Sunday, December 31, 2023

Goodman Games Brouhaha

I am still a fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Despite all the silliness that OSR YouTube drug up, assuming this and that, removing the names of the "legends" did not mean much to me then, nor does it now with them back in the 11th printing. Those people likely never wanted to be seen as gods; back then, we didn't see them as gods.

The game was king, not a person or a name.

And I get why they may want to remove them; with the estates of Gygax (and possibly others) licensing the names for competing products, why would they advertise for a competitor?

While we can use their names to illustrate "how old school should be played," - if you want to get into the actual way we played, you will need to watch many 1980s movies, listen to 80s music, and immerse yourself in the flash and cheese of the era.

To me, these names are names.

The more problematic aspect of preserving is how we played and accepting that things back then were not "the way we like things today." The shirtless barbarian, the chainmail bikini, the slaying of every monster that moved, the Manowar soundtrack, and an absence of today's "drama club gaming" pastiche.

Conan was a sex symbol, as was every other character - male or female. Hell, even the monsters were sex symbols. Get over yourself, current-day prudes; you are just as terrible as the Puritan religious types in the 1980s who got upset at skirts cut above the ankle.

Maybe even worse these days.

Violence was the same way and is just as problematic today. Watch those movies. You go back to the 1980s, buy into all the era's problematic aspects - and embrace them. DCC frequently ignores the sex appeal and dips into the weird as a non-triggering replacement. I get it; they have to sell games without pissing people off. It is a business.

But my game is my game.

I will play it how I want.

I have my safety tools, and they are filled out a certain way. Everyone has a fair warning. There are other games and tables, but this is mine. Again, I have a different view of these tools; they aren't player weapons to disrupt games like many present them to be where the GM is powerless. Stop being weak and playing the victim, YouTubers; these are communication tools for a group to communicate the content of games and go both ways.

I get it - drama and clickbait for views. YouTube, there are times you make the whole gaming community worse.

This is fantasy fulfillment, not today's drama in a faux-Renaissance setting. 5E has moved from a roleplaying game to a framework for drama club activities for streaming shows. Critical Role is taking their fans and heading for the door. Things are changing rapidly.

Much of the heat in this issue felt like lesser competitors trying to knock DCC down, along with many 5E fans punching down for sport (and to take out their rage on others now that 5E is going down in flames). A fair amount of click-baiting by YouTube commentators also made it worse. It is a crappy time to be a creative publisher of games since fandom has turned into gang warfare.

DCC has done much to legitimize and mainstream the old-school genre and explain it to a new audience. How incredible this genre is. What the genre is. Its ethos, lore, and principles. How does it differ from billion-dollar toy companies' cozy-gaming mainstream offerings? We don't worship names in the old school, and we don't erect golden idols. Those names were never even important back then. They only serve to highlight something larger.

This has not impacted my view of DCC.

Because my view of DCC is far different from even Goodman Games.

This is my game. While I believe in the spirit and ethos of the era - I was there. I know.

This is not Goodman's view of the genre, though they supply the rules; this is my view from having lived it.

And my game is most certainly not controlled by YouTube channels, so desperate for views they go around manufacturing controversy just to get another hit.

Friday, December 29, 2023

d20 Sci-Fi: White Star & the Starfleet Genre

Some people hate class & level implementations for science fiction games. We started science fiction with Space Opera and later Star Frontiers, so I understand the feeling.

My first class and level-based sci-fi RPG was the semi-infringing Starfleet Voyages RPG back when Paramount/CBS did not care much about fan creations, and they let a lot slide. This gave us Starfleet Battles and many fabulous fan-made creations that would never be possible today.

Strangely enough, this "Star Trek Dungeons" was a fun concept. Teleport into the salt mines, kill many silicate rock monsters, save the captured colonists, and teleport to the med bay to heal damage. Same with Klingons (as orcs) or any other sci-fi monster. Classes and levels in this game work since the original series had such vital crew roles that "Bones McCoy as a Doctor class" fit.

The concept works, and it has a 'stupid charm.' Klingon orcs are attacking the science outpost, making local giant Gila-monster lizards angry with pain implants and sending them to attack the outpost. Shoot the giant lizard attacking your landing site. Do a hex crawl to find the Klingon base. Shoot the Klingons, and then raid the ancient dungeon they were looking for treasures in. Send the treasures to the Starfleet Museum of Planetary History for more XPs.

There were "credits as loot" in this game, which was strange, but having those prices opens up trader and mercenary games.

This worked in a simple model and game loop, where you got excited to level your science officer up to the next level and got a few new "X in 6" abilities or improved the ones you had. Discover the rock monsters' weakness? Your science officer does double damage when they fire their phaser at them!

Level up and be assigned larger ships. Go from a tiny single-engine scout ship with 20 crew to a complete fleet cruiser with a thousand! You are like that guy in the TV show now! Talking. With. Pauses.

White Star fills that niche today with the optional Five Year Mission book. You can even play a Paranoia-style-clone "red shirt" who can die and be replaced by another from the ship, keeping the same level and abilities, just the next in line. Some of the class names are a bit rough; Sawbones is too medieval for my tastes as a sci-fi doctor class; since White Star covers "Combat Medic," just rename this "Ship's Doctor" and be done with the cringe-inducing names.

I get it; Star Trek was viewed through a Guardians of the Galaxy-style lens; you need to use silly names. But that levity aside, a good, crunchy, serious, B/X-style Star Trek-like game is hiding here with a simple tone shift. Perhaps the humor is needed.

Best of all, Five Year Mission meshes perfectly with White Star. So you could have a Guardians-style area of space meet a Star Trek-style "Space Federation," and it is all a semi-serious parody of the genre. Star Wars tried to do Guardians but died on that hill, so the serious-themed science-fantasy genre was lost in space.

Starfinder? I tried, but the 3.5E rules dragged this down into a mess that needed Starbuilder to figure out. I am also checked out on Pathfinder 2 and the upcoming Starfinder 2; the character sheets are bad.  The game was designed by a team who thought electronic character creation was the be-all and end-all. This is a game and setting I wanted to love, but it isn't happening for me. This also started with getting rid of classic fantasy backgrounds and putting them in an appendix, embracing them in the adventure paths, and I feel OGL issues will force another retcon.

I like my space elves, space dwarves, and star drow. I will do them myself with a B/X set of rules, not waste a few thousand dollars on books and ultimately be let down. I can have a drow science officer in Starfleet.

