In the City: Origins

In the City: Origins
From: Sherwood Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

In the City: Origins is a new Card Drafting Game from Sherwood Games.

In March of 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Duncan Davis at MACE West.  There he demonstrated a game called Into the City: Origins.  The following June, I ran into him again at Origins and he was gracious enough to demo his game for me.  I had a great time learning it and I bought it from him there.

From page # 1:
“The King died.  Assume the role of a prominent town leader vying to become the new king.”

The theme of the game is that you are a town or city leader vying for power to take the place of a dead king (as the quote says above).  The cards represent various influential and powerful people in town that you recruit to your faction to help you become king.  These influential people are found in the City Square. The City Square is set up with the various cards in the deck of 105 cards that are laid out a specific way.  Each player is given an Influence Track card, which keeps track of your influence as the name implies.  Influence is gained through drafting from the City Square (explained more below).  Each player chooses a leader card from 3 they are given randomly from a stack of 20.  The Leader has a special ability that affects game play in some way.

Into the City: Origins is a drafting game.  In a drafting game, each player takes turns picking cards from the selection available. In a very dynamic and fast paced way, In the City: Origins engages you into resource management, maximizing selection potential and hindering your opponents at key moments. Each card that you recruit (called creatures) has a Prestige Score, Influence Bonus and a Victory Point Value.

The City Square is created in setup but it is not static.  There are 7 columns of cards, and at the start of the game 6 of them have two face up cards topped by the draw stack.  The 7th stack is the Mercenary stack and only comes out when a certain tier of cards are revealed. The first column is the Tier 0 (zero) stack and are by far the easiest cards to recruit.  These are relatively mundane creatures, some with some simple abilities.  The middle 5 columns are made up of Tier 1 through Tier 3 cards.  First to come out are the Tier 1 cards, followed by the Tier 2 and so on.  You can only recruit from the bottom row of cards, which is one aspect at the core of the strategy in the game.

To recruit from the City Square, you must have an influence greater than or equal to the cards prestige.  Prestige ranges from Tier 0 cards with minimum zero to Tier 3 cards with maximum of 23. You can use your own abilities from your leader and abilities granted to you by cards in your faction to further gain influence, move cards around in the square, destroy or otherwise hinder cards, and a variety of other things to make it easier for you while making it harder for others to gain influence and grow their faction.

The demo I played at Origins 2013, which was admittedly somewhat contrived and shortened, really illustrated the speed of play and complex strategy in play. Going beyond the basic demo and reading through the rules, I really began to see the complexities and the replay potential of the game. For instance, with the leader-leader interactions, the leaders both feel different from one another and feel different when playing against particular leaders.  The variety of cards allows for great interaction between factions as well.  Also, not restricting the game to a 2 player game (which I can easily see) makes the game even more desirable.

Visually the game is very pleasing to the eye.  Using a variety of classic public domain images to represent the various creatures shows the resourcefulness and creativity of the designer.  When I met him he was very passionate about his game and I could see why.  If you have a chance to sit down with Duncan and see his game played, I highly recommend it.

In conclusion, card games have always sat on my lower tier of games I want to play, probably in most cases because of my aversion to collectible card games as well as deck building games.  However, in recent years, more and more card games have come out that have really drawn me in.  This is one of them.  It is a fun and fast game.  And it can be faster once you get more and more familiar with the cards.  It would take a while to get to that point, but each game would feel so different that it would be easy to get there.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

In the City: Origins
From: Sherwood Games
Type of Game: Card Drafting Game
Game Design by: Duncan Davis
Developed by: Duncan Davis
Cover Art by: Auguste de Forbin
Number of Pages: 12 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 20 Leader Cards, 105 Creature Cards, 5 Influence Tracks, 3 10-sided dice, 9 glass gem markers
Retail Price: $30.00 (US)
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 45 to 60 mins

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Dungeon Crawl Classics & XCrawl (Free RPG Day)

Free RPG Day: Dungeon Crawl Classics & XCrawl
From: Goodman Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Free RPG Day: Dungeon Crawl Classics & XCrawl is a new Free RPG Day Adventure Booklet from Goodman Games.

One of the more surprising things about this year’s Free RPG Day was the amount of free full size books it contained.  One of those books was the complete Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG core rulebook, which is no small book.  That book is reviewed separately on this web site.  I only mention that because this booklet – Free RPG Day: Dungeon Crawl Classics & XCrawl – contains no rules and in fact contains adventures for two separate settings.

From the back cover:
“You’re no hero.  You’re an adventurer: a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen slayer, a tight-lipped warlock guarding long-dead secrets.”

Dungeon Crawl Classic: The Imperishable Sorceress

Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) is one of the many old schools games that have recently come out.  In the aftermath of d20 SRD age, many people wanted more (or less) out of their game and many branched off what the d20 system built and retrofitted many of the classic aspects of older versions of the most popular fantasy RPG into new systems.  Aside from the use of the wonkie “Zocchi Dice,” the game system is a fairly solid system reminiscent of classic D&D.

DCC has a very streamlined and simplified character generation system and many I know that have played it say it is a quick system.  This might explains why the DCC adventure The Imperishable Sorceress does not have characters.  The Imperishable Sorceress requires a little more work up front, with the lack of characters.  That is my first primary issue with it.  Obviously, the publisher’s goal is to illustrate how easy it is to create characters and I supposed this is one way to do it.  However, for a Free RPG Day product, I still would expect a few pre-generated characters.

Aside from the lack of characters, the adventure is a very interesting and in-depth dungeon crawl.  It involves an ancient race called the Builders, the ghost of an ambitious sorceress, Ivrian, and several other denizens hidden in mountain ruins of an ancient Builder stronghold.  This stronghold was once under the ocean where the Builders explored the secrets of eternal youth and immortality.  These secrets were lost with time until Ivrian sought them out.  Things did not go well for her in the end, and now her spirit haunts the halls of this mountain bastion, calling out to anyone who can help her.  In these halls, a party will face demons, resurrected Builders, the spirits of ancient predator fish, and a few other very interesting challenges along the way.

This adventure is fairly original and has a lot of potential for creating a whole campaign around it.  These Builders could have other locations holding secrets, some perhaps underwater.  Ivrian can become a longtime ally or more likely enemy for a larger story arch.  Why was she exploring the Builder secrets of immortality, other than for obvious reasons?  How did she learn of the secrets and who did she upset to get them?

As a Free RPG Day product, it has potential if the GM is willing to put the work into it.  The GM needs to be familiar with the game system.  It’s nice that they supplied a core rule book for anyone willing to run it.  But I think it still would take someone familiar with the game to run it.

From the back cover:
“Ancient Rome meets smash TV meets ganger rap? WTF?”

Maximum Xcrawl : 2013 Studio City Crawl

During the big d20 craze, an interesting game came out called XCrawl.  In my time of coordinating gaming for conventions, I think I have seen that game on the schedule once.  I don’t mean to downplay it, because it’s actually a pretty cool game but I am just making the point that the original version was never really popular within my circles.

