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B-Movie Inspiration: Island of Terror

I was browsing social media when I ran across a picture posted to a group dedicated to the old sci-fi media magazine Starlog. 

It was a creature from some old movie that resembled a bulbous starfish with a single tentacle jutting out is front.  Immediately drawing me in, I had to do some research to find out where it came from.  This creature was a Silicate from a movie called Island of Terror,  a 1966 British horror film starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, and Carole Gray.  I am a huge fan of Peter Cushing movies and this was a good example of an imaginative gem that probably flew under the radar for many.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

Most of the movie takes place on a remote island called Petrie’s Island, off the east coast of Ireland.  We learn in the first act that the island does not have phones to the mainland and limited means to reach it via boat.  It is a very isolated community of farmers and fisherman.  We first observe some scientists lead by oncology researcher Dr. Lawrence Phillips as they work on a cure for cancer in a secluded castle laboratory on the island.  It is during their conversations, these scientists mention their other co-workers in Japan – a plot plant for later.  Something catastrophic happens in the lab and it fades to black.  Later on the island, bodies begin to turn up.  They seemed to have died horrifically as every bone in their bodies was liquified.  The island’s physician – Dr Reginald Landers (Eddie Byrne) – ends up recruiting two London scientists – Dr Brian Stanley (Cushing) and Dr. David West (Judd) to help solve the mystery.  Along with them is the wealthy jetsetter Toni Merrill (Carole Gray).

Once back at Petrie’s Island,  the helicopter used to reach the island must return to the mainland for plot reasons, leaving the group effectively stranded on Petrie until the helicopter or a boat can return. West and Stanley learn of Dr. Phillips work, paying a visit to his lab. This reveals that Dr. Phillips and his colleagues are dead and boneless as the other bodies.  From Dr. Phillips’ research notes, the protagonists learn that in his quest to cure cancer, they may have accidentally created a new silicate based lifeform.

The creature now obliquely revealed, we begin to see more and more islanders killed.  In each case, we hear a strange alien sound and see a tentacle take out each. Eventually dubbed silicates by the heroes, we learn that they kill their victims by injecting a bone-dissolving enzyme into their bodies as part of their feeding process. The silicates are very resilient and incredibly difficult to kill.  Landers fails to kill one at the castle with an axe when they first encounter them and later try to kill them as they approach the village, with bullets, gasoline bombs and dynamite with no effect.  Additionally, these creatures  divide like cells every few hours and the heroes determine there could be thousands or more on the island before too long.

In the scenes that follow, we see the creatures in the forests and in the fields, slowly crawling towards to the village seeking food. These scenes were pretty good considering the period, but I could imagine what they could do today with something like this.  In these shots, they may have been 4 or 5 on screen at one time but to really get the horror, I wanted to see dozens moving frantically seeking food.  As you can imagine for the period, they were like little slugs crawling along the ground at a very slow pace.  However, there were some cool moments as they revealed the creatures could climb trees and drop down on victims.

Finally, one silicate turns up dead, apparently after having ingested a dog that was contaminated by a rare isotope called Strontium-90 from Phillips’ lab.  This may have been vaguely implied at in the beginning, I am not sure.  It did seem out of nowhere to me.  The heroes hatch a plan to gather more of this isotope at the castle and contaminate a herd of cattle, setting a trap for the hundreds (look more like dozens) of silicates that are now on the island.  This in the long run  succeeds, of course, with a few harrowing moments among panicking townsfolk trapped in the town meeting hall while the creatures attack from all sides.

The story ends with evacuation and medical teams coming to the island and the heroes realizing how fortunate they were that this outbreak was confined to an island.  Planted earlier in the movie, this sets up an epilogue of the movie – a visit to the satellite programme in Japan.  The scientists there are attempting to duplicate Phillips’ work with the inevitable result.  It ends with a scientists entering a room, you hearing the familiar sound of the creature, and a scream.  Fade to black.

The theme of this story is a standard science gone wrong trope.  It’s one of my favorites to use in my sci-fi and pulp horror games.  These stories are born of man’s hubris and arrogance that he alone is master of the cosmos and science is the means to master it.  I am using this in my current con Reich Star campaign (Man in the High Castle meets The Expanse).  It also had a Lovecraftian feel to it, given the setting and the type of creature.  For budgetary reasons, these creatures were a little disappointing, but my mind simply goes to what they could have been with the right budget and today’s special effects.  Todays practical effects alone could make these things terrifying.  Adding in a little CGI, and these things could be awesome.  I love a good monster movie.  A monster movie with tentacles and you will have me watching from beginning to end.

I love the isolation aspect of this.  This can easily be “survive the night” type one-shot adventure in any horror, sci-fi or fantasy setting.  Some scientist or wizard messing around with the wrong things only to open a gate into another realms of strange creatures that devour your bones (or some other aspect of your body).  The inspirations are fairly obvious.  Any island or island-like locations would do.  In sci-fi, it could be an asteroid colony.  This is the perfect pulp horror story, easily insertable into a game like Call of Cthulhu.  In fantasy, it could be anywhere.  Isolation is quite common in fantasy.

The creature itself could be anything but I like the creepiness of this particular creature. I would even use the sound they used in the movie if I could isolate it on my phone.  I would add more tentacles just for effect.  I would also alter the mitosis process to add a little more horror to it but the ticking time-bombs aspect to that would remain.  It’s all a ready-made adventure waiting to be exploited in a role playing game setting.

The one thing I would change is probably the final solution as it seemed more coincidental than anything.

Savage Company Recruit Orientation Guide

From: SHM Publishing
Reviewed by: James Kabbash

Savage Company Recruit Orientation Guide is a new RPG Setting Preview Book from SHM Publishing.  The setting is being Kickstarted into a full length setting book – Savage Company campaign setting for Pathfinder and 5e

In reading through The Savage Company Recruit Orientation Guide, I found that it offers an original game play opportunity that is seamlessly compatible with the Pathfinder Role Playing System. The integration of the two offers for a very unique experience that many other RPGs will not. Full of excellent support detail and development the background in this world is extremely unique. The obvious work put into this it is evident that the creators really came up with something potentially special.

From  page # 4:  “You are all worthless sacks of meat!”

From the very start, the developers weave the setting into being with a mix between a series of barked orders and an internal dialogue of Sarge, a platoon leader and drill sergeant of the new recruits for Savage Company. The obviously powerful and distinguished Orc controls the situation without questions which makes the reader that much more excited to go deeper and see what the Guide has to offer.

Once you delve into the Guide there is the introduction to the ‘city’ of Tombstone. I use quotes there as it is really a series of structures built in and around the main hub of the Savage Company. Within Tombstone we find everything a militaristic corporation could possibly need to carry out and on their mission. We are introduced to everything from barracks to saloons to a general store to a packed armory and garage. To go along with these locales is a colorful bevy of characters that really flesh out the community. The setting is well thought out and original.

Game system wise the introduction of new races is expertly done. Eight new races are introduced. The developers go deep into the physical and skill attributes of three of these new races. Specifically, the Baade and the ‘Savage’ Hobgoblin and Orc. They are expertly developed in both historical context and game mechanics. I would have liked equal attention presented to the other options besides just those three. The five remaining races are just glossed over which was rather unfortunate. What little is presented about the other five races is very intriguing.

There is also a very interesting offering new archetypes for every Pathfinder class. Some of these new paths are both exciting and would be excellent to roleplay. The trails to be followed to achieve these ‘specialty professions’ offer up the opportunity for some profound immersion into the world. Again, like the races referenced above, they only focus on four of the nineteen choices. When a more expanded version of this system is produced, I hope they will give each the attention to detail that the ones presented received.

The three new Feats introduced are very interesting in so far as they propose some nice steps outside the now well-known Pathfinder ones. Like the two paragraphs above, I would hope they have more like these to offer in a more expansive edition. I particularly liked these three options as they hint towards the possibilities of other original abilities that could hopefully be introduced.

The last thing I would like to visit is the equipment presented. Unlike more established futuristic systems like Shadowrun or Savage Worlds the weapons in this system are not named after current real-world manufacturers. Even though they use just the most basic of nomenclature for most of the weapons the statistics for what they represent is well offered.  There is a hinting of there soon to come vehicle types, customization and playability that is extremely exciting.

From  page # 4:  “Welcome to Savage Company.”

The art in this truncated guide is absolutely outstanding and really lends some boosts to the imagination. I am really looking forward to a larger in version of this work that will even further improve the excellent renderings. Also, throughout the Guide, there are sporadic ‘short -story’ type write ups that really give life to the setting, characters and classes offered. They are truly a good read and should not be glossed over.

The Savage Company Recruit Orientation Guide has a lot to offer in the aspects of both originality and content.  A rich setting, including well thought our names and locales, detail a complex society. Intermittent short stories add to the overall development of the author’s vision. The artwork is excellent. It offers several new races as well as both interesting and well thought out archetypes for every Pathfinder class. These new class options offer some intriguing options for rousing character advancement as well as detailed role play. The weapon and vehicle descriptions definitely make the reader excited and can not wait to step into the armory or garage. The only criticism I can offer up is that the writing can be rough at times, but that can be overcome with some more thorough editing. An overall map of Tombstone would help the completeness of the guide. The unique world of the Savage Company will offer up both challenges and opportunities for some memorable table time.

For more details on Savage Company Recruit Orientation Guide, it is available for free from DriveThruRPG.  As mentioned, they are also running a Kickstarter for a full setting book for both Pathfinder and D&D 5e.

Diverse Roles: A Clement Sector Career Catalog

From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Diverse Roles: A Clement Sector Career is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

One of the things I first ask about a sci-fi game is what races and/or “classes” (for lack of a better term) can I play.  Sometimes these are the things that set a game apart from the others.  Most of the time, I am asking more for inspiration than to pick something specific.  Traveller is one of those games, depending on the setting, can be inspiring.  Clement Sector setting, while inspiring in a lot of ways, always left me wanting more.  Diverse Roles  is definitely a step in the right direction.

From page # 4: “Within this book are 19 careers created for use with the Clement Sector roleplaying game”

Traveller in general is notorious for its’ character generation system – the only system you can die in character generation.  Over time, it has evolved into a system that gives you a three dimensional character in a very simply table-based process.  However, as you can see in this quote from the Cepheus Engine SRD PDF, the ruleset that the Clement sector is based on, you can see that the essence of what Traveller was known for is still preserved.

If you did not succeed, you have died. Alternately, events have forced you from this career. Roll on the mishap table and go to step 10 (you do not receive a benefit roll for this term.)

The Clement Sector Core Setting Book book as well as the Player’s Guide provide significant careers for any player.  This book adds nearly 20 more.  The careers use the same system found in the Clement Sector: The Rules and at times, refer back to other careers found in Clement Sector Core Setting Book.

With the focus on character generation and careers, it should be noted that character generation system for Clement Sector is deeply seated in the setting.  Before one gets to the Careers, your character will already have a subsector of origin, system and homeworld of origin, as well as youth and teenage experience and pre-career collegiate (if any) career.  This automatically draw the character into the setting , involving whatever politics, factions and story associated to those things.

Each career starts out with the Enlistment prerequisite, which the character must meet to choose a term in the particular career.  Then a series of tables in the standard format of any Traveller/Cepheus based system.  Some careers on this book have special results such as Ally, Armor, Contact and Rare Item.  These really set the careers apart and making them more interesting. Once one gets past the Enlistment prerequisite roll, you choose an Assignment, roll Survival and then progress through  the advancements.

The tables in each career include Career Progress, Mustering Out Benefits, Skills and Training, Ranks and Benefits, and the dreaded Mishaps.  In classic Traveller,  aging plays a big part in this process.  Because of the trans-human aspect of the Clement Sector, it is handled slightly differently. Technology with the setting have allowed human to age slower – up to 200 years, and some even longer.  So there is a apparent age and a real age table that tells you when you need to start taking in consideration age in rolling a career.  This is not something unique to Diverse Roles, but it’s something worth mentioning as part of the Clement Sector career system.

From page # 4:  “While these careers were created with the Clement Sector setting in mind, they may also be used with any other 2d6 science fiction game such as any using the Cepheus Engine rules created by Samardan Press.”

The careers added here include Adventurer, Arts, Bounty Hunter , Craftsperson, Prostitute, Scavenger, and Thief.  Compared to the Clement Sector Core Setting Book, this has more underground or street level careers.  The events tables take up the bulk of each career and most follow the same format with a lot of interesting options.  From severe injury to various very creative and interesting events, the events table really makes the system and your character three-dimensional for me.  Whole adventure seeds can be gotten out of these tables.

In my little experiment with it, I created a Scavenger.  Assuming I had to stats to qualify (as I did not do a full character) and I survive the Career term, I would have to choose an enlistment – Junker.  I would get my level 0 benefits picking between Personal Development, Service, or Advanced Education.  Then I head down to Events.  I gained a Rival who pushed me out of the Career.  Not the worst thing that could have happened but not great if I have a specific character concept in mind.  I would possibly pursue it again after a term in another but I would have qualify and survive.

Diverse Roles also provides an Engineer career path, something it calls the unsung heroes of any modern civilization.  It details out a unique and concise way to roll up a true engineer in the Clement Sector.  Additionally, it provides guidelines for non-random character generation. For some, the randomness of the classic Traveller system can derail a character concept.  This provides a good way to do it differently.

In conclusion,  I love expansions to give characters more depth and more options. The problems with many past systems, things like this added new and special rules that complicated things (d20 prestige classes, for example.)  This adds a lot for a player as well as the GM without complication.   This is primarily because of the elegant system it’s based on but also because the writer understands the system and what makes it elegant.  He also has a strong passion for his setting and it shows in his products.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG SupplementDiverse Roles: A Clement Sector Career” check them out at their website https://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Diverse Roles: A Clement Sector Career
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts
Contributing Authors: Michael Johnson, Curtis Rickman
Cover Art by: Stephanie McAlea
Website: https://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Shuffling Horror: Roswell 51

From: Gamewick Games

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Shuffling Horror: Roswell 51 is a new Tabletop Board/Card Game from Gamewick Games.

Some time ago, I reviewed a game called Pittsburgh 68 by Gamewick, where through interesting game mechanics, you formed a classic zombie movie and attempt to survive.  The game flowed well, was very fun and different.  Recently, Gamewick has put together a high quality board game based on that same concept, with the theme being classic 50s alien invasion movies rather than zombies.  However, Pittsburgh 68  can also be played on this board game.  This is the first time I have seen a card game evolve into a board game.  I found that fascinating.

From the front cover: “A retro sc-fi B-Movie Board Game”

The game has some similarities to the previously mentioned Pittsburgh 68, except with a classic 50s aliens invasion theme.  There are references to classic movies like The Blob, THEM!,  and of course, Invasion from Outer Space.  However, there are some new mechanics that adapt it to a board game and make it more than just a story-telling game.  It states up front that these rules supersede the rules of Pittsburgh 68, and  the game plays better in this format.  The major changes to the include a Fade In and Fade Out token, as well as the Horror Star token.  These along with other aspects really bring out the feel of making a movie.

The game is surprisingly diverse because it can handle up to 3 to 13 players.  13!! We only play-tested it with 3 players but I can imagine how much fun it would be with more.  Played  cycles between a number of players and a director – a one versus cooperative many.  The players control “Survivors” and the director controls the monsters.  The players cooperatively work against the Director and the monsters and attempt to destroy them all, while the director attempts to kill the players and their allies.  With the wide player range, the game is scaled through various mechanics including the Spoint system and the cards themselves.

The players play one of the 12 survivors in the deck.  Examples are the Colonel, the Scientist, the Robot, and Rancher. They as a group work together to stop the director and the plots he hatches through card play.  The game starts with an opening scene with 3 face-up cards in the center of the board.  Cards can be a wide variety of things – monsters, event cards, equipment, and more.  These completely drive the game. The various mechanics of the game center around 4 phases or Reels of a movie, each reel being a stack of cards on the board.  Each Real, three cards are dealt from the Reel deck to form a scene.  During these scenes players can attack aliens, take items from the face-up, get another Survivor to form groups of survivors (up to 3), Rest or move into a sanctuary.  Their central goal is build up their survivors and keep the director from building up strong throngs of aliens, while at the same time creating a cinematic story of pulp alien invasion.

As a Director, the goal is to keep the movie going by building alien throngs with the cards available on the screen, attacking and killing survivors, and generally making it difficult on the players.  The Director forms the framework of the cinematic story and the players react to it while forming their own individual stories.  The job is one-part blackjack dealer and one-part antagonist to the players.  The dealer side of the director primarily is for the flow of the game, and once the director has that down, he can focus primarily eliminating survivors.  By far, the director is the more involved part of the game. While not a complicated game by any means, there is a lot that goes on in this game, especially for the Director.

From the back cover: “Don’t just play a game.  Play a movie.”

Key to the game mechanics is the resource management.  From equipment or Item cards to Spoints tokens,  the resources available to the Survivors can make or break the game for them.  Meanwhile, the Director can either perform various actions to keep players from getting the items and make them spend Spoint tokens more.  Players need to allocate Items to Survivors that can use them most effectively, as each is different.

The game mechanics beyond the card play involve dice rolling as well as the aforementioned token spending.  Two 6-sided dice are used in combat, and the Spoints can either modify the roll to-hit or damage.  It is a fairly simple combat system where you roll under a particular value clearly displayed on the cards.  There are also some very creative and interesting rules that round out the game that include the Fade In token (the Director chooses who goes first at the start of the each reel after the first), Turning Points and Last One Standing (two ways to end the game), and Pod Players (players are converted to the Director’s team).

The board is brilliantly designed to appear like a drive in theater from the view of a car.  As it turns out, it is less of a board game board and more of a advanced playing mat for the game.  It also can be used with Pittsburgh 68 with the extra cards supplied in the game.

In conclusion,  it is a very interesting and fun game with lots of back and forth between each player and the director.  There are a wide variety of event cards to break of the combat and quite a few challenges the players and the director face as time goes on.  I would imagine with a full compliment of players, this game might take longer but it still could be amazingly fun.  There is a lot that goes on in the game, so every game is different.  This gives it a lot of replay-ability value.  Where Pittsburgh 68 seemed to have a lack of “winner’ in the overall game play, this game adds enough elements to have a satisfying ending.

For more details on Gamewick Games and their new Board Game Shuffling Horror: Roswell 51.  Check them out at their website https://www.gamewick.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 18 out of 20

Product Summary

Shuffling Horror: Roswell 51

From: Gamewick Games

Type of Game: B0ard Game

Game Design & Written by: Larry Wickman

Art by: Ben Crenshaw, Mike Saputo, Donald David, Stephen Blickenstaff

Number of Pages: 21

Game Components Included: The Roswell 51 Movie Deck (56 cards), The Shuffling Horror Shuffle Board (20 x 30 inch deluxe gameboard), (54) Spoint tokens (Survivor Points), (8) Sanctuary tokens, (4) Reel tokens. (4) Dynamite tokens, (1) Fade Out token, (1) Fade In token, (1) Rulebook (with intro and advance rules), (4) Rule Cue Cards. (2) Endgame Cards. (4) Dice, Plus bonus Pittsburgh 68 cards and tokens!

Retail Price: $39.99(US)

Number of Players: For 3 – 13 players (recommend 3-6 players for initial play)

Player Ages:  Ages 14+

Playing Time: 75 minutes

Website: https://www.gamewick.com/

Deck of Stories, a GM playing aid by Critical Dice

From: Critical Dice
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Deck Of Stories

From: Critical Dice
Type of Game: RPG Playing Aid
Game Components Included: 50 cards, plus 3 blanks and an instruction card
Retail Price: $14.99

Deck of Stories is a new RPG Playing Aid from Critical Dice.

I got something in the mail yesterday.  Critical Dice is a company that came out to MACE 2018 and to be honest, I totally missed them.  Being the gaming coordinator, I was simply too busy to check out every vendor at the dealers room.  However, Jeff Smith talked big about them and I heard more and more about them afterwards.  A lot of people  talked about their high quality and innovative products and ideas.

The Deck of Stories is their latest idea that we plan to thorough play-test at MACE West 2019.  It is a playing aid to help a GM come up with a plot on the fly, when say the characters go off on a different and unintended direction (which never happens, right?) or the GM needs an idea for a quick one shot.  Since I got them, I have been shuffling and flipping these cards while I sit at my desk at work, imagining what kind of stories I could create with them.  They are quite interesting.

From the website:  “Adventure in 15 Minutes”

As said, there are only 50 cards.  My first thought was that it leaves a lot of opportunity for expansion.  Despite that, there are plenty  of story potential in these fifty cards. There are two parts to each card – the Hook and the Next Steps.  The Hook is the story idea for the card – one or two short sentences to inspire your imagination.  The Next Steps ask questions stemming from this idea and help you formulate and round out the idea.

The general model the card system is based on is called ORC.  O is for Open.  Cards with this letter on them can be used as an opening scene idea.  Hook examples are:  “Take the River is your fastest route. Many Creatures Lurk Along the Riverbanks.” … or … “Everyone in the town begins speaking gibberish.  Communication is impossible.”  R is for Rise.  These are rise in action, the change in the story, or the plot twist that take it to the next level.  Example: “Your team meets another group that seems strangely familiar.” C is for Climatic action.  It represents the hook that will bring things to a close, the boss-fight or the epic ending.   Example: “To save the life of a party member, a deal must be struck with a being from a lower plane.”   With those examples alone, I am already formulating a plot for a simple village encounter.

