Teaser: New adventure for FH&W and S&W in the works

FH&W1alt

Fiery the Angel Fell ‚Äď new adventure for FH&W and S&W

So. Back to normal routines after a short but nice summer vacation. The last weeks have been hectic with planning for the fall semester, job trips and research, rendering time for RPGs virtually zero. Doesn’t it suck when you realize after three days at work that your time is booked for months to come…

Anyway, today I did some progress on my new adventure module: Fiery the Angel Fell. This adventure is for Fantastic Heroes and Witchery and I will release a Swords & Wizardry version further up the road.

Fiery the Angel Fell is not a part of the Per Aspera Ad Inferi saga, but no less dark.The setting is a brooding quasi-eastern European realm with dark forests and craggy mountains. The basic premise is that children have been disappearing in the area and the PCs are hired to go to investigate an old monastery (complete with a leper colony!) in the nearby mountains. There will be plenty of opportunities to be a hero or to die horribly trying ūüėČ The opposition will be monstrous monks, a most devious succubus, new custom demons and a mad angel among other. What’s not to like, eh?

Maps, text and layout by me and art by David Lewis Johnson.

As usual, the PDF will be free from this blog, and there will be a Lulu PoD version as well, all in A5-format. There will also be separate map/handout packs and I will try to make maps with and without grids to appease different preferences (if I figure out how…)

Here’s a mock-up of the cover to wet your appetite!

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The Year of the Horse in gaming retrospect

Undead horde

2014 has been both a lousy and a great RPG year.

Lousy, because our at the table sessions have been quite few and also laden with real intra-group conflicts between some of the players. This has finally resulted in a player¬†quitting¬†the group altogether. Sad when such things happen, but maybe the remaining group will function better without the tension. We’ll see…

Good, because I finally tried online gaming, and hit precisely right in a new 5E game with some awesome people!

Anyway, the games we have played this year has been:

Pathfinder ‚Äď The first half of 2014 was spent playing Parts I and II of the Falcon’s Hollow adventures with the main group (with me as a player).

Swords & Wizardry Complete ‚Äď The original version of No Country For Weak Men, followed by Dyson Logos’ Ruins of the Gorgon (from Dysons Delves I)¬†and ¬†J. Raggi’s Tower of the Stargazer¬†for my son and nephew (with me as GM).

OpenQuest 2/Renaissance ‚Äď I also started an unholy mix of d100 mechanics and the Ravenloft setting. The campaign have been a slow starter, but finally we took off and now we’re in the middle of the Night of the Walking Dead module. Awesome! (I’m the GM in this game and if you are interested you can read more about it here¬†and here’s some actual game recaps).

D&D 5th edition ‚Äď Finally, I answered an ad for players on Google Plus, and ended up playing some really awesome home brew adventures with a group of cool people from all over the world. We play once a week and started out with two players, then three and now we are five. All are¬†5e noobs, and it has been a very good way to try and to learn the new rules in a stepwise fashion. When we started we used the free basic PDFs, but now we’re¬†using the full rules.

So, what about next year?

Since my PhD now is conquered and my new work assignments more in place, I imagine that there will be more time for gaming in the coming year. This is my 2015 RPG playing wishlist:

Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play ‚Äď I’ve collected most of the books for WFRP 2e, and I really want to run it for my group. It’s a little daunting, as my experience with the game is limited to a few sessions as a player in a WFRP 1e game a long time ago. One of the players have played 1e some more, but it’s basically new ground for us. I’ve been thinking of running the Enemy Within, but I think I will go for some shorter adventures first.

Blood & Treasure ‚Äď The game that gets the most tick marks on my OSR game feature wish list, as it manages to include most of the cool stuff from all old editions of the game (maybe OSR+?). In other words, it’s the OSR game that I need to house rule the least. I plan to move over the above S&W Complete game to B&T to try it out, and if it works out fine, I’ll use it for my upcoming dark fantasy¬†Nexus Mundi game (which is my hack of Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque) as well as one-shots and old TSR modules.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery ‚Äď My other favourite OSR+ game, that I want to use for the really dark¬†Nexus Mundi adventures.¬†I think that FH&W is a very good fit for dark fantasy games, and I’m very curious of how it will run.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess ‚Äď I just love the quality of the books. And the adventures. Yes, the engine is very b/x-like. But the feel and scope is very different. Almost like an OSR version of Kult in the 1500’s. I’d like to run it for my Wife-group ‚Äď that’s me and the other GM in our group and our respective wives. I ran some very nice Call of Cthulhu sessions last year, and I think that the theme of the LotFP adventures in combination with the lighter rules will be a good fit. We usually meet, have something nice to eat and play and drink wine. Easygoing and not too serious. And my wife is huge horror fan, so that stuff will definitely hit home.

D&D 5th edition ‚Äď I was quite sceptical to Next/5e in the beginning, but have decided to try to GM a game further up the road. The Pathfinder GM has also bought the books and we have been discussing to co-DM a traditional D&D game in the Forgotten Realms. Might be fun! He has also bought the new dragon modules, so I expect to be a player in those in the foreseeable future. I have read the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual and I know that the Dungeon Master’s Guide is under the Christmas Tree this year…:)

More games on the wishlist that I will put on hold for a while:

OpenQuest 2 ‚Äď The very cool adventures from d101 games. Or my home-brew adventures based in Sanctuary (the old Thieves’ World box).

Renaissance/Clockwork & Chivalry ‚Äď The awesome adventures from Cakebread & Walton.

Call of Cthulhu ‚Äď Masks of Nyarlahotep, Delta Green, Achtung Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark Ages, Cthulhu Invictus…

So many games. So little time.

Old School and the New Old School

Old School mayhem

Last week I got the new 5e Monster Manual. Got it reasonably cheap from an online bookshop.

It’s an awesome book, just like the Player’s Handbook, and I will get the Dungeon Master’s Guide when it drops some in price.

Looking through these new, full colour books I find myself missing something that instantly emerges when reading the originals or newer iterations like Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. Or evolved versions of the OSR (OSR+?) like Fantastic Heroes & Witchery or Blood & Treasure. I cannot put the finger on what it is, but somehow these new books miss something.

When I pick up the OSR books I get that inspiration, that urge to play or design stuff. In contrast,¬†the new 5e books fail to evoke that feeling in me. I don’t know why, but that’s how it is. Maybe they’re too slick and designed? ¬†I really want to like¬†them like the OSR books, but I can’t.

Maybe it’s the “professional commercial product” vs the “labour of love” thing that shines through? On the other hand, Frog God’s products are very slick and professional and I just adore them.

Anyone else with these thoughts on the new edition? It’s probably just a mental threshold for me to pass, but at this point I think I will stick with¬†the OSR.

Flavors of the OSR part 4: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

by Dominique Crouzet (DOM Publishing)


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

Availability: Free low-res PDF without spell lists. Paid print version (soft- and hardback) at LULU. Full PDF coming soon on RPGnow.

EDIT: An Amazon softback version of the game is in the works, but it’s not available as of yet.

Fantastic Heroes & Wizardry RPG

Form factor: Very nice old school looking b/w book with cool fantasy art including a wealth of illos by the author himself. The book is well-written and a pleasure to read. Lots of old school feel!

Community: Support for FH&W is mainly by the author himself on his web page. There’s a growing G+ group and a thread on the Dragonsfoot Forums.

Product support: Just like the previous flavor¬†B&T, FH&W is a one man show. After some initial re-writing of parts of the core book to fit the OGL better, there’s a few cool supplements in the pipeline: The Blasphemous Bestiary (new dark horror and Cthulhu-ish beasties),¬†Swords & Cthulhu (Fantasy meets Cthulhu) and¬†the¬†Full Witchery Compendium (500 new spells + 20 new wizard classes). The author talks of them here.

Tinkerability:¬†This game is basically a toolbox of tinkering and has lots of optional rules, so yes it’s √ľber-tinkerable.

