Monday, February 29, 2016

OSR Freebies from the Library Part 2

And here we are, back again talking about "lost" gems of the OSR community. The things others did and nobody really talked about or that didn't get enough exposure. I already did one of those here (with more words about the how and why of this series and some stuff you might not have seen yet). This is totally subjective, of course, and I'm more often than not left wondering how it is that so many people stay (almost entirely) unnoticed despite the great work they are doing for the hobby. Especially when they are doing it just out of passion and not for the buck. It's strange. But on with it ...

For Gold & Glory (RPG by Justen Brown)

Have you heard of this one? You haven't? Same here. I happened to stumble across this by accident and I got to say: a huge oversight! This is the only free and complete revision of that advanced 2nd version of the game we all love and talk about. 382 pages and it's all in there, nicely packaged in one fine volume.

Where to get stuff & opinions from others: There is a free pdf on lulu and/or over at drivethrurpg ready for the download. Opinions? None. I kid you not. Some positive comments here and there and Tenkar shows the way in the right direction. Other than that? Nothing I could find, I'm afraid.

My thoughts: This is big. Someone took the time to condense the pinnacle of early D&D development into one sweet rulebook and somehow no one seems to care. I don't get it. Well, be that as it may, the thing exists and seems to work as it should. I'm a huge fan of HackMaster 4e, AD&D 2e and friends for many, many reasons, so finding out that FG&G exists, does what it aims to do and is readily available (free even!), made me happy.

So if your old books are falling apart or you always wanted to check out what those games are about, this is your opportunity to do something about it before you start hunting for out-of-print material. I'll take a closer look in the near future, review and all.

Small But Vicious Dog (RPG by Chris Hogan)

Not the cover, but it could be ... [source]
Not as hard a case as FG&G above, but published in 2011 and easily missed, since it didn't get a broad distribution, I thought it's worth mentioning here. SBVD is a B/X-Warhammer Fantasy RPG hack and 36 pages long at that. So it's basically old edition D&D with mutations, diseases and mohawk-sporting dwarves building death machines ...

Where to get stuff & opinions from others: Links to an introduction, the rules and additional material can be found here. I couldn't find a review, but I found some house rules for the game here (about advanced careers) and here (about greenskins).

My thoughts: This is a lovely little game about a grimdark fantasy world, with some great ideas and it's funny as a bonus. And it's compatible to all things D&D, of course. What's not to love? So if you haven't checked it out yet, you can't go wrong in doing so. In a worst case you'll have a good time and see something you'd like to use in your own game. It's like it says in that post linked above: Small But Vicious Dog Steals Heart, Humps Leg.

More of the same ...

As I wrote in that first post linked above: there is a wealth of games to be found online and if I find someone collecting it, I'll share a link. I have found that page. It's not all free, arguably not only games you could summon under the label DIY-OSR (some missing, some more, all D&D ...) and "only" (complete) role playing games, but damn, it sure is a lot. And up to date (I think). So if you need to get an idea what could possibly be out there, go and all the entries for D&D Retroclones over at the Taxidermic Owlbear blog (which obviously comes with four more games of its own). It's amazing! Again, not all of them are free, but many, many are, so I'd say it counts for Freebies from the Library :)

Anyway, there are many more things than complete games to be discovered. Adventures, zines, you name it. The DIY-OSR scene is diverse like that, so one more for the road ...

The Castle Triskelion (mega-dungeon by Tim Stypinski)

Look at it! Tim started  at the ground level and is filling
Upper Dungeon Level 3 right now. [source]
This is a sprawling, eight publications thick (since 2013) and still growing mega-dungeon about a giant castle full of crazy wizards and their experiments, new monsters, new items, new spells ... all you could expect in a project like this, really, all D&D compatible. And of course this description isn't doing it any justice at all. It's massive.

Where to get stuff & opinions from others: You can get all the published material for free here over at & Magazine. Tim also has a blog where he publishes the whole thing room by room, almost on a daily basis (or more .. is it more?) and you can find it here. I couldn't find any reviews out there and think it's a shame ...

