Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Are You Reading Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque?

Before we shuffle 2013 off into the history books, I thought I would draw your attention to a blog you may not be reading: Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque by Jack Shear.

While not for the faint of heart, Jack's blog is a wonderfully sinister resource for fans of horror gaming, especially Savage Worlds folks as of late.

Among the highlights of Jack's site are his Savage Worlds cheat sheet, which summarizes the basics of Savage Worlds, combined with the Combat Survival Guide (a document many - including myself - make sure their players have access to, given Savage Worlds' combat intricacies).

His Slithdale Hollow mini setting is a very cool and creepy (and completely free) Savage Setting featuring the players playing young kids, ala Lemony Snicket and Coraline. Grub stew, anyone?

His Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque books are a great resource for any fans of earlier D&D editions who want some horror gaming without the baggage of Ravenloft (though some of the inspiration is certainly going to be there) and his Gothic Earth guide will give you similar options but set on (you guessed it) Gothic Earth instead of a Fantasy setting.

Planet MotherF*cker is an over the top post apocalyptic setting that is system neutral, but includes advice on how you should go about reskinning certain bestiary entries to match the horrible things crawling the wastelands (my favorite being Skeletorians...you DO have stats for an undead spellcaster in your favorite RPG, right?).

Aaaaaand these are all completely free in PDF, or you can spring for print copies via Lulu.

And then the blog itself is heaped with wonderful entries, many of them monsters with Savage Worlds statblocks that are suitable for being dropped in on many games, like Solomon Kane, Rippers or even Deadlands...and, for fans of Ravenloft, his Ravenloft remixes make for some great reading, especially the advice given for some of the lesser developed domains (like adding some mind-blasting Lovecraftian life to the underdeveloped Bluetspur. Special mention also goes to his Gothic Fantasy Magic for Savage Worlds. I'm kinda jealous at his output of depraved creativity, but I'm glad I can mine it for my own purposes, since Mr. Shear is sharing it with the world.

While Mr. Shear's blog is certainly not for all audiences, it has a lot of useful and fun information and tools for folks that don't mind a little R-Rated and B(Z?)-Movie in their RPGs.

UPDATE: I intend to release Tommy's Top Six tomorrow as is tradition, though the blog's birthday giveaway will be significantly smaller than in years past, providing fewer chances to win, unfortunately. I am aiming to get a tighter schedule in the new year, with a regular schedule for reviews, and probably a bigger emphasis on board and card games as well.

Thanks to everyone who has continued reading to this point...hopefully 2014 can make up for a lackluster 2013.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tommy's Take on Accursed

Earlier in the year, I posted a few articles about Accursed by Melior Via, a Savage Setting in which the heroes are monsters trying(?) to resist the dark lure of the Witch Marks that made them something other than human. Well, the full rulebook is out in PDF, so let's take a look at it.
A Revenant, a Dhampir and a Golem facing off with The Crone.

DISCLAIMER: This review does include an affiliate link to RPGNow. Purchasing the book via said affiliate link may provide me with store credit at RPGNow, which is typically used to purchase more gaming material for review at this blog. A review copy was not provided by the publisher, my copy was acquired by supporting the Kickstarter, though I was provided a preview copy of the playtest draft, which I previously previewed.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First and foremost, you will need the Savage Worlds rulebook in order to play Accursed. The Savage Worlds Horror Companion isn't 100% needed, but is very useful. Secondly, the print version is not yet available, but it is on its way, per the Kickstarter updates posted recently. Lastly, the PDF is available right now for $20 (and you can get poker decks specific to Accursed as well).

The premise, in a nutshell, is a fantasy setting in which the Accursed - people who were transformed into agents of the Witches and fought in the Bane War - are now free of the direct influence of the Witches, but unable to return to their old lives due to the monstrous taint on their souls. Sound good?

Shane Hensley writes a great foreword that sets the stage for the harrowing setting of the Accursed, and why they fight. This is followed up by some short fiction introducing the setting.

The first chapter discusses the setting, including a two page map of the land, called Morden. The map seems kinda small and empty, but one can always use that as an excuse to say that the map only highlights the biggest features, leaving numerous other towns and locations out there to be developed by you and your group. During the Bane War, Morden was invaded by the forces of the Grand Coven, which broke the backs of the land's leaders before the men of Morden forged an alliance with the Seelie Fey and set up a betrayal that destroyed one of the Witches. Ultimately, the leaders of the Coven scattered, leaving the Accursed behind to find their own way. For some, the Accursed are reminders of the war. Other Accursed can't return home because their families no longer accept them as kin...and some Accursed just can't yet accept the monsters that they have become. Some turned to religion, and The Order of the Penitent was formed: A religious sect that believes that the Accursed are damned, but that they may be able to be redeemed if they do enough good in the world.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to the land at large, detailing the various realms, their current states and their roles in the Bane War. Cairn Kainen was once built around clans, but is now crushed under the bootheel of Morrigan and her undead armies. Hebron went from an idyllic farmland to a battle hardened, suspicious, insular community after fending off The Crone's Golems. Hyphrates, land of the Pharoahs, now rests in the undead grip of a formerly living, and formerly benevolent, ruler. Manreia faced no direct conflict in the Bane War, and so it sustained few scars, but now deals with the refugees of the other realms...completely unaware of the vipers clutched to its breasts. The proud people of Steppengrad have suffered grievous losses in the war...and are preparing to sacrifice even more if they can finally break Baba Yaga's grip. Valkenholm has become the center of The Blood Witch's web of intrigue.

There are now eight types of Witchbreed one can play as (six were present in the original playtest document): Dhampirs, the blood-sucking half-vampires. Golems, who have had their souls placed inside of unliving bodies. Mongrels, now grotesquely merged with animals. Mummies, the long dead, brought back to existence. Ophidians, poisonous snake-men. Revenants, the recently dead, still walking the earth. Shades, the spectral dead. And, finally, the Vargr, who shift between man and beast. Character creation is similar to normal, except you select a Witchbreed to play as, with their own modifiers, and skills have been slightly altered (with some skills condensed into Subterfuge and Athletics). Just as each Witchbreed has its own strengths and weaknesses, they also have access to their own unique Edges, with Mummies seemingly getting the shortest end of the stick regarding Edge selection.

A number of setting rules are used for Accursed, such as Damaged Characters, which allows characters to take an additional Hindrance and, thus, more points with which to buy an Edge, useful for those extra Edges they have available to them. Accursed uses the Blood & Guts rules from Savage Worlds Deluxe, but also combines them with a new rule that allows players to spend a benny in order to turn Wounds into Fatigue levels instead (since they "heal" faster, of course). New Hindrances are also provided, some having appeared in other books, complete with a new master list for Accursed (featuring Hindrances like Jingoistic or Glass Jaw). In addition to the Racial Edges, other new Edges are available to all characters, like Arcane Background (Witchcraft), which allows PCs to tap into the same power that the Witches use, Chosen Fate, which allows the player to decide if they are embracing or rejecting their Witchmark, Grand Coven Veteran (for those that fought many battles in the war), and Witch Hunter, for those that intend to take the battle to the Witches themselves. A new master Edges table is provided as well.

Chapter 3 covers the powers and uses of Arcane Background (Alchemy) and Arcane Power (Witchcraft), with Alchemy powers that let you transform weapons or heal Fatigue, and Witchcraft powers that let you steal Wounds from a target and use them to heal others, or even cancel out another character's abilities (including Edges!).

Accursed doesn't use money, per se, instead adopting the Resource die from Shaintar. Essentially, you roll the Resource die against an item's cost and availability, modified by whatever skills might affect it (like using Streetwise to acquire black market goods). Firearms are sprinkled in among the expected melee weapons, typically of the muzzle-loading variety. It has a very Ravenloft effect, in which some regions are vastly more developed than others, though this has to do with the effects of the War, rather than magical interference by Godlike entities.

