Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween from The Most Unread Blog on the Internet. Ever!

Just in time for Halloween, we have the free scenario "Jigsaw Puzzle" by Carl Hickman, which was the winner of the Realms of Cthulhu Scenario Contest hosted by this site! The best part is, you actually only NEED the Savage Worlds rules to play!

Happy Halloween, and enjoy!

Tommy's Take on Killer Thriller


Killer Thriller is the first RPG from Timeout Diversions, the new small publishing venture by Tony Lee, who I am most familiar with through his work on the WWE Know Your Role RPG...he's setting this imprint up as the "Cheapass Games" of RPG, barebones PDF products with more substance than style, at a low price.

Killer Thriller It's a b-movie horror RPG, designed to be very tongue in cheek, a slightly less serious Slasher Flick, if you will and unlike a traditional RPG, every player is meant to play three (or more) PCs, and any character of any consequence who isn't The Monster is meant to be played by the PCs.

VICTIMS OF CIRCUMSTANCE

As noted, everyone plays multiple PCs, ensuring that no one gets kill "off screen". Character creation is simple enough, as PCs have three Inabilities (Unwise, Unluck and Undone) and you have a 7, 8 and 9 that you assign to each stat. When you roll against an Inability (2d6), if you roll under, something not great happens...if you roll it exactly, something epically bad happens.

Unwise is a measure of how not smart a PC is, and thus how likely they are to make...questionable...decisions...like when the lights go out and you hear a noise in the basement.

Unluck is a little better than Unwise, as it's just like likelihood that something will go wrong, not that you screw yourself up. Note: It's still bad. Unluck is used when you're trying to climb through the half broken window on the second floor, for instance.

Undone is both the social stat, and what you use to keep your crap together...i.e., seeing if your PC completely loses it when he boyfriend is found nailed to the bedroom door.

There is also Unharm, which is Hit Points, essentially.

Next, you define all of your PCs with a stereotype (although I might recommend starting with the stereotype and then going to the stats, but that's me). Every Stereotype gets a "free pass", which is something related to their schtick that they don't have to roll for.

Finally, characters get Unreal (think Advantages) and Unthinkable (Disadvantages), of which there are only about four each, so we're not talking a complicated system here.

For a pretty dirt simple system, the author does a GREAT job of suppyling all kinds of examples, both in-game and from films, about how the Inabilities work. The three stats might be a tad simplified, but it's a beer-and-pretzels horror movie game...let it go.

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

THe way the group of PCs thing works is that when a character kicks it, you get to add their Unharm to another one of your characters. If you describe the death scene well, you can get more Unharm. This leads to one of your PCs eventually being big enough and bad enough to stand up to the bad guy.

When it's down to the Monsters vs Last Surivors, the Monsters have Inabilities that finally kick in, essentially putting the Monsters and Last Survivors on even footing. Last Survivors ALSO get to reroll doubles, making them even more efficient.

Finally, we get a list of common weapons, and their damage and any special notes that might apply (like getting tangled in barbed wire, or taking damage from electricity until something kicks you loose).

Again, the chapter abounds with examples, including a chainsaw weilding maniac performing an Epic Fail while trying to slice up a victim.

DEAD THINGS WALKING

This is all about Monsters, and the types of set-ups you can use...like a Boss Monster and Minions, like if you wanted to do Dracula and his Brides. This would also work with The Lost Boys, although I think that one would qualify for two bosses.

Among other things, it helpfully reminds you to give your monster a Weakness...with the helpful advice that you can ignore that Weakness come the sequel (see any Nightmare on Elm Street).

The rules for making a monster are real similar to the rules for making a Victim, and take up about a Paragraph...and a lengthy list of alliterative entries as inspiration for your Monsters, ranging from insane animals to demons to zombies and even using unearthly natural disasters are your baddy, each with a relevant movie quote for flavor (the PDF is filled with relevant movie quotes).

RUNNING THE SHOW

This is, essentially, a pair of horror "films" for your game, complete with relevant Monsters. The first is a slasher flick set in a mining camp, complete with three different "twists" to choose from. The second is a combo alien invasion/wheel out the monsters montage.

Even if you don't use the "films" as written, there are some very nice examples of monsters to use to build your own, including (essentially) The Blob, Dracula and Jason Vorhees.

The book ends with the author detailing the 15 year evolution of the game, and his apprehension about releasing it.

CONCLUSION

It's fun.

Seriously, it's a good fun game that can be a blast with the right group. It makes Slasher Flick (with 100 premade archetypes) look like GURPS in comparison, it's that light...but it is very detailed. There shouldn't be much confusion about how to do anything in the game, and the writing is very witty to boot...(seriously, I've never seen so many footnotes in a 25 page PDF)...so if you're wanting a dry, textbook read...this isn't it.

It's definitely NOT for someone wanting a gritty horror experience...it is meant to emulate the schlockiest excesses of the horror film genre, not that that's a bad thing.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tommy's Take on War of the Dead: Chapter Two Weeks One through Three


War of the Dead Chapter Two, by Daring Entertainment, has begun. The first chapter saw the PCs begin on the cruise ship Pinnacle, run afoul of some bikers, have an explosive battle in a church and get welcomed into a new community that utterly went to Hell.

And that was just the first 13 parts.

Since then, a couple of free adventures have been released to tide groups over until Chapter Two began. As before, you can buy these adventures individually, or you can subscribe to the Chapter Two Subscription and save money in the process.

And yeah, that does say "Weeks One through Three"...tread lightly, as there are spoilers, because I have chapters two and three already.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tommy's Take on The Inn of Lost Heroes

The Inn of Lost Heroes is the second adventure by Small Niche Games, written by Peter Spahn for Labyrinth Lord.

No, I haven't suddenly started playing Labyrinth Lord since I reviewed Blood Moon Rising. Like that review, I will be examining this adventure for utility with other RPGs, namely Savage Worlds and High Valor.

The Inn of Lost Heroes is a 38 pag PDF, bookmarked, and largely black and white. As it goes with adventures, please be prepared for spoilers, though I'll try to go light.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tommy's Take on Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin

It's going to be hard not to compare Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin with Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade, given how strong of an impression that game made on me, and how recently it was that I reviewed it.

One big difference is that Iron Dynasty is kind of inspired by anime...whereas Wu Xing is heavily inspired by anime...that alone should tweak the feel considerably. I'm also terribly familiar with Savage Worlds...it being my favorite in print RPG system...so that, plus Reality Blurs' reputation (I've never read RunePunk or Realms of Cthulhu, believe it or not) gives me high hopes going in.

So...does Iron Dynasty live up to "heavy metal oriental action"? Savage Worlds is probably a great system to accomodate it.

WORDS FROM A WISEMAN

Here is the setting "fluff", laying the groundwork for the world. Industrialization is crushing the spirit and honor that true warriors lived by, and in the face of imperialistic expansion all who would truly live free are being called to take up the sword and embrace the Way of the Ronin.

Okay, that does sound awesome. Kinda appeals to the libertarian in me, not to get too political.

The Iron Dynasty begins with the assassination of the Emperor and the installation of one of his two twin sons as the new Emperor. When the missing twin returns home, he's exiled (instead of killed, as the Emperor was told to do by his handlers)...and winds up returning - now the Witch-King - with an army of machines, crushing his brother's empire and taking his place, ruling with the might of machines.

Years later, history repeats itself somewhat as the new Witch-King, cousin of the new Empress, arrives...seeking to take the throne. He's dismissed out of hand, and leaves a nasty parting gift that wreaks havoc and leaves the throne empty.

For the next twenty years, up to the "present", The Empress' Honor Guard have ruled the Empire, now calling themselves the Lord Generals...and they're a little crazy.

A helpful sidebar informs us that Iron Dynasty has largely removed the class system typically found in feudal oriental societies.

Good set-up, told concisely, not overly verbose...and sets up a Ronin vs Crazy Empire With Guns And War Machines.

PATHS TO UNDERSTANDING

As is common in Savage Worlds books (and deservedly so) the character creation chapter begins with a listing of common character types for the setting...and we're talking pages worth. So if you're stuck for an appropriate concept, look no further.

This is followed up with nine sample characters of different concepts. Additionally, the book points out five "roles" that should be fulfilled. The upside of Savage Worlds is that it is EXCEEDINGLY easy to toss an NPC into a role to fill in a skill/knowledge gap without the game becoming cumbersome. The recommended roles are Talker, Healer, Infiltrator, Thinker, Warrior.

CHARACTER CREATION

Oh, woops...it is it's own chapter.

Still.

Humans are your only choice in the game, and they get a free Edge of Heroic Rank or less to start with, amping the power level up a bit, which is certainly fine for the setting. Otherwise, character creation is largely the same as in other Savage Worlds games.

It is also recommended that the PCs get "defining interests", which are similar to the Common Knowledge bonuses.

We get a few new Hindrances, a couple of which are familiar from other sources but wholly appropriate for the setting, such as Prideful...(a villain with Prideful will never deliver a finishing blow, for example).

Edges are where the setting really pops, as we get three new Arcane Backgrounds, which inform us that we're getting some new powers as well. They can be roughly categorized as mad scientists, priests and wizards.

