Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tommy's Take on Civil War: Fifty State Initiative

Not Pictured: Baron f'n Zemo

Margaret Weis Productions has continued their support for the Marvel Heroic RPG line with the supplemental Civil War Event Book called Civil War: Fifty State Initiative, based on the fallout of the Civil War and Reed Richards’ plan to place a hero team in every state.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The print version, not available as of this writing, seems to be about $20, but the PDF is $12.99 at RPGNow. The book is 136 pages and divided up into four sections: The Initiative, The Thunderbolts, Heroes for Hire and Hero Datafiles. This isn’t a huge book by any stretch, and on the surface seems kinda limited, but it has some cool bits.

The Initiative chapter begins with a focus on Camp Hammond, the superhero training camp from Avengers: The Initiative, and includes an example training scenario, as well as a short post-Civil War attack by Hydra, with an example of statted out Hydra vessel, kinda like their Helicarrier, as scary as that sounds. Not surprisingly, the book gives you a few options for dealing with the fallout of the adventure, including being drafted into Henry Peter Gyrich’s Shadow Initiative.

The rest of the chapter is largely datafiles for teams like The Shadow Initiative, The Great Lakes Champions, The Liberteens and The Rangers. This gives the book the interesting distinction of providing the second Constrictor write-up before we’ve ever had an official Magneto write-up. Most of the characters are completely usable as PCs as long as you add your own Milestones. There are also a few notable omissions, like Beta Ray Bill from Omega Flight.

The next section – The Thunderbolts - makes me REALLY giddy, for a few reasons. First off, Thunderbolts-specific Unlockables, like unlocking captured characters as playable characters, Pro-Reg Heroes being able to call in T-Bolts members for assistance, or T-Bolts members earning looser security for themselves. Milestones include trying to escape the T-Bolts, trying to go straight or trying to destroy the T-Bolts from within. The next thing that made me giddy? Baron f’n Zemo, complete with a “Born Better” powerset. I love Zemo…a LOT. Two action scenes are also included, one featuring the T-Bolts taking down rogue, D-list heroes and the other featuring the T-Bolts trying to recruit villains. There’s a sidebar about using the T-Bolts to expand Civil War, with special mention of one of my favorite subplots, when Zemo tried to win Captain America’s trust (the basis for my Mythic SAGA game I played a while back).

The Heroes For Hire chapter gives a small treatment to playing mercenaries, complete with Unlockables and Milestones. One of the nastiest is an 10xp Unlockable that allows you to have retroactively hired one of the opponent’s in the scene…turning them into a double agent who is actually on your side. A pair of action scenes are also included.

In addition to all of the Watcher datafiles that have been included, about 37 full blown player datafiles are included as well. Some of them include Black Cat, Bullseye, Venom, Songbird, Moonstone, Radioactive Man, Howard the Duck, Justice, Penance, Paladin and Nextwave.

WHAT WORKS: Baron f’n Zemo. Mechanical support for a Thunderbolts game. More datafiles are always a good thing.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The art is pretty pixilated, especially the cover. I assume this is to keep the file size down. Some notable omissions among the datafiles, like Beta Ray Bill and Norman Osborn (who became the leader of the T-Bolts during the time of the Fifty State Initiative), or Initiative Members like Slapstick and Ultragirl. No Milestones or Unlockables for a “Heroes in Training/Camp Hammond” campaign.

CONCLUSION. I wanna run, or play, a Thunderbolts campaign, or anything as Zemo. Holy crap. The rest is good, too. But yeah, Zemo FTW. I have a feeling we’ll get a few Unlockables or Milestones in the X-Men book that’ll adapt to a “heroes in training” thing, but I could be wrong. I like it. Not as much as the Civil War book, and there are definitely areas where the book could have been beefed up, or perhaps done better with more focus (like some of the aforementioned Milestones and Unlockables), but still a great product, even if it’s not up to the standards of the first two releases.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tommy's Take on The Deadly Seven

I saw The Deadly Seven mentioned over on the Pinnacle boards a few weeks ago and decided to check it out. I like to think I stay up on Savage Worlds stuff, but this seemed to slip under the radar for me.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Deadly Seven is a “Poly-System Game”, designed by paNik for Savage Worlds, True 20 and d20 Modern, though I am only reviewing the Savage Worlds material here. For $12.95, you get a 150 page adventure, a bunch of maps, and two sets of Clue Cards to be used as player handouts. The PDFs are heavily layered, allowing you to change the rules you are viewing with the press of a button, or remove the backgrounds for printing. The Deadly Seven is designed to be dropped into any modern campaign and has both paranormal and adult elements.

The Deadly Seven intends the Guts skill to be used, unless you’re dropping it into a setting that doesn’t use Guts, of course. The book provides seven threats…four overt threats and three subtle threats. The threats are intended to interweave around each other, rather than being a straight up run through of the seven threats. A suggested run through of the plot is provided, with the caveat that if it takes a different course, so be it.

The seven threats are all mutually tied to a single plot element, complete with a flowchart showing how the elements of the threats tie in together.

The first threat (lust) is a great example of how to run a heavy investigative adventure for Savage Worlds, with lots of clues and red herrings to follow up on. The PCs are left investigating a missing family man, whose fate is connected to a series of brutal rapes. The resolution of the investigation is pretty open-ended, leaving the PCs directly responsible for how the NPCs recover, depending on their actions.

The second threat (envy), in investigation into an illness striking a medical research company, is similarly thematic, though it has a much more abrupt resolution and is actually much likelier to end badly for the PCs (and can be even harder to resolve, perhaps not even being truly resolved until sometime well past the end of the investigation). That said, the resolution can have a HUGE impact on the ultimate resolution of the whole thing.

Threat three (gluttony) can be handled as an investigation or a full on fight scene, depending on your preference. It is an even more horrific twist than the previous threats, involving a voracious flesh-eater.

Threat four (wrath) is incredibly open-ended. It’s a hostage situation, with the police’s actions laid out, as well as the layout of the location, for the PCs to figure out how to get in, stop the hostage situation, and get out.

Threat five (greed) is the first of the subtle threats, involving a conservative talk show host/preacher with a secret. As someone with right-leaning politics, this could have gotten really insulting, but the preacher is portrayed as a very realistic, but flawed person. A very surprising piece. The three subtle threats have a way of spreading out over the course of the module, with the villain of this threat working a long term plan to destroy the PCs.

Threat six (sloth) is one of the most unassuming. The most subtle of the threats, the target of this one can wind up working at cross purposes with the PCs, undermining them before they realize what’s going on.

Threat seven (pride), is set up as the Big Bad in the provided plot outline, and like the other two subtle threats, can easily make his presence felt throughout the module. Like many of the others, this can have a happy ending or a downer ending, depending on what the PCs do.

Seven more threats are provided, one for each sin, to be expanded out by the GM if he chooses.

The common link to the threats is a doctor and his experimental machine, which will have to be dealt with. Again, the PCs can be the deciding factor here, trying to use this infernal device for good, or destroying it to ensure it never causes harm like this again. See, this device allows demons (representing each sin) to possess people. The module provides a helpful section on just what you can do with the possessed, as well as the ramifications of things like wounding the host bodies.

Stat-free descriptions of the major characters in the module are provided (the stats for each system are in separate files), with picture, description and the roles they serve in the module. This concludes with an examination of the seven deadly sins.

The possessed play a huge role in the adventure, and the last part of the book is a primer on demonic possession, delving into the signs of possession, the types of possession and so on. This is an interesting read, and useful reference for a game, including four views on possession and how each view reacts to certain theories (like whether or not the faithful are immune to possession). A section on Exorcisms is provided, complete with variations by religion. For extra effect, there’s even a list of conditions that can be confused with possession, like Epilepsy. The Exorcism guide concludes with a list of historical possessions and hauntings.

The zip file also includes a number of maps, printable clue cards to hand out to the players and a packet of character stats for the adversaries, the demons possessing them and even a couple of generic stat blocks that have a bearing on the module.

WHAT WORKS: A very multilayered module that isn’t a railroad. Some great examples of how to do different types of adventures in Savage Worlds, such as an investigation. The Possession sourcebook is comprehensive as well. The NPCs are all generally well written…surprisingly so, in some cases. The PCs not only decide how successful each mission is, but even the end result in most cases.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The organization can be a bit dodgy at first, especially when you realize that the various threats can easily run over the tops of each other (and probably will). The adult content is pretty hard to remove, and will limit the audience because of it. If you run just the threats with no interruption, the common links of each case could get repetitive.

CONCLUSION: A very nice product with lots of variety, great handouts and examples about how to tackle different scenarios in Savage Worlds. In addition, the product takes advantage of the digital medium with layers utilized to switch between rules sets in the adventure, helpful “How Tos” for the Clue Cards and making the pages printer friendly. Deadly Seven is a great example of a scenario that has no assumed outcome, positive or negative, for the encounters, leaving all of that entirely in the hands of the PCs. Well worth checking out if you don’t mind some sex, drugs and violence in your games.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

375 posts! A Look Back...

This is my 375th post on the blog, a little over 2 and a half years from when I launched it as an excuse to keep me writing on a regular basis.

How'd that work out?

Well...I haven't always been able to blog as much as I like, because I went from unemployed college student to warehouse worker/comic book writer/social media manager/freelance editor, those latter two gigs stemming entirely from this blog and my reviews (which came to dominate the blog).

This is actually the second "Most Unread Blog on the Internet. Ever.", the first one being much more personal and political, being referred to by the The UK Mirror as "A Liberal Read", where my tagline came from. My logo is about 14 months old, designed for me by my friend and colleague (every Savage Worlds product I've been credited on, so has he), Aaron Acevedo.

As of this writing, my blog's had 184,947 hits (which isn't 100% accurate, I'm sure, but it's probably close), and despite being increasingly busy, it's managed to top the previous year's traffic month to month. In fact, every month this year except June has doubled the One Year Ago stats. I attribute this to "Evergreen" posts like Savage Worlds Characters Are All The Same, which prop up traffic even when I'm not posting often.

To my annoyance, my most read post on the blog is my take on The Walking Dead season one, due in no small part to the Emma Bell pic inserted in the article.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ICONS posts draw more traffic than any of my other RPG posts, though I'm convinced that's more to do with TMNT than it is ICONS.

The most read RPG review I've written is, interestingly, Leverage.

My audience is primarily American, with Canada pulling in a distant second. To my surprise, Poland makes up the third largest segment of my audience (with Canada only supplying about 500 more hits than Poland does). The UK provides a sizable fourth, and then it's a pretty big drop off in readership.

My highest traffic month was this past January, which isn't a surprise as my Top 6 giveaway got plastered around the internet, with Pinnacle posting a front page update about it, among other things.

Speaking of...I'm moving the  Top 6 cutoff date to November 30th this year, so I have an extra couple of weeks to contact the publishers of the selected products before everyone disappears before Christmas.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I hope to continue posting much, much more. I aim to continue my Half Dozen Heroes articles, I'll probably post more about D&DNext, I have another slew of RPG products lined up to review and I'm working on scanning my adventure notes for one of my Necessary Evil adventures through an OCR program to post up for your consumption.

Thanks for reading, and keep the dice dizzy!


