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Monster Manual (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/10/2019 22:16:14

This is the book. This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs.

But how does one review such a genre-defining classic?

My son had made himself a triple cheeseburger covered in bacon, onions, and mushrooms. I asked him how he was going to fit that into his mouth. He said, "with determination".

How does one review such a genre-defining classic? With determination.

My History

The Monster Manual was the book for me. The one that got me hooked. The one, sitting in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL that I became the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddesses and monsters. So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy. Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet. So I borrowed his and read. And read. And read. I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.

Since that time I judge a gamebook on the "Monster Manual" scale. How close of a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to the scale limit of holding the Monster Manual for the first time? Some games have come close and others have hit the mark as well. C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Also, I like to go to the monster section of any book or get their monster books. Sure I guess sometimes there are diminishing returns, Monster Manual V for 3.5 anyone? But even then sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other gamebook. Even the 1st DMG, which is a work of art, had to wait till I was older to appreciate it. The Monster Manual grabbed me and took me for a ride.

The Book (and PDF)

The PDF of the Monster Manual has been available since July of 2015. The book itself has seen three different covers.

Regardless of what cover you have the insides are all the same. The book is 112 pages, black and white art from some of the biggest names that ever graced the pages of an RPG book.

This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry. The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, the first AD&D book.

The book contains 350 plus monsters of various difficulties for all character levels. Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here. Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D, even some of the art is similar, and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

Eldritch Wizardry gave us the demons, but the Monster Manual gave us those and all the new devils. The Monster Manual introduced us to the devils and the Nine Hells. Additionally, we got the new metallic dragons, more powerful and more diverse undead and many more monsters. We also got many sub-races of the "big 3". Elves get wood, aquatic, half and drow. Dwarves get hill and mountain varieties. Halflings get the Tallfellows and Stouts. So not just more monsters, but more details on the monsters we already knew.

While designed for AD&D I used it with the Holmes Basic book. The two products had a similar style and to me seemed to work great together. It was 1979 and honestly, we did all sorts of things with our games back then. The games worked very well together.

Flipping through one of my physical copies, or paging through the PDF, now I get the same sense of wonder I did 40 years ago.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Manual (1e)
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Bx Mars
Publisher: Bronze
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 14:16:36

This is a newer book from Michael Gibbons who also does the illustrations. Here we get a full (8.5" x 11") PDF at 104 pages with Black & White art. The author makes a note that the B&W art fits the mood of the game and I can't say I disagree.

This book also is more inspired by Burroughs, but the DNA is a little more obvious here. Also, the book is designed to be used with B/X style games, this also goes to level 10 (not level 14 as some B/X games). That's also great by me.

The classes and these are race-classes, are Princess, Warrior, Thark! (no idea why the ! is there), Menton and Terran. The classes are pretty much what you think they are. A couple of points. Princess is only open to Red Martian women; there is no Prince class (and sadly no Purple Martians). The Menton is a psionic using class with powers detailed in the book.

There is also something called "Mastery" which works a little like Feats from 3/4/5e but has a solid B/X/Old-school feel to them. They work quite well here.

There is a Campaign/World-building history here. It is some good background and fun to add to any game whether you are playing as straight-up Barsoom or something else.

This book has a completely different feel than the other Mars books out there. While all the books I have looked at list mostly the same sources as inspiration, this one comes closer to Heavy Metal than most. Also if I ever wanted to play a Herculoids game this would be the first book I'd grab.

The art has a really cool style that I don't often see in modern RPG books, but it fits this one perfectly.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bx Mars
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Warriors of the Red Planet
Publisher: Night Owl Workshop
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 13:51:21

Warriors of the Red Planet by Al Krombach with art by Thomas Denmark and published by Denmark's Night Owl Workshop.

The PDF is digest-sized, single column, with black & white art from Denmark (so you know it looks great). At 128 pages it is a good-sized volume. And all for $8.00. They could have made it $10 and still it would have been a great price. Overtly the book is for Swords & Wizardry.

This game is more inspired by Burroughs than actually being Barsoom.

There are five races to play, Ancients, Elevated, Exotic, Humans and Unliving. And four classes, Fighting Men, Scoundrels, Mentalists, and Scientists. Each class goes to 10th level.

Mentalists have powers, Scientists have gadgets and they both work roughly like spells.

There are rules for character creation, equipment (including swords and rayguns), and several examples of play.

While I said it is overtly for S&W, there is Ascending and Descending AC and "Basic-like" saving throws.

There are some great monsters added to this as well. Any of which can be ported over to any OSR games if you wish. Many are recognizable from Burroughs, but there are plenty more as well.

Some of the races get more detail in the appendix. While an Exotic can nearly be anything (with random tables to boot!) some of the more common types are listed here. As per Burroughs we have Red, Green, Black, White and Yellow Martians. Earthlings on Mars are also discussed.

Appendix A covers all sorts of random terrain, building, missions, and the unexplained along with weird science artifacts.

Appendix B adds the eldritch to Mars with the Sorcerers of the Black Gate.

Appendix C adds an optional skill system.

Appendix D covers ship to ship combat.

And finally, Appendix N (yup) covers suggested reading.

Again, this is a great book and 100% compatible with other "old-school" books from Night Owl Workshop. And easily worth twice the cover price in my mind.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Warriors of the Red Planet
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Shaman Class (5e)
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 22:44:22

Another Shaman class, this time from Michael Wolf. This is also PWYW, with a suggested price of $0.00. It is worth a lot more than that. The book is 17 pages.

This is a pretty full class with new archetypes, a new type of magic including using spirits, and a few new spells. The book is pretty well researched and because of that this Shaman is a much fuller class.

This one does fill that "Warlock" niche for divine spell-casters.

If you want to try out a Shaman class then this is not just a great choice, it is one of the better products I have grabbed at DMSGuild recently.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shaman Class (5e)
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The Shaman - A New Take
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 22:33:11

This class has spellcasting foci, like a fetish or idol, which gives it a nice feel. Wisdom is the spellcasting ability. This class also has some spirit based powers that are interesting. The relationship here is similar to the cleric and druid is similar to the Sorcerer-Wizard-Warlock one. I think I would have liked to have seen this class use something more like the Warlock style spellcasting to be honest, but what is here works fine. IT's a good class, but I am left want more.From A Point of Inspiration, this PDF is full color and has 9 pages. It is Pay What You Want with a suggested price of 50 cents; it is worth more than that. This is presented as a new full caster class with two archetypes, the Witch-Doctor and warden.

The class is good, but could use a little more detail, even a little history would be fun. Even at twice the price it is still good. There are new powers, but no new spells.

This class has spellcasting foci, like a fetish or idol, which gives it a nice feel. Wisdom is the spellcasting ability. This class also has some spirit based powers that are interesting. The relationship here is similar to the cleric and druid is similar to the Sorcerer-Wizard-Warlock one. I think I would have liked to have seen this class use something more like the Warlock style spellcasting to be honest, but what is here works fine. IT's a good class, but I am left want more.

The PDF is nicely designed and it looks like a fun class to try out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Shaman - A New Take
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Class: Elven Cavalier
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 21:45:52

I have said before that someone out there picked up Dragon #114 and instead of fixating on the witch class like I did, they fixated on the Elven Cavalier. Well that person might be Christopher J. Ferguson.

The PDF is 5 pages and Pay What You Want. The first thing I notice is that the art is largely taken from The Hobbit movies. I am not sure what the rules are at DMSGuild, but I am still pretty sure this is a copyright violation.

The background makes it difficult to read in some places and some of the font choices also don't help. The class is a fairly good replication of the 1st Ed AD&D class from Dragon #114.

From a D&D 5 perspective, I am not sure where this class is supposed to live. It does not seem to be part of the core classes where variants are built like sub-classes. This could have been a sub-class of the Paladin or Fighter for example.

It's too bad really, I was hoping for more.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Class: Elven Cavalier
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D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 22:39:37

Christmas 1981 will forever go down in my memory as the one where everything changed. I was in Junior High and had been playing D&D for a about two years, off and on. I had read the Monster Manual and I had a copy, badly xeroxed, of the Holmes Basic set. Christmas though was the turning point. I got two box sets that year; the Ballantine Books boxed set of Lord of the Rings and the "magenta" Basic Set. Inside was finally my own book, not a copy of someone else's book. I had my own dice (finally!) and a complete adventure. I devoured that book. Cover to cover. Every page was read and read over and over.

A lot of people talk about "the Red Box". My Red Box was magenta and had Erol Otis on the cover. For me this was the start of what became "my" D&D. Not someone else's game, but my own.

In 1981 I felt fairly proficient D&D. But with Holmes D&D I always felt like there was something I was missing. I only learned later of the "Little Brown Books" and how "Basic" actually came about.

The Moldvay Basic set had almost everything I ever needed for a game. Plenty of classes and races. More monsters than I expected (it had dragons!!) and what then felt like tons of spells. I made dozens of characters, some that saw actual game play, but I didn't care, for me it was the joy of endless possibilities. And that was just in the first couple of dozen pages.

Everything I know about exploring a dungeon, checking for traps, carrying holy water and 10' pole began here. I learned that ghouls can cause paralysis (unless you were an elf!) and that zombies always attacked last in the round. I learned Thouls were a magical cross-breed between a hobgoblin troll and ghoul. No I still have no idea how they are made. I got to meet Morgan Ironwolf herself. There was a sample adventure in the book, but I never really looked over. I don't think anyone did. It was called the Haunted Keep by the way.

This magenta colored box with strange art on the cover also had other prizes. There inside was my first set of real D&D dice. No more raiding board games for six-siders, though I learned that they were properly called "d6s". I had a set of blue dice with a white crayon to color them in. They are not great dice, even then I knew. But they were mine and that is all that mattered.

I want to pause here a second and come back to that art. Lets look at the cover again. A woman casting a spell, a man with a spear. Fighting some sort of water dragon (that didn't even appear in the rules!). But look how awesome it is. Do you need to know anything else? No. They are fighting a dragon! That box is the reason so many gamers fell in love with the art of Erol Otis. Inside are some equally important names; Jeff Dee, James Roslof, David LaForce and Bill Willingham. They gave this D&D a look that was different than AD&D. I love that art in AD&D, but in this book that art was just so...timeless. It was D&D.

In that box was also the Keep on Borderlands. I don't think I need to go into detail there. We have all been to the keep. We have all taken that ride out along the road that would take us to that Caves of Chaos. Nevermind that all these creatures, who should by all rights be attacking each other, never really did anything to me. They were there and they were "Chaotic" and we were "Lawful". That was all we needed to know back then.

The Moldvay Basic set was more than just an introductory set to D&D. It was an introduction to a hobby, a lifestyle. The rules were simply written and organized. They were not simple rules, and re-reading it today I marvel that we all conquered this stuff at age 10-11. It may have only covered the first 3 levels of character growth, but they were a quality 3.

I picked up the Expert Set for my birthday in 1982. Bought it myself, and for the longest time that was all I needed. Eventually I did move on to AD&D. I also discovered those Little Brown Books and even picked up my own real copy of Holmes Basic. I love those game and I love playing them still, but they never quite had the same magic as that first time of opening up that box and seeing what treasures were inside. I did not have to imagine how my characters felt when they had discovered some long lost treasure. I knew.

Today I still go back to Tom Moldvay's classic Basic book. It is my yardstick on how I measure any OSR game. Almost everything I need it right there. Just waiting for me.

Time to roll up some characters and play.

64 pages plus cover. Marbleized dice and crayon not included.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
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DMR2 Creature Catalog (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 22:36:22

Now I have gone on and on (and on and on) about how pivotable the AD&D 1st Ed Monster Manual was to my life in RPGs. So much so that I would later pick up any monster book that came out. I loved AD&D and played it all throughout my High School days and beyond. But it was Basic D&D, in particular, the B/X flavor of D&D that was my favorite. I wanted a Monster Manual for that game. Eventually, TSR granted my wish.

The next Creature Catalog (DMR2) came out in 1993 for the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Most of the same monsters that appear in the Creature Catalog AC9 are here. In fact, a lot of the exact same art is used. The net difference is this book has 158 monsters. This book is the more customary 128 black & white pages with two, color covers. The monsters in this version are all listed alphabetically. This is also a much better scan and a print option is also available.

This book was designed for the Rules Cyclopedia and not BECMI the rules are 99% the same and thus both this and AC9 can be used interchangeably. DRM2 Creature Catalog came out at the same time as the AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Compendiums so the layout and style reflects that. The color trim here is red instead of blue.

This PDF does bookmark every monster entry and since all monsters are listed together it is easier to find what you want here. Missing though is some of the advice in the earlier AC9 version.

But like the AC9 version, this is a fantastic book to use with your classic games or retro-clones of them.

In both books you won't find demons or devils since they were not part of the D&D world of Mystara, but that is not a big deal. For me, the loss is nothing compared the amount of undead both books have. Some of my favorite undead monsters to use to this very day made their appearances in these books. Elder Ghouls, Death Leaches, Dark Hoods, Grey Philosophers and Velyas still rank among my favorites.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DMR2 Creature Catalog (Basic)
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AC9: D&D Creature Catalogue (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 22:35:34

Now I have gone on and on (and on and on) about how pivotable the AD&D 1st Ed Monster Manual was to my life in RPGs. So much so that I would later pick up any monster book that came out. I loved AD&D and played it all throughout my High School days and beyond. But it was Basic D&D, in particular, the B/X flavor of D&D that was my favorite. I wanted a Monster Manual for that game. Eventually, TSR granted my wish. The Creature Catalog (AC9), came out in 1986 and was produced in conjunction with TSR UK and it would be one of the last books to do so. It shared a name with a series in Dragon Magazine (Issues #89 and #94), which led to some confusion on my part, but that was soon displaced. A bit of a background story. My then AD&D DM had grabbed this and let me borrow it. He knew I was a fan of D&D (Basic) and a fan of undead monsters, of which this had a lot of. I immediately started pouring over the book and loved all the new creatures in it and new versions of some that I considered "classic" by then. For example, the Umber Hulk (MM1) and the Hook Horror (FF) now shared an entry under "Hook Beast" and the Umber Hulk was now called a "Hulker". Given the time I just decided it was obviously the same beast and just called that in my version of Mystara and my DM kept Umber Hulk for his version of Greyhawk. Simple. Grabbing the PDF a while back I was hit by all these memories of flipping through the book and that sense of wonder came back. Monsters that I had used in games and have since forgotten about came rushing back to me. The PDF is a scan of the original book, so the quality is not 100%, more like 80% really. BUT that is not a reason not to get it. The text is still clear and the pictures, while not high-res are still legible. If nothing else the "imperfections" of the scan match my imperfect memory of the book. So point 1 for nostalgia purchase. The book itself is 96 black & white pages with color covers. There are about 150 monsters here (151 by my quick count). Some should be familiar to anyone that has been playing for a while, but there are also plenty of new ones that reflect the differences in design tone between D&D and AD&D. This book is separated by (and bookmarked by in the pdf) sections. The sections are Animals, Conjurations (magically created creatures), Humanoids, Lowlife, Monsters, and Undead. There are a lot of fun monsters here, many have made it into later editions of D&D, in particular, the Mystara Monstrous Compendium. The index is very nice since it also covers all the monsters in the various BEMCI books for a complete picture of the monsterography of the mid-80s D&D. If you are playing old-school D&D or a retro-clone of the same then this is a great little treat really. The book also has guidelines on where to put monsters and how to make alterations to the monster listing for a different creature. In fact a lot of what I have seen on some blogs and forums over the last couple years about how to "play monsters" has been better stated here. Yet more evidence that there is really nothing new out there. That and people don't read the classics anymore!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
AC9: D&D Creature Catalogue (Basic)
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Cha'alt
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2019 19:33:55

Full review is here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/09/deserts-of-desolation-death-more.html

Venger Satanis sent me a copy of his latest publication in exchange for a fair review, but it was on on my radar anyway. There are a few reviews ok for it now, so I am going to gloss over some of the "reviewy" bits in favor of how I am planning on using it.

Cha'alt is 218 pages, full color, desert-themed adventure in Venger's normal gonzo style. The rules are his O5R system which is a mix of OSR and 5e, so it works with just about any game. There is a "Campaign Map" of sorts with twelve areas, but only a few of them are heavily detailed. The campaign map and the sandbox nature of this adventure gave me a few ideas for use in my own desert-themed games, so that made the review worth it to be honest, but there is a lot more here than just that.

Like all of Venger's books there is a high-quality production value here. He is not afraid to spend the money to get high-quality artists and layout. Also, true to his style, there are plenty, ok LOTS, of tongue in cheek pop-culture references throughout the book. Ranging from 80s nostalgia to yesterday's internet humor.

The adventure is gonzo as I mentioned, so there is a fair bit of science-fantasy thrown in for good measure. Enough that is t makes me think it too is also a good fir for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The levels are more in line with AS&SH than my current campaign, but that is fine. Though in either case, I'll need to figure out what to do about the giant sandworms, spider droids, and hunter-killer robots.

In true old-school fashion, there are plenty of random tables and charts. Advice for surviving in the desert and plenty of new monsters.

The Black Pyramid The biggest feature of this book is the Black Pyramid. The obvious inspiration for this portion is the venerable Lost City, but again through a darker, slightly warped lens. As with the rest of the book, this section is full self-referential humor and nods. So of it works, some of it doesn't. Adventure-wise the pyramid is full of eldritch weirdness. At 111 rooms not all of them are great, but there is enough here to keep the players all busy and adventurers entertained.

There is a lot of fun to had with Cha'alt. I have quite a lot of ideas of things to do with it, none of which are as it was designed. Still, there is a lot of material here and plenty of ideas. For me, I am likely to remove many of the sci-fi elements if I run this as part of a campaign, or at least tone them down if I run it using AS&SH.

If you are familiar with Venger's work then you will find more of this here though this might be his best looking work to date.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cha'alt
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BLUEHOLME™ Prentice Rules
Publisher: Dreamscape Design
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2019 15:14:30

Full review posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/07/review-blueholme-journeymanne-and.html

The Blueholme Prentice Rules came out first as a preview of the Journeymanne rules. These rules cover the basic rules as the Journeymanne rules, save only to level 3. In this respect it is actually closer to the Holmes set than the maine (manne?) rules.

In character creation, the choices of Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are given. The same basic four classes of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief are here.

From here the Prentice rules parallel the Journeymanne rules, there is just less of them. This is a truly Basic set of rules with everything to get you started for the price of dice.

The Prentice Rules has the same cover art, albeit in a monochrome format (not unlike Holmes) and features Public Domain art inside from Henry J. Ford. Now personally I LOVE the art. These old images from old fairy tales really sets the mood for me and gives this game a different feel.

Bluehlome Prentice Rules are a perfect solution for someone wanting to get into an Old School game and does not know where to start or what to do, and maybe not spend a lot of money upfront. For a PWYW PDF and print copies under $6, it has replaced Basic Fantasy as my OSR game of choice to hand out to people I want to introduce to old-school play.

Blueholme is a great addition to the vast and growing library of OSR games. It might be one of my favorites, to be honest.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BLUEHOLME™ Prentice Rules
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BLUEHOLME™ Journeymanne Rules
Publisher: Dreamscape Design
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/25/2019 15:13:47

Full review posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/07/review-blueholme-journeymanne-and.html

Blueholme is a retro-clone / what-if of the first Basic Set edited by John Eric Holmes. Sometimes called "Blue Box Basic" or "Blue Book Basic". At 118 pages it is a complete game. If that sounds light, then you are right! Blueholme is a "rules" light old-school game much in the same way that Holmes was. Don't let it's light-weight dissuade you. This is a feature, not a bug. On the surface, the Blueholme Journeymanne Rules (BJR) looks like any other retro-clone in the OSR. Once you dig into it you will see the differences are from the source materials.

Foreward. We start with a foreward (not forward) from Chris Holmes, the son of John Eric Holmes and the reason why there was a Holmes Basic set to begin with. It gives these rules a bit of gravitas if you ask me.

Part 1: Introduction covers what you should expect to see in this book and the general tone of the book. Like everything else it is short, sweet and to the point.

Part 2: Characters deals with character creation. All game developers should have a look at these first two pages to see how the economy of words pays off. In the first two pages, we cover all the steps in creation. Rolling stats (3d6 in order), choosing a species (I prefer this over "race"), class, and everything else. The six ability scores are covered and what they do. SURPRISE they do much less here than in other OSR games. Essentially these are the means to get a bonus when leveling. Eg. Strength provides no bonuses in combat. Constitution does aid in hp it points, Intelligence still helps in learning languages. But that is about it really. Only Dexterity helps to hit and then only + or - 1. Dexterity is central to combat, but more on that later. For species, there is nothing specific listed outside of humans. For anything else have a look in the Monster section and pick something! Want an elf, dwarf or orc? Go ahead! Goblin? Yes! Dragon? sure, work it out with your GM. Black Pudding? Sure...work it out with your GM. It is very much the way the original D&D and Holmes D&D games worked. Classes are the basic four; Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief. Fighters do not get more attacks as they level up, but can cause more damage. There are rules on Combination Classes or what we also call Multiclassing. If your base creature type has more HD then there is a table of adjustments. Alignment is broken down to just five, Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, True Neutral, Chaotic Evil and Lawful Evil. Coin and Equipment is next. Note that all weapons do 1d6 points of damage per hit as per the OD&D and Holmes BD&D rules.

Part 3: Spells covers all the spells that can be cast by Clerics (1 to 7 spell level) and Magic-Users (1 to 9 spell levels). These are not huge lists and some spells are different than other books representations of them. Make sure you read before you assume a spell does what you think it does.

Part 4: Adventures covers just that, what the characters do and where they do it. This section is very reminiscent of the similar sections in both Holmes and Moldvay Basic. The breadth of the information is wide, but the depth is low since it depends on the Game Master to make calls on what is happening in certain situations.

Part 5: Encounters would be called Combat in other books, but the name change fits. We start with lots of tables of monster encounters at various levels and various locales. Combat, damage, and healing are also covered. The initiative is determined by Dexterity score. If there is a tie then a 1d6 is rolled with highest going first. AC is descending with an AC of 9 meaning unarmored. We get tables of attack matrices and saving throws too.

Part 6: Creatures deals with all the creatures you can encounter as friend or foes. There are plenty here and brevity is the key. For example, Demon gets a single entry and some tables to determine what it looks like. You can also choose your character specifies from these entries. All the usual suspects are here. I in particular like the "pumpkin-headed" bugbear; a nod to the OD&D rules. There are a lot of Lovecraftian monsters here as well. They are the ones credited for creating the vast "Underground" where the adventurers find their fortunes. There are also plenty of "Appendix N" style creatures like intelligent apes and monsters out of Pellucidar and of course dragons and dinosaurs and undead.

Part 7: Treasure has both individual and hoard types with plenty of magic, and cursed items.

Part 8: Campaigns is a guide for Game Masters. We end with a character sheet and a solid index. The PDF is bookmarked, but the Table of Contents and Index are not hyperlinked (minor thing really).

The book is well laid out and easy to read. The art is all new and works fantastic with the book. Solid old-school feel to it., if slightly better than what we actually had back then. It reminded me more of Moldvay era art than Holmes, but that is fine really.

Blueholme is a great addition to the vast and growing library of OSR games. It might be one of my favorites, to be honest.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
BLUEHOLME™ Journeymanne Rules
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5th Edition Role Playing -- Mystical Companions
Publisher: Troll Lord Games
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/01/2019 20:55:23

Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/07/monstrous-monday-mystical-companions-5e.html

208 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. PDF and Hardcover. For this review, I am reading primarily from the digital PDF version, but it applies to the hardcover as well. I purchased both the 5e and C&C versions at Gary Con and received my PDFs via Kickstarter. Spend any time reading my blog or reviews and one thing is obvious. I love my spellcasters and familiars. I have often felt the rules for familiars are quite under-developed in many games and familiars, or animal companions of any sort, are often an under-utilized or a forgotten aspect of the game and lives of the characters. So far every 5th Edition game I have run the players have wanted an animal companion of some sort. While the rules in the game are fine enough, there is plenty of room for improvement. Thankfully, the Troll Lords believe the same thing. I have mentioned that this book is an update and replacement to their Book of Familiars, it is, and it is more than that.

A quick look over the table of contents reveals that we are getting an animal companion for every class. I feel that this appropriate and looking forward to reading the details. Now before I go on I do want to point out that unlike some third-party books this one is NOT "plug and play". You must make plans to add these animal companions from the start. In one game I tried to tack on these rules in an on-going game and ran into some issues. In another game, I used this from the start and everything went much more smoothly. I guess think about it as getting a real-life pet. You are going to do a little work and thought beforehand. Once I did this THEN adding these to an ongoing game was much easier. This is NOT like adding a new spell or magic item to your game, this is a new, but highly compatible sub-system.

Chapter 1: Introduction Here the purpose of the book is laid out and how the authors made certain decisions on how to incorporate this new material into the game. There is a section here that bares repeating since I have heard this complaint online. A WORD OF EXPLANATION: This book requires that you have access to the three core rulebooks for the 5th edition rules, or at very least to the Basic Rules document that is freely available online. Throughout this book, we have used the terms ‘CK,’ and “Castle Keeper” to indicate the game master or person running the game, and ‘player character’ or ‘PC’ to refer to the characters created for the game. In addition, when you see terms like, “Game Master’s Guide” or “5th Edition Monster Tome,” these refer to the Core Rulebooks for the 5th Edition fantasy rules set. So if you see "CK" or "Castle Keeper" in this book, it's not shoddy editing, but a design choice. Hey, they like CK better than GM. And since they can't say DM then CK is just as good as anything else. There are rules to what an OGL publisher can and can't say, so I can't fault them here.

Here the other sub-systems are described. Advantages. Advantages are Feats. They are gained the same way and used, mostly, in the same way. The difference in wording here (at least for me) helps differentiate the "feats" from this book from all the other feats you can get in the Core rules or other publishers. In play, this has been a boon since I know immediately that an Advantage on a sheet means something from this book and not another book on my shelf.
Paths. Time has been kind to Troll Lords here. When this book first came out in 2017 not a lot of 3P publishers were doing paths yet and there was some confusion about what these were. Now everyone has a new path (read: sub-class, kit, path, option) for the 12 core classes. These CAN slot right into a game like anything else from any 3PP. Tricks. Things your animal companion can do. Rituals. How you can get your animal companion. I mean there has to be some magic right? New Familiars and Animals. Kinda what it says on the tin to be honest.

Animal Companion vs. Familiar. While rules in the book cover book and treat them somewhat interchangeably an Animal Companion is more like a loyal pet or friend. A Familiar is a creature summoned to work with the PC. Animal Companions are free willed, familiars are not.

Chapter 1 also covers the basics of familiars. A point. A familiar/Animal companion "character" sheet would be GREAT here, but there isn't one. Ah well, can have everything I guess.

The list of Advantages (again, these are just like Feats) are presented. There are more here and some might complain about giving up a Feat or Ability advancement for a Familiar, but these are all quite balanced in my experience. You give up one "power" (feat, advancement) for another. Quite implicit in 5th Edition's design really. Not only that it is actually quite elegant once you use it.

The best part about this? You can take the Summon Familiar Advantage/Feat multiple times (Wizards get it for free at first level) so you can have multiple familiars. I don't do multiple familiars often, but when I do, I really want to do it. Though my son runs a game with this book and he describes the group of PCs and their companions as a "traveling zoo". One girl even has a sheep as an animal companion. Why? No idea. But this book supports it.

Another great piece of advice from Chapter 1 bears repeating (coping) here. Give yourself a visual reminder of your familiar’s presence. Write “REMEMBER THE FAMILIAR” to a Post-It note and stick it to the table in front of you. Or make it a point to buy and use a miniature for your familiar. Good advice. I am a fan of the Wardlings minis from WizKids or getting a custom mini with a familiar from Hero Forge.

Chapters 2 through 13 all work in a similar fashion. Each core class is covered with attention given to special Animal Companions, Familiars or Mounts as appropriate. Different animals are discussed and a new Path is given that focuses on having an animal companion.

For example, the Barbarian (the last class you might think needs a familiar) has the Nature Fetish Path and the Horseman Path (Dothraki anyone?) The Barbarian chapter is quite good really in that it really shows that animals really do need to be a bigger part of a barbarians' (and all characters) lives. Reading this chapter has made me want to play a barbarian for the first time EVER since they became an option to me in 1985-1986 or so. No content just to talk about familiars and paths, the barbarian chapter also covers special mounts.

The other chapters are as equally robust. There are sections on the Paladin's mount and Ranger's companions but also familiars for rogues and clerics and others that you might not think need animal companions. I particularly like the Rogue's path, the Shadow Pact. How's that work? Well, Rogues can take creatures of shadow as familiars! Tell me that is not cool.

As expected the familiars of the Sorcerer, Warlock and Wizard are ALL very, very different from each other and really reflect what the classes do now. Back in the 3e days Wizards and Sorcerer wre 100% interchangeable in terms of role. The differences were largely fluff. Since 4e this is less true and now in 5e they are very different sorts of classes. In 4e Sorcerers and Warlocks filled similar roles. Again in 5e they are very different. This book reflects the new 5e differences. Naturally there can be overlap. The chapter on Wizards talks about how the Wizard rituals can be used by sorcerers for example.

Appendix A: Familiars and Companions. This covers the familiars and "normal" animals in 5e Stat blocks. Appendix B: New Monsters. New monsters. Appendix C: New Spells. New spells, as expected. Likewise, Appendix D: New Magic Items and Artifacts.

Appendix E though is something different. This covers Dragon Riders. While many of the same rules are used here as for familiars this takes them to a new place and should be considered optional. This is the Appendix/Chapter that my son grabbed this book from me for, BUT he opted not use their Dragon Riders but kept the book anyway for everything else.

A Dragon Rider is a Path that can be added to any class, but some have more use for it than others. If the idea of PC Dragon Riders concerns you, then keep in mind it is being sold as "optional". And also Dragon Riders of some form or another have been around since the dawn of the game. If it is something you want, then there is plenty here for you to use. If I ever ran a Magic School game with this then Dragon Riders would be included.

We end with a robust index and the OGL section.

A note about art. There is not as much in this book as other Troll Lord books, but what is here is from the fabulous Peter Bradley and Jason Walton, who also gives us the cover art.

Your results may vary, but this book has quickly gone from a neat oddity to one of our must-have books for my 5e games. My son uses it in the games he has run so much that I have not seen the book in months since it is now in with all of his books.

Do you need this book? I say yes, but only if you are adding animals of any sort to your game, be they pets, familiars, mounts, companions or all the way up to Dragon Riders. This is one of my 3PP books for 5e. One of the best really.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
5th Edition Role Playing -- Mystical Companions
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Temple of the Harpies
Publisher: Aegis Studios
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2019 13:41:28

PDF. 14 pages, color cover, b&w interior, two maps

This adventure is a pretty straightforward affair that can be run in a long afternoon. Designed for four to six characters of 2nd to 3rd level, the character must retrieve a missing child, defeat harpies, kobolds, and an ancient curse and not awaken an army of undead. Suitable for any OSR game or really any d20 based fantasy game with tweaks. This one also includes some new monsters, which I always like.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Temple of the Harpies
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Thanks so much for the review! Glad to hear you've enjoyed Temple of the Harpies!
Odysseys & Overlords Player's Guide
Publisher: Aegis Studios
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2019 13:40:28

PDF. 56 pages, color cover, b&w interior.

The Player's guide has what you should expect a Player's Guide to have. Here you get a bit of background on the campaign world of the O&O game. It's fine, as far as these things go, but I have no emotional investment in it. It does help situate some of the game-design choices and that is nice. Still, I see a campaign guide or gazetteer sometime in the future. Since this is a Basic-era OSR game based on Basic Fantasy races and classes are separate. With this, we get some new races, called genus in this book (a more apt name really). We get Abyss-kissed, which are like other games' Tieflings though more in-line with this game's mythos. Spellscorched, which cover the same niche as elves only here children of the gods. Wild folk, humanoids with animal traits and blood. And garden variety humans. No elves, dwarves or halflings here and that is great by me! (Note: they also do not appear in the Monsters section of the Game Master's book)

Classes include the favorites of Clerics, Fighters, Magic-users and Thieves and also adds another take on the Bard class. Might need to give that one a try sometime. Bards do not have spells but do have songs they can learn for different in-game effects.

Additionally, there is a section on equipment. I'll be honest, I don't pay much attention to equipment lists anymore. I have so many games with so much equipment that if I need to find something I am sure I have it OR I can just make it up on the spot.

Spells follow next. Spells for both clerics and magic-users only go to 6th level. Personally, I still like my magic-users to have more spellcasting power than clerics and would have liked to see magic-user spells go to at least 7th level. All the expected suspects are here.

We get some adventuring rules and finally some combat rules.

The layout and art is really good and has a solid old-school feel. The book just looks nice and fills you with all sorts of old-school nostalgia. I do wish the book though offered some more new unique classes to go along with the new unique races. A little more on the world background as it applies to the characters would also have been nice.

There is a character sheet at the end of the book. You can also get the character sheet for free.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Odysseys & Overlords Player's Guide
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