Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Recent OSR Acquisitions

This year I’ve started dabbling more in the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR), picking up interesting product thanks to a host of Lulu discount sales and a few other sources. Although my “old school” game of preference remains Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay edition), I enjoy looking over new OSR products, seeing what innovations designers work into the system, and mining them for inspiration. I’ve discussed Lulu and the OSR before, noting the platform’s absence of a “wish list” function; I’ve since returned to more traditional methods – scrawling notes on scrap paper – to keep track of titles of interest. Some materials I ordered from Lulu’s print-on-demand (POD) service; others came from the similar POD services DriveThruRPG and its affiliates offer, and one came among the goodies delivered in a recently ordered Mythoard package. At least one released so recently I’ve only looked over the PDF, though I just ordered the print-on-demand version as it was at the top spot in my “to order next time” list for Lulu.

Starter Adventures by Tim Shorts ($19.99 print, Lulu): I was pleasantly surprised by one of my first Lulu purchases. Starter Adventures offers four short scenarios for beginning characters in each major OSR class. They’re ideal for one-on-one play (one gamemaster and one player) introducing newcomers to a particular rules set or roleplaying in general. Each scenario provides very class-specific challenges and resolutions, inviting a player to explore various aspects of their character’s class. Many rely on an apprentice situation with a more experienced mentor to help set the stage and offer guidance, establishing some ready-made allies or contacts for the future. The book rounds out its beginner-level materials with a detailed tavern location and a full-fledged low-level group adventure, both of which showcase engaging gamemaster characters who can help or challenge new heroes. Besides providing inspiration and guidance for creating brief, introductory adventures for low-level characters, it demonstrates how to craft specific encounters to a particular class’ abilities.

Map & Dice Playing Cards by Billiam Babble ($12 print, DriveThruCards): This nifty 55-card deck includes a standard card deck (four suits, two jokers) plus one card of explanations. Besides the usual suit and number, each card includes a randomized result for a d20, d6, and d100, plus a fantastic dungeon geomorph covering the card’s lower two-thirds. (Babble also offers a free PDF of a tuck box to print and assemble to hold the deck.) Each geomorph has two entry points on each side, which aligns nicely with all the other cards. Evocative location names help inspire encounters: “Ratsink Sewer,” “Disturbed Barrows,” “Worm Tunnels,” “The Great Collapse,” “Stonemasons’ Demise.” The entire suit of spades includes entrances or end tiles limiting the exit points. Babble’s hand-drawn, pen-and-ink mapping style remains one of my favorites (right up there with the prolific Dyson Logos). The random die results are a nice touch and make the cards more than simply playing cards with geomorphs (though that in itself is innovative enough). While one might argue whether this product falls within the realm of “OSR,” it certainly could enhance OSR-style games, especially solitaire play.

Creature Compendium by Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr. ($10.65 print, Lulu): This collection of more than 200 original monsters can infuse any fantasy game with new and often unconventional challenges to keep players familiar with game bestiaries on their toes. Leblanc’s statement in the foreword sums it up far better than I could: “Remember those flashes of inspiration that electrified your brain when you first picked up that hardback volume of monsters all those years ago.... The memories of that original tome inspire this one – a book that is just as fun to peruse as use, a book that strives to challenge and surprise, and a book that attempts to rekindle that ‘first time’ gaming table joy.” Some monsters combine, enlarge, or otherwise evolve established creatures – such as the liger, wooly dragonboar, brain crab, fire fox, giant two-headed snake, or stone skeleton – while others seem wholly innovative like the parasite-ridden carriage worm, the Intelligence- and Wisdom-sucking brain bat, or the owl-faced, bat-winged batar. Each monster includes stats for original/first edition and “BX” Dungeons & Dragons (though they could easily port to most any OSR retro-clone) and insightful text describing the creature’s appearance, habits, attacks, and other notes to run exciting encounters. Each monster could form the basis for a challenging encounter, if not an entire adventure.

