Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Comics You Should Read: The Sixth Gun

I like westerns. A TON. I also like comic books. Oh, and I like supernatural horror weirdness in my west (like Deadlands, although I dig "regular" westerns a ton, too). SO...this months entry in Comics You Should Read is a supernatural western known as The Sixth Gun by Oni Press.

The Sixth Gun, a noted, is a supernatural western, written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by Brian Hurtt. Set in the Civil War, The Sixth Gun focuses on six mystical weapons (currently in the form of guns...shocking, right?) recently in the hands of (undead) General Hume and his psychotic hoodlums. However, young Becky Montcrief gains possession of the Sixth Gun and joins forces with a gunslinger named Drake Sinclair to attempt to keep Hume from being resurrected and the six guns from being brought back together. 19 issues are currently available (I've read the first 17).

In the first arc, General Hume's wife and her Pinkerton agents are trying to bring her husband back and reunite the six guns, while Drake Sinclair is trying to find the General's treasure...and crosses paths with Becky Montcrief, who inherits the sixth gun from her father. Becky, Drake, Billjohn, Gord and their allies wind up in a war with Hume, his wife and his four horsemen (cliched, yes) into the pit known as The Maw, where Drake discovers that some "treasures" should probably stay buried. The first arc is a pitch-perfect build to an amazing climax that could easily have ended the book and it would have been an amazing miniseries worth sitting on any bookshelf...

...but they kept going.

And it got better.

In the second arc, we learn more about the mythology of the setting, and Drake deals with the fallout of his actions at the battle at The Maw while Becky finds herself flirting with a handsome stranger and a gang of thieves come looking for the six guns...and we learn even more about their true power and potential. Our heroes have to deal with a loa and her bokkor even as an unconventional order of priests come a-knockin'.

In the third arc, we find out more about Gord's past and the Sixth Gun's powers while Drake Sinclair goes missing after a train robbery (carrying the sleeping corpse of General Hume) is attacked by undead robbers and he has to deal with a mummy who was mentioned all the way back in issue #1.

Cullen Bunn is a fantastic writer, weaving a western tale that is both familiar and has its own spin on the "weird west". It is no surprise at all to me that he's garnering more and more attention (he's taking over the Captain America &... book, and Sixth Gun has apparently been optioned as a series for SyFy). Brian Hurtt is one of those artists that, when you see his work, you don't immediately go "wow"...until you see his storytelling. This book SHINES because both the writing and the art are weaving an epic western tale.

Incidentally, I picked up this book on Comixology (where the first issue is free) and the digital conversion is amazing, perhaps enhancing the story flow even more. For instance, in the second arc the servants of the bokkor were stalking our heroes and the panel by panel approach had me on the edge of my seat in the way that having the full page in front of me never would have.

17 issues is hard to make an "all-time" judgement (unless that IS the whole story, and in this case it is not), but thus far The Sixth Gun has proven to be - issue for issue - one of the very best books I am currently reading and Bunn and Hurtt have done a fantastic job thus far of shaking it up as they go, giving me little doubt that they'll carry it on as long as they want to.

If you're a Deadlands fan, certainly, buy this book.

VIP Wrestling: The Juggernaut and The Bad Boy

This month's addition to the VIP Wrestling Roster for Wild World Wrestling are Rock Vargas' lackeys: "The Juggernaut" Leonidas Contreras and "Bad Boy" Jimmy Lee.

Jimmy Lee is a cocky, arrogant daredevil who isn't afraid to put his body on the line any night. A backyard wrestler who has been trained by Vargas and molded into a future superstar, Lee has risen through the ranks at a young age, thanks to a combination of his talent and Vargas' string pulling. Lee sometimes forms an effective tag team with Leonidas Contreras, a classic power and speed combo.

Lee combines high-flying with martial arts training, picking up victories with his brutal 90 MPH KICK and the SUICIDE RUN, which involves sitting an opponent on the top rope, climbing up with them and flipping over backwards, driving them to the mat. In addition, he likes to faceplant his opponents with the Bad Day and the Diamond Dust.

Lee's partner Leonidas Contreras is a big, brutal Mexican who is built like an absolute tank. The Juggernaut fears no one and only takes crap from Vargas and Lee. Despite his brute-like exterior, Contreras shows hidden depths, pulling out surprises that he doesn't immediately seem capable of, hinting at a brighter future for the hulking Contreras than some suspect.

His Lights Out is a crushing forearm smash that hits with devastating force and has been known to knock opponents clean out. His UNSTOPPABLE FORCE is huge flying shoulderblock to a running opponent, sideswiping them and knocking them senseless.

Name: "Bad Boy" Jimmy Lee
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 190 lbs
Weight Mod: -1
Attitude: Heel
Level: 8
Star Power:

Ath: +5
Brw: -1
Flr: +2
Ins: +3
Pow: -1

Athletics +5
Deception +2
 Athletic Moves +5
 Brawling Moves
 Flair Moves +2
 Power Moves
 Technical Moves +2
 Specialty Match:
 Tag Team +2
Performance +2
Presence +2
Special Talent

Gimmick Enhancements
Attribute Enhancement (2)
Feat of Dexterity
Heat Machine
MF: Flair
MF: Technical
Maneuver Training
Mastery: Aerial Maneuvers
Popular Appeal
Potent Strike: Athletic (2)
Reckless Abandon
Ring Sense
Signature Move (2)
Steal Heat
  MF: Athletic
  MF: Brawling


German Suplex and Bridge (Technical): Modifiers: 1d6 damage (–1), immediate pin attempt (-1), Moveset (+1), requires lifting (+1)
Maneuver modifier: 0

Martial Arts Kick (Athletic): Modifiers: 2d6 damage (–3), exertion: 2 Fatigue (+1), knockdown (–1), Moveset (+1)
Total Modifier: –2

Moonsault (Athletic): Modifiers: 2d6 damage (–3), add Weight Mod to damage (-1), exertion: 2 Fatigue (+1), immediate pin attempt upon knockdown (-1) knockdown (–1), Moveset (+1), prone self (+1), stunning: self if missed (+1)
Total Modifier: -2

Signature Move
Diamond Dust (Athletic): Modifiers: 2d6 damage (–3), exertion: 2 Fatigue (+1), prone self (+1), requires lifting (+1), Signature Move (+2), stunning (-2)
Total Modifier: 0

Bad Day (Face First Legweep/Technical): 3d6 damage (-3), prone self (+1), requires lifting (+1); Signature Move (+2) total modifier: +1

Suicide Run (Top Rope Backflip Uranage/Athletic): Modifiers: 2d6 damage (-3), exertion: 4 Fatigue (+2), Finisher Name (+1), Immediate Pin Attempt on Knockdown/Lift (-1), Knockdown (-1), Prone Self (+1), Requires Lifting (+1), Stunning (-2)
Total Modifier: -2

90 Mile Per Hour Kick (Superkick/Athletic): Modifiers: 2d8 damage (–4), exertion: 2 Fatigue (+1), Finisher Name (+1), knockdown (–1)
Total Modifier: -3

Name: "The Juggernaut" Leonidas Contreras
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 320 lbs
Weight Mod: +4
Attitude: Heel
Level: 6
Star Power:

Ath: -1
Brw: +4
Flr: 0
Ins: 0
Pow: +5

 Athletic Moves
 Brawling Moves +4
 Flair Moves
 Power Moves +4
 Technical Moves
 Specialty Match:
 Tag Team +2
Perception +2
Performance +2
Presence +5
Special Talent

Gimmick Enhancements
Attribute Enhancement (2)
Catch Phrase ("I'm the Juggernaut, Bitch!")
No-Sell (2)
Potent Strike: Power (2)
Ring Rage
Signature Move
Toughness (2)
Training Background
  MF: Brawling
  MF: Power
Wrestling Savant

Rookie Mistake

Signature Move
Light Out (Forearm Smash/Power): Modifiers: 3d8 damage (-6), Exertion: 6 Fatigue (+3), knockdown (–1), Signature Move (+2), Stunning (-2)
Total Modifier: –4

Unstoppable Force (Flying Shoulderblock/Power): Modifiers: 3d6 damage (–5), exertion: 2 Fatigue (+1), knockdown (–1), Naming (+1) prone self (+1), stunning: self if missed (+1)
Total Modifier: –2

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tommy's Pull List 2/26/12

Hey all...deciding to try something new...Tommy's Pull List, in which I do short reviews of the individual comics I purchase, in addition to "Comics You Must Read" (installment #2 is coming in a couple of days). The difference? The latter will focus on series' and graphic novels I REALLY think you should read. This will focus on everything I buy, for good or ill.
Tommy's Pick of the Pull

Sound good?

