[Review] Cairn (Core rules): Karen

[Core rules]
Cairn (2020?)

Yochai Gal

With my palette getting gradually spoiled by all of the efforts put out by enthusiastic amateurs and my current donation clocking in at a brobdignagian 400+ pages, I have been missing out on genuinely terrible material to laugh at. My edge grows dull and my body grows fat. Thankfully, the spirit of the TRVSR provided, and brought to my attention one of my detractors over on the angry side of the pond, where everything is dreadfully serious and there is but wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Yogai Girl spends a lot of time sulkily warning people away from buying my stuff and participating in No Artpunk (it did not work), time he, if a suggestion may be made, could have spent working on this book. It is that time, once again, to point and laugh.

I occasionally check out the work of people that, for whatever reason, move beyond a civilized dislike and into the joyless realm of perpetual seething where flowers do not bloom, if only to gauge my own merit. If Zak shrieks on the Lotfp discord that my work should not be shared because I am a liar, a terrorist and a harasser that is a cause for celebration! I have made it doll, I tell my fiance, as I smoke cigars, pour myself a cognac and put my feet on the desk, the reviewer big leagues where I can no longer be ignored. Now granted, Zak probably got up that day at twelve in the morning, accused his mailman of lying, went to the mall to buy new pink hairdye and antibiotics, accused everyone he met of harassment, called an uber, lying and harassment, went back to bed at four in the afternoon, texting his dealer about bad faith actors, then spent the fifteen dollars he made off of Cube World on getting an automation script set up so it automatically files a court order to anyone not on the Demon City mailing list, but its the thought that counts. A vastly overrated creator in his time, but by no means a talentless one.

Obviously, with Zak being banished to the Shadow Realm and now locked in a deadly struggle with Daniel Sell over who gets to be in charge of the crazy people, there is a rich market of newcomers, drug addicts, clowns and assorted fools that is left fallow. Enter Yochai Gal. He has the physiognomy, the cynicism, the rodentlike viciousness, indeed all the characteristics of becoming the next top guy in the NuSR! His only weakness is that he has no imagination and he cannot write. Gauging by the strength of the current entry, my star is either falling or there is just no one left in NuSR land with any fighting spirit. What about Luka Rejec? Why can’t I have a feud with Luka Rejec? I tried! Luka Rejec, for all his slavic Patrick Stuart doppleganger-like nature, is definitely imaginative, he has vision, he takes risks. I get how you can at least admire the Moebius Hexcrawl thing. The challenge with reviewing Cairn is how empty it all is. That’s it? you ask incredulously. And you get in return only a teary-eyed stare of simmering resentment.

Obviously there is nothing inherently wrong with making your own retroclone, a feat many people either attempt, or their current game has simply been expanded and houseruled until it becomes its own thing, adapted to the personal ideosyncracies of a GM and his group. The problem occurs when this personal creation is then taken to the market because daddy wants that RPG credit and it must be measured against a legacy of extant material. What does this add? Why has this been added? What does this do that is not already being done? There is a reason I refuse, or warn people away, from submitting their own OSR systems for review. A system is the most critical decision a would be GM can make, why would you ever go for something that is untried and all of 2 pages long if a superior and proven alternative has existed for decades? It must either do something new, or it must be a significant improvement on something extant.

A fourth generation rules-lite 20-page NSR game, maybe vaguely about exploring ‘an ancient woodland with all manner of creatures fae and fell’, the book acknowledges Into The Odd, Knave, the inventory system from Mausritter (???) and Weird North (???), it is perhaps best characterized by its generic approach, the smallness of its imagination, the sparseness of its content and its lack of distinguishing characteristics.

A somewhat vexed defender of Cairn, a Karen if you will, mentioned that I was slagging creatives not afraid to take risks, but frankly Cairn is the least creative work I have seen in a very long time. One could argue it is actually negatively creative. Its core ruleset is ported from Into the Odd but Into the Odd, while certainly flawed, was an bold experiment in minimalism, taking giant leaps and risks, combining its mechanical innovation with a bizarro landscape of industrialized hell, corroding machinery, alien visitation and lovecraftian horror in the manner of Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic or China Mevielle’s Bas-Lag. Magic is flung aside contemptuously alongside the class system, replaced with artifacts of three different strengths, porters and guns and ironclads. A bold proclamation is made: Extreme radical dudes only! Better wear your hazard goggles! And of course that is attractive to kids looking for the next kick. It is understandable.

Cairn takes that same system and half-heartedly turns it back to a medieval fantasy setting where a band of adventurers must explore ancient tombs, fight goblins, unearthing magic items and spells. SPIT TAKE. FUCKING EXCUSE ME? WE ALREADY HAVE THAT. IT IS CALLED D&D. IT IS CALLED BLACK HACK IF YOU ONLY HAVE 2 HOURS AND YOU HAVE TO PLAY ON THE BATHROOM AND IT IS CALLED KNAVE IF YOU ARE WEARING A FOAM HELMET. It then compounds that error further by making that original material less fantastical and conceptually dense then it previously was.

The aforementioned lite-games are an affront to some but they have their use and may be justified that at least they are broadly compatible with over 4 decades of supplements full of spells, monsters, items and adventures written for the world’s most popular roleplaying game and while the conversion from, say, Black Hack to AD&D might leave some holes that require filling, the conversion into simplicity is fairly easy to achieve. Cairn eschews this colossal advantage in favor of…well, that is to say, uh, maybe it’s own unique approach no wait there is nothing there, uh…to be continued.

We forget ourselves. After being treated to an attractive cover of choking brambles, Cairn lavishly spends 3 of its 20 pages outlining its general principles, thrilling us with such radical new concepts as:

Player Choice
Players should always understand the
reasons behind the choices they’ve made,
and information about potential risks
should be provided freely and frequently

Player characters may be powerful, but
also vulnerable to harm in its many forms.
Death is always around the corner, but it is
never random or without warning.

The Warden’s role is to portray the rules,
situations, NPCs and narrative clearly,
while acting as a neutral arbiter.

Which for a newcomer has so little context in terms of practical application as to be all but useless and from a regular in the OSR elicits perhaps a bored yawn or a tired nod. The few new additions such as this one

Characters are changed through diegetic
(in-world) advancement, gaining new
skills and abilities by surviving dangerous
events and overcoming obstacles

merit no further explanation whatever elsewhere in the text. It is not that the information is worthless, the principles for players and gamemasters would mostly serve as a useful primer in a game that is rich with principles, but what Cairn is or what its context is is never explained or explored beyond three sentences. Take this:

 The game world produces real risk of
pain and death for the player characters.
 Telegraph serious danger to players
when it is present. The more dangerous,
the more obvious.
 Put traps in plain sight and let the
players take time to figure out a
 Give players opportunities to solve
problems and interact with the world.

I know what this means. I don’t agree with point 3, but I know exactly how to apply it. This is because I already know about dungeons, I know tonnes of rules about listening at doors, finding traps, secret doors, encounter distance etc. If you gave me those rules, I might be able to figure out their spirit, but add a principle, and bam! blammo! We are in business. The spirit of the rules. Here you get the spirit of the rules, I mean, a bastardized version of the spirit of the OSR as described in half a dozen primers, throw in some storygame nonsense, and there you have it. Now you can Cairn.

