Friday, August 28, 2015

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: Rat on a Stick (Tunnels & Trolls)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Rat on a Stick (Tunnels & Trolls) by George R. Paczolt
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 levels of McDonalds crossed with murder hobos, August 28, 2015
Ah, the 80s! This supplement was published in 1982 and is peppered with Judges Guild's trademark art, most of it by Kevin Siembedia before he launched Palladium. At heart, Rat On a Stick is 10-level dungeon. Designed by George R. Paczolt and Edward R.G. Mortimer, these two lovable scamps have put together a dungeon that's as randomly insane as it is fun.

Although it's nominally for Tunnels & Trolls or Monsters, Monsters rules, the adventure can "...easily be adapted to any other FRP rules. (No, don't ask me for the conversion factors. In our club, I handle he two mentioned above and leave the others alone.)" You got that? Don't ask for conversion rules, because George "leaves the other games" alone!

Also of note: This dungeon is (and the quotes are in the text itself) "just for fun." As a result, wandering monsters may occur repeatedly without worry of becoming extinct. Which is a good thing, because tigers roam the dungeon frequently.

It's also a good thing that this dungeon is just for fun, because instead of handwaving the rules for adventurers running a restaurant in a dungeon, there are two pages of rules for PCs running a rat-on-a-stick franchise. Only in this case, you literally kill the competition or it kills you.

Throughout the dungeon are adventurers just trying to get by. Some are on their way in, others are on their way out (in more ways than one), and some have set up shop. They all have porn names like Mighty Max, Wallopin' Willy, and Sabrina the Sumptuous.

The best part of the dungeon is Beast-Thing. This 500 Monster Rating critter secrets acid, is only slightly slower than the PCs, and is mindlessly aggressive. It lives on the 10th level but can show up on the 2nd in what can only be described as scaring the bejeezus out of low-level PCs.

There's really no rhyme or reason to what's going on in this dungeon, other than an excuse to kill stuff and maybe start a business. It's ten levels of McDonalds crossed with murder hobos and it is glorious.

Michael J. Tresca gave 4 stars to: Ancient Odysseys

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! Pocket Edition by Brett M. Bernstein
4.0 out of 5 stars More thorough than the the OD&D boxed set, August 28, 2015
Precis Media provides an entire introductory booklet in the form of "Treasure Awaits," an introductory supplement for Ancient Odysseys.

"Treasure Awaits" is basically the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, streamlined and winnowed down to its core components. It has four races (elves humans, dwarves, and "hoblings"), three vocations (rogues, wizards, and warriors), three attributes (fitness, awareness, and reasoning ranging from 1 to 5), and adventuring pursuits (skills, basically). This is not a game based on the Open Game License.

Ancient Odysseys is centered exclusively on dungeon crawling and as such does it very well. There's not a huge amount of math involved (tests are attribute plus pursuit plus a die roll) which makes it an ideal game for kids playing. As an introductory book, "Treasure Awaits" is surprisingly thorough, and certainly moreso than the original D&D boxed set.

Michael J. Tresca gave 2 stars to: The Red Mausoleum (Advanced Adventures)

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

The Red Mausoleum (Advanced Adventures) by James Boney
2.0 out of 5 stars Very 10-foot pole-y, August 28, 2015
Expeditious Retreat Press continues the OSR with "The Red Mausoleum," an adventure for 6 to 8 adventurers for levels 12 to 15.

For those unfamiliar with the Old School Reference and Index Compilation (OSRIC), it's a recreation of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons using the Open Game License. It's available for free and one of the most successful Old School Renaissance (OSR)-style initiatives, widely embraced by players who want that AD&D feel.

As someone who played AD&D for over a decade, I remember the game's flaws without the shine of nostalgia. And one of those is the Tomb of Horrors. The Tomb is frequently mentioned as a kind of "when I played D&D, we walked backwards in the snow!" rite of passage for adventurers. I ran it for my players and they were unhappy with me, with one character putting his arm in a sphere of annihilation. I ended up tweaking the adventure so that he only lost his arm (vs. being utterly annihilated), but it was an important lesson in how an adventure could be really wrong for my group -- who expected some basic fairness in how they approached the game. Author James C. Boney remembers the Tomb and he set out to resurrect it in OSRIC format.

The Red Mausoleum has a plot more than just grave robbing; the PCs are retaliating against undead raids originating from it. The PCs are rewarded 50 gp for the head of every undead creature. Which is weird, because I'm not entirely sure undead heads look different from dead heads. What's to stop an unscrupulous party from beheading a bunch of corpses and handing them over?

Also, clever PCs might decide that rather than going through the insane contortions to figure out how to get into the mausoleum by the front door by trailing one of the undead raiders back to a hidden cave that "reveals the edge of the Sistermoors within easy walking distance of the PC's base village." This will easily skip most of the levels of the dungeon, and given that the bad guys ride nightmares, having a highly accessible tunnel seems unnecessary -- just send incorporeal undead and flyers out of a difficult-to-reach access point.

There are other things that bug me too. A Hall of Honored Dead that was built for 24 knights contains a series of summoned guardians that get pumped out every three rounds, ranging from squirrels to a troll to black puddings. There are hordes of undead roaming the lower levels that don't pose a significant threat to the PCs, which means it's just a long slog of dice rolling. It feels like a pile of monsters is being thrown at the PCs to make up for the fact that 15th level characters can probably plow through most opponents.

Despite these flaws, the adventure works hard to include puzzles and riddles that unlock its secrets. As a DM my players would get frustrated and either leave or resort to destructive magic. In my experience this isn't much fun, but if you play hardcore where everything is out to kill the PCs and nobody dares move without poking the floor and ceiling with a 10-foot pole, The Red Mausoleum is for you!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Michael J. Tresca gave 5 stars to: The League of Regrettable Superheroes

Michael J. Tresca reviewed:

The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History by Jon Morris
5.0 out of 5 stars A who's-who of future superhero movies, August 5, 2015
It's easy these days to think of superheroes as highly polished, camera-ready icons that finely tread the line between believable and heroic. But the reality is superheroes went through various stages that reflected the times, from playfully irreverent (Golden Age) to freakishly weird (Silver Age) to mother effin EXTREME!!! (modern age) and the book is divided into sections reflecting the goofiest superhero casualties of each.

The irony of it all is that any one of these characters would make an awesome Adult Swim cartoon or weird short -- they would easily find their home on the Internet. Whether it's the witchy rhyming Mother Hubbard (page 47), the zippy Speed Centaur (page 59), the zippier Zippo (page 63), the animated mannequin Brother Power the Geek (page 70), Fatman the human flying saucer (page 80), or the aptly named Adam X - the Extreme (page 104), this book has an unfortunate superhero for every situation. And yes, it has U.S. 1 the superhero space trucker (page 126).

If I didn't like it so much I would take points off for including ROM, Spaceknight (page 118) but the rest of the book is so good I'll let it slide. In fact, the book is so good that by the end you'll be convinced there's probably hundreds of these goofball characters just waiting to be tapped. With the superhero trend waning, it's probably only a matter of time before this book becomes a who's-who of future superhero movies.