Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Barons of Braunstein Is Reborn!

Barons of Braunstein is back, as promised, reborn as a fully licensed product of David Wesley!  Anyone interested in getting it have two quick and easy ways to go here...    

(1) If you've previously purchased the Braunstein! game, all you need to do is download the update in your Drive-Thru RPG game library, and some of you might have already gotten the message sent out to accompany the release.  Easy!

(2) Visit Drive-Thru RPG here and get your copy...easy!

Not only is the game greatly expanded (up to 30 pages), it now includes original material from David Wesely, an Essay aptly entitled "Braunstein in the Middle Ages" to help set the stage and support games in his eponymous little setting...

It's back, this time with more
content and material by David Wesely himself!

And for the uninitiated, here's the lowdown: 

First, a little history lesson.  Back in 1967, Napoleonic gamer David Wesely tried something different.  Instead of having his players command an army, he placed his game between battles in the little town of Brausntein and had each assume the role of an important towns-person, like the mayor, each with their own goals and personal agenda.  Modern role-playing was born!

For awhile, these games came to be known as a "Braunstein", an evolutionary step between war-game and RPG.  The eponymously named Braunstein! aims to capture the experience of these games, but employing entirely different rules:

First, these games emphasized personal interactions, where individual decisions had consequence and were often the deciding factor in critical situations.

Next, the rules were minimal and simpler, because they were being invented on the spot, and for reasons already stated.

Finally, they were historical because, well, they evolved from historical war-games, although the fantasy stuff came soon enough and changed everything.  Yeah, forever.

This game tries to capture the above ethos, being suited for adventures between the 4-15th centuries, although expandable to the following two centuries as well...

The new Table of Contents
pretty much says it all content-wise...

And although a historical title, there's very simple rules (as a footnote to Appendix I), allowing for working magic and witchcraft, which we're dealt with here, if you're interested. 

Barons of Braunstein is expanded from its original format, with advanced rules for armor, shield walls, and participating in historical battles and even medieval sieges!  There's also an added section on religious appeals, including sacrifices to win divine favor, whether Hellenistic/northern pagan or Christian, noting that we still encourage you to hit up your local library too...  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Red Skies Under Betelgeuse (A First Look)...

Black Paperclip Games is at it again, releasing their latest expansion for Pits & Perils under the OSL; the eagerly-awaited Red Skies Under Betelgeuse campaign setting!

Now, we're lucky enough to have watched this product gradually evolve over the course of the last year, and even teased the release right here a few months ago, and at the risk of repeating things, here's a breakdown of its premise:

Sometime in our future, humanity (some, at least) flee a dying planet for greener pastures.  The new world they select is inhabited already (who knew), and just when things start to settle down, invaders arrive and blow things up.  These are repelled, and those left behind assimilate just in time for yet another invasion, and if that isn't enough, the planet is slowly dying!

Red Skies is set in a fading world, where adventurers explore forgotten, ancient cities, fight terrifying flora and fauna, and get rich on the treasures of the past.  Familiar territory, but with a massive twist.  Old tech and so-called magic both exist by side, but in a whole new and exciting way.  This isn't the cyberpunk of the Shadowrun game or the advanced orcs of Warhammer...

Pollard's gorgeous and evocative cover
art captures the spirit of the whole setting! 

Hokein, the world setting, a mishmash of native and alien cultures who co-inhabit a planet teeming with possibilities.  A place of ancient magic and futuristic technology.  Ride the train, a rifle on your lap, and scan the horizon.  Chances are, you'll notice some wizard's tower rising in the distance while, much closer, the alien flora and fauna of another place...      

Traditional fantasy races are re-imagined with alien (although although not necessarily futuristic) sensibilities.  Thus, we have the subterranean and machine-loving Draeger and the hive-minded, strangely aloof Rigelian "elves", both of which cleverly rise above their fantasy inspirations.  For instance, the Rigelians employ a plant/vegetable-based technology that artfully steers clear of prior attempts at re-imagining these classic types.

It's not Shadowrun or Warhammer!  Indeed, the feeling falls somewhere between O/AD&D, Gamma World, and Thundarr the Barbarian, which is an incredible fusion of genre-busting ideas!

Now, something Red Skies does wonderfully is convey the unique psychology of the different races, which provides many role-playing opportunities.  Moreover, all of this is deftly told through the numerous and detailed "range reports" that present the world through the eyes of "Red", a grizzled traveler who's been there...

