Justus Productions

Geek Girls Gaming – Girls at the Table

In case you were somehow buried under a rock, you might not have noticed that over the last few years women in general, and geekdom in particular, are starting to be more vocal about their interests and their expectations of being accepted at the gaming table.  Well, they have.

Whether that table is at a convention or at your FLGS or in the back of the comic book store, women are becoming more vocal about their pastimes.  From Pros like Clare Grant and Felecia Day to Cosplayers to Gamer Girls, women seem much less willing to hide their enjoyment of all things geeky.

What does this mean for gaming?  It means you are going to see even more women playing in the Pathfinder Scenario Society, even more women at your FLGS picking up dice and looking at books, and even more women at cons cosplaying for a couple hours and then sitting down to play Magic: the Gathering.

Surprisingly, I’ve actually heard the question (recently)…so how should we treat women at the table?  The obvious answer: just like you treat the guys at your gaming table.  Well, okay, to play on a stereotype, maybe you don’t make quite as many, “Can I hit on the barmaid?” jokes.   However, if you are like most gaming groups, you treat each other with respect and you enjoy the game.  You play the characters, you roll the dice, you drink the Dew and go home.  That doesn’t change when a girl (or more than one) joins your gaming group.

Our regular gaming group is a pretty evenly split, 6 guys and 4 girls.  The GM role typically floats between two of the guys and one of the girls.

So what kind of expectations do we have at the table?

  • You are playing a character, not yourself. Try to remember that your character is not you… no modern politics unless you are playing a modern game.  Even then, try to keep it from disrupting the game.
  • No “Lone Wolves”; no backstabbing. These are big for us because we are such a large gaming group.  Play characters that want to be with others. If you are evil, have a reason to be with the good characters and not steal from them or kill them.
  • Keep it in character.  Sometimes disagreements form between characters.  We encourage folks to keep it there and to make it clear when it is character vs personal driven.
  • Play nice with each other.  Keep real life out of the game. Sometimes we get stressed and we use games as a release. The thing we need to remember is not to take out our stress on our fellow characters.
  • Other rules: take turns, share information, and don’t touch someone else’s dice

All of these expectations are the same if it’s a guy or a girl at the table, we don’t really differentiate.

And just for a visual. This came out in May of this year.

Dungeon Run Girl Gamer Comic

And this article recently came out in Time.

The Rise of Fangirls at Comic Con

So the next time a girl sits down at the table, be nice, welcome her to the group and to slightly misquote Wil Wheaton – “Girls play games! Get used to it.”

21 Plots: Misbehave

21 Plots: Misbehave
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

21 Plots: Misbehave is a new RPG Adventure/Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Forever instantiated in geek culture are the immortal words of the captain of the Firefly, “I aim to misbehave.”  These simple words can inspire a variety of ideas for adventures as well as adventurers.  They are quite commonly used in game sessions to announce when a party is ready to take on their mission or bad guy.  21 Plots: Misbehave makes me think of this quote every time I look at the PDF.

I have used the Traveller plot books often in my many years of running sci-fi RPGs.  They have worked in many settings, with very little adjustment.  They are simply inspirations that help the GM when he needs an idea for a new adventure, an idea if the players divert from the planned course, or an easy side distraction between core plot adventures.

From the website:
“Let’s be bad guys!”

21 Plots: Misbehave are plot ideas where the patron wishes the players to do something illegal or otherwise shady.  Like other Plot books in the Gypsy Knights line, it is inspired by the classic Traveller plot books format.  They include a short introduction telling the basics of the plot, and then a table with 6 possible outcomes.  One can simply pick one of the outcomes or roll a 6-sided dice.

The jobs range from standard robbery, revenge, and property repossession, all the way to investigations into questionable business practices and risky attacks on crime bosses.  The tables present options that range from “the scenario is presented as is” to extreme and dangerous plot twists.

From the website:
“The newest in our popular 21 Plots series, 21 Plots: Misbehave is the second of a series of scenarios targeted to a theme.  21 Plots: Misbehave presents 21 situations of questionable legal status with 6 possible outcomes for the Referee to use with a gaming group.”

Plots that I found notable include, for example, an attack on an illegal high stakes poker game run by a power crime boss; a friend of the party who usually works as a fence for them actually wants the players to look into his cheating spouse; and an inter-corporate terrorism between two rival entertainment companies over a high seas resort.  What make the plots more interesting is the varied possibilities in twists that the results table presents.

In conclusion, this is a very interesting and inspiration supplement, full of innovative ideas that really get into the underbelly of the Clement sector.  It is not only useable in the Clement Sector and for Traveller, but also useable in any other sci-fi setting with a few tweaks.  This is good quality work.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG Adventure/Supplement21 Plots: Misbehave” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

21 Plots: Misbehave
: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Adventure/Supplement
Authors: John Watts, George Ebersole, Tony Hicks, ”Big” Dan Callahan, Paul Santiago
Artist: Bradley Warnes
Editor: Curtis Rickman
Number of Pages: 39
Game Components Included: One PDF or soft back book
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller rulebooks
Retail Price: $4.99 (US) PDF, $10.99 (US) softback book
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung


Interview with RPG Legend, Lester Smith, creator of d6xd6 CORE

core-rpg-adThank you for taking the time out to interview with us.  It is an honor and a privilege.

The privilege is mine! Thanks!

For those that might have been living under a rock, tell us about yourself and your proudest accomplishments in the gaming industry.

Most long-term gamers know me as the designer of Dragon Dice–an Origins award winner–and of the Dark Conspiracy role-playing game. I worked on staff at both GDW and TSR in the late 80s and 90s, and have done freelance work for Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Star Wars, Deadlands, and many other properties, participating in three other Origins winning products. I was also a reviewer of small-press games for Dragon Magazine for several years. Beyond that, the publication list is pretty long.

For the past decade, I’ve been publishing poets and fiction writers via Popcorn Press–including an annual Halloween anthology for the past five years. Last year I added a half dozen card games to the catalog, and this year I’m tackling a role-playing game. I’ve also contracted a couple of dice games with SFR, Inc.: Daemon Dice last year, and SuperPower SmackDown! this year.

What is d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?  What drove you to create it?

A relatively full answer is published on my blog (www.lestersmith.com) under the title “Serendipity is the Kindly Grandma of Invention.”

In a nutshell, a few people over the past several years have commented on my old Zero role-playing game design, saying they wish it were still in print. While I don’t own the rights to that world, I’ve always been happy with the unique central dice mechanic–d6xd6–based on a single stat–Focus.

In July of 2013, I started adapting that mechanic to other settings, and ran a ghost-based adventure at Quincon that year, with very positive responses. So I set out to draft a full set of rules online, planning to write a plethora of different genres for it.

Then in the fall of 2013, Douglas Niles asked if I’d like to publish an ebook of his New York Times bestselling Watershed trilogy. While laying out and proofing that work, I suddenly thought, “Why am I planning a new fantasy setting when there’s an amazing one right here?” Doug agreed to let me include Watershed as the default fantasy setting, and something clicked in my head: “Why write new settings for any genre, when there are amazing novels out there to draw from, if the novelists agree?”

Suddenly a multi-genre project switched from something I’d have to devote lots of time to for each setting, to something that would serve fans better by providing a few specific rules for entering a novelist’s world, and using those novels as source books. It became a perfect cross-promotional vehicle for everyone involved.

So I invited several novelist and film-making friends to join, and nervously wrote to some absolute strangers whose work I simply loved. Andrea K Höst, Adrian Howell, Matthew Bryan Laube, and Hanna Peach were the first four strangers, and they all said yes! Things snowballed from there, to the thirty-four authors currently involved, representing thirty-eight different worlds.

You have an extensive and distinguished resume in the gaming industry.   In the time you have been involved with it, what has surprised you the most about the changing and evolving environment of the RPG market?

To my mind, quality print-on-demand and PDF publishing has been the happiest change in not just games, but also books and films. Add crowdfunding to the mix, and an explosion of creativity has breached the temple walls, allowing anyone, anywhere, with vision and drive, to reach a viable market. It used to be that a few big publishing houses decided what would be available to read, and a few fanzines dared to survive outside those environs. Now those fan efforts are in the majority, and the big houses are struggling to survive. I mentioned earlier having been a small-press reviewer for Dragon magazine. That term doesn’t really apply any longer; everything is small press.

Yes, it does mean some poorly executed work runs wild, decreasing the “signal to noise” ratio. But readers are pretty adept at tuning in to the best, and social media lets us all share those recommendations. Viral is the new marketing. The days of Madison Avenue convincing us to buy things we don’t need are fading.

I’m a huge fan of the Information Age.

In the world of today’s RPG market, what does d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game bring to it that sets it apart?

Five-minute character creation that allows any conceivable occupation. A unique number curve that handles “initiative,” success, and amount of success in one roll. A fast and easy combat system based on my three decades of writing and reviewing rules. An unlimited number of possible worlds that can be added on pretty much “on the fly.” And the experience system is unique, too.

Has any of your previous work influenced d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Zero was the first place I experimented with a single-stat “Focus” concept. My years at GDW produced a healthy respect for clean combat rules. Work with Dragon Dice at TSR taught me a certain poetry of game mechanics–drama without structure is chaos; structure without drama is death. Writing sonnets, haiku, and Web code revealed the ways magic blossoms from the right framework. As WordPress says, “Code is poetry.” See also Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room” sonnet. Game design is poetry, too.

Would a setting like Dark Conspiracy work well in  d6Xd6 CORE?

Abso-tively! We’re currently just a couple hundred dollars away from demonstrating that with Colin F. Barnes’ twisted cyperpunk Techxorcist series, and just a Secret Goal or two from adding J. Robert King’s surreal Nightmare Tours and Jason Daniel Myers’ mythic Big Trouble in Little Canton. The d6xd6 CORE RPG could easily adapt Dark Conspiracy itself.

What is in your plans for the future of d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Unsurprisingly, the current Kickstarter is having a big say in that. Besides the creators currently engaged, we’ve been approached by other authors and artists interested in the engine. We’ve also been approached about distribution, which would certainly help. And we’ve been asked about licensing the engine to other publishers; I’m working a draft of that now.

I’m certain we’ll be adding new worlds as standalone ebooks in the future, with print books of those if the page count justifies it. In short, the system is a platform upon which we can build countless things. And the more successful it grows, the more time I can devote to expanding its multi-verse, and to working on other games.

Thanks for your time.  Good luck with the d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game and all your future projects!

Thank you! And keep up the good work promoting this wonderful hobby.

Con-Gregate 2014 – Gaming Coordinator Report

gregnoglassforwebFirst year con jitters.

It has been a while since I first experienced a first year con.  I had forgotten the struggles it goes through to get attendance, appear attractive to the base, and the general issues first year cons go through.  Con-Gregate is a little different from this perspective, however. The experience behind the staff really helps the con jump over some of the traditional hurtles a con has to deal with.  There is no real downside to experience on a con staff as long as people are not stuck in their one way of doing things.  Running cons needs experienced staff regardless of genre or type and adaptable people at the helm as they not only have to change for each environment they are in (hotel, locality and community) but also with the times and the shifting fandom.  Con-Gregate, a small literary fandom con contracted JustUs Productions out to run gaming for them, and with the experience behind this con, we had no doubts this con had potential.