My thoughts: I love it. This is so much material right there, you could play for years without seeing an end of it. You have traps, monsters, treasure, factions, puzzles, dozens of maps and hundreds of rooms to explore, a little bit of humor sprinkled here and there ... it's all there and it is completely free. Add a classic  and a printer-friendly layout to that and you really get a lot for free. People should not only check it out, people should play this! So take a look and give the guy some feedback and nice words for the great work he is doing here :)

Enough for today, folks

I'll leave it at that. If you where looking for something new (even if it's been around for some time now or is still partly in development) there should be plenty to go with at this point. I will update the page where I collect all of it and there might be another post or two like this in me. Some time in the future, of course.

If you know of any other old material that could need some more exposure or have any opinions about the games (and games material) I wrote about here, feel free to share them with us in the comments section below or on g+.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Two groups, one sandbox, some OSR musings and someone dies in the end ...

Dang, I'm busy right now. Started school again and I don't know how much time I'll have to post more regularly. But I'll work on that and experience tells me it's just a matter of time before I find a rhythm that allows me to write some more here. Anyway, testing LSotN is still on a good way and I have two face-to-face groups sharing the same sandbox. I wanted to share some thoughts.

Two groups ...

Originally I planned to have one group to test the game, but Leipzig is a great place for role playing gamers and I had way more feedback than I could have anticipated. After the first quite cozy session (I don't have that much room right now) we decided to split the group in two and see what happens. My main problem had been that they were from the same clan and were, after that first session, all headed in the same direction.

But more on that later. Another thing that came up during character generation and those first steps with the new characters were very different play styles. I knew only one player (my girlfriend) and none of the others. In this first session I was (naturally?) especially eager to make the game and my way of DMing work for each of them, not necessarily among each other.

It's a part of the whole deal, of course, but the way I saw it, the players needed to decide if they'd like to keep me as a DM in the first place, then there was me assessing with whom I will get along and only as a third part how they get along together as a group. In a way I could only tell by the feedback for the next session how the chips may fall. Again, this is to be expected if you start a new group in a new town.
Not the group, but some Frankish warriors that get the point across ...[source]
It would take until January to get them all together for a second session. By that time it had become clear that splitting the group would be the best option, having no room to play comfortably being the main concern. I also had some more requests of people to join the fray, so it turned out to be the only way to make it work.

It's good for a DM to have an idea (or feeling, if all else fails) how the dynamics are with a certain group of individuals might influence a campaign. So after that initial game, knowing that of the initial 5 new players 4 would like to keep going, with 2 more interested to join and a general idea who preferred which style of play, furthermore with the players themselves communicating their ideas openly, I ended up with two groups: one of 3 players with a more martial inclination and one of 4 players with what I may call a storyteller approach to the game.

I don't need to explain why I think that this is a rather perfect constellation for testing a game :) All in all there are 3 girls and 4 guys on the player's side and that's also something I'm happy to have. A good beginning.

... one historical sandbox

So this was the first time I planned on playing with the setting as a part of the experience. As much history as I could cram in my poor little brain and all that in a sandbox. Having two groups now in the same sandbox with the same background, the characters not only knowing each other, but also starting their journey to become heroes together, well, I really thought about not doing it, to be honest.

Anyway, both groups wanted to keep their characters and just go their separate ways. So that's what happened. And I gotta say, if you ever get the chance to do something like this, give it a shot. It brings the setting to life in a way that can be really satisfying for DM and players. But I shouldn't get ahead of myself here. We have a few sessions under our belts now, people will reach level 1 soon and both campaigns develop rather nice, if I may say so. Some of that is due to luck, another big part is having experienced players at the table that are interested in the setting.

My qualities as a DM (meager as they are) aside, two other things are tested here: the rules, of course, and the setting. The setting will be to some extend part of the DM tools in the final game, but the ideas themselves need to work at the table. It bears the interesting problem that I try to learn a lot about how people lived back then and what world views they might have had and also try to reflect that in the rules wherever I can, but it will always demand a lot from a DM and his players.

