Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Delving Deeper

I had the opportunity, this past weekend, to peruse the Delving Deeper rule books, which can be downloaded for free from RPGNow (Adventurer's Handbook, Referee's Guide, Monster & Treasure Reference).  I was very impressed with what the authors, Cameron Dubeers and Simon J. Bull, have created.  This is the most faithful reproduction of the original D&D rules that we have seen yet and it is very well-written and organized.  Indeed, Delving Deeper is what D&D might have looked like if it had been written by J. Eric Holmes.  What sets Delving Deeper apart from other retro clones is the clarity of its writing, and its effective organization and layout.  Everything from the original three rule books, and more, is included and explained very clearly and simply, and the comprehensive table of contents makes it easy to quickly find the information you need.

Volume 1: The Adventurer's Handbook is what one would expect, providing character classes, equipment and spells in a compact thirty-seven pages.  The core classes: Fighter, Cleric, and Magic User are detailed, along with rules for Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings.  The Thief is also presented as an optional class.

Following the character classes are some very useful guidelines for NPCs including Hirelings, Retainers, and Mercenaries, Loyalty and Morale, Monster NPCs and Relatives, including provisions allowing characters to bequeath their possessions to their next of kin so that in the all-too-likely event that they die, they can pass on their goods to their next character.

The equipment section is short and to the point, and includes useful guidelines for the weekly cost of a character's upkeep.

Following the spell descriptions are rules for spell research and enchanting magic items.

The Referee's Guide contains all the information that a game master needs to run a campaign in just twenty-nine pages, and is especially useful for first-time game masters; I found myself wishing I'd had this book when I was starting out.  Following a short introduction to creating a campaign setting, there is an extensive section on dungeon creation, which includes an obligatory dungeon cross-section, and stocking tables for populating a dungeon on the fly, random dungeon encounter tables, trap tables, and a sample dungeon level.

Following the all-important guidelines for dungeon creation, are rules for underworld exploration and combat and, just like in the original little brown books, there are sections detailing wilderness exploration, seafaring exploration, and aerial exploration.  These include random tables for detailing wilderness hexes, encounter tables for each environment, rules for overland, oceanic, and aerial movement as well as rules for evasion and pursuit.  Taken as a whole these rules give you everything you need to run a hex-crawl campaign.  The book ends with rules for constructing strongholds - something every player will want to do at some point.

The Referee's Guide is the real gem of Delving Deeper.  The rules contained within set it apart from all other retro clones and as the name suggests, gives the game master the tools he needs to run his first campaign.

In volume three, Delving Deeper has, again, taken its cue from the original source material and presented the monster statistics in tabulated form, followed by a chapter of monster descriptions that are free of game mechanics.  This is how I like a monster book to be laid out.  I dislike the Monster Manual-style of stat block followed by description for each monster entry, and much prefer descriptions to be separate from mechanics.  The tables of monster statistics are easy to use in game, giving the game master all the monster information he needs at his finger tips without having to page through the whole book to look something up.

The monsters are followed by treasure tables and in similar fashion to the original rules, much space is devoted to magical swords, the sole province of the Fighter.

Though I've followed the development of Delving Deeper, I hadn't planned to buy it, content as I was and am, with Swords & Wizardry Whitebox.  After reading the PDF's, however, I've changed my mind - I was pleasantly surprised by the high fidelity with which Delving Deeper emulates the original rules.  I'm planning to soon begin a D&D campaign for my daughter who is now old enough to be introduced to the joys of role playing, and for several weeks I've been trying to decide which rule system to use.  Now that I've seen Delving Deeper, my search is over; it is nearly the ideal game for introducing young children to the hobby, lacking only interior illustrations to capture a child's imagination.  Consequently, these free PDFs have sold me on the game and I will soon be ordering a boxed set of my own.


Trey said...

Very informative review.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. The Referee's Guide is really great!