Friday, November 13, 2015

Some mini-reviews of the OSR Bundle of Holding (Bonus collection)

I'm pretty excited about a lot of the supplements and adventures in one of the latest Bundles of Holding. It's the 'Old School Revival - Revived' bundle, designed to help you run D&D-esque adventures.

I've only had a chance to skim-read these adventures and game systems but I'm very impressed with what I've read.

The God That Crawls
This adventure by James Raggi promises to flip the normal 'adventures enter a dungeon and explore deeper' dynamic. I suspect that run with a consideration for limited light sources and movement, it would be nightmarish fun. Maybe Torchbearer would be the meanest system to run it in, but I'm also tempted by something like Beyond The Wall--where the contrast between YA protagonists and shambling pursuing horror would be really striking.

I also really like lots of the seemly incidental material in the dungeon. This place is dangerous and rewarding, quite apart from the central threat.

(This is completely against the intention of both this module and the rules system ... but I'm curious how this would play using Dungeon World.)

The Monolith from Beyond Time and Space
There's about seven brilliant ideas in this adventure by James Raggi. In fact, I'm going to count them: ... There are nine ideas I'd describe as brilliant (including a meaty and central hook of the adventure: a nasty version of body-snatching), and many other ideas that could be brilliant depending on your personal taste.

This adventure is both a location and a resource for creating unnerving incidents. It would play really well as part of an ongoing campaign but it's also incredibly mean. You'd need either to have a totally accurate and insightful read of your gaming group's preferences or a conversation where you asked them if they were interested in introducing a high-horror, high-doom quotient into your game.

One reviewer accurately described it as the nuclear option: once you introduce this module, you are changing or condemning at least one of the PCs. In some ways it reminds me of the high-doom elements of the Call of Cthulhu moduel, A Dream of Japan.

Vornheim - The Complete City Kit
Note: The author of Vornheim,  Zak S, was kind enough to give me permission to use his elegant and quick technique for creating random floorplans in Soth.

Vornheim is an incredibly useful guide to creating a city that feels alive while doing not much work at all. In some places, it's dense: the first few pages of notes are the sort of thing you either get absorbed in and read cover to cover, or you dip into for inspiration. As the book goes on, it continually changes its presentation, giving you:

  • Bullet-pointed superstitions (I've found bullet-points to be great for presenting setting material)
  • Dungeon maps (of locations in the city) that are filled with character and convey a strong impression of the space without being a top-down presentation
  • Great techniques and procedures for creating suburbs and street maps, and floorplan
  • Lots of random tables.

The book ends with this insight:
In a wilderness or dungeon, the party’s adventure during any given session is defined by where they are geographically–in a volcano, in the southwest corner of a maze, at the bottom of a pit, etc.  
In a city, this is less important, movement is freer, easier and more certain than in a dungeon and distances are shorter than in a wilderness. In a city, the party’s adventure is defined by where they are in a chain of consequences
What’s most important, after a session, is not figuring our where the PCs left off, but who they pissed off getting there. The next session’s adventure can often be built from the consequences of what the PCs did during the last session
I'd love to combine this with Blades in the Dark and see what sticks together.

The Adventurer Conqueror King system (ACKS)
I've wanted to read this for ages. I've been told ACKs is amazing at helping the group create a completely logical fantasy economy that facilitates adventurers moving from nomadic looters to aristocratic managers of a stronghold or realm. The heart of this seems to be in Chapter 7: Campaigns and Chapter 10: Secrets, which (on a skim read) appears to be an incredibly useful resource for constructing a campaign setting, the regions inside it, the starting city, and dungeons.

ACKS also has two neat tables in its combat system: for moral and permanent wounds, and for what happens if someone tries to revive you with magic.

I have to admit, I'm a bit lost when it comes to trying to evaluate:

  • how well (and how differently) different OSR systems will play compared to each other
  • how a system compares to all the editions of D&D I'm familiar with (which is everything except 5th Edition).

I think the character or uniqueness of each system will have to reveal themselves in play. I've played Into The Odd, which was fantastic at getting me into an old-school mindset. But figuring out the specifics of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, ACKS, Beyond The Wall, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords and Wizardry will take a lot more time than I have at the moment.

Stonehell Dungeon
This is a mega-dungeon by Michael Curtis. Six levels of low to moderate dungeon-ecological-logic, which Curtis describes as perfect for a weekend gaming marathon. It's presented as a toolbox where the elements of the dungeon can be easily customised and modified by a GM.

It also takes a lot of inspiration from the One Page Dungeon competition about how to compress a dungeon down to its essentials.  In the case of Stonehell, each part of the dungeon in a two-page spread.

I was only able to skim this but it looks totally fit for purpose to me.