Now we see a resurrection of all things d20 now under the umbrella of Pathfinder (PF) compatibility.  PF has really taken over the industry and for very good reasons.  It’s no wonder games like XCrawl want to try again at the market.  If you don’t know anything about XCrawl, it is set in an alternative fantasy version of modern day.  The Empire of North America is quelled with the mind-numbing entertainment displayed on the magically powered TV.  One of the more popular events on TV is Xcrawl.  If D&D dungeon crawling could be crossed with NASCAR and Reality TV, this would be the result.

Once again, the adventure does not have pre-generated characters.  In this case, I suppose they are relying on the fact that fans of Pathfinder will have characters to play.  Technically any character will work as long as it is compatible with Pathfinder, but the pending Xcrawl rulebook will add new classes and systems to enhance your experience.

Players’ characters participate in an “artificially” created dungeon complete with monsters, challenges, secret rooms and artifacts, all in a glorified competition.  This adventure has all the above for the characters to experience.  Reading through it is reminiscent of the classic Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, except with magic.  The characters are brought into the Green Room where they are briefed on the Studio City Crawl.  They are told the general rules of the game and how they win.   There is even a twist involving sexy dungeon dance girls.   In the Crawl, they face traps, puzzles, locks, as well as creatures and other challenges.  There are creatures like the Doom Tuskers, Whammy Gorillas, Dungeon Wights, Terror Birds and Twilight Squids, ranging from CR 4 to CR 9.  Throughout the challenge, the group needs to be collecting statues to get the final prize.

This adventure will also take some preparation and work to run at a Free RPG Day event.  In fact, unless the GM knows about it ahead of time, I doubt anyone would be prepared to run it.  It is definitely something people would take home and try out later.  I would much prefer something more along the spirit of what I feel Free RPG Day is, however – ready to run and play right there and then.

In conclusion, I think instead of cutting corners and putting two adventures into one, perhaps the publishers should have done two separate booklets and included characters in each.  At least that is what I would have done.  Overall, these are great adventures and I would not mind playing them.  However, if these are not ready to play at Free RPG Day, I think people would move on to something else.

For more details on Goodman Games and their new Free RPG Day Adventure BookletFree RPG Day: Dungeon Crawl Classics & XCrawl” check them out at their website http://www.goodman-games.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 12

Product Summary

Free RPG Day: Dungeon Crawl Classics & XCrawl
From: Goodman Games
Type of Game: Free RPG Day Adventure Booklet

Written by: Daniel J. Bishop
Contributing Authors: Rev. Dak J. Ultimak
Cover Art by: Doug Kovacs
Additional Art by: Doug Kovacs
Number of Pages: 5
Game Components Included: One Free RPG Day adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core DCC rule book

Written by: Brendan LaSalle
Contributing Authors: Byron and Marie LaSalle, Jeff Erwin
Cover Art by: Jeremy Mohler
Additional Art by: Brad McDevitt
Number of Pages: 7
Game Components Included: One Free RPG Day adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core XCrawl rule book

Retail Price: Free on Free RPG Day.  $4.99 (US) as PDF
Website: www.goodman-games.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Realms of Cthulhu

Realms of Cthulhu
From: Reality Blurs
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Realms of Cthulhu is a  Savage Worlds RPG Setting Book from Reality Blurs.

Call of Cthulhu has been one of my core games for years.  I fell in love with it back in the late 80s when I got to play it for the first time.  I have been a diehard supporter of the core CoC system since I started running it.  It is very open, free-formatted, and easy to play.  It allowed for such great role play and storytelling in my many years of experience with it.  I continue to run it at least once or twice a year at a con locally.

In 2009, Reality Blurs published Realms of Cthulhu by Sean Preston.  It took the classic CoC and retooled it for the very popular Savage Worlds game system.  My first reaction was “Why?”  If it’s not broken, why fix it?  In all honestly, I was rather averse to the idea of Cthulhu in another system.  Of course, Reality Blurs and Savage Worlds were not the first to do that.  A string of Lovecraftian games are available that take the Cthulhu Mythos setting and integrate it into a new system – Trail of Cthulhu (reviewed here) and Shadows of Cthulhu, just to name a few.

From the back cover:
“Whether you seek action and adventure battling cultists in the sun-drenched jungle temples, a shadowy milieu of dark words and impossible deeds, or a twisted mixture dredged up from the darkest recesses of imagination and nightmare, you will find the rules you need and inspiration you desire within these pages.”

Don’t get me wrong, however.  I am a fan of Savage Worlds.  I am just not a person that takes change well, I suppose.  Recently, however, I have felt the pull to run Savage Worlds games because I enjoy the system so much.

Realms of Cthulhu (RoC) is first and foremost a setting book. You will need a Savage World core rulebook to run this.  At its heart, it is primarily a conversion book of the Cthulhu Mythos from Call of Cthulhu RPG to Savage Worlds.  It also integrates (very well, in fact) key aspects of the CoC RPG into Savage Worlds.  The material adds very little new to Lovecraftian role playing, but it definitely brings it to a new and different level.

To start with, it adds a handful of very appropriate new Skills, Hindrances and Edges.  In the skill section, Realms of Cthulhu is one of the Savage Worlds games that uses the concept of Defining Interests.  Defining Interests are hobbies and interests that round out the character.  They may or may not come into play in game but it gives a little more to the character in general.  It also has a short list of disallowed Edges, which all make sense.  It also provides an adequate list of vehicles and equipment converted to the Savage Worlds system.  But more importantly, it gets into the meat of any Cthulhu game – Sanity and Damage.

One of the first aspects one thinks of when talking about CoC is Sanity.  Nothing is more terrifying then watching your Sanity stat slowly drain away as you go from one horrific encounter to the other.  While Realms of Cthulhu does not have the declining scale like CoC does, it does have an interesting approach to this.  First, it has two versions of Sanity rules – Gritty and Pulpy.  Gritty is characteristically more horror-like while Pulpy is what the name implies, giving you a chance to play in more pulp-like plotlines.  Gritty is less forgiving while Pulpy gives the characters a chance.

The whole Sanity mechanic is very intelligently designed and follows the core philosophy of Savage Worlds (at least the way I see it).  They kept it simple and familiar.  They did not add a new mechanic but instead used existing mechanics and expanded on them. It uses the “first line of defense – Guts” skill.  Once that is a failure, we proceed to Sanity and Mental Anguish.  Sanity is like your mental Toughness.  Mental Anguish is like damage to your mental Toughness.  For every 4 points of Mental Anguish above your Sanity, you take a point of madness.  Sound familiar?  It’s basically the damage system translated to the mental level.  The difference between Gritty and Pulpy is simply a Madness Soak roll. Pulpy allows for the Soak roll where Gritty does not.

From the page 5:
“You hold in your hands a horror game unlike most, for this game does not deal strictly with ghosts and other such monstrosities, but nightmarish landscapes of the master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and those who have shared his vision and shaped his Mythos.”

