CRIMSON DRAGON SLAYER
by Venger Satanis
Q: What is it?
A 42-page ruleset available in PDF and print via RPGNow from the guy that gave us Liberation of the Demon Slayer, Revelry in Torth and (my fav of Venger's adventure module-supplement series thus far) Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.
Calling CDS a retro-clone really pushes the (arguable) definition of the term. What we have here is more like a set of stream-lined house rules that borrows some basic ideas from D&D (ability scores! XP levels!) and mashes them up with some non-TSR mechanics like point-based expenditures for spell-casting and dice pools that determine the outcome of actions. A stocked sample-dungeon is included.
The conceit of CDS is the venerable "guys sucked into a video game" set-up, itself a variation on the "guys sucked into a D&D game" set-up popularized by the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon from the early 80s. This approach flavors most of the options available to characters, who have backgrounds as "real-world" types from 1983 that happened to get sucked in to the eponymous fictitious Commodore 64 game. All this is familiar territory for fans of Venger's Heavy Metal (as in the magazine) retro-fantasy oeuvre that draws from the deep well of Hollywood/comic book/video game/pre-90s nostalgia that colorizes many OSR endeavors to a greater or lesser degree. Note: There's not much in CDS to offend folks with sensitivity to the luscious T&A scattered throughout Kort'thalis Publishling's other books. I wouldn't have minded, but there it is.
I love the Benito Gallego pieces chosen for the interior art -- skilled homages to John Buscema's Conan work that effectively capture the time period (more or less) that CDS immerses itself in. I think this tack could be taken even further in future editions -- maybe mimic the look of 1983-era video game guide booklets in terms of font and layout? and definitely include 8-bit "screen caps" depicting scenes and monsters. The cover art is killer but also obviously modern -- modern enough to dilute CDS' central conceit a bit.
Overall CDS looks like a good introductory pseudo-clone for folks new to the OSR and old school games in general. Stripped of its flavorings, the ruleset is light enough to be entirely modular like most of the clones to date -- in other words, you can add and take away bits as you see fit with ease and not have to worry about upsetting the works. In order for CDS to compete with more involved rulesets like the immensely popular Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry system families, it will need to grow its content -- but as a lighter alternative it is a solid offering.