3.5E is the best version of Wizards' D&D, but it pales compared to a solid White Box set of rules or even AD&D 2nd Edition, which is a far superior game. The Castles & Crusades game beats them all. But Starfinder is hard-pressed to do a good Trek adventure, though it dungeons pretty well due to its 3.5E roots (at lower levels when they still matter before the strings of boss fights begin).

With White Star, Five Year Mission, and White Box FMAG I can have it all. A game where Trek-style adventures happen in a Guardians-style universe where magic and science mix. The PDFs are $10, $3, and free. Tools of the Worldshapers (a hacking guide) is $7. You have a complete collection of rules that does nearly anything for under twenty bucks.

Add another $10 for B/X Options Class Builder, and you have most of the "missing" classes of other games, like bards and druids, plus a robust BYO toolset. Make "Halo Guy" a class. Wookie can be a class. Reskin fantasy classes as sci-fi classes. Space bard. Galaxy barbarian. Worm rider. Do what you want.

One of the worst "advances" in the hobby that 3.5E+ and Wizards made was to ruin homebrew and give the impression that only "professional game designers" can create content for the game. Wizards wrote the game to enshrine the company as the official source of balanced content, which was never the case.

In B/X Land? A player can create a custom class and give it to the group for approval, and we can all play with that. We like it, great! Overpowered? Fix it. Underpowered? Tweak it. If that class was only one person in the history of the world, okay. If we like it and use it again, it is outstanding!

This is really my go-to toolbox for B/X sci-fi that does it all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Cozy Games vs. Safety Tools

Beware companies turning your favorite tabletop game into a "Cozy Game."

Death mechanics are omitted or designed so no one dies. Wounding is hidden behind abstract layers of detail. Insanity and adverse conditions are downplayed, or you are told they are problematic. You are told, "No one can lose!" Player-versus-player combat is disallowed. And if combat is involved, it is overpowered, easy, and a foregone conclusion you will win.

This is a cozy game.

You see this a lot in board and card games, which are participation games where no one loses, there are multiple winners, and they are designed to be games for preschooler mentalities - but targeted at adults. Many cute and cuddly player options also feed into this feeling that a game is slipping into this area; who could hurt my cute teddy bear character? How could you roll on the dismemberment table for my adorable doll character and make them bleed?

This is where some of the pushback against safety tools comes from, and the two are unrelated.

The cozy game is a marketing tool to push engagement and lifestyle branding; if marketing pushes you to "see yourself in the game," then "you should not be able to die in-game." If D&D is a lifestyle brand, nobody should lose or feel bad about participating. The game should be easy. Everyone should have magic. Nobody gets left out.

5E is trending towards cozy games at an alarming rate.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Safety tools? They have legitimate uses, and I see cozy gentrification as the real problem. A hobby shop owner can fill out a sheet of safety tools settings for every group that plays in public just so customers aren't upset by players in-game kicking puppies or graphic dismemberment in an area where people are trying to shop for their kids. Others may have trauma, and if this is the way they want to anonymously communicate to a GM, it is acceptable.

A GM could fill out a safety tool sheet stating "what will be in this game," and the tool could be used in reverse. If you dislike that content, the game isn't good for you. There are always other games and groups to play with; this is just respecting their choices. So, a 'reverse safety tool' is a thing and one I would use if I had a story that went edgy in some places. So, the tool goes both ways.

They are not limiting factors but communication tools - like a form letter or a resume.

If my group had a regular Friday the 13th Horror game running for 5 years, you could use the tool to tell new players, "If you join the game, this may happen."

The game isn't changing because of a new tool. Accept it or opt out. A fair warning is given.

In-game tools, like X cards? Another communication tool, and one I am less hot on since the pre-game agreements should cover most things, but situations come up, and I can see why they may be used. A GM should be able to point at an X card to tell a player to tone it down, and I have had that happen at a game before. A store owner with a game in public? Same thing. Tone it down, table; you are upsetting someone.

But if someone hits that X card too much, that could be a sign that the game isn't for them.

That tool goes both ways, too.

The more these tools go in both directions, the less objectionable they are. If they are used by one side to attack another, impose their will on a majority of others, or are used to disrupt play, then they have serious problems. They have a bad reputation because they have been sold as one-way troublemaking tools, and most discussions center on people using them this way.

Wall Street will eliminate safety tools from the games we play since they imply things should happen in these games that may upset people. Wall Street will white-bread everything it touches and ensure absolute control of content. The trend line is toward cozy games, and the safety tool is just a band-aid meant to distract the community and buy time. Ultimately, the following "viral horror story" about a game going wrong that used safety tools will be used as the reason to write the game for children and write the tools out of the game.

Trust me, it's coming.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Cozy games? The game designers force 'safety' on you through game design, often for marketing and engagement purposes. You do not have a choice other than to not buy or play the game. This is worse than a safety tool, which can be used to enable content that may not otherwise be in the game. Some even have the designers lecturing you on how you should play their game.

Many cozy game designers muddle and confuse the two topics, making it seem like safety tools are used to enforce a cozy game's design theories onto every group that plays it. Safety tools are not authoritarian behavior enforcement devices, but this is how many cozy games use them. This is how people misuse them, too.

Communication tools are not meant to enforce behavior.

And the term safety tool is a misleading name since it can make a game less safe. It is like calling a movie rating system (G, PG, R, etc.) a "film safety rating." It puts an implication on the tool that it does not deserve and can be used as a weapon to say, "Unsafe films should never be shown." Some people don't like the term, so they are against the concept. A better name for these are the 'game content rating' and 'game preference tool,' which are more neutral descriptions of the tools that better communicate what these tools are doing.

But the cozy game gives you no choice, and it expects its players to be silent enforcers of the designer's will. In fact, there is no way to escape the designer's intention since it is a baked-in mechanic.

You don't have a say or a choice with a cozy game.

A safety tool - that goes both ways - gives you a choice and respects the group's preferences at the table.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Off the Shelf: Shadow of the Demon Lord

Christmas is not the day to pull this one off the shelf. But I did.

I did not have this one in storage; it sat on one of my secondary shelves, waiting for another look. With Lamentations off the shelf and DCC begging for attention, I am pulling out older games in my collection and looking for the definitive fantasy horror experience. Some games, like Forbidden Lands, do the survival and exploration well, but not horror.

In many ways, this game destroys the Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Dungeon Crawl Classics games in horror fantasy.

The rules? It's a mix of 4E and 5E, and it makes sense since the designer worked for Wizards and on many of their darker and demonic books. The rules are a masterful mix of White Box sensibilities and 4 and 5E but with everything streamlined and improved to make the gameplay seamless.

And the character advancement and builds put 5E to absolute shame. Building characters in this game reminds me of one of those JRPGs where you can combine three classes and get something incredibly cool and fun - like nothing else you have ever seen. For those not into horror, this system is coming to a more traditional fantasy game called Shadow of the Weird Wizard.

Fantasy horror gaming? This is the place to go. Full stop, end of story. Games like Warhammer get too bogged down in the percentages and the realism. Lamentations I love as a basic B/X with gonzo adventures, but it needs those add-on adventures to shine; very little in the rules make it a horror game. Dungeon Crawl Classics borders on a gonzo and crazy version of Gamma World mixed with a fantasy game. Parts of it feel wacky and over-the-top, which is where the game shines.

The Demon Lord game makes me box up Lamentations, which is sad since I like that game. The Lamentations game hints at the darkness and has one objectionable table result. Shadow of the Demon Lord delivers a total horror game; start to stop. The sex is kept out of the game, which is honestly how it should be. Sex is a touchy subject; every group will be different on what is considered "okay."

Every group should decide for themselves if they open that door.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

SotDL is pure DIY insanity and horror. The rules and spells reinforce the genre. You can play this anywhere from a year-zero beginning of the end to a full-on end-of-days experience. This works well for one-shot adventures and non-world-ending horror.

And it keeps the rules dirt simple, to the point, and familiar. I know a few B/X-type games that are far more complicated than this. The initiative is baked-in. Fast turns, slow turns, and end of the round. Players always go first in a turn, then monsters. To-hits are modified d20 rolls against the defense. For all other actions, the target number is 10.

Toss out most of your other dice, even the d100s, since there are no d100 charts. This game just uses d6 and d20. You will never confuse a d14 and d16 here. You are not flipping through the book to consult spell charts.

And you could buy and buy and buy expansions and have a lifetime of things to do. There are an insane amount of books for this game, and the primary book is enough for years of fun. There is a rules hacking guide and companions that multiply the upper-level paths, allowing for a near-infinite amount of character customization. There are no restrictions on character type combos; your rogue could become a paladin and then finish as a pyromancer. That character is not gimped either; they are pretty kick butt even with less-than-ideal magic power choices.

Progression is fast by default, but you could slow this down or speed it up. You do this by milestones, so you are not doing the XP thing.

The game was written with pre-safety tools, so bring your own if that helps you find players. I can't fault it for not having them, nor should you fault any game for the same. Since tastes and attitudes change, these should be optional community tools and not written into games. I would not play this with a younger audience and walk carefully with new players until I get to know them better.

You could rule the horror stuff out and play this as a 5E variant, but that is what Shadow of the Weird Wizard will do.

But if you can find a table with horror film fans, wow, you are in for a fun time. You are free as a GM to say, WTF, this crazy thing happens - and this is the game. You can stay more in the rules and play it like a lethal and gritty 5E. You could shift anywhere in between.

The best thing about this game is it is built to do one thing well. And it excels since it simplifies everything else.

You don't need to play in their world. They have clockwork kin and black powder, so you could play in a late Renaissance world, Victorian era, or Steampunk Industrial Revolution. There is a master path of gunslinger that lets you craft your own personal six-shooter. This game has the same 'cool factor' as Deadlands. You could easily reskin the path as a rifleman, let them only use rifles, and craft a lever action with six shots.

You could play a clockwork Clint Eastwood, who specializes in assassinating powerful undead and has bullets with the names of vampires on them that they will use someday. Give them a fistful of boons when the moment comes to use the 'Strahd bullet.' I don't need enchanting mechanics, unique magic items in a book, crafting systems, special classes to craft these, or anything else to make this happen. If a player legitimately saves this otherwise typical bullet, and even chases after it if it gets lost, and says, 'This is the one, and there is no other,' - then those actions enchant that round of ammunition with the power of 'the rule of cool.'

If you start the game at level seven, you could start playing with that character.

What is not to love?

You can't do that in 5E or Pathfinder 2, or it takes weeks of play to get there if you manage to hack something similar together, and the character sheets are atrocious tax forms and need computers to figure out.

I could build that character on paper in five minutes in SotDL with simple additions and a few selections. And if you feel a level ten cap is too low, and your progressions will be capped, there are rules in one of the hacking guides for going past that level and turning into epic superheroes.

Yes, the game is a horror game, but in many ways, this game gives you the tools to build larger-than-life characters on the level of anime and manga to slap evil in the face and say, "Not today, darkness."

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Mail Room: Monsters! Monsters! (2.5 Edition)

I love this game.

I played Tunnels & Trolls since the late 1980s when we picked up a boxed set of the 5.5 rules, and this has been one of our beer & pretzels favorite RPGs ever since. Recently, Tunnels and Trolls was bought by a company, and one of the creators (Ken St. Andre) resurrected one of his T&T variant games, Monsters! Monsters! and published a new game using similar rules.

I still can't wait to see which direction T&T goes in with its new owner, so all the best to them. I am still a fan.

The Monsters! Monsters! rules are T&T adjacent, with a few changes. Missile combat is highly simplified from the confusion in the newer versions. There is a Chaos Factor involved on every turn for every player. Adventure points are totaled from every roll made, successful or not, saving roll or attack, and you total them all up as your experience for the session. The spells go to level 5, and they promise more are coming in the 3rd edition. Since the numbers are compatible, you could also use T&T spells, classes, and equipment. Stunting has been added to the game.

But you play as monsters.

Any monster you can imagine, and the game has some hilarious options. You can play as a centaur, goblin, minotaur, troll, or serpent-man/woman. You can play as a vampire, zombie, mummy, or skeleton. You can even play a human (classes will be added in the 3rd edition). Or you can play a dragon. Or you can pick something close in size to a monster on the chart, create a unique ability, and play that. Stunting covers the "everything else" you can do, so this was an intelligent addition to the game.

The expansion, Monsterary of Zimrala, adds 100 more monster types to play, including demons. This also adds a science-fantasy campaign world.

But what do you do?

You start in a dungeon, and you do whatever you want. Perhaps a band of adventurers is prying about, looking to take your treasure? Perhaps a band of drunken dwarves is trying to dig through your lair? Perhaps the servants of a mad wizard are coming down to use your body parts as spell components? Perhaps one of the monsters in the dungeon has been captured and hauled off to the local town to be auctioned away, and you need to rescue the fellow creature?

Your choice of what type of monster to play will define how you complete these tasks. My giant slug is strong, can take significant damage, and has pitiful scores everywhere else, even down to 10%  in DEX and CHR. His speed is 15% of a standard 3d6 roll. He could possibly frighten people away and has poison slime. What do you do with a big, slow, unintelligent character like that?

The fun is figuring it out.

There may be a part of the adventure where you must sneak in and impersonate human guards or villagers. Which one of you could do that and how? Does one of you have mind-control or charm powers, and you could get a hapless fool to do it? Do you have to dress your skeleton up as a guard and put cow eyeballs in his head and skin on his face so people think he is human? What happens when one falls out or he loses his face?

Maybe the giant slug sits in a cart, and you dress his upper part as a guard puppet and cover the rest of his body with hay, hoping no one asks him to get off the cart. And the goblin hides in the back to speak for him.

This is roleplaying and creative problem-solving at its finest.

And you aren't these 'perfect people' either - you are monsters trying to make up for your weaknesses using humor and ingenuity. There is always a brute force in the end, but we wouldn't want to be attracting higher-level heroes to the town because we sacked it accidentally, would we?

The more stupid and devious you solve your problems, the better. If you can blame the idiot villagers for all your chaos, all the better. If you game-master this game, try to make problems the monsters need to solve using dumb plans and craft situations that they may find difficult to just beat their way through. This would have been easier had someone picked something that could pass for a human, but we will still try, regardless. And given your saving rolls are your adventure experience, the more rolls you make devising a crazy plan, the better.

And those know-it-all perfect, high-level, wealthy jerk adventurers will get what's coming to them someday.

And with the character improvement system, there is no limit to how far I can improve my slug, and even raise his IQ and LK to levels where he could cast spells or SPD to a level where he could outrun a horse. As a house rule, I could say new abilities could be bought like ability scores, so if I wanted wall-crawling to use and make saving throws off of, buy it up like a new score (and attack powers do 1d6 per 10 points of score, plus combat adds). Or give a unique ability a flat cost, like 100 AP per "level" of power, and count simple ones (like human speech) as a level one only.

Are the rules balanced? No. Some backgrounds are far more potent than others, and your "level" is determined by your highest attribute divided by ten. So you will have monsters of different power levels in the same group, but due to the costs of raising attributes, things will balance out eventually. Does it matter? No. This is a fun game about monsters trying to solve problems. The smallest fae could do things the giant dragon could not. If you are playing a game to kill things and celebrate the acquisition of player power over everything else, play D&D.

Monsters! Monsters! is a game played for chaos, laughs, silly adventure, and fun. The monsters are wildly different in terms of power and ability. So you play a weak skeleton? So what? The advancement system is there to improve your character to incredible heights of power. It will take work, but you can make that skeleton as powerful as the dragon.

But you don't have to be to have fun.

This game isn't about power. It isn't about faux-pretend self-insert dungeon fashion. This game isn't about the false dreams of opiate heroism that traditional mainstream fantasy sells you.

It is about fun and creativity.

It parodies the genre and skewers it in the most self-reflective and hilarious way possible.

Those smug, round-cheeked, happy, perfect, well-to-do, self-centered, idealistic fantasy iconic character archetypes games shove in your face as crass identity marketing aren't the heroes. They are the villains.

The fewer of those narcissistic jerks there are in this world, the better.

They may be attractive and influential people, but all they want to do is lock you in their dungeons, vivisect you, use your body parts for potions, enslave you for their schemes, train the dragon as a prestige mount, use you for pet battles to entertain their children, kill you for gold and XP, slay your tribe because "you are all worth XP," think battling you is exciting dungeon combat encounters to entertain them, make you fight in their gladiatorial arenas, expect hero worship, and use you to kill other adventurers (and loot their stuff for their wealth) in their pyramid scheme dungeon builds.

Beautiful on the outside.

But not on the inside.

Lessons this generation needs to learn. The crap companies sell you to part you from your wealth is worthless. Those perfect influencers just want to enrich themselves. We live in a world of lies where your health and wealth need to be constantly guarded against predatory Wall Street companies, toxic chemical foods, and the jerk influencers online who lie for their own fame, wealth, and power.

The heroes marketing companies sell you reflect those predatory ideals.

You want to be them but are being taken for a ride.

Better to be the monster.

And true to yourself.

Now, what could you do with this giant slug? I could imagine and do a lot; the adventures would be silly and fun. Adventure ideas are just taking any fantasy adventure module and flipping it around. Maybe you are the monsters, and the 'school of magic's' snooty adventurer baristas are making your monster lives difficult again this semester. There may be a perfect society in the planes where everyone is happy, and nobody needs to defend their wealth from greedy monsters.

Maybe there is a meeting at the Caves of Chaos to discuss how to defend the place against the next group of entitled first-level idiots coming there to clear the cave out like no other residents would care each time it happens, and it is your job to start the monster's neighborhood watch. Perhaps you are the denizens of the Tomb of Horrors trying to make the insane place a little more deadly to the next group that uses spoilers to get through it. Someone could play the demi-lich and bark orders at his minions. Someone could play the roller elephant, show up in stupid places, and make elephant sounds as he crushes people in the first hall.

The adventures and scenarios write themselves.

Take any D&D module, choose a monster in any dungeon to play, flip it around, and tell yourself, "We aren't stupid."

Then, go from there.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

White Star: Essential Books

The core book of White Star (Galaxy Edition) is essential. Note that the Galaxy Edition is the newest version of the game, including material from the Companion (the old game is still on DTRPG, so be careful buying). But where do we go from here?

White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game costs five dollars on Amazon and is one of the best, most compact, and inexpensive White Box games out there. It's digest-sized, too, so it slips right next to your core book and doesn't eat a shelf. This is an obvious buy for classic monsters, spells, magic items, and classes for a Starfinder-like mixed science fantasy game.

White Box FMAG is also d6-based, like White Box, so you do not need d4, d8, d10, d12, or d00 dice - which is nice. I enjoy the games that cut down the number of dice, and I don't have to sort through a bucket of dice to play the game. There is something magic to a fantasy game that only uses a d20 and d6, removing pointless distractions and needless dice optimization. When I play the game, I put the dice I don't need away and maybe keep out only one d100 set for tables. 

