Thursday, June 08, 2023

Recent Arrivals (North Texas Bonus Round)

 There are lot of hardbacks in this particular collection, but I did not buy the bulk of them. I've been a judge for several years for the Three Castles Awards, presented at the North Texas RPG Con. NTRPG is a really nice con dedicated to "old-school gaming" - earlier editions of D&D (and all of its retro-clones) and other classic games. They send me the candidates I and several other judges make our decisions under a precise set of guidelines, and the winner was announced at the most recent NTRPG Con. Anyway, my opinions here are untethered by those guidelines, and as such are my own. But let's do the ones that are NOT NTRPG candidates first.

Everyday Heroes (Sigfried Trent, Chris "Goober" Ramley, D. Todd Scott, Evil Genius Games, 464-page hardbound) This was an "author's" copy from the publisher. I worked on this project as a Design Consultant, helped them staff up, and looked over the various sections when they were in development. Even so, I was stunned by how HUGE this book turned out. It is a spiritual descendant of D20 Modern, and this particular edition echoes the original on the cover. Physically, it is a beautiful rulebook. Content-wise, it is incredibly playable. Recommended.

Regency Cthulhu: Dark Designs in Jane Austen's England (Andrew Peregrine, Lynne Hardy and Friends, Chaosium Inc. 224-page hardback) I could not find the anywhere from my local hobby stores, and ended up making a trek down to Olympic Cards & Comics down in Lacey with Stan! on one of our days off. There is a Cthulhu project for every era and genre, and this one drills down on the Austenian era (1811-1820) when George IV served as king for the increasingly crazy George III. The volume details changes to the skill and occupations for that era to the standard Call of Cthulhu (CoC) 7th edition rules, and the importance of social credit and standing as a tool for roleplaying. There's a typical country manor and village and a couple adventures. Presentation is up to Chaosium's usual standards.

Rivers of London the Roleplaying Game (Paul Fricker, Lynne Hardy, and Friends, Based on the novels by Gen Aaronovitch, Chaosium Inc. 400-page hardback). Also a result of the Olympic trip, I was surprised to find this one in the wild as well. I've never read Aaronovitch's books, but the Lovely Bride has and thinks they are good, as they are modern urban fantasy dealing with a London police department that deals with the supernatural. The system is a simplified 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu. Presentation is good, but I'm not a fan of the 3D models in some of the illos. Wondering if I can get the Lovely Bride to play.

Ruins of the Lost Realm (Gareth Hanrahan. Free League, 120-page hardback). One more from Olympic, this was a whim pickup. Have been cruising through The One Ring RPG, and want to take it out for a spin, but wanted to see the support project. Free League makes some of the best-looking products on the shelves today. This one deals with Arnor, a chunk of Middle Earth unvisited in any of the books. Pulls what is known from the trilogy and fills in the blank spots. Uses Tharbad as a launching point for adventures. The game does not do dungeons so much as sites and places of interest with general descriptions. Looks interesting if you don't want to be tripping over too many trademarked characters.

Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen (F Welsey Schnieder and 10 writers, Wizards of the Coast, 224-page hardback). This was a purchase from the Mox Boarding House up in Bellevue. And it is interesting that, except for a small tempest (Tiamat=Takhisis*) I have heard absolutely nothing about it. Which is a little weird since the adventure ties itself to the "war" part of the War of the Lance, creating an adventure that runs concurrently with dragon armies marching through Ansalon. And it is tied into a wargaming boardgame (the component-heavy Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn) so you can fight the battles as well. Plus has a lot of Dragonlance specific stuff (Kender, Gods, High Sorcery) for 5E. The book itself is WotC standard good in appearance, and for having a bunch of writers and editors on it, is coherent and cohesive, and tells an epic story without DL's well-known heroes. But since its release in December of last year, there has been mostly nothing in the 'net about it.

Necropolis (Mark Greenberg and Bill Webb, Necromancer Games, 240-page hardback). This is the first of the  NTRPG Three Castles Awards candidates. It is a further development of Necropolis, a Dangerous Journeys adventure by Gary Gygax (due credit to Gary inside, but nary a mention of GDW, the original publisher), which had a brief stop in 3rd Edition D&D over the years. As a refinement this top-notch, brought up to date for their Swords and Wizardry OSR Clone. It is an ultimate Ancient Egypt Adventure, and keeps the Gygaxian nature of brutal consequences for player actions (teleport into a room identical to the one you are in, but with all the doors missing). Updated and upgraded, it has improved art and excellent maps. Bonus - full-color poster map of the tomb. 

Dwarrowdeep (Greg Gillespie, 334-Page Hardback) NTRPG Three Castles Award Nominee. Greg Gillespie does Moria. Let me refine that further - Greg Gillespie, who does sprawling mega-dungeons like Barrowmaze and The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia (which my Monday night group is STILL moving through) and does so in a classic old-school D&D style, does a sprawling underground dwarven underground. Major sites are laid out, room-upon-room, Secondary locations can be built with tables and geomorphs. The cover shown here is for the "Special Edition Monochrome" which evokes the old, old style of the early D&D modules. Comes with a packet of maps for the main areas in the light-blue style of, you got it, early D&D Modules. Interior art includes pieces by legendary TSR artists. Very old-school.

Swords of Cthulhu (Joseph Block, BRW Games,128-page hardback). NTRPG Three Castles Award Nominee. This one made me smile. A lot of Old School D&D clones use the styles of early adventures, but this one comes very, very close to the original Unearthed Arcana I worked on all those years ago. So that made me smile. Added bonus - Cthulhu for D&D, Deep Ones as a PC race. Cultists and scholars as new classes. Spells that petition the Old Ones. Insanity rules, Mythos monsters and deities, and hints on running a Lovecraftian Game in 1e rules. Art varies from good to pick-up.

Corsairs of Cthulhu - Fighting Mythos in the Golden Age of Piracy (Ben Burns, New Comet Games, 300-page hardback) NTRPG Three Castles Awards Nominee. Wait a minute, didn't you ALREADY talk about this? Yep, got a copy way back here. So when this one arrived for judging, gave it to a colleague and re-read it. And pretty much my initial impression stands. The opening bits about adapting Call of Cthulhu for the golden age of piracy (1650-1730 AD) is pretty solid. The adventure is, well, all the map, and then off the map and onto other maps. We get a great setup for a Caribbean set of adventures, then head for the Pacific, the Dreamlands, and times and places beyond, with guest appearances by most of the mythos' heavy players. 

Endless Encounters - Dungeons (Bill Barsh, Pacesetter Games, 280-page hardback) NTRPG Three Castles Awards Nominee. It IS a big book of tables, but it is also a good springboard for dungeon-building, whether you need just something for the spur-of-the-moment or building a larger structure for later use. Embracing the old school nature of dungeon levels getting higher as you go down in levels, the tables allow you to figure out what is there on in a shorthand version. What is the purpose of the room? It's inhabitants? Its treasure. The examples provided (one per level) demonstrate how those results can be fleshed out to a more coherently thematic dungeon. 

Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride (Levi Combs and Jeff Scifert, Planet X Games,146-page hardback.) NTRPG Three Castles Awards Nominee. Like Necropolis, this is an expansion and refinement of previously published work, and while listed as compatible with a OSR game (Dungeon Crawl Classics) can be run under D&D rules of various stripes. Instead of ancient Egyptianish undead, we are talking about ancient Central Americanish undead, and can be fit into any hellish jungle settings in your campaign. Of all the nominees, this one has the most fun with its presentation, and keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek as it names encounters  Clean layout and artistic maps.

And the envelope please? The Three Castles Award for 2023 goes to:

Dwarrowdeep by Greg Gillespie. Congrats to the winner and see you folk next year.

More later,

*I have opinions on this contentious matter. Maybe someday I will even share them.