CafePress Shop Now Open

As you probably know, the current blog header and image I now use for my online avatar were done by +Satine Phoenix. I launched the new image on January 19, 2017.

Satine and I discussed the final product, and she commented on how she really like the image for the black background and would really like it on a t-shirt. I said, “What size?” She said, “Small.” I told her I’d bring it to Gary Con IX. She forgot we had that conversation and was so excited when I gave it to her. Satine was kind enough to model for a picture with her new shirt. She even laid it out in front of the table where she and her partner, +Ruty Rutenberg, the DM on Maze Arcana did a seminar on live streaming. She proudly told everyone, “I did that!”

Satine - Set Up Livestreaming Seminar at Gary Con IX
Satine – SettingUp Livestreaming Seminar at Gary Con IX

Ruty told us after the seminar that she was so excited about how it turned out that she talked about it for a few weeks. I thought that was so cool, and she is glad to let me use these pictures to promote my online presence. I also want everyone to check out Maze Arcana (on Twitch every Sunday, on YouTube, and see their Patreon), GM Tips on Geek & Sundry, and her website. Also check out her book, Action Heroine’s Journey on Amazon. She’s working on a new book, and you can help support those efforts at her Patreon.

CafePress Shop Now Open

Now I’d like to announce my CafePress Shop, where you can get my first offering of the image for the black background. More variations and other designs to come in the months ahead. Profits from the shop will help offset costs for running my blog, and social media channels. If I make enough from the shop, I can buy more art, or support more people on Patreon.

This design and future designs will also be available for giveaways as my channels grow. The fun and excitement of Gary Con last weekend has re-energized me. I’m hoping for great things in the months ahead.

If you like what I do and want more of it, please drop me a line. Tell me what you like and what you’d like more of. I’m becoming known to many for reviews. I do reviews anyway, but touch on all kinds of my tabletop gaming and geeky/nerdy interests.

Satine made a channel intro for me last year at Gary Con VIII. Here’s  the blooper reel.

Here is the video announcement for my CafePress Shop:

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Frank Mentzer’s 0D&D Game At Gary Con IX

I managed to get a gold badge for this year’s Gary Con, which means that you get into two special event games.  This year, one of them was Frank’s game. I had interacted briefly with Frank at Gary Con last year, and at Gamehole Con IV last November.

This year, I made it to Frankenparty IV, a party that Frank and his wife Deb host in their home. They only ask to follow their wishes about parking and a small donation to offset the costs of food. I touched on this in my Gary Con wrap-up post.

Frank’s game was very informal and I found it enlightening to see how one style of original play was handled. We only needed three dice, d6, d10, and d20. He provided pregens, which speeded preparations/play. Being 0D&D d6 for all damage, and d20 for combat.

He had us use the d10 to resolve things that had a chance of failure. through mutual negotiation and explanation of what our characters did, Frank would have us call high or low before we rolled the d10. Frank said that that is what they did before they started developing rules for things. He also had us use THAC0, which he said started in Lake Geneva and he thinks is a quick way to know if you hit.

I really like that. That is something that many in the OSR are going back to, such as Swords & Wizardry Light, and others. I have a love for AD&D, but there are so many rules, that rules lawyers bog down play if a DM doesn’t have the skill to move things back to the game. I’m slightly guilty of that, but I try to ask clarifying questions, and shut up, since I believe each DM/GM has the right to run their game to their preferences.

With old school, you only need a roll where there is a chance of failure, such as combat, or leaping over a pit in full armor. This gives more focus on roleplaying and moving the adventure along.

Frank also talked about four levels of crosstalk at the table. I tried to take notes, but don’t have it exactly as he described it.

They are:

  1. Players
  2. Characters
  3. Meta(game)
  4. Meta(world)

Old school play is reliant on player skill, so what many call “metagaming,” is encouraged, at least by Frank.

The scenario was set in the world of Disney’s Maleficent. That description of the movie/cartoon set the tone and we all had a mental image. No minis, just a written marching order on a 3×5 card.

Frank did use 3 six-sided weather dice and used the average for weather. Very quick and easy. He also told us when we were doing something that might get us killed, and commented on our choice of tactics. He gave us a chance to adjust, but we could have easily gotten killed in a fight.

