Sunday, October 7, 2018

Review: Tiny Dungeon 2e

After reading Eorathril and For Coin & Blood, Gallant Knight Games has really become a publisher I respect for their OSR work. Seriously, they do OSR right. But I wanted to take a look at what I regard as their flagship product Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition. I was completely unfamiliar with the product and was sent a complimentary digital copy.

TD2e clocks in at a smidge over 200 digest-sized pages. Like other GKG products, the black and white interior is cleanly laid out and easy on the eyes. Billing itself as a rules light, fast playing, fast running fantasy RPG, I immediately started comparing it to White Box and my own Untold Adventures. Let me say this right off the bat: Tiny Dungeon is an entirely different beast. It's rules light, certainly. It is absolutely a fantasy RPG. But I'm reluctant to call it OSR simply because it blends classic and modern trends in gaming to create a unique beast that I think has a certain level of universal appeal.

This is a game that runs at lightning speed, yet somehow manages not to sacrifice much in the way of character depth and breadth of concept availability. Character creation is simple. You choose a Heritage, three Traits, a Weapon Group, a Family Trade, and a Belief. It works like this:

  • Heritage: In other games this would be your "race," but by choosing a different terminology, TD2e allows you to design things like multiple kinds of subraces while still having them all be different species. The core book has a surprisingly diverse list of races. From your standard things like Humans and elves (which TD2e accurately calls Fey), to Treefolk and Goblins, there's implications of a rich fantasy setting right at your finger tips.
  • Traits: These are the bread and butter of your character that really define what they do. These would be considered classes or professions in other games. Things like Alchemist, Berserker, and Shield Bearer. All PCs get to select three of them, allowing you to blend several elements into a truly unique character. Each Trait provides a brief example of the benefits it provides -- often this is Advantage on a specific task, but we'll get to Advantage and Disadvantage later (and no, it's not like 5e).
  • Family Trade: This is both a kind of profession and a hint at your character's past. There is no defined list, but you could have a trade like "Blacksmith" or "Street Beggar," or "Orphaned Noble." Basically in a situation where your Trade comes into play you again gain Advantage.
  • Belief: Belief is not, as an OSR grog like me is used to, akin to alignment. It's a core tenant your character lives by. Something that rings true to them deep down in their soul. It might be "I'll always find a diplomatic solution" or "I'll avenge the death of my brother, no matter the cost." It is primarily a roleplaying tool, but can have game impact in certain circumstances.

Playing the game is very simple. The core game runs on the concept of making "Tests." A Test is simply rolling 2d6. If you score a 5 or 6 on either die, you succeed. When you have Advantage you roll 3d6. Disadvantage reduces the dice rolled to 1d6. Again, get a 5 or 6 and you succeeded. That is, literally, 90% of the game's rules. It's clean, clear, and easy to learn. Combat? Just another Test. Climbing a rock wall? That's a Test. Not bleeding out all over the floor after a grievous wound? Yeah, that's a Test.

That's not to say that combat in TD2e is boring or simply a roll off. The author has added simple rules for evasion, focusing your attack, movement, and other staples that flow perfectly with game's core design. It's as robust as any OSR game I've read. For simplicity's sake, unless otherwise stated, all attacks do a single point of damage. But, given that most characters have between 4 and 8 hit points that makes this a lot deadlier than one would think at first glance.

Magic is not handled with a large chart of spells. Instead, Traits (as noted above) determine your character's magical capacity, if any. This keeps the game from being bogged down in lists and charts and allows players to have a spellcaster that's thematically appropriate. There are some example magical disciplines in the book, but they are optional. It's all left to be very narrative and I think that's a good thing.

Gear and Equipment is pretty simply defined. You start with an Adventurer's Kit and a few other items. Anything else you want? Talk with the GM. There are rules for tracking encumbrance and ammo and the like, but these are both abstracted and even as an abstracted concept they're very streamlined and designed not to hinder quick play.

While TD2e includes enough monsters to run a full campaign in the core book, what's more important is that it rightfully recognizes the concept of a monster as simple window dressing for something that's a threat to the players. As such, instead of bloating it's page count with a hundred beasties and baddies, it lists monster categories in a measurement of how likely they are to threaten the player characters and how much of a risk it is to face them in combat. This is pretty damned genius to me, because it lets you describe a monster as you, the GM, see feet and secretly allow a large and nasty hobgoblin to effectively have the same stats as a hatchling dragon -- all without the suspension of disbelief ever being broken.

I never got the impression that TD2e was designed specifically for one-shot gaming, though it certainly could do that with all the speed and ease of greased lightning. That being said, experience and advancement is an optional rule. Because characters begin play at a heroic level of skill and proficiency off the bat, this made sense to me. Even with the advancement rules, progression is slow -- as it should be, given how highly skilled starting characters can be.

All of this is packed into less than 90 digest-sized pages.

The biggest compliment I can give Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition is this: I'm glad I didn't read it until after I published Untold Adventures. If I had read Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition before writing my own minimalist game I probably would have never done it. TD2e is cleaner, faster, and easier to present than my own creation and my hat is off to its creator. I honestly believe it's a better game. I'll definitely be picking a physical in the very near future.

I'll be doing a part two of this review. As I noted earlier, this is a 200 page book, but the rules stop at around 90 pages. The enter second half of the book is mircosettings for use with TD2e and I want to be able to give them the attention they deserve. So, if you'll excuse me I'll be in the corner marveling at this masterwork blend of old school style and modern gaming simplicity as I explore the second half of Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Eorathril: Not Just Another Fantasy OSR Game

I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary PDF of the soon-to-be released Eorathril: Old School Fantasy Roleplaying, published by Gallant Knight Games and written by Alan Bahr. I was not asked to review the product, but after reading it I feel as though to not do so would be a disservice to the game itself.

There are more OSR fantasy RPGs out there than there are kobolds in a ruined keep, so why bother addressing another being added to an already bloated library of selections? I mean after all, I myself have written two complete fantasy RPGs and written a slew of supplements for others. It's an over saturated market, there's no getting around that. Given that, why is Eorathril worth your table time?

A great many things appeal to me when it comes to Eorathril. First and foremost, it's built about a chassis of Swords & Wizardry White Box, so that means there's a ton of material out there which can be easily incorporated into the game and that it's both easy to learn and fast-playing. Secondly, the layout is clean, yet evocative. One of my favorite features is that unlike many authors (myself included), Bahr doesn't use his sidebars to discuss house rules -- instead he gives readers a peek into his mind as a designer and lets them know why certain aspects of the game are designed in the fashion presented. It makes an already rules-light game feel very approachable. But, I think the biggest appeal of Eorathril is that it's a well-presented low-magic setting that is structured around the aforementioned OSR engine with which I am most familiar.

Let's be clear here: Eorathril isn't just "White Box with the magic stripped down." Bahr is clearly building his own unique game with elements he wants to see in the game. Tweaks are present in every aspect of the game: Attribute calculation, hit points, magic items, races, and classes are all modified to suit the "low magic, high adventure" style that Eorathril is meant to evoke. That evocation is present down to the visual design. Both layout and art feed into this theme.

There are no non-human player character races available in Eorathril, in keeping with the low magic feel here. There is, however, an optional rule where the region of the implied setting (which is also the product's title) can grant a bonus to a single attribute. The implication is that intelligent races other than humanity do exist, but they're not human, strange and alien to human sensibilities. In short, they're magical. The classes provided are where Bahr's creation really starts to shine, and I'd like to take a minute here to highlight them:

  • Barbarian: Your classic savage warrior, they are swift and brutal. At higher levels they can seem nigh unstoppable and through simple rules Bahr does a great job of creating a juggernaut worthy of Howard's legacy.
  • Fighter: This is less a generic warrior and more a professionally trained soldier, the Fighter has access to a collection of unique abilities that make them excel at specific combat methods as well as gaining additional attacks per combat round -- a rarity in most White Box variants.
  • Knight: This is exactly what you think, but it is not a Paladin. This is a lord-bound mounted warrior in full armor, as at home on the field of honor as he is in the middle of courtly politics.
  • Ranger: This class clings close to tradition, as skilled hunters and trackers who specialize in eliminating a chosen foe across a wild landscape.
  • Sage: This is the closest thing that Eorathril has to a "magic-user," and even that's a stretch. They do get spells, but only very few and only at higher levels. Instead, they gain insight through long study and keen observation. More Gandalfish or traditional Merlin than D&D fireball-slingers.
  • Swordmaster: The author openly states that this class is inspired by the Wheel of Time series, but I read it and immediately was drawn to the swashbuckler archetypes of Madmartigan and Dread Pirate Roberts from Willow and Princess Bride respectively. I love, love, love this class.
  • Thief: Similar to the Ranger, this class hangs close to its traditional counterpart. It does, however, add specific uses for disguise and poison use, which give them some more diversity in application.

As is befitting a game where heroes are martially-oriented, the weapons offered are extensive and diverse. At the same time, they're not ridiculous or out of genre. He also has a few simple weapon traits which add to that diversity without bogging things down. Also, there's an Arming Sword. Thank you so very much for distinguishing that from a Longsword. They're different weapons and that has always been a tiny pet peeve of mine.

Combat itself is standard White Box fare, with one simple addition: Exploits. If you roll a critical hit with a weapon you can opt to do an exploit instead of doing extra damage. This includes things like disarming your opponent, breaking their shield, or even breaking an object held in someone's hand. He also includes Intimidation and Manipulation rules, which were first introduced in his grimdark fantasy RPG For Coin and Blood.

Spell and Magic do have their own chapter, but given the low-magic theme of Eorathril, you won't see fireballs and magic missiles here very much. In fact, magic missile is the only direct damage spell in the book. Spells only run to third level and while most of them are OSR standards, spells are meant (at least by implication) to be utilitarian and not ground shattering displays of power. Again, only Sages can cast spells -- and even then, only at higher levels.

Magic items exist in Eorathril and all the standards are here that you'd expect. However, when it comes to magic weapons, Bahr has opted to use a variation on the Myth Point system introduced in The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying. Obviously, I'm a fan of that system and given the low-magic nature of the setting, I feel it's a very, very good fit.

The monster list has everything you'd expect and nothing you wouldn't. It's concise, complete, and highly utilitarian.

Finally, Eorathril closes with a few unique magic items tied specifically to the implied setting that's given some small detail in the beginning of the book. Between these two features, Narrators are given enough material to build the foundation of a fantasy setting with the freedom to take things wherever they'd like to go.

In less than 120 pages, Alan Bahr's Eorathril creates a clean, concise low-fantasy adventure roleplaying game that is as home in a Tolkienesque campaign styled after Lord of the Rings as it is in a Hyborian Age sword and sorcery campaign. I really can't recommend this game enough. It manages to build on the familiar foundation of so many OSR roleplaying games while having enough new material and unique flavor to be a worthy addition to the growing library of fantasy RPGs on the market.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Getting Board: Onitama Review

So, while tabletop RPGs are most certainly my passion, I also enjoy board games on occasion. I'm particularly a fan of two-player abstract board games, especially historic two-player abstract games. Games like Chess, Checkers, Go, and the like. Hnefatafl is a particular favorite of mine. I enjoy these types of games because they are typically easy to learn, only require one other participant, and are (for the most part) fairly cheap to purchase. In the modern board game market, I don't find a lot of two-player abstract games, especially ones with a strong historic theme. However, last year I came across Onitama after being pointed in its direction by Wayne Humfleet and Moe Tousignant. Since that time, Onitama has become my favorite board game.

Onitama is billed a martial arts themed tactical game. It is played on a grid board that is 5x5. Each player has five pieces, a Master and four Students. The base game also includes a deck of 16 move cards. The deck of move cards is shuffled and each player draws two, placing them face-up on the board in front of themselves. A fifth card is drawn and set to the side face up. Each player's collection is set along their own back row, with the Master occupying the center square back square. The Master's beginning space looks slightly different on the board and is called the Temple.
Example of Set-up
The goal of the game is to capture your opponent's Master (which is done by landing in the space occupied by the that Master), or by moving your own Master into your opponent's Temple. Each turn you move a single piece (Master or Student) based on the image depicted on one of the Movement cards on in front of you. That card is the set aside and you take the other unclaimed card into the now empty place in front of you, thus replacing your movement options on your next turn.

Your opponent then goes and does the same. They pick one of their movement cards, moves a piece, and takes the card you just got rid of into their hand and sets the movement card they just expended aside. Thus, you cycle through both your own movement cards and your opponent's movement cards.
Cards show permitted movement

The game is ridiculously simple too learn, set up, and play. The constant shifting of movement cards keeps the game dynamic and prevents a sense of staleness or inevitability that is often found in more traditional two-player abstracts like Chess or Checkers.

There is a single expansion for Onitama that's currently released: Sensei's Path. It is just 16 more movement cards. That's it. No huge rules changes, no extra things to learn. A great, solid expansion. Soon Arcane Wonder Games will be releasing a second expansion: Way of the Wind. This expansion adds a new neutral piece that can be manipulated by both players. I'm both excited and cautious about this. Onitama's big appeal for me, beyond the strong themeing, is the depth of play behind the simplicity of the rules. I hope future expansions don't clutter up the elegance of a beautifully designed game.

Onitama is available for $30 MSRP, though online retailers usually sell it for about 30% less than that. Sensei's Path MSRPs for around $15, but again online retailers offer it at about 30% off if you hunt around. Way of the Wind is the forthcoming expansion and is priced at about the same as Sensei's Path. All that being said, if you have a local game shop, spend the extra cash and support the brick n' mortar business.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Simple vs. Beginner: There's a Difference

So, earlier in the week I got into a conversation on Facebook with someone who had some constructive criticism and questions regarding Untold Adventures. I encouraged them to ask their questions because the person was both respectful and the questions were really insightful ones about the nature of the game. It got me thinking about something that seems a bit counter-intuitive.

