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Crypts & Creatures Psionics Handbook
Publisher: Pick Up & Go Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2015 12:45:04

At 12 pages for 50 cents this looks like a deal. But what we have here is a stripped down version of the psionic classes from the d20 SRD for the OSR crowd. I would have liked to see some more to be honest. There are classes and powers listed, but not really detailed. Now for someone this will be just perfect, but most people I think will want some more.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Crypts & Creatures Psionics Handbook
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Osric Psionic Combat
Publisher: Dragoneer Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2015 12:42:00

This book has a lot of charm. A quick look at the author, artist and contributors leads me to believe this was something a whole family put together and then played. I can relate and honestly the book gets an extra star just for that. The books covers a very simple psionic combat system and a psionist class. Nothing more really. But that is all it set out to do, so great. I might not play as written, but the detail here is great and would convert nicely to any of the other systems I have used.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Osric Psionic Combat
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Old-School Psionics
Publisher: Vigilance Press
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2015 12:36:44

Designed to be a new psionics system for OSRIC this book introduces the Mentalist class. Powers are divided out among disciplines going to 7th level. Powers are treated mostly like spells, but that works well for adding into OSRIC. Also some psionic monsters are detailed including my favorite (and worth the price of the book) the Doppleganger as a proper psionic monster. 22 pages including cover and OGL. Very nicely done.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Old-School Psionics
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White Box Options: Psychic Talents [Swords & Wizardry]
Publisher: Barrel Rider Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/11/2015 12:31:19

At 10 pages this book really exemplifies what people love about S&W. Quick and easy rules that slot in nicely with the game they are playing. This is more of a psychic wild talent add on. Feels similar to the wild talent powers in AD&D1 or even OD&D. Random table of powers and descriptions of all the powers. Not a bad deal for just under 2 bucks.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
White Box Options: Psychic Talents [Swords & Wizardry]
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PX1 Basic Psionics Handbook
Publisher: New Big Dragon Games Unlimited
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/03/2015 12:54:55

I love Basic-era gaming. Basic/Expert D&D was the first D&D I ever played. Even when I had moved on to Advanced D&D, it still had a strong Basic feel to it. So I was very, very pleased to hear about +Richard LeBlanc's new psionics book, Basic Psionics Handbook.
If you have been reading his blog, Save vs Dragon, a lot of what is in the book won't be a surprise, but it is all great stuff. Even then there are things in the book that are still a treat and a surprise.


The book itself is 58 pages (PDF), full-color cover and black/white interior.

The book covers two basic (and Basic) classes, the Mystic and the Monk. Both use the new psionic system presented in the book. The system bears looking at and really is a treat.


Overview. This covers the basics including how psionics is not magic and how attributes are used. It's a page of rules that slot in nicely with the normal Basic rules. The basics of psychic power including Psionic Level and Psionic Strenght Points (PSP) are introduced.


Mystics are next. Mystics in this case are more molded on the Eastern philosophy of mystics, not the clerical sub-class-like mystics I have detailed in the past. Though through the lens of Western thought. That's fine this is not a religious analysis, this is a game book. This class helps builds the psionic system used in this book based on the seven chakras. Chakras divide the psionic powers into broad groups; something like the schools of magic for spells. As the mystic progresses in level, they open up more and more chakras.
Each chakra has seven Major Sciences and twelve Minor Devotions, similar to the old AD&D rules (but not exactly the same, so read carefully). This gives us 72 devotions and 42 sciences. That's quite a lot really.
As the mystic progresses they also earn more PSPs and more attack and defense modes. They are the heavy hitters of the psionic game.


Monks are the next class. Monks really are more of psionic using class in my mind and to have them here next to the mystic is a nice treat for a change. Everything you expect from the monk is here. Unarmed attacks, no need for armor and lots of fun psionic based combat powers. The monk does not have the psionic power the mystic does, but that is fine it is not supposed to. It does have a some neat powers from the mystic's list. One can easily see a monastery where both mystics and monks train together, one more mental and the other more physical. The monk has plenty of customization options in terms of choice of powers. In truth it is a very elegant system that shows it's strength with the mystic and it's flexibility with the example of the monk.

This is very likely my favorite monk class.


Psionic Disciplines detail all the powers of the chakras. It is a good bulk of the book as to be expected. There are not as many psionic powers as you might see spells in other books, but this is a feature, not a bug. Powers can be used many times as long as the psychic still has PSP. Also many do more things as the character goes up in level.


Psionic Combat is next and deals with the five attack modes and five defense modes of psychic combat. The ten powers are detailed and an attack vs. defense matrix is also provided. The combat is simple and much improved over it's ancestors.


The next large section details all the Psionic Monsters. Some of these are right out of the SRD but others are new. Personally I am rather happy to see a Psychic Vampire. Though it is not listed, I assume that these creatures are also undead and are turned as if they were vampires.


Appendix A deals with something we abused the hell out of, Wild Psionics. At two pages it is the simplest set of rules I have seen for this sort of thing. Also it looks like something that could be ported into ANY version of D&D including and especially D&D 5.


Get out your crystals, Appendix B details Psionic Items. Again, short, sweet and to the point.


Appendix C: Psionics and Magic is a must read chapter for anyone wanting to use both in their games.


Appendix D: Phrenic Creatures turns normal creatures into psionic ones.


Appendix E covers Conversions for Monsters from LeBlanc's own CC1: Creature Compendium.
Appendix F details how to convert any monster into a psionic one.


We end with a a couple pages of collected tables and the OGL.


Bottom line here is this is a great book. Everything you need to play psionic characters and add psionics to your game. Personally I am going to use this to beef up The Secret Machines of the Star Spawn which I also picked up today.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
PX1 Basic Psionics Handbook
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PC1 - The OSR Warlock
Publisher: Jeremy Reaban
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/28/2015 11:38:34

A good example of what I call a "blasty warlock" is Jeremy Reaban's The OSR Warlock. Like his Witch Hunter book this book has a number of nice features in addition to the class. The class does not cast spells, it does have lot of special powers. This is by design and owning to the stated OGC and pulp sources. The warlock here does get some spell like abilities in place of powers. It actually works rather nicely What I think makes this book special is the level advancement tables for "First Edition", "Original Edition", "Basic/Expert" and "Cyclopedic Edition". Plus the author has a section of notes on the class.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
PC1 - The OSR Warlock
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Ghosts -- The Incorporeal Undead
Publisher: James Mishler Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/22/2015 12:22:42

James Mishler has been producing quality material for the "Basic" era games for a number of years. I have followed him online and have always enjoyed his posts in various forums and on his own blog.

James has been in the business of releasing his own material for a couple of years now and they are always fun. Well this Halloween he has really, really outdone himself.


I grabbed his latest product Ghosts -- The Incorporeal Undead, pretty much without reading the details. It was James. It was Ghosts. How could I loose? Well let me tell you. I was in for a sweet surprise! I will be honest here. Pretty much EVERY other games can deal with ghosts better than D&D used too. This little book has a lot of work to do.


First off this "little" PDF is 64 pages. I printed it out and it would make a great supplement to my collection of various "Basic Era" books. Put on a nice cover and it would be right at home next to Labyrinth Lord, The Witch and many, many other books on my shelf. Let me step back for a moment and comment on this. James really "gets" Basic D&D. He knows why people choose it over Advanced or other games. His rules are very much in the vein of Basic/Expert and BECMI style D&D (More B/X than BECMI) but he also gives people options who like more Advanced-feeling games.


We begin with an overview of what ghosts are. I was pleased to see that this book treats ghosts as all being unique. A brief description of common powers to all ghosts is also given. Detail is paid to two of these powers, Fear and Level/Life Drain. In keeping with the Basic roots, the Fear effects table is simple and effective. If you are playing a horror game then you might want more, but in truth this is plenty. Level Drain is also discussed and how to regain those levels.

Now for me, I am still more inclined to use Constitution drain instead of level drain. Thankfully the rules as written here will allow that.


Next we get into people and animals with the Sixth Sense and Sensitives. No detailed rules here, just a nice simple approach that I really like. There is also a discussion on Mediums and Séances. Now THESE are much needed rules. This helps move ghosts from a monster with X amount XP to something that can be worked into a plot. We end with some information on ghost-sensitive animals. I love what he has done with cats and am thinking of using it for all witch familiars.


Next is the meat of the book. Ghosts Lesser and Greater. This is the "monster listing" of all the ghost types with their powers, weaknesses and alternate types. Included are some old favorites like Apparitions, Haunts, Spectres and Wraiths next to new one like Lost Souls and Geists. Following this is a list and description of all the special abilities (And ectoplasms) of the ghosts. You can mix and match to make anytype of Ghost you want. Following this is uses for uncanny ectoplasm.


There is a section on magic items. Some spells usable by or on or about ghosts.
(*The Spawn Ghost spell is really nice. If you are playing a witch then the spell level is 5.)


Finally is a Creepy Appendix N. There are a lot great resources on this page for ghosts of every type "inspired by anything from Hanna-Barbera and H.R. Pufnstuf to H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger"!


There is no art. BUT I also want to add that ghosts are either invisible or look like anything. So this is not a downmark for this book.


If you play any old-school game, original or OSR, and you use ghosts, then you need this book. It isn't revolutionary, but it does feel a much needed gap in the rules and (if for no other reason) it will get game masters and players thinking about ghosts a different way.

Combine this with his Vampires of the Olden Lands for some serious Halloween fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ghosts -- The Incorporeal Undead
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PC3 - The OSR Witch Hunter
Publisher: Jeremy Reaban
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/21/2015 13:53:57

This book has a number of nice features in addition to the class. The class does not cast spells, nor does it have a lot of special powers. This is by design and owning to the stated literary source. It does have some skills such as read magic and turn undead. What I think makes this special is the level advancement tables for "First Edition", "Original Edition", "Basic/Expert" and "Cyclopedic Edition". Nice feature if you ask me



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
PC3 - The OSR Witch Hunter
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Player Paraphernalia #11 The Witch Hunter
Publisher: The Knotty-Works
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/21/2015 13:46:48

This class also gets good combat ability and some powers, but it also gets spells to 4th level. This puts it on par with the Ranger. It has a couple of new feats, but no new spells. Though you are getting a lot here for a buck and half.
I liked how this one was more focused against witches than just any spell casting class.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Player Paraphernalia #11  The Witch Hunter
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How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/16/2015 11:06:39

Anyway, I picked up +Venger Satanis' latest book, How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss, not because I think I need help running my games (I have been running games for 35+ years now) but because I Was very, very curious about what he had to say. Besides, I am sure there had to be some tips worth reading. In any case, I am certain it was going to be a fun read.
I also wanted to read this because I was curious about his "O5R" philosophy. I have been doing something similar in my games with my kids, and I wanted to see his views.


To begin VS talks about what Role-Playing and Game-Mastering is. Ok, I expect this. He made a point about how he used to run games to where he is now.
• Do I have all my stuff (books, notes, dice, etc.)?
• Do I have a general idea of what’s going to happen?
• Am I ready to crank this bitch up to 11?
I understand this. I have a game I am running at a convention in 24 hours or so. Right now the only thing I would add to that list is "Do I have my Pre-gens?"


The book itself is largely divided up into various short essays that talk about what to do in any broadly defined situation. A lot of it is common sense, but there are few gems in there as well. I like the bits on handling NPCs and especially the NPC villains. In truth, his "Seinfeld" advice was about the last thing I expected to read here but I enjoyed it.

Other treats include the "Who to Blame" random table. Most of the tables are pretty fun and many are very useful. I loved the whole section of tables about Cults.

There is a section on the magical language he created for his games that add a nice bit of flavor, but I am wondering if would not have been better in The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence book.


It ends with three sample maps and an afterward.


While I certainly thought of this as a fun read I am not sure I got that much out of it. Granted I also don't think I am the target audience. I will certainly use the tables and his magical words are kind of neat. I think what I really need to do is give this one to my son and have him read it. He is a longtime player, but has only run a few games. He certainly has anxiety about running (as well all did the first few times) and I know there are some things in here that would help him out.


I think I will certainly use his cult tables to see what I can come up with.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss
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Crimson Dragon Slayer
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/15/2015 13:28:07

I had pretty high hopes for this one. I am part of his target audience, I enjoyed the 80s, enjoy a gonzo edge to my games, and I don't mind mixing my genres a bit. I also don't mind doses of humor in my games. But....well maybe I just didn't "get it" in this one.


I want to start off with the things I liked. The book is gorgeous and I am happy to see that VS is spending his money on art than say orgies dedicated to Cthulhu. No idea though he might be doing both. But the art is great looking in this book. It is basically three varieties, the "Lovecraftian" art found in earlier products (ex. on p. 23), the sword & sorcery (p. 11) and the humorous (p. 14). My favorite though is on page 4. The layout is fantastic and the character sheet on page 41 is a gem. Plus that cover art. Really, really excellent. If the arrt was a problem for you in his other products then take heart here. There is nothing here that isn't PG, and dare I even say it, G rated. Even the scantily clad barbarian and maiden on page 11 are still covered more than a swimsuit issue.


While reading this I am struck with how this is the RPG version of the Heavy Metal story "Den". In the movie a kid from earth is transported to a sci-fi/S&S world where he become a might thewed (and bald) barbarian. Not a bad idea really, and something I could do more with than say Carcossa. But it is also riff on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.


The book itself is a bunch of house rules. Again, this is what was advertised. Many were hinted at in previous books. Some are good, many I have seen in one form or another elsewhere over the last 35 years. A couple things jump out at me.
Infernal Elf: I have to admit I rather like this idea and it is something I have been toying with myself since listening to Kim Harrison's Hallows series. In that book Elves and Demons are ancient enemies, but are a little closer than they would like. This works right in with that.
Robots: Hmm. No. Not really my thing, but I get why it is here.


The chapter on magic is interesting and something I might adopt. At this point I am imagining Thule as not some distant planet, but as a mystical island just south of Hyperborea.


There are some magic items, some notes on converting monsters and even a small cavern crawl.


All in all the book is fine, but nothing really extra special. Maybe I was expecting more or something different. I don't know. I am not quite sure it lived up to my expectations of it.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Crimson Dragon Slayer
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The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/13/2015 14:53:36

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
Described as weird fantasy/sci-fi/gonzo, I also wondered if it was a subtle jab at "The Big Purple".
Let's start of with the easy stuff. Yeah, some people are likely to get offended by this adventure. That's not a bug, but a feature, as we say. Typically anything done either to purely offend or go out of it's way to push an agenda is going to suck. I get the feeling here that this is the sort of game he plays all the time. The art is still more "Heavy Metal" than it is "Hustler" and there is a solid 80s vibe to reading it all. Please keep in mind this aesthetic when reading; it is a guiding principle that fits the art and the game design. I think in someone else's hand it would have come off as crass or even as complete shit, but VS owns this. There is an honesty here that can be respected.


This book is a campaign book/hexcrawl/sandbox. The PDF is 110 pages and packed. It would make for a gorgeous looking book and it would sit nicely on my shelf with my other books circa 1983.


VSd6: This is a new mechanic introduced for skill checks/ability checks. He mentioned it has been influenced by 100s of other d6 based mechanics and you can see that here. It is an interesting system and provides some nice dramatic elements to the game, but not something I am planning on using myself.


Darker Secrets: This book also brings over the "Dark Secrets" idea/tables from Demon Slayer. So in some respects you can use this book as a means to "beef up" the Demon Slayer adventure, although you don't really need too. Though adding in the changes to magic that this book does might be fun.


The Monk: This campaign guide also features a Monk class. It is not too far from the AD&D1 standard, though not as much detail is given.


We get into the islands proper and are given some background; 20,000 years of background to be precise, but only in a couple of pages. The interesting bits happened in the more recent past including turning the "Purple Islands" into a penal colony. Yeah, no jabs here at all...


There is a lot going on with these islands and the worship of the Great Old ones is just a small part of it. The wording of the monsters, settings and even location is basic or even vague enough to allow you to put this anywhere. It feels kitchen-sinky enough to fit into places like Mystara (which has a little bit of everything anyway) but focused enough to give you hints that is part of a much larger world. Though I do like the appearance of the Shiny Demon and a preview of "Alpha Blue".


There are pop-culture references galore here, and it is very obvious that VS pulled out every bit of fantasy, sci-fi, euro-sleaze horror and 70s metal he had at his disposal and threw it into a blender with plenty of purple dye. It could have turned out to be a horrible mess, but it doesn't. Instead we get a ton of options spread over three islands.


I have to point out, don't play this as a single adventure. The purpose here really is not to clean out the island, but to explore it. It's a great place to strand some PCs after an ocean-going adventure.


At the end of the book we are given new spells and new magic items.


In the Afterword VS mentions that this product should not be used in isolation. I agree, again I think that this would make for a great semi-tropical island in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The mythos are similar enough, or at least enough to fit together. The only thing that would make it more perfect is if this book could be printed in 7.0" x 8.5" format to fit in my AS&SH box.


Not sure where or how I want to use this yet, but I know I really want to.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence
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Liberation of the Demon Slayer
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/12/2015 11:11:40

The adventure is six levels and 70 pages. VS suggests using 3 0-level characters per player and let everything work out, or a large party of 1st level characters. Nothing is mentioned on how many players, but I am guessing 6 to 8.


There is some background given about the world this adventure lives in. They are all optional, but it does set the mood for the rest of the book. I found the bits about Snake-men and elves to be interesting. The adventure is steeped in a lot of Lovecraftian tropes and we are introduced to some of the "Old Ones" here, albeit with different names.


If you, like me, love eldritch abominations and dark magic then this the adventure for you. The adventure itself "sounds" simple enough. Retrieve a demon killing sword from the caves to stop the demons attack your village. Easy peasy. Trouble is that the author grew up when dungeons-as-meat-grinders were a thing and everyone was afraid the big bad devil was going to get you. This adventure though is closer in tone and danger to the Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen than it is to most Lamentations of the Flame Princess products. With the right DM this could be a great and dangerous adventure where the party could live. Sure they could all easily die too. One can read this and imagine that all of the author's games are a bit like it.


Actually I have known the author for a number of years and yeah this is exactly the kind of things I expect in his games. I think the difference here with this adventure and some of his earlier material is there is a maturity here to accept the absurd. This adventure can be played straight or with a dash of dark humor. Think of it as a horror movie, even the scariest have a touch of humor to them; it sets you up for the bigger punch later down the road.


The adventure proper gets going about page 17. We are treated to rumors, some background, wandering monsters and some maps of the first level. The maps have been drawn by +Dyson Logos , so you know that these will be interesting. The feel of the first 4-5 pages of the adventure is really one of pure old-school nostalgia. The first level is a bit of meat grinder, by design, and there are a lot things going on here that would make the hard-core Gygazian adventure fan happy. Going back a bit it becomes obvious that the "optional" information above is still rather important since it colors the actions of many of the inhabitants in this dungeon.


As you descend into the dungeon things get weirder and more deadly. I mean really, really deadly. Devil lords, liches, vampires, freaking lasers and a nuclear warhead. Yeah, VS really cut his teeth on the 70s and 80s era gaming.


I want to take a moment to talk about the art. Yes there is a lot gore, nudity and phantasmagorical horror here. It comes off though more as "Heavy Metal" than say "Hustler". All I can really say is that it fits the aesthetic of the book. In truth I had more of an issue with the sci-fi elements (even though there were very good reasons for them to be there) than I had with the nudity.


The demon-slaying sword Kalthalax is an interesting weapon. One that would have a good home in my regular games to be honest and one that is enough of a hook to make me want to find a way to work this adventure in. Maybe I can make Clavenus a witch instead of a wizard.


In any case there is a lot of fun to be had with this adventure; if you don't mind the occasional casualty. I think what helps here is while the adventure is a meat grinder, it is done just to rid the party of the weak. They are expected to survive and tell people the tales of their great adventure.


While VS takes the care to make sure this works with nearly any old-school game (and in the future he fits 5e into that as well), I can't help but think how well this would work with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The background is similar and the elves in Demon Slayer would be a nice addition to AS&SH, which does not have any elves. Indeed, elves would seem like souless, demon-like monsters compared to humans. At least to humans that have never seen an elf before. There is a mix of demons, devils and Lovecraftian beasts/gods that somehow feels right for that world. Mixing in AS&SH to this would give you something very, very close to playing akin to Michael Moorcock's world.


Curiously enough in my own games I do have an epic weapon for killing demons. In my current world state this sword is lost and a quest is needed to recover it. Maybe this is what I need. If so then the value of this adventure just increased ten-fold for me. I am going to have to spend some quality time with it and a pencil to see if it can be recrafted into something that fits my world a little better.


However YOU decided to use this adventure I am sure it will be fun. Maybe deadly fun, but certainly fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Liberation of the Demon Slayer
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I6 Ravenloft (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/03/2015 11:29:25

This is my favorite module from TSR's Golden Age (though it might considered Silver Age by some). I just love it; warts and all. Yeah there are some real leaps in logic in this one and there are plenty of reasons NOT to like it, but I don't care. I think it is great. It's a Hammer Horror film in D&D form right down to the small "Hammer Hamlet" village with terrified peasants. There are vampires, gypsies, werewolves, really strong zombies, gargoyles. Even a huge pipe organ played by the vampire. You can almost hear Toccata and Fugue in D minor while running it. I have played through this once and I have ran it three or four times. I would love to try it sometime under the Ghosts of Albion rules. I took my D&D 5e group through it when they completed Castle Amber to make for a "Mists" series. It was fantastic.
Get this and admire those wonderful maps.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
I6 Ravenloft (1e)
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Dark Albion: The Rose War
Publisher: DOM Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/25/2015 10:04:43

War is always a good backdrop to a fantasy campaign. There is so much chaos and change and opportunity that a group of adventurers could make their way from nobodies to national heroes..or villains. That is one of the basic conceits of +Kasimir Urbanski's aka RPGPundit's latest book Dark Albion: The Rose War. Published by DOM Publishing, the same that gave us Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. Overtly the book is for FH&W, but it can be played with any Retro-Clone or original D&D game you wish. In fact I am going to jump ahead and say that it would work with any version of D&D you choose, including 5th Edition. But for me the game seems like it would shine under Original Edition. But more on that later.


I am reviewing the PDF only at this point. I don't have a copy of the printed book yet. The PDF is 277 pages; 275 of content plus cover and a hyperlink page that we also saw in FH&W. It's a nice touch.


Before I get into the meat I want to about the art and layout. The art is predominantly woodcuts and public domain images from the period or about the period. I want to say that for the record I LOVE this sort of art. I really do. It captures the feel of time I think far better than most RPG art. I love the art in the D&D/OSR books, but that is art for a game world. For a historical one I want this.
Also the graphic design and layout is much improved in terms of technique from FH&W. This is obvious when in the FH&W appendix it switches back to the other style. It is the same as the previous book, but still better executed.


The book is nicely organized and I am first grabbed by a sense of nostalgia. This feels like an old-school Gazetteer. In particular the Greyhawk ones of old. We have a two page Table of Contents and a two page index. Both are hyperlinked.


The center of the campaign is the War of Roses. This war, between rival claimants to the throne of England, the House of York (the White Rose) and the House of Lancaster (the Red Rose). This lead, among other things, to the creation of the Tudor Dynasty (White on Red Rose) when the House of Lancaster defeated the House the York and Henry Tudor married Elizabeth York to become Henry VII of England. This is also the milestone between what was "Dark Ages" England and the English Renaissance. Though I personally think of the date as being later when England broke with the Church or even later still when Elizabeth I came into power. But that is my personal bias.
(Side Note: See if RPGPundit is working on "Dark Albion: The Tudors", now there is some intrigue!)


The Introduction is a brief overview of the book, the War of Roses, and what to expect in this campaign book. Most of what is here is detailed more in the book, but a couple of things draw our attention. First this a "gritty" campaign. So magic is low, character classes will be low and it is human centric. Other differences between this and other "D&D" are given, such as very, very few demi-humans and few "monsters". Also the differences between this world and our world are given. The one that stands out here is the Church of the Unconquered Sun, something that readers of my blog should already be familiar with, http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com-
/2015/02/sol-invictus-unconquered-sun.html
. In fact this Church is like one where Rome (Arcadia) adopted Mithra instead of Jesus. It is an interesting idea and one I would love to see more of.


Next up, and what takes up a good chunk of the book is the Gazetteer of Albion. For his alt-history version of England, Pundit sticks with the very archaic Albion as opposed to England or even "Angle-land". I do not object. I used the name myself in Ghosts of Albion, though for different reasons. This is part socio-political overview, part maps and part campaign information. Having gone over the same territory, though 360 years later, I appreciate the attention to detail here. The bulk of this is of course on Albion and Wales (not "Cymru"?), lands up into Scots-land ("Alba"?) only go to Hadrian's Wall, which is still intact in this world. Lands into Ireland ("Erie"! thank you!) only go to the Pale, as appropriate. Beyond the Pale? Well that is where the ancient Brannans live, you don't want to go there.
Honestly, this could have been the entire book and I would have loved it. Give me old maps and names of people and I will fill it up with ideas. I already want to create characters and give them histories.


Next up is Kingdoms of the Continent. As you can imagine, an overview of Europe. Not as in-depth as the Albion chapter, nor should it be. There are a couple things though I want to point out.



  1. Frogland. Really? ugh. Ok, ok. I get the desire to have a non-human, chaos-based kingdom. But I really have to admit this sticks out like a sore thumb. It's really just not good. Sorry. I just don't like it, it seems to go against everything we just read about human-centric, low magic, gritty-realism. If I were to use this in a game (and I really would want to) Frogland is going away. I'll replace it with a Clark Ashton Smith-style Averoigne. It really kind of mars the entire work in a way.

  2. Arcadia. There is something REALLY interesting here. I would love to see RPGPundit talk about how The Unconquered Sun grew up out Mithraism to replace Christianity in his world. Plus this is the Renaissance. I would imagine that Arcadia at this time in this world looks a bit more like Mage the Sorcerers Crusade than it does D&D.

  3. Wallachia. Ok, including a bad ass Dracula almost (almost but not quite) makes up for Frogland. Having him live in a castle named "Crows Loft" is very cheeky ("Crow's Nest" might be closer, but hey, not my book).


Law & Justice in Albion is a fairly important chapter. Characters will not be able to act like the "murder-hobos" of other games. Albion, at this point, has been around as country of laws for some time. The Magna Carta has been around for 200+ years at this point so this is not a lawless land, far from it in fact. Frankly more campaign guides should have this as much as they do maps and people of interest.


History of Albion is just as fascinating as the Gazetteer. While I personally believe that games are about the characters, having a detailed backdrop is always nice. Plus if your game is going to more about court intrigue and combats of words and lies rather than adventuring, then this is a must read.


Characters in Albion discuss what has been mentioned briefly already. What characters you are likely to use in this game. It is human centric and low magic. Now there is an interesting twist here in that the Church of the Unconquered Sun has Priests, which are like real-world priests in the Catholic church, and Clerics which are more like D&D clerics. In fact you can have a female cleric. This is a handy way to have your cake and eat it too. The reading of this chapter makes me think that Lamentation of the Flame Princes might be a good rule fit for this, but as I read more I think that Original D&D is the best choice. Though given the changes to the world in general I would also add druids and witches to my games.


Currency & Equipment is actually quite an important chapter. Money didn't just seperate the wealthy from everyone else, it also separates the classes, as in the upper and lower class. In many D&D games characters tend to throw around gold like it was water. You see that even in some of the pulp influences of D&D. Historically though and even until past the Victorian age you would not find people throwing around a gold coin. Copper pence/pennies were the coinage of the common man. Maybe a silver shilling. Ok, technically the silver shilling wasn't minted until the 1500s and it was worth 12 pence (not the 10p listed). BUT this is just a change to make things easier for the game and that is fine with me. I would still introduce a gold guinea at 21s/0p though it's introduction is still not for another 200 years or so. I just like the idea.


The next two chapters, Noble Houses of Albion and People of Interest, deal with the people that populate this world. I would say that if you are playing a court intrigue game then these are your important chapters. Knowing who is controlling what and what their moves might be is a great aid for the right-minded GM. I would say that if you are or were a fan of Pendragon or even Birthright then study these two chapters. Heck given how Pendragon works this could be part of the same set of PCs, only their dynasties 35-40+ generations later.
Ok, so I am not taking any stars away from the overall product for this, but I will state my disappointment in the whole "Frogmen" one more time here. Craaak VII? Lraaap XI? Come on Pundit, you can do better than this.


Sorcery and Secrets is the chapter I have been waiting for. I will point out one discrepancy between what is said here and what is assumed. Magic-user spells are listed to 9th level, ok that will take a pretty high level magic-user, beyond the "7th level will be really high" mentioned. Plus 9th level spells are pretty big magics. Personally I would limit all spell casters to 6th level spells. There are some rules in FH&W to help get around this restriction.

There are some really good demon summoning rules. I would combine these with the magic circle rules given in FH&W as well as the Ley Line rules. In fact in might be interesting to take this chapter and Chapter 9 from FH&W and look at them as a unified whole.


Adventuring in Albion. Ok this is more like it! Give me reasons for my characters to do things! For me I am content with "there is a war of succession to English throne going on. You all are peasants. Figure out how make the most of it." Thankfully there is more here than just that. Several sample adventure locations are given, including one at court. Travel across Albion is discussed though characters are more likely to run into tolls rather than trolls, but both are still possible.

While monsters are rare in this setting a guideline for what might be possible would be good.


Three Appendices follow.

Appendix 1 detail the Knights of the Star and Secrets of the Clerical Order. Knight of the Star are an order of Knights loyal to the crown and king of Albion. These Knights could be seen as the Paladins of Albion and are given similar in-game status.
Appendix 2 is a set of house rules for rules-lite OSR clones like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Swords & Wizardry, and Basic Fantasy RPG.
Appendix 3 is a set of rules when playing Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. Like I mentioned before this appendix drops the Dark Albion style for the FH&W one. Various new classes for FH&W are added including the Cleric of the Unconquered Sun, the Magister, Hedge-Witch and Cymric Bard among others. Also classes from FH&W are discussed including which ones NOT to use in Dark Albion. Some details about how Dark Albion's cosmology fits into the FH&W assumed cosmology.


The book ends with the OGL statement.


There is a lot crammed into 275 or so pages. While the guide is complete and there is plenty to do with it, it also opens up a lot of possibility for the world as a whole. Dom and RPGPundit could make a career out filling up the other countries. The time period is an interesting choice too. Having played a ton of historical games I tend to draw a fuzzy line right around the time of the Tudors. Prior to this time I can emulate with D&D-like games, after that I use other games. Dark Albion adheres to my own internal logic in this respect. Though I do admit I can see myself pushing that line a bit when it comes to Elizabethan times. I have done that time period both as a D&D-like game and as a setting for Ghosts of Albion.


I would say pick this up if you have any enjoyment for English history or if you are looking to play something different than the same old dungeon crawls.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dark Albion: The Rose War
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