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.

Like my work? Follow me on Facebook here.

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.

Like my work? Follow me on Facebook here.

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

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.



                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.

Like my work? Follow me on Facebook here.