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Into the Odd
by Jonathan S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/09/2018 06:11:52

Really quick and easy to run; simple to create monsters and challenges for the players; allows for a lot of imagination, but with some great inspiration in the form of random tables. An excellent game for those looking for something fast, light and fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Odd
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Odditional materials
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/15/2018 07:07:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collection of supplemental materials and hacks for Into the Odd comes as a 39-page pdf, 1 page of which is devoted to the editorial; the rest is content, as the cover and wrap-around cover are presented as .jpgs. The pages, as most of the time for OSR-type supplements, are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), though printing multiple pages on a single sheet of paper is not recommended here: The pages have pretty wide borders for map-excerpts, commentary, supplemental information or the like – or some white space. The exception here would be the final hack within, which is really making use of its allotted space, cramming a TON of information onto the page.

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my leisure.

The first of these hack, “Odd Dungeons”s could be described as a blend of Into the Odd with more traditional OSR-games, such as B/X; Eric Nieudan provides a surprisingly concise and well-thought out tweak that basically replaces arcana with traditional spells, which may be coaxed into new shapes akin to how you can use Willpower to modify arcana effects. Otherwise, each spell may be cast once, which makes this iteration pretty open regarding synergy with Mageblade Zero, Adventure Fantasy Game, or any kind of longform spell you may happen to enjoy. Of course, the inclusion of spells does mean that levels matter more, healing spells and how they interact with Hit Points and Strength damage need to be accounted for – and the supplement does all of that. An alternate background table to account for the different premises is included, and sidebars quickly note the benefits of non-human races – these are kept mostly narrative. A d20-table for replacement PCs/latecomers and a d6 table to learn about what happened to your belongings while out there complements this one. The hack also includes a one-page, rather nice faction generator, where you determine origin, status, means and goals and also get a table for peculiarities. All in all, an interesting hack for the slightly more experienced crowd. Still, enjoyable – but there also is “Maze Rats”…see below.

The second hack, penned by Sean Smith, would be “Cyber:London:Odd:Hack”; in fact, this one is actually two variants of sorts; the first of these would be the default mode, dubbed “Slick Thames”, where you choose a faction (Goths, punks, hoods, corps); the attributes have been reskinned, and Hit Points now are called Nerve; the background table is a bit brief this time around; it’d have been nice to get one for each faction, but that may be me. The hack comes with 12 tactical augments, basically the cybertech equivalent of arcana, minus the coaxing. 12 cosmetic augments are provided, and there are 6 adventure hooks depicting missions; the table here erroneously noted “d12” instead of “d6” as the die to roll. The second playing mode would be the police, whose attributes, oddly, get different names, in spite of otherwise sharing quite a few rules components with the previous one. Low HP may yield psychic powers, low attributes special abilities. A few sample items and notes on advancement for the police are provided, and we get a bit refereeing advice, as well as 4 sample criminals. There is a truth to the cliché that Germans love their cyberpunk – I certainly do as a long-time Shadowrun player. That being said, a lot of cyberpunk’s draw comes from the world, and while I appreciate the Judge Dredd police playstyle, I really found myself wishing that this had more space to develop its ideas. There are quite a few tweaks to the engine that are interesting, while renaming attributes, in comparison, just takes up real estate. I’d enjoy a proper, fully-fleshed out version of this hack. As provided, it leaves something to be desired regarding the fulfillment of its tantalizing ideas and is probably a reskin that most referees could execute themselves.

The, at least to me, most impressive of the hack within, in scope, ambition and execution, would be Ben Milton’s “Maze Rats”; the game is basically a more traditional fantasy tweak of the rules of Into the Odd, supported by TABLES GALORE. I mean it. You immediately see the start of this hack, as suddenly, the pages are CRAMMED full of information, with names, personalities, differentiated weapons, appearance and adventuring gear generators, etc. I really love this hack. It codifies short rests, has a precise initiative, a simple XP-system and 11 classes that are just one sentence and still offer meaningful ability differentiation. The magic system is inspired for a rules lite game: Magic is grouped in 5 circles; these designate damage caused, range, etc. in a precise and helpful manner; oh, and you build spells via 3 100-entry-strong tables; One denotes [effects], one [elements], one [form] – this is absolutely GLORIOUS. It’s a kind of freeform that allows for serious creative freedom, while still providing a solid rules-chassis that makes sure spellcasting does not become competitive BSing. Creatures, items and afflictions and even weird potion effects get their own, massive entries. I ADORE this one. “Maze Rats” cleans up a couple of the issues of “Into the Odd” and does so with panache aplomb. This is a prime example of how damn good a hack can be, and I’d honestly consider this hack to be required reading for Into the Odd referees. Mechanically, this is easily the strongest part of this book and warrants getting it on its own!

Now, this constitutes the hacks that are included within – beyond these, however, we have a couple of “odds and ends,” if you will: Brian Wille presents 4 new arcana for our edification, which include a magnetic, projectile-deflecting chapeau (heck yeah!), a massive plasma gun, a mechanized arachnid (stats included) and a device to animate the dead as a fighting force. Once more, stats are included. Kamil Węgrzynowicz also has a section of such oddities, presenting two genuinely creepy, fully statted monsters: The pretty nasty owlpeople and screaming pyrmaids of pulsating flesh, as well as an ancient sludge that can transform those it touches – I loved these critters! The article also mentions an area of Bastion that phased out of the world, only to randomly reappear…and there is this potentially addictive building. Oh, and oath-enhancing stones? Pretty nasty. Now, I’m not trying to be a dick here, but the editor’s note that claims that not tampering with the text too much was done to retain the author’s voice feels like a bad excuse. I absolutely adore Kamil’s contributions here, but a few editing tweaks versus plural errors and the like would not have compromised the integrity of the awesome concepts and prose, particularly in the adventure.

Adventure? Yep, this booklet also contains two adventures/explorable locations, with Kamil Węgrzynowicz’s “In Search Of Samson Aubrey” being the first of these, and it really gets the subtle tone of the industrial-revolution-plus-weird-themes of “into the Odd” and represents a nice little adventure, though, as noted, editing would have made it potentially even great. The second adventure, penned by Eric Nieudan, would be the “Nightlight Circus”, which pits the PCs against a new gang operating a gambling den, one that has a distinct Joker-esque style, though they do seem to be remarkably benign… This one’s another winner. And no, I’m not going into the details here – the pdf is PWYW, after all, so you can read those yourself. Both come with maps, but sans player-friendly versions of the maps.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are one of the weakest parts of this book; a more unified direction would have made sense. Layout adheres either to a one-column or two-column (Maze Rats) standard and is pretty much no-frills b/w. Cartography is b/w and okay. Annoyingly, the electronic version has no bookmarks. The softcover PoD is really inexpensive, though, so getting it may be a smart move if you enjoy the content. I have the PoD and found it easier to navigate than the pdf.

Ben Milton, Kamil Węgrzynowicz, Eric Nieudan, Brian Wille and Sean Smith have created a fun book of bits and pieces that can really enrich your Into the Odd game – mechanically, the Maze Rats hack is super-interesting and inspiring, and the arcana ideas and Kamil’s monsters in particular made me smile. The adventures are a nice plus as well. That being said, don’t expect Lost Pages’ usual level of polish here; this is a bonus booklet of sorts, and while offering it for PWYW certainly makes it worth getting, I do think that, with a bit more attention to detail, this could have been truly great. As written, I consider the totality of this book to be worth a verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Odditional materials
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Into the Odd
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/14/2018 06:08:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This roleplaying game/sourcebook clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

All right, I’ve already referenced this little RPG in quite a few of my reviews of rules lite systems, so it’s high time I covered this one!

Now, the game’s chassis is remarkably simple in its presentation, though the game does indeed work best for roleplaying game veterans. The extremely condensed presentation makes explanation and grasping the basics simple, but total novices may need some guidance. While the game is counted among the OSR-game systems, it significantly deviates from the traditional rules chassis.

Into the Odd knows three attributes: Strength, Dexterity and Willpower. You roll 3d6 for each. Then you roll d6. These final d6 are your starting Hit Points.

The other rules are similarly basic: In order to succeed a save, you roll with a d20 equal to or under your attribute. 1 always succeeds, 20 is always a failure. Combat is divided into Turns. The head of the group makes a Dex save to determine who goes first. This is one of the few instances where the rules are aggravating in their brevity. More precision on how initiative works would have been nice. On the PC’s turn, they can move and perform one action – attacks are an action, and here the game really differentiates itself from other games. You see, when you attack, you ALWAYS HIT. Same goes for enemies. This makes combat fast, but also really, really deadly. Damage depends on the weapon you wield, and two factors: Cover or other problems reduce damage to d4, while epic, dangerous stunts, attacks from behind, etc. increase damage to d12 – these damage de/increases are known as “impaired” and “enhanced”, respectively. Armor reduces damage incurred, but not by much. The system is very offense-heavy.

If a character takes damage, they lose that many Hit Points; once they have no Hit Points left, they instead reduce their Strength by the excess amount. Once you take damage to Strength, you also need to make a Strength save or take critical damage. If you take critical damage, you have 1 hour, during which an ally needs to tend to you – barring that, you die. Additionally, you can’t take anymore actions until you’ve completed a short rest, which is defined as a “a few minutes” – no precise amount is given, and a short rest recovers all hit Points lost. Full Rests take a whole week and also restores damage incurred to all ability scores.

Okay, but what if you rolled really badly on the ability scores and hit points? Well, that’s one of the cooler ideas of the game: The background package. You consult a table and look at your highest Ability Score and your Hit Points: If your highest ability score’s a whopping 18 and you managed to roll 6 Hit Points…you’ll start the game with a mace, a pigeon…and disfigured. If your highest ability score is 3-9 and you only have 1 Hit Point, you get a sword, a pistol, modern armor and the ability to sense nearby unearthly beings. What does that mean? What’s “nearby”?

Well, this is at the very latest where you’ll fall on one side of the spectrum or another. This game very much focuses on one aspect of the ideology associated with the OSR, and that would be “rulings, not rules.” While the book later tells you that the referees task is to maintain consistency throughout campaigns, the matter of fact remains that quite a few of these components could have used some more detailed commentaries, at least some rudimentary guideline. In the example above, stating that the character goes first when encountering such targets sans rolling would not have taken up much real estate. Now, this is my personal opinion, but I have seen more than oen really rules-lite game that is CRISP and PRECISE in its rules, and this book, for the most part, fits into this category. This makes such instances even more glaring, at least for me as a person. But I’ll swallow this for now and revert to my reviewer stance.

Characters advance after completed expeditions – the game, as a default, knows basically 5 levels. On a survived expedition, you gain d6 hit points and roll d20 for each ability score. If you roll higher than the score, you increase it by 1. Kudos: There are quick and dirty rules for running businesses, organizations and the like; these fit on a single page.

The background packages also ties in with equipment: Coinage is pennies (p), shillings (s) and guilder (g); 100 pennies make a shilling, 100 shillings make a guilder. The equipment comes with sample prices, with aforementioned super-powers one exception of unpriced components. Similarly, the “penalties” for good rolls are not really priced. You may end up as mute, for example. This isn’t that bad (unless it annoys you while roleplaying), as there is no spellcasting in the traditional sense. Instead, PCs that rolled badly can get a so-called “Arcanum.”

Arcana are the main source of magic here – they basically are magic/super-science items that everyone covets, and chances are, you’ll have a few of them in your starting group. Arcana are grouped in three categories: 20 regular arcana are provided and allow you to seal doors, windows, etc. fold space between flat surfaces, speak with other beings, blind targets, etc. The ideas here are great, and same holds true for greater and legendary arcana, though these can only be gotten by adventuring. A page is devoted to sample ideas for them as well, and the GM-section does provide a few more ideas for arcana. It is a bit puzzling to me that the GM-section arcana differentiates between one-use/consumables and weapons, but does not employ the same clarification for the arcana presented. I adore the concepts here, though I don’t fully grasp why particularly unlucky characters can’t have more potent arcana. The background table, as cool as it is, does not always feel even it its reward-ratios.

If you want an example on how opaque an Arcanum can be, let me quote the Pressure Needle’s, a greater arcanum’s, entire text: “If the target takes critical damage today, they explode in a bloody mess.” Okay, so is this a weapon? Does it require that you see the target? Just know it? How often can it be used? If you don’t care about ANY of these questions, then you’ll absolutely adore the rules presented here. If you do, however, then this will prove to e somewhat frustrating for you. Needlessly so, I might add – establishing one set of brief global rules for arcana use could have preempted a lot of the confusion these may cause. And it’s not like the book doesn’t have the space. And, even if you prefer the purely narrative ruling component – the book does already have that! By using Willpower, you can coax arcana to do things that are not their usual function! (As an aside: I really love this wide-open means of using arcana in creative ways, and we even get an example; I’m not against the like – but it’d be better and cooler if the base functions, you know, where precise…)

The referee section is similarly quick, painless and to the point: We get some general advice on how to describe the game; that, if luck’s called for, you roll a d6, with a high result favoring players. We get simple, global rules for monsters, a couple of actually pretty cool sample creatures and a page of hazards. Creatures and hazards tie in what, to me, makes the main selling point of this game, namely the setting constantly implied through the rules and Arcanum-based operations: That would be the “Odd World”, where Bastion, the Bas-Lag-ish hub of mankind serves as the massive heart of civilization in a dangerous world.

14 pages of this book are devoted to the Oddpendium, basically a massive array of generators found in the back, which partially is intended to help you make Bastion come alive. It allows for quick name generation. Beyond that, the generators provide occupations and capabilities, manners exhibited and connections, things that may have befallen the NPCs, and more. Generators to establish the feeling of streets, whether there are means to access the honeycomb-like underground and sample businesses can be found. Oh, and there is a table that features “Insane Council Decisions”, including a public response chart. I really smiled when reading that “War with all other cities” is deemed just as insane as “outlawing same-sex marriage.” The Oddpendium also features two pages of tables for creature inspirations and two that let you determine what’s in the darkness beyond. This is btw. a good place to note that “darkvision”, while mentioned, isn’t codified at all in the book, so yeah – you’re probably getting a good picture of whether this is for you or not. From a layout point of view, the Oddpendium, while really helpful, does feel like page-bloat: Its tables only cover about 2/3rds of the page, leaving a lot of white space in an already slim booklet. Space that could have been filled with more entries per table. I strongly suggest implementing the citycrawl-tricks from Vornheim when running Bastion – the tables alone will not suffice to make it come alive, as information is a bit sparse. While I did enjoy the 3 pages of playing examples, I honestly would have preferred the space used otherwise.

The final 9 pages of this booklet I need to talk about would present basically an introductory adventure. These pages are actually placed before the Oddpendium in the booklet (makes sense, since you’ll be using the generators more often) and include a brief settlement write-up, as well as a mini-hexcrawl and a dungeon – oddly, the dungeon is depicted before the mini hexcrawl that leads to it. There are no player-friendly versions of the maps includes for VTT-play or the like. However, random encounter tables very much are included in the module, and the wilderness section even gets a weather table. Nice!

The following paragraphs will contain SPOILERS, as I’ll discuss briefly the adventure included in the book. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So yeah, this adventure is an exercise in extremely concise writing, as you can see in the wilderness of the Fallen Marsh:

“House (sinking into marsh, cleared out, broken crockery, furniture smashed and burned); Woodshed (sinking into marsh, tools, dead horse).” This is minimalist, yes, but it manages to actually evoke atmosphere, with critters barely taking up more room than that and coming with unique tricks. Balck coral’s cold and extinguishes flame; anemones attempt to create drones, bunkers hide critters that can instantly kill you with critical damage in a manner befitting of horror games… This is inspired. Same goes for the dungeon, which is an exploration of an Iron Coral that has recently grown. It includes new arcana, cool critters and hazards and makes, combined with the wilderness, for one of the best introductory modules I’ve read in quite a while. Big kudos, for this really left me craving for more in this weird world!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are either nigh perfect or barely good, depending on how you look at it; on a formal level, there is nothing to complain about, but whether or not you’ll enjoy the rules depends wholly on whether you can tolerate the unnecessary amount of rulings you’ll need to make. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard. The artworks in b/w throughout deserve special mention – they are weird, inspiring and neat indeed; the pdf has a full-color illustration on the inside of the front cover, which, alas, is just b/w in the PoD booklet. Big downside for the pdf: The electronic version has NO BOOKMARKS. In this day and age, this is a HUGE bummer and comfort detriment, particularly for a core book. I strongly suggest getting print here; for the electronic version, detract a whole star from my final verdict.

