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Topics - Necrozius

Pages: [1] 2
1
I finally lost patience with my regular pool of potential role players and have reached out to the local community. Ottawa is quite bustling, it turns out, and I've discovered the yearly CanGames event.

I've decided to attend, as a player, and sit at as many tables as possible. I'm hoping that I'll discover some great games and do some substantial networking.

Alright cutting to the chase:

I haven't played with strangers in a while, and never at a convention.

Is there anything that I should know or prepare for in advance?

Should I bring supplies? Pre-print character sheets for the games that I know? Bring my own dice?

Also, socially, anything I should anticipate? I'm socially competent but if there are any taboos or "faux pas" at these types of events? There isn't much on the CanGames website other than general stuff about being courteous and not leaving a game until it's over.

Thanks in advance and comedy suggestions (ie- insults at my naïvety) are welcome as long as they're balanced with equal amounts of actual advice. :)

2
So this book is about to come out.

Official Site Promo: http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/volos-guide-to-monsters
Extra details from Fantasy Grounds: https://www.fantasygrounds.com/store/product.xcp?id=WOTC5EVGM

Boiled down, it seems to contain three big things:

1. Fluff on monsters, told from the 1st-person notes from two characters in the Forgotten Realms (Volo being one of them).

2. New monsters (some sources say 130 new stat blocks, although previews are showing that a bunch of them are variants of existing entries in the Monster Manual)

3. Thirteen new playable races:
  • Aasimar
  • Bugbears
  • Firbolgs
  • Goblins
  • Goliaths
  • Hobgoblins
  • Kenku
  • Kobolds
  • Lizardfolk
  • Orcs
  • Tabaxi
  • Tritons
  • Yuan-ti Purebloods

Now, I was intrigued, but I think that I'm going to pass. I don't care about more fluff: I want stats, tables, charts, not more prose. Also, someone has spoiled that the new races have gone back to 3e's tendency to give Ability score penalties. You see, getting rid of that concept was one of the key things that SOLD me on 5e. So I'm disappointed.

Also I've already got plenty of cool monster books from the OSR that I feel can be re-stated rather easily with the current Monster Manual. I'm also a fan of re-skinning things into other things. It's worked well and saved me cash.

What do you think? Any of you getting this supplement?

3
Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / Resource: floor plans
« on: September 08, 2016, 01:15:41 pm »
Does anyone know of any good resources (as in, a single book/pdf and not google image search) for building floorplans?

I'm thinking as a resource for GMs who suddenly need a decent floorplan on the spot. Like a cramped rowhouse, a tannery, a smithy, an Industrial Revolution-age factory.

Not a battle map, necessarily. Just a nice labelled layout/blueprint that's easy to understand and reference in-game.

I can find bits and pieces here and there (there's some nice stuff from the Pelinore articles back in the day), but I'm looking for a one-stop-shop type of thing.

4
Reviews / Cults of Chaos
« on: August 27, 2016, 06:28:45 am »
I was quite affected by my first viewing of the Wicker Man (the original thriller, not the comedy starring Nicholas "not the bees!" Cage).

I didn't relate to the protagonist;  a stodgy, puritanical officer of the law. His stern, no-nonsense  demeanour - mixed with flashbacks of painfully familiar church attendance - was steeped in a predictable banality.

When contrasted with the strange, pagan villagers, I felt more empathy towards the latter. Sex positive nature lovers will always be more appealing to me than modern, urban sterility.

Then again, I've always identified more with movie and cartoon villains as a child. They always seemed more… Alive and vibrant. Sensual, perhaps.

Anyway, coupled with my ever-increasing interest in the occult and pagan spirituality, I was very eager for Cults of Chaos. Here was a book that promised a more historical take on occult organizations. At least, how people in the real middle ages thought of them. Written by a supposed actual history buff and occultist. I was rather excited.

Did Cults of Chaos disappoint?

RPGPundit and Dominique Crouzet's official supplement for Dark Albion (a mostly system-agnostic take on historical fantasy in 16th century England) is 92 pages of densely packed material to generate all manner of Satanic Chaos cults. What sets it apart from the many other books out there already covering the same subject is the ever present feeling of historicity. Despite having the Judeo-Christian serial numbers filed off and replaced with the forces of Law (the Unconquered Sun and Chaos), it still oozes a real world feel.

Perhaps an actual cultural anthropologist or historian might find plenty to nitpick but for a casual history / occult buff like me it seems genuine. Not in an offensive way to any faiths, mind you: this book isn't meant to be an accurate portrayal of authentic pagans, Wicca or whomever. It seems to be based more on real world perceptions (or misconceptions) and fears about "Devil" worshippers.  The author sure seemed to have done his homework.

As an aside I think that the author - whom I believe is a devout Christian and spiritualist - didn't sensationalize the subject matter or approach it with an adolescent heavy metal band type of brush. Sure there are some gruesome and disturbing details but never in an exploitative or "aw yeah" sort of way.

Just like Dark Albion, Cults of Chaos is densely packed with historical artwork. It goes without saying that this adds to the eerie, historical feel. I noticed a few modern illustrations though, which, while technically competent, felt a little out of place. Not a big deal, though.

The layout, graphic design and typography are all top notch. Even if text wraps around the outline of some art pieces, it is never to the detriment of readability.

What I really liked was the approach on presenting different types of cult-generators for the social class levels of the setting (pseudo medieval Europe). Any generated cults felt better matched to different settings or contexts. Hugely useful for many different tiers of play: from creepy rural villages, secret guild societies in urban settings and decadent, bored noble conspiracies. All of which can be tied into actual historical events and figures.

There are so many opportunities for mystery, intrigue, tragedy and horror in these tables. My mind still reels from the inspired possibilities. You could even end up with:

  • a manipulated peasant cult that worships a false deity and led by a scheming noble who's embroiled in difficult wartime politics.
  • Or a merchant guild who's most successful members made a doomed pact with a devil who's actually just a nature deity who wants revenge on the descendants of those who destroyed her forests.
  • Or a town making offerings to a totally benign Arcadian (i.e. Greco-Roman) god of agriculture in exchange for ensuring a successful harvest: but they're under heavy scrutiny by witch hunters because of a series of unrelated serial killings by a mentally ill mortal man.


I was hugely impressed.

Cults of Chaos is a worthy addition to any Referee's library because of how useful it could be to a diverse range of games: from 20th Century Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (any edition) or even more high fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons (for any edition or any of its derivatives / retroclones).

So no, Cults of Chaos didn't disappoint. I only wish it were longer. Otherwise it's a great book and I'm very glad that I acquired it.

Originally posted on my blog: http://nemoslounge.com/review-cults-of-chaos/

5
Reviews / Universal Exploits
« on: August 25, 2016, 11:50:57 am »
Universal Exploits is the second supplement for Alpha Blue (the first being Girls Gone Rogue). It is chock full of random tables, setting fluff and adventure seeds. The content is system-agnostic, meaning that you could use it for any science fiction RPG out there. Tone-wise, it's probably more suitable for comedic, tongue in cheek, R- or X-rated campaigns.

It contains lots of sexual material. Sometimes there's a bit of a strange juxtaposition of cheesecake or pornographic art alongside rather tame, rather serious content. It's quirky, that's for sure. Definitely not for those who object to cheesecake art, nudity and sleazy sexual themes.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the PDF version of Universal Exploits by the author. I've reviewed other works by Venger, including Alpha blue: Review of Alpha Blue. I had donated two illustrations for Girls Gone Rogue, but I'm not officially affiliated with Kort'thalis publishing.

The cover has retro-inspired art that I've come to expect of the game so far: a scantily-clad woman, a reptilian humanoid (who looks a bit like Bossk the bounty hunter) wielding a laser sword and a guy who sort of resembles Snake Plissken (sans eye-patch) trading laser fire with an  opponent who's off-screen. There's also a spaceship conspicuously entering a cave for some added raunchy symbolism. It's nicely done and appropriately cheesy for the genre.

The Index of the PDF has actual clickable links, which is great! A very welcome functionality for the medium.

The layout and typography are handled well. Everything was easy to read except for the occasional subheading which was white text with thin black outlines. I always have trouble reading those, especially when the font is all caps and heavily stylised. Otherwise it was great and the watermarks didn't interfere with readability.

The biggest change in this book compared with previous publications from Kort'thalis is that it has some colour art inside. I think that this is a first for them. Featured are many familiar artists from Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue. Lots of aliens that go from grotesque to light-hearted and cartoony. Also nudity. Lots of it. And sex. One of the artists has very strong technical qualities but his subject matter (silicone-enhanced porn models) kind of grossed me out with how over-the-top they were.

