By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 24 March 2021
While grimdark and I have an on-again-off-again relationship, and my love of OSR is more a begrudging respect than love, sometimes a title crosses my path that is so unabashedly villainous that I can’t say no.
Which brings us to For Coin & Blood 2nd Edition, one of the titles snagged last year during a bout of Kickstarter backing and now another mark off of my TBR pile.
Inspired by stories of mercenaries and blackguards, your “hero” in For Coin & Blood embodies few of the traits of that word. Embracing the grimdark genre, you are truly playing a more villainous character, one with a moral compass that always points to themselves and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get what they want.
==What You Get==
For Coin & Blood 2nd Edition weighs in at 162 pages as a PDF, with two of those pages comprising the cover. Within these (literally) black-and-white pages, you will find rules to create your anti-hero from one of eleven professions, act out their desires, get better at what they do, have a city to explore, targets for them to vent their aggressions upon, and ways to expand this experience.
Using OSR roots, anyone who’s played Black Hack, Solar Blades and Cosmic Spells, or the classic edition of Dungeons and Dragons will feel right at home.
For those of you that have wanted to use the phrase “Let’s be bad guys” and mean it, you will find everything you need to do that here. All of the character professions/classes are dark counterparts of what you’d find in a heroic fantasy group (Blackguard instead of Paladin, Assassin instead of Rogue, Machiavellian instead of Bard, etc), and much of the game is built on doing dastardly things to gain Infamy.
Honestly, as someone who ran old editions of D&D for multiple groups at the same time (often preparing to pit them against each other), this would heave been am amazing game to have on hand…
From a mechanical standpoint, the game is simple. While my experience with OSR is limited (mostly classic D&D and Warriors of Eternity), there are a couple mechanics that stood out. Weapons are just narrative fluff and damage is based on your class. There’s alternative (and rather grim) ways to handle character creation, including bringing a hireling to PC status.
The biggest one is the skill system: the game uses a step-up mechanic like that of Alternity or Cortex that changes your die size to increase your chances of success (although combat and saves are still done with a d20, skills are d4 through d12). There’s also a built-in way to modify your roll by spending Lifeblood (hit points) to increase your results, which is a perk over the old binary Pass/Fail.
For those coming in from games like Blades in the Dark, you will be pleased to know that there are mechanics for gangs and the like, as well as ways to increase your collection of abilities. For those coming in from games like Zweihander, you’ll find many similarities but with a much simpler ruleset (and an easier to carry book).
There have been a couple snags so far with this edition of the book that Gallant Knight Games is still resolving. Namely, there’s been a handful of errata and corrections that were done after the game launched, which has caused delays for later physical copies as well as a new digital release. As of this writing, the game has had a few extra delays, so if you wanted to jump at this, you might be waiting a bit.
As I haven’t read the first edition and waited for updated versions of the PDF, I am uncertain what errata had to be included. There are clearly some errors that were mentioned by the community (possibly missing pages, typos, etc), and some of them may still be hunted down. That said, there may be some changes that I overlooked between this and an update I may have missed, so please take that part of this review with a grain of salt.
From an art perspective, I’m not entirely fond of it. While the style is bold (black and white, utilizing empty space to portray details), it’s a bit odd at times with blocky style or being “too busy,” where the style actually hurts what is being portrayed. It absolutely gets the point across for the style, just feels off in some parts.
Finally, for anyone who’s been focused on OSR, you might not find much worthwhile beyond what was shared above. Even with my limited experience, there isn’t much that caught my eye beyond the flavor of the game and a new perk or two. If you’re burned out on the OSR train, didn’t like OSR, or want something that’s more than d20+mods or a “balance mechanic” based on XP/level, you’re going to run into problems here. Some groups thrive on this, but I’m just a bit burned out on it at this point.
Even though I am not the “ideal” market for For Coin & Blood, it still deserves to walk out with the baseline of three buns.
While not my game of choice, we see an OSR with a couple of interesting tricks, a very accessible approach to a grimdark setting, and the ability to play villains. Anyone who’s been itching for a reason to let loose and play the bad guys that heroes would be hunting, here’s your chance! Added perk if you find a way to translate those playable villains into your other game to run two adjacent games simultaneously…
That said, it’s yet another OSR game set in a Medieval/Renaissance~esque setting that doesn’t get more detailed than a single sample city. As someone who’s been getting progressively burned out on how everything is feeling the same, this was not a game for me. If you’re not a fan of OSR or want something more than generic grimdark with OSR trappings, you might want to consider looking elsewhere.
At this time, the store link for the second edition doesn’t exist, but you can find the first edition of For Coin & Blood in PDF for $9.99 and print on demand copies starting at $14.99 via DriveThruRPG. Backers are still receiving their physical copies, as the US copies have shipped and International are underway; hopefully we will see updates from Gallant Knight Games regarding this in the near future. This section of the review will be updated to match once the information is available.
Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, game designer, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, via Ko-Fi, or by buying his games.