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Lion & Dragon
by Paul C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/23/2019 11:40:22

A criminally under-appreciated product. Lion & Dragon is a solid OSR core book and makes changes to the base system surpassing its predecessor in all respects.

In particular, I love the level-up mechanic, which includes both elements of chance and choice, preserving randomness, while allowing for precise build possibilities. It's certain that no two characters will be exactly the same, but you will certainly be able to make the most out of your class.

I will try to run a few adventures with this setting to provide a more nuanced review in the future, but I'm already a big, BIG fan.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by Chad K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/22/2019 16:11:25

Dark Albion is the setting and additional/expanded rules for Lion & Dragon. Id say Lion & Dragon is to Basic D&D and dark Albion is Advanced D&D with a setting & Dungeon Master Guide thrown in. L&D is about 130 pages while Dark Albion is 275 pages. This a "real Medieval RPG", not high fantasy. Grim Fantasy England in the 15th Century. No Elf warrior-mages or Halfling thieves. This book was a labor of love, Im sure countless hours of research went into this game. The art reinforces the whole medieval feel of the game. Tons of information on social status, laws & prisons, government & religion. Herbs & demons. Regions, Kingdoms, history- a huge detailed setting. While there is information on classes (and there is also the excellent Lion & dragon) most of the book is system neutral and could be used for almost any fantasy game you want to give a gritty historical feel. This game is well supported by RPGPundit Presents by Precis Intermedia, as well as other books like Dark Albion Cults of Chaos. I highly recommend this game. I bought soft covers, but I like this game so much I intend to buy hardcovers.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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Lion & Dragon
by Chad K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/22/2019 15:46:21

I love this game. Ive been playing RPGs for over 30 years and I have never seen anything like L&D and Dark Albion. This is what I imagined a "real Medieval RPG" would be like. (and more than I could imagine) An enormous amount of research and love went into this game. This is not high fantasy- there are no Fighters taking 4 spears to the chest while fighting 10 opponents and winning with his sword +4. No Mages throwing fireballs while flying and invisible. Hit points are kept pretty low. Fights can mean quick death. Wizards (Magisters) use alchemy, astrology, summon Demons. It feels like magic from history, what people believed magic was like in medieval times. It takes time, effort & preparation. The game can be summed up by reading a bit on the table of contents: Social Staus is Extremely Important, Life is Cheap, Magic is Rare. The game is heavily supported- Dark Albion( rules & setting), Cults, adventures, and many interesting articles in RPGPundit Presents. Dont wait- go & buy this game.

The person that gave this game 1 Star is a pathetic fool as well as a liar. RPG Pundit is a very vocal guy with strong political views- that is no reason to give the game 1 star. You are rating the game, not the person. Personally I think he is great.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
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Lion & Dragon
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/15/2018 17:21:32

Although I've been in the RPG hobby since the early 80's I was never keen on D&D itself, so that the whole OSR thing largely passed me by. However, I do enjoy RPGPundit's blog and YouTube videos, and appreciate his barbed mockery of the SJW entryism current in the RPG hobby. So I decided to buy Lion and Dragon as a gesture of support.

Of all the Pundit's games L&D appealed to me the most because of his pitch of it being “medieval authentic” with a magic system based on actual occult tomes. I flatter myself that I know a lot about medieval England and Europe, and I dabbled in occultism as a youth. So either L&D would be right up my alley, or I'd have the knowledge to identify over eager self-promotion on the Pundit's part.

Physically the hardback book I received is a quality product. The design of the book makes a virtue of the publisher's relative lack of funds compared to larger RPG publishers. Rather than trying to compete with a slick, highly produced design style, they've made use of a lot of suitable public domain art, old etchings, woodcuts, illustrations from old editions of occult books, as well as some commissioned pieces which are in a similar style. There's quite a lot of art, and it all looks good, and the simplicity of the layout and design recalls a Victorian or Edwardian design aesthetic, which while anachronistic for the C15th, does fit the game's attempt to be authentic to a real world past.

The mechanics of the game are obviously derived from old D&D, but tweaked to give a game which is set more in the real medieval world rather than the modern-day-in-medieval-fancy-dress which has always been the assumed default in D&D. One of the things I always disliked in D&D's class-and-level system was how characters quickly become superhuman, their inflated hit points allowing them to shrug off an axe full in the face from a great big orc. L&D starts characters at level 0, advancement restricts HP inflation, and there's a nice table to roll on for permanent physical wounds. It's not as tidy a nod to realism as d100/Runequest, but in terms of a D&D based game it's great stuff.

Although the game makes explicit the social order of the medieval world, including gender roles, I was slightly disappointed that the setting wasn't actual medieval England but a fantasy simulacrum Dark Albion, the subject of a previous Pundit book. However, transferring the content to the real medieval world would be easy for any GM with the right background knowledge. This is made easy because Albion is very close to a real medieval nation, which comes through especially in the magic system which is the real gem of the book. Clerics work miracles, all of which are strongly of the sort associated with actual saints and their relics in the middle-ages, and Clerics are assumed to be agents of a monotheistic faith which the book calls The Unconquered Sun but can easily be run as the Catholic church. It occurs to me that an L&D game with the players as Clerics during the protestant reformation would make an interesting campaign.

Wizards no longer blast Magic Missiles around with abandon. The L&D magic system is based on ritual, and is drawn heavily from magical beliefs of the time, when alchemy was science and what we term “supernatural” was seen as just one aspect of an all-encompassing natural philosophy. This is the Magic User as Faust, or even Roger Bacon, rather than Gandalf. The magic section is both extensive and fascinating, and clearly well researched – I only discovered after ordering the book that Pundit classes himself as a practicing occultist and it shows. Although my copy of Abramelin is long since gone, it is obvious from the magic system in L&D the Pundit knows his stuff.

I suppose the best compliment I can pay this game is that I actually want to run it, despite my historically lukewarm attitude to D&D. The powering down of characters, real world societal assumptions, and especially the excellent magic section, make L&D the D&D the teenage me really wanted – if only Pundit had worked for TSR circa 1983 my RPG life might have been very different!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
by Scott S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/13/2018 18:29:54

THOUGHTS-ASSH, MAZE OF THE BLUE MEDUSA, LION & DRAGON

I am a huge fan of the game Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea (ASSH). I had liked the game before, but put it on the shelf for a bit right when I started going back to school again. I figured that GURPS is a game for engineers, and why shouldn’t I be playing a game for engineers? In that brief time I became reacquainted with the GURPS Vorkosigan Saga, and even started reading the Vorkosigan books. The best of the GURPS books will always inspire you to take a look through the source material. I tried to start a campaign using their superlative GURPS Discworld rules, but decided to wait for Dungeon Fantasy…and I waited…and I waited.

It’s probably a good thing that I waited for that boxed set to release. Calculus was definitely getting harder, and Chemistry was becoming more and more of a bear. The time commitments for both developing a campaign using GURPS, and reacquainting myself with GURPS, were not going to be there. I won’t even go into how surreal time management gets when my reserve drill commitments come into play.

In that time of waiting, the kickstarter for Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea paid off! The books arrived! I had forgotten that I had ordered two of them and was gobsmacked when they arrived! Now, I thought that a second edition of this game was completely unnecessary. The original was contained in two coil bound books, with the most evocative art I had seen in an OSR book. These books were digest sized, but the newer books were not. This book took everything about the original and turned it up to eleven! I was wrong. The presentation, and the minor corrections were more than worth the kickstarter. This single book took all of my GURPS books off the shelf. It is that good! The art design. The homage to the works of Robert E. Howard, Moorcock, Clark Ashton Smith, and Lovecraft are brilliant! This is the game that I have always wanted to play. It sits on my shelf, with its own line of adventures and Barrowmaze. This is my favorite game and book ever!

However, there are two other products that I would like to write about today. I’m somewhat reluctant to, given the vociferous reputations of both of the authors, but each of these works is superlative in their own way. I’ve been struggling, wanting to write this piece for months because these other two books are just that good, Zak Sabbath’s Maze of the Blue Medusa and RPGPundit’s Lion & Dragon.

I already have a favorite game, and I have neither the time nor the money to invest in further games. At this point, I hope to earn enough as an engineer to pay off my student loans and keep my wife from having to become a hooker. I was reading tenfootpole.org, when I came across a best of list. Maze of the Blue Medusa was listed as the best of the best. My opinion differs from the blog author’s in many ways. For instance, I enjoy the ASSH adventures, while he seems to hate them. But I had been looking at this product for a while, and with this recommendation I decided to purchase it. Lion & Dragon has just been released, and while it looked interesting, I couldn’t afford it. However, given the apparent snowflake reaction to pundit and the various shenanigans that rpgnow and onebookshelf seemed to engage in to drive his sales down, required something more than words from me. I purchased the book. I do not care for bullying.

So what are my thoughts?

