Category Archives: Books

Empire of Imagination – Mini Review

I finally made the time this week and read Michael Witwer’s book, Empire of Imagination, a biography of Gary Gygax. You can read about his research [here or here] on the sanitorium that was not in the original hardback, but is detailed in the paperback.

I’m a fast reader and I made it through in two evenings. It is well written and flows

The narrative style makes it a non-traditional biography, but does help take the reader into the story of Gay Gygax’s life before and after D&D. There are lots of footnotes, photographs, and a bibliography of Gygax’s works.

For a quick and entertaining overview of Gary’s involvement with D&D and TSR, this book does the job. It reads like one wrote down all the stories from Gary’s life. The care and detail in research shines through.

Some of the jumps in the presentation from one chapter to the next seemed abrupt and not well explained. However, as I think about it, that is often how our own lives are when we realize that we have entered a new chapter. Even though we were there for he whole thing, we can still wonder, “How did I get here?”

I enjoyed the style, and like good things found myself wanting more. Now I know why this book took off when it came out. If you haven’t read it, I suggest adding it to your reading list. It is also available in audio book, if you prefer that sort of thing.

Hard Work Sometimes Pays Off

My boss appreciates me jumping in and picking up after two people on another team resigned in the same two week period.

He’s only been my boss about seven months. He gave me an Amazon gift card to show appreciation. I used that to knock some items off my Amazon wish list, and also splurged when it didn’t cover everything. [In the nearly two months since I drafted this article, I got another Amazon gift card from my boss, and an appreciation Amazon gift card from our division VP. ]

I’d been wanting a copy of the Rankin & Bass The Hobbit[Aff link], and the other cartons of the era. I don’t have many DVD’s, as there are not a lot of movies that I want to watch multiple times. Some that I have, I have fond memories of them, but I watch them again, and it doesn’t seem like the movie I recall. I remember the whole family gathering around the TV to watch The Hobbit, I miss those days.

Unfortunately, I have yet to watch all of these movies, and with all the chaos of moving my office and adding three people to my house, I don’t know where they are at the moment. I did squeeze in The Hobbit last night.

The Hobbit
The Hobbit
Return of The King
Return of The King
Lord of The Rings
Lord of The Rings

I also splurged to get the table top Hobbit and Lord of The Rings, two hefty volumes. I haven’t had time to just sit and enjoy them. At least I know that they are on my nearly organized gaming shelves.

Art of The Hobbit
Art of The Hobbit
Art of The Lord of The Rings
Art of The Lord of The Rings

 

White Star Came Yesterday

My hardcover and softcover copies of White Star came in the mail yesterday. I had time to take the pictures, but not time to write this blog post until today.

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For some reason, I imagined that the books were bigger from the other pictures. Then I realized they did not show scale.

Here are some pictures for scale with Delving Deeper, the White Box Omnibus, and the 1st edition Monster Manual II. My White Box Omnibus softcover is about 1/8″ taller than my White Star soft cover.

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A better representation of scale.
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At this angle the WBO is hiding the hard cover.

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Goodies Received

I recently placed orders at Amazon, Lulu and DriveThruRPG, I got the last of the Amazon order on Friday and the others on Saturday.

I’m not doing an in-depth review, just touching on what I got.

From Amazon, I got a good deal on a copy of Manual of the Planes for AD&D 1e. I never had the book, but I have the PDF and wanted a “complete” set of the AD&D manuals. By complete, I mean complete to me. That is, I now have all the AD&D manuals that I want. The only exception is if I find inexpensive Players Handbooks that are good for use at the table. I think that I’m up to three table copies, but would like to boost that a bit.

Manual of the Planes
Manual of the Planes

Earlier in the week, a separate shipment of my Amazon order came, with Playing at the World [Aff link],by Jon Peterson. So far, I’ve gotten through the introduction, acknowledgements, and the fist few sections of chapter one. As I write this on a rainy Saturday, I’m leaning towards more reading, since I can’t do my yard work and don’t feel motivated to do inside chores.

Playing at the World
Playing at the World

I also got two copies of a board book, one for my granddaughter, and one for me: C is for Cthulhu[Aff link]. There was a Kickstarter for this. I didn’t learn of it until well after it. I think it is a neat idea. I also can’t wait to see the look on my son’s face tomorrow* when I give it to them. He has read some H. P. Lovecraft, he got a book several years ago from the local library’s annual sale.

