The Midderlands Expanded Preview

 

Glynn Seal of Monkey Blood Design has very kindly given me a copy of the work in progress The Midderlands Expanded, which is currently on Kickstarter. So in return here’s a quick preview.

What is the Midderlands?

Put concisely its the slightly grimdark, slightly tongue in cheek version of medieval Britain that goes through collectively our imaginations as we visit the many historical sites peppered around this Green and Plesant Land of ours. The first book,  a full-colour hardcover, weighing in at 200+ pages A5, The Midderlands zooms in on the fantasy version of the area that Glynn lives in the West Midlands (Midlands to Midderlands get it?). Its one half setting guide and one-half bestiary of various goblin folk and spiky and foul creatures. It oozes playability and flavour and is copiously illustrated and has attendant maps throughout. While it uses the freely available Swords and Wizardry ruleset, which in turn is based on original D&D, it’s easily usable with the fantasy system of your choice.

If you didn’t get the original book you can pick it up as one of the pledge levels in this Kickstarter.

This New book: Midderlands Expanded

I could be lazy and say, come on its more of the same! But I’ll break it down a bit.

  • Guide to the Havenlands. One thing the original book immediately left me thinking about was what the rest of Havenlands (the wider Fantasy Britain) was like. Well, this section answers that, detailing both the land and its rulers (the Dukes and Duchess). It also looks at the islands overseas neighbours, such as the fearsome Serpent Lands.
  • NPCs. Several fully statted NPCs to drop in your Midderlands game, and some quick notable personages for the rest of the Havenlands.
  • More Creatures. Tentacled Middergloom horrors, Trolls, and more things of general spikeyness abound in this section.
  • The Witchfinder. Want to hunt witches, elves and creatures of the night, generally bringing an atmosphere of fear and anxiety to any village or town you visit? Now you can with this Swords and Wizardry character class.
  • Oddities. A collection of more magic items, and just downright odd special items.
  • Adventures and Adventure Hooks. The Midderlands has its own style, which is not exclusively dungeon crawling, and there is a large section showing this. This book adds a creepy horror adventure location in the form of the Rat Dog Inn, expands upon the rocky outcrop of land known as Brig Tor, and gives seven adventure outlines.

As well as the book itself the Kickstarter also includes a full A2 map of the Havenlands, a GM screen and a Dice Drop Card (or Gloomioom Randomiser Card as Glynn colourfully calls it).

Overall. The Midderlands is a living breathing imaginary version of Fantasy Medieval Britain, with a good dollop of uplifting humour that makes it a fun and easy read. The production values of the first book where high, not only because of the layout, illustrations and cartography but because Glynn choose to use a printing house rather than print on demand. I know he plans to do the same again here. I fully recommend the new book from what I’ve seen in the preview, not only based upon the high standards of the first book but as a wider zoom out on the setting overall and the all the extra meat that it adds to the original.

#midderlandsartbook

Midderlands Expanded Kickstarter

Crikey, Glynn Seal of Monkey Blood Design is at it again. Six months after the original Midderlands book, which focused on the small region of Gloomium soaked land of the title, successfully kickstarted and delivered (sometime before Christmas if my hazy memory is correct), he’s bringing us a sequel, The Midderlands Expanded.

This new book expands the setting to cover rest of the fantasy UK that is hinted at (and apparently expands some of the places I whimsically put in the Midderlands Crypts and Things Conversion Guide) as well as adding more “gaming juice” to the original Green and Unpleasant Land that is the Midderlands.  You can also get the original Midderlands book as part of this Kickstarter.

I can firmly recommend this. The original book was delivered on time to a high quality (full colour, properly printed not POD), and was one of my favourite releases of all time. The previews on the Kickstarter show more of the same. I’m in 🙂

Here’s the KS video.

Behold the Muckus!

