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Publisher: Sigil Stone Publishing
by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/28/2020 14:09:10

This is a shortened version of my review of Dungeonbright. For the full review visit

This is a review of v0.1 of Dungeonbright. I have a lot of crtiticisms of this game, many of which may be addressed later onon

Dungeonbright is a self-published small RPG with a lot of big ideas, some of which are pretty damned cool. There are things I want to try with ideas embedded in Dungeon Bright. But I am not sure the engine is workable.

My critique, as always, is intended to be fair and offer growth points. Given the stage of the game's development cycle, I am hoping that it will be of great value to the Duttons. I am also hoping that I can create some hype so that tjis game can get some love and support, because I see great potential tangled up in there.

Charactes have three base Abilities and three Fields that are randomly generated between -2 and +3. Abilities (Body, Mind, Spirit) represent raw natural potential, while Fields represent training and personal development (Combat, Expertise, Magic). Characters also have three Stats (Vitality, Clarity, Will) that represent a characters ability to endure physical, mental, or mystical injury. They also have a list of skills, gear, talents, and traits that are non-numerical.

Often, when a die roll is called for, characters roll a d20 + a relevant Ability + a relevant Field against a DC set by the GM. Advantage and Disadvantage are used similarly tp D&D5e; roll 2d20, take the result you prefer.

There are also "Passives" a threshold derived by taking an Ability + Field + 10. This makes for a character sheet with 6 values between -2 and +3 creating 9 Modifiers between -4 and +6 and nine Passives between 6 and 16. If a character has a relevant skill or equipment and a roll DC would be under their passive, a character is automatically successful. Passives are also used as saving throws that a character must roll under on a d20.

In fact, automatic success is the way in which Dungeonbright attempts to create a game that is wholly narrative. Characters are expected to automatically succeed at anything when:

  • They have a clever idea.
  • They have appropriate gear.
  • The characters describe their approach in detail.
  • They have the relevant skill and a Passive Modifier higher than the DC.
  • They have a talent or trait that makes narrative sense to help them.

What I Loved

Dungeoneering Focus

The key assumption of Dungeon Bright is that a hellish supernatural darkness has consumed the world. Where there is no light, evil things manifest and stalk the living. The characters are brave scavengers looking to bring back valuable magic objects lost during the apocalypse.

Dungeonbright is totally focused on the dungeon crawl. It is not interested in complex intrigue or exploration play. It does well in building mechanics that facilitate that aspect of play specifically.

Character Development Engine

Characters have a level and a class like in most D&D / OSR games, but levelling is handled very differently from most games: there is no experience point system. Instead, in Dungeonbright you have a goal established by your class such as "Trap a terrible monster without anyone getting hurt" or "Evade a deadly captor through a combination of evasion and cunning." Once you have done that described deed you level up.

A character who levels up picks a class: either their current one, or a new one. Each time they take a level in a class they choose or roll one new skill, add +1 to a designated stat, gain a new skill, spell, or weapon proficiency, and choose or roll one of six special talents unique to that class. The class you chose determines the goal for your next level.

This is clever. You get levels by doing something exceptional that is congruent with ypur characters current focus. Levels come from accomplishments, not a grind of collecting treasure or killing monsters. The incentivised gameplay for players thus becomes "play your character's abilities to the hilt."

Light Effects

Dungeonbright is a game where supernatural darkness breeds monsters the DM rolls regularly against a slowly diminishing DC to determine random encounters. If the PCs have good, bright lighting from lanterns or magic, that roll has disadvantage. If the PCs are gropjng around in the dark the random encounter roll has advantage.

This means the longer you are in a dungeon and the deeper you go, the more likely the dark will coalesce into some horror. And if your lights run out, then the darkness is likely to grow teeth. And the darkness will make it hard to defend yourself.

Characters are all human in dungeon bright; there is no darkvision to bail you out here...

Cool Magic

Like in Knave, magic is not used for damage. Instead, spells are levelless and utilitarian, letting you do things like create light, conjure zip lines, create bait to distract monsters, or talk to animals. Almost every character knows a few spells to help them survive. Spells can be cast slowly for automatic success or cast rapidly. If you cast rapidly and fail the roll the magic goes wild, causing a described mishap and makes the spell unusable again until the PC performs a ritual that recharges the spell.

The recharge requirement for each spell reminds me of something out of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's SORCERY! books. They are weird little rites like feeding food to burrowing animals, hanging coins in spider webs, or burning wet mushrooms. Very strange and evocative. My only gripe is that the hsme at present only has 15 spells.

Player-Facing Combat

The rules are vague here, but combat appears to be designed to be player-facing. They are not parsed out enough for me to be certain, however. If my read is correct, players always make a general combat roll against a DC based on whether they want to hurt, kill, intimidate, etc. On a success they accomplish their goal, while on a failure they get hurt or the monster uses a special power. If this read is correct, then combat is rather like a stripped down Powered by the Apocalypse game like Dungeon World.

Combat in this set up is tense and fast but lacks the granularity of most D&D based games, and so might not be to everyone's taste.

Growth Points

The Mechanics are Far from Unified

While certainly light on rules, Dungeonbright uses both d20 style roll-over mechanics for active tests, and roll-under for saves. Which brings back haunting memories of 7th grade and players asking before every die roll "Do I want high or low?" It is unnecessary, when a default DC can be set for saves instead. A monster's ability might use it Hurt DC for a save, for example. Traps might be handled with a trap DC.

The Power of Darkness Needs Expansion

Light and darkness are the stars of the show here. They could use some more importance to the actual game. Obviously, I would start by overtly pointing out in that most rolls players make are going to have disadvantage whrn groping around in the dark, as well as making random encounters more likely.