Witchmarks get their own chapter, because they are that big of a deal. They are the measure of a Witch's power over the Accursed, and they represent the struggle between the monster and the man. The higher the Witchbreed's rank, the greater the effects of the Witchmark. A Novice can sense others of his Witchline, while Seasoned Accursed can speak to others within a mile. Veterans can automatically sense others of his Witchline and the effects of their abilities, and so on. Plus, each Witchbreed have effects that change depending on their acceptance or rejection of the Witchmark: Dhampirs can grow to become nearly full-blown vampires (complete with not being able to enter homes uninvited), a Golem may throw off his unnatural trappings and become flesh and blood again, Mongrels may grow too fond of their animal implants, Mummies may shake off their Death Shrouds and use the Djinn's remaining power to make a wish, Ophidians may become truly reptilian, Revenants not only recapture life but also gain the ability to cheat death, Shades lose their grip on the physical world and Vargr's can remove their animal aspect and turn it into a loyal companion! Of course, each Witchmark can be spun the other way, accepting or defying as their path chooses.

Each of the Witches get detailed in the sixth chapter, along with their primary Banes. This includes art for each Witch and an overview of their background and magic. Baba Yaga and her Hunger Trolls, The Blood Witch and her Leech Men, The Chimera and her Maggot Hounds, The Crone and her Manikins, The Dark Queen and her Noumenons, The (presumed dead) Djinn and her Scarabs, The Gorgon and her Hydras and The Morrigan and her Cauldron Born.

The last chapter focuses on running Accursed, noting that there are more Witchlines than contained in this book, and more Banes spawning from each Witch. A bunch of plot seeds are provided, as well as a sidebar on playing completely human characters in an Accursed game, even alongside Accursed. A seven part campaign is also included, which has three possible endings, depending on the PCs' actions...one of which maintains the status quo, two of which will leave a noticeable mark on Morden.

WHAT WORKS: The art is gorgeous. The "Heroes as Monsters" bit hasn't been overdone in Savage Worlds, and Accursed sets the standard pretty high in that regard. The level of detail in each Witchbreed is very cool and very evocative, and the Witchmark rules, providing reasons to both embrace and reject power, are great as well.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the Accursed seemed to get the shorter end of the stick than the others, with Mummies having fewer cool bits to play around with. This is essentially a three book purchase, rather than the two book purchase that most Savage Settings are. Savage Tales to go along with the Plot Point Campaign would have been welcome. The editing in my PDF was still pretty rough, but it was updated after I downloaded it and I just caught that as I was finishing this review.

CONCLUSION: I was provided a preview copy of the Playtest rules and almost immediately made a pledge on the Kickstarter. I like Accursed enough that I put my money where my mouth is, I'll be getting a print copy and I may even spring for both poker decks. People who believe that Savage Worlds should always be as minimalist as possible aren't going to like the extra bits of crunch added to Accursed, but I personally think it's one of the coolest settings I've seen, and it will hit my table after the print version arrives, if not before. Melior Via made the game I've always wanted to play.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tommy's Take on Revolver 2

So....yesterday, I reviewed Revolver. Today, I review its completely standalone sister (not really sequel) game, Revolver 2.

DISCLAIMER: This review does contain an affiliate link to Amazon.com. Purchasing the game through that link may provide me with referral credit to Amazon. No review copy was provided by the publisher. I acquired this game on my own.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Revolver 2 has the same mechanical base as Revolver, and includes a number of references to the characters in Revolver, but is designed to be completely standalone, from both a a story and a gameplay perspective. Revolver 2 comes in an impressive green tin, setting it apart from Revolver's red tin. The game retails for $30, though Amazon has it deeply discounted as of the time of this review.

The story is the first major change in Revolver 2: Instead of a gang on the run from a Colonel's posse, one player plays a Padre who is hiring gunslingers to defend a Mexican town sitting near a silver mine as a corrupt Mexican warlord is trying to take it over. Yeah, it's got a little bit of Magnificent Seven to it...and if you're a fan of westerns, that's probably a good thing. The winning conditions are similar to Revolver: General Mapache wins if he guns down all of the town's defenders, for instance, and the Padre's men can win if the Padre survives the battle in the silver mine, or if the Mexican army arrives to put an end to the General (mechanically functioning the same as removing the Mexican border tokens in Revolver).

Thematically, the "surviving four rounds in the Silver Mine" doesn't work as well as Jack Colty's "survive four rounds on the 3:15" from Revolver, but it is what it is.

With that base in place, however, we get a number of changes: First, the two players play a poker minigame, three hands worth, and the side that wins 2 out of 3 gets to set a more favorable battlefield layout for the game. In addition, some of the poker hands have over benefits, independent of winning or losing, such as extra Firepower tokens on battlefield spaces, adding or subtracting tokens from the Mexican Army card, or adding cards to your starting hand when the game begins.

The next big change comes at the beginning of the Padre's turn. See, the Padre starts off with seven guardians (counting himself), and can recruit another guardian or two on each turn (an icon on the battlefield tells you how many guardians you can recruit). Well, the Padre has the choice on some battlefields to forgo recruitment and instead skip turns there, moving the clock up faster at the expense of recruiting more people. This can be beneficial at times, because the General has a very powerful secret weapon at the silver mine, but it requires stockpiling cards in order to use properly, and if you can catch him flat footed at the mine, it can make the Padre's endgame easier. Of course, if you miscalculate, it can lead to you just being outgunned in the endgame.

One of the battlefields is called The Los Quantos Bridge, and it brings up another tactic for the Padre: If he has enough cards with TNT icons on them, he can blow the bridge, wiping out anyone or anything that the General has placed on the bridge to stop him. He can use a similar tactic in the Silver Mine, to counter the General's use of the Gatling Gun.

That's where another layer of complexity and strategy comes in: Every card has an effect in its own right, but many of the General's cards include ammo icons, to be used with the Gatling Gun in the endgame, while many of the Padre's cards have TNT icons, to be used at the Bridge or Silver Mine...so a card may be worth more to you in your hand, using it at the right battlefield, rather than just dumping it off in play.

The Padre has two decks of cards to draw from, the first being his regular card deck and the second being his Guardians. The Guardians have a survival rating, like Colty's men in the first game do, indicating just how important they are to the plot and what order they'll die in. Padre Estaban is the hero of this story, and will either see it through, or be the last one gunned down. Some Guardians let you draw a card when they come into play, some force you to discard when they die, some hasten the arrival of the Mexican Army and some stymy it. Zachary McReady, kin to the Colonel from the first game, makes an appearance here as a recruitable gunslinger. There's also a mysterious man named Jim Colt who carries a crow on his shoulder, and who may or may not resemble a certain gang leader from Revolver. There's also Kid Lightning, who has a Survival Rating of 0, but also has TWO Grit Tokens, meaning he can take a licking before he goes down.

As for the Padre's card deck itself, he has cards like Telegrams which remove tokens from the Mexican Army card, speeding their arrival along. Of course, he has different weapons he can drop on the battlefield for his men, as well as cards like "Get Ready For War!" that cause him to sacrifice two of his men in order to take out everyone the General has at a given battlefield. There's also a Kiowa Guide who will help the Mexican Army make better time to the town, bags of rattlesnakes that can take out one of the General's men and even a Stove Plate Jacket (ala Eastwood) that saves one of the Guardians from death.

The General is not without resources, using Swift Horses to move his men from battlefield to battlefield, Sodden Terrain to slow down the approach of the Mexican Army, Alligator Attacks to kill Guardians, powerful gunfighters like Gian Volonte (who is so powerful that the Padre gets to draw a card in order to balance out how scary he is) and Pancho Flores (who also forces the opponent to discard a card when he comes into play). The Las Cuchillos are also frightening, giving the General the option of discarding a card when they come into play and destroying one of the Padre's assets.

Like with Revolver, Revolver 2 will be bloody, with casualties mounting on both sides, and not even killing the General will be enough to stop his men.

WHAT WORKS: The Magnificent Seven with a dash of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly in a card game? Yes, please. The extra bits of strategy are a nice touch without over complicating anything. The connections to the first set are also nice, as easter eggs for players of both sets, without forcing continuity lockout.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The creeping complexity may bode ill for those that love the simplicity of the first game. The backstory isn't quite as thrilling in this one, being painted as more of a straight, black and white, Good vs Evil tale...though, your mileage may certainly vary on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. The win condition of waiting out the general in the Silver Mine doesn't work as well, thematically.

