Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For Because You Could Get A CALEXIT


I wouldn't have thought a year ago that this would be the world that I would be finding myself in. So many things have turned upside down, and inside out. I have said for a while that politics have been a part of comics since Superman threw a corrupt politician over the capitol building and Captain America punched Hitler. The medium has provided voices for the disenfranchised and work for people who had a hard time finding work because of their ethnicity, or their religion. Many readers have dumbed down the definition of comics to be their lowest common denominator, the so-called escapism of super-hero comics. But the medium is so much more than just that, and sometimes it takes a comic publisher willing to be more to remind us of that.

I've known about Black Mask Studios for a while, but I have only really seriously been getting into their books over the last year or so. I've been playing catch up, going back and finding these comics because they are some of the best that I have seen in a long time. The creative energy behind this publisher and the comics that they publish is something that I haven't felt since the months leading up to the foundation of DC Comics' Vertigo Comics imprint, or the early days of the comics that Milestone published. What Black Mask Studios is doing is lightning in a bottle.

As good as those imprints were in their respective days, I don't think that we would have seen comics like Kim & Kim or Quantum Teens Are Go! from a publisher like Milestone. We certainly wouldn't have seen such raw and open political commentary as Calexit coming from a mainstream publisher. These aren't just the comics that we should want as comic fans, they are the comics that we need. I think that we have forgotten that what we now call popular culture was meant to be the voice of the disenfranchises, the discontent and the outsiders.



I have a few friends in California. I visited the state for the first time as an adult a couple of years ago. I live in the South. I grew up in the Midwest. California was almost like visiting another country for me, but in a very, very good way. It was also very much like coming home. It isn't a surprise that there has been talk from people in California about succession. We're in a time of unrest unlike any I've personally seen since our country's turmoil of the 1960s. It also isn't a surprise that this unrest would create a work like the Calexit comic.

We are a country that is built upon protest, even though the powers that be would like to simultaneously call back to those bucolic days while simultaneously glossing over the parts about revolution and protest. Reading the first issue of the Calexit comic hit me in a way similar to when I first heard Public Enemy, hearing that mix of intellectual discourse with pure, raw anger at how the world ended up the way that it did. That is a tone that I am hearing more and more from friends (and strangers) as the current political environment continues to grow and build like a psychological mushroom cloud, poisoning everything that it touches as it grows and sweeps across the world.


The is always a need for dissenting voices in our country, in our world. I won't lie, Calexit is a scary ass comic. This sort of story isn't new, you could argue that Brian Wood went over similar ground with his DMZ comic, but compared to Calexit Wood's work feels toothless, tamed. This comic is an angry, confused and sometimes disconsolate voice howling out into the world, not unlike that of the protagonist of the seminal American poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Calexit and Howl are not dissimilar in that they both represent voices of an impetus for change in an age when societal forces are trying to keep change from happening. If you consider Art to be the harbinger of change as I do, then Calexit is the voice of "best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Calexit also has one of the best back matters in comics right now. Writer Pizzolo has interviewed activists and film maker Lexi Alexander to get their perspectives on politics, art and their intersections. It is some pretty powerful stuff, and I think that the interviews add depth and a stunning reality to the fiction of the comic. I hope that Calexit spawns more overt and mature political commentary in comics, across the political spectrum. Calexit is a powerful book and you need to read it with an open mind, regardless of where you are politically. I hope that it can open some eyes and wake up some people as it gives a voice to the completely warranted fears and frustrations of a good part of America.

I will say this: Calexit isn't for everyone. It took me a couple of reads before I became comfortable enough to find a way to talk about the book like I am now. This is why my review is coming out after the release of the book, rather than leading into it. I too had to find my voice to talk about this comic. If you think that comics can be more than just two guys in spandex punching each other in the name of conflict, then you need to read this comic. If you think that we need political discourse and dissent in our country, and our world, then you need to read Calexit. It is an uncomfortable and unflinching comic, but it is also a necessary one. Howl at the world and read this comic.



Monday, May 15, 2017

Catalyst Prime: The Event [Review]


With the Free Comic Book Day comic of Catalyst Prime: The Event, we get to witness the launching of a new comic universe. Catalyst Prime: The Event has echoes of past comics stories like the birth of The Fantastic Four, the White Event in the original New Universe published by Marvel Comics, and the Milestone books published by Milestone Media and published by DC Comics. Each of these comics stories was not only an exploration of "what would happen if?..." but each attempted to look at what could happen if super-powered beings became manifest in worlds that were reflections of the worlds outside of the windows of the comics creators.

This may not have been intentional when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee put together that first Fantastic Four comic, but they created a world that was a reflection of the world that they lived in, complete with people with personal issues and problems. These people lived in a much more complex world than those of previous comic book characters because the world of the Fantastic Four, the worlds of Marvel Comics, dealt with things like politics and coming to terms with their "otherness" in ways that readers who were people of color, or the LGBTQ+ could identify with. Often the creators of these comics could only deal with these issues of otherness in a metaphorical manner, like the mutant X-Men or characters like The Thing that felt like their "monsterness" made them an outsider to the polite society of the rest of the world.

Even when comics like Marvel Comics' New Universe titles had more diverse casts of characters, they would still only deal with a lot of issues in a metaphorical manner. Too much injection of the so-called "real world" would make those who were used to the spotlight of comics characters looking like them feel excluded, as if the representation of characters was a zero sum game. Things like mutants were "okay" as long as they were a metaphor for queer identity, or being a person of color, but too much meant that the people who identified as the core audience for comics felt that they weren't represented.

The debut of the Milestone comics changed a lot of that. Books like Icon or Static or Blood Syndicate or Shadow Cabinet featured character who were African-American, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian and other ethnic groups. Previously there would be non-white characters who would be part of the super group, or who would be the side kick to the white guy super-hero, but now they were getting to be the stars of the books: the headlining heroes and villains of their comic stories. A lot of us take representation in comics for granted because most of the lead characters in the books look like us, but seeing that change, seeing the joy from queer and Hispanic friends as they read comics with characters who looked and loved like they did was a bit of an epiphany for me. And it isn't just that being able to see people who look like you do in comics, for those of us whose ethnicity is on the whiter side of things we get exposed to thoughts and ideas that we wouldn't normally get to see, and this enriches our lives.

So, that is a lot of words about comics that aren't Catalyst Prime: The Event. Written by Christopher Priest and Joseph Illidge, and with art by Marco Turini and Will Rosado, in Catalyst Prime: The Event we get the zero event that launches this new universe. Like with that first Fantastic Four comic, it starts with astronauts going up into space, but instead of it being the space race that impels these astronauts it is instead a potential extinction event. A meteor is coming at Earth, with the potential to destroy it.

This is a story that we've heard before in countless disaster movies of the last few episodes. But is this meteor really as dangerous as it seems? Loreena Payan, the Mexican scientist and business woman who discovered the meteor seems to be manipulating the facts to play things out to her advantage. Is she the hero, or the villain, of our story? It is too early to tell, but whichever path she ends up going down she already has complicated motivations that could make her either, or both, depending upon the story in question. The character of Loreena is obviously going to be the instigator of the Catalyst Prime stories for a while.

