Ragnar "Bat" Hill (Ancient Vaults & Eldritch Secrets) and I have been conspiring for over two months and we are now ready to talk about the game we have been writing. We have dubbed it, IMP: A Small Familiar Game. We have a new blog for the game, where we will be sharing development notes and general blather about the game. Please check it out, and follow our progress as we dive headlong into small press games publishing together.
Trey Causey has a contest going on right now over at From the Sorcerer's Skull. He is asking for adventure seeds to be submitted for possible use in a Weird Adventures companion he has in the works. If you haven't heard about the contest then head over there now, read the rules and get your submissions in. Here is mine:
In the Hills There Are Dark Ways
An otherwise relaxing trip into the misty hills of the Smaragdine Mountains turns into a hellish tour of "old-time" religion and ancient evil.
The Set-up: The PCs find themselves stranded in the small mountain village, Pilot's Den. Quickly, it becomes obvious that the townsfolk are not only a little odd, but it appears they are members of a fervent Holiness Church, The Chruch of Our Father. As the party tries to negotiate a means off the mountain and back to civilization, it appears that the townspeople are in the midst of their annual Harvest Festival. In the center of town, Zebulon Bishop, the local preacher, is giving a rousing sermon. The PCs can't help but notice the great stone positioned right in the center of town; long, rectangular, lying flat and carved with the image of a great snake that coils around its circumference. It is not long before the townsfolk are overcome by "the Spirit," and begin drinking poison from mason jars, speaking in tongues and taking up venemous serpents, all in the glorious name of "The Father." The awful truth is that the villagers are not just speaking in "tongues," they are spouting Aklo, the ancient arcane language of the Serpent Men of Valusia; Zebulon Bishop is indeed a Serpent Man in the guise of a human; the ancient Indian stone in the center of town is in fact an altar; the Harvest Festival is an annual blood ritual, performed to guarantee bountiful crops and prosperity for the town; and "The Father" being called forth is the Great Old One, Yig. At the climax of the ceremony, preacher Bishop calls for blood and points to the PCs. Right on cue, the ground begins to shake, and awful groaning noises emanate from below the mountain. How will the characters escape the clutches of the Snake Cult?
Highlights: An isolated mountain town inahbited by a backward folk; snake handling, Aklo speaking cultists; a mad preacher, who, from the pulpit, calls for blood to be spilled in the name of "The Serpent Father"; Serpent Men; ancient rites performed to appease the Great Old Serpent.
It is Lovecraftian, which is a big surprise I am sure. This is a scenario I have had cooked up for some time now, and had originally planned to use it for a Colonial Gothic game, which unfortunately never happened. I updated a couple of things to make it more appropriate for Weird Adventures, but in the end very little was changed. I have a few little Easter eggs hidden in there to make things fun, so kudos to those who spot them. I am crossing my fingers and would love to win a copy of Weird Adventures. Wish me luck, and enjoy!
I just saw that Innsmouth Free Press is crowdfunding a new anthology, Sword and Mythos. Here is the blurb:
Sword and sorcery: the realm of daring assassins, crafty thieves and talented wizards. Lovecraft’s Mythos: a place where the weird, the horrifying and the strange coalesce. Both sub-genres should come together and you can make it happen.
Sword and Mythos is an anthology to be edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles, published through Innsmouth Free Press. Since 2009, Innsmouth Free Press has been publishing many fine authors in its magazine and anthologies, including W. H. Pugmire, Nick Mamatas, Ekaterina Sedia, Ann K. Schwader, Jeff VanderMeer, Laird Barron, Molly Tanzer, Jesse Bullington and many others. It has produced the anthologies Historical Lovecraft and Future Lovecraft (which was reprinted by Prime Books), and is releasing the Fungi anthology at the end of 2012.
This, of course, is a subject near and dear to my heart, so there is no question I will support this project. For those interested in kicking in, head over to Indiegogo:
I think I have chosen an appropriate title for this post considering everything that has been going on lately. Despite the deathlike silence, I am still very much alive and working very hard toward getting a couple of projects finished and released. Despite the constant need for me to focus my attention on family obligations, I am slowly grinding my way toward getting things done, and I hope to share something very soon.
Recently, I acquired a copy of The Challenges Game System, written by Tom Moldvay and distributed by GameScience back in 1986. Apparently, this is a very obscure game, and hard to obtain. I didn't even know of it's existence until earlier this summer. So, what is Challenges? In Moldvay's own words:
The Challenges Game System offers an easy-to-play alternative to fantasy game systems which are becoming increasingly complex. All of the basic information needed for play is organized into 8 pages, instead of scattered among hundreds of pages of several expansive books.
I can say with confidence that he succeeded in his goal. Challenges takes the crux of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and boils it all down to an eight page game. The only glaring omission is the lack of a bestiary. I am assuming this is something that would be released later, or possibly as part of adventure modules. With my penchant for minimalist games, it should come as no surprise that I like Challenges a lot. Also, consider this: Moldvay released this game without the luxury of the Open Game License, and did so without, to my knowledge, bringing the wrath of TSR, Inc. down on him like a bolt of lighting from upon high!
What does Challenges include? Present are the "core" D&D classes (cleric, sorcerer, thief and warrior) and races (elf, dwarf, hobbit -- yep, you read that right, the game calls them hobbits -- and human), as well as five levels of spells for both sorcerers and clerics. Armor Rating and Life Points work just as AC and HP do in AD&D. The basic combat rules have more in common with the Holmes edition of Basic D&D than AD&D, but advanced combat rules are included as well that introduce a few new wrinkles, though nothing as complicated as that found in AD&D. Despite some differences in terminology, though the intent is always obvious, Challenges is AD&D-lite for all intents and purposes.
One of the big departures from AD&D that Challenges makes is using the Luck score as the game's generic saving throw mechanic, as well as a roll to be used at the Game Master's discretion to resolve a number of situations that might arise. This doesn't seem like a big deal, given that Swords & Wizardry introduced this concept with its release in 2008, but consider the year 1986 and how thinking outside of the box was frowned upon in the D&D community. I know that other games published by TSR, like Gangbusters, used Luck, which I would guess is where Moldvay got his inspiration. I am left wondering if Matt Finch was influenced by Challenges when he decided to use the single saving throw in S&W? Either way, this concept has grown on me over the past few years, though I must admit that I wasn't very impressed when I read the rule in S&W the first time around. As for Challenges, I can see the obvious benefit of using Luck to simplify the game.
I have found a lot to like about Challenges and it has me realizing that minimalist D&D is not only possible, but it can be done without cutting too much away, or loosing any of the core concepts or flavor. Having been gripped with so many challenges myself this past year-and-a-half, it is nice to find a gem like Tom Moldvay's The Challenges Game System to get me get jazzed again, and to help recharge my creative batteries.
I was browsing Kickstarter this afternoon, and I ran across a pretty cool Lovecraft related project trying to get funding called, The Shadow out of Providence: A Lovecraftical Metatext. Here is the blurb:
The Shadow out of Providence comprises a play and two short stories. Unlike most texts that draw inspiration from the work of the Providence fantasist Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937), these do not strive to horrify the reader by revealing the bleakness of an unsympathetic universe, or monstrosities lurking beneath everyday life. The book is thus not Lovecraftian, in the usual sense.
Instead, it is “Lovecraftical” (to coin a term). It treats Lovecraft the writer, the thinker, and the cultural phenomenon, rather than the sliver of his work on which most writers fixate (one that he sometimes dismissed as “Yog-Sothothery”).
Sounds pretty interesting, but the thing that really got my attention was a certain artist's name attached to the project: Erol Otus! Very cool!
This is interesting news (for me at least), mainly because Erol Otus was the very first artist that I ever ran into who had illustrated a few of the creatures found in the Cthulhu Mythos. He is also, in my opinion, one of the only illustrators out there to have successfully captured the strange and unusual quality of H.P. Lovecraft's work. These illustrations being those found in the original printing of Deities & Demigods, published by TSR in 1980. I can't say that I remember seeing anything like these illustrations before, and it would be many years later before I would encounter any other Lovecraft inspired artwork. The only other artist that comes close to evoking the right atmosphere when illustrating "that which cannot be illustrated" --especially in a black and white medium-- is Dave Carson. But, I digress... to see Otus' name attached to another Loveraftian... whoops, make that "Lovecraftical" project makes me smile.
