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Review of Into The Mournwood A Module in The Ice Kingdoms Setting

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A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Ice Kingdoms campaign setting. Along with the setting, Yesterday, I reviewed the first of several planned modules, Lair of The White Wyvern.  Today I review Into the Mournwood by James M. Ward, $8.99 on RPGNow.

There were several modules possible for unlocking in the Kickstarter, but none of the stretch goals were reached. Into the Mournwood was part of the base Kickstarter funding.

The Mournwood is one of the areas mentioned in the campaign setting book, The Ice Kingdoms. As with the setting book and the White Wyvern module, it fits together and fleshes out the setting a bit more.

This 56 page adventure is for 4-6 characters of levels 3-7. There is a linked index, and three major sections: Introductions, Adventure, and Bestiary.

The Introduction is composed of background and history of Mournwood, Where does the GM start, and 6 pages of More Notes for the GM. In the history, we learn why the Mournwood is also called the Hag Wood. This ancient forest is “full of monsters, fey creatures, and ancient evil.” This forest is so evil that there is a d10 table for curses that afflict those who enter it, if they fail a saving throw.

In the GM section it is specifically mentioned that the GM can use the adventure hook or not, and come up with their own adventure to start things. I really likes that, so that someone new to old school style of play encounters the idea up front.

The adventure section is composed of 35 encounter areas indicated on the region map. I must have missed something, as not all 35 adventure locations are on the map. If there is mention of this, I didn’t catch it, and I tried to read the entire thing carefully. It almost feels like a page with a map is missing. The map is a color map with 5 mile hexes. It would be easy enough to do 6 mile hexes if that is your preference. [EDIT: C.S. Barnhart pointed out, “Page 18, treasures of the fallen explain why encounters 4 to 22 are not on the map and how to use them.” See his other comment and my reply below.]

The pen and ink art fits the tone and mood of the setting, and are well done. There is only the one color map and it is quite nice. The remaining maps are black & white and are simple utilitarian maps. That is, they don’t have any embellishments like cross hatching and the like. All of the maps could easily be used in Virtual Table Tops (VTTs), like Roll20.

There is boxed text indicating read aloud text. There is one that is the initial setup for the adventure that is two pages. The GM can give each player a copy of the player handout to read themselves. The read aloud text is in a plain black box. I was momentarily confused, as there is some boxed text that has a gray background, that is obvious one would not give that information to the players. I don’t see anything explaining the difference. Further adding to the confusion, is the player handout is boxed text with a grey background. I would prefer to see a quick explanation of the two kinds of boxes, and being consistent in which one has grey shading.

This is a tough adventure and players need to play it smart. There are also adventure locations where players find items to help them as they go.

Finally, the Bestiary has 23 monsters and plants, most are familiar for those who play AD&D/OSRIC. Most notably, some of the named monsters are used with permission from WotC.  There are a few new creatures or modifications of old standbys to fit the setting.

What I Liked:

  • This adventure does a good job of giving the players a feel for the setting.
  • This is definitely old school. – Not all encounters are balanced, encouraging players to think before they rush in.
    • Having played Metamorphosis Alpha with Jim at a con, I can definitely see his style even in a different genre.
  • In the GM section is points out that the GM doesn’t have to use the included adventure hook. The GM is encouraged to make this material their own.
  • The maps could easily be used online, such as in Roll20.
    • One map is the only color art in the book.
  • The pen and ink are is all very good. I feel it is all more consistent than in the campaign setting book.
  • The layout is clean and simple.
  • After my previous reviews and commenting about the need for more editing, I received an updated PDF. Serendipitously, about the time I was preparing to read the module. I am pleased that instead of one or more errors per page, there are perhaps 5 or 6 in total.

What I’d Like To See: (This is almost exactly the same as my review of Lair of the White Wyvern.)

  • There are a lot of text boxes for read aloud text.
    • In my case, I have to know a module very well to be able to read such text at the right time.
    • Some of it is a bit long.
    • I think an experienced GM could give this one thorough reading and a couple quick reviews to get it straight the best way for them to run this.
  • There are two kinds of text boxes, but it is left to the reader to notice the difference.
    • The player handout has a different background than the rest of the read aloud text.
    • This should be noted at the beginning, and have consistent format for read aloud or asides for the GM.
  • While the layout is clean and simple, there is very little white space between the columns in this two column layout. It is still readable, and seems OK on my monitor.

Conclusion:

If you like this setting and are a completionist, this module is for you.  There is enough material here to easily fill multiple game sessions.

Review of Lair of The White Wyvern A Module in The Ice Kingdoms Setting

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A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Ice Kingdoms campaign setting. Along with the setting, I received the first of several planned modules, Lair of The White Wyvern, by Ryan Lynn and C.S. Barnhart $8.99 on RPGNow.

This module fits the tone of the setting, a modified Viking land and mythos. The PDF I received is black & white, with no cover art. The art is well done pen & ink pictures.

Within we have an Introduction containing a table of contents that are linked to the pages, a background, four adventure hooks, and the village of Ainhild. There is also a general area encounter table, and two area specific encounter tables.

Next comes a seven part adventure. Each part leads to the next in logical succession. There are “timed” events and set encounters that happen if the players do certain things. There is an area map and maps of the village and other locations.

Finally, there is a bestiary with 14 creatures, four of them are new. One, the mountain ape, is mentioned in the Ice Kingdoms Setting, but its stats are in this module. Some of the creatures are slightly modified from the standard old school version. For example, the bandits have 1st level thief abilities. As many bandits as there are, I wonder if this doesn’t overpower them. It would probably depend on the GM and how the players interacted with the bandits.

The central theme is that the characters need to investigate the source of a mysterious and deadly illness that has beset the village. Is it a curse, a punishment, a plague, or something else? I don’t like to spoil the specifics, but it has a nice twist in it so that it is not what one might expect.