"Rulings, Not Rules" Still Needs a Complete Ruleset.

Dungeonbright includes some very well-considered rules, like its Encumbrance system. In other places it is woefully underdeveloped. For example the character "Traits" is an interesting table, but no guidance is offered on how to use it. The same is true of the monster ability notes: we have mention of blinding, paralysis, infection... but no clue how to use them.

Confusing Language

Dungeonbright has some places where the language gets confusing. The Combat section in particular needs some clarification. In several places we see highlighted terms like "down" that have no definition. There seems to be an expectation that a GM will simply adjust the narrative to incorporate a deliberately vague idea without guidance on how that should be reflected. If an item is important enough to be boldface, it probably needs some further exploration.

No Character Death

We have two states caused by injury in Dungeonbright: Wounded and Down, if a character depletes one of their Stats. Wounded applies disadvantage ro rolls, but what down means is, ad mentioned above, left to the DM. There is no state in which character death occurs as a part of the game's consequences. Presumably a character left behind in the Dark when "down" or having the whole party downed is the end of them.

Pointless Tag Syndrome

Dungeonbright incorporates weapon tags such as used in Dungeon World, in a new way. All characters can use any weapon, but have a list of weapon proficiencies. When a character uses a weapon they are proficient in, they can use the effects of the tags. However, the tags are, again purely narrative. Some tags, like blessed seem to have little to do with the training in a weapon type. Other tags like cursed and fragile don't seem like something you'd need special training to make part of the narrative, nor something a player might wish to have imposed as a penalty for having spent their proficiency slot. It also seems odd that you would need to be proficient to take advantage of the fact that a weapon is blessed.

Implied Rules There are a few implied rules in Dungeonbright that desperately need to be made overt. One of the big ones is the value of trying to hurt rather than kill enemies. There seems to be an implied rule that once a creature is Hurt it is easier to kill. That either rolls to kill it have advantage or that successfully rolling to hurt it a second time will kill it.

Causes for character death, the method of performing surgery, how to detect or evade traps, and how to select random encounters are all implied, rather than stated.

OSR Compatability is not Plug-n-Play While there is certainly plenty of debate over the specifics of what makes an "OSR" product one relatively consistent quality is a game that can be used to run adventures and easily and swiftly import items and spells from editions of Dungeons and Dragons before 3rd edition. And this is definitely one of Dungeonbright's main claims.

Unfortunately, Dungeonbright is just not "there" when it comes to OSR compatibility. They have a guide to give you approximate Hurt and Kill Dfficulty Classes for a few classic monsters and a guide for determining those two things for more enemies, it is not a very faithful conversion. After all, what defines a D&D monster is its special abilities, not jus its hit points. This is something that simply cannot be handled with one word tags without at least a little more work offering effective rules for common monster abilities.

Dungeonbright recommends removing spells that foreshorten travel, make supplies easier to manage, or deal damage entirely from material. Magic weapons get circumstantial narrative bonuses. For many older adventures, this could be a significant trimming process. And the suggesting of converting other magic items to folow the "spirit" of their design, while essentially good advice, adds a pile of work into the already tricky business of conversion.

I cannot see just grabbing Dungeonbright and a copy of Palace of the Silver Princess,and getting down to play without an hour of note-taking first. Although that might be a worthwhile timed project.


For a version 0.1 of a role-playing game, Dungeonbright offers an interesting twist on OSR game play. Where it works it offers a smooth, fast playing game with minimal dice rolling. here it doesn't it requires a lot of staring at the rules and trying to divine what was meant.

Dungeonbright is a fascinating experiment in adding more narrative flow to the OSR experience while staying closer to a d20 and avoiding the pitfalls of Powered by the Apocalypse. The concept of turning every dungeon into a mythic underworld and the cool character advancement tools are definitely worth pirating. The magical effects of darkness is absolute genius.

Before it can reach its design goals, however, the game needs to reduce some of the load placed on the GM by parsing out its rules, and offering more overt examples along with a broader range of content in the manual.

Overhauling the passive save system wil go a long way to reduce the problem of consistency.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
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Tunnel Goons
Publisher: Highland Paranormal Society
by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/28/2020 13:47:11

This is a shortened version of a review of Tunnel Goons from my website. The full review is available at :

Tunnel Goons: An Analog Game for Nice People is one of a handful of super-light RPGs that have come across my desk as I have been taking my deep dive into indie RPGs. While it is not the lightest system I have ever seen, it comes pretty close.

The game uses a 2d6 + Stat roll-over mechanic where players try to beat difficulties ranging from 6 to 12. Characters have three stats, hit points, and a carrying capacity. Amount under or over a target indicated damage taken or (where applicable) dealt.

The game is classless, but uses a simple levelling system where a character levels up once every two gaming sessions, with an increase of 1 to a stat and 1 to either hp or carrying capacity.

In other words it is a pretty simple game that has almost zero learning curve. I can now recite the rules verbatim after a single read of the teo-page manual. If I wanted to run a game completely off the cuff, and was low on batteries for my phone, I could run this in a heartbeat. In fact, it might be the perfect tool for entertaining my wife and oldest son in the car if the law permits our usual summer road trip.

What I Loved

Short and Sweet

Tunnel Goons wastes zero time or words. It is tight and simple. It assumes you know what a role-playing game is and has a fair sense of how to run it. The PDF has four pages: a cover, two pages of rules, and a character sheet. This review already has a higher word count than Tunnel Goons. Amen, hallelujah.

