Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Apocalypse Day

Happy Apocalypse Day everyone. If you're reading this the Winter Solstice has come and gone (6:12 EST, 11:12 GMT) and we're all still alive. Oddly enough. At least I hope so. It's amazing sometimes what the media can make people  believe.

You know if I had had enough foresight and time I would have arranged to have a day playing Shadowrun games. But I didn't.

So did anyone out there do anything for the end of the world today?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: The Ballad of Bass Rock for Call of Cthulhu

Over the last couple of years Cubicle 7 has surprised us all by releasing their Cthulhu Britannica line for Call of Cthulhu to great acclaim. Their most recent print publication for the line, Shadows Over Scotland, was very well received (I really need to finish reading that.) If you haven't read any of the line go and grab them, they're all available from DriveThruRPG in PDF format.

The Ballad of Bass Rock is an adventure for Shadows Over Scotland that was originally supposed to be contained in the original publication of Shadows Over Scotland, but was cut when the layout of the book resulted in the page count growing beyond what was planned. Cubicle 7 has now laid out this adventure and made it available for sale.

So what are we getting for our $3.99? First off the adventure is 14 pages. It is professionally laid out and looks like it would if it had been part of the original book. Except the adventure isn't really 14 pages. The first page is taken up by a cover with a nice enough faux oil painting of the island of Bass Rock, and the second page is completely taken up by the credits for the product and license information. So now we're down to 12 pages out of our 14. For $3.99 my feeling of value is already dropping fast here.

The adventure starts in a minorly contrived way, but hey we're Call of Cthulhu players we're used to that now, with the players on board a boat on a pleasure cruise off the coast of Scotland. A storm suddenly arises and smashes the boat on the rocks of Bass Rock. The players, and any surviving NPCs, are then faced with getting help and surviving the day on the rock.

Bass Rock is mainly a bird colony, and the only structures are a lighthouse, the ruins of an old castle and an even older chapel. Unfortunately it's only inhabitants at this point are 150,000+ birds and one huge shoggoth. The shoggoth has been here a couple of weeks, has devoured the lighthouse keeper and the crew sent to find out why they hadn't heard from him. It has also been pulling dolphins and orcas out of the sea and leaving their rotting remains in the castle ruins.

The only real objective of the adventure is to survive and try and contact the mainland to get help.

The bulk of the 0 pages of the adventure are taken up with descriptions of the NPCs involved and descriptions of the locations on the island. The NPCs, two crew members and a newly wed couple, are given sufficient information to be interesting characters in themselves and there is certainly enough information to make them memorable NPCs for the players. Unfortunately there are no illustrations of the NPCs.

Most of the description concerns the lighthouse, and it is fairly thorough. Descriptions of each floor of the lighthouse and what can be found on each floor is very helpful in bringing life to the locations.

All in all the adventure is very basic but could be fun as an introduction to Call of Cthulhu. It will provide a challenge as it is unlikely that the players will find any way to kill the shoggoth, so other solutions need to be considered. I will likely find myself using the adventure at some point.

Finally at the end the last 2 pages consist of reproductions of the handouts already contained in the text, and a plot map table. Considering how short the adventure already is for the money, spending nearly two pages reproducing the handouts again feels like a complete waste. Since this is PDF only we can easily print whatever pages we like and cutout the handouts as needed. I understand this is normal laidout process for an RPG adventure, but in this already short product it feels like padding and a reduction in the value for money.

Overall I don't think this is value for money. $3.99 is simply too much for what amounts to a 10 page adventure and this really should have been made available for free on the website for Shadows Over Scotland. So I can't recommend it from a value perspective.

From an adventure perspective it's enjoyable if a bit short. Not exactly the best adventure out there, but adequate for the size. It is however the kind of adventure you'd expect to see in a magazine or as a free download on a website rather than a sold product. If it had been included in Shadows Over Scotland it would have been fine, but here it's a little lacking. Maps of the lighthouse, ruins and chapel would have been appreciated, but aren't necessary.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Unboxing: Star Wars Edge of Empire Beginners Game

On Thursday the first (outside the beta) of Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars line made its way into my local FLGS. The Star Wars Edge of Empire Beginner Game. This is a $30 box designed to introduce players to the Star Wars RPG, and perhaps new people into the hobby. It harkens back to the old days of beginner sets for games. It's colourful, simple and contains everything you need for a good few hours of fun.

Like many of the Fantasy Flight RPG boxes of late (using Wargammer Fantasy Roleplay as an example) the box isn't entirely filled with the contents. A cardboard sleeve is used to bulk out the box and to contain the dice separately from the flat contents. 

As is normal for a Fantasy Flight box set, we get a copy of their latest catalogue  though why it's Summer 2012 I'm not sure. 

From a game contents perspective we get a main rulebook, emblazoned with the instructions to read this last.
In keeping with its style of being a beginners game, each of the booklets (with the exception of the character folios) contains a notice on the cover indicating the order in which to read them. So despite the fact they were packed in a completely different order I'll go through them in the order they're to be read.

First up we have the Introduction Sheet. This gives a short overview of what is a roleplaying game for the uninitiated, along with a two page spread of a game sample (we've all seen these before.) On the back page we have the traditional Star Wars scrolling text that serves as an introduction for the adventure included with the game.
The Read Me Second is the Adventure Book. The Adventure Book is a ready to play adventure for the GM. It quite clearly explains the rules as it goes in the areas of the adventure where they will come into play. Additionally the adventure contains a lot of suggestions and information for the various paths the players may take during the course, intending to cover as many possibilities as it can. This should help reduce a beginning game masters workload when running a game. 

Since this is designed as a beginners game it comes with pre-generated characters. There are four in total, each comes as an 8 page full colour character folio. These folios contain all the characters stats, along with details on the rules relevant to the players, information on experience advancement and details on how the dice work.
There are four characters. A Twilek Bounty Hunter, a Wookiee hired gun, a human smuggler and a freed droid colonist. 
Coming up after the Adventure Book there is a two sided flyer. One side is simply an advert for the full game book coming out in Spring 13, and the main side tells the GM to go to the Fantasy Flight website to download a new adventure that continues after the one in the box set. 
The Final Read Me booklet is the main rulebook (pictured earlier in this article.) This 48 page book contains the rest of the rules that the players and GM will need to continue more adventures outside of the limited set needed for the introductory adventure. While obviously this won't be as comprehensive as the main book that will come out next year, it seems on a quick skim it should be sufficient for now.

Rounding out the box set we have a double sided fold out containing maps. One side of the Krayt Fang, the players spaceship, and the other side of three locations in the adventure.

Additionally there is a set of popout counters that are produced to the same high quality as Fantasy Flights normal board games. They represent characters, NPCs, vehicles and starships in the adventure.

Rounding out the box are the custom dice for the game. Again, these are high quality dice up to the normal standards.

So all in all you get a decent amount for your $30, especially as a beginner set. Looking through this all I would say this is a perfect box set to get for anyone you're trying to introduce to the world of RPGs. Also if you are interested in the game for when it fully comes out next year, this may not be a bad investment though the dice will be available separately at a later point so I wouldn't get it just for them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Too Many Games

Oh it was a bad week to go to my FLGS, 401 Games in Toronto. Now I don't play D&D or Pathfinder, so I'm not always used to having a load of things come out at the same time that I'm after, but this month has been pretty bad.