Not surprisingly, there are all kinds of new Combat Edges in the game, like the impressive Arrow Cutting, which allows you to use your Parry score against physical missiles fired at you, rather than the standard TN of 4. Another nice one is Scabbard Block, allowing a swordsman to use his scabbard as a shield. Silent Kill is another great one: If your Ninja (or whoever) kills a foe unnoticed in a single round, they can either attempt to hide the body quickly, or pin it in place.

There are a LOT of new Edges...my biggest disappointment here is that there are no new Legendary Edges, unfortunately.

ARMS & EQUIPMENT

The equipment chapter begins with a conversion chart for money, which can be helpful if, among other things, you want to buy something that didn't make it into the book.

Helpfully, there are a lot of images and descriptions of armor and weapons, so that you can tell what they are. Seriously, I love this for any game that uses either non-standard equipment or non-standard naming conventions. It may seems like a little thing, but it's not. Having a page of illustrations for the various armors is tremendously useful. In addition, there are four different "grades" of equipment, modifying the prices and giving bonuses and penalties are appropriate. For the weapons that are essentially just renamed from common western names, a handy translation guide is present as well.

All in all, props for the equipment chapter for the little things as much as the big things.

SETTING RULES

Every Savage Setting typically stands apart because of the setting rules, which modify the core rules a bit to evoke an appropriate feel.

A lot of these are minor: Guts is removed in place of a Spirit check for fear effects and the like. Some Edges are modified or outright excluded, or replaced by new Edges. A couple of new uses for existing skills are listed, like using Intimidation to interrogate and Persuasion as both a Disguise skill and too perform seduction.

There are also Extended Trait Checks, which are reminiscent of Skill Challenges from D&D4e, and will probably be of much interest to some SW players.

KEY ELEMENTS

Here we get some new powers, as well as one important tweak: Speak Language now lets you talk to Nature Spirits.

New powers allow your heroes to banish oni and spirits from the mortal realm, raise the dead(!) (yes, it is a Legendary power), and travel long distances by stepping through dimensions. There are several more powers, giving plenty of options to choose from for the Arcane Background types.

A new Reputation system is included that can range from -100 to +100 and provides a benefit depending on your ranking. Agt -60, for instance, you essentially have the Mentor Edge, where followers seek you out to learn from you...at +95, you have a Sidekick showing up to help you out.

We also get Dueling rules, which have several pages of guidelines (and no, are not the same rules from Deadlands, which would feel out of place here). Duels can influence your Reputation, whether by winning, losing, accepting or refusing.

We also get a little more detail on black powder weapons such as firearms, grenades and the like and some useful guidelines on calculating troops for using the Mass Battle rules (which I'm a big fan of, personally, and love the opportunity to use in SW).

KONOYO: THE KNOWN WORLD

Now we getting into the setting chapter proper, starting with the five races of people in Konoyo, and how they differ in appearance, dress, etc. Note: This is race in the classic Our World sense, not in the classic Fantasy World sense. Everyone's still human.

Nine provinces are also laid out, each getting about a page, detailing their economy, legal system, allies, enemies and even the common outlook of the people. Like with the background in the beginning, I applaud the author for their verbage here: They never go long winded, giving you the details and getting out.

SECRETS OF THE SENSEI

Thus would be the GMing section...specifically, the somewhat more detailed information on each Province with cities, factions and places of interest, as well as plot seeds that can be used as inspiration or misdirection. Again, this section could easily go long winded...God knows a lot of game books do...but not so here. For me, at least, the level of detail feels about juuust right...because if you're hitting me with a wall of setting text, it better be some amazingly interesting stuff. Here, we get enough information to use any part of the world, though a little work has to go into all of it, because it's not meticulously detailed.

KESSHI TALES

What's one way to sell me on a book? Include a random adventure generator...which this does. It feels similar to the one in Solomon Kane, but expanded, especially with a few tables specific to the setting, which is awesome. You can roll up the premise of the adventure, the mcguffin, the basic location, the supporting cast...all of the good stuff.

We also get a system for designing "Corrupted", who are people that have been...er...corrupted by dark mojo.

Templates are provided for Lesser and Greater Oni, as well as "Yokai", with random tables that can be used to further modify them for effect. Finally, we get four Monstrous Templates that can be added to most creatures: Clockwork (clockwork samurai FTW!), Demon-Blooded, Ghostly and Kami-Possessed.

CAMPAIGN FRAMEWORKS

Seven campaign frameworks are included, with recommended character types, adversaries, locations, rewards, etc. Each framework is given a set-up and a sample plot progression that could be developed into Plot Points with a little work. The first one is Heroes of the People with a story arc called The Seven, Oh, Y'Know...and is a band of, say, samurai summoned to help, say, a village against, say, bandits...although their plot arc includes 90% more demons than The Seven Samurai did.

Fields of Blood is all about battlefield conflict, in which the heroes rise from footsoldiers to battlefield generals.

Vengeance is Mine should be a REALLY self explanatory campaign type, and so on. While these aren't the most useful for actually laying out individual adventures, they do a nice job of relaying the depth of the setting and helping to structure a campaign.

PEOPLE OF KONOYO

These are your stock NPC stat blocks for various walks of life and so forth. Seven pages, from Animal Handlers to Yakuza. Pretty much most of what you're going to need is present here, for killing or otherwise.

CREATURES OF KONOYO

Ah, monsters...

Starting with the spider-like Baku, through elemental spirits and even common animals. Iron Dynasty doesn't just leave you at the mercy of using random monsters, instead providing many options for you, demonic and otherwise.

THE MIGHTY KIKAI

This would be the section on the giant war machines...we get basic information on light, medium and heavy kikai...with word that more will be coming in The Art of War, apparently an upcoming supplement. There is enough information here to use the three stat blocks, and since it'll be illegal for most PCs to have one, this is probably sufficient information.

TWENTY MYSTIC RELICS

This is kind of a self explanatory chapter...being about twenty mystic relics.

We have weapons like a bone spear made from the leg of an oni, a flute that can jog people's memories, a mask that can grant a lion's roar, an orb that can raise the dead and a lucky stone that grants the owner a benny at the beginning of the session as well as any time they draw a Joker.

Finally, we get an extensive index and a full color map.

The PDF is bookmarked, searchable, copy and paste enabled, has a clickable table of contents and is layered (not that it's a high end product, graphically speaking, as it is almost entirely black and white).

There is a credit for the character sheet design, but that seems to be missing from the book...I assume it is on the Reality Blurs website. If so, that's a minor, but annoying, omission. I'm not a fan of that or the lack of Legendary Edges...in a perfect world, every setting would have at least a couple of Legendary Specific Edges, if for no other reason than to help dispel the annoying misconception that Savage Worlds ends at Legendary. I'm also a bigger fan of the slightly more "westernized" oriental setting found in Wu Xing than I am here, but that's a personal preference and nothing more. Ultimately, it's two superficially similar settings with wildly different executions.

I do like the variety of campaign and character options, the random tables are always welcome, the equipment chapter is *incredibly* well done, tons of new Edges and some cool new powers (including Resurrection, making its first Savage Worlds appearance that I recall seeing).

A very worthy addition to the Savage Worlds library, showing off how SW can do cool martial arts action.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tommy's Take on Spite: The Second Book of Pandemonium

Holy sheez...Spite: The Second Book of Pandemonium is 428 pages of horrorific action. The standalone sequel to Dread, The First Book of Pandemonium (featuring drifters, addicts and criminals waging war against demons) features the good and devout trying to save the world from angels.

Spite and Dread are designed to stand alone, be used together, or picked and choosed from, with their thematically similar/opposite set-ups.

The scene is set with some visceral art pieces and a series of journal entries featuring a Zealot who is hunting Angels with her team, and then talking about being brutally attacked before being saved by another Zealot.

CHAPTER ONE: PANDEMONIUM

Spite uses D12s, and this the author provides a very good rationale for it, citing how there were 12 disciples, each side of a d12 is a pentagon, etc. That said, I'm not sure I'm pumped about needing a bunch of d12s for a game, but we'll see how this plays out.

The premise is simple: You play a Zealot, a once normal person who is now tasked with hunting and killing angels who are, apparently, quite bad. Zealots are formed in Cadres and Cadres answer to Monitors, who are the beings that transform people into Zealots.

On 8/8/8 (August 8th, 2008), Angels visited the earth and declared war, killing 1.5 million people. The government hushed it up, let it look like a terrorist attack...but things are just getting started. Monitors are picking up people and turning them into Zealots, giving them the power to hunt and kill Angels, who are here to judge humanity...with either outcome ending life on Earth.

The Cadres are set up as isolated cells who don't even know where their Monitors live, for the greater good in case of capture and torture.

An overview follows of the things that a Zealot should know, common knowledge provided by the Monitors, including basic information on the types of Angels. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it is not uncommon to have to face cultists who worship Angels as well and, as they are wholly human, that can be hairy.

When the Angels (a specific subset is what has attacked the earth, actually, The Fallen) get the opportunity, they "judge" a human...giving them the Passion, if they are righteous or The Harrowing if not...either way, nothing remains of their victim.

CHAPTER TWO: OVERVIEW

Our journal entries continue from before, as our Zealot recalls waking up in the hospital missing her limbs...and regrowing them.

Here we learn the details of the Disciple 12 system: Roll a number of d12s equal to your skill or ability and take the high roll.

