Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To the Stars...

In a few days, White Star: White Box Science Fiction will be eight months old. When I first announced the game during last year's Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day, I didn't do it with a lot of pomp and circumstance because frankly I didn't think it was that big a deal. What began as a twenty-eight page supplement for Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox grew in the writing until it became a 132 page game built upon the foundations of WhiteBox. I didn't really expect that when I sat down and started writing.

All I knew was that I was excited for the then unknown film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I really wanted a "Spelljammer OSR" game, and that the Flash Gordon soundtrack by Queen was amazing. So, I started writing. Between Freddy Mercury's cries of "Flash! Aaaahhhh!" and the glam metal guitars from the soundtrack of 1986's Transformers: The Movie I just had fun. I thought, "What would be cool and how do I keep it simple?"

In the end, the White Star came in at just over 30,000 words in a first draft that had been written in four weeks. More than I had expected, but still a small game. I talked to a few friends, and showed them some early concepts. I remember conversations with +Adam Muszkiewicz+Pete Spahn+Wayne Humfleet, and +Erik Tenkar. I showed them the early cover I'd mocked up and talked basic concepts. I was keeping it low key, like my other White Box releases. To my surprise, all of them were really enthusiastic about this generic pulp sci-fi OSR game with a bad cover.

Original Cover Designs
Then I showed it to +Jason Paul McCartan. And he said to me "Dude, this game is so much better than that." He spent countless nights helping turn White Star from that simplistic, crude thing you see above into the beautiful book that has exceeded my wildest dreams. He was meticulous, precise and has an amazing eye for detail. Pushing me, Jason refused to let my book be anything other than the best it could possibly be on my limited budget. He became more than a creative partner over these weeks - he became a close friend. But Jason's a nefarious man. His work was so good, raised the bar so high, now I had to hire him for every future product in the White Star game line. By the time I discovered his vile plan, it was already too late.

White Star exploded like super nova. I woke up the morning after it's late night release to find it at #1 on RPGNow, where it sat for about 3 months straight. I couldn't believe when it went Silver in a day and Gold in less than a month. Seriously, this all is weird for me. It all piled on fast. 

White Star changed Barrel Rider Games. Suddenly, I got noticed. It's intimidating, to be honest. I just tried to go back to what I preferred doing: writing. I started work on the White Star Companion and a few other larger projects - some BRG and some freelance. I've tried to release a few smaller products between the White Star core book and forthcoming Companion - little $1 products to let folks know I hadn't forgotten or fallen out of love with the little game. I promise, there's a lot more to come for White Star - both from Barrel Rider Games, and from third party publishers I suspect.

So yesterday I released one of those $1 products: the Combat Medic class. I was shocked to see today that the little book shot up to #1 on Hottest Small Press lists on RPGNow and #2 Hottest Title. Now what left me flabbergasted was the fact that the White Star core rulebook followed in its wake, clocking in at #2 Hottest Small Press and #3 Hottest title. Add to this the fact that White Star has remained in the top 10 Hottest Titles since its release and the whole thing is personally mind boggling.

I never thought my little sci-fi love letter to OD&D and pulp sci-fi would be so successful. What are the odds, ya know? I'm not not sure why the game has succeeded the way it has, but I've just come to appreciate the affection shown for White Star and how the OSR community has, by and large, embraced the game. Every time a third party product gets released, I get downright giddy. It's just so damned cool that people want to play with the toys I made. 

I guess this long, rambling blog post is just to say that it's been a long, strange, wonderful journey so far and I suspect it's just getting started.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Final Winner of the OSR Christmas is...

Well, my run at OSR Christmas has come to an end, with but one last book to give away. I reached into my Crown Royal dice bag, pulled out a name written in red crayon on green construction paper and found out that +Zach Glazar has won a hardcover copy of the Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord!

Thanks to everyone who participated and added some fantastic comments to the original thread. I hope the winners enjoy their prizes and I hope that everyone has a fantastic holiday season!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sixth Winner of the OSR Christmas is...

We're in the home stretch folks. We've only got two more prizes to give away. But, our winner today is +Matt Hildebrand! Matt has won himself a softcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying! There's only one prize left to give away so be sure to comment on the original post for your chance to win the final prize - a hardcover copy of Class Compendium for Labyrinth Lord!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fifth OSR Christmas Winner +Forrest Aguirre! Forrest snagged a softcover copy of White Box Omnibus! I've reached out to Forrest and once contact information has been received, I'll send the order along! Our next winner for the OSR Christmas will be announced soon. Be sure to comment on the original post for your chance to win!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fourth Winner of OSR Christmas is...

... +Travis Dreher! Travis has won a hardcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying! Travis has already been contacted and his order will be made today. Our next winner for the OSR Christmas will be announced tomorrow. Be sure to comment on the original post for your chance to win!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Third Winner of the 12 Days of OSR Christmas... +Keith G Nelson! Keith has won himself a softcover copy of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying. I'll be reaching out to Keith via G+ to get his contact information shortly. Until then, you can be a winner by reading and commenting on the original post!

Stay tuned for the next winner! IT COULD BE YOU!!!!!!!!

Review: The B/X Rogue

Necrotic Gnome Productions has quietly produced quality products for almost a year now. The Complete Vivimancer is, in my opinion, their strongest product to date and showcases author +Gavin Norman's ability to take the simple rules of Labyrinth Lord and really run in an entirely new direction with them. He doesn't gussy it up with flashy art or layout - just good ol' fashioned OSR content.

I heard some of the buzz around The B/X Rogue and decided to plunk down the very reasonable cost of $1.50. After giving it a read I can say that this product really brings a lot of options to the traditional "Thief" class, while keeping things simple and easily integrated into any B/X clone out there. It seems to be written with Labyrinth Lord specifically in mind. But, there's no reason it can't work for other OSR games on the market.

The B/X Rogue does something unique with the traditional thief class. The product is correct in calling itself "The B/X Rogue" and not "The B/X Thief." Instead of providing several abilities that are locked in and increase at a specific rate, a character selects a number of special abilities called "Talents" at character creation to reflect their unique skill set. This can include the traditional picking locks and hiding in shadows or things like being able to make a skilled retreat from combat or even cast minor magic spells. As a character increases in level they can learn new Talents. It's a simple system that works very well and is easy to understand.

