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Thursday, 18 January 2018

Classic Rant: "Real Magick" in RPGs: Spellbooks


I've posted previously in this series (on the old blog, but archived here), about some of the misconceptions about how 'occultism' is handled in a lot of allegedly-occult RPGs, and how GMs can modify things to more closely model the reality of the occult scene (a reality that is filled with posers, fakers, and lunatics, but also some truly fascinating stuff). One of the big ones in modern games is about how occult knowledge is somehow rare or very difficult to access (the classic Call of Cthulhu scenario where magical knowledge is only available in the most obscure places), when the fact is that the problem is not access to that knowledge at all, but the ability to differentiate between the useful and the useless. I also made a post about how and what a magician's diary looks like, and how these will often be the most important "grimoires" available in a setting.

Now on the whole I've been focusing on modern settings, but I heard something interesting today on theRPGsite in reference to the "unrealistic" nature of D&D magick. Someone pointed out that the idea of a magician going around with a spellbook and memorizing spells made no sense. Magicians should study their books at home, and their spellbooks would be kept safe within lock and key in their towers.

But the truth of the matter is a bit trickier than that.

A magician may very well carry around his magical diaries with him (remember: a grimoire is really nothing more than a heavily-edited magical diary); for two reasons.

First, not to memorize spells but to potentially remember correspondences. There are big tables of correspondences (which are important "components" for magical practice, divination, etc) that someone might be able to memorize, but there's so much to be memorized that a lot of students won't. A good magick student will know the symbols and order of the zodiac, the planets, elements, PROBABLY the Hebrew letters and their number values, and things like the names of gods, elemental signs, the pentagram rituals and hexagram rituals. If he does all that by heart, he's a pretty advanced student (even among serious practitioners; remember, 99% of supposed 'magicians' have barely studied anything at all and don't actually practice any magick).
But even that kind of expert student may not memorize what type of plant corresponds to the moon, or the name of the Angel of the 20th degree of Leo.

Second, you never know when there's going to be new things to write in the diaries!

A magical diary is practically a part of a magician's body; it's been repeatedly described by almost all of the great occult authors as the single most important tool of the magician. You can almost always use it as a litmus test to tell the difference between a serious occultist and a dabbler, dilettante, or fraud: not everyone who keeps a diary will necessarily be doing serious occult work, but anyone who doesn't keep a magical diary is almost guaranteed NOT to be doing serious occult work of any kind.

Thus, the diary is far from an neat and tidy book of instruction (though sometimes material from said diaries are heavily edited to become actual commercial books); they are the frantic scribbles of a madman, and a seriously-obsessed occultist won't be trusting his own recollection to write down some insight or discovery long after the fact, if he can at all help it. He'll want the diary close, so he can record his studies, discoveries, findings or experiences as quickly as possible.







RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Dunhill Amber Root Bulldog + C&D's Crowley's Best 

(Originally Posted January 17, 2014)

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

They're Finally Here!

So while I've had great pleasure in hearing about tons of other people receiving their copies of Lion & Dragon in the mail, I had not yet received my own author copies in all this time. Six weeks after the launch of L&D, a huge amount of the OSR were enjoying their L&D books, but not the guy who actually wrote it!

But no more!




I have to say, the hardcover looks just magnificent! And yet, the softcover is also really fine as an alternative.

Anyways, I've now joined the club of people who actually own Lion & Dragon, why don't you? You won't regret it!


RPGPundit


Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Virginia

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Last Sun: The Gazetteer of the Middle-Northern Wilderlands

Today, I present to you not just a new RPGPundit Presents issue, but also the first setting supplement for my Last Sun setting, taken from the annals of my infamous and much-blogged-about DCC campaign!

RPGPundit Presents #15: Last Sun: Gazetteer of the Middle-Northern Wilderlands presents the very first descriptive introduction to the very first area explored in my DCC Last Sun campaign, about four years ago. In this small supplement you'll get an overview of the region and its many wonders and dangers.  Learn what wiped out the human race in this region. Find out about the Feral cannibal-halflings of the Last Sun, learn about the Hipster Elves of the Rose Dome, and much more!

Note: you also get a large (75-entry) 0-level occupation table tailored to this area, though it could probably be used in any hipster-elf heavy gonzo post-apocalyptic fantasy setting!


So be sure to check it out! Your first hit of the Last Sun campaign setting will only cost you $1.99! That's cheaper than a shitty coffee and like at least $2 cheaper than a super-shitty marvel comic!

Pick it up on DriveThruRPG or on Precis Intermedia's Web Store.


And while you're at it, be sure to check out all the other awesome titles in the RPGPundit Presents series!



RPGPundit Presents #1: DungeonChef!

RPGPundit Presents #2: The Goetia  (usable for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #3: High-Tech Weapons


RPGPundit Presents #5: The Child-Eaters (an adventure scenario for Lion & Dragon!)







Stay tuned for more next week!


RPGPundit


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Egg + Blue Boar


Monday, 15 January 2018

Lion & Dragon is Back in the Top-10!

So, Lion & Dragon is the little rulebook that just keeps winning.   In spite of having had, at the start of this month, gone through a crisis when RPGnow (accidentally?) erased the original URL of the book, with the help of just MASSIVE fan support, we made our way back. We had been in the top-10 of RPGnow's Bestselling Titles from the first few days the product came out, only to have it vanish when the URL was erased, but within a bit more than 24 hours from that terrible setback, the huge word-of-mouth campaign done by all kinds of great OSR gaming fans brought it back into the top-15.

Yesterday, L&D became a Silver bestseller, just barely a month after its release.

And now today, we've finally pushed our way back into the #10 spot on the Top-10.  My victory is complete.




So again, thanks to all of you who bought the book. And if you haven't bought it yet, go buy it now!

And either way, please share the link on your social media if you want to do me a solid. It is very, very appreciated.


Finally, a product note: RPGPundit Presents #14: The Secret Order of the Red Lady, is now available in Spanish!  So if you're more comfortable with Castellano than Ingles, please check out "La Orden Secreta De La Dama Roja" on Drivethru, or over on the Precis Intermedia shop!

Of course, if you're an English speaker, you can pick up the original.  It's an exciting Lion & Dragon adventure scenario (but playable in any OSR setting), about a cult with a surprise twist.


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Quiete + Peterson's Old Dublin

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Lion & Dragon Has Just Gone SILVER BESTSELLER! Check Out These Reviews!

So, the first and obvious big news: as of today, Lion & Dragon has managed to hit Silver Bestseller status on RPGnow!



This almost exactly one month from when it was first released. Clearly, we're a big big hit.

So, today is a great moment to share some of the works of others, in the form of awesome new reviews of Lion & Dragon!


First off, while L&D has had several very nice reviews on its product page, there's a fairly detailed one that's very interesting, by Geoffrey S:

Summary : a nice OSR RPG, which delivers its promise, albeit on a high fantasy tone for something "medieval authentic". Four stars as a game, the fifth is earned on the reuse potential for most elements. I have reviewed the pdf version.
Content description : Inside, you get : a complete set of rules, including : character creation, magic (divine , profane, and summoning demons), fight, NPC reaction rules, morale rules to deal with followers, equipment list, medieval poison list, magic item list, adventures seeds, a bestiary… List are displayed in the form of random tables. Art is a strong point. More than one drawing per page, with a medieval and / or OSR product vibe in all of them.
What I liked :
  • most if not all of the content can be used outside of this product.
  • simplicity of the rules. Grab and roll your D20, apply the modifier (generally, one from skill and one from level...) and roll it against difficulty.
Could have been even better with :
  • "default setting" of the author, aka Dark Albion, is still very present is this product. This is a design choice, as explained early in the book, but I feel at least a comparaison table between "real world" and "Dark Albion" could have been useful. Perhaps even a few pages. Or a complete removal of it.
  • the default fantasy level is high, which surprised me a bit, for an "medieval authentic" experience. Some optional rules or rules tweaking advice to tune it down a little or completely could have been great.


Second, coming from the official G+ Dark Albion + Lion & Dragon Community, a review by Stefan Skyrock:

My impressions of Lion & Dragon

I'm done skimming the PDF. I have skipped the parts that are probably just par of the course for OSR games (such as rolling ability scores, basic combat or wilderness survival) and focussed on the things that are unique.

High points:

+ The 400 pound bugbear in the room making L&D unique are of the course the medieval supernatural elements - magister "magic", cleric miracles and magic items. I recognized a few things such as talking heads or mandrakes harvested from where the seed of hung criminals lands, but I also picked up plenty of ideas that were new to me.
Even if you don't use the Lion & Dragon system, or even run fantastical medieval Europe in something other than an OSR system (such as Ars Magica or WoD Dark Ages) there is a lot of gameable stuff to pluck and harvest from L&D.

+ Social status being more than just the amount of starting gold, but a very important trait that governs the character's rights and duties, legal equipment and expected behaviour. I haven't seen game designers paying attention to this since The Riddle of Steel.

+ Primitive firearms! Hand cannons and cannons were an integral part of the era, and I have become sick and tired of uninformed gamers and designers getting their panties into a twist about how introducing black powder and guns would ruin the "medievalness" of their settings. It's nice to see a medieval game that gives primitive guns their rightful place acknowledging their strengths, but also their shortcomings.

+ Thief's Tools for once not being super-pricey, super-rare items that can only be created by the best of the best artisans.
Lockpicks aren't as complex as most gamers believe, and especially not in medieval Europe where rather simple and crude ward locks prevail. It has always peeved me that a class associated with poor petty criminals is expected to need a 100+GM item by default to fulfill one of its core functions.

+ The Trial subsystem. I was getting a very Blacksand!ian vibe from it, with trial by combat and by divine judgement as welcome additions fitting the time.

Things I would do different at my table:

- I like the idea of background skills, but I think they are too little pronounced with just a +1-bonus on a narrow set of rolls. I would probably change it to a d4 or d6 rolled along with the d20, which is very noticeable and also sets a visual reminder on the table that this the character's unique shtick he has grown up with.

- I very much like the idea of the random character advancement tables, but I find the execution too swingy and the results too wildly different in power. I would definitively tweak the tables before using them, either by rolling multiple dice to create a bell curve that makes desirable results more common, or by powering up the weaker results such as skill bonuses. Rolling three times and picking two of the results might also work as a quickfix.

- Scots and Cymri are very place-specific. I would have liked to see some suggestions on how to adapt those two classes to other parts of medieval Europe.
Scots are obviously easy - there are plenty of barbarian peoples on the outskirts of civilized Europe depending on the exact time of the game, such as Vikings, Saxons, Huns, Mongols and so on that can use the same stats.
Cymri are a bit trickier, as their most obvious continental counterpart - Rroma and Sinti - didn't enter the European heartland until the 15th century, and Yenish did emerge even much later.







And finally, Scott Shafer has written a top-notch comparative review of Lion & Dragon vs. Maze of the Blue Medusa vs. ASSH on his blog. Here's some of the highlights as it refers to L&D (where he also praises Dark Albion, The Child Eaters - the first adventure for L&D, and Cults of Chaos, the sourcebook on Chaos Cults):


"Lion & Dragon is much more down to earth. This is what Pundit’s Dark Albion should have been. By that, I mean that these are the rules that should have been in the book. No system notes from the campaign, no conversion notes from Fantastic Heroes and Witchery. These were good things, but they pale in comparison to the rules in this slim book. This is a medieval authentic OSR rules set. One that is true to the material, and that does a wonderful job of preserving player agency. For example, at each level you can either roll twice for your level benefit, or you can choose once from the table. Which will it be? The choice is the player’s."

"Pundit gives you an overflowing box of ideas that just keep leaking all over the place. Dark Albion has multiple small dungeons that you can place anywhere in your home campaign. They fit into the Dark Albion campaign very well, but they are almost modular in that they can be dropped into your campaign almost at will. His scenario The Child Eaters is one of the simplest and nastiest scenarios I have come across. This isn’t some fake cosmic horror, but down to earth terror that explains just why Dark Albion’s society is the way that it is. Cults of Chaos is designed for Dark Albion, but can put chaos as a horror front and center in your campaign in ways that Games Workshop hasn’t done in years! This is great stuff!"



So, if you want to find out what all the fuss is about, buy Lion & Dragon today! And if you want to show your liking of the book and do me a big favor, you could always write a review of your own, though if you don't have the time or inclination, you could still be a BIG help very easily by sharing the link to L&D's product page in all your social media. Thanks so much for your support, and keep spreading the word!


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Neerup Bent Billiard + Image Latakia

Saturday, 13 January 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: The Umerican Survival Guide



This is a review of the DCC sourcebook, The Umerican Survival Guide, written by Reid San Filippo, published by Shield of Faith Studios.
The book is a very attractive hardcover, about 285 pages long; it features a full-color cover with an art-style and image somewhat reminiscent of Fear & Loathing, with a group of oddball adventurers escaping some kind of lizard-man motorcycle gang on a post-apocalyptic land-rover. The interior is black and white, with a significant collection of similarly gonzo post-apocalyptic art.





Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I am a huge fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC). I've been running a DCC game in my own setting (the Last Sun) for quite some time now. I've made a number of issues of my RPGPundit Presents series, and will be making more, that are based on that world.  For example, the first of these that is expressly in the Last Sun setting (instead of just general gonzo) is my Hipster Elves book.

