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

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 (or more) of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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 or get it via Amazon in the US. 


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. 

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 Ollie's discount for $8.00. 

This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad


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. You can pick up a used copy at Amazon and full retail price, which is a shame. 


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. 

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. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Review - The Seventh Decimate

Title: The Seventh Decimate
Author: Stephen R. Donaldson
Pages: 319
Year: 2017
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Donaldson is known for his use of obscure words and bleak stories where characters confront and cross their self created moral event horizons in support of a wide and wild ranging story. The Seventh Decimate is clearly born of this style of storytelling, but nicely reverses itself so as to place the reader at a distance from the main characters. The use of this "observation mode" narration is effective and engrossing as the reader can understand the main antagonist's point of view without having to buy into it. Additionally, the prose lacks those obscure words and heavy sentence structures Donaldson is so well know for using. This makes for a quick read.  

This book describes the war between the magic using Amikans and the gun toting Bellegerian forces. There is no lead up to this juxtaposition of genres, Donaldson just lays it out there for the reader. The plight of both kingdoms are presented in the Bellegerian Prince's point of view. The Prince, a simple man, lacks many of the horrible traits of Thomas Covenant and he is a transparent character for the reader to study. Oddly, this level of transparency makes the Prince an ideal, if unlikely, hero to carry the story to completion. Being that this is Donaldson, there are many "What the Hell, Hero?" moments in this story, but none of them are surprising or horrifying which is a heavy shift in style for the author. There is nothing terribly inexplicable in the Prince's actions, he is flawed and simple but never works in a way to sabotage the story for the sake of a twist. And there are many twists.  

The final chapter is rather disappointing as a singular book, the cliffhanger ending is great for a series but may put off the casual reader who was expecting some sort of solid end point. However, that end IS exactly as you would expect which is very pleasing. 

I can't wait to read the next book, The War Within. All links will take you Amazon.com to check out the series. \

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Review: Dark Forces

Title: Dark Forces
Publisher: LucasArts
Year: 1995
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, memories. In Dark Forces, you control Kyle Katarn on his mission to recover the Death Star Plans and save the rebellion from the Evil Empire. 

Oh, but there's more... Kyle discovers a secret base on the Arc Hammer, ready to pump out a new weapon system, the Dark Troopers. This is one of the first times Star Wars fans access the universe via a character who does not have the Force and does not pilot a cool ship. Han Solo and Wedge, Kyle is not.

The game plays out like a cross between The Mandalorian and Doom. Considering how the 1990's were, that should be no surprise. It was refreshing not to see Sith and Jedi gumming up a straight shooter game along with the idea that the Cool Ship was merely a vehicle within the story, not the main character like TIE and X-Wing.

Kyle does a cool ship, but it's not an item you use on your missions. It carries you from and to each mission via screen cuts. The Moldy Crow is epic looking and seems to be the look Bungie was going for in Destiny with the Guardian's ships. 

This game is very similar to Doom in it's execution, but has some notable differences. Like Doom, Kyle Katarn  is armed with an array of weapons, each one except fists needing ammunition. These weapons can strafe and have two modes of file. 

They are: 

1 Fist
2 Bryar Blaster Pistol
3 E-11 blaster rifle
4 Thermal Detonator
5 Imperial Repeater Gun
6 Jeron Fusion Cutter
7 I.M. Mine
8 Packered Mortar Gun
9 Stouker Concussion Rifle
10 Assault Cannon

In addition to these weapons, Katarn has a collection of items which are helpful. Headlamps and Infrared googles, a breathing mask, ice cleats, and medi packs are all necessary to complete the game. Kyle will also need batteries, power ups and extra lives to make it to the end. 

Unlike Doom, the player is able to look up and down, move vertically and maps simulate different elevations. There are jumping puzzles, mazes, environmental hazards to stymie the player. It has three levels of difficulty to assist the new player get into the game. 

Mission 1: The Death Star Plans: Operation Skyhook – Secret Base
Mission 2: After the Massacre – Talay (Tak Base)
Mission 3: The Subterranean Hideout – Anoat City
Mission 4: Imperial Weapons Research Facility – Research Facility
Mission 5: The Blood Moon – Gromas Mines
Mission 6: Crix Madin’s Fate – Detention Center
Mission 7: Deadly Cargo – Ramsees Hed
Mission 8: Ice Station Beta – Robotics Facility
Mission 9: The Death Mark – Nar Shaddaa
Mission 10: Jabba’s Revenge – Jabba’s Ship
Mission 11: The Imperial Mask – Imperial City
Mission 12: Smuggler’s Hijack – Fuel Station
Mission 13: The Stowaway – The Executor
Mission 14: The Dark Awakening – The Arc Hammer

Gamer Walkthroughs is an excellent resource I wish I had back in 1995. Each mission has specific win parameters, so you need to hunt for solutions and solve puzzles. If all the Storm Troopers are not enough for you, you'll fight Boba Fett, a Kell Dragon with no weapons and finally, face off against the terrifying Dark Trooper. 


While no longer canonical Star Wars, it's nice to see some of these scenarios come to life via The Mandalorian.  

The audio track was excellent, the music virtually lifted from the movies. The use of stereo sound was terrifying, you hear things coming from the proper direction with headphones. The first time a Dark Trooper attacks, you know it's badassed just by the sound of it's footsteps. 

The AI is sort of lack luster and the missions are designed Doom style meaning you don't sneak or bypass enemies. It's straight up blast and kill session even though you have a story and mission parameters. 

Performance was iffy if I remember correctly. 4 MB was not enough for you to get the full effect. It's even choppy on my Sawtooth, which has more than enough horse power for 1990 games. 

All and all, I give this game 4 stars. Go check out the videos at Gamer Walkrhrough for a feel of the game. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Review: SimEarth

Title: SimEarth: The Living Planet
Publisher: Maxis
Author: Will Wright
Year: 1990
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sim Earth is a fantastic game by Will Wright, creator of the Sims and Spore. SimEarth was released by Maxis in 1990. As a 31 year old game, it's rough but lovable. It is based on the Gaia model and runs amazingly well on G3 Mac under OS 9. 

The purpose of the game or simulation is to use energy and feedback loops to advance your chosen lifeform to the highest level of technology possible. It's easier said than done, but well worth the effort. You are pitted against not only your own created mishaps, but random events such as weather, cooling, warming, etc. It's a great primer on what it takes to make a planet full of life. Events are predictable, but not repetitive. 

Earth isn't the only planet you can work with, the game includes scenarios for Mars and Venus. These are breathtakingly difficult. A simplified model called Daisy World highlights the power of the sun on Earth's environment. While it is meant to be a simulator type game, it dives into science fiction with some of the devices and creatures that appear. 

Each world scenario is broken down into the world map which is initially populated with land forms. As time goes on, the landforms morph under the energy of the sun and tectonic forces. Sooner, rather than later, life will emerge. There are dozens of Taxa of life, all of which are on equal footing to evolve and become intelligent. These taxa and landforms are all right out of your Earth and Biology text books from high school, they feel familiar. You can use the magnifying glass to observe their description and current state. As creatures become intelligent, you can guide them through different levels of Civilization with the goal of getting them to colonize other planets. 

SimEarth is educational in it's whimsy. You can bring back the Trichordates, a species of life with tri-radial symmetry. Or create Carniferns, man eating plants or even robotic life. All of these achievements have to be done between ice ages and hot, dry epochs. The game includes several scenarios which pose questions as to what hardships life can overcome with guidance or the limits of science. Terraform Mars and Venus, anyone? 

Time flies when you're creating life.

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.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Review - X-Wing Miniature Game

Title: X-Wing Miniature Game
Credits: A Game by Jay Little
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 2014? 
Pages: 24, 16 and 4 page booklets
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★★

I picked this game up for my son a few years back and we played it a lot. My son has his X-Wing and TIE models on a shelf in his room. I started this post at 4:45 am, which is why you won't see images of those parts in this review. I'll see what I can do when my son and our sun gets up. 

As I understand it, this system is full of power creep which really doesn't effect the gameplay of this set. This is also the first edition rules, which is different than what is currently on the market. So on to the game review. 

This version of X-Wing was produced for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had to guess at the date because there isn't one on the box. The box is solid, it will hold up well on the shelf. Inside are 3 booklets, totalling 44 pages of information for game play. The graphics are incredible and a valued addition to the game as they present gameplay information, not random photos from a at the time unreleased movie. It's a good thing the box is as sturdy as it is, it's loaded with parts. 3 painted models, cards, dice, tokens, templates, etc. It's a lot of parts, but nothing extraneous. 

The first play guide has you in the seat of your beloved X-Wing or TIE fighter and blowing the snot out of your enemy in minutes. The instructional method is a familiar one: learn the basics as you play, add more rules, play again, then master the all rules and go crazy with new adventures. 

The first session can be played in 10-30 minutes as you learn the rules. Its really nice. My first impression of the game was that it was a copy of Top Gun**. There are some similarities, both where made for a movie, both had some cool tokens and a move, react, shoot, repeat method of play. But that is where it ends. 

There is one thing missing from the box that sets this game apart from the others: A Game Board. There isn't one. Players are told to find a good sized table, lay down some felt or a black table cloth and have at it. Sure, you can buy one but the rules clearly state it isn't necessary. Movement templates guide the ships, unlocking them from the play space. The lack of a board is actually a strength. Not having a grid or hexes to lock your pieces down gives the game the same fluid dynamic of Star Wars space combat. You feel like you're in the cockpit. 

This game brings back a lot of memories in one tiny box. I have already mentioned that it felt a bit like a better planned out version of a Top Gun** Movie game from the late 80s, which was an apparent skin of the Aerotech game (which is available via the Battletech Compendium at DriveThru. It has the movement guides like the turn keys of Car Wars. Combat is handled with dice where each player rolls dice at the same time like Risk, with the twist that the defender's dice eliminates the attacker's damage. There is a I-go-you-go approach to terrain, which is a hell of an old school call out to games like WRG. And it's Star Wars themed. 

First edition games may seem rough, but this one isn't. Gameplay and rules are tight, with carefully considered options. Gameplay pops and snaps into place naturally, it's like something from the Spice Mines of Kessel. And since it's a vehicle for selling models as add-ons, it very successful at that. 

*While intended as a two player game, there are 3 models which could be divided among 3 players. For complex missions, one could add a game host. My initial playthrough was with 3 young children each having a model and myself acting as a gamehost, so 4 people can be involved. Whatever you do, it just works out. 



** I wish I could point you to the Top Gun game I had back in the 80s/90s, but I have never seen one except the one I bought from the shelf of my local Hobby Shop back when the movie was hot. Since I lost my copy, I don't even have a picture. It was pretty cool at the time, coming with about a dozen tiny plastic airplane tokens. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

#TBT - Star Viking Game Review

Title: Star Viking
Credits:
   Designer: Arnold Hendrick
   Graphics Design: David Helber and Arnold Hendrick
   Cover Painting: Bob Depew
Rule Set: Unique to set
Year: 1981
Pages: 24
Number of players: 2*
Rating: ★★★★


Star Viking places two players head to head for the survival of civilization. Well, one of you will defend the Federation civilization, the other will try to destroy it. The Star Viking boxed included a rules booklet, two dice, a folded sheet of 154 die-cut cardboard counters (each 1⁄2” square), and a sheet of 12 map tiles, each representing a star system.

Game procedure is easy, but as with all simple things can result in hideously complex results. The players are at cross purposes from the start. The Viking player selects his or her forces while the Federation arrays the map tiles and his or her defenses. Turns are divided into strategic and tactical moves. Tactical moves are only required when both players are in the same place.

The map tiles are divided into sectors, with large cities representing more than one sector while sleepy moons are one sector. These sectors are equivalent to a hex. Some sectors are vacuum, while others are in an atmosphere. They are either contiguous or connected by an orbit line.

There are 20+ units available to the players, each one having a tech level. The sector's tech level determines if a unit can be placed there. For example, a sector with B tech level can support B and C type units. 

Each turn is divided in three, Strategic Segment, Tactical Segment and Politics and Economic Segment. Strategic is for moving vast distances, tactical is for combat and Politics and Economics represents responses such as building new ships or plundering.

One interesting twist on this game is, players purchase victory points to win. There are automatic victory conditions, if the Vikings sack the capital or one player accumulates twice as many victory points as his or her opponent via purchasing on or after the 7th round. If the game lasts all 12 rounds, then the player with the most victory points wins.

*This tiny set of rules has multiple expansions presented right in this set. The first variant is to play as a solitaire game. It suggests automatic movement by die roll, but doesn't include any tables. You are to make them yourself. The second is to use two hostile Viking players for a 3 way game. This requires having 2 boxed sets, which is easy to do since you can print them yourself. The third is to merely extend the number of rounds to 20, 30 or more.

There is exactly one errata, this was a very well produced game from the get-go and still provides hours of entertainment 30+ years later.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Review - The White Box Boxed Set

Title: The White Box
Production Team: Jeremy Holcomb, Jeff Tidball, Renee Knipe, Atlas-Games.com
Rule Set: all your own
Year: 2017
Pages: 102
Rating: ★★★★★

This is an interesting title. When I am in the classroom or attending classes, the word pedagogy comes up a lot. I never thought I would be using it on a gaming website. 

Yet, that is where we are. Playing a game requires some level of learning. Mostly, this comes up when there is a high learning curve in the rules. Starfleet Battles comes to mind as a game with a rather high learning curve. D&D on the other hand feels more free flowing, therefore has a smaller learning curve. Uno has a quick, as you go vibe, so it doesn't seem like you're learning at all. But all require some pedagogy to teach the game. 

What is The White Box is answered with the sub-title: "A Game Design Workshop in a Box". Its purpose is to teach one how to make games. Or alternatively, to teach players what design elements have what effect on the user. As a teacher, the idea of deconstructing a game rule by rule is more interesting than designing my own. The White Box is very similar to many educational packs teachers can order for their classroom. It comes with the following: 

  • The White Box Essays, the textbook if you will. 
  • 3 counter sheets. 71 pre-printed counters and 49 blank counters.
  • 150 small wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 36 wooden meeples in six colors.
  • 6 giant wooden cubes in six colors.
  • 12 six-sided dice in six colors.
  • 110 plastic discs in eight colors. 

All you need is to add some creativity. The book is excellently written. It is a compilation of 25 essays on game design. The tactile learning tokens or "feelies", if you are old like me, harkens back to the old Infocom games. But they are clearly well thought out and have high production values. Tokens and counters are black, white and gold to match the box, while the various other items in the box are green, white, blue, red, yellow, and black. Despite the fact that these parts are in different media, plastics and wood the bold colors match well, unlike some of the lesson plan sets teachers have to throw together. The meeples are generic and cute. 

While intended to teach game design, the 102 page book tends to dance the subject a bit when it comes to ideation and leans heavily on design and production. It does answer to some important questions as to where a game designer's energy should go. It also gets into elements like adding random numbers and how a game should flow. It's very clear that the authors have written and designed games, so the essays are very useful, despite not having specifics on brainstorming or what makes a great game. If everyone knew those things, then there would be no need for this product. At least 4 different essays are addressed to non-gameplay situations such as theft, rule laywering, copyrights, game breakers, min-maxing and other situations a designer needs to know about to a have shot at fame and fortune in game design. 

As I understand it, this came out as a Kickstart project a few years ago, this is not a review of KS and since I missed that step, I cannot comment on how easily this boxed set came to fruition. 

What I do know is that this is a good product for getting started on the topic of game design, having seen many games come together in my time at Mattel. All and all I give it 5 stars. 

On a side note, I want to get my hands on another copy of this as it makes an excellent tabletop piece for a variety of games. The tokens, counters and chits are so generic as to be unobtrusive on the table for tracking various things in games that tend to be more "theater of the mind", but could use a little diagram or reminder here or there.  

You can pick up a physical copy at Atlas-Games and an electronic file DriveThruRPG which is missing the tangible pieces. Interestly, there is an audio book and a bundle with both. I didn't know that until this review. The pdf is well worth the $7.99 price tag, but if you want to full experience, I would buy the physical boxed set and the audio book. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Review - World Builder by Silicon Beach Software

Publisher: Silicon Beach Software
Author: W. B. Appleton and Charlie Jackson
Year: 1986
Pages: 87 pages
Overall Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Ok, now I'm reviewing software. It's ok, we'll get through it. 

World Builder is a 35 year old program for creating games. It was issued on a single floppy disk, with a manual for Macintosh computers by Silicon Beach Software. It was useable on System 3 and higher, but a System 7 or 9 needed a free update to 32 bit. Prior to it's release the code had been used to create the game Enchanted Scepters. 

The package promises to get you coding to create you own games. Did it deliver? Hell, yes. It wouldn't build Doom or any other real time first person shoot, but it could certainly handle round based games. It was really meant to create IF games like Zork or other Infocom style games and did so very well.

The manual is a gem without the software as it is applicable to many of the core ideas behind programing. The manual suggests 4 steps to creation, design, populate, design characters and play. It's a little more complicated than that, but that complexity are just details of creation. 

The software has a couple of windows and concepts the user needs to master and that framework of 4 steps makes it easy. 

First, every world must contain scenes. Think of them as a stage for the story. Scenes are hardcoded with some basic concepts like a name,  travel functions, a drawn image, text to display and of course code. You draw static items that appear in the scene like walls, floor, lights, etc. These can provide hints as to what the player should do there. Next, you describe the scene with text. A graphical interface allows the builder to assign valid direction to move and text to appear when an invalid  choice is made. 
It will work on OS 9.2 with the 
32 bit version.

Scenes can be connected like a map, or disconnected like a schematic. You need both most of the time. One great feature is the Scene Code which is specific to each scene. This can be used to create functional interactions, such as sit, stand, or turn on the lights. There is a customizable menu so the Builder can give the players hints or ideas of what needs to be done in a specific room. 

Let jump ahead to designing characters. Every game requires a Player, so this is the one character you need to build. The code refers to the main character as Player@. He or she has attributes that any gamer would relate to, Physical or Spiritual Strength, Hit Points or health, etc. All characters have this abilities. A graphical interface walks the build through the creation process including such things as automatic responses to specific events like combat or other actions. It is fairly robust. Statistics carry through scenes and can be modified by them. 

For example, a character could be give a great fighting skill in the character builder, but have those abilities modified by events or circumstances in the scene such as deep water or darkness. It's a very powerful engine. 

Having mentioned that all characters have the same stats, World Builder does not have the best combat system. The problem is the random number generator. It's a random value between 1 and 256. That is so unlike a percent or a die roll it is hard to predict what the outcome will be without some fine tuning. 

While this may seem odd or difficult, populating the world will clarify this. Being called "Populating", you'd think this part would be about characters. It is and it is not. 

Games come down to a practical point of what is the conflict and what are the barriers. A conflict is something general: a battle of disimular viewpoints. That makes a conflict and the resolution comes when one of those viewpoints is allowed to extend to it's logical conclusion. It could be a defeat or a victory or perhaps even a merger. Conflict is complicated.  

A barrier is something that must be overcome by a set of conditions. It less complicated than the conflict itself. 

Was Smaug there for Bilbo to wrestle to the ground and defeat? Nope.Not that sort of conflict. But Smaug is defeated.  So technically, Smaug is a barrier. The defeat of Smaug requires a certain set of conditions, such as the bird pointing out the chink in his underbelly, Bilbo frustrating the dragon and Bard lying in wait for Smaug with a special arrow. 

So, Bilbo is a character. But Bard, the bird and Smaug and even the arrow are not characters. They are Objects@ (in World Builder terms) or tools to gain a resolution. 

World Builder teaches that difference in the course of programing your own adventure. Populating means creating Objects@ and Characters@ and integrating them with game world you creating. That's a powerful idea that transcends the software itself and is relatable to other outlets like gaming. 

Pulling the tangent back from those high concept, this software is excellent at it's given purpose: World Building. It contains everything you need to get started, the code engine, the drawing software, import tools, sounds and sound creation, plus a means to distribute your product as a stand alone application. 

It really is quiet amazing. 

If you have the hardware, you can download it for free from various abandonware websites. It should be noted that this is not your typical abandonware because at the time that it was remastered for 32 bit and color, it was also released as a free download. It's only a quirk of time that prevents the author from hosting the software themselves as they had in the past. 

If you don't have the hardware, the 87 page manual is an excellent primer into code and game design. Give it a look. 

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.