The full-page artwork was particularly striking and memorable. I'm also a fan of the masked robotic sword-wielding guy. Not sure who that is, but he has a very cool design.

After a few pages of humorous prose the book begins with some new rules for the Alpha Blue roleplaying game. We've got things like handling extremely poor chances of success, an addendum for ship to ship combat, banking extra (wasted) damage for use on other targets, long-term effects of cryo-sleep, handling xenophobia, unarmed combat and some extra bits of stuff for character creation. This material, especially the tables, is what I like the most about Venger's works. Short, sweet and easy to consume. Also very usable in other games: a virtue in RPG collecting, in my opinion.

We also get some stuff to better cement and detail the campaign setting: big governments, space travel time, sci-fi horror, cloning, drugs, alien worlds,  and domain management. There's a lot more: my point is that this book has an impressive amount of idea-generating content. Some goofy and gonzo, some of very specific and raunchy utility (e.g.: "cock-blocking"?) but all of it inspirational and entertaining to read.

The latter part of the book starts off with some GM advice. Venger has proposed some scene-based structure to a gaming session. If you're an advanced GM, this might seem a bit obvious but it still might prove to be useful in a pinch or if you're not feeling very improvisational some evening. Don't worry; it happens to us all eventually. GM impotence is a nasty thing. So it's a good addition to the book.

Next he covers some other techniques, such as "Leading the Witness" (sort of a "gotcha" bait and switch to entice the players into action and keep them on their toes) and"Getting there" (communicating with players to determine their actual wants and expectations). Again, good things to codify and discuss.

The book contains several adventure seeds with brief setups, some background information (which all adds to Alpha Blue's setting, broadening the scope quite a bit) and even a few other random tables to generate encounters and side effects of exposure to things like specialised drugs or weird environments. Even if you never ever plan on running these adventure seeds, you'll find plenty of interesting material here for re-use elsewhere. Of note is a handy little table  buried deep in this section to generate NPCs quickly. This one is so simple but useful that when I next run Alpha Blue, I'll be printing this out and sticking it on a 4 x 6 card.

Lastly (and somewhat out of order; I'd have put this at the beginning) is a quick and dirty table to generate random territories (planets, moons etc...). Also very handy on a Sci-fi game night if you forgot your copy of Star Without Numbers by Kevin Crawford.

The book also contains a neat 2-page character sheet by James V West: the cool thing here is that we're provided with 2 versions: one is full colour with textured watermarks and a black and white print-friendly version. That's awfully cool, actually.

Lastly are  a handful of blueprints/floorplans for some nifty space ships. Again, these are of high quality and are very usable in any science fiction game. I'd easily pull out the 'Iron Pigeon' for my next Firefly-esque campaign.

Conclusion

This is probably one of the nicest-looking products Venger has ever produced. The layout and design are top notch for Kort'thalis Publishing (or many other indie publishers, actually). As usual, buyer beware: this book is raunchy and gonzo. Lots of imagery and content with nudity and sexual themes that will not be appreciated by certain audiences.

Universal Exploits is available on DriveThruRPG behind the Adult Filter (as it should be; Alpha Blue is totally R- or X-Rated entertainment).

Original review on my blog: http://nemoslounge.com/review-of-universal-exploits/

6
Article on dnd.wizards.com
Direct link to PDF

In general I like what I see. I like how the designer put in some fluff about how a Feat can be created; he even provided a "bad" example. It's great that each feat is accompanied by some background info to explain the designer's rationale. I like how there are unique feats for each weapon type. The Tool Feats, though, particularly shine to me: they add a LOT of value to an area of the game that, in my opinion, was ambiguously useful.

I'm not crazy about the +1 bonus for the Weapon feats, though. I feel that it goes against the spirit of the game: getting rid of all the bonuses and penalties. If this is all that there'll be, then I suppose that's okay. But you know what's going to happen: on OBS the floodgates will be opened for thousands of 3rd party "10 new feats!" products, many of which will likely stack on bonuses like these. I hope not...

I think that I would have preferred something else, like "re-roll 1s on damage rolls" or "increase the damage die type by 'one step'".

What do you folks think?

7
Design, Development, and Gameplay / Font Policing
« on: June 08, 2016, 08:51:09 am »
Hello!

I've noticed that several indie publishers are using all kinds of fonts: some are commercial.

One in particular uses a font that I know for a fact requires purchase for commercial use... and an entire community of indie writers are producing (and more importantly, selling) PDFs with this font.

The cynic in me is assuming that very few, if any of these people actually purchased the proper rights for commercial use. Is this a problem?

Should I be concerned? Is there a risk of getting caught at the indie RPG designer level?

I ask because I, too, would like to produce content for this game and I'm worried about getting caught. But I'd like to match the core product's branding (look and feel).

Sure I could just buy the font, but there are already so many free ones out there that look similar and I don't want to spend 70-90$ (or more, CAD) on something that I feel that others probably haven't paid for.

Thanks for any advice,

8
Reviews / Alpha Blue
« on: March 15, 2016, 06:57:26 am »

Summary


Alpha Blue is a charmingly fun romp through pulpy, R-rated science fiction. It is chock-full of fun tables that I believe would be a good addition to any less-than-serious campaign.

Note


This is a review of a complementary PDF from the author, Venger Satanis. I've generally given positive reviews of several other of his works. I'm also finalizing a second draft of an adventure for his Crimson Dragon Slayer RPG. Something to keep in mind before reading the rest of this review.

Just the facts


Alpha Blue is 114 pages with a black and white interior (grey-scale images) with a colour outer cover and interior maps (in the PDF, the map spreads across 4 pages, but in print it might be a fold-out spread).

Usability


The PDF is extremely well bookmarked and organized: the best so far from this publisher! The table of contents is fully functional and click-able. While a hefty file size (about 60 MB) the pages load quickly and aren't bogged down with slow loading times thanks to the simplicity of the watermarks and the black and white artwork.

The chapter titles are very clear and obvious about their contents, so it is very easy to scan through the index to find what you're looking for.

There are two character sheets: one in full colour (for screen use, I guess, unless you have a high-quality colour printer) and a grey-scale print version. While both are very, very nice looking and have a simple, straightforward grid layout, I would rather have had a purely black and white version without watermarks.

Included are a few pages for notes: probably more useful in print than on the screen.

The map of the space station is super pretty but again, not very print-friendly unless you're using high quality colour. It has contains no numbering or letters (so no predetermined locations) which is okay if the spirit of the campaign is mostly an open-ended sandbox anyway. But since there are several sample locations, NPCs and encounters in the book (a whole chapter, actually), this would have been nice; otherwise it's totally up to the DM where these things are placed.

Art & Layout


Overall a very good presentation: the artwork is top-notch for Korthalis publishing and the layouts are clean. But I still have a few minor gripes (because I'm a stickler about these things).

The following bit might get a little technical if you're not into typography or desktop publishing (like InDesign).

Typography


The body text is a serif font that would look great in print but on a screen feels a bit blocky. The leading feels a little tight but the 2-column layout makes it easier to read.

The main headings are in all-caps and use a very stylized sci-fi font, which works, but if it were any smaller it would be harder to read. I'm not fond of the style for some sub-headings: they are inverted (white text with thin black outlines) and were difficult for me to read without enlargement. I wouldn't recommend doing that next time, but it isn't super serious. The spacing before and  after headings keeps them close to their content: a detail that I simply love.

While the watermarks are mostly on the sides of the pages and unobtrusive most of the time, they still kind of annoyed me when they appeared behind text. Most readers may never even notice this, but I wanted to mention it (patterned watermarks behind text is a major pet-peeve of mine).

The page numbers are nice and clear and the overall page layout has just enough white space to make things breathable.

Tables


The tables all have the same look and feel: simple, clear and usually easy to read. I kind of wish the content had been adjusted a little to allow tables to stay within one column or page, but it's not the end of the world.

Please note that a few of the tables require a d30. There's a simple workaround if you don't own one, of course (1d3 + 1d10).

Artwork


Overall quite impressed with the quality: it's on par with the rest of the publisher's library. There are multiple artists but they all tried to stick with the look and feel of the setting: campy science fiction movies, comics, tv shows and pulp book covers from the 70s and 80s. There's some Star Crash, Heavy Metal magazine, Barbarella and lots of nods to pop culture in general.

The tone varies: some of it looks pretty standard science fiction fare (PG-rated) while others have full-on nudity. A couple of pieces were disturbing to me in a H.R. Giger sort of way (weird images that include hints of genitalia or pregnancy).