Simple enough, right? Except of you roll multiples, (say, two sixes) you add the number of multiples to the number...(in this case, two sixes equals 6+2 for an 8)...and now, if you had rolled an 8 as well, then getting another 8 in that manner means you have 8+2 for a total of 10. That can get...mindboggling, sometimes. There is also the "Cool Rule", where you can gain an extra die for describing your actions in a cool manner. I'm okay with that, so long as it doesn't get abused...(the game slowing down as every action gets an elaborate description).

Spite provides a decent list of inspirations, specifically TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dexter, Angel and X-Files stand out, as do Sons of Anarchy and 24), fiction and music.

CHAPTER THREE: CHARACTERS

More journal entries, as our POV character finds out what the fight actually is...and then it's off to character creation.

Zealots have short code names, having given their old lives the heave-ho. So come up with something quick and pithy, and bypass the "Bob Jenkins" type names.

Next, you need a Persona, of which there are (officially) five: Crusader, Leper, Messiah, Prophet and Sinner. Each has a specific approach to the mission, and each has two special abilities that they grant to the PC...such as the Messiah drawing all attention to them or the Sinner being able to automatically take down (or kill) a normal human.

There are three attributes, on a scale of 1 to 6: Strength, Sense and Soul...eessentially a physical, mental, spiritual split. You have 9 points to divide among them, and whatever comes out the highest is pretty much your character class, of which there are Fighter, Investigator and Sorceror, each of which has three powers available to them, and your PC can start with one. Note that they are not all combat abilities, either, but are very much keyed to their roles...the Fighter fights, the Investigator investigates and the Sorcerer casts spells.

The skill list is pretty broad, and is ranked like the Attributes. You wind up with a number of skill points equal to twice your Sense score. In addition to descriptions of the skills, there are helpful ideas as to jobs your PC may have performed because of the high skill scores.

Next is your Drive, which is a single word that serves as the major motivating factor for your hero. If you can tie an action into your Drive, you get a bonus die.

Additionally, you select two Contacts that you can call on throughout the campaign.

Next, every PC has 12 Fury points, which can be used for Stunts and to fuel Powers...here we get a helpful list of Stunts like Bloody Sanchez (an incredibly bloody combat maneuver which allows the player to reroll anything less than a 4).

Buying stuff is handled with Cash dice. At the beginning of each adventure, you roll your Cash dice (generally starting with 1) and that's how many points worth of gear you can acquire...and all gear has a point cost attached to it. I like it. I'm totally cool with abstracted wealth systems.

CHAPTER FOUR: MAGIC

In the journal entries, our POV character meets the rest of her Cadre for the first time.

Time in the game is measured in Cases, not in days, weeks, hours, etc. Your Zealot starts a case and runs themselves ragged until it's finished. Zealots get a number of spells equal to twice their Soul score and can cast a number of spells per case equal to their Soul score.

The spells are given a one word summary for a quick skim and pick list, and then are described in full over the next several pages. Some example spells are Absolution (allows you to create armor around an ally), Alter (a demon erupts from your bowels and attacks the opponents), Baptism (surrounds a target in water...and can drown them), Confessor (forces the target to answer three Yes or No questions), Judgement (creates a giant plant demon), and so on.

Next, we get Anathemas, which only Sorcerers can access, and which are designed to exorcise Angels who are possessing humans. It is worth noting that each one is named after a fairly infamous demon such as Belial or Asmodeus.

Blasphemies are the purview of Fighters, and they are...disturbing...like Vituperation, which causes the casters(!) hands and feet to turn into two large, fleshy poles from which the caster is suspended...but the mere sight of this causes all humans who witness it to do harm on themselves until the effect ends.

Desecrations are used by Investigators and have such charming effects as compelling every human in the area to rush a targeted Angel, at least some of which will be meeting their doom in doing so.

Maledictions belong to Sorcerers, who have subtle effects like plucking the souls of city's murdered into their body and becoming hulking beasts with spikes and tentacles.

I have to say...the magic in the game is certainly visceral.

CHAPTER FIVE: COMBAT

Initiative is handled with everyone rolling one die and starting with the high roll. No attributes affecting it or the like. There are attack rolls and defense rolls, and damage applied is the difference between the two. If the attack and defense rolls are tied, you move to the next highest on each until there isn't a tie. If there are multiple ties and the attacker runs out of dice, the attack fails. If the defender runs out of dice, and is an NPC, then they have a defensive value of 0...but if the defender is a PC, then the attack still fails, presumably because they have plot immunity.

Spite is not for the faint of heart, and so injuries are meant to be described, based on severity. A handy chart is provided for tips. Once Life hits 4 points, then penalties start coming into play for the wounded. If the Zealot's Life reaches 0, they are "retired"...what that means is that their Life immediately returns to 12 AND their Fury doubles to 24...they pursue the end of their case and then the player narrates their demise as their will collapses.

I dig this, as it gives the whole "cinematic death" thing, but it justifies it within the context of the setting: Zealots are altered by Angels to do this stuff...when it's time to go, they go out strong.

CHAPTER SIX: ADVANCEMENT

Here we get experience awards and how to spend them. You can improve skills, add skills, add powers, add magic, improve attributes and create items.

Item creation comes in three flavors:

Aspergilia - Common weapons imbued with your life force and given Kewl Powerz
Osteons - Items created from the flesh (or bones) of a dead angel(!)
War Machines - These are custom badass vehicles, and the whole Cadre pitches in on them.

CHAPTER SEVEN: PREGENS

We get three PCs, the three that have been in the Journals, a Fighter, Investigator and Sorcerer.

Three Monitors are provided as well, but they just get personalities and not stats.

Three Contacts are listed for use or inspiration, as are three Headquarters.

CHAPTER EIGHT: QUICKSTART

I'm liking the game so far, but...there's a joke inherent in the Quickstart showing up 168 pages in.

I have to admit, though, it actually is useful. It's a recommendation that the first game be designated as a one shot, and it streamlines the character creation process to get in, go crazy, and get out...and if everyone enjoys it, then you come back and make your PCs and really dig into the world.

CHAPTER NINE: APPENDIX

Here is a glossary of game terms, as well as useful game world slang, and a pronunciation guide. It's worth noting that this is the end of the Player's section, and everything up through this point is available as a free download.

CHAPTER TEN: DIRECTION

And here is where the Director takes over.

Spite sessions are designed with five points, helpfully laid out here: Trigger, Investigation, Conflict, Revelation and Takedown.

Trigger: This stage is where you bait the hook for the Cadre, putting them on the path of the Angel they will be hunting.
Investigation: Here is where they are trying to either find the Angel or find out what KIND of Angel they are dealing with.
Conflict: This isn't just conflict with the Angel, but they could raise the hackles of others during their investigation.
Revelation: Revelations are new pieces of the puzzle to their be Investigated or pieced together leading to the
Takedown: And this is culmination of the Case, where the Zealots confront the Angel.

There is a lot of good advice here, including reinforcing the one shot mentality for the first game.

However, the chapter also does a nice job with setting up a Campaign Progression as well, from getting their feet wet to building to a showdown with an ultimate nemesis. It can all be played in a very "Buffy" way...albeit a bit more...hardcore.

For those who want to go with a more "collaborative storytelling" route, a system is included for "worldbuilding" with everyone, including the Director, getting five points to spend in order to add characters, backstories, alliances and so forth to world.

The chapter ends with some campaign variations, in case you don't want to play Zealots Against Angels To The Death.

There are even guidelines for running a game that begins before they are attacked by a Seraphim and selected by a Monitor...which I would be sorely tempted to give a go.

CHAPTER ELEVEN: SETTING

The backstory of Spite plays into the setting of Dread...apparently the Disciples called in Dread are postponing the Final Battle, holding off an invasion by Heaven by killing demons.

I won't spoil any further on this regard...but there is a...tremendous...revelation about the nature of the conflict that would make for an amazing campaign revelation.

We get a breakdown of the two major armies, Angels and Demons...as well as hints at a third army, with a "Pshaw, they're not real", that sounds like another game (or supplement) that'll probably never be made now.

Finally, a discussion of the themes is present, such as Isolation and Heroism, as well as reinforcing that Spite is meant to be a gruesome game.

I don't mean to feel like I'm shortchanging this chapter...but there is just some stuff that I don't want to spoil in a review.

CHAPTER TWELVE: ANGELS

The primary antagonists of the game...here we learn about Angels.

Some great advice is given on using and describing angels, especially focusing on the effects of Angels on the world around them. They are not natural, and they have serious effects on natural things.

Angels have Grace to counter a Zealot's Fury...and they have ten Benisons, which can crush mere mortals...Zealots stand a chance of resisting their effects. Some of the nicer effects just blast the victims into a catatonic state...it gets decidedly worse from there.

Seraphim are described in general terms, and then 40 of them are detailed, complete with stats, standard methods of killing and a typical Takedown for that particular Seraphim...and don't think you're getting muscular guys with curly locks and feathered wings...these people are creepy and not safe for work.

The Ophanim are massive monstrosities capable of destroying cities and are absoluely not meant to be fought by rookies.

One or two of these things can almost be rationalized as something like dinosaurs...the rest are just bizarre.

