ConGregate Schedule has started!

The ConGregate preliminary schedule is up!  Still waiting on Organized Play (D&D AL and PFS) but those will be in soon.

http://ogre.justusproductions.com/

For those that want to sign up for games, (once it is open May 18), scet ConGregate registration system is not directly tied into the OGRe system, we will have to manually activate your account. Email the to have your account activated manually once you have registered for the con. Otherwise, we will have on-site registration.

Thanks and hope to see you at ConGregate!

 

 

Dawn Adventures 1: The Subterranean Oceans of Argos Prime

Dawn Adventures 1: The Subterranean Oceans of Argos Prime
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Dawn Adventures 1: The Subterranean Oceans of Argos Prime is a new RPG Adventure from Gypsy Knights Games .

The Dawn Subsector is the frontier of the frontier; the fringe of the Clement Sector which has had only a few hundred years to develop.  There is a lot of mystery that surrounds what lies in the Tranquility Sector and any adventure based in it needs to have that feel.  Dawn Adventures 1, as the name implies, is the first adventure based in the new subsector from Gypsy Knights Games.  If adventuring in the politically charged worlds of the Clement Sector is not enough, this is where players go to escape all that and find new ways to adventure.

The adventure starts out with a general overview of the Dawn Subsector and the planet Argos Prime.  Much of this is reprinted from the Dawn Subsector book, containing a lot of scientific data as well as general notes on the culture and politics of the planet.  The more I read into these types of books, the more I wonder how much of it is meaningful to a GM and a role-playing group.  I would imagine that one of the things that turns people off from Traveller in general is the level of detail put into the science of a planet.  Gypsy Knights Games is no different in this.  I can understand why it’s done, but I can also see ways to improve on it.  I would prefer a little about what this data means to me as a GM and how it affects they way I portray the world to the characters.  With a little research, a GM can find out the values of Earth to compare and I highly recommend that.  Comparing those numbers does help, but I think it would also help if more meaning was put into those numbers in the given material.

Argos Prime is an interesting world.  It’s very cold on the surface but has an interesting lower surface beneath the ice in places that humans have exploited and colonized.  These ice “windows” have a very epic feel and gives you an alien sense. There is one city and various small settlements, and a handful of mining corporations that are competing for the resources of Argos Prime.  The players are sent by the Cascadia Colonization Authority (CCA) to help with a new colony survey.  There is a saucer-shaped ship supplied in the material, nicely mapped and stat’ed out.  There are also a good number of pregenerated characters with connections and background at the end of the adventure, perfect for a convention game.

From the website:
“On the fringes of colonized space, settlers struggle on recently discovered worlds for land to call their own.  One such planet is Argos Prime, where the dangers of a new world are in contrast to the world’s unique natural beauty.”

The players set out on behalf of CCA’s ally, L-Limited, to survey several sites on the planet.  A variety of random encounters can happen and these are laid out nicely in encounters tables.  However, these encounters are nothing compared to the epic one that is at the heart of the adventure.  How it is presented is very interesting, making this adventure very re-playable.

The GM has to decide a couple of things before running this adventure.  First off, the epic event is a disaster and without giving too much away, the GM basically has to decide how bad of a disaster is going to happen. A calamity of events occur that causes serious problems on the surface and it is up to the GM to decide how bad things are.  However, many believe this was no accident and the players are hired to investigate.

From the website:
“The crew of CCA-336 have been asked by their superiors in the Cascadia Colonization Authority to go to Argos Prime to survey the world for a possible expansion of the colony.  Can they survive the natural dangers, angry locals, and maneuver through local politics as well?”

Many suspects are available for the players to choose from and there is no single path that the GM has to railroad the players down.  Motivations and alibis are given, but it is up to the GM to formulate what exactly happened.  The GM has a lot of creative motives to choose from and it can make for a very interesting adventure in so many different ways.

In conclusion, this is one of the more well-written adventures Gypsy Knights Games has put out and I admire the innovativeness.  It does have that frontier feel to it that I was hoping for and it also has a certain level of epic-ness that is sometimes lacking in Traveller adventures.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG AdventureDawn Adventures 1: The Subterranean Oceans of Argos Prime” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Dawn Adventures 1: The Subterranean Oceans of Argos Prime
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Adventure
Written by: George Ebersole
Editted by: Curtis Rickman
Art by: Ian Stead, John Watts
Number of Pages: 53
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller book, Core Clement Sector setting books
Retail Price: $5.99 (US)
Website: http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

B-movie Inspirations: Nemesis (1992) and its sequels

nemesisposter93

Nemesis (1992, Rated R)

… and its sequels (Nemesis 2: Nebula / Nemesis 3: Prey Harder / Nemesis 4: Death Angel)

Back in the early 90s, I got a copy of Nemesis from the local video store and watched it with a group of gamer friends as a movie night kind of thing. We were expecting just another terrible low budget B-movie with very little substance. We were pleasantly surprised by what is now considered a cult classic. It was a great action flick with awesome gun play and a deep story underneath it (although not very original).  It turned out to be a very satisfying film. With actors like a very young Thomas Jane, Tim Thomerson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Brion James, and using great sets like the Kaiser Steel Mill in Fontana, CA. and Yuma Territorial Prison State Park, how can you go wrong?

Unfortunately, the follow ups were far from the original. My biggest disappointment was the change in the star. Switching from Olivier Gruner who practically owned the role to body builder Sue Price, who just does not work for me in the lead role, was a huge disappointment. The sequels followed the core story arch but had little to do with the setting and the background set up in the first film. By the second film, they advanced it 70+ years and resorted to time travel to tell the story. Yes, from then on, it is just a cheap rip off of the Terminator series.

However, there is some RPG story seeds as well as a good story arc in this collection that I would like to explore. Yea, taking on four movies in one article is pretty challenging but these movies are bad enough that they can be easily handled in one article. The genre of these films is primarily cyberpunk which is rarely done well in movies. Hollywood thinks they understand this genre but they really don’t. Nemesis nails it pretty well in a low budget way, and the sequels carry on with the consequences of a world entirely too dependent on the tech that populates the cyberpunk genre.