This is a 50 page booklet for 4 to 6 characters of 3rd to 5th level. There is a place for combat, but fighting in the wrong places will leave the party worn out. A party without a cleric would be at a disadvantage in some situations.

What I Liked:

  • This adventure does a good job of giving the players a feel for the setting.
  • It occurred to me as I read it that it would be a great location to build upon and the authors acknowledge this and give suggestions to make this happen.
  • There is enough detail for sub-plots in the adventure. Some are detailed by the authors, others came to mind as I read it.
  • The modular design of the seven parts of the adventure make it easy to skip, such as in convention play.
    • One could also lift a part to use as a piece of a home brew adventure or other module.
  • This is definitely old school. – Not all encounters are balanced, encouraging players to think before they rush in.
  • Stats and opportunities for several skill checks are mentioned for those who play using rules that have them.
    • This is not my style, but I can see the value for those who like them.
  • It is generic enough that it can easily be used in any rule set. There are few stats.
  • The maps could easily be used online, such as in Roll20.
    • Some of the maps are the only color art in the book.
  • The pen and ink are is all very good. I feel it is all more consistent than in the campaign setting book.
  • The general encounter table is 0-9 using a d8, and is -1 if in forest, and +1 if in mountains. This is an interesting way to get two tables in one.
  • The layout is clean and simple.

What I Would Like to See:

  • As with the campaign setting, this needed another pass by a proofreader. Extra words, missing space between a couple words, correctly spelled but incorrect words etc.
    • I don’t know if this is the final copy or just the review copy.
  • There are a lot of text boxes for read aloud text.
    • In my case, I have to know a module very well to be able to read such text at the right time.
    • Some of it is a bit long.
    • I think an experienced GM could give this one thorough reading and a couple quick reviews to get it straight the best way for them to run this.
  • While the layout is clean and simple, there is very little white space between the columns in this two column layout. It is still readable, and seems OK on my monitor.

Conclusion:

This is an adventure that I’d like to play in. I can also see me running it. If you like the Ice Kingdoms campaign setting, you might find this a helpful piece for fleshing out a small area.

A Review of The Ice Kingdoms

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The Ice Kingdoms is fantasy RPG setting from a Kickstarter that funded on August 31, 2016, with a projected delivery of December, 2016. I was approached by Caleb Congrove, one of the additional writers,  at the end of January to do a review. He sent me the PDF of The Ice Kingdoms, a jpeg of the map, and a PDF of the adventure module, Lair of The White Wyvern. At this time, The Ice Kingdoms is available as a PDF on the OBS site RPGNow for $15, and Lulu for printing. With a $25 softcover, $30 hardcover, and $10 eBook options.

The three principle authors are C.C Barnhart, James M. Ward of Metamorphosis Alpha, Gama World, and many other things, and Chris Lites. There is a forward by E. Gary Gygax, Jr.

According to the Kickstarter video, there are three planned books for this setting. The first is the campaign book, The Ice Kingdoms, next will be a bestiary, and the third will be The Ice Kingdom Adventures, with demi-humans and adventure ideas. There is also a module written for the Kickstarter, by James M. Ward, Into The Mournwood. A total of five modules are planned.

I will review Lair of The White Wyvern separately.

Their website has a 404 error and the domain is returning a 500 Error at the time of this writing. Both worked a few weeks ago when I gathered the links for this review. However, you can find them on Facebook.

The map is focused on a regions several hundred miles on a side, giving a wide range of places for adventure. It also features in a two page spread in the book. The map is available on Printer Studio.

This is a Norse inspired setting, that also takes from Greek mythology and near Eastern myths to make its own variation. It is intentionally low magic, where there are no corner potion shops, or markets that sell magical items.

This is a human centric setting, but dwarves and gnomes, and halflings are a possibility. Elves are described as evil enemies of humanity, much like in Norse lore. There are thanes and earls, and a few kings. Women have no restrictions on being adventuring types, as it is specifically mentioned.

Jarls, Karls, and Thralls are the three main societal ranks. Thralls are slaves. Bondsmen are debtors who are temporarily lowered to the status of thrall until they work off their debt. Thralls can earn their way to freedom.

Karls are free men and women. There are further subdivisions. Jarls are the nobility and include thanes, jarls, landsmen, and kings. Most of these titles are for the individual to attain and keep. Few but the most wealthy and powerful kings have their sons succeed them.

Outcasts are not under the law, but also don’t benefit from its protections. They are considered lower than thralls. Types of outcasts include: tramps, seers, sorcerers, witches, beggars, or criminals. Some may be mistreated, but others have the ability to protect themselves or work revenge.

Next is a discussion of diet, crops, trade goods, and ships. All heavily influenced by the Norse of our world.

In chapter 4 we get to the characters. Ability scores recommend using 4d6 drop the lowest, to generate above average heroic types. In addition, at every even numbered level a character can increase one ability by 1 point, with exceptional strength only being 10%. There are level limits of 15th level, with 16th & 17th level achieved by divine encounters or something like limited wish. 18th level requires both divine intervention and a wish spell. If a character gains enough XP to reach 19th level, They are wisked away to serve the gods or serve out their eternal punishment.

Character death: When a human character dies there is a 5% chance per level that their soul is called to serve their deity in Valagard (or
to be punished in the underworld).

All born in the cold nothlands have two special traits: Ice Born, and Cold Blooded that give them bonuses verses cold effects and even insanity, since they are used to staying indoors for much of the cold winter.

There are multiple sorts of humans. Each type has a favored class in which they can gain additional XP bonuses. Each group also has restricted classes, in that if they pick a class out side of that list they have penalties. The bonuses affect abilities, saves, and include additional abilities. This is an interesting idea that make different groups stand out. With the bonuses plus the point buy every other level, exceptional characters will be the norm. This is perhaps one way to bring the heroic into the game without overpowering the lower levels. However, being a harsh and unforgiving place, with many foes, GMs can match this power boost with an extra foe here and there in encounters. As an old school DM, not all encounters are meant to be fought, so even heroic types need to know when not to fight.

