On Krampus, the Yule Ram and feeling silly…

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Krampus comes for the wicked…

About a year ago I wrote a blog post about some new OSR monsters centered around the Yule-demon – called Sandy Claws in some parts of my game world and based on the old Swedish Yule Ram (Link to old post).

Fast forward to yesterday – me and my wife spent Christmas Eve by ourselves, since the kids are with their mother this Christmas. We wanted to see something christmas-y, so we watched Krampus. Rather crappy movie. But it had some elements that were very similar to my Yule Demon ideas.

Which made me feel stupid. Here I came up with some fresh ideas that turned out to be centuries old…:)

Anyway, I did some research here and it turns out that Krampus is a creature stemming from an area in central Europe, including Bavaria, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary and nothern Italy. Funny thing is that I’m half Croatian and my mother has never ever mentioned this figure despite being from a small town situated not one hour from the Austrian border and the city of Saltzburg. This part of Croatia was very much a part of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy and as a culture has very much in common with Austrian culture. When I go to my mother and sister later today I’ll ask about Krampus – I’m sure she knows the myths.

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Krampus christmas card

Basically, Krampus is anathema to Saint Nicholaus – where Santa brings gifts to nice children, Krampus punishes the naughty ones.

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Yule Ram by John Bauer

The Swedish Yule Ram which today is only remembered as a small wicker decoration that you keep beside the christmas tree (or a giant one that is torched by vandals every year) is thought to initially have come from the Aesir faith and Thor’s twin rams, which then in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were mixed with the Krampus myths from German tradition. This figure was a benign being, holding the same role as Santa does today – i.e. he comes bearing gifts. These days however, it’s all Santa, but the Yule Ram tradition still lives in some parts of Finland apparently.

Well. You learn as long as you live I suppose.

And Merry Christmas 🙂

 

 

 

Casual update: What’s going on with this blog?

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Some of you might have noticed that activity on this blog has crept to a halt since summer.

That’s because I’m now fully in Call of Cthulhu land, GM:ing the wonderful Masks of Nyarlahotep campaign using the CoC 6th ed. rules.

And as time is limited I tend to blog about the games I currently play or run.


For those interested in Call of Cthulhu and d100/BRP gaming I keep a blog here:

https://sanityzeroblog.wordpress.com

And all game session recaps from our group (any game system) can be found here:

https://fistofd20s.wordpress.com

And finally the game session recaps from our current Call of Cthulhu game:

https://fistofd20s.wordpress.com/category/masks-of-nyarlahotep/

And don’t worry – activity here will increase when we’re back playing D&D-ish games again 🙂

Cheers

/anders aka dawnrazor

 

Flavors of the OSR part 7: Blood & Treasure 2nd edition

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The new covers are definitely prettier than the old ones

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition by John Stater

Note: This post covers the new edition of Blood & Treasure and will of course to some extent focus on the changes from the 1st edition. If you are interested, I did a blog post on that a few years ago, which you can find here.

Type: Hybrid (Mix of many editions: includes elements from AD&D, OD&D, B/X, 3E, Pathfinder and from other OSR games)

Availability: No free version. Full art PDF and print versions (paper- and hardback) at LULU. PDFs only at RPGNow.

Form factor: Good looking color cover, b/w books with cool old school inspired fantasy art. The core rules are divided into two books (see above): Rulebook (basically Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide in D&D terms) and Monster (Monster Manual). The books are clear and well-written, having a higher crunch than say Swords & Wizardry Complete, but still on the simple side of things.

Community: Support for B&T is mainly by the author himself on his blog. There is also a little-used forum, and two G+ groups: Blood & Treasure RPG (B&T exclusive) and Land of Nod (about all John Stater’s games).

Product support: Good. Mr Stater runs his publishing as a one man show, but he is ridiculously productive. Sadly, the OSR community haven’t taken Blood & Treasure to their hearts like some of the more prolific OSR variants. As far as I’m aware, I am the only one who have published 3rd party adventures for B&T (1st edition) under my fictive publishing house Lazy Sod Press. There are also 3rd party sourcebook style PDFs from Tanner Yea over at Old Soul Games. However, there are no 3rd party products yet for the 2nd edition of B&T.

Tinkerability: Very good. And not very much in need since the rules cover most situations that will come up in-game.

Compatibility: “Excellent Smithers, excellent….” I’ve mostly used Frog God’s “Lost Lands” materials for my B&T games, but also stuff written for LotFP, D&D 3e, Pits & Perils and Labyrinth Lord. And it all just works, with a minimum of fuss.

Flavor: If B&T 1e was Pathfinder light mashed up with Swords & Wizardry, B&T can be said to be the same, but with added emphasis for Swords & Wizardry and old D&D and just some concepts retained from Pathfinder.


Statblock:

AC: Ascending (unarmored man is AC 10)

Saves: 1 (S&W style, with bonuses instead of separate tables)

Level range: 1-20

Race & Class: Separate

Classes included*: Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Duelist, Fighter, Magic-user, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer and Thief.

Races included: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Halfling, Half-Elf and Half-Orc. Several of the monsters are also given PCs statistics and are usable as player races at the GMs discretion.

Hit Dice: Varying according to class (similar to S&W in values)

Monster Hit Dice: Static, d6

XP Charts: Variable, each class has its own xp chart

Multi-class: Yes (demi-humans)

Dual-class: Yes (humans, half-orcs and half-elves)

Demi-human class and level restrictions: no restrictions for class or level, but restrictions on multi-class combinations for demi-humans.

Class requirements: Yes (i.e to play a monk you have to have Strength 12, Wisdom 13 and Dexterity 15).

*All the classes also have a class variant included in the book. For example, the Assassin can be modified to a Bounty Hunter, Magic-Users can be Specialist Mages (Evoker, Conjurer etc) and Clerics can be Specialty Clerics (Death Cult, Creation Cult, Scholar Cult etc).


Thoughts

Most of what I wrote about Blood & Treasure 1st edition is true for the 2nd edition as well. This post is more about the changes between editions. For ease of reading I include the 1st edition blurb below (last in the section). Now on to the 2nd edition!

After reading the books (haven’t played B&T 2e yet) the thing that strikes me the most is that B&T now feels more like it’s own game rather than an old-schoolized variant on the 3e SRD. The 3e-isms are still there, but more hidden under the hood. The game has also taken a few steps back towards old school tropes.

Examples of changes:

  • 0-level spells. These are now moved to the 1st level spell list.
  • The 3 saves are also gone, in favor of a single save a la S&W. Variation is instead by various situational bonuses like death, paralyzation etc. Very old school.
  • Individual xp charts. Previously, there were four charts covering all classes.
  • All classes get new cool and (unique for B&T) abilities at level 6, further making the game stand out in comparison to other OSR variant games.
  • Assassins lose their spellcasting abilities
  • Fighter and Duelist multiple attacks nerfed as they were way too powerful before
  • Brand new and simple task (skill) system

For a more complete overview, here’s a link to what the author has to say about the changes between editions: B&T changes from 1st to 2nd edition

All in all, the game has been tweaked back even further towards old school aesthetics and I think that many of the overpowered things (mainly found out in play by some of my more ambitious players) have been cast out. The rules have been streamlined even more from before and I think it’s a very good OSR rule set: B&T 2e is as simple as S&W Complete, but it comes with lots of options, which I think is missing from most “simple” variants of OSR style games. Lots of classes, gear, spells and monsters.

The books are also much prettier, with snazzy color covers and good interior art. Layout and graphical profile has also improved. The old books were good and working, but never pretty. However, I’m going to miss the “Complete Tome” book variant with all the rules in one mighty book. Another change is that the PDFs now are bookmarked. Very good and a must if you use PDFs at the gaming table. (I did my own bookmarking of the old complete book PDF and it was a boring job, but it also increased the use of the PDF immensely).

What I’m less fond of is the new saving throw system. The 3-save system is very easy and logical to use at the table and I can imagine that both me and my players will forget or look frantically in the book when it comes to saves. I also liked the simple xp charts from before. I never understood the charm of separate xp charts even if I get the idea behind the concept.

However, I’m sure that the new B&T, with it’s more “back-to-the-old-days” approach might appeal to more old schoolers than the first iteration. And hopefully we will see a rise in Blood & Treasure GMs and players. And more 3rd party products coming out as well.

The author has announced that he is working on two more books: Esoterica Exhumed (which is the 2e version of the NOD Companion) and Monsters II (which is the old Monster Tome), so support is ongoing. (I am also contemplating some new B&T 2e goodies, but at the time being my work schedule doesn’t allow much time for writing game stuff…)

In conclusion, Blood & Treasure 2nd edition is a prettier, more user friendly and more old school version of an already awesome game. Well done Mr Stater!


About Blood & Treasure 1st edition

“B&T has the cool stuff from 3.X added in the base package, in a clean and simple way. Many times these rules are optional, and you can skip them without breaking the game. This is the main strength of B&T in my opinion. You can play it 0E style or as 3.X light. As much as I love the simpler rules of earlier incarnations of the game, that simplicity often goes hand in hand with fewer options: few races, few classes, small armor and weapons lists, small spell lists, small monster lists and so on. And this is cool in a minimalistic way, but I like options. B&T provides a simple core rules engine, with a few cool optional add-ons if you like. And LOTS of stuff: 600+ spells and 500+ monsters! In one (or two) book(s)!

Some highlights from the rules, where B&T differs from other OSR games:

  • Heroic tasks – there’s a simple skill system included. Basically, different class and race abilities are codified into skills. Different classes get different skill packages at character generation, which gives them an edge trying to accomplish certain tasks. Everyone can try the tasks, but with different chances for success. If you’re unskilled, you roll a d20 against a target number of 18. Next level of expertise is to have a knack for a certain task. Target number then is 15. And if you have the skill, you roll against the relevant saving throw for that task, so as you go up in level your chances increase. In all these instances your ability modifier is added to the die roll. Difficulties are assigned by the GM in -2 increments. To illustrate: there’s a Heroic Task called Bend Bars, and it uses the Fortitude save + the Strength modifier. An unskilled PC would roll 1d20 + his Str modifier vs a target number of 18, while a skilled PC would roll a d20 + Str modifier vs his Fortitude save target number. The only skills that I miss personally is some kind of First Aid/Healing skill and some kind of general Lore skill. There’s also an optional system for letting PCs buy skills with skill points Pathfinder style.
  • Feats – If you like, there’s a list of about 30 feats that can be used. These are simple, and basically allows for some character customization. They never give more than +1 to stuff. You get a feat at 1st level, and then a new at 4th, 8th, 12th and 16th level. Or use whatever increments that you like. I’ve also added the ”old school feats” (originally written for S&W).
  • Combat maneuvres – The combat system includes rules for some maneuvers/stunts. Basically you roll to hit against a fixed target number. If successful the defender gets a save. If he rolls bad, your stunt succeeds.
  • Tactical advantage – Instead of fiddly rules for different situations, there’s a tactical advantage rule. If the attacker has an advantage he gets +2 to hit. If a defender has advantage, he gets +2 to AC. What constitutes an advantage is up to the GM, but examples could be higher ground and things like that.
  • Guns – If you want to include black powder weapons in your game, the rules are there.
  • 0-level spells – Yep. There’s 0-level spells for both Magic-Users and Clerics. Nothing advanced, but it gives spell casters something magicky to do…
  • Challenge levels – B&T uses a variant of challenge levels, just like S&W. These are used to compute Encounter levels, which forms the base for computing treasure.
  • There’s also sound advice in how to convert to and from other OSR games, how to construct or reskin monsters, rules for domains and large scale battles and even a section on monster templates.
  • Power levels are toned down from 3.X power bloat, and are more in line with older editions of the game.

These things might not be to everyone’s liking, but as I said earlier – cut away stuff you don’t like. Some might say that B&T isn’t an OSR game, but I think it’s just that. Or OSR+. Or whatever you want to call it. 

Physically, the books are LULU standard. There’s a Player’s Tome and a Treasure Keepers Tome and a Complete Tome with all the rules in one book. I have the Complete Tome and a copy of the Player’s Tome to use at the table. The only thing I miss is an index.

If the races and classes in the book(s) aren’t enough for you, there’s a PDF of new races and a PDF with lots of new class variants (5 of each base class). Both can be found on the author’s blog. Also, the excellent OSR magazine NOD has a bunch of new classes, spells and monsters and the author regularly posts new material on the blog. There’s also a section describing the game and the mechanics here (see Origins and Nuts & Bolts).

Some downsides to B&T are the problematic multi-classing thing. B&T has an elegant way of dealing with multi-class level advancement. They use a separate level table regardless of class. The problem is that even if xp requirements are the highest, the multi-classes are going to get much mightier than plain ol’ single class characters. This has been discussed on the forums, and the author has written down a few official optional methods for handling multi-class character leveling that should take care of that. Another thing is that the only class that gets multiple attacks when leveling is the fighter. That leaves the other Fighter subclasses in the backwaters in comparison.

And if you look for that old school esoteric writing style or Lamentations style evocative writing – there’s none of that here. The book(s) are very well written in short end effective prose, but that also makes them a bit non-personal and generic. Naturally, this is a very subjective point, but it’s one that I’ve thought about.

Sadly, I don’t think that this game has attracted nearly enough attention on the OSR scene, and this might be due to the fact that there’s no free version of the game. The PDFs and books are reasonably priced, but people are reluctant to pay for gaming stuff when there’s so much free stuff going on. Sad, because I think a lot of you guys would love this game if you see past it’s 3.X connection.

All in all, this feels like AD&D done right. Or 3.X as it should have been done. For me, the simplicity of the rules, coupled with the completeness and multitude of stuff, makes B&T my main choice for my new OSR campaign with my main play group. The book has been on my nightstand since I got it and I find that I return to it ever so often to look up stuff.

And even if you don’t want to use the rules, the spells and monster sections alone are worth the price of admittance. Basically, all the monsters and spells from the d20 SRD are accounted for. In a much simpler format. Very easily converted to your favourite OSR game.”


 

Review|Delta Green: Agent’s Handbook

Some thoughts on the new Delta Green Agent’s Handbook

Sanity Zer∅

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A few weeks ago I purchased the new Delta Green Agent’s handbook from my FLGS and after having read the book I’d like to share some thoughts on it.

For the record, I’m a long time DG fan, ever since I bought the first DG book (for Call of Cthulhu) back in 1997 and I have all the DG books for Call of Cthulhu. The new series of books, however are its own self contained RPG, by Arc Dream. This far the following products have been released:

  • Delta Green Agent’s Handbook (hardcover/PDF – basically a player’s handbook for the game)
  • Delta Green Need To Know (Softcover bundled w/ GM screen/free PDF – quick start rules)

The next book to make this a complete game is of course the Delta Green Case Officer’s Handbook (or Delta Green The RPG as I heard they renamed it) which will contain all of…

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Mini-review: New crit/fail decks for 5e

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The new 5e card decks from Nord Games

Earlier this week I finally received my new Game Master’s Toolbox card decks from Nord Games. They were Kickstarted a while back and I got in on the whole shebang: Critical Hit Deck for Players, Critical Hit Deck for GM’s, Critical Fail Deck and the Luck Deck.

Unfortunately, as I’m in the middle of a Call of Cthulhu/BRP binge, there will be some time before I get to test these cards in-game, but I will try to give a first impression of them here. 

The KS was run in a most professional way and I must also commend Nord Games for not swamping backers in bazillions of updates or ads for other Kickstarters.

The decks themselves are pretty, with OK art and they are printed on quality cardstock, with rounded corners and they come in sturdy boxes that I hope will hold out at the gaming table and in the GM bag.

Now, over to the decks…

Critical Hit Deck for Players

This is a 52-card deck with critical effects for when the players roll a natural 20 on an attack roll. The effects are divided in four severity levels: Setback, Dangerous, Life-Threatening and Deadly. Yes – you can behead an enemy just like that. To lessen the impact of these cards the authors recommend that you only use Setback cards at level 1-4, introducing Dangeous cards at level 5 etc. Or, you can use all cards from level 1. This is a good idea, making the use of the cards flexible for different groups. Each card has four entries, depending on what type of weapon was used in the attack: Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning or Magic. The type of attack is marked on the cards with a little symbol, portraying an old wax seal. Sadly, the symbols are tiny and it is very hard to see the difference even for a set of fresh eyes. For this middle-aged dude, it takes both excellent lighting and reading glasses to manage reading the symbols… Fortunately, the order is the same on the cards (from top down: Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning & Magic), so it shouldn’t be a big problem at the gaming table. The effects are often a damage multiplier and/or a save to be rolled or the monster will suffer some crippling effect.

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Hard to read wax symbols

 Critical Hit Deck for Game Masters

This is a 52-card deck that is the same as above, only for GMs. However, the effects are a bit different. Often a saving throw or the PC will suffer some crippling effect. Also, often damage multipliers, disadvantage on X and so on. On an initial reading I get the impression that PCs get more saves to negate the card effects than the monsters, but I’m not sure.

Critical Fail Deck

As above, a 52-card deck with fail effects for when players or GM:s roll a natural 1 on an attack roll. These cards also have a severity level (from easiest to hardest: Awkward, Embarrassing, Shameful and Disgraceful) and as with the critical hit decks the authors recommend that they are introduced gradually as the PCs level up. Or not. And just like the  crit decks, the Fails are grouped into four categories according to attack type: Melee, Ranged, Natural or Magic. And just like the crit decks, the symbols are tiny and very hard to read, but luckily arranged in the same order on the cards. The effects are varied and looks to be fun to roleplay out.

Luck Deck

This deck introduces a new mechanic to 5e – Good or Bad Luck. 52 cards as we have come to expect, half is Good Luck and half is Bad Luck. These cards are used when a player rolls a natural 1 or 20 on any d20 roll. If they roll 20 they take a Good Luck card (blue) and may keep it and use at any point in the game. If they roll a 1 they take a Bad Luck card (red) and lay it out in front of them, for the GM to use against the PC at any point in the game. A PC can only have one card of each type at any time. The cards may force the player/GM to re-roll a die roll, to automatically deal maximum damage, to get a bonus/penalty additional die on saves etc. Quite cool and definitely not overpowered. The authors also suggest that a Good Luck card may be handed out instead of an Inspiration point.

Summary

All in all, I like these cards and I think they will add some extra drama and opportunities for role-playing for our 5e games. The only negative is the hard to read “type” symbols, but fortunately they are in the same order so it should work out even for our group of middle-aged veterans.

The cards are basically the 5e version of Paizo’s Critical Hit/Fail Decks for Pathfinder, which we have used extensively in our Pathfinder games (with the other GM in our group). I do own the PF cards, having planned to use them for my OSR games but eventually I decided against since they contain a great deal of PF-only rules that are hard to apply to say, Blood & Treasure.

However, I do think that these 5e cards would work with OSR style games with minimal fuss, since they are more universal in scope and they do not rely so much on very specific rules.

Well done, Nord Games!

Link to the cards on Nord Games homepage