Friday, June 24, 2022

About Kosmosaurs

You are a dinosaur. You are a Kosmo Ranger. You are a Kosmosaur—a protector of the galaxy. You and your companions travel through the stars to help all sorts of people, planets, and organizations by preventing disasters, battling assassin robots, banishing chaos mutants from the Void Dimension, and facing all kinds of weird dangers. [From the blurb]

Kosmosaurs is Diogo Nogueira's latest rpg.
If you don't know him, he's the author of several acclaimed games, including the Ennie-award winning OSE adventure Halls of the Blood King and big hits such as Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells, Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, and Lost in the Fantasy World.

A few months ago Diogo asked on his socials for bloggers etc to check and review his upcoming game, so here I am. I received the work-in-progress pdf and had the opportunity to check it. Now the game is available both on Diogo's page and on DriveThruRPG.

Here's some basic facts:

  • Written by Diogo Nogueira
  • Lavishly illustrated by Łukasz Kowalczuk, with a colorful layout by Guilherme Gontijo
  • Format is A5 or similar (guessing this from the pdf)
  • At the time of writing this it is an 80-page full color sweet little book

It is inspired by Saturday morning cartoon shows and as such is a perfect game to play with younger players. The characters are Kosmosaurs, i.e. dinosaur space rangers and protectors of the galaxy. While it is not stated explicitly in the game, it's very well suited for children. That doesn't mean you can't have fun with it even with a group of adults, of course.

Let's see how the game works.

The core mechanic is inspired by John Harper's new classic Lasers & Feelings. Kosmosaurs only have two numerical statistics: Kosmo and Saurs, which represent intellectual and physical capabilities, respectively. When you create your character, you divide 5 points among these two stats, and that's the pool of d6s you roll when you make an attribute test. Characters are further defined by the type of dinosaur they are, of course (a pterosaur can fly, for example; an a ankylosaur can bash things with its tail, and so on), and they must also choose a role (pilot, scientist, xenologist, commando, etc), and two extra things the kosmosaur is good at and one thing they are bad at. Furthermore, each character can choose a number of significant items equal to their Saur score, and a number of knowledges equal to their Kosmo score. That's it for characters.

You roll your Kosmo or Saur pool of d6s, and add an extra die if the action is typical of your role, if that's something you're good at, or if one of your significant items or knowledges applies to the situation.

Things you are bad at, and stuff that your role would be bad at, reduce the die pool by one. Same goes for difficult actions, which is determined by the GM.

So you roll your pool and take the die with the highest result.

Results have five degrees of success and failure which can be described as:  No, and / No, but / Yes, but / Yes / Yes, and. These are not the terms used in the game, but I guess most of my readers get this type of thing. The game explains the results fairly clearly.

The rules are player facing, meaning the GM never rolls. Combat is quick with players rolling to attack and to avoid damage. Damage is handled as markings on your Kosmo or Saur scores, and the default rules dictate that characters don't die: they are just taken out for the scene, as appropriate for Saturday morning shows. Players also have the option of (temporarily) losing a meaningful item instead of taking Saur damage (which can be later repaired or replaced), or one of their knowledges instead of Kosmo damage (representing temporary self-doubt). 

The "combat" rules apply to any type of conflict really, so Kosmo damage can represent the outcome of a failed social conflict.

Beside their characters, the players get to create the group's spaceship, which is handled with similar stats as the Kosmosaurs.

This is pretty much all there is to it as regards rules. I didn't go into the details of the consequences of damage but I think you get the idea.

What I've found especially good is the large set of tables that accompany each section of the game: types of dinosaurs, roles and names, for players, and then a whole lot of tables for the GM: mission objective, antagonists, locations, supporting cast, complications and rewards are the tables you get to help you quickly set up a scenario. All of these are d66 tables, which means there are 36 results, a reasonable number for the scope of the game, and also a way to have tables with many entries in a game that only uses d6s. 

