Thursday, June 12, 2008

[Review] AA4 The Prison of Meneptah

The Prison of Meneptah

Author: Alphonso Warden
Contents: 32 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 28 pages of adventure, 2 pages of OSRIC advertisements, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6104
Retail Price: £7.00 or $13.00


A stand alone adventure for 4-7 characters of levels 8-10, this is an interesting offering and, compared to earlier modules in the series, very reasonably priced. The background and concept are extremely appealing and captured my interest right away, being a heady mix of extra planar travel, devastated locales, unwise ambitions and fallen deities. The introduction takes up only the first page of text and the adventure hook is a straight forward offer of a large sum of gold in exchange for the services of the player characters.

The task involves travelling through a portal to a barren world in order to ascertain the fate of a party of explorers previously sent to investigate. After the introduction, the first fourteen pages or so of the module deal with travelling through the wilderness, the various random encounters possible, a planned encounter, and three or four relatively short, but potentially deadly, adventure sites. This is followed by twelve pages dealing with the prison proper and one page detailing new monsters and items. The external and internal artwork meets the familiar old school aesthetic.

On the whole, I found the first part of the module to be more satisfying than the second part, which I thought was a bit of a disappointment. The variety of approaches and possibilities that surrounded the adventure sites, and even the random encounters, made the main dungeon seem somewhat stifling by comparison. The diverse challenges in the prison are ill served by being grouped together and tailored to specific classes, not to mention being exceedingly deadly and too often combat orientated. Furthermore, there seemed little reason for the builders of the prison to create class based challenges, rather than layered defences, which made the context of the dungeon seem an excuse for the ordeals.

I was expecting the dungeon to be more of a prison, and I was left wanting on account of that, but that was admittedly a result of my expectations. Conceptually, I found this module to be inspirational, but as a result I would want to rework much of the second half to better meet the potential that I thought it had.

Technicalities and Errors

My copy of this module had an odd ‘raindrop effect’ on the front and back covers only visible on close inspection. I do not know if this was damage sustained in transit or a printing error. However, pages twenty four and twenty six have certainly been misprinted at an angle, which was somewhat annoying, though all of the information is legible.

There are a number of errors in the text, relating both to internal consistency and technical accuracy. On page two, for instance, the Ashai are said to have been a northern people and the Muhati a southern people; however, from that point on, the opposite appears to be the case whenever it is mentioned. On page twenty one, the commander and lieutenant are described as being armed with boulders and spears respectively and then the reverse is asserted to be the case.

The notation ‘SA +X to hit’ is inconsistently used. Whilst in most instances it takes into account both strength modifiers and magic bonuses, such is not always the case. The primary examples are the dervishes on page four, entries which also take the time to note ‘SA Spells’, but not ‘SA Turn Undead’, leaving the reader in some doubt as to whether they can. Moreover, the armour class of the third dervish is in error, forgetting to take into account his dexterity. It is also noticeable that these four, and others elsewhere, are said to be armed with ‘footman’s maces’, which are designations not present in the OSRIC document. It would, perhaps, have been wiser to simply list these as ’mace’, as is done with the first assistant on page six and a practice universally applied to ‘shield’ [i.e. there are no ‘large’ or ‘small’ shields]. The DMG and MM are also occasionaly referenced, which I thought a bit risky.

Similarly, the nomads on page five are listed with an armour class that does not take into account their unusually high dexterity. Additionally, the nomad leader on page six seems as though he ought to have rolled for exceptional strength, but that could be purposeful. Another odd instance is the monster zombies on page eight, who are listed with ‘longswords’, but with damage 4-16. The terms ‘long sword’ and ‘long bow’ are also inconsistently applied, sometimes appearing as ‘longsword’ and ‘longbow’.

As with the previous modules, there are a number of textual errors here and there, but no more than one might typically expect.


On the whole, I thought this was a good module. There is plenty of adventure fodder here and, whilst stronger on concepts than content, I was pleased with it. It could probably have done with one more editorial pass with an eye for the above consistency errors before going to the printers and I think there was greater potential than was realised in the prison itself, but it is a worthy addition to the Advanced Adventures line.

Alternative Reviews: Stuart Marshall,

[Review] AA3 The Curse of the Witch Head

The Curse of the Witch Head

Author: James C. Boney
Contents: 12 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 10 pages of adventure, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6103
Retail Price: £6.00 or $11.00


A stand alone adventure for 4-6 characters of levels 6-10, this is a tightly plotted module with an interesting premise. The background and introduction take up just over a page of text, relating a tale of family woe, dark magic, unworthy successors, bribery and patrimonial greed. The motivation for player character involvement is a ducal promise of an unspecified boon, if only they will wrest the witch head from his enemies, a task that has already proven too much for his own soldiers and two groups of adventurers.

The objective is a place known as the Witcheed Hill, beneath which is a single level dungeon complex. Although the journey from the ducal residence to the hill twenty five miles there are no prescribed or suggested wilderness encounters, so the game master is left free to choose whether to introduce any or move directly to the adventure location. The dungeon itself takes up only five pages of text, but it is action packed, filled with traps, oddities and dynamic denizens who have a plan of defence. The last four pages constitute the appendices, which describe the primary antagonists, special traps, as well as three new monsters, two new magic items and a relic.

This is a good module and my only real compliant is that it is a little on the short side, being four pages shorter than the previous two offerings for the same price. There is room for expansion here and I would have been happier with a standard sixteen pages, and very happy if they were as well presented as the rest of the adventure.

Technicalities and Errors

Apart from the occasional editing error, I didn’t notice any inconsistencies or mistakes in the main body of the text or printing errors. I did spend some moments wondering of what use the leather baldric +1 carried by Sendric was, eventually concluding from his armour class that it was being treated as leather armour +1. Lasker is similarly listed as having an armour class of 2, which does not take into account either his shield or the magical benefit of his plate mail +1, I could not decide which; nor is his +1 to hit from strength listed in his stat block, which might easily be overlooked. Auron has rather a lot of spell slots for a level seven cleric, but I assume that is purposeful. The only other problem I had was that the Labyrinthine Golem is not assigned a hit die total, which I would have preferred to have had.


All in all, a very good module with plenty of adventure potential, a non linear dungeon layout and dangerous adversaries. It is hard to design challenging and interesting adventures for unfamiliar mid to high level player characters, but Curse of the Witch Head succeeds with regard to both. I was very pleased with my purchase.

Alternative Reviews: Grodog, Gnarley Bones,

[Review] AA2 The Red Mausoleum

The Red Mausoleum

Author: James C. Boney
Contents: 16 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 14 pages of adventure, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6101
Retail Price: £6.00 or $11.00


A stand alone adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 12-15, this is a brutal three level dungeon crawl designed to challenge powerful characters and experienced players alike. The background and introductory material take up about a page or so, outlining the events leading up to the involvement of the player characters and providing a brief description of a small hamlet, Rausen Point, which lies on the edge of the Sistermoors and serves as the starting point for the adventure. The plot is straightforward enough, the gnomish settlement of Grent has been sacked by black armoured raiders and their undead minions, encounters with which have been steadily increasing in recent months. The source of the threat is thought to be an ancient mausoleum, and so the local baron and gnomish laird have offered sizeable rewards to any brave enough to venture into the Sistermoors, descend into the catacombs, and put an end to the undead menace.

Following the introduction, there is a page or so devoted to traversing the dangers of the Sistermoors, the monsters that might be found there, and the frequency with which they might be encountered. Of particular note is a Druid called Sywlgan, who may frustrate or aid the adventurers, depending on what they tell him and his own variable inclination. These wilderness hazards appear designed to wear down the resources of the player characters prior to reaching the mausoleum, and the game master is encouraged not to be sparing with them, but skilful play can greatly reduce the time spent wandering the moors.

The dungeon itself takes up around ten pages of the module, the last two pages of adventure being given over to describing two new magical items and three new monsters. On arriving at the mausoleum, the first difficulty that the adventurers must overcome is gaining entrance, a task that focuses on challenging the players and sets the tone for the rest of the module. To be sure, there are plenty of powerful monsters to be overcome, and the lord of the mausoleum is a formidable adversary, but how the players handle the traps and puzzles will almost certainly be the deciding factor as to their success or failure.

I do not really have much in the way of complaints. I thought more could have been made of the wilderness encounters, and found the veritable menagerie of monsters in the Hall of Honoured Dead to be a little too wacky for my tastes. Also, and as others have pointed out, there are a lot of undead in the lower levels that pose almost no threat to a high level party, but some of that depends on the presence (and survival) of a cleric, how exactly the turn undead rules are implemented, and how the game master runs the dungeon.

About the only thing I think this module is missing is access to pregenerated player characters, which failing inclusion in the product itself could have been included online. I have never known any characters who reached as high as levels 12-15, and would expect those that did to potentially vary considerably in terms of power. Whilst I could always use pregenerated characters from other modules, their absence renders this module somewhat inaccessible to those without examples.

