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Saturday, September 21, 2013

And now for something completely different....

About a month ago, I was in the market for a low budget second laptop and decided to hit up the used market, as I'm currently pretty cash poor. I ended up picking up a Aluminum PowerBook G4 for about $150 on ebay - complete with the original box, all of the manuals, OS restore DVDs, and various adapters for video out and such. As I've seen similar units with just the laptop (and not any of the other materials) selling for $200-ish, I figured that I scored a pretty good deal with a few caveats. Notably, I knew going in that this older laptop (1GHz processor and 1GHz of RAM) wasn't going to stream video very well and being an Apple product, it wasn't going to let me view very much Flash-based content. Which brings me to why I'm writing this post.

What I initially thought of as limitations ended up only being barriers to bad Internet habits and, as a result, I've been more productive with my Internet usage this month. First off, I'm not able to sink huge amounts of time into Facebook games (because most of them are Flash-based and not supported by Leopard). I'm still able to use Facebook, though - for communicating with others; its original intended purpose. Likewise, I'm not streaming hours of YouTube video to rot my brain (although this little G4 does handle YouTube better than I thought it would, initially). The result has been that I've been spending less time with distractions like cute cat videos or pointless games and more time posting to forums, emailing folks, and generally just being more productive.

I will probably end up using this laptop as my primary electronic game aid for tabletop gaming (I've loaded up my PDF library and MP3 library) as I intended when I bought, but I may also end up using it as my primary Internet machine - which I in no way intended to do when I bought it. So, I guess the upshot is, if you can snag one of these older PowerBooks for a decent price, you might want to consider doing so. I ended up getting a lot of value for my money.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Usherwood Publishing's OSRIC SRD and OSRIC Expansion (Review-ish)

If you're a fan of OSRIC and aren't already aware of Usherwood Publishing's products, you should be. Usherwood is putting out some seriously high quality content that is made to be used, rather than merely fawned over. Herein, I take a brief look at their print on demand paperback OSRIC Pocket SRD and print on demand hardcover (black and white) Usherwood Adventures Expansion for OSRIC (2nd Edition).

Usherwood's OSRIC Pocket SRD is, as one might expect, a re-packaging of Open Game Content from the original OSRIC into a smaller physical format. Due to the smaller format, the price point of the OSRIC Pocket SRD is considerably lower than that of the full-blown OSRIC 2.2 hardcover and a wee bit cheaper than the OSRIC 2.2 softcover. If you have a lot of players that want to get into OSRIC and want a physical book (as opposed to a PDF*), but also want to pinch pennies, then this is the product for them.

The physical construction of Usherwood's OSRIC Pocket SRD is very good, although I've found RPGNow's POD products to be of high quality in general. Truth be told, I've pretty much abandoned Lulu for POD products due to a combination of insane shipping fees and spotty production values. So.... this is really more a valuation of RPGNow, rather than Usherwood - and RPGNow gets it right. My copies (I ordered two) of Usherwood's OSRIC Pocket SRD show no binding defects and seem to be very sturdy upon repeated handling.

Finally, this may sound a petty, but I far prefer the cover art of Usherwood's OSRIC Pocket SRD to that of the full-blown OSRIC 2.2. rule books. The new cover art simply seems to be of a higher quality (personal taste is, of course, subjective) and it really drew me to the product.

Ultimately, for me, the POD softcover of Usherwood's OSRIC Pocket SRD was a good investment and, when I start up my OSRIC campaign, it is probably the iteration of the core rules that I'll direct my players to if they want to buy their own copies.

I also ordered a copy of Usherwood Publishing's Usherwood Adventures Expansion for OSRIC (hereafter referred to as the "Expansion" for simplicity's sake), a setting-specific tome of rules designed to bring the Usherwood Adventures Setting to life on the table top.

First off, I'd like to say that I was almost certain this product was mis-priced. A sticker price of $13.99 for a 122-page hardcover book - even if presented in black and white - is ridiculously cheap in this day and age of $100 hardcover RPG books. I was pleased to find out that it was I who was mistaken. If you're looking for optional OSRIC content, the Expansion is a good deal based on price alone. Of course, price is likely only one consideration on the table when you're deciding how to spend your hard-earned dollars.

Starting off, the first chapter of the Expansion offers up a small selection of new races for use in your OSRIC campaigns: Dragon Hordlings, Goblineqsue Half-Orcs, Orgre Half-Orcs, and Sarngoch.

Dragon Hordlings are a race of magical half-breed creatures created by evil dragons, the two varieties of half-orcs are offered as subtle variations on the existent OSRIC half-orc, and Sarngoch are human-like folk who are imbued with magical ability by way of blood (and can therefore cast spells by birthright).

Each of the races in the Expansion is thoroughly detailed and ready to use out of the box. One thing that I often see in third party setting products is a tendency for the authors to go hog wild when it comes to introducing new races. I'm happy to see that the Expansion doesn't do this but, instead, keeps the options for PC races down to a manageable number. This is definitely a point in favor of the Expansion, as I view things.

Next up, Chapter 2 of the Expansion offers a variety of optional classes and sub-types for use in your OSRIC campaigns: the Jack-Of-All-Trades, the Vermean Bard (including many sub-types), and the Vermean Monk.

The most detailed and flexible of these classes is the Jack-Of-All-Trades class, a kind of 'meta-class' that can combine the abilities of other classes in the game to create something anew. I have a hard time thinking that any two Jack-Of-All-Trades characters would be the same due to the scope of customization choices made possible by the rules. My only worry is that it seems possible the Jack-Of-All-Trades class may allow characters to become a little too powerful. There are checks and balances built into the class, but without actually playing it (which I have not) I cannot, in good faith, say whether they work as intended or not.

While the Jack-Of-All-Trades class is the most detailed and flexible new class offered in the Expansion, the Vermean Bard comes in no less than seven varieties, each a specialized application of "bard". If you love bards and missed them in bog standard OSRIC, then Usherwood's Expansion is definitely for you. It has thiefy bards, priesty bards, druidy bards, fighty bards, artsy bards, and two different types of arcane spell casty bards (one corresponding to basic Magic Users and the other to Illusionists). In short, if you like bards, the Expansion has you covered in pretty much every conceivable way.

Finally, the Vermean Monk is essentially a re-imagining of the Monk core class from AD&D 1e, introducing that content into OSRIC. This is important for two types of people: fans of the Monk class in AD&D 1e who were disappointed to find it missing from the core OSRIC rules and publishers who want a tested monk class to use in their own OSRIC products (the Vermean Monk is declared OGC by the Expansion's publisher, James Kramer). As a big fan of the original Monk class in AD&D 1e, I'm excited to see the concept make a comeback, both as a faithful reproduction and as a publisher resource.

The following chapter of the Expansion includes 48 monsters for OSRIC, some new and some re-imagined from original source material. Taken with those presented in the OSRIC 2.2 core book or the OSRIC Pocket SRD, these monsters add spice to the GM's repertoire, ensuring that it won't get stale any time soon and will allow him keep jaded players on their toes. Without giving a creature by creature breakdown, you can expect things like: Aquatic Trolls, Giant Frost Frogs, Mineral Dragons, and Tentacle Golems. There is a lot of original material here, and the industrious GM should have no problem finding a use for it in their own OSRIC campaigns, either based in the official Usherwood Adventures setting or otherwise.

Chapter 4 of the Expansion is all about magic, offering both spells and magic items unique to the Usherwood Adventures setting (but suitable for use in any campaign). Of specific interest to me were spells such as "Entrails" for the Cleric class, that allows the Cleric to turn her own intestines into snake-like appendages that can be used to attack other characters, and magic items like the Mace of Curses, which can be used to place curses upon targets that it strikes (as the name implies, I suppose). This is the second shortest chapter of the Expansion, but it brings some interesting things to the table and shouldn't be overlooked.

The next chapter introduces psionics to the OSRIC rule set, building on a foundation of the original AD&D 1e psionic rules, but smoothing out the wrinkles and presenting them in a more coherent fashion. If you liked psionics in AD&D but always felt that they could've been handled better, then this chapter is for you. If you missed psionics in the OSRIC 2.2 core rules or OSRIC Pocket SRD, then this chapter is also for you. If you neither thought that the original AD&D 1e psionic rules were lacking or that you didn't miss such rules in your choice of OSRIC rule sets, then you can skip this chapter completely. Me? I fell into that first category.

The base chance of a character possessing psionic talents is 1%, which is modified slightly by ability scores (typically, only by a few percentage points). If a character is lucky enough to be granted such powers, the psionic system in the Expansion works via a point-based economy, where points are spent to fuel psychic talents. While the source material also used a point-based economy, the Expansion's system presents a more evenly weighted pricing scheme, as well as a more balanced list of talents that both come together to form a system wherein talents are powerful but not easily abused.

There are two basic types of talents: combat-related powers and non-combat powers. Both how many of each talent a character possesses and the exact nature of those talents is determined randomly, using the justification that psionic talents are innate powers that a character is born with, not simple skills that they chose and studied. This suits me just fine and seems true to the nature of psionics in the Usherwood Adventures setting, which is as it should be.

Finally, an assortment of psi-using monsters is presented to harry the psonic-using character specifically, which I think is a fine foil for characters who possess extremely rare powers (great power comes at a price, which is a message that endorse as a GM).

Finally, the last chapter of the Expansion presents a few simple, optional, rules for use in your OSRIC campaigns: rules for characters with multiple personalities, rules for limb breakage, rules for attribute (i.e., ability) checks, and tables for rolling up unique properties for magic items (primarily artifacts). You can take (or leave) all of these rules as you see fit and they're all extremely brief, so you're not going to shake up your game much either way. That said, I like the limb breakage rules and the rules for attribute checks myself (the latter bear a close resemblance to something I feel many of us have been doing via house rules for years). All in all, this small selection of brief optional rules was a pretty good way to round out the book.

As for physical production values - the production values of the Expansion were exceptional. Again, RPGNow really hit a home run when it came to printing and binding. The binding was nice and tight, the spine was perfectly straight (something hardcover Lulu spines tend to not be, in my experience), and the binding didn't "crack" when I was reading the book. All as it should be. I really cannot stress enough how much RPGNow has impressed me with its POD books.

In final analysis, the black and white POD hardcover version of the Usherwood Adventures Expansion for OSRIC is a phenomenal value for fans of the OSRIC core rules who feel they lacked a few things that made the original source material so compelling, as well as OSRIC fans simply looking to punch up their own campaigns with some new material. Is it a must buy? For the asking price? Definitely. I do not hesitate to recommend this tome to my fellow OSRIC fans.



*PDFs of both the original OSRIC rule set and Usherwood's Pocket SRD are free.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The next batch of review-ish material is in!

I've just received a small box of POD materials from RPGNow: Usherwood Publishing's pocket-sized OSRIC printing, a hardcover copy of the Usherwood Adventures Expansion for OSRIC, and Dan Buterbaugh's Sword & Board supplement for the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game. I'll need a little bit of time to digest them, but as soon as I do, I'll post my thoughts on each.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Darker Dungeons (Review-ish)

Okay, here's the deal. I purchased some printed hardcovers of Darker Dungeons from Lulu a while back with the intent to run a game and review them. I'm backing out of that arrangement. I don't like writing negative reviews and, at this time, I just can't say too many positive things about Darker Dungeons. I can say that it has fun, tongue-in-cheek, art that I like and that it reads like a lighter, less serious, old school D&D. That's the good. The bad is that it has a lot of errors. Like a whole lot. So many that I decided not to run the game and why, for now, this is about as in depth of a review as I am willing to write. I really regret shelling out for the hardcovers. I should have spent more time with the free PDF before spending my money. I might revisit it in the future. I hope that the author gives it a few more editing passes in the meantime.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Usherwood's Complete Bone Hilt Sword Campaign....

....will soon be mine! If UPS delivers on schedule, I should have my full color softcover copy of Usherwood Publishing's Complete Bone Hilt Sword Campaign by this time tomorrow! I'm pretty jazzed about this. The PDF is gorgeous and the campaign hits what tends to be the "sweet spot" for older editions of D&D, in my experience (low to mid levels). I look forward to running it (and probably reviewing it).

[Edit: Oooooo. It has come to light that shipping is a UPS/USPS collaboration. And, as usual, the USPS has managed to screw me. Hopefully my package will become un-lost and show up tomorrow.]

[Re-Edit: It has, in fact, arrived. I have not had time to peruse it yet, as July was a busy month for me.]

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Theorems & Thaumaturgy (Review-ish)

Like the previous review-ish thing, this one has been in the pipe for a while. Again, apologies for the long delay!

Review-ish Thing #2: Theorems & Thaumaturgy

Theorems & Thaumaturgy is Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion supplement by Gavin Norman, available for free as a PDF, a softcover book, or hardcover book via Lulu. Theorems & Thaumaturgy is a collection of new magic-using classes, variant classes, new magic tomes, new magic items, new monsters, and optional rules for magic in your Labyrinth Lord game. Despite the book being only 65 pages long, it's crammed with a whole lot of content. Also, it's worth noting that, despite being billed as a Labyrinth Lord supplement, most of the content is usable with pretty much any old school clone system without the need for complex conversion (indeed, depending upon your alternate clone of choice, much of it can be used as-is). So, what exactly does the book contain?

The first section of Theorems & Thaumaturgy is dedicated to new magic-using classes for use with the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion. The new magic-using classes are: Elementalist, Necromancer, and Vivimancer. The primary things that differentiates these classes from the base Magic-User are their custom spell lists, that only members of their respective class have access to. For example, a Necromancer has exclusive access to spells like Bind Spirit, Skeletal Army, and Steal Life Force. Elementalists and Vicimancers have exclusive access to similarly thematic spells related to their class. All too often I'm used to seeing different magic-using classes drawing from the exact same spell list, with the primary differences being class abilities, instead. I much prefer the approach that Theorems & Thaumaturgy has taken, as I think it produces more dynamic characters.

The second section of the book is dedicated to variant classes. These are, specifically, classes that already exist in Labyrinth Lord, but that have been adjusted in some way. The two variant classes are the Fey Elf and the Expanded Illusionist. The former is a dimensional shifting elf that is native to the "Fey Dimension" and makes extensive use of magic spells. Some new spells are offered for the Fey Elf, but the primary spell list is basically that of a re-worked Magic-User dubbed the "Sorcerer" that borrows spells primarily from the already existent spell lists in Labyrinth Lord. The latter variant class is just what it says on the tin - an expanded variant of the standard Labyrinth Lord Illusionist. This variant class consists wholly of new spells that can be used to compliment the existing spell list for Illusionists in Labyrinth Lord.

The third section of Theorems & Thaumaturgy is dedicated to specific magic tomes, each of which adds new spells to the game. This chapter is kind of a mixed bag, in my opinion. It has some perfectly serviceable tomes and corresponding spells, such as The Book of Deception, but it also has at least one tome and corresponding spell list that seem as though it can only be used to inflict grief on your fellow players and GM: The Book of Pranks. It reads like some kind of Kender spell collection and there is absolutely no way I would ever allow it into my game. On the other hand, if you're a fan of Kender-style absurdity, it might be right up your alley.

The final section of the book is a collection of appendices that contains.... well, everything else that I mention in the first paragraph of this review (as well as example lists of memorized spells for the new classes and a really kick-ass, all-encompassing, index). This material isn't especially remarkable, but is a nice way to round out the book. I particularly like the optional rules for magic-using classes, such as allowing them to detect magic at will (the reasoning being that it will still give low-level casters something "arcane" to do when their small selection of daily spells has been cast). I'm totally swiping that for my own games.

In conclusion, despite its slim page count, I feel that Theorems & Thaumaturgy offers a pretty good selection of exciting, new, rules that can be used to spice up pretty much any old school clone. I don't play Labyrinth Lord, as I mentioned in a previous review, but I'm still pretty jazzed about Gavin Norman's book and can't wait to use some Necromancers and Vivimancers in Darker Dungeons and Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ruins of the Undercity (Review-ish)

This has been a while in the making. I've been really slow about getting these review-ish things posted. Part of this is because I'm a Bi-Polar loon. Well, no, that's all of it, really. So, without further ado....

Review-ish Thing #1: Ruins of the Undercity

Ruins of the Undercity is a small form factor Labyrinth Lord supplement by Kabuki Kaiser available both as a PDF from RPGNow for $5.00 (US) or as a printed softcover book from Lulu for $9.90 (US). Ruins of the Undercity is essentially a love letter to Appendix A of the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (Random Dungeon Generation). It provides all of the tools that you will need to randomly generate the titular ruins of the Undercity, treasure tables (including rules for campaign-specific artifacts), and a healthy series of random encounter tables that heavily reference the Labyrinth Lord monster catalog (listing page numbers therein for reference). Now for my sole (and petty) criticism....

This latter thing makes using Ruins with systems other than Labyrinth Lord a little inconvenient but, to be fair, it is billed as a Labyrinth Lord accessory. This said, I wouldn't mind seeing a future printing of Ruins that includes basic stats for all of the creatures inline (things like HD and AC, which can easily be converted between the various old school clones with a bare minimum of mental math). Sure, this would boost the page count quite a bit, but it would also make Ruins a much more useful supplement for those of us using clones other than Labyrinth Lord. Worth noting is that some monsters specific to the Undercity setting are detailed in Ruins itself.

Rounding out Ruins are some basic rules and tables for wandering into the city of Cryptopolis that sits atop the Undercity (e.g., a shopping list, detailed rules for interacting with merchants, random city encounter tables). These aids taken with the Undercity generation tools do provide a basic framework for a solo dungeon-crawling campaign or can be used to randomly generate dungeons for use in a multi-player game (for the former, you'll want to roll up things on the fly to preserve suspense but, for the latter, I highly recommend generating a sizable chunk of your dungeon beforehand).

In conclusion, I feel that Ruins of the Undercity packs a lot of play potential into a relatively slim package. I don't personally play Labyrinth Lord (I currently plan on using it with Darker Dungeons and Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game), so I've had to put a little bit of extra work in to get the most out of Ruins of the Undercity, but it has been worth it. Ruins of the Undercity is a worthy successor to Appendix A and a fine product made available at reasonable prices.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review-ish things are forthcoming!

I've been holding off on review-ish-ing anything until my copy of Stealing Cthulhu arrived, because I wanted to group everything somewhat close together for the sake of organization. Well, said copy of Stealing Cthulhu arrived today and I have nothing but free time for the rest of the week to read RPG-related products, so look for the first batch of review-ish things to appear this coming weekend.

Edit: I should really learn not set deadlines for myself. Apologies for that. Review-ish things coming.... when they come. Hopefully not too long!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Loot!

My copies of Kabuki Kaiser's Ruins of the Undercity, Blacky the Blackball's Darker Dungeons, and Gavin Norman's Theories & Thaumaturgy have arrived today.

Initial impressions of each are good. And I may be crazy, but it seems that Lulu's print quality has been ratcheted up a few notches since the last time I ordered books from them (or maybe it's just that these publishers took more care when laying out their products). Either way, I'm happy with my purchases.

I'll devote a blog post to more detailed analysis of each product, once I have a chance to devour them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In the meantime....

While I toil away on new aids for my planned Warlock campaign, I'm digging into other old-school and OSR products, both for inspiration and so I have something ready to play in the event that my Warlock campaign doesn't get off the ground for a while.

Right now I'm awaiting the arrival of Kabuki Kaiser's Ruins of the Undercity (which I can play by myself, if I get really desperate for fun), Blacky the Blackball's Darker Dungeons, and Gavin Norman's Theorems & Thaumaturgy (which I plan to use with Darker Dungeons).

In a more new-school vein, I also have a copy of Graham Walmsley's Stealing Cthulhu on order because, well, it's hard to go wrong with Cthulhu. Also, I'm always looking for good advice on how to punch up a Mythos game, so it isn't just the same old rinse and repeat nonsense.

As these products arrive and I get to digest them, I'll let you know what kind of impression they leave upon me. Not real reviews as it were (I'm out of that game), but short-ish blog posts highlighting the good and bad, as well as who I think would be best served by the products.

Note that all of the above products are also available in PDF, commercially or otherwise, but I'm linking to the products as I ordered them (although, I apparently got a free PDF of Stealing Cthulhu for ordering the hardback, so there is that).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ain't it dead yet?

Well, it's been a little over a year since I've posted to this blog and I just wanted to let you know that, no, it's not dead. My dream of running Warlock regularly lives on!

Long story made short: I simply had a tumultuous 2012, leaving little time for gaming or other hobby pursuits. It was simply easier for me to post on message forums for most of the year, rather than commit to regularly updating this blog.

Hopefully, 2013 will be more stable for me. I hope to be able to recommit to posting here frequently and get the Front Range Warlock campaign back up and running in earnest. Fingers crossed!

I've kicked things off by scrubbing the dead links to Mike Riley's old Warlock site - if you want to get a look at the rules now, you'll need to join the Yahoo Group.