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Monday, 30 March 2015

RPGPundit Reviews: "Brave the Labyrinth" #1-4

This is a review of the OSR magazine "Brave the Labyrinth", issues one to four. They are published by Small Niche Games, and edited by Peter Spahn.  Each is a softcover book, varying from 26 to 44 pages, in the same size and format as Small Niche's Labyrinth Lord OSR modules.  Each has a variety of articles by a number of contributors.   I am reviewing, obviously, the printed versions of these magazines (described as a "fanzine for the Labyrinth Lord community" but that can really be usable in any old-school context, pretty much); but in addition to purchase they are apparently available as a "pay what you want" program from RPGnow.

And what you get is a mixed bag of fan articles.  But on the whole, not too shabby. #1 has a bunch of new body-altering spells created by an assassin-wizard, some new monsters created by the mage guild, a dungeon map (cool, though only the map, numbered, but with no key or adventure to go with it), a halfing-adventurer-company set of NPCs, a couple of new magic items, rules on animal retainers, a neat alternative LL character sheet, a short article on tallow (what they make the candles with), a four-page adventure for lv.4-5 characters named "The Screams From Jedder's Hole", and a fairly filler review of a fan-made free adventure found elsewhere.

Generally, quite a bit of interesting stuff for 26 pages.  I actually ran the Jedder's Hole adventure for my Albion group and it played out quite well, the players very much enjoyed it as an impromptu adventure on an evening where a couple of key players were missing (and thus the main adventure was postponed).

Issue #2 has some new spells and items (made by an illusionist named Neem the Inscrutable), some new demons named Blooroes (and their brood, which are made for a horror-fantasy vibe), a map of a village (named Aldriss, which has no further detail other than the map, though it does identify the various buildings therein), an orcish warrior order called the Voltherak, a list of gods of Law, Neutrality and Chaos, rules for 0-level humans for LL, another town map (for the "fortress of Hawksford" and its environs), six short articles (on a myriad of topics), some new magic items, an 2.5-page adventure for lv.3-5 characters called "Carnival of the Setting Sun", and another review of another free adventure.  It's 30 pages long, but I think its not quite as good as issue 1; maybe because the first one had a better adventure in it.

Issue #3 is 44 pages, as the material submitted grows. It starts out with a 3-page list with illustrations of the covers of all the LL products released in 2013. Then you get a list of dwarven items. Then a 2-page article with floorplans, on a locale called the "Dagger and Wand Tavern". Then some rules on making Goblinoid characters in LL. Then a couple of pages on a new monster called the Vexare, which are described as "a cross between rats and dwarves". You also get a special ranger subclass called the Beast Rider, a strange racial class called "grimps" (which are a group of imps that work in a tandem hivemind), a bard class for LL, a description and lair map/mini-adventure for a tribe of goblins (the Targker Goblins), an article analyzing the elf class, a list of two dozen types of magic candles, a mixed bag of monsters, and another review at the end.

Finally, issue #4 is 39 pages long.  It features some variations on the Dwarf class, some rules on chaos magic for monsters, the Demonologist variant magic-user class, a couple of full-page hexmaps of "the islands of chalm" (which look a bit like a variant of the Isle of Dread, and again have no additional information beside what's on the map; all of these were pretty much there just for inspiration), some additional rules for using Zombies, a humorous 'fantasy insurance' company for more light-hearted games, rules on weapon mastery for LL, some items of faerie-magic, a 7-page adventure for lv.1-3 characters called "The Ruined Tower of Hilsosk The Mad", and a review of the Red Tide setting book.

So what do I conclude about "Brave the Labyrinth"?  As a rule, I'm not a huge fan of gaming zines, even the very best of these (Dragon, for example) seem to me to be kind of stuffed with a lot of material I'd never use. In this context, I'd say that Brave the Labyrinth does fairly well; it has a very good signal-to-noise ratio if what you're interested in is lots of good optional material for OSR play.  In particular, if you're a fan of Labyrinth Lord, B/X D&D in any of its varieties, including LotFP, BECMI, the Rules Cyclopedia, etc. the material in here is all really usable.   I think numbers 1 and 4 in particular do quite a good job, maybe because they have very playable (short) adventures in them.

Basically, if you're an OSR gamer, you can't go wrong with checking these out, especially at the price.


Currently Smoking:  Raleigh Volcano + Image Latakia

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