Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tommy's Take on Wargames: Heroes and Villains of the Cold War

I've mentioned a few times how much I like the Vigilance Press WWII stuff, even though I'm not a big WWII buff. Wargames is a bit of a different approach, supers set at the end of the cold war.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Wargames is normally listed as being being $6.95, but is currently free for the weekend. It comes in two files: A timeline and a profile on General Venom, who kinda resembles a star-spangled Cobra Commander or Baron Zemo.

The Timeline is 42 pages and has a note up front that it should be considered one canon with Phipps Studios Halt Evil Doer! While I've never read it, I recall hearing of it and it certainly sounded cool.

The 42 page timeline is as it sounds: A timeline of major events (as well as recommended reading and viewing for capturing the feel of the setting). While there are some big, full blown changes to the real world timeline, such as Nixon being a bonafide traitor to the country who commits suicide in order to avoid trial, others are more subtle (JFK was still killed, and Russian supers were suspected, but never proven). There is a bit more confusion as well, as some of the WWII team names also show up in this timeline, but are presumably meant to be different entities, since we've seen the USHER Dossiers, which lay out the future of the WWII timeline. The Wargames Timeline covers from 1937 through 1991, pretty much at the end of the Cold War.

The book is a mix of photos and art, the latter of which seems to be drawn from multiple sources and clashes in some places.

The General Venom PDF details the history of General Venom and his terrorist organization, the House of Serpents. General Venom is the son of a patriotic former hero who believes that America has become completely corrupt, and he's intending to shake the whole country to its foundation in order to "fix" it. Fair warning...a lot of the political themes present in this book echo some modern philosophies, taken to a terrorist extreme. If you have strong political beliefs, especially in the more hardcore libertarian/Tea Party bent, it is possible that you will be less than thrilled with the presentation of this entry. In addition to a full character sheet for Venom, the PDF has three plot hooks, as well as a generic stat block for his powered armor minions.

WHAT WORKS: General Venom's character design is very swell, and Vigilance Press again shows that ICONS can be used for more than just "animated series" type stuff that people seem to think it is limited to. The cover is also great, using trade dress that resembles a GI Joe action figure card. Venom, himself, is another fantastic example of how Vigilance pays homage to certain characters without ripping them off - While it is easy to see the image and the House of Serpents, combined with the GI Joe action figure call out, and think "Oh, it's Cobra Commander" would be dead wrong, as there are a number of elements included (even a bit of Iron Man), making Venom feel like a fleshed out character, rather than athinly veiled knock-off like you get in many supers products.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: While I'm not terribly hardcore in my ideology, I've figured out that I'm a biiiit to the right of the Vigilance Press guys - which is fine, as I think folks should feel free to believe what they believe until they start hurting someone else - but there were points where I was a tad uncomfortable with the first villain presented for the Wargames setting being presented as a worst case scenario for a superpowered Tea Partier. There were also a few points, especially in the Venom PDF, where the layout seemed to have a bit of wasted space that a different font size or something might have fixed.

CONCLUSION: The setting certainly has promise, although it is definitely in less politically "safe" territory than World War II, so it is possible that a given segment of the gaming population may not be thrilled with the presentation. It is absolutely worth getting while it's free, and if the Cold War-esque setting appeals to you, then it's probably worth purchasing as well. With a little tweak, Venom and the House of Serpents could easily be dropped into a number of settings (despite my comments above, I would have zero problem using him in a game - and could have much fun using him alongside The Patriot from the Villainomicon, in the right game, of course). Thumbs up on the overall presentation, just be aware that Wargames is NOT just WWII, with Russians inserted in place of Nazis.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tommy's Take on BADASS

I was gonna do this last night, but had a nice storm roll in that knocked me offline. BADASS is the free RPG by Stargazer Games, this one by Jay Steven Anyong, who has his own gaming blog over here.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: BADASS is completely free, and only 28 pages, although the author does do a really good job of putting a lot into those pages. The basic premise of BADASS is that the rule of cool trumps logic, meant to just be completely over the top and crazy.

Character creation is pretty basic: You name your character, give them a Defining Moment and pick the type of Badass you are: Kickass, Smartass or Wiseass, with each having a specialty (like kicking ass, being smart or being witty). From there, your characters are mostly defined by their two Flavas, like being a Robot and a Ninja or a Cinematic Disability (like being blind, except an asskicker). There are even Metagame Flavas, like being able to force an arm wrestling match instead of a die roll once per session, or being able to bribe the GM with snacks and the like.