At one point, one of our magic users used sleep on an opponent and all the crows in a tree fell down. I really liked the “rain of murder”. A day or two later I mentioned to Frank how much I liked that. He said that I was the only one who laughed at his jokes. Some were pretty subtle, but that’s a style of humor I also like.

Frank also shared his original campaign maps, which will help inform Darlene when she does the maps for his upcoming Kickstarter. I’ll be bringing that to your attention when I get word of its launch.

Frank Mentzer - Original Campaign Maps on Judges Guild Maps
Frank Mentzer – Original Campaign Maps on Judges Guild Maps
Frank Mentzer - Original Campaign Maps on Newer Judges Guild Maps
Frank Mentzer – Original Campaign Maps on Newer Judges Guild Maps

After the game he signed my character sheet and name card. I played a dwarf, so I named him after the dwarf in the AD&D Roll20 campaign that hit three years and 148 sessions last week. I shared that on our Google Community page for the campaign. The guys like that.

Dwarf In Frank Mentzers Game
Dwarf In Frank Mentzers Game

 

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Gary Con IX Wrap Up

This year’s Gary Con was awesome. Other than some trivial issues it was all good.

I arrived Wednesday, picked up my registration pack and saw a few friends. I also wandered around the vendor hall during setup. Black Blade Publishing/Goodman Games had a spot inside the door across from registration. I immediately say a lot of things I wanted. After going to our hotel (NOTE: Don’t wait, if you want to go, call the Grand Geneva now. We had rain the last few days and walking in the rain to the con is no fun.), we went to Frankenparty IV. Frank Mentzer opens his home to attendees, and just asks for a small donation towards the food.

Frank had out a painting that was suggested for the original red box cover with a full adventure party, and not the lone fighter facing the dragon. That picture had not been made public before. He also has Gary Gygax’ old TSR desk. I got to sit next to Darlene the artist while I ate. Later, while I was in Frank’s office listening to him tell stories Darlene walked in to say her goodbyes and Frank told her things were a go. Then he turned to us and said that he is launching a Kickstarter in a few months for his campaign world. Darlene will be doing the maps. (So much for avoiding Kickstarters….) Frank says that he has a letter by Gary Gygax that says his campaign is in a certain location in Greyhawk. Obviously he can’t use any names owned by WotC, but this should be cool!

Red Box Alternate Cover
Red Box Alternate Cover - Info
Red Box Alternate Cover – Info

We stopped by the Grand Geneva and met a few friends and had a drink before going to our hotel.

Thursday before my first game, I wandered by the vendor hall. The doors were open early so I went in and picked up my Epsilon City Kickstarter and the one for How To Write Adventure Modules The Don’t Suck. I also bought Dungeon Alphabet, Monster Alphabet, and the OSRIC Monstrosities book. I also saw these cool map pads that I knew I’d be back later.

Across from that I visited with Jeff Talanian of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. He managed to easily sell the last of his first edition boxes.

He was next to Frog God Games, so I stepped over and met Erik Tenakar. Nice guy. I also saw Zach Glazer & Bill Webb, and met Mike Badolato.

Erik Tenkar
Erik Tenkar

My first game was in Ernie Gygax’ Hobby Shop Dungeon. He had a laminated copy for us to see. It is a HUGE dungeon. He put up some video on Facebook, where you can see me scribbling notes as he reads his intro.

Posted by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. on Monday, March 27, 2017

 

I didn’t have anything else scheduled until 6, so I wandered around, bought more stuff, got some signatures, etc.

From 6-8, I attended a Seminar by Satine Phoenix and Ruty Rutenberg where they explained how they do their Maze Arcana livestream. They explained how you can do it with good enough webcams, but you have to be careful not to overload the computer. Very informative. It was also great to catch up with Satine. I had no idea who she was when we met at last year’s Gary Con, also her first time there.

Ruty, Satine, A.J., and me
Ruty, Satine, A.J., and me

Friday I started off with Mark Hunt’s Gangbusters. The premise was that “The Masks” were putting on too much pressure, so it was time for one last job. He gave us Penguin, Two-Face (who had to flip a coin), Poison Ivy, Riddler, Flat Top, Joker, and two characters he generated. We found out that we were up against Dick Tracy, The Shadow, and Batman. We laughed so hard that I got a headache. Flat Top managed to kill Dick Tracy and take his watch, hat, and coat and drive away. Sean, who played Two Face got tails like 11 or 12 times in a row, which was hilarious!

Mark announced his Gangbusters Kickstarter this summer. He had a mockup of the rules which is complete with place holders for art. Mark had one game each day for 8 players and each had a waiting list. He asked me to run two games next year. I and others told him to go to Gamehole Con. I told him that I planned to run at Gamehole Con this year, and will run a session of Gangbusters. I will also run at UCon in Ypsilanti, MI.

Gangbusters - Mark Hunt
Gangbusters – Mark Hunt

That night, I got to play in Satine Phoenix’ first time running a convention game. It was my first real time playing 5e. She did great and kept us entertained and busy. We had something happen that initiated a timer, so we had two hours to get a resolution, and we made it with 1 minute and 22 seconds to spare! We had one character die, which was also the first time one has died when Satine ran the game. Later at the bar she told me that she was glad I was there for a friendly face, and moral support. Zing! Straight to the feels! She took a picture of our group that got re-tweeted by Geek & Sundry, which was cool!

Saturday morning, I played in a party of adventuring monsters who went “Against The Dwarfs”, for taking out their allies the giants. Ryan, the DM plans a sequel to that for next year. His premise, plot, and NPCs and the voices were all memorable. I have to get into that sequel next year!

AD&D - Against The Dwarfs
AD&D – Against The Dwarfs

That night I played in Michael Shorten’s AD&D game set in his campaign world. He had a very interesting setup. At one point we ran into a cave of shriekers and he started wailing, he can really hit those high notes! Every other table in the room stopped what they were doing and imitated him. He then said, “And that is what you hear.” It was epic! It is one of those moments that you wish you had it on video to share with the world!

AD&D With Michael Shorten
AD&D With Michael Shorten

On Sunday, I played Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. It was a scenario by Goblin Punch, The Meal of Oshregaal. We failed in our mission, but had a blast.

Sometime during the week, I also talked to Pat Kilbane a couple of times. He was getting in several final interviews for the documentary. It was so cool that he was appreciative of my banging the drum to bring attention to the Patreon. This movie will happen, and if you can give something towards the Patreon, it will speed up that process.

I took a bunch of things to get signed, because Jeff Dee was there, but I never saw him when he wasn’t running a game or I didn’t have the books with me. I picked up the Holmes Blue Box rulebook a couple years ago, since I gave my original to my youngest brother when I went to college. I asked Tom Wham to sign it and he said, “I didn’t do anything in that.” I said, “You’re in the credits,” and handed it to him. He flipped through it and said, “That picture looks familiar, I guess I did.” Lots of fun moments like that.

James Ward made it and looked OK and was always his pleasant self. He signed a book I bought and the two Kickstarters I picked up. I sat and watched the final moments of the last two characters in his Metamorphosis Alpha game fall resulting in a TPK.

MA with Jim Ward - TPK
MA with Jim Ward – TPK

 

Tim Kask recieved the second annual E. Gary Gygax Lifetime Achievement Award, which James Ward had received last year.

The E. Gary Gygax Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Tim Kask this weekend at Gary Con IX, and deservedly so….

Posted by Jim Wampler on Sunday, March 26, 2017

On the way home, we stopped by Lake Geneva Games and had a tour from Mark Clover. He encouraged us to come early next year and game. We then went 30 miles out of the way for my passenger to pick up a package at Noble Knight Games and save on shipping. They have a small storefront with a huge warehouse in back. The storefront was unimpressive. If you are local, or in the area, go pick up a package. Otherwise, see their booth at a con, like Gamehole Con, or order online.

Lake Geneva Games
Lake Geneva Games

 

Noble Knight Games
Noble Knight Games

When I woke up one morning and had the half awake thing where an idea can come, I had an idea for a card game, so I sat up and typed all the high points into my phone. I think it might be good enough to Kickstart. It depends on how well I can execute the mechanics….

I always take off the Monday after a con to rest up and run errands. While out running errands, I had an idea for another card game, that is even better than the first one. It is also more clear in my mind, and the mechanics just write themselves, it seems. When inspiration strikes, it often comes in truckloads. More about both ideas later.