The players have just come down a river after a big fight, once of horribly injured.  They seek help at this village but suddenly, all in the village speak a foreign tongue of another plane.  They do not understand and can not get help because the people do not understand the party.  What’s happening?  Why?  Who is at the center of this confusion?  Has the enemy from their last fight returned or does he have allies?

Cards can have one, two or all three letters on them.  For cards with multiples, this means it can be used for any of them.  The questions in the Next Steps are great because they really help you formulate the idea in your head.

From the website:  “No railroading, no over preparing”

 At MACE West 2019, we had a big game of 4 tables.  GMs run 1 hour with one group using the cards, and then the GM moves to the next table.  We had everyone running D&D 5e, to keep things simple. Everyone seemed to have a great time.  By all accounts, the games were all a great success.   I think the Deck of Stories was received very well.

 

A few weeks later at my home game, I had to come up with some visions for each of my players.  I whipped out my Deck of Stories and pulled a single card for each vision.  It worked perfectly.  It was awesome and now I have new story elements I can work into the campaign.

In conclusion, these cards are awesome.  They are very inspired and I do hope they expand on them.  Perhaps a more sci-fi or horror oriented version or something like that. They are diverse and just fun to throw down to get the creative juices flowing, at the very least.  If you want to use them as intended, I recommend sitting for about 5 to 10 minutes before your game, and throw down a couple of cards for each letter – O, R, and C and think about the story you want to tell some.  It doesn’t take much, just a little though before actually running the game.  I am glad I got to review them and I highly recommend them.

For more details on Critical Dice and their new RPG Playing Aid Deck of Stories” check them out at their website https://thecriticaldice.com.

Codex Rating: 18

 

White Death, a sci-fi/espionage mystery adventure

From: The Design Mechanism

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

White Death is a new Role Playing Game Adventure from The Design Mechanism.

Up front, I am not familiar with the Mythras system, but I am told it is similar to the Basic Role Playing system which is derived from the classic Call of Cthulhu system, among others.  These systems I am very familiar with.

Earlier last year, Chad handed me a copy of his latest work and asked me to review it.  The way he described it to me intrigued me – elements of Cold War espionage, mystery and sci-fi coupled with an arctic theme was very much up my alley.  I had just finished writing a con adventure similar to this, set in an alternate future timeline – A Man in the High Castle meets The Expanse type setting.  At the very least, I could convert to something I play, if I wanted to run it.

It has nice and intriguing cover art.  It looks small and simple enough that it could be a convention game.  Skimming the introduction drew me even further as it mentioned 1980s and the Cold War – something I have somewhat familiar with in that I grew up in that era.  Diving in, my mind swam with ideas on what I could do with this adventure.

From the website: “A Soviet drift station in the Arctic ocean, seemingly abandoned. The Agency wants to know what the Russians were doing there and why it was so abruptly vacated. It has assembled a team to investigate; to uncover whatever it was the Soviet Union was using the station for.”

The adventure itself is a simple mission to something called a drift station.  A drift station is an transitory Arctic station usually used for geological or meteorological monitoring, that are built on ice flows.  Sometimes these stations were secretly used to monitor (aka spy on) the enemy.  Occasionally, the ice flows these stations are built on break away, and float off into the ocean.  In this case, a particular station suspected of being a secret abandoned Russian base of some kind, has broken off and is drifting away.  However, weather is making approach tricky and the intelligence is unclear as to what might be there.

The players are agents of an Agency.  This could be the CIA, MI6 or any other agency that might see the Russian intelligence and military services as adversaries.  It also says that this adventure can be included in something called the Luther Arkwright campaign, which is a campaign setting published by The Design Mechanism based on the award winning graphic novels by writer/artist Bryan Talbot.

The detail in the adventure is excellent.  It has the feel of an espionage and military adventure from the beginning.  It also has some subtle nuances that make the adventure very intriguing and suspenseful.  The cold isolation of the adventure makes it even more exciting.  The players parachute onto the drift and investigate a very cold and dark mystery.  The more they reveal, the more interesting it gets.

From the website: “But what the agents find might not be what they were expecting. And what’s more, the Russians are coming back…”

Without giving too much away,  the adventure does follow certain tropes but also has some surprises in it.  It does have some homages to John Carpenter’s The Thing and well as Alien.  However, the adventure is far more than just an investigation of the abandoned station.  There are events and encounters throughout that challenge the characters.  The station holds some secrets as does the ice itself.

The adventure provides six full-fleshed out characters in the Mythras system, all with their own skills and short backgrounds.  It also provides some custom rules for Sanity and Tenacity, cluing you that this game will get interesting.

In conclusion,  White Death is primarily a survival horror adventure with considerable mystery and intrigue.  Depending on what characters you use, the adventure can have even more intrigue.  The story of the adventure alone is fun and intense, regardless of system.  It is well written and definitely something I would run. 

For more details on The Design Mechanism and their new Role Playing Game AdventureWhite Death” check them out at their website.

