Blood & Treasure review done using a personally owned copy of the product
Blood & Treasure 2nd edition is written by John M Stater
A short preamble
I look at a lot of RPG’s. I have come to term myself as an RPG Systems Enthusiast. My curiosity has taken me all over the spectrum, from percentile to d20, to card-based or even free form. However, like most of us, I cut my teeth on the granddaddy of them all Dungeons and Dragons. I spent a good chunk of my military time running 1st & 2nd edition D&D. Always lurking in the back of my mind, however, was the need to tweak this or that. This was not because the system was flawed. Like most GM’s my table and game had expanded beyond the rules into realms that required innovation.
I am grateful to the OSR for opening up a whole new avenue in gaming. Allowing other GM’s and other players to bring their concepts and ideas to the forefront of gaming. Instead of being lost on legal pads and binders (that is what happened to mine when a tornado took them) now folks are digitally saving them, posting them on the internet on blogs and even self-publishing them. Which brings us to Blood & Treasure 2nd edition. There is quite a lot of material for Blood & Treasure so in the interest of getting this system out there I will mention the system as a whole, not just individual books.
Blood & Treasure Core Rulebook
Blood & Treasure first off builds on the work of Swords & Wizardry. Swords and Wizardry is an amazing re-imagination of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, that removes a lot of the fluff and confusing rules for a clean, intuitive system that is instantly recognizable to the lapsed gamer of that era. Blood & Treasure uses this at its core and then builds upon it.
The races offered in the core rulebook are the standard fantasy affair. Nothing new but nothing really missing either.
The rulebook offers all the standard D&D classes plus some additional classes from 3.5 or just plain unique to B&T.
In total the base class with possible alternate versions list includes:
- The Assasin – Bounty Hunters
- The Barbarian – Beastmasters
- The Bard – Jesters
- The Cleric – Specialty Cults give tons of different armor, weapon and spell options to clerics based on faith
- The Druid – Shamans
- The Duelist – Marksmen
- The Fighter – Cavaliers, Defenders, & Sentinels
- The Magic-User – Specialized magecraft based on school
- The Monk – Ninjas, Ronin
- The Paladin – Antipaladins
- The Ranger – Mariners, Wizard-Hunters
- The Sorcerer – Chaos Mages, Prophets, & Warlocks
- The Thief-Acrobats, Scouts
Options, Options, Options
Feats are included optionally in very light and low impact to gameplay format.
Alignment is offered as a 9 or 3 tier system.
Heritage is also included to give background flavor and starting cash for new characters.
Henchmen & Hirelings, Mass Combat, Stronghold Building as well as two optional skill systems for resolving tasks are also included.
Spells are offered in as both basic and advanced lists for each spellcasting class. The idea is that Basic spells are the more standard affair while advanced take things up a notch, allow the treasure keeper some wiggle room in deciding what they want in their game.
Combat has the option of utilizing special maneuvers as well.
The Core Rulebook offers everything a player needs to get started in the game. The Treasure Keeper is also given tools, however, monsters are reserved for the Monsters tome. Character creation takes around 10-15 minutes for experienced gamers and 20-25 minutes for novice players. It takes very little effort to bring those completely new to RPG’s into Blood & Treasure. Combat is swift even with special maneuvers and everything optional thrown in, an average encounter can take as little as 15 minutes. I run a 7 player table of B&T and rarely have combat extend past 30 minutes for large scale encounters.
Much like Swords and Wizardry, the ruleset is so light, you can almost adjudicate without the book. Quite a feat considering the plethora of new options available over the base Swords and Wizardry game. The most important factor to point out is how it meshes 1st edition with 3.5 without bogging down or oversimplifying. In my humble opinion, while not as refined as a more mainstream companies product it does this very well. This is honestly what 5th edition should have been like if it truly wanted to serve the grognards and d20 crowds equally.
Blood & Treasure Monsters
The monsters rulebook offers over 600 monsters. Any commonly encountered creature from D&D lore can be found here as well as many others introduced or envisioned through the OGL over the last decade or so. Stat Block entries are nice and concise with all you need to make use of the creature right at your fingertips.
Treasure Keepers are provided with information on how to make their own monsters, with tips on streamlining the process by reskinning existing creatures. To further this process the back of the book gives templates based on creature types for making your own monsters fit individual scenarios. In my own B&T project I have been writing up, I used the template to great effect in making elder god spawn mutated versions of existing creatures that have changed due to exposure to eldritch slime from an asteroid. (actually bits of raw chaos itself from a semi deceased elder being)
Encounter tables are listed by environment and level, further making finding a creature quick and easy. At this time the second volume of monsters has been published but I am waiting for mine to arrive from LULU so I cannot fairly review that yet, but as Mr. Stater’s quality is fairly consistent I have no fear.
