It’s a perfect time to sit back and do a little reflection considering all the crap that is going on. So for me, I want to go back and look at some of the old OSR stuff that’s been influential with me and throw in some extra notes and thoughts since so much time has passed. It seems so long ago and so much has changed.
I know I’ve told this story before but it’s the best place to start. How exactly did I catch the OSR bug? At the time, the gaming group was playing 3.5 and along came the train wreck of 4th Edition and we switched to Pathfinder. And we played Pathfinder a lot. As time progressed, I got more frustrated with it. We’d spend so much time plotting out movement, spell effects, and figuring all sorts of rules minutia rather than actually playing the game. It really hit home with me when I literally was using a spread sheet to keep up with all the various bonuses for my character. It was just too much and started searching the Internet and that’s when came across all those wonderful retroclones and other goodies. I was amazed at just how much was out there and while so much of it was different, it was largely still cross compatible.
IMHO, you can’t really talk about the OSR without looking back OSRIC. OSRIC really opened the doors for all of the games that followed. While it was intended as sort of an old-school SRD, it’s still playable. Sure I’ve got the PDF but it’s something that I rarely if ever use in a game. It’s handy for reference or even a little research. Remember, I did say that it was playable and there’s folks out there who still play it and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And to put bluntly, even if you’re playing something with a different label, chances are it still might be pretty close to OSRIC.
With all that being said, OSRIC does deserve a very special place. It really was the game that started a renewed interest in old-school gaming.
With gaming pretty much at a stand still, it’s time to dig back through the archives and find that wild and crazy stuff that I should us more often than I do. I did just mention this on the podcast. Give the DM a module and you entertain the party for evening. Give a book of random tables or monster book, they can make a whole campaign. So for this I want to rant about a couple really cool monsters books that may have feel by the wayside.
I’m not going to a full of both here. I think I did reviews before on the old long gone blog. But these two books have a lot in common. There’s totally new monsters that are just down right weird and bizarre and interesting takes or tweaks on existing monsters. In each case, there’s enough background lore to find just the right place in your campaign or a little inspiration to put in your campaign. You gotta mix things up and to keep it fresh.
Dark Wizard Games puts out really cool old school modules and then there’s Monsters of Mayhem No. 1 (hope there’s going to be a Number 2). Monsters of Mayhem is a little gonzo and has just the right amount of humor without going too far. There’s plenty of fun and different stuff that DM can use to spice things up.
The Teratic Tome is much darker and hits the grim-dark, weird-fantasy vibe much more. So the content is a little more mature and you may have to do some adjustments based on your taste but it’s still solid stuff that gives some out of the box inspiration for game masters. There are some creepy weird monters in here but it still a damned good book if want throw some monsters that are really out of the ordinary. And Rafael Chandler has a Kickstarter going on now, the Metallic Tome. Yes I backed it.
Wizards of the Coast has released their newest Diversity statement. Let’s face it. Statements like this one just use inclusive and diverse as marketing buzz words to pander to angry Internet mob that can never be placated. It’s much easier for them to cave to a mob than play whack-a-mole across the Internet. Most importantly. This isn’t just about elf games. Look around you. There needs to be honest and frank discussions about racism not manufactured outrage. There need to be solid reforms to address the problems in our society not pandering and virtue signalling. Folks wonder why it’s so difficult to bring about change. Well, it’s crap like this.
When I first heard the whole orcs are racist thing, I totally thought this was a just of those silly Internet memes. Oh, was I wrong. So for those who didn’t get the memo here’s a rough breakdown on the origins of this whole thing. I’m not going to sit here and rehash old arguments and the best response I found online is penned here.
I’ve said it before. Controversy has more legs than content. Extreme, loud voices get attention. Calm, reasonable voices get drowned out. Trying to debate or reason is useless. Disagreement and dissent are viewed as proof that the mob is not only right but you are an enemy.
I know the argument that the Thought Police aren’t going to kick your door down if you’re playing your home game “wrong”. They won’t take away your books or your dice. Just don’t publicly mention or share it online if you’ve even argued with the mob or associated with the wrong people. You better stay away from conventions too. And don’t play any other games that don’t follow the narrative.
I wonder if WOTC will edit or even remove older editions and content because it is now deemed inappropriate. To be honest, I think that’s a long shot. But I do see the mob as using this ammunition to get any publisher who has spoken out against them banned on Drivethru.
Really hope that I’m wrong on these last points. But based on what’s happened in the past, it wouldn’t surprise me.
I will dare say that most, well beyond 95%, of people are good and reasonable people. They don’t want to waste their time debating with those who aren’t interested in debate. They don’t want to be harassed by an angry mob just because they disagree. I understand that and it’s been my own policy not to bother to engage. Especially in the OSR, we created politics free zones. I mean all we wanted to do was talk about elf games. In a way, we created a “safe space” and even stuck our heads in the sand. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. The net result is that the angry mob is the only voice who is heard. We gave them the power over us and the “RPG community”.
So what to do? You’re a responsible adult. Make you own decisions and don’t let a mob or me make them for you.
Let me start this off with a very brief overview of The Cepheus Engine. It’s basically old-school Traveler. Ability scores and task resolution are on 2d6. The whole system uses only d6’s. There are no classes like the World’s Most Popular RPG. Characters have careers that give them skills and material benefits during character creation. And yes, you can die in character generation but many GM’s house rule around that.
The Sword of Cepheus is the Cepheus Engine take on Sword & Sorcery and with very little tweaking you could use it for Sword & Sandal or even Sword & Planet. The game is presented without a setting but it does explain it’s three “pillars”: Gritty Heroic, Dark Sorcery, and Open World. In other words, you’re average PC is better than mooks but they still need to be careful. Magic will screw you up. And go out there and get into trouble.
