the players. All-in-all this “zine” comes in at almost 50 pages and was more than worth the price I paid for it.

 

If you are interested in purchasing this item, please click HERE.

 

#2 – Carcass Crawler Issue #1



                Carcass Crawler, if you do not know, is the official zine of Old-School Essentials. With issue #1 Gavin Norman (and team) come up with a variety of useful add-ons to the base OSE game. All of these are completely optional but do add a lot of cool flavors to the game. So, what do you get inside? You get six new Character Classes, of which 3 are new Race-as-Class. These include some of the following, Acolyte, Goblin, and Gargantua. You also get the Character Race adjustments for the new Race-as-Class if that is your style of game. We get an entire section on adding black powder firearms to your game. Lastly, you get an option rules section that has some expanded Fighter options, a new method for using thief skills, and some advice on adjudicating thief skills. To me this is a great edition to any OSE collection, and I have already put some of these rules into play for my Tuesday night game.

 

If you are interested in purchasing this item, please click HERE.

 

#3 – Back to BasiX Compilation (1-10)



                This is both a new and old product to the scene dating back to 2017. Back to Basix was created by ThrowiGames and is in the vein of old Dragon Magazines. Each issue has a smattering of different material in it. There are always new monsters, new items, a small dungeon, and an interview with a figure from the community. People like Frank Mentzer, David Cook, and Erol Otus all offer some insights into the creation of the hobby along with some interesting stories. I admit that I really enjoyed reading these again because it made me feel like I was young again. Getting a copy of Dragon going home and cracking it open to see all the different stuff this month. As the issues increase so does the page count and the issues get longer and longer. The dungeons tend to get a bit larger, and I have already incorporated them into a sandbox I am planning on running soon. There is really something in there for everyone and it gets my highest recommendation.

 

If you are interested in purchasing this item, please click HERE.


I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


Like my work? Follow me on Facebook here.


Thursday, September 9, 2021

Froglings, Harpies, Zombies and More! Random Encounters for Barrowmaze or any Swamp

 

I received a gift and I decided to share it with the masses. One of my best friends in the world, who just so happens to have a PhD in English asked me for a favor. He said he was feeling a little burnt out on RPGs and wanted a “writing assignment”. I mentioned that I was running Barrowmaze and could use some interesting swamp/barrow encounters. He never fails to impress me. Not only did he produce several interesting encounters that have amazing potential for hooks and NPCs, but he also did layout for it and spruced it up. His talent is only overshadowed by his lack of confidence in his own work, so I asked if I could share it with the world? He agreed but made sure that I mentioned that the art was not original, and he wanted to credit the artists, but could not find many of them.

 


Below is a single example of an encounter, the PDF I am linking below for free, has many more. I hope you all enjoy it. He is a member of the THAC0 Blog Facebook group, so if you feel inclined, you can thank him there. Enjoy!



Trader Grobe and His Flapmen

The group encounter a group of fifteen Froglings led by 3 2HD leaders. Once of them has been cursed by a golden circlet that gives him access to spells but forces him to speak in haikus, another is a warrior looking to defeat and devour his siblings, and the third is a skilled rogue that has fallen in love with a swamp nymph.

-Trader Grobe: Is the leader of the group. He was able to break into a few barrows and loot metal weapons from the corpses, and since then, Grobe learned to trade with the odd explorer or cultist in the Barrowmoors for additional gear. He wears leather armor, bears a shield, and uses a short sword. He also has a few daggers. Grobe possesses the ability to speak a rudimentary form of the common tongue to trade with other peoples. He wants to acquire more weapons and armor for his band, and he can supply a group willing to sell him weapons with what seems to be a limitless buffet of fresh fruit and pure water. A swamp nymph, Antheia of the Mangroves, blesses this group with fruit, swamp prawns and other freshwater crustaceans, and water, in exchange for their armed protection against logging groups and marauding visitors to the Barrowmaze. Grobe is deeply in love with the nymph and will protect the location of her tree with his life.