Reading the above and really analyzing this book made me more critical of Chris McDowall’s “Into the Odd” than I was going into this review. You see, the game succeeds at many of its tasks in admirable ways; it presents a fast-paced, deadly and fun game that is PERFECT for convention games, long train rides and similar occasions. It’s easy to grasp, fast to learn and precise in its presentation regarding its core functionality. Ultimately, the book, though, tries to have its cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, it’s really rules-lite and easy to grasp, but on the other hand, it offers a lot of exceptions and small tidbits that require some GM-experience and a continuously building amount of rulings that need to be kept consistent, when a single paragraph of super-basic global rules, when a single explanatory line, would have sufficed to exterminate this vagueness and made things more comfortable for the referee. This is NOT a question of rules lite vs. rules heavy, mind you – it’s just a matter of precision in the details, and this is where the system struggles. The precision only extends to the big picture, when it’s obvious that this pretty thin booklet could have easily fitted the required rules inside. Cut down on the blank space, on the needlessly extensive playing example…just to name two options. I am harping on this to the extent I am, because Into the Odd is so damn close to being a 5 star + seal of approval masterpiece, only to struggle in these unnecessary instances.

That being said, I still very much found myself liking this book, mainly due to the amazing and compelling implied setting that made me really wish there had been more space devoted to it, that there’d have been more detail for Bastion etc. This is truly atmospheric and the setting and rules generate this weird union that keeps this book compelling and a good reading experience.

So, how to rate this? Well, I won’t lie, there are few systems that have made me grit my teeth to this extent; Into the Odd is frankly genius in its simplicity when it does things right; and this extends to the rules, their presentation and the setting. However, it suddenly becomes inconsistent in its details, and this is, in a book of this quality, just frustrating to witness. Without adding much in the way of complexity, with but a few paragraphs, this could have been something truly special and my favorite rules lite game out there. As presented, it is a game that you’ll love if you don’t mind the inconsistencies in the details and requirements for quite a lot of rulings; for those who want precision, I can only tentatively recommend this, though the implicit setting and the module do make this worth checking out. My final verdict, much to my chagrin, can thus not exceed 4 stars. I sincerely hope that there’ll be a second version some day – the engine and setting deserve as much, deserve this added notch that will make them phenomenal.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Odd
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Mageblade! Zero
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/24/2018 13:38:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game system clocks in at 32 pages, with the wrap-around cover provided as its own .png. If you take playtest thanks and editorial together, they’ll take up about half a page, and the character sheet provided similarly clocks in at about ½ a page. As a whole, one can claim that this has about 31 pages of content, which are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5)-size, meaning you can fit up to 4 pages on a sheet of paper when printing this.

This review was requested by my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Now, Mageblade Zero is a rules-lite system that could roughly be associated with the OSR games out there, but it deviates pretty far from retro-clone territory, being its own system. The core mechanics of the system would be to roll under attributes, but there is an interesting twist here: If you roll equal or under the value of the attribute with a d20, you succeed – so far, so common. However, where things become interesting, is when there is a competition or contested action. Here, the victor is NOT, as you might have expected, who rolls further below the target value of the attribute, but who gets closer to the target value; the less you manage to roll under the target value, the better. Now, one oversight here would be how stalemates are handled: I assume just rerolling, but alcrification would have been nice.

The game knows a total of 4 classes, and hits (hit points) are governed by these classes. Every character begins with a Mana value of 0.

The game also knows a kind of proficiency bonus – here, this is the Focus modifier, which starts at +3 and improves by +1 at 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th level. As you can glean from that progression, Mageblade! Zero scales up to 12 levels of character progression. The values to which Focus is added depends on the character class chosen.

All characters start with one Perk. Here, nomenclature is inconsistent – “Focus” is always capitalized, while “Perk” is not consistently – I’ll stick with the capitalized version for the purpose of this review. A second Perk is gained at 2nd level, and then once more at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter.

Perks can be exchanged to either gain 2 Skills, or a class-specific ability. The game knows two skills based on Strength (Climbing and Feat of Strength), 2 based on Wisdom (Surgery, Mind over Body), 2 based on Constitution (Swim and Stamina) and the remaining attributes have 3 skills each: Intelligence governs Lockpick, Engineering and Research; Dexterity encapsulates Sneak, Acrobatics and Sneak Attack, and Charisma nets Bullshit, Gather Information and Diplomacy. Foreign, Dead or Esoteric languages are skills not associated with a given attribute. Dexterity-based skills are penalized by armor: -2 for medium, -4 for heavy armor. If you don’t have a skill, common tasks can be accomplished by rolling under 1/3 of the relevant stat. The GM is the final arbiter of what can or can’t be done via a Skill. Sneak Attack is remarkable, in that attacking a target unaware of you lets you roll both attack and the Sneak Attack skill roll. Even if you miss one of these, you still hit and do damage if you make one roll. If you make both, you roll damage twice and add the results together. This is elegant and rather cool. Like it! The other skills are pretty self-explanatory, but some guidance is still provided.

Now, each character also has a Melee and Missile rating. These determine how good you are at hurting people and begin at 12. Fighters add Focus to both. Both are sometimes collectively referred to as “attack” in rules-language – spelling that out explicitly would have made sense from a didactic perspective.

Each character also has a Defence value that begins at 0. Light armor and shields net Defence 2 each, medium armor Defence 4, heavy armor Defence 6.

Now, as pretty much always, you roll attributes, which are known as Stats in Mageblade! Zero. You roll 3d6 and assign the values. If you favor a tad bit more complexity, there is an optional rule, which makes the values here matter more: Values of 7 or less impose a -1 penalty, 13 – 15 net +1, and anything higher +2. Note that this means different things for all attributes and is NOT applied to skill checks! If you’re coming from a PF or 5e background to this game, then this is something to bear in mind. Strength modifies Melee and Missile damage, Dexterity Missile, “Defense” (inconsistent here, since the version with a “c” is what the pdf usually refers to) and Initiative. Intelligence modifies perks and spells gained. Wisdom modifies the Mana point total. Constitution governs Hits. Charisma governs Luck. (More on Luck later.)

Fighters get d10 and may use all armors; they increase the damage die size of any weapon they wield by one step. Weird: Other classes explicitly specify when they can use shields (see mageblade), but the fighter RAW does not say so, which RAW means that they may not. Really odd oversight. They may spend Perks to learn a wide variety of combat stances, which may be combined, at the GM’s discretion. The class-write-up provides quite a few of interesting combat stances that allow for meaningful differentiation between fighters: Take, for example, -5 to attack for 1 extra attack. As a minor nitpick, I do think that specifying that the penalty applies to the extra attack as well might make sense – it’s clear from context, but it may be read otherwise. There are a few such instances throughout the book, where being slightly more explicit in the precise details may make sense and improve readability of the book.

Rogues get d6 for hits and have a daily allocation of Luck equal to their Focus and may spend Luck on any roll affecting them, including enemy’s rolls. Luck and Mana are, in some ways, similar. While nominally, the rogue has 0 Mana. Mana and Luck replenish at sunset and one may spend a Mana or Luck to reroll a Save you failed or force other rerolls, if the referee deems that applicable. Luck, however, cannot be used to power spells. Rogues get a free Skill and get three Skills per Perk spent. Additionally, they can use a Perk to become masters in a respective skill, spending half cost in Luck or Mana for the Skill chosen. This means that the first reroll is free, with subsequent rerolls costing 1 (2nd and 3rd reroll) or 2 mana (4th and 5th reroll), respectively. This increased cost for subsequent rerolls is only ever noted in this particular Perk, when it should be explicitly stated in the general rules for pushing your luck. Rogues may use all weapons and armor.

