Thursday, September 3, 2015

FHB Rundown (Part 2)

Just picking up where we left off...

The third heartbreaker I picked up Tuesday was Seven Voyages of Zylarthen by Oakes Spalding (copyright 2014). I should note that, up until four or five hours ago, I really knew nothing about Mr. Spaulding; apparently he has suffered some backlash for his various opinions (political, religious, and gamer-related). After spending some time reading through both his blogs today, I can safely say that I strongly disagree with most of his views, despite our shared religion. Yeah, for a Catholic he's kind of an asshole...but every religion has its share of assholes (like those Muslim assholes that blew up the Twin Towers a few years back).

Anyway, this post isn't about describing or debating our disagreements, it's about reviewing his fantasy heartbreaker. There's some good stuff there.

Spalding has taken some similar approaches to what I did with my Five Ancient Kingdoms: he aped the look of the OD&D books (the title is inspired by the sample character, Xylarthen, found in Volume 1), and he uses public domain art from a single, 19th century illustrator (though he uses John D. Batten, while mine came from Henry J. Ford). His book, however, comes in at four books, not three...a total of 228 pages (not counting covers), though these are half-sized pages like the LBBs. Also, despite the evocative title, there is no specific campaign setting (other than some sort of "Old Earth" ravaged by "Ancient Wars") for Seven Voyages, and it is quite the kitchen sink, including androids, cyborgs, and Jupiterian aliens along with all the standard favorite monsters and a slew of deities from across the various pantheons of Deities & Demigods.

[his Campaign Book (volume 4), does have a section on How to Create a "World" in One Hour using a computer program called Hexographer]

Despite its similar format, there are more than a few changes from 0E (or S&W). For one thing, Spalding limits the available classes to Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Thieves (and "thief skills" have been heavily edited, being limited to hiding, picking locks, attack bonus with surprise, "luck," and the ability to read magic scrolls at 10th level). Magic-User spells include many of the spells normally found on the cleric spell list, though notably there's no raise dead spell.

All characters are considered to be Lawful in the "Chaos-represents-Cosmic-Evil" kind of way. The ability to turn undead is a skill available to all characters, provided they carry a proper holy symbol. Wisdom (high and low) adjusts a character's ability to turn, which is otherwise based on level. That's something I was doing in an earlier FHB draft of my own (using the "holy person" as a kind of class overlay for all classes), but I gave it a very high WIS requirement to gain "saintly powers." I think I prefer Spalding's version.

His combat system is also new using a Weapon versus Armor Class matrix adapted from CHAINMAIL's Man-to-Man Melee table, but using a D20 (similar to early edition Gamma World), yet still accounting for increased combat effectiveness based on class and level with B/X standard increments. It is very elegant and well done, allowing Weapon Class to influence first attack (a la CHAINMAIL) and giving real differences to weapons while retaining both D6 damage and weapon's well worth stealing. Some of the other combat stuff is fiddly, but this is a definite highlight, IMO. Reduction of HPs results in a roll on the Zero Hits table, rather than instant death...very similar to Bezio's X-Plorers.

Magic is Vancian and pretty standard, though again he makes an interesting choice of creating separate spell lists for monsters "Evil High Priests," "High Priests," and "Witches" each of which include some spells not normally available to PC magic-users (NPC only). It's a decision that says, look, there are these other magics in the world, but its magic that's only used by non-adventurers. I like that. Similarly, the monster list includes paladins and rangers, they're just not available as PCs.

Everything else is fairly standard, though cleaner and better laid out then the original LBBs. All in all, not a bad entry into the FHB scene.

30 years in the writing.
The last game I want to talk about is definitely the shortest of the bunch. Creatures & Caverns by Peter Schweighofer weighs in at a whopping 26 pages (including the full color cover and two full adventures). While the copyright is 2012, the author explains that the basics of the game was written in 1982 at the age of 13 as he tried to emulate the Dungeons & Dragons game he'd witnessed. C&C is thus far from a retro-clone and more like other "inspired" FHBs Tunnels & Trolls, Palladium Fantasy, etc.