However, regardless of experience, every con has to go through its first year jitters.  Attracting attendees is very hard, especially in the crowded world of fandom cons.  It is a challenge to persuade an already strapped and thin demographic to come spend their money at your event without history or reputation to back it up.  Con-Gregate had to tackle that issue as well as many others and I think they learned a few things.  In the end, I think a good foundation was laid.

Knowing that it was a first year, as gaming coordinator I approached it with the intention of starting out slow.  I was given limited space and I was not sure how many locals would turn out to game, so I did not set my expectations high.  JustUs had some contacts in the area but it had been a while since we ran anything major in the area.  The area was a little soured by other events putting on less than perfect gaming and I had to overcome that.  I put out GM call after GM call and got a moderate response.  As the con drew closer, I got more and more events on the schedule – enough to make a satisfactory game schedule.

After 15 years of doing this, a small first year con was not mush work for me.  I had things ready quickly despite dealing with other convention events and family vacations a month beforehand.  Our usual quality gaming set up was ready and packed 24 hours before the con.  Arrival was not without its stressful moments but most obstacles were easily overcome and gaming was ready for the day of the con.

Attendance was generally sparse at the beginning and gradually built up.  From a gaming point, some games made while others did not.  I put the board game room in the middle of the main flow of traffic but it did not seem like anyone was interested in playing board or card games.  RPGs, which were in sort of an isolated portion of the con, did pretty well although there were a few games that did not make.  Despite my lowered expectations, I think it had been too long since I dealt with a first time con situation and so I had forgotten the ebbs and flows of gaming at such an event.

Saturday afternoon is usually peak for any 3-day weekend con, fandom or gaming.  By then you have the most people you are going to have at one time.  In those few hours, the board game room finally started to buzz, and more games started to make in the RPG room.  I finally felt satisfied and thought our gaming was a success.

Also being a sci-fi con, gaming was not the focus so I did not expect a ton of gamers to flood in.  You also have the gamers that are fans and that want to fit in panels or find it hard to fit long game sessions in their other plans. All one can do is make the gaming schedule as attractive as possible across as broad base as possible, with what the community provides you in terms of GMs, judges and event coordinators.  I think I accomplished that.

Gamers are a challenging bunch.  Some will come out for any kind of game while others want a specific kind of game.  But I think the vast majority of gamers that will come to a con will come once they know there is a solid schedule with a certain level of organization, and a enough variety to cover a broad swath of the community.  Once you establish a solid reputation within the established gaming community of the city you are in, word will spread.  But that reputation has to be near stellar or you get the “…meh..” reaction.  In a first year con, it is all about establishing that reputation and foundation within the community.  This was my goal.

I scheduled myself for 6 games – one RPG (Realms of Cthulhu/Achtung! Cthulhu), two board game (Eldrich Horror and Aliens), and two minis games (Star Wars: X-Wing, and Axis & Allies minis).  I ran games that I like to see at cons.  5 of of my 6 games made and I was very happy with that.  Others were not so lucky but most had at least one game make.  So I was reasonably pleased in the end.

As for the other side of the con – the fandom side – I honestly cannot comment too much on.  I like to immerse myself in the gaming side so that everything goes as well as it can.  My wife worked on guests this year, and all seemed to go well on that end.  They had a great line up of literary guests that included Larry Correia (writer of Monster Hunter International), Mark Poole (artist), Toni Weisskopf (Baen Books), and Jennifer McCollom (special effects makeup artist).  They also had Steve Long of Hero Games, who ran a charity game of their new setting for the Hero System, Monster Hunter International, with Larry Correia as a player.

They also had a variety of discussion panels, some of which I heard were very innovative and interactive.  Fandom areas that were covered included literary sci-fi, fantasy and horror (of course), costuming and cosplay, filking, and podcasting. A vast majority of the attendance came for those, obviously, and all seemed to have a good time. They also had a decent sized dealers room and a fan table hall.

What I like best about Con-Gregate and any con like this is the potential and the energy.  If you don’t have one or the other, you might as well hang up the towel.  The potential is there, for sure.  Between the experience and the area, there is great potential.  There is still a lot of hard work to tap that potential but with the right people, the right motivation and the right resources, it can happen.  There is some history of past cons and bad experiences they have to overcome, but that takes time.  Gamers in particular have been burned in the area and it is going to be a challenge get over that history.  Being aware of that history is also important and that only comes from experience.

The energy is something that builds.  Like a spark that starts a fire, it can start out slow but get to feverish pace in a short few years.  The numbers I am hearing from this con sounds like the spark has struck and it is off to a good start.  I have some work to do on the gaming side but that will take time.  Some gamers I had never met have came and that means I am hitting gamers that our other events have not touched.  They will go off and tell their other friends and the good reputation will start.  The few GMs and games I had are some of the best in my “GM stable” and without a doubt, helped start this fire and I hope it spreads.

Thanks to James and Tera Fulbright, as well as my wife Stephanie and the other staff members for helping make this con what it is and what it will be.  I look forward to more ConGregates in the future.  The people behind this con are going at it very intelligently.  There are certain tropes that they do at every con that never change, but they are also changing up things from the way they used to do things.  That willingness to change and adapt will go a long way.  They are also doing it smart and running it like a business.  They have a great marketing plan, logo and look to the con.  They have established their brand up front to differentiate from other events as well as past events in the area.  I have a lot of confidence in them.


