Wednesday, 31 August 2022

[Kickstarter] ...of Dragons and Demons

The cover has once again Elric
and a dragon on it, but on less
amicable terms.
A while back I had an urge to homebrew a d100 game based on Basic Roleplaying called Hecatomb. - which I eventually abandoned due to work and my offspring eating up my free time. Back then I mentioned that my sweetspot would be something akin to Drakar och Demoner, the legendary swedish rpg, which RiotMinds failed to deliver to their non-viking audience1. Times have changed since then: Free League grasped the rights from RiotMinds, teased us with posts about a new edition for months2, until finally announcing that a new edition of DoD is coming to Kickstarter on the 30th of August. Oh, and it will be available in English under the title Dragonbane.

It seems people got a raging dragonboner for Dragonbane, because the campaign funded in four minutes, and it keeps chewing through stretch goals like there is no tomorrow. It's no wonder though, Free League has a solid reputation, the cool art is already enough to whet one's appetite for the game, and they even included a 44 pages long quickstart so you don't have to buy into the game blindly. That's how you do a fucking Kickstarter.

Based on the quickstart Dragonbane looks like a lightweight and lighthearted mix of old-school BRP mechanics and Free League's signature game design elements. On one hand you have six characteristics and sixteen skills (plus a few more for magic) that you have to roll under with d20 to succeed3, attack rolls versus parry rolls, criticals that can pierce through armour, simple rules for weapon breakage, spells fueled by magic points, and so on. On the other hand you have the utterly simple and brilliant condition system seen in other Free League games, drawing cards for initiative, advantage and disadvantage, pushing failed tests, and monstrous monsters that act like a natural hazard with hit points and a random table for attacks rather than as a creature. And instead of becoming a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas, the whole blend feels smooth and natural, like they always belonged together. And whenever I find something I miss or dislike, my mind immediately goes "oh I can borrow that from RuneQuest/Stormbringer/OpenQuest" or "there is a rule for that from Forbidden Lands I can convert".

My expectations were high, and I was still surprised and amazed. I don't even want to criticize those design decisions I don't fully agree with, because they don't bother me, they aren't bad at all. I only have two issues with the quickstart: some of the weapon qualities from the character sheets are not explained anywhere, and the module is pretty meh and overuses the monster system (though the constantly reviving undead lady and lord are a pretty damn good idea).

Dragonbane is a promising rpg and the only one in the near future I am genuinely excited about4. It has tons of potential, especially if third party support can gain some momentum at release. The d100 game I wanted is here, ironically using a d20 for resolution. Now it's time for Kopperhavets Hjältar to follow suite.

1 We got the overcomplicated mess of Trudvang Chronicles and the half-assed RuinMasters instead.

2 Usually in swedish, so I had to get it translated to learn, that it contained no meaningful information about the game.

3 Originally DoD used d100 roll under for tests like traditional BRP games, but the DoD: Expert expansion for 3rd edition moved on to using a d20 roll under system like Pendragon. It works the same way, it's simply just less granular. Considering how a lot of people have problems with reading d100, that might not be a bad idea at all.

4 Except for HackMaster 5.5, but that has yet to be announced officially, and if it finally reaches the Kickstarter I will be drunk for days and won't shut the fuck about how awesome bears are in the game.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022


Oink oink, motherfucker!
Eldrad Wolfsbane of Meat Grinder fame is back and does exactly what you expect from him: unleashing his inner twelve year old to create cool modules for old-school D&D with shitty art1, monospace fonts, and lots of exclamation marks! If the title of DIE! DIE DIE! PIG ORC! was not enough to get you in the mood of slaughtering humanoids, then absorb the introduction too:

The kingdoms of the Northwestern Lands have fallen and the wars have been lost! MAN, ELF, DWARF and HALFLING are on the run or are waiting for THEIR DOOM!
Gnolls from the northeast!
Piece of SHIT Gnolls!
Fuck Gnolls!
Goblin's, Hobgoblins and Bugbears from the East!
Killing! Snorting! Raping!
Goblinoid FUCKS! We hate them!
Fleasheaters! They kill and eat the women and children!
They even eat the babies!
The ROTTEN Undead from the Southeast!
That ROTTEN Undead! That SMELL!
In the Kingdoms of the East, Mankind is being wiped out!