So during the preparation of the first sessions I read a bit about Roman architecture, since the characters were headed towards one of the remaining Roman cities in the area. It is an interesting topic how the Romans planned and structured those cities and you could go to any kinds of depths just by googling it. To some extent it's important to just get a feeling for the topic and some of the Latin descriptions. The questions I asked myself had been what it looked like, what it might have felt like (or how was it different from what one would expect) and what they called it.

This is very close to what I ended up with! [source]
Add to that some Germanic culture(s) and a realistic idea of the surroundings, the weather, the gear ... you get my drift. It's a lot. And it needs to be or it won't feel much different from your basic fantasy setting. in the last session we had one player actually said that we had to stop for the day (after 6 hours game, but anyway), because it's so much information and connections that it needed some digestion.

It is hard work, I guess, and because of that and the open world approach, I feel unprepared most of the time. But when it clicks, it's a beautiful thing to behold. I can't go much into detail, since the groups only have vague or no intel about each other and I intend to keep it that way, but I can tell a bit of it at least.

I'd like to stress again that I knew nothing of any of it as the game started. if possible, I decide things with the role of a die, so the adventure seeds were all random and "spur of the moment" events that gained momentum over the last few sessions (more on randomness further below).

Adventures in a Roman city

I'll keep that one short (and hope people are still reading at this point). The group had their rite of passage with the Easter festival (which seems to be as old as time, by the way). There'd been lots of drinking and games, as one would imagine for the beginning of spring. Drinking contests, brawls shield runs, hot coals and reciting poems had been among the tests the characters had to struggle with to get their blessing for the journey ahead (every player was to come up with a test for his character and it had been great fun).

The next morning they were to consult the oracle and go out into the world to seek fame and glory and the direction they had to take was over the great lake that served their young settlement as main source of food. Across the lake (ca. 50 km) was an old Roman city that clung to the now defunct Roman ways and one of it's merchants had been in town for the festivities.

Barbarous radiate ... ancient copper coins [source]
With no money and no possessions to speak of (other than what they needed, of course), they asked the captain of the ship what they could do to gain passage and it turned out that the captain's son was AWOL. If they track him down and bring him back to the ship, they'd be allowed to travel over the lake with them. Their first quest turned out to be easy enough and the first session closed with them on the ship, heading through a rough sea towards adventure.

In between sessions the group split up, we lost one player and gained two more. They arrived with bad weather. Ice rain, hail, you name it. The captain offered everyone willing to help unloading the boat a few copper pieces, so the group earned their first coin, made some sailors happy and followed them into different taverns out of the storm.

The first group meets a prostitute that lost her child to evil men and so far they found a reluctant father, some criminal activity a pimp offering them work they wouldn't do because of their honor and a Christian underground organisation helping those in need. They start to see the big picture and something evil is stirring the dark, waiting for them.

The second group meets a merchant in dire straits. He owes lots of gold to a loan shark, but he lost the money to a dishonest tribesman who claimed to know directions to a lost Roman silver mine in the mountains. They are body guards of that merchant right now, investigating the whereabouts of said tribesmen. But he's difficult to find and that loan shark starts getting restless. And then there is a possible treasure hunt ...

It's old school, all right!

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, at it's core, is all about rolling ability scores/skills and saves. Ability scores will change as characters get scarred, combat and magic are systems of their own (as with most game, actually), but that's it. Seeing it like that makes the D&D heritage quite obvious, I think. But the game felt very different to what I thought was OD&D and I started to muse that lost Songs won't be recognized as OSR in the end.

That changed after the last two sessions, though. The sandbox approach and the very idea of randomizing as much as possible on the DM-side of things, ability scores and saves, although named different, as the main source of player-world interaction, getting xp for treasure (sort of), the necessity for player skill and the brutality of it all really start to feel "old school". And not to me either, but to the players.

To some extent that's how I DM the game, for sure, but a lot of it is the game itself. So I will describe this as an OSR game. Definitely with a high difficulty, some new ideas and demanding in many aspects, but old school nonetheless. Not only due to the mind-set it originates from, but also because it does what those old games did, only a bit different.