Saturday, August 18, 2012

D&D Next Early Thoughts

I'm not sure exactly what I'm allowed to say, so I'm erring on the side of caution here, because I don't want to disrespect the playtest agreement with Wizards, but I've been tinkering with the D&D Next playtest rules recently.

First, some background: I got into RPGs with AD&D2e and the Marvel Classic/FASERIP games. I ran a LOT of AD&D2e over a number of worlds through the years. It is my favorite version of the game, period. When 3e came along, I got excited, owned several of the books, ran it a few times...and ultimately didn't care for it on the GMing end, due to the amount of heavy lifting on that end. That said, I thought it produced some amazing Ravenloft material, as well as giving us Midnight, which is one of my favorite settings ever. I read 4e, didn't care for it, though I love the D&D Adventure System board games, which use 4e as their base.

I love character options in games. Don't get me wrong, I totally think characters come alive in game play, but I love actual options to mechanically differentiate characters. I was a guy that fully embraced character kits in AD&D2e, and I thought the concept of Feats, Prestige Classes, etc in 3e were great...I just kinda felt like the 3e implementation got way too cumbersome. Also, as much as I love customization, I hate optimization. I hate Min-Maxing. I'm not any good at it, and it doesn't really help you in my games, because I tend to tailor adventures to the PCs, so you will eventually encounter something designed to exploit your weaknesses (not constantly, but it'll happen).

So last night I sat down with 4d6 and rolled up a new 5e character, attempting to recreate my first AD&D2e character, a Wood Elf Fighter named Tanjlock, who became known mostly for his bastard sword, his longbow and for being the party's cook.

D&D Next has Fighters. It also has Wood Elves, so I was off and running! However, it also has optional steps like Backgrounds...where your character came from, and the impact it has on them, such as informing their skills. The suggested Fighter Background is Soldier, but Tanjlock was never a Soldier. Artisan (Cook) on the other hand...and Specialties. These help focus your character's abilities and training. The suggested Specialty  for Fighters is Survivor, which helps beef up Hit Points at level 1. Not bad...but Archer really fits my character more. Now he can snap off two arrows at once, though they only do half damage (but being an elf, his longbow damage is stepped up, so low HP monsters best watch it). Fighters get Fighting Styles which help distinguish how they fight. The playtest packet had a few options to choose from, but Slayer is a great fit for Tanjlock, where he tries to get in and inflict as much damage as possible in Melee (other options include Defender, where you act as a bodyguard for your allies and Duelist for your Inigo Montoya types). Level 1 gives Tanjlock Glancing Blow, which can still let him inflict a small amount of damage on a miss if he rolls a 10 or more on the die when attacking.

So, in about ten minutes, without fully devouring the playtest packet, I had a recreation of my old character, fired up and ready to go. I plan to at least make a character from each class (the playtest packet only has Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard right now, with Warlock and Sorcerer options alongside Wizard) and race (the packet only has Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling, though it references Gnomes, Half-Elves and Half-Orc) to see how it holds up, but it's off to a really good start. The mixing and matching of Backgrounds and Specializations can go a long ways towards customizing characters, and doing so simply. It also seems like it would be SUPER easy to drop new Backgrounds and Specialties into the game, say for campaign worlds and the like. There are no racial or class requirements anymore, with racial adjustments being added to your Ability Scores AND class adjustments being added (for instance, Fighter gives the option of +1 to Strength or Dexterity, which makes sense because Dexterity is now the default stat for Attack Bonuses with smaller weapons).

D&D will never be my primary game again...I'm positive of that...but this character generation test was the most promising experience I've had with D&D in over a decade.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tommy's Take on Summerland Revised and Expanded

Look, bombs!

Summerland is an interesting concept for a PostApoc game, and the final entry in my PostApoc series. I once heard it referred to as a Post Apocalypse game designed by M. Night Shyamalan, and that may not be wrong.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Summerland Revised and Expanded is a PostApoc game by Fire Ruby Designs, featuring a world that has been consumed by Nature. No atomic bombs here…society was shattered when forests emerged overnight, and this massive forest, called the Sea of Leaves, reached out to folks with The Call, and sucked a good 80% of the population under its thrall, turning them into The Wild. The PCs play Drifters, folks that are so emotionally damaged that they can’t commune well with what’s left of society…a trait that makes them immune to The Call. The PDF is available at RPGNow for $14. I got it in one of the charity bundles a while back.

Drifters have four Qualities – Mind, Empathy, Body and Finesse. You split 20 points among them, on a scale of 2 to 8 (though stats can go as low as 1 or as high as 9 in certain cases). Then you add Tags to each Quality (one per Quality, except for your highest, which gets two, and one of the five tags has to be negative). From there, you define your character’s past and possessions. Your character has a Trauma scale, and you start off about midway down it. The goal is to reach 0, meaning you have conquered your demons and can adjust to society.

Actions are described with Intent and Consequences. What are you intending to do with this action? What is the outcome? That sort of thing. Really like most RPGs, just using specific terminology. Take your Quality, add Tags to get your final score, roll a number of d6s according to the difficulty of the task (2 to 5) and try to roll under your total. If you can get your Total to 13, you have an automatic success.

“Damage” is handled as Distress, which is assigned to each of the four Traits as necessary from the end results of actions. The severity of the Distress can manifest as Cosmetic, Minor or Major, and the book provides examples of each for each of the four Traits. Characters can invoke their Traumas in the hopes of conquering their issues, but this can also cause even more stress in the process. The lower you get your Trauma scale, however, the more susceptible you become to The Call.

The setting is painted in fairly broad strokes, with The Sea of Leaves popping up pretty much wherever you like in the world. Seasons are dramatically amplified, with Spring buzzing with energy, Summer bringing brutal heat, Autumn causing the beasts in the Sea to become restless and Winter being harsh and unforgiving. Most communities are bound to their spot, thanks to The Call, relying on Drifters to help them travel or to move supplies between communities.

The dangers in the Sea of Leaves include other Drifters (being mentally or emotionally damaged is kind of a calling card, after all), The Lost (folks caught in the lure of The Call), The Wild (what The Lost turn into, feral humans), animals, very unnatural animals (some nice examples are given, like a deer that hunts humans and a bear wearing a cloak), and spirits and ghosts. Some interesting story seeds are also included.

The Narrators section stresses that the truth behind The Sea of Leaves is left up to the Narrator to determine, and each PC actually does work towards an endgame: Reaching the end of the Trauma track and finding redemption. It also provides discussion on using Horror, Hope and Magic themes in the game, as well as reference sources for them and scenario ideas. Guidelines are provided on making incidental NPCs, along with a few examples.

The Fallen Leaves supplement is also folded into this book, providing fully developed NPCs, providing examples of the kinds of folks found in The Sea of Leaves, both potential allies and potential adversaries. A number of communities and locations round out this section, like an island that has fallen under a dictatorship and a hunting lodge where the inhabitants are waging war on animals, seeing them as the symbol of the change in the world. A set of random roll charts are provided for making your own communities, as is a character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: Great premise. The idea that nature has just risen up to wreck humanity is intriguing. The art in the book is primarily photographs, making for a very evocative feel to the book. I always appreciate good random roll charts.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The writing at times seems to beat around the bush, especially for such a simple system. I do like a little more crunch in my games.

CONCLUSION: Fantastic premise, but one I doubt I would ever use with the system as written. It’s not that the system is inherently BAD…I just prefer a little more meat on my games. The idea that it’s an RPG with a defined endgame is also pretty interesting, as most are open ended to a fault. I’d say it’s well worth reading, even if it’s not my cup of tea for gameplay, especially if you want PostApoc without bombs and mutants.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tommy's Take on Mutant Epoch

More fun with PostApoc! This time, Mutant Epoch by Outland Arts!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The "Hub Rules" are 246 pages in PDF format, and while the PDF isn’t bookmarked, it has lots of links built into the table of contents. The PDF is $12.99 and POD softcover and hardcover editions (and bundles) are available at DriveThruRPG. In addition to the normal slate of supplements, The Mutant Epoch is also supported by the Excavator Monthly Magazine. The setting is pretty standard: It’s the year 2346 and society has collapsed. Mutant, robots, clones and more now roam the earth. If you need something other than the gradual erosion of society, culminating in a great war, then they provide other options: Alien invasions, portals to other dimensions, zombie apocalypse…whatever you need. The game uses the standard D&D array of dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20).

Part one is character creation, and it uses lots of random rolls. There are a few options for picking character types, rolling stats and assigning them as you will, etc., but the default it “roll on a bunch of charts”. There are three “character type” charts, based on your experience level (as a player). Eight Traits are used (Endurance, Strength, Agility, Accuracy, Intelligence, Perception, Willpower, Appearance). You use d100 tables for those that are capable of producing a range anywhere from 1 to 120 (those most Traits will fall somewhere in between). Then you roll the character’s Pre-Game Caste, which provides modifiers to your Traits. For instance, you may have been a Pirate, which gives you bonuses to Strength and Endurance, the ability to navigate by the stars, 2 Criminal Skills, 2 Warrior Skills and a Miscellaneous Skill. Also, it is assumed that your old crew is cranky about you abandoning ship. Each of the backgrounds have little hooks like that built in.

The available character types are Pure Stock Humans, Bioreplicas (organic, artificial humans), Clones (based off of the DNA of specific individuals), Trans-Humans (engineered to be better, faster, stronger), Cyborgs, Ghost Mutants (Mutants who show no outward signs of mutation), Mutants (Mild, Typical, Severe, Freakish Horrors), Bestial Humans (I CAN MAKE A HONEY BADGER!).

Interestingly, the game is level based, and while things like your Strike Value advance on a track, you also roll Rank Gain Bonus Matrix to see how else you advance. For instance, at Rank 2 your Cyborg may increase his Agility by 2d6, but gain a Minor Mutation at Rank 3. There is no upper limit to the leveling. You can also gain skills just by finding a teacher, regardless of where you are at on your advancement.

And then we get to mutations. First, the Prime Mutation table is a d1000 table. It includes tidbits like Berserk Rage, Multi Head, Poison Bite, Telekinesis and Wings. Then there’s the Creature Mutations table, with options like Acid Blood, Crab Pincers, Limb Regeneration, and Tusks. Ghost & Latent Mutations are less obvious, and include Coma Inducement, Heal Touch and Telepathy. Minor Mutations are bits like Blood Color Alteration and Eye Lights. Of course, there are Flaw Mutations (Baldness, Hemophilia, Increased Aging, Sterility and more). There are a LOT of options.

As if that’s not enough, there are Implants (like Razor Allow Claws, Grappling Hooks, Radio Scanners and Weapon Arms). Starting equipment is based off of the Outfitting Code that each background has. Escaped Slaves may be unlucky enough to start off wounded…while Wealthy Adventurers may actually have mounts. Starting weapons and armor are based on random roll tables with a die modifier based on the Outfitting Code. The gear section runs the full range from clubs, chains and animal hide armor all the way up to full tactical armor and laser weapons.

Combat is pretty simple. Roll 1d10 for initiative, roll under your Strike Value (minus the opponent’s defense) to hit, roll damage and take it off of the opponent’s Endurance. There are various modifiers that can apply here, and rolling a 2-5 is an auto hit, with a 1 being a Critical hit. Similarly, 95-99 is an auto miss, with 100 being a Fumble. And yes, there are tables for those. EXTREME differences in Strike Value vs Defensive Value can turn attacks into Auto Hits or remove the possibility of criticals. There are combat modifiers for various tactics (Called Shots, using other people as shields), and NPCs use Morale as well. Your Proximity to Death is determined by both Endurance and Willpower, so one can compensate for the other.

Chase rules are provided, with a number of random tables depending on what’s happening in the chase (running up a mountain, shooting behind you, flying through the air)…you use these tables every four rounds, just to jack with the chase.

Hazard checks are used for a variety of things…resisting traps, drowning, hypothermia, poisons, radiation, diseases and so on, and are handled pretty simply: Cross check the hazard rating (A through M) with the relevant Trait, and this gives you a percentile to roll against. If you fail, apply the effects.

The Encounters Table has charts for random encounters and random events, with random events including things like storms, loot, traps and rare encounters.

The bestiary starts off simple enough: Bears, cattle, fish, that sort of thing…as well as creatures like Horrlify (bio-engineered patrol beasts), moaners (essentially zombies), Reptili (lizard men), Skullocks (who are kinda like goblins) and giant worms. Even better…many of these (including the stock animals) have their OWN mutation tables! Robots and androids get their own chapter, it’s just not as cool as the monsters.

Most of the weapons and armor in the Relics section have game stats in the first chapter, and this one is full of descriptions of everything from chainsaws to stun sticks to .22 pistols to body armor to dune buggies.

Chapter Eight is NOTHING BUT TABLES. Find a corpse? Roll on the table to see what it has. Religious icon in a ruined church? That’s a die roll. There’s even a d100 treasure table that includes plastic samurai swords, plastic food wrap, doggy bowls, toy pianos and even Elvis busts.

The appendices include: Metric conversion tables, a bit about the Society of Excavators (an online vault of resources for Mutant Epoch GMs), common vehicles of the Epoch, scrap vehicles, barding for mounts, siege engines, GMing tips (they recommend that each player controls multiple PCs, with one as the “Lead”), adventure seeds, printable hex and grid maps, character sheets and printable dice you can assemble. Oh, and a clickable index.

WHAT WORKS: Random tables for EVERYTHING just shy of an adventure generator (which seems like an odd oversight, given the amount of random rolling). Mutations for all the monsters, flexibility in the setting, tons of support.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: If you hate random rolls and feel like you need a lot of game balance, I’m not sure this game is for you. The setting, as presented in the Hub rules, is nothing you haven’t seen before.

CONCLUSION: My advice? Roll up a bunch of characters and have fun. Don’t worry about game balance, don’t worry about stuff making sense…for pure gonzo PostApoc fun, Mutant Epoch is one of the better options I’ve read. It doesn’t have the heavy metaplot/back story of Reclamation or Hell on Earth, but it has a lot of cool, old school stylings without being tied to a D&D base. If you know what you wanna do with a PostApoc game, but not HOW you want to do it, get this and go nuts.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wild Card Creator Kickstarter

Just got this press release from Will Herrmann of Journeyman Games, who is running a Kickstarter for the Wild Card Creator program.

Introducing Wild Card Creator. Any PDF, Any Setting, No Extra Cost!

Journeyman Games has just announced a Kickstarter for their Wild Card Creator, a computer program that helps gamers quickly and easily design characters for the Savage Worlds tabletop roleplaying game. The program enables you to generate, save, and print characters in both stat block and character sheet formats, enabling you to access them whenever you need, in a fraction of the time it takes to do it by hand!

Because Wild Card Creator comes pre-loaded with the full text of Savage Worlds Deluxe, you can start making characters right away. But what if you want to make characters for a supplementary setting like Deadlands, Agents of Oblivion, Hellfrost, or any of several dozen other settings? Other character creators would make you type it all in yourself or force you to pony up $5-$10 for the same content you already own. Not Wild Card Creator.

If you own any published Savage Worlds PDFs, Wild Card Creator will be able to import any new Races, Edges, Hindrances, Gear, and other character options without you paying anything more! If you've got the PDF, you've got the content. Pinnacle Entertainment Group and 14 other companies have already given permission to allow Wild Card Creator to work seamlessly with their full range of PDFs, so your favorite settings are sure to be supported.

Wild Card Creator will be available for Mac, Windows, and Linux and has an estimated release date of November 2012.

Twitter: @JourneymanRPGs

Most of the major licensees are covered, and he's hoping to get everybody on board for, essentially, the ultimate character program. The goal is $4,000 and $20 is all it takes to get a copy of the program. The stretch goals include art from Storn Cook for character portraits and Showdown support.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tommy's Take on Mutant Future

Yeah, the Post Apocalyptic theme is continuing. Next on the list is Mutant Future, which isn't a retro-clone per se, but is built to be compatible with retro-clone Labyrinth Lord.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Mutant Future, by Goblinoid Games, is available in a free, no-art version as well as a "regular" version, available in PDF for under $7 or a softcover POD version for about $24. As retroclones tend to do, the aesthetic is very old school, with a spartan layout and old school style black and white line art.

It's a post-apocalyptic game based on a D&D retro-clone, so if you know D&D, you should be able to settle in pretty quickly. The game uses levels but not classes, with the 3d6 or 4d6-drop-the-lowest method and uses the six standard Ability Scores, with Willpower subbing for Wisdom. The selectable races are Basic Android, Synthetic, Replicant, Mutant Animal, Mutant Human, Mutant Plant and Pure Human. Everyone except Pure Humans get Mutations, and Pure Humans get a whopping +3 each to INT, CHA and CON. Alignment is used in the game, on the Law, Neutral, Chaos spectrum.