Of course, one does not die after taking 3 levels of madness, however.  Instead, they go insane.  This system replaces the Short Term and Temporary Insanity system of old CoC.  A check is made once 3 or more madness levels are taken and a table is consulted based on the level of success.   Overall, I liked this system because it was true to both the Call of Cthulhu genre and true to the Savage Worlds mechanics.

Sanity being at the heart of any Cthulhu role playing experience, I was fairly satisfied with the book from that stand point.  However, the Gritty and Pulpy aspect of the game also applies to Damage.  The Pulpy damage system is the default Savage Worlds system.  The Gritty damage system is a lot more lethal.  Among other things, it does not allow you to spend a benny chip to make a soak roll.  It is pretty nasty in general.

Coupling both of these aspects together – the Physical and the Mental – sets the tone for your RoC game.  You can use both Pulpy systems (mental and physical) to have a Heroic Horror game.  You can use Gritty physical and Pulpy mental to have Dangerous Action tone.  I like the fact that it allows for a variety of tone and styles, because going into this, my concern was that using the Savage Worlds system would make it too heroic and not horrific enough.

There is also a concept called Corruption, which is the equivalent of Max Sanity from classic Call of Cthulhu.  The more one delves into the Mythos knowledge, meaning the higher their Knowledge (Mythos) gets, the more Corruption a character receives.  This directly modifies one’s Sanity trait.  However, it also can be used in other ways, depending on the framework of the setting.  This kind of ramps up this aspect of Cthulhu, since the classic version affected a percentile value and was very slow and gradual.  This system is far more effective in showing the consequences of delving too deep in the mythos.

The Keeper Section takes up nearly two-thirds of the book and gives the Keeper enough tools and advice to help him adjust to Cthulhu Savage-style.  It gives some good advice about designing your campaign using three key aspects to begin with – Era, Style and Bond.  Then it follows with several generic frameworks of campaigns.   It is a rather concise and intelligent way of looking at campaign design for any version of Cthulhu.  Following this are several pages of good advice on how to run a good Cthulhu game, from the basic elements to horror to the essential aspects of any Lovecracftian story.

Mythos tomes and Magic are directly related.  Probably one of the more under-used areas in any Cthulhu game, at least in my experience, is magic.  However, because of the generic nature of Savage Worlds, I was concerned that perhaps magic was too easy for people to access because in my mind, magic should be very hard to do in any Lovecraftian world.  Eliminating the need for Arcane Backgrounds Edge (and Power Points as well), the system stays true to the classic feel of Lovecraftian magic while giving a little more options for the GM to play with.  The system requires a Knowledge (Mythos) skill check, and the risk behind is called Backlash.  On a Critical Failure, some really nasty things can happen.  Each power has a cast modifier and one can spend time on the spell to reduce it.

While at the same time it converts some of the classic Cthulhu spells for use in game, it also allows for a number of the core Savage Worlds combat spells.  Converting them to the new RoC magic system is fairly easy.  This is probably where a GM has to be real careful.  In a Pulpy game, these spells would probably work, but in a more Gritty feeling game, I would put pretty strong limitations on magic.

The remainder of the book provides a variety of Mythos Tale ideas as well as a fully fleshed-out location called Drake Manor. It ends with two very important sections – a section on creatures and denizens as well as a conversion system for Call of Cthulhu.

Throughout the book, it also provides handy tables to create random things.  Youc an create random tomes and random mythos creatures.  You can also randomly generate a Mythos Tale. These are a brilliant addition to the GM tool-chest.

In conclusion, the core system of Call of Cthulhu is significantly different from the core Savage Worlds system in more than just the obvious way.  The differences are a double-edged sword, however.  Savage Worlds is a fun system, but I was not sure it could carry the same tone as the classic Basic Role Play System did in Call of Cthulhu.  In some ways, it really does succeed at this while at others, it intentionally does not.  Because Savage Worlds really likens itself to more of a Pulpy feel, this game opens up whole new avenues for adventure that may not have been possible with Call of Cthulhu.   While, I would find it hard to leave my classic CoC stuff behind altogether, I do find RoC appealing in its own right.  It’s definitely different, while at the same time it preserves the feel of CoC, in many ways.  It does require a GM to work a little harder to narrow down his style of Cthulhu game play, but in the end, it is worth it.

For more details on Reality Blurs and their Savage Worlds RPG Setting BooksRealms of Cthulhu” check them out at their website http://realityblurs.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Realms of Cthulhu
From: Reality Blurs
Type of Game: Savage Worlds RPG Setting Books
Written by: Sean Preston
Contributing Authors: Shane Hensley, Simon Lucas, Ed Wetterman, & Stacy Young
Additional Materials: Shane Hensley, Simon Lucas, Ed Wetterman, & Stacy Young
Lead Editor: Lyn Harm
Assistant Editor: Ed Wetterman
Art Direction: Simon Lucas & Sean Preston
Cartography: Keith Curtis
Cover Art: Daniel Rudnicki
Glyphs: Omega Font Labs
Graphic Design: Simon Lucas & Sean Preston
Investigator’s Dossier: Cheyenne Wright
Typesetting: Simon Lucas
Interior Art: Aaron Acevedo, Raul Gonzalez, Andy Hopp, Igor Kieryluk, Diego Gisbert Llorens, Chris Malidore, luis nuñez de castro, Aaron Panagos, Daniel Rudnicki, Charlene Sun, Christophe Swal, Trisha Williams, Cheyenne Wright, and Darek Zabrocki
Number of Pages: 160
Game Components Included: One Hardback book or PDF
Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Deluxe core book
Retail Price: $39.99 (US)
Website: realityblurs.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Cascadia Adventures 2: The Lost Girl

Cascadia Adventures 2: The Lost Girl
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Cascadia Adventures 2: The Lost Girl is a new RPG Adventure from Gypsy Knights Games.

The second in a series of adventures set in the Clement Sector and more specifically the Cascadia subsector, this adventure is only loosely linked to the first.  The same person that hired the characters in the first adventure calls upon them again to help (as the name implies) a lost girl.

This adventure takes place primarily on the planet Gagnon, with a little stopover on Slaren.  The first step I took when I was prepping for this was to read up on the two worlds and their politics.  Assuming that you plan to use this in the default setting, this information is in the Subsector Sourcebook 1 – Cascadia.  As stated when reviewing the Subsector books, there is a lot left to interpretation and any enhancement from the source material is always helpful to a game master.

From page # 17:
MV Dust Runner has returned to Chance after a reasonably profitable cargo run to Kyiv.”

There are basically four major episodes – Introduction, Stopover/Refuel, Investigation and Finale. Those are my designations for them and not official.  The intro to the adventure goes much like the first one – hired by the same contact as a troubleshooting group.  The adventure will take the crew further out into the subsector, so a stopover for refueling will be necessary and that takes place on a world called Slaren.