Before today my haul this month has consisted of
Not to bad, but that was only last week. This week consisted of
  • Star Wars: Edge of Empire Beginner Game
  • Book of Earth for Legend of the Five Rings
  • Only War Corebook for the 40K RPG
  • Only War Game Masters Kit
I'm just not used to so many titles in my lines coming out at the same time. I dread to think what else may come out between now and the end of the year. My credit card is hoping nothing. Though I hear the following will be out in print and taunting me

  • Dirty Tricks for Shadowrun
  • Terror from the Skies for Call of Cthulhu
So why am I still buying physical books when I have just bought the Nexus 10 for reading PDFs? Well I've decided to mostly only buy physical books for a few game lines. Unfortunately those lines are 40K, Shadowrun, Legend of the Five Rings and Call of Cthulhu.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tablets for PDFs: Update on Nexus 10 Review

So my PDF specific review of the Nexus 10 has proven to be very popular, the second most popular post after the Second City unboxing so far. So now that I've had a chance to play with it a bit more I feel I need to post an update to the performance of the Nexus 10.

As I mentioned in the original post I like using ezPDF for my PDF viewing. I said for most PDFs if the pages were cached, ie they were the next page and you stopped to read the current one, it would take about 2 seconds to turn to it. I have since realized that this is because I had the page turning animation turned on.

As it turns out that this page turning animation is ridiculously performance dependant an very slow. When I said it took 2 seconds, it turns out it was 2 seconds for this animation and not to render the page. So I turned off the page turning animation and it has improved the performance of my PDF viewing considerably.

Now my performance figures for turning the page to a cached page is almost instantaneous. Far less than a second to turn to the next page. What does this mean? It's now far less painful and I was over stating the time it took.

So what does that mean for uncached pages? Well it depends on the PDF. Retrying for the uncached pages on heavy PDFs like the Legend of the Five Rings did reduce the timings slightly, but not a huge amount. A fraction of a second as far as I can work out in the worst cases. However for lighter PDFs it has resulted in much faster timings.

As a result I've revised my timings from the previous post. Here are the updated performance figures, and I think you'll agree they are much better.

So what all this basically means is that if you're flipping through a book, or jumping around a lot, be prepared to wait a few seconds for the page to render for most things. If you're actually reading through the PDF, then the performance isn't something that will ever come into play as it changes to the next page instantly. Just make sure that the Pre-Render Next Page option is turned on.

(Side note, I'm currently reading Kuro, and boy is that a performant PDF. Flicking through it rapidly it renders in less than a second. Oh that all PDFs should be made as efficiently.)

Additionally some have asked about weights. My Nexus 10 weighs in at 606g. For reference you can compare this to some other typical supplement weights.

  • Typical Shadowrun 152 page supplement (Corporate Intrigue in this case) - 371g
  • Mongoose Traveller High Guard - 461g
  • Nexus 10 - 606g
  • Delta Green core book (paperback first printing) - 690g
  • Shadowrun 2050 (hardcover) - 856g
  • Call of Cthulhu Sixth Edition - 879g
  • Vampire: The Requiem Core Rulebook - 1,150g
  • Black Crusade core rulebook - 1,540g
  • Ptolus - 2,789g (thought I'd throw that one in there for a laugh)
So compared to the average paperback supplement it's a little heavier as long as the supplement is under 224 pages or so (paper weights do vary slightly depending on the stock.) If it's a hardcover or a larger book then the Nexus 10 will be lighter. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Companies: State of the Mongoose

So Mongoose Publishing have just posted their State of the Mongoose for 2012. They publish it every year to let people in on what is going on at Mongoose, and I believe it's modelled after what Steve Jackson Games has been doing for a while now. The full text can be found here if you like.

It's nice to see companies post these sort of items as they offer a little seen insight into what actually goes on inside the RPG industry. You know that industry that everyone dooms and glooms about constantly "it's dying" is a constant refrain. Well posts like these are our only really insight into what is actually happening and they are very welcome.

The highlights of this years address, as they pertain to the RPG section of the business, are.

  • They've stopped announcing releases until they are in layout in order to try and prevent the massive delays seen in release dates over the last couple of years
  • Mongoose has moved, like most RPG companies, to relying on freelance writers now rather than in house staff
  • RPG sales are miserable for Mongoose and they have talked with other unnamed companies who report similar, at least in the print realms
  • Digital sales are definitely taking over. The tipping point for print vs digital has come and digital is becoming the distribution choice of the consumer
  • The number of books coming is is slowing down
  • They are wrapping up most of the business with third parties as distributors
Upcoming RPG releases
  • For Traveller
    • Trillion Credit Squadron adventure for Traveller
    • Solo Traveller. Does exactly what it says on the tin
    • Pirates of Drinax campaign for Traveller
    • More PDF only Traveller Minor Alien releases, just like the very popular Luriani module (review coming soon)
    • Third Imperium Handbook. Finally, someone who gets that Traveller needs a master setting book. I've been telling anyone who would listen for years that they needed a Third Imperium setting book (I even tried writing one myself but never got far enough into the project to try and sell it to one of the publishers)
  • 2300AD
    • The French Arm for 2300AD
  • Armageddon 2089. A reworking of one of Mongoose's earlier attempts at their own setting, brought into the Traveller ruleset
  • For Legend
    • Gladiators of Legend
    • Monsters of Legend
    • Cities of Legend
    • Arcania of Legend
  • Elric and Corum setting books
  • Deus Vult books
  • Some titles for Lone Wolf
So what does all this mean? It means that it seems Mongoose is getting smaller from an RPG perspective. They've been through a lot over the last decade and a bit, from being a powerhouse during the D20 boom to trying licensed games for almost every license they could get their hands on from Starship Troopers to Judge Dredd. If the other big companies weren't already losing ground I'd have said they're dropping out of the big three, but since White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast aren't exactly pushing new product everyone is racing to buy there's not as much competition. 

So time will tell, Traveller remains Mongoose's big ticket item in the RPG space these days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kickstarter: Fate Core

Just for those who don't already know, a Kickstarter is underway for Fate Core, the new version of the Fate popular rule system.

It's been up just over 24 hours now, and already exceeded its original goal of $3,000 by a huge margin (currently at $71,802 at time of writing.) It's rising fast so could be a contender for one of the larger RPG Kickstarters (Numenera still holds the goal with $517K and Traveller 5 in a far second at $294K.)

So if the Fate system floats your boat, head on over and pledge. Even for just $10 you get a lot of bang for your buck with the number of stretch goals being hit and everything being released to the $10 level in PDF format.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Tablets for PDFs: Nexus 10 Review

(UPDATE: Please note the performance figures in this article have been updated due to configuration changes I made in the software. See Tablets for PDFs: Update on Nexus 10 Review for more accurate figures.)

So as I mentioned before my Nexus 10 arrived on Thursday (it's now early Saturday morning as I write this.)  So I've had a day or two to play with it, but not really enough time to really sit with it and read a lot.

First impressions, this is a pretty neat tablet. It's fast, responsive and the screen really is to die for. My experience on the Retina screen iPads is limited but this is as good if not better (though I can't quantify that better.)

However we're not concentrating here on the review of the tablet as a whole. If you've used a modern Android tablet then you should know what to expect from it and it does all those things. What I'm going to concentrate on here is how good is the device for reading PDFs.

Point of comparison, I have a first generation iPad with the lower resolution screen (1024 x 768.) I never found this really useful for reading PDFs on due to the low resolution. Sure it was good for some larger font books, but unless you wanted to zoom it wasn't ideal.

The Nexus 10 has a 10.1" screen boasting 2560 x 1600 resolution, so over twice the original iPad. It is a widescreen (16:10) rather than the iPad's 4:3 screen. So what does this mean? It means that the screen in portrait mode (I'm going to do most of this in portrait mode as that's a more natural mode for reading PDFs) is much taller than the iPad's, but about 1/2 inch narrower (5 3/8" versus the iPad's 5 7/8".) As a result if you read a regular PDF on this you will get the black bars at the top and bottom unless you zoom.

For most of my tests I used very large and heavy PDFs to try it. I used those with the smallest font I could find and the most graphical umph to them. So the Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition PDFs were perfect.

On my first gen iPad the L5R books were readable if you squinted due to the lack of resolution of the screen. Zooming to remove the margins made it more bearable, but unless you zoomed into just a single column of text I would find myself getting a headache in short order.

On the Nexus 10 I find the PDFs readable without zooming. Yes the text may appear small to some people, but for my eyesight (I don't wear any corrective lenses at all for reference) I find it readable but almost right on the smallest size for me. If I zoom to remove the margins then it's perfect for me. Of course this varies with PDF, for example all my Shadowrun PDFs are perfectly readable without issue straight off with no zooming. The L5R PDFs however look absolutely gorgeous and the text is pinpoint sharp with the 300DPI screen showing what it can do and doing it perfectly.
Clip in full camera resolution to show sharpness of the text in unzoomed mode. Strongholds of the Empire.
As far as performance goes, it's adequate. Remember that this tablet is throwing around more pixels and graphical output than any other tablet on the market so I expect a slight performance hit. I'm using ezPDF on the Nexus 10 for my tests as in my experience it is the best PDF reader on the Android OS (I would use GoodReader on the iOS.)

Using the Strongholds of the Empire PDF for L5R again I was getting adequate performance. If I was reading a page at a time and I have the Cache the Next Page turned on (on by default I believe) it could take less than 2 seconds to turn to the next page. If I'm flicking through the pages quickly, or I jump to another page not adjacent to the one I was last on, it could take up to 5 second to turn depending on the complexity of the page it was going to.

Comparison of the same page on both the POD and PDF on Nexus 10 copies of Strongholds of the Empire
Full shot of a page from Strongholds of the Empire to show readability and how it looks on the screen
So the Strongholds PDF is one of the heaviest PDFs I own. Trying out other PDFs for comparison.

(UPDATE: Please note the performance figures in this article have been updated due to configuration changes I made in the software. See Tablets for PDFs: Update on Nexus 10 Review for more accurate figures.)
  • Black Crusade 40K RPG Rulebook - Another very heavy PDF. Perfectly readable with no zooming. Performance: When cached up to 2 seconds. Not cached up to 4 seconds. (a side note on this it is often an issue on 40K RPG PDFs on the iPad that images don't always appear due to their types and the layering. However I experienced no such issues on the Nexus 10.)
  • Shadowrun 20th Anniversary Rulebook - Moderately heavy PDF in some places, but reasonably well optimized straight off. Completely readable. Cached up to 2 seconds. Not cached up to 4 seconds.
  • Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition - A large PDF (almost 130 mb), perfectly readable. Cached up to 2 seconds. Uncached up to 4 second, but often only around the 3 second mark.
  • Mongoose Traveller Alien Module 1: Aslan - Much lighter PDF than the others on this list. Very readable. Cached up to 2 seconds. Uncached up to 3 seconds. This one did perform noticeably better than the others on the list, probably due to the lack of layers and less graphic intensity.
Personally I find those performance figures quite usable, and while they may be considered slightly slow by some they're fine for me.

Note that this review was done using the PDFs straight from the publisher as they come. If you were to use a PDF editing program to remove the margins you could make it even more legible. Also most PDF reading programs for tablets come with a crop feature, some allowing a different crop on odd and even pages (both GoodReader for the iPad and ezPDF on the Android allow this) which would allow you to only have the pages show the text columns automatically which again increase the readability.

Overall the 1/2 inch difference between the iPad and this shouldn't be a factor unless your eyesight is poor, so on that scale I can only recommend the Nexus 10. If you have a current generation iPad with Retina screen then there is no reason to by the Nexus 10 for PDF reading, you won't gain anything by switching. If however you are in the market for a table to mainly read PDFs on, and possibly do other media consumption, then I can highly recommend the Nexus 10. It's $100 cheaper than the iPad for each capacity level. If you like Android then it's a no brainer. If you want to pay the extra then the iPad is an excellent piece of hardware and seems very suited to reading PDFs. Though I haven't tried it I believe it's possible that GoodReader on the latest gen iPad may shave some off time off the Nexus 10 performance figures. 

The only real downside to the Nexus 10 is its availability. Currently I believe it's only available direction from Google and the stock is low. I find myself lucky that I've been able to get one as they keep selling out when they're made available. That should fix itself in the coming months, but likely not until after the new year. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tablets for PDFs: My Nexus 10 has Arrived

So the title says it all, my Nexus 10 has arrived. I'm quite happy with it but I will put up a full review of it used for roleplaying PDFs in the next few days.

(See the review here)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Kuro now available in PDF format

So the new Cubicle 7 RPG Kuro is now available in PDF format from DriveThruRPG. I've been intrigued by this for a while, a mix of Cyberpunk and Japanese horror should prove to be an interesting setting. Here is the blurb on the book.

I lost Miko during the Kuro incident. She was driving when the light from the missile exploded over Tokyo. It must have blinded her because her car was found wrapped around a tree, her body covered in petals fallen through the broken window.

When I found a message from her on my phone I thought it was just an old one I hadn't erased. I kept it, playing it back just to hear her voice. It helped, just a bit, to have a few moments when I could pretend that she was still alive. But more messages starting appearing on my phone. Now I just want them to stop.

Because the girl who keeps sending them isn't Miko, and she won't stop screaming.

The year is 2046, and something dark has returned to Japan. With an international blockade set up around the beleaguered country following the Kuro Incident, there is no escape. In addition to the meteorological side-effects of the Incident, some people have noticed a sharp rise in disturbing, mysterious and supernatural occurrences. The authorities refuse to acknowledge such obvious sensationalist delusions. Do you have the strength to face the nightmares?

Kuro is the core rulebook of a new near-future game setting influenced by unremitting Japanese horror. Dare you stare into the darkness?


The Kuro Incident - Miracle or Curse? Only time will tell how history will remember the events of 4th May 2046. The accidental launch of a Panasiatic Federation nuke at Japan would have devastated the country, but we were saved from this fate when the missile vanished seconds before impact. But saved by what? The violent winds and electromagnetic storm which followed offer clues to the event that science has yet to decipher. Some people have reverted to ancient superstition to explain what happened, muttering about spirits and the 'Wind of the Gods'. But such is always the case in times like these, especially as the consequences of the blockade grow more severe. Personally, I'm sure that we'll find a diplomatic solution before the year is out and, at the very least, not being nuked will always seem like the better option!

- Case #2046044444, last blog post of victim, assessed irrelevant to case

MK 2046.09.11

If this interests you then head over to DriveThruRPG and pick up a copy. I'm eagerly awaiting being able to sit down and digest this.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Review: Shadowrun Parabotany

Shadowrun: Parabotany is one of the line of PDF only supplements being released by Catalyst for the Shadowrun 4th Edition line. The PDF was actually released back in April 2012, but despite picking it up shortly after it came out, I just didn't look at it and it has languished in my collection ever since. Recently I decided to pull it up and give it a read.

As you may expect from the name, this supplement covers awakened flora in the sixth world. At this point some of you are probably thinking "Oooo, magic plants, big deal." I must say the thought crossed my mind as well when I first picked it up with the added "what possible use could I have for this, it's probably even less use than the military equipment catalogues in my game." How wrong I was. This may seriously be one of the most useful of the PDF only supplements to date.

So what do you get for your money. Well you get a 51 page PDF with the image of a car driving into an awakened tumbleweed on the cover. This is followed by the now familiar Jackpoint page.