Nemesis introduces us to the initial hero, Alex Raine. Set in the near future, he is a LAPD cop in a time when the police are overwhelmed by the level of tech crimes they have to deal with. It starts out with a feel that is a cross between Blade Runner and any 90s cop thriller, with a little hint of Robocop and Escape from New York thrown in. Lots of gun play in this movie. Great stunts too. The opening sequence has always been very memorable to me.

We are also introduced to a world where the US and Japan have merged like two big corporations; a world that is slowly being taken over by its technology. Raine is hunting down what he thinks is simply a terrorist group, which in this day and age would have more meaning then the 1990s. However, as he finds out, he is being used by the powers that be to hunt down freedom fighters – the only hope for humanity against the cyborg and synthetic androids that are replacing humanity. Raine himself is roughly 85% human, and struggles to remain human in a world more and more dominated by cyborgs. This theme resounds throughout the first film – can humanity lose its soul as it becomes more and more machine? Through Raine’s narration, we talk of his struggles to hang on to his humanity as more and more of him is replaced. This is part of the appeal of this movie. Unfortunately, this theme is diluted or completely lost in the sequels.

After a bad encounter with the terrorists, a group called the Red Army Hammerheads (nothing makes a bad guy in the 90s more than associating it with the “Red Army”), Alex Raine is put back together by the LAPD cybernetically (losing probably more of that 85%) and then we find that he has retired and hiding out in various remote locations, hunting down those that got away in the opening sequence. Meanwhile, the LAPD is trying to get him back for one final mission. Through various encounters, they finally capture him and implant him with a bomb ala Escape from New York and Snake Plisken’s deal. They force him into one last job to hunt down the terrorists and prevent then to do some bad stuff (a complex plot of some stolen data of security plans for some kind of summit).

In basically the second act, we change locations from LA and hot desert locations to the Pacific Rim. He is on the hunt for the leader of the Hammerheads and another character introduced earlier – Jerod, a synthetic ex-lover of Raine’s. The who and the why don’t really matter, a lot of intrigue, cloak and dagger and gun play in the streets of some exotic Polynesian location in the shadows of a volcano. Raine is caught between the LAPD android agents sent to make sure he does his job (as if the bomb was not enough), the agents of the Hammerhead freedom fighters, and the faction friendly to Jerod. The synthetic ex-lover, a sympathizer to the pro-human cause, is physically dead but her memory and personality is saved and passed on to Raine who must get it to the Hammerheads. They also implant a encoded jammer into Raine to give him a little more time and temporarily prevent the bad guys from detonating the bomb remotely, but it will be decoded into 6 hours. Thus the chase begins.

There are some great moments in Nemesis. The 90s overuse of the Desert Eagle as a futuristic weapons of choice or the man-portable .50 cal machine guns being shot from the hip by cyborg bad guys are just a few that I found funny. The clips of never ending ammo, “I’ll be back” line from a dying cyborg played by 80s hottie Deborah Shelton, the old lady killing the cyborg played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s friend Sven-Ole Thorsen ending with the line “f*cking cyborg!“… all very great moments. These kinds of things were lost in the sequels unfortunately.

Core to the plot is an interesting idea on how the cyborgs are taking over. Instead of building an unstoppable army to roll over humanity in a massive war, the cyborgs are creating android clones that are perfect copies in all ways needed, controlled by the cyborgs. Raine’s boss Sam Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson) turns out to be one of those replaced.  His bad guy accomplices with German accents are also cyborgs. You are lead to believe that Farnsworth is at the center of the take over. Jerod has data about this cloning process and the take over that has to get to the Hammerheads. This kind of blurs the line between human and android, flesh and cyborg, a little more than even Blade Runner – biotech droids that are indistinguishable from humans but still have a metal structure so much so that when you shoot them, sparks fly out. I took a lot for me to wrap my head around that one, but they are really trying to differentiate themselves from other similar stories.

Like I said, the sequels destroy all that the first movie built up by advancing things 70+ years and then time travelling back to the modern era to a remote (and cheap) location. At the start of Nemesis 2, we are told through scrolling text that a girl was born with mutant DNA that gives humans special powers and could spell doom for the cyborgs, although you are never really told why. The mother of this child gets access to time travel tech and travels back in time to the African savannah. The mother is subsequently killed by local gun toting mercenaries and the baby is taken in by local tribesman. It is not until 20 years after the baby was found by the tribesmen that the first cyborg hunters arrive. Named Alex, played by body builder Sue Price, she fights off each one as they come. The first two sequels are basically one movie split in two as most of the second sequel is left over and unused footage of the first. Both are more or less the same plot – android hunters are sent back in time to hunt her down – not an overused plot at all!

This is one of the worst examples of sequels gone terribly wrong. Nothing of the original movie is preserved in theme or story, except the fight against the cyborgs. They show you flashes of the original film during the credits as if to say “hey, remember how cool the first one was? Well, this one isn’t but still watch it please…” In the plains of war torn East Africa, our muscular heroine is chased down by a Predator-like cyborg called Nebula while fighting off local rebels. It is basically a cheap rip off of the Predator movies and like I said, has little to nothing to do with the original. If that was not enough, the most they can tell us about her “special DNA” and the powers it gives her is that she is big and strong. I bet that has the cyborgs shaking in their cyber-boots! There is a weak subplot when a couple of extra characters are brought in – something about a treasure and a plane – but this simply deviates even further from what Nemesis established. This probably would have been a fine movie separate from the Nemesis series but associated to it, it was terrible. It adds nothing to the overall story arch other than the fact that the DNA mutant is in 1998 Earth and is a big muscular girl. Even the bad guy made no sense? Why did he need to have breathing sounds in the POV shots (a la Predator) if he was a machine? Why the heck did he have some kind of blood draining weapon on one hand? So much more I can go into.

