Tag Archives: Retro Clones

Review: BlueHolme

Product Summery:
Name: BlueHolme Journeymanne
Author: Michael Thomas
Line: OSR/Basic D&D
Cost: $9.99 for PDF
Pages: 118

Someone may have finally come up with a retro clone of Basic D&D that does not piss me off. In the past, these things have stuck very close to the original rules, even to the point of including stupid and outdated rules, like the race as class nonsense I have complained about in the past. The author of BlueHolme seems to have come to his senses and left that shit out and that is why I shelled out the $10 to get the expanded version of the rules, even though I can get other retro clones that are 90% identical to these rules for free.

Like all retro clones, BlueHolmes set out to re-imagine a specific game from a bygone era. In this case it was the Blue Box D&D Basic Set from 1977 written by J. Eric Holmes, thus the name BlueHolme. The writer originally put out the BlueHolme Prentice rules, which like the game it is based on, only went to third level.In that book he used public domain art from various sources, which gave the book an interesting vibe. Recently he decided to expand the rules to 20th level and get some original art done for the expanded book. He ran a kickstarter and raise a nice chunk of change to commission this art and the end product was the Journeymanne rule book.

What did I liked; the book does a very good job of re-imaging the game it was based on. Quick easy to build characters with very little crunch to get in the way. Classes are limited to the 4 base classes, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Here is the interesting part, there is no limitation. on races the player may choose from.

Page 5: Just about any being detailed in Part 6: Creatures is suitable for use as a player character with a little work by the referee,

So yes, the player can play a small dragon or a giant beetle if they so desire. I felt this was an interesting twist on the game, something not really done in the past that sets this game apart.

Things I did not like; I think my problem with this game are really problems with the Original D&D, so I would like to be clear about it. This is not a modern game and falls into many of the same traps that old school games fall into. Unbalanced classes, wonky rules, too much hand waving of rules and terrible scaling at high levels. Of course there will those who say, this is what makes these games so much fun to play. But I think there are some areas with these OSR games that are ripe for improvement.

For instance the “All weapons to 1d6 damage” rule, okay I get it, its simple and straight forward. The problem is there is no reason to ever use anything other than a dagger, it does 1d6 damage just like a long sword, my character can carry 25 of them and I can throw them as well as use them in melee. This is something I would house rule, small weapons do 1d4 damage (dagger, dart, short sword, hand axe), medium weapons do 1d6 (long sword, mace, battle axe), large weapons do 1d8 damage (two handed sword, great axe, pole arms). Or even if you wanted to stick with the 1d6, you could do, 1d6-2 for small, 1d6 for medium and 1d6+2 for large. This gives fighters a reason to use a two handed sword other than “Its cool” or “I am a barbarian so…”.

Over all, I liked the game, I think it is well written and accomplishes what it set out to do. I doubt I will ever play it, I think if I were inclined to play this sort of game, I would simply run the Original D&D in some form. However if you are not interested in scouring ebay for copies of the original, but want to play a game approximating it, then this is definitely the game for you.

Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG

Like everyone else I have downloaded a copy of Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG Beta (DCCRPG). Since this is not an official release and there is a strong possibility much will change between now and actual publication, this is not be a structured review, but rather more of general observational post.

First off Goodman Games did what every other Retro Clone designer does. Instead of modeling their game after Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) first edition, they modeled it after the Original Dungeons and Dragons (OD&D). My issue with this is the race as class nonsense. This is a stupid concept, however, if you are going to do it, then fucking make it consistent, do something new and innovative, make all the races classes. Go all the way and just say, all elves are Magic Users, All Dwarves are Fighters, all Halflings are Thieves and all Humans are Clerics, now let the players choose one of the other classes if they want to. Really though, this idea just needs to die, it is confusing and adds nothing to the game. It was a bad rule back then and it is a bad rule today, no game designer has ever given me a reasonable answer as to why they cling to this idea beyond “Its SSOO Gygaxian” or because its “Retro Coolz”. It is all baloney if you ask me.

The second thing that bothered me about this game is the needless use of non standard dice. Why do I need d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30 ? Don’t get me wrong, I like dice, I have tons of them, I even have a few of the ones listed. However, looking at the rules, I don’t see any particular use for these dice that is creative or fun. It seems to me Goodman Games threw these dice in here for the same reason teenagers become Goths. Seriously, this falls under the category of confusing and adds nothing to the game.