-Skudsku the Swallower: Skudsku works as Grobe’s muscle. Unlike most Froglings, he stands five feet tall, weighs twice as much as the average Frogling, wears a chain shirt, and carries a battle axe that is larger than he is. Skudsku discovered he had a taste for other Froglings when he first hatched and devoured a dozen of his brother tadpoles. The rest fled. Since then, Skudsku has continued practicing cannibalism, but he is secretly terrified his siblings will return in a group to punish him for eating half his parent’s spawn. He believes that the equipment Grobe provides him will give him an edge in the final battle.

-Lorehunter Fuguuzzi: Fuguuzzi was a normal Frogling that had the unenviable job of testing out possible magical items Grobe found in the barrows. She was normal until the day she put a magic item called the Torc of Gwyn Boddell around her neck. The torc is a ring made of metal with a single green jewel in the center that glows when activated that is permanently locked on Fuguuzzi’s neck. It can only be removed by killing Fuguuzzi, and then once it is clasped around another creature’s neck, it can only be removed if the creature is killed. The Torc allows its wearer to cast several spells at will, but it carries a major curse. The wearer of the Torc can cast Detect Magic, Read Languages, Read Magic, Find Traps, and Locate Object, all at will, although each spell drains 1d4 hit points from the wearer. In addition, it increases the wearer’s Intelligence to 14 if it is lower than 14. Also, the wearer can only speak in haikus. Each line must be five syllables, seven syllables, and then five additional syllables. Besides being forced to speak in these patterns, the wearer also must use his or her words to describe concrete, natural things (a tree, clouds, a rock) in a way that is suggestive or symbolic of his or her meaning. Grobe knows that Fuguuzzi is useful, but all the Froglings also find it extremely frustrating to communicate with her. If characters come to Fuguuzzi seeking advice, Grobe will negotiate for useful goods in exchange for the Lorehunter’s services.


Want all the encounters? Click HERE.

I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Shielding My Woes


Ugh…I have been wrestling with this one for a while.


The rules for shields in most D&D games are amazingly simple and amazingly awful all at the same time. I want good rules for shields that are both simple but are a bit more accurate to what shields do in combat. I will not claim to be a great military historian or a super reenactor of the period, but I was a nerd in the 2000s that played a decent amount of boffer LARPing and a shield is an amazing piece of defense. Something to me that deserves more than a simple plus one to AC. A basic human armed with a spear and shield should have a better AC then 8, especially versus missile weapons. Considering all that, the flip side is that it is simple and keeps the game flowing. Complex shield rules with parrying and variable AC depending on the size of the shield. Different bonuses with close combat with different number of opponents and/or range fire just tends to bog things down in unwanted minutia. Below is a few of the shield rules I have seen in the OSR community that I like for different reasons.

 

Shields Shall Be Splintered

http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2008/05/shields-shall-be-splintered.html

First off, if you are not familiar with Trollsmyth’s blog, you should. There is a ton of great content there. You will not be disappointed. To sum up “Shields Shall Be Splintered” quickly, shields function as written in the rules but a character that has a shield may sacrifice the shield to ignore the damage of a single attack. Powerful, simple, and quite useful for PCs. This adds quite a bit of survivability to characters that use a shield.




I decided to use this rule in my games, but ONLY Fighters could use it. This was an attempt to get people to play Fighters, because in my games no one would play one (I also gave the Fighters Weapon Specialization too). It did not work in seducing people to play Fighters. I have yet to have a Fighter in my multi-year campaign. For my game this failed on two fronts, one, the rule has not been used ever, two, it was not enough to get people to play Fighters. I guess I will just have to start offering signing bonuses for playing Fighters.

 

Crawford’s Shields

Wolves of God

                One of the other sets of shield rules that I like is from the myriad Kevin Crawford’s games (I cite Wolves of God above, but there are plenty of others). In WoG, shields are divided into broad shields and heavy shields categories. Broad shields give you an instant AC 5(15) and if you have an equal or better AC it provides the usual +1 bonus. Heavy shields give you an instant AC 6(14) and if you have an equal or better AC it provides the usual +1 bonus. They also are used to bash your opponents, thus provide a +2 to damage. Shields in his game also completely protect you from shock, which is a great benefit, but does not translate into general D&D.


                I like these rules a lot. I think they make a lot of sense and make shields a bit more effective than the standard D&D plus one AC bonus. The main issue is that issue I see is that I do not see the rules coming up that often in a standard BX/OSE game. In WoG armor is much more rare and much more limited in scope. Many to most PCs in BX/OSE will have chain/plate or cannot use shields. Thus, the rules really do not change for them (accept doing more damage with a heavy shield), they are just getting the standard +1 AC bonus. Why add in all the complexity, if it really is only going to change things in the margins?

 

AD&D 2e (The rules I grew up with)

This set of rules has a lot to it, so I am just going to quote the source:

“A buckler (or target) is a very small shield that fastens on the forearm. It can be worn by crossbowmen and archers with no hindrance. Its small size enables it to protect against only one attack per melee round (of the user's choice), improving the character's Armor Class by 1 against that attack.

A small shield is carried on the forearm and gripped with the hand. Its light weight permits the user to carry other items in that hand (although he cannot use weapons). It can be used to protect against two frontal attacks of the user's choice.

The medium shield is carried in the same manner as the small shield. Its weight prevents the character from using his shield hand for other purposes. With a medium shield, a character can protect against any frontal or flank attacks.

The body shield is a massive shield reaching nearly from chin to toe. It must be firmly fastened to the forearm and the shield hand must grip it at all times. It provides a great deal of protection, improving the Armor Class of the character by 1 against melee attacks and by 2 against missile attacks, for attacks from the front or front flank sides. It is very heavy; the DM may wish to use the optional encumbrance system if he allows this shield.”


                These rules while giving an assortment of different shields each with their own pluses and minuses is far to fiddly for me personally. Tracking four different weights, four different number of opponents, different directions that the attacks are coming from, etc. Doing all of this for a 5% modifier to your percent chance to be hit seems like a lot to me. I would rather just use the base BX/OSE model with a single shield with a +1 AC bonus compared to this.

 

Overall

                I have not found a set of rules that I am completely happy with involving shields. I might be chasing something that does not exist. There are parts of me that enjoy each one of the rule sets mentioned here (some more than others), but each one has just something that does not click correct for me. How about you? Is there a system that you like that I did not mention? Do you like the plain +1 AC bonus and leave it at that? Let me know and maybe I can find something I like.



I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Lands of Legend OSR Toolkits

 

Do you like random charts? Do you like Mork Borg style layout? Then these are the books for you. I recently was sent a copy of Axian Spice’s Lands of Legends – Mundane and Lands of Legends – Grim.  Both books provide you with 100 random encounters (broken up into ten d10 charts) and 100 random area. The encounters and areas and reasonably generic to be used with most games, but the two different books add a bit of flavor. The Mundane book most likely has the most versatility as it could be used in almost any setting. The Grim book has a darker twist that might not be suitable to certain campaigns and fit others like a glove (I am looking at you Warhammer Fantasy). These encounters do not contain specific "monster" encounters or layouts to small dungeons. They are more like seeds for overall plotlines and interesting obstacles that the party must overcome. You will not find an entry like, "You run into D20 Kobolds hauling a chest." The entries are more unique and engaging. 



The layout for these books has a large leaning into the style department. To me, it does really look like Mork Borg and that artistic outlook. Some people absolutely love that style some favor a cleaner layout like Old-School Essentials. Taste will vary on this issue. I find that it increases the experience of reading the entries and is part of the flavor of the text. While flipping through the PDF you get a sense for how the author wants you to feel about a certain section, with the layout.



I will admit, I am not the biggest on using random tables at my game on the fly. On occasion I use them in prep, but I mostly read through them for ideas and then use the ones I like. These books are chocked full of those. Here is an example from the chart labeled Grim Civilization. “NIGHTMARISH EXECUTION. A murderous witch is about to be burned in the main square. A crowd has gathered, as many blame her of all their ills. As soon as the flames touch her, the crone curses the city, laughing and prophesying the death of all those who have gathered within the next new moon. After that, her twisted body becomes a cloud of bats, flying towards the nearest dungeon or Grim area. In the following days, the authorities might hire adventurers to investigate.” This to me is a good plot device that can be used to kick off an adventure. This starts the wheels turning in my head as to what I can do with the witch, who is the witch, or who will come for revenge because of the witch.



