Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Shadowrun: Dated?

I looked at Cities Without Number recently to run a Shadowrun-style game, and I wondered if Shadowrun is a bit dated? Not in tech, rules, or style, but in the general sense that its story of humans mutating into fantasy races and the societal tension that causes - and is core to the story - is not unpalatable to today's gamers who prefer the Cartoon Network 'happy time friends' style of backgrounds that all get along, there is no animosity between groups, and player choice needs to be protected at all costs.

Shadowrun is infamous for its tensions between the awakened and the not, which is core to the story. Now, I checked out at 4th Edition, so I can only speak to classic versions, and this may have changed.

If Wizards or Paizo were to make this, priority number one would be to strip out anything that insinuated that any animosity or tension exists at all between anyone. The 'lifestyle brand' marketers are in charge in those places, and they cannot make anyone feel bad about their choice. If you choose to play an orc, you are celebrated and loved by the world. Same with trolls, dwarves, and elves.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

A few aspects of the setting could remain, like rich-versus-poor and powerless-versus-powerful, but the core story of the awakening happening would be pushed to the background to appease the 5E crowd. It would turn into Fantasy Hackers 2049, a 5E-style mess of 'animal cracker' sort of flavorless dough backgrounds and power-gamed classes that feel like mobile-game gimme mechanics. This modern style of 5E design feels like you won the game before you even begin, like an MMO where you are guaranteed to get to the maximum level.

Oh, and everyone would have night vision except humans.

The 5E style of game design is becoming its own predictable trope.

I don't know if there is a place outside of old-school gaming for Shadowrun. Cyberpunk 2077 made the underdog of the cyberpunk RPG movement the winner, and it would take a similar open-world experience to reinvigorate Shadowrun. But it would have to be done right and focus on the core conflicts and stories in the world rather than lean too heavily on 'this is modern D&D' for it to have meaning.

Shadowrun was designed in the 1990s during the Vampire RPG craze, so players could choose to be outcasts - and that was cool. Dark Sun also played to those feelings, and you need to understand the 1990s and RPGs to understand Shadowrun. This was an era where the Satanic panic killed D&D for us. D&D died with the mainstream 2nd Edition, and it was time to play other games that let us be the outcasts that society feared.

They did an excellent job with Battletech recently and the wargames on PC. I would love an open-world Shadowrun RPG. But I would hate to see it become another 5E and lose what made the world special.

That rebellious spirit. That sense that society disliked the awakened.

I don't want to be accepted.

I want to be cool. The outcast. The hated.

That is where you become heroes.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Fantasy Cyberpunk Games

The last major version of Shadowrun I bought into was the 4th Edition, and I skipped 5th and 6th. I hear the 6th is a complete mess, so I am not in the market until another major revision. I never liked any of the editions and the rules, we spent more time figuring out the rules than playing. I still like the concept, but the setting always felt a little forced.

We had a d20 Modern version of a fantasy cyberpunk setting when we played D&D 3.5, and it was very over the top compared to the more serious Shadowrun. It assumed a modern world, plus all the monsters and races from the 3.5 SRD were present. It was like the Urban Arcana setting for 3.5 but turned up to eleven.

When you put a full load of 3.5 monsters and races in a modern world, with magic, a lot of strange things happen. I don't even know if the world was Earth; it was some messed-up generic 3.5 setting that got shifted into a modern reality with full cities, industries, freeways, and nations. The land between cities was too dangerous to trek in, so the cities were fortress towns filled with all sorts of crazy neighbors. We had one scenario go through a slum where the PCs encountered a beholder sleeping in his home, surrounded by dozens of empty TV dinners, and the beholder hoarded televisions and had a few hundred (all turned on and in every room) in his run-down house. They let him be, and that beholder is probably still living there to this day.

There weren't really "monsters" in this setting, not how D&D has this ingrained xenophobic and genocidal outlook against monsters in the setting. If a monster was halfway intelligent, it lived in the city. If it wasn't intelligent, like a basilisk, those could possibly be tamed and kept as pets. Pretty good home security with a pet basilisk, I tell you, and the beholder had one in a doghouse out back. Like factions (drow, dwarves) tended to group in places they liked and had jobs benefitting the city. Dwarves ran the underground trains and maintained the infrastructure below the streets. Drow drifted towards security, infiltration, and corporate espionage and lived in windowless ebony tower skyscrapers - keeping with that web-like theme of their influence, isolation, and eternal darkness.

The government has to be evil (and very powerful) to keep things together, but they tolerate good factions in the city. Good factions were insular and tended to have their own communities. Dragons (with armies and control of nukes) ran the government, and they used lawful angels and devils to keep everyone in line. The angels and devils had a truce, mainly because they knew neither of them could challenge the dragons, so they acted as enforcers and "the feds." The government let everyone live as they wanted, but if things got too out of control, teams of angels and devils would sweep in to keep things from blowing up civilization. The locals had their own civil and corporate cops that handled the low-level stuff.

There were a few good dragons working within the system to make things better, and they (and their supporters) were the eternal underdogs. Demons (the chaotic ones) were the troublemakers wanting to tear it all down, and they had a couple allied factions helping them. Chaotic and violent monsters lived outside the cities where they were constant threats.

It was a cool setting, one that had a few long-lasting and popular NPCs stick with the group, so the setting always hung out there but was never used that much. It was a fun "alt-Shadowrun" with a more 3.5 flavor and a lot of zany black humor and silly monsters hanging out in unexpected places. It was almost too wild for our group's tastes, but as an exercise in imagination, it was a great alternative setting.

If I were to do this today, I would likely use Cities Without Number as the base system, and augment that with the Swords & Wizardry (revised) game for any of the fantasy stuff. I am done with the 3.5 rules, and CWN does a good job of merging the B/X combat, AC, and hit-point systems with cyberpunk concepts and plenty of random charts. And any Sine Nomine game can drop in B/X characters, monsters, races, and magic without many changes at all, and it just works.

Cities Without Number is a great "basic B/X" rule implementation, cross-compatible with everything. I am liking this system the more I read it since it allows a great deal of customization while keeping the core mechanics very rules light. Having B/X characters drop in and work as-written is also a huge plus. They assume a lower power level and like to carefully consider spells and magic before they are added to the world since high-fantasy magic can be game-breaking. I tend to agree with that assumption.

If I used Earth, I would change it so much things would be unrecognizable. The "magic storm" the planet went through would shift continents around, raise some out of the ocean, create inland seas in others, and generally mess things up to keep things fresh. you could probably hex-crawl and randomly generate the world and it would work, and just keep the major landmarks and cities in the same places and meld them in. Things outside cities are more 'Thundarr the Barbarian' ruins with chaotic monsters infesting the ruins. Call everything "The Wastes" and keep people in cities and you have a great campaign world.