After this is the meat of the product, lots of pages on plants (still boring you say, well it isn't.) This is split into subsections

  • 27 pages of Paranormal Plants - new plants discovered in the sixth world that weren't in the fifth
  • 5 pages of Blighted Plants - awakened plants that have been corrupted by their environment or turned toxic
  • 2 pages of Mutant Plants - mutant members of regular fifth world plants
  • 3 pages of Engineered Plants - plants that have been developed by the corporations for security purposes
  • 4 pages of Botanical Advances - details on new advances in plants (yes really) and information on new forms of plant based alcohols and drinks
  • 7 pages of Game Rules - information on the new abilities and powers of some of the plants, information on creating your own awakened flora, information on various plant based magical compounds, paints and drugs
  • Plant index - an index to all plants in this PDF, plus those plants detailed in other 4th edition supplements
Still doesn't sound like much, well it's hard to get into the details as to why this is so useful. Each of the sections contains interesting plants that can be used to both add colour to the world of Shadowrun, and to surprise your players with. An example from each section
  • Paranormal Plants - Sleeping Willow - A willow tree that has the ability to record what happens around it. If you sleep under the tree then you will dream in great detail of a random day around the tree. Incidentally recently the Corporate Court ruled that recordings made by the tree and played back in someone's dream, is not admissible as evidence
  • Blighted Plants - Gomorrah Apple Tree. An apple tree where the consumption of its fruit starts a rapid petrification process in the eater. Once paralyzed the tree extrudes tendrils that then such the life essence out of the unfortunate victim
  • Mutant Plants - Dropping Pine. What seems like a normal pine tree that defends itself from being attacked or chopped down by weakening branches so they fall off onto the person below
  • Engineered Plants - Thornblades. A grass with stems consisting of small wooden pikes that can be placed among regular grass and are capable of piercing the soles of most regular footwear

This is just a taste, but the supplement is surprisingly useful for almost any game. Even a deep shadows game set in Shadowrun will find some use inside, even if it is only the plant based compounds and the security engineered plants. I highly recommend Parabotany.

Parabotany can be purchased from DriveThruRPG for $7.99.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tablets for PDFs: iPad vs Nexus 10

Update: I bought one. See the review here.

So for some time I've had an original series iPad which is a very nice tool. From a roleplaying perspective the use I would get most out of is as a PDF reader. For those that know me you know I have about 1,000 RPG books which take up a lot of room. Now I wouldn't get rid of them, but I would love to be able to have them and make use of them electronically.

Like many roleplayers I get my RPG PDFs from DriveThruRPG, and I buy quite a lot of them. I'm not entirely sure why I buy so many these days when I also buy the books, but there you are.

So for me the holy grail for a long time has been to own a tablet that I can use to read my PDF collection comfortably enough that I don't need to buy everything in physical format.

About 6-7 years ago I bought a Toshiba Satellite table (from back in the days where table meant a laptop with a convertible screen and a stylus.) It worked well as a tablet but it was very heavy to hold on your arm, and the resolution of 1024 x 768 on a 14" screen was not sufficient to make reading PDFs comfortable. So it ended up being used just as a laptop before being forgotten about.

The original iPad is nice, light enough to use for a long period of time and has available the greatest piece of PDF software ever written, GoodReader. Responsive, fast and able to store hundreds of my PDFs it's useful, but the downside to it is that the screen is just too low a resolution. Again 1024 x 768 isn't sharp enough to read a full page of text comfortably.

So that leads us to today. What now? Well I've looked at some PDFs on the iPad 3 (to test the new retina display) and they are much sharper at that resolution and fully readable. So does that end my search? Well Apple products are expensive, and at the beginning of the year I switched to an Android phone (Google Nexus) which I'm starting to prefer over the iOS ecosystem for the most part, so that complicates matters.

Google has the Nexus 10 coming out in the next few days at a cheaper price than the current generation iPad. So what has it got going for it? Well it's Android which I'm starting to like, and it has a nice high resolution 10.1" screen at 2560 x 1600 compared to the new iPad's 2048 x 1536. So they are actually comparable. My biggest concern however is that the iPad has a 4:3 ratio screen and the Nexus 10 a 16:9 ratio screen. This means that the Nexus 10 will not be able to display most PDFs fully screen, there will be bars at the top and bottom of the screen when held in portrait mode. And because of the widescreen the width is slightly narrower than that of the iPad meaning the page will be slightly smaller.

So what to do? What to do? I don't know yet. On Android the best PDF software I've come across is EZPDF, which is okay, but not as good as GoodReader on the iOS. However EZPDF does have the ability to double tap on a column and have it size and lock to the columns in the PDF, whereas GoodReader is always free floating. This can allow it to make better use of the screen ratio and very clear text.

It comes down to I don't know what I want to do. I would like the Nexus 10, but unfortunately due to Google's distribution model I can't get a chance to play with one before I buy to see what they look like. Guess I'll just wait until some others get one and review it. Or see if I can look over someone's shoulder on the subway.


(So I bought one. See the review here.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Creative Inspiration: Hot Dog, Jumping Frog

Or I should have turned left.

One thing that always inspires me when coming up with adventures, and more specifically locations, is travel. International travel is always more inspiring than local travel, but both work well. It's the visit to a new location. Absorbing a new, or at least slightly different. Seeing new sights and hearing new sounds.

So at the moment I find myself in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United States (anyone guess that from the hints?) It's early November and during the day it's too hot for me, not to mention dry. Hey, I currently live in Canada where it was pretty much freezing point when I left only to be thrown into what I would describe as mid summer. I'm here attending the AYE Conference as part of my day job, but that's not of much interest to you (though some of the topics could be applied to role playing very nicely.)

So what do I learn while travelling? Well I have a new image in my mind of a couple of hotel styles and layouts that can be of use in any game from the 1920s onward. I now see the expanse of the desert  in this region of New Mexico, at least from a distance. I love travelling to new airports as they are always useful for modern games.

I get to see the local architecture that I can use to build up a local flavour. The feel of the streets, the look of the people, and the names and types of local businesses all serve to increase my repertoire of descriptions for my games that you just can't get from a guidebook. Even if I never set a game in Albuquerque the experiences here can help in the creation of any town or city in the southwest United States, something I would have had greater difficulty with before my trip here.

It's a shame I don't have a car, or the time to really explore. Driving along route 66 would have been a nice trip. Going to Santa Fe would have added a huge amount to my box of GM tools. Getting into the desert rather than just seeing it from an airplane window would have been invaluable to me for almost any game, but especially useful since I've been on a bit of an Old West reading kick lately.

So get out there and travel. If you can't travel internationally then just go to some towns near you that you've never been to. Never been to a forest, then find one and go. Every trip should be used as a means of improving your descriptive arsenal as you never know when it will come in useful.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Relief Bundle

As often happens when disaster strikes somewhere in the world, the RPG community comes together to try and assist those in need with funds that can do good. Over at DriveThruRPG there is the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Charity Bundle. This is a great bundle for the low price of $20. Every gamer will find something in the bundle that they are interested in, and the money is going to a very good cause. So go and pick one up, enjoy the products and give funds where they're needed.

The bundle can be found here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creative Inspiration: Music 2

So again it comes time to come up with an adventure for the game in a few days. The well has run dry and the mind is running on empty. Break out your music collection and hit the random button. Here are a few more ideas.

Game: Aces and Eights
Song: My Journey to the Sky by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Well a lot of people did go to the west to bring the light of the lord to the savages, so I guess a religious themed song for a western game isn't bad inspiration (though how I ended up with it in my collection I'm not entirely sure. Have to look into that one.)
Father Brown has left the confines of civilization after the passing of his parents due to cholera. He has nothing in the east, so he heads west. He hopes to find a small town near some of the natives and bring enlightenment to them and to the townsfolk. Finding the town of Walson's Creek he sets up a small church, and manages to gather a few people into his congregation, but unfortunately he isn't welcomed by all. A gang has taken a dislike to him and his godly ways, and are trying to drive him out of town. It escalates from making him dive out of the way of their horses into the mud to attempts to burn down his half completed church while he sleeps in a back room. Father Brown is at his wits end, and the PCs feel sorry for him and attempt to assist him. The good father refuses to let anyone help him, believing god will bring them to their senses, but the players know he'll end up dead before that happens.

