Sunday, September 3, 2017

A review for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells – Addendum

One the best aspects of the OSR movement is the DIY attitude. In the last years, this principle gave us not only excellent retroclones but also original games; some of those are of particular interest to me because they’re clearly “built” from pieces of other RPGs, but in a very interesting way. Examples are Aspects of Fantasy, Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book and, of course, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells.

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (or SS&SS) came to my interest originally because the author is a fellow brazilian – and the one responsible for translating to portuguese DCC RPG (one of my all-time favorites RPGs). However, after reading SS&SS I became instantly a fan of this little gem. You can see my review here, but the elevator pitch (in my opinion) is that SS&SS is a variant of Black Hack that incorporates a lot of cool rules in order to create a light Sword & Sorcery game. Its classes take the best of others games that I appreciate and its spellcasting system seems to me almost like a lite version of the DCC RPG casting system.

OK, enough for introductions. What Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum is about? First, it is a B&W PDF with 90 pages (the original SS&SS is just 50 pages). Like the core, the Addendum is available as PWYW product at DriveThruRPG.

The Addendum opens with guidelines for using Vocations (the hero’s open concept, like “Barbarian from the Iron Horde”) almost like FATE’s Aspects. This is something that I already did, but it’s great to see the author defining it with more concrete (but simple) rules. For those that don’t like Aspects, there’s no problem: the rules just show you how to use Vocations in a positive or negative way (with Advantage/Disadvantage), also allowing the hero to recharge his Luck.

Next topic is Multiclass. Here SS&SS takes my favorite approach: instead of pre-build kits, it provides simple rules for mixing and matching all Archetypes (Warrior, Specialist and Magic User). Actually, it goes further and lets you built different heroes, like nonhumans. I loved it. My only worry is the balance factor. Multiclass heroes usually requires more XP (game sessions) to advance. I’m not sure that’s the best approach and I’m tempted use in my tables something involving a few “free” Negative Die/Setbacks/Complications per session (or maybe something making Luck harder to recharge, I’m still not sure).

The next topics are a few guidelines for Languages and rules for Zero-level PCs (this last one clearly inspired by DCC RPG). Also inspired by DCC are the Learning New Abilities section, which show us how heroes may gain specific new abilities (like fighting techniques, mystic powers, etc.) and even list a few examples. It’s my favorite approach to PC development and I’m glad to see another RPG embracing it.

Next we get the Blood rule. This basically matches a PC’s Physique ability score as his hit points, which is nice because the game (like many D&D-derived RPGs) is very lethal at lower levels.

The SS&SS Addendum also provides a Sanity & Madness section. I missed more concrete rules here. I believe Madness could be faithful recreated in SS&SS by giving the poor hero a “Madness Vocation”.

Resources & Treasures gives you abstract rules for money and rewards and is another awesome example of the versatility of the Usage Die (I hope to write a review of Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book, which is a game that really shows you how far you can push the Usage Die). Of course, Resources & Treasures is followed by a now classic “Where did my gold go?” table, in perfect Sword & Sorcery fashion (although I missed a gamble aspect to table, like Jeff Rients’ carousing rules).

Next topic is Quick Equipment. It may seem silly, but ready-to-use equipment kits are in my opinion one of the most important rules for any game. Most of my tables hate to buy equipment and when you’re introducing the game to new players (or just want to get direct into action), things like skill/feat/equipment lists are true let downs.

Drunken Luck is our next academic topic, and it’s an awesome variant rule for heroes that bet in their liquor to keep kickass-ing (which reminded me of the equally great rule from the D&D 5E playtest).

Adventuring Companions is a rule to form bonds between the PCs.

Journeys and Travels is a good cut-scene rule, for when you the party must get to the next spot, but the referee also wants to keep verisimilitude – so the PCs make a Luck check to avoid hazards.

After travel hazards we get rules for ‘Strange Effects of Ancient Spellbooks’, 20 new spells, True Names and True Sorcery. This last one is where you get those earth-shattering spells and dooms usually employed by the Evil Wizard of many S&S sources. Here are the guidelines for spells that target armies and affect entire fortifications. While the SS&SS Addendum does provides concrete rules for using True Spells (including the caster sacrificing ability score points permanently), I prefer the old Swords & Wizardry approach, where you basically threat high-level (or epic) spells as unique magic items.

Still talking about the arcane, we get a lite but very flavorful rule for Arcane Corruption, where the more spells a Magic User knows the more inhuman he gets. The next wizardly topics are Rare Ingredients and Drugs & Other Preparations (yes, lotus dust is here).

All those variants and additional rules don’t encumbrance the game and rarely occupy more than a page or two. In fact, it’s amazing how broad the SS&SS Addendum is, because we just reached the middle of the PDF.

Next part is a Monster Generator. This is the supplement’s biggest section and is mostly covered by system-neutral tables with basic ideas and descriptions for monster (aberrations, animals, beings from the future, undeads etc), although at the end we get a list of 100 special abilities (with rules), besides suggestions for monsters’ Weaknesses and a rule for Mooks.

After the monsters we get an excellent rule for creating Rumors, in which the entire table participates. This is a brilliant way of engaging the players, besides helping the referee. I’m extremely tempted to use it in all my tables right now.

SS&SS Addendum isn’t done with us yet. So we get tables and rules for Forgotten Artifacts, Random Life Events, “What Has Changed Since We Left?” (a table used when the PCs return to a town or outpost they’ve visited before) and an Adventure Title Generator.

The SS&SS Addendum is a perfect example of a supplement that highlights its’ Core Book without changing the game’s strong points. There’s so much stuff you can use here that I can’t recommend it high enough – be it for SS&SS, Black Hack or other similar fantasy games.