CONCLUSION: The backstories and the characters "pop" better in Revolver, but Magnificent Seven is my favorite western of all time, so essentially putting that in card game format is just AWESOME to me. The two Revolver games are just both so very cool to me, impulse purchases that I'm glad I indulged in. Absolutely worth it if you love westerns and you're cool with a 2 player only game. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tommy's Take on Revolver

I do primarily review RPGs around here, but I also occasionally venture into other areas, like board and card games. Well, A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a couple of western-themed card games called Revolver and Revolver 2, which I've since played a few times with my kid.

DISCLAIMER: This review does include an affiliate link to Amazon.com. Purchasing this title from Amazon may result in me receiving a referral credit. A review copy was not provided to me by the publisher, however. I acquired this game on my own.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Revolver is a card based by White Goblin Games & Stronghold Games, featuring a fairly standard western theme: Jack "The Crow" Colty and his gang robbed a bank and are on the run from Col. Ned McReady's posse, trying desperately to make it to the 3:15 Express from Rattlesnake Station, or cross the Mexican border, before Colty and his right hand man Cortez are gunned down.

Retailing for $30, Revolver comes in a sweet, sweet metal tin, with two included card decks (one for each side of the conflict) and a number of extra cards which serve as the battlefields for the conflict (beginning at the bank and running to the train). A bag of wooden pieces are included to count down the Mexican border, as well as a piece to serve as the time tracker in each battlefield.

The Colty gang begins with all of their people on the playing field, rushing together from the bank to the train station. The McReady player will unleash assets at each field, from deputies and bounty hunters to named characters like Deputy Weathers and McReady himself. Characters can get Grit tokens, which can allow them to survive the first attempt at killing them, and Firepower tokens, which boosts their effectiveness in combat.

If the Colty gang loses a fight on the McReady player's turn, one of The Crow's men dies, selected by the Colty player based on his men's Survival Rating (some guys are doomed to die before the others). Some folks just die, others cause different effects. For instance, killing Bruno "Hen House" Caple cuts off Colty's access to Peacemaker .45s. If Manolito dies, The Crow finds out Manolito was a traitor and this cuts off two of the tokens blocking access to the Mexican border. If you kill Kittens McKenzie before the gang reaches the 3:15, it gives the posse more time to hunt the gang through Rattlesnake Creek as Kittens presumably knows that area better than the rest.

Stronger cards, on both sides, are played by discarding other cards...and some cards get cheaper to play as the game goes on. For instance, Col. McReady is expensive to deploy at the bank, but he won't miss the gunfight at the train for anything. The McReady player can play as many cards to a battlefield as he likes, but the Colty gang can only play three cards per battlefield...and McReady can drop cards like Narrow Bridge and Cactus Field which cuts those available slots down further.

Colty's deck also includes cards that move up the clock, putting the gang on the road in order to keep from getting trapped, cards like "Fire At Will" that lets his men gun down some of McReady's men, Sandstorm (which imposes a two card limit on McReady's side of the field) and Saddlebags (which let you snap up a card from a battlefield to take to another, as cards normally stay behind as the gang runs).

McReady's deck also has time management cards which force the Colty gang to stay on the battlefield an extra turn, "Get The Rope, Boys" (which lets you lynch a Colty gang member), Rattlesnake Bite (which will kill a gang member if they don't discard a card), a card indicating the gang has been betrayed (which kills two people unless the Colty player discards two cards), a Buffalo Stampede which inflicts a ton of damage and more.

Each battlefield has a defensive modifier for the Colty gang, ranging from +0 to +3, as they use the terrain for natural defense. The Colty player also has one more, last ditch tactic they can use at the train, derailing it in order to inflict death and chaos. This will kill every one of Colty's remaining men, but the player can discard cards in order to keep his men alive.

As swell as all this sounds, it's the little things that really sell the game: The book includes character bios for every character in the game, unveiling layers to the backstory that twist it on its ear. Is Crow a criminal? Well, yeah...but he's also been wronged, as his father had his farm stolen out from under him. One of his gang members is Poppy McReady...daughter of the Colonel...and all kinds of hints and outright statements in the backstory that the Colonel is one shady bastard. None of it DIRECTLY affects gameplay, especially in this first set, but the attention to story is very admirable.

There is a fair bit of strategy to the game, as the McReady side has to recognize which battles to fight and which to let go of, while the Colty player can focus on either surviving the full gauntlet and escaping on the train or focusing on running out the Mexican border (a token comes off of the Mexican border card for each turn McReady has in which he fails to kill a Colty member).

No matter what, the game WILL be very bloody, with a lot of casualties. This isn't a Roy Rogers western.

WHAT WORKS: The production values are excellent. The gameplay is fun and simple, and feels very "western". The gameplay is surprisingly deep in the core set, while still playing quickly. Despite the recommended age of 12+, my 10 year old both enjoys and understands the game perfectly fine.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The fact that a lot of the cards on both sides are either re-skinned, or merely opposite numbers of a card on the other side. Some complaints have been made about the art, as some of the women are fairly scantily clad and some parents may not be suitable with 12 year olds (the recommended age) playing it.

CONCLUSION: A very awesome two player card game that I've already played a fair bit and plan on playing more of. The expansions are largely designed to swap in and out with the existing card decks, rather than adding to them, so the game should avoid a lot of bloat that games with expansions tend to have. As mentioned above, the game is awesome and thematic out of the box, but adding in the backstory makes it doubly cool. Very highly recommended if you are a fan of westerns and card games, especially if you're not so much into the Deadlands or Shadows of Brimstone style of supernatural western.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tommy's Take on Dude, Run!

Ever watch those ghost hunting shows on TV? Now, I'm not a huge fan, but the idea of a Ghost Hunter RPG is certainly interesting, and that's precisely what Creepy Doll Studios have created here.

DISCLAIMER: A PDF was provided by the publisher for review purposes. This review contains affiliate links to RPGNow. Purchases made via those links may provide me with store credit at RPGNow.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF of Dude, Run! runs about 60 pages and retails for $5. It is a self-contained, standalone game about playing a group of paranormal investigators, investigating Hotspots and trying to prove the existence of the supernatural. One person plays the "Skeptic", but they are essentially the GM. They set up the creepy encounters and the PCs attempt to use their expertise to prove that the creepy encounters are all real, supernatural occurrences while trying not to lose their cool and run screaming from the Hotspot. Each Investigator has four Techniques, ranked 1 through 4 (with a 1, 2, 3 and array assigned to them). The four Techniques are Sensitive, Tech, Analysis and Research, and they describe the methods that the Investigators can use in order to prove something is supernatural. Investigators also have Belief and Ego, which can fluctuate over the course of gameplay as they try to put themselves ahead of the team and prove that they are the only one qualified to be the Lead Investigator.

The Skeptic sets the amount of evidence that must be found (via die roll) and the Investigators have about 2 hours, generally, to accumulate as much information as possible. Essentially, the Skeptic gives them their hook ("I think my house was built on an Indian Burial Ground!"), builds the Hotspot (the lower the rating, the more frequent the supernatural activity) and then starts dropping events to investigate ("A short in the wiring causes all the power in the living room to go out when the TV is on"). The Investigators use a Technique to explain why something is paranormal, adding their Belief and - if they choose - points of Ego. If anyone rolls triples (because Trouble Comes in Threes), they overdid it and maybe bought into their own story, running off in fear. The remaining Investigators add up all of their dice that came up even as successes, and if they got higher than the Hotspot rating, they can score points or Ego or Evidence. Whoever came up highest gets bonus Evidence points. If they end the episode with more Evidence than the threshold set by the Skeptic, they've "proven" the existence of the supernatural! Simple, right?

The book is filled with a number of hauntings and paranormal experiences, like demons, greys, big foot, and even Men in Black.

A sample Haunting is included to get you started, complete with descriptions and ratings for the house, and a random events table.

Character sheets are also provided, as well as a blank Case Log for tracking the team's investigations.

WHAT WORKS: A fun, light RPG-ish game that could well appeal to non gamers who are open to a little roleplaying. Price point isn't bad and the game knows it's not a deep RPG, avoiding complicated subsystems and instead settling for a quick competitive/cooperative experience. I am utterly in love with that cover.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The game is built with the assumption of an ongoing campaign in mind, but I can't imagine ever really using it more than once or twice a year.