Book of Lairs by Simon Forster ($7.76 PDF, RPGNow): Patreon has brought a lot of wonderful gaming content to both supportive patrons and the general public. Simon Forster’s Patreon project enabled him to release new monster lairs in an alphabetical format (one monster per letter of the alphabet). As a supporter of his efforts I’ve accessed PDF files for individual lairs as well as the final PDF collection...with a digest-sized, print-on-demand version from Lulu available to backers. (A PDF version is available through RPGNow, with a print-on-demand version available there for the general public soon.) I just ordered the Patreon-supporter version from Lulu, though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the individual lairs as they released and the entire collection in PDF; it’s extremely useful in providing quick, interesting location-based encounters. Forester follows the concept of “dynamic lairs” outlined by the Adventurer, Conqueror, King game (ACK); “a small dungeon or lair, created in advance like a point of interest, which includes 1-3 encounters.” Each lair consists of a two-page spread, with a full-page, full-color map on one side and a page of location notes on the other (including creature stats for ACK, though the material would work with any OSR-style game). A general description of the location and situation runs along the outer edge of each page perpendicular to the text, a little awkward to read in PDF but an interesting layout technique more suited to the print version. Each lair represents at the very least an intriguing encounter location tied to a particular OSR monster; at best one could serve as an entire game session adventure. The wilderness nature of the lairs make them ideal to drop in between scenarios as characters travel cross-country. Forster’s already working on a new set of lairs set in urban environments....

White Box Omnibus by James Spahn ($14.99 print, RPGNow): I received this 128-page, digest-sized resource in a monthly Mythoard I ordered on a whim. While the contents of this subscription service varies greatly in usefulness according to one’s gaming tastes, I was impressed this particular one included something as satisfyingly substantial as White Box Omnibus. Although designed for use with the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox rules, gamemasters can easily port these resources to their favorite OSR system. The omnibus collects a host of smaller OSR products Barrel Rider Games offers, presenting a varied buffet of useful bits to enhance one’s game experience: classes new to S&W WhiteBox like the thief, paladin, ranger, and druid; house rules for adding specialty sub-classes; a host of new items for each magical treasure category; 14 pages of new monsters; three adventures for different character levels; plus an all-new campaign region within which the scenarios are set. There’s something useful and inspiring here to enhance everyone’s OSR game to some degree. The three adventures and the gazetteer describing the surrounding countryside alone are worthwhile campaign materials.

Warriors of the Red Planet (beta) by Al Krombach ($16.50 print, Lulu): I’ve dabbled in “exotic” roleplaying game settings before (most notably Empire of the Petal Throne and its numerous successors). I enjoyed alternate histories that involved interplanetary adventures, like GDW’s excellent Space 1889. But I’ve not delved into the “sword and planet” genre much beyond those, certainly not in the context of an OSR game. Warriors of the Red Planet strives to simulate adventures set in the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs (and includes notes supporting campaigns in that particular setting), yet it also invites readers to create their own “sword and planet” impressions of Mars and other planets. To this end it customizes several retro-clone conventions to this brutal, interstellar genre, including four original character classes (fighting man, scoundrel, mentalist, and scientist, with the latter using gadgets instead of spells), an optional yet intuitive skill-check system, a horde of inspired monsters of varying hit dice, notes on airship combat, and an appendix filled with random, Mars-inspired tables. The addition of tables for randomly generating creatures (by terrain type), exotic names, alien flora characteristics, ruins, and adventure ideas provides gamemasters and solitaire players (like myself) enough framework to build engaging encounters appropriate to the “sword and planet” genre. The “beta” in the title seems to indicate this isn’t a fully polished product; aside from a few typos and formatting bits, it’s quite complete and playable, though I’d love to see a more developed edition with a table of contents, some adventure hooks, a sample scenario, and more wonderful random charts to provide guidance and inspiration. Any new edition deserves more of Thomas Denmark’s illustrations – certainly in color – because what we see on the interior and covers truly evokes the genre’s tone and sense of wonder. This game has intrigued me so much – and provided such diverse random tables – that I’ve already created two characters intended for a solitaire exploration of this genre.

I don’t consider what I write here as “reviews” as much as features discussing games and products that leave me with a positive impression. If you’re looking for reviews I highly recommend Sophia Brandt’s Die Heart blog, which offers more critical reviews of OSR material than I could write in my game features here (as well as coverage of solo roleplaying game issues and product). My impressions here at Hobby Games Recce primarily come from reading the material, though occasionally I give something a spin through solitaire play. Do I manage to play everything here? I only wish; but these products inspire me in some way, whether offering new ideas about gaming or elements to incorporate into my own projects, showing me how innovations in material so rooted in our class-and-level, retro-gaming past can provide a fresh perspective.


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