Categories
Old school Swords & Wizardry Tabletop RPGs

Comparing Swords & Wizardry Core vs. Complete

Reading Rappan Athuk renewed my interest in checking out Swords & Wizardry, and it also made me curious about the differences between S&W Core and S&W Complete.[1] I searched for a simple summary of those differences and kept seeing variations on this: “Core is the 3 LBBs + Supplement I (Greyhawk); Complete is 3 LBBs + the classes, spells, monsters, treasure, and some additional rules from all supplements to the LBBs.

I wanted something a bit more definitive, and when I glanced through both books the classes jumped out at me as the only substantial difference — so I decided to do a quick side-by-side analysis. I compared the latest printing of both books, the 4th printing of Core and the 3rd printing of Complete.

If you’re new to S&W, or want to compare versions on your own, the game is free and you can grab almost every printing here (with thanks to Smoldering Wizard for collecting those links).

Quick and dirty

Here’s the TL;DR version of what I found:

  • Complete includes more classes
  • Complete includes one additional race
  • Combat in Complete alternates sides for movement/missiles and then again for melee/spells, while in Core each side does everything before the other side goes
  • PCs die at -1 in Complete vs. -[level] in Core
  • Complete includes rules for siege, aerial, and ship combat
  • Core and Complete include the same monsters, spells, and treasure (except for Complete having druid spells)

The additional classes are by far the largest difference, followed by the variations in combat and dying and the special combat rules that appear in Complete.

Marginally less quick and dirty

Here’s a more detailed look at the differences I found when comparing the two versions. I didn’t do a deep dive and compare monster stats or spell descriptions because that wasn’t what I needed at the moment — I needed a snapshot to tell me which edition I would prefer.

Classes

  • Core includes cleric, fighter, magic-user, and (optional) thief
  • Complete adds assassin, druid, monk, paladin, and ranger

Races

  • Complete adds half-elves

Combat

  • The first three steps (surprise, declare spells, initiative) and final step (end of round) of combat are the same, but the default approach to the middle steps differs (see below)
  • In addition to offering Holmes as an alternative combat sequence (which both do), Complete also offers Core’s approach and a third variant
  • In the Special Situations section, Complete notes a house rule about critical hits and fumbles, and also clarifies spellcasting in melee with a note about wands and staves
  • Under Damage and Death, dying is different:
    • In Core, 0 HP means unconscious and bleeding out 1 HP/round, with death at -[level]
    • In Complete, 0 is unconscious, -1 is dead, and bleeding out is noted as a house rule

Combat steps

Here’s a breakdown of the first bullet, the middle steps of combat. In Core, the middle steps are:

  • Initiative winner does everything (move, missiles, melee, spells)
  • Then initiative loser does everything
  • Then folks with held initiative go

In Complete, the steps are:

  • Initiative winners move or fire missiles, then initiative loser moves or fires missiles
  • Initiative winner makes melee attacks and their spells go off, then initiative loser does the same
  • Held initiative doesn’t exist

High-Level Adventuring

  • Complete includes a few additional details about constructing castles.

Magic

  • Complete adds Gate as a level 7 cleric spell
  • Complete includes druid spells (since it includes the druid!)

Designing the Adventure

  • There’s an additional dungeon example in Complete

Special Combat Rules

  • Complete includes siege, aerial, and ship combat in the Special Combat section (both include mass combat)

Monsters

I looked at the monster lists by challenge level, and wherever they varied I confirmed that both books do in fact include those monsters. In Complete, the variations are:

  • Dragons don’t appear in the Monsters by Challenge Rating lists (they do in Core)
  • CL 1 adds the lethal variation of giant centipedes
  • CL 2 adds lethal giant centipedes
  • CL 5 adds giant leeches
  • CL 9 subtracts giant fish
  • CL 10 subtracts baalroch demon, which becomes CL 13 (although its description says 17)
  • CL 13 subtracts dragon turtles, which become CL 12
  • CL 14-16 adds dragon turtles

There are alphabetization errors in both versions’ monster lists, so my guess is that dragons were an unintentional omission from Complete’s lists. The leech, centipede, turtle, and fish look like cases of Complete correcting omissions from the lists in Core (since both books have those monsters, and their CLs are identical). I’m not sure what to make of the baalroch demon: He’s CL 10 in Core, and appears at CL 10 on the list; in Complete, he’s CL 17 and appears under CL 13.

Hack to taste

S&W is designed to be hacked to suit one’s personal preferences, and if I were to sit down and run an S&W game right now I’d probably grab Complete and just eliminate all classes except the original three (cleric, fighter, and magic-user).

Complete already uses my preferred approach to combat and dying, and given that the rest is functionally identical I’d rather have the small amount of extra material (castle stuff, aerial combat, etc.) just in case it came up. Both versions share Matt Finch‘s excellent writing, a conversational tone, clean layout, and clear rules, and of course you can just as easily drop the bits of Complete you like into Core (and so on).

Having now spent quite a bit of time with different versions of S&W, I’ve found that I love the clarity and spark of the presentation in the 3rd printing of Complete — the 2017 version helmed by Stacy Dellorfano, with layout by Leigh Tuckman. Given that it was only a buck during the KS and the every other printing is available for free in PDF, I hope this one will eventually be available for free as well.

[1] S&W WhiteBox is a different animal from both Core and Complete in ways that are much easier to evaluate (all weapons do d6 damage, most monsters have one attack, flatter power curve, etc.), and in any case Rappan Athuk is written for S&W Complete; the easiest course being to run it with Complete, that’s what I wanted to look at.

Categories
Old school Swords & Wizardry Tabletop RPGs

The Frog God Swords & Wizardry Superbundle

While prowling around for a deal on Tome of Horrors Complete I stumbled across this PDF bundle on the Frog God website — the aptly named Superbundle for Swords & Wizardry. It’s broken into 3 tiers: $5, $13, and $25.

I love monster books, and in addition to ToHC this bundle includes two others that were also on my wishlist. Sticking to just the monster books, Tome of Horrors Complete ($25 tier) is normally a $30 PDF, Monstrosities ($13 tier) is normally $15, and Tome of Horrors 4 ($5 tier) is normally $25 — so that’s $70 of monstery goodness for $25.

And that’s not even taking into account the other stuff I’m also curious to check out, like the Borderland Provinces (all 4 included) and Hex Crawl Chronicles books (all 7 included), or the stuff that’s completely new to me. This bundle made my day — maybe it will make yours, too.

Here’s the breakdown:

$5 tier:

  • Quests of Doom 1
  • The Borderlands Provinces
  • Tome of Horrors 4
  • The Mother of All Encounter Tables
  • Rogues of Remballo
  • Adventures in the Borderlands

$13 tier (includes lower tier):

  • Monstrosities
  • Quests of Doom 3
  • The Borderland Provinces Gazetteer
  • The Borderland Provinces Players Guide
  • The Borderland Provinces Journey Generator
  • Strange Bedfellows

$25 tier (includes both lower tiers):

  • Digital Maps
  • Hex Crawl Chronicles 1-7
  • Chuck’s Dragons
  • Swords and Wizardry Card Decks
  • Tome of Horrors Complete
Categories
Tabletop RPGs

Free Talislanta PDFs, and where to start

I was noodling about RPG setting material I’ve always meant to read, and I remembered a truly excellent thing: Stephan Michael Sechi, creator of Talislanta, generously makes available virtually ever Talislanta product ever published in PDF, with permission granted to download, modify, and print for personal use only, for free. That’s over 30 PDFs spanning the 2nd through 5th edition of the game — plus a separate library just for maps.

What is Talislanta, setting-wise, and why might it interest you? I can’t think of a better summary than this Stephan Michael Sechi quote from the introduction to the 5th edition Player’s Guide:

“My main objective was to create a fantasy world that was not based on Euorpean [sic] mythology, as most other RPGs had done; hence the “No Elves” slogan, which we used in Talislanta ads that we later ran in Dragon Magazine.

I read all of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books, Lovecraft’s The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath, Marco Polo’s The Travels, and back issues of Heavy Metal magazine (especially Druilette’s Salambo, in which if you look closely enough you might find the inspiration for the Jhangarans). And I confess to partaking of one of Turkey’s finest products nightly, which helped inspire most of the visual elements of Talislanta, and some remarkably lucid dreams I had of actually visiting Talislanta.”

Now that is a setting.

Where to start

If you’re totally new to Talislanta, P.D. Breeding-Black’s amazing cover to the 2nd edition Talislanta Handbook and Campaign Guide — reproduced above — makes a fantastic first impression, and that may be all you need. It illustrates a Talislantan Thrall, a member of a race descended from an army of magically-created warrior slaves. Thralls of the same gender are 100% identical; you can only tell them apart by their tattoos.

For a second impression, though, download that book from the Talislanta site and turn to page 46, Character Types, where you’ll find several pages like this:

And this:

Looking at all of those wonderful possibilities, from Xambrian wizard hunter to Yitek tomb-robber to ice giant to Za bandit, with all that they imply about Talislanta as a setting, piques my interest like nothing else, and it may do the same for you.

And then . . .

If your interest is piqued, check out the Talislanta site’s Help, I Have Questions! page, which is excellent. That FAQ recommends Talislanta Fantasy Roleplaying, 4th edition, as the best jumping-on point for folks new to the setting. The 4th edition core book compiles almost everything written for 1st-3rd editions into a 500-page doorstop of a tome. (There’s also a 60-page sampler for 4th edition, available on the same page, specifically designed as an intro for newbies.)

To their advice I’ll add that the 24-page overview of the entire setting in the 5th edition Player’s Guide book is fabulous, well-organized, and presents a ton of information in an easily digestible format. That’s hard to do, particularly for a setting as quirky as Talislanta!

If all of this material sounds like too much, take heart. Here’s an excerpt from the FAQ:

“Talislanta focuses on breadth instead of depth. While there are so many different lands and cultures in the book that I won’t even attempt to count them all, due to the time and effort it would take, each of these lands or peoples is described in an average of about 3 pages. […] Gamemasters should view this as a good thing. What it means is that you are given a vast world with limitless possibilities and well-defined cultures. At the same time you are spared the minutiae and laborious detail that other settings focus on.”

Despite being interested in it ever since I was a kid — when I saw their famous “no elves…” ads in Dragon Magazine — I’ve never actually read much Talislanta stuff. Having rediscovered this library, I can’t wait to dig deeper. Happy reading!

Categories
Tabletop RPGs

Ars Magica after 18 sessions: what an amazing RPG

My Seattle group is coming up on a year of Ars Magica (paid link) play, using 5e — my first experience with Ars. We’ve played around 20 sessions (I’ve missed a couple, but I’ve been there for 18), covering about a year of in-game time, and I say without hyperbole that I will happily play this campaign until I totter into a nursing home if that’s an option.

Out of the roughly 130 RPGs I’ve played, Ars Magica is one of only two games that I currently rate a 10/10. Here’s why I love it so much.

Ars is above the crunch level I’d usually consider for a long-term game (purely a personal preference), but every bit of that crunch is put to good use — it’s not just there for the sake of it. The game mechanics tee things up to deliver meaningful, engaging play by taking full advantage of that crunch — and you don’t need all of it at any one time. The core mechanic is quite simple. The game design, by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein-Hagen (the original designers), with David Chart at the helm of fifth edition, is brilliant.

It’s also a fascinating, unique beast in many different ways. It’s designed for troupe play: We have six players, and each of us created two characters for ourselves (a magus, who is central to the campaign but goes on fewer adventures than one might think, and a companion, a sort of “anything goes” character you typically wind up playing more often) and three grogs — minor characters — for the group. Every session, we divvy up characters differently.

Someone plays their magus; they’re in the spotlight. A couple folks play their companions. The others pick suitable grogs from the pool (whether they originally created them or not), and take on a supporting character role. And in the background, the other ~40 characters who live in and around our wizard tower keep the place running, just like a medieval manor house. It’s beautiful.

And then there’s the temporal scope, which is epic: Wizards can live for a really long time. You can pace play however you like, but it works well as a mix of seasonal and in-the-moment play. During seasonal play — which could be at the table or “offline,” between sessions — you raise skills, read magical tomes, add buildings to your covenant, and the like. That’s interspersed with adventures, typically one or two per year, where you undertake whatever the hell the wizards think is important.

And then — and then! — there’s the magic system, which mixes formulaic spells with spontaneous magic using a brilliant set of mechanics. It’s all built around combining a verb, like creo for creating something, with a noun, like aquam for water. You can look at any wizard’s stats in those verbs and nouns and have a pretty good idea of what they’re capable of — which is a LOT. I keep underestimating how good our novice magi are at doing all sorts of shit that would just wreck other RPGs. And the game supports just coming up with wild shit, plugging into the framework of the rules, and making it happen.

And it all has consequences! The characters exist in a web of responsibilities, intrigue, danger, obligation, relationships, power plays, and machinations that lends weight to everything you do at the table.

There’s so much to Ars, both in terms of the rulebook, which isn’t small, and in terms of the scope of play and the setting itself, that I really have no idea how to encapsulate it all in a blog post.

The short version is that Ars Magica is a thing of beauty, and I love it.

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Into the Odd is delightful

I missed the boat on Chris McDowall​’s Into the Odd, but eventually figured out that I was missing something splendid. It’s out of print, but the PDF is a dandy $8 and I love coil binding, so here we are.

Here’s the blurb:

Into the Odd contains everything you need to create a character and explore an industrial world of cosmic meddlers and horrific hazards. This is a fast, simple game, to challenge your wits rather than your understanding of complex rules.

You seek Arcana, strange devices hosting unnatural powers beyond technology. They range from the smallest ring to vast machines, with powers from petty to godlike. Beside these unnatural items that they may acquire, your characters remain grounded as mortals in constant danger.

It’s a great book. Tight. Taut. Pregnant with possibilities. It does a lot between the lines, and even more that looks innocuous but is actually delightfully clever. And it includes a marvelous on-ramp in the form of an introductory dungeon, a hexcrawl surrounding said dungeon, and a starting city — plus a raft of tables to flesh things out on the fly.

I absolutely love its leveling system, which is handled not by XP but by the number of expeditions you’ve survived (and later on, shepherded others through), and the mechanics for buying military units and starting businesses which hum along between sessions are fantastic.

There are so many small-yet-not-small flourishes in Into the Odd that I won’t try to catalog them all here. Chris offers a free edition of Into the Odd so you can get a feel for the game before plunking down some cash, and many of those flourishes are on display in that version of the game.

I want to run at least a one-shot of Into the Odd to see what it feels like in play — probably straight from the book, as there’s plenty in that intro adventure and its environs to get a campaign off the ground.

Categories
D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Agreement, rough edges, and combat as sport vs. war

This post is a round-up of three things that crossed my path and grabbed my attention, all RPG-related.

Gygax on agreement

I found this fascinating 1975 Gary Gygax quote over on The Acaeum:

Dave and I disagree on how to handle any number of things, and both of our campaigns differ from the “rules” found in DandD. If the time ever comes when all aspects of fantasy are covered and the vast majority of its players agree on how the game should be played, DandD will have become staid and boring indeed. Sorry, but I don’t believe that there is anything desirable in having various campaigns playing similarly to one another. DandD is supposed to offer a challenge to the imagination and to do so in many ways. Perhaps the most important is in regard to what the probabilities of a given situation are. If players know what all of the monster parameters are, what can be expected in a given situation, exactly what will happen to them if they perform thus and so, most of the charm of the game is gone. Frankly, the reason I enjoy playing in Dave Arneson’s campaign is that I do not know his treatments of monsters and suchlike, so I must keep thinking and reasoning in order to “survive”. Now, for example, if I made a proclamation from on high which suited Mr. Johnstone, it would certainly be quite unacceptable to hundreds or even thousands of other players. My answer is, and has always been, if you don’t like the way I do it, change the bloody rules to suit yourself and your players. DandD enthusiasts are far too individualistic and imaginative a bunch to be in agreement, and I certainly refuse to play god for them — except as a referee in my own campaign where they jolly well better toe the mark.

Looking at the last 40-plus years, at all of what’s come after that quote D&D-wise, this quote is mindblowing. So many things that have become commonplace assumptions in many RPGs are gleefully and confidently disregarded in this paragraph. I love it.

1975 was still salad days for D&D — the era of OD&D, and of this quote (also Gygax) from the afterword to The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (emphasis mine):

We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you?

I love that ethos as a GM and as a player. It’s directly at odds with the existence of supplements (and many other aspects of the RPG industry, including some of the books I publish) and other books I enjoy, though, so I’m also always torn about how it applies in practical terms. But as a foundation and a navigational aid, it’s one of the principles I like most about old-school RPGs and gaming in general.

Maliszewski on rough edges

I’ve spent quite a bit of time mulling over this excellent GROGNARDIA post. Back when I first read it, it didn’t sound like what I wanted out of gaming. Nowadays, I couldn’t agree more.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every session of my D&D campaign to come with guaranteed fun. That may seem odd, but it’s not. Most of us, I think, if we’re honest, understand that we like rough edges — we need rough edges. Something that’s too smooth, too formulaic, especially in the pursuit of entertainment, will wind up producing its antithesis.“

Looking back on my best gaming experiences, they often had rough edges — and maybe those were integral to making the overall experience richer. To get the alchemy that makes gaming so exciting, you have to accept that sometimes lead just stays lead, and not everything has to be perfect.

Combat as sport vs. combat as war

I remember seeing this thread about combat in different editions of D&D going around (and around) a while back and never clicking on it. But a year or so ago, when I finally read it, it changed my understanding of D&D. It articulates things I’d previously thought about in a nebulous way, but could never have put into words this clearly.

Here’s a few excerpts from the original post by Daztur:

Without quite realizing it, people are having the exact same debate that constantly flares up on MMORPG blogs about PvP: should combat resemble sport (as in World of Tanks PvP or arena combat in any game) or should it resemble war (as in Eve PvP or open world combat in any game). […]

I think that these same differences hold true in D&D, let me give you an example of a specific situation to illustrate the differences: the PCs want to kill some giant bees and take their honey because magic bee honey is worth a lot of money. Different groups approach the problem in different ways.

Combat as Sport: the PCs approach the bees and engage them in combat using the terrain to their advantage, using their abilities intelligently and having good teamwork. The fighter chooses the right position to be able to cleave into the bees while staying outside the radius of the wizard’s area effect spell, the cleric keeps the wizard from going down to bee venom and the rogue sneaks up and kills the bee queen. These good tactics lead to the PCs prevailing against the bees and getting the honey. The DM congratulates them on a well-fought fight.

Combat as War: the PCs approach the bees but there’s BEES EVERYWHERE! GIANT BEES! With nasty poison saves! The PCs run for their lives since they don’t stand a chance against the bees in a fair fight. But the bees are too fast! So the party Wizard uses magic to set part of the forest on fire in order to provide enough smoke (bees hate smoke, right?) to cover their escape. Then the PCs regroup and swear bloody vengeance against the damn bees. They think about just burning everything as usual, but decide that that might destroy the value of the honey. So they make a plan: the bulk of the party will hide out in trees at the edge of the bee’s territory and set up piles of oil soaked brush to light if the bees some after them and some buckets of mud. Meanwhile, the party monk will put on a couple layers of clothing, go to the owl bear den and throw rocks at it until it chases him. He’ll then run, owl bear chasing him, back to where the party is waiting where they’ll dump fresh mud on him (thick mud on thick clothes keeps bees off, right?) and the cleric will cast an anti-poison spell on him. As soon as the owl bear engages the bees (bears love honey right?) the monk will run like hell out of the area. Hopefully the owl bear and the bees will kill each other or the owl bear will flee and lead the bees away from their nest, leaving the PCs able to easily mop up any remaining bees, take the honey and get the hell out of there. They declare that nothing could possibly go wrong as the DM grins ghoulishly.

So much of what I enjoy about older editions of D&D and dislike about 3.x and 4e, and what I enjoy about sandboxes, is neatly encapsulated in the sport vs. war analogy. I’ve returned to it many times over the past few months, and I wanted to make sure it was archived here on Yore for future reference.

Categories
Comics

Rat Queens fucking rules

I love getting reading recommendations, but my to-read shelves are such an embarrassment, particularly when it comes to comics, that I don’t always take them. But after a visit to Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique (which rocks!), I took one: Rat Queens (paid link).

I heard about RQ when it launched, but had too much on my plate to give it a look. I’m sorry I waited so long, because it’s excellent.

Written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated, at least initially, by Roc Upchurch (he was kicked off the series after being arrested for domestic abuse, but apparently he’s coming back), Rat Queens is in many ways a raunchy love letter to D&D and fantasy tropes.

(Cover by Fiona Staples.)

It’s feminist and funny and inclusive and bloody and surprising, and I love it. The back-cover blurb from the first trade sums it up nicely:

They’re a pack of booze guzzling, death dealing battle maidens-for-hire and they’re in the business of killing all the gods’ creatures for profit.

I’m Team Hannah, the foul-mouthed elven mage:

. . . but I dig all of the main characters: Violet, the hipster dwarven fighter who was shaving off her beard before it was cool; Dee, the atheist cleric who was raised in what’s basically a Cthulhu cult; and Betty, the smidgen (think halfling) drug-cooking thief. They do a lot of the things an average old-school D&D party might do — start fights, cause trouble, and murder their way across the countryside — but they also right wrongs and try to help people. It’s a good mix.

Maybe the best recommendation I can give is this one: I’ve been on a manga tear for the past few months, to the point that I found myself accidentally reading Rat Queens right-to-left several times, and Rat Queens is the first American comic out of a stellar lineup of potential candidates to break that streak.[1] It’s splendid, and I can’t wait for the second trade.

[1] It also broke my 3.5-month streak of not blogging. I figured something would — I’ve been busy doing other stuff, not avoiding blogging per se — but I didn’t expect it to be Rat Queens.

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

An overlooked OSR gem: Lesserton and Mor

Lesserton and Mor, written by Joel and Jeff Sparks of Faster Monkey Games, is a product that I don’t think has received its due. It’s a fantastic, unique, flavorful, and versatile sourcebook for a premade city and its neighboring open-air megadungeon, and it’s incredibly cool. (Update: And it’s now free in PDF!)

For starters, just look at this glorious Peter Mullen cover:

The late, great Steve Zieser did all of the interior art, and his style — like Mullen’s — matches up beautifully with L&M’s “dirty British fantasy” aesthetic.

The hook

L&M has an awesome premise: The ancient city of Mor, “mankind’s proudest achievement,” was sacked by barbarians, and then destroyed in a mysterious cataclysm. The refugees of Mor made their new home next door, and grew that ragged settlement into the city of Lesserton — “the adventurer’s paradise,” a home base for those brave and foolhardy enough to venture into Mor to claim its riches.

Lesserton is fully described in L&M, from districts to buildings to personalities to laws. But Mor is not — Mor, you make yourself. It’s even possible to roll it up as you play, creating new hexes and populating them as the PCs venture into unexplored territory (along the lines of my own Hexmancer).

What’s inside

L&M is a shrinkwrapped bundle, old-school style: a wraparound cardstock cover, unattached to the three booklets inside. The loose cover doubles as a map of Mor, intended to be filled in as you go. Inside are three books: a ref’s guide to Lesserton, a thinner players’ guide to Lesserton, and a guide to rolling up your own Mor.

Lesserton reminds me of WFRP’s Middenheim and Terry Pratchett‘s Ankh-Morpork — two of my favorite fantasy cities — but it’s also its own animal. It’s populated by a ragtag mix of people, including many part-ork (“orkin”) folk descended from the original invaders of Mor, and home to all manner of gambling houses, pubs, and brothels. (“Fantasy Mos Eisley” would also be decent shorthand.)

The Referee’s Guide to Lesserton plumbs its depths rather well, and packs a lot of stuff into 68 pages. It’s not chaff, either — it’s stuff you’ll actually use at the table (like another of my favorite city books, Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, which I’ve written about on Yore).

There are regular pit fights, places to rob, weird shops where you can buy weird shit, normal shops that will sell you adventuring gear, and on and on. There’s a whole section on carousing, which I now realize I missed in my look at carousing in D&D from 1977 to present, and it’s great.

I loathe homework in RPGs, but I love players’ guides to settings; for me to be happy, players’ guides need to be extremely well done, or they’re just homework. The Player’s Guide to Lesserton is extremely well done. For starters, it’s 16 pages long.

What’s the city like? One page, boom. Where is X? There’s a map on the back cover. “I want to get shitfaced.” Covered. “I got too shitfaced, where do they take drunks here?” Covered. “Where do I gamble/drink/fuck?” Covered.

Also covered are lots of things that feel very Lesserton to me. For example, Brinkley’s Assurity Trust will, for 100gp, sell you a bumblebee pin that signals to the orkin tribes who live in Mor that there’s a ransom for your safe return. That’s brilliant! L&M is full of touches like that; it’s designed for play, not just reading (or worse, endless, droning setting-wankery), and it shows.

Finally, there’s the Referee’s Guide to Mor, plus its companion map. This booklet (28 pages, also a great length for what it needs to do) opens with useful background on Mor — what was where, what sort of city it was, and the like. That gives you a good foundation for improvisation during play.

The balance of the book is a framework for generating your own version of Mor, hex by hex, either in advance or on the spot. Random terrain, random buildings, random encounters, special areas (caches, dead magic zones, excavations, etc.) — pure hexcrawl goodness. It even covers generating the orkin clans who call Mor home.

Awesome possum

Put it all together, and L&M is a hell of a toolbox. To stretch the toolbox analogy a bit, it’s like a toolbox that contains some top-notch tools you’re likely to need, as well as the parts to make the ones it’d be more fun to create yourself, and an owner’s manual to help you make the most of both.

I rarely hear anyone talk about Lesserton and Mor, which is a shame — it’s a true gem of a setting. I rate it a 10/10, and heartily recommend it.

Categories
DCC RPG Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG: convention funnel edition

When I thought about what I wanted to be able to run on short notice at Go Play NW, if the opportunity arose, DCC RPG was on the list — except I didn’t want to carry the whole rulebook.

Having already trimmed the rulebook down to 18 pages, I wondered if I could go even lighter by printing out a version that only includes the rules I needed to run a funnel. There’s stuff in the “core 18” pages that doesn’t apply to funnels, but for a pickup game with strangers I’d also want a few other things included. Here’s what I came up with.

Funnel packet

So what’s in the pile? Seven things (starting in the bottom left in the photo, and working deeper into the pile):

  1. A stack of pregenerated peasants, produced using Purple Sorcerer’s o-level party generator[1] and then cut out, so that we could draw randomly for everyone’s PCs (which feels appropriately DCC).
  2. The 12-page convention funnel edition of the DCC rules, which is only the stuff you need to run pregenerated peasants, and nothing else. Setting aside the cover pages (use whatever you like), and using the printed page numbers from the 4th printing (not the numbers my PDF reader assigns), that’s:
    • Skill checks, pp.66-67
    • Equipment and related rules, pp.70-73
    • Combat, pp.76-82
    • Damage, healing, and other misc. rules, pp.93-96
  3. The Portal Under the Stars, a fantastic funnel, printed straight from the core rulebook (pp.452-456); ideal for a short session.
  4. A second funnel option, Sailors on the Starless Sea, which I haven’t run before but have heard only good things about; ideal for a longer session, at least four hours.
  5. A character creation packet, pp.18-24,[2] in case we decided to make characters. I wanted to have that option, because making funnel PCs is fun.
  6. Extra copies of the occupation tables, pp.22-23, because experience has taught me that having more than one of these available is a big timesaver.
  7. A few blank “four-up” 0-level PC sheets, also from Purple Sorcerer, which are hiding at the very bottom.

The whole idea is to reduce size and handling time. If I was less concerned about carrying stuff, I’d have stuck the pages in a binder; keeping them as little packets made them smaller. Making packets also helps with handling time: Not creating PCs? Set that packet aside, and now I don’t have to flip past those pages to look up rules I actually need.

I didn’t wind up running DCC at the con — my lone pickup session was of another game I’d brought, The Quiet Year (one of my favorite RPGs). But the next time I need my “convention edition,” it’ll already be there in a tidy little stack, just waiting to mangle some peasants.

[1] With the option to only show Luck modifiers if they matter turned on, because those are just noise to first-time players.

[2] This could easily be included in the main packet, and it does contain rules that aren’t unique to character creation — stuff about saving throws, etc. I’ve run enough DCC that I don’t need these basics handy.

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Books

Uprooted is a fantastic look at a fairy-tale reality

I’ve rounded the horn on 2016 Hugo Awards finalist novels, wrapping up Naomi Novik‘s Uprooted (paid link) on Sunday night. Seveneves (paid link) was a 5/5 that roared through my brain, and The Fifth Season (paid link) was a 5/5 that took a bit of time to get rolling, so I was curious to see if Uprooted would keep the streak alive.

Like Jemisin, Novik was new to me; the blurb suggested that Uprooted had a fairy-tale thing going, which didn’t sound awesome . . . but the first few pages grabbed me hard, and I bought it on the spot. I blazed through the book in just a few days, because Uprooted was awesome — a rich, textured yarn set in a world where fairy-tale logic and magic is real, which fully explores just what that would mean for its people.

(Apart from mentioning what’s in the blurb or within the first few pages, and a quote from around 16% of the way in, this post is spoiler-free.)

From a simple foundation

There’s an evil woods.

There’s a mysterious wizard who lives in a tower, and who demands one village girl every decade in tribute.

There’s a witch.

Bored yet? On the face of it, those things sound pretty dull.

But that’s the fairy-tale thing at work: Uprooted is built on a deceptively simple foundation. None of those ideas are new — but what Novik does with them is both novel and delightful.

An exploration

What does it mean when a forest is evil? Not just dark and dreary and full of monsters, but actively — proactively — evil? And why would ordinary folks lives within a stone’s throw of its edge?

Given the prevalence of Forests of DoomTM in fantasy literature, I wouldn’t have expected there to be many interesting answers to those questions left unplumbed, but Novik does just that — and more.

The forest — the Wood — is truly creepy. It reminds me a lot of the Zone in Roadside Picnic (paid link): a place that operates on its own rules, unrelated to humanity’s, and which is incredibly dangerous.

Here’s one of my favorite examples, a throwaway bit from early on in the book:

Two years ago, an easterly wind had caught our friend Trina on the riverbank while she was doing some washing. She came back stumbling and sick, the clothing in her basket coated with a silver-grey pollen.

Because it’s the Wood, that breeze wasn’t errant or random, and because it’s the Wood, even just the fucking pollen is enough to wreck your shit.

Everything about Uprooted, from its remarkable protagonist and her allies to the way fairy-tale logic comes to make sense in the context of its setting, is that good. Novik delves deeply into each element, spinning things out and unfurling surprises as she goes.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but only a bit, and apart from that I loved everything about Uprooted (paid link). It’s a 5/5 for me — three for three among the Hugo finalist novels I’ve read so far. Uprooted is high on my list of favorite standalone, no-previous-experience-necessary fantasy novels.

Moar Hugos plz

Up next in my Hugo finalist reading, I think, will be The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (paid link). I’m tired of steampunk, but I sampled it last night and was hooked inside the first few pages — much like Uprooted. As a Butcher fan, I expect this one to be a fun ride.