B-Movie Inspirations: P-51 Dragon Fighter (2014)


Here is yet another installment of B-Movie inspiration, seeding your RPG ideas by watching very bad movies…so you don’t have to.

Browsing through available movies, I found a gem of a movie that I really connected with.  I have been running Actung! Cthulhu all year at every convention I have been at this year, and I just finished reviewing both the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide.  When I saw the title, I was immediately drawn to it.  Also, I have focused so strongly on old cheese, I felt that some new cheese was needed.  The problem is that there is so much new cheese to choose from.  Anybody with a 3D rendering program and a few friends who can half-way act is putting together a monster movie of some kind.  And the Syfy Channel is buying them up, no matter how bad they are.  It is like they are throwing cheese at a wall and hoping something sticks to make a market for it.

I immediately thought this is going to be one of those direct-to-SyFy Channel special movies because the movie is seriously low budget with bad special effects, full of bad acting and clichéd scripting.  There are so many shots and scenes that make you slap your forehead that it is sickening.  However, I liked the concept so I suffered through it. I took breaks between the very bad scenes and the horrible acting, so it wasn’t too bad.

There have been several World War II/Nazi occult mash up movies – The Keep comes to mind, or Outpost and its sequel – but this one just stood out to me.  Too many of these types of movies have the same things in common – Nazi zombies or the like.  That is so clichéd that I felt something new might be refreshing.  When I saw “dragons” in the title with a P-51 Mustang, I was hooked.

The movi
e opens with an archaeological dig in some desert setting, which you assume is North Africa somewhere.  The workers uncover what their fearsome leader is seeking – what we learn later is a dragon egg. This evil leader – Dr. Heinrich Gudrun – looks hungrily at the egg as he holds it up to the light and, through a very cheesy effect, shows the dragon embryo.

We then switch to an American armored position somewhere in the desert where a very badly rendered Sherman tank is sitting out in the dessert.  Through some unclear events, we see the tank crew report of something going on near their perimeter and call in air support.  The air support, the forward observer (that pops out of nowhere), and the armor unit itself is then subsequently destroyed by a flying creature breathing fire.

Enter our hero, Lt. John Robbins – a angst-ridden pilot suffering some trauma from a past war experience.  He took himself off the flight roster after this bad experience and became a brawling drunkard.  Of course, up until his bad experience, he was one of the most decorated pilots in the war and now the Allies want him back.  There is a “new threat” and only he can help with it.  He is introduced to a couple of officers at a airfield somewhere in North Africa and shown gun camera footage of the events in the beginning of the move.  Of course, the good guys get a stern look in their face that says, “We have to do something about this!”

They form a team of the best pilots the Allies have to offer – 8 pilots – that include a few of RAF pilots, the French, Czech and a couple of Americans.  They are assigned to hunt and kill these new creatures who are obviously dragons.  Before they can get settled in, however, they are attacked by 3 dragons. They send up all the pilots (less our hero who is still grounded by the American general because, of course, all officers are pig headed and stubborn).  This first real exposure to dragon dog-fighting is not as exciting as I had hoped but it has its moments, despite the poorly done special effects.

Every piece of hardware, from the aircraft to the tanks, are done in CGI.  Never is there a moment where you see an actor and a 3D-rendered item in the same shot, save some shots of the dragons in the background and the humans in the foreground.  I think they blew their blue screen budget on that one scene.  I had to chuckle when I saw the dragons.  The dragons themselves have the iron cross tattooed on their wings.  That was a nice cheesy touch.  I laughed thinking “Who was the poor German tattoo artist that had to do that?”

We are also introduced to more bad guys, led by none other than the Desert Fox himself, General Irwin Rommel.  He and a couple of staff members along with the archaeologist earlier welcome a group of four women they call the Vrill (something like that) to their Benghazi location (a cheesy set they probably borrowed from some generous studio).  These ladies wore black robes that scream occult witches with special powers.  Through these women, it is music that soothes the savage beast and controls the dragons.  They have some kind of psychic connection as well that allows anyone to see from the dragon’s perspective if they touch their temple.

The low budget is nowhere near as apparent as in this one horrible scene where the women’s powers are introduced.  The archaeologist asks for a volunteer and Rommel’s minion is volunteered (he was obviously brought along for this single purpose).  As a demonstration of the witches’ and dragons’ power, the minion is told to run.  Of course, a sense of foreboding and dread is conveyed here as one would expect some kind of horrible demise to befall this running minion.  However, all you are shown are the fearful faces of those watching as the witches chant and sing.  Never do you see what actually happens to the minion.  Rommel touches the temple of one of the witches and quickly orders a stop to it.  You never hear a scream from the minion or see anything that happens to him; it just cuts back and forth between the actors.  They could not even spring for an effect showing the dragon picking up a CG version of the minion.  It was such a frustratingly badly cut scene that I almost stopped the movie there.

Rommel is shown the archaeologist’s plan to hatch a dragon army.  In a bunker deep beneath the ground, they tour an egg facility (all CG) where the archaeologist proposes an army that Rommel can lead. He explains that the dragons are all born female and produce eggs on their own.  He also references the possibility of a male being hatched, and if that were to happen, they would lose control of the dragons.  He assures Rommel that won’t happen.  Of course, that’s a badly veiled attempt at foreshadowing.

The movie could have been straight forward from this point on, but they actually try to get creative and throw a twist in just to make sure you are paying attention.  I had to watch it a second time (yes, I suffered through it twice for you) but there are some vague attempts to imply that Rommel has a secret agenda.  Rommel apparently has a conscience and arranges a plan with the Allies to destroy the dragon hatchery.

The plan is hatched, so to speak, and of course, there are complications – like the arrival of a full grown male dragon with full swastikas tattooed on his wings, which even is a surprise to the archaeologist who is supposed to be the one behind the breading of the dragons.  So, the male just popped out of nowhere and no one knew it existed?  And who put the swastikas on there?  Really?

And of course there are the historical discrepancies that are quite flagrant.  It seems like the writers thought of the title first and rewrote history to fit it.  A couple of examples – P-51 Mustangs never served in North Africa and V-2 rockets, mentioned in the hero’s bad experience, were not used until well after the North African campaign.  There are more but those are the glaring ones. Maybe it was an alternate history.

Are there any RPG plot ideas out of this? Maybe?

Nazi and the Occult:  This is also a good go-to.  My issue with this, though, is that everyone seems to go to Nazi zombies or vampires.  This movie thinks outside the box and brings dragons into the mix.  So if you go the Nazi occult route, think outside the box and do some research.  There are whole RPGs that center on alternate World War II settings – Weird Wars from Pinnacle Entertainment comes to mind.  There is a lot of opportunity there for Nazi Occult weirdness but it’s even more creative in a modern setting that is otherwise true to reality.  The players will never know it’s coming.

Working with the enemy: Rommel coming to the Americans and forming a plan to destroy the dragons is a good twist.  Things can get so bad that the players in an RPG party could wind up with strange bedfellows.  Enemies can become temporary allies.  Arranging this kind of thing can be a very fun situation. Also, I encourage bringing in one-time players to play the other side.  These kind of situations might call for it.

Aerial Combat against Creatures: This was at the core of the movie, probably the primary inspiration for it.  It’s really difficult to have aerial combat at the center of the adventure but with the right set of rules and the right preparation, it can make for a great session.  The GM needs to remember to center on roleplay and story-making and not turn the game into a miniature combat session.

On an interesting gaming note, if you watch carefully in the trailer (and in the movie if you so choose to suffer through it), it really looks like they are using Columbia Games blocks from the block war games on their tactical maps.

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is a new RPG Core Book from Modiphius Games.

Having reviewed the Investigator’s Guide, it is only natural to take on the next book in the series – the Keeper’s Guide.  For me, as a keeper or game master, this is where the meat of the story begins.  This is where the setting really comes out for me.  Included in this book, among other things, are Allied and Nazi forces & intelligence agencies, Occult organizations and Mythos-based missions, new tomes, secret weapons, artifacts & equipment, key characters & vile creatures, and new rules and strategies for World War II combat & survival.  Like the Investigator’s Guide review, I thought it best to go chapter by chapter and comment on each.

From page # ii:
“There’s a whole Shoggoth’s worth of Cthulhu villainy, enough for any Keeper to have his investigators dead, insane or running for their lives in no time!”

Chapter 1: From The Shadows seems like a very familiar chapter.  The Investigator’s Guide started out in the same fashion, with a timeline of key events in World War II.  However, in the Keeper’s Guide, this timeline contains key events in the Secret War, as well.  Some events actually happened and are re-tooled to link back to the Secret War.  I would not recommend just skimming this chapter.  There is an amazing amount of detail and inspiration in this.  This is where you can get your story arches and adventure seeds.

Chapter 2, entitled Inside The Reich, takes you into Nazi Germany – the people who suffered through it and key events in the Third Reich history.  Of course, chances are players in A!C will want to play Allied characters, but there is the off chance the players might want to play German characters instead.  It can be a difficult thing to wrestle with as a Keeper, but this chapter helps in a lot of ways to put Nazi Germany in perspective.  While it tries to give you a balanced view of the average German citizen and/or soldier, it makes no bones about the horrible atrocities the Nazis performed during the war.  There is a very well written portion by Kenneth Hite called Sympathy for the Devil that is a really good read.

“Man is a military animal, glories in gunpowder and loves parade.” – Philip James Bailey

Chapter 3: Might Makes Right? takes the reader into the organization within the various armed forces.  The A!C is set during of time of massive world conflict, where the ways of war rule the day in many parts of the world.  This chapter provides an amazing amount of detail (but it does not overwhelm you) about the common terms used in military structure, ranks, troop organization and military policy.  It also describes various things in the life of a soldier – supply lines and acquiring needed material and items, medical services and other essential aspects of life in the military.  Being captured is also a possibility in a time of war and can easily be a way to start out an adventure.  This chapter provides good insight into that side of the war.  The chapter ends with a series of military NPCs (in both Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Savage Worlds rules) helpful in the World War II military world.

Chapter 4: The Other Secret War looks at the history of the British, American, French, and German intelligence services.  Every war has its facets and layers.  The top layer of any war is the men and machines in places in the fields and the bravery shown as each side battles for territory.  Under that layer are the men and women that battle in the shadows searching for information on the enemy while seeding misinformation to the enemy, all in an effort to help the top layer do their jobs better.  It’s not always successful but it is an important role in the war.

This chapter deals in the complexities of World War II espionage.  All the major allies in the European theater are covered in fine detail.  The reason for this detail is because players will more than likely be working for or dealing with these organizations in their A!C adventures.  Adventures could easily start out as simple intelligence missions that explode into the world of Lovecraftian occult.