Nemesis 3: Prey Harder (why the play on words, I don’t know) supposedly picks up where #2 left off but it really doesn’t. Somehow we go from our heroine being rescued by two military guys in a jeep  in #2 to her laying out in the desert with a Desert Eagle (yet again) in #3. This is actually explained later in a rather contrived but understandable way. Nemesis 3 brings back Tim Thomerson as Farnsworth 2, and by 1996, they found money in their budget to do rudimentary CGI for the new hunter drone. It camouflages itself as Tim Thomerson for the most part but is a chromed-up android underneath the human hologram.

Alex is pretty beat up and obviously dazed from something as she stumbles across Farnsworth 2. She has amnesia and doesn’t remember what happened to her or why she has a bullet hole in the head. Farnsworth helps her but at the same time manipulates her to try and remember what happened to her. This ends up being the first 30 minutes of the movie of which more than half is flashbacks to the previous film. Then the flashback scenes pick up in the jeep and carry it forward to a new time capsule entering into the shot. Thus finally enters the pendant her mother gave her in the first movie (and never was referenced again). It was like they said “oh yea, we forgot about the pendant… lets make another movie with all this extra footage we have.” It glows and leads her to the time machine where she meets her half sister, Rain. The two split up and plan to meet back at the time capsule. This leads to Alex having to search for her sister, who of course is in the hands of Farnsworth.

Nemesis 3 itself does more or less the same thing as the previous. Our heroine once again has to deal with renegade mercs, local rebels and exploding abandoned buildings. They introduce more eye-glowing cyborg hunters including two muscular platinum blonds and a few others that are helping Farnsworth. They reference the Nebula hunter from the first film as “just a bounty hunter” implying they are more official than the previous hunter. This comes into play late in the third act when the Nebula hunter reassembles, gains the same disguise function that the others have (somehow) and tries to claim its bounty from Farnsworth’s gang (introducing factional tension between the cyborgs). Using cloaking vehicles (that uses a very annoying special effect), the small army of cyborgs (that seems to grow with each scene) go after Alex in hopes they catch her before she procreates and passes on her genetic traits. She encounters several peripheral characters along the way including a shifty mercenary and a “war hero” that now has the brain of a 4 year old because of a head injury. They also brought over humans to help with the scientific stuff because the cyborgs can not perform abstract thought required to do the analysis of Alex’s DNA, apparently. They serve no other purpose other than to remind us of the enslaved humans in the future.

The sad part is that Nemesis 3 has more continuity with Nemesis 2 than Nemesis 2 had with Nemesis. And they did bring in more elements of Nemesis into the story, including a new Farnsworth and the plot behind the cyborg replacements. It carried forward the DNA mutation plot but still did not really explain why a stronger human would be such a threat. Can’t they make stronger androids? I think Nemesis 2 would have been a better movie if they simply merged the two and cut out a lot of the fluff. There was a lot more potential in Nemesis 3, especially when the reanimated Nebula hunter entered the picture, but it never reached it’s true potential.

There are many stupid moments in Nemesis 3 that I could have done without. The stupid cyber-cackle the two blonds would do after every one-liner; the aforementioned horrible effects for the vehicles which seemed to be some kind of cloak but didn’t seem to do any good because people always saw them coming; the inconsistencies in how durable the cyborgs are. It still was a little better than Nemesis 2, but marginally.

Finally, we return to the future (2080) in Nemesis 4: Death Angel. This brings it back to some semblance of the Nemesis, except with a lower budget and worse actors. We spend two movies watching Sue Price in skimpy outfits but never nude or topless, much to my relief. The director must have a fetish for muscular woman because in both 2 and 3, he tried to have as many provocative shots of her as possible without actually getting her naked. In Nemesis 4, however, all bets are off and she is topless or naked in most of the movie. I guess they were trying to make up for the lack of it in the other movies.

The plot of this is drab and disappointing, despite returning to the true genre of the original. The world of 2080 is a post war world, after the humans and cyborgs have come to an uneasy peace. Although they do mention that Alex is a human mutant, there is no mention of her special DNA or the threat she is to the cyborg take over. She has traveled to the future, apparently using the time capsule used by Farnsorth 2 in Nemesis 3. She even gains a last name – Sinclair. She is a bounty hunter and hit-man specializing in cyborgs, working for various factions of the underground and black market. She is good at what she does but her handler (played by Andrew Divoff) encourages her to retire after one final job.

This final job goes sour apparently and now someone wants her dead. People who thought she could trust turn on her. And she seems to wander the streets aimlessly while she waits for bad guys to come at her. During this mindless romp, she reveals several personal cyber and bio-mechanical modifications including a cyber-sex port allowing her to have sex with cyborgs, and some kind of nipple lances that she uses to skewer cyborgs through the head. Throughout, she is visited by a strange black garbed female she thinks is some kind of angel who has come for her. I thought this was going to be some kind of build up to the original DNA mutant plot but no, it was just a lame plot device that leads to the predictable twist – it was all a set up to kill her.

In the end, Nemesis 4 had even less to do with the original story arc then any of the others, except it had cyborgs. It dropped the “fate of humanity” plot for a lame crime syndicate plot ripped from an 80s TV show. The moral of the story is – don’t trust anyone in the cyborg future. And it turns out, Alex wasn’t all that special after all. I had high hopes for this one, and like my hopes when I saw Nemesis 2, they came crashing down.

RPG plots out of this are numerous, from simple adventures to long term campaigns. Some of them can come from what they could have done with the story arc they had started and not what they actually did.

Cyborg Enslavement: Something I got out of the Nemesis #1 was the Cyborg replacements. Cyberpunk games deal with the concept of “cyber psychosis” or the general break down of one’s humanity as more and more machines are implanted into them, in simple and very statistical fashion. What about the real consequences? What if the more you implant into yourself, the more you become a slave to the “system” or the “overlord AI” or whatever. An entire campaign can center around an AI overlord producing cybertech that slowly turns their wearers into cyborg slaves.

Who is the enemy?: The cyborg replacement plot-line had a Bodysnatcher feel to it. Replacing the powerful and the leaders can be an interesting plot twist that puts the characters on edge. They would not know who to trust. This kind of intrigue can only be accomplished with a solid group of RPers because many would not like being so left out there that they did not feel safe anywhere.

To find some place safe, they may need to turn to a former enemy.  Turning someone they thought was the enemy (like the Hammerheads in the first movie) into allies would take considerable role play and some leverage – perhaps something the former enemies wanted.

DNA Mutant: What they did not deal with sufficiently, at least to my satisfaction was what made Alex Sinclair so special. What did she have that could bring down the cyborgs? And by the fourth film, she was less human than when she started because of new implants she was sporting.  What was she? A mutant that could imitate any cyborg ability? A human that could not be copied into a cyborg synthetic by those that were doing the replacing? Or perhaps her DNA secretly stores a the code to a vicious computer virus that could infect all the cyborgs AI processors and destroy them once and for all (oh I like that one).  That could be explored and an entire campaign of escorting her from one point to another could be drawn out.

However, I would avoid time travel at all costs. Unless you have your “time theory” down and defined, it is just going to be a point of contention for all and something the GM would have to keep up with in detail. Too much work.

I think the blurry definitions of cyborg, android and synthetic in all four movies would have to be more clearer before we can decide what she was.  The cyborgs seemed more than organic material over a metallic endoskeleton.  They seemed like a combination Terminator and Blade Runner and Alien Synthetics.   They are partially organic but rugged and strong.  What makes them indistinguishable from humans, even “by the best scans,” according to the first movie?  A special cloaking field? Nanotechnology?  The line is so blurred that cyborgs are having sex with humans.  It’s pretty hard to imagine given the robotic and cybernetic examples we have had in the past, but with a little work and imagination, I think it can make sense.

The Hunter and the Hunted: I have done this kind of thing in multiple ways, but it’s fun to throw the players into a routine mission to some remote location where there is violence and then throw something alien and more violent them. Where do the players find allies? In the violent rebels they were just fighting with? In the villagers they were sent to save? Limit their supplies, isolate them from communication channels or a means to get out quickly. This is always fun for a one shot or a filler adventure.

However, because of the popularity of movies like Terminator and Predator, an adventure based on this concept has to be disguised well to prevent meta-gaming within the party.  Also come up with an original hunter, and fully stat it out.  In fact, come up with 3 versions of the hunter – lower powered, middle powered and higher powered.  Some parties may work well enough together that they can take on the higher level hunter while others may not and need to take on the lower level.  You may find yourself as a GM switching between each version during play until you are comfortable with one.

Battle of the X Armies:  If they had simply done a trilogy, and 2 and 3 were one film, then you would have ended up with an interesting mix of competing factions.  You would have two basic groupings – the modern Earth factions and the “other worldly” factions.  The modern Earth factions would include the radical anti-government rebels of East Africa, the unpredictable mercenaries and treasure hunters who are usually their for their own reasons and potentially (although they never brought them in) pro-government forces.  The “other worldly” factions would be the Nebula bounty hunter who was obviously in it for the money (and whoever he was working for) and Farnsworth 2 and his cyborg cronies (which would need to be trimmed down and made a little more unique, and significantly different from the Nebula cyborg).  And the players could be caught between all these competing factions for their own reasons.  These reasons could be, for example, the weak subplot that was never explored – the treasure hunter story in the second film or some mercenary team needs help extracting a wounded war hero they lost (who turns out to have severe head injuries and does not know who he is).   There is a lot of potential there and unfortunately, they did not explore it in the movie.

However, a RPG GM can explore it in whatever genre he likes.  Just define each faction, have stats for average soldiers, officers and special ops teams from each, a general idea of what each leader is like and his or her motivations, and make each faction significantly different so that the player do not get too confused on who they are dealing with.

Job gone wrong and it was a set up: Given a job that is actually a set up to eliminate the party can be a complex story line because you would have to have all the interested parties defined out well and their motivations clear. But once you have all that, the players would have a great time by first being the prey and then once they beat the hunters sent after them, they would turn to the hunters to take revenge against those that set them up.

Lost Hero: What the fourth movie should have done is return to the DNA mutant story line and bringing down the cyborg tyrants ruling over humanity but I am not sure their budget could afford it.  Instead they stuck the heroine in the gutters of collapsed society where humanity is a oppressed and subjugated minority.  Even that set up can be used, with a  little tweaking of the plot (as well as a little more money in the budget).  Now a cyborg assassin for hire, she would have to be pulled out of the dregs of society and reminded how important she is and why.  Of course, the reason why she is such a threat to the cyborgs would have to be fleshed out as I mention above, and perhaps that’s why they never pursued this established story arch – because they could not figure out why she was such a threat.  She could be caught in the middle of the plot to kill her, framed by various crime factions, and being chased through the ruins of an old part of a city (as she was in the movie) when a player party finds her and tries to convince her she is special and has the power to free humanity.  But first they have to help her out of the underworld situation she is in. Meanwhile, more cyborgs that know who she is are hunting her down, getting word that a new freedom fighter group (the player party) is seeking her out.

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Even with the new incarnation of Traveller published by Mongoose in 2008, players of the game never really had options to truly flesh out their characters.  There was no real character advancement system in Mongoose Traveller and the careers seemed cookie cutter, in many ways.  It gets even more difficult if you design your own setting, like the Clement sector as many of the careers have to be re-tooled to apply.

Career Companion supplements many of the core rules of Traveller and enhances others.  There are three main sections to the book – one primarily focusing on various options and rules including Uplifts, Altrants, Aging and Wealth, a second that focuses on Career tracks and a third that introduces a character advancement system.

From the website:
“The Career Companion expands the already rich Clement Sector setting with addition of several new elements such as uplifts and altrants.”

For those that unaware, in Traveller there is a concept called Uplifts.  These are genetically and/or cybernetically enhanced animals brought up to a higher than normal intelligence level.  Commonly, dolphins and apes are uplifted, and these both are described in these pages.  Additionally, bear uplifts are described.  Interestingly, they also add in uplifted alien creatures from various other worlds in the Clement sector – Yeti and Kraken.  Game stats are given for those that wish to play these as characters although they should be played by experienced players, as most are not at the level of human intelligence.

Similarly, Altrants are genetically enhanced humans, what other settings might call transhumans.  This setting takes a simple and realistic approach to the concept, presenting four types of altrants that are common to the Clement Sector – Gaishan (low gravity adapted), Oskars (high gravity adapted), Aquans (aquatically adapted), and Sniffers (harsh atmosphere adapted).  It leaves a lot of room for the players or GM to create others, giving you a good baseline in the examples presented.  This opens up a wide variety of possibilities.

From the website:
“Need an uplifted dolphin to interact with your characters?  Perhaps a human altered to handle toxic environments?  Now you have the tools to include them in your Clement Sector adventures or even allow one of your players to create an altrant or uplift character.”

Aging is usually used in an RPG setting for characters that choose to be old or young.  Rarely is it used in a span of a campaign because most don’t last long enough for a character to significantly age.  I can only imagine that happening in a case where the GM advances the timeline of the campaign between chapters, intentionally, and even in that case, players may choose to simply make new characters.

However, due to technologies available in the Clement Sector setting, aging is significantly different.  Life extending drugs and tech have changed not only the physical lifespan of humanity but also many cultural norms.  Humanity in the Clement Sector is living as long as 250 years , and this section briefly covers the various effects that this has on society.  People have their real age and apparent age now.  A character might appear in his 40s but his actual age might be 190 or more.  There is a lot of thought provoking aspects in this section and it is a good read.

One of the major areas that Clement sector differs from the default Traveller setting is that it’s not a huge expansive stellar empire and does not have an established nobility structure built in.  The Social stat was used in Traveller to represent’s one role in that structure.  The social environment in Clement is a lot simpler and fragmented.  However, the Social stat still has some value in this type of setting and this book explains in what ways the players and GM can use it.

Careers help you inject your character deeper into the setting and its many facets, thorugh building up a background of skills and events.  It also helps the reader to get to know the setting through the various events that could happen.  GMs and players alike should read these for inspiration.  There are seven new careers presented here, including National Navy, Spy and Pirate.

The book ends with the character advancement system, which is a very controversial notion in the world of Traveller fandom.  Originally, there was no mechanic to advance a character’s skills or attributes.  Many would say that Traveller characters did not need it and were already experienced at character generation.  However, others would argue that the individual players need a motivation to do the things players do – a means to get better, and a feeling of tangible accomplishment.  A character advancement system is certainly a way to do that.

The system reminds me of the classic d6 System character points method, for those that remember that system.  It is important to note that these rules are optional.  It is a simple system and works well within the existing Traveller mechanics.  It’s not overly complex.  You spend character points gained at the end of adventures to advance skills, buy new ones and advance ability scores.  You also can gain Success Points when you accomplish amazing feats with specifics skills.  Advancement is slow but that is intentional, I think.  It is definitely a workable system for the given core rules.

In conclusion, this is kind of thing that I really enjoy in a sci-fi game setting – options that allow a character to be something more than boring old humans.  I love alien races and monsters in other settings.  And I felt that the Clement Sector setting was one that was lacking in that area.  This really fixes that for me.  They also fix a major hole I felt was lacking in Traveller in general.  This is an essential book for anyone wanting to play in the Clement Sector using Mongoose Traveller rules.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG SupplementCareer Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Career Companion, A Clement Sector Sourcebook
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Author: John Watts
Artists: Bradley Warnes, Ian Stead
Editor: Curtis Rickman
Number of Pages: 61
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller books, Clement Sector core books
Retail Price: $6.99 (PDF), $15.99 softback(US)
Website: http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion is a new Board Game Expamsion from Fantasy Flight Games.

Talisman is one of those games I always seem to buy for.  I enjoy it with my kids and with my friends.  In past editions, it did get repetitive but what I like most about the FFG version is the variety they seem to be injecting into the game.  Unlike past editions, FFC has put out various sized expansions so as to control the bloat a game like this can develop.  I bought two expansions recently – The Firelands and The Nether Realm – that are very small but have significant impact on the game.

The interesting thing about The Nether Realms expansion is that it is designed by a fan.  I like when a company pays attention to its fans and gives them opportunities to grow the product.  This speaks well of Fantasy Flight Games.

From the website:
“Journey through the realm of Talisman on your quest for the Crown of Command but beware the fiery Pyrochanter, fearsome Titan Wraith, and other Nether Deck enemies that seek to thwart your plans in The Nether Realm expansion.”

The Expansion itself is very simple.  It contains Alternative Ending cards as well as new Nether Realm cards.  The Nether Realm is an expansion that specifically applies to the Alternate Endings contained within.  Each Alternate Endings instructs various uses of the Nether Realms cards.

The Nether Realm cards are alternate Adventure cards that pack quite a punch.  The majority of cards are very nasty monsters, ranging from Strength 1 to Strength 12!  Depending on what Alternate Ending is chosen, these cards can present a consider challenge to the players.

From the website:
“The Nether Realm was designed by Jon New, the man behind the Talisman-dedicated fansite Talisman Island. The Nether Realm offers three new Alternative Endings for Talisman, along with new Nether cards.”

In conclusion, although I like more challenge in my games, I am not sure I would choose these kinds of challenges.  Your character definitely needs to be ready for the Nether Realm challenges. 

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Board Game ExpamsionThe Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com , and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 14

Product Summary

The Nether Realm, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game Expamsion
Expansion Design: Jon New
Additional Development: Samuel W. Bailey
Talisman Revised 4th Edition Design: Bob Harris and John Goodenough
Producer: Christopher Hosch
Graphic Design: Evan Simonet
Cover Art: Ralph Horsley
Interior Art: Bruno Balixa, Massimiliano Bertolini, Joao Bosco, Mark Bulahao, Christopher Burdett, Joshua Cairós, Felicia Cano, JB Casacop, Sara K. Diesel, Guillaume Ducos, Raymond Gaustadnes, Matt Larson, Alexandr Shaldin, and Joe Wilson
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: John Taillon
Number of Pages: 3 pages of rules
Game Components Included: 36 Nether Cards, 3 Alternative Ending Cards
Game Components Not Included: Talisman 4th Edition Revised Core Set
Retail Price: $14.95(US)
Number of Players: 2-6
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 60+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com  

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion is a new Board Game Expansion from Fantasy Flight Games.

Talisman is one of those games I always seem to buy for.  I enjoy it with my kids and with my friends.  In past editions, it did get repetitive but what I like most about the FFG version is the variety they seem to be injecting into the game.  Unlike past editions, FFG has put out various sized expansions so as to control the bloat a game like this can develop.  I bought two expansions recently – The Firelands and The Nether Realm – that are very small but have significant impact on the game.

Firelands is an Western Asian culture influenced expansion, with desert and fire themes.  It comes with a bunch of Adventure Cards, Spell Cards, and a new type of card called Terrain Cards.  There are new Alternative Ending Cards, and new characters.  Special to this expansion as well are Firelands tokens.

From the back website:
“The appointed time has arrived, and Talisman lies in peril with the fiery onslaught of the Ifrit. Your quest for the Crown of Command just became a lot hotter …”

The Adventure Cards have a strong fire or western Asian theme throughout.  These introduce several new concepts including the Fireproof symbol.  As you would imagine, this symbol makes the card immune to fire effects.  This includes a new effect called Burn.  Various effects from the Adventure cards or spells allow players to burn other cards on the board.  Any burnt card is taken out of play.  At times, character may suffer a burn effect and survive, but the card may instruct the player that any item or follower not Fireproof is considered burned.  This can be even worse than death late in the game.

The primary theme of the expansion is that legendary Ifrit have returned to exact fiery vengeance on the land of Talisman.  Throughout the adventure cards, players face various challenges related to the Ifrit as well as finding items related to him.  Ifrit Gold, for example, is fireproof gold.  A Flame Rift is an event that destroys Adventure cards in the space and the top 3 cards on the Adventure Deck, and leaves the space with a Firelands token.

Also in the Adventure cards are nasty creatures called Noble Ifrit.  These are 14 creatures that are special to the Firelands expansion.  They have specific on-going effects while in play and marked with a special border. For example, the Ifrit Sultan burns either the space or one of your cards in your possession, your choice. Or the Ifrit Raider that gains a bonus for every Firelands token in the region.

Fireland tokens are the newest aspect unique to this expansion.  When a space is marked with a Firelands token, it makes the space very deadly.  The more you have placed down, the more deadly the characters’ journey gets.  This represents the continued influence of the Ifrit as it exacts his revenge.  Fireland tokens cannot be paced in the inner region.

From the website:
“The Firelands introduces a host of danger to the realm of Talisman, and if you take too long on your journey, you may feel the fire licking at your heels. The Ifrit – once enslaved to create the Crown of Command – have risen to attack the land of Talisman, burning everything in their path.”

The Terrain cards are another addition to the game that is interesting.  From the rulebook – “Under the influence of the Ifrit, the land irrevocably shifts and changes.”  There are 3 Ruins cards, 3 Desert Cards, 2 Woods cards, 2 Crags cards, 2 Forest cards, 2 Hills cards, 2 Fields cards, 1 Plains card, 1 Chapel card and 1 Graveyard.  All the cards have similar art to the corresponding space with the same name on the board.  There are certain game effects that will ask the players to place a Terrain card on a space, which changes the nature of the space until the end of the game (or something changes it further).  Terrain cards cannot be placed in the Inner Region, but they can be placed on the Chapel or the Sentinel which totally changes the game in those respects.

There are four new characters added – the Dervish, the Warlord, the Nomad, and the Jin Blooded.  The Jin Blooded is the magic user of the group, very strongly tied to magic.  He even is able to spend a fate to gain a spell and vice a versa.  The Nomad is sort of the rogue type character, able to travel through the Outer and Middle Region freely, turning any space she chooses to a “draw 1 card” space. The Warlord is the fighter of the group, obviously.  The Dervish is stylish sword fighter, with a lot of finesse and able to fight with two weapons.

Finally, there are three Alternate Ending cards, two of which have a fire theme and the other plays to the heart of what Talisman is.  My favorite of the 3 is the latter, A Hero Rises.  It revokes the Fate limit and evokes a condition where a character gains Fate when they win a battle and loses fate if they lose a battle. First character to 13 wins.  I like that one a lot.

In conclusion, this is the kind of expansion I like in this incarnation of Talisman.  It changes the game to a degree that it is not repetitive but at the same time really plays to the heart of what Talisman is.  Let’s face it, Talisman is nothing more than a beer-and-pretzels Dungeons & Dragons.  There is not a ton of strategy to it.  It’s more thematic than anything else.  So the designer play with that theme and bring in more story and challenges for players to experience.  I really enjoy it for that.

My biggest concern as with most FFG games is the price.  For a small box, it is a little pricey. But I still bought it, so it was obviously not too much.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Board Game ExpansionThe Firelands, Talisman Expansion” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

The Firelands, Talisman Expansion
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Board Game Expansion
Expansion Design and Development: Samuel W. Bailey
Talisman Revised 4th Edition Design: Bob Harris and John Goodenough
Producer: Christopher Hosch
Editing: Brendan Weiskotten and David Hansen
Graphic Design: Evan Simonet
Cover Art: Ralph Horsley
Interior Art: Aaron Acevedo, Aaron Anderson, AndriusAnezin, John Ariosa, Erfian Asafat, Bruno Balixa, Dimitri Bielak, Nora Brisotti, Mark Bulahao, Felicia Cano, JB Casacop, Trudi Castle, Jacqui Davis, Sara K. Diesel, Jon Hrubesch, Nicholas Kay, Kristin Kest, Dan Masso, Joyce Maureira, John Moriarty, Juan Martinez Pinilla, Jorge Carrero Roig, J. Edwin Stevens, and Frank Walls
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: John Taillon
Production Manager: Eric Knight
Production Coordinator: Megan Duehn
Executive Game Designer: Corey Konieczka
Executive Producer: Michael Hurley
Publisher: Christian T. Petersen
Number of Pages: 4 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 81 Adventure Cards, 18 Spell Cards, and 20 Terrain Cards, 3 new Alternative Ending Cards, 4 new character cards and plastic figures, 34 firelands tokens
Game Components Not Included: Talisman Core set
Retail Price: $24.95(US)
Number of Players: 2-6
Player Ages: 9+
Play Time: 60+
Website: www.fantasyflightgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

 

MACE 2014 Gaming Coordinator Report: From the trenches!

It takes a lot for me to sit down and write about MACE after it is over.  I invest so much time, emotion, and work into it that when it is over, I really go through something like postpartum.  But writing about it helps with that in some ways, and the sooner I do it the more I can recall.  This year was tough – probably one of the hardest years – and my fatigue has lasted longer than ever before.  But I am going to make an effort just to get it down before things are less fresh in my mind.

2014-11-08-11-57-04

The months before MACE were a whirlwind of drama, excitement and anticipation.  Stores and groups were coming to us wanting to run large events beyond what we already had scheduled.  The hotel came to us early in the year with a new challenge that we had to wrestle with involving a football team using some of our space (and I feel we managed it successfully).  Drama surrounding the Pathfinder Society coordinator really dragged me down for a few weeks until we finally found someone to run it. We continued throughout the year to find DMs for PFS.  On top of that, I took on a new challenge with D&D Adventurer’s League.  With the release of 5th edition D&D, I had to dive into an area I had never done – organized play – and put together an acceptable D&D Adventurer’s League schedule that would attract folks.  The learning curve was challenging, but I had help from various people including Kris Morris from Heroes Headquarters in Mocksville, NC, Ryan Jackson of Above Board Games in Fort Mill, SC and Michael Long, gaming blogger and all around good guy from Knoxville, TN.

On top of that, we were approached by 3 different people about major tournament events at MACE – Mage Wars, Heroclix, and Legends of the 5 Rings.  All were legitimate proposals and I was encouraged by the people organizing them.  Following these, the fine people at Comic Monstore approached us with a desire to run our Magic tournaments.  All this indicated a lot of faith and passion about MACE, more than I think I have ever seen before.  Thanks to Ben Burton, Adam McLaughlin, Jesse Blanchard, Terry Corbett, Ray Franks, and Lyle Dixon for all their hard work.  Not all the events were successful but more on that later.

Going into this year, after all that had happened prior, I felt that MACE was growing into the next level.  A lot of the same gaming events were coming back and many new ones were either building on the old or sprouting up new.  For me, it was almost turning into real work.  Managing the space we had, a larger list of GMs and volunteers and also recoding OGRe over and over again to meet the needs of our customers – it really is almost a second job now.

I felt the energy coming into October.  Personally, I was getting more and more into 5th edition D&D and apparently so were a lot of other people, as I got a ton of emails asking about the Adventurer’s League.  I was very encouraged by the size of the schedule as it grew week by week.  The emails I was getting from new attendees was unprecedented.  Even after receiving the standard array of cancellations, I still felt pretty upbeat about how things were going to go.  Real life tried its best to drag me down but I kept things separate and contained enough.

Going into the weekend, my biggest concern was how I laid out the space and how well it would be utilized.  The hardest part about this aspect was dealing with the football team Friday night and Saturday morning.  There was talk early in the year about launching a new aspect of the con for cosplayers and somehow tying all that into the gaming, but as I suspected that went nowhere.  No offense to those that were heading it up, I just knew it wasn’t a good mix.  At the same time, I assumed we were still going to have the live auction, just at a different time.  All that changed by the time we got the last couple of weeks, and the space utilization was not what it could have been.

The entire weekend was a massive blur to me.  Once the doors opened and people were playing games, everything else did not matter.  When things get started, there are very few things I can change and the only fixes we can put in place are band-aids.  Everything got started off really well, though, with only a few minor road-bumps.   RPGs, table top games, miniatures, and everything else got started off really well.

Highlights during the weekend include

  • Killer: The Game of Assassination made its return to MACE, after nearly a 10-year hiatus. And I learned why I took a hiatus on it. It takes a lot to run.
  • Organized Play is expanding. For the longest time, Pathfinder Society (PFS) was really the only game in town.  The RPGA was in a slow decline and I wasn’t sure what was going to take its place.  With the release of D&D 5th edition, Wizards has expanded its D&D Encounters program to be more con-friendlier.  Having nearly as many tables of D&D Adventurer’s League as we did Pathfinder Society was an encouraging thing to see.
  • On the PFS side, we had some issues come up that threatened the possibility of having any games of organized play Pathfinder at MACE, but those seemed to resolve themselves and we had a very successful PFS schedule. We even had more than a few GMs cancel last minute, but our coordinator, Nathan Littlefield, pulled it together in the end.  Thanks to him for that.
  • Table top board and cards games are surging at MACE. Honestly, despite my efforts to make MACE a big-tent of gaming, for years MACE has been known as primarily an RPG con.  It’s not my fault that the majority of GMs I can get want to run RPGs, but this seemed to put off a lot of other gamers for a period of time.  With the move to Charlotte, it seemed to act as a reset to that perception.  Thanks to more space, as well as groups like the Queen City Gamers Club and others, board games and card games are on a real upsurge at MACE.  We made room for a board game library a few years back and ever since then, it has expanded more and more.  It is funny how some board gamers are just happy with a room and a stack of games to choose from and others need scheduled events.  I have worked pretty hard to accommodate both.
  • This year brought more unpublished play tests and demos than ever before. With the advent of Kickstarter and crowd funding, more and more game designers are popping up all over the place.  I love seeing some of the new ingenious designs.
  • Some of our featured events were a big success. Warmachine and Hordes played all day and all night, as well as other Privateer Press games.  The Carolina Warbunnies really worked their butts off this year and we do appreciate it.  Mage Wars tournament benefiting the Wounded Warriors was a great success.  We had a much better Magic the Gathering event than we have had in the past and that is going to grow.  Those are the ones I know about.  I am sure there are others.

There were also some disappointments, but honestly they were overshadowed by everything else going on.  The only major disappointment was space utilization.  The ballroom that was vacated by the football team was underutilized, partially because of some events not being as successful as we wanted and partially because we did not hold a live auction this year.

That is another disappointment that was out of anyone’s control – no live auction.  I know people enjoy that but because of many factors, we had to change it last minute.  Primary of those factors was lack of donations.  Neither me nor Jeff really understand it, but Jeff’s efforts produced a much smaller amount of stuff.  Thus the auction was changed to a silent auction.

On top of running gaming registration and Con Killer, I also ran four games during the weekend and all went really well.  I had a blast with all of them – Aliens, the board game, two D&D 5th edition sessions and one Achtung! Cthulhu session.  They were all very fun and I want to thank all my players for enjoying the games despite my fatigue and the distractions from gaming registration.

Overall, I was very pleased with the results of MACE 2014.  By the early numbers, it was the best year for us yet.  MACE continues to grow, despite facing considerable adversity each year.  I am very proud at what we have built here in the Carolinas and thank everyone for their participation, dedication and loyalty through our 18 years.

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters 

From: Gale Force 9

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters is a new board game expansion from Gale Force 9.

As I have mentioned previously, the Firefly base game has virtually no in-game player interaction. Admittedly, you can occasionally snatch a Crew card from another player or steer the Alliance Cruiser or Reaver Cutter towards them under the right circumstances, but otherwise it’s multi-player solitaire all the way. The Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion seeks to provide options in that regard.

From the back of the box:
Aggressive new leaders specialize in anti-social strategies while Lawmen reward those bringing justice to the ‘Verse.

At the heart of this expansion are the mechanics for Boarding Tests and Showdowns. A boarding test allows a player to use a Work action to gain access to another ship on the same space. This involves making a tech or negotiate roll of six or better (the former reflecting the hacking of the target’s security systems, and the latter reflecting bluffing the target into allowing you aboard). Once aboard, a showdown is initiated by both players rolling the skill of their choice. Though not explicitly required, players should probably be encouraged to come up with a rationale on how some of the more unusual skill combinations interact. If the boarding player gets the higher result, he takes what he came for. If the defending player has the higher result or there’s a tie, the boarding player risks getting crew killed.

Before you commit any piracy, an appropriate Contact card must be possessed. Depending on which contact it was obtained from, there may be restrictions on what sort of ships it can be used against. Once you’re in the same space as an eligible target, a boarding test followed by a showdown can be attempted. If successful, the pirates may take the amount of goods listed for the job. However, the smash and grab nature of a pirate raid means that anything kept in the target ship’s stash is off-limits. Not only is this thematically appropriate, but it also gives the stash a real purpose. In the base game, the only time the stash would come into play was with a Customs Inspection encounter, and that could be ignored by simply being Solid with Harken.

Bounty hunting is more varied in how it can be conducted. Throughout the game, a set of three Bounty cards will be on display to indicate which crew cards have a reward being offered for their capture and is reset whenever the Alliance Cruiser card is drawn. The most risk-intensive method occurs when the fugitive is part of another ship’s crew. Capture requires a successful boarding test and showdown. If the target happens to be in a Supply card discard pile, you must go to the appropriate planet. Once there, all that is required is a successful showdown against the target’s best skill. The easiest occurs when the fugitive is part of your own crew. Simply go to the Drop-Off location and collect the reward. However, this method comes at the price of all your crew becoming Disgruntled (how would you feel about the possibility that your captain might turn you in if the money was good?). However the capture is made, the bounty card is claimed and replaced with a new card in the line-up. It’s then all a matter of getting to the listed drop-off location and collecting the reward, at which point the crew card is removed from the game. Until you make it there, though, other ships may attempt to jump your bounty by successfully boarding your ship and engaging in a successful showdown. A successful bounty jump also provides the option of having the fugitive join your crew (assuming there’s an available space) without having to pay the hiring cost.

From the rulebook:
If boarding rivals’ ships, stealing their stuff and bushwhacking their crew, sounds like fun to you, read on! A pirate’s trove of shiny bits and dirty deeds awaits. If these cut-throat methods don’t appeal to your delicate sensibilities, you may want to put this rulebook down and crawl away like an itty bitty bug.

It’s not just new mechanics and cards that are included. Two new ships are introduced in the form of the Walden and the Interceptor (which appeared in the TV episodes Out of Gas and Objects in Space, respectively) for those bored with a plain old Firefly. The Walden is geared towards piracy, as it has lots of cargo space for looted goods. It also comes with a special ability allowing for the collection of additional goodies from a successful piracy job. However, the sluggishness of its drive core makes it a real tub speed-wise. What’s more, it can’t be swapped out for a better one. The Interceptor is blindingly fast and fuel efficient, as well as having an easier time making boarding tests. It also has fewer crew and ship upgrade slots, cutting back on potential versatility. Even more limiting is the minimal cargo space, making most delivery and piracy jobs infeasible. Anyone flying in this ship will be sticking to crime jobs and bounty hunting.

In conclusion, the multi-player options provided are very much geared towards players comfortable with regular backstabbing. If such an aggressive approach doesn’t turn you off, Pirates & Bounty Hunters is one of those relatively rare expansions that manages to enhance the base game as well as add to it.

Rating: 18

Product Summary

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters

From: Gale Force 9

Type of Game: Board Game Expansion

Game Design by: Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill

Design Direction by: John Kovaleski

Graphic Design by: Gale Force Nine Studio

Game Components Included: 30 Supply cards, 25 Contact cards, 20 Bounty cards, 2 Leader cards, 2 Starting Drive Core cards, 2 Ship cards, 3 Story cards, 5 Cargo/Contraband tokens, 5 Passenger/Fugitive tokens, 5 Parts tokens, 10 Fuel tokens, 4 Disgruntled tokens, 5 Warrant/Goal tokens, 7 Haven/Destination tokens, 1 Walden model, 1 Interceptor model

Retail Price: $29.99

Number of Players: 2-6

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 2 hours

Website: http://www.fireflythegame.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck