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Updated: 15 hours 38 min ago

Adventures in Middle-earth - Erebor Adventures

16 hours 55 min ago
Publisher: Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd.
Rating: 5
Erebor Adventures is the new adventure book from Cubicle7, adapting the One Ring's Laughter of Dragons to their D and D 5e adaptation, Adventures in Middle Earth.

I previously reviewed Laughter of Dragons, a collection of adventures that cover the region around Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. Since you can read the previous review that covers the adventures themselves, I'm going to dive more closely into the meat and PO-TAY-TOES of the book. I do highly encourage you to read that review, as the adventures are the same, and they're really fantastic. I'm not going to individually go through the small minute differences in Erebor Adventures and Laughter of Dragons, but there are some, due to the system differences.

The One Ring and D and D have different advancement systems, and Erebor Adventures has a nice system, where throughout the book, you'll see small green and red highlights. These represent group (green) and individual (red) rewards. This is really useful, as it helps Loremasters quickly identify where they should give out experience.

I really love seeing the Nazgûl in D20 form. Now, I'm sure if I went through more of the Middle-Earth Adventures I would have seen them before, but I hadn't. Here, they are presented in two forms, as they are in Laughter of Dragons. They appear as Dark Undead, and as Unclad and Invisible. If you think about it in terms of the films, Dark Undead is them as the Black Riders, while the Unclad and Invisible is more as they are in Dol Guldur in The Hobbit. The Unclad are CR 8 and completely invisible, making them difficult to see, and their abilities aren't physical, just inflicting terror. The Dark Undead have a wider variety of abilities, including the Dwimmerlaik, a reaction that allows the Nazgûl to shatter a hero's weapon and turn the damage back on them. Honestly, by renaming these guys, you could easily use the statblocks to strike fear into your non-Middle Earth D and D adventures as well.

The appendices are useful to anyone playing Middle Earth Adventures, regardless of if they run these adventures. The Loremaster Characters appendix covers every NPC you'll encounter, telling you what pages they appear. This means you can more easily weave in the characters into other adventures by finding them quicker. The Places and Things appendix is useful in that you can easily drop in small encounters if you find yourself in the region, or if you need a description of a location.

The book overall looks absolutely beautiful. It matches the style of The One Ring, which I absolutely love. Though I own many of the books for the other system, and a lot of the information is the same, I'm VERY tempted to pick all the books up Middle Earth Adventures form too. This book is highly recommended. I'll be reviewing the core rulebook for Middle Earth Adventures soon, so that I can get into the mechanics of the game to see how it plays differently than vanilla 5e.
Cubicle7 provided a copy of Erebor Adventures to Dice Monkey for review.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Boons for Swords and Wizardry Core Rules

9 August 2019 - 6:16pm
Publisher: mstephenjoy
Rating: 4
While it needs some editing to clean up typos in the table I really do like the concept. Looking forward ro playing with it. Well worth a buck or two.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit

2 August 2019 - 11:54am
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games Inc.
Rating: 5
There's a whole heap of goodies in the download or in the box, depending on which version you have. Apparently the box also contains dice, otherwise there's no difference in the contents. Two books, reference cards, maps, pregenerated characters and some standees... everything you need to leap back into the near future.

Where to start? The 45-page Rulebook seems promising. This begins with The View From the Edge, an essay that sets out the stall of what it means to be cyberpunk. This paints the picture from the earliest days, when cyberpunk was the province of science-fiction authors, through the fictional alternate history that permeates the game from its first incarnation as *Cyberpunk 2013* and then *Cyberpunk 2020* - don't worry if you are not familiar with these games, you'll get the idea. However, the Fourth Corporate War has cut a swathe through everything, and much of what the cyberpunk of 2020 thought was normal is no more. Even Night City was a casualty, a nuke apparently. We're now in 2045, but there's still a place for the hip, freerolling, wired-in cyberpunk, operating more on the wrong side of the law than the right.

A brief precis of what a role-playing game is, for those who don't know, and a glossary of streetslang - you gotta sound right, choombatta, and then on to section 2: Soul and the New Machine. This takes a closer look at the philosophy, the look and feel, of cyberpunk... and reminds that, a major corporate war and the use of nuclear weapons later, there are few if any vestiges of civilization that would be familiar to people in society today. Players need to remember that it's personal, style over substance, attitude is everything, and you need to live on the edge. Oh, and rules are there to be broken. Then there's a look at Roles (read: character classes). There are nine: Rockerboys, Solos, Netrunners, Execs, Techs, Lawmen, Fixers, Medias, and Nomads (not all are covered in the Jumpstart). Next an overview of the character sheet, follwed by details of what everything means in terms of playing the character game mechanics-wise. The skills used for the pre-generated characters are explained.

Next up, 3: Lifepath. This is the system for generating a background for a character, and even with pre-generated ones there is scope for putting your own spin on the character that you are going to play. At each stage you may choose an option or roll for it. There's an example of how to do this, along with explanations of what this means for the player... and how it provides a bit of fun for the GM as well. All that backstory ready to exploit!