Enough bitching, there were a few things I did like. For instance the 0 Level character rules look like they would be fun to mess around with. Ed’s dream of playing the Cheese makers son, could finally be realized. They also did some interesting things with Luck and Alignment, how a player adheres to the characters alignment affects his luck, of course this requires GM’s to enforce it, but it is an interesting idea. The art and layout is nice, the book is well organized, the game system appears to be easy to learn and it looks like a group of new DCCRPG players could get started in under an hour.

Right now, I would probably not bother with this game. If found myself in a position where I were running a game based on OD&D, I’d probably use the Basic Fantasy RPG or Labyrinth Lords, both are much closer to OD&D in style and mechanics. Either that or I would just use OD&D rules, I have several copies, no real reason to buy or print anything out. Besides that, I can not imagine myself in a situation where I would be running an OD&D based game rather than using AD&D or HackMaster. DCCRPG at this point does not add anything to the RPG hobby and I have to say I think its time to stop cloning OD&D, game designers either need to adopt one of the already existing games (do I really need to list them, there are at least 6 and might be as many as 10) and start making supplements, settings and adventures or they need to find a niche that is not already filled with other games. Please stop reinventing the OD&D wheel.

Hot Elf Chick

Carnifex.org is proudly participating in James Smith of The Underdark Gazette plot to bring attention to the Old School Renaissance by posting pictures of hot elf chicks. In this case Mia Rose from WhoreLore (formally known as World of Whorecraft) episode Two.



The Ages of RPG’s: The Silver Age Part II

I have received some feed back on my estimation of when the Silver Age occurred. There are those who feel the 1990’s were not the Silver Age and if not a dark age, then definitely a time of shadows. The 1990’s were marked most heavily by the decline of Dungeons & Dragons and TSR generally being in self destruct mode. While there were other RPG’s that were popular, by in large the 1990’s were bereft of innovation and nothing of significance occurred. While I see this point of view, I am not certain I agree with it. There a lot of action going on in the RPG hobby, with TSR and D&D on the decline, it opened the market to other possibilities and allowed Vampire: The Masquerade to out sell D&D for a short time. The idea the 1990’s were completely without merit is only valid if you make the assumption that RPG’s and D&D are hard linked together and I am not convinced this is the truth. You may be able to convince me the Silver Age did not start until 2000 when D&D3E was released, I refuse to acknowledge that the 1990’s were a cultural wasteland for our hobby.

I am actually hoping the decline of D&D in the last couple of years sparks a new era similar to the 1990’s where D&D isn’t dominate and other game systems are allowed their time in spot light. As I have said in previous posts, I can easily see a future where D&D is nothing more than a gateway game published as some sort of evergreen game similar to Monopoly. In this future, D&D still extremely popular and is the game most people start with, but is not the best selling game or even the most popular game. In this near future we may see Pathfinder become the frontrunner, but replaced within a few years by GURPS 5th edition or something entirely new. This would not be a bad thing at all.

Enough with the Retro Clones

Brave Halfling Games has just announced it is going to do yet another retro clone of the Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), most likely with the odious “Race as Class” rule intact, called Delving Deeper. Personally, I would rather see him pick up one the already available retro clones. I am aware he was caught in the middle of some sort of disagreement with the two guys who authored the Swords & Wizardry white box set. I can sympathise with him and I can see why he does not want to bet his business on other people, honestly I do see it. The problem is there are still a bunch of other rule sets out there he could use; Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lords or Lamentations of the Flame Princess to name just three and yes, there are more. Okay, so by writing a “New” OD&D clone he has complete creative control, but so what. My question is what exactly is he adding the Old School Renaissance (OSR) ? The answer of course is nothing.

My real problem here is I would rather he spend his time writing modules or supplements or setting books. These are the things missing from the OSR. Please, do something new and original, something we have not seen yet. If you want to keep the OSR going you are going to have to innovate. If you keep going over the same territory again and again, after a while people are going to loose interest. Find a niche and fill it, I point to Carcosa as one possible way to bring something new to the table. Another way to go is perhaps a supplement for Labyrinth Lords similar to OSRIC Unearthed. How about a setting based on Norse Mythology, who doesn’t want to be a berserker Viking. My point is, there is a lot of ground not being covered by the OSR that is ripe for the taking. It just seems to me doing yet another OD&D clone is a waste of time.

The Ages of RPG’s: The Bronze Age, Maybe

I have written about the Golden Age (1974-1989) and the Silver Age (1991-2000), this begs the question of where are we now. The problem with setting “Ages” is you really rarely know where you are until long after its over and it is not unusual for the genre you are speaking about to go in to a long decline before the new emergence occurs. It is definitely possible we moved from the Silver Age directly into the Bronze Age. Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition (D&D3E ) certainly caused a large influx of new players and brought a large number of players back to the table who had not gamed in a decade or more. It is also very true the history of the RPG hobby is the history of D&D. Even the Silver Age was characterized by D&D’s decline as much as by the rise of the World of Darkness.

There are other things which point to the serious probability we have already seen the Bronze Age. For instance the Old School Renaissance, which is a niche within the RPG hobby of players and publishers returning to the old games. This renaissance started with the publication of HackMaster in 2001 and was followed by Castles & Crusades, New Editions of Traveller, RuneQuest and Tunnels & Trolls. It also gave birth to the Simulacrum Games which are games that attempt to emulate the old games without treading on copyrights and allow for the publication of new material for the old games. Simulacrum Games include, but not limited to, Labyrinth Lords, Spells and Wizardry, OSRIC, Lamentation of the Flame Princess to name just a few. This movement is characterized mostly by people who have fond memories playing the game back in the early 80’s, have now reached middle age and want to recapture that feeling of wonder and exploration we all felt when our first characters took their first tentative steps into the Caves of Chaos.

The Open Game License opened up the possibility of 3rd party game companies to write material for D&D3E and they did. In the years following the release of D&D3E there was a huge expansion in the number of companies writing game material. The Internet also gave rise to electronic distribution, companies no longer had to print actual books, but instead release their work as a PDF. The majority of this content was crap, but there was some really good stuff put out as well, material that would have never seen the light of day in previous decades.

If in fact the Bronze Age started in 2000/2001, it is also a good possibility it ended in 2008. In that year two things occurred, first the U.S. had entered into recession in late 2007 (known among my conservative friends as the Carter/Clinton recession) and recessions are never good for business, but also tends to hit niche hobbies harder than other business types. The second thing which occurred was the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D4E). First, when D&D3E was released, I think the hobby was ready for a serious change to the game, second players had no where else to go, Wizards of the Coast simply stopped selling Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition (AD&D2E) and if you wanted support, you transitioned to D&D3E. When D&D4E came out, people were not ready for a complete over haul of the game and Paizo Publishing took advantage of the Open Game License and published the PathFinder RPG, which is 99% compatible with D&D3E, so players had a place to go for new material, they did not even have to buy new books if they didn’t want to. Although D&D4E was not a failure, it also did not live up to expectations, initial sales were far below what D&D3E produced and players who did adopt the new game, did so very slowly. In effect, the hobby has been in contraction for at least 2 years and it looks like this trend will continue.

At this point, I am not sure I want to say with any authority that the Bronze Age has come and went, but it does appear as though it has. However, it is just as likely it was the Silver Age getting its second wind. Most Comic Book historians place the end of the Silver Age at 1970, however between 1970 and 1975 there was a mini resurgence marked by the Death of Gwen Stacy, the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories and Mike Grell’s work on the Warlord and the Legion of Superheroes. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Bronze Age is yet to come. Either way, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Open letter to Goodman Games

To: Goodman Games
From: Carnifex.org
Subject: Race as Class

Dear Sir,
In reference to your “Designer’s Blog #1: What It Is, And What It Isn’t”. Specifically in regards to bullet point number 9, “It utilizes races as classes — you can be a warrior, or an elf.”, Really ? Why are you including one of the most odious rules used by OD&D in the 70’s ? The “Race as Class” rules were unnecessary, overly complicated, confusing and added nothing to the game. I can see why tiny one man company’s like Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Brave Halfling cling to these bad ideas, they need every single sale they can get and can not risk alienating anyone. Goodman Games on the other hand is a widely known and respected company within our hobby, presumably you can make design decisions based on making good games rather than trying please a group of people who have not been in a game store since 1985, but yell really loud on Internet forums. Please dump the “Race as Class” rules, your game will be much improved and you will feel better about yourself for having done it.

Regards, Carnifex

Review: Your Dungeon is Suck

Your Dungeon is Suck, is a blog and that is about the only positive thing I can say about it. Basically Mr Yourdungeonissuck makes fun of companies, authors and bloggers who specialize in the Old School Renaissance (OSR) RPG niche, however he does attack gamers in general on a regular basis. I gather from reading his blog, he thinks he is funny and clever, he is neither, I personally find him to be boorish and uninteresting. While he is in his own angry little way, expressive, his skill at writing is technically poor and adolescent in style. As far as I can tell he contributes nothing of value to the discussion of RPG’s.

I am not sure what Mr Yourdungeonissuck’s issue is, but my guess is he is one of the handful of self righteous holier than thou bloggers who received a smack down when TARGA refused to disassociate itself from Zak Smith over his “I Hit It With My Axe” series because his players are strippers and pornstars. If this is the case, he is not handling the rejection of his ideology very well. I suppose it is also possible he is a failed RPG writer himself and is simply venting his anger on those who have acquired some amount of success or respect within the hobby, but I think that would be cliché.

Happy Halloween Everyone, have fun and be safe.

The Old School Revival

I am going to go out on a limb here, although, I don’t think I will be going far, and say HackMaster 4 (HM4) started the current Old School Renaissance and without her there would probably be no Castles & Crusades, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, Swords & Wizardry or LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. Lets also not forget the resurrection of previously dead systems like Traveller, RuneQuest, Tunnels & Trolls and Paranoia, none of which would have been published if HM4 had not been a successful line. HM4 proved there was still money to be made in old school gaming and a lot of people, whether they want to admit it or not, owe their business to Dave Kenzer and Jolly Blackburn taking a risk and publishing HM4.

RE: LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

The author of LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, James Raggi, commented on my review of his product. His comments can be found here;

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I am actually surprised he found this web site. Carnifex.org is not what anyone would call a high traffic or high profile blog and it is primarily read by friends and family. Anyway, I am an attention whore, so I will take any link back I can get.

Review: LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

Product Summery:
Name: LotFP Weird Fantasy Role-Playing
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
Author: James Edward Raggi IV
Line: OD&D Retro clone
Cost: $65.00 ($12.50 for the PDF)
Pages: 328 Pages across the 3 main books
Webpage: http://lotfp.blogspot.com/

This product is another attempt to re-envision the Original Dungeons and Dragons (OD&D) box set. The appearance of the book is better than other attempts at redoing OD&D, the cover art is great, the internal art runs from pretty okay to really really good. The layout is well organized and easy to read. There are three primary books, Rule Set, Referee Book and the Magic Book. There is also a tutorial book that walks you through the basics of the game. The print product includes dice, pencil, character sheets and two adventures. I have to say though, I am not a big fan of box sets. Boxes do not do well over the long run, of course the PDF version does not have this problem, unless you want it to.

The game itself suffers from what all the OD&D retro clones suffer from, which is staying too close to the source material. The ridiculous notion of Race as Class is present, this by itself knocks a point off the score. Personally I would prefer it if he had went more along the line of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) instead. Those rules were better written and well thought out. It does not make sense to me that so many retro clone writers cling to OD&D in such an odious fashion. I can see taking the simplicity and ease of play, but would it have kill even one of them to separate race from class. It was a bad idea in 1974 and it is a bad idea today.

The setting is where this product really shines. Raggi is really a good writer, I like his blog, I have enjoyed the modules he has written and the Random Esoteric Creature Generator stands as one of the best game supplements published in the last 10 years. Raggi likes dark fantasy and he does it very well.

Besides the OD&D oddities in the game system, my only other complaint with this game is the price, $65 is way too much money. I bought the PDF and am very pleased with the $12.50 price, but the printed version, UGH!. I realize the cost of putting together a package like this is going to be pricey, no doubt, but $65 is too much, especially when I can get Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG and White Box Swords & Wizardry for free and they are essentially the same game. Unless you REALLY like OD&D and unless you are REALLY planning on playing this game, I can not recommend the print version of this product at all.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 3
Game Mechanic: 2
Setting: 4
Overall: 2.666666667 (PDF version is a solid 3)

The Ages of RPG’s: The Golden Age II

I was going to speak more about the Golden Age of our hobby, but I decided not to. I went to the trouble of having a couple of fairly extensive email conversations with a couple of old friends about that time period. We had a great lot of fun reminiscing about the good old days and wallowing in nostalgia. The problem is, I came away from it somewhat depressed about the whole thing. You see, I am a middle aged man, my youth is gone and it is never coming back. I am a different person and the world is a different place. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing really, because time moves on and our lives progress, but this does not keep us from looking back on our youth with some fondness.

So what does this have to do with gaming ? Well, my talking extensively about the Golden Age with friends got me to thinking about the current retro clone revolution, or the old school renaissance if that is what you want to call it. The question I have is, is this movement really a long term shift in the hobby or is this just a case of a group of middle aged men trying to recapture their lost youth, which will fade as these people start becoming grandparents and wonder away from gaming again. There is some credence to both theories.

This movement does not seem to be centered around a single person or company. Several retro clones have been released, both as commercial products and as free products done out of love. HackMaster 4th edition was the first of these products, followed shortly by Castles and Crusades. Not to mention the resurgence of Traveller, RuneQuest and Paranoia by Mongoose games. All of which were/are successful product lines. The there is the free products, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lords, BFRPG, Dark Dungeons and a few others, which have also shown to be popular. For the first time in more than a decade, there are adventures and supplements on the market that are compatible with D&D and AD&D. In short, people are making money and if people are making money, that is a good sign for the future and the long term viability of this movement.

On the other hand, who are buying these products ? Is this movement bringing in new players or just stroking ego’s of old players ? As close as I can tell by surfing the various forums, the answer is, the latter rather than the former. I see no sign of a new generation of gamers coming up in significant numbers, playing any of these games. None of the publishers or developers of these games even seem to be targeting the younger players. The future of this movement depends not on the 40 somethings, but rather on the 12-16 year olds who will be playing these games for the next 10-15 years and who will be the future game designers and adventure writers. Without new blood, this movement is doomed and the movement does not seem interested in new blood.

I think in the long run, this rennessaince will more or less be a bump in the road. Right now there is a small demand for old school AD&D/OD&D modules and such, but it is primarily in demand from a small demographic of older players and this demographic, as far as I can tell, is not a growing one. These companies are making no effort to get thier products into game stores or even into Amazon, they are sticking to Print on Demand through Lulu and or PDF downloads with DriveThruRPG. So while this is an interesting spike, in another few years these companies will probably move on to other revenue streams. In another 10 years, the kids who grew up playing D&D 3E will be entering thier 30’s/40’s and start looking back fondly on thier misspent youth, only this time Paizo with thier 3E clone Pathfinder, will be there to catch them.

This whole “Race as a Class” nonsense

When I wrote the review of Searchers of the Unknown, I mentioned I did not particularly like the idea of “Race as a Class” in the Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D). Keep in mind here, I like OD&D and would play it in a heartbeat with anyone who offered. However, that does not mean I agree with all the design decisions Gary Gygax made when he wrote it. Although I do not know for a fact, I suspect Mr Gygax knew it was a bad idea, because when he wrote Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), he left it out and replaced it with the multi class rules. While “Race as a Class” is not the worst idea ever put forward in a game, it really does not make much sense.

Previous to the current retro clone renaissance, I really did not care much about this as I simply did not play the game. However the the retro clone wave upon us, many of these games, for whatever reason, have seen fit to reproduce this mistake rather than fix it. Basic Fantasy, Dark Dungeons, Labyrinth Lord, Sword and Wizardry and now Lamentation of the Flame Princess RPG, have all included this idea. My personal opinion on this is simple, when writing these retro clones, we should not only be trying to recreate the games we love, but we should be trying to improve them as well. We need to shed bad ideas like “Race as a Class” or at least change it to make more sense. For instance, in AD&D, Mr Gygax decided to eliminate the idea altogether and separate races and classes completely and allow non human races to have more that one class. As an alternative, why not merge the whole concept so even humans, half-orcs etc are classes unto themselves as well. All I am saying is, lets not just rehash the past, lets gets some new ideas in there as well.