Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Gather Ye Materials: Swords & Wizardry

Before I actually start creating the campaign (which I hope to start in around four months from now, so plenty of lead time for prep work), I'm going to go over the sources I'll be using. This boils down to Swords & Wizardry itself, the Strategic Review, Dungeoneer, and other miscellaneous sources. Starting with Swords & Wizardry, then...

OK, so here I have the basic rules set for the campaign. Three classes – Fighting-Man, Magic-User and Cleric, and four races – Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits. (Yes, I know the book calls them halflings. But they are Hobbits, darn it. Christopher Tolkien can sue me if he wants.) It seems a sensible idea to work on the principle that these will be the major classes and races of the campaign; so at least 95% of the classed NPCs encountered will be of the races and classes from this book.

One house rule I make right from the start. Instead of advancing as a hybrid, Elves choose either Fighter or Magic-User as a class, and advance as appropriate. A bit AD&D of me, I know, but it solves the 'Elves are awesome at first level' problem. (This further suggests the possibility that the Elves of this setting are divided into two different groups with two different traditions, but I'll shelve that for later.)

licking right to the back, there is the appendix with the Thief and Monk classes. Monks – no. This is a fantasied Occidental setting, and there were no 'hi-yah' kung-fu monks in Western Europe. It's not as if he's going to sit around copying manuscripts. The Thief is a harder sell. I must admit, I kinda agree with the school that suggests the Thief is an unnecessary addition – having said that, however, a lot of my players like playing Thieves. So the thief is in. I'll go with the Traditional Thief, and allow Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits to select it as a class. Already this greatly expands the number of options...

onsters and magic are nothing to particularly write home about. I intend to make greater use of the creatures from Dungoneer and the Strategic Review – but D& S&W isn't the same without the usual suspects making an appearance. Happy with the spell list as it stands, as well, so I don't plan to make any changes at this point. No need to reinvent the wheel at this stage. The idea is to run a fairly classic-styled campaign, after all.

Tomorrow: The Strategic Review!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Partying like it's 1976!

The year is 1976, and Dungeons & 'Swords & Wizardry' has just been released. Now comes an entry into the realms of myth and adventure!

I've been thinking a lot about my next campaign, and my initial idea is to go back, a long way back, right to the dawn of the hobby. Which essentially means drawing a line in June 1976 and shouting, “None shall pass”. What is special about that month? The publication of the last issue of the Strategic Review. I'm using Swords & Wizardry simply because I want to go right back to the beginning in one handy rulebook...and will be using the 'Core Rules' rather than 'White Box' edition, effectively to simulate Supplement 1.

So my personal canon is:
Swords & Wizardry, Core Rules (Standing in for Supplement 1)
The seven issues of the Strategic Review
A few issues of Liaisons Dangereuses
Dungeoneer, Issues 1- 6 (I would only use the first three issues from 1976, but the only version I have is the Judges Guild re-release, and no-one is selling Dungeoneer pdfs.)

What sparked this off was reading a rediscovered Gygax piece about creating a campaign, written back in 1975 – and I intend to follow it to the letter. So there will be a megadungeon where the bulk of the adventuring takes place, a home base town/city for the PCs, and a wilderness map upon which they are placed. I'll be talking about the article over the next few posts, but you can read it here.

If anyone has any other thoughts for material I should use based on this 1976 and back idea – any fanzines, etc – please let me know! Any material I can add will be of interest...

Bringing back the blog...

I've been thinking about this one for a little while, and I'm going to resume blogging here, as well as the 'Dusty Vault'. The Vault is where I intend to keep my reviews, but here's where I'll hang my hat on other things...

And speaking of which...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Returning to Slumber...

Well, a few months ago I made a big relaunch of OD&DITIES, and managed to get out three issues of the magazine before deciding – reluctantly – to pull it back again for a while. Its only fair that I explain why…

When I re-started OD&DITIES, I had the idea that I would write the first issue all myself, 75% of the second issue, and 50% of the third, and would subsequently write 25-50% of the magazine myself, meaning around 2,500 – 5,000 words per month, a level I thought I could sustainably maintain. (Some of this would be elements like the Editorial, of course.) A normal issue of OD&DITIES was running at 10,000 – 11,000 words a month, and to be honest, I didn’t think I could do that much myself in the course of a single calendar month. Certainly not with room for any other projects.

Sales were the other factor. I had decided to budget for around $100-150 for each issue of OD&DITIES, and figured that I could afford to run it at a slight loss or break-even. I didn’t think a profit was ever on the cards – if sales had been better, then I would have increased the size of the magazine. Sales for Issue 13 were very good – we were top-rated on RPGNow for nineteen days, and more than a hundred issues were sold. Fourteen was less successful, selling around eighty, and Fifteen was down in the fifties. I had expected that lose around 20% of the readership after Thirteen (novelty wearing off, not being what they expected, etc.), but this plummet was a bad sign.

And the contributors I had hoped for simply did not materialise. I had one excellent article in issue 14, and of course my good friend Mr. B, but that was all. Fifteen was all my own work, and I was beginning to burn out. To the point that for Sixteen, I was struggling to come up with article ideas that met with my standards for quality. The deadline for Sixteen passed and I hadn’t done any serious work on it, and hoped that by bringing in a friend I might turn things around a bit…but again, this led to nothing.

So at present, there it stands. There are a lot of excellent magazines in the field at the present – Fight On!, Knockspell, Nod, Oubliette, and so forth, and I suspect that if I was to continue OD&DITIES, I would end up having to do the bulk of each issue myself…

Am I totally out of the game? Not in the slightest. I have a few ideas for future products that I might have a go at, probably Labyrinth Lord-related, maybe towards the end of the year. As with all things, they key is to do this for the love of the game. If it begins to affect that, then stop at once and get back to your roots. (One of those products is A Thousand Monkeys: Publishing a Fanzine!)

One thing I am doing is launching a new blog, Tales from the Dusty Valut, which is going to principally cover reviews of OSR products, something that is rather lacking at present. I’ve got dozens of books on my shelves that have not ever been reviewed…I hope to correct that.

I guess that’s about all for the moment…

Will OD&DITIES come back? Well, I didn’t think it would the first time…and never say never again…

Richard Tongue
Editor Emeritus (Again),

Monday, 24 May 2010


OD&DITIES has now been running for three months, and I think we've put out some pretty good material. However, I'm forced to state that sales have not been as good as hoped. There was an initial amazing run with Issue 13, which sold over a hundred copies (!), but subsequent issues have fallen far short of that total. In addition, I'm having increasing difficulty putting together the issues; we're just not getting in the submissions I had hoped for.

As a result, OD&DITIES is switching, at least for the time being, to a bi-monthly format; the next issue, number 16, will therefore launch now on June 24th. In addition, the Editorial staff has now increased in size to two – Mark Berryman is to join the magazine as an Editor, effective immediately – I'm bumping myself up to Publisher. Don't worry – the magazine is still in safe hands, and is still going to carry on. Mark'll be introducing himself on the blog shortly.


Saturday, 24 April 2010

OD&DITIES Issue 15!

The third issue of the OD&DITIES relaunch, Issue 15, is now on sale. I'm pretty excited about this one, and not just because – gas leaks and builders notwithstanding – OD&DITIES is somehow keeping to the schedule! As before, this issue is 25 pages long (plus one page for the obligatory OGL), and takes as its theme 'Elemental Magic'. This issue is special for two other reasons, as well – our first guest article, by Dale Cameron, and our first colour cover, by Steve Robertson.

So, what's in the box? Well, the meat of the issue is based around the Elements, and that is where a lot of the 'crunch' is concentrated. A new character class for Labyrinth Lord, the Elementalist, and one that is somewhat different to many of the other magic-wielding classes, as the class is heavily dependent on changing the nature of his environment, as well as summoning Elementals to do his bidding, of course...

This issue's contents, in total...,

A Touch of Class: The Elementalist (With six pages of spells!)
Walking the Dusty Trail (Preparing realistic encounters for the road.)
Resurrection: To Die, or Not to Die (An in-depth look at resurrection in Labyrinth Lord.)
Alternate Alignments (A new look at alignments, from an Elemental point of view.)
Elemental Beasts (Three pages of new Elemental creatures, and a brief look at the Quasi-Planes.)
'X' Marks the Spot (Preparing Treasure Maps on the fly.)
Mr. B's Last Word (As Always!)

The issue is available at:

Issue 16, on 'Lost Worlds' will be launched on May 24th.


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Criticals, Fumbles, and Near-Death Experiences

I like Critical Hits and Fumbles. The idea that rolling a '20' or a '1' has strong effects livens up games for me, and adds a lot of extra spice to a combat. What I don't like, however, is that they can too often prove fatal for low-level characters. 'I hit myself' for a first-level Fighter means that every time they attack, they have a 1 in 20 chance of committing suicide. Double-damage for a Goblin means that that poor Fighter once again buys the farm. I've seen it tear apart too many games, and cause too many TPKs, so this time, I decided to try something different.

On a '20', a PC has one of two choices. He can either inflict maximum damage with his weapon (not double, as we are simply talking about using the weapon to its maximum effect, rather than some super-blast), or receive a +4 to his next 'to-hit' roll. On a '1', the effect is simple – he cannot take any combat actions next round. He's dropped his weapon, he's ended up out of position, he fell over a log, something – he can take a action, so running away remains an option, but he cannot actually attack anyone.

Then we come to '0' HP. I usually say that if you hit -1, you are dead. End of game. Brutal, harsh, but I think fair. The -10 HP means that a low-level character will have more ability to survive while unconscious than while standing on his feet. Again, I've modified that for my current campaign. There is a 5 HP margin – you die at -6, and -1 to -5 represents unconsciousness. I have introduced a 'maiming' table, however. You get that badly wounded, and there is going to be a consequence. A D30 table, this one, with the middle ten options 'everything is OK'. So far, no PC has died, but a lot of them would be hard to recognise.

So how do you do this? I'm curious how other tables handle this, beyond the 'double damage or hit yourself' idea...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Enter the Elementalist

Sometimes, you come up with an idea for an article that just explodes out of all control. This has been the case for the last two days. I came up with what I thought was a simple idea for the latest in the 'Touch of Class' series of articles – the Elementalist. (So far, all of these have surprised me. The Illusionist by having about ten different versions coming out at the same time, the Puppeteer by being a far better NPC class than a PC class, and this one....)

The original concept for this class was a three-page article – one page detailing the class, and a few spells. It didn't quite work out that way, however. As I began to write the article, and delved into the ramifications of the class, it rapidly became apparent that I was biting off rather more than I expected. Simply putting the spell list together proved more of a trial than I had thought – very few of the spells I wanted were in Labyrinth Lord, and I decided a while ago that I would make OD&DITIES compliant with just Labyrinth Lord, with no other purchases required to use it. (Having said that, buy the Advanced Edition Companion. It is excellent. Nuff said.) This meant a lot more spells than I expected had to go into the article. Which has gone from three pages to six, with about thirty new spells included, some original, some modified from other SRD sources.

Then I went to the monsters. The 'big deal' of the Elementalist is the ability he has to summon Elemental creatures, but again it became rapidly obvious that this wasn't going to fly. All there were in the book were the four basic Elementals with three different power levels, all far too powerful to put into the hands of low-level characters. Which leads to a whole other article I will be writing tomorrow, bringing the Quasit into Labyrinth Lord. One spur of the moment idea has turned into two articles, constituting about a third of Issue 15 – and gave me an idea for another 'one-page' article along the lines of 'Unusual Enemies' into the bargain!

Hope everyone likes Elementalists....

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Keeping up a Blog.

Man, keeping up a blog is hard. I started this blog with the best of intentions – planning to write something every day – but somehow for two weeks now something has always cropped up. Part of it is to do with my 'day job'; I work rather insane hours. (One-week on, one-week off night shifts. I don't have a body clock any more.) Part of it is a lack of time. When I'm working, I have about half an hour for myself a day, and that just isn't enough to do anything much with. When I'm off, I'm working on OD&DITIES, and that has had the higher priority. (Yes, issue 15 is going along nicely. More work next week, but still on for April 24th as scheduled.)

I'm going to address this, however. I'll be doing a lot of writing for the magazine next week, with three articles to prepare. Once I finish each (one article a day for three days...), I'll post some writers' notes, while I'm fresh. I'm going to try and write a post every day I'm not working, from Monday onwards. There'll be a couple more blogs in the near future as well, I think. I'm thinking about starting an online campaign (though not decided what or when yet, though I'm thinking possibly Classic Traveller – LL is going well on Saturdays, and I don't want to run two games with the same system at once.) Another will probably focus on my other love – space and space exploration. I've been working on a book on the early history of spaceflight for four years (one of the reasons I moved back to OD&DITIES is because I had spent three years frozen stiff with writers' block. Going back to OD&DITIES again cleared it in about a day!)

So, er, my solution to not posting enough is two new blogs. A bit counter-intuitive, I suppose.

You can help as well – is there anything about OD&DITIES that particularly interests you? Anything you want to see?

Friday, 26 March 2010

Filling the Sandbox

So the first session of my new, “Borderlands” campaign (OK, so it’s not a impressively inspired title, but it does accurately express the feel I’m going for) took place last Saturday, two weeks ahead of schedule – a fact that I was actually rather glad about, as I was essentially ready to go by the time it became apparent that it would be starting earlier than I had planned. A report of the first session will hopefully soon follow (OD&DITIES 14 rather delayed things a little in this area…)

The plan was always to run an old-fashioned sandbox-style campaign, using the LL / B/X rule system (in the event, we had a huge variety of different books at the table – two ’81 Basic rules, a Cyclopedia, a Labyrinth Lord hardcopy and another printout, and even the rulebook from the ’91 black box set! (I ended up running using an ’81 Basic book and the ’83 Screen, largely because I finally got hold of a copy of the ’81 Basic and Expert boxed sets a couple of years ago and I’ve been desperate to use them in a game.) The Companion Expansion and Unknown Gods were the only two sourcebooks I brought, though in the event, only one of the ‘Unknown Gods’ was used.

Initially, when I began to work on the campaign, I started to draw maps – area, village, dungeon, but it rapidly became apparent to me that I wasn’t going to be able to provide a big enough sandbox to satisfy my players, so I moved to option 2 – which harkened back to one of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever run, back in ’03, which was where my current gaming group – the Kamikaze Dungeoneers – was formed. In that, I took a few modules and adventures from magazines, worked out what terrain features and locations were in each one, worked out which could do ‘double duty’ with a bit of adaptation, and then simply worked them all into a terrain map.

Well, I’ve got a lot more modules now, a lot of which I have been wanting to use for some time; specifically I have quite a few Judges Guild modules that have been sitting on my shelf for a while. So, I dusted them off and started to dump them on to the map. The Keep on the Borderlands was going to be a centrepiece of the campaign; I placed it at the top of the map, with the Caves of Chaos close by (guarded by a smaller, secondary keep designed to be a small base of operations for the PCs) and a small dungeon placed to fill the ‘Caves of the Unknown’ area. Quasqueton from B1 was placed south of the Keep, just beyond the swamps of the Lizardmen. I also dropped Badabaskor on the left of the map – and filled the top part of the map with an extensive mountain range, with the idea being that Badabaskor and ‘Castellan’ Keep were originally built to protect passes to the lands to the north from humanoid incursions. (Blizzard Pass also found its way in there, as well…that place has quite a reputation…) Castle Caldwell also got placed in there as a possible adventuring location.

For the southern portion of the map, I turned more exclusively to Judges Guild for my inspiration. A big portion of the middle – and the starting location for the PCs – came from ‘The Illheidrin Book’, a module that technically was for AD&D, but which I have run under B/X with success in the past. To add a more urban setting should I wish, I dropped Modron on the south side of the map, sketching in a sea. It was then a question of just filling in the landmasses, which I decided should start with a sea at the south, running through agricultural land to foothills and then mountains in the north. I didn’t give too much thought to what lay beyond the map, just that the area was on the northern borders of an ‘Empire’ I was modelling on the Late Roman Empire in style, consisting of a large collection of loose counties, duchies, and other such states – I rather envisioned more of a ‘loose confederacy’ than a strong Empire, but deliberately left the details vague so I could change them if necessary.

This map remains flexible, for the moment. The party ended up with two Clerics, both worshipping different gods (out of an 84-strong pantheon cribbed from Unknown Gods), so now two new locations – temples for each of these gods – have gone on the map as places for the party to visit. There are a few other bits and pieces I’m thinking about dropping on from various sources.

I’ve ended up after this with a hugely-stocked sandbox, and wherever the players choose to go, the area is already fleshed out with locations, adventures, and dungeons – and I can easily drop in any new modules that I pick up without too much work. All of it expands the sandbox. (For the ultimate expansion – the Isle of Dread is about 800 miles south of Modron. I wonder if the players will end up going that far south!)

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

OD&DITIES Issue 14 is Out!

The second issue of the OD&DITIES relaunch, number 14, is now available through RPGNow, at featuring 25 pages of material to support the Labyrinth Lord game. Compatible with all Basic and Expert material. This issue of OD&DITIES focuses on that well-loved backstabber, the Thief!

This issue's contents include:
The Many Tentacled Beast – The Thief's Guild as a Campaign Nemesis
Magical Miscellany – The Keys of Dolfa
The Trial of Skill – Creating adventures to test the unique abilities of the Thief.
Expanded Grimoire – Fleshing out the humble 'Magic Missile'
Playing the Godfather – A guide to starting your own Thieves' Guild.
Unusual Enemies – Playing with some of the less-used monsters...
A Touch of Class: The Puppeteer – Taking the Charm spells to new heights.
Mr. B's Last Word – He crept back in, once again...

Issue 15, focusing on the Magic-User, will be launched on April 24th!


Saturday, 20 March 2010

OD&DITIES Seeks Submissions!

On the threshold of the launch of Issue 14 of OD&DITIES (scheduled for Wednesday 24th), I can announce that as of Issue 15, we'll be looking for article submissions once again. There were some amazing submissions in the first incarnation of OD&DITIES, and I'm hoping and expecting that there will be some great ones this time round as well.

As for the nitty-gritty, I'm looking for articles between 500 and 2,500 words at the moment, (one to five pages of the magazine, to put that into context), and I will generally want them to match the theme of the magazine, which I will announce three issues 'in advance' henceforth.

Issue 15 will cover 'Magic-Users'.
Issue 16 will cover 'Lost Worlds'.
Issue 17 will cover 'Immortals'.

If you have anything else in mind, well, I'm still interested, as I don't want every article in the magazine to automatically match the theme, and will be looking for a nice mix of pieces. In terms of content, the floodgates are open here. Rules pieces, discussion and debate, adventures, even short stories could be of interest.

To submit, send a general outline of your planned article to me at, and I'll give you the 'yay' or 'nay'. Payment for articles will be two cents a word, payable on publication; writers will also receive a contributors' copy of the PDF of the magazine on the day of general release.

I can't wait to see what we get!

Richard Tongue,

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Review: Unknown Gods

Well, I was going to only use three books in my next campaign, but that didn't take long to change once I remembered one of my old favourites - the Judges Guild supplement, Unknown Gods. This one goes back a bit, published in 1980, and is probably my favourite Judges Guild book. Forty-eight pages that I have used in almost every D&D campaign I have ever run.

What do you get for your money? Eighty-three gods, described in a similar manner as those in 'Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes', or 'Deities and Demigods'. There is one critical difference that for many might be a deal-breaker, but for me is the big selling point - they are not arranged in any particular pantheon. There are no real clashes in terms of what the gods themselves represent - each one has its own rather small field - but no pecking order is given, and no idea of how the different gods interact with each other. Just a brief outline of the god, its statistics, powers, and appearance.

Y'see, I don't really like simply dumping the Norse, Sumerian, or Greek pantheon in my campaigns and calling it 'done'. I also don't really like putting together a complicated cosmology that will probably have little or no use in the actual play of my campaign; Unknown Gods gives me exactly what I do want. A large mix of gods, that can all be used in a single setting. None of them are parody, and all of them are immediately usable. Some of my favourites:

Sinakad - the God of Mercy for the Trapped

Bachontoi - the God of Red Wisdom (No, it doesn't go into what 'Red Wisdom' is...)

Margonne - the God of Evil Plans!

Vivistat - the God of Doom Unexplained

Lord Skortch - God of Pillage, Rapine and Thoughtless Acts

This book is crying out to be used in a sandbox campaign. Pick twelve or so of the more mainstream ones, and put their temples on the map, and you still have seventy-one left for strange and twisted cults, long-dead civilisations, small out-of-the way village chapels, wandering missionaries, and anything you will ever need. A great book, and it's heart is in the right place. Recommended.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Campaign: Choosing the books...

Well, my group has agreed to the Labyrinth Lord campaign, which will now start on April 3rd, giving me three weeks to get all of my ducks in a row. My first choice is exactly which iteration of Labyrinth Lord to use, a decision that has recently become rather more difficult. As far as I can see, there are four different choices.

Labyrinth Lord
This one would just use the Labyrinth Lord corebook. Basic seven classes, and a set-up that all of my players are familar with.

Labyrinth Lord + Original Edition
Going back to the '74 set-up with the Original Edition Sourcebook. I actually rather like this idea, but I'm ruling it out as some of my players are concerned it might be a bit limiting.

Labyrinth Lord + Companion Expansion
Essentially Labyrinth Lord with some extras added on - seven new classes, some new spells, and so on. The advantage here is that the complexity is not increased at all, as all of the additions bolt on without making any fundamental changes.

Labyrinth Lord + Advanced Edition Companion
Taking it to essentially be 1st Edition AD&D. While I like the sourcebook, we've only recently come off an AD&D campaign, so I think I'm going to rule this one out.

It looks like I'm going to go with option three; more options, more classes, no additional rules complexity. One sourcebook I will definately use is the Creature Catalogue, but I'm going to keep it to just those three sourcebooks for the sake of portability. Another advantage, of course, is that free PDFs of the two book the players will need are available.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Review: Creature Catalog

Normally, when I do reviews, I'm going to review products that are in print, usually ones that have only just been released. Today I'm going to break that rule, and review a book that is long out-of-print (but easily available), and review the Creature Catalog, which I'm going to come out and say is the best B/X supplement that TSR ever put out, and still extremely good today.

What is the Creature Catalog? Well, it aimed to do for B/X what the Fiend Folio did for 1st edition - provide a new book full of monsters, in this case many of which were drawn from some of the early B/X adventures. The first edition of the two makes it clear that this was largely a TSR UK project (this crew gave us Imagine magazine, and a lot of them would end up working on the first edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, so two thums up there), and in the first edition, a lot of the artwork has that feel, similar to the artwork in the 'Fighting Fantasy' series (which got me into role-playing in the first place, but that's another story.) The second edition has different artwork, but is more logically laid out, so to be honest, of the two that's probably the one you want at the table, and is the one I have in front of me now.

You have a 128 page book, stuffed to the brim with new monsters, and a lot of them are really very good. The good-to-daft ratio in this book is a lot better than the Fiend Folio, but there are some dodgy ones. (Giant Amoeba standing out as an example...) Looking at some of the high points...

I love the Aranea; who doesn't want a race of intelligent giant spiders menacing the deep forest of their campaign world, and this brand can cast spells. Nasty. I love the idea of having a Ghostly Horde wandering round my next sandbox, guarding the treasures of an ancient battle - this is essentially the ghosts of a defeated band of soldiers, wanting revenge, with an interesting twist. The Gray Philosopher, a long-dead cleric contemplating eternity, is an excellent element for a dungeon. The Hutaakan, from Night's Dark Terror, make an appearance, as do the Lupin, an interesting possiblity for another demi-human race. A Nagpa, which is the embodiment of the phrase 'wise old bird' could be an excellent major NPC, and the Rakasta always make great villains.

I'm really only scratching the surface here. I wouldn't run a B/X game, or a Labyrinth Lord game, without this supplement. There is just too much good stuff here. I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Two Years Ago Today...

"He's really not dead, as long as we remember him."
R.I.P. Gary Gygax, 1938 - 2008

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Happy GM's Day!

Today, on RPGNow, is GM's Day, a time of the year where we celebrate the GM, that lovable rogue who tortures and torments player characters. It is also a day when RPGNow holds a 25% sale off thousands of items, and this year, one of those items is OD&DITIES 13! If you've been wavering about getting it, then today is the day for you.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Review: Companion Expansion

I initially stumbled across this one on Lulu while I was buying my copy of the Advanced Edition Companion, and was intrigued by what I saw - intrigued enough to plonk down my money for a copy at the same time, though until yesterday it had remained on my shelf. Now, I think it highly likely that it's going to be a key part of my campaign.

Production wise, you get a 116-page book, pretty well illustrated, that is designed for 'Basic' and 'Expert' rules systems. (That has a familiar ring to it, somehow...) Although it is not associated with Labyrinth Lord or any other retro-clone, there should be no problems using it with any of the B/X-style rules-sets. I stress that point - the nature of this book will make it less useful with something like OSRIC.

I don't really consider this a 'Companion' in the B/X sense of the world. It isn't really a high-level supplement, though it does extend the level limits all the way up to 36. This to me is a good thing. I didn't actually think the original Companion book was that good, and I very rarely take campaigns above Expert level in any case; I find lower-level material a lot more use.

The best thing about this book comes right at the start. Seven new classes, presented in the OD&D style, that add more classes and races to the game - and each is distinctive. Although the new classes are drawn from AD&D, having them add something new to the game is taken as more important than apeing the class.

So you start with the Bard, almost all of whom's powers relate towards using his musical instrument. He has some of the Thief skills, some illusionist spells, starting at 2nd level, and abilities to inspire courage, alter reactions, and charm his enemies. The Druid is as you'd expect taking his spells from the Druidic spell list, but essentially a 'nature cleric'. (Yes - there are two new spell lists here. Another take on the Druid and Illusionist spells.)

Then it gets better - a varient Elf, the 'Wildwood' Elf. This again draws Druidic spells, but has a range of abilities designed for use in the outdoors. (The book recommends not using both types of Elf in the same campaign - I disagree. Great scope for conflict.) Then the Gnome, and this is a good one. Basically on the same power level as the Dwarf, but less good at fighitng and with illusionist spells. A much better fit to OD&D. Then Half-Orcs/Half-Elves. Interestingly, both of these classes have been treated in the same way in the game, with the same abilities; the take is that both are 'outsiders', and that the external differences are largely cosmetic. They are treated as outdoorsmen, again with some Thief abilities, some tracking abilities, and some to cure wounds. I like this idea in general, but I think in practice I might include some variation between the two.

My favourite race next - the Half-Ogre! We see far too little of this gem, and here he is for B/X. D10 hit points and damage bonuses form the bulk of his abilities, and make him a ferocious fighter, which is as it should be. Slow level advancement, though. The Illusionist - again - comes next. A fairly standard take on it. The final new class is the Scout, which is essentially a Ranger, but without clerical spells bolted on; I like this class, as it actually does add something new.

I've spent a lot of time on the classes, as for me they were what made the book distinctive. There is a nice comprehensive equipment list, but nothing particularly special. Then the spells, which take up about half the book - a few additional magic-user and cleric spells, and complete druidic and illusionist spells lists. Whilst these have been seen in other products before, I still like having lots of different spell lists to make the magical characters distinctive.

Most of the second half of the book consists of new monsters, and again we see a lot of familiar faces. A few that stand out are the Bookworm, which is death for a spellbook, the Rust Dragon (like a Red Dragon, but with a breath weapon that mimics the effect of a Rust Monster!) , and some nice varieties of skeletons to make those undead encounters interesting. This is one of those sections of the book that are more useful in the game than a great read; if you've been playing for a while you will have seen most of them before.

The book concludes with a selection of magical items, again drawn from AD&D, nicely sorted into tables. Again - we've seen these before, but they are all converted and are all here in one place. You can't really have too many magical items, I think. Plenty of reference tables finish the book.

Why did I like this? It is useful. I can use the whole book in my LL or B/X campaign without any modifications, or any changes to the basic nature of the game. It is still B/X, but now with a range of additional classes, spells, monsters and options. I can recommend this for that reason. It is available through Lulu, and there is also a free (non-art) PDF download available.

Getting Started on...Getting Started

It's been quite a busy week, I'm afraid, but a very good one. OD&DITIES seems to be flying off the electronic shelves, and I've been busy breathing a deep sigh of relief, while I continue work on OD&DITIES 14. I'm hoping to put it to bed by the end of the week; I'm giving all the articles another once-over right now. This time the layout is coming together a lot more smoothly, thank goodness.

WIth OD&DITIES brewing nicely, I'm getting ready to start work on my next project. One of the things I think is great about the OSR is that it gives an opportunity for the same games that were the introduction to role-playing for a lot of people to be in print and available once again. This hobby continually needs fresh blood, and fewer and fewer games seem really tailored towards the new player.

As part of that, I wrote a column in the first run of OD&DITIES, 'Getting Started', which I have in the past attempted to put in book form. Last time, it was a 40 page A4 PDF, which I first wrote for OD&D, then converted to 3.5E, then back to OD&D, until frankly it was something of a mess. Now it is long-lost to cyber-oblivion.

So I'm going to have another go at it. I'm thinking an 80 page A4 pdf, or a 128-148 page A5 paperback, which will try and cover all the basics of 'how to run a Labyrinth Lord campaign'. Where to get the books, run-downs on the available supplements and adventures, how to put a group together, writing campaign settings, dungeons, adventures, NPCs, the works. A full and complete write-up. I haven't actually written a single word of the MS yet, but I have a lot of notes and it's a book I've spent almost a decade on, in one form or another; I'm hoping for a release in August-September.

Coming this week on the blog: A review of Barrataria's Companion, and some 'writer's notes' from Issue 13 of OD&DITIES.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Launch Day! Issue 13 is out!

After seven years in the wilderness, today is the big day - the launch of OD&DITIES, Issue 13! The magazine is now available for purchase through RPGNow for $2.

It's hard to put into words how I feel right now, with the magazine once again out there. Excited that it finally made it this far, certainly, though there are also some nerves there as well. I hope you all enjoy Issue 13 - now to get back to work on Issue 14!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Starting a Campaign: The First Decisions

I'm rather hoping that I can talk my group into making my next campaign another of our famed xD&D games, in this case a Labyrinth Lord campaign. Although I only just finished playing in a 2nd Edition game, it's actually been more than a year since I ran such a game. I'm looking at a few months down the line, which means it is time to start preparation. Connected to this is a little project I'm working on, unrelated to OD&DITIES but connected to Labyrinth Lord, about which more in a couple of weeks.

The first decision is naturally the rules set. I definately fancy a change from 1st or 2nd Ed, as we've only just come out of a 2nd Ed campaign, so definately a B/X type; I was rather impressed by Original Edition Characters, so I think a '74 style campaign is definately in order. Without the Thief. It's not in the actual OEC, wasn't in the 'original three booklets', and in the last campaign, all but one of the players ran a Thief of some sort. Time for a change.

Another early call is the style of campaign. I'm currently running an episodic-based campaign (Star Trek, using the CODA rules), so I think it's time to break out the sandbox. I generally think that sandbox-style play is the best idea for D&D anyway, especially the earlier editions. Besides, I've been reading some descriptions of 'hexcrawl' campaigns lately, and I'm rather eager to give it a try.

Final call - the name. Not as easy as it looks. I used to use the 'Fading Realms', an old KODT reference, but I think I want something a bit better for this one; I'm hoping it will last a while. I'm thinking of a setting drawn from the old pulp fantasy novels, from the Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, or Lin Carter. So a name from ancient mythology such as they used, or perhaps from cosmology.

Time to hit Wikipedia for a list of mythological places. I don't want to use anything that has been done to death before, but a few interesting options suggest themselves. I like Leibethra; not only a mythological name but evoking the creator of the Grey Mouser himself. I've always been partial to Thule, the land at the end of the world, and that also ties in with a Viking feel as well. Lemuria and Atlantis are rather old hat by now, but stepping back many millions of years, perhaps Gondwana, Pangaea, or Laurasia?

This one has me stumped for the moment. Any thoughts?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Review: Original Edition Characters

(Second pass-through on this post - Blogger ate my first review!)

As I have recently reviewed that Advanced Edition Companion, it seems sensible to follow it up with a review of another Labyrinth Lord sourcebook, Original Edition Characters. Like the AEC, the OEC is designed to help imitate a slightly different style of play, that of the original '74 D&D edition, but with some minor variations. It also has a second purpose, serving as a player's handbook to the game itself.

Physically, another good book. (Still no index, though!) You get a 64-page digest sized book, with some nice illustrations and generally well laid-out; everything is in a logical place. Everything needed for the generation of a Labyrinth Lord character is present - classes, races, equipment lists, and spell lists. As a player's handbook, it works well.

As a way of moving Labyrinth Lord closer to the 'original three', it works as well. Looking under the hood, for the GM it is essentially the same basic system in any case, so there is no need to make any changes there. The changes is for the players, who have slightly different options to choose from (no thief, elves effectively as dual-class characters), and a somewhat different ethos to the game.

Do I recommend this? Let me put it this way - I'll be picking a copy up for each of my players for my next Labyrinth Lord campaign.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Advanced Edition Companion: A Review

I went into this one expecting to like what I saw, and I came away initially with a slightly unsatisfied feeling – it took me a while to understand why. I'll explain later...

Physically (I picked up the paperback version from Lulu), the book is well-presented, well-laid out, and a good match for the revised edition Labyrinth Lord in terms of style. Everything seems to be in good shape; my one niggle is that there is no index, though there is a substantial table of contents.

The book opens with character creation, and here we have the usual races you would expect from 1st Ed, as well as the additional classes – new races Half-Orc, Half-Elf, and Gnome, new classes Paladin, Ranger, Illusionist, Assassin, Druid. As promised, this book allows characters to be created that match 1st Edition standards, without a lot of the clutter. I was pleased that proficiencies were left out, but that the 'Secondary Skill' table, providing characters with some background skil from their past, was included.

Frankly, it was at the part of the review that I hit a stumbling block. Suffice to say that this book contains most of the 'missing content' that 1st Edition had that B/X did not, but written as if it was a later book in the B/X product line – I'd almost say that this is the 'Companion' book we've been waiting for all these years.

This is my point – there is nothing here that we haven't seen before. That's what initially left me somewhat unsatisfied, but I rapidly came to see that this was the greatest strength of the book. In one 156-page book, all the elements of 1st Edition that I like have been provided here in a distilled format, and pretty much everything I dislike has been left out. I'm going to put it another way – this isn't the 'Companion' – this is what 2nd Edition should have been like.

Is this book a new, amazing read? No. But then it doesn't promise to be. Is this book good inspiration for games – yes. Is this book actually useful at the table? Definitely yes. I have a running debate with a friend of mine over sourcebooks that are 'cool and revolutionary' over ones that are 'actually useful at the table'. The former I will read an enjoy, and they will sit on my shelf unused. The latter I will read through, and then carry to every session and eventfully wear out through use – though on first read it didn't hit me as hard. This definitely falls into the latter category, folks. If you're looking to run a 1st-Edition style game, you could do a lot worse than pick this up. If you want a good 'sourcebook of stuff' for your B/X game, this is pretty much essential.

Will I use all of this? Probably not; I'd rather run a more B/X style game, racial class and all. Will I grab monsters, spells, magic items from this? Absolutely. Recommended buy.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Progress Report...and Issue 14...

Well, having come to my senses regarding the 'Papyrus' font, I spent a happy couple of hours going through a selection of other fonts to find something better; I think I finally managed it, and have now reformatted the issue. The White Space problem is pretty much solved, as well - I've finished work on a couple of tables, and there will be a couple more short articles, half-pagers - including one on integrating new character classes into ongoing games.

Next week I start work on Issue 14, the Thief-related issue. A preliminary (very preliminary, as so far I have not written a single word) list of articles looks like this:

'The Many-Tentacled Beast': Thieves Guild as Adversary
'A Touch of Class': The Psionicist (Looking forward to writing this one...)
'Anyone can join the Guild': Unusual Monster-Based Thieves Guilds...
'Avoiding the DM's Wrath': To Play the Thief
Magical Miscellany: Magical Thieves Tools

Still a few more to nail down yet, but those are the big ones.

I got my copy of the Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord; about half-way through it now, and so far I must say I'm impressed - expect a review in the near future. I'm still working on themes for the next few issues - I'm torn between 'Fighters' and 'The Lost World' for Issue 15...

Sunday, 7 February 2010

White Space...

Well, OD&DITIES Thirteen, bar a few tweaks and another quick run-through, is laid out. Still need to to another pass over a couple of the articles I wrote this week, but it's nearly there. One thing has emerged, however - the curse of the 'white space'. I had planned on twenty-four pages including front and back cover; the back cover has been deleted and replaced by an article - which I think is an improvement.

It has thrown my spacing a bit, however, and I now have four spaces, each less than a third of a page, that nevertheless make the pages look a little barren. Three possibilities here - leave the spaces white, which I don't want to do, add some filler art, which I again don't want to do (while I want the magazine to be illustrated, I don't want the magazine to be loaded with artwork just for the sake of it.)

Option three, then - new content! Right now I'm leaning towards four random tables, that I think will be D12 based; I've got a few ideas for what can go there, but if anyone else has any suggestions for tables, or for anything they'd like to see instead, I'd be eager to hear them...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Fighting the Layout Wars!

My apologies for not posting yesterday, but I've been engaged in a titanic struggle with Open Office, that managed to nicely eat up my day; however, I'm now about 70% of the way thorugh the layout of OD&DITIES Thirteen. Working out what I wanted to do was easy enough, but the best way of doing was not - it's been a good few years since I last did this, and I'd forgotten a lot of the tricks. One of my biggest concerns was and is fonts; I want a nice, unified structure - one font for headers, one font for content, and something that is nicely legible and looks clean on the page.

After much work, I finally went for Papyrus for headers, and a nice font called Andalus for the interior. At least so far; my printer has decided to die on my, so it's going to be a few days before I get to see what it actually looks like. This is the problem with a PDF publication - it has to look good both on the screen and on the printed page...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

OD&DITIES: The 'Standard Layout'

One of the things that was apparent in the early stages of my thoughts about reviving OD&DITIES was that I wanted to provide each issue with some sort of a 'binding theme', a focal point for the issue. Not only would this serve as a means for me to hang article ideas off, it would help later on when it came to article submissions. Also, I wanted to return to the old practice of ongoing columns; features such as 'Street of a Thousand Adventures' and 'Compendium of Characters' were popular before, and I wanted to try and capture some of that same magic this time.

Given that I wanted OD&DITIES to be a regular monthly publication, I decided also that I would keep the page length to around 24 pages. (Not counting the OGC Licence.) This had several advantages - it would be a managable piece to print out, could include a wide variety of content, and would lend itself well to being produced in a compendium format later on, of 72 pages. Any bigger, and I would struggle to fill the magazine on a regular basis.

With this in mind, I settled on a structure for the magazine, one that I intend to try and stick to. Two articles - one of four pages, one of two, directly related to the 'theme' of the magazine. Four more pages - either two two-page articles, or one four-page article, on an unrelated topic. Four columns - a four-page new class in each issue, the 'Surviving the DM's Wrath' piece, usually of two pages, providing tips and suggestions for players, a 'Magicial Miscellany' piece - either magical items or spells, generally in support of the main theme, and Mr. B's Last Word.

This means - with the other necessaries such as covers and contents pages...

Cover (1 Page)
Contents (1 Page)
Editorial (1 Page)
Theme Article One (4 Pages)
Theme Article Two (2 Pages)
'Touch of Class' (4 Pages)
Unrelated Articles (2+2 or 4 Pages)
'Magical Miscellany' (1 Page)
'Surviving the DM's Wrath (2 Pages)
Mr. B's Last Word (1 Page)
Back Cover (1 Page)

This adds up to 22 pages, with leaves me some room for flexibility. I can introduce new columns, and see if there is any additional interest, run reviews (the new 'Advanced Edition Companion' is an obvious 'must-review' for Issue 14), and cover if any articles run over.

The structure has held up fine for Issue 13, for which the contents list has now been finalised:

Cover (1 Page)
Contents (1 Page)
Editorial (1 Page)
Building the Keep on the Borderlands (4 Pages)
Designing the Keep on the Borderlands (2 Pages)
'Touch of Class': The Illusionist (4 Pages)
'Man's Best Friend' (4 Pages)
Surviving the DM's Wrath: Party Formation (4 Pages)
'Magical Miscellany' (1 Page)
Mr B's Last Word (1 Page)
Back Cover (1 Page).

That's all for today - tomorrow, FONTS!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Quite a Day...

Well, it's been quite a day. A one page article has managed to turn itself into four pages on me, and I've been going over Issue 13 once again. Through it all, I've been staggered by the response; I honestly never believed that OD&DITIES would arouse this much interest when I brought it back, and I've been amazed by the fond memories people have of the 'zine. I only hope that it's as good now as it was then...

One important piece of news: courtesy of Goblinoid Games, OD&DITIES now has a discussion space on the Goblinoid Games forums, at, so I expect I'll be spending quite a bit of time there in the near future.

Tomorrow: Two articles to complete, both single pagers, and that will about put OD&DITIES Thirteen to bed. I'll try and write some more about the design process tomorrow, and the general 'standard layout' I envisage for the magazine.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

OD&DITIES is Back!

After a seven-year absence, OD&DITIES is returning – hopefully better than ever! I've spent the last few years watching the retro-clone movement with interest, and lately I've been feeling the itch to write again. I finally decided to yield and get going at the start of the year, and have been working on OD&DITIES Thirteen since the beginning of the year. I'm now at the point where I can announce a launch date: OD&DITIES Thirteen will be published by Wednesday 24th February.

What was OD&DITIES?

Back in 2000, I began OD&DITIES as a fanzine covering OD&D; back in the day, there was very little OD&D on the internet, and it is strange to think just how much things have changed since then, with a lot of quality product now available. The magazine showcased some amazing articles, and had some excellent writers; issues 1-12 are available in various places around the internet if you want to see the 'first generation'.

What is OD&DITIES?

Today, OD&DITIES is pretty much the same basic idea – a semiprozine covering OD&D, published in PDF format monthly, this time with compilations to be published on a quarterly basis through Lulu. The plan is that the magazine will be available through RPGNow, and will cost $2; each issue will contain between 20 – 24 pages.

What is the release schedule?

Monthly. A new issue of OD&DITIES will be available in the last week of every month, generally on the last Wednesday of every month. I'm going to stick rigidly to this, and plan a substantial article backlog to make sure of it; as I write this, Issue 13 is a couple of days away from being 'put to bed', and I'm already working on Issue 14.

What version are you supporting?

The original OD&DITIES danced around this issue somewhat, looking back; a lot of articles were for slightly different versions of OD&D. This time, I'm setting the 'default' version as being for Labyrinth Lord, but the intent is general compatibility with Basic/Expert D&D. I don't think there will be any serious difficulty – or any difficulty at all – in using the articles with Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, or any other of the retro-clones.

What's in the next issue, then?

Each issue will have a mixture of themed articles, with the theme changing each week, and regular columns. Issue 13's feature is 'The Keep', referencing the famed 'Keep on the Borderlands' module. Two articles cover PC construction of strongholds, and a DM designing such a structure to use as a home base. There's a four-page article on the 'Illusionist', including new spells, and an article on 'Man's Best Friend' – dogs in D&D. Regular features include 'Surviving the DM's Wrath', a 'Player's Advantage' feature, and 'Inside the Magical Vault', a collection of detailed, special, magical items. There will be regular reviews in each issue, and the issue is rounded out by our mystery columnist.

Future issues?

Issue 14 will revolve around 'The Thief', and have articles on boosting the Thief, Thieves Guilds', alternate Thieves' skills, and a Thief-based adventure, as well as a four-page article on the 'Psionicist' as a class. Issue 15 is currently planned to be based around 'The Fighter', but this is still in the very early planning stages.

It's really good to be working on this again; I hope to produce something you'll all enjoy.


Richard Tongue

Once Again, Editor, OD&DITIES