Progressive Difficulty Reduction

One of the things I hate about hit points is that they don't - in most games - capture the way the mounting fatigue, pain, frustration, and fear that comes from losing a battle leads to a downward slide. In D&D an Ogre with 3hp is still as fierce as an ogre with 28hp. In Tunnel Goons, each successful attack against an enemy reduces its one stat it has: its difficulty. So, if you fight a monster with an 8 (average) Difficulty for 2 damage, it's difficulty drops to 6. Next round it will be easier to hit and may take even more damage. Oncd a bad guy starts going down it gets easier to finish him off..

Well Supported

Fans of Tunnel Goons like to show it. A recent "Goon Jam" event hosted on the Highland Paranormal Society blog invited people to make derivative RPGs for a showcase of games built on the Tunnel Goons engine. There are over 60 entries. I am personally partial to the psychedelic Shroom Goons whete you play tiny myconids trying to defend their home from horrible Smurf-orks. With fantastic art by Skullfungus.

Growth Points

Maybe too Brief

There are a lot of niceties skipped to make Tunnel Goons so compact. It doesn't even include its creative commons license or a link to the HPS website, let alone more than one example of the rules in action. There is someparsingbto be done by the reader to get the whole picture. Some of the derivative games, like Shroom Goons, do a far better job at explaining Tunnel Goons' rules thsn the original game does.

Implied Rules

One of the annoying habits of game designers is to hide rules in funny places, like spell descriptions. These hidden "impled" rules are rarely overt and take serious mining to discover. And Tunnel Goons has several of these. Like that gear grants bonuses to rolls that stack (seen only in the example). Or that careful planning, seeking advantages, and creative problem solving should grant bonuses to the roll (implied on the website.) These two examples are pretty significant and deserve a whopping third page to be parsed out.

Not Sufficient as a Standalone

Tunnel Goons offers very little in the way of sample equipment, no example enemies or challenges, no way of handling some of the more complex ways of handling traditional fantasy tropes like traps or magic, and no sample adventures. It doesn't give a GM a lot to work with on its own, and requires a lot of back-end processing for the GM.


Tunnel Goons is a cute sketch of a role-playing game, like a doodle on a napkin. And if you are running a quick doodle of an adventure off the cuff on a lazy afternoon, it might well be exactly what you need. Much of its appeal is in its state as a cheerful doodle that encourages others to build on the same. Goon Jam is like watching a bunch of kids with pencils once one ringleader draws something fun and the others decide to take the same and run with it. They aren't afraid to be fun and silly because it is a doodle and doesn't need to aspire to be more.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tunnel Goons
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by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/12/2020 14:29:19

This is a shortened version of a review from my website "Welcome to the Deathtrap." Read a more detailed edit here:

Index Card RPG Core 2e (ICRPG) is the brainchild of Hankerin Ferinale of RUNEHAMMER, 5e Hardcore Mode. I am currently about 30 adventures into a home ICRPG campaign that has spanned everything from dungeon crawling to adventures inspired by Heart of Darkness to Game of Thrones style intrigue. It is one of my two go-to games.

What I Loved

Pirates from All the Best ICRPG is effectively a massive conglomeration of many of the most interesting ideas from the DIY RPG, GLOG, and Indie developer communities, with a heavy dose of ideas pillaged from video games crammed into one D&D game to create something slick, streamlined and fun to play. The most audacious thing ICRPG does is to take D&D5e and just keep throwing ideas at it until it is something totally unique.

Some of my favourite features include: Set target numbers by room or encounter. Expressing Attributes as bonuses, rather than the 3-18 stat. Compressing hit points and hit dice into easily tracked "Hearts". Using Zone Distances for both Theatre of the Mind and Minis. Let the Shield be Shattered. Slotted Encumbrance. Spellcasting Rolls. Universal Weapon Damage Dice. A Hero Point System. Using a single, universal EASY or HARD task modifier. Levelless one-line spells. No Skill System *Keeping in a turn structure even during downtime.

And that is just a surface list.

Easy Adaptation In many ways, ICRPG is its own thing. It has been hacked and modified to the point of being unrecognizable as D&D… at least to the point that the OGL is concerned. But it still has d20 at the core of its DNA. Adapting existing D&D material is as easy as using a monster's AC for a room's target and giving it a HEART of health for every Hit Die for older editions of D&D or every 50 hit points it has for 3rd edition or later versions. Saving Throws are just attribute tests agsinst the target, and all distances can be rendered as CLOSE, NEAR, or FAR.

Characters in ICRPG feel about as tough as a 3rd to 6th level D&D characters once they have collected some loot, and can handle most low-to-mid-level adventures designed for a D&D compatible game.

Future-Proof Hankerin Ferinale has made a commitment to ensuring that ICRPG is future-proofed for his buyers. Any time a revision of the ICRPG Core book is made, it is put up online at DrivethruRPG for download for anyone who has purchased it. When 2e was released, digital copies were sent to all purchasers of The original ICRPG Core. Hankerin has committed to following this pattern should an ICRPG Core 3e be issued, he will made available for free to current purchasers.

Setting Agnostic ICRPG Core 2e provides two detailed settings: Alfheim, a very Appendix-N influenced Sword and Sorcery setting; and Warp Shell, a space opera setting that reminds me a great deal of the TV series Andromeda.

However, the manual also includes adventures in the vein of Call of Cthulhu and Mechwarrior for use with the system. Stone Age and Weird West settings are available in sourcebooks as well.

Given the simplicity of the character class and "bioform" (race) mechanics, creating a new setting for ICRPG can take very little effort.

DM Advice Possibly the best part of the ICRPG Core 2e book is the GM Section. It includes hands-down some of the best tools for adventure and encounter design I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

The GM section starts with a pledge that describes the sort of mindset that makes for a fun and engaging game. From there, Hankerin shows off his astounding gift for systematizing the best practices into step-by-step tools. These tools include:

Techniques for creating clear and simple adventure structure. The Three T's of designing exciting encounters. The three D's of creating and adjusting encounter difficulty. Setting priorities when planning a session. When and how to end sessions. Dealing with players getting frustrated over bad dice rolls. The DEW system for making locations memorable. The 10 Archetypal dungeon rooms used in most D&D adventures with tips. *A simple card-based adventure design tool.

(Nearly) Levelless Beyond the standard six ability scores, four effort scores, and an unarmoured AC, characters each have one Heart (10) of Hit Points. All other character abilities are defined by the loot they equip in their 10 active item slots. Spells come from spellbooks, archetypal feats like picking locks or sneaking can be done by anyone, but gear like high-quality lockpicks or a thief's cloak make your character better at it.

This means that characters don't level up in a meaningful way, but rather find or create equipment that enhances the abilities they want to use. A character who wants to be a master swordsman might receive a belt symbolizing their years of training that gives a high bonus on sword attacks. A character that wants to get tougher might make a suit of survival gear that grants a bonus on Constitution-based checks. This system encourages PCs to evolve by customizing and caring for gear that symbolizes their profession.

It encourages a radical shift in play style from level-obsessed D&D.

Lots of Extras ICRPG Core 2e comes with a hell of a lot more than a book. It includes several variant character sheets, templates for papercraft minis, zip files full of assets to upload to a virtual tabletop, and a mobile-friendly version of the rulebook. The manual itself includes two settings and six fully developed adventures.

The Art Hankerin Ferinale's art has become iconic in papercraft and DIY D&D communities. His black and-white and two-tone art style had a sketchy, comic-bookish style that makes it clear it is a one man DIY project, and conveys incredible imaginative energy at the same time.

Growth Points

Almost Classless ICRPG manages to effectively do away with level, but holds on to classes in a very strange manner. Classes in ICRPG are defined by one starting piece of loot, a list of recommended gear, and then a series of six "Milestones." The milestones are a list of gear that should be rewarded to a character as they attain goals and that will complement the role they have chosen. They are in no particular order, and only have a little synergy with one another. Many are single- or limited- use items. Building a custom class is as simple as making a list of seven magic items and deciding which one a PC gets first.

Given the simplicity of the system, and how little impact it has, I wonder why it is even in the game. It would have been just as easy to include a set of recommended granted rewards for each character archetype in the GM section, and added an "ideal for…" description in each starting loot entry. Certain Important Rules are Hidden There are a few absolutely critical rules… like how many Equipped treasures a PC may have at once, and how Wisdom Powers break that rule, is listed in obscure, skippable places in the book. Vehicle rules show up in an adventure, as another example. Making sure every major rule is overt and indexed would be a massive improvement.

Gaminess ICRPG deploys a lot of video game tropes as part of its design: random loot boxes dropped by enemies, tracking health with hearts, foid-as-healing, and a constant game of comparing gear and selecting the right combos. These can draw attention to the fact that you are playing a game, and have an effect on immersion and the intensity of the simulated experience. I find myself frequently re-rolling loot rolls because I cannot bring myself to have my PCs find edible magic food in ancient ruins,

Confusion in Product Names Index Card RPG Core 2e is a completely self-contained game that evolved put of Hanketin Furnale's attempts to hack and simplify the DMing process. This started in part with creating a system of dungeon design using illustrated index cards, also called "Index Card RPG:" If you want this game, be sure you are buying the right product.


Index Card RPG Core 2e is a fast, innovative, and incredibly fun take on Dungeons and Dragons with so many clever rules hacks that you can no longer see D&D5e under all of the mods. It is faster, lighter, and often more engaging than vanilla D&D.

Even if you did not want to play ICRPG itself, the DM advice and tools are so helpful it is worth every penny. And because these rules are all hacks originally applied to D&D almost any of them can be pulled out again and applied to the RPG of your choice.

I personally put my money where my mouth was with this game: I bought a copy for every member of my gaming group.

Special Thanks to J. Henning for pointing out my typos.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Death is the New Pink
Publisher: DIY RPG Productions
by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/03/2020 13:30:56

This is a shortened version of my review, for the extended and more detailed assessment visit:

Game Review: Death is the New Pink

Author: Mike Evans Publisher: DIY RPG Productions Game Engine: Into the Odd Marketplace: DrivethruRPG

Death is the New Pink is a role-playing game based on the Into the Odd Engine, which is D&D stripped down for fast play and maximum Lethality. It is a minimalistic D&D-based system where characters have three stats: Strength, Dexterity, and Will ranging from 3-18, along with Hit Points. Almost all rolls are 1d20 trying to roll under an appropriate stat like in Basic/Expert and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. In DitNP, these stats are renamed to the more apropos Badassery, Dodging some Shit, and Moxy.

What I love about Into the Odd is that attacks in combat automatically hit, characters have piteously few hit points, and overflow damage goes to your STR stat... the same stat you then have to roll to not die. It makes combat beyond lethal. Generally, if you go toe-to-toe in combat, the first one to attack wins. Which means only an idiot goes into a straight-up fight. PCs who want to live ambush, sneak, sabotage, or do just about anything to turn the odds in their favour. In true OSR style, PCs win by thinking things through, stacking advantages, and treating direct combat as a last resort. There are no heroes in Into the Odd.

And that is what makes it the perfect engine for this particular game. Death is the New Pink is a post apocalyptic survival game inspired by such gloriously loud and blood-drenched titles as Borderlands, Fallout, Tank Girl, and Mad Max, as well as the music of KMFDM and White Zombie.