Erelim are biomechanical angelic hunters...some of whom appear mostly "normal", while others, again, veer into the bizarre...with mechanical spider legs or appearing to be almost entirely machine. But these bad boys are sent entirely to hunt and kill half-breeds...like zealots.

Rephiam are much less dangerous, and less intelligent than the rest. They are meant to be good "introductory" Angels.

The chapter awesomely ends with a selection of "normal" monsters like aliens, vampires, werewolves, gargoyles, mummies, etc...you can use them to take a "break", you can bait-and-switch a "normal" horror game by having the PCs picked off by a Seraphim at the climax and then being saved by their new Monitor and so on.

Very nice touch.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: HUMANS

It's not all monsters and angels, though...sooner or later, your Zealots will have to cross paths with humans.

We have Apostles (Disciples who have joined the Angels), Saviors (Zealots who have joined the Angels), Antinomians (Disciples who have joined the Demons) and Hellions (Zealots who have joined the Demons)...mechanically, a Disciple is a Disciple is a Disciple, same with Zealots...where they differ are their outlooks and motives.

Eucharites are humans who have developed a taste for Angel flesh...yeah. The best part is that it almost always has a side effect...and if you are lucky, that side effect will just be death for the Eucharites.

Genstructs are humans who have been biological modified through a strange serum and are largely employed by the Department of Defense.

FATES and ANGELS Operatives are mercenaries who are genetically modified in ways somewhat more stable than Genstructs.

A series of Factions are also present, from Angel worshipping cults to government agencies to devil worshippers. Each faction also includes relevant stat blocks for members of the organization.

The chapter ends with a table full of quick statblocks for tons of humans from cops and private eyes to ninjas and samurai.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: SCENARIOS

This is really more "Scenario"...as a single scenario is laid out in the format mentioned in the "Direction" chapter. Not to spoil too much, but it kicks off with two angels killing a guy who has run afoul of the Russian mob, and has the PCs and the Mob both poking their heads into the incident...and a couple of (relatively) innocents caught in the middle. A nice model for setting up your own Spite cases.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: APPENDIX

This is mostly a chapter of random tables for cooking up scenarios when you're stumped.

As *anyone* who reads my reviews knows, I LOVE random tables. Absolutely freaking love them. There's also a page of scenario hooks to help you out, followed by a pronunciation guide.

Finally, the book ends with an index, contributor bios, some plugs for other RPG books and a character sheet.

THOUGHTS

So...while the book is, admittedly, over the top, and thus not for everybody...it isn't just relying on shock value to sell it. There are some great ideas in here, and a system that neither feels too clunky nor too "lite".

Anyone out there familiar with the RPG Heaven & Earth? This is kind of like that, but without any subtlety. I'm not knocking Spite for that...just saying: Two similiar premises...two completely different executions. While one is a low key investigative game, this one is a balls to the wall, splatterpunk, action hero game...and it seems like a very cool one, in fact. The creator graciously comped me the entire Books of Pandemonium bundle (six books for under $15) and I'll be eagerly devouring Dread now.

I recall hearing that Mr. Chandler, for his own reasons, basically left RPGs...leaving the books available, just said that there wouldn't be any more. If Spite is any indication, that's our loss as gamers. He's also a swell guy, because the proceeds from the sales of all of his currently available books go to the Noel Orphanage in Choimim, Kenya...that means that buying this awesome RPG (and its sister RPGs) goes to a good cause.

So...what are you waiting for?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tommy's Take on Age Past (Preview)

Age Past is an upcoming fantasy RPG by Jeff Mechlinkski, and due to my partnership with Paco Jaen of G*M*S Magazine, I have been given the opportunity to preview the book. Now, this is just that, a preview...I won't be doing a full review here.

The PDF I was given clocks in currently at 253 pages, with some material still missing as well as several placeholders for art. The estimated completion date is September 2011, so I think they still have time.

Age Past uses an interesting twist on the notion of dice pools for their system, called the Elegant10 system...and it kinda is, really. You take your dice, however many it is for a given action, and roll them. You keep the highest die for the result. However, if you roll multiple 10s, each additional 10 is a +1 to your result. Additionally, you have the option of holding back any number of dice from your pool and using them to grant a +1 instead.

For instance, if you have 6 dice, you can hold three...you roll three and get a 5, 7 and 2. So you keep the 7 and add the three you held back for a total of 10. That's kind of cool, and a bit different than your typical dice pool systems. There is a catch, though: If half or more of your dice turn up 1s...then your action fails. So if you roll six, three of them have to be 1s in order to fail. If you roll two and hold four, then if you get a single 1, you fail.

This also has a nice side effect for a higher powered game with larger die pools, as you can ditch x amount of dice as automatic bonuses, while still rolling enough dice to feel comfortable about success.

The Age Past rulebook has a subheading of The Incian Sphere, and there are promised supplements for Steampunk, Martial Arts, "Fantasy Technopunk" and Religion/High Level Adventuring (where I could see the Elegant10 system being awesome).

The game world, Terres, is divided into multiple spheres (continents) that are largely cut off from each other, and so they have all developed differently (this is where the supplements will come in)...I'm sure this is something that falls apart upon closer examination, but if the other ideas are good enough, I'll accept it. Besides, this allows for mixing and matching of the books/supplements with minimal explanation.

Age Past uses an archetype based system, which is really an incredibly flexible class system where you take a solid starting point (Thief, Mage, Assassin, Barbarian, Scholar) and develop it from there with little restrictions...although some combinations are likely to work better together than others.

Characters are defined by four heroic traits and six attributes. The Heroic Traits being Reaction, Brawn, Charisma and Intellect with the Attributes being Agility, Endurance, Influence, Mind, Spirit and Strength.

There is a Luck system, kind of like Hero Points/Drama Points/Bennies/Etc from other RPGs, and everyone has access to Kewl Powers.

The available races are Gobla Incia (western goblins), Hammer Dir (rock dwarves), Mechanites (mechanical people), Orkis (orcs), Silpen Kai (man elves), Straaden (wood folk), Terres Incian (western men) and Theriomorphs (half beasts).

One of the things that bugs me about this game are the naming conventions...honestly, I'm not sure if I applaud the effort of giving orcs a name like Orkis...or if I'm annoyed that they aren't just calling them orcs and being done with it.

The skill system looks fairly robust, with a system for fumbles as well as just failures, with fumbles having their own unintended consequences based off of the type of roll being made.

The Powers system is rather extensive, with 130 powers, many of which can be taken up to four times each. These cover a wide range, from what we normally consider "class features" to "feats" and so on. Each power also has a short flavor text quote attached to it for extra effect.

Powers include Apprentice Spell Caster, which can be taken four times at four different levels, depending on just how powerful and versatile you want your character to be. Bane Gaze is a magical stare that automatically cowers minions and can force other opponents to lose their actions. Combat Master is a catch-all that provides a selection of bonuses you can choose from. Dragon Kin means you have latent Dragon genes, and now have a breath weapon. Heavy Lung increases your tolerance to either heavy smoke or inhaling water. Link Eyes allows you to see through the eyes of your animal companion...and those are just some examples. I can only imagine that more powers will come in the later supplements.

Factions are also present in the game, with ranks in each faction that you can achieve and bonuses that you can gain for having that rank. They include Assassin Guilds, Loremasters, Inquisitors and Smugglers.

In place of a typical alignment system, Age Past uses Morality system that starts with Heroic, Selfish and Malevolent and then gets further defined from there.

Finally, there is a Flaws system...however, it is not a min-max type of thing where you try to take Flaws that don't affect you in order to buy new points...it's just meant to be something detrimental that pops up every session or so...kind of a "Heroes with feet of clay" type of thing. Honestly, I kind of like that.

The equipment section covers a lot of old fantasy standards but also includes small bombs, pistols, some unique traps and more, edging the overall "feel" a bit away from "standard" D&D fantasy.

An extensive spell list is present for spellcaster types...unlike D&D, you don't have "fire and forget" spells, instead requiring Mana expenditures and, with some spells (typically combat spells) a MIND roll.

Critical hits are interestingly done as well...you compare the attack roll and the defense roll, and if the defense roll is half or more below the attack roll, a critical hit occurs...and Age Past uses a Warhammer-ish set of critical hit tables for effect.

The combat section also includes siege rules, naval warfare, minion rules (Age Past adopts a very...dismissive...view of minions, allowing heroes to clean out levels of minions equal to their level without rolling...just a fair warning, if you hated the 1 hit point minions from D&D4e).

Age Past also has magic items, with a twist: You can become addicted to magic items! If you get hooked on magic items, you are compelled to seek out stronger magic items, until such time as you kick the addiction or you finally get something that satisfies you. Interesting little twist.

And yes, in addition to the lists of magic items, Age Past has rules for crafting your own.

Monsters are divided up in categories similar to those in D&D 3e, with Constructs being replaced by Clockworks, Aberrations by Horrors and so on.

All of the monsters are given a couple of paragraphs of description in addition to their stat blocks, and those annoying naming conventions come in again: (There are no vampires, but Blood Drinkers...though they do come in three varieties: Feral Drinkers, Baron Blood Drinkers - for the Count Dracula types and Merks, who are kind of like vampire knights, serving the Baron Blood Drinkers).

In fact, at least three examples are given for each category, providing a wide spread of monsters, if not a deep roster. An enterprising GM should be able to take those examples and craft his own monsters without too much effort.