Zak Sabbath has been pushing the envelope graphically ever since Vornheim was released. A Red & Pleasant Land pushed these boundaries even further. Maze of the Blue Medusa is his finest work so far. Graphically, I wonder if he is pushing the limits of what can be placed into a book. Now I say this, not having a physical copy of the book. My feeling is that just as much care went into the making of the book as the pdf. As much as I love my copy of ASSH, my feeling is that I would love Maze just as well. These products catch the eye, spark the imagination, and aren’t just a window into the mind of an author but enable any dungeon master to follow them and run the same kind of campaign just as effectively.

As an admission, I am not Zak’s audience. I have no desire to run an Alice in Wonderland type game. My stuff is much more mundane and much less gonzo. I prefer Greg Gillespie’s Barrowmaze, primarily because I like tons of undead running about. Barrowmaze is the ultimate in what I feel would be a standard dungeon. It’s only flaw might be in that it is not organized as a series of levels, but is one huge level. I understand this dungeon and could easily run it. Most megadungeons have trouble with their organization. The Dungeon of the Mad Archmage never grabbed me. The organizational aids for Dwimmermount, took a huge book and made it even more intimidating. Everything would be changing all of the time, renedering the original book moot at some point. Stonehell is interesting, if a bit staid. Maze of the Blue Medusa is something else altogether. It is a complete package of a wild and gonzo dungeon that anyone can run.

Zak and Patrick Stuart have taken this conceit and created a dungeon with deadly encounters, moral quandaries, allies, enemies, consequences for decisions, and they have organized it so flawlessly that anyone could run it. They have created a dungeon that any party can encounter. If you are low level, you can survive, if you keep your wits about you. Choice matters here.

I have never encountered any product that is organized as robustly as this one! If you only have the money to buy one OSR dungeon get this one! Even if you don’t want to run a gonzo dungeon, the hand holding and organization here will help you with your home game. This isn’t some guy bragging about their home campaign with a product so huge that you won’t know where to start. It is bigger than itself! Read it! Be sparked! And run something!

Lion & Dragon is much more down to earth. This is what Pundit’s Dark Albion should have been. By that, I mean that these are the rules that should have been in the book. No system notes from the campaign, no conversion notes from Fantastic Heroes and Witchery. These were good things, but they pale in comparison to the rules in this slim book. This is a medieval authentic OSR rules set. One that is true to the material, and that does a wonderful job of preserving player agency. For example, at each level you can either roll twice for your level benefit, or you can choose once from the table. Which will it be? The choice is the player’s.

Where Zak hits you, like that first time I saw the Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader preview in White Dwarf magazine, with a tightly packaged surprise of something that you never thought you would be able to run on your own, Pundit gives you an overflowing box of ideas that just keep leaking all over the place. Dark Albion has multiple small dungeons that you can place anywhere in your home campaign. They fit into the Dark Albion campaign very well, but they are almost modular in that they can be dropped into your campaign almost at will. His scenario The Child Eaters is one of the simplest and nastiest scenarios I have come across. This isn’t some fake cosmic horror, but down to earth terror that explains just why Dark Albion’s society is the way that it is. Cults of Chaos is designed for Dark Albion, but can put chaos as a horror front and center in your campaign in ways that Games Workshop hasn’t done in years! This is great stuff!

If I have twenty, then I’m getting ASSH. That game will not disappoint you. If I have ten for an adventure, then I’d get Blue Medusa. It may not have exactly what you want, but it can show you the way to get there. Afterwards, if I had some more money, I’d pick up Dark Albion. It’s not gonna exactly fit into my ASSH campaign, but it has enough adventure bits in there to more than make it worth my while. Most especially, it provides the background for Cults of Chaos which will fit into ASSH.

Talanian bears watching because of the overall excellence of the entire package in ASSH. Zak bears watching because his envelope pushing is going to go beyond the printed page at some point. My guess, is that he will come up with something that is going to redefine what can be done with a pdf in the near future. If I had the money, I would pick up whatever he had to offer in print. Those will be utterly fantastic books. Pundit…I would like to see him strike off on his own and form his own company. His products have always been playtested to death, but graphically the execution hasn’t always been there. Arrows of Indra was a brilliant OSR imagining of ancient India, but the art and design just wasn’t there. Dark Albion and Lion & Dragon are dramatically better. The maps alone are just amazing!

As a caveat, I have run ASSH. I have not had a chance to run either Blue Medusa or Lion & Dragon, so I would advise you to take my words with a grain of salt. All three of these products come with my highest recommendation. They will serve to take you places that you never imagined going. All of them will spark your imagination, and have been skillfully designed for ease of play at your table.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
by Geoffrey S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/09/2018 07:27:13

Summary : a nice OSR RPG, which delivers its promise, albeit on a high fantasy tone for something "medieval authentic". Four stars as a game, the fifth is earned on the reuse potential for most elements. I have reviewed the pdf version.

Content description : Inside, you get : a complete set of rules, including : character creation, magic (divine , profane, and summoning demons), fight, NPC reaction rules, morale rules to deal with followers, equipment list, medieval poison list, magic item list, adventures seeds, a bestiary… List are displayed in the form of random tables. Art is a strong point. More than one drawing per page, with a medieval and / or OSR product vibe in all of them.

What I liked :

  • most if not all of the content can be used outside of this product.
  • simplicity of the rules. Grab and roll your D20, apply the modifier (generally, one from skill and one from level...) and roll it against difficulty.

Could have been even better with :

  • "default setting" of the author, aka Dark Albion, is still very present is this product. This is a design choice, as explained early in the book, but I feel at least a comparaison table between "real world" and "Dark Albion" could have been useful. Perhaps even a few pages. Or a complete removal of it.
  • the default fantasy level is high, which surprised me a bit, for an "medieval authentic" experience. Some optional rules or rules tweaking advice to tune it down a little or completely could have been great.


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lion & Dragon
by Kenneth J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2018 20:25:00

Lion & Dragon is a fantastic and complete RPG. The game tries to emulate a more realistic medevial world, our world, and can easily be converted to any OSR system that you'd like to use. The game is presented in black and white with the traditional two column layout and features fantastic art and is a joy to read. I highly recommend it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
by Jeffrey D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/03/2018 09:53:47

I wrote a short RPG review of this product for Knights of the Dinner Table (mag) last year and recently got to post that review in full on my blog... This product is pretty much workable with any system.

Here is couple a snippets from that review:

"At its core, Cults of Chaos provides richly detailed framework for creating and applying a variety of cult types or organizations, as an antagonist plot piece to your campaign. The purpose of which, you will use this very supplement to determine. I would say, just about any type of cult you could imagine, but actually this supplement has it covered well beyond what most, or at least those (including myself) not educated in cult history, would think to imagine. It’s a flexible product."

"Cults of Chaos delivers a richly detailed framework for running an inquisitor style campaign leaving few stones unturned. The format is cleanly executed and writing is concise. As a product it’s not only a Game Master’s toolkit, but probably the best system neutral plot-kit device I’ve read. I’d give Cults of Chaos eleven and a half Aleister Crowley’s out of ten, but then again I don’t do ratings and such evil must be stopped! Hopefully, my players will be up for the task."

The review in full is on my blog here: https://withinthedungeon.blogspot.com/2017/12/dark-albion-cults-of-chaos-rpg-review.html



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
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Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/07/2017 04:27:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive rule-set clocks in at 430 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page general hyperlinked ToC (kudos for the added comfort!),4 pages extra-detailed ToC (again, hyperlinked for your convenience!), 4 pages of general index (again with hyperlinks and at the front of the book for easy navigation!), 4 pages of spell index (you guessed it – with hyperlinks, at the front of the book, for comfortable navigation), 2 pages of SRD, 1 page character sheet, leaving us with a massive 412 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This book was provided by a patreon (not sure if the gentleman wanted to be identified) and requested as a prioritized review. My review is based on the pdf-version of this massive book, since I do not own the print version and therefore cannot comment on the merits of the print version.

Okay, so this is, in general, an OSR-type of game; it is suffused in the aesthetics of old school roleplaying. But this is not just a rehash. To contextualize this book: We do not have a system that tries to be too close to the original versions of the game; unlike Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or, for example, OSRIC, this moves a bit further from the established base. At the same time, it does not assume a d6-style gamplay like AFG or VSD6 and, while more “modern” in several aspects, the game is not as radical a departure from the old framework as NGR. But how does Fantastic Heroes & Witchery fit into the OSR as a whole, how does it work?

Well, among the attributes, there are no surprises: 6 attributes, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. Human range is usually 3 – 18, with 19 being classified as superhuman. Modifiers range from -4 (at 1) to +4 (at 19) for the attributes and maximum spell level is similarly capped by attributes. Very high relevant spellcasting attributes can provide a very limited amount of bonus spell slots. The system assumes a superhuman attribute cap of 25, akin to older editions of the game.

