RPG Print News – Troll Lord, Necrotic Gnome, and More

I’m on vacation this week, so I’m including a selection of fantasy RPGs that I think have particular value but don’t follow the brand new in print format. This list is broken up into old school D&D (Basic/Expert and AD&D 3E could have been), adventures and settings featuring water and ship based shenanigans, and mythic Rome. Plus Troika! which really has to be more experienced than explained.

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I own all of these RPGs and heartily recommend each one. Good value and good times and no regrets on any of these purchases. None of these are the same in just PDF. Not even close. The production values are top notch and each one has a certain feel and presence when held and paged through. I have also interacted with half of the creators of these RPGs and all of them are professional and enthusiastic as well as fellow fans of all things RPGs. I imagine the ones I haven’t met share the same qualities.

Castles & Crusades Players Handbook | C&C Monsters & Treasure | C&C Castle Keepers Guide | C&C: A0-A5 In the Shadow of Aufstrag (Boxed Set) by Troll Lord Games
  • SYSTEM: something like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 3E
  • PRODUCT TYPE: hardcover core rules and a big box of fun adventures
  • RETAIL PRICE: $29.99/$49.99/$59.99/$29.99
  • DESCRIPTION: Imagine an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 3E that had not ventured further into tactical battle maps, skills, feats, and dungeon punk but instead continued with the story rich ideas of 2E but bringing back many of the missing player character pieces from 1E like the assassin and monk. You could end up with Castles & Crusades. Like the best parts of AD&D 1E and 2E with a unified rolling mechanic and ascending AC. The illusionist gets healing spells and clerics and druids spell lists go up to 9th level. Rounded out by the wizard, these four classes cast spells; the rest rely on combat and mundane ability. The boxed set of adventures includes settlements, wilderness treks, dungeons, and is followed by two more boxed adventure sets. Troll Lord Games, the publisher, is based in and prints in the USA so shipping delays are reduced at least on the front end. Active military and veterans can also contact them directly for more info as they have traditionally offered a substantial discount to vets.
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Old-School Essentials | Isle of the Plangent Mage by Necrotic Gnome
  • SYSTEM: Basic and Expert D&D combined in an easy to use format
  • PRODUCT TYPE: digest sized hardcover core rules and adventure
  • RETAIL PRICE: $40/$15
  • DESCRIPTION: Old-School Essentials is a reformatted version of Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert with errata coupled with a modern layout and art. One optional rule of ascending AC. This book is a nearly perfect: one corebook only version of D&D. No bloat but has what the DM needs: seven classes, 34 cleric spells, 72 magic-user spells, adventures in dungeon and in the wilds and on the sea, 200 monsters, and 150 magic items. Complete classic fantasy rules. Isle of the Plangent Mage includes a village and massive dungeon called The Undertower. Built within a rock column supporting a small island the Undertower includes the Hydrolift (a crystalline disc resting in a tube upon the water level which pumps raise and lower via a box on the disc), magical observation windows that keep out water and gasses, and musical locks. Most doors are unlocked via musical notes either using the Soundkey or sung, whistled, or made with any instrument. The sea animal mutation table is especially fun for PCs.
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You Got a Job on the Garbage Barge | Vampire Cruise by Amanda Lee Franck
  • SYSTEM: OSR with attitude
  • PRODUCT TYPE: awesome softcover digest sized ship locations and adventures
  • RETAIL PRICE: $11.99 each
  • DESCRIPTION: The maps for both are hand drawn, well detailed, and full of things for PCs to poke into. The only way to picture these two sailing excursions is to stand onboard and take a look around. If your PC works on the garbage barge you will find: so many random tables, raccoons, the scent skald (smell based bard), a pneumatic tube that punches through the garbage to new areas but also through the hull, the chance to play as a bubble encased floating fish called a speaking betta, and terrifying monsters like the jelly shark and the ubergoat. Just reading this one will expand your mind and make you smile. If you can believe it, the vampire cruise is even harder on PCs. The PCs are on the maiden cruise of a discount cruise liner along with a mysterious cult and owners who really want them for dinner. They will experience random tables, hidden passages behind all the walls alongside rats, vampires, vampire sharks, cultists, and cruise activities. The best part is the PCs might take a job on the garbage barge to get the money scraped together to go on the vampire cruise. What a life.
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Troika! | Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs by Melsonian Arts Council
  • SYSTEM: well-made scary Dr. Seuss sci-fi fantasy 2d6
  • PRODUCT TYPE: digest sized hardcover core rulebook and adventure
  • RETAIL PRICE: $27/$25
  • DESCRIPTION: Sail golden barges across the hump-backed sky. With a unique initiative system that introduces a bit of fog of war to amazing PC backgrounds and wild settings, this game has it all. PCs like a parchment witch, rhino-man, and a thinking engine may take a trip on a barge during which murders take place and entire jaws are stolen from misfortunate passengers. Only they can solve the mystery. And some locations use monkeys to transport climbers up and down a massive wall. Elegant and sleek rules, an amazing setting, unique and fantastic backgrounds for your character, and useful maps make this one a real winner. Other settings for the system allow you to play a pre-dinosaur creature in one, a student wizard sans barista in another, and a Mad Max version of Dark Sun.
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Lex Arcana Core Rulebook | Aegyptus by Ares Games
  • SYSTEM: unique with multiple types of dice rolled
  • PRODUCT TYPE: hardcover core rulebook and a setting supplement
  • RETAIL PRICE: $55/$45
  • DESCRIPTION: I really enjoy The One Ring. The main designer on the game is Francesco Nepitello. Lex Arcana is another game he works on so I decided to check on that one as well and I’m glad I did. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a clue how to pronounce all the Latin in the book. But the setting is well detailed and breathtaking in scope. While the action is personal and takes place in mud and sand against the supernational, magical, and just plain violent enemies of a long lived Roman Empire. PCs are Custodes (wardens) of the Cohors Auxiliaria Arcana, imperial agents sent on missions to the most distant and dangerous corners of the Roman Empire and beyond. They investigate terrifying threats, recover lost relics, unearth forgotten secrets and fight legendary supernatural creatures like minotaurs and sphinxes. Some use divination magic, some talk; all of them fight. This one has so much jammed into the core rulebook. Detailed world info, 12 pre-generated character sheets, wide and detailed rules to make and advance Custodes, advice for the GM (Demiurge), a detailed ancient world bestiary, and two extensive introductory adventures: The Long Winter Nights and The Mothers of Cenabum. Other books introduce more of the world and provide additional adventure support. This one is detailed, steeped in a mix of real world history and mythology, and full of support for the GM. I picked up Aegyptus because mythical Egypt intrigued me. And for the mummies. This fantasy world seems at the same time familiar but also alien with PCs immersed in their culture and the protection of its interests against magical threats. So much going on in this game.

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

One of these days I will have to give Castles & Crusades a try. I have fond memories of the AD&D era (mostly 2e in my case), but I cannot really get myself to like the system again.

2E is interesting in just how loose the rules are. For 1E the system didn't change much until Unearthed Arcana but with 2E options came and went, could be added or discarded. Skills, kits, psionics, and even deeper system changes like hard core tactical combat (which made it into 3.5 as the default) were all options. I like 1E for how the rules feel in play and 2E for the world building.

C&C is nice because to me it has more of a 1E feel in the rules with a 2E feel in adventures and in world building. The rules have stayed mostly the same but have some optional rules. But the game features a wide range of adventures including not just dungeon but also wilderness, city, and even planar. And multiple worlds to choose from along with lots of tools to build your own world.


One of these days I will have to give Castles & Crusades a try. I have fond memories of the AD&D era (mostly 2e in my case), but I cannot really get myself to like the system again.
It's been my go to system since 2006 & easiest way for me to get 3.0+ players into a more retro way to play. My biggest fight was often showing that varying xp charts per class is a feature, not a bug.

It's been my go to system since 2006 & easiest way for me to get 3.0+ players into a more retro way to play. My biggest fight was often showing that varying xp charts per class is a feature, not a bug.

I love varying XP. Play a rogue with no spells but always be one level ahead? That works well.

It also makes sense in world. It should be harder for a wizard to get better at casting spells than for a fighter to swing a sword or a rogue to pick locks. Spells have obvious power and are limited, so it makes sense in world that it takes longer to become an accomplished caster.

Which is also a theme. Gandalf looks older than anyone else. So does Dumbledore. Obi-Wan the space wizard. Even Dr. Strange has gray in his hair and he's a sorcerer not a wizard.:)

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