Besides one or two pieces that seemed to embrace the sleaze factor a little too much for my tastes, the art was fitting for the subject matter.

Chapters


This is a quick run-down of the main sections of the book and my overall impressions.

The System


As Venger (the author) himself states, Alpha Blue is not just a setting but a set of rules that are a cross between two of his other products: Crimson Dragon Slayer and The Outer Presence. That is to say a very rules-light game with hints and tastes of the OSR (Old School Renaissance: there's even a brief section on converting rules from other games). There's an elegantly simple dice pool mechanic that uses only d6s: the highest result on any of the rolled dice dictates the degree of success or failure. Rarely will anyone roll more than 3d6 at once.

What I like about this chapter is that it includes a few dials to make the game a bit more lethal or heroic (to suit your gaming group's tastes).

In keeping with sci-fi tropes, it has a handy little system for wounds, dismemberment and artificial limb replacements. Lots of fun because it is short and sweet; not too complicated.

Creating a Character


In my opinion, this section really shines because it is re-usable in other science fiction or gonzo games. You've got occupations (both respectable or scoundrels), mutations, alien generators (physical traits and social/cultural behaviours), past experiences (which both provide background context and ties each character to the setting in some way, for good or ill), fashion (what is your character's unique outfit?), associations with organizations or factions, a recycled robot companion (my favourite idea) and... of course... sexual orientation and fetishes.

The reader needs to approach this work with an understanding of the author's intentions: to be light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek. It should be noted that this isn't some cringe-worthy "Book of Erotic Fantasy". This is funny camp, through and through.

I think that it could've used a few more table content for people of other sexual orientations (well, there IS a small table for those groups, but I think that it would be great to enlist some authors of those persuasions to produce a few more entries to help make a more diverse setting).

Stuff about the Universe


This chapter outlines some of the biggest antagonists, interesting setting features and a few generators, like weird cyber devices, space encounters, and derelict space hulks (think Alien and Warhammer 40k).

Some fun stuff here. Just enough fluff to be useful to a DM with limited time or interest in reading tons of prose about a premade campaign setting. The generators are, again, useful in any science fiction RPG. They're almost like the ones in Kevin Crawford's famous Stars Without Number: system-agnostic tags.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Alpha Blue but Were Afraid to Ask


This chapter is specifically about the Alpha Blue space station... er space brothel. It's a delightful mix of:

       
  • Star Trek's Risa

  •    
  • Jabba the Hutt's palace

  •    
  • the Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  •    
  • Ming the Merciless' palace


It covers things to do (hint: naughty stuff), things to obtain (e.g. drugs) and things to catch (e.g. venereal diseases). There are hooks, complications, a robot generator and lots of random encounters and tables of all kinds. One of my favourite feature of the station is a really funny homage to Douglas Adams (I won't spoil it).

Again, I like the content here: it's very useful, in conjunction with the previous chapter, for setting up a session (or campaign). You could run Alpha Blue a hundred different ways thanks to these two chapters.

Sections on Alpha Blue


This chapter goes into more detail about specific locations. Most of the descriptions are limited to a paragraph or two, so one could read through and remember things without too much effort.

There are a few fun tables to generate encounters or cool details at some of the more interesting locations, such as holodeck mishaps and weird cocktail names (think Pan-Galactic-Gargle-Blaster).

As already mentioned, I wish that these locations were already referenced on the very elaborate map included in the book. There's a lot here and it will take some GM prep to position everything in a way that makes sense.

A bit brief, but considering the plethora of things that can happen thanks to the previous two chapters, it's enough for me.

Scenario Star Seeds


If the previous three chapters don't generate enough ideas, this one has  a dozen or so adventure seeds. Some of these are tame enough to be a standard episode of Star Trek the Next Generation... others are like setting the scene of a movie like Flesh Gordon.

NPCs


Here are a few pre-written NPCs. They're alright: I'm more interested in what can be generated from the previous chapters, though.

Technology


This is essentially a page with a few unique items (like space magic items). To be honest this feels like a bit of an afterthought: I wasn't all that impressed or interested.

Potential Enemies


This mini-bestiary is definitely a great start if you're playing Alpha Blue without any external material or reference (or don't want to bother converting anything). We've got funny, gross, campy and a suitable "mook" stat block. Serviceable, if brief. Easy enough to customize.

Campaign Advice


Another nice inclusion to this book: almost a mini-companion to Venger's How to Game Master like a F@#$ing Boss zoning in on science-fiction tropes. Again not very long but I really liked what was included here.

Conclusion


I recommend Alpha Blue for anyone wanting to run a light-hearted and/or pulp-y science fiction campaign. While it has an established setting, it wouldn't be very difficult to use it as a system for a larger cosmos, especially if paired up with other material, such as Kevin Crawford's Stars without Number (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/86467/Stars-Without-Number-Free-Edition" target="_blank">which has a free PDF version at DriveThruRPG!).

The subject matter, content and artwork will not be for everyone, especially those who do not want any sexual content in their games, even for comedic effect. Luckily, as is usual with Venger's works, you can get a very good idea of what this book is about by looking at the cover.

(Originally posted on my personal blog, Nemo's Lounge, with images)

9
Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion / The Black Hack
« on: February 16, 2016, 08:58:31 am »
So there's Kickstarter for yet another minimalist retroclone.

It caught my attention because I've liked the other products by Peter Regan's Square Hex company, especially their choice of typography and layout. But I only backed this one once I saw the low price and the rules preview.

From what I've read of Whitehack (still waiting for it to arrive in the mail) and what I've read in the Black Hack's quick rules highlights (on the Kickstarter page), I think that I might end up with a nice "black and white" hack of minimalist D&D; merging the elements that I like best from both.

What do you folks think? Have you played rules-light games like this before (ie, Whitehack)? Any potential pitfalls or shortcomings that I should be aware of?

10
While I was drunk, depressed, sick and sleep deprived, I decided to use a coupon to purchase Out of the Abyss.

I've yet to dive in, but to prepare myself (it's a long book), I've read a couple of reviews and GM tips and tricks (like this one from Sly Flourish, which was great). But I'm curious if any members of this community have run it, and had any advice, guidance or even warnings.

How did it go? Which parts of the book should I pay extra attention to for campaign pre-planning? What do you recommend changing (if anything)?

Thanks!

11
...from actual play experiences at the table?

On another forum (which shall remain nameless to spare everyone more inter-board drama) there's a lengthy thread about flaws ("warts") in 5e D&D.

I've been happily and easily running a 5e campaign for exactly one year now (bi-weekly) and haven't come across anything outstanding in terms of "wart-age". We've stuck with RAW (no house rules yet). But I'm always interested in feedback from other players, even negative.

The thread in question, however, mostly contains complaints from people who want this edition to be more like 4e. I have doubts that many of these warts have come up from actual play.

So! I would love to hear feedback from people who've encountered system issues from ACTUAL PLAY. There's a time and place for theoretical critiques, of course! But there's plenty of that elsewhere.

What warts have you found in 5e? Thanks!

12
Reviews / Dark Albion: The Rose War
« on: September 17, 2015, 07:20:56 pm »
http://nemoslounge.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/dark-albion-cover.jpg" alt="dark albion cover" width="303" height="389" />

Summary


Dark Albion is an incredibly detailed resource for pseudo-historical fantasy England. The writing is solid and thorough. The artwork, while all public domain, was very well chosen and used. The maps were excellent and lovely. The layout, typography and readability were excellent.

While it is mostly suited to OSR games like Labyrinth Lord, Fantastic Heroes & Witchery and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, it is extremely system-agnostic. I plan on using it with Beyond the Wall or even with the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons.

Dark Albion is a beautiful and professional product. I recommend it even if you do not agree with the RPG Pundit's ideology or stance on politics and gaming.

This is a review is of the 277-page, hard cover book. It has a colour exterior and black and white interior art. The book is written by the RPG Pundit with additional texts by Dominique Crouzet. Dominique did the artwork and layout. http://www.lulu.com/shop/dominique-crouzet-and-rpgpundit/dark-albion-the-rose-war/hardcover/product-22249379.html" target="_blank">Mine was printed at Lulu.com.

What's in the book


The Introduction


The introductory chapter outlines what the book is about (obviously). It would make a great quickstart edition of Dark Albion because it cuts to the chase. We get the author's explanation of the basic premise, what kinds of adventures that can be had, and most importantly how the setting mirrors our own real world (also how it differs). Just like the Song of Ice and Fire series, it focuses heavily on the historical conflict known as the War of the Roses. So the reader will see some familiar themes if they're a fan of George Martin's series or if they're history buffs.

There's a great section on the roles of women. The gist of it is that while the societies of Dark Albion share similar prejudices against women as those from real 15th-Century England, there are no limitations on what character classes are available or roles that can be attained by player characters. Basically, female PCs of any kind are entirely plausible in the setting (and many roles that women are explicitly allowed to be, contrary to historical precedence). There are even a few potential story hooks for women as heroes as they defy certain conventions. I appreciated the inclusion of this information: while I assume that many gaming groups can easily handwave away historical sexism, the author went out of his way to specifically talk about it.

At this point I was already hooked.

Gazeteer of Albion


This section covers the country itself: the politics, the cities, forests and places rife for perilous exploration or courtly intrigue.

Much of it mirrors actual locations in the United Kingdom but with enough tweaks to keep it pseudo-historical. All-in-all a very dense and rich resource for a Game Masters. There is so much in this section that it's almost overwhelming. At least, it would be if it hadn't been so well laid-out and structured. Sure there's a great deal of information in here but it's easy to browse.

Another great feature are the regional maps with accompanying notes about each town. These brief notes include essential information such as taverns, inns, population, special locations and even maximum values of purchases or sales made there. This is a great addition and very handy.

For the purpose of completing this review, I read about 1/3 of this section and skimmed the rest. There's a LOT of content. What I've managed to actually absorb was full of rich history and potential adventure hooks. I want to run a campaign in medieval England Albion and encourage the party to explore these wonderful places.

Law & Justice in Albion


This was a lot more interesting than I expected. I tend to gloss over this type of material in RPGs (I never cared how crimes were punished in Middenheim back in the day), but I enjoyed reading this. While it is a pseudo-historical setting, I was very curious about how much of it was based on actual history.

Regardless, what is in here is very usable for a campaign in case the party gets into legal trouble (secular or ecclesiastical). A nice addition to the book.

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History of Albion


What is interesting about this section (and about the Gazeteer) is that we are provided with timelines of events that can take place during the campaign. Things like invasions, changes of rulers and other socio-political shifts that could provide engaging campaign twists. Of special note is the part called "the Future History of Albion" which are events that can take place after your campaign has started. Alternatively, some of these dates could be used to kick start a campaign.

Like the rest of Dark Albion, this part of the book is densely packed with content. I tend to only quickly scan over timelines but all of the bits that I read were interesting enough for me. Basically, a Game Master can refer to this chapter to provide even more adventure hooks or campaign-changing events to affect the lives of the PCs. For example, what would it mean if their home village was sacked by invaders? Or their noble patron dies? Or if the suddenly King decides to hire adventurers to assassinate a troublesome figure out of myth like Morgaine or Vlad Dracula?

Great stuff, but like any history timeline out of any book that I've ever read, a little dry to read through in one go. I see its value as another Game Mastering reference for managing the campaign's flow.

Characters in Albion


This chapter may seem deceptively short (10 pages). But, like the rest of the book, it is densely packed with useful material.

One of the core assumptions about this setting is that it tends to be humans-only, or at least, fudging it so that the rules for other races such as dwarves and elves are used for other human nations, such as the Eirish, Scots or Cymri (Welsh). That makes sense, and it is not jarring to me because I'm quite a fan of using pseudo-historical settings for Dungeons and Dragons—anyone else love those old "green books" from AD&D?

Dark Albion's system of social classes is a very important part in the setting. The idea is that PCs are assigned a social class either randomly (just like character creation in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in which each PC gets a random starting career) or by choosing one for the entire party to better suit the campaign style (e.g.: courtly intrigue, downtrodden mercenaries, merchant sailors etc...). I like the way that this is handled, especially because the descriptions of each class provides one or more reasons that might kickstart an individual onto the path of adventure. Also, besides differences in starting wealth and prestige, none of them "feel" restrictive. At least from a first reading, I believe that a party of mixed social classes could work just fine.

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This idea is reinforced by the "Prior Event Table" which randomly determines a background event for each character. All of them seem to be beneficial, in the sense that even the darker or sordid ones may provide a mechanical bonus depending on relevant circumstances, or at the very least great plot hooks. Some of these were wonderfully gritty, reminding me of a few characters in the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell (e.g.: miraculously surviving execution; those who know of this reputation firmly believe that the character is considered destined for greatness by God and is a bit more lucky than other characters).

So far my mind is swirling with campaign ideas:

       
  • a band of heroic mercenaries, perhaps long-bowmen, finding fame and fortune despite the horrors of war

  •    
  • a group of students at a Wizard's college in Oxford, uncovering a sinister Chaos plot by the professors

  •    
  • a pack of holy Clerics solving murder mysteries throughout the land

  •    
  • a travelling band of performers who get embroiled into a a sinister plot at their latest venue.


Sure these ideas of mine are a bit iconic (or, to be cynical, cliché) but I feel that Dark Albion simply fits a gritty medieval campaign like a glove. If you're a fan of historical fiction in this style (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Name_of_the_Rose" target="_blank">the Name of the Rose, http://www.bernardcornwell.net/books/azincourt-2/" target="_blank">Azincourt or http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0258816/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_26" target="_blank">the Reckoning, to name a few), you'll be very pleased.

Lastly we get some nice name generators. They all sound sufficiently authentic. In particular I'm a fan of the Last Names for the Upper Gentry. There are some really dapper-sounding stuff in there that I've never read before; they're as fanciful sounding as any name from an Arthurian tale, Brother Cadfael mystery or Harry Potter novel (I'm not from the U.K., just a boring Canadian, so that might be why I'm so impressed).

My overall impression is positive: this chapter provides some handy and interesting add-ons for character creation no matter which game system your table chooses.

Currency and Coinage


This chapter is pretty self-explanatory. The listings of weapons and armour are without any values other than cost, based on the assumption that they would match those in whichever game system that is being used. All in all very useful to get an idea of what is available and plausible within Albion.

We get explanations of starting equipment based on social class, simple rules for maintaining armour and factors to consider when using firearms. There's material covering wages, costs of living and taxation (great info to fuel campaigns about noble outlaws). Again, all of this chapter is interesting because of all the historical information.

Useful, concise and easy to use. A good chapter.
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Noble-houses of Albion


These are optional rules for managing a household (for noble characters).

There's a nice, simple mechanic to track a house's "ability scores" using three values to gauge their Military, Financial and Political Power. These can be determined in the same way as character generation: by rolling dice. These score are modified by the noble's title (the greater, the better bonus), region of origin and allegiance (to either the white or red Rose).

Included is a table of random, annual events that can increase or decrease these abilities. For example, an army crosses through the house's land; depending on their allegiance (to either Rose) and the army's, their Financial and Political powers can rise or fall. An awful scandal can reduce Political Power. Strangely, I couldn't spot a yearly event that increases Military Power.

Now there are some things that characters can voluntarily do in order to increase an attribute (such as Military). Things like adventuring, political risk-taking or investing. This is all rather well thought out and structured for domain management or political campaigns.

Lastly there are rules for large-scale warfare. I'm not too good with grasping this sort of thing, but it seems solid enough. It all comes down to an opposed percentile roll adjusted with modifiers (off of the Military Power ability score). Again, it seems rather straightforward.

Very interesting and simple system here. I would like to use this, even in other games, to decide the outcome of battles "off-screen", letting the characters deal with the fallout, good or ill.

People of Interest


This rather meaty section outlines special NPCs from the past, present and future of Albion. Whether these characters are actually met in-game or just heard about second- or third-hand, they are all interesting.

Each house is accompanied by a heraldic shield. These are very nicely done, but I wish that I could've seen them in color, or at least had a short description of what they represent. Some are rather elaborate (for major houses) and some are strikingly and charmingly iconic in their simplicity (fans of a Song of Ice and Fire will feel a familiarity with a few of them).

My friend, an amateur student of medieval heraldry, was quite fascinated by the attention to detail. He came across a symbol or two that he wasn't familiar with. We had fun looking them up.

I like having this sort of information on hand instead of hand waving the traits about a local lord in a campaign: even if a group's adventuring scope is narrowed down to one little region. It goes without saying that it can add a great deal of depth to a series of adventures when there's important stuff happening in the background. Sudden changes in rulers, political upheaval or new, controversial laws can really affect the characters' perceptions of their world.

There's an impressive amount of detail and research in this chapter. The only extra thing that I would have liked would have been a few charts to make up new heraldry for noble PCs. Something for a future supplement, perhaps?

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Sorcery and Secrets


A chapter covering magic and miracles, demons and summoning rituals. The "feel" of it makes me think of the Ars Goetia: sorcerous lore from the Lesser Key of Solomon that describes the evocations of a list of 72 demons.

Even the most pure-hearted Lawful Clerics and Magisters can summon and make pacts with demons for good reasons. Doing things for selfish or evil reasons has repercussions, both in the "real" world and in the spiritual sense. Some of the more sinister aspects of summoning magic are handled very tastefully here, unlike some other OSR books that go into extremely disturbing detail (this ain't no Carcosa!). Also, it is very clear that things such as human sacrifice are explicitly awful and aligned with Chaos. On that note, the only supernatural effect that requires human sacrifice is the one that produces bountiful crops: this is a familiar trope found in fiction and myth (the Wicker Man, for example). To summarize, there's nothing in here that is distasteful or upsetting, despite the big, bold headings (eg.: "Principles of Demonology") and medieval woodcuts of animal-faced devils. As an aside, I had fun reading this chapter on the bus the other morning, wondering what the people next to me were thinking as they took a peek...

There are great lists of demonic powers that can be used upon a successful binding. These are all fun and very thematic: stuff like "Spoil Harvest" or causing a Lord to make a sudden, terrible mistake. These are far more subtle than other standard fantasy "big magic" but have far more potential to create hugely important campaign-changing events. War campaigns or sieges can be easily won or lost, marriages can be created or shattered, important naval convoys can be wiped out or arrive early. It's all very epic to me; the stuff of myth and legend.

The only thing I didn't find were lists of proposed mutations for Chaos-aligned magic users. I've got plenty of other books to mine for ideas, of course (WFRP's Slaves to Darkness, for example), but I think that it would've been a nice inclusion, especially if inspired by historical precedence as the rest of the book.

There are recommended spell lists for Clerics and Magicians. Flashy, vulgar attack spells (e.g.: Fireball, Lightning Bolt, etc.) are omitted, and the spell lists of each class do not ever overlap. Thus, Clerics and Magicians have clearly distinct roles and uses. So far so good, it makes sense.

Lastly we get a section about magic items, potions and poisons. Also, information on how to create them (a difficult, time consuming and potentially expense task). As expected from a low-magic setting, magic items are very rare, extremely valuable and unique. There are no magic shops and trading or gifting enchanted items can have a huge impact on relationships and alliances.

There are some great lists of example magic items, all very thematic adventure fodder, especially the Spear of Longinus Mithras, which is in several pieces and scattered throughout the world: now that's a backbone for a solid campaign if I ever saw one!

The lists of alchemical potions and poisons are all really fun and engrossing. No standard fantasy fare in here; all of them are potent and inspired from real world (occult) herbalism and alchemy. As stated earlier, I'm more of a fan of mythology and occultism from our world than made-up stuff from places from fantasy media, so I'm a huge fan already.

Adventuring in Albion


This chapter is packed with resources for a Game Master. It covers travelling (on roads or rougher areas), encounters (in the wild or in settlements), adventure locations (dungeons and interesting places), creating memorable scenes at special locations or events (such as at courtly, at a fair or tourney) and some decent floor-plans and descriptions of forts at Hadrian's wall (much more impressive and huge in this setting than in real history: not quite as huge and imposing as in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but similar).

Travelling across Albion


Dark Albion uses a nicely simple system for travel encounters: they're split up whether the party is on a main road (Royal Highways) or on secondary paths (or simply across rough wilderness). The chance of getting an encounter increases or decreases depending on the terrain. All of this is nicely summed up in a simple table that's very easy to use.

The encounters themselves are wonderfully rife with role-playing opportunities and potential plot hooks. None of them mean automatic combat either: everything depends on context and how the part members act or conduct themselves. This is a very re-usable resource for other games, which is another huge bonus of owning this book.

Lastly we get a similar but more brief set of obstacle encounters, such as fallen trees/rocks, rivers or cross roads. Again, these are presented not just as physical challenges for the party to overcome, but also as seeds for other encounters (bridges and fallen trees are great spots for ambushes, wink wink). They're also great for map-generation (in the case of encountering minor rivers).

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Villages, towns and cities


Settlements have been abstracted into three sizes: villages, towns and cities. The accompanying table randomizes the "Current, prevalent situation" based on which type of settlement. This means that some events that would be a big deal in a small town are quite commonplace and unremarkable in a large city. On the other hand, the building of a massive Gothic cathedral is not likely going to happen in a small hamlet.

These situations are varied and useful as adventure seeds. Each one seemed rich and provocative to me but most of all interesting (with the exception of the entry for "Nothing Special"). Even the more brief encounter descriptions provide plenty of fuel for Game Masters to engage the players.

Lastly there is an encounter table which re-uses some of the entries from the earlier one in Travelling across Albion. In addition are a few more urban-themed events. My previous comments apply here (good stuff).

Unwanted Attention


As a bit of an addition to this part is a table that indicates the chances of the party attracting "unwanted attention". This gets triggered after some time passed inside of a settlement and the odds of such an encounter are increased depending on how flashy, vulgar or obvious the PCs are in their daily affairs. This is never good, as per the title suggests. Seedier folk are always on the lookout for a scapegoat and bloody, magic-wielding strangers will likely fit the bill.

Adventure locations


This section contains seven adventure locations for use an a campaign. Four are more traditional dungeons and the rest are more for social interaction and political intrigue. Each type provides some general information and a sample specific place (usually accompanied by a floor plan with numbered references).

I loved these. They're open-ended enough to inspire the Game Master for multiple game sessions, whether the party is hiking in the wilderness looking for potential places to explore and loot or if they wish to stick with cities and society.

All of them flesh out the lore, history and society of Albion. From the trapped and tricky elvish tomb to the Roman Arcadian catacombs lined with skulls on every wall or even the goblin hideout: all were inspirational and great settings for creating dungeons. There's a reason for everything: a history to these places which make them feel more rich and captivating than a bog-standard generic fantasy dungeon trek. The Barrow Mounds in particular triggered my imagination. These sinister, haunted places could be anywhere in the wilderness.

The quality of the floor-plans were good, although the one for the Goblin Warrens felt a bit rough. Still very serviceable, however.

For more social encounter locations we get a military encampment, court and a fair/tourney, each provided with sample encounters, events and possible interactions. Lots of adventure fodder here.

Another wonderful chapter that I can see using outside of Dark Albion.

Appendices


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The final chapter of Dark Albion are three appendices. I admit that I glossed over these rather quickly, but they seem decent enough.

The first is about a specific order of knights. It covers notable figures (and their allegiances to the Roses) and some history.

The second contains some of the author's house rules for OSR game play. I only scanned these rather quickly, but there are some good ideas in here. I'm not familiar with many retro-clones other than Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Labyrinth Lord so I'm always mildly interested in how people have hacked old school D&D to better suit individual play-styles. In particular I was interested in the idea of randomizing benefits gained from levelling up. There are tables for each class that include some familiar things, like increasing hit-points to more unique entries like boosts to unique saving throws.

The last appendix contains extra rules for a particular OSR game called Fantastic Heroes and Witchery. I don't own nor play this game, so I wasn't all that interested. However I enjoyed reading the fluff behind some of the new character classes here (especially the Demonurgist, a class that I'd draw ideas from to adjust magic users in other games to better fit Dark Albion's mythos).

Conclusion


I think that this is an incredibly rich and well-made gaming product. I'm very, very glad that I got a copy. It's a compelling setting that I want to use someday, it contains great material that I can use in other games and it is a pleasure to casually browse on account of it being to pretty to look at (exquisite layout, choice of artwork and readability).

I recommend this book to anyone who likes pseudo-historical game settings or dark medieval campaigns full of history, bloodshed, political intrigue and grim, haunted countrysides. Or if you're simply a George R.R. Martin fan and want to play in a similar setting using your favourite OSR game instead of a licensed product set in Westeros.

An aside


Maybe it's just because I'm listening to a lot of Doom metal music right now, but I have the urge to run Dark Albion as straight-up Europe, with God and the Devil instead of the stand-ins (the Unconquered Sun and Chaos), but that will depend on my players' tastes. Chaos is such an unambiguously evil force to fight against in this setting that no-one except for folks still clinging the 80s satanic panic craze should raise the slightest eyebrow.

13
Reviews / Descent into the Candy Crypts
« on: July 23, 2015, 08:52:51 am »
EDIT: I entered the wrong rating! This is a 7 out of 10!

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Descent into the Candy Crypts is a dungeon module for the Crimson Dragon Slayer (CDS) roleplaying game. It is written by the game's creator, Venger As'Nas Satanis.

This is a review of the PDF version, which is 14-page book with a color cover and black & white interior. My group were only able to play this up to about halfway before we ran out of time. It was very entertaining, though.

The overall tone is quite funny and reminded me of an R-rated version of quirky cartoons full of non-sequitirs, such as Adventure Time.

Overall, the art and layout were quite good. I've reviewed nearly all of Venger's works and I feel that the layout and typography improves each time. The cover painting is by Venger himself and the interior illustrations (mostly full-page) are by Joshua Barnett, whose works (which I've seen in the core rulebook for CDS) have a fitting cartoony style for this dungeon.

The first three pages introduce the adventure setting, giving a bit of history, a table to give motivation to the players ("Why you hate candies!"), three new player races (all of them fruit-based, with poorer stats than the ones in the core CDS rulebook, but each with a cool ability or attack that is usable once per day) and finally a table to create memorable encounters to emphasize a gonzo feel and encourage replayability ("Let's make this interesting"). All of this was easy to take in and full of humor.

Playtest notes: all three of my players chose to be fruit for some reason. As the Game Master Dragon Master, I was very pleased. I nudged each of them to choose a different kind of fruit-folk, so we ended up with a Strawberry, a Banana and a Grape. All of them vicious, sadistic warriors despite their cute, delicious appearances. Much chuckling around the table. I won't spoil the motivation table for why these characters hated candies so much, but all that I can say is that the tone would have made Robert E. Howard or a Black Metal band very content. The juxtaposition was great.

The adventure itself all takes place in the Candy Crypts. There are 2 1/4 pages of numbered room encounters. Each is brief, simple and hilarious. Some are just window-dressing: comedic or eerie visuals. All-in-all I was pleased: not every encounter was just straight up combat. There were plenty of opportunities for role playing and exploring.

Playtest Notes: I can't think of any past adventures that began with a visit to a dentist. "Well, adventurer, you have a cavity. Sit down." There were no stats listed for encountered friendly NPCs (of which there were several) so I just hand-waved it that the PCs with the highest Charisma scores could ask them to do things. Each one would essentially take out or weaken a single monster but get destroyed in the process. I described their gory deaths with delicious-sounding terms. Again, lots of laughs. Things got crazy nuts with the discovery of a huge generator that was about to blow up. I had fun watching the party scrambling to flee in time to avoid the blast. The worst of the damage*was absorbed by any hapless prisoners that they had rescued. That was, sadly our final encounter for the night, but it was a good enough place to end it.

http://nemoslounge.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/cds.jpg" alt="cds" width="381" height="504" style="float:right; padding: 10px 0 10px 10px;""/>The dungeon, as a whole, is two floors: the above-ground ruin and the maze of rooms below. One section is a crypt (obviously) and the other a sort of subterranean candy "red-light" district full of sleazy non-combat encounters and locations. Again, most of these encounters have brief descriptions and leave a lot up to the Dragon Master (and players) to make things interesting. With the right people, this dungeon could really sing.

The dungeon map is nicely drawn and laid out. Easily printed onto a single 8.5x11 sheet of paper for reference (which I did).

Most of these encounters are quite silly, some shamelessly juvenile, all full of pop-culture references which is kind of a trademark of CDS. This is the kind of game that encourages players to make geeky pop-culture references all of the time because it doesn't detract from the session.

Playtest Notes: sadly, the party never made it into the "deeper" parts of the dungeon as we had to cut the session short. But I might transplant these locations into another CDS game some times (or just play this module again with fresh players). The lethality is high, in a typical old-school way, and one of the PCs got completely splattered by some kind of tentacled horror with winged monkey traits (I pantomimed the screeching, ape-shit pummeling from the creature, which was fun). Luckily, the party still had a surviving prisoner that we quickly statted-up as a replacement.

On the last page are a few new Magic Items, which were surprisingly less funny and witty than I expected (other than their titles, such as "Amethyst Ring of WTF").

Summary: this is a fun, light-hearted, silly, brief and simple dungeon module. Not a lot of depth but lots of opportunity for comedy. My group got about halfway through it in one short session of about 3 hours, so a group with more time might get through the entire thing in one. I think that the most enjoyment can be had by using this as a one-shot with new characters, but it would be interesting to hear another group's playtest report if they used this in their ongoing CDS campaign.

If you're a fan of Crimson Dragon Slayer, and of Venger's works in general, then get this, you'll have a blast.

14
Reviews / Crimson Dragon Slayer
« on: June 08, 2015, 02:23:09 pm »
Crimson Dragon Slayer is a homage to geeky pop culture of the 1980s and early 90s. It’s core ingredients are:

  • Classic Dungeons and Dragons
  • 8-bit Arcade games
  • Fantasy films ranging in quality (and ratings) from well-known and beloved works such as the Never-ending Story and Conan to sleazy B movies like the Sword and the Sorcerer and Deathstalker.
  • Media about mundane, real-world people being inexplicably transported into another world, such as Tron and the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.


The book itself is an entertaining read, full of humour and clever references.


The Facts

Crimson  Dragon Slayer is a 42 page book that can be mostly used as a stand-alone game system.  It contains many greyscale images, several of them full page. Pages 5-16 cover character creation, 16-25 are the basic rules and equipment tables, 26-28 are magic rules, 29-31 are magic items and 31 has some high level info about factions and monsters. The last pages are devoted to a dungeon that can be used right after character creation.


An Anecdotal Aside Or Preface:

(please skip if you don’t care and just want to know about this game without sentimentality)

CrimsonDragonInvaders300dpiI grew up in the 1980s and was just the right age for all manner of media and marketing. When I was a child, video games were primitive and clunky, tv cartoons were poorly animated and lousy, there was no internet and mobile phones were used  exclusively as phones by the super rich and famous.

Like others of my generation, I’ve witnessed the gradual evolution of technology and entertainment (at least in terms of technical quality). Things have been getting progressively better and better. However there’s a huge pop culture revival of this primitive age of awkward electronics. Even people born in the 2000s have jumped onto this bandwagon. Everyone is cashing in on this nostalgic wave, producing works that have the veneer of the 80s but are far, far superior in quality and style. Modern indie game developers are creating “old school” video games that aren’t at all: to be old school you’d need an extremely limited colour palate, awkward, clunky controls hampered by cheap, stiff controllers and an insane difficulty setting that was implemented to separate children from their quarters, not out of some  noble ideology to teach people to earn their victories.

In a way, this is very similar to the Victorian revival of the medieval “dark” ages. Those people heavily and inaccurately romanticized a time period that really wasn’t all that great. But the artists, writers and musicians produced wonderful works from this nostalgic devotion to a time period that never existed.

All that being said, I sincerely love this hype infecting everything from fashion, music, film and video games. It’s like being a child again, only everything is BETTER now, despite the frequent superficiality and cynicism.

So when I came across a role playing game that revels in this nostalgia, my interest is piqued, to say the least. Especially when your character is a regular Joe or Jane who gets an avatar in a digital fantasy world where the ultimate goal is to slay the Crimson Dragon and then marry (or become) the Queen of the world. All to the tune of wailing keytars and airbrushed laser fire.


Writing

As usual, Venger’s writing is clear and easy to understand. While he does inject humour and hyperbole it never detracts from the meaning or overall point. No problems here.


Art And Layout

In terms of layout and typesetting, this is probably my favourite of Venger’s works. His usual watermark is no longer centered and distracting to me: it is pushed off into the margins, which is both elegant and more readable. A very good choice, in my opinion.

I find that a couple of the tables or lists could have been laid out differently, such as kept to a single page or a few merged to make them easier to use. I’ll get into more detail about this below. The content of these tables and lists never disappointed, though. To be clear, it was all useful stuff; just a bit unpolished in terms of organization.

The artwork is fantastic: very well drawn and all of it helps to set the quirky mood of the game. Very tongue-in-cheek with crazy action, monstrous creatures, video game and movie references and, of course, some cheesecake.

The full-page illustrations by Benito Gallego in particular stand out. They’re incredible!

The book suffers from a lack of an index or table of contents. While the page count isn’t huge, I had to flip through all over the place to find answers to find things.


Character Creation


Character creation is fun: you create a person from the real world, determining the basics like their career and starting money (“cyber crowns”, which are directly transformed from the cash that each one has in their wallet or purse).

When the game begins, your character gets sucked into an arcade game (digitized as in Tron) and appears in a strange, weird world. If (when?) they die, they appear back in the real world, in front of the same arcade game staring at the next quarter lined up on the counter.

