This is my last review in my rapid-fire sequence of review of D12 Monthly. I am all caught up at last! I want to boost creations like D12 Monthly whenever I can with this platform. Cool passion projects by hobbyist designers like me.
I'm always looking for more like it.
Issue #7 is devoted to outdoor exploration. It offers articles on slot-based encumberance, timekeeping in Overland travel, and solid GM procedures for handling them, advice on best practices in designing random encounter tables, and rules for camping that gives the PCs something important and beneficialto do.
The regular Weapon Spotlight gives a cool perspective on spears. Location! Location! Location! Gives us a strange, wondrous location in the form of a set of menhirs with magical secrets and a dungeon underneath, and the Personalities article details the culture of the Barbarian tribes in a region that is built up over the course of the examples in many of the articles.
While there are a few slip-ups where mechanics that only apply to later editions of Dungeons & Dragons are used, in general this issue of D12 monthly is one of the best thus far at creating a totally addition agnostic set of tools.
What I Loved
The role-playing game I am currently building, Deathtrap Lite is built on the idea that what both the OSR and newer school fantasy gamers could really use is in update to the pillars of D&D they have become neglected since the mid day he's, namely wilderness survival, exploration, and a also felt that traps needed in update.
Part of the reason that these pillars fell by wayside is that Dungeons & Dragons itself his moved away from stressing time keeping and procedural ways of handling exploration. In early editions of D&D, a DM had a checklist to go down for every round, turn, or every day of exploration; Modern games tend to hand wave swaths of time between encounters.
What I have discovered, especially through solo play, is that going through that checklist and playing the game turn by turn actually makes it go faster, and makes exploration far more interesting.
The same is especially true when playing through a hex or point crawl: if you break it into discreet time chunks. I borrowed the concept of 4-6 hour watches from Hot Springs Island for Deathtrap Lite and so has Rus in his articles on wilderness exploration. Breaking day down into a series of quick and simple procedures, you can add a lot more richness and detailed exploration.
Likewise, he listed a number of things Player Characters could be doing during each watch based on what the general goal of that watch is, be a travel, camping, or sleeping. Those tasks have possible benefits for the party and effect on travel speed.
It is hard to fault Russ when he drew all the same conclusions I did in designing a role-playing game built around wilderness survival.
The article on camping rules is particularly interesting. It takes a sort of mechanic I've only seen before in Dungeon World and makes it more relevant to Dungeons & Dragons by offering the party modifiers and benefits for the next day for each player character who chooses to pick up the slack on unimportant job well camping and doing it well.
Item slots are faster and easier to track then calculating the weight of equipment. Especially if you are trying to track the weight of expended ammo and food as you go. A well-designed inventory system can help players think far more clearly about what they want to bring and make resource management in the game far more meaningful.
The slot inventory system presented in D12 Monthly issue #7 is a solid, simple version that includes rules on how quickly one can retrieve an item, which I always thought was an intelligent subsystem.
If you're interested in moving to a slot inventory system, but have no game that uses it already, this would be an excellent choice to integrate it into your game.
Building Through Examples
Throughout this issue of D12 Monthly the examples are used to slowly build a new region of the campaign world that Russ has been presenting throughout the entire volume of the magazine. From adventure location, to the Barbarian tribes to the Weapon Spotlight and wilderness survival examples, we slowly get a bigger and more elaborate picture of this Valley without needing a discrete article for it.
Fun, Elemental-Themed Dungeon
The location featured in this issue of D12 Monthly is a stone menhir with magical stones that could be activated to open a portal to the Faerie world, or used to consult with six powerful elemental beings that parking back to how elemental weirds were presented in the Third Edition of Fiend Folio: not as alien monsters simply made up of one element but rather as intelligent beings with prophetic powers.
Beneath these standing Stones is a dungeon with an Azer and his mephit assistants. It's a location that player characters could go through an extended wilderness adventure to reach, either to consult with the beings embedded in the stones above, or to treat with the Azer for finely-crafted and magically-infused weapons. That is, if they don't earn his laugh by defeating his ill-tempered servants first.
Overall, it is a really cool dungeon, especially as it is one where the rewards are greater for not picking a fight.
Just like in the last issue, I want to praise the unity of this issue. Every article builds on every other article to make a complete picture that works well together. Even the Weapon Spotlight on Spears plays a role, as one of the Barbarian tribes portrayed as living in the valley places huge cultural significance on the wielding of Spears and to do so with tactical sophistication. I it doesn't feel like there's a single wasted article in this magazine.
The Iron Mountains and Valley that we are seeing portrayed in all of the articles is rich with a lot of interesting creatures and exploration opportunities. Including three culturally distinct Barbarian tribes. My only quibble is that at 15 miles wide, it feels way too small to have so many different cultures in it. Three different Barbarian tribes living in the same space suggest that they would be very short on resources, and probably far less willing to share with the locals than they are.
But then, we do see that one of these tribes is being driven out by conflict with the others, and there's a powder keg between the civilized mining camp and The Barbarians who were here first. I might have made it a little larger to make this seem less intensely busy.
A Quick Study in Probability
I thought it might be helpful to point out that you can control the probability of when different monsters show up by mixing die types. Two dice of the same type create a bell curve, which makes the monsters in the middle value somewhat more likely to appear than monsters at the ends of a table but, by, say, mixing a d8 and a D12 you create a curve that plateaus, making the monsters in the middle more equally likely to be encountered, and the monsters at the end much rarer. When designing an encounter table,s designing its probability curve can make a big difference.
Maybe a Word on Resource Management?
There is a little more empty space in this issue than some of the previous ones. It was well used from a layout perspective with full page artwork and an extra map that is beautifully done. However, one of the critical pillars of wilderness exploration is resource management. Having something to cover a simplified way of managing food and fuel would have made a complete picture. And probably would have taken only half a page. As is, this is a pretty minor complaint given how excellent the rest of the issue is.
Foraging is Too Generous
Actually feeding a whole party of people on foraged food can be very difficult, especially depending on the season. By letting a single player character feed a party of indeterminate size plus pack animals, by spending a watch foraging, a lot of the stress and tension that can be created when food supplies dwindle and disappear. I might have limited the number of people that can be fed through foraging, and perhaps giving a bonus to Ranger type characters.
Can We Get a Hex Map?
To finish off a great design ,I would have loved a half-page hex map of the valley we've been building up, and tips on how to read them
This issue is an excellent toolbox for GMs looking to bring a little bit of smart (modern) old-school design to their wilderness exploration. It offers useful procedures for handling a day of wilderness travel that have been sorely neglected in newer edition and many retroclones. And should be pretty easy to plug into your game.
And it has the bonus of a great adventure in there to boot, with lots of reasons why PCs might get hooked in. Well worth the boys to download and time to read