It’s a flavorful delight.
Rules needn’t be dull
SBVD presents fun, coherent rules that express the ethos of the game and the world, all in 36 pages. It’s everything I love about dirty British fantasy (which in turn is part of why the Fiend Folio [paid link] is my favorite monster book). Chris knows his B/X, and he knows his WFRP, and he groks them both.
By way of example
It’s easier to show than tell, so here are some of my favorite bits from SBVD.
Welcome to a fantasy world where the men are Baldrick, the dwarves are punk, and the dogs are small but vicious. Welcome to a world of bawds, grave robbers, excisemen and witchhunters; a place where “Blather”, “Flee!” and “Mime” are legitimate skill choices; and where all material on the insidious threat of Chaos is officially interchangeable between settings.
From the write-up on dwarves:
All dwarves are beersoaked beards on legs who stop mining only to fight, drink heavily and/or sing about mining. They consider everything they say and do to be SRS BZNZ and nurse a grudge like a Bretonnian nurtures a fine vintage wine. All perceived similarities between Dwarves and Yorkshiremen are coincidental.
It’s funny, but it’s also functional. I could play an SVBD dwarf character using only that description, and it would be a hoot. The game is excellent at combining concision with humor.
In SBVD, a character’s social status makes it harder for peasants to do anything against them:
Social position affects all dice rolls made directly against a particular character. […] Exactly how and why this works the way it does is something of a mystery: the consensus is that it’s rather difficult to beat the crap out of someone while you’re malnourished and/or busy doffing your cap. Either way, this rule prevents some dirty oiks with rusty knives and a plan from opportunistically assassinating the Kaiser.
This is a great example of a clever rule that’s also a fun read. The whole section on how social status runs less than a page, but it communicates a lot about the setting and the people in it, and the actual mechanics are excellent.
Lastly, here are items 4-9 from the list of stuff to keep in mind that closes out SBVD:
4. Everyone has an agenda, sometimes several.
5. It can always get worse, and generally should.
6. If in doubt, Chaos did it!
7. If it appears that Chaos didn’t do it, check harder.
Even if it never hits the table, Small But Vicious Dog is a fun read for fans of WFRP — or anyone interested in how to communicate RPG stuff clearly and briefly without it coming off as dry.
It also does some neat things to B/X D&D that could work well in other settings. For example, it immediately makes me think of the OSR setting Lesserton & Mor (paid link), which is criminally underrated (and which I should really post about sometime!) and shares some of the same dirty British fantasy feel.