Dragonmeet Hoard: Basic Booklets

Finally, to polish off my Dragonmeet hoard of 2018, I picked up the five booklets that make up B/X Essentials. As the title implies, this is a retroclone of B/X D&D – the rules version decided by Tom Moldvay and David “Zeb” Cook in 1981.

This is a widely-cloned version of D&D, so what does Essentials bring to the table? Produced by Necrotic Gnome, the B/X Essentials booklets are designed from the ground up for at-the-gaming-table utility. It’s not a version of the game which offers extensive guidance and examples and explanations or otherwise tries to teach the game to you; instead, it focuses on clearly-stated presentations of rules information optimised for use mid-game.

For the most part, this is the game as originally devised by Moldvay and Cook (as opposed to Labyrinth Lord, which differs in a number of respects), with errata incorporated, a little invention here and there to patch obvious holes (like how there’s a spell that the original B/X booklets mention in passing but don’t actually provide rules for), some rephrasing of the rules so as to abide by OGL requirements and add clarity, and with the different sections integrated together and then separated into different booklets. So, for instance, the Monsters book covers all the monster stats, whilst the Cleric and Magic-User Spells book covers all the spells. If you are working from the original B/X booklets, this is already an improvement – no more having to remember which booklet a particular spell or monster was found in!

In addition, the Necrotic Gnome (Gavin Norman) has made the layout clear, legible, and tried to ensure that as much as possible the discussion of a topic fits into at most a single two-page spread – so, for instance, in the Core Rules booklet, the rules for chases and pursuits are all on a single two-page spread, so once you’ve found them there’s no further page-flipping needed. Norman even goes so far as to provide the details of how spell effects work with treasure descriptions as much as possible, to minimise cross-referencing between the treasure description in Adventures and Treasures and the spell booklet.

Between them, these five booklets – Core Rules, Classes and Equipment, Cleric and Magic User Spells, Monsters and Adventures and Treasures represent perhaps the easiest way to play basic D&D available, provided you have a sufficiently experienced referee to run the game. However, while I’m not sorry to own these booklets, at the same time I’d advise people to wait a little before purchasing them themselves.

The reason for that is that, Necrotic Gnome actually intends to make further improvements to the line. A recent Kickstarter for a new edition – retitled Old School Essentials to make the name a bit less inexplicable to those who don’t follow the fine differences between versions of basic D&D – has just wrapped up. Forthcoming are new versions of the booklets – hardcovers with stitching such that they can lie flat on the gaming table – along with a complete-in-one-book version for those who’d prefer that – incorporating some further errata and improvements as well as paving the way for making the game line more extendable. Supplements were funded as stretch goals, for instance, to provide a range of extra character classes not found in B/X, options for playing with an AD&D-style race/class split, and to cover druid and illusionist spells, and one could even see the range continuing to cover other genres like a Metamorphosis Alpha/Gamma World-esque world of mutants and mayhem.

I don’t feel like my B/X Essentials booklets are at all redundant as a result of this, mind; having extra copies at the gaming table adds utility. But at the same time, Necrotic Gnome have suspended sales of the original B/X Essentials on DriveThru so as not to sell a product which is about to be superseded, and I am greatly looking forward to what the Kickstarter yields. Tune in for the inevitable Kickstopper article to see how that goes!

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Dragonmeet Hoard: A Metamorphosis From Alpha To Gamma

After five months of distraction with other things, it’s time to turn my attention back to the remaining treasures I obtained at last year’s Dragonmeet.

Goodman Games, as one of the larger OSR publishers out there, occasionally gets to land a grognard’s dream project here and there. Witness Metamorphosis Alpha Collector’s Edition, an expanded reprint of the original 1976 version of Jim Ward’s science fiction RPG. Set on the Starship Warden, the game casts players as mutants and mainstream humans who must explore this vast generation ship – huge enough to contain entire ecosystems whose inhabitants have no idea they’re on a spaceship – and perhaps uncover the mysteries of why its colonisation mission went wrong and how it can be put right again.

Now, Jim Ward had regained the rights to the game and had been selling a facsimile copy of the slim 32-page 1976 booklet via PDF and POD for a while when Goodman proposed this project – but here’s where the “expanded” bit of “expanded reprint” comes in. You see, rather than just reprinting the original text, this edition also comes with a brace of articles covering the history of the game’s development, some errata and new ideas, and perhaps most importantly a clutch of magazine articles from around the time of the game’s original run.

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Dragonmeet Hoard: Rifts

One of the cornerstones of Dragonmeet is the bring-and-buy sale, and on the sale stall this time for the deliciously small price of £5 was a much-battered, clearly extensively used in play copy of 1st edition Rifts.

Rifts is pretty infamous, as is its author Kevin Siembieda and his publishing company Palladium Books, but that infamy seems to me to be a bit patchy. I’ve always had the impression that Palladium fandom was the sort of thing which was very regionally concentrated; you had tight clusters of Palladium fans here and there where their games had taken off, and outside of those bubbles you had numerous gamers who either write them off entirely as juvenile nonsense or haven’t heard of them.

To be fair, in the intervening years since Rifts came out Palladium have done their reputation few favours. Former employees and freelancers have talked of how difficult it can be to work with Siembieda, with this RPG.net post from Bill Coffin being a particularly evocative example. The company’s public-facing communications are usually heavily focused on making a sale to you – which arguably is the case for most PR statements issued by any company, but Palladium’s sales pitch comes across as particularly strident, artless, and nakedly hucksterish; a bit too much like a used car salesperson desperately trying to close a deal, and in a way which can put people’s back up.

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Dragonmeet Hoard: Ryuutama

What the hell is “Natural Fantasy”? Atsuhiro Okada’s Ryuutama bills itself as a “natural fantasy” roleplaying game, but it doesn’t really give much of an overt definition of that. So far as I can tell, the general aim of the game is to provide an experience reminiscent of the Dragon Quest or early Final Fantasy games in terms of having a charmingly wholesome atmosphere, a lot of travel, slimes as a low-level adversary in combat, and adorable artwork. There’s also a certain emphasis in the setting background on the idea that the world is a natural, interconnected system which people are just as much a part of as anything else, with various natural terrains being inhabited by dragons of various sorts reflecting those zones and descended from the dragons that created the world.

The dragons are also how one of the game’s quirkier angles creeps in: you see, this is the game where the referee has their own character, who levels up as the referee runs game sessions and the player characters progress. Specifically, this character is a Ryuujin – a sort of dragon spirit whose job it is to create travelogues detailing the journeys of travelling adventurers (said stories acting as delicious food for the dragon your Ryuujin serves).

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Dragonmeet Hoard: Nibiru Quickstart

This past weekend was the Dragonmeet annual RPG convention in London, which I had a pleasant time at catching up with friends and purchasing a fat stack of loot. One of the bits I picked up from there was the Nibiru Quickstart Guide – a taster of the rules and a brief adventure for Nibiru, a new RPG currently being Kickstarted. (If you want a PDF of the Quickstart it’s up on DriveThruRPG for free.)

I’m not going to go too deep into a critique of the rules here because the Quickstart admits that it’s an abbreviated version of the system that’s intended to get the general idea across. Nor am I going to delve too much into the sample adventure (it’s so linear the map for it is literally a corridor), since it’s largely meant to be a taster to let you sample the core game mechanic rather than anything more involved or deeper than that.

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