Saturday, 16 May 2015

Mini-review: "The Gar’Haden Family Crypt" by Steve Gilman

I noticed that Steve Gilman put out a one-page dungeon as an add-on to The Shrine of Sruukor.  As a follow-up to my review of the Shrine, here's a mini-review of The Gar'Haden Family Crypt, a free one-page adventure for OSR (Swords and Wizardry native).

Gilman's premise for the Crypt is that grave-robbers have busted into somewhere they shouldn't, releasing something horrible.  It's simple, but it works.  He has a suggested use for the Crypt in the context of The Shrine of Sruukor, but it would be very easy to use the module in most campaigns.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Review: "The Shrine of Sruukor" by Steve Gilman

The Shrine of Sruukor is the first episode of Steve Gilman's Sundered Chronicles, self-published under his Sundered Blade Games label.  The module has been designed for 1st to 3rd level adventurers and Gilman has taken the interesting step of producing an OSR version (native to Swords and Wizardry) and a D20 version (native to the Pathfinder RPG), both priced as Pay What You Want.  I've mainly followed the OSR version of the module in this review.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Review: "Beer of the Gods" by the GagMen

Beer of the Gods is a free module published by the comedic podcast collective GagMen.  The adventure is pitched at low-level characters and written for the Basic Fantasy Rules.  However, even without knowing anything about BFR, I found the statistical information pretty easy to translate into the OSR systems that I prefer.

I wasn't familiar with the GagMen when I picked up Beer of the Gods, so after my first readthrough of the module, I tuned into their jam session for it: Episode 33 (February 19, 2015) of their podcast series.  There's a lot to take away from the podcast, not least of which is the usefulness of airing one's ideas to a group for feedback.  A lot of self-publishing designers would do well to copy the GagMen's method, even if they choose to keep their ideas private.  I also think that anyone wanting to run Beer of the Gods could benefit from tuning in and perhaps picking up some of the ideas that didn't make the final cut.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Review: "Cold Drake Canyon" by RC Pinnell

RC Pinnell's Cold Drake Canyon is a free module on Dragonsfoot for 1st to 8th level characters.  The design is aimed at 1st Edition AD&D, but could fairly easily be used with other TSR editions or retro-clones.  Pinnell's stated ambition is to lay out a "mini-setting" with an appropriate base of operations and challenges for bringing characters from low levels up to between fifth and eighth level.

I was very interested in this module for two reasons.  Firstly, it seemed like a cry back to the Keep on the Borderlands both in scope and scenario.  There's room for more modules like Gygax's classic, and having a good free one to direct new DMs towards would have been wonderful.  Secondly, I have my own AD&D 1e game and although I am determined to make use of old notes, the dungeon I have on paper is really more suitable for PCs around 6th level.  Cold Drake Canyon looked like a possible time-saver.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Please stop telling me that I'm allowed to improvise

My current "pet gripe" when reading modules is being told that I'm allowed to make changes or fill in details.

Review: "The Black Ruins" by Corey Ryan Walden

The Black Ruins is a module by Corey Ryan Walden for low-level adventurers, released as a free e-book on Lulu with the option to buy a print copy.  Walden has aimed his system-agnostic scenario at the OSR, but claims that it "can be made compatible with newer editions with minimal effort".  After probing this sort of claim while writing my last review, I'm not inclined to believe that things are quite that simple.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Review: "An (un)Deathly storm" and "Infestation", two one-page adventures from Sacrosanct Games

An (un)Deathly storm and Infestation are both Pay What You Want modules published by Sacrosanct Games.  Sacrosanct, led by Rob Waibel, have been around for a good long time, established in 2002 and claiming that they've been kicking around game design for almost thirty years. The two modules are the first installations of a series of largely system-agnostic one-page fantasy adventures, and have been pitched at low-level characters.

That means I need to make a bit of a disclaimer before going on with the review.  I'm not here to determine the validity of the One Page Dungeon Contest.  (Though for what it's worth, I think the contest encourages scenario designers to test the limits of their creativity and brevity, qualities very useful in designing a scenario of any length.)  My purpose in reviewing is to consider how useful the product is to a DM for running a game.  To put that another way, I'm concerned that I'm doing the gaming equivalent of talking about how good wearable art is for hiking.

Review: "The Tomb of Gardag the Strange" by Shane Ward

The Tomb of Gardag the Strange is a recently published Pay What You Want module for four to six third level characters.  Shane Ward (3 Toadstools Publishing) wrote the module for Labyrinth Lord, although it could be used with other OSR games or the classic RPGs that inspired them.

Let me start out by saying that this is an endearing project.  It was clearly written by someone who has a lot of fun playing RPGs and wants others to derive enjoyment from his work.  To the extent that payment is requested, I think it's fair to assume that Ward is only seeking to cover the costs involved in taking his DM notes and converting them into a product that someone else could use.  But that's where the problem begins.  However much I want to like The Tomb of Gardag the Strange, it hasn't finished the transition from the notes someone took to help themselves to a product designed for another party to use.  Ward has alluded to this on his blog in response to other reviews, suggesting that he "may have had it in mind that the adventure could be used as a funnel" (though presumably with 1st-level characters, rather than 0th-level as in Dungeon Crawl Classics).

Blog status update

The last review was one that I'd started work on months ago, before boring real life stuff that has no business on my blog happened.  Unfortunately, since I started reviewing Bad Light, Wizards of the Coast changes their robots.txt.  For reasons I don't completely understand, this has annihilated archived .zip files for the Original Adventures series (and many other free resources besides) on the Internet Archive.

This is a rather sad development for frugal roleplayers and spells the end of my review series for the Original Adventures, at least until such time as Wizards decides to make the material available again.  (Perhaps through D&D Classics?)  As a temporary solution, I've put up links to a (probably) reliable mirror.

Thankfully, there are many other free adventures out there on the internet and I will be giving them a look over in due course.  I'm particularly interested in the lesser-known material being circulated for OSR games.

The revenge of Blood and Guts

Ray Chapel at Quasar Knight has been talking about hit points, one of my favourite topics for RPG argument.  He does a nice job of summarising the usual case for the "action movie" interpretation of hit points (in which hit points are luck, fitness, and the like) being the natural one for D&D and leaves off by saying that if hit points are going to be blood and guts it's going to take some conversion work.

Now, I don't necessarily disagree with the points Ray made, but I think he's left out the source of the controversy: death's door.  If characters simply die at 0hp, then clerical "healing" magic is in fact some sort of special pleading to the saints (or whoever) for renewed favour.  But we know from descriptions of characters at negative hit points that they are gravely wounded and need attention or they will die.  How is it that the same effects - including the warlord's "shouting" - can restore such characters?

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Review: “Bad Light” by Owen K. C. Stephens

Welcome back to the Original Adventures series reviews. Wizards of the Coast produced these free modules to support their Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 line, but they mostly use the core books and are easily played under D&D 3.0 or Pathfinder RPG rules. Owen K. C. Stephens' Bad Light continues a run of very brief modules, this time 8 pages aimed at four 4th-level adventurers.  Although it's no longer available for free on Wizards' website, the new price is just $0.99 for a copy of Bad Light.