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Monsters and Other Childish Things (The Completely Monstrous Edition)

From: Arc Dream Publishing
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Monsters and Other Childish Things (The Completely Monstrous Edition) is a new Role Playing Game from Arc Dream Publishing.

Monsters and Other Childish Things (The Completely Monstrous Edition) (Monsters) is a interesting little “indie” roleplaying game with a very interesting premise.  It is like cross between Monsters, Inc. and Pokemon, in some ways.  You play normal children with family, lives, friends and school.  But you also have something else that makes you different – a monster.

A monster in this game is your child character’s best friend, pet and guardian all rolled up into one.  The have powers, abilities and motivations all their own.  They are a shared character between the player and the GM. In combat, the player controls it but outside of that, the GM can take control whenever he wants.  It tends to get the child character in troubles at times, while other times it protects the child.  The monster is only seen when manifesting powers or attacking, but otherwise, it lurks in the shadows, stays invisible or otherwise in unseen.  However, the child knows its there and has his back.

The game itself is about how these monsters can get into trouble while the children try to stay out of trouble.  It is an interactive game if child’s play and monster mayhem.

From the front inside cover:
“Mr. Cuddles is my pet spider monkey.”

Content:  Contained in this tome is all you need to play Monsters.  The Introduction entertaining explains the basics of the theme of the game as well as the basics of role playing in general.  With subtitles like “What’s This All About” and “What Happens In The Game”,  it makes understanding the basics of the game setting and role playing in general child’s play.

The Characters section centers on character creation.  That is further elaborated on a little more below.  Characters are children in this game.  The character restrictions are fairly vague and they leave a lot to the GM.  There is no class system, of course.  It is fairly simply. After the Character chapter, is the rules of the game, covered in the chapter called Conflicts.  Following this is the chapter on Monsters.  The Monster “generation” system is equally simple and abstract.

After reading through the above chapters, you really get to know what the game is all about.  Not only is it about having fun as a kid with a pet monster, but it is also about relationships and how the help a person obtain their goals.  This is represented by key stats, Relationships, which are explained later.  It is definite a unique concept that sets this game apart.

The chapter entitled Janitor’s Closet is basically the GMs chapter.  Contained in here is solid advice for any GM but in particular a Monsters GM.  It explains that a game of Monsters is a balance of conflicts and relationships.  Depending on the type of game you are playing – short term or long term – the GM would focus on one more than the other.

Through the book, it references the players as kids and children however I had a hard time finding a reference to what specific age the kids were.  In the  Janitor’s Closet chapter, it gives the GM the Grade Level rules for Monsters. The game can be played at three different grade levels – Elementary, Junior High and High School.  Each has a different feel and flavor.

Although presumed to be in a modern or pseudo-modern setting, in truth, a game of Monsters can you played in any setting – fantasy, modern or sci-fi.  The game boils down to conflicts and relationships and any GM worth their salt can work that into any setting.  Janitor’s Closet provides good advice on the Themes common to a Monsters game.  For instance, Kids are Powerless – meaning that kids in the real world don’t have a lot of ways to influence their surroundings.  Also, School is a microcosm of the real world – meaning school shows the kids that the whole world is unfair, harsh and uncaring.

The Janitor’s Closet also provides a One-Roll monster Generator for GMs to use.  This is quite handy for creating those on-the-fly Monsters the players may encounter.  It is very easy to use.

The Chapters to follow – Being Sombody, Antagonists, and Somebody Else – provide characters and non-players characters for the GM to play Monsters.  What I like most about this is that Being Somebody provides complete characters for a pick up or convention game.

The book ends with Campaign Jumpstarts (a short chapter with two short descriptions of potential campaigns), Monsters & Wild Talents ( a chapter on how to combine Monsters with another ORE game, Wild Talents), and What did you get for Christman? (a starter adventure).  It also have some appendices on  How to play a Role Playing Game and How to run a Role Playing Game.

 System:  Character Generation is fairly abstract and simple.  Characters are represented Stats, Skills and Relationships.  All three have a certain number of starting dice and a certain number of points you allocate into them which covert to dice.  For example, Stats for a kid include Feet, Guts, Hands, Brains, and Face.  Each start out with 1d as the base and the players have a certain number of points to spread amongst them to increase the number of dice.  Stats are your basic ability scores.  Each Stat has a set of Skills associated to them that focus their talents like one would expect skills to do.

You are not limited to the skills listed, however.  With GM approval, other skills can be brought into the game.  Skill provided on the character sheet include P.E. (running and other athletics), Wind, Shop, Out-Think, and Putdown. These are explained in the text.

Monster Generation is my favorite part of this game.  You first have to draw your monster.  That’s cool.  I like it maybe because I like to draw monsters.  Then you assign hit locations, and determine its qualities – Attacks, Defense, and other Useful things like flying or wall walking.  You also determine Personality, a Way to Hide and Favorite thing to the monster.  Many things cost dice, and a monster has a dice pool of 50 dice to spend on these things. Monsters are very nasty creatures as you find out when you make one.  They can not die, the really can mess up a regular human, and basically nothing in the normal world can stop them.

The system is the much heralded (by some) One Roll Engine (ORE).  It is the house system of Arc Dream Publishing and is used in other role playing games like Godlike, and Wild Talent.   The system uses 10-sided dice.   All Stats, Skills, and Relationships are a number of dice that can be rolled.  Usually, the player is rolling a number of dice equal to Stat + Skill – called a Pool.  The system uses a very unique approach of using dice matching (rather than adding) to create a system that only requires one roll (as the name implies).  You simply roll the dice Pool, and match up the dice values.  The value of a set of matching dice is the Height and the number of dice in a set is the Width.  Using one roll, you can determine success, degree of success and how much damage you did to the opponent.  It is a very slick and easy system. I can’t say it is elegant because it has its quirks that you have to adapt to, but it is definitely innovative.

From the back inside cover:
“ Today I took Mr. Cuddles to the park.”

Layout: The hard back book is very eye catching and thematic.  It is done in a brilliant style of a child’s notebook, with the occasional scribbling or doodle on the margins.  The background to the pages look like lines notebook paper.  Occasionally, there is art placed in the notebook like a photograph.  The art is stylistic and simple but does not take away from the look of the book.  The layout overall is brilliantly done and very appropriate for the game.

In conclusion, this game is all about fun.  It is hilarious that it takes itself so seriously with such a silly and absurd concept.  Not only well written but it is entertaining to read.  The writers have a great sense of humor and are really in touch with their inner child.  They’re gamers… duh!  The game itself is meant for the type of gamer that does not take his gaming too seriously.  A good group of goofy players can have a blast with this.

For more details on Arc Dream Publishing and their new Role Playing Game “Monsters and Other Childish Things (The Completely Monstrous Edition)” check them out at their website http://www.arcdream.com/monsters, and at all of your local game stores.

Monsters and Other Childish Things (The Completely Monstrous Edition)
From: Arc Dream Publishing
Type of Game: Role Playing Game
Written by: Benjamin Baugh
Contributing Authors: Greg Stolze
Art by: Robert Mansperger
Number of Pages: 182
Game Components Included: One hardback book
Game Components Not Included: dice, paper, pencil
Website: www.arcdream.com/monsters

Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Date: 4/7/2009

Trail Of Cthulhu

From:  Pelgrane Press
Reviewed by:  Ron McClung

Trail Of Cthulhu is a new Role Playing Game Core Rule Book from Pelgrane Press.

One of the most enduring role playing game subjects is, of course, the Cthulhu mythos.  Associate your game concept with anything related to H.P. Lovecraft, and you are almost guaranteed a success.  Trail of Cthulhu (ToC) by Pelgrane Press came out of nowhere and won Silver Ennies for Best Writing and Best Rules at GenCon 2008.  This was a game that definitely caught my attention.