Anyways, there's obviously some advantage, if you've just published a DCC-compatible book, with sending it to me for review: I'm pre-inclined to be favorable to the concept, at least. But on the other hand, there is also the chance that I might not find it lives up to my expectations for DCC.

In particular, I think that DCC is quite High Gonzo. In fact, the main book fails to really live up to the gonzo potential that is inherent in the rules.  In essence, I don't think that the default DCC concept setting-wise is quite cognizant of just how insane the rules are if they're not matched to a sufficiently crazy world. The mechanics for the corrupting nature of magic all but demand a world in the throes of mutation and decay. The rules for Divine Disapproval, which have no connection to one's alignment or behavior and only to the random vagaries of chance, mean that the Gods of the setting must be completely insane. You need a world where these things don't seem like incongruities, but rather a world where these things make internal sense.  In other words, a crazy world.

Luckily, a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting is just the kind of thing that DCC needs. It's that way for my Last Sun game, and it sure looks like it's that for the Umerican setting as well.

Umerica is set in the future of Earth, long in the future. Something collided with the moon, and a 'shock wave fractured reality itself'. The world is now a post-apocalyptic hellhole with magic and monsters on top.  Really, it's good to see that there is a consistent backstory (like there is for my Last Sun campaign), but it's not like that matters all that much. The point here isn't to fix the world, to stop some big bad, or anything like that. You're playing a gonzo gamma-world.  And to make that evident, the very first set of rules have to do with foraging for food, complete with tables for some of the awful foods people have to resort to in the setting.

Right after that is shelter. This features a table of "community housing" to let you know where a given group are living (examples include "old tunnels", "broken down vehicles" or underground complexes).

The Maslow's Hierarchy proceeds with clothing, travel, communication, law (featuring some 'unusual laws' in a table, as well as punishments), resources, and types of currencies.

Anyways, with all this in the form of introduction, I would have to say that in comparison to the Last Sun, Umerica is grittier. But don't get me wrong, the tables also make it clear that the Umerica setting doesn't take itself too seriously, either.





After that we get a section written in a first-person perspective of a citizen of a place in Umerica known as the "citadel of scrap". It's a major, mostly ruinous settlement ruled over by a triumvirate of very powerful techno-wizards; and it's a major place of trade. Its various weird neighborhoods are descriptively explained. I suspect it's presented this early in the book to serve as a kind of starting-point or home-base for a campaign if the GM wants to handle it that way.  I like the concept of the Citadel of Scrap, though I wish it hadn't been written as quasi-fiction as if a real guy was telling you about it; I hate that gimmicky style.

After this you get a chapter of other places of note in Umerica. These are described in much less detail, but each is given a few paragraph and some adventure hooks. Places include "The Burning Lands of Yellowstone", "The Floating Iron Isles" of Lake Mishigun, "The Glowing Dome of Dinotastic Park", "The Isle of Doctor Mammon", "The Kingdom of the False Gods" in the wetlands of Flor-Da, "The Lands of Aetheria", "The Menfish Pyramid of The Bass Masters" along the Misshipy river valley, "The Neuqua Valley", "The Old Seattle and the Necromancers of the Space Needle", "The Ruins of Delphia", "The Temple Refineries of Petrolex", "The Untouched Valley of the Forks", "The Vast Wasteland", and "The Whistling Marshes". You also get information about other phenomena of the setting, like the few radio and television channels still operating, the strange clown-run O'Burger restaurants, trade caravans, and the new rail barons.

The next chapter covers how to generate characters in Umerica.  This book is not a complete RPG, it's a sourcebook for DCC, but the differences between the 'inherent setting' of DCC and the Umerica setting are so significant many things have to be changed.  So here we are given a different set of Lucky Roll tables, a different Random Occupation Table (which has an acceptable number of 50 different starting occupations), an optional random race table, and then utterly new takes on character classes.

Clerics are not too dissimilar from DCC, but there's some differences to the magic system, but with more specific details relevant to ritual sacrifices. There's also a list of deities in the setting, including the cannibalistic Buddy O'Burger, Santa, Petrolex, Elmos the puppet god, Technos Discos, and more.
We get a Cyborg class, with cyber upgrades. Next, Feral Urchins who are children that never grow up, and have sneaking, luck, and are divided by alignment into wildchilds, slingers, and nerds.
Then there's a non-human class of humanoid badger-men called Fossorians, and an alien class called Grays (which is funny, because I also have the Grays in my Last Sun campaign!). There's also a Mutant class (I also have mutants in Last Sun, but your more classic post-apocalypse mutants). The Petrol Head class are road-warrior types with vehicles. There's a Robot class (Last Sun has robots, though they're usually NPCs). A scavenger class, a technologist class, and a Wasteland Warrior class.
There's also Wizards. They're quite similar to wizards in DCCs, though obviously there's a new list of Patrons unique to the Umerica setting. Curiously, these include some of the deities of Umerica, which can also be taken as Patrons.  The non-deity patrons include The Cyberhive and The Synod of Astroliches,
Later on in the book there's also a whole new mercurial-magic table for Umerica. The book also features five new DCC spells, one of each level.




There's changes to the armor class system, on account of the standard armors not being really typical here. Instead you get AC of 10+Reflex, as well as bonuses from shields or magic, etc.  But actual armor doesn't add to AC, instead it soaks damage. This is done through a fairly complex system that allows one to build up an "armor die" for soaking damage based on the various scraps of protective wear you might find in the wastelands.  The armor die value will vary wildly as you get new armor, or armor is ruined (if you get a 1 on the armor die roll), plus there's also special 'ablative armor' that doesn't add to your armor die but adds a buffer that prevents the actual armor from being destroyed. Particularly feeble armor can be destroyed on a roll of 1 or 2. Particularly strong armor might not be completely ruined. Creatures with built-in armor (eg. Robots) can also stack regular armor on top of that but it will greatly increase the fumble die.

This all looks, on paper, like a lot of record-keeping and fiddling around will be involved. But it certainly does provide depth and accuracy. I think how much you like this system will depend on how much complexity you're likely to enjoy.

Since firearms are common in Umerica, there's rules on that too, including new fumble tables and critical tables for firearms and grenades/explosives.

The rest of the equipment section has a lot of what you'd expect. There are a few unusual weapons (like a slinger that fires small circular sawblades). There's a variety of vehicles. Firearms (another thing Umerica has in common with my Last Sun game, and highlighted in my RPGPundit Presents #3: High Tech Weapons) include slugthrowers and lasers; also a wide variety of grenades, dynamite, molotov cocktails, etc.

What's maybe missing is a miscellaneous items section.

The next section features rules for vehicle maneuvers and combat, and it's quite clever! I wish I'd had these rules a couple of sessions ago in my DCC game (I just ad-libbed it all, which was fine, but these rules are snazzy). The rules are not too complex, which is great by me, and features things like basic difficulties for different types of maneuvers, and rules for ramming or wiping out. Also, obviously, chase rules.  You also get rules on chases and consuming fuel. There's also stats for basic types of vehicles (including trains, boats, aircraft, robot-vehicles, and even bicycles), and then special traits to modify them.  I'm fairly sure I'll be using these rules at some point in the future of my DCC campaign.

There's a chapter on mutations that features several interesting subtables. The style is quite gonzo post-apocalypse.




Next we get to the "how to GM" chapter, which covers some of the basic concepts of post-apocalypse gaming. I'm not a big fan of "how to GM" chapters, they're rarely excellent. This one isn't awful, but it's just good. Maybe useful to someone with extremely little experience with post-apocalypse as a genre.

The actual mechanical parts of the GM section are somewhat better than good. You get a set of mechanics to govern salvaging for useful stuff. This is pretty good, it's something that isn't always covered in P-A games. There's a bunch of salvage tables at the back of the book for added flavor.

We also get some interesting locations beyond the Citadel of Scrap, that get fleshed out a bit with potential benefits and dangers. This includes an area where the wilds have become sentient, the ruins of malls, a strange monolith of Law and Chaos, an interdimensional truck stop, plus some random plot seeds.


Next, we get to a chapter called "Secrets of the Citadel", which gives additional information aimed at the GM for the Citadel of Scrap. It covers law and justice, details on the merchant houses, underworld, black market, cults, and the mysterious God In the Pit. And, of course, the royals.
There's also more details and adventure seeds for each of the major neighborhoods of the city.

Finally, the appendices detail conversion notes for standard DCC materials into the Umerica house-rules, some recommended reading, and some pretty sweet salvage tables. A character sheet is included at the end.

All in all the Umerican Survival Guide is a fantastic product, well worthy of the DCC name. If you want to run fantasy-post-apocalypse in an OSR system, this is the setting for you (at least, until my Last Sun setting is fully released!).


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + Solani's Aged Burley Flake