Gamehole 2021 Diary, Day 2

Summary:
I expand my Frog God Game (FGG) selection of excellent products as well as some marvelous new dice that allow me to create things spontaneously on the fly in my C&C games. I had an incredible time in an Old School Essentials (OSE) game (Palace of the Silver Princess) in the morning and a Swords & Wizardry (S&W) game (Baron’s Gambit) in the afternoon.

New Products.
First, my loot for the day. The “Tome of Horrors 2020” expands my monster selection. There are some true bastards in this book ready to be unleashed on my players (with some truly stellar artwork!). The new demonic creatures and fey will be great additions to my games. The new “Torchlight” zine made for S&W (but easily useable for any OSR game) provides some nice options for torchbearers, alternate thief abilities, and a way to do “social combat.” “The Tome of Blighted Horrors” introduces more horrific monster additions to a game. I got a Lost Lands world map. And finally, I got some specialty dice so that I can create a random dungeon in real time simply based on die rolls, add traps on the fly with a die rolls, and several dice that allow me to randomly roll up an NPCs race and class. The race and class dice are made for 5E, but I can just swap out the 5E race/classes for something C&C specific. I love dice that allow me to improv on the spot and these now add more options to my repertoire.

OSE game
As for my gaming today, in the morning I played OSE for the first time. I own all the books and love these neatly organized and richly illustrated tomes based on B/X D&D created by Gavin Norman of Necrotic Gnome. This morning I finally got to play the game. It was also fun to experience it through the classic D&D adventure “Palace of the Silver Princess.” The adventure is your typical adventure from the early 80s with a castle layout that doesn’t make much logical sense, and we all had our characters laugh and roll their eyes at whoever the madman was who had been hired to lay out and create the palace and dungeon. I had an elf, and both me and another elf in the party tag-teamed listening at doors, and there were A Lot Of Doors! We were also reminded of one of the most important OSR rules – if you can avoid combat, it means you stay alive longer. I lost track of how many times we opened a door, saw what we would have to fight, realized that we preferred to live a little bit longer, and closed the door again (sealing it with a couple of hammered-in iron spikes)!

S&W game
I visited Dealer Hall in the afternoon and chatted with more vendors and game designers as well as pick up a few more items.

Then for the late afternoon it was time for my S&W game of the day. I once again had a great bunch of players to adventure with. I have been truly fortunate to have been with such great players so far, and this game took it even further. Puns and play-on-words were non-stop, our GM was also a great on-the-fly referee who lived in the moment and improved things on the spot. This is my GMing style and I love to be able to see other successful improv GMs practice their trade. Being with good GMs and players not only makes the adventure fun, but it can inspire you as both a GM and player. After spending so much time during this pandemic gaming either online, or in small groups in my home, I have welcomed the opportunity to game in person again and embrace the face-to-face gaming experience which simply can’t be beat.

As for the adventure, “Baron’s Gambit” is a straightforward enough and fun adventure that is a great way to introduce players to the S&W game, and do to our great success with two monks, a thief, an assassin, and a dwarf fighter, we intelligently went through all the challenges and the game ended early. But we had such a great time that several of us hung out and had a great chat and drink afterward. The referee is also running a Castles & Crusades game on Sunday and even though it is currently full, I will most likely be able to sit in on his C&C game. So, I look forward to this new game which is firmly in my area of expertise!

From this S&W game I once saw how the flexibility of an OSR game shines through. S&W doesn’t have a formal skill system, so if you want to attempt something, you present your idea to the referee and they either let you do it after you’ve described how you hope to accomplish it, or they come up with a die roll to resolve the situation. The spontaneity of it keeps the game fresh and always new. I really enjoy playing old school games at conventions where you rely on your imagination and not on what you are forced to adhere to on your character. Although the C&C games I run allow the use of a general attribute check if one is needed for a task (it is a nice mid-point between high crunch games like 3E/Pathfinder and no formal skill system games like S&W), at conventions I lean more toward gaming with the least amount of rules that slow you down and prevent you from gaming.

Tomorrow I game in Matt Finch’s always great Mythrus Tower S&W game and then play some Munchkin in the early evening!

Gamehole Con 2021 approaches!

Gamehole Con 2021 is coming (21-24 October) and I am excited!
Today’s Topics: Swords & Wizardry, Old School Essentials, Savage Worlds, Munchkin, Adventures Dark & Deep, Exhibitor Hall.

I haven’t been to a physical convention since Con of the North in February of 2020. The virtual cons over the last year and eight months have been fun in their own way, so I will probably make use of them in the future if I am unable to attend physically (However, I will not be attending Gary Con XIV in person in 2021, so I have been hoping virtual Gary Con goes forward, but sadly it currently only looks like 14 people have signed up for Ethereal Gary Con so far, so I may not even get to participate in Gary Con online next year).

For this upcoming Gamehole I was saddened to not see Castles & Crusades games being offered. I could, of course, run my own C&C games (friends have asked me to do so), however, I run six games in two C&C campaigns each month, that means I run up to 72 C&C games each year, that is a lot of C&C games! So, I use gaming conventions as my time to relax from the pressure of being a GM and just be a player in someone else’s game.

I also love to play different types of games to broaden my perspective on rules and rulings that might come in handy for my C&C game. At Con of the North, Dungeon Crawl Classics has a strong presence, so I get a heavy dose of DCC at that convention, and I expect to again this upcoming February. This time at Gamehole the games I am playing are heavily focused on Swords & Wizardry (S&W) (three games, including the classic Mythrus Tower with Matt Finch), an Old School Essentials (OSE) game, a Savage Worlds game, and a fun session of Munchkin.

As you can see, I will be wearing my shirts promoting the greatest of all RPGs – Castles & Crusades – but I am bringing my S&W and OSE books to use at the gaming tables.

Swords & Wizardry
S&W is a fun game and I look forward to three solid games. Three S&W games will be the most S&W I’ve played at a single convention. It can be fun to immerse yourself in one system (much like I do DCC at Con of the North).

Old School Essentials
I am surprised that OSE doesn’t have more people running the system (I think there was only the one OSE game offered at Gamehole – the one I got in) considering that most OSR designers are now making their games OSE-compatible, OSE games should be offered more at conventions. OSE is a great system and I want to use my OSE books, so we need more people at conventions to run OSE!

Savage Worlds
I’ve never played Savage Worlds before. I’ve heard a lot about it, though, so I am long overdue to get a feel for what it can offer.

Munchkin
I only played Munchkin a couple of times in 2008 when I had moved to St Andrews, Scotland, to pursue my Masters degree. One of my fellow graduate students from Poland was a huge role-player and he introduced a bunch of us to Munchkin. Unfortunately, the Masters programme was grueling and I had to drop gaming to focus on my studies. So, after 13 years I look forward to trying Munchkin out again.

Adventures Dark and Deep
This is more of a public service announcement. I love this game. I wish there was more love for Joseph Bloch’s Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD). I have yet to see anyone run ADD at the cons I visit. I want to play ADD. So, if there is anyone out there who also loves ADD and wants to run it at Gamehole or Con of the North in the future, contact me – I will join your game!

Exhibitors
When I checked the exhibitor information at Gamehole, I was sad to see that Troll Lord Games and Goodman Games won’t have a location in the Dealer Hall this year (they normally have double-sized booths). It is always a joy to talk with the Troll Lords, and Goodman Games and the people at their table are also great people to chat with. On the other hand, that just means I get to spend my time – and money – in the Dealer Hall on companies and products that I have previously overlooked! Having said that, I have spent far too much money on RPGs and I have already shut down my Indiegogo account and my Kickstarter account will be shutdown early next year as I focus on what I already own. Still, there are so many enticing things to find at a convention, so we will see by next Sunday evening how good I was at resisting the new trinkets, bits and bobs that will be calling out my name in the Dealer Hall!

The Drive
I am heading out for the roughly 4.5 hour drive from where I live in Minnesota to Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday. The lovely autumn coolness and the leaves changing color should make the journey there fun! Maybe I will see some of you there!

Rackham Vale Review

This is a review of Rackham Vale, a fascinating RPG sandbox supplement based on the classic illustrations of Arthur Rackham. There is a lot to enjoy here if you love classic art to read and enjoy, as well as an addition to your fantasy RPG!

Back in February I promoted a Kickstarter called Rackham Vale. The Kickstarter promotion states it is “A fey-filled mini-sandbox teeming with fantasy creatures and locations from the mind and paintbox of the immortal Arthur Rackham. Available now in multiple formats at crwbr.com and DriveThruRPG.”

Well, the Kickstarter has now been delivered and it has delivered far more than was ever promised – a rarity for Kickstarter! Let me elaborate.

As part of the zinequest promotion (which is to create A5 sized folded, staple, or saddle-stiched zines). Rackham Vale aimed to meet this requirement with a 40 page zine and some art cards. Well, the project funded and even met some stretch goals. But the creator was truly committed to making this the best project he could, and what he has produced is a 153 page book(!) with 24 art cards on solid card stock, a map of Rackham Vale (all of these are A5), and a 22 minute soundtrack available to accompany any adventuring you might do.

Strengths.
This book is filled with rich details, encompassing mythological creatures, seelies and unseelies, key features of the map of Rackham Vale (the map is available in the book and as a sturdy 5×7 card), and lots of charts and tables you can roll on for inspiration or variety. Factions are detailed, and there is a nearly 80 page bestiary. The monsters have an Old School Essentials stat block, but then have additional fun categories and details such as: what they like, what they hate, what they want, allies, and enemies (try and zoom in on the pictures I’ve linked above and below). This gives a GM a lot of fun roleplaying and adventure design ideas. Through the short and succinct text you can use these creatures many times and emphasize something different. Of course, the motivation for this project was to tie everything in to Arthur Rackham’s art, so each monster gets a full page picture to itself and art is visible on almost every page of the book – Brian Saliba took true advantage of Arthur Rackham’s art to provide detail illustrations for monsters, people, and landscapes, bringing a full environment to life. You really feel immersed in this world.

I supported this Kickstarter at a high level and received 24 art cards (these are available for purchase on the website linked below). I think they are worth it. On one side of the card is a full color illustration of a creature by Arthur Rackham, and on the back are all the details you need to run it. This is great for the GM to hold up to the players during an encounter while referencing everything on the back. The card stock is thick and sturdy – quality stuff.

There is also a map card that comes with the book. It is 5×7, but the text and locations are a bit small since this place is so richly detailed, but it is fine for a quick reference for the lay of the land. I would use it as reference during gameplay and utilize the zoomed-in PDF for game prep (there is also a more close-up version of the map as a 2-page spread in the book).

Weaknesses.
The art within the book is black and white (which is apparently a zinequest requirement. However, the PDF is in color as are the art cards, and there may be a printed color version of the book available in the future). The print size is also a bit small (for me at least), and due to the glued binding some maps, text, and art might be difficult to see without forcing the book open more than you’d like.

Overall Thoughts and Possibilities
That said, I love this book enough that if it were to become available in a larger print format (A4 with larger font) with color art, I’d get another copy. As it stands right now, I will most likely research material on Rackham Vale for a game session through the PDF on my computer and use the printed book and art cards during play.

If you are running a Dolmenwood campaign, this would complement that greatly. Once Gavin Norman releases Dolmenwood (hopefully in 2022), I plan to use Rackham Vale and Dolmenwood together to expand the realm of possibilities for the Otherworld/Realm of Faerie when it bleeds into my fantasy world (with probably some elements from Glynn Seal’s Midderlands to increase the level of strangeness). Rackham Vale is a really fun product with a plethora of creative possibilities for the GM, and I am very happy that I supported this project.