Game: Serenity
Song: Forgive and Forget by Blondie
While on planetfall on one of the outer planets, Kolstein the headman of a small city the players have ended up in has taken a shine to one of the female members of the party. He's rich. He's powerful. He's a complete pig, but is used to getting what he wants. He harasses the crew and wants to buy her to add her to his harem. Obviously the crew say no, but this man isn't taking no for an answer. Force is displayed as the players try to get to their ship. When the players leave the planet little do they know they have a stowaway on board, one of Kolstein's lieutenants. This stowaway has instructions to sabotage the ship, dispose of the crew and ensure the safety of the object of Kolstein's affections. And Kolstein himself is only an hour or so behind the players ship in another ship he has acquired. Looks like it's until death do us part.
This would obviously work well with a gender reversal, or same gender affection dependant on the make up of the players party and your groups playing style.

So there you go, two more five minute plot outlines courtesy of the shuffle button. Obviously your music library will be different than mine (you may know exactly where that Sister Rosetta Tharpe song came from) so the inspiration will be different, but the principle is the same. Spin the disk and banish that writers block.

Hmm, I think I'll actually use that Forgive and Forget one next time I run a sci-fi game. Or western.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Game Master Techniques: In Medias Res

As GMs we have a large bag of tricks at our disposal to run our games, but often the game starts with the traditional get offered a job, accept and then go along with it premise. Sometimes the players don't always play along and your best laid plans can fall apart without them getting to the action. Sometimes you just want to cut through all the preamble and get right into the good stuff. Sometimes you want to start, like many books and movies, right in the middle of things or In Medias Res.

In Medias Res is a Latin term meaning into the middle of things, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Instead of starting at the beginning, start in the middle (or even the end.)

As mentioned it's a common enough technique in books and movies. Star Wars (the original one) has the famous opening of the star destroyer attacking Princess Leia's ship. Memento begins with what could be considered the ending (note people narrating stuff to another and recalling a story isn't In Medias Res.) Master and Commander takes the technique to the extreme and only gives you the middle of the story full stop, with the film not resolving the entire plot and starting just as a naval battle breaks out.

So how can this be used by a GM? I'm sure most of us have already used it on several occasions  sometimes without really realizing it. Simply begin in the middle.

Players are a savvy lot, and like to think they're in control (GMs who let the players actually be in control raise your hand. No, didn't think so.) As a result they will want to know how they ended up in the situation they are in. There are three usual ways of dealing with this

  1. Fill in the backstory with narrative
  2. Flashback and let the players control the actions leading up to this by running the game in a different order to the usual linear gameplay
  3. Make finding that out the entire point of the adventure
Option 1 is the least satisfying for the players as it removes their sense of control and their freedom of choice.  Some players may well welcome the skipping of the boring lead up to adventure, but others may not like it. You need to figure out what works with your group before deciding upon this idea.

Option 2 is one I like. You can still run your adventure relatively normally, just the scenes are out of order. The main issue with this one is that unless your players are extremely co-operatives in setting things themselves to allow for the later scene to come true you may find yourself having to railroad some of the choices and paths. Of course the point of the adventure could well be that the future cannot be changed, even if you know of it, in which case creative GMing and running of the world is quite justified.

Option 3 isn't one you can use often. For example the players wake up in a sticky situation with no memory of how they got to be there. They're clones waking up from having memories injected and don't know they're clones. They've been arrested for crimes they don't recall committing and perhaps have been set up and drugged. Obviously there is a limit to how many times this can be pulled off, generally only once per campaign unless it's a long one. In fact often times this can be used as the initial adventure of a campaign where the point is to resolve what happened before.

I've used all these options before on various ways to various degrees of success. 

The fill in the backstory with a narrative can be unsatisfying for a player, however West End Games made this work for adventure after adventure when they published their Star Wars Roleplaying Game. The way they solved it was to give out a script at the beginning of each adventure and have each player read a part. This would explain how they got to where they are, and usually would launch straight into the adventure. A famous one I recall was the end of the script running straight into their automated shuttle being flown at high speed straight towards the oceans of Mon Calamari with no chance of survival unless they acted immediately.

The out of sequence gaming one I've used a few times. One of the best ones I pulled off was in a Legend of the Five Rings campaign where I started one of the players off in the middle of a duel. In L5R a duel is conducted by each side taking turns to announce if they'll continue to focus, or try and strike. Each focus increases the difficulty of the hit, whereas a strike announcement will allow the other side to take first hit. The trick is to increase the target number to where you think the opponent will not be able to hit before then flinching. 

Anyway I opened the game by asking the player whether he wanted to Focus or Strike and only giving him a sentence of what he sees around him. After he declared then I'd jump the game back in time and start the adventure. After each scene I'd jump back to the duel, give a bit more description of what is happening in the here and now, declare the opponent is focusing, ask the player for their option (it was focus as it always is in the early stages of a duel) and then skip back in time again. Each previous scene would advance things towards what is happening with the duel occurring and generally alter the players perception of the person they were facing. I would try and change the perceptions continuously until it got to the point where the past caught up to the present and the duel was resolved. The end of the duel marked the end of the session with a follow up the following week. I got good compliments from my players for that one.

I've always wanted to try this one as well with the players starting off defending themselves against an accusation in court, and each time the players took the stand they would give their answers to the prosecution's questions by playing out the scene. I'll have to give that a try some time.

Finally for option 3 I ran a Cyberpunk campaign once with the players waking up in a police prisoner transport after having been arrested for the murder of the mayor of Night City. The transport then crashed and the players were able to flee. None of them knew each other beforehand, and I had them do their characters up separately. The campaign was then based around figuring out what happened before (they were obviously drugged, but there was video and eyewitness evidence to the crime) and clearing their name.

So next time you write an adventure, just skip to the chase and start In Medias Res.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: Never Unprepared - The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep

I've recently finished reading through Phil Vecchione's, Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep, and now that I'm finished, it's review time.

Never Unprepared is 134 pages long in what appears to be a large digest format (I only have the PDF version, not the print copy.) This short length of the book, plus the easy writing style, make it very accessible and easy for even a busy GM to read and get something out of. Additionally since the pages are in a smaller format, it's easy to read on a smartphone or small screen tablet.
Screenshot taken from DriveThruRPG for illustration purposes
First off lets go over what this book is not. This book is not a plan to tell you how to do your session prep. It will not say you should do X and Y before a game, and will not solve all the problems that you have in getting preparation done before your game.

So, what is it? I've never seen one before, no one has, but I'm guessing it's a white hole. Sorry, been watching too much Red Dwarf lately (if you've never seen the series it's a BBC sitcom set on a deep space mining vessel, and the early seasons are really good.)

So, what is it? Well Never Unprepared is a book that takes some project management principles (don't worry, it's not scarey) and attempts to apply them to the art of game mastering. Effectively treating the approach to game prep the same way one would a project plan for a large project. Yes this may sound daunting, but don't worry it's all distilled down in the book. The aim of the book is to provide you with a means of developing your own method of gaming prep that is repeatable and honed to suit your gaming needs and your GMing strengths and weaknesses.So the book doesn't tell you how to prep your games, it tells you how to go about working out how is best for you to prep for your games.

I'm going to borrow from the index now to guide you through the book contents.
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • How to Use This Book
  • Understanding Prep
    • Prep is Not a Four Letter Word
    • The Phases of Prep
    • Brainstorming
    • Selection
    • Conceptualization
    • Documentation
    • Review
  • Prep Toolbox
    • Tools for Prep
    • Mastering your Creative Cycle
  • Evolving Your Style
    • Your Personal Prep Templates
    • The Prep-Lite Approach
    • Prep in the Real World
  • Conclusion
  • References and Inspiration
  • Index
The core content of the book is explaining the five phases of prep that Phil has identified over his years of GMing. Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualization, Documentation and Review. Each of the sections on that particular area of prep goes into details on what would be contained in that phase, some common pitfalls to avoid, and a quiz to rate your effectiveness at the particular phase. Additionally there are a load of hints and tips along the way on how you may be able to accomplish this phase without telling you how to do it (in other words it doesn't dictate a methodology.)

For example the section on brainstorming suggests just throwing ideas down on paper that seem vaguely interesting. Don't think about them in great detail, don't analyze whether or not they'd be useful or how you can use them, just basic thoughts. Deciding if they're good comes in the Selection phase, and fleshing them out in Conceptualization. Some hints on capturing your brainstorming, such as always having a note application on your smartphone, or a small notebook tucked in your pocket.

There is advice on how you can improve what you do in each section, and how to spot when you are doing too much. For instance are you really good at coming up with evocative location descriptions on the fly? Then you really shouldn't be wasting your time writing it out in more than a bullet point or two to keep a focus.

Yes some of the advice in the book may see obvious to many, but sometimes you still need someone to point it out to you to make it stick in your mind.

It's hard to pick out specifics that are good, and what is bad, but there is so much useful ideas in the book that I'll end up taking on a lot of them and most won't even be conscious. From that perspective you can get more out of the book that you think. In many ways it's a self help book to give you the push towards thinking in a more efficient way about the approach you take to gaming prep.

 Conclusion: Is this a book worth reading for any GM? If you find you're not ready in time for your games, or that the gaming prep is taking too much of your time and you consider it sometimes to be time wasted, then definitely buy this book. In fact I'd recommend buying it anyway as even the most experienced Game Masters will likely find something in there that is useful to them. Myself, I'm taking the templates concepts and applying them into my notes, it's already improved things. And since reading the book, I now use Evernote on my smartphone constantly to enter ideas and carry a small notebook in my jacket pocket.

So go over to DriveThruRPG and pick up a copy today. It's not that expensive and it could well help.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Legend of the Five Rings: Quickstart Rules

For those who are interested in the world of Legend of the Five Rings, but don't want to spend money on it, the other year Alderac released a quickstart PDF for Free RPG Day. This PDF is available from their site and is a great introduction to the game and how it differs from most traditional western fantasy games.

The PDF consists of a short intro story, an overview of the game rules (this is actually the majority of the basic rules of the game, so not much more is needed), the adventure Legacy of Disaster and a large cast of pre-generated characters for the players to choose from for the game.

Quick to pick up and run this is an excellent introduction to the L5R world. Give it a go, even if it is only for an evening.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gameline Overview: Eclipse Phase

For those of you who don't know, Eclipse Phase is a transhuman roleplaying game published by Posthuman Studios.

Eclipse Phase is set 10 years after the rise of the Titans, artificial intelligences created by man who warred on humanity. Within a year the Titans has appeared, engaged in war using every possible weapon at their disposal, and then force uploaded the minds of millions of humans before disappearing with the minds they stole. Earth is a ruin, devastated by nuclear attacks and still plagued by semi-sentient nano-plague swarms. Humanity is an endangered species, less than half a billion people survived the fall and all of those off of Earth.

Players take on the role of agents for Firewall, an organization created to protect against existential threats, that is threats that could destroy what is left of humanity. However humanity is no longer exactly what someone from our time would recognize. While some people are still proud to be human mark 1 (normal biological baseline human,) a large percentage of the population has reached beyond the regular boundaries of the flesh to become more.

Some spend their time with their consciousness uploaded into the bodies of giant whales that swim through the upper reaches of the sun's corona, while others simply exists as digital uploads of their original consciousness jumping from computer system to system. You can be a vacuum resistant octopoid technician or a human who has been extensively cybernetically or genetically altered. One thing is constant though, real death is generally a thing of the past with people having their consciousness backed up in case of accidents.

It is this later point that makes for an interest gaming setting for the players, death is not necessarily the end of the characters. Taken to the possible extent this can allow for sacrificial roleplaying or taking on greater odds than a PC would normally stand up to.

Your mind is software. Program it.
Your body is a shell. Change it.
Death is a disease. Cure it.
Extinction is approaching. Fight it.

It is a complex setting, but one that is well worth exploring. To date the main publications consist of the following.

  • Eclipse Phase Rulebook. The main rulebook for the game
  • Rimward. A sourcebook on the outer solar system
  • Panoptican. A sourcebook exploring surveillance  uplifted animals, space habitats and other smaller aspects of the setting
  • Gatecrashing. Exploring the mysterious Pandora Gates that were left behind, possibly, by the Titans that provide wormhole travel to other worlds
  • Sunward. Sourcebook on the inner solar system
These books are all available in hardcopy format from Amazon, FLGS etc. PDFs are for sale on DriveThruRPG.

One interesting thing about the books, and often talking about, is that almost everything for Eclipse Phase has been released under the Creative Commons license. What this means is that the PDFs and the game itself, is freely available to be downloaded and distributed by anyone as long as they are not charging for it. The PDFs are often uploaded onto torrent sites by Posthuman themselves, and they can be downloaded from the page of one of their writers Rob Boyle here

This seems to be working for them. I know I originally downloaded the PDFs to read, and have since purchased the books. So if you like the game, please think about purchasing it to support them and give us new material in the future.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

GM Resources: Time Life Old West Series

As a GM you often find yourself in need of information. Setting information is very important for creating a living breathing world through your narrative. Many games are set in fantasy or science-fiction settings, and as a result these gamelines often release an entire range of setting specific books on aspects of the setting. Culture, geography, technology, language, everyday life etc are all part of what is released in these books.

Sometimes we play games set in historical era such as the 1920s for Call of Cthulhu, feudal Japan for Bushido, Roman Empire for various games and the good Old West of American history. Oft times these gamelines don't concentrate so much on the details of the setting other than locations, mainly due to the fact that since these are historical settings those details can often be gleaned from history books better than an RPG sourcebook could provide. These details are different from creative inspiration as they provide more of a backdrop than plot hooks.

This of course then raises the question, "what is the best book(s) for me to read to understand this setting?" Ask 20 GMs and you may get 15 different answers, dependant on your historical era of choice. As a GM I am always on the outlook for books that will help me improve the details of my games and breathe life into the world. I have a large range of history books covering 1920s (old travel guides are fabulous, but for another time), ancient Egypt, US Civil War, World War II and more books than fit on a shelf on feudal Japan and samurai.

One era I've been looking for for a while, but not had much luck finding anything on, is the era of the American Old West. Sure I can find western movies a dime a dozen at the second hand stores, and wild west fiction is easily discovered, but actual history books on what it was like I've found more difficult. So imagine my joy when I found locally for sale an almost complete set (bar one book) of the Time Life Old West series for $65.

For those not aware, this series was published by Time Life books in the 1970s and consisted of a 26 volume set of hardback books. I'm not sure how they were originally sold, but I think it was a subscription series books (I think that's how the Time Life series went, please correct me if I'm wrong.) These are great books, and because they were produced in huge quantities getting a set of them is relatively cheap (they go in the US for approximately $4-8 a book.)
Each book in the series covers a different topic in great detail. The complete book listing consists of
  • The Cowboys
  • The Indians
  • The Trailblazers
  • The Soldiers
  • The Railroaders
  • The Forty-Niners
  • The Pioneers
  • The Gunfighters
  • The Expressmen
  • The Townsmen
  • The Great Chiefs
  • The Rivermen
  • The Texans
  • The Loggers
  • The Chroniclers
  • The Spanish West
  • The Miners
  • The Canadians
  • The Frontiersmen
  • The Alaskans
  • The Ranchers
  • The Mexican War
  • The Women
  • The Scouts
  • The Gamblers
  • The End and the Myth
Additionally a master index book was produced, which I don't have, that goes for the $20-$30 range and is rarer.