Casters get d6 hits, and targets of the caster’s spells take a penalty equal to the spells known by the caster of a single discipline, rewarding specialization. This penalty cannot exceed the caster’s Focus. Now, as you could glean, each spell is associated with a so-called discipline, basically the mage’s school. It takes a Perk to learn a new discipline. Casters begin play with 3 spells, and each spell may be cast exactly once per day. To cast a spell, the caster must spend 1 mana point and make strange noises and gestures. Casters get +2 spells chosen from the disciplines known or scrolls and grimoires on every level. Casters start with a mana value of 1, and when meditating on an item, they understand its magics. Casters may channel mana into a magical attack. This does not necessitate mana expenditure, and deals 1d6 damage (explodes on a 6) + Focus. Now, veterans will know what “explodes on a 6” means, but the pdf fails to explain what exploding dice are. (If you’re puzzled: If you roll the maximum on the die, you roll again and add the results together.) In any way, the notion of exploding dice should be explained here. Victims of such an attack may save on constitution or dexterity to halve the damage. The caster may also spend 1 mana if close to an ally to shield one target per level from spell effects. Okay, can this be done when it’s not the caster’s turn? How close does the ally have to be? This is pretty opaque. Casters may use all weapons, but not any armor.

We get 3 sample disciplines with short spell write-ups for each – in case you were wondering: Yep, the spellcasting engine is pretty similar to that of Adventure Fantasy Game. The level of precision of the spells, however, does oscillate and vary rather greatly. The Æther Path’s kataplasm spell, for example, greases a tightly-defined area with precise borders, while Psychomancy’s dust of the sandman spell covers “a small area” – whatever that’s supposed to mean in game terms. Before you’re asking – no, this does not concisely define what’s “nearby” etc. Regarding rules-precision, there are quite a few instances where some more stringent and tighter codifications would have made sense, even for a rules-lite game. The fourth discipline, surprisingly, does not grant spells per se; instead the Jevnacack Praxis basically provides a Vancian tweak to overcome the 1/day spell limit and the requirement to know a discipline. I like this example of how the concept can tweak the playing experience.

Finally, there would be the eponymous mageblade class, which receives d8 for hits and gains Focus on all saves. Additionally, they can spend 1 Mana to add Focus to the athame’s melee attacks. The athame would be the bound ritual blade of the class, with damage depending on size. Athames also store the mageblade’s mana, and if lost, bonding to a new one takes a month. The blademagic Perk allows the mageblade to 1/round when wielding the athame, spend one mana to activate a variety of benefits, which include adding Focus, attacking 3 enemies or make the athame take flight. This does not specify how far it can float per round. Doubling damage based on type is also available, but it’s weird: This one implies that the banes need to learned separately, when the blademagic Perk does not specify as such. So, is only one blademagic gained per taking of the Perk, or does the mageblade get all of them? Each order has a list of available banes, but since the Perk lists the option for additional ones, does this mean you could spend a Perk to gain another order’s bane? Or does this mean that these are the sole banes available for taking via Perks? No idea. Mageblades may also cast devotions, their spell equivalent. They begin play with one devotion, but additional devotions require taking a Perk. These devotions are granted by membership in an order – the class does not classify whether membership in an order locks the mageblade out of other orders or not. I assume so, based on the rules material present (or lack thereof), but the similarity of orders and caster disciplines means that this may not be intended. Mageblades may use weapons, armor and shields. 2 sample orders are presented alongside their respective devotions. These, once more, are sometimes rather lacking in precision. A coiled snake will coil around the mageblade, and attack anyone attacking the mageblade in melee. Okay. How? How much damage? Why not at-range? Can it be killed?

Beyond basic starting equipment, 5 starting packages of equipment are provided, as are guidelines for mundane equipment, and the pdf provides a couple of equipment pieces regarding arms and armor – enough to extrapolate new equipment and price it. Another inconsistency here is that the equipment implies differentiation between damage types, which is something I do enjoy; however, the remainder of the pdf does not make this distinction. Similarly, the pdf is inconsistent with damage notation, sometimes just providing a damage value, sometimes referencing wounds, which implies a difference between them or individual injury tracking, which the rules RAW do not support.

Okay, so how does combat work? For initiative, roll 1d6, with rogues getting +1. Combatants act from highest to lowest value, with ties decided by level first, then, if still tied, the PC goes first. PCs may delay their action, acting at a lower initiative number. Since this RAW does not change initiative, you could act twice in a short time. Not a fan there.

During a round, a character gets one action: Move closer to the enemy (by how much?), attack, retreat (how far), cast a spell, etc. Hitting an enemy requires a roll under Melee or Missile, and this roll must also exceed the target’s Defence value. This is pretty interesting and something I enjoy. Damage ranges from d4 to d8 in base damage, with the fighter increasing damage by one step, up to d10 for two-handed weapons. The game does not specify what happens if a target gets to 0 hits, leaving that up to the referee. Saves are pretty basic and explained in a tight manner. Apart from the movement ambiguity, this section is solid.

The pdf also includes a couple of adventure locales with abbreviated stats for targets, and there is a quick table to generate NPCs etc. on the fly. 6 sample magic items are provided. A night of rest regains Focus hits, +1 if a character with Surgery is available. The pdf does note overland movement, traps and secret doors, and no, magic bonuses do not stack. The pdf concludes with some nice notes to hack the engine for your own games, which was something I very much enjoyed seeing.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal language are good – I did notice a couple of inconsistencies and typos, though. On a rules-language level, Mageblade! Zero has some ways to go. Its precision oscillates greatly, and rules-concepts are not always where they should be. A general rule should not require extrapolation from a class feature, and terminology should be concisely explained in a consistent manner. If you’re not a veteran or require precise rules, then be warned. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard without interior artworks. Utterly no-frills and decent, but not exactly aesthetically pleasing. Utterly annoying: The pdf does not have bookmarks, which is, particularly for a rules-booklet, a pretty big comfort detriment these days.

Paolo Greco’s “Mgeablade Zero!” is an interesting game that offers quite a few really cool ideas in how they gel together; the core mechanic is intriguing, and there are quite a few decisions in the class design and the Perk/Skill-system I very much enjoy. Mageblade Zero! manages to create a rules-lite game with meaningful differentiations between characters of one class, and even offers a degree of meaningful tactics and some player agenda during character growth. I really, really enjoy this, and there is a LOT about this game that I really love.

HOWEVER, this is the ZERO-edition, and more so than e.g. Macchiato Monsters , it really feels like a ZERO-version, a playable BETA-version. There are a lot of minor hiccups and gratingly byzantine decisions regarding the presentation sequence of rules, and their precision, something just as important for rules-lite games as for more rules-heavy ones, still leaves quite a lot to be desired, including some core aspects of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, though: You can use this system if you have some gaming experience and you can have fun with it. In fact, I think Mageblade’s ZERO-edition is already more rewarding and fun than either of the playstyles supported by Adventure Fantasy Game. It’s elegant and simply more fun. In fact, Mageblade! has the potential to evolve into my favorite rules-lite game; it offers simplicity and choice, and it may be taught within minutes. This game has the potential to become a 5 star + seal of approval game, but as written, in its current iteration, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down, for this game.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Mageblade! Zero
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Macchiato Monsters ZERO
by Philip R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/17/2018 22:39:32

This is one more hack that pulls what they think is good from the white and black hacks and then adds a few things of it's own. There are a few things I see here that I don't see in other hacks. Macchiato Monsters ZERO does not have classes per say (I like that), and encourages you to tune characters by selecting desired abilities. Being able to add one attribute point per level seems high to other reviewer and my players, but the characters that do so are giving up extra attacks, hit points, spells and traits. Since you have to pick your level up benefits, you aren't really getting anything for free.

I tried using the combat training, but rather than the die type setting the weapon type that can be used, it degressed into just the damage done by that character. So a character with combat training d6 uses a mace at d6 and if their combat training goes to d8, that same mace is d8 and so on. This cuts down on the constant arms race shopping.

Of all the hacks, I like the magic system here, but the rules for setting spell's hit point cost seems a little hand waivey. I tell my players that a base spell is something like 1. instant 2. touch 3. d6 damage. This amounts to a d6 flaming touch. If they want more duration, range, or damage, they have to add more hit points. This concept is hard for my OD&D fans, because they still have it in their heads about regaining only 1hp per day. The characters can improve a spell on level up and can then increase duration, range or damage and keep it at the same hit point cost. I really like that a spell can be described as a "fire spell" and be used to create flaming hand, fire ball, column of fire, flame beam or whatever is needed and just adjust the cost.

I'm torn on the armor damage reduction. I like that it's variable and it's easy for me to visualize why it doesn't reduce the same damage all the time. I think the degredation rule is pretty harsh, and would definately encourage players to end the battle as soon as possible. If I used as it, i'd probably just degrate on a 1, maybe 1-2 for easy mode then 1-3 for hard mode.

It was worth the price for the parts that I use in my own hack, but I don't use these rules as written. I see it as an outline with some good ideas.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
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Chthonic Codex
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/02/2018 12:50:01

Chthonic Codex is a great resource to either add to any campaign, or to build your own campaign around it. I'm using the Chthonic Codex implied and explicit setting for my campaign for about three years now, and it works well.

But this is not your typical lexicon style world book. The books themselves are artefacts of the game world and may reflect the convictions of unreliable narrators. But you get a bunch of unique monsters, a number of spell schools, various atypical magic items (for example the Hungry Idols: easy to make, relatively powerful, but also terrifying in their demands), and a number of generators for your own maps of environs and catacombs ...

The implied setting is inspired by greek/roman and medieval european ideas of how the world works. I strongly recommend it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chthonic Codex
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Macchiato Monsters ZERO
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/13/2018 03:45:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This OSR-game clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD; two pages are devoted to the introduction and the game comes with a bunch of additional pdfs – I’ll get to those later. This review is based on V.1.1. of the system/book; V.1.0. is still included in the download as well. The pages are presented in a 1-column standard, suitable to be printed out in 6’’ by 9’’, though the bonus-pdfs, e.g. the die-drop-tables, should probably be considered to be standard size/A4 instead.

This review was sponsored and requested by one of my patreons.

Okay, so, the pdf freely acknowledges being basically a blend of the Whitehack and The Black Hack and clearly designates from which sources inspiration was taken; I do not assume familiarity with the two in the review. The system is a living beta and as such, feedback is appreciated by the author, with means of contacting provided.

Okay, so the basic mechanics are as follows: When you attempt something risky or dangerous, you roll 1d20 and attempt to roll under the respective ability score. 1s (critical successes) or 20s (critical fumbles) double the effects and may yield additional consequences. The system also employs disadvantage and advantage from 5e as mechanics, using the best or worst results, respectively. Dice-notation knows the concept of Risk-dice, or “dR” – a dR12 would, for example be a 1d12 risk die. This mechanic should be familiar to users of The Black Hack, but the implementation is pretty severe here: Basically, dRs decrease in die-size on a 1 – 3; if I rolled a 2 on a 1dR10, for example, further uses of the die would have the size decreased to 1dR8. 1s are worse than 2s, 2s worse than 3s for the purpose of interpreting the result. If a 1dR4 is reduced further, then you’ll notice in the specific rule how things become unpleasant.

Character generation is quick and painless – roll 3d6 in order for the traditional 6 ability scores, with the option to swamp two. You get to choose two of the following (the same option may be chosen twice; 0-level characters don’t get o choose): +1d4 to a stat that’s less than 10, an additional trait, an additional hit die. Alternatively, magic training yields you two spells. Combat training increases your hit die by one step (maximum d10) and specialist training nets you a 1/day ability. What’s a trait? Well, it is a form of customization drawn in aesthetics from the Whitehack, but more on that later.

Hit die is recorded: A d6. The maximum armor or damage die you can have is equal to the hit die type. Referees retain control on how damage dice interact with foes hit – whether the require more of them to be assigned or whether results are added together, etc.

The aforementioned trait-system basically define what the character is, does, belongs to and comes from; this nets you advantage or disadvantage on relevant non-combat situations. Characters with specialist training get a unique trick that mortals usually can’t attempt, which is also the only safe way to get advantage in combat; advantage may be traded by characters with specialist training for double damage. Starting languages are determined by checking all 3 mental ability scores – on a success, you get +1 language.

Each level, the character gets 2 of the following: +1 stat to a maximum of 18; You may gain one hit die, then reroll hit points; if you fail to exceed your prior hit points, you can spend 1 point of Constitution to reroll. You also may choose to learn a new spell, gain a mêlée or missile attack or a new ability (1/day) or increase an ability’s daily uses by +1/day. Levels 4, 7 and 10 also yield you another trait or training. Level gain is determined by the referee and players succeeding at goals.

Spellcasting is not easy on the characters: While there is a free-form aspect going on, it does have limitations: To cast a spell, you pay a hit points cost and roll a d20 under the mental attribute that best fits your concept of the spellcasting tradition the character adheres to. On a critical success, you don’t lose hot points. The cost may not exceed your current hit points and attempting to cast a spell with a cost greater than the level of the character in hit points imposes disadvantage on the check. Specialists can avoid disadvantage here with their abilities, but at the cost of disadvantage on other checks pertaining other aspects of magic. This basic system allows you to relatively easily take spells from other games and assign costs depending on hit points, allowing the referee pretty free control and guidance, if full-blown freeform is something you don’t relish.

Magic is also unstable, as represented by the chaos risk die. If you fail the spell check, but want something to happen, you roll it and check the results on a table. It should be noted that we have a dR here, usually one starting at 1dR12. This surge can similarly be modified rather easily, with the environments determining its size. Foci and components act as magic batteries (used instead of hit points) and similarly use risk dice to determine when they burn out.

The system provides a very much appreciated table for referees to determine suitable point-costs for spells, with decreased casting time, greater effects and imprecise wording etc. all adding to the costs. 3 sample spells also further elucidate on what is suitable and what isn’t. The rules for magical items are similarly painless, but bring me to another aspect of the game, one that may not necessarily be to everyone’s liking: While I can see precious few GMs complaining about the easy to develop and expand spellcasting engine (seriously, kudos for the guidance!), the system also uses the risk die mechanics to track mundane items and e.g. coin. The huge plus-point for groups that are annoyed by tracking the minutiae of equipment etc., is obviously that you don’t need to track the amount of an item you carry around. The system is simple here: You get to carry either up to Str or Con items; characters carrying Str+Con are encumbered (disadvantage) and halve traveling speed. Money is tracked in bags of coin, with lower-grade bags allowing for the upgrade to higher level bags – 1dR12 silver could be upgraded to 1dR4 gold, for example. You need the right coin to buy items, mind you. Anyway, this system is elegant and quick for games looking for that, but personally, it breaks my suspension of disbelief and annoys me. (No, that will not influence the final verdict.)

Why? Well, you basically have an indeterminate amount of money and this extends to supplies, torches, etc. This may be statistically elegant and make sure that PCs need to alternate strategies, but it also takes away the reward for properly preparing for an adventure; unlucky PCs may run out of e.g. ropes when traversing the Dungeon of Chasms, etc. Whether you like that or not depends, obviously, on your personal aesthetics, but as a person, I consider this to be intensely frustrating. That being said, the equipment section does offer a pretty wide array of sample guidelines there. For chaotic magic, the dR-mechanic makes sense; for mundane items? Less so. Basically, characters are constantly uncertain regarding how long supplies will last. You probably will either love or hate this; I place myself firmly in the latter category, but it’s a matter of aesthetics and what you’re looking for in a game.

Combat is unbureaucratic: You basically get one die-roll; no grid. How far can you move? Referee’s call. Strength governs mêlée, Dexterity ranged combat, etc. A central component of combat would be a tactical risk: You roll and on a success, you gain advantage on the next turn of whatever you attempted to set up; on a failure, you instead suffer from disadvantage and potentially other consequences. The section also mentions quick and dirty mass combat rules, just fyi – and yes, they are based on assigning risk dice to units.

Armor has a risk die as well: When first hit in a fight, you roll it: That’s how much damage the armor will soak in the fight. Shields help versus e.g. javelins and may be sacrificed to avoid e.g. dragon’s fire. At 0 hit points, you’re unconscious and bleeding; a successful Constitution checks makes that 1 hit point instead – but you also sustain a grievous wound, which mean you lose a level and thus two level-dependent advances. Whether and how to recover these is once more up to the referee. Yes, this means that combat is very, very deadly and can basically drop a single character several levels. The requirement to reduce benefits gained from levels is surprisingly clumsy as far as I’m concerned – you basically have to track the respective level-gain abilities and while the player has control over what’s lost (doesn’t have to be last level’s gains), this mechanic means that the PCs will probably not increase significantly in power. It also means that single PCs can be crippled far below the combat capabilities of their allies, which can potentially be somewhat frustrating, particularly for characters that enjoy diving into the fray.

Monster-creation guidelines are simple and assume a default d8 hit die, with fragile or tough monsters increasing that; the use of the risk die for dungeon-encounters, for example, is really nice and volatile, with 2s and 3s denoting monsters in the vicinity and 1s immediate encounters; risk dice below 1d4 denote dungeon events like alarm bells, etc. The effects of reactions and morale employ similarly the risk die mechanic; monsters in a frenzy may inflict, for example, double damage.

Overland movement assumes 10-kilometre hexes, with 4 hexes per day of travelling. Bad weather, forced marches etc. may modify that – and once more, the encounter mechanic is elegant. Anyways, PCs can btw. regain hit points via food, which makes sense to me. Followers and hirelings are also covered, just fyi.

Beyond these aspects, referees will certainly appreciate a smattering of 50 sample creatures (deliberately kept generic and easy to modify) as well as the handy conversion of fixed gold values to the coin risk die mechanic – makes running prewritten adventures easier. Variant rules for stamina and sanity are included as well, and the primary file closes with two handy worksheets.

We also get extra-files with the system: These include character sheets in English and French; the sandbox worksheet; another pdf contains 3 pregens that also explain how they were made in detail, acting as a nice way to illustrate the game’s character creation progress. The deal also comes with a 1-page city crawl rules-page, which sports crime and community risk die tables. The most massive of the different supplemental pdfs, however, would be the die-drop tables: Each of them covers 2 tables, with one presented for townspeople, one for plots, one for factions, one for adventure locales and one fo creatures. While the frame-work for the treasure/item-table is provided, this aspect is WIP and has not yet been filled.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of former glitches or verbiage in the rules-language that felt weird. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard. The pdf sports interesting b/w-artworks, with a uniform style that makes them look like silhouettes, often with coffee. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The supplemental pdfs are similarly bookmarked, though the die-drop table-pdf has them labeled a bit oddly.

Eric Nieudan’s Macchiato Monsters Zero is an elegant system that has a lot going for it; if you’re looking for a variant of low-complexity gameplay à la Black Hack, it certainly fits the bill. The use of the risk die as a central mechanic means that it provides a volatile and potentially rather fun experience. The simple and easy to grasp rules can be explained in less than 5 minutes, which is a huge plus for such games. The game does not sport the same customization detail of Whitehack and the trait system, while acting as a stand-in of sorts, could probably use a couple of examples to illustrate some ideas there. While I am not a fan of the use of the risk die for mundane equipment, this remains a matter of taste. As a whole, MM: Zero is pretty volatile and lethal – I am not sure I’d use the game for longer campaigns or adventures, considering how relatively easily you can lose levels and benefits incurred – adventurer careers are likely to be relatively short and brief, which makes the game suitable and efficient for one-shots, convention games and brief campaigns, but as a whole, less rewarding for long-term campaigns. That being said, the low price point and overall concise and solid presentation make this worth checking out if the mechanics intrigue you. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
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Macchiato Monsters ZERO
by Nicolas F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/12/2018 03:23:47

Having recently read the Black Hack and Whitehack, I have to acknowledge that Macchiato Monsters takes the best of both rules and turns them into a unified, streamlined OSR system that strikes a sweet spot between giving players freedom and constraining choices for the sake of balance. The classless system and the risk dice particularly stand out.

At the time of this review, only the Zero edition is available, and a number of problems remain. As harsh as the previous review by Todor P is, it is correct: the game is still rather poorly organized and laid out. It lacks internal consistency: I can really enjoy it and get the gist of it, but only because I've read the hacks on which it is based beforehand. It's a collection of cool rules, but it lacks solid guidelines and an internal structure. The language is decent but a few poor translations or formulations remain (the author is not a native English speaker).

A lot is left up to the GM, rules-wise. I'd appreciate more examples to shed light on the shadiest corners of the rules. For instance:

  • A more detailed combat section. There are no rules for helping, no rules for specific tactics, no rules for ganging up against an enemy. The paragraph on manoeuvers is minimalist and quite unclear. The "one d20 roll per turn" rule seems strange and it's unclear how it interacts with multiple attacks. The "complex turn" rule is excellent and I'll probably use it as a default option (roll several d20 and assign them to the actions you want to perform). In my mind there should be cases where you both deal and take damage, not always an "all or nothing" rule.
  • I'm a bit concerned with the difficulty for PCs with high ability scores. Since you can increase an ability score by 1 at each level, I could see some lucky PCs quickly reaching the max score of 18. It only gives them a 10% risk of failing the corresponding checks, 19% if they roll with disadvantage. It will never get harder for them, even in combat against more powerful opponents.
  • Improve the internal structure and layout. The rules are good but not always clearly explained. Examples are good, there could be even more of those!
  • A few random tables for magic items, spell names or specialist abilities would be much appreciated as well.

The last two points are apparently being addressed in additional files, with sample characters and random tables for NPCs, etc. I hope they turn out well. So far, it's still a beta version.

This will probably become my go-to game, with a few houserules maybe. But it's not objectively "great". If the points I mentioned are addressed in the final version, I'll gladly give it 5 stars. If not, it's not a polished standalone game and I can only recommend it to people who have already read the older hacks it build on.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
by Todor P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/03/2018 05:22:19

An incomplete jumble of poorly laid out, poorly thouhgt out and poorly structured houserules for the Black Hack, that turn an elegant system into a halfway muddle that is neither narrativist nor traditional. There are far better, far cheaper TBH supplements out there that are actually worth a read.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
We are sorry you did not like Macchiato Monsters. The game is definitely incomplete, and we are quite open about it. The final release should come out before Spring Equinox 2018 (we are going to have a Macchiato Camp!). All purchases will get updated when the final release is ready. If you have more detailed feedback, please be in touch! We would love to hear more about your opinion and make it better.
Kefitzah Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
by Daniel H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/19/2017 17:15:11

If you're planning on running a campaign with planar and portal shenanigans, this is essential. The generator has flavorful and inspiring options that really get the creative juices flowing for DMs and GMs out there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kefitzah Haderech - Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
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Adventure Fantasy Game
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/30/2017 07:19:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game clocks in at 102 pages of raw content once you take away ToC, editorial, etc. (101 if you don’t count the index). My review is based on the softcover print edition, fourth printing, 10th revision to be more precise. The book, as usual for OSR-games, is in 6’’ by 9’’/A5-format.

This review was requested by my patreons.

Okay, so Adventure Fantasy Game (AFG) can be considered to be an OSR-game, but it is one that strongly deviates from the roots of the game. The tag-line is “New School Mechanics – Old School Adventure Gaming” – sounds interesting right? Well, the first and most obvious deviation from e.g. Labyrinth Lord, S &W or LotFP would be that this system only employs d6s – it is based on the 5MORE-design of David Bowman. Its goal is to teach roleplaying quick and one of the best components of this book is the organization: Whenever you find yourself looking for rules, the book tells you where to find them. This begins in the introduction and is used to great effect throughout the book – this is easy to use.

