Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Review: Knockspell #1

Knockspell magazine is the official magazine for Swords and Wizardry, but as the editor states in this issue, it isn’t “about any one game – it’s a general forum for all three of the major retro-clones: OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and of course Swords & Wizardry.” Based on this one issue, it appears to take a tighter focus on old school fantasy dungeon delving with less gonzo weirdness than Fight On! magazine. While the layout is cleaner and less dishevelled, the editing appears to be noticeably worse with typos and undeleted editorial remarks sprinkled through the text. This magazine has far more actual gaming content than what I remember the typical issue of Dragon having back in the day. This particular issue is going to be more useful for someone that plays OD&D or Swords and Wizardry. I don’t think this sort of material is quite as useful for Molday/Mentzer “Labyrinth Lord” game masters as is advertised, but the couple of articles that serve that segment well are easily worth the price of admission.

Classes and Hirelings:

  • Death Magic & Dark Dealings — I’m not sure, but this might be a custom class for AD&D/OSRIC. There are scads of powers and special effects here– enough so that, if I were to want something like this, I’d probably be inclined to cook it up with GURPS. (Just my opinion, but this kind of a pimped out approach to the game seems to defeat my whole purpose in picking up an older game to begin with.)
  • The Paladin — A semi-official class for the OD&D derived Swords and Wizardry ruleset by a top old school blogger.
  • The Monk — (same comment as the Paladin)
  • Random Hireling Generator — These guys are maybe a little *too* interesting in some cases, but I think I might roll some of these guys up to have as potential hires. (I’m definitely tired of having a potentially unlimited supply of level one characters available for an all-too-likely chance of death.)
  • The Thrall — This article is pure gold. Technically this is a race/class that starts at level zero, but it is done with some deft background details and some interesting rule benders. I’ve wanted to be able to beef up parties, but don’t often want hirelings to equal PC’s. Even more, I’ve wanted some sort of thematic explanation for why these people would risk their lives for just a few pieces of silver doing the most idiotic job in the multi-verse. That they can transition into real careers/classes based on their subtype is the icing on the cake.

Dungeon Design:

  • One Way Doors, Variable Stairs, and the Accessibility of Sub-Levels — This is a little dry, but it covers a less common aspect of dungeon design. If you’re tired of your players constantly making pinpoint raids on your dungeon, these features could force them to explore a little more. (I’d especially like to foil the “always go left” crowd.)
  • The Dungeon Alphabet: Part One — This appears to be an outline of what would later become one of the top books of the Old School Revival. No tables or illustrations, just short bits on the main tropes of dungeon adventure by arguably the best writer in the old school scene.
  • How Do You Open This Thing?! — A gigantic random table of dungeon dressing. Cute.

House Rules:

  • Fighters with Flair! — Maybe it’s just me, but if I was going to tinker with the combat system this way, I figure I might as well move on to something like GURPS.
  • Class-Based Weapon Damage — There are some things that get argued about within the old school that really just blow my mind. This is one of them.

Tactics:

  • Three Principles of Adventuring Success — Play old school D&D more-or-less by the rules, and your players will learn these tricks without having to read this article. Player characters will have to die first, but there you go….

Rants:

  • Who Sucked the Fun Out of RPGing? — Okay, it’s awesome just to have something from the first employee of TSR, Tim Kask… but I wish there was more to this and that it was better edited. He sketches out a few of the ways that the OD&D days were more free-wheeling and lays the blame for the ruination of role-playing at the feet of the AD&D Player’s Handbook. Personally, I think he is completely wrong– the fun was sucked out of role playing games with the introduction of the thief class! But yeah, AD&D is for sissies that can’t go into a dungeon without fat spell books and multiple cure light wounds spells ready to go….

Adventures:

  • Isles on an Emerald Sea — This adventure/setting is by the inscrutable Gabor Lux. When I was a kid, I was actually afraid to buy the game Illuminati because its cover art literally frightened me. I’ve grown up, played that game, and enjoyed it immensely. The work of Gabor Lux frightens me as an adult! Beyond that, I don’t see how to run his stuff without making severe alterations to it. As excellent as his work might be, I can only guess that he caters to a style of play that was more common in the dark times before I entered the gaming scene.
  • Charnel Crypt of the Sightless Serpent — This is an adventure for 4-6+ characters, levels 4 to 7. It includes two keyed maps, both done retro/luddite style with pencil on graph paper. This is a very meaty piece, well written and immanently playable. The above ground area is colorful and interesting. The “dungeon” segment is pleasantly diabolical. While I’m not on the market for yet-another-retro-clone™, I’ll note here that the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers is not yet out. (This adventure can now be bought individually, though.) For gamers that have a Moldvay/Mentzer sensibility, this adventure is more easily adaptable than a lot of other old school stuff I’ve seen. Recommended!

Monsters:

  • Masterminds and Their Minions — The start of a new series showcasing a “boss” monster with their cohorts, this issue features two extra-planar “races” each with their own weird shtick. This is the only article that lapses into the crazy, free-wheeling strangeness that seems to be the default among the OD&D crowd.

Reviews and Previews:

  • Ruins & Ronin — Yeah, somebody had to go and make an Oriental supplement for OD&D. This game turned out to be done for Whitebox, so it is especially lean.
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