For a while now I’ve been wanting to write a Game Master report on Blood & Treasure. I mean, the game looks great on paper, but how does it work in real play?
I have used Blood & Treasure Complete as the game engine for my latest D&D style game. First a few one-shots to try it out, then for my current campaign set in Frog God Games Lost Lands setting. As usual I’m taking liberties with the “canon” so up to now I’ve put in stuff written for Pits & Perils as well as Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I also use my own added variant rules (such as horror/sanity) et cetera.
When I first started I had decided to stick to the core classes and races, but then I decided to let the dogs of war free in this game and so I allow most of the classes and races in NOD Companion as well as the class variants found in Heroes of Lore. Some of the playable monsters from the monster section is also allowed. I have also raised PC hit points by one die (so if your Cleric rolls a d6 for hit points, it’s now a d8) to more or less AD&D standard. At the same time monsters no longer use d6 for hit points, but variable HD according to size.
We also use the skill system (named Heroic Tasks in B&T) as well as the Feat/Talent system, and they do not take anything from the play experience as they are simple and easy to use. (Both of these are however optional and can be easily left out if you want a more old school-ish experience).
In a sense this particular game is all but traditional OSR. On the other hand the players have a lot of freedom of choice to create and play a different character if they like. My fears that this would slide out of hand was unfounded because most of the current characters are plain vanilla ones out of the core book. And both the aesthetics and play style is very old school, just like we did it back in the day.
So how does it work out then?
I must say excellent! Despite using modern game concepts, the game flow is very old school and we have a lot of fun. The PCs are definitely tougher than their OSR cousins, but on the other hand I can throw harder challenges at them. And if someone dies, making a new character is very quick. On-the-fly conversion from Swords & Wizardry or Lamentations of the Flame Princess is also easy, especially from S&W. Being a huge d100/BRP fan I also appreciate the skill system as it matches very well with my GM style.
Complexity-wise, the game feels like Swords & Wizardry with added 3e-isms like 3 saves, ascending AC and so on. The extra rules crunch is absent though, as is the elevated power level of 3e, as the author has tuned down the power level to about AD&D.
Being a game that “lives between editions” has also made it an easy sell to all ” edition camps” in my play group. Both old school as well as Pathfinder afficionados like the game. In other words it’s a good middle ground for fans of all flavors of D&D. Some compromises, yes, but acceptable to most players methinks. The mix of ideas from all editions incorporated into the game also makes for pretty easy compatibility both with older as well as newer editions of the game.
About the only thing I’m not 100% happy with is the Heroic Task (skill) system. It was written to function both as a 3e style skill system as well being backwards compatible with x-in-6 chance system of old. I think that it matches the x-in-6 chance system best and it doesn’t give the GM all the tools to vary skill challenges as much as I like.
Basically, the skill system works like this:
Anyone can try any skill/task.
You have one of three levels of expertise (or lack thereof):
- Unskilled (static target number 18 to succeed).
- Knack (static target number 15 to succeed).
- Skilled (dynamic target number equal to the saving throw category connected with the task, for example Bend Bars is connected to Fortitude). It also gets better as you level up since the save number will decrease.
What happens in play is player confusion among the player’s when they have a skill and struggle to find the correct save category. We have discussed this in the group and all the players agree on this. As a GM it’s also confusing, since the skills are named after the old school abilities like Bend Bars, Hide in Shadows etc. Which one do I use when a player says that he scans the horizon for any movement? I’d say Perception but there’s no such skill so I have to look for one to use consistently whenever someone wants to try something in the Perception-y area. Not always 100% clear. I have made some rule hacks and conventions regarding this, but I still think the system is clunky if you intend to use it as a skill system. If you use it the old school way, it makes perfect sense though.
Another thing I’ve noticed in play is that some of the Feats/Talents are a bit overpowered (at least for my tastes) despite that the author has nerfed then a lot from their 3e counterparts. This especially goes for the Two Weapon Fighting feat which we now have toned down even more.
As there’s a new edition of Blood & Treasure in the works, I hope that the author will incorporate some simpler rules variant for the skill/task checks.
To summarize, I couldn’t be happier with a rule set than Blood & Treasure. It is simple to GM and both flows and feels like the old school games we used to play back in the day, but with some cool newer things added. I also appreciate how easy it is to exclude things that you don’t like or if you want to add things from another OSR game. And the wealth of monsters, spells and gear in the core book is massive.
Blood & Treasure is easily my go-to OSR game as it can take the place of both older and newer editions of the game with ease. Moreover, it’s lightness on rules makes it very easy to run at the table. And it lets your GM juices run free when creating adventures, letting you do things with ease and not get bogged down in a mire of esoteric rules. It also lets you run your old B2 module along with newer 3.x/Pathfinder module, although newer stuff demands some conversion beforehand. Older materials and OSR adventures can be run off the cuff as is. I just love this game and have high expectations for the upcoming 2nd edition!