The base mechanic entails rolling 2d6 against a Target Value: If you roll Snake Eyes, you fail badly...if you roll Boxcars (2 6's), you succeed spectacularly. You get a Badass point, extra damage on a successful attack roll, or turning a failed attack into a success. Badass Points can be used to add 1d6 to your die rolls, or power your Flavas. You can gain more Badass Points a few ways out of combat, like Flashbacks and Training Montages, and in combat you can use One liners, show off, trash talk, etc to get more Badass Points in a pinch (although you get less off of "Running on Fumes" - getting points in combat - than you do outside of combat). Running out of Badass points turns your Badass into an Average Joe.

You can also inflict Setbacks on yourself...forcing bad stuff to happen to you in one scene, so you can then trigger the Badass Points you "lost" as automatic sixes in the next scene.

Initiative uses a bidding system, where all Badasses (PCs and NPCs) get to bid Badass Points to determine who goes first. Combat is a a matter of comparing die rolls for attack and defense, with each four points of difference in Attack and Defense rolls being a level of damage.

As you spend Badass Points, you build toward Awesomeness...every 30 Awesomeness you hit, you get a new Flava.

The GM section does toss in a few, paragraph long variants outside of the standard modern setting, like Fantasy Badass and Scary Badass.

A sample setting, Central City, is also given...basically two pages of rough and tumble modern city stuff.

Four standard mook types are also given, to give you an idea about how to do some mook modeling.

WHAT WORKS: It reminds me a little of WUSHU, but better, in the sense that there is more of a "game" to it, and I oddly like my games to have "game" to them. A good amount of text in the 28 pages, so this doesn't feel at all just thrown together. I could definitely see supplements detailing Flavas, Mooks and so on for Fantasy and Scary type games.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The term "Flava" really bugs me, but that's just a personal thing. On one hand, it's a tad too "meta" at parts for me to take seriously, but then, it also explicitly says it's not a serious game. Providing advancement rules for what seems to be a pick-up game seems odd, but I also realize that advancement rules would have been the first thing brought up if they hadn't been included.

CONCLUSION: BADASS certainly isn't the first attempt at modeling crazy, action movie stuff, and it won't be the last, although the "Average Joe" stuff is certainly unique, as far as I can recall. I don't like it quite as much as I do WRM or RAG, as I like at least a bit more detail in my games than this, but a couple of swell supplements like WRM had (and this is released under a Creative Commons license) and I could easily change my tune. This is one of those games I'd like to try, but I'm worried about, because I think the bits used to trigger more Badass Points could get old, fast, although the fact that they are all limited to once per fight or once per session certainly helps. Good effort, but from reading it feels both like it could be a bit tighter and a bit beefier...then, I think, it would really shine.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

So I got this cool new logo...

...and yeah, I know it kinda stands out against the background...I'll work on that, but I'm AWFUL at design stuff (which is why I've stuck with basic black for so long).

This swell piece of work came from from my friend Aaron Acevedo, who has made some very pretty game books (he's the art director for Savage Mojo, and their production values kinda speak for themselves)...he has his own site, as well as his own company, Sigil Entertainment. So, check out more of his awesome work, and toss some commission dollars his way (when he has the slots open).

I am incredibly pleased to have Mr. Acevedo's work gracing my page...=)

Tommy's Take on Resolute, Adventurer & Genius

Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, powered by the "WYRM" system behind Warrior, Rogue & Mage, is another free RPG by Stargazer Games, this time set in a pulp setting, rather than a fantasy setting.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Using the same basic mechanic (roll d6, add relevant stat and bonuses based on skill), with some tweaks (the most notable being the lack of magic and the inclusion of skill ranks - you no longer just "know it or don't"), RAG is a completely free 36 page PDF that improves on the presentation of WRM in many ways, from production values to organization.

The book includes a helpful summary at the beginning for those familiar with WRM, summarizing the changes. Resolute and Adventurer largely duplicate the effects of Warrior and Rogue, while Genius tweaks the utility of Mage a fair bit, given the lack of magic in the setting.

Skills can now be Basic (+2), Advanced (+4), Master (+6) or Peerless (+8), although that rank requires a Talent in order to achieve. Speaking of: Skills and Talents are now in the character generation section, and the Talents are blown up nicely in a number of categories, like Mesmerism Talents and Mystic Talents.