It is a little-known fact that the bloodshot eyes on the cover of the Muckus version of The Midderlands, are googly-eyed Glenn’s (creator of the book) own. You see every time he goes out and in Midderlands parlance “Gets Bladdered” on a special gloomium ale (known as Green Monster) at the local tavern, he wakes up the next morning with bulging bloodshot eyes. Quickly he pops them out and puts them in a jar kept by his bedside for this purpose. New eyes have fully grown by around lunchtime, while the red eyes have been inserted into the leather cover. See how the red eyes (which includes Glynn’s rather swollen third eye – which pre-Green Monster bingeing is hidden behind his heavy set brow) glowers accusingly at his current set of eyes for all the proof you need in the world.

While the Muckus edition was a high-end Kickstarter reward, you can pre-order the regular version of Monkey Blood Design.

Green is the new Black!

Rejoice fellow OSRians, Glynn Seal’s (aka Monkey Blood Design) The Midderlands, as previously Kickstarted and supported by this here blog, has been released;

As a stretch goal for the Kickstarter I promised a Crypts & Things Conversion Guide, so you could use the Midderlands (which uses Swords and Wizardry as its base) without much fuss with C&T.

I’ve just finished the conversion guide, which is on its way for proofing/checking before a quick layout and release as a freebie via DriveThruRpg.com and the D101 Webstore, which I anticipate will be sometime next week.

In the meantime, he’s a quick excerpt from the C&T Conversion Guide.

Gloomium

Gloomium is everywhere in the Midderlands. It seeps up from the Middergloom, an ambiguous underworld below the Midderlands. It is toxic and corrupting. It is green in colour and is the source of much strangeness, corruption and twisted magic. This section explains how gloomium works in the context of Crypts & Things magic system.

As a Source of Khaos

Crypt Keepers should assume that the seepage of gloomium is the source of Khaos monsters and mutations, for games set in The Midderlands.

Corruption

Whilst in the Midderlands, use the Gloom-touched rules (Midderlands page 10 and 11), instead of the standard Crypts and Things Corruption table on page 64 of Crypts & Things.

Green is the Brightest Colour of Magic!

While in the Midderlands there is only two colours of magic; Green and Colourless.

Green is the magic of gloomium; it’s harmful, toxic and glows a malignant shade of luminous green when cast. It causes corruption when cast, using the rules on page 84 of Crypts & Things. All the spells on the Black Magic spell lists (see page 50 of Crypts & Things) are Green.

In addition, the following new spells from the Midderlands are Green Magic spells:

Curse of Old Hobb, Gloomium Shield, Middergloom Missiles, Morgontula’s Vomit.

Colourless magic is everything else (i.e. Spells from the Grey and White Lists). It does not have a colour when cast and its effects are usually boringly beneficial or utilitarian in nature.

What Did That Do? (see Midderlands page 74) is a colourless spell.

While in the Midderlands ignore The Summons of Evil rules for casting beneficial (white) magic.

Also, ignore the rules for Blood Magic (unless you are using The Others from Crypts and Things or a similar body of Demonic beings who provide magic for blood sacrifice).

Sorcerer’s Magic Sensitivity to Gloomium

Gloomium is green-hot, radioactive stuff as far as a Sorcerer’s magic sensitivity ability (see page 23 of Crypts & Things) is concerned. It drives many Sorcerers ‘up to the wall’, with the constant throbbing of the temples when their magic sense is triggered by a pool of the green stuff in some swamp, or from a creeping feeling of unease because the house they are lodging in is built over a large gloomium deposit. This does have the benefit of sorcerors being great at finding gloomium.

Using Gloomium to Regain Magic

Since gloomium is nasty raw magical stuff, sorcerer’s may regain magic by ingesting it. This is a particularly dangerous and insane practice which is not recommended by the Royal College.

The procedure is thus:

For each ‘gulp’ of gloomium, a sorcerer regains one level of cast spell and loses 1d6 hit points, from the toxic and corrosive nature of the substance, and upon a failed Sanity Roll loses 1d6 sanity points.  It takes one combat round to take a gulp. They also glow bright glowing green for the number of gulps you took in days. All these effects add to each other, so for example, if you take four gulps you take 4d6 hit points of damage and potentially lose 4d6 Sanity if you fail your Sanity Test and you can remember up to a fourth Level spell or any combination of spells whose levels.