That is what I did in Shadowrun 1.0 back in the day. We assumed the shift in the world destroyed the outside world, made rural areas too dangerous to live in, and kept cities their feudal cousins. Low Fantasy Gaming's excellent (and beautifully made) cyberpunk-fantasy game Lowlife 2090 does the same sort of thing, with a 5E shell and compatibility. You could run the same style of game here in 5E, with cities filled with fantasy races and wild wastelands between the major feudal population centers.

For cyberpunk, you want characters (and everyone else) stuck in cities. This is a genre requirement and sets up rural areas as no-go danger zones filled with monsters, destroyed ruins, and Max-max-style roving gangs (if you are not doing fantasy). When we finally read the Shadowrun world books for 1.0, we were a little shocked they assumed rural areas were filled with safe havens. Not in our version of the world, those hoop snakes were killers.

I like the fantasy and cyberpunk mix since it is the peanut butter and chocolate of cyberpunk gaming. The genre outgrew Shadowrun for us, which always tried too hard to explain things and make them realistic. Also, the cities outside Seattle felt 'meh' to us, and never could live up to that one amazing place - which was a huge weakness of the setting. With the Cyberpunk rules, I could make Dallas engaging as a setting, whereas Shadowrun always felt like it couldn't. Seattle became the too-popular focus of the world, like Waterdeep in the Realms, and killed the game world, and also, the game itself.

With a B/X set of cyberpunk rules, I could make all of Manhattan an arcology structure, a large sealed-off mega city run by the corps, and have the surrounding areas be crime-infested areas with plenty of places of interest to have adventures in. I could even have Manhattan Island be several competing arcologies, each run by a different mega-corp and trying to grow into each other and take each other over in a Game of Cities sort of conflict. That is a cool story.

Mixed with a cyberpunk-fantasy theme, that is an epic story, especially if you flavor the factions with traditional fantasy races and monster types. The Drow of Wall Street and their shadow dragon allies are eating up the south, with the elves and green dragons controlling Central Park and the surrounding areas, and no one gets along.

It would be a fun setting, and pay tribute to the original game that started this, but play on a wider variety of fantasy tropes.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Sci-Fi Games

I keep bouncing around these sci-fi games. I ran a Star Frontiers campaign for 30 years, and it is hard to return. I love the setting so much, but part of me says I have seen and done everything in that rules framework, and what is left? FrontierSpace is excellent, regardless. It is one of the best sci-fi games out there, and it improves on the source inspiration in every way - especially action economy.

Part of me explores sci-fi games to explore.

The 5E sci-fi games attracted me for a while, but I slowly realized they shared the same fatal flaws of 5E. Power comes too easy, the gimmie-gimmies they hand out become boring, and the challenge evaporates without fear of losing or character mortality. Most 5E games are enormous, unbalanced, and poorly tested frameworks of magic powers, and martial and skill characters get a bag of rocks like Charlie Brown on Halloween. They are often beautiful games, but the curse of 5E drags them down by replacing solid design with copy-and-paste SRD mechanics.

I love the looks of the 5E sci-fi games, but they did not hold my interest and will likely be sold.

Star Crawl is like the DCC sci-fi supplement, and it leans heavily on DCC for content. I wish this had more in the way of random tables, gear, weapons, monsters, starships, etc. If this were a 600-page book filled with crazy sci-fi adventure, it would be amazing. To get the sci-fi feeling I want, I would put a lot of work in to fill out the parts I want or keep it fast and loose.

I can see playing Star Crawl because I love DCC, and this would be a silly experience of zero-level funnels killing every red shirt on the ship and doomed starship crews flying into the sun. As a B/X style parody game of sci-fi, this works, and the fun is there.

Cypher is Cypher and excellent. This is a rules-light and generic game that does sci-fi well by not having a lot of stuff but by having excellent narrative mechanics. What the game lacks in pages of sci-fi tech and junk is a fantastic story engine that keeps going. Once I start playing Cypher, the story writes itself, and who cares about piles of sci-fi junk? Everything is boiled down to d20 rolls, and I have had car-on-car combats that were better than Car Wars, and this could not do starship combats equally well.

I could play Cypher sci-fi and have fun. The story engine works, and everything can be abstracted to fill the narrative in nicely. The treasure-like cyphers work well for the sense of wonder and discovery.

GURPS Space has fantastic characters, but the starship combat plays like a physics simulator and a game of Space War where tiny ships are vectoring and speeding past each other in the blink of an eye. Nobody can hit each other - let alone find each other. A starfighter combat typically ends with two starfighters lost in space and wondering if the other fighter they saw was real or imaginary.

I could return to this game, but I wish the starships were abstracted and fought more like characters on the hex grid. This is still some of the best hard science gaming out there, and it replaces Traveller for me.

Stars Without Wonder is another excellent sci-fi game. This game has enough 'stuff' to keep me interested and playing various sci-fi games, from starship fights to mechs. The entire game is discovery, with randomly generated universes making each new star system a potential campaign world. This is another game that replaces Traveller for me, just because of the amount of fun the game's charts create.

I could see SWN becoming my go-to sci-fi game. Frontier Space is very close just in fun factor and action economy. Still, SWN has a lot of stuff and scratches that vast-universe sci-fi itch where fleets battle, mechs wage war planets ide, and the colossal space opera of the galaxy feels as big and enormous as I envision a sci-fi game should be.

SWN reminds me of how big the old Space Opera game felt. You played that game because you wanted to feel minuscule in a vast sea of stars with a billion planets and trillions of things going on all at once. Your story happens on a few points of light, and you try to make your way through the stars and tell that tale of tragedy or heroism.

Most other games on this list feel small, except SWN and GURPS Space. And small is more a focus than an actual size of a galaxy. With 5E or even a DCC-style game, it is the dungeon that is the focus. It's the same with Frontier Space, but that game has more of a sweeping and planetary scale, like a pulp-adventure game. Cypher focuses more on a narrative than a galaxy; the universe you play in is your story.

SWN has this Space Opera feeling, where you could fly into the middle of a war between two factions you have no idea are; they are fighting in space and on the planet with mecha and troops, and you survive by getting in and getting out before either side knows who the heck you are and why you are there - and taking fire from both sides all the way.

And all the stuff is there. Your ships, those mechs, the weapons, and the rules to create the factions and world - it is all there like some fractally created Minecraft world that builds itself and challenges you to explore it.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

ACKS 2 Kickstarter: Day 3

With over $250,000 raised, 1400 backers supporting the project, and 27 days left, this is a fantastic start to the ACKS 2 Kickstarter. This is already on the high-end of the OSR Kickstarters and positioning ACKS 2 as a significant player in the OSR space.

