Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review: For Coin and Blood

I remember hearing vaguely about For Coin & Blood some time ago, but it seemed to pass me by before I got a chance to investigate. Then Diogo Nogueira, author of Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells and Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, made mention of it on social media. And when Diogo endorses a game, there's a really good shot that I'm going to like it.

So, I googled For Coin & Blood and started investigating. Well, what I found was an awesome little game made by a passionate creator. Like my own The Hero's Journey (and obviously White Star), FCB is built on the Swords & Wizardry White Box chassis. It draws heavy inspiration from a more grim and gritty side of fantasy, clearly influenced by works such as The Black Company and The First Law series' of novels. By combining and tweaking White Box, material from several third party supplements, throwing in a heaping helping of evocative art, and excellent production values Gallant Knight Games has managed to produce a gem of a game.

While I'm not familiar with the fiction mention above, huge credit to the creators of FCB for creating a game that oozes dark fantasy. In fact, I was a bit jealous as I read through the book because I immediately thought "This would be great to run a White Box: Game of Thrones style game," which is something I had always hoped to write myself. Well, Gallant Knight Games beat me to it and good on them! The material is so evocative that it inspired me to pick up the first book in The Black Company series of novels.

So, what separates For Coin & Blood from traditional fantasy roleplaying games? Well, for starters it runs on the presumption that the player characters are not heroes. There are no holy protectors or knights in shining armor here, folks. But, what elevates this above the tired trope of "you play the villains," is that For Blood & Coin presents players and narrators with the opportunity to play characters who are complex and nuanced. No alignments, no archetypes. These are characters who are certainly self-serving, but are still capable of heroism if they so choose. The complexities of characters like Arya Stark or Jaime Lannister are right at home in this game -- and that's awesome!

Beyond fantastic, heavily shadowed black and white line art, the most evocative feature of the game are its classes. No paladins, fighters, or bards here folks. Sellswords, Blackguards, and Assassins rule the day These characters are tarnished by their own sins and willingness to do horrible things, but aren't mustache twirling villains. They're just willing to do what needs to be done when others aren't willing to get their hands dirty. That's something that's refreshing and pretty damned unique in the OSR, separating it from the more heroic games like The Hero's Journey or pulp stylings of White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game.

Author Alan Bahr grabs hold of plenty of open source third party material then tweaks it until he's given it a new, but dingy and tainted coat of paint and created something all his own. There is plenty of familiar material here, but its all modified to the grimdark mood. A few areas of note include his adversaries section, the small tweaks to the player character classes, and rules for player characters running a criminal organization.

For Blood & Coin runs under the assumption that all player characters and most adversaries are human. There are no rules included for playing non-human characters and the bulk of adversaries included in this book are mundane. This creates the implication that magical creatures (and by extension magic itself) is rare and dangerous. This helps add to the atmosphere of the material as well as keeping the page count down. A handful of fantastic creatures are included, but that only helps to accentuate their rarity in my opinion.

This is a deadly game. Characters begin play with more hit points than other White Box-style games, but gain very, very as they increase in level. In fact, it's likely that a critical hit will kill even a 10th level character outright. Again, this adds to the grimdark feel of the material and in addition will force player characters to think beyond the "beat it till XP comes out" mentality that too often plagues fantasy roleplaying games. Each class also features abilities that are familiar tropes from the traditional fighter/cleric/wizard (called sellsword, priest, and magus in this game) dynamic, but takes the time to spice up these core three into something that feels genuine to the setting material. Four additional classes (assassin, blackguard, cutpurse, and knight) round out player character options. Each is just different enough to have its own unique feel, but isn't bloated with extra, unnecessary rules.

In the final pages of the rules, Bahr includes rules for player characters running and joining criminal organizations. Based on Swords & Wizardry Chivalry, the author has taken the concepts found in that book and given them a new and wonderful spin that (yet again) reinforces the themes and tone of the grimdark fantasy genre. Even as someone who originally wrote Chivalry, I found Bahr's tweaking of my original concept to be absolutely wonderful and refreshing.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the inclusion of a 7th Ability Score: Infamy. A character's deeds and misdeeds have a huge impact on the game and this form of measuring a character's reputation provide a more complex and dynamic roleplaying experience that the more traditional alignments used in most games. In fact, alignments have been completely jettisoned in For Coin & Blood, and that's a good thing in this context.