Death is the New Pink is also what I would call a true Punk RPG: it throws away needless niceties like the drab "What is Role-Playing" or "How to Play" sections and dives straight in assuming you know what you are doing an will play your own damn way. It keeps a rough, DIY aesthetic in its writing style and design, echoing the 80s and 90s punk 'zines I grew up on. The manual is full of humour often aimed at thumbing its nose at mainstream role-playing culture, Corporate America™, and the players themselves. It has no illusions about role-playing games as being anything other than silly stories with excessive Blood and Death -- and aims to deliver.

Cohesive Experience The fusion of the Punk aesthetic, the post-apocalyptic setting, and the stripped-down and lethal engine work incredibly well together. It is rare that a role playing game does such a great job of making the medium so perfectly reflect the content of the game.

With DitNP, the Punk 'zine manual and spray-style art feel as cobbled-together as the armour and junk cars the characters are using to stay alive. The rough writing style is like the trash the NPCs are likely to talk, and the system's brutality mirrors the fast-paced bloody action from the source material that you will want to emulate.

Often the inspirations for the game, such as Fallout - with its cumbersome menus - or Borderlands - with its jarring loot-grinding and undrivable vehicles - fail to keep you immersed because of the way those games' design fails to mesh with the game concept. DitNP here far exceeds the source material. The game's design choices suggest and reward the kind of play that will keep the game feeling like a battle for survival.


DitNP can be picked up and leaned to Game Mastering levels of comprehension in a couple of hours. Players can have characters in hand in a couple of minutes.

Unlike a lot of fast and light games, DitNP has long-term campaign play baked into the design. Characters advance by engaging with the world, making connections, and trying to change things. Character advancement and its innovative rules for creating businesses, mentoring others, and leading organizations are all interconnected. You level up by making connections, explo, and getting involved.

Where it falls flat is in a core assumption that the GM will absorb a lot of ideas, pick them up, and run with them without any additional assistance:

Mutations, radiation, toxic goo, etc., are all included, but nowhere implemented in the included hex crawl and dungeon adventures. Likewise, we have a system for creating businesses and groups that are designed to decay, break down, and be targeted without mechanics or suggestions on how we can use role-playing to protect them and make them better. The home base of the setting has a few interesting ideas, but they are offered as throw-away lines without any attempt at development.

Even that flaw is consistent with the DIY Punk RPG aesthetic, but it represents a weakness in Punk RPGs in general. They hand us a bunch of cool stuff, but don't help us use it.

This game looks like the best way I have seen by far to scratch that Mad Max game itch. That it requires a little extra improv and forethought to get the full post-nuclear nightmare I want is a minor gripe.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Death is the New Pink
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Delve - Second Edition
Publisher: FeralGamersInc
by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/13/2020 10:28:12

This is an edit of a longer review of this product on my website here:

I have updated this review to reflect changes to the product .


Delve 2e appeared in my "recommended for you" section of DrivethruRPG back in in the middle 2019 and caught my interest thanks to its sales pitch:

You awaken on a beach surrounded by the debris from a wrecked ship, you are not alone as others seem to be also awakening from their ordeal. You had no time to pack and all you have is what is in your pockets or what you can find amongst the wreckage. This begins your adventures on the island of Cragbarren.

It advertised itself as being quick and easy to learn: both high priorities for me.

The Delve 2e is a fantasy game that is a hybrid system between Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer Fantasy. I would say that mechanically it is pretty solid in design, more importantly it has a lot of hackable mechanics that can be hacked into other games.

The theme of the game is survival end exploration, and the setting has a dark tone with a bit of a British Punk aesthetic subtly woven in. Characters start with nothing but a few randomly chosen items in their pockets and salvaged from a shipwreck, and must build or salvage what they need, or barter with NPCs using a system that focuses on the value of an object for survival.

The game reminds me a lot in aesthetic, theme, setting, and art of the video game Path of Exile. Fans of POE will likely find a lot to love about Delve 2e.

Good Points

There are three mechanics in particular in Delve 2e that I found really praiseworthy: Light, Armour and Barter. I am also impressed with the setting.

Light Delve uses a semi-random timer mechanic to detetmine when the lights go out. Lanterns can last anywhere from 40-200 minutes and candles and torches 40-120, and PCs never know exactly when they will be left in the dark. Magical light sources are resource intensive, and no one starts with the ability to see in the dark. The game has a detailed discussion about the problems of using candles as a light source in a way I had not considered before.

I use this tool in almost every game I currently run.

Armour Armour not only grants an AC bonus, but has its own hit points. When characters take damage, they can offload it to their armour, causing the armour to degrade and eventually become useless. This allows characters to make a devil's bargain: "I can avoid getting hurt now, but it will be easier to hurt me later, and repairs will be costly."

I have used this as an inspiration for a houserule in my DCC RPG game.

Barter The survival theme carries over into the game's economics. In the Delve's setting, most of the population are focused on survival in a harsh environment. They don't care about coins, save as a source of metal. Instead of a coin value, most objects have a barter index based on how useful it is for survivors. Oil, fuel, cloth, and rope are far more valuable than a gemstone or jewelled object. The barter system is tied to the crafting and tinkering system in the game. Resources such as wood, bone, stone, hide, cloth, and metal also have a raw value in trade as well as being used in the crafting system.

Setting Cragbarren is a compelling setting: a rugged island at the edge of a sea lane used by sailors to avoid a frightening Eldritch Mist. Having little in valuable resources, surrounded in perilous shoals, and infested by monsters, no larger civilisation has colonized Cragbarren in centuries. Shipwrecks are common enough that a village, Wreck Haven has formed near the island's most perilous beach, but does not signal its presence for fear that orcs or pirates might find it. Survivors have to make their way through a dangerous cave complex to reach the village's lookout.