The attribute modifiers similarly should not provide too much surprises: Strength mod is added to melee attack + damage and physical skill checks like running, swimming, etc. and is used in saves vs. physically impeding obstacles, for example. Dexterity modifier is added to ranged attack roll (not damage!), used for Stealth etc. and may be used in saves to avoid e.g. a dragon’s breath etc. – you get where this goes right? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll realize at this point that saves. Saves are denoted by a fixed value on the respective class table, and quite a few of the options herein further modify that. Still, as provided, there can be saves associated with any of the attributes, which means that, in this aspect, the closest analogue would probably be D&D 5e.

Races in the system are not necessarily treated as a class, but instead…well. As a race. As such, though, there is a balancing aspect applied to them – we have maximum levels for the non-human races to balance that aspect. A handy table collates these caps, just fyi. However, the races do have minimum attribute requirements AND maximums; when you’re a dwarf, your maximum Dexterity can’t exceed 17, for example. Now, I did write “necessarily” above, since there are actually racial classes for the non-human races; in these, they generally have unlimited advancement and this, ultimately, provides an out-game motivation to choose these. In-game, this makes the races more culturally relevant.

Important note: The race does determine the racial hit-die; this hit-die denotes the wound capacity; class-levels provide hit dice as well; these are vitality hit points. You will note at this point, that the system requires a distinction between character level and class level – and that, by virtue of the racial hit points, 1st level characters are not wet towels in a world of razors. Personally, I consider that to be a pretty elegant solution. Movement rates are denoted in both 1e/2e and 3e-style notation – default would be 12’’ (30 feet). Interesting among the racial write-ups: Instead of 3e and the follow up’s distinction between low-light and darkvision, we retain the classic infravision, but make distinctions in how exactly it works, from race to race. We do get the classic races, including half-elves and half-orcs. Humans are set apart by an experience bonus…but there is more. Beyond these usual suspects, we also add rules for tieflings – who are treated more as a template race here – there could, e.g. be Halfling-based tieflings and dark elves, to note one example that is depicted in full, would be considered to be a tiefling race.

Upon completing this section, you will immediately notice that this book, familiarity nonewithstanding, seems to be a bit…different. For after the traditional fantasy races, we get weird tales races – a whole chapter. This is not an afterthought, either – this section is pretty much the equivalent of another rule book’s whole racial chapter. Now, unsurprisingly, this section is deeply infused by Appendix N-aesthetics; we get rules for exotic humans (you could use the rules presented here to make Carcosan human species, for example); there are rules for Earthlings (humans from Earth, particularly suitable for planes-hopping and Sword &Planet, obviously), who actually gain some abilities that are WEIRD – what may be common here may well be uncanny in another world and we can’t fathom the effects alien worlds might have on us…so personally, I liked that. Tainted humans are those that have been tainted by radiation, exposure to the entities of the Cthulhu Mythos, etc.; there are rules for Planet of the Apes-style Primates; for Reptilian PCs (with subtribes based on chromatic dragon colors for the dragonborn fans), revenants (yep, playable undead, who offset their power with the need to consume life and vulnerabilities) and there even are winged folk. While I am not a big fan of low-level flight, the weight-based restrictions imposed on their flight and the other modifications do offset this significant advantage somewhat. Finally, witchlings are humans that devolved (or evolved) into another race via constant exposure to the occult and potent, black magic.

Okay, after this massive section, we get a couple of general backgrounds to choose from; Alignment is less important in FH&W; most people are assumed to be, basically neutral; the only other axis that is relevant is the old one – Law and Chaos. That being said, exemplars of these are probably rarer than in comparable games.

As you could glean from the existence of racial classes, there is bound to be a HEFTY chapter on classes; a handy table in the beginning groups classes by type/race and then lists them.

Classes provide a BtH – the Bonus-to-Hit, basically the attack bonus. BtH can be classified as full, ¾ or ¼ - generally, spellcasters will be REALLY sucky at hitting things; worse so than in even d20-based games. New vitality hit dice are gained each level, up to 9th; for the remainder of levels (as classes range in levels from 1 – 13), we get fixed bonus hit points. Classes do have requirements, feature the equivalent of proficiencies regarding weaponry and armor, and sport class features; classes may also provide bonuses to specifc saves – fighters, for example, get +2 to saving throws to Strength and Constitution saves. In general, you can assume each odd level to provide a class feature. In this way, the classes presented herein are indebted to new-school aesthetics – and, in my mind, they’re better off for it, as even fighters allow for a bit of customization and player agenda. Now, before the grognards out there start hissing and booing: The respective features, in general, remain well beyond the rules-complexity of e.g. 5e, let alone PFRPG. Speaking of which: The berserker and knight, to take two variants, would be the stand-ins for barbarian/paladin; Nice: knights per se are NOT per default paladins or antipaladins/blackguards; instead, there is a chance to gain this status in play, but it remains rare; considering that paladins were historically known as the 12 peers, foremost members of Charlemagne’s court defined by larger than life and mostly fictitious propaganda denoting the superiority of Christian martial arts over that of the Sarazens. I digress.

A big departure from traditional depictions of classes would be the lack of a divine caster – instead, we get an elegant little class that, to me, feels much more “divine” that the god-coated cleric ever did – the Friar. Armor up to chain-mail, d8 HD…and basically, the main draw of the class is the prayer mechanic: You roll dice, depending on your level, as a full-round action. This generates an effect: Countering magic, blessing allies, dispelling charms – you know “magic” stuff that is actually ascribed to the devout. However, each subsequent use of prayer actually adds to the chances of not getting the aid you prayed for. You begin with rolling 1d6 + Wisdom modifier and increase that to up to 3d12 base dice at 13th level; the second prayer only succeeds on a 2+; the third only on a 3+…and so on. This is dead simple, easy to grasp and flavorful. Oh, and at higher levels, they can ask for divine intervention. Seriously, seriously love this class. The mystic would be basically a monk class and is a subset of the friar; the templar would be the hand of god, the martial, blessed soldier. Assassins, bards and acrobats would be subsets of the thief.

Wizards would be the primary casters, gaining spells of up to 6th level, with warlocks and wise man/woman as subsets; before you’re asking: No, warlocks are not all-day blasters, but rather casters that dabble in forbidden magics, traitors to their kin by virtue of the knowledge they crave, if you will. You know. Closer to the actual meaning of the word. I digress. The base array of classes, as a whole, struck me as well-balanced. The rules-language is surprisingly precise and definitely takes a cue from the crisp and precise old-school books and the codification strategies employed by current systems.

Onwards to the racial classes! The clansdwarf would basically be the dwarven specialist fighter; the gothi the armored, dwarven spellcaster who can cast in combat while wielding a weapon; their spells are also not automatically ruined by being hit, making them pretty strong – they get a Constitution save. They are, however, restricted to white magic Elven eldritch archers can, bingo, enchant arrows and their fae-mages are gray magic specialists who may place spells in objects etc. The class comes with subsets – druid-y nature priests called forestalls that can exclusively nature spells and wardens, basically rangers with limited fighting prowess. I’ll give you three guesses what the specialty of gnomish Illusionists is; you’re correct, of course, though their spell-list is called “Delusion”, not illusion in a conscious departure focusing on effect rather than description. Tricksters are basically a hybrid of that class and the thief. Halflings can choose to be the lucky folk champion underdog fighter or the thief-y scout.

Now, there also are weird classes – if I had to codify these fellows in the terms of another rules-system, I’d call them occult classes, perhaps more fitting for early modern/Edwardian/Victorian gameplay; the necronimus, for example, can sense the spirits and gains a degree of awareness of them, though they are, perhaps surprisingly, white magic casters. Occultists would be the black magic side of the coin, defined by corruption and dark lore, but also uniquely suited to defeat fiends and demonic entities – basically the antihero trope.The psychic would be the equivalent of FH&W’s adaptation of the classic old-school psionics: We get the classics like mind blast, Id insinuation, etc., a point-based psi-engine, etc. – but also the attack and defense mode engine. I’m gonna earn some boos and hisses by saying that, but here goes. Old-school psionics suck. I always loved the idea of psionics to death, from the moment when I first read it. However, psionics only got good at 3.5 and onwards, courtesy of Dreamscarred Press and later, Paizo’s psychic spell engine as an alternative. The attack vs. defense mode system, while sensible on paper, never ever played well. It was always exceedingly clunky and frankly, I wished that this class had deviated further from it. Anyway, if this works for you: Cool, I don’t judge, more power to you. Playing with it, I consider it just as clunky as the old-school psionics.

The rifleman would be the gunslinger, the dashing space-opera hero with great aim, defensive rolls and tech-use; the savant is the Doc Brown-style mad tinker/inventor and is a class for the player who enjoys a bit more freeform: While concise guidelines for devices are provided, the engine presented is pretty open. The sky-lord would be the ace pilot, while the wild brute is basically the savage/Mowgli-type character.

