Wednesday, 28 September 2022

[D.R.E.A.D.] Neptoma's map progress

 It has been a very loong while since i've posted any advancement on dread's universe development...

And surprisingly, I have no new text to show, but the progress I've made on a map, the map of the main human city, the lagune city of Neptoma (in the Lacuna Nepis)c.

It's still a work in progress, and there are errors that I will have to correct in post-production (with gimp), but I really like how it's getting somewhere (and how ideas for the setting come from developing the map and naming the places)

Here's the map !

And because i've reworked on it, but it's worth not a new post, i'll give you here the new development:

Thursday, 19 May 2022

[OSR Review] Warpstar!

What is "Warpstar!" ?

  • "Warpstar!" is the science fiction counterpart of "Warlock!", which was an RPG implying that they were neocloning Warhammer fantasy roleplaying first edition, but with a more unified system, and a similar setting, feeling the same but not infringing on games worshop's copyrights.
  • Warpstar wants to do to warhammer 40k, what warlock did to warhammer (and warlock was good, hence this buy).

What was I expecting?

  • A simple, unified, and twist-able system, based on a skill and career motor, with a D20 for resolution (and none of that percentile system from WHFRPG which I dislike so much).
  • A system for Sci-fi "magic", or psi powers, something like that, but I had no preconception of what I wanted, I just knew it needed to be gritty to fit with the universe.
  • A sparingly described universe, mimicking the desperate and fascist sci-fi of warhammer 40k at its beginnings. Something like 40k but with a really developed universe, not just with filed down serial numbers (doing to 40k the kind of unification and homogenization of the background they did in Warlock with the WHFRPG lore)

What did I find?

  • A simple system, to my taste, based on skills. There are not even attributes (and since they are not needed, you could wonder why you ever use them in game design). There are a lot of careers and advanced careers in the book, enough to cover all your basics but no 3rd level careers (my mind burped, they do not exist in Warlock either). Each basic career has 2 random tables to help build the character's background, and these are well done, introducing a lot of background - more details than the "universe" section afterwards.
  • A really dirty and gritty warp-glyph system with dire and mutagenic consequences for those than dabble too often in this corrupting power. I liked what I read: short, simple, and atmospheric.
  • The basis of a universe description, but nothing really deep. Larges axes are described: The Autarch is the sole ruler of the universe through his military, the Hegemony, and his monopoly on the Cadence, a substance that allows those ingesting it to get addicted but also living eternally, as long as they take it regularly; a very big merchant's guild; noble houses governing their planets in the name of the Autarch and bickering among themselves; a gigantic technological consortium that creates warp engines and miraculous tech (but their stuff is rare and not available to everyone). From what I read, they are not enough details to start a campaign without doing some heavy lifting and the stuff is vague enough that you could play in the universe of Dune without changing a lot. It's also vague enough that the universe could be collaboratively refined during a session zero. But it IS well written, concise and I felt compelled to order the other "warpstar!" books while i was reading this part of the book.

Advantages of Warpstar!

  • As I said before, it's well written. Simply, clearly, and with a will to keep it concise and dense, on the information value's side. The GM's tips part of the book is in my opinion the weakest, addressing a public of first time GMs but not going into enough details to be interesting (in my opinion). Still it's the only RPG book that I have read cover to cover in the last 5 years (last one was Mutant : Year Zero).
  • I liked the format (6'' x 9'' Hardcover), which is a bit like A5. It's easy to transport and light enough to be read in bed.
  • Art is black and white and very OSR-ish, pens & ink style that reminds of the illustration of the game books like fighting fantasy, and often full page.
  • Layout is simple but effective, no stupid background that impairs reading. It's not simplistic, though, and does serve what the book wants to convey.
  • It's nearly a all-in-one, as was WHFRPG back then, an adventure is all that i think is missing. But you have all careers, rules (including starship fights), a universe description, a bestiary, magic, and technology (quite expeditively covered - no details, but enough to be able to make rulings on the fly).

Disadvantages of Warpstar!

  • It's only available on print on demand, and I really fear what amount of import taxes i'll have to pay when it arrives (probably 7$ + 5% of the ordered amount - but if the toll declaration mentions game instead of books, they will probably ask for 7$ + 19% of the ordered amount and that would be a pain in the wallet).
  • There is no adventure / scenario in the main book, only a page trying to explain how to write one (which I did not find interesting because too theoretical - in this matter, Warlock! took more time and pages to explain how to prepare a scenario, doing a better job at giving us ways to ponder the fact, that no scenario was included).
  • The gaming universe is barely described. Inspirationally described, but really shallow. On the other hand, anyone having read a lot WH40k will be able to easily fill the blanks. Still, I have now great expectations concerning the background books that I have ordered. If it is as good as this book, i'll certainly adapt a campaign I'm planning to this sector.

IS it OSR?

Well, that's a difficult question.

  • If for you, OSR needs to be based on D&D, then no.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be fantasy, then no.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be gritty, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be lethal, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be rulings, not rules, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be player's skills, then maybe not (depends on your style, I'd say).
  • If for you, OSR needs to be an invitation to go adventuring, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be Black & White art, then maybe.
  • You're adult enough to know if you have enough maybes to call it OSR in the end (there are so many definitions of OSR anyway).

Also another point: Warpstar tries to give us an alternative to what WH40k RPG would have been, if it had been released with the philosophy behind WHFRPG 1E, back in the days. But there was no such book, the first WH40k books are much newer. So it's kind of funny to have a neoclone of something that did not exist back then. Still, it is believable and emulates the genre well, so i'd say, job done ! In my book, you are OSR and deserve that title (but I know that I'm lax with this terminology)

Would I recommend it, and to whom?

  • Clearly, if you want to play in the universe of WH40k, the system is much easier to learn than the fantasy flight games systems set in this universe (dark heresy, rogue trader, ans so on). It's a real good alternative if those are too complex, or not unified enough, for your taste.
  • For "on the fly" Sci-Fi gaming, with no preparation and commonly created universe, it would work too. There are no tools to help in this shared creation, though, so you'll need an imaginative GM, able to ask a lot of questions. Only warp, warp motors, and warp powers are anchored in the system, so it's really versatile and acceptive of stuff on top (maybe use the oracles of Ironsworn Starforged? [given you don't like it's system, because Starforged is excellent for this kind of situations]).
  • To those that want to use the game engine and pack their universe and campaigns on top, i'd say go for it, that's what I intend to do myself.
  • If you are really crazy and want to tinker a bit more, I'm sure there is a here an engine which would word with the universe of Starfinder. Add some stuff from Warlock! and you should be good. Playing Starfinder without having to spend weeks to re-learn D&D 3.x, what a dreamūüėČ.

For those that have read Warlock!:

  • Same engine, really. Even the books are organised very similarly. Should be easy to learn and use.
  • The main book is bigger than Warlock's and includes stuff that Warlock would have in the companions. You see that the editor's skills were better when he started this project.

What I intend to do with Warpstar!

  • Depending on how enthusiastic I am about the extensions, I would tweak a campaign to fit in a sector described in said warpstar extensions (I ordered Warpstar-Omoron & Warpstar-Caldera). Something that was in my head for a while and never found the system / universe I wanted to settle it in.
  • The campaign would be very similar to the SyFy show "Dark Matter": All characters wake up in a stasis pod while their ship is being attacked. But they have no memories whatsoever. They'll have to investigate to learn that they were really bad apples (not always by choice, or what they first discover is not even necessarily true). So will the reset of their memories allow them to reset their way of life and become a force of good?

Other Articles you might find interesting on this blog:


Don't refrain from sharing your thoughts in the comments, I normally validate the comments quickly.

Friday, 25 June 2021

[OSR Review] Dark Sun boxed set (AD&D reprint)

Dark Sun


AD&D Settings

As much as I hate AD&D2's ruleset and its inform bunch of heterogeneous rules (where there is no rules without an exception, or an interdiction to mix this and that), the settings developed by TSR back then have earned a lot of praise.

I have been for a long time a fan of the Birthright setting, but it is the only TSR setting that I have read.

I really started D&D with the 3rd edition and its lovely unified mechanics, and fell in love with Eberron, but was already done with the typical "vanilla fantasy", having had my cup of that in the end of the 90ies, in a long campaign where i had mixed modules for warhammer, D&D, stormbringer, basically any fantasy module i could get my hands on with my very limited funds (Magic was taxing my teenager purse, too).

4th Edition came and flopped, it was not my cup of tea either, but suddenly appeared this strange thing: The OSR movement. Even though I was not a fan of the older rulesets  (to be honest, because of AD&D2, I didn't really know them, and they are far better than I thought... But were not available unless in original and really pricey).

Now 5th edition is here and Wizards publishes mainly revamped versions of older campaign, mainly set in the Forgotten Realms. Still very high fantasy, not my thing.

Curse of Strahd's success demonstrated the appetite of the gamers for the mythic settings and Print on Demand started to get really good...

Available again

Wizards was able to offer reprints of their old settings, not in the original box format, but at least in Hardcover and color. To a price that is much cheaper than what the boxes get traded for on the secondary market.

So it is possible to get those renown settings for a price that is actually under the price of a new setting. So, in January, I decided to close a gap in my RPG culture and order two of these mythical settings:
Planescape and Dark Sun.

I thought that Planescape would be more something for me, but I have not yet been able to get deep enough in the book to find anything that tingles my sense of wonder and triggers my imagination (to be honest, i never liked alignments, which is a big deal in Planescape)

Having Dark Sun at home, it somehow fell on my "to read" staple and it surprisingly appealed to me, probably because it's clearly a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, and that's not very common. On top of it, it's a hard world, with really borderline subjects (survival at all cost and slavery)


I decided to do a review chapter by chapter, booklet by booklet (they are all printed one after the other in the reprint), mainly because most of what i liked can be found in one book and most of what i did not like in another

Rules Book

Character creation (chapter 1-5)

This is the part that i liked the least in all the boxed set. As I said, I don't like the AD&D2 ruleset. I had to force myself to read it through, but there were enough tidbits of the universe to make reading this part interesting. The "new take on races" praised on the cover was really kind of new. Not well written, but definitely new. I really hated how most races are untrusting towards other races, how elves are completely described as loners (good luck with your group, if you have someone playing an elf in the group, whose player wants to follow the guidelines of the rules book). It's not that it's badly written, but the game design behind the race creations is... Let's say outdated to stay polite.
I understand that in the early 90ies, they were only starting to introduce the "role" part of roleplaying into D&D, the whole "character centered" hype, induced by Vampire and the rest of the World of Darkness, had not yet happened, and there was not a lot of pre-existing theories or even books that had gone in that direction before. So that's why I say outdated instead of crappy. At least they were experimenting something different to get D&D out of the "dungeons only" style of play.

Money and equipment (chapter 6)

During this mysterious apocalypse, metal disappeared. Not completely, but metal is really scarce. The books tells you so like 8 times during the whole text of the boxed set. Still, that is a very interesting chapter, going over the alternatives to metal (for coins, they use ceramic instead of copper, which would be much more valuable, and all other metals and metallic objects cost a hundredfold - XP in measured in copper, instead of gold), but also describing a lot of the material needed to cross a desert.

A good chapter in my opinion, even though the AD&D stats were boring and the way "suboptimal" weapons (made from bone or obsidian) is just a -x to hit, which is also kind of lame. But it works...

Magic (chapter 7)

Very interesting chapter too, presenting a very different magic system corresponding to new and modified magic classes. The setting is very well expressed through these differences in the way that magic works.
I wonder whether the Templar class would not be better emulated in 5E with a warlock reskin, bound to one of the sorcerer-kings, or as a fallen paladins.