The astronauts are believed to be dead, due to the impact with the meteor, but to anyone who has read comics for any period of time it is obvious that, much like the Fantastic Four, the various heroes that we will see debuting in Catalyst Prime books over the next few months will be the astronauts, changed by their encounter with whatever was in space. I would be willing to bet that the debris from the meteor that rained down on the Earth will likely be the trigger event for other super-powered beings within the setting.

I live in one of the seemingly shrinking parts of this country that is an ethnic melting pot. I can turn on the radio, and the television, and hear Spanish voices. I don't have to travel far before billboards and street signs are in Spanish (or at the very least bi-lingual). The trouble is that I don't get to see this world portrayed in the comics that I read very often. I can't imagine what it must be like for the Hispanic people I know, and I wouldn't presume to talk for them. Since it appears that Milestone 2.0 isn't going to happen for a while yet, Catalyst Prime is going to be a window into a world that is like the one that I see every day, outside of my windows and when I go out into it. Is that enough of a reason to call a comic good? I think it is, and I would go a step further and say that comics like this are needed in our comic stores.

Catalyst Prime: The Event is a great comic adventure story. It is entertaining and engaging, and it did exactly what an introductory book is supposed to do: it made me want to read more. It made me want to explore more of this world, and to see the stories of its inhabitants unfold. If your local comic store has a copy of Catalyst Prime: The Event left over from Free Comic Book Day you really need to grab a copy. Then you need to read Noble, the first Catalyst Prime ongoing comic. We really need more comics that are not just diverse, but well-crafted. Catalyst Prime: The Event manages to out Fantastic Four even the Fantastic Four.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

All Time Comics: The Crime Destroyer Rises


Phrases like "revolutionary" and "redefining the genre" get thrown around a lot when reviewers talk about new comic lines coming out. There's a good chance that I will be using one or the other during the course of this review, too. All Time Comics is a new line of super-hero comics coming out from Fantagraphics Books, spearheaded by writer Josh Bayer.

Reading through the preview of this comic was like rereading the Marvel Comics of my youth. A big part of this feeling comes from the art of Herb Trimpe, which is just as vibrant and energetic as it was in the 1980s. But it is more than just nostalgia that makes me feel this way about the book.



Benjamin Marra's inking brings his dynamic style to the book's artwork. The two artists work creates a look for the book that manages to both be classic and ultramodern at the same time. The art of a comic is important in setting the tone for a book, and Trimpe and Marra create a tone that is dynamic and fast paced.

Crime Destroyer is a grindhouse super-hero comic, the exuberance and excitement of super-hero comics is combined with the grit and violence of grindhouse movies to create a unique sensibility. While this book is a throwback to classic Marvel comics it is no all ages, family friendly book either. It certainly isn't the equivalent of an R or X-rated movie by any means, but it bangs its head against the border between a "hard" PG-13 and an R-rated story. There is gore, blood and dismembered bodies scattered throughout the issue.



Like all good stories, Crime Destroyer is a reflection of its time. The is an overt racism to the villains that make them ideal protagonists to an African-American super-hero. This isn't done in a hamfisted manner, unlike with some more mainstream super-hero comics, but it is there, and discernible. I think this is a good thing, as the racism simmers to the top in our own world that people are reminded that it is representative of villainy. Despite the Germanic mythology motif of the villain, they managed to keep the bad guy of the story from being a literal Nazi. Considering the world that we live in, that might be a good thing.

Comics have been socially aware for a long time now, sometimes it seems like there is a segment of the fanbase that is actively trying to discourage that. I'm glad to see that Crime Destroyer is willing to buck that trend.

On Twitter I called the first two All Time Comics (Crime Destroyer and Bullwhip) the real World's Greatest Comic Magazines. There is an energy to them that has been lacking from a lot of Marvel Comics for a while now, Crime Destroyer brings a lot of excitement back to comics. Be sure to grab a copy from your local comic store.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Love Is Love (Review)


A couple of months ago an historic co-publishing venture from IDW Publishing and DC Comics came out, Love Is Love is an anthology comic made up of 1-2 page stories by a variety of writers and artists. The book is a fundraiser for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ+ equality and justice organization here in my home state.

Stylistically, the book is all over the place. This isn't a bad thing, because it is always good to see comic books remember there is more to them than just the super-hero books.

Love Is Love is a response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida last June. Forty-nine people were horribly and brutally killed. When this happened, my first thought was that I had friends in Orlando that weekend, who could have easily been at the club. I was relieved to find out that they were not. Even so, it took me a while to process, and get past, this brutal act of violence. What happened in Orlando should not have happened. We should be a more civilized and enlightened society that not only knows that these things are wrong, but that also does not erase who the victims were. The Pulse Nightclub shooting was, plain and simple, an act of hate against the LGBTQ+ community here in America. We should not be good with that.

This comic was that processing for many of these characters. The stories are, by turn, frightened, angry and depressed. Justifiably so, as well. Works like Love Is Love are a necessary part of the grieving process of an event like the Pulse Nightclub shooting, because seeing the catharsis of others can help with our own processes.

Love Is Love is a powerful comic book that I think should be read by everyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The stories told, while short, are powerful. I hope that people will read it and the emotional outpourings of the stories will change the views of others.

Go out and buy Love Is Love now.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Jess Nevin's Red Planet For Fate Core


With apologies to the Sisters of Mercy:
Red
Red planet
Red
Red world
Yeah, that was bad. Anyway.

It is unfortunate that we don't see the depth and breadth of the science fiction market these days that we would have seen in bookstores 30 or 40 year ago. Once again we are in a phase where, if it isn't the new shiny and written by someone whose native language isn't one of the standardized forms of English we just don't see it. Russia, and the Soviet Union when it existed, has long been a source of thought provoking genre fiction that celebrated perspectives that we don't see from American or English writers.

The "golden age" of Soviet Science Fiction was a particularly optimistic branch of SF to boot, which I'm sure surprises anyone old enough to have grown up during some portion of the Cold War.

Red Planet is a new World of Adventure for the Fate Core rules, available at the OneBookShelf sites as a Pay What You Want PDF. Written by Jess Nevins of The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana and annotating Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fame, the book is an exploration of the tropes of a nearly forgotten sub-genre of Science Fiction of the 1940s and 1950s from the former Soviet Union.

The PDF isn's a long one, only 64 pages in total, but it has a lot packed into those pages.

The science fiction that is celebrated by Red Planet is particularly pulpy, with echos of the American heroic pulps like Doc Savage, or the space opera of Doc Smith or Flash Gordon. The situations are wild and weird, and often blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy. This approach used to be much more common than it is these days, before demographics and marketing became a part of the creative process of genre fiction.

There was a lot of bad things that happened in the real world under the auspices of the Soviet Union, and Communism, and Red Planet does not sugar coat or ignore them. These aren't Alt-Communists softened up for propaganda purposes. In fact, the setting goes far to show that the Communism of the Soviet Union, and the Capitalism of the United States, lead to war and upheaval in their battle for supremacy. The protagonists of the setting, the nation of the Union of Materialist Republics, are a rebellion against both of these cultural forces. The Materialists were colonists on Mars, the Red Planet of the title.

