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For Coin & Blood
Publisher: Gallant Knight Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/12/2018 20:32:56

This review originally appeared on my blog, Halfling's Luck, at http://halflingsluck.blogspot.com

REVIEW: For Coin & Blood I remember hearing vaguely about For Coin & Blood some time ago, but it seemed to pass me by before I got a chance to investigate. Then Diogo Nogueira, author of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells and Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, made mention of it on social media. And when Diogo endorses a game, there's a really good shot that I'm going to like it.

So, I googled For Coin & Blood and started investigating. Well, what I found was an awesome little game made by a passionate creator. Like my own The Hero's Journey (and obviously White Star), FCB is built on the Swords & Wizardry White Box chassis. It draws heavy inspiration from a more grim and gritty side of fantasy, clearly influenced by works such as The Black Company and The First Law series' of novels. By combining and tweaking White Box, material from several third party supplements, throwing in a heaping helping of evocative art, and excellent production values Gallant Knight Games has managed to produce a gem of a game.

While I'm not familiar with the fiction mention above, huge credit to the creators of FCB for creating a game that oozes dark fantasy. In fact, I was a bit jealous as I read through the book because I immediately thought "This would be great to run a White Box: Game of Thrones style game," which is something I had always hoped to write myself. Well, Gallant Knight Games beat me to it and good on them! The material is so evocative that it inspired me to pick up the first book in The Black Company series of novels.

So, what separates For Coin & Blood from traditional fantasy roleplaying games? Well, for starters it runs on the presumption that the player characters are not heroes. There are no holy protectors or knights in shining armor here, folks. But, what elevates this above the tired trope of "you play the villains," is that For Blood & Coin presents players and narrators with the opportunity to play characters who are complex and nuanced. No alignments, no archetypes. These are characters who are certainly self-serving, but are still capable of heroism if they so choose. The complexities of characters like Arya Stark or Jaime Lannister are right at home in this game -- and that's awesome!

Beyond fantastic, heavily shadowed black and white line art, the most evocative feature of the game are its classes. No paladins, fighters, or bards here folks. Sellswords, Blackguards, and Assassins rule the day These characters are tarnished by their own sins and willingness to do horrible things, but aren't mustache twirling villains. They're just willing to do what needs to be done when others aren't willing to get their hands dirty. That's something that's refreshing and pretty damned unique in the OSR, separating it from the more heroic games like The Hero's Journey or pulp stylings of White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game.

Author Alan Bahr grabs hold of plenty of open source third party material then tweaks it until he's given it a new, but dingy and tainted coat of paint and created something all his own. There is plenty of familiar material here, but its all modified to the grimdark mood. A few areas of note include his adversaries section, the small tweaks to the player character classes, and rules for player characters running a criminal organization.

For Blood & Coin runs under the assumption that all player characters and most adversaries are human. There are no rules included for playing non-human characters and the bulk of adversaries included in this book are mundane. This creates the implication that magical creatures (and by extension magic itself) is rare and dangerous. This helps add to the atmosphere of the material as well as keeping the page count down. A handful of fantastic creatures are included, but that only helps to accentuate their rarity in my opinion.

This is a deadly game. Characters begin play with more hit points than other White Box-style games, but gain very, very as they increase in level. In fact, it's likely that a critical hit will kill even a 10th level character outright. Again, this adds to the grimdark feel of the material and in addition will force player characters to think beyond the "beat it till XP comes out" mentality that too often plagues fantasy roleplaying games. Each class also features abilities that are familiar tropes from the traditional fighter/cleric/wizard (called sellsword, priest, and magus in this game) dynamic, but takes the time to spice up these core three into something that feels genuine to the setting material. Four additional classes (assassin, blackguard, cutpurse, and knight) round out player character options. Each is just different enough to have its own unique feel, but isn't bloated with extra, unnecessary rules.

In the final pages of the rules, Bahr includes rules for player characters running and joining criminal organizations. Based on Swords & Wizardry Chivalry, the author has taken the concepts found in that book and given them a new and wonderful spin that (yet again) reinforces the themes and tone of the grimdark fantasy genre. Even as someone who originally wrote Chivalry, I found Bahr's tweaking of my original concept to be absolutely wonderful and refreshing.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the inclusion of a 7th Ability Score: Infamy. A character's deeds and misdeeds have a huge impact on the game and this form of measuring a character's reputation provide a more complex and dynamic roleplaying experience that the more traditional alignments used in most games. In fact, alignments have been completely jettisoned in For Coin & Blood, and that's a good thing in this context.

Pound for point, point for point, For Coin & Blood is my go-to grimdark fantasy roleplaying game. In fact, grabbing it has actually saved me money because I've purchased a copy in lieu of Warhammer or Shadow of the Demon Lord. My affection for White Box-based games is well known and this is takes that original edition style of game into a new and wonderful direction by presenting a game that offers opportunities for complex, morally ambigious storytelling not often actively encouraged in the OSR. I can't wait to see where Bahr takes the game line next.

For Coin & Blood can be found on RPGNow & DriveThruRPG in PDF and print-on-demand versions. PoD is in digest form, with a black and white interior, though it can be ordered on color quality paper for a higher quality product -- which I'd recommend.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
For Coin & Blood
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The Midderlands - OSR Bestiary and Setting
Publisher: MonkeyBlood Design
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/13/2018 22:04:01

Billed as a Bestiary and mini-campaign setting, The Midderlands is far more than it says on the tin. It is built around a small region of a twisted late medieval England that never was, appropriately called the Midderlands. Seal and Co. manage to be both concise and amazingly evocative with the prose of this tiny (but powerful) tome to create a setting that is truly unique, yet doesn't require the referee or players to learn a ton of backstory to enjoy the material as its presented.

The Midderlands is a truly strange place, but because its rooted in a well-researched and well-known period of real world history, its quite approachable. The authors manage to convey in just a few pages what exactly makes the Midderlands unique without going into an inappropriate level of detail so as to bog down or bore the reader. As previously mentioned, the Midderlands is firmly rooted in real world history -- but not specific events. Instead, it uses the feel and commonalities of a real historic place and era and then pours on a heaping helping of strange and twisted folk lore that is both familiar and entirely unique all at the same time.