For example, Ned the Anxious, a rather foolish apprentice of the Royal College, finds himself in a spot of bother in Cairn Chase Forest. About to be skinned alive by some rather Unmerry Men, and out of spells, he decides to take two gulps of gloomium, from a readily-prepared flask of the substance. This takes him two rounds, during which time the Unmerry Men close on him and fire off bows. In round three, the gloomium kicks off. He takes 2d6 Hit Points damage, rolling a four and a five for nine points of damage, and successfully makes his sanity roll – so keeps hold of his mind. With his innards burning from the liquid, he rememorizes the 2nd Level Spell Web and wastes no time in firing off a sticky web of green stuff at the Unmerry Men. If he had not been so worried, he could have taken his time firing off one Magic Missile this round, and another the round after (two first level spells equalling 2 levels of spells remembered as allowed by two glups). If he survives, he will glow bright luminous green for the next 1d10 days, making sneaking about and hiding very difficult and becoming a magnet for any nearby witch hunter.

Swords & Wizardry Light – D&D in two pages!

Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern fame has put together a slimmed down version of Swords & Wizardry, the OD&D retroclone, that covers levels 1-3. The game is basically a 4 pager, that is laid out (very colorfully and professionally in this release) as a player’s side and a DMs (Playing the Game) side.

Swords & Wizardry Light Logo

A Jam of OSR Goodness

At Last….. Vegas, Adventures in Jam. It started off as pisstake of the most fabulous excuse that came out of the very very late James Wallis’ Alas Vegas Kickstarter , an almost non-update where James made excuses and then stream of consciousness rambled on about Jam making while on holiday in the South of France, but has grown into a OSR UK scenario/mini-rpg pack.

Here’s the link to the Kickstarter.

I’ll let creator Mick Reddick explain:

So my spoof kickstarter has funded and is pushing it’s way towards the third and fourth stretch goals! For a measly £2 [about $3] get scenarios for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Swords and Wizardry, WHFRP, Into the Odd and a new standalone game/scenario…. With random tables, jam based recipes and more in fact there are still two limited edition dice bag pledges left!!!….. its a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the f*****g century 😊

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.

Why Swords & Wizardry is my Retroclone of choice

As part of Swords &Wizardry Appreciation Day. This post is an attempt to explain briefly why Swords &Wizardry is my Retro clone (a reversed engineered version of one of the earlier editions of D&D using the D20 Systems Resource Document) of choice.

My recent haul from the Swords and Wizardry Kickstarter

My recent haul from the Swords and Wizardry Kickstarter

Reason 1. ITS FREE!

You can down load the rules at the games website, Lulu.com or view them online at the Swords and Wizardry Systems Resource Document. This gives you the option to try before you buy, the internet equivalent of a good browse through the book.

When I first came across the Old School Renaissance via a recommendation from a friend, I had the immediate concerns of:

  • Is this Old School Thing for me after 20 or so years not playing any version of D&D?
  • Is it still fun?
  • Was it ever fun?

It took a lot of convincing and easing in for me to return after such a long time away, having a zero cost version that was well laid out and clear, helped me immensely.

 Reason 2. ITS COMMERCIAL!

Next I really wanted a book in my hot little hands. Fortuitously the Black Blade Publishing Edition of the Core Rules just showed up for about 5 minutes in one of my local gaming shops. I made sure I was there in those five minutes and it was mine! I was impressed, with its no-nonsense approach. This was the Core version of the rules, which I like as a tight little version of the Game.

So it was abundantly clear that this is not just some free role-playing thing, which for some people strangely enough is a big turn off. Care and attention to detail was being spent on producing something that was a serious professional product.

For those of you not in the know there are three versions of Swords and Wizardry.

  • White Box – just the three original D&D books , a short concise version of the game.
  • Core – adds more of the rules from the OD&D supplements, not as bare bones as WB. Classes are the nice ‘core’ of Fighter- Cleric – Thief – Magic User
  • Complete – All the rules from OD&D + supplements, so you get all the subclasses (Paladin, Bard, Monk etc). So sort of a striped down AD&D.

Publishers (current)

  • Mythmere games (via Lulu) –  This is the game’s author , Matt Finch’s, Publish Core/Whitebox + some scenario support. – supports the Community at a grass roots level. POD printing via Lulu.com
  • Frog God Games – Complete + a vast selection of S&W modules. Still very community friendly but this is the more commercial side.

