Saturday, June 17, 2017

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 were also the founders of Games Workshop. A lot of the weirdness in Fighting Fantasy shows up in their later work for Games Workshop, particularly their Warhammer Fantasy lines. It's kind of a neat piece of gaming trivia. That said, it's not directly relevant to this discussion, so back on topic.

Anyway, The Riddling Reaver is pretty awesome and it's available for dirt cheap prices (I payed less than a dollar for mine, IIRC) on Amazon if you'd like to check it out. As to the actual RPG, I didn't get my hands on that until some time after I received that copy of The Riddling Reaver from my pen pal. Like years after. By the time I got a copy of the rules I no longer had a copy of the campaign but, being an introductory RPG, Fighting Fantasy had me covered with two adventures that are ready to play out of the box. Indeed, most of the book is dedicated to these adventures as the rules are quite simple (see below).

Your basic character per the core rules only has three ability scores: Skill, Stamina, and Luck. Stamina is a measure of health and functions like Hit Points do in many games, while Skill and Luck may be tested to perform different actions (including combat). How they are tested depends on the exact circumstances under which they are tested, but typically you will roll 2d6 or 1d6 and try to meet a predetermined difficulty (rolling high, although there are some exceptions). Some key points of interest are that there are no rules for magic and all weapons do the same amount of damage (rules for magic and variable weapon damage are added in The Riddling Reaver book).

If you've ever played a Fighting Fantasy solo game book and thought that the rules would make for an interesting, rules-light, RPG or if you've ever fallen in love with the world of Titan where the Fighting Fantasy games were set, looking into the original Fighting Fantasy RPG is probably not a bad investment of your dollars.

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's all very good. Second, as the title might suggest, there's an actual setting here - the school itself and the surrounding environs (including three dungeons). That alone sets Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery apart from pretty much every other OSR magic supplement I've seen (those pretty much stopped at rules content). Finally, the presentation of all this content is top notch. This is one super sexy PDF in terms of layout and artwork. Granted, if you want to print it out, it will be a little heavy on the inks due to the glorious full color presentation, but I'm reading my copy on a tablet (so that isn't a huge concern for me).

You can pick up your own copy of Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery for just under $10 at RPGNow [Edit: When I picked up my copy of this product and wrote my review over at RPGNow, the PDF was on sale for less than $5. Obviously, that price has been raised. It's still a good deal.] 

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). All of these things make it a winner.

So, why should you check out White Box? Well, for starters, as mentioned above, the basic PDF is free (so you're not out anything if you decide that it sucks). If you're curious about old school RPGs, this is an excellent chance to satisfy that curiosity. Further, if you're a fan of any of the RPGs mentioned above as sources for White Box but always felt that they could do better, perhaps elements that you were critical of in those games have been implemented in a manner more to your liking in White Box. Check it out yourself, at the following link: 

Friday, June 16, 2017

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 presented as mandatory that I feel compelled to adhere to (or that exacting players feel that I should be compelled to adhere to). If you like the same kind of approach to world building that I do, you'll probably like Ulverland. If you don't you won't.

As to Ulverland's subject matter, it's a darkly reimagined fantasy Britain, with everything that entails. Mostly, there's a lot of focus on Victorian technology, customs, and traditions viewed through a fantasy lense. Similarly, there's discussion of government and religion in that context. The artwork is all public domain period artwork, with the exception of the maps (which are poorly rendered, but serve their purpose). That said, the real value of Ulverland is the text.

Ulverland is available for free in PDF format (see the link below) or as a paperback book for just under $11 over at Lulu (I picked up a copy when Lulu was running one of their frequent sales). You can check out the free version below and make your own judgement on its worth:

Sunday, June 7, 2015

It Lives!

As happens all too often, life intruded upon gaming for the better part of 2014 (although I did get to play some Call of Cthulhu and Iron Kingdoms for a short while last summer). Now I'm back!

With most of my real life worries taken care of, I've been fortunate enough to rejoin the world of gaming. At the current time, I'm playing in weekly campaigns of D&D 5e and Iron Kingdoms, framing a Basic Fantasy RPG campaign, and working on developing two (as yet unnamed) settings - one for Swords & Wizardry White Box and one for BFRPG. I suspect that, in the weeks to come, I'll be posting a bit about all of these things. Thanks for sticking with me!

Oh, and while I'm not playing Warlock at the moment, I do still own three large 3-ring binders dedicated to it. Someday I'll run it again and, when I do, I'll certainly be posting about it here.

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.