Thursday, June 8, 2017

Micro-reviews: Golden Eye of the Kobold King, King For a Day, Wonder & Wickedness

I was recently reflecting on the phrase "content is king" in conjunction with tabletop role-playing.  Perhaps you've heard it?  It was uttered by Bill Gates back in '96 to summarize his expectation that media content and its consumption would drive the expansion of the web.  It's one of those things that seems stupidly obvious to us now, but was somehow revelatory at the time.


But what was true for the 90's web is not necessarily true for tabletop role-playing games in 2017.  The volume of content available via DriveThruRPG is beyond staggering.  I have to stop myself from buying something everyday!

And you know what?  A lot of it is really good.  Sure, there's a high percentage of trash and simply unremarkable publications, but that's true in every single form of media, so why are you bothering to mention it?  But even if you shave off a lot of the chaff (you shave chaff, right), you've got a lot of excellent works and a few that have blown my mind.

I mean, I can continue at length.  Here are a few of my favorite things (links to points-of-purchase):
I could go on and on.  And the problem is that I do, at least when it comes to buying more content.

That's a problem for a number of reasons.  First of all, I probably spend too much money on the damn things.  Second, I tend to binge, which means I probably don't properly appreciate each work as much as I could.

More abstractly, there is this issue in the back of my head: it's almost impossible to make money producing RPG content.  How can you compete with such a flooded market?  Content might be bringing in consumers, but producers are choking on their own product.  So that's a problem if I ever want to somehow be a professional game guy.

But right now, the problem I'm dealing with is that fact that I can't possibly review more than a small fraction of these publications.  True, I don't need to review game products, but the act of doing so is almost as valuable to me as it is to all of you, my millions of devoted readers.  It helps me to take stock and think concretely about what I liked and what I didn't like.  And this kind of information feeds back into my own creation loop.

Fortunately, a solution has suggested itself to me: tiny reviews!  I know, it's almost as obvious in hindsight as "content is king."  What I'm pledging to do is to write-up, in a paragraph or two, each of the many PDFs that find their way onto my hard drive.  It will be a valuable exercise that might even force me to slow down a little bit to quickly sniff the roses as I sprint back to my DriveThruRPG wishlist.

Preamble complete!  Tiny reviews below!

WB1 Golden Eye of the Kobold King

I picked this up today for zero bucks on DriveThruRPG.  It was written by Stephen A. Cook for Hogtown Games.  So first of all, "Hogtown Games"?  WB1? I detect an eccentric sense of humor!  Actually, that's borne out by the adventure itself; the author's preamble is pretty crisp and amusing.

That's mostly how I'd describe the adventure itself.  It announces up front that it's a "lair adventure," meaning a pretty basic monster home invasion.  It's not doing anything crazy or gonzo, but it does what it does well, and gives the GM plenty of room to play around.  It would work very nicely as a random encounter along the way to somewhere else.

The adversary here is, unsurprisingly, a pack of kobolds.  Nothing really resembling a "king," which is one of those amusing details that we find here. Just a pompous kobold ninny and his warband, about to get their comeuppances from the PCs.

The PDF is currently free, and it is great for exactly what it claims to be. There's something to be said for products that know what they are, and in so doing, are able to excel at their modest goals.    Golden Eye is great as a one-session event, and you can't beat that value at $0.

King For a Day

Written (at great length) by jim pinto (apparently he's an e e cummings type of guy) for post world games.  Oh how I wanted to love this one!  The concept is right up my alley: a low fantasy setting, chock full of NPCs and plot hooks, just waiting for the PCs to arrive and happen.  I was really looking forward to seeing how the document managed to present the hundreds of NPCs and various hamlets and cities in a digestible fashion.  I was going to learn so much.

Unfortunately, this was one of those situations where you learn what not to do. I don't want to be too harsh, because the material here is potentially very strong. But the organization was a total mess.  By this I mean not that there was no structure, but that the structure did not lend itself to ease of use.  At all.

The big problem here is that the text starts info dumping almost immediately, starting with locations and characters, and it doesn't let up till page 251.  Then, it proceeds to describe adventure hooks and plot elements (non-linear...nice) with the assumption that you have completely assimilated the almanac that you just skimmed over.  All of these sections list their topics in alphabetical order, with no grouping by time periods, importance, or any other criteria.

If you want to run King For a Day, you're going to have to read the whole thing several times, making sure you understand everything from cover to cover.  You won't even know if you like it until you've put in some time.  I admit it: I didn't get far.  It sounds interesting, but I don't want to run it so much that I'm willing to become a subject matter expert in King For a Day.

Wonder & Wickedness

This is a reimagining of magic in OSR written by B. Strejcek for Lost Pages. Conceptually, that's extremely ambitious, but the approach is so simple that you don't have to think too hard to imagine how it will play out.  That doesn't mean it's unsophisticated; there's some real food for thought, here.

So how does it work?  It actually makes things so much simpler.  Spells don't have levels.  Instead, their effects (like duration and damage) scale up linearly with the caster's experience level.  Sorcerers can cast a number of spells per day equal to their levels.  

There's a little more to it, but those are the big fundamental ideas.  There are some nicely simple rules about counterspells (you can use a spell slot to counter any spell), specialization (as in a type of magic that a sorcerer is good at) and miscasting (called catastrophes here).  Also, you can convert any casting for a straight-up blast of 2d6 damage to an enemy.  The rest of the text is a listing of spells amd magic items.

I think this would be very playable.  It's actually a lot more balanced than a traditional magic-user, whose power curve is completely out of whack - M-Us scale up in everything at once, which is like doubling height and width at the same time.

So that's it for my first edition of micro-reviews.  They were a bit longer than I originally intended...more like mini-reviews.  No matter!  Hopefully my legions of readers will find these to be useful.

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