Then comes 4: Putting the Cyber into the Punk. This looks at the uses and abuses of cyberware, how to be stylish about your enhancements, and how the end-point of the exercise is survival - yours. With a few scary notes on cyberpsychosis, there are details of the various types of cybernetic enhancement you can have. Just remember: it's as much about fashion as it is about utility. We then move on to 5: Getting it Down. This covers how you actually play the game, when its time to use game mechanics rather than role-play to advance the plot. A lot covers combat because, let's face it, that's when you need to get the dice out... and of course it's a part of the game that most people enjoy. There's also a bit about task resolution, especially opposed tasks, when you want to use one of your skills to accomplish something.

Next, my favourite bit: 6: Netrunning in the Time of the Red. This explains the gear you need to go netrunning and how to use it, both in-game and in terms of game mechanics. This includes getting into brawls in the Net, which can be as deadly as doing so in the meat world. There are also times the Netrunner will have to go along with the rest of the infiltration team and brave the dangers of that sort of combat as well. This ends with an example Netrun, then back to real-world combat with 7: Thursday Night Throwdown, a variant on the original Friday Night Firefight rules. It's all an aid to streamline combat, to give you all the thrills without getting bogged down in the minutae of the rules. An alternate to brawling, the use of Reputation as a competitive sport, is also covered here. Finally there are summary cards of each of the pregenerated characters.

Speaking of pregenerated characters, there are 6 of them, with rather silly names - Torch the Tech, or Grease the Fixer... well, you may change those to something a bit more sensible if you prefer. Each comes with a page of backstory, character portrait and a full character sheet, as separate cards to give to each player.

The second book (or PDF) provided is the World Book. This provides 50-odd pages of background, setting, and adventure, starting with 1: Welcome to the Time of the Red. More detailed recent history explaining what the Fourth Corporate War was and how much damage it did to the world you now inhabit. The United States is fragmented, no longer a superpower. Night City, even 20 years later, is still a mess. The rest of the world is also in a state of flux. A good chance to make your mark, you might think, if you survive long enough, that is. Megacorps also suffered, but there are still corporations flexing the muscles pretty much unchecked. Then 2: Dark Future Countdown gives a detailed timeline of events from the 1990s onwards to the present day of 2045.

It may be battered, but Night City is still there, according to section 3. This gives a potted history from its foundation in 1994 to the present, bombs included. It's in the middle of a veritable fury of rebuilding, plenty of opportunity there. Just avoid the Hot Zone Wasteland, where the central business district used to be. Plenty here on politics, public services and law and order... yes, there is some! The next section 4: Everyday Things gives the lowdown on living there, aimed particularly at newcomers (which players will be, even if their characters are not... it's often best to play the characters as new arrivals too, so both can learn together about their new home). Vehicles, weapons, getting the news, shopping, it's all here. The food sounds terrible, though.

We then move into GM territory with 5: Running Cyberpunk Red. Plenty of good ideas about how to make the environment come to life for your group, opposition they might face, activities they can engage in. There are some sample encounters you can throw in whatever is happening, whatever the characters are trying to do. Finally, there is a fully-fledged adventure, The Apartment. The basic idea is that all the characters in the soon-to-become party live in the same apartment block, one of the few privately-owned (by one of them) blocks in the entire city. Someone wants to change that, gobble it up... and so the party needs to unite and fight for their home. There are notes on the other residents, and suggestions as to what might happen: pick and mix as you choose. There are some plans too. But that's not all. A collection of Screamsheets present more ideas for further adventures which you'll have to flesh out, three of them.

This contains all you need to get going, to see if the new version of *Cyberpunk* appeals. It doesn't matter if you don't know the original game, but if you do it moves the timeline along in a logical and believable manner. If you don't, just jump in and enjoy the delights that await!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Game Master's Toolbox: Ultimate NPCs: Skulduggery 5th Edition

25 July 2019 - 10:26am
Publisher: Nord Games
Rating: 5
Ultimate NPCs: Skulduggery is part of a series of books by Nord Games that provides a very handy list of characters of various race, background, class, and alignment. The book contains character sheets for each character at level 1, 4, 8, 12, 16, and 20. The character classes include bard, barbarian, fighter, warlock, and ranger, covering roughly half the class options in the Player's Handbook. There are 10 races represented, excluding sub-races, featuring most of the standard races, and even a shapechanger! There are 30 characters in total, with some tables that a dungeon master can roll on to get a random character. There are even tables by alignment in case you're looking for a charatacter that's good, neutral, or evil-aligned.
However, this book doesn't have to be for dungeon masters alone. If you're in a pinch and need a character for a game, say at a gaming convention or a pick-up game, this book is very useful. Since the character sheets take up one page each for the characters at each level, you can simply print up characters from the PDF file or photocopy them and hand them out when needed. The character's backstory is even included. This can make the game easy for those just getting started who don't yet understand the character creation process.