But White Box FMAG does have d12, d4, d10, and d100 charts, so they come close but their table optimization skills need a little more clarity and focus. White Star eliminates those dice entirely, and only has d6 and d20 charts.

Alternatively, the beyond-excellent Iron Falcon is another low-cost option, though this is less White Box and more of a 1e alternative, using all the dice.

Tools of the Worldshapers is a good resource, even though this seems like an earlier book, and some of the material made it into the new edition of the main game and the Galaxy Edition. They have race creation here and a balanced human option that allows for more customization. Also worth the price of the book is a chapter on faster skill advancement and a talent system that allows for even more character customization. There is also some new gear and other things you may find helpful. There are a lot of good system hacking tools here, and this will help you customize to your heart's content.

Heart of Varrul is next, a 300+ page setting and adventure path? Obvious choice. I would have put this as the number two book, but I am a system hacker and want to simulate a specific genre and setting. Science Fantasy with Magic fits in the setting, and the core book even suggests this as a campaign type.

If you go for the Varrul adventure, there is a 100+ page supplement PDF with more adventures. This is a good buy, but sadly, it does not come in a digest-sized book.

B/X Options Class Builder is another good hacking resource for making classes. Not that White Box uses the d6 for hit dice, so you will need to adjust and use White Star as a guide, with 10 HD at the 10th level being a fighter. Five to ten HD at the 10th level is the range you are working with, so a d4 class would be closer to 5 at 10, while a d10 class would be 10 at 10.

Alternatively, figure the average roll of the hit die and roll a modified d6 instead:

  • d4 = 1d6-1 (minimum 1)
  • d8 = d6+1
  • d10 = d6+2

You can use many classes here, even with the other dice referenced. Want a "Star Barbarian?" Need a "Space Sorcerer?" You got it. There are race variants here, too. Cap the levels at 10, and you are good to go. You must add White Star skills to any class you import, but using the Worldshapers book as a guide is easy enough.

And I love these "X in 6" White Box skills - they are better in every way to DC systems, roll under ability, and most any other messy hack to add skills into d20 fantasy gaming. Need a new skill? Add it, but be mindful of adding too many since you must increase the skill gain rate (Worldshapers, again).

X in 6 skills solve stat inflation, manage player expectations, allow customization and specialization, and let players focus on an area outside their class to gain non-standard class abilities. I would use these in place of most ability score checks.

There are other books in this game, all of them very interesting. The core book and the Worldshapers are the minima for pure sci-fi, and the others I consider more a hacking resource and extra stuff. Still, that White Box base game is handy to reskin monsters from. The adventures are fun, and the B/X Options book is the least needed here, but you can never go wrong with extra classes.

These are my core books for the system, and enough to provide me endless adventure and fun.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Mail Room: The Walking Dead Universe RPG - Starter Set

Does Free League know how to assemble a solid starter set? Yes, they do.

My Christmas came a little early with this one, and I am enjoying this boxed set. This is the only way to get your hands on the official Walking Dead dice, so if you are interested in the game, start here and continue on to the whole game.

  • Starter set rules?
  • Starter adventure?
  • 20 dice?
  • Maps?
  • Pre-generated characters?
  • TV show characters?
  • A threat tracker spinning wheel to put together?
  • A game box?

Yes to all of the above!

This is a Year Zero engine game, so it is at an abstract level. You could put this on a shelf next to other traditional board games, and it could hold its own. This uses the stress dice system, which is familiar if you play the Alien RPG and works well again here in this survival horror game. Under stress, people mess up, and bad things happen.

This is an impressive game if you like the show, and if you don't and feel like you should dismiss this game out of hand, don't. Even if you don't like zombie games, don't dismiss this game. 90% of it is a competent survival game, which could be played without the zombies and used as a generic Year Zero post-apocalyptic survival game. You could play this as the base engine from War of the Worlds, 2012, The Day After, to a Pandemic-style scenario, and things would work fine.

You could replace zombies with hordes of killer rats, bees, birds, ants, cockroaches, snakes, spiders, grub worms, piranhas in a water park, killer robots, nanite swarms, flying skulls of the dead, holiday shoppers, or any other 'swarm monster' and be right at home. If you know the TV series or comic, the zombies fade into the background and are more of a narrative threat like a force of nature - people are the real enemy.

Overall, this is a unique, impressive package of Year Zero fun. Yes, it is wrapped up in shiny Walking Dead wrapping paper - but this is like any other Year Zero game and a toolkit best used to express your imagination and creativity.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The d4 is a Terrible Thing

Okay, it's sarcasm time, but some excellent points are here.

Except for the d4, none of its points are good.

Especially if you step on them.

The d4 is probably the worst die ever invented. I don't like picking them up; my fingers fumble, trying to grab them. They never roll correctly, and I avoid games that use them. And if you ask me to roll multiple d4 dice for a spell, such as 4d4, and I have one?


Introducing the d4 into fantasy gaming was a mistake. I could say the same for the d8 and the d12, and I far prefer the White Box method of using the d20 and a d6 with modifiers to any of the other special dice.

When I play White Box, I have a d20 and a few d6 dice. It feels like a different game.

Even DCC uses a special rounded d4, which is a nice touch, and there are cut-ended d4 dice and d12 Roman numeral d4 dice to use as well. Anything but the pyramid dice, which I hesitate to even call dice.

Dice, by definition, roll. This die is tossed like a weapon. An anti-foot weapon.

Many games go out of their way to include the d4, justifying their use by assigning weapons damage and certain classes the d4 as a hit die. The die is associated with low damage, weak classes, and the worst weapons - a loser's die. Playing a class where that is your damage die feels like the game is punishing you with physically hard-to-manipulate dice. The d4 should be banned just because of accessibility issues.

I get it; strange, funky dice are the hobby. I collect them. But some are worse than others.

Most games I play don't have a d4 in them, except for DCC. If I do play OSR games that use them, I use a cut-down DCC set with the rounded d4 dice or the other unique versions (Roman numeral or cut-end). All my pyramid d4s are in storage.

But really, I question their use and going out of the way to use them when a modified d6 works just as well, and the average roll is only 1 off from a d6. The d8 is the same story; average-wise, there is no long-term statistical difference between a d8 and a d6+1, except in the maximum roll.

A d6-1 with a floor of one has an average of 2.66 compared to a d4 with a 2.5. If you floor it at one and cap it at four, guess what? A "cap and floor" d6-1 average is 2.5, just like a d4. Uncapped? You can roll a zero and a five, but the 0-5 range has that same 2.5 average.

5E uses a double hit point scale, and 4E uses a triple. Pathfinder 2 is an above-average numeric range game. Many newer games have many hit points, making the d4 even more pointless. Only in the OSR do you find games where the d4 is a threat since the numbers are controlled and the hit points are low. You start upping the modifiers, raising level one hit points, the die choice becomes meaningless, and the d4 is marginalized again.

When you look at it cinematically, most weapons should be a d6 damage or slightly modified off that. A deep thrust with a dagger is more damaging than an extended cut with a sword. In a movie-style game? There is no real difference or need to grade damage to that extent. A hit is a hit. Even with guns, in a movie, all damage is similar. Someone gets hit and falls down. Or takes an injury.

We tend to let special dice take over good designs just because of "the hobby."

White Box gets it right with a +2 at 18, not a +3 or +4. Anything higher than a +2 causes stat inflation on 3d6 and puts too much importance on modifiers. You start to be required to roll 4d6 and drop the lowest when you generate scores, a symptom of modifiers being far too important to gameplay.

Good design with a d4 is tricky unless you go old school. Justifying their use or trying to make them used often leads to poor design choices.

Then again, the oldest school of White Box eliminates the die, along with most others except for the d6 and d20. There is something immaculate about a d20 and d6 combo in a game like Cypher System, and that game leans heavily on a d20 while keeping the d100 viable. Only owning and using four dice is a very streamlined and enjoyable design.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Off the Shelf: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

The people who post public service warnings about this game are about as mature as the people who make lists on the other side. Everyone knows about this infamous game released in 2013. It is 10 years old and a niche product. And all but one or two spell descriptions are 'problematic' - and if you read Stephen King or Clive Barker horror books, they are not even close to that level of depravity.

Otherwise, this game is a 99.9% simplified B/X clone. Approach this game like reading an adult magazine, and you see 18+ on the cover? It means something. My problem with it is it needs to go farther. Dungeon Crawl Classics did a better job making all spells chaotic and unpredictable; this does it with only one or two and sticks too close to B/X with 99% of the others.

The Lamentations game does not go far enough.

Honestly, today? Shadow of the Demon Lord is the game people should be upset about and it does a far better job in the broader action-horror genre. Things can seriously mess your character up in this game, and they all have mechanical effects. The Lamentations game relies on GM fiat almost exclusively; in that sense, it is more old school.

I get the feeling people attack GM fiat games because they feel threatened by "god GMs." You give them one problematic thing, like a spell, and they latch onto that like someone made a personal attack on them. Even though they will never play the game and go right back to 5E after they post online attacks on the game and its community. They won't be happy until the thing they latched onto is memory-holed and disavowed by the Pope, and then they will return to their games and never play this.

The implied setting of Lamentations is fantastic. The "real Renaissance." The colonialist one.

I would rather have an original magic system based on 1800s witchcraft and religious miracles, to be honest, especially for the Renaissance and 'New World' era of this game. I would like all magic to have a chance to go sideways. I want it to be mysterious and strange rituals. A few table results from one or two spells must go farther for true horror.

The art needs to be brave and striking and challenge our assumptions.

B/X is sometimes a curse on games like this. Familiarity isn't everything. Doing your own things and creating your vibe gives you much more. ACKS 2 is doing its own thing, making new spells and changing things around, and they have a compelling and unique game and setting now.

I would love to see Lamentations go in its own direction, one based on mysticism, secret evil worship, and New World folklore, especially for this "New World" Renaissance era.

When it comes down to it, this era was one where the powerful nations of the world exploited every primitive culture around the world for wealth and riches, colonized the hell out of the world, destroyed indigenous people, enslaved populations, began the global environmental downfall, and formed today's corrupt institutions of power of the state, banking, trade, institutional education, and church.

Can you tell me another era of time in the world so ripe for a horror genre? Renaissance colonial exploiters deserve it in the worst way possible. Like how Jason Vorhees had this strange puritanical revenge streak, the horrors here are inherently anti-colonialist. In this game, explorers and settlers go to the New World and experience insane cosmic, psychological, and body horror that sends them fleeing home to the king and queen. If they survive.

Lower left and middle bottom - recommended.

D&D whitewashes the Renaissance as a 'happy adventure-time land,' which is a travesty and an insult. Read some history and discover where this 'colonialist menace' came from and how this era set up the Industrial Revolution. Yes, this is fantasy and escapism, and the world has magic - but not wearing a blindfold and ignoring the seeds of the things we deal with today is essential, too.

The socially progressive types should be all over a game and genre like this, but it remains a pariah because of one or two paragraphs. The genre and concept of this game far outweigh the problematic sentences in this game and, in fact, are par for the course, given the horror writers mentioned above.

Then again, the newer games in the genre remove any consequences and danger. This is, essentially, the 5E model - let people pretend they are heroes with nothing that can damage fragile egos. More and more games are like this, and they write death mechanics out of the rules to avoid upsetting people.

D&D was bought by a toy company and became a toy game.

This is the one huge problem with many horror games these days. You look at any classic horror movie, and characters have flaws that make them deserve divine retribution for their sins. They are flawed people, and many who "get it" often "deserve it" as punishment for their sins. You get the greedy banker, the violent criminal, the jealous boyfriend, and the envious pop star - all these are classic horror tropes for characters.

Nobody wants to play a flawed and morally bankrupt character who deserves a tragic fate.

Yet, this is horror. Punishment for our sins is the central theme.

The fun of Lamentations is playing the complete jerks of the era and trying to survive. You accept that you are playing one, which gives you the internal disconnect of not investing in your character so profoundly that losing him or her would give you a mental scar. Yes, you are the bad guys. Everyone in this era and profession was a bad guy.

Again, we were told "you are not your character" repeatedly in the 1980s and 1990s, and today's 'identity brand' marketers want us to forget that and self-insert in a game you can't die in. No matter the mental health consequences, we were told about 30 years ago.

You get these perfect characters in there, streamer personalities made for fandom, and the genre makes no sense, and it becomes like a kids' show. Oh! There is Frankenstein! Hear him moan! So scary! Oh no, the Werewolf! He howls! Everyone run! That isn't horror, that is Scooby Doo without the 1960s soundtrack.

Player protection and horror do not mix very well. Certain horror games get it right. Others miss the mark so hard it is laughable.

The Lamentations game does this through its unhinged adventures. Besides, the game is a license to be like Stephen King or Clive Barker. You don't need the spell charts of Dungeon Crawl Classics; all you need is a twisted imagination. The rules are just there to be the bare minimum. Some horror games don't do certain things due to the subject's absence in the core rulebooks. DCC does not use any adult themes. The Lamentations game does.

The door is open. You can "go there" like the other authors do. That is freedom, and freedom is good.

Some don't handle that well; I get it; there are other games for you. Ironically, this sort of game is what safety tools were designed for. Would this game be objectionable if it had safety tools written into the rules and told you to use them?

I have seen worse and more horrific things mentioned in the lines and veils they use in safety tools.

Those tools enable them all. 

In the same game. 

To a degree greater than one random chart result. 

And potentially between players.

GM fiat? I am more worried about what players will do to each other.

And safety tools are one horrible viral news story away from being banned by Wall Street in mainstream games. I support them, even though I know where this is all going. You have a right to use them before they get taken away. And even after that point.

I still like the Lamentations game for everything it isn't. Some B/X implementations are overdone, with more being more. This is the bare minimum needed to play the modules. There isn't a bestiary. There aren't thousands of generic magic items. There aren't dozens of classes and ancestries.

Part of me feels that "the door is open to anything," which is why people don't like this game. It could hurt you. But that is the point. Even if I used safety tools with this game, I would just fade to black and have the same thing happen. If the situation could not be resolved, the character would vanish, fate unknown. But people are afraid of GM fiat. D&D has been moving away from that full speed for the last 20 years to embrace D&D as a toy.

Part of me feels some of the adventures for Lamentations have dipped into too much of the silly and stupid. Some of them feel like DCC adventures. Perhaps this genre is better done by games like Zweihänder, and Lamentations has left it behind for the ultra-strange, proto-sexual, and goofy.

But without GM fiat, there is no horror genre.

There has to be that fear. 

This is the genre we all agreed upon.

Opening this book is the same as pressing play on a horror movie.

Or at least, it should be.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Off the Shelf: White Star

I had White Star boxed up in a post-OGL funk about d20 gaming in general. Mind you, D&D 5 is still on my "sell it all" list, and I will get those books ready to ship soon. If a book brings me negative vibes and feelings, it gets put away, and these days, it gets sold. 5E alone isn't at fault; the Wizards team is, and D&D is still dead to me.

This was a mistake; this one is one of my best sci-fi games.

It is easy to underestimate and dismiss this game, but it is good. It has a sort of Guardians of the Galaxy feeling to the proceedings, with a mix of anthropomorphic kin, aliens, and humans. You can make up a race (pick 2 special abilities or modifiers) and insert it or do race-as-class. Stars Without Number feels more Traveller and Star Trek to me. This feels like space dungeon crawling.

Frontier Space is still my best Star Frontiers replacement, and I have that on my shelves. But FS doesn't do B/X and White Box very well, and I need a space fantasy game with good compatibility. Yes, I have Stars Without Number, which is also great. But something about the digest-sized, straightforward, no-frills White Star implementation perfectly emulates Swords & Wizardry White Box, which only uses a d20, d6, and maybe the d00.

d20, d6, and d00 are the Cypher System dice, and games that use this set have an elegant and streamlined feeling that I love. I never knew eliminating the d8, d12, and d4 could speed up a game so fast and shift the focus back to the story and away from the rules - but it is true. Never having to roll a d4 again is also excellent, especially since classes are so tied to them (thief, rogue) that the little caltrops-like and impossible-to-pick-up pieces of triangular plastic junk drag those classes down.

When you have too many dice, you start inventing reasons to use them, which puts too much focus on the dice and rules. Without them, and with a single modified d6 for damage rolls, your design goes from cluttered to elegant. The average roll between a d4, d6, and d8 is only a 1-point difference, and you could do all this with a d6, plus or minus one. The die size matters far less than the fixed modifier. White Box fixes the out-of-control die roll modifiers in B/X and reduces the need for stat inflation.

Without the extra dice and "+3 at 18," you are not getting less of a game - you are getting more. I used to feel White Box was less of a fun game than B/X, but it isn't. You can roll 3d6 down the line in White Box for stats, and you can't in B/X. That graduated set of +2 and +3 modifiers (and higher) on the 3-18 scale creates such pressure for high stats the trouble starts from here and never stops.

The 3d6 generation should be the heroes. 4d6 and drop the lowest is an inflationary patch to a design flaw.

White Box implementations fix many of the problems that later editions introduced and enshrined.

White Star completely replaces Starfinder for me. If I toss in a book like White Box Fantasy Adventure (a 5-dollar book on Amazon), I have it all: fantasy races, spells, classes, plus sci-fi. The same digest-size, small shelf space packed with fun and not a bloated collection of digest books is fantastic. I feel this is what many of these giant, 8.5x11 books miss; they are too large to collect, and the size leads to bloat. I am happy with a tightly-designed digest-sized game with familiar rules.

Downsize your roleplaying game collection, and not just in the number of books. If you give a company like Paizo or Wizards a 600-page 8.5x11 book, they will pack it with filler and hide it with great art. You get an indie doing a digest-sized White Box genre implementation and have my attention. You shrink that book, and the designer must do severe game-design flex to fit all the rules while avoiding bloat.

Games are the same as electronics; the smaller they get, the better the design must be. The cleaner the UI needs to be. The smaller the game, the better the user experience needs to be.

Only $5???

Two digest-sized books, White Star plus White Box, give me more than two shelves of Starfinder books. In White Star, starship, vehicle, and mech combat all follow the same formula as personal combat. In GURPS, I was doing algebra and adding and subtracting modifiers from +30 to -30 on a 3d6 scale. Starfinder and Star Frontiers need hex grids and completely different systems for every type of combat.

Starfinder has that infamous 3.5E bloat. The Wizard's design model is to write bloated games they use to sell you hundreds of pounds of filler-packed books. The design theory of Paizo and Wizards is similar to how they sold IBM mainframes in the 1960s: get you in the door and install such a bloated and heavy system you will never replace it for decades.

It is less of an engineering design theory and more of a sales and support model. And the support often sucks and breaks the system later. And you can bet your wallet these games lure you into an expensive post-sale support stream.

