Achtung Cthulhu: Three Kings – A second look

Achtung Cthulhu: Three Kings (Zero Point Part 1)

A second look

After reading through the Three Kings adventure the first and second time, I set out with a plan to try and run this single adventure as a convention game.  It is funny how one can read through an adventure more than once and completely under estimate the potential.  It really goes to show you that you don’t truly know an adventure until you run it.  This is especially true in the case of the Three Kings adventure, as I found out.

My goal was a ambitious one but I thought if I trimmed some of the adventure down I could fit it into a four-hour time slot.  I first set out to run it in Call of Cthulhu as I am more comfortable with that rule set.  But I understand that CoC is geared towards the horror and investigative side of a Lovecraftian adventure.  Three Kings has that, of course, but because of its sheer nature in being set in World War II, it also has its tactical aspects too.  CoC is very abstract with the tactical side of things.

The other option was Savage Worlds: Realms of Cthulhu.  I have nothing against Savage Worlds. I thoroughly enjoy it when I play it.  I was just not comfortable with it at the time, from a  game master perspective.  Savage Worlds, by its nature, is a little more tactical and under the Realms of Chthulhu setting, it also had the horror and investigative side as well.  This presented my first dilemma but by far not the most challenging.

I spoke with one of my friends who is an editor in the industry and was familiar with the adventure.  I asked him what he thought about fitting this adventure into a 4-hour session, and he suggested cutting out a large part of the beginning of the adventure and get them to what I thought would be about half way through the adventure.  That sounded like good advice and in fact it helped with my first dilemma – what system to use.  The first half of the adventure is largely the covert intelligence gathering part, and the second half is far more tactical.  I decided to get over my reservations of running Savage Worlds and run it in Realms of Cthulhu.

I ran the first part of the adventure just to see how it can go.  This is where I discovered what it really meant for the adventure to be a “sandbox.”  There are very few defined encounters, in truth.  A few suggestions and a few required events to move the party along the plot line, but when the players are travelling between villages and the castle, it is completely open.  In order to really make it feel like a tense region under Nazi rule, I felt obligated to at least have a few random encounters that gave the party an opportunity to feel that tension.  At the same time, however, I wanted to make sure each encounter had meaning and applied to the overall story-arch.  The first session I ran of this took just over 3 hours and we did not quite get to where I wanted to get to.

After running the second half twice, both times attempting to trim it down to a 4-hour session without losing any of the essence of the adventure, I have to say that there is so much more to this adventure than initially meets the eye.  Do not let the fact that the meat of the adventure is just 19 pages fool you.  Additionally, if you do a little research and web searching, you can learn enough about the locale to add a little more to the adventure.  I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the layout of the castle from the various sources that are out there.  It can be enlightening.

The “sandbox” nature of this adventure can really create havoc when you are trying to manage the run time of the adventure.  Unmanaged, this adventure can easily take three to four sessions, if the game master wishes it.  The final scene, when done in full detail, can take a full session alone.  Managing the run time means managing the encounters while still allowing the players obtain the information and to reach the necessary goals of the adventure, with little to no deviation from the plot line.  Meanwhile, at the same time, the game master must avoid railroading the players in a particular direction.  The nature of a military mission helps with that, in that it keeps the player party focused on the mission goals, but deviations can happen and will if the game is not managed well.

For a home game, none of this management is necessary.  This adventure is perfect for a home game and has a lot of potential for many nights of fun and hilarity.  However, as I said before, I wanted to shoehorn this adventure into a convention game so that people at a gaming con can get a feel for what Achtung! Cthulhu was all about.  I did not want to short change the player from experiencing the heart of the adventure while at the same time I wanted the players to have a sense of closure in a 4-hour session.

My most recent attempt at trimming it down involves summarizing the mission brief (which contains way more information than needed for a convention game), and summarizing what has happened to the players thus far and include whatever intelligence they have gathered up until that point.  Unfortunately, this still adds up to about a 6 to 7 page bulleted document that the players have to read before the game.  We’ll see how that goes.  I am running it at RavenCon in Richmond, Virgina April 25 -27, if all goes according to plan.  I created a Powerpoint presentation as well, with the same information as the material the players have to read.  So hopefully between those two things, getting the gist of the game will be fairly easy for the players.

Condensing it was my most challenging problem, and one that I admit was self-imposed.  I realize that my desire to make a convention game is the path I chose and has thus far ended in longer sessions than my players would prefer.  However, there were some other minor tweaks I would recommend to anyone that wanted to avoid the somewhat clichéd ending the adventure has in store.  Enough can be done to make it somewhat original without completely changing the essence of the adventure.  Without giving away too much, I would recommend the GM read into the Mythos creature mentioned in adventure and relate the entities at the end to that creature, enhancing their look and feel with the characteristics of that Mythos creature.  This way, these entities will not feel so clichéd.  The GM should understand that cryptic recommendation, I think.

I write this to simply illustrate the depth and potential of this adventure.  My goals to condense it into a convention game made me realize this more than my initial review revealed to me.  As I said, you do not truly know an adventure until you have played it at least once.  The fact that I have had trouble compacting it is not a criticism of the overall adventure as all, but a compliment.  This setting is probably one I am going to delve into deeper now that I have played it a few times.  It touches on two of my favorite subjects – Lovecraftian horror and World War 2 – and I look forward to further adventures in it.

B-Movie Inspirations: Barbarian Queen (1985)

Rated R

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Once again, I delve into a movie from the vast library of Roger Corman; another fantasy adventure starring Lana Clarkson (from Deathstalker) and a whole cast other women in various stages of undress. Master of low budget and reuse, Corman as producer reused much of the set from Deathstalker, as well as costumes I recognized from other of his fantasy outings.

This time; however, the director tried to pass all of this as real history – Ancient Rome to be exact.  I had to read the description of the movie in IMDB to get that because there was little mention of that in the movie and if you missed that, you would have simply guessed it was a generic low-fantasy setting.  However, the costumes looked nothing like what I know is Ancient Rome and the weaponry was also not of that time period.  It is a pretty sad attempt at a historical setting.

Moving past that, you run into a lot of the standard problems a movie of this caliber has –bad acting, bad fight choreography and bad plotlines.  And, of course, as with what seems like all of Corman’s fantasy films, it is chock full of bare breasted and scantily clad woman.  This is definitely not a family friendly film.  It has considerable violence, a few rape scenes and a lot of nudity.

Barbarian Queen is of course a Conan the Barbarian-knock off with a female lead, Amethea (Lana Clarkson).  She is apparently the Barbarian Queen, although she is neither a barbarian nor a queen.  Amethea and her faithful band of female warriors go on a quest of revenge and rebellion in this cheesy sexploitation fantasy/historical fiasco of a movie.

The movie opens wasting no time to show the nudity as we meet our heroine prepping for her wedding with her blushing groom, Argan (Frank Zagarino), who is one of the most monotone actors I have ever seen.  Their wedding bliss is interrupted by a raiding parting of bad guys.  The village is all but wiped out, leaving a small handful of women alive.  Women, children, and elderly are killed while many of the strong are captured and taken as prisoner.

You learn later that they are to be used in the gladiatorial games of the local “Roman” leader, Arrakur (Arman Chapman).  Arrakur is a tyrannical leader/king/governor of the region and he holds celebrations that involve gladiatorial games every year.  The women he takes are gathered in a harem for gladiators and I assume, other high profile revelers.  This, of course, is plenty of opportunity for gratuitous boob shots.

Our illustrious hero Amethea sets out to find our captured love, Argan, who is slated to be a gladiator in the games.  She and a her three lady friends travel across a wilderness to Arrakur fortress (which looks somewhat familiar to the fortress in Deathstalker).  Along the way, they meet another group of people that are the remainder of another village, and they have a connection to the resistance or rebellion against Arrakur.  A young girl in the group leads them to the fortress where they meet more resistance fighters and find Argan and other gladiators.

This eventually borrows a page from the story of Spartacus, where it says the worst kind of slave rebellion you can have is one lead by gladiators – warriors bread to fight.  The rebels attempt to team up with the slave gladiators and despite some treachery in the ranks, being captured and recaptured a couple of times and a disturbing bondage scene with a creepy torturer with freaky glasses, are able to overthrow the tyrannical Arrakur.  Sorry if I gave away the ending in this one, it is just not worth your time.

This was a very shallow and poorly written storyline as little more than a simple excuse to show off as many pairs of boobs as they could.  But despite that, as an RPG game master, this movie had a few things that could be used as inspiration.

  • Rebel Alliances:  Under a tyrannical rule, there are always those that wish to resist.  Maybe they are disorganized and just need a leader.  Maybe they lack the resources to resist.  Maybe they are infested with turn coats and spies loyal to the tyrant that need to be purged.  There are always those that wish to resist.  A courageous party just has to seek them out subtly in a tense environment of the tyrant’s rule.
  • Spartacus Syndrome: If a tyrant has slaves and some of those slaves are gladiators, there is a good chance some prefer freedom over the treatment they are getting.  It all depends on how well the gladiators are treated, however.  A party looking to overthrow a tyrant such as this will need to really dig deep to find the disgruntled gladiators in the bunch in order to spark the flame of rebellion.  If the party is able to gain even a few of the gladiators on their side, they could prove to be invaluable as they are warriors trained and bred to fight.

This movie did not have a whole lot else.  It was pretty weak in general.  Perhaps one of the weakest I have seen in the Corman line up.

B-movie Inspirations: Eliminators (1986)

Rated: PG (?)

Tagline: Mandroid. Mercenary. Scientist. Ninja. Each one a specialist. Together they are ELIMINATORS!

It’s pretty hard to find a bad movie I have not seen, unless it is a movie I have simply chosen not to watch. Eliminators turned out to be a movie I vaguely remember as a kid but never saw.  There was something about that cyborg on his mobile unit that looked familiar to me.  Starring some sci-fi greats like Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Andrew Prine (Steven from V, the original mini-series), and Roy Dotrice (most recently from Game of Thrones), this movie had a lot of potential.  It pulled in a ton of cool elements but never really explored them to their full potential.  The acting was fairly poor as well, despite having such well known actors.  This was obviously early in their career and they were still trying to find their feet.  The name of the movie was an obvious attempt to cash in on Terminator, although it is a terrible name for it.

Through the first hour or so, this movie simply drug on.  I was just not getting any kind of inspiration and I was sure I was not going to write anything about it.  However, the last half hour or so redeemed the movie to some degree.  Although it never really explored its full potential, probably due to a low budget, it did have some inspiring moments.  In the end, they bring in cyborgs, ninjas, Neanderthal cavemen, brash river scoundrels and a drone robot that was more prophetic than people knew back then.  Eliminators could have been a really good pulp sci-fi action flick.  And from an RPG game master point of view, it is a perfect pulp action adventure.

We start in an evil scientist lab.  You are not entirely sure what time period or setting it is in, but judging by the surroundings, it was fairly “modern.”  However, the mad scientist is experimenting with time travel and cybernetics, which is sort of a stretch, but I went with it.  A cyborg, made from a pilot who crashed his plane somewhere in Mexico near this lab, is being sent back in time by the mad scientist Dr. Reeves and his assistant Takada.  It is implied by some flashed scenes during the credits that the cyborg is being sent to ancient Rome.

It’s important to picture this cyborg.  He looks like a low budget movie version of the DC super hero Cyborg, literally – except the actor is white.  He has a detachable arm unit that can change to a laser weapon, missile launcher or grapple gun.  I am sure there could be more but those are the three he used in the movie.  His whole body is covered in cheaply-made fabrications and half his face is covered in an eye appliance he never uses and that looks very awkward throughout the movie.  For part of the beginning of the movie and the end, the cyborg uses this mobile unit – a tracked vehicle – that allows him to traverse most any terrain, including stairs.  I think ED-209 needed this thing.  It is one of the cooler parts of the movie; unfortunately they could only afford to have it in the first and last 10 minutes.

Reeves orders Takada to destroy the cyborg because apparently a particular phase in his research is done.  What is subtly implied through this movie is that this poor pilot was fished out of the wreckage and converted to the scientist’s guinea pig, his memory erased and most of his body parts replaced with implants, including a interchangeable weapon/tool arm.  So the story behind the story is that while this scientist is a savior, he is at the same time a Dr. Frankenstein to this cybernetic monster.  Although to their credit they explored this aspect some, I do not feel like the writing did it well.

Takada apparently has an emotional attachment to the cyborg and helps him escape; although he gets himself killed by Reeve’s henchmen in the process.  With his dying breath, he tells the cyborg to find someone named Hunter.  In a blaze of laser fire and bullets that is reminiscent of an old 80s TV show, the cyborg (that is later named John Doe) escapes Reeves’ Mexican compound.

Nora Hunter (Crosby) is a robotics and mechanical engineer working for some military contracting company developing robot drones for the US Air Force.  Although nothing like the Predator drones we are familiar with, it is pretty amazing that even in the 80s we knew that one day they would be using drones in the Air Force.  SPOT, the robot drone, looks more like a miniaturized Artoo unit than a Predator drone.  Once contacted by the cyborg John, the three set out to find Reeves and John’s crash site for answers.

Next, we find ourselves on some river in what we can only assume is Mexico.  This is the part of the movie that simply drags and it seems forced into the plot to fill time.  They apparently spent some money on boats, pyrotechnics, and gun-toting extras to do several boat scenes that seem to have no place in the movie.  The motivations behind the action scenes were simply lame and could have been done much better – river pirates, blood thirsty drug dealers, or something.  Instead, we spend what I would guess is about 20 to 30 minutes introducing the Han Solo character – Harry Fontana (Prine) and his boat, No Questions, through a long and drawn-out river boat chase that reminded me of something seen on the A-Team or The Fall Guy or something.

Also instead of making it an interesting location, the river “town” looks like any river town in the US, complete with the obnoxious redneck river captain.  This could have been done so much better, with a much more creative Mexican river culture.  There could have been more of a sense of isolation and alienation if this was done right.  It could have been a river village living in fear of some drug lord.  Fontana could have been the independent smuggler who might have lost a shipment of… oh wait, sorry.  That’s already been done.  Regardless, I found this part of the movie very boring.  One of many aspects of the movie that could have been done better and more interesting, but obviously due to poor writing and low budget, it fell short.  From a GM’s point of view, this alone is something I would build on and expand into a world of its own.

Once we have escaped from more than one bad guy in a boat, they finally find the wreckage of John’s plane, which gives us little hints of his former life.  But this fell flat because by this time, I didn’t really care as much about the cyborg as I probably should have.  This is followed by more forced plot events like the cyborg getting lost at the bottom of the river (forcibly slotting the party) and various other meaningless moments that could have been introduced in a much more creative way.  In one said encounter, the cyborg, on his own now, stumbles across the aforementioned ninja, Kuji.  Kuji is in search of his father, Takada, and is hungry for revenge when he finds out that his father is dead.