The books are, as mentioned before, are hardback books. The covers are brown leather embossed with an appropriate motif including bull horns and ropes, with a period art colour inset depicting the topic. Incidentally the hardcover original edition of Kenzer Co's Aces & Eights main book is based on these books from the cover design, embossing on the faux leather and the internal layout and structure. Each one is 240 pages long and the interior is glossy paper full of period photos, artworks and photographs of relevant authentic equipment taken from museums and private collections.

Each book goes into great detail on it's specific topic. For instance the book on The Gamblers details the people that would become gamblers, details on dice and dice making, the various games of both chance and skill that were played by both the white man and the native Americans, cheating and the consequences, gambling halls and locations and a wealth of other information. The book on The Pioneers explains the routes to the west (Oregon Trail, California Trail etc), what motivated men to make the move from civilization, the wagon trains, inventory of a typical pioneer wagon, the wagons themselves and extreme detail on what life on the road was like for the pioneers and what they did once they reached their destinations.

If you have any interest in running a game set in the old west, you owe it to yourself to pick up these books. They are the best bang for the buck you will ever spend to get a resource to be used for any western game.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Unboxing: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition

A couple of weeks ago I did a successful and popular unboxing for Second City for Legend of the Five Rings. In a local sale last week I picked up a copy of Fantasy Flight's Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition box set and thought that even though it's a couple of years old, I'll still do an unboxing for it. Like the Second City one, this is not a review.

So the box for WFRP 3rd edition is huge. While deeper than the Second City one at 30 x 23.5 x 11.5 cm, it actually weighs a few grams lighter at just under 3kg. It's still a heavy box though.
 Upon opening you are presented with the top of the stack and a catalog for Fantasy Flight Games
So the contents break down as follows.

  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Rulebook: The main game rulebook (96 pages) 
  • Tome of Mysteries: A book dealing with magic and related rules (48 pages)
  • Tome of Blessings: A book dealing with religion, gods and priests and associated rules (48 pages)
  • Tome of Adventure: A GMs book dealing with topics like campaign play, creatures and NPCs, tracking games and includes a 28 page introductory adventure (96 pages)

  •  3 sheets of heavy card tokens. These break down into
    • 48 tracking token: triangular tokens that come in four different colours
    • 6 stance rings: rings that your character base fits into to tell if you're cautious or reckless
    • 6 activation tokens: to indicate if you've taken a turn or not I believe
    • 2 large standups: monster figure standins for a troll and an ogre
    • 47 medium standups: card standins for players, NPCs and creatures
    • 39 fatigue and stress tokens
    • 40 puzzle-fit stance pieces: used for tracking various items during the game
    • 5 puzzle fit centre pieces: used as the hub for the puzzle pieces (don't ask me, I haven't read the rules through completely yet)

  •  5 wrapped sets of cards in three different sizes. These consist of
    • 154 action cards (small cards)
    • 70 wound cards (small cards)
    • 45 talent cards (medium cards)
    • 30 condition cards (small cards)
    • 30 insanity cards (small cards)
    • 30 career ability cards (medium cards)
    • 19 miscast cards (small cards)
    • 12 location cards (large cards)
    • 1 item card (not sure, but I think it's a small one)

  • 30 double sided career cards/sheets
  • 1 pad of paper double sided character sheets
  • 4 party sheets

  •  3 character boxes: since there are many components that a character may use in any game, boxes are provided for players to keep them all together until the next game. A good idea if you use the components in your game

  •  36 custom dice
  • 12 plastic bases

So you get a fair amount for your money. Even though this looks like you're unpacking the latest version of Arkham Horror, this is an RPG and a quick glance through the rulebook supports this. I look forward to reading it and giving it a run through.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Game Overview: Aces and Eights

Many kids grew up wanting to stride manfully down the main road in a dusty western town, six shooter on their hip and duster blowing in the wind. Saloons, shootouts, three days of growth on the chin and wide brimmed hats are just a day in the life of a Hollywood cowboy. As with many of these dreams, there is a role-playing game to fit into that gap.

Over the years there have been many Old West RPGs. Boot Hill, Dust Devils, Six Gun and Shady Gulch to name a few. Most came and went in short time periods, just like the western cinema revival that threatens to reappear every few years but never quite turns up.

One of the more recent entries, and certainly one of the more comprehensive ones, is Aces and Eights by Kenzer Co. A more deluxe take on the old west, set by default in a fictional version of the American west the Aces and Eights line brought high production values to the western RPG.

Aces & Eights is a modular system that allows the GM and players to use as many or as few rules as they like. The combat system is quite involved but seems pretty realistic and good at conveying the western gunfight. It uses a transparent shot clock placed over a silhouette of the target to assist in the targeting and location determination, a more refined version of a similar idea used in the older game Millennium's End.

A quick review of the game lines gives us the following.

Aces and Eights Core Rulebook. Available in both a deluxe faux leather hardback and a softback version. The hardback version has embossing on it in the same manner, and much the same style, as the old Time Life Old West series of books (keep an eye out for a post on the usefulness of these as a GM resource at another time.) 398 pages plus a couple of transparent shotclocks.

Players Guidebook. A cut down version of the main rule book containing rules for player use and removing a few GM details and the setting information. 218 pages plus a couple more shotclocks.

Fool's Gold. An adventure around a gold claim and a bandit gang. 32 pages plus cover/maps.

Trouble on the Sequoyah Star. A large adventure set mainly on the Sequoyah Star passenger train. The pack includes a 48 page adventure, 16 pages of NPCs, in the standard Aces and Eights full page format, 11 full colour card stock pages of maps of the train with miniature grids printed on them, plus the cover which also includes a couple of maps.

Shootist's Guide. A 32 page booklet including rules and stats for creatures and animals and expanded rules for horses and mules. 30 pages of new silhouettes for human targets in various poses, also hiding behind obstacles and mounted. 14 pages of animal silhouettes. Plus an additional shotclock.

Judas Crossing. A 112 page book on a town in the Shattered Frontier, Judas Crossing with maps, details of the town, information on the various factions in and around the town and information on NPCs and how to obtain the correct NPC for the correct situation.

Rustlers and Townsfolk. A huge book of NPCs in 3 hole punch format, full page, for every walk of life that you could need in running an Aces & Eights game.

Rustlers and Townsfolk: Judas Crossing Edition. A large book of NPCs in the 3 hole punch full page per NPC format detailing over 100 of the individuals that reside in and around the town of Judas Crossing.

An excellent game for scratching that wild west itch that we all get from time to time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Call of Kickstarter

So in the last couple of days a couple of Cthulhu related Kickstarters have finished, and one is still going with 9 days to go at time of writing.

First up we have the reprint of Horror on the Orient Express. This was a Kickstarter by Chaosium to raise funds for a new edition of the classic campaign. Chaosium originally asked for $20,000, and ended up getting over 1000% funding at $207,804. I'm ashamed to say I ended up in for more than I initially planned at $150 (Conductor, Canada for those interested.) There was a lot of confusion originally with the shipping charges being messed up, descriptions not being clear and stretch goals that were incomprehensible to some. Things did get ironed out slowly over time and it ended as a huge success for them. Note to RPG companies in the future though, never start a Kickstarter during GenCon, you won't have the time to devote to it that you'll need.

Next up was Tremulus. Not related to Call of Cthulhu but a Lovecraftian hack over the Apocalypse World engine. Not something I'm hugely familiar with but it sounded interesting to me. Generate your games as you go, different game each time and it becomes more of a storytelling game than a traditional RPG with less work on the gamemaster. Originally asking for $5,000, they came in at 1254% funded with $62,723. Only $20 from me this time, PDFs only. Seemed a lot to add $40 more to get a paper copy shipped to Canada and it may be something I don't play, just read and go "hey this is cool, I should run this some day."