The book also contains a series of five detailed enemy factions, a sort of recurring villain organizations that help define the setting. They are: the Robot Empire, the Voidsaurs, the Undead (space) Pirates, the Slime Lords, and the Broccoloids. Each has a fun general description, a list of associated themes, and two d6 tables: one with what they want, and one with what they are doing. The first is more of a possible long-term objective which can be the subject of an adventure or even a series of adventures, while the second can fuel a scene or a single scenario.

The final pages of the book are the colorful character sheet and space ship sheet. 

Is this game for you?

I think there are two possible ways of playing this.

One way is to play with a group of kids of any age as soon as they can read and write a bit. Rolling a bunch of d6s is something children can do long before they can read, and the game requires zero math skills, but they need to be able to write a few things on their character sheet... unless you write stuff for them.

As a game for adults, it certainly is a great choice for a light-hearted game night for players who enjoy the joyful silliness of Power Rangers and similar shows.

What I find very good is that:

- the rules match very well the spirit of the "source material", with heroes that don't die, simple action, and no simulation or realism whatsoever;

-the same goes for the fabulous art which is colorful, full of action, and fun with a lot of goofy details and over the top characters;

-considering the two types of gaming groups I see this for, the suite of player and GM tables are very helpful and definitely help to get quickly into the game. You want all the help you can get to run a game for kids who are absolute beginners, and it's also good to have tables to quickly set up a scenario for them (or for adults, of course).

- The game has the potential to be a very good introduction to RPGs both for kids AND for parents who have never played rpgs before, so I've especially appreciated the few pages devoted to explaining how the game flows, and what are the task and responsibilities of the players and the GM. These include the who does what in game terms, but also some advice on the social aspects of the game. These recommendations may seem obvious to experienced role-players, but I think they are very precious for beginners.

So, yes, Kosmosaur seems like a great game. Frankly, I hope some Italian publisher will localize it. I see it as a perfect game for me to play with my 7yo, and as a gift I could give to my gaming friends who have children of similar age!

So yes I think you should definitely check it out!

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

About The Frost Spire

 The Frost Spire is one of the adventures that resulted from the Wavestone Keep adventure design contest at Bryce's blog.

It is a 16 pages black and white pdf, written by Jacob Hurst, with real nice art (see pics) by Joshua Alvarado and maps by Dyson Logos.

I've grabbed the PDF and had it printed locally.

The adventure is listed as 3rd level, and has generic OSR game statistics (with ascending AC) which make it pretty much ready or almost ready to use with the usual od&d, bx and becmi d&d rulesets and their retroclones. Treasure values seem appropriate for a third level adventure for such games.

The titular Frost Spire is a floating iceberg that occasionally comes near coastal villages, magically freezing seawater around it and making it reachable from the shore. In order to run it you'll need your group to be near a coast.

Killer art piece and opening text

Avoiding spoilers, the adventure is definitely on the grim-fairy-folk side of fantasy, with children being kidnapped by ancient elves. Theme and flavor are nicely and consistently carried on in the background, hooks, events and dungeon itself.

The first 2 pages feature the background of the Spire, both as a false legend and the actual facts going on; a timeline of events which can be used as a "before" to the adventure or as events that gradually unfold before direct players involvement; a series of 5 hooks; and 4 different encounters that can be played on the magically frozen sea as the group approaches the spire.

All of these are well written and intriguing. My only quibble is with the hooks, which set up an interesting mystery but might require some adjustment or expansion for groups where some reward or perspective of treasure is the only working motivation. For my group, I would probably make the initial legend known to the party, adding some legendary treasure in it, to give them some extra reason to go.

The adventure itself is a 10 page dungeon (with 3 pages of art and 7 of actual text): it's a short scenario that's quick to prepare.

The dungeon is 9 rooms inside the iceberg, with two different entrances, both of which are not immediately accessible and will require some problem solving by the group.

What's cool

What is immediately cool about this dungeon is that nothing is immediately, necessarily hostile. It basically starts as a mystery: what is this place? and, depending on the hook(s) you've used, where are the missing children? What is going on here?

While the inhabitants include harpies, a gelatinous cube, and a polar bear, they are are not immediately hostile (the cube only being released if the PCs upset one of the NPCs). There are several treasures the group can loot, including original and well-themed magic items, and the set-up of each encounter and situation is clear and well-thought, with the players often facing interesting decisions.

Everything contributes to creating the specific atmosphere of "enchanted dangerous fairy/icy place", reinforcing the theme of a journey in fae territory.

And ultimately, the dungeon is a path to the final encounter and the conundrum it poses. The NPCs in the throne room is responsible for the missing children, but her reasons are worth pondering.

Moreover, the adventure states that inside the dungeon time flows differently, and makes it clear that you can use it to shift the PCs forward into the future, as hours inside the spire may correspond to years in the outside world.

What's not cool

Two NPCs don't have game statistics. While it's evident they are "not meant" to be fought, I would still prefer to have game statistics for them just in case.

EDIT: The adventure is so good I've created Morrigan's statistics for Old-School Essentials.

All in all

The scenario is frankly cool, atmospheric and well-thought, with interesting situations, interactive encounters, unusual dangers and rewards. Like Ominous Crypt of the Blood Moss, it's a great short dungeon with a lot going on and with possible meaningful consequences.

And it is also deep, with a final encounter which may become a moral debate, and one which is not obvious. It really is nuanced, and the scenario gives clear instructions on how to play it. The only thing missing is game statistics in case the group's choice is "die you witch!". Based on the scenario, the minimum effort solution for the lack of statistics can be a level 9 elf from your favorite online character generator, but of course I would have preferred the author's view. Still, a very minor flaw in my view.

Into OSR? Check my other OSR posts and reviews!

Saturday, June 11, 2022

About Old School & Cool Vol. 3

Old School & Cool Volume 3 is the third installment of Knight Owl Publishing's zine series dedicated to OSR games.

It was crowdfunded last February during Zine Month. I backed the project and the printed zine has just landed here at my place, all the way from Portland, US to Pisa, Italy!

It came in a simple letter envelope, plus a protective plastic wrap. It came in good condition (except for a corner on the cover).

The zine is one of those US formats I can't fathom, similar to A5 but slightly narrower. It looks beautiful. Color cover, b/w interior, good staple binding and print quality, 40 pages of goodness, with clear layout and nice art. I especially like the full wrap-around cover art.

So what's inside?

The objective of this zine is to give options and content for b/x d&d and its simulacra, Old-School Essentials included, to go beyond the 14th level limit.

This is achieved in the various sections of the zines: new options for classes, high level spells, immortal artifacts, monsters, gods who used to be adventurers, and the adventure "Don't Lose Your Head".

First of all, the zine introduces the concept of "level x": instead of coming up with tables upon tables of new level progression beyond level 14 (or lower, depending on class limits), the zine presents the idea that once a character has reached their class' maximum level, plus another xp threshold listed in the zine, they can reach "level x" if they defeat ("though not necessarily kill") a level x character.

Defeating another character is a very interesting concept (yes I know druids already had that) and one that makes progression more interesting than just an abstract, arbitrary xp goal.

Once both conditions are met (xp and victory over a level x character), the new level x hero must choose one of two paths: Ascended or Descended. These two may sound a bit like "good" and "evil" (which in turn is quite close to how the law/chaos opposition seems to map in b/x d&d), but it's not necessarily so. The two paths available to clerics are pretty much so, with one being the angelic healer, and the other an aspiring demigod of undeath. Things are definitely more nuanced for the two paths available to dwarves: the runesmith and the grudge keeper. I like that, as per the rules presented in the zine, the choice is free and not tied to alignment in any way, and that there is no neutral choice between, say, the path of the vigilante and the path of the crime lord for thieves, forcing players to an interesting ethical choice beyond their alignment. . This section, with two paths for each of the seven bx classes, is 10 pages.

Each level x path offers a packet of new class abilities (in most cases 4 or 5), plus of course access level x spells for spell caster classes.

The zine lists 8 arcane level x spells and 6 divine level x spells, described in 4 pages. These are of course very powerful (the arcane list includes a wish spell, for example).

What I like about both the new class abilities and the new spells is that yes of course they are powerful (often extremely powerful), but also that they are not just and not only numerical bonuses, but often give new capabilities. Examples: an elf who's picked the path of the unseely fey can "command any animal, beast, or monster with 10 or fewer HD, so long as they are within a forest". That's one hell of a special skill, and the type of ability that truly changes the game, which is good, in my opinion. Another example: one of the level x divine spells completely restores an undead creature to life, as if death and undeath never happened to them. This, in a domain level play, can have a lot of consequences which can be interesting to explore and definitely may go beyond mere combat.

I like that these new powers, abilities and spells are clearly not mere conversions of stuff from other editions.

I don't like that here and there some rules are not 100% crystal clear in their meaning, or so they appear to me.

I can't be sure these powers and skills can work or will ruin the game with their immense power, but one thing is sure: before players gain those skills, they must defeat an NPC who possesses them, and it will definitely require some very clever planning and group work. Think for example of a grudge keeper dwarf: one their abilities says once they lose half their hp they "lose track of their dwarfmanity" (LOL) and until all enemies are dead they attack at -2 but roll 1d100 for damage! Go kill that guy, I dare you, this is what the zine says, and I like it.

The "Immortal Artifacts" sections presents 22 (again, very powerful) magic items. These are cool and detailed with backstory, powers, and also a corrupting trait and some way to neutralize them. These are very cool and can definitely be introduced as treasure (and game changers, and of course as part of the arsenal of villainous NPCs,) into a high level campaign wether you choose to use the "level x" rules or not.

The monsters section includes ten creatures, such as Apocalypse Dragons, Devil Wyverns, Kaijus, Shoggots, and Ghost Cataphracts (a Ghost Rider inspired undead, complete with a "hellfire flail" that extends to 15'). They range from 12 to 33 HD and of course have very nasty special abilities. These are solid and interesting and, like the previous section, can surely be introduced as mega enemies for level 10+ parties.

The "Gods who used to be adventurers" section (2 pages) briefly describes four godly NPCs, with brief background, game statistics, holy symbol, unique special abilities, and individual art pieces. These are frankly cool, and are connected with the other contents of the zine such as the artifact, but on the whole I'm not sure what's the deal here. Even though they have the six abilities scores listed, based on their statistics they don't seem to be level x characters, but their own thing, so what are they here for? Possible adversaries or allies, I suppose, but the intended purpose is not perfectly clear as it is not stated.

The final 4 pages feature a scenario for characters who "have enough experience to reach level x but need to defeat a level x champion. Characters of less power but great cunning could perhaps survive, but it would not be an easy task".

This is a short open scenario with a city threatened by an evil level x magic user, but also protected by a good level x fighter. It also features several creatures from the monsters section and a couple of items from the Immortal Artifacts section. It could have benefited from having one or two extra pages to make a few details clearer, but overall it seems to me a good example of high level play scenario, which is quite rare. It is an open scenario where clever thinking, diplomacy and political decisions may have a large impact and, while the default approach is to stop the evil magic user, the scenario will still work if the group decides to challenge the good fighter instead.


Overall the zine is very good, with lots of things that can be dropped into high level campaigns (10+), all together or in selected bits, and I'm glad I backed it! If it's ok to have ogres and trolls in scenarios for level 1-3 characters, then you can definitely put some of those mega monsters (and magic items, and spells) in a level 10-14 scenario.

Print version?

The print version (I suppose the same as mine), alone or with the PDF, is available at the Knight Owl Publishing store, while the pdf alone is up at DriveThruRPG.


Into OSR? Check my other OSR posts and reviews!

Popular posts