Compatibility: Excellent.¬†The game was designed to be used with any OSR rule set with minimal fuss. There’s even advice how to use it with 3e stuff.

Flavor: My personal tastebuds says mainly 1e and 2e with elements of 3e and tons of NEW ideas.

Statblock:

AC: Ascending (unarmored man is AC 10)

Saves:¬†1 ¬†(S&W style, but with¬†the addition of using different attribute modifiers for different saves, so there’s a “Dexterity save” and a “Charisma save” and so on).¬†

Level range: 1-13 (with the option of adding higher levels if desired)

Race & Class: Separate race and class

Classes included*:

Basic: Fighter, Berserker, Knight, Paladin, Blackguard, Ranger, Friar, Mystic, Templar, Thief, Acrobat, Assassin, Bard, Wizard, Warlock, Wise Man

Specific races only: Clansdwarf, Gothi, Eldrich Archer, Fae Mage, Forestal, Warden, Illusionist, Trickster, Folk Champion, Scout

Weird tales: Necronimus, Occultist, Psychic, Rifleman, Savant, Sky Lord, Wild Brute

Variants: Agent of Law, Agent of Chaos, Animist, Sea Witch, Crusader, War Mage, Preacher, Guardian of Neutrality, Inquisitor, Specialist Mage, Scary Monk, Sea Dog, Thick Brute, Witch Hunter, Animist, Adventurer, 

Races included:

Basic: Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, Dwarf, Half-orc, Gnome, Tiefling, Human, Dark Elf

Weird Tales: Exotic human, Earthling, Tainted human, Primate, Reptilian, Half-Dragon, Revenant, Winged Folk, Witchling

Hit Dice: Varying according to class (similar to AD&D in values)

Monster Hit Dice:  Static is default (d8), but Flexible HD (3e style) is discussed as an option Рup to the GM and depending on what monster book is used

XP charts: 1 table for all classes

Multi-class: No, but characters can split-class (change class whenever they want, 3e style)

Demi-human class and level restrictions: Yes, and ability score min/max also.

*The classes might have the same name as other games, but they differ a lot from earlier incarnations of the game

Blurb:

Oookay…where to start…?¬†First, I must say that I just love this game. There’s a definitive old school feel when reading the book, but with the addition of lots of new and alternative takes on the standard tropes.

This game is impressive. It’s not just that the book is on a par with the Pathfinder Core in physical size, despite not including¬†sections on monsters and treasure/magic items. It’s also bringing a great deal of new concepts¬†to the table. I will try to outline some points where FH&W differs from other OSR games, but this text¬†is in no way complete…

Here we go:

Characters: As seen in the statblock above, there’s a wealth of character classes to choose from (41 in total according to the author). They differ a lot from their usual counterparts in other games, but most of the old ones are there, albeit in a new guise and under a new name. The book¬†also includes a simple background system to flesh out the character’s life before becoming an adventurer. The class abilities associated with the various classes also differ from earlier concepts.¬†Another difference is¬†a system of Talents in the appendix. These are new abilities that the PC can gain (or buy) over the course of the game. They are there to provide a degree of character customization, akin to the 3e feats, but much simpler. There’s 30 of these talents included as examples, and the author encourages the reader to invent new ones to fit his or her campaign style.

Power level: FH&W tops out at level 13. At that level you are mega-mind powerful! Since this is a little more than¬†half max level of most other games, the power curve is accelerated, so in FH&W you get all the cool abilities¬†at a compressed rate. Thus,¬†a 13th level FH&W character roughly compares to a 20th level character in other games. Personally I think this is a good thing. We never “played” a character up to more than about level 10 in our games, and with restraints on gaming time imposed by adult life ,¬†this fits my game aesthetic nowadays. Also, FH&W characters start out a little more powerful than their counterparts in other games. More on this later.

Alignment: Gone in the traditional sense. There’s still Law and Chaos that represent otherworldly philosophical absolutes (as in Michael Moorcock’s books for example), but these absolutes do not govern what you can and cannot do. Instead, there’s an allegiance system¬†where characters can pledge allegiance to a cause, nation, person, religion or deity. You can basically come up with whatever concept you wish here. I also like the¬†discussion on how to handle the old alignments as personality descriptors.¬†Again, they are for flavor, not meta-game tools to control the character’s actions. We always skipped the alignment thing, but there never was any mechanics to replace it until now.

Magic: The Clerics are gone! The holy guys are now called ¬†Friars, and they cannot cast any spells. Instead, they can call upon divine help in dire situations. They also excel at healing, exorcism and turning of the undead. Basically, all spell casters are variants of Wizards in FH&W (you can of course¬†¬†be a religious wizard). ¬†If you use magic, you use arcane magic. Magic is also grouped into¬†black, grey and white magic, usable by different wizard classes. Black magic is used by the Warlock, Grey by the Wizard and White by the Wise Man/Woman. And yes, using black magic (and especially spells labeled as evil) will lead to corruption and ultimately to the warlock’s doom. I like! And if you liked the 2e specialist wizards, they’re covered too. For casting mechanics, the spell system is old school Vancian, so no difference there. Most spells can be resisted by a saving throw. Additionally, there’s rules for dangerous magic and corruption, ritual magic, sacrificial magic and other stuff I haven’t seen before in an OSR game. Another nice touch is that the spell lists contain exactly 666 spells, mostly in the 1e/2e style. They are re-written though, so they will differ from the originals.

Skills: There’s an optional and quite loose skill system included, with about 30 skills included in the appendix. The mechanic is like the¬†3e style with a DC number to beat. Classes with knowledge in the area of the skill to use, for example a Friar trying to use the skill Healing may add their skill level as a modifier to the roll. All characters can try all skills, but the¬†classes are¬†good at different things. Also, the skills are not included¬†to restrict characters from doing things if they don’t have the skill. Rather, it’s a ordered system of how to solve the various tasks that a character might come up against. And if you don’t like skills, just ignore them. The game will work anyway.

Combat: Basically the same as in other OSR games, but a little more codified and ordered. FH&W does not use to hit tables. Instead, there’s the 3e mechanic with a d20 roll + attack bonus vs. target AC. Actions in combat are codified in a simple manner with primary, secondary and free actions in order to determine what you can and cannot do in a single combat round. Again, inspired by 3e, but much simplified in FH&W. Initiative is personal, where you roll a d6 and add a number of segments depending on you action or weapon or spell (these segments are not the same thing as in 1e). All combatants then go in this order. Next round a new initiative is rolled, and new segments are computed according to what you choose to do.. There’s simple rules for crits and fumbles, with different effects depending on class. Nice idea, but I prefer my own tables for this, as they are much more lethal. If you want combat options, there’s a solid system of combat maneuvers included (charge, combat stunt, defense [parry, dodge, evade], dirty tricks, disarm, target specific area etc.), allowing a more tactical combat approach rather than the usual ping-pong game of hit point attrition. A bit crunchier than most OSR systems, but clear and logical methinks. There’s also a new concept for Hit Points in this book. At first level characters get two kinds of hit points: racial hit points (aka Wound Points, which you only get at 1st level) and class hit points (aka Vitality Points, gained at each level-up). The class hit points works as before – you’re at full power until they are all lost. When class hp are at zero you start to take ¬†damage to racial hp, which represent¬†serious wound damage. Each racial (or Wound) hp lost imposes a -1 penalty to all activities and furthermore a -5 feet penalty to movement. When at zero racial hp you’re still conscious, but very weak, and at -1 you’re dying. If not tended to hp will dwindle away until dead at -10 hp. (I’m not too keen about this negative hp thing, so I might write up some house rules in that department). This also means that a 1st level FH&W character will be more resilient to damage compared to other iterations of the game. To me this is a good thing, as the GM now can start the adventure with tougher adversaries.

General: All classes have certain weapons that they are proficient with. Using weapons other than these is¬†not prohibited, but will generally impose a -2 or -4 modifier on the to hit roll. Also, wizards can wear armor, but there’s a very good chance that the spell won’t work. The heavier the armor, the greater the risk of spell failure. There’s also a simple psionics system, rule suggestions for sanity and insanity, rules for dangerous magic and corruption and a very good chapters on religion, magic and the multiverse, discussing various ways of handling these things in your own game world. This is also a first for me, as I haven’t seen these discussions before.

Game support: As mentioned before, there’s a lone guy working with this project, so probably the supplements will take some time. There’s also a bunch of free PDF:s at the game’s web page: (i) 1-page character sheet, (ii) 3-page character sheet, (iii) form-fillable character sheet, (iv) supplement with traditional cleric, paladin, bard and monk classes and (v) supplement with alternative rules for multi-classing. But, as this game is intended as much as a modification to existing games as a free-standing game, you can use stuff for other games in the meantime. And hopefully, the fanbase will produce lots of super-cool additions to the game!

It must also be said that some parts are missing from this book, namely Monsters and Treasure, including Magic items. In that respect, FH&W is not a complete game. That said, it’s easy to use¬†those sections from your favourite game of choice. Regarding monsters, there’s a few pages discussing how to use monsters from different sources (old school and 3e) in a consistent manner in FH&W. There’s also a section with Morale rules and Monster reactions. Personally, I bought the Adventures Dark & Deep Bestiary to use with FH&W, but you can use whatever monster book you like.

All in all I would say that FH&W is very much like Ye Olde Game, but also¬†very different. I can see inspiration from not only 3e, but also from Warhammer Fantasy Role Play and d100 games like RuneQuest. Where the old rules were vague or missing, there’s now suggestions on how to handle those situations which in my opinion is a good thing. I also like that some of the old D&D-isms like “wizards can’t use armor” or “this class can’t use that weapon” are gone. Virtually all the old D&D-isms I’ve been house-ruling in different ways have been¬†addressed here. If you’re interested, here’s the author’s comments on the game.

From an editorial point of view this book is a beauty. The cover differs from most OSR game’s more somber style. The cover and spine is full of colour, making the book stand out in the game shelf. Print quality is LULU standard, and my hardcover seem to hold up well despite hours of reading and leafing through. (The final field test will be the Gaming Table and carrying from place to place of course…). The new 2.0 edition is also available in a slightly cheaper soft bound edition, but¬†the author actually disencourages purchasing, as it¬†is more prone to damage because¬†the thin covers can’t handle the 400+ pages of the book.

I like the writing style. It is easy to understand and the text flows well. Included is¬†also an excellent index, which often is missing in many “one man project” POD books.¬†The downside is that the book is organized in a not-so-obvious manner. For example, the classes are spread out through the book. There’s a chapter of classes, where most standard classes are. Then, there’s specialist wizards in the magic chapter and yet some priest variant in the religion chapter. Finally, there’s some “extra” classes at the end of the book. After some reading and with the help of the excellent index, you’ll find your way around the book fine, but at first I was quite lost.

The book has gone through a quick flow of editions. When the book was released in¬†the end of 2013, it was in it’s 1.2 or 1.3 version. It was only for sale for a month or two, before the author took it down for a major overhaul due to OGL license issues. Now the book is in it’s 2.0 version with typos corrected and about 70 spells re-written so as to not violate the OGL. The author has promised a free PDF with¬†the changes so that owners of the old book (like me) can update those changes. Hopefully, Mr Crouzet can now direct his attention to those cool supplements mentioned on the game’s home page.

I especially recommend this book for GMs looking for a rule set that support more gritty or Dark Fantasy-ish settings, or GMs that would like some inspiration or a toolbox of rules suggestions for other OSR games.

Finally: I love Swords & Wizardry for its simplicity, Labyrinth Lord for its old school “just-as-we-used-to-play” feel, Blood & Treasure for its completeness and for acting as a bridge between 3e and older versions of the game. But FH&W actually brings something NEW to the table, without losing its retro-feeling. And that’s a good thing, at least in my book.

Footnote: When I write OSR-games I include all old school games up to 2e as well as the new clones/simulacra. Some of you hate the OSR epithet, but I think it’s a handy way of labelling that whole group of games.