The Midderlands is a strange and twisted place full of unexplained events, twisted monsters that feel rooted in folklore but have an almost Froudian twist to them. The people of the Midderlands are real people, not adventurers or heroes. They want to tend their crops, feed their families, and not be bothered by the terrible things that lurk just beyond the green gloomfog that lingers in a nearby bog. That being said, most average residents recognize that these monsters are quite real and there's almost a sense that they're nonplussed about the whole affair. 'Well, of course there's a bulging-eyed horde of slime dripping goblins who live in those woods. Any fool knows that."

The magic items are no less strange, each designed to have a tonality that strengthens the themes of the setting. A handful of spells do the same as well. Oh, speaking of magic -- magic is something not to be trifled with in the Midderlands. Because frogs fall from the sky, trees sometimes explode in a shower of green flame, and a dangerous beryl fog floats in from beneath the earth, the people of the Midderlands have a general stance of "Burn the witch, ask questions later" when it comes to magic and magic-users. Again, fitting with the historic context -- but also with it's own twist.

The feelings evoked by the material ooze across every page, but the minimalist word count leaves referees free to build and expand as they see fit to suit their campaign. It's billed as a mini-campaign setting, but to be honest I feel like there are years worth of adventures to be told in these pages.

The monsters are lavishly and beautifully illustrated in a perfect expression of appopriate strangeness. In addition to ecology and stat blocks, most monsters are provided with a full level-progression which both allows the referee to scale them to the power level of an individual party of PCS or, if they're feeling brave, allowing them as player characters. That was a real surprise, and a welcome one.

In short, Midderlands is probably my favorite OSR campaign setting currently on the market because it combines the familiar and the strange so perfectly. This allows the referee to create a fresh experience for players without going into territorty that feels different for the sake of being different. Ostensively written for Swords & Wizardry Complete, it can easily be adapted to many OSR games and B/X-based RPGs currently on the market. Personally, I think it would be an excellent fit for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, given that games strangeness -- plus, LotFP and Midderlands physical copies are of the absolute highest quality when it comes to production values and they're both A5 in dimension. I find they look very snazzy next to one another on a shelf.

Midderlands is absolutely 100% worth a purchase. Even if you don't play OSR games and lean towards more modern game systems, there is enough material here to be begged, borrowed, or stolen that its well worth the price of admission.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Midderlands - OSR Bestiary and Setting
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Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting
Publisher: Pickpocket Press
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/03/2017 15:02:42

(This review originally appeared on the blog Halfling's Luck)

I've spoken before of Low Fantasy Gaming and its fantastic blend of OSR simplicity and 5th Edtiion mechanics. Seriously. It's good. If you don't have it, grab it. Well, +Steve Grod (aka Stephen Grodzicki) is at it again with Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting. It is currently available as a PDF for $10 on DriveThru and RPGNow. That's usually my breaking point for a digital product, but Steve was kind enough to provide me with a review copy before I even knew it had been released. Even at the price point, I feel like MLMS is practically a steal.

It's a massive product, clocking in at 365 pages and is billed as "a low magic, low prep, customisable sandbox in a 'points of light' medieval fantasy realm" and that's exactly what it is. The region, known as the Midlands, is described in several broad locations. The vast majority of this is wilderness and it is described in the text and repeated in the details of the flora and fauna to be very dangerous. The few settlements are given brief descriptions, a few key locations, along with backgrounds and stat lines for a few major NPCs. In everything, the Midlands are described in terms of adventure hooks. This is a setting that begs to be used. It's not a static painting meant to be looked upon or held some kind of sacred "canon." The player characters will change the world simply by their actions, and that's clearly by design. I feel this is key to campaign setting books, and its nice to see an author who is willing to pass on their creation onto gamers and give them the freedom to run wild without any kind of implication of what is "allowed."

Given that Low Fantasy Gaming has no clerics or divine magic, it was a pleasant surprise to find a fully detailed pantheon tied to the Midlands. I found this refreshing and a true insight by the author that humanity's belief in the divine in the real world is not defined by witnessing miracles at the hands of Clerics or Paladins, but is part of their natural desire to explain why things happen in the universe - to explain the unexplainable. These religions, even without spell-slinging Clerics, still impact culture and society wherever they are found. This kind of real-world mentality really strength to LFG's "low fantasy" element. It gives the setting a real grounding.

Magic is also given a low fantasy treatment. Even more so than the LFG core book, MLMS is a book that hammers home the fact magic is something man was not meant to know. It is dangerous, uncontrollable, and will inevitably lead practitioners to ruin. Magic items are rare to the point that no such thing as a Sword+1 in MLMS - each magic item is unique and was created for a purpose and was likely the product of an long lost era spoken of only in myth and legend. Magic and magic items in MLMS are, well, magical -- as they should be.

While MLMS could easily be seen as system neutral in terms of using the setting, it does have a few goods specific to Low Fantasy Gaming. Three new classes are introduced: Artificer, Monk, and Ranger. The Ranger is the stand-out here, feeling most tied to the material found within this book and they have a true rugged wilderness tracker vibe to them. They feel... dangerous. The Monk is serviceable without being too Wuxia in its stylings, but I admit I'm not generally a huge fan of the class in general so I might be giving this incarnation the short shrift. The Artificer is a cool concept, but feels unevenly written. Some of its abilities are thematic and cool, like the use of black powder weapons and alchemical solutions, while others feel a bit silly like chaintooth weapons (i.e. chainsaw additions). Still, you could pick and choose these individual abilities and it would be easy enough to disallow that which isn't appropriate to a given campaign.

Where the player options really shine are in the Gear Packs and Party Bonds sections. Gear Packs are class-based packages of predetermined equipment for starting characters. Choose a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, a set of armor, and a gear pack and you're off to the races. Party Bonds establish how the party knew each other before a campaign began, and both quick and surprisingly thematic to the material found in MLMS.

There's a short bestiary chapter which is primarily composed of monsters tied to the specifics of the Midlands setting. They're few enough in number to feel unique, but not so many as to feel as though the setting is populated only by these specific monsters. There is also a small section on designing your own monster. Useful stuff for the GM, but nothing unexpected when it comes to supplements like this.