Once on Mars, these colonists sparked a revolution against both their own Communist oppressors back on Earth and the Capitalist enemies of their oppressors. With their rebellion, these colonists became their Union. Their culture is not only their own, but has also assimilated (relatively peacefully) the native Martian populace. The racial makeup of the Union of Materialist Republics is made up of that mix of humans and Martians. The setting of Red Planet can be viewed as similar to the original Buck Rogers stories, just with less Yellow Menace.

The Red Planet of the setting is a Utopia. So to speak.

If it was a perfect utopia, there probably wouldn't be any place for the types of adventurers that we see in role-playing games. There is going to be friction and conflict between those of the Union, with the various social and cultural factions of the Earth. There is also an extradimensional faction of creatures that are not native to the solar system, or the reality, of the setting. They are two-dimensional beings called the Geometrists. The Geometrists have superior technology to Earth or Mars, as well as psychic abilities beyond anything capable of the people of the solar system.

There is also still "space" for exploration in the solar system, so characters of that type will find plenty to do among the stars of the Red Planet setting.

If you're a fan of pulp science fiction like Flash Gordon, or pulpy science fantasy like Star Wars, there will probably be things in Red Planet that will appeal to you. It is remarkable well fleshed out, considering the short page count, and there is plenty of material to spark adventure in the setting. I am glad to see tabletop role-playing publishers striking out from the safety of traditional fantasy setting and creating worlds that are different and challenging to gamers.  If you haven't checked out Nevin's Red Planet, you really should.


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Flashback: Empire of Satanis By Darrick Dishaw

A lot of people probably don't remember the indie RPG known as Empire of Satanis. There are some pretty good reasons for that, but I thought that on this long American holiday weekend that we could take a look at the "classic" game by Darrick Dishaw.

My capsule review is that Empire of Satanis is a jejune attempt at horror role-playing that draws upon the overused tropes of 80s and 90s horror movies that you have probably already seen used (often more intelligently) in a multitude of other games.

He might be better remembered as the guy who "cursed" RPGNet after he received some bad reviews for his game on the site. The "curse" is probably of better quality than some of the writing in Empire of Satanis, which is kind of disappointing. The curse is kind of funny and sad, and definitely worth repeating here:
Hail Satan! Lord of the Pit! King of Hell! Ruler of the Earth! Master of the Abyss! I open the unknowable doorways and touch the violet flame, drink the revitalizing blood and break the skulls of those who cross Him or His brothers. I call upon the most vicious demons of Hell to intervene. From this night forth, you will be plagued by self-doubt, weakness, failure, hopelessness, hunger, pain, loss, insecurity, and envy. Nothing can save you and no one will come to your aid. All who have befriended you will now desert you in your hour of need. 
In the name of the Ancient Ones, I curse those who tear down Empire of Satanis! May Satan have no mercy whatsoever upon your miserable souls. 
Hail Satan! 
So it is done! 
Darrick Dishaw 
However, it does help to demonstrate the mishmash of conflicting influences that went into the game, not to mention how the author seems to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Empire of Satanis is presented as a metatextual attempt at creating a religion that draws upon Satanism and the fictional worlds of H.P. Lovecraft. We will, of course, overlook the obvious inconsistency of using the writings of an avowed atheist as the basis for a religion.

This review looks at the revised and expanded version of the game from 2011.

The presentation isn't much to look at. It looks as though the PDF was made from a Microsoft Word file with minimal formatting and no art. This is DIY RPG at its most basic. The image above is apparently the front cover, but it isn't included in the PDF.

The ideas of this game: demonic forces powered by corruption, Satanic Hell dimensions and progressing through acts of evil are nothing new in RPGs. But games like the horror classic Kult and writers like Rafael Chandler have handled these themes in much more intelligent and entertaining manners.

With Empire of Satanis we get a regurgitation of imagery stolen from movies like Hellraiser.

The presentation of the material moves between first and third person. I would assume that this is an attempt at immersion into the setting of the game. Perhaps it could work with a more skilled hand, as it has with the many other games that have dipped into this overdrawn well of inspiration.

The game outlines a number of demonic races that can be the basis of player characters, as well as some very, very brief ideas on how they react to each other. There are some interesting ideas to be found in this section of the game, but the brevity with which they are handled makes them hard to utilize within the game.

Creatures that you will encounter aren't given writeups, however. Most of the pieces of the setting are only given a page or two of description at most. The information isn't going to be enough to be useful in running a game without a great deal of work on the part of the GM.

Mechanically, the game uses a simple d6-based mechanic. There is an interesting idea to it because, while you roll a certain number of six sided dice each time, you don't add them together. Instead, you just take the highest roll on all of the dice. This is the "success number" for your roll. If it beats the target number of the task being resolved, the character succeeds at that task. Rolls of a six are what is commonly known as an exploding die. Each six is rerolled, until you get something other than a six. Add all of those together for the "success number."

On the surface, this mechanic is simple and it seems like a good way to handle things. But, the problem is that there aren't any modifiers to rolls that will significantly impact the resolution checks. This means that, without an exploding die action, characters will never be able to succeed at tasks more difficult than the highest number on the six-siders. Ironically, this means that a character can't succeed at an average (target number of 7) difficulty task or higher. That sounds like it could be a problem for characters.

There are interesting mechanical ideas that fall flat because the implementation of them haven't been thought out by the designer.

The character creation rules are jumbled. Things that should be advantages, or special abilities, for characters are instead set up as skills. This means that a character's inborn ability to see in the "secret darkness of the universe" will as often as not fail. That kind of sucks for a character.

Now, the "indieness" of the game comes in the "story alteration" mechanic. Again, it is a good idea spoiled by a mechanical implementation that was not thought out by the designer. The player gets to "declare a basic idea" of what will happen, and then they roll a single d6. On a six, the player's idea occurs in the game. This is a popular idea that you see in a lot of indie games anymore. There is a sort of sacrifice that is built into the game, where you can spend points of the character's Social Standing attribute, or Hit Points, to modify the story alteration roll. These expenditures can change the chances from 1 in 6 to 3 in 6.

Magic is freeform in the game (which probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone). Damage is easy, you pick a difficulty for your spell, and that is how much damage it does. Of course, due to what I talked about earlier, your character isn't going to be able to get an Average difficulty success or better.

Basically, Empire of Satanis is a role-playing game like so many that has a lot more enthusiasm than merit, rending the game to be practically unplayable by gaming groups. The background could be of use with a gaming system that works, and it wouldn't take anymore work to get the setting material to work in that setting than it would to use it with the "system" presented in this book.

The book is also peppered with enough Thomas Ligotti quotes that he should get a cut of the profits.

Check out the links provided at the top of this post. The PDF is freely available at Lulu.com. I think that you'll find out that I'm not exaggerating about the lack of quality in this game. Empire of Satanis isn't even FATAL, because at least the awfulness of that game was original. You aren't going to find anything original in Empire of Satanis.

Dishaw is still nipping at the edges of the online RPG scene, these days under the uninspired nom du guerre of Venger Satanis. These days his strategies seem to be built around whipping angry, middle aged white guys into a frenzy over a world that has passed them by. Like a lot of "personalities" in the online RPG community, whipping up anger is easier than having creativity.

I await the flood of minions sealioning this post. I thank you in advance for the traffic to my blog.



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Before The OSR -- Talking True20


In those dark days at the end of the D&D 3.x era, I cast around looking for something simpler. My tastes in gaming were in flux, and I found myself wanting something that was a lot less complicated, but still let me have games with some robust characters in them. And along came Green Ronin's True20 game.

Based off of the D20 SRD and rules from Unearthed Arcana and Green Ronin's Witches Handbook (also by Kenson), designer Steve Kenson created a streamlined set of rules that were robust and still recognizable as being derived from the D20 rules. Originally designed for the first edition of the Blue Rose RPG, the True20 rules were like a breath of fresh air. And Blue Rose was great for more reasons than just the system. The game's setting material broke with the traditions of fantasy gaming and distanced itself from fantasy influences like Tolkien, Moorcock and Howard, and embraced the "romantic" fantasy genre exemplified by authors such as Diane Duane, Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce and others.

It was a nice breath of fresh air to see other genres getting some representation in fantasy gaming. Unfortunately some gamers, those who were used to their tastes being catered to, lost their shit over the fast that someone dared make a game that didn't allow them to continue to play in their same, safe fantasy settings.

I ended up playing the hell out of Blue Rose, and then when the generic True20 came out, I was even happier because then I could take a solid ruleset and use them for other genres besides just fantasy.

Here's some of the things that True20 gets right:

  • It uses the stat modifiers instead of the ability scores to quantify your character's abilities.
  • There are only three, fairly freeform, and broadly defined classes (adapted from the open content material of WotC's Unearthed Arcana for 3.x), and modifies them with Backgrounds and Paths to give you more customization options for your characters.
  • It gets ride of the long, long, long spell lists and replaces it with an again freeform Feat-based system, derived from the magic system for Witches that Kenson created in the Witches Handbook for 3.x from Green Ronin.
  • It seriously streamlines the skill lists.
  • Magic works in the exact same way as skills, so all of the task resolution revolves around the 20-sided die. The game uses just one dice.
  • Damage uses a Saving Throw rather ran a dynamic number that comes from rolling more dice. This streamlines combat further, meaning that there is a lot less dice rolling in the game and everything does faster.
A lot of this is fairly standard practice in a number of games now, but in 2005 while all of our heads were reeling from the hundreds, if not thousands, of D&D 3.x books that came out from Wizards of the Coast and pretty much every other publisher in tabletop RPGs, this was a breath of fresh air.

The timing of all of this coming out couldn't have been more fortuitous for me, because I needed something simpler, something that was easily available for players. True20 fit that bill rather nicely.

There was also a nice level of support. Green Ronin and a variety of third party publishers produced setting material for the system, and Green Ronin had supplements expanding each of the casses (and giving examples for using them in genres outside of just fantasy).

I won't say that there wasn't anything bad about True20, for example the importance of Feats meant that there were a lot of Feats in the rules and supplements. With a Feat-based powers system, that meant needing a lot of Feats in your games. Yes, they were slightly streamlined from "standard" D20 Feats, but each one still ended up being a special case for the rules. Depending on the type of campaign that you were running, that could mean a lot of Feats, and a lot of things to remember.

That didn't bother my games at the time, since we were all still dealing with a lot less complexity than we had been used to with our D&D or D20 Modern games at the time. So, it was all a matter of scale to us.

For those wondering about the title of this post, let me make a transition.

I got into True20 for much the same reasons that I would (eventually) get into Old School Renaissance games: I was looking for a much simpler approach to gaming. A few years back, when +Ethel B+David Rollins+Josh Thompson and eventually +Stacy Dellorfano got together to start playing fantasy games, we could have just as easily been playing a True20 game. In fact, we almost did.

When drafting +Ethel B into tabletop RPGs from MMOs like World of Warcraft, I went to look for simplicity. I didn't want her to deal with learning a bunch of complex rules and then find out she wasn't interested in RPGs. I wanted to "keep it simple, stupid" and find an easy to Grok, easy to run fantasy game that I could run via video chat. The first game on my list was True20, but I started nosing around the internet and discovered the whole retroclone movement where people were rebuilding early editions of D&D using the open content from the D20 SRD (much in the same way that Steve Kenson developed the True20 rules).

I started reading about games like Swords & Wizardry and the Basic Fantasy RPG and realized that I had found what I was looking for. These games were even simpler than True20. Reading up on the varieties of rules, I ended up deciding upon Swords & Wizardry Whitebox (with a couple of tweaks so that we could have thieves in our game) and we were off and gaming for more than three years now (and +Ethel B has attended two Gen Cons with an eye on her third).

There are probably a lot of things that could have gone a lot differently if I had decided to use True20 as my ruleset back when I was starting out.

I will also remind people of the standard rules around this blog:

https://xkcd.com/1357/




Friday, November 20, 2015

'Tis The Season...To Kill Them And Take Their Stuff

There's a new Munchkin set in town (and it isn't that super-cool looking Marvel one that's making all of the social media rounds). This is Munchkin: Christmas Lite, and what makes it cool is that it is a casual version of Munchkin designed to be played in about an hour.


"What?" I hear you asking. "Isn't Munchkin already a casual game?"

Well, yes, but this is a casualer...more casual...version of the same game. You play a game in an hour. Honestly, that is a great thing. I am hoping that this means that we're going to see more casual versions of this game line. I'd love to see a basic version of Munchkin itself boiled down into a couple of decks, that you can just easily carry around and play in a smaller space. This is what makes games like Fluxx (and its near endless varieties) such a great game, you can toss it into a purse or backpack or handy Think Geek Bag of Holding and whip it out at places like the coffee shop to play.

The easier it is to play and move these games around, the easier it will also be to recruit new people and make new gamers.



Underneath, this is still the same Munchkin, so it you know how to play the game you aren't going to have to learn anything new. Because they went for compact and portable, some things are missing. There's no die, and you will have to come up with your own method of level counters. But, I think taking a die from another set (because you do have other Munchkin sets in your house...right?) or grabbing a couple of index cards to use as counters(or even if you just write on the back of one of those coffee shop napkins) fixes this quickly and easily.

I am a great advocate of casual gaming. I like my games, across the board, to be simple and portable, but with enough scalability to be able to add more detail if it is wanted by the people playing. The Munchkin games are pretty good about that, and there are enough sets these days that there should be a Munchkin that will appeal to almost anyone.

Like I said, I hope that this is successful enough that we see a Munchkin Lite. I think that it, and Munchkin: Christmas Lite, will be excellent for the casual gamers in your life.

This game costs $9.95 and will only be available until January (or they run out), so grab yours soon.

As a side, if we're making requests for casualer versions of Steve Jackson Games' games, I would like to put in my request for a quick and easy playing version of Illuminati. Please and thank you, as the kids say.



Monday, October 05, 2015

Talking Stormbringer

Recently I came into some stuff for the early editions of Chaosium's Stormbringer game. This fills a hole in what I actually do collect in gaming because, even though Michael Moorcock is one of the few fantasy writers whose work I enjoy, because I never really liked the early editions of the game. What I wish that I could tell my younger self is that a game can still be good, even if it doesn't fulfill what it is trying to do.

I'm sure that's a confusing sentiment. Hopefully, I will make it clearer as I put this post together.

I picked up on the second edition of Stormbringer, and the supplement/stand alone game (don't ask, it was the 80s) Hawkmoon, both adapted from the works of British fantasist Michael Moorcock, when a friend brought them to college with him. I was already familiar with Chaosium's horror game Call of Cthulhu, because I had picked up one of the boxed sets while I was in college, and I had a passing familiarity with Runequest at this point, but Stormbringer was new to me. I borrowed the two boxed sets that he had in his dorm room and read them (each game is probably less than 100 pages of text, so this wasn't that hard). My diagnosis? I hated the game. I felt that, despite being a well made game, it did a bad job of simulating Moorcock's works, and because of that I wasn't interested in the game. I wouldn't come back to the game until the Elric! edition (probably closest to being a 4.5 edition of the rules) a number of years later.

While I still think that the first few editions of the game aren't very good at simulating Moorcock's works, I do think that Stormbringer (talking the first through third editions) is probably one of the best dark fantasy games, perhaps second only to first edition Warhammer) that the RPG "business" has managed to produce.

I admit that I have never really been a huge fan of the Dungeons & Dragons stream of fantasy role-playing games. Class and level based games just don't get me as interested, which is why I am more interested in the games that Chaosium has produced over the years. I love dark fantasy. Whether we're talking about Moorcock or Smith or Howard or any number of other writers in the genre, that kind of fantasy gets me a lot more interested than the works of Tolkien or his imitators. This is why I regret missing out on Stormbringer for so many years.


Really, we have two "streams" of Stormbringer. I don't want to call them editions (since there were in fact five or so editions of the game), but there was definitely a philosophical shift in the game between the third edition (produced by Chaosium in conjunction with Games Workshop...which would inspire the creation of their house game Warhammer) and the fourth edition. While the game did move closer to the source material with the fourth edition, it also managed to somehow become more generic at the same time. I'm not really sure how that happened. For the rest of this post, I'll refer to the first three editions as Early Stormbringer and 4th, Elric! and 5th edition as Later Stormbringer. There's no real judgment in this split, it just seems the best way to break up the conversation.

Why do I think that Early Stormbringer is such a great dark fantasy game? Where other RPGs had magic-users who could throw fireballs, Early Stormbringer would have your sorcerer character summon and bind a fire elemental to their will and then compel it to throw fire at your opponents (or perhaps you could even throw an elemental at people, even though this would be a wasteful use of an elemental). This flavor difference alone makes for a whole new gaming "ballgame." In the Later Stormbringer, this was diluted by the addition of spells with more traditional effects.

"Classes" in the game aren't really classes in the sense of D&D, and they aren't yet quite the Professions or Occupations that we will find later in other Basic Roleplaying Games, either. They are a cluster of skills and bonuses to skills that make character generation go quicker. When you have a class-based game and you want a "Fighter," you just pick the appropriate class, roll up some attributes and go. In games like Runequest this process can take longer because you have to pick out all of the relevant skills and everything else. Stormbringer shortened this process with their classes. Combined with random determination, it might actually make Early Stormbringer characters as fast to make as an early edition D&D character. And considering how fragile characters could be in either game, fast character generation could be important.

As often as not in the early days of gaming, I think that Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin accidentally created a game that was so much better than the one that they intended to create. For example, Stormbringer characters were much more "heroic" than early edition D&D characters, without being the "super-heroes" that a lot of old school gamers disdain. I like a "heroic" character much more than I like the zero-to-hero approach. I want to play Conan or Elric. I don't want to play the guy who is going to be Conan or Elric.

I think that much of the stripped down and quicker approach of the rules owes itself to the design sensibilities of St. Andre. His Tunnels & Trolls rules were the definition of stripped down, in an era when even D&D didn't have a lot of rules. His approach to gaming is to keep things simple. Combined with the sensibilities that would bridge between how D&D was played and how Runequest would be formulated (Perrin came up with the highly influential and widely adopted D&D house rules known as the Perrin Conventions that would inform the creation of the Runequest rules), Stormbringer is a tight little example of how a game can be simple while still being a highly robust engine.

If I had to state a preference between Early Stormbringer and Later Stormbringer, it would probably have to be for Early Stormbringer. The simplicity, the ingenuity and the robustness of the design all combine in a game that hits a sweet spot for me. The best part is that the fact that, for me, it didn't do a good job at simulating Moorcock's work just means that it all that much better of a game to use for a variety of campaigns that I would like. I wish that I could go back and tell my younger self to get over it and play the damn game. This way I would have decades of fun with this game behind me, and I probably would have spent a lot less time looking for "the right game" for my fantasy needs. Luckily, that isn't a worry anymore.

I think that I want to add a Red Sonja game using Early Stormbringer to my gaming bucket list now.

If you're interested in a "clone" of Later Stormbringer (the Elric! version and 5th edition), be sure to check out Chaosium's excellent Magic World game. This is (basically) Stormbringer 5e with the specific Moorock-related IP stripped out, leaving behind a really good set of fantasy rules. Unfortunately no "clone" of the earlier, more rollicking, editions of Stormbringer yet exists. Stormbringer also still exerts an influence on contemporary role-playing games. The seminal indie game Sorcerer by Ron Edwards shows an influence of the demon summoning from Stormbringer in its own demon summoning rules.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Quick Looks At Whitehack And The Complete Vivimancer

After today, the blog will go radio silent for a couple of days while I deal with the last minute stuff that comes with Gen Con happening on Wednesday. Be sure to follow my Twitter for up to date information and scintillating pictures of airports while I travel from Tampa to Indianapolis on Wednesday. Also, +Ethel B will be posting to the blog during Gen Con as well, so watch for what she will have to say.

So, before the radio silence I wanted to get a couple of short, capsule reviews out of the way while they were still on my mind. Neither of these are really new books, but they are new to me.

I am thinking of giving Labyrinth Lord a try for the next fantasy game. The group has played a lot of Swords & Wizardry, and I have nothing against that game however sometimes you need a palate cleanser. I ordered a couple of books from various sources to use as resource for when such a game  arises. The first book to arrive was Gavin Norman's The Complete Vivimancer. I had heard good things for a while about this book, and I have the PDF of Norman's earlier Theorems & Thaumaturgy, which had a lot of interesting ideas in it.

I love weird fantasy stuff, and I love spell books for fantasy games (they are my favorite types of supplements for fantasy RPGs), so this should have been a big hit for me. Guess what? It was.

This slim A5 books is basically a "splatbook" for the Vivimancer class created by Norman. They are a spell-casting class that focuses on "bio-sorcery," which is, for all intents and purposes, magic that impacts the body. Whether via sorcerous genetic alterations to people, animals and plants or through physical or mental alterations to the Vivimancer or their targets, there is a lot to add to games in this book.

Campaigns with the Vivimancer will probably quickly move to horror, and even body horror, genre explorations, so if you don't want these elements in your campaigns then this might not be the book for you. However, even if you just use this book to plunder for new spells for the Magic-Users in your campaigns, instead of using the Vivimancer wholesale, there is still a lot to get out of this book. The Complete Vivimancer contains a write up of the new class, 130 new spells (and complete "Basic" and "Advanced" spell lists for the class), a sampling of squicky new magical items and some rules for the use of magical laboratories in your games.

Obviously, with the basic similarity of many OSR systems, this book can be used not just with Labyrinth Lord, but with Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess as well. In fact the Vivimancer would probably be at home in most Lamentations games. I would let parents be the judge, but this book probably wouldn't be suitable for most games with younger players involved in them. You can even use this book with your Basic and Expert D&D books to bring a weird fantasy edge to your games.

I can't wait to use this in my next fantasy game. The fact that flipping through the pages have given me many ideas, not all of which are player-character friendly, is a good thing. I thoroughly recommend this book and suggest that everyone who runs an old school game grab a copy of it.

Next up is Whitehack. I have to give a shoutout to +Brian Isikoff for this book, because he had a copy of it sent to me a couple of months ago now. Based off of the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox rules, Whitehack does the unthinkable...it streamlines those rules. Whitehack is available in two versions the "Standard" edition (which I have), which contains all of the Whitehack rules, and the "Notebook" edition, which contains all of the rules and 192 pages of "notebook" space that you can use to fill in with notes for your campaign, characters or anything else that you might want to use the notebook space for. The notebook edition is a pretty cool idea.

I think that our regular group would enjoy the Whitehack rules, but since we are an online only group, the lack of a PDF version of the rules makes this a hard sell. $28 might not be a lot, but it is a lot to spend on something that we might end up only playing for a few sessions. Honestly, this lack of a PDF was about the only thing that I didn't like about Whitehack.

One thing that others might not like about Whitehack is the fact that there is no art in the book. Just rules. This would be a deal breaker for many, but wasn't as big of a deal for me. The design and layout of the book reminded me of a textbook almost. Keep in mind before making a snap decision that the book is only 64 6x9 pages. There is a lot packed into those pages, however.

Everything that you need to play is in the book. Instead of the standard D&D classes, this game goes with more abstract character classes: The Wise, The Stong and the Deft. These classes are much more archetypal than your standard D&D classes, which means that you can build a lot of concepts that might not easily fit into the standard classes with Whitehack classes. Another concept, which I think was inspired by video games, that was interesting was the idea "rare" character classes. The idea of rare classes is that they aren't available as starting characters, but are "unlocked" if a character dies during a campaign, in case a player would be interested in creating a different sort of character.

Spell effects are similarly abstract, and instead of traditional spell lists you instead create your characters spells on the fly, using their class and descriptors as guides to what the character might be capable of doing.

I like the abstraction in this game. Old D&D was already a fairly abstract game, so you don't loss much in translation when you abstract it further. Whitehack would be a good game for people who are looking for some more modern approaches to the workings of games, while keeping the simplicity and abstraction of old school D&D.

If is definitely worth checking out, along with The Complete Vivimancer. These two books are examples of why we are in such a golden age of gaming right now.

Well, there probably won't be any posts until I arrive at Gen Con (you never know if this would change), and if you are a reader of the blog and attending Gen Con please try to track me down and say hello. Check the link to my Twitter feed at the beginning of this post, and my post about Gen Con from the other day, for the most up to date information about where I may be while at the convention.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Cypher System Rulebook From Monte Cook Games


The Cypher System Rulebook is coming from Monte Cook Games (or conversely it might have already arrived by the time that you are reading this). With the Cypher System Rulebook, Monte Cook and company have taken the rules that debuted in their highly successful Numenera RPG, and were further refined in the collaboration between Cook and fellow designer Bruce Cordell in The Strange RPG.

Featuring a streamlined "class" based system for character creation, and simple rules that allow for quick and easy play, the Cypher System rules hit a lot of sweet spots for me. Where Numenera was one of my Must Have games last year at Gen Con, the Cypher System Rulebook will be one of the top games of 2015. Hyperbole? Maybe, but I can count on one hand anymore the number of new games out there that make me want to play them just by reading the rules and the Cypher System Rulebook is one of those games. Is it going to revolutionize gaming? No, probably not, but if it motivates others to want to play it in the way that it does me it is going to build one hell of a following.

Character creation is relatively quick and class-based. The quickness comes in that you get a lot of the basics from the class (called character type in the rules), which you then customize to make the character that you want. Special abilities are given to a character at each tier of progression (think character level) which allow you to fine tune the concept of your character and customize them as their story progresses. Unlike a lot of class and level-based RPGs, however, progressing through the tiers isn't going to mean that your character is going to change a great deal during play, but instead moves along the path of their story, allowing it to change them. Cypher System characters are not zero to hero types, starting as fairly proficient characters and becoming moreso as they go.


There is some of the DNA of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons to be found in the Cypher System, which makes sense since Cook was one of the main architects of that game. I see these rules as a progression of those, changing as the designer's tastes and interests in gaming change over time. Knowing that Cook had been one of the designers of the fifth edition of D&D, along with The Strange RPG co-creator Cordell, it makes me wonder who much of this system could have been the game that we could have gotten if Cook and Wizards of the Coast had not parted ways? I will say this, if some version of these rules had powered D&D 5e, I would probably still be playing that game now.

Old school players and game masters will find this game an interesting one. Like with the D&D 5e rules, there is a current of influence of the older D&D editions that run through the Cypher System Rulebook. The simplified approach to play, and the ease of character creation, show this influence and the underlying rules for Cyphers in the game hark back to a lot of the handling of magic items and treasure in older editions of D&D. Like in older editions, the stats of characters are relatively unchanging, and not directly linked to play, which leaves transient Cyphers to influence and inspire your character to great heights beyond what the character sheet might tell you during play. Like the potions or belts of power of old, Cyphers help to describe the world that you are playing in and also give edges to the characters during play.

Stats are interesting because, while they can show how strong or quick that a character may be, they don't directly impact play. Unlike the more recent editions of D&D, the stats do not directly modify your rolls they instead provide a pool of points that can be spent to give your character situational benefits, or sometimes help to power special abilities. This abstraction is definitely a feature for me, but I can see where it might bother others. In this approach to stats, the abstraction helps to enforce the cinematic nature of characters and play in a way that makes better sense to me than with some other systems out there.

While character types are fairly generic, which is the point since this is a generic game, you can customize characters for genre or setting through Flavors and Descriptors. Flavors are optional rules, they are basically a separate set of tier-based special abilities that can be swapped for abilities in your character's type that makes them more unique and flavorful. For instance you can apply the Combat Flavor to your Speaker (the charisma-based character type) to make a character that is like a battle-oriented bard. You can add the Magic Flavor to your Explorer to make a street-savvy occult investigator for your game. The idea behind flavors is that they open up the possibilities for your characters, making them more of a part of the world which they are exploring and less a generic "cipher." Flavors are also where GM customization comes in. You can create Flavors that are specific to the game's world.

Descriptors are character traits, terms that help describe your character and can give them some additional special abilities. Think of them almost like a feat in the recent D&D editions, but you only take this once, during character creation.