Today Alex Schroeder posted the list of winners for this year's One Page Dungeon Contest, which I will share with you now:
- Aaron Frost & Mundi King – Meckwick’s Pair O’Dice (Best Dungeon Generator)
- Aaron Kavli – The Return of the Hecate Rose (Best Science Fiction)
- Alan Brodie – Splashdown in Fiend’s Fen (Best Science Fantasy)
- Dale Horstman – The Monastery at Dor Amon (Best Library)
- David Gay – Water Genie vs. Undead Mermaid Gladiator (Best Gonzo)
- Eran Aviram and Aviv Or – One Last Tribute (Best Tomb)
- Fco. Javier Barrera – The River of Stars (Best Ruin)
- Gene Sollows – Holy Sword (Most Fun)
- Greengoat – Devil Gut Rock (Best Theme)
- Jason “Flynn” Kemp – Sell-Swords of Mars (Best Wilderness)
- Jason Shaffer – The First Casualty (Best 1st Level Dungeon)
- Jeff Shepherd – Four Brothers (Best Riddles)
- Jerry LeNeave – A King With No Crown (Best Temple)
- Kelvin Green – A Rough Night at the Dog & Bastard (Best Relationship Map)
- L. S. F. – Fungal Infection (Best Fungoid)
- Leslie Furlong – The Faerie Market (Best Situation)
- Lester Ward – Seven Spindles and a McGuffin (Best Modifiable Map)
- Luka Rejec – Deep in the Purple Worm (Best Integration of Art and Story)
- PJ Cunningham – Operation Eagle Eye (Best Espionage)
- Ramsey Hong – The Cave of Kull Cove (Best Cave)
- Roger Carbol – The Tomb of Oddli Stone-Squarer (Best Multiple Factions)
- Roger SG Sorolla – Old Bastard’s Barrens (Best New Presentation)
- The Seven-Sided Die – The Tomb of Nesta the Mischievous (Most Bountiful)
- Will Doyle – Tomb of Snowbite Pass (Best Eye Beams)
Congrats to everyone one on the list. The prizes this year are very sweet, and I am jealous! All of the winning entries have been compiled in a convenient PDF, so feel free to grab it to see what all the fuss is about.
Finally, I just wanted to thank all the participants, as well as all my fellow judges, for making this year's 1PDC another very enjoyable experience. I am already looking forward to next year's contest!
This weekend, the judges, myself included, for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012 turned in their first round picks. This year we had 107 entries, and I have to say, it was not an easy task going through that many submissions and narrowing our choices down to just twenty. The sheer number of entries made this a difficult task. Choosing a limited number of favorites made it daunting. This is because there were so many great entries that I had a tough time compiling a favorites list, but pick my favorites I did, and here they are:
- Aaron Frost & Mundi King - Meckwick's Pair O'Dice
- Alan Brodie - Splashdown in Fiend’s Fen
- C.M. Lebrun - The Ichor of Vercingetorix
- Chris Olson - Tomb of the Vampire Princess Sword
- Eran Aviram and Aviv Or - One Last Tribute
- Fco. Javier Barrera - The River of Stars
- Greengoat - Devil Gut Rock
- Jason “Flynn” Kemp - Sell Swords of Mars
- Jasper Polane - Ship of the Lost
- Jeff R. - Baron Fel’s Vault
- Jens Thuresson – Close the Gates
- Jerry LeNeave – A King With No Crown
- Kelvin Green – A Rough Night at the Dog & Bastard
- L. S. F. – Fungal Infection
- Leslie Furlong – The Faerie Market
- Luka Rejec – Deep in the Purple Worm
- Michael Atlin & Michael Prescott – Dungeon Town
- Ramsey Hong - The Cave of Kull
- Roger SG Sorolla - Old Bastard's Barrens
- Vladislav Volchenko - Night in Al-Farhad's Pearl
Each of the other judges have also submitted their own lists, which I am sure vary wildly from my own. Now, the next round will begin, which means we will need to take all of the "top picks" and decide upon an even shorter list. I have a handful of entries I have already chosen that I believe should be on the final winner's list, and I am sure all of the other judges have done the same. I am not sure if this will end up being the final round of discussion, or if we will need a further round beyond this one. Either way, we are down to the nitty-gritty, and the winners will be announced on June 1st. In the mean time, make sure you download the compilation of all the 1PDC2012 entries, and judge for yourself.