From the back cover:
“Pelgrane Press under arrangement with Chaosium Inc. presents…”

Content: Contained within this book is all you need to play ToC role playing game.  After a short introduction, The Investigator chapter covers character generation (see below).  Occupations include the basic ones you might remember from Call of Cthulhu (CoC).  Archeologist, Antiquarian, Author, Clergy, Criminal, Military, and Nurse are just a few.  There are nearly 20 occupations to choose from.  A few have customization options, like Military, which allows you to choose a branch of the military.  Also interspersed in the pages of the character generation section are historical context references and factoids about the 1930s in the US.

Following the character generation chapter is the rules system chapter.  At the heart of ToC is the Gumshoe system, by Robin D. Laws.  Contained in there are the rules for Clues, Tests and Contests.  Clues a are key part of the Gumshoe system.  Tests are your basic task resolutions.  Contests include opposed tests, combat, and chases.  I delve deep into this below.

The Cthulhu Mythos section contains everything Cthulhu related that a Keeper would need – gods, monsters, creatures, alien races, tomes, magic and cults.  There are over 20 mythos gods included, such as Cthulhu, Hastur, Nodens and Yog-Sothoth.  There are also nearly 30 creatures and alien races, all familiar to those that have played CoC, as well as a section on beasts and animals like snakes, lions and lake monsters (OH MY!).  Cults and Cultists, at the end of this chapter, provides the reader with examples of cults mentioned in the mythos as well as advice on creating cults for your own game.  There is also the Tomes and Magic section, which contains the Magic system for ToC.

Following the Mythos chapter is The Thirties – a historical reference for the Keeper about the 1930s around the world as well as technology of the day.  This section is not overly detailed, but it definitely gives you enough to work with.  It is not an encyclopedia either.  Interspersed amongst the facts of 1930s life are notes about fictional events in the Lovecraftian world.  As compared to the Call of Cthulhu rulebook, CoC has far more information, but there is different information in ToC and they do put a slightly different spin on it.  Also included in this section is the equipment section.  In the minimalist style of the game system, this equipment has more description than stats.

One of the major differences is the overall setting.  Because ToC is set in the 1930s instead of the traditional mid to late-1920s of CoC, there are different options for the Keeper to explore.  With the world on the brink of a new world war, Nazis and Communists are both seen as enemies at the time, for example.  The Depression gripped the world during this time.  Organized crime, international espionage and civil wars sparking in some parts of the world made it a dangerous place in general.

The last sections of the book help the Keeper to run a ToC game.  This includes something called Campaign Frames.  Campaign Frames help the Keeper construct a campaign and give the players a framework to work with to make their characters.  This is not something unique, but it is rare when a game gives the GM something this simple and concise.

The ToC book ends with a sample adventure called The Kingsbury Horror.  This is a brilliant take on a true serial killer story from the 1930s that brings in one of my favorite 1930s historical figures, Eliot Ness.

Rules:  The first mechanic they introduce is the concept of Purist vs. Pulp.  There are two ways to play a Lovecraftian Horror game that ToC identifies – Purist or Pulp.  The Purist approach is more dark and dismal, focusing on the philosophical horror that eventually dooms those that seek to investigate it.  This is more prevalent in H.P. Lovecraft’s latter works.  The Pulp approach is illustrated in works by people like Robert E. Howard and is more survivable for the characters.  The book denotes the aspects that are more attuned to one or the other by a set of symbols. These symbols can be found throughout the book, primarily in terms of point and ability caps.  An example of a difference between the two types – in a Purist game, Sanity, when lost, is lost permanently and is not regenerated over time.

The mechanics surrounding character generation is simple but somewhat surprising at first.  First and foremost, a character does not have attribute scores like Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity.  Skills and attribute scores are merged into one list of Abilities.  There are Academic Abilities, Interpersonal Abilities, Technical Abilities and General Abilities. I found this interestingly innovative.