Warning...there may be spoilers.

WINTER SOLDIER #2 (Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: After the events of Fear Itself, it was revealed that Bucky had faked his death and has assumed the Winter Soldier identity once more. Now, with Black Widow at his side, the two are on the pursuit of other agents that worked alongside the Winter Soldier. In this issue, Winter Soldier and Black Widow battle a Soviet Super-Ape (seriously) and witness an assassination attempt on one of Marvel's most notorious figures. (It fails).
WHAT WORKS: Well, I wasn't a fan of the first issue at all (despite generally being a huge fan of Brubaker's and Bucky's) but this issue has at least hooked me to see where the assassination attempt angle goes, as even the characters point out that you can't take out Dr. Doom with a car bombing...so I wanna know just what Doom's rival has up their sleeve.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I'm still not feeling the return of the Winter Soldier. I really enjoyed Bucky Cap, alongside Steve Rogers Super Soldier and I didn't feel that story had a chance to really run its course. Still, issue 2 gives me more hope than issue 1 did.

UNCANNY X-MEN #7 by Kieron Gillen, Greg Land and Jay Leisten.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: In the aftermath of X-Men: Schism, Cyclops leads his "X-Tinction" team out of Utopia. Cyclops' team have traveled to Tabula Rasa (a stretch of land in Montana where time has been sped up) and are stuck between two members of The Apex: The Savage and The Tomorrow Man.
WHAT WORKS: Well, the characters sound like themselves, at least.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I hate Greg Land's inappropriate, light-boxed art. With a passion. I also hate that the entirety of the last two issues has been about showing us that the most powerful X-Men team is completely insignificant compared to The Savage and The Tomorrow Man, in every definable way. I don't want to read comics in which characters I care about are made to look like complete tools at the expense of another race of "advanced beings" that will be forgotten about as soon as the writer leaves the book.

SECRET AVENGERS #23 by Rick Remender, Gabriel Hardman and Bettie Breitweiser.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Captain America's team of covert Avengers (consisting of Hawkeye, Black Widow, Beast, Ant-Man, Valkyrie, Hank Pym and Captain Britain) encounter a group of Adaptoids in Pakistan who have kidnapped a woman for reasons unknown...but Ant-Man has hitched a ride on the Adaptoids as they return to home base. In this issue, the original Human Torch pitches in while Captain America and Hawkeye have a HUGE blow-up over Cap's decision to add Agent Venom (Flash Thompson) to the team. Meanwhile, Ant-Man continues wrestling with his desire to redeem himself versus his scumbag nature.
WHAT WORKS: Fantastic action, and Rick Remender writes a GREAT Beast who is serving as the conscience of the team. His interplay with Hank Pym (in which he REFUSES to allow Pym to make a new Artificial Intelligence - in the middle of what seemed like light-hearted banter - is a wonderful scene). I also love the addition of Agent Venom, who is one of Marvel's best ideas in some time. Hardman did a nice job of making Hank Pym, Jim Hammond, Clint Barton and Flash Thompson all look at least mostly distinct without masks on. Good thing Captain America and Captain Britain left theirs on.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Secret Avengers has the same "muddy" art as Winter Soldier (Bettie Breitweiser's doing), and while it SHOULD work thematically, it really doesn't when your team is full of guys in bright costumes like Captain Britain and Ant Man. My biggest gripe with the issue is Hawkeye blowing up at Cap over Venom being placed on the team. First off, the Flash Thompson version of Venom isn't a villain and never has been. Second of all, even if he was an ex-villain, since when has HAWKEYE of all people had an issue with villains trying to redeem themselves? He WENT TO JAIL for the Thunderbolts! Also, the "we're the REAL next step in blahblahblah" schtick has been beaten to death (this is what the Adaptoids are doing, see). Still, great book for the most part.

THE NEW AVENGERS #21 by Brian Bendis, Mike Deodato and Paul Mounts.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Luke Cage's Avengers squad has been doing battle with Norman Osborn's new Dark Avengers squad since Norman escaped from confinement. This is part of a larger (though stand-alone) tie-in throughout both of Bendis' Avengers books in which the Osborn story is coming to its ultimate head. Last issue, Osborn unleashed Ragnarok (the Clone Thor from Civil War that killed Goliath). What ensues is basically a big ol' fight scene with Wolverine, Iron Fist, Spider-Man and Luke Cage versus Ragnarok while Norman Osborn sits in the background outsmarting everybody.
WHAT WORKS: Just some amazing action sequences, especially the Wolverine-Ragnarok fight. Don't worry haters, Wolverine isn't portrayed as being in the same league as the clone of Thor, but he does show an absolute refusal to give up, no matter what. Spider-Man is fantastic in a support role, trying to keep the team from dying. The interplay with the Dark Avengers at the end is also great, as Osborn tries to keep his team on a leash so that they don't ruin his plans.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I still don't like how Deodato draws Osborn looking like Tommy Lee Jones, but at least he's consistent about it. I've been a Bendis critic in the past, but I'm very intrigued to see how he wraps up his run on Avengers, and he's been doing a fantastic job recently, I thought.

THE AVENGERS #22 by Brian Bendis, Renato Guedes, Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Jason Keith.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: An ex-SHIELD agent has joined HAMMER and given Norman Osborn "all the secrets of the super hero community". The Avengers split forces to bring HAMMER down on multiple fronts, only to find that Osborn was prepared for them at every turn. This issue is a series of standalone scenes in which HAMMER tries to break the Avengers individually while The President deals with the fallout of Osborn's accusations that he has been unfairly attacked and imprisoned.
WHAT WORKS: The writing is good, but not great. I did particularly enjoy the scene with SHIELD traitor Dr. Washington and Iron Man.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I don't mind when cover artists differ from interior artists, but I hate when covers have nothing to do with the interior...and Gorgon isn't even in the issue, much less fighting Captain America.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #6 by Jason Aaron, Nick Bradshaw, and a whole bunch of inkers and colorists.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Since Schism, Wolverine and his group of X-Men have reopened the school and are attempting to train the next generation of mutants...which trying to keep the school from going under. Wolverine and Quentin Quire have headed off into space seeking funding to keep the school open while Kid Gladiator has entered Kitty Pryde's body to battle off hordes of microscopic Brood. In this issue, Wolverine and Quentin Quire try to rip off an intergalactic casino while The X-Men enter Kitty's body to save her and find out what happened to Kid Gladiator...while the mansion is attacked by more, larger brood.
WHAT WORKS: Wolverine and the X-Men is the funnest the X-Men books have been in YEARS. Wolverine always gets paired up with "kid sidekicks" but it's usually "spunky teen girl with a crush on Wolverine", this time it's smarmy teen boy that Wolverine wants to punch in the face. Nice change of pace. Good action, good writing, good art. Hope it holds up through the Avengers vs X-Men crossover.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I've never been a fan of the space stuff tied in with the X-Men, but at least Jason Aaron's having fun with it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tommy's Take on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game

So Margaret Weis Productions has a new Marvel RPG out. I have owned and played every official Marvel RPG. Marvel SAGA is my favorite supers RPG ever, and Marvel FASERIP was the first RPG I ever owned. Marvel Universe (the one with the stones)...the less said the better. In 2010, MWP unveiled Cortex Plus, which powers Smallville and Leverage, the latter of which was named one of my "Top Six" that year. Both are elegant games with unmistakable similarities, but they also veer off into their own directions. I am cautiously optimistic as I approach the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, Cortex Plus, re-jiggered specifically for this game. Second of all, the PDF is out right now, for $12.99. MWP has wisely set a print retail price of $19.99, making it a very affordable option, especially for a 200+ page book. The PDF version includes a set of datafiles (also included inside the main book) as well as a Players and Watchers cheat sheet. Very handy. This is a full color affair, keeping in line with MWP's strong track record for production values, especially with their licenses.

The first section of the book is the Operations Manual. These are the rules. The Introduction hits on the basics: The Datafiles (that would be the character sheets), Dice (you use d4s, d6s, d8, d10s and d12) as well as traits you can draw dice from and how the dice pool works (basically, you keep two for your result and one for the Effect Die, unless you spend Plot Points to keep extra dice), Plot Points and how they can be used (adding extra dice to the roll, extra dice to the totals, acting special effects in your powers,etc), The Doom Pool (dice the Watcher starts with to screw with you, ranked from Standard to Global to Cosmic, and can be raised to High Stakes and Catastrophic) and how it is raised and used (whenever players roll a "1", that's an Opportunity to add dice to your pool and can be used to boost opposition, activate enemy Special Effects, end scenes prematurely and more), Stunts and Resources (using your powers in unique ways above and beyond just pushing your limits), Effects like Assets, Stress and Complications (Stress is the kind of damage you take: Physical, Mental and Emotional, and can not only be used as opposition dice against you, but in the right circumstances it can be used as action dice for your - though it makes that stress worse. Get "Stressed Out" and you can wind up with Trauma). Assets can be gained through your Effect die and used to roll extra dice on later actions. Complications can be used in place of inflicting Stress to add extra dice when acting against an adversary. It can be a lot to take in, but I think the authors realize this because - as with Smallville and Leverage - there are a TON of examples.

