Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rub It Review: Al-Qadim

I have only played in a single game set in Al-Qadim and I have never ran any games in this setting. I didn't own a single Al-Qadim book until just a couple of years ago. But I remembered my play experience from 1994 quite fondly and I fell in love with this campaign world... so I started collecting it all. I'm still working on the collection, very slowly, as a casual hobby.

Anyhow. I've already said a lot about Al-Qadim in other posts. For this mini review I'm just going to link to all the posts I've made so far talking about Al-Qadim.

It's so damn good. Even though it has it's flaws... which are almost exclusively related to rushed production and recycling cover art and what-not. But on the whole...

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/WPed4KGepnb

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/8WvWK2D6snu

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/66wkWB9u1ux

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/HhpqdB2SZNK

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/STkSxc1wCVE

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/BWeRRUtALSA

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/CKzLpFoB1q4

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JamesVWest/posts/ScCeHD191gu

#al-qadim
#salt
#djinn


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Troll Bridge Sketches

I worked on a new one-page module called A Trolling We Will Go. It was inspired by the old fairy tale of the three billy goats gruff. Plus I just love classic D&D trolls. Here's the troll, Urnt, as a work in progress.



And in Urnt's river lives a lot of very angry fish. In fact, each person slain by the angry fish becomes and angry fish.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Rub It Review: Dyson's Delves I

+Dyson Logos has been doing adventure maps for years. And they are iconic. So iconic, it's very easy to rip him off and maybe not even know it. That's because he has perfected a craft of simplicity.

Dyson's Delves I is a 152 page book you can score in paperback or hardback from Lulu (link below). From the back of the book: "Being a collection of cartography and detailed adventures hand crafted by Dyson Logos, cartographer and explorer."

One-third of of the book is a series of detailed adventures, generally taking up 2 pages each with a map and keyed area descriptions. In the OSR spirit, these adventures are scripted, merely keyed. The stats are given in classic D&D terms (basic/expert). The adventures are for low level PCs ranging up to level 5-6.

All of these delves are part of the same quasi-megadungeon and you can string them together into an epic crawl or use them individually.

The rest of the book is a series of awesome maps with blank lines for you to fill with your own adventures. Just write in the book, dummy! It's POD.

Obviously the thing that makes this book great is Dyson's actual maps. They are just nice to look upon. They are works of art from a person who as mastered their craft. They demand to be explored. But in addition to that, the keyed adventures herein are pitch-perfect for a good old game of D&D where you roll 3d6 in order and die at zero hit points. You can pop this book out at the table without any preparations and run a game, no problem.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/dyson-logos/dysons-delves-i-revised/hardcover/product-21797916.html

https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/

Dyson don't screw around. His maps are featured in the latest D&D 5e offering from Wizards of the Coast, Dragon Heist!

http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/dragonheist


Monday, September 10, 2018

Rub It Review: Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells

On my brief visit to Gateway Games in Cincinnati, I spied a copy of +Diogo Nogueira's Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells so I snatched it up. I had already picked up the PDF, but I had not really dived into the game. I didn't know much about it other than Diogo does wicked art.

A captive in the passenger seat on the drive home, I just started reading and was immediately impressed (while sunlight lasted, anyway). Spoiler alert: this is the best sword & sorcery RPG I have yet encountered. And I haven't even played it.

This is a digest sized 48 page RPG packed with great art and extremely focused, clear writing. I am a fan of games that can deliver their message in as few words as possible, like a good poet delivering the goods. Where I feel that some games do this a bit poorly is that they give you sparse text without enough visuals. The visuals are important, to me, to provide context. SS&SS gives you clear, simple writing plus a healthy heaping helping of art. The art, combined with the words, paints a picture of a world of heroic fantasy in the Conan and Lankhmar vein. Yummie.

Much like Lamentations of the Flame Princess' Rules and Magic book, this book dives right into the meat without any hesitation. We get 2 pages that explain fully how the game works, then we're into chargen with each of the three classes getting 1 page (with art). And that's all we need.

The game is OSR-friendly, but not a clone. Its attribute list includes 4 instead of the classic 6. Physique, Agility, Intellect, and Willpower are all you need in this game. It is a roll-under system that owes a lot of it's mechanics to The Black Hack. It has a clever set of rules for armor and shields wherein the damage die of the attacker is reduced based on your armor. The shield becomes an active tool rather than passive defense. Weapons are divided into size categories that determine their damage die. The encumbrance system is simply that you can carry as many items as you have Physique, which is a method I personally use so I'm happy to see it here.

The magic system is a Willpower test with a difficulty equal to the spell's power. There are 50 spells described in a few pages, and of course you can make up as many more as you like.

I am enchanted by this game. I grokked it immediately and devoured the book in one sitting, which is not something I usually do. Now, I am not necessarily a huge fan of actually using The Black Hack's system to create content or run games. This is NOT a ding against that game, nor this one. It's just that my personal play preference isn't aligned with roll-under as the primary mechanic. Like all RPG and OSR nerds, I'm stupidly picky and pedantic at times. But this game kicks too much ass for me not to use it at some point.

There's a lot more awesome to it, but you can go pick it up for yourself and see. Great game. Great presentation. Get it.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/198163/Sharp-Swords--Sinister-Spells?src=hottest_filtered

(NOTE: Although I'm a fan of games that deliver the goods in few words, I would not argue that this is the "best" way. I would argue instead that each game deserves the verbiage that best serves the game and sometimes that means more text rather than less.)


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rub It Review: Star Frontiers

Hey, who doesn't love pseudopods and needler pistols? I know I do.

Picture a young JV, c. 1985. This 14 year old (soon to be 15) with big glasses and no romantic prospects has been holed up in his room with the classic 1983 D&D red box for months, generating campaigns without any players. He makes his way to Sophia's Bookstore at some point because he knows they have a rack of RPGs. There he witnesses many amazing things, including a Frank Frazetta art book that blows open his ideas about fantasy and this purple box set called Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn. The cover is rad. Tubular. Totally awesome. It has a crashed ship. It has aliens. It has a pretty redhead.

James likey.

Somehow James manages to get this incredible treasure in his hands and takes it home. At my advanced age I'm unable to remember how this came about. It was at least a year before I got my first paying job and my family was poor. But my mom was (is) stellar so she did most likely witness my memorization and found the funds to drop $10 on it.

Now witness young JV in his room, in his gawdy looking 70s swiveling chair, opening this shining, glistening, purple box with utter reverence and complete magical charm all over his youthful face. Ah, the sorcery of discovery. Especially discovery of the vastness and coolness of Pan-Galactic space.

The game comes with two rulebooks, a big double sided grid map, a bunch of cool counters, d10 (two of 'em?), and an adventure module called Crash on Vulturnus.

The first rulebook is the 16 page Basic Game Rules in which we learn, well, the basics. It's like a short and sweet intro. I fully confess right here and right now I never actually read this one. I skimmed it, looked at the art, and went straight for the next book.

The 64 page Expanded Game Rules is where it's at. Here you get the full version of the game you just bought, not some condensed version for babies.

So this game is basically Buck Rogers and Star Trek mashed up. But it's got a spirit of its own. I have heard people compare it to Star Wars, but I reject that comparison. There is not anything remotely spiritual or mystical or prophetic here. This is a wild west game of lasers and credits. Sure, Han Solo would be right at home in Pan-Galactic space. But there's no room here for the Jedi order or ghosts. Hey, don't let that get you down, though. They DO have electric swords.

In this game you play the role of a mercenary, mechanic, scientist, spy, medic, pilot, or whatever kind of gig you choose to specialize in. It's a skill based game, so there are no classes. You choose between four races: human, yazirian (monkeys with glider wings), dralasites (amoeba people), and vrusk (bugs). As new PCs, your adventures will most likely involve working for the Pan-Galactic Corporation in some capacity or another.

It's a percentile system. All actions are resolved by rolling d100 and trying to get under a target (usually an attribute score modified by a skill or something like that). You get to use all kinds of cool toys ranging from the aforementioned electric sword to the vibroknife to the laser rifle to the gyrojet rifle. You can program robots, bypass security, and blow shit up with Tornadium D-19 (kaboomite). Oh, and if you get shot at with a laser pistol hopefully you will be wearing your albedo suit.

The weird thing about Alpha Dawn is that it has precious little to say about space ships. There are no rules in this box for flying them, for example. That fact lent this game a tremendously terrestrial vibe for a space game. I played this with cousins and school friends and most of our adventures involved running around the giant grid map of Port Loren, blasting holes in the city trying to capture escaped villains or battle sathar invasions. Space travel was always hand waved.

Of course this game is followed up by the second box set, Knight Hawks, which was ALL about the space travel and space combat. I didn't own Knight Hawks and I never got to play with it, so I have no nostalgic attachment to it. Back in 2012 I ran a couple games of Star Frontiers for some local friends, one of whom was a HUGE fan of the game and owned 100% of all it. My friend James Koti, may he rest in peace, was a giant Star Frontiers nerd and wanted to use all the shiny books. But I was just running a game for nostalgia and I only wanted to use Alpha Dawn. It was fun, but I suspect he really wanted to run with it much longer and much farther. In hindsight, now that James is gone, I really wish I had ran harder and longer with the game.

I ran it again for my Monday night pals, who I lovingly call the Doomslakers. That was a year or more ago. I ran the module Mission to Alcazzar, which I heavily modified. In our game, we spent at least 3 sessions on board the Nightrunner dealing with some very dangerous mining bugs, which were the central threat of the adventure as I ran it. The module is basically a very terrestrial hex crawl and has little in it to suggest space. Our adventure ended with a naked mad scientist riding an armored mining bug trying to kill the party. There was a lot of hand grenade action going on and of course all the robots in the CDC compound were set to kill.

A good time was had by all.

I love this game, and it's 90% because of nostalgia. I believe the system is good, but has rough bits I don't love as much. The way skills are figured is a bit wonky, I think. But hey, it all works. In the end I think my mom could not have spent 10 credits on a better product.

You can get this classic once again at RPGnow or DrivethruRPG:

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/226710/Star-Frontiers-Alpha-Dawn


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Rub It Review: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I scored a copy of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules & Magic book a few years ago.

This is a good game. It's deliciously good. I know from listening to +James Raggi in an interview that he created the game merely as a tool or a means to an end. He wanted to publish awesome, evil looking RPG books and he just felt like having a rule set of his own to link them to would be best. And he was right about that.

I have to talk about this game as both a game and a book.

The book is about 166 pages in A5 format. It's a hardback. It has color illustrations and black and white illustrations, all of which are quite good and evocative of the sort of post-medieval horror that LotFP game books shoot for.

This is a beautiful, evil, lovely book. The cover by Cynthia Sheppard is pitch perfect. The binding is incredibly good and the whole god damn thing just feels right in the hand. I'm a guy who prefers full size books, mostly due to a combination of nostalgia and due to my 47 year old eyesight. But this is perfect. The layout by Mattias Wilkström really delivers the goods. When you open the cover, you get blood red endpapers on which are printed in white text a list of equipment and costs (in silver). The red papers at the back of the book print various useful tables, such as saving throws. Very nice.

Raggi does not waste words. There is no introduction, no forward, and indeed no comment whatsoever about what you are getting ready to read. After the table of contents, you are instructed on how to roll ability scores. And you're off to the races.

Like most OSR core games, this one has no explicit setting. The setting is merely implied. It is fantasy. It is D&D. It is also post-Medieval, and there is a section of the book where a few pages describe early firearms to help set that tone.

The system is core OSR. It has ascending AC, five categories of saves, XP tables, hit dice, and so forth. Unlike most clones or quasi-clones, this one has a skill system. It is a very simple one. You have nine skills, including bushcraft and stealth. Everyone has a 1 in 6 chance of success. Some characters, such as the Specialist (thief), can allocate points to improve their skills.

There are some clever bits to this game that I love, including the Specialist. But also, I love that really only Fighters get better at fighting. Everyone else doesn't. So go suck an egg, Cleric. Famously, this game creates the only first level Magic-User spell I know of that requires 9 pages to describe: Summon. What a great spell. It feels like a super compressed summary of Raggi's famous Random Esoteric Creature Generator. I bet having this spell makes games... weirder.

All in all, the core book delivers a tightly packed and concise RPG system you can use to run any D&D module or other OSR style adventure in a sharp little package. Although I find Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells to be preferable for sword & sorcery gaming (at least by impression, I haven't played it yet), LotFP is hands down a winner for S&S gaming as well.

Get it. And then get some of those delicious adventure books/sandboxes to go with it, such as +Zak Sabbath's A Red and Pleasant Land (another lovely damn book).


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rub It Review: B/X Essentials

+Gavin Norman has given us a lot of awesome stuff over the years. I know I've used Theorems & Thaumaturgy in past campaigns to great effect.

Now we get B/X Essentials. And the name on the tin is what you get. This is the classic B/X game in all its wonder, re-organized into a set of comprehensive volumes. And man do they hit the mark.

These books are gems. The layout is superb. The font choice is dead on the money for pinging that B/X nostalgia. The tables are perfectly presented. All the rules of the classic game are teased out and written in concise packets for maximum clarity and usefulness. The art is deliciously perfect.

All of that and the books are dished out in deliberate modules... that is, you can use one, two, three, or all of them as you choose. Want a B/X campaign that is all neanderthal? Just use the core rules and monster books and add your neanderthal stuff. Want 1e spells? Just ignore the spellbook and use the rest. It's a brilliant move to publish these in volumes instead of a single volume, despite the utility of a single volume RPG. There is utility in modules.

Lovely, reverent modules.

Nicely done, Gavin. And I tip my hat to +Andrew Walter, +Sean Poppe, +Luka Rejec, +Michael Clarke, +Alex Mayo, and all the other artists who brought wonderful visuals to this project.

Now the quandary is set in my mind... do I make stuff with an eye toward Labyrinth Lord... or B/X Essentials? Oh what a terrible decision to make! Pity me. I guess I'll do both.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/220726/B-X-Essentials-Core-Rules?src=hottest_filtered


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Rub It Review: BEAN! the d2 RPG

BEAN!

I stumbled across this gem back in 2011 or 2012. I can't remember exactly. But thank the dark gods J. Freels decided to create such a fabaceaen masterpiece.

This game has it all. Swords, spells, monsters, and BEANS. This is basically all the fun of D&D with far simpler rules and you're playing the role of a talking bean. So there.

You take some beans. You mark one side of each with a "+" or something to represent a hit. You toss your beans. The other guy tosses beans. Whoever gets the most hits wins that contest. The difference between the beans is your damage or whatever.

It's GREAT. And I have stolen that basic mechanic for my own stuff many times. In fact, that mechanic was the core of the Rabbits & Rangers game before I went with Labyrinth Lord as the engine.

So anyway... Bean is a core fantasy RPG without a setting. Like D&D, there's an implied setting... a mix of elements common to bean worlds. You might flight a b'nork or get a magic sword from a b'nelf.

The game is supported by an array of adventures and a setting book describing the World of Bean, a Guide to Terrafavus! Hell... there's even a Beans in Space book. You CANNOT GO WRONG HERE.

Five beans.

http://jeffwerx.com/BEANpage.htm

http://www.rpgnow.com/product/89574/BEAN-The-D2-RPG-Second-Edition?manufacturers_id=2927


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rub It Review: Barrowmaze

I picked up +Greg Gillespie's Barrowmaze Complete a couple of years ago. I was instantly hooked. I ran a short campaign as soon as I could. It included a luchador and a necromancer and ended with a 50% TPK (in the town of Ironguard Motte, not the actual Barrowmaze). Very satisfying.