Other important, genre-specific changes include the addition of vehicles (airplanes just aren't needed in most fantasy games...a little more important in pulp games, however), and chase rules. The bestiary also gets an overhaul, from more pulp specific enemies such as mad scientists, to some animals and paranormal foes. Enemies are also scaled in three ranks: Minions (nameless, "faceless" mooks), Henchmen and Villains, each with more detail than the last.

Rather than providing a specific setting, RAG includes notes on adventuring in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, as well as a section covering more non-standard eras. A really nice looking character sheet rounds out the book.

WHAT WORKS: The organization is way better here, and I like the wider range of Talents, which also do a nice job of covering up for the lack of magic. Some fine proof that the WRM formula can be tweaked quite a bit, and the WYRM system used for a number of things. The layout is also very handsome, especially for a free product (not that WRM suffered any).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The penciled-looking black and white art is a step down compared to the rest of the layout. As with WRM, I would have liked to have seen a larger Threats section, but it's a free book, so what are you gonna do? Thus far, RAG hasn't had the level of support WRM has. I'm not completely sold on Resolute, Adventurer and Genius being QUITE as iconic as Warrior, Rogue and Mage, which may be part of the problem.

CONCLUSION: If the concept behind the Wyrm system sounded good, but fantasy isn't your cup of tea, maybe the Pulp version will be more up your alley. I mean, it's a pretty risk-free purchase, and I guarantee you have spent money on way worse. For my "money", the main reason I like WRM better is because I HAVE pulp options I, personally, enjoy...while I'm still searching for that fantasy game that really does it for me. That said, it's hard not to show love for the Stargazer Games crew, putting out very impressive products for free like this. Hm...Wyrm Supers, anyone?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tommy's Take on Warrior, Rogue & Mage

If you haven't heard of Stargazer Games, you may be missing out. They have released a few games, all of which are completely free...and now, I'm going to step in and take a look at a few of those games, beginning with Warrior, Rogue & Mage.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Warrior, Rogue & Mage is a fantasy RPG that has neither classes nor levels, and is completely free. What it DOES have is three Attributes (Warrior, Rogue & Mage), as well as skills (which are linked to given attributes and offer +2 bonuses to rolls) and Talents (which offer extra perks).

Every task involves rolling a d6, adding the relevant stat (and rolling again if you rolled a 6), versus a target number. Each of the three attributes ties into various other areas, like Hit Points being based off of Warrior, Fate Points off of Rogue and Mana off of Mage. Defense is set by both Warrior and Rogue, and different weapon skills are keyed to different stats (battle axes are a Warrior thing, daggers are a Rogue thing).

Initiative is largely "common sense" with a simple high-roll mechanic in place if there is any doubt as to who should act when. Anyone can cast spells as long as they have at least one point of Mage (you CAN leave a given stat at 0), and spells are divided into four Circles. The higher the Circle, the higher the target number and the higher the Difficulty Level. Spellcasters can cast spells while wearing armor, it just costs more mana. In fact, the magic system has a surprising amount of depth, allowing you to store spells in rings, staffs, gauntlets, etc., or to boost a spell's effect by spending more mana and the Difficulty Level.

First Circle spells let you create light and heal with a touch, while the Second Circle can make food and water and summon lighting bolts. At the Third Circle you get Firebolts, and the Fourth Circle gets into raising the dead and teleportation...and if you don't like magic at all, a variant called Warrior, Rogue & Scholar is included that turns spellcasting into a Talent, which can be completely removed to get rid of magic altogether.

A setting is included, the fallen Imperium of Vaneria, but is painted in very broad strokes, encouraging - heck, requiring - the GM to fill in a lot of detail, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Skills and Talents are provided in the appendix, with Skills like Unarmed (Warrior), Thaumaturgy (Mage), Firearms (Rogue) and so on. Talents include Hunter, Blood Mage (which allows you to spend Hit Points instead of Mana for your spells) and Massive Attack (add your Warrior attribute to your melee damage once per combat).

Although the setting assumes humans are the only race, a number of common races such as Elves, dwarves, orcs and halflings are included in an appendix, getting Racial Talents (including a negative one in each case, to balance the bonuses).

There's an odd little aside about the Dual Wielding talent, and how it does not provide extra attacks (unless the PC also has the Double Attack talent), which makes me wonder what the point of Dual Wield is, other than to act as a prerequisite for Double Attack.

The bestiary provides a list of common NPCs (which can have the racial Talents added in of you need, say, an elven Apprentice Wizard), animals (from horses to giant spiders) and monsters like War Golems and zombies. Not a huge selection, but enough for an enterprising GM to expand on his own.

The book wraps up with a summary of all the important information, as well as spell sheets and a nice looking character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: Well, you can't beat free. Especially when you look at the production values (which aren't on par with major commercial products, but still look very nice and have a very evocative feel to them). For a 41 page, rules lite RPG, there's a good amount of depth, especially with some of the little bits and tweaks in the Magic section. Five free supplements have already been released, expanding on the game in various ways.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I'm not a fan of some of the organizational issues, like Skills and Talents being in the back of the book. Dual Wielding is apparently just a prereq talent, or was very poorly explained, although without actually playing the game, it may be that two attacks is a big enough game breaker that it requires essentially giving up an advance to get. A few more examples, especially of monsters, would have been great...but come on, it's a free product.

CONCLUSION: Easily on par with, or beyond, many of the lower-tier RPGs, and blowing right past about every free RPG I can immediately think of (aside from, say, older titles that have now been released for free). Warrior, Rogue & Mage is rules lite, yeah, but has a solid foundation and the thought and effort that went into it is very apparent. while the game includes a low-magic, and no-magic, tweak...I would like to see someone tweak it a bit more (higher magic, dark fantasy, etc.).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

War of the Dead Chapter 3 Drops Monday!

Time IS running out to take advantage of the War of the Dead Chapter Three pre-order (as well as the accompanying sales on Chapters One and Two). The pre-order gets you all of Chapter Three in PDF format for $14.99, which is $5 less than the already discounted regular bundle price, as well as an exclusive set of 3D vehicle flats by the very talented Jordan Peacock.

Just hit the little "War of the Dead" link at the bottom of the post and read my reviews of the first two chapters (written at a time in which I had no affiliation with Daring Entertainment, other than being provided review copies). If you dig zombies and Savage Worlds, don't miss this chance to jump on board War of the Dead at a reduced price!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tommy's Take on Wellstone City

This is another one of those "Been meaning to review for a while now" books...Wellstone City by Silver Gryphon Games. Maybe it's me, but Silver Gryphon seems to fly under the radar as a Savage Worlds licensee, and if there's one thing I like to do with this blog, it's shine the light on the stuff that's slipping by...which doesn't REALLY have an effect, as it IS The Most Unread Blog on the Internet. Ever.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Wellstone City is a modern noir Savage Setting, available from RPGnow in PDF format (78 pages) for $4.99 or softcover for $19.99 (and you can get a bundle which basically gives you the PDF for free while you're waiting for the book to show up).

The setting is Wellstone, a rough and tumble city of brutal violence and shady characters. If your thought process is that noir filtered through the Savage Worlds lens comes out a lot like Sin City, you're probably on the right path.

One thing that stands out right off is that, honestly, I tend to ignore the setting fiction, and I actually enjoyed it in this book, the author setting a nice tone.

Right off, Wellstone introduces some Setting Trappings: Everyone gets the Connections Edge, Rank requirements are removed for Edges, negative Charisma canbe used for Intimidation attempts and so on. While there is a new Hindrance or two, Wellstone City provides several new Edges, from Combat Edges like Combat Shooter (allowing characters to use even crossbows and rifles in melee combat) or Untouchable (meaning even Federal Agents keep their hands off).

They also add in more depth to the ammunition rules with Hollow Points, Mercury Filled Bullets, Tracking Bullets and much more. There are even Dragon Rounds which can turn a shotgun into a flamethrower!

Wellstone City itself is an island off the coast of Lousiana, divided into a number of boroughs like Little Italy, Little Haiti, The Spanish Quarter and The Battery (this would be the industrial area). The island itself has its history laid out, as well as each borough and their respective features, like Doc Murphy in Little Italy, who does the "under the radar" medical operations that folks go to when they can't afford to have hospitals asking questions about their injuries. A timeline is given from before 1560, when indians fought back and forth on the island, to the presence of European countries, to the effects of various American movements on the island.

Wellstone City is a battleground for a number of factions, such as The Black Dragons (a harrowing mixture of Triad and Yakuza), Blackhand Security (a private security firm waging war with organized crime), the police and government, a number of smaller gangs, and more...oh, and Freelancers (in theory, this is where the PCs fit in).

A slew of stock NPC stars are given, including a number of freelancers (all Wild Cards), generic mob bosses, a variety of gangsters and more. Startlingly complete in its number of variations.

The book also includes an adventure, Public Transit Assassins. It is designed to be a big "welcome to Wellstone City" for new players, although it can be used with characters who are new to Wellstone or are long-term residents. A number of options are given to kick the adventure off, designed to give the PCs an excuse to be in the same place at the same times as a mysterious phone call occurs. It leaves them with the opportunity to make a new ally or two, as well as an enemy or two.