CONCLUSION: Dude, Run! seems like it would be a good deal of fun in the right setting. I could see busting it out annually around Halloween as a much lighter alternative to other horror games like Slasher Film, especially if you have a curious non-gamer or two willing to sit in.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tommy's Take on Leverage Companions 4, 5 and 6

The Leverage RPG by Margaret Weis Productions is one I certainly enjoyed, having reviewed all three of the books in the line. They have also released a series of short Companion PDFs, and I've reviewed the first three in the past. Here's my reviews of 4, 5 and 6, covering Hacking, Tropes and Government Espionage.

DISCLAIMER: All products were provided as comp copies via the DriveThruRPG/RPGNow Featured Reviewer program. Purchases made via Affiliate Links on this site may provide the site administrator with store credit to be used at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

 Leverage Companion 4: Hollywood Hacking

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You can either get the PDF for $2.99, or you can get the compilation of ALL the Companions in a print or PDF compilation at RPGNow. The Hollywood Hacking Companion mostly covers the artistic license that TV and movies tends to take with Hacking (like people blowing up stoplights by hacking into them, or the antiquated idea that you have to keep someone talking on a phone in order to trace them). It does a pretty good job of straddling the line between "Don't do what they do on TV because it's silly" and "we're just giving you information so someone a bit more knowledgeable than you can't just call your bluff". A handful of Hacking related Talents are included, but they aren't limited entirely to Hackers. One Talent, for instance, is Mastermind-based and allows you to exploit people who are working off of Hollywood Hacking assumptions. Another one is nice, arrogant trick a Hacker can pull out at the last second. Why didn't they do it earlier? Duh, they were dumbing it down for the rest of the crew.

WHAT WORKS: The extra Talents are always fun. The writing is nice and breezy without turning into a technical lecture.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Companions are all fairly "niche", with this one being especially so.

CONCLUSION: With the Companions now collected into Companion Volume 2, it's worth reading the material as part of the larger compilation if nothing else. As a standalone PDF? Not the first purchase I would recommend...but the Talents alone make a nice addition to a larger product.

Leverage Companion 5: Tropes vs Leverage

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: As above, you can get it as a single PDF or part of the Companion Volume 2. The purpose of this Companion is help out a bit with defining a character by making use of different archetypes. About 15 archetypes are provided, with descriptions and advice on combining each archetype with each of the five Roles, as well as a Talent that fits each Archetype. Maybe your Hitter is a Mama Bear (or Papa Wolf), maybe your Hacker is a Romantic, maybe your Thief is an Artist, maybe your Grifter is a Rebel and maybe your Mastermind is an Architect who has built each of their plans off of the backs of their last ones.

WHAT WORKS: A real simple way to get a starting point for your Leverage characters, using common archetypes as the core concept (combined with the Roles, obviously). Some of them are truly inspired, as are their related Talents (like an Architect getting a bigger Asset die when using a Callback, since they are building to these moments).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Some of the combinations don't fit so well, and at times the writing seemed to struggle to define the Archetype/Role relationships without repeating the same ground. Several of the pages carry the footers from the Hollywood Hacking Companion, which presumably got brought over in formatting but never changed.

CONCLUSION: A very useful Companion for those struggling with character creation, or for those who are maybe looking for inspiration for a unique spin for their next character. I also appreciate the fact that there's an attempt at backing these decisions up mechanically, with the inclusion of Talents. A good, well written companion piece to the Leverage rulebooks and supplements.

Leverage Companion 6: KRYPTOS

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Available in the same formats as above, Companion 6 takes your Leverage game from the Populist Revenge business and into the realm of Espionage (and Counter-Espionage). This includes advice on changing up the roles (Hitter to Wetworks, Thief to Acquisitions, Mastermind to Handler, etc). This is even a recommended mode of play for Single Player games (James Bond or Jason Bourne, anyone?) While these Companions commonly offer new Talents, this one also offers new rules, such as resisting Interrogations, handling "Gadgets", and even an "Enhanced Flashback" mechanic that allows the Agents to throw the trust of each other into question.There's even a few campaign set-ups, including an amusing one set in a retirement home for secret agents. An Instant Mission Generator replaces the Job Generator from the Leverage core rules, so you can generate spy-appropriate missions on the fly.

WHAT WORKS: Well, I love random generators, so that's a win right there. There's lots of good information in a small package to tweak Leverage from its default mode of play and into spy games.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: A few spy-related Talents would have been great. Mentioning the Trust mechanic before the section that actually introduced it was a little counterintuitive, but not a huge problem given the size of the product.

CONCLUSION: If you're going to write a niche product like this, present the information as usefully and as compelling as you can. This book totally hit the mark in that regard, giving you the necessary tools to turn Leverage into a spy game with a small package. I always like extra options for Talents, so the book lacking those is disappointing. That said, it's a well-written, micro supplement that was released with a very clear goal that it accomplishes admirably. A great pick-up if you want to diversify your Leverage campaign options.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Tommy's Take on The Shrine of St. Aleena

Small Niche Games has a new release for your adventuring fun, this time more of a straight forward dungeon crawl.

DISCLAIMER: A digital copy of this product was provided to me as a comp copy for review purposes. Affiliate links posted within this article may provide this blog with store credit to One Book Shelf, which may either be cashed out for funds or (more likely) be used to purchase more products for review on this blog.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Shrine of St. Aleena is set in The Chronicles of Amherth campaign setting, and is designed to be used with the Labyrinth Lord RPG, but can be set in most fantasy settings and can be rejiggered for your favorite iteration of D&D, especially the older ones. It is designed for characters of 1st to 3rd level, and assumes a party of 3-6 characters, and assumes that you have at least one Lawful character in the mix. It is available in PDF for $4.95 from RPGNow.

This adventure is a bit of a departure from the norm for Small Niche Games. The horror elements that permeate their adventures is missing from here, and it is more of a dungeon crawl (while other adventures tend towards timed encounters and sandboxes).

The backstory for the adventure revolves around a Fighter and a Cleric who were thwarting the plans of an evil wizard known as The Infamous One. The Cleric, Aleena, sacrificed her life to save the Fighter and stop the Wizard, and years later has been Sainted. The Infamous One, still smarting over her interference, has sent a horde of goblins to sack her town and a nefarious creature to corrupt her temple.

How the party gets involved in the adventure is up to you, but a number of suggestions are provided (ranging from divine visions to just stumbling across the temple as the animal life bolts far away from it). There's also a rumor chart (one of which hints at a dragon, which might be enough to scare some people off), as well as a random encounter chart, a few of which can provide friendly NPCs for the party to ally with. Other encounters include a potentially troublesome encounter with an NPC who is trying to hide their identity, a pair of brigands who may opt to join the party (if only temporarily) if the PCs look too tough to rob, a Fighter who is now a shattered shell of his former self, and a zombie encounter that's not quite like your typical zombie encounter.

The dungeon crawl itself has a few deadly encounters, especially for low level types, including a few traps designed to put the hurt on Chaotic characters. The effects of the Corruption are felt all over the Shrine, in some cases even creating monsters for the party to deal with.

If the party is successful, they'll get a low level (but still impressive) holy weapon to fight evil with, as well as a new organization to ally with and likely some bad guys to hunt down when it's all said and done (like maybe the Wizard that started this whole mess).

WHAT WORKS: Top notch writing again, with Small Niche once more providing an exciting adventure with a strong backstory for low level parties. It manages to be a Dungeon Crawl that kinda slaps the "murder hobo" mindset in the face.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: It's a little more "paint by numbers" than what you usually get from Small Niche, but that still means it's several steps ahead of a bog standard dungeon crawl.

CONCLUSION: There is one riddle in the adventure that is VERY D&D/Labyrinth Lord specific, which would make conversion to, say, Savage Worlds or DungeonWorld or something like that a bit more problematic. For my money, Inn of Lost Heroes is still the standard bearer for Small Niche adventures, but if you're in a dungeon crawl mood and you have a low level (heroic) party, The Shrine of St. Aleena will fit your needs nicely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tommy's Take on Dresden Files RPG: Our World

Pictured: Ape demons who fling flaming poo.

Dresden Files: Your Story gives you almost everything you need to play...Our World is the "setting guide", focused primarily on Dresden's Chicago, but covering a bit more ground than that.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: At almost 275 pages, it's a bit leaner than Your Story, and a bit less expensive ($40 in print and $20 in PDF). As with Your Story, it covers the first ten books (and a few short stories), so there will be spoilers for those books within. It's a full color hardcover, written in a very informal style with lots of conversational notes back and forth between Billy, Harry and Bob. This review is of the hardcover version.

Pretty much all the rules you need for the game are in Your Story...this is NPCs, monsters, etc. The first chapter (Old World Order) is an overview of the world, including a broad overview of the Unseelie Accords (because they are so arcane and convoluted that codifying them would be incredibly difficult), and they are contrasted with the Laws of Magic (Letter of the Law versus Spirit of the Law). All of the factions of the world are touched on, including the White Council (who are ostensibly good guys, but can be as big of a pain at times as bad guys), The Knights of the Cross (who are barely a faction, as there are only three of them when they are at full "enlistment"), the Vampire Courts (with sidebars discussing other possible courts), The Order of the Blackened Denarius (crazy powerful Fallen Angels) and The Circle (the mysterious force behind a lot of what's happened in the books to this point).

What Goes Bump is the bestiary, about 70 pages of the books. Each entry includes a Name, Description, First Appearance, What We Know, Powers and Weaknesses. Most entries also include a stat block, though a few do not (Angels wouldn't have a generic stat block, for starters, and rarely get personally involved anyway). A few demons, some magical constructs, Ghouls, Hags, some Ghosts, the various Vampires, warped animals, zombies, etc., are all included with stat blocks. As much details as possible is given for other entities, like Angels, The Fallen, Dragons...stuff that haven't thus far proven encounterable by the average supernatural joe. Other beings, like the Fae, aren't given generic stat blocks, but are given guidelines on how to build your own NPC Fae, with similar treatment given to different wizards and practitioners (like what is liable to separate Wardens and Necromancers, for instance).

The bulk of the book is NPCs, specifically individuals Harry has encountered in his books. Again, as much information as possible is provided for pretty much everyone. Annoyingly, this leads to a lot of "...and we're not really sure about this...Aspects are at least usually provided for everyone. There are even lots of helpful little sidebars, like with Murphy's ex, who has two Aspects that contradict each other, but this is specifically pointed out in the sidebar (and cited as a good thing, as people are sometimes complicated like that). The Harry Dresden write-up is FULL of sidebars...such as how to advance him from the end of Storm Front through each of the books, or running a game without Harry in the world (and how that might affect things)...or even situations in which Harry might have gone bad. Every major character, most minor characters and even a few "Cameo Characters" which should give you, at minimum, a lot of inspiration for your own NPCs.

The last chapter covers Chicago itself, with a little look at its history and a few paragraphs on each neighborhood.

The index covers both books and, as a bonus, includes some early concept art for the book.

WHAT WORKS: A fantastic read for fans of the Dresden Files, as well as a great guide for adapting the creatures and NPCs from the novels as a guide for making your own. Again, the production values are top notch, and the sidebars are very useful and informative, especially when dealing with issues like how to handle Harry in your games (if at all). The index covering both books is also a great thing. Also, it's The Dresden Files.
I'm a fanboy. I admit it.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK: My biggest gripe is the overabundance of "We don't really know, so we're hand waving this" entries...that said, Harry is considered to be an "unreliable narrator", so you can OFFICIALLY take anything in the book with a grain of salt.

CONCLUSION: Not quite as high on the "Must Buy" list as "Your Story", but still a great, well-written and gorgeous resource. I certainly don't regret picking it up, even though my eventual game will probably having nothing to do with Chicago or the inhabitants of the books (at least not directly). Worth buying? Yes. Must have? Maaaaaybe, if only because Your Story lacks a bestiary.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tommy's Take on Dresden Files RPG: Your Story

Pictured: Three of the most badass characters ever, Harry Dresden,
Karrin Murphy and Michael Carpenter

This summer, I discovered the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher. A friend of mine was a huge fan and he pushed me to give them a shot...and so I did. I became a huge fan, and I started looking for the RPG (and my first set of Fudge Dice). The RPG is contained inside two impressive tomes, the first of which is the "essential" book: Your Story.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Powered by Fate, Dresden Files came after Spirit of the Century but before Fate Core, and Your Story is the Player's Guide/Rulebook for the game. You can get Your Story in PDF for $25, in a bundle with Our World for $40 or in print for a retail price of $50. This review specifically covers the physical version, a stunning, full color, hardcover tome that runs over 400 pages. The Dresden Files RPG covers the first 10 books of the series, through Small Favor.

The Dresden Files is an urban fantasy series centered around Wizard/Private Eye Harry Dresden (he's in the phone book) and his eclectic cast of supporting characters. The series has literally become one of my favorite series ever, beginning with fairly "low key" urban fantasy and getting pretty epic by the most recent book (Cold Days, number 14).

The whole book is written as an "in-universe" experiment by Harry and his friend and ally Billy to alert "normal" people to the things that go bump in the night by using an RPG (it was said that Bram Stoker did something similar in the Dresdenverse when he released Dracula, warning people about the Black Court  Vampires). This means that the book is very informal, if that sort of thing bothers you, and and chock full of humorous asides that may be less effective if you're not a fan of the books. See, the book is presented as an unfinished product, lots and lots of notes and asides from Billy, Harry and Harry's "assistant" Bob.

Chapter One covers the basics of the Dresdenverse, like how the presence of magic can force technology to short out, magic is an expression of the individual, monsters are bound by their nature, etc. This chapter also gives a quick list of the various "types" of characters to play and/or encounter, from mundane mortals (who know nothing about what's going on around them) to infected (folks who have been tainted by vampires but haven't gone all in) to the various vampire courts (each of which is markedly different) to dragons to, of course, wizards. A brief overview of the world as of book 10 is provided as well.

The game is powered by Fate, as noted above, which is pretty well known these days. This particular version uses 4dF (four Fudge dice), which are six sided dice that have two sides marked "+", two sides marked "-" and two sides blank. You roll 4dF, and add the plusses and subtract the minuses from your relevant stat, as the basic mechanic. Characters are defined by Skills, Stunts, Powers and Aspects. Skills are fairly obvious, and Stunts expand your skills. Powers can be all kinds of things, like Shapeshifting or spellcasting, while Aspects are descriptive phrases that define your character. Characters also have Fate Points, which not serve as plot currency, but are a representation of a character's free will.

In a bit of a departure from a lot of RPGs, the group creates the city they operate in before they ever create their characters. Yeah, the group creates the City (complete with its own locations, NPCs and Aspects) before moving on to character generation. Your group is encouraged to change things about the city as necessary (which is probably easier to do the more distantly familiar the city is to the group). This chapter gives a lot of advice, using both Chicago (the home of Harry Dresden) and Baltimore (included as a sample setting in the book) as examples for illustration's sake. Worksheets are provided to help you along, and there's even advice on how to apply "City Creation" to campaigns with a broader scope, like globe hopping campaigns, as well as just creating the whole thing on the fly as you go.

Character creation is also intended to be handled as a group, as each character is meant to be linked to the rest in some manner during creation. There are four different power levels (Feet in the Water, Up to Your Waist, Chest-Deep and Submerged), which determines each character's refresh level and Skill Points. Your Aspects are defined by your High Concept and Trouble, as well as an Aspect for each of your Stories, generally. Your Refresh determines the number of Stunts and Powers you have, with Stunts costing you a point each and Powers varying depending on utility. As with City Creation, the book does provide options for creating your characters on the fly.

Every character has to take a Template, which covers a good range of options (though not all are appropriate for all Power Levels). These include Pure Mortals (who get a boosted Refresh so they can have more Fate Points, generally), Champions of God (who are kinda scary powerful...and awesome in the books), Changelings (part-human, part-fae), Emissaries of Power (kind of a catch-all for someone serving a greater power), Focused Practitioners (low-level spell slingers who generally focus on one thing, like pyromancy), Knights of the Faerie Courts (who have free will, no matter what the Queens might say), Lycanthropes (who are NOT werewolves), Minor Talents (practitioners with One Cool Trick), Red Court Infected (folks infected by Red Court Vampires but who haven't turned yet), Sorcerers (these guys have the power, but not the training and the resources of the White Council), True Believers (God's servants without the terrifying power of the Champions of God), Were-Form (these guys ARE the werewolves...and werebears and so on), White Court Vampires (the only vampire court thus far that has proven remotely capable of good), White Court Virgins (those destined to join the White Court as soon as they give in to temptation) and Wizards (like Harry...and yes, they can be terrifying).

