This is a review of the RPG "Crimson Dragon Slayer", written by the absurdly-named Venger Satanis (and believe me, it's rare when I get to make fun of someone's chosen moniker!). This is a review of the print edition, which is a slim 38-page volume, with a full-color cover (of a red dragon, natch!) and some black and white interior illustrations.
The subtitle of the game is "Retro-Roleplaying Somewhere Between Awesome and God-Awful", and that more or less sums up the product. It's a crazy 4th-wall-breaking game inspired by 80s movies and with a special affinity to Heavy Metal (the movie, not the musical style, though that too). The game isn't actually an OSR game, which is to say it's not based on D&D, but it does in some ways strongly resemble the type of generic fantasy rules that you might have found printed in someone's basement in the early '80s.
I'll say this, there is a always a certain value to effective brevity, and this game manages to be succinct with its rules, giving you all the essentials in a lot less page space than other products that get bulked up with filler. But before getting into the rules, the premise is pretty critical: the PCs in the game are assumed to be people from the real-world 1980s, sucked into a fantasy world, in the style of the aforementioned Heavy Metal or the D&D cartoon for that matter. This might appeal to some people as a neat little gimmick, but others might be put off by it.
Character creation starts out in a very D&D-style, rolling 3d6 for each of six attributes; the only difference between these and the standard D&D stats is that wisdom is replaced with "willpower". After this, a D30 roll determines your career back in the 1980s, with such entries as "plumber", "Data entry", "pizza delivery", "computer programmer", "janitor", "telemarketing", "realtor", "construction worker", "Ice cream truck driver", and many more. There are also name tables, but these are not for the 80s-style names, they are for the new name you are known by in the fantasy world. These tables are rolled two to four times in total between two lists, giving names like Skull-star, Emerald Nomad, Deadrage Dreadblood, and other similarly Metal names.
People transported into the new world may stay human, or they may transform when they arrive into another race (the choice being up to the player). Nonhuman races are elf, infernal elf, dwarf, halfling, robot, reptilian, pixie fairy princess (for some reason, all pixie fairies are also princesses), crystalline (crystal men), or there are rules for creating some kind of hybrid.
Classes are also selected, and the options are warrior, wizard, thief (who can later choose to diverge into either "spell scoundrels" or "assassins"), and Rangers (who can also diverge at higher levels to either Shamans or Defenders). Alignments are Good, Evil and Neutral.
Hit points are determined by a base level of racial HP (each race has a different base, though it appears that the racial HP of "Crystallines" was accidentally omitted), and a die roll based on class (fighters get 1d10, for example, and thus a human fighter would start with 10+1d10 hp).
The mechanic of the system is a lot more divorced from D&D than everything up to this point sounds. To attempt an action players will roll something between 1d6 and 7d6; depending on the difficulty of the action and the power level of the character. The highest number rolled represents the result (where 4 is needed to score at least a partial success). If you roll one or more 6s, you get special bonus effects.
If a character reaches 0 hp, they are required to do a death saving throw, the number of dice they use being derived from the level of their constitution.
The equipment includes standard weapons, some of which have special qualities (like exploding damage, where if the top number of the die is rolled the die is rolled again and added). There are some unusual gonzo type items, like a sonic switchblade, machine gun, laser pistols, etc. Miscellaneous items also include things like a "Mel Gibson interceptor", an "Air-wolf chopper", a riding lizard, and a commodore 64.
The experience system is quite interesting; instead of a standard point system (either in the D&D sense or the "build points" sense) what you have are a set of requirements to go up in each level. So for example, to get to level 1 (the game starts at level 0), you need to "adventure, explore, and kill a humanoid or creature without aid". To get to level 4 you have to "develop a signature move, special ability, or stunt". To get to level 8 you need to "acquire an unbelievably powerful artifact or relic". to get to the top level, 10, you need to "Slay a crimson dragon".
The magic system is fairly basic, where wizards use willpower points to cast spells. There are some problems with the way this section was written: presumably, the wizard makes spell-rolls, but there's nothing in the section that I could find explaining how this roll is made. I only think there is a roll because there's a mention of what happens if the wizard rolls a critical failure in his casting (the Demon lord patron of the wizard will require him to perform a random task). Also, we're told "magic items require no type of roll to activate" which implies that spells do. Furthermore, there's a sentence that just cuts off, saying "critical successes grant extra", and that's it. We have no idea what extra, or what the mechanics of the roll are (though we can speculate it would be the same as any other rolling attempt).
There are three spells for each spell level from 0-9, plus one 10th level spell (wish). There's also a short list of magic items.
You know, this is a fairly disappointing area. Geez, Venger, I just introduced an OSR magic system based on the motherfucking Goetia. You need to up your game if you want to really do the whole 'occult guy of RPGs' thing!
There's a section on "Prominent Individuals of Thule" which has players roll on a table to see which iconic personages are somehow connected to them (which could be a dislike, mere acquaintance, "it's complicated", or relatively favorable). I think this is a clever idea, but the table is only on 1d6, so only 6 "personages" are available, which I think makes things a bit too crowded for such a table. It would have been a lot better if it had been a d20 or a d30 name list. The names are just that, names, no descriptions or any other details (those are for the GM to work out, I assume - they include "The Queen's Hand", "Earl Hagarr of Barbaric Sedonia", and "The Berry Tartlet Princess").
There's also a separate description of the three "demon lords" (Yogsoggoth, Tsathag'kha, and K'tulu) who rule over the world in the name of the father of all infernal beings (the "Crimson Emperor Satanis"). You know, I think most readers would have an idea just what to make of "yogsoggoth", never mind "k'tulu", so it seems odd to get a short paragraph on each of them, but no explanation as to who the "Berry Tartlet Princess" is.
At the end of the book there's a 6-page dungeon (the Cavern of Carnage) that has some pretty creative and a few amusing details, and would probably be best classified as a dungeon halfway between "extreme gonzo" and "goofball campy". Monsters found include Space Invaders and Pac Man, a cube puzzle created by the Wizard Rubix, the "3 magi amigos", some "cannibal zombie ninjas", and something (not revealing what for spoilers sake) that spells out the acronym N.U.W.D.S.
All in all, what to say about Crimson Dragon Slayer? I mean, it's 38 pages long. What I mean is, within the context of what it is, there's quite a lot of entertaining stuff in here. I don't think this is a world-changing game by any means, and it probably would have been wiser to skip the 'pet mechanic' and just do a 38-page long heavily-modified D&D. That would probably have doubled his sales, if nothing else.
There's a lot of creativity in the product, and you have to give credit for that. But some of it slips into a level of campiness that is likely to be a bit of a turnoff to some people. You know, that level of humor based on silly puns and pop culture references. It's part of why people liked Paranoia 5e a lot less than the earlier or later ones; there's a difference between dark or twisted humor (cool!), Gonzo surrealism (super-cool!) and goofiness (not very cool).
More significantly, there are a few areas where Venger ought to have taken some more time, or better yet, a second pair of eyes, to check for editing and proof-reading. The magic section appears to be the worst offender on this.
All in all? Well, I think Venger got his own description of the product absolutely right: Crimson Dragon Slayer is in a nebulous limbo "between awesome and god-awful".
Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia