While I’m still waiting to purchase the Treasure Keepers tome, I went ahead and wrote this review as I’ve already read through the Players Tome. While Blood & Treasure is available in the Complete Game PDF/book, I’m glad I purchased the separate Players Tome, and I thank John for offering this.
The first thing to note is the cover, which shares the same artwork as the Complete Game. This may be my favorite RPG cover; it’s dark, scary, and mysterious. It’s exactly the kind of cover that immediately encourages to open the book and read what’s inside. Also of note, as I also mentioned in my review of the Monster Tome, is the design of the cover. It’s clean and simple.
Glancing at the table of contents, you can tell this isn’t a very complicated game (at least in this players tome); the total page-count is 139, and almost half of that is the spell descriptions. While there’s this simple table of contents there is no index.
There’s the per-requisite “welcome to role-playing” chapter. What’s interesting is the History section, which explains how Blood & Treasure is split-up or categorized. While the game is chock-full of character classes and spells, many of these are from later editions of D&D. For those who prefer to exclude some or all of these, Blood & Treasure has marked these items to easily identify them.
After this opening chapter we have the Characters chapter, detailing ability scores, races, classes, equipment, henchmen, and strongholds. The races section is fairly brief, but does include the normally non-traditional gnome, half-elf, and half-orc. In my games I would maybe use the half-elf but not the other two. The races section also includes and describes any knacks that race may have, regardless of their class.
The classes section is the largest of this chapter, as it offers the full gamut of choices: assassin, barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, duelist, fighter, magic-user, monk, paladin, ranger, sorcerer, and thief. While the classes do have ability (and some also alignment) requirements, unlike other games there are no racial restrictions. Finally! There are also level titles, which I like, although they stop at around level 10. Also listed for each class are skills. This is confusing as skills aren’t really described anywhere. Later in the Rules of Play chapter is the Heroic Tasks section, which I think is what this refers to, but why isn’t it just called Skills? I don’t like that confusing nomenclature, and it’s one thing pushing this out of OSR territory and too close to modern D&D rules. Would I include/allow all classes in my games? Possibly, although at first glance I’m not keen on the duelist or monk, and a new-comer to fantasy RPG might be confused as to any rules differences between the barbarian, fighter, and paladin, along with between the magic-user and sorcerer. After the classes we have multi-classing and an optional feats section.
Next we have equipment. Like Bloody Basic which came after, Blood & Treasure determines starting money using the Charisma ability, which again makes no sense to me. There’s a wide variety of weapons to choose from, and a little less for armor. Other items are pretty similar to what you’d find in any fantasy RPG. The henchmen & hirelings section is fairly detailed. After clearly explaining the difference between the two, Blood & Treasure also presents an option for the TK who may want to vary the quality of the hireling and their work; quite ingenious and can definitely present some additional obstacles and role-playing opportunities. Next there are two systems for alignment; what’s interesting is the first paragraph states this information is for games that choose to use alignment; I didn’t see alignment mentioned anywhere in the beginning, and it is listed for some of the class requirements. This section wraps up with alignment languages (ugh) and character details such as height, weight, and age. The final section is for strongholds. While only a few pages, there’s quite a bit of info and a few tables. I think it’s interesting that Blood & Treasure presents this info in the players section, rather than in the TK section as pretty much all other games do. Did John wants players/groups to be able to think about this earlier in their games? Personally I never found much fun in these game/rules details, but for those that do I think these are quite good.
Rules of Play
Now we come to the meat of any game, the actual rules. In Blood & Treasure it’s about 16 pages, so not too terrible. We start with some routine items such as time tracking, movement, encumbrance, and savings throws. For that last item, it’s a nice and short section, as Blood & Treasure uses the more-logical 3-save system. Next we cover survival, which includes light, falling, poison, and disease. There’s also a conditions section, which is a nice little addition to the rules.
The next section, Heroic Tasks, is where those of us more in favor of OSR/Old-School RPGs will start to cringe. It’s pretty much a skill system, and it makes my eyes begin to glaze. I will concede the list isn’t terribly long, and it does cover common tasks, so it’s something I may perhaps use, but then what about other tasks not listed here? Do I have to start making a skill-list of my own? I would more likely just do a good-ole “alright roll 1dwhatever and try to get above x”.
The remaining sections cover encounters and combat, including mass and naval combat. It’s nice that those are included, but the chance that I would ever use those (or want to) is pretty much zero. Combat itself is pretty much the same as any other OSR game. We end the section with an example of play, which I highly appreciated.
This is the biggest chapter of the book at over 60 pages. There are some brief rules regarding preparing and casting spells, but primarily this chapter is for spell descriptions. Spells are listed in alphabetical order; the majority of spells are tagged with an “A” or “E” similar to the classes. Spells really aren’t complicated, with a range and duration. I like the wide variety of spells, and I would certainly allow most if not all in my games.
Character Details, and Let’s Make a Character!
Alrighty, so having read the Players Tome, let’s go back and look at the details and create a character. To get the “full experience” and to deal with as many things as possible for this test character, let’s go with a spellcaster. I’m also going to enable feats and the skill system. The included character sheet doesn’t have much room for this, so I’m using the second sheet found on the Blood & Treasure page. I’m not sure why they’re PNG files rather than PDF, but I’ll convert it. For online dice rolling I wanted to use the web version of Purple Sorcerer’s Crawler’s Companion, but it requires Flash which is a no-go. Luckily Wizards of the Coast has one, albeit with a very ghetto interface. 😉 Yes I could’ve used my Python dice roller, but c’mon I’m lazy!
First let’s roll abilities; old-school, down the line, 3d6, no do-overs! So the results? Str 9 (0), Dex 11 (0), Con 11 (0), Int 8 (-1), Wis 13 (+1), Cha 13 (+1). So pretty average scores, nothing really high or low. Next is to choose the race of my character. While there aren’t any requirements for races in Blood & Treasure, as I look at my ability scores I think of someone who has utilized their wisdom and natural leadership abilities, while she hides her lower-than-average intelligence and strength. So for race I will choose half-elf, as I think the higher Cha score wouldn’t fit an elf quite as well. Then I need to pick a class. With a low Str score, I can’t pick a fighter/martial-based class. A low Int also rules out the druid and magic-user, but the sorcerer is still an option. I can also choose cleric or thief. While the latter is always fun to play, I think the high Cha score will go well using the cleric class, so I’m going with that.
With the class now chosen, I can now fill in my HP, Attack bonus, Fort/Ref/Will, Title, Spells, Alignment, and Language. I roll 4 for my HP, and have a Con modifier of +0. I also start with an Attack bonus of +0. On the character sheet is a spot for Initiative bonus; I assume that’s based on Dex, but nothing is mentioned in the book, so I’ll go ahead and note +0. As a cleric I must be a non-neutral alignment; I’m not keen on playing evil characters, so I choose Lawful (using the 3-fold system). I note my Fort/Ref/Will scores. For languages, I need to remember that the Int modifier affects this, so I can only choose 2 languages instead of 3. As a cleric I have the option to choose the Celestial language; I will need to know Common, and I will go ahead and choose Elf as well as I think my character hasn’t shunned her elven heritage and may even have some family and friends from that world.
Next is equipment. Based on my Cha score times 10, I have 130gp to start with. As a cleric I can use any armor and shield, but am restricted to blunt weapons. For weapons I think I will choose a quarterstaff as her “daily item”, with a heavy mace when needed in the dungeon or battle. For armor I think plate mail is too heavy and expensive for most to ever consider; I can’t afford chain mail yet, so I will go with ring mail, granting me a +3 AC bonus. I will also have a full shield, but like the heavy mace will only be carried when needed. It grants me an additional +2 AC bonus. For the rest of the equipment I will gloss over as those details are things I never harped on in my games. Anticipating travels and dungeon exploring, I know I’ll need a pack with flint and steel, torches, 3 or 4 days worth of iron rations, and rope. In total that’s about 54gp spent, leaving 76gp for later. I’m not going to worry about henchmen until the party is assembled and we know what additional people we would need.
As a cleric I need to pick my spells; at first level I can have 3 0-level spells and 1 1-level spell. Looking at the lists in the cleric section, I choose Cure Minor Wounds, Light, Read Magic, and Protection from Evil. In this section on the character sheet I will also note my half-elf abilities, namely darkvision to 60′, 30% magic resistance to sleep and enchantment spells, and a knack for trickery.
Oh yeah, feats and skills. Ugh. Well as a cleric I know I start with decipher script and riding. As noted above, these things aren’t clearly categorized or explained. I look in the Heroic Tasks section and there’s decipher codes, not scripts. Ok. For feats, I get to choose 1 at first level. There aren’t too many that aren’t so combat- or magic-focused, but I choose silent spell as I think that may be good to have if close to an unsuspecting monster.
So I have my character now. Looking over the sheet (I sure hope someone makes a better sheet) it isn’t too difficult to quickly see all stats, bonuses, abilities, etc. It does reflect the fairly-logical rules of the game, and it certainly wouldn’t be too much for an RPG newcomer to create their first character, either with the help of someone or on their own.
I started with very high hopes for Blood & Treasure, as I liked Bloody Basic so much and really thought I was ready for more. But I simply got too much in Blood & Treasure. It’s not a total waste, as I can use the monsters and spells with another rule-set, as I will with the Monster Tome. I like the idea of feats and skills, but I don’t think the organization or explanation in Blood & Treasure was very good. I would have to read and review Pathfinder, and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready for that much of a heavier rule-set. There are certainly strong points to this game, and I appreciate that there was a separate players tome that I could purchase for a lower price to check out the game. I certainly won’t write this game off completely, but it’s clear there will need to be an eventual second printing or edition so improvements can be made.