Do you feel the raw energy, the unbridled passion, the sense of imminent doom immediately? It makes the blood boiling! Yes, fuck those humanoids indeed! And this goes on as the author introduces the land from the point of view of desparate refugees who cannot find peace until finally reaching HIGHHILL town. The port town has a handdrawn map, some rumours, a paragraph for each quarter, and of course random encounter tables! Day encounters are your run of the mill port town encounters, with the sole exception of some rakshasas2 serving as a middle finger to player characters. Night encounters have a better chance of ending up nasty, with the table including a wight, a vampire, or the specter of Old Mr. Gunderson the old dead Werewolf Hunter. That's what I call local colour!

Well hello Mr. Fancy Pants!
Highhill is followed by The High Forest Wildecrawl. We get eleven local encounters, including pompous mercenary douchebags waiting to take advantage of the local conflict, a haunting nightmare, a pack of hell hounds, a huge ass necropolis, and a sprawling swamp ruled by morlocks, among others. I love the NPC names. DEATH MONGER, Groggy Monley, Big Stinky Betty, Chopper the Ogre - even without description they immediately evoke an image about their owners. Beside names most encounters have some detail that make them memorable. One that really stood out  to me is the Lone Troglodyte:

A Lone Troglodyte lurks here. He wears ornate Plate Male and Shield and carries a grand sword. He has a backpack full of supplies. He appears to be looking at a map and is strangely far more intelligent than an average Troglodyte. He plans to find the treasure on the map and quietly retire. He had an entire party of fellow Troglodytes but they had all slowly been killed off and he is the LAST ONE!

That's a surprising amount of background for a surprisingly unorthodox NPC. He has the potential to be remembered and talked about years later by your players. Cool wilderness encounters earns +10% for the final score. There are no hexes on the handdrawn wilderness maps though, which earns -10%.

The final section is about the Old Holy Fort, a 21 room dungeon invaded by those goddamn pig orcs! The map is disappointingly linear. It has some branches, but there are no loops, there are barely any secret doors. It needs some heavy Jacquaysing, right now! The party will face all the orcs right in the very first room, and if they are laser focused on killing them they will quickly finish their mission - or die trying. There is more to the dungeon though than orc barracks and shitting rooms! Beyond their quarters lie a path to the underworld, rooms of critters, crypts with lurking undead, and a mysterious underground area hidden behind an altar where morlock priests breed humans as livestock. The latter was unexpected and got close to Lamentations of the Flame Princess territory, but the author stopped at barrels of pickled humans and generational slaves.

21. Past the secret door is actually where the Key of Deadmoore is held. In an untrapped display case. A mysterious laughter erupts for a few seconds when a PC gets the key. END

Awesome! That's how you end an adventure! Don't tell me you wouldn't be hyped after such ending to see what's coming next!

DIE! DIE DIE! PIG ORC! is deliberately amateurish, juvenile, minimalistic, but does not feel artifical like 50 ShaDes Of vOrpal3 and is actually playable. Behind the rampant ramblings of a youngster lies an adventure with terse, evocative, and fun encounters. It ain't no Meat Grinder, but hey, you cannot churn out a cult classic everytime!

Rules system: B/X
Publisher: Eldrad Wolfsbane
Publication date: 2022

Format: pdf
Size: letter-size
Pages: 24

Available from:
  DriveThruRPG (pdf)
It definitely has pig orcs
who should die - and more!

1 Except for the occasional public domain images of course.

2 I had flashbacks of City State of the Invincible Overlord, where your daily stroll to the grocery store can easily become a deadly encounter with a high level monster.

3 50 ShaDes Of vOrpal does deserve a praise for its art, because that feels totally authentic. When I was twelve those who were "good at drawing" drew exactly in the same style as seen there.

Disclaimer: The DriveThruRPG links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through the link we'll get some credit for your purchase too.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

[Content] Single Page OpenQuest 3e Character Sheet

This is what the platonic
OpenQuest campaign looks like.
Those who have follow this blog probably know that I like tinkering with character sheets. If you like fancy and decorative sheets, then these aren't the ones you are looking for - I prefer a minimalistic and printer friendly design and cramming as much useful information needed on the sheet as possible. For a long time I have been using Inkscape to make character sheets, but its a vector graphics editor first and foremost, and its limitations slowly started to become annoying.

Last year I bought the desktop publishing application Affinity Publisher on a sale, and never looked back.  Its dirt cheap compared to InDesign and other professional applications, it is far user friendlier than Scribus, and you have to buy it only once. I learned its basics while tinkering with Hecatomb's layout, so even if that projects remains abandoned, at least the time spent on it didn't go to waste.

While re-reading OpenQuest 3e recently I felt an urge to fuck around a bit again with Affinity Publisher, and I ended up retooling one of my character sheets for the game. Newt gave his blessing, so here you are, download and have fun! C&C welcome. Stay tuned for more, as form-fillable versions are coming soon.

Update #1: I added the Affinity Publisher templates to the links.

Single Page OpenQuest 3e Character Sheet (A4)
Single Page OpenQuest 3e Character Sheet (US Letter)

Single Page OpenQuest 3e Character Sheet Affinity Publisher template (A4)
Single Page OpenQuest 3e Character Sheet Affinity Publisher template (US Letter)

Monday, 30 May 2022

[Loot] Opening Call of Cthulhu Classic

"That thing was too big to be called
a box. Too big, too thick, too heavy,
and too rough. It was more like a
large hunk of paper."
I have been in the mood of rolling some percentile dice for a few years now. Unfortunately I did not have any chance to run any game from my small but vicious collection of Chaosium games and their relatives, and Hecatomb1 had to be put on hold due to lack of time and brain capacity. At least I was lucky enough to play a few one shots of Call of Cthulhu 7e as a fat and fast-talking archeologist professor Jacob Smith.2

Just like Dungeons & Dragons, Chaosium's games are also having a renaissance. Unlike Wizards of the Coast, Chaosium has been putting some serious effort in keeping even their classics alive. Their RuneQuest Classic is one of the most cherished books on my shelf, so it was a no-brainer for me when their Call of Cthulhu Classic boxed set's Kickstarter was announced, that I will dish out some serious cash on that. Originally I wanted to get the classic one inch box, considering my firstborn was on the way, but then I changed my mind when I imagined him looking in my eyes a decade or two later and calling me an idiot for not buying the majestic $100 set that will probably worth a small fortune when I perish.

It was a long and slightly bumpy ride, my patience growing thin as the boxed set kept getting delayed due to various global crises. Today though the wait has come to an end when I found a thick and heavy box from Poland lying on my office desk. With eyes gleaming from excitement I borrowed my collegue's kampfmesser to tear it open. When I finally shoved away some of the packaging material I hesitated, but in the end gave up on sacrificing said collegue to the Old Ones - though the urge was hard to resist.

The two inch boxed set contains enough material to play Call of Cthulhu for a lifetime. Its contents include:

  • A paper detailing the contents of the box. Yay!
  • The second edition Call of Cthulhu rulebook, with errata included.
  • A Sourcebook for the 1920s, which has some additional trivia and content for the era.
  • A few character sheets that you will likely never use in the age of pdfs and cheap printing.
  • A poster map featuring the 1920s world map on one side, and a map of Arkham on the other.
  • A size comparison poster featuring the various lovecraftian monstrosities from the rulebook.
  • Silhouttes featuring characters, monsters, and monsters not included in the original set. Naturally you will never cut them out, afraid of ruining the integrity of your boxed set. Still, they are neat, and since you get a pdf with the package, you can print them out yourself on sturdier paper.
  • Shadows of Yog-Sothot, "a global campaign to save mankind" according to Chaosium. We know though, that unless the Keeper is fudging or light hearted, that will never happen.
  • Trail of Tsathogguah, another world spanning campaign. I have a hunch Chaosium is either not familiar with their games or trolling us.
  • The Asylum & Other tales, a collection of seven scenarios, including one from the late Dave Hargrave of Arduin fame.
  • Cthulhu Companion, a sourcebook containing four more scenarios and some additional rules.
  • Fragments of Fear, another companion with a bunch of stuff and a scenario.
  • A Keeper's Screen, which has some handy tables, but is not cardstock.
  • A crapton of handouts on thin paper.
  • A set of dice.

