Silent Legions

Introduction

I’ve been a fan of Kevin Crawford’s work since the release of Stars Without Number. I’ve kept an eye on his releases since then, even though I didn’t purchase one until recently when I decided to get the hardcover of Silent Legions. I wasn’t quite happy with Call of Cthulhu, and the new Delta Green hadn’t been released yet, so I wanted to check out this game and see if it would work for me.

On an initial flip-through, Silent Legions looks pretty old-school. There’s some black-and-white artwork sprinkled around (in the PDF it’s quite pixelated which sucks), otherwise it’s plain 2-column text. It’s easy to read, even if the tables, etc. don’t stand out too well. If you’re a fan of the newest Call of Cthulhu and/or Delta Green and how stellar they look, you’ll be disappointed. Kevin’s newest releases are improved, and one day there may be a new edition of Silent Legions.

Creating a Character

Like Kevin’s other games and unlike BRP-based games such as Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green, Silent Legions uses classes for the characters (Investigator, Scholar, Socialite, or Tough). Yes you can fine-tune your character with backgrounds and the skill system, but up-front you will have to choose what general kind of character you want to play. If you tend to play D&D or OSR games, this won’t be a big deal. If you’re coming from a BRP game, then this will likely be a bit jarring. I personally don’t mind, as the classes are fairly broad in scope.

Similar to Kevin’s other games and BRP-based games, Silent Legions has a skill system. It’s not as fine-grained as BRP games, but it is a nice overlay and I think for this kind of game it’s sufficient. Unlike BRP’s logical d100-based skills, Silent Legions uses 2d6 for skill rolls.

The Rules of the Game

This chapter isn’t too long, and it briefly covers most of what you’ll need to know to run a game of Silent Legions. First skill checks are covered, and it’s a quick 1-page overview. Next is saving throws and natural perils, followed by expertise. It’s a neat way to re-roll a skill check or use a special ability.

Combat is next on the agenda, and it’s also just 1 page! This is something I really appreciate in Kevin’s games. Look, I’m older, impatient, hard-pressed for time, etc. etc. I don’t have all day to put my mind into a game like I could when I was younger. And coming from a D&D/OSR background, these rules just make sense to me and are almost too easy to pick up and understand. ANYWAYS. After combat is encumbrance; luckily this is very brief and fairly logical, as I tend to hand-wave it for the most part. Next is madness, which I suppose is a more PC and logical name rather than insanity as used in Call of Cthulhu. This a little more involved, as it’s 2 WHOLE PAGES. Most of it makes sense to me, but as I don’t really like to lay on the insanity/madness that much in horror games I’m likely to not use very much of this.

Character advancement is pretty straight-forward, gaining hit die, lowering madness, and gaining skill and expertise points. The last section covers injury and healing. Just like Call of Cthulhu and OSR games, combat in Silent Legions is deadly and will likely kill those who foolishly rush into a fight. At the very end of this chapter is a 1-page quick reference sheet, and it’s something that really should be in every RPG!

Sorcery

Magic and sorcery is something I never really paid mind to in Call of Cthulhu, as I always felt it was something to be used by opponents and monsters, not the characters. Silent Legions addresses this in a way, as there are two kinds of magic: gray and black, the latter being almost too much to bear for players. I’m not sure if I’d use much of this chapter, but like always Kevin puts in some incredibly useful tables, and so I just may have to try it out and likely be surprisingly pleased with the results.

Creating Your Mythos

This is a big chapter, with lots of information and a very large number of tables. What creating a mythos includes is the gods, aliens, cults, and artifacts. Depending on if you’re planning a one-shot adventure using Silent Legions or an entire campaign that could span months or even years, only small portions or the entire chapter would be beneficial or deemed necessary for your game. I would personally start with just artifacts and perhaps aliens, and later on introduce the gods. Cults, as I’ve mentioned in numerous reviews, just don’t appeal to me and I wouldn’t likely use them.

