Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review - Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Allelujah! I found a great title to start with, Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. 

I lost my 1e books and wanted a replacement. I know Necrotic Gnome has been threatening me with a Kickstarter of physical books, but I couldn't wait for a printed copy. I ordered both the Player's Tome and Referee's Tome from DriveThruRPG. Previously, I had been making do with the short free edition which is pretty fine. 

Title: Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

SM06 The Warren
Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

Title: Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome

Advanced Fantasy<br />Referee's Tome
Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome


What I was expecting was an updated rendition of the 1e D&D books. I was wrong. 

These books have more in common with the B/X sets or perhaps the Rules Cyclopedia. But wait! That's not all. The author, Gavin Norman set out to refine B/X by remove some warts and flaws. Not only was he successful, but he also went on to fix all of the Unearthed Arcana classes and the accursed Bard class of e1. Somehow, he has three different editions fused in one. Impressive. 

What fascinates me the most is how there is a basic and advanced method of character generation. The basic method uses race as a class while the advanced method allows all races to engage in a class. With a tiny modification, this is exactly how I play. The rules do not say is if you can mix basic and advanced methods of characters, but why the hell not. I allow for Basic Elves and AD&D Elven Clerics. 

The books are well-paced for teaching new players from a single set of books, which is right in line with what the original B/X books did. Timely information is presented when it's needed and not before. Mr. Norman has also rolled in some welcome updates, such as THAC0 and ascending AC. I hate them both because they are too user-friendly, but this set competently explains all three methods to suit the taste of all three player bases. 

Both books are 257 pages long a-piece. The Player's Tome is really the shining star of the set as it contains the most varied information. The Referee's Tome approximates the DMG and Monster Manual of e1 all in one book. B/X didn't have a DMG until the Red Box if I remember correctly and this format avoids getting all murky like the e1 DMG. 

So, where are the flaws? Well, there aren't any or many that I could find. More like chatter from the peanut gallery. 

The one thing that amused me was the author named a spell "Pass-Wall". Back in the Moldvay version of B/X, it was spelled "Passwall" and was completely omitted from the books except for the Staff of Wizardry description, which doesn't explain the spell. See, real peanut gallery stuff. 

I am not a fan of the short monster stat blocks like a module synopsis but have to admit it allows for the presentation of far more critters than a full quarter page stat block of the e1 Monster Manual. I always got warm fuzzies when I found a module that included an appendix with full stat blocks for new monsters. If Necrotic Gnome changed its mind and created a Monster Manual with full stat blocks, I'd totally buy that. 

The last item, I don't even know how to quantify. There is too much art. WTF? Did I say that? I love all of the art, but the format is meant for the beautiful full-color, hardback version of the book. I have a printable pdf. If I print this thing, it's going to have qualities similar to a '79 era xerox. That makes me sad and I can't wait to purchase a hard copy. 

There you have it, I found three flaws and two of them make me want to purchase a physical copy of something I already have. So, I guess this is a 5 gold star review. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Introduction: How to...

If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times. The 1981 Basic Edition of D&D is my edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Before that, I had the 1979 AD&D books which seemed a little opaque to 7 and 8 year old me. But by 9, I could grasp all of the ins and outs of the Moldvay set. 

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

At 49, I set a challenge of reviewing 52 gaming culture significant titles. I've done novels, movies, game modules, supplements but only a handful of rule sets. The reason is pretty clear, how does one review old or new products which emulate old games? Everyone should know everything about them already. 

A month or so ago, a reader whom I shall call Blackrazor gave me dozens of books to replace the ones I lost. Additionally, he threw in a bunch of things I have never seen. By way of thanks to my readers, I want to review them. 

This loops me back to my original observation that everyone who plays these games should know them. So true. 

Back in February of this year, I reviewed The White Box by Atlas Games. This product isn't a game, it's a developer's tool to create games. In that review, I mentioned that the vast majority of essays written for this title explore the pedagogy of games. Pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching. 

This nicely brings me around to this little piece of artwork: 


The Moldvay version of D&D was meant to teach from the book, as opposed to the methods used in the prior editions. It's a fine distinction, in intent, scope, and for my purposes, a perfect distinction.  

OD&D, Holmes, and AD&D e1 are very fine games, but they were not designed and developed as the Moldvay books were which is very evident in terms of play and players. These three sets were designed with the intention that one person would own the books and that one person would teach the rules. Moldvay on the other hand, explains the rules with an almost boardgame approach so that players pick a role and act on it rather than the exploration of roles (and rules) that older editions supposed. 

It's the method of teaching that changes between editions. Players were always cautioned against reading the DM's material. But in a generic sense, meaning they shouldn't metagame. Knowing the rules was always encouraged, but defining which rules were in play was the purview of the DM. So, when players hit those OD&D type games, they often knew how to run a game even when in action as a player character, but they learned directly from the person hosting the game. In B/X the rules themselves teach. 

Going forward, I hope to review several B/X sets from the point of view of how the rules convey the pedagogy of the game. 

I have 10 more entries for my 2021 review series, if I could make whole rulesets half of those, I think I will have succeded in this adventure.  

HP-14dk1000 Laptop Review

Normally I would place hardware reviews over on Unpwnd.com but this one is special. It makes my website and games go. 

This particular HP is only available from Best Buy. At the $299 price point, you know this isn't a gaming machine. 

Here are the stats: 

  • Screen Size: 14 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 (HD)
  • Processor Model: AMD Athlon Silver 3000 Series
  • Processor Model Number: AMD Athlon Silver 3050U
  • Processor Speed (Base): 2.3 gigahertz
  • Solid State Drive Capacity: 128 gigabytes
  • System Memory (RAM):  4 gigabytes
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home in S Mode
  • Battery Life: (up to) 8 hours
This laptop isn't a powerhouse but is adequate for webwork, minor photo editing, and lightweight games. 

For some buggy reason, Best Buy's spec sheet proactively shoots this laptop in the foot. It is not a 2-in-1, does not have a touch screen, a keyboard backlight, or a voice assistant. In my mind, these missing features actually define a functional laptop, so they aren't really lacking. I expect a phone or a Chromebook to talk back. I expect a drawing surface on a tabby. Not so much on a laptop. Not having these features is a-okay. 

The one stat that jumps out at me is the screen resolution. 1366x768. That is the finest screen of 2002, it's a weak point. In the image below, the desktop looks sharp due to the vibrant colors of the photo. When you go text on white, the weakness of 1366x768 is pretty apparent. 


It does have three other flaws, all of which revolve around the keyboard. The layout is "creative", placing the question mark on the bottom row, arranges the navigation keys vertically down the right-hand side of the keyboard and the trackpad doesn't have much in the way of palm rejection. It's really annoying, like $300 dollars annoying. 


On the plus side, the keyboard is responsive. The boot time is very nice and storage space is more than adequate at 128GB. Four GB of memory is kind of on the low end, but it's enough to run multiple tabs, GIMP, or Inkscape. The trackpad has actual buttons which are nice.  

The port arrangement and loadout is really great. It has 2 USB, 1 USB-C, HDMI, a card slot, and an ethernet port. While these are all pretty standard, but having all of them on a budget frame is surprising. 

A handful of items I missed. This laptop has great speakers for a subpar machine. Steamed movies actually look good on this machine. Neither is "brilliant" but this is more than what $300 should get you. The battery life is a quandary to me. I've had sessions where it pooped out in 3 hours and others that lasted all day long. I suspect that A/V software stresses the poor thing too much and text-only operations don't tax it at all. 

All in all, I give it 2.5 of 5 stars. 

Off the Shelf Review - Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I am a huge fan of Andy Weir, author of the Martian. Project Hail Mary is an excellent science-themed page-turner. 

Title: Project Hail Mary
Year: 2021
Author: Andy Weir
Pages: 476 pages
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meet male, caucasian astronaut. He's adrift in space, destination unknown, mission unknown, name unknown. Weir rapidly builds our hero up in just 2 chapters without annoying the reader with the fact that he has no name or purpose. He also threads the needle with the hero to prove he isn't a recast version of Mark Watney from The Martian. 

Our astronaut is quickly introduced to two different problems. One is immediate, an inflated catheter in his... ah... you know. And the second more distant, an infrared glow around Venus. (Hey, I didn't write it. Well, I did but...) The second becomes the major problem of the story, no matter how immediate the other problem would be. Something is drawing energy from the Sun to the orbit of Venus. The sun isn't dying but the dimming will kill every living thing on Earth. If anyone is to solve this problem, one hell of a Hail Mary is needed. 

Here is our hero and his ship, the Hail Mary. Full of Dr. Grace. 

Weir likes solid science in his science fiction. He uses a couple of handwaves to get our hero into deep space. The major handwave is energy to mass ratios of fuel. Aside from that, I'm sure he took a couple of liberties with biology, but each choice was a smart, calculated one. In this novel, Grace and science are the heroes jointly. 

Weir uses Grace's memory loss as a convenient way to place him where he needs to be and then uses the resulting recovery of memory as excellently timed data dumps for the reader. It is used to great effect to expand the stage of the Hail Mary to a greater cast of characters than just Dr. Grace. The reader moves from the present to the past in a delicate dance of memory vs. discovery where Dr. Grace is first introduced to the world end cataclysm that he must prevent.  

And damn, some of these characters are excellent. Even magnificent. Eva Stratt is the quarterback of Earth's defenses. She is assigned the task of clearing the way for Project Hail Mary's success. Since success is not assured, Stratt operates on the principle that anything short of total annihilation is a path to success. Including a suicide mission to Tau Ceti to find out why this Earthly neighbor isn't dimming when all of the other stars are. And boy, is she a bastard. 

Many of the other characters are charming and likable, even when not compared to Stratt. But none are entirely squeaky clean. Weir builds a cast of believable characters, with very few unnecessary bit characters to muck up the works. Some of the characters are particularly odd, given that they want to go on a suicide mission. And some of that oddly is pretty shocking. But not terrible, in context.  

Dr. Grace encounters both wonders and surprises unimagined by the builders of the Hail Mary and each is used to excellent advantage to progress the story.

As a plot device, all of the science onboard the Hail Mary is off the shelf, except for the technology to place the crew in a coma long enough to survive the trip. That is the one point of failure on the mission. If the crew never emerges from the coma, the mission is a failure. Having no other option, that is deemed an acceptable risk. 

However, there is a sneaky backdoor point of technology failure introduced by the plot. First, none of the technology at Grace's disposal is any smarter than a laptop or more sophisticated than a college chemistry lab.  Dr. Grace isn't an astronaut. He doesn't do checklists or planning because he isn't trained to do so. And pays for it constantly. There is nothing there to warn him of the errors of his ways. 

While this would normally be a plot hole, the fact that Grace pays for his erratic and Rocky behavior every time builds tension and drama, all the way to the climax of the story. And it's a hell of an ending, which parallels Mark Waverly's transition from astronaut to teacher in the Martian.

While Project Hail Mary is a very different read from the Martian, the sense pedigree is there. 

I am slightly annoyed that I paid full price for this book at Barnes and Nobles, but it was a much needed date night. You can pick the hardcover at a good price at Amazon. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad

Or you can do what I did for Artemis and grab the Audible version. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Review - Dyson's Delves (Part 1)

Today I am taking a look at an older book called Dyson's Delves by Dyson Logos. From the moment I hit buy on DrivethruRPG, I had remorse about not ordering this title in print. It's a good thing I didn't because not many things made their saving throw. C'est la feu. 

DriveThruRPG's excellent library app saved my bacon as I wouldn't be able to keep doing these reviews with quick access to the hundreds of titles I've purchased there. 

Title: Dyson's Delves I 
Rule Set: Any OSR 
Year: 2012
Author: Dyson Logos
Pages: 153 pages
Rating: 5 (or more) of 5 stars

This is one of those titles that shatters my rating scale. I love art and this book has 60+ pages of Dyson's excellent maps, arranged into 5 delve adventures plus 44 blank maps for you to key. Each unkeyed map has a key page for you to fill out and the keys themselves are stylish and match the maps.  

The delves are prekeyed and all of the monsters are thematically grouped like the beasts in Keep on the Borderlands. Dyson doesn't spell it out in the text, but even a cursory look at the critters provides connections that the DM can weave together to fit their own campaign. If you wanted to repeat a particular delve, I suggest rekeying the dungeon using Shane Ward's 10 Monsters idea from the blog, The 3 Toadstools. These delves are cool and repeatable. 

I'm not sure what I like more, the stylish maps or the way this title was put together so that the reader can adapt the work to be their own table. Dyson gives permission to photocopy pages so you can write on them, but if I had this title in print, I would take the other path and write in the book. Yes, it destroys the ability to "start over" but with 5 complete delve adventures plus 44 single page maps, exactly when will I have the time to just "start over"? 

I'm in full-on heretical mode. The author is wrong, go ahead in write in this book. This is basically more than a year of content if you run 1 or 2 maps a week. Date each map as you run through it. When you're all done, either print a new copy from DriveThruRPG or order another book from Lulu. I get nothing for pitching a $20.00 book from Lulu, except the reward of knowing you will have a keepsake worth far more than the multiple purchases or reams of paper you burn to reprint the pdf. It's a kind of a keepsake journal.  

As I mentioned before, I have a copy from DriveThruRPG which is all fine and dandy, but as soon as my house is in order again, I will be ordering a print copy.