Esoterica Exhumed is kind of the Unearthed Arcana of the Blood & Treasure 2nd edition system. It incorporates a ton of new classes, race options, spells, gear, zero level characters. All of this is optional and at the discretion of the Treasure Keeper and I will say if abalance is your ironclad requirement you will want to make sure you peruse each entry before allowing it at your table.
Races & Classes Galore
There are 40 unique races, a few of them hybrids of more common races. Mr. Stater also includes within this list Centaurs and Mechanical Men which are from his campaign, “The Land of Nod”. All of these races are fairly suitable for the table but once again I caution prospective gamemasters to ensure they fit their game balance wise.
Mr. Stater clearly states that classes are kind of an obsession of his. At first, the ole grognard in me balked at this but then I remembered back to that joyful enthusiastic 8-year-old with his crumpled Moldvay basic book coming up with all sorts of things that were not in the rules as written. I forgot how fun and interesting it can be to do something original, and with that mindset, I reapproached looking at his class listing with a new eye.
Over 44 classes are represented, some familiar concepts others completely new and exciting. In the interest of brevity, I will not list them all but a few standouts for me were, The Centurion, The Canting Crew, and the Tomb Raider.
There are over 261 new spells added in Esoterica Exhumed. The spells cover all spectrums of casting though arguably magic users do get the lion’s share. Descriptions are clean and to the point and a lot of these spells are just plain gonzo fun. Still, there are many that have great utility as well.
Many exotic and multicultural pieces weaponry and armor ideas are introduced as well as rules for piecemeal armor. I like the concept of piece mail armor and my players who started out as escaped slaves made great use of these rules initially having to scavenge what they could in order to survive. The rules are common sense and light in keeping with the light rule mentality of Blood & Treasure overall.
Psionics has always been the unwanted child of my fantasy roleplaying games. However, a player came up to me with an idea for a psychic monk order, and I decided to give it a whirl in my online game. I must admit, in play blood & treasure handles this concept quite well. It does not seem overpowered or out of place and fits in better than I spected. Especially in the very appendix N driven Land of Nod.
Esoterica Exhumed is an excellent resource. Some of the concepts are very over the top. Which is perfectly fine. It is clear this is a book that is meant to be picked through for what you want, and ignore what you don’t. A lot of information is packed into the 175-page tome. Nothing feels forced or heavy-handed and all information is easily digestible. There are a few errors and typos but this is a one-man publishing effort. I can completely forgive that.
I think my favorite aspect was a new method for handling task resolution. It hybridizes and simplifies a process made far more complex than it needed to be in 3.5 D20 based games. All in all, this book is an excellent resource and easily translatable to an old school gaming.
NOD magazine is published a few times a year by John Stater and assorted other featured authors. It includes a few class ideas, new spells, and some short stories but the real reason to buy NOD magazine is for the Land of Nod itself. John M Stater has painstakingly outlined over the last several years his gaming world, hex by hex. Each issue of NOD includes hexcrawl information about a region. To further this on his website he lays out cleanly which magazine issues cover what area so you can collect them in sets to expand the world. NOD is huge. Easily Faerun huge. The land is random but rife with all sorts of possibilities.
I chose to start off my players in the Wyvern Coast and they are slowly hex crawling their way through the lands currently exploring a Dwarven ruin while trying to help establish a foothold nearby for commerce and trade with Ophir. Mr. Stater clearly has a respect and reverence for writers such as Lovecraft, Howard, Smith and Leiber, and little hints are found throughout his lands. Even a touch of Baum, the Wizard of Oz creator here and there. Nod is just plain fun to read, but can easily be dropped into your own existing campaign to help flesh out your world. Well worth the price!
Where can you pick up these products?
Currently, Mr. Stater offers his products in print on demand format at LULU.com. His products are offered in a variety of formats, and relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the value you get in each one. You can also pick up PDF’s of his products on RPG now, and he according to his last message is looking into making POD available there as well soon. He also maintains a blog which he updates semi frequently.
The buy in price for the system is under $50.00 in pdf format, and that is for everything I have mentioned above, and a couple of issues of NoD to boot. The writing is easy to understand making the system clean and familiar. The Artwork throughout the series is excellent, and clearly conveys imagery. If you are a lapsed game of either 1st edition or 3rd edition or perhaps both, Blood and Treasure is perfect for you! I would honestly argue this is what 5th edition of that other game probably should have been. But that is conversation for another time. So get your gear, gather your companions and go seek out Blood & Treasure Today!
Until next time,
Keep rolling them bones