Overall, I think these products are good and you can get some great inspiration from the entries. According to the author, these are the first two of a series of Lands of Legends. I cannot wait to see what comes from this company.


If you want to purchase these products, please click the link HERE.

 

I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Word of Wisdom from the Past – The Polyhedron Magazine #7




I started reading some of the old Polyhedron magazines and I am enjoying them quite a bit. I seem to like them more than Dragon or Dungeon Magazines. I really like their Living City articles and Rouges Gallery and find them useful. Reading through these lost tomes of yore you get a glimpse into the zeitgeist of the time in a way that is reasonably unfiltered. Many times, people question what people back in the day thought about X issue in the community. The response is usually, “They are still alive, ask them.” This has merit and is valuable, but not a complete story. Often time colors the past with rose-tinted glasses and memories change over time. Seeing these articles give us a clear understanding of the thought processes back in the day and the issues with the games that people were discussing. Here is a hint, it is the same stuff we discuss today. Apparently, the Thief class was always an issue and “fixing” it was always on the table as example. Below are two things I picked out of issue #7 that I thought were interesting and I wanted to share.


A person wrote into the “Dispel Confusion”, the Q&A column for Polyhedron, and asked about their created spell that healed at range. The reaction is stark and not even a bit nuanced, it is a bad idea. They go so far as to invoke the name of one of the creators, Gary, saying it is range cure is too powerful. They discuss it as an issue of balance, and this is the reason that Clerics get any armor is to be able to wade into the front lines and heal. Something of note too is in older editions you cannot move and cast, placing further limits on capability. I do not want this to turn into a 5e bash fest, as I do play 5e regularly, but is there a single heal that is not ranged now? I admit, I am not a 5e expert, though I have played it a lot. I am not trying to say, “See 5e is bad! You are bad for liking it,” but look at the changes to the thoughts of people in a relatively small amount of time. Changing rules like this change the focus of the game (not stating that is good or bad, just a given). When you change the healing mechanics (making range healing possible, using hit dice to heal, healing as a bonus action, etc) the core of the game changes with it. The game becomes less focused on the idea of survival in the face of imminent death, and more about grand champions boldly destroying foes. Am I stating anything new? No. Will people miss the bigger point and most likely argue in the comments about edition wars? Yes.



Next, was a piece for “Notes for the Dungeon Master”. In this article the writer, discusses an old topic in the community, “What do you do with a player when their character dies?” A big point of pride for many in the OSR/Old-School community seems to be when a character dies the player makes a new character and builds from level 1 again. I am generally for this, up to a point, and I agree with the article. Once the group gets its feet underneath it and starts to grow in levels this becomes silly. If the party is averaging 7th level making a veteran player start over at level 1 seems silly. The article sets some ground rules and recommendations on how to handle this. The author tends to focus on levels, whereas I would focus on total XP instead. The article also recommends on how to possibly handle magic items and gear. I used the exact same system in my games before and it worked perfectly. I only mention this piece because I hear in the “meta” around the game online stories about how this was not even a thing “back in the day”. Death equaled reset always. It is the way the founders intended it. Etc. According to this, that is not the whole story.

The real focus of this piece for me is that even back in the day there was a plethora of ideas and ways of play, not one dogmatic “old-school” way of play. Odds are people in the comments will argue the merits of healing and starting PCs at level one, but there is not much I can do about that. Hell, odds are that people will comment without even reading the blog post. That is all for this issue. I am really enjoying reading these articles and I might write another of these if I find anymore gold.


I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Monday, June 7, 2021

In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe Review

 

Have you seen this module? It is a bit of the alright.

 


This zine was a part of Zinequest III from this past year and it is the type of module that I love. It hits the low to mid-levels of your favorite fantasy-based RPG, it is a sandbox, and it is wonderfully organized. This is akin to Thunder Rift of days-gone-by with a small setting that is infinitely expandable. Coming in at 64 pages it is jammed with wall-to-wall dungeon delving action with roughly 15 locations to explore. The module has a just enough backstory to push the DM off in the right direction but allow them to do their own thing with it. For me these would be low-prep dungeons to run, and you can even take the dungeons and sprinkle them in another setting if you wanted.


The basics of the setting is that at the heart of the area is a dwarven settlement. The area was once occupied by and ancient race that is no longer with us. They left a great tower in the woods that the elves dedicated to protecting. For some reason, the creatures of the great woods are now fleeing and that is leading to conflict with the local settlers. Throughout the area is old ruins and places of power to explore and there is even a plot brewing under the surface if the players want to engage with it. There are numerous rumor charts for different areas and the players are truly free to go where the please and seek their fortune. This is certainly going to go into my circulation at some point.

The book is $15 and comes with the PDF. You can also tack on $3 more and get a lovely map of the region printed out as a small poster. My hats off to Jacob Fleming for this little piece of brilliance. You can purchase the physical copy at https://gelatinouscubism.bigcartel.com/ or you can get the PDF by clicking HERE.


I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Killing Save or Die Mechanics

 Hello. My name is Ryan and I do not like save or die mechanics.

 


                I know the reason why they exist. That does not mean that I must like it. The game, in general, is dangerous enough without this mechanic, so why do we need it? Does this mean that I am abandoning the principles of old-school gaming and going to convert over to 5e? No. What it does mean is that I am going to steal other people’s good ideas on the subject and apply them to my own game. I do not want the threat of death to leave my games and player death should happen, but I prefer to mar and cripple my PCs over death. At times death is letting them off too easy.


                I saw an alternative rule that I am tending to lean towards that is still extremely deadly, but also not a binary result. When someone has a save or die mechanic (i.e. poison, death ray, etc) they take the creatures hit dice in damage. Example: the character is struck with a death ray from an Eye of Terror (Beholder). The character fails their save and would take 11d8 points of damage. Odds are the character will still die, but there is always the chance that the damage roll is low. In addition, if the character fails the save, takes damage and lives, they will have an appropriate permanent effect. In the example above I might have the death ray destroy part of the character’s health and they take 1d3 CON loss.

                You could have a character that fails a save against a medusa gaze and live. They then might have some calcification of the joints and they lose 10’ of movement and are just slower the rest of their career. That effect could in theory be removed with a Stone to Flesh spell which would in theory cure them if they were turned into a statue too. This also is the same with poison. A character can fail a save and take huge amounts of damage, but if Neutralize Poison is used, they instantly regain that hit point loss.



                Lastly, I use a Death & Dismemberment chart for my characters because again, I like to mar and injure the characters. I would skip this step though in the case of a save or die mechanic. If you hit zero, from a failed save, it is lights out. This adds another level of danger and still makes those save or die mechanics scary, but not cheap.

                I do not judge people who use the mechanic and like it. It is certainly a preference. I think it is a little more acceptable at lower levels, but as you put time into a character the thought of losing it to one bad die roll tends to sting more. Might just be me?


I run Old School Essentials weekly and post our games to YouTube, click HERE to see.


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Monday, March 29, 2021

Skills in Old-School Gaming

              One of the most important things in any role-playing game is WHEN should a die be rolled. Controlling this is one of the DMs most coveted tools because it can set the tone for a game. In general rolls can be done in one of three places, before the fiction, during the fiction, and after the fiction. When a roll is called for and used determines a lot. If we are discussing D&D (and its clones) the older we go the less skills there tends to be. So, when should you roll a Find Traps roll with a PC? Does the PC have to say they are using the skill? Should the PC roll it or should the DM? How detailed should the PC be about what they are doing? These are some of the questions that DMs face when running a game. I am sure that some people will claim to have the “right” answer to this question. I personally feel there is no “right” answer, just the answer that works for me. This is how I use skills in my game and some of my rationale for why I use them that way.




