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

bt2e-coverspread

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.”


 

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Flavors of the OSR part 6: Castles & Crusades

Castles & Crusades RPG

Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games

Type: Hybrid (Basically a toned down version of 3e, with old school aesthetics)

Availability: Free simplified Quick Start version. Paid full color PDFs and print versions at Troll Lord Games. PDFs are also available from DTRPG and furthermore the books are sold through retail channels both online and in physical stores. Moreover, TLG have distribution in Europe, so I can order C&C books from stores in Sweden, UK and Germany. A huge plus for us Europeans these days when shipping costs from the US often cost more than the actual book.


Form factor: Very nice looking hard cover books. The latest printing is full color, whereas the older versions were b/w. Book quality is top notch with real sewn spines. For the collector there’s leather cover versions also. The core books are traditionally arranged with a Players Handbook, a Monsters & Treasure book and a Castle Keepers Guide.

Community: The game has a dedicated forum and a fan-site called the Castles & Crusades Society. There’s also a dedicated G+ group.

Product support: Very good. Since C&C is developed and published by a “real” publisher, there are new books and adventure modules coming out all the time. There’s also some product support by Paizo and Goodman Games. On the fan side – not so much, at least if compared to more open OSR efforts. But I must mention the Crusaders Companion – a free fan-made PDF with lots of new classes, spells, monsters, races, sanity rules etc etc.

Tinkerability: Very good. Also, not so needed, since the rules are very complete, and cover a range of situations.The Castle Keeper’s Guide (i.e. DMG style book) is chock full of optional rules and variants.

Compatibility: Excellent. I’d say that C&C really can take up the epithet of being a Rosetta stone of d20 games. It’s closeness to 3e as well as 1e makes materials from both those editions easily usable with C&C without fiddly conversion.

Flavor: Bona fide old school 1e/2e feel, but using more modern game mechanic concepts.

Statblock:


AC: Ascending (unarmored man is AC 10)


Saves:  6 (based on attributes, like FH&W or 5th edition D&D).


Level range: 1-12 plus optional 13-24 in the CKG.


Race & Class: Separate race and class


Classes included*: Fighter, Barbarian, Knight, Paladin, Ranger, Cleric, Druid, Wizard, Illusionist, Rogue, Assassin, Bard, Monk


Races included: Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, Dwarf, Half-orc, Gnome and of course Human


Hit Dice: Varying according to class


Monster Hit Dice: Variable, 3e style


XP charts: variable, depending on class.


Multi-class: yes


Demi-human class and level restrictions: no restrictions on class or level. Demi-humans may combine 2 classes, humans 3 classes.


Blurb:
After returning to RPGs using Rules Cyclopedia, I went shopping for a game that would meet the demands that me and my players have these days and that we felt RC didn’t cater for. One of the first games I checked out back then was actually Castles & Crusades. The books were not available here so I tried to order from Troll Lord Games directly, but sadly they didn’t support overseas orders and PayPal then, so I scrapped the idea and stumbled into the OSR-clone mire instead… However, I’ve always had an eye on what happens in the C&C world.

About a month a ago a guy over at G+ sold a bunch of the new C&C books at a really good price and I bought 9 books from him. And since they arrived they’ve been on my bedstand for my evening read. And I must say I’m most impressed. I can also see where Blood & Treasure, Fantastic Heroes & Witchery and even 5th ed. D&D must have found  inspiration for some of their mechanics.

Some of you may argue that C&C isn’t an OSR game and in some respects it is not, I agree. But you may also argue that it is in fact the first D&D clone/variant. From what I’ve read, the first iteration of C&C was published under the OGL in 2004.Back then it was a box with 3 booklets and over time it has evolved to a 3-book core set. Cool thing is that that 1st box is fully compatible with today’s rule set. It’s still the same edition, but the printings differ a bit in style. And of course in errata and minor rules adjustments. I find this extremely sympathetic, as some games I like have suffered from severe edition-itis lately (I’m looking at you, RuneQuest…).

So what’s so likeable about C&C, then?

Professional product – The game is produced by a game company meaning good support and availability in shops or online. I really miss going to the game shop and buy physical products. The book quality is super and there’s a lot of extra stuff like a GM screen, printed world maps and so on available. Nice.

Good game design – The books are well written with good design choices. They have been extensively play tested and have been around since 2004 in about the same shape. The rules also cover a wide range of play styles, equally supporting dungeoneering and investigative games. Nice.

