A couple of days ago, I began to sketch out the details of my next campaign, and I was planning on making it a 'White Box' game, using Swords & Wizardry. Now, I'm not so sure, and it is largely due to my latest acquisition...the B/X Companion. This is one that I have been looking forward to since it came out, and it has not disappointed in the slightest!
What we have here is a book that works with 'Basic and Expert' rules sets, specifically the '81 sets, and is designed as the 'Companion we were promised but never got'. I'm going to say that the Companion, Master and Immortal sets never made a vast amount of impression on me first time out, in fact I don't think I ever actually used them in a campaign. I don't tend to do much high-level play. (My 'sweet spot' is 1st to about 6th...)
Getting the physical nature of the book out of the way, my copy was well bound, and well illustrated internally and externally. It was also shipped pretty quickly from the States to over here in England, I had the book around ten days after I ordered it. (One slight point here in that I was a bit surprised that this wasn't been sold through Lulu. Not a problem, just a curiosity.)
The book builds on the previous information in the '81 books, so the actual class section is fairly short, without too many real surprises. It makes the point that Thieves' skills top off fairly early on in the 15- 36 levels in this book, so adds the new skills of 'Craft Device', 'Physical Prowess' and 'Deception'. Nice touches. The additional spells are again reasonably familiar. Some new lower-level spells are included, but the vast majority of the spells given are of higher level, as would be expected. These all seem logical and sensible.
Up to this point the book is competent and as might be expected, but around page 20, it starts to kick into high-gear. First there is a section on hazardous environments, as well as a collection of new retainers – including the Assassin, the Castellan (so the Keep on the Borderlands guy gets 2,000gp a month. Even after tax, that is one sweet job. No wonder he never bothered to clear out the Caves of Chaos!), the Court Magus, and even the Smith. Some new optional rules for combat are given that can simplify higher-level play, as well as the idea for 'variable combat damage by class' – but with the wrinkle that the type of weapon still has an effect. The mass combat rules are a real gem. Essentially, each unit is classed as a character, and is then handled in the same way as normal combat. I can see my group using cardboard rectangles to fight such battles out on a map; it's an excellent way of doing it.
Things get better in the 'Monsters' section. The 'Animals of Legend' are an excellent idea, and could be the focus of an entire campaign. The 'Ruinous Powers' could definitely be the focus of a prolonged campaign. Stats for the Leviathan that actually make it a truly fearsome opponent. Some improved versions of creatures such as the Ogre and the Goblin. (And this book even has stats for David Bowie! Sorry, the 'Goblin King'.) New human types – the Assassin, Bard and Druid are also included – I really like this.
The new Treasure types are listed at the end, and are more or less what would be expected from previous editions – vorpal blades, elven chain mail and the like. But then comes the 'Dragon Master' section. (I really love that title, by the way!) Some notes on running dominions, without multitudes of tables. Designing adventures for high-level foes. And even the 'Bard' as a character class (which basically translates to a Thief with some extra abilities.) The final page (which seems to come after the conclusion of the book, which threw me on first read) covers 'special adventures' – planar travel and the like.
To conclude. This book beats the Companion Set hands down. Will I ever run a game with 20th-level PCs? Probably not. But that doesn't matter, as there is material in this book eminently suitable for lower-level campaigns, as well as some pretty sound advice that compliments the '81 boxed sets well. I can recommend this.
(I'd say this book is totally usable with Labyrinth Lord without any changes at all. Swords & Wizardry will require some alterations, but most of it will still be very easily usable.)
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