Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: Dogs in the Dungeon

One of the first things most old school gamers learn in the value of retainers and hirelings. It's a rather cold and pragmatic view, but many players look at 0th level hirelings as someone who can not only carry their loot or hold the torch - but also as someone who can "take a hit" that (though it will probably kill them), thus serving as kind of an extra pile of hit points by proxy. The next logical step for many of these players is to purchase a trained war dog. Not only are they more proficient in battle than most hirelings, but they also don't demand a cut of the treasure. Whether or not you agree with this philosophy, it seems to be a given when it comes to OSR gaming.

Recognizing that, Labyrinth Lord author Daniel Proctor released a short supplement entitled Dogs in the Dungeon. This very short four-page supplement focuses solely on trained war dogs and how they can serve as allies and hirelings to adventurers. This product references rules in the Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord - but the referee is under no obligation to use the entire rules set presented in the AEC. It's simply a point of reference for the base war dog and a few of the rules.

Proctor begins by giving a brief overview of why adventurers would purchase trained war dogs and what the advantages of doing so are. Then, he launches right into the meat of the product. He provides several breeds of dog that existed in the middle ages or medieval period of history. While all of them use the War Dog, Wild Dog or Wolf statistics in the Labyrinth Lord core rules or AEC, Proctor provides a paragraph of descriptive text describing their physical features and the purpose for which they were bred. They are broken up into Fighing or Guard Hounds, Sighthounds, Scenthounds, and Waterhounds. Proctor introduces rules for using dogs as watchmen while resting at camp, tracking via scent, and even retrieving objects (or fallen allies) from watery places. The rules are concise, simple and easily integrated into any Labyrinth Lord game. Each individual breed is given a cost as well as a random chart to help the referee determine the height and weight of the dog. There is also an overview on training scenthounds to track specific scents or learn to recognize the scent of a specific type of creature. It takes time and effort, but its a great touch that can (if you'll forgive the pun) breed role-playing and establish value and depth to what would otherwise be piece of gear bought off a list.

Also, Proctor presents two fantasy breeds (Hel Docga and Faden Docga) that are lesser versions of the Hell Hound and Blink Dog respectively. While these animals use the base statistics of a War Dog, each has a set of minor special abilities that can be highly useful to adventurers - if they've got the coin and know where to purchase these exotic beasts.I have to say these are pretty flavorful and I absolutely love the cocnept of a slightly magical dog being used in fantasy table top.

Next we get a bit of a surprise. Proctor discusses dogs within the party and how multipule dogs in a company of adventurers may fight for dominance among themselves. This was an inspired bit of flavor that can be used to not only make dogs more than a meat shield who doesn't ask for a cut of the treasure. Now having a dog retainer can have compications all its own. The author also addresses the inevitable situation where a player is going to get the wild idea to train a wolf cub - it's not quite as easy or valuable as you'd think, but can have its benefits in the right situation.

:Lastly, we get a paragraph discussing war dogs and party balance. The author provides optional rules for reducing the experience point rewards given to a party who relies heavily on war dogs - which is a nice touch and can prevent the characters from running around with a pack of trained canines when the descend into every dungeon.

At only four pages, Proctor has put a lot of valuable material in this book and really given depth and worth to what would otherwise be a "hireling we don't have to pay." It's available at DriveThru RPG and RPGNow for $1.50 and I'd say its defintely worth it - especially if your party likes to use these creatures in their campaigns. An important note for authors and publishers is that while Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion are licensed under the OGL, Dogs in the Dungeon is not OGL and remains the intellectual property of Goblinoid Games.

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