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.

Friday, 9 July 2021

[Musings] Opening OpenQuest

The new eiditon of Ducks & Dragons.
OpenQuest is belongs to the huge family of games based on Chaosium's percentile system. It promises a similar gameplay and experience as RuneQuest or Mythras, but in a more streamlined fashion. It is crunchier than early editions of Call of Cthulhu, but not as complicated as RuneQuest - it strikes a solid middle ground with its mechanics like Stormbringer and Elric! did. It is by no means my sweet spot when it comes to percentile games (otherwise I wouldn't be hacking my own), yet it is still a game I adore and keep recommending to people who are fed up with D&D, leveling, hit dice, and stuff like that. But this post isn't a going to be a review. Maybe next time. This is just plain gushing about production values.

OSR games are all over the place when it comes to quality. You can find utterly amateurish stuff like The Meat Grinder, deluxe books like the Hacklopedia of Beasts, cool boxed sets like Old-School Essentials, artpunk experiments like Mjölk Bork alike among them. While each style has its charm, my heart belongs to simple, sturdy, black & white books. Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG has been the gold standard for me in this regard: a massive tome lavishly illustrated with characterful black & white art that often blends into the layout. Zweihänder is also worth mentioning. OpenQuest 3rd edition is the latest that made me smile. When OpenQuest 3rd edition's Kickstarter campaign started Newt wanted a print on demand print run. Eventually the Signed & Sent tier was introduced, with a more expensive, proper printing, and some neat extras. 

That's how a rulebook should look like.

While OpenQuest 3e Signed & Sent might not be the absolute fucking unit my first printing DCC RPG rulebook is, it still ticks all the right boxes and kicks a lot of ass. Both versions will get you a cool Jon Hodgson cover and a cleanly laid out, neatly illustrated black & white interior, but the sown binding, sturdy paper, red bookmark, endpapers, and colour plates of the Signed & Sent tier elevate the product to a next level. Introducing that tier was the right decision on Newt's part. Coughing up the extra cash for it was the right decision on my part. It is a rulebook that looks damn good while also feeling like a rules reference instead of a coffee table book. It also oddly feels like a mix between the RuneQuest Classic reprints and the Games Workshop RuneQuest 3e rulebooks. Well done.

Did I mention it has colour plates?

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

[Homebrew] A Quick Primer for Terminus

As promised, I dug up the players' primer for my Terminus DCC RPG. The document was last edited in 2013, and even then it was unfinished: we started the campaign quickly, and I didn't have the time to include elite promotions, descriptions for other towns, or a fucking map. Truth to be told, the campaign had a pretty swift pace compared to what I was used to at that time, and despite planning it to be a sandbox it ended up becoming an almost entirely urban campaign, with a detour to a carnival in Hell, a wintry island ruled by two vampire lords, an ancient moon base, and the body of the space-faring Hungerer.

I still have the folder of dead characters in my desk, with notes on them like "decapitated by giant beetle while vomiting from poisoned mushroom", "torn apart when a small troll crawled out of her stomach", or the twice-resurrected zombie amazon priestess of Cthulhu whose sheet says "stabbed in the chest by a ratling ninja, crushed by a rollercoaster cart, torn to pieces by zombies on the ghost train". The living weren't much better either: the party's leader was a goblin thief, whose drug addiction made his Stamina drop to 4 over time, and grew a brain tumour after eating the corpse of the slime god to gain psionic powers. He was also the worshipper of the orc barbarian from the previous Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign. Good times!

It's probably the "bad" influence of video games that I like
my campaigns with tons of races.

The influence of Arduin and The Wilderlands of High Fantasy is obvious, among many other sources. I kept returning to the same kitchen sink approach with all my DCC RPG games - and also with the current Eremus campaign. In fact, plenty of the homebrew content and rules I used here were later adapted and converted to other games, and I have even revised them from the ground up for DCC RPG too for a campaign that never got going. A pity, because the revisions were much better than the originals.

While dusting off I did fix a few errors, improved the layout a bit, and cut out placeholders for content that never got into the booklet. That's all I changed though, so expect a good deal of shitty writing, swarms of typos, and clichés. Have fun!

A Quick Primer for Terminus

Bonus: stat blocks for Thieves Guild NPCs and ratling ninjas

There is a lot more, but alas mostly in Hungarian. Still, I'll dig up some more in the near-future (like the elite classes).

Sunday, 27 June 2021

[Musings] Back in Black

Welcome to a different, darker shade of the Simple Blogger theme. It's probably the most overused theme, but I guarantee it will be better for your eyes when you open up the Vorpal Mace blog from your phone in the middle of the night.

Summer is on the loose, and it got pretty serious here this year. I already got a T-shirt tan just from walking to work, and the temperature within the flat goes easily above 30 °C if we aren't careful. Summers is also expensive. Even if we don't travel anywhere with the kid arriving in two weeks, there are some Kickstarters and new releases to drain your funds.

A few familiars from the first Rise of the Minons Kickstarter.
Don't hang out with wizards who have friends like these.

Even if I had to put my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay preparations on hold, I can't say no to the next Dunkeldorf Kickstarter campaign: The Kingpin of Dunkeldorf. I'm not here for the thugs though (except for Lenny, he is a musthave), but for the witch hunters and mutants. While there are some great witch hunter and mutant minis available from other Oldhammer manufacturers, their numbers are still dwarfed compared to the variety in greenskin and dwarves.

Paul Smith of Creative Sculpt Studio has barely finished his Random Dungeon Encounters! campaign, he is already pushing another project forward, called Rise of the Minions 2! I have the entire lineup from the first batch, and they are some absolutely characterful little buggers that are a joy to paint. This is also a good opportunity to get some of his earlier sculpts. I was thinking about sitting this one out, because Paul said he has plans for champions of Order (a true niche among Oldhammer manufacturers), but that modron, mini-Cthulhu, and demon fish are hard to resist. Also, another Moonfaced Horror! You can't have enough Moonfaced Horrors!

Goodman Games also started their long-awaited DCC Dying Earth Kickstarter campaign. While I absolutely adore Vance's work and have high hopes that Goodman Games will do justice to the source material (just look at the contents of The Primer of Practical Magic: curses, manse-building, magical associations!), $50 with shipping will be a bit much for now. I'll be the first in line when it comes out next September, though.

And as usual, Venger is back again, with Cha'alt After Dark, going full R-rated with the sleazy stuff. What's more interesting for me though is that he got his hands on Encounter Critical, the best garage-made science-fiction fantasy rpg from 1979 (published in 2006). Cha'alt conversion with cheap black & white illustrations and typewriter text when?

The most important OSR news (probably of the year) has absolutely nothing to do with Kickstarters though. In fact, one of the best thing about it is that you don't have to risk your money on a Kickstarter campaign, and wait months or years to get the final product. Helvéczia - Melan's picaresque fantasy RPG - is available, right now. You can get it as a hefty boxed set, or a single rulebook. 

That's all for now. Some unknown guy called Unknown asked for some DCC RPG resources in the comment section of my last post, which were lost when I rebooted the blog in 2016. Expect some of those soonish.

Monday, 31 May 2021

[Musings] Excuses and Expectations

Unintendedly the cycoyles ended
up looking like the Ahrimans
of the Final Fantasy series.
May went by so fast I didn't even notice there was one. Yesterday I sat down to write a review, but after an hour or two I scrapped it entirely, because it felt like doing homework. Hobbies should be fun, and if something feels like a chore, you should give it a rest. Thus instead of a review, house rules, or whatever, I will give a little status update about what I actually did in the last month, and what I'm going to do in the near future.

Hecatomb is crawling forward nicely. I'm at 24 breezy pages that cover character creation, game system, spells, equipment, basically everything players would need, though spells are currently undergoing major revision. While my original intent was a homage to the original Basic Role-Playing and Magic World, my manuscript inevitably began to divert more and more from its roots. As the rules began to take shape, so did a sword & sorcery setting, which over time began to affect the rules it has grown out of. I will write a more detailed retrospective around the 6th month milestone.

Despite dropping or pausing some campaigns during the quarantine I still have two of them running. One is my old D&D5 Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign's B party, which will end soon - though I've been telling this my players for a year or two by now. The party finally found what they have been looking for at the bottom of Fortress Badabaskor, just destroyed Blackrazor using Whelm, and are now enjoying an otherworldly landscape on a demonic plane. Will they defeat the demon that inhabited the sword on home ground? Will they return to the Wilderlands and take over Fortress Badabaskor? Will the half-orc barbarian who was turned into an antagonist by the sword survive and recover his player character status? We'll see on Thursday. 

The other is the usual OSE Eremus campaign. After murdering some sirens and scalping them to get new strings for a dark elf vampire's lyre the party did a hexcrawl back to the ruined baths hiding the entrance to the Underworld. Their journey was mostly uneventful until they ran into a ruined tower infested with cycoyles, who they awakened and almost died fighting. Now they are back in the Underworld, trying to commit genocide against a spider-worshipping kobold tribe. That will be Wednesday's entertainment. "That's all nice and dandy, but what the hell is a cycoyle?" I'm glad you asked! It's just a slightly reskinned gargoyle, but it was altered enough that my players had no clue what they were fighting. Still, here is your stat block:

Cycoyles look like stone eggs with bow legs, gangly arms, small wings, and a crooked horn. From the middle of their rotund body a huge red eye is glaring evilly. They disguise themselves as grotesque statues near ruins and prey on weary wanderers who take a rest among the rubble.

AC 5 [14], HD 4 (18hp), Att 2 × claw (1d3), 1 × bite (1d6), 1 × horn (1d4) or cursing eye beam, THAC0 16 [+3], MV 90’ (30’) / 150’ (50’) flying, SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (8), ML 11, AL Chaotic, XP 125, NA 1d6 (2d4), TT C

Ambushers: They wait for the prey to fall asleep.
▶ Blend in with stone: May be overlooked or mistaken for inanimate statues.
▶ Eggs: 50% chance for a pair to have a rocky egg worth 100 gp.
▶ Mundane damage immunity: Can only be harmed by magical attacks.
▶ Spell immunity: Unaffected by sleep or charm spells.
▶ Cursing eye beam: Can place a curse on a character once a week with a shimmering red eye beam. Save versus spells or be afflicted by a curse of the referee’s choosing. (Maximum possible effects: –2 penalty to saves, –4 penalty to hit, an ability score reduced by 50%.)

Probably the last goblins I painted for a while.
After some pause I did a surprising amount of miniature painting, preparing for a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4e campaign that I ended up putting on hold. Now all those primed beastmen, greenskin, skaven, and renaissance townspeople were pushed to the bottom of my backlog, and instead of them I started working on some ancient miniatures, hoping I can use them for Hecatomb. I just received a package from Lucid Eye Publications today, containing some amazing miniatures from their Ziggurat line, a bunch of Death Dealers for a friend, and a Conann of the Fianna figure from their Jim Fitzpatrick line for my better half, which is both surprisingly big and amazingly detailed.

Speaking of other halves, our first child is expected to arrive early July. It's a wonderful new adventure into the unknown, one that's both exciting like nothing else before, and because of that, also slightly terrifying. Fingers crossed my experience with "winging it" and "herding cats" will come handy on our journey. This also means I will probably have even less free time, so don't be surprised if I'm gone for a month or two without posting anything.

Before that would happen I have two things I would like to cross out on my bucket list. One morning while it was still dark I opened my blog on my phone and was blinded by the light. Thus I will move to a dark theme, though that will require some minimal tinkering with the CSS for the info boxes. The other is a review. Emperors Choice's storefront unexpectedly resurfaced a few weeks ago on DriveThruRPG, which is the perfect occasion to finally write a review about their Arduin Grimoire Trilogy. It won't be an easy task though, for I will have to find a fine balance between being grateful and pissed off.

That's all for now. Fight On!

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Monday, 26 April 2021

[Homebrew] Getting Shitfaced

Advanced Taverns & Tankards
While browsing through my Google Drive folders, I found a bunch of house rules from the past - some for campaigns we actually played, some for campaigns that never launched. One of the recurring unused homebrews was a bunch of rules for drinking yourself under the table, which were originally written for Delving Deeper1, then revamped for Swords & Wizardry, before finally getting lost for years. Now the time has come to convert it to Old-School Essentials so we can finally give it a proper shot on Sunday's session.

The character's Drink Threshold is equal to 1 + CON modifier (minimum 0). It shows how many servings of alcohol the character can drink within an hour before its effects start to kick in. One serving equals a mug of ale, or a glass of wine, or a shot of spirits. After reaching the threshold the character must make a Save vs Poison for every further drink, with no penalty for the first one, but a cumulative -2 for each drink after that.

After the first failure the character becomes tipsy, receiving a small penalty (-1 on d20 rolls, -5% on percentile rolls) for every action. After 1-2 hours of rest he becomes sober again.

After the second failure the character becomes slightly drunk, receiving a medium penalty (-2 on d20 rolls, -10% on percentile rolls) for every action. He is also braver and more tolerant to pain, resulting in +1 hit point for every hit dice. After 1-2 hours of rest he becomes tipsy again.

After the third failure the character becomes drunk. He is incapable to do anything effectively (-4 on d20 rolls, -20% on percentile rolls), but is always eager to prove the opposite. He is fearless and shrugs of pain easily, resulting in +2 hit points for every hit dice. After 1-2 hours of rest he becomes slighty drunk again.

After the fourth failure the character passes out, usually after saying good bye to his lunch. He is incapacitated and totally unaware of  his surroundings. He will sleep for 4-8 hours before becoming sober again and he must make a System Shock roll to avoid losing one point of a random characteristic permanently.

If the character reaches at least the slighty drunk stage, he will have a hangover the next day. The length of the hangover depends on how drunk he was. For slightly drunk it lasts for an hour, for drunk it lasts for a  day, for passed out it may last for 1-3 days. During hangover the character is fatigued and sick, acting as if he had lost half his levels. Druids and alchemists might know cures that can shorten the length of hangover. The Remove Disease spell cures hangover, while Remove Poison nullifies the effects of alcohol.

We'll see how they work out in practice. They seem a bit lenient, but this is for an age of hardy people and less refined alcoholic drinks. Cheers!

1 I have absolutely no clue if it was written from scratch, or was based on already existing rules. The levels do remind me of HackMaster 5e, but it's been a while since I've read those and my books weren't available when writing this post. If anyone finds any similarity to other drinking rules, please let me know.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

[Review] Delving Deeper V1 Boxed Set

A photo I did this morning because I couldn't
find a proper picture on the internet.
Originally I wanted to end March with something d100 related, like an OpenQuest 3e review or  musings about Hecatomb1, but then I ran into Paul Smith's Random Dungeon Encounters! Kickstarter campaign and got in the mood for some old-school dungeon crawling goodness. So let me tell you about my favourite OD&D retroclone ever: the Delving Deeper V1 Boxed Set!

My first retroclone was Swords & Wizardry. I have fond memories of running sandboxes using Core and Complete, but as I got familiar with OD&D I realized that S&W altered its ancestor in way too many ways I didn't fancy.2 I yearned for something closer to the original, and eventually my prayers were answered. It was probably the ODD74 forums where I first read about Delving Deeper, an OD&D retroclone written by Simon Bull, Cameron DuBeers, and David Macauley. The promise of a more faithful adaptation of the LBBs, awesome Mark Allen art, and kickass boxed set by Brave Halfling Publishing whet my appetite immediately. The pdf version was released in October 2012, the boxed set in December 2012, but it was only in July 2013 when I finally got my hands on it.

Brave Halfling Publishing was ran by John Adams, who mostly published unremarkable OSR supplements, adventures, and an occassional retroclone until his business collapsed thanks to the dumpster fire Appendix N Adventures Kickstarter3. Despite all his faults John does deserve some praise for two things: he loved boxes and had an eye for quality. The Delving Deeper V1 Boxed Set is a proof of both. The game came in a thick cardboard boxed set with a glorious black & white Mark Allen cover. Mark Allen is my all-time favourite black & white OSR illustrator. His thick outlines combined with thin cross hatching and dot shading not only look great, but also evoke the feel of medieval engravings in the same way as Dave Trampier's art does.

While the pdf version of the rules are presented in three booklets, the boxed set split them in six sturdy saddle-stitched digest booklets. Forging A Hero introduces the rules players should know on 28 pages. Codex of the Divine and the Arcane contains the rules for spell casting, spell lists, and even some spare spell worksheets on 36 pages. Index of the Fiendish and the Malign has all your beloved classic monsters on 44 pages. Vault of Treasures covers treasure on 24 pages. Delving Deeper and Blazing New Trails has all the advice, tables, rules the referee needs to run the game on 38 pages. All five of them are pleasing to look at thanks to the lavishly illustrated interior and the tight design. Delving Deeper doesn't overdo highlighting and layout, it keeps it minimalistic, but effective.

That alone would have been enough to make me happy, but the box has a few more surprises! First, it has Rob Conley's Blackmarsh setting as a neat saddle-stitched digest booklet accompanied by a neatly folded hexmap. Second, it also has a pad of 25 digest landscape character sheets. It has everything you need to kickstart a sandbox campaign, except for a few dungeons, dice, and pencil. Ironically, dice and pencil are mentioned on the back of the box, and I remember John Adams promising to ship them in a second wave, but I never got those. If anyone has ever received dice and pencil from Brave Halfling Publishing, please let me know!

"Don't worry, according to the rules
trolls don't rend in this edition!" - said
the brave halfling to comfort his friend.

Of course as it is a product that was put together in a garage by some dude and his family, it has a few faults. Some of the art is blurred or slightly pixelated. The character sheets were printed with a tiny bold font that takes some effort to decipher. The Blackmarsh booklet was printed on a thinner papper than the rest, and while the folded map is neat, it's far from the indestructible accessory that comes with old Judges Guild products or the issues of Echoes From Fomalhaut.

The actual rules themselves are exactly what was promised: it's OD&D cleaned up. While the authors didn't cut anything out of the original game, they did take some liberties with the source material, and made small changes like adding the strength damage bonus from Gygax's house rules, tinkering with the attack matrix, filling in holes in the spell list from supplements, introducing an optional thief class which uses the x in 6 method used for dungeon exploration activities for thief skills, and throwing in some monsters that were mentioned but not statted in OD&D (eg. thouls, robots). The writing is functional: it doesn't have a strong author's voice, but it does a good job at explaining the rules and best practices. I can safely hand the rulebooks out to my players without worrying about if they will understand it. Overall the Delving Deeper V1 Boxed Set hits a sweetspot where I have enough stuff to start a campaign, but I still want to house rule the shit out of the game.4

Alas the boxed set is no longer available, so if you want a piece of this your best options are the digital editions on the Immersive Ink forums and DriveThruRPG, and the print-on-demand book on Lulu. Despite being a retroclone Delving Deeper went through a surprising amount of changes since the boxed set was released. The game is currently at V4, with a V5 seemingly stuck in development hell. Later versions began moving closer to the source material by introducing more Chainmalisms, and dropping some of the added content. If you find all the versions confusing, just pick V4.

In the last decade OSR production values leveled up to epic tiers. Fancy boxed sets, chunky leather bound tomes, coffee table books are not uncommon nowadays. I'm a sucker for them too - my faux leather HackMaster rulebooks are some of my most treasured posssessions, and whenever I visit a friend I take a minute to stand in awe of his silver foil DCC RPG rulebook while thinking about how can I get away with murder. But just as I find low to mid level adventuring the best in old-school D&D, so do I prefer simple, elegant, sturdy rulebooks at my table. The Delving Deeper V1 Boxed Set nailed it with its design perfectly, and if it came earlier than Swords & Wizadry it would be defining OD&D retroclone and not just a sidenote in the history of OSR. Even if the majestic boxed set is no longer available, it's a solid rules reference for original edition roleplaying.

Rules system: Delving Deeper
Publisher: Immersive Ink,
    Brave Halfling Publishing
Publication date: 2012

Format: boxed set
 six digest size rulebooks
 a folded letter size hex map
 a pad of 25 digest size character sheets

Available from:
 out of print, see review for other versions
The closest  a retroclone
ever got to OD&D.

1 Since the name Hecatomb stuck with everyone involved I decided to drop the Project prefix.

2 Some examples off the top of my head: morale, reaction, treasure tables, random encounters with NPCs in the wilderness, et cetera...

3 One of the reasons I rebooted my blog and started writing reviews was that I was pissed off by the Appendix N Adventures products.

4 While gathering my thoughts for this review I found some of my old homebrews for Delving Deeper. There is nothing earth shattering among them, but they might worth a post or two.

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