2011 Game Readings

This is just a selection of the RPG books and products I have spent some time with in 2011. Some of these may get more extensive review posts in the future, especially the modules after I have used them in play. I’m probably missing several, and I often find myself grazing RPG products more than reading cover to cover (so some of those probably won’t show up here). In no particular order:

ASE1 Anamalous Subsurface Environment
Excellent gonzo setting marketed as a megadungeon level (it is that too). One of my favorite products. The only flaw is that there are ways to get from the first level to the second level (which is not included) relatively quickly. This one I read cover to cover. Unless you can’t stand robots and laser guns in your games, I would consider this a must-buy.
Realms of Crawling Chaos
Nice Lovecraftian crunch for Labyrinth Lord (or B/X).
Fourth Edition core rules
I started playing this when I got back into the roleplaying because it was the newest (and several of my players were familiar with it). More thoughts here.
Hammers of the Gods
Very atmospheric (though slightly linear) minidungeon. I’ve been working the backstory of this into my Nalfeshnee game (they have found some of the dwarven books), and I’m looking forward to when the PCs manage to read the treasure map they found and make their way to the adventure site. I still have some work to do in writing 4E conversions for some of the monsters.
XP1 The Spider-God’s Bride
Sword & sorcery D20 system rules, setting, and adventures. There is lots of flavor here, but the book is flawed by the fact that the maps (including dungeon floor plans) are digital-only, making the book strangely incomplete. A number of the adventures (I think there are 10 in all) are also rather linear (which the author fully admits). This could have been an excellent & seminal product (even allowing for the 3E rules, which I don’t use), but I don’t think it lives up to its potential.
Weird New World
An attempt at a LotFP arctic sandbox setting. There are some interesting ideas here that I may lift, but overall the setting feels a bit too sparse to function as a campaign setting without major work. This is probably due to the limited size of the product. Not bad, but I would check out the other LotFP stuff first.
Tower of the Stargazer
This has become one of my favorite modules, though I have not run it yet. It contains a perfect balance, in my mind, between classic fantasy elements and some gonzo genre bending. It’s not that large, but I bet different groups of players could approach it in many different ways. Also, though some might find the pedagogical sections patronizing (it was meant to be a referee teaching module), I found them very useful.
Eldritch Weirdness Compilation
Unique crunch (spells etc). Very open ended. Contains a random elemental creature generator. Recommended.
Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox
Like an annotated version of 1974 D&D. This helped me understand the 3 LBBs.
The Complete Book of Necromancers (Second Edition supplement)
There is lots of padding here, but also lots of good material (including an “necromancer’s isle” module as the last chapter which can be dropped into any campaign). This is one book that I used often in the 90s for PC creation (I loved and still love necromancers) despite the fact that it is intended for the referee. Many good spells that can also be re-used. I tried to read this cover to cover, but got bored.
Excellent pair of modules by Matt Finch (of Swords & Wizardry) that can easily be inserted into any campaign setting. Sinister fungus beings that are attempting to grow a new god. I can’t wait to use this content in my game. Read cover to cover.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess Grindhouse Edition
Perhaps the most innovative product I’ve read beyond the original rules. The encumbrance system is excellent (to the degree that my players are no longer handwaving encumbrance). This rule set has made me think more about how D&D works than pretty much any other source out there. Best “Appendix N” period (with extensive annotation). I haven’t had the time to read all of the spells unfortunately, but I have heard that they are excellent. High production values. Very graphic art though, if that bothers you (it doesn’t bother me). This is one of the few OSR products that I think might actually serve as an real introduction to the hobby (as opposed to the enthusiast fan base of most of the retro-clones and OSR products; not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Worth it alone for the bits of strange lore sprinkled within. Several have already strongly affected my settings. And the book is beautiful (unsurprising, given Zak’s day job). I haven’t tried to use the map generation techniques yet, but they look interesting.
The Dungeon Alphabet
One of the standout OSR products, as far as I’m concerned. Concise, fun to read, plenty of useful tables, and excellent art.
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill
Wonderful little mini-hexcrawl. I wrote about it in more depth here and here.
B/X: Moldvay Basic & Cook/Marsh Expert
If I had to pick a favorite rule set right now, this pair of books would probably be it. The level range is perfect for my taste (1-14) and it contains enough crunch examples (including plenty of iconic monsters & treasures) to be a complete game. The included dungeon and wilderness setting are nothing special, but they contain all the necessary techniques to get started. This was before my time (my exposure to “basic” D&D was the black box and the Rules Cyclopedia), so this is not nostalgia for me, but new exploration.
The Random Esoteric Creature Generator
A LotFP monster generator (though it came out before the rules). I hope to use this more in the future.

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