Crimson Dragon Slayer vs. Crimson Dragon Slayer


You may be aware that Crimson Dragon Slayer is a gonzo, ’80s-inspired science-fantasy role-playing game first released in mid-2015 by Kort’thalis Publishing.  The original edition borrowed many elements of Dungeons and Dragons (the six attributes, hit points, armor class, saving throws, hit dice for monsters) and placed them in the service of a bizarre and comic premise: your characters are all people from the real world circa 1983, playing a cheesy video game called Crimson Dragon Slayer, when suddenly you are zapped through the screen, becoming adventurers in the video game’s fictional land of Thule.

In July of 2016, Kort’thalis released a streamlined version of the game called Crimson Dragon Slayer 1.11.  This edition has been variously billed as a ‘one-hour game,’ a ‘basic’ version to the ‘advanced’ original version, and a ‘system reference document’ for an eventual, full second edition of CDS.  The setting still appears to be the science-fantastic Thule, but the comic, ’80s pop-culture trappings are gone, replaced by a darker and more serious vibe of pseudo-Lovecraftian horror.  (Recall that Lovecraft’s horrors were, technically speaking, aliens, and that he could be considered to be writing a species of pulp science fiction.)

Here are the main mechanical differences between the two versions:

The six attributes from Dungeons and Dragons have been removed, along with their derived bonuses and penalties.  The game no longer uses polyhedral dice for damage and is played exclusively with six-sided dice.  The rules for domination (added benefits a player can choose to employ upon scoring a critical success) and dice pools (extra dice a player can expend during the game to improve chances of success) have been removed.  Finally, the magic system has been made free-form with an HP-drain mechanic, rather than list-based with a Willpower-drain mechanic.  These changes serve to bring the game more closely in line with Kort’thalis’ other core rulebooks: Alpha Blue and The Outer Presence.

I think that the changes are all more or less to the good, and have piqued my interest in a second edition of CDS.  I see a few welcome design principles at play in the revision:

Simple mechanics.  As far as possible, I want the mechanics of my game to get out of the way and let the characters live their lives.  I don’t really need my rules to model the damage taken from a fall based on height and the acceleration of mass.  As long as the rules can produce plausible outcomes in uncertain situations, I’m happy.  The leaner the better.

Words over stats. If I have simple and flexible rules at my disposal, then I can get more role-playing mileage out of the idea that a character is a ‘ruthless thief’ than out of the fact that he has a Dexterity of 14.  ‘Thief’ implies a certain skill-set as well as certain shortcomings, and ‘ruthless’ tells me that this character will do better when acting in certain ways rather than others.  Mechanically speaking, I will let this character’s player bounce many dice when trying to cut a man’s throat from behind, and bounce few dice when trying to stop an out-of-control wagon from running over some peasant children.  More words will give me a better sense of the character and what kind of dice should be rolled for him.

Avoid game-y bits.  By this I mean mechanics that encourage players to approach the game as a game, like chess, rather than as an immersive experience in which they are pretending to be their characters.  I’m a little torn about this one because the dominance and dice-pool mechanics in the original Crimson Dragon Slayer are fun in themselves.  It’s fun to budget and deploy your character’s bonus dice through the course of an adventure.  It’s fun to pick beneficial effects when you roll well for your character.  But these are both things that the player is doing, not the character.  To the extent that I’m focused on these admittedly fun game mechanics, I’m taken out of the fictional world and distracted from pretending to be Jorgen the ruthless thief, or whomever.  On balance, I prefer rules systems that determine what my character can do based solely on how I describe my character’s actions.  I don’t really need a bunch of handles and levers that let me muck about with the rules (hero points, etc.), even when pulling those levers is kind of amusing in itself.

Of course these are just my preferences.  Another player might prefer a mechanically detailed, heavily statted game with a wealth of systems for player control, and that’s fine too.  I personally appreciate the changes that have been made to Crimson Dragon Slayer, and I like the direction in which the game seems to be moving both thematically and mechanically.


Trinity of Awesome!


If you’re at all interested in mature, rules-light roleplaying with an old-school vibe, I encourage you to check out the Trinity of Awesome! kickstarter currently ongoing with Kort’thalis Publishing.

For a measly three dollars you can have three complete adventures, one for each of Kort’thalis’ major core games:

Crimson Dragon Slayer– Weird fantasy (with an ’80s kick)
The Outer Presence– Lovecraftian pulp action (with a default ’70s setting)
Alpha Blue– Sleazy space opera (like every bad sci-movie you’ve loved)

I’ll have more to say about Crimson Dragon Slayer– both the original game and the ‘one hour’ revision– in the weeks ahead, as I’m using these rules for my play-by-post campaign that I’m calling Shattered Land: Adventures in the Age of Beasts.  For now, I’ll just say that the author works hard on these titles and does a good job of supporting them with supplementary material, which isn’t always the case with small publishers.  These games can be unabashedly raunchy, and might well be offensive to some, but I believe that there’s room for this sort of thing in the big tent of roleplaying.

So if you’re a fan of Crimson Dragon Slayer, The Outer Presence or Alpha Blue– or if you’re just interested in minimalist, RP-first rules systems or maybe incorporating some adult themes into your roleplaying– then do have a look at the Trinity of Awesome! kickstarter.  The core games are good too!


Lethality in Blood of Pangea


One of the great things about Olde House Rules’ Blood of Pangea is how remarkably easy the game is to hack.  The rules are simple and elegant without a lot of moving parts, so one can easily see how everything fits together and consequently what the overall effect of any new house rule would be.

For example, player characters in Blood of Pangea are clearly designed to be capable of grand and heroic feats of arms, such as one would find in the pulp sword-and-sorcery tales (think Conan) that are the game’s inspiration.  Characters begin with 10 Might, which functions both as a measure of physical health and a resource for the expenditure of effort.  Weapons in the game do from 1 to 3 points of damage per hit, depending on one’s attack roll and the weapon type; most often, only one point of damage is scored (large beasts and creatures can do more).  Damage is offset by expending Might to keep from dying.  Therefore, the average player character facing a human enemy with a one-handed weapon (and choosing to conserve Might rather than spending it on other tasks) will be able to take about ten hits before going down.  By the standards of starting characters in RPGs, this is very sturdy!  One thinks of Conan facing down a horde of attackers and emerging alive.

However, if one wishes to place one’s starting PCs in more peril, the rules are easy to fiddle with.  On this blog I’ve suggested a simple system for traumatic injury that serves to speed up combat.  But there are other options:

First, a Judge could choose to start his or her freshly-minted PCs with less than 10 Might.  For more fragile characters or more lethal combat, 8 starting Might could be a good number.  Such a PC would still be tough, but he or she would have to think a little more carefully about how and when to spend Might, or might have to reflect on the wisdom of charging into a mass of lesser enemies.

Second, a Judge might separate weapons into three categories rather than the two (normal and two-handed) of the original game.  In Blood of Pangea, normal weapons score 1 point of damage or 2 on a critical hit; two-handed weapons score 2 points of damage or 3 on a critical hit.  This system could be changed so that small weapons like daggers score 1 point of damage (2 on critical); medium-sized weapons like swords and maces score 2 points of damage (3 on critical); and two-handed weapons score 3 points of damage (4 on critical).

I suspect that this second option might prove to be a little too lethal, especially if combined with the first; a starting character facing an enemy with a two-handed weapon could go down in two or three hits.  However, it would be a simple and easy option if one wants the PCs to adventure in a world where death is around every corner and character loss is expected.

Quill: The Archduke

I’ve recently purchased a copy of Quill, a delightful solo RPG that involves writing letters in fictional scenarios, attempting to impress the recipient with one’s language, heart and penmanship.  What follows is my attempt to write as Sir Ian Vane, a knight, to the powerful Archduke Godfrey, regarding the passing of his sister, Mary of Linchester.  This is the first scenario from the rulebook.  My letter, such as it is, with scoring included:


Your Grace–

It is my solemn duty to inform you of the passing (+1) of your sister, Mary of Linchester.  It is now a week since she succumbed to what His Majesty’s physicians are pleased to call a most violent consumption.  I need scarcely tell you that the court has been in an uproar since that fatal day, and I have only just found time to write to you. (+1)

Although frankness compels me to remark that you and Mary were never close, having been separated one from the other by so many years and such distance, you have always done by her as a brother should.  Your Grace has taken care to provide for her teachers (0) according to her abilities; and to see that she wanted for nothing during her adventures at court, despite your known misgivings concerning some of her conduct there. (0)

Indeed, Mary was perhaps more sister to me than to your Grace, both by age and temperament.  I recall the many times when we rode the massive horses (-1) from your stables far into the wood, only returning them at nightfall, sweating and spent from their exertions.  I remember too your disapproval of our wild ways.  If only Mary had confined her taste for riding to horses of the equine sort. (+1)

I shall take care to convey to your Grace such effects as Mary had here at court.  You may find in this a small delay, as I must retrieve some items from an outspoken young boy (-1) hereabout who has proven strangely difficult to locate since the passing of your sister.  His Majesty is also desirous of some conversation with this youth, and so I do not make bold to name him until the event has transpired.  Rest assured that the wanted party is no friend of relation of yours. (+1)

And so I must be about my sad work in your Grace’s service.  Notwithstanding the tragedy that has fallen out here, and most especially certain particulars of it, yours is a name still fondly spoken here in His Majesty’s glorious church (-1) of the world, as it were; and I remain, as ever, (+1)

your Grace’s humble servant,
Sir Ian Vane 

My total score: 2.  According to the scenario, Archduke Godfrey was disgusted by Sir Ian Vane’s letter, as well he might be!

For the scenario, I set myself the challenge to convey to Archduke Godfrey by roundabout means the following information: that Mary of Linchester was rather a slut; that she became involved sexually with individuals opposed to the King; that her association with traitors led to her poisoning, although this has been given out as a consumption; and that the Archduke, having been distant with his sister, isn’t in any trouble personally.  Writing as The Knight in this game is hard; his poor vocabulary, combined with his zeal for flourishes, creates an all-or-nothing situation where he either scores great successes or ends up belaboring poor turns of phrase. In my case it was mostly the latter; only Sir Ian’s penmanship and the quality of his writing paper (given as a condition of the scenario) saved him from a negative score.

That said, writing the letter was great fun!  I’m pleased with the little world I was able to create in five paragraphs, even if Archduke Godfrey isn’t.  If you’re interested in letters or in an unusual approach to solo RP, do check this game out.

Traumatic Injury for Blood of Pangea


I’m setting up a dark sword and sorcery campaign for one player using the Blood of Pangea rules from Olde House Rules.  My player has requested a very light rules system, and since she will be the only player, I need a system in which starting characters are fairly sturdy.  Blood of Pangea fits the bill on both counts.

However, I’d like my campaign to be a little bit more lethal than the basic Blood of Pangea rules allow.  With that in mind, I’ll be introducing the following simple rules on traumatic injury: Continue reading “Traumatic Injury for Blood of Pangea”