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Saturday, 26 May 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: Black Dogs Issue #2

This is a review of the RPG zine "Black Dogs", issue number 2.  I previously reviewed issue #1 here.

Black Dogs is written by Davide Pignedoli, published by Daimon Games. It is labelled as a "Lamentations of the Flame Princess Compatible Product". The material in Black Dogs is described as a "dark fantasy collection of house-rules, materials, adventures and monsters, a toolbox to generate new content for OSR systems, particularly focused on Lamentations of the Flame Princess."

It is in a softcover booklet format, the front cover showing a black and white image of a renaissance figure with a big sword. The interior has only a couple of black and white images.  The booklet is 44 pages long.

The same introduction as in the previous issue is presented in this issue. This is a zine dedicated to presenting a set of house-rules that adapt LotFP into the author's vision. In short (according to the presentation) less focus on horror, and more focus on "monsters, wilderness and communities".

I had commented back in my review of issue #1 that it was clear the author was not a native English speaker, and while in general his command of the language is quite good, the issue did have a variety of slight errors of grammar and sentence-structure that made his lack of native fluency obvious (at least to me). It seems he was already aware of this, because in this issue he posts a call for native editors and proofreaders (and that wasn't thanks to me, since this issue came out before I did the review of issue #1).

The first actual section of the issue is "presenting the world", where he talks about how his setting is "Europe of the late medieval times, only darker and grittier than our real world". Mythical creatures and magic exist, and their influence on human history was for the worse. This is pretty similar in general terms to my own Dark Albion; but in Black Dogs the author explicitly "assumes you'll be playing in continental Europe, not in England". So hey, if it turns out to be well designed, maybe there's stuff in here of use for Dark Albion players? We'll see.

You get basic descriptions of the terrain of Europe; this to me seems totally self-evident, but I guess there might be some particularly uniformed gamers from parts of the world other than Europe who might not really know that Spain has mountains, or that Poland is mostly flat.
The description of religion is equally basic, saying stuff like 'every village has a church, and there's also lots of monasteries'. Or that people go to church at least once a week. That's OK, again, in that some people might in 2018 might not know this. But then he claims that "five out of six people" will break religious rules for personal interest. I think that's a highly cynical view, and not really accurate to the medieval perspective. Even more so when the PC suggests optionally presenting the Reformation in their setting. The Reformation would never have actually happened if people cared so little about religion as to break religious rules 5 out of every 6 times.

He also suggests that the nobility is aware of being in decline; I think that this is premature if the setting is taking place at the early stages of the Reformation.

So most of this first section (6 pages) is of stuff that is really basic, and (in my opinion) occasionally inaccurate. At the end of the section you get information on the Black Dogs. We're told they're "not mercenaries" and yet they "solve problems with force" and "demand a fair price".  Um... that sure sounds like mercenaries to me!

They do have a "Code of conduct" though. It doesn't amount to all that much: fight against demons, monsters and evil humans, protect innocents and children, working commoners, and humanity in general. I guess that does make them particularly honorable mercenaries.

The Encumbrance rules are next. The rules are changed from the LotFP standard; mainly in that your ability scores (Con and Str) are used to determine the number of items you can carry.A sample inventory sheet is provided.
There's a few other rules on equipment too, for example, in this house system, silver weapons do less damage than normal weapons and are prone to breaking. I guess that would make sense, if they were made of pure silver rather than silver-plated. To make up for this, silver weapons do double damage against monsters with a vulnerability to silver.
Lists are provided for a variety of weapons, including the number of encumbrance slots they take up, and cost in silver pieces. None of these weapons are unusual, apart from maybe the gunpowder weapons. The gun rules provided are similar too but somewhat simpler than the weapons provided in the later edition of LotFP or my own Lion & Dragon.
Armor is also provided, but it is strictly fantasy-medieval; it's neither 17th century armor like later LotFP, nor is it medieval-authentic armor types like I provide in L&D. finally, there's also a list of basic equipment, which again is nothing too suprising.

After this we get some guidelines for the GM as to when to roll dice.  The main advice being that if there's no good reason (in terms or danger, time constraints, conflict, complexity, or what have you) the GM should just allow basic 'skill' type attempts to succeed, unless he thinks it's impossible in which case it should just fail. That's good basic advice, and again, I guess there might be some people who actually need to hear that. Unfortunately, right after that the author suggests that 'fail-forward' approach borrowed from storygaming.

