Showing posts with label Game Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Game Review. Show all posts

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Old School Essentials: Characters Review

It's been a few months since I've reviewed anything. Today, I mean to correct this by reviewing Old School Essentials' Character PDF book. As you can see by the counter on the right, I backed the 2022 Kickstarter having missed the original Kickstarter a few years ago. 

Title: Old School Essentials: Characters
Author: Gavin Norman
Rule Set: OSE/B/X
Year: 2022
Pages: 73
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★★★(★) 5ish of 5 stars

Right off the bat, I must justify the star rating. This work is currently a pdf of a future physical book. It makes heavy use of gorgeous artwork, sometimes on two-page spreads. It will not print well without an inordinate amount of care or skipping the artwork spreads altogether. A half measure might be to print these spreads on photopaper, leaving the back side of the page blank or cobbing something together with glue. 

Neither seems like a good solution. The physical book will merit at least 5 stars and I will happily update this once I start to see the physical product. This is a flaw of my rating system, not really a reflection of the goods in question. Judging by the physical copy of the Rules Tome I picked up at Iron Buffalo Games, we're in good hands. 

Because I am a history major, I am throwing up my first star for a rock-solid impressum. A lot of authors, especially PDF producers skimp on the credits either throwing them in the back of the book with the legalese or not publishing them at all. OSE: Characters gets it right.

Perfect! Names and dates, as needed. Where "city of publication" is missing, we get websites which I feel is an excellent compromise. 

So, in just 73 pages, we have a modern take on the original B/X rules. Gone are the errors and counter-intuitive stuff from B/X, everything has been fixed. The level limits are mitigated by a simple chart in the event that your human gets too big in the britches. No sense in making a whole 'nother set of rules when these simple guide rails will serve so well. 

What you get is a simple and clean way to build Clerics, Dwarves, Elves, Fighters, Halflings, Magic Users and Theives. Additionally, you get flavoring from B/X and AD&D. You have Clerics with no spells to start, alignment languages, and many more. My personal favorites are hirelings, building castles and towers and an introduction to domain level play.  

It also has a handy guide to TH0AC and something called "Ascending Armor Class". It seems reasonable, but lower is better as it doesn't invalidated the classic statement: "Comes with 24 illustrations, charts and tables". That kind marketing speak was a big part of my youth and huge influence on me. "Higher is better" a statement best reserved for space stations, raves and your spouse's Christmas party. 

Anyway,  I recall reviewing a different set of PDFs by Old School Essentials. I'm slightly bent that October is a long ways off and I shaved off the gold part of the star so I have some reason revisit this. When I get my hands on a physical book, my rating system will be completely broken when I come back and give this title the whole 5 gold stars that it deserves because there is no ranking higher. I really enjoyed this one for a variety of reasons which mirror why I like the original Basic and Expert sets back in the day.  

Now if you missed the Kickstarter, if you have no way to pick up this set online, be sure to check your local game shop. I found my first OSE book by accident at Iron Buffalo Games. Nothing is better than finding a treasure in a place close to home. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Review - Serenity RPG (2005)

As hinted at before, I am reviewing the 2005 Serenity RPG which was made in conjuncture with the movie. I've had very good luck when it comes to movie-based content, the 2000 Star Wars RPG book comes to mind right away. These things come with glorious artwork, suitable for a film because they are a supporting project for a film. 

So, I guess I can ignore the artwork in this one, even though it is particularly good. The reader should understand that this is a work from 2005, the Cortex rules have evolved since then and perhaps this is the only way to get an enjoyable Firefly fix as it doesn't seem like the show is coming back in any recognizable form having been acquired by Disney. 

On the plus side, you can watch the TV show on Hulu, which isn't a bad thing to do. 

Title: Serenity Role Playing Game
Author: Jamie Chambers
Rule Set: Cortex
Year: 2005
Pages: 230
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★★★

This particular set of rules uses the Cortex system, which is unlike D&D and has some great attributes. It is meant to create characters with a thematic flair, a collection of skills and traits, both positive and negative define the player. Players assign attributes by die, so a strong character has d12 for strength and a weak one has a d4. 

One of the gems of this system that is not mentioned in this particular book is the idea of "hitches". It does come up in later versions of Cortex as "a feature, not a bug". A hitch is a roll of 1, which indicates "something bad happens". It's softly defined in this particular ruleset but easily understood that someone with a d4 die is going to roll a 1 more often than a character with a d10 ability, but both will eventually roll a one. It does appear as "botching" on page 143. 

Were this any other setting, this soft definition would be a serious problem. However, with the very limited set of live scenarios (14 TV shows and one movie), the concept of "hitches" is hardcoded into this 'verse. 

This is like Wash blasting down the canyon trench, only to have the enemy pull up and glide gracefully above the canyon, casually popping off cannon fire at the Serenity. Even a talented person can have these moments. Since they will happen so often, they are not like the evil AD&D fumbled attack roll tables, which are inherently punitive (and stupid). With the softness allowed, a player could come up with their own hitch that the Game Master merely needs to rubber stamp. Players of this game will be those kinds of people to let the rule of fun, evil, irony rule the day. 

This book does share a lot of superficial characteristics of D&D 3.5. Full-color pages, great art, a table of contents, and an index. And for Cortex, this is where the rules get their first ding. The order of the book is an introduction to the setting and the character crew of Serenity, followed by stating up the characters, traits and skills, money and gear... and so on. Exactly like 3.5 D&D. 

Here is the first ding. It's the wrong order for Cortex and it doesn't have to be. Stats come after traits and skills in Cortex, unlike D&D. You can't assign stats until you've tallied the pluses and minuses for traits and complications. It's not a big deal, but it was irksome to have most of a character fleshed out only to have to circle back to the beginning. 

This is a great character sheet! 

Character generation is relatively simple. You don't roll dice, you pick off a chart like a points buy. It also allows the player to explore a flawed character without that flaw being so powerful that it's an impediment to play. For example, a character may have a complication or flaw that requires him or her to leave no one behind. That's powerful, but not something that would prevent gameplay. There are some dubious ones like "hooked" which is an addiction. Clearly, the author meant to go beyond the Serenity universe and incorporate some harder complications that appear in other sci-fi. It's a very nice system because having a complication can push up stats and positive traits in an easy-to-use trade-off.

Equipping the characters becomes a little dicey because the equipment list contains things that are the properties of the ship as opposed to the property of a given character. For example, space suits. 

But space ships are characters in this game which is amazing. There are only two faults with this arrangement, one is annoying and one is just a bad arrangement. The ships have traits and skills like human characters and they use recycled names from the character traits and skills. So "Heavy Weapons" ends up meaning "Automatic Targeting". They should have a different name, a different list. 

The second "fault" is the book provides excellent floor plans and schematics of the ships available in the game but then leads with "Aces and Eights", a firefly variant that is not the titular ship. There seems to be no particular order to the ships, so I can't even say, "Well, it's alphabetical". The first time I flipped through, my eyes settled on the Aces and Eights page and my brain balked. For a second, I thought that perhaps the author had never seen Firefly. It's not a horrible flaw... but it is. 

The second major ding cycles back to the table of contents and is continue throughout the entire book. There is a lot of quaint, laconic doublespeak in the text. The rule section in the TOC is labeled "Keep Flyin'". 

What? Reading 200+ pages where subjects, nouns, etc. are consistently, inconsistently dropped is maddening. It's like reading the Life and Times of Yosemite Sam. 

Nathan Fillion is a great laconic double talker, but he uses it sparingly like a good weapon. When he does it, it's in character AND universe. People clearly don't understand what he is saying until they parse it out. By that time, he's doing something they do understand and they react in panic. This is not a good way to present rules and procedures. 

Dings and flaws aside, this system beautifully captures the style of the series for a whole host of reasons. Many of the flaws of the presentation of the game revolve around Cortex RPG rules only being a year old at the time of publication and the author trying to present the rules laconically. Remove both of those and you have an excellent 5-star system. 

I picked up my copy locally, but you can check out Abe Books to see if they have it in stock: Serenity Role Playing Game at AbeBooks.com

Alternatively, you could get a pdf of the game but I couldn't find a listing on my favorite site,  DriveThruRPG. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Adventure Review - 'No Tears Over Spilled Coffee!'

I have to be honest, I don't play e5 much. People cry over it. There should be no crying in D&D. I wouldn't have noticed this adventure except for the hue and cry people put up over it. 

The free adventure is called 'No Tears Over Spilled Coffee!' and is available at D&D Beyond

Allow me to throw up the standard stat block before I get into the review. 

Title: No Tears Over Spilled Coffee
Author: Michael Galvis
Year: 2022
Pages: 6 pages
Rating: 2 of 5 stars

The hue and cry over this adventure revolve around the premise of a band of characters working in the Firejolt Cafe, a coffee shop. Let me tell you, every person who offered this criticism is wrong. Flat wrong. 

There is a long history of landing adventures in the wrong role for the rule of funny. Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures come to mind rather easily. If Asprin can have Skeve walking into an Expy McDonalds in search of a trollop and finding trolls waiting tables, then so can you. 



I have to put an ad in here to honor the late author Robert Asprin. His characters, much like the characters in Coming to America, know their version of Mcdonald's is treading dangerously close to some sort of infringement. It is the rule of funny. 

The setting is not where this adventure falls apart. 

The Crew

The character's mission starts with a call from Ellina, the owner of the Firejolt Café. She has lost all of her staff and the party of new hires is her last chance to stay open. Unfortunately for all, Ellina is starting to get sick, so this first day will include some training, then Ellina will absent herself from the rest of the adventure. 

Literally. Like her employees, she never comes back for the rest of the adventure. 

There are a couple of problems with this scenario, beyond being snatched from the headlines, possibly right from your player's typical workday. 

Some of the problems could be reworked to be funny as opposed to problems. For example, it seems the author thinks there are cell phones in this world. "Called..." Yeah, if you accept some sort of anachronistic coffee shop, then you get cell phones. 

But imagine the contrary. Metron the Mercilous is lost, at sea between campaigns. He hires a band of criers to advertise his willingness to cut on people and burn villages.  In response, a crier approaches him with an excellent, turn-key opportunity with Ellian. Metron orders his henchmen to assemble as he reaches out to his assassin and thieving friends, plus a cleric of dubious intentions to seal the deal. He and his warband march off to the Firejolt Café to claim the prize appointments, prepared for the obvious campaign of bloodletting. 

To his surprise, he finds a gang of union members around the Café trying to get him to join. They promise Metron and his boys a minimum of 15 coppers an hour. Metron reaches for his battle-ax as Ellian quickly runs out to separate the gangs before anyone is separated from their heads. 

Yes, the whole premise could be seriously funny. 

Anyway, back to the actual adventure. 

Ellian (and the DM) walk the players through the game mechanics for play. Some characters can gain an advantage by being observant and utilizing the offered materials in the Café. Eventually, the party breaks common tasks down and gets to work. 

The day progresses without offering the players and their characters any option using strategy or tactics or any bit of creativity to succeed. 

Yawn. 

The Challenge

Finally! A challenge presents itself. The party has to work together to deal with a particularly difficult task. Ok. This is fine. 

The party has to come up with a perfect drink for a difficult customer. This is where the whole thing unravels. 

Up to this point, the characters have had an easy time of it. In order to complete this challenge, they must pass 5 successive DC 11 skill rolls. And here in lies the problem. 

Do you know the chances of rolling an 11 or higher on a 1d20? It's 50-50. A coin toss. Players generally know how to measure their chances and this one will ring out as carney style game. 50-50 sounds pretty great. That's easy. 

But 5 in a row... ah... That works out to be a 3% chance. That's exactly like flipping a fair coin 5 times in a row and getting tails each time. 

Worse than 3%

But it's worse than the numbers hint at. As each player attempts to roll an 11 or higher, there will be a crystal clear point where someone's failure will screw the party. 

Essentially, as the party rolls, someone has a 50-50 chance of blowing it and that failure will land on a single player and their poor die rolls. Even if the characters have a skill that pushes up their chances to say 12 in twenty, the chances rise to a mere 7%. The check would have to push to 18 in 20 to give a better than 50% chance of success. 

It is one thing where a party snatches victory from the jaws of defeat by careful application of skills and talents. It's something different when you have some to roll less than an 18 which sounds like a challenge until you flip it around and ask them to roll over a 2 on a twenty-sided die. 

Presentation

As you can see, under 18 and over 2 sounds like two different things because of the presentation. This adventure's saving grace is the slick presentation where it sounds like the party can do something together. But the math shows otherwise. 

While the premise could be interesting, the given purpose and tasks offer little or no reward to the players and are actually crocked to ensure the party fails. 

I gave this adventure one star for being free and a second for being creative. It is an excellent learning experience for DM to learn how not to create an adventure. 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Game Review - Battletech Compendium (1990)

Title: The Battletech Compendium
Rule Set: Battletech
Year: 1990
Editor: Donna Ippolito
Publisher: FASA
Pages: 144 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars 

Battletech started in 1984 as a boardgame called Battledroids. Over the years, Battletech expanded the universe with a series of boxed sets like Aerotech and Citytech. Each one came with a set of rules, folding Mechs, bases, and two large maps. By 1990, Battletech was ready for a revamp, with all the rules in one place and streamlined. This took the form of The Battletech Compenium. 

And boy is this book concise and detailed. Within these 144 pages, you get Mechs, Aerotech fighters, infantry, dropship, tanks, heliocopters, and even subs all with integrated rules and easy to understand construction and pricing methods. 

The game is a great "I go, you go" game. Pick you mech or mechs, set the map, roll initiative and go crazy! 

One of the great things about Battletech is the heat system. Heat is the limiting factor on what you can do in a give round or game. Sure, getting a limb blown off slows you down, but if your reactor overheats, you're done. Like "went nuclear and got a fork stuck in you" done. You can actually explode from your own actions. 

Oddly, unlike other games where bad rolls can turn deadly, you have control over what harm you could inflict on yourself with heat. Every data sheet has a schedule of what occurs at each heat level. If you find the risk too high, slow down and cool it down. With great management, heat is never an issue. It's really a great game which lends itself to either one-on-one matches or full scale battles. 

For small scale fights, the rules are quick. Larger battles can bog down, but with some familiarity of the rules, they are still manageable. Even better, large battles work best off the hex map, so this set includes full color rules for tabletop battles with terrian. There is a massive selection of 1/287 scale figures for use with this set and to be honest, having the mechs is more fun than playing. 

Models for black and white pictures don't need to be painted.

This particular book requires more information than what is included. You will need Mech Data Sheets, a map or table, ruler, dice, and figures or tokens. There are plenty of resources online or use can use the ruleset to make up your own vehicles and mechs. The creation rules are extensive but intuitive. 

I got my copy on Abebooks. You can try this link for the The Battletech Compendium to search by ISBN on their site.  

You can also check out Classic Battletech on DriverthuRPG? While they don't have this exact title, they have tons and tons to choose from in the Battletech Universe. 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Software Review - Pool of Radiance (1988)


Title: Pool of Radiance
Rule Set: AD&D
Designers: Jim Ward, David Cook, Steve Winter, and Mike Breault
Year: 1989
Publisher: SSI
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars 

Pool of Radiance by SSI was the first AD&D released on computer. SSI brought to Macintoshh in 1989. It was a great and faithful rendition of AD&D as it was at the time and used the Forgotten Realms setting. 

Game play involves running a custom built party of 6 PCs. Your goal is to drive off the monsters inhabiting the ruins around the city of Phlan. It will take some hacking, slashing and puzzle solving to complete. One of the features of the overworld is open game play, meaning you aren't on the clock and can goof around for a good long time before actually tackling the problems at hand. 

To complete the game, you need to complete a couple of quests. On the way you'll knock out a few (ok, a lot) of creatures in combat. 

One of the oddities of this game is the mix of color and black and white graphics. The black and white graphics are great while most of color graphics are ugly. The layout is your standard 80s RPG layout: Picture in the upper left, info on the right and text/controls at the bottom. 


Clicking a character pulls up their character sheet. Characters are created on the fly as the user selects options. One word of caution, the rules are exactly as they are in AD&D with level limits for demi-humans in full effect. Having said that, this software is a great way to quickly create characters for AD&D. 


The combat window, a place you will be a lot is pushed perspective. Your party is arrayed in the order you selected previously. 

What order? You didn't pick an order? Me, too. You can have multiple saves, so you can go back and fix this if you saved. 

Melee attacks are initiated by selecting MOVE and moving into an enemy. Missile attacks have their own AIM button. One important thing to never... NEVER! do is allow the computer to automatically control your characters. The AI is not bright. And the screaming 25 mHz processor is about 9 million times faster than you can hit "stop" with the mouse. It's not fun. 

The other thing that should be avoided is moving away from melee. Every creature in contact with you gets a free attack. It is an efficient way to die. 

The system is so faithful to AD&D, there should be some sort of warning on things that can happen. AD&D doesn't have clear healing rules, so in Pools, the only way to heal is camp and burn healing spells. If you want more spells, you have to spend hours studying. Characters are generated by the computer but actually use the ruleset for allowable scores. 

One thing to keep in mind is encumbrance. It controls how many moves you get in combat. If you are loaded with coins, you will have problems. 

Another thing to keep in mind is death can be permanent. Once a character goes down, you can bandage them before they reach -10 HP. This allows you to get them back with only healing spells.

The instruction manual is in three ingenious documents, a manual which explains the rules of AD&D, a journal to be read and a translation wheel which is the copy protection. The wheel is used to start the game, you compare two symbols to translate them to English. This "code" is entered to activate the game at every start up. As annoying as this is, I've brought the wheel to my game table to create puzzles for the players to solve. 

After 33 years, the game shows it age but is an excellent reminder for what AD&D and Forgotten Realms is like. I give it 4 of 5 stars. 

Postscipt: The game does have a couple of cheats. Why else would you read a review of a 33 year old game? 

First, you can mug players for cash and prizes. The most basic iteration of this is to create 7 characters, one you keep and 6 you delete. Load the party and transfer off everything you want from the sacrificial characters, save then delete them. This covers money and items, so it is two cheats in one. 

The second cheat is a classic duplication of items, say a +5 vorpal sword. This one takes a little effort. Once you have a desirable item, save and quit the game. Duplucate the entire party folder. Twice! Name one folder "Delete" the second "Back Up". Move them elsewhere on your hard drive. DO NOT LEAVE THEM IN THE PARTY FOLDER! 

You will be working with the Delete folder and the regular party folder. Launch the game and move the desired item from one player to another. Save and quit. Now move that player from the "Delete" folder and overwrite the character file in the party folder. Relauch the game and two characters will have that item. You can repeat this over and over again. 

A third cheat is a variation on the first two. You actually have slots for up to 8 characters, the two extra are for NPCs. It's pretty rare to have one NPC and extremely rare to have two. You cannot simply move an item from an NPC to a PC. But if the NPC dies, you can take their stuff. In order to do this cheat, you have to ensure the NPC dies but also ensure that you have a save where they are still alive.

Once you have the NPC in the party, save the game twice under two different slots, A and B. Quit and reload slot B. Get the NPC killed in combat. You can attack them yourself in case you are having trouble killing them. They can run off, so make sure you attack with everything you have at the start of the round. Take their stuff at the end of combat and save as B. Now go back to the duplication trick and copy the item a couple of times. Reload the game under save A. The NPC will be back in your party alive while a PC has the duplicated item. 

The next cheat is the J training cheat. When you are in the training hall, if you press J, the selected character gains a level. And ages. You can serious destroy your fun with this cheat. This cheat is always active in the Mac version of the game. To use it under DOS, you need to launch the game as "start STING" or "st STING"

One final cheat monkeys around with the death mechanics. If you have a character die in combat, meaning they dropped to -10 HP or below, you normally need a resurection or raise dead spell after combat. This can permanently kill your character. In the case of Elves, neither spell works. 

To get around this, let the character die in combat, but don't leave the combat window. Target the dead character with a spell that does less than 10 points of damage and hit them. A dead character is treated by the system to have 0 HP and the damage you do restarts the death process so you can bandage them before quitting combat. This only works with spells like cause light wounds or burning hands, and never works with swords or arrows. 

I hope you enjoyed this review. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Software Review - Townscaper

Title: Townscaper 
Year: 2020
Developer: Oskar Stålberg
Publisher: Raw Fury
Platforms: Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Macintosh operating systems and Steam.
Rating: 2 of 5 Stars

Townscaper isn't much of a game to be honest. You can design a town on an oceanscape. You can manipulate the colors of buildings, camera angles, and lighting. That is pretty much all there is to it. It's more of a toy than a game at this point which is important as the author still seems to be in the process of development. 

It is relaxing. 

Townscaper features an audio track of wind and waves. It also has a simple yet pleasing color pallet which is key to creating coherent images. Sound provides feedback for the changes you make.  

There are only three actions the user can take: place a structure, remove a structure or rotate the image. Technically, there are a few other actions having to do with light levels and sun angle, but those are tweaks to the main process of design.

Given that you can only add or remove structures, the process is very complex and creatively implemented. Shorelines rebuild themselves as you work. So do the actual buildings. The action is enhanced by "the grid", an invisible guide for dropping pieces onto the scene. The grid is not orthogonal, it is irregular. But an irregular plan that adds to the organic feel of your town. 

As you play, you'll notice some of these additions cause dynamic reactions. Drop a building next to another and birds appear on the rooftops. Drop the third building and the birds fly away. After a while, they come back. Towels and laundry lines appear from the windows.

Simple structures become more complex as you add and remove height with the addition of stairs and pylon supports. It's easy to create cute plazas and bridges, which are detailed with moving water, shadows, and even tiny sandy shores. By ringing a plaza with buildings, a green space forms complete with trees and bushes. 

None of these "dynamic features" are documented. They are there for you to discover. And that is the charm of this game. Townscaper is strangely addictive. 

By zooming in and out, you can add drama to the Townscape scene. It has a screenshot and save feature for your town so you explore more without losing what has been done. Intriguingly, there is a special update to output your town as a .obj for 3d printing, which seems to work well as demonstrated by other reviewers. 


The game retails for $5.99. I kind of feel bad for the low rating but this software is only as exciting as blank canvas. If you're the kind that loves a blank canvas, 2 of 5 stars is more than enough, while if you hate that sort of thing, it won't be enough. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Review - In The Hollow Of The Spider Queen

This review needs a little background or perhaps a disclaimer of little background. I picked up this game set off the indy rack at Gather & Game, a local shop. Unbeknownst to me, there is a  whole game system out there called "Powered by the Apocalypse". 

I had zero awareness of this ruleset and at this moment, I can't decide if "In the Hollow of the Spider Queen" or "Powered by the Apocalypse" needs a 5 gold star rating. 

Yes, there are games I simply don't know about thanks to a vibrant OSR and general explosion of gaming systems available. 

Perhaps both need 5 gold stars. By the time I complete my 52 reviews for 2021, I'm sure we will know. 
Title: In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
Rule Set: Powered by the Apocalypse 
Year: 2021
Author: Aaron M. Sturgill
Publisher: Trail of Dice Games
Pages: 60 pages, plus character sheet and 3 color maps. 
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
In the Hollow of the Spider Queen
In the Hollow of the Spider Queen

"In the Hollow of the Spider Queen" is an intriguing concept, just reading the back cover. It is a DM and one-player hexcrawl game based on old-school crawls. 

Whoa. Sign me up.   

Now for the twist, the rules are meant for one referee and one player but are scaleable so that up to 3-5 players can join the fun. 

And there is no need to wait. The set comes with one character sheet and a 3-page explainer of how to create a character. Like D&D, characters have a couple of stats to populate. Your character will have a spread of points that are positive, negative, or neutral. In addition to those, you have Resolve and Hit Points that are modified by two of the stats you previously selected. Gather your gold, pick equipment and answer some questions to start playing. 

This system uses an XP clock that turns lemons into lemonade. If you botch a roll, you fail but also fill a tick of the XP clock. Get four ticks, receive one XP point. XP is used to gain many advantages, so taking a risk is usually always worth it even if you fail your roll. Languages use the same sort of clock to create a dynamic scale of proficiency. 

In the DM's section, we get the core rules plus details on the world or Continent as the author calls it. By the rules, this set is a little more complex than combat. The set has an interesting system of Resolve vs. HP loss, which means that players can be defeated (or not) by something a little more complex than an axe blow to the head. Should the hero die, there are options for continued gameplay. 

The Continent is populated by various races or factions all spelled out on their own page. Each page has a detailed description, a helpful list of names and rumors which apply to the race or faction as a whole. Each page builds on the last to create a great history and background of the world the players will explore. In this case, less is more. 

What is so impressive about this little book is the fact that so much is rammed into 21 pages. There is still half a book to go. 


Page 22 introduces the movement rules. This is a hex crawl, after all. Characters have 3 starting locations. Where your player(s) will go is based on the questions they answered in the creation process. Random encounters are linked to locations, delivering the DM information as they need it. After that, the lands of the Continent are described. Within those descriptions, there are more random Encounter tables paired to locations with the lands. Again, necessary information is provided only when needed. 

To flavor and enhance gameplay, the ruleset comes with 2 Appendices and an index. Indexes seem to be a highly underrated feature in the digital age but are amazing when you have a physical copy. 

I am amazed that for just $16, this book does everything as advertised on the back cover. You can pick up either a physical copy or a digital one at DriveThruRPG for a few bucks less. In looking at the author's website, this is not an either-or proposition. If you find a physical copy, you can request a pdf at the website.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Review - Cepheus Light Upgraded

Of late, I have been ordering books instead of PDFs from DriveThruRPG. Someday, I'll have something worthy of a shelfie. In the meantime, I need to complete this series of 52 reviews in 52 weeks. This title, Cepheus Light Upgraded tallies in at 7 from the end. 

My apologies, there is no significance to the numbers or order of reviews. I have nothing planned for "the last review" because while the series will end, the reviews will not. I've enjoyed this series very much and wish to keep the idea alive in 2022. I'll probably slow down a bit, but we'll see. 

(No really, I'll slow down. 52 reviews in 52 weeks is like drinking from a firehose.) 

This isn't lucky #7, I just happened to get lucky with topic selection when significant numbers came up. 

I suppose I could do a review of DriveThruRPG's print option, but right now we're dealing with a supply chain jam. I'd be crapping on some hard-working people. I'll just leave it at every title I've ordered has been great. If you are seeing dings, scuffs, or creases, it's because I'll take my books anywhere. I'm rather abusive with my copies and these print-on-demand titles are tough enough to take it.
Title: Cepheus Light Upgraded
Rule Set: Cepheus Engine
Year: 2021
Author: Omer Golan-Joel, Richard Hazelwood,
Josh Peters, Robert L. S. Weaver
Publisher: Stellagama Publishing
Pages: 118 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Cepheus Light Upgraded
Cepheus Light Upgraded
Cepheus Light Upgraded

I'm a sucker for great art and while this book doesn't disappoint, the "gold" rating was locked in by the excellent "About the Authors" section. All four authors get a paragraph each which was very informative and descriptive. While it's impossible to tell which author contributed to which portion of the rules, this section conveys the pedigree of this edition of the ruleset and the writers. I love it.  

I'll start with the nit-picky stuff and of course, being 5 stars, there isn't much. 

First, this is a PDF in print format. The empty front page is a giveaway. Next, the "Usability" section comes too soon. It needs to appear after the About the Authors section and the Stellagama Publishing paragraph. Those sections are just as distinct from the rules as the Introduction and would serve little purpose anywhere but the front matter of this edition. The third nitpick is the word "traits" which appears in random places. Obviously, there is a high-level concept here, which is only handled tangentially and it's up to the reader to decipher the meaning. Looking around, it's a character ability in line with skills as opposed to the more fundamental characteristics. It's not much of a "problem", it is more of an observation of personal confusion. I don't grok Traveller or its variants easily so I got a tiny bit confused. 

Like D&D, there are 6 stats. They deviate from the D&D model as they pass down to the "skill" level in different ways. Yes, they can create a modifier, but sometimes they do more. For example, your character cannot have more skills than their combined Education and Intelligence score. Characters also have a Social Standing stat which controls the number of contacts they can have. 

Were it not for these "combos of ideas" there would be three obvious dump stats. The beauty of these stats is the idea tends to reward rather than punish. Contacts are a great example. These people aren't retainers or companions, they are resources that feed adventures and adventurers alike. They are far more flexible as a resource than any retainer. 

Character generation isn't much of a hurdle. Roll 2d6 six times and you are good to go. But not really. This ruleset brings back memories of MUDDing, where once you have your characteristics, you build your character's skill sets. You can't have everything as each skill takes time to develop. Initially, your character learns skills at a rate of 1 skill every 2 years then shifts to 1 skill every four. As you increase your "rank" or more correctly prestige and competence, you gain bonus skills. The downside of this is, you run the risk of injury, loss of characteristic scores, or even death as you age. As a fifty-year-old, that seems very right. 

In preparing for this review, I rolled 7 characters. The first one, I botched some things and abandoned him or her. The next six characters were generated much more smoothly. There is an "unlearning curve" if you play other games. You need to forget all of that other stuff. D&D, this is not. 

In generating 6 characters, one of each type, I found there was very little need to fiddle with the dice. It is just unlikely that you'd roll a 2-4 as you'd roll a 10, 11 or 12. No characteristic score really hampers character creation, you can be what you want to be despite poor rolls. In fact, some poor rolls create great characters. Each character has 18 different skills to choose from plus random events which modify each character. Every character feels handcrafted and unique while remaining plausible. 

Additionally, the rules assume teamwork. There is a tiny, tiny section on collaboration which is a simple and powerful tool. If a character has a matching skill set, they can turn a single project into a cooperative event. Even if the characters don't have exactly matching skills, they can still participate.  Even if it's an "Of course, you can help! Hold this flashlight," moment. While not every character can mechanically participate, the referee can break tasks and parties down into manageable cooperative events which build up the group as a team. Or creates opportunities for sabatage. It depends on how your gang rolls. 

Even though this is a sci-fi ruleset, there is the opportunity to add a touch of magic to your character in the form of cybernetics and psionics. With the exception of one character that lost an arm in the creation process, I didn't touch on cybernetics. The guy has one prosthetic arm which is not very special. It does lead to some unique character background which I will touch on in another post. Let me close this topic by restating that I generated 7 characters and only one had a significant injury. No one died or experienced a serious age crisis. And yes, to prevent "superpowerism", the rules impose harsh penalties for getting too old for the sake of more skills. 

The rules contain an adequate selection of vehicles, spaceships, weapons, and equipment. While no setting information is included, understand that this is not a good fit for Star Wars or Star Trek. It's more "hard" science fiction than Trek and nothing like the fantasy of Star Wars, while not tapping the diamond hardness of Orion's Arm. It's a great compromise as I suppose you could touch on ideas of all three without jumping the shark. 

The combat section is efficient and realistic, to a degree. These characters are far more likely to be completely unarmed and unarmored than typical science fiction types. Depending on your setting, combat might not be the thing that does in your characters. Guns are pretty lethal, without going into crazy gun tropes. Apparently, there are no disintegrations. Weapons are probably not a good tool in this ruleset and as a consequence, probably won't be the driving feature of your adventures. Cepheus Light is more the 1960s or 1970s Stainless Steel Rat type stories where death by weapons fire is more a consequence of poor planning than any planning. 

I have decided to pull out the Spaceship generation section for a later time. It's great but not something I could digest in a couple of days. I understand some of it, so we can leave it as the pregenerated ships are easy to use and mirror the combat characters to a degree. If you are thinking of having a space battle wargame, this probably isn't the ruleset for you. You could, but maybe you shouldn't. 

Building a ship from scratch is an option, but it is a pricey and time-consuming effort. This could use a few hundred to a few thousand words all on its own. I can't wait to do that, but maybe later this month. One of the better ways to break a game is to include shipbuilding rules. Cepheus Light like Traveller tends to avoid that possibility by cranking up the "science" in the "science fiction". I find it amusing that both Traveller and Cepheus Engine handwaves problems by invoking science and math. That is perfectly awesome.  

To recap, character generation is a unique minigame that sparks creativity while not being particularly murderous or time-consuming as many events can be modified away with cybernetics and luck. All and all, these rules are simple and easy to use which can provoke further expansion and complexity, if one wishes, without requiring more and more. Reviewing Cepheus Light was informative, charming, thought-provoking, and fun. I can't wait to run a session. 

Expect to see some follow-up posts to tag off of this review. 

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. 

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 gold stars 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 'n 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. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Module Review - MCMLXXV by Bill Webb

Title: MCMLXXV (1975) 
Author: Bill Webb
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 21
Number of characters: 4-6 characters
Levels: 1-4
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second review of an Fifth Edition D&D product. I selected this as it was the first module I picked up with a Humble Bundle and it's says things I enjoy. This module attempts to fused old school D&D and the latest version. It also highlights what e5 is. This edition moves backwards, to a simpler version of the game where the dice are used to control the dynamic of play without overwhelming what is meant to be. Classic D&D. 

The module has a simply premise: Have map, find treasure. Basic, easy, old school. And deadly. 

One of the main issues with D&D or any role playing game is, once you grasp the reality of the situation, you might not want to be in that reality. For example, a huge rat could have 2 hit points. Easy enough to kill. Now multiply by a couple dozen, a couple hundred a couple of thousand... No character wins against that sort of thing. Reality and rats, bite. 

That's what makes old school old school and MCMLXXV gloms on to the idea. The monsters are both mundane and challenging, depending on the DM's point of view. Are the characters going to grab that hook or swing on it? It all depends on choices. 

This module is no slayfest like Tomb of Horror, but it could eat characters for breakfast if the DM plays the monsters to their smartest abilities. And if the players don't grasp the nature of the threat. Nothing in this module is railroaded or unavoidable, which is the perfect balance for the DM. If the character's refuse to act sensibly, they die. For example, if they take on a creature that doesn't seem to further the goal of finding the treasure, then there could be some consequences, which could be merely painful or completely deadly.

Much of the adventure or module is made of up of the Encounter chart. I generally make my own encounter charts and this one is excellent. I feel like I'm at Mr. Webb's table, playing a long with his players. This chart is remarkably detailed, running 3 pages and brings each event to life. The players will find these encounters run as a challenging obstacle for the players or to their benefit depending how the situation is played. The creatures play smart and are well linked by theming, which makes them embodies the wackiness that old school monsters could be. 

Then comes the Dungeon. The dungeon is rather small, but fitting of something on a treasure map. There are some good surprises and bad. The end battle can be tough or easily depending on the circumstances. Some players may live or die by happenstance. The treasure is all right there, at the end for the brave adventurers to find... or not. 

1975 contains great materials for running a quick side quest maybe taking a couple of nights to play out. 

While I have reviewed the e5 edition of the module, there is a second one that is for use with Swords and Wizardry available on DriveThruRPG

You don't have to take my word for it, go check out Ten Foot Pole's review by Bryce Lynch on the module. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Game Review - AD&D Second Edition - DMGR2 The Castle Guide

Title: The Castle Guide
Editor: William W. Connors
Year: 1990
Pages: 128 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a real love hate relationship with Second Edition AD&D. I had always played a mix of B/X smashed up with 1e AD&D. When I started picking up 2nd Edition books at Walden's Books, I found them mystifying. They didn't have the same rules as my AD&D. But some of them made perfect sense, like The Castle Guide book. 

This book published in 1990 could easily be used to upgrade or improve Keep on the Borderlands, guide high level characters into domain level play or simply be a guide for the DM to have consistent castles. 
Why does it work? Because it really doesn't include any new rules. Where it does include rules for Warfare!, those rules are framed in terms comparable with both the original DMG and the ship rules from B/X. It's not a bridge to far to mash em up. 

In retrospect, I know it was meant to tag team 2nd edition and Battle System, but since is it so non-specific, it does neither very well. TSR utterly failed to market this a vehicle to a new game system by missing those details. And that actually makes it a good guide book for any system.   

To this day, I am of the opinion that the second edition guides are perfect companions to any edition of D&D and maybe some other game systems. The ones with Connors' name as editor are particularly fine editions to own for any fantastic setting. Connors follow a great formula for editing dissimilar writer's work into a see less product. One author's voice is used to amplify and enhance other writer's ideas. The Guides edited by him are excellent. It could be his authors didn't have access to the newest, latest edition and were a bit circumspect, which is great for guide. 

This particular work introduces a Quick Resolution system that could easily be used for high level domain games today. I believe that it is a part of the Battle System, but in this form is pretty vague. Like the warfare section, it seems to call back 1e's DMG or perhaps the warfare rules in B/X. B/X had a fleeting love affair with ships as they appear in many titles. Those could be worked up into sieges and castles with very little effort.   

The artwork is good, but typical 90's fare. There are several color plates which could be paintings or digital art, it's hard to tell. Many of the interior pieces are thick lined with simple styling. 


Others are worked entirely into circular medallions, which I find interesting. 

It's a steal at $9.99 from DriveThruRPG

Friday, June 25, 2021

Game Review - En Garde!

Title: En Garde!
Design and development: Darryl Hany, Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren Wiseman
Editor: Paul Evans
Year: 1975, 2005
Pages: 88
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

We are from France! 17th or 18th century France. 

En Garde began is a fencing simulation and scaled up from there. It has more in common with Chainmails's Jousting rules and Star Smuggler or Barbarian Prince's time tables than D&D. This is rather refreshing. 

The rules are a detailed walk through this fantastic version of the 17th or 18th century. Your initial character build will require reading or skimming the entire book. While this may seem like a round about way of getting to character creation, the rules are so different than other games that the slog is totally worth it and completely understandable. The system requires no gamemaster, as it is result table based. It could support a gamemaster, if storytelling was desirable. 

I have also heard of people converting the system to an index card game for solo play. While not intended for this purpose, the results-ruling system lends itself to this. Where it falls down is the actual fencing rules. Random really isn't good enough for "reasonable" game play. However, I could see "building" a deck of index cards for certain NPC players so that they are semi-random in their actions, but still have believable drives and actions.  

Once your character or characters are built, it's time to plan. The time scale is a week of highjinx. You can duel, slum, or run off to war. Or find a mistress... Or two, if you're brave. 

The whole game revolves around picking tasks and attempting them with flair. Combat is deadly, unless your a yellow-bellied cad. Interestingly, since there is an honor system in place, you can avoid death by being a jerk. That's has ramifications for your character. 

You can get going with En Garde in about 2 hours. However, the game itself can go on forever. In fact, there really isn't a concept of party, its a social group. It's a great one shot system if at least one person knows the rules, which could turn into a session icebreaker for those who have flagging interesting the main "show". The system is quick with clear "break points" where the players can pause the action for another day. 

I found this game to be engrossing and engaging. 

I've been aware of this game since the 1980's, but only had a chance to pick it up during the pandemic. I am not aware of the rule changes that came between the original rules  and current 4th edition.  

One of the downsides of this game is the fact that there are clear gender roles which are asymmetrical. Personally, I play a rather "gonzo" style of play where I would simply ignore the fact that women aren't meant to be playable character and just roll with it. 



En Garde! is from UK based group. You can find it here from the manufacturer. 


Friday, June 18, 2021

D&D Starter Set Review

Title: 
D&D Starter Set
Design: Wizards of the Coast
Year: July 14th, 2014
Pages: 64-page adventure booklet, 32-page 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 a 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 is 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. Besides 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 a while, 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. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Review - Invasion of Theed Boxed Set

Happy Star Wars Day! 

Title: Invasion of Theed Boxed Set
Design: Bill Slavicsek
Year: 2000
Pages: 2 32 page booklets, and 16 page character sheets folio.
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Theed is the capital of Naboo and this adventure runs contemporaneously with the end of the film, The Phantom Menace. The party of up to 8 players fights to help the Queen free Naboo from the threat of the Sith Lord.

This set is a modification of the rules that appear in Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars: Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. These "simplifed" rules cut out everything not necessary to run the adventure. It is heavily combat orientated, but other non-combat situations are addressed in a limited fashion. Characters star at level one and have the potential to level up several times during play. 

This set features 2 game booklets, one for the rules and second is the module. Players are given gloriously detailed 2 page character sheets which also include activity prompts and a rule guide focused on their particular character. There are 2 maps plus 2 sheets of tokens. 0

The adaption of the 200+ page d20 ruleset from the core book to simplified adventure game is more than adequate. As a fighting system, it is rock solid. Many items are pre calculated, such as experience. This takes a load off the Gamemaster and places it on the characters. Everything runs extremely smoothly. 

Being an introductory set, there will be situations the players could ask about that is not included. A season GM would have immediate answers but a newbie would invoke "That not possible" for these few situations. 

Being run alongside the events of The Phantom Menace, the players will notice that they don't really meet too many of the characters in the film and definitely don't interact with them in any meaningful way. It seems their insertion into the game was driven by IP consultants trying to sandwich in all of the content from the movie. 

If you look at the cover of the boxed set, you can see that the artists were free of this concept. Not a single major character is featured there. But the created characters fit wonderfully with the theme of the film, like a second batch of heroes in this titanic battle. The premade characters sheets include a very minimal backstory, usually only to account for their abilities such as being a soldier or Jedi. They can be made into whatever the player has in mind for their character. 

Lost on the back page of one of the booklets is a one page character sheet. This is a nice addition as it allows someone to roll a completely new character for the set. 

There are only two flaws to this set. First, major film characters are shoehorned into the end of the adventure in a way that can never be canon breaking, which will give the players a sense of being rooked in victory. 

The other flaw is only apparent if you have the Core rules. Scale is reduced to "squares" in this boxed which convert to a standard 2 meters in the core rules. So, when switching from this set to the main rules and back, invariably new players will screw up ranges by a factor of two. This isn't too bad, in my opinion. The Core set lists unrealistically low ranges for virtually every weapon. The idea that an energy rifle only covers "40 meters" or "20 squares" is somewhat ludicus. Forget the scale and just have fun. No one will notice. 
 
All and all this is a great introduction to Star Wars and d20. 

Sadly this set is out of print and not available in pdf.

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. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Game Review - Home Worlds

Title: Home Worlds
Publisher: Looney Labs
Designer: John Cooper
Artist:  OTHER Studio
Year: 2020
Pages: 32
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first page of the instruction sheet sums it up: "What Chess is to medieval warfare, Homeworlds is to Star Trek and Star Wars." 

Yup. 

This game is fascinating. You're off to fight an interstellar war against an opponent, manage resources, planets and ships with just 4 types of game pieces. Insane, but it works. This is one of many games by Looney Labs which use the Looney Pyramids. The game includes 36 pyramids of differing sizes and colors, a board for the bank, the rule book and a token to indicate which player's turn it is. 

Star Systems are indicated by an upright pyramid. Ships are indicated by a pyramid lying on it's side, your ships a;ways point away from you. Enemy ships point towards you. When a system is explored, a new upright pyramid is placed from the bank. When all ships leave a system, that planet is placed back in the bank. 

Movement is simple. You can only move to stars of different sizes. Stars of the same size are not connected and travel is blocked. A binary star, two stars in one system is connected to stars that do not match either of the two star sizes. 

Each player picks a color and builds their home world with a binary star and one large ship. The colors you choose at the start of the game controls your choices later on, so choose carefully. All of a sudden, your opening choices create puzzles to be solved by you. Color and size of the play pieces represent different options and limitations. 

Players choose from a Basic Action, a Sacrifice action which puts a pyramid back in the bank or a "pass". Passing your turn isn't optimal at the start but I am told that no action might be the best option later in the game. There is a forced action called a Catastrophe when the players place 4 of the same color pieces in the same star system. 

Each color means something: 

Green=Build
Red=Fight
Yellow=Move
Blue=Trade


Pretty simple? No. 

Size also determines what each piece can do. It all gets very complex very fast. 

These simple rules create a very rich system of game play. One of the nicer aspects of the game is it assumes loopholes in the rules will allow a player to create actual logical loops in play which may seem like cheating, but are merely built in options which may or may not be useful based on the pieces in play. This also makes the bank behave as a "third actor" in a two person game. What is in the bank creates or limits options. 

There are 3 win options, destroy all of your enemy's ships, destroy his or her home world or force your opponent into causing a Catastrophe in their home system. There are also a draw  and deadlock conditions which result in a tie. 

I've only played 10 or 20 times and not always to completion, but the rule set is so ingenious, it keeps pulling me back for more. I really want to master this system and Home Worlds.