Playing The Game breaks down the structure. "Adventures" are called Events. Events consist of Acts. Acts are broken down into Scenes. Scenes are comprised of Panels. I should note at this point that I hate the ever-growing use of terms like "Panels" and "Pages" in supers RPGs, but it's something I'm just learning to get used to. Initiative is handled with the players deciding who goes first. If the Watcher wants to go first, he has to spend a die from the Doom Pool. Order of action from there is determined by the player who just acted. Finally, there are Transition Scenes where you can try to heal up, swap out characters and generally just relax from the intensive action that just occured.

Taking Action is pretty much just more examples and details on how actions work from the Introduction (with a nice freebie: a Sentinel datafile, as the example in question is Cyclops vs a Sentinel). This covers things like Extraordinary Successes, which can boost your effect dice and - if it goes high enough - even result in one hit knockouts. This section also covers splitting your focus on multiple targets, determining just what is within the realm of possibility for your character and even spending plot points to ensure automatic success. There is also a section on how Mental and Emotional conflict vary from physical conflict.

Understanding Datafiles breaks down just how your hero's stuff works, using Captain America as an example. First off, every hero has an Affiliation (Solo, Buddy and Team), ranked by how effectively they work in each situation. Then they each have three Distinctions (things like Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Man Out of Time or Best There Is At What He Does), Powers Set, Specialties and Milestones. Milestones are interesting as they are how heroes gain experience points.

Affiliations are spelled out, including notable examples of prime examples of each Affiliation (Wolverine is primarly a Solo character, Spider-Man works best in a Buddy situation and Cyclops functions best in a Team), as well as just when you should use each affiliation and when you should stop using them. Distinctions can be used to help or hinder you (giving you a Plot Point if you choose to have it hinder you).

Power Sets are a collection of Power Traits, and a good selection of Power Traits are provided, like Reflexes (ranked from Enhanced to Superhuman to Godlike), Elemental Control Powers, Psychic Powers, Sorcery (YES!). Basically, most of these are ranked from d6 to d12. However, you also get Special Effects, which can differentiate one character's Reflexes from anothers. These can include things like Area Attacks, Dangerous (lowers your highest die type, but inflicts worse Stress), and Unleashed (for guys that try to hold back but occasionally REALLY cut loose). Heroes also get Limits like Mutant (which is actually a good way to get Plot Points), Growing Dread (making 1s and 2s Opportunities for the Watcher) or Mutually Exclusive (where you have two Power Sets that cannot be used together).

Specialties are basically just skills. Allowing you to either roll higher dice for actions or more smaller dice for actions.

Milestones are the specific goals your hero is working towards in the event. Sometimes these are very personal and specific to the hero and sometimes they are very specific to the event. For instance, Wolverine's Milestones are related to violence (and his bad temper) and encountering old connections (for good or ill) from his past. Each Milestone set has a 1xp, 3xp and 10xp Milestone. You can use your XP to swap out Distinctions, step up Power Traits, add Power Traits, add new Specialties and unlock Event resources. Character creation is very freeform, essentially just hitting the checklist of features and making sure they are all present. If you're modeling a specific hero, work to nail that hero's powers and such. If you're making your own character...you pretty much have free reign, with the Watcher's approval.

Understanding Events tries to help out with the Event structure, including tips on modifying events (either that you have ran before, or maybe you just want to tweak what's there)...this can be as basic as swapping out the Hero options, changing up the bad guys, or completely altering the Event milestones. There's also a two page summary on making your own Events.

A mini-Event is included, Breakout, based off of New Avengers #1-6, in which a slew of villains escape from the raft after a "freak" electrical storm. This does a pretty good job of laying out a two-session Event, explaining the concept of Event Unlockables (like gaining SHIELD Champion-level clearance, Recruiting Sentry to your side or - my favorite - redeeming one of the Raft inmates). While most of the scenes are taken from the comic storyline, various options are presented to change things up. Imagine Jigsaw and Carnage forming an alliance, for instance.

Act Two heads into the Savage Land due to clues found from Act One, and leads to the characters running afoul of giant dinosaurs, spies and the Savage Land Mutates. Again, options are provided for shaking things up. 29 villains, by my count, are provided in the "Inmates" section, ranging from losers like Armadillo to awesome B-stringers like Crossbones to the frighteningly powerful Graviton. This is in addition to guys included in the Event itself like Carnage and Count Nefaria. We're not looking at Dr. Doom and Magneto here, but it's still a cool cross section of characters to help with working on your own villain Datafiles.

There are about 23 datafiles for heroes provided, with obvious picks like Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, and less obvious picks like Armor (of the X-Men) and...um, well, she's really the one that just stands out to me. These are pretty impressive two-page entries with full histories and the like.

WHAT WORKS: Top notch production values. Lots and lots of detailed examples. A supers system in which neither magic nor powered armor seem to be giant headaches or hopelessly busted. Lots of promise for support is out there, (really looking forward to the Cosmic Stuff for sure). Fantastic price point. Probably the most logical advancement system I have seen in a supers system (with the second best being "Well, comic book characters don't advance like normal anyway, so just handwave it)". Also, I totally dig the Solo-Buddy-Team set-up.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I've never been comfortable with "Stress" systems. A bit more abstract than I prefer. I'm also not sold on the "Event" set-up, especially with the default assumption that characters will be dropped from Event to Event.

CONCLUSION: Well, just by reading it I like it better than I do the "Stones" system. It certainly seems like it could be a blast, but until I see it in play, I couldn't put it ahead of Marvel SAGA which has stood the test of time for me. We have always been a fan of playing our own characters in the Marvel Universe, even though there has never been a Marvel game with a GOOD character creation system. This game doesn't change that, but it does bypass horribly busted attempts and just says "Hey, make what you want, here's how". Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is probably the most mechanically interesting Marvel system (behind SAGA) to me. Hats off to the crew at Margaret Weis Productions. Not only have the released a gorgeous product, they did it at a very nice price point. A very impressive effort using a system that has had its foundation tested twice before. And if you were nervous about the final product, don't worry...this isn't a "You punched Spider-Man in his Mary Jane" game. Very much excited to see how things develop from here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tommy's Take on Mistborn Adventure Game

I'm not going to pretend to know much about the Mistborn series, but I can do a little research. It seems the Mistborn series is a high fantasy setting by Brandon Sanderson in which the King of the Final Empire has remade the world...a world where heroes deal not only with the Lord Ruler's Steel Ministry, but a mist that falls over the land come nightfall, bringing with it horrible monstrosities. That sounds promising, actually.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Mistborn Adventure Game is a massive tome (563 pages) at a very
reasonable price for the size ($14.99 for the PDF with what appears to be a $34.99 price tag for the eventual physical release). It uses its own game system and the tome would seem to be pretty comprehensive in and of itself. The PDF is bookmarked and searchable, a must have for a file this large. The book is in black and white, with a nice, easy to read layout. Again, a huge plus for the size of the book.

In fact, even the Introduction has three chapters: The first is a good overview of the world, touching on major features of the Final Empire and the setting's world: Scadrial. From the Lord Ruler to the Nobles (the people who supported the Lord Ruler in his efforts to remake the world) to the Skaa (the Lord Ruler's opposition, who are now an underclass) to the Inner and Outer Dominances (the ten regions that the Final Empire is divided into) to the frightening Mistwraiths, this is pretty much the setting crash course.

This is followed by a two page summary of the novels (with spoilers).

Chapter three of the introduction is a brief overview of the RPG, targeting people new to Mistborn (that's me!) and telling us just what we DO in this game (we form "crews" of rebels of varying skills but common goals who are raging against the Lord Ruler's proverbial machine.

There is also a second section here that focuses on people new to RPGs in general (say Mistborn fans who are picking this up but have never gamed before).

