Wednesday, October 13, 2021

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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 Referee'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 another 5 gold star review. But you don't have to take my word for it, check out what some other reviewers said about this set: 

RPG.net Review: "The bullet-point presentation hits the sweet spot when it comes to saving space (and thus cramming more material between the books' pages) as well as creating concise texts with zero ambiguity."

Reviews from R'lyeh: "What is notable with all of these Classes is that the designer has tried to keep them unique, to keep their abilities from encroaching on those of Classes, and to keep them from being too powerful."

Mr. Tim Brannan gives the physical set a glorious, jealously inducing review on The Other Side Blog.  I can't wait for these to become available again. 

Again, if you haven't followed these bloggers, now is the time. Or you could cut to the chase and follow Campaign Wiki's OSR feed. It is amazing. 

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. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Bilingual Bonus Review - Cruce de Río

I only have a few more reviews to hit my goal of 52 for 2021. A few weeks ago a reader gave me a whole set of e5 books. So, e5 it is. One of the best ways to learn a ruleset is actual gameplay. 

Cruce de Río by Sebastián Pérez is a great introductory scenario for D&D e5. 

Title: Cruce de Río 
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2018
Author: Sebastián Pérez
Pages: 10 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, right out of the gate, it's a little much to call this a "module". It's 10 pages. However, Cruce de Río is a gem of a product. The format of this booklet is scaleable, it works for characters between 1st and 6th levels. It verges on being ruleset agnostic because the scenarios spelled out in this book have crystal clear mechanics for several common events that take place in a fantasy setting. 

The gist of it is, the party needs to cross a river. Three possibilities exist: find a ford, find a bridge or make a dangerous attempt at crossing someplace else. Cruce de Río spells out each of these possibilities with great detail and excellent mechanics. These events can be sequential or run as individual events. There is a challenge for each choice and that challenge scales to suit the DM's need. Any one of them could be deadly, but Sr. Pérez spelled out the possible dangers and their outcomes so that each event need not be lethal. That purposeful planning allows a DM to pick which challenge to present meaning you could get several uses out of each. 

Sr. Pérez gives a couple of reasons for a river crossing, all of which are great. But river crossings should be commonplace for your band of plucky adventures. This is straight-up plug-and-play worldbuilding. This could happen in almost any campaign which makes this title so useful. 

There are bits of details and lore buried in the book that can enrich your campaign. For example, the ogre is motivated to take gems over gold because the government doesn't tax them. He is also not terribly inclined to kill the party as he is just doing his job of collecting a toll. 

I love details like this because these are far-reaching for a campaign setting. It says so much with so little. The kingdom has toll roads, the kingdom has the infrastructure, the kingdom employs non-humans, the tax system is a bit exploitable, etc. If you wanted to jump your 6th level party to hexcrawling, this is your entry point. 

Sr. Pérez has also kindly bolded keywords for quick rule lookup. There is also a reference sheet of Monster Manual pages for easy access. When events call for advantage or disadvantage, those are clearly spelled out with good reasons for each. Based on this, I suspect Sr. Pérez is a hiker with actual experience fording rivers. 

All and all, I enjoyed this book greatly, even though I struggle with Spanish. This book is a part of the Before 2020 Bundle over on DriveThruRPG. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Party of 6 for the Castle - Experience

In my last post, I ran a series of characters through the Ghost of Lion Castle using the Basic and Expert D&D and Rules Cyclopedia sets. This was a solo run so I totally determined the outcome of adventure. The party crossed a half dozen challenges in the form of traps. Ultimately, they found the main entrance and two dead bodies loaded with loot. 

Thematically, this fits in with the character's backgrounds. The young characters want adventure while the two older characters want to safeguard them, but Nicholas and the Dwarf are also treasure and relic hunters. The younger characters did find some relics in the form of two magic journals and two maps. 

This is a case of character backgrounds and details meshing with the shared campaign world. 

What did not come to pass was the distribution of treasure and experience. I skipped the first due to lack of time, that will be the first thing I do in the next session. Experience is a tougher judgement call. Under B/X and Rules Cyclopedia, experience is awarded in a 1:1 ratio to gold plus whatever experience a monster would provide. 

In the last session, the characters encountered only traps and treasure, some of it magical. I can easily map out found items to coin value excepting magic items and weapons. They don't have clear price in these rules. It seems the intent was to have the object be the reward. I'm of two minds on that as it makes perfect sense. But there is the kid of the 70's who used to make wish lists from the Brand Names Catalog that wants everything to have a value.  

What I came up with was a value of about 250 experience points divided among four characters. (Two characters are sitting at a base camp.) 

This has happened because I should read the rules of this module strictly for solo play. The party has no thief and even if they did. the traps they encountered are not the sort a thief can disarm. No experience for them.  

If I had a "live" party, I could see many opportunities for the party to gain experience off of the traps. The traps in this section of the module was the very reason I selected the front door as the party's destination. In solo play with a single character, any of these traps could be deadly. The traps the party encountered would be unpassable to a single magic user with max hit points. However, 4 characters can eat up that damage. I did it because I've always wanted to do it in solo play but couldn't with an individual character. 

The traps are a series of obstacles, two magic missile attacks, a molten metal trap, two sets of murder holes and several slamming doors and dropping portcullis's (portculli?) to force the characters forward. 

As described, the magic missile attacks and slamming doors are unavoidable, the molten metal trap plus the dropping portcullis's both requires a save, and the murder hole attack requires judgement. 

Were I DM'ing this with real characters, the potential to judge situations allows for experience awards for these traps. For the doors, murder holes and portcullis traps, the simply decision to act as one and move forward or back allows for roleplay. Tricky PC's could fill sacks with dirt to prop the doors or prevent the portcullis from closing. The magic missile and murder holes are interesting traps for the PC's because there is that small chance of evading them through trickery but then wandering back into them by poor choices. 

Ah, let me tell you about parties and poor choices... 

But all of that implies thinking through an immediate problem and receiving experience for it. 

This Friday, I am looking forward to reading some materials I received plus another session in Lion Castle. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Party of 6 for the Castle

Over a week ago, I described a series of characters in less than two pages. They have histories and places in the sandbox. Well, it's not really a sandbox because I intend to shove these characters through a classic module before I let them run in the sandbox. 

I gotta a couple of reasons for this. First, I want to make sure I have the right rulesets. Second, characters with no adventures are no fun. Third, I plan on reading through Into the Wild and using the survivors from this module run to learn how to hexcrawl. 

Here is the recap: a young mage named Charles should be on his way to the big city to learn magic. He has his two friends Alice and Avfin (Elf and Cleric) in tow and watching over them are 3 higher-level characters, Wralin the Dwarf, Nicholas the Cleric plus their bodyguard Gaelin. 


They are hopping from town to town as they make their way to the big unnamed city, which is a good reason not to use Into the Wild. It's known territory. But here comes the hook to the classic module. At an inn, young Charles hears the story of Sargon and his haunted Lion Castle. 

Nicholas and Wralin, like responsible adults they are, put the kibosh on this irrational side quest. Charles objects by truthful stating that Nicholas promised to keep an eye on Charles and his friends on this adventure. No one said which adventure this was. This charms Wralin, who loves this sort of thing. Nicholas soon realizes that Lion Castle could present an opportunity for not only youthful adventures but uncover rare relics and artifacts. 

The deal is, Nicholas and Wralin will stay at a base camp near the outer wall, while Avfin, Charles, Alice, and Gaelin the bodyguard enter the castle. Should the party get into trouble, the Dwarf and Cleric will hear their screams and come running. 

Right...

So there is your hook. I've used Ghost of Lion Castle as a regular module for group play with a couple of adaptions. 

The adaptions come from actual solo gameplay. The monsters are all well designed for what they are supposed to do, push the player around without killing the conservative and well-fed. Aggressive characters will be eaten. The limits are food and torches. The killers are the traps. 

Knowing those facts, you can provision a whole party of actual player characters appropriately. 

The first thing to handle is how to deal with the traps. They do more than enough damage to wipe out a single character, on average. In solo play, each one comes down to luck or cheating. A party has a great chance of getting through simply because they have more hit points. 

If a trap is labeled as "one x", one arrow, one stone, etc. then use a table. Write down each character's name and label them one to whatever. If you have 4 characters like I do, then you roll a 1d4 to see which one is subject to the trap. If you have 3 characters, then use the same 1d4. There is a 1 in four chance that it misses all of them. The same goes for 5, 7, 9, etc. Merely adjust what type of die is used to be equal to or larger than the number of characters in the party. 

Some traps are clearly meant to be area of effect traps. This is going to hit the whole party, no die roll needed. Simply play through as written in the BSolo. 

The most unpleasing type of trap in BSolo is the portcullis traps that drop on people. They have a saving throw roll to avoid them, which for solo play makes perfect sense. With a party, this saving throw is an awkward mechanic. What exactly is happening? Is the gate chomping up and down until the whole party passes through? No. 

The way to play this type of trap is to have the party move through in a specific order. As the save is made as each player passes under the trap. As soon as one player fails his or her save, the party as a whole must declare "forward" or "back". Once this declaration is made, you know what rolls to make. 

If the party goes forward, the player that failed their roll is hit. Everyone behind him is forced to make a save or also take damage. Everyone ends up on the same side of the portcullis. If the party retreats, the person who failed the save takes damage and everyone who has already passed the portcullis is forced to make a second save to leap backward before the gate slams closed, possibly taking damage. 

With an actual DM, you can have a lot more creativity in addressing this one trap. But in cases where there is no judge, this simplistic scenario works best. 

I have one other modification. In places where traps occur, there is a 1 in 20 chance of finding a body, the body of one of the pre-generated characters. The weakest traps do 1d4 while stronger traps do more. Basically, they do 2.5, 3.5 hp, or worse. Even though the pre-generated characters have more hit points than average, it's tough to survive some of those traps. 

Just like the dropping portcullis trap, make a list. Roll a die equal to higher than the number of characters available. This mod is done for expedience's sake. The party can acquire the gear they need, torches and food, as they go. The other gear is good, but not really necessary to progress as food and torches are. 

So where is the party now? Nicholas and Wralin are camped out about 100 feet from the outer gatehouse with the horses. The horses don't really have a part in this adventure, except to express utter defeat. If the Dwarf and Cleric have to run into save the youngins, then the animals will wander off except for Wralin's mule. 

Having given the outer gatehouse the once over, no expects for it to be trapped. Alice is hit by an arrow. The kiddos do nothing to alert their backup of the trouble and proceed to the front gate. Things go wrong here. They are rough 300 feet away from their backup, who does hear something but doesn't hear screams for help or sounds of combat. They ignore the crashes and bangs, figuring the younglings are looting. 

In reality, the party has explored 8 areas and encountered 1 arrow trap before having a lot of trouble. They make it to the paws of the castle before the traps come on fast and furious. Arrows, molten metal, and several crashing gates doors beat them to with an inch of their lives. They decide to stop and rest in the stables, the first room inside the castle proper.  

At the moment, Alice and Charles are down to 2 and 1 hp respectively and Gaelin is down to 4. Somehow, Avfin escaped all damage. As a first-level cleric, he is pretty useless for healing. But during this horrible beating, they manage to find two bodies. 

They found the final resting places of Cortayo and Leesmith, which provides them with some much-needed supplies. They now have a +1 sword, +1 dagger, two potions of gaseous form, two points of healing potions, a +1 ring of protection, and a ring of invisibility. They also have a lot of mundane stuff. 

I decided to call a break here as they rest up. They will not encounter a wandering monster this evening. 

As a nod to how deadly this journey is, I decided to modify the healing potion rules. They contain two doses that restore 1d4 hp, instead of the module's 1d6+1. The issue is with normal first-level characters, they need less healing more often. One to 4 hp is more than enough. 

If I were DM'ing this rather than soloing the module, I would have replaced some traps with combat. Real players would not find this session amusing. It would probably piss them off. Even if they had a thief in the group, there are no real mechanics to avoid a magic missile to the face.

The Curio Post

I have a lot on my mind and more on my plate. I don't get to post as often as I like, but today I'd like to share a series of pictures. Think of them as writing prompts. 

All of my prior goals for 2021 have gone out the window, save one. I have only 14 more reviews to do to complete my goal of 52 reviews a week. What used to be on my goal list was scrapped and replaced with a few more manageable ideas. 

In the coming posts, you'll see some reviews, some new thoughts on gaming, and some solo gaming sessions.  

Now, let's have those pictures. 

What's in the bag?

First up is an item from Dragon Snack Games. Dragon Snack is a local game shop and is my most frequently visited shop. I even did a semi-review of it. 


They have easily thousands of gaming titles (my description, not theirs so don't hold them to that). These bright orange sacks are reusable. One of them was given to me by a local gamer, Blackrazor. The second was in the trunk of my car for months. It contained three pristine games which are going to be reviewed soonish. 

The kitten is for scale. As near as I can tell, Dragon Snack Games does not give away free kittens. As least, they haven't ever offered me one. 

They recently announced a brief closure on Facebook for some updates to the store. I'm so busy, I didn't even have to be upset about the closure, as they reopened before I could complain. 

If you're in the Buffalo area, it's a great place to check out. 

Dice and Dice and More Dice

One more image which reminds me of Dragon Snack Games. The last time I was in the shop, I found these giant dice with 3 tiny six siders inside. 


They are awesome! You can use one giant die for each character stat. I just need 3 more. It's a new quest to stop into Dragon Snack until I find more. 
The blue die is for scale. They are giant, but not that "giant". 

Dice and Dice and More Good Dice

This set of dice are from a local reader, Blackrazor. He personally took the time to reach out and gift me with more gaming materials than one game has any business having. While a dice review is silly, I will be looking at all of the books he gave me to fuel many of the last 14 reviews this year. 


Thank you again, Team 716. 

The World in Your Hands:  

I found this mini-globe at a great shop called Rustic Buffalo Artisan Market. You can shop online, here
 

I don't know anything about it except I like it. Apparently, it was made back in the early 2000s and usually retailed for $100. I paid a tiny fraction of that. 

I will definitely do a review of them on the 716exchange.com soon. 

Blast Off into Adventure! 

This one is an odd one. All throughout 2020 and part of 2021, I was big into retro artwork. I did a series of rockets based on it's a small world at the Magic Kingdom. 


The result was rather striking when printed on a journal. The black one has a wrap-around cover with a mirror image of the front cover on the back. The white one is printed only on the front cover. However, the price is like a nuclear air-burst. $21.00 dollars or so before shipping for a single palm-sized journal. I'm going to find a better source for cool items like this. 

The Heart

Kingdom Hearts is my children's Basic D&D. They have played this game since the day I discovered it. Somehow, the discs we have survived the fires of hell. 

Back in 2018-19, we had the magical experience of getting to play Kingdom Hearts III in Disney Springs. We, of course, pre-ordered it. 

We did not spring for the $1000 Keyblade. 

These 9 images will spark more than a few upcoming posts. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Ode-No! to the 10 Page Character Background

A picture shares 1000 words. 

Everyone has had that 10-page character background story show up at the table. I don’t mind, but there are limits. When I go into a campaign, I have less than a 10-page setting outline and there is an excellent chance that I can tag off of a player’s writings and interject some of those things into the game. 

So, I am looking at this whole process of ideation for a completely different reason. At the moment, I have limited access to rule sets and want to make sure I have everything I need to play a campaign. This is a solo venture, I have no players because I don’t know if I have items I need. 


Funny that I don’t know what items I need. 


One of my anonymous readers, whom I shall call “Blackrazor” because his mom did not name him that, gave me a boatload of stuff to get started. The Basic and Expert rule set and dice. Technically, that’s all I need. The links will take you to DriveThruRPG.


Last year, I backed Todd Leback’s Into the Wild. I really want to use that book, too. 


Just before this adventure began, I ordered a hard copy of Rules Cyclopedia, which strongly mirrors what I was trying to do with e1 back in 1980. Between the stuff from Blackrazor, my luck, and ordering habits, I think I have all I need. But I will test that by engaging in some solo play. 


I want 6 adventurers. That gives me an Elf, a Dwarf, a Magic User, a Fighter, and two Clerics. I feel pretty good with this creeping capitalization. Today is a new start, and I am not sure how I was blogging class titles before. So, caps for classes. 


Now, who is the “hero” of this story? The party, all 6 of them. So they need a reason to be together or character background. How many pages does that take? I don't know. Let us see. 


When I rolled these characters, I threw an additional 1d6 for level:


1-3 is first level, 

4-5 is second, and

6 is 3rd level. 


So I have a first-level Elf, Magic-User and Cleric. I have a 2nd level elf and fighter and a 3rd level cleric. I’ve decided that no one has magical equipment at this point, but they do have transportation, which is sometimes better than magical items. 


Why are they together and where?


Let’s start with the young Magic-User. He is really smart and very young, say 16 years old. He is the 9th child of a well-to-do stationer. 


What’s a stationer? It used to be that people came to town on market day and threw their wares out and had people buy off a blanket, wagon, cart, etc. A stationer was a person who sold goods that were not easily transportable or too fragile to handle the weather, therefore they needed an actual shop. Back in the day, the first of these were scribes, they provided goods and were “stationary” by definition. Think of them as the mall’s anchor stores. That definition solidified into the definition of their trade goods, “stationary”. 


As the 9th child of this stationer, I need to tell you a bit about this family. The Magic-User is named Charles, whom everyone calls “Chuckie”. Charles Sr. hates this and wants his son to leave home and name “Chuckie” behind to get a proper education. 


So, we have a bit of the story. Young Chuck is going places. Let’s circle back to Charles Sr. for a moment. He didn’t start out as a bookseller, he was conscripted into the army. After a single campaign, he lucked out and was granted a small but rich plot of land. He got married and had 2 boys with his first wife. His first wife died of the plague. 


When he remarried, he granted his oldest boys the farm while Dad started milling. One of the boys enjoyed farming, while the other was interested in seed stock and seedlings. They tagged off of each other’s skills to become successful. Dad was still doing good work of the land as a miller, which allows his boys to capitalize off of super cheap milling prices. 


Charles Senior’s second wife produced a trio of girls, plus one more son. The son got into cattle ranching, while 2 of the two of the girls married well and the third daughter became a priestess. 


Unfortunately, the second wife died giving birth and poor Charles senior had to remarry again. This time it worked out fine. Chuckie is the youngest of the children, he has two older sisters plus the brood of much older siblings.  


Charles Sr.'s current wife is an illuminator, an artist specializing in books. This was Charles Sr.'s final career change, to stationer. He buys skins and papyrus from his children’s farms or ranches and provides these materials to his daughter’s convent. It's a good deal for all.

Chuckie has a best friend in similar shoes. His name is Avfin, and he aspires to be a Bishop. His dad works for Charles Sr. The two young men will be traveling to a larger town for schooling. 


I am nowhere near 10 pages at this point, so let’s throw Alice into the mix. Alice is an elf who lives at the edge of town. She is friends with Avfin and Chuckie despite being wildly older than them. As if being an elf in a human town isn’t odd enough, she is a free spirit who runs wild all over the surrounding countryside, much to the consternation of her family. Think hippy-chick. 


Her parents have done backflips to make sure she gets in with Avfin and/or Chuckie in the hopes that she will learn to read and wear shoes. When they heard that Avfin and Chuckie were leaving, they encouraged Alice to tag along, as the boys will need someone with animal and wilderness knowledge with them. Hopefully, she’ll grow up on this adventure. Surprisingly, she threw herself into the adventure with gusto despite her parent’s blessing. Alice also stole her mother’s boots and sword, plus her dad’s chainmail suit. 


This is just one page, and I still have 3 more characters to describe: 

Nicholas, a 3rd level cleric,
his second-level fighter bodyguard, Gaelin, 

and a second-level dwarf named Wralin. 


Nicholas is one of Charles Sr.’s war buddies. Army life wasn’t for either of them, but Nick has made his way as a chaplain and researcher for the army. He is currently transporting religious relics and magical writings to a large monastery. Since he was passing through anyway, he agreed to keep an eye on Chuck and his friends on their journey. 


Gaelin, Nick’s bodyguard, doesn't like his job. It takes him away from the glorious, but also a non-existent battlefield. He is thankful to have Chuck, Alice, and Avfin along as the kiddos are happy to gather firewood, start fires and take care of the animals. 


Wralin the Dwarf is unusual. Like all dwarves, he has an eye for construction and mining. But he has a greater passion, horses. He can assess an equine just as well as other dwarves can spot a good diamond. Oddly, he rides a mule named Sneer instead of a horse. Sneer thinks she is a warhorse. She is very comfortable on the battlefield and when dealing with monsters.  


At this point, I have roughly covered more than a dozen different characters. Their backgrounds are pretty cool, and if I went 1 by 1, each character could have one handwritten index card of biographical information. 


So in getting these 6 characters ready, I have a lot of campaign information at my fingertips. 


The kingdom is at peace, but there was a war in the recent past. There are many villages and cities to see, some of which have schools and monasteries. A network of roads and probably caravans exists. The army is forced to do non-combat tasks because the Lord or Lady of the land is doing some sort of recon and resource exploitation. In peacetime, the leadership is getting ready to engage in warfare or negotiate a peace. Humans and demi-humans work together. We’ve mentioned that monsters roam and some characters have encountered them. 


Rather than a 10-page character background, I have a 2-page campaign primer, which includes much of the character backgrounds that I would need as a DM. The players could refine these starting points to make the characters their own. 


So much for the 10-page background. Two is more than sufficient. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Hobos Have Them...

There is that classic image of hobo walking with a bag on a stick over the shoulder. 
Believe it or not, that stick has a name: a bindle. It might derive from the German word for packet. While I hate hobos as in murder hobos, we can actually steal a good idea from them, their baggage.  

The Sarcina
The Sarcina

The Romans had a version of the bundle on a stick. It was called sarcina. Because they used a forked stick or stick with an arm, it was called a furca or a fork. It's function was largely the same as the hobo's bindle, to redistribute a load to the shoulder and to allow one hand free. 

The legionary's sarcina was wildly better than an adventure's backpack. The furca carried a loculus (satchel), a cloak bag, a cooking pot, a patera (mess kit), spikes (also called wolves) and a net bag for food. On the top there was a rolled object, perhaps a bedroll which also contained several tools, an axe, a turf cutter, hammer or mattock, saw and sickle. It's unclear if each soldier carried each and every tool or if they were carrying just one of many. 

In any event, the items were tied to the furca in such away that allowed them to swing front to back but not side to side. This aids marching and prevents a staggering gate. Additionally, the swinging allow for an important secondary function a bindle doesn't have. If you dropped the sarcina, the weight forced the furca's end to point upwards. This helped with recovery, but also put a vaguely pointy stick between the carrier and an opponent. 

While one person doing this seems like a very haphazard barrier, a legion's worth of men doing it as a group made an instant wall. 

In camp, the unloaded furca would be used to mark a soldiers spot and to hold his armor and helmet off the ground. In an effort to avoid a baggage train, the Roman soldiers marched in full armor and didn't remove it until they were making camp. Their shields were carried across the back in a bag with straps, like a backpack. Which probably explains why they didn't use backpacks. 

Removing the armor at the end of the march felt good and let the soldier get to work digging a trench and creating a berm to keep people and creatures out. 

The netted bag carried 3 days of food. Romans avoided carrying more because they general moved by road, so from one home base to another destination where food was available. It also seems they carried hardtack which didn't count as food until everything else was gone. The Romans would use their sickle to harvest foods in the field before resorting to the hardtack. It was really disliked. 

You'll also notice they didn't carry shovels. Instead, they would use their pickaxe or turf cutter to remove earth and put it in a basket. When you work as a team, this is better for moving large amounts of earth. You can form a chain to quickly make berms or create ditches. 

As a DM, if a character with a backpack told me they had a pickaxe, a turf cutter, a sledgehammer, a cloak bag, iron rations, in addition to rope, armor, weapons and rations, I would call B.S. immediately. Because that isn't how backpacks don't work. If you ask a modern soldier how overloaded he or she is, you'd be shocked and not bit surprised at how fast they take chances and dump that crap to get other things done. Soldiers, time immemorial, are savvy and sneaky.  

However, a sacrina does actually allow troops to move and fight. 

The Romans made this work because they managed expectations. No shovels because they don't make sense. No ropes because they have 800+ guys who could turn net bags into rope over night. No torches because they almost never fought at night and didn't want to expose guards and scouts with flaming objects. They carried 3 days of food because they journeyed by road from one destination with supplies to another. 

Players will like it because the loculus or satchel is backpack sized container which is full of a person belongings and treasures. Everything is simply organized so as to stop the carrier from fumbling through a whole backpack deep pile of stuff to get one thing. Everything is a one container reach. It's super handy. 

DM should like it because it removes hard tracking of a crazy number of things like axes and food. Eating a meal in town reduces food consumption on the road. Assuming a party is marching as soldiers means no one asks the slow guy to run him or herself to exhaustion. Knowing that there are only 3 days of rations means the party must have a destination within 5 days to make it. 

The D&D Rules Cyclopedia equipment list gives a price of less than 40 gps for everything needed to create a sacrina. It reminds me of a cheaper version of the Standard Equipment pack from Star Frontiers Basic. It's a good option, why not let your players give it a try?

Thursday, September 2, 2021

"New" Game

I ran out and bought a new game. It isn't a great game or new game, but a simple one. 

I've never had a rug checker set, but I've always wanted one. The reason is simple, memories. 

I have an incredible love of amusement parks and The Magic Kingdom is at the top of the list. Every time we go there, we eat at The Liberty Tree Tavern. It isn't the food or the ambiance, it's the lobby. They have a waiting area loaded with simple games. 

Everytime I go there, we play a game. It's been going since before my wife and I had kids. This simple game of checkers is one of my favorite memories. A memory that gets refreshed every time we go. 

Memories are sometimes the best place to be and with this set, I'll be revisiting and updating the quality time I spend with the family, every day. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Priorities, Priorities.

As of now, the blog and all future products all comes down to priorities.

Rewind. 

44 days ago, our house was devastated by a fire. My family made it out, as did 2 of 4 pets. My wife was found in the front hall attempting to rescue the animals. She was scorched, but is doing fine. As are the kids and Tori dog and Shinubo the cat. 

Starting on July 19th, 8 pm, incredible support started pouring in to me and my family. I was at work at the time the fire began and raced home. On arrival, I found 7 fire departments fighting the blaze. Moments before I got there, they had retreated from the house as the temperature soared over the 1000 degree limits of their equipment. What I didn't know until weeks later, other fire departments had activated and were covering all of the areas those 7 departments normally cover. To say this was a massive response would be an understatement.  

The fire was limited to the basement, but where it burned didn't matter. The temperature was rising throughout the home. If the roof caught fire, there could have been an explosion that would ignited the neighbors houses. To prevent this from happening, fire fighters cut holes in the roof to allow the heat and pressure to escape. This would cause the roof to collapse in and the whole house would be lost to save the surrounding homes. Since the heat far exceeded their equipment's ratings, this was the only safe option. 

That isn't what happened. 

Instead the fire fighters mounted a rally and reentered the blaze to fight the flames directly. It was all hands on deck moment. They first used sheets of water to cool the 1000+ degree heat on the upper floor, so they could advance deeper into the blaze. In the middle of the assault, the chaplain lead a group of men and women to rescue our cat, Benny. Although Benny had already succumbed to heat and smoke, they retrieved his body for proper burial, over which the Chaplain presided.  


Inside, the battle against the fire continued. They marched from the front of the house to the back under a continuous blast of water to beat the heat back, to where the blaze raged in the basement. Just to convey how dangerous this was, the metal refrigerator spontaneously combusted from the heat of the smoke. In the back bedrooms, the plaster wall disintegrated from 5 feet up to ceiling level. 

It was a race against time. If the plasterboard ceilings gave and the roof timbers caught fire, that explosion I mention would have claimed the lives of 7 different department's fire fighters.

Those men and women won the race, saving the roof and the exterior walls. Everything else was gone, but at least the home is weather tight. Which will allow us to rebuild.  

Gone doesn't really cover it. Our furnace melted. The fridge is a lump of metal. The stovetop and oven as near as I can tell, imploded. All of the copper wiring and pipes burned. The iron pipes for the gas shattered. The walls of the bedrooms and bathroom are non-existent from shoulder level up. 

But this isn't "the end" or even "an end". 

Before we left our burned out home that night, our neighbors gave my wife and daughter shoes and clothes as they were wearing pajamas when the fire broke out. Our in-laws gave us a place to sleep that night. The next day, an endless stream of visitors came to see us, each bearing gifts as they though needed. And this continued for weeks. 

I think it's all over. Except for saying, "thank you". 

Priorities and all of that. 

I would like to thank "Blackrazor", a local reader who provided us with dozens of game books. I would like to thank 716 Pulp and Dragon Snack Games for their wonderful hospitality of their establishments. I would also like to thank all of my readers and associates that reached out to me, like Todd Leback, The DiBaggio Family and many, many others. 

Thank you. I really couldn't do anything else until I said, "thank you". 

In the coming days, I have a ridiculous amount of work to do, but at some point will start posting regularly, with non-fire related posts. 

I am probably not ready to stop saying "thank you", but having said it, I can do other things.  

It's a process and a long one, but thanks to all of you, I am ready to begin. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

The Most Egregious Kickstarter Promotion Ever

Author's Note: Sometimes, life kicks you in the balls. Sometimes it just doesn't stop. If you don't laugh some or all of it off, you'll go nuts. This post is in that laughing spirit. 

It pokes fun at my situation, skewers my reviews and pays homage to a spammer that used my 52 Weeks of Magic series to promote a consignment shop by implying items sold were possibly magical. It also promotes a kickstarter campaign by Todd Leback.  

Todd Leback's Basilisk Hills Compiled Hexcrawl Kickstarter

Last year Todd Leback used Kickstarter to publish his book, Into the Wild. Mr. Leback's project was very successful, having met many, if not all of the stretch goals. In getting this project off the ground, Mr. Leback offered a preview look at his book which I reviewed. Even in the rough form, it was excellent. 

I should be re-reviewing Into the Wild now that I have a physical copy. I haven't because real life intrudes. Back on July 19th, my house burned. I am meeting the the structural engineer this week to see what parts of the building can be saved. For the most part, the entire contents of the home were completely destroy, burned to ash. 

Well, not everything. 

Into the Wild survived, as did the contents of two boxes that the book sat on. It was something of a miracle. This on Print on Demand title survived 1000° C heat. Amazing. 

This book is incredible. It was printed on high quality paper, in full color. The artwork is great and the maps are excellent as they are informative. This title is 221 pages and covers everything you need to run a Hexcrawl campaign by expanding Mr. Leback's prior works: Classing up the Joint, Domain Building, Hexcrawl Basics, Random Weather Generation, OSR Expanded Classes, and Wealth by NPC level. 

And it's affords protection from normal fires, 5' radius. 

In all seriousness I am not trying to imply that if you back Mr. Leback's kickstarter for Basilisk Hills Compiled Hexcrawl that it will protect your home from fire. 

No. 

I am telling you, you need to back Mr. Leback's kickstarter at the $25.00 Ultimate POD and PDF level to receive protection from fire. 

I've been a gamer since the 1970s. I can assure you that lesser works by Gary Gygax, Monte Cook and Dennis Sustare are not even fire resistant and absolutely do not confer any sort of bonus to your gaming shelf like Into the Wild does. Back then, we had some clues that most books were not fireproof. The Satanic Panic proved that great piles of the Holmes Editions D&D Box Sets were not proof against fire. Now we all suffer from a paucity of mint condition copies and tragically high eBay prices on sets that don't even come with chits. Don't let the Panic back in with it's crazy book burning and over the top rants targeting gamers of all types.  

Only you can prevent book burning.  And buying a copy of each of Mr. Leback's products is a good start. 

If Basilisk Hills Compiled is 1/10 the book that Into the Wild was, it should be able to save your game shelf from this: 



Thursday, August 12, 2021

App Review - DriveThruRPG Library

A few posts ago, I mentioned how the cloud saved many of my books in digital form. On logging into DriveThruRPG, I suddenly realized how many books that is. I counted to 100 and stopped. The website will pack up 10 files at a time so downloading them would be laborious. 

I also happened to replace my old Chromebook with a new one that will happily load Android apps, which lead me to the DriveThruRPG Library App in the Google Play Store or their website. It's a game changer and labor saver. 

Although this review is of the Android App, it comes in a variety of flavors including Windows, Mac and iOS

When you open the app, it asks you to log in. After that, it will sync up your purchased items in your library. 


Clicking a name will do one of two things. If it is a single file, it will open it. If there are versions of pdfs or multiple files, it will give you a list.  


The software can open the file one of two ways, in a browser on a Chromebook or within it's own build in pdf viewer. 


The build in PDF viewer is sharp looking an responsive. The main difference between browsing in a browser or dedicated PDF viewer in Android is you loose the ability to print. That was probably a bridge too far for DriveThruRPG to create in their viewer. Other than that one missing feature it's robust, including smooth rendering, table of contents or bookmark views. It's nice. 


All and all, I give it 5 of 5 Stars. 

The only negative I could find was that the storage directory is not easily accessible for file access or manipulation. That isn't really a knock on DriveThru's Library app as this would happen with almost all Android Apps because of the way that a Chromebook emulates the Android Environment. If you want to get at the files directly, open them in the browser and save them to your downloads. The only reason I can think of to do this would be to back them up to media or a different cloud environment.