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Champions of ZED» Forums » Reviews

Subject: U–G–L–Y! You ain’t got no alibi! rss

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Eddie
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Bottom Line Up Front
If you can get past the crappily slap-dashed presentation, it's a solid old-school style game. But man, getting past that ugliness is one hell of a thing to ask.


Overview
First, don't let the name "Champions of ZED" mislead you – this is not a game about zombies. "ZED" is an acronym for Zero Edition Dungeoneering; this is the conceit upon which the game was created. Probably the best way to get across what the idea was behind this book, is to quote the author:

Daniel Boggs wrote:
To the extent possible, that is what Champions of ZED is. Champions of ZED aims to be very, very close in fact and spirit to the original three game booklets published in 1974, the earlier, recently recovered draft known as Beyond This Point be Dragons (aka the "Dalluhn Manuscript"), related materials directly from the two authors, and relevant portions of the Medieval Miniatures rules of 1971. The overriding goal has been to harmonize the collaborative genius of these two men, minimize the post publication input of others, and reset to zero the worlds greatest fantasy game, as only an inquisitive and careful editor can. Nevertheless the purpose for creating Champions of ZED is not simply to please a limited group of game Grognards interested in historical what-ifs. Rather Champions of ZED is designed to serve as a pathway to a different and neglected style of collective world building and open, exploratory gaming, or as it is often called, "Sandbox" play.



Presentation
Holy hell. Where do I even begin? How about the good stuff first...

The physical book (hardback) is solid and pretty good quality. Good paper used, and the printing is crisp and clear. There is a fairly normal amount of artwork scattered throughout the book. And the artwork is great stuff, and achieves the goal of evoking the old-school style of art (minus the occasional goofy cartoon panel).

And now to the bad stuff. And damn... it's bad.

The layout is worst part of the book; it is painfully bad and is very distracting. Oh, it's serviceable, but it's amateurish at best, and not at all what I expected. Just a few things I found particularly bad:

--Inconsistent paragraph and table formatting.
--Inconsistent spacing between and within paragraphs, tables, etc.
--Poorly managed flow of text around pictures and tables.

Then there's the cover art and layout. Jesus H. Christ. It is utter shit. Even for old-school styling. If I saw this on a store shelf, I wouldn't touch it. I'd probably reconsider ever visiting the store again.

HOLY SHIT. I just looked at the cover again. There’s just no excuse for this. I don't think I've ever seen a worse cover for an RPG product. Other than a complete replacement of the cover, there's not much that can be done for it. Though, some hidden cocks would go a long way in improving it.


Impressions
The game itself is a pretty standard old-school style game in the 3LBB tradition. In fact, it hews pretty close to 3LBB. There's nothing hugely different, but there are some tangents (which mostly seem to be combat-related), and those are based on extensive research that Dan did when pulling this all together. Actually, that's where the real interest lies with this book: the research on original notes from Gygax and Arneson and the earliest versions of Dungeons & Dragons.

That's where the book disappointed me, though. Fantastic research and thought went into this book, but the details of that research isn't in the book. There are some design notes by author at the beginning and end, but having more details and notes interspersed throughout would have been great. Some of his research notes are available on his website. It's just a shame those notes didn't make it into the book. Oh, it would have made it a little more annoying to use when gaming, but it would have been a much more interesting read (to me, anyway).

Just to say I did it, I did run through a couple sessions using these rules. Pretty standard old-school stuff, and plays as you'd expect. There's the extra (optional) crunch for the inclusion of miniatures to give it a more wargame feel, if you want to take the game in that direction.

Christ, that book is ugly.


Picking Nits
1. Personally, I would have liked this book much better if it had been done as a "scholarly" work – sort of a fully-annotated rules book that includes all his research and design notes (and excerpts from the Arneson's notes). Sure, it'd be annoying to use during play, but would be a fascinating read.

2. Good lord, I just looked at the cover again. I'm going to have to put a cover on that thing. This might even be a two-bagger.
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Steven Ege
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While the game itself is pretty standard fare, the reason no scholarly work was included is that it would open up the author to more accusations of confirmation bias. This is because the author hasn't proven his assertion that the Dalluhn Manuscript is a pre-D&D manuscript. Other theories regarding the manuscript have been presented in The Acaeum thread on the topic, and none of them have been outright eliminated. Since those theories are just as viable as they also fit the facts, more research needs to be done in this area.
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Eddie
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Ah, I suppose you're right. Still, I'd have preferred it as a scholarly work, even if it meant caveating the whole thing with "this is only one theory...".

Thanks for pointing this out -- I've been meaning to go back to those threads and read the alternative theories, but kinda forgot about it.
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Steven Ege
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I don't really have a dog in this hunt, but my gut feeling here is that the research is trying too hard to fit this document into a presumed hierarchy of D&D pre-publication documents. In doing so the researcher ignores the fact both Gygax and Arneson don't recall the presence of such a document during the development process, and ignores the presence of artwork, which would not be in a manuscript. Obviously, we may never know what the truth is regarding the manuscript, but there are much simpler theories available that take the given facts into account.

EDIT: Fixed misspellings of "too" and "hiearchy" in sentence 1.
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Mike Hill
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Is this a "playable" game as it stands or is it just an homage to the original game?

My gold standard for Original Edition games is Delving Deeper. I'd be curious to learn how the two compare.
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Dan Boggs
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Hiya, I'm the author. Well, at this point it's just silly to cast doubt on the historical reality of Dalluhn. You don't just have to take my word for it. Dalluhn has been well established by Jon Peterson, the current owner, as a pre D&D draft. I believe he has several articles in Gygax magazine, for example. And then of course there are the Mornard fragments, which certainly put an end to any possible lingering doubt. So no, confirmation bias has nothing to do with it. In fact I do have a source reference document one can consult, for those who might be interested http://odd74.proboards.com/thread/11213/coz-source-reference...

Is CoZ a playable game? absolutely!
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Dan Boggs
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hogscape wrote:
Is this a "playable" game as it stands or is it just an homage to the original game?

My gold standard for Original Edition games is Delving Deeper. I'd be curious to learn how the two compare.


Well, I would say they compare/complement quite favorably. The author of Delving Deeper and I have consulted on various topics often, so there is a degree of synergism between the games.
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Eddie
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Aldarron wrote:
hogscape wrote:
Is this a "playable" game as it stands or is it just an homage to the original game?

My gold standard for Original Edition games is Delving Deeper. I'd be curious to learn how the two compare.


Well, I would say they compare/complement quite favorably. The author of Delving Deeper and I have consulted on various topics often, so there is a degree of synergism between the games.


I've played CoZ a few times now (short, one-off adventures) and I agree with Dan's comment. Perfectly playable game, very similar to other OSR-type games (at least the ones that hew close to the earliest versions). Very easy to adapt modules from those systems to this one.
 
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Dan Boggs
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intrepideddie wrote:
Aldarron wrote:
hogscape wrote:
Is this a "playable" game as it stands or is it just an homage to the original game?

My gold standard for Original Edition games is Delving Deeper. I'd be curious to learn how the two compare.


Well, I would say they compare/complement quite favorably. The author of Delving Deeper and I have consulted on various topics often, so there is a degree of synergism between the games.


I've played CoZ a few times now (short, one-off adventures) and I agree with Dan's comment. Perfectly playable game, very similar to other OSR-type games (at least the ones that hew close to the earliest versions). Very easy to adapt modules from those systems to this one.


Thanks Eddie. The story behind the cover is that I commissioned the artist, who was an old school gamer and had played with Fred Funk of Blackmoor fame, to use his imagination and create a cover illustration, that in his opinion best captured the feel of his gaming experience, or something like that. When it was finished, some folks were less than thrilled with the idea of using the image he painted as my cover, so I decided it would be better to frame it in a gateway. <shrug>
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