Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - Rats in the Walls Adventure Review

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Rats in the Walls, Jeff Talanian, Corey Ryan Walden

Author: Jeffrey Talanian (North Wind Adventures)
Price: $4.29
Format: PDF
Page count: 14
System: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (or any OSR/Old School FRP). 
Year: 2014

Jeffrey Talanian is a good dude, who has made a good game. Since I first found out about Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea I have been consistently impressed. It fits the mood and tone that I like to set as a Dungeon Master, and draws upon literary inspiration that I enjoy. And okay, I will admit it: it was only at the end of last year that I began to delve into the tales of Robert E. Howard and H.P Lovecraft, but although I'm a relative noob, I have taken to these tales like Cthulhu takes to the sea. Perhaps more importantly, all my interactions with Jeff have been very positive: he's a really nice guy, and it makes me happy to support him as an indie designer for that reason alone, not to mention he has produced a game I genuinely like. I made an overview video fairly recently detailing the contents of the box set and my thoughts on the game if you'd like to know more about it. You can find it here. If you have heard of Talanian's game, but are yet to check it out, I would encourage you to do so sooner rather than later, as I understand he has limited units of the box set still available (less than 200?). There is a planned hardback version to appear later this year or early next year too.

But I'm not really talking about the box set in this post, I'm talking about an early adventure that was written for the AS&SH system (and pretty compatible with any OSR or Old School system) called Rats in the Walls. It's not available in print form anymore, though it originally appeared in Knock spell Magazine #4, and is still available on PDF. My copy is the latter format (though I'm hoping to get my hands on a physical copy one of these days). I bought it a few months ago, and at the time skimmed it, being fairly happy with my purchase. My upcoming campaign will be using the AS&SH rules, so I thought it was high time to look over Rats in the Walls properly for a small jaunt within my 1st level campaign.

Rats in the Walls clearly takes inspiration from the eponymous Lovecraftian tale, and indeed the back cover of the adventure confirms as much. The adventure takes place: 'In the City-State of Khromarium, a dockside tavern called the Silvery Eel is plagued by rats of a most unusual breed. These abominable rodents have ruined the tavern keeper's business and his life. The man is desperate and he offers a substantial reward for the elimination of this horrific problem' (back cover blurb).
Unfortunately for the tavern keeper 'rats' are the least of his woes. Something much more sinister is afoot. I really like this adventure because it is short. Too often I read supplements or adventures which have a heck of a lot of detail, but actually running them becomes an mnemonic exercise, rather than something fun. Jeff assures the reader that once the adventure has been read through once, any experienced referee can run it 'on the fly' thereafter. I believe that to be true.

The adventure follows a rather traditional format, though like Jeff's other Hyperborean creations, this work is filled with Swords & Sorcery mojo - including a surly Hyperborean warlock, a statue of Kthulhu (a deity within the AS&SH world), an imprisoned daemon, and big mudafugin rats.

The maps offer a clear visual guideline for the referee, although I got a little lost on the bottom dungeon level (I couldn't locate the steps down). Otherwise the adventure is very clearly and cleanly written in Talanian's endearing prose, and edited under David Prata's ever scrupulous eye.

In sum, I highly recommend this one. As a mini adventure it can be inserted very easily into any existing campaign, and even makes a nice introductory module if one wishes to begin their exploits in the world of Hyperborea. I can imagine concluding this in a few hours (if that) of gaming, and I feel like it would make an excellent one-shot adventure.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Hill Cantons Compendium II - Review

Hill Cantons Compendium II - Review

Hill Cantons Compendium II, Chris Kutalik & Mike Davison, Hydra Collective, Corey Ryan Walden, Slumbering Ursine Dunes
Author/s: Chris Kutalik & Mike Davison (Hydra Collective LLC)
Price: $0 - Pay what you want
Format: PDF
Page count: 21
System: OSR (0e/1e/insert retroclone here)
Year: 2015

Procrastination is a funny thing - you often end up places you would not expect to. Today was no exception, as I stumbled upon the Hill Cantons Compendium II. The PDF is free to download, and for anyone running a 0e-styled game (or AD&D or Labyrinth Lord or whatever) I recommend checking it out. Actually, you know what? Check it out even if you're not running any of those systems.

You may be asking why. Well, for starters it's free. If that isn't appealing enough, then how about the fact it includes a very brief setting overview, a bunch of new classes, and a whole swathe of random tables?

The Good.
Right off the bat I'm going to say it: I like this. When I began reading I thought okay, another home-brew setting where I don't understand the in-joke references, but between that thought and finishing my read-through, something clicked. I like how sparsely defined the setting is, and while I would never use it (because I have my own imagination, and thrive on designing my own settings), it had some interesting bits that I would certainly steal - like the idea that there is a rather 'normal', seemingly magic-less hub of civilisation, whereupon the further one ventures out things get weirder and weirder. It describes in loose terms the socio-political setup, and the idea of 'hostels' - multi-storied buildings of (usually) ascending swankiness. The world seems to be an amalgam of weird fiction, sci-fi and swords & sorcery, with some more traditional fantasy tropes, but due to the brevity of the work it's a little difficult to be certain.

Then it gets really fun. The Compendium adds some new classes like the Black Hobbit - chaotic and black-hearted halflings; Chaos Monk - think bad 80s kung-fu movie characters made into a class; Feral Dwarf - crude, cave-men dwarves; Half-Ogre - mank, stinky, disgusting beings; Mountebank - illusory trickster; Pantless Barbarian - the name really says it all; Robo-Dwarves, War Bear and White Wizard - magic-user/cleric/druid combo. My personal favourites were the Black Hobbits (the little bastards), the Pantless Barbarians (because LOL), White Wizard (I've long thought the cleric class should be ditched and replaced with a magic-user class who can cast cleric spells too), and the Mountebank (cos I love all things thief). I found myself knee-deep in half-ogre faeces, chuckling to myself at a few things written therein. It's quite tongue-in-cheek, and very self-conscious.

The tables too, make a great addition to this compendium, and I can see myself using them just for NPCs: "Bob looks at you with..." *rolls dice* "...sad eyes - 'my parents didn't love me', he finishes".

The compendium is funny, useful and even rather innovative (if I may use that word, despite the fact EVERYTHING under the sun has been done already).

The Bad.
When something is free, one shouldn't really complain. However, I'm still of the opinion if you're going to bother with something do it right. My only complaint, if it even is a complaint, is at times I felt a little excluded from the text, almost as if this was used in a campaign, but then wasn't properly or extensively explained to the intended audience. Then again, I've been doing this hobby long enough that I actually don't care. I'm an adult, I don't need to be spoon-fed by a gaming company, and I can sift through the ideas to find the gems; which in this case is very easy to do. I noticed a few proofreading errors here and there, though honestly no more (or less) than my Adventures in Highwold supplement. The description for Isle of Tolmin and the House of the Axe was completely omitted. Is that a big deal? No. I didn't pay for it. Too, given my own experiences with writing and self-publishing, once something is 'complete' and published, it's only then that you notice the mistakes, but by that time you really can't be assed to correct it.

You still haven't downloaded it??!

But seriously.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Birthday Swag

Okay, it's my birthday today. Unlike some I actually enjoy getting older, reflecting on the year that has passed, and looking forward to the things to come.

My wife clearly knows my tastes, because this year's birthday gifts were awesome. I'm looking forward to running some Deadlands Noir in the near future.

Savage Worlds, Deadlands Noir, Companion, Absinthe House Blues, Adventure, Action Deck, Corey Ryan Walden, Shane
  • Savage Worlds: The Deadlands Noir Companion
  • Savage Worlds: Oversized Action Deck (for initiative order)
  • Savage Worlds: Deadlands Noir GM screen & The Old Absinthe House Blues Adventure
There's a clear theme emerging here right?

I'm a newly fan of Savage Worlds: it's fairly rules-lite, while providing plenty of option for the players; a good mix as far as I'm concerned. For those unfamiliar with Savage Worlds it is essentially a generic system (like GURPS or FATE) that one can use as a background engine for custom games. The rules are pretty damn comprehensive (I don't mean Pathfinder comprehensive, yuck), while leaving plenty of space for the Game Master to inject their flavour and arbitration. Of course, many different settings can be purchased for Savage Worlds, and Deadlands Noir is but one example. 

Personally I find Deadlands Noir setting to be an intriguing escape from the usual tropes and genres my gaming group immerse ourselves in - fantasy, sci-fi and Western. To understand the gist of Deadlands Noir think 20s to 40s depression-era America, but in a parallel universe. It's what may have transpired if the Civil War had not been won by the Union, the Native American Indians retained some land, and the Mormon church assumed control of Utah. Throw in some weird science, anachronous technologies, catastrophic events, and anomalous and monstrous beings, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect. 

Knowing me I won't be using it all 'by the book' but I will certainly tamper and tweak to create something more 'me'. Having said that, Deadlands Noir as written is a very compelling and alluring setting, with the Noir shining through like a dirty, oily diamond. I like gritty and dark settings so this one will sit happily on my shelf next to my Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea box set, and my soon-to-arrive Carcosa hardback. 

If you like the sound of this, I'd recommend picking up the Deadlands Noir hardback first, before grabbing the Companion (pictured).

Happy gaming!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

OD&D Berserker - FREE download

Carrying on with our OD&D theme, I want to suggest my free interpretation of the Berserker. The class as suggested worked well in our one-shot, and I believe adds some additional campaign flavour, while retaining the simplicity and sensibility of original Dungeons & Dragons. 