The character races described are one of the human races, or dwarves. Humans of other racial groups and other demi-human races could be used at the GM’s discretion.

Sorcerers are added a a multi-classing option starting as a claric and switching to magic-user.

Demi-Human multi-classing – once a class hits maximum level, the other class that can still advance does not divide XP. This is an interesting idea. One I had not encountered before.

Magic is feared and seen as a sign of evil, except for clerical servants of the gods, and tribal shaman and wise elders. They include: Rune Magic, Clerical Power, Druidic Power, Hagcraft, and Sorcery. The setting advises true arcane casters to be rare, and the same with their spells, of the Invocation/Evocation and Alteration schools. Either treat them as one level higher, unless acquired form a travelling mage or scroll. Most use runecasting in their spells.

There are different types of runes. there is the normal letter and number runes used for writing, and then there are runes for other mystical purposes: The two types of power runs – spell runes for casting spells and magic runes for making magic items. Luck runes and True Runes are more powerful forms of spell runes. Oracles may use Fortune Runs, called bones or sticks in their divinations. Master runes are used by arcane casters in place of spell books and are the component used in arcane spell casting. Spell runes must be carved and used with Master runes for casting spells. If there is a lack of spell runes, traditional components may be used.

15 new spells specific to the setting. 6 new magic items. Standing stones are a special magic item requiring 50 levels of priestly magic to construct and has lots of restrictions. Upon successful construction, it can be used to boost one aspect of a priestly spell. This is a neat idea that I can see being used by druidic sects.

The pantheon of the Ice Kingdoms has its own chapter and relays the way the gods interrelate and the basis for the current religious and cultic activities. Cult is not used in the sociological sense, but as a sign of the evil beings out to punish humanity.

There is a whole long chapter on the priests of the various gods and what kings of armor and weapons, and other items such priests are permitted. For example, some can’t use shields. The power and station of a deity determine what level of spell they can grant. Such as only greater gods can bestow 7th level spells. This ties the whole mythos together and makes it an interlocking whole.

The chapter on the region’s geography is a gazetteer style, and include a two page map like that of the jpeg I was sent. It describes an immense 150,000 square mile area of mystery and adventure opportunities. there are three weather tables that begin with a modifier to daily temperature, and a general regional temperature table based on the 4 main latitudes of the region. there is a simplified table for generation of rain, snow, or special dependent on time of year.

Arfhrdheim is the main ancient city of the region, that was founded by a mythical king, and it used more as a ceremonial and traditional center of meeting. for one who dares, There is the opportunity to claim the mantle of king. The districts of the city and a general history and explanation, along with a map are given, for use when characters journey here.

The Flora dn Fauna of the ice kingdoms go into the humanoid races and other creatures found there. With frigid-zone versions of common creatures, to the very rare elves, who are faery creatures. These are merely descriptions and there are no stat blocks. Not all of them are listed in the bestiary in Appendix B, so one must turn to their rule system of choice or develop the stats for these creatures themselves.

The Details:

The Ice Kingdoms

(c) 2016 Mad Martian Games, 202 pages

Three main authors: CS Barnhart, James M. Ward, and Chris Lites.

Uses OSRIC so 1e compatible, and easily used with B/X and the various retro clones. On page 160 in appendix A, it mentions:
“NOTE: By default this book is designed more toward the side of basic era, first era and second era of play. In particular it is designed to be used with For Gold & Glory, Labyrinth Lord: Advanced Edition Companion or OSRIC.”

The Table of Contents is linked, but links to some pages seem to be off a page. Some land on the page before the heading, and some land just after the heading. I would like to see consistency in where the links hit.

It has what appears to be a great index, that is linked. This is a big help when using a PDF reader.

Chapters include:

  1. Kingdoms of Blood and Ice
  2. History of the Ice Kingdoms
  3. Of Thanes and Thralls
  4. Characters in the Ice Kingdoms
  5. Magic in the Ice Kingdoms
  6. Legends and Lore of the Ice Kingdoms
  7. Temples of the Ice Kingdoms
  8. Geography of the Ice Kingdoms
  9. The City of Arfhrdheim
  10. Flora and Fauna of the Ice Kingdoms

There are seven appendices:

A Basic Conversion Notes:
This deals with converting to the use of other rule sets. This covers 3 pages. The first section on Dice Modifiers is a bit awkward, and doesn’t have an example to make it clear. It is for converting s. bonuses, like strength and dexterity bonuses to a d100 check. I would like to see this cleaned up. There is a table of Dice Modifiers, but it falls after the discussion on Armor Class. This is a layout issue, rather than lack of explanation.

There is a discussion on converting from descending AC to Ascending AC, as well as THAC0 to Base Hit Bonus.

Next mentions skills & proficiencies, and generally how to convert to different “eras” of the rules.

Hit Dice conversion chart for advanced & basic rules with special notes. A discussion of Hit Dice and Hit Points is after this and the following table.

Terminology of what the diffeerent classes are called in different eras. This has a table for what classes were originally called. I suspose for those not in the know, this is a useful bit of Rosetta Stone. There is a heading for this topic with one line, “Class terminology also varies across the different eras of gaming.” Again, this is AFTER the table.

The final two table in this section follow the discussion, surprise and exceptional strength.

B Bestiary
The bestiary is only 12 pages, but definitely sets the tone for the setting. Each creature is in tune with the nordic setting of the north and far north.