The book does also feature an index.

WHAT WORKS: A great feel to the book, especially in the flavor text, which I really only tend to mention if I enjoy it quite a bit. The new Edges amp up the adrenaline a bit, combind with removing the rank requirements. To say nothing of a whole slew of stock NPCs for the GM to use.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: As settings go, this is real barebones, meaning that a novice GM might struggle wirh it a bit (or I may be the only guy who still reads "How to GM" sections). A couple of things make me question the game's focus...evoking Sin City, for instance, and then adding penalties for using bigger and badder guns.

CONCLUSION: Some nice rules options back up the modern noir feel, althoughI don't feel as though it's really aiming for "gritty" as some claim...and not that that's a bad thing. I think Savage Worlds is great for a Marv-like rampage, for instance. The ammo rules really cater to the folks that say Savage Worlds isn't crunchy enough, and the adventure does a nice job of getting the characters started in Wellstone City. A really good setting for an experienced Savage Worlds GM who is up on his noir, but someone new to noir or GM Savage Worlds might come up a bit cold. Also, last I checked, there was supposed to be an Interface Zero version of Wellstone City coming, and if that's still true, I can't see that not being great.

Tommy's Take on Zenith Comics Presents: Supervillains! vol. 1 (BASH edition)

For as much as I dig BASH, I sure don't show it enough love here on the blog. So, with that said, let's dig into a third party product for BASH: Ultimate Edition...Zenith Comics Presents: Supervillains!

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: This is a 39 page mini supplement of 11 supervillains for BASH: Ultimate Edition (ICONS and Villians & Vigilantes versions are also available). Villain sourcebooks tend to be a bit of a gimme for supers RPG publishers, because your PCs are almost always superheroes, and they always need someone to fight. All versions of the book are available at RPGnow for $1.99.

Art is provided by Anthony Green, who renders the images in a style similar to the more cartoony art of BASH: Ultimate Edition. In addition to providing villains for your game, this is a peek into the Zenith Universe, with background elements given in the backgrounds of the villains, as well as their "Known Enemies" and "Known Allies".

Each villain gets a full Marvel Handbook style write-up, complete with hair, weight, eyes, base of operations, etc. Thankfully, they opted not to provide fake "First Appearances", which frankly annoys me when I see it, so thumbs up for them. In addition to the background, each villain gets an "In Your Campaign" section, a section on "Combat Tactics", "Roleplaying Notes" and, finally, "Hooks".

Who are the eleven villains?

Adonis - The Roman God of Beauty, Adonis has - among other things - a nearly unbreakable helmet made of "Heronium". While that may sound goofy, it gets pretty cool when you find out that Heronium is made from the metal artifacts that a hero was carrying at the time of its death. I like the mythological element of the setting's Super Metal.

Black Shroud - Take a bullying victim without a strong moral compass and a demonically empowered cloak of shadows and you get Black Shroud. He might be a bigger threat if he grew a spine.

Colt - The first villain thus far who isn't afraid of a direct fight. Colt is a modern day trick-shooting cowboy, though he's not afraid to use his guns for actual killing.

Damselfly - An incredibly unstable split personality who will latch onto romantic obsessions...and will likely go on a superpowered Fatal Attraction rampage if she's rejected.

Energion - A bit like Proteus from the X-Men comics (in basic concept, not execution), with a slightly more cosmic bent.

Green Gargoyle - A bit of a "Hulk" homage, although he's not a "Hyde" to anyone's Jekyll, he's an actual animated gargoyle who just wants to be left alone.

Jackie Frost - A female, ice-powered villain who is often found in villain team-ups.

Nightviper - Think "Female Robin Gone Bad". For folks who read Red Robin, what Tim Drake could have been if he crossed that line.

Skullsmasher - A Roid Rage cautionary note.

Wolfen - Pretty much a classic werewolf.

The Bug - Zenith's answer to Mr. Mxyzptlk or The Impossible Man...and yes, I spelled Mxyzptlk right on the first try. I'm such a geek.

Lastly, the PDF includes two pages of stand-ups AND tokens, depending on which you prefer (as well as a number of "Shadows" and "Ice" tokens for Black Shroud and Jackie Frost).