This creates a kind of a la carte character, but always with a roguish flavor. Want a more bardic character, or an assassin, or a swashbuckler? The B/X Rogue does it all. At a buck fifty, its well worth the cost of admission and has me chomping at the bit in hopes that Norman gives Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings similar treatments. I'd really recommend this to anyone out there who plays a lot of Basic/Expert, Rules Cyclopedia, or Labyrinth Lord.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Second Winner of 12 Days of OSR Christmas...

The second winner of 12 Days of OSR Christmas is.... +Matthew Skail! Matt won a hardcover copy of the White Box Omnibus. Which has been ordered from RPGNow and will soon be in his hot little hands. That still leaves plenty of holiday gifts for other OSR gamers! Be sure to read and comment on the original post for your chance to win a physical copy of White Star, White Box Omnibus or a Class Compendium!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

First Winner for 12 Days of OSR Christmas is...

Alright, after careful use of a randomizing programs as precise as can be found in a Crown Royal bag, the first winner is.... +Sal Clarino! Sal won a softcover copy of the White Box Omnibus which has already been ordered! We've still got plenty of goodies to give away - so be sure to read the original post to see how you can win! The next winner will be announced tomorrow evening!

It's OSR Christmas Time!

Alright my fellow gamers, the illustrious +Erik Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern let you know that OSR Christmas has started so here's your chance to win a few items from BRG's line of print products. Here's what's up for grabs:

Class Compendium (for use with Labyrinth Lord) (hardcover)
White Box Omnibus (for use with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox) (hardcover)
White Box Omnibus (two of them!, for use with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox) (softcover)
White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying (hardcover)
White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying (two of them!) (softcover)

But if you want to win, you're going to have to earn it this year! You can only win once and you can only win one product! Here's how ya win: Comment on this blog post with why hobbits or ewoks are the best races to ever grace the pages of fantasy literature and sci-fi film. It's not a contest, but I want to know that folks read the post and didn't just blindly comment. Those who follow these simple rules will be eligible to win.

It's a difficult choice, I know!
One winner will be selected later today (December 9th), with a new winner selected each day there after until seven winners have been chosen. Unfortunately, because I'm not exactly rolling in cash I am forced to limit winners to the United States.

Update: Winners So Far
+Sal Clarino:
Day 1 Winner - White Box Omnibus (Softcover)
+Matthew Skail: Day 2 Winner - White Box Omnibus (Hardcover)
+Keith G Nelson: Day 3 Winner - White Star (Softcover)
+Travis Dreher: Day 4 Winner - White Star (Hardcover)
+Forrest Aguirre: Day 5 Winner - White Box Omnibus (Softcover)
+Matt Hildebrand: Day 6 Winner - White Star (Softcover)

Monday, December 7, 2015

What Just Happened?: Shocked and Flabbergasted

So, last night I ran an impromptu game of Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. I made an open post on my G+ feed and got some responses. As game time rolled around I only had two players, +Jason Hobbs and +Tony Bravo. Given such a small group, I asked them if they wanted to proceed and they said "Yeah, let's do something." They very quickly came up with the idea of playing two PCs each and in five minutes we had a party of four characters. Again, one of the joys of White Box's fast and light approach.

So, they enter a local village and have a conversation at a local lumber yard with the foreman of the site. After about ten minutes, a third player arrives a little late. No big thing, life happens. The guy arrived with his character already man, which is awesome and appreciated. He was playing a Sidhe from my own White Box Demihumans. The Sidhe are basically Tolkienesque High Elves or True Fey type characters with some minor magic and an aura of grandeur. So I quickly retcon that this character was present during their encounter with the lumber jacks.


The foreman (a rustic village dweller) sees the Sidhe and says "Ahh, a fey!" and spits on the ground and makes a religious sign to protect himself. I felt this was apt for a rural, working class guy who can't even read and lives on the edge of woodlands which are said to be ruled by "savage elves."

So what does the Sidhe do?

"I kill him."

The lumberjack's face mirrors the other players at
the table.
I paused in utter shock at this guy's choice of actions. The other two players clearly tense as the situation quickly becomes awkward. The Sidhe player is interrupting folks, scrambling to roll initiative, and generally itching for pointless violence. He gets the initiative and attacks, missing the lumber jack. The lumberjack retaliates, also missing.

As this exchange goes down the other two players (and their four characters) back away saying "We're not with this guy." Six other lumberjacks (remember, this is in a lumber yard full of workers) come rushing over, while several more run off to tell the town guard.

The Sidhe continues his attack on the second round, missing again. The lumberjacks attack and deal a solid amount of damage. The Sidhe PC says, when his turn comes back around, "I fall over and play dead."

OK, sure. "Are your eyes open or closed as you're laying there playing dead?"

He pauses in thought, "Open."

"OK," I say. "You see the lumberjack moving forward to raise his axe to chop the head off the mad fey."

So, laying on the ground, surrounded by six lumberjacks armed with axes he says, "I attack."

He misses and lumberjacks all attack, reducing him to exactly zero hit points.

There's a long silence. Sidhe Player finally says, "So... zero is..."

I cut in, "...dead. The character is dead."

"OK. Bye!" And he drops call. Gone in a flash.

There was a long silence between the three of us who remained and I just went "OK guys, none of that happened."

We merrily went on our way and they began to explore the village and descend into the well.

The whole night I was just in this kind of numb shock. It reminded me of gaming with an angry ten year old. The player was overly aggressive, didn't pay attention to the details around him (and didn't care when informed of them) and clearly saw nothing wrong with defaulting to deadly violence at the first sign anyone showed anything other than polite subjugation to his character. It was just mind numbing.

I would occasionally mutter about it through the night, but as a DM my job is to keep the game moving forward and give my players an opportunity to have fun. Among the OSR crowd, I've met countless gamers - all who have been respectful of their fellow gamers and not disruptive or destructive to the flow of this game. I had almost forgotten that guys like this were out there. He wasn't someone I knew well - a casual G+ acquaintance with whom I'd had a conversation or two. I just didn't expect that. 

Oh well, lesson learned. In any case, we're looking to get together and continue playing next Sunday. I'll just have to be a little more selective than an "open invite" in the future, I suppose.

