Monday, January 13, 2014


A curious thing happened a few days ago a blog that's been silent for 2 years started posting again and announced it's author had developed a new spin on old D&D: SEVEN VOYAGES of  ZYLARTHEN. I downbloded the free pdf version and here's part one of the review.

In the words of it’s  author “SEVEN VOYAGES of ZYLARTHEN  is a re-imagining of the original edition of the world’s most popular paper and pencil fantasy adventure game, first published by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974. The brilliance and charm of the earliest version was its simplicity and elegance, combined with a certain asymmetrical quirkiness. It invoked many sources—King Arthur, the Crusades, Middle-earth, the Arabian Nights, pulp fantasy, fairy tales, even science fiction. Its breadth of tone was a virtue, offering to the players a multiplicity of delights. Our intention was to follow the spirit of the original as closely as possible.”. It does seem to achieve this.

Let’s start with Volume One: Characters and Combat.
 Seven Voyages of Zylarthen has three basic classes of Fighting-Man, Magic-User, and Thief alogn with three racial classes for elf, dawf, and Halfling. Fighting Men are have no surprises and will play very much like they would in many a retro-clone but will benefit from the wider range fo rules devoted to combat in this game. The magic-user if familiar as well with a few minor tweaks but is the vancian spell caster of classical role-playing. The thief gets a range of abilities the reader may be familiar with but it lacks the detect/disarm traps skill along with moving silently, the abilities the thief does have moves the class from backstabbing burglar to sneaky thug; a thief may use Luck to have a reroll on any die rolled once per combat, open locks is a simple flat chance, they have increased ability to surprise foes and at high level may use scrolls. Elves, Dwarhs,and Halflings are limited to fighter/Magic-Users, fighters and Thieves respectively with pretty strict level limits.
Seven Voyages uses level titles and they are evocative with only the 7th and 8th level thief titles being disappointing.

Alignment is resnet in the game with Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic serving for the spectrum of good and evil. The rules assume PCs will be partisans of Law (i.e. the good guys).

Character creation is done by rolling 3d6 in order for each ability score. Ability scores have rare and modest influence in most areas of the game. MU’s of intelligence 10 or less will start with but one spell known to them: “Read Magic”, brighter ones will have 1-8 additional 1st level spells in their books. Constitution determines one’s ability to survive adversity which is a pretty essential part of these rules. There is a fiddly means of providing an exp bonus based on high ability scores, such a bonus is something I don’t much care for myself but players seldom complain. Loyalty, morale, and reactions all get explained in the charisma section.
Characters will gain experience for slaying monsters and for spending silver pieces for experience points, the player must decide to use their sp on goods and influence or on gaining levels as simply fetching fortunes will not raise a level. I like the spending money for exp method as it gives a reason to seek loot throughout the entire course of a campaign and get’s the funds out of the players coffers.
Encumbrance system of the game is based on an item count with a few minor twists. It appears simple and playable.

Money and expenses in Seven Voyages is based on a silver piece economy where 5 copper = 1 silver and 10 silver = 1 gold, there are alos 2 optional coins an iron piece worth ¼ a cp and an amber diamond piece worth 100 sp. Goods and services are spelled out in sp throughout the game. The author recommends using tokens (actual coins and washers) to represent treasure and while this is curious it does look like it could be fun with the right group (and cheaters would be giving the DM their own money instead of making math “errors” I suppose). With tokens flowing as a means to gain exp I suppose such a token based method may be workable but it also looks like one wouldn’t see many 1000+ coin hauls.

Equipment is pretty standard  fare for fantasy adventure games. Leather armor is cheap enough but mail is a serious outlay no one could afford at character generation and plate is a considerable expense, even so there is little on the list fortunate characters will not be able to afford shortly into a campaign aside from ships and large buildings. There is a goodly coverage on men at arms and other hirelings that focuses on extra fighting power.

Combat in the Seven Voyages of Zylarthern uses a d20 and the classic descending AC order from 9 to 2. The attack table for men vs men compares weapon class/type vs target AC, higher level characters get a bonus to the hit roll. Monsters compare HD to AC. 

Everyone can turn undead if they have and present a proper holy symbol, but only one try is allowed in an encounter.

A combat round is broken into 2 phases a movement phase followed by a melee phase. Some actions use up you move phase and spells can’t be cast in a round where one moves or makes an attack. There are a few modifications to what happens when and it all looks playable without a lot of fiddling about.

A range of combat options are given such as the good old charge, critical hits (doing 2 dice of damage instead of 1 die), disarming an opponent, disrupting spell casting, driving back foes, strike for extra damage (up to 3 dice more), shields may be splintered, haxted weapons may be chopped, and weapons have some risk of breaking.

Hit Points work as one would expect in most ways but recovery and treatment get expanded but simple coverage in these rules. Binding wounds can be done right after a fight for 1-3 hp, surgery can be used to save or restore a character and this brings the survive adversity chance into play. The biggest change is  healing spells, potions, and devices can only restore hp once per day (at this point I’m unsure if this once per day is all inclusive or once per category). No yo-yo almost dead and just fine healing spell fueled combats in Seven voyages. A character loses 1 point of CON each time they must endure surgery so getting knocked down in hp is going to be serious business. Surgery can save a character’s life and can take weeks to recover from in some cases; fights are serious business in this game.

That’s all for now , just one book in and even with a lot of familiar ground a few rules here and there are shaping up this game to be it’s own despite all the familiar ground it covers. More to come…

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