A few weeks ago I received a small, black package in the mail, and I wanted to share its contents with you. I opened the envelope to find a small pin for the short Lovecraftian film, Black Goat. Here is what it looks like:
The pin was sent to me by Joseph Nanni, director of the film. If you haven't seen the teaser for Black Goat, go to the official site (linked above) and do so now. Also, if you feel so inclined, head over to the official Facebook page for the film and show your support. Personally, I love what Joseph has shared so far, and I am looking forward to seeing the final film, which IMDb has slated for a 2013 release.
This past year I have discussed my love of micro-games on several occasions, and have cited both Microlite20 and Microlite74 as two of my favorite systems that fall within this genre of gaming. Having said this, it should come as no surprise when I say that I have spent a lot of my time working on my own system that takes the microlite format and combines it with the Sword & Sanity concept, which this blog is focused on. So, what do you get when you combine the Microlite framework with Swords Against the Outer Dark?
In the coming weeks I will be discussing MicroDark, as an introduction to the system and a way to get early feedback on what I have come up with so far. MicroDark is still a work in progress, but a lot of the writing is done and ready for discussion. Spells and mysterious powers are still being written, and the bestiary is being nailed down, but most everything else is in an almost complete state. Once I have the system completed, I plan to release what I have to readers who are interested in playtesting the rules and offering feedback. The first post discussing MicroDark should be up tomorrow, and I will begin with Attributes.
Today marks the third anniversary of this blog. It has been a learning experience to say the least, but an interesting one nonetheless. I have made quite a few friends during the process; all of which I am thankful for. I look around at the old-school gaming community, which was in its infancy when I began blogging, and it is very satisfying to see how it has flourished in the past three years. I am proud to count myself as part of this community, and hope that I have added something positive to it along the way.
Admittedly, the past year has not been a productive one, at least as far as gaming goes, and it has been a very long while since I posted anything of true substance. The birth of my daughter in April of last year marked a big change in my life, my priorities and my time. I had to shift my attention away from hobbies, blogging and all those little things that would normally fill my idle time, and focus on being a new dad. Now, time seems to be a precious commodity, and I do not think this is going to change much in the near future. This does not mean I plan to abandon Swords Against the Outer Dark, or give up gaming. It would not be possible for me to do either of those things. For me to have any semblance of happiness in my life, or for me to keep piece of mind for that matter, I have to keep trudging forward. Gaming is in my blood. I have been an obsessive gamer since 1980, and I am not sure it is possible for me to give it up. In other words, I have never been a "weekend gamer" kind of guy. Roleplaying games have occupied so much of my brain-space for so long, I am not sure I would even know how to function as a non-gamer. The thought is just alien to me!
So, now what? Gaming and talk about gaming, that's what! Just as a writer must write, a gamer must game, and I plan to start doing a lot more of both. For all those who have been following this blog, thank you for hanging in there with me. It has been a true pleasure having you around, and being able to share my own brand of gaming with you. My hope is to get back down to basics, and start shifting the focus of this blog back around to where it all began, which is discussing, analyzing and developing the whole Sword & Sanity concept.
I wanted to help pass some pretty cool news along. Dave Carson, great friend of the Outer Dark, has a new t-shirt out, this time depicting his macabre masterpiece of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, Shub-Niggurath! Dave has a true talent for capturing the horrors from Lovecraft's imagination, and this illustration is no exception. The price is £18.00 per shirt for UK residents, and £21.00 for those of us who reside outside of the UK. Great price, great shirt, from a great artist... go buy one!
I wanted to share that the 2012 One Page Dungeon Contest has been announced, and I have agreed to participate as a judge again this year. As of right now, there are six entries, and I am pretty excited by some of the designs I am seeing. For those interested in sending in an entry, here is a quick rundown of the rules:
- Create a One Page Dungeon.