Chapter 5: Secret And Occult Societies, as the title implies, covers a wide variety of cults, cabals, and covens.  Traditionally, they play a pivotal role in many Mythos stories.  Throw the various motivations and twists of war time, and these secret societies explode with adventure possibilities.  In these pages are several secret societies and why they exist.  Motivations behind these groups vary, including protecting ancient artifacts, protecting the nation as a whole by use of their supernatural abilities, furthering a Mythos entity’s goals, and generally causing havoc because they hate a certain group or another.

If a good handful of twisted and dark cults, societies and factions isn’t enough, the book presents Section M, a special British-based multinational organization started by the British Section D.  It was formed after realizing there was more out there than just your standard challenges of wartime espionage.  Section M was formed to handle issues of a more supernatural nature.  The book describes the origins of this very important group and also gives a handful of important NPCs.  Also included is Majestic, the American answer to Section M.  The book includes similar information for Majestic as well.

The Cult of the Black Sun is the feared cult behind the scenes in Nazi, Germany.  A sort of Lovecraftian version of Hydra (Marvel Comics), its origin is deeply connected to the Dreamlands and the sinister beings within.  Its tentacles reach as far back as the late 1800s when its founder explored the Dreamlands and found the Valley of the Black Sun.  From there was born the foundation of what is to become one of the most powerful and feared secret societies within Germany.  Secretly linked to Hitler’s Thule Society, the Black Sun uses the society as a front to accomplish its sinister goals during the rise of the Nazi party.  Once Hilter begins his journey to power, the Thule Society is forced to disband but the Black Sun remained in the shadows. As the Nazis seize power, the Black Sun integrates itself with other facets of the party, including the Ahnenerbe – Himmler’s Ayran think tank.  The Cult of the Black Sun takes up a considerable amount of this chapter with amazing detail, interweaving it with key events and groups of real history.  The Cult of the Black Sun is set up as the big bad guy in the setting, one that the players will more than likely face through a multitude of fronts, related cults and other secret factions.  The section ends with a series of NPCs that make up the Black Sun, including individuals as well as generic soldiers of the Black Suns, like the Canon, the Norn, and die Troten – lower level leaders and drones of the Black Sun.  There is some incredible art here as well.

I could go on because there is so much more in this chapter, but suffice to say this is one of my favorite chapters.  There is plenty of meat for a Keeper to chew on and come up with great horror and supernatural hunting plots.

Chapter 6: Planes, Trains, And Things That Go Bang is the chapter of travel and stuff.  The first half of the chapter covers travel and the various means to accomplish said travel.  It contains a comprehensive list of air and sea ports and describes the various ways people traveled across country.  Several of the more common land and air vehicles are stat’ed out in both Call of Cthullhu and Savage Worlds.  Following this is the common equipment for characters from each country – weapons primarily – as well as some improvised or custom weapons and equipment.

Chapter 7: Into The Fray takes the reader into the war from a Call of Cthulhu rule system perspective.  Previously published rules on various important aspect of war and combat are re-printed here.  Rules for aerial combat as well as tank combat rules are presented here “ … with the emphasis on roleplaying rather than number crunching.” (p159).

Chapter 8: The Rules Of Savage Engagement is similar to Chapter 7 with a little extra rules where needed, like Aerial Bombardment rules and other special battlefield rules.  Also contained within these pages is a very special part of the Lovecraftian world – Sanity.  This is the area that surprised me the most.

From page # ii:
“The Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is the essential Achtung! Cthulhu wartime reference for any Keeper or fan of the Cthulhu Mythos.”

The first Achtung! Cthulhu product to be released was the award winning adventure Zero Point: Three Kings.  From the Savage Worlds point of view, the Three Kings adventure was written using Realms of Cthulhu rules set.  I thought when the Guides came out, they would stick with that rules set.  I didn’t really think was anything wrong with them.  To my surprise, they changed to a slightly different approach, at least where Sanity is concerned.  Both use the same derived Sanity stat but that is where the similarities stop.  There are three levels of Fear in Achtung! Cthulhu that creatures, tomes and spells have – Nausea, Horror and Terror.  Each has the potential of one or more levels of Dementia.  As they are gained, temporary insanities can become a problem for the character.  Gaining too much Dementia can result in permanent insanities and eventually total insanity. Horror and Terror have their own table and are referenced only when a one is rolled on the Trait die.  Dementia comes from these tables.

I am not a big fan of tables but they make it somewhat acceptable because you reference it only when a 1 pops up on the Trait die (no matter what comes up on the Wild Die).  If they make a Keeper screen, these tables would obviously have to be included.

Chapter 9: Artefacts And Tomes contains a wide variety of items for the Keeper to throw into his adventure to help or hinder the characters.  These include, of course, mystical items like Mi-go Bio Cloak or the Pyramids of Leng.  They also include items thought to be mundane but in truth have mystical powers.  The Die Blutfahne is one particular Nazi flag that, through some very dark and mystical events, has some very mystical powers to those loyal to the cause.  In total, there are 9 artifacts list here.

The tomes list several tomes that can be found in the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook and thus only have Savage Worlds stats.  There are also some original tomes that have both rules.  There are an additional 9 tomes here.

Chapter 10: Deadly Illusions And Cursed Knowledge expands on the aspects of magic using, learning spells and its effects on the human psyche.  The rules listed are primarily for Savage Worlds as most of the spells and rules surrounding spells can be found in Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition.  As Savage Worlds does not have Magic Points, so to speak, this system uses Sanity as the “cost” to cast.  Some cost a Sanity point directly while others require a Spirit roll.  There are a good many spells, some from the Call of Cthulhu line and some new.  Of course, the new spells have both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds stats.

