Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reviews that Were at DriveThruRPG - pt. 1

I just learned tonight that I've been breaking the rules at DriveThruRPG by posting reviews of other people's products there, something publishers are not supposed to do.  Thank goodness I hadn't written any more than I did!  I'm taking them down off their site, but I hate to let anything I've ever written go to waste, so I'm saving them here.

100 Dark Fantasy Hirelings, by The Amazing List of Things.

For a dollar, and what it is (essentially a big list), this is pretty good. The 100 hirelings are grouped by type into 10 shorter lists, each getting a 1-2 sentence description. Some are thought-provoking; all are at least decent. Names tend to be English, with both some other real world ethnic names and some fantasy gibberish names slipped in.

1st Ed Advanced Character Sheet, by Gold Piece Publications.

Visually compelling, but difficult to use, character sheet. It really needs bigger boxes and a back side for everything it leaves out.

Advanced Adventures #1:  The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, by Expeditious Retreat Press.

Rare and welcome are the level 2-4 adventure modules (or, “What to do after you finish a basic level module”) and this level range does seem appropriate for the adventure. This adventure is very short on story and background, but long on utility. Notes help the DM place this module for adventurers heading straight to it from civilization, or already exploring the underworld and just stumbling across this place. Opportunities for magical healing abound, making the locale not too difficult for exploring all in one expedition. Inverting the typical dungeon design, the bottom level seems like it would be the easiest. The pod men seem reminiscent of the old D&D vegepygmies, while the shroom is a tongue-in-cheek evil version of the old D&D myconids. Matt Finch is the “double-danger” of a writer who can draw as well and the interior black and white art is both suitably weird and engaging. If the product has any weakness, the maps are rather boring to look at.

BLUEHOLME Prentice Rules, by Dreamscape Designs.

This book is a retroclone – one of many out there – this one of the true second edition of Dungeons & Dragons, edited by Eric Holmes in 1977.

Part 1 is a very introductory introduction, more than the Holmes edition had and more, I feel, like how the 1981 Moldvay ed. spelled everything out for the novice gamer, especially in terms of spelling out all the different uses of the word “level” in D&D.

Part 2, though, is an excellently organized approach to character creation and the simplified tables are an improvement on the original version. While the rules do not deviate from Holmes ed. D&D, there are clarifications on almost every page, like how dwarven perception works or which weapons are “legal” for the cleric class. Information is grouped together better, like how scroll creation rules are now right there in the description of the Magic-User class. Elven multi-classing is explained better and we get a clearer graph of how a five-point Alignment system works.

Curiously, for a retroclone that otherwise adheres so closely to the original rulebook, the 2nd level Magic-User spell list includes several new spells, dealing with the heightened importance of Dexterity in this edition. The Dexterity spell makes sense, but the Ray of Clumsiness spell is mis-worded to apply to Strength and -- I've already been told by the author -- will be corrected in the next printing.

The combat section attempts to add some new rules with mixed results. The explanation for hitting with flaming oil is an example of a good addition. A confusing addition is separating weapons by light, normal, and heavy, which seems to have no game mechanic purpose here, though I've been told it will make more sense in the Compleat Rules. Other things are more clarification, like exactly how “infra-vision” works.

The section on how combat works is nicely written. I particularly like Strangelove the Cleric.

The monster section is very deadly for 1st-3rd level characters, with monsters like the purple worm and the vampire included for completeness’ sake rather than any likelihood of being encountered (under all but the meanest DMs!). The carrion crawler and shrieker are revived here under new names (I doubt I would ever get used to calling a carrion crawler a “grick”).

I like the separation of individual treasure and treasure hordes into different tables. It is very close to the old treasure types. The absence of treasure types in the Open Game License has been a problem for retroclones before and I would much rather use this system than Swords & Wizardry’s bulkier treasure system.

The magic items section conceals barely any new items, the best being the Staff of Clouting which I actually prefer to the old Staff of Striking.

Spelling has been uniformly switched to British English, a distinction D&D has always had a problem with consistency on.

The sample character sheet looks a bit top heavy, with a silly amount of space reserved for ability score modifiers (in a game with very few) and very small space for writing in equipment down below.

The art is good quality public domain art, but really, if given a choice, I’ll take a D&D book with Trampier and Wham art instead any day.

The book is currently available as Pay What You Want. Years ago, I had been lucky enough to buy a used copy of the Holmes ed. for $3. I'd say this version, as an ebook, is easily worth $4.

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