You generate ability scores by 3d6, in order, in the usual D&D abilities (except that Wisdom is Willpower). The resulting stats get categorized into groups instead of flat modifiers, each affecting game mechanics in unique ways. For example, a poor strength (or, “Pathetic” strength) reduces your melee damage and you cannot wield two-handed or large weapons. A below average strength just applies a small penalty to all melee damage, average gets a small bonus and extraordinary (18 or higher) gets a larger bonus.

The other ability scores behave similarly: Dexterity affects armor class, Constitution affects Hit Points etc… There’s some very interesting stuff in here that goes beyond the usual generic bonuses or penalties seen in other d20 games.

You then determine or choose your previous (mundane, real-world) career and your new name. This is done by rolling on two separate name tables which you are encouraged to mix and match into something cool. To give you an idea, I rolled three times (twice on the first and once on the second) and ended up with Fire, God and Scream, which I ended up combining into Scream Godfire, which sounds super awesome. Another attempt came up with Jackson Cybershield. To be blunt: this is an awesome name generating system.

To be super nit-picky, I think that these two d100 tables could have been combined somehow or laid out differently. Right now they trail across three pages but could have been confined into two, with each list occupying a single, full page instead of starting on one and finishing on another.

Cash is determined randomly for each character with the exact same number of dice and then you’re encouraged, rather briefly, to create “Something Interesting” about your character. This feature should be unique and set them apart from others. This has no direct mechanical benefit, but I suppose that it could be used, in conjunction with your background career, to provide bonuses to dice rolls depending on the context. They could work like Aspects in Fate, in other words.

Next you choose a race, which includes the standard fantasy tropes (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, etc…) but also some cool, different ones, such as Robot, Reptilian and “Pixie Fairy Princess”. The choice of race affects your ability scores, your starting Hit Points and perhaps provides a special racial trait. Cool stuff, so far everything is simple and fun.

Lastly you choose one of the four classes: Warrior, Wizard, Thief and Ranger. Each provides its own hit dice which are rolled when levelling up.

  • The Fighter is simple straightforward: can use all weapons and armor and is a veritable monster in combat. They never change or get better at what they do (which is very effective from the start), other than getting more hit points.
  • The wizard can cast spells. The system is rather simple and easy to work with (see Magic, below). Starting at a certain level they can create a signature magic item or spell for 1,000 cyber crowns (anything that they want, once per level).
  • The Thief has the usual collection of thief-y proficiencies and can do sneak attacks way. At a certain level they can specialise as either a spellcasting rogue or an assassin.
  • The Ranger has several very interesting abilities (probably the most out of any class) and a choice of eventually specializing as either a shape-changing Shaman or as a stout Defender.


The classes are rather traditional, without any big surprises, but I rather liked their simplicity and the range of special abilities. Nicely done, although other critics more concerned with mechanical balance might view them differently. I “felt” no issues, personally, other than the fact that the Warrior doesn’t really get to affect the world substantially outside of combat. To be fair that’s an issue that I have with just about every fantasy game out there. Poor fighter: you’re always a little dull outside of actual fights, aren’t you?

The game is missing a character sheet. While everything could fit onto a single 3×5 cue card, I think that a full character sheet with some handy spots for reference would have been a nice addition.


Rules

CDS uses Venger’s elegantly simple d6 system. You roll a number of dice depending on the difficulty of the task at hand (fewer dice for more challenging things, more for better circumstances or context). The average difficulty is 2 or 3 dice. You only count the highest die result. 1 is a terrible failure, 2 is a straight up regular fail, 3 and 4 are successes at some cost (or partial success), 5 is a pass, 6 provides a special, extra benefit. This mechanic is consistently and universally applied to every kind of task. I’m a fan of universal dice mechanics, so this is right up my alley.

This mechanic also applies to things like Saving Throws. I could not find any mention of how to handle these in the book (but a Dexterity-based saving throw is mentioned in the dungeon at the end).  I asked the author, whose answer made sense: just make a ruling on how hard the saving throw should be based on the character’s stat versus any relevant circumstances. The standard d6 mechanic still applies. That’s cool with me!

I really like this system and it’s almost deceptive simplicity. It’s all too easy to overthink the rules and search through the book for a specific answer on how to handle a specific task, but it is all pretty much covered by the basic mechanic.

Each player gets a finite source of bonus dice which can be used to boost rolls. These only recharge after a long rest but only if they get sexual gratification with another individual. This harkens back to Apocalypse World, with it’s trademark “Sex Moves”, so it will be familiar to some readers. In either game, this can be tweaked if the players aren’t comfortable with that sort of thing. One could allow a re-charge of these points for any kind of activity that fits a character’s race and class. The Barbarian-type might be fine with a riotous night of binge drinking, for example.

Armor class reduces damage, which again simplifies the system by avoiding any extra complications to the core dice mechanic. I like this as it eliminates the often-debated nature of combat in roleplaying games (as in, how armor makes you harder to hit).

Death is handled this way: if you get to zero hit points, you’re unconscious but stable. If you get into negative values, you have to make a Death Saving throw. The difficulty is directly based on your Constitution score (in retrospect, I would have liked this mentioned back in the section about Ability Scores, even just in passing). If you fail, you’re done for and you re-appear in the real world, in front of the arcade machine, ready to play again. Remarkable success means coming back to life with some or even all of your lost hit points.

Because of the slightly “video-gamey” nature that is hinted at and the implied high lethality (which is confirmed in the sample dungeon at the end), once could be merciful as a Game Master and offer the players “extra lives”, either at the very start and/or as in-game rewards. WARNING: house rules: Any penalties for this could be based on a variety of video games. Perhaps a Game Master could offer a choice upon character death:

  • a loss of money, gear or even levels to let the character instantly reappear wherever they died,
  • re-start at the “beginning” of the dungeon with a milder penalty
  • reappear at another “save” point, such as the last Inn or tavern where they had rested: sure you’re potentially far away, but without any penalty (loss of gear or levels)


To be clear, this is my interpretation and other gamers who prefer brutal, unforgiving lethality will be happy with the default settings.

Once again, I’m expressing how much fun a group could have with this game with their own personalization. The game runs smoothly as-is, of course, but I like to contemplate these things.

Levelling Up is really, really cool. Gone are the expansive tables full of numbers: heroes and heroines go up a level once they’ve accomplished a major milestone. The ones in the book are fun enough, but therein lies the high value of this game: this chart can be modified to suit any kind of campaign or story. The Game Master could set his or her own milestones to gauge when the party members level up. One could even go a step further: each character could have their own level-up conditions, based on a mix of their race and class. The point is that this is really flexible and full of potential.


Magic

The system is also very simple: spells consume Willpower on a point-per-point basis depending on level (ex: a level 3 spell consumes 3 Willpower). It’s simple and keeps the spell-casters from spamming too much magic all of the time. It’s also flexible in that a Wizard can cast spells outside of his or her level at extra cost.

It isn’t explicitly spelled out (pun not intended), but it appears that casting magic requires a standard dice roll based on your Willpower stat, modified by the target’s Willpower. So a Wizard will have an easier time using magic on the weak willed and a duel between spell casters will be tense.

The spells are fairly standard but some are more memorable than others because of their humorous names, such as “Taste the Rainbow” and “Face Melt”.


Magic items

Just like the Spells, the magic items provided are usable enough if not unremarkable, except for their often (very) humorous names and effects.


Factions

Each player randomly determines some relationship, good, ill or just awkward, to one of six big league players of the setting. What’s fun about this is how they’re just names: freely interpreted by each Game Master (and even by the players). There’s an opportunity for some collaborative, world building here, if your group likes that sort of thing. Or, a Game Master could simply nab ideas that the players come up with, making one’s job easier and strengthening the players’ interest in the setting. All around a great idea, but I don’t understand why this bit wasn’t included in the character creation section…


Monsters

The monster section could have used a bit more detail. It is very short (two small paragraphs). It also outlines how to convert monsters from other OSR systems. It looks like it works just fine, though.

The premise is simple: it has an attack dice pool equal to half of its HD. Very simple, straightforward and minimalistic. In this game, the Game Master makes a ruling on monster stats based on the situation at hand: no need of a monster manual here. The stat blocks from Dungeon World would probably work very well in this game because they focus less on stats and more on what the creature does or how it attacks.

The only sample monsters are in the dungeon.


Dungeon

CDS includes a short dungeon delve called the Cavern of Carnage. It is chock-full of funny references and interesting encounters. Some are very deadly, others plain weird.  I won’t spoil anything, but all that I can say is that there’s a good, solid evening of gonzo adventuring here, even if it makes no sense at all.


