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Saturday 26 May 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: Black Dogs Issue #2

This is a review of the RPG zine "Black Dogs", issue number 2.  I previously reviewed issue #1 here.

Black Dogs is written by Davide Pignedoli, published by Daimon Games. It is labelled as a "Lamentations of the Flame Princess Compatible Product". The material in Black Dogs is described as a "dark fantasy collection of house-rules, materials, adventures and monsters, a toolbox to generate new content for OSR systems, particularly focused on Lamentations of the Flame Princess."

It is in a softcover booklet format, the front cover showing a black and white image of a renaissance figure with a big sword. The interior has only a couple of black and white images.  The booklet is 44 pages long.

The same introduction as in the previous issue is presented in this issue. This is a zine dedicated to presenting a set of house-rules that adapt LotFP into the author's vision. In short (according to the presentation) less focus on horror, and more focus on "monsters, wilderness and communities".

I had commented back in my review of issue #1 that it was clear the author was not a native English speaker, and while in general his command of the language is quite good, the issue did have a variety of slight errors of grammar and sentence-structure that made his lack of native fluency obvious (at least to me). It seems he was already aware of this, because in this issue he posts a call for native editors and proofreaders (and that wasn't thanks to me, since this issue came out before I did the review of issue #1).

The first actual section of the issue is "presenting the world", where he talks about how his setting is "Europe of the late medieval times, only darker and grittier than our real world". Mythical creatures and magic exist, and their influence on human history was for the worse. This is pretty similar in general terms to my own Dark Albion; but in Black Dogs the author explicitly "assumes you'll be playing in continental Europe, not in England". So hey, if it turns out to be well designed, maybe there's stuff in here of use for Dark Albion players? We'll see.

You get basic descriptions of the terrain of Europe; this to me seems totally self-evident, but I guess there might be some particularly uniformed gamers from parts of the world other than Europe who might not really know that Spain has mountains, or that Poland is mostly flat.
The description of religion is equally basic, saying stuff like 'every village has a church, and there's also lots of monasteries'. Or that people go to church at least once a week. That's OK, again, in that some people might in 2018 might not know this. But then he claims that "five out of six people" will break religious rules for personal interest. I think that's a highly cynical view, and not really accurate to the medieval perspective. Even more so when the PC suggests optionally presenting the Reformation in their setting. The Reformation would never have actually happened if people cared so little about religion as to break religious rules 5 out of every 6 times.

He also suggests that the nobility is aware of being in decline; I think that this is premature if the setting is taking place at the early stages of the Reformation.

So most of this first section (6 pages) is of stuff that is really basic, and (in my opinion) occasionally inaccurate. At the end of the section you get information on the Black Dogs. We're told they're "not mercenaries" and yet they "solve problems with force" and "demand a fair price".  Um... that sure sounds like mercenaries to me!

They do have a "Code of conduct" though. It doesn't amount to all that much: fight against demons, monsters and evil humans, protect innocents and children, working commoners, and humanity in general. I guess that does make them particularly honorable mercenaries.

The Encumbrance rules are next. The rules are changed from the LotFP standard; mainly in that your ability scores (Con and Str) are used to determine the number of items you can carry.A sample inventory sheet is provided.
There's a few other rules on equipment too, for example, in this house system, silver weapons do less damage than normal weapons and are prone to breaking. I guess that would make sense, if they were made of pure silver rather than silver-plated. To make up for this, silver weapons do double damage against monsters with a vulnerability to silver.
Lists are provided for a variety of weapons, including the number of encumbrance slots they take up, and cost in silver pieces. None of these weapons are unusual, apart from maybe the gunpowder weapons. The gun rules provided are similar too but somewhat simpler than the weapons provided in the later edition of LotFP or my own Lion & Dragon.
Armor is also provided, but it is strictly fantasy-medieval; it's neither 17th century armor like later LotFP, nor is it medieval-authentic armor types like I provide in L&D. finally, there's also a list of basic equipment, which again is nothing too suprising.