It follows the Berserker outlined in Monsters & Treasure pretty closely, and was the inspiration. In all other ways it is identical to a Fighting-Man of the same level. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I have.

Happy gaming!

Download PDF

Monday, 16 March 2015

OD&D Session Audio

Last night's one-shot Original Dungeons & Dragons game (1974) was a lot of fun! I wrote the adventure and setting, generating the characters (and NPCs). Character generation was 3d6 down the line. We were playing with the three booklets, no supplements, but I also included my thief variant (which worked well!) and a berserker class that I'm yet to formalise. None of the players had experienced OD&D before, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable experience for all - one of my most memorable D&D experiences ever truth be told. It left me with the desire to develop my micro setting more. Perhaps something for the future.

The players named their characters and I provided three NPCs to journey with the players, each player controlling one.

The party roster was:

Ray - Cleric
Mago - Magic-User
Johnny Deep - Fighting-Man
Bardose - Fighting-Man
Haldar - Berserker
Qygly - Thief

The game began with handing the players this hex map:

The map detailed the extent of the characters known world. The town of Honem (in the middle of the map) was where all but the cleric grew up in, while due west is the barony/keep of Zhairmont. Between them is a wood infested with criminal foresters, and mythologies of a strange ruin. To the north is a loathsome bog infested with frogmen and swampy humans. To the east and south is a perilous badlands.

The game was designed as a combination between a hex/dungeon crawl, but the latter ended up being more the case, as the adventurers tracked down Rolf of Haris, an escaped criminal and unearthed the antediluvian ruin, plumbing its depths for secrets and wealth, all with but one loss of life!

You can listen to the entire session here:

Sunday, 15 March 2015

OD&D One-Shot

It's a gloomy day in Auckland - rainy and dreary. It's a certain contrast from the weather we've been having lately, and I fear autumn is finally upon us.

What would have been an otherwise depressing day of rain, is instead the perfect opportunity for an OD&D session! It's a One-Shot of my own creation, replete with pregens and my own thief variant.

In the picture:

  • Original Dungeons & Dragons Wizards of the Coast Reprint.
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual Wizards of the Coast Reprint.
  • Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets
  • Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea dice.
  • AD&D Dungeon Master's Screen 
  • A village map (painting) by my friend Marie
  • Hex paper with about 4 hexes to get the guys started.
  • A hexcrawl/dungeon delve combo of my own design.
  • A stack of pregens to pick from. 
Happy gaming!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Original Dungeons & Dragons Thief - Variant

I have been enamoured for awhile with the idea of running an essentially white box Men & Magic campaign. When I say Men & Magic I mean that will be the framework used for player options - fighting-man, magic-user and cleric. My issue though is I love the thief class! The Greyhawk supplement offered some substantial additions to the core D&D game, and although many of those additions were useful, I value the simplicity and bare-bones ethic of the white box. The idea that thieves use a percentile for skills hasn't really gelled with me for this style of gaming, especially when most other 'checks' are resolved with the use of a d6 dice. Thus, I have taken copious inspirations from Greyhawk, but have fashioned an OD&D variant on the thief class using a d6 skill system, rather than the originally presented d100 system. The rationale was that I wanted a game that could mostly be played with just two types of dice: d20 and a d6.

The result is mostly 'by the book', but I have changed a few things:

1. Allowed thieves the use of a shield. This was forbidden in Greyhawk. When clerics and fighters can be very armoured, and thieves lack the defensive adjustment of dexterity as presented in later editions, I felt the thief needed a bit of a break.

2. Agile. This allows thieves with a dexterity of 15 or above a +1 bonus to their armour class, or for the rarer thief with 18 dexterity a +2. This is not by the book at all, but is roughly akin to the benefit granted fighting-men in Greyhawk. 

3. Casting from scrolls. As Greyhawk introduced both the thief, and their ability to cast from scrolls when reaching higher level I have included this feature. However, because I'm limiting my campaign to around 10th level I have changed the chance of miscast to 5th level spells (rather than 7th).

A link to the PDF is here

For those who don't want to click an external link I have reproduced the two pages below. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Savage Worlds

Yesterday my Savage Worlds Deluxe rulebook and Deadlands Noir arrived via Amazon. I have immensely enjoyed thumbing through them both, and am beginning to familiarise myself with the rules and flavour. There are some nice illustrations, and Deadlands Noir is an imaginative setting.

For those unfamiliar with the Savage Worlds system, it is intended to be a catch-all system regardless of setting and genre. The mechanics appear to be pretty lite (in a good way), and it boils the system down to its base ingredients. The Deadlands Noir supplement is a setting for the Savage Worlds system.

I imagine I'll review them properly once I can make an informed opinion on them both.

Happy Gaming!