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14 May, 2009

Today’s Tabbloid

ROGUE FEED this respect, Dungeonslayers reminded me a bit of Microlite20, another

excellent minimalist RPG that pares down the bloat of the D20 rules to a
REVIEW: Dungeonslayers more manageable level (and that serves as the basis for the terrific
MAY 13, 2009 09:18P.M. Microlite74 rules). That said, Dungeonslayers is most emphatically a
modern game; it’s rules are not old school so much as designed to
emulate the freewheeling style of old school games. For that reason, I
suspect it’s probably more of interest to gamers who either aren’t
interested in going “back to the source” or who never played such games
in the first place.

As in D&D, players create a character by first choosing a race (dwarf, elf,

and human are given as examples), each of which grants some small
benefit, such as nightvision or a bonus talent point, in addition to a +1
bonus to a single ability. There are three available character classes
(fighter, scout, and spellcaster), with the spellcaster itself being divided
into three sub-classes (black mage, healer, and wizard). The classes feel
somewhat vestigial compared to OD&D, since their main differences
(aside from the fact that only spellcasters can learn spells) is the rate at
which abilities improve, what talents one can learn, and a +1 bonus to a
single ability. All classes require the same amount of XP to gain a level
and the rules provide for advancement up to level 20. All classes likewise
gain learning points (by which they can raise abilities and hit points) and
talent points at the same rate, so the game is designed with at least some
concern for balance between the various options available to players.

There are three attributes (body, agility, and mind), underneath of which
are there are two abilities. Players are given 18 points to assign to their
character’s attributes, but there is an upper limit of 10 and only even
numbered values may be chosen. To generate ability scores, a player
divides the appropriate attribute by two and distributes that number of
Dungeonslayers is a free 20-page “old-fashioned roleplaying game” by points among the two abilities, with 0 being an acceptable option. Thus,
Christian Kennig. Originally written in German, I presume that some of a character with 4 Body may have Strength 0 and Toughness 2.
its linguistic oddities, such as its sub-title, are the result a less than Characters have numerous combat values, such as Hit Points, Defense,
perfect translation into English. Don’t misunderstand me: the and Dodge, whose values are determined by combining together
translation is solid and perfectly intelligible, but there are infelicities attributes and abilities in various ways. Talents are a bit like feats from
here and there in the text that are jarring, such as when the game 3e but much more modest in scope, with most offering fairly small
describes its focus as “slaying monsters and looting dungeons in a benefits to characters under very specific circumstances, such as +1
primitive and old-fashioned way.” From context, I presume the author bonus to stealth checks or +1 bonus on all healing and protective spells.
meant that Dungeonslayers is an old school game that harkens back to
the early days of the hobby rather than implying, as the words Checks are at the heart of Dungeonslayers mechanics, a check being a
“primitive” and “old-fashioned” do, that it’s an unsophisticated and single D20 roll under a check value that typically consists of adding an
outmoded RPG. Such are the hazards of translating from one language to attribute and an ability together, modified by the situation. Though not a
another. fan of universal mechanics in general, I didn’t find this one as irksome,
mostly because there’s no exahustive list of standard actions and the
I mention the translation at all, because, for its length, Dungeonslayers formulae for implementing them. Instead, referees are free to combine
is in fact a very good game — simple without being simplistic, focused any attribute with any ability as he deems fit to determine the chance of
without being narrow, and very much in keeping with the spirit of old success. Certainly there are examples in the rules for many actions but
school gaming, even if its mechanics owe more to 3e than to OD&D. In each referee could easily ignore them and determine successes according

Today’s Tabbloid PERSONAL NEWS FOR 14 May, 2009

to his own sense of which attribute and ability seem most appropriate for ROGUE FEED
a given action. Combat is quick and easy and consists an attack roll to hit
and deal damage and a defense roll to reduce any damage suffered. Knockspell #2 Now On Sale
Magic is interesting and low-key with a clear Vancian pedigree. MAY 13, 2009 08:51P.M.
Spellcasters can have only one active spell at a time, but they can cast it
as many times as they are able to do so, based on the spell’s “cooldown”
— an unfortunate invasion of computer game terminology into
Dungeonslayers. Changing from one active spell to another is not
automatic and could, in the heat of battle, prove difficult.

Dungeonslayers has a brief game mastering section that discusses the

creation of dungeons, awarding XP, and adjudicating various hazards,
such as traps and random encounters. There’s also a short bestiary and
listing of magic items, along with a 15-room dungeon adventure called
“Lord of the Rats.” Rounding out the PDF is a 2-page character sheet.

All in all, Dungeonslayers is a nicely presented and simple game in a

vein not unlike that of the venerable Tunnels & Trolls, which is to say, a
game whose enjoyment depends on a combination of rational game
mechanics combined with a having players and a referee willing to “fill in
the gaps” with their imaginations. Dungeonslayers is also a game that
cries out for house rules and supplements (easily done since it’s released
for free under the Creative Commons License), because, though
complete as written, it’s still a very sketchy game. Regular play will
undoubtedly result in new options, expanded rules, and personal
interpretations to accommodate the quirks of each group of players.
Personally, I see that as a good thing and an indication that, while the
engine that drives it isn’t a vintage model, it can still take you to many of
the same places as the classics of the past.

News from Matt Finch of Mythmere Games:

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 6 out of 10
Knockspell issue #2 is now on sale at the Swords & Wizardry storefront.
Utility: 6 out of 10
This issue contains dungeon design advice from both Allan Grohe and
Philotomy Jurament, an adventure by Gabor Lux, and all kinds of other
Get This If: You’re looking for a set of simple, minimalist rules for
articles from jousting to monsters and all points in between! The art in
running fantasy adventures (or just looking for ideas to add to one you’re
this issue is phenomenal: artists include Jim Holloway, Liz Danforth,
already using)
and others. The cover piece is “Dungeoneer,” by Peter Fitzpatrick. Games
Don’t Get This If: You prefer “crunchier” rules systems or already have
covered include 0e, 1e, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and other retro-
a set of minimalist rules you’re happy with
clones. 86 pages. Note: the pdf isn’t up as of 5/13, but will be up shortly.

DURING MAY the prices of Knockspell #2, Spire of Iron and Crystal
(module), The S&W/0e Monster Book, and Eldritch Weirdness
Compilation Books Three to One are all reduced, because we’re in the
middle of another lulu sales competition.

Table of Contents:
3 Editor’s Note, Matt Finch
4 Art Director’s Note, Jeff Preston
4 From Kuroth’s Quill, Allan T. Grohe, Jr.
8 The Dungeon as Mythic Underworld, Jason “Philotomy Jurament”
14 The Trouble with Thieves, James Maliszewski
16 WhiteBox Thief (1): The Treasure Seeker, Rob Ragas
17 WhiteBox Thief (2): The “Standard” Thief, Salvatore Macri

Today’s Tabbloid PERSONAL NEWS FOR 14 May, 2009

18 Core Rules Thief (1): The Skillful Shadow, Salvatore Macri

20 Core Rules Thief (2), James Maliszewski
21 Thieves and Tasks, Akrasia
24 Isles on an Emerald Sea 2, Gabor Lux
31 Retro-Clones: Interviews with the Authors
36 Jousting (Optional Rules), Brendan Falconer
37 Dungeon Oddities, Michael Curtis
45 The Zocchi Experience, Matt Finch
46 The Claws of Ssur-Sparih, James Carl Boney
47 Random City Lair Generator, Sean Wills
48 Random Thieves Guild Generator, Robert Lionheart
51 The Fantasy Marketplace: Looking at Merchants Differently, Michael
55 Spell Complexity (Optional Rules), Brendan Falconer
57 Thoughts on Arnesonian Alchemy in the Original Dungeon Game,
Jason Vasche
60 When is a Spell Book Much More than a Spell Book?, Brendan
62 Random Pits & Occupants, Mike Davison
63 Magic Swords & Treasure Maps, Jason “Philotomy Jurament” Cone
67 Leprechauns, David (“Sham”) Bowman
69 Why White Box?, Jim Adams
71 Surviving Old-School Dungeons, Sean Ahmed
72 Three Sorcerous Creations, James Carl Boney
77 Magic Items
78 Review: On the Road of Knives, Matt Finch
79 Masterminds & Minions, bat
82 The Bestiary
86 Classified Ads Until comparatively recently, I’d never met anyone else who’d seen, let
alone owned the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Cards.
Released in four sets of 20 cards in 1982, they were apparently not
widely released, thereby explaining their relative uncommonness. I
owned all four sets, because I owned everything TSR released for D&D
back then and because I genuinely believed I’d get a lot of use out of
these cards — except that I didn’t.

Retrospective: Monster Cards Each monster card is roughly the same size as a large index card. On the
front side is a full-color illustration of the monster in question and on the
MAY 13, 2009 02:04P.M.
reverse are abbreviated Monster Manual stats and some descriptive text.
Each set included 17 standard AD&D monsters and three new ones.
Several monsters made their debut in these cards, but I can recall only
one — the thri-kreen — that stands out as having become a new classic,
unless you count obliviax moss or the galeb duhr as “new classics.” And
of course the thri-kreen itself is, in one of those ironies that often afflicts
overly litigious corporations, a knock-off of Arduin’s phraints. The real
interest of the cards, though, is the new art in a wide variety of styles,
from the phantasmagorical Erol Otus to the comic book stylings of Jeff
Dee. Some of the illustrations are better than others, of course — I
particularly dislike Jim Roslof’s kobolds, for example — but I have long
felt that one of the great strengths of the Golden Age was its esthetic
diversity, which stands in contrast to later ages, which seem to have
trade that diversity for better overall art direction.

I presume the intention behind the cards was that the referee could use
them in play as a handy reference without having to consult the Monster

Today’s Tabbloid PERSONAL NEWS FOR 14 May, 2009

Manual for stats. That’s certainly how I’d assumed I’d use them. The
problem is that, even in 1982, AD&D monsters were still simple enough
mechanically that there was little to no need for such reference tools.
Most monsters could have their stats written on a single line of two-
column text and the rest required two at most. Likewise, monster
abilities were simple enough that, so long as you’d used a monster
before, you could pretty easily remember how they worked. It wasn’t a
matter of “rules mastery” or having a photographic memory so much as
the fact that AD&D, at its root, was still a simple game. You really could
keep it all in your head without the need for constant page flipping and
chart scanning.

This meant the monster cards were, ultimately, attractive but impractical
curiosities. I suspect that TSR hoped more gamers would see them as
essential than did so, which might explain why there were no more sets
after the initial four releases. The new monsters were all eventually
published elsewhere (in the Monster Manual II), but, with the exception
of the thri-kreen, none has had a lasting influence over the subsequent
development of D&D — little wonder then that so few people remember
these products.

This issue contains posts from between

May 13, 2009 07:04a.m. and May 14, 2009 03:04a.m..
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