So, 5MORE is simple: Roll 5+ on a d6 and you have a success. You gain +1 for easy tasks, -1 for hard ones; +1 for good ideas, -1 for bad ones, +1 for high relevant stat, -1 for low relevant stat, +1 for good equipment, -1 for bad equipment. 1 is an absolute failure, 2 – 4 are regular failures. That’s the core of the system.

Characters are defined by 3 Stats: Physique (PHY), Craft (CRA) and Spirit (SPI). You roll 3d6 for each, but bad rolls are less important in AFG than in comparable OSR-games. These stats know three grades: All values of 8 or less are low (-1 to 5MORE rolls), all above 13 are high (+1 to 5MORE rolls).

Low Physique means you have to two-hand all melee weapons; high adds +1 Additional Hit to melee damage.

Low Craft makes reading and writing difficult, high Craft nets +1 spell known.

Low Spirit means that you’re likely to be hit by random effects (unlucky), while high Spirit nets you +1 Mana and a 1/session die reroll.

Hits represent how much punishment the character can take. They are determined by the Way (i.e. class level) taken.

Level is measured from 1 to 12 and is used to categorize PCs and threats.

Tiers are the character’s status in the setting; Up to level 3, characters are tier 1; level 4 – 6 = tier 2, level 7 – 9 = tier 3 and level 10+ characters are tier 4.

AFG knows three ways: The Way of Magic would be the caster class; 1d6 Hits per level. 1st level spellcasters know 3 spells: Unveil Arcana (AFG’s detect magic) and a spell of level 0 and 1. They start with 1 Mana and for each level gained, the caster gains an additional Mana and learns a new spell of one spell level higher – at 2nd level, you learn e.g. a second level spell. Spells may be researched, but more on that later. Mana replenishes after 6 hours good sleep, but each spell may only be cast ONCE per 24 hours. Spells are written down in Grimoires – while this evokes the traditional wizard’s spellbook, it make well take other forms. The caster engine also features two important items: Talismans allow a caster to cast the spell associated with the talisman an additional time per day, while Mana Vessels are basically Mana batteries. Casters can’t cast in armor and are not trained in armor and shields. Spells that require concentration only allow a caster to move 10 feet per round and any tasks beyond the painfully mundane requires a Stubbornness save to avoid breaking concentration. Non-instantaneous/non-permanent spells can be prolonged by expending additional Mana.

The Way of Steel nets 1d6 + 2 Hits per level in the way of steel. Hits are tied to fighting skill (more on that later) and way of steel characters may later develop or learn secret weapon techniques. These fellows are obviously trained in armor, shields, etc.

The Way of Arts would be the specialist/thief (called practitioner here), who gains 1d6 Hits per level and is trained in light armor, but not shields. As skill specialists, they can distribute 5 EXPERT letters per level. They also may actually earn a modest living without murder-hobo-ing. Characters can freely multiclass, which allows for e.g. armored casters, though there are limitations in play to avoid abuse.

At first level, casters and practitioners roll 2d6 and pick the best result; fighters roll 2d6, pick the best result, and then add +2 o determine the Hits at 1st level. (Yes, you may end up having just 1 Hit.) Hits are regained at a rate of 1 Hit per day, though spells and medical assistance may hasten that. Temporary damage is recovered as a rate of 1 Hit per hour of non-strenuous activity.

Upon gaining a level, you roll one die for ALL levels attained (fighter add +2 per fighter level) and compare the result with your previous maximum – you keep the higher version. The German old-school RPG Midgard employs a similar mechanic and it works remarkably well to even out the playing field, while keeping the power-curve relatively flat.

If your Hits go to 0, you keep tracking negative Hits. You roll 1d6, add your negative Hits and consult a table – on 14 you’re dead, otherwise broken bones, scars etc. can happen. If you’re staggered, you can’t act, defend at -1 and roll an extra d6 on that table when dipping below 0 Hits.

AFG assumes a silver standard: 1 silver thaler (abbreviated as “t”) is worth 12 silver pennies, is worth 48 copper farthings. Gold coins are uncommon and may be worth 4d6 t. starting equipment is provided in a simple manner. There you go, character creation and basic rules in 5 minutes. (Probably 10 for roleplaying newcomers.)

Now, how are tasks resolved? Well, 5MORE, as per the rules depicted above. However, there is an additional component that also reminded me of Midgard: When you succeed at any given 5MORE task, you roll a d6. On a 5 – 6, you roll an Experience Roll. If that roll comes up as 5 or 6 as well, then you add an EXPERT letter next to the task. First time an “E”, third time a “P” – until you spell out the word EXPERT. This means that the character gains +1 to all 5MORE rolls with that task. After you’ve become an EXPERT in six Tasks, you can claim the title MASTER for one of your EXPERT skills. You erase the EXPERT letters and instead write down MASTER – in this one skill, you get an additional +1 to 5MORE rolls. The book provides a variety of sample tasks, but encourages groups to come up with their own array of tasks – this allows you to emphasize or de-emphasize breadth of skills as desired.

If a task would require more than 6 to succeed, it requires a 6, plus an additional 6 for each point above 6 – so a task with a difficulty of 8 would require three consecutive 6s to succeed.

Saving throws are rolled as 5MORE-tests, but they are modified by the character’s Tier – 2. First level characters thus save on 6+. AFG uses 5 saves: Alertness, Awareness, Toughness, Stubbornness and Morale. Saves are Tasks and can accumulate EXPERT letters and you may become a MASTER in one of them.

AFG has two different combat-engines. Base damage in both is 1d6, +1d6 for each point of FC; wielding a two-handed weapon with high PHY adds +1d6. Armor comes in 4 categories and decreases your speed.

The first of the systems is called 5MAIL. Akin in structure to THAC0, this means that you need 5+ to hit chainmail, less against targets with less armor, more than versus better armored targets. Simple.

Skill at arms is measured by Fighting Capability (FC). 1st level characters have FC 0, and a character’s FC is equal to the character’s Tier minus 1. Additional Hits (the +2 Hits gained by fighters) also increase FC, as per a table. Every 4 additional Hits increase FC as though the character level is +1 higher. Melee, Block and Missile are Tasks like any other. A 5MAIL combat round takes 6 seconds grouped in 4 phases. It should be noted that each character can only act in ONE phase. Melee phase lets you attack, charge (move twice melee speed, attack at +1, but that bonus also applies to the target of the charged foe), shield block (negates a successful attack on 5MORE. Then comes the Missile Phase: Cover and Range decrease 5MAIL rolls. In the Manoeuvre Phase, the character can move up to twice their melee speed. Magic Phase is last – here, spells are cast. Spellcasting must be announced at the start of the round, one round in advance for spells that take longer, etc. If the spellcaster takes damage before finishing the cast, the spell and Mana is lost.

In 5MAIL, armor reduces the chance of being hit.

The second system is FIGHTMORE; it sports the same phases and basic structure, but melee is a contest of FC, with a potential for both contestants hitting their target. This makes the combat, obviously, not more complex – just more swingy. Charge in the system is also more volatile, adding a bonus damage die to damage dealt and received. In FIGHTMORE, armor reduces damage incurred by 1- 3, depending on how heavy the armor is. Personally, I think FIGHTMORE is a bit ironically named – if anything, players will want to fight less, considering that the results are more unreliable and not necessarily more complex or rewarding. Just my 2 cents, btw.

There are a couple of optional rules for shield smashes, morale or hacking through mooks. More rewarding would imho be the alternate rules for different weapons: Flails e.g. can’t be blocked by shields, spears inflict damage first, etc. – this aspect is probably the best component of FIGHTMORE.

The book also provides means to tweak the combat engines.

As a roleplaying game book, AFG provides values for hirelings, travel, equipment, etc. It should be noted that searching for hidden things is done EXCLUSIVELY by the players – no task is assigned to it, so if you don’t think of checking that chest for a secret compartment…well, though luck. That’s one aspect I really like.