From there, we enter Book One: The Mistborn Adventure Game. This covers a little over 200 pages and is basically the "Player's book", covering everything from character creation on through rules. Characters have three attributes: Physique, Charm and Wits, generally ranging from 2 to 6 dice (the game uses dice pools). You then have three Standings, ranked from 2 to 10 dice: Resources, Influence and Spirit. Characters can also have powers like Allomancy (magic that involves burning and consuming metal), Feruchemy (where they stick aspects of themselves into "metalminds"), Hemalurgy (which is kinda creepy and involves using needles that have been used to kill people) and Mimicry (like shapeshifting). Next, characters have Traits (like "Braggart", "Perceptive", etc) and Resiliences (Health, Reputation and Willpower). Characters also have a Destiny and a Tragedy which can unfold over the course of the game.

Players use point buy for Powers, Attributes and Standing, with the amount of points given dictated by prioritizing them. Resiliences are derived stats, determined once you have spent all of your points. The game strongly encourages defining the crew first, so you can ensure that the players don't cover a lot of the same ground with their characters.

Advancement is achieved through earning Advancements, which work a lot like experience points in most games, but there is a very broad range of ways in which you can earn advancements, from defeating villains to overcoming your Tragedy to revealing major Secrets.

The system itself involves rolling the relevant dice pool for an action, modified by circumstances, tools on hand, etc. 6s get set aside, and you determine success by (hopefully) matching dice...your highest set of matching dice are your result. However, each 6 can be used to "Nudge" your action, even if it failed (reducing the amount of bad stuff that occurs).

With the basics out of the way, the rules then cover various types of conflicts (Physical, Social and Mental, with a good number of examples for each). One of the more interesting mechanics, though, is Changing the World...in which you use your Standing to affect change around you. Resources can be used to acquire goods or bribe folks...Influence can do things like get laws changed...Spirit can do things like help you catch a lucky break.

The Kandra get a whole chapter to themselves, because they are the ones who do the Mimicry, so we get a breakdown as to how that works, why they would join a Crew and so on.

Book Two is the Treatise Metallurgic, just over 100 pages breaking down the other three powers (Allomancy, Feruchemy and Hemalurgy) as well as the exact effect the various metals have on using powers.

With Allomancy, the amount of juice you can get from a given metal depends on the quantity you consume...and if you don't consume it without a certain amount of time, your body goes into toxic shock (yeowch!). The pinnacle of the Allomancer is a "Misting Savant", who gains a couple of bonus Nudges when using their powers.

Feruchemists actually place aspects of themselves into metalminds, which they can then "tap" to supercharge their actions...but they become vastly different people while storing away their aspects. Cool, but creepy.

Hemalurgists steal aspects of other people by killing them with spikes, and these can be used in conjution with other powers.

There are 18 metals that can be used in Scadrial: The Physical Metals, the Mental Metals, the Enhancement Metals, the Temporal Metals and the God Metals...and the metals each have further aspects that can affect their uses in powers. Each metal has an entry that details its effects in the three powers. For instance, Allomancers using steel can manipulate loose metal objects around them, reflect attacks and "push" off of metal objects in order to move faster. Ferochemists use steel to store their speed...becoming sluggish until they tap the steel metalmind, potentially reaching speeds of up to 200 mph. Hemalurgists can use Steel spikes to store a power from ANY of the four physical metals: Tin, Pewter, Iron or Steel. This is some seriously cool stuff, and not just crazy combat stuff. For instance, Aluminum can be used to wipe out parts of your identity, while Copper can wipe out parts of your memory. Experience something traumatic? The choice can be in your hands to remove it completely. That can be some powerful stuff right there.

Book Three is Always Another Secret, and this takes up the remainder of the book (around 200 pages, plus there's character sheets and stuff). It kicks off with some pretty standard GM advice, but I do like how they make it a point to provide page numbers for the relevant parts of the book keyed to that advice. One of the most useful parts of this chapter is the "Mistborn style" chapter, giving you a bit of insight on the "feel" of Mistborn. There are overwhelming odds, but these guys are Big Damn Heroes. This isn't Ravenloft or Midnight (though I do love them both dearly) where you are canonically doomed to failure. Incidentally, that's an approach I like: Build up the wall of shadows and let the players tear it down.

Another section discusses picking apart the novels for inspiration, taking elements from there and expanding on them, or taking parts of the novels and going "What If?" with them. There is even a chapter that serves as a step by step construction of your own adventures (complete with a "Scheme" worksheet). An experienced GM may not need it, but a newbie GM may well love it.

Secrets are a big deal in the setting and game, and not only have their own chapter, but their own tracking sheet for the GM to use. Discovering a Secret can be a boost your PCs need to accomplish a task (complete with mechanical bonus for doing so). Similarly, we discover how important Destinies and Tragedies are. Achieving your Destiny can give you bonus Nudges to be used on any roll relevant to that Destiny, while the Tragedies can take Nudges away (perhaps driving you to despair in the process).

All of the major characters from the novels are presented here as well. I can't comment much on accuracy, but they do have a good chunk of background per write-up, as well as section on using each character as an ally or an enemy.

The Rogue's Gallery has a good selection of NPCs from common beggars to animals to warriors to The Steel Ministry to the creepy Koloss and the creepier Mistwraiths. This is followed by a handy section on piecing together your own NPCs.

Finally, the book wraps up with a bunch of blank sheets, like character sheets and secrets sheets.

WHAT WORKS: I feel pretty confident that someone could go into this not knowing a thing about the Mistborn series and come out of it with a pretty strong impression of the setting. A lot of care went into explaining things to the non-gamers who may pick this up, I thought, and I certainly liked the extra time put into cross referencing rules sections in the GMing chapter. The entirety of Book 2 is freaking cool, with the metals and their uses in the powers sets. For a book that's closer to 600 pages than 500 pages, not only is it very reasonably priced, but there is NOT a lot of wasted space at ALL. I also rather enjoyed the intertwining of Secrets, Destinies and Tragedies, complete with mechanical benefits.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I fear that the system has a bit of a "whiff" factor, although I may be underestimating the number of "matches" one can get with a d6 dice pool. I also question how newbie friendly this RPG would be, given that it's so close to 600 pages. The emphasis on "scripting" and "storytelling" is bound to turn off a segment of the RPG population that prefer a more "traditional" approach to gaming. That said, there is also a free primer you can download to check it out first.

CONCLUSION: Mistborn certainly isn't Just Another D&D. A great price on a massive volume grounded in a game system that has a lot of cool features to it. I'm probably going to look the Mistborn novels up on the Nook, and pick them up if they're available, because this game has convinced me this is a setting that interests me. If you're a fan of the novels and nervous about it being too much for you, don't worry...the authors offer you several hands along the way (including some insightful sidebars). Just a fair warning: If you haven't read the books and think you might want to, there are spoilers all over the place (though they do a pretty good job of warning you first). Great product, especially for the price.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Precis Intermedia 666 Sale Begins!

I do a horrible job of keeping up with all the sales and deals and bargains that people put out, but I do try...unfortunately, I'm a pretty disorganized human being sometimes. Anyway, I wanted to make a point of directing your attention to the Precis Intermedia Games "666" sale. Precis Intermedia is the maker of some fantastic games like Ghostories, Iron Gauntlets, Stormrift, Bold & Brave and Two-Fisted Tales, as well as the owners of Masterbook, Shatterzone and Bloodshadows...and their "666" sale is where their "defect" books are marked down to $6.66.

Now, I've bought a copy of Iron Gauntlets from Precis Intermedia during a 666 sale, and frankly, I wrote Brett Bernstein an e-mail to ensure that he didn't accidentally send me the wrong book, because I couldn't find anything wrong. Apparently, the text was off-center a bit or something. I STILL have no idea why it was marked down, but I got a fantastic deal for it.

The sale pretty much runs while he has "defect" overstock, and this stuff tends to go quickly, so pop on over. He's got a few things up now and more items going up later Tuesday. I recommend that you don't miss out.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Single Player Games, Bioware-Style RPGs and Savage Worlds

Obviously, I like RPGs. I mean, look around the site. I do not, however, tend to like video game RPGs. The BIG exceptions to that rule have been Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2, Jade Empire, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. What do they all have in common? Aside from KOTOR 2, they were all made by Bioware (and KOTOR 2 was made by Obsidian, specifically trying to emulate the aesthetics of KOTOR).

Anyway...Bioware RPGs tend to run along the same pattern: You have your character, you recruit (or get stuck with) companions who tag along, each of whom has their own backstories and sidequests that need to be unraveled...sometimes with game changing consequences and sometimes just fun character development...and your decisions tend to have an impact on your character or your relationships. For instance, KOTOR 1 had a Light Side/Dark Side track. KOTOR II went a step further, where you could influence your companions and their placement on the Light Side/Dark Side track. By Dragon Age, this had been replaced with a relationship meter...your actions were no longer inherently good or evil, but different teammates would react differently...to the point of leaving the team or gaining ability/skill bonuses due to their growing loyalty.

For the most part, this model has no place in your average RPG, because you're usually looking at four or more players (including the GM), so robust use of NPCs isn't terribly necessary. However, I don't heavily recruit players (as in at all), and so I tend to find myself running games for three players or less, and have run solo games more than the average GM. Now, I get quite a bit of enjoyment out of solo games, but they have a few inherent problems, like drawing from a much more limited skill set than with a full group, and fewer goals and motivations, thus fewer plot seeds.

This is where the Bioware inspiration comes in. A solo game with the sole PC as the driving focus in a party of NPCs can be a great way to account for a light game table, but there are a few big things you have to look out for:

- The first, and most important part, is ensuring that the NPCs don't overshadow the PC. They will obviously be better than the PC in some areas...that's kind of the point...but you don't want the game to be nothing but the NPCs bailing the PC out. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to avoid this:

  • Make sure the player is the leader. When I have ran games like this, I did the role-playing for the NPCs, but it was always at the direction of the PC. They would occasionally offer advice, arguments and witty banter, but the decisions were ultimately made by the guy across the table. In combat, the player called all the shots and rolled the dice. As the GM, intervene if the player is trying to force the NPC into a suicidal situation (unless it would be in character for the NPC to go along with it...and sometimes it would be).
  • Make the PC more powerful than the NPCs. They don't have to be equals, ya know. They aren't as important as the PC, they certainly shouldn't be more powerful...just cover extra deficiencies.
- The other biggie is to make sure that the game system can accommodate this. If a character sheet is a pain to distill down to an index card, it may be way too much work for the player to track multiple characters in combat. I love Marvel SAGA to death, but the card based system makes it a pain to run multiple NPCs as anything more than a quick card draw and hand wave. I've tried tracking multiple hands of cards...it becomes a nightmare, quickly. That said, I've ran a couple of games just like this in Savage Worlds, and it was a delight every time.

- NPCs are still NPCs. That is, you don't have to have everything about them on their character sheet...just the important stuff. Don't outright LIE (unless there's a justifiable reason), but you don't HAVE to list Secret (Planning To Stab The PC in the Face) on the shorthand sheet you're handing them.

Not surprisingly, for a game like this, I'd go with Savage Worlds over most of the existing options, in part because I have done it before. I ran the Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane with a single PC and three NPCs that I roleplayed but the player rolled dice for in and out of combat. The player, who normally played scrapper types, took it upon himself to make a snarky sorcerer who served in a support role in combat, whie the NPCs included his swashbuckling sister, their butler who swore to protect the siblings in the wake of their parents' deaths and a samurai bodyguard who had growing feelings for the sister. The Savage Worlds ally sheets provided ample information for the PC to handle everyone in combat, the miniatures system ensured that no one was ever overlooked (a problem we have sometimes had with companion NPCs in non-miniature using games) and the companions provided ready-made sources of conflict for the PC to deal with (like the old colleague of the butler who had gone quite insane, and the sister's attempt to hide the illness that was slowly killing her)...when the NPCs earned advances, the player would typically make the selection, with advice from me if something seemed appropriate that they may have overlooked.

Alas, real life intervened as it often does, and the game has been dormant for some time now, but I've incorporated similar approaches to other solo games, including a Clone Wars-era Star Wars game with my son (using Star Wars Saga Edition, which is fun but not QUITE as user friendly as Savage Worlds) and a homebrew fantasy setting for Savage Worlds. Anyone else have any experience running single player games? What approaches did you take?

Tommy's Take on Olympian Breed, Devil's Night and Altus Adventum

Everything in today's batch of reviews has something in common: It's all completely free in PDF format at RPGNow!


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The first release by new Savage Worlds licensee Palewolf Publishing is a the basic character generation primer for their new line of Greek Myth-themed adventures. The PCs are Demigods - spawn of mortals and Gods - and so have an extra edge on the rest of the world. Olympian Breed uses the Super Powers Companion (with a modified Edge that lowers the amount of points available to spend, reducing the power level hat your standard Super Powers Companion game is going to have). The primer also includes a Hindrance for those watched closely by the Gods, as well as a map of ancient Greece, some setting-appropriate equipment and a character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: The big hook for me is the use of the Super Powers Companion combined with the Greek myth hook...two things I love very much. That, and it's free.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Well, there's just not a ton of material here, mostly a few pieces of equipment, as well as the new Edge and Hindrance. It's also at least a three product buy-in to really get rolling, as you need the Savage Worlds rules, the Supers Companion and the first adventure. The primer also says you would need the Fantasy Companion, but other information I have received indicates that's not necessarily the case.

CONCLUSION: They've hooked me into checking out at least Act One to see what it's like, with the "Greek Myth plus Super Powers Companion" hook. I'm a sucker for new fiddly bits, so I would have certainly enjoyed more Edges and Hindrances and so on, especially since there is no setting book available, just a series of adventures. You can also check out the Olympian Breed pre-gen freebie file to get a feel for the kinds of characters that "fit" the setting.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This is a freebie adventure for Deadlands Reloaded released by Pinnacle around Halloween, in no small part to tie in with the release of the Savage Worlds Horror Companion. As you may know, I'm a huge fan of Savage Worlds and I'm a huge fan of Deadlands. In true Deadlands fashion, it is a unique mix of elements, in this case mad science and black magic. The PCs get involved in a crazed revenge plot gone wrong and are the only hope for raising a group of kids from a coma, but have to deal with a demented invention and a force from Hell.

WHAT WORKS: I like when Deadlands products show off the range of the setting, and this freebie does a pretty good job with that. If the PCs can figure out the root cause of the issue, it's even worse - there are bad guys and wronged parties on both sides of things...but, luckily, there are also "acceptable targets" to take out, too.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not really a quibble, as this is pretty much an excuse to push the Horror Companion, but you do NEED the Horror Companion in order to get the full use of this product, because the Big Bad of the adventure (and their henchmen) are in that book and not this PDF...but this is advertised up front (and it is a freebie).

CONCLUSION: Not the most inspired Deadlands adventure, but far from the worst...and I am a huge fan of the Horror Companion, considering it one of the most worthwhile Savage Worlds purchases ever.


WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: I feel very bad about this one, because I was asked to review this quite a while back, apparently misplaced the file, and have let WAY too much time go by without touching it. Altus Adventum is isn't a retroclone, but it is an attempt at recapturing earlier experiences with fantasy RPGs. The primer is a very meaty 92 page document that covers character generation, combat, skills and even a selection of monsters. Literally everything you need for at least an adventure or two is right here, completely free. The races are fantasy standards (human, elf, dwarf, halfling, gnome) with six attributes (Strength, Agility, Endurance, Intllect, Willpower and Luck) that run a range of 1-100. Combat uses dice pools in which each side compares the highest die in their pools for success. Magic is also included in this primer, with nine different forms to choose from, all operating off of the same basic mechanic, but with tweaks for the type you use. The monsters included cover basic animals as well as orcs, red caps, carnivorous plants and plenty more.

WHAT WORKS: For a free product, this primer has a ton of usable material in it. I mean, we're talking more than some smaller commercial PDF releases. I'm not sure what's missing from the main core book, but it is 204 pages, so presumably there is quite a bit extra there above and beyond the impressive amount of material here.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: If you've gotten used to RPGs that tend towards using unified mechanics, Altus Adventum's different approach to combat versus skill checks is going to annoy you.

CONCLUSION: Look, I can't complain much about an incredibly complete free product. The primer covers all the rules you need to play, including skills, combat and magic, and even includes a decent amount of setting material, monsters and magical items. If you have any interest in checking out an another fantasy RPG, you have no reason not to at least download the primer...there is ample material here to decide if the full game is worth your purchase or not.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tommy's Take on Rogue Mage Player's Handbook

One of the perks of this gig is that, occasionally, I get my hands on something even before it's made it out to the general public. This, not surprisingly, is one of those times. The Rogue Mage Player's Handbook is an interesting beast, based off of Faith Hunter's series of apocalyptic supernatural novels set on a future earth, and it is based on the Mutants & Masterminds 2nd edition iteration of the d20 rules.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Right now, the game is up on Kickstarter, with just over two weeks
left to go and just over $500 until it is funded. You can head here for the full details, but the highlights of the benchmarks are $10 for the Player's Handbook PDF, $20 for PDFs of the Player's Handbook and GM's Guide and $55 for both books in PDF and softcover. I'm working off of a raw PDF, with layout mostly in place (no art).

