It’s never been a better time to be a dungeon crawler. Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition and Pathfinder, two versions of the same underlying D&D ruleset, are bestsellers 1 and 2 in the RPG world, and have been for some time. Pathfinder is built for detail and breadth of options, while D&D’s Fifth Edition is built for accessibility and continuity with earlier versions and settings. They offer two versions of a fairly modern D&D experience, where GMs run story arc-based campaigns built around fighting monsters and exploring dungeons. Characters are treated like protagonists, and death is relatively rare. At the same time, we’ve seen a resurgence in “old-school” playstyles, usually represented within the D&D ecosystem by the OSR. Old-school games tend to have fewer rules, presenting challenges and decisions to the players rather than the characters. They tend to have weaker characters who aren’t treated like protagonists, and they need not be organized around a story.
There is a middle ground, though, and a new entrant in the middle ground has stormed into the DriveThruRPG sales charts. Worlds Without Number presents a dangerous old-school world, but uses rules innovations from later versions of D&D (and other role-playing games) to make the game more accessible and make the characters feel a bit more heroic. On top of all that, it provides tons of tools to help GMs run interesting game worlds with or without a driving story. Although many people will simply call Worlds Without Number an OSR game (and there are fair reasons for that), I think that it deserves to be examined against the current state of the art. That’s why this System Split pits Worlds Without Number against Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.
Continue reading System Split: Worlds Without Number and D&D Fifth Edition
Role-playing games are rooted in rulesets which provide a simulation to help determine what happens in-game. In most traditional games, this simulation is, in broad strokes at least, based on physics; the game provides rules intended to reflect a world which players find consistent and believable. In many recent indie games, the simulation is based on narrative; the rules define what happens next based on what makes the story either adhere to a given narrative schema or, in some cases, just more interesting. What about the middle ground, though? What would it look like if a game were simulating tropes rather than physics, but of a setting rather than a storyline? It would look an awful lot like Electric Bastionland.
Continue reading Electric Bastionland Review
What is an RPG? There’s a question that could send you down a rabbit-hole. At least one person per possible answer is already out there, ready to spew hate at you from Twitter. What’s an RPG book? That one, in theory, should be a little easier. An RPG book, whether we mean a physical book or a PDF, is the document that enables you to play an RPG. These can be core rulebooks, they can be setting books, or they can be supplements for either the setting or the rules, but they are, broadly speaking, the documents in which an RPG is contained. So what does that look like? You may be imagining text, some tables and charts, and probably some pictures. As much as these books vary, you probably think you know what the next RPG manual you crack open is going to look like. That’s why you need to crack open Mörk Borg.
Continue reading Mörk Borg Review
Few segments of the RPG fandom are as misunderstood as the OSR. At least, that’s what they keep saying on Twitter. The OSR, or “Old-School Renaissance”, are gamers who appreciate both the mechanics and implied playstyle of older editions of D&D, any of the TSR versions but usually Basic D&D and usually the versions of it (B/X, BECMI, or Rules Cyclopedia) that existed roughly from 1981 to 1991. The real problem with the OSR is a marketing problem; in the past it has been hard to distinguish those genuinely interested in the play philosophies of older D&D from those who were merely retreating to older games. Every time I’ve tried to look into the OSR and OSR games, I’ve come away asking the same question: “why are there so many hacks of Basic D&D and why exactly should I care?”
Continue reading Around the OSR in Five Games
At the end of 2018, The Gauntlet released “Dark 2”, the December issue of their zine Codex. Within that volume was a game by Jesse Ross called Trophy. Trophy was based on Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley, adapted with the dice mechanic from Blades in the Dark. But listing out a series of games which were hacked down the road into Trophy doesn’t give the game quite enough credit. Trophy is, like the best games coming out of the OSR, a reflection and deconstruction of the dungeoneering/ adventuring trope. In Trophy, the adventurers are treasure hunters, following in the footsteps of so many games that came before. In Trophy Dark they are doomed, and their doom comes through a sequence of narrative steps, or rings. In Trophy Gold they are bound by their own debts, and must keep going deeper until they can pay what they owe.
Continue reading The Independents: Trophy
The real trouble with edition changes, once you get past the nit-picking, is the missed experiences. Different editions of a game can offer very unique things to their players, but die-hard fans of the older variety miss out on the active ecosystem of the current edition, while newer players miss out on the playstyle of older dungeon delving that they might very well love. Stepping in to bridge the gap is Five Torches Deep from Jessica and Ben Dutter and Sigil Stone Publishing, a “streamlined adventure game combining the best mechanics and principles of 5e, the OSR, and modern game design.” So how bright does FTD shine? Let’s go chapter by chapter to find out!
Continue reading The Independents: Five Torches Deep
It’s that time of year again: Memorial Day has come and gone and school is out, or soon to be. Maybe you spent a bit too much preparing for a party, or have found yourself at loose ends with the changing of the seasons, or need to save up to be able to take that vacation you’re planning. For whatever reason, the idea of dropping a decent chunk of your paycheck on a new sourcebook is…well, not your top priority. Well, fear not, because we at Cannibal Halfling Gaming know what it’s like to be at loose ends. Let’s take a dive back into the vault for a cheaper, but no less entertaining find in a set of mechanics entitled “Knave”, a cheap, short, and easy to understand ruleset that allows GMs and players to convert nearly any OSR, and more importantly, multiple games into a single cohesive system.
Continue reading Bargain Bin Gaming: Knave
Imagine, if you will, that Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett have returned from the dead. They both pile into a Ford Cortina and take a long drive across the American Southwest, pondering the nature of the fantasy genre. Once they arrive in California, they legally acquire several ounces of the finest cannabis sativa and hotbox the Cortina. Then they write an RPG. This, roughly speaking, seems to be what produced Troika, a delightfully simple and delightfully absurd game which recently published a second edition.
Continue reading Troika Review
Happy New Year! Kickstarter is as quiet as it can be in January, not only because of designers taking much-needed holiday time but also because many try to get their Kickstarters ready before Christmas to capitalize on the season. As such, there weren’t many campaigns live in any tabletop games category, let alone the somewhat restrictive box of original RPG. As such, I have an abbreviated list of eight this month, and several of these games don’t fit into the traditional criteria for Kickstarter Wonk. We do have one reprint and one play aid, but all eight of these campaigns are really neat and worth looking into.
Continue reading Kickstarter Wonk: January, 2019
Are you an old-school gamer, or a new-school gamer? I’m the Level One Wonk, and I consider myself both, which may be why I enjoy this week’s game so much. Today we’re going to talk about Stars Without Number, a game designed by Kevin Crawford. Crawford has released many games through his Sine Nomine Publishing imprint, which are all built around similar design principles: hackable sandbox experiences with an old-school heart. Games like Godbound, Scarlet Heroes and Stars Without Number are all designed to bolt right in to both old-school D&D and its retroclones, but these games are no mere clones. While Stars Without Number has characters with six familiar stats, saving throws, classes, and levels, it stretches the D&D framework quite far. As you may be able to guess from the name, Stars Without Number is a science fiction game.
Continue reading Stars Without Number