There have been a few reviews of the game over the years with its two class (Knights and Wizards), D6-based system. It is, as others have pointed out, much closer to a board game than an RPG, with an exposed board, and pawns kicking in doors (a la Dungeon!). However, it has some interesting systems...the dual attack/parry combat, the HP/XP currency exchange (Heal yourself by killing monsters! Trade in HPs for skills!) well as a real "charm" or personality. I wish I had been this talented at game design at age 13.

It's definitely playable, and easy enough that even a young kid could grok. I really only have two gripes with the thing: #1 I really wish he'd divide all the damn numbers by 25. Everything is in increments of 25 anyway (with the sole exception of XP awards for a couple of the small monsters, which is set at 10). Why start the characters at 250hps when you could start at 10? Why have daggers (the weakest weapon of the game) do 25 damage when you could set the baseline at 1? Setting the numbers so high denies easy access to younger kids (my 4 year old can handle numbers up to 20 or so, but these triple-digits will just overwhelm him!).

The other gripe is more of a nitpick: if the wizards' use of fire and shield are unlimited and have the same attack/fend chance, then there's zero reason for a wizard to ever use a dagger. It's not like any of the monsters are immune to fire (though perhaps some should be).

These gripes aside, Creatures & Caverns is a solid game with a good foundation that could be expanded fairly easily (it has nice art, too). It was impressive enough that I started checking out Schweighofer's other games and Valley of the Ape (an adventurous war game for young kids) is slated for an evening play-test tomorrow. My boy is VERY excited.
: )

All right, that's enough for now. Returning to Moldvay tomorrow (hopefully).


  1. Thanks for the good quick review of Zylarthen. I think it was fair, accurate, unbiased and insightful. I mean that, despite what I'm about to say below...

    As far as I know, I haven't suffered any serious public backlash from my religious/political views. But I wouldn't be surprised if there was whispering. And I have been inactive in the gaming community for the last six months or so, though I do check up regularly (which is how I found your review).

    Two non-game points, though:

    1. To quasi-equate me with the 9/11 terrorists was kind of low, especially coming from someone who is (I guess) a fellow Catholic.

    2. If you check my writings on gaming, you will find that, unlike you, in a gaming context I have never attacked a fellow gamer for their religion or politics. Ever. I have criticized people for taking positions in gaming that I felt were political, ideological or just plain intolerant. This caused me to ally with or defend people who I otherwise would completely disagree with on religion and/or politics.

    On the same note, I have reviewed a number of games from authors, many of whose religious views and politics are known to me and that I strongly disagree with. But I didn't begin by calling them "assholes".

    If you really are a Christian and a Catholic, I think you should meditate on that. It's how mature and reasonable human beings (Christian or not) behave.


    1. @ Oakes:

      Oh, I really am a Christian and a Catholic.

      Like you, my blog often includes my opinions on non-gaming subjects, especially ones that I feel strongly about. A professed Catholic who espouses any kind of "hate" message (which is how I interpret some of your posts) is someone I consider an "asshole." I don't hate you, Oakes, but I think you're misguided, strongly disagree with you, and feel it would be disingenuous of me to not state my opinion and stance of opposition now that I have read and become aware of your own (very public) opinions.

      I understand that this might not make me well liked (i.e. to some, I’m the “asshole”), but I’m willing to own that. That’s a consequence of stating one’s personal opinion on a public blog.

      With regard to your specific points:

      1. Rhetoric of hate can have a profound effect and long-lasting impact, even as does a single criminal act of catastrophic violence. There’s a parallel there, my friend, even if you don’t see it.

      2. Why should being a “fellow gamer” give one a free pass to be an asshole? I’m reviewing your game as a game, divorced from whatever political viewpoints you hold. But, no, I’m not going to ally with or defend someone’s intolerance and ideology of hate just because they happen to share my hobby of gaming. That’s pretty fucking asinine.

      As a religious dude, you might want to try meditating on Christ’s message of love for all people. Check out the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-48. Stop being an asshole, Oakes.

      Yours in Christ,

  2. Gentlemen,
    Please expect personal emails to each of you soon.