So now that we have established that Yochai Gal has at least interacted with OSR material before or perhaps had someone read it to him quickly on his lunchbreak while he typed up Cairn, that places him into the unfortunate position where he must now explain why his game lacks rules for even the most basic elements of your standard OSR dungeoncrawler shitbrew that those principles concern. I am not talking about fucking medieval crop yields and inheritance law. I am talking about fucking listening at doors or disarming traps. Just use common sense, IDK. Trash.

Okay, so character creation. Roll 3d6 three times. STR, DEX, WP just like Into the Odd. Roll for your age for whatever reason, there is no other mechanic that interacts with it but sure, get someone between 12 and 52, roll background, roll 1d6 for starting hp, and…well that’s it. The game has no levels, you will not advance beyond that. I guess you could retroclone Into the Odd’s advancement back into Cairn but that might be against the spirit of the game, where the PCs wander throughout a vague enchanted forest perpetually stuck at level 1. A fitting punishment for a lack of discernment!

Encumbrance. Taken from another game. 10 slots, 6 in your backpack, helmet, body, two hands. What about your feet? What about a ring? Fuck you no feet. No fingers. “Most items take up one slot, and small items can be bundled together. Slots are
abstract and can be rearranged per the Warden’s discretion
.” Ah yes, the old enemy, GM’s discretion. There used to be a time, and this would have been around 1980, that GM’s discretion was a necessary extension, a reflection of the fact the game is trying to do something that is almost impossible, simulate an entire world, and rules are ever a mere attempt at modelling something that is so infinetely nuanced, infinetely complex, that it cannot be grasped with rigid procedure. Today it is used mainly to avoid earnest effort by lazy hipsters without prospects, eager to call themselves Designer so they may transcend from their job at the Starbucks and become a graphic designer making brochures for a car leasing company.

How about this? And this is a general offer: Whenever you have a spare lunchbreak to write a game like this, simply write, ALL RULES ARE SUBJECT TO REVISION AND FINAL ARBITRATION BY THE GM. Done. Write it once. No need to repeat it. Small items can be bundled together? How many? Why is it important? Carrying capacity modifies movement speed, modifies torch useage and number of random encounters gained. Not here. Why not have an inventory of GM’s discretion slots if you are going to be lazy? You count as having 0 hp if your inventory is totally full, and some items count as Bulky, meaning two slots, which does indeed enforce some sort of consequence to carrying too much. Treasure is bulky! All treasure, always, everything. The granularity has been reduced to an absolute condition. The careful management of equipment, the gradually sliding movement rates, these are all gone, and little exists to prop them up.

There are backgrounds and random names but of course these do nothing and inform nothing. As a stand-in for professions in the old AD&D alternative to proficiencies it is defensible and this is of course, fully present in Into the Odd, but we should give some sort of minimal credit to Yochai Gal for coming up with medieval professions like Merchant and Performer and Ranger. The first genuine attempt at mustering some sort of creative energy should be celebrated, however minor. Well done. A list of 20 first names and surnames, generously provided. Fantastic. Consider for a moment, an alternate reality where the author had used this page to establish some sort of theme or mood. Consider if instead of merchant, gambler and Ranger, there was, say, a list of normal english professions, suggesting a more low fantasy or faerie-tale milieu? What if it had had more baroque professions? Witch-hunter, Faerie-slayer, Bailiff? Hexenmeister whatever? I think back to something like Dark Heresy RPG which not only devoted 1 of its more then 400 pages on d100 names for each of 4 different backgrounds but used those names to evoke or hint at the baroque atmosphere and endless history of the place.

A full page of character traits is given to flesh out the character, who, in lieu of mechanical abilities, must be differentiated by background and surface level detail. Notice traits like the state of the clothing, the manner of speech, the vices and virtues, each of which receives a lavish 10 options each, allowing for tremendous surface level variation.

Starting gear. Per Into the Odd Everything is random. You get random equipment based on your starting package, and you get more random gear based on some dice. Nothing here is fundamentally terrible. It is too primitive to be bad or good. The issue is that there is nothing else. Devoting an entire page to starting names is perfectly fine if you have a big book and have all your fundamentals covered and you want a little bit of flavor. A convenience. Here it is 5% of the book.

So unlike Troika Cairn does offer ye Aulde equipment list, and though none of the items have any sort of description, the game has so little in the way of mechanics that any effect can just be put in brackets behind the entry. Please hold on to your seats while you read this (extremely mindblowing risk-taking game design incoming).

Notice the way Bedroll prices have been increased from their initial appearance in OD&D yet Grappling hooks have retained their value. Ponder the mysteries of a setting where a crowbar costs the exact same as a lens of finely shaped glass or an unspecified amount of grease. Consider also, if you will, why you would ever purchase the more expensive and bulky Brigandine if the gambeson is available. Why has the rope been reduced to a mere 25 ft, yet the Pole retained its full length. We will likely never find out. Also, still using gold standard? Tisk tisk.

Page 11, rules. As Into the Odd, but slightly shittier. Consider, if you will, the following guideline.

Resting for a few moments and having a
drink of water restores lost HP but leaves
the party exposed. Ability loss (see page 14)
can usually be restored with a week’s rest
facilitated by a healer or other appropriate
source of expertise. Some of these services
are free, while magical or more expedient
means of recovery may come at a cost

Exposed to what, might one inquire? To BAD GAMEDESIGN? To HACKS? Being deprived of something essential all has the same effect. Each day means you lose an inventory slot to fatigue, but there does not seem to be an effect for getting full fatigue, with the exception of the penalty for full inventory, which I am sure is a deliberate game design choice made by the designer and not a sloppy omission because no one ever starves in Cairn because NO ONE CARES AND YOUR PARENTS GOT DIVORCED.

Armor uses the Into the Odd rules but removes the interesting element of having Archaic armor that required a shield hand and modern armor that required none, creating an additional hindrance. Helmet and shield effectively take up 1 extra slot and the maximum armor is capped at 3 for no reason but there is essentially the same simple tradeoff between protection and encumberance, and having an extra hand does mean you can do more damage. Just like in into the odd.

Reaction rolls are 2d6 flat, Morale is actually included and involves a Will Check. I was getting depressed so actually including morale, and then using a statt that you are using for it anyway because muh minimalism, is in a way heartening.

Gold rules are essentially vestigial. There is no Gold for XP in this game because there is no XP, and the most expensive item in the game is a cart, equivalent to 20 items of grease or 200 gp. There is no reason to accumulate wealth and nothing to spend it on. You could argue B/X or OSE suffers from the same problem but OSE shortcircuits this by giving you XP for it, making it your primary method of advancement. At least give people an out. Put an item on the fucking list. ‘Peace in our Time’- 10000 gp. ‘Patrick Stuart’s House’ – 1000000 GP. How much does gold weigh? Not answered. Could have gone for the virgin 100 gp = item, instead went with the chad ‘my shift starts in 5 min I don’t have time.’ Golf clap.

Hireling rules.

PCs can hire hirelings to aid them in
their expeditions. To create a hireling,
roll 3d6 for each ability score, then give
them 1d6 HP and a simple weapon (d6),
then roll on the Character Creation tables
to further flesh them out. Hirelings cost
between 1-3gp per day, or a share of
whatever treasure the party obtains.

What happens if I treat them poorly? What happens if I give them a dangerous order? How many hirelings can I have? Would you say ten million? What kind of share do they want? What if I ask one of them to kill the other for my amusement? What if I ask one of them to spend a lunchbreak designing a game that STINKS?

Instead of Oddities and Artifacts, Cairn has SPELLS. They are exactly the same but less compelling. Ironically, casting spells requires both hands free, and casting them does cause one point of fatigue, meaning wizards are, in some minor way, penalized for wearing armor, although 1d6 starting hp means you are going to want to stack as much armor as you humanely can. Spells cannot be transcribed, created, bought, sold or otherwise created, they function like magic items that lay around in magic ruins or whatever the fuck. SPIT. HAWK-SPIT.

If the PC is deprived or in danger, the Warden may require a PC to make a WIL save to avoid any ill-effects from casting the spell. Consequences of failure are on par with the intended effect, and may result in added Fatigue, the destruction of the Spellbook, injury, and even death

May require. Notice weasely conditional, arbitrary, cowardly refusal to make a definitive statement, allowing one to deflect possible criticism of shoddy implementation. It may sometimes, if you want to, mind you, and if you are in some sort of danger (if you think so), have an effect, maybe fatigue, or something, maybe the Kool Aid man crashes through the wall and begins singing.

ACTUALLY GOOD CONTENT INCOMING. relics a.k.a. magic items. They are actually faerie-tale like, hinting perhaps towards some sort of unique setting or idea. There are 4 of them. How many good items does D&D have? Would you say, a thousand? Several hundred? Cairn has 4. Even Into the Odd gave quite a few oddities, knowing full well this would be of primary importance. Here…

Honeyclasp, 3 charges. A rusted ring that
shrinks the bearer to 6”tall. Recharge:
place in a thimble-sized cup of royal jelly.

Falconer’s Friend, 1 charge. A bolt-shaped
wand carrying the Haste spell. Recharge:
fire from a crossbow and recover.

Staff of Silence, 1 charge. This blackened
rod temporarily disables all magic within
50ft. Recharge: bathe in the light of a full

Leycap, 1 use. Anyone ingesting this
green-flecked mushroom loses a Fatigue,
but is then required to make a WIL save to
avoid its addictive properties. A fail leaves
the PC deprived and unable to focus until
they can eat another leycap, providing
only a brief reprieve from the addiction.

And if we would find that in a normal game, we would go, oh, how nice. How many items are in the DMG? Try to view your effort in the light of something already extant. What a fucking gnat you are in comparison. What an absolute lowlife attoscopic noneffort this is. Empire of the Petal Throne? Nightmares Underneath? Shadowrun? Even Into the Odd. AT LEAST the Black Hack or Knave or something can boast compatibility with all that stuff that is already there.

Combat – Like INTO THE ODD but more abstracted, multiple attacks targeting a single target just roll and use the highest dice, a disgusting conceit. Cue a critical hit table if you go below zero. Just read my Into the Odd review. Note Burning Oil is available for sale, but is not covered separately in combat, meaning the effect is not covered anywhere. Firing into melee…whatever. Blanket modifiers are cynically boiled down to advantage and disadvange. Mass combat rules are added…and so what? There is no system or procedure to support it.

This is a section where I complain about the omission of exploration or dungeon crawling rules and Yochai Gal can’t in all honesty complain about this particular gripe since he has slowly and carefully, over geological ages or perhaps someone told him, come to the realization that you actually need those things, so if you want a particularly terrible and lazy rendition of procedures that were established before the internet existed then I invite you to look them up yourself on the website.

This is a section where I complain there is no level up and though the book discusses the option of diegetic (I think he means Diabetic because this is making me want to eat a bucket of ben and jerries) advancement, but there is no hint, nor procedure on how to handle it. You are left with having to do all the heavy lifting yourself, precisely what you don’t need if you play someone else’s game.

If this is meant to be an outline, something for people to develop for themselves, where is the fucking inspirational stuff? Where is the magic? I reviewed Ashen Void and it is nothing but impressionist tables and hints that your mind must piece together into your own ruleset. And its fascinating. Bizarre. Alluring. This is off-putting. Banal. Vapid.

Bestiary. Five creatures. Trolls. Boggarts. Wood things. No rules about the enchanted forest, no special gazzeteer, or environmental modifiers. No sample adventure, like Into the Odd, crucial, CRUCIAL, when you introduce a new or semi-new system. No 100 hooks about the magic forest about what an adventure even is. Nothing. Five things and a MONSTER GENERATOR. The GALL. The absolute CHUTZPAH, of taking this game with all of 2 stats and spending half a page on a CONVERSION and monster creation GUIDE. AN INFANT could make a new monster in Cairn. A man coming out of a six month COMA after cerebral haemorrage, could figure out how to do it. CAN YOU READ? Then you can make monsters for Cairn. Here I’ll do a medusa and i didn’t even check the generator properly.

Hp: 6
Str: 8 Dex: 16 lol Wis: 14
Armor: 1
* Petrifying Gaze single target must make a Wis save or lose 3d6 dex.
* Snakes Cairn doesn’t have poison rules but 1d4 dam str save or lose 1d6 str or something

Spells. Spells is the only part where maybe Yochai did a little bit of work. Not a lot, most spells are straight from D&D, but he did, somewhere, come up with a handful of spells that are not already there. Each is a single line. This is about the general level of quality.

We can ask questions like why the duration of Shield is one minute while the length of rounds is made arbitrary by design or what the statts of a summoned monster are or the range or whatever the fuck but it doesn’t matter. Just do something. No one who plays this gives a shit. Do something that looks like a game somewhere. All wizards in Cairn should carry Carts and ride on horses since that means they can take more fatigue. Take some solace from that notion.

I think it is charming that one of the 24 pages of this 20 page booklet with 5ish pages of rules, they took the trouble to include a rules summary that is just one page of rules. Why not just use that? Is the additional text that vital to the balance of the game? Will you ruin all the tournament play?

So it is unfair to assume everyone who likes Cairn is a complete halfwit based solely on the dozens of individuals that I have encountered online. Brad Kerr is considered decent and he wrote the Demon’s Maw for Cairn, granted a best on tenfoopole, before he came to his senses, shrugged off the evil mind-control gypsy spells of Yochai Gal and started writing for OSE instead. The point to take away is that playing Cairn does not ruin you irrevocably, and through patience, hard work and diligence, you can be cured of it and learn to enjoy normal games like everyone else already does.

What strikes one with Cairn is the general lack of ambition, the smallness of the imagination and the focus on minituae and trivia over innovation and substance. It evokes images of playing a game where one is perpetually at level 1. The way there seems to be no inspiration behind it. In Troika we get the idea of an uncontrolled firing of the cortex, of straining against convention but being unable to harness those energies and achieve flight. In Cairn we get a flatline, an intimation of burnt out neurons and benzodiazepam. The vaguest outline of some idea maybe perhaps. No appendix N, no introductory fiction god help us, no gazzeteer, not the merest hint of the world or backdrop of the world and only a handful of illustrations to guide us. In fact I could write an appendix N for Cairn right here that would instantly convey what it is perhaps vaguely hinting at.

The King of Elfland’s Daughter – Lord Dunstany
Evenor – George McDonald
The Snail and the Slope – Boris & Arkady Strugatsky
The White People – Arthur Machen (Calm down Yochai it’s not what you think)
Lyonesse – Jack Vance

The women of the wood – Abraham Merrit.