Psionic abilities are also something difficult to emulate in 5E, but i'm sure the internet has already brewed a solution for this...

Experience, Combat, treasure, and encounters (chapter 8-11)

Not the most thrilling chapters to read if you're not gonna use the AD&D ruleset.
In a nutshell:

  • Combat in the heat is exhausting. The Arena disciplines / types of entertainment are well written and inspiring, at least.
  • There are experience rewards for playing your class/race the right way (which I find often working against group cohesion, the same way as the races were described)
  • Metal is scarce and therefore worth a lot - forget that plate armor...
  • There are a few specific magical objects, related to desert or psionics, described, but most important is that the gauntlet of ogre power NEED to be named differently because there are no ogres in Athas (doh!)
  • The encounter chapter just lists which creatures of other settings also exist on Athas (very boring and devoid of interest, badly presented on top of it)

NPCs (chapter 12)

2 pages on how to use the classes as NPCs, particularly the druid and templars. Most of the information there is a repetition of what was said earlier, but one table listing duties of templars related to their level is really interesting.

Vision & Light, Time and movement (chapter 13-14)

Vision and light gives rules for fighting in a sand tempest. Forgettable. You'd be better off with a ruling than these rules.
Time and movement covers also the Athasian Calendar (some people love other calendars, this one is well done, at least), overland travel and vehicles, and dehydration.
The part on overland travel and vehicle brings a lot of information on the world and is really well made.
The rules on dehydration are hash, like really harsh, but well thought of to illustrate the importance of water in a desert setting.

Spells (chapter 15)

New spells and modification to pre-existing spells, for example with spell that create water: They create much less.
Short chapter and interesting, even when not using AD&D

The Wanderer's Journal (DM's guide)

All in all, the most interesting part of the boxed set, but with its problems. Most of the stuff is really good but suffers from repetitions (quite a lot is described twice of thrice, if relevant to more than one chapter) and lacks in details, barely scratching the surface (liberty for the DM, my ass, there is nearly nothing playable without putting a lot of effort in developing around the described crumbs of setting).
The Atlas of the Tyr region was my favorite part, describing the city-states, but also all places where water can be found and where the interesting ruins are.
The metaplot is not described here, neither is any explication for the apocalypse.
The monsters that are described are interesting and illustrated (B&W and old school).
Actually, I should have spent more time of the review on this booklet, which is the real meat and really interesting, even with some slight defaults. This booklet makes me want to read more on Athas (which I will)

A little Knowledge

This booklet in a smaller format is in two parts. The pages were not scaled to the size of the book, so half of the surface (around the page itself) is just blank. That's a bit lazy on the part of the editor... I'm sure that scaling it to 90% of the page would have looked better without being to much troubles.

The booklet starts with a short story set in the world of Athas, which I found quite OK. It's entertaining and delivers the tone of the setting quite explicitly and relentlessly. You know Athas is dangerous after reading this.

After that, there is an introductory adventure in 2 parts, one for the DM, and one for the players with images to show them. The adventure is extremely directive and really bad written. Couldn't get myself to read it until the end, that's how bad it is. The player's part is cool too, and the images very evocative. So the author HAD TO MAKE SURE YOU'D HAVE TO USE THEM ALL. Therefore letting no room outside of his diktat of a scenario to do anything. Felt more like roll-playing than role-playing to me. To me this is by far the worst part of the box. I don't think that TSR kept this idea for other settings and i can understand why.

Review of the Print on Demand

I've bought a hardcover version of the boxed setting and it's quite good. The paper feels a bit cheap, but the colors are nice and the paper is thick. The ink does not stink. The binding is good. It's really a nive object and I'm happy to have bought it.
Only minus points are the maps, printed on 8 pages (but I did not expect that to be any other way) and the smaller folio that was kept in original size with immense margins.
I was really enthusiastic about the overall quality of the PoD books. Enough to order Spelljammer.

Reading Next

I've also bought the PoD of the 4th edition Dark Sun book, dreaming of a more detailed setting. I'll compare and tell you then


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