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.