I understand that by providing this short list of fiction I have invested Cairn with infinitely more thought, substance and value then Mr. Gal ever could so I should rightfully be made its primary author but I will decline the honor on the grounds that it is not an honor and I do not want my name to be attached to a ramshackle derivative piece of drivel.

To ye would be authors of rules lites, micro-games and other things OSR, treat this as a cautionary tale. Your mission is not impossible. Your goals are not always malign. If you, by your efforts, bring a person into this hobby and he learns the basics and moves on you have done something worthwhile. If you are reading this and you think, waitaminute, that could apply to my fucking game, then it probably does. Have some fucking perspective and put some fucking work into what you put out. If I was a guy trying to get into RPGs and someone left Cairn on my bed I would throw it in the trash and later ask them why they felt the need to print out the home-made game that they came up with for the scouting weekend. Its free. There’s that. I’m sure the second edition will cost money, but at least we aren’t being charged for this. Here’s hoping I didn’t pick on someone who is actually mentally disabled but I somehow feel a game made by a literal moron would have more soul, heart and a childlike sense of wonder.

A dead bird with a cigarette put out in it.



91 thoughts on “[Review] Cairn (Core rules): Karen

  1. You gave Cairn a bit too much credit. It appears a lot of that spell list is lifted, verbatim or paraphrased, from Knave.

    While I’ve mentioned Knave, do you have any opinions on it beyond its users’ need for head protection?


    1. I mentioned it a bit. I am not a fan of ultra-lites but I can see the neccessity and utility of having something that is 10 pages and allows you to crawl a dungeon in 10. Some of the things like the useage Die are a bit sketchy. I might give it a lookover, but I am on a strict Artpunk ration.


  2. Take it easy.

    Did you tell yourself as a child: “I want to grow up to be a troll. On the subject of Old School RPGs. Because stakes are about as low as they come”?

    It is a pity. For you are a talented reader and have produced astute observations. Even if I don’t always agree with your opinion I feel that I often have a lot to learn from reading you.

    But with increasing frequency you produce something like this – so completely out-of-proportion bellicose about a kids’ game, for HEAVEN’S SAKE!!!

    Take it easy. Take a chill pill. These are toys.

    Learn from Bryce and the others about how to conduct yourself. Don’t be an aggressive, chauvinist, bitter, shrill stereotype.

    Review the work as written. Do not review work “as you would have written it”.

    And remind yourself – over and over – that you are writing about playthings.

    Not fucking Hemingway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Um…what the fuck?

      “A kids’ game?”


      You are the asshole here.

      Is Cairn (a word commonly associated with a burial mound…the kind that the back cover of the game states implies will be pillaged in play) designed as a toy? To be played by children? If so, as Prince rightly points out, it leaves a LOT to be desired as an instructional text.

      Personally, I play Dungeons & Dragons, a game designed for adults. Says so right on the cover of my Moldvay edited Basic book:

      “The Original Fantasy Role Playing Game For 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up”

      Pretty explicit that. Though I have since moved on to the “advanced” version of the game, having several decades of (adult) gaming experience under my belt.

      Prince’s criticism is caustic…that’s his usual style…but despite the snark, his points have validity. That YOU find them somehow more acerbic than Bryce Lynch’s lampooning of shit material leads me to conclude that either you have read precious few of Bryce’s posts (try his series on Dungeon Magazine) *OR* it is just that this particular product holds a special place in your heart and you are unhappy with the way it’s had its flaws pointed out.

      It’s not Prince who’s the troll here.


      While normally I’d be happy to let you defend yourself on your own blog (rather than jump into yet another stupid internet disagreement) Mr. Booger92 offended my delicate…and hair-trigger…sensibilities. My apologies.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. @Booger
      Acktually the frequency of these sorts of posts has diminished if you had been paying attention. Now, on to the subject at hand.

      I certainly do not need to change how I conduct myself, this is my personal backyard. I don’t charge you anything, and if you do not care for the odd bonfire you are free to skip it, not comment, or indeed leave. As an observer of the OSR, it is my pleasure to occasionally tilt at windmills, tip sacred cows, ignite fires and rave as well as critique patiently. Retreating into nihilism ‘it’s just a game man, bro, y’all need to lighten up etc. etc.’ is pointless. The above style is hyperbolic by design. If you don’t find it funny that’s alright, but please don’t take it as a reason to offer unsollicited life advice, or even worse, reviewing advice.

      As for your reviewing advice, you simply don’t understand reviewing. You review using a frame of reference. As such it is perfectly reasonable to critique Troika for not having an equipment list when such a thing is a neccessary component of the game, to offer occasional tips improvement, or to speculate on why a component fails and how it could have been fixed. This also allows the diligent reader a glimpse into the reviewer’s thought processes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You have done us all a favor sponsoring the autist anthologies. And when you are being lucid and to the point, your reviews are among the best. I read your blog in a targeted fashion: what makes “Dark Tower” foundational etc. I am grateful for the time you take.

        But when you rile things up (hyperbole by design, you say) and light dumpster fires for the purpose of entertainment, then it makes me wish you wouldn’t: tell me instead (like in your Troika example) why you find that A works and B doesn’t.

        So no: you do not *need* to change anything. This is your corner of the world. I am your uninvited guest. I am not offering you advice. I am aspirational.

        Your tilting at windmills obfuscates. Pointing this out is not nihilism. Or relativism. (Although no matter what Sancho says, we are discussing a game for kids). And I wish you wouldn’t.

        I am well aware that my wish is unlikely to be granted. But if others come for the circus, I come for the bread.

        Enough said. I will not comment again.


      2. I take umbrage only with the notion that I have not outlined exactly what the problem is with this non-effort of a game. Do as you please, comment or not. I don’t hold grudges. But I will not be lectured to about some imagined sense of propriety.

        A jeweled scalpel for a masterpiece or strange experimental work. For this? The hammer shall suffice.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Half hearted defense; if you wanted to play a fantasy game using into odd’s mechanics then this could save you some time, so it ostensibly has some reason to exist.
    Also the “+1 armour” next to gambeson suggests it could be used with the base 1 armour brigandine provides. A quick google suggests that this was something that was historically done.


    1. Yeah, I think Anon is correct regarding the gambeson (that it stacks with other types of mail); meant to mention this in my own comment.


  4. The spells are largely Knave’s 100 spells stripped of the way Knave makes them stronger with levels. The BULKY tag comes from Electric Bastionland, the follow-up to Into the Odd, as does the ganging-up rule of multiple attacks basically providing advantage.

    Running Cairn, ItO, and EB for about 10 consecutive sessions had one very positive effect for me as a new GM: it pushed me onto OD&D, B/X, and AD&D and the realization that ultralights were totally the wrong way for me to learn to run the game I want to run.

    Ultralights were very appealing when I was starting out because I could quickly internalize what mechanics existed, but without other experience and insight from mechanics designed for exploration I was clueless how to make it really work. These games require prior knowledge in story gaming and/or D&D to be effective. For me, at least.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. *Prince wrote:*
    “Enter Yochai Gal. He has the physiognomy, the cynicism, the rodentlike viciousness, indeed all the characteristics of becoming the next top guy in the NuSR! His only weakness is that he has no imagination and he cannot write.”

    I have the same relationship with (and interest in) the ‘NuSR’ that I have for ‘NuMetal:’ pretty much zero, due to an aversion with fostering even more antagonism and negativity in my sphere of reality. Needless to say, I found much of this essay on Cairn to be amusing (the bit about the Kool-Aid man elicited a minor guffaw from Yours Truly).

    Whether the criticisms are fair and accurate…well, it costs nothing, so I suppose I can read it myself and make a decision.

    However, seeing that the thing has an average rating of 4.7 stars on DriveThru (with more than 80% awarding it full marks) it is clear that a “rules light” approach to adventure gaming is the current trend. Fortunately, I have already penned such a game:


    Somehow, I must find the time to put this into a PDF form (with public domain art) and release it to the general public alongside this jewel of design.

    RE: Yochai Gal

    Was he really warning people away from your products and the NoArtpunk contest? Where? Why? I *did* see him referring to tenfootpole on his blog as a “den of snakes,” which is…weird. Or normal (for our times) or…something. Huh.

    RE: Into The Odd

    An amusing anecdote…I’ve been informed the author of ‘Odd’ has cited my blog (or rather a specific blog post or two) as the inspiration for his combat system. Slightly ironic considering (and always assuming it’s the essay I’m thinking of) the “new combat rules” I proposed were play-tested and found to be rather inferior and not-so-fun when put into actual play. That ‘Odd’ found a way to make them work for his game is a credit to his design abilities.

    RE: Completely Off Topic

    Looking forward to the USA’s upcoming match against Big Orange on Saturday. Hopefully, the dirty Dutch won’t be crotch-punching our players like they did the Senegalese.
    ; )


    1. In his discord server, Yochai removes links to work by both Prince and Melan as well as any comments praising either of them or their work regardless of whether what’s being praised has anything at all to do with problematic behavior. In the “Between Two Cairns” podcast hosted by Yochai and Brad Kerr, Yochai called out “The Sepulchre of Seven” for praising Melan and listing his blog in the product’s Acknowledgements section. This lead to a product update which removed all mention of Melan and the adaptation of Melan’s “Does Energy Drain Suck?” mechanic. The new monster, “Mélicorne, the Melanistic Unicorn” was retained. The DriveThruRPG product update notification alludes to this will the following note: “removed problematic words and references”.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Melan/Gabor is probably one of the sweetest people I’ve had the pleasure to discuss gaming with. Every item I ordered from him came with a handwritten note, showing his sincere pride and care in putting out playable material filled with imagination and passion. My group always has a blast playing through his modules. Truly a master craftsman unafraid of experimentation based on solid playtesting. I am ashamed my fellow countryman mr. Gal has chosen to conduct himself in such a manner.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. @ShaharH
        He’s been thoughtful and helpful every time I’ve interacted with him.

        When I was still exploring Nu-OSR circles I certainly saw lots of accusations of “problematic” tossed towards around, but the actual evidence was almost never mentioned. From what I could put together over time, the charges were wrong politics (including a photo of Carlson Tucker in a blog post), flippant responses to vitriol over said politics using unapproved of language (“communist furries” and “retarded” seemed to really stir the pot), the dead-naming of a certain classic adventure author, and the inclusion of Jews and Gypsies (including use of the name “Gypsies” instead of Romani) among the playable people groups of 17th century Europe in his game Helvéczia.

        I’m no longer a member of the discord server where the comment was made so I can’t double-check or provide a link, but I recall that in explaining why he would always delete links to Melan’s work Yochai stated that the issues are “literally life and death” or something to that effect. And hence, deleting links and appreciative statements, public accusations of being “problematic” rather than actually dealing with the specific issues, calling out adventure authors for including appreciation of Melan in their adventures, and campaigning to block Melan’s work from appearing in the Knock! zine were all considered the correct ethical choice.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Helvéczia is probably my favorite game to have come out in recent years. I think his treatment of jews in the game (a people both myself and Yochai Gal are counted amongst) is extremely entertaining yet honorable and shows his respect and knowledge. Reading through picaresque novels who inspired this game I came across some classic antisemitism portraying jews as some sort of urban Kender-lawyer-merchant hybrids, which I found extremely funny and even somewhat cool (not that the game pushed in that direction, but when we played the game we really leaned into these national stereotypes as befitting the genre). I guess some people are simply allergic to humor, gentlemanly behavior and good taste.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. @ShaharH
        Helvéczia is an inspiring read, and I love the tone and atmosphere of it. I hope I get to run or play it eventually. I personally love the setting and exploring the inspirational media for it. Increasingly, however, I’m seeing comments from people unwilling to engage anything that isn’t ideologically “safe”. One comment in particular was from a person who wouldn’t read *anything* from early 20th century or prior eras out of fear of running into the various types of chauvinism and bigotry prevalent in those eras. Troubling thought, really, to be unable to engage anything that doesn’t have assurances of safety. Stepping outside one’s own door must be terrifying with that mindset.

        I’m glad to hear you’ve had such a good time with Helvéczia! It makes me want to run/play it all the more.


      5. Thanks for explaining this bit. One minute G. Lux’s work is up for sale on sites like Exhausted Furnace then the next it isn’t. I figured it had to be some ‘problematic’ political/social post on his blog. Heard Yochai’s call out of Melan and it’s been a head scratcher ever since.


      6. @gornlord

        It is much pettier then that. It was a comment on tenfootpole. Feel free to ask (belligerently, and in an accusatory manner of course) Yochai what the impetus was should you come across him on the web. I guarantee you will be surprised by the outcome. Most of these people seem to know what they are doing is evil so they have switched to backrooms and innuendos but it appears our Mr. Gal has not learned his lesson. Yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Huh? Where did that come from, booger? Bryce as a social role model? What a weird choice.
    But most importantly: Why don’t you love the little game of ours, booger? Are you not playing it yourselves? We can help you out, there is multiple discord based open-table campaigns. Play a bit and your discomfort for those who actually play will go away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the game and I play it weekly – for the moment G. Lux’s inimitable Xyntillian – with a group of ten. I have no self-hatred over playing kid’s games. I admire said work in particular for its delivery of prime entertainment to children of all ages.

      I was simply hoping for more substance and a little less posturing from our erudite host. I dislike the aggressive style. I find recurring ad hominem attacks on people like Rejec and Sabbath and Stuart within the context of reviews of someone else’s work somewhat pointless. And I generally find the politicizing of playtime tiring.

      I get why this review doesn’t appreciate Cairn. I sounds pretty terrible and I appreciate the warning. But it is unlikely to cause the end of the world.

      If the goal of a review is to be efficient in delivering its critique, then I do not understand why its (astute) observations have to be buried under layers of moans and wailing.

      De gustibus, I suppose.

      He is in his right and I can read past the falsetto as I appreciate the countless good things offered on this page.

      The rambling way I presented myself in my first comment was a-hole-y. Which sort of defies the purpose. So I recognized my faults and got on with it.