The stopover is a fairly open-ended portion of the adventure.  Other than an informative encounter with the local defense force, nothing really needs to happen if the GM so wishes.  The pre-generated characters have no real contacts here, so it is unlikely to be any use to them, unless the GM inserts new contacts, or existing contacts could give them new contacts on this world.  This particular portion really gives the GM a chance to explore the potential of this setting and allow him to add whatever he wants into it.  This is not a stringent setting where one little change in the story could unbalance everything.  It is a very flexible setting that you make your own.  Gypsy Knights have simply provided you with the framework.  So I highly recommend going through the Clement Sector sourcebook as well as the Cascadia sourcebook to get ideas on how to make their stopover even more interesting.

From the website:
“A daughter lost.  It tugs at the heart of any parent.”

Moving on to Gagnon, they find themselves in a strange world ruled by a dictator that everyone seems to actually like, at least on the surface.  This is where the Cascadia sourcebook comes in handy again.  Going through the details of Gagnon really reveals an interesting and potentially dark world of intrigue and corruption.  This strange dictator, Major Keith Calderon, seems to be a rare breed.  As the Cascadia sourcebook says, he took power after a revolution against an overly bureaucratic government.  Where there is a revolution, there are those that lost and therein lies all kinds of adventure, intrigue and story potential.

In this adventure, a darker side of the Major is revealed.  Delving deep into the dark world of piracy, criminal underground, inter-planetary politics and human trafficking, this is not for the light at heart.  Of course, like the last adventure, some of the investigation is driven by contacts the characters have.  This facilitates great opportunities for role play and storytelling.

I won’t give much more away but it’s safe to say that this adventure has a great ending that could have a much larger impact than just saving a young girl.  It could end very violently, and within the system like Mongoose’s Traveller, that could be a very bad thing.  They better arm up or figure out a way that doesn’t involve a fire fight.

In conclusion, this gradually takes the characters into the interplanetary politics of the region once again.  It definitely increases the danger and the intensity a little and takes them to a new location totally different than the first one.  It is very well written and adequately illustrated (nice map of the final location).  I definitely have the same drive to run this adventure as I did the first.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG AdventureCascadia Adventures 2: The Lost Girl” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Cascadia Adventures 2: The Lost Girl
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Adventure
Written by: John Watts
Contributing Authors/Editor: Curtis Rickman
Cover Art by: Steve Attwood
Additional Art by: Steve Attwood
Number of Pages: 41 page PDF
Game Components Included: 1 PDF Adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller rulebook, Clement Sector setting book
Retail Price: $4.99 (US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Subsector Sourcebook 4: Sequoyah

Subsector Sourcebook 4: Sequoyah
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Subsector Sourcebook 4: Sequoyah is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Over the past year, I have been given the pleasure to review many of the Gypsy Knight products connected to the Clement Sector series of books.  The Subsector Sourcebook 4: Sequoyah is another book that describes in detail one of the many subsectors in Clement.  I got the soft back book but this book is also available in PDF.

From page # 8:
“The Sequoyah subsector is an area of space 8 parsecs wide and ten parsecs long.”

Where the Cascadia sector is a region of tense political conflict between three major worlds within the subsector, a majority of the political (and potentially military) tension comes from external pressure from the neighboring subsector of Hub.   In particular, the world of Harrison feels the threat of a religiously fanatical world in the Hub sector and is arming up to defend itself.  Meanwhile, the remaining worlds of the sector have their own various things to worry about.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves with the finite details of the setting, it might be good to review the overall details of the sector.  Assuming you use this subsector within the default Gypsy Knights setting, Sequoyah was officially prevented from Earth colonization by treaty before the Collapse. (Refer to the Clement Sector review for details on the sector history.)  However, that was quickly violated and of course who was the major violator – the United States.  The US was not the only violator but apparently it was one of the big ones.

There are 19 inhabited worlds in Sequoyah, all considered independent.  There are four major clusters of worlds or regions that trade and work together and the remaining outlying worlds are considered “bridge” worlds.  These regions range from two worlds to a formidable five worlds.  The power and influence of the sector begins at the namesake, Sequoyah.  Settled by the United States citizens that were primarily of Cherokee decent, this world’s culture is heavily influenced by Native American culture. The vast majority of the Clement Sector Space Navy ended up in the hands of the Sequoyahn Government and continues to influence the region here.

Another interesting world of note is Bowemiwak.  This world, an Earth-like world, was primarily settled by disenfranchised citizens of Austin, Texas, after Texas seceded from the United States.  Leaving a Texas that did not reflect their beliefs, these colonists were one of a few worlds not settled by a major Earth power in the regions. 

From  page # 8:
“Within this space is located nineteen inhabited solar systems. ”

Harrison is the world mentioned earlier, fearing threats from the Hub.  It was settled by people of the Southeast United States and has many familiar aspects of that region.  For example, the people are Christian, and the government is run very similarly to the United States government (with a few tweaks).  But the world lives in fear of the neighboring Kingston in the hub sector, as rumors of an attack have filtered through the population.

Boone was the first colony in the Sequoyah subsector to be settled by the United States.  It remains the center of the Boone region, surrounded by four other worlds within one jump from Boone.  Boone was also a beneficiary of the US Space Navy trapped on the Clement sector, and they remain part of their military force today.  Boone has many similarities to the United States in structure, culture and government and it’s safe to assume that it is probably the second most powerful world in the subsector.  It is also home to something called the Brinton Deeps, a huge bowl-shaped indention in the submarine floor that is said to be perfectly smooth.  Many believe that this is not natural forming and evidence of alien manipulation of the planet’s surface.

There are fifteen other worlds on the subsector, all with varying cultures, governments, and environments.  Each inhabited world is described in just enough detail to tease your imagination.  Of course, I reviewed this from the perspective of the Gypsy Knights’ Clement Sector setting.  However, this sector, with some adjustments, can be integrated into any Traveller setting and even any sci-fi RPG setting.

Like past products by Gypsy Knights, this is the same good quality and value for any Traveller gamer.  However, since I have started reviewing these products, I have actually started play testing and running the setting with some of the adventures he has provided (and soon will be reviewed).  I think it would help layout-wise if the book had reference tabs along the top so you know what planet you were on and not just the title of the book.  There are many times while gaming that I wished I could look up something real quick and that would have been handy.

What I found that really engaged the players about the setting is the internal politics of each planet as well as each subsector.  The writer gave you just enough to get an idea of what the potential politics would be (between the subsector book and the Clement sector book) and left the rest to you.  There is a lot of room to play with that kind of stuff.

In conclusion, Gypsy Knights continues to put out imaginative, believable and flexible setting books.  This one is no different and really expands my vision of the Clement sector.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG Supplement “Subsector Sourcebook 4: Sequoyah” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Subsector Sourcebook 4: Sequoyah
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts
Contributing Authors: Curtis Rickman
Cover Art by: Dreamstime.com, Luca Oleastri
Additional Art by: Ian Stead, Dreamstime.com: Ssuaphoto, Psynovev, Algol, Yvonne Less, Rik Scott, Patrik Winbjork
Number of Pages: 148
Game Components Included: Sector Supplement book or PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Mongoose Traveller RPG books
Retail Price: $30.00(US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire “Shadows of a Black Sun”

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun
From
: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun is a new Free RPG Day Adventure from Fantasy Flight Games.

Within the Star Wars community, few things, short of the Disney purchase of Lucas Films and the impending release of Star Wars VII, have had more buzz than the release of the new RPG by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG).  Back in 2011 when FFG obtained the license after Wizards of the Coast dropped it, I was skeptical.  I personally went through a long phase of my life with various versions of the Star Wars role playing game – from d6 to d20 – over several campaigns.  However, thanks to the prequels, my Star Wars fandom was severely diminished and I stopped running Star Wars games all together, selling everything I had.

Now my young son is getting into Star Wars rather intensely and I am not hindering it.  Slowly but surely, I am reliving Star Wars fandom through my boy.  But I never thought I would ever consider running the RPG ever again.  My question when I first heard about the new RPG was – can they pull me back in?

As I heard their design decisions as well as setting decisions, I was torn.  They were going to market it much like the way they had with Warhammer 40K RPG, starting with the “rogue trader” book, Edge of the Empire, focusing on the fringe and criminal elements of the Star Wars universe.  That did not thrill me because that just meant more books to buy.  Couple that with the rumors of custom dice used in the system, and my expectations were getting lower.  However, the focus was on the Rebellion era, which gave me, I dare say, a new hope.

The Shadows of a Black Sun Free RPG Day adventure has created a lot of buzz.  For a time, the hard copy of the adventure was selling for between $25 and $30 on Ebay.  Since FFG has now released it on PDF, the buzz has died down a little.

This is my first foray into the new Star Wars, so I will be reviewing not only on the Free RPG Day product but also the system itself.

What strikes you first is the stunning layout, art and quality of the product.  You just cannot believe it is free.  However, you should not expect anything less from FFG, especially in relation to the Star Wars universe.  It is full color with brilliant art that says that FFG understands the universe and what is expected of them.  I would even venture to say that it is better quality than the WotC release of the d20 version. I was never overly impressed with their art, but then again it may have been my bias against the prequels.

From the back cover:
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

The book opens up with a general overview of the basic rules.  One of my main concern was the custom dice.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first thing you see is a conversion table for standard dice to their special dice.  That alleviated a lot of concern up front.  They also provide an app for iOS and Android; however, they are not free apps.

THE RULES

The rules themselves are abridged, focusing on just what you need for the adventure.  It explains the dice, one by one, and then goes into the mechanics.  The dice mechanic is actually one of the praises I have heard about this game.  The dice, with the varying symbols, range from 6-sided to 12-sided.  Each die is colored, based on type, and each type has its own set of symbols.  For instance, the Ability Die has a Success symbol (a sort of burst symbol) and a Failure symbol (a three pointed star symbol).  Each symbol has its opposite – once cancelling the other out when rolled.

Every symbol has its own meaning and once you get used to them, I can see the game flowing fairly fluidly.  It is that period of adjustment I am most concerned about, however.  The longer it takes to get used to these symbols, the more likely people will want to play other games with more familiar dice.  The reward will have to outweigh the investment of time to adjust.

What all this means is that the dice not only decide success or fail, but decide severity as well as additional context and consequences during task resolution.  In game, there may be a call for a die to an upgrade.  Ability dice are upgraded to Proficiency dice, and Difficulty dice can be upgraded to Challenge dice.  This dichotomy coupled with the symbol pairing brings task resolution to a whole new level and adds much more storytelling to the dice mechanic.  I was impressed with that from the start.

The Difficulty of a task determines the number of Difficulty dice and/or Challenge dice you roll in your pool.  These range from Simple (no dice at all) to Formidable (5 Difficulty dice).  At any time, these dice can up upgraded (or in some cases, downgraded).  There are 6 Ability scores following the familiar pattern of 3 physical and 3 mental.  The Skill check dice pool is determined by skill rank and the Ability score is associated to the skill.  The higher number determines the number of dice and the lower determines the number of upgrades.   It is a very interesting and subtly elegant system.  It relies heavily on the custom dice but I feel the adjustment period is worth the reward in the end for a system like this.

From the back cover:
“Amid the backdrop of civil war, the Empire tightens its grip on the galaxy.  Yet, even the Emperor’s influence only extends so far.”

Aside from success or failure, the dice add other factors into the game.  The dice may roll Advantage or Triumph as well as Threat and Despair.  The player now must “spend” these on various options presented in a table.  In the abridged version, the table is shorter, as noted in the text.  The Core rulebook has a much more extensive Advantage and Triumph/Threat and Despair table.  Options include adding Boost dice to other actions, inflicting critical, causing strain, or adding setback dice to other’s actions.

There are also Destiny points that represent the Force’s influence on things.  They are basically tokens or coins with two sides – Light and Dark.  PCs can spend the Light side for help in a situation and when spent, the token is flipped to the Dark side.  The GM may in turn flip the Dark side point  to hinder the players.  I really like this aspect of the game.

Combat is simply an extension of the task resolution system, as one would expect. This booklet spends a little time explaining intricacies of combat as obviously it plays a big part in the Star Wars universe.  At first glance, it appears that it goes along the standard Roll Initiative/Roll Attack model, but there are some subtle differences.  Initiative is rolled once for each combat encounter but it is not static for each character.  Each initiative result rolled makes an initiative slot, either Player Character or NPC.  The players as a group decide each round who takes each slot and the GM determines who takes the NPC slots.  That also is an interesting take on initiative, making it more tactical.

I have played combat fairly abstract when playing d6 Star Wars and more tactical in the d20 version.  I prefer a flexible tactical approach to combat.  This new version of Star Wars is quite the opposite.  They encourage a more abstract approach, focusing on action and story rather than grid maps and miniatures.  Unfortunately, I would find myself wanting to favor my grid maps and minis over the abstract, but that’s a personal preference.

THE ADVENTURE

The adventure takes place on Coruscant and puts the players right into the heart of it.  They start out after they have already infiltrated a Black Sun facility and have to escape with stolen data.  It goes through three episodes, starting with a harrowing chase through Coruscant, followed by the search for the bounty hunter that betrayed the Pyke family, and ending with a confrontation of said bounty hunter.  It is an interesting journey through the underbelly of the once great capital of the old Republic.  It not only supplies enough required encounters for a fulfilling adventure, but also a few options are thrown in there as well.

The adventure also illustrates rather well the stylishness of the system, with its simple ways of breaking down NPCs to the ways it makes encounters flow smoother.  I can see how easily it can allow for a lot of adventure and storytelling without getting too bogged down into the system.

The adventure takes the characters through several locations on Coruscant, from the greasy speeder bike repair shop and seedy drug dealing clubs to high-stakes sabacc houses and high towers of weapons smugglers.  A nice addition (and also something that made this free adventure very sought after) is rules to play Sabacc in game terms.  Along with that, it provides 4 pre-generated characters that allow for immediate play.

In conclusion, like most anything out of FFG, this is a high quality product.  It is amazing that it’s free.  It definitely exemplifies what I envision Free RPG Day is.  It gives you all you need to play right away.  The only preparation a GM would need is to read the adventure and rules thoroughly.  My only complaint is that it only supplies 4 characters, but it does supply a means to download more for a larger party.

From a system point of view, some of my skepticism is relieved.  Some publishers would simply release a system with specialized dice just to make more money but honestly, I do not think that was the only motivation behind this design.  Star wars needed a totally new system and a new way of looking at it.  It needed something to revive its fans and play it again in a new way.  This system seems to accomplish at least some of that.  The rest remains to be seen.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Free RPG Day Adventure
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire – Shadows of a Black Sun
From
: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Free RPG Day Adventure
Written by: Jeff Hall
Contributing Authors: Michele Carter, Christine Crabb, Mark Pollard
Produced by: Katrina Ostrandler
Cover Art by: Scott Schomburg, Mark Molnar
Additional Art by: Brian Schomburg, Jacob Atienza, Ryan Barger, Caravan Studio, Christina Davis, Tony Foti, Tom Garden, David Kegg, Adam Lane, Ralph McQuarrie, Jacob Murray, Matthew Starbuck, Christer Wibert, Lucas Film art archives.
Number of Pages: 40
Game Components Included: 1 booklet
Retail Price: Free
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Shadowrun/Battletech, a Time of War Quick-Start rules

Shadowrun Quick-start Rules

Battletech, a Time of War Quick-start Rules

From: Catalyst Game Labs

Reviewed by: Joseph Martin

Everyone loves free stuff, gamers possibly more so. When that free stuff is high quality and useful it is nothing short of amazing. “Free RPG Day” products can vary greatly in quality. Over the last several years they have gone from hastily assembled cheap productions to high quality items that many would pay a small fee for. Catalyst Game Labs has hit the mark pretty closely on this two-game quick start pack.

The physical product is beautiful. It is a flipbook with full color covers outside and in. The glossy card stock cover is both eye catching and rugged. Illustrations abound inside the book itself. The layout is good, the text very readable. Overall it is an impressive quality book, especially when you consider the price!

Shadowrun and Battletech have been around for quite some time. Both have a rich history and background. Enough of that history is presented to give new players a working knowledge of the respective backgrounds. The basic rules needed are presented well and appear to be pulled directly from the rule books themselves. All required stats, abilities, gear and more are presented. From a player’s perspective you could read through either section and be ready to play in a short time. Please note that while all the basic game mechanics are explained there are no character creation rules included. Sample characters are provided. This is not an issue with this being a quick start product designed for introducing new players to the games. Being a quick start product it would help to have a Game Master who has played the game previously and has a little experience. A completely new group, including Game Master might fumble a little bit but will be able to play and hopefully enjoy the introduction scenarios.

An easy to comprehend rules set and a well written and flowing scenario to run new gamers through is a must for a quick start product. On the Shadowrun side a serious yet fun run adventure awaits the players. A quick run for some fast food, what could go wrong? The sample characters are well fleshed out. Only a few typographical errors mar their perfection from an experienced gamer’s point of view. All of the standard archetypes are presented. Players can choose from the Street Samurai, Shaman, Decker and more. The game master is given everything needed to run the game. A map, stats and motivations for opponents and bystanders and even a twist and possible lead to future adventures are included. A decent Game Master could take this cold and be ready to run it in just a few minutes.

The printed version of the Battletech scenario is a little bit of a let down. While detailed and interesting characters are given, the flow of the game is entirely up to the Game Master as no real details other than stats on opponents and a description of the area are given. There are no maps, no suggested actions for either the players or the ‘bad guys’. The story is a little weak and the objective very hard. Experienced players trying the game for the first time might be able to find a way to complete the mission. Brand new players will most likely have problems. A Game Master running the print version will need some extra time to flesh out the details and perhaps soften the adventure for the players.

However, the online PDF version (see below) has a completely different scenario with a much more playable story line. The sample characters are not quite as fleshed out as the print versions but overall a much better introduction for new gamers. The Game Master will still need to spend a little time preparing but will not have to do anywhere near the prep work as in the print edition.

In conclusion, Catalyst Game Labs has hit it out of the park with this product. With the corrected Battletech scenario the only thing that mars it are a few small errors, mostly in the fluff. If you can’t find a print copy of this, hit the online PDF’s below. They are a great read and a welcome addition to any gamer’s library.

You can check out all of Catalyst Games Lab’s products at http://www.catalystgamelabs.com/

At the time of this writing you can find PDF versions of these books at the links below. If a link is dead just search, more than likely it’s out there somewhere.

Shadowrun:

http://cdn.shadowruntabletop.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/E-CAT27QSR_SR5-Quick-Start-Rules.pdf

Battletech:

http://catalystgamelabs.com/download/Free%20PDFs/ATOW%20QSR.pdf

 

Codex Rating: 18 (print edition)  19 (Corrected PDF)

 

Product Summary

Shadowrun/Battletech, a Time of War Quick-start rules

From: Catalyst game labs

Type of Game: RPG

Writer/ Artist: No information given in product.

Number of Pages: 64

Retail Price: Free!

Item Number: None.

ISBN: None.

Email: randall@catalystgamelabs.com

Website: http://www.catalystgamelabs.com/

 

Reviewed by: Joseph Martin

Hall of Bones

Hall of Bones (Free RPG Day)
From: Frog God Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

hob

Hall of Bones (Free RPG Day) is a new Swords & Wizardry Free RPG Day Adventure from Frog God Games.

The old school movement continues with another entry into the mix that I had not heard of before – Swords & Wizardry RPG.  This is not to say these guys are brand new to the market – it’s just new to me.  Their Free RPG Day offering is the Hall of Bones, and it contains all you need to run and play it.

From the back cover:
“Frog God Games is pleased to present a short handling of our rules set, game theory and a short adventure of the award winning Swords & Wizardry game.”

Hall of Bones is a simple adventure to introduce you to the Swords & Wizardry game system.  The booklet contains a “short handling” of the Swords & Wizardry rules, an old school primer on game theory, the Hall of Bones adventure and 4 pre-generated characters.  This is a complete Free RPG Day booklet and what I would expect out of it.

The Swords & Wizardry core rules are downloadable for free from the Frog God web site or you can purchase them in print from them.  In 2009, the game won an ENnie award at GenCon and it has proven to be very popular on the internet.  In the basic sense, it is a “re-printing/re-imagining” of the classic first edition D&D, taking advantage of what Wizards of the Coast was willing to open license, with a few minor changes.

