OK, so this year I'm going to try to beat last year's record 32 posts, which is the most I had done since 2015. I'm going to have stuff to say, and it ain't going to be any of the navel-gazing so popular today.
"What is the OSR?" "Why is the OSR?" "Who is the OSR?"
Frodo Lives. Tinkerbell Lives. The OSR Lives.
Live it, love it, play it. Or some hippy-dippy saying like that...
Anyway, I'm gonna start this year off talking about the awesome loot that I got at the end of 2019.
Every one of these things is something I wish I had written.
They are all awesome. Go out and give these guys your money.
Here's the skinny from Geoffrey himself:
WHAT THE DEVIL?
I took my DeLorean time machine back to 1983. I saw there four middle-school boys playing Dungeons & Dragons, and Mike was the name of the DM. I managed to steal Mike's dungeons and bring them back to 2020. I stole them fair and square, and now you can buy them. Mike did all the work, so we can be lazy.
This is a massive dungeon of 78 hand-drawn levels, for character levels 1st through 10th. It was made with Moldvay/Cook's 1981 Dungeons & Dragons rules, but it can be used with other versions of the game.
WHAT IT IS NOT:
These dungeons are not for collecting, not for reading, not for gazing at, and not for displaying on your coffee table. It has no art, no stylish formatting, no production values at all. If you aren't going to use and abuse this in a game, there's no reason to buy it.
WHAT IT IS:
The word for this is FUN. These are the dungeons you could have made when you were 12 years old, but were too lazy. It is a no-nonsense dungeon for playing D&D. You don't even need to study it beforehand. You can run it on-the-fly.
YOU CAN PREVIEW ALL 78 LEVELS.
You read that right. You can freely preview every single page of this book. It's like you're flipping through this in a bookstore before you make your decision to buy.
The price comes to a nickel per level for the PDF, and a quarter per level for the print+PDF option.
Everything you read there is true. This is an awesome Oldest-School dungeon that you can pick up and go with. Its got monsters and traps and weird stuff and no pretensions. Adventurers are there to kill stuff and take their treasure or die horribly trying to do so.
I bought the original version here: 78-Level Dungeon for Sale on Dragonsfoot Forums. The special edition is totally a throwback to the days of Middle-School gaming yore. The only way it could have been more authentic is if it was sold in a Trapper-Keeper.
I love this module not only for the nostalgia, but for the amazing utility of the whole set-up. Need a quick one-shot for the night? Grab a page and go! Want to do an epic dungeon crawl in the old school way? This is it! Need something in-between? You are covered! The PDF is dirt cheap, you can put it on your phone and run it anywhere. The print module is a nice, solid brick for smashing characters.
Endless ways to use it, and it ties in nicely with classic module B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Designed for use with B/X, Labyrinth Lord, and other similar editions.
Oh, how I wish I had written this! I cannot give Mike's Dungeons a higher recommendation.
BUY THIS IF: You want to relive the way you played B/X Dungeons & Dragons in Middle School in the mid-1980's, or if you want to experience what we did back then (and what the kids on Stranger Things are playing).
Original on Dragonsfoot Forums = $30.91 plus $6 shipping = $36.91
PDF on DriveThruRPG = $3.90 *DIRT CHEAP!*
POD on DriveThruRPG = $19.50 plus shipping
PDF and POD on DriveThruRPG = $19.50 plus shipping
Go buy this NOW!
After picking up Mike's Dungeons, I thought I'd check out what else Geoffrey had been up to the last couple of years (I am so far behind in buying stuff). I found out that he had seven products up on Lulu:
There are four of these, but these are NOT for the original Carcosa setting; this is a different Carcosa. These are a totally different thing; still all dark and Lovecraftian with big helpings of Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. Much stronger Swords & Sorcery feel. These are unapologetically designed for use with 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which can of course be used with Advanced Labyrinth Lord and similar editions.
This Carcosa still has the different human races, dinosaurs, strange aliens, weird sorcery, weirder super-science, and Lovecraftian entities, but none of the unpleasantness that went with the earlier Carcosa. Good old fashion murder-the-other-guys-and-take-their-treasures kind of adventures.
One reason I really like these modules is how much they are inspired by the old Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign setting and its design theories. Each module has on the back a full-color map, 26 hexes by 17 hexes with 5-mile hexes (so one-quarter of a Wilderlands map). The locales are noted based on their hex map grid (so you find the description of the "Castle of the Dino-Lizard Men" in numerical order of the hexes, Hex 1509). Descriptions are basic but rich, giving you all sorts of jumping off points.
Each module has a brief introduction (less than one page) dealing with the nature of humans and civilization on Carcosa. Then there is a brief one-page or so section as a gazetteer, giving details on the larger forest, swamps, mountains, hills, and so forth, to guide random encounters. Then the book contains page after page of descriptions of villages, hamlets, forts, castles, lairs, and ruins as well as their inhabitants, monsters, weird magic or technological devices -- each module is stuffed with 16 to 32 pages filled with adventure. The only art is on the cover -- and in each case, it shows an illustration of an encounter in each book. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but with RPGs, give me the words instead.
Carcosa Module 5: The Yuthlugathap Swamp (32 pages, $12.99) details a large swamp region, replete with lizard-men and strange ruins. Carcosa Module 6: Barrens of Carcosa (32 pages, $12.99) ( details a wide swath of plains, jungle, and desert. Carcosa Module 7: Jungles of K'naanothoa (16 pages, $9.99) details a region of deep jungles and unholy seas. Carcosa Module 8: The Mountains of Dream (20 pages, $10.99) details a region of savage mountains -- including the plateau of Leng.
The entries are somewhere between the bare-bones descriptions of Ravaged Ruins in the original Wilderlands and the more detailed entries in the Necromancer Wilderlands -- so you get more than enough, but not too much, nor too little. As with the Wilderlands, if you want the regions to be anything more than howling wilderness with a few rivalries set up here and there, you will need to do some work.
BUY THESE IF: If you want a good old fashion Hexcrawl in a Lovecraftian Sandbox, these are for you! So if you ever intently pored over the Cthulhu Mythos in the old Deities & Demigods book and loved the "Den" scene of Heavy Metal, these modules are for you!
While the Carcosa Modules are a very Lovecraftian Wilderlands-style setting, the Wilderness Modules are a direct homage to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy and J._._. T______n's M____e-e___h (names redacted to protect the innocent). The Wilderness Modules are much more classic High Fantasy (with a touch of the Weird) as opposed to the Lovecraftian Sword & Sorcery of the Carcosa Modules. These are your go-to modules if you are seeking more standard adventure fare, with doughty dwarves, haughty elves, and strange wizards going about distributing quests.
So far there are only two Wilderness Modules, and one related Dungeon Module. Like the Carcosa Modules, they are designed directly for use with 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and so easily used with Advanced Labyrinth Lord and similar systems. Each module includes several competing or allied settlements and a number of ruins, lairs, and strange locales for adventure. The two currently available include Wilderness Module 1: Worm Wars of the Dwarven Ice Kings (16 pages, $9.99) which focuses on the northern M___y Mountains region and Wilderness Module 2: Desolation of the Black Terror (16 pages, $9.99) which focuses on the G__y Mountains and northern M______d, east of the M___y Mountains. The first Dungeon Module, Dungeon Module 1: Crypt of the Lilac High Priest (16 pages, $9.99) is a module for a party of 1st level adventurers (and the first part in the 16-part Quest for the Teeth of Dahlver-Nar).
Finally, I should note that the covers of the Carcosa, Wilderness, and Dungeon Modules are all the work of Luigi Castellani; they are old school and workman-like, and fit the flavor of the modules. The cartography is quite nice, and all maps were done by Dion Williams (aka Burning ~ Torso).
Oh, how I wish I had written these! I cannot give these modules a higher recommendation.