Supplemental rules in back are included for those wanting miniatures play. The PDF I have even includes a printable GM screen, in a very nice touch...I'm oddly surprised that in 250 pages, however, they didn't include a GMing section. Especially odd since this is an otherwise all inclusive rulebook.

From the version I've read, they need some solid proofreading...I saw some typos, misused punctuation and so on. I'm not a huge fan of the names for the races, as I've mentioned...but that is the thing that sticks out as being my BIGGEST gripe.

There are a lot of D&D-inspired ideas here, but there is a lot setting it apart from Dungeons & Dragons, and the Elegant10 system alone does a lot to make me give the game a second (and third) look. Even at this stage the game is playable, and they have active playtesting ongoing right now. Much like with New Epoch, there is clearly a lot of heart here, and I think the game probably deserves more than to be dismissed as a "fantasy heartbreaker". Looking forward to the continuing development of Age Past, definitely.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tommy's Take on Undead Stormtroopers, Dark Elves, People's Revolution

BATTLESCENES: THE UNDEAD STORMTROOPERS OF GRUNWALD

This is, apparently, the first in a series of "drop in and go" mini adventures, brought to you by Vigilance Press, who are offering up much awesomeness in their line of WWII PDFs.







***SPOILER WARNING***




Set in the waning months of the war, it is a last-ditch effort by the Nazis to bolster their numbers through the use of necromancy, raising the dead to become their new wave of soldiers. The main problem being that the dead hate the living.

Oops.

This is mitigated by mind control helmets on the commanding officers, which work so long as nothing removes the helmet.

The scenario is played very loosely, setting up the situation, and dropping the PCs into it (the Allies have figured out that the Nazis are up to something at Castle Grunwald, and arrive to see zombie being pumped out en masse)...from there, the whole thing is left very open. The castle and its guards are described (such as the troopers on jetpacks in the air), with the PCs getting to handle it however they see fit.

Important details are listed, along with two Optional Details (one involving a mystical artifact and the other allowing for an explosive conclusion to the Battlescene), and none of them contradict the rest, so they can all be used together.

Additionally, a couple of plot twists are provided, in case the GM feels like everything is going too smoothly.

Two pages of stats are included, for the various zombies, as well as the sorcerers powering the machine, and an optional megazombie foe.

It is not a complicated scenario, at all...but it is not meant to be. For $1, you get a few stat blocks, as well as an encounter that could take up an entire short session, depending on how it plays out. Combined with the PC teams provided in the other PDFs in the series, it could make for a great ICONS demo, or just a cool diversion in your game.

Honestly, you could even use it outside of the WWII timeline just by twisting things a bit, and maybe having the man responsible be Count Fenrise (see Eugenics Brigade) having survived the end of the war and hoping to cause the Nazis to rise once more (this time from the dead). Definitely buy it if you're digging the other PDFs in this series, it's well worth your dollar.

MONSTER BRIEF: DARK ELVES

Meant to go hand-in-hand with Player Races: Dark Elves, this Monster Brief provides some variations on Dark Elves, to be used as monsters and adversaries.

Two Edges and two Hindrances are included, though Poison Resistance and Obligation are reprinted from Player Races: Dark Elves.

The first variation present is the "Dark Elf Arachni", which are pretty much Driders (dark elves morphed into half-spiders), but this thing is freaking scary. A single arachni is absolutely dangerous both up close and at a distance, from throwing weapons to using crossbows to casting spells AND having a poisonous bite.

Honestly, I don't remember Driders being that scary.

Deepstalkers are Dark Elf assassins who are all part of a cult, said to worship something other than what Dark Elves worship. In addition to being specialized sneaky assassins, they also have access to miracles.

Dark Elf Painlords are dark elves who are also masters of torture, knowing how to strike in order to inflict the most pain in combat.

Next are the Dark Elf Priestess and High Priestess, who occupy the same real estate, just one is higher up the food chain than the other. Fit, capable combatants, they are also blessed with Miracles and more than a few Power Points.

Finally, we have the Dark Elf Warlock, which is really as close to magic power as most male Dark Elves get, and that tends to pale next to the Priestesses.

A very good listing of Dark Elf variations, hitting all of the common ones, as well as a new one in the Pain Lord. Very highly recommended if you run Savage Worlds and like your dark elves.

THE PEOPLE'S REVOLUTION

We have had the Americans, The Germans, The British and the Japanese...and now, we get the Russians.

This is an interesting product, as it can be used as a group of heroes in World War II, or a group of Villains in a Cold War era...and, either way, doesn't "officially" exist in the Vigilance Press chronology.

Up first is Red Hammer, a Russian supersoldier who essentially becomes kind of a Captain America/Superman to them. He is said to be immune to aging, which isn't mechanically represented anywhere in his stats. I think I understand why, as - aside from Immortality - there IS no "immune to Aging" power...though I think I might would have added Immunity with a new specification (since Immortality would mean he can't be killed, period). As it is, the only thing he has on his sheet that backs it up is Regeneration.

Night Witch is a female Russian pilot with control over electricity.

Ice Fang is a werewolf and soldier, who defends Russia but refuses to make an army of werewolves for them.

Trans-Siberian Express is Ice Fang's closest ally, a superspeedster. The two of them commonly coordinate together on ambushes.

The Red Legionnaire is kinda like what would happen if the Green Lantern ring fell in Russia.

Battle Czar really is kind of a Superman type for the People's Revolution, and is bitter that Red Hammer has assumed control of the team. This leads to potential internal conflicts because of the two.

Sovi-ape was Stalin's one successful attempt at cross-species Eugenics, a simian genius who feels alone in the world.

Revolutionary Fire, as the name sounds, controls flames, but he was also the cheerleader of the team, keeping morale up.

Killer Whale is an outcast from Oceana and a bitter rival of Swordfish of the Crown Guard.

Also included are the necessary rules for using them as a PC team, per the ICONS team rules.

Every character has art, with most of it being provided by Dan Houser and the rest by Jon Gibbons and Darren Calvert. It is a noticeable clash of styles again, but it's still awesome to see every character depicted. Personally, I didn't find the characters to be quite as inspired as in previous supplements, but the usability as heroes or villain, depending on the era, is tremendous. All in all, it's probably my least favorite entry in the line-up (especially among the villain teams), but that has as much to do with how high the bar has been set as anything...if you've enjoyed the series so far, no reason to stop now.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday Night Gaming?

So my friend Kenny and I have decided that we're going to start turning our Tuesday night grocery shopping trips into later nights, as we start playing some solo games once we make it back home.

We've kicked around alternating the GM chair, or just rotating games in a bunch of short arcs.

I know for sure that we're going to start with Marvel SAGA, resuming where we left off with the "Masters of Evil" campaign. When that happens, I'll post a summary bringing the game up to date, and then follow up with some actual plays.

From there, I'm pretty sure that we'll bust out the Street Fighter RPG, and give at least High Valor and Wu Xing a try, although I'd rather like to give BASH, Interface Zero and Apocalypse Prevention Inc all shots as well, at least in one-shot mode. Hopefully I'll get to play some of these games I've been reviewing this year! We may also do some Savage Worlds fantasy gaming, using those awesome PDFs by Misfit Studios as a basis...who knows?

Anywho, what we will play for sure is still to be decided...we've still got a bit of SAGA left to do, so look for that next week.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tommy's Take on Public Enemies

Public Enemies is the first "modern day" ICONS release from Vigilance Press, set in the same world as their World War II releases, just in modern times. It is a villain folio, focusing entirely on big, big bads. Every person here is meant to be a threat to be taken seriously.

The art, by the Louis Porter Jr. design crew, all has a very "90s" feel to it, and if you read comics, you probably know what I'm talking about. Lots of armor, grittiness, scars and ponytails. That's not a criticism, just an observation. Though not every piece was done by the same artist, there is a uniformity (is that a word?) to the art, giving it a distinctive feel.

In the introduction, we learn that Alcatraz has been converted into a Super Prison...although no one is sure exactly WHEN that happened...appparently supers have been locked away there since before the prison as we know it was shut down.

Presumably more of the setting will be revealed over time, as bits and pieces keep getting dropped here and there, such as something about the Scion, who are apparently an alien race that attacked the earth. This is relevant due because it ties into the backstory of Armory, the first villain on the list. She reminds me a bit like what would happen if Screaming Mimi had gotten the Moonstones instead of Karla Sofen (and if you don't read Marvel Comics, that sentence was lost on you).

Atrocity is the first callback to the World War II books, as he was the head of a program trying to duplicate the Eugenics program...now he's a nearly mindless, rampaging giant of a monster. After being turned loose on aliens, he's now even scarier. All I'm saying is, if you and your players thought Troll was a tough fight from the corebook? Eeeeesh...

Next, we meet Brainstorm, the Smartest Man Alive...and yeah, he probably is. Note that while he's not the physical juggernaut you expect from worldshaking villains, his Stamina IS still stacked, due to his willpower.

Remember how Plastic Man was a small time hood? Now picture him as a ruthless assassin. That's Garrote. He may sound like a joke, but he's got some scary stats.

Equinox are four elemental themed villains, genetically engineered to survive on other planets. They cover Earth, Air, Fire and Cold, instead of Water, with an even male-female split. My main gripe here is that we find out how they were created, but they are not mindless creatures and we don't really get anything on THEM...in fact, they have no Qualities or Challenges, except Gale Force, who is the CEO of Equinox Industries. (They do have Team Qualities and Challenges, but that doesn't tell us anything about them as individuals, making it hard to look at them as anything but a collection of powers).

Ground Zero actually isn't a villain...he's just a threat to all life on Earth, aside from Atrocity. He's also an incredibly interesting character because of it.

The Hollow Men are a group of superpowered homocidal killers led by a man who claims to be from the future, and his collected his band of maniacs to drive the population down below 1 billion. Unlike Equinox, these guys are pretty well developed...with Frazier absolutely convinced that he's only doing what is best to protect humanity from itself...and most of his killers seem to agree.

Omega is a CIA spook turned supervillain after acquiring an amazing weapon...and then turned themselves in so that USHER (this world's equivalent to SHIELD) could protect them from the creators of the amazing weapon...'cause they kinda wanted it back.

Overtone started off as a hero...until the other heroes realized that he meant to clean up the streets via murdering villains instead of locking them away.

Shillelagh is one of the fey folk, but he doesn't look like any kind of fey you typically see, bearing more of a resemblance to Hercules, physically speaking.

Skullcap is a soldier gone mad, who had has body heavily modified until he's now superhuman. Reminds me a bit of Crossbones from Captain America, upgraded to an A-list villain.

Stigma is the grandson of Big Ben (from the Crown Guard), and the twin brother of the current Big Ben...they kinda wound up on opposite ends of things, as comic book twins tend to. In a nice twist, he was scarred in battle with his brother and no matter how his face is repaired, his scar reappears every time he uses his growing powers.

Finally, we have Tower, who is a homocidal robot built by The Savant (who is apparently a former ally of USHER, and perhaps the only man as smart as Brainstorm...and not currently imprisoned in Rock City, hence his lack of inclusing in this book).

Once again, Vigilance Press impresses me with another strong entry, and their largest one to date. I'm curious to see if we are getting a full setting book, or more small supplements building a larger picture.

As for the book itself, several of the villains have no HARD ties to a setting...I mean, almost all of them have "Enemy: USHER"...but you could cut that out and replace it with the government watchdog agency of your choice. Others, you might have to tweak a bit more if you wanted to use them in your own setting as opposed to this one...(not tweak mechanically, other than changing the odd Challenge like Enemy: USHER, just tweak backstories)...Stigma is probably the one most heavily tied to the setting. Even Atrocity could have his backstory switched up with little effort if you wanted to remove him from the WWII-verse Vigilance Press has laid out.

If you like ICONS, get this. If you like supers stuff, it may still be worth it for idea mining, given the price point. As for me, I could see myself piecemealing a setting together from various ICONS products...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tommy's Take on Thief, Pearl Harbor December and Dark Elves



EXPANDED PROFESSIONS: THIEF

Misfit Studios scores again with another Expanded Profession, easily the best and brightest of their microsupplement lines. Ten new Edges and a Knowledge skill, all designed to allow a more enhanced customization of thieves.

A new Legendary Edge, Guild Master, is included...allowing you to begin forming your own thieves guild. Trap Sense allows you to subconsciously detect traps without actively searching for them, and the Trap Springer Edges grant Armor against traps you accidentally set off while trying to disarm them!

Well worth it, especially if you have a thief-like character in your fantasy game, for a much greater number of customization options, with only one Edge having a direct combat application (Rooftop Ruffian allowing you to fight and climb at the same time). So far, the Expanded Professions are Can't Miss Material.

PEARL HARBOR DECEMBER: VILLAINS OF WWII

This is just cool...my favorite of the WWII releases by Vigilance Press thus far.

Pearl Harbor December are the Japanese superteam, who clashed heavily with Vigilance Force in WWII.

Every villain is given their Japanese name and approximate English translation...I'll be sticking with the English names for simplicity's sake.

Right off, we have the "cannon fodder" Savage Men...who are STOUT mutated raging madmen. Seriously...these guys are scary, with Strength and Prowess of 7 and Regeneration and Invulnerability of 5...possibly too good to be underlings.

My favorite member of Pearl Harbor December is the first unique member posted, the Matchless Warrior: a "simple warrior" who is capable of batting away darn near anything, including *missiles*, with his bo staff! Something about the concept just strikes me as being incredibly cool...he's my favorite character I've seen posted in these WWII PDFs so far.

Death Mask is an armored Japanese warrior...and by "Armored" I mean "Japanese Iron Man", flying through the air, firing energy blasts, etc.

Monster has the "soul of a poet in the body of a brute", but he's not your typical brick at ALL...he is much, much lighter on his feet than one would expect.

Sword Bearer is the Emperor's Personal Guard, carrying a ancient weather warping weapon.

Hypothermia is, powers-wise, a Japanese Iceman...though he has a soldier's temperment and not a joker's.

Rounding out the list is the immortal warrior Living Chronicle, who is actually ever scarier than just "immortal sword master".

This is my favorite of the releases so far, as the character work really comes into its own, especially with Matchless Warrior and Monster...moreso than the Nazis, these guys all have the capacity for being played as heroes as well, especially if you used them outside of a WWII setting.

Very high recommendation.

PLAYER RACES: THE DARK ELF

I can see this one being polarizing.

Arguably the most popular - and hated - fantasy race I can think of comes to Savage Worlds through Misfit Studios' new line of PDFs, "Player Races".

Dark Elves became very prominent in the 90s with the popularity of Drizzt Do'Urden, and now you can't throw a d20 without hitting a D&D player who hates them. That said, I always kinda liked dark elves.

Mechanically, the Dark Elf race has both Infravision (which halves penalities for Dark Lighting) and Low Light Vision (which ignores penalities for Dark Lighting), and unless I'm missing something...that's fairly redundant.

Of the "classic" Dark Elf powers, the race retains the "field of darkness", as the Obscure power.

Dark Half-Elves are also listed, based off of Half-Elves.

The PDF also includes a new Hindrance and three new Edges, as well as four sample Dark Elf poisons and stats for a Dark Elf crossbow.

A sample Dark Elf warrior is statted up, with a sidebar on "Deep Mithral", which is used to make Dark Elf armor but degrades in the sunlight.

A very nice pick for the first Player Race, and what appears to be a balanced take on Dark Elves for Savage Worlds. Combine it with the all the other little niceties, such as the poisons and the Deep Mithral and you get another jampacked purchase for less than $2.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tommy's Take on Interface Zero: Savage Worlds Edition

Holy smokes.

Interface Zero: Savage Worlds Edition is my first experience with Gunmetal Games, and they know how to set up a PDF.

Full bookmarked, fully searchable, layered, with a table of contents AND extensive index, each of which are ALSO fully clickable. Even at 300 pages, there is no reason not to be able to navigate all around this PDF with ease...so, strong first impression right there. The book is black and white, with some nice, atmospheric pieces of art.

I'm not gonna lie...I don't have a ton of experience with cyberpunk role playing, but attaching it to Savage Worlds is a great way to get me hooked, as I would try pretty much anything at least once under Savage Worlds.

INTRODUCTION

The introduction starts with a three(!) page glossary of common lingo in the world of Interface Zero in 2088. Some of it is lingo being used now "n00b"...others, like TAP, are native to Interface Zero. (TAP is a microchip stuck inside everyone's head...or pretty much everyone, at least). I won't go into massive detail here, but yeah, three pages of lingo. For a casual game, might be a bit much...but it is aided by, again, some common terms that exist today, as well as common terms from cyberpunk fiction.

The opening fiction is nice, too...with an artificial life form waking up. Sets the stage very well and drew me right in.

HISTORY 101

This is the timeline of events, starting from 2010 and ending in 2088, to show where the world went to pot. It chronicles the rise of the corporations, which is hasted by the collapse of governments. We get the standard "oil bad" argument, though I did like how eco-terrorists only made it worse by unleashing an oil eating bacteria.

In May of 2028, the Middle East finally erupts into a nuclear war...which in turn causes India to unleash nuclear weapons on Pakistan...which led to near cataclysmic fallout that ultimately killed about 1/7th of the population.

Rising sea levels push population centers inward, and about ten years later, the world comes out of The Death (as the fallout was called) changed...but intact. In 2060, the US finally gets a President from Oklahoma, but of course he's a tyrant who wants to rule with an iron fist, sparking a new civil war.

Humans are replaced in the workforce by simulacrums...but economic conditions have not improved to where humans can afford NOT to work...thus people are scraping by, starving, and blaming simulacrum for it.

Through all of this, humanity is not only gradually expanding into space, but they are expanding into virtual reality and "hyper reality" as well.

This is just a VERY broad generalization of the world's history, which runs about 11 pages, in well-written, easily digestible "Timeline" format.

Once we hit 2088, the book goes into greater detail, through the voice of "Billy Black Eyes", who tells us about the world as it is today.

We learn that due to modern technology, the rich are functionally immortal, while the poor are pretty much screwed. The middle class has vanished, and you're either wealthy, or you're living on ugly, dirty streets.

Also, remember that part about how the rich are functionally immortal? It's because they are allowed to "dub" themselves...making back-up copies of themselves, essentially.

"Humanity" now encompasses humans, Humans 2.0, simulacrums, hybrids and androids, all of which we will get into later.

Genetic engineering is commonplace, from people who rewrite their DNA for the traits that they prefer (plastic surgery to the next level), to people who are spliced with animal DNA to become human-animal hybrids.

Parts of the world are also pushing for the Omega Protocols, which would help prevent the fear that an AI would evolve beyond human understanding, and essentially become a bigger threat to humanity than anything before it. Many nations are skeptical...I can see how that would be a problem.

The virtual world is accessed through the TAP, which virtually everyone has implanted in them, and which is also called "Interface Zero"...if that tells you how important the TAP is to the game.

Finally, in 2088 people with psychic powers have suddenly emerged...and no one is quite sure why they are how they are, with theories being that they were genetically engineered, or that they had latent abilities awoken by their TAP.

The history section is very atmospheric, and does a nice job setting the stage for the nihilistic dystopia of Interface Zero.

SYSTEMS OF CONTROL

These are some of the setting rules for Interface Zero, starting with the combat system, which uses the grittier rules of The Moscow Connection, meaning that no one can make soak rolls! As well, a character can become Incapacitated off of a single wound!

Next, we get to Cyberware, which comes in four "grades": Gutterware, Streetware, Hyperchrome and
Milware, inn ascending order of worth. If you need cyberware, you can get the cheap stuff...but there will almost certainly be consequences.

Rather than just having a list of items, IZ provides a list of effects...you can add effects onto each piece of cyberware, but over a certain point, you have to start adding defect points. And the cheapie stuff starts off with defects anyway.

The effects come in three levels, with level 1 providing such diminishing the chance of hitting an innocent or ally with firearms, redundant organs, night visions optics and +1 sub-dermal armor. Level 2 effects include emotion blockers (resisting Taunts and Tricks), personal airbags(!) and retractable claws. Level 3 effects include jump jets, a vehicle control interface and chameleon skin.

Defect points are penalties to cybertrauma rolls, which come up when your cyberparts get banged around. A handful of sample cybernetics are included as well.

From there, we get a list of the Edges and Hindrances that are removed from the setting (like anything arcane), as well as details on how some of the existing edges have been modified.

Connections, for example, are a much bigger deal in this setting than they are in a lot of others.

I won't go into heavy detail on the Hacking rules, but this is where we learn a lot about the TAP, Hyper Reality (the computer reality overlaid onto the real world) and Virtual Reality (the cyberworld). I have to admit that this took a couple of readings, due mostly to outside distractions combined with all of the specific terminology used. One thing that I thought was very cool, though, is that IZ uses Hyper Reality to explain "Hollywoood Hacking"...that is, a good hacker in Interface Zero can hack pretty much *anything*, including vehicles and weapons. In fact, reality is pretty maleable for a great hacker, due to the Hyper Reality overlay.

The Street Cred rules help govern how you can call on your connections and gain assistance from them, with every character getting two free favors per rank, plus one for every 10 Street Cred points they have. Characters can call in more than that, but their reputation starts taking a hit over that.

A handy chart is provided showing Street Cred modifiers.

Speaking of handy charts, the chapter ends with a handy cheat sheet of all the Hacking/Cyber Combat/Programming rules.

CHARACTER CREATION

IZ starts the character creation chapter off a little different than the normal Savage Worlds book. Rather than targeting character concepts, it encourages you to approach the group concept first, along with common themes for those groups, and THEN individual concepts. Some of the group concepts include gang members, military, troubleshooters and hackers.

Character creation is pretty standard stuff, beginning with race...and yes, there is more than just human.

Yes, you can play a Human, which follows the standard rules.

Androids are an option, and they have the Construct monstrous ability.

Humans2.0 are the genetically bred humans...and they may be a bit much. In their racial abilities, they have four "pros" to two "cons"...I could see the argument for dropping the free Edge for Humans2.0, with everything else they get.

Hybrids are pretty cool, being a mix of human and animal DNA. It is essentially the Fantasy Race creation rules, though you are meant to hew to a specific animal theme. Luckily, a series of packages for common animals are also provided. Although, Hybrids gain a free Edge on top of everything else and, again, I'm not sure I would allow that myself.

A simulacrum is a biological construct designed for work, recreation or combat.

Hacking is officially added as a Skill, and it makes sense given how prevalent it is in the setting.

One new step is Occupations...you are expected to name your character's job, which determines their starting credits, as well as the amount of credits gained with each Advance. Additionally, suggested contacts and Edges are listed for each profession.

Several new Edges are present, such as Emancipated, which frees an Android, Simulacrum or Hybrid from their owner. Gun-Fu Edges give you some neat tricks when using Guns in close combat, with Gun-Fu Legend allowing you to Aim while moving! Several IZ-specific professional Edges are present, as is a list of Hacking Edges.

Three Hindrances are included, and two of them are HUGE: Unplugged (you start without a TAP!) and Shell Shock (you start every combat Shaken!)

A handy summary table of all of the new Edges and ends the chapter.

I dig the races, although I would definitely cut out the Free Edge for everthing that isn't a baseline human or Simulucram. A free Edge is incredibly versatile, so to have that as well as other Kewl Stuff is a bit much.

GEAR

I love this chapter...not because I'm a die-hard gear junky, but because it is written as a "Malmart 2088 Spring Catalogue". Every item gets its stats...but in goofy, over the top, catalogue entry form.

My favorite armor is, by far, the Executive Decision Business Suit: A business suit that provides armor protection AND a potential bonus to the Exec's first attack while wearing it (if they are taking the opponent by surprise).

The Butterfly Sword, Chain Sword and Rockeet Hammer are all pretty impressive in the mail order weapons department.

The guns are absolutely frightening, ESPECIALLY with the lack of Soak Rolls. I mean we are talking some craziness, like pistols doing 2d8 damage to small burst templates.

Experimental energy weapons are also available, as is a large listing of vehicles from cars, to motorcycles to hovercraft.

A selection of Golemmechs is included, which is the IZ term for mecha. A list of standard features starts it off, and then five specific mechs are presented.

Malmart also "sells" cyberware from a variety of dealers, including Doc Pango, a street doc who is going global and sells "affordable" cyberwear...just, you know, good luck with that.

A handful of drugs follow, complete with addiction rules. To make it doubly bad, you can gain noticeable benefits from drugs...providing a compelling reason to use them in certain circumstances. Not a huge deal if you have a high enough Spirit, though, in some cases.

The Gear chapter veers into some nice "flavor" entries, like Dominator Pizza, which puts their delivery people through a rigorous, 13 week training camp under grueling conditions so that they can make sure you get your pizza in the urban sprawl in under 30 minutes.

It's also good to know that, in the future, Deadlands is an incredibly popular MMO...and I gotta say, this gave me the crazy idea of having...something...come through the MMO into reality for an IZ game. Stone, maybe? NAH...that would be far, far too much.

The Gear chapter is very extensive, with a lot of examples of each type of entry, yet written in an interesting manner (while still being easy to find the relevant game mechanics). I'm not one to out and out cheer for an equipment chapter, but this was very nicely done, providing some cool, over the top options in an entertaining manner.

WORLD OVERVIEW

The chapter begins with the Central African Union whose story is, honestly, kinda inspiring. After oil collapsed, Africa was left to fend for itself...and rather than die out due to AIDS and poverty, it got tore down and then rebuilt itself as a viable power in the world.

Simulacrum in South Africa are treated to the worst of the racism and slavery that blacks suffered under the South African rule...this opens up some interesting arguments for a game set in and around the Central African Union, though they are some touchy subjects.

The Chinese Mandarinate is the top superpower in the world, but rules entirely by economic power and not military power, having decommissioned their military and now propping up the states under their rule. They have also been working heavily on a solution for the population issue, by attempting to genetically engineer children that will lose all gender characteristics at puberty.

Techno-Shogunate Japan is home to the world's oldest living human population, with a workforce made up almost entirely from simulacrum, which outnumber the humans in Japan now. However, the simulacrum bred in Japan are also the most "human" Simulacra out there, as they are not raised ENTIRELY in tanks.

The Greater Eurasian Union doesn't sound too shabby...with boredom apparently being the biggest problem. Although human nature + boredom does tend to = bad news.

The India League became a series of city-states after the nuclear fallout hit and pretty much killed farming, and India has also become THE entertainment capital of the world over the last 20 years, especially when California finally completely collapsed.

The Middle East is more peaceful than it has ever been...mostly because it is a radioactive wasteland.

North America has gone from three countries to nine, as the US, Canada and Mexico have all broken apart into smaller countries in the wake of the changes over the last several years.

Oceania are the island countries of the Pacific, where many people fled to as the rest of the world was collapsing, including the man-made island MU - so named as a tribute to the mythical Atlantis.

Brazil has come to largely dominate South America in most ways...and outside forces seem to be bitter at just how little Brasilia seems to have suffered.

The Free City of Chicago is covered in detail, as an example of the Free Cities in what used to be the US right now. Chicago has grown in size, and is now divided into four major sectors.

Central Chicago is home to the business district, as well as the Gold Coast, designed for the affluent. It also houses the Eden Complex, which was meant to be an underground population center, but the criminal elements have begun to overrun it, and it is now "Coffin City".

The North Side is Neo Suburbia, a place you can go to escape the craziness of the inner city.

The South Side is also known as Urban Hell, and is actually outside of what used to be Chicago proper, as the former Gary, Indiana is smack in the middle of Urban Hell.

Last is the Wild, Wild West side...which is still a nicer place to be than the South Side. Chicago has a 48% unemployment rate, which also means there's a pretty big crime rate. Several street gangs are mentioned in this section, starting with the Chrome Reapers, who will jack your cyberwear...yeah, out of your body.

Of course, there is no police force any longer...just contracted security forces. Well, there is the Chicago Defense Force...but they are only deployed for ABSOLUTE emergencies.

The chapter also covers the major corporations and entertainment sections of Chicago, providing a lot of good information for launching a campaign set in Chicago, or using it as a template for your own Free Cities.

GAME MASTER SECTION

A lot of the information here is pretty standard stuff for a GMing section, although the "conflict" section is nice, as it gets into some of the broader conflicts available in a cyberpunk setting, like Reality vs Virtual Reality, Megacorps vs Megacorps and so on.

A large section is devoted to controlling cash flow in your game, which is a much bigger deal here than in a lot of games, as cash can rule EVERYTHING. In fact, a handy table is provided that not only breaks down the common jobs for each character rank, but the standard payouts for those jobs. A number of tips are also provided for keeping available money down, including guidelines for "Cost of Living" expenses to be deducted from the characters' cash balances.

While there is a LOT of great advice for capturing the bleak, cyberpunk "feel"...I absolutely love the Random Adventure Charts.

Seriously...very little fills me with joy like Random charts. Using d12s, you can generate a Contractor for the job, the Mission itself, Urban or non-Urban locations, the MacGuffin (if needed, this is an object that is at the center of some missions), Innocents (in some missions, someone may be endangered), the Antagonist, Twists and Complications, and Dramatic Conflict (optional, but awesome).

A Domain Generator is also present, for rolling up a network on the fly, when the PCs start hacking into something you hadn't prepared for, with a decent list of sample domains, just in case.

SAVAGE TALES

Savage Tales are short adventures, and IZ includes 11 of them, spread among Japan, the Eurasian Union, The India League, The Middle East and North America.

Among the eleven tales are WIDE range of missions and objectives, showing off both the quirks of the setting and the breadth of options available for adventures. My personal favorite starts off with a simple "seek and destroy", but actually involves a group of awakened Dubs...although the mission to keep Hollywood from rising again is pretty cool, too.

In addition, 21 adventure hooks are included, which can be used as inspiration or expanded into their own adventures.

Finally, a Bounty Generator is included, which starts with rolling for the target, their crime, the location, the target's true disposition (guilty/innocent/complicit) and notoriety (the amount of the bounty).

Did I mention I love random charts?

THREATS

These are the relevant game stats for the things your PCs are liable to have to fight (or team with).

Bio-Horrors are up first, and include Beetle Rats, Cyber Sharks, Toxic Roaches and - yes - random generators for making your own bio-horrors.

Also included are three sets of stock stats for Cyborgs (including one Wild Card), three types of Gang Members (with a Wild Card), three common Hackers, three Ismist Activists with a Wild Card terrorist leader, three stock Law Enforcement officers, three stock Simulacra, four military sets with two Wild Cards, standard criminal Mooks with two Wild Card underground types, and a number of catch-all stats like Bounty Hunters, Bloggers, Detectives and Media Icons.

Five AI programs are included as well, all Wild Cards, with Subsentient Programs that are almost always Extras.

The book ends with the fully clickable Index, a Campaign Tracker sheet, a printable sheet of Favor Counters, a page for Program and Domain cards, NPC stat cards and a two page character sheet.

THOUGHTS

Impressively comprehensive.

I do have three gripes: I really think the Free Edge is either given out too often OR, and this may be radical, I would recommend giving baseline humans two Free Edges. Why? Well, the setting is so lethal anyway, why not? And it does give humans a very compelling ability against everyone else. Just a thought. I would definitely give it a go as-written first before changing anything.

There is a ton of terminology to get used to, so I did have to do a bit of re-reading...but that's something I would get used to over time.

Finally, there is a bit devoted to talking about the emergence of the Psions...and they are not mentioned anywhere else in the book. My understanding is that the Psion splat it meant to be the first supplement for IZ, but SOMETHING in this book, even NPC guidelines (saving the PC option for the splatbook), would have been great.

On the flip side: Seriously, between searchability, clickable index and table of contents, plus bookmarks? There is no reason not to be able to find something in this 300 page tome. At ALL. Just an amazing bit of work there.

And, as I noted above, there is just a TON of material in here. Stats, Edges, information, fluff, rules, jeez...just an incredibly loaded book that's easy to navigate around to boot...and seriously, I LOVE random charts...the random adventure generator here may even be better than the one for Thrilling Tales. I don't know how to praise it any higher than that.

If you like Savage Worlds and cyberpunk, there is no reason not to buy this. There is plenty of information here that you can use to get a game going, and the setting is broad enough that you have a LOT of options to play around with for your campaigns. On top of it, there is plenty of room for expansion in future releases.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tommy's Take on The API Anthology Vol. 1

This is kind of new territory for me...reviewing a fiction anthology, as opposed to an RPG product.

Hopefully it turns out better than my attempt at reviewing a video game the other day.

The API Anthology is the first anthology release by Third Eye Games for their Apocalypse Prevention Inc. setting (reviews of which can be found on my blog).

The API Anthology is a PDF clocking in at 92 pages with 9 stories featuring a few names that I recognize from the game industry and a few names that I don't...I'm cool with that: Everyone's gotta start somewhere, and I hear anthologies can be a great starting point.

The Apocalypse Prevention Inc. setting is a modern action-horror setting that is dominated largely by the very "Men in Black" type organization that hunts, captures and kills the demons that would threaten humanity. Every story in the anthology is set in this world, though not all of them necessarily revolve around the organization.

As is always the case with works featuring multiple authors, you are going to get different levels of work.

Unfortunately (or not, depending) the book begins with the weakest entry "Jezebel Sly, Private Investigator", with the titular character being beholden to working API cases after she gets involved in a supernatural incident. The story is a missing persons case with an API twist, but the authors attempts at making the main character jaded and cynical work too well...to the point that I honestly didn't like any character in the story.

"Girl Trouble" was another story that I had trouble with, for similar reasons. The heroic motivation of the protagonist never quite felt "real", and the payoff line at the end felt a bit cheesy and forced. This story, like the first, also cast API in a negative light, with the antagonist being a Burner serving as an API Agent. That said, the protagonist - an Oracle, who have bad luck effects on people around them - did have a VERY cool moment at the climax with the API agent.

"Back for Seconds" and "Fish on Dry Land" really capture the quirky, off-beat humor of the API universe, which is really not surprising with the former, as it was written by Brennan Bishop who has contributed some of the most disgusting aspects of the API universe (I'm not picking on him! He bragged about it!) and so his tale of Changelings as delicassies really hits on the black humor of the setting. "Fish on Dry Land" does a great job of portraying an overworked API unit and stars a Loch named Elvis. Both were entertaining reads, with humor intermixed with quirky drama.

"The Difference A Day Makes" features an API squad against a group of unlikely rivals with some very interesting pasts. I recognized the author, Rucht Lilavivat from White Wolf's Ravenloft line, and they did a very nice job of putting forth characters I actually wanted to read about...especially the laconic (until he needs to not be) Al. I liked both "teams" in the story, and thought it had a very nice payoff.

"Shut Up & Fish" has one of the smallest API presences in the book, but is a favorite of mine as it draws on the API Canada sourcebook, touching on The Thing Under The Ice (specifically, its effect on some poor saps who encounter it at sea).

"Failure To Communicate", ironically (or intentionally), does the best job in the book of presenting a situation from both sides: A wolf person trying to keep from losing control, and the pair of API Agents who try to stop him when he does. I particularly thought that the author did a great job of conveying the "change" in the wolf person's internal monologue.

"Loch, Stock, and Barrel" by Clint Black of Pinnacle Entertainment is probably the best offering in the book from a pure story stand point. The storytelling is tighter here than anywhere else, it hinges on a huge issue in the setting (Lochs and their difficulties reproducing) and one of the main characters undergoes a very noticeable change from the beginning of the story to the end.

That said, "The Pact" probably hit me the most with its sudden, abrupt ending. I can't say it was one I had never seen before, but the resolution surprised me with its execution, and in a good way.

The editing really needed to be tighter in a lot of places, with my eye catching typos here and there...and it seemed like there was probably an underuse of commas. In one story, I'm reasonably sure that a word got unintentionally invented. There was also an inconsistency in capitalizing the names of the demon races...for uniformity, I would have either capitalized all of them or none of them.

On a format note, I sideloaded the PDF into my Barnes & Noble nook, and the conversion process wasn't the smoothest, with my order watermark showing up at every page break (which was sometimes in the middle of the page) and one story have some odd fontal squishing going on. I'm not counting this as a knock against the anthology, mind you, just an observation...I'd love to see a release in epub format as well.

With much more good than bad, I would not be disappointed at all to see this truly just be volume 1, and for us to get volume 2 in the future. If you like API, or if you like reading action/horror fiction, it's a good buy.