                To ruin some of my “old-school credibility” I play in a semi-monthly 5e game with my friend who I started D&D with in 1990. One thing that I hated with the 5e system (that many, but not all people do) was the idea that if my character does something directly it triggers a roll, not a solution. Example: My dwarf examines a treasure chest, I specifically state that I am looking in the keyhole for a needle or device. I even stick a knife blade into it to spring a possible trap if one is there. I am told to roll a Perception check with advantage, I still roll poorly. My character decides to open the chest and I am stabbed with a poison needle. If I were running this in my games, the PC would have seen the trap without a roll, because they were looking in the right place. If the player does a thing and, in the fiction, it makes sense they would see a thing, then they do. I assume competency on the part of the PC characters. I see DMs report running this style of game all the time. One in which the PCs must be EXTREMELY specific in what they do to figure out traps and the like. You might believe this is abundantly correct, but then the issue comes up, what is the Find a Trap skill used for exactly? If I need to be specific about what I am doing, and I don’t specifically mention I look in that keyhole should I roll? Should I automatically get hit with the trap? How much detail does a PC need to go into to gain a benefit? More importantly, what is more fun?

                This is how I run it, I am not claiming this is the only or best way to do it, just how I run it for my games. First off, if the PC does an action, they do an action. If they state they are searching the throne for buttons that activate a pit and there is one, they find it. Second, I use the 1-in-6 type rolls often as a passive alert. If the PCs are moving at “Dungeon Speed” the idea is that they are mapping, trying to be quiet, and looking for things out of the ordinary. I will roll for them to find a trap even if they are not specifically looking for it. If they approach a door and they should be able to hear a ruckus party going on in the other side of the door, they hear it. If there is a possibility of hearing it, I will roll for them, many times without them even knowing. I allow these skills to be used as shorthand too, to speed up game play. If we went into EXTREME detail for every room the PCs come into with their searching, we would possibly clear three rooms a night. I allow them to say “We search the room for X.” I will then make the appropriate rolls. I will often telegraph in rooms with interesting things (secret doors, hidden treasure, etc) with details so they can zoom in on that. If they want to tell me specifically what they are searching, I will then decide accordingly. I do not think this was the intended way to handle these situations, but I think it is fair and efficient.

Demi-Humans often must pay a premium (in XP) to get bonuses to these skills, so let them be skilled in it. I often roll the player(s) with the highest in each skill first, to see if they notice, then everyone else. Once one player achieves the roll, I usually stop. I let that character shine. You will notice that the Elf in my game often hears things and finds hidden doors and no one else does. Because I tend to roll him first and he then gets to take his moment in the spotlight. Making sure that everyone feels their character adds something to the party is important. Even the filthy Demi-Humans.




I also tend to use Ability Checks which can be controversial in the Old-School community. I do not think I overuse them, because of assumed competency, but they are still used. I try to keep in mind that Magic-Users know magical stuff, Clerics know religious stuff, Dwarves know dwarven stuff, etc. I generally give them automatic information based on their realm of expertise. Ability checks come in to adjudicate things that fall outside the common in those realms, they fill in the gaps so to speak. I also admit that I do far more INT and CON Ability Checks then others because I think the stats are under used compared to the others. This means having a higher INT and CON has some more useful benefits. I generally see Ability Checks as the opposite of Saving Throws. Saving Throws happen when something is done to the PC, Ability Checks are when the PC does something to something else. I can see a game going on just fine without them and the DM just coming up with a X-in-6 chance of everything, but I enjoy them and will keep using them.

Overall, the thing I like about older systems is that they do not have a robust skill system. To me this was something that kind of spoiled AD&D and D&D beyond that. Second Edition’s proficiency system was too limiting in that they had TONS of skills, but you got so few you felt your character was inept. Third Edition you could do any skill and skills stacked with skills and had bonuses from class and feats and synchronicity and what phase the moon was in and the list goes on. It was too much. I like the way that OSE/BX keeps things simple, and it is a big reason I continue to use it.