So a river smuggler, robotics scientist, cyborg and a ninja walk into a bar…  Yes, it sounds like a set up to a bad joke.

As we draw closer to Reeves’ lab we begin to get clues to strange things going on around it.  This goes into another part of the movie that could have been so well explored and expanded upon but just turned out to be so lame.  Clues lead us to believe that there are some primitives running about in these jungles.  This leads our heroes to find the tribe of Neanderthals who capture them and make them ill.  But thanks to the quick thinking of our brash river pilot, they are able to escape.  Knowing that Reeves has been exploring time travel, our heroes conclude that he has let a few things in from other times.

And the best you can do is a few cave men!!  This killed me!!  Obviously, there could have been so much more to this.  First thing that comes to mind – DINOSAURS – maybe just a few man-sized raptors or a triceratops maybe.  The sense of isolation that was missing would have made this even more plausible.  They could have even expanded on the strangeness of the party by bringing in a Roman centurion or, even better, a pirate!  Now we have ninjas and pirates!  But no, the best they could do is a short scene with some seriously lame cavemen.

In an RPG adventure, this would be the center of some serious RPG adventuring awesomeness!

The rest of the movie goes as you would expect.  The heroes make a plan, things go awry and the heroes have to face the enemy unconventionally.  This is where the movie almost redeems itself but not quite.  The evil plan is revealed (and I should have seen it coming but was not entirely invested into the movie by this time).  Reeves, now in a get-up that is a cool combination of Roman centurion armor and his cybernetics, intends on going back in time and making himself the new Caesar of Rome.  That cannot be!  Our heroes must stop him!  Although kind of contrived and not very original, it is still pretty cool.  I still would have liked a few more clues into this, though, to keep me interested.  The rest of the movie is fairly predictable, although the ending is sort of a surprise.

The role playing game inspirations I get out of this are more about what the movie could have done, than what was in the actual movie.  I mentioned some already but here they are:

Mad scientist in a remote location experimenting on locals:  Mary Shelly’s work was popular for a reason.  Although not truly experimenting on live locals, the theme is there.   The mad scientist, Reeves, experimented on one guy – a guy that just so happened to crash near his lab.  Conveniently, he would have been otherwise dead so no one would come looking for him.  But why stop there.  Why not cyborged Neanderthals?  Or even better, cyborged dinosaurs!?  The possibilities are endless when you combine time travel and cybernetics.

Leaking time tunnels:  Although this movie did not explore this aspect as well as it should have, time travel leaking into our world could easily be a great center point in an RPG adventure.  Many novels have been based on this concept.  Many Dr Who episodes are based on this concept.  With a remote area where time is leaking in, you can have a wide variety of things happening.

Hodge-podge party:  Although a gamemaster can’t always design a party for home campaign games, they usually can for convention games.  Putting together a cool party that mixes various genres is cool.  A robotics tech, a smuggler, a ninja, a little robot and a cyborg all make up a great potential party.

Escaped experiment: The escaped-cyborg story could be explored in any genre.  An escaped golem or war-forged rampaging the country-side and the party is hired by its creator to hunt him down.  What could be interesting is doing a switch up in the end.  Imagine the surprise of the party to find out that the creator is the evil one and the escapee is simply a victim.

Missing pilot: A missing pilot can be a pull for an adventure.  The fact that they could be anywhere and all you have is the last point they checked in could lead the party to very remote areas.  There must be people that want to know what happened.  The pilot that became the cyborg had a family at one time.  Why aren’t they looking for him?

Aspiring emporer: A mad man seeking to change the past and make himself emperor using “modern” technology can be another central plot to a good RPG adventure.  Time travel can be a powerful tool.  It also can be a tricky thing in an RPG.  You need to have your time travel physics down or it is not going to make sense.  This takes a little work and you have to watch yourself or you may have a paradox on your hands.  Map it out with a lot of “what if” scenarios.  And always remember that the players don’t always follow your plan.

Where did he get that technology?: I made the comment earlier that the time travel and cybernetics seemed out of place for the time period one would assume this is set.  Of course, it is presented as experimental, so we are to believe that this one genius scientist figured it all out himself, with a little help from designs he took from a certain robotics engineer.  But as a role playing game GM, one can expand on that a little further. Perhaps someone from the future came back and gave the mad scientist just enough technology to get him started on the right path.  Or aliens.  Or some other worldly being.

The Rogue Mage RPG Player’s Handbook

The Rogue Mage RPG Player’s Handbook
From
: MisFit Studios/Bella Rosa Books
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Rogue Mage RPG Player’s Handbook is a RPG core players handbook from MisFit Studios/Bella Rosa Books.

Through the years of running sci-fi and gaming cons, I have had the pleasure to meet some very interesting and smart people. Christina Stiles and Faith Hunter were two of them.  Faith Hunter is the author of the Rogue Mage series of novels, and Christina Stiles is a RPG industry extraordinaire.  Together they developed this volume of work that is the RPG to the Rogue Mage universe.

Despite knowing these two great individuals, I have not taken the time to read the novels the RPG is based on.  From what I had heard of them, I was very intrigued.  The setting is currently detailed in three Faith Hunter novels: BloodRing, Seraphs, and Host.  I am approaching this review from a fan of RPGs and not a fan of the books (yet).  From what I have read in this rule book, however, it is a very interesting and rich setting that has a lot of potential for gaming.

From  page #7:
“’Only the Most High can create a new thing, only God the Victorious, and his humans, who breathe with his breath, may dream, devising that which they have not seen, humans with their stories, songs, and poems, humans with their machines which they imagine and build. So it has always been,’” he finished the quote, his tone dropping low with disquiet. “Until now.” – Zadkiel, Seraphs

The Rules

Although it does not say it outright, the basic mechanics are the same as what is in Mutants & Masterminds RPG system by Green Ronin Publishing.  For those unfamiliar, it is a trimmed down version of the classic d20 OGL, allowing for less cookie-cutter characters and much easier and flowing game play.  As you can tell, I am a fan.  The basic differences are as follows:

  • A single dice mechanic – The 20-sided die is all the dice you need.  Rolls are made against a Target Number (Difficulty Class).
  • Simplified character creation and advancement – The system is classless, relying on a character point system to buy talents (feats) and skills.
  • Combat is simplified, eliminating attacks of opportunity, as well as simplifying a lot of the tactically complicated rules.  Hit Points are replaced with a simpler damage system and the combat skill replaces base attack bonus.

Point-based character generation systems are one of my preferred systems – its gives you a good measure of a character while at the same time a lot more flexibility in the creation of the character.  Classic d20 systems run the risk, in many cases, of cookie cutter characters and the only way to avoid it is to have a vast library of class-enhancing books which in itself creates its own complications – hundreds upon hundreds of feats to keep up with along with all those custom class abilities.

Diving into the character generation system of Rogue Mage can be disorienting to those used to classic d20.  You spend points on EVERYTHING – abilities, saving throws, skills and talents.  The ability scores are the standard d20 six – Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.  There are four saving throws – Toughness, Fortitude, Reflex and Wisdom.  Toughness ties into the new damage system.

Talents combine various things together that most Classic d20 fans are familiar with – class abilities, racial abilities, and feats.  They also include supernatural powers.  The various types of talents are Combat, Faith, Fortune, General, Power, and Racial.  There are several that are familiar but many that are new and specific to the setting.  I like it when a setting creatively instills some of the essence of the setting through aspects like this.

