As my final pick for this year's #RPGamonth I will discuss Dungeon Crawl Classics which I only played in the Lankhmar setting.

I have bought the DCC core rule book about 2 years ago after all the good things I have heard about the game, but the game did not quite get to me when reading the rules. It seemed unnecessarily complex and we get and had this strange attitude like the funnel. So, I put the book on my shelf and there it rested for some time.

Last year there has been a Kickstarter for a Lankhmar box and a couple of adventures using the DCC engine as a system to play. Although, I was no fan of DCC, I am certainly a fan of Fritz Leiber’s work. Thus, I intended to play this with the Castles and Crusades rules or something else I wasn't sure. After a couple of discussions about playing in general and OSR I concluded, that it couldn't harm to just try the adventures in the original DCC version.


What is DCC?

One could expect that dungeon crawl classics would be an RPG that is very similar to classic D&D and games of that nature, but in truth is not quite. It offers many concepts that are alien to original D&D like spell burn, Mercurial magic and Luck.

DCC has four classes: Wizard, Cleric, Warrior, and Thief and three Class-As-Races Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling. The later are more or less the stereotypes one would expect after reading the EDO Fantasy literature, they mix features of certain classes as general part of the race. A halfling is thief-like, a dwarf warrior-like and an elf a fighting sorcerer.

But to get a better feeling: Each class has a certain twist compared to D&D. Warriors get a deed die, i.e. an additional die (D3 at first level) to add to attack and strength rolls, that enable to perform certain deeds. Thieves have to usual thief skills but also the ability to use their Luck much better to their advantage. Spellcasting works by rolling a D20 to determine to effect strength of the spell, e.g. a first level spell may be very deadly if the character rolls a natural 20. While a natural 1 might lead to ill consequences for the caster, e.g. change of physical appearance in a bad way. Wizards can push their magic to the limit by sacrificing attribute points at get additional bonus on the level. Those points refresh at the rate of 1 point per day and is not uncommon for a wizard to exhaust her- or himself and burn up some points of Strength. Some spells even require spellburn to work at all.

With all rolls, instead of just sticking to D20 for rolls, the so called action die might change by magic or level up to a D24 or a character may get an additional D14 or D16 as a second action die, so there is a lot more variance in the system.

My first take by just reading was negative. It did seem weird and complicated, but it turns out when playing that the mechanism seem very robust in the game. I had the feeling that this approach would weaken players, but in general to ability to have a lucky roll (which will come sooner or later) that saves the day makes up for that.

But as the rule book states it is likely that characters will not reach higher levels because they just die. A concept that I never played because it is explicitly taken out of the game is the funnel. The funnel is that the first adventure has each player run multiple zero level character which die in the course of the funnel and the surviving character is your first level character you play in the future. I get that people might like that kind of randomness and to sit there with fingers crossed to hope that their favorite might survive.

How does it feel playing?

I ran three sessions in the Lankhmar setting and it does indeed work and did manage to give me as a Judge (that is how they call the GM) and my players a nice rpg experience. In one group it worked better than in the other and to be honest it took me a bit to embrace the weirdness of the system, but I can easily imagine me running DCC more often.

Conclusion

My concluding remark is of a different nature: I have publicly criticized people for putting out lengthy reviews and giving advice about games they did not play and this another example of why it is important to really try the things you write about. A reading review would have pointed out all the possible weirdness and flaws of the system which turn out to be not that important or even likeable quirks. It is vital to stay open-minded. 😊

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This is my 12th and last #RPGaMonth review, and it's Twelfth Night, the fourth installment in the Ars Magica campaign series about ushering a covenant from one season to the next. Twelfth Night sees a covenant go from Winter back into Spring, so it's principal them is death and rebirth.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS AHEAD!)
In Twelfth Night the characters (presumably a group of young mages) are put to work by the old and experienced Magus of a nearby winter covenant of Lux ex Tenebris (Light From Shadow - there's that theme!) to complete a rather easy mission. They are asked to intercept and escort a knight, just back from the crusades, to the covenant. For this service, they are offered a season of study in the covenant's excellent library.

However, completion of this mission bears unexpected repercussions, and the PCs soon find themselves under investigation, and then punished by removal from their home covenant. Perhaps out of guilt for involving them, Azenis, the mage who hired them, offers them a place at Lux Ex Tenebris instead - they are invited to become full members, and given the job of renewing the place.

They soon find that this is not an easy task - the covenant is in worsh shape than they expected, and deteriorating rapidly. They must build up it's finances, recruit grogs and covenfolk, repair the buildings, and so on. Luckily, Azenis is full of helpful advice, though he doesn't do much to actually help.

It eventually becomes apparent that Azenis is part of the problem, but not so easily gotten rid of. And the old problem that arose from escorting the knight comes back yet again, and with even more ferocity. The PCs have one final, climactic, confrontation in which to either set things right, or die.

IMPRESSIONS
I quite liked this scenario - though my fave of the four was probably The Tempest. I thought the theme was really effectively reflected in the scenario hooks, that the characters faced some really interesting moral quandries, that the pacing was good, and that the kinds of problem-solving the PCs had to engage in were nice and varied. There were a few points I was skeptical on, but nothing I couldn't overcome. I could definitely see running this without too much modification.

If you've read the Ars Magica Covenants book, in which the nature of the 'four seasons' of a covenant are explained, you'll know that the seasons are not necessarily expected to be explored from Spring to Winter, but that they actually recommend playing your first game in a Winter covenant as a great way to start. This book really illustrates how that could be done, though a few people have suggested in other reviews that the final conflict might well kill starting mages. These campaigns are not meant to be played all at once, though - by the time you get to the end of it, the mages should no longer be 'starting' characters. Any anyway, as a longtime RQ player, I recognize that tough fights are made much easier when you prepare for them!

Unlike some of the other campaigns in this series (A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, and A Winter's Tale), this scenario doesn't seem to have a lot to do with the Shakespeare play after which it is named. That doesn't really matter much to the play of the thing, but would have been a nice touch.

So that's my year in #RPGaMonth! I stuck to my guns and read and reviewed a product each month. Here's what I looked at - I'd say it reflects my taste in games pretty well:

1. Tribe 8 RPG, 1st Edition (January)
2. Mansions of Madness - 6 'haunted house' themed scenarios for Call of Cthulhu (February)
3. A Thousand and One Nights RPG (March)
4. Eclipse Phase RPG 1st Ed (April)
5. Denizens of the North setting supplement for the Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok RPG (May)
6. Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne RPG 4th Ed by Guardians of Order (June)
7. Monster Island, an S&S/Lost World setting supplement for Mythras RPG (July)
8. Outremer RPG by Clash Bowley (August)
9. Beat to Quarters RPG by Neil Gow (September)
10. Scared Stiff RPG by Gene Stanley Pritchard (October)
11. Dread RPG by Epidiah Ravachol (November)
12. Twelfth Night campaign supplement for Ars Magica 3rd Ed. (December)

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As I wrote this posting in the Mewe version of the group and saved it on my blog. I'd just drop a link here, if ok.

My #RPGaMonth for November was Cepheus Light and you can read about my experiences here https://spielinrollen.blogspot.com/2018/11/cepheus-light-short-review.html or in the MeWe group (same text).
Cepheus Light - A Short Review
Cepheus Light - A Short Review
spielinrollen.blogspot.com

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My November pick for #RPGaMonth is Dread by Epidiah Ravachol and Nat Barmore, 2005, 168pp

This is hot on the heels of Halloween and my October pick, Scared Stiff, which is very similar in scope, but very different in theme and writing style.

Dread bills itself as a game of Horror and Hope. Mechanically, it is a game of suspense with advice on how to adapt that to horror. As for 'hope', it is only a game of hope in the sense that players will no doubt hope they are not the next person to be removed from the game. Hope, in the sense of hope for a better future, or in the sense of hope for a chance of redemption, is not really part of this game.

If you don't already know it, Dread is the famous 'Jenga RPG' - it uses a Jenga tower as the randomizer, rather than dice. Using a Jenga tower as a randomizer is really quite brilliant, and reason enough for any gamer to own this game. It's more than just a gimmick - the tower is visual and visceral symbol of declining stability. It's there, in your face. You look at it and note its impassivity, its inevitableness . The tower doesn't care about you or your needs. It will not 'give you a break' when you need it. You cannot fudge the tower. It just stands there, inert until someone touches it, and after each interaction you are noticeably, measurably, closer to your doom. I'm not sure I can think of a better symbol for a game of suspense and horror. Dread justifiably won an Ennie for best design in 2006.

Contents
The mechanics of Dread are fairly simple. When something needs to be tested, a block is pulled from the middle or bottom of the tower and re-stacked on the top. If a player does this without toppling the tower, they succeed in their task. If a player refused to attempt the pull, then they fail in their task, but remain in the game. If a player pulls a block and the tower topples, the player fails at their task, and is removed from the game (or is doomed to be removed from the soon, as a kind of promise). Deciding when to pull, or who decides when to pull, or whether to knock the tower over on purpose, are all nuances covered by the rules.

Character creation is largely descriptive. The GM develops a unique questionnaire for each player, and each players answers these. The answers provide the facts for the player, and the facts influence both how the player will play the character and how the character will pull blocks. Characters need not pull blocks for things they are 'skilled' at, according to their answers. The questionnaires also serve to set the tone for the scenario, providing foreshadowing and red herrings to the players. In creating a character, players will be forced to think about the themes of the game, and may question why certain questions are on the sheet. It's mechanically simple, but complex in nuance.

Most of this book is taken up by GM advice. There's a chapter on how to host a game, another on how to create a scenario, then six chapters on how to use the mechanics to bring out certain themes: suspense, supernatural, madness, morality, mystery, and gore.

Then there are three scenarios, each using a different skin: a deadly grand-canyon camping trip, an 'alien' type SF scenario, and a cosy-cabin slasher flick scenario. The first of these is more developed, but all have good advice and tips on how to run them.

Lastly, there's a short section on how to play the game if you don't have a Jenga tower.

Impressions
Conceptually, this game is brilliant. Knowing the concept, I'm willing to bet most experienced GMs can play Dread without even needing to read the rules. And yet there's a fair bit of text in here - what are we getting. The first part of the book is rather surprisingly filled with advice for people who are new to role-playing games, and for an experienced gamer I have to admit this makes for dull reading. I don't really need to be told how to host a game, for example. It strikes me a a bit odd, because I have trouble seeing anyone new to roleplaying games picking up Dread at random as their first game. It doesn't even come with one of those 'what is roleplaying' sections. In fact, I don't think it ever even calls itself a roleplaying game - though it surely is.

The second half of the book, though, is filled with advice that even the most experienced GM will find useful. This revolves around how to use the rules to bring out certain moods in the game, and in the 'Scenarios' chapters, advice on how to create scenes, advice on pacing, and so on - it's great stuff.

In spite of being full of advice on building scenarios and when to ask for pulls, I would have liked just a little more on how to ask for pulls without spilling the beans. The specific scenarios give a little of this at the end, but a section on this in the middle would have been welcome. The book is chock full of examples of when a GM should request that a player make a pull - but a little short on how to phrase the request without giving the game away. For example, if the GM wants to test whether the characters can sense something, they will ask for a pull. But how? Do you say to them "Anyone want to make a pull to detect something about the room?" In this case, the characters will undoubtedly suspect something. Maybe that's not a bade thing, but maybe the GM wants to keep some secrets. A GM can no doubt learn the answer to this through trial and error, but I would have liked more from the authors, who no doubt have a lot of experience with the system.

I was also a little unclear as to how many collapses the GM should be aiming for. The game is clearly set up for one-shots, and in the rules they seem to suggest that a GM should expect several collapses of the tower. But how many? One collapse per player minus one? Two collapses? Yet the sample scenarios included suggest that GMs should aim for a single collapse at the end of the scenario, and pace things accordingly. I would really have liked to get ore advice on the number of collapses in a session. Presumably too many and things get comical. But one collapse may not be dramatic enough.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful game that every GM (if not every player of RPGs) should own. I think it spends a little too much time tailoring the advice to people who will never play the game (it even at one point says "If you happen to have a bunch of dice lying around the house, try this..." - I mean really - no person that has no dice in their house will ever purchase this game - who are we trying to kid?) and it misses a few opportunities to tell real game players how to run the game. But these are very minor quibbles. I give this 4.5 out of 5 for being a very creative, very adult, very intelligent game about creating great, suspenseful experiences at the table.

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#RPGaMonth October Midderzine 1

It may be lame for my rpg a month, but I just finished this zine. It is an addendum to the Midderlands setting. It’s a perfect little zine. It has some rumors in the form of newspaper articles, a couple area maps with locales, some NPCs, some new creatures, and a new class.

I also reviewed D&D 5e PHB this month for an impending new game, but I already counted that earlier this year. I might scan through another 5e book in the next few days, but I’m it banking on it, so I think this will be my offering.

If you’re interested in getting a copy, here’s a link

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/251643/Midderzine-Issue-1
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My October pick for #RPGaMonth is Scared Stiff: The B-Movie Horror RPG by Gene Stanley Pritchard.

Scared Stiff is a light, campy rpg designed to emulate light, campy movies. And by 'light' I mean that the system is light (not the book itself, which at 140 8.5x11 pages feels rather dense), and by 'campy' I mean that the writing is campy, and the illustrations are campy, but the underlying subtext is, well, not so much. Intrigued? Then read on.

EPISODE 1 B-ASICS (3 pages)

In this book, chapters are called 'Episodes'. And here I think we mean 'scene', because episodes are TV, right? What? They show a lot of B Movies on TV! Shut up already. Episode 1 covers 'how to get in the mood' and a general introduction to the game. Well, to B-Movies. Don't take it too seriously.

EPISODES 2 (TERROR 101) and 3 (PLAYING WITH PANACHE) (9 pages)

These next two chapters are full of GM advice for how to run the game. They reference rules that haven't been introduced yet. Confusing? Yep! They largely amount to the author revealing his style. At one point the author says "Games too often make for dull reading", and I can't exactly argue, but most games need to be both books you can read and books you can reference. One of these needs has the reader wanting to be caressed, and the other wants the author to get to the point. What we really learn here is that most of what's written in Sacred Stiff is informed by style. The game itself is easy to play, straight forward, and could be covered in a much smaller book. Everything else you get here is style, and I have to say it gets in the way of comprehension in this book.

EPISODE 4 (PLAYING THE GAME) (30 pages)

This section starts with 2 ways of playing the game - using dice, or not using dice. The core mechanic seems pretty straight forward - roll two 6-sided dice and try to roll higher than one of your 'flaws'. Mechanically simple, but from a design standpoint pretty interesting. Characters don't have attributes, they have flaws - Weakness, clumsiness, ignorance, cowardice, imbalance, superstition. The lower your flaw, the better. Too succeed at something, you roll over your flaw - you overcome it. The GM, or Evil Mastermind as she is called, must roll under your flaw to exploit it. So the lower your flaw, the better. In a diceless game, you trade points between flaws and misfortune. Which seems logical, but at this point in the book, misfortune hasn't been defined yet, so who knows. What follows next are a bunch of spot rules for things like chases. So we've skipped most of the core concepts of the game, going straight from 'dice' to 'spot rules' without really understanding how to play the game. Confusing!

EPISODE 5 (MASTERFUL MASTERMINDS) (16 pages)

This section is a mixed bag of more GM advice, opening with how to deal with idiot players (yes!) and pacing (play fast paced music to help with this, according to the author) to plotting, suspension of disbelief, and laughs - some good and bade advice here. Then we talk about Innocent Bystanders and Chumps, which are really two of the three kinds of NPC, and should have been defined much earlier. Chumps are allies that mean well but that PCs use for cannon fodder. Innocent Bystanders are as they seem. Then we have some optional rules that let a GM up the ante (i.e. make a game '3D'), and for climaxes, and gloating on the part of the Creeps (these are antagonist NPCs, or so we gather - concept not introduce yet). Deathtraps, swarms, and stats for animals round out this disjointed section.

EPISODE 6 (VICTIMS OF CIRCUMSTANCE) (22 pages)

This chapter is all about how to make a character. At last, we get to learn what all (ok, most) of the terms used in the first five chapters mean. Because we see how a character is made. This chapter should have been much further forward. If you made it this far, though, you'll get some payoff at last. Character creation is simple, and characters look pretty interesting. Each character is based on a 'stereotype' of behavior, You figure out and define your flaws. Add some 'goodies' (basically anything that's useful as a weapon) and 'trinkets' (useless but descriptive trappings). And finally round out the description of your character. And give the GM some tools to punish those players who aren't really into the game. Wait, what? Yep. <---as it says back there. And finally, an example of how to make Grace Fuller, the sample character.

EPISODE 7 (GENRE RULES) (10 pages)

More GM advice, now properly located, on how to apply modifiers, being taken seriously by NPCS when revealing the B-threat, kissing (ew!), insanity (ah!), and gadgets (oh!).

EPISODE 8 (THE EVIL MASTERMINDS) (14 pages)

Here's where the rest of the rules are hidden. Creeps are finally described, and there are tips on how to run them. There's a menagerie here - mostly 1-2 lines of stats per enemy or creature. Honestly this is the first game i've ever seen with Brain in a Jar, Evil Dessert, Electrical Man, Crawling Hand, Gill Creature, Invisible Doctor, Mad Opera Star, Midget Madman, Somnambulist, and Telekinetic Girl statted up. Slow Clap. Finally there's a section on magic and spells, in case the bad guys use them.

EPISODE 9 (A CLOCKWORK DUCK) (10 pages)

This section has more GM advice about bringing a setting alive. First a time frame giving the particular of various time periods. Then something about illustrating horror (mostly using a short story to illustrate), themes, hooks, playing a creep, and a list of buildings to plop into your setting.

EPISODES 10-13 (22 pages)

Ostensibly a bunch of skins, but this is a weird mixed bag. The first, TRADITIONAL TERROR, gives a detailed description on a town in Maine - reads like an encyclopedia entry for a town, but doesn't really tell you how to run it, or even give plot hooks. The second, ALIEN INVADERS describes an alien species and why they're on earth. A lot of thought went into this, but it's still short on plot hooks or any advice on how to run it. SUPERNATURAL CONSPIRACY is basically a brief on the FBI, without ever really explaining why you should be briefed on the FBI. Lastly, MEGA MONSTERS lists a number of Kaiju type beings and describes New York. You can put 2 and 2 together, I think.

END PAPERS (14 pages)

Here we have a glossary, index, and character sheet (a toe tag! kinda neat!) to round out the book.

CONCLUSION

Scared Stiff seems like a pretty fun game for one-shot scenarios of campy horror - exactly what it presents itself as. It's rule's light (if reading heavy). It tries and (and largely fails) to give advice on settings and how to run the game, but there's definitely enough here for an experience GM to use without difficulty. I think the strength of the book is the system - I'd definitely consider playing the game, and may even borrow from the system in making my own games. The writing is campy and flavorful, as it should be. It flows well enough and is easy to understand. But it's so stylized it sometimes gets in the way of clarity.

The big weakness of the book is in the organization - the author presents details of how to use the system before the basics, and the GM advice is all over the place. Some sections (the various skins) give only half of what you'd really want to run it. Most experienced GMs can use this stuff, but will need to flesh it all out.

Another weakness are the GM advice and the style. The GM advice varies from sound and useful (the psychology of a creep) to questionable (play fast-paced music when you play to help keep the pace up) to downright bad (punish players who aren't that into it, and force people to pick male or female as a gender - though frankly this is more oversight than malicious I think). They style is... kind of cloying, if I'm honest. But in a campy, kind of fun way. Does that make sense?

I give this one three out of five. There's what seems like quite a good gaming experience buried in here, but you'll have to sort through a bunch of weirdly intense text to get to it. I don't think you should buy the book - but if you already own it (and have a thick skin) I do think you should read it.

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My #RPGaMonth for October is Numenera 2 - Destiny, the latest incarnation of Monte Cook’s Numenera game.

What is Numenera 2?

Numenera 2 means that there are two core books. The first Numenera - Discovery is more or less the same thing that was already the first Numenera. One may look at reviews for that, the differences are small. The greatest being that you now have Player Intrusions as well. A player intrusion is the reverse of a GM intrusion. Instead of getting an experience point for a complication, you pay with an experience point for a greater positive effect which is described in detail in your character's type.

What is Numenera - Destiny?

So, Numenera - Discovery is about the players discovering the so-called Ninth World. The Destiny book is different. The focus of the campaign is on playing in a community setting. The players help to start a community, make it prosper and steer of influence it. The games here will likely be more bound to a specific location where your community may reside. Instead of sole exploration, the management of resources has now a deal of importance.

The analogy might be like a part of the game Civilization where you start with the first city. You may pick a spot where the community starts or take over a site abandoned or something like that. The characters are now kind of the wise women or wise men which help develop everything. The game has two different play modes. There is the normal RPG part, where the characters act like before and interact with persons on a detailed and individual level. But there is also a long-term level, where each action is measured in full months. E.g. it takes 2 months to train the local people in defence, or 1 month to establish a new trade route or something like that.

The community itself is described in a couple of stats (mainly rank, health, armor, damage) and a couple of resources that are available, like how many pieces of Thaum Dust the community has stored, or how much food and water is produced.

Players action can change the stats of the community and different communities may interact with each other via their stats. Like the rank 2 killer robot tribe attacks a rank 4 community with health 20 and armor 1. On a successful attack the robot deal 2 points of damage, but due to the armor only 1 point of health is decreased. Probably the defences at the perimeter of the community were a bit lax, but nevertheless fast enough, such that only a few casualties occurred.

How does it feel playing?

We only did three sessions, so I can’t comment on long-term motivation, but it is really a different beast if you like me have played more or less only on an individual level. Playing the long-term actions has a certain feeling like role-playing a strategy game like Civilization. It is much fun and helps to overcome the limitations of such a computer game by the power of imagination. It is a bit like the modes in Microscope where you switch between a global view and a local narration. It gives you all those ideas, where to start a new individual RPG session. For example to build the protective force field that helps to mitigate the killer robot tribe problem mentioned above you need certain resources (long-term action “build force field”). To get those you may need to explore a certain abandoned site where the needed parts may be located (long-term action “find iotum”). But there are strange people living there with whom your community can probably trade, etc… You get the picture. In each of those cases you stay on the abstract long-term mode, but also switch to individual character mode, where the party explores the site and directly interact with the people there.

Final thoughts
Right now, I like the ideas very much. It is sometimes a bit fuzzy which level or mode to chose to play that, but it is so inspirational to think in a more big picture way. I will certainly come back to have a longer try.


https://www.montecookgames.com/store/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/N2-Pledge-Calc-Numenera-Destiny-450x450.jpg

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This thing is still going, so my #RPGaMonth for October is "Dungeon Delver" by Brent P. Newhall. Published by, Brent P. Newhall's Musaeum Cost: 0.00$ (Zero dollars is the suggested price on drivethru.)

I read this as an epub, and it was much shorter than I thought it would be. I hesitate to call this an OSR game, but it was lauded on Tenkar's Tavern. (That comment is on the drivethru page.)

The quality of the epub was solid. No ugly typos, and the not really any odd page breaks. Maybe one? No art either. This wasn't an issue for me, but I know some people like it.

Everything is based on using d6's, and only d6's. There are only stats, no skills or feats. There are several classes, several races, and each has a small specialty to distinguish them. Additionally, the version I read contained a menu of baddies to use for encounters as well as spells for arcane and divine casters.

The game is simple, and as far as I can tell, appears to be highly playable. It doesn't have a whole lot of depth, but I think that's the point. It is probably among the most stream-lined TTRPGs I have ever read. I'm not joking. I read the whole game cover to cover in maybe 20-30 minutes, but it is a complete game. There are even rules for character progression!

The game is what it is. The system was written to create a quick and dirty fantasy role-playing game, and it certainly succeeds. Definitely a game to consider if you wanted to something to play on the spot, but weren't interested in committing to long-term.
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