More information and how to get this product.

Questing Beast has done a great review of this book detailing its many quirks and possibilities for use, so feel free to take a look at his review for a clear presentation of what is on offer with this great product.

The product is now available on crwbr. The shop allows you to get the book, art cards, and map. All of them are worth it if you like Arthur Rackham’s art and want a full mini-setting to explore.

If you have Rackham Vale, let me know what you think of it!

Character Creation Challenge: Old School Essentials

This time I return to a retro clone of the 1981 B/X Basic set from 1981 (I previously covered Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, and the Rules Cyclopedia). Although my first introduction to D&D was the 1983 Mentzer red box, I find myself all these years later gravitating toward the early 1981 Moldvay Basic/Expert box sets. Although the game system I use is Castles and Crusades, regular readers of my blog know that I run two campaigns, one draws upon Barrowmaze (which uses the Labyrinth Lord system), and the other is drawing upon Basic Fantasy game material. So for the last couple of years my C&C games have been heavily involved with 1980’s style D&D material.

Old-School Essentials (OSE) is a damn good game! As you can see from the picture below, I got it when it was originally known as B/X Essentials and was available in small booklets. But when Gavin Norman re-branded it Old-School Essentials, he raised the bar. I think this is the best put together and organized presentation of the 1981 Basic D&D game. These are sturdy hardcovers, with amazing old school black and white artwork, as well as multiple full color two-page art spreads throughout. And the rule presentation is incredibly helpful and succinct (the books also have useful endpapers with all the essential charts, why don’t other companies do this?). I really love OSE! Gavin also makes the evocative Dolmenwood faerie tale setting (I have all the Wormskin zines – see the picture at the bottom – which lay out portions of this setting), and once he brings out a complete Dolmenwood setting in the style he’s done for OSE, then that will most likely be my next C&C campaign. But let me get to character creation!

Old School Essentials (and its predecessor, B/X Essentials)

As you probably gathered from the above discussion, I read his OSE and Wormskin books/zines and marvel at the creativity and organization, but I have yet to make a character in the system. So this is that chance!

I rolled some decent stats: 11, 12, 10, 14, 9, 12 (3d6 6 times and distributed as I desired). I chose to make a Thief, since I haven’t done so yet in the character creation challenge, and I wanted to see their OSE capabilities. The information regarding what an attribute score gives you is straightforward, made more so by the fact that Gavin puts all the essential material on one page – or on facing pages – so you always have everything you need to see right in front of you. All the thief material was on two facing pages and I recorded all my abilities. The saving throw charts were easy to read and record on my character sheet, and after rolling my starting coin (3d6x10) and getting 140gp, I proceeded to buy my basic equipment. Again, the ease of reading the charts and the descriptions of whatever you are seeking information on (i.e. attributes, class abilities, equipment) are succinct and aren’t burdened with excess verbiage. The book is small in size (A5), so there is a need to flip through the book more than you would find in a larger A4 book, but the organization of material easily makes up for that and I do like the compactness (if I can find someone who will run OSE at the GaryCon or GameHole conventions, then it will be easy to bring my books with me).

My OSE Thief, Reinfrid

To be honest, that is all there is to it! If you choose to use older-style descending armor class and THACO, those charts and information are obviously shown, but if you prefer to use ascending armor class and hit bonuses (like I do), that is also listed. My personal game of choice may be Castles & Crusades (with C&C I can use D&D material from OD&D to 5E effortlessly), but I want to play OSE at conventions if I can, and I will be drawing upon Gavin’s game advice in the OSE books to guide my C&C games, and when Dolmenwood comes out, I will be using that material as a future campaign. So although my OSE books are currently not being used as much as they deserve, they are not collecting dust!

My Wormskin zines.