The return of the Oubliette

UK based Oubliette fanzine is back after almost a three-year hiatus with Issue 9. Although it uses Labyrinth Lord as its rule set of choice, its compatible with other OSR rule sets. If you want the pdf its available via DriveThruRPG.com, discounted to the end of the month, and there’s also a bundle of the previous 8 issues. Highly recommended, its nice to see this one back 🙂

oubliette9coverAlso of interest to any publisher, or those curious about the publishing process, is Peter Regan’s follow-up post about why he switched to an A6 size and moved from Print on Demand to doing a print run.

 

 

Too much D&D

So the free version of D&D 5th Edition is out, and I fell strangely underwhelmed. Reason why? Well its probably because in the last four years or so I’ve picked up a small bookshelf worth of D&D Variants.

First D&D in its OSR forms was explored in great detail. Then after that was exhausted I moved onto modern forms; Pathfinder, Dungeon World (a story telling game not 100% mechanically related but definitely in spirit) and recently 13th Age was purchased.  Pedants beware this not an exhaustive list of D&D variants, just one coloured by my personal experience.

The Originals

D&D Cyclopedia: I started off with red box Molday and quickly moved onto blue box expert so this has it all in one book (sans the illustrations, examples and solo tutorial) + the bits from Companion/Masters that I never got round to buying (because I’d moved to AD&D land by then). This is the book I wish Wizards of the Coast had republished even as a limited run, because my copy threatens to disintegrate every time I lovingly touch it.

AD&D 1st Ed: If D&D was my early teens AD&D was my mid-late teens and was still being occasionally played into my early 20s. So lots of memories here, and even though I probably use OSRIC (see below) at the game table, the core three books of AD&D have a lot of nostalgic power.

Straight Retro-clones

OSRIC (=AD&D) I love this big hardcover book. Its the AD&D 2nd ed I wanted back in the day, a simple reorganisation of the rules into one coherent whole. The combat chapter makes sense! Its strangely humble, saying its merely a rules index so modern publishers can put out AD&D compatible adventures under the Open Gaming License (which it is published under in its entirety), but I’d use it any day of the week as my AD&D at the gaming table.

Labyrinth Lord (=B/X).  A very clever clone of Basic/Expert in one slim volume. Made me realise that I’m not interested in that style of play however.  Also available is the Adv. Labyrinth Lord supplement which works on the premise that back in the day we learnt with basic/expert and then simply added the bits (Classes, Monsters, Magic items etc.) we liked from AD&D. Which is certainly how I did it.

Swords and Wizardry (=OD&D).  The premise from this one is that its based of the Original white box D&D  from the 70s with its supplements added, cleaned up and made comprehensible, I love this stripped down back to basics approach presented here. Finally a version of D&D that I can keep in my head! The S&W complete crams in a complete comprehensive version of D&D that is comparable to later big three book versions of D&D in one slim volume.

Basic Fantasy (=B/X with bits of AD&D). Notable for two things. A more straightforward and clear interpretation based on the idea that you use D20 Systems Resource Document (the Open Gaming version of D&D 3rd Ed released by Wizard’s of the Coast) more closely, keeping its clarity of rules but building in the Old School flavour. Secondly if you see OSR rule sets as an almost Linux expression of D&D, Basic Fantasy is a distro that keeps most actively to that idea of it being free and community supported (yes I know S&W does but for me BF does it slightly better).

Retro-clone inspired

These games use one of the above clones as a base and then takes it from there.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: LotFP is basically a  Horror and Weird take on D&D, using Basic Fantasy as a base. I’ve seen this one grow up from its initial incarnation , with some very dodgy photo shop art, through its Grindhouse box set incarnation, were that art was largely replaced by the cream of OSR Artists old and new and the game was focused to razor sharp proportions, to the current high quality two book format Rules & Magic (available now) and Referee’s book (crowdfunded but still in production).  I think its a classic game that takes the premise of old school D&D and runs out of the park with it, while cunningly never forgetting where it comes from.

Woodland Warriors: Uses the Swords & Wizardry as a base, simplifies it and only uses D6s, and gives it a child friendly setting all in one small slim book. Its genius makes me weep.

Crypts and Things: My own take on OD&D using Swords and Wizardry as a base and putting it in the blender with early White Dwarf D&D, Fighting Fantasy, 80s UK FRP & inspiration from the Howard/Lovecraft/Ashton-Smith/Michael Moorcock. The result a gleefully dark Swords and Sorcery game, where the players get to play Elric, Grey Mouser, Fafhrd and Conan, in a game referred by Clark Ashton Smith 🙂

Modern D&D

Pathfinder: I love Pathfinder, it does big book D&D and is clear and expressive while it does it. For me it comes packed with a big friendly DM I call “Bob” an impressive bear of a man, with a big bush beard and a deep friendly US accent that calmly guides me through the 1000s of pages. The online PRD was revelation when I sat there GMing it for the best part of the year in 2012 (and the reason I’ll be doing an online SRD for OpenQuest soon).  Its just not the D&D that comes anywhere my preferred playing style (rules lite and pacy) and there’s no way that  I’m memorising all the moving parts. But perhaps one day Bob will quietly persuade me to have another go, and it was certainly a variant of D&D that my players, all self proclaimed Kings of D20, highly respected.

Dungeon World: I accidentally blundered into the Dungeon World Kickstarter one bored hot afternoon at work and a year later ended up with a hardback and a T-shirt. Its a version of D&D completely rewritten from base using the Apocalypse World storytelling game engine. I love it. Once I got my head round its terminology and structure its the fast pacey flexible game of D&D that I want to run and it errs on the side of Mega Gaming Fun for the players ( the sub-classes especially get a big up in the fun stakes).

13th Age: To be honest I’ve not read too far into it, but I like what I see so far. Like DW its a more story orientated game, but its not so much a rewrite from the ground up being based on the existing D&D 3rd edition SRD,  simplified with storygaming mechanics/assumptions.

Torchbearer: Make no mistake about it this is a cleaver and very focused book by the same people who bought you Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard. Presentation wise it reminds me fondly of  AD&D 1st. However its fallen down the cracks because for me it asks me to think about Dungeon Crawling far too hard to be taken seriously. When its designer Thor Olavsrud says “This is a hard game” early on in the first chapter I started loosing interest in this book. Baz King of RPG Treehouse fame kept with it and his read through can be read on UKRoleplayers.com.

If I was to have to keep on from each category (which to be honest given the mess my office has descended into may have to be the case) these would be my winners.

  • Original: D&D Cyclopaedia
  • Retro clone: Swords and Wizardry
  • Retro clone inspired: Lamentations of the Flame Princess (I’m taking it as given I get to keep copies of my own games so C&T survives the cull 😉 ).
  • Modern: Dungeon World.

I’m looking forward to this: Sword and Sanity RPG

Alot of the OSR D&D blogs talk about Lovecraftian influcences on D&D and getting them into their games.

Shane Magnus of Swords against the Outer Dark, is putting his money where his mouth is and producing a game heavy on the Lovecraft based off the Labyrinth Lord rules.

Still in development but reveals certain aspects of it in this post on his blog.

Sword and Sanity RPG FAQ

Welcome to the Kingdom of Erun

From the setting document I’m working on for Albion Adventures.

Oh woe is the folly of mortal man!

The last king of Erun, Opus the Pious, was deceived by the purple robed priests of the Hidden Gods. They claimed their religion was for the good of all and that their Gods where only hidden since they needed to hide themselves from the attention of the jealous and impotent Old Gods. So it seemed for all and hundreds flocked to their temples to unknown gods, and thrived under their worship. The poor raised their lives up from the gutter, there was food for all! The Hidden Gods blessed all with good fortune.

So the King called a national day of celebration, upon which the purple priests said their Gods identity would finally be revealed. Thousands descended on the capital and in front of the Great Temple of Mysteries shouted out their adoration. Shouts of joy that turned to screams of anguish as the now red robed priests revealed their Hidden Gods before the assembled crowd. For there in terrible splendour stood the the Underlords of the Demon Dark. Great was the carnage that ensued that day as the assembled crowd became a mass sacrifice to the forces of Evil. The sky wept and great gates opened to hell its self in the dark deep places of Erun, forgotten underground ruins of the Ancients who predated the Kingdoms of Man and had mysteriously disappeared before their rise.

The hordes of Hell streamed out of the dungeons and the surviving armies of man fought alongside the battalions of Dwarfs and the living forests of Elven kind. The war was grim and terrible, with almost catastrophic losses on both sides. Finally the Overlords where driven back to the Deepest Dungeons and sealed in by the Grey Elf wizards.

In the aftermath of the Hell War, the Kingdom of Erun was in ruin, reduced to a handful of petty dukedoms, the countryside filled with bandits and monsters. Many of the old halls of the Dwarfs lie empty or have been taken over by foul orcs and goblins. The once great elf wood is a shadow of itself and the last few Elves either focus on its regeneration in hidden glades of power or bloody vengeance against those they perceive have done them wrong.

In these anarchic times a new class has arisen in Erun society. That of the Adventurer, more than willing to take up sword and spell and discover treasure and horror in the dark places of the world.

Introducing Albion Adventures

Ok after a triumphant game at Furnace, I’ve sat down and planned out what I’m going to be doing with Albion Adventures in the long term.

In short Albion Adventures is going to be D101 games line of adventures in the old skool British tradition using Labyrinth Lord as its base.

System compatiblity
I’m going to be using Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Companion. It not only suits the way I play AD&D (which is Basic with the extra options from AD&D)  but also LL is strongly branded and recognised amoungst the OSR and beyond. If people wander up to me and ask how they get the core system, I can point them in the direction of it. I got my print copy via Patriot Games which indicates its available via conventional distribution. Of course I’ll be making  it clear that you can use certain ‘1st Edition systems with it’  and Osric/Swords and Wizardry compatiblity.

Adventure Modules
I’ve roughly got the got the following planned.

AA-UK1. The Furnace – write up of the Tournament game I’ve just run.
AA-UK2. Bone Valley – my tribute to Keep on the Borderlands, through a gritty UK lens. A valley filled with old tombs and caves, and at its head Fort Boneguard, a seedy town from ancient times that has seen better days and is an adventurers hang out. A sandpit for levels 1-3?
AA-UK3. Sorceror Under Mountain.– go to a mountain to get a long dead sorceror’s treasure. What could possibly go wrong?

Setting: The Kingdom of Erun.
My initial aim is to produce an internal doc that acts as a common setting for the modules, but when its bashed into shape I’ll release it. I want to keep this short and sweet hence the focus on a single kingdom.
Inspiration is the old  Pelinore setting, which was detailed in Imagine TSR UKs 80s magazine and the shortlived Games Master Magazine,  with a dash of Titan, the world of Fighting Fantasy, (which I picked up in glorious A4 format along with Out of the Pit at Furnace 🙂 ).

So eta on all of the above? Not a clue I’ve got a few things already in the D101 production que before it, but I’m quietly chipping away at the writting at the moment. I reckon Spring 2011 is not unreasonable 🙂

The Furnace – how it went

Ok the short version of this was that it Rocked mightily 🙂

It was a Saturday night game and fully booked with with six players.  I’d been running all day and had been on the beers the night before, so at game start I had hit the wall. Frankly I was almost “rabbits in headlights” scared, and the players were already there keen and looking up at me as I arrived.  But I pulled my boots up, made my introductions and got into it.

Characters where handed out, and we ended up with a nice mix of Fighters, Elves, Dwarfs and Clerics from the pile of ten characters which had all the permutations of 5th Level Basic/Expert. Obviously no one was in the mood to play a Halfling or Thief 😉

I did my grand introduction about the Mad Tzar, a fiend of immeasurable evil shaking free of his prison in the Iron Moon suspended over the City of Eternal Shadow. Then the players got into it role-playing and exploring the city, before getting into a fight with 20 Zombies. Now in any other system, the players would have either a) run away and let the NPCs deal with it (there was a group of local Clerics who were on hand to deal with such threats) or b) complained bitterly about how the game was going to descend into a big grinding fight. Not so here, the players got into with gusto and relish and an epic zombie fight was embarked on! It was a good wetting of the feet as regards the system, as I think every one was a bit rusty. Even the D&D regulars used it as an excuse to test out which version of D&D we where playing (Labyrinth Lord). Of course they were triumphant, but one of the Clerics ,played by Andy, took a huge pounding, so there was a nice edge of danger there.  Throughout the fight the banter and roleplaying continued in a relaxed manner which was good as well. In fact it must be said although admitly D&D is more combat heavy than alot of games I play, at no point did the players treat it as a figurine-less war game, which mightly heartened and impressed me.

Play then flowed from this fight as they made their way up to the Iron Moon via a masusleum dedicated to the 10,000 who died in the Mad Tzar’s previous reign of terror.  I won’t say any more about it here, because I’m planning to write up and publish the adventure and because I didn’t intend this post to be an ‘actual play’ post. More me mulling over how it went.

Couple of other points arising from the game.

  • Use of 5th Level characters, as suggested by Sacha, was bang on. Magic-Users and Clerics had enough spells and other classes where generally effective enough so that they had lots of things to do. Therefore no one sat arround bored.
  • The online character generator I used was a great time saver, I really created this at the last minute, but some of the characters created were a bit odd. Clerics with no heal spells and Magic Users with no effective spells in their spell books. I should have reviewed and chucked out these duds before the game. DOH!
  • Tournament adventures with a fairly set goal of “go here and save the world” can be very linear as the players spend less time exploring. In its current form they players only visited about 50% of the locations. Either I mix it up a bit and make the dungeon levels a bit more ‘twisty’ and less easy to navigate by taking a direct route, or I live with that. For a four hour con scenario it was bang on, who’s to say that a home group would explore more of the finer points. One to mull over and work out in play testing.
  • Fireball spells really are the dogs bollocks 🙂

Overall we had a grand time and I was really surprised how straight forward the fun was. Looks like I’ll be doing regular D&D con scenarios from now on in.

We played D&D :)

A quick post, post-Furnace convention (Sheffield UK last weekend just gone). My fuzzled brain is still recovering from the sheer awesome that this con was, but for now some pics from my FULLY BOOKED Saturday night of D&D (powered by Labyrinth Lord) – The Furnace.  More detailed analysis to follow, but it fully rocked 😀

From behind the DM's Screen

Labyrinth Lord powering the fun

Labyrinth Lord powering the fun

The Furnace – Progress report

As the con (Furnace, Sheffield UK) approaches this weekend, I’m taking a slow but steady approach to writing the Furnace.

Systems wise I’ve settled on Labyrinth Lord. Even though I’ve got printed versions of Swords and Wizardry and Osric, LL best sums up the way that I used to play back in the day from the old Red Box Basic/Blue Box Expert sets, with bits of AD&D thrown in when I finally joined the big boys club and got a set of books second hand.  Another big deal breaker was that there’s a truly marvelous online character generator which allows you to roll up fully formed characters of any level (I’ve chosen 5th) and save them as pdf’s using the official character sheet 🙂 I should really get round to doing a similar webpage for  OpenQuest. So in the space of 10 minutes or so a pile of ten characters where generated 😀

As far as the adventure goes I’ve made it a series of Micro-Dungeons, starting with the City that the adventurers meet up in, no more than 10 locations each. This is allowing me to get the grand “save the world” scenario that I have in my head done in the time constraints (this is very last minute) and that will play in 3-4 hours. I’m getting there, I’m currently a third of the way through, but this is against a backdrop of me sorting out other things for Furnace (which ends tonight). That third is fully stated up and written up. Theres’ a good chance that this will be our first release for Albion Adventures 🙂