Old school aesthetics – Reading C&C feels like reading any old D&D or OSR game. The feel is there. The difference is that most of the mechanics are from newer editions of the game, but without the power bloat and meta-gamer feel that I always feel when I read for example Pathfinder. Nice.

Completeness – C&C feels like a very complete game. There’s no need to add a lot of house rules as most of the ones I ususally add to OSR games are already there. And the CKG is a very, very good GM book for about any GM of d20/D&D style games. Lots of optional rules, variants and ideas there (much like the 5e DMG). The game is also very modular, making it easy for Castle Keepers (GMs) to adapt the game to their particular play style. And it also has some extra cool options for the players to get excited over, without making the game a player bloat fest like 3.x might become.

The Siege Engine – This is C&C’s core task resolution system, and it’s basically an evolved attribute check system. No skill lists to keep track of. Basically, a character have Primary and Secondary attributes, determined by class and free choice. If you use a task related to a Primary attribute it’s easier to succeed, while if using a Secondary attribute you won’t succed as often. The GM will also assign a difficulty class to each task. Then you roll a d20, add the relevant ability modifier and your level and try to beat the target number. Easy. And not very far from what 5e is using.

For example: Runar has Dexterity as a Prime attribute. This means that the Challenge Base (CB) number is 12. Runar is walking a slippery ledge and the CK wants him to make a Dex check to see if the slips. The CK has assigned the check a Challenge Level (CL, think DC modifier) of 4, meaning that the target number (or Challenge Class) for Runar is 16. Runar rolls a d20 and adds his level and Dex bonus to the roll. If Dex had been a Secondary attribute, the Challenge Base would have been 18 instead, making the target number 22 instead of 16. There’s some more details to this, but basically this is the core mechanic for resolution of all tasks in C&C.  

In conclusion, I feel that a game like Castles & Crusades really should have a sh*tload of fans. Sadly, it feels like a rather limited crowd of them at this point at least.

Free offerings and many cool OGL/OSR games probably have scooped up a lot of potential C&C fans, and some may be in the 5e camp. For those firmly in the old edition D&D camp, C&C might be too “modern” in it’s design choices, but I can’t see how you couldn’t play pure old school with C&C with just a few small tweaks.

Another contributing problem might be that Troll Lord Games seem to want to keep the game “in house”. There’s no free or open license like for Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, meaning that you cannot write cool C&C compatible adventures and self-publish them on DTRPG or Lulu. As far as I know, you may write and publish free stuff for the Castles & Crusades Society closed member group, meaning that only members there get access to your carefully crafted materials. Also, you can’t collect a few bucks to cover your costs for the amateur production. For me, this means that I choose other systems to publish for even if I’d like to support C&C. I don’t think I’m alone in this reasoning, and I personally think that C&C and Troll Lord Games would benefit greatly if cool fan made adventures were available on OBS and Lulu, as this would only serve to draw more people to buy the core game and other TLG products.

Anyway, to conclude for real, in my opinion, C&C is a serious alternative to both 5e D&D as well as the old school games, as it can handle both older and newer play styles in one simple rules system.

I like it. A lot.

After we take a break in our current Blood & Treasure game, this is where we’re heading next. I was going to try GM 5e, but C&C pushes more of the right buttons for me so C&C it is! In the Haunted Highlands!

 

 

Flavors of the OSR part 5: Crypts & Things

Crypts & Things

by Newt Newport (D101 Games)

Type: Swords & Wizardry variant

Availability: Paid print version (soft- and hardback) on LULU. Full PDF on RPGnow. No free version.

Crypts & Things (1st ed)

Form factor: Full old-school feel with brutal barbarian cover by Jon Hodgson and b/w interior art. Some of the art is Arnold-great, while some is about what you see in most OSR type books. The book is nicely organized with a Player’s section (called Scrolls of Wonderous Revelation) and a Game Master’s section (named The Book of Doom). Overall, this book has a lot of that 70s metal vibe going on.

Community: Support for C&T is mainly by the author himself on the publisher’s web page. There is also a sub-group for C&T in the D101 Games group on G+.

Product support: Other than the main rulebook, there are two official supplements for C&T (both adventure modules): Blood of the Dragon for low level characters and Tomb of the Necromancers for characters level 6 to 8. There might be other fan-made supplements out there, but none that I am aware of.

Nota bene: As we speak, there’s a Kickstarter going on for a Remastered version of C&T, including at least three new official modules. The Kickstarter was funded after a week, so a new version of the game is now in the pipeline! Check it out here

Tinkerability: Being a version of S&W, this game is very easy to tinker with, especially using S&W materials.

Compatibility: Excellent. However, there are some major differences in rule mechanics between C&T and most other OSR games that needs to be taken into consideration.

Flavor: Arnold Schwartzenegger. Conan. Elric. Xoth. Black Sabbath. Desert. Chainmail bikinis. Ridiculously large swords. Serpentman Sssorcerors. Cthulhu. Doom. Awesome!

Statblock:

AC: Ascending as well as descending S&W style (unarmored man is AC 10 [AAC] or AC9 [DAC]).

Save: Single save

Level range: 1-21+

Race & Class: C&T is human only for players

Classes included*: Barbarian, Fighter, Magician, Thief

Races included: Human

Hit Dice: Varying according to class (all based on d6)

Monster Hit Dice: Static (d8)

XP charts: Separate table based on class

Multi-class: No

*The classes might have the same name as in other games, but they differ to varying extent from other incarnations of the game.

Despite being a variant of Swords & Wizardry, Crypts & Things brings a lot of simple but innovative changes to the “standard OSR” table. Each of the character classes get some cool new abilities, there’s a simple skill system and magic is different for example. All these changes help in creating a swords & sorcery or swords & sandals feel, rather than the quasi-medieval or Tolkienistic flavor of most OSR variants.

Characters: Ability bonuses are in line with b/x or Labyrinth Lord, thus making the higher abilities more important than in S&W. The Barbarian is definitely Conan-y, complete with battle frenzy and wilderness skills as well as thieving skills. Fighters are fairly standard, but get to choose from a series of specialist combat styles in order to distinguish different fighter types. As there are no Clerics in C&T, the Magician fulfills both roles. Basically, if you use magic, you’re a Magician. In C&T, magic-use is dangerous and casting spells will corrupt your soul in the long run. The Thief is a little better at fighting than the standard D&D thief, and more in line with the heroes of Swords & Sorcery literature. In conjunction with character generation the PCs also roll on a Life Event Table, generally giving simple bonuses to various aspects of the character and an effective way of personalising the character as a kind of background not based on previous occupation.

Power level: Is on a par with S&W and other similar OSR games.

Alignment: There is no alignment in C&T.

Magic: As mentioned earlier, the Cleric is gone from Crypts & Things, leaving the Magician to do the magic. Previous cleric spells are transposed over to the general magic system. Instead, spells are divided into White, Grey and Black magic. White magic is safe to cast, Grey magic cost hit points to cast (2 x spell level) and Black magic cost the spell level in Constitution damage plus requiring a successful Saving throw or the magician will lose Sanity and start the downward spiral to corruption.

Skills: The game includes a simple task resolution system based on Akrasia’s House rules. The system uses the Saving throw number as the target number. Characters with a certain class skill add +3 to the roll and a difficulty modifier might also be used by the Crypt Keeper. The task resolution system is very loose and nothing is broken if you ignore it if it’s not to your liking.

Combat: Pretty standard as OSR games go. A big difference is on the character damage side. C&T uses two kinds of damage points: hit points and Constitution damage. When hp reaches zero, additional damage is applied to CON instead. When CON reaches zero, the character dies. Hit points represent superficial damage, while CON represent serious bodily harm. Healing magic will restore CON damage only, while hit points are restored after 8 hrs of sleep (5e style). Of course, CON damage is slow to heal and being down into CON damage will have you roll a Save each time you are hit or fall unconscious. Simple but effective. Another combat difference is that everyone get to backstab in C&T even if thieves do it better.

General thoughts: Despite clocking in at a slim 149 pages including index, character sheet and OGL this book has a lot going on between the covers. Especially the GM part of the book is jam packed with cool stuff. There is even a grim setting included: The Dying World of Zarth, under the Locust Star. The setting is the perfect starting point for your forays into swords & sorcery adventures as is the short introduction adventure also in the book. Personally, I’m going to use the World of Xoth (by Morten Braaten and others) for my C&T games. Since I got The Spider-God’s Bride I always wanted to play, but never knew what system to use. Until C&T came around, that is…

The chapter on treasure and magic items is short, because magic items are rare and dangerous. Basically they are treated like artifacts in other incarnations of the game. Included is also a monster chapter with many new and unique monsters for your OSR games. I would say that the monster part alone is worth a lot of the investment in the book.