Character generation and game mechanics follow pretty much the same formula as you see from the original source systems. Roll your stats then pick a career and so on. Since it’s been literally decades since I messed with Traveler, it took me a while to digest it but a good read through got me back into the swing of things. The best thing about the character generation/career steps is that also gives a character a bit a background or at least some bullets points for the player and the GM to work with. Now I’ll probably rename some skills just to fit my own sense of style but that’s not really a big deal. There’s also Traits to define a character further. Think of these like Feats but without that silly Feat chain effect in 3rd Edition.
Let’s get the meat of what makes this a Sword & Sorcery games. Magic and Monsters. First up. Magic. Magic is divided into three colors (White, Gray, and Black) and six Circles. The color is pretty obvious. Casting Black Magic causes Corruption. Misusing Gray Magic also causes Corruption. Get enough Corruption and bad things happen to your character. Also, magic is magic. There is no Cleric, Magic-User or Druid spell list. Any distinctions are based on how the character is played, their career, and choices. Circles are a bit like spell levels. The Circle denotes the spell’s relative power and difficulty to cast. This isn’t Vancian Magic. There isn’t a specific number of spells per day or memorizing. If the character knows a spell then they know it. Most of the spells will be at least familiar to experienced gamers but most of the direct damage, combat-type spells are gone. Why? Well, it takes 10 minutes to cast a spell. With each round taking six seconds, that means it would take 100 rounds of concentrating on a spell to cast it combat. Not going to happen. But there’s a way around that. Spell Foci. Think of these sort of like the equivalent of D&D scrolls or wands (but they don’t have to be those objects). There are one-use and rechargeable foci. A foci is for specific spell and basically let’s the spell caster have that spell cocked and locked (to use an old military term). There’s an optional rule to allow for rushed casting at a penalty for a more magical campaign. Like I said, there isn’t a limited number casting per day. The character just keeps casting and eventually a bad die roll is going to happen and the consequences are pretty bad. Yes, the character can die, or go into a coma for 1d6 years. So there’s a steep price for magic. Another thing to note is that even a beginning character has access to the most powerful spells. They might not be able to cast them effectively but they may know them. Another thing I like are the healing spells. They don’t give a character x amount of HP. Instead they give natural healing for a specified period of time. The lowest circle healing spell (Respite) gives a day’s worth of natural healing but that doesn’t help for Major Wounds. Or to put roughly into D&D terms, a bunch of Cure Light Wounds spells won’t help you if you’ve had the crap beaten out of you.
For monsters, the book has pretty much the standard array of monsters that you would expect. The stat blocks are pretty easy to ready except for the UPP. This is something from Traveler. It’s a string numbers and letters designating an NPC/PC/Monster’s ability scores. So an average human would have 777777. Stats above 9 are designated with a letter like with hexadecimal. So a character with a UPP of C77777 would have a STR 12 and 7 in the rest of their scores. The order and the attributes aren’t that difficult, they almost mirror d20 based games. The thing is if I have a monster with Strength of “F” that means a a Strength of 15. Now what is the damage mod on that? Well that’s in the beginning of the book. If you’re used to it then it isn’t a problem but if you aren’t there will be some page flipping.
Of course, the book is rounded out with weapons, armor, equipment, magic items, mounts, and vehicles along with chase and naval rules.
Overall, I’m glad I picked it up. I will say that game really needs a GM screen since there are lots of modifiers and tables spread throughout the book. This is another option if you want to run a more Conan/Kull type game rather than Tolkien. I can see bringing a lot of inspirational from existing OSR resources especially things that tend more towards the weird fantasy. It’s also worth noting that Human is the only option in the core book but never fear there is an inexpensive non-humans supplement and that’s pretty good too.
What am I going to do with this? I dunno. I like it. I want to run it. And screams for it’s own setting. Ah. Now that’s something to think about.
You can grab the Sword of Cepheus over at DrivethruRPG.
In case you haven’t heard, Patreon will start charging sales tax to patrons. This all depends on where the patron lives and what sort of benefits are being offered under an individual Patreon campaign. Patreon doesn’t really have much choice in the matter, it’s all determined by the local tax codes of where a patron lives. Also, what is considered taxable is determined by where the patron lives.
It’s up to the creators to do their best and guess the value of any benefits to patrons. Patreon has admitted that there will take the risk of something is supposed to be taxed and creator doesn’t set their advanced tax settings correctly. That part is a good thing. But here’s the part that starts to really bug me. In some places, apparently, early access to a podcast is taxable. If a creator gives away PDF, well, that’s still taxable for some mystery amount. And god only knows what else. At least from what has been said so far, “general support” and shout-outs still aren’t taxed.
I know there a few very successful Patreons that are almost like a private little store front. They’re shipping out T-Shirts and god only knows what else. These items are easy to put a value on. I feel there’s no way that I can fairly put some sort of arbitrary value on a podcast episode or even a little one-page PDF. My goal with Patreon was never to “make” money. Not even beer and pizza money. The goal is still to just make enough to pay for the web hosting of the blog and who knows, maybe a new microphone for the podcast.
So with that, I’m going to be redoing the Patreon in a manner that isn’t going to cause Patrons to be needlessly (IHMO) taxed on what I provide. I’m going to reassess the goals and the tiers. Since I’m basically using it as a tip jar, I’m also exploring other options such as KoFi and Buy Me A Coffee. Like I said before, I’m not out to make a bunch of money but giving potential Patrons other options is a good thing. And I’m going to look at the Patreons that I personally back and see what I might get taxed on.
Thanks and let’s back to rolling some dice.