I would have been happier if some of the handouts and the GM screen were printed on sturdier paper, but I'm also pretty fucking satisfied with the quality of the poster maps. It's a pity though, that the 1981 Chaosium Games Catalog and the original Basic Role-Playing rulebook were only included as pdfs. The rulebooks and modules are softcover, saddle-stitched, just like in days of yore, though they probably have more hit points than the originals. Overall I'm very satisfied with the contents. All it is missing is Masks of Nyarlathotep, and it would be perfect. Dear Chaosium, please do an expanded QuestWorld boxed set next!

To finish this blogpost off, some shitty pictures of the contents hastily made on my desk follow... If you need more pictures of anything specific, feel free to ask, and I will do my best to take a photo of it.

By the end of summer I had a pretty neat player's rulebook of some 30 pages, but endless rules revisions, my firstborn, and work interfered and I lost my will to continue with it. Plus there are a crapton of percentile games out there already, so I might end up just house ruling one of them and using the setting when I finally rise from my ashes as a Referee.

He looks basically like Jack Black's character from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. He kinda acts like that too until there is some action, when he kicks ass. Not the most original character, but I enjoy playing him.

Sunday, 2 January 2022

[Review] The Heroic Legendarium

If you thought Traveller's cover
was minimalistic...
Now that 2021 is behind us the time has come to talk about my favourite OSR product of the year. There were some damn fine canditates, but in the end it was a seemingly unremarkable book that stole my heart. The Heroic Legendarium looks like a university textbook: it has no kickass cover, no interior illustrations, no super functional modern layout, not even bookmarks. What's inside though shows years of hard work and an unparalelled understanding of one of the hardest nuts of old-school gaming: post-Unearthed Arcana AD&D 1st edition.

Whether because of the disillusion with modern D&D's bloat, the lack of free time, or taking the first zen moment of old school gaming1 too seriously, the majority in the OSR community seems to gravitate towards the various B/X clones and lightweight games. On the fringes though there are still people who love a good deal of complexity, and enjoy stuff like Arduin, HackMaster, RoleMaster, RuneQuest, or AD&D. The latter is a pretty controversial case, because a lot of people are fond of its content, but few appreciate its many nuanced rules. Trent Foster Smith is one of these rare connoisseurs. He is the author of The Mystical Trash Heap blog and the legendary AD&D Companion, which was a collection of AD&D material by Gygax and original ideas inspired by his work. Including Dragon magazine articles and alike can be a legally risky endeavour though, and eventually the AD&D Companion was scrapped to be revamped as The Heroic Legendarium. 

"Rules Modifications and Expansions for use with OSRIC™ and Other Compatible Advanced Adventure Games" - says the description, with a wink. Once you open the book you will realize that this is a white lie: THL is an AD&D supplement through and through. It uses or touches upon almost every obscure bit of AD&D, including all the things most of us never dared to use or gave up even trying to understand2. Like Unearthed Arcana the book is split in two, the first half containing all the new player-side content and the second half focusing on game mastery.

The Players' Section is a grabbag of errata, revisions, and new options. New races include the cat-blooded (non-furry catfolk), dhampirs (non-edgy half-vampires), dragon-blooded (non-scaly half-dragons), and half-ogres (the classic loveable big oafs). Each has its own uniques advantages, disadvantages, restrictions, and even such details are covered as character age and racial preferences. Unlike tabaxi, dragonborn, or tieflings these new races can be easily integrated into more grounded campaigns, because they don't stick out like a sore thumb from the average sword & sorcery city crowd.

The part about classes starts with fixes for druids, cavaliers, barbarians, thief-acrobats, monks, before moving on to the new classes. And what fine classes they are! Mystics are a mix of spiritualists and diviners who always possess psychic abilities3, have a second sight, know astrology, herbalism, and alchemy. Hunters are primitive fighters with a bunch of survival skills. They feel like a mix of rangers and barbarians. Savants are magic-users with sage-like abilities. Their spells largely depend on their chosen fields of expertise - thus they are not unlike specialist wizards from later editions, but with thematic instead of school-based specializations. Mountebanks are charlatans with a strong focus on verbal flimflam and swindling over thievery. They can also cast some degree of magic and brew potions. Bards get a massive overhaul to work as a standalone class available at level 1, though its advancement scheme shows elements of the original AD&D1e bard. The bard also gets the beloved jester as a sub-class, who has a mix of thief, acrobat, mountebank abilities supplemented by pranks and a hint of illusionist magic. None of these classes are original or particularly new. We have seen them in Dragon magazine, Realms of Adventure magazine, or were promised by Gygax for AD&D 2nd edition, and also appear in Adventures Dark and Deep. Nevertheless, these are just as good and valid iterations as the others.

