Hill Cantons Compendium II (OSR)
This pdf clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Now, I assume that you’ve read my review of the Hill Cantons Cosmology, for there, I explained the general make-up of this rather intriguing fantasy setting. It should be noted that, while this pdf explains the concept of corelands, borderlands and weird, I still maintain that it’s smart to read up on the former pdf before reading the two flavor pages that kick off this book: In these, both the city of Kezmarok and Marlinko, both with brief notes on surrounding areas and the like, are presented and brief one-sentence notes on the weird similarly can be found here, providing a nice overview to build upon…and acting as a smart teaser for the Hill Cantons modules, obviously. 😉
The first massive section of this pfg, however, would be devoted to a massive array of classes/races that represent the slightly gonzo/weird theme of the Hill Cantons, so let’s take a look, shall we?
The first of these would be the Black Hobbit, called so because of the color of their souls. These guys are not nice and need Dex and Con 9, get d6 HD and cap at level 8 (134K XP). At second level, they get Agitation, which increases their Cha to 18 1/day when inciting others to mischief. They gain an additional daily use at 4th and 8th level. At 3rd level, they may manufacture bombs – one per week (2/week at 6th level) and 30 gp. These deal 1d8+1 in a 10-foot radius. Sooo. for how much do they sell? Can others use them or does only the black hobbit know how to use them?
Chaos monks may not be eligible for the monk class and sport either Int or Wis below 10. They have 1d3 HD and no maximum level – which contradicts their table, which caps at 8th level. at 80,001 XP. After 5th level, they need to defeat lower level chaos monks to advance. They get Dex to AC and a further +1 for each 2 levels and may only use bo and jo sticks, nun-chucks [sic!] (yes, the sic erat scriptum is part of the pdf and intentional!), clubs, man-catchers, bowie knives, sais, metal claws and throwing stars. “Chaos monks are rarely surprised (a 1 on a d8) and then only if spoken to by a member of the opposite gender.” That made me laugh, yes – but it has no place in rules-language. So, can a medusa surprise them? At 2nd level, they may perform kicks for d5 damage, +1 per level attained. 3rd level, they can speak with fungi. At 4th level, they can flip over the back of their opponents while making a high-pitched scream. Okay, funny. What does that do? The ability also allows for the use of samurai swords…and now notes that chaos monks risk self-injury when using swords at lower levels – something that the weapon rules above failed to specify. Also: Do sais or bowie knives count as swords? Because RAW, they can’t even use swords at those levels. At 6th level, chaos monks can cast Confusion once a day “not just on themselves but others.” So, does that mean that the chaos monk is affected as well? Or not? No idea. 8th level yields the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. “It is unclear whether this has any real mechanical effect however.” Is this funny? Hell yes. Does it hold up as rules-language or actually have a proper use at the table? NOPE.
Feral Dwarves need Con 9, have Str as prime requisite, d8 HD and cap at level 12 (660,001 XP). They can detect by concentration slopes, shifting walls, etc, may only wear armor up to chain and use feral weapons (spears etc. – all properly codified). They also gain, hilariously, +1 to hit versus deodands, due to racial animosity. They may also throw small boulders in combat, with +1 to hit and damage, 1d4 base damage and Str modifier added. Throws from a higher latitude (again, properly codified), gain a +2 bonus instead. Some feral dwarves use polished flint mallets for 1d4+1. These render targets unconscious on a natural 20 for 1d6 rounds. They also begin play with a 30% chance to forage food, +3% per level gained and may start fires in any environment 9th level feral dwarves attract followers. The race comes with an alternate starting package and fight and save on the same table as robo dwarves…though these don’t have such a table either. I assume defaulting to dwarves as a standard there.
Robo-dwarves need Con 9 and use Con as prime requisite. They have d8 HD and cap at level 12 and 750,001 XP. With a silvery skin, they have an AC of 8 if not wearing other armor and don’t eat or drink – though milk has intoxicating effects. Regular food is toxic to them and they need to consume lamp oil as well as gravel and bits of rock. They may not wear armor made mostly of organic material, can see in the dark up to 60 ft. and have a 2 in 6 chance to spot weak spots, subtle slopes, traps, hidden doors, etc, but need to commune with the stone by placing a hand on it.
Half-ogres need Str and Con of 14+, Cha or less than 9, have Str as prime requisite and d10 HD. They cap at level 9 (294,000 XP). They can carry more gear than comparable races and may see in the dark up to 60 feet and fight/save as fighters of the same level. The pantsless barbarian needs Con 11, which also doubles as prime requisite, gets d10 HD and caps at 12th level at 660,001 XP. These guys and gals believe that their privates need to be close to the sun and thus may not use armor better than chain and takes a -1 penalty to AC. They do get +1 to hit with the preferred tribal weapon and every other level, they can take +1 to a “LotFP-like d6 skill in either Tracking or Wilderness Survival.” That…is kinda problematic, as it suddenly assumes that the referee uses LotFP’s skills per the game, when the rest of the pdf made no such assumptions.
The mountebank would be a variant thief who needs Int, Dex and Cha 13, has Cha as prime requisite and 1d4 HD. The class goes the full 20 levels, capping out at 1,300,001 XP. They may use disguises like an assassin and gain the Sleight of Hand skill at pick pocket + 15% to switch out/manipulate objects and may only use thief magic items until 9th level, where they may also use illusionist items. Also at this level, the mountebank attracts 2d6 followers.
From levels 1 – 10, they get new con-man style abilities that rely on language and being understood: At first level, Flim Flam temporarily raises Cha to 18, while at 5th level, he can manufacture flash powder for 150 gp. While these have durations, we have a collation of item and class feature once again here and the flash powder’s blindness has no duration. Quite a few referees I know will also be somewhat appalled by the lack of a daily cap of uses here: At third level, the mountebank gains charm person, at 4th hypnotism, etc. – and these have no daily cap. In theory, you could RAW run around and charm everything.
The war bear (yes, you read right!) needs Str 13 and Con 14, has Con as prime requisite, d10 HD and caps at level 8 and 147, 200 XP. War bears wear no armor and instead determine AC by level, starting at 6 and decreasing that to 3 at level 8. Dex bonus, if available, can be added. War bears gain +1 to hit and damage when using polearms and they are REALLY obsessive about the weapons, losing Wisdom if separated too long from a polearm. At 6th level, they can invent and name a polearm, which hits and damages at +2 in his paws and may injure creatures only affected by magical weapons. At level 8, provided he has a sufficient underground complex, he attracts a band of war bears. These guys save as dwarves and fight like fighters of their levels.
Finally, there would be White Wizards, who need Int and Wis 12, use Wis as prime requisite and get 1d4 HD. They cap at level 21 and 1, 696,001 XP and learn spells of up to 7th level. They save as magic-users and need spellbooks. They may only use simple non-edged weapons and may not wear armor, but may cast spells from cleric and druid spell lists, but these spells are treated as arcane, not divine. They may use druid and cleric as well as magic-user magic items, but may not use magic items that directly inflict damage. The pdf sports an optional rule that allows them to create cleric scrolls at 75 gp times spell level, taking 1 week per spell level to complete.
So, that would be the first half of the pdf. The second half presents an alternate and pretty amazing character creation system – and these tables represent one of the most extensive ones I have seen so far: You roll for birth order, parent occupation (which net an attribute die and starting gear)…and then, you roll again: Nobility, merchants, clergy – all have their own subtables. Then, you roll for significant events during childhood and adolescence, which once again nets attribute dice and further rolls for relatives, crimes, guardians, etc. Military service, virtues and vices, religious experiences, magical occurrences – there is a TON of tables here and the system actually yields a great background. Extra dice are added to the default 3d6 rolled for attributes in character creation – this obviously generates more potent characters than the default roll 3d6 method, but is tweaked easily enough – even as fluff-only, this is really amazing and holds up. That being said, I think the pdf should specify that the usual caps still apply – otherwise, you can end theoretically up with characters that have ludicrous attributes.
The pdf also has a page devoted to starting equipment generation, though, while okay, it is a bit rudimentary for my tastes. The pdf also provides a page of funnel (0-level) rules and the final page is devoted to attribute checks -roll under attribute, with the default task being 3d6. Decent, I guess, but not something that blew me away.
Editing and formatting are pretty good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, the supplement could be more precise. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features a nice b/w-artwork beyond the cool full-color cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment. I got the softcover booklet, which btw. adheres to the standard letterpack/A4-size.
I love Chris Kutalik’s humor and this is actually a nice read. However, as a rules-supplement, the humor gets in the way and makes the content needlessly opaque in several cases – as a rules-supplement, I do not consider this a success. I can hear the hissing and booing, but know what all good OSR-systems have in common? They may be rules-lite, but they are PRECISE. This is not precise, not even close. It suddenly talks about sub-systems in a class/race, lacks durations etc. and while it is imaginative, creative and hilarious, it is simply not a good rules-supplement, no matter how you try to spin it The first half of this pdf did nothing for me, apart from the admittedly amazing concepts. This booklet, for me, is remedied by its second half: While these tables and rules may not universally appeal to me, I adore the character creation tables and here, suddenly, the rules are significantly more precise. In fact, even before, the precision oscillates.
Now, would I get this in print again? Honestly…no. But it is worth checking out, considering the PWYW-nature of the pdf. This may not be for everyone, but chances are you can at least mine some nice ideas from the pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up only due to the PWYW-status of the pdf.
You can get this pdf for PWYW here on OBS!