Showing posts with label D&D. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D&D. Show all posts

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Pitching Ideas - Return to the Inside Out

I just got a call from my friend Doug. He wanted some help with a project for his classroom and I did what I could do help. Then went for the important business, getting players for a new campaign. 

I did my elevator pitch, "A Druid, a Unicorn, and a Space Marine are going to save the world from technology so high, it's indistinguishable from magic, Rule set, AD&D." 

He's in. 

If that sounds a bit familiar, it was a one shot I did last year for the wife and kids. It went over like a lead fart because the setting was post-apocalyptic in the middle of a pandemic. Yeah, yeah, yeah. At least I didn't pour tons of money in the TV show based on The Stand by Stephen King. 

Every DM has ideas kicking around their brains to build a world. Most DM's I've played with will tinker with a variety of setting. I am not built like that. Every D&D campaign I run is in a post-apocalyptic. The one thing I am good at is dropping in anachronistic ideas in ways that don't disturb the players. 

My campaign settings diverge from reality in the mid-eighties with the development of fusion power. There was the Outreach, where every country in the world dumped resources into a multi-nation space program. This idea was based on "The Great Awakening(s)" that happened between the 18th and 20th centuries. Except instead of being based on spiritualism, it was based on exploration. 

There was a period of upheavals as fusion tech was deployed. This was followed by the Outreach, a world wide space program using Space Fountains to deploy probes, then ships and colonists around the solar system. This went on for a couple hundred years. It pretty much distorted all nations so they no longer existed as we know them. The goal as DM in this step was to completely divorce the setting reality by making the question "What happened in/to country x" invalid or at least unimportant.  

The next goal in the Outreach was to get to other stars. Back in the 80's, we didn't know and didn't assume most stars would have planets, so the effort to find them in this setting to centuries by sending out probes. This created a situation where the Space Fountains used to reach the solar system needed a massive upgrade. And this is where everything went wrong. 

Obviously, such a system needed to massive infrastructure built. And this was done. However, the second step was a computer based solution. They wrote a massively complex program to handle the upgrade from the first generation of Space Fountains to the truly titanic interstellar Space Fountains. It was a very rough AI. 

That AI had a glitch. It did things too efficiently. It reprogramed the Space Fountains to launch a few tentative research ships. Then instead of creating many, many waves of ships to the stars, it sacrificed everything for just one giant wave. The effort destroyed or impacted every high tech item on Earth, leaving the planet's technological systems to collapse. 

Centuries of high technological items didn't disappear in an instant, they slowly brokedown. As people tried to hold on, they used the technology to change themselves and the world around them. They were morphed into different species, elves, dwarves, goblins and so on. Some people unlocked technology so high it replicated magic. Others messed with probabilities, opening up gates to different universes where our rules didn't apply. 

The Inside Out is a defense against the AI which has collapsed to a single underground location. The locals have banded together to construct a veritable castle around the entrance. 

The creatures coming out of the facility are interpreted as undead, demons and devils who's vast technology appears as magic.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Draft Review - Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set

I ordered this Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set to do a review. I noted a price drop on this from Amazon, so I am doing a draft review to share that link. 

Title: Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 2 64 page booklets
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my reasons for purchasing boxed sets of any kind is to get a condensed ruleset which allows me to sample the goods before making a larger investment. This box set comes with the rulebook and an adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak. Additionally, it contains: 

  • 11 dice, 
  • 6 character sheets,
  • DM screen,
  • poster sized map, 
  • 81 cards, 
  • a organizer box for the cards 
  • and codes for digital content.  

These rules are neat and well organized. The adventure is good, a rock solid entry into the world of Fifth Edition. I will probably do a review of that on it's own. The DM screen is perfect, with the DM facing size containing all of the tables and information needed to run the game easily accessible.  

I'm not used to having cards included with a D&D set. This is not some weird Magic The Gather fusion set. Most are cheat sheets for the players, including combat review, magic items, spells effects, and NPC info. 

The game works with the idea that this boxed set will be opened right away and used. While labeled for 2-6 player, the sidekick and NPC rules will make playing with just two people a joy. These additions are well thought out. If you actually had 6 players, the sidekicks can be put away or added in to pump up the action. Meatshields, GO! 

The digital content is coupon for 50% of a digital version of the PHB, a digital version for Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure and supplementary content for the adventure. 

At $20 bucks, I felt it was a steal before I realized all of the digital content available. The price just dropped, making it an even better deal. 


Sunday, July 11, 2021

With a One-Two Punch

I'm working on revamping my offerings on DriverhruRPG. What I noticed is I don't list my house rules which changes a fair bit of how these products work . I also discovered I don't consistently apply my own house rules. 

One house rule I have is for unarmed attacks. A punch does 1-2 hp of damage. I hate the AD&D e1 unarmed combat system for grappling and simply don't' allow it. 

So here are my general rules for non-lethal combat for punching and kicking. Every character can throw a combo of punches, the classic one-two punch. Roll two d20 and each hit does a point of damage. If you roll at 20, your opponent makes a save vs. petrification to avoid going down for 1d4 rounds. 

If a punch downs a character by hit point damage, they get back up in 1d10 rounds. 

If a punch puts someone on the ground either by loss of hit points or a failed save, that damage is not recorded. It's a nod to not tracking too much stuff. When they get up, they simply have whatever hit points they had before being knocked down. 

Simple. 

When using B/X rules fighters, dwarves and elves can add strength bonuses to damage. No one less can. 

Thieves who meet the backstab requirements can throw a single sucker punch for 4 points of damage. There is no to hit bonus or damage bonuses. It is also a single attack roll making this all or nothing. 

When using AD&D e1 rules, not much changes. Rangers, Cavaliers, Barbarians and Paladins add their strength bonuses like fighters. Assassin's can sucker punch. Monks and Mystics can retroactive decide to use these rules AFTER the attack roll.

Kicks use the exact same rules but do 2 points of damage in a single roll and no one can perform more than one per round. 

Fighters, monks, mystics and assassins can make a coup de grace strike barehanded. No one else can. If someone attempts to finish off a downed creature or character barehanded, it will take 5 rounds. Generally, these types of finishers are chaotic, evil or both which the characters are aware of before they make the attempt. 

This will help me clean up some stuff for my character classes I am writing for DriveThruRPG. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

D&D Start Set Review

Title: 
D&D Start Set
Design: Wizards of the Coast
Year: July 14th, 2014
Pages: 64 page adventure booklet, 32 rule book, and character sheets.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

You have to hand it to Wizards of the Coast; they know how to make a boxed set. As of yesterday, this set is 6 years old. And it's perfect to get started playing D&D. It contains a 64 page adventure booklet, a 32 rule book, pregenerated characters, a blank character sheet and dice. 

As a condensed game, it has some lacks. However with introductory sets presentation is everything. It's very nice for the retail price of $20.00. The rules are streamlined for quick play, the pregenerated sheets are good models for new characters if you wish and the 64 page adventure book is extremely nice. 

At 64 pages, The Lost Mine of Phandelver is someplace between guidebook and double size module. It is faced towards the DM with multiple maps and sidebars to keep the game moving. 

The maps are on par with Dyson Maps, which is to say, they are very good. Unfortunately, they are printed on the pages of the book which means you need a scan and print out stuff that didn't come in the set. The artist, Mike Schley has them available for purchase on his website. It wasn't that hard to find and it it's only ten bucks for perfect, ready to go "custom" maps. This is a far cry from the borrow and Xerox format of AD&D. 

I very much like Mike Schley's maps and the fact that Wizards of the Coast is deliberately asking you to make a purchase from a content creator rather than themselves. Mr. Schley's maps are wonderful. Beside the set of maps for this game set, new maps retail for $2-3. That's a great price for having stylish maps that all have the same design principles.  

The Lost Mines book is not only a module but a campaign setting. When combined with the driver sidebars and the second hints and suggestion on the back of the character sheets, it really is everything you need to become engrossed with this game. 

Unfortunately, it's an expansive one shot. The DM will have to get to work making this campaign come alive from their own work or "reset" to enter the main world of D&D with new characters and settings. At 64 pages, the Adventure booklet is a little overwhelming for a 13 year old to emulate, but for older players, it really does provide a model for creating a campaign. Those sidebars and hints are pure gold when it comes to asking probing questions and how they fit into this set of rules. 

After awhile, I am sure that the players and DM will want more which is exactly the reason for this set. To sell other products. As a primer and gateway to the game system, it is remarkably well done and suitable for all kinds of players. 

I am going to post my typical Amazon ads, but want to remind you to check out your local game shop and discount stores. Apparently, this is out of print but not all that hard to find for less than retail price. My son found his at Ollies discount for $8.00. 


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

Boxed sets are my gateway drug


I generally don't do 5th Edition reviews because I don't play 5th Edition much. There is a lot to like or dislike about 5th Edition. 

If you are just starting out, there are a ton of good reasons to jump into 5e. The main reason is rather simple. It's approachable and readily available to the new player. The artwork and mechanics are great and they are nice set of rules for this day and age. My son loves it and has started his gaming collection with new set of rules, which I purchased for him. 

One of my reasons for not using it is, I have collection of books going back to the Red Box set and beyond. My interest started with the Chainmail rules and expanded from there. I've filled bookshelves with games I will never play. I have an intuitive understanding of what all the major rules are in these sets. Yet another edition of games really doesn't add to what I have. 

E5, Labyrinth Lord and BECMI?
Your not kidding, eh.
The fact is, if you started at point x, you probably already an inkling of what rules x+1 would do to your gameplay. Way back in AD&D, I already had the concept of Feats and Skills as a house rule. I am not some sort of illuminary predicting the changes of the rules. Nearly everyone who played an older edition of D&D foresaw the power of the mechanics and started making changes to their gameplay as house rules. Many of these changes became standard features of the new editions. And many house rules didn't pass muster and were left behind. Here is a list of my house rules, most of which are dubious. 

As of this post, I am at 1030 post on fun and games. Lately, I've been exploring 5th Edition wondering which of any of these things will become the next generation's Red Box, Keep on the Borderlands or Isle of Dread. 

I have no idea, but I'd like to explore. And I hope you will join me. In the next series of posts, I'll be reviewing some of the 5th Edition rules. I figure this will run its course in less than 10 posts or less than 1% of everything else I've written. Because, I am that numbers guy.  

Friday, June 4, 2021

Draft Review of Into the Wild (Kickstarter Complete!)

Updated 4/29/2021. I got my digital copy and ordered my print on demand. This update changes very little, except to add the excellent artists names, page count and to provide links to DriveThruRPG. This one has also been added to my 5 of 5 star listings. Once I get my POD, it might shift to five gold stars.  

June Update - I need to re-review this based on the hardcopy I have. 

As happenstance would have it, I have been granted a couple of great opportunities this week. I have yet to back to a kickstarter and at no time in my decade or so on the web have I been able to review a product that is still in production. On Thursday morning, I got the chance to do both. God, I hope I don't screw this up. 

Let's have some transparency. Every since I was a kid, I have collected books. Not just any books, but galleys. These are preproduct books sent out to authors and editors so they may do their final proof before printing. Sometimes, they have to do this several times. This is essentially What Todd Leback has sent to me. I feel really comfortable with this format even though it is never something that you would see on a store shelf. 

Second, I have tested, playtested and been a part of study groups on a lot of consumer products. A ridiculously amount of products, everything from flossers to cameras to wargames. There is a reason why I am the way I am. :) 

And item C: I dropped a $20 on the Kickstarter. During this review, I am receiving updates from Kickstarter. I am ignoring those and focusing entirely on the presented copy for information. This will cause this review to age poorly in the next 28 days or so. Please check out Kickstarter for updates. 

Title: Into the Wild
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Editor: Brian Johnson
Layout: BJ Hensley
Cartography: Todd Leback, Aaron Schmidt, Adrian Barber
Cover Art: Jen Drummond (jendart.com
Interior Art Adrian Barber, Dan Smith, Carlos Castilho
Artists: Is currently a stretch goal. TBA.
Year: 2021
Pages: 216
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

So, what am I reviewing: a Kickstarter or a book? Definitely, the book and only the book. Reviews, especially of unfinished products are best done by the numbers. Or the main questions: 

  • Who is the author of the book?
  • What is the idea of the book?
  • Was the idea delivered effectively?
  • What are the strengths?
  • What are weaknesses of the book?

You'll notice that none of those things have to do with stars or ratings, and unlike my other reviews I have not offered a star rating at the outset. And I might not do so by the end. I have only had 48-72 hours to review the material so I have spent most of my time digesting rather than playing or planning. 

Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building and authored a one page dungeon. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. This is his second Kickstarter and he runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. 

Previously, I reviewed Mr. Leback's Hexcrawl Basics

The premise of Into the Wild is to bring several other publications together in one book and link those concepts to kick an OSR style campaign up to the level of domain play. Into the Wild is a 200+ page book which marries hexcrawling to domain building. These ideas came from many of his previous works, but this is not simply a compilation of text. These separate works are merged together seamlessly and are amplified. While some parts of the text are recognisable as being from prior works, they have been edited in away that allows the reader to flow from one idea that was a single book to another, which is different from a compiled collection or an omnibus. 

The book is based on Old School Essentials, but that merely means a tiny bit of tweaking is needed to adapt it to other OSR rulesets. 

The intent is use hexcrawling to engage players into a more complex style of play by bringing domain building into the fold and expanding on it with additional features that would interest high level characters. Mr. Leback does this in 200+ pages with  maps created in Worldographer. While this document was offered to me "with no art", it contains over a dozen maps which are illustrative in nature. Additionally, he also includes many tables and charts to simply and clarify the ideas in each section. 

Like Mr. Leback's previous works, copious examples highlight the various details of hexcrawling, weather, domain management, wealth and character options. This is one of it's strengths. Another good point is the fact that it required a great amount of table time to develop these ideas. Into the Wild shows it's table time very well. It is the product of many years of work and playtime by both the author and his audience. He has merged player feedback with his writing style to produce tight product based on the idea of play. 

One weakness of this work is that it introduces new ways of using DM provided data, which is an inherent flaw of all hexcrawling activities. It's not something you can simply drop into a campaign mid-stream without some sort of introduction. That is not a terribly big deal because hexcrawling and domain building are now "things" that players will understand. 

You could use Into the Wild for low level characters to engage in all the guts and glory type things adventurers do while also running a domain level campaign where a handful of high level characters interact the lesser characters on a larger, more regal scope. This style of play puts the players very close to the DM when it comes to planning, while still maintaining the general mechanics of D&D. 

All and all, this is an excellent book that will only be improved by the stretching nature of a Kickstarter. I look forward to seeing the completed work. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Let's Run That Railroad Through the Sandbox...

I had an interesting conversation with my kids about DMing games. 

Here was the scenario: The party gets in a fight. The winner of that fight gets jumped and their cash and prizes are stolen. Then the party chases down the second group of people and gets their stuff back. 

"You planned all of that in advance. You were railroading us!" they whined. 

"No. I wasn't." I pulled out my notes and showed them. 

The Party and Group A get in a fight. Only 4 things can happen, the either the Party or Group A can win. Or they reach a stalemate and no one wins, either by flight or not starting or finishing the fight. 

Next. The first group out of the area gets jumped. Those 4 options happen again. 

And finally, when the loser or second people out of the first situation one catch up, you basically have the same 4 options. Win, lose or two different draws. 

That's not a railroad. The players have a choice at each event they are present for and the dice can change that outcome. When the party isn't present, I pick the most viable option because I'm not stopping play to fight a combat against two NPC groups against each. When the party comes back, they get another set of choices and outcomes. 

A railroad would be if I decided what was going to happen TO THE PARTY before they were granted a choice. I know where the branches are and what should happen next, but I have 4-5 different possible choices to account for in every scenario. If the party has an obvious choice of 4 items, and they come up with fifth, sixth and seventh option, I have no plan and need to fly by the seat of my pants. 

I gave the kids a good example. 

I had a party meet at a tavern. They were supposed to stop the evil lord's men from shaking down the peasants for money. The party chose not to do that. So, the peasants got shaken down. Then the party gave the peasants money to replace what was stolen. I didn't expect that outcome. 

The next session, I decided to just re-run the whole thing. Again the party didn't bite. This went on for a bit with the peasants getting shaken down and the party replacing their lost funds. 

Now the party was responsive to everything else I did in each session, but I was baffled by their lack of activity on this one point of defending the peasants. It almost rose to the level of a joke. After a few months of play, the checked back in on the peasants in the tavern. 

Since they asked, I provided. This time the lord was there to get in on the fun. And the party sat there as the peasants got beatdown and robbed again. It wasn't until the lord threaten everyone and turned to exit that the whole party opened fire with crossbows. In the dark. In the back. 

The explanation for this behavior was, everyone in the party and a few of the players were lawful evil. It was just their natural to use the peasants for bait to draw the evil lord out. 

So when planning an adventure, you should plan for the obvious. What if the party wins? What if they lose? What if they run? What if they won't or don't fight? If you have those few things down, then the adventure probably won't go off the track, but if it does, the DM is only scrambling for a few seconds and not moment to moment. Which reduces the possibility of railroading the players. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Review - Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules

Title: Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Author: Gavin Norman
Artists: Mustafa Bekir, Michael Clarke, Mark Lyons, Thomas Novosel, Juan Ochoa, Stefan Poag, Matt Ray, Luka Rejec, Peter Saga, Del Teigeler, Andrew Walter
Year: 2017? 
Pages: 54 pages
Rating: ★★★★★

I'm not sure how to handle this. There is nothing better than those old rule D&D boxed sets. Nothing really compares to them. Until now. There are a lot of renaissance books out there but only handful really improve on the original. 

Old-School Essentials does that, even in the basic (and free) form. This 54 page book covers all of the basics so that you can play D&D with a single book. 

By now, I am sure you are aware that I love great artwork. In some places, I see this book as being offer as "no art". In other places I see it described as "player facing rules only". "Basic" doesn't refer to the original Basic/Expert dichotomy, but the traditional meaning of "basic" as "simple". 

Those are lies. This "artless" book has no less than 11 artists with great stuff appearing on dozens and dozens of pages. Also, the "player facing rules" include attack tables a combat section, which means this is fully playable from the get-go. I am going to take off two stars for those misrepresentations. Conveniently, this allows me to write a review that does not break my 5 star scale and award it a mere five gold star ranking. 

Nice how that worked out. 

What is missing is the ideation process for new Dungeon Masters. Ok, "basic" it is. What it adds are dozens of revisions to those old boxed sets rules which streamlines and clarifies those rules. 

Also missing are the non-human classes of Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling, however the rule book does not specifically say you can't have an Elven Fighter or a Dwarven cleric. Since the term used is "adventurer" and not "human", this could simply be ignored allowing the group to simply add a descriptor of choice. The players can role or roll as they wish. This doesn't change the game. It's not a terrible way to simplify a ruleset. 

Initiative and surprise are simple and complete. Armor class is reduced to just 5 rankings for none, leather, chain and plate with or without a shield. The attack matrix is set up as per the original rules but then as an option T.H.A.C.0 is introduced. They even touch on how his changes the probability which is very nice. 

Ability checks are clearly defined and branch from thieves abilities. For a simple or basic set of rules, this is a great improvement. Looking at Holmes and AD&D, the addition of professional skills into the game has always branched from thieves abilities and touched ability scores, but was never codified until later additions. In fact, it seemed to disappear from the B/X and other basic offerings. While this set does not go whole hog on these concepts, the tool is there for the creatively minded. 

This is a rock solid offering for anyone interested in the old school type game and a great reason to purchase the complete, "non-basic" set on DriveThruRPG

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

In Praise of the 20 Page AD&D Character Sheet

So this is how I amuse myself. I made a 20 page character sheet from one sheet of paper. 


Let me tell you what a pain in the ass that was. Everything needed to be orientated correctly and having gotten it wrong twice, I realized I had it right the second time, but folded it wrong. 

Sigh. 

As soon as I get folding instructions done, I'll add it to my character sheet download at DriveThruRPG. It will strictly be a print and write on affair. I have no patience for PDF forms where some of the data is upside down. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review - The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition

Title: The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 65 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is designed for Labyrinth Lord as part of the Back to Basic series. Originally, it started as a joke on everything Pumpkin Spice themed. It roughly follows the other books in the series, with the exception of some level limits for non-human characters. 

This is my favorite of the series. While not entirely tongue in cheek, it's a fun read. In my mind, it comes across like the film A Knight's Tale. Popular culture is mixed up and presented in a timeless way. The idea of harvest, fall and Halloween is in this products DNA, but in a way which would detract from a series Dungeons and Dragons experience. Yes, there are jokey bits, but they are well thought out so they don't break the theme of D&D. If you like Angel or Buffy, these details will be right up your alley. 

This particular set calls out Labyrinth Lord but readers will find that it is a nice addition to any basic era game such as BlueHolme or the Red box set. With a little adaption, this book could be plugged into a great many rule sets like AD&D. The author specifically mentions a desire for this title to be cross-compatible, but noted they didn't make that the focus of this work. I suspect that Mr. Brannan wanted this book to cover a far wider range of game systems than I am familiar with using. Even if it doesn't go there, it's still a rock solid offering. 

Usually when I do a review, I mention the artwork. This product is loaded with artwork. I didn't count, but it seems like every other page or every third has something. In this book, most of the artwork is quarter page and inline with the text, rather that being placed in the centerline like 3.5 books. Again, like the subject matter the book, the artwork has a gothic summer turned autumn feel. 

Somehow, this version of the witch character class feels old, but not too old. It invokes a pleasant feeling of Deja Vu of my college days, when game night also featured a movie or TV before or after. That feeling of people just out to get together and have fun. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Filling in the Blanks by

Todd Leback
Filing in the Blanks Filling in the Blanks

Title: Filling in the Blanks
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Cover Artist: Jenna Drummond (jendart.com),
Interior Artists: Chad Dickhaut, Adrian Barber, and Dan Smith
Year: 2020
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This particular book comes in two forms, the preview edition and the regular edition. I have both. The preview edition is a text only copy of the main concepts of the full book, which is more than enough to let you know if you would want or need this title. 

Starting at the beginning, let me tell you about the author. Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building, authored a one page dungeon and had two successful Kickstarters. The most recent, as mentioned before, is the book Into the Wild. This should be out in about a month or so. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. He runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. As I mentioned in my review of Hexcrawl Basics, the link to both his Patreon and Jenna Drumman's sites are too small so I have reproduced them here. 

Filling in the Blanks is all about generating hexes. He covers geologic features, habitation of a variety of sizes, resources, hazards, lairs, etc. Of course there is a bit about magic and weather. This product is totally table driven with the text providing guidance and examples for usage. Those three together are great for demonstration of how the game is supposed to work. It's also a great way to allow for adaption to specific campaigns and thematic settings. 

My personal favorite part is on graveyards, but I think most people will like the section on Inns. That one seems to be the most useful for any campaign. Maps are in color, while the art is black and white. Somehow, I suffered a printer mishap and all of the black and white art came out blue tinted. I actually like that, but is probably my own problem. 

All in all, this is a great book on the someone who is well versed in hexcrawling. The only slight weakness is the lack of links back to Hexcrawl Basics. That title makes a good primer for what this book covers. While this title is only 79 pages, it is can feel like drinking from a firehose. There is a lot of information packed into this book. 

It would make a great addition and edition for anyone desiring a full featured exploration of the concept of Hex Crawling. While written for Old School Essentials, it can be easily adapted to any rule set. I might even be using this for a continuing Star Wars campaign. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Gaming the Game - Stolen Ideas

Duskruin is current Gemstone IV paid adventure

When I want to play an RPG style game but don't have players, I usually log into Gemstone IV. I've been playing it for decades. It's sort of build on Rolemaster, but went through a process to unlink itself from Iron Crown Enterprise's IP. That isn't terribly important to this post, but what is important is the ideas I've stolen from Gemstone IV and by extension, probably Rolemaster. 

One of the things I never liked about AD&D and D&D is the selection of monsters used to challenge the players. It works on the supposition of monsters are a unique challenge to the players. While that starts off being true, there comes a practical point where one or many lower level monsters are not a credible threat to the players. 

D&D 3.x fixes this with challenge ratings. It works pretty well, with the exception of creatures with special powers. They don't seem to have the appropriate CR assigned to them. 

Gemstone IV has a different method of ranking for creatures. Being a MMO, your character can literally walk up an incredibly high level creature and get turned to dust. That works for an MMO where you have the concept of "extra lives" but it doesn't really work on the tabletop. 

For more evenly matched creatures against the player, there is a sliding scale. A first level character against a 1st level creature is worth 100 experience. A second level character against a 1st level creature is only going to give the PC 90 experience. By 11th level, it's kind of pointless to fight 1st level kobolds and as a consequence, they don't give any experience any more. 

I like that. It creates a coherent world. At 10th level and beyond, fighting kobolds shouldn't be the point for AD&D and D&D characters. They are so past that. Kobolds don't stop existing, they merely cease being something the player should fear. While you can ramp up the numbers and abilities of kobolds, they still aren't intellectually challenging. A zillion of them merely represents a zillion chances to roll the dice. That stops being a story real quick. 

I tend to use the formula 10 equal level encounters should equal one level. A party of 4 characters fighting 40 equal level monsters should be one level of experience for each player character. What this does is enable me, the DM the ability to pace the party. Do I want 40 monsters all at once or 10 groups of four? Probably someplace in between. 

This builds a coherent world in my mind. On day one, a nasty encounter with a kobold patrol is fine. Six sessions into the campaign, sure, my players encounter that patrol of kobolds but they are super leary of mixing it up with the players. 10 sessions later and the party may be hiring them as man-at-arms, porters, etc. The kobolds didn't disappear, their role changed because they aren't a challenge. 

I kind of like that concept and generally use it over mathematical gyrations provided in the DMG. 

As a consequence, it does break the model of gold for experience, but I never liked that anyway. Fighters don't go to fighter school to level up. As they gain experience, they gain followers who make them explore the concept of their trade as they teach others. 

Having a simple rule of thumb allows me to plan more fully. Not just what sort of monsters the players will defeat, but also what sort of resources they players will encounter. If the party plows into a patrol of monsters, chases them home and has the tribe bribe them not to attack the village, that's a win. It is total defeat for the monsters, perhaps dozens of them because they offered surrender or capituation. 

This allows me to control what resources end up in the player's hands beyond having them scoop up piles of treasure and hoping for a random roll. I know what is on the table and can use the interactions between the party and the challengers to guide the party. Gold is gold, but this method leapfrogs the concept of magic swords and other nice prizes. A tribe of kobolds might offer up a nice +1 two handed sword to escape the party's wrath because it's a six foot long weapon for 4 foot tall creatures. It's not valuable to a kobold. Plus the kobolds can hint at it's power so as not to waste the party's time trying to identify every item that comes to them. 

It's a nice feature because it establishes a history of what happened. In the above example, the kobold tribe doesn't have to be obliterated to represent victory over 40 kobolds. They can come to an agreement with the party that in exchange for the sword and a promise not to raid the town anymore, they can live in (a fragile) peace. The party know they are there and can sometimes draw resources from them. A safe place to sleep, a good gossip starter or perhaps something else. 

Stolen ideas are good. Why don't you join me in the world of Gemstone IV by clicking the link below. GSIV has a nice F2P model that will give you a taste of an expansive world of magic. 





Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Review: Dungeons and Dragons Film (2000) Review

Title: Dungeons and Dragons
Publisher: New Line Cinema
Year: 2000
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

Am I insane? 5 stars for the 2000 Dungeons and Dragons movie? Yes, I am but it isn't a factor here.  

We have a film starring Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Bruce Payne and the Original GQ Smoothy Jeremy Irons. They tried to work with all kinds of Intellectual Properties from the game and it's a dud. 

Well. That has to be some sort of record. How could you fail with that much background information and those actors? Easily, apparently. 

But why would I give it 5 stars? 

It's funny really. It's like someone at New Line Cinema sat down at a table and said, "Gee, let's throw some money at a long list of actors who probably aren't filming something today and we'll see what happens. We can fix a lot of stuff with edits and in post." Looking at the list of people involved with this project, they could have picked worse people. Hell, some of them I like a lot. Actors, directors, writers and so on. When it comes to the actors, I am sure they went out of their way trying to make an excellent movie and I am positive it was perfect. 

What they missed was a quality Dungeon Master. You know, someone who could come up with an engrossing story and snappy delivery. Something that makes the players want to come back for more. 

If only that they hired an actual DM to actually, you know, produce something. Instead, what we got was Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Thora Birch, Zoe McLellan, Kristen Wilson, Lee Arenberg, Bruce Payne and Jeremy Irons all in a room, picking their character sheets and paychecks off the commissary table and trying to work out their motivation in all of this over some dicey ham salad sandwiches. 

The result is laughly bad. How could they pick out 8 people with actual 18+ charisma scores and botch a movie? 

Well... they didn't. The result is exactly like if you sat down with Justin, Marlon, Thora and the gang and tried to play D&D for the first time. I can't tell you how many horrible campaigns I've put stellar players through and this movie captures this process perfectly. This film is a perfect rendition of every noob mistake made by a rookie DM. 

5 of 5 stars. 

"I know Mr. Irons. You ARE charismatic. You just rolled a one, that's all. It happens..."

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games

Title: Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I gotta tell you, this is my second favorite of all of Timothy Brannan's Witch character classes for B/X era games. The Mara Witches are some of the darker characters types available to the player. In fact, I find them so dark they are actually a special type of character that should have one heavy restriction. 

In every edition of D&D, there have been a few character types that are so special that they are limited to NPC classes. The idea of a shaman character class has always been a part of D&D and only available to the DM as an non-player character. I know a thing or two about great NPCs, my children are actually named Nathan, Paul, Catherine on purpose. 

Shamistic casters open up the possibility of playing a monster across tropes. An expert may assist the party because they have a higher calling. A sage may invigorate the party with a quest. Basically these are all people who may pick the party over their clan against some greater evil or some higher cause. Someone who may save the day in a heel-face-turn. 

This one book makes the best case for making witches a PC class only. Never should a DM be granted such power. While there is the distinct possibility of a Mara witch choosing an evil or chaotic alignment the player has to totally embrace The Three-fold Law, no matter how injurious or dangerous it may be to themselves. In the hands of a player, the Mara witch can shine and become a legend. 

In the hands of the DM, the person who dictates the story and arranges the plots and creates the scenarios, the Mara witch is too powerful. If the DM is the only person who can invoke repercussions of violating the Three-fold Law, then the role of the Mara Witch loses it main strength, the role of tradition. This could and would happen because while the DM may desire a moral story where the Mara Witch falls due to their own evilness, vanity or pettiness, this class can march all over the party. 

In the hands of a player, this type of witch is very subtle and powerful. To the player, chaos and evil don't really matter much because they have to abide the fact that their magic could backlash on them. Chaos and evil can take many different forms, but this witch class requires that guiding hand of the player to be an effective character. Someone who feels they have something to win and something to lose. 

Having created a number of character classes, including a book specifically about NPCs called "Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners", I think can say this character is so different it must be left to a player to make them come to life and should never be given into the hands of DM, except for the rarest circumstance. 

This book follows the format of the other two books I have reviewed, The Amazonian Witch and The Classical Witch traditions. Like the other two books, except for outward facing abilities like spells, no mechanic system introduced upsets other character classes, which is very important for consistency. All spells are well written and does not cause a power race with the standard character classes. While specifically written for Labyrinth Lord, it could be added to a great number of rule sets with little problems. 

Like the other two books, it has great cover art, wonderful interior art and nicely formatted tables, with blue tint for easy reading. I think this series of books captures the great cover art of second edition D&D while also maintaining the rougher aspect of the B/X era D&D books. The balancing act was well done. 

A final highlight to all of these witch themed books is the idea of Tradition. Each book paints an image of the many kinds of witches that have existed in mythology. While there may be a few changes in powers and abilities, each one is similar enough to easily grasp in a readthrough. 

Unlike the other two reviews, I spent most of my time looking over the spell lists. This book has 36 pages of spells. And every time I thought to myself, "I would tweak this spell in this way..." I found a second spell that met whatever my imagined need was. Not only are the spells well balanced for this class, they support one another to create a dark mysterious vibe. Which also reinforces the idea that witches need to handled by actual players and not thrown as NPC so the DM can run over the party. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Oh, Dear. What Happened? Review of Farscape Roleplaying Game

Title:  Farscape Roleplaying Game
Design: Ken Carpenter, Rob Vaux, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Gavin Downing, Lee Hammock, Kelly Hill, Christina Kamnikar
Rule Set: d20
Year: 2002
Pages: 320
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★

The TV show Farscape ran from 1999 to 2003 and was followed up by a 2 episode mini-series called The Peacekeeper War. The Roleplaying Game was released in 2002, which would have been in between Seasons 3 and 4. For this reason, the book only covers the first 2 seasons or so of action.

This is an interesting RPG as it tops out at 320 pages, which is one more than the Star Wars RPG which was produced by WotC. What is interesting about this is, WotC managed to cram 4 movies worth of information into a book 1 page shorter than the Farscape RPg as a stand alone work while The Farscape Roleplaying Game assumes ownership of The Players Handbook. Farscape was published sometime in 2002, which makes this The Player's Handbook the 3.0 edition. Maybe? In June of 2003, the 3.5 edition came out. If you did not play D&D, you wouldn't even know.

The results are rather interesting. As is the rest of the book. If I reviewed the first 144 pages, this would be a 5 star review. This section of the book is a recap of everything in the series to that point, plus a short story called 10 Little Indians. The layout is incredible, the information is dense, and it really captures the essence of Farscape.

However, this isn't that review. One of the stand out features of this book is the artwork, which is entirely from the show. All of it is great and it is laid out exactly like a product in this universe would be laid out. Titles appear in a machine-like flowing script which is readable with the proper skill (DC 30). Second, the margins are thick while the columns are diagonal. It's cute for the first 144 pages, but when you actually need information, it's really hard on the eyes. Like MySpace banner hard.

From page 145 on are the rules. Remember that disclaimer about needing the Player's Handbook? Yeah... I'm not so sure. Which is a good thing because I can't tell if this means 3.0 or the 3.5 edition. I think the 3.0 edition, but it doesn't seem that necessary. If you missed that caveat, you could probably play this game not realizing something was missing. It isn't that it's missing words or that the grammar is odd, it's the layout of the book that jams your comprehension. It's just that distracting.

Like The Player's Handbook, you pick a race, a class, generate stats, select feats, skills and powers, then select equipment. All of that works well, it's a proven method utilized by many products in the d20 line. And that is where it gets weird. I can't point to a single thing that would require another book, which is probably my gamer hack-it ethic running wild. It sure seems odd.

February 16th edit: 

I see it! This book is missing two parts for running a home campaign. First, it doesn't have the Experience chart. Second, it doesn't explain CR. Really? Because those two omissions actual require two books, not one. You kind of need the DMG and the PHB. 

But not really, which sort of BS. The information missing from the experience chart is in the d20 SRD. Like the one on Hypertext d20 SRD, which is an excellent site. I give it 5 of 5 stars for helpfulness. You'll also need a challenge rating calculator if you want your players going against monsters. Or Critters as John would call them. Again, Hypertext d20 SRD to the rescue. 

I am not sure why I didn't see this at first. It could be that edit blindness everyone gets when looking for extraneous words and typos. Or more likely, I couldn't see it because I would want my players to be the cast of the show. Be the heroes, which makes the experience chart unnecessary. 

I feel the missing Challenge Rating is actually in universe. The heroes throw in against anything they can, anyway they can. Crackers and Nuclear Weapons are both combat items in this show. CR was never a factor when it came to putting the heroes in the action grinder. 

After finding these two omissions, I would suggest one other change for the at home game. Use Vitality and Wounds. Farscape has simply relabeled Hit Points as wounds. Zero wound points is out cold, -10 is death. The WofC Star Wars RPG (click for that review) used Vitality and Wounds, which I feel is more cinematic. Vitality is how much punching around you can take, while wounds are limited to taking serious a blaster shot. One will knock you low for a day while the other one ruins your year. Also, considering how Control Points are used to activate powers, this game has more in common with Star Wars' Force Points than D&D spells or spell like powers.   

Back to your review, as it was written back in January of 2020. 

One of the flaws in the book is, being a recap of season 1 and 2, who and what the characters are not presented in a way that plays out in the TV show. Primarily, this shows up in the pregenerated characters. John is not particularly strong or smart according to his stats, which doesn't really fit with being a physicist and astronaut. On the other hand, all of the characters do seem to be balanced when only that group is considered. However, they are all rather high level, which you would think would lead to much higher stats.

Scorpius is listing as having a 9 strength, while D'Argo has an 18 which is not quite right. I would buy the 9 for Scorpius if he had some sort of Rage feat that allowed him to overpower other, stronger characters for a short period of time. He is a man with an actual cooling system, after all.

All and all, the book seems incomplete even when paired with the PHB and some that feeling is definitely problems caused by the layout.

At $9.99 at DriveThruRPG, I'd say it's for fans of the series or a person who wants a great coffee table RPG book. It is stunning to look at. Literally.

Two stars... only because I love Farscape.

Monday, February 8, 2021

#TBT - The First Book - Zero to Hero, Uncommon Commoners

Today's post is a #TBT. Back to my first book. I can't believe it's been over two years and 300 downloads later. Perhaps it's time for an update.
I play a fusion of B/X and AD&D. Back in the day, we had no internet, so I had no context as to which books went with which games.

I vaguely recall some sort of conversion rules to bring your Basic and Expert Characters to AD&D and vis-à-vis. I liked that idea, but then when going through the process, I said, "Screw it! There aren't enough differences between AD&D and Basic/Expert to really warrant this much effort. Elves can be Generic or classed. You can generate stats using either set, etc. We are just doing this."

After years and years of play, I know the differences between AD&D and Basic and Expert. The main twist is that AD&D characters have higher stats, higher bonuses, more of everything in AD&D from weapons to magic spells to magical item and monsters. Demi-humans advance faster with clearly defined abilities in B/X but have level limits, even with the lower levels and ability scores. For the homebrew game, the differences aren't so great. Missile fire is the great equalizer in AD&D, you get more per round which is deadly compared to B/X. 

One thing that bothered me about each set of rules was the lack of secondary skills as a fully fleshed out set of statistics. The options were always there to vaguely support NPCs, but when tacking on an professional skill to a Player Character, the DM had to do it all.

I love my NPC characters, usually they act in the supporting role. They don't cast magic, they don't own a sword. They are there to do far more that carry torches and equipment as per the rules, but not sling a sword or spells. Over the years, I developed a set of rules to accommodate these types of characters. I called it Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners. They were the type of characters populating a small town to large city.

My first principal was developed from looking at the to hit and saving throw tables. Most of the time, player characters are challenged by rolls in the low teens at low levels. Well, making buckets is easier than that, so my NPCs have a better than 50-50 chance of making something. Second, failure is not applicable. You aren't much of a bucket maker if you fail 50% of the time. Failure for NPC professionals is missing one or more of their target goals. They make 8 buckets instead of 9, they are a day late, some are wood and some are metal, etc.

Second principle is they suck as combatants, but might have some terrifying skill with a tool. Stoneworker's hammers are just brutal, scribes have razor-like knives, and roofers have their terrible zaxes. These characters have an advantage with tools as weapons, but the tools themselves are poor weapons. Also, lumping someone in the head can damage the tool and the target, limiting the user to use it as a tool again. 

Third, they have horrible hit points, attributes are rolled on average dice and saving throws are poor. They max out at 7 or so hit points, including constitution bonuses. "Luck number 7" was the guiding thought in this choice. It's luck that they have more HP than a first or second level character, but this is a poor meat shield choice for the PCs.

Some people have asked if this is character sieve, it is very much the opposite. In fact, there is a section on how an NPC professional can transition to Player Character, saving a poorly rolled character. This method generates characters fast by allowing the DM to save those who have abysmal stats. The process of generation assumes the professional character started with averaged die rolls and this can be used to "lift" someone who didn't qualify for a true PC at first. 

In Uncommon Commoners, you'll find over 50 character classes for professionals. They can be used to flesh out your towns or add a bit of flare to a PC. They are far from overpowered, but do add zest to any campaign.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Roles without rolls

On Wednesday night, I managed to get in 3 hours+ of an impromptu session of D&D. We went back to the Peninsula of Plenty, my Romanesque campaign. 

Nace is the city below the swords

Since this campaign died out over a year ago, let's have a recap. The party is in the city of Nace after turning in a couple of raiders that ambushed them. One of the raiders was shipped north for a hanging, while the second surviving raider, Ortaire was thrown in chains for a mock triumph before being sold into slavery. 

There are many groups lurking in the background. The main threat are 3 witches of the Coven of Ash. Click the link for their story and character stats. They are deeply conservative and support the Empire. The Empire is human-centric with all demi-humans being cast as evil-doers. These witches support the Empire in all ways, including slavery. They are magic users who tend to strike from the shadows and they've annihilated the upper echelons of the town's leadership. No one wants to tangle with them. Additionally, they have charmed three of the town guards to be on the look out for the Party if they try to free Ortaire. 

Ortaire has four compatriots, other raiders that are skulking around town. The players are only aware of them because the witches took a pot shot at them. The raiders plan on rescuing or killing Ortaire to make sure he doesn't blow them in. They have been presented an third choice as he will be auctioned as a slave and if that happens, no one will listen to him. They are hanging out in the square to see which of these three thing will happen. 

There is a Senator hanging out in town, his name is Vitus. He is profoundly troubled by slavery. The witches have engineered this situation so that they can kill him if he acts. He tried to reach out the party but failed. 

In Vitus's backpocket are 3 elves. They are doing recon for their Crown. They have a side goal of disrupting anything that looks untoward. They have focused on taking a shot at rescuing Ortaire. 

The party has an ace-in-the-hole, a letter from the Emperor granting them 4,000 lbs of silver. This was intended for them to purchase a boat, but they didn't do that. The letter is being waved around at any and all Imperial trouble the party encountered. The player have realized that letter is a problem in a couple of ways and mean to be rid of it. They also want to rescue Ortaire but know that this will trigger another round with the witches. They just don't buy the slavery thing. 

So, we are "now", at the being of this session. Click here for information and stats on the Party. 

The party came up with something wild. They marched into the square where the planned Mock Triumph was to be held and announced that it was illegal. Only the Emperor can declare a Triumph. Being true, the townies bought it. They also announced their intention to take Ortaire by purchasing him and now it's time to drink on it. This would be fine punishment for the raider, menial work and all that. To hype this up, they met with the town's exchequer and turned in the letter for 4,000 lbs of silver and proceeded to lubricate the disappointed townies with free beer. 

Fighting the witches
would be unfun

Vitus's slaves managed to get close to the PC with the elves and they all realized this is all a rouse to annoy the witches. By the witches' reckoning, the Party is being virtuous by hosting a bash to celebrate slavery. Buying a slave to get vengeance is excellent in their mind. On the off chance the party is planning a trick, the coven has charmed some guards ready to kill them all at the first sign of turnabout. Vitus decides to sell the Party's scheme with a bit of acting. He publicly withdrew his private invitation to the party to visit his home. He is pretending to be an angry abolitionist. This throws the witches off of him as he is not doing anything but "losing" and sulking. The Party was confused by this as in the past year, they forgot that detail. 

Everything went off without a hitch. The Party purchased Ortaire, yucked it up a bit with the celebrating citizens then left town in pursuit of the four raiders. Outside of town, they were trailed by the 3 charmed guards and the elven party. The raiders only have a vague idea of where they are going, a farmstead east of town. They don't know how far east. There ended up being a couple of encounters between the guards, the elven party and the Player's Party. The guard returned home after seeing the party go off in pursuit of the elves. They reported that the Party are clearly heroes of the Empire, which might not be entirely true. The party is now off to join the elves, catch and grill the raiders and quietly offer Ortaire his freedom for his help. 

As a surprise, there were zero combat type rolls this session.  

As a bonus, 60-90 minutes were spend discussing the Star Wars campaign I am running. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Last Package Arrived Today

My last package from Amazon arrived today. Now I am almost ready to start a second series of post on modeling. I'll be working on these Bandai 1/144 scale models over the summer. You can find them at many hobby shops, but I've had the best luck on prices at Amazon.com. Ironic, because the grid of ads from Amazon is showing the most expensive things. Sigh. Ah. Checked it now, and most of the prices are reasonable. 

(Note: My Amazon Affiliate account has really taken off, I just need to figure out how to make it work better with my posts.) 

One of the snags with series posts is they start strong and either come to an early conclusion or they just peter out due to a lack of inspiration. 

I hope to change that this year by having a spring/summer series ready to go. I also have a couple of things in my back pocket. My Star Wars campaign looks good to restart and even more exciting (for me anyway) it looks like my gang is ready to go back to the Peninsula of Plenty campaign, perhaps as a hexcrawl. That's two more series to update for the Blog. 

The only problem now is time. I've had my basement flood and defy all attempts to remedy and I recently started a new job which takes up my evenings. My weekend is now Tuesday-Wednesday and I work every holiday for the foreseeable future. I'd know how things will work out, but they will. 

At this point, I am thinking of retiring the Podcast. I really can't see how I'll have the time for all of this. Time will tell. 


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Review - Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition

Title: Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch Tradition
Publisher: The Other Side Publishing
Author: Timothy S. Brannan
Year: 2019
Pages: 84 pages
Overall Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Text Only Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Of all the books Mr. Brannan has written on witches, this one is my second favorite. Were I to have it to do over again, I would have made my Coven of Ash witches in The Classical Witch Tradition instead of magic users. The power difference between a witch and a magic user is striking, the witch having the more subtle powers which I was aiming for with the Coven of Ash. 

This book largely follows the same format of The Amazon Witch Tradition, with a few twists. First, Part 1 runs down the basic description of witches of this tradition while Part 2 introduces the possibility of multiclassing. These are pairs of class, witch and one other class. They would gain experience far faster than the dreaded triple class characters. Additionally, the first part addresses what would be considered demi-human and monsters of this class, which is a great benefit to DM's desiring something completely different. In reading this work, I immediately thought to replace the Hermit from B2 Keep on the Borderland to this kind of witch. 

One small addition to this series is the use of color. The book is written for Blueholme and the blue tint on the tables is not only a nice touch, it makes everything easier to read. The artwork is also very nice. 

Part 3 describes the tradition itself and discusses how to add covens to your campaign. It gives 6 examples before giving suggestions for more coven types for your campaign. It's nice to have examples that are ready to go and the 6 provided could be plugging into many campaigns with no modification and all campaigns with a some modification. 

Part 5 explains the witches role in magic and provides 32 pages of spells. These spells are tooled specifically to this tradition of witches and includes ritual magic, a more powerful form of spells cast by several coven members. 

The book also includes 20 pages of new monsters or old friends reworked for Blueholme. Part 6 introduces some magical items and few artifacts. And the final chapter gives three examples of unique and powerful witches. This final part really reads like Deities and Demigods, but the powers are cranked back to almost-mortal levels. These are characters that you could adapt or use right of the book in your campaign for high level NPCs. 

And and not least, this book includes useful appendix of spells by level, useable by witches, clerics, magic users plus a complete alphabetical listing of spells. Those are perfect. 

This is a rock solid resources for any DM who desires a little mysterious magic at the table, something to knock the PC's clerics and magic users back a bit. Nothing is overpowered and is specifically meant to work with those classes without changing their core concepts. 

Spoiler Alert: I have four of these books and I am reviewing them in star order. This one is a solid 4.5 for the text alone and a 5 of 5 when the artwork is considered. 

Reviewer's note: The date is taken from the forward, this could be the most recent update rather than the original publication date. If that is the case, my apologies but then that also means the author is providing an excellent experience by routinely updating his works. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Hexcrawl Basics by Todd Leback

Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback (Link to Patreon)
Artists, Interior: Bruno Balixa, Dean Spencer, Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games, Jack Holliday, Matt Forsyth, Matthew Richmond
Cover Art: Jen Drummond
Year: 2019
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars


My first 3 reviews were on a single series of novels. I most recently reviewed How to Hexcrawl. I like the idea of series reviews or fits, but for awhile I'll be limiting myself to pairs of related titles. These are not comparisons, but singular reviews. 

Here is my usual warning, this book is written for OSE but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. If you had a dungeon and you moved the characters outside, this book would be of use to you. 

This title starts with a definition of a hexcrawl, which is a very economical start. This is one of many books on the subject by the author, every concept is very tight owing to Mr. Leback's great experience on the subject. The first section covers the hex and the player's purpose in these hexes and the process to be followed. Artwork is used not only as mere art, but Worldographer maps exemplify what the author spells out. Todd Leback's use of art is excellent. 

Chapter two and three cover features and lairs found in hexes and subhexes plus random encounters. The next two sections cover procedural events, weather and getting lost, which are big part of the hexcrawl experience. 

The final chapter is an extended example of the hexcrawl process in action. It nicely loops back to the beginning of the book and marches the reader all the way to the end without missing a beat. I suppose that the book could have been written without this extended section, but would be a lesser work. The example perfects this book. 

Three caveats about this book. The artwork is very nice but does not print well on plain paper. The only way to get a nice copy of this book is to print on extreme quality on great paper. It is totally worth it, take the effort and time to do it right.  

Second, there is a small link to Mr. Leback's Patreon. Blink and you'll miss it, so I have placed it here. I normally don't do that, but the link to Populated Hex was almost too unobtrusive. (EDIT - There is also a Kickstarter coming soon. I've never gone in on a Kickstarter, but this might be the one to start with.)

I was tempted to make this a 4.5 of 5 starts but the example and the excellent artwork kicks it up one more level. Especially if you print it nicely. I was drawn to this title and series by the cover art, which I love.