Okay, so that would be the class roster; I already touched upon wound hit points and vitality hit points; this distinction is btw. only usually made for PCs - no need to track it with NPCs. Transition from saves of other systems, be that 3.X or old-school games, is btw. dead simple and further facilitated by the handy tables; transition from 5e is a cake-walk that probably doesn’t even require any brain-power; I’m confident I could manage it while horribly drunk. Petrification and polymorph, for example,a re translated to Strength; Death, paralysis and poison to Constitution; Charisma is used to resist spells that do not have a listed attribute noted in their description. Dead simple. Characters heal 1 + Con modifier hit-points per day, 3 + Con modifier for proper rest; characters are dying from -1 to -9 and -10 = death. For every wound hit point lost, characters suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to ALL DICE ROLLS. This means that, even if you have a high racial Hit Die, you won’t necessarily work well longer; it just means that you’ll be more likely to be able to limp away. Skill-checks work pretty much like in current games: d20 + bonuses vs. DC. An average task is DC 10, nearly impossible is DC 30. There are rules for opposed checks, characters may be aided – here, the emphasis on teamwork and assistance provides a nice bit of detail.

Now, let us take a look at the equipment: The system assumes a gold standard and provides both ascending and descending values for armor class notation. Default is, btw. AC 10. Armors impose a skill penalty and a spell failure chance. Exotic armor like dragon armor, samurai armor etc. is included. The weapon selection is massive, provides examples for further weapons, and base damage types are differentiated: Bludgeoning, slashing and piercing damage. A metric ton of kits, outfits etc. can also be found, and yes, there are rules for early firearms, should your game include them….and then, we get something I did not necessarily expect.

A whole chapter on science-fantasy equipment. Whether you’re looking for rules to play fish out of water/time anachronistic adventures, want to do some steampunky reskinning or go full-blown space opera, this chapter provides items from revolvers to laser guns, noting how technology differs from magic in its capabilities. And yes, from zeppelins to hover cars, this section is neat and shows that this type of gameplay is not just a fire and forget afterthought.

If required, a massive table collates item saving throws and substance hardness. Combat should provide no issues for veterans of the game: Initiative is rolled with a d6, adding casting duration or speed factor of the weapon to it; low scores go first. Surprise is btw determined by a d6 roll in scenarios where it’s not clear. The larger the creature, the higher the speed factor of natural attacks. Interesting: The further you walk, the higher the initiative segment, and receiving charges, for example, can decrease the initiative segment. If this sounds weird, it’s not: The roll determines when the action begins, the modification how long it takes. This sounds complicated on paper, but is dead simple in gameplay and can yield some surprisingly rewarding, tactical situations and also allows you to play really cinematic boss fights. Now, the combat system per se is similarly easy – I already covered how attacking works; actions are similarly simple: There are primary actions (basically like standard actions/5e actions), secondary actions (move actions/move/bonus actions) and free actions. The game assumes a critical hit/fumble engine and sports a couple of combat modifier, but not excessively many. Further emphasizing tactics, the game knows multiple defensive actions: Choosing to evade applies +4 to AC versus ONE attack; parrying nets you +2 to AC versus 3 attacks. Apart from fleeing in a panic, there is no real attack of opportunity system in place, but from strangulation to putting a blade against a target’s throat etc., the whole array of combat maneuvers is covered and pretty much available. TWF and unarmed fighting rules are pretty concise as well. Due to the simplicity of the system and the relatively easy math, even called shots tend to work as intended. Morale checks for creatures are also assumed to be part of the offering, just so you know.

Vehicle combat rules are included; turning/rebuking undead is based on creature HD and character level; psionic combat…okay, it’s not bad per se…but it’s indebted to the classic attack/defense mode paradigm. Next. We do also briefly mention duels of rhetoric, which was a nice touch. Exploration, overland movement by terrain, sea- and airborne travel (with trails, wind etc. influencing speed), becoming lost, chase rules (including chases in the wilderness and at sea, dungeons, etc.) supplemented with random hazards/obstacles.

Now, there is one component about the health/hit-point mechanic that I’m not too fond of: Not only do wound hit points influence the rolls of the character, they also decrease speed – which means that dwarves, with their low speed, can theoretically be still in fighting shape, but RAW unable to move. While easily remedied with a minimum value, this is still a surprising guffaw in the otherwise, as a whole rather impressively precise book. While we’re on the subject: I am rather happy that the Constitution-based percentile chance to not being able to be recovered from death makes a return – death should mean something and some of my most nail-bitingly intense moments were the rare resurrection rolls in my earlier games. But I digress.

Among the conditions known, we have the usual suspects like blindness/deafness, diseases, etc. – and 5 levels or drunkenness (YEAH!), 4 levels of fear (you guessed it: shaken, frightened, panicked, cowering)…but it should be noted that both starvation and losing limbs are their own things here. Ability loss persists while the condition that instills it does; ability damage heals at a rate of 1 per day; ability drain needs magical fixing. Energy drain, lycanthropy and petrification are as deadly as the old-school crowd wants them to be. Be afraid. Rules for high altitudes, suffocation, toxic air, smoke, corrosive atmosphere, extreme temperatures, deep snow, avalanches, instant freezing, falling (yes may go partially straight to your wound hit points…), rain, storms – you note it. The chapter on these environmental and terrain effects is massive, exhaustive and pretty much amazing.

Sample NPCs, hireling rules and an easy to grasp monster/NPC-notation – simple, handy, no complaints. Now, beyond the friars mentioned, we take a look at priests and gods – several takes on gods and how they may or may not exist, are provided before we get EVEN MORE class options, like the witch-hunter fighter, the crusader berserker. The preacher bard variant or the inquisitor thief sub-class. A MASSIVE array of deties and potential subjects of worship is provided, remaining setting-agnostic throughout – elemental water, fertility deity, fortune – you get the idea. Basically, you get the rules and then can apply the template provided to your setting of choice. A class for champions or law and chaos and one for the guardians of neutrality complements this section. While we’re at it: We do not stop there. We receive a massive, detailed discussion on the matter of the immortal soul, petitioners, as well as on the planar cosmology assumed (including discussions on positive/negative energy plane and plane of shadows!!) etc. - kudos for going the extra mile here!

Now, magic. As briefly touched upon before, FH&W does not per se assume an arcane/divine divide in magics; instead, magic is categorized in white, gray and black. I am not going to insult your intelligence by explaining these notions, so let’s talk about some of the other components that set the magic engine presented within apart: Beyond even more variant/sub-class options, we actually not only get rules and guidelines for spell-research, but also for incantations. In case you are not familiar with the concept: Think of these more as sword & socery-esque magic, as ritualized forms of magic that can have benefits ranging from a folk magic charm to the calling of a demon lord. The notion and concept has always been exceedingly dear to my heart, so big kudos for providing the like. It should also be noted that the creation of pentagrams and protection circles against entities is provided in its own brief sub-section, once more providing a level of detail and coverage that rather baffled me, in a good way. Speaking of which: The optional rules for severe sorcery put a smile on my face: Obsessions gained from study, true names and their power, inherent danger of preparing spells, ley lines, rules for ritual sacrifice – here, we have a massive selection of rules that can dramatically tweak how magic feels in your game. We get spell-lists by school…and then a MASSIVE grimoire of magic. Spells are listed alphabetically, with class level, casting time, save, target, range, duration, and SR, if applicable, noted in the beginning. I love this. You get the meat of the spell’s effects at one glance, sans having to skim through the whole spell’s text. Kudos for going the detailed route here. Oh, and guess what: Some spells are reversible. How many are there? 666. Yes, that’s A LOT. And there are some pretty cool ones: You know you want to cast zombie stooge ,or time mirror right?

Even after this HUGE chapter, we are NOT YET DONE. The appendices collate ability score in a table; you get age, height and weight tables, personality descriptors; a system to pledge allegiance to causes, nations, organizations, etc. to gain benefits; a system to track cultural origins and language and literacy (OH YES!!!) in THREE categories (primitive, default medieval, advanced (OH DOUBLE YES!!)! We get sample names by race and culture; an optional social origin system; alternatives to determine hit points; a quick and dirty one-page insanity-system; an appendix that collates all skills and provides sample DCs for them as well as conversion guidelines (YEAH!). Want further differentiation between fighters? Combat styles are provided; fencers can feint and deflect arrows, boxers can flurry…you get the idea. Want to adapt your favorite class? Conversion advice for 1E, 2E and 3.X classes is provided.

Oh, and guess what? MORE CLASSES. I am not kidding you. We get basically a Zorro-style adventurer; a druid-y animist; we get scary monks (all those creepy killer monk tropes rolled into a class), a pirate and a naval mage…and the thick brute. For when you want to play the rather dumb, but really strong character. Oh, and guess what – while the default system goes to level 13…there is an epic level appendix that expands that range to frickin’ level 25!

Now, if you want, you can also take a look at the saving throw appendix and take a look at the cool tweaks the system proposes for reactive and active saving throws: Foregoing your action to prepare for an incoming spell or effect would constitute, for example, such a case. This sounds complex, but in play, it is quite the opposite and rather self-explanatory. We close this massive tome with a list of spheres associated with particular domains, should you prefer spellcasting priests, and a critical hit table further expanded, with class specific effects.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting may be the one aspect that some people might grumble about. While the rules-language and formal language is generally precise, there are a couple of instances where it is evident that the author is not a native speaker; not through malapropisms, but via a couple of slightly rough verbiages. These instances are surprisingly few in number, though – I can literally rattle off a list of books with a lower rules-density, penned by native speakers, that did not fare as well as this tome. Layout is surprisingly gorgeous for such a tome: It is crisp, black and white and sports a LOT of nice graphical elements: Scrolls, original and stock art – all comes together rather nicely. The book is incredibly easy to navigate, courtesy of the indices, the hyperlinks and the massive array of nested bookmarks. My one criticism regarding the organization is that, personally, I would have preferred all classes and class options in one place; that is a personal preference, though – I get the decision to group them next to the respective optional rules.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery is pretty much the “eierlegende Wollmichsau” among the OSR-systems. In case you’re not familiar with the term: It literally means “egglaying woolmilk(-giving)pig” and figuratively denotes a jack-of-all-trades. This book is perhaps the ultimate example of kitchen-sink modularity in OSR games…and beyond.

What do I mean by this? As many of you know, I really like BOTH super-complex games like Pathfinder, slightly simpler ones like 5e, old-school games AND really rules-lite games. Here’s the thing, though – ultimately, for longer games, you require two things to stave off boredom, or at least, I do. I need options and the capability to depict multiple types of gameplay. Sure, I love a good GUMSHOE investigation! I absolutely can get behind an amazing mega-dungeon hackfest! I adore really bleak purist horror! But know what I cherish about both the complex systems and the OSR-movement as a whole? Both provide a gazillion of ways to modify and tweak the game. Sure, I can play, e.g. LotFP as the designated quasi-historical weird fantasy game…and add some Stars Without Numbers etc. But this meshing, at one point, becomes a bit more complex than it needs to be. As “simple” as most old-school rules are, they quickly become less simple once you start getting into the heavy tweaking; that’s not bad for short games, but I prefer longer campaigns, and thus a sense of consistency in that department.

Dominique Crouzet's Fantastic Heroes & Witchery delivers just that for me. It’s a masterpiece. It’s like coming home. This game manages to walk the tightrope: You can play it as a rather simple, classic game on par with the big OSR-systems…or you can make use of the massive wealth of options presented. The combat, as depicted herein, is dynamic and incredibly fun and tactical – it rewards player brains and forethought. Moreover, it does not fall prey to them “I hit it with my sword”-syndrome, where the martial characters just stand around and bash on things. You can literally run a combat, where a gigantic Kaiju tries to squash the PCs as they hurry from cover to cover. I have rarely seen a system that is so simple, yet rewarding and complex, that lets you create such cinematic moments. The simple skill-engine nets a ton to do beyond killing things.

And better yet: Much like 3.X and PFRPG or 5e, the system sports an incredible flexibility: You can literally tie in almost anything into it with minimal fuss: Want to add in full-blown horror? No problem, the framework’s already here; expanding it is a cakewalk. Do you still have your favorite module from such a system lying around, the one you never got to run? Well, conversion is ridiculously simple. For 5e, you can basically do in on the fly as well. Want to include spacecraft rules? No problem. Heck, you could even translate a really complex combo-based martial artist class to this system, provided you have a bit of design skill. This system is not only compatible with regards to other OSR-games, it extends that compatibility to the new school systems and creates what may well be the absolute apex of system modularity I have seen so far, all without losing its own identity and touch. The magic-classification, the friar class, the way in which races are handled (which btw. also makes race –class conversion ridiculously simple), the excessive attention to detail provided for things like vehicles, travel, etc. – I have rarely seen a book that made me, time and again, smile so much. NGR, in comparison, is a glorious system as well, but conversion takes more effort, particularly when converting from newer systems.

The biggest achievement of Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, to me, however, would be that it manages to capture the nostalgia and simplicity of old-school gaming with the wealth of options (emphasis on optional!) of current games; all but the most number-crunching and min-maxing players will adore this book; it provides tactical and strategic depth without being mired in it. In case you haven’t noticed: This may not be as crisp as LotFP or S&W, but it is incredibly encompassing. I can pretty much take any book from my library of adventures, setting sourcebooks etc. and run it in FH&W without much fuss. Depending on your skill, you may even pull of such a transition on the fly. I deemed that to be an impossible feat. This book accomplished it.

And yes, I am SO going to get this in print.

If that has, by now, not become abundantly clear: I adore this book. It is a masterpiece in its encompassing nature, in its tendency to embrace what is good about a system, in how easily you can customize it.

If the idea of going old-school with simplified, quicker combat without losing the excitement provided by tactical combat even remotely appeals to you, if you look for a system that can easily handle PFRPG, 5e and OSR-conversions (heck, even 13th Age/4e, but that’ll be more work), then get this right now. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. Oh, and while this was released in 2014, I make it a candidate for my Top Ten – after all, I only was pointed towards this masterpiece this year.

All right, only one thing left for me to do, and that is to thank the patreon that requested this book. I have rarely had so much fun with a book and FH&W is going to accompany me and influence my gaming sensibilities for a long time to come.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/22/2017 07:09:59

History and fantasy come together in this book in a way which I wasn't sure I'd particularly like when I first saw it. Now that I have read the book I can say that I do indeed like the combination of real and fantasy world, and think it makes for a game setting which feels real and important to players, but also doesn't "straight jacket" them as some players feel a purely historical setting does.

I bought this book in soft-cover. Print and bind quality is very nice. I have given this book a "perfect score" because it really fills me with enthusiasm for gaming even just to flick through it. There are a few typos and editing issues which I sorely wish had been picked up, but I have never seen a book composed largely out of public domain artwork which manages to come together in such an appealing fashion. The layout feels OSR without being in any sense derivative or a knock-off of old TSR products from the early 80s - that is fairly unique. I'd describe the feel of the book as "high-end hobbyist". It feels like a labour of love, and that's a good thing!

I found myself strangely intrigued by the rules system hinted at in Appendix P, incidentally.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/19/2016 15:13:34

The newest supplement for Dark Albion is now out, Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos. With a name like that how can I possibly say no?

A bit of history, I worked with author Dominique Crouzet quite a bit back in the late 90s and early 2000s. I know what sort of thing he likes (or at least liked) in this area, so I know I was going to be pre-disposed to like this. Kasimir Urbanski is also the author and his contributions were going to be a bit more of a mystery. But I liked Dark Albion so my expectations were pretty good. Like Dark Albion, this book can be played with any flavor of D&D you like. It is simple enough and light enough on the "crunch" it can actually be played with just about any RPG really. While reading I Was thinking about it in terms of Pendragon, Cthulhu Britanica and other games.

Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos is the cults and cult-like groups book for the Dark Albion campaign setting/rules. The book itself is 92 pages (94 with covers). This includes 2 pages of character sheets, a cult sheet and the ogl. Minus title page and various bits we are looking at 80+ pages of solid content. The art is all black and white and is a mix of newer art and woodcut designs. I am rather fond of the woodcuts myself, I love seeing these in books. I recognize a number of pieces as belonging to Dominique; so he is one of the artists as well as one of the authors. The first part of the book deals with the cults. In particular their size, composition, what social class they come from (very important really) and of course their motivations and where their secret lair might be. Life of the cultist within the cult is also detailed to a degree. Enough anyway to get you thinking more about them. In particular what they do in the cult, why they might have joined and possible mutations. That one needs some more explaining. Some cults are so exposed to the forces of Chaos that their cultist can begin to mutate. A great idea that I am glad to see here. Dom and I did something similar for Warlocks back in my 3.0 edition of my Witch book. So immediately I grabbed on that as something to use. The idea though has a lot of traction. There are similar ideas in Lamentations of the Flame Princess and I believe Dungeon Crawl Classics. The next section covers running advnetures involving these cults. Obviously these cults are not menat to be a one-time adversary. They are meant to be reoccuring antagonists and potentially even the "Big Bads" of your game. This includes a number of NPCs, mostly normal level humans, that are involved in the their cults. Don't assume though that "0 Level" = powerless. Nobility wield a lot of power regardless of level, a noble in a cult can be very bad for a party of adventurers. I might as well acknowledge the inclusion of the "Frog Cults". I still think "Frogland" is kind of dumb to be honest, but I don't mind these cults at all. In fact wasn't "Temple of the Frog" the first real adventure played in D&D and certainly one of the first ever published. The "Keepers of the Frogs" from Blackmoor could certainly fit as a DA cult.

Packed amongst all of this information are also tables of rumors and other information PCs can learn. I thought of this as the "Scooby Doo" section of the book; the PCs split up and search for clues.

We next get some sample cults and some examples of some cults in various dungeon settings. These are split up into low, medium and high level.

The appendicies are very interesting and include a section on Elves in Albion. This section reminded me a bit of a similar direction given in Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum. Indeed, one could use both books together to get a large, more detailed picture of the elves/fae/sidhe. DA tends to be low-fantasty compared to the C&S High(er) Fantasy. Still in niether case are these "D&D Elves", they still have more incommon with the likes Obereon, Titania and Puck than Tanis or Legolas.

The next appendix details a score cults of various types. All ready to drop in your game. The last appendix details sorcerery and chaos and the strange things that can happen when they mix. We end with a cult creation sheet and a character sheet. The character sheet should be offered for free download, I think people would like it.

All in all a fun book. There is nothing here we have not seen before in one form or another, but to have it all one place with this particular presentation is great. I am reminded a bit of the old Witches and Pagans book from White Wolf that covered similar territory. I even pulled out my Mage: The Sorcerers Crusade to see if this would work well enough with it. It would take some work, but it could be done.

What strikes me most is how easiy it is to integrate this into any game you like. The crunch that exsists is easily converted. Since a lot of the die rolling deals with tables and their results, conversion is a simple process.

I mentioned in the past that Dark Albion is particularily friendly to Jeff Talanian's Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Using a page from DA:CoC one could easily add DA style elves (and of course their cults) into the world of AS&SH. AS&SH style witches and warlocks seem particularily suited for the the chaos magic of DA.

In the end I thought this was a fun purchase. Glad to have it and glad to mine some ideas from it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/25/2015 10:04:43

War is always a good backdrop to a fantasy campaign. There is so much chaos and change and opportunity that a group of adventurers could make their way from nobodies to national heroes..or villains. That is one of the basic conceits of +Kasimir Urbanski's aka RPGPundit's latest book Dark Albion: The Rose War. Published by DOM Publishing, the same that gave us Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. Overtly the book is for FH&W, but it can be played with any Retro-Clone or original D&D game you wish. In fact I am going to jump ahead and say that it would work with any version of D&D you choose, including 5th Edition. But for me the game seems like it would shine under Original Edition. But more on that later.

I am reviewing the PDF only at this point. I don't have a copy of the printed book yet. The PDF is 277 pages; 275 of content plus cover and a hyperlink page that we also saw in FH&W. It's a nice touch.

Before I get into the meat I want to about the art and layout. The art is predominantly woodcuts and public domain images from the period or about the period. I want to say that for the record I LOVE this sort of art. I really do. It captures the feel of time I think far better than most RPG art. I love the art in the D&D/OSR books, but that is art for a game world. For a historical one I want this. Also the graphic design and layout is much improved in terms of technique from FH&W. This is obvious when in the FH&W appendix it switches back to the other style. It is the same as the previous book, but still better executed.

The book is nicely organized and I am first grabbed by a sense of nostalgia. This feels like an old-school Gazetteer. In particular the Greyhawk ones of old. We have a two page Table of Contents and a two page index. Both are hyperlinked.

The center of the campaign is the War of Roses. This war, between rival claimants to the throne of England, the House of York (the White Rose) and the House of Lancaster (the Red Rose). This lead, among other things, to the creation of the Tudor Dynasty (White on Red Rose) when the House of Lancaster defeated the House the York and Henry Tudor married Elizabeth York to become Henry VII of England. This is also the milestone between what was "Dark Ages" England and the English Renaissance. Though I personally think of the date as being later when England broke with the Church or even later still when Elizabeth I came into power. But that is my personal bias. (Side Note: See if RPGPundit is working on "Dark Albion: The Tudors", now there is some intrigue!)

The Introduction is a brief overview of the book, the War of Roses, and what to expect in this campaign book. Most of what is here is detailed more in the book, but a couple of things draw our attention. First this a "gritty" campaign. So magic is low, character classes will be low and it is human centric. Other differences between this and other "D&D" are given, such as very, very few demi-humans and few "monsters". Also the differences between this world and our world are given. The one that stands out here is the Church of the Unconquered Sun, something that readers of my blog should already be familiar with, http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2015/02/sol-invictus-unconquered-sun.html. In fact this Church is like one where Rome (Arcadia) adopted Mithra instead of Jesus. It is an interesting idea and one I would love to see more of.

Next up, and what takes up a good chunk of the book is the Gazetteer of Albion. For his alt-history version of England, Pundit sticks with the very archaic Albion as opposed to England or even "Angle-land". I do not object. I used the name myself in Ghosts of Albion, though for different reasons. This is part socio-political overview, part maps and part campaign information. Having gone over the same territory, though 360 years later, I appreciate the attention to detail here. The bulk of this is of course on Albion and Wales (not "Cymru"?), lands up into Scots-land ("Alba"?) only go to Hadrian's Wall, which is still intact in this world. Lands into Ireland ("Erie"! thank you!) only go to the Pale, as appropriate. Beyond the Pale? Well that is where the ancient Brannans live, you don't want to go there. Honestly, this could have been the entire book and I would have loved it. Give me old maps and names of people and I will fill it up with ideas. I already want to create characters and give them histories.

Next up is Kingdoms of the Continent. As you can imagine, an overview of Europe. Not as in-depth as the Albion chapter, nor should it be. There are a couple things though I want to point out.

  1. Frogland. Really? ugh. Ok, ok. I get the desire to have a non-human, chaos-based kingdom. But I really have to admit this sticks out like a sore thumb. It's really just not good. Sorry. I just don't like it, it seems to go against everything we just read about human-centric, low magic, gritty-realism. If I were to use this in a game (and I really would want to) Frogland is going away. I'll replace it with a Clark Ashton Smith-style Averoigne. It really kind of mars the entire work in a way.
  2. Arcadia. There is something REALLY interesting here. I would love to see RPGPundit talk about how The Unconquered Sun grew up out Mithraism to replace Christianity in his world. Plus this is the Renaissance. I would imagine that Arcadia at this time in this world looks a bit more like Mage the Sorcerers Crusade than it does D&D.
  3. Wallachia. Ok, including a bad ass Dracula almost (almost but not quite) makes up for Frogland. Having him live in a castle named "Crows Loft" is very cheeky ("Crow's Nest" might be closer, but hey, not my book).

Law & Justice in Albion is a fairly important chapter. Characters will not be able to act like the "murder-hobos" of other games. Albion, at this point, has been around as country of laws for some time. The Magna Carta has been around for 200+ years at this point so this is not a lawless land, far from it in fact. Frankly more campaign guides should have this as much as they do maps and people of interest.

History of Albion is just as fascinating as the Gazetteer. While I personally believe that games are about the characters, having a detailed backdrop is always nice. Plus if your game is going to more about court intrigue and combats of words and lies rather than adventuring, then this is a must read.

Characters in Albion discuss what has been mentioned briefly already. What characters you are likely to use in this game. It is human centric and low magic. Now there is an interesting twist here in that the Church of the Unconquered Sun has Priests, which are like real-world priests in the Catholic church, and Clerics which are more like D&D clerics. In fact you can have a female cleric. This is a handy way to have your cake and eat it too. The reading of this chapter makes me think that Lamentation of the Flame Princes might be a good rule fit for this, but as I read more I think that Original D&D is the best choice. Though given the changes to the world in general I would also add druids and witches to my games.

Currency & Equipment is actually quite an important chapter. Money didn't just seperate the wealthy from everyone else, it also separates the classes, as in the upper and lower class. In many D&D games characters tend to throw around gold like it was water. You see that even in some of the pulp influences of D&D. Historically though and even until past the Victorian age you would not find people throwing around a gold coin. Copper pence/pennies were the coinage of the common man. Maybe a silver shilling. Ok, technically the silver shilling wasn't minted until the 1500s and it was worth 12 pence (not the 10p listed). BUT this is just a change to make things easier for the game and that is fine with me. I would still introduce a gold guinea at 21s/0p though it's introduction is still not for another 200 years or so. I just like the idea.

The next two chapters, Noble Houses of Albion and People of Interest, deal with the people that populate this world. I would say that if you are playing a court intrigue game then these are your important chapters. Knowing who is controlling what and what their moves might be is a great aid for the right-minded GM. I would say that if you are or were a fan of Pendragon or even Birthright then study these two chapters. Heck given how Pendragon works this could be part of the same set of PCs, only their dynasties 35-40+ generations later. Ok, so I am not taking any stars away from the overall product for this, but I will state my disappointment in the whole "Frogmen" one more time here. Craaak VII? Lraaap XI? Come on Pundit, you can do better than this.

Sorcery and Secrets is the chapter I have been waiting for. I will point out one discrepancy between what is said here and what is assumed. Magic-user spells are listed to 9th level, ok that will take a pretty high level magic-user, beyond the "7th level will be really high" mentioned. Plus 9th level spells are pretty big magics. Personally I would limit all spell casters to 6th level spells. There are some rules in FH&W to help get around this restriction.
There are some really good demon summoning rules. I would combine these with the magic circle rules given in FH&W as well as the Ley Line rules. In fact in might be interesting to take this chapter and Chapter 9 from FH&W and look at them as a unified whole.