Then we get another section talking about the spirit of the Black Dogs campaign, its emphasis on exploration, and risk-taking. This is followed by a section with a couple of adventure seeds. We're told these seeds are created with a series of random tables that will appear in issue #3 of the zine (a good bit of marketing there). We get a hint of what these tables generate by the seeds themselves; for example:

-Medium town, important merchants and nobles
-an important crossroad
-lover or spy, an old grudge
-priest or bishop, disposition to abuse
-a witch fighting the church
-someone in great danger, or power

The following elements are used to create a seed about a town where there's a witch causing trouble but actually the local bishop is deeply corrupt and she's out for revenge.

The final section has some stats and rules for some of the situations that appear in the former adventure seeds. There's a note on how saving throws work in his house rules; they're based on rolling a d6 and getting a certain number or less.
Then we're told about morale rules, which in the house rules is a d6 save vs the remaining hit points of the creature.
I guess both of these would be fairly appealing to people wanting a very simple system.

Then you get stats for the evil bishop (I commented about my feelings about the relative lack of boldness of making clergy corrupt or evil in my latest video, though I certainly think you can have the occasional evil priest, they do appear as a possibility in my own adventure-generation tables in Cults of Chaos), who has some interesting magical powers.
Then similarly, stats for the Witch, who also has some interesting magical powers. I do think it's to the author's credit that he isn't just using D&D-type spells for either of them, but rather special supernatural abilities with their own rules.

Finally, there's a couple of entries for undead, including "smart zombies", and for some basic human stat-blocks (commoner, guard, bandit, noble, knight or berserker).

So what to say about Black Dogs #2?  I think it's similar to what we see in #1.  First, I'm not convinced about this format for presenting a set of rules. It's possible to reveal a setting in a serial fashion by demonstrating small areas at a time, but doing so with a set of rules is more complex, as you can't really use all of this stuff until you get the whole system, and that's being given at a snail's pace.

There's a LOT of stuff in here that feels like padding to me. Quite a bit of it felt like it was repeating contextual material from issue #1 in just a slightly different way. 

Finally, if the system was really new and innovative, I might feel different about it, but none of what I've seen so far seems truly innovative. It's getting harder to do something really impressive with system in the OSR, as there's a lot of creative stuff out there already. To be really impressive, I think you need to have a system with something really new or different in there, and that fits very well with the setting you have in mind.  So far, the changes I've seen in this house system have been pretty mild, largely optional, nothing that to me really turns LotFP on its head. The differences are too small, and too cosmetic.

Can this product appeal to someone? Well, some of the material in here in terms of advice for running the game might be useful to total beginners; unfortunately I suspect that hardly any total beginners will be likely to read this product. In particular, given that instead of advertising itself as its own thing, it's presented as a set of house-rule mods for LotFP. That  means that most people who read it will already not only be OSR people, but people who specifically have a lot of experience with LotFP.

Will they find it useful? I have trouble believing anyone will be truly wowed with it so far. But maybe someone who is really looking for any kinds of ideas out there for alternate mechanics might be able to make use of a couple of these house rules, just for ideas themselves. That's the best I can say about it.

At worst, I would say that there's too much emphasis in talking about mood and style, giving a lot of advice that the author's market is already likely to know, and the house rules are not bold or avant garde enough to really jump out at you. If I was consulting here, I'd tell Mr. Pignedoli that he seriously needs to up his game, and take more risks with really exciting variant rules.  Maybe the best thing I saw in this issue were the special powers that some of the monsters had; if he did that, and a lot more of that, it could make his zine something more worth purchasing.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Classic Series Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

Friday, 25 May 2018

A Person on the Left DARED to say Jordan Peterson Might be Important

So, I have to go game, so first of all, in case any of you missed it, here was the amazing Munk Debate, with Jordan Peterson and Stephen Fry versus a couple of leftist demagogues, on the topic of Political Correctness

Second, here's an article about someone on the left that had the unmitigated gall to say that Jordan Peterson was a "refreshing departure from standard discourse" and imply that he might be needed in the modern monotone repressive culture of academia.

Expect her to be eviscerated by her leftist soon-to-be-former colleagues shortly, for daring not to take up the standard tactic of just plain LYING about Peterson.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H's Walnut

Thursday, 24 May 2018

My Latest Video: If Every D&D Setting Looks Like 2018 Seattle, it Gets Boring

Check it out!

