Giving Cypher System a Chance.

There’s a trio of major factors pulling me back toward this game after five or six years of letting the pdf collect virtual dust. First, I’ve been shopping for a new system to use as a base for some campaign and setting ideas. (Cypher was on sale for HALF OFF at the time of this writing.) Second, the OGL debacle over in 5E land made me start looking at games with their own licenses. Last, the video from The Dungeon Newb’s Guide: here. One other note, Sean K. Reynolds and others from Monte Cook Games on Twitter and elsewhere have been doing a great job of talking up the game.

I think I’ve underestimated this game.

Let’s talk about the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games. Based on Numenera originally, Cypher is a wonderful multi-genre toolkit for almost every setting imaginable. It is also available in print wherever print RPGs are sold. It’s also good to note there is a healthy fan community for the game with its own DMsGuild style creator site over at DriveThruRPG.com.

There’s a trio of major factors pulling me back toward this game after five or six years of letting the pdf collect virtual dust. First, I’ve been shopping for a new system to use as a base for some campaign and setting ideas. (Cypher was on sale for HALF OFF at the time of this writing.) Second, the OGL debacle over in 5E land made me start looking at games with their own licenses. Last, the video from The Dungeon Newb’s Guide: here. One other note, Sean K. Reynolds and others from Monte Cook Games on Twitter and elsewhere have been doing a great job of talking up the game.

Finding a highly adaptable system with just enough crunch to keep it interesting.

I made the mistake of overlooking Cypher early on because while it’s a beautiful, well thought-out system, there was no Open Game License or outlet to sell one’s own creations. It’s a weird quirk with me, but I just love having that option. (* The kicker is, once I start on a project, I usually can’t bring myself to release it into the wild, so to speak.) Monte Cook Games changed their stance on OGL issues several months ago which is great.

One of the major draws to me is the rule that the Game Master doesn’t roll dice- ever. (Although I still make random checks for tables, etc on my own accord.) It really frees the GM up just to run characters, plot, and make the game awesome. The system itself is simpler that D&D, in my opinion, but still based on a d20 roll.

Likewise, character generation is extremely simple. The character’s tagline determines some of their abilities. There are always three parts to the tagline. The start of character creation is to finish the sentence, “I’m a (blank) Blank who Blanks.”

For example- my character, Rufus, is a [Rugged Dwarven] Barbarian (Warrior) who [looks for trouble.] Each descriptor can come into play during the game giving more Experience or advantages/disadvantages.

There are some classes of sort that integrate with the tagline to describe some of the character’s basic functions. The rest is up to the player and GM to determine how the rest of the sentence applies in game. Character background matters quite a bit in this system. Characters can still range from complex and dramatic all the way to incredibly simple and easily played.

Cyphers are things such as spells, minor magic items, psychic powers and freaky sci-fi weapons for example. This means they can be disposable as well as practical. I know a couple of other games that have picked up on the idea and use it in their own systems.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating here- Art sells games. Cypher has a lot of beautiful art pieces. It definitely helped sell the game to me. That, plus the simplicity/luster of the system and the game book. Cypher has some of the most gorgeous art pieces of any TTRPG I’ve seen in years. Family, I’ve had my nose in a lot of books and pdfs over the years and this one’s definitely a winner.

As previously mentioned, OGL was a concern.

I like a lot of Monte Cook Games and Cypher is a great system. The recent D&D 5E OGL nightmare has a lot of people looking for new game systems. Specifically, systems they can maybe get paid writing for. This might not be a requirement for most players and GMs, but some of us are a bit more apt to share our campaign worlds, creatures, and cyphers in this case.

The agreement to publish on DriveThruRPG is very generous. With all of the massive uproar over the D&D OGL, Monte Cook Games has also added content to their overall System Reference Document and worked on giving creators more to work with. This is an almost unprecedented move from a major TTRPG imprint. Personally, I think it makes Cypher worth a second look; worthy of appreciation in heaps. Thank you Monte and Cypher family.

This game is so darned easy to learn.

The Dungeon Newb’s Guide video is a really great, fast way to get introduced to the system. The Dungeon Dudes on YouTube have also had glowing reports about the game. Personally, I’ve had a copy of Cypher sitting on my phone and computer since about 2015.

Monte Cook is a big name in TTRPGs and when I heard about Cypher, I had to have it. I let it go for a long time, partly because of the cost associated with the print book, partly because of the OGL thing. They fixed both issues more recently. Hence, I have all kinds of good things to say.

One of the particularly stunning features of this system is its gonzo all-in approach to gaming. I can create creatures for my fantasy game in under 10 minutes. The stat blocks are not complicated. AND the GM is able to jump in and throw narrative intrusions at times. (Not to be overused.) Session Zero for the game also establishes setting and tone, so my players can do whatever they think would be fun from there. A little bit of number crunching and we’re off.

On a final note, I’m glad to have run into Sean K. Reynolds and others on Twitter. Sean’s blog and daily Twitter posts are a joy to read. Sean is a TTRPG industry legend right along with Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell and other MCG luminaries. They’re setting a great example throughout the gaming community and even more so in this time of D&D tumult. Keep up the good work!

Cypher Original Edition cover.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll give Cypher a try, even as a free download copy. Lots more to come on Cypher. I appreciate you. Happy gaming.

Fantaji Role Playing Game Review.

Fantaji is laid out very intuitively to answer questions veteran gamers might have as they read through the book and get ready to play. It’s not your grandpa’s BECMI D&D game by any stretch of the imagination. In Fantaji, character personality matters. Dramatic actions matter. Story matters. Dice rolls merely determine the ebb and flow of the actions.

I’m astonished this game hasn’t gotten more press.