After this we get some guidelines for the GM as to when to roll dice.  The main advice being that if there's no good reason (in terms or danger, time constraints, conflict, complexity, or what have you) the GM should just allow basic 'skill' type attempts to succeed, unless he thinks it's impossible in which case it should just fail. That's good basic advice, and again, I guess there might be some people who actually need to hear that. Unfortunately, right after that the author suggests that 'fail-forward' approach borrowed from storygaming.

Then we get another section talking about the spirit of the Black Dogs campaign, its emphasis on exploration, and risk-taking. This is followed by a section with a couple of adventure seeds. We're told these seeds are created with a series of random tables that will appear in issue #3 of the zine (a good bit of marketing there). We get a hint of what these tables generate by the seeds themselves; for example:

-Medium town, important merchants and nobles
-an important crossroad
-lover or spy, an old grudge
-priest or bishop, disposition to abuse
-a witch fighting the church
-someone in great danger, or power

The following elements are used to create a seed about a town where there's a witch causing trouble but actually the local bishop is deeply corrupt and she's out for revenge.

The final section has some stats and rules for some of the situations that appear in the former adventure seeds. There's a note on how saving throws work in his house rules; they're based on rolling a d6 and getting a certain number or less.
Then we're told about morale rules, which in the house rules is a d6 save vs the remaining hit points of the creature.
I guess both of these would be fairly appealing to people wanting a very simple system.

Then you get stats for the evil bishop (I commented about my feelings about the relative lack of boldness of making clergy corrupt or evil in my latest video, though I certainly think you can have the occasional evil priest, they do appear as a possibility in my own adventure-generation tables in Cults of Chaos), who has some interesting magical powers.
Then similarly, stats for the Witch, who also has some interesting magical powers. I do think it's to the author's credit that he isn't just using D&D-type spells for either of them, but rather special supernatural abilities with their own rules.

Finally, there's a couple of entries for undead, including "smart zombies", and for some basic human stat-blocks (commoner, guard, bandit, noble, knight or berserker).

So what to say about Black Dogs #2?  I think it's similar to what we see in #1.  First, I'm not convinced about this format for presenting a set of rules. It's possible to reveal a setting in a serial fashion by demonstrating small areas at a time, but doing so with a set of rules is more complex, as you can't really use all of this stuff until you get the whole system, and that's being given at a snail's pace.

There's a LOT of stuff in here that feels like padding to me. Quite a bit of it felt like it was repeating contextual material from issue #1 in just a slightly different way. 

Finally, if the system was really new and innovative, I might feel different about it, but none of what I've seen so far seems truly innovative. It's getting harder to do something really impressive with system in the OSR, as there's a lot of creative stuff out there already. To be really impressive, I think you need to have a system with something really new or different in there, and that fits very well with the setting you have in mind.  So far, the changes I've seen in this house system have been pretty mild, largely optional, nothing that to me really turns LotFP on its head. The differences are too small, and too cosmetic.

Can this product appeal to someone? Well, some of the material in here in terms of advice for running the game might be useful to total beginners; unfortunately I suspect that hardly any total beginners will be likely to read this product. In particular, given that instead of advertising itself as its own thing, it's presented as a set of house-rule mods for LotFP. That  means that most people who read it will already not only be OSR people, but people who specifically have a lot of experience with LotFP.

Will they find it useful? I have trouble believing anyone will be truly wowed with it so far. But maybe someone who is really looking for any kinds of ideas out there for alternate mechanics might be able to make use of a couple of these house rules, just for ideas themselves. That's the best I can say about it.

At worst, I would say that there's too much emphasis in talking about mood and style, giving a lot of advice that the author's market is already likely to know, and the house rules are not bold or avant garde enough to really jump out at you. If I was consulting here, I'd tell Mr. Pignedoli that he seriously needs to up his game, and take more risks with really exciting variant rules.  Maybe the best thing I saw in this issue were the special powers that some of the monsters had; if he did that, and a lot more of that, it could make his zine something more worth purchasing.


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  1. "The Reformation would never have actually happened if people cared so little about religion as to break religious rules 5 out of every 6 times." How naive. It was all about money and power just like everything else.

    1. No, it's THAT view that's naive. Of course money and power were involved, but these were people for whom things like the immortal destiny of the soul was a very REAL thing in a way that it can't be in our culture except for people who we'd classify as mentally ill.