Reason 3. SIMPLE NO NONSENSE RULES!

In my opinion this is the Game before it suffered rules bloat. The classes are manageable, the spells are straight forward and not too numerous ( a big deal for me when the players expect me to carry the details in my head), there’s enough treasure and monsters in the main rule book with enough detail to get stuck in an designing a dungeon quickly. Its easy to teach to newcomers, yet still instantly recognisable to old hands (like a bike you never forget how to ride). I like games that don’t get in the way of my role-playing and S&W serves that up in spades.

Reason 4. ITS GOT A COMMUNITY!

As well as the usual site and forum, there were numerous Blogger sites, collectively known as the OSR Blogsphere, supporting the game (and other Retroclones) with new content and reviews. Throw Google Plus into the mix, which supports Hangout games (some of which are recorded), you’ve got a friendly, open minded, active group of players and Gamesmasters all buzzing away 24/7.

Reason 5. ITS ADAPTABLE!

Due to it being completely Open Gaming Content, with a non-nonsense rules focused on the OD&D rules its very easy to take it and release your own House rules,Supplements,Adventures and even completely New Games (such as Crypts and Things, Woodland Warriors etc )

As a publisher this was a very attractive proposition. One which I took up by writing Crypts and Things, a variant of the rules with a focus on UK Old School rules and attitude , with a definite Swords and Sorcery Flavour. Without Swords and Wizardry, and Araskia’s Swords and Sorcery House Rules I would have never written the game.

Reason 6. IT EVOKES THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF 80s UK FRP!

Even without my Crypts and Things variant that tunes in that vibe directly, S&W invokes nicely the early days of 80s UK gaming. Stuff like the early White Dwarf issues, which had mad DIY stuff in like the Halls of Tizun Thun (adventure), the Barbarian (Class), not to mention regular columns like Fiend Factory and Treasure chest, and of course the early Fighting Fantasy. In many ways this is the most important thing about S&W, and even though I never played OD&D it inspired much of my early gaming sources.

Related Links

12 Days of UK OSR: Day 5 Woodland Warriors

Hootin’ Heck is it June already? Then I better press on with the 12 Days of the UK OSR, with day 5.

Based off Swords and Wizardry, WoodLand Warriors is a nice little book by Simon Washbourne published by his Beyond Belief Games. It’s introductory D&D for Kids and big Kids of all ages. Substituting Orcs n Elves for Stoats and Mice and dungeons for wild woods and meadows.  Six is the magic number in Woodland Warriors, as in 6 being the max level and D6 replacing D20s and the other standard polyhedrals.

It  packs alot into its 96 pages*.  A complete system, GM guidance, Bestiary a small setting “The Alder Vale” and an introductory adventure.  If you are familiar with the Swords and Wizardry rules alot of the text will be immediately familiar, seeing as the game like Crypts and Things is built on those rules, but copious modifications to model the genre its emulating and be much more accessible version of D&D.  In my view it achieves both these goals admirably.

Why this book is important to the UK OSR?

It carries on the fine UK traditions of innovation and approachability.  Coming after the grandmasters of the Hobby, Gygax et al, early UK writers built on what had gone before taking the Fantasy milieu in new directions away from a pure dungeon bashing.  Also there was a strong introductory stream of rpgs, mainly based of Fighting Fantasy, but even in  Warhammer 1st Ed and other Games Workshop RPGs there was a strong ethos of keeping systems and straightforward, taking time to explain fully at every stage of the book what was going on to the newcomers.

Its an OSR product we can point people to who don’t want a pure Dungeon Bashing game based off typical fantasy troupes.  This the game I can play with my missus (a non gamer who likes animal stories ) and my children when they grow up in four-three years (currently they are nearly 3 and 5 respectively).

Overall can’t recommend this one highly enough:)

Also worth noting Simon is highly prolific and the following games from his ever growing portfolio are of direct interest to the Old School Gamer:

 

*I’m reviewing the standard edition here. There is a Complete version which includes all the  supplements that Simon has put out since the game’s initial release.