Character creation does not end with choosing race and class though. There are rules for Socio Economic Class (modifies starting money and reaction), Birth Order (only interesting for seventh children), Appearance (a new ability score that replaces Comeliness and alters reactions), Joss Factor (kinda like luck points), Knacks and Quirks (akin to HackMaster's Quirks & Flaws, but far more vague). There is a secondary skills table too with random results for each race. Equipment also gets expanded with more coin types, common items, and weapons - including oriental weapons, boomerang, pole axe, epee, and rapier4. Surprisingly there is no new armour, but I can live with that.

The largest chunk of the Players' Section is of course spells. Mystics, Savants, Mountebanks, and Bards all have their own unique spell lists. Sometimes even spells from the earlier rulebooks are altered slightly to fit the new class thematically better. For example Mystics have Speak With Dead like clerics, but since they are mediums they need a cat's eye agate talisman to cast it instead of a holy symbol. The highlight of the spell list are the bardic songs. While many of them overlap in functionality with older spells, they behave differently because they are songs now with fitting names. For example, bards don't cast Sleep, they sing the Drowsiness Lullaby.

Psychic talents also get some much needed revision and clarification, followed by Focused Energy Activation Teachniques5 - a grabbag of wushu and cinematic moves that must be learned through special training6 and can be used only by spending Joss Factor on them. There are multiple levels of FEATs, from minor techniques like Blind Fighting, through moderate techniques like Weapon-breaking Strike, to major techniques like Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

It's for OSRIC. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

The Players' Section ends with an essay titled Habits of Highly Effective Players, an expansion to Successful Players from the original Player's Handbook. It is broken up into six parts and covers such important topics like thinking outside the rules, the importance of taking smart action over being overly cautious, and setting your own goals. It is well worth reading even if its advice feels trivial after years of gaming.

The Game Master's Section is fucking dense. It starts with a thorough explanation of handling wilderness exploration and planar adventures. Combat gets some love too, first in form of some additional rules for certain situations (reach advantage, speed factor of natural weapons, using shields against missiles, etc.), followed by a clarified and simplified overview of the initiative system. Yes, with fucking segments and speed factors. I still prefer HackMaster's system over this one, but damn, it actually feels playable!

After all the crunchy rules THL delivers a hefty chapter of GM advice. Honestly, after all the crunch it was kind of a relief reading these. Even if they don't say anything new or ground breaking after a couple of years of running games, they are well worth reading, for they cover a wide variety of topics from world building, through rational dungeon design, to common establishments in medieval settlements. Speaking of settlements, the book does not get bogged down with your usual dungeon, hex, and city crawling, but turns things up to eleven by devoting an entire mini game to domain management! And it isn't just building shit and conquering hexes - there are guidelines for marriage, siring offsprings, diplomatic relations, handling indigineous people, and so on. It is pretty vague, leaving the fine details usually in the DM's hand, which can be seen both as an issue, or a feature. Finally, just like there was advice for successful players, DM's get some best practices too, plus a bit about handling inter-party conflicts.

The section ends with treasures and monsters, as expected. There are new treasure tables for dungeon levels, and some sweet magic items, like a magical dreamcatcher, a knife that can tear a portal between prime material planes, the puzzle box from Hellraiser, or a rather powerful clock that can mess with time. Good stuff. Monsters start with revision of AC, damage, hit points, psychic abilities, etc. before moving on to the interesting part, the new creatures. I might have been tired at this point, or it might be because I have read a metric shitton of bestiaries already, but this was the least interesting part of the book for me. It's a grabbag of all kinds of creatures, and I can't recall any that I haven't seen before in some form or another. There are oriental monsters, more demons, fantasy gypsies, semi-elementals, thouls, and so on. It's not a bad collection by all means, it just felt haphazard.