Now, as faith is concerned, AFG uses the term Venerable as a catch-all for godlings, spirits, deities, demons, etc. Venerables are appeased by Worship, by Henosis (emulating them) and Charisma is the term employed for being favored by the venerable. Some sample cults, from Cthulhu to Dove (Queen of the Underdogs) and Saint Eleuther (savior of the lost) are provided and feature some nice, quirky and interesting angles.

As you may have gleaned by this aspect, we have now wholly entered the more complex aspects of AFG, with spell research and design rules being per se not bad, but rather complex – on the plus side, the system does emphasize the serious benefits of having assistants/apprentices – I strongly recommend spellcasters to invest in them when researching. Spells have a range, casting time and duration as well as a spell-level, which may reach from 0 to 12. 9 example spellcasting traditions are provided, most of which sport 1 spell per level, though e.g. Goetia only extends to level 6, while dendromancy only comes with a level 0 and level 1 spell. That being said, conversion from OSR games (and current games), should be pretty easy. AFG does emphasize magic as less of a damage dealer and more as a wondrous tool, which, in general, is something I applaud.

Now I did mention combat secret techniques – while also complex, something you design yourself, etc., these are much more basic than spells. They prevent you from gaining MASTER in a Task, but increase your Hits. Yeah, I was also rather underwhelmed. Neoclassical Geek revival has, system-immanently, a significantly more interesting melee system.

Experience is btw. gained by securing (and escaping with) treasure troves and by achieving character (and party) accomplishments. The book also features tier-based rules for holdings, a monster-generator and a brief magic item generator.

The final section of the book is devoted to a 14 page hexcrawl-y adventure sketch; the map is pretty small on the page and no player-friendly version is included, but its premise is interesting: What if Switzerland had volcanoes, a temple of Cthulhu and some messed up critters. The adventure, while featuring a cool premise, is ultimately just a sketch you need to expand and develop – as provided, it is a skeletal structure of a nice region to adventure in, but you can’t use this well for go-play style gameplay.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious accumulations of issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with artworks being a combination of a few original b/w-pieces and thematically-fitting public domain sources. The softcover is…well, a solid softcover. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the pdf version.

Paolo Greco’s AFG is a weird little system and I frankly am not 100% sure for whom it was made; on the one hand, you have a really simple, fun, rules-lite foundation with 5MORE and its 5MAIL combat. On the other hand, FC calculation is, to me, a bit more obtuse than it should be – when I pick up a rules-lite game, I expect such a central aspect to be…simpler? At the same time, the system tries to account for more complexity for veterans, with spell research, FIGHTMORE etc. endeavoring to capture new-school options. In that latter aspect, the game, at least in my opinion, fails. Apart from the nice peculiarities of weapon groups, FIGHTMORE essentially makes me want to fight less – very swingy results can be very frustrating in the long run, and honestly, from shield-bashing to charging, the “tactical” options feel like they were jammed into a rules-corset that is simply not designed to account for vast complexity. That is not to say that it doesn’t work; that’s just to say that I fail to see the appeal.

When I want brutal complexity, I play PFRPG. When I want to play OSR with new-school combat that sports serious tactical depth, I wholeheartedly recommend Neoclassical Geek Revival. So yeah, the “New School mechanics”-component here…not that well done.

That being said, AFG does have serious value, as far as I’m concerned – at least for a very specific target demographic. When used as a rules-lite RPg for beginners, it’s easily taught, plays fast and is, ultimately, fun. And if you absolutely want to play a campaign with a d6-only system, it has the tools to make that happen without becoming bland. While I maintain that the more advanced rules feel a bit tacked on to the simple chassis, they do help to keep player interest in the long run. If you’re e.g. a fan of Kort’thalis Publishing’s offerings, but fear that their default VSd6-engine (which, I maintain, works best for one-shots and brief mini-campaigns) will prove boring for your players in the long run, then AFG will be exactly what the doctor ordered! Slightly more complexity, but not that much.

Now, as a person, this system ultimately did not resonate with me; I appreciate the components of flavor here and there and some aspects of spell research (if not the entire system), but, as a whole, this didn’t really do anything for me. As a reviewer, though, I can see the appeal this system can have for some groups out there and it is NOT a bad system! The organization etc. is simple, efficient and I can see people having fun with it. Still, the nagging feeling remains that this would have benefited from being two systems – one simple and one complex. The “complex” components herein tend to be underwhelming, also due to the space available. Focusing on one type of gameplay would probably have been the more prudent decision. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars. Usually, I’d rate up due to in dubio pro reo, but considering the very specific demographics, I feel that this is closer to 3 stars than 4, also since fans of really rules-lite games will probably consider a couple of the more complex components…well…too needlessly complex.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Fantasy Game
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Into the Odd
by Kevin C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/28/2017 17:21:40

This is the most inspiring RPG product I have ever purchased. I do not know how such terse, concise writing can infer and contain so much. If you want a taste of the style and content, visit Chris McDowell's blog at soogagames dot blogspot dot com (or google "Into the Odd Blog"). If you enjoy The Black Hack you will also probably enjoy Into the Odd.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Odd
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Chthonic Codex
by Cenate P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/30/2017 11:10:46

It's a campaign setting! It's a bestiary! It's a whole new way to handle magic in your campaign setting! It's a low-calorie dessert topping! It's Chthonic Codex!

The DIY/manapunk aesthetic of Lamentations of the Flame Princess meets Potter-style wizard school shenanigans. The closest RPG supplement I can think of to the Codex is GURPS: Illuminati University, another book about students at a ridiculous university where hoary old traditions hold sway but limitless power and ineffable weirdness wait in the wings.

You get a couple of things suitable for plugging into any OSR-type campaign:

  1. About thirty new monsters, ranging from animated blobs of magical tar to origami golems to animated lecterns made from and powered by the corpses of dead apprentice wizards.
  2. Multiple new schools of wizardry, including the old standbys of "necromancer" and "fire wizard" but also some more interesting options like astrologers and artificers. Includes spells, research rules, etc.
  3. Pages upon pages of random charts to generate locations, quests, magic items, and the like.

If you're like me, and wanted to build a campaign world from scratch by bolting together a bunch of Weird OSR content that appealed to you, this is a must-get. The magic system is fantastic, the creatures are clever, and the general aesthetic of the thing is entertaining.

About the only real issue here is that the layout is kind of weird - bestiary up front, magic schools in the middle, everything else kind of shotgunned here and there.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Chthonic Codex
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Macchiato Monsters ZERO
by Troy H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/28/2017 11:32:21

This tight little OSR-indie game combines the spiciest bits of The Black Hack and The White Hack, and then throws in some flavoring of its own to create a delicious stew of low-prep, quick-to-learn, quick-to-run, caffeinated fantasy gaming.

The two bits I like best about MM is the risk die and the way characters are built.

The risk die comes to MM by way of TBH's usage die, but the scope of the risk die is expanded quite a bit in MM. At base, risk dice are used for things in the fiction that are expendable, brittle, dangerous to use, etc. You assign a die, anything from a d12 to a d4, to an object. When the object is used/tested in play, the risk die is rolled. On a result of 1-3, the die is replaced with the next smallest die in the d12 to d4 run.

The second thing I like best about Macchiato Monsters is the way characters are built. No classes or races, per se! Building a character is like buffet shopping from a list of possible stat upgrades, traits, and abilities. This leads to character concepts you will see nowhere else in fantasy gaming. I mean, "weird" for a D&D game is a gnome illusionist or a dwarven thief, right? Weird for MM might be a living construct that has modular parts and electrical spellcasting. Of course you can still play the old staples too, but the system really supports your creativity in this regard.

All in all this is great stuff. I know it's an evolving work, which is a good thing. Eric Nieudan is still in love with it and is adding things like creative map generators and other tools to it on a fairly regular basis.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Macchiato Monsters ZERO
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Marvels & Malisons
by Tore N. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/22/2017 08:11:58

A collection of fun and creative magic, using the brilliant level-less magic rules in Wonder & Wickedness. Some of the magic schools are idiosyncratic, but is never silly.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Marvels & Malisons
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