Other than the special ability choices that come with progressing to each tier, there really aren't a lot of choices to make for a Cypher System character. While you pick a couple of new ones from the list of tier abilities each time your character "levels up," that is it. There are no exploding lists of feats or combat options to bog down character creation, or advancement, or to give players a fatigue of choices. Many of these options, like Flavors, don't have to be used...cutting down on the number of choices that are made at each level. Regardless, you still end up with robust and unique characters at each tier of play, and it is still easy enough to customize characters that a group can have two warriors and they look different from each other in substantive ways.

One thing that might trip up some groups is the fact that players make all of the rolls in a Cypher System game. Players make attack rolls when attacking some monster and players make defense rolls when they are in turn attacked. Yes, you probably could change this, but the way that the system is set up makes doing all of this simple enough that it really shouldn't slow down play.

The lack of GM-oriented rolls are made up for by what the Cypher System calls "GM Intrusions." GM intrusions are where the GM can inject excitement into a game. A character accidentally drops their weapon. A monster is where they aren't supposed to be. Something goes wrong and now the characters have to do something about it. Some might see this as making a rule out of the GM "being a dick," but at its heart it is an abstraction of things like wandering monster tables from the older editions of D&D that could bring sudden action, that the players or characters might not really like, into the game. It can be a pacing mechanism to speed up or slow down play, to punctuation quiet with a bit of excitement or terror for the characters.

The GM intrusion is also one of the methods for giving XP in the game. When the GM makes an intrusion on a character, they are offered 2 XP for that. That player must then turn around and give one of those XP to another player at the table. You can give that XP as a reward for being particularly entertaining during the session, or because their character helped yours out when they needed it.

What differentiates a GM intrusion from something like a wandering monster table is that the player can choose to opt out of an intrusion by paying the GM one of their XP instead. This is a compelling sounding mechanic that might be familiar to some gamers.

The Cypher System Rulebook is rounded out with a selection of creatures for various genres. GMs could also fairly easily adapt creatures from Numenera or The Strange to their games as well. There are also explanations of various popular role-playing genres, and how a GM can customize the rules to be used in those genres. At over 400 pages, this isn't a small book by any stretch of the imagination, but it gives you everything that you need for play. This is not a basic game, or the expert rules. This is a self-contained game.

These rules are built upon a solid foundation of the great rules found in Numenera, and then expanded through The Strange and countless hours of play by the designers and fans. The Cypher System Rulebook does not invalidate those earlier games, but builds upon them. There are options, like Flavors, that can be folded back into the rules of the earlier games as well, expanding your options for those games. The Cypher System Rulebook is a great game and if you haven't already tried one of the other versions of the game, you should definitely check this one out. This game will be good for those who may already have a setting in mind, and just want a set of rules that allow them to play in that world. The Cypher System Rulebook is that set of rules. Check it out and see for yourself.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mythoard! Mythoard! Mythoard!


It takes a little more than saying its name three time to get a Mythoard subscription box, but if you're a tabletop gamer it is something that you should look into. The June box goes out in a matter of hours from this post, so if you want to get in on the goodness, now would be the time to do so.

I admit that I have been sitting on talking about the April and May boxes for a bit, but I will say that I've followed Mythoard and gotten most of the boxes since its January launch. I love the idea of an inexpensive and diverse "box" of gaming related stuff. If I had a complaint, it would be that there is too much of a reliance on "old school" materials for the boxes. The material is great, don't get me wrong, but it will limit the growth of the service.

Just as an aside, if you are a publisher and you would like to get your stuff into the hands of Mythoard subscribers, you should go to the site's contact page for more information. There is a lot of options available in gaming, and inside of the various "sides" of tabletop players sniping at each other we really should look to more cross-pollination and looking at each other's games. There is a lot of interesting stuff to be found in gaming these days, regardless of what style or approach you have to gaming.

Anyway...


The April box had some interesting stuff to it, including a Dungeon World adventure, and an adventure for Pathfinder. Lichfield looks like an interesting adventure, certainly a bit darker than a lot of published adventures...but I am a big fan of dark fantasy, so this is a selling point for me. I also love the Mike Mignola-styled art throughout the adventure. Good stuff. Don't play Dragon World? It shouldn't be too difficult to figure out a conversion to your favorite fantasy RPG. You know how in the older editions of D&D your character would reach a point in their career where they would build/take a stronghold, or their class' equivalent? Well, the idea of For Rent, Lease or Conquest is build around that idea. Built for 7th level Pathfinder adventurers, this module takes an irreverent look at that idea...and how things can go terribly wrong with it.

Lichfield was also an exclusive item for the April box.

The box is then rounded out with an issue of the the Oubliette zine. Inside you'll find some interesting new spells, magic items and monsters for your fantasy games. They're written for Labyrinth Lord, but easily applicable to your favorite fantasy RPG.

The weak spot of the April box would be the old Judges Guild reproductions. Not that these are bad reproductions, or bad adventures, but both of them are for the long out of print Dragonquest RPG. Why is this bad? Well, at least with the explosion of early edition D&D clones, old material from the early editions of those games can find some use. Not so much with Dragonquest, which has no such clones available. I will admit that I was never a fan of the game, even though I still have my mouldering copy put away with my gaming stuff. I think


The May Mythoard box was interesting, and only one ruleset away from having everything that you need to get a roleplaying game going. This box included a set of very pretty Chessex dice (the second that Mythoard has done). Some people swear by Gamescience (and I have a couple of sets of dice by them, too) but for my money Chessex makes some of the besst, and easiest to read, dice on the market. It is really hard to beat Chessex dice.

The White Box Omnibus by James Spahn's Barrel Rider Games is a nice expansion of Matt Finch's basic Swords & Wizardry White Box rules (linked in PDF form in the paragraph above, if you don't already have a copy of the game). This was a distillation of the earliest version of the D&D game, before Thieves were characters and when all hit dice were d6s. I've played this version of the game, in fact I used White Box to introduce a friend to gaming, but in the long term its appeal for me starts to wear thin. I prefer weapons having a range of damage dice, and the classes having different hit dice. I also think that it isn't D&D without a Thief, but that's just me. Regardless, Spahn has put together an interesting selection of new classes, magic items and creatures for White Box that can be easily adapted to your preferred "old school" rules. There are also a couple of adventures and an overview of a setting that can be used to get your campaign going. Both of which are very important for the harried GM without a lot of time.

I will say that I love the Judges Guild reproductions, even the ones for Dragonquest in the previous box, because they provide us with a snapshot of what people were doing in gaming back in the early days, rather than the supposition and speculation that we get from a lot of blogs. The Dungeoneer reproduction issue gives us a peak into what early gamers were thinking, much like reading old issues of Dragon or White Dwarf. For people interesting in getting a real perspective onto the early years of gaming, this is an invaluable resource. Plus! The Dungeoneer has a vampire class that is useable with OD&D or your favorite retroclone. How cool is that?

The rest of the box is rounded out by a one page adventure and some various GMing aids. The Quest Essentials Doors deck from MillieModels is interesting because it gives you some images of various kinds of doors and traps that could be encountered in the dungeon by adventurers and stats them out (for the Pathfinder RPG, but as always, easy enough to convert to your favorite fantasy game).

So here we have it, the April and May boxes from Mythoard. Both have their pros and cons, but both have materials in them that could be of use to gamers and their games. Like I said earlier, I would like to see more publishers support this undertaking with a greater variety of gaming options. Diversity is always a good thing. I recommend that all publishers who read this check out the Mythoard contact information, and find something, print or electronic, that can be used to support this fine service.

Oh, and if you aren't a subscriber yet...you need to check out Mythoard now.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Lest We Forget...The Goodness of Hulks And Horrors

A couple of years ago, after an ill-fated attempt to run the mess that is Machinations of the Space Princess, and still wanting to give some science fiction role-playing a chance, we switched to Hulks & Horrors for a few sessions for our After Earth campaign. Unfortunately some fluctuations in our group put the kibosh on that game. The one thing that we did enjoy was the system of Hulks & Horrors. This is a great little game that, like so many in our super saturated RPG "market," didn't really gain the foothold that it deserved.

Sadly, there is still a strong "What can I buy now?" element to gaming communities that tend to drive a mentality of "what's next" commercialism. For better or worse, this means that game are bought and then never used before the next wave of games are bought (and not used). I admit that I've never really had a collector's gene (despite all the comics that I own), and the idea of buying things just to collect them, rather than to use them is rather alien to me. My only problem with this whole cycle is that we tend to end up with subpar, or uninspired games that are being produced solely to be put up on a shelf somewhere.

One of the reasons that I liked Hulks & Horrors was because it took the simplicity of a game that I liked (Swords & Wizardry Whitebox) and took out some of the things that I didn't like about that game. As much as I like the simplicity of Whitebox, sooner or later the whole all damage is measured in d6s starts to bother me. Hulks & Horrors isn't derived from Whitebox, so that isn't why I am making the comparison between the two games.  In Hulks & Horrors, Berry went back to the open content of the 3.x SRD and then used them to create his new game, using the paradigms of older editions and an o school style of play.

Part of why Hulks & Horrors succeeded for us was because it was a lot less complicated of a ruleset than Machinations of the Space Princess, in fact Hulks & Horrors succeeded in capturing the old school simplicity that escaped Machinations. Where Machinations added a great deal of unnecessary detail to character creation and combat, Hulks & Horrors kept it simple and made for a much more playable game than Machinations.

Other than the spectacular art from Satine Phoenix, there really wasn't much to Machinations, or to the "Metal Hurlant" atmosphere that it claimed to support. While Hulks & Horrors doesn't claim to support such a style of play, there is also nothing that keeps you from playing this sort of campaign with the game. That is one of the appeals to an old school style of play, the lack of explicit support doesn't mean that you cannot use a game in that style. You can even take Hulks & Horrors sister game (using a variant of the same system), Arcana Rising, and use it to add magic to your science fiction.

From what you get in the game, I think that Hulks & Horrors supports a sort of classic star traveling science fiction with elements of the 40k Universe. You could very easily dial up the 40K-ness of the "setting" of the game with the addition of monsters and some back story.  The existing classes (Pilot, Scientist, Soldier and Psyker) could easily be ramped up to support this. For Judge Dredd fans, you could easily reskin the classes to be departments of the Justice Department and run with it. One of the reasons that I like the Scientist class is because its inspirations are a mashup of Doctor McCoy and the Doctor.

Like many old school inspired games, Hulks & Horrors doesn't have an explicit setting. Instead the ideas of the setting are revealed through the details of the character classes, and through the monsters included. This is what makes games like this so easy to hack. For example, I would say that the one thing that Hulks & Horrors would not do as well out of the box is to support a Star Wars-inspired kind of game. You could add on to it to do that, Jedi-inspired classes are a dime a dozen out there on the internet, and because of the game having the commonality of D&D as the base, conversion is fairly easy.

So, really, this is a lot of words telling you to go back and check out an overlooked game that deserves more love than it receives. I think that it will pay you back with hours of gaming fun, and stories to tell your fellow gamers for years to come.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Carpe Noctem From Hashtag Comics [NSFW Previews]

Hashtag Comics is a new publisher who is sem-local to me. I met writer Martin Dunn last year at the Tampa Bay Comic-Con, and now we run into each other at local events and comic stores. After running into each other recently at Heroes Haven over in Tampa, he told me about a new publisher that he was involved with, and a book that he was writing for them. Pixel crossed the internet and I found myself with some previews to read. Hashtag Comics has an interesting approach as a publisher because they publish comics geared towards a more adult audience, as well as more family friendly titles as well.

Carpe Noctem is on the less family-friendly, more "adult" end of their publishing spectrum. The first issue was raw, and I found it very reminiscent of 90s Horror Comics, but in the hands of Dunn and artist Derrick Fish the story manages to rise above many of the cliches of this particularly genre/style of comic book story.

There is blood, and violence and sex. This is a story about vampires, werewolves and other things that go "bump" in the night, and telling stories about these sorts of creatures would be difficult without at least the blood and violence. I would be disappointed in a vampire comic that didn't have blood in it.

Carpe Noctem also has some intriguing concepts in it, ideas that elevate it about the average. The Auditors are ancient, eldritch beings that manage to avoid the Lovecraftian cliches that usually come with "Old Ones" and "Eldritch Beings" in comics, or a lot of horror for that matter. It is the task of the Auditors to keep the supernatural world a secret, often through dark means. In this first issue we are introduced to Chelsea, who is going to be the viewpoint character for the readers, the one through whom the supernatural world is revealed.

[Previews and more adult material after the jump]

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Slumbering Ursine Dunes

Are you one of the people who didn't back +Chris Kutalik's Slumbering Ursine Dunes on Kickstarter who is on the lookout for a good module for your old school D&Dish games? Well, you are in luck because the PDF is now available via fine purveyors of RPG materials online.

This is not your cookie cutter adventure. I really liked the weirdness of the adventure (War bear soldiers? Yes, please.) and Kutalik's use of a Moorcockian influence that wasn't Elric. I am not hating on Elric, it is just that there is a lot of good stories by Moorcock that didn't feature everyone's favorite albino sorcerer. It is good to see some of them making it into the inspirations for a role-playing adventure.

Written for Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord retroclone, you can easily fit this into a campaign for any game build around similar mechanics to those of the early editions of D&D. With a little effort you could probably even run this with D&D 5e.

There are also a couple of new race-as-class Classes for Labyrinth Lord, and a couple of interesting new spells as well. The adventure is interesting and flavorful, and the book has some great art to it. I particularly like the back cover piece (at right). The weirdness of the module is enough to make it stand out from other adventures, without turning into a kitchy weird for weird's sake that can happen in the hands of a less skilled writer than Kutalik.

You also get a selection of interesting new monsters, pulled from Slavic mythology (according to the author) and filtered through the setting, these are more than just reskinned creatures or knock offs of older monsters. They are well thought out and not over powered for the character level of the adventure.

I recommend that anyone interested in modules that are outside of the same old, but who aren't looking for anything that is too out there and that can easily be slotted into an ongoing campaign. Whether you want to use the Slumbering Ursine Dunes as the start for a campaign, or as a sidetrack for characters  looking for new excitements, there are things for you in this module. Reasonably priced at $9 for an adventure with new creatures, classes and spells, there is a little bit for everyone in Slumbering Ursine Dunes.