Wheaton's Law, kids. Wheaton's Law.

Friday, December 4, 2015

D&D 5e: Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide Review

So, I've been following Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition pretty closely. I've grabbed every book in the line so far and been pleased with all of them. Thus far, we've got the standard issue "Starter Box," and trinity of PHB/DMG/MM that we've all come to know and love. But instead of inundating us with splat-book after splat-book of added rules and power creep, Hasbro has taken a different direction with things.

Instead of that we got massive modules peppered with setting information each told as a storyline event. Tyranny of Dragons, Elemental Evil, and Rage of Demons. Hasbro was smart about each of these storyline events. Instead of it simply being a "super module," they turned it into a multi-platform event. Elemental Evil (based loosely on the classic T-Series of modules) included an MMO expansion and a board game - neither of which required any experience with the table top RPG. Rage of Demons included a super adventure and a new video game. Basically, Hasbro decided D&D is more than just a table top RPG - it's an entire brand. They've started to treat it that way, which is good for everyone.

This ensure's the longevity of the table top RPG by allowing them to generate previously untapped revenue by marketing to a broader audience in new ways. It also slows down the supplement train so I'm not chasing the next splat book and draining my wallet every month. The core books for D&D have been out for fifteen months and we've seen five supplement books (Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat, Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss, and most recently Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide). That's an average of one book every three months. Good for you, Hasbro! Way to learn a lot from the train wreck that was D&D 4e!

Now, that being said, I was a bit worried Hasbro had gone in the complete opposite direction from the previous editions and completely disavowed supplemental mechanics in their material. Extra feats, backgrounds, magic items, etc, were all going to be
left to the DM. After all, 4 large scale adventures in a row is quite a bit and really says a lot, if you ask me.

Then in walks Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Now, let me begin by saying I'm not a huge Realms fan. I don't hate it, but it doesn't thrill me either. It's a bit too high fantasy, too bloated with powerhouse NPCs, and just... well... over done. So, when this supplement was announced I was not terribly thrilled. But then I saw the page count: 160 pages.

Story time
I was expecting some bloated gazetteer and what I got was something that reminded me of the classic World of Greyhawk supplement. Broadly painted, loosely defined, and with a great map. The first hundred pages give an overview of the Sword Coast and the surrounding regions. I like that they stuck to this area in particular, as almost every FR game I ever played in ended up or spent the majority of its sessions in the region. So, it only made sense for them to do this instead of some massive "Tour of the Realms." These descriptions are painted in broad strokes with story hooks peppered through out. The book is clearly directed at the player, from the title on down - but any DM worth their salt will find a plethora of useful info in these pages.

The final thirty pages are dedicated to new character options. New class paths, new backgrounds, new subrace options - exactly the kind of stuff you'd expect. But it's clear this isn't the book's focus. The setting and in particular the setting as a malleable thing to be used as the DM sees fit to suit their campaign. The book seems more concerned with making the Realms your own, as a player and DM, than adhering to a bloated canon that's meandered through four previous editions.

This little guy is awesome.
For 160 pages, the book is a bit pricey at an MSRP of $39.95, but bargain hunters and online shoppers shouldn't have a problem finding a more reasonable price. Even at forty bucks, the content in here is pretty solid stuff. Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide made me want to play in a Forgotten Realms game, and that's something that hasn't happened in a long time.
shoppers shouldn't have a problem. I'd really recommend this book - even if you're not planning on running a Forgotten Realms campaign it's got an appendix in the back for adapting the new rules info to Dragonlance and Greyhawk. It's cursory, to be sure - but still a nice touch. All in all, if this is the direction that Hasbro plans on taking their non-adventure supplements, I'm totally on board.

"C'mon guys, it's Undermountain.
What could possibly go wrong?"
Addendum: There is a generally negative reaction to this supplement and I feel it's a bit unfair. It was billed as a kind of "Player's Guide to the Sword Coast" and that's exactly what it is. It provides a lot of meaty information to players adventuring in Faerun and the Sword Coast. But that doesn't obligate it to be full of fiddly bits and optional rules. About 20% of the book is exactly that, fiddly bits and options - while the rest is culture, history, background and source material. I find this to be perfectly in line with the product line of D&D 5e - they're not flooding the market with rules and options  and instead providing a bit here and there and leaving the rest in the hands of individual players - and I'm proud of them for having faith in the buyers to do it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To Weep for Joy at the Return of Summer

I've spoken often of West End Games' Star Wars Roleplaying Game was my entrance into the world of roleplaying games. I have a deep and fierce affection for that game. It set me on the path I now walk today. It awakened me to the world of dice and paper, friends and dreams. I will be forever grateful to West End Games for this gift. But, I want to speak of another game as dear and important as my beloved Star Wars. It was not the game of my childhood, but the game of my adulthood: White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming.

In 1995 Changeling: The Dreaming was released in what appeared to be the final book in the World of Darkness line. It was a huge departure from the other games in the line. It featured full color fae torn from myth and legend, living in disguised skins among mere mortals. The danced to silence music and dueled with unseen swords. They dared to look into the darkness and scream for hope and love and life in a world of despair. Nevermind that their memories would fade. Nevermind that iron would steal their souls. Nevermind that their own mortal meins would one day reduce them to husks of their former selves. Today - Today! - there is hope.

This transformed me as deeply as any fae Chrysalis. It walked beside me as a boy transformed into a man. Changeling: The Dreaming was beside me when I abandoned all I knew to chase romance half a country away. Changeling: The Dreaming was with me when I swore an oath to defend my country. Changeling: The Dreaming was with me when I walked through the door and fell in love at first sight. Changeling: The Dreaming taught me that even when when there is no reason to believe, no reason to have faith, no reason to go on that dreams remain. As long as dreams remain, there is hope.

And that most simple of defiances - that hope - is more powerful than anything the world can throw at me. It has sustained me for as long as I can remember. Through failures both minor and cataclysmic. Through thoughts of suicide. Through months of homelessness. Through every struggle I've ever faced in my life. I dared to dream then and I dare to dream now, tomorrow and forever. That is what Changeling: The Dreaming means to me.

Changeling: The Dreaming will live on in my life forever. And summer shall return again to gaming tables with Changeling: The Dreaming 20th Anniversary Edition. Won't you join me in the Dreaming once more?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

12 Days of OSR Christmas

+Erik Tenkar is the face of 12 Days of OSR Christmas and he does a damn fine job. Last year, Barrel Rider Games participated. This year, I'm upping the ante and will be giving away the following products:

Class Compendium (for use with Labyrinth Lord) (hardcover)
White Box Omnibus (for use with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox) (hardcover)
White Box Omnibus (two of them!, for use with Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox) (softcover)
This is open to U.S. residents only, due to shipping costs. Keep an eye on Erik's blog Tenkar's Tavern and Halfling's Luck to find out the winners. Who knows? There might be a special surprise in there...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Less is More: Purging the Libray

So, as many of my G+ friends know, I did a massive cleaning out of my gaming book library. This is because the room where the books were being kept had become known as the "Spare Room." It wasn't a library. It was a room where we stufed things to ignore them - and I don't buy gaming books to ignore them.

I'd love to be a collector. I'd love to have a copy of every OSR product out there, simply to support the creators. But that's not a realistic expectation for me. My life, at the moment, doesn't accomidate that kind of luxury. At first, I was bitter about this. Angry, even. Then my wife looked at me and said, "When was the last time you played or referenced any of the books you own? What's the point in owning it if a book just sits on a shelf?"

Well clearly she just didn't "get it," right? Then I caught a post from +D.j. Chadwick discussing his own book purge:
It is the most freeing thing I have done since discovering the OSR. I'm actually focusing on my current campaign and creating new stuff for my players. I work with what I have and don't really worry about anything else. 
I was reluctant to believe it. But ya know what? D.J. was right. I went through my book collection and if I hadn't played or run it in the past year and I wasn't either writing for it as a self-publisher or freelancer I put it on the potential chopping block. The only books that went outside those rules were Changeling: The Dreaming becuse my wife and I bonded over that game and Star Wars, because the d6 incarnation is my first game and has deep sentimental value. Everything else went to the chopping block. So I sold about 75% of my gaming collection at ridiculous prices.

All said and done the survivors were: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry (Complete and White Box), Adventures Dark & Deep, AD&D (1st Edition), Dungeon Crawl Classics, Star Wars (d6 and Fantasy Flight Games), The One Ring, Rocket Age, Call of Cthulhu, Changeling: The Lost and Changeling: The Dreaming. Everything else went out the door. Eighty pounds of AD&D (2nd Edition) and almost two hundred pounds of other games went.

Suddenly, I'm free. I'm not second guessing the games I want to run because those are the only ones I kept. Well, what if I want to run Cyberpunk 2020? Mage: The Ascension? Well, I barely play physically these days, and the PDF market means books are available on tap for a few bucks. Along side that, if I do get a chance to play at a table and I need a copy of something, between Ebay and OneBookShelf, I can repurchase damn-near anything. But as it stands right now I can't get cornered into running something I'm only vaguely interested in, because I don't own anything that falls into that category.

It's a pretty awesome feeling. I went from 3 floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, to 3 1/2 shelves on one bookshelf. But these are all games I'm really excited to play - and that's a feeling I've missed for a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: The Golden Scroll of Justice

I'm a huge fan of Adventures Dark & Deep, published by BRW Games. It's the 2nd Edition I always wanted. So much so that,when I decided to do a major book purge, I chose to keep ADD over AD&D 2nd edition. When +Joseph Bloch announced that BRW Game was going to be releasing The Golden Scroll of Justice I was a bit disappointed. I thought to myself "Oh, great. Another Oriental Adventures-style supplement."

I'm not a huge fan of the original OA, nor am I a fan of most Asian fantasy RPGs. But that's because they're not really Asian. Instead, they're almost always a kind of pseduo-Japanese fantasy RPG. Now, don't get me wrong - that's all good and well, but I'm bored with ninjas and samurai being done over and and over again ad nauseam. Also, my personal preference was always for the more wuxia stylings of media like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Hero. Wuxia isn't limited to foreign films. Tarantino's Kill Bill films and even John Carpenter's classic Big Trouble in Little China use the same themes and motifs in the modern day as told by western directors. Wuxia was about high adventure, mythic stories and a touch of the spiritual. Legends told with sweeping cinematography and wire-work. Legends brought to life in an exotic land. That was the Oriental Adventures I wanted, but I never quite got.

But I think the reason for that is that Wuxia films have a strong element of Chinese style and mythology to them - and this shows through in what the original Oriental Adventures both is and isn't. But what Bloch has done with The Golden Scroll of Justice is finally created a supplement that includes cleanly written, well organized rules for running Wuxia style campaigns or integrating elements of that into an existing campaign. While it's written for Adventures Dark and Deep - it can be easily adapted to fit any "Advanced" retro-clone out there.

Like Adventures Dark and Deep, The Golden Scroll of Justice doesn't give us a default setting. Instead it paints a collection of classes, races, skills, magic items, monsters and full rules for kung-fu in the themes and motifs of Chinese myth and Wuxia style in the same way that most fantasy RPGs are painted in the general theme of Euro-centric, pseudo-medieval fantasy. But there's something subtle going on in Bloch's text: The game never feels... bland. The rules and options in TGSoJ always remind you that you're in a badass time of legend and if you harness your Qi and hold to the Code of Xia, then honor and adventure await you. 

Yeah, it's kinda like that.

The book itself is laid out in a manner exactly like Adventures Dark and Deep. Clean, crisp and concise. It's easy to read two-column format with black and white art that is thematically appropriate through out.

It begins with the introduction of two new races and one new variant on standard humans. The Shanxiao are humanoids with a fair resemblance to monkeys who live in private communities and seem to have a propensity for the more spiritual classes, while the Gouran are dog-headed and aggressive. I rather liked the Shanxiao, but found the Gouran to be a bit "thin" on their racial write-up. They seemed to offer nothing more than an attribute bonus and class restrictions, with no other racial abilities described. The third "race" listed is that of human eunuch. This is a bold choice on the part of the author and provides interesting insight into the implied society and culture of the setting.