C is for Cthulhu
C is for Cthulhu

Here’s a picture of my granddaughter with her new book. Her parents were geeked out about this book. She was taking a nap when I arrived, and their dog barked and woke her up just a few minutes into it, so she wasn’t as exited. However, I did read it to her several times and she enjoyed it.

Nikola with her new book.
Nikola with her new book.

The Lulu order contained Revised & Expanded Petty Gods and Metamorphosis Alpha. I did not contribute to Petty Gods, but I already have the PDF and with a 30% sale Lulu had, I jumped in.

Petty Gods
Petty Gods

Metamorphosis Alpha is the original rules, but with James Ward’s minor changes on the cover and title page indicating it is his. When I saw it and picked it up and started flipping through the pages, it brought me back to when I had my copy of the game. I can see myself sitting in my parent’s basement way back in high school, reading the rules and running one of the few games we had. This is just like so many of the rule books back then. It reminds me of all those other TSR games in the early 1980’s: Gamma World, Top Secret, Boot Hill, Gang Busters, Star Frontiers, etc. We played them all, but kept coming back to AD&D.

Metamorphosis Alpha
Metamorphosis Alpha

I did not back the Metamorphosis Alpha re-print Kickstarter. I did get the PDF from DriveThruRPG and print it out. I also backed the Epsilon City Kickstarter and plan to add the softcover MA re-print, but I didn’t want to wait for that to arrive in a few months.

I also bought this to help Jame Ward with his recent and ongoing hospital stay. This is on top of my boosted pledge to the Epsilon City Kickstarter and a donation to his GoFundMe. #WardenCrew

From DriveThruRPG I got the Portrait GM Screen, and the OSR Sci Fi GM Screen for White Star. I already had the PDF of the Sci fi GM Screen, but if I bought the Portrait GM Screen, they would just give me a copy of the Sci Fi GM Screen. I used up all of my credits and then some to get this, so if you want to buy something from my affiliate links, please do, so I can get more things to review!

The Portrait GM Screen is actually TWGS – The World’s Greatest Screen, by Hammerdog Games. Hammerdog has free inserts that you can download from their site. This screen has a bit of heft to it. It reminds me of a few executive style notebooks I have. The inset pockets are tight and it might be a challenge to switch things up and use inserts for another game. With binders we have at works with such insert pockets on the cover, the ink gets stuck to the plastic and it is a challenge to get the inserts out. I’m not sure if it is safe to leave fancy inserts in. Home printed inserts, or copy paper inserts, the ink will most likely stick to the pocket sleeve. Unless this plastic/vinyl is a different quality and ink does not stick to it, I wouldn’t leave inserts in there for an extended period of time, unless you planned to play only one game, or get a new screen for each game. The latter would get quite expensive.

I’ll have to look for long-term reviews about the issues of ink sticking to the sleeve pocket, etc. Hammerdog does have a page on caring for the screen. I’m curious to see if anyone who has followed their instructions has had any issues. I found this unboxing video of both the portrait and landscape sceens on YouTube.

TWGS
TWGS

The SciFi GM Screen is visually appealing and the card stock is about the same grade as that of the Metamorphosis Alpha GM Screen that I reviewed here. It has a couple pages of tables and a sector map and mini adventure for the GM and another one for the players. This is an interesting idea. I have the PDF of the GM Screen, but I have not thoroughly reviewed it. I’m used to seeing combat tables and other things on GM screens. I know with the Ascending Armor Class, one doesn’t need combat tables. Somehow, I feel a table or two that might be relevant to play is missing. I will have to review my PDF copy of White Star before I stick to a claim one way or the other.

Sci Fi GM Screen
Sci Fi GM Screen
Sci Fi GM Screen
Sci Fi GM Screen – All the Inserts
Sci Fi GM Screen
Sci Fi GM Screen – Sector Map

 

* I wrote this on Saturday, will give it to them Sunday, and set this article to publish Monday.

The 5e Plunge – Manuals Arrive

There was a half off sale on the new D&D 5e manuals on Amazon, so I went ahead and ordered all three of them, plus a DM screen. I already have the starter set and the free PDF’s, that I still have yet to read.

