Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Review of Crypts and Things by D101 Games

I've pre-ordered Crypts & Things by D101 Games and this week I got the brand-new soft-cover print edition by mail. After reading it cover to cover, I must say that I'm impressed with it and that I do not regret the money I've spent on its pre-order. So here I will review this book in detail.

What is Crypts & Things?
Crypts and Things (C&T) is an adaptation of the Sword & Wizardry: Core (S&W) RPG rules to the Sword & Sorcery genre. In other words, it takes many of the mechanics and most of the concepts of old-school D&D and changes them to fit the basic assumptions of Conan, Elric, Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser. This means you get one sleek, rules-light pack of rules to play Sword & Sorcery role-playing games with, all built to the right flavour.

It also means that, at its very core, it's still old-school D&D, close in its lineage to the original 1974 edition (plus the 1975 Supplement I). But Crypts & Things takes that D&D DNA and evolves it to fit the genre and some modern sensibilities.

The physical book is very satisfying to look at. The cover is full-colour and looks great, while the interior illustrations are all black-and-white but very atmospheric. Writing style is good and genre-appropriate and the amounts of errata is, as far as I can tell, small and very tolerable. There is also an index at the back of the book, which is something that each and every RPG publication should have.

Things I like in C&T
Crypts and Things uses the base S&W combat mechanics and single saving throws, but adds a new dimension of skills without adding too much complication. Generally speaking, if the Referee has decided that you need to roll the dice to do something which is neither combat nor spoellcasting, you just make a saving throw (with some bonuses based on class, circumstances and so on) to see if you succeed. Sleek and simple. This handles anything from barbarian tracking to thief skills.

Yes, I said Barbarians and Thieves; C&T has both classes (in addition to Fighters and Magicians), and both are well-designed: the Thief is more martial and thus useful even in generic combat; everyone may backstab or sneak; and the Barbarian, who is a nature/wilderness-oriented warrior, fights a bit less effectively than the Fighter, but has several interesting abilities and may wear armour. All in all, I like these implementations better than most old-school and d20 interpretations of these class concepts.

The M-U and the Cleric have been merged into the Magician class. Magicians cast spells like M-Us, and have three "colours" of spells - White (healing/divination/protection; easy to cast), Grey (illusion/transmutation; fatiguing to cast) and Black (damaging spells, summoning, charms; casting it can cause madness). This fits the genre - as most S&S "priests" are actually sorcerers - and also the OD&D Catholic-style cleric doesn't fir the genre too well. Oh, and Magicians may wear leather armour and use any weapon, though they face a -1 penalty to damage with most weapons.

Fighters have also been improved, adding Fighting Styles which make Fighter A different from Fighter B without using too many mechanics (as D20 does).

I mentioned above Madness; indeed, C&T has a sanity system, which is quite simple and straightforward, using saving throws to resist madness (cased by casting Black Magic or by witnessing sanity-wrecking stuff in the game-world) and using a temporary (and regenerating) Sanity score equal to your Wisdom; particularly bad things can damage your Wisdom permanently, and when you reach Wisdom 0 you become a mad NPC.

Hit Points have been tweaked. For most monsters and non-important NPCs, hit points work as in S&W as a measure of physical health. For heroes and villains (i.e. PCs and major NPCs), however, hit points represent fatigue and thus can fully heal overnight. However, once you run out of hit points, you start losing your REAL life-force - represented by your Constitution, and then you can easily pass out or even die. Some effects (like preparing Black Magic spells without a sacrifice) may also directly damages your Constitution score. Constitution heals slowly, and all healing spells only affect Constitution and not hit points.

The C&T Encumbrance system is very simple: you carry weight in pounds, but most sundry equipment (i.e. most stuff other than your weapon and armour) in abstracted into 10 pounds, so you really only have to track your arms and armour. I prefer the LotFP encumbrance system better, though.

The monsters have been chosen with care to fit the genre, and demons - called "Others" in this book - dominate the list. Which is a good thing, as the Summon Monster spells actually summon demons in-game rather than a random Orc. The monster illustrations, while scarce, are EXCELLENT and highly atmospheric and so is the monster flavour text.

Things I dislike in C&T
Strangely enough, while C&T is based on Swords & Sorcery literature, the Law vs. Chaos conflict common in a lot of these stories (and especially in the Elric ones) is only implied; there are no alignments and no Protection from Chaos; instead the term "Evil" is used, though there is no such universal alignment. I'd prefer to fight (and summon!) Chaos beasts like Elric does!

While the idea of the Life Even Table is wonderful, having each character roll 3 out of merely 20 options is very limited and puts a sharp limit on variety. Something more varied would be desirable.

Also, the spell descriptions themselves (unlike the spell lists) do not list which "colour" is each spell, forcing you to go back to the spell lists to reference.

Personally speaking, I don't like the implied Zarth setting very much, though I don't have it as well; I just prefer to set up my own setting.

I also dislike the fact that most monsters lack illustrations.

Oh, and the typical OD&D problem: each coin weights 0.1 pounds, which is A LOT. Realistically speaking, it should probably be closer to 0.01 pounds.

The Verdict
All in all, this seems like a VERY enjoyable game to play, especially since I'm now in a Sword & Sorcery mood after reading a lot of Elric stuff as of late. Any D&D fan who is also a fan of the Sword & Sorcery genre should give it a try.

I rate it at 4.5/5 points!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

USE ME ExCom - Part I

Many of us who grew up in the 1990's (as well as older gamers) remember the good, old computer game called UFO: Enemy Unknown (AKA X-Com: UFO Defense). This classic gem was, and still is, one of the finest computerized wargames around where you get to run an organization named X-Com which fights an alien invasion. Besides the strategic-level management of your operations all over the globe, you also got to control your force of elite X-Com operatives against the alien intruders in a tactical battlefield. This game spawned a number of sequels which were a bit less successful (although I'm an avid fan of X-Com 2: Terror from the Deep).

Inspired by this game, I've put together some unit cards for an "ExCom vs. Reticulans" scenario using the USE ME Post-Apocalypse rules. Why Post-Apocalypse? Because this is the latest finished edition of the game, which is remarkably applicable, rules-wise, to X-Com-style games, having everything from Psionics to Anti-Tank weapons.

Of course, I'm using minis I already have and have taken some artistic liberty in terms of the troopers' and aliens' looks, but the basic idea remains: a small group of brave Human elite soldiers vs. a particularly nasty alien landing party. I'm giving them a BTR-70 rather than a Skyranger at this stage as I have a BTR-70 and I don't have a Skyranger at hand.

So let's start with the brave ExCom warriors, Humanity's best. Except for the snipers and the APC, they're all Rebel Minis 15mm Russian Spetznaz. The Snipers are Rebel Minis Sahadeen and the APC is a QRF BTR-70.

You can get a full-res 3x3 print-out of these cards HERE!

Next up - the Reticulans AKA the Sectoids!

USE ME Post-Apocalipse Quick Reference Sheet

I've made a new Quick-Reference Sheet (QRS) for the USE ME PA post-apocalyptic ruleset. Get it HERE.

USE ME Sci-Fi Quick Reference Sheet

A year and a half ago I've made a Quick Reference Sheet for USE ME Sci-Fi. It should make the game even easier and quicker to play. Get it HERE!

I'll try to build a new one in this week, all while working on my next USE ME booklet, CYBER USE ME. Same goes for a Quick Reference Sheets for other USE ME variants, especially WWII, Modern and PA.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Novi Stalingrad: 2072!

Reading this thread on TMP got me thinking; after all, the Eastern Front is, IMHO, the most interesting part of WWII, and both the Soviets and the Nazis work well in sci-fi/PA versions. So I brought up the idea of a literal "Stalingrad 2072" campaign (i.e. Reds vs. Fascists clashing in 2072 in the ruins of Volgograd) in a conversation with my spouse - and wargaming partner/rival - Hannah, and she was intrigued!

So this will be my main PA project from now on. There would be three factions: Reds (low-tech, but with gas masks), Partisans (very low tech, no gas masks for most of them, some disfigured by bioweapons) and Fascists (heavy armour and good guns for each trooper. Tech would be a bit more advanced than today, with powered armour, light mechas, lasers and VTOLs, but no gravitics or sentient robots.

The setting is Stalingrad AKA Volgograd AKA Stalingrad again in 2072, 35 years after a major nuclear war and in the midst of a severe nuclear winter. The Red Army of the Stalingrad Kommune, emerging from the Volgograd University's cellars, fights the invading White Legion over the access to the Volga and to the nearby Baku's oil reserves. In order to bolster the defences against the fascist White Legion, the Kommune organizes various surviving groups outside of its main territory into Partisan detachments to harass the fascists' rear.

The ruleset I'm thinking about is GRUNTZ.

Note that the "invaders" are from another bunker in the outskirts of Volgograd (near the international airport). The Reds are from a bunker under the University.

Both factions had some time to grow, and now they are about the scale of the conflict between the NCR and the Legion in Fallout: New Vegas (or, more accurately, like a comparison of the NCR and the Enclave in Fallout II).

I've thought a little bit more about the Reds and I'm considering making them into a more rag-tag force ALA most forces in Metro 2033. Their main infantry weapon would be an improvised SMG (similar to the WWII-era PPS-43 or to the Bastard from Metro 2033); their "powered armour" would be clunky modified industrial lifter exoskeletons (represented by Kremlin Miniatures Rising Sun MANITOUs); and I'm even considering either giving them armoured cars ( HOF Light Tanks) or Tachankas (i.e. technicals - using the Khurasan Rockjumper pickup) instead of usual tanks.

The fascists, on the other hand, would be like the Reich from Metro 2033 or the Enclave from Fallout 2 and 3 - using remnant military gear stolen from various bunkers around the city.

So here are the Fascists (Eureka Miniatures 15mm Sci-Fi Germans):

With a HOF Light Tank:

And here are the Red Army troops, unpainted (yet!):
The infantry are HOF Post-Apocalyptic Survivors; the commanders are Kremlin Miniatures Commanders and the powered armours in the back are Kremlin Miniatures Red Banner MANITOUs.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Miniature Cupboard Bonanza

While doing spring cleaning in my miniature storage cupboard, I came across some minis I haven't really touched in a year or so. But looking at them, I realized that I already have the fully-painted core of a whole GRUNTZ space-lizard army (Stan Johansen Miniatures Draco Infantry)!

So here they are - full infantry platoon:


GRUNTZ Squad (x3):

Attachment - Minigun:
Attachment - Missile Launcher:
And their arch-nemesis, the Bugs (Spriggan Miniatures SPUG):

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Unit Profile Cards for GRUNTZ!

Similarly to the USE ME card, I've also finished an infantry/attachment/specialist/command profile card template for GRUNTZ, as seen above. The template is for the free graphics program Paint.NET.

Get it HERE.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unit Profile Cards for USE ME!

I've made unit profile cards for the USE ME wargame rules using Paint.NET, which is a free - and excellent - graphics program. To your left you can see a sample card using's iconic 15mm Grey Alien.

You may download a layered template for making these cards in Paint.NET HERE.

You may also download a 3x3 template set of cards - for the sake of easy printing - HERE.