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Friday, March 5, 2021

The Isle of the Plangent Mage Review

The Isle of the Plangent Mage

By Donn Stroud

                I am going to get this out of the way in the beginning, I love this adventure. Not that I did not love the other two that I have review so far, but this one fits my exact GM style. This, to me, is not an adventure, but a mini-campaign in the style of Keep on the Borderlands. It is designed for characters in the 3rd – 5th level range with the appropriate old school caveat that encounters are not balanced. It is hard to know where to start on this one, because I like so much, but I also do not want to give away crucial details of the adventure. In general, there is a seaside town, and it has the support of a local Magic-User and his wife. Both have gone missing, and some strange occurrences have started to happen, like sea life beaching itself regularly. The DM has several hooks provided to get the players to the town and searching, the rest is up to them.


                The adventure is set around the town of Imbrich and anyone who has read their Lovecraft will see another obvious connection with a seaside village. The town had formed a relationship the local Magic-User, Cetus, who ran local lighthouses. Cetus used the lighthouses and the grounds underneath them for his experiments with both sea life and sound. You get a complete work up of the local village complete with notable locations and personalities. This can serve as your party’s home base as they delve into the various locales of the setting. Several of the villagers are noted as willing to pay for certain items or information from Cetus’ grounds. An example might be that the local blacksmith wants some of Cetus’ ever-burning logs. This gives the players even more reason to venture into the locations and find these items for the locals.
                There are several locations that the parties can explore that each have their own feel, dangers, and rewards. There are a series of caves along the coast, a place called Darksand Isle just offshore, the isle has two separate Lighthouses that can be explored as well. Then you get the Magic-User’s Undertower, which his underground domicile and laboratory. This Undertower is eight levels deep and certainly qualifies as a dungeon. Each level generally has about six to ten locations in them, so it will take the players a bit of time to explore. Strange beings lurk through these halls along with strange devices imagined by Cetus himself.


                As for the book itself, it has the same quality layout that Old School Essentials is becoming known for throughout the industry. Maps are clearly readable and accessible without excessive page flips. The bullet-point format allows a GM to easily run this off the cuff, but a read through before would not hurt. The art is brilliant and colorful, it brings the setting to life. This is also a bit of a unique setting. There is a lovely nautical feel throughout the entire book. If you are looking for a classic sandbox that is not a typical dungeon, then you have found it. 

               I think this is a great example of a sandbox adventure. There is not set destination that the players must go, but they get to make their own choices about what to explore. There is not a “quest” per se, but there is a story to what has happened at this town and it unfolds as the players gather information. You can plunk this little town into almost any setting, and it will blend in with the background seamlessly, the only thing you need is a coastline. I give this this my highest recommendation and think everyone should check this out.


Click here to buy The Isle of the Plangent Mage


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Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Incandescent Grottoes Review

The Incandescent Grottoes

By Gavin Norman

 A bubbling stream cascades into a hole in the earth, leading to a series of underground watercourses and scintillating grottoes. Adventurers who delve within may discover odd mosses and fungi, a ruined temple complex, and the lair of a crystal-eating dream dragon.



                This is the next installment of adventures from Old School Essentials creator Gavin Norman. This adventure is for beginning characters of 1st – 2nd level. It is designed with challenges that are way above a 1st level character’s ability, thus the characters will have to play smart or die quickly. The format of the book seems to be standardized and resembles Halls of the Blood King. The maps are incredibly functional, and this adventure would be simple to run with little prep and straight from the book.

                There is no over-arching plot in this adventure, but a couple of key factions that have cross purposes in the dungeon. Examples of these factions are a Dream Dragon who has their lair in the Grottoes, a Necromancer looking for knowledge, and even a Cult who has run on hard times. This dungeon does not have the gonzo-like features of Halls of the Blood King, but a more classic fantasy approach with a lot of whimsy. Norman tends to write in an almost fairy-tale like manner and the creativity is abundant. It feels like a child’s storybook with meat. Just when the whimsy of the setting is taking you in, your characters catch a glance of something that is just a bit not right. They then only discover some concept, item, room, or monster that is deeply disturbing. It combines a lot of what these kind f stories are expected to be, cautionary tales. Adventurers can profit greatly from entering these halls, but the more they travel the more likely they are to die, or worse.