Steward's art (and writing style) captures
the fun of early Judge's Guild,
when gaming was still low on pretensions
and high on simple fun...  

Indeed, Red Skies presents much of its subject-matter through scholarly treatises and range reports, giving the world a sense of realness welded to its own history.  This is fertile ground for adventuring, and very easy for players of P&P to convert for use in their own games.  Most of what the original rules have to offer is available on Hokein, but with additional spells and lots of new equipment (and vehicles no less), to explore with:

Bombs, guns, and Rigelian technology...

Cycles, tanks, and trains (all with a rugged sensibility)...

Boats and vessels to chart Hokein's perilous oceans and skies, of perhaps bear down upon the hapless characters!

And those who aren't necessarily keen on adopting the setting wholesale get something else; a complete (but still simple) system of technology rules for P&P.  Good for time travel or perhaps an alien invasion.  Maybe some strange portal transports the characters to Hokein, or perhaps the ancestral Rigelians visit a traditional setting to colonize and/or terraform...

There's also several new spells (and enemies) that are easily introduced into any existing campaign.  Burn your enemies or mind mend with your friends.  And as a special twist, magical spells operate by tapping "cosmic energies" such that these cannot function underground or shut up indoors.  On the other hand, their mighty towers are built of power enhancing Hoekin stones that make raiding extraordinarily dangerous, but worthwhile for survivors!

And, of course, danger abounds!  As previously stated, Hoekin has been invaded several times, although the relatively human-like Rigelians have long since assimilated.  Not so for the utterly alien and parasitic Troy, the latest in a long line of invaders to visit utter ruin upon the world, and unlike the Rigelians, there's nothing remotely relatable about their alien psychology.  No doubt, these will be the primary antagonists for many a campaign, and can easily appear in a traditional setting as well...

And these parasites have technology for added danger!

Much of the world wants to eat you
alive and spit out the bones - but these
guys are nothing at all compared to
the parasitic Troy.  It's a wild, wild world...

Otherwise, there's hungry dinosaurian beasts eager for a meal and exotic local flora and fauna.  Watch out for infectious Blister Back Frogs and the parasitic Crimson Lotus plant.  Indeed, much of the setting is aggressive, hungry, and/or poisonous...

Ghouls (now a contagious condition)...

Hooded Dragons (like the cobra, need we say more)...

Lottner (radioactive)Vampires...

Plus all manner of unusual creatures.  Some colorful features of the landscape, others vicious predators on the hunt!

Not surprisingly, radiation is also a threat, with detailed rules governing it (and the mutations that may result thereof).  The very landscape of Hokein is a deadly place indeed.

The impressive (202 page) booklet is nicely laid out, with some beautiful and full color cover art by Pollard Studios and interior art by Pollard and Steward.  The lettering is an easy-to-read typewriter font balanced with a more modern type, mixing old-school fantasy with sci-fi sensibility as befits a merging of disparate genres (both form AND function)...  

Range reports are set apart in orange boxes, adding flavor to an already intriguing setting, while more specific rules and/or mechanics are put in black boxes for quick use.  The range reports provide much of the flavor and make good use of Steward's clever and conversational writing style.  Good stuff!

In short, the book is well laid out, easily accessible, but also extremely colorful, with many illustrations, and quite a few in full color.  Some of these are taken from the public domain and convey nicely its range of subject matter...

VERDICT: Red Skies Under Betelgeuse is (1) an expansion to any traditional Pits & Perils game or (2) a clever TOTAL CONVERSION into something new and different.  Fantasy/sci-fi mashups were very commonplace in the early days of the hobby (think: Temple of the Frog or White Plume Mountain), and even those wishing to stick with conventional game play can import lots of good stuff.  

And for those wishing to explore yet another side of fantasy, this book nails old-school gaming of another style - and succeeds in capturing something special.  This fantasy game setting is available in PDF form now, but we're told softcover is coming very soon!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Ten Foot Pole

Yesterday we got Issue #1 of Matt Jackson's one-page zine, creatively entitled "The Ten Foot Pole", delivered straight to our mailbox the old-fashioned way.  And it was Christmas in August, complete with an awesome old-school pedigree!

Now Matt is well-known for his fabulous maps and imaginative adventure side-treks.  You know, those little stops along the way to slaying dragons and other, sexier fare.  But as fans of Matt know, oftentimes the side-trek IS the best adventure and the stuff players remember most when it comes down to it.