Pound for point, point for point, For Coin & Blood is my go-to grimdark fantasy roleplaying game. In fact, grabbing it has actually saved me money because I've purchased a copy in lieu of Warhammer or Shadow of the Demon Lord. My affection for White Box-based games is well known and this is takes that original edition style of game into a new and wonderful direction by presenting a game that offers opportunities for complex, morally ambigious storytelling not often actively encouraged in the OSR. I can't wait to see where Bahr takes the game line next.

For Coin & Blood can be found  on RPGNow & DriveThruRPG in PDF and print-on-demand versions. PoD is in digest form, with a black and white interior, though it can be ordered on color quality paper for a higher quality product -- which I'd recommend. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Frustration and Focus

The past three months have been tough on a personal front, with ongoing issues regarding a family member's health and a rapid fire series of home ownership issues. I've not been able to do any writing of real substance and even had to turn down a freelance job I very much wanted to take. After being displaced from my home for almost four months, I'm finally back home and ready to turn my attention to work again.

But, the problem is that I've got so many projects in a partially completed state that I'm at a loss of where to start. I've got the following projects in various states being drafted and can't bring myself to focus on any particular one in order to bring it to completion.

Saga of the White Box: A stand-alone White Box variant drawing from Norse mythology as a primary focus, particularly the Poetic and Prose Eddas.

White Knights: A stand-alone White Box variant focused on telling stories set during the Crusades and focused on playing crusader knights.

Rad Box: A stand-alone White Box variant dealing with the post-apocalypse genre.

Cybermancer: An homage to and rules clean-up of Shadowrun, particularly the 1st and 2nd ed versions.

Untold Adventures: A Jamesification of B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord.

Swords of Bulsara: An original system sword-and-planet RPG.

White Star: Lightspeed: A supplement for White Star: Galaxy Edition focusing on starships and space travel.

Heroes of Amherth: A conversion of The Chronicles of Amherth to The Hero's Journey.

I'm usually not this scatter-brained. In fact, I usually hyper-focus on a single project and plow through it at a pretty good clip. But each of these products is sitting in a drafted state, some as much as 50+ pages and now I can't just freakin' pick one and go. No real point or statement to this blog entry, I suppose -- just venting my frustration.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Chasing (Dungeons and) Dragons

A large part of the appeal of the OSR is built on nostalgia. Players look to relive those halcyon days of their gaming youth. Simpler rules for simpler times. Yes, there's a lot to be said from a theory and design point of view for a minimalist take on rules design, but I think to deny the wistful gaze into the past we often feel when playing these games is foolish. 

The past few months have been very rough for me on a personal level. I won't go into detail, because that's not what this blog is about. I genuinely long for the simpler times in my life. For the days when I got home from school, pulled out my Rules Cyclopedia and my graph paper and just went at it for hours on end. It was a simpler time. Now, I'm an adult. I have the responsibilities and concerns of an adult. The OSR lets me at least remember those simpler times, to hold a time capsule of my own youth bound up in a  print-on-demand cover.

But somehow, I can't go home again. Instead of ignoring or house ruling something and going with it, I break it all down to its smallest parts and try to figure it out. Analyze, study, play test. It's something it never was back in my youth: It's work.

I was looking at my bookcase today when this all hit me. I own physical copies of several versions of old school D&D or versions that would qualify as retro-clones: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry Complete, Swords & Wizardry White Box, White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Adventures Dark and Deep, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Basic/Expert D&D, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Rules Cyclopedia, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting. Hell, I even wrote one myself: The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying. I stopped counting once I hit the teens.

Why? Whenever I look at my shelf, I always default to either Labyrinth Lord, White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, or The Hero's Journey. So why do I keep buying retro-clones? I'm not a collector by any measure. Part of it, I know, is a way to peek into the minds of other game designers. But I can do that just as easily with a PDF. Part of it is also, undoubtedly, a desire to show support for other publishers with my wallet. We're all in it together, after all.

But as I starred at that shelf, I knew the real answer. I'm chasing that twelve year old kid I used to be. Problem is, I just can't leave well enough alone. I can't just game. It's become work. It's become this kind of ceaseless quest to find the perfect game that will somehow whisk me away to junior high -- and I'm not sure that's possible anymore.

I often wonder if it would be best to cut myself off. To simply select a game and use it as my singular go-to -- at least in terms of running games. Yet somehow, I always hold myself back from doing just that. Maybe it's because I'm not twelve anymore, and I never will be again.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

For Love of Basic D&D

I'm a Swords & Wizardry White Box guy. That's pretty obvious. I love to design using that set of core mechanics, as is evident from Barrel Rider Games' White Box line of products and the creation of White Star. I think it's a system with infinite possibilities due to its simplicity and the cleaner, more modern design brought to it by current OSR creations like White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. In short, it fits like a glove. It just clicks in my mind.


But believe it or not, it's not my favorite D&D-style system to play. My favorite system to play is Rules Cyclopedia. It's a big, bold book chock full of clunky, archaic rules. From the perpetually confusing Weapon Mastery rules, to the never-once-in-my-life-have I used Seige Warfare rules, to the "who the hell ever reaches 36th level?" Immortal rules. But, by God is that book full of potential. I believe it's the greatest single-volume fantasy RPG ever published. In that tiny font, 3 column layout, my imagination (both as a young boy and as an old grog) soars. Maybe it was because it came out when I was just the right age. Maybe it was the art. Maybe it was hiding away in those pages after a bad day at school. Hell, I don't know. But I know that the Rules Cyclopedia is when I realized I was going to play RPGs for the rest of my life.


As most reading this blog know, Wizards of the Coast has made the Rules Cyclopedia available in both softcover and hardcover print-on-demand formats now. I'll get my hell mittens. But here's the real kicker: There's some seriously awesome print on demand support for Basic D&D these days. In addition to the RC, they've got the DMR2 Creature Catalogue, B1: In Search of the Unknown, B2: Keep on the Borderlands, and the Hollow World Box set (along with a few other more obscure products and a few of the Known World Gazatteers) available as print-on-demand. Never did I ever think I'd see the day.

That means the Rules Cyclopedia and Basic D&D will be around as long as print-on-demand is around. I guess the game itself finally reached 36th level and ascended to Immortality.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

State of the Halfling 2018

2017 has been a helluva a year for me, and not in a good way. I've had some pretty major developments in my personal life that have forced me to sacrifice time previiously spent working on writing. It's not hyperbolic to say that things in 2017 have been life-altering for me, and in most cases not for the better. 2018 came crashing in with a swift kick in the nuts for the ol' halfling, so there's no calm in sight.

So, with that in mind I wanted to give folks an idea of what's on the docket for 2018 when it comes to Barrel Rider Games.

First & Foremost: White Star: Galaxy Edition is still going to be released in Print-on-Demand on both OBS and Lulu in hardcover and softcover formats. We had some large formatting corrections to make based on the first set of proofs received, and are upgrading to premium paper for the OBS release. Sorry for the delay. Those who have purchased the PDF will receive a coupon for a discount reducing the price to equate with the Print + PDF combo.

Cybermancer: Cybermancer is billed as Fantasy Cyberpunk Role-Playing in the Retro-Future, and it is currently being drafted. It's a retro-homage to old school cyberpunk RPGs we all know and love. It's basically the "big" project for 2018.

Other Projects: I have a slew of other products in development, all in different states of conception. These include Saga of the White Box, Heroes of Amherth, Rad Box: Post-Apocalyptic White Box Roleplaying, several small White Box supplements in the style of White Box Omnibus, Compendium, Gothic, and Arcana.

Because of the changes in my life and the new obligations created, I am no longer providing release dates for products. Project goals might be stated, I can't commit to hard release dates at the moment. My current situation no longer allows for committed time to focus on writing and what time I am given could be immediately consumed by this new personal development, and without notice.

Currently, getting the doors closed on White Star: Galaxy Edition is of the utmost importance and is my largest focus. I want to get it done and out there for everyone to enjoy. I'm genuinely proud of it and want folks to enjoy it at their gaming table for years to come.

Here's to hoping 2018 is a bit gentler and softer to the Barrel Rider, but given the way it's started I'd better armor up.