  • Hagling
  • Ice Elf (Wraith Elf)
  • Ice Hag
  • Minotaur
  • Orcs (also known as hobgoblins or goblin men) are mansized
    humanoids.
  • Owlbear, Thanic – The polar bear version of an owlbear.
  • Stone Dwarves
  • Wereborn:
  • Wereborn, Arkon – Arkons are wereborn offspring of a werehorse. They are hulking humanoids with the muscular body of a human
    and the head of a horse.
  • Wereborn, Dynarthion – Dynarthions are wereborn who live far from civilized lands, most often in low hills and semi-mountainous regions in deep forests. A dynarthion has the head and torso
    of a human and the lower body of a bear.
  • Wereborn, Ratborn – Ratborn are humanoids, they appear to be bipedal rats, slightly shorter than humans,

C Adventures in the Ice Kingdoms
This gives two pages with examples of the types of adventures one can find in this setting.

  • Raids
  • Exploration
  • Defense
  • Politics
  • War
  • Survival
  • Classic
  • Sword and Sorcery
  • The Wildland

Threats

The major threats to the Ice Kingdoms are as follows.

  • Rival Thanes
  • Hags
    The abandoned daughter of the gods and her kin….
  • The Cult of O’Mawj
    The forbidden god O’Mawj has a secret cult that infests the
    people of the Ice Kingdoms. Many clans and tribes of the
    Varyag still pay homage to the cannibal god and engage in
    his brutal rituals and ceremonies.
  • The Frozen Thrones
    Hidden deep in the Frozen Thrones lies a powerful undead
    lord dedicated to reclaiming his rightful rule over the land
    of the Ice Kingdoms.
  • Giants
    The giants are still bitter over the fall of Thrymtur to Uthin.
  • Trolls
    The children of the hags, trolls are set lose to lurk and hunt
    in caves, woods, streams and hills of the Ice Kingdoms as
    a means to annoy, harass and terrorize the humans of the
    Ice Kingdoms.
  • Orcs
    The orcs lost much of their original homelands promised to
    them by their god Belac
  • Frost Men
    A rumored threat coming from the Jotunreach

D Clerical Spheres
This is a list of all the spells found in the original game and current retro clones and lists which retro clone has that spell. It includes the new spells introduced with the setting. 13? new spells.?

Spells with a “Y” in the FG&G, M&M, and BFRP
columns can be found in For Gold & Glory, Myth & Magic,
and Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game, respectively. “C” and
“D” in the OSRIC and LL columns denote cleric and druid
spells for OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion;
spells labeled with “B” in the LL column are found
in the core Labyrinth Lord book.

The sphere of a spell is tied to the deity a cleric follows and if their deity does not include a certain sphere, it limits or prevents them from using spells outside their sphere, or incures penalties and disfavor.

Each spell is listed as what sphere it is in, with this list.

  • All
  • Animal
  • Astral
  • Charm
  • Combat
  • Divination
  • Elemental
  • Guardian
  • Healing
  • Healing
  • Necromancy
  • Plant
  • Protection
  • Summoning
  • Sun
  • Weather

E Cultural Miscellanea
This includes the setting calendar with an explanation of the months, and number of days and names of the week days, and seasons. There is also the dwarven calendar.

There is a brief mention of constellations and the names for the 13 constellations.

Finally, there is a list of human and dwarven names with a naming convention for humans.

F The Codex of Eordan
This is a discussion of the planet Eordan and its place in the solar system of several planets. There is no more mention of them. Eordan has four continents, only two are significantly explored. There is a map showing where these two land masses meet. There are four moons. The primary one is just called the moon. The Faemoon is only visible to the fae or revealed with powerful magics. the rotan moon is only visible to those with infravision. Finally, the mythical Tide Moon, viewed as a tall tale told by sailors.

N Games to Play
This is a list of various RPGs that can be used with the Ice Kingdoms settings.

What I liked:

  • This has a feeling of the Norsemen of our world, but it not a complete copy and paste like would be tempting to do.
  • There is room for GMs to use that which suits them.
  • Those looking for a pre-packaged campaign setting for a northern setting will find it here.
  • This is a low-magic setting.
  • It is not tied solely to a single ruleset, and it can easily be used as-is with OSRIC or AD&D 1e.
  • Most of the rules sets it works with are available for free.
  • A new rules set is not needed, one can use their preferred rules, unless they want a change.
  • Tables for translating to various rules and versions of the game.
  • For GMs who want to pick a setting and go, this is all one needs.
  • A GM can easily insert this setting into a portion of their game world to use when players want something different.
  • The Table of contents is linked.
  • There is an index and the page numbers are linked.
  • The clerical spheres chart is in level number order, within each sphere.
  • The black & white art fits the Nordic setting of snow & ice.

What I’d Like to see:

  • Consistency in where Table of contents links land.
    Table of Contents links working on tablets. (I used the Adobe Reader on my Galaxy 5 tablet.)
  • Tables in the appendices following the discussion related to that table.
  • Some of the artwork looks rushed or unfinished. Some of the art appears to be a quick sketch that was cleaned up for production.
  • Some art looks like a very light pencil sketch, where pen and ink would translate better to the page, and fit the tone of the other art.
  • One more pass by an editor or proof reader on the introduction and the appendices.

Conclusion

This is a setting I could use, if I were in need of such a setting. Currently, I am building a new area in my campaign world that could have a Nordic feel in one area, but not where the characters will start. I think it gives designers of other settings something to think about. There is a new take on handling variances in human groups, and it does not automatically assume all the classes of old will be available. New spells, ideas for using magic, and some new or varied creatures gave me several ideas for potential future use.

I almost backed this Kickstarter, but was well over the limit of what I needed. I thought that I could do my own north lands setting, but this is far and away better than I could or would have done.

Other than some editing, layout, and art issues, I didn’t see anything to jump out and dissuade me from this product.

There is so much packed into these 202 pages, that I think the value is definitely there for those who want or need such a well defined setting.

The Kickstarter video:

 

Happy Birthday! Dave Arneson

What a fun tribute for Dave Arneson’s birthday! If you haven’t already heard, a trailer was released for a new movie about the birth of the first role playing game.

See more about it in my article on Multiverse.

