Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review: Wolf-packs and Winter Snow (Ice Age-Themed Retro-Clone)

Second review this month. Sorry, but I couldn't help it ... This is another case of someone getting a game out there that people should be very interested in (for reasons) and nothing happens. So how's that for a pitch: play heroes during the Ice Age, with raw magic, wild beasts and alien horrors, using good old D&D with some spicy doses of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, ACK and Beyond the Wall for good measure and all that as PWYW. Interested?

Alternate cover? [source]
Getting the system out of the way fast ...

It is D&D of the OSR variety. A retro-clone. It has a orientation guide in the back and some original ideas here and there. But it is what you'd expect and that's a good thing. Adaptation is fast, as you'd  also expect.

This is actually a prime example of what the OSR can do: take a working system engine, change the body work as you like and give it some individual character without loosing sight of the original. So you got a classes/race-as-class thing going, spells are of the Vancian variety, but with a few nice twists (I'll say something about that further below), there is a nice little domain game in there to build and maintain your own tribe and as many random tables as you can think of.

Survival is a big thing in the rules, of course. Lots of wilderness and cave exploration. I won't talk much more about this and only say that you'll find what you'd need on those 156 pages you get here. This is a solid job and as far as I can tell you won't need any major outside sources to run this game. The book seems to have it all. But the big star here is ...

The Setting!

I got to be honest, I read about that game (h/t to +Jackson Malloy for the shout out at his blog Sword and Scoundrel)  and I immediately had ideas what I'd like to run with it. The pre-historic Ice Age is a fascinating setting, as anyone will tell you who played Far Cry Primal or looked at one of the videos*.

Open in new tab to bask in the glory that is Far Cry Primal [source]
Hunting Mammoths, fighting saber-tooth tigers and exploring an untamed and beautiful nature, hiding its dark secrets, freeing even more as the sun melts the glaciers away? Sounds like a hell of a time to me. And the light rules are just right for this. It might even have a bit too many options for my tastes, but that's fine as you can make the game you want out of this with ease.

I don't know if I need to say anything more here. It's a strong setting, well established in the rules and tons of material online to fuel a campaign with, plus Everything D&D to loot from as a bonus. That is a lot.

Minor quibbles ...

Yay, looks like I'll keep it short today! There where some things I didn't like that much. Minor problems and the thing is DIY and PWYW, so I could just as well leave it at that. But still, if I write my impressions, I'll write all of it. So here it is.

The presentation is only average and the pdf could need some polishing. Nothing out of the ordinary and still functional (table of contents, a glossary and a list of all the tables are all present, which is good), but working with vector based graphics would have solved a lot of problems like diffused lines and frame shadows of pictures.

Artwork is mostly silhouettes and mostly they do what they should, sometimes they don't. But getting artwork for something you do yourself and without a budget is impossible. Nothing of this rubbed me really the wrong way, so it's not a big problem.

The layout is functional and sports the traditional two column spread. The frame reminded me of old World of Darkness Werewolf stuff, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Why the magic user class was named "magician" instead of (maybe?) shaman is beyond me and the game has, as I already mentioned above, many, many options. More than I found necessary for magic (mainly for magic, for the rests it's good to have them). But you don't use what you don't need, right?


This is a solid entry into the OSR retro-clone scene and worth checking out. I'd actually DM this and the whole setting is quite alluring so I'm pretty sure I'll find a chance to get this played. A one shot, maybe. It'll have a special place on my hard drive (and yes, such a thing exists). I think the idea to create and keep a tribe is very nice and something that could easily inspire a whole campaign on it's own.

But this is also ripe with ideas to loot. It has one of the best explanations I have read for the Vancian magic system and it really fits the whole theme (So I'd keep it here instead of kicking it like I generally do). Magic is also quite experimental and dangerous, with wild side effects, as you'd expect from spells cast and memorized from wall paintings ... Some ideas for primal magic items are also nice to have.

Thinking about it now, I'd be tempted to jump-start a fantasy campaign with a pre-historic session or two, laying the grounds for the main campaign thousands of years later. So many (good) options. 

It's almost a cliche by now to say, but it's also worth it for all the random tables in it.

I'm not aware of any other D&D clone that does what Wolf-packs and Winter Snow does and it's a welcome addition. Go and check it out. If you like it, you'd might want to keep an eye on the blog Dying Stylishly for updates and additional material.

* Or anyone who read a book about the subject, saw a documentary ... you know what I mean.


  1. Thanks. It's sounds good and I am downloading it as I type.

    Seriously, If I had known just how valuable artwork would become in the internet age I would have quit band and taken nothing but art courses back in high school. I am sooooo happy I spent all that time learning to play the alto clarinet. It has proved so useful as a dust collector hanging from my book shelf.

    1. I'm sure your time will come. As soon as they incorporate sound files in pdfs and the clarinet is a thing again :)

  2. Solid review. Checked out the preview file. Buying it now. The simple yet explosive take on van can might looks to be just about right for me. Much simpler than some of things I've been looking at doing.

  3. Solid review. Checked out the preview file. Buying it now. The simple yet explosive take on van can might looks to be just about right for me. Much simpler than some of things I've been looking at doing.