Barrowmaze is a megadungeon, which means it is mainly a big fat huge collection of rooms designed to kill you. But it's more. It's a sketched out, robust setting that actually works. It gives you all the essential information you need in order to get a game going very quickly. It doesn't include a lot of flair and additional information about the setting that isn't immediately useful. It's quite lean in that sense... but not spartan. It's got some style.

What I love about this book is how easy it is to use. If you are going to run a short adventure for a one night gig you can just flip through the various barrow mounds and find one with a few rooms. Then just concoct a reason for the PCs to be there. They are hired by a wizard to go to the mounds and uncover a specific tomb. Start the game right there at the tomb. Bob's your uncle. The fact that the mounds are not all connected to the bigger maze means you can do in and out adventures, exploring the mounds as quickly or slowly as you like. Eventually, the PCs will find the maze and you can sink your teeth into that monster for the long haul.

(The third time I used Barrowmaze the PCs managed to navigate directly to the primary maze entrance on the first session. I wanted them to poke around in some mounds first... but that's not what happened...)

This is written for Labyrinth Lord and feels exactly like a first edition boxed campaign with a strong Fiend Folio vibe. The art is incredibly good. The cover is by the legendary Erol Otus! And check out this list of interior illustrators: Zhu Bajie, Alexander Cook, Ndege Diamond, Cory Hamel, Trevor Hammond, Jim Holloway, John Larrey, Scott LeMien, Peter Pagano, Stefan Poag, Tim Truman, Jason Sholtis, Stephen Thompson, and Tara Williamson.

The writing is tight and lean, allowing you to run the maze or the mounds on-the-fly without actually reading too much of it in advance.

This book costs a lot of dough. If you don't know Barrowmaze, you might see the price tag and say "nope". I totally understand. But the book is well worth the investment.

Oh, and if you like undead this will be like Disneyland for you. If you don't like undead and don't want to pay that much for a PDF or print book, maybe not so much.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/139762/Barrowmaze-Complete


Monday, September 3, 2018

Rub It Review: The Rad Hack

The Rad-Hack is a Black Hack hack by +Karl Stjernberg, whose killer maps are killer. Like most hacks, this hack is short, sweet, and straight to the point. You get pretty much the entire game system on one page and by the second page you're into character classes. Classes include human (wearing a bunny mask, lol), mutants, robots, and psionics.

It's a cool little 36 page book packed with flavor and badassery. I wanna be a mutated monkey with acid spit!

So the reason I wanted to call out this game is because Karl's work is just dripping with attitude. His style reminds me of many alternative comics icons such as Charles Burns (a little bit) and of the many counter culture or car culture/tattoo culture artists who draw wild shit all the time. I likey.

Favorite Rub: The Rad World map.

https://www.rpgnow.com/product/187874/The-RadHack


Rub It Review: Quack Keep

Quack Keep

The legendary Jennell Jaquays along with Darcy Perry deliver the goods with this 56 page adventure setting. Ducks are PCs. 'Nuff said.

The book is quite lovely with full color on the inside. The art by Jaquays and Perry is deliciously evocative (check out pages 5, 16, and 18 in particular). There are lots of NPCs with which to interact, such as Bigus Duckus, Coduck the Barbarian, Daisy Ladyhawke, and The Grey Moulter.

The entire region of Reedy Bend seems to live in fear of the duck-like dragon Daffyd Platypyros, a horrifying monster to be sure.

This book is FULL of playful language and puns. When I was writing Rabbits & Rangers I was dipping my toes into the "funny animal" genre. But truly Quack Keep dives in head first and I absolutely adore it for that reason. In fact, the first thing I realized upon flipping through it was that this book, being system agnostic, is PERFECT for use with Rabbits & Rangers! And I have it on my bucket list to run a little Reedy Bend campaign for R&R.

There's a lot more to this than I have touched upon. There are maps, lots of encounters and magic items, story hooks, and all kinds of fun and funny gems about roleplaying the Fowl Folk.

Get it.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/247210/Quack-Keep