Well, up this week is Low Fantasy Gaming. Ive already done a couple of more indepth reviews of the Free and Deluxe editions. It’s a damned good game and bears another rant in this series.
First like many others, it doesn’t attempt to emulate a specific old edition. Instead it takes a lot of the best various editions and retroclones and throws them together in a coherent and fun game. Low Fantasy Gaming takes a much more Sword & Sorcery approach than High Fantasy. Magic is dangerous. The world is a little rougher and tougher. You know the drill.
Low Fantasy stands on its own as a game but of all the one’s I’ve ranted about so far, it does have the most amount of material that can be imported into your game of choice. The Dark and Dangerous Magic system and random charts are a fun and simple additional. Luck mechanics. Yep. Got those too. And the neat thing is the “Unique Feature” for player characters. In a nutshell, take some feat or feature from another game and convert it. It sounds simple but it’s the easiest way to customized characters without having a long list of specific abilities. Like I said, it’s a really nice addition to any game.
The classes are all geared more towards the Sword & Sorcery vibe. Instead of Clerics, there’s Cultists which are handled in a much neater way. Instead of normal spells and such, the Cultists has Blessing plus specific benefits and restrictions based on their god. Sure most of the Blessing do emulate the most common Cleric spells and abilities but they are handled differently than the standard pseudo-Vancian cleric magic. Races are pretty much the standard except for Half-Skorn which are basically Half-Orcs.
If you haven’t added this your collection, I highly recommend it. You can grab Low Fantasy Gaming at DrivethruRPG. If you want to just check it then there’s the original Free PDF available.
This week on my trip down memory lane, let’s talk about Dungeon Crawl Classics. I’ve had some friendly debates on whether DCC is “old school” or not. OK, sure it does default to ascending AC. It does use the same three saving throws as Third Edition. And it does do its own thing. But it sits firmly with the ideas of rulings not rules, 3d6 in order, and your characters can drop like flies. So at the very least, old school is strong in this one.
You can’t talk about DCC without mention the funky dice and the funnel. The game does use all sorts of funky dice in addition to your “normal” polyhedrals. I’m not talking the funky kind of dice with symbols (looking at you Star Wars). No these are weird sided dice. d3, d5, d7, d16, d24, d30. And they are actually used. How exactly depends mostly on your character. Hunting down and shelling out for the dice can be a pain but hey support your FLGS. The other thing is the so-called funnel. This could be considered part of character generation. Players start with (usually) four 0-level characters. You suck. You don’t have a class and end up going on an adventure. They die. A lot. Your 0-level that survives; ends being your character and you get to level up to first level in something. Now’s also a good time to mention that DCC uses the four basic classes (Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, Thief) and the three racial classes (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling). And yes, there are supplements out there that have more races, classes, and options.
I enjoy playing and running DCC. It’s a really fun game and it’s the only game that I can think of that has rules that allows the game to basically participate in the adventure. By that I mean there’s a chance that a well-cast spell or a crit on an attack as well s fumbles of those can really change the game and possibly even the game world. It keeps both the players and the GM on their toes. I like that. As a GM, I like to be surprised too. But this is also the same place that I get annoyed. The game has so many freaking random charts: Fumble charts, multiple crit charts and each spell has its own chart. That’s a lot of charts and page flipping which can slow down the game. So it’s very much a mixed blessing.
Even if you aren’t planning on playing or running DCC, there’s a lot of inspirational material there. The specific crit tables for various types of monsters can give a DM some inspiration on interesting things to happen when a monsters crits. Better than just more damage. There’s also random tables for generating unique demons, dragons, and magic swords. These are nice. Another great thing is that some of the DCC adventures are great and well worth running even if you happen to be using a different old school game. The conversion wouldn’t too difficult.
Now if you are planning on running it or playing it there a couple really great resources that highly recommend. There’s the DCC RPG Reference Booklet. This little tome has the most commonly used charts for easier reference that the using the core book. The other is the Purple Sorcerer website. This site has all sorts for very handy generators for players and GM’s. I know it’s made my life a whole lot easier.
You can grab up DCC stuff on DrivethruRPG, on Goodman Games site, and most importantly you can probably order thru your FLGS. Plus there’s a healthy community of third party publishers creating content for DCC with all manner of options, genres, and settings.
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.
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.
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.