This take on d20 SRD adds one other aspect that I think should be a standard in all d20 SRD games – Drawbacks.  Not all characteristics of a character should result in some kind of benefit.  Drawbacks round out the abilities, skills and talents by showing a little of the negative in a character.

Combat is simplified in many ways.  With no classes, there is no base attack modifier.  Combat ability is rolled up into three combat skills.  Not every character will be skilled in all weapons and he also will not be equally skilled with the ones he does know how to wield.  Likewise, defense is also a skill.  Parry and Dodge vary like combat skills.

I have extensively played another version of the Green Ronin’s approach to d20 – True20.  Loosely based on the Mutant & Masterminds mechanics, the core mechanic of this system flows very easily.  It is my favorite approach to the d20 OGL mechanic.  With the combination of single-die system and the elimination of hit points, you can get through twice as much action in half the time, still with the same gaming satisfaction as you would with any classic d20 game – and perhaps more.  It is a good choice for this setting.

From page #16:
“The library was on Upper Street, down from the shop a half block, and filled with stacks of books. A lot more than when I went there as a schoolkid to study and do research. The publishing industry had been mostly inactive for nearly seventy years after the Last War, and had only recently reemerged as a power. Heavily controlled by the Administration of the ArchSeraph, a dozen companies nevertheless produced some twenty thousand books a year. – Thorn, Seraphs”

The Setting

The world of Rogue Mage is our own after a very unique apocalypse.  Primarily influenced by Christian theology (although it attempts to stay fairly generic and non-offensive), it generically presents a higher being called the Most High and two lesser beings – Satan and the Messiah.  Serving the Most High are Seraph or angels.  A special version of the seraph was sent down to monitor humanity and they were called the Watchers.  The Watchers unfortunately disobeyed the Most High and intermingled with humanity, influencing it and in some cases subjugating it.  The Most High was called upon to punish the Watchers, ripping their immortality and some of the power away from them.  Although still living amongst humanity, the Watchers were severely diminished in power.

Millennia later, the apocalypse befell the Earth as a series of plagues was brought on by visits from seraphs of death.  Wars ripped through the landscape of Earth as 6 billion people were killed in the fray.  A mini ice-age then encased a third (or so) of the world in ice and a new world order arose from what remained.  Nations we once knew have changed somewhat but what is left of humanity has survived.  New races have arisen after the apocalypse, spurred on by the plagues or strange magic that has surfaced in this new world.

The current time of the setting is 106 years after the apocalypse started.  It is the year 2117.  The geopolitical composition of the world has been heavily influenced by the major religions of the world.  Technology levels vary based on how quickly each nation was able to recover from the apocalypse or how well they were prepared for it.  The world’s population has been significantly reduced since the apocalypse.  Resources vary for each nation, as does transportation and communication.  The United States, half covered in ice, is the center of the game setting.

Now, the world is in a state of limbo.  What people know as Judgement Day has not come and a Messiah has not returned.  Most expect the Final War to come and announce the return of God to this Earth.  Seraphs represent the Most High and the powers of creation, continuously fighting the Darkness and their powers of corruption and destruction.  Dragons, succubus and all variety creatures rise up from Hellholes while seraphs, neomages and other allies fight backThose that descended from Watchers have re-awakened and serve their own purposes.

Along with humanity, there are new races players can play.  Most are some kind of offspring from seraph, waters and demons.  Neomages were the first to appear and resulted from human offspring who developed in the womb of women who survived the plagues.  They wield magic powers and most reside in Enclaves or city-states reserved specifically for neomages (or mages) by the seraphs.  Kylen are winged humanoids resulting from a mating between mages and seraphs or watchers.  The second unforeseen are strong beasts resulting in a mating of a mage and a human. Offspring of a Dark power (like a succubus) and a seraph/watcher/kylen, Daywalkers are so named because they are one of the few creatures connected to the Darkness that can walk in daylight.  The seraph-touched bloodlines are something I would guess comes from the books, as it mentioned a character specifically.  These are special humans tainted by seraphs because of some special service they provided the Light.  In the case given, a character sacrificed himself to save the seraphs, and in return the seraphs vowed to protect the human’s bloodline, forever tainting it with special abilities.  For the role playing game, the author implies there could be other bloodlines.

The races are not your typical RPG races and they take a minute to get used to.  Reading the books probably would help but it’s not totally necessary as the character generation section gives a thorough explanation of the races.  Each have a complex “genealogy,” strongly connected to the mythos of the setting.  Reading about them helps understand the overall dynamic of the setting.

One thing I like about the setting is that it’s not overly America-centric.  It is true that all the action is meant to take place in the US, but at least they give you somewhat of a guide to everywhere else.  I have seen other post-apocalyptic games that completely ignore “over there” out of what just seemed like laziness.  This whole setting is well thought out and complex, which I admire.

One key aspect of this setting is Creation Energy and Magic.  Combining literary aspects of divine magic and sorcery, this setting boils all things magical and miraculous into Creation magic – the power of the Most High and the Light.  It uses a point system to allow a magic user to channel this creation energy to cast spells and perform talents.  The system goes to great lengths to capture the uniqueness of the setting’s magic methodologies and practices – from the source of power to the various means to access more power.

One thing of note is that there are a lot of balancing factors to magic using.  Things like elemental allergies or allergies to specific magical elements that are opposite to one’s Elemental Affinity, possible Taint from accessing the wrong power source, and Power Addiction – all aspects I assume are from the Rogue Mage literary world that were easily translated to the system.

Magic is humanity’s arcane manipulation of creation energy.  One can perform magic through Conjures and magic items called Amulets.  A Conjure is simply a spell and can be cast by any of the magic using races.  Conjures in this system are vaguely familiar to those that are fans of classic d20 spells. There are several dozen Conjures listed, some considered General and open to any magic user to use and others are linked to a specific Element and only available to those with the specific Element Afinity.

The Book

Chapter 1 is an extensive introduction to the game system.  It can easily be printed out and given to players as a quick start.  Chapter 2 covers the Setting.  It delves deep into the cosmology, theology and mythology of the setting.  Covered here in some detail are the events before the apocalypse, the plagues, the Mage Wars and the state of affairs 100+ years after the apocalypse.

Chapter 3 is Character Creation and contains full explanation of the point-based character generation system, more details on each player character race, and guides you through all you need to create a character.

Chapter 4: Abilities, Chapter 5: Skills, and Chapter 6: Talents and Drawbacks give you a full explanation of each aspect of the character.  Abilities, as mentioned, are the “big six” ability scores common to all d20 OGL based games.  Included in this chapter are the rules on Saving Throws, which are also bought with points.  The Skills are what you would expect from a d20 OGL game, except, as mentioned, the combat skills.  Always keep those in mind when buying skills because hitting things (in melee or in ranged) does not come naturally in this setting.

Chapter 7 is the chapter on Magic – specifically Creation Energy and Magic.  It’s important to read this chapter carefully, especially in the case of a game master.  Although d20 based, the magic system is slightly different from what most are use to.  It’s not so overly complex or wildly different that it’s breaks the game, but it is different. A GM should become familiar with it before heading into the game because it will take some explaining to new players – especially those not familiar with the setting.

Chapters 8 through 10 round out various other aspects of the character and his role in the setting.  Virtue/Taint, Money and Luck are three key aspects of a character that add to their experience of the setting and the game.  Virtue and Taint are measures of the spiritual state of beings in this constant war between light and darkness.  Allegiances are basically alignments with Light, Darkness or Neutral.  The Wealth score determines what a person can afford, and Luck Points is a system used by players to push the odds in their favor.  The remainder of these chapters cover basic stuff like age, backgrounds, and equipment.

Combat is left to the final chapter, Chapter 11.  Here, the meat and potatoes of this take of d20 comes in.  Although fairly similar to classic d20, there are subtle changes to make it simpler and run smoother.  As mentioned before, attacks of opportunity are taken out, damage is simplified to a saving throw vs. a damage difficulty, and combat skills replace base attack bonuses and armor classes.  It takes a bit of getting used to, but I feel it leaves enough tactical fun while keeping combat uncomplicated and easy for the GM.

In conclusion, Rogue Mage is a complex and surreal setting with infinite possibilities.  Although it has common elements with other settings I am familiar with, this setting sets itself apart with unique races, ideas and a creative world that has a little of the familiar while just enough of the fantastic to tempt the imagination.

The PDF itself is an extensive and very comprehensive volume but it’s quite obvious there is more to the story than what is contained within the main rulebook.  This is now evidenced through the variety of other supplements that have since been released (2012).  Primarily creature books, the more important book – the Gamer Master’s Guide mentioned sporadically  – is still pending.

The only drawback I can see, from a person that never read the books, is that I have a nagging feeling that I really need to read the books to really grasp this setting.  There are a lot of specialized concepts, terminology and mythologies that I don’t completely grasp and feel like I need to at least read the first book to understand.  The PDF does supply a ton of flavor text and short stories for the reader and those do help once you get the context, but I still have a driving feeling I need to read the books before I run or write for this setting.  And that may be intentional, of course.

For more details on MisFit Studios/Bella Rosa Books and their new RPG core players handbook “The Rogue Mage RPG Player’s Handbook” check them out at their website http://roguemage.net.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

The Rogue Mage RPG Player’s Handbook
From: MisFit Studios/Bella Rosa Books
Type of Game: RPG core players handbook
Written by: Christina Stiles, Faith Hunter, Raven Blackwell
Contributing Authors: Spike Y Jones, Daniel Davis
Game Design by: Stephen Kenson (Mutants & Masterminds)
Cover Art by: Jon Hodgson
Additional Art by: Peter Bradley, Rick Hershey, Joyce Wright
Number of Pages: 242
Game Components Included: Core player rulebook in PDF format
Game Components Not Included: CCore Mutants & Masterminds rulebook
Retail Price: $9.99 (US)
Website: roguemage.net

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Castellan

Castellan
From: Steve Jackson Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Castellan is a new table top game from Steve Jackson Games.

At Origins 2013, I saw a lot of demos of a game called Castellan being played and I really wanted to try it out.  Try as I may, I could never find an open table with someone there to teach me.  It looked like a very simple game, reminding me of that game you play with your kids in restaurants while waiting for your food, connecting the dots and making more squares than your opponent.  I was very curious on how they made this into a board game.

From the back cover:
“The King commands two builders to raise a great castle … but only one will rule it!”

A game cannot get much more simple than this.  You form walls of a castle with the pieces that fit together, with certain restrictions for a legal placement.  These walls are connected by towers.  Completing a square allows you to place a colored keep in the middle of it.

However, it is not as simple as just placing walls and towers.  Each player has two sets of 7 card decks – a Wall Deck and a Tower Deck.  You draw from these decks into your hand and the cards tell you what pieces you can play to build you walls.  You can play any combination of cards from your hand and in fact, you can play all of the cards in your hand.  Once played, you draw the pieces from the supply in the game and build your walls; then place keeps where you complete a square or courtyard.

From the back cover:
“With every play, the castle grows”

There are subtle strategies that can allow you to get more points, like creating courtyards with an extra tower or dividing existing courtyards.  The rules recommend that if you can avoid it, don’t play all your cards and I found that was true the hard way.  Sometimes you feel like you can’t avoid it or your opponent will run away with the game but in most cases, it is simply a bad idea.  Be very careful how you place your extra walls and avoid leaving openings for your opponent.  Be very aware of how many your opponent has or she can lay down a bunch and rack up the points.

The games are nicely package and marketed.  There is a second set with different color keeps that allow you to play with 4 players.  After playing with two, I really want to see how this game player out with 4 players.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For more details on Steve Jackson Games and their new Table top gameCastellan” check them out at their website http://www.sjgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Castellan
From: Steve Jackson Games
Type of Game: Table top game
Game Design by: Beau Beckett
Developed by: Steve Jackson and Phillip Reed
Number of Pages: 4 page rules
Game Components Included: 108 plastic castle pieces(26 long walls, 30 short walls, 32 towers, 20 keeps), 28 cards
Game Components Not Included: Additional set to make it a 4 player game
Retail Price: $34.99(US)
Number of Players: 2
Website: www.sjgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Interview with Vincent Venturella of Venture Land Games

Hello, Mr. Venturella. Thank you for taking the time out to interview with us.

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience.

I started playing RPGs 25 years ago. My road to RPGs started in two ways. I was super sick on vacation and a friend gave me The Hobbit to read while I was stuck in bed. I finished in it in a day and immediately started on The Fellowship of the Ring, I was hooked. I didn’t know RPGs were a thing; I just knew I loved fantasy worlds. Later, I found myself in Walden Books (now I sound like my Grandma saying she was down at the Soda Fountain) and I was entranced by the cover art of these strange D&D books. I just asked one of the associates what I needed in order to play and they gave me the Player’s Handbook, DMG and Keep on the Borderlands. My friends and I spent several months playing completely wrong until we eventually found an experienced DM. I wouldn’t say our games were amazing or groundbreaking, but we certainly had fun. D&D was of course the gateway drug; soon I moved on to Rifts, Vampire, GURPS, Mechwarrior and anything else I could get my hands on.

Everyone who plays RPGs dabbles in design, that is the beautiful part of this hobby. We are all entitled to make changes and make the game our own. On a road trip in 2003 my friend and I were discussing wanting to play a cyperpunk RPG but being unhappy with anything that was on the market. Looking around, I noticed the OGL and so our first game was born; Future Lost. It wasn’t great and it was rife with all sorts of problems, but it was fun and it gave me the taste for design. Since then I have designed 4 more games including the most recent; NGS, the Narrative Game System.

For perspective and context purposes, tell us what other systems you have played and enjoyed.

I would be hard pressed to find a game I have played that didn’t have something great in it. If there is one thing I have learned it’s that making something like an RPG is an act of real love for your product. I have never met a designer who didn’t invest their heart and soul into their game, and such dedication doesn’t always equal a great game, but it means there are always some great ideas.

A sampling:

D&D: What is not to love? As the father of it all, D&D has an incredible legacy. I love that it has created a shared vocabulary and set of experiences that so much of our community shares. What I think I love the most was the insight of Rule 0 – the reality and acceptance that the designer can never write enough or make rules smart enough to cover every situation. The GM has to be the author – of their worlds, their story and ultimately, their experience.

GURPS: I love the idea that a game can be a template for any setting and so many different experiences. That idea was definitely a big inspiration for us with NGS.

Vampire: This game was a revelation for me on two levels. First, it was the first game I played that was really focused on the narrative and an evolving story. Second, I loved how much you could make a whole game focused on the exploration of a single theme, tone and concept. From rules to even art direction, this game sold you on its world.

FATE: Fred Hicks and team are incredible designers. The game they created, like GURPS before, showed people that you could have a game that allowed exploration of so many different worlds and settings. I also liked their mechanics because they showed you could keep things simpler and still have a rich experience.

There are so many more, Battletech (Who doesn’t love Giant Mechs shooting each other), Rifts (Kitchen-Sink Sci-Fi where anything from a homeless man to a godling are legitimate characters), Burning Wheel (Incredibly inventive and smooth mechanics that pair well with the ability to tell a story), Marvel Superheroes (probably some of the most creative design around Super Hero powers). I could go on, but I think I have beat the drum enough.

What is Narrative Game System to you?

In simple terms, the game I am most proud of designing of everything I have done. To talk about the actual game, NGS is a rules-light game focused on collaborative story-telling. The three things I love the most about NGS are the following.

1) The ability to play in any world, any setting, anytime. Its our catchphrase, but we really mean it. In the updates of our Kickstarter, we have a complete cooperative setting-build. We go from nothing to a ready-to-play world in an hour and a half. We are very proud of the guidance and method we offer in NGS to empower not only the GM but his entire group to create an engaging and compelling world, fast.

2) The ability to collaborate in your story-telling at every point in the process. Our focus on collaborative story-telling is total, you make your settings together, you make your characters together, you tell the story together and you even assign experience together.

3) Simple, but powerful mechanics. Our mechanics are very light; it is basically 4 mechanical abilities with a single die + a bonus. It’s so light that it never gets in the way of the story. I have seen people I would never describe as role-players come out of their shell and try things they might otherwise never do because they weren’t worried about the mechanics or failing, they were just thinking about the story and completely immersed in their characters.

What inspired you to write Narrative Game System?

It was a combination of factors. I was interested in tackling a common problem, mechanically forced character and story design. What I mean by that is that if you have ever played an RPG, then you probably experienced something like the following.

You show up to a new game with a character idea, lets say a grizzled space pirate or a dwarven bounty hunter, it doesn’t matter. You have an idea. When you then start to go through the mechanical choice points of the game (perhaps there are tens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of choices you make) you will come to the following dilliema. You come to a choice between A and B. A is the more “powerful” choice within the context of the game, but doesn’t actually align with your character. “B” is for your character but “weaker” in the same context. So what do you do? Do you change your character and play what the game forces you to do? So you end up with a different character than you intended. On the other hand, you can choose “B” and stay in character but then risk having a negative play experience. I wanted to design a game where you made one mechanical choice. If you want to be strong or good at combat or a master of necromancy – then you are, its one choice. Everything else is choosing what matters – who your character is. I wanted most of the character creation to focus on your character’s past, present and future, their goals and motivations, their flaws and failures. That leads me to the next item that led me to the game.

I was very interested in creating a game solely focused on collaboration. As I said in our Kickstarter video, if you wanted to play a game by yourself, why did you have 5 friends come over to your house? RPGs have always been about collaboration, you were on the adventures together from the first games of D&D. I wanted to make sure we took that idea all the way. So we set about to design a game solely focused on working together, players and GMs, to craft worlds, characters, stories and ultimately, the experience.

A common debate in the RPG design industry is narrative story making vs. tactical simulation vs. a balance of both, such as in Ron Edwards’ GNS model of Role Playing Theory. What is it about the narrative to you that makes it paramount, over say tactical aspects of the game or structured rules of the game?

I think the GNS model gets invoked where Ron never intended it to. By that I mean people use it to try to say that one game or type of game is superior, or that there is some perfect game that could be written. Edwards later moved to the Big Model and I think that accurately captures something; there is no perfect game. I think it goes back to Howard Moskewitz and Pasta Sauce. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIiAAhUeR6Y). Basically, the story breaks down like this – A man was charged to create the ultimate pasta sauce and after copious research he came back and said it was impossible. There was no one perfect pasta sauce. What they needed was 3 pasta sauces, (or more) to meet the various tastes in the market. This has become the norm in food, when we go to the grocery, we don’t expect one perfect coffee or cereal or anything like that. Instead, we find the one (or even multiple) that suit our tastes. Somehow, we haven’t made that move in gaming.

I think Ron’s insight was in identifying the Creative Agenda. The appropriate game and the nature of the rules and experience is all about the group being willing to agree to a single creative agenda. I love both rules light and more mechanical RPGs; both offer a unique experience depending on the creative agenda I am pursuing.

So there isn’t something that naturally makes the narrative more paramount in all cases. It’s only relevant if you are pursuing that creative agenda. My feeling would be if you are seeking after a story-driven, narrative experience, then what you should be after is the lightest touch of mechanics possible that allows for the most immersive and collaborative story-telling, and I think that is what NGS delivers.

What is more satisfying to you when playing in an RPG – a great single session of story making or the extended story made over many sessions in a campaign?

I would say either can be great. Undoubtedly every gamer carries stories and memories of some game that only ran one or two games but produced something that sticks with them. In the end, though, I love the ability of a story to develop over time. I think there is something deeply rewarding about working with your friends to create a shared experience that you will all carry with you for the rest of your lives, and something that rich can only happen over a protracted series of sessions where people have successes and failings and basically experience all the complexity of life itself within the game.

What are you most proud of in this work?

I touched on this in detail earlier, so I would simply say the whole product. It has been a true labor of love from my entire team. One additional item I didn’t mention earlier was that in the NGS book, we focus a great deal on the behind-the-scenes. We are trying to show everyone not just how to play the game but why we made the decisions we did and empowering them to change things to tell the narrative they want to tell. If NGS helped people tell deeper, more engaging and exciting stories, then I would be very proud indeed.

What is in the future for NGS after your Kickstarter?

We have already reached our funding goal and now it’s a question of how far into the Stretch Goals we will get. Kickstarters are such an emotionally involving experience, its hard to imagine until you do it and even though I read so much and thought I was mentally prepared, you are never really ready.

One great thing about NGS is we don’t intend to write more books of rules to sell people – we don’t need to, everything you need for a lifetime of play is contained in that one book. We would like to continue to foster the collaborative aspect of the game, so after the book is published, we want to create a community where people can come and share their experiences. We want to give them a forum to share the worlds they created, the Narrative Abilities they have made and the stories they have shared. The game is about collaboration in play, and I would love to see that extend all the way up to the collective experience of all of our players.

Thank you for this great opportunity. I would encourage everyone to visit the Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/617292343/ngs-the-narrative-game-system) or visit www.venturelandgames.com for additional information.

You can find us on facebook and follow us on Twitter @VentureLandRPGs

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf
From
: Gale Force Nine
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf is a new Board Game Expansion from Gale Force Nine.

One game that has really impacted me this year is Spartacus, A Game of Blood and Treachery. Not only am I a huge fan of the series but the game itself is great, whether you like the series or not.  It is one of those games that has so many satisfying elements in it that I crave to play it every opportunity I get.  However, one of the more disappointing aspects of the game was the player limit.  I prefer games that allow for 5 or 6 players and the base game only allowed 4.

Enter the Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf expansion.  Not only does it allow for 5 or 6 players, it brings a lot more to the arena.

From page #1:
“The shadow of Rome has fallen over Capua.”

The two new houses (and thus 2 new players) it brings to the game are House Seppius and House Varinius, based on second season (the prequel season) houses.  Seppius is a highly defensive and insidious house.  It can increase the Influence requirements of any card played on it (thus basically nullifying the card) by exhausting a guard.  They also gain gold whenever someone else gains gold from a scheme.  That last one really had a major effect in the game.  House Varinius, on the other hand, is a rather forceful and connected house.  They can demand support for a scheme rather than request and may gain guards from the discard pile by exhausting three that he has (calling upon support from Rome).  Both houses bring new play into the game while remaining reasonably balanced with everyone else.