BUY THESE IF: Buy these if you like classic, old school High Fantasy campaign settings with a touch of the weird. These are for you if you loved the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.
Note: The Carcosa, Wilderness, and Dungeon Modules are only available in print; they are not available in PDF format. That said, Lulu is always having a sale; I grabbed these at 25% off during the holiday season. So sign up for Lulu if you have not already and I am sure a coupon code will come along to fit your pocketbook.
One of the things that most disturbed me in December was how I had two AMAZING adventure modules fall into my lap. First, Mike's Dungeons, and then later Castle Xyntillan by Gabor Lux. They are both excellent in their own way; Mike's Dungeon for the nostalgic play, and Castle Xyntillan for, well, the nostalgic play, but in a different vein. Mike's Dungeon is a classic dungeon crawl in the kill-the-monsters-take-their-treasure sort of fashion, while Castle Xyntillan is an homage to Bob Bledsaw's Tegel Manor, the classic and very first "Fun-house Dungeon" from Judges Guild.
Castle Xyntillan goes a step beyond mere homage, and creates a new pinnacle from which to measure "Fun-house Dungeons." It is the Ultimate Gothic Fun-house Dungeon; it is an instant classic. It is the kind of game book that you can lose yourself in for hours, as you trace all the interconnected characters and situations presented in the adventure. It is so thorough -- and yet, still so eminently and easily playable -- that one must assume that Gabor Lux discovered some lost classic of Gothic horror and cribbed off of it to create this huge, ruined pile of awesomeness.
In fact, this is Gabor Lux's love-note to Tegel Manor. Back in the Necromancer Wilderlands days, Gabor worked on a revised version of Tegel Manor that, for various reasons, never was produced (Frog God Games went on to do one, which I also received in December (oh, want a month it was!) but I will review that one in another post). Gabor then went on to build upon that original work to create the magnificence that is Castle Xyntillan, literally by killing more than a dozen player characters and scores of henchmen and hirelings in the extended play-testing.
Castle Xyntillan is the classic ancestral castle, filled with the detritus of generations of heroes and villains, most of whom, in the end, never left the castle -- and yet, never went anywhere else. It is filled with ghosts, zombies, skeletons, animated statues, living paintings, haunted objects, and piles and piles of treasure -- if you live long enough to collect it. Castle Xyntillan presents the judge with a fully fleshed out framework on which to build the emergent stories of their player's characters -- many of them, as many of them will die seeking to conquer this castle.
The writing is excellent, and yet, it has a texture that is, to an American, different. Perhaps it is a different way of thought built into the Hungarian language? A different perspective of Hungarian culture? However it came about, happy circumstance it is, as it adds to the depth and mystique of the place. Sort of like having Dracula himself (portrayed by the inimitable Bela Lugosi) describe his castle and its occupants. The organization is top-notch, a format of cross-referencing and referencing within a room that I thoroughly intend to borrow for use in my future projects. It magnifies the joy from the perspective of the game master, reading such a fine work maximized for game play and yet still worthy of being called literature.
I must also mention the excellent maps of the castle -- main floors, several upper-floor wings and tower, dungeon level, and interior wilderness (zounds!), all done by the worthy hand of Robert Conley of Bat in the Attic Games. Now normally, I am not one for art, as I mentioned above, but every piece in this work was carefully designed to maximize the vision of the author and enhance the reader's experience (and with care, provide examples for the players). The cover art is by Peter Mullen, with interior illustrations by Denis McCarthy, Stefan Poag, Peter Mullen, and The Dead Victorians.
Compatible with Swords & Wizardry rules, but easily adapted to Labyrinth Lord or Advanced Labyrinth Lord.
Oh, how I wish I had written this! I cannot give Castle Xyntillan a higher recommendation.
BUY THIS IF: Buy this if you want to take your players on one of the most amazing fun-house dungeon adventures ever written.
Note: I paid for every product reviewed herein, and have not received any form of compensation for these reviews. I'm not even using affiliate links. This is all about my love for these books.