As most PostApoc games do, Mutant Future has an extensive mutations list, divided up into Physical, Mental and Plant, then further divided into Beneficial and Drawback, on d100 charts. Physical Beneficial Mutations can include simple things like Increased Attribute or Echolocation, as well as flashier abilities like Optic Emission and Spiny Growth. Physical Drawbacks include Albinism, Hemophilia and Pain Sensitivity. Mental Beneficial Mutations hit standards like Neural Telepathy, Neural Telekinesis and Possession, as well as things like Weather Control and Killing Sphere, which is DANGEROUS but draining. Mental Drawbacks are things like Weak Will and Phobias. Plants can get beneficial mutations like Carnivore, Grenade-like Fruit and even Flight, while risking drawbacks like Reduced Fertility and Thermal Sensitivity. Each Mutation gets at least a paragraph in explanation.

The rules section proves to be concise, covering adventuring in ruins and wilderness, taking a very “dungeon crawl”-like approach to the ruins section. In fact, probably the biggest departure from early-D&D rules speak is the Technology rules, which covers the condition technological artifacts are in when you find them, as well as your chance of figuring out how to use them.

The Combat section addresses the rule that I hear tended to get overlooked the most in most D&D-style games: Morale rules. These can make all the difference in the world with many encounters. Given that it’s a PostApoc game, rules like firearm rates are included, and charts are provided for Armor Class and To-Hit rolls (remember: Armor deflects attacks in this game, rather than absorb damage).

The Monster section takes up the bulk of the book and is alphabetized. Some of the selection includes Clone Neutralizer Androids (designed to kill excess clones), Ant Horrors (ants with two heads and a tail!), giant bats, Brain Lashers (who look a loooooot like Mind Flayers), Cephalopoids (human squids), Cockroachoids (humanoid cockroaches), Electrophants (elephants who fire arcs of electricity), Eye Dogs (dogs covered in eyes), Gamma Wyrms (wingless dragons who fly via psionic flight), cave men, Giant Land Squids, Medusoids, Eloi and Morlocks, Pumpkin Men, Quill Cats, Skinner Trees, Vomit Flies and Walking Dead. 14 encounter charts are provided, divided by environment. The stat blocks are all provided in a format that allows for easy swapping in and out with Labyrinth Lord.

The Artifacts section is the “treasure” section, complete with random roll tables broken down by various types of weapons, armor, power sources, bombs, foodstuffs and drugs. Warp Field Daggers that pass through armor, EMP Rifles, Blood Agent Grenades (which jellifies the lungs of those that breath in the chemicals left in the aftermath of the explosion), cloning tubes, hologram projectors, and a generalized selection of vehicles.

The setting chapter paints the setting in very broad strokes, focusing very little on how the world got to the way it is, or how it will wind up. It includes a sample scenario (Mine of the Brain Lashers) as well an overland hex map to play around with.

The book includes a short appendix on combining the options fully with Labyrinth Lord, including turning the races into classes. A character sheet and the OGL notice rounds out the book.

WHAT WORKS: Well, there’s a no-art free version. That’s kind of a big deal, and it has bit of support, due in part to the OGL. The monster section has some really cool and unique options, and its compatibility with Labyrinth Lord can allow for some interesting scenarios if you and your players aren’t fantasy (or PostApoc) purists.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: If you don’t like D&D as a base, this probably isn’t going to be your thing. If you want a developed setting, rather than an excuse for hex crawls or dungeon crawls with ray guns and mutant powers, this probably isn’t your thing.

CONCLUSION: If you’re into PostApoc games, you should at least download the free, no-art version. No reason not to. It’s worth it for swiping from the bestiary, in my opinion. Similarly, if you’re into old school D&D, there’s probably at least an odd monster or two that’s worth messing with. For my part, I had a blast with modifying one of my AD&D 2e characters (a bastard sword swinging elven fighter) into a Gamma World character once, transplanting him (complete with bastard sword) onto a PostApoc Earth where he traded horses for motorcycles and chain mail for trench coats. Mutant Future isn’t likely to ever make the rotation at my table, because I don’t really do the D&D base system thing anymore, and there’s other PostApoc games I’m dying to run, but it’s still a very good product that should scratch the PostApoc itch for older school gamers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

AetherCon Update for August 5th, 2012

Here are the latest updates for our event from the past three weeks:

We’d like to welcome Ethan Parker and Jon Gibbons to the AetherCon staff. Mr Parker, the organizer for KantCon, has signed on to take the position of GM Coordinator. Mr. Gibbons (AEG, PEG) has been named to the Art Directors post.

The following games have been added to our schedule:
William T. Thrasher - Call of Cthulhu Tournament - "The Wounded Sky"
Julian Constantino - Pathfinder - "Justice For All"

William has also been recently tapped by Paizo to do some writing on an upcoming project.

The following games and GMs have recently been confirmed:
Greg McClendon - Dark Heresy
Roger French Jr - Macho Women with Guns
Sherman Sheftall - Runequest 6th Ed

The following game publishers have been added to our supporters by either contributing prize support, guests for the Fest Hall, or taking a booth in our Vendors Hall:

4 Winds Fantasy Gaming
Chapter 13 Press
Crafty Games
d Infinity
Silver Gryphon Games
Thistle Games
White Haired Man

You can see the growing list of companies adding to our prize list by going ‘To The Victors’

We would also like to thank DriveThru RPG for stepping up and facilitating the prize bundles for our event.

At this time we can also confirm that Ennie nominated Chapter 13 Press, Skirmisher Publishing, and The Design Mechanism will be among those featured in our inaugural convention program.

Among the latest artist news Bradley K. McDevitt has been commissioned by Goodman Games for illustration on an upcoming release.

Our latest wallpaper Grendorey Hu Maggrath by Canadian Will O'Brien has just been released.

Coming Soon:
Izael 'Deeds' McBride by Patrick McAvoy
Billoby Windwarble by Fiona Meng
Kruultok Azgratugaar by Eric Lofgren

You can find all of our free downloadable wallpapers here.

The following RPG blogs have joined the Bell & Scroll:

Campaign Mastery
Dice Jockey
Geek Life
Mind of the Geek
The Iron Tavern

The following Conventions have joined the ConCentric Circle:

Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous

Current games confirmed for AetherCon include:

All Flesh Must Be Eaten
A Thousand and One Nights
Atomic Highway
Call of Cthulhu
Castles & Crusades
Dark Heresy
Dresden Files
Eclipse Phase
Fantasy Craft
Labyrinth Lord
Legends of the Five Rings
Macho Women with Guns
Mouse Guard
Mutants and Masterminds
Palladium RIFTs
Pathfinder Society
Runequest 6th Ed
Savage Worlds
Star Wars (D6 WEG)
Swords and Wizardry
Time Lord

Top five cities in North America for unique visitors to our main site to date: Chicago, Ill; San Francisco, Cal; New York, NY; Houston, Tex; Austin, Tex.

Top five cities in Europe for unique visitors to our main site to date: London, U.K.; Nuremberg, Ger; Helsinki, Fin; Moscow, Rus; Hamburg, Ger.

Top five cities in ports abroad for unique visitors to our main site to date: Wellington, N.Z.; Brisbane, Aus; Sydney, Aus; Melbourne, Aus; Florianopolis, Bra.

Finally, a question: Which of our latest games would you like to play the most? Check out our poll on Facebook and have your say.

Help us get the word out about AetherCon by liking and sharing on our Facebook event page, following and re-tweeting via our Twitter page and adding us to your circle on Google+.

We are currently looking for GMs to run the following games:

Savage Worlds
Call of Cthuhlu

As well as these cult favorites:

Barbarians of Lemuria
Gamma World (Pre-D20)
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
Star Frontiers

All Flesh Must Be Eaten
Atomic Highway
Dresden Files
Eclipse Phase
Fantasy Craft
Legends of the Five Rings
Macho Women with Guns
Mutants and Masterminds
Runequest 6th Ed

Dark Heresy
Star Wars (D6 WEG)

If you have a cult favorite you’d like to see or run, let us know!

If you have a game yourself that you would like to run use our handy-dandy [url=]GM Pre-Registration tool[/url] on the site.

If you want to play in one just fill out our Player Pre-Registration Tool.

All of our Game Tables and Booths are now linked to Roll20 making it easier than ever for you to try out the engine of AetherCon.

You can also check the menu bar across the top of our website for Roll20. The corresponding submenu shows has a variety of useful links.

If you would like to inquire about other volunteering possibilities let us know by sending an e-mail here:

Stephen J. Holodinsky
Event Manager – AetherCon

Find us here:




Saturday, August 4, 2012

Guest Post: tremulus Playtest Report

I met Jimmie Bise Jr. on almost ten years ago, and I'm not 100% sure he even remembers it. We swapped some RPG books via mail (all I remember sending him was Forgotten Realms 3e, I have no idea what I got in return). Over the last couple of years, we've had lots of back and forth exchanges on Twitter. Like myself, Jimmie is a blogger and podcaster but his blog is primarily of a political bent, so when he had something RPG related to post, rather than disrupt his normal routine or start a new blog, the idea occurred to us that he should post it here.

I'm glad to share this playtest of tremulus by Reality Blurs with you, and hopefully Jimmie can come back in the future. That said, let me turn the floor over to Jimmie.

A couple of weeks ago, I answered an open call on Twitter from the head honcho of Reality BlursSean Preston. I knew of him and his company from their excellent supplements to Savage Worlds: Realms of Cthulhu and the Ennie-nominated Agents of Oblivion. He was looking for a couple of people to playtest his new non-SW game of Lovecraftian Horror called tremulus and I volunteered to be one of the guinea pigs. I was apprehensive because I really didn't know Sean and he didn't know me and I had never been part of a playtest group even though I've been a gamer for most of my life.

I needn't have been worried. Sean is a fantastic guy and the playtest was a world of fun. The other three players in the session -- Jake, Eric, and Michael -- were good guys and I had a blast.

Wait…did I just say three other players? I did and that's worth a quick note. Sean had originally intended to run two players in a relatively quick session, but he decided more or less at the last minute to ask a couple more and give tremulous a more rigorous run. It could have gone badly, but it didn't. In fact, I'm prepared to say that tremulus could become the game of the year. Yes, I realize how crazy that reads given that I've only played the game for three hours and I've yet to see the full Keeper section of the rules but I'll stand by it and here's why.

I sat down in a Skype session with three other people I had never before met to play a game I had never before seen and had some of the most gaming fun I've had in a long time. We played for three hours in a mansion the Keeper didn't even know would exist until we created our characters. Character creation took us about 30 minutes, which included several questions about the rules. Our mansion-exploration wasn't mere noodling around either. There are two solid mysteries we have yet to solve (one of which I'm pretty sure we tossed into Sean's lap as we played). That is a sign of a game that's not only simple enough to pick up and play at a moment's notice but also powerful enough to provide a rich experience that will keep everyone engaged until it's time to call it a night. And it hit all the "scary" buttons you'd expect in a game that seeks to recreate the atmospheric (and ultimately doom-laden) horror of a Lovecraft story. We crept around in a dark cellar, found secret entrances, mucked about with Things Man Was Not Meant to Know (or at least one Thing), dealt with scarce resources, had a couple freakout moments, and finished the session with many more questions about out situation than when we began.

But let me back up for a minute and tell you a bit about the "adventure" in which we played. We spent almost the entire session in and around a mansion located on the outskirts of a mostly-forgotten  California town. Neither the town nor the mansion existed before we sat down to play; that is, Preston wasn't working from a module nor did he create any part of the town before we started the session. We players created the setting and generated the plot points based on the choices we made during character and town creation and in play.

