13 July 2017

OSR Castlevania? OSR Ravenloft? What Devilry is This?

So, my fascination with the OSR movement continues.  I was recently made aware by James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games that his White Box Gothic and White Box Compendium were very reasonably priced on Lulu.  White Box Gothic?  Now that sounds like something I could... sink my teeth into.

This volume is digest-sized, like many OSR products, and clocks in at about 50 pages.  What is contained is a minimalist set of rules to do the kinds of things the original Ravenloft boxed set from the AD&D 2nd Edition era had made so fascinating in the 90s.  The horror elements are drilled down to basics, following the same sort of basic statistics and abilities as Swords & Wizardry and the Night Owl Workshop books of which I am so fond.  That is, a class description and mechanics rarely takes more than two of the digest-sized pages.  Hit Dice are assumed to be d6, and the Base Hit Bonus is used in Swords & Wizardry fashion to incorporate modern To-Hit math and ascending Armor Class.

Chapter One - Heroes Against Darkness contains classes to be added for that horror genre feel.  Most of them run to 10th Level, though a couple have lower level limits.  The Monster Hunter is just what it says on the tin, and is a bit Ranger-esque with tracking skills, alertness, and an ability to choose a particular kind of monster upon which to focus their ire. The Metaphysician represents the Van Helsing character, with wisdom and lore about the occult and monsters, and the ability to learn spells from both the Cleric and the Magic-User lists if written down and cast from their tome.  I love the inclusion of this class for the idea of running a game in the 1800s where mages and clerics would be excessively rare- the Metaphysican can even Turn Undead at 3rd level.  The Spiritualist has spirit medium powers, being able to speak to and have an effect on the spirit world.  The Spiritualist can even call upon the spirits to cast spells - but at a price.  The Wanderer is an outcast with an ability for survival and elements of luck and hedge wizardry. The Damphir is a half-vampire with some very atmospheric abilities and limitations that one of my players is already chomping at the bit to play.  Last but not least is the Reanimated, a homage to Boris Karloff, Peter Boyle and Fred Gwynne.  Limited to only 5th level, the Reanimated packs a punch - quite literally.  A PC of few words, the Reanimated has some great abilities in a tankety-tank-tank fashion in line with the source material.

Chapter Two - Staring Into The Abyss contains game mechanics for Corruption, Dread, and Curses.  All of these are short, concise, and can be added to a game or not as the DM chooses.  I find that some mechanics work better in some horror game concepts than others, and the nature of the OSR and most of Spahn's work makes it easy to take what the DM wants and leave the rest - much like a salad bar. 

Chapter Three - Sorcery Most Foul has a smattering of new Cleric and Magic-User spells focused on the atmosphere of horror this supplement encourages.  Spells with titles like "Bind Beyond Death" and "Set to Rest" grace these pages.  There is a heavy emphasis on death and undeath- which is as it should be for this genre.  Each of these spells immediately gave me ideas on how to use them in a horror game.  New magic items appear, all geared toward the horror genre.  Ever want a Bat's Cloak, or want to know what happens when you drink a vial of Vampire's Blood?  This book lets you know.  Plus, it includes rules for what spells and magic items interact with its Corruption rules.

Chapter Four - Children of the Night is a collection of monsters old and new for the genre.  It has a new treatment of Vampires, which one would think are a staple of these kinds of adventures, as well as some new Liches, Lycanthropes and other things.  I'll admit I chuckled when I read Shadow Demon.  I am all to familiar with that guy, lackey of Venger though he is.

All in all, I found a lot to like in this little book.  It's short, to the point, and the things inside it drip with the intended genre.  It's well worth having in your OSR library for those times you want to do Ravenloft, Castlevania, Hammer Horror or anything in between.