Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells - Rules-light fantasy roleplay

Although I have more reviews in the queue from both Olde House Rules and Trollish Delver, I thought I'd shine my light on something from another publisher for the moment. That something is Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells from Old Skull Publishing.

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells is a rules-light fantasy roleplaying game that marries tried and true design of decades past with inspiration coming from such places as Dungeons & Dragons and The Black Hack, both popular games in their own right. What Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells offers is a kind of middle ground between such games - it is more robust than The Black Hack, for example, while being far more concise and compact than the current edition of D&D. Is there a market for this kind of product? For me, yes, there absolutely is. I love D&D in most of its incarnations and I like (and own) a great many OSR games, but I've often felt overwhelmed when running many editions of D&D RAW (i.e., rules as writt…

Who I am, What I do (or why this blog exists)

Since somebody asked elsewhere, I'm laying out the (current) reason for this blog's existence here.

My name is James D. Hargrove. I'm a former professional RPG reviewer. For more than a decade, people compensated me to review roleplaying products, usually in the form of free merch. I did this for many different publishers, a few different web sites, and even a 'zine. I quit doing this for a couple of reasons.

First, with a few notable exceptions, I found that the people or companies compensating me wanted reviews entirely devoid of criticism because they compensated me (and felt that doing so entitled them to ad copy, as opposed to an actual review). I always made it clear up front that what I would deliver would be an honest review, not ad copy. And this was fine. Until it wasn't. The number of publishers who refused to accept even constructive criticism was absolutely maddening and resulted in my stress level spiking several times a month as I found myself dealin…

Tatzelwurm - Retro roleplay via 1980s Germany

A couple of weeks ago, a small-press game called Tatzelwurm found its way into my RPGNow shopping cart. I'm very glad that it did. I'm always on the lookout for light, inventive, takes on classic fantasy roleplaying and Tatzelwurm definitely fits the bill. Taking inspiration from the homebrew rules of the designer's youth spent in Germany's fledgling roleplaying community during the 1980s and the earliest edition of Germany's most popular fantasy RPG, as well as Blood of Pangea from Olde House Rules, Tatzelwurm is a real gem of a game.

First off, the physical - well, digital - thing is very pleasing. Weighing in at 60 pages, Tatzelwurm embraces the old-school, small press, aesthetic by using public domain art to evoke that DIY feel. That said, the art used in Tatzelwurm is incredibly consistent in presentation, despite being culled from the public domain. Additionally, the use of an uncluttered single column layout, blocked out text boxes for optional rules, and la…

Diceless Dungeons - Fun, intuitive, diceless dunegon-delving from Olde House Rules

I picked up a copy of Diceless Dungeons a while back and just recently got around to reading it. It's pretty clever. In terms of genre, Diceless Dungeons occupies a middle ground somewhere between D&D-ish high fantasy and historical fantasy in terms of the genre tropes it caters to (e.g., the majority of magic tends to be of a less powerful sort with roots in Earth's history, although three types of "high sorcery" do exist). It's definitely not straight-up kitchen sink fantasy as is so common in our hobby, but it's also not humdrum historical roleplay devoid of magic. And, hey, dungeons!

Creating a character in Diceless Dungeons is a simple matter of picking three talents from a list that help define what your character is good at. Is your character a Linguist? Are they Mighty? How about Nocturnal? All of the talents that you can pick from grant your character some kind of advantage in actual play. After you have chosen your talents, you just need to jot …

Wired Neon Cities - Minimalist Cyberpunk Roleplaying

I've just downloaded Wired Neon Cities, a Pay What You Want offering from Trollish Delver Games over at RPGNow and am very impressed.

Wired Neon Cities packs a lot of game play potential into three pages (the PDF is six pages long but one of those pages is the cover, one of those pages is the character sheet, and one of those pages is blank). It includes complete character generation rules, basic and advanced combat rules, simple rules for hacking, a catalog of cyber-ware augmentations, a brief list of NPCs, and even character advancement rules.

Character generation is built around assigning numbers to attributes and choosing a classic cyberpunk archetype (e.g., Hacker) to represent your character, while combat and other action is resolved by rolling tests against those attributes on 1d6 (aiming to score equal to or greater than the attribute rating). Said tests can, of course, be modified (by either difficulty or cyber-ware augmentation).

Character advancement is similarly simple…

Delta Green's Need to Know

Over the weekend I was gifted with extra monies. I used them to pick up a few goodies, some of which were old school RPGs, but those aren't the ones I want to blog about right now. Right now I want to blog about the new-ish Delta Green quick start booklet, Need to Know. Because holy shit this thing is awesome! 

I'm a fan of Delta Green from way back, having first discovered it in the mid 90s. It was, in fact, my gateway into Call of Cthulhu. Now, roughly 20 years later, Delta Green has returned in a big way - as a standalone RPG (though still with its roots in CoC). And Need to Know is a phenomenal introduction.

Need to Know lays out all of the necessary rules for character creation, combat, sanity, and an introductory adventure that is pretty open-ended in terms of using it to kick off an ongoing campaign. Additionally, it includes a number of pre-generated characters that you can use to run that adventure with very little setup (perfect for use at conventions).

The included …

Desperate & Hungry: My love letter to OD&D (1974)

I wrote a thing a little while back, a love letter to OD&D (1974). It's available for free (Pay What You Want) over at RPGNow. It's not particularly revolutionary; it just presents the culmination of my house rules for OD&D (1974). The sole exception is the wealth system that I engineered especially for this release of the rules. In the near future, I plan to release a free supplement introducing more character races/classes and a few simple adventures.