Adventuring in Albion. Ok this is more like it! Give me reasons for my characters to do things! For me I am content with "there is a war of succession to English throne going on. You all are peasants. Figure out how make the most of it." Thankfully there is more here than just that. Several sample adventure locations are given, including one at court. Travel across Albion is discussed though characters are more likely to run into tolls rather than trolls, but both are still possible.
While monsters are rare in this setting a guideline for what might be possible would be good.

Three Appendices follow.
Appendix 1 detail the Knights of the Star and Secrets of the Clerical Order. Knight of the Star are an order of Knights loyal to the crown and king of Albion. These Knights could be seen as the Paladins of Albion and are given similar in-game status. Appendix 2 is a set of house rules for rules-lite OSR clones like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Swords & Wizardry, and Basic Fantasy RPG. Appendix 3 is a set of rules when playing Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. Like I mentioned before this appendix drops the Dark Albion style for the FH&W one. Various new classes for FH&W are added including the Cleric of the Unconquered Sun, the Magister, Hedge-Witch and Cymric Bard among others. Also classes from FH&W are discussed including which ones NOT to use in Dark Albion. Some details about how Dark Albion's cosmology fits into the FH&W assumed cosmology.

The book ends with the OGL statement.

There is a lot crammed into 275 or so pages. While the guide is complete and there is plenty to do with it, it also opens up a lot of possibility for the world as a whole. Dom and RPGPundit could make a career out filling up the other countries. The time period is an interesting choice too. Having played a ton of historical games I tend to draw a fuzzy line right around the time of the Tudors. Prior to this time I can emulate with D&D-like games, after that I use other games. Dark Albion adheres to my own internal logic in this respect. Though I do admit I can see myself pushing that line a bit when it comes to Elizabethan times. I have done that time period both as a D&D-like game and as a setting for Ghosts of Albion.

I would say pick this up if you have any enjoyment for English history or if you are looking to play something different than the same old dungeon crawls.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/24/2015 11:46:57

Full Disclosure: I have worked with the author, Dominique Crouzet, in the past on a couple of projects. I think Dom is a great guy and I love the work we had done together. I am going to review FH&W on it's own merits.

For this review I am looking at the PDF copy found at DriveThruRPG and the print copy hardcover from Lulu.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery Reto-RPG (FH&W hereafter) is a newer "retro-clone" of the classic D&D rules.

The book itself is a massive 430 pages. This includes the table of contents (4 pages), index (4 pages), spell index (4 pages) and OGL statement (2 pages). The PDF also has a "quick click" index to get to sections in the book faster.

A while back I referred to this as the "Rosetta Stone" of OSR games. It still works like that, but this really more of an meta-analysis of OSR RPG elements put into a cohesive whole. The game feels like Basic era, BEMCI, D&D, but it also has the options of both 1st and some of 2nd Ed AD&D. Other games like Swords & Wizardry have also contributed to the DNA of this game. A quick look at the OGL statement in back makes it clear that this game is very much a product of many, many games. This is not a slight, there is an absolute ton of new and original material here. It takes the best and develops more to make it all work well. In fact this book is a good point of translation between the various clones and 3rd Edition. Not that translation is difficult, this helps smooth out the "local idioms" to some closer to normal.

A note about the art. Dom is not just the author of this game he is also one of the primary artists and graphic designer. The art is reminiscent of both B/X D&D and AD&D, on purpose. In fact there are a few tongue in cheek references to old AD&D books. To further this feeling there is also art by Jim Holloway.

Chapter 1 deals with character creation. Here we are given the details about Ability Scores (OSR standards here) and then we get into races. The usual suspects are here, but some of the newer folk as well like tieflings, and some new ones. The new races include tainted humans, primates, reptilians, revenants (undead), winged folk, and witchlings. I love the idea behind the primates, intelligent apes and wonder why we have not seen more of those in other fantasy games. A personal aside, the Witchlings are very much something I would expect out of Dom. I am very intrigued by the race and plan on exploring in more. The next section of the chapter is Character Backgrounds. These are more role-playing options with suggestions of mechanical advantages (Foresters are better at climbing trees for example, but no pluses are given). This is a nice section that does better than it's inspired materials but doesn't quite go as far as the newest edition of the D&D game. That is likely a perfect sweet spot for the types of games that are going to be played here. We end with a discussion on alignment.

Chapter 2 discusses character classes. We have the expected list and then some more. Again since this is a merging of Basic and Advanced ideas there are some "racial" classes here. I like the idea myself and will discuss those in a bit. There is also a section on "Weird Tales" pulp-era classes. Classes are divided up into groups much like 2nd Ed or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. We have Warriors which include Fighters, Beserkers, Knights and Ranger. Rogues which include Thieves, Acrobats, Assassins, and Bards. Divines which consist of Friars, Mystics and Templars and the racial classes. Dwarves include Clans-dwarf and Gothi. Elves are split into High and Sylvan they include Eldritch-archer and Fae-mage (High) and Forestal and Warden (Sylvan). Gnomes get Illusionist and Trickster. Halflings get Folk-champion and Scout. Finally there are the Weird Tales classes; Necronimus, Occultist, Psychic, Rifleman, Savant, Sky-lord, and Wild-brute.

Like editions 3.x and beyond, all classes use the same Experience Level chart. So 2,000 xp is 2nd level for everyone. This has a number of nice benefits including easier multi-classing. Like newer editions each character class has a base to hit modifier. So for fighters this goes up +1 per level. Each class has HD, Base to Hit, Saves and abilities per level. Saves are standard Sword & Wizardry style, but there is an Appendix for conversions later in the book.

An note about levels. Like B/X, AS&SH or Adventurer, Conqueror, King, FH&W assumes that 13 is the max level. There are XP values given for 14 and above, but the abilities stop there.

I will discuss the Wizard classes later when I talk about the spells, but for now I want to say that racial classes are really some of the nicest new classes of the book. It is easy to create a bunch of human centric classes, but these different cultures would naturally produce some professions or heroes of their own.

The Weird Tales classes are an interesting bunch. Some would fit right in with the Ranger or Knight, others, less so. The Necronimus is basically a spiritualist or speaker of the dead. The occultist learns spells as the find them from old tomes, the psychic is what is says on the tin. Others like the Rifleman or the Savant (aka Weird Scientist) could work with some good role-playing and a lot of help from the GM. The Sky-Lord...is a great class, but it is very Sci-Fi or at least Sci-Fant. The wild-brute would work anywhere to be honest.

Hit-dice and hp are discussed in the next section as well as saving throws. The model of saving throws in the Swords & Wizardry one but also it could be said the D&D 5 one or the Castles & Crusades one. Conversions and notes are given for how to translate a Fortitude save or a Breath Weapon save over to this system. Honestly this is a gem and worth printing out these pages for any game you play. Next are skill checks and how to handle them.

Chapter 3 covers Equipment. This is what you expect but there is a lot to choose from here. In fact t might be one of more comprehensive collections. Worth the price of the PDF to be honest to have all of this in one place. The section on Sci-Fantasy equipment is an added bonus.

Chapter 4 details Combat. There is your garden variety melee and missile combat, but also vehicle based combat and psionic combat (for the psychic class). Stuffed in the last paragraph is the very interesting Duels of Rhetoric. Basically, combat of words. There is a lot of potential here and something I want to use in my next D&D5 game. Yes it works with any version of D&D or OSR game.

Chapter 5 is Moving and Exploring. A lot of what becomes a goo dungeon crawl is more than combat. This also details carrying capacity. What you expect is here, but there is also a nice section on "Chase rules" to go with your vehicle based combat. Suddenly I want to do a Stephen J. Cannell-style chase with chariots or even dragons!

These two chapters have a logical conclusion found in Chapter 6, Hazards and Injuries. This includes a Wound and Vitality system for use in any D&D-like game. Other topics include massive damage (like AD&D 2), subdual (a feature of my Basic D&D games) and healing. There is a section of Threats and Hazards. This details a lot of conditions PCs can find themselves in; Blind, Fearful, Drunk, Poisoned and so on. Congrats, we just worked in the best parts of D&D4! Beyond that the Conditions/Afflictions also extend to the Supernatural. So Energy drain, Lycanthropy and so on.

Chapter 7 covers Monsters and NPCs. There are no monsters in FH&W. Not that there can't be, but the book does not list them. It does talk about how to use monsters and how NPCs can also work as monsters. By default FH&W assumes an OSRIC style stat block for monsters.