Once in Wreck Haven, PCs must struggle to make a place for themselves. Dangerous monsters prowl the island, even making it to the last surviving town of the island's native population is a heroic feat. Earning the resources to have the gear necessary for such a trip can last several adventures.

Previously, Delve was bundled with a document entitled The Castaway's Guide to Cragbarren. This book also appears in game as a gift to the PCs, and is meant to be most of the lore available to the inhabitants of Wreck Haven. I am hoping to be able to review it seperately later. Material in the 'Guide is referenced in the Delve 2e Corebook, leaving the reader of the Corebook only feeling like they haven't got the full picture.

Growth Points

Delve is stuffed full to the gills with creativity. From acronymous stat names, to cool art, to a narrative intro to the system unlike anything I've seen elsewhere, to a setting that, even in the small glimpses you get in the core book seems like a fun, punk-rock take on D&D. Unfortunately, Delve 2e's virtues are also its vices. The places where it is most inventive and original are often inconsistently executed, poorly edited, or difficult to use.

File Quality Delve 2e's art is colour and fairly high quality (if sparse) in a style reminiscent of Pathfinder or a video game like Path of Exile. It uses an attractive page template as well. Unfortunately, the file is not well compressed, which makes the otherwise attractive layout a liability. It does not load quickly and often takes a minute or two to load new pages in Adobe Reader for Android. This means turning over more than a few pages at a time leads to long waits. Without a detailed file bookmark system, finding specific material in the book can take ages.

UPDATE Delve 2e has been updated with a printer-friendly version that addresses this complaint. It comes bundled with the purchase

Inconsistent Introductory Experience The book opens strong with compelling fiction that leads into character generation. You read about washing up on the shores of Cragbarren, then use random tables embedded in the narrative to search your pockets for possessions, and salvage goods on the beach.

From there we enter into character generation. The game offers two character creation methods, but walks you partway through one generation method using a point buy system before offering you the option to use a quick creation system that uses rolled attributes instead. The character generation section also has conflicting information about the percentage number for each attribute. Given that the two methods could create radically different power levels of PC, that makes a certain sense, but whether that was intended, rather than a typo, it is unclear.

Once through character generation, the narrative continues, with the PCs as a band of castaways trying to leave the beach and the wreck behind by exploring some caves. This would be a perfect opportunity to teach players the rules of the game by doing. As a built-in tutorial adventure like in the Mentzer boxed set I started playing D&D with, or as an introductory module for new players and GMs alike. Instead, the journey through the cave complex is an example of play with PCs completely unrelated to the PC who was just generated as part of the narrative.

Once the sample characters escape the caves, the narrative returns to the viewpoint of the PC, as if they had just completed the same cave adventure. This is both a confusing shift of perspective and player engagement - and an opportunity lost.

I think that combining a tutorial, character generation, and the introduction of new rules into the game in this narrative fashion has great potential. It could be an exciting and immersive experience. Changing perspectives, switching to passive reading during the first possible action, and switching between PCs and sample characters makes it into a confusing jumble that instead makes for a frustrating read.

Equipment Degradation Because Delve is focused entirely on survival in a place with few resources, it makes sense to have clear rules about equipment being worn, damaged, and degraded over time. However these rules are a mish-mash of mechanics from armour having hit points to weapons having a modifier based on repair, to gear having quality tags. All of which means there are a lot of different moving parts to keep track of, many of which only show up when the player elects for them to, or critical hits or fumbles appear. This needs unification.

Lack of Sample Adventure Delve 2e clearly emphasizes low-level play focused on survival. However, the only fleshed-out adventure location is The City of Stench, which is intended for high-level characters. The manual even suggests that low-level parties will likely experience a TPK while trying to enter the city. The City appears to be a sort of endgame scenario presented as the place PCs will go to find piles of gold and jewels once based in a city that values such things.


Delve 2e is a work of incredible creativity, and does a great job at paring down D&D's magic and mechanics to make a survival story possible, while adding enough to make that survival story viable, and presenting itself with a setting that makes that style of play engaging.

If you want to run a game where the PCs start with nothing, build, salvage and steal everything they have, and where starvation and getting lost in the dark are as lethal enemies as monsters, there are some incredible resources here.

The problem is that this book was an army of one project from a passionate creative mind. Where the ideas are coolest and most original, the game desperately needed some extra eyes and helpful feedback to live up to its full potential. We are rarely critical enough of our own most exciting ideas.

With a little work, I believe Delve could step out from the crowd and shine, especially with sone retooling of the way the game is introduced.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Delve  - Second Edition
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Publisher: Questing Beast Games
by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/12/2020 12:54:34

The following is a shortened version of a review from my weblog "Welcome to the Deathtrap". You can read the whole article here:

Game Review : Knave

Author: Ben Milton Publisher: Questing Beast Games Game Engine: OSR Dungeons & Dragons Market: DrivethruRPG

I am a huge fan of Ben Milton. When I first started looking at ways to make Dungeons and Dragons faster and more enjoyable, he quickly became one of my favourite sources for both RPG theory and product reviews for small press role-playing games. I have bought both of his games, Maze Rats and Knave because I appreciate his channel and want to support it, even though I don't have the funds to become a patron.

I wasn't sure what to expect of Knave, because I honestly didn't like Maze Rats. It wasn't a bad game, just not my cup of tea. So, I was not sure if I would be getting a product that I would use, or if I was just giving back to Ben. It advertised itself as an OSR compatible game, however, and so I was hopeful that I Knave would be my speed. Not only was I not disappointed, but Knave impressed me with its innovations.