Shout out to Stars Without Number, a fantastic game that deserves to stand alone. This has White Box compatibility, but for some things, I feel it strays away from the simple way of handling things and gets into the weeds, ship combat, for one. The starship combat system has good details and layered tactical depth, but I want something even more straightforward. The system is designed to give every character something to do and fight boredom, but sometimes, I want to avoid all these layered rules.

Let White Box be White Box.

Having ships fight like any other character or monster is fine. The White Star number of attacks against a ship's AC, reduced ship hit points, and destroyed at zero is okay. It does what it needs to do. Mechas and vehicles work the same way. I could have a mecha (or vehicles) exploring a "mecha/vehicle dungeon" or a starship flying around a "starship dungeon," it all works the same as character combat.


My brain thanks me.

Like Cypher System, I can do more with fewer rules. I can focus on the story.

The goal is to replace Starfinder with a mix of fantasy and science fiction while keeping the standard tropes and backgrounds. Starfinder has moved on to the tax-form character record sheets of Pathfinder 2, and I wish them well, but damn, is that character sheet horrible. They are also removing a bunch of favorites from lore, like dark elves, and I like my space dark elves (and they have them in Warhammer 40K, so don't OGL me).

White Star plus White Box Fantasy Adventure is my "D&D in space." I can use all the classic monsters, reskin them, put lasers on them, make them robots, use them as creatures in cyberspace, or use them any other way without problems. I can have space wizards and a selection of magic items. I can roll a +2 flaming laser pistol as a magic item (+2 to hit, adds 1d6 fire damage, can ignite objects). The more this feels like a crazy version of "He-Man in Space," the better. Unlike Stars Without Number, this game is more goofy and lighthearted.

A simple set of rules lets everyone laugh and have fun.

Best of all, they are all digest-sized books.

Little books, big fun.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Dragonbane or Forbidden Lands?

This is a tough comparison. Dragonbane does the whole 5E cinematic combat thing so well, but it is easier. It also has a Runequest feeling, and the game's name here is innovation while embracing the best parts of modern systems. The math is nearly nonexistent. AC? What's that? Roll under your skill with no modifiers if you want to hit. Conditions are rolling with a disadvantage on skill and ability checks. If you want a d20 game that plays fast and loose while tossing out all the tedious and obsolete rules in most tabletop games, Dragonbane is it.

Solo play here is beyond excellent, on the level of heroic one-man armies. You are buffed when playing solo, giving me an epic, larger-than-life feeling.

This is the beer and pretzels fantasy game to play.

Forbidden Lands? Both are excellent games. This is survival and hex crawls. Building strongholds. Slowly uncovering a world, hex-by-hex, while tracking supplies, foraging along the way, making use of cooking skills to extend the food you find, and sometimes dying in the middle of nowhere to put down a death sticker, and begin the life of a new adventurer to pick up the torch and continue the quest.

Forbidden Lands is a more in-depth set of rules. Where Dragonbane feels like the Basic D&D of old, which delivered fast and fun gameplay, Forbidden Lands feels like AD&D to me. They aren't the same system, as these rules are not d20 - they are more the traditional Year Zero rules.

Dragonbane does not make Forbidden Lands obsolete. It may be for some groups, based on preferences of play styles.

Forbidden Lands feels much more like the "detailed sim" but with abstract survival elements. There are more rules here, and that also allows you more freedom when exploring, traveling, and surviving. All of your skills matter. A party with balanced fighting and wilderness skills shines. If you want to assemble a team of experts that can go out 30 miles over unexplored land, fight through the wilds, take on a bluff-top fortress of vile creatures, live off the land, and survive the trip home - this is your game.

All while discovering secrets and uncovering the land's mysteries and those leading into the next adventure. Forbidden Lands is still remarkable and touches that Year Zero fantasy survival game the base system does so well. It reminds me of the old Avalon Hill board games that mix exploration, adventure, and survival. It is a "living campaign world" and leverages maps you change and make your own with each play - like a "legacy" game.

Dragonbane? Dungeon crawls with a d20 flair, and the legacy junk that slows the game down is tossed out. This doesn't concern itself with living campaign worlds or simulation but delivers dungeon fun quickly and with far fewer rules to learn.

Sometimes, I want the survival simulation and to play using that "full phat" ruleset. Forbidden Lands fills that need. Granted, this is not an Aftermath survival level, and many detailed tracking aspects are abstracted, but the result is the same. Forcing a march, traveling at night, or ignoring your supplies can kill you, but you may be required to forgo safety in a maniac race against time.

I had this happen in my Road War campaign, where a character was out in the middle of nowhere with a damaged vehicle, low supplies, and weapons out of ammunition, and I wondered if they would make it back home. In Cypher System, you can burn XP for player intrusions, and I had to burn three to make it back in one piece. This is the price I pay.

The stakes are much higher in a more strict survival game without player narrative influence. And when I turn survival video games on hard mode, I get that same experience.

Dragonbane gives me that D&D 4th Edition feeling. The game they promised us of heroes and sword swinging from level one, but this time with a higher-level play that makes sense and does not devolve into tedious grinds of knocking down 1,000 hit points and doing 30 damage per attack. We had high-level 4th Edition combats where we saw where it was going early and said, "Yeah, this isn't changing; you win. Next encounter." Anyone trying to sell you on 4th Edition as-is as a solution to your gaming woes with 5E has not played it above the 15th level.

The Wizards team has sold broken high-level games as an afterthought and box-check for the last 20+ years. The lower-level play is excellent, which gives them a pass for most players. MCDM RPG feels like the next chance at a 4E-style game done right, but we shall see...

Until then, Dragonbane fills the 4E niche for me quite well.

Dragonbane is a flatter power curve, but you go from average to extraordinary. You are not scaling to absurdly high math levels, but you start to pick up skills and abilities and unlock more power as you go. You get that rag-tag collection of a mix of classic fantasy races, human-animal hybrid heroes, and instant heroic action with many hard choices. The monsters are loaded with unique attacks and abilities,  just like 4E, yet they aren't page-long blocks of obscure and mathematical stats.

Dragonbane feels like the action RPG where the monsters have these incredible scripted attacks, and the boss battles shine. This is more of a video game.

Forbidden Lands feels like Skyrim, where the game forces you to live in a living, breathing, dangerous world, and you need to live off the land to survive. This is more of a simulation.

Both are great, depending on my mood, and I don't need to play one or the other.

I can play both.