Fantaji is a Universal Role Playing Game, much like FATE, Cypher, or GURPS. It is the brainchild of Calvin Johns and his crew at Anthropos games. I purchased my print + digital copies from DriveThruRPG.com many years ago. The Anthropos website also has some nice character sheets, cards, and so on for your game. There’s a quick start set available to try out if your group is interested.

Fantaji is a good investment even in PDF form if you want a quick game to play at a convention or a quick pick-up game at the Friendly Local Game Shop. It’s also great for long term campaigns if players are interested enough in the setting and the characters you’re using.

It is written by an expert in culture, specifically ttrpg culture.

Fantaji is laid out very intuitively to answer questions veteran gamers might have as they read through the book and get ready to play. It’s not your grandpa’s BECMI D&D game by any stretch of the imagination. In Fantaji, character personality matters. Dramatic actions matter. Story matters. Dice rolls merely determine the ebb and flow of the actions.

The game uses D10’s only. Players might want to have a few blank index cards, tokens, pens/markers in 4 or so colors. Heck, characters fit on an index card if you really want them to. Anthropos does give players some nice character sheets. Creating a character takes less time than most games, but you’ll definitely want some backstory.

Action and combat are not the same fare as other RPGs.

One thing really stands out about Fantaji is the way actions are handled. Your character’s traits and theme are always “played-to” to gain advantages and/or disadvantages in any given situation. Combat isn’t the same old “I whack you, you whack me. Roll for damage.

Combat, skill tasks or even brutal negotiations are handled by determining the traits effective and rolling a die pool against a difficulty somewhat similar to the way World of Darkness does. Difficulty is always 3, 5, or 8 depending. “Playing-to” the scene’s conditions can also help increase the characters’ Drama pool or decrease the GM characters Drama. Successful rolls allow the player to narrate the damage or outcome of the situation more easily. Few battles need be fights to the death if so desired. The system favors less violent solutions in many situations, making the game very new player and kid friendly.

Board game fans will also have an easier time adapting to Fantaji in some ways. The action resolution and combat are done in a way similar to board game style play. Most players can probably pick the game up within the first hour or two of gameplay. Even though it might look a bit intimidating at first, Fantaji is easy to pick up and enjoy. The designers do an excellent job describing the way play flows and what characters can do on their turns.

The experience system or character advancement is a bit different than what some gamers might be used to. By playing to your character and the scenes traits, the character earns Themes. These themes add up over time and can be spent to improve skills and abilities, etc.

Worldbuilding and being a Fantaji GM is very pleasant.

This RPG is not a minis and big dungeon kind of game. Maybe point-based dungeons would be more in line with the gameplay. As a universal engine, the GM can build any game from Cyberpunk to a Saturday morning kids’ show with it. Many of the examples in the Fantaji book are anime themed, which also works quite well. (This system does so well with anime stereotypes and tropes.)

It is very important to hold a Session Zero before a longer campaign or just a quick primer on the setting used before any Fantaji game. That way the players can know what to expect from their characters’ personalities. Campaign setting makes a big difference in how conditions are overcome, too. Bulldozing through a dungeon; killing the locals and grabbing their loot isn’t always a good way to go.

A quick note about NPCs and monsters. They’re ridiculously easy to come up with on the fly and you can create one in minutes or less if you know what their goals and motivations are within the scene. It makes running games on the fly really pleasant.

There are four campaign worlds presented in the main book. The setting will also determine some of the characters’ abilities or what is available to them, as in most games. The GM has to prepare a little bit ahead if building a new world. The campaigns from the core rulebook are pretty cool, though. (No spoilers here.)

No Fantaji specific OGL on this one as far as I know.

There is no mention of a license or licensing agreement in the book as far as I’m aware. It’s a great game to enjoy with friends, but probably not a good game to sell third party content from. I think that’s okay in this case. Not every RPG need be marketable that way. I might still design a few items or even put together a campaign setting eventually.

Anthropos does have a new game in the works this year according to a source within the company. I’m excited to see what the designers do next. I love the more anthropological and sociological approach to gaming as I have a degree in Sociology and have also spent a lot of time in Anthropology classes. Gaming is what actually spurred me into both writing and the social sciences. Fantaji also flows well with a theatre oriented group.

Thanks for stopping by, Please give Fantaji a look if you want something a little more dramatic and a little less crunchy. It’s a lot of fun. I appreciate you as always.

Three Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons.

The nice thing about all of the games listed is that there is wide open ground for GMs to convert or create fantasy game settings all their own. The systems are all user friendly and players can roll with whatever they imagine their characters to be. All three are just as easy to learn if not easier than D&D.

I felt this might be a good time to discuss some Non-D&D games.

FATE

FATE. from Evil Hat Productions. This game has a lot going for it and cool artwork. If you love the roleplaying element of D&D, then this is probably a good system for you.

It’s easy to learn, easy to run and has cool dice. Honestly, any D6 can work, but their plus, minus, and blank dice are pretty cool. It’s another rules lite game where you can go as in depth or as vague as you’d like. I love it for its simplicity and adaptability as a writer and as a GM.

There is no officially published fantasy realm for this game (as far as I know,) but with little effort, a plucky GM could probably cook one up in a short amount of time. If nothing else, it would be easy to port characters, spells, items, and so on over to FATE from another game.

Cypher

Cypher by Monte Cook Games. Let me preface this mini-review by saying I’ve sold these guys short for years now. (Sorry MCG family. I kinda owe you one.) Originally, many moons ago, I game up on Cypher and recently one of the staffers at Monte Cook mentioned it on Twitter. I dug my copy out, went over it again, and I honestly have no idea why I disliked it now?

*Also, if you visit the Monte Cook Games website, please look around at some of their other work. They make a lot of great games and supplements for 5E. Some of the staff at MCG are gaming royalty having worked in the RPG industry for decades. They also have a really spiffy social media presence.