  7. What strikes me is the pretension too. The guy has literally cobbled together 95% of his game from other sources but goes to make a website for it. All the marketing around it has about two orders of magnitude more effort put into it then actual design. Beautiful. Perfect target, perfect tone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a feature, not a bug, of neoliberal capitalism. Minimum spend on product development, maximal spend. on marketing, sell it for 12mo and then upgrade/repackage said product and re-market it as ‘new’

      I think that there’s a place for light fantasy systems as an introduction to the concept of rpg, but this wouldn’t be it. I’d direct those people to Mausritter, a fine wee game.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I objected to your spelling of Chuzpa !!! And then read that in dutch you sound G as CH how odd… 😉
    Oh and thanks for your countless reviews…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are very welcome, glad you both enjoyed! The Dutch ‘G’ is beyond the vocal range of most mortal men, but any abberations in spelling are to be chalked up exclusively to my own stupidity.


  9. Thank you sir. This review pissed off many fanboyz of NSR. The funniest thing is that they can’t accuse this review of lying because these are just facts taken from Cairn.

    And the funniest thing is that pepole playing Cairn say they need to houserule it to… basically make it back a proper D&D game. Those “game designers” butcher D&D to provide those “rules-light” games which then are being played with houserules to make them feel like D&D. Absurd.

    Great review.

    PS. Good luck Netherlands today against USA!


    1. Crotch-punched!

      Lot of complaints for the US coach and the use of non-Americans who gave up goals (Dest, Robinson). Irony is that the US is historically good on defense and defensive gaffes killed ‘em. Fuuuuck.


      1. Yeah, yeah. You realize everyone hates the Dutch, right? Your guys’ll be up against it going forward.
        ; )


      2. Dest is playing very badly for two seasons now since he went out from Ajax.

        Today Poland v France! Hope we won’t get smashed harder than Spain – Costa Rica. I’m fine with 4-0 loss.


      3. Poland’s defense is pretty solid, while France’s is somewhat suspect (they just keep opponents on the back foot thanks to the speed and power of their attackers). It’s an interesting matchup…I doubt very much the result will be 4-0. Maybe 2-1.

        Dest played well overall, with only one (costly) mistake…despite what I wrote earlier, he was more a highlight than a lowlight. Robinson was the real disappointment. In the main, I disagree strongly with the US coach’s approach, but second-guessing strategy after a disappointing outing is probably the lame thing every fan of every nation does…I’ll save such rants for another time.

        [sad about Uruguay, Mexico, and Germany…all teams I tend to root for, all going out after handily winning their final matches of the group stage. The nature of sport, of course: not everyone gets to hoist the trophy. But, still, it is a pleasure to watch good soccer and the World Cup always goes by too fast]


  10. If the author is a Jew no doubt the hundreds of millions of dollars it generates because of Jew domination in publishing will be funnelled to the Jew war in Ukraine, and then back to the Democrat party in the US. It looks like the author of Cairn is as phoney as Sam Bankman-Fried.

    Jew war in Ukraine? Nulands, Blinkin, Kolomoisky, Zelensky. The US department of State is dominated by Jews who make up 2% of the population. The Federeal Reserve, The Attorney General. The US is an occupied power. That Europe is under the thumb of the US was proven by the Nord Stream pipeline fiasco. Not only did the US-UK destroy the pipeline, but the Europeans didn’t know, or believe it was possible that the US would do it.

    So Prince, don’t rule out that the Jew NYT promotes Cairn and you eat your words like a pussy.


    1. @ Kent:

      Is this a joke? I only ask because sometimes it’s difficult to interpret context/sarcasm over the internet, and I just wanted to double check before I spend time writing a long and scathing reply belittling the intelligence of someone making so asinine a comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. An old-fashioned Prince post, full of piss and vitriol? Is it my birthday? Nope, that’s tomorrow, but still, ça m’amuse.

    [General observations]

    I know I compare things to Advanced Fighting Fantasy often, but – three stats, bare minimum characterisation, no really robust advancement, equipment that might as well be “whatever you could plausibly have on you” and a premise that’s like the lightest of lightweight imitations of D&D – I’ve been here before, me.

    Having written a few ultralights I accept the charge levelled by Tuirgin upthread: they work IF you are writing for an audience of either the jaded/experienced players of something that exists, who have balked at and divested from it for whatever reason, OR for the finite audience that isn’t really interested in the “game” part of roleplaying games but needs the skeletal pretence of it to encourage the “roleplaying” part. This is weird in that it’s slightly too substantial for the latter and feels unnecessary for the former.

    (I also feel Seen, and Known, by the Jacobean comment about the marketing cycle. Genuinely didn’t realise that’s what I was doing, but ignorance is no excuse.)


    In Which Our Prince Discovers Free Kriegspiel Roleplaying?

    [Randomly Generated Character Traits]

    This isn’t really about Ciaran, but: do OSR people need these charts to distinguish Blembo the Cleric from his suspiciously similar predecessor Flembo the Priest? If you’re doing the whole “not storygame! avatar not character!” thing that I associate with the movement, then I can see this bare bones approach being fit for purpose there – if your character dies, reroll hit points and characteristics, change the name on the sheet, we’ll bring you in at the next opportune moment, or use the same approach to out a completely new fella. You know what your character looks like and why they’re down the dungeon and it’s something approriately, basically sword-and-sorcery-ish. But when it comes to proper roleplaying (snort, scoff, sip of the bloodwine etc.) I find this is the stuff players bring to the table all by their own selves.


    1. @ Jonathan E.

      #1 Happy birthday.

      #2 Blembo and Flembo are great names.

      #3 I don’t know if “OSR people” feel the need for random charts. I play games associated with the OSR, and *I* don’t feel the need for them…at least, not anymore. A few years back, when I was doing B/X exclusively, I made use of several random charts to “fill out” the chargen process (mainly because very little distinguishes one B/X character from another mechanically…and with the fast turnover/churn rate of PCs I wanted some more distinction). With AD&D (the version I play now) there is sufficient distinction…and low enough character churn…that I perceive no such “lack.”

      I would imagine that the more “light” the rule set, the less mechanical the distinctions and the more desire for a mechanical means of quickly delivering variety (hence the desire for random tables).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you.

        I wish I could claim credit for them!

        Also, that makes a lot of sense. Most of my experience in RPG terms has been with the likes of World of Darkness, where you’re coming in with a plan for who they are and what’s happened to them and how you’re going to make them suffer over time (and where character generation takes so long that you wouldn’t want to do it again in a hurry anyway). The only really random-generation-heavy game I’ve dabbled in is WFRP, which of course randomises almost everything.


      2. Yeah. You know, I’ve been in this hobby since 1981/82 so I have a fairly good grasp of how a lot of this stuff has evolved over time. I played a LOT of World of Darkness (and its ilk) from its first entry on the scene in 1990 till ’95 or so, and that “high concept” character stuff can all be traced pretty much directly back to stuff like Dragonlance; i.e. an attempt to create “story” from the get-go rather than allowing it to emerge through normal game play. The indie RPG movement of the early 2000’s was generally an attempt to get to story-oriented play withOUT all the extra “dross” associated with games that came out of the late AD&D/RQ-era mechanic-heavy systems. Some of those games also made heavy use of randomizers (“fortune mechanics”).

        Going back to the roots of the hobby (i.e. the “OSR movement”) didn’t quite expunge this desire to make the game “meaningful” in various ways…hence you see all sorts of things like backgrounds and story arcs (such as in 5E) or slavish devotion to genre of one type or another (Sword & Sorcery, for example). Some folks (like the Cairn creator) are still holding onto that “rules light” approach that came out of the indie movement, and add the random “flavor” charts to meet the needs of…well, whatever it is they see as the flavor they seek.

        The Thing Is: all of this is mostly missing the point of game play. The point isn’t to tell stories at all. Oh sure, you can MAKE that your point, but you’d probably be better off just writing your story down (either yourself or in collaboration with others)…and you could do so with imagination alone or in conjunction with a randomizing factor (be that a chart, a deck of Once Upon A Time cards, or the flip of a coin).

        The REAL point of D&D play is play itself: the experience of adventuring in a fantasy world. And that doesn’t require much in terms of character generation (the character simply being the vehicle by which the player explores the world). What it DOES require is attention to world building commensurate with the maturity level of the players involved (adults need a bit more than kids, for example) and a system robust enough to handle that exploration.

        But, yeah, I know…not everyone gets this or finds it an easy concept to swallow. It took me decades to figure it out myself (and in those decades I went through the whole gambit of systems and games and “movements”). And these days the whole industry is built on the idea that D&D (or whatever RPG you’re playing) ‘allows you to create wonderful fantasy stories,’ and that the creation of those stories is the whole reason we do this hobby.

        Hard to buck the concept at this point…but some of us will keep trying.
        ; )


      3. @Becker, J

        Thanks for that! I came in… later than that, and along a weird pathway that has only tangentially brushed on D&D. There’s a lot of context that being British and mostly into genre-emulation games means I’ve missed – like Dragonlance being a thing that mattered and was influential beyond kender breaking into LARP circles, apparently.

        I think there’s a place for the pre-loaded narrative (e.g. Vampire preludes allowing you to cement ‘how you became a vampire’ and ‘how you get blood night to night’ and skip the ‘learning how my powers work’ stuff because origin stories are boring after the first couple of times you’ve played them), but I spend a lot of time pushing back against overdeveloped backstories that resolve important stuff before the other players can be involved with it. What happens in play is interesting, what is declared to have happened before play had better be basic, foundational, and leave space for the shared experience – whether that’s of exploring a fantasy world or being dead in an overwrought reflection of the real one.


    2. Happy birthday man.


      The description of the audience that is not at all invested in the rules but needs some sort of outline to facilitate Roleplaying is dead on. The problem is that the OSR is not a particularly good place for that sort of thing, if anything is.


      I think it’s a dead-end. I’ve heard that highly experienced referees like Barker or Arnesons eventually went full FKR but even if an individual referee could run a game like that in a way that is predictable it is very difficult to communicate. I don’t see the type of play culture growing around it.

      [Random character traits]
      I’da thunk you would want to customize your character if you were going to participate in the degenerate act of roleplaying but it more ironic that this list is included in a 20 page game missing even the most rudimentary building blocks. It really does feel like he just cobbled it together from other parts, called it a vaguely fantasy name, and decided to see how many fucking idiots would go along with it. Complete fraud.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. [The OSR}

        Yeah. *Yeah*. I wonder how much of that is down to the highly successful marketing/early breakout hit status that have made D&D synonymous with RPGs as a whole? That people want to be seen as playing some form of D&D (albeit a twice-removed “actually it’s called Cairn, you’ve probably never heard of it” hipster derivative), even though it’s not really what they’re doing or what they want in the first place?


        I’ve run diceless or near-diceless games with players who are all fully inside the magic circle, but that was long, long before I’d heard of Kriegspiel, Free or otherwise. It was more a drift into pure roleplaying from what started as a trad roleplaying game, and I think that’s different from setting out to create a systemless rubric from the start. And you’re right: it’s not an experience that communicates itself well, more a kind of lightning strike that’s very difficult to replicate.


        I couldn’t possibly comment. (Kicking my own back catalogue under the rug here, obviously.)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Since roleplaying is the main event, it has to provide the challenge as well, I assume. So they roll randomly, and then try to figure out how to improv theatre with the “prompts” given. The more contradictory and/or preposterous the character, the more challenge. Like rolling low on strength and still playing a fighter.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Since you brought up Zak: any chance of you doing a review of Demon City at some point? I’d hazard a guess that it’s almost certainly not your cup of tea, but I’ve heard that it’s pretty great. However it’s hard to get a proper read on it since people have decided they ADORE or DESPISE it sight unseen.

    Since you are neither a filthy lefty nor one of The Happiest Man In Roleplaying’s flying monkeys you are in a unique position to give an unbiased review, arty though the product seems to be. The scoop of the century!


  13. I went back and re-read (well, skimmed) your Into the Odd review as suggested in this review, and I was a little puzzled. You seemed mostly positive when writing about ItO (though still pointing out its flaws), but are positively acerbic when writing about Cairn. What drives the difference (since they’re more or less the same game) – is it your view that Cairn is largely just derivative? Just curious!


    1. Oh yeah, no worries.

      Into the Odd is experimental, took risks, had a singular creative vision to it and had a sort of novelty appeal. There’s some value in that even if I don’t think it is a good match for DnD (it is TOO minimalist for one), but at least its trying to do something new. But then years later, when you would expect significant innovations to have either been made for IttO and most of the problems would have been fixed.

      Instead we get this. We revert all the setting changes, and use the now familiar backdrop of DnD. There is virtually no innovation, its basically Cairn + spells from Knave (If I am feeling particularly in a killer mood, I’ll go over it and figure out just how much has actually been added, and how much has just been ported over). As a means of running dungeons it is simply worse then any of the alternatives already out there. You play the game perpetually at level 1, all the richness and the building blocks has been stripped out, to make it worse, Dungeon and Wilderness procedures, really, fundamentals to actually playing the game, are sloppily ported in a year later, given no thought.

      Everything, from the little details to how certain rules are mentioned but never explained, to the gaping holes where the rest of a game should be, I mean, even IttO had a rudimentary XP system. This is the end result of the minimalist trend. Empty junk, cobbled together from other sources, and played by a handful of idiots who will insist whatever the hell it is they are doing is the same as your hobby. I’m sorry my friend, the Gate is closed.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Chris McDowall, the author of Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland, has always been pretty open about the fact that he doesn’t really run beyond 3–5 consecutive sessions before starting over. He’s talked about he’s focused on being an approachable option for new and casual players. ItO/EB seems to understand its purpose and focuses all the game design towards serving those interests. I never really got the impression that Chris McDowall intended ItO to be a D&D replacement for long form campaign play.

      Cairn began as a way to play within the Dolmenwood setting with ItO style rules and mechanical complexity while still being rooted in the kind of sensibilities that develop from PbtA play. Despite the mechanics being almost entirely repurposed from Chris McDowall’s works, I find the spirit of Cairn to be closer to John Harper’s World of Dungeons, a minimalist Powered by the Apocalypse game for playing D&D material; i.e. Cairn is “D&D inspired feel” for story gamers. Of course World of Dungeons and Into the Odd both have rules for advancement. Cairn draws on Electric Bastionland’s scars table for providing the potential for a minor bump to HP, STR, DEX, or WIL. World of Dungeon actually seems slightly more mechanically robust than Cairn with it’s lists of skills and abilities.

      So my take on it is that ItO is cool for what it is largely because it isn’t trying to take the place of D&D. Cairn spotlights running material written for D&D and does so without all the mechanics and procedures which enable D&D style exploration and campaign play.


  14. I love the savage pettiness of the review. This is not sarcasm, I’m here for it. Prince, I do really hope you still plan on making more adventures, I absolutely love the Palace of Unquiet Repose. Thanks for this blog, it’s fantastic.


  15. Hahahahahaha. The amount of time and effort you put into this post is hilarious. And now, a haiku:

    Ham-fisted trolling
    Poor sensitive baby man
    You cannot create

    Imma go play Cairn.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Benjamin,

        Can I give you some pointers? I can’t very well complain if someone attempts some trolling in response to a review like this, and even though you definitely need practice, I’m flattered you were so mad you felt you had to take this time to defend your non-game and I kind of feel a little bad for you. So here you go:

        1) When you start trolling, in general you want to avoid using a gmail attached to your real name and address. This is considered SOP. You’ll be fine here, but you don’t know that before you get into it, and if I was as emotionally fragile as you claimed (as well as all the other stuff you NSR fags dream up), well, you could open yourself up to a lot of trouble.
        2) While I am not immune to trolling, I’ve been a member of what amounted to a troll blog in my early years, and I’ve sparred with the likes of RPGPundit, Zak and Kent so I tend to get the better of most of these exchanges. Your angle of attack isn’t very sharp. You can call my adventure bad, but without additional elaboration it just comes across as if you were grasping at straws, trying to clumsily inflict on me the pain this review inflicted on you.
        3) You might find that someone reading this comment section took your point of view more seriously if you had any sort of substantiation for it. Given that you play Cairn, it is more likely your decisions and preferences arise from simple herd instinct and any provided reason will be post-hoc rationalizations at best that will fall apart under light scrutiny, triggering yet more emotional distress. As such, while this might be the best way for normal people, I cannot recommend it because it might not be safe for you to do so.

        Feel free to stick around and chat about what you like about Cairn, or attack any of the things I said about it in a serious fashion.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s ok, people have already stolen my Gmail identity. You have equal chances thinking I’m Ben or Jayeshkumar if you search my email. Additionally, I use a real email for the explicit reason that I’m not a troll.

        Lastly, I won’t likely stick around as I typically don’t even use forums like this. I just heard through the grapevine someone was bashing Cairn so I had to come take some potshots at you.

        I’m done though. I got my yayas out.

        In closing I will say (hypocritical though it may be): spending so much time being against something, it isn’t healthy bro. Get your mind right.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Why would you prohibit trolling on your 8 subscriber twitch account and then do the same over here? Trolling as in, setting out to provoke an emotional response. In all honesty, you seem a bit deflated, like this was not quite how you’d expected it would go.

        You want a happy ending? Well, talk about what you like about Cairn, with honesty and passion. Leave on a high note. Who knows, maybe you can sway some people. People disagree with me about all sorts of things, and usually the resulting discussion is productive

        Liked by 2 people

  16. I’m not sure if you replied to the correct comment since I don’t use twitch.

    This went exactly how I thought it would go because you troll out of the remedial trolling handbook.

    For example, telling people they should respond with legitimate comments about why they like Cairn… As if your post was legitimate and not a personal-grudge-vomit in blog form.

    If you write a legitimate review of cairn I’ll respond with legitimate comments. I promise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Listen, I appreciate you giving it another go now that you have restored your cognitive energies but this isn’t going to cut it. I am telling you to try to be sincere out of sympathy, to allow you to save some face, and since it might generate some of that constructive energy you attach great value too but have not demonstrated or mustered in any way.


    1. Benjamin,

      Spelling errors are a great way to open or check initial momentum but the framework is already established, and has been since you began. You can do little else for poor Cairn. Ask yourself what the best possible outcome of this interaction is going to be.

      I will magnanimously grant you a last attempt. Constructive or at least funny. You can do it. I believe in you.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Don’t give up on me Dad.

    No, you can’t win. I have no goal here. I’m just enjoying this back and forth.

    Your blog, on the whole, might even be good. I don’t know. But the Cairn post is just so obviously insecure it makes it really seem like you worry that Yochai’s game is better than yours. I’ve met and spoken with Yochai IRL, and he also seems like a better man than you.

    Keep on trollin’ buddy, it’s on brand.


    1. I think I do represent some sort of absent father-figure to you. First accusations, resentment and uncontrolled emotions, and now we are already conversing more sedately. I wonder how long it will take you to move from this scattershot approach into attempting something constructive or at least directed, it is the only way forward after all.


  18. You read my review over and over? That’s understandable. Also, did I just catch you moving into a more sophisticated critique? Progress after all.

    Your insults are not great, sad to say. What you want to do is establish a sort of grounding, typically by reading and then following that up by targeting a specific weakness or point. You’ve already established you respond emotionally, you have no real idea who I am or what I do or what is even happening, but someone hurt your friend, whose game you like because he was nice, and now you have come here to express those emotions.

    Unfortunately after multiple attempts you did not pass the Witty or Interesting test. I don’t mind taking the occasional break to fire off one of these replies but this is getting a bit dull.


    1. @ Prince:

      Dull. Yeah. I think your offered challenge (talk positively about Cairn) and Benno’s refusal (or unwillingness) has displayed all that needs be said of the exchange. He is, at this point, doing nothing but wasting your time with pointless barbs, attempting to illicit reaction. Again, it is clear who the troll is here.

      I think it’s fine to adapt a live-and-let-live attitude with regard to NuSR, 5E, ArtPunk, etc. branches of the D&D tree…allow them their space in the hobby for play and exploration just the same as, say, enthusiasts for World of Darkness, GURPS, or Palladium gonzo. I think it’s also fine to write critical (yea, even scathing) reviews of their game of choice, especially when it is set in direct competition/comparison to the Great Game whose throne it would fain usurp (whether speaking financially, ethically, qualitatively….whatever).

      Benno should be free to play and love as he will (Cairn and sundries). And Prince is free to point out the flaws of the thing. And fans who wish to avert their eyes from the flaws of the thing they love need not gaze upon Prince’s prose, and should instead devote themselves wholeheartedly to the game they are playing at their table, endeavoring to have a wonderful experience. And those of us interested in cool analysis, un-colored by rosy goggles may come here and read fine words and (perhaps) make our own determinations based in part on a judgement we’ve come to trust.

      That all seems reasonable. Let us have reason.


      1. @Becker.

        Live and let live is perfect if it is nicely delineated and placed in its own zone. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, stuff like Cairn is confused for OSR material. Once that happens it is perfectly legitimate to take something and compare it to previous efforts and find them lacking. That Cairn is so vapid and bland scorn is the only appropriate mode is hardly my problem and that Yochai Gal is a talentless hack trying to gain status by finger-pointing and attempted blacklisting certainly should be pointed out in ostentatious fashion whenever the situation calls for it.

        I might do a follow up where I go over just exactly what part of Cairn was taken from what other supplement and examine how much actual work was done but I am in the middle of a large donation and I do have actual good work to look at in the meantime so who knows, perhaps I shall save it for a rainy day.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. When you’re ready for another dose of NuSR, I’d love to read your thoughts on Errant. Seems like it shares common lineage with ItO and Knave and Black Hack, but looks more much more robust than Cairn in many ways, eg with mechanical/procedural consequences. Makes me wonder how well it all hangs together. This Cairn review really made me think about what it is I’d want out of ruleset. And whether Errant hangs together well or doesn’t, I’m sure I’d learn something from your examination.


  20. You can tell the quality people from the rest in this hobby based on the amount of ad hominems in their work.


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