Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And then Blood & Treasure Ruined Everything!

I was trying to quit retroclones. I almost caved with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea....and I may yet get the boxed set, but to do so requires copious free cash that I haven't already spent on other stuff. I mean, I already have Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry Complete, OSRIC, Castles & Crusades, and many more. And I recently felt the call to buy Adventurer, Conqueror King System (but was saved by the fact that its currently out of stock).

Then Blood & Treasure came along and beat them all up.

I'd been promising myself I would buy Blood & Treasure for a while now, as I am a big fan of John Stater's work. I have Pars Fortuna (the "Jorune" of the OSR crowd), Mystery Men, and various issues of Land of Nod. Stater is a guy to admire; he really gets what it is that made RPGs interesting...as  in, before video games ruled the entertainment universe, a time when literature and myth was more relevant to the creative process than whether or not you could cast a destructive spell once every six seconds into perpetuity. In other words....a time before video game fantasy rose to power and ate its parent, tabletop RPGs, then spat out the corpulent remains to seed an era of gaming dominated by balance, power gaming and spectacularly bad video game logic masquerading as rules mechanics in the name of a "good play experience."

John also gets that RPGs and D&D are bigger than their creator...that what made Gary Gygax so significant was that he gave everyone the tools to make the game their own, and so John's stuff is his Own Thing....he doesn't place undue reverence on the replication of the same content from forty years ago, instead showing what that legacy can look and feel like today.

I'm still reading and  absorbing my copy of Blood & Treasure Complete but I decided to provide a "ten reasons this game just smoked all the other contenders" list...by my playbook B&T has trumped my two former contenders for the position of best retro D&D: Castles & Crusades and Swords & Wizardry Complete. B&T manages to do  it all just a bit better, a bit more right, than either S&W or C&C (for me, at least). I didn't think I'd ever actually see a retro-styled game with modern content and classic aesthetics pull this off, but here it is. So, the list! YMMV on the list, this is very much a "why Camazotz loves this game" sort of deal:

UNRELATED NOTE: I am already going to destroy this new GE wireless keyboard I bought, which is displaying a bizarre, inexplicable lag between typing time and appearance of characters. The problem comes and goes at random. WTF

The Top 10 Reasons Camazotz now thinks Blood & Treasure is the Best Damn Retro-Fitted Modern Fantasy System on the Market:

#10. It has a short and sweet system of combat feats. No muss, no fuss, just all the cool essential feats to make characters a bit more defined. 

#9. Saving throws are retooled to "roll this target number" ala AD&D. This means saves have lower and upper  limits/absolutes, which fixes the open-ended problem that classic 3rd edition D20 suffers from. 

#8. It comes ready-to-go with player-character ready stat options for lizard men, tieflings, aasimar, drow, and....minotaurs!!! Anyone who has delved into the Realms of Chirak knows how important this is to my game world. This means, effectively, that I can run my campaign using B&T straight out of the book

#7. B&T has a skill system. The base mechanic is a list of "things adventurers can do," either unskilled, skilled, or if they have a “knack” for it. Then there is an option for a skill point mechanic. 

#6. The monster  list is huge. It has practically all of the principle OGL monsters out there and then some....there aren't as many illustrations as one might like, but the illos at hand are by and large great, with some fantastic interpretations of various fiends. I love the....thing...on page 166, and the aboleth on the following page. Others that stand out for me include the barbed devil, the grick, the mohrg (one of my favorites, as my Wednesday group will attest), the awesome neh-thagglu (another Wednesday mainstay), ratling, tarrasque (love the block-print black on white style), and troll. The troll is a great example of # 5...

#5. The art style of B&T is a varied mix, but the majority of it consists of what either are...or what look like...old style wood block prints, illustrations in the creative commons realm from old tomes of a bygone era, and all tinged with a baroque, classical style that evokes a sense of the ancient. Some of this is public domain art, sure....but a much bigger chunk of it, most of it in fact, is stylistically designed to evoke the look and feel of that style, while depicting modern D&D monster and themes. Check out the troll illustration, for example...of my favorite on page 166 (if that's from some old public domain book please let me know which one, I must read it). The old magi on page 122....the planar realms on page 156....this is great stuff, I love it.

#4. All the classes we expect and multi-classing to boot. 'Nuff said. The core character mechanics, when combined with skills and feats, give me enough stuff here that I think I could reasonably keep my modern-game adjusted players interested with plenty of options.

#3. Great sections on dungeon design. Every D&D edition or D&D-like should have a section devoted just to dungeons full of useful charts and lists. 

#2. The core conceit of the mechanics toward old school (aside from vastly simplifying the game at every step) is the move toward a "closed" number system instead of an open system. D20 was innovative, in some ways, for the open system....but it was a system where there is no cap or limit, where a character can just keep on accruing until ridiculously improbable skills, hit points and other numbers make a mockery of the system (see 3rd edition's Epic Level Handbook for an example of this phenomenon in action). This was...at the time....seen to be a smart departure from the closed (or capped) mechanics of 1st and 2nd edition, where hit dice stopped after nine or ten levels (to be replaced by slow and steady HP gain), skills were at upper values...where roll low ruled. I like roll low because it reflects a "closed" system, one where there are upper levels of probability beyond which not even Gilgamesh or Conan could succeed. B&T pulls this off, using a roll high mechanic, effectively (with a possible loop hole in the optional skill point system). Other OSR systems do this, sure....but B&T turns the D20 mechanic into a closed/capped system, which makes it distinct.  

#1. It's well written and engaging. Don't ask me why, I just love reading John Stater's stuff. His writing style makes me want to play the game, which is damned impressive. I have several other RPGs I purchased recently languishing away while I work up the energy to try and plow through their banal prose. B&T is not in that stack.*

I'll be writing more on this one for sure. Maybe do a character walkthrough, some scenarios. 

Sigh, between B&T, Magic World and Amazing Adventures....not enough time in the month to write about all the awesome and cool in these books!

Meet the Slaad...er, Xaoc.

*Nor is Magic World, which also is written in a great "Read me! Play me! Feel the fun, FEEL IT!!!!" sorta way. Great games, both of them, excellent representations of their respective lineages.

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