Chapter 11: Horrors And Monstrosities is where I thought they would have saved themselves a lot of paper by simply maintaining compatibility with Realms of Cthulhu, but because of the path they chose to take primarily in the Sanity rules, they had to republish many of the standard Cthulhu Mythoscreatures in Savage Worlds rules.  I am sure there is a reason for it.  The question is are they all that much different from the Realms of Cthulhu?  Browsing through both books, I do notice a significant difference between the interpretations of common creatures while at the same time, there are some that are in one book and not the other.  So neither are better or worse than the other.  I just think they are both configured for their own particular setting.

What most readers would find interesting are the new creatures they have added to the Mythos, especially created for the Achtung! Cthulhu setting.  Servitor races like the Bloodborn or the Cold Ones gives you new options to creep your players out.  Twisted created like die draugar or die gefallenen are also very cool new creatures added for the setting.

While the previous chapter covers the dark and twisted, Chapter 12: Allies And Nemeses covers the real life heroes of the time and the mundane everyday NPCs.  A short description of all the major figures of World War II is given and a variety of generic NPC stats are also displayed.

Chapter 13: Adventure Seeds is 4 pages of great adventure ideas for the Secret Wars, with ideas inspired from real events and gives a slight twist to them to fit the setting.  This is a must-read for Keepers.

Chapter 14: Quick Play Guide is a quick reference guide to Achtung! Cthulhu, for both Call of Cthlhu and  Savage Worlds players.  And the book ends with a great chapter of Suggested Resources.

In conclusion, The book is a phenomenal piece of work.  It is attractive, easy to browse, well written, intelligent and well thought out.  It has everything a Keeper needs to inspire and run his Achtung! Cthulhu game.  The hard back version is a gorgeous book that I am proud to have on my shelf.  To run A!C, I highly recommend this book.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type: RPG Keeper’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden, Alex Bund, Russ Charles, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Kenneth Hite, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook & Kickstarter Backers
Number of Pages: 295
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $44.99 hard back; $22.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung


Silent Memories

Silent Memories

From: Morning Skye Studios

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

When science fiction and horror are melded, space travel will often involve the passengers undergoing some form of stasis. This isn’t hard to understand. While characters in these stories are on ice (or however stasis works in the setting), who knows what might be lurking in the corridors. Silent Memories is designed specifically for enacting such scenarios.

From page 2:
“You awaken from a cryogenic sleep aboard a spaceship with no knowledge of who you are or how you came to be here. You have no knowledge of your mission, or even where you are going. All that remains is your training, and the impending sense that something is very wrong.”

As indicated in the above quote, the game premise bears a more than passing resemblance to the movie Pandorum. Each player takes the role of a particular specialty, like medical officer or engineer. Initially, this is all that they’ll know. It will quickly become apparent that something has gone wrong and they must fix the problem before irreversible disaster strikes. Along the way they’ll encounter a variety of signs of the ship’s deterioration. The manner in which these manifest depend largely on what sort of scenario the GM chooses to run.

From page 1:
“A roleplaying game about finding out who you are before you die.”

One of the more unique aspects of Silent Memories is how task resolution is handled. Instead of the usual dice, a Jenga tower is employed. Depending on the nature of the task, a player makes one or more pulls. If the tower stays upright, the task is successfully completed (though at the GM’s discretion there may be a complication of some sort). A successful pull also provides the player in question with a Memory. These are slips of paper the GM prepares beforehand containing 1-3 sentences. These can range from crucial hints about the mission to complete non-sequiturs, or perhaps a realization by the character of an item on his person. To help build paranoia, the player does not reveal the contents of the Memory to the other players. The first time the Jenga tower collapses, the player responsible learns the Truth. This is a document providing details (not necessarily complete) of the mission. If the scenario calls for it, the player who learns the Truth also becomes a traitor. The tower is reset and any further collapses result in the character death for the responsible player.

While the use of a Jenga tower is an excellent method for building tension, it can easily put some players at a disadvantage. Dice have always been the preferred method of determining task resolution in RPGs due to their randomness. A Jenga tower on the other hand is purely skill based, giving players who possess a steady hand a clear edge over those who don’t. If abilities at making successful Jenga tower pulls are especially unequal among the players, it could potentially result in considerable ill will.

In conclusion, if the Jenga tower mechanic or the potential backstabbing is going to be an issue with one or more of your players, you may want to give this one a pass. Otherwise, it can make for an intriguing change of pace for game nights after your regular campaign has concluded, or you wish to take a break from it.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Silent Memories

From: Morning Skye Studio

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Chad Wattler

Edited by: Adam Gottfried and Chuck Wills

Number of Pages: 20

Game Components Not Included: Jenga tower

Retail Price (PDF): Free


Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a new RPG Player’s Guide from Modiphius Games.

Two of my passions are H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos and World War II history.  When these two are combined, I will dive into it head first every opportunity I have.

I started my journey into Achtung! Cthulhu with running their first adventure, Three Kings. At the time, the Three Kings adventure, from the Savage Worlds side of things, was written for the Realms of Cthulhu.  It also could be run in classic 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu, but because of the more tactical nature of World War II, I felt that Savage World fit it better.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I found the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide both using a different system in Savage worlds – one of their making. I suppose that makes sense to some degree.  They would be beholding to two different licenses, I would think.  I am not 100% sure how those licenses work.

The first thing you notice about the book is that it’s absolutely stunning.  Layout, art, and everything is top notch.  It makes you want to dive into the book right away. The book is 154 pages hardback or PDF, with ten chapters.  It had a very successful Kickstarter, one that many took part in and are kindly thanked by Lynn Hardy in the Forward.