WHAT WORKS: A LOT of info is given for all eleven villains, and even in cases where the inspiration was obvious, enough effort was given that it wasn't just "serial numbers filed off". The option of tokens or stand-ups, at your preference, is also great. Several of the art pieces are really good, and the worst are certainly passable.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Easily my biggest gripe would be that each villain has three art pieces attached: A full body shot, an "action shot", and...the full body shot, reused. I do know art can be expensive, but it does bear mentioning. Also, I know what they were trying to accomplish with The Bug's entry, but I still have not read it all because the font is murder on my eyes.

CONCLUSION: $2 for 11 well-thought out villains? Sure thing. As a consumer, I'm not sure I'm in the market for a new setting, but my supers gaming choices tend to be Marvel, DC or my own setting anyway. HOWEVER, with the possible exception of Adonis' Heronium, there is very little here that would prevent you from "drag and drop" into your own game (I mean, unless you had odd, specific rules...for instance, Wolfen is a pretty standard werewolf. If you have ruled that all werewolves are pacifist treehuggers with complete control of their Inner Beast, he really won't work). A great first effort from Zenith Comics and a worthwhile selection of villains.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tommy's Take on Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun

Yeah, regular readers of my blog and reviews probably know I'm a bit of a Deadlands fan, so I was more than a little interested in the announcement of new Deadlands comics...and then I got the opportunity to read the first one in advance of its June 15th release date!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Published by Image Comics in conjunction with Visionary Comics, The Devil's Six Gun is the first of four Deadlands one shots being released this summer, for $2.99. What you get is a self-contained, 20 page primary story, as well as a five page back-up story that is merely the first of four parts that will run through each comic. Oh, and a goody for Savage Worlds fans, too...but I'll get to that.

The Devil's Six Gun is helmed by the creative team of High Moon, a werewolf western that was part of DC's Zuda project (and I admit, I have no prior experience with High Moon...bad Tommy), writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis.

The Devil's Six Gun stars Copernicus Blackburn, in Deadlands parlance a Mad Scientist on a revenge kick. In tone, it is a fairly dramatic shift from what you tend to expect from Deadlands big monster fights, no wild west gunslingers, not even a Huckster to be seen. What we instead get is a peek into just how a Deadlands scientist becomes a "Mad Scientist", as he struggles with trying to invent a gun that can "kill the Devil".

For the Deadlands fans, Darius Hellstromme also factors into the story, though I won't say how, and the story builds to a satisfying climax, I thought. Bonus points if you can pinpoint someone becoming "Shaken" in the comic.

At points, Steve Ellis' art reminds me of Dan Brereton, and I only mean that in a good way. The colors are muted, a far cry from the very much "Image-style" Deadlands one shot released years ago (featuring Ronan Lynch versus a Hanging Judge), and truer to the source material, by my reading.

The back-up story is written by the Creative Director of Visionary Comics, C. Edward Sellner, and Visionary has asked that reviewers not spoil the back-up, so I will not. However, I will say that my jaw dropped at the last page hook.

Finally, for Savage Worlds fans, the Devil's Six Gun is given full game stats in the back of the book as a relic...I can't say what it does without spoiling the story, but I can say it can be both potentially devastating and any good Relic should be.

WHAT WORKS: I have no idea if David Gallagher is a gamer, but he sure seemed to "get" Deadlands. Neither the art, nor the story, evoked a terribly "campy" feel, either...and while I have no issue with camp, in Deadlands or outside of it, too many folks seem to think that's ALL Deadlands is. It was rather cool as a Deadlands/Savage Worlds GM/Marshal to see things like a Mad Scientist's inspiration and a game mechanic like Shaken show up in a story...and the Relic's abilities match what is seen in the story. Oh...and that back up story...just...yeah.

WHAT DOESN't WORK: If you hate comics, $2.99 is going to seem like a lot to pay for a single relic. You may also hate cliffhangers, so that back up story could well tick you off. The main story is also fairly low key, for most of it, at least, and that may not fit your image of Deadlands (Deadlands fits a fairly broad spectrum to me). Finally, the quality of this issue is no indication of the next one, for better or for worse, as each one shot features a different story and different creative team (aside from the back-up).

CONCLUSION: As a Deadlands fan, Devil's Six Gun is a much better effort at a Deadlands comic than the One Shot originally released years ago. As a comic geek, setting geek and a game geek, I was very pleased with the end result and, with any luck, this will only be the first step in truly building the Deadlands "brand" up where it should be.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tommy's Take on The Path of Kane

The Path of Kane is the newest release for the Savage World of Solomon Kane, one of the most impressive Savage Worlds books released thus far (indeed, one of the most impressive RPGs I have ever purchased.

Given my attempts at remaining as spoiler free as I can on adventures, this is gonna be a little different, since the entire thing is adventures. So be warned...there are spoilers below, or the whole thing would be one pointless, vague post.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: While the Savage World of Solomon Kane included a plot point campaign, as well as a slew of adventures, the Path of Kane is a 224 page tome of adventures that can be used alongside, or in lieu of, the adventures found in the Solomon Kane rulebook. You do need the Solomon Kane rulebook to play (note that the Kane book has all the Savage Worlds rules in it, so you can run the game off of that alone). The Path of Kane is available in PDF format for $24.99, and the print version will be running about $40.

The new book boasts the same impressive production values as the Solomon Kane core, and has 27 new adventures for Europe, 21 new adventures for Africa, 18 new adventures for the New World and 15 new adventures for Cathay and The Orient. Each adventure uses the assumed date of 1610, with the caveat that travel was a lot slower back then, so if you hew to realistic passage of time, you may wish to adjust things, as your game could easily run decades. Another nice bit are Adventure Links and Rumors sidebars. Adventure Links are helpful links between certain adventures, so that nothing exists in a vacuum, while rumors can be dropped into play, setting the PCs on the path of other adventures.

In Europe, the PCs can encounter the Ghost of Guy Fawkes, as well as Excalibur (with a gruesome twist). The Holy Roman Empire hosts rumors of a faith healrer, while a visit to Russia leads to involvement in the middle of a fight between a witch and a vampire (featuring a famous name from folklore).

Africa hosts a necromancer, a mummy and a contingent of ancient roman legionnaires among others.

The New World features mirror matches, wendigos, vampires and even some (relatively) mundane conflicts.

Cathay and the Orient includes scorpion men and rakshasas among their adventures.

Each section also includes more relevant background information than was found in the Solomon Kane rulebook, such as local superstitions and the like (knowledge of which can be a huge gamechanger, as Solomon Kane found out himself more than once).

Artifacts are also peppered about the book, some of which the PCs don't actually have a chance of gaining (unless the GM is suddenly very generous) and some of which they do. The book is also extensively indexed (in addition to the PDF bookmarks).

Each adventure is about "Savage Tale" my experience, enough for approximately 3-4 hours of gameplay in most circumstances.

WHAT WORKS: There is some very good stuff in here, with many adventures drawing on existing mythology and events for maximum effect, and seeing the "Links" and "Rumors" sidebars makes one kinda sad this wasn't thought of when the first book was released. The production values are gorgeous, though the PDF layers can be stripped away, allowing for more funtionality (and cheaper printing, if you so desire).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: There were at least a few art pieces recycled from the first book, and one might have hoped that the lesser developed areas from the first book would have gotten more love than Europe this go around.

CONCLUSION: Minor quibbles. If you're a Solomon Kane GM and you don't want to sit and concoct a bunch of adventures, this thing is a Godsend. I tend to really enjoy taking canned adventures and dropping my PCs into the middle of them and seeing what happens, so I obviously give this a thumbs up, plus more Solomon Kane support is always a good thing. If you strung ALL the Solomon Kane stuff together into one mega The book has a great pedigree, developed by John "Night Train" Goff and co-written by Tony Lee (among others). Even if you're not a huge fan of using adventures "straight", there are enough NPCs, artifacts and ideas that it's probably worth at least getting the PDF and mining away.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tommy's Take on Sword Noir

Depending on just how much of a FATE game you consider Sword Noir to be, it may be the smallest FATE rulebook that I have read (by a mile).

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Sword Noir is a standalone fantasy RPG claiming inspirations from a number of sources, from FATE to Savage Worlds to the PDQ system. RPGNow has the PDF available for $4.99 or a POD softcover for $10.73...and you can download the system itself (the Sword's Edge system) for free.

Despite only being 74 pages (RPGnow says the print version is 104 pages, but this seems to be due to the dimensions of the book), the PDF has all the major bells and whistles, including bookmarks and clickable table of contents for easy navigation. Sword Noir is designed to emulate "hard-boiled fantasy", specifically citing works like the Lankhmar series, as well as Conan.

Qualities are ranked on a scale, from -6 to +8, in increments of two. Characters are divided up into Heroes (important named characters), Regulars (less important named characters) and Minions (nameless mooks, typically). Heroes have a number of Qualities, named by the players. For instance, Concept is a Quality (such as Wily Ranger). After Concept, you create a Background Quality, like Criminal on the Run. Then Faculty, essentially an important this case, we're going with Deadshot (linked to Agility) for bow use. Now you need a Flaw, like Hot Temper.

Every character has five Traits: Physique, Agility, Wit, Charisma and Will, with all of them starting off Average. Here, the player gets 6 ranks to spread out among the five traits OR to buy more Qualities, or to raise other Qualities (which start off Good (+2)).

Let's bump up Agility to Good (+2), as well as Wit and Will. Add a new Quality "Tracking His Prey" (linked to Wit) at Good for four Advances. With those two remaining advances, let's bump Agility and Will up to Great (+4).

Next the character gets assigned items, which includes anything reasonable, like bows, daggers, etc. Anything they need to fit the concept. Anything too special should be created with a Quality. Characters also need Pivots, which are important goals, such as "Bring My Former Partners Down". In play, you can also gain Weaknesses and Reputation (the latter of which can provide bonuses and penalties).

Fortune Points can be gained by generally attempting to be good and noble, and can allow for things like automatic successes.

The basic mechanic is rolling 2d10, adding them together, and adding any relevant Qualities. Rolling a natural 2 is a critical failure and a natural 20 is a critical success. Interestingly, a Critical Failure can allow you to attempt to increase the Quality or Trait applied to the roll as compensation for the failure, or you can also take a temporary Weakness to avoid the consequences of Failure. A Critical Success allows the character to gain a very limited, but permanent, Stunt tied to a relevant Quality.

Combat is pretty straightforward, comparing attack rolls with defense rolls, and if the attacker succeeds, the degree of success determines damage. If they get all the way up to a Legendary success, the defender gets a Doom, which means they either die, get a Weakness or lose a relevant Rank somewhere.

Similarly, each character can take three Damage ranks (each rank gives -2 to combat actions and -1 to non combat actions), at which point they fall unconscious. At four ranks, they gain a Doom as above.

The Magic system is interesting, as their is a penalty in place, but it is for SUCCESSFUL uses of magic and not failure. The more you successfully cast spells, the more it can make you insane over time, ultimately costing you your soul.

Wealth is abstracted into Lifestyle, which gives a baseline for your character's standard of living.

With mechanics out of the way, the author dives into the Sword Noir "setting" as it were, a flawed word of flawed heroes. The chapter hits on important bits like the corrupting influence of magic and the brutality of violence, both of which are supported by the mechanics, but also notes that the atmosphere is really a product of both GM and player buy-in to get that "life is cheap, crapsack world" feel, which is certainly true.

A section on Sword Noir adventures really only tackles the subject in the broadest sense, focusing more closely on bringing the group together and giving them a reason to stay together than anything. Personally, for a Noir feel, I would use the hook from the TV show Leverage for that first adventure: Benefactor hires them (or hires one of them to assemble the rest of them), and then royally screws them over, setting them up for a fall. From there, they can swear vengeance (at least as long as it takes to bring the benefactor down...bonus points if the screwing was so complete that they have nowhere safe to turn to outside of the team).

A sample city is also provided, complete with important residents like gang leaders, kingpins and even honest to goodness Good Cops.

Also included is an adventure in which an old acquaintance asks the PCs to find his lost love, who isn't what she seems...but with a uniquely fantasy twist.

The end of the book is a series of premade characters, a blank character sheet, a map of the city of Everthorn (the sample city mentioned above) and a character tracker for the GM to use.

WHAT WORKS: A very professional, yet low-key, presentation, especially for the price. The art and layout aren't fancy, but they both fit the feel of the product. The system is a nice little mish-mash of various systems, but thought has actually gone into how to make the pieces fit, rather than just jamming them together. I like the Critical Failure and Success bits, as well as the corrupting influence of magic.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I wasn't a huge fan of the city or adventure, just personal preference I guess...although I did like the cops being "incorruptible" for a change. I would probably have preferred a more generalized approach to building fantasy noir adventures instead. The author has explained the reasoning behind the lack of nonhumans on the company website, but I still would have preferred a treatment of them. There were a couple of spots where the writing could have been tighter, and frankly, calling NPCs "NCs" (Narrative characters) just bugged the crap out of me.

CONCLUSION: Minor quibbles aside, I really liked what I read. The Qualities/Aspects stuff is well defined, I dig the take on magic, there is no abstract "stress" in place of damage, and there are some cool bits like gaining advancements off of critical failures. Still, a great game packed into a small package. With a "monster" hack, it might even be a prime candidate for a worthwhile Ravenloft replacement. Highly recommended if you wanna get dirty with your next fantasy game.