On top of all of this, the book has a few pages at the end with some nice equipment options. Much of these are items are things like enhanced tools, kits, and musical instruments that often give bonuses to tool proficiency checks. There are some very interesting items, such as the 'Book of Blackmail' that gives bonuses to persuasion checks against nobles listed in the book who don't want their secrets exposed. Items like this require some DM judgement as to how they are to be used. There are a few weapons listed as well, including the 'powerful crossbow' and 'scalpel', which have some special rules for dealing extra damage. These are things that a DM should be aware of before allowing them in their game. As well, there are some new poisons and magic items to add some flare to your game. There is also a handful of new spells, most of which are really useful. Some of the spell descriptions, such as for the spell 'Donnybrook', which causes a crowd of at least 15 creatures to start fighting each other, are also open to DM interpretation. Most of the spells nicely match the book's theme of skulduggery, giving some nice options for thiefs, such as the 'Sticky Fingers' cantrip that grants advantage on Sleight of Hand checks.

Overall, this book is greatfor DMs. You can use it to introduce a new NPC when you need to, and have stats for that NPC as they rise in level. You can use it for extra characters when you have new players. You can use the items as treasure for your party, and you can surprise and vex your party with spells that they haven't seen before. This is a great book if you're looking to reduce the prepwork before your game, and I can't wait to see what other books Nord games offers in this series.

See the full review at [!](
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Shadowrun: Sixth World Beginner Box

20 July 2019 - 11:30am
Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs
Rating: 4
Note: We got an early copy of the physical Sixth World Begginer Box, which we've based our review on after a few play-throughs. Note that not all of what we discuss is present in the digital starter kit:

The Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box is a boxed set that introduces players to the rules for Shadowrun 6th edition. It's a great introductory set that has all the material you need to get a game started quickly. This includes a 24-page rulebook, a 24 page scenario, four character portfolios, a map of Seatle in the year 2080, scenario maps, a deck of equipment cards (which also includes spells and some NPC stats for the DM), and a set of 12 beautiful custom Shadowrun dice. You'll need a lot of dice, because Shadowrun has always been about three things: futuristic technology, magic, and rolling handfuls of dice--and 6th edition is no different.

A brief word on the world of Shadowrun--the game is set in an alternate future where magic of ancient legend has returned to the world in the early 2000s. The return of magic also brought creatures such as dwarves and elves, and even monsters such as dragons and ghouls into existence. This future is set in and around 2080, in a time when high-tech lasers and cybernetic implants are rather common. This future is a distopian one, with different national boundaries than we know today, and corporations controlling many aspects of daily life. You and your fellow players are shadowrunners--hired mercenaries that end up doing the dirty work for the corporations, often in the form of espionage, kidnapping, computer hacking, robbery, etc. Among the character options are deckers (hackers), a riggers (mechanics), mages, and street samurai (the muscle).

Now, for the quickstart rules. This is a nice 24-page set of simplified rules that give us a taste of what is to come in 6th edition. The quickstart rules don't include much in the way of character creation, but focus more on gameplay. If you're a veteran of the game, you may remember that Shadowrun's basic mechanics have been centered on forming a dice pool and rolling a bunch of dice. This version of Shadowrun, like recent iterations has us building a pool from an ability + skill and rolling a number of dice equal to the total. For example, if your character is attempting to hack into a computer, you would add your character's logic (representing her natural intelligence) and your electronics skill (her knowledge of electronics). You would then take that result and roll that number of dice to determine the effect. Each result of a 5 or 6 is a success, and contributes to the effectiveness of her attempt to hack the computer. Sixth edition places increased importance on the concept of 'edge', a stat that has been used in previous editions to represent the charcter's luck. Characters enter battle with edge points and more can be gained based on circumstance, such as having the high ground on a battlefield. This edition has expanded rules on gaining and using edge, allowing you to spend edge points in different amounts (1-5) to gain increasing bonuses on actions. Lower-end edge effects allow for things like buy a single re-roll or add to the outcome of 1 die. Higher-end edge expenditures let you do things like roll an additional die for each 6 you roll on your initial test, or increase your enemy's chances of having a critical failure. These are just some examples, but this edition really brings edge to the forefront as a major mechanic. At the heart of the game, you're still rolling a ton of dice and anticipating the outcome. Edge now makes that process more exciting, and players seem to enjoy thinking tactically to gain edge in combat. Veteran players will notice other changes to magic, combat, etc. that largely lean toward simplification. As well, there are some editing errors, particularly in the card set that can lead to confusion. It's likely that the core rulebook will clear up the confusion due to editing, and also possible that we'll see expansion on the rules that often aren't present in a starter kit like this.

The adventure book contains a simple scenario called 'Battle Royale', in which the runners find themselves in the middle of a gang war. Without spoiling too much, they'll have to find a way to rescue a high value target from the gangsters and get out safely to collect their reward. Players can choose from 4 character options: Frostburn--ork combat mage, Rude--troll street samurai, Yu-- Elf covert ops specialist, and Zipfile--Dwarf decker. Each character comes with an 8-page folio that contains an overview of the rules, some background and role-playing tips, and some charts for quick reference during the game. This makes it really easy to get started. The box includes a set of cards that have the stats for the equipment and spells that each character has, which also makes for easier reference. The scenario is about 24 pages with a lot of helpful tips for first-time game masters. There's even a map to help players and GM visualize the scene.

Overall, the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box really has everything that you need to get started. First time players can get a game prepared in probably a couple of hours or less. The box retails for about $25, and it's an amazing value considering that a dozen custom Shadowrun dice will probably cost you at least $20. Not to mention the cost of the card set and adventure book. As a veteran Shadowrun player, this has me excited to play and run the game again. Though this boxed set doesn't present the full rules, it gives us a taste, and I like what I'm seeing so far. This preview of the game shows a lot of promise and it I can't wait to pick up the core rulebook when it's available in a few months.

[See our full review at](
Categories: Game Theory & Design

20 Things #39: Black Dragon's Lair (System Neutral Edition)

15 July 2019 - 9:14am
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
Rating: 5
An review

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ much-beloved dressing-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin the first page with 12 sample features for a black dragon’s lair – these include fetid pools of swamp water, glutinous mud, tangled curtains of roots, partially melted walls, and sinkholes and rotting trunks – this very much encapsulates the proper, grimy feel of swampy environments. 10 names for male dragons and 10 for female dragons complement the first page. I very much enjoyed this start!

The second page contains 20 dressing features for the dragon’s lair: From acidic smell in the air to dripping, dirty water, there are some nice ones here. I am particularly fond of ethereal-looking mud that may stoke the paranoia of players and PCs alike. Once more, the swamp/black dragon-theme is strong in these. The table of what the dragon is doing represents well the sadism associated with black dragons, as well as their cunning. A few generic entries are here – dragon sorting through hoard, chuckling? Seen that before. Compared to the so far very strong dragon-specific leitmotif, this selection was a bit weaker.

A list of 12 sample sights and sounds may be added to enhance the atmosphere of the dragon’s lair – these include a few different kinds of startling roars, jets of harmless steam, clouds of soot twirling and fake dragon’s eyes shimmering in the dark. The malign nature of the violent red masterminds is well-served here. An entry of 8 things the dragon may be currently doing can be found here. These include sorting through treasure, roasting human corpses slowly on a spear (cool!) or scratching itself. I’d have liked to see more red-specific entries, as e.g., the one where the dragon scratches itself with a wall is one I’ve seen before – and one I don’t consider too suitable for reds.

The pdf features a pretty massive 20-entry treasure and trinket selection, and includes a mechanical wind-up bird with ruby eyes (emerald or onyx imho would have made more sense there, but I’m nitpicking), a set of jade statuettes, blood-spattered tomes, hunting horns sourced from unicorns and the like – generally, I enjoyed this treasure/trinket selection, with its themes in line with the dragon species. 8 worn trinkets include colored mud used to draw strange sigils, eyebrow rings of gold, silver eye-monocles and the like – some nice ones, even though a few more black dragon specific touches would have been neat.

The final page is devoted to a total of 20 entries of hoard dressing, which this time around contains decaying, splintered wood, rotting barrels partially sunk in the floor, strange pyramids containing skulls, channels littered with wanna-be-dragon-slayer bones funnels water from the hoard, jars of honey, and more – these entries close the pdf on a definite high note.

Editing and formatting re very top-notch. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, with solid b/w-artworks included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and, as always, the supplement features two versions – one intended to be printed out, and one for screen-use.

Creighton Broadhurst’s dressing for black dragons manages to eke out that special sense of being very close to the dragon sub-species, while at the same time providing the full arsenal of cool dressing we’ve come to expect. With a stronger, dragon-species specific theme than in previous installments, this delivers a bit more, manages to be more specific – and that’s a good thing. Very few entries herein lack some sort of direct connection to black dragons, rendering this pretty much a success in my book. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Temple of the Harpies

18 June 2019 - 11:41am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 4
PDF. 14 pages, color cover, b and w interior, two maps

This adventure is a pretty straightforward affair that can be run in a long afternoon. Designed for four to six characters of 2nd to 3rd level, the character must retrieve a missing child, defeat harpies, kobolds, and an ancient curse and not awaken an army of undead. Suitable for any OSR game or really any d20 based fantasy game with tweaks. This one also includes some new monsters, which I always like.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Shrine of the Wolf Maidens

17 June 2019 - 7:07am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 5
After the standard account of the state of the setting (chiefly for those new to *Odysseys and Overlords*) we get the background to the adventure: a merchant called Madeina Ilrekar hired an adventurer, a fellow called Jorasco Vinn, to go into the Untamed Gauntlet to prospect for precious metals. Apparently he didn't do very well, when he returned he spoke of an ancient shrine, the name of which is lost to antiquity. Now Madeina's daughter has vanished, and she thinks that Vinn has kidnapped her with an eye to reviving the practice of human sacrifice at the shrine he discovered!

This is where the party comes in. Perhaps they have heard about the daughter's disappearance, or maybe Madeina hires them to go in search of her... she is, it transpires, of marriageable age, and Madeina has a few potential suitors in mind. There's an optional opening encounter with Madeina, or you can start the adventure with the party already travelling through the Untamed Gauntlet. One encounter is provided for the journey, you may wish to add others of your own devising.

The main part of the adventure is the exploration of the shrine. This starts with a puzzle to unravel to get in which is very well presented. You get the puzzle itself (and its solution - not all GMs are puzzle fanatics, after all!) and suggestions about how to use die rolls to help the party crack the code and gain admission, if they don't figure it out on their own. The few rooms are described clearly, along with contents and inhabitants, and the party ought to find out what happened to the daughter. Every possible outcome is covered, depending on what they decide to do about the situation.

Overall, it's a neat little adventure. Can the party save the daughter? Only you and your group can tell!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Wyvernseeker Rock

10 June 2019 - 6:58am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 4
This jumps straight in with the party travelling through the Untamed Gauntlet on other business, when the stream they are following abruptly ends in a cliff with a waterfall. It's too steep and slippery to climb up, the obvious route up is through an opening beside the waterfall.

There's a top-down view, a plan of the pathway through the cliff, and descriptions of the five chambers therein. To enter, the party needs to solve a puzzle: instructions for the die rolls required to solve it are given, but there's no actual puzzle given. Personally I prefer to let the party at the puzzle, and suggest die rolls if they get nowhere with it. Once they get in, there's a long spiral staircase going up (and down, but that's another story) which will let them get to the top of the cliff, provided they get past the monsters and other hazards.

Once they reach the top, they've actually come out at the top of a rocky peak even higher than the cliff. Here there's a cunning device that you can use to provide a hook into further adventures, a vision that gives them some inkling as to what is in store...

This is a rather thin 'something to happen along the way' which rather leaves you wondering why. Quite nice if you struggle to find ways to make wilderness travel interesting apart from reaching for the wandering monsters table. It could possibly be strung out into a complete session (2-3 hours) but that would be a bit of a struggle.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Idol of Bala

6 June 2019 - 6:28am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 5
This 'dungeon crawl' for 2nd-3rd level characters opens with the standard overview of the setting, useful for those who don't have any other *Odysseys and Overlords *material - it works with any OSR ruleset, but best with *The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game*. We then get on to the background for this adventure, being a discussion of how people turned to worship other deities when the local mob decided all-out war between themselves was a good idea. One such was called Bala, who was mildly popular with creative folk for a few years before falling out of favour again. However centuries later a rumour arose that Bala's followers had discovered the secret of eternal life, only by then nobody could remember where any temples to Bala were. The hunt was on...

... and this adventure begins with the discovery in the Untamed Gauntlet of a tablet whose inscription, according to a priest called Dendefsha (who worships another deity), contains directions to one hidden deep in the Gauntlet. He wastes no time in hiring a party of adventurers to go and take a look. Of course, other interested parties are also looking for the temple. Who'll find it first?

The adventure proper begins with the party standing on the doorstep of the temple. Actually finding it is an adventure you'll have to provide or, if wilderness adventures aren't your thing, just give the party sufficient background and start the game here. The first trick is figuring out how to get in, and it doesn't get much better thereafter: there are tricks and puzzles galore as you explore onwards. As well as rivals for the idol, which is said to be carved with Bala's secrets, there are some creatures to contend with as well.

Although small - there are only three main chambers - the temple is well-described. Details of all the traps or effects are explained clearly, with notes on relevant mechanics, saves to make, and so on, and all monsters come with a stat block to enable you to run them effectively. Player and GM versions of the map are included. The conclusion assumes that the party is successful, but does give the possibility of future allies and enemies that can be woven into further adventures.

This is a classic 'delve' adventure, with monsters to kill and loot to acquire... being short and sweet it could be a good filler or one-off adventure, or even an introduction to OSR play. It's nicely-done, however, and there are concepts here worthy of expansion should it suit your campaign to do so.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

From the Mouth of Babes

4 June 2019 - 6:31am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 5
There's the standard thumbnail background of the *Odysseys and Overlords* setting and notes about suitable rules (handy if you've just picked this up without reading anything else in this game line), then we're off with the background to the adventure itself. It seems a bunch of goblins has been hanging out on the edge of an area of wilderness hoping to pick off adventurers going there to explore (or even better, coming back with their loot!) but a leadership dispute led to the loss of a magic dagger... which fell into their watersource, with dire results.

The party first find out about all this when they, like any adventurers worthy of the name, head into the wilderness - or snap up one of the plot hooks provided - and are accosted by a couple of hungry, grubby goblin youngsters who ask for help. This encounter should prove entertaining. Provision is made for it taking place either in the day or during the night, and there's plenty of detail to help you role-play it to the hilt.

Hopefully, with an optional encounter on the way, the party with the youngsters guiding them should arrive at the goblin lair. It's even smellier than the words 'goblin lair' suggest, for reasons that should become apparent as the delve into its depths proceeds. Everything is laid out clearly, with ample description, stat blocks/hit point check boxes for all encounters and other game mechanical information as necessary.

As with the young goblins in the opening encounter, it pays to try talking with at least some of the inhabitants of the lair, for if the party does so, they will be able to piece together what has been going on, as well as undertake the expected exploration, killing and looting. Whatever the party decides to do about the goblins, there are other monsters to slay and loot to be had.

Everything is left quite open ended. The party might help the goblins and continue exploring the wilderness, or they might - especially if you used one of the plot hooks provided - want to go back to town. There are suggestions for some further adventures and a welcome selection of 'story-based' XP awards that you can make based on the party's actions. There are a couple of new items and a new monster, and maps for both players and the GM.

Whilst OSR in essence, this has a welcome range of options for interaction and role-play, and is well-resourced to enable you to cope with just about anything your players might decide to do.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Spire of the Kobolds

3 June 2019 - 6:18am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 4
This adventure for 1st-2nd level characters opens with the standard overview of the history of the land (in case you've picked up the adventure without looking at any other *Odysseys and Overlords* material) and then gives a brief note about the background to the adventure. It's designed to toss the party straight into the action when they are in some wild country called the Untamed Gauntlet.

Interestingly, the party has not been sent to the Spire, a known but mysterious landmark in the Untamed Gauntlet - the intention is that they are going elsewhere when they notice activity there and presumably decide to investigate. In case they don't, there's a kobold hunting party wandering around that might decide to have a go at them. From there it's into the Spire proper and a room-to-room description follows.

Two maps are provided, one for the GM and one for the players. They are nice and clear, but the only difference between them appears to be the room numbers (which the players don't get). The room descriptions are good, providing details of what's there along with stat blocks for who/whatever is in there - complete with checkboxes to mark off their hit points as they die, a neat addition - and relevant mechanics for any traps.

There's enough going on in this small space, with several of the kobolds potentially willing to interact rather than just fight to the death (although they mostly will, if not running away, should the party not be inclined to conversation. Overall, it's a nice introductory adventure that brings out the essence of the 'OSR' style of play.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Odysseys and Overlords Game Master's Guide

28 May 2019 - 7:36am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 5
This opens with exactly the same overview of the background and current state of the setting as is to be found in the *Player's Guide*, along with the note that it designed to be used with *The Basic Fantasy Role-playing Game* ruleset, but that any OSR rules will do. There's also mention that this is for the Game Master and that although they will need to consult the* Player's Guide* occasionally, this will be their main reference.

The first topic to be explored is encounters, divided up into dungeon, wilderness and urban ones. The use of random tables is encouraged, which will of course be different depending on which environment you are in... indeed, you may well find it useful to construct several for different places in each environment type, as well as according to party level, time of day (at least, when outside) and the like. There are plenty here to be going on with, complete with explanations of what each list entry signifies. From this, we move on to how to create a group of NPCs, including adventuring parties, brigands/bandits, pirates and all manner of undesirables as well as groups of merchants, nobles and pilgrims. Some might be friendly, but that's rather brushed aside as "making things too easy for the players"! This includes allocation of magic items and using non-humans.

Next comes a section entitled Dealing with Players. This begins with how to deal with players who don't like the statistics they've rolled for their character then moves on to the acquisition of spells including how clerics may be limited according to the deity they revere and how magic-users gain their spells. Also touched upon is what happens if a character uses armour or weapons that are 'prohibited' for them. There's a fair bit of discussion of advancement and how to deal with character death as well. We then move on to magical research with plenty on creating new spells or magic items as well as enchanting weapons.

This is followed by advice on how to create adventures, beginning with that classic, the dungeon adventure. The first thing to decide is why they party wants to go into a dungeon in the first place. (I remember asking that the very first game of* D and D* I played... the rest of the party had no real answer for me - might have helped if they'd read this!) Once you've decided why they are going there, decide where 'there' is, decide what monsters to use and draw a map. Then 'stock' the dungeon - assigning contents (including monsters) to each room, not forgetting puzzles and traps as well as monsters to kill and treasures to loot. Some sample traps are provided. Wilderness adventures then get a similar treatment, with an area map rather than a detailed floor plan, and this leads neatly into strongholds, as those might be found in the wilderness. This discussion includes building costs (maybe your party wants to construct a base) and a note that a stronghold might have a dungeon underneath it, as well as a few notes on laying siege to the place. In some ways it's all very basic and obvious, but if you are new to GMing could prove invaluable.

Next up, Monsters. There are notes on how they are described, and then a selection of them (including plenty of dragons!) ready for you to use. Some are sentient, like gnomes or giants, others are of animal intelligence or lower, like the gelatinous cube. Of course some, like ghosts, are undead, and lycanthropy is also covered.

Monsters dealt with, the discussion moves on Treasure. Plenty of charts to help you determine what there is to loot... and a section on using magic items once you have laid hands on them. Lists of magic armour, magic weapons, potions, scrolls, rings and other items follow, covering what they do and what benefits (or otherwise, if they are cursed) they confer.

Finally, there are thumbnail sketches of various kingdoms and other lands within the setting. I'm crying out for a map here... although this book is well-illustrated I like a map to get oriented! The descriptions are good, though, bringing each polity into vivid life.

This work provides a wealth of basic material to set you off on a path to running effective adventures. Whilst much work remains to be done, the scaffolding is here to aid you in developing places and adventures to happen in them. Have fun!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Odysseys and Overlords Player's Guide

20 May 2019 - 8:21am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 5
The book opens with a broad sweep of the history of the land. A long time - a thousand years or more - ago, the gods lived in peace and prosperity amongst mortals, with magic and learning flowing freely and animals also living in peace. Unfortunately that didn't last, due rather predictably to the gods squabbling and spoiling it all for everyone. When the brawling stopped, most of the gods were either dead or had departed, leaving mortals to fend for themselves. A few hung around hoping to be worshipped but in the main mortals relied on military might to decide matters of rulership and even righteousness. The land is now fragmented, with islands of civilisation separated by wild lands where bandits and monsters hold sway. People rely on Adventuring Companies (guess who?) to bridge these gaps and protect those who would travel. There are also plenty of ruins filled with relics of happier times to loot. What more could one want for an adventure setting?

A character, that's what, so the next part of the book explains how to go about making one. It's recommended that you use The Basic Fantasy Role-playing Game ruleset, which is available as a free download, written with 'old style rules' play in mind, and also suitable for introducing younger players to role-playing. The instructions for rolling up a character are beautifully clear. To start with, get a piece of paper and a pencil. Roll 4d6 dropping the lowest die and adding the rest up to generate your ability scores. Next you choose a genus and class, making sure you meet any prerequisites for them in terms of ability scores. Of course, there is a bit more detail than that, but not much, and everything is made clear, although you do need to read through the final steps of character creation before you find out what a 'genus' is let alone what you can choose!

The genus (pl. genera) is the equivalent of race in most games. These ones draw on the history outlined earlier, and are groups who took different paths during the squabble of the gods but all are based on normal mortals, except Wildfolk who are descendants of mating between humans and animals, which was considered normal in ancient times. They are Abyss-Kissed, Human, Spellscorched and Wildfolk.

Next, the classes: Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. In general, once chosen you have to stick to your class, only Spellscorched are permitted to be combination classed, and then only Fighter/Magic-User or Magic-User/Thief are allowed. Genus also affects class choices, some genera are limited in the choices they can make. Money and equipment lists round out this section, so by now the character is just about fully equipped and ready to go...

... unless, of course, they wish to wield magic. There's a comprehensive section for both Clerics and Magic-Users, with spell lists for both and a massive alphabetical list of spells with full details of how that spell is cast and what happens when it is. Both game mechanical and flavour aspects are handled clearly.

This magic section consumes much of the rest of the book, but there's space to explain what dungeon and wilderness adventuring is all about; along with a section on hirelings and services, as well as that all-important matter of combat. This section explains how combat is conducted, what your character can do, and includes things like turning undead as well as actual brawling. And that's it. Short and sweet, and notable for the clarity of explanation. Off you go and enjoy adventuring!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Odysseys and Overlords Free Preview

17 May 2019 - 6:39am
Publisher: Aegis Studios
Rating: 4
Opening with an account of a golden past, when people lived in harmony with their gods, all was peaceful, a time of learning and of plenty, we then hear how it all went wrong predictably enough by the gods starting to squabble amongst themselves and wrecking it all for everybody else. Mortal lands lie divided, with brave adventurers (guess who?) guiding people between them and dealing with monsters, exploring ruins to find relics of the lost golden age over a thousand years in the past.

Next, there's an overview of character creation. Notes explain that Odysseys and Overlords is designed to be used with the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, but any 'old school rules' will do: it's aimed at those who like that style of play... just about everything you need is here, though. Every character has a genus (equivalent to race) and a class, the one chosen to demonstrate how classes are presented is that of the Bard. It's all pretty familiar if you have played a bard in any class/level fantasy game - bards can fight a bit but their primary skills are in performance (often music, but poets, storytellers and the like can also be played), and through their performance thay can generate spells. There are various charts showing how a bard character gains levels and develops as they gaim experience.

Though short - two whole pages of an eight-page PDF are devoted to the Open Game Licence - this gives quite a good overview of the game/setting as a whole, and should let you decide if you want to investigate further. The little bit of world history provided is evocative and sets the scene well for the sort of game envisaged, encapsulating a world that sounds like it will be fun to adventure in. The notes also suggest that it ought to be easy to introduce younger children to this game, always a good thing. Take a look, and if you like the sound, jump right on in!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules

7 May 2019 - 11:44am
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Rating: 5
Original review appears here: [](

Old-School Essentials is a redesign of the classic "Basic/Expert" rules using OGC sources. The books are all digest-sized, 6" x 9" format. All of the books feature fantastic full-color covers from artist Andrew Walter and color accented interiors; limited to mostly pale green.
A moment about these covers. They remind me of a surreal 70s version of Lord of the Rings meets Elric; easily some of my most favorite covers of in all of the Old-School movement.
All the books are extremely modular. This was a design goal by Norman and it pays off. Everything is easy to find. Sections usually take up a page or multiple full pages. If you were so inclined you could cut up your books (!) or print out the PDFs and reorganize them as you see fit. Really at this point, the only thing that could make these books easier to use is having all the content in a spiral-bound volume so it can lay flat at your table.

Old School Essentials expands on these rules and reorganizes them some more. There is a Basic Rules that takes place of the Core book and then a Genre book that covers classes and other "D and D" like topics. I imagine that different genre books will have other rules and classes.

Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
This free 56-page book covers all the basics of the OSE line. Picking it up you can see the stylistic changes from B/XE to OSE. Also this book covers just about everything you need to play right now. It includes the four human classes, some rules, some spells, some monsters, and treasure. Enough to give you a taste of what OSE will be like.
It has the same modular design as B/XE so finding things is simple, leaving more time for play.
There is no interior art in this free version, but that hardly detracts from it.

I am really looking forward to seeing OSE out. But until then I am going to enjoy playing with B/XE!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Monster Menagerie: Gruesome Foes Preview

6 May 2019 - 6:16am
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
Rating: 4
This short preview - designed to promote a Kickstarter campaign for the complete product - begins with an explanation of how to create a 'Gruesome' monster by adding one of the gruesome templates to an existing monster (or, of course, one of your own devising. Each template comes with an example creature, but although certain templates seem suited to particular types of creature, it's suggested that mixing them up a bit can result in interesting and challenging foes. There are also suggestions for how to use the monsters to which you apply that template to best effect and a set 'shock value'.

The 'shock value' is an indicator of the sheer visceral horror induced by meeting the gruesome monster, a real treat for those who want to add a twist of horror to their game. You may be aiming for a horror-themed game anyway, or perhaps you want the shock factor of introducing one such monster at an appropriate place in a more regular game. Either can be an effective use of these templates.

The samples presented are the Bound Horror - which poor beastie is bound to a given location or object (or even an individual) - and the Forgotten - which exist in more than one reality simultaneously and can cause amnesia in those who encounter them. Hopefully you can forget meeting one, 'cos they look quite repulsive and, yes, gruesome!

If you like the look of this, trundle over to the Kickstarter and sign up!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Starfarer's Codex: Legacy Dragonrider

4 May 2019 - 9:54am
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
Rating: 5
Starfarers Codex: Legacy Dragonrider is a book that simply provides rules for a character class that is focused on riding dragons. Have you ever been in a game where a player asked, 'Hey, can my character have a pet dragon to ride on?' Of course you have! It happens all the time in role-playing games set in fantasy settings--and this book actually provide some great rules that allow players to ride a dragon into combat that aren't game-breaking.
The dragon rider class presented in this book is a playable class just like any other in Starfinder. It high a high attack bonus and good reflex, will, and fortitude saves. The class gets a few spell-like abilities that choose from pre-existing class spell lists depending on the type of the dragon that the character rides. They also get some sensory abilities, such as low- light vision, darkvision, etc that progress with the character, as well as energy resistance tied to dragon type. The class is weak in a few spots: only being proficient with light armor and some limited weapons, and lacking any special abilities that are really useful in combat, aside from energy resistance. To make up for this, they do get to ride a dragon and have it fight by their side--with some limits.

Of course, when introducing dragons as a player option in a game in any capacity, there is the concern that they may be too powerful. The rules for this class are designed with that concern in mind, and they do a fairly good job of letting a player have a dragon in a way that won't break your game. Players selecting this class are allowed to pick their dragon's type, starting with a young dragon that grows in size and power as the character advances. There are stats for all of the standard chromatic dragons (black, blue, green, red, white), and metallic dragons (brass, bronze, copper, gold, silver), as well as outer dragons (lunar, solar, time, void, vortex). These dragons show up in the Starfinder Alien Archive books, though you don't need those books to use this character class. The dragons have been alerted from the standard monster stats to make them more balanced. Each dragon has different abilities that may include different move speeds, movement types (some can swim or burrow), different starting size (some dragons start off too small to ride), different attack damage, and breath weapon abilities. These rules are close enough to dragons as described in the Alien Archives, but nerfed enough to make them playable, though still some dragons are more powerful than others. To deal with the power discrepency between dragon types, this book adds a mechanic called 'mystic focus' that determines the character's ability to get the dragon to do what they want. The more powerful the dragon, the harder it is to control, and it requires more of the dragon rider's time each round to control it. If a character doesn't spend time each round controlling their dragon, it takes only move actions. Thus, if your character has one of the more powerful dragons, you will be able to do little else than direct it each round. At higher levels, mystic focus takes up less time each round, and it really brings balance to what might seem like an over-powered class, especially at lower levels.

Overall, this book presents some fantastic rules for allowing a player to have a dragon in your game. As a long-time game master, I've had many players wanting their character to have a dragon, and balanced rules for allowing this are very much welcomed and appreciated. The rules strike a good balance between allowing players to have something powerful, but at the same time restrict their use of it so as to not make it game-breaking. Starfarers Codex: Legacy Dragonrider does an amazing job of this, and I hope to see these rules adapted to similar fantasy games.

Read teh full review at [!](
Categories: Game Theory & Design