The content is top-notch (we'll get to that), but first we must praise its delivery.  Hand-drawn, photocopied, and send via traditional post is old-school as Hell!  Back in the 70s, the only way for amateur types (the backbone of our hobby) to share their material was to hand-write (or type) and mail it out to subscribers the old-fashioned way, which is exactly what Matt did!

There's something organic and genuine about this approach that's completely old-school.  We use a typewriter font and exploit digital resources to achieve a signature look, but this is as authentic as anyone can get - awesome stuff.

And if you want to see more, visit his blog here...

The Ten Foot Pole, anyone?

As for its content, while it's tempting to imagine old-school gameplay as being universally fun house/gonzo with lots of puns in the (enjoyable) fashion of Flying Buffalo, there was yet another expression of 1970s fantasy; a trippy and Tolkien-esque mixture that imagined earthy forests and sleepy villages, often with terrible secrets beneath their otherwise rustic exteriors...

Issue #1 of Matt's promising one-page zine delivers such an experience in the form of The Molted Branch, an atmospheric little shop and tavern with a proprietor who has something to give and perhaps even more to take.  Want a drink?  

And its main NPC is cleverly statted for Pits & Perils, which left us feeling honored and with less work to do when we use these in our own campaign setting.  So thanks for that, Matt!

We sincerely hope Matt has more in store.  His Ten Foot Pole delivers fantasy settings usable with any old-school game, and with very little effort.  In the meantime, we recommend his formally published works, including Side Treks I and II, for which he is a contributor, and Bloodnut Pass, his opus for Pits & Perils...     

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Life (A Spell for Pits & Perils)

Who wants to die?  And what wouldn't we do for just a few extra moments alive and kicking?  In that spirit, we offer you this spell for your Pits & Perils game, although a mixed blessing that commands a very high price when used...  

 1 turn/level
  raise a slain companion 

LIFE allows the magician to temporarily resurrect a single slain companion, automatically restoring them to 1 HP and allowing them to function normally for a number of game turns equal to the caster's level (and, optionally, +1 turn per target level).

For game purposes, the referee should assume that all lost or severed limbs are restored as well, although once again, the target reverts to 1 HP until further healed, etc.

Life temporarily resurrects a fallen
companion, but exacts a rather steep price... 

The target can be subsequently healed and otherwise functions as normal, but dies when the spell ends.  Note, however, that if a proper (clerical) resurrection is performed within this time period, the subject is permanently restored to life with no loss in level and with any lost limbs regenerated per the referee... 

This (very powerful) spell exacts a terrible price on the user, however, as it drains the magician of all available spell points and renders them incapable of casting additional spells for 1d6+1 game days, and even magical items will fail to work properly unless saving dice are made.  The latter are rolled whenever the character attempts to use an item, subject to conditions.

Furthermore, and to further curb its great power, this spell may only be cast by human magicians of at least 5th level and is unavailable to elves, who disapprove of altering nature in this way and seldom seek such power.  Indeed, no character will learn the charm unless they can somehow find a copy written on a scroll or in some ancient tome that is no doubt guarded by terrible foes!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Return of (Barons of) Braunstein!

This last weekend we got a little visit from no less than the legendary David Wesley himself.  He and his wife, Su, stopped by to visit and finalize the details of a Licensing agreement that will allow us to republish Braunstein! as BARONS OF BRAUNSTEIN, complete with additional rules and other cool stuff...

For those who might not know, David Wesley literally created the role-playing hobby.  It was he who inspired Arneson and, eventually, founding father Gary Gygax himself!  Our goal with Braunstein! was to create a historical game that emphasized true decision-making, exploration, and role-playing in the absence of special powers and abilities in a context that made sense.

And now the game will EVEN CLOSER to its influences!!!

James (left) and Wesley (right) sign
the Licensing agreement for Barons of Braunstein! 

Barons of Brausntein will be an UPDATED file, so anyone who purchased it already should get the new version.  We're expanding the booklet (now up to 32 pages) and adding some new material, including rules for historical battles, Viking shield walls, and the fictional town of Braunstein in the Middle Ages written by Wesley himself as a setting for original chronicles!    

Co-designer Robyn (top) also signed
and posed here with Su Wesley (bottom) at lunch...  

David and Su are absolutely wonderful people, and we could have listened to Dave's yarns all day long!  But for now, we're putting everything together and are already talking about a follow-on supplement (Witch Cults of Europe) that adds fantasy content while preserving the game's historical atmosphere.  We don't have an official release date for either one yet, but you can expect the new BARONS OF BRAUNSTEIN sometime in late summer or early fall!