Along with Occupation, the player chooses a Drive – what makes the character do the things he does.  Drive is at the heart of the character and gives you a role playing framework on how the character should be played.  Drive effects Stability if the player resists or does something contrary to the drive.  Stability is your resistance to mental trauma, not to be confused with Sanity which is a measure of how strong you sustain your ‘belief in any fundamental human concerns whatsoever’ (pg 46).  These two fundamentally different but interlinked concepts are explained later in the book, when you deal in the loss of Stability and Sanity.  Each character starts out with a default value of 4 Sanity and 1 Stability.

Players select an Occupation and then spend Build Points on his character’s abilities. These Build Points that are invested into abilities translate to Rankings in the given ability.  There are two categories of Build Points – General and Investigative.  There is a fixed number of General Build Points (65) and there is a variable number of Investigative points, based on the number of players in the party.  General points can be spent on General Abilities.  The Investigative Points can be spent on the other abilities.  If the ability is listed under the character’s occupation, you spend less Build Points for more Rankings.  Rankings are the measure of each ability and are your Abilities Point Pools used for tests.

Build points are  usually spent on a 1 Build Point for 1 Ranking basis.  If the ability is an Occupation Ability, it is spent on a 1 for 2 ratio.  It should be noted that Build Points are also spent on three key abilities that are a little different from the others – Sanity, Stability and Health.  Sanity and Stability are closely linked together (see below) and Health is your hit points as well as your ability to resist infection or poison.

What is unique about this character generation system is that everything is points driven.  Nothing is derived from other stats.  This gives you an incredibly wide range of customization options.  At first I did find it weird, as I am very used to the standard RPG model of role stats, derive other stats, and then buy skills.

From the back cover:
“An Alliance both dread and inevitable”

The Gumshoe system is a very minimalist system and centers around several distinctive key aspects.  The first thing you learn about it is the focus on story and the puzzle solving.  This is evident in their first key aspect – the Clue.  An adventure, which is assumed to be a traditional investigation into some horrific mystery, is not all about finding the clues but rather interpreting the clues you find.  In Gumshoe, you simply have to be in the right place, with the right Investigative Ability and ask the Keeper for the right thing, and you will have it.  There is no test for finding the clues.  This is interesting because it does focus on exactly what it says it does – the puzzle behind the clue. Investigative Abilities can also be spent as point pools on Benefits from clues.  Getting a clue is usually not enough.  Sometimes more Benefits can be derived from the clue.  A player spends Investigative Ability points to gain these benefits.

The core task resolutions or Tests involve a single d6 and your abilities.  The die is always compared against a difficulty that ranges from 2 to 8.  The goal is get a number higher.  The players ability can act as a pool of points the player can to add to the role.  Once spent, these points are gone until the end of the adventure or case.  This represents the character’s expenditure of resources to investigate the case.  Traditionally, only General Skills are used for Tests in this manner

Combat is as simple as the rest of the system and not too different from standard ability tests.  It is not particularly deadly because in their words – we plead guilty to making gunfights sort of survivable in the name of continuing drama.  But on the other hand, characters are not supermen either.  Instead of one shot killing a person, it might take 3 or 4, and after two, you could be already “Hurt” which can hinder a character as it is.  It is designed to be fast and furious and survivable.

The “Sanity” mechanic is a little different from classic CoC.  There are two abilities that measure a character’s mental strength – Stability and Sanity.  Stability is the primary ability measure of resistance to mental and emotional trauma of any kind.  It is likely to reduce throughout an adventure but equally likely to replenish between them.  It is a short-term measure of a character’s mental state.  Sanity, on the other hand, is the character’s ability to believe in, fear for, or care about any aspect of the world and humanity – human life, religion, family, etc.  The book puts it best – The horrible truth of the Mythos is that Sanity is the measure of your ability to believe in a comforting lie – but a lie necessary in order to live as a human being rather than a soulless tool or plaything for the Great Old Ones.  Sanity will probably slowly diminish over several adventure scenarios.

A Stability test is the most common mental check when things get hairy.  Everything has a Stability Loss value and if the character fails his check, he losses the given amount for that encounter as well as the number of points he spent on the attempt from his Stability Pool.  Stability can go into the negatives, however, which has some other bad effects as well.

Many people complain about traditional CoC games because it seems to them that all the characters eventually go insane.  In ToC, I think this is somewhat alleviated by spreading out the different aspects of one’s sanity into different simple mechanics.  It may not seem like it initially because the points seem so low but in practice, it does change things. This is especially evident with the ways to Recover Stability.

A special part of The Cthulhu Mythos, Tomes and Magic encompasses ways of using forbidden books of lore in your game as well as the Magic system.  The Magic in this game holds true to the traditions of the Cthulhu mythos in that it is hard and even more dangerous to learn and accomplish.

Layout:  The book is an impressive hardback tome.  Brilliantly laid out, with great art and writing, Trail of Cthulhu is a great addition to any Cthulhu mythos gaming fan.  The art is a little different than what a CoC would expect – a little darker and shadowy than the line art of the original CoC book.  Also, an extra kudos to the publisher for a very complete Table of Contents as well as a good Index.

The one thing I found kind of annoying was the sheer number of quotes they used in the book.  The fluff quotes tend to be a little excessive in the book, I feel, almost to the point that they are a distraction.

In conclusion, Trail of Cthulhu is an interesting and imaginative approach to the classic CoC horror adventure game.  The classic CoC system is called the Basic Role Playing System but I think this system is even more basic than that.  For those that like systems that do not get in the way of a good story, this is a system for you.  This is not a simulationist system, by any means.  It is a minimalist storyteller game geared perfectly for the type of 1930s mysteries the Cthulhu Mythos can drag you in.  It is very enjoyable with the right kind of gaming group.

For more details on Pelgrane Press and their new Role Playing Game Core Rule Book “Trail Of Cthulhu” check them out at their website http://www.pelgranepress.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Trail Of Cthulhu
From: Pelgrane Press
Type of Game: Role Playing Game Core Rule Book
Written by: Kenneth Hite
Rules system by: Robin D Laws
Publisher: Simon Rogers
Cover Art by: Jerome Huguenin
Number of Pages: 247
Game Components Included: Hard back rule book
Game Components Not Included: Dice, pen, paper
Retail Price: $ 39.95 (US)
ISBN: 9781934859070
Website: www.pelgranepress.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Date: 10/9/2008

Ghostowns & Gunsmoke

From:  Crucifiction Games
Reviewed by:  Ron McClung

Ghostowns & Gunsmoke is a new Roleplaying Game Expansion from Crucifiction Games.

Some time ago, I reviewed Horror Rules, which is an outstanding product.  Since then, Crucifiction Games has released several expansions, one of which is Ghostowns & Gunsmoke (G&G) – their western horror setting book.  It is available in both PDF and softback book.

From page #1:
“Welcome to the Wild Wild Wicked West – Free Pine Box Fittings Every Thursday”

Assuming  you are familiar with Horror Rules (which you would have to be to play this game), G&G brings to the game new Character Types, new Western Skills, new Special Traits, new rules for Western Mayhem, new Western Bad Guys, new Western Weapons and Gear, Ghostown & Gunsmoke Character Sheets, background and source material, and a complete Ghostowns & Gunsmoke adventure, “A Fistful of Livers.”

Part One of G&G covers the additions it brings to Horror Rules.  The new Character Types include City Slicker, Doc, Gunslinger and Indian.  They each have their own unique character powers like the Gunslinger’s Dead Eye and the Doc’s Patching Holes. Character skills include some new skills as well as skills from the core book that are renamed “to sound more Old Westy.”  Of the skills, several are new, including Bows n’ Arrows, and Cowboy.  Some name changes include Hackin’ n’ Whackin’ (Melee Weapons), Shootin’ (Gun), and Sawbones (Medicine.)

G&G also adds a new set of Special Traits.  These include Deathwish, Gamblin’ Man, and No Speak’um English.  Like in the core rule book, these are used to spice up the character and give them more depth.  New Weapons & Equipment covers the obvious – guns, ammo and stuff for the Wild West setting.  This is a fairly comprehensive list, giving the players enough to work with.

