Ug See Big Thing That Fly

Ug See Big Thing That Fly

From: Sneak Attack Press

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Stone age RPG settings can be something of a hard sell for most gaming groups. Due to what passes for society being at the tribal level, there really isn’t much of an infrastructure to support traditional adventuring parties. One way around this is to introduce deliberate anachronisms. As part of the upcoming Kronocalpyse setting, Ug See Big Thing That Fly takes this approach.

From page 3:
Now you must save your people from the Big Thing That Fly. But first you’ll need to get there.”

The plot of Ug See Big Thing That Fly is fairly straightforward. A human tribe and a saurian (humanoid dinosaurs) tribe intend to put aside their differences and make peace, for which a meeting is arranged. Player characters are late arrivals who find a scene of carnage. After the expected misunderstandings are cleared up, the survivors reveal that the meeting had been attacked by men with magical spears that threw fire and thunder (rifles with bayonets mounted on them). Most of those who weren’t killed got taken up into a Big Thing That Fly, i.e. a zeppelin. The villain of this piece is one Baron Vanderwile, who comes from a steampunk time period. His motive is to obtain stock for what amounts to a caveman zoo. The goal for the player characters is to get up to the Big Thing That Fly and release the captives. Included with the adventure are six character profiles (four human, two saurian) set at Novice level so that you can dive in right away. Should players desire to create their own characters, doing so is just a matter of restricting your selections to traits appropriate for a stone age person (no firearms-related Edges, etc.).

From page 5:
If your players are anything like most people who play this adventure, at least one of them will want to leap from a pterodactyl onto a biplane.”

A major stumbling block for running this scenario with some gaming groups is the fact that it is heavily railroaded. The bulk of the adventure consists of going from one set piece to the next, with a bit of flexibility once the characters are aboard the Big Thing That Fly. If your gaming group is uncompromising in their desire for sandbox-style gameplay, this will probably not be the best way to introduce them to Kronocalypse.

However, if your gaming group is amenable to being led about to some degree, this is an excellent choice for allowing them to experience the multi-genre delights that await in Kronocalypse. The direct nature of the scenario makes it so that it can easily be completed in a single session. This also makes it highly suited for running at a con, where a certain amount of railroading is expected.

Rating: 16

Product Summary

Ug See Big Thing That Fly

From: Sneak Attack Press

Type of Game: RPG Adventure

Written by: Matthew J. Hanson

Edited by: Craig Hargraves

Illustrated by: Kirsten Moody

Number of Pages: 14

Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Core Rules

Retail Price: $2.99

Website: http://www.sneakattackpress.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Interview with Matthew J. Hanson of Sneak Attack Press

Matthew J. Hanson is the founder of Savage Worlds licensee Sneak Attack Press. Their latest offering is Kronocalypse.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

Sure thing. I began gaming in the Eighties with the Mentzer red-box edition of Dungeon & Dragons. I always enjoyed creating my own adventures and settings, so at some point I figured why not get paid for it? I started freelancing in the early 2000s during the d20 boom. In 2010 I decided to start my own company, Sneak Attack Press, and we’ve been growing ever since.

Describe Kronocalypse for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

It’s a time-travel mash-up setting where cavemen, wizards, sky pirates, and cyborgs unite to save time itself.

What works of fiction helped inspire Kronocalypse?

The biggest inspiration is the old SNES game Chrono Trigger, which has a similar premise of characters hopping around time. I think it’s currently available on the DS for anybody who hasn’t played it. Beyond that I’m mostly influenced by fiction of the individual eras, so things like Blade Runner for the cyberpunk era, and everything from Lord of the Rings to A Song of Ice and Fire for the fantasy era.

The four genres represented in Kronocalypse are stone age, fantasy, steampunk, and cyberpunk. Were there any reasons for using those specifically?

A few things. First I wanted eras that I thought would be fun to game in and would be fun to write about, which I think all of these are. I also wanted eras that are iconic. You can just say “stone age” and gamers get an idea in their head right away. I also wanted the eras to feel distinct from each other, to help the players keep things straight as the heroes adventure through time.

What aspects of Kronocalypse do you believe cause it to stand out from other multi-genre settings on the RPG market?

I think time travel is really the key, as a lot of multi-genre settings I’ve seen focus more on dimension hopping.

To focus on the time travel theme, one of the major goals is that while it incorporates different genres, I want the setting to still feel like a unified whole. While each age is distinct, there are many threads running between them.

For instance, the dominant religion, called The Faith, exists throughout all eras. It starts as a form of tribal animism in the stone age and evolves to a more structured religion akin to Shintoism by the medieval era. It is still around in the steampunk era, though fewer people believe in the “miracles” the old books talk about. By the cyberpunk age most people consider it an old superstition, but a few true believers still persist.

Families and places also tie the settings together. They’ll see ancestors and descendants of various NPCs through the ages, and watch how locations change and grow.

The characters start near a city called Aberwyvern, which is loosely based on Cardiff, Wales. There’s no city there in the stone age, but by the medieval era, a Duke has built a castle there, and a large town has grown up around it. In the steampunk era, it’s a major industrial city, thanks in large part to the coal deposits nearby. By the cyberpunk age, most of Aberwyvern has been abandoned, as global sea levels have risen, flooding the streets.

One thing many Savage Worlds settings feature is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will Kronocalypse have one, either in the main setting book or a future supplement? If so, are there any details about it you’re willing to reveal at this time?

Yes, the plot point campaign is a major part of the main book. As the players bounce around in time, they start to notice there are other time travelers out there, many of whom are wreaking havoc on the timeline. As they learn more, they’ll discover that somebody is manipulating things behind the scenes, and the heroes eventually learn that whoever it is seeks to destroy time itself.

I’m being a little vague here for spoiler purposes, but I’ve got an introduction to the big bad guy in the GM’s part of the playtest documents that are currently available to backers of the projects. Backers can access it through the backer-only first update.

If Kronocalypse proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

I want to focus on the main book before solidifying plans for supplements, but I’ve got a few ideas I’ve been brainstorming. I might have books that introduce new eras or that expand upon the current eras. I also have thought about other possible plot point campaigns that use the multiple eras in different ways, such as a flashback campaign, or one where heroes are reincarnated through the ages.

Interview with Jesse Galena, writer of Timeline Fracture RPG

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I am a twenty eight year old fiction writer who recently married a wonderful, intelligent woman. I started playing tabletop RPGs ten years ago when a friend introduced it to me in college. A few years after, I began making my own RPG systems for me and my friends. I wanted to play games, use mechanics, and tell stories that I could not find in other games.

Tell us a little about Timeline Fracture and it’s inspiration for it? What experience do you have with it?

The original idea came when I wanted to make an RPG party with a first-generation astronaut, a warrior, and a cyborg. I looked into genre-bending RPGs that already existed, but their rule books were all so massive I was unsure I could convince an entire group of friends to learn such a dense system. I decided to try a different approach.

Everyone I knew who played RPGs has played a game that uses the d20 system. If I made a game using the d20 system, then everyone would already know the core mechanics. I started looking at all of the different d20 games I could find, examining their classes and feats and understanding how my players and myself could use them together. There were already tons of games giving players options for different classes from virtually any timeline. The wealth of possibilities was astounding, and I knew this was the method I would use to create Timeline Fracture.

I wanted to create a world where, rather than jumping from dimension to dimension, the entire planet was made up of disjointed pieces of different worlds from alternate dimensions. This gives the world a strange economy and each land holds an interesting relationship with its neighbors, since they all have a long history but none of them were familiar with the practices or capabilities of the others before they came together. Players can walk across a border from one land to another that is drastically different, but both lands were forced to be part of the new world.

After more research into the d20 system, I ran my first Timeline Fracture game. That was over two years ago. I have run many more Timeline Fracture games and campaigns and done exponentially more research on the d20 system and its different games over the years. Now I have a polished product that I want to share with the gaming community so everyone can enjoy it.