Technicalities and Errors

As might be expected, this module has a few editing errors here and there, such as inconsistent use of ‘Sistermoors’ and ‘Sister-moors’, but I did not notice anything much more significant than that. I thought it was a little strange to devote nearly a quarter of a page to the potential encounter with Sywlgan the druid, and then assign him only a one in a hundred chance of turning up on the wilderness encounter table. Similarly, I thought the half page devoted to Rausen Point was either too little to get a feel for the place or too much to serve as a springboard.


Overall, I thought this was a great adventure, aesthetically reminiscent of the modules it does homage to, and very much in their tradition. The art on the title page is particularly evocative of the perils of traditional adventure games, and the same feeling that one misstep could spell disaster is maintained throughout. Well worth picking up, both for those who would like to play using high level characters and those who are interested in ways to challenge them in the dungeon environment.

Alternative Reviews: Anthony Roberson, Gnarley Bones,

[Review] AA1 The Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom

The Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom

Author: Matthew Finch
Contents: 16 saddle stitched black and white pages, 1 title page, 14 pages of adventure, and 1 open game license page.
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
Product Code: XRP6100
Retail Price: £5.00 or $10.00


A stand alone adventure for 6-8 characters of levels 2-4, this is an open ended three level dungeon with an unusual theme. The introduction and background material take up less than half a page and describe a relatively straightforward scenario. It seems that a number of animals and people have gone missing from a local village and strange creatures have been sighted in the woods; some of the braver folk have followed the tracks into the hills, but none would enter the fissure into which they eventually led. The villagers have three potions of healing to offer as a reward, but otherwise the game master is largely left to his own devices to attract the interest of the player characters. This relative lack of fiscal enticement places almost all the treasure in the dungeon itself, which allows it to be run in reverse without unduly affecting the available rewards.

After a few brief additional notes that address starting the adventure on the third level, the text moves directly to the dungeon key. There are about twelve pages of keyed locations interspersed with three half page maps and two illustrations, whilst the remaining two pages of the module describe four new monsters. These last include the shrooms, evil and sorcerous creatures that resemble giant toadstools with arms and eyes, and the pod men, vaguely human shaped semi intelligent plants that are often the servants of the former. Of course, it is a shroom that is behind all the trouble, growing pod men in hidden caverns and raiding the surrounding countryside for the means to increase their number, as well as the resources to further his own magical research.

There is a mixture of humour and weirdness in this adventure that is very appealing, and a number of quite strange encounters that are enticingly left otherwise unexplained, no doubt in order to encourage the game master to exercise his own imagination. Some things are perhaps left too vague, such as the mechanism by which the waterfall is diverted in area three, and I thought that the monsters on the third level seemed a little over eclectic, but there is much more that is interesting and inventive. The layout of the caverns is non linear, meaning that player characters are generally not limited to one path between areas, and often have to choose which direction to take.

By way of complaints, I do think that the module is a little bit easy for the recommended number of characters and levels, and would be tempted to reduce the level spread to 1-3, though that is not to say it could not prove a challenge to higher level characters. In particular, I found the inner sanctum of the shroom to be too lightly defended with only two pod men as guards. That said, there are some potentially very deadly encounters, such as the troll in area sixteen.

If there was one thing that I felt was lacking from this adventure, then it was some guidance for wilderness encounters. A particularly cautious party might be willing to wait for some monsters to emerge from the fissure or for a raiding party to return. The frequency of such events and the likely numbers could certainly be inferred or invented, and other wilderness encounters added as the game master desires, but I would have liked to have seen such an addition nonetheless. On the other hand, the module is already so full of material, it is hard to see where such information might be included.

Technicalities and Errors

I noticed some minor editing errors here and there, but nothing of any great significance in that regard. One noticeable error is that flame arrow is listed as a second level spell on page ten of the module, but it is in fact a third level spell. Another interesting oddity is that the shroom’s pod men guards are listed as having 4 hit dice, which is an exception from normal pod men who have 3+1 and large pod men who have 4+1. I do not think this is necessarily a mistake, but it does make a difference with regard to their to hit rolls. It has also been noted that there is no scale provided for the maps, but I suspect this lack is intentional, encouraging the game master to decide what is appropriate for himself.


This is an excellent module, innovative and familiar all at once. It presents traditional adventure design elements in a modern context, and makes sophisticated use of a well developed methodology. This is not a simple retread of the past, nor a mere aping of long out of print predecessors, though aesthetically it clearly recalls them, rather it is an example of the virtue of brevity and the complexity of action that can be achieved with relatively open game design. A very good beginning.

Alternative Reviews: The Red Priest, Gnarley Bones,

[Article] Orcs' Nest

The idea for this was originally suggested by Robert Fisher. Essentially it was to produce a Fast Play document for OSRIC that could be freely disseminated as a pdf, downloaded, printed, and distributed locally to promote the game and build awareness. It struck me as an excellent idea and worth taking as far as possible. It was also noted that there was increasing interest from all quarters in traditional adventure role-play games, a revaluation of the past which was thought to be a combined result of the respective deaths of Gary Gygax and Robert Bledsaw in March and April of this year. With the impending (and now actual) release of a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons and the rapid approach of Free RPG Day, I decided it would be opportune to suggest the idea at the Knights & Knaves Alehouse, which received a favourable response. Robert and others put forward some ideas, and I started writing...

So, here we are a few brief weeks later with a finished and disseminated product. A few hours before writing this, I dropped twenty four copies of the beta version off at my local game shops in Newcastle (yes we have two of them), twelve at the Forbidden Planet and twelve at the Travelling Man. They are being given away at those stores for free, probably to those customers making purchases of other products, but essentially at the discretion of the staff. I finished writing the alpha version of the module almost a week ago, and started threads about it at a number of RPG internet forums with a link to a free download of the pdf. I received mainly positive feedback, and was glad of some constructive criticism that I incorporated into the beta version.

What I want to discuss here is where, why and how the fast play rules for OSRIC differ from the ordinary rules. There are not many differences, but there are some. For the most part they were conscious changes or simplifications, but there are one or two that started as accidental errors on my part. What follows is basically exposition on the design of the fast play rules for Orcs' Nest.

Time: In OSRIC, a turn is defined as ten minutes, a round as one minute, and a segment as six seconds. I purposefully left these strict definitions of time out of the fast play document because the units are abstracted, and new players can find one minute long rounds a bit offputting and difficult to imagine. It doesn't really matter whether you consider a round to be one minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds or, indeed, six seconds, so long as you are aware how it interacts with segments and turns. Personally, I prefer six second rounds on the whole.

Surprise: The way surprise segments are handled is more detailed in the OSRIC core rules. For the sake of simplicity, the fast play rules went with one segment as being always the result of surprise, but in the full game it is possible to surprise or be surprised for more segments, depending on the roll of the die and the initial probability of surprise.

Inititative: The rules in the source material for OSRIC have been the cause of much confusion and disputation. In OSRIC, each party determines which segment the other will strike blows on, usually hoping to roll high so their enemies will act late. In the fast play rules, each side rolls its own initiative, hoping to roll low so they will act early. It makes little difference which way it is resolved, so long as everyone is clear on what they are rolling for beforehand.

Charging: In the full rules for OSRIC characters may only charge once per turn. Furthermore, their armour class either worsens by one point during a charge or they lose all dexterity bonus to armour class, whichever has the worst effect. For the purposes of the fast play rules, this last did not matter, because no character's dexterity improved their armour class by more than one point.

Closing: An option left out of the fast play rules is to approach the enemy more cautiously, which is to say at a normal rate of movement. In this case neither the advancing character nor his opponent may strike blows during the advance.

Attack Roll: Thieves and Magic Users normally use a slightly worse chart than Fighters and Clerics at first level. The chart the Human Slaves are listed with in the Monster section is the one they use in OSRIC. This was originally an oversight in the fast play rules, but it was later decided to leave it as it was for the sake of simplicity (and space!).

Ranged Weapons: In the normal rules for OSRIC, bows may be employed twice per round; it was decided to ignore the complications of staggered multiple attacks for the purposes of the fast play document.

Hit Points: When reduced to 0 hit points in OSRIC, a character loses one hit point per round until they die at -10 or the bleeding is stopped. The recovery rules are also slightly more complicated.

Spell Casting: Some groups prefer to have all spell casting begin on segment 0 and the segment they occur being governed by their casting time. Personally, I like to use whichever is worse, the casting time or the initiative roll.

Withdrawing and Fleeing: The current OSRIC rules do not define at what rate of movement characters may withdraw or flee. A close reading of the source text would allow fleeing to occur at twice the rate of a withdrawal.

Other Combat Rules: There are a number of other options in OSRIC not discussed in the fast play rules.

Thief Abilities

General Note: In order to successfully use a Thief Ability, the game master rolls a die to model the probability of success based on the number next to the ability in the character description, with the number expressing the percentage of success. So Sunara, for instance, has a 25% chance (1 in 4) of successfully picking a lock. Some game masters allow the character a chance to succeed once per turn, some allow only one chance, and others consider grades of failure to sometimes represent a delayed success.

Thieves and Bows: Going strictly by the core OSRIC rules, Thieves are not allowed to employ bows as weapons. However, the source material does allow for it as an optional rule, and that was assumed to be in play for the Orcs' Nest module.

Editing Error 1: During editing area 16 acquired two 'b' labels; the first 'b' was intended to read as 'a'.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Silver Blade Adventures?

Silver Blade (well, actually, Silver Sword) is the name I decided my Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting needed about fifteen or so years ago. I couldn't have been any older than fourteen at the time, and was strongly under the influence of the branded and official TSR campaign settings, particularly Dragonlance. I had not actually played any of the modules, but I was well acquainted with the accompanying literature (though I was initially better acquainted with Middle Earth and Conan), and by then had adventured my way through Hero Quest, Advanced Hero Quest, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play and the Red Box version of Dungeons & Dragons. A fairly typical pattern, or so I am told.

For a few years I voraciously read Dragon Magazine and played a lot of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (second edition, mind you), and in many different campaign settings (Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape, etc...), but eventually my friends and I grew tired of classes, levels, and were unexcited by the latest TSR releases. We started trying other systems (GURPS, Rifts, Star Wars D6, RoleMaster, Cyberpunk and a whole bunch of other RPGs I can barely remember). Somewhere in all that our group got collectively burned by Magic the Gathering, but I don't recall the details. By the time I was in sixth form, I played only very irregularly and mainly used a homebrewed skill based system, low magic and gritty, of course. We still wandered the Forgotten Realms from time to time, but I had long since cancelled my subscription to Dragon and ceased purchasing TSR products (or any RPG material, really).

I was bitten by the RPG bug again in about 2000, and not by the release of D20 (which I was only barely aware of, the extent of my exposure having been seeing an advert for Wizards of the Coast's Dungeons & Dragons 3e whilst I was visiting America), but by the Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine. I was familiar with some of the early strips from Dragon, but after my girlfriend bought me a couple of issues of KoDT, I found myself very much enjoying vicariously revisiting AD&D. I stepped outside my student digs in Surrey, my girlfriend's credit card and mobile phone in hand, rang up Kenzer & Company, and promptly ordered a box full of Bundles of Trouble (I think I might have been drunk).

In any case, I was inspired to get a group together and restart my old campaign world in the summer of 2001, and that's what I did. Best campaign I ever ran, involving about a dozen players all told (both new and old) and lasting until summer 2005, when I left Surrey to move back up to Newcastle. I realised at that time I was going to be too busy to run a full on campaign, and so decided to try a few pick up and play D20 adventures (mainly the ones freely downloadable, but also the Fighting Fantasy conversions that Myriador put out. It was about this time that I started frequenting RPG internet message boards (I know, I thought I could handle it), rather than just browsing the WotC D&D website.

I think it was on the Kenzer & Company forums that I first heard about the OSRIC project; I had been to the Knights & Knaves Alehouse and Dragonsfoot prior to that, and I had even read adverts for Castles & Crusades in KoDT, but I had no idea of the significance of what was going on until I downloaded OSRIC and started reading. Within about ten minutes I was entirely convinced that OSRIC was one of the best things to ever happen to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and traditional adventure role-playing games. Since then, I have spent a considerable chunk of my 'internet time' investigating and testing the veracity of my original conclusion and am still satisfied with the answer. I have gotten involved with the project to the best of my ability, purchased some of its fruits, and thoroughly enjoyed devoring them.

So, bit of a long preamble, but let us get back to the original question. Silver Blade Adventures? This blog has a number of purposes, but it is probably primarily a centralised space for me to make my thoughts on traditional swords & sorcery adventure games accessible. One of the things I intend to do with OSRIC is use it to publish some free modules, most of which will have been originally created for Silver Blade Adventures. So, one of the things this blog is going to do is provide support material, links and errata for anything that I create using OSRIC (or, indeed, Labyrinth Lord or Castles & Crusades). I also intend to post reviews of already existing material here, as well as adventure journal entries and anything else that seems like it ought to have a place here.