Serendipitously, these manuals and my DCC dice arrived on the same day.

I was surprised that the manuals were not wrapped in anything to protect them from rubbing against each other in shipment, or packed together so they did not slide. There was only one “airbag” on the bottom edge of the books to limit how much they moved, but there was still nearly two inches of empty space along the top edge and about two inches of space along the edge of the spine/edge of the pages. Not a lot of space, but enough room for them to rattle around in the box.

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The front and back covers, the spine, pages, and most of the edges look fine, but there is a small area that is roughed up on the pointy corner. It is minor, and if these books get read and used at the table, worse will befall them. I just prefer that a book be in good shape when I buy it new, and that I am the one who drops it or scuffs it up through use and abuse.

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I also noticed that the edge of the pages were wavy. I don’t know if that is a manufacturing thing, or that the weather was extra humid the day the package arrived. After sitting stacked in the box on the floor in my office, the Player’s Handbook [Aff link] does not appear to have wavy pages on the long edge, but the DMG [Aff link], and Monster Manual [Aff link] do. The tops and bottoms of the edges of the pages of all three manuals had obvious “waves” in them. The Player’s Handbook was on top, with the DMG next, and the Monster Manual on the bottom, and that did not seem to press them out. I don’t know if that is a manufacturing issue or a weather issue. Again, this is minor enough that I won’t ship them back.

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The manuals have slick and shiny covers, except for the half of the back cover where one’s right hand fingers would grip it while reading. Each manual has this. I assume it is to give you a better grip on the book. I was surprised by this, and at first thought there was something amiss with the cover, until I realized it was intentional. The slick, shiny part of the covers is mirror-like.

The interior pages are black ink on a colored background with shiny paper. As long as you avoid bright light shining on the page at an angle that makes the text unreadable, the text appears to be easy to read. One should definitely avoid trying to read this in low light to avoid eye strain, and most likely a headache.

The illustrations are a mix of line art and full color pictures. A quick flip through reveals some very cool images.

I will review the contents of the manuals in subsequent articles.

DM Screen

As I was taking pictures for the unboxing, I noticed that the three books were all made in the USA, but that the DM Screen [Aff link] was made in China. The shrink wrap on the DM Screen was very tight, protecting it in shipping, but also requiring care in its removal to avoid gouging the screen. Once unwrapped, I discovered that it had a cover that has the same dragon as is on the screen and the inside is what I assume is a lich “poster” advertising the D&D Adventurers League.

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Unlike the AD&D DM Screen I am used to from AD&D that is two pieces with a portrait orientation and each section is approximately the size of a sheet of paper, the 5e DM Screen is one piece with four sections in landscape orientation.

One page has five tables for generating NPC’s: characteristics, ideals, bonds, flaws, and a name generator. These handy tables would work in any setting or set of rules.

A page and a half is dedicated to conditions. There are bullet points that summarize each condition. Some of the points indicate if the condition results in disadvantage or how saving throws are affected. I have not read the manuals to see any details in the manuals on the conditions, but the bullet points seem fairly straightforward. I am not sure that the conditions need spelled out here. I suppose for players that argue the rules and try to rules lawyer the DM? This section ends with a chart showing the effects of the six levels of exhaustion. Level six is death! From what I have read online about a short rest and healing, just take five and you won’t die. I’m curious about how all that works, so time will tell.

The other half of the page shared with conditions are five tables showing the DC for various difficulties, cover, obscured areas (AKA concealment), light sources, and skills and associated abilities.

The final page has five tables for travel pace, encounter distance based on terrain and how far visibility is both audibly and visibly, and damage by level and severity. Finishing the charts are two tables for something happens and quick finds. These last two tables are again something that can be used in any other game/genre.

The interior and exterior artwork of the screen is very cool.

The finish on the screen is shiny. If a light is shining directly on it, the DM side with the charts and information is unreadable. The shininess of the finish makes it mirror-like, and makes it hard to read. At normal distance from the table with it positioned like I would have it to run a game, I find that the print is small and difficult to line up my bifocals to read it without having to lean over or pick it up. Since most of the information on the screen is fairly common sense, and you won’t be generating a lot of NPC’s and events on the fly all the time, it should not be an issue for most DM’s. As a screen, it serves its purpose. The folds/creases of the screen are “tight” to begin with, so it wanted to fold up until I had it open a while. It seems too low to me, but that is because I am used to the AD&D DM screen. If one is worried about players seeing something, I think you will be worried no matter how tall your screen is.