                This has a hugely similar feel to me as A Hole in the Oak. I would say if you liked that adventure you are almost guaranteed to enjoy this one as well. If you are a fan of Norman’s Dolmenwood setting this adventure will fit in perfectly. The art style in the book reflects the tone and nature of the adventure with a magical and fae-realm quality. The adventure itself is great for first time OSR players to give them a taste of what a classic adventure feels like, but it has all the modern sensibilities as far as layout, structure, and production value. I give this one a 5 out of 5 if you are in the market for a dark fairy-tale dungeon crawl. This would be a great product to do for a short campaign or even a convention, as long as you focused just on one aspect of the dungeon.


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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Halls of the Blood King Review

Halls of the Blood King

By Diogo Nogueira

 

With the rising of the Blood Moon, the accursed abode of the Blood King returns to this world. The lord of all vampires comes to claim the blood that is owed to him. His halls contain treasures and secrets that would make any ambitious adventurer abandon reason and caution to seek them out. Will you risk your soul for gold and glory in the Halls of the Blood King?




                With OSE releasing all of its adventures today from the latest Kickstarter, I figured I would go ahead and start reviewing them and seeing if they are worth the purchase.

                This adventure is a bit different from what I have seen so far from Old School Essentials. Halls of the Blood King is certainly not a “boot-it and loot-it” adventure. This adventure is a bit more subtle if you want to get everything out of it. This adventure will require the players to use their heads, sneak, and parley if they do not want to get slaughtered. I feel this has a lot of the great things about good Lamentations of the Flame Princess modules, without a lot of the troubling things that can sometimes appear in them. Overall, I like the adventure and it is well thought out and put together, but what were you expecting from OSE?

                Halls of the Blood King is made for adventurers of 3rd – 5th level (though if the party is smaller you might be able to get away with slightly higher) in which they are venturing forth into the manor house of the Blood King. Who exactly is the Blood King? He is the first vampire ever that all other vampires come from. His manor house hops from dimension to dimension where he can inspect the local vampires and collect his blood tax. The book gives several quite dissimilar hooks to get the PCs involved in this plot, which is nice so that you can tailor it to your setting. Once on the grounds of the manor the PCs are thrust into a strange world with different factions vying for different goals. Most of the NPCs are in fact vampires and unless the party comes quite prepared to deal with them subterfuge and parley are the ways to go. The scenario also has a built-in time limit too because the manor house is continuing to hop from location to location and the PCs most likely do not want to get caught inside. This also means the party cannot take extended time or rest to recover spells, once they head inside, they basically have what they have.



                The adventure is leaning a bit more towards the gonzo side as opposed to the classic medieval fantasy tropes. The setting reminds me more of the French Sun King’s court, then something out of Arthurian lore. The various vampires vary quite a bit in style and substance. These are not all your dark, brooding Vampire Hunter D clones, but one is a pile of red gel with eyeballs floating about. This might be amazing or terrible depending on your taste. The one thing I can say is the environment is evocative and never dull.

                As for the book itself (I am reviewing the PDF) the layout is everything you expect from OSE. The layout is concise, yet detailed. The different locations on the make highlight the important descriptors of each location. There is a lovely map of the manor house and mini-maps are provided throughout highlighting the areas in which the players currently are exploring. The PDF comes with a Virtual Table Top map for use with the various VTT programs available nowadays. This is a nice little bonus that more companies need to include. The art in the book is amazing and strikingly different from much of the OSE materials thus far. There is something with the color pallet choice that seems both alluring, yet off in some way. I will provide some examples throughout this article.

                This module is for the DM that wants something a bit different than the standard dungeon crawl. It can be easily slid into any campaign and the good thing is that it can exit just as easily. I think there will be a lot of newer DMs that really dig how different this journey can be and how nicely the book creates a mood. The adventure is designed for Old School Essentials, but can work with any OSR/D&D like game. 

You should check this out if you have not already. 


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