Lastly is the Cthulhu Playing Cards. A Cthulhu themed set of Bicycle playing cards. Traditional, interesting and with some decent art. They were asking for $7,500 and at time of writing had $66,302 with 9 days left. They'll do fine. Not even a little bit of wrangling with Chaosium over trademarks could slow them down.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Using the 36 Dramatic Situations

A couple of days ago I posted the list of the 36 dramatic situations, but what I didn't do was show any examples of them in use. I thought today I'd just walk through a couple of examples with a few game systems  on the inspiration that the results would give me.

Game: Babylon 5
Roll 1 - 5: Pursuit

The fugitive doesn't have to be fleeing a misunderstood conflict here, but it's an option.

Scenario A: A rogue telepath has come to Babylon 5 in search of the underground railroad that can smuggle him away from the every watching eyes of the Psi-Corp. Of course, where there are telepaths involved the Psi Cops won't be far behind and are willing to turn the entire station upside down and everyone's lives to recover the telepath or stop them. The characters are hired to help the pursued, or are command staff on the station caught up in the entire drama. Optional extra: the telepath accidentally scanned someone and knows some dark secret that could bring down governments/expose dirty secrets/provide an unfair advantage to one of any number of corporations (maybe InterPlanetary eXpeditions is after them as well.)

Scenario B: It is the characters being pursued rather than getting caught up in a pursuit. On a previous mission they killed a Narn in the course of their actions. Now the Narn's brother has declared a Blood Oath against them and will not stop until the characters are dead. He hasn't found them yet, but they hear someone is looking for them and has a bad attitude.

Game: Aces and Eights (or any western RPG)
Roll 4 - 5: Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones

Scenario: The players are sheriffs or deputies of a small town when they hear about a local land baron forming a grudge against the owner of the local hotel. The grudge is not justified and the baron is obviously in the wrong. Things escalate to the point where the barons men are sent to town on the instruction to kill the hotel owner, however in order to keep the players out of the way they have first kidnapped the wife or child of one of the characters. Now they need to decide what they're willing to sacrifice for law and order, their family or the law.

Game: Star Trek
Roll 2-5: Abduction

Scenario: A member of the crew has been abducted from the ship by a newly encountered alien race that a treaty for a valuable resource (dilithium?) has just been signed with. It turns out that this is a normal part of their culture after a treaty, to take a hostage from each side to help secure the treaty and they fully expect the Federation representatives to randomly take one of their people involved as well. It is up to the players to resolve the situation without breaking the treaty.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Creative Inspiration: The 36 Dramatic Situations

Way back in 1895, French writer Georges Polti postulated that in drama there was only 36 possible situations, and every storyline stems from one of these situations. The accuracy of this statement has been debated back and forth by better men than you or I (well at least than I) over the years but it still remains an interesting piece of work. These 36 situations have been utilised over the years by students and critics categorising works (film, books, plays etc) and by writers looking for some inspiration. It is firmly in the second category that role-players and more specifically GMs come into the picture.

We've all been there at one time or another during our GMing careers (not that we make money from it, but it may as well be a second job at times, albeit a volunteer one.) You have a game coming up in a couple of days but you're fresh out of ideas. One tool in your arsenal is indeed these 36 dramatic situations. 36 is a nice number for gamers, and I'm sure many of you have already considered "hey I could just roll 2D6 to pick a situation and get my inspiration," and that is exactly the suggestion. Roll 2D6, the first one picking the table, and the second one the specific situation.

So without further ado, the 36 dramatic situations. (note that the text shown below has come from Wikipedia.) They are in the format of the title, the required persons or elements, and then a description of the situation. Just pick your game, roll and think how that could apply in your current campaign.

1-1 Supplication
a Persecutor; a Suppliant; a Power in authority, whose decision is doubtful.
The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgment against the Suppliant.

1-2 Deliverance
an Unfortunate; a Threatener; a Rescuer
The Unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the Threatener is to carry out justice, but the Rescuer saves the Unfortunate.

1-3 Crime pursued by vengeance
a Criminal; an Avenger
The Criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the Avenger seeks justice by punishing the Criminal.

1-4 Vengeance taken for kin upon kin
Guilty Kinsman; an Avenging Kinsman; remembrance of the Victim, a relative of both
Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both.

1-5 Pursuit
Punishment; a Fugitive
The Fugitive flees Punishment for a misunderstood conflict.

1-6 Disaster
a Vanquished Power; a Victorious Enemy or a Messenger
The Power falls from their place after being defeated by the Victorious Enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the Messenger.

2-1 Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune
an Unfortunate; a Master or a Misfortune
The Unfortunate suffers from Misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master.

2-2 Revolt
a Tyrant; a Conspirator
The Tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the Conspirator.

2-3 Daring enterprise
a Bold Leader; an Object; an Adversary
The Bold Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering the Adversary.

2-4 Abduction
an Abductor; the Abducted; a Guardian
The Abductor takes the Abducted from the Guardian.

2-5 The enigma
a Problem; an Interrogator; a Seeker
The Interrogator poses a Problem to the Seeker and gives a Seeker better ability to reach the Seeker's goals.

2-6 Obtaining
(a Solicitor & an Adversary who is refusing) or (an Arbitrator & Opposing Parties)
The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor what they Object in the possession of the Adversary, or an Arbitrator decides who gets the Object desired by Opposing Parties (the Solicitor and the Adversary).

3-1 Enmity of kin
a Malevolent Kinsman; a Hated or a reciprocally-hating Kinsman
The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together.

3-2 Rivalry of kin
the Preferred Kinsman; the Rejected Kinsman; the Object of Rivalry
The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman.

3-3 Murderous adultery
two Adulterers; a Betrayed Spouse
Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse.

3-4 Madness
a Madman; a Victim
The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim.

3-5 Fatal imprudence
the Imprudent; a Victim or an Object Lost
The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.

3-6 Involuntary crimes of love
a Lover; a Beloved; a Revealer
The Revealer betrays the trust of either the Lover or the Beloved.

4-1 Slaying of kin unrecognized
the Slayer; an Unrecognized Victim
The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim.

4-2 Self-sacrifice for an ideal
a Hero; an Ideal; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.

4-3 Self-sacrifice for kin
a Hero; a Kinsman; a Creditor or a Person/Thing sacrificed
The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.

4-4 All sacrificed for passion
a Lover; an Object of fatal Passion; the Person/Thing sacrificed
A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.

4-5 Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
a Hero; a Beloved Victim; the Necessity for the Sacrifice
The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.

4-6 Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
a Superior Rival; an Inferior Rival; the Object of Rivalry
A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.

5-1 Adultery
two Adulterers; a Deceived Spouse
Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.

5-2 Crimes of love
a Lover; the Beloved
A Lover and the Beloved enter a conflict.

5-3 Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one
a Discoverer; the Guilty One
The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.

5-4 Obstacles to love
two Lovers; an Obstacle
Two Lovers face an Obstacle together.

5-5 An enemy loved
a Lover; the Beloved Enemy; the Hater
The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.

5-6 Ambition
an Ambitious Person; a Thing Coveted; an Adversary
The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.

6-1 Conflict with a god
a Mortal; an Immortal
The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.

6-2 Mistaken jealousy
a Jealous One; an Object of whose Possession He is Jealous; a Supposed Accomplice; a Cause or an Author of the Mistake
The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.

6-3 Erroneous judgement
a Mistaken One; a Victim of the Mistake; a Cause or Author of the Mistake; the Guilty One
The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause of the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.

6-4 Remorse
a Culprit; a Victim or the Sin; an Interrogator
The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.

6-5 Recovery of a lost one
a Seeker; the One Found
The Seeker finds the One Found.

6-6 Loss of loved ones
a Kinsman Slain; a Kinsman Spectator; an Executioner
The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman Spectator.

I will revisit these in future posts on how they can be used in specific games, and I welcome comments from people telling us how they made use of the 36 dramatic situations to overcome that creative block in your own games.