The system for Cypher will seem intuitive for most players if they are familiar with D&D or other D20 based games. Roll 1d20, add modifiers, and celebrate (or cry.) The Skill system will also look pretty familiar, so might Effort. Then the system takes a diversion from what one might expect.

Cypher is conceptually deep in places. Character generation is more like FATE in that it is based on what you prefer the character does and how well. There are really no hard and fast classes. Also, cyphers are spells, powers, unusual talents, and other abilities above and beyond the normal.

One of the most appealing features for me is that the GM never has to roll dice. Player rolls to attack vs monster’s defense. Monsters (controlled by the GM) cause players to make a defense roll. The GM never has to pick up the dice, leaving them free to come up with cool characters, plots, and control the flow of the action.

Cypher as a system is derived from the acclaimed RPG, Numenera. While Numenera isn’t really what I’d call a true medieval fantasy game, it does have a lot of neat sci-fi and fantasy elements being set in the far future. It’s a well-loved, expanded, fleshed out RPG that sci-fi and fantasy gamers alike can enjoy. There’s also a Community Content page on DrivethruRPG for those who wish to sell Cypher and Numenera content of their own.

Cypher is a core ruleset, much like FATE, Powered by the Apocalypse, Open Legends, or Cortex. As far as I’m aware there’s no official fantasy setting yet, but with the Community Creator program, there very easily could be one in the future. I’ve got a much more in depth article covering Cypher coming at a later time. Thanks Monte Cook Games for producing a real winner.

Open Legends.

Open Legend by Brian Feister and Ish Stabosz. Like FUDGE, this game is community based and basically FREE. It’s another generic system that does fantasy extremely well. You can certainly emulate other genres with it, as shown in the core book. Mixing genres is easy and practically encouraged.

I was attracted to this game because of its, well, openness. If you want to create your own sourcebook for it, they encourage it! Just make sure credit is given where due. It takes the idea of Open Game Licensing to a new level.

Again, it’s a fairly rules lite, easy to learn game. If you can master D&D 5E, Open Legends is easy and fun to pick up. It’s got the wholesomeness of Essence20 and similar games going for it. Roll 1d20+other dice vs Target Number. The spells and equipment are a bit more fluid in this system. It really does look like what a generic set of core rules should look like.

The nice thing about all of the games listed is that there is wide open ground for GMs to convert or create fantasy game settings all their own. The systems are all user friendly and players can roll with whatever they imagine their characters to be. All three are just as easy to learn if not easier than D&D.

Thank you for stopping in. More to come. Game on.

Where 5E of the World’s Most Famous RPG Loses Me. Part 2

Maybe you (Wizards) have overlooked the demographic of the 30+ year old gamers, many of whom were around for the older editions. Yes, it’s extremely important to continue to bring new players into the game. However, it’s also important to have people who want to be a DM. Some of us old guys are perfect in that role. Teaching younger generations is something we (“Old Grognards”) very good at.

Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast,

Thank you for coming back. Yesterday I discussed that the current edition of the game has become very player oriented. The Dungeon Master is slowly being pushed out of the process. Anemic creatures, the death of experience points, and a solid lack of encounter building guidelines combined with the official over-buffing of Player Characters is pushing long time DMs away and discouraging people from wanting to DM.

“Just wing it” worked in the early days of the game. Dumping everything in the DM’s lap was fine then when the game was in its fledgling state back in the 1970’s. One D&D is supposedly aimed at getting rid of the concept of editions. Yet, you (Wizards) have seem to have completely forgotten everything before Third Edition. I don’t think it’s a coincidence and it’s the reason why a lot of us “Old Grognards” have gone back to the Old School Renaissance which (no surprise) is based on Basic, B/X, BECMI, 1st Ed AD&D, and 2nd Ed AD&D.

Maybe you (Wizards) have overlooked the demographic of the 30+ year old gamers, many of whom were around for the older editions. Yes, it’s extremely important to continue to bring new players into the game. However, it’s also important to have people who want to be a DM. Some of us old guys are perfect in that role. Teaching younger generations is something we (“Old Grognards”) very good at.

Wizards, you’re growing to the point where you’re forgetting the name of the game. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is the name of the game. So, why are you getting to a point where there are practically no DUNGEONS and the DRAGONS are toothless and weak? But that’s okay, because players have tons of options

Seriously, it’s as if we’re talking about two completely different games now. There’s good old D&D with monsters to fight and underground complexes to explore. There are magical treasures to be found! You can slay monsters, explore forgotten pyramids, and gain fortunes.

Then there’s this kind of weird, overly dramatic, almost completely character focused “game” we see on Critical Role. It’s almost as if it’s scripted. As I stated in Part 1 of this article, if I wanted to watch drama? I wouldn’t be a DM. I’d watch TV, movies or read a book. This newer, evolved version of D&D is more like acting class with some dice.

D&D came from a time when we didn’t have computer games, cell phones, tablets, or an Internet to play games on. I see where One D&D is heading. Virtual Table Top (VTT) gaming is the wave of the future. That’s great. Connecting people via the Internet is a good thing. PDF books, cell phone apps, and conference call D&D became a way of life in 2020 and continues today. Great.

But please remember the origins of D&D. No electrical components needed. It’s about books, dice, pencils and paper. This hobby was born from miniatures wargaming. The original creators of D&D did not have cameras aimed at them while they were playing the game.

People play D&D on camping trips. People play together in person in their parents’ basements, in the back of the Friendly Local Game Stores, and in classrooms. That’s not going away, especially with families of older gamers bringing their kids and students into the game. Please remember the rest of your audience?

Sorry, I know this was kind of a long rant. Thank you for being here and bearing with me. I’m going to put out a Part 3 to this series of articles, but more from my own perspective and my own benefit. I appreciate you. Thank you!

Spelljammer.

#hadozee controversy and a heap of bad reviews. One D&D is around the corner in 2024. Why would I want to buy the new Spelljammer? Space Hamsters?

I kinda saw this coming.

Why didn’t they learn from this?

I’ve heard multiple reviewers say, “Save your money.” Or, “Maybe look at buying other products.”

In other words, even some of the hardcore YouTubers and other Wizards of the Coast/D&D rah-rah reviewers aren’t into it. I mean, it looks cool. The art is amazing. But the content? Like the actual meat and bones of the campaign setting? Having a good concept does not make for a good game.

RPG family, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but the thing pretty much sucked the first time around. What made us think it was going to be better for 5E? The old content wasn’t that great. Fam, a turd by any other name is still… You can’t put a dress on mule. (Original) T$R made so many other good campaign settings.

If the first time around was bad, (and let’s be honest, it was BAD,) what made them think a remake would fix it? I’m sure someone will quote sales numbers, but I was big into this hobby when it came out and I seem to recall a lot of people panning it then, too. The new version seems to not have gotten any better.

Industry timing leaves a lot to be desired on this one.

New! In a shiny package.

It didn’t help that they announced that in 2024 One D&D is coming. So, basically here’s a new edition that is supposedly going to be retrocompatible with 5E, or at least that’s what they’re saying. They want us to keep being good consumers and continue buying things such as Spelljammer and Dragonlance. WotC also wants us to “playtest” the new rules and provide them with so-called feedback. (Anybody else’s bullshit detector going off?)

If I know WotC, they are eventually going to try to get us to switch completely over to this new edition like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Right now they (WotC) doesn’t want us to sell off our 5th Ed books because Half Price Books can only handle so much. DMsGuild has to stick around long enough for D&D Beyond to evolve.(*I have a feeling being a third party D&D creator is going to change.)

I feel bad for Dragonlance fans right now. Their book is going to be ill-timed at best. Lord only knows what 2023 is going to look like for D&D releases. I mean, we know physical products are no longer high on WotC’s release priorities as far as we’ve heard. Unless we’re talking about Magic cards, then yay physical stuff. Books? Pfft!

What’s the point of releasing products for 5E when it’s going to be on its way out at the end of the year in 2023? Is the next generation of fans going to want to convert all of the 5E material they own into this new shinier One D&D package? What does that say for Spelljammer, Dragonlance and whatever they do in 2023?

One D&D hasn’t even been released and they’re already contradicting themselves.

I know I’m pretty hard on WotC sometimes. They’re the leading company in the industry. With a few brief exceptions, they’ve always been top dog. D&D is pretty much the mother of all roleplaying games. Some would say the industry looks to WotC for direction.

So can someone at WotC or anywhere explain the whole debacle with the Hadozee? Please look up #hadozee on Twitter for the full details. Fair warning: possible racist content. This isn’t the only mistake that was made with the new Spelljammer, but this one came at a really poor time.

Anyone who has been following the sordid tale of Star Frontiers: New Genesis playtest documents knows this isn’t the time to get a bad rep for racism in game publications. It’s bad enough when certain nuts are our there trying to make the hobby look bad. Now the biggest name in the business has to show an utter lack of sensitivity to the topic? Really?

I thought WotC wanted to be progressive. I thought they wanted to set the industry standard. What happened to doing away with negative racial differences in D&D? #hadozee

Anybody remember this little gem from DriveThruRPG/DMsGuild?

Update: D&D Beyond revised Hadozee.

The Hadozee errata.

Good for Wizards of the Coast! They’ve heard the uproar around the slavery element of the Hadozee and removed it on D&D Beyond. At least they’re not completely oblivious to the rpg community. I’m not sure that goes far enough, but it’s a great start.

The only thing that I noticed right away is that it’s still out there in print. Digital media are easy to change. Push the delete button, rewrite a few lines, and poof. Fixed it. But several thousand print copies of the physical book? Oops.

Basically, they deleted all of the content that referred to slavery, removed some offensive art, and issued an apology. Good for them. Better than nothing. I’m sure a LOT of people would have been happy if the offensive text had never made it into the book in the first place.

The other catch is there are still hundreds of print copies out there. It’s still kind of a Public Relations nightmare. Yes, they apologized. The question remains: have they learned anything? At least they’re launching an internal investigation, though…
The apology statement can be found here.

I’m glad no one at WotC actually reads my blog.

Because I’m incredibly disappointed with that company right now. Say what you want about the Old School Renaissance in gaming. At least we knew mistakes had been made well enough to steer clear of them. Call me an “Old Grognard” all day, but I think the kids that put this latest Spelljammer together were seeing dollar signs and little else.

This mistake with the Hadozee has been in print since 1982 by their own admission! How could they have let it slide by? Yeah, I hope WotC’s internal investigation is fruitful.

What are they going to do? Fire the writer from 40 years back? Fire an editor that let it all go by? Pat themselves on the back for a job poorly done? Probably that last part. “Oh, well. Oops. Silly us. Hee hee. Now go buy Dragonlance.”

Editing failure.

I know I drop my share of typos, grammar and punctuation errors here on my blog. I’m not claiming to be perfect. And as an editor, I’m not… uh… Let’s just say dealing with people isn’t my strong suit.

But Spelljammer? C’mon. Really?!? WotC pays these people how much? These “design teams” are so effective. Someone could have walked in off the street and questioned the Hadozee, and yet…

If the McCorporate cultured world of WotC learns anything from this, it’s that the more crap you try to do in committee, the more likely it will FAIL outright. You can hold all the meetings you want. You and have all the little social gatherings in the office you can muster. You can hold hands around the campfire after work. Do you know what matters at the end of the day?

THE F*CKING PRODUCT!!!

It’s lucky for WotC that they have no worries about sucking a loss on Spelljammer. Yay for them. Any smaller company would probably be shitting bricks by now. Not our WotC. They can afford to sweep the whole ugly #hadozee incident under the rug, pretend it never happened, and put out the next piece of trash for all their people to hype up.

DID anybody on that staff stop to think, Hmm. Maybe it’s just possible “Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. ” because they like to remind us of it on DriveThruRPG every chance they get? Seriously? That doesn’t warrant some damn editorial review time??? Which “team” screwed that pooch on this?

I can’t do it anymore. I’m all but done with 5E.

I’m more ready than ever to embrace my old school roots. Pretty sure I have enough OG Dragonlance material to last me a long time should I decide I want to run with it. Don’t even come around me with that Spelljammer business. I’m really looking hard at Old School Essentials again. I think WotC can go a few years without my money again. See you next “edition” on that.

Star Frontiers is welcome. Alternity is welcome. Heck, I’d love to run Amazing Engine again sometime. I won’t be touching Spelljammer with a 10′ space pole any time soon. (*It’s like a regular 10′ pole, only in space.)

I want to find a nice, quiet, smaller company to work for where my work might be appreciated. Give me the peace of mind that I never have to sit in a meeting with a bunch of freakin strangers ever again. Oh, and never will I ever reprint something from the 1980’s without at least reviewing it first.

Onward and upward. Back tomorrow with more gaming excitement. Thank you for stopping by.

Book of the Dead for Pathfinder 2E Review.

As Pathfinder books go, I give it a 5 out of 5 stars in its own arena. As an RPG book in general, I have to knock one star off because of the heavy PF2E influence, some of the fonts were hard to read in places, and there is a heavier amount of gore than some players might be able to handle. I’m definitely mining this book for some 5E and DCC ideas. Lots of great ideas here!

Someone probably rolled their eyes when they saw that title because they think it’s just 52 new flavors of undead.

It’s pretty cool, actually. Then again, I’m a Game Master that prefers Undead (or un-dead if you prefer) as one of my go-to bad guy monster options in most fantasy games. To be completely honest, I grabbed this book to mine it for ideas to use in other fantasy games as well as Pathfinder 2E.

This book has a lot going for it. As a friend of mine says, it has a lot of fluff as well. I call it flavor text. It’s not really a negative if you like PF2E, Golarion, and so on. There’s a lot of world background there to be used.

Another defining quality of this book is the way it makes the macabre and morbid seem like an everyday occurrence. It even goes so far as to detail undead gods such as Orcus. There are also entire lands of the dead, including an Isle of Terror. To top that all off, there are plenty of undead character options. (Probably wouldn’t fly in my campaign without a phenomenal backstory, but…)

There are a lot of parts of this book aimed at the players, but GMs can benefit greatly, too.

There’s the old GM paradigm that if the players can use it, so can the GM. There are spells and feats in the front matter of the book that would work just as well on NPCs as they do for PCs. GMs who create their BBEG just like they’re making a regular character. Use Feats, new spells and abilities to the villain’s advantage and now the regular run-o-the-mill lich becomes a level 20 necro monster with the Reanimator Archetype, an undead companion, and some pretty gnarly spells.

I’m sure a lot of people, GMs like me maybe, got this book for the 100+ pages of undead monsters. It’s tempting to skip right to Page 71 and dive in. However, I found it especially worthwhile to go over the other parts of the book, too. The art is the usual phenomenal job we’ve grown to expect from Paizo’s other PF2E books. The adventure is definitely worth a look as well.

It’s really all about the monsters, right?

I know a lot of people probably saw this book and thought, “Oh, it’s just another book of reskinned zombies with bat wings. There’s nothing new here.”

And those people are what I like to call “wrong.” True to Pathfinder tradition, creatures of myth from all over our world’s cultures are represented. Of course they have the Pathfinder spin on them, but Page 71 does a lovely job explaining which cultures some of them came from.

Full disclosure: they do give the undead adjustments for the “regular undead.” So, if you want to make a mummified dragon or a vampire kobold, you can do it. Yes, there’s even a way to doctor up a zombie and give it bat wings, but that’s not the point of the monster section! (*LOL!)

There is some straight-up nightmare fuel for the PCs in Book of the Dead if the GM chooses to pull it out. There’s everything from ooky spooky things that go bump in the night all the way to cunning, manipulative, and hella evil. A couple of the beasties in here can pretty much touch off their own zombie apocalypse if they wanted to. I don’t want to drop too many spoilers, but I’m truly glad some GMs/DMs maybe won’t pick this one up. Yeek.

It’s more than a standard book with more Skeletons and Zombies.

As Pathfinder books go, I give it a 5 out of 5 stars in its own arena. As an RPG book in general, I have to knock one star off because of the heavy PF2E influence, some of the fonts were hard to read in places, and there is a heavier amount of gore than some players might be able to handle. I’m definitely mining this book for some 5E and DCC ideas. Lots of great ideas here!

I can’t see Wizards of the Coast ever putting a book like this out officially for 5E or “One D&D.” It’s just not quite as warm n fuzzy as most WotC books. DMsGuild has a lot of fan-made undead sourcebooks already.

Not that anyone from Paizo would read this, but I think they should do a whole series of books like this. Golems/Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, and so on would be pretty cool. To the best of my knowledge they didn’t do any PF 1st Ed books in this vein, but it’s possible. I also think pulling some of these undead into Starfinder might be pretty cool, too.

Thanks for taking the time out to read my little review. Please go check this book out in PDF or at your FLGS. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re into horror roleplaying. I appreciate you stopping by.

Company Spotlight: The Arcane Library.

Designer Kelsey Dionne is one of the most imaginative, outgoing, creative professionals out there in the RPG market today.

Designer Kelsey Dionne is one of the most imaginative, outgoing, creative professionals out there in the RPG market today.