- Submitting a dungeon to the contest releases it under the Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license with credit to the contest participant.
- The submission must have a name, an author, and a link to the license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/).
- The judges and readers play a variety of systems. Don’t waste valuable space with a lot of system-specific stats.
- A link to extra material on your blog such as wandering monsters, random events, adventure background, introduction, descriptions of tricks or traps are welcome for readers but will not be considered part of your submission.
- One entry per participant. Participants may revise/replace their entries up until the end of contest, with the last revision counting as their official entry.
- If your font size is too small to read, you will most probably not win.
- Many people will print your submission as a black and white document. Adding colors is no problem as long as the black and white printed copy is still good enough.
- Help us keep file size in check. A single page should not take more than an image with 3000x2000 pixels (1-2MB is cool, 5MB still works, 10MB is too much).
- Submission must be mailed in PDF format to Alex Schröder → firstname.lastname@example.org. Usually we can help you convert your Open Office and Microsoft Word documents to PDF.
- If you have a blog article talking about your submission, send us the link. We’d love to link to it from this page.
The submissions deadline is April 30, 0:00 UTC. Good luck!
I just wanted to remind folks that Sean Robson's Megadungeon! is available for download at RPGNow. If you haven't checked it out yet please head that way and do so now. This project was a labor of love for Sean, who wrote the rules, and handled all of the artwork himself. This is a true do-it-yourself project that I feel exemplifies the spirit of the Old-School Renaissance. While most of the OSR has chosen to focus their efforts on retro-cloning classic rulesets, and publishing adventure modules, Sean chose to release something a bit different. Megadungeon! is a game that falls into the classic dungeon crawl school of boardgames, much like Dungeon! and HeroQuest. I feel Sean's design is as strong as either of the previously mentioned games. What I would love to see is Megadungeon! sell well enough to allow Sean to publish a deluxe edition of the game. For such a minuscule price tag, Sean has delivered one hell of a little game!
A friend of the Outer Dark, David Baymiller, has posted a playlog of the one page adventure I wrote, Raid on Black Goat Wood. He has placed his version of the adventure in colonial America, and is using a homebrew of Swords & Wizardry/Labyrinth Lord to run the game. I really enjoyed reading over the rundown of the game, and feel David has more than captured the atmosphere I was aiming for. It is really satisfying to see Raid being put to such great use, and I can't wait to see what happens next!
As I type this, the OSR blogosphere is afire with discussion of the news that Wizards of the Coast will be reprinting the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide. And for good reason. This is HUGE! When you consider the blasé attitude Wizards has always displayed toward classic editions of D&D, and now suddenly they aren't announcing something as simple as reissuing PDF copies of the 1st Edition core books, but they're going balls-out and committing to full-blown reprints of the books. Complete with updated covers, no less.
I think the astonishing thing is that this news came right on the heels of the announcement that Wizards has officially begun developing 5th Edition D&D. Lots of big news coming out of their camp in just a handful of days! It is obvious that Wizards is trying to get back on the top of the heap, and make D&D the best selling roleplaying game again (assuming that all the talk of Pathfinder being the current top seller is actually true).
Obviously, announcing these reprints is a peace offering from Wizards to the old-school D&D community to try and make up for past missteps. I also suspect that this is something of a test as well, to try and gauge just how interested the old timers, as well as those that might not have been around back in the day, are in buying classic products from their back catalog.
Despite my admission that I am less than moved by the announcement of 5th Edition, I am excited as hell about the 1st Edition reprints. Having proceeds going to the Gygax Memorial Fund has helped stoke this enthusiasm in a major way. I also feel in many ways that this is a win for the Old School Renaissance, and of course that makes me happy. It is obvious to me that someone is starting to listen to the rumblings from our little underground, and are beginning to take this movement seriously. It will be interesting to see if this will lead to other reprints, and perhaps have some bearing on the design of 5th Edition as well.
Lovecraft eZine has a very cool contest, with the grand prize being a sculpture of Brown Jenkin, sculpted by Joe Broers. Just by subscribing to the site, and leaving a comment buys you a chance to win this adorable little critter. Waste no more time... go enter now!
Here we are a few weeks into the new year, and I am sure I am not the only blogger reviewing 2011 posts and thinking about where to take things in 2012. So let's take a closer look at these things...
Last year was a big year for me personally. My daughter, Eleanor Grey, was born in April, and I was thrust into the wonderful and hectic world of fatherhood. I never expected to ever have children. I am 42, and I just didn't think it was in the cards for me. For the first time in my life, I am so glad I was wrong. As soon as Ellie showed up, I knew life would never the same again. Needless to say, a lot has changed. The biggest change is the amount of free time I now have. Time has become a precious commodity, which is a completely new concept and one I am not liking very much. But it's part of the gig, and I really like the gig!
I am sure my regular readers have noticed a sharp decline in the amount of posts here on the Outer Dark. I even tried to kick start the momentum again with "fluff" like the Music Mondays posts. Yeah, this was a bad idea in hindsight. I mean, I am a huge music lover, and I draw great inspiration from the bands I listen to, but Swords Against the Outer Dark just isn't the place for this kind of thing. I should have known better. These post drew in a large amount of views, but for all the wrong reasons. Unless it somehow is directly linked to Lovecraft, or gaming, or both, don't expect to see these kinds of posts again.
One of the highlights of 2011 was my involvement in last year's One Page Dungeon Contest. As a judge for the contest, I had a lot of fun being a part of the process from behind the scenes. I got to read and critique a bunch of great entries, and I learned a lot about what I wanted from a one page adventure. If asked to judge again I would gladly do so, though I would also enjoy creating my own submission as well.
With the announcement of a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons I am sure I will be tempted to weigh in on all the speculation. As a matter of fact, I have already been compiling a shortlist of things I would like to see from 5th Edition, and how I would like to see Wizards of the Coast release the new game. At this point I am sure all this will be nothing more than wishful thinking, but it might be fun to look at the whole thing from a "what if" perspective. Though I am leery of a new edition, in the end I am still a kid who loves Dungeons & Dragons, and a part of me wants Wizards to succeed in delivering a great game that will appeal to my old-school sensibilities.
To this day I still receive emails asking me if I still plan to release a SAOD game. The answer is, probably. But I am saying this knowing the game I will most likely release will look quite different than the game I was talking about a year ago. Though it won't be considered a retro-clone, the game will still be rooted in old-school design and philosophy. I can't help it, it's where I come from... it's in my blood. Two rulesets I have really been enamored with this past year are Microlite20 (mainly its Microlite74 variant) and Mini Six. I love how these games give the player just enough rules to get into trouble, and then they get the hell out of the way. It is the same philosophy found in the one page adventure movement, where less is definitely more. I have been tinkering with Sword & Sanity versions of both games, and at this point I am not 100% sure which direction I will settle on. If I can get things coordinated, there is a strong possibility that I will soon begin gaming with a group that seems very interested in a D6 Sword & Sanity campaign, so this may end up being the deciding factor. I strongly believe we should be blogging about the games that we are actually playing, so time will tell on this one. Having said that, D&D often sings its siren's song in my ear when I am playing other games, so a Microlite Sword & Sanity game could also happen (Microlite + Swords Against the Outer Dark = MicroDark). If anyone has a strong opinion on this please yell out in the comments.
Another project that had its beginnings in 2011 (well 2008 if you count the game I first used these ideas and adventures) is an adventure setting I am currently calling "Project: Star-Spore," because I am not quite ready to make an official announcement. The setting will be presented as a hex-crawl sandbox, along with a few supporting adventures. This is a true piece of Yog-Sothothery, and will include my own blasphemous entities and creations that snugly fit within the Cthulhu Mythos framework, without relying on the more famous creations of Lovecraft and other Weird luminaries. Right now I am working on the cartography, as well as refining the writing. Presentation is another major factor I have been tinkering with. I also have one other adventure I would like to include, so that needs to be hammered out as well. Chris Huth has already been commissioned and has delivered a badass cover illustration. Things are moving forward, but I just haven't been talking about it much, because I would like to get closer to the finish line before I start promoting the project.
Some may have noticed a new header for the blog. I would like to spruce the place up a bit, so I have been playing around with some new graphics. I have a nonexistent budget to hire an artist to come up with something special for me, but I think I pulled together a header that is evocative, even if it is nothing more than freely available vector art and a bit of creativity. I am sure things will change a bit with time, so please ignore anything that doesn't look quite right. Chances are that I am tweaking something at that moment.
I guess that is about it for now. I apologize if I rambled on a bit. In closing, I would just like to thank everyone for stopping by and checking out my dark little corner of the internet. Keep coming back!
I will be the first to admit that math is probably my weakest subject. Oh, I did OK in my math classes in high school and college, but it wasn't because it came naturally to me. This is why I am thankful that we have guys like Daniel "Delta" Collins active in the old-school gaming scene. You see, Delta is passionate about two things: the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons and math. Which is great, because he usually does all the heavy statistical lifting for guys like me. Need an example of Delta's work? Look no further than his analysis of the D&D combat algorithm, which lead to his most excellent "Target 20" core resolution mechanic (d20 + Level + mods ≥ 20).
A few months back Delta was kind enough to send me a copy of Book of War, which is his rules supplement for fantasy mass combat and miniature wargaming. I wanted to take a moment to talk about the book, and share my review. Now, I have to be up front with the fact that I have not had an opportunity to try out the rules presented in Book of War. But I have been reading the book off and on since October, so I feel I have a pretty good handle on the working of the rules, and how they will play out at the table.
The Physical Thing
Book of War (BoW from here on) is a 24 page saddle-stitched paperback, measuring in at 5.8" x 8.3". The cover is in color, displaying an old painting of a medieval battle. All of the artwork used to illustrate the book was taken from a public domain source, and works well with the given subject matter and tone. The interior is laid out nicely, with a clean single-column design. The font choices and spartan design are very reminiscent of the original D&D rule book published in '74, and I imagine BoW would look right at home next to the "little brown books." Overall, I found the book easy to read, easy to reference and I didn't notice anything editorially that I felt compelled to nitpick.
Delta wrote this book with these goals in mind (quoted directly from the foreword):
- "To create a system that faithfully extrapolates standard D&D combat results on a mass scale."
- "To cultivate a game which can stand on it own as fun, entertaining, and elegant."
- "To realistically simulate actual historical medieval warfare, wherever possible."
- "I also wanted to avoid the need for any paper record keeping during play."
In my opinion, he has succeeded on ever count. Delta also explains that through the use of computers "billions of simulated runs" have helped him analyse the game's statistical data, and present a set of rules that is both solid and balanced. How's that for mathematical heavy lifting?
The first section is titled "The Core Rules" and covers Scale (1 figure = 10 men, 1 inch = 20 feet, 1 turn = 30 seconds), Movement (light = 12, medium = 9, heavy = 6), and Combat, which is resolved by rolling a single six-sided die, and comparing the result to an Armor Hit (AH) value (no armor = 3, leather = 4, chain = 5, plate = 6). If the attacker's roll is equal to or higher than the defender's AH, a successful "hit" is landed, and for "normal men" this means that one figure (10 men) is removed from play. All this works in tandem with the original set of D&D rules, and has a simple elegance that I appreciate.
The next section, "Basic Rules," builds upon the core rules by first discussing the Sequence of Play. The game begins by first selecting units, rolling initiative (2d6, high roll takes first turn) and setting up the terrain. Each turn is broken down into three phases: 1) moving forces, 2) attacking opponent with missiles or melee, and 3) morale checks for units who have lost figures during the turn. Unit Selection is discussed next, covering in detail all you may need to know about archers, cavalry, pikemen and horse archers. Details include unit cost, movement rate, Armor Hit value and equipment carried. The remainder of this section has rules form Terrain (randomly determined by rolling 2d6), Formation and Morale (again, rolling 2d6). Delta manages to cover a lot of ground in these four pages.
Next, follows the "Advanced Rules." This is where the more fantastic elements, such as fantasy creatures, wizards, spells and heroes, are introduced. This section also goes into great detail explaining how to convert creatures from D&D over to BoW. Fantasy Units include all the oldies but goodies, broken down into two alignment categories: Lawful Units (elves, dwarves, halflings, men) and Chaotic Units (goblins, orcs, gnolls, etc.). Elite units on both sides of the alignment equation have supernatural abilities available to them (invisibility, regeneration, etc.). Hero units, such as knights, dragons and giants, are also covered. As you can guess, these guys are extremely tough, being 10 Hit Dice or higher. Wrapping up this section are rules for wizards and spells.
Delta has also included a selection of "Optional Rules," which are presented in a modular fashion, allowing players to add as much crunch to the game as they like. Rules for weather, darkness, modifying morale, an expanded armor table, alternate scale options, castles, ships, unit cost options, recovery and disputes. Lots of great crunchy bits to chew on.
One of the more interesting sections of the book is the "Designer Notes," where Delta discusses some of his design decisions. Wrapping everything up is a bibliography, a list of the art credits and a handy BoW reference card.
All in all, I highly recommend Book of War to anyone needing a simple, yet solid, set of mass combat rules for their D&D campaign. What Delta has delivered with this book epitomizes the do-it-yourself spirit the Old-School Renaissance is supposed to be about. BoW is exactly the kind of product that I love seeing come out of the OSR. Personally, I plan to use these rules in an upcoming game, and can't wait to see them in action.
There have been two major announcements made in the past couple of months that should have had a significant impact on me, but after hearing each of them, I am left with overwhelming sense of underwhelment...
The first being the reunion of the original lineup of Black Sabbath, which was announced on 11/11/2011. The second announcement came today, at 10:00 AM EST, and I am sure I don't have to tell you what that announcement was. For those scratching their heads, follow the link provided, or choose any gaming blog at random and read the news for yourself.
I make no bones about it, both Black Sabbath and D&D mean a lot to me. I discovered them both in 1980, virtually at the same time, so there has always been a strong connection between Sabbath's music and the game I have played for over 30 years now. The announcements that Sabbath will be recording a new album, and that D&D will have a fifth edition of the game published, should have me as giddy as a schoolgirl. The truth is, I feel more numb than anything about this news. And that makes me a little more than sad.
As I thought about all of this earlier today, a few things occurred to me. What is interesting is how much Black Sabbath, and Dungeons & Dragons have in common. Well, at least in my mind. Both are considered seminal entities in their fields; Sabbath being considered by many the first real metal band, and D&D considered the first roleplaying game. Both have come under heavy fire from the religious right. Black Sabbath has influenced countless bands over the years, spawning an entire genre of bands that emulate them to one degree or another, and the impact D&D has had on the gaming industry itself cannot be easily measured. Who knows where games and gaming would be without D&D? It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it!
Looking at how both D&D and Black Sabbath have been emulated over the years reveals another interesting area of correlation. The term "retro-clone" is thrown around for games like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and Sword & Wizardry, which have taken various earlier editions of D&D and emulated the rules so closely that it is hard to find the differences sometimes. The same could be said for many of the bands found in the doom metal community, and it would not be a far stretch to refer to many of these Sabbath worshiping bands as retro-clones of the original act. But I think it also needs to be pointed out that in many of these cases the bands have taken the groundwork that Sabbath established, and they have expanded and built upon the original concept. Sometimes with surprisingly original results. This is something I would like to see more of from the Old-School Renaissance and the do-it-yourself game design crowd. A subject best approach on another occasion I suspect...
Getting back to my original line of thought, I guess for me the whole thing comes down to expectations, and the fear of being let down. When people start talking about new editions, reunion tours, movie remakes, reboots, reimaginings, etc. I have trained myself not to get excited, and honestly, I make myself not care. I intentionally make myself not get emotionally invested. The reason is simple: I have had my heart broken too many times by this type of thing, and I am just tired of the perpetual disappointments. The last major attack on one of my sacred cows came in the form of the Conan the Barbarian remake... need I say more?
I guess the next question is whether I will be picking up the new Black Sabbath album, or D&D 5th edition? Time will tell, of course. I admit there is the off chance that I will be pleasantly surprised by one, or even both, but at this stage I prefer to remain skeptical and downright pessimistic about both these announcements.