The GM Tools chapter includes variant initiative methods, a really fun random NPC generator and a magnificent series of random encounter tables that really highlights elements of the setting established in previous chapters of the book. I was pleasantly surprised that "random encounter" did not mean "combat encounter" in these charts, as there is no implication of required violence, nor is there any attempt to "balance" these encounters to the level of the player characters. The rest of the chapter is filled with more random charts including tavern generator, name generator, city street name generator, even bar menu generator - but the real shining random table in this chapter is the Regional Event generator. The Regional Event generator details an event that happens every few months or after a year or so that impacts the setting as a whole. Things the PCs are necessarily involved in, but will likely impact their lives: The death of a king, the rise of a supposed prophet, things like that. It gives the Midlands a real living, breathing quality - something that remains present through the entire supplement.

With all this content, we still haven't got to the meat of MLMS: Adventure Frameworks. This chapter includes 50 adventure frameworks , which aren't as thin as random encounters but are designed to be as easy to implement and provide an evening's worth of adventure with absolutely minimal prep. For GMs with no prep time or when your players head off in an unexpected direction, they're an absolute god sent. Each adventure framework is tied to a location type (city, swamp, forest, etc), and provides several hooks and rumors to draw the PCs in. From there, the framework provides a series of linked encounters that will easily cover a full night of adventure. And there's 50 of them. That's enough to run multiple campaigns without ever running the same framework twice. Each framework runs five or more pages and includes around a dozen encounters. Many have matching keyed mapped for those encounters. Given that much of the inspiration for LFG is in the episodic pulps of early sword and sorcery fiction, this fits style of the game quite well and feels like a natural way to run it. Adventure Frameworks cover about 200 pages of this book.

Finally, MLMS's final pages include an index for easy reference of the material contained therein. This useful, but often overlooked touch is always nice.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't discuss the art. MLMS is filled with black and white line art and extensive maps of several locations. Grodzicki makes use of several pieces of stock art by many different artists, but it never feels disparate. This book is packed with visual appeals and there's rarely a page in the entire thing that's absent of art. The maps are both easy to use and visually appealing, which is an important balance, and vary between traditional top-down view and isometric.

Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting is a worthy successor to Low Fantasy Gaming. Its over 350 pages of content provide enough material for years of game play, using LFG or any other OSR game out there and for those who are using with LFG the new classes are a nice touch. While I was given a copy by Steve for review and I have trouble with a $10 price point for most PDFs, had I bought this with my own cash, I certainly would have felt like I got a deal. The most ringing praise I can provide is that Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting makes me want to run an LFG game physically, at a table, with my local players. Few products do that these days, and so far the LFG product line is batting a thousand.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting
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Through Dungeons Deeper: A Survival Guide For Dungeoneers As Written By A Survivor
Publisher: InfiniBadger Press
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/24/2017 06:57:29

An OSR Gem Though Dungeons Deeper: A Survival Guide for Dungeoneers As Written By A Survivor, henceforth known in this review as TDD is something truly unexpected and unique. Written as an "in-universe" survival guide by an experienced adventurer, it mixes both applicable wisdom and quick wits to create a truly engaging read that both educates and entertains. While it implicitly billed as an OSR product, it is system agnostic and applicable to any classic fantasy RPG.

While certainly written with tongue firmly in cheek, there is genuinely good advice in TDD that is seemlessly woven into the text by the author. This book is just plain fun to read. Along the way, the guidance provided by the roguish halfling narrator and survivor Maximillian Sparfoot is genuinely useful - and not just for new players. As someone who's been playing fantasy RPGs for thirty years, I was surprised at how much of this book had me saying "Yeah, that's solid advice!"

Along the way, almost every single page is packed with black and white line art, maps, and in-setting notes written by Sparfoot. This keeps the tone of the book light and the pace brisk. The visual appeal of TDD is so much so, that I truly think it will shine as a physical product and can't wait for the physical release.

The singular word to describe TDD is "fun." This is a fantastic love letter to fantasy gaming, its tropes, and the shared experiences of players. It never bogs down in detail and reminds the reader just how thrilling (and dangerous) dungeoneering is - both as a gamer and as a player. It made me smile, chuckle, nod in agreement, and most of all it made me want to roll up a character and play.

It clocks in at 150 pages, and while I was initially reluctant to plunk down more than $10 for a PDF (because I'm cheap like that), after reading TDD, I think it's well worth the price and will most definitely be grabbing the physical product when it's released. One of the tiny joys I look forward to is handing TDD to one of my players and saying "You find an old, tattered leatherbound book..." or having some shifty merchant sell the book to them. The book is so well written it can easily serve as a physical prop at the table.

In the end, RPGs require a rulebook. TDD is not a rulebook, but it is most definitely, how you play the game -- and more importantly it reminds us why we play the game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Through Dungeons Deeper: A Survival Guide For Dungeoneers As Written By A Survivor
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Mazes & Perils Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Wild Games Productions
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/04/2016 08:55:28

Mazes & Perils Deluxe Edition, published by Moebius Adventures, the follow-up to the original ENnie Award-winning Mazes & Perils roleplaying game. Written by Vincent Florio and Brian Fitzpatrick, M&PDE is a modified retro-clone of the Holmes version of Dungeons & Dragons. It clocks in at a mere 75 pages, but packs a helluva a lot of content into such a tiny book. While loyal to the eccentricities of Holmes-era D&D, Mazes & Perils isn't afraid to add its own tweaks and modifications to what many regard as the greatest pre-AD&D version of the game.

Absent from the original M&P are two new classes: The Enchanter and the Shaman. While I was initially drawn to paralell them to the AD&D Illusionist and Druid simply based on their names, these classes (while similar) do bring their own unique flavor to the game and because they are included as core classes, show that Mazes & Perils Deluxe Edition isn't afraid to go beyond its Holmes roots. Nor is M&P afraid to draw more directly from AD&D for inspiration, while still holding true to its roots. The Fighting-Man (a class wonderfully reminding me of the long past gaming days of yore) who has a Strength attribute of 18 may roll on a special d100 percentile chart, giving them exceptional modifiers in that attribute. This is a direct paralell to AD&D (1st and 2nd editions), without drawing the reader out of the game's simpler-time-simpler-rules feel. In addition, its demihuman races (dwarf, elf, and halfling) are given a broader selection of classes than most old school incranations, but still retain level limits to keep humans important and balanced in the greater context of the game.

But M&P never strays so far from its roots as to feel like a mishmash of various D&D editions slapped together to create a Frankenstein game. It holds fast to the Holmes-era level limit of 12 and the games visual style is both simple and light-hearted. Art is sprinkled liberally throughout the core rules and alternates between an almost comedic style all the way up to grandiose high adventure. All of it is done in black and white line art and the book is cleanly laid out in two column format that's easy to read and reference.

The game also remains true to old school DIY values, by including a complete map which can be easily stocked using the monsters provided. The GM simply needs to decide the thematic elements of the dungeon and stock it in a manner that suits their campaign. While a general sense of how to do so is provided, the reader is not spoon-fed their options and is given ample liberty to make it something all their own.

In short, Mazes & Perils Deluxe Edition does exactly what it claims to do - it is a faithful recreation of Holmes-style D&D that provides a well described rules set, is easy to read, and adds a few bells and whistles without becoming bogged down. At a slick 75 pages it provides a full gamiang experience and anyone looking to re-create the 1977 gaming experience is sure to have a heck of a good time with this rules set.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mazes & Perils Deluxe Edition
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the kind words James!
Shadowrun: Seattle Sprawl Digital Box Set
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/18/2016 22:07:39

Grok this, Chummer.

Seattle's been the scene when it comes to the down and dirty of the Sixth World. Since the Awakening, its been where every runner who's any runner comes to get regular work. Sure, it's dirty and polluted, the politicians are corrupt, the streets are soaked in acid rain and blood - but hey, it's still home, eh?

Seattle Sprawl is a pretty hefty product, and not bad for the nuyen. It goes a bit old school, calling back to the days when you call the full battleplan in a box. Let's break it down for the kiddies.

General Overview: Like everything in the SR5 line, the stuff we get is pretty. It's well laid out, tightly packed and very evocative of the setting.

The Emerald Shadows: 87 pages, this book is pretty much a tour of Seattle. It provides a broad overview of several key locations in the Sprawl, with the typical sidebars and in-setting discussion indicitive to Shadowrun. This is a great primer for providing the feel of Seattle. It might be a bit daunting for new players to try to absorb the city in a large book like this, but you could have a player reach the section associated with one district and they'll get a feel for the part of Seattle they know.

Ruling the Queen City: This is clearly designed for the GM. It gives a brief history of the city, particularly how it stands in the Sixth World. It's also peppered with NPCs and plothooks across about 50 pages.

Tangled Threads: 30 pages. If Ruling the Queen City is NPC focused, this book is location focused. But it's not really specific locations as much as a collection of generic location types within the city and then it provides, as a secondary function, how these locations relate to Seattle. Tey's are clearly designed to be quickly and easily dropped into a campaign. It provides 3 adventure outlines as well, which can be easily expanded.

Map Cards: While this is 55 pages, its actually a set of 11 cards repeated 5 times, which is redundant for a PDF - but given this was clearly designed to primarily be a physical product, that's fine. Its reminicent of "Dungeon Tiles" for fantasy RPGs, but with a Shadowrun bent. Offices, Labs, Bars, etc. They're generic and useful - but not necessarily directly related to Seattle.

Seattle Sprawl Map w/ Gang and Map reference: This is three different PDFs, and while the map is beautiful, it's more an art piece than anything. While it's great to look at, you'll be looking from the reference cards to the map itself to get a sense of what district you're in and who controls it.

Character Cards: 24 two-sided cards (48 PDF pages) gives you a nice spread of NPCs to grab and go for encounters in Seattle, or any other urban location in SR. While this is pretty standard for "box set" style products it makes them no less useful.

Bottom Line: Is Seattle Sprawl Digital Box Set worth it? Well that depends. If you're a casual SR player and don't really ever GM it, I'd say its a pass. Now if you're a big fan of Shadowrun or run it with any regularity, I think the product is well worth it. It its reminicent of the halycon days of box set settings, and there's a lot of useful content here that's flavorful. Now, admitedly the physical product is pricey but if you're just using it to get inspiration and a sense of SR's most iconic setting I'd absolutely recommend the PDF.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowrun: Seattle Sprawl Digital Box Set
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Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures
Publisher: Flatland Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/29/2016 10:30:28

This review originally appeared on the Halfling's Luck blog.

Flatland Games recently released the second major supplement for Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures entitled Heroes Young and Old. Until now, this was a game I hadn't given whole lot of consideration. To be honest, I'd kind of written it off. I had purchased it, both in PDF and Print formats, sure. But that was more as a show of solidarity to a fellow small publisher than any genuine interest in the product itself. I saw it as yet another B/X clone.

Once again, my assumptions have made a fool of me.

I sat down tonight and really dove into Beyond the Wall and was absolutely charmed. Billed as a simple fantasy game which requires little or no prep to play, it is a game built with a specific tone and purpose - which it achieves to near perfection. The folks at Flatland Games have designed a game that really hits all the right buttons for me as a game master and as a player. So much so, that I went ahead and re-purchased physical hardcovers of both Beyond the Wall and the supplement Further Afield.

Beyond the Wall tears fantasy gaming down to its bare bones, invigorated with a humble and fresh-faced charm. Only three classes are available to players: Fighter, Rogue, and Mage. Each of these is painted in broad strokes to accomidate many classic character concepts - but that's not the true beauty of the game. While characters can be built via your standard method of rolling a few attributes, jotting down some stats, and buying your gear, the true genius of this game comes in its Playbook method of character generation.

You see, Beyond the Wall runs under assumption that all of the player characters are newly minted young heroes who all hail from the same village and share a collective background. The world outside their village is a wild and dangerous place filled with fey creatures, fell dragons, and other creatures of legend. Using the Playbook method of character generation, each of the players generates a character based around a broad concept associated with a chosen class. A Fighter is a Would-Be Knight or Village Hero, for example. From that concept, a set of base attributes are determined and then modified by randomly determining a character's background before he became an adventurer. This background will increase the character's attributes, provide skills, determine equipment, and even help narrow down how a character's class features are chosen. But it never feels like railroading. Instead, with each roll a character is born in what can only be described as organically.

More importantly, a character's background builds connections and even modifies the statistics of other player characters in the party. So, for example if you are a Mage who was the Witch's Prentice, your background might say that you helped protect the witch from an angry mob and a boon friend stood by your side. This boon friend, who according to the Playbook is the PC sitting to your right, will receive +1 to their Strength because of events in your background. This ensures building a group of wide-eyed young adventurers who automatically will have a shared background and sense of trust. The statistical bonuses provided by these kinds of things adds a mechanical gravity to show, in game, that these experiences matter.

These character backgrounds play an even more important role than just uniting the PCs. As characters are created and important places and people in their lives are revealed, the group has a nearly blank village map in front of them with only an inn at the center. You're the son of a blacksmith? OK, draw where his shop is on the map. You like sitting under a strange old oak and telling stories to young children in the village? Where's the oak? A grizzled old mercenary took a shine to you as a boy? Where is his cottage? Each piece of your background gets naturally integrated into the village as each player character develops that background - so by the time character creation is done you've got more than just heroes - you've got heroes who have something to fight for.

Then we come to the way that Beyond the Wall does its adventures. They're certainly not your traditional "kick in the door, slay the monster, get the treasure" adventures. No, these are scenario packs - and like everything else in this game they are woven into the fabric of the players and their village. An example in the core book is The Angered Fae. In this scenario, one of the fey lords who lives in the wilds beyond the village has cursed that village and its up to the player characters to undo the curse. But not by plundering his magical keep. Each aspect of the adventure is determined via quick roll tables, giving every play-through of the adventure an original origin, story arc, and resolution. The key, in this case, lay in who exactly angered the fae in the first place. But the Scenario Pack leaves that chart blank because the referee is expected to fill it in with some of the NPCs generated in each player character's background and then randomly determine who angered the fair folk. Each aspect of the adventure: Who caused the curse, how it manifests, how the Fairie Lord confronts the village, what the players must face when traveling into the wilderness to the borders of Fairie, and what the Fairie Lord asks them to do to set things right is all determined via random aspects that fit a central thematic element and are designed to tie directly into the characters' village and backgrounds. It creates a natural sense of investment for players and keeps the referee's job simple, as these elements can be determined on the fly as the game unfolds.

Beyond the Wall really strikes a chord with me. It gives me that sense of wonder and enchantment I really enjoy in my fantasy gaming. By melding OSR staples with mechanics that create both player investment and charming adventures it goes beyond being another retro-clone and becomes something truly unique. I can easily see it being used to help bring new gamers into the hobby. Its simple choice of classes, quick and robust character creation system and easy to learn mechnics make it a very, very approachable game. But its simplicity is deceptive, as this game is easily capable of being used for on-going campaign play in addition to the fast-playing zero-prep single night of adventure.

The cover art is by the always amazing John Hodgson, who never fails to evoke the magic and mystery found in the wild places just beyond the horizon and the interior art is primarily pencil sketches which have their own wonderful charm. The book is available in premium quality hardcover (which I highly recommend) and PDF. I feel like this is a real gem among the endless stream of fantasy RPGs currently available and it really deserves a lot credit. Clearly it is a labor of love.

This game is a love letter to the stories of Ursula Le Guin and Lloyd Alexander, all with a healthy helping of good ol' fashioned fairy tales. I seriously can't recommend it enough - it suits my style of gaming pretty darn well and I look forward to running it in the future. You can learn more about it by checking out the Flatland Games website and RPGNow Storefront.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures
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COA04: Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall (PDF)
Publisher: Small Niche Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/04/2016 22:48:22

Like the Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay and the Chronicles of Amherth, Spahn delivers a solid and well developed old school setting as he continues to expand SNG's flagship world. Like Chronicles of Amherth, this book paints in broad strokes to make it easily adapted to an existing campaign. The book is chock full of plot hooks, adventure seeds, and just plain old fashioned fun. Highly recommended.

It's implicity designed for Labyrinth Lord, but is easily adapted to any OSR or fantasy RPG due to the minimally invasive nature of Labyrinth Lord's B/X gaming roots.

Highly, highly, highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
COA04: Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall (PDF)
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The B/X Rogue
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 12/11/2015 14:11:34

This review originally appeared on my blog at http://www.halflingsluck.com

Necrotic Gnome Productions has quietly produced quality products for almost a year now. The Complete Vivimancer is, in my opinion, their strongest product to date and showcases author +Gavin Norman's ability to take the simple rules of Labyrinth Lord and really run in an entirely new direction with them. He doesn't gussy it up with flashy art or layout - just good ol' fashioned OSR content.

I heard some of the buzz around The B/X Rogue and decided to plunk down the very reasonable cost of $1.50. After giving it a read I can say that this product really brings a lot of options to the traditional "Thief" class, while keeping things simple and easily integrated into any B/X clone out there. It seems to be written with Labyrinth Lord specifically in mind. But, there's no reason it can't work for other OSR games on the market.

The B/X Rogue does something unique with the traditional thief class. The product is correct in calling itself "The B/X Rogue" and not "The B/X Thief." Instead of providing several abilities that are locked in and increase at a specific rate, a character selects a number of special abilities called "Talents" at character creation to reflect their unique skill set. This can include the traditional picking locks and hiding in shadows or things like being able to make a skilled retreat from combat or even cast minor magic spells. As a character increases in level they can learn new Talents. It's a simple system that works very well and is easy to understand.

This creates a kind of a la carte character, but always with a roguish flavor. Want a more bardic character, or an assassin, or a swashbuckler? The B/X Rogue does it all. At a buck fifty, its well worth the cost of admission and has me chomping at the bit in hopes that Norman gives Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings similar treatments. I'd really recommend this to anyone out there who plays a lot of Basic/Expert, Rules Cyclopedia, or Labyrinth Lord.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The B/X Rogue
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The Golden Scroll of Justice
Publisher: BRW Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/18/2015 11:47:47

Originally featured on the blog Halfling's Luck:

I'm a huge fan of Adventures Dark & Deep, published by BRW Games. It's the 2nd Edition I always wanted. So much so that,when I decided to do a major book purge, I chose to keep ADD over AD&D 2nd edition. When +Joseph Bloch announced that BRW Game was going to be releasing The Golden Scroll of Justice I was a bit disappointed. I thought to myself "Oh, great. Another Oriental Adventures-style supplement."

I'm not a huge fan of the original OA, nor am I a fan of most Asian fantasy RPGs. But that's because they're not really Asian. Instead, they're almost always a kind of pseduo-Japanese fantasy RPG. Now, don't get me wrong - that's all good and well, but I'm bored with ninjas and samurai being done over and and over again ad nauseam. Also, my personal preference was always for the more wuxia stylings of media like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Hero. Wuxia isn't limited to foreign films. Tarantino's Kill Bill films and even John Carpenter's classic Big Trouble in Little China use the same themes and motifs in the modern day as told by western directors. Wuxia was about high adventure, mythic stories and a touch of the spiritual. Legends told with sweeping cinematography and wire-work. Legends brought to life in an exotic land. That was the Oriental Adventures I wanted, but I never quite got.

But I think the reason for that is that Wuxia films have a strong element of Chinese style and mythology to them - and this shows through in what the original Oriental Adventures both is and isn't. But what Bloch has done with The Golden Scroll of Justice is finally created a supplement that includes cleanly written, well organized rules for running Wuxia style campaigns or integrating elements of that into an existing campaign. While it's written for Adventures Dark and Deep - it can be easily adapted to fit any "Advanced" retro-clone out there.

Like Adventures Dark and Deep, The Golden Scroll of Justice doesn't give us a default setting. Instead it paints a collection of classes, races, skills, magic items, monsters and full rules for kung-fu in the themes and motifs of Chinese myth and Wuxia style in the same way that most fantasy RPGs are painted in the general theme of Euro-centric, pseudo-medieval fantasy. But there's something subtle going on in Bloch's text: The game never feels... bland. The rules and options in TGSoJ always remind you that you're in a badass time of legend and if you harness your Qi and hold to the Code of Xia, then honor and adventure await you.

The book itself is laid out in a manner exactly like Adventures Dark and Deep. Clean, crisp and concise. It's easy to read two-column format with black and white art that is thematically appropriate through out.

It begins with the introduction of two new races and one new variant on standard humans. The Shanxiao are humanoids with a fair resemblance to monkeys who live in private communities and seem to have a propensity for the more spiritual classes, while the Gouran are dog-headed and aggressive. I rather liked the Shanxiao, but found the Gouran to be a bit "thin" on their racial write-up. They seemed to offer nothing more than an attribute bonus and class restrictions, with no other racial abilities described. The third "race" listed is that of human eunuch. This is a bold choice on the part of the author and provides interesting insight into the implied society and culture of the setting.

Next up we get classes. Not a lot of time is spent adding new classes. Instead the focus is on addressing existing classes and what changes when they are put into a Mythic Chinese setting. Some classes, like the Bard are out and out removed - but most have a few small modifications. Monks are also addressed in detail, as one would expect, as are two new classes: The Wu and the Fangshi. The Wu is a kind of cleric sub-class that deals mostly with spirits and have a very earthy vibe about them. While the Fangshi are more alchemists and astrologers. At first glance, both classes seem to be simple re-skins of existing classes (cleric and magic-user, respectively), but when the reader takes a look at their spell list that's where the flavor of both Wu and Fangshi really begins to shine.

Next up is Secondary Skills and this is where GSoJ really starts to shine. Adventures Dark and Deep has a really innovative skill system and the new skills provided are just fantastic. While it might seem silly to include skills like Acupuncture, Feng Shiu, and Qigong, Bloch includes them in a way that evokes the feel of old Wuxia films in clear, simple rules that just heaps on the flavor while adding new and interesting touches to a character. This is closed with a brief touch on social class, literacy and money. Once thing that I am very pleased by is the fact that Bloch did not convert the equipment in the book to a thematic currency. Conversions are just a pain in the ass and gold pieces are an arbitrary place-holder than can easily be renamed.

The equipment section is very, very extensive and provides all manner of unique items suitable to the flavor that permeates the rest of the book. Everything from silk robes to fireworks are covered - and yes, there is a plethora of new weapons. I am pleased to announce that there is no katana listing. Bloch is really focused on Chinese themes here and keeps his attention there.

Next we come to the Kung-Fu mechanics for GSoJ. Let's face it: unarmed combat in D&D (regardless of edition), has never been stellar. What's done here is Bloch has expanded his Secondary Skill system to include different martial arts styles. Each style has three tiers that are become not only more expensive (in XP) to learn, but also more difficult to find a master who is willing or able to teach the style. At each level of skill the player is provided with one option that can be used without a skill check and another that can be used if the character succeeds in a skill check. While initially I felt this felt a bit like a "feat" system from D&D 3.X, when I read the mechanics as a whole I realized that the amount of work it would take a character to advance in more than one style was ridiculously difficult and in this, it prevented a player from having to remember a plethora of combat options. The rules seem written with the implicit belief that most characters who learn Kung-Fu will probably never learn more than one style over the lifetime of their character. In addition, Bloch's Kung-Fu rules do not limit themselves to just hand-to-hand combat. Several styles allow or even require the use of specific weapons - which is a nice change. My only problem with the Kung-Fu rules is the the absence of Drunken Monkey style. C'mon, Joe - DRUNK MONKEYS ARE AWESOME AND YOU KNOW IT.

Next we have magic. This includes a list of several pages of new spells and a basic presentation of Chinese cosmology. The new spells reflect that cosmology very well and as previously stated really strengthen the flavor of the Wu and Fangshi classes. They feel balanced as well.

A brief primer on running a Mythic Chinese themed campaign is provided. Five pages review the themes of the Wuxia genre as well as the tropes and tradition of Wuxia stories. This is a really good read for both players and referees alike as it gets to the heart of how GSoJ differs from other Asian fantasy supplements out there.

A dozen pages of new magic items are included and some of them are really cool. From the Coin Sword to the Pill of Immortality (Yes, it's exactly what you think it is... almost), these are flavorful items that, for the most part, don't feel like re-skins of magic items we saw in the original Adventures Dark and Deep core rules.

The book begins to wind down with a 25-page bestiary of monsters, most of which are taken from Chinese mythology. Included as well are seconds addressing devils, demons and of course, dragons. My personal favorite were the Long-Armed People, which is something really bizarre and unique that I'd never encountered or heard of.

The final pages of GSoJ feature three Appendices. Appendix A is a reprint of the unarmed combat rules from the Adventures Dark and Deep Player's Manual. Appendix B provides updated Armor Type vs. Weapon Type. This isn't my thing, but it's a nice touch, given the arsenal of new weapons in the book. The final (and for me, most important) Appendix features inspirational material - both books and film.

The Golden Scroll of Justice clocks in at 114 pages, but it feels bigger because there is a lot packed into these pages. The magic of this book for me is the fact that it does something that no other fantasy RPG supplement has done (in my eyes): It gave Asian classes and culture the same psuedo-historic grounding that had previously been provided to traditional European fantasy gaming. They finally feel like they came from somewhere and that grounding makes me a lot more comfortable intergrating monks and other mythic themes of the east into an existing fantasy campaign.

