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.