Friday, August 19, 2022

'Zine Review: Carcass Crawler Issues #1 & 2

: Necrotic Gnome
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG (1, 2), Exalted Funeral (1, 2)
System: Old School Essentials (OSR Compatible)

Carcass Crawler is the official magazine for Old School Essentials. I recently picked up both issues in an Old-School RPG humble Bundle. They offer optional rules, content and adventures for Old School Essentials.

Each issue uses the same trade dress as OSE, and so it is a clean layout and easy to read. While much of the content is more in the vein of Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy, the magazine always includes the neessary rules excerpts for groups that are only using Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy to integrate it into their campaign seamlessly. Likewise, relevant advice and sidebars from OSE: Advanced are often included in the magazine to give Referees context and ideas on how to use the material.

Because Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy is a 99% accurate clone of Moldvay-Cook Basic Dungeons & Dragons (with just a hint of Mentzer), the content of Carcass Crawler can be used with any other B/X-based OSR game without any serious adaptation, and should not be too difficult to adapt to an AD&D based one, either.

Carcass Crawler issue 1 includes both Race-as-Class and OSE: Advanced-style Races for Goblins, Gargantua (a big, strong demihuman race), and Hephaestans (a fantasy adaptation of Star Trek's Vulcans, complete with Vulcan nerve pinch.) It also additional new classes: an Acolyte and Mage class that use Divine and Arcane magic respectively as if they were Thief Skills rather than using a spell system, and a Kineticist class that has psionic powers that make it play like a Jedi Knight from Star Wars. it also includes rules for black powder firearms, a d6 system for using thief skills (both of which borrow heavily from Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and some advice on the adjudication of Thief Skills.

Carcass Crawler issue 2 offers two new racial classes and OSE: Advanced style character race options for phase elves (elves who can switch between Fighter or Magic User first thing in the morning) and wood elves. It also includes a list of services available in town, and details on several kinds of specialists and services that are mostly borrowed from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and have been, as in OSE: Advanced, elegantly streamlined and modified to fir in with OSE's B/X D&D structure. Likewise, it includes a streamlined and B/X-ready version of AD&D's rules for finding hirelings. The book also includes a set of random equipment tables in the vein of Knave or Cairn to determine your character's starting gear rather than go through the process of shopping for treasure. Also in the field of rules modifications, Carrion Crawlier issue 2 has an alternate encumbrance system.

In a slightly less crunchy vein, there is an article in issue 2 by Gavin Norman offering advice on adjudicating and placing traps in Old School Essentials.

Carcass Crawler issue 2 also has a section of some cool, and terrifying monsters designed for use in snake-cult themed adventure, and a small dungeon that uses many of those monsters.

To go with the Jedi and Vulcans from Issue 1, Issue 2 also has rules for energy weapons, including energy swords, laser blasters, and energy weapons that can be set to stun.

What I Loved

Issue 1: Firearms

The firearms rules in Carcass Crawler issue 1 take the best ideas from Lamentations of the Flame Princess: firearms making noise that attracts monsters, but also that forces morale checks for monsters unfamiliar with the weapons, and their slower attack speed. But it also accounts for OSE's one-minute turns by allowing firearms to be reloaded and used multiple times in a battle, (LotFP only allows firearms to be used once per battle as it uses 10-second rounds). it also takes a note from Pathfinder 1e, and gives the optional rule that firearms may have a bonus against opponents wearing armor. unlike many OSR games that include firearms, this version does not make them so expensive as to be unattainable by low lvel PCs.

Issue 1: D6 Thief Rules

I am frequently disappointed by the performance of Thieves in RAW TSR-era D&D. I find the successs rates of the thief to be so poor at low levels as to approach absurd. How does a character with such unreliable skills even get to call themselves a thief? While I tend to use my Oversix engine to replace thief skills, (as seen in my Xen campaign guide,) Lamentations of the Flame Princess' approach has been my go-to before that.

In the LotFP method, thieves ("Specialists") have a 1-in-6 chance of success at every class skill, they can distribute a number of "pips" thst increase the probability of success in 6 by one each to their skills; they get four at first level, and two each level therafter.

This method doesn't radically improve a thief's chances of success at first level, but it lets players shuffle the abilities around, creating a more unique or survivable character. It also is more consistent witht the skills every character has, such as listening at doors, finding secret doors, and forcing stuck doors.

(Machinations of the Space Princess takes this and runs with it to make it the game's core.)

The version of this d6 method in Carcass Crawler includes some much-needed errata and rules guidance that takes this method and makes it work seamlessly in OSE.

Issue 1: Gargantua

The Gargantua offers a big PC race that plays like a fighter with some extra boulder-hurling abilities, one-handed use of two-handed weapons, and improved strength for smashing in doors. The flavorful description makes them feel like an interesting addition to the campaign without making something as complicated to use as Dark Sun's Half-Giants or D&D3e's Half-Ogres.

Issue 2: Retainer Rules

I like how tidy and streamlined the rules for hiring retainers is. It has some of the greater complexity that appeared in the AD&D1e Dungeon Master's Guide, but is kept mathematically simple and compatible with OSE's 2d6 NPC reaction rolls. it is a prime example of the slick way OSE: Advanced takes AD&D, streamlines it, and reconfigures it to work smoothly with B/X.

Issue 2: Monsters

I love Monsters, and these designs are grim, terrifying, and top-shelf ideas. My favourite, conceptually, was the alabaster snake that can enter suspended animation when trapped in an enclosed space (used as a living trap). For Sword & Sorcery tropes done right, I also want to give kudos for the Hydral Statue; a bronze statue with gemstone eyes of a many-headed snake. A trap animates it, but PCs can be prevent it from activating if the party thief can pry out all of its eyes before it is triggered. And for sheer creativity, the Fungal and Puffball zombies take the idea of a corpse animated by plant infestation that makes the Yellow Musk Creeper a personal favorite, and takes it to the next level as an infectious fungus. My players are going to hate these in all the right ways.

Issue 2: Energy Weapons

Issue 2 includes a simple, easy-to-use approach to energy weapons that can be used either as rare treasure in fantasy, or everyday weapons for Sci-Fi characters. It is less complicated than many versions I have seen presented in OSR games.

Issue 2: Trap Advice

If there is one thing that has improved a lot snce I first dove in to the OSR scene, it is how I handle traps. There is so much good advice on how to make traps fun and interesting. And, as usual, Gavin Norman has a real talent for taking a lot of good ideas and distilling them into a simple, digestible format. While the trap advice in issue 2 doesn't cover all the good tips I have picked up and used from the OSR blogopshere, it has some of the better ideas put forward in clear language in one place... which is what OSE is all about.

Overall: Information Richness

I love that Carcass Crawler repeats important rules and sidebars to make sure that the information that the reader needs is right there in the magazine rather than expecting them to hunt for relevant data.

This is particularly useful when covering how to handle character genration using race-as-class versus doing so using separate race and class. The book essentially re-copies all of the relevant character generation info from OSE: Advanced, should players only have access for the Clasic Fantasy books, but wish to use the material. Including side-bars on limiting class choices by campaign, etc. But this is hardly the only example. They work hard to make sure that Carcass Crawler remains useful to OSE: Classic groups while supporting OSE; Advanced.

Growth Points

Issue 1: Goblin Class

The Goblin Class includes saving throw bonuses from the Dwarf and Gnome class that are there for balance, but really don't make much sense for Goblins as they appear in the rest of OSE. NPC goblins don't have any particular magic or poison resistance, after all. Nor do I really understand why they chose to include goblins except that they are pretty popular with players of Pathfinder 2e and D&D5e. After all, they made a choice with the Gargantua not to use a pre-existing monster type to use as a race.

Issue 1: Hephaestan Neropressure as Racial Trait

Hephaestans are the OSE take on Vulcans. As a racial class they have several abilities from the species from Star Trek, including the psionic abilities they have showed over multiple series: the mind meld, the vulcan nerve pinch ("neuropressure in Carcass Crawler,) limited telepathy, they ability to resist mind control, limited hypnotic skill, and a regenerative trance. The racial class is cool, and I would love to see it played... but I have quibble with the non-class race.

The Hephaestan as OSE: Advanced character race has the Neuropressure ability as a racial trait, but none of the mental abilities. This makes no sense to me: Neuropressure is in Star Trek (and in the description of the Hephaestans) is a martial technique their race has developed, while the psionics are innate to their alien minds. Why would the character race automatically know a skill over taking one of the innate mental powers? Healing trance or mind melding would have made much more sense.

Issue 2: Equipment Tables

Buying gear is by far the most tedious part of character creation, and definitely takes the most time. Any alternative is welcome, to be sure. But part of the fun of OSR games (as is pointed out in a couple of places in Carcass Crawler issue 2, is finding clever ways to use the PC's resources -- like the odds and ends in their backpack -- to solve problems creatively to overcome the traps and dangers of the dungeon. These tables don't actually give the PCs very much in the way of odds and ends to work with. I would have liked tables that gave you a wider selection of equipment than two rolls on a single d12 table. I might have taken a page out of Cairn's book and created a few different equipment tables (expeditionary gear, tools, odd items) and had one roll on each and a final extra roll on a randomly selected table. That would allow fast genreation of PCs and still given them a backpack full of clever solutions,

Issue 2: The Wood Elf as Race Doesn't Offer Much

The Wood Elf as a race-as-class is pretty cool. It trades in some of the Elf's resistances and detection powers for ranger-like wilderness survival skills, and trades arcane magic for a slightly slower progression in druidic magic. It is an all-around good, well thought-out class. Once you decouple the race from class, though, it is nearly identical to Elf except for langauges known and its class & level limits. I might have given it halfling-like wilderness stealth as a racial trait.

Overall: Themed Issues?

Issue 1 has Jedi and Vulcans while lightsabers and phasers are offered in issue 2. The article on traps in issue 2 would have had a lot more punch if it had been sitting next to the articles on thief skills and their adjudication in issue 1. I think that overall Carcass Crawler could be slightly more impactful if issues were sorted by theme in a similar manner to D12 Monthly

Of course, this requires a lot of forethought and planning many months ahead, and I have no iea if it is even remotely compatible with the editorial process going on over at Necrotic Gnome. I do believe it would have a lot of value to the reader, though.

Overall: Tip the Hat

I've said it myself: some of the best innovations in the OSR have been bounced around so many times it is impossible to tell where they came from. I certainly couldn't tell you where half the advice in the traps article in issue 2 originally came from. They have essentially become the best practices in the community. That said. the d6 Thief skills are one of the tings that really set LotFP apart, as are the Firearm rules. They are instantly recognizable to anyone who hoards retroclones like I do. The alternative encumbrance rules likewise feel very close to the ones I have seen in a couple of retroclones.

I feel that Carcass Crawler could have done well to acknowledge the people who inspired the ideas presented within. It does nothing except spreads the love,


This is one of those products where my gripes are few and small, while the things I appreciate are large. Carcass Crawler Issue 1's d6 Thief Rules and advice on adjudicating thief skills in particular make it an excellent addition to your OSE toolbox. I would probably permit everything in issue 1 at my table without a second thought.

Issue 2 has solid advice, and a hell of a lot of cool mosnters. It manages to compress a pretty amazing dungeon into just a few pages. Not to mention that it has some of the most workable rules I have ever seen for energy weapons.

It bears mentioning that these magazines also are well laid-out and feature a lot of great original pieces of interior art.

As first impressions of a magazine go, I am quite taken with the quality of Carcass Crawler, and will definitely hunt down more issues as they become available. According to the NG website, Issue 3 will include rules for Dragonborn and Tieflings, which will probably help attract a few 5e players to join us on the OSR Mount of Crom (and annoy some purists, I'ms sure), as well as a Mycelian class that sounds like my cup of mushroom tea. And an expanded list of gear, armor, and weapons.

I certainly hope they ontinue to add both new optional rules that take the best of the OSR and keep concentrating them into one clean, elegant system as they have been doing, and keep adding strange new options.

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