Codex Rating: 19 out of 20

Product Summary

White Death

From: The Design Mechanism

Type of Game: Role Playing Game Adventure

Written by: Chad Bowser

Contributing Authors: Pete Nash, Lawrence Whitaker

Cover Art by: Dan MacKinnon

Additional Art by: Earl Geier

Number of Pages: 32

Game Components Included: Single Adventure, no core rules 

Game Components Not Included: Core Mythras rules

Retail Price: $ 4.99 (US)

Website: Product Website

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Just Survive The Game

From: Broken Archer
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Just Survive The Game is a Card Game from Broken Archer Games.

 

From the website: “Use teamwork to help everyone stay alive or lookout for yourself and forget your family and friends”

Just Survive is a somewhat abstract and lightly themed game of cards where you play roles in a survival scenario.  The disaster is not defined, the situation is not defined, all you know is that you have to be the last person standing.   In this game, there are Job cards, Event Cards, Secret Cards and Dead/Skipped cards.  Each person gets a Secret card and a Job card.  There are a total of 11 Job cards and 15 secrets.  These define your role in the game by giving you things you can do – both your Job ability and your Secret ability. These abilities counter things in the game or break rules.  Secrets don’t necessarily have to remain secret, it’s totally up to the player.

Play goes from the youngest player onward, reacting to Event cards on each turn.  Event cards can be a variety of things.  There are 87 total cards in this stack.  They range from Bad Day  where you snap and pick a character to murder, to Food running low.   Secrets and Job abilities can effect these Events.  During these Events, sometimes the group must vote, and sometimes those votes can be deadly.  One thing to note is that Death in the game does not end the game for the player.  The only thing that ends the game for everyone is the SURVIVE card in the events.  When that comes up, the last player alive is the winner.

From the website: “You’ve just been locked in a bunker holding out to survive a disaster outside. You and the people you’re with must do whatever it takes to survive, but only one of you will be able to live.”

In conclusion,  this is a fun little game.  I prefer a little more theme and it is pretty no-frills in terms of production value.  When we played, it was with 3 players but we determined that it would play better with more people.  It became unclear at times what a Dead person could and could not do, so I think the rules need to be a little clear on that.  It has great potential for expansion, however.  And I think it would serve well if it had a little more theme.

For more details on Broken Archer and their new Card Game“Just Survive The Game” check them out at their website http://brokenarcher.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 15 out of 20

Product Summary

Just Survive The Game
From: Broken Archer
Type of Game: Card Game
Website: http://brokenarcher.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (2nd Edition)

From: Gypsy Knights Games

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (2nd Edition) is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

Up front, starship building is not my favorite thing to do in a sci-fi game.  It’s one of my least favorite things to do.  A ship is a means to an end, something that gets you from adventure point A to adventure point B.  I like to focus on the characters and the story and not the means of transportation.  There were times where I made the ship basically another character the players had to deal with, but the overall design of the ship really did not matter.

That said, I went into this review with a little trepidation.  Traveller and games of its line tend to be a little too hard science for my tastes, especially when it comes to starships.  I never really saw the reason for this. In my view, when you go into space combat, you are basically turning a story-based RPG to a turn-based miniature game.  Why would you do that?  But apparently some people don’t feel like it is true sci-fi without some kind of ship builders guide and a means to build their own ship.

On the flipside of this, admittedly sci-fi would not be sci-fi without cool spaceships and all the trappings that go along with them.  So I don’t fault people that wants some level of detail in that area in their game.  I can see the appeal of designing a detailed ship that is prepared for anything the GM throws at them, as much as I can see the appeal of building a character that is prepared for anything the GM throws at them.  If I treat it much like another character in the game, I can understand the attraction.

From page #3: Ranging from tiny ten tonne work pods to massive armored system defense monitors, the space ships of Clement Sector are as varied as the crews that operate them.

This is the 2nd Edition of The Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture, meaning it is a part of the conversation away from the Mongoose Traveller system and into the Samardan Press Cepheus Engine. The Clement Sector is essentially a Tech Level (TL) 12 small ship setting. The major difference between this setting and base Cepheus Engine/classic Traveller is the Zimm Drive.  This drive is a quantum entanglement device allowing FTL travel.  It limits starships to an absolute maximum of 5000 tonnes.  It is extremely rare to find in-system vessels displacing more than 20,000 tonnes.  However, computer technology has advanced slightly higher and some ships systems allow for TL 13 technology.

At the foundation of spacecraft construction is a hull.  Into the hull are fitted various things like Zimm and maneuver drives, the power plant, the fuel tanks, accommodation for the crew, as well as various electronic systems (computers, sensors and control).  Other components can also be optionally fitted including armaments, defensive systems, and others based on the intended function of the ship.  Building a ship is all about the Displacement Tonnage or Tonnage for short (dT).  The total tonnage of the installed fittings cannot exceed the tonnage of the hull.

From page #3: Both adventure class ship and capital ships can be designed using this publication.

Starting with a Hull, I decided to make a simple freighter like the Firefly or the Millennium Falcon.  Once I had a hull chosen, I moved on to the drive systems.  After the drive systems, the Zimm drive is installed.  With the Zimm drives limitation, to be a useful multi-system freighter I had to keep it simple.  The hard part is really translating the visual to the numbers.  The examples in the back gave you an idea of some 4 crew ships in the range of 100 and 300, so it is simple enough to stay small and still have an interstellar drive.   You can customize the hull between 3 types – standard, streamlined, or distributed – and a few sub-types within those types.  Drive and power systems are next, influenced by concept as well as hull size.

Following the basic hull and structure of the ship as well as the engineering options, there are several steps to follow that including armor, various reinforcement options, and the like.  Once all that is chosen, the Main Compartment is designed.  This include the bridge, computer systems, staterooms, and other internal as well as external components.  Do you include a secondary bridge?  Do you harden the bridge?  What kind of sensors and communication arrays do you need? Basic Civilian, Military or other specialized types?  What I like about this part of it is the variety.  This is where you get a good feel for the guts of your ship.  The barracks, the sleep-pods like in Aliens (called Low Passage Berths), the briefing room, and the galley are all options to throw in your ship.   It really feels like they considered everything.  Equipping your ship with these options in like equipping a character.

Of course, what is a ship without weapons.  Space is big but it is also dangerous and you can always count on some factions within humanity prey on the weaker targets.  So you can go without weapons, but it would be very dangerous.  You have choices for point defense systems, turret/barbette weapons, bay weapons and spinal mounts.  The Falcon had your basic point defense weapons, while I am not even sure if the Firefly had any.  Ships in the Rocinante from The Expanse had torpedos as well as point defense.

Lasers are the most common weapons but there are also missiles, torpedoes and railguns as well.   The Spinal weapons are the biggies – Meson and Particle cannons are the big dogs of the neighborhood.  Shields or Screens – defenses – are also a big part of the section.  Does your ship include smaller craft, hangar bays, or cargo space?  That’s the next step.  Following this, is the crew requirements are determined. This is where the personality of your ship comes in.

In conclusion,  this is a very comprehensive sourcebook for those that like to focus on the details of the party’s starship.  While it traditionally is not something I entirely focus on, I can appreciate the level of detail this book presents.  It makes it fun and detailed.  And it is very easy to follow.  I highly recommend this book for those that are looking to start a ship-oriented campaign.  The art also adds a lot to the feel of the sourcebook.  Of course the ships are cool but I love the internal shots as well. 

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their The Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (2nd Edition) check them out at their website http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19 out of 20

Product Summary

The Anderson and Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (2nd Edition)

From: Gypsy Knights Games

Type of Game: RPG Supplement

Written by:  Michael Johnson

Artists: Ian Stea, Bradley Warnes, Sam Harvey, Fotolia: Crom

Cover Layout and A&F Logo: Stephanie McAlea

Book Layout: Ian Stead

Editor: Curtis Rickman

Number of Pages: 150

Game Components Included: One PDF

Game Components Not Included: Core Rulebooks

Website: http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

MACE West 2018 Gaming Coordinator Report

The 8th annual MACE West has come and gone.  I keep telling people that they need to stop having so much fun at these things because we have to quit at some point.  I am not doing this until I am 60 (I turn 50 next year).  MACE West turned 8 this year which means we are 2 years from 10.  That even closer to 25 for MACE.  This is mind boggling because I had no idea we would last this long.  MACE West this year was much like last year.  Some remained the same while some evolved and changed with the community. Every year, we try to adjust based on what happened the previous year, and sometimes it works while other times, it doesn’t.  This year was no different.

The biggest difference was the time change.  And I am not just talking about Daylight savings time.  We moved MACE West 2 weeks earlier in March, mostly because it kept landing on my anniversary.  While some folks may not celebrate that after 15 years of marriage, if you knew my wife and the struggles we went through, you would understand why we do.   We just about had to move Heaven and Earth for this to happen however.  Other conventions – namely ShushCon and CafCon – agreed to move their dates around so that MACE West could happen on the weekend we chose.  Thanks to them and the overall community for their willingness to work with us.

In terms the games and events on the schedule, it was right around the same as last year, maybe a little down. Fewer miniature game events, more scheduled board games and demos.  I was struggling to get enough RPGs but some new and old friends stepped up to fill some slots.  I was reasonably pleased by the week before the convention.  Although we did not have any major tournaments aside from the X-Wing event, I was happy where things were.  One of the best things about the schedule was that we went from 4 Savage Worlds games on SSN to 7.  I was very happy with that.

In terms of turn out, I was also happy with most everything.  Organized play seem to struggle.  The X-Wing events were a slight disappointment.  But outside of that, every thing else was pretty busy. Once again, the weekend was a blur to me.  2 out of three games of mine made and I had a blast with both of them.  Most of the games on the schedule made and there were also many pick-up games where they could find room.  The few disappointments were mostly tables that did not make because players did not show.  Either they could not make the convention last minute or they were doing something else.  There were not a lot of those but some.

We did not have many big events, however.  One X-Wing tournament that had 6 people.  So we can safely label it the KISS weekend.  We kept it simple.  Just games.  Scheduled, pick-up and anything in between.  I allocated certain tables as open games as well as open demos, and those stayed busy all weekend.  I gave more scheduled board games round tables and those stayed busy.  Burghley A, where I used to have Warmachine and other miniatures, was redesigned to have more board games on rounds.  That room was loud which to me means it was busy.

The two major complaints I got were (1) all the games are full and (2) the rooms are too loud.  My answer for #1 is either get your registration in earlier or run games yourself.  Those are the only two ways to guarantee you will have a game.  My answer to #2 is not as simple.  It’s the GMs and the players that are making the noise.  Jeff and I talked about ways we can help with that but in the end, the GM and the players have to police themselves.