Could you use GSoJ to run a traditional "Oriental Adventures" type game? Sure, but you'd be wasting a lot of this book's potential. Instead, use its fully realized sense of mythology to integrate a far off culture in pieces, whispers, hints and light touches into your existing campaign so that finally the Middle Kingdom that never was can have a place in the history of your campaign.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Golden Scroll of Justice
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WBO03: Tower of Boon Companions
Publisher: Small Niche Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/15/2015 06:31:16

Small Niche Games is known for fantastic old school adventures. Inn of Lost Heroes, Pyramid of the Dragon, and Shrine of St. Aleena are some of my personal favorites. Tower of the Boon Companions continues SNG's trend of taking classic fantasy gaming tropes and turning them on their ear. Nominally set in SNG's world of Amherth, Tower of Boon Companions is still very much a "drop in and play" module. In addition to providing a unique adventure to keep your players on their toes, it also gives a small bestiary of new monsters for your Swords and Wizardry WhiteBox campaign, a handful of new magic items and the thief class - the latter of which was originally found in the White Box Omnibus by Barrel Rider Games.

For three bucks, you get several nights of great adventure, a corral of new monsters, a new class, and brand new magic items (one of which could kick off an entire campaign). Well worth the price of admission.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
WBO03: Tower of Boon Companions
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
Publisher: DOM Publishing
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
Publisher: DOM Publishing
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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Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary
Publisher: BRW Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/05/2015 16:56:03

Originally from my blog, Halfling's Luck: http://www.halflingsluck.com

I already have entirely too many old school and OSR fantasy RPGs: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, Swords & Wizardry Complete, OSRIC, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Adventures in the Eastmark, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Iron Falcon, Dark Dungeons, Deeper Delving, Dungeon Crawl Classics, as well as original classics like the Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D 1st Edition premium reprints. I'm never going to play all of them - not even if I didn't have a full time job, a toddler, freelance writing and my own publishing company to juggle. So why in the Seven Hells would I buy another? Especially one that stepped away from my Basic/Expert wheel house that I love so dearly into the much less used "advanced edition" likes the aforementioned OSRIC?

Well, that's because Adventures Dark & Deep isn't quite a retro-clone. Almost, but not quite. Adventures Dark & Deep (abbreviated ADD) bills itself as being "based on Gary Gygax's plans for expanding the game." So it's claims to be a clone of neither 1st or 2nd edition AD&D. Instead it is a spiritual successor to AD&D 1st edition, with a distinctly Gygaxian design. Constructed by +Joseph Bloch from notes, articles and blog posts by Gary Gygax it claims to be written as what the author believes AD&D 2nd edition might have been if the game's original creator had not parted ways with TSR some time before the release of second edition.

The original incarnation of AD&D is direct, but grew as it became more and more popular. Initially we had no skills, and few ancillary rules beyond what was necessary to plunder dungeons and slay dragons - and it was a helluva a lot of fun. But it always felt a bit... thin. Something was missing. We got expansions in snippets and pieces through magazine articles which added to and expanded the game. Then came Unearthed Arcana, Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. The game suddenly had new (often horribly imbalanced) classes and races, non-weapon proficiencies, weapon specializations, and tons of extra rules that, though they were billed as options, seemed to be taken as unbreakable canon by everyone I played with back in the day. The bloat had begun.

AD&D 2nd edition came around in 1989 and while things like proficiencies were technically optional, there seemed to be an implication that they were meant to be utilized from the ground floor. Soon after we got hugely expanded campaigns settings and the brown book series of class and race supplements. Towards there came the now infamous Player's Option series. Suddenly there were countless "options" that seemed to be anything but optional and the power creep had been ratcheted up to eleven.

ADD takes a step back, starting from the roots of AD&D 1st edition and begins an organic progression that feels right. Yes, it has barbarians, cavaliers and a skill system - but its all implemented in an even manner that feels appropriate - not as slapshot and untested as the original Unearthed Arcana options. In short, the rules feel unified and consistent. No longer is there a question of "Why should I bother to play a fighter when I can play a ranger or even a cavalier." God help the DM if someone brings the issue of Dragon magazine to the table which features the Arch-Ranger class or any other of the horribly balanced "NPC Classes."

In going beyond first edition, there comes a collection of several classes that either found their origins in Dragon magazine or other supplements - but they're included here from the get-go, which gives them both a validity and a natural sense of presence. Jesters and mountebanks didn't just appear because the latest issue hit your gamin table, they're integrated from the beginning. Because of that integration, they don't feel shoe-horned in or unbalanced. Extra classes like this give a greater sense of player option while avoiding the glut of "splat books" that many believe ruined AD&D second edition.

But more than its unification is its presentation. It holds close to the simple black and white presentation of first edition, keeping things crisp and easily presented. But Bloch doesn't rely on obtuse rule descriptons and a vocabulary rooted in High Gygaxian. He speaks clearly and directly to the reader, while not seeming boring. Because of this concise verbage, ADD packs a lot into its pages. Damn near every concievable situation is covered in Players Manual and Game Masters Tool Kit - and its done so in an approachable, easy to digest fashion.

ADD doesn't try to distract its reader with dazzling layout or full color art. The art is present and it's evocative and fitting - but it doesn't feel like its trying to steal attention away from the text. The author focuses on the game and making the most of it. The majority of the necessary rules are found in the Players Manual because players are going to need to have quick access to a variety of rules. The Game Masters Tool Kit isn't bloated by "secret rules" that players shouldn't know. Instead it talks to the reader about social encounters, unique environments, magic items, adventure design, divine pantheons and other necessary tools and rules for running the game. The Bestiary is jam-packed with almost 450 pages of adversaries and offers a few brief appendicies for unique features and designing your own creatures - not that you'd need to with the plethora of predators found in these pages.

Even while covering every nook and cranny of gaming, ADD never feels oppressed by detail. But because the game is so complete there is a subtle professional presence that breeds confidence in the reader. If someone isn't covered in these pages, a reader will be able to find a similar rule or get a sense of how they should handle a ruling in any given situation. The game breeds confidence in both player and game master. With that confidence comes a sense of excitement.

In short, Adventures Dark & Deep has replaced AD&D as my go-to "advanced edition" fantasy roleplaying game. I'm already in talks with some of my old gaming buddies to run Temple of Elemental Evil using it, and they're excited to play. Now we don't have to decide between the clean but confined rules of first edition or the bloated infinite options of second. A perfect balance is found in ADD.

