Friday, November 25, 2016

The gloaming vs the night

gloaming (noun) twilight; dusk

I've mentioned before where I am unsure about running my own Crypts & Things setting vs. using Zarth itself. Both have an appeal for me. Zarth is chock full of fun little adventure hooks, cool flavorful weirdness, and a great "Dying of the Light" vibe that seems one part Gamma World, one part Stormbringer, and a dash of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Part of me just an't help tinkering though. One possibility that occurred to me was to use the Crypts & Things rule set to bring a fresh take on an existing setting.

For those of you not familiar with Karameikos, it was the initial offering of TSR's "Known World" (later "Mystara") Gazetteers. It outlined one of the nations within that setting: the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. 

For some, it is a classic example of a "vanilla" fantasy setting. You have a populations of elves, goblins, and dwarfs. You have villains and heroes and ancient ruins. It's ticks all the regular D&D boxes. 

Yawn! Sounds terrible for C&T's brand of weirdness!

Now hear me out. Yes, running a "straight" Karameikos campaign under the C&T rules would be, well, odd. But imagine this: what if some of the events that led to the incursions of the others into Zarth –or events very much like them– happened to a "normal" fantasy world where the PCs lived? In other words, what if the campaign picked up right when stuff went sideways instead of after the weirdness had been going on for generations?

[Minor spoilers: There is even an ancient "slaver" race in Karameikos that mirrors some of the serpent men's role in the setting.]

The nature of the adventures would certainly have a different flavor if the PCs initially saw the incursion of these terrors as an aberration instead of the new norm. Perhaps they could help stem the tide. Or perhaps they'd be the founders of the new cults, given the promises of power that might be offered by the Others.

I think it might be an interesting twist to play out the introduction of the corruption to the world. It might be a bit bleak to some, if it starts to look like "victory" is not likely in the face of cosmic horror, but that could lend a fun "Call of Cthuhlu" tone to things as well.

Just a thought, anyway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Minis/Terrain vs. ToM

I used to paint miniatures all the time. Lately I've fallen out of the habit. Which is a shame because I have so many still unpainted and I have really enjoyed doing it in the past. I got started painting when our group started playing D&D 3rd edition. The rules really emphasize that kind of tactical layout (Attacks of Opportunity, etc.). Over the years, I've drifted away from d20, but still liked slapping paint on pewter.

I'm a big fan of the OSR, but those rules are not generally focused on the tactical layout of combat. Rather, they lend themselves better to an abstract "Theater of the Mind" style of play.

Minis have their pros and cons. On the one hand, having minis for the party and the monsters can be fun eye candy. On the other hand, it can be a distraction when you don't have the perfect mini for everyone and everything on the board ("I know I said they're bugbears, but I only have orc minis, okay?"). Not to mention the time and expense of buying/painting the things!

Groups vary, so I don't know that there is one best way to handle it. Personally, I think Crypts & Things is a great example of a game that benefits from ToM play. So many of the creatures are so bizarre that having minis for them would be quite difficult. Not to mention that a concrete representation can limit a player's imagination when picturing some of these monsters' horrific natures.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh Yeah!

As I mentioned previously, The Crypts & Things monster section is quite evocative, but is not comprehensive when it comes to ordinary creatures and the like. A terrific resource for such things is the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book by Matthew Finch. It includes hundreds of monsters - both fantastic and mundane- some may not be a good fit for Zarth, but I could see using many of them in a C&T/S&S game. What it does have that I really appreciate are listings for things like wild animals (both giant and normal) as well as mounts (horses).The stats jibe nicely with C&T monsters (just remove the Save stat) and the book is available on Lulu in pdf or print on demand. 

I highly recommend taking a look.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Conan on YouTube

No, not him.

A while back, Dark Horse Comics did a series of "motion comic" videos starring our favorite Cimmerian in the REH story "Queen of the Black Coast." It's pretty true to the original text. The animation is quite stylized, but if you're looking for some Hyborean fun, you might want to check it out.

You can see part 1 here (a bit PG-13):

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

USR Swords & Sorcery (A review)

Jay Murphy, of Vanishing Tower Press, recently sent me a copy of his "USR Swords & Sorcery: Rules Lite Role Playing for Fantastic Pulp Fantasy Adventures." (USR:S&S for this review) This comes in a 19 page PDF with artwork, so it's a pretty easy read-through for those who like games that one can get up and running quickly. This was my first exposure to the USR mechanic, but it seemed relatively straightforward. He also sent my a copy of "Shrine of the Keepers"; a short S&S adventure written for the system. I will break this review into two parts: one for the rules and one for the module.

The Rules

USR:S&S takes a fairly "bare bones" approach to the rules. Games that take this approach suffer the handicap of seeming thin on detail, but gain ground in efforts to "get out of the way" of role-play and story. Don't think this is a diceless "story engine" game. The sacred polyhedrals are very much present.

Abilities are distribute to four scores: Action, Ego, Wits, and Hits. Each player chooses a die type from a pool of three (d6, d8, d10) to represent each of the first three scores. Like other die type games (e.g. Savage Worlds), the higher the die type, the better the score. So a warrior would be more likely to have a high Action die, whereas a sorcerer might emphasize Wits. Hits are rolled using Action and Wits. They represent how much punishment one can take before death.

The scores are obviously broad, but that's where "Specialisms" come in. These serve sort of like skill focuses to boost rolls in specific areas. For instance, a character might have a d8 Wits with a specialism in Lore, granting a bonus to rolls on certain knowledge rolls. Task resolution is simply rolling the relevant ability die, adding any bonuses or modifiers, and trying to meet/beat a target difficulty number.

The character section includes a standard equipment list, priced to a silver based economy. Oddly, there is no mention of default starting wealth. One of several areas where I believe the intention was to leave things open-ended for personalization of campaigns.

There are also tables for rolling character backgrounds and details. These represent what the PC was before striking out as an adventurer. These are largely for flavor, and –for the most part– have no mechanical effect on the PCs. They do provide fodder for back stories and RP hooks, though (those are good things). I don't know that I would force a random roll on a player that already has a concept in mind, but if someone wasn't sure they might find inspiration there.

Combat is fairly simple. Each PC gets a combat action, a combat reaction, and movement action per round. Players can mix things up a bit by trading some action types under certain circumstances. An action is self-explanatory: An attack is the most straightforward example. Reactions are generally defensive: dodging or parrying, etc. Movement, again is self-explanatory.

Attacks are resolved via contested rolls. I found this section a little confusing as the language left it unclear whether the contested rolls occurred every time someone attacked, or only if the target had a reaction roll left that round. 

Rules for other, more detailed combat are also included, including hit locations, criticals, and fumbles. I like that these are available but are separate enough that they could be left out if a GM preferred to not use them.

The magic section was quite brief, as the rules leave it up to the GM to determine what types of magic, and what spells (if any) exist in his world. The types of magic presented are quite evocative of a S&S feel, I felt this area could have done with a bit more guidance; perhaps a few sample spells or magical artifacts?

The last part of USR:S&S contains several handy tables for encounters, carousing, and other fun things that might happen to the PCs. While the encounters mention several creatures one might meet, there is no monsters section included. Again, like the spells, the system is light and flexible enough that it would not be difficult to come up with the necessary numbers for most creatures, still some examples would be useful.

Overall, I found USR:S&S an intriguing system and take on this genre of games, but in some ways it is more of a toolkit than a complete game.

Shrine of the Keepers:

This is a fairly straightforward city adventure with a "brave the evil temple" hook. While structurally the plot is not very unusual, where this short module shines for me is in its tone. Nearly every room or encounter fits the Swords & Sorcery genre adroitly. From the nature of the cult, to the attitude of the guards, and the horrors that the PCs may encounter; they all give of a vibe that would be at home in nearly any Leiber or Howard story. The main hook of the adventure fits the "personal" nature of the genre that we discussed before. This is not "save the cosmos." It's "give me what's mine!" Like the rules discussed above, there is a bit of work for the GM to do on his own to fill in some blanks, but it's minor enough it could almost by done on the fly.

Even if one didn't run "Shrine" as is, or with USR:S&S, I would recommend it as a good example of evoking the swords & sorcery pulp genre for an interesting twist on a night's carouse in the city.

Friday, October 21, 2016

C&T Review: Part 4/4

Home stretch, here!

Ill Gotten Gains of Dark Desire:

This is the treasure section of the book. In addition to some straightforward advice about placement and appropriate reward levels, C&T also includes “trade-out” guidelines (similar to Swords & Wizardry). The idea here is that there is a chance for a given amount of the treasure’s “cash” actually being a special item like gems, jewels, or even magic.

C&T also shies from random magic item placement. Magic should be chosen by the CK deliberately. Also, enchanted objects are almost never unilaterally beneficial (or harmful). Magic is a double-edged sword. Even useful items carry a cost.

The listed items are an excellent sampling of weird magics in a swords & sorcery world. Unlike other games, instead of being classified by type (scrolls, potions, rings, swords, etc.), the items are just listed as individual objects. This further underscores the idea that they should be considered individually instead of “just another magic __.”

A Compendium of Fiends:

Monsters, monsters. Where would we be without a bestiary? C&T delivers with a nice assortment of the weird, bestial, sinister, and deadly. Using a very “stat-lite” S&W style of listing, the monsters listed include only the numbers you need, and rely more on colorful flavor text to help the CK evoke the feel  of a creature. Many of the critters are “Zarthian” as opposed to your standard fantasy fare, and normal creatures (lions, tigers, and bears oh my) are a bit thin on the ground, but these are imported pretty easily from other rule books like Swords & Wizardry.

The end of the section includes tables and advice for creating or modifying monsters to create unique creatures in your game, along with a listing of monsters by challenge level. While I personally don’t use challenge levels in general, it’s a handy reference when looking for an easier or harder foe to include in your adventures.

The next section contains three adventures: The Halls of Nizar-Thun, The Haunted Lands, and Port Black Mire. While they all look eminently playable, they also serve as blueprints for C&T style adventures.  Found it very useful to look at how they differ from typical fantasy adventures as well as how they’re similar. “Halls” is a dungeon crawl, “Lands” provides some outdoor/wilderness adventuring, and “Port” is a city adventure complete with a random city events table. The adventures also provide some more detail to the setting (especially Port Black Mire).

Notes from the Abyss:
The final chapter self-described as “a miscellany of topics.” It includes CK (GM) advice do’s & don’ts, etc.), some fun tables for semi-random crypt (dungeon) creation, and a nice writeup on horror in gaming. It finishes up with a bibliography and suggested soundtracks (inspirational/thematic music).

What I liked: The treasure and monster sections were engagingly different than typical fantasy games. I particularly appreciated the nature of the magic items (magic with a cost).

What I didn’t like: As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of the material is tied pretty tightly to the default setting. That’s not a flaw, but it does feel limiting sometimes.

OVERALL: This is not a vanilla fantasy game. Crypts & Things is not a generic D&D substitute. It is designed to deliver a very particular theme and tone; one of weird magic, eldritch horror, gritty pulp action, and characters that you might find in the pages of Howard, Burroughs, or Smith.

The world of Zarth is a nearly ideal backdrop for such a game. With its ancient races, lurking terrors, and encroaching doom. For those who wish to play elsewhere, it shouldn’t be too difficult to use the game in your own setting, but it would be tough to leave all things zarthian behind.

I am immensely pleased with the return on my Kickstarter investment and am looking forward to actually playing some Crypts & Things very soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

C&T Review: Part 3


A rather dramatic title for what amounts to the GM section of the book. I mentioned before I liked having the player information kept in its own section, so this part is the other side of that gold piece.

I’m going to do my best to avoid specifics and spoilers here, but these pages are meant for Crypt Keepers (CKs), not players.

Secrets of the Continent of Terror:

Essentially GM info on the various regions in the setting. Two parts of each entry that I really appreciated were a short table for random encounters, and suggested adventure hooks specific to that area. Even if CKs don’t use them directly, they provide nice idea fodder and give a better sense of what might happen to the PCs while they’re there.

Moving on, we come to a handy little section about “the Others.” This gives a brief description of what exactly the Others are, as well as some information on things like summoning rituals. In a nutshell, the Others are quasi-lovecraftian entities from beyond and objects of worship for various evil cults. Such things are standard fare for a nice, pulpy swords & sorcery feel. The next part details some specific Others, their worshippers, and their minions. This gives a CK some material to work with, as well as a blueprint for designing their own cults and Others.

I appreciated the attention given to this subject on its own, instead of lumping it into the monsters’ section. These things are not gods, nor are they just a big critters to hit with an axe.

Snake Dance:
(cue “Men without Hats” music)
Ssss -Nnnn - Aaaa - Kkkk - Eeee

These pages detail the Serpent Men. The race is integral to the history and current climate of Zarth. There is a lot of good information here, but this chapter is one that left a bit ambiguous. Not for the quality of the material or writing, but because -as I’ve previously stated- I’m not sure that I want to run C&T on Zarth as written or take a homebrew approach. That said, if a CK plans to use the default setting, this chapter is a must-read.

Scourges of the Dying World:
An interesting chapter that offers some high-powered villains to use in one’s campaign. These aren’t “boss monsters” that lurk in the last room of the dungeon, these are master minds and major players. These are the bad guys that a whole campaign is centered around dealing with. Some are Others, some are not. Like the section on the Others, CKs might use these as written or draw inspiration for their campaign’s own nemeses.

What I liked: A lot of thought and effort went into fleshing out the setting and its various populations. As a self-confessed setting junkie, I love getting a sense that a game world is a living, breathing place. The section on the Others really helps underscore the weirdness of the place and of magic's role.

What I didn't like: Again, just from my own perspective, some of the Zarth-centric information may not end up being used that much by me, at least directly. That is not to say it can't be inspirational material, but it might require digging certain things out of the game's innards -or at least filing some serial numbers off.

Next time I’ll cover the last parts of the book: Monsters, Treasure, Sample Adventures, and “Notes from the Abyss.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

Crypts & Things Review: Part 2

Spell Lists:

OK, picking things up where we left off, the text turns to the spells available to the magic-using PCs. In keeping with the S&S feel (as opposed to "high fantasy/magic") spell levels cap at 6th (unlike 9th in many flavors of D&D). There are four lists –White, Black, Grey, and Elementalist– followed by the alphabetical descriptions and stats for each spell.

Many of the spells are your standard fare (Detect Evil, Charm Person, Web, etc.). But there are several new spells that really help evoke the system and setting's tone. Spells such as Call the Kindly Ones or Cauldron of Blood.

How to Play:

Leaving the character section behind, we move into the nuts & bolts of the game. Most of this is pretty typical for your OSR class-and-level fantasy games. A few interesting things to note include that XP is not gained from treasure in this game. The is to reflect adventurers being hungrier for plunder even at higher levels. Also, it shifts the emphasis to defeating foes and completing quests.

As mentioned previously, characters have three new traits in C&T: Luck, Skill, and Sanity. Rules for their use and effects are presented here. I particularly liked the use of Luck as sort of a limited saving throw mechanic where you deplete the pool as you use it.

Skill is task resolution mechanic that's reflects general competence rather than specific training. A character's chance for success increases with level and different classes may get bonuses for certain tasks (thieves with stealth, barbarians with tracking, etc.). CKs (Crypt Keepers) are encouraged to apply circumstantial modifiers as they see fit and not to supplant roleplaying or problem solving with simple die rolls (a very old-school concept and well worth the brief mention it gets).

Sanity is included with simple Wisdom-base rules and some advice for when –and when not– to use it. While the game is not "Fantasy Cthulhu," the weird, eldritch horror aspect certainly needs addressing.

There are some fun little rules for companions and henchman. Companions are more loyal and fleshed out than henchman, but there are tables to add some flavor to those hirelings, too.

Combat is fairly straightforward, but it's worth noting that the sequence emphasizes that spells are declared before initiative is rolled. Other games are written this way too, but –given the nature of magic in the game– its an important balancing point to be able to interrupt a spell.

Damage and Death is a little different than most classic fantasy games. In C&T, hit points are the superficial damage and fatigue that occurs before real injury or wounds occur. The "draught of ‘strong drink’" rule that lets booze restore 1d4 hit points is fun.

"Wine!" gasped the king from the couch where they had laid him. They
put a goblet to his bloody lips and he drank like a man half dead of

"Good!" he grunted, falling back. "Slaying is cursed dry work."

They had stanched the flow of blood, and the innate vitality of the
barbarian was asserting itself.

-Conan, "The Phoenix on the Sword"

Once HP are gone, wounds apply to CON. Further, the game stresses the idea that PCs are special people. Most foes don't get to test luck or dip into CON. Once a regular shmoe's hit points are gone, he's dead. There are also optional rules for things like permanent injuries and the like.

The other two subjects of note in this section are Corruption and The Summons of Evil. 

Corruption is the mechanic to address what happens when a sorcerer uses black magic too much. The summons of evil is the white magic parallel. In effect, the energy from white magic attracts notice from nasties. This reinforces that magic is dangerous and carries a price. 

The Continent of Terror:

Here we get tot he meat of the setting, Zarth. This is a pretty straightforward section, including a chronology, map, and quick descriptions of the main nations/regions. "What the Elder Told Me" is a handy player reference for roleplaying a character from a given background. The write-ups deliberately reflect the bias of the given area, and are "spoiler-free." The secrets and such are reserved for the CK sections.

What I liked: The rules strike a nice balance between "old-school" freeform combats and little rules that add flavor. Having "player-safe" setting write-ups is a definite plus as well. 

What I didn't like: While I like many of the setting ideas, I am still on the fence about whether to embrace the Zarth or strike out on my own. This isn't a reflection on the game itself, just my personal preferences.   

Next up, we'll strike out into Crypt Keeper territory, so players beware!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Musings on Crypts & Things Remastered: Part the First

Now that I’ve read through Crypts & Things Remastered (C&T) and had a chance to digest the material a bit, I thought I’d give some more specific feedback. As there is a lot of material packed into its pages, I’m going to break this review into chunks, rather than try to sum up in one monster post.

A note on the text itself. The book is laid out in an easily read two-column format with comfortable margins. I saw no major organizational errors, and -apart from the inevitable typo or two- it was presented in a clear and readable style.

The art in the book is very clean, black & white, line drawings by David Michael Wright. The images are spaced nicely throughout the text and do a good job of evoking the feel of the subject matter. The cover (and rear) are Wright’s as well, but in color.

The book starts off with “Upon Suicidal Winds They Come.” A short fictional piece that aims to sets the tone of the game and setting. From there is some brief text describing role-playing games, the dice, and a note about the Swords & Wizardry system that C&T is based upon. There is also a “What’s In This Book” page, which seems extraneous, but is actually rather handy for getting a sense of the book’s organization and which sections are likely to contain what you’re after. The Kickstarter acknowledgments are easily skipped over unless you’re looking for your name (I did!).

Scrolls of Wonder

This part primarily deals with character creation and player knowledge. It’s an organizational method I’ve seen used in other games and one I appreciate because it allows a GM (or Crypt Keeper) to tell players to limit their reading to a range of pages rather than skipping around the whole book.

C&T wastes no time by launching into character creation and ability scores. True to its S&W roots, the modifiers are simple and easy to follow. Like the original, C&T also offers the ascending AC option for those who prefer it to the “old-school” method.

C&T characters also have three traits that are not present in the original versions of D&D: Luck, Skill, and Sanity. Skill is level based, rather than rolled, and Sanity is based off of Wisdom. These are covered in more detail later in the rules, but are included here as they are an integral part of creating a PC.

There is a fairly standard equipment section listing things like armor, weapons, and adventuring gear. One tweak I did appreciate was the idea that more weapons could be wielded with one or two hands. Armor is reduced to four types plus a shield for simplicity (Leather, Chain, Ring, and Plate). It would a simple thing to add splint mail and the like back in if it were desired, though.

There are up to nine (9) classes in C&T. I saw “up to” nine because five are considered “exotic” or optional. The core classes are:
  • Barbarian: More of a wilderness expert than a berserker. The barbarian is an iconic figure in swords & sorcery, so I agree with giving them their own class and making it a standard one.
  • Fighter: This is a trained warrior. A mercenary or soldier. A must have in any fantasy RPG. They’re given specializations and leadership skills, helping make them more than just generic meat-shields.
  • Thief: (kudos for the old-school term instead of “rogue”). Your classic pickpocket and second-story man. The thief is not a skirmishing fighter, but a disarmer of traps and a discoverer of secrets.
  • Sorcerer: I saved the spell-slinger for last, as C&T’s take is not only different from the classic magic-user, it ties in closely to some default assumptions about the world of Zarth itself. Spells are divided among three “colors” of magic. Black, White, and Grey. Using black or white spells can carry risks, in the forms of corruption or attracting the attention of evil forces. Rules for this are covered in more detail later.

There is no cleric or healer class. The mechanics for hit points recovery are a bit different than “normal” D&D. The sorcerer class does have some healing ability, but it far from its main focus.
The exotic classes are even more evocative of the setting:
  • Beast Hybrid: Those of a tainted bloodline that was created by Serpent Men magic. They can “hulk out” and transform into bestial forms that grant superior senses and strength.
  • Disciple: Kung-fu jedi/monks. They even have lights and dark sides!
  • Elementalist: An alternate spell-caster. Guess what kind of spells they use.
  • Lizard People: An ancient race, older than the Serpent Men. They are physically tough and keepers of ancient knowledge.
  • Serpent Noble: The Serpent Men are a major part of the Zarth setting and history. There is a whole section of the book about them and their history. Suffice it to say for now this is the PC option for that species.

The last part of character generation is Life Events. Here the player rolls twice, once for their origins and another for their trade (what they did or were trained for before becoming an adventurer). While this is mostly for flavor, the results can also yield bonuses to scores for things like how your PC was raised. I personally like the randomness, but some people may prefer choosing their backstory. Again, this is not a difficult thing to adjust for your own campaign.

What I liked in this section: I very much enjoy the sanity, skill, and luck mechanics. The changes to the “core four” classes seem well suited to a swords & sorcery setting.

What I didn’t like: Not much. I’m still on the fence about a few things like the exotic classes and some of the fighter specializations. I’m sure that some actual playtesting will give me more to go on with them.

That’s probably plenty for one post. I’ll pick up the next time with the spell lists.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Swords & Sorcery

Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

Crypts & Things is -by its own description- "A Swords and Sorcery Roleplaying Game," not "A Fantasy Roleplaying Game." It's a worthwhile distinction to make, in my oh-so-humble opinion and one that many tend to gloss over when looking at different settings or systems. Even experienced gamers often tend to treat the two as roughly synonymous. Granted, they have more in common than not; but the differences are well worth noting when choosing what you're going to play.

So what is the distinction? It's probably futile to try and arrive at a universally accepted definition, but for simplicity, let's turn to Wikipedia for a working one:
Sword and sorcery (S&S) is a subgenre of fantasy generally characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent conflicts. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters. Sword and sorcery commonly overlaps with heroic fantasy.
So here are my noteworthy takeaways from the above :

  1. exciting and violent conflicts - S&S is a genre of action. In gaming terms, this means that fortune favors the bold. Further, fights get bloody. Descriptions should be vivid and graphic: gore-spattered blades, dripping ichor, blazing eyes, and mighty thews. You get the idea. Characters in S&S get into the thick of things and get their hands dirty.
  2. elements of romance - While love interests are not always present in S&S stories or games, characters within the genre tend to passionate. This includes things like loyalty, vengeance, greed, lust, and yes, love. Whereas some types of fantasy tend to ignore or denigrate the baser motives, S&S is more likely to embrace it as at least honest.
  3. an element of magic and the supernatural - At first, this sounds redundant. "magic and the supernatural"? What's the difference? Well, in gaming terms, magic tends to refer to powers (spells and the like) whereas the supernatural is more about that which cannot be explained by the normal rules of the world the characters live in. Further, the supernatural implies something alien and bizarre. There are things in a S&S world (sometimes magic is one of them) that are weird and unsettling, as opposed to a magical fantasy world where elves and dwarfs are seen regularly and people ride flying carpets. It's not that magic can't be powerful in a S&S world -sometimes its moreso- but its unfamiliar and alien to most people.
  4. personal battles rather than world-endangering matters - In JRRT's "Lord of the Rings," Frodo and his pals save the world from the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) in an epic quest and multiple battles between the armies of good and evil. In Robert E. Howard's tales of Conan, the focus tends to be more intimate. Sure the things S&S characters face are terrifying, and maybe there are earthshaking events, but motives and scope tend to more about the people in the story than "saving the world." There also can be an element of moral ambiguity in such stories. While characters like Conan may have a personal code of honor, they are quite often thieves and killers, not noble knights or kindly wizards.
Let's take a look at a classic S&S adventure story as an example. Howard's classic Conan adventure "The Pool of the Black One,"

In the story, Conan slays a treacherous pirate captain in a duel (personal battles); fights off strange strange ebony humanoids (exciting and violent conflicts) that use weird rituals to shrink their victims into doll-like trophies (magic and the supernatural); rescues the captured crew- becoming their new captain; and gets the girl (romance). He then sails off to plunder like a pirate captain should.

Even though the character Conan becomes a king in the stories, the focus on the plots is personal. He is the focus, not Aquilonia or the other nations of Hyborea.

There is nothing wrong with more heroic/epic fantasy. Stopping evil and saving the world are great story fodder, but when looking at running or playing a game like Crypts & Things, it can be helpful to see how its focus is different from more traditional fantasy games in order to get the most out of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An Exercise for the Reader

This is reaching back a bit into the OSR's past, but I highly recommend the following short read for potential Crypt Keepers. It's written by Matt Finch (Swords &Wizardry's creator) and is a handy way to wrap your head around how to approach games like C&T.

A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming

Let the Hellgates open!

At long last, the final version of Crypts & Things: Remastered has arrived. I received my hardcopy book the other day and have downloaded the final pdf. I am nearly finished with my first cover to cover read-through. I will save the full review for when I've let it marinate in my head for a bit, but first impressions are favorable.

I have a regular gaming group, but I don't know if this is the right kind of game for them. It taps pretty deep on the OSR "rulings, not rules" philosophy, and its horror elements aren't exactly what they look for in a fantasy game, preferring more "heroic" themes. It makes me consider using C&T for an alternate group, possibly Roll20 online or similar.