And then someone dies ...

Anyway, the players seem to like it, too. They are careful, avoiding combat if possible and try to get a feeling for the world and how to explore (or exploit) it. That Roman city gains more and more depth every time one of the groups gets deeper into the plot lines they decided to follow.

Two things happened recently that really brought across how the sandbox lets them interact with the environment and from group to group. The first was about one player using a chimney to suffogate some bullies to break their hands and loot them afterwards. No fight, just calculation. And quite efficient at that. I personally think it was way more cruel than actually slitting their throats, but who am I to say.

The second thing was that one character actually died in a fight. He'd been led into a trap by some criminals working for that loan shark I mentioned before and he was dead meat after facing those five cutthroats and rolling a critical failure.

Well, the other characters swore bitter vengeance and gave the dead (and looted) character the proper burial and player made a new character. He'd been back into the game half an hour later. Nice as that is, way better was the reaction of that other group, as they, too, swore bitter vengeance (even without me telling what the others did) and went to see where he died to pay their respect. I thought it was great.

Not only to let them explore a place the others had visited before (though that had been nice, too!), but also that they really took the character from that other game as one of their own. We are already planning how to bring those characters together to help each other in an epic show down, whenever it occurs. I'm thinking dream messages and rituals here ...

I'm really having a blast with those people, if you haven't guessed yet.

Well, hear me rambling :)

Sorry about that huge wall of text just to say I'm still alive, playing and kicking. I hope to write something a bit more meaty soon. Maybe next week. I got some ideas, but most of the time I'm too drained out to get anything done after school. Well, it's getting better already. Expect more of the same soon.

And if some of you have experience with running more than one group through the same sandbox at the same time, please share your thoughts about it. How did it go down? Is it something that can work for a campaign?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Loot! Part 2: S&W WhiteBox and Metamorphosis Alpha

Remember that post with 4 mini-reviews of stuff I got for my birthday? Here we go again talking about the rest (took me long enough ...) and some more stuff I got my hands on last year (still not all of it, but I promise I will get there eventually). Just like last time, I'll give a short opinion and/or impression with pictures and some ideas what you'll get and where you'd have to go to get it. Let's go to the LOOT!

5. Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox

Yeah folks, you got that right. I own that now. Part of one of the cornerstones (S&W family) of what is called the Old School Revival (or whatever, you know what I mean). I even read the piece by now and got to say I have ... opinions about it.

First things first: it's beautifully done. Layout, artwork, writing, the whole things feels, for the lack of a better word, right. It is very short and rules light and obviously a game of the D&D variety. If you know your (early) D&D it gives you a great frame to build your own game around. And that's just that: I wouldn't give this game to a newbie Dungeon Master, as I don't think it could be called "complete" in a sense that allows someone starting with rpgs to get all he needs to rule a game.

I know, I know, there are those out there that'd tell me that the first D&D didn't offer much more (less even!) than what is presented here. But I gotta say, move on, we are in the year 2016 by now and if one thing is known to be necessary to make a game complete, it's giving it the proper DM-tools to run it. It is one of the first things that got added to D&D as it was growing up back then and I think it's lacking here.

Just a few examples: morale is mentioned, but left to the DM to decide how it works and there is no Monster Reaction, no index, not even (!) a table of contents. As the person using the book the most (the DM) you are left with nothing to work it or create out of it other than being told to make it up (which I believe to be very problematic, btw). Again, if you know what you are doing, it's not a big deal (although I think that morale and Monster Reaction procedures aren't things you should leave out), but if you are new to it, you'd be lost.

It's a mixed bag for me, to be honest. Love it as an artifact and I can see how people would use it to build their own games around. It is compatible with all the other retro-clones out there and highly adaptable. But it's also for the "initiated" only and contrary to what they say in the introduction, I don't think it's for beginners and, in that sense, basic or complete.

Still, the pdf is free (here and, I kid you not, with a table of contents*). Well, you can't go wrong there. Same goes for the rest of the S&W family (get the core rules here). The print is on lulu ...

6. Metamorphosis Alpha

First things first: I'm utterly fascinated by this game. First of all, it's the first Science Fiction role playing game ever, so it has that whole "Buy me, I'm an artifact!"-thing going. But it also has this great premise that after a catastrophe involving lots of radiation on a generation ship, killing most of the crew. Lots of chaos, mutants all over the place and the rest of the humans on board struggle to survive and (this is the kicker) completely forgot that they are on a star ship headed somewhere or what that catastrophe had been. Player characters are sentient beings living and exploring the strange world surrounding them ... I think it's brilliant.

Now that I own it I got to say, it really doesn't disappoint. Sure, it has shitty layout, a very small font and no artwork to speak of (really, don't), but man does this game deliver in every other aspect. It is short (32 A4 pages) and it gives a DM everything he might need to (and I really, really love that) do it all by himself. The whole ship. There is some ideas how it could be structured and what a ship like this most likely will have, there are mutation tables and some items like robots or laser pistols and some rules to make it all work.

Again, this is a fairly light system, but the focus on the DM and how to make it work, all those tables and ideas, a sample ship area, a sample living area, some ideas about tribes and more mutations, all of it to the point and with no unnecessary fillers, make this a very inspirational read. Honestly, this is how it's done.

I believe they didn't think back in 1976 that more than the Dungeon Master would actually read or use that book, so it's written with that person in mind. A player might actually never touch that book and there are many reasons why that is a good thing, too (for one, the passengers aren't aware that they are on a giant space ship, so why spoil the players?). This works so well that it left me wondering why it isn't done more often today.

In fact, I'd go as far as saying that when the Dungeon Master is finished preparing his own ship there'll be no need to have that book at the table at all. And I can't help myself but think that this is how it should be. The DM makes the game his own and that's all a group needs. Metamorphosis Alpha comes highly recommended and you might get it at lulu or drivethrurpg.

Enough for today

There are more little reviews like this coming, but I'll leave at that for now. I was happy to get both books and I treasure them, if not for the same reasons.

*Alright, I just found out as I double checked my research (as I do from time to time) and this surprises me. It's a huge oversight. In a pdf it's next to useless, but in the print version, where you could actually use a table of contents, it wasn't deemed necessary? Yeah ...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Artwork: Lost Songs of the Nibelungs (Gallery of Ideas)

I originally planned to post something else, but then I got mail with the new concept art for the LSotN character sheet, saw it and thought "Damn, I gotta post this!" or something down that road. While I'm at it, I'd like to share some more things I've been working on. There's a lot more working behind the scenes than is happening at the blog right now. Anyway, here we go ...

New artwork for LSotN (concepts and ideas)

Feast yer eyes, me laddies! [original artwork by Vincent Leppert]
That's from the guy illustrating the book and I'm really lucky to get talent like this interested in this little Frankenclone of mine. Here's more:
WIP of a Roman aqueduct [by Vincent Leppert]
WIP of a combat scene for the rules [Vincent Leppert again]
Those are pretty clean, as you'd expect from vector graphics. Second stage (for the interior art, not the character sheet) is giving all that the feel of some old book illustrations. It'll look a bit like this in the end:

Vincent's sketch book ...
Again, it's not finished but it's all on a good way. I need to start with some work on the layout soon and there will be more posts like this in the (near?) future!

And some stuff by me at the end ...

What I got for now are some new ideas for the cover artwork. It's not as good as the stuff I get from Vincent, but here we go anyway. This is how the booklets for LSotN will look like for the pdfs (also WIP):

Covers I and IV will look like this. My main problem right now is deciding if the OSR sign should be on there, too. I'd like to have it (since it's the flag I rise here on the blog and all), but I'm not sure if the game would be recognized as OSR, as I really took a hard turn away from D&D and friends here. But that's maybe for another post (if you, gentle reader, have an opinion on the matter, please share it in the comments!).