Characters advance at Milestones (Minor, Significant and Major) and can get changes ranging from swapping around skills to adding skill ranks to gaining more Refresh (and thus the possibility of more power without losing your free will). Advancement also includes a couple of interesting options, like advancing in mid-session and even driving yourself to 0 Refresh in order to borrow enough power to go down in a Blaze of Glory. Advancement even covers Cities growing and changing, with the PCs maybe altering fundamental Aspects of it, or even the overall Theme of the City.

Aspects are typically the biggest stumbling blocks for people trying to wrap their heads around Fate, and one of the biggest things that helped me with Aspects is the fact that I was familiar with Dresden Files going in...so I had the context for the Aspects held by the characters. In a nutshell, skills, stunts and powers define what you can do, but Aspects define who you are. Characters have seven Aspects (High Concept, Trouble, and five more that fill out who the character is). Aspects can be invoked to gain +2 or a reroll on a relevant roll, invoked for effect (maybe you use ANGER IS MY CONSTANT COMPANION to shake a mind altering effect, because you're full of rage) or compelled to force a negative result for a character (either accepting the consequence in exchange for a Fate point, or spending a Fate point to avoid it). Aspects also exist in the City, and Temporary Aspects can be created for a scene and then used to your advantage (like using LIGHTS OUT to sneak past a sentry). Epically, high tension scenes can be Escalated, costing (or providing) two or even three Fate points because the stakes are so high (like your High Concept being I AM THE LAW and finding out that your favorite brother, whom you swore to your dying parents that you would protect, is left holding the murder weapon at a violent scene and you have to choose whether to ignore your calling and let him go, or take him down). The book uses lots of examples of "Good" Aspects versus "Bad" (not Positive versus Negative, as most Aspects should have elements of both, but Aspects that are more game ready versus those that are not). Very useful stuff.

The Skills list isn't massive, but it is broad enough to cover a lot of ground, about 25 in all. Combat skills, for instance, are divided into stuff like Fists, Weapons and Guns, instead of Swords, Axes, Martial Arts, Boxing, Shotguns, Pistols, etc. Spellcasters want to make sure they have Conviction, Discipline and Lore covered, as the three Skills cover the various areas of spellcasting. Conviction, Discipline, Endurance and Presence can also affect various Stress Tracks. Any skill a character doesn't have defaults to Mediocre (+0), so everyone's at least kinda competent.

Skills cover the basics, Stunts cover the extra cool stuff. Want to shoot a gun? That's Guns. Want to outgun a crowd of attackers? That's the Target-Rich Environment stunt. The Empathy stunt Won't Get Fooled Again lets you learn a liar's mannerisms so you can avoid lies from them going forward. There are a lot of stunts listed, but it's mostly just a list of examples for each skill, so you can use those and the guidelines in the chapter to build your own stunts.

The Supernatural Powers list is a lot larger, but hardly exhaustive and a little harder to just make new entries for. Definitely not enough variety here to, say, run a supers game with Dresden Files, but it does cover a lot of ground, from superhuman strength to wall walking to vampirism, Evocations and Thaumaturgy (the two main types of magic), the Soulgaze (Wizards don't like to look people in the eyes for very long because of this), The Sight (where wizards open up their Third Eye and see things for what they really are) and even Items of Power (like Swords of the Cross, one of three weapons that have one of the nails used to hang Christ worked into the hilt). The selection in the book pretty well models most everything in the first 10 Dresden Files books, as it should.

The system is fairly straight forward: Every action his a Difficulty, you take a Skill and roll for Effort, and subtract the Difficulty from that to get the number of Shifts, which determines how well you succeed. There are extra tweaks (like Extended Contests, when you want more than one die roll to matter, or forcing losers of Contests to take Consequences as though they were injured). When it comes to Conflicts, Fate uses Zones, which are broadly drawn maps (as opposed to full blown grids or what have you). Initiative is based off of Skills, with the governing skill changing based on the kind of Conflict. If the attacker outrolls the defender, the shifts are applied as Stress on the target's appropriate stress track. A character can opt to take a Consequence instead of filling up their Stress boxes, effectively gaining a temporary, negative Aspect. In EXTREME circumstances, you can take an Extreme Consequence, which is so damaging it fundamentally changes who you are (replacing one of your Aspects). There are other great rules in place, like Spin, which lets you alter the next action in the conflict by rolling really high in defense, or Overflow, which lets you use Extra Shifts from an attack to pull off other non-Conflict actions. Though a lot of the rules apply to Physical Conflicts, extra attention is given to Mental and Social Conflicts, including advice on how your hero can save face in the wake of losing a Social or Mental Conflict (which tends to be a big sticking point in a lot of groups).

Magic gets two whole chapters (above and beyond the Powers chapter), as though The Dresden Files was focused largely around a Wizard or something. Special attention is paid to basically every aspect (no pun intended) of being a Wizard, from their biology (they live longer and heal faster than you) to using The Sight (including the mental effects this can have on a hero) to The Soulgaze (and what the effects of sharing a look into your inner being with another is like, as well as experiencing theirs) to Hexing (the ability of Wizards, whether they like it or not, to short out technology around them...and why your wizard will never own a Blu Ray player...for long, at least). There is also the Seven Laws of Magic, and the consequences and benefits (yes, benefits!) of breaking those laws...it's a good "Dark Side" mechanic: The more you break the Laws, the easier it becomes...but it lowers your Refresh every time, driving you one step closer to losing your free will. Also, the White Council have guys whose job it is to hunt down and behead Wizards who break the Laws. In a nutshell, they are: 1. Never Take A Life. 2. Never Transform Another. 3. Never Invade The Thoughts Of Another. 4. Never Enthrall Another. 5. Never Reach Beyond The Borders of Life. 6. Never Swim Against The Currents Of Time. 7. Never Seek Knowledge And Power From Beyond the Outer Gates.

The Spellcasting chapter gets into the nuts and bolts of it all, actually building spells. There's Evocation, which is the quick and dirty slinging of magic around. This causes you Stress, and if you dig for power beyond your Conviction, it can cause you a lot of stress. This CAN go badly, causing problems for your Wizards or having unexpected effects to others. Your Wizard can learn Rote spells, however, which are spells that you become incredibly used to casting. Thaumaturgy is the more ritualized spellcasting. This is how you track down a missing friend, summon or bind a demon or spirit, create wards, make potions, etc. Lastly, there's Sponsored Magic, which is where you are working very much at the grace of a more powerful being (but certainly not anything from Beyond, because that would violate the Seventh Law, right?). Sponsored Magic examples from the books appear, like Seelie and Unseelie magic, Soulfire and Hellfire, and Kemmlerian Necromancy. 12 pages of sample spells and items are included, to guide you through your own creation.

The GM section covers not only the basics of GMing, but some different points of concern for different Skills and such. Tips are provided for scaling opposition to your PCs (which can get questionable at times, sure), as well as warnings for dealing with Wizards (who are walking Swiss Army Knives) or characters with Super Strength, Speed or Toughness.

A very useful section on Scenario building walks you through assembling all the Aspects present in your game, deciding what the emphasis should be in this scenario, connecting dots between them and creating the scenario. The best scenarios tend to have personal links, after all.

Your Story includes a city setting, Baltimore, fleshed out as an example. It provides Points of Conflict (a power struggle in the White Court, a war brewing between Fae and Ghouls, etc), Themes and Threats (A City Battling Decay), and the important NPCs (all three major known vampire courts being represented, for instance). A number of individual characters are statted up, for use as PCs, NPCs or character creation examples, like a Trollblooded Toll Collector who takes his bridge very seriously.

The book wraps up with a Glossary, Index and blank worksheets for various phases of the game.

WHAT WORKS: A licensed RPG is about perfect for Fate, because it helps put a context to all the rules and moving bits, especially Aspects. The production values are gorgeous and the writing is hilarious, with lots of great asides and bits for fans of the books as Harry, Billy and Bob shoot comments back and forth. While the game is ostensibly a two-book purchase, this book actually gives you everything you need to play (including a sample setting), shy of a bestiary.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: If you don't already own Fudge Dice or Fate Dice, you'll need a pair. Wizards get an overwhelming amount of focus, which may be a problem if you have a player in the game that isn't a fan of spellcasters (though it is worth noting that Dresdenverse Wizards are MUCH more versatile than the Wizard archetype you're probably used to). Sample monsters would have been nice, for those who don't want to pick up a second book. If you hate informal tones to your books, stay away from this one.

CONCLUSION: I love The Dresden Files. I used to get utterly lost by Fate. Between ICONS acting as a "gateway drug" and the context of the Dresden Files license, Fate becomes a LOT easier to wrap my head around, and I hope this hits my game table in 2014. The only things I wish it had can't be taken as knocks against it, and that would be easier guidelines to expand it beyond Dresden Files (such as covering Buffy the Vampire Slayer or my own comic, The Chronicles of Rachel Strand), but it's not *designed* to do that...it's designed to emulate The Dresden Files (though that does cover a lot of ground, admittedly)...and with a little Fate Core and Fate Toolkit, that may be more than doable. Just a great licensed product that I had a blast reading, trying to match up the various pictures with their relevant scenes from the book series. This would be my immediate pick for an Urban Fantasy game to run, if I had the choice. Top notch product, well worth the price I paid for it (scored both books and four sets of Fudge dice on eBay).

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Announcing the Daring Comics RPG, Powered By Fate!

On Halloween, Daring Entertainment announced their first foray into Fate Core, with the Daring Comics RPG. Why am I passing this along to you? In no small part because I'll be taking a hand in this on the editorial side.

From Daring Entertainment's Website:

Daring Entertainment is pleased to announce its first Fate product: the Daring Comics Roleplaying Game!
Heroes battle villains through the streets and skies. Debris from stray energy beams and super-tough bodies covers city blocks. Cars, streetlights, dumpsters, and crumbled buildings become makeshift weapons flung around like baseballs.
From megalomaniacs dreaming of using their extraordinary power to rule the world, to dictators who believe their vision of the future is the best course for humanity, only those heroes who have dedicated their gifts to the defense of mankind stand in their way.
In Daring Comics, those heroes are you!
Designed with the award-winning Fate rules from Evil Hat Productions, and using the strengths of the Open Gaming License, Daring Comics provides complete rules for roleplaying your own super-hero campaign.
The only thing you need to play is the Daring Comics Roleplaying Game!
The book uses clear step-by step examples for how the players and GMs work together as a group to create not only the individual player-characters, but everything from character subplots, rogues galleries, and even city and super-group creation. The game covers all aspects of super-heroes, from gritty, street based vigilantes, to mystical masters, to high-tech wonders, and even refugees from alien worlds.
Daring Comics doesn't just provide you with the rules for playing super-heroes in the popular Fate system. Also included in the line-up is a separate campaign setting book detailing the twin cities of Sentinel City and New York, which provides you with full-on tools, stories, a robust roster of heroes and villains, and ready-made archetypes to begin playing immediately.
But even using the ready-made campaign setting doesn't mean your characters are playing second-string. We even provide you with tools for deconstructing the provided heroic teams as part of the campaign creation process, and placing your own group as the premier heroes of the setting!
Daring Comics brings comic books to your Fate gaming table, whether you are new to role-playing games, new to Fate, or a veteran.
The Daring Comics Kickstarter launches early 2014. In the meantime, keep an eye on the Daring Entertainment website beginning November 15th for bi-weekly development journals which reveal more details about the product line, and come visit us at the Daring Entertainment Forums to post your questions and join in the discussion.
Fate™ is a trademark of Evil Hat Productions, LLC. The Powered by Fate logo is © Evil Hat Productions, LLC and is used with permission.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tommy's Take on tremulus playbooks I-III and cemetery expansion

tremulus was finally released recently, and you should totally run out and buy it. However, a number of expansions have also been released...such as three playbook sets and a cemetery expansion. What do those contain and are they worth your dough?

tremulus playbook set I: flexible thinkers

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This $5 PDF was free to Kickstarter backers above a certain level, and includes 5 new playbooks for your players to use:

The Adventurer - A man of action, whose Moves can give him options like constant Armor, bonus damage to attacks and acting using his Passion instead of his Reason (because he's a man of instinct and not book-smarts).

The Entertainer - An actor, musician, singer, dancer, what have you. The Entertainer may be wealthy and famous, or have a gift for manipulating other people. The one Entertainer we've seen in our games proved incredibly light on his feet, which was a huge boon for him.

The Handyman - A fixer. He may have a workshop that he builds things with, he can jury rig repairs and one Move humorously duplicates the idea of smacking something to make it work.

The Librarian - A thinker who can occasionally use their wits to their advantage in combat.

The Scientist - Generally far more reasonable than most, insulating them from mental distress...though one option makes The Scientist harder to relate to, but allows them to start with Lore points.

WHAT WORKS: A few nice, thematic options that stretch the field. Some of the Playbook tweaks make it even easier to get the end result you want, like a purely "rational" scientist versus one that's becoming a little more unhinged. The Handyman is another one that stands out.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: On one hand, The Entertainer seems to stand out more than the others (as being out of place here). On the other, it's the only one we've used thus far. If the aesthetics of tremulus didn't do it for you, then the hard to see, old-timey images in this set won't do you any favors, either.

CONCLUSION: The Adventurer, Librarian and Scientist all seem very suited for period Lovecraftian adventurer. $1 per playbook also seems to be a bit better than similar deals for similar games, though I haven't looked too closely. Good pick-up if you want some options just a step away from the standard playbooks.

tremulus playbook set II: on the fringes

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Same as above - $5 package of playbooks to expand your game, running the fine line of "acceptable society":

The Artist - Passion drives most of what the Artist does, and this can leave them vulnerable to shock, or make them off-putting to others.

The Criminal - Not generally a thug, the Criminal's Lore move allows them to formulate a Backup Plan, and other moves provide options like being sneaky or charming.

The Dreamer - No, this isn't just someone with their head in the clouds...The Dreamer can reach the actual Dreamlands! This can provide valuable insight at times.

The Drifter - A bonafide ramblin' man, who sometimes gets by on Luck as much as anything. Additionally, your Drifter may have witnessed a bit more in his day than most.

The Psychic - Full-blown having visions and communing with the spirit world.

WHAT WORKS: Some very oddball options for tremulus, stretching the boundaries further. We've used Drifter and Psychic both in play, so these are options proving popular over here.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The Psychic communing with spirits can get out of hand at times, and I would imagine from the reading that The Dreamer could get that way as well.

CONCLUSION: If you want more weirdness from your PCs in tremulus, this is a good step as especially The Dreamer and The Psychic are particularly oddball. Just watch out for them spending too much time using their Moves (which aren't even Lore moves, but which do have time constraints on them) as they can blow some of your mystery right off.

tremulus playbook set III: madmen

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Have you noticed a trend developing here? These entries have been a steady walk off the deep end, and the Madmen make the last set look normal.

The Chosen - No, not quite Buffy, or even Ash. The Chosen can be downright bizarre, perhaps touched by darkness in such a way that they now see in the dark or even breathe underwater.

The Escapee - You've lost your mind once, but you know there's crazy stuff out there. You may be hunted by the very things that led to your imprisonment, but you are powered by a desperate will now.

The Inventor - The Scientist and The Handyman pumped up to 11. More Frankenstein than Einstein.

The Sorcerer - You have a handful of magical effects on standby, and are more adept than most at casting rituals.

The Veteran - You experienced the horrors of war, but occasionally you still find glimpses of the man you once were, and unleash him against the darkness.

WHAT WORKS: One of the more unique sets (and the sets are usually pretty impressive). I particularly like the portrayals of The Veteran and The Escapee.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not a lot. I like the balance on The Inventor and Sorcerer more than I do The Dreamer and The Psychic, and the character options are among the most interesting.

CONCLUSION: If I were a player, I think I'd probably play The Veteran first and foremost above all of them, though The Escapee runs a close second. Probably my two favorite options among all the playbooks.

the cemetery (Ebon Eaves Expansion I)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This expansion is a little different than the others, running $10 instead of $5. On top of that, it only includes three Playbooks:

The Bereaved - Someone in mourning, needing a shoulder to lean on. Definitely NOT one to play in a one-on-one game, as a few of their moves rely on other people being present...namely, gaining Trust with others and using their Lore moves.

The Grave Digger - You can pick Moves that make him a perfectly nice guy...or you can make him a scuzzy graverobber instead.

The Mortician - Somebody's gotta prepare the bodies. The Mortician comforts folks who have just suffered tragedy, which can come in handy in a horror game.

So if it's $10 and only has three playbooks, what's the deal? The deal is that it adds more info based off of the Town Lore questions at the beginning of the game, effectively blowing up the information combinations by adding a whole other set of mysteries to the town (all kinda cemetery based).

WHAT WORKS: A slew of new options for town generation. Three new playbooks, each of which are interesting and unique in their own way, yet still tied to the cemetery setting.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The minor complaint that the cemetery results are tied to the Town Lore, so those results will be bound together regardless (though there are soooo many possible results that this becomes a very minor quibble).

CONCLUSION: Well worth it if you're looking for more than just a one shot game, as a third plot thread should get you rolling nicely. If you're just in it for the playbooks, though, that price tag might be a tad steep.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Age Past Available Now!

I utterly failed to shamelessly promote this a couple of weeks ago, but the Age Past: The Incian Sphere RPG was released at the end of September.

Why is this a shameless promotion? Because the book contains my first published game fiction! I wrote two stories in it, one about a band of adventurers on an island when a raiding party led by a giant arrives, and the other is tale about the wizard who delves into the darkest practices in pursuit of power and knowledge.

A few years ago, I wrote a preview of the book, which you can get in PDF at RPGNow.
And it's really pretty, too!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tommy's Take on Monster of the Week

I have no problem with the Apocalypse World-inspired play, as noted by my various tremulus posts. Monster of the Week is an Apocalypse World-inspired RPG designed to emulate Badasses Who Kick Monster Butts, ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, The Winchesters from Supernatural and so on.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: It's 201 pages and only $10 in PDF at RPGNow. It's entirely front-facing, meaning the players do all of the rolling. They have "Moves" that they do, and when doing so, they roll 2d6 plus a stat. A 10 or better is a complete success. 7-9 is a success with a hitch. 6 or less is a failure. As with all "World" type games, everyone selects a Playbook that they then customize, but there is only meant to be one of each Playbook in the game (one Chosen, one Flake, one Mundane, one Spooky, and so on). If one dies, or leaves the game, you move on to another unused Playbook, and so on.

You can put the "team" together, emulating set-ups like Buffy and the Scooby Gang, The Winchesters, government monster hunters and so on.

The basic maneuvers characters get include Act Under Pressure, Kick Some Ass, Protect Someone, Investigate a Mystery and Use Magic. The ratings used are Cool, Tough, Charm, Sharp and Weird, and are generally ranked from -1 to +3. At the start of the mystery, two Ratings are highlighted (one by the player and one by the Keeper)...using those ratings nets you experience points regardless of success or failure.

Once the characters are selected, everyone uses a couple of History tags from their Playbook to make sure they are linked to other characters. For instance, The Chosen and The Monstrous might be rivals who came to a working arrangement, The Monstrous might have lost control and nearly killed The Mundane, but backed off and the Mundane might have been introduced to monsters by The Chosen.

Basically everything is done by performing moves. If you Act Under Pressure, for instance, on a 10 or better, you succeed at what you are doing, and on a 6 or worse, you fail. 7-9, you either pay a cost, make a hard choice or accept a worse outcome. If you are trying to kick ass, on a 6 or less, you get your ass kicked. On a 7-9, you swap damage with the opponent and on a 10 or better, you inflict damage and pick an additional effect (like taking less harm). Characters can even be raised from the dead using "Big Magic".

The Playbooks include:

The Chosen - Who has a destiny and will encounter it. The Chosen can also be a combat beast.

The Expert - Isn't the frontline fighter, but the one that knows about the things the group's going to fight.

The Flake - Kind of like a Mulder.

The Initiate - Part of an order pledged to fight evil.

The Monstrous - A Monster fighting for the good guys, like a vampire or a werewolf or a demon.

The Mundane - A Xander-type that serves as the pillar for the Big Damn Heroes and occasionally lucks into stuff.

The Professional - The 9 to 5, badass monster hunters.

The Spooky - Like psychics and witches.

The Wronged - Think Dean Winchester. Someone with something to avenge.

As Hunters run out of Luck, they start to reach the end of their story, either because they die or because they bow out.

You can advance your characters as you go, like gaining a move from your Playbook, gaining a move from ANOTHER Playbook, gaining an Ally, gaining a Haven or taking a Rating improvement from your Playbook. Every five advances, however, give you bigger options, like removing spent Luck, adding a second Hunter (that you can play alongside your first, or you can swap around troupe-style), or even change your Hunter to a new type! (Maybe your Spooky loses her powers and becomes Mundane, or your Expert has his true love murdered and becomes Wronged.)

The GM section does a nice job of helping you set up the villain arcs, whether you want to do a "Rising Evil" type story, hunting a nemesis, the looming apocalypse, etc. That sorta thing. There's also advice on setting up your smaller mysteries (it IS "Monster of the Week"), and even one shot games (give them less Luck and an extra advance or two). One thing you shouldn't do is be an antagonistic "Killer GM". The advice in the book specifically says to "Be a fan of the hunters"...which doesn't mean it all has to be hunky-dory and they succeed at everything all the time, it just means that you don't set out to completely hose them. Let them be awesome at what they do, let failure happen when it happens.

A handful of generic monster types are included, but a bigger bestiary would have been appreciated. The *World games are utterly hackable, so there's a chapter on making your own Playbooks in case your favorite monster hunting archetype isn't represented, or maybe you're not a fan of The Flake representing a Mulder.

WHAT WORKS: The game closest to this that I have played is tremulus, and readers of the blog know I'm a big fan of that game (and I became a bigger fan after playing it with a group of three). The "Monster of the Week" genre is awesome (I love me some Buffy, Angel, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, etc), and this game does a nice job of tackling the "Kick the Monsters in the Teeth" approach that tremulus does not (by design). Most of your major archetypes are covered in the initial Playbooks, and other books since then have been released (like The Exile, which is spot on for Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane, or Summoned, which does a fine Hellboy).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I would have liked a few more monsters, maybe, though monsters are defined as much by their motivations as they are their stats, and the three monster examples are probably broad enough to give you an idea how to make your own. The "no prep" approach can be exhausting at times, if you aren't used to thinking on your feet (though players who are on board with the genre conventions and narrative flow can help that immensely). Games like this always seem like they could extra clarity, as well. I'm not a big booster of the idea of "limited edition Playbooks", which is a movement that has gained traction in the World Engine community (though I believe I have been lucky enough to get all of the available playbooks for MotW). Lastly, I am really not a big fan of the art. Just doesn't work for me.

CONCLUSION: This is actually on top of the "Would Love To Run" list for me, especially after my two games of tremulus. We tend to fall into "Action Hero" mode in our games, and Monster of the Week is less likely to punish you for that, so I think it would be a good fit for that. Clarity is an issue in the book (when everyone is naming a history tag for the other Hunters, I wasn't 100% sure how you reconcile them - do both apply? Do the players pick the one they like best? Do you just work it out? Because it's pretty easy to get conflicting results, or seems like it would be...the author clarified that you do, in fact, take both options and work it out). In short, the game engine is a blast, especially if your players are bought in on the "Fiction First" approach, and it does a good, if not perfect, job of genre emulation (Angel and Oz, for instance, would both fall under The Monstrous, making it impossible to have them both in a group at the same time). If you wanna do a Buffy/Blade/Hellboy/Sleepy Hollow/Supernatural/X-Files mash-up and you haven't decided on a system yet, this would be a very good choice.