Building Your World

This is another big chapter, but probably the most helpful one in the book. Compared to the broad strokes painted in the previous chapter, this one narrows in and makes you get up close with a fine-point pen. It’s time to really sit down and think about what you want to happen in your game, and as always Kevin presents a lot of information and tables to help you find exactly what you want.

First it covers regions and locations, specifically using what Kevin calls location tags. Some of these tags are worded quite strangely to me, and I’m unlikely to use most of them.

Next is working on the adventure itself, and that is accomplished through creating an adventure template and utilizing scenes. Regarding the latter there are many categories, including resolution (not sure why it’s listed first), investigation, introduction, hook, ambush, conflict, escape, and respite. These are far more useful than the previous location tags.

Next Kevin gives a section and table for challenges tailored specifically for each character class. I wouldn’t have thought to create challenges in this manner, but it’s an interesting take that’s easy to work with as well as create my own. I might even think about doing the same for other class-based RPGs.

The chapter ends with 2 pages for quickly creating actors and crime scenes, along with a location and template creation example. The last one I’m very glad to see included, as with the other examples it makes these rules far easier to understand and remember, and this in particular does help a bit regarding location tags.

Cults

In this shorter chapter, the game goes over an aspect of Lovecraftian horror that I never really got into. The aspect of cults is something that I never came across in my reading, and yet they’re in so many RPGs! In Silent Legion this is a decent-sized chapter, going over the nature of cults, anatomy, assets, and more. The last few pages and tables specifically go over assets.

The Bestiary

This chapter is quite a bit smaller than I would have liked, although compared to Delta Green’s Agent Handbook I’m glad to get any at all! The intent is for the GM to create his or her own custom creatures, either completely from scratch or using the few included as starting points. A page is devoted to morale, which is odd to see as I’ve never seen it outside of B/X and derived OSR games. I do like that it’s included, and as noted it still wouldn’t be used by the most bloodthirsty or alien creatures. There’s also a couple of helpful tables, although I certainly wish there were more for this chapter.

Game Master Resources

As mentioned in the opening paragraphs this section was primarily due to the Kickstarter success for this book. While I think it’s nice other were able to support Kevin and have a say for thing they’d like to have included in the book, it also makes it sound like this section wouldn’t exist otherwise, and Kevin wouldn’t have even bothered to offer any more material. Coming from Stars Without Number, that would make this game appear to be a lot more bare-bones!

First is a Lovecraftian name generator. Garbled consonants, got it. Next is secret adepts of the world. Unless your game will heavily feature magic this won’t be of much use. Next Kevin covers using Silent Legions with other games, both of his own as well as Call of Cthulhu. This is certainly helpful, but aside from some monsters I’m not likely to try to combine other games and their rules. Next is an interesting bit called Dark Senses, whereas the players can suffer unique consequences as a result of their encounters with the strange and horrible. This is more of what I want to see! Next is an interesting item, an example society dedicated to human good. I think that’s a nice contrast to the typical evil cults and conspiratorial happenings that can be so prevalent in these kind of games. After that are a couple of example cults/societies, and again it’s something I’m likely to never use.

From there we finally get some more tables, these focused on mythos aberrations. There’s some interesting ideas in here, and may help you get some adventure ideas going. Next is another section regarding combining Silent Legions with other games. I’m not sure since this was a Kickstarter perk/add-on that it was put here rather than combined with the section in a previous chapter, so it does feel a little out of place, as helpful as it is. Next is another idea for potential hope and good in the world, and it’s something that I might include in a game that perhaps hints at otherworldly protectors and benefactors. Next is a section regarding running a game set in a university setting, namely Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. While I can see a certain appeal to this kind of game (and hey I’m a huge fan of Re-Animator!) it wouldn’t be my first choice, but I am glad to see this included. The last section is an obvious take on Delta Green called Unit 13. Of course in 1 page there’s not much that can be included, and like most of the other sections it feels like something that really could have been fleshed out into its own chapter. But even if this section was, I’d still would choose Delta Green over it for many reasons, but that’s for a certain kind of game/atmosphere.

This chapter ends with a Kickstarter patron list, a character sheet (just one page and art/frill-free, such a novelty these days!), and an index that seems to be pretty short but I still appreciate it was included at all.

Conclusion

So in the end, can this game replace Call of Cthulhu for me? I think it can. It can’t replace Delta Green; it has a far better and logical rule system, clearer writing, and a much more modern and clearer layout that makes it so easy to both read and reference. But I do think they can happily sit side-by-side on my shelf, and depending on what kind of game I want to run (and really, it’s more about what kind of characters the players would want to be) Silent Legions could easily become a go-to game, namely due to the simple and OSR-inspired rules. I would also choose this over World/Chronicles of Darkness for a “normal/mortal” horror game. I would certainly like to see more material from Kevin for this game, and I must also criticize the lack of any free and/or open-source license (namely the OGL) to allow others to create materials and adventures for this and Kevin’s other games.

This was also the first hardback I purchased from DriveThruRPG, and I’m pretty happy with it. Granted it’s not in color and not as sophisticated a design/layout as Kevin’s recent releases, but unlike the PDF the artwork is sharp. My preference is still paperback, but fewer publishers are offering it through DriveThruRPG, and that’s a shame, especially for larger page-counts.

RuneQuest Glorantha Quickstart

After running a very successful Kickstarter to re-print the 2nd edition of RuneQuest, Chaosium began work on a new edition of RuneQuest, after ending its license to The Design Mechanism (whose game lives on in Mythras). Electing to use RQ2 as its rule-base rather than RQ6 or the newer Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Chaosium brought on-board Jason Durall, author of the Basic RolePlaying Game (i.e. the Big Gold Book), to help create the newest edition of RuneQuest. Also like RQ2 and unlike RQ6, the world of Glorantha is back in as the default setting. Of course the amazing flexibility of the BRP rules means you don’t have to use that setting if you don’t want to, as well as all the other rules being fairly modular to mold, drop, and/or replace.

Debuting in paperback for Free RPG Day and now available to purchase from Chaosium and/or download the free PDF, the RQG quickstart is a marvelous way to get into the game, and is just as good, if not better, than the CoC7 quickstart. Let’s take a look at the quickstart and see how well it works.

Initial Impression

To say that the look and design of this quickstart is gorgeous is an understatement. Like the CoC7 quickstart, it’s clear the new Chaosium is putting a priority on the look and readability of their games, and it’s something I greatly commend them for putting more effort into. I also like the textured look of the page backgrounds; it isn’t so busy as to be distracting, and I also like the rune graphic lightly placed in the middle of the pages. The page borders are a neat gold and brown pattern, and the same color is used for headings. The tables are also well-designed, with alternate-colored rows. The use of plain black for some of the parts is a little jarring and seems out of place, but I’m not sure what would work better. The artwork, while sparse and almost all portraits, are in grayscale and make great use of shading. I do hope the full rulebook has quite a bit more artwork, and maybe some not in full color, but perhaps using the golds and browns. I think that would look fantastic.

The Game System

Like other BRP games, RQG uses characteristics named the same as D&D/OSR RPGs, along with two unique ones: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma. In addition to characteristics, RQG uses abilities, which can either be a skill, passion, or rune. While these three will be commonly used when attempting something, RQG also utilizes the characteristics in a characteristics roll, which is simply that characteristic’s value multiplied by 5. An oddity is that Power is used for luck.

This section actually continues after the Adventurer Overview. I won’t admit how long it took me to figure that out, but it really should have been noted at the bottom of page 3. In addition to the Opposed Roll, the Resistance Table is back! For those not familiar with BRP, the Resistance Table was used for a long time, and has its fan and detractors. The latest version of Call of Cthulhu doesn’t use it, nor does RQ6/Mythras. While I don’t personally hate it, I did see the latest rules leaving it behind as evolution and refinement of the BRP rules, so it’s quite odd that this new game is using it once again. It’s also not explained very well in the text, and when you look at the table it uses POW, which isn’t even mentioned in the text!

Overall this section is pretty brief, and while it mostly makes sense on its own, I think for those new to BRP-based RPGs more explanations and examples would be beneficial. I certainly hope the full game provides that.

Adventurer Overview

This next section, also very brief, quickly covers each term of what’s on a RQG character sheet. Most of these are self-explanatory, with the exception of Strike Ranks and Rune Points/Spells. The example character on the facing page is a great help. Some of the circled numbers are badly-placed.

Time & Movement

Similar to D&D/OSR RPGs, RQG uses turns and rounds when describing time within the game. The round is even further defined by strike ranks. This is a concept I’m not familiar with, and the very brief explanation here, while sounding logical, doesn’t make much sense. Again, a combat example would help greatly. Movement is determined by the number of Move points, each being 3 meters in combat and “much more” outside of combat. Again, it makes sense logically but I’ve seen it explained far better in most D&D/OSR games.

Runes

As the game is RuneQuest, it’s clear that runes are the primary focus of this game. They are what make up the world, the gods, the magic, everything in existence. They are used for magic, augemtning certain skills, and even define personality. There are four types of runes: Elements, Powers, Forms, and Conditions.

Cool concept, but it’ll take more than this quick-start to convince me it’s worth running a game that focuses so heavy on them. In less than two pages I don’t really understand just how runes are (or should) be used in the game.

Passions

This short section explains how hatred, love, loyalty, and more can affect a character’s attempt at an action. These can be attempted at the right moment by a player, or the GM may call for it. Pretty logical rules, and I would encourage their use in my games.

Skills

Pretty much the core foundation of a D100/BRP game, skills define just what the character can do and attempt. These are what improves as a character continues adventuring. Many if not most skill rolls are made by the player, but there are a few times when the GM should make it for him or her. As expected for a quickstart, the list of rules is fairly short.

Combat

Having read and reviews Mythras, I was bracing for an equally complex yet realistic combat system in this quickstart, and for the most part my instincts were right. Strike ranks are used, as are hit locations. There are quite a few spot rules, but they’re all logical and I would likely use most if not all of them. I am disappointed however to not see a combat example.

Damage

My first reaction was to wonder why this wasn’t in the Combat section. However, as the opening paragraph states a player can certainly receive damage outside of combat. Armor and hit locations are very briefly covered, as well as death and healing.

Spirit Magic

This is the first of the two magic systems described in this quickstart. I don’t doubt that the full game will have several more, perhaps as many as Mythras does. As long as they’re modular and I can pick and choose I’m happy!

Spirit magic is fairly similar to the spells and rules you’d find in D&D and OSR RPGs. In contrast to Vancian casting, in RuneQuest magic points are expended for each casting. Each spell’s magic point cost also factors into the spell’s strike rank.

Rune Magic

Well here’s the rune magic, hence the game’s name! There’s some similarities to spirit magic, but also some important differences. Rune magic is cast through the use of rune points, as well as a roll against that spell’s rune affinity (not explained at this point in the quickstart, so just gotta nod your head in fake understanding like I did). There’s a short list of spells, with some almost mundane and a few I’d really like to see what happens when used in-game.

The Broken Tower

Taking up the second half of the quickstart is the adventure. I’m very happy to see an adventure included in the quickstart (it’s amazing how many games don’t), especially one so well-detailed. This adventure serves to help introduce the rules of the game as well as the world of Glorantha for both the GM and the players. I won’t go over the story and the encounters here, but I will say this is an excellent adventure, intro or not. The maps are a little dark and could use their own page for more details, but otherwise it’s always a nice reminder to see that D100/BRP games don’t require a gridded map and can be a little more loosely-drawn. There are five pre-generated characters at the end of the adventure available, with an additional shaman that can be downloaded here.

Conclusion

As far as quickstarts go, this one is pretty good. The design, layout, and content are all fairly well-developed and promise a full game that will usher RuneQuest to a new generation of players. I’m curious as well as hesitant to see what the full game bring, both in terms of sheer amount of rules as well as details for the world of Glorantha. Chaosium has posted a new design for the logo, and I and others do not like it, as well as being confused why the design from this quickstart is now apparently abandoned. Hopefully more will be made clear in the time following up to the game’s release.

Diaspora

Introduction

Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on the Fate RPG rules, and whether they’re actually as revolutionary as so many of its (often rabid) fan-base wants others to believe, or if it’s simply an OK alternative that could work depending on the group, the exact implementation of Fate, etc. etc. While the main attraction is the newest revision of the Fate rules as written in the Fate Core book, I’m taking a look at another sci-fi RPG that uses an older implementation of Fate: Diaspora.

It should be noted that as far as hard science fiction goes, I’m completely clueless. I’ve read a few Asimov novels decades ago (holy shit I’m old), and I have a general concept of what I think hard science-fiction is, but basically I’m going into this review assuming that this book is going to teach me at least enough to get started.

First Impressions

Like many other Fate games, the first thing I notice is that it is in 6″x9″, single-column format. It is very easy to read, and I commend VSCA for using that format. At 270 pages in this format, its page-count isn’t too bad, but it’s still higher than what I prefer and know I can read and remember most of the rules in the first couple of readings. At least there aren’t any side-bars unlike Fate Core! The font size is very easy to read, and the tables and boxed text are clean and straight-forward. There’s not too much artwork in here, but what there is has a nice Traveller vibe, so I do wish there was a bit more in that style, especially of space and exotic planetary terrains.

Looking at the table of contents, I really like how this book is organized. One odd thing I notice, both here and in the rest of the book, is that all chapter titles, headings, etc. are all in lowercase. Not really a negative, it’s just odd to see and threw me off at first. After the introduction the book opens with a short 12-page chapter on the Fate rules. It’s a great opening chapter; it lightly touches on the system and some of the ways it works, but it doesn’t try to dive into details and overwhelm the reader right off the bat.

Clusters

Next is the Clusters chapter (sorry but I have to capitalize them!). It’s interesting that this chapter isn’t closer to the end, where traditionally this kind of GM/Referee-focused information is. There’s 2 reasons for that, and I can agree with both. First is simply because this is a Fate game, and in these games the word of law is Cooperation. Even in creating the universe of the game, Fate intends for all players, not just the GM, to have a say and help flesh out the world. After all, they’re gonna be playing in it, wouldn’t you want them to have a say? That’s not to say that everything players will suggest will work or may even be downright moronic. At the end of the day the GM still has final say, at least in my games he or she does. The second reason for having this chapter so soon is that the GM along with the players will need to know more about the universe before creating characters, NPCs, etc. That sounds pretty logical, but in most RPG books it’s left solely up to the GM, and it still comes after all the rules for character creation, creatures, etc.

Anyways, the Clusters chapter has a pretty simple way to create as well as link systems. The main 3 points to each system are its technology, environment, and resources.  There are 9 possible levels for each, though of course you could create your own.

Characters

Next it’s on to the Characters chapter. Similar to Bulldogs!, this is also pretty simple and straightforward; you will create your aspects, choose your skills, populate your stress tracks, create your stunts, and then purchase equipment. Also similar to Bulldogs! (the older version), there are quite a few aspects you’ll need to create, compared to the fewer number in Fate Core and Accelerated. There are ten total, two for each phase: growing up, starting out, moment of crisis, sidetracked, and on your own. What’s neat, however, is that you don’t simply write out the phrases, as shown in most other Fate books. Rather, you will write a short paragraph for each phase, read it aloud to the group, and then from that pick your two aspects. It will still take some time, but using this method I don’t foresee it being much of a struggle nor hassle. I guess if a group really wanted to, you could just come up with one aspect for each phase, and then later on once you know more about your character and how he or she interacts with others and deals with things then you can write down the additional five aspects.

Coming from Fate Accelerated, I used to not be that keen on skills. Like any other RPG with skills, you will always run into the issue of what to do when someone wants to do something that isn’t covered by an existing skill. Now I’ll admit the weakness with Fate Accelerated in that it’s too easy for players to try to choose their best Approach to use each and every time (I simply house-rule that the GM has final say and authority over which Approach is used). In Diaspora the number of skills isn’t too large, so it’s at least easy for me to wrap my head around. It may not be as refined (but also not as generalized) as Fate Core, but I’ll take Diaspora or Bulldogs! over Core any day for layout, organization, and rule explanation.

Play

Next we have the Play chapter, and outside of the combat chapters it’s the largest one in the book, but it does cover almost everything besides character creation and combat.

First this section goes over refresh, the first portion of each game to catch up on previous events, assign Fate points to each character and spaceship, check for any needed healing, and utilizing experience gained.

Next we go over opposition. This covers both non-player characters and animals, and each section is fairly brief and easy to understand. Both have skills and aspects like a player character does, but there are far fewer of each. It is very easy to create new NPCs and animals in Diaspora within a minute of reading this short section!

Next the book covers space travel. There’s quite a bit of jargon here, even though it’s an interesting read as to how and why the travel rules were designed as they are. Unfortunately, at the end of this section I didn’t really understand it and I’d be likely to either very generalize space travel if not completely hand-wave it. And when I spend time and money on an RPG that features space travel, I want a simple but flexible system that I can knowingly utilize and eventually modify. Unfortunately that’s not the case here.

Next up is economics. While the knee-jerk reaction to this might be a sarcastic “Oh boy, yay!”, the fact is this is an important part of any near- or far-future world. In contrast to the last section, this one is clearly explained and logical to follow.

Next is mini-games, which is the four(!) combat sub-systems in the game: personal combat, space combat, social combat, and platoon combat. Since this is just a general overview of these sub-systems, I’m not quite sure yet what to think of them. At first glace it seems like overkill, not to mention that many more rules I’ll have to learn.

Finally, this chapter ends with a sample first session. Yes, finally something that will get me in the mood to play this kind of game and start grokking the rules! Wait a minute. It’s just a couple of sample worlds and characters. That’s not what a sample first (play) session is! To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. 94 pages in (including a blank page), and I’m not really getting into this game. Other RPGs would be either completed or getting near the end. What in the world does another 100 pages warrant?

Combat

There are four (!) chapters in Diaspora that covers combat (what is called the mini-games: Personal, Space, Social, and Platoon), and obviously it takes up the biggest chunk of the book. At first glance I’m not too happy with that. Yes it’s part of an RPG, and it can be a big portion of a gaming session, but it just leaves me wondering what in the world is expected in a game that I thought would prioritize exploration and adventure, as well as using a rule-system that so many claim is “rules-light”. And do I get a nice overview or anything like that first? Nope! I’m not going to review those chapters, because at this point I honestly don’t care.

Making It Work

This chapter for the referee covers quite a few areas, including how to start an adventure or entire campaign, as well as designing equipment, spacecraft, personal weapons, and armour. As Fate games are meant to be collaborative, I’m not sure why this information is in a separate chapter at the end of the book. There’s also a small section on expanding Diaspora beyond hard sci-fi, namely by including aliens and psionics. There’s also a paragraph on landing spacecraft. Not sure why it’s here, but oh well.

Conclusion

I really wanted Diaspora to work for me. I had such a positive impression of sci-fi Fate RPGs coming from Bulldogs!, and wanted something just as good if not better for hard sci-fi, as I wanted to learn more about that kind of universe and running a game in it. Unfortunately Diaspora didn’t meet those expectations, as well as being weighed down too much by older Fate rules as well as trying to emulate Traveller. Could a new/revised edition help? I’m not sure. I like Fate Accelerated, but with Core and other newer games there’s already as much if not more bulk and alternative sub-systems. I may just have to look at using an OSR or BRP set of rules for this kind of game…

Diaspora is available in PDF from DriveThruRPG, or in paper- or hardback via Lulu. If you order the hardback and email the receipt to vsca, you should get the PDF for free. That’s a nice touch!

System-neutral RPG resources Part 2

Almost three years ago I wrote a post about some great system-neutral RPG resources. I wanted to follow-up and add a few more I’ve discovered since then.

D30 DM Companion

First up from Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.’s New Big Dragon Games is the D30 DM Companion, a 40-page book filled with many, many charts that utilize the fairly-rare D30 die (while other dice or an app could be substituted, I think the D30 is a neat die and recommend purchasing one). Before getting into the charts there’s a couple of other useful things presented first: a dungeon mapping master key (very handy if not playing Moldvay D&D Basic, as those games don’t include many or any mapping symbols), a dungeon crawl worksheet (a very detailed sheet for elaborating exactly what’s in a room), and a classed character attribute generator (I admit this page is pretty confusing to me and doesn’t seem that helpful).

D30 Sandbox Companion

Similar to the prior entry, the D30 Sandbox Companion is another handy book from New Big Dragon Games, this time to help the DM with outdoor/expert-level adventures. This book also starts with some handy pages before getting into the charts: a wilderness mapping key (again, helpful if not playing Cook/Marsh Expert D&D), a hex crawl worksheet (a little handier than the dungeon crawl worksheet as it covers a larger area), a settlement worksheet (this is very handy for detailing a village or town, but may not provide enough room for a larger town or city), and an NPC record sheet. What I really like about this book is that it provides so much helpful charts and information to elaborate and build up an outdoors/wilderness adventure. Pretty much every fantasy RPG, from Cook/Marsh Expert D&D to every OSR RPG I’ve read so far, throws in a few pages of rules and maybe some charts to use for outdoor/wilderness travel, but still maintains such a focus on dungeon adventures and encounters that it always feel like an afterthought. In my games travel is pretty much “OK you arrive at the village”, and maybe 1 key encounter or notable event happens along the way. With this book, I can run a much better and more engaging game.

The Dungeon Dozen

Compiling many entries from his Dungeon Dozen blog, this book by Jason Sholtis (you may recognize his artwork from Swords & Wizardry as well!) is an incredibly useful resource of tables utilizing the D12. Sorted alphabetically, the range of subjects and ideas these pages and tables present is almost incomprehensible, it’s that wide-spread. And at 225 pages, there’s a LOT of content here! Luckily Jason has a 2nd book in the works, I can’t wait!

The Starship from Hell

After having owned Rafael Chandler’s Roll XX and Roll XX: Double Damage, I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally purchase his similar resource for sci-fi games, The Starship from Hell. Like many of his works, there’s some twisted and crazy stuff in here, so while it may not be quite the tone for your Star Trek or Firefly game, it would be perfect for Alien(s), Eclipse Phase, etc. There’s not just handy tables for creating starship details; the second half of the book is for creating detailed NPCs on those starships. The PDF is free, so there’s no reason not to check this out!

Your Whispering Homunculus

Another PDF that I purchased on sale on DriveThruRPG, Richard Pett’s Your Whispering Homunculus is written for Pathfinder but can be easily used for any RPG. At 169 pages this book has a lot to sift through and absorb, so don’t feel bad if you only use a little bit at a time! Based on how much I liked this book, I will likely purchase Richard’s More Whispering Homunculus. And if that’s not enough, as this book is published by Kobold Press there are many more guides available from them.

Cook/Marsh Expert D&D

Awhile back I reviewed the Basic Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I figured that if I’m gonna review the Basic book, I might as well review its accompanying Expert book! I don’t remember exactly what all the Basic book included, and with reading so many other retroclones and RPGs I figured I’d take the perspective of someone who’s played Basic D&D a few times but not exclusively.

Introduction

The Expert book makes it very clear that the Basic book is required to play. While there’s doubtless some repeated info and consolidated tables, it’s not hard to see this is an expansion, not a whole-new bigger volume.

One thing I liked reading was that the Expert book is intended to be used for outdoor adventures, not merely deeper and more difficult dungeon adventures. This book intended for players to travel more, and to even setup their own settlements and castles! While I’m sure many groups did just that, from what I’ve read and seen online it seems that dungeon adventures continued to be the norm.

Finally, there is a small section devoted to those who wish to use the Expert book with the earlier 1977 edition of the Basic game (commonly referred to as Holmes basic). This section could also apply if you use a retroclone such as Blueholme Prentice rules, which I reviewed a couple years ago. Would I personally use a retroclone along with Expert, rather than Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy RPG? Probably not, but options are always nice.

Player Character Information

Here we get the same tables for all of the available classes, but now expanded to anywhere from level 8 (Halflings) to 14 (for all Human classes). I keep forgetting this game has class titles, and while most are kinda cool there’s one that’s completely ridiculous: an 8th-level Halfling has the title of Sheriff. Yep.

There’s a small section detailing level beyond 14, only available to the Human classes (because a Dwarf or Elf could never advance further, even though they live for centuries!). While this was intended for the planned third expanded rule-set, I guess it’s nice to see here. Personally I think going beyond the levels in Expert would be boring and devolve into a numbers game with excessive combat (which is indeed what has become more popular with later editions).

Finally we have a table and explanation for equipment. Is it the exact same as the one in Basic or are there new items? I have no idea and it doesn’t say.

Spells

Here we have the spells available for the Cleric, Elf, and Magic-User. While the tables lists all available spells for each spell level, the descriptions are only for the new spells in this book. Nothing really stands out as new or unique.

The Adventure

While this section re-iterates some of the things from the Basic book, it focuses on outdoor adventures, and describes most if not all the things a DM will have to consider in planning such an adventure or full-blown campaign. Travel and mapping are just as important as in a dungeon, but there’s also the possibility of getting lost or even running out of supplies; again, this can happen in a dungeon, but it can be more likely and more dangerous outdoors. Along with travel by sea we now get some information on travel by air. This may seem a little extravagant or maybe even excessive, but I think it could be used sparingly in a neat adventure setup or intermission. This section ends with additional specialists and mercenaries, which can become more important as the PCs continue to level up as well as accumulate more money.

The Encounter

Similar to the previous section, this one covers much of the same ground as in the Basic book, adding on a few needed notes and rules for higher-level and outdoor adventures. Aside from the attack tables expanded to cover higher levels (and an interesting side-note, there’s not a separate entry for each and every level, they’re grouped in chunks and this means far less number-crunching).

Monsters

With higher levels and outdoor adventures comes more and tougher monsters for the PCs to fight. There’s a decent number of new entries, with a few favorites of mine included: Blink Dogs, Golems, Mummies, Treants (though in my games they’d be either allies or neutral), and Vampires.

Treasure

More goodies! I honestly can’t think of anything else to add here…

Dungeon Master Information

Just like the same section in the Basic book, there’s a lot of great information and tables here. There’s some brief re-stated info for designing a dungeon, but now it includes info for higher-level monsters, treasure, etc. Alongside that is now a section on designing a wilderness area. There is also a section on designing castles, strongholds, and hideouts. I personally don’t know if these would matter much in my games, but I could certainly include them in a potential adventure. Just like the Basic book had a sample map and the symbols needed for a dungeon map, at the end of this section is a sample wilderness map and symbols to use. This is STILL something I haven’t seen in any OSR game, and it’s infuriating to me as it’s something needed, not just for those new to RPGs.

Special Adventures

This very short 2-page section should have been named “Adventures at Sea”, as that is what’s covered. What about air travel that’s mentioned earlier? Anyways, here there are some tables and information on weather, encounters, and combat. I feel this section is unnecessary, as the information could have been folded into the previous sections.

Conclusion

At the end of my review of the Basic book, I stated that I was pretty pleased with the game and it would be difficult to choose one of the OSR clones over the real thing. Now that I’ve taken some time to look over the Expert book, do I still feel the same? I do like what Expert includes, and that it follows the same layout and order as the Basic book. But the fact remains that I would still have to consolidate the pages together, whether digitally or on paper, and even then there could still be quite a few things duplicated, moved, or missing. I will always respect the work that Dave Cook and Steve Marsh did, along with Tom Moldvay’s work on the Basic book. But with several outstanding OSR games available (and that’s assuming I’d want to play a D20-based game), it’s just too easy to pick up and use one of those instead.