If all your Nobles are either decadent or incompetent or corrupt or evil, and all your religious authorities are cruel and secretly the bad guys, you may be infected with post-modernism. And if all your game worlds look like that it gets boring fast.

In this day and age, the boldest change you can make to a DnD setting is to make knights and nobles and priests actually heroic.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + Navy Flake

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Classic Rant: Appendix N is the Most Useless DMG Appendix

Back when 1st edition was the newest edition, which was when I started playing, we used the crap out of Appendices A to E. 
A, B, and C probably saw the most use. These were the ones with random dungeon terrain, random wilderness terrain and random monster encounters. They were immediately useful in the preparation for and application during actual play. You used the fuck out of these; in fact, outside of the sections on magic items and gems, those three appendices were undoubtedly the MOST used sections of the entire book for me. It was a big part of where I got my love of random tables, and also learned the lessons about using them properly (for example, making a dungeon with Appendix A 'by the book' would almost never work right, so you needed to learn how to adjust tables to fit what you actually wanted and what actually worked).

Appendix D was for "lower planes creatures" and became a huge inspiration for weird and crazy monsters.
Appendix E was purely a practical section: it listed in pure stat-block all the monsters, which seems not that sensible but was in fact essential for a young kid that didn't own the Monster Manual yet, or for someone who didn't want to carry both books around with him. In the days when a D&D game might happen anywhere, and where you already had a backpack full of textbooks, that was damn useful!

Even beyond these key choices, though, ALL the other Appendices had some basis in actual PLAYABILITY. Be it tricks, traps, summoned monsters, or the gambling rules; they were all for using.

All except Appendix N. In actual history, as I lived it at least, Appendix N was the one you just skipped over. The only memory I have of it was once or twice comparing with friends as to how many of the books on it we'd read, and it was always a near-tie, because we'd mostly all read all of the books that were actually popular and none of those that weren't.

Now, even if you were to believe the nostalgia and ideologically-driven delusions of certain OSR segments, even then Appendix N wasn't for using; it was for ruminating on, and thinking deep literary thoughts about, and assigning a seriousness to D&D that in no way matched how we tended to play. But no one I knew did that kind of bullshit back then; not until "Vampire: the Masquerade" showed up.

Which kind of makes sense, because the retroactive "importance" of Appendix N was largely invented by a reject White-Wolf fanboy and total johnny-come-lately to Old School D&D: James Maliszewski.

Appendix N's popularity only arose because of this entryist, "JMal": an internet kickstarter fraud, World-of-Darkness fanatic and pretend OSR guy, who only got into it when he had the sense to see that White Wolf was dead and that there was rubes to fleece and money to make off the OSR. It makes sense Maliszewski would claim to love and promote the endless study of the minutiae of Appendix N: it has no play content, but tons of pretentiousness-potential. Appendix N itself was nothing more than just a list of 'cool shit Gygax liked', but in the hands of Maliszewski and his cohorts it was all about pretending to be literary critics and getting to be judgmental about what is "real old school", and finding some kind of quasi-esoteric "primordial UR-D&D" to show you're more old-school than anyone else.

It's all about trying to push an OSR that's exclusionary and reactionary, rather than innovative and creative.

If you want to do stuff that's about creativity, look at EVERY OTHER Appendix in the DMG. Let those inspire you. Let the random tables and the lists and the ideas for play inspire you, rather than looking for some kind of bible of Gygax-Approved books to tell you the only right way to play D&D.

Nobody is suggesting that you not read the books on the list! I've read quite a lot of the books and authors there myself, though certainly not all.

What I am saying is that the J. Maliszewski Serial Wankers Club For Talmudic Studies that has formed around the least-useful appendix in the DMG has chosen to dedicate hours to the study of that Appendix N, and not to Appendices A, B, C, D-M, or O or P, because N suits a goal of creating the attitude that the way one group thinks old-school should be run is the 'right', 'true', 'original' version of some kind of primordial Ur-D&D of which all other versions are just sad falls from some golden age that never was.

If you think the OSR should be about innovation and creativity, about how to create, within the 'box' of the design rules of old-school, amazing NEW stuff, instead of rooting through the Gygax family home's garbage bags in search of old shopping lists to try to get some grasp of how to play D&D as 'purely' as possible, then I would strongly recommend you try to put some real hard time into carefully examining, studying and experimenting with every appendix in the DMG except for Appendix-fucking-N.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark Billiard + Argento Latakia

(June 6, 2016)

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Another Last Sun Sourcebook: Bondian Supervillains and Derpy Horses

So RPGPundit Presents #32: Goldhalcon and the Demon Lands continues to expand the setting material for the Last Sun gonzo-osr fantasy setting (which is the setting of my totally crazy DCC campaign).

In this new issue we look at the lands of the Demon lord Zozzsz, who rules a vast and brutal realm of terrible oppression and is pretty much your stereotypical evil bad guy.

He's got orc armies, Wraith Prince generals, a pit to the Nether-regions, and the wish to conquer the entire world.   He can only be stopped by the Derpy Horse of Destiny.

In this book you ALSO get full details of the great gold-mutant city of Goldhalcon, ruled by the Bond-esque supervillain known as Goldeater. Find out about his secret lair, his bodyguards, his unfair tax policies and more! 

There's encounter tables for both regions, and also details on the Furry Plains, and the Dreadlands of Lord Dread, an evil warlord that might secretly not really be very evil. There's even an overview of the famous city of Highbay!

So, if you're a fan of the Last Sun setting, or you just want a bunch of ideas to infuse into YOUR gonzo campaign, be sure to pick this up! You can get Last Sun: Goldhalcon and the Northern Demon Realms from DTRPG, or buy it at the Precis Intermedia store!  It's just $2.49!

And while you're at it, be sure to pick up the rest of the great supplements in the RPGPundit Presents series:

RPGPundit Presents #1: DungeonChef!

RPGPundit Presents #2: The Goetia  (usable for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #3: High-Tech Weapons

RPGPundit Presents #5: The Child-Eaters (an adventure scenario for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #17: The Hunters (an adventure for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #21: Hecate's Tomb (an adventure for Lion & Dragon!)

Stay tuned for more next week!


Currently smoking: Brigham Anniversary + Image Latakia

Monday, 21 May 2018

Tell Me What YOU Want for Future RPGPundit Presents Issues!

Hey all! First of all, let me point out to you that the latest issue of RPGPundit Presents #31: The Arcana (Medieval-Authentic Tarot) is now also available in Spanish.

El tarot fue una invención del periodo medieval tardío. Algunos dicen que fue creado como herramienta para la magia, mientras que otros aseguran que sólo se trata de un juego. Este número está dedicado al uso del Tarot para técnicas mágicas, desde leer las cartas para la adivinación hasta invocar los triunfos, e incluso hacer viajes astrales--visitar los planos a los que cada triunfo está vinculado para interactuar con seres espirituales.

You can buy RPGPundit Presents #31: Los Arcanos (spanish) at DTRPG, or from the Precis Webstore.

But while I've got you here, I would like to know what things YOU would want to see more of in future RPGpundit Presents issues!  

If you're into Lion & Dragon or Dark Albion and you want more medieval-authentic material, please tell me if there's something in particular about it that you'd like. 

If you're more interested in the Gonzo issues, please tell me what kind of Gonzo stuff you'd love to see!

And if there's anything else, feel free to suggest it too. Here's your chance to get me interested in writing something you'd like to see in the OSR.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti half-volcano + Blue Boar 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Wild West Update: Nothing at all Happened (Except a Song)

That's the perils, sometimes, of running a sandbox-style game. There were adventure hooks in there, but for the most part the players didn't bite, and nothing much took place.

Kid Taylor's hotel had a minor fire, which cost him some money.

Wyatt Earp's horse got stolen, but the Earp brothers failed to find it.

(Earp, looking deeply troubled at the theft of his horse)

Curly Bill Brocius got into business with the Chinese in "hop town" (Tombstone's Chinatown) acting as an opium dealer to Crazy Miller's high-end brothel. He's also very obviously partaking in the merchandise.
The Chinese boss tried to double-cross Bill, but he got warned, and took care of it.

A crooked lawman came into town, looking for a bank robber he'd been after. He actually wanted to recruit people to join him in hunting the guy down and splitting the money the guy had. None of the PCs wanted to join him.

That was about it.

Oh, and we made up a song about Crazy Miller:

Wyatt's a fighter,
Doc's a killer,
Elephant Rutabaga Crazy Miller!

Stay tuned next time when hopefully more stuff will actually occur. Anyways, the main thing is that everyone seemed to have a good time in spite of not much going on. It was like the Seinfeld of Westerns.


Currently Smoking: Castello Fiamma + Image Virginia