Adventures Dark & Deep is available in PDF, softcover, and hardcover print on demand through RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. It was written by Joseph Bloch and is published by BRW Games. There's even a bundle which includes all three hardcover books along with PDFs for around $100. A friend of mine called that a big buy in, and he's not wrong. It's a lot of faith to put in a game to blindly drop that much cash on any game - but I can say that Adventures Dark and Deep is unequivocally, bar none, the best incarnation of "advanced" fantasy roleplaying on the market - including those published by larger, more mainstream presses. I'll be running and playing it soon - and for years to come.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary
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Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit
Publisher: BRW Games
by James S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/05/2015 16:55:42

Originally from my blog, Halfling's Luck: http://www.halflingsluck.com

I already have entirely too many old school and OSR fantasy RPGs: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, Swords & Wizardry Complete, OSRIC, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Adventures in the Eastmark, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Iron Falcon, Dark Dungeons, Deeper Delving, Dungeon Crawl Classics, as well as original classics like the Rules Cyclopedia and AD&D 1st Edition premium reprints. I'm never going to play all of them - not even if I didn't have a full time job, a toddler, freelance writing and my own publishing company to juggle. So why in the Seven Hells would I buy another? Especially one that stepped away from my Basic/Expert wheel house that I love so dearly into the much less used "advanced edition" likes the aforementioned OSRIC?

Well, that's because Adventures Dark & Deep isn't quite a retro-clone. Almost, but not quite. Adventures Dark & Deep (abbreviated ADD) bills itself as being "based on Gary Gygax's plans for expanding the game." So it's claims to be a clone of neither 1st or 2nd edition AD&D. Instead it is a spiritual successor to AD&D 1st edition, with a distinctly Gygaxian design. Constructed by +Joseph Bloch from notes, articles and blog posts by Gary Gygax it claims to be written as what the author believes AD&D 2nd edition might have been if the game's original creator had not parted ways with TSR some time before the release of second edition.

The original incarnation of AD&D is direct, but grew as it became more and more popular. Initially we had no skills, and few ancillary rules beyond what was necessary to plunder dungeons and slay dragons - and it was a helluva a lot of fun. But it always felt a bit... thin. Something was missing. We got expansions in snippets and pieces through magazine articles which added to and expanded the game. Then came Unearthed Arcana, Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide. The game suddenly had new (often horribly imbalanced) classes and races, non-weapon proficiencies, weapon specializations, and tons of extra rules that, though they were billed as options, seemed to be taken as unbreakable canon by everyone I played with back in the day. The bloat had begun.

AD&D 2nd edition came around in 1989 and while things like proficiencies were technically optional, there seemed to be an implication that they were meant to be utilized from the ground floor. Soon after we got hugely expanded campaigns settings and the brown book series of class and race supplements. Towards there came the now infamous Player's Option series. Suddenly there were countless "options" that seemed to be anything but optional and the power creep had been ratcheted up to eleven.

ADD takes a step back, starting from the roots of AD&D 1st edition and begins an organic progression that feels right. Yes, it has barbarians, cavaliers and a skill system - but its all implemented in an even manner that feels appropriate - not as slapshot and untested as the original Unearthed Arcana options. In short, the rules feel unified and consistent. No longer is there a question of "Why should I bother to play a fighter when I can play a ranger or even a cavalier." God help the DM if someone brings the issue of Dragon magazine to the table which features the Arch-Ranger class or any other of the horribly balanced "NPC Classes."

In going beyond first edition, there comes a collection of several classes that either found their origins in Dragon magazine or other supplements - but they're included here from the get-go, which gives them both a validity and a natural sense of presence. Jesters and mountebanks didn't just appear because the latest issue hit your gamin table, they're integrated from the beginning. Because of that integration, they don't feel shoe-horned in or unbalanced. Extra classes like this give a greater sense of player option while avoiding the glut of "splat books" that many believe ruined AD&D second edition.

But more than its unification is its presentation. It holds close to the simple black and white presentation of first edition, keeping things crisp and easily presented. But Bloch doesn't rely on obtuse rule descriptons and a vocabulary rooted in High Gygaxian. He speaks clearly and directly to the reader, while not seeming boring. Because of this concise verbage, ADD packs a lot into its pages. Damn near every concievable situation is covered in Players Manual and Game Masters Tool Kit - and its done so in an approachable, easy to digest fashion.

ADD doesn't try to distract its reader with dazzling layout or full color art. The art is present and it's evocative and fitting - but it doesn't feel like its trying to steal attention away from the text. The author focuses on the game and making the most of it. The majority of the necessary rules are found in the Players Manual because players are going to need to have quick access to a variety of rules. The Game Masters Tool Kit isn't bloated by "secret rules" that players shouldn't know. Instead it talks to the reader about social encounters, unique environments, magic items, adventure design, divine pantheons and other necessary tools and rules for running the game. The Bestiary is jam-packed with almost 450 pages of adversaries and offers a few brief appendicies for unique features and designing your own creatures - not that you'd need to with the plethora of predators found in these pages.

Even while covering every nook and cranny of gaming, ADD never feels oppressed by detail. But because the game is so complete there is a subtle professional presence that breeds confidence in the reader. If someone isn't covered in these pages, a reader will be able to find a similar rule or get a sense of how they should handle a ruling in any given situation. The game breeds confidence in both player and game master. With that confidence comes a sense of excitement.

In short, Adventures Dark & Deep has replaced AD&D as my go-to "advanced edition" fantasy roleplaying game. I'm already in talks with some of my old gaming buddies to run Temple of Elemental Evil using it, and they're excited to play. Now we don't have to decide between the clean but confined rules of first edition or the bloated infinite options of second. A perfect balance is found in ADD.

Adventures Dark & Deep is available in PDF, softcover, and hardcover print on demand through RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. It was written by Joseph Bloch and is published by BRW Games. There's even a bundle which includes all three hardcover books along with PDFs for around $100. A friend of mine called that a big buy in, and he's not wrong. It's a lot of faith to put in a game to blindly drop that much cash on any game - but I can say that Adventures Dark and Deep is unequivocally, bar none, the best incarnation of "advanced" fantasy roleplaying on the market - including those published by larger, more mainstream presses. I'll be running and playing it soon - and for years to come.



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Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit
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