I got involved in gaming in 1983 and probably played this version of D&D once.  I don’t remember a lot about it so this is basically new to me.  For those not familiar with D&D 1e, it set the foundation for what was to become the d20 system but on a much less heroic level.  The system was pretty stingy with experience, was very restrictive on magic items and in general much less epic that its successors.  It uses a lot of tables in combat (a different Attack vs. Armor Class table for each class) and does not have feats or class abilities, so to speak.  Each class is slightly different and has their own progression table but multi-classing is highly restricted.

A future review of these rules will soon appear on The Gamers Codex.

Much of that does not matter for this Free RPG Day one-shot.  In this, the adventure is strictly to illustrate the system.  One interesting modification of the paired down version is that it doesn’t use the default AC rules – which is the classic descending value (lower is better).  Instead, these quick start rules use the more d20-esque ascending scale for AC.  Otherwise, there are many familiar d20 tropes that most would recognize – attack bonus, the 6 abilities score and their bonuses, hit dice and hit points, for example.

The section entitled “An Old-School Primer” delves into the author’s philosophy as to why he prefers this kind of system over more modern ones in the same genre and part of the same line.  For instance, characters’ ability scores have less effect to avoid the uber-powerful character too early.  He shares a vision with many other old-schoolers that less is more, and power-gaming is in part what has lead to much of what see today in the more modern version of D&D.  At least that’s the way I interpret his opinions.  I’m not saying he is wrong and I am not saying he’s entirely right either.  That debate could go on and on and have no result.  But it is a refreshing approach to today’s fantasy role playing games.

It is also interesting that they added this to a Free RPG Day supplement.  It’s like the old school movement needs evangelizing.

From back cover:
“This game is similar to very old school editions of the game, dating back to 1974.”

The four pre-generated characters are a dwarf fighter, human cleric, human magic user, and an elf thief.  Include the henchman and his animal follower introduced at the start of the booklet (that easily can be converted to a character), the party is complete.

The adventure itself is a basic dungeon crawl, giving the character the best reason to explore it – evil lurking inside and great riches to be found.  Through the standard character recruitment method of a tavern, the find out there is an evil necromancer lurking in some ruins and rumors of a dungeon beneath containing great treasure.  The players are lead through a perilous dungeon with traps, tricks and treasure all along the way. Also they encounter a few monsters too, including ghouls, giant spiders and giant rates.

There is very little preparation for this game, if a GM wants to run this at a Free RPG Game Day.  Just a simple read through of the rules, which are familiar enough to anyone familiar with d20 or Pathfinder that they could easily grasp it.  On the flip side of that, this can easily be converted to something else if the GM so wishes.  However, I would highly recommend giving this a try using the Sword & Wizardry system.

In conclusion, I feel like these guys grasp the essence of what Free RPG Day is meant to be.  They give you all you need up front and if that’s not enough, they give you the free option to download their rulebook.  You can tell they are passionate about their love for classic D&D 1e.  This is a great intro product to a great game.

For more details on Frog God Games and their new Sword & Wizardry Free RPG Day AdventureHall of Bones (Free RPG Day)” check them out at their website http://tsathogga.blogspot.com.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Hall of Bones (Free RPG Day)
From: Frog God Games
Type of Game: Sword & Wizardry Free RPG Day Adventure
Written by: Bill Webb
Contributing Authors: Aaron Zirkelbach
Game Design by: Bill Webb
Cover Art by: Chris Mcfann
Additional Art by: Brian LaBlanc, MKUltra Studios, Claudio Pazos, James Stowe, Richard Thomas
Number of Pages: 20
Game Components Included: Rules overview, adventure, pre-generated characters.
Website: http://tsathogga.blogspot.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Killer Thriller

Killer Thriller

From: Timeout Diversions

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

There are several horror RPGs on the market, most of which involve you playing a reasonably competent investigator of the unknown. But is this sort of thing truly reflective of the horror genre? If you think about it, the answer is, “Not really.” This is because, to paraphrase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, people in horror movies are idiots. They go about doing inane things like checking out sinister noises without letting anyone else know where they’re going or investigating a dark basement without so much as a flashlight. And if the character in question happens to be a nubile female, through contrived circumstances she’ll likely perform these actions while nude (or at the very least in just a towel or her underwear). It’s this style of horror story which Killer Thriller seeks to model.

From page 3:
“Wilder than Killer Klowns From Outer Space! (Gasp!)
Scarier than Cannibal Apocalypse! (Arghhhhh!)
Bigger than The Blob and twice as ugly! (Eeeek!)”

The PDF itself is quite minimalist, with vitually no artwork. For the most part, this is a non-issue. However, some of the chapters end less than halfway through the page, leaving a huge blank space which some sort of illustration could have been used to fill up. A particularly egregious instance occurs at the end of Chapter Two, where there is a total of six lines of text (two of which are footnotes) on the last page.

Chapter One covers the details of creating characters (referred to as Victims), as well as how their stats work. Chapter Two goes into further detail on playing the game and provides a list of common weapons. Chapter Three goes over the basics of creating monsters, listing a wide variety of monster types to offer inspiration. Chapter Four provides some director (i.e. GM) tips on running the game. Chapter Five wraps things up with a double feature. The first is an abandoned town scenario which provides considerable flexibility for the director regarding the motivation of the monster. The second one involves an invasion by gullible aliens whose idea of what Earth is like comes from B-movies shown on cable. The invasion involves faithful duplicates of famous movie monsters with the serial numbers filed off. The text is peppered with plenty of examples of how the rules work, doing away with what little ambiguity there may have been. Each section is also headed with an appropriate quote from a horror movie in the style of A Certain Other RPG.

In schlocky horror movies, most characters will have the life span of a fruit fly, so rather than each player designing and controlling one character, everyone gets a minimum of three victims. With having to manage multiple victims, their stats are fairly simple. As the victims are supposed to be incompetent, they possess what are known as Inabilities. These are Unwise (reflecting how likely the victim will do something stupid), Unluck (reflecting how likely the victim will be visited with misfortune), and Undone (reflecting how prone the victim is to panic). Among these Inabilities, a seven, an eight, and a nine are assigned as desired. Victims also have 1d6+6 Unharm, which act as hit points. Finally, each victim receives a Stereotype, which sums up the basic characterization of the victim. Besides providing a cardboard personality, it also serves as the basis for the Free Pass. Once per game, a victim may automatically succeed at a task if it’s somehow associated with the Stereotype. For players who wish to get more fiddly with their victims, they can also take Unreal and Unthinkable. These roughly correspond to Advantages and Disadvantages respectively which are commonly seen in point build-style RPG systems. They are primarily used in adjusting Inabilities and Unharm, as well as gaining extra Free Passes. The only restrictions are that no more than two Unthinkable may be taken, and Inabilities may not go higher than ten.