Knave's DNA is primarily D&D - both old and new. A Knave Character sheet will look familiar to most D&D players. There is Armour Class and Hit Points. It uses the standard array of six attributes and rolls them in order randomly. The game's unique rolling method delivers attribute scores between 11 and 16 start, weighted heavily to lower numbers.

What these numbers mean is slightly different from in standard OSR D&D, however. The statistics can go as high as 20 as the character levels up. The statistics are conceptualized as both a defense rating and a bonus. The Defense is equal to the classic D&D Attribute. The bonus is the defense -10 rather than using the curved bonus table in standard OSR games. At first these bonuses seem high, especially as attributes and hit points increase with levels, but aside from the six attributes, hp, and AC, there are no other character statistics. Without an attack bonus, proficiency, skill points, ThAC0, saving throws, or similar statistics, Attribute increases are the only way characters advance in terms of numerical precision.

Overall, Knave characters feel pretty much on par with an equal-levelled Basic Fantasy or OSRIC character, despite the very different numbers... and this is what really impresses me about Knave: it strips D&D down to its barest bones, removing almost all surplus mechanics, and builds something very different with that skeleton.

Knave definitely shows strong influences from another indie/ OSR game that I very much enjoy: Index Card RPG (ICRPG). In many ways, Knave takes some of the best innovations bundle. As in ICRPG, Knaves they are competent enough to try anything for which they have an appropriate item. A Knave with lockpicks can pick locks; a Knave with a spellbook can cast the spell within; a Knave with a battleaxe can split skulls. An abstract slot-based encumbrance system determines how much an Knave can haul around. Unlike ICRPG, Knave abandons class altogether, as the gear-based ability system renders them irrelevant.

However, where Knave goes off on its own to experiment with its own style of play and tools.

Good Points Knave has a lot to offer to someone either as a standalone RPG or as a set of rules to pillage for one's own homebrew game. I want to talk about some of the major stand-out features here.

Player Facing Option A "player-facing" game is one where the bulk of the dice rolling is made by players. When a roll is critical to the success or failure of a PC, only the Player gets to roll. This strips the GM of the power to fudge the game, while giving the Player a sense of personal ownership over results. I love player-facing games for the environment they foster at the table. They encourage ownership if the game by the players, and tend to encourage them to take more interest in how their actions create narrative.

Knave offers a guideline for creating a player-facing experience, and points put how easy it is to re-conceptualize the math for almost any contest in D&D to put the dice back into Player hands. While the math is not identical between Knave and D&D, these guidelines could be ported over with no friction.

Traits Tables Around 2/3 of page 2 of the incredibly text-dense (seven-page) Knave manual is dedicated to optional random tables to detetmine a character's non-mechanical characteristics. It includes some expected ones like Alignment, Physique, Background, and Clothes, but also some unexpected ones thst are very rich with ideas. Face, Skin, Virtue, Vice, Speech, and Misfortune allow you to quickly roll up a character with a detailed description, role-playing hints, weaknesses, strengths, and a sob story.

I love the contents of these tables, they are a wonderful mix of general, specific, common, and unusual to make it feel like you have a staggering range of possibilities.

Classless D&D In the 90s I often had difficulties convincing players to have a good old-fashioned game of D&D. Many players preferred "new and better" systems that were class-free. Class was seen by many players of the era as a straitjacket on their creativity when they compared it to (allegedly) classless systems like Shadowrun and World of Darkness.

By making character abilities solely reliant on the gear a character carries and the talents they hone with experience, Knave creates a classless (if "gamey") system. It solves the problem of class in D&D neatly in a way that doesn't involve just piling more classes and class options on the characters.

Copper Currency Scale Several of the OSR games that I have looked at recently use a different economic scale, preferring to treat coins of silver or copper as the base unit of exchange rather than gold. While I am not a stickler for Authentic medievalism in my games, I find the strange economics of a gold-based currency in D&D has always been a bit jarring; especially if you assume that peasants live mostly by barter or exchanging goods for mere pennies.

A copper currency base just makes more sense, especially if you take just a little time and research to make even slightly more realistic values for goods as Knave does.

Simple Mathematics Knave keeps its math simple. Because attributes are the only significant source of die roll modifiers, you don't need to keep track of a number of equations with moving parts. Keeping only positive modifiers, and a universal target number for the majority of rolls simplifies everything further.

Spell Ideas Knave's magic system is simple, and spells native to the game have no spell level. Instead, if a character has the appropriate spellbook, they can cast a spell. The majority of magic spells are a simple one-sentence description for the GM to use as inspiration for narratively resolving the effects of spellcasting.

What stands out in Knave is the sheer unusualness of the spells presented. There are dozens of odd, entertaining and fun spells on offer. A few of my favorites include:

Attract: L+1 objects are strongly magnetically attracted to each other if they come within 10 feet. Babble: A creature must loudly and clearly repeat everything you think. It is otherwise mute. Marble Madness: Your pockets are full of marbles, and will refill every round. Summon Cube: Once per second, (6 times per round) you may summon or banish a 3-foot-wide cube of earth. New cubes must be affixed to the earth or to other cubes.

I have already integrated a number of these spells into my game, and the comedic effect has already been worth every penny spent on the game.

Portability Rather than offer a huge selection of monsters, or an exhaustive interpretation of spells from D&D source material, Knave includes a guideline for using D&D / OSR content in Knave. The standard D&D stat block can be used with practically no conversion, and minimal math. Knave characters, despite being simplified from their D&D equivalents, tend to be pretty much on par in terms of ability.

Open Culture Knave is far enough removed from D&D that it doesn't require an OGL license. Instead, it is offered Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. This is as free and open a product that you can make in the Creative Commons system. It makes it possible to create almost anything for- or out of- the Knave system that you care to.

Growth Points Extreme Minimalism Like Maze Rats, Knave is not just stripped-down in terms of game structure, but employs an economy of language and design that is incredibly tight. Knave comes as a complete role playing game on seven pages in landscape orientation of small font across 3-5 collumns per page.

If I were planning on printing the game, rather than reading it off my tablet, this level of economy would be very welcome, indeed. And I definitely appreciate the care and effort it takes to edit a game down to this level. It almost seems foolish to me to call this a growth point, because Ben Milton has accomplished exactly what he set out to do in writing this manual.

There is, however, something to be said for the fripperies and vices of RPG design that have been stripped out of Knave.

Suffice it to say that a traditional role-playing manual is as much meant to be enjoyed or experienced as it is meant to be a vessel for conveying rules. And, in the OSR it is also a means of supporting people in our community whose contributions we admire. I would have happily put down a few dollars more for an expanded edition of the game with art, layout, some monsters, and maybe a few adventures that show off what Ben Milton, as a game critic, finds most appealing, and that richly expresses his vision for a role playing game.

The NPC Reaction Table is a Proud Nail. I have always thought there is something deeply compelling on a philosophical level about the old 2d6 D&D NPC Reaction table. It teaches by its very nature that most people have no feelings about you at all. It is a good mechanic, and one we should not have lost in newer editions of D&D.

However, in a game with as tightly unified and simplified mechanics as Knave, it stands as something of a Proud Nail. Perhaps an alternate system built on the PCs charisma to generate a first impression might have been more consistent.

This is a minor gripe, all told. Knave brings its design A-Game to so much of the base OSR material, that seeing a part left untouched and outside of the unified mechanics of gameplay just seems strange.

Stunts in Need of Honing Much like DCC RPG's Mighty Deed of Arms mechanic, Knave resolves fancy moves like disarming, tripping, shoving, etc. with a single die roll mechanic: the Stunt. However, in as simplified a system as Knave we have no clear idea what a monster being knocked down, or an enemy being demoralized looks like.

My own GMing intuition suggests costing enemies turns, granting advantage to allies or disadvantage to enemies seem like obvious outcomes for a successful stunt. I feel, however that fleshing out that section of the book with another paragraph would be very helpful.

Underdeveloped Magic System The magic system in Knave is truly reduced down to its bare bones. A character can cast a spell for which they have a spellbook. Spells have no level or other requirements. A character rolls to cast the spell, and if he fails, cannot cast that spell again that day. The level of the character casting the spell may modify the area if effect or duration. The GM controls access to spells to keep anything he or she might find game-breaking out until it is appropriate.

Knave includes no spells that deal (or heal) damage directly in order to side-step a lot of mechanical questions about magic. It does not give guidelines for using spells to drop things on bad guys or slamming them against objects. This becomes entirely DM Fiat, which I don't necessarily object to, but having a good rule of thumb for having heavy stuff dropped on you would have been handy to keep Knave feeling self-contained.

The magic section goes on at length (relatively speaking) about adapting classic D&D / OSR spells, including making use of spell levels by making them the minimum required level for a knave to cast them. This is unnecessary; spells already don't need or use levels in Knave. The fact that PCs cannot make spellbooks means the GM can set whatever bar for access to a spell that they desire. Including simply not letting players find it.

Conclusion Knave is a stark seven pages of incredibly thought-out, innovative, and compact game design, punctuated by random tables and spells that show off an amazing creative flair. It is designed to work with any OSR style D&D material with a minimum of fuss, while using much simpler and more direct math, along with some of the modern conveniences of more recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

If I were asked to run a game completely by the seat of my pants, Knave would be my go-to game; It can be set up in seconds, and run out of almost any module I have on hand with very little prep.

The magic spells and random character generation tables are tools that I am already using in my games, and would recommend them to most anyone else looking for fresh ways to make magic or characters more interesting.

As is, Knave is well worth its price, and I would happily pay more for a version with some new monsters, adventures, and a little more fleshing out of the magic and stunt systems.

I would also have loved to see some art and manual design that reflects Ben Milton's creative vision and expertise. He can talk at length about what is impressive and compelling about a book's design. Seeing that knowledge fully deployed would be of great interest to me.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Deep Dark Blue • A World of Adventure for Fate Core
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Brian R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/11/2016 17:31:30

Deep Dark Blue was very timely for me, as it came just as I was planning a submarine-based campaign. Its mechanics for building characters (and campaign) around the ship and crew was a great way of getting players into the mindset of being a crew rather than just a party.

I also appreciated the way in which crew cohesion is designed to be a mechanically significant factor in the success of the ship during missions; it both gives the players incentive to role-play as a group, and gives the GM a focal point for telling a good, character-driven story.

Like most Evil Hat products, Deep Dark Blue is far more focused on setting than mechanics. The "crunchy" elements of the manual make up a small portion of the whole, and I appreciate the depth of material that their work offers for inspiring the GM as a writer.If you are looking for a major expansion to the game's mechanics, however, you may be disappointed.

If I have one gripe about Deep Dark Blue, it is that they have a huge number of characters that break old gender, sexualiy, or cultural norms. I appreciate their choice to be inclusive in principal, but it comes off as overdone and fetishistic - it appears to be more of a cynical marketing ploy or tokenism than inclusion.

All-in-all, a great module / expansion, well worth the $4 I ponied up.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Deep Dark Blue • A World of Adventure for Fate Core
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