Yeah. Cool.

Character creation is a breeze. The game provides Playbooks, two-page dossiers built around an archetype, from which the players choose. The Playbooks provide solid niche-protection -- I played The Journalist and there were no other Journalists in the game -- and give each player a nice little set of strengths and weaknesses. From each playbook, the player picks a set of Affinity (think Attributes here) numbers, chooses  identifying features (clothing style, general "look") that will help distinguish them, and two Moves (think Feats here) from a list of several. Each Playbook also has a special Move that is unique to that archetype and is triggered by spending Lore, which can be earned both at character creation and also through play. The Playbooks are short enough, at least in the current version of the game, that a Keeper could print them out separately and give them to the players to use in lieu of formal character sheets.  They are simple enough that a player could keep all the notes they need on a fairly small sheet of paper, as I did. See? Here is my character sheet, which also included brief bits about the other players, next to my computer mouse so you can see just how little information each player could need. 

Once the players have their Playbooks, it's time to create the town. The Keeper asks the group seven pre-generated "yes" or "no" questions, to which the players may answer "yes" to only three. This happens twice -- once to determine the relatively mundane aspects of the town (think Aspects from FATE) and once more to determine the supernatural aspects. Those choices, "local color" and "town lore", determine certain characteristics about the town from which the Keeper can begin to build the Framework (think, well, of a framework!) that will move the plot forward. In fact, each set of three "yes" answers corresponds to a code the Keeper will look up in the Keeper's section that will give the initial Framework for the scenario. Now, I bet you're thinking, "Wait. Sean Preston wrote out a Framework for every combination of "yes" answers?" He absolutely did and though all the Frameworks weren't available in the set of rules he gave us, he did give us a little sample we could use to see how the Frameworks work and how they contain the other plot elements inside them. I won't get too bogged down here, but plot construction is extremely modular. A Framework is built from smaller plot elements, all of which contain some obstacle the players must overcome. it seems complex, but in play it works very smoothly, at least it did from where I sat as a player.

There is one more element of the game, the one I found most interesting, I want to mention. Normally, it's part of character creation, but I want to tease it out of that a bit because it has an interesting effect on game play. Each of the players can have a direct relationship with the other players, thanks to a clever little mechanic called Trust. The players have a certain amount of Trust "points", determined at the outset, they allocate among the other players. The more points you bestow on a player, the more you trust them. The default level of Trust is zero, meaning that your acquaintance is casual and you neither like nor hate them. Positive Trust numbers can go as high as +3, which means that you trust that person with your very life. Now, other games have relationship mechanics, usually to help determine reactions in cases where the players haven't built up an in-game history. This game gives Trust a very important role. Trust determines how good you are at helping other players do things, as your roll is modified by the number of Trust points you invested in the other character. That means that the more you are trusted, the more help your "friend" will be to you.

That gives the relationships between the players a solidity that tends not to exist in other role-playing games, where relationships are usually color for a story or an interesting plot point. In tremulus, Trust can mean the difference between your character opening that lock before the slavering monster eats your face off and, well, being a faceless corpse.

As for the tremulus'  mechanics, you don't have a lot of rules to remember. The game is built from vital bits of several games you may already know -- Apocalypse World, FATE, and Fiasco --  and a few more very neat bits you may not have seen before. Don't fret, though, game play is simple and fast. You resolve your actions, called Moves, with the familiar 2d6 Die Roll +  the relevant Affinity against a set target number. The real twist is what happens after the roll. There is no such thing as a simple success or a simple failure in tremulus. Every dice roll leads to a choice, for good or ill, and the players control their choices. For instance, if you want to look around to find a lamp, you make a roll. If you succeed, you may find the lamp or you may find something even more useful. If you fail, you may simply fail or the Keeper can give you a partial success (like, say, a single candle) and bank your failure to use against you and your fellow intrepid adventurers later. Good Keepers will keep a few failures in his pocket, since he can use them to build plot complications and force hard but interesting choices on the players later on in the game. More choices lead to more fun, or at least they did during our playtest. Even damage involves a choice. In one instance in our game, a character failed a roll and fell down the stairs. His choices were to take physical damage, have an important item damaged slightly, or have a minor item damaged badly. In another, my character was searching for a secret door in the cellar. Not only did my Journalist find a secret door, Sean allowed me to describe what kind of door it was (a "dummy" cask of wine, like you might remember from that Scooby Doo episode with Sweet Cousin Maldehyde. I've always wanted to find one of those in a game and, to that point, never had). The ever-present element of choice -- that the Keeper does not simply press consequences on the players -- makes tremulus a far more interesting and enjoyable game without the correspondingly complicated rules you might expect would exist.

This leads me to the last thing I'll say about the rules. Sean impressed on us a couple major design principles of tremulus that infuse the entire game. The first is that the Keeper's job is to be honest and generous with the players. The second is that questions (and you have many chances to ask questions of the Keeper) are powerful. When players ask the Keeper questions about what is going on in the game, the Keeper must give them honest and useful answers. I admit, this weirded me out the first couple times it happened. Honesty and forthrightness from the guy running the game? What deviltry is this! I'm pretty sure Sean had to reassure us several times that this is simply how tremulus rolls. Once we fully understood that, we put ourselves in situations where we could ask more questions and trust what he gave us to move the plot forward.

In conclusion, tremulus really does have the potential to be a blockbuster game. We should see some sign of a final product in the very near future, perhaps as early as the end of this month (but please, don't hold him to that!) with a final publication date to follow as quickly as he is able. I am looking forward to this one and I think you should keep your eyes open for it as well.