So how do you go about using these Inabilities? Whenever the director calls for you to test an Inability, you roll 2d6. No modifiers or other such crunchy bits, just a straight roll. You succeed if you roll lower than the Inability and fail if you roll higher. However, since these are Inabilities, success is actually failure and failure is actually success. You may have noticed that I said nothing about what happens if the result is equal to the Inability. When that occurs, the victim experiences an Epic Fail. This means that the Inability succeeds (or in practical terms, fails) in such a way that the victim is injured, taking Unharm damage equal to the Inability.

As you can see, death comes easily in Killer Thriller. But one victim’s gory dismemberment is another victim’s power-up opportunity. Whenever a victim dies, the player assigns another one of his/her victims Unharm points equal to the base amount of the dead victim’s Unharm. At the director’s discretion, bonus Unharm may be awarded if the player gives a spectacular description of the victim’s death or walked into his/her demise without being prompted into it with Inability rolls. Should this enhanced victim get knocked off anyway, the recipient victim gains Unharm equal to the total Unharm accumulated by the previous victim. So when a player is down to one victim (known as the Last Survivor), he/she is going to be incredibly buff.

From page 18:
“It’s a Monster’s duty to oblige when a victim affords the opportunity for massacre, whether by taking a bath, doing the nasty, being exceedingly obnoxious, becoming startled by a cat leaping out of the attic, or daring to utter the phrase ‘I’ll be right back’… It must show up according to the laws of cinema and fulfills its role as the cleaner of the gene pool.”

Of course every horror story needs a monster. In Killer Thriller, they come in two varieties, Minion and Boss. Minions are relatively wimpy and any victim should be able to take them on. Boss Monsters are a completely different matter and initially don’t even have stats. Whatever task it attempts, it is successful as long as the targeted victim succeeds at the relevant Inability roll. Note, however, I said initially. You may have noticed how, when the cast of a schlocky horror movie has been whittled down to the last few you know are going to survive, the Big Bad suddenly becomes less capable. Well, when a Boss Monster goes up against a Last Survivor, it will possess Inabilities just like everyone else.

In conclusion, though there are some editing issues with the PDF, this has absolutely no effect on actual gameplay. The simple beer and pretzels mechanics make for a smooth playing out of a cliche-riddled horror story and can handle anything from rubber-suited monsters that would be at home on Mystery Science Theater 3000 to Eighties-style slashers.

Rating: 19

Product Summary

Killer Thriller

From: Timeout Diversions

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Tony Lee

Number of Pages: 28

Retail Price: $3.00

Website: http://www.timeoutdiversions.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Interview of Robert Burke of Robert Burke Games

Hello Robert.  Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. First off, tell us a little about yourself and your career as a game designer?

I’m just a guy who love games and loves to create stuff. Game design is not my career; it’s just a passion that I love. And that’s fine with me.

Not only are you a game designer, but you have a video blog?  Tell us a little bit about that.

I have done some videos that I post on BGG called “When To Play.” It’s nothing serious, but I started doing them only because I think many reviewers don’t tell us much more than what their own personal tastes are. I believe it’s more valuable to tell people what niche a game fits and within what social situations a game can shine. That’s what I’m trying to do with the series, but really I’m just stumbling through the dark and having fun.

You have several game designs under your belt.  Just to name a few – The tile-laying, creature building game, Cartoona, the card game, Battle For Souls, and the storytelling family game, Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan.  What do you think this reflects of you as a gamer?

All my games start out as an idea, and each idea springs from some passion I have. For Cartoona, it was my art, for Gnomes, it was story adventures I made up for my kids. Battle For Souls was inspired by my love of art history, the writings of CS Lewis and visits to the Vatican. For me, it has to start with a passion for the theme. Only after a passion spurs an idea do I start to think about mechanics. I am not a designer who will be known for a certain mechanic, or a single theme, or even a single genre. It’s a passion for the theme that leads me where I need to go. That’s why my games are very different from one another. This is not the smartest way to go from a business perspective, because the people who enjoyed my last game may not be the right audience for my next one. But it’s not business success that drives me, it’s a love of the process and a passion for the idea.

You seem to have a knack for interesting family-friendly games.  When you started out, was that in your vision?

No. Cartoona came from my art. I have painted these cartoon creatures for decades. And they have always been done with an automatic drawing technique. I developed a vocabulary of different creature body parts, so when I draw a creature, I don’t think about what I will draw, I just put together different parts from this “alphabet” I have created. Cartoona was a way for me to make a game so people could experience creating cartoon creatures like I do. You never know what you will get, and sometimes they make you smile. The art and the mechanics just lent themselves to being a family game. I did not set out to make a family game; it became one as I developed it. Gnomes is a family game because I developed it for my own kids. It started as a way to inspire their imaginations and grew into a story that I wanted to share. Again, it was not planned, but rather evolved into what it is. I don’t ever want to force my designs, I want them to emerge.

Tell us a little but about your effort with Arkham Horror designer, Richard Launius – Draco Magi?  How was it working with Richard?

 Working with Richard has been great. He’s a game design veteran who has taught me a ton. We met at Dice Tower Con 1, but really hit it off at Gnomecon in Savannah. I had a card game I was working on at Gnomecon that grew from my love of dragons, and it was a good abstract strategy game. The goal was to make it a simple game with deep strategy. A brain burner. Richard played it and liked it, but he said something that was an epiphany for me. He said, “Robert, the mechanic is solid, but I don’t feel like dragons are fighting.” And you know what, he was right. Now, I understood this was a true legendary designer of thematic games, so I took that comment to heart. I had gotten away from what inspired this game, DRAGONS, and instead was focusing on proving I could make a “smart” strategy game. So, Richard and I spoke at length, I gave him a prototype and we have been working on it together ever since.  The collaboration has done wonders for the game and for my growth as a designer. I can tell you this, every part of the game is driven by the theme now, and you really get the sense of dragons fighting. And we did not have to give up the strategic elements to do so.

Tell us a little about your latest project, The Offensive Band Name Generator?

Well music is a HUGE passion for me. I’ve played in bands and I have been writing a playlist column for Yahoo! Music for years. I also just signed on with Beats Music, which is Dr. Dre’s new streaming music service. I will be providing them with curated playlists. So music is a big part of my life. The Offensive Band Name Generator (OBNG) is a party game that evolved out of games I’ve played with band mates where we would come up with band names to fit some theme. Again, the passion sparked the idea, and the idea forged the game. It’s a riot to play, but is for mature audiences only.

The Offensive Band Name Generator seems to be a slight departure from your other games.  Further diversification?

No. All my games are a departure from my other games because it’s the idea that rises to the top that I work on, and I never know where the next one is coming from.

What is in your future plans?

Get the OBNG and Draco Magi published and then onto some new passions. Maybe my favorite book? It’s a great one, but I won’t say just yet.

This year, you are attending MACE in Charlotte, NC.  What do you look forward to the most at MACE this year?

I always look forward to playing games and meeting fellow gamers! I can’t wait to spend some time at a Con in my own back yard!