The Arcane Library has been putting out solid, playable, fun 5E adventures for years now. That said, I highly recommend checking out the website. On top of all of that, Kelsey is working on her own take on D&D called Shadowdark. One other thing I’d like to mention is that Kelsey is highly approachable, or at least more than many other RPG designers/writers.

I was actually introduced to the Arcane Library and Kelsey’s work through a 5E book called The Monstrous Lexicon. If you follow along The Arcane Library website, there are also free adventures such as Temple of the Basilisk Cult along with the email newsletter. Did I mention the YouTube Channel? Kelsey walks you through some of her modules as they come out and gives really great advice on RPG topics.

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on.

I get to exchange emails with Kelsey once in a very great while. She’s been a bastion of good advice and is super helpful to new writers and RPG designers. I was lucky enough to chat with her through email during the year which shan’t be named. Now that Shadowdark is taking off, and it really is, The Arcane Library is super busy.

If you follow the YouTube channel or if you know Kelsey a little bit from convention gaming, you know that horror is kinda her thing. A lot of The Arcane Library adventures have a horror theme to them. Some of them are definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. They remind me a bit of AD&D 2E Ravenloft. (Which is to say, “AWESOME!”)

As a side note, I invested in the mini-DM Screen and the Combat Cards bundle back when I was still working full time. They’re awesome and I’m still using them when I run 5E.

SHADOWDARK holds a lot of promise.

You can download the quick start rules now. I know I’ve talked before about having a reason for an elaborate dungeon crawl, but Shadowdark really gives adventurers cause to prowl around underground in search of glory and loot! It’s also got a lot of that Old School look and feel to it. I would almost go so far as to say OSR, but without all of the Old Grognard stereotypes attached.

The art, which most writers struggle to find, is exceptional. It’s very old school BECMI with some Call of Cthulhu thrown in. I would also add that if you liked the old FASA Earthdawn RPG, then Shadowdark is well worth checking out.

I’ve even run into people online who mention The Arcane Library and Shadowdark specifically pretty much out of the blue. I was actually surprised when someone who I didn’t think had heard of The Arcane Library was talking about it kinda out of the blue one day. I can’t say who it was out of confidentiality, but I was pretty impressed. Kelsey definitely makes an impression.

The Arcane Library is also active on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter: @arcanelibrary

Instagram: @thearcanelibrary.

Please don’t just take my word for it! Go check out all of the amazing work for yourself. The Arcane Library RPG experience awaits!

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. I appreciate you taking time out to read what I have to say. Have a great day!

New Review of Another Old Book.

As a basic starship combat game, it’s a great place to learn. For beer-n-pretzels space game action, it’s okay. Your crew might die or go broke fast, but as long as you’re not worried about it, you’ll be fine. However, if the character you’ve been playing for years suddenly eats it on a lucky assault rocket hit? That’s grim.

Let’s talk about Star Frontiers Knight Hawks.

Star Frontiers Day is August 19th. The game is 40 years old this year! To celebrate, I’m giving a review of the classic Knight Hawks Expansion to the Original Star Frontiers game. I have a lot of good things to say about this book and this part of the system.

If you missed out on the first printing, it’s okay. Wizards of the Coast has you covered. It’s still around as a reprint book on DriveThruRPG minus the maps, counters and cool box. You can still print the counters and the maps from the PDFs, though. If you want to go all out, I hear the lead miniatures for the ships are still floating around out there in the world, but may be decaying slightly.

It’s a classic head-to-head space battles game on top of being an RPG supplement.

I’ve played a lot of space games over the years. I think my favorite is still Starfire, but I also enjoyed Silent Death, Babylon 5, Battlefleet Gothic, Starfleet Battles, and Starfleet Tactical. Reading the Klingon Tactics in Starfleet Tactical prepared me for space battles later in life. Lol! I would say Knight Hawks ranks right up there with the best.

Overall, it’s a simple combat game. I kinda feel sorry for the RPG crew if their ship gets blown to smithereens during a tactical game. Knight Hawks can definitely be lethal to ships in terms of space battles.

Its rudimentary movement and damage systems are great for beginners.

For those unfamiliar with space battle games, Knight Hawks offers up a great starting point. Movement is straightforward. Ships have a maneuver rating and an ADF number to determine how much it can speed up or slow down on its turn. There are optional rules for planets, gravity wells, etc.

Shooting weapons and raising defenses requires a bit of reading. Not all guns shoot in all directions. Some have different ranges than others. Some work better against certain defenses. It pays to know the capabilities of one’s ship before the start of the battle. This system is simple enough that it can handle large fleet engagements once players get to know the rules a bit.

The advanced rules contain tidbits such as variable damage table, fires aboard ships, repairs, and new ship types. It gives a great basic spread of ships and how to fly them. The rules do not require a PhD in Rocket Science to know how to use them. Basically, make sure you read the ship’s stat block. The rest is fairly intuitive.

Cover of the RPG and galactic content half of Knight Hawks.

What about the roleplaying aspect?

This is what some of us old timers think was missing from Alpha Dawn. Until Knight Hawks, most campaigns were ground based. It was all away team missions and no real flying around, to use Star Trek as an analogy. The Campaign Book Expansion Rules fix a lot of what was previously missing.

With this expansion, ship design and construction become options. The freedom and independence every spacefaring adventurer dreams of are available at a hefty price. Acquiring a ship for the group could potentially involve mortgaging the family farming planet to the hilt. There are other suggested methods aside from buying a ship, but all of them come at some price to the characters eventually.

My biggest beef with the system so far are the skills.

Starship skills don’t require the standard Primary and Secondary classifications that the main Star Frontiers uses. That’s good because the space game came after Alpha Dawn and it would have been more confusing. However, starship skills cost more experience points. Yeesh. It’s almost as if they didn’t want player characters having a ship.

I’ll discuss this further when I talk about Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space in another article. I think the writers realized that the skill system didn’t quite work out. Unfortunately Zeb’s Guide didn’t quite fix the whole thing. Knight Hawks just introduces the starship skills. It’s an okay start I suppose.

I think there’s a bit of a divide between the tactical game and the RPG.

For one thing, ships are pricey in game. If the group’s ship gets into a battle with much of anything larger it might well not survive. That means there’s a pretty good chance the crew might get squished in the process. It makes most space combats an escape or chase situation similar to the Millenium Falcon vs Star Destroyer scenario.

The wargame portion is great for what it does. The RPG portion is great for interstellar travel and background information about the setting. I don’t know if it would run scenarios from other games well. For example, I don’t think Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5 space battles would work well under the Star Frontiers Knight Hawks rules. The scale of battles ramps up very steeply and rapidly becomes more prone to Star Trek style battles with the capital ships/space stations.

I still give it 3.5-4 out of 5 stars. It’s a good start.

As a basic starship combat game, it’s a great place to learn. For beer-n-pretzels space game action, it’s okay. Your crew might die or go broke fast, but as long as you’re not worried about it, you’ll be fine. However, if the character you’ve been playing for years suddenly eats it on a lucky assault rocket hit? That’s grim.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep rolling on the Frontier. I appreciate you!

EZD6 RPG Review.

The art and system for this game are phenomenal. The art is pretty old school, much like I have grown to expect from other Runehammer games. It’s a very simple, easy to teach, fast, light rules game. Combat can be complex with minis on a grid or theatre of the mind with ease. Jump in and play!

The easiest rules-lite game you’ll ever love.

I haven’t been this impressed with a new RPG since ICRPG came out several years ago. By no coincidence, it’s another game by Runehammer. This company just keeps on putting out the hits.

My friend on Twitter, @justinarevolution put me onto this game. Her tastes in RPGs are somewhat similar to mine and her skills as a game master are above and beyond exceptional. Of course, other people in the RPG community have said good things about this book as well. It’s a 110 pages of pure awesome!

Price is a major selling point for some gamers these days. EZD6 is worth every penny in my opinion. It’s up on DriveThruRPG in PDF and print. You can also go to EZD6.com for more about the book and some pretty sweet looking swag.

What’s all the excitement?

Unlike scores of other RPGs on the market, EZD6 has a very short, straightforward character creation system. With just a handful of lines on a sheet of paper, your character can be ready to go. No lengthy tables, no fancy stat rolling procedures, and no long lists of skills and feats to pour over. Anyone can knock out a solid fantasy character from scratch in minutes.

It’s obvious the author of this book, DM Scotty, has a lot of experience in the RPG field. There are cameo spotlights throughout where Scotty leads us through his intentions and what his thoughts are behind some of the various mechanics. Keep it simple and fun is a running theme throughout this RPG.

It’s well-produced in much the same manner as Cartoon Action Hour Season 3 by Spectrum Games is. There are little excerpts from a couple of characters throughout leading one through the various facets of the game. Some of these little snippets are hilarious, but no spoilers here.

It’s a simple, rules lite game that players can jump into, make a character and be playing in about 5 minutes.

It’s easy enough that most 6-10 year olds can pick it up and play probably faster than learning D&D. Answer the basic questions of what you would like this character to do and you’re off to the races. As you may have guessed, the simple six-sided cube is the core mechanic. (Raid your mom’s Yahtzee or Monopoly dice.) It can use other fancy role player dice, but they’re not necessary.

I love it because there really isn’t a lot of crunchy bits. You character IS their concept plus a little flavor that you provide. Much as has been done in other popular lite games, two of your character’s “stat” lines are two aspects, sentences by the player describing something interesting about the character like, “Corndog eating champion,” or “On the run from a farmer because I spent the night with his daughter.” Yeah, I’m sure it may lend itself to abuse if the Rabble Rouser (aka Game Master) isn’t paying attention.

EZD6 Aspects examples better than mine.

Creatures in this game are a breeze to create.

I think Scotty might have taken a page out of ICRPG when he created the monsters and magic items for this game, which is totally cool. Creatures are more than a heap-o-stats and a pile-o-loot. I can have a literal field day with this. Monsters are basically the number of Strikes they can take, how hard they are to hit (from 1-6) and then what can they do? It’s purely description.

Here’s an example:

EZD6 Troll.

There isn’t a ton of numerical manipulation here. Boons are like Advantage in D&D 5E. Roll a second die, pick the higher roll. Trolls are obviously melee combatants. They’re just better at it.

I could add one line in the description to give the Troll another head or have it breathe fire. Everything I love about making monsters quick and easy in other games is right here. I’m very impressed by this plan.

As a side note, the creatures designed for the game itself are straight up nightmare fuel in places. Again, no spoilers, but <shudder.> I like it. My own various plotting and scheming aside, this game offers some tough battles for unwary characters. It’s kind of Old School that way.

Character growth and magical loot are as simple as monster creation.

Unlike other games, EZD6 has no advancement tables or experience point system. Character growth is purely narrative. The RR might rule the character gains a new trait, aspect or boon to something after a specific milestone or story arc. It’s very subjective. Magic items are also a good way to improve a character.

You may have guessed by now that magic items are also descriptive in nature. A magic sword might grant a Boon to hit in melee, sing loudly, and shoot a lightning bolt once per day. Oh, and it talks to the wielder telepathically, constantly. Needless to say, even basic magic items might be fairly hard to come by and very special to the character who owns them. Weapons could be as simple as “Grants a Boon in melee.” There’s really no such thing as a +1 longsword in this game.

There’s a lot of wiggle room for the RR to add more complexity to the magic item system and tons of random rolls if they wish. Weapon and artifact traits from any number of other RPGs are out there to be ported-in if desired. The RR is cautioned against doling out too many magic items too fast, however.

