Category Archives: News, Rants & Reviews

OSR Retrospective: Adventurer Conqueror King

Adventurer Conqueror King AKA ACKS by Autarch is another those old school games that I’ve had for a long time but never really played as much as I wanted to.

At it’s core ACKS is another of the old school games that doesn’t try emulate a specific edition or version of D&D. It takes bits and pieces and sows them together into a unified system. There’s a total of 12 classes in the core and race is class but there are different classes for your common races. And there’s a good variety of classes too.
There’s on optional Proficiency system that is sort of a cross between a Skills and Feats. There’s the usual things you would expect for skills but there’s also other Proficiencies that act more like Feats such as Black Lore of Zahar (necromany type stuff), Combat Trickery, Divine Health, and Swashbuckler. While I find it inspirational, I personally think it’s a bit cumbersome. I’d much rather have the two split into two different things.
ACKS has the usual array of spells, monsters, and campaign and dungeon construction advice. ACKS goes into much more detail into so-called domain level play than most other games. You know your character now has a tower or is leading an army, a thieves’ guild or something like that. This is probably why I never played it that much. I’m just not into domain level play. I’d much rather be crawling through dungeons than messing around with accounting and stuff. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, it’s just not my cup of tea. That being said, ACKS does have a strong built-in system for domain play with extensive price lists, tables and charts. So if you like domain play, it’s worth it to pick this up for that resource which you could easily use no matter what other game system you may be actually playing.
So how do I use ACKS? Well, as I mentioned the Proficiencies are also sort of like Feats. It’s great inspiration on how to build or add special little abilities for characters. There’s also out of the norm classes like the Blade Dancer which can easily be converted over to your game of choice.

And of course there’s plenty of adventures and sources books. My personal favorite is Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu since I more into sword and sorcery than high fantasy. And bonus Barbarian Conquerors has got a little gonzo built into it with alien technology.
Like very other game that I’ve ranted about, YMMV. But there’s plenty of material there to be inspirational and convertible to your rules of choice. You can check out their products on DrivethruRPG and their own site.

Metallic Tome!

Another Kickstarter that I’m glad that I backed. Rafael Chandler has always put out some wild, crazy, great stuff and Metallic Tome doesn’t disappoint.

What exactly is Metallic Tome? Well, it’s a gonzo post apocalyptic genre/setting source book with a heavy dose of heavy metal and it’s chocked full of little bits of humor. Traditional classes/races add a “genre” for some special little benefits. Who wouldn’t want to play a Glam Wizard, Death Dwarf, or Gloom Elf? Oh yeah. There’s also mutations. You’ll get one of those too. Alignments are redone to fit the crazy genre. Plus there’s random starting equipment, and modern equipment including vehicles. And there’s some neat weird rules. Each PC gets a theme song. The DM puts on their play list and puts it’s on random. Your theme song starts playing and you get bonuses while the song is playing.
The bulk of the book adds new Magic-User and Cleric Spells, and a host of new and re-imagined monsters to fit into this crazy world. Once again the spells and monsters are sprinkled with head banging heavy metal and seasoned with just the right amount of humor (and a few puns). The spells and monsters manage to be familiar but new, interesting at the same time. To round out this fun-filled book, there’s magic items and random magic items. Once again, we’re back to the familiar, funny, gonzo stuff.
This is the kind of supplement that I love. First, it doesn’t matter what specific set of old-school rules that you are using. This stuff will work with little or no conversion. It takes the familiar and takes it into a weird and humorous direction. You can use what bits you want and ignore those that you don’t like without worry.
So what do I plan on doing with this? I don’t know yet but as I was reading all sorts of ideas were bouncing around inside my head. Throwing it all together along with other gonzo settings on the hard drive. Kitbashing it into a new setting to play. Mixing it into standard fantasy or go crazy and add it on to space opera. Or may be something in between. We shall see.
You can grab this little beauty up in PDF form over at DrivethruRPG and a dead tree version is available on Lulu.

OSR Retrospective: Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I’ve really liked Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea for a long time but I have to admit that this one of the clones that I’ve had the least amount of experience playing. But hell, they had me with the cover art of the first edition.

Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea has a lot going for it. First, it’s one of the few games that’s not firmly routed in Tolkien. Instead it dives head first into weird pulp fiction of days gone by. There’s no elves or halflings. Dwarves exist but only as monsters. Humans are the only option but there various races to choose from.
Game mechanics are firmly rooted in the old school games. So if you’re already familiar with that then playing this should be little problem and GM’s shouldn’t have too much difficulty converting any material. There’s descending AC, Thieves with their own set of skills (in this case x in d12), and so on. Like Swords & Wizardry Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea uses a single Saving Throw modified by class. The game does use some of its own nomenclature such as Casting Ability, Fighting Ability, and Turning Ability. At first this was a little confusing to me, but reading in detail even I was able to figure it out.
Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea handles classes well. If the GM wants to keep things simple then they can use only the four basic classes (Fighter, Magician, Cleric, Thief). If the GM wants lots of options then the game goes the “sub-class” route and offers lots of options. There’s the what you would expect Assassins, Bards, Barbarians, Druids, and Necromancers plus there’s more like the Shaman, Cataphract, Runegraver, and Purloiner just to name a few. What concept a player comes up with, there’s probably a class that fits.
While the material is separated into volumes when that it’s complied into a single book or PDF, it clocks in at over 600 pages. I know that seems like a lot compared to other old school games. There’s a lot of material there. It not only combines material you would find in a Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and DM Guide but also includes the material fro the Hyperborea setting.

For me, this is where Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea really shines. Since the game ditches the Tolkien style fantasy for a weird pulp Swords & Sorcery approach, the setting and the adventures are what really set it apart from most other games. The setting manages to alien but familiar. Now IMHO, it is a bit too detailed in parts like I’d probably never use a setting specific calendar. But it’s full of inspirational material for a GM to run with to make their own unique setting.
Even if you already have your own game system of choice, it’s worth grabbing up a few of the adventures. The standard dungeon crawl with orcs, goblins, and dragons can get a little mundane after a while. The jaunt down the path less traveled makes things all the more interesting and weird. Crap even the cover art and titles are evocative and inspirational.

You can get Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea on DrivethruRPG or visit North Wind Adventures site for the material plus some freebies.

Survive This Fantasy

Yes, I backed the Kickstart but the PDF’s for the GM Book and Core Book are available on Drivethru so I figured I’d share a few thoughts.

If you’re familiar with other Survive This titles by Bloat Games, Survive This Fantasy has the basic core mechanics. So if you’re used to D&D, it’s no problem to learn the game. The system does take a few things in new directions but more that later.
The classes are pretty cool and there’s a wide range. I mean a really wide rage, 19 in total. There’s everything from Archer to Zealot. The good thing about all those classes is that each does feel pretty different. Each gains neat class-based abilities as the character gains levels without having too much burdening crunch. Like many games, there are class based Saving Throw modifiers but classes also gain modifiers to their ability scores. Sometimes it’s a bonus and sometimes a penalty. Classes also gain bonuses to Skills. Now, the Survive This is billed as an “old-school” games. And most the mechanics and game design philosophy follow those ideals. That’s a good. The Skill system, however, is the kissing cousin to 3rd Edition. It’s not as involved but the DNA is there. I personally don’t mind it but it is there so YMMV.
So yeah. There’s a lot classes. There’s also a lot of races, 14 in all. That’s almost too many. But much of that will depend on each campaign. Nobody says you have to use all of them. Like the classes, you’ve got a wide range of options. Like the classes, characters get modifiers to ability scores, saving throws, skills and any appropriate racial abilities.
Since it’s a fantasy game, of course, there’s magic. You’ve got pretty much the usual spells plus some new handy and interesting spells. Magic does use a rune tattoo type system which is slightly different. And yes. There’s a psionic system that works and does feel different than magic.

I know a lot of the above sounds pretty generic but there’s a few things about the system that I find really cool. The first is Saving Throws. These are a bit different than your standard game. There’s Courage, Critical, Death, Magic, Mental, and Poison. There’s really two major differences. First, it’s a roll under system. This may take some getting used for some. Second, a character’s beginning Saving Throws are determined randomly (4d4). This I really like since it makes beginning characters even less cookie cutter.
Characters also have an additional stat, Survival. This is sort of like luck. Spend a point and get to reroll. Pretty simple and you can spend as many as you have during a session but there’s a catch. You only get one back per session. So it’s a limited resource. I don’t mind luck mechanics and this is a pretty good one. Another neat thing is that all player characters have d6 Hit die. Get 2d6 HP at 1st level then 1d6 per level after that.
The GM Book not only has all of the usual and new monsters there’s plenty of GM advice and handy tables that you could use no matter what game you are actually running.
There’s a lot material in these two books and this little rant is very much a brief overview. So here’s my thoughts in a nutshell. Do I want to run/play this? Yes. I will probably wait until I get physical copies and when I can game face-to-face since there’s a lot new material that my gaming group isn’t used to. Do I plan to use some material even if I’m not running Survive This Fantasy? Hell, yes. There’s lot’s handy tables (like mentioned before) as well as game concepts that I’m thinking of converting over to whatever other old school game I may happen to be running. So yeah. It’s a good addition to the collection.
Like I said you can grab the PDF’s on DrivethruRPG here and here.

OSR Retrospective: Old School Essentials

This week, I figures I’d yack about Old School Essentials since they’ve got a Kickstarter going for a couple more Advanced books to add to the series. I started using/playing Old School Essentials when it was still BX Essentials. The name changed had nothing to do with the content of the game. It was to make the game more appealing to those who have no idea what BX means. And in case you are wondering it goes to the very old Basic/Expert sets of early D&D. Basic/Expert. BX. Get it?
Old School Essentials (OSE) is a clone of the old Basic/Expert sets like I said. Like most clones, it cleans up and organizes the material and fills in any gaping rules holes. The material is laid out clearly and easy to read and reference. As a bonus, it breaks down the material into separate books (Rules, Spells, Classes, Monsters, Treasure) for easy reference at the table. (Yes, it also consolidated into a Rules Tome as well.)

At first, I was really “meh” on it. Another BX clone? Yawn. I really don’t need this. I’ve got plenty of clones. Heck, I even have copies of my originals. So why in the world would I consider getting this? Well, I have to give credit where credit is due. One review changed my mind.

At that time, I was running Labyrinth Lord and decided to grab up a few of the books for reference at the table. Yes, I know there are many differences between the two. But I’m really laid back and just hand waved any differences in exchange for faster play at the table by having much of the material in an easy to reference format. I know I keep saying that but that’s real selling point on OSE, easily referenced material at the table.
If you’ve stopped by this blog more than once, you probably know that I really love house ruling and rules tweaking. Like most of the old school games, OSE isn’t any different. Any house rules that you may like or something cool from another clone, you can add to your game. Plus most of that old school material from around the web will easily work with little or no conversion. Last week, I said that Swords & Wizardry is my favorite of the old school games, OSE comes in as a close second. If you want to experience the game like it was back in the day and have it presented in clear and easily understood format and packed so it’s easy to reference at the table. Well, kids. OSE is there for you.

You can grab up Old School Essentials all over the web; DrivethruRPG, Necrotic Gnome’s site, and Exalted Funeral. Oh and I should mention that there’s an online SRD and generators available.