Along with the additional houses, the expansion adds 31 new Market cards, and 55 more Intrigue cards.  These are mixed in with the base set, giving a much larger selection of items and schemes for the players to choose from.  A new aspect to Schemes is a new Influence requirement – Higher Influence and Lower Influence.  In this case, the Influence Requirement is not a specific number.  Instead, for example, Higher Influence means you have to have higher influence than the target of the Scheme. Each new card is marked with a serpent head symbol so they can be distinguished.  Most of the cards are on par with existing cards in the base set in terms of power and effect.  A few are fairly surprising, but as a whole they are not too surprising or unbalancing.

From page #1:
“The influential houses of Seppius and Varinius are now vying for power!”

Another big addition to the game is the Primus – the super bowl of arena fights.  This allows for teams of gladiators – 2 on each side – in the arena.  Once the Host has been decided and he has received his Honor, if he has enough Influence, he may call a Primus.  A particular Scheme card may allow for a Primus to be called regardless of the Influence requirement.

The Host must send out 4 invitations into the arena and no house may receive more than two invitations.  The effects for refusing an invitation are the same as the base game.  The Host then must form teams of 2.  If a single house received two invitations, that is considered one team.  Wagers for the Primus are handled similarly except Victory is decided from the perspective of teams rather than individuals.

An interesting aspect to this is Treacherous Gladiators.  Some Gladiators are able to switch teams in the middle of combat.  This can be a particularly nasty result, creating a 3 on 1 battle in the arena.  That can create some enemies in the game really quickly.

In conclusion, this is an awesome addition to an already awesome game.  It improves on the areas of the game that had room for it and doesn’t over complicate the game.  It only makes me want to play the game more.

For more details on Gale Force Nine and their new Board Game ExpansionSpartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf” check them out at their website http://www.gf9.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf
From: Gale Force Nine
Type of Game: Board Game Expansion
Written by: John Kovaleski
Game Design by: Sean Swigart, Aaron Dill
Number of Pages: 12 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 31 New Market cards, 55 New Intrigue Cards, 2 New house cards, 50 tokens and coins, 2 gladiator figures, 26 dice, 12 page rulebook
Game Components Not Included: Base Spartacus board game
Retail Price: $25.99 (US)
Number of Players: Increases base game to 5 or 6 players
Player Ages: 17+ due to adult content
Play Time: 150+ minutes
Website: www.gf9.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Interview with Chris Birch (Modiphius Games) about Mutant chronicles

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience?

I first played D&D at age 9 with my brother, his girlfriend and friends, this is when it was huge. I then found a copy of Steve Jackson’s Ogre in a tiny village shop, loved it! Scratched my head over the ratio combat and then discovered the world of ‘tabletop games.’ I started playing war-games, boardgames, anything I could get my hands on. I’d often not have people to play games with when my brother moved away to university so I’d invent solo rules. Fast forward a few years, I came up with a game system with my friend Stuart Newman and later we went on to design the FATE based Starblazer Adventures which was so much fun and SO exhausting! I then co-wrote Legends of Anglerre with a fantastic team including Sarah Newton.

How much of the original rules system are you preserving? How much is new? Will it be backward compatible?

We’ve taken the 6 stats and expanded to 8, we’ve kept the d20 (albeit with a new core system), hit locations and the awesome life path character generation (although you can also point buy your character too). Otherwise it’s a fresh new system designed for fast cinematic play, lots of cool gear and spaceships – that’s something new for example. In the 2nd Ed it was a heavily combat-focused game and now we’re adding in the ability to control spaceships. There’s corporations, social skills, lifestyle, allegiances and much more.

Are you advancing the timeline of the setting or keeping it about the same time?

We’re winding the clock back 700 years to when the Dark Symmetry, a malign foul corrupting force, is released and infects computer systems and equipment leading to the downfall of the modern age. This allows you to have adventures during the collapse of technology, as it turns on man, literally! Exploration and investigation of strange cults and rumoured creatures, leading up to the first great war with the Dark Legion. Alternatively you can wind forward 700 years and play in the same timeline as the original RPG. It’s up to you and you get all the information you need on both timelines in the core book.

What about Mutant Chronicles attracts you?

The over-the-top exaggerated heroic action, the dark noir styling, the diesel-punk vibe, the brightly coloured iconic art by Paul Bonner

You are calling Mutant Chronicles a “dieselpunk sci-fi RPG.” This is first time I have seen it referenced in that way. When Mutant Chronicles first came out, those type of terms – “steampunk” and “dieselpunk” – were not all that common. So is this a reinvention of the property to fit a more modern genre or was Mutant Chronicles “dieselpunk” before it was cool to call it so – a game before its time, perhaps?

I think it was actually diesel punk ‘style’ back then, the term just wasn’t really in use. I still love the ‘techno-fantasy’ term too as it really tells you about the vibe of the setting, the cool gear, the madness of the Dark Legion and the epic adventure!

Do you think the comparisons to Warhammer 40K are fair? What makes it different from that property?

It’s set in a more recognizable time, with more familiar factions. At the time characters were exaggerated but Mutant Chronicles made the massive shoulder pads their ‘thing.’ It’s what identifies it and makes it so cool.

What are you most proud of in this work?

I was a big fan in the 90’s; I owned many of the games, so bringing together such a talented team to work on the game and bring it back fresh and ready for action is what I’m proud of.

What did you think of the Mutant Chronicles movie?

It’s a Hollywood movie. It’s a miracle that there’s a multi-million dollar movie with the Mutant Chronicles name, with the same characters, the same corporate names even if the story is not what fans wanted. The styling is a pretty good representation of Imperial and Capitol, so overall I think it did a great job of promoting the brand to a massive audience. We’ve had tons of people sign up who said they saw the film first and so have gone on to discover our awesome gaming world. Just go and watch a few D&D films and see how bad it really could have been 🙂

What is in the immediate future for Mutant Chronicles after your Kickstarter?

Get the core book finished, get the Guides and Campaigns finished, get them out to backers! There’ll be a lot of merchandise to produce, lots of writers and artists to manage, and that’s all part of making it happen. We’re just so excited to see the new system taking shape and we’re already planning a long line of additional products to expand the range.

Mutant Chronicles was not only an RPG, but there was a collectible card game, a miniature wargame, board games, video games, novels, and comic books. It was a pretty extensive property. Do you see or are there plans for Modiphius getting involved in any of the other areas?

Who knows! It depends on the success of the kickstarter, as we’re obviously going to be pretty busy, but once you’re designing one set of products it’s not hard to expand into another similar product.

Thank you for your time and good luck with Mutant Chronicles. We look forward to reviewing it.

Thanks!

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is a new Miniature Game from Fantasy Flight Games.

I have stated this before when reviewing other Star Wars products – I have a long history with Star Wars games.  I ran the d6 RPG as well as the d20 RPG for years.  I have played various board games as well as miniature games off and on.  But my Star Wars fandom waivered after the release of the prequels.  I was so disappointed, I sold a vast majority of my collection.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniature Game is the first Star Wars game I have truly invested a lot of time and money in since I gave up on Star Wars so many years ago. However, this game is so complete, so easy to learn and so satisfying from a gamer-point of view, I would play it if it was Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, or any other property (although I keep telling people FFG should consider BSG for this too).