It is also the last day of the third and final Read an RPG Book In Public Week for 2016.

I had delivery of a Kickstarter, The ABC’s of RPGs. It includes a children’s book, activity book, bookmark, and stickers. My 20 month old granddaughter loves the book and made me read it about 6 times before bed the other night. The art is cool and just sets the tone.

Crit Success Rings – A Review

Back in March, 2016 at GaryCon 8, +Satine Phoenix gave a bunch of us these d20 rings, that you can wear and roll a d20. Very cool.

They are CritSuccess rings.

They take a bit of working the grit out, dish soap & warm water work well. Once you have them spinning freely, they seem to generate random numbers.

It is a cool trinket for those of us who collect dice and other game memorabilia.

I can see using them for a DM roll of a d20, if it needed to be secret.

They also have rings for other single dice and multi-dice combinations like 3d6. If you really like a ring or two on every finger, this might be for you.

Tim Kask Talk – First Five Years At TSR

Here’s a write up from GaryCon 8 from back in March I hadn’t published yet.

I attended a session by Tim Kask on Riding the Rocket: TSR’s First 5 Years. I missed the first twenty minutes or so, but I enjoyed it immensely. Tim recommended that we read the book Orcs, and that it changed his view on orcs, and that he no longer sees them as just meat sacks.

Pat Kilbane filmed Tim’s presentation for use in his D&D Documentary. I had the honor of asking the last question, “What was the thing you like best about working at TSR, and what was the thing you liked least or might want to do differently in hindsight?” Others besides Pat also recorded his response on video, I wish I had. Basically, he voiced his disapproval of the Blume’s business acumen. He said that he loved working with Gary and having so much fun. The second thing he liked was the opportunity to go back to teaching.

Pat’s YouTube channel, Dorks Of Yore published most of the interview in a series of short snippets. You can see them all in this Tabetop RPGs playlist, along with their initial video about GaryCon. Alas, my question didn’t appear in these snippets, but will be in the final product. However, this screenshot from an FB comment I made and Pat’s reply is fantastic!

Awesome!
Awesome!

2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge – A Change Of Pace

I have participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge for the past two years. In 2014 I did the challenge with two blogs, this one, and my genealogy blog. Both were focused on introductory topics. Last year, I just did this blog and focused on building cities in a fantasy setting.

This year, I had not planned to do anything, but while putting together some ideas for a western themed RPG idea and a steam punk themed RPG, I came up with two lists. These are just lists of topics I came up with as an exercise to help me flesh out my ideas. I find making such A to Z lists to be helpful to flesh out one’s ideas. You can use them to broaden the scope of something, or to focus in great detail.

For example, I can make a general A to Z list to make sure I cover topics that really need coverage, if I am making up my own RPG. Similarly, I can use such a list for various things in my own campaign. I can also use the lists to focus on topics that I want to know more about or cover in greater detail, such as an A to Z of iron making prior to the blast furnace, Bessemer, etc, for a western setting.

I have a great many things on my plate, and have not gotten back to these ideas. I present them here as others may find these kernels helpful in their own games.

I enjoyed the challenge of the A to Z blogging challenge, but need to keep on task for the other things I have on my plate. I know that there are those who tune out blogs posting in the A to Z challenge, which I understand. The only thing I don’t like about the A to Z challenge is trying to make time to read the other RPG bloggers who post, let alone blogs for other interests. I don’t rule out a return in future years, but I don’t foresee a return anytime soon.

My western themed A to Z Topics:

A – ANIMALS – from the mundane to the fantastic. Can be from any where in the world.
B – BARRELS – Both dry goods and wet and water and alcohol were packed in barrels from keg sized to barrell sized, to even larger than a standard barrel.
C – COWBOYS – Somebody has to keep track of all the cattle.
D – DANGER – Danger on all sides, the environment, outlaws, etc.
E – ELECTRIC – Electricity – Edison (1870’s forward) & Tesla in 1880’s on.
F – FIRE – Mostly wooden or wood frame buildings could wipe out a town. Hand pump fire engines, bucket brigades, etc. Could be sparked on purpose, by lightning, or accident.
G – GAMBLER – Gambling in all its forms was common in the West. From gambling halls to riverboats to gathered around a campfire.
H – HORSES – The main mode of individual transportation, from being ridden to pulling. Lots of smells, see manure. Animals need good care to last.
I – INDIANS – Far more variation than the single word implies, and the stereotypes of novels, stage, and screen.
J – JUSTICE – From frontier every man and woman for him or herself to lynch mobs to the long arm of the law….
K – KILL – Sometimes the good guys have to kill others. Often killing animals is required to eat or survive danger.
L – LEATHER – Leather for shoes & boots, belts, saddles, bridles, reins, chaps, bags, firehoses, etc.
M – MANURE – Everywhere because of prevalence of horses, mules, and donkeys for transportation, and cattle, sheep and other herd animals
N – NAVIGATION – If not following a known trail, or tracks of the railroad, how do you navigate? See The Big Country, for the way Gregory Peck did it.
O – OUTLAW – Outlaws could move from outlaw to lawmen multiple times in their careers. Many people had multiple professions/occupations in their lifetime.
P – PRESS – Frontier newspapers were often one of the first signs of civilization. Every town of a certain size had their own newspaper. Telegraph (wire) extended the spread of canned news.
Q – QUALITY – Things tended to be built well and to last.
R – RANCHERS – Require lots of land for grazing and lots of water for huge herds of cattle.
S – STORMS – Wind, rain, flood, hail, snow, tornados/cyclones, lightning, etc.
T – TECHNOLOGY – Telegraph & Telephones 1840’s for Telegraph and mid 1870’s for telephones.
U – UNDERTAKER – The one man everyone has to see eventually.
V – VILLAIN – Every story needs a villain, whether it is the local bully, or some grandiose mastermind with an intricate plot.
W – WATER – Water is life. Water access was a big deal for people, animals, farmers, ranchers, etc.
X – X MARKS THE SPOT OF THE LOST MINE. Prospectors, miners, and those seeking the lost mine(s) are a good plot hook.
Y – YELLOW FEVER – Various diseases due to poor sanitation, spoiled food, insect born, and so forth made epidemics common. Diseases that have been tamed with antibiotics and vaccines were still rampant and many children died young. NOTE: Yellow Fever is mosquito born virus in tropical and subtropical areas. Hey – I needed something for Y….
Z – ZING – Bullets and arrows fly past your ear. How many different sounds or words for sounds to you need to describe the action.

My steam punk themed A to Z Topics:

A – AIRSHIPS – Blimps, Balloons, Dirigibles, Zeppelins, etc.
B – BRASS – Blimps – Bandoleers – Balloons
C – CALCULATORS – a la Babbage & Lovelace – Corduroy & Cardigan – Carapace –  CHIMERAS – CIRCUSES – CALLIOPE
D –  DETECTIVES – a la Holmes, Pinkertons, Scotland Yard – DISINTEGRATION/INTEGRATION, Dirigibles – DRILLS –
E – ELECTRICITY – Generators, transmission, Tesla.
F – FARADAY CAGES – Ways to fight electricity in addition to rubber for insulation. This was before synthetic rubber.
G – GADGETS
H – HOLMES (DETECTIVES)
I – INVASION – a la War of the Worlds
J – JOURNALISTS – This is the time period when journalists rose to be a big deal. Think of Stanley searching for Dr. Livingstone.
K – KALEIDOSCOPE – Multi-colored way of viewing the world, or controlling machines or others. KITES – For power, propulsion, or travel.
L – LOST WORLDS – Dinosaurs, Antartica, Hollow Earth, etc.
M – MONSTERS – a la Frankenstein, robots/Clanks, etc.
N – NICKLE PLATED (When there’s no chrome or brass.)
O – OSTENTATIOUS – The villain often has plans that are huge, and often the initial appearance of overwhelming numbers on his side.
P – POWER – Animal, human, water, wind, steam, electricity, exotic
Q – QUALITY – Things are made well and to last.
R – RADIO – How communicate and control things at a distance.
S – STEAM ENGINES –  Wind is still a primary power for ships and mills.
T – TRANSPORTATION – wagons & carriages, ships & boats, trains, submarines (20K Leagues Under the Sea), airships
Telegraph & Telephone
U – UNDYING – Villains might quest for ways to live on in flesh or machine or both.
V – VILLAINS – Without villains/bad guys/etc. what would challenge the players? Vampires?
W – WILD WILD WEST – TV Show & Movie – Crossover with Western RPG.
X – X-RAYS
Y – YARDARM – Either end of the yard of a square-rigged ship.
Z – ZOO – Zoological gardens were quite the thing in this time period. Zeppelins

 

Grimtooth’s Traps Finally Arrives

My Grimtooth’s Traps hardbound 460 page book finally arrived. I pledged $50 for the basic hardback.

05-20160328_130230

 

06-0160328_130145

July, 2015 was the original estimated delivery date. I received mine on March 28, 2016. It was good to finally mark that off as received. I have two other Kickstarters older than the rest I am waiting on. Only one of which, the City State re-print by Judges Guild, do I expect to eventually get the promised items. The other is in legal limbo the D&D Documentary #2.

It came well packaged to not bounce around in the box. A big plus compared to a couple of other orders from the Goodman Games website. There is some cool art on the box (not pictured), but the mailing label went smack in the middle of the big graphic, so it’s ruined. I am curious what it looked like pre-label.

It is the same height as my AD&D Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide combined. The Grimtooth cover is slightly wider, maybe 1/8″.

Three Core Books for AD&D vs. Grimtooth's Traps
Three Core Books for AD&D vs. Grimtooth’s Traps

My DCC 3rd printing is also 460 pages, but Grimtooth’s is slightly thicker, whether due to heavier paper or a thicker cover, I’m not sure.

The DCC cover is the same size.
The DCC cover is the same size.
DCC is almost as thick as Grimtooth's Traps.
DCC is almost as thick as Grimtooth’s Traps.

It appears to be well constructed, and of good quality.

I’m sure there are a lot of interesting bits in here. However, I’m not going to be reading through it just yet, as I have a bit of a backlog. I never had the original books. I only jumped in as I thought it was an interesting bit of nostalgia to have. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have pledged.  I really need to be more selective in my purchases.

I may do a review in the future when I have a smaller backlog of things on my plate.

The Front – A Review

Here’s another new publication by +Mark Hunt, The FRONT, currently available via Lulu as print on demand (POD), and soon DriveThruRPG and RPGNow with PDF and POD. This is one of the many projects Mark worked on during nine months of chemo. In the interests of full disclosure, I am credited as a proof reader, and also put together the table of contents.

The FRONT is a bare bones RPG with a kernel based on the original roleplaying game. It has six 3d6 stats with a variation on the name so that Awareness is used instead of Wisdom. It is abbreviated AC, think of Awareness Check. It was easy for me to miss that. All other abilities are the standard. HP has different options for the GM to consider. It is a game with high lethality for characters. There are challenge rolls for combat, and d20 roll under rolls instead of saving throws.

Character generation is a quick 3d6 in order and swapping any two stats. There is a d20 table for pre-war career, which then leads to a page each for class.

There are four initial classes with various roles within the military, mainly geared towards the front lines. They are Combat, Intelligence, Leadership, and Reconnaissance. Each class has a section on what it has for combat training, abilities, special features, and starting equipment. Since this represents soldiers at war, there is no buying of equipment. On gaining a level, each class has a roll to requisition from the quartermaster.

Encumbrance is simple, a character can carry one piece of gear per point of strength.