Surprisingly there is only one appendix, which is a new list of inspirational reading. I expected to see a collection of the various charts, short monster stats, and maybe some new random encounter tables.

Reading THL was joy, mostly because how closely it felt to reading my original AD&D books. The writing has a gygaxian baroque flair. It feels natural and is entertaining, though sometimes hard to grasp. It is an immensely inspiring supplement. It got me in the mood of running AD&D again, it made me want to use some of its content, and motivated me to take off my AD&D books from the shelves to read them again cover to cover. And that was enough to be forgiving about layout and design when scoring the product7. The AD&D Companion is dead, long live The Heroic Legendarium!

Rules system: AD&D1e / OSRIC,
Publisher: Storm Fetish Productions
Publication date: 2021

Format: pdf, hardcover
Size: letter-size
Pages: 156

Available from:
 DriveThruRPG (pdf, print on demand)
The minimalistic design hides
unadulterated first edition feel.

1 See "Rulings, Not Rules" in Matt Finch's A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

2 Thinking of reading ADDICT again alone makes my head hurt.

3 "Note that the term “Psychic” is used in place of “Psionic” throughout this work, as the use of the latter in Original Edition games is actually a misnomer and that term is properly applied only to the combination of psychic talents or phenomena with electronic devices, such as a machine powered by psychic energy." - The Heroic Legendarium, pg. 76.

4 I'm still baffled why AD&D1e had such a short and simplified list for swords while having an abundance of polearms. If there is an article about it I missed, please drop me a link in the comment section below.

5 It is only during the writing of this blogpost I realized that the abbreviation for it is FEAT. Smooth.

6 Which is eerily similar to DCC RPG's "Quest For It!" mantra that I keep parroting in my old-school campaigns too ever since I fell in love with the game.

7 If it gets a revision with art, I will definitely get back to it and update the score.

Disclaimer: The DriveThruRPG links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through the link we'll get some credit for your purchase too.

Friday, 10 December 2021

[News] No Artpunk, Vol 1

The First No Artpunk Contest,
as depicted by Rubens.
We are living at a time when the OSR is dominated by two cosmic forces. One one side the agents of Law worship functional, clean, elegant presentation. On the other end of the spectrum the followers of Chaos subjugate everything to their avantgarde visuals and weirdness. While none of them seem to have the upper hand yet, the Grey Lords of Cosmic Balance decided that the latter is the more harmful power overall, and have sent their Champion Eternal Prince of Nothing to diminish its influence. Under his banner a number of companions gathered to show everyone, that the old guard still alive and can pack a serious punch. Their valaint crusade was known as the First No Artpunk Contest. Their deeds are immortalized on the pages of the almanac known as No Artpunk, Vol 1.

Jokes aside... Congratulations to everyone who participated! It was an exhilirating ride, even if keeping up with the reviews was a bit exhausting by the end. I'm particularly proud of my dear friend/player/referee Chomy, whose victory furthered our little country's efforts towards becoming a major power in the OSR scene.

The No Artpunk, Vol 1. compilation will be Pay What You Want in its first three months, with every ounce of income donated to the Autism Research Institute. While you can get it for free, please consider paying for it to support a good cause.

Monday, 8 November 2021

[Update] You Shall Now Pass!

Lately I received a surprisingly large number of requests to access my character sheets1. While they were available to the public before, the September Google Drive security update messed up the links making them unavailable to those without permission. The links have been updated, so there is no need to knock on my doors anymore. Sorry for not addressing the issue sooner. Also, thank you very much for all your requests - I appreciate your interest!

A photo of Google Drive holding its ground against hordes of
DCC RPG and Zweihänder players (2021, coloured).
Speaking of sheets, since I started working on Hecatomb (which is almost the only projact I can actually progress with in my spare time nowadays) I bought Affinity Publisher during their COVID sale and picked up some bits about layouts and typography. Needless to say, looking at these old sheets with fresh eyes is amusing2. I would love to revamp some of them eventually, still following my usual KISS principle, but with better flow and more effective use of whitespace.

I will nont promise anything though. Heck, in the current state I would be happy if I could finish my review of what I consider the OSR product of the year...

1 See the "My Own Creations" sidebar if you are unfamiliar with them.

2 It also makes looking at plenty of professionally produced rulebooks disheartening, but that is a story for another time.