Category Archives: Reviews & First Looks

Blast from the Past: D&D Rules Cyclopedia from 1991

Over the past few years, when I was looking more closely into old-school D&D, the OSR, the various retro-clones etc. numerous people recommended the Rules Cyclopedia to me. It’s basically a compilation of all the rules presented in the edition of Basic D&D which started off with the famous Red Box written by Frank Mentzer. Aside from all the rules it also contains a complete bestiary, and even a description of the world of Mystara aka the Known World. To my knowledge it’s the only D&D game which can be played as is, without having to buy additional books. It’s of course long out of print, but thanks to Print-On-Demand you can now get a print copy from DriveThruRPG.

Personally I have never played a Basic D&D game before. As far as I can remember the first edition of D&D I ever played was AD&D 2nd Edition. I didn’t like it at all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed playing with my friends, I just wasn’t too fond of the the mechanics. Often I had the feeling I had to fight against the rules to play the character I wanted. Certain concepts seemed impossible. With more experience as a player and GM under my belt, I recognize that a lot of the rules were optional and sometimes mere guidelines, but back in the day, we slavishly clinged to the rules-as-written. But enough about my history with D&D, and back to the topic at hand.

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After reading countless retro-clones on a search to find a perfect version of D&D (a search which is essentially futile), I decided to check out one of the actual old editions of D&D. The Rules Cyclopedia was an obvious choice because it included everything needed in a single book, and so many people had recommended it to me.

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Adventurers! Event Zero

I have been given a copies of Adventurers! the game and Adventurers! Event Zero, the Supers setting for Adventurers!

I think this is a great game and setting combo. The feel I have from the setting booklet is like the Heroes TV series. We have an event that has created these heroes but the whole thing is shrouded in conspiracy.

So what do you get?

Adventurers!

Adventurers! Revised Edition is a mini RPG. It claims to be an RPG in two pages but the reality is that the players guide is two pages, the GMs guide is 2 pages and there there is a bit more for the bestiary and stuff like list of gear that characters can buy or use. Toss in some character sheets and top and tail it with a cover and you have 12 pages of rules.

Adventurers! feels like a framework and not a bolted down game. As such you can do a lot with it. The simpler the framework and the less rules there are then the less chance that a rule will stop you doing something. The core Adventurers! booklet hints as settings and styles of play but it is basically generic.

Characters have 3 main attributes and some secondary attributes that are either derived from the core ones or based upon other skills or equipment. The core attributes are on a -1 to 6 scale and for PCs you get 6 points to spend over the three attributes. You get a couple of skills, one at a basic level and the second at a more advanced level. The skills list is not vast in this core book.  You finally have a character concept made up of two words definition and an archetype, or to quote the rules…

The Concept identifies what a hero is and what he does. It is made up of two parts, a Definition (e.g. Unlucky) and an Archetype (e.g. Detective), such as Dashing Swordsman, Mysterious Mage, or Cop Who Protects Innocents. You have Advantage on knowledge rolls linked to your Archetype. The GM rewards you with Her points when you role-play your Definition (e.g. if you are a Courageous
Swordsman and you behave in a courageous way).

The main mechanic is roll 2d6 and add your stat and or skill. A roll of 7+ succeeds. Opposed rolls are you roll yours, they roll theirs and the winner succeeds. Roll double 1 and you critically fail, roll double 6 and you critically succeed.

You should get an idea for how simple this game it.

The complexity, if you can call it that comes from the other half of the equation, the setting book.

Event Zero

Event Zero is a supers setting for Adventurers. So in addition to the core rules EZ adds a really cool campaign setting. I have read a few Gramel mini settings and this is by far the best to date. After the setting you get NPC character and organisation descriptions, plot hooks and setting specific gear lists. Gear includes actual items but also customisations so you can make stuff bullet proof or resistant, all the stuff you would expect from a super heroes costume. You also get add on rules for super powers, heroes working as teams, super hero bases.

It is easy to pack a lot on when every game mechanic is small so in this 44 page book you are getting the added rules for supers, the campaign setting, adventure hooks but the setting specific ‘monsters’ and foes from Super Animals to SWAT teams and Super Villains.

To counter the super villains you get 6 super heroes with fully worked up character sheets which are ready to play.

The final part of this booklet is the Adventure. Each Gramel mini setting as a full adventure. This one runs to 8 pages and is described in a series of set scenes. These can appear somewhat linear, some more than others. The antidote to that is to include a lot of conditional options. The characters do not have to do everything in the right way and at the right time to make it through. The conditional options give them enough leeway to do their own thing. This is less of a problem with the EZ adventure as there is a villain with a plan and that plan will progress if the characters do not step in so it would reach its natural conclusion anyway. As such I think the linear format actually works well here, if anything it feels quite cinematic.

Conclusions

I am quite curious about the Adventurers! game and would like to try it. I haven’t yet so I cannot tell you how it plays in practice.

The game itself was a successful Kickstarter raising over €5000. The production values are very high and it contains some of the best art I have seen in such a rules light game. I think that is a vote in the games favour.

The setting books I love. I am running a game this weekend and I am planning on using one of their settings and adventures for my weekend’s entertainment.

The settings books cost about $6 each and they are well worth it. The two page edition of the rules is free and the kickstarter revised edition, the one I reviewed here is only $4.99. If you ever find yourself in need of a quick setting or an adventure then I would seriously recommend you take a look at one of Gramel’s books.

First Impressions Against The Darkmaster

So I came across Against the Darkmaster this week and it peaked my interest. The game is, according to its website, vsdarkmaster.com a fan developed game derived from the original Iron Crown Enterprises MERP.

So right now the game is in the public play test stage and has a kickstarter planned for next year.

This is just a literal first look as I have not even read the play test document yet.

There are lots of things you want to see if you are looking at something that shares its DNA with Rolemaster and MERP. Open ended rolls are one and they are definitely in here, skills based characters are they are in here, combat tables are here and criticals. All of those you can tick off.

The character creation is a little different to how I remember MERP being. Here you just get some may bonus points to distribute between your stats. This not uncommon in Rolemaster circles as the actual 1-100 stat is never used just the stat bonus. vsDarkmaster has gone down the same route and scrapped the unused 1-100 stat and just kept the stat bonus.

VsDarkmaster has eradicated the work Race from the game and uses Kin in its place. Despite the name change the kins are exactly how I remember the MERP races to be and they have even retained the Background options. If you never played Rolemaster or MERP then you can spend background points to get some form of bonus for your character such as a magic item as starting equipment or extra money or something less tangible like coming from a respected family or a bonus to one of your stats.

Characters each have a culture and these give you a selection of skill ranks that you can spend buying skills. Skills are all grouped into categories and the cultural skill ranks are distributed amongst these categories so you cannot just pile them all into combat or magic!

Character classes or Professions are called Vocations in vsDarkmaster. There are six vocations in this play test version Warrior, Rogue, Strider, Wizard, Animist and Dabbler. the first three have no magic and the last three are all spell casters.

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