Each piece of equipment has a usage die. If an item is used in a given turn, one rolls a usage die. If a 1 or 2 is rolled, one moves to the next smaller sized die. For example, a usage die might be a d12, each time a 1 or 2 is rolled the usage die is reduced, first to a d10, then a d8, d6, and finally, when a 1 or 2 is rolled on a d4, that item is used up. This is a simplified way to keep track of gasoline in the jeep, ammunition for a given weapon, etc. It reduces the amount of paper needed to track supplies. There is a usage die graphic on the included character sheet. As an item is used up, move the marker or usage die to the appropriate location.

Movement and distance is abstracted to close, nearby,  far away, and distant. For 0-5 feet, 6-60 feet, and 60-120 feet. This is part of the simplicity of the game.

Weapons are presented with a generic description, such as pistol instead of Colt .45 or 9 mm Luger. Each weapon is listed with its usage die and the number of dice for damage on hits. Weapons are further explained in the text following the table. There are hand thrown grenades and rifle grenades with different ranges, but the same damage. Machine guns come in light, medium, and heavy, with different crew size parameters, and bonuses and penalties for attacks.

Combat is also simplified with challenge rolls. It is roll low, so a 1 is great and a 20 is bad. A 1 on an attack deals double damage, and a 20 while avoiding an attack receives double damage. NPCs only roll to attack. PCs only roll to avoid attacks. Roll under STR for a melee attack, and under DEX for a ranged attack. Roll below STR or DEX to avoid taking damage from melee or ranged attacks. Advantage and Disadvantage comes into play when something is ruled to be particularly easy or difficult.

Saving throws are eliminated so that rolls are against abilities of STR for things that cause physical harm, such as gases. DEX is used for dodging things like a trap, or avoiding the blast of a flamethrower.  AC (Awareness) checks are used to avoid mental effects. I missed that AC was the short notation for Awareness on page 5. Being a long time gamer, I see AC and immediately think “Armor Class”.

Hit points can be figured in different ways depending on the style of campaign desired. Use the CON score as the number of HP and roll a d6 for each level, or for really gritty, roll a d6 each level. If a character is reduced to 0 HP one rolls after the fight is over, if the character’s party wins, to see what happened. Anything from MIA, POW, or death, to merely knocked unconscious.

Healing is slow. Certain things, like med kits help, but it still takes time.

Experience is low 5 points to get to second level, and 100 needed for 10th level. XP is earned for surviving one mission, major encounter, etc.

The section on campaigns offers up ideas for the major focus, such as partisans, resistance, elite (special forces), soldiers pressed into service from far off places, etc.

There are no frills, just a bare bones system for getting to play quickly. The classes and gear are focused on the GI, but one could easily port it to the forces of other nations. Gear is generalized, so that one can extrapolate any weapon desired. There is a suggested system for the GM to generate the toughness of enemy soldiers faced. A quick presentation of a possible weird war scenario is given with fantasy type creatures.

Big fail on the TOC, I didn’t get the pages numbers lined up very well. I was fighting Google Docs changing the formatting and messing up nearly all the pages. We ended up having me edit the Word Document, then send it back to Mark. I will have another article on my thoughts about collaborating on self published products.

What I liked:

You can be ready to play a session in a few minutes. The rules are a framework designed to work with most OSR type clones. Creatures and spells could easily be used unmodified. The difference in combat is minor. If you want a WWII scenario, you have a framework here to handle it.

One could easily port these rules to WWI, Korea, Vietnam, or even a more modern setting. These rules are even abstract enough to go even further back to muskets.

This is about as rules light as you can get in 48 pages. It is only 24 pages when taking away pictures, TOC, OGL, and other pages that are not rules.

What I didn’t like:

Using Awareness instead of Wisdom with AC for the abbreviation, was harder for me to make the connection. The direct connection is most clear where it is spelled out on page 5, and listed on the character sheet. It is slightly less clear when an AC check is used for avoiding mental effects. This is a minor niggle, and not of much concern, once it is clear what it is. A simple restatement of what AC is for on the part about attribute checks instead of saving throws on page 30 would avoid this.

[NOTE: Mark made an edit to change the abbreviation for Awareness to AW. He will use AC for the armor of vehicles in a new book.]

What I’d like to see:

Since consumables have a usage die, I would like to see a page of usage dice printed, with multiple rows of usage dice. For example, there is a row of usage dice at the bottom of the character sheet for ammunition. Filling a page in the rules with that might be helpful to some. One can use placeholders, such as dice, paper clips, coins, etc. to mark what usage die applies to which piece of equipment. This would be easy enough to do oneself with an index card and paperclips to track the usage die for different types of equipment.

[NOTE: Mark made a full page of the usage die chain available in the PDF.]

Conclusion

When dealing with rules light systems, one should not assume that familiar abbreviations mean the same thing until verified that they do. Terseness is the focus for rules light systems. If you need everything spelled out for you and lots of table and options to fill in all the details, this game is not for you.

This game is light enough that it should work well for story gamers that need fewer rules, and will work well for those who like more roleplaying. Obviously, it is great for those who just want to generate a character and start playing.

I just got word that the first supplement for the OSS/SOE is in the works.

[UPDATE: There is now a G+ Community for the game.]

Marmalade Dog 21

Marmalade Dog 21 was Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 18-20, 2016, at Western University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I had planned to attend today and play in the first slot, but I woke up with a stuffy nose and ear, and a sore throat.

We did not have an official OSR slot this year, like we did last year. I have decided that once we find out when Marmalade Dog is next year that I will step up and coordinate an OSR track. The exception is if it is the same weekend as Gary Con. Last year, the convention was in early February, so I asked if they know yet when it will be next year. The answer is that the university tells them what date they can have, or occasionally what dates they can choose from. So such a variable makes it understandable why it isn’t consistent with the month they have it. I live in southern Kalamazoo County, so am only about 20 minutes away from campus.