From the page # 26:
“X-Wing has been a labor of love for the design and production teams here at Fantasy Flight Games.”

The first thing you have to get past before even learning the game is the price.  Even if I did not have an aversion to Star Wars games, the price kept me away for a while.  It wasn’t until I played it at a con that convinced me that the game is well worth the money.  The Base game comes with 2 TIE fighters and one X-wing and all the basic supplies you need to play the game.  That costs $40.  You couple that with the $15 single-ship expansions, and you are spending some considerable money, at least for my budget.  Most people I know that play it end up buying two basic sets to get two sets of dice, two sets of templates, and enough stuff to have a good battle.  So you have to really budget yourself before diving into this.

Getting past the price, the game itself is very easy to learn and play.  The basic mechanic came from FFG’s Wings of War series of games, which I love.  It uses a simple template system to measure out your movement and specialized dice to determine combat and damage.  A game round is made up of three major phases and the End Phase where you clean things up.

To start out, a player goes into the Planning Phase, where he secretly plots out the movement of each of his ships.  Each ship comes with its own unique (to each ship type) maneuver dial.  Each dial has a number of various maneuvers (straight, bank, turn, or Koiogran/180 turn), and associated to these maneuvers are speed and difficulty.   Speed is the length of the maneuver template. Difficulty can be simple, standard and difficult.   Difficult maneuvers apply stress to the pilot while simple ease stress.  Having Stress Tokens restricts future actions and movement.

The challenge in the phase is predicting what your opponent is going to do. The key in this phase is that you cannot pre-measure before committing the maneuver.  It is always a challenge trying to get your opponent in range, within your firing arch (for most ships), while avoiding obstacles (in some scenarios) and other ships.  To plan this out ahead of time, in secret and without pre-measuring, makes it even more a challenge.  When I played, the feel of a real dog fight started there.  It took me back to the time I used to play the X-Wing vs. TIE fighter video game.  The tension and the excitement in the game really begins to build up right away.

The Activation Phase is when the maneuver dials are revealed and executed and actions are taken.  Actions are key game effects that can help you or hinder your opponent.  Each ship can only take one.  Some examples are Focus, Evade, Barrel Roll and Acquire Target.  Specific ships can do only a specific set of actions.  Taking an action can easily be one of those things you forget to do, but forgetting can have devastating effects.  Always remember to at least do one of your available actions even if it’s just a Focus.  You do have the option to Pass but only do that if you have no other option.

From the page # 26:
“The X-Wing development team had a simple but ambitious goal: to produce a compelling miniatures game that faithfully replicated the tense starfighter battles of the Star Wars films.”

Not only does the game come with very nicely sculpted and painted minis, it also comes with a variety of cards (what FFG game doesn’t?).  Ship cards represent your ship in the game and might have abilities that require actions.  Upgrade cards add features to your ship and some of these features may require an action.  These all give you a variety of options for that one single all-important action each round.

The Combat phase is quite obviously the reward to all your planning and plotting.  There are attack (red 8-sided) dice and defense (green 8-sided) dice, and each side rolls a number of them based on stats of their ships.  Using a range template, you find your targets and roll your dice.  Previously executed Actions can affect these dice, as well as Abilities, Upgrade Cards and other combat factors.  Each side rolls dice.  Attack dice have special symbols that represent hit, critical hit, miss and focus.  Defense dice have symbols that represent evade, focus or blank (meaning unsuccessful evasion).  As an example of an Action’s importance, the Focus actions can change the focus symbols to something else (depending on if attacking or defending), if that action was taken and the player chooses to spend it.

Damage is determined, if any, and dealt to the target through cards.  You can take normal damage or critical hits, which affect the functionality of your ship.  Shields deflect either type of it, and if the ship has no shields the damage cards are consulted.  Another aspect I like a lot is the damage system.  You use the same cards for both regular damage and critical hits.  The one side of the card, displaying  generic explosion, represents regular damage and takes away from hull points.  On the other side are critical hits and you use those only in the case that critical hits have to be resolved.

The first time I played this, I was hooked.  I resisted it as hard as I could but the game is so simple and elegant that it is hard to hate this game.  Someone said to me when playing that the system “just felt right,” and that’s true.  It just feels natural for any good dog fight scenario.

The rulebook also supplies special rules for overlapping ships, obstacle collisions, squad building, and missions.  In FFG fashion, the rulebook is complete and covers just about everything you would want to know about playing the game.

In conclusion, it is a brilliant game.  It has pulled me back into the Star Wars universe when I thought I would never get back into it.  However, like I said, I would play this if it was Star Wars or anything else.  It’s just fun and easy to play.  It is also very satisfying as a game and, of course, has incredible replay potential.  It is well worth the cost.  It is not only easy to learn, it is also very fast.  A game might be 2 hours max, but more than likely will be less, depending on the number of ships.  I highly recommend this game.

For more details on Fantasy Flight Games and their new Miniature GameStar Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game” check them out at their website http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game
From: Fantasy Flight Games
Type of Game: Miniature Game
Executive Game Designer: Corey Konieczka
Game Design: Jay Little
Game Development: Adam Sadler, Brady Sadler, and Corey Konieczka
Producer: Steven Kimball
Editing and Proofreading: Julian Smith, David Hansen, and Adam Baker
Cover Art: Matt Allsop
Interior Art: Matt Allsop, Cristi Balenescu, Jon Bosco, Matt Bradbury, Sacha Diener, Blake Henriksen, Lukasz Jaskolski, Jason Juta, Henning Ludvigsen, Jorge Maese, Scott Murphy, David Augen Nash Matthew Starbuck, Nicholas Stohlman, Angela Sung
Graphic Design: Dallas Mehlhoff, with Chris Beck, Shaun Boyke, Brian Schomburg,  Michael Silsby, and Evan Simonet
3D Ship Modeling: Benjamin Maillet with Jason Beaudoin
Managing Art Director: Andrew Navaro
Art Direction: Zoë Robinson
Publisher: Christian T. Petersen
Number of Pages: 28 page rulebook
Game Components Included: Base set includes  3 Painted Plastic minis (two TIE fighter minis, 1 X-Wing mini), rules, Quick-Start Rules Booklet, 3 Transparent Plastic Bases, 6 Transparent Plastic Pegs, 8 Ship Tokens (double-sided), 11 Maneuver Templates (3 Turns, 3 Banks, 5 Straights), 3 Maneuver Dials (each consisting of a faceplate, a dial, and a pair of plastic connectors), 19 Action Tokens (4 Evade Tokens,  3 Focus Tokens, 6 Red Target Lock Tokens (double-sided)), 6 Blue Target Lock Tokens (double-sided), 13 Mission Tokens (8 Tracking Tokens, 1 Shuttle Token, 4 Satellite Tokens),  6 Asteroid Obstacle Tokens,  2 Shield Tokens,  3 Stress Tokens,  3 Critical Hit Tokens,  27 ID Tokens (double-sided),  13 Ship Cards,  33 Damage Cards,  5 Upgrade Cards,  3 Red Attack Dice,  3 Green Defense Dice,  1 Range Ruler
Game Components Not Included: There is enough to play in the base set, but there are expansion sets available that allow you to add to your battles.  This reviewer recommends buying at least two base sets.
Retail Price: $39.99 for base, $14.99 for expansion ships (US)
Number of Players: 2 in the base, more with expansion
Player Ages: 14+
Play Time: 20+ minutes

Reviewed by: Ron McClung