G&G also brings something new to the game of Horror Rules.  Now a player can Take a Gamble, using a special set of rules presented in G&G.  These are used at a point when a player wants to take a gamble.  Any situation is applicable – attempting a task without a skill in it, trying something risky with an NPC, or trying something heroic. When the player wishes to use this option, he must state that he wants to “take a gamble that…” and state the gamble he is going to take.  For example, the player may say “I’m taking a gamble that there’s a back door to this saloon…”

The key part of any gamble is the Wager. Wagers can be any in-game commodity from weapons and gear to health, Grip, Second Thought Points or even character powers.  Once the wager is agreed upon between the GM and the player, then comes the moment of truth – Laying Down Your Cards.  The player makes a roll against his Gamblin’ skill.  If the player succeeds, he keeps his wager and succeeds at the task in question.  Otherwise, he loses the wager or he can Double Down – try again against his skill only by doubling his wager.  This in my mind, is brilliant.  It is a very cool and fun mechanic.

Another interesting mechanic is the good old-fashioned classic Wild West Quickdraw.  Players may find themselves in a situation similar to the classic Western face-off.  In this case, the game provides a quick and easy way to perform them in-game.  It gets quite comical when two Gunslingers with the Dead Eye power face off.  One option to determine who goes first in that case is whoever calls Deadeye out first wins the draw.

Setting the Scene is a short section on the Western setting, with a few historical references as well as few facts of life about the West in that time.  There is not a lot of detail but enough to give you an idea.  This game is not about historical accuracy and reenactment, it’s about having fun.  One area I think they did well in is the sensitive area of Native Americans and their role in the old West.

“During the Wild West era, Native Americans were largely misunderstood, mistreated, mistrusted and generally given the shaft. While we can’t be proud of how we treated our brothers, we can’t overlook or sanitize it either. Native Americans played an integral role in the settling of the West, and to fully embrace this epic time without including them would be a disservice.”

It shows guts that they did not sanitize it and kept it real.

This section also gets into the superstitions and supernatural of the West, a little.  It introduces a short description of the Society for Supernatural Inquiry, a group that can serve as an enemy or a ally to the players in their G&G adventures.

The Ruleskeeper section, like the core book, supplies the Ruleskeeper with all he needs to “scare the pants off people.”  The Ruleskeeper is reminded that the Old West was a violent and dangerous place and to make sure the players know it.  It sets the scene of a gritty and dark place that most everyone should be familiar with through movies or books, and then asks the Ruleskeeper to throw in the creepy and strange, the alien and weird.  It also encourages the use of player cards for a game a poker or blackjack if the adventure calls for it, to set the mood.  It also gives you general guidelines as to how to create a good Western Horror adventure, reminding the reader that they don’t have to know Old West history to have a good adventure.

At the end there are three creatures supplied (the haunting Buffalo Spirit, psychopathic Coyote Jack, and undead Miner 49er), and an adventure called A Fistful of Livers.  This adventure opens in a small town in Core Butte, Wyoming, where something dark and sinister is taking place.  It is a fun little introduction to the game of Horror Rules and the G&G setting.

The layout is fairly basic and nothing to go crazy about, but it is well written and a fun read.  The art is on par with the rest of the Horror Rules line, which is basic black and white sketches.  The art is better than some but not as good as most.  However, you are not buying this for the art, you are buying this for the fun.

In conclusion, I enjoyed Horror Rules because if its simplicity, its focus on ease of play and fun, and its general fun nature.  Ghostowns & Gunsmoke is not any different.  Old West cheesy horror is as much fun if not more than modern cheesy horror.  One of the things I like most about this and their other supplements is that it is very entertaining to read, especially from a gamer point of view.  These guys have a fun and goofy sense of humor.  It is a great expansion to a great game.

For more details on Crucifiction Games and their new Roleplaying Game Expansion “Ghostowns & Gunsmoke” check them out at their website http://www.crucifictiongames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Ghostowns & Gunsmoke
From: Crucifiction Games
Type of Game: Roleplaying Game Expansion
Authors: Chris Weedin, Kelly Staymates, Christopher Staymates
Editor: Kimberly Weedin
Artwork: Chris Caprile
Number of Pages: 68
Game Components Included: 68 page PDF or softback book
Game Components Not Included: Horror Rules Core book
Retail Price: $ 6.00 (US)
Website: www.crucifictiongames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Date: 9/5/2008

Mongoose Traveller

From Mongoose Publishing
By Ron McClung

Mongoose Publishing, through a license with Far Future Enterprises, has released a new version of Traveller with the intent on making it the basis of their new house system for future sci-fi lines. Based on the Classic Traveller (CT) system, the designer Gareth Hanrahan has updated the game for the 21st century RPG market.

The 190-page, hardback book is done in the traditional minimalist black cover. It contains all the basics to create a character complete with characteristics and skills as well as the core system, psionics, equipment, basic vehicles, spacecraft and space combat. At the end are sections on encounters and world creation.

The task resolution system is drawn from the original system, using 2 six-sided dice to roll for everything. The base task difficulty is 8 and the complexity of the task determines the modifiers. Tasks are defined in terms of their modifiers, i.e. very difficult is -4. If the total of skills, dice and modifiers are greater than or equal to 8, the task check is successful. This is the core mechanic the entire system is based on.

For fans of CT, the system is more streamlined and consistent. The designer restructured the subsystems in CT together to create a much easier and intuitive system. To those new to Traveller, it is a system without a lot of flare and complexities. The elegance in the game is its simplicity.

Character generation is very engaging. A character has six statistics called characteristics – Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Standing – that are rolled with 2 six-sided dice. There are also skills a character gains from his career. The one aspect that is probably one of the more attractive parts of the game is the career system. Based on the CT concept of careers and terms, it creates an encapsulated history of the character as well as gives the character its starting characteristic bonuses, skills, and equipment.

Also included are Psionic Powers and the seventh characteristic, Psionic Strength. Psionic characters have access to talents, which are like skills. To learn talents, one must be trained and make a successful Psionic Strength test. My one complaint related to this is that the character sheet provided does not have a place in which to write psionic powers.

Many of the classic races of Traveller are included. Aside from standard humans, there are the lion-like Aslan, the winged Droyne, the truly alien Hivers, the four-legged K’kree, the canine Vargr, and the noble Zhodani. Another one of the more attractive aspects of Traveller in general is the variety and depth of their races.

What are missing, as any Traveller fans are familiar with, are the details of the game universe. Traveller was originally meant to be a generic sci-fi RPG, so game masters (GMs) can insert their players into any sci-fi subgenre. For Mongoose, the system is intended to be the basis of their new sci-fi RPG line. This will include Traveller-powered versions of Starship Troopers, Strontium Dog, Hammer’s Slammers, and Judge Dredd.

Pro: Simplicity and elegance of the system as well as adaptability to any sci-fi universe.
Con: Cost. The book is $40, and under 200 pages.

Mongoose Traveller
From: Mongoose Publishing
Type of Game: RPG
Written by: Gareth Hanrahan
Contributing Authors: Chris Longhurst, Marc Miller, Loren Wiseman, John Harshman, Frank Chadwick, Darryl Hany.
Game Design by: Marc Miller
Additional Art by: Leonardo Barzio, McLean Kendree, Rich Longmore, Carlos Nunez de Castro Torres, Robin Everett-McGuirl, Travis Liechssenrig
Number of Pages: 188
Game Components Included: One hard back book
Retail Price: $39.95 (US)
Item Number: MGP3800
Number ISBN: 1906103330
Website: www.mongoosepublishing.com
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

CthulhuTech

From: Mongoose Publishing, Wildfire LLC
By Ron McClung

Mongoose Publishing in conjunction with Wildfire LLC and Black Sky Studios have released a twisted vision of a dark future, combining anime-style mecha with the Cthulhu mythos. This stand-alone roleplaying game uses the Framewerk system and is contained in a full-color hardcover book with amazing art and a compelling premise.

The game’s story is deep-seated in Cthulhu mythos and mixes it with world politics and sci-fi technology to create a world of amazing potential. Set in the year 2085, Earth as we know has changed. Since the discovery of arcanotechnology and the creation of the first mecha, global war engulfs the planet. Man’s expansion into space has attracted the attention of aliens called the Migou. Evil cults plot against the world government, summoning creatures from beyond. Mecha war machines walk the Earth battling the alien and cult forces.

Players take on roles of people in a war-torn Earth surviving under the New Earth Government (NEG), fighting alien and cult threats, and using fantastic technologies and dark magic. Character options include arcanotechnicians, intelligence agents, mecha pilots, or Tagers – dark magic tainted-humans with the ability to shape-change into horrific creatures that fight the cult and alien forces. Players also can choose between humans or a genetically engineered alien race, the Nazzadi. There are multiple factions one can pledge their allegiance to, including the NEG, the elite Engel Project, and the mysterious Eldritch Society.

The three primary aspects of a player character in Cthulhu Tech are the basic attributes, skills and qualities – made up of assets and drawbacks. It is a skill-based system with profession templates only acting as guidelines and not fixed classes. Players can also have access to magic but those used to easy-to-use instantaneous spells will be disappointed. This game makes magic hard and rare and link it closely to one’s sanity. What would a Cthulhu-mythos-based system be without a sanity rating and a fear system?

The Framewerk system is based on 10-sided dice and uses roll-higher-than-a-difficulty mechanic. It is fairly elegant and easy to learn. It uses intuitive mechanics combined with a system that favors drama and heroics to create a fun and action packed environment. For example, it provides a Drama Points system that allows players to affect tasks at critical moments.

At the heart of this game are two things – the Cthulhu mythos horrors and mecha. Whole chapters are dedicated to both. Many mecha are introduced – the tough and angular NEG units, the sleek and maneuverable Nazzadi, as well as the alien of the Migou. The horrors have their inspiration rooted in Lovecraftian mythos but also have their own uniqueness to them.

Overall, this game is very attractive. My only concern about it is the playability when you move from character scale to mecha scale. It feels like it is trying to be two games in one – a role-playing game and a miniature game system. It is a brilliantly laid out and visually powerful volume. The inspiring background will attract anime, sci-fi, and mythos fans alike.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

CthulhuTech
From: Mongoose Publishing, Wildfire LLC
Type of Game: RPG Rulebook
Written by: Matthew Grau
Contributing Authors: Fraser Mckay, Aron Andersdon,  Jeanne Grau, Jim Wong
Game Design by: Mathew Grau
Developed by: Mathew Gray
Cover Art by: Mike Vaillancourt, Travor Claxton
Additional Art by: Jason Walker, Maria Cabardo, Sriram Bhat, Whit Brachna, Jacob Hallstrom, Brandon Leach, Christian MacNevin, Marco Nelor, Joe Suitor
Number of Pages: 289
Game Components Included: One Core Rulebook
Game Components Not Included: Standard RPG trappings
Retail Price: $49.95(US)
ISBN: 978-0-976330-60-8
Website: http://www.cthulhutech.com/

Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

Review Addendum (04/13/2013);  Since this writing a lot has changed for Cthulhutech since I wrote this.  Wildfire LLC has moved on from Mongoose Publishing to Catalyst Game Labs.  They continue to publish the games in that partnership.

 

Fading Suns Revised Second Edition

From Redbrick Limited
By Ron McClung

Fading Suns Revised Second Edition marks the resurrection of one of the best RPGs “you have never heard of.” In 2007, Redbrick Limited of New Zealand acquired the Fading Suns license from Holistic Designs, Inc. Upon obtaining the license, Redbrick released a new version of the core rulebook, available in PDF, hardback, and softback versions. Originally published in 1996, the game developed a considerable following, appealing to a variety of role-playing game fans across the world.

Written by Andrew Greenberg and Bill Bridges, known for their work at White Wolf Games, the game is rich in background and depth. One might describe Fading Suns as Frank Herbert’s Dune meets H.P. Lovