Basically this little eighteen page book adds a boatload of combat options to your OD&D or Swords & Wizardry game. The book is well organized and concise in what it does and it does it well.
The book begins with how combat really works in the combat round then dives into an alternative system for OD&D style games. It presents new initiative and advanced options for the opening of combat. This includes wizards as well, then an overview of different options for two handed weapons, we dive into an entirely new take on the various forms of combat that will crop up during old school play. Many of these systems have been presented before from various sources ala Dragon Magazine, a variety of outside sources but the important thing here is that they've been boiled down and created into a far easier to use for. Clear and concise is the word here. The rules are very well done. The author knows his subject and isn't afraid to tackle the various systems and combat styles offered here including mounted combat, called strikes, and far more exotic combat options. All of these are brought to the table top with a style and finesse that I was quite surprised with. Speed and quickness of DM decision is rounded in this book so that even while its a tool kit, its a good solid piece of game design and writing. And this isn't simply man to man here instead we get mounted and battle field manuveurs as well. Shield wall anyone? This is the type of detail that's presented :
"The use of shield walls was a widespread tactic in pre-early modern warfare. The shield wall is a protective formation made by warriors standing side by side locking their shield together to form a “wall.” A second rank of warriors may stand behind the initial defensive rank with pole arms or spears to attack over or through the wall. At the referee's discretion, characters in the first rank can make attacks at a -4 penalty with weapons that can conceivably fit through the limited openings in the wall.
The shield wall itself provides protection to those behind it. Any creature attempting to attack anything within the shield wall makes to-hit rolls at a -4 penalty. Creatures attacking with missile weapons must make check to see if they bypass the wall before rolling to-hit. This equates to a 4 in 6 chance.
In Sample Shield Wall 1, pictured above, Orcs A and B gain a -4 penalty to attack the shield bearers in the front rank. The Orc Archer must roll 1d6 to attack any of the five combatants and may only roll to-hit on a result between 1 and 4. Meanwhile the pike bearers may attack Orcs A and B normally and the Mage is free to cast spells.
Additional ranks of shield bearers can add to the effectiveness of the wall by locking shields top to bottom as well as side to side. This affords an additional -4 penalty to attacker's to-hit rolls, for a total of -8. The chance of blocking missile attacks is likewise doubled. In this instance a ranged combatant only has a 2 in 6 chance of hitting an opponent within the shield wall. All combatants within the shield wall in Sample Shield Wall 2 gain this additional advantage against all orcs in the combat."
There are even death and dying rules as well sew into and peppered through the text. This is the attention to detail that brings me back to a writer or designer again and again. But besides OD&D, its retroclone systems, where else might Goldenrod's Guide To Combat By Rev.Ryan J Thompson be used? Well, believe it or not the ulitlity of the product is many fold. This book could be used with White Star to provide some much needed old school combat boosting power. The archaic weapons and weirdness of the various Star Wars & Star Trek like adventures could easily benefit from this book. And they even slot in the Weapon Proficiency rules into this book. And I'm sorry but there are times when you actually need those in various incarnations of D&D and retroclones. Jousting is covered and various forms of mounted combat also sneaks between the pages. Hell they even have rules for 'Tilting The Rings' and their solidly done as well as ranged combat. Target shooting, wand shooting, spear throwing from horse back are all covered and covered well.
This book also has more then enough siege & field rules that can be ported over to a post apocalyptic world at a tech level from Ancient Rome to the Dark Ages in spades. This book has all of the tools except black powder rules to make things very interesting for PC's not expecting bloody and dangerous combat because that's one of the things this book does besides streamlining things.
So surely this book can't be used to create adventure or adventure opportunities? Actually it can and it can do so very well. By starting with the back of the book and moving forward a DM can create from the ground up a series of tourneys, jousting events, and archery competitions to hook PC's into meeting rivals, gaining enemy NPC's and even interacting with royalty all while dealing with the hell of navigating through the various events. Have those fighters, archers, and barbarians prove themselves outside the dungeon. Nothing says test the PC's mettle then the opportunity to add in an event or two into their adventuring careers. There's also the fact that gossip is the second biggest draw to these events. How so and so went into the ruins of the ancient horror and sustained this or that injury and now their not fighting as well. This has led to any number of adventure opportunities.
But is this book actually usable? Well in a word yes. It presents an alternative set of combat options for the Dungeon Master who wants to tinker with and isn't afraid to experiment with combat. This has all of the combat element an OD&D style DM is going to want or need to be brought to their table. My advice is to pick this one up and use the hell out of it. If A. you want a new source of solid and very well done combat rules and B. You want to expand the role of combat outside of the dungeon and wilderness and get into it as part of adventuring along several new paths. The book is well done and solid in my opinion.
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