Overall, 5 out of 5 Stars!

The art and system for this game are phenomenal. The art is pretty old school, much like I have grown to expect from other Runehammer games. It’s a very simple, easy to teach, fast, light rules game. Combat can be complex with minis on a grid or theatre of the mind with ease. Jump in and play!

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. Please go check out EZD6.

New Review of an Old Book.

One thing I’ve always found fascinating about this game is the Basic Rules waste no time jumping right into the action. Here’s the basic races. You’re an adventurer in space. Here’s attributes and how they work. Here’s how to shoot stuff and drive land vehicles. Have at it. It’s a beautifully short, uncomplicated, and gets right into why many of us buy RPGs- fun!

Welcome back to the Frontier!

I recently acquired the reprint copies of Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn, Star Frontiers Knight Hawks Expansion, and Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space. They even still have the old T$R logo on the binding. How cool is that?

Yeah, I get pretty geeked about these things.

I’ve been listening a lot more to Tom Verrault’s Star Frontiers Gamer on YouTube. He’s gotten me interested in this old, classic RPG of yesteryear. This game brings back a lot of good memories for me playing with a couple of friends in high school. I think Star Frontiers still has a lot of life in it for being a classic as well as an OSR (Old School Revival) game. I’m tentatively planning on introducing my kids to this game some day, but it may end up being a solo endeavor. Unless I can figure out a time and start a group, which… yeah.

Starting with Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn.

This game was originally a boxed set, back when T$R was putting all of their good stuff out as boxed games. (I.E: Marvel Superheroes, Top Secret S.I, B/X D&D, and Star Frontiers.) I still have my old boxed set minus the dice. The reprint comes as a softcover book and/or PDF from DriveThruRPG. You have to find your own d10/d00 dice. (But how easy is that? I mean they are special math rocks and all.)

One thing I’ve always found fascinating about this game is the Basic Rules waste no time jumping right into the action. Here’s the basic races. You’re an adventurer in space. Here’s attributes and how they work. Here’s how to shoot stuff and drive land vehicles. Have at it. It’s a beautifully short, uncomplicated, and gets right into why many of us buy RPGs- fun!

Beyond some basic equipment, a couple of short scenarios, the basic rules also explain how to design your own creatures and adventures. I always found this kind of odd when the Referee isn’t introduced until the Advanced Rules. It’s kind of an all-in gonzo affair in the Basic game. They give you a character sheet for this game, but even the advanced examples they give later on could fit on a hand written index card.

Alpha Dawn Expanded Rules.

The Expanded Rules are where we get to see more of what we think about when we see a modern RPG. This is where the real meat and bones of the setting lay. Here we get a lot more about “What is a Role Playing Game?” and info about what the various character races look like, etc. There’s a lot more about movement, weapons, equipment and a tiny bit about space travel.

One of the more critical components of the game is introduced in the Expanded rules. Skills are a good thing in any game for helping develop a character. Alpha Dawn said very little about Starship Skills, however. We get Military, Technological, and Biosocial skills. Pick one primary and one secondary skill. Don’t expect miracles in the early levels unless your dice roll especially low.

One thing I really love about this game is the simplicity of the dice. It doesn’t get much more basic that percentage numbers and a roll-under system. You usually either succeed or fail depending on the roll. There’s little ambiguity with the dice system for this game, leaving a lot of breadth to describe a character’s actions. Leveling skills is a bit tedious with this system, but liveable.

The Expanded Rules give us a bit about the setting for Star Frontiers. It’s vague enough for the Referee and/or enterprising third party writers to fill in many of the blanks and customize the game. It’s specific enough to get the Referee and group rolling with some rough-and-tumble space adventures.

One interesting note about the setting- there’s no Earth. Humans are evolved and highly skilled, but their homeworld isn’t Earth. There’s a Planetary Federation, but this ain’t Star Trek. Earth is speculated to have been the home of Gamma World in this setting, but I don’t think it was ever officially confirmed.

The “alien” beings in the setting aren’t warm and fuzzy by any means. The Dralasites, Vrusk, and Sathar are far from humanoid in the traditional sense. There’s also a D&D style collection of creatures, so we can travel to new planets and potentially be eaten by them. Woot!

The Expanded Rules include a really nice Referee section. It covers/expands on creature creation, world building, and adventure creation. There’s a short bit of basic advice on running a game here which is still solid even today. The adventure creation section, although brief, is also packed with a lot of good basic advice.

They give you everything from the boxed set except the dice.

There’s a really nice adventure with this book called, “SF-0 Crash on Volturnus.” The introductory adventure would go onto become the first in a series of modules for the game. It’s a good starting adventure. Authors included T$R luminaries, Tom Moldvay and Doug Niles. It’s a good starting adventure for starting Referees to really get their feet wet in the game system.

There’s a really nice reading list included in the game. Much like the one you see for D&D elsewhere, it’s got a lot of books to really get the reader into a sci-fi gaming mood. I also had to laugh because there are old ads for the RPGA, Dragon magazine, and Amazing Stories listed. Ah, nostalgia.

Overall, I give it 5 stars out of 5. I think a lot of modern games could take a page or two from Star Frontiers. It’s a good old school game that encourages a LOT of imagination on the part of all players and the Referee.

If anyone ever brings this game back officially, I hope they keep the flavor similar to this old game. It’s so open and easy to work with. If you didn’t have a specific creature or game mechanic? You just make it up. Good times.

Reviews of Knight Hawks and Zebulon’s Guide are in the works. I’m also working on a review of Paizo’s Book of the Dead for Pathfinder 2E so people don’t think I’m a stuffy old codger who only does OSR retro gaming. (LOL!)

Thank you for stopping by. Hope your week is going well. I appreciate you!

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