Crimson Dragon Slayer (OSR)
This pdf clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of quotes at the back, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This book went up on my review queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and critical review.
It is the year 1983 and you pop in this awesome new game into your state of the art Commodore 64, studded with your cutting-edge Ultimax graphics card. You get ready for a truly immersive experience and let your stereo blast a wonderful mix of metal and synthesizer-infused wave-music and then, the unthinkable happens – blue laser beams blast forth from the screen and suddenly, you find yourself within the Crimson Dragon Slayer game, in the world of Thule – a powerful wizard, dying at the entrance of some ominous caves, gives you the brief run-down of the world you found yourself in:
Thule is a savage world, formerly invaded by aliens, then subject to the dread android uprising and plunged into a neo-savage post-apocalyptic bronze age that would feel like home to either Conan or Kull. Yes, Kull. I’ll fight anyone bashing the gloriously cheesy movies…but back to the review. No gods can be found in this savage land – only horrific demons, and thus, the one “high” culture remaining, the Valeecians, are drowning their sorrows in excesses of wine, women, drugs and serialized entertainment. The fabled Queen of said realm is supposed to be the most gorgeous beauty in all the lands and only by vanquishing one of the legendary Crimson Dragons, employed by the dread wizard Varkon can one hope to win her hand – or be powerful enough to take her place, if female and/or not inclined to bed the queen. Of course, alternatively, destroying Varkon’s legendary scepter or claiming his dread powers would also be options, but that lies far in the future – for now, you are stranded and realize that you don’t even necessarily are a human anymore!
If this premise did not at least make you smile a bit, then probably because I failed to convey the subtle humor that suffuses the writing of this basic premise – and the whole book, really. After this intro, character creation is handled – under the header “You mean this game has rules? WTF!?” Yes, this is actually a good read, unlike many rules-books I’ve read.
Character-creation is very much traditional 3d6 for the 6 attributes Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Willpower and Charisma. Ability-scores range from 0 to 18 and provide a range of penalties and benefits ranging from – 2 to +2. Strength influences melee damage. Dexterity influences AC. Constitution influences bonus hit points per level. Intelligence influences languages known. Willpower directly influences how easily a target can be assaulted by a wizard – low scores translate to bonuses versus the character and vice versa. Charisma attracts followers and interns and obviously, your chances of getting laid. Massive tables allow you to choose previous occupations and a 3-part name-generator table provides the hilariously cheesy names – one of my players, a red-haired woman, got “Slaughter Haunt Strawberry” and almost fell off her char laughing.
The currency in Thule would be cyber crowns and all character begin play with 3d10. Characters also start the game at level 0, gaining their racial traits: Humans get +2 to two ability scores of their choosing and 10 HP. Elves get +2 Cha and Will, get an advantage when making a good impression and are resistant to the enthrall spell. Infernal Elves, essentially half-demonic elves, get +1 Int, Will and Dex and may choose a demonic patron, regardless of spellcasting ability. Both elven types get 6 starting HP. Dwarves get +2 Str and Con and 8 HP. Halflings get +4 Dex, -2 Str and may reroll 1/day a natural 1 in a non-combat situation. They get 4 HP. Robots get +4 Int and cast spells via Int, not Will and cannot be used for Will by other casters (more on that later). They get 8 HP. Reptilians get +4 Str and Dex, -4 Cha and are bad at diplomacy etc. They may attack unarmed for 1d6 damage and get 12 HP. Pixie fairy Princesses, all of them female and all of them princesses (how that works, no one knows…) get +4 Dex and Cha, -4 Str and have an advantage in convincing folks. They get 4 HP. Crystalline creatures get +2 Willpower and count as double when used to power spellcasting and take only half damage from lasers. they get 1d12 HP -and obviously are a good commodity for all evil sorceror tyrants out there. Finally, the book provides rules for making hybrids of the races. Do I consider the races herein perfectly balanced? No, but their unique benefits and drawbacks can be used by a good Dragon Master (this game’s term for the GM) to make them all work out.
Crimson Dragon Slayer (CDS for short in this review) knows 4 base classes. When a class levels up, you roll the class HD and add the result to your hit points. Warriors have d10 and when they hit a target in melee, they may continue to attack targets in melee range until they miss. Wizards get d6 and can utilize magic and alchemy (more on magic later) and can only use daggers and staves. 5th level wizards get either a unique spell or item, creating more at a rate of one per level. Thieves can use short swords, daggers, slings, whips, clubs and crossbows. Thieves can skip their turn to attack in the following round with double the attack dice pool. At 3rd level, they can opt to become assassins or spell scoundrels – spell scoundrels act as wizards at -2 levels. Assassins can 1/day perform a death strike (2/day at 7th and 3/day at 10th level) – if they hit, it’s con-based save or die. Thieves have d8. Finally, rangers have d8 and can produce healing moss in the forest, talk Lassie-style to animals and may use long swords, short swords, daggers, bows, slings, spears and polearms. At 3rd level, they can choose to become shamans or defenders – shamans can transform into a fox, deer, raccoon, badger, turkey or twin ferrets 1/day for level rounds. Defenders may protect allies within 10 ft with their shields or magic cloaks.
The game uses dice pools – d6s per level per day. These can be refreshed by resting, though recharging requires some sort of sexual gratification. Alignment is grouped in good, evil, neutral – simple. To attempt an action, you roll 6-sided dice and only take a look at the highest number – except 6s – each 6 grants a so-called dominance. These provide additional benefits that you may choose – the more, the more bonuses you can choose. A round is 20 second long. Struggling actions get 1d6. Average actions get 2d6, Easy ones 3d6. Advantages and disadvantages cancel each other out. Occasionally, you get super-disadvantages (1d6, take the lesser) or super-advantages (4d6). Special occasions can even grant 5d6, but should be accompanied by some awesome scifi/fantasy/80’s reference and finally, the cap is 6d6…unless you’re 10th level or a dragon – then, this is god mode.
Results are as follows: 6 is a critical success; 5 is a success, 4 is a partial success, 3 is a partial failure, 2 is a failure, 1 is a critical failure. Dominances allow you to perform special stunts, penalize foes, grant your next rolls a bonus, initiate side benefits, reroll weapon damage or add a second attack. Speaking of side benefits – these range from disarming foes to impressing fair maidens, spell durations are doubled – you get the idea. Upon reaching 0 HP r below, a character must make a death saving throw, with the dice pool being based on Con as per the regular dice pool rules. Oh, and yes, 4 sixes mean you regain full health. Somehow. And a 1 reflects a horrible death that can stun all onlookers.
Weapons are simple: Bladed weapons have exploding dice rules – i.e. max damage is rolled again and added together. Blunt weapons stun targets on max damage. Ranged weapons receive a penalty to dice pool versus more distant foes. Two-handed weapons let you reroll 1s rolled in damage. A massive list is provided, ranging from daggers to sonic switchblades and napalm grenades.
Armor Class, or AC, acts as DR. Ac starts at zero (unless your Dex is so low you take a penalty – which would mean you get MORE damage!) – the higher, the better. Cover reduces the dice pools used to attack the target. Shields stack with armor and are VERY useful in this system. Good armor does cancel out dex-bonuses, though. Default movement is 50 ft. per round, 40 ft. in chainmail, 30 ft. in scalemail and 20 ft. in platemail.
Initiative is simple: Flee or Charge first, then ranged weapons, then melee and natural weapons, then spellcasters. HP replenish after 8 hours of rest. Tending to another’s wounds in battle takes a full rounds worth of actions and replenishes a single HD and can only be done once per victim until a short or long rest is taken. Experience and level-gain is tied to deeds your character must perform in-game.
Magic is simple: Each spell costs its level in willpower. Wizards may cast higher level spells, but at thrice the cost. Wizards may also use other creatures – by spilling their blood and touching it, they can siphon willpower from the creature at the rate of 1 per round and they may only store their level worth of these points. 0 willpower = unconscious for 8 hours. This means the more spells a character casts, the less willpower he’ll have to resist spells himself. 3 spells per level are provided, from 0 to 9, ranging from basic detect magic to defensive force-fields, phantasm-style deadly silver balls to the cube of coitus that helps with seduction, the ice cream phantom servant (in three flavors!), great balls of fire, cylinders of fubar and finally, Power Word: Just Fuckin’ Die Already! 10th level nets you Wish, obviously.
An array of magical items can also be found within these pages and a short gazetteer on prominent individuals the character may know, some information on the demon lords like Tsathag’kha or K’tulu etc. are provided. Monsters have half their HD as dice pool for attacks. Other OSR-system monsters detract 10 from AC in CDS and add it vice versa.
And that’s all – all the rules required to play – simple indeed.
The pdf also sports a small introductory module, the aptly-named caverns of carnage. So, from here on out, the review will contain SPOILERS. Players should jump to the conclusion.
The caverns of carnage are essentially an old-school dungeon crawl in the friggin’ best of ways. There’s not much of a story going on, but we did not miss it for even a second. Why? Because the hilarious premise of the system, the writing that made reading the rules actually a pleasant experience, blooms to full-blown awesome-triple-plus levels here. If you have no humor, steer clear. If you do, you’ll laugh more than you’ll have in ages playing, as horror and comedy oscillate in a spectacle that is just FUN. What do I mean by this? The module is unabashedly, wonderfully, bonkers in the way that a self-ironic heavy metal cheese is. The random encounters include grey invaders, unholy things with too many tentacles (which may cause the characters to shit their pants), androgynous cigarette.smoking men that may prove to be Ziggy Stardust, Surf-Nazis and *drum-roll* PSYCHOTIC CARE-BEARS that can transform you into one of their own.
The PCs can also save gorgeous women from being sacrificed to demons (and yes, there are guidelines to which of the saviors they’ll be attracted to…) – coincidentally, in my playtest,a female player scored all of them and had a total blast. So no, I do not consider this sexist – it’s not mean-spirited in any way. But back to being bonkers – there is an AI-Smiley of Doom to be found herein alongside a hidden grub that just waits to bite off 1d4 fingers. Caveman-orgies, skeletal mermaids, portals into post-nuclear wastelands, including mad scavengers, demonic spider gods, cannibal zombie ninjas, a literally deadly tangerine dream, a deadly Rubix cube…there is not ONE encounter here that does not sport something utterly awesome. Oh, and there is a truly unique one that not only may net permanent bonuses (including extra lives!) that had me actually get a laughing fit – friggin’ cthulhoid pacman-maze. Yes, there is a nasty maze wherein nice pretzels etc. provide bonuses while ghosts haunt you and a deadly gigantic Pacman wants to destroy you! WAKKA-WAKKA-WAKKA!!!
At the end of our playtest, we all had laughed so much, some of us had sore muscles on the following day.
The pdf also provides a nice character-sheet.
Editing and formatting are not perfect, but still can be considered very good. Layout adheres to an easy to read two-column b/w-standard and sports A LOT of gorgeous, classic Conan-artworks as well as thematically perfectly fitting original pieces. The pdf does have layers so you can make it more printer-friendly still, but alas, it does not have bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.
The softcover copy has a nice, glossy cover and is well-crafted -no complaints there!
When the author Venger As’Nas Satanis contacted me, I did honestly not expect much – I shrugged, sent my usual disclaimer regarding books, that I do dish out bad ratings unlike some reviewers, etc. – and promptly forgot about the matter in the daily hustle and bustle of reviewing. Then, one day, this big box with plenty of books arrived at my home and I started reading. OSR rules are nothing new to me and I use them once in a while to take a break, so yeah – again, no big expectations.
I understood almost immediately that this was not what I had expected. For once, I enjoyed reading rules. No seriously – while they could be slightly better structured here and there, as presented, they still are easy to grasp to explain them in 10 minutes, roll up characters and start playing. The system itself, isn’t perfectly balanced and it’s not exactly a stroke of genius or brilliant innovation – so the crunch itself is slightly above average. But roleplaying games are more than just the numbers.
The writing of the world, the blending of science-fiction and fantasy, is just downright awesome and the adventure included in this pdf is simply inspired – unlike some gory grimdark settings, this does depict a dark world, yes – but at the same time, Thule is a realm of awesomeness, where no concept is too outrageous. This book is gloriously invested in some of my favorite concepts, it resonates with a gleeful, tongue-in-cheek humor that mirrors what is awesome about movies like Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2 – this is utterly unapologetic cheese that manages to skirt the very close line between taking itself too seriously and not serious enough: The world and dungeon, in spite of their numerous references, still feel concise – they make sense, and left me utterly stoked to read more. This book was like reading my first Conan comic-book for the first time again, then mixing in my favorite games and scifi-novels to me – and brought my table excessive amounts of joy. So yes, the writing is absolutely superb – and unlike many “Metal”-settings, it never is mean-spirited, grimdark or bleak – it is just FUN.
Now if the premise is something that does not sound awesome to you, then this probably is not for you; if you don’t have humor and get acne when reading the price of a space station among the possible things to buy (instead of going HELL YEAH!), if you’re offended by curses here and there or by the aesthetics, then this may not be for you – but you’d be missing out. Unlike e.g. Lamentation of the Flame Princess’ extremely bleak dark fantasy/horror (yes, will review some of those as well!), this book is never truly dark – it is a celebration of pulp aesthetics and tropes, of the 80s, of nerd-culture and it actually made my players want to play the module a second time. So yes, you’d definitely be missing something.
Now, as much as I’d like to, the base system, racial balance etc. make it impossible for me to rate this book as high as I’d like to – the components even out at 4 stars. BUT: I enjoyed this so much, both reading, re-reading and playing it, that I’ll gladly slap my seal of approval on this bad boy – if the gloriously over-the-topness I tried to convey in some way, any way, appeals to you, then check this out! If your humor is like mine and you have managed to keep that pubescent geeky boy/girl inside you alive, I’m pretty positive you will have as much of a blast with this as I did.
And yes, I will review the other books as well…
You can get this awesome book here on OBS!