Conclusion

Crimson Dragon Slayer is a very neat, rules-light and light-hearted gonzo roleplaying game. It is well written, nicely laid-out, beautifully illustrated and it looks like it’s a blast to play. It suffers from disorganization, no index and is often deceptively simple. By that I mean that you’ll be scratching your head about what appears to be a huge gap in the rules only to realize later that it’s covered by the core dice mechanic. Pretty much everything can be summed up in the Ability Score section, really.

The game makes me think of Dungeon World and World of Dungeons: extremely simple to play, open to interpretation, Game Master Ruling and even collaborative world-building. The core concept of real-world people sucked into a crazy world of video game references and 80s sci-fi/fantasy films is super fun and full of potential.

The author states that some of the subject matter isn’t to be taken too seriously and I hope that other critics won’t immediately assume bad faith when they come across  references to the retro sexism prevalent in grindhouse and b-movie fantasy, sci-fi and horror films.

All in all, I recommend this game as a worthy addition to your library because it offers lots of cool, fun ideas that are compatible with just about any edition of D&D, OSR systems and even Dungeon World and its cousins.

You can purchase Crimson Dragon Slayer here.

15
Reviews / How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss
« on: May 25, 2015, 09:21:17 am »
This is my review of Venger Satanis' book on Game Mastering tips, tricks and guidelines. The original version of this review included some play reports but things got very long. I'll post those seperately.

How to Game Master like a F***ing Boss was an entertaining and easy read. It is well written; using a light, conversational tone that is heavy with self-aware humor and light in pretentiousness.

While there are plenty of sources of Game Mastering tips out there, in published works and blogs, I found several fresh, unique ideas. Here are three that stood out to me:

       
  • Deeds of Might: giving each player a finite source of bonus dice each session that can be spent to perform potentially extraordinary feats. These dice may be spent sparsely or a bunch at a time. While this concept is nothing new, I rather liked the implementation.

  •    
  • Handing out a brain teaser to occupy the players while taking a break. I can't believe that I never thought of this before (or simply taking a break after leaving a cliffhanger at the table).

  •    
  • Improvisation via Covert Solicitation: using player ideas and expectations to create encounters and events (covertly "passing the joint" around the table and gathering ideas for your use). I was a fan of this concept when I played Dungeon World, but this method is more casual and less formal.



http://nemoslounge.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Tentacle-Skull_small-239x300.jpg" alt="Tentacle-Skull_small" width="239" height="300" />

I appreciate Venger's goal to bridge "old-school" with the new. He uses the term "O5R" in reference to the OSR movement (Old School Revival) and the latest (fifth) edition of Dungeons and Dragons. This strikes a chord with me because I'm doing exactly that: using OSR and DIY (Do-it-Yourself) material in my modern edition campaign.

The quality of the artwork is really decent (Venger never disappoints in this dept.). There are lots of evocative, full page illustrations. Some are rather campy and kind of sleazy (in the tongue-in-cheek manner of Heavy Metal magazine). Luckily, they're always interesting. Three of my favorites:

       
  • An homage to the first monolith scene in 2001: a Space Odyssey, but with dinosaurs instead of apes.

  •    
  • A page and a half spread of a classic dungeon party with traits that made me think of Elfquest, Erol Otus and Ralph Bakshi.

  •    
  • A mage and a dwarf warrior battling it out on top of a freakin' speeding monorail! Also, winged horrors approaching to eventually join the fray.


While I really liked the art (I feel that this book has the most impressive collection of any of Venger's books to date), I wasn't a fan of the iconic watermark on each and every page. I felt that it was distracting and would have preferred a lighter version or if it had been placed off in the side margin (as is seen in Venger's other recent publication, Crimson Dragon Slayer). I also felt a bit jarred while reading half of a sentence at the bottom of one page and being interrupted by a full page illustration while flipping to read the rest of it later on (to be fair, this isn't likely to be an issue in the printed version).

The font and the 2-column text layout are fine and easy on the eye (except for the before mentioned watermark). My only criticism relates to the center margin: at times it felt a bit narrow, especially when two headings ended up side-by-side in each column. I usually read these as a single heading. I also would have liked a bit more space above the footer: the text at the bottom of each column came a bit close at times. Take these criticisms with a grain of salt: I'm no desktop publisher or typographer. This is all personal taste.

The headings were nice and clear, and often sardonic or clever. Whenever they were a bit vague, they were thought-provoking or attention grabbing. Some of my favorites:

       
  • When Metallica forgot how to be Metallica

  •    
  • The Waiter Analogy

  •    
  • Flatlining the Burning Chrome of Chiba City


The Game Mastering advice includes all manner of topics that you'd expect: handling different kinds of players, campaign management, finding inspiration, pre-game prep, improvisation, balancing encounters and pace. What made this book feel a bit more unique were the tips on lifestyle and handling stress. Sure, some books out there offer advice on managing a campaign, few offered advice like Venger's that bordered on self-help or mental health (in a good way). I appreciated these sections a great deal because of my own life experiences and current family life.

There's lots of great stuff in here: I guarantee that every Game Master will find something inspiring and useful.

A few sections, however, will probably draw ire from some critics. While I "get" Venger's attitude, I still cringed slightly at a few things that I know could draw negative attention. While I refuse to be a moral judge about authors and artists, others out there might not. All that I'll say is that this work, like all of Venger's products, isn't for absolutely everyone.

Here are a few tips that I liked:

       
  • A pre-game mantra-like poem: it clears your mind and, if you speak it out loud in a few different voices, gives you a bit of practice playing out different NPC personalities.

  •    
  • Tips on improving your presentation and style (comfy and nice attire, boosting self-confidence, getting into a good state of mind, being a good "waiter" and ensuring that you use a complete set of same-colored dice: all of which may seem trivial or shallow, but I find that there's value in this advice).

  •    
  • Building encounters with Three Aspects. Just like with the Fate fractal, give each encounter three aspects for added detail, interest and context for the players. You can drill down and give three aspects to NPCs, objects and even the environment. A nice, concise idea. As you might have noticed, I'm quite a fan of the Rule of Three.


I won't go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil anything: part of the enjoyment of this book (and conversely, a bit of an annoyance, see below) is discovering something new as you flow from section to section.

While the journey is entertaining, I still would have liked a *bit* more structure. These tips could have easily been grouped into sections or chapters (Game Master Lifestyle, Your Players, Campaign Management etc...). While these topics do flow somewhat naturally, I had trouble going back to reference some things later on (I couldn't remember under which heading some things appeared). Because of this lack of structure, the Index is just a huge list of titles sorted by order of appearance. A Table of Contents would have been a nice addition, but there is none.

I'd also add that while it was a nice surprise to discover a whole section of tables, languages and even maps (which are all really, really well done), there was no indication of this in the Index. I know that some people decide on whether or not to buy a book based on the index; it is unfortunate that many may not realize how much they're missing. A few uses of index headings like "Tables", 'Tools", "Languages" and "Maps" would be a great and useful addition. To be fair, these are mentioned on the cover, though.

Loosely, I'd break this product down into these sections (in pages):

       
  • 4-70: Game Master Advice

  •    
  • 70-97: Tables

  •    
  • 98-116: Language reference (Viridian to English and then English to Viridian

  •    
  • 119-121: Dungeon Maps


The Tables are a great addition, useful in any Game Master's kit. They're system-agnostic; more like idea generators. Some are great for character creation (backgrounds and the like), NPC motivations/goals, cult generators and a vaguely Lovecraftian monster builder. In particular, I liked these ones:

       
  • Magic Item Mutations: mutation tables are a dime a dozen... for player characters. How about for equipment and magic items? Gnarly...

  •    
  • Stupid Gnome Hat: I'll let you discover this yourself.

  •    
  • Reaction Table: some nice ways to alter typical encounters. Sure there are others, but I liked this one and the way that it works.


The Viridian section, by the way, is a made-up language that sounds suitably sinister and otherworldly for a variety of campaign styles: evil cults, demons, aliens or Mythos Monsters. It's split into two parts: Viridian-English and then vice-versa. A nice reference if you quickly need eerie-sounding words.

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I'd say that How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss is a worthy book for any Game Master out there. It is chock-full of great advice and tools. Despite a few issues with layout and structure, it is a very good read. As usual the cheesecake nudity and occasionally the subject matter will not be appreciated by all. After having read a few of Venger's works, I know what to expect but it might not appeal to everyone. Be warned, but give this book a chance: it's worth your time.

http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/148728/How-to-Game-Master-like-a-Fucking-Boss" target="_blank">You can purchase this book at DrivethruRPG in PDF or softcover format.

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