Category Archives: News, Rants & Reviews

What’s Compatible?

This is going to be a real ranty rant. First, let me get the disclaimer out of the way. This nothing against any publisher or anybody else. Nor is it an attempt to “gate keep” or growl about new folks to the hobby. You can play the game however you want to. So just relax a bit.

Alright, so I see this often enough that it started sticking in my head, mostly on Facebook. “What else is compatible with…?” Sigh. Lot’s of stuff. “But it doesn’t say that it’s compatible..” I know there are lots of games that are unique that this doesn’t apply. Here, I ‘m talking about the d20 base retro-clones. I see this mostly in Old School Essentials groups. I’m glad that a lot of folks are picking it up and diving into the old school style of play. That’s a good thing. And yes, I do see it in other groups too like Basic Fantasy. Both of OSE and Basic Fantasy are cool games.

Call me, Mr. Stabby.

I think one the things thing that new folks to old school gaming don’t quite realize the quantity of material that is out there. One of the things that I’m going to go into here is that how compatible means a slightly different thing when it comes to much of the old school material. One of the maxims of old school play that doesn’t get enough air time is that player characters and monsters/NPC’s don’t have to follow the same rules. IMHO, compatibility when talking about old-school games is it mainly applies on the DM side of the screen. So it’s perfectly fine that the player characters are using one rules set and the monsters are using another that’s pretty close. Remember, there ain’t no perfectly balanced encounters in old school play.

Since Old School Essentials is the popular clone right now, I’m going to use this one as base. So as a DM running OSE where can you go. Lots of places. Anything written of Labyrinth Lord, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, OSRIC, and anything saying “Basic Era Game”. Yes, I know there are even more retro-clones out there. This is with virtually no conversion or work on the DM’s part. You can take Swords & Wizardry stuff and do minor conversions in your head or just run as is. No problem. And don’t forget the actual TSR adventures. When it comes to tools and random tables for the DM to use. The field grows even larger. To put bluntly, I don’t think I could possibly list all things that are out there and good. I will admit that some would take more work than others. Dungeon Crawl Classics has great adventures. But if want to convert, it would take a little more work but it could easily be done.

I welcome new folks to the old school games. It’s makes my little grognard heart happy. But what I do think is that the new folks just don’t understand the volume of material and options that they have available. Just takes a little research and understanding of the basics of the intent of the game design.

Roll dice. Kill monsters. Take their stuff. Level up.

Art of the Genre: Complete Black Label Collection

I love it when Kickstarters get fulfilled. I love it even more when I open my mail box and think, “What the heck is this package? Oh yeah….” So this bad boy just hit my mail box.

I’ve ranted about Art of the Genre’s stuff before so I won’t go into too much detail here but I’ll do a little recap. The Folio is their standard line of products. The Black Label products are the adult/risque line. So they aren’t for everybody. The GM could just fade to black or take out the naughty bits but there’s still some artwork that’s best not shared with the kids (or at work).

As I’ve said before Art of Genre’s stuff is pretty solid. The adventures are fun and there’s a good mix of other useful content to add to a campaign like monsters and magic items. Their best book in my humble opinion is Storytellers Arcana. Here’s my rant about it over here. And a detailed rant about their new Black Label series.

This Complete Collection contains six full adventures plus three mini-adventures. The Sins of the The Three Sisters, The Hall of the Spider Queen, and White Witch, Black Stone are stand alone adventures. While Liar of the Slaver Succubus; Dagger, Venom, Throne, and Before the Necrotic Gate are a linked trilogy. And they are all dual stated for 5E and old school games.

Once again, go ahead check out their stuff on Drivethru and their own site.

What Makes Good Characters?

I was just sitting back and think about this the other day. This isn’t about doing a character build. No, I think it’s more about design then how it affects builds and play. There’s two concepts that I want to talk about. I call them height and breadth.

Judge me by size…

Height is best defined as specialized characters. As they gain levels, they better at basically one thing. They get insanely and unrealistically better. Sure Min-Maxing does this. But let’s face it, 3.x and Pathfinder’s design encouraged this. They’d have insane bonuses as a few things and then basically suck at anything else. Higher level encounters were designed with this in mind. And if making you’re character don’t deviate from the Feat Chains or you’ll be in trouble later on.

Breadth is more generalized characters. Sure the character may be trained as Fighter, Thief, Magic-User, or whatever. And those are things that they are best at. But as they advance in levels, they gain broader knowledge. They go out into the world and learn new stuff. They won’t be as good as their fully trained counter parts but they at least won’t trip over their own feet when they do something outside their wheelhouse.

There’s that interesting data going around that most campaigns only last until about 5th or 6th Level. It’s pretty clear from the DM’s point of view that it gets pretty difficult to design higher level encounters since the player characters have so many powerful options. I remember when we were playing 1st Ed Pathfinder. Higher level encounters were just a very elaborate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. If the party had the right spells and magic items then they would waltz through the encounter. But if they didn’t then they were chewed up and spit out. This is a problem of height. Specialization and optimization to the point of failing if a character is hit with a “level appropriate” challenge that’s outside that exact scope.

These two concepts are broadly different play and design styles. I’m not saying that either one is right or wrong. It can ugly when both styles collide in a single game or group. My personal approach is more breadth than height both when I play or when I’m running a game. But like so many things, there needs to be a balance between the height and breadth.

Let’s Not Forget The Free Stuff

Let’s face it. You dump a lot of money into this hobby. Books, minis, dice, various tchotchkes, and junk food. But there is just a plethora of fee stuff out there. Sure it’s PDF. You expecting a physical book? Naw. But these can you get started on the old-school path. Sure, many folks have already heard or know about these but on the off chance that someone doesn’t then it’s nice throw this out into ether every once in a while. So this is my free RPG PSA.

Photo by Pixabay on

Let’s start with the granddaddy of the OSR: OSRIC

Swords & Wizardry (One of my personal favorites): There’s an online SRD, or grab the PDF here.

You want to keep it original then there’s White Box: Fantasy Adventure Game.

Want to keep it Basic. Well’s there Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game.

Oh you meant BASIC. Well there Labyrinth Lord.

Oh you meant the other. Old School Essentials And yep they got an online SRD too.

You want something a little grimmer? Then there’s Low Fantasy Gaming.

Not dark enough for you? Then of course there’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And don’t forget that old Ref Book. Grumble. I’m one of the suckers still waiting on the new one.

Are there more? Sure there are. I know I forgot something that’s I’ve got on my hard drive. But here’s the neatest part. All of these are largely compatible. Sure there are some major differences but those are easily dealt with and you can throw the stuff you like into your game and take out the stuff you don’t like. Make it unique for you and your players. Have fun out there.

Twenty Encounters on a Haunted Road

I talked a little about my d30 Random Encounter charts last week. That d30 range provides me plenty of room for good, neutral, and dangerous encounters as well as just having nothing happen. I just roll on it each day to see if anything interesting happens. But I needed so more inspiration so I went digging through DrivethruRPG.

So yes. This is another “old” product that I’m ranting about. The full title is Twenty Encounters on a Haunted Road in the Carpathians of Old. And the title says what it is.

This little 8 page PDF isn’t just a 20 Monsters on a table. Nope. Most of the encounters could easily act as an adventure seed or a side quest. While it’s designed for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, don’t let that be a deterrent. Since actual game mechanics are minimal, it’s easy to convert any game mechanics on the fly to the rule set that you are using at the time. The overall tone is very much Hammer Horror ala Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. This is the sort of thing that I really like. Simple, useful, inspirational, and to the point.

This little PDF is a good buy at less than $1. And be sure to check out a bunch of more Gregoris21778’s small PDF’s. I’ll probably rant about a couple of more later but they are worth.