That's it for now. Writing a game for publication is a long process, with lots of twists and turns, but it really feels like Lost Songs is getting somewhere, piece by piece (even started the play tests again, this time completely within the setting and it's looking good).

Opinions and feedback are, as always, very welcome. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Devil's Dare (Dungeon's and Drunkards: Deleted Scenes)

So this is a little something I wrote some time back for my part of the Dungeon & Drunkards community project and it didn't make the cut for some reason or another. Now, reading it again, I started thinking it could be fun to allow it in a friendly game of D&D, maybe if beer is already a heavy motivator for the game anyway. I kept it for an occasion where I hit a dry spell on the blog. There are several other posts in line to get done (some I went as far as announcing them even), but I'm way behind right now (or: as usual) and thought this made a nice filler ...

The Devil’s Dare (a house rule for being dangerously drunk): This might produce all kinds of involuntary actions, but might also result in characters just boasting what they’d really like to do before they end up lying in the gutter puking their guts out. This is intentional. Players should lose some control over their character’s actions if they decide to go on a binge and there should be a good possibility to get into trouble, too. A DM should start this as a harmless enough drinking game of daring and go from there, escalating it as much as possible. To make this work, all parties involved have to agree that the characters already are a bit plastered and are willing to do stupid things ...

It's all about bad ideas ... but with beer! [source]
So here goes. Every time in an adventure when the characters decide to get drunk, they may dare each other into stupid actions (it works fine to start an adventure, too). This is a mix of many of the ideas in the original post (linked above), inspired by movies like Hangover or Project X and a players' gambit as they (somewhat) decide how drunk they want to be to attempt the dare. The payoff (xp) gets higher the more drunk they decide to be, but comes with a chance to pass out before it even started. 

A failed save vs. poison -2 initiates the daring and decides which characters get in the mood. At this point the characters already have some buzz going (-2 to attributes/attacks/ saves/damage, +2 to AC and HP)*. The characters that made their save suggest the dare, those that failed agree to it. If all failed their save, the DM is to suggest the direction of a dare. In both cases start with rolling 1D6 to suggest something:

  • (1) dangerous
  • (2) embarrassing
  • (3) illegal (by law or religion)
  • (4) story/rumor-related
  • (5) destructive
  • (6) reckless
If a player won’t have the dare for his character, another save is allowed, but with a -3 this time (being a bit more drunk and all that, they never stopped drinking ...). Failing this second roll will result in adding another complication to the roll (roll another 1D6 on the table above). There’s no upper limit to the number of saves, but it’s getting the character more and more drunk and adds a suggestion every time and every fail with a -4 or more will send the character under the table. A passed out character might be carried along for the fun and might even gain back some consciousness to participate, drink on or run for his life ...

Multiply every xp gained with the penalty the characters got. A player may decide to get more drunk and still get through with the dare, but has to make a save for every penalty of -4 or higher to not pass out on the way there. A penalty of -x always goes with -x to attributes/ attacks/saves/damage, +x to AC and HP. So yeah, if a character manages to kill a dragon being stupid drunk (say, -4) he gets four times as much xp as he'd get sober. And if he passes out, he gets funny pictures tattooed on his face or burned to a crisp (dragons not being known for their humor and all that).

If all of them manage to pass out, they’ll wake up with no idea where they are or what they've done (DM’s discretion).

I hope +Charles Akins approves. This is (as written above) wildly untested, but every role player or DM worth his salt should be able to make something out of this. People should be harsh, relentless and creative about what they suggest for the other players to do. Make it tough, make it illegal or make it embarrassing, but remember it's all about having fun. Doesn't hurt to be clear about those rules at the beginning of a game.

Other than that, tell me what you think or, if you went as far as testing it, how it went. 

*Following a concept described in that post linked above (and now here, too) and based on the rules for being stunned from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (page 150), but assuming that it involves a gradual process, starting at -1 for a slight buzz and stopping wherever a character decides to pass out, with getting sober being the reversed same process. For more detail read the RC or/and the original post about alcohol in the editions of D&D ...