I still have a lot to write about, and a lot to write about once it is OK to go public.

Last year, there were about 1250 attendees. This year there were about 1300 pre-registered, with over 1700 total attendance. At some point, we will reach the limits of this largest venue in Lake Geneva. I hope they always keep it here. Time will tell.

I am so ready for next year, where I know I’ll be running two sessions of Gangbusters. Not sure I’ll run anything else, as I also want to play.

I almost left out playing in Frank Metzer’s OD&D game. I’ll have to write about his old school mechanic for everything.

Frank Mentzer - ODD
Frank Mentzer – ODD

Until next year!

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Getting Ready for Gary con IX!

I’m excited about Gary Con IX. One more day of work before I can hit the road.

If you can’t make it to Gary Con this year, maybe you can find a local convention.

I wrote about sites where you can find conventions in your area here. Small local cons are a great place to run your first convention game. That was my experience, and I had a blast.

I’m jumping in and trying the YouTube thing, so here’s a video where I talk about Gary Con.

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

Links to RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are Affiliate links. A portion of your purchase price supports this blog and helps buy products for use and review.

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.

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

Links to RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are Affiliate links. A portion of your purchase price supports this blog and helps buy products for use and review.

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.

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147 Consecutive Sessions

Tonight is session 147 of the Wednesday night AD&D game I play in on Roll20.

We’re into our third year on the calendar too!

This will be the last game in my streak of not missing a game, as I will be at Gary Con 9 next week.

I’m the only player to have played in this many sessions, and with the same character since the start. A dwarf, now maxed out at enough XP for level 8 fighter, but not until he can gain a point of strength. There is a mad scientist type who has offered a risky chance at improvement…. That is on hold until after we save the world.

We’re in a dangerous situation tonight. Hoping to resolve it so I don’t miss the resolution….. (I’d rather my character die when it’s me rolling the dice.)

Looking forward to lots of game time next week/end!

I wrote an article about a year ago on session 100.

And I interviewed our DM.

EDIT:

Wow! We ended the session so close to achieving our goal. My dwarven fighter is keeping the monster occupied. Very tough, we’ve done a lot of damage to it, so far none of us are hurt. DM & other players nice enough to move the game to Tuesday night next week, so I won’t miss the game. All since my player has the greatest chance of death. AWESOME!!!

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Hex Kit – Kickstarter & Sale

+Cecil Howe is running a Kickstarter to add more tiles to use with Hex Kit. Today, he pointed out that with a GM’s Day sale, one can pick up Hex Kit on DriveThruRPG for $6.99 and then back the Kickstarter at the $10 and get the same value as the Kickstarter at the $20 option. As of this writing, there are 26 hours to go.

This was good timing, as I had planned to back this Kickstarter at the $20 level, since I didn’t have the original Hex Kit.

I already have Hexographer, and I backed the soon to be released Worldographer update to Hexographer, but at that price, another option for maps is affordable.

If you like maps, this might be something for you.

I’ll post a review once I make the time this weekend to play with it.

NOTE: Affiliate links help fund the blog and other online efforts.

Here’s the info from Cecil’s G+ Post, with edits to the links:

Hex Kit has less than 30 hours left on Kickstarter!!! Because of the GM’s Day sale at DriveThru you can pick up Hex Kit Fantasyland for 6.99, then back the Hex Kit Kickstarter for 10 bucks. That will get you the desktop app, Fantasyland tiles, and 3,000+ more tiles for 16.99!!

Hex Kit is a multi-platform, map painting tool that comes with hand-illustrated tiles. It does lots of really cool stuff: you can paint hex maps with a huge variety of detail, export your maps to print or save them to share with yer Hex Kit usin’ buds, store information about your world in the map, and even run a player facing version of the map on an auxiliary display. You can import your own custom tiles, as well as generate random maps.

Check out the Hex Kit Kickstarter here:

Check out Hex Kit: Fantasyland here:

Thanks everyone who’s backed the project so far! You’ve made a few nerds into very productive people.

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A Review of The Ice Kingdoms

Links to RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are Affiliate links. A portion of your purchase price supports this blog and helps buy products for use and review.

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:

 

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Ramblings of an Old Gamer