Tabletop Review: Hercynian Grimoire Vol. 1, No. 1(Castles & Crusades/Labyrinth Lord)

Hercynian Grimoire Vol. 1, No. 1(Castles & Crusades/Labyrinth Lord)
Publisher: James Mishler Games
Page Count: 46
Cost: $10.00 ($8 for early purchasers)
Release Date: 1/9/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

So this was an interesting product I had to pick up. Hercynian Grimoire an irregular periodical covering Castles & Crusades but also includes Labyrinth Lord conversions for all new items, creatures and the like. There is absolutely no art in the piece to speak of and yet the issue has an extremely high price for the page count of ten dollars. The one-two punch of no art and sticker shock will no doubt keep a good portion of interested gamers away from this piece and I can’t blame them for that. However those that do pay the inflated cost will find a very well written collection of articles that will no doubt enhance your Castles & Crusades experience. Let’s take a look at what you get with this inaugural issue.

“Glowing Words” – a column by the main writer introducing the periodical. It also plugs the author’s upcoming Chronicles of Mhoriedh line. It’s short and sweet while conveying the tone and reason of the magazine.

“Gnolls – The Hyena Men” – this four page article is similar to the “Ecology of…” articles we used to see in TSR’s old Dragon magazine. It gives a description of the creature, racial abilities and the how Gnolls can be found in The Olden Lands (again, harkening back to the upcoming campaign setting) You’re also given stats, age categories and optional special abilities. It’s very well written and a great way to kick off the publication.

“Gnoles, the Mannish-Beasts” – a one page follow up to the previous column featuring human/Gnoll hybrids. Ick. It’s another well written piece but Gnoll on Human sex? What a terrible mental image.

“D66 Ferocious Fighters” – a three page table of random NPC fighters. I’ve never understood the point of randomized tables like these and never will.

“Spells Arcane and Occult -” an article about a single spell named “Alasadree’s Empowerment of the Ultranic Orb.” This spell has six different versions, ranging from healing to a orb based version of Tasha’s Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter” where you dance instead of cackle. It’s a very interesting spell but the problem is that it is listed as a Level One spell when the wide range of effects alone make that too powerful to be a potential “first ever spell” for a neophyte caste. Add in that each effect on their own is extremely powerful (wizards that can cast healing magic? That’s way too broken). This is the same author that wrote the completely unbalanced spells for Magificent Miscellaneum, so I’m not surprised that we’re got another article where the spells are overpowered and under-leveled. Interesting ideas, but utterly no sense of balance.

“Spell Songs of Salamacine” – three witch spells. One is a Level 4 spell, one is a Level 1 and one is a Level 2. The Level 4 spell, “Salamacine’s Malevolent Melody” is actually nicely balanced, which was a unexpected surprised. It’s basically a possession via remote control spell. “Motive Melody” is the Level 1 spell and allows a caste to animate one inanimate object per level plus an extra 1d6 to do simple, mundane tasks. Not a bad spell, but I’d excise the extra 1d6 as once again, it unbalances things.”Siren Song” is a Level 2 spell and it’s basically an enhanced Charm Person. It makes another balanced spell between power and casting level, so I was pretty happy with this article. It’s the first spell article between the two recent C&C publications I’ve reviewed where I haven’t wondered if the writer has his mages casting Wish as a fourth or fifth level spell.

“D66 Fairies and Nymphs” – another random chart, but this time it’s filled with fairies and nymphs instead of warriors. Blah. It also takes up a whopping SIX PAGES of the publication, which boggles my mind.

“Gnoll Encounter Table” – this keeps in with the theme of the first two articles and it’s a nicely laid out random encounter table. There are only two small problems. The first is that it probably should have been placed at the tail end of the two Gnoll based articles for a better flow of the magazine and the other is that the random chart talks about nine different maps without alluding where to find them or what the writer is talking about. My assumption is that these are maps that we will see in the forthcoming Chronicles of Mhoriedh campaign setting.

“Magical Miscellanea” – a one page article highlighting ten new magic items. They’re all interesting. Nothing you’ll want to base an adventure around, but also nothing that will break your game.

“Monstrous Menagerie” – This is a collection of various creatures and monsters to use against your players. There are three Hyena creatures, which I might have put as a separate article and moved towards the beginning of the Grimoire to keep all the related material together. You then get a set of ten “thunder beasts” which, again, I think could have had their own separate article instead of lumping this class of creatures and the hyenas into a single one.

“D666 Demonic and Devilish Traits” – a cute play on the D66 charts, but again, another chart of randomized bits no one really ever asks for or needs.

“D66 Underworld Oddities” – ANOTHER randomized chart. Sheesh.

“Olden Lands Preview: Alspadia” – this is most likely what will draw people to the Grimoire as it’s a sneak peak of the upcoming campaign setting the author has put together. It’s a very well done piece that reminds me of the excellent Ravenloft Gazetteers Sword & Sorcery put out in the 1990s. You get a nice amount of information of the cities, prominent locations and culture of Alspadia and it makes me want to learn more about the setting. Mission accomplished here.

“Olden Lands Preview: The Oldenwoods” – an article that is pretty similar to the previous one, but with a different location within the campaign setting. It’s only a page long but it’s also well done and serves its purpose here.

“Olden Lands Preview: The Blood God” – a third straight preview article about The Olden Lands, but this time it’s about a major deity rather than a location. It’s a pretty grim god, and the article gives you information about the hierarchy of its following along with information about how the deity conducts itself through its worshippers. A nice way to end the publication.

All in all, the first issue of Hercynian Grimoire is a fun one. Although I’d have reorganized things a bit and dropped all the random tables save for the Gnoll encounter one, this was a pretty strong first issue. I was happy to see the author did a better job with balancing spells than in his previous publication for Troll Lord Games, but I still think this is one area where his writing needs a bit of guidance. I loved the Olden Lands previews and the Gnoll articles and hope to see pieces like this will become the focus for future issues. At the end of the day I’m quite happy with the piece and wil;l be back for future issues, but price and art aren’t an issue for me. For everyone else, I have to give this a thumb’s in the middle due to the high cost (a better price point would probably be around five dollars – half of what is being charged here, especially with the lack of art) and the absence of any art. Still, a great first effort and I can’t wait to see what is next.

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