Untold Adventures is a rules light game, but I would not call it a game that's a good game for new gamers. That's a bit confusing, eh? Without a lot of rules, beginners won't get overwhelmed - right? Sure, that's true. But Untold Adventures relies heavily on Referee fiat, descriptive play, and abstraction. Those three skills don't always come easily to new players or Referees. That's because they need time to build their confidence as gamers and trust their instincts.

Part of the reason I love Untold Adventures so much is that it is a game I wrote, first and foremost, for me. I didn't want to do "just another retroclone" for the sake of sales. That's why it's a PWYW PDF and the PoD will be under $10 in softcover. It's a game that I know I can run given my current life. It's low prep, fast-playing, and character creation takes five minutes. I abstracted so much of the game because I trust in my abilities as a Referee and to make a call on the fly.

That comes from thirty years of gaming and over half a decade creating OSR content. The mentality of "Rulings, not Rules" comes to me almost instinctively. I recognize that such a style of play doesn't come easily to new gamers and that many experienced gamers don't care for it. They want a more defined selection of classes, a more concrete gear system, and other things. That's perfectly valid and reasonable. But, it's not the way I prefer to play, so I didn't write Untold Adventures with that in mind.

Another reason to make it as rules light as possible was to make it as easy as humanly possible to drop in other OSR content. Heck, I wrote it with running Small Niche Games' Chronicle of Amherth (originally written for Labyrinth Lord) and Glynn Seal's Midderlands (originally written for Swords & Wizardry Complete) in mind. I could use both settings with no mechanical conversion, or simply by changing all HD to d6. Conversion takes seconds and can be done on the fly. But that comes at the expense of concrete rules, forcing me to rely on my own confidence that I gleaned from experience as a gamer and creator.

I'm not saying this to toot my own horn. I'm simply pointing out that the level of experience of the individual running a game and playing in a game has a huge impact on that game and is a key factor to consider when choosing, designing, or playing a game.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Been a Bit Since I Blogged

It's been quite a bit since I threw down some words on the blog. Real life's been busy. Damn busy. I went to Texas and back for 2018's North Texas RPG Con, and it was probably the best time I've had in a decade. Seriously. It was exactly what I needed to reinvigorate myself creatively. Though my personal life has actually forced me to slow the time table on several OSR projects, I just wanted to take a minute to talk about what's been going on with me since April.

Untold Adventures: I published a minimalist fantasy RPG called Untold Adventures, and on the whole it seems to be getting a very positive response. It's a PYWY PDF on RPGNow and $8 for a print copy on Lulu. I also put out a short rules supplement for it called Unsung Heroes, which is currently a PYWY PDF on RPGNow.

Heart of Varrul: I've been working alongside Pete Spahn as we finish up the final draft of Heart of Varrul, his White Star setting/adventure supplement. There's a ton of excellent stuff in there and I'm really pleased Pete asked me to get involved when the project was in its earliest stages.

Vigilante City: Eric Bloat from Bloat Games recently successfully funded a Kickstarter for Survive This! Vigilante City, and this OSR superheroic roleplaying game looks like the bee's knees. I got to contribute a small adventure to the book and am really excited to see this puppy come to life. I love, love, love superheroes and am always looking for a good RPG. I think Eric may have finally found the Rosetta Stone of OSR supers gaming. Plus, my own original creation, Midnight Ace, will be appearing in VC - and I'm super excited to see that.

White Star: I've got a number of White Star products in various stages of drafting and development, including collaboration with some third party publishers -- similar to working with Pete over at Small Niche Games.

Saga of the White Box: My "White Box Vikings" RPG is ridiculously close to being finished if I could just get off my ass and get it done. I'm really excited for this one, but can't bring myself to finish the damn thing. It'll be a stand-alone and draw heavily on the Eddas and culture of the pre-Christian Norse culture.

Cybermancer: This one has been a damn devil. 150 pages into the initial draft and I realized I would have to overhaul the entire thing to make it as streamlined as I wanted. I had to completely scrap the system originally being used and, much to my surprise, found it will work well as a variant of the rules found in The Hero's Journey.

Rad Box: This is my White Box Post Apocalyptic RPG. I'm about 50 pages into the first draft and it will draw heavily from themes and elements of the Fallout series of video games and the Mad Max films. I'm looking at it similar to White Star as a a genre book and not a specified setting.

Freelance Work: Yep, I'm doing some. No, I can't talk about it.

There's other stuff tooling about, but nothing to any point of development worth talking about publicly. Anyway, just wanted to let everyone know I'm alive, well, and still creating.

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.