The last part of the book is composed of Appendices A to M covering topics like advice for the GM, Crypt creation, Random tables, Alternative XP systems, notes on horror elements in the game, Khaos features (mutation tables), Passion tables and my favourite: Soundtrack – recommended music for C&T games. Yes, it is all metal!

The author is one of those singularly productive people and has a background in d100 gaming (he also wrote OpenQuest for example) which is felt in the book as some OSR-isms are thrown out quite easily. He publishes through his own publishing brand, D101 Games, a small UK RPG publisher with a strong DIY feel and is also very responsive to questions and always takes his time to answer on the company’s page on G+.

Please note that this “review” is on the first edition of the game and that there is a new edition in the works – the Kickstarter is going on at the moment and it is funded. From what I have read, it is going to be an expanded version of the game with prettier art. There are also no more than three new adventures planned for the new edition.

To round off, this game is the perfect OSR mod for that Conan-style game and I heartily recommend it for all OSR aficionados as there is a ton of cool ideas in it. Sadly, there’s no free version and I think the game would have more fans if it was available as a free art-free version for example.

The next post in this series is going to cover one of the hidden secrets of the OSR: Dangers & Dweomers

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 über-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 – up 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.

Flavors of the OSR: part 3 Blood & Treasure

Blood & Treasure by John Stater

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

Availability: No free version. Paid full art PDF and print versions (soft- and hardback) at LULU.


Form factor: Nice looking b/w books with good fantasy art. Very well written, clear and concise rules and simple but nice layout. The rules comes in 3 variants: A Players Book, a Treasure Keepers Book (GM book) and a Complete Book. The rules are quite simple and logical, but complexity is higher than say Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord (at least sans the AEC).

Community: Support for B&T is mainly by the author himself on his blog. There’s also a little-used forum, and a small G+ group.

Product support: Good. B&T is basically a one man show, but the author is one of those remarkably productive people, and a new book, the ”NOD Companion” is on the way for B&T. There’s also some excellent 3rd party PDFs with new races, classes and a psionics PDF.

Tinkerability: Very good. Also, not so needed, since the rules are very complete, and covers a range of situations.

Compatibility: Excellent. Some say that Labyrinth Lord is the Rosetta stone of OSR games. I think that Blood & Treasure fits that epithet better, since it covers not only the older versions of the game, but provides tools for using 3.X materials also.

Flavor: I would say that B&T feels like a mash-up of Pathfinder light and Swords & Wizardry. Very complete, but simple and easily adaptable to all types of games.

Statblock:


AC: Ascending (unarmored man is AC 10)


Saves: 3 (3.X style: Fortitude, Reflex and Will)


Level range: 1-20


Race & Class: Separate race and class


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


Races included: Elf, Half-Elf, Halfling, Dwarf, Half-orc, Gnome PLUS a lot of playable races in the monster section (examples are: Tiefling, Aasimar, Ogre etc)


Hit Dice: Varying according to class (similar to B/X in values)


Monster Hit Dice: Static, d6


XP charts: variable, depending on class. Many classes share the same table though, so there are only 4 tables (including the multi-class table)


Multi-class: yes


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


*All the classes also have a class variant included in the book. For example, the Assassin can be modified to a Bounty Hunter or Magic-Users can be Specialist Mages (2E style).


Blurb:
First of all, some of you might stop reading when you see that this game includes stuff from The Game That Shall Not Be Named, but please don’t give up yet.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with 3.X, more than the fact that I think it’s too messy to GM. Just like 2E when the splatbooks are added. Nevertheless, both 3.X and 2E splatbooks added some really cool things to the game. Things that you miss if you only go with the older versions of the game. Of course, you can modify and add house rules but that becomes messy too after a while.

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.

_________________________________________
Blood & Treasure has been quite alone on the hybrid ”take-the-cool-stuff-from-all-editions-and-mix-it-up-in-a-very-complete-bucket” OSR scene, but now there’s a new contender in that field – Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. I’m still waiting for the book, but I think that the next blog post in this series will be full review of that game.