Next up we get classes. Not a lot of time is spent adding new classes. Instead the focus is on addressing existing classes and what changes when they are put into a Mythic Chinese setting. Some classes, like the Bard are out and out removed - but most have a few small modifications. Monks are also addressed in detail, as one would expect, as are two new classes: The Wu and the Fangshi. The Wu is a kind of cleric sub-class that deals mostly with spirits and have a very earthy vibe about them. While the Fangshi are more alchemists and astrologers. At first glance, both classes seem to be simple re-skins of existing classes (cleric and magic-user, respectively), but when the reader takes a look at their spell list that's where the flavor of both Wu and Fangshi really begins to shine.

Next up is Secondary Skills and this is where GSoJ really starts to shine. Adventures Dark and Deep has a really innovative skill system and the new skills provided are just fantastic. While it might seem silly to include skills like Acupuncture, Feng Shiu, and Qigong, Bloch includes them in a way that evokes the feel of old Wuxia films in clear, simple rules that just heaps on the flavor while adding new and interesting touches to a character. This is closed with a brief touch on social class, literacy and money. Once thing that I am very pleased by is the fact that Bloch did not convert the equipment in the book to a thematic currency. Conversions are just a pain in the ass and gold pieces are an arbitrary place-holder than can easily be renamed.

The equipment section is very, very extensive and provides all manner of unique items suitable to the flavor that permeates the rest of the book. Everything from silk robes to fireworks are covered - and yes, there is a plethora of new weapons. I am pleased to announce that there is no katana listing. Bloch is really focused on Chinese themes here and keeps his attention there.

Next we come to the Kung-Fu mechanics for GSoJ. Let's face it: unarmed combat in D&D (regardless of edition), has never been stellar. What's done here is Bloch has expanded his Secondary Skill system to include different martial arts styles. Each style has three tiers that are become not only more expensive (in XP) to learn, but also more difficult to find a master who is willing or able to teach the style. At each level of skill the player is provided with one option that can be used without a skill check and another that can be used if the character succeeds in a skill check. While initially I felt this felt a bit like a "feat" system from D&D 3.X, when I read the mechanics as a whole I realized that the amount of work it would take a character to advance in more than one style was ridiculously difficult and in this, it prevented a player from having to remember a plethora of combat options. The rules seem written with the implicit belief that most characters who learn Kung-Fu will probably never learn more than one style over the lifetime of their character. In addition, Bloch's Kung-Fu rules do not limit themselves to just hand-to-hand combat. Several styles allow or even require the use of specific weapons - which is a nice change. My only problem with the Kung-Fu rules is the the absence of Drunken Monkey style. C'mon, Joe - DRUNK MONKEYS ARE AWESOME AND YOU KNOW IT.

Next we have magic. This includes a list of several pages of new spells and a basic presentation of Chinese cosmology. The new spells reflect that cosmology very well and as previously stated really strengthen the flavor of the Wu and Fangshi classes. They feel balanced as well.

A brief primer on running a Mythic Chinese themed campaign is provided. Five pages review the themes of the Wuxia genre as well as the tropes and tradition of Wuxia stories. This is a really good read for both players and referees alike as it gets to the heart of how GSoJ differs from other Asian fantasy supplements out there.

A dozen pages of new magic items are included and some of them are really cool. From the Coin Sword to the Pill of Immortality (Yes, it's exactly what you think it is... almost), these are flavorful items that, for the most part, don't feel like re-skins of magic items we saw in the original Adventures Dark and Deep core rules.

The book begins to wind down with a 25-page bestiary of monsters, most of which are taken from Chinese mythology. Included as well are seconds addressing devils, demons and of course, dragons. My personal favorite were the Long-Armed People, which is something really bizarre and unique that I'd never encountered or heard of.

The final pages of GSoJ feature three Appendices. Appendix A is a reprint of the unarmed combat rules from the Adventures Dark and Deep Player's Manual. Appendix B provides updated Armor Type vs. Weapon Type. This isn't my thing, but it's a nice touch, given the arsenal of new weapons in the book. The final (and for me, most important) Appendix features inspirational material - both books and film.

The Golden Scroll of Justice clocks in at 114 pages, but it feels bigger because there is a lot packed into these pages. The magic of this book for me is the fact that it does something that no other fantasy RPG supplement has done (in my eyes): It gave Asian classes and culture the same psuedo-historic grounding that had previously been provided to traditional European fantasy gaming. They finally feel like they came from somewhere and that grounding makes me a lot more comfortable intergrating monks and other mythic themes of the east into an existing fantasy campaign.

Could you use GSoJ to run a traditional "Oriental Adventures" type game? Sure, but you'd be wasting a lot of this book's potential. Instead, use its fully realized sense of mythology to integrate a far off culture in pieces, whispers, hints and light touches into your existing campaign so that finally the Middle Kingdom that never was can have a place in the history of your campaign.

The Golden Scroll of Justice is available in PDF for $9.95, Softcover + PDF for $14.95, and Hardcover + PDF for $29.95. Even if you're not a fan of Asian fantasy, I'd still recommend giving at least the PDF a shot. This product screams "easy integration," and will add some serious depth and genuine exotic appeal to any Adventures Dark & Deep campaign and can very easily be adapted to other OSR campaigns. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Get Off My Lawn: Too Many Damn Classes

So, this blog post is going to be a bit hypocritical - and you know what? I'm OK with that. I'll preface this by saying I recognize that I have written somewhere around 70 variant classes for Labyrinth Lord to combat the exact thing I'm about to discuss, but I think part of the reason I wrote them was to address the issue in a way that was satisfactory to everyone involved. What is this issue, you ask?

Character classes. I'm pretty minimalist when it comes to character class. I really enjoy games that keep the number of player character classes down. It just makes life easier.
So, why is it that the more modern gamers and more modern incarnations of fantasy role playing games feel the need to include what seems to be a damn-near infinite number of classes for use by the players? Why is there an inherent lack of satisfaction with a the simple selection of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief? Add non-humans (in either their Race-as-Class or Race-with-Class incarnations) and I feel like you've got a solid foundation from which you can create a fun character for a D&D game.

That being said, I recognize why classes like Assassins, Druids, Illusionists, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers were added. They add flavorful versions of the "core four" classes to help give the game a little spice - along with some mechanical variation. But are extra classes necessary? Do they genuinely add much to the game? Each of these classes can be mimicked simply by saying "I'm a Cleric who worships nature," or "I'm a Fighter raised in a holy order," and the like. A standard class can be role played in a fashion that mimics any of these classes. Granted, the abilities provided by these classes aren't granted - but for me it's not about the abilities.

It's not that I'm against multiple character classes or diverse options in a game - I'm simply saying that role diversity is in the hands of the player and how they choose to role-play their character. With that in mind, I feel that in modern games and with more modern gamers there has been (in my experience) a sense of entitlement when it comes to classes. Players somehow feel like things are "less fun" if they can't play a "Savant," or a "Fist of Raziel," or whatever else can be found that is published in some official supplement somewhere. I think the rise of D&D 3E's prestige class mechanics helped solidify this sense of entitlement.

Now, I admit this is a personal preference. The prestige class mechanic is not inherently bad, nor is any class introduced beyond the "core" classes bad simply for not being core. It's simply the idea that this overwhelmingly specialized method of providing character options prevents players from thinking for themselves when presented with only a few basic options. Instead of seeing a wizard as a "jumping off" point and developing a unique witch-doctor spellcaster who talks to skulls and casts spells through ritual dance and speaking with spirits (which mechanically is no different from how a magic-user memorizes spells for purposes of the game's rules), the player sees a magic-user as "just another magic-user." Everything becomes nothing more than what is written on the tin. This stifles creativity, in my opinion - but, then again, maybe I'm just being a grumpy old man. 

In any case, this has been Get Off My Lawn: An OSR Gamer Complains About Gamers These Days - now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sit on the front porch, smoke my pipe and worry for the future of the world.

Monday, October 12, 2015

To Rule A Galaxy: Evil Overlords

Victor Von Doom
Evil Overlord
White Star is a game built on a foundation of Flash Gordon, Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica and countless other pieces of pulp sci-fi. Yet, one of the classic pulp sci-fi tropes which seems absent from White Star is that of the evil overlord. These classic villains seemed almost ubiquitous in classic sci-fi. From Ming the Merciless to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to Emperor Zurg, they absolutely require a band of plucky last-chance heroes to oppose them in the name of galactic freedom.

When the referee has decided to introduce an evil overlord into their campaign, they'll need to do more than throw a few stats together. While the evil overlord is a single adversary in and of themselves, that is not what makes them truly formidable. What makes the evil overlord is the level of resources they have at their disposal - in both material means and manpower. Nations, armies, planets and even entire galaxies worth of riches and soldiers kneel before the evil overlord - willing or not. What's worse, the evil overlord has vision for the universe, for their universe.

Designing an evil overlord is a helluva lot of fun because they are, by nature, larger-than-life characters. The referee will need to ask himself a few questions when developing the villain to help make their vile mastermind a worth adversary.

What Made The Character Become an Evil Overlord?: No one decides at birth that they're going to have and obsessive and violent desire to rule over all known life in the universe. What happened to our evil overlord to make him want to control, literally, everything. Did they become indoctrinated by an evil cult? Were they the victim of horrible suffering that eventually drove them to madness? Do they believe they are somehow entitled, whether by noble bloodline or mystic prophecy, to rule the universe? In the end, the evil overlord is (on some level) insane - but that insanity came from somewhere and knowing that place will help you understand how the overlord sees themselves and their place at the center of the universe?

What Did the Evil Overlord Do to Rise to and Maintain Power?: Very few people will just willingly surrender to a psychopath with only a polite inquiry. What did your evil overlord do to go from simple villain to dark master? Military might? Mystic powers? Political manipulation? It is no easy task to bring countless star systems under your rule and requires a vast amount of resources or power to do so. In the cases of military might and political maneuvering, the overlord undoubtedly has allies who are directly carrying out their will. Are these willing servants who genuinely believe in the overlord's right to rule? Are they mind controlled slaves bent to the overlord's will? Are they conscripts who risk facing death (or worse) if they do not serve their evil master?

What Resources Does the Evil Overlord Have at Their Disposal?: An extension of the previous question, but more material in nature. An overlord with countless servants at their disposal is powerless if they don't have the weapons, medical supplies, raw resources and other means to maintain their empire. No need to develop formulas and economic projections - just something to consider.

"You'll due, kid."
Now that you've got a basic sense of your evil overlord, time to have some real fun. No need to throw the overlord at your player characters in the first session. Draw out the epic confrontation. The overlord begins as distant and powerful personification of evil far beyond the means of the player. They will begin by facing his lowliest minions - whether it be robot armies, zombie slaves, or any other type of basic soldier. These soldiers will undoubtedly have a commander, and that commander will have their own superior. Slowly, as the campaign progresses, the player characters will undoubtedly draw the attention of the evil overlord and be forced to face greater and more terrible threats from their vile adversary. Klytus had to be defeated before Ming could be overthrown. Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin stood between the Rebels and Emperor Palpatine. No overlord is immediately vulnerable and will often surround themselves with the most effective protections possible in most cases. These captains can allow you to add some diversity to your villains and give your players a sense of accomplishment when they defeat one and draw ever-closer to their final confrontation.

Keep in mind your evil overlord didn't likely rise to power simply by being an idle fool. Overlords are, by their very nature, motivated and active. They will work against the player characters, react to the victories of the heroes, and raise the stakes. When the time finally comes for the player characters to confront the evil overlord, the tension should be at its zenith. Not just the fate of the universe is hanging in the balance.

To that end, when the time comes for that final confrontation, don't be afraid to ignore the stats, ignore the dice - in favor of a satisfying climax. That's not to say you should throw the rules out the window. Roll your dice behind a GM screen and if they're going to result an something that's not climatically appropriate don't be afraid to ignore it.

The final confrontation between the heroes and the evil overlord needs to be satisfying needs to be satisfying to the players. That's something different from a satisfying final confrontation in a film. The players need to be active in that conflict, but when we look at some of our epic confrontations with evil overlords in film this is not the case. Luke Skywalker doesn't defeat the Emperor. He lays there while Vader throws him down a giant pit that's clearly in violation of OSHA. When Flash and Ming confront one another, Flash hops out and threatens Ming with the big gold sword and then Ming falls over dead. While that's cool on screen, it's death at the gaming table.

Flashy swords EVERYWHERE
A good example of that, believe it or not, can be found in Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan vs. Anakin, while bloated with flashy choreography and bad dialogue, would be a helluva a scene in a table top RPG. Think about it - leaping between platforms while lava gush everywhere and you're trading blows with your vile enemy - that's awesome in your mind, isn't it? Another great example is Kanan vs. The Inquisitor in the season one climax of Star Wars: Rebels which as been built up by lesser confrontations over a long period of time. While neither Anakin nor the Inquisitor are evil overlords, the important thing here is to create a satisfying confrontation at the gaming table - and how that differs from a satisfying confrontation in a novel, film, or comic book.

In the end, an evil overlord is a vehicle for a great story and an opportunity for your player characters to feel like heroes who truly save the universe. That kind of grand vision is worthy of an equally grand antagonist - so don't be afraid to ham it, have fun and give your players every reason to fight with every fiber of their being for galactic freedom with a villain who they love to hate, yet fear to confront.

Hail, Ming!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's a Dead Man's Party

So, EN World has put forth a question "Is the OSR Dead?". Any article that begins with a question is quite literally begging for an answer. And even the first comment answers it well enough by citing Betteridge's Law of Headlines: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'no.'"

I was a bit surprised at this article, until I considered the source. The OSR dead or dying? Quite the contrary. I find it to me alive and thriving today than ever before. A Red and Pleasant Land blew the doors off at the ENnies, and my own White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying has been sitting in the top 5 of RPGNow's best sellers for over four months. 

The OSR is far from dead. +Erik Tenkar points out on his blog that the the "Old School Renaissance" has gone main stream - and while I'm not entirely sure I agree and think that may be a bit premature to claim, I do see his point. The ENnies this year certainly made folks sit up and take notice of the community. Erik also points out that it's not about discussion topics or percentage of games played on Roll20, and there he's absolutely right. The great immeasurable thing is whether or not the games are being played. For me, there's no question about it: OSR games are getting played and they're getting played a lot. However, short of a huge survey you can't measure who is playing what. 

But while people are still playing the hell out of OSR games, they're not playing as many "traditionally" OSR games. Sure, folks are still playing Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, OSRIC and the staples. But the OSR is also taking these games in new directions. Red and Pleasant Land, regardless of whether you enjoy it or not, is absolutely original and sure as hell going to take your game into a new direction White Star asks "What if the framework of 1974 fantasy RPGs was used to build a sci-fi game instead?" Dungeon Crawl Classics grabs the OSR tropes, turns them up to eleven, rips the knob off and throws it across the room. 

The point is the OSR isn't dying or dead. Because the OSR is an ideology built around DIY gaming. Now, doing it yourself is awesome and all - but a lot of times if someone else has already done it then there's no need for you to do it. Why put work into something that's already been done for you, right? Unless, of course, you want to do it differently or in a way suited to your gaming style. In that case, rock on with your bad self. That's what's pushing the OSR off in new an exciting directions. That's what's given us things like David Okum's Star Sailors - a magical girl supplement for White Star that I would never have thought of. That's what gives us awesome posts form the blog of +Mike Evans WrathofZombie's Blog. Because there's always cool shit no one else thought of.

As long as the OSR continues to evolve, push itself in new directions and hold to its quick n' dirty DIY philosophy, it won't die. It'll just keep getting cooler.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Long Before Basic Isn't Basic?

I'm a big fan of Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons. From Moldvay to Mentzer to the Rules Cyclopedia - it just hits my gaming sweet spot. It's quick. It's simple. It's easy to modify to suit an individual group's needs. It's this last part that I wanted to address. Because B/X is so easy to modify and gamers and publishers in the OSR often do use the game and its mechanics as a springboard for new options, how many additions and modifications can one have before it is no longer B/X?

Barrel Rider Games built its foundation on adding to B/X through a ton of alternate classes. Rules Cyclopedia provides us with 7 (Fighter, Thief, Magic-User, Cleric, Halfling, Elf, and Dwarf - along with the Druid as a later-level option for Clerics) and BRG produced somewhere around 70 additional classes. Seventy. That's ridiculous. Labyrinth Lord has its Advanced Edition Companion, and there are countless other publishers who continue to introduce optional rules. Not to mention our own house rules that we use at the table.

How long before you're not even playing the same game any more? At what point do you some how move beyond "basic" D&D into something beyond the original scope of the game? One of the things that drives me away from AD&D 2nd Edition is the endless plethora of optional rules, splat books, setting modifiers, countless spells - the list goes on forever. But if I'm playing in a Rules Cyclopedia game and the DM sits down with the RC and is using every optional rule in the book, all the info from the Gazetteer series, and all the info in Poor Wizard's Almanac and the other supplements produced in the line then am I still playing B/X D&D?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Your Own Personal Paladin

My favorite class in D&D is the one I play the least: The Paladin.

That's a huge part of why I love Paladins. They're the archetypical knights in shining armor. They are the classic fantasy hero incarnate. There is no doubt that they are good and pure and true. There is no doubt that they are there to make a difference. That's awesome and I love it.

So why not play more Paladins? They're the perfect choice for my style of gaming and they've been around since Supplement II - Greyhawk. They're right there. All you have to do is take up the sword and pray, right? How hard could it be?

Very hard. Ridiculously hard. Damn near impossible.

You see, I'm Catholic. You'd think that would only solidify my choice in playing a Paladin; the Knights Templar, St. George the Dragon Slayer, all that stuff. But you see, I'm not a very good Catholic. I don't go to Mass. I disagree with the Church on a lot of things. I find the politics of the Church to often be petty and completely counter to their teachings. I rarely pray. Heck, sometimes I turn my back on the whole thing and am not even sure I believe anymore. 

But somehow, whether a few months or a few years, I always come back. For all the disagreements, all the problems, all the bullshit, it still feels like home. Maybe its legends of the Saints. Maybe its the beauty of the ritual. Maybe its the magnificence of a Catholic Church with its beautiful stained glass and blazing candles. Maybe its the idea that forgiveness is there, if you just take the outstretched hand. Inevitably, I come back.

That's why I can't play a Paladin. In a fantasy world where your character was chosen by a divine being to act as their servant in the material world there is no room for doubt. When your character has the ability to heal with a touch or cast vile creatures away with a brandish symbol of their god, there's no point to be argued. It's real and it's in your face - the good and the bad. There is no conflict.

This puts my own personal difficulties right in my face. It's like I'm pretending to be someone I'm not - which I admit is the whole point of RPGs, but in this case it somehow feels like I look at this Paladin's character sheet and it looks back at me and is telling me everything I'm not. Everything I'm pretending to be. Everything I'm lying about.

I know this is a bit deeper than my normal posts and reviews, but its been weighing on my mind for a few weeks now and I wanted to just put it on paper to clear my own head. Maybe if I can sort it out I can play a Paladin without feeling like the character I'm playing is somehow judging me. Because hot damn is it fun to draw forth a Holy Avenger+5, cry a prayer to your god, and charge into glory.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Heroes of the OSR: Richard LeBlanc

I've gotten a lot of praise for my products and I'm humbled by it. Truth be told, I'm just a fanboy who is arrogant enough to think his scribblings might be worth a dollars. Most of that money goes to fund the next project or to cover emergencies when they happen. That's what happened with White Star - it's amazing success allowed me to repair my car when it suffered a serious break down that would've otherwise left me financially incapacitated. To everyone who bought a copy of White Star, I give a sincere thanks.

The OSR lives and breathes by its creators and I am honored to be among them. When I discovered the thriving communites on Google Plus I was immediately struck by one particular creator. He spoke little, never involved himself in the politics and drama that inevitably comes with large social groups. Instead, he quietly kept a blog and on that blog he created. Alternate rules, new monsters, new classes, magic items - it was a stream of content and nothing more. His blog turned me to his products - which had been, by all accounts, among the best in the community. 

Vainglory never filled his feed or his blog. Instead, he continued to create. More over, he continued to great fantastic products. When his products are completed they are always amazingly priced, both in digital and print formats.

This creator is an example. He looks past the creators ego, the rewards he has recieves and acts in quiet and humble class. His name is +Richard LeBlanc  and he continues to a cornerstone in the OSR community. Cornerstone. That's an apt description. Silent, strong, unyielding and ever present. I'm thankful to have his products on my shelf and hope he continues to create for years to come.

You can find his blog, Save vs. Dragon is a library of resources and his products on RPGNow and Lulu under the company name New Big Dragon Unlimited are worth five times what he prices them. I ask that you show Mr. LeBlanc respect, kindness and if you can spare it, a few coins from your pocket in exchange for exceptionally well-crafted products.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dark Albion: History and Politics come to the OSR

Dark Albion: The Rose War, written by the RPG Pundit and published by Dom Publishing, is the kind of product that makes me jealous. I'm an amateur history buff and a huge fan of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series - both the films and the books. You see, a few months ago, I considered doing a politics supplement for Swords & Wizardry: WhiteBox because of my love of both these things. I made a few notes, wrote down a few ideas, and set it off to the side. I turned my attention to White Star, which has had its own success.

Well, as things became finalized for the print-on-demand version of White Star, I returned to my idea - only to find that someone had done it far better than I ever would. That product is Dark Albion: The Rose War. You see, Dark Albion is more than just what it says on the tin. It bills itself as "Grim Fantasy England in the 15th Century." But that's not quite right. This product is that and more. You can read it and use it as written with your OSR game of choice. Statistically speaking the game is very light. It can be slotted into Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess or any other OSR or older version of D&D or AD&D on the market with no mechanical modification. That's not to say the game is lacking in substance. In fact, quite the opposite.

Dark Albion takes readers and gamers into a 15th century England and does so with remarkable detail - but it never feels overwhelming or dry. It does not give simple, stark facts of the past. It paints this distorted mirror of a history that feels familiar, but the details make it fresh - like fine spice to a classic meal.

In spite of the fantasy elements introduced, the game is firmly rooted in history and this is reflected in the art - much of which is taken from historic pieces in our own world suitable to the period. The game has its goblins and elves and magic - but these are foreign and rare. Most have never seen a magical beast or a spell being cast - and most never will. These things are dark and dangerous, best left undisturbed and unspoken.

But Dark Albion is more than a rich historical setting. It takes OSR gaming out of the dungeon and into the throne room. Social class and political acumen have more power than swords and spells. While this in and of itself is not earth-shattering, the way it is implemented makes the rules regarding social rank and political power something to be easily integrated into any OSR game. In this sense, a referee who wants to reach into the pages of Dark Albion and extract these options is not bound to an alternate 15th century England. There's no reason these rules couldn't be used when player characters establish strongholds and gain titles or applied to an original campaign where the referee wants to include politics and power plays as a part of their campaign from day one.

That being said, I can't imagine not wanting to use Dark Albion with its written setting. It's beautiful, detailed and so vibrant. It begs to be played. The characters can change the world, even from first level. In fact, the setting is written so that few characters rise beyond 3rd level. Those that do have done deeds worthy of renown and are going to have quite the reputation. With a reputation will undoubtedly come attention and with that characters will be drawn into the political conflicts of the day. Whether they're mercenaries, nobles or knights - all bleed by the thorns of the Rose War.

In summation, Dark Albion: The Rose War is a product thats myriad of uses. By providing 275 page of rock solid material, the gamer is guarenteed to find something more than worth the price of admission. If you want to add politics to your game? This book has it. Want to avoid the politics and set a campaign in a historic setting? This book has it. Want to find a mine full of ideas, NPCs, locations, and adventure seeds to bring to a campaign outside of poltiics and setting? This book has it. Want some fantastic ideas to give depth and weight to your magic-users and clerics? This book has it.

Dark Albion is one of the best products I've purchased this year, if not the past five. I could take this book and run a campaign for years - whether Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or even a game not commonly associated with the OSR like Basic Roleplaying by Chaosium or Steve Jackson's GURPS. The sheer versatility of the product combine with great production values, engaging writing, and solid cartography make it an absolute must-have. In short, Dark Albion: The Rose War is a must-have and given the density of what you'll find in its pages I'd especially recommend a printed copy.

You can find the PDF on RPGNow for $9.95 and in hardcover on Lulu for $29.24 (as of this review, that's a 20% discount). It clocks in at 275 pages, so in both cases that's a bargain of a price.