Saturday, June 22, 2013
Weekend R&R: Free RPG Day 2013 Selections
My three top picks were "A Pot of Broken Bones" for Castles & Crusades (kind of my default pick since this is what I ran), "Hall of Bones" for Swords & Wizardry, and "Better Than Any Man" which is part of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess line. There were other great offerings -- I actually missed the chance to pick up the DCC offering but that was probably because of the 'XCrawl' logo that shared the front page when I quickly glanced at what was available. My three choices though all have one big thing in common -- they all readily be run with any of the three systems put out by their respective publishers. These games are closely related as they share a common gaming lineage but remained 'old school and rules lite'. Up to this year, the only constant that could be considered in this category was C&C as far as Free RPG Day was concerned. This year certainly shows the continuing and growing trend we have already been witnessing as 'Old School' becomes more 'Mainstream'.
Forgive me the use of those terms, but I believe you know where I'm trying to say ... with the nod from Wizards of the Coast and the various reprints of older editions of D&D as well as the success these other games have had, it is starting to feel that what was old is now new again. That's rather nice when you think about.
Castles & Crusades - A Pot of Broken Bones
This year's C&C offering did not include quick start rules but included pre-gens. It is 16 pages in all but the adventure text itself is 10. It makes for a nice and quick single session adventure -- overall, it was fun to run. The author, Brian Young, is certainly very capable and the text has a nice flow about it. The scenario itself is very basic -- the premise is that the majority of the inhabitants of a small halfling village have been abducted by a pair of Trolls to basically eat at some point or other. You are hired to rescue them and kill the troll brothers. They make their lair in an ancient burial mound/tomb which has an entombed evil. It is very much standard fare for the genre but, on the upside, it is something that can also be inserted in any ongoing campaign as a side quest or distraction. The Trolls where quite challenging for the party of four (4th level pregens) but I didn't have to pull any punches. Ultimately, they party found themselves in a very bad situation when they opened the sarcophagus. ;)
Swords & Wizardry - Hall of Bones
This is the first year that Frog God Games participates in Free RPG Day and it chose to promote Swords & Wizardy -- a game that has become one of my favorites. I love the simplicity of the system, even if it is a bit basic at times. A happy medium for me would be somewhere between S&W and C&C and that's where Ballista will come in (but that is for another time). I love S&W as resource material and because it is readily adaptable to what I do primarily run and play.
Hall of Bones penned by Bill Webb is really nice. The freebie totals 20 pages which includes 4 pre-gens, an overview of the rules which spans 3 pages (but could fit on 2!), and another 3 pages which is an 'Old School Primer' explaining aspects of this game. The balance is the adventure and maps that go along with it.
The adventure portion itself is short and sweet and can also be played through in a session with a very familiar plot: Ruins need to be cleared of evil with treasure abound if successful. You really don't need anything else to have fun on Free RPG Day and this was the essence of D&D when it first came onto the scene in 1974.
What makes this offering fantastic are the very short and concise manner that the mechanics are covered and the actual Old School Primer. In my opinion, the Old School Primer was the best part and I read that evening after the day's events. Bill Webb gives his thoughts and rational behind the many differences between an old school game like Swords & Wizardry and the newer games. It helps convey a certain mentality for the game... the uses of equipment, character stats, experience and character advancement, and so on. For most of us who have played variation of D&D for the past 20-40 years (yes... D&D turns 40 next year), some of this information will be hardly new but once in a while, it's worth being reminded.
Lamentations of the Flames Princess - Better Than Any Man
Wow. This is simply a stunning effort and outclasses anything else offered for Free RPG Day. Interestingly enough, I don't have many LotFP products but what I do have I have always adored: Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown, and the (soon to be received) Rules & Magic hardcover -- the PDF of which looks FANTASTIC! I first came across James Raggi's stuff with his "Random Esoteric Creature Generator" years ago... I think it was early 2008 -- it was the version prior to the Goodman Games edition. In fact, I give a review about it HERE.
What makes "Better Than Any Man" stand out? For starters, the page count. This is a 96 page FREE PRODUCT with quality matching all the recent offerings (going back the past couple of years) from LotFP. It is a digest sized product, beautifully illustrated with a detached cover that features a color map on the inside. It also has a rating of 18+ of explicit content.
Jim is no stranger to controversy and some people argue that he is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is considered 'tasteful' by some. It is no wonder that "Better Than Any Man" came under fire and he writes about it HERE. I love his stuff -- pure and simple. I get what he's trying to do and many other people do as well. The material is stunning and, if you haven't had a chance to grab a copy, it will be available in PDF form at some point in the future. That is, of course, the content isn't something that will offend thee. Love the cover though:
What also makes this so noteworthy was how this project came about. Contributing at any level for Free RPG Day is not cheap. That is to say, producing enough copies at any given level have their own respective costs -- for this past year, the lowest level (one per store) meant a commitment of 600 copies up to platinum which was 15 per store meaning 9000 copies. Better Than Any Man was a platinum product and the only other two platinum supporters were for Swords & Wizardry and Pathfinder. Think about it though, if costs were only $1 a copy to produce, $9000 would be needed. Of course, this LotFP product cost a lot more to produce -- the cover alone would have been $1 (give or take based on amounts being printed up I suppose) and we're not even thinking about the artwork itself nor any of the work that went into it. A Kickstarter was what made the difference. Over $18000 was raised and $2500 of which essentially went to cover art costs and content. The difference were fees and actual production of 9000 copies. Since I don't know the actual costs of production, I can't say for certain how much it actually cost to produce 9000 copies but it woudn't have been possible without crowdfunding. They aren't the first to do it for Free RPG Day though... Jon Brazer Enterprises did it the previous year for 'Shadowsfall' -- a third party product for Pathfinder. Given this success though, I suspect it will be done again.
Obviously, Better Than Any Man is not something that can be run in a single session... Unless of course the party gets killed and thus cuts this adventure short. It is not your standard fantasy and is different from the other two products I mentioned earlier. It's grittier and darker in tone which can be refreshing in light of what's more commonly available. At the very least, it can be mined and parts adapted easily enough as it can be played more open than your typical dungeon romp if considering the work as a whole.
In the end, this is my favorite from the pack because of the sheer amount of material and professional quality brought to this product. Fans of LotFP RPG and those not minding a more mature and dark approach will love 'Better Than Any Man'.
James... great work on another great product! Thanks for making this a freebie!