And this is a non-OGL and non-CC game, finally free of any chains to nebulous licenses and companies seriously lacking in ethics. There is a market in the OSR outside the OGL, CC, and even 5E. Years ago, that would be unthinkable, and non-OGL games in the OSR would be dismissed.

We are entering a new era of OSR games that are more the creator's vision of a world, magic, and monsters than the B/X view of those things. This is huge. We will see games maintain backward compatibility yet push forward with new ideas and worlds.

This is the fruit of the OGL scandal coming to bear; no longer will the SRD define fantasy gaming. For the longest time, the SRD served as the 'fantasy yardstick' by which many games were measured. If Wizards had left it alone, the SRD could have been the measuring stick permanently and kept D&D on the mountain's peak. Now, designers are thinking outside the SRD box, and gamers are looking for new ideas and worlds.

The ACKS 2 Kickstarter highlights the new market we are in, and the success of this Kickstarter will wake people up.

The game has changed.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Cypher: The Better 5E

If 5E existed for a million years, I am betting Cypher System is what it would end up as.

This is a game I never thought I would understand since the layers of abstraction felt so utterly alien to me that I would not figure out how to create a character. I packed the book away and felt like the purchase was a waste of money. Then, I pulled it out and made an honest effort to determine what was happening.

People hyping this game up as a game they could not live without was what made me put the work in. Best thing since sliced bread! I never understood what they were talking about. Character creation was a mystery. The system seemed far too abstract to have meaning at the table. Everything from monsters, weapons, and powers seemed overly abstract.

And then it clicked.

Cypher simulates the 5E table-play loop perfectly. People sit around the table, managing resource pools, improving characters at milestones, trying to keep their player characters alive, finding treasures, solving puzzles, dealing with challenges, and rolling a d20.

Everything superfluous or distracts from that loop was tossed out. All the d20 scaffolding and cruft are gone, and many of the 'fake invented terms' were tossed out to keep the core gameplay loop streamlined and focused on the fun parts only.

Challenge Rating? Hit dice? Hit points? Difficulty Class? Saving throws? Proficiency bonus? Advantage? Modifiers? Lists of dozens of chained conditions? Action economies? The d4, d8, and d12? Multiclassing? One-level dips? Spell level? Inspiration? Bastions? Average party level? Flat-footed? Attack of opportunity?

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Fake, invented lingo meant to distract you. Most of it is worthless transitory values meant for exposed system math. It is like you asking me what the price of a cereal box is and me answering, "X equals 5.99!" Many of these terms were invented for 10% edge cases and then enshrined as the game's language - and then, they decided to load more rules onto the term. By default, games should be written in natural language, and special terms should be saved for things without easy replacement.

Forget the false lingo of D&D and Pathfinder and free your mind. Of course, you are replacing that lingo with Cypher's lingo, but the lingo on this side is more logically consistent and less rooted in a wargame-y, arbitrary past. You are also not dealing with 50 years of cruft and trying to keep things familiar yet modern.

You want to sit around a table and roll a d20 with friends.

Cypher gets you there in a single book with a core mechanic. The character creation and customization are on par or better than 5E. With one of the genre books supplying focused options and a few more customizations, you have a better and more complete game than a shelf full of 5E books draining your wallet dry. And Cypher is a generic game, so it really does everything.

Challenges are generic, as monsters can be just a level challenge, and that's it. The deeper you go here, the better it gets. Altering individual values for deviations from the norm is how you make monsters unique. A goblin may be a "level 1" challenge but does 2 points of damage. They may deal more surprise damage and set traps like a level 5 creature. Using the 'team up' (swarm) rules from Numenera/Strange, you can put them in four-goblin groups and have them attack as two levels higher (with a +2 damage bonus). With ingenuity and customization, monsters become deadly fast.

The resource pools are amazing. If you want depth, use a realistic wounds module and track that damage separately from the effort spent. When playing solo, watching those resource pools run dry and knowing what will happen when you lose one or two makes the tension rise. Finding a safe resting spot becomes critical for survival, and I am not talking about some closet in a dungeon somewhere.

You start cherishing and burning those XP to survive with player intrusions and rerolls.

And those start running low, and you get really worried.

Oh, and the players and referee share in narrative control. When those pools of resources run low, your characters are in danger of failing or dying. You are burning XP to shift the narrative in your favor, and you will feel the tension and excitement rising far more than listening to the door of room K23 and spending an hour fighting six goblins (and short-resting the consequences off). The more the referee awards XP, the more fluid the narrative becomes, and all sorts of amazing things can happen.

Cyphers themselves toss monkey wrenches in every situation. They are flat-out unique toys that encourage emergent behavior and roleplaying, often offering alternate solutions to problems other than 'blast them with a spell' or 'kill them all with weapons.' 5E is so limited in emergent gameplay, and the characters are almost internally focused on personal power that they become blind to alternate solutions to problems. We have murder hobos in 5E because that is what the game encourages and rewards.

Want a more fantasy-focused experience? Play the sister game Numenera; you have a world far better than anything 5E can dream of. Numenera does a science fantasy and extra-planar setting far better than the tired 5E 'great wheel' setting, and it does it with a sense of mystery and wonder - and is entirely unpredictable in terms of opponents and challenges. This setting is on par with Dungeon Crawl Classics in terms of 'I do not know what I am looking at' in terms of monsters and threats. Numenera beats the tar out of 5E's 'happy planes' and 'fantasy multiverse' offerings, where you must buy the earlier edition books to run the setting.

Numenera can be played on a wide range of flavors and feelings. You could play this as straight fantasy and have an almost Forgotten Realms feeling to the world, with ancient science making infrequent and mysterious appearances. You can play this as a better Gamma World than Gamma World. You can play this as a Heavy Metal science fantasy experience. You could play this as a sci-fi game and world. This can be played more like Rifts. This could be a horror world. A world with mechs. Thundarr the Barbarian works nicely here. A cyberpunk setting. There is a little bit of Minecraft in here. There is a space game hidden in here.

The range of flavors and ways this can be played boggles my mind. What GURPS is to universal rule sets, Numenera is to science fantasy settings - it does it all.

Combine this with The Strange? You can have characters from TV, movies, and fiction running around in your universe causing trouble - and those universes bleeding into others and taking them over to an infinite degree. These can be rebooted to be used again fresh. You can use the system to play characters inside one of those realities and have it break free from the limitations of that recursion.

You can even play characters from fiction, TV, anime, and movies. They can escape their world like something out of Last Action Hero and find themselves fighting for their lives in another movie or fictional universe. Want to have the characters from One Piece fighting Jason Vorhees at Camp Crystal Lake? Want to be a Mulder and Scully X Files agent stuck in the middle of that fight? The Strange does that.

I feel bad for the 5E players stuck in dungeons, railroad adventures, and those planes that reinforce stereotypes and Western religious paradigms. What would a place of ultimate evil look like if you were banned from using Hell, demons, and the Abyss? Who would live there? These players will never know how fantastic, frightening, unique, and alien the universe can be. They will be forever stuck worshipping the Keep on the Borderlands and thinking the Tomb of Horrors is the ultimate deathtrap dungeon.

I love those adventures but give them a rest.

Do something new.

Try something else.

If I sell all my 5E books, I would not miss them with this trio of games replacing that core gameplay experience. The character builds are better, the gameplay loop is better, the resource management is a revolution of thinking, and the shared control of the narrative allows the players to help shape the story.

Cypher is the ultimate sitting around a table and rolling a d20 with friends game.

ACKS 2 Kickstarter: Day One

Wow. I am happy to see the ACKS 2 Kickstarter doing so well. On the first day, they raised over $200,000 and got over 1,100 supporters. They blew away that first-day goal, and this campaign looks to be entering the phase where the initial level of interest is causing an outside buzz. Some drives do moderately well, and it feels like an 'oh, that's nice' feeling to the campaign.

This one is raising eyebrows, and people are jumping in just because they see so many excited. There is a level of success you can achieve where you start to draw in interest from people who would not ordinarily jump in, and I saw this last happen with Shadowdark. I hope this does just as well, and even half as well would be mind-blowing.

A few observations:

The demand for non-OGL and non-CC fantasy that has no connection to Wizards is surprisingly strong. This is the first significant 'walk away' B/X compatible game. We have had other games like Dragonsbane and Forbidden Lands, but they are a few steps removed from the B/X core style of play. Some games, like the new Swords & Wizardry, are Creative Commons games and still have that lineage. This is the first major 'walk away' B/X style of game, and it does feel like Shadowdark in a way that appeals to a large core of disaffected fantasy gamers looking for something new.

The demand for high-level play other than 'bigger numbers' and 'planar challenges' is an untapped market. There is an actual demand here for domain management, mass battles, and kingdom building. The "4X style of B/X" is a chronically underserved market. 5E, as designed, is too focused on personal power and that "MMO power curve" for expansion books supporting kingdom management to be effective - since the personal power curve outshines any kingdom management dongle books. When domain management is built into the player power curve - that is a design people take notice of. You must grab land and people to do well at high levels, and power will not just be given to you by the rules.

You must take it.

5E is moving towards this mobile-game model of granting power, giving you a free bastion at level 5, like some sort of MMO player housing, and you wonder where it comes from? Who gave you this? What if I don't want it? Did I even ask for one? The game gave it to you. It is not a part of your story or a world. It is a dialog box that pops up, giving you an 'in-game' award, and when you think about it, all of 5E is based on this design. Nothing earned, everything given.

ACKS is the opposite, assuming a player is engaged with the world. If a borderlands region is being ruled by a collection of terrible, cruel rulers - it is up to you to take the lead and change things. Or not. Still, that collection of towns, population, dense forests, and lost dwarven mines could be the core of a solid and powerful kingdom - given the proper mind to shape it.

That mind comes from the player.

And after poking around in dungeons, you begin to fight the cruel mercenaries these thugs use to keep control of these towns. You begin freeing the towns from tyranny. You begin setting up a government and building your realm. You can choose any policy, should you want to pay for it - free college or healthcare for your people? Universal basic income? Overtaxed monarchy? Colonialist power? Evil kingdom or good? Warmonger or peacemaker? The game does not tell you what politics to have. All of this is your choice; just be able to pay for it in terms of gold and blood.

And if there are kingdoms out there you disagree with, like that colonialist slave-owning kingdom next door - they become the next target. Again, the game does not tell you what politics to have, so whatever you believe or think would be fun to try to make work, you can try to make it happen. If there are certain government types you do not like - make them the bad guys.

You can play high-level games without running a domain, but having a domain makes high-level play much easier and faster to advance in. You get to play with all sorts of cool things, like magical research. If an evil dungeon appears, handle it yourself, or put a 10,000gp bounty on clearing it from your treasury and watch the adventurers rush in.

Congratulations on the spectacular start of ACKS 2, and I hope this rises to extraordinary new heights. We need a solid non-OGL B/X alternative game, and this one is getting a lot of interest and excitement. If you are in the campaign, help spread the word! Talk about the campaign, and let's get the word out there about this eye-opening start!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

ACKS 2 Kickstarter Live!


The ACKS 2 Kickstarter is live! They have an early-bird special for backers today, so if you are interested or want to support this, now is the time.

I like this game; it is finally breaking away from the OGL and doing its own thing. The OGL mess is turning out to be great for creators who break away and decide to write from their hearts and realize the dreams for their world that do not involve other people's IP.

This is one of the first major B/X games to make the break, and this version is leaning heavily into the middle and end games into conquering and domain management. This is one of the first B/X games that do a campaign like Crusader Kings III, letting you go from zero to the ruler and manage mass battles worldwide - and take part on the battlefield as a hero unit.

To see a B/X game break these chains (and maintain compatibility) and do its own thing turns a new page for the OSR. Finally, a game that promises (and delivers) more than just 'high-level adventures' with more math and three-digit numbers.

And sorry, One D&D - giving us a 'bastion' as some sort of 'MMO player housing' you automatically get at the 5th level is just lame. I would prefer to clear the surrounding area, pay for construction and staffing, and have that stronghold become the capital of a new nation. And I want rules to support kingdom building and management to the maximum level - and for my hero to take part in battles.

I don't want a freebie gimmie (likely used to sell you VTT cosmetics); I want full rules and support to live that dream. The fact that a company that makes billions of dollars won't even touch domain management (even as an add-on), but a small OGL-free Kickstarter game can, is telling.

Demand more from your fantasy gaming.

Very excited about this!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Pathfinder 2: Goodbye

I tried.

With the book prices going up to 80 dollars for the revised edition, I am selling my Pathfinder 2 (OG) collection. This is a series of me selling things and explaining why these games never worked for me. Perhaps people looking for non-revision books will find fun with these, which is what I hope.

I never played this (outside of the PF2 Beginner's Box, which I am keeping for the maps and pawns), and it felt like it strayed too far away from what made Pathfinder 1 so special to me. The danger of the world, the epic fantasy, the 3.5-like 'better Greyhawk than Greyhawk' world, and the feeling the world was grounded yet fantastic.

I am keeping my Pathfinder 1 collection.

Solo play with this level of rules complexity hurts this game tremendously. I can't do it and keep everything straight. I immediately feel like Atari 2600 with too much on the screen, and everything in my brain starts blinking in and out of frame as I try to figure out what rule to read next. The Beginner Box did not prepare me for the whole complexity level of the game.

The PF2 character sheet killed this game in my play sessions; I could never create a character without Hero Lab. The sheet looks worse than many tax forms and is a complete failure in game design. People play on VTTs or use Hero Lab to make it manageable (shout out to the excellent Pathbuilder). I am not an apologist for this terrible sheet; it makes Rolemaster look simple.

The revised edition purging the OGL and eliminating the classic monsters and races is also a huge negative. The dark elf race is always a part of my vision of Pathfinder; that 'better Greyhawk' feeling needs them, and people say, 'house rule them in' to have their memory holed from canon feels wrong. Erasing a race from lore is wrong, no matter how you present it.

It is funny since ACKS 2 is doing the same thing, purging the OGL and doing their own thing. I applaud that since that game and world were never too linked to the original OGL universe, and it feels right they break loose and create their own identity. ACKS always had its own world, and cutting free the OGL baggage lets them find that identity - otherwise, they will always be compared to B/X. With Pathfinder 2, the promise of continuing what we loved about 3.5E feels like it is being broken with the revised edition and is the end of an era.

I commend Paizo for merging the game with Starfinder 2 and wish them well. This needed to happen a long time ago, and letting Starfinder limp along with 3.5 rules (even though I like 3.5 better) was a huge mistake.

The world has also moved on to a more steampunk tech level, and it does not feel like a fantasy world. The art feels heavily censored and toned down from the original Conan-feeling art of the first edition, and the game's world feels too safe for my tastes. I also have an issue with the game getting too 'cute' and fan service with many choices.

I could live with all that, but playing this solo is too much for one person. This game is better with others, where each player knows their class and is an advocate who knows the rules and tricks for that class. Continually referencing chained tags to apply effects feels like D&D 4E, and it is horribly slow. PF2 is the Advanced Squad Leader of fantasy gaming.

3.5 was the best version of D&D we had since the year 2000. It is a horrible mess, but removing B/X from the equation, the 3.5 edition still feels enough like classic D&D to pass as the game. 3.5E is a mess, but it is easily understood and has clear rules. This can be played solo.

This is the big "if" with my Pathfinder 1e collection. I have better fantasy games than this: Old School Essentials, Swords & Wizardry, Castles & Crusades, and Dungeon Crawl Classics offer more fun for fewer books. If I had to keep one game? Dungeon Crawl Classics. There isn't much difference in what I do and how I play DCC vs. PF 1e.

Pathfinder 1e feels like the game I loved, but it got replaced by better games that do the same things easier. I do not have to work as hard in DCC to get the same tone and flavor as how I ran Pathfinder 1e. With Pathfinder 1e it is:

  • List of special rules for a gonzo tone
  • Characters designed a certain way
  • Lists of situations that come up
  • World designed for the flavor and tone
  • Lots of RP assumptions
  • The ban list
With DCC, that is all baked in. With 5E and PF 2, forget it, the default tones of those games are already in place and take over the game. 5E has a 'cosmopolitan planar' setting that takes over the game, while PF 2 has a 'steampunk modern aesthetic' that rules how worlds act and are built. It takes even more effort with these games to get them to work and feel right for a custom setting, and you have to ban a lot of character options since they do not fit tonally.

The one game that changed everything for me is the Savage Pathfinder game. Savage Worlds is a better set of rules than 3.5E, and it removes the cumbersome rules while keeping the 1e feeling and flavor. The world and characters are young again, and the fantasy world feeling is there. This version of the world and rules feels fresh to me, and it does not have that historical baggage the 2E game puts on the original. I hope this product line continues with the classic adventure paths, but I can see why it wouldn't if it gets popular and competes with the new stuff.

Still, my big 'so what' with Savage Pathfinder is I want to do my own thing, and the new savage Fantasy Companion fits the style of games I want to play with the system. If the world and PF 1e style were necessary, I would play Savage Pathfinder. How do I use the Savage Worlds game? Fantasy Companion and a DIY world.

Still, I have the boxes on order, and I will assemble the sales slips for my PF 2 books soon. The game is getting shipped out. I was excited about this game, but it wasn't for me, and it did not work out. Hopefully, others can have more fun than I did with these books, and I send them into the wild to be loved and treasured by others. Since the OGL version of PF 2 will be a collector's item someday because it will go out of print, these will find a lovely home somewhere.

If you are having fun, more power to you. My story with this game ends here.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

By Far, My Favorite B/X

Dungeon Crawl Classics isn't a B/X clone.

It is a 'B/X clone' experience simulator.

Fifty years of D&D has done a lot to jade us to fantasy, and the tropes are tired. The monsters are commonplace and not extraordinary or scary. The classes have been reduced to mathematical charts and progressions. The spells are MMO 'click the button' affairs, where you wait for the cooldown and click again.

Magic isn't magic anymore.

It is all math. And math isn't fantasy.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

How do we recapture that feeling where we, as kids, did not know what a beholder or doppelganger was, and those monsters surprised us at how alien and strange they were? The terror of seeing a mind flayer for the first time? What was it like to learn of the drow - elves underground? The insane displacer beast and intellect devourer? Dragons could be blue and shoot lightning bolts? What?! This was like fighting aliens! We didn't have a concept of these monsters, what they could do, where they came from, and their motivations.

This is what made these games so great in the 1980s, and so dangerous to young minds.

They made us dream and think outside of our limited experiences.

These days, the tyranny of trademark and copyright law enshrined all these monsters as the soul-sucking 'Product Identity' of companies, and they were not scary anymore. The mystery was gone. Articles were written explaining the ecology of everything. The unknown was known. The fun became 'could you beat the math.'

Spells, classes, names, magic items, and many other things were product identity, product identity, and product identity. It is not D&D unless it has this. It is not fantasy gaming unless it has that.

We never think outside of our own experiences. D&D has become the game to reinforce the status quo.

When Wall Street bought D&D, it died. The game became marketing, and a way to push copyrighted content into revenue streams, and they put the same old monsters and magic on endless repeat. Worse, the real world is in the game now, muddled with today's fights on social media, and we can never escape and dream outside of the world we live in.

We can never escape this world.

The game keeps pulling us back into it.

And it isn't because the 'designers are stupid' - they aren't. Corporations don't allow them to empower people to dream and think outside of those sixty-dollar books and VTT experiences. You will get a million dreams and ideas at the low levels of employees, and they will die on a whiteboard when management says no.

Not profitable.

This does not push our IP.

Won't move the needle.

Not synergistic with our corporate holdings.

I have been in that place before. Boundless dreams and energy in an office of a creative company and every idea you have isn't heard. You eventually feel you are wasting your time. Your ideas and energy fall on deaf ears. This is when you leave to chase dreams because they won't happen there.

And it isn't always management's fault, there are times they want to listen.

But they can't.

If One D&D were doing the right thing, it would not ship with a monster manual or book of spells. Just creation systems for everything, random charts, and ways to put together spells. The game should tell you, ''Come up with it all yourself."

But it would fail.

Nobody has been 'trained' to think for themselves.

And this isn't the D&D 'brand.'

People criticize DCC for being 'chart heavy' when the charts aren't the point. They miss the point so hard it hurts. You can make up your own results, given a spell check number. Make it similar in magnitude and effect to whatever is on the chart, and you are good to go. If it seems better and would make for a better story and effect - do that instead! The charts are just there to free your mind from what you think a spell does.

The DCC magic charts are a deprogramming tool.

They are not magic spell results.

They are all suggestions.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Once you realize this, your mind breaks free, and you begin to see the wonder and power of magic again. This same thing happens in the game repeatedly when you start to unlock more of the systems and methods. You begin to make your own monsters. You realize that thieves and fighters can be excellent again. Clerics serve mysterious gods. Mages can call upon the powers of unknown alien entities. Magic items aren't 'things on a list.'

Even the concept of what a dungeon is begins to change. You could be shrunken to microscopic size and fight floating alien virus monsters. You could enter the kingdom of lost souls. You could adventure in a titan's shoe. Fight along the branches of the miles-tall World Tree. Wander through the veins and arteries of the Earth. Fight on rooftops or the tops of zeppelins and enter a kingdom in the clouds. Visit an upside-down realm. Go to a place where water is breathable, and air is not. Be turned into spiders and crawl along webs, fighting fly-creatures and centipedes.

You begin to feel like a kid again.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Star Crawl

These Dungeon Crawl Classics 'zine games are fantastic. The art is primitive, but it has this DIY charm, and I love it for its jankyness. It looks like something drawn by a 12-year-old in a school notebook, but the sci-fi mod for DCC and MCC is amazingly well done and solid. The game is designed to expand, and if you wanted to create a custom weapons and armor list for a genre, it would be an hour's work, and your creations add to the fun.

These are 'zine games. DIY is part of the fun.

DCC is this game that easily expresses any idea with 3d6 stats and a dice chain. It feels like a core set of B/X rules and concepts that people can turn into anything from space games to sitcom simulators. The simplicity and unified dice-chain mechanic, along with the classes that contain genre rules, make a potent combination where all you need to do for genre simulation is come up with a few 10-level classes of the significant archetypes, loosely base them on DCC classes, and give them a few abilities to simulate the genre.

For sitcom crawl, just go to TV Tropes and base them on that. A day's work, at best, for those five types, and it would be a fun project.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

So, Star Crawl? Is it a serious game? Does it have to be? It can or it can't - that is up to you. I could play Star Crawl Trek with this and zero-level funnel a group of red shirts on a humorous 'everybody dies' away team mission of death. You could do a semi-serious Trek-style campaign with this system, too, and toss in some randomness from a game like Stars Without Number for system generation, and you are all set.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Retro horror low-budget sci-fi? Star Crawl does that very well. I could play anything from Aliens to Roger Corman with these rules and have it work out great. Limit race selections to humans and ignore the zany art. I like the inclusion of psionics since that is one of those 1980s tropes for sci-fi where you always have the strange, mysterious psionic crew member that nobody trusts.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Could this be done seriously? I don't see any reason why it couldn't. The tone can shift quickly in DCC from zany to abject horror, and once you set the ground rules for a campaign, you play it how it plays. The rulebook may have silly pictures, but art like this inspires me to play this entirely seriously and with a grim and deadly tone more suited for games like Mothership. If I reimagined the rulebook with pictures like the above, this game would turn serious fast. I may need to hack in a gear list to give that part of the game more heft, but that is both possible and an enjoyable project to work on.

The Operation Bughunt game may be better suited to the previous genre, and this is another excellent 'zine game. What is more fun is both these games work together, with Star Crawl handling the more 'aliens and psi-powers' Trek, Lucas, and Firefly side of sci-fi, with Bughunt being the military-style James Cameron Aliens sci-fi. These two games' classes, weapons, and systems mesh perfectly with DCC or MCC, and they all work together. This looks the most slick of all the games here, but that is cool; they are who they are. Looks do not make something better, only different and cool.

I like both games; they are small enough to sit beside each other on my shelf and be used together.

Take a group of space marines or a Trek Crawl away team through Sailors of the Starless Sea? Fire in the hole! A survey team of space scientists in over their heads? Go for it! This is your game - not some group of game designers - and how you have fun is how you should play! The community comes up with fun stuff, which can also be added to your collection. Your stuff, homebrew, house rules, classes, and equipment lists are just as valid.

In fact, reskin any DCC module for sci-fi, and suddenly, you have dozens of complete adventures. Some are already sci-fi, like Purple Planet, so no changes are needed. Do the old 'disable or destroy the ship' trope and get going.

Nothing is stopping you.

Would Cephus Engine be a better game for this? If you like that Traveller 2d6 vibe and huge gear lists where every credit matters, then yes. I would stick with the DCC systems for something more rules-light and story-based, with simple class-based archetypes. DCC makes horror easier, too, since dying is expected and frequent, and character replacements are fast to create. Cepheus is more 'space sim' whereas DCC is more 'space dungeon.' This is still a fantastic sci-fi game and one of my top picks for that generic hex-crawl space gaming I love.

Sometimes, I look at these massive 5E sci-fi games and just get this feeling of designer-self-importance and pretentiousness that these hardcovers with hundreds of pages can deliver. 5E delivers some of the most slick and professional presentations in gaming, but most of it is filler, and it breaks easily when the multiclassing starts. 5E can never be play-tested enough to work correctly. And 5E is falling into that 'corporate gaming' place where the whole hobby begins feeling like layers of grifts.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

The whole Goodman Games vibe is like this 'hippies in the back of a van' culture of roleplaying and gaming. It is communal, free-spirited, for the love of the hobby, open, chill, and relaxed. We all get along here, dude. All ideas and people are equal. All art is good. Your thing is your thing.

What defines good?

How fun something is.

If it looks like hand-drawn art, that is part of the secret groovy code. What matters is how it plays and gets along with others, not how it looks. Be chill, get along, respect others, and give peace a chance.

If something is broken? We find a cat to fix it, baby. Or we do it ourselves. Or find someone in the community to help. It's all cool, man.

To survive, our hobby must be more hippie, anti-corporate, groovy, and chill. We are in this together!

Do we need to wait for the store to sell us new classes and options for sixty or more bucks? Or a paid-for VTT with digital content? No way, man, don't think like that! We have many creative and cool people right here! Why do we need to send money to the fat cats on Wall Street? Our gaming hippie commune can do it ourselves, for cheaper and better. Write it out on notebook paper and staple it together, man. That is our rulebook.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

It's all good.

Chill and have fun.

Do what you want to do.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

In Defense of Complexity

Complex games are rewarding in their own right.

I look at outstanding PC wargames, such as Hearts of Iron IV, which are complicated, deep, and in-depth. They have a steep learning curve just to play at a basic level. Is it "gatekeeping" for them to be so complex? No, people who enjoy that level of depth will put in the time, and the community that forms will be a dedicated group of faithful fans who can understand the game, and for that camaraderie around the time and effort everyone needed to be able to 'talk the talk.'

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Some games require you to put in the time, which is fine. There are alternatives, World War II strategy games made for everyone and easy to pick up and play at a high level with minimum effort. The Panzer General series (and the modern Panzer Corps II) are good examples of games that are easier to approach but still have depth when you put the time in. Plenty of others, including the classic Axis and Allies series, are even more accessible to approach.

I would get why someone would want to play OSRIC over Swords & Wizardry or Castles & Crusades. The community that forms around a game that requires some effort will be better than games where anyone can play. This isn't 'elitism,' but it is a natural formation of a community that appreciates a little more depth and complexity, and the people who put the time in to be a part of that community will be able to play with people who have the same interests and commitment to the game.

This is also why the 'mainstreaming' of a game isn't always to the game's benefit. You invite everyone in, and you will get a lot of less-than-interested players who will drag the community down. They will also chase fads and leave when something else better comes along.

Accessibility and simplicity are not always ideal goals to strive towards.

The significant problem with complexity is if it serves no purpose, nor does it create an emergent strategy. If all that complexity adds nothing? It is a terrible design. This is why great game designers matter, not people paid by the word or can argue the loudest in front of a corporate whiteboard in a design meeting. A great designer can use complexity to significant effect and create strategies you need to discover - and the only way to get there is through putting the time in.

Even if you were told the strategy on a website or YouTube video, you can't walk in and pretend to be an expert if you can't understand the game. I have had this happen since D&D 3E, players with a cocky self-assurance that they are some 'great player' when all they do is read message boards.

I read the same board. I know exactly who you are and what you are doing.

Some companies write games with these 'fake experts' in mind. The people who do this are often very vocal advocates of a game since they can pretend to be something they are not. This is the social media age of the lie. You give people a chance to shortcut and impersonate knowledge and experience, and they will be very vocal in getting others to go along.

The classic Aftermath! is one of those games where you need to learn how it works. We were lost in this game when all our friends were playing AD&D. Few knew why we loved this game so much, and we dove into the complexity and depth - only approached by GURPS today, and knowing how everything worked and being fluent in this game put us in a very select few gamers. Did we have many to play with? Not really, but the players we did find were exceptional and an incredible group of friends to hang with.

These days, companies don't use depth to draw you in; they sucker you in with hundreds - or thousands - of dollars of book purchases and 'sunk costs' you put into a game - and you can't leave. And the books are expensive, low content, and full of filler. Aftermath was just one game that cost us twenty bucks back in the day, and while that would be more today, it was only three books (plus an 8-dollar module) - and that was all we had for the 15 years the game lasted us.

I get the same feeling from GURPS today that I did Aftermath back in the day; the more time I put in, the more rewarding it gets. Yes, it is insanely complicated and deep, but the community is excellent, and the rules are immortal. Sometimes, I play a simple game and create characters - it goes nowhere. It doesn't have anything to keep me invested.

And complexity isn't 'knowing the cheat builds' like in some games, where you 'dip' and take levels in this and that to snap together a rule-breaking build. There are 'cheats' in GURPS, but those are quickly banned at tables where you don't want the cheese. GURPS is a game where you use the rules to build a game, so both players and the referee come in with a different attitude - you aren't playing to break the game. You are playing to create a game together.

But to equate complexity with gatekeeping is just silly and foolish.

Some people like depth; to them, the complexity isn't a waste of time.

And the simple 'mass market' games just don't hold their interest.

Sunday, October 15, 2023


I got the hardcover atlas for this yesterday, and it is a fantastic resource. If you want a world all mapped out - and you can fill in the rest - this is the setting to get. A few products dive deeper into the nations, locations, and specifics. But they sell a 'player version' with no landmarks - just cities, and if you want to add all the places of interest yourself - you can do it.

This world can be any rules system, from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy to your favorite OSR to Advanced 5E to Dungeon Crawl Classics. It is a blank slate, all mapped out, and you can do the rest.

I initially used this world for a Pathfinder 1e game, but I am playing Dungeon Crawl Classics now, and the world seamlessly supports that - and all the craziness of a game like that. For any of these points of interest, I could create a crazy DCC adventure out of just the name alone. They would be more realistic places in a more realistic game like GURPS. If i find a set of rules down the road I like, this can be used without too much problem.

I like this world better than legacy settings, such as Forgotten Realms and others, just because of this setting's versatility and DIY nature.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Low Ability Scores

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

We rolled 3d6 down the line back in the day, and we loved our weak characters. These days, your ability scores are cemented in and locked, with point-buy systems ensuring everyone has a balanced starting set of scores. Ability scores go up as you level as a part of character progression. The optimizers and 'make everything fair' crowd have taken over the hobby.

And it sucks.

Old-school games don't have ability score progression. This means we were free to hand out ability score points as a form of alternate advancement. Back in the day, I had a thief character (DEX 14, a great score) do a fantastic tightrope walk over a market filled with soldiers looking for that character. This was an incredible act of bravery and risk, and as a result, I awarded a point of DEX as a reward and reflection that moment added to that character's story and development.

No rule told me to do that.

No level chart told the player to expect it.

And there was no way to buy it with experience.

There is a consensus in Dungeon Crawl Classics that gods and patrons can award ability score increases as a reward for completing quests and tasks. This is also a great way to motivate players and create interest in serving an in-game power. The referee should ultimately decide, and this form of alternate advancement should be 100% under the referee's control.

For that matter, feats should also be 100% under GM control as an alternate advancement. Every character should have 6-9 "feat slots," the referee should award those as the character adventures, trains, and commits incredible acts of bravery and daring.

Did your level 4 character accumulate three feats through training and adventures?

Not a problem.

This is not unfair, unbalanced, or breaks the game. This is who the character is at this point. If that character is more powerful than the others, that is fine. When it purchased TSR, Wizards tried to 'balance' all the builds and create a unified power curve, trying to replicate the Magic The Gathering design model in the game, which destroyed the classic AD&D power curve and reward system.

D&D 3 was a complete takeover of the referee reward system, and this has been 20+ years of mess, and this 'designer knows best' mentality. The level charts were expanded, and 'game-balanced' rewards were attached. Before the third edition, the gaming group knew best and determined rewards—Wizards enshrined 'game developers' as the people who control your game.

Not you.

Your power was taken away by what's printed in the book. You must pay Wall Street for balance and rewards and buy the expansion books. The 'game designers' know best. You have now been monetized.

Today's games, from D&D 3 and beyond, take too many game design lessons from mobile games; it is all crap. As these companies increasingly try to 'monetize' tabletop games, we will see these 'mobile game design features' aimed at monetization creep in - and many of those with One D&D already.

This is why big companies are slowly killing Rule Zero.

As a referee, the best thing you can do to 'take your game back' is take control of advancement, powers, and rewards - throw away the charts made by paid game designers. Use a slot system for feats and grant ability score increases as rewards. This is much easier to do in OSR games than in 5E because they purposefully tangled up the power curves of anything past 3E to prevent you from modding and doing your own thing.

Friday, October 13, 2023

AD&D Alternatives

If you want to play AD&D for the street cred, play OSRIC instead. This is a better place, full of community support, and the game is better organized and laid out. People write indie adventures for this game, and while this game is still in the OGL shadow, that storm seems to have passed, and we are back to where we were in that uneasy peace between the open-source community and Wizards.

This game is the closest you can get to AD&D without the books.

If you are spending time in a game and community, supporting one where people can independently make a living from what they love is better. You will be another player in this circle, add buzz and excitement, and support people who share the same passions. AD&D is not an open game - OSRIC is.

Regarding open games, Swords & Wizardry is another incredible option for the AD&D-like space. This has been completely rebuilt for the Creative Commons license, meaning the game will continue forever with zero legal worries. Conceptually, S&W is the more accessible game of the two, with far fewer tables, less page count, and roughly the same experience - minus the AD&D complexities.

If you like the AD&D fiddly bits, especially the "you go on segment X" flipped initiative system in OSRIC (where your party rolls 1d6 for the other side), damage versus size, and the delayed casting times - go with OSRIC; you will be happy.

If you want instant casting, one saving throw number, one damage rating per weapon, fewer tables, and want to mod and hack the game - go with S&W; you will be happy.

Of the two, OSRIC limits magic power with segmented casting and makes casters more vulnerable when standing there frantically waving their arms and trying to make a spell happen. In S&W, spells happen when melee does, so there isn't that waiting game. OSRIC also preserves material components, verbal and somatic (but many entries lack the specifics, forcing you to make those up).

Both have essential AD&D-isms, like magic resistance, the progression of spells and powers, and the character choices. S&W will be the more accessible game, whereas OSRIC will be closer to the AD&D metal (but with more reference).

And speaking of AD&D-style games, there is another...

Castles & Crusades is my go-to for a modern, 2.5E-style AD&D-like game. Some spells take rounds to cast, the three components are preserved - and the material components are given for each magic spell. So, C&C, if played by the rules, is a more challenging game for casters since a spell such as consecrate takes 3 combat rounds to cast.

C&C removes even more tables than S&W, and I can play this game from a character sheet the size of a 3x5 index card. Saving throws are built into the ability score system. As-played, The game feels a lot like AD&D and is insanely hackable. I added a very generous one-per-two-level feat system (called advantages) to this game, and it felt just like 5E with those overpowered characters.

I can swap out the character races for 5E races out of a book like Tales of Arcana. As long as all of them come from this book (use the elves, dwarves, and humans from here), they work just fine with C&C. The ability score modifiers apply, racial special abilities can be noted, AC mods work well, and things like cantrips can be easily added in. The feat/advantage system in the C&C Castle Keeper's Guide needs to be used but set a per-level rate, and you are good to go.

C&C plus this book? All the wild 5E races you could ever imagine: Dragonborn, skeletons, demons, tieflings, giants, orcs, goblins, and so many others.

Any extraordinary power you want to add? It is a feat; even 5E feats convert well, like 5E feat guides. The above race book plus the feat book? This is 90% of my interest in 5E hacked into C&C. Fun ancestries plus superpowered characters? That is the 5E secret sauce, done easier and with far more options. C&C plus these two books? This is a far better 5E 'power fantasy' experience, and it feels like AD&D if I want it to. It can easily play any OSR or classic module - no 5E version is needed.

Multi-classing in C&C is fantastic, and while it is not a 'cherry pick' system like 5E, you craft a multiclass combo for your character during character creation and level with that. I can create class designs and unique combos that are impossible in 5E. The multiclass system in C&C beats 5E's limited 'what we give you' subclass system in the 5E game easily.

Class-and-a-half illusionist-bard? Dual-class barbarian-cleric? Multiclass paladin-ranger? An assassin-druid? Of any of hundreds of races? Yes, please, all of the above!

5E's subclass system is a bad design (and only exists to enable specific multiclass builds and sell books). C&C's multiclassing gets you way more mileage than a 5E subclass pick.

C&C's multiclassing is fantastic and puts 5E to shame.

Sometimes, I feel the 5e 'secret sauce' exists to keep papermills and toxic ink factories for 400-page low-content books running. Three thousand pages of 5E books still don't do what C&C (or GURPS, for that matter) can do with far fewer pages. 5E is turning consumerist and predatory. Every week, it is another 400-page Kickstarter to make the game do things other games do with one core book. With Wizards, it is a giant, expensive adventure expansion with fewer new character options than I have fingers on a hand. Companies trying to enter the 5E market just want in on the revenue model.

C&C can be played to feel like AD&D or 5E; given a few mods and options, the game can go either way. That is an incredible range and expressiveness. It is a game that kills both Pathfinder 2 and 5E for me, along with replacing the need for other OSR games.

Would I still play S&W or OSRIC? Yes! Do I need to? No, not really.

The answer doesn't feel the same with 5E and Pathfinder 1e and 2e. Would I still play them? No, not really. Do I need them?