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Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells - Addendum
Publisher: Old Skull Publishing
by Jose L F C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/03/2017 10:11:34

(From my blog: http://lonelygm.blogspot.com.br/2017/09/a-review-for-sharp-swords-sinister.html)

One the best aspects of the OSR movement is the DIY attitude. In the last years, this principle gave us not only excellent retroclones but also original games; some of those are of particular interest to me because they’re clearly “built” from pieces of other RPGs, but in a very interesting way. Examples are Aspects of Fantasy, Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book and, of course, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells.

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (or SS&SS) came to my interest originally because the author is a fellow brazilian – and the one responsible for translating to portuguese DCC RPG (one of my all-time favorites RPGs). However, after reading SS&SS I became instantly a fan of this little gem. You can see my review here (http://lonelygm.blogspot.com.br/2016/11/a-review-for-sharp-swords-sinister.html), but the elevator pitch (in my opinion) is that SS&SS is a variant of Black Hack that incorporates a lot of cool rules in order to create a light Sword & Sorcery game. Its classes take the best of others games that I appreciate and its spellcasting system seems to me almost like a lite version of the DCC RPG casting system.

OK, enough for introductions. What Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum is about? First, it is a B&W PDF with 90 pages (the original SS&SS is just 50 pages). Like the core, the Addendum is available as PWYW product at DriveThruRPG.

The Addendum opens with guidelines for using Vocations (the hero’s open concept, like “Barbarian from the Iron Horde”) almost like FATE’s Aspects. This is something that I already did, but it’s great to see the author defining it with more concrete (but simple) rules. For those that don’t like Aspects, there’s no problem: the rules just show you how to use Vocations in a positive or negative way (with Advantage/Disadvantage), also allowing the hero to recharge his Luck.

Next topic is Multiclass. Here SS&SS takes my favorite approach: instead of pre-build kits, it provides simple rules for mixing and matching all Archetypes (Warrior, Specialist and Magic User). Actually, it goes further and lets you built different heroes, like nonhumans. I loved it. My only worry is the balance factor. Multiclass heroes usually requires more XP (game sessions) to advance. I’m not sure that’s the best approach and I’m tempted use in my tables something involving a few “free” Negative Die/Setbacks/Complications per session (or maybe something making Luck harder to recharge, I’m still not sure).

The next topics are a few guidelines for Languages and rules for Zero-level PCs (this last one clearly inspired by DCC RPG). Also inspired by DCC are the Learning New Abilities section, which show us how heroes may gain specific new abilities (like fighting techniques, mystic powers, etc.) and even list a few examples. It’s my favorite approach to PC development and I’m glad to see another RPG embracing it.

Next we get the Blood rule. This basically matches a PC’s Physique ability score as his hit points, which is nice because the game (like many D&D-derived RPGs) is very lethal at lower levels.

The SS&SS Addendum also provides a Sanity & Madness section. I missed more concrete rules here. I believe Madness could be faithful recreated in SS&SS by giving the poor hero a “Madness Vocation”.

Resources & Treasures gives you abstract rules for money and rewards and is another awesome example of the versatility of the Usage Die (I hope to write a review of Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book, which is a game that really shows you how far you can push the Usage Die). Of course, Resources & Treasures is followed by a now classic “Where did my gold go?” table, in perfect Sword & Sorcery fashion (although I missed a gamble aspect to table, like Jeff Rients’ carousing rules).

Next topic is Quick Equipment. It may seem silly, but ready-to-use equipment kits are in my opinion one of the most important rules for any game. Most of my tables hate to buy equipment and when you’re introducing the game to new players (or just want to get direct into action), things like skill/feat/equipment lists are true let downs.

Drunken Luck is our next academic topic, and it’s an awesome variant rule for heroes that bet in their liquor to keep kickass-ing (which reminded me of the equally great rule from the D&D 5E playtest).

Adventuring Companions is a rule to form bonds between the PCs.

Journeys and Travels is a good cut-scene rule, for when you the party must get to the next spot, but the referee also wants to keep verisimilitude – so the PCs make a Luck check to avoid hazards.

After travel hazards we get rules for ‘Strange Effects of Ancient Spellbooks’, 20 new spells, True Names and True Sorcery. This last one is where you get those earth-shattering spells and dooms usually employed by the Evil Wizard of many S&S sources. Here are the guidelines for spells that target armies and affect entire fortifications. While the SS&SS Addendum does provides concrete rules for using True Spells (including the caster sacrificing ability score points permanently), I prefer the old Swords & Wizardry approach, where you basically threat high-level (or epic) spells as unique magic items.

Still talking about the arcane, we get a lite but very flavorful rule for Arcane Corruption, where the more spells a Magic User knows the more inhuman he gets. The next wizardly topics are Rare Ingredients and Drugs & Other Preparations (yes, lotus dust is here).

All those variants and additional rules don’t encumbrance the game and rarely occupy more than a page or two. In fact, it’s amazing how broad the SS&SS Addendum is, because we just reached the middle of the PDF.

Next part is a Monster Generator. This is the supplement’s biggest section and is mostly covered by system-neutral tables with basic ideas and descriptions for monster (aberrations, animals, beings from the future, undeads etc), although at the end we get a list of 100 special abilities (with rules), besides suggestions for monsters’ Weaknesses and a rule for Mooks.

After the monsters we get an excellent rule for creating Rumors, in which the entire table participates. This is a brilliant way of engaging the players, besides helping the referee. I’m extremely tempted to use it in all my tables right now.

SS&SS Addendum isn’t done with us yet. So we get tables and rules for Forgotten Artifacts, Random Life Events, “What Has Changed Since We Left?” (a table used when the PCs return to a town or outpost they’ve visited before) and an Adventure Title Generator.

The SS&SS Addendum is a perfect example of a supplement that highlights its’ Core Book without changing the game’s strong points. There’s so much stuff you can use here that I can’t recommend it high enough – be it for SS&SS, Black Hack or other similar fantasy games.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells - Addendum
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Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells
Publisher: Old Skull Publishing
by Jose L F C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/03/2017 10:09:26

(From my blog: http://lonelygm.blogspot.com.br/2016/11/a-review-for-sharp-swords-sinister.html)

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (SS&SS) is a "rules light sword and sorcery role playing game with Old School spirit", which is a very accurate description of this new RPG. It isn't a retroclone (maybe you could call it a “second” or “third generation” retroclone) but it does attempt to capture the general OSR feel and style (in fact, it borrows mechanics from others famous games, especially The Black Hack). My main interest with the SS&SS is because it is – as far as I know – the only OSR game published by brazilian authors in english. This review is based on the PDF offered through DriveThruRPG/RPGNow.

SS&SS's core mechanic is quite simple: roll a d20 against an Attribute. You succeed if roll equal or lower. This is like The Black Hack and it is an approach that I enjoy – simple and very easy to teach.

SS&SS also employs Usage Die (again from The Black Hack). The Usage Die is a clever mechanic used to keep track of ammo, food and other expandable resources. Basically, you roll a die and if you get a 1 or 2, that resource is spent. Otherwise, you just keep rolling.

SS&SS also uses Positive and Negative Dice, which is a just different name of D&D 5E's Advantage and Disadvantage mechanics (at the first, the new nomenclature caused a bit of confusion for me – I thought it would be something like Shadow of the Demon Lord's Bane/Boon Die).

Other core mechanics is Pushing the Roll – a gambit mechanic where you ask for a second chance, but if you fail the referee can choose something particular nasty to happen to your PC. Again, simple and very easy to implement.

The last core mechanic is the Luck Roll. This mechanic is basically SS&SS's take on Luck Points/Attribute - it’s determined by the chosen Archetype (Class) and it works like Usage Die. It kinds of overlaps with the Pushing the Roll rule, although Luck offer a few twists to the PCs.

SS&SS uses 4 Attributes (generated by rolling 3d6): Physique, Agility, Intellect and Willpower; and 3 Archetypes (Classes): Warrior, Specialist and Magic User (cool, no Clerics!).

Each Archetype determines your Hit Dice (and thus Hit Points), Luck Die and Special Abilities.

The Archetypes' Special Abilities are iconic and seem to me be partly inspired by DCC RPG (like the Warrior's Improved Maneuvers, the Specialist's Luckiest of Them All and the Magic User's Blood Sacrifice). They are short, easy to use and just flavorful (in other words: I loved them).

After picking an Archetype, you must define your Vocation (for example, you're a Warrior with the Berserker Vocation or a Magic User with a Necromancer Vocation). Vocations are open-ended backgrounds/concepts that are used by the PCs to gain Positive Dice

The next step is rolling a Complication for your PC, which is a nice way to spice the character's background (in part explaining why you’re an adventurer). “Nice” stuff like been addicted to Sorcery, in debt to a corrupt noble or hunted by the Assassin's Guild. The cool part about Complications is that you can trigger them, once per session, to improve your Luck Die (in exchange, the referee is given free rein to place the Complication somewhere in your near/far future).

Weapons in SS&SS are simplified and divided in 3 categories. Armor reduce damage and shield (my favorite rule here) gives you a number of Negative Die to use on a roundly basis against attacks.

SS&SS has an interesting approach to Initiative. If I got it right, it's based on the Hit Dice size (which usually means Warriors go first). Ties are settled by an Agility checks. Agility also works as AC here, since armors reduce damage. SS&SS employs simple critical and fumble rules. Healing uses a Short/Long Rest dynamic. The game also uses a Powerful Enemy rule, also taken from The Black Hack.

Spellcasting in SS&SS requires a Willpower check. SS&SS has a simple but evocative rule for failing at spellcasting: the magic doesn’t work and the Magic User can choose between losing access to the spell for the day or not. If he chooses to keep the spell available, he suffers a complication devised by the GM. The book offers some guidelines, but this is by far may favorite part of SS&SS as it kind of allows you to run a "light version" of games like DCC RPG or Warhammer Fantasy. And yes, things get better (or should I see worse?): if the Magic User rolls a natural 20, he must check on a Spell Catastrophe table (sweet!).

SS&SS Spell List is short on description but more than enough for any referee running such light games. We're also offered guidelines on how magic item should work (and the price that PCs must pay to use them).

The next part deals with Opponents, with a short list of adversaries and basic rules for creating them (again we see a strong influence of The Black Hack).

Leveling Up is based on the number of adventurers survived and employs an Improvement Roll rule (can you guess from which game?).

SS&SS closes with an adventure generator appendix and a (very good looking) character sheet.

In end, SS&SS presents an interesting variant on The Black Hack, with more crunch and a stronger flavor toward Sword & Sorcery and Dark Fantasy. You can use it with minimum effort to run Warhammer Fantasy, DCC RPG adventures, Conan, Lankhmar, The Black Company and similar settings… I see myself using even for The Witcher and with minimal fuss it’s easily adaptable to other low magic genres, like Lord of the Rings.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells
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KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 3: Tools & Techniques
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Jose L. F. C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/22/2010 15:34:54

I couldn't yet read the previous volumes of this great collection, but I sure will after reading this book. Volume III is a hybrid product, half-insider in the game industry, half-game master advices. Wolfgang's chapters are specially interesting: you get practically a full script of how to design and create your product (even the psychological side of the process is discussed). There are no magic formulas here, but the articles really make you stop and ponder about how to implement your ideas (with great tips, even if you're just a GM working your home campaign).

Almost half of the product deals with more traditional themes (encounter, hooks, campaign structure etc), useful for DMs and professionals alike.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 3: Tools & Techniques
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Trailblazer
Publisher: Bad Axe Games
by Jose L. F. C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/23/2009 15:30:00

While it suffers more influence from D&D 4E than I would have liked... it is an excellent product, with some outstanding ideas and rules revision (action points use, combat reactions, attack exploits etc.). It is impossible to read it and not finding something of your linking. If you still play D&D 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder or another fantasy d20 game… grab this product! The price is more than perfect.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Trailblazer
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Tome of Secrets
Publisher: Adamant Entertainment
by Jose L. F. C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/23/2009 15:26:14

The races are incredible boring, mechanically speaking, and repetitive. Most of classes are not properly balanced or just remakes of old ones, without any modification that you couldn’t have done at home. The drawback mechanic gives power freely, as the penalties are ridiculous. The new morale system, while based on the good idea of “abstracting hit points”, is hideously and requires an immense amount of extra bookkeeping. And I can’t even digest the heavy-crunch chase rules… save your money for something more useful, like Trailblazer or Fantasy Craft.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Secrets
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Creator Reply:
Wow -- well, given the fact that the other reviewers have given us an average of 4 stars, I think we can safely put this into the "your mileage may vary" category. Tell you what, though -- If you send me an email at gms@adamantentertainment.com, Mr. Cardoso, we will happily refund your purchase.
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