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.