From a numbers perspective, this year very much felt like last year.  I don’t know the true numbers yet but it felt close to what it was last year.  We took even further steps to manage the pick up games and balance that with the scheduled games. I think it was even more successful than last year.  I was very pleased with the board game room, no small thanks to James Doster and No Ordinary Gamers.  Many thanks to the Asheville Historical Wargamers for all their hard work and very cool events.  Thanks to Double Exposure Envoys for the play to win games and all the great demos by Jessica Paxton.

A little story that started at the end of MACE West and has continued on this week…

While I was packing up, a guy comes up to me and says “Are you Ron or Jeff?” Apparently someone told him to look for us. I told him who I was and he identified himself as a Firefighter and a Make a Wish volunteer. He just so happened to be staying in the hotel for another reason and saw us packing up.  He thought we could help with a dilemma. He represents a child who has placed a Wish to make something in HermitCraft which is apparently a Minecraft server.

I know Minecraft only through my son, who plays it like a mad-man. But I know a millennial at work that might know more. He gave me his card. Adam Howard is the guy I know and he was kind enough to contact this volunteer. Apparently the Hermitcraft server is a big Youtuber server for Minecraft and all this kid wants is to build something on that server.

Adam has contacted those Youtuber on that server and I am hoping that this will go viral from there. I am going to update this group as things develop but this could only happen because of MACE West and the kindness of both tabletop and computer gamers!

Other highlights for me included the folks from Smart Iguana Games demoing Gravity Warfare, gaming with DM Scotty and his family, a damn good game of Star Trek Ascendancy, and the laid back weekend of good gaming for everyone.  Thanks to all the GMs that made it special, and those that stepped out to fill various slots that needed to be filled.  I only have 3 GMs cancel and those were easily managed because of good people.

Thanks to Jeff, his family and friends for all the work they do.  Thanks to all the GMs for their hard work and dedication to our event.  Thanks to James Becker, Michael Tracey, Bill Boivin and Tim McCrary for their hard work in organized play.  Thanks to industry pros Clint Black, Robert Hudson and Mike Yow for attending and gaming with us. MACE West is one of my favorite events to do every year.  It is just the right size that I have a lot of fun with little to no stress.  The community is very welcoming and it doesn’t hurt that the mountain views are astounding.

Thanks again for everyone and I hope to see everyone back for MACE West 2019 as well as MACE  2018 in November!

 

 

 

B-Movie Inspirations: The Drift (2016)

This is an award winning UK sci-fi space short film made Backyard Productions UK as part of the “Darkwave universe.”  Set in a world where rare crystals – called Starlight Crystals – make FTL flight possible, it shows that even with a low budget and actors working for free, you can still tell a damn good story.  I write about this because I really feel that this Darkwave setting REALLY needs to be written up as an RPG setting.  Someone really needs to approach these guys with the idea.

As explained the beginning of the film, something called the Darkwave is an event blamed for nearly all the Starlight Crystals not working.  ONly a small percentage of them still work.  This ends up leaving many ships in mid-flight stranded in the middle of space, decades if not centuries away from a colony using sublight engines.  Finally, a sci-fi movie that respects stellar distances.

Only a few fragments of working Starlight crystals exist, so only a few ships can travel limited FTL.  Apparently the distance and speed a crystal can travel is proportional to the size in some way.  Scavenger ships armed with these crystals travel from derelict to derelict – called Drifts – salvaging cargo, rescuing passengers where possible and salvaging crystal fragments.  Some have good intentions while others don’t.  The film introduces a Ministry ship named the Deliverance ( a ship that vaguely looks like the Firefly) and it’s salvage crew of eight scavengers.  The drop out of FTL asleep in hypersleep suits after a 5 month flight, near a couple of Drifts – a cargo ship and a passenger liner – that is apparently near the nebula where the Darkwave originated.

The characters are kind of cliched – hard-ass woman inspired by Ripley from Alien, the wise-cracking American pilot, the by-the-book perfectly British captain, the pair of rough and tumble blue-collar types that are underappreciated and do all the work, a wide-eyed kid who is bound to get in trouble, rookie corporate guy and so on.   Collectively, they come across as a cross between the crew of the Firefly and the crew of the Nostromo with some homages to the marines of the Sulaco.  They come across a starship graveyard of multiple wrecks and other debris.  Their systems apparently detected a crystal fragment and they are after it.

What follows is a series of events that are reminiscent of several claustrophobic space movies like Aliens, Pandorum, and the like.  There are survivors on the ship and they all have a dark story to tell.  It is a mad dash to recover a crystal on the ship that is apparently special.  A mole in the group wants the crystal for their own clandestined purposes while the rest just try to get out.  There are moments you can tell this is a shoe-string budget production while others are top-notch.   The hallways seem thrown together and poorly constructed at times, but the set of the Deliverance is very cool.  Overall, however, the story they tell is compelling and fantastically inspiring.

From an RPG point of view, this movie is more inspiring from a setting point of view than anything else. The story itself is tropey and cliched, but would serve as a great intro adventure into the settings.  This “Ministry” they work for needs to be fleshed out, as does the covert factions within that drove the mole character.  There would need to be an idea of what the universe was like before the Darkwave and what it is now.  Colonies are isolated now, with only a few fragments available to them, perhaps only able to reach out to other nearby systems.  Smaller stellar nations would form, space would factionalize and people would start blaming others for the Darkwave.  Perhaps a whole faith would rise out of the Darkwave, saying that humanity had reached too far.

Youtube is full of short sci-fi and fantasy films, some good and some not so good.  I found this one exceptionally imaginative and inspiring.  I hope I can find the time to flesh out a setting inspired by it.