Once I read all the rules, shame on me for not reading the quick start and the PDF’s sooner, and know more about it, I can give a better assessment of whether or not the charts and tables on the screen are the ones most needed in play.

No one at WoTC must wear bifocals or have vision that needs correction. While the manuals and screen look cool, their shininess makes them hard to use in the wrong angle and brightness of light. The target demographic is obviously one with younger eyes. This is similar to the issues with the original free PDF’s that were nearly unreadable with the full color backgrounds. Thankfully, they released the plain black text on a white background for printing, but it was also more legible. Thankfully, the actual manuals are much easier on the eyes, and easy to ready, provided you don’t have adverse lighting.

I was hoping to start reading these manuals over Memorial Day weekend, but two “quick” projects for Saturday ended up taking all day. Sunday, I played in +Roy Snyder’s DCC game. Monday, I rested up. I couldn’t keep my eyes open to read.

Atlas of World History

I am a big fan of both history and maps. I have a B.A. in History.

The ancient world of Egypt, the Middle East, Greece, and Rome, and on up to the Renaissance fascinate me.

The map of Germany with over 1,000 different countries is just fascinating. At my university they had a big hardback map book with a multi-colored map of Germany in the middle ages, and it just fascinated me. My paperback Rand McNally Atlas of World History is a passable substitute for such high-end books of maps.

Just looking at all the colors delineating all the separate nations generates the seeds of ideas.

Whether one is using a campaign set in a historical period of the ancients, or medieval, or a western, or post apocalyptic, maps help set the tone and flavor. Do you need to share the map with players? If they are a post holocaust type setting, would they even know they are on a planet and would they recognize a continent or larger scale map for what it is? In other settings, will players be able to afford a map?

Even if the maps you draw are only to inform yourself as the DM, don’t you want to share your creation(s) with your players?

I don’t have many books of maps. A well-done map is a thing of beauty. I like all maps, real and imaginary.

I don’t have the skill I wish I did to make my own maps. My maps are just crude representations of things. Some are better than others. I really appreciate all the maps available for my use from the plethora of OSR map makers!

Review – April Mythoard

I had a package in the mail on Friday, May 8th. I had forgotten that I ordered the April Mythoard. However, I had a feeling that there was something that should be coming in.

April 2015 Mythoard
April 2015 Mythoard

I had not planned to get it, but when I saw that it contained the latest edition of Oubliette #9, I was curious. I had read other positive comments about it, and knew that I would get some other cool goodies along with it, so I took the plunge.

Squarehex Products
Squarehex Products

Along with Oubliette #9 are several other goodies from Squarehex. There is a book mark with large squares on one side and the other side contains large squares with dungeon map symbols. There are two business card sized items. One is blank on one side, and the other side had hexes with outdoor map symbols. The other small card has dungeon map symbols that are black and the other side has the same symbols in gray with labels to explain them. I am not sure if the purpose of these symbols is to give you an example of what such symbols “should” or might look like, or if you are supposed to put them under your hex paper to help you draw a very neat map.

There is a folded piece of graph paper the same size as the Oubliette issue with the grid on the outside. The inside of the graph paper has the OGL license. I wonder if it it the innermost page of the zine, and did not get stapled. Finally, there is a small pad of 7 mm hex paper. The pad it not as wide as a business card, and it is about as tall as two business cards top to bottom. It is so small that it is for a very small area and it well suited to a micro map.

I expected the Oubliette zine to be a full page folded over, instead it is about a half page folded over. The introduction indicates that this is not the usual size. It is a slick card stock cover with click heavy weight interior pages. It is 20 pages counting the back cover, which is a table for generating hit points of creatures from 1/2 HD to 2 HD using a roll of one or more d20’s. Six pages are a mini adventure, two pages with four new spells. two pages on a variation on familiars, four new magic boots, a new monster, and second mini adventure of three pages. While not every idea will be used by everyone, there is a lot in these few pages.

Awful Good Games has a booklet that is zine sized, i.e. half a page folded over. It is a module of 31 pages. It has a slick card stock cover and slick heavy paper for the pages. The text is black over light grey. It is legible as long as the slick paper does not have any glare. Older eyes with bifocals can have trouble with this. If you avoid glare on the page, unless your eyes are worse than mine, you will be able to read it.

Lichfield - by Awful Good Games
Lichfield – by Awful Good Games

Next is a mini setting, a half page top to bottom ready for a standard three ring binder on slick card stock. It is black ink on a lightly colored background. It looks great, and as long as there is no glare, it too is easy to read. It continues adding to the Mythoard setting. I like that they keep adding things to the existing setting. If you want to use this setting in whole or in part, it is easy to do with this. I was glad to see that past month’s offerings are available. I would like to have the complete series of materials, if I can.

Tower of the Everflame
Tower of the Everflame

Next is a Pathfinder compatible supplement from AAW Games. It is For Rent, Lease or Conquest. It is a module about obtaining a home base for the party. It is a 42 page adventure. It is in a slick cover and the pages give one the visual impression of newsprint, but are slick and heavier than newsprint. The print is black ink on a multi-colored background. Most of each page has a light background, and thankfully the slick pages are not shiny. However, lighting and the angle the page is held can make words over darker ink harder to read for older eyes with bifocals. In addition, the layout has the text on some pages running into the border decoration. I think the intent is to look cool, but since it is hard for me to make out the text in some areas, and not every page is crowded, I think it is a layout issue. When the young eyes of the layout people read this stuff in 20 or 30 years, they will curse their younger selves. It is worst in sections of the page where the background color transitions from lighter to darker. Some letters disappear. In the corners of some pages is a leaf motif that goes light, dark, light and the odd color transition takes more concentration to read. I find that prolonged reading of this starts the feelings of a headache. It reminds me of the original PDF of D&D 5 where it had a colored background and was very hard to read. It seems like the intent is to go after the younger crowd at the expense of the older crowd.

For Rent, Lease or Conquest
For Rent, Lease or Conquest

The premise of the module is buying/occupying a building for home base and the villain is the realtor. I do not find that entertaining. As a homeowner who got screwed in the housing collapse, it is too much like papers and paychecks. That plus the difficulty in reading it, I don’t know if there are any useful nuggets in here.

Finally, there are two Dragon’s Quest adventures from Judge’s Guild: Starsilver Trek, and Heroes and Villains. They are in clear sealed plastic. If this is the original plastic and still sealed, do I want to open them? While these were from Bad Mike’s Books and Games, are they worth more sealed? There are definitely from back in the day and the art is of the sort that did not draw me in back then. Some of the JG stuff is really good and I wish I had delved into it back then.

Starsilver Trek
Starsilver Trek
Heroes and Villains
Heroes and Villains

So there is a lot of stuff in here. Some of it is for younger/better eyes than mine. As with “grab bags” one cannot expect everything to hit the sweet spot.

I found some things to interest me, and some ideas for later.

Review – Swords & Wizardry Complete and GM Screen

In the spirit of Swords and Wizardry Appreciation Day, I ordered the hard back Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook, and the Swords & Wizardry GM Screen. They arrived on April 29th, but I have not had time to do more than unpack them and make sure they arrived in good shape, until now.

The Book Itself:

This volume is well put together and the black ink on white paper is easily legible for older eyes. It is 134 pages including three intitial blank pages, cover page, table of contents, Swords & Wizardry license, OGL, and index. There are an additional six pages of supporters, I am guessing from a Kickstarter, These are followed by a full page illustration advertizing a game I have not heard of, a page mentioning the S&W SRD, two pages with a heading of “Notes”, and two final blank pages.

What It Is/Isn’t:

Inside you will find almost AD&D/OSRIC. It has all of the classes from AD&D, except for the illusionist and the bard. There is no mention of psionics. The hit dice are different than OD&D, but not quite AD&D. Magic users and monks have d4, clerics, druids, assassins, and thieves have d6, and the fighter types have d8. As in AD&D, the ranger starts with 2d8. Monsters are d8 as in AD&D.

Armor Class:

Armor class has the two options of ascending, AAC, or descending AC, with descending starting at 9. There is a single saving throw, with a mechanic for the saving throws for each type of peril. I am drawn to the simplicity of AAC and knowing what you need to hit based on the AAC number.

Spells:

The spells described go up to 7th level for clerics and druids, and 9th level for magic users. There is, as with other sections, a house rules section, where Matt Finch describes how he handles spells above 6th level. The spells are presented in alphabetical order for all spells. For old grognards, like me, who like the spells arranged by level within each class, as in AD&D, this takes getting used to. Page 73 marks that last page of spells and the end of the player’s section.

GM Section:

The “Referee” section has an introduction emphasizing the need for Rule 0 [Is there a better link for this?]. It then moves on to how to design an adventure with a basic dungeon map with key and a wilderness map with a key. The discussion then moved on to discussing monsters in the dungeon and challenge levels/ratings. There is just over one page listing all the following monsters by challenge level up to 13.

Monsters:

Before it gets to the monsters, it discusses wilderness encounters and has encounter tables. It then discusses mass combat, siege combat, aerial combat, and ship combat. The monsters presented are most of what I consider the most common/favorite of the genre. The monsters are followed with a page and a half listing of challenge levels up to 17. Finally, there is a concluding page to this section on creating your own monsters.

Treasure:

The treasure section has ten pages of the various types of magic items. It begins with one page on generating a random treasure hoard. Other than the index, the last game worthy page is the sample character sheet. It is only one side of the page, the other side holds the S&W license and the OGL statement. Since this is not the pre-internet age, and the PDF is free, you can print this from the PDF. As always, you can just write your information on a piece of paper, making your own as you go, or find one of the many available online. If not for the internet and the availability of the PDF, this page should be perforated for easy removal, and the licenses would need to be on a different page.

Packaging:

Unlike other resources I have ordered online, the packing job did not cover the entire back of the book with bubble wrap. There was a small area about two or three inches square that was not covered in the center of the book. The cardboard did cover the entire book. I did not have any damage to my order, but this was the only weakness in the packing job. I only noticed this based on the packing jobs of all the other OSR products I have received. This is minor enough that it may just be one of those things that happens when there is a flood of orders. I didn’t get a good picture to illustrate it, like I thought I did. In the grand scheme of things, since the order arrived in perfect condition, not a problem.

Content Of The Book:

In addition to being easy to read and having a solid layout, there are many illustrations of various sizes, including full pages. There are a few corners, or nearly half the side of a couple of pages that were empty. Because the majority of all of the other pages filled the page to all the corners, the white space stood out. Some seemed to call for an illustration, or an illustration to fill the entire space available. There were only 5 or 6 pages in the whole book like this, again a minor issue.

There are suggested house rules and rules variants. As with S&W Core and White Box, there is lots of room to house rule to make it your own. I especially like the forward by Tim Kask, that the rules are only a framework and are not meant to bog the flow of play down into paper shuffling and arguments, and the GM has the final word. The main thing is to have fun! See Rule [-1].

Since the PDF is freely available, one can modify the PDF to include only the player information for use at the table or in online games. Be sure to include the S&W and OGL if you do so in a product you plan to market.

The GM Screen:

The GM screen has the usual charts for attack matrices for characters and monsters, turning undead, indoor and outdoor movement, saving throws, and information on melee and missile weapons. This is on four pages on the GM side of the screen. The player side of the screen are covers of the various iterations of the printed rules. This accordion folder screen is one piece. It is laminated to protect it from wear and tear and spills. It is a light card stock, so not as thick as my AD&D DM screens.

If you use AAC, then nearly two pages of the screen are not needed. You could easily use a binder clip to place information over that portion that you need such as the map or note on the current adventure, or other rules needed frequently during play.

The accordion fold is determined to make the screen look like an ‘M’ when viewed from the GM side. I supposed with use, or a strategically placed small binder clip, one could get a shape that is more suited to use at the table.

Takeaway:

Since we are encouraged to make the game our own, we can hack it to make it closer to AD&D if we choose, to make the character class hit dice the same, and if one has the AD&D manuals or OSRIC, one can easily have all the creatures, spells, and items that are there.

Whether you are old, like me, or just like to have a physical book, it is well worth your while. You could just get the free PDF and print your own, but the issue of binding a hardback is a challenge few wish to face.

I like the simplicity and brevity of Swords & Wizardry Complete. It has enough to do more than get you started. A creative GM can make the creatures in this single volume cover years of play. I have played for over 35 years and have not encountered all the creatures in the AD&D Monster Manual either as a player or a DM.

I am also very into the AAC and how easy it is to calculate without needing a chart. The single saving throw may be tough for some, but it does bring simplicity.

I like the simplicity and don’t like when play bogs down to look up a rule. I mind it more as a player than as a referee, but as a DM it does not take long to feel all eyes upon me, and get frustrated. That long pause of a grinding halt interrupts the momentum. Either mark every page you need for rapid access, make detailed notes, or memorize it, if you don’t want to make it up on the fly. Keep the game flowing. Play should only stop when there is a natural break in the action for a bathroom break or it is the end of the agreed upon ending time, after the last extension runs out.

The GM screen is not a must have for play. One can easily make their own by printing the necessary information from the free PDF, if you even use a screen. I tend to use a screen when I run AD&D for two reasons, tradition and the need to look up combat and other tables. The AD&D screens would be better served to have other information on them than the psionics table, unless there is a lot of psionic activity in a game. I find that distance and a book or clipboard or sheet of paper is enough to cover maps and notes from prying eyes.  Unless your game space puts players right next to the DM, I don’t see much use in a screen. I do still like them for the mystery it conveys by hiding something “secret” and “mysterious” from the players. I think the decision to use a GM screen is up to the individual GM. If you are comfortable with the rules, and don’t need it to add to the aura of mystery to game play, then you probably don’t use one.

New Goodies!
New Goodies!
Barely shows gap in bubble wrap.
Barely shows gap in bubble wrap.
Book and Screen
Book and Screen
Inside of GM Screen
Inside of GM Screen
Back of GM Screen - Shiny!
Back of GM Screen – Shiny!

White Box Omnibus – A Review

I won a copy of White Box Omnibus, by +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games on the Happy Jacks Podcast for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

Things have kept me busy since then. After White Star came out and I reviewed it, I figured I better hurry up and read through the Omnibus and do my promised review.

James’ own introduction to the text explains it well:

White Box Omnibus is a compilation of six previously published
products: White Box Companion, White Box Bestiary, White Box TreasuresWhite Box Adventures: The Wererat’s Well, White Box Adventures: The Wizard’s Tower and White Box Adventures: The Dragon’s Hoard. But a few extras have been added. In addition to cleaning things up a bit, there are a few new things you’ll find.

The Monk has been added as a player character class. It is written in the spirit of Arneson’s Supplement II, but streamlined to fit WhiteBox. You’ll find simple, easy to implement rules for introducing powerful magical artifacts into your campaign along with new monsters in the bestiary.

The three adventures featured in White Box Omnibus have now been augmented by an appendix – The Willow Valley Gazetteer. It’s a mini-campaign setting which can be used to tie the three adventures together, or even continue having adventures in that region.

Section 1 – Class options  Contains variations on standard classes that give bonuses in one area, but limitations in another. Such as the “sub-class” of cleric, the healer, who can use a healing touch once per day but has a -1 on to hit rolls.

Bard Class – This is a simple class designed to work within Swords & Wizardry and other D&D clones, instead of the kludge of AD&D.

Druid Class – A version of a cleric with a Forestry ability that allows tracking, passing without trace, or dealing with wild animals.

Monk Class – Similar to the class in AD&D, with house rules suggestions to make it more like the AD&D monk.

Paladin Class – With the exception of leaving out the warhorse, this is the paladin we recognize.

Ranger Class – With the Forestry ability, like the Druid.

Thief Class – Single skill called Thievery using a 1d6 mechanic based on level. This covers all the thief skills in a big separate table in AD&D. There is a house rule for climbing that add a bonus to the roll.

Section 2 Magic Items – A list of very interesting armor and shields.
potions, scrolls, rings, staves, wands, weapons, and three pages dedicated to miscellaneous magic items. The miscellaneous items has a house rule about “purposed magic items”, i.e. Artifacts.

Section 3 – Bestiary – This includes many creatures that are well-known from other versions of OD&D & AD&D.

For example, Brain Lord – Squid headed humanoids p. 39-40.

Section 4 – Adventure – Wererat’s Well 15 pages including the introductory illustration and map by Matt Jackson.

Section 5 – Adventure – The Wizard’s Tower – 20 pages including the introductory illustration and map by Dyson Logos.

Section 6 – Adventure – The Dragon’s Hoard – 18 pages including the introductory illustration and map by Matt Jackson.

Appendix – The Willow Valley Gazetteer – 22 pages including the village map by Matt Jackson, and an area map done in Hexographer. There is a d20 rumor table for the village and a couple of pages on communities of halflings, dwarves, and elves. This mini-campaign setting has a detailed village, and the area map ties it all together into the three adventures and several of the new creatures and items.

I am a big fan of AD&D. Mostly because it is what I knew and played for so long. I am growing to be a major fan of simple. Less rules and less “fiddly bits” that get in the way.

This large collection of material that supplements Swords & Wizardry White Box to give it many of the things I like about AD&D, or supplemental material from the later LBB’s. It also streamlines them and makes them easy to use, like the bard. In AD&D, the bard class is a mess. I don’t know anyone who started as a fighter, changed to a thief prior to getting the benefits of a 9th level fighter, etc.

The simple bard class presented here, plus the simplified single skill abilities for druids, rangers, and thieves make it easy to avoid paper shuffling and digging through the manual.

The magic items are new and interesting. They have given me many ideas.

I also like how James separates out ideas for house rules in grey highlighted text.

The simplicity of what is presented here is also modular, so that one can pick and choose what you want to use, and easily house rule things that you feel are missing or “not your way of doing things.”

I only skimmed the three adventures. They are clearly presented and to the point. There is enough detail to help out the DM and enough openness to easily supplement the material or drop it in to an existing campaign.

The gazetteer is a village with a map of the village and an area map that ties the three adventures together with the setting. This could easily be the start of one’s own sandbox campaign, or be dropped in as a new area to explore. It is a good model of one way to build a sandbox.

The layout is well done and the whole thing is easy on the eyes and easy to read on a screen.

Just as with the recent White Star, I recommend the White Box Omnibus!

Worlds Beyond Ours – Curtis International Library of Knowledge

Worlds Beyond Ours is a book I have from my parents. It is copyright 1968, so I am only a few years older than this book. It mentions the Apollo program and if all goes well, man will set foot on the moon in a decade.

It is interesting to see color photographs of stars and planets in the age before the Hubble Telescope.

It talks about man looking to the stars and planets and the development of telescopes and rockets and has some maps of planets.

We can get much better pictures and maps from NASA online now. I didn’t have regular internet access until I was a few years past 30. Before then, one either had a set of encyclopedias to refer to at home, or you made a trip to the library.

I was blessed to have a 1969 set of Encyclopedia Britannica in my home growing up. My siblings and I would pulls out a volume and read about a topic and any related topics that caught our interest, much like surfing from article to article on Wikipedia, or I suppose the online Encyclopedia Britannica.

Seeing this old Worlds Beyond Ours emphases just how much the world has changed. Especially one that was published so close to Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Such old books I find fascinating.

If you want a science fiction based game, these things can be interesting. The number of planets and the number of moons around those planets has changed drastically in my lifetime. The true number did not change, we just discovered it.

I recall the Viking Landers on Mars in 1976, Voyager I and II making their way past Mars to Jupiter, then Saturn, and now on the far edges of the solar system. Is it still debated if one of the Voyagers has left the solar system yet?

I am old enough to remember the last Apollo missions to the moon. What I recall most is how SLOW the Atlas rocket ascended. It was quite the shock when the first space shuttle launched and it was so FAST! The movie Apollo 13 was NOT realistic with how fast those rockets actually left the launchpad. I remember my parents and siblings and I all having the same reaction to just how quickly the space shuttle leapt off the pad.

Old books like this can be found at garage sales and used book stores. Like many DMs and players, we tend to collect odd bits of information in the form of books and other things that serve as a basis for our own worlds and games.

I ran some of the science fiction games that my high school group played, mostly Metamorphosis Alpha or Gamma World, but we were predominately a AD&D group. I still love science fiction as well as fantasy.

My recent forays into reading the original Metamorphosis Alpha from DriveThruRPG has me digging out my old books. I wish I still had all of my science fiction collection of paperbacks. Moving from a house to a small apartment years ago forced me to get rid of so much. I can’t easily re-build it, but I have the memories of what I read and the books I want to read again, I can track down.

Perhaps I’ll run another science fiction related game or campaign. At least enough to scratch the itch….