Chapter 8 is an interesting one. It covers Priests and Religions. Different types of world views are discussed. Also the priest classes are mentioned with different "templates" one can use to make the priest feel different. Some concepts of gods are later detailed. One could add names to these from any myth rather easily. Names are not provided though. Each God archetype also has a suggestions for their clergy. After this we get into a discussion of Law vs. Chaos. This includes another class, The Agent of Law/Chaos. If you are thinking Elric or other Eternal Champions (but also I will add, He-Man from the Masters of the Universe media is a great example of an Agent of Law). In fact so engrossing is this concept I might create three agents using this as my outline for Law, Chaos and Neutrality. If you pick this up, really consider this chapter and what it could mean for your game. There is even a treatise on the immortal soul and some details on the outer planes.

Chapter 9 covers magic and spellcasting. There is a lot here. One of the better sections is acquiring arcane spells. There are equally as good sections on getting spell-like powers. Also covered is an optional rule on Incantations, which are spells that anyone can use. As expected the schools of magic are covered, with the different specialists such as Illusionists, Necromancers and so on. Also presented is a War-Mage class. The next section deals with the craft of magic. This includes a lot of information on magic circles, scrolls, and even creating magical talismans! My favorite is part on ley lines and power nexuses.
We get into the bulk of the chapter with spell lists by class. Spells are divided into Psychic, Gray, Black and White magic, Nature and Delusion spells.

Chapter 10 is the Alphabetical listing of all the spells. 164 pages worth of spells, 666 spells in all. Thats 2/5s of the entire book. I know some are new, but I would have to read each in detail to know which ones. There are a lot here in any case. Personally I LOVE that the Mordenkainen's spells have been changed to Morgane's. While many of the spell casting classes stop at level 6, these spells do go to 7th, 8th and 9th levels.

Chapter 11 covers the Appendices. These are: Appendix 1: More About Ability Scores. - Ability scores above 18 to 25. Appendix 2: Physical Appearance. - height and weight by race. Appendix 3: Personality. Appendix 4: Allegiances. Appendix 5: Cultural Background. Appendix 6: Social Background. Appendix 7: Rolling Hit-Points. Appendix 8: Sanity / Insanity. - I am not a fan of sanity in a FRPG. but this is a simple solution option. Appendix 9: Skills in More Detail. Appendix 10: Talents (Custom Abilities). Appendix 11: Fighting Schools and Maneuvers. Appendix 12: Adding More Character Classes.
Appendix 13: Epic Levels (14th to 20th / 25th level). takes the characters into epic levels, in this case 14th to 25th. Appendix 14: More About Saving Throws. - more Saving translations. Appendix 15: Domain Spells. - divine spells by theme Appendix 16: Critical Hits (Complete Table of Secondary Effects).

A bit more about Appendix 12. This is a GREAT section about adding other classes including 3e prestige classes. This includes note on how to add my own Witch to this game. There are also more classes here including: The Adventurer, the Animist, the Scary Monk (the monk from AD&D), the Sea-Dog, the Sea-Witch and the Thick Brute.

We end with the OGL notice and a character sheet.

What can I say at this point really?

This is an awesome resource. It is a great game in it's own right, but it shines when added to other games. Use this to play an OSRIC game while importing some 3.x style classes and as Swords & Wizardry monster book. Or whatever you like. There is so much here that there is no end of what you can do with it. A serious high mark for all OSR products in terms of utility.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
by James S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/15/2015 21:39:38

This review originally appeared on my blog, Halfling's Luck. (http://www.halflingsluck.com)

Dark Albion: The Rose War, written by the RPG Pundit and published by Dom Publishing, is the kind of product that makes me jealous. I'm an amateur history buff and a huge fan of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series - both the films and the books. You see, a few months ago, I considered doing a politics supplement for Swords & Wizardry: WhiteBox because of my love of both these things. I made a few notes, wrote down a few ideas, and set it off to the side. I turned my attention to White Star, which has had its own success.

Well, as things became finalized for the print-on-demand version of White Star, I returned to my idea - only to find that someone had done it far better than I ever would. That product is Dark Albion: The Rose War. You see, Dark Albion is more than just what it says on the tin. It bills itself as "Grim Fantasy England in the 15th Century." But that's not quite right. This product is that and more. You can read it and use it as written with your OSR game of choice. Statistically speaking the game is very light. It can be slotted into Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess or any other OSR or older version of D&D or AD&D on the market with no mechanical modification. That's not to say the game is lacking in substance. In fact, quite the opposite.

Dark Albion takes readers and gamers into a 15th century England and does so with remarkable detail - but it never feels overwhelming or dry. It does not give simple, stark facts of the past. It paints this distorted mirror of a history that feels familiar, but the details make it fresh - like fine spice to a classic meal.

In spite of the fantasy elements introduced, the game is firmly rooted in history and this is reflected in the art - much of which is taken from historic pieces in our own world suitable to the period. The game has its goblins and elves and magic - but these are foreign and rare. Most have never seen a magical beast or a spell being cast - and most never will. These things are dark and dangerous, best left undisturbed and unspoken.

But Dark Albion is more than a rich historical setting. It takes OSR gaming out of the dungeon and into the throne room. Social class and political acumen have more power than swords and spells. While this in and of itself is not earth-shattering, the way it is implemented makes the rules regarding social rank and political power something to be easily integrated into any OSR game. In this sense, a referee who wants to reach into the pages of Dark Albion and extract these options is not bound to an alternate 15th century England. There's no reason these rules couldn't be used when player characters establish strongholds and gain titles or applied to an original campaign where the referee wants to include politics and power plays as a part of their campaign from day one.

That being said, I can't imagine not wanting to use Dark Albion with its written setting. It's beautiful, detailed and so vibrant. It begs to be played. The characters can change the world, even from first level. In fact, the setting is written so that few characters rise beyond 3rd level. Those that do have done deeds worthy of renown and are going to have quite the reputation. With a reputation will undoubtedly come attention and with that characters will be drawn into the political conflicts of the day. Whether they're mercenaries, nobles or knights - all bleed by the thorns of the Rose War.

In summation, Dark Albion: The Rose War is a product thats myriad of uses. By providing 275 page of rock solid material, the gamer is guarenteed to find something more than worth the price of admission. If you want to add politics to your game? This book has it. Want to avoid the politics and set a campaign in a historic setting? This book has it. Want to find a mine full of ideas, NPCs, locations, and adventure seeds to bring to a campaign outside of poltiics and setting? This book has it. Want some fantastic ideas to give depth and weight to your magic-users and clerics? This book has it.

Dark Albion is one of the best products I've purchased this year, if not the past five. I could take this book and run a campaign for years - whether Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or even a game not commonly associated with the OSR like Basic Roleplaying by Chaosium or Steve Jackson's GURPS. The sheer versatility of the product combine with great production values, engaging writing, and solid cartography make it an absolute must-have. In short, Dark Albion: The Rose War is a must-have and given the density of what you'll find in its pages I'd especially recommend a printed copy.

You can find the PDF on RPGNow for $9.95 and in hardcover on Lulu for $29.24 (as of this review, that's a 20% discount). It clocks in at 275 pages, so in both cases that's a bargain of a price.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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DAA1 - The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge
by James S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/12/2015 15:01:00

From the get-go Dark Albion: The Rose War dares to be different. It leaps outside the OSR box, yet keeps one foot in the roots of fantasy gaming. By setting itself firmly in a low-magic, grim and gritty version of the 15th century it still has enough familiarity for a reader to be comfortable, but by opening itself up to allow for focus on social intrigue, political machinations and the complexites of of late-medieval British society it dares to be different from almost any other OSR product on the market.

The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge showcases this. It's an introductory adventure for Dark Albion designed for 1st level characters. But it barely bothers with traditional dungeon crawls and looting. Instead it focuses almost exclusively on investigation and role-playing. By building on the details and setting information in Dark Albion, it shows that OSR games can be far more than just combat, dungeon crawling and role-playing. It can be immersion. It can be interaction with complex, nuanced NPCs who have motives and goals that exist beyond the presence of the player characters. Like Dark Albion itself, the Ghost of Jack Cade provides a world that lives and breaths as a whole. These aren't stock characters who sit idly while the players go off and do their own thing. It has an expectation of proactivity from the player characters, because the NPCs are certainly proactive.

The adventure itself continues what began in Dark Albion with evocative art, both new and period. It provides enough information for a solid night of gaming or two to three shorter sessions - but it can also serve as a setting supplement. It details London Bridge as a location that can be used in future adventures. This includes several static locations as well as a series of random charts that can be used to generate unique locations on the fly. This gives the adventure huge use beyond the scope of the depicted events - especially considering how important London Bridge is to the events of the period.

The adventure concludes with several hooks for the GM or referee to design a sequel, so between an iconic location, a solid adventure and seeds for future events it's a great jumping off point for a Dark Albion campaign. The only downside I could find is that gamers interested in a more "traditional" OSR experience won't find it in the pages of The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge.

This module is a great first supplement in the Dark Albion line and really showcases the setting "in action." I'd highly, highly, highly recommend it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DAA1  - The Ghost of Jack Cade on London Bridge
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