Normally the deadline for GM sign up to run games, and get free admission, for each day that they run a session, and a t-shirt, is December 31. I didn’t get signed up to run a game by then. In February, I looked and there were some OSR type games, but three sessions the first, fifth, and seventh, did not have any. So I signed up at the website for the first and fifth session, and was not automatically rejected. I never got an email for confirmation that I wasn’t rejected. So last weekend, I went to the website and checked, and my sign ups were on the list of scheduled games. I then hurried up and got ready.

Session 1: 3:00 pm on Friday. As with last year, no one showed up to my game. If things work out to coordinate an OSR track next year, we’ll have to drum up enough players to commit to a first session game.  I ran the same thing for Session 5 on Saturday.

Session 2: Friday was 7:30 pm – 11:30 pm. +Forest Ray ran a Swords & Wizardry Complete setting, called Muskets & Magic Users. It was S&W with muskets. We were first level adventurers hired by the town to go stop the pirates who raided their town. Non magic users got issued a musket that did 1d12, that fired once per round. Magic users got a wand of magic missile that had 5 first level spells per day and regenerated its charges overnight.

That was a fun little session, and my magic user used Charm Person to make a “friend” of one of the pirates that was on the raiding party that came into the tavern where we were. This made it easier to find the other pirates in the raiding party, secure their boat, and go out to their ship. We managed to take the ship and go clean out the pirate hideout, then go fight the dragon ship of the pirate queen. It was a fun game.

Forest always hands out goodies for his games, and we each got a bag of dice and a button with the name of his game, and the rules system. Forest came down from Lansing and got a hotel to run and play games all three days. In addition to swag, he brought 3 copies of Swords & Wizardry Complete for reference. I didn’t bring mine as I was already lugging three AD&D Player Handbooks, the OSRIC Player Handbook, and a DMG for my earlier session.

Muskets & Magic Users
Muskets & Magic Users

Charles, who played in one of my sessions of Homlett from last year, and was looking forward to my game Saturday night. He said he runs Swords & Wizardry sometimes. He actually lives in my town, but I lost his number. I put it in my cell so I can’t lose it. We also had a couple, Joseph and Priscilla, who played S&W for the first time and had a blast. They were both experienced gamers. He lives in a town about 15 miles south of me, so we are planning to get together IRL for gaming. She lives about a half hour away in the other direction. We had one other player, and I am blanking on the name. I did not think to take a picture of play at the table.

Session 3: 10:00 am on Saturday, I played DCC’s Frozen in Time as a 0-level funnel, by +Mike Carlson.  Mike came down from Lansing for the day. I played this funnel with him last year. Others had played it, but I didn’t remember most of the key details, so it was like a new adventure. I only remembered things as we encountered them. It was a good time. We had a full table with 6 players. Four of us were experienced gamers with DCC experience. The other two were a couple, Seth had RPG experience, and this was Gretchen’s first roleplaying experience. She had a good time. This couple lives about an hour away, in Benton Harbor, so they are having a challenge finding a group. +Clayton Williams from Lansing and +James DeYonke and his friend Dave, from Ann Arbor, one and two hours away, respectively.

DCC at Marmalade Dog 21
DCC at Marmalade Dog 21

Session 4: 3:00 pm, Saturday. +Forest Ray ran Da Orkz Iz Back, a White Star scenario. I meant to bring my White Star books, but didn’t think to set them out, or put in my bag before I went to bed. This was the first time I had played White Star. Mike Carlson joined in, as did Charles, Joseph, and Priscilla from the night before in Muskets and Magic Users.

Forest & Players White Star
Forest & Players White Star
White Star At Marmalade Dog 21
White Star At Marmalade Dog 21

This was a scenario that needed at least one Star Knight and one pilot with the rest mercenaries. I rolled up a very uncharismatic Star Knight, and we had two pilots and two mercenaries. We were hired to investigate the loss of contact with Altair 6, a relatively new colony. There was no contact with the Star Knight Monastery, the city, and the star port. We found that legendary orcs who were thought to be myth were real, and were working with a couple of Void Knights. My Star Knight couldn’t hit the Void Knight with his star sword. The rest of the party gunned down the other Void Knight and one of the pilots picked up his void knight sword and managed to stab the void knight I was fighting. In another combat, I finally managed to hit something with my star sword. I was much better when I was shooting my blaster pistol.

Da Orkz Iz Back
Da Orkz Iz Back

Session 5: 7:00 pm on Saturday. I ran a scenario based on an area of my home campaign that I wanted to flesh out – Ogre Island and the Black Crate. I will write up a separate article on this.

Sunday has two sessions, Session 6 at 11:00 am and  7 at 3:30 pm.

Session 6: Forest ran Mutant University using the Mutant Future system. I had planned to attend that before I woke up with a cold and no energy.

Session 7: did not have any what I thought were obvious OSR games. I was thinking of playing a game of Fate, which I have never played. Maybe next year.

What I learned from this experience.

  • I need to commit to this local con, since it is in my backyard. As long as it does not conflict with Gary Con or other things I want to do, I will go.
    • If it is the same weekend as Gary Con, I can still try to coordinate an OSR track, for any not going to Gary Con.  I can recruit an assistant to handle things of the actual weekend.
  • Last year, after I saw how much time it took me to get ready to run Village of Homlet, I decided it would have been just as easy to come up with my own scenario that I would know like the back of my hand.
    • This idea proved true. I used the opportunity to flesh out an area of my campaign I had been wanting to do for a long time.
  • People will drive from a couple hours away to come for Saturday. A strong OSR presence could attract a lot more people.
    • Advertising on G+ an other outlets could increase the attendance.
    • Keep the line of communication open with other players from the region.
  • If you run a 6 person game, you get one folding table that is just big enough. If you run an 8 person game you get two folding tables.
  • Swag is cool. Perhaps publishers would provide swag, or templates for GM’s to make their own swag.
    • DCC has some cool stuff with bookmarks, buttons, pens, pencils, and more.