The rules, as mentioned, are Mutants & Masterminds, with Luck Points in place of Hero Points. I'm not going to swear that they function identically to the M&M rules, as I've gotten quite rusty with them, but all of the basics are there, with Toughness Saves handling damage.

The setting, as noted, is post-apocalyptic: In 2011, the Death Seraph - led by Azrael - came to Earth and began unleashing plagues, wiping out humanity. Then the first Neomages came along, and now we're 105 years later, the Apocalypse in full swing, still awaiting Judgment Day to occur. We get a solid, but brisk, overview of the world in the Apocalypse, like how Canada is under a sheet of ice, the United Kingdom has returned to a powerful monarchy and a being known as Enear has taken control of Afghanistan. Technologu and travel have been knocked back quite a ways, although there is a (slow) mail service, as well as working trains.

In addition to humans, the world has now seen Neomages, The Second Unforeseen (when humans and mages mate), Kylen (the mating of humans and seraphs), Stanhopes (a seraph touched bloodline) and Daywalkers (matings of dark powers and light powers). The Neomages are segregated from humans, living in Enclaves, while Seraphs and their ilk live in Realms of Light and the forces of darkness live in Hellholes.

Character creation is point buy, with the M&M/d20 Ability Scores and modifiers, and a 120 point bank. Races are Templates, with humans not only costing nothing to play as, but gaining and additional 14 character points to spend. Each race is detailed, both mechanically and story-wise, including sections on their relations with other races (Daywalkers get hunted, even as good guys, for instance).

Skills only scale up to 12 ranks, but have jettisoned Attack Bonuses and the like in favor of Combat and Defense skills (like Ranged Weapon and Unarmed Combat or Dodge and Parry). While the skill list is pretty big, limiting ranks to 12 does help simplify it a bit.

Rather than Powers, many races can use Magic. Magic is powered by channeling Creation Energy, and the more mystical the race, the more Creation Energy they can channel. Neomages, for instance, can go a step further and hold that energy in for a while before unleashing it. Magic can be addicting, and can be channeled from multiple sources. For instance, you can channel from within, from Enclaves or Hellholes, and even from The High and The Red Dragon (God and The Devil without explicitly calling them the Judeo-Christian God and The Devil). You can also lose control of the power you are channeling, with results ranging from the power fizzling out to exploding, consuming you. There are a LOT of depth in the magic chapter, and this shouldn't be a surprise given the name of the game. I mean, toss "Mage" in the title and you need a meaty magic system. This is that in spades.

Spells are called Conjures and there are well over a hundred conjures, divided up into a general category and elemental categories (of which there are nine), although I did notice some crossover in categories, so I gave up on an accurate count. A table breaks the list down by category before detailing the conjures themselves in alphabetical order. General Conjures include Magic Lock, Invisibility and Quench Fire. Air Conjures include Choke, Weather Control and Thunder Clap. Earth gives you things like Poison, Cure and Cause Disease. Fire encompasses conjures like Rage, Steam and Heat Exhaustion. Metal touches on things like Magnetize, Sharpen and Shatter. Moon gives you Charm, Madness and Sleep. River covers things like Purify Water, Mist and Freeze. Sea gives you conjures such as Ocean's Fury, Control Current and Torrent. Stone includes Strength of Stone, Entrap and Seismic Shock. Finally, Sun covers conjures like Blinding Flash, Haze and Sunray.

Talents are broken up into three types of talents: Standard, Special and Supernatural, costing 1, 2 and 4 points respectively and broken up into categories like Combat, Faith, Fortune, General, Power, Racial, Skill and Supernatural. These are a lot like Feats, and d20 players will see a lot of familiar Talents here. Combat Talents include things like Chokehold, Improved Disarm and Elusive Target. Faith Talents include some goodies like Grace (opponents who fail a save cannot harm you), Conjure Blasphemy (letting you twist conjures in a dark way) and Battle Scripture (using scripture to stun bad guys). Fortune Talents include Leadership, Ultimate Effort and Inspire. General Talents are talents like Ambidexterity, Bully (allowing you to use Strength instead of Charisma for intimidation) and Partner (granting you a second character for back-up). Power Talents are things like Low-Light Vision, Savage Blade Focus (letting you spend Creation Energy to boost blade damage) and Vessels of Light or Darkness, which boost your Creation Energy depending on your ascent or descent into light or darkness. Racial Talents include Darkvision, Mage Speed (spending Creation Energy to move faster) and vampirism. Skill talents cover things like Attractive, Jack-Of-All-Trades and Taunt. Supernatural Talents include Caustic Blood (yes, you can spit your blood and inflict damage), False Aura (shielding you from magical detection) and Regeneration. Unfortunately, a lot of the Supernatural Talents are NPC-only.

I mentioned that ascension or descension a bit ago, and that comes into play with Virtue and Taint, a kind of morality system that can affect multiple things in play. One thing I particularly like is that you gain Virtue by succeeding in saving throws, while you gain Taint by failing Saving Throws. Very effective way of using the mechanics to convey the point. High Virtue can allow you to fend off evil effects and high Taint can ultimately force you into NPC status.

This is also backed by the Allegiance System, with three choices (Light, Dark and Neutral), although reaching the extremes of Virtue or Taint can force an Allegiance change.

Wealth is abstracted into a Wealth score, and Luck Points function a lot like Hero Points from Mutants & Masterminds, allowing you to do things like remove debilitating effects, pick up a talent in a pinch for one use, defend against hostile magic, re-roll dice and more.

The chapter on finishing out your character provides more background information on the different races and where they come from in the world, as well as optional scaling rules for playing characters of different ages (if someone really wants to play a 12 year old and your group doesn't want them having the same number of points to spend as their grown-ups).

The equipment chapter covers everything from tanks to swords to binoculars, but it also covers magical items, including character point costs and purchase target numbers for making Wealth rolls. There is also Mage Metal, which is a magical metal that can be used for a number of weapons, giving mortal types some kind of even footing against Seraphs and demons.

I'm not going to cover combat much. It's d20 combat and it doesn't look like there's a lot of surprises. If you're reading this, you PROBABLY know whether or not you like d20 combat or not, but the gist of it is you roll d20s for everything, with Toughness Saves rather than hit points.

Fiction is interspersed throughout the book, with a full short story in the back called Trading Debts. Since this is the Player's Guide and there is no in-depth discussion of the setting (though there is a lot of information, in various parts), it does a nice job setting the stage, as well as probably giving you some idea as to whether or not Rogue Mage novels would interest you.

WHAT WORKS: Here's the thing - I am not a big d20 fan. However, there have been some games that tweak it really, really well. I thought Know Your Role/Wild World Wrestling did and I thought Star Wars Saga Edition did. Rogue Mage does a very fine job of focusing the Mutants & Masterminds version on a specific power level, capping the skills to keep them from exploding into wild ranges and so on. The magic system has a lot of bells and whistles, but I mean that in a good way, given the setting. I like abstracted Wealth as I hate bean counting, so that's a plus, and the Virtue and Taint system is handled very well.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: My biggest gripes are organization and capitalization. Now, it may be a stylistic thing, but it sure would help me if the racial names were capitalized in the text. Also, I would have preferred the Talents section coming before the Magic section...seems like an odd organizational choice to me. Personally, I would probably have also combined the Secondary Touches chapter with Chapter One, but most of that is just nit-picky.

CONCLUSION: If anything, I just wanted More...which makes sense, as I am primarily a GM and this is the Player's Handbook. It also speaks well of the information in the book that I am genuinely interested as to what's in the GM's book. I can't say I wouldn't be more excited if this used a different system than a modified version of the Mutants & Masterminds iteration of d20, but they have done a really good job of modifying the system to fit what they are trying to emulate rather than just bolting it onto the existing framework. That's something I can certainly appreciate and I would be willing to give this version of d20 a shot as written. In my opinion, Rogue Mage is shaping up to be a very fine project with a lot of time and care going into it (and with the first credited playtest noted in the book as being in 2008, I should hope there has been). There's lots to like here, and Mutants & Masterminds has a track record of being particularly smooth among the d20 family, so the base is strong and tested even before the Rogue Mage team got to it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

More Shameless Self Promotion

By the nature of the site, I do a lot of pimping for other people's stuff...today, I need to do a little pimping for my products again.

Hellrazer: The Chronicles of Rachel Strand was selected by DrunkDuck.com as their feature this past Thursday, drawing extra attention to mine and Johnnie Johnson's hard work. That was a great moment for me this week. Every little bit of recognition helps, you know? Facebook users can also follow us on the Hellrazer Facebook page.

We also had a comic book signing last night for Equinox #2, which continues the Genesis story from Equinox #1 and includes a back-up story introducing The Curse, a story I previewed on here a few months ago. The Curse will be appearing in Hellrazer later this year, and you can order copies of either issue of Equinox at IndyPlanet.com.

Finally, preorders are open for War of the Dead Chapter 4, written by Lee Szczepanik Jr., edited by me and published by Daring Entertainment. This is the grand finale of the War of the Dead saga, taking your zombie apocalypse survivors into Legendary and setting up the World of the Dead Savage Setting. You can still order Chapter One (print or PDF), Chapter Two (print or PDF) and Chapter Three (print or PDF) at RPGNow.

More great stuff to come on the blog! Two more Wild World Wrestling stars, more Comics You Should Read, an advance review of the Rogue Mage RPG, the Mistborn Adventure Game and more SAGA of Spider-Man with my son!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tommy's Take on Ingenium

Silver Gryphon Games, perhaps most famous for Wellstone City (and rightfully so), released their own fantasy system a while back, called Ingenium. So I'm going to take a look at it here, and see what it has to offer in the fantasy game market.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Ingenium corebook is a standalone volume, 102 pages in PDF and $4.99 in PDF or $19.99 in softcover...and you can order the softcover from RPGNow and get the PDF for free. The PDF isn't a graphic-intensive book, but it comes with a printer-friendly version anyway.

The cover is a somewhat manga-esque drawing of a warrior battling a huge...thing...which looks evil and, frankly, kinda epic. That's a good start. The introduction talks a bit about the game's development and the goal of making an RPG of epic adventure, part Hollywood, part anime and part Howard...kind of like Conan meets Battlechasers, I suppose. The core mechanic is pretty simple as well: d10 + modifiers versus target numbers or other attribute checks.

Character creation uses the Three Word System, in which you select a Trait, a Race and a Profession. Your Trait is a descriptor that dictates your Primary and Secondary Attributes (Intuitive gives you Dexterity and Magical Aptitude as Primary/Secondary, while Menacing gives you Charisma and Strength). Your Primary Attribute has a value of 3, your Secondary a value of 2 and all others a 1. The nine attributes are Awareness, Intelligence, Dexterity, Physical Strength, Willpower, Endurance, Appearance, Charisma and Magical Aptitude. Next, select your Race, which gives you a pair of Talents. Races in this game are Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gargoyle, Half-Wolf, Wingfolk and Catfolk. Next, you pick your Profession, which sets your Starting Talent Pool, an attribute bonus, your speed, hit points, talent pools you can advance into and starting gold.

For instance, you can make a Cunning Catfolk Assassion, with gives you Endurance of 3 and Intelligence of 2 for Cunning, being Catfolks gives him Feral Claws (a d6 natural weapon) and Bred For War (+4 HP and +1 Strength) and being an Assassin gives him the Shadow Talent Pool (with one rank in every Talent in the pool, plus one more rank for one of those talents), +1 to Intelligence, Speed 5, 1d12 HP and 1d10x5 gold (and access to the Assassination Talent Pool). Additionally, every character gets four talents from the General Talent Pool. Professions include Warlocks, Templars, Merchants, Paladins and Soldiers.

Ingenium uses levels, and the book goes up to level 25. Every level nets you ranks to spend in your talents, as well as some manner of ability increase (your primary increases faster than your secondary which increases faster than the rest).

Talent pools cover everything from skills to neat tricks, essentially Feats and Skills rolled into one. You have Basic Talent pools, which include Force (Melee Mastery, Armor Mastery, etc), Mystic (Healing Touch and Arcane Destruction) as well as Shadow (including bits like Lock Picking and Quickfooted). Advanced Talent Pools are bigger deals and include Arcane Blooded (Mind over Matter, Heaven's Fury and Shatterpoint), Thievery (Pick Pockets, Disarm Traps and Forgery) and Unyielding (Maddening Taunt, Natural Armor and Bull's Strength). Elite Talent Pools include options like Assassination (Hunter's Disguise and Silent Kill) as well as Ruin (Blood Magic and Annihilation). Finally, we have the General Talent Pool, where you get things like Armor Use, Weapons Use and Swimming, as well as background Talents like Mageborn and High Social Standing. Note: That is a very broad overview of the options available. I didn't list all the pools, much less all the talents in the pools.

The equipment chapter only takes up a couple of pages, but covers most of your basic fantasy standards.

The Combat and Action chapter covers, well, combat...and let's us in on a tidbit: Dice explode in this game...meaning that if you roll a 10, you keep rolling it, even for damage. In combat, everyone gets three actions that they take on their turn in initiative. Want to ready your weapon and attack twice? You've got three actions...do it. On an interesting note, combat is inherently non-lethal, in the sense that you HABE to declare that you are attacking to kill before your target can die from an attack. Three fighting styles are given as well, with their own pros: Dual wielding, two-handed weapon and single weapon and shield.

In non-combat actions, a critical success comes when you beat a target number by 15 or more, and a critical failure occurs if you miss by 20 or more.

Magic is a notable part of the game, with mages being able to use multiple power sources, including Blood Magic, Spell Points or Leylines. If you successfully tap the power source but fail the Magic Use check by 10 or more...that's bad. The corebook only includes Elemental Magic and Life Magic, with promises and hints that there are other types of magic out there. As it is, that covers a lot of ground, including Invisibility, Fly, Darkness, Instant Fortress, Fire Nova, Light of Healing, Resurrection, Nova Meteor, Contagion, Desert Graveyard, Bolt and Water Breathing. The selection is really broad, and the promise of more magic lurking is promising.

The stat blocks for the monsters look a lot like old D&D blocks, covering only hit points, number appearing, speed, damage, defense, soak and challenge level. Each creature has anywhere from a paragraph on up describing it, what it does, other imporant notes. These range from Bandits and Plains Cats to the subterrerean Hidden Ones and Dreamsnakes to the bizarre Cartazon and Verdant Mantids.

A section is provided on using Puzzles, Riddles and Traps, while a character sheet and index round out the book.

WHAT WORKS: I'm a sucker for a magic system with some flavor, and this one has some good flavor. The character generation is FAST, and there are a ton of option for customizing your characters by mixing and matching the Three Words, as well as the vast array of Talents (with an additional 30 Talents available in a free sourcebook).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The bestiary just isn't very inspiring, due in part to the avoidance of common fantasy monsters combined with the lack of art. If you're going to go off the beaten path, that's fine, but pictures always help. There are only hints of a setting in the book, and the two factors mean it falls a bit shy of the promise from the great cover piece.

CONCLUSION: The lack of "spark" in the bestiary and lack of a setting aren't a deal breaker, especially given how easy it would seem to be to customize the rules, adding new Talents and Professions, maybe even races and certainly monsters. The system shows a TON of promise...hopefully it'll get the kind of support needed take it up that notch to truly capture the "epic" feel the cover evokes. Well worth checking out the PDF at a minimum.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The SAGA of Spider-Man Episode 2: Tag Team Part 2

Tag Team Part 1 - Spider-Man runs into trouble with Slyde and his partners, and makes friends with superhuman wrestler D-Man. Things take a turn for the worse when Peter falls asleep in class, Slyde repeatedly escapes and D-Man is horribly injured when Spider-Man fails to appear as his tag team partner.
Spider-Man sat clinging to the side of a building, pondering his recent troubles - and avoiding Aunt May - when he decided to head off to see D-Man in the hospital. His Spider-Sense gave him warning that something wasn't quite right...and he clung to the side of the building, listening in as Bonesaw McGraw, Crusher Hogan and a third man were in D-Man's room, telling him that next time he promises the Spider-Man, he better produce Spider-Man, or the next time Crusher and Bonesaw wouldn't stop their beatings.

As they departed, Spider-Man debated entering the building and talking to D-Man...before changing his mind and heading to the wrestling arena. Crusher Hogan and Bonesaw McGraw were scheduled to face a pair of jobbers, but as the lights went out for their entrance, Spider-Man zipped in and replaced their opponents. McGraw and Hogan were stunned to see the black-garbed Spider-Man in the middle of their ring! Spider-Man went after both men but were shocked to find that they were both a bit stronger than he remembered, and Crusher Hogan clamped him down in a bearhug! Spider-Man twisted free and used his Spider-Sense and agility to keep his stronger-than-expected opponents off-guard. When sheer brute force wasn't working, Spider-Man started using trickery to get the upperhand, sending Hogan tumbling over the top rope after dodging a charge, and hurling McGraw into the cheap seats.

The mysterious third man ordered Hogan and McGraw to stand down, and the crowd ooohed at his arrival in full armor, wielding a large chain...for the third man was Ares, God of War! Spider-Man webbed him, but Ares ripped free and smashed him with the chain, knocking him completely unconscious!

Peter Parker snapped his head up at his desk, staring at a math test, when a voice from under the desk kept calling to him: "Parker...Parker..." Peter looked under the desk and saw his black mask with a large, snarling mouth on it! The Spider-Mask was telling him to let go, join him and that Peter only needed the costume, not his friends and aunt...the mask kept saying that, together they could be the Spider-Man...

...when Spider-Man came to, chain wrapped around him, as Ares - McGraw and Hogan flanking him - was announcing to the crowd that tonight, he would unmask the Spider-Man! A loud voice demanded that Ares back off, and Spider-Man looked up to see D-Man standing in the entranceway of the arena! He told Ares that they would only unmask Spider-Man over D-Man's dead body! D-Man stormed the ring and Ares braced himself...as Spider-Man broke free from the chains, drawing a huge chant from the crowd! The brawl was on, three on two, and Spider-Man used some trickery to wear Ares down. D-Man took a beating, but Hogan and McGraw couldn't hold up to the onslaught of the heroes, leaving it two on one. As Ares had Spider-Man on the defensive, Spidey began to grow...and a snarling tongue erupted from his mask! D-Man smashed Ares' head, crushing his helmet and staggering the War God! Ares, enraged, batted D-Man down attacked Spider-Man...and Spidey sent him hurling end over end into the back of the arena!

Ares told Spider-Man and D-Man that they won this day...but that Ares would be back, and back for BLOOD. Ares disappeared in a flash of light...and Hogan and McGraw were covered in a light of their own for a moment...then looked at D-Man and Spider-Man in horror as they lost their enhanced power! D-Man tried to celebrate with Spider-Man, who was reverting back to normal, but Spidey zipped off out of the arena.

Spidey, adrenaline fueled, spotted Slyde and new partner Stilt-Man hard at work on yet another robbery...but slapped past Stilt-Man. Slyde never saw Spider-Man coming and Spider-Man tapped him on the shoulder, then knocked him across the building! Outside, as Stilt-Man began to react, he came crashing to the ground...with D-Man holding one of the mechanical legs! D-Man gave Spider-Man a wink and a thumbs up! Spidey dumped Slyde in the bank vault until the police could show, and D-Man told Spidey that maybe they could do that tag team partner thing for real someday.

Late that night, Spidey slipped into his bedroom window and Peter Parker collapsed in the bed, fast asleep. Late in the night, through the open window, screams of help drifted in...and the black suit slithered up on Peter's body...and Spider-Man burst out into the night once more...

Notes: This session didn't go nearly as well as the last one, presumably due to how sick I had been during the week between. I also grossly misjudged just what a rookie Spider-Man could handle, as McGraw and Hogan were each very much a match for him (though he was the one that opted to go after them two on one). I was actually going to milk the Slyde thing for a while, but my son got the idea to hunt him down and just try to knock him out, and when the cardplay went his way at the end, that seemed like a nice way to wrap things up (complete with the surprise D-Man assistance at the end). Not sure what'll be next on the docket...other than a face to face with Aunt May over his grades...but we're clearly building to a Peter-Symbiote stand-off.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Some Early February Announcements


Yep...last month was the highest traffic month in my blog's history, shattering the previous record of last January's traffic. This was due in no small part to Tommy's Top Six and the Birthday Blog Giveaway, which received a lot of extra publicity this year. For that, I thank you, and I hope at least some of you come back even when I'm not giving away stuff.


Third Eye Games has resurrected Feb-Wu-Ary, a contest in which you can win a free copy of Wu Xing every day this month. Pop on over to their website to learn all about your ways to win because Wu Xing is WELL worth it.


Mike Lafferty, the guy behind some of my favorite ICONS material by Vigilance Press, and the host of the Bamf Podcast, has launched a new venture called Fainting Goat Games, and they are running a Kickstarter to provide a series of adventures for ICONS. Normally, I would say that adventure support isn't something ICONS really needs MORE of, but Mike wrote Wargames, so check out Improbable Tales on Kickstarter.

Also, the Rogue Mage Kickstarter is underway, and just over halfway to their goal. Rogue Mage is a post-apocalyptic (or very apocalyptic) fantasy RPG by Christian Stiles, Faith Hunter, Raven Blackwell and Spike Y Jones, based on Faith Hunter's novel series. The game system is based off of the Mutants & Masterminds second edition rules, tweaked a bit for the fantasy feel. I'm expecting a review copy any time now, and I intend on providing this blog's readers with one of the first looks at the game even before the Kickstarter is completed. Check out the Rogue Mage Kickstarter page to see the incentives available for those who donate.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tommy's Take on Kiss My Axe

Sword's Edge Publishing released Sword Noir last year, a new fantasy game inspired by a lot of older elements (FATE and Savage Worlds being among them). This is their follow-up game: Kiss My Axe, taking similar elements but placing them in a viking centric game.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Kiss My Axe uses the same basic system as Sword Noir, which I reviewed here. You can get the PDF for $3.99, or the PDF and the softcover for $10.12, both at RPGNow. Like Sword Noir, it is not a large book, only about 70 pages. It is in black and white, with a stylized look that isn't too flashy.

The opening of the book talks about how Kiss My Axe was inspired by the 13th Warrior, which was a very good film with an epic ending, and gets into the Viking Ethos (which can be summarized into Glory, Loyalty, Generosity, Hospitality, Fearless and Cunning).

Character creation is largely the same as Sword Noir, with a few changes: Each character has a Concept, a Faculty, Seafaring, Prowess (which is divided into Fighting, Style and Protection), Traits (Physique, Charisma and Cunning), other Qualities (player defined) and Pivots. Note that, should you not play a Viking, Seafaring is replaced with something else that is culturally appropriate. These are ranked from Weak (-6) on through to Legendary (+8).

As you could probably tell, the game takes a more focused approach towards combat with the Fighting traits, and the rulebook breaks down character creation for three different characters (a Heroic character, a regular character and a minion) at once. The Vikings also gain Fame and Reputation, as well as Weaknesses and Luck.

As with Sword Noir, Critical Failures can allow you to pick up Advancements, which was one of my favorite mechanics from that game. Combat is pretty close to Sword Noir's though Style can be used to influence combat, and can score you Stunts on Critical Successes.

Magic, as befitting the Norse roots of the game, uses Runes as the basis of magic, and spellcasters assemble their spells from a table of effects. Extra levels of success on the die rolls (every 6 points above the target number) grants the spellcaster an increase on the components of the spell, but failing to properly cast the spells can wear you out.

A small bestiary (heavy on the giants) is provided, though a few other entries are present. If, like me, you wanted monsters in your Sword Noir, this isn't going to scratch that itch, exactly, but it's a welcome addition.

The settings chapter provides information on three historical eras (The Scandinavian Bronze Age, the Time of Celts and the Romans and The Age of Migrations) before providing a very nice overview of the world as it was in The Viking Age (as it appeared in Viking songs, legends and tales).

We get a two-page treatment of the Norse Religion, the Nine Realms and the major Gods and Goddesses and their spheres of influence.

The GMing chapter (really the "gameplay" chapter) goes out of its way to stress the major thing that separates this game from Sword Noir: While Sword Noir is a hardboiled fantasy trek, Kiss My Axe is very much about the PCs being bad ass at what they do.

The book concludes with a list of sample characters (including an expy of Antonio Banderas' character from 13 Warriors) and a some sample Viking Pivots, based off of their Ethos', to help your players on their way.

WHAT WORKS: Kiss My Axe, while largely using the same system as Sword Noir, does a nice job of differentiating itself, especially in feel with predefined Qualities like Ethos and Seafaring. The alternate magic system is also a nice touch, as is getting a small selection of beasties to use with the game system.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The lack of a character sheet is disappointing, and I did catch the odd editing error (the sample character from the character creation chapter is missing his Physique rank, for instance.

CONCLUSION: A very cool follow-up to Sword Noir, though I'm not sure it quite reached the lofty heights of its sister game. By necessity, it is more limited than Sword Noir (though a wide range of vikings are presented...you are not shoe-horned into a burly brawler by any stretch). Even though the two games do depart in certain ways mechanically, KMA is inexpensive enough to mine for material for Sword Noir, taking the magic system as an alternative, for instance, or seeing monster write-ups in play. All in all, a fine product...I just personally prefer Sword Noir to Kiss My Axe.