Why does anyone need Timeline Fracture? Can you use d20 books together without it?

Regardless if people like the idea or not, everyone seems to ask this question. The short answer is yes, you need Timeline Fracture or years of researching the differences in d20 games and play testing them to streamline the numerous unexpected problems you will discover so you don’t have to stop your game and search for a solution that is fair to all of your players. You need Timeline Fracture because you need answers to the problems that surface when you mix multiple d20 games together. What do you do when one of your player’s classes get action points but your other players don’t? If anyone can buy a laser rifle that deals 4d6 damage, why wouldn’t everyone in every timeline use a laser rifle instead of a crossbow, pistol, or any other ranged weapon? What’s the exchange rate between gold pieces and galactic-standard currency? How do you resolve a grapple check when two character’s are using two different methods of making the check? Timeline Fracture offers you the solutions.

Another problem Timeline Fracture solves is completely non-mechanical. Let’s say you’re playing a game and you tell your players, “You come to a land with mythical creatures and people who dabble in the arcade. This is a fantasy setting.” One player thinks of Narnia while another thinks of Game of Thrones. Both are fantasy, but they are incredibly different and each player will be expecting something very different. You might have created a fantasy setting that’s not like either of those, but that is still what players will be expecting if they don’t have a clear reference.

Timeline Fracture provides lands with distinct histories, atmospheres and expectations. This allows the GM and all of the players to better understand the world and know what is to be expected in each of the lands they discover.

Why crowdfund Timeline Fracture instead of writing it and releasing it?

Tabletop RPGs are social at their core. A book of mechanics and lore are not very exciting without a group of people to experience it with. When I starting making Timeline Fracture, I had the social interactions with my players about what they liked and what they thought. I wanted to make the final stages of the production process mimic that social interaction and connection with the future players. I wanted to have open dialog with interested gamers, hear their thoughts, and let them help change the game for the better. I wanted to get those who want to be involved involved, and make the game even more enjoyable and personal, for them and all the players, because of it.

What about using elements from games that say they are d20 but have some alternate rules?

When a company makes their idea into a d20 game, they tweak the rules to better suit the feeling they want to capture. They add some things, take other things away, and change a few things. This is great, but it causes problems when everyone isn’t using all of their material from the same book. Some books use different methods of giving players skill points, resolving grapple checks, initiative, and more. Timeline Fracture offers ways to streamline the use of multiple d20 books together, keeping your game from crashing to a halt to find solutions to unexpected problems.

What does the Timeline Fracture setting add to the game play?

Timeline Fracture adds variety, a new, original setting, and the ability to create characters and campaigns that you couldn’t do with any other game. Using Timeline Fracture, you have access to hundreds of classes and thousands of feats to create the most intriguing character you can. You can even cross-class between different books. If you’re new or are only familiar with one d20 game and you don’t want to experiment with using multiple books, you can create a character using a single book and it will fit perfectly into Timeline Fracture.

For the GM, Timeline Fracture offers a world players have not experienced before. This allows the GM to use technology, magic, differing social standards, and other factors of the environment to introduce new challenges for their players to overcome. Having such a variety allows the GM to create new situations in which players cannot rely on their old methods of problem solving to resolve.

Once this Kickstarter is successful, what is next?

I have written a fantasy novel and am looking for an agent, I want to create and release even more material for Timeline Fracture, and I have a new, completely different RPG system to make. What order those get released is not entirely in my control, but they are sure to happen.

 

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled
From
: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled is a new RPG Adventure from Gypsy Knights Games.

Cascadia has proven to be a fairly descent hotbed of adventuring with the previous two adventures in this series and this closes it out in similar fashion.  In this adventure, the players have a great opportunity to do something big for the patron throughout the series and be greatly rewarded.  Or if things don’t go well, they could end up with a considerable number of enemies and perhaps be blamed for a terrible crime.

From the website:
“Thousands of credits stolen from the Razz Casino on Chance is just the beginning!”

The adventure starts put very similarly to the others – with their patron, Carrie O’Malley hiring them in her office on Chance.  Much of the text is the same text from the previous adventures.  However, the big change is the stakes.  Ms. O’Malley is hiring the group to chase down someone that robbed her. Unlike the last adventures, this one is personal to O’Malley.

Milton Hawthorne, a member of O’Malley’s security, has stolen a significant amount of money from her and she is angrily seeking him out.  It becomes quite apparent to the characters that O’Malley is not overly concerned for the livelihood of Mr. Hawthorne and this right away may cause some moral dilemmas to the characters.  Are they comfortable with being hired as hired gunmen?  Is that what they got into this business to do?

The party is sent to contact the ex-wife of the culprit and interview her.  This seems like a dead end part of the investigation but as the party finds out, it is definitely not.  She is now married to a prominent political figure on Cascadia, so the party is asked to be discrete and careful.  The last thing O’Malley wants is attention from a powerful political figure.

Clues can be found from contacts on Chance, especially if the pregenerated characters are used.  However, by the third adventure, a party of original characters should have made these contacts on their own.  In the adventure, the party is encouraged to leave as soon as possible, so there is little opportunity for information gathering.

From the website:
“Milton ‘The Monk’ Hawthorne, security officer, has robbed the Razz Casino and fled the system.  Carrie O’Malley, owner of the casino, has hired the crew of MV Dust Runner to locate Hawthorne and recover the stolen money.”

The journey in this adventure takes the party from Chance, to Dimme and then to Cascadia – plenty of opportunity for other side adventures like the ones presented in the 21 Plot series from Gypsy Knights.  Once they reach Cascadia, the investigation delves deep into a political intrigue plot that could end badly.  The GM is encouraged to read up on Cascadia in the Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia to get the full feel of what the world is like.  And then expand on it with your own ideas as the writer always leaves plenty of room for game master customization.

Without giving away the core plotline, the robbery investigation takes an interesting turn and thrusts the party deep in the political culture of the world of Cascadia, capital of the Cascadia sector.  Stringing all three of these adventures together, throwing in a few 21 Plots for side adventures, a GM could give a game group months of gaming.

In conclusion, this is a great ending to the Cascadia adventure series.  There is nothing I like more than political intrigue.  I highly recommend a GM taking all three of these adventures and making them their own.  There may be a ways to even tie them loosely together to create a greater story arch of deeper political meaning to the Cascadia setting.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG AdventureCascadia Adventures 3: Fled” check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Cascadia Adventures 3: Fled
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Adventure
Author: John Watts
Cover Art: © BBB3 – Fotolia.com
Interior Art: Steve Attwood / www.digitalwaterfalls.co.uk
Editor: Curtis Rickman
Number of Pages: 47
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller rulebooks
Retail Price: $4.99 (US)
Website: www.gypsyknightsgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

dndboxsetcoverDungeons & Dragons Starter Set
From: Wizards of the Coast
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set is a new RPG Starter Set from Wizards of the Coast.

With much anticipation, the release of the 5th edition of the classic Dungeons & Dragons is upon us, with the first teaser product on the shelves – the Dungeons & Dragons Starter SetIn the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I was not a huge fan of the major changes in 4th edition nor was I a fan of the abandonment of the SRD/OGL.  I liked 3rd edition a lot, although I admit over time it got bloated with way too many rules, feats and classes.  I am a fan of Pathfinder but it is running into the same problem D&D 3.5 did, in my opinion.  I also did not play a lot of 1st or 2nd edition when I was younger, simply because there was not a lot of opportunity.  I played other things like Star Frontiers and Powers & Perils.

Being that the only version I am competently familiar with is 3rd in its various incarnations, I am going to probably make more comments from that perspective.  Based on my age, you would assume I would be familiar with 1st and 2nd, but like I said I did not have as much opportunity to play those versions.  I am certain that there are similarities between this edition and 1st and/or 2nd, but I am not going to pretend to know them.  I hope my review is comprehensive enough that those that are more familiar with 1st and 2nd can spot them.

I think it is time for a fresh start with Dungeons & Dragons.  I had fully planned on giving it a chance and this Starter Set set is a perfect read of the market by the D&D design team to do just that.  Also, it is priced very well for that purpose.  I had tangentially been involved in the play test and community side of the development, but many of my friends were more involved with it than I was.  When we play-tested the Starter Set, I got a lot of good feedback from them.

Also released was the Basic D&D PDF, which was free online.  The Gamer’s Codex will have a review of that fairly soon but I may reference it here as an extension of my review of the rules.

From the website:
“Everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest roleplaying game.”

Starting with the rulebook, by the page count alone, you can guess it’s not as comprehensive as a standard RPG rulebook.  It gives you just enough to play the adventure in the box set and maybe just a little more.  At the same time, it is not a “dumbed down” version of the rules either.  Everything presented in this rulebook is true throughout the rules set, according to the Wizards podcast I watched about it.

The rules start out with the obligatory explanation of RPGs and how they work, great for new players to the RPG hobby.  Following this is the short explanation of the core rules.  They kept the basic d20 mechanic from 3rd edition – roll d20 and add modifiers, and then compare to a Difficult Class or Armor Class to determine success.  However, as I learned in play-test, there is far less math and the numbers have been scaled down.  There are fewer numbers to reference back and forth and they introduced new mechanics to replace some penalties.  There are much fewer things you have to remember when making rolls.

The core six abilities are also retained, with the 3 to 18 value converting to modifiers.  There are hit points, but they are fewer.  Skills and Saves are handled similarly to what I vaguely remember from 4th edition, however.  Each abilities score has a Save associated with it so instead of the 3rd edition Fortitude, Reflex and Will, there are Constitution, Dexterity and Wisdom Saves. There are also saves for the other 3 ability scores.

Attack Bonus and skills are rolled up into Proficiencies, a throwback to what I can remember of 2nd Edition.  Proficiencies are something of interest at least to me as they basically replace Attack Bonus as well as Skills.  Every level has a Proficiency bonus and that bonus is applied to everything that the character has a Proficiency in.  They gradually go up differently for each class (as shown in the PDF).  There is no real indication of that in the Box rules. They simply brush over the subject and leave it to future publications.  Since the characters in the adventure probably won’t level to the point that the proficiency bonus would change, they left it to the Player’s Handbook.

Gone, from what I can tell, are the “Powers” of 4th edition.  There is some indication in this book that there may be Feats but I am being told that they will be very different from 3rd edition Feats.  Unfortunately, you have to wait for the Player’s Handbook for that because there is nothing about them in this Starter Set.  Classes have abilities as do races.

The Box set has 5 pregenerated characters which is a good thing because the rules in the box do not provide a means to generate characters.  However, the PDF does.  Thus, the Starter Set is lacking in explanation of things like Background, Class, Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws.  They are listed on the character sheet, and without explanation, they are basically flavor text giving you more insight into the character.  The PDF gives some explanation for some of these but I will leave that to the PDF review.

A key mechanic that is new to the system is the Advantage/Disadvantage dice system.  This has everyone talking.  Basically, certain situations, special abilities, or spells grant an advantage or a disadvantage, and the player gets an additional d20 to roll for the task.  In the case of an advantage, the player takes the highest roll and the opposite for disadvantage.  This can also be granted at the discretion of the DM.

Related to this is Inspiration, which is briefly mentioned in the Box set rules but expanded upon in the downloadable PDF.  For those familiar with the Savage Worlds system, these act as bennies.  Characters can only have one at a time, and they are earned through role play and other ways that the DM thinks worthy.  These can be spent to gain advantage as well as make a re-roll.  I am sure they will expand on this a little more in the Player’s Handbook.

Magic has changed some, but the basic idea is the same.  In the Starter Set, there is a Cleric and a Wizard.  That is all that is basically covered between the Starter Set and the PDF.  The Starter Set describes Known Spells, Prepared Spell and Spell Slots per level.  Wizards and Clerics have a number of spells known and spend a spell slot equal to or greater to spell level.  Spells can be cast at higher levels to get a greater effect but you must use a higher spell slot to get that greater effect.  There are also spells with the ritual tag, which means not only can they be cast as a prepared spell, they can also be cast unprepared as a ritual spell.  Ritual spells take longer but they don’t have to be prepared.

Spells themselves have been tweaked and changed, I am told.  I don’t know all the spells by heart so I can’t tell you the specifics.  But comparing 3rd addition Magic Missile to 5th edition, there are some differences.  The new Magic Missile is a first level spell and casts 3 missiles that do 1d4+1 each.  Magic Missile can be cast at high levels by spending a higher spell slot, for an additional missile.  I am really impressed with that part of the new design.

From the website:
“Explore subterranean labyrinths! Plunder hoards of treasure! Battle legendary monsters!”

In our little play test, we ran the first part of the 4-part adventure in the box, Lost Mine of Phandelver. The first part is a simple 1st level adventure pitting the players against a group of goblins and their bug bear leader.  I ran that part and the group had a great time.  It has enough action to level each character to 2nd level. It builds from a very interesting storyline.  The art is well done and the cartography is also.

The adventure then takes the party deeper into a multi-phase small campaign that involves a lost mine and the treasure within.  It also sets up a bad guy that competes for the treasure.  It is set up in a linked fashion, each phase leading to the next.  But it’s not the railroad type of adventure.  It gives a lot of branching options in the middle and has a lot of potential.

In conclusion, the D&D Starter Set gives me a lot of hope that D&D is back.  The design team went through a lot of painstaking design, working with the D&D community to create this new version.  It really looks like they took many elements of the various past editions to create a very good edition.  In the box set rules, they focus on a lot of the role play elements.  From what I hear, they worked on many facets of the game including role playing, rules and tactical.  Each will be modularly introduced as the rules are released. Well done!

For more details on Wizards of the Coast and their new RPG Starter SetDungeons & Dragons Starter Set” check them out at their website http://www.wizards.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
From: Wizards of the Coast
Type of Game: RPG Starter Set
Lead Designers: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford
Based on the original game created by: E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, with Brian Blume, Rob Kuntz, James Ward, and Don Kaye
Drawing from further development by: J. Eric Holmes, Tom Moldvay, Frank Mentzer, Aaron Allston, Harold Johnson, Roger E. Moore, David “Zeb” Cook, Ed Greenwood, Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, Douglas Niles, Jeff Grubb, Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Richard Baker, Peter Adkison, Keith Baker, Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins, and Rob Heinsoo
Contributing Authors/Editors
: Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee, James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell,Michele Carter, Chris Sims, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Christopher Perkins
Adventure Design by: Richard Baker, Christopher Perkins
Cover Art by: Jaime Jones
Additional Art by: Eric Belisle, Wayne England, Randy Gallegos, Matt Stawicki, Karen Yanner, Miek Schley (Cartographer), Daren Bader, Mark Behm, Conceptopolis, Tomas Giorello, Ralph Horsely, Aaron J. Riley, Tyker Jacobson, Vance Kovacs, Dniel Landerman, Raphael Lubke, Brynn Metheney, Steve Prescott, Ned Rogers, Carmen Sinek, Ilya Shkipin, David Vargo
Number of Pages: 96 total pages (32 page rulebook, 64 page adventure)
Game Components Included: 64-page adventure book, a 32-page rulebook for playing characters level 1 – 5, 5 pregenerated characters, each with a character sheet and supporting reference material, and 6 dice.
Game Components Not Included: complete set of D&D 5th edition rules
Retail Price: $19.99 US)
Website: www.wizards.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

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
From
: 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)

p51dragonfighter

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.