Showing posts from 2017

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.

Fighting Fantasy: An Introductory RPG

This morning I'm going to talk about an old school RPG. And that RPG is? Fighting Fantasy! Now, to clear up any confusion, I'm talking about the original Fighting Fantasy introductory RPG, not the later Advanced Fighting Fantasy (first or second edition), nor the earlier Fighting Fantasy solo game books (although this game sprang forth from those books).

Fighting Fantasy was the first RPG I ever owned, at least in part, thanks to my UK pen pal, Simon Garber. He gifted me with a copy of The Riddling Reaver, the first (and only) full length campaign for Fighting Fantasy. I still consider it one of the better published RPG campaigns I've read/played, despite the fact that it's pretty railroad-y. This is somewhat balanced out by the sheer gonzo factor of the adventure. You can definitely tell where the early Games Workshop weirdness came from. Oh, yeah, did I mention that? Well....

The guys who dreamed up the world of Fighting Fantasy and the game books that took place there…

Larius Firetongues's School of Sorcery: A Quick Look

So.... Ray Chapel's Larius Firetongues's School of Sorcery supplement for Swords & Wizardry White Box or similar old school simulacra. It's pretty cool. In fact, it's an idea that hasn't been properly capitalized on enough in RPGs, as far as I'm concerned (and, perhaps, oddly given the CRAZY huge popularity of properties like Harry Potter).

It's basically what it sounds like - a supplement detailing a school for the magical arts with everything that entails. It introduces a ton of new races (representing the diverse student body), new classes (representing new areas of magical study), new spells, and even new rules for using spells (a cantrip system, specifically). There are a lot of alternative magic supplements for Swords & Wizardy (and other OSR games), but this is, bar none, the strongest I've seen for a few reasons.

First, I give this supplement very high marks because of the aforementioned rules content - there's quite a bit of it and it…

Charlie Mason's White Box: A Quick Look

Charlie Mason's White Box RPG borrows from many different sources, Including the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the one in the little wood grain box printed in 1974), various versions of Swords & Wizardry by Matt Finch, Delving Deeper by Simon Bull, The Hero's Journey by James Spahn, Bloody Basic (Blood & Sinew Edtion) by John Stater, and Douglas Maxwell's SnW Whitebox Essential Adventuring rules. That is to say, it draws from many well-respected sources.

Having called out all of the sources that White Box draws upon, I think it takes the best parts of those many sources, improves upon them and, ultimately, provides a superior experience. It will, at least for the time being, be my old school simulacra of choice going forward. The rules are simple yet robust, the presentation is straightforward, the PDF is easily accessible (it's free; see the RPGNow link accompanying this post), and the books are available for a reasonable price (also from RPGNow).…

Jack Shear's Ulverland: An Overview

I mentioned Jack Shear's Ulverland a little while back, so I'd like to take a moment to discuss it. Ulverland is, at its heart, a Gothic fantasy version of Victorian Britain - BUT - it's more a skeleton for you to build on than a tome of canon carved into stone. Which, for me, is a huge, HUGE selling point.

As a GM, I like to take a setting and make it my own. I absolutely HATE being locked into canon (especially if it's culled from secondary sources such as novels). It's one of the reasons that, when I run Forgotten Realms fantasy, I stick to the original FR box set released by TSR and ignore EVERYTHING else published after that as I see fit (I do admittedly sneak in some of the FR series of modules because, well, they're really good).

Ulverland caters toward this particular foible of mine by providing a 'big picture' overview of the setting and small details that can be built upon as I see fit, rather than saddling me with excruciating detail presente…