From the website:
Achtung! Cthulhu is a terrifying World War Two setting, fully compatible with the Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition and Savage Worlds roleplaying games. This is the Investigator’s Guide, with everything players need to create and run character’s in the late 30’s and 40’s.”

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Secret War is made up primarily of a timeline of real world events during World War 2, primarily focusing on the Western Front.  It is noted in the book that there will be future supplements covering other theaters.  This timeline is by no means complete, of course, but it does cover some interesting aspects of the war.  What I like a lot in this section especially are anecdotal pieces of trivia that are interspersed throughout the timeline’s events.

Chapter 2: Keep the Home Fires Burning handles information on how things were on the British and American home front.  From jobs, the work force, consumer goods, and rationing to fashion, music and movies, this chapter has enough information to get a good feel for things at home.  Chapter 3: Home, Sweet Home is a timeline of events that effected the various home fronts – Britain, France, and the Unites States of America.  Even though there was a war going on, there were still significant things that occurred at home that are worth noting.  From political actions to inventions, things still happened in other parts of the world.

Chapter 4: In the Service of One’s Country details the various ways people serve their country – military services, intelligence service and others.  Achtung! Cthulhu gets your character not only deeply involved with Lovecraftian investigations but also the war, so he or she is more than likely going to be involved in one of these services one way or another.  The military services of Britain, France, the US and Germany are covered here, as well as the various intelligence and national law enforcement agencies.

Chapter 5: Your Country Needs You! takes all the previous information and connects it up with the character generation system of both Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition and Savage Worlds.  What is interesting on the CoC6 side, the character generation system is a little more detailed and structured than your standard CoC6 character generation. In this chapter, the writers dive into a detailed and extensive character generation process for Call of Cthulhu. Perhaps more key to a World War II setting than in normal 1920s Call of Cthulhu, this book spends a considerable time on nationality.  Characters are more than likely going to play a British or American character but this guide provides a means to add more detail.  Characters also choose an occupation like in classic CoC, and Achtung! Cthulhu provides a table listing the more appropriate occupations for the setting.  Additionally, it provides options for Covert Occupations – things a character may be doing secretly in a time of war.  Occupations are slightly different in Achtung! Cthulhu.  Bonuses are added to them as additional differentiators and are a nice touch.  Of course, there are also military occupations available, which are much more detailed then just “Soldier” from the classic rules.  They go into considerable detail on how to build a military character with the various branches, ranks and skills.

What I like a lot is their addition of Mythos Background Seeds, which collectively are a means to hook the character into the Secret War – the Mythos war being fought behind the scenes of World War II.  They provide a nice set of tables of options that you can either roll on or choose from or simply use as inspiration for your own ideas.  This is presented as an option, but I highly recommend using it as part of your character creation process.

From the website:
“Discover the secret history of World War Two: stories of amazing heroism, in which stalwart men and women struggle to overthrow a nightmare alliance of steel and the occult; of frightening inhuman conspiracies from the depths of time; of the unbelievable war machines which are the product of Nazi engineering genius – and how close we all are to a slithering end! The Secret War has begun!”

Chapter 6: Getting Your Hands Dirty extends further into the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition. This chapter expands on many of the relevant skills to fit in the World War II setting.  It also adds a few new skills for the setting.

In Chapter 7: The Savage Practice of War, as the title implies, are the Savage Worlds rules for Achtung! Cthulhu.  Although I have had a lot of experience with Call of Cthulhu, I have spent the past year running Achtung! Cthulhu in Savage Worlds.  In many cases, it references the previous chapters’ tables and other generic, non-game system specific information – a smart use of space and information.  Like in CoC, Achtung! Cthulhu adds a few extra things to the Savage Worlds character generation that a new player should pay close attention to.  Along with the obligatory Sanity stat (which is pretty much the same as Realms of Cthulhu), it adds a little more structure to a character’s skill selection especially if they go into the service.  Like in the CoC section, it provides structured guidelines for many career choices available in the setting.  Additionally, it provides a good number of new Hindrances and Edges for characters to choose from.

Key to the character in any Lovecraftian role playing setting is Sanity and I always thought that Realms of Cthulhu handled it well in the Savage Worlds rules set.  You don’t get a clue of it here in the Investigator’s Guide, but Achtung! Cthulhu takes a slightly different approach to it.  See our review of the Keeper’s Guide for that.

Chapter 8: The Tools of the Trade is what one would expect from a equipment chapter.  Starting with standard equipment, primarily military, items are fully stat’ed out for both CoC and Savage Worlds. Also included are a number of covert items to be used in the Secret War by the players.

Chapter 9: Quick Play Guide is a section that gives you a quick reference to everything presented in the book, from character generation to important combat rules.   Page numbers and/or chapter numbers are given for this book as well as Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, and Savage Worlds Deluxe or Deluxe Explorer’s Edition.

Chapter 10: Suggested Resources is easily overlooked by the reader, but I highly recommend going through it.  There is a good variety of helpful resources to help a player and a keeper to capture the essence of a World War II Lovecraftian adventure.

In conclusion, Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a brilliant book, gorgeously laid out and full of useful player information to play in this setting.  I love the setting and I love this book.  I plan on running this regularly at the convention I attend.  What I like most about it is that it is intelligently put together and written, and that you can see that the writers and creators have a true passion for the setting.  It’s an enjoyable read and very inspiring for players and game masters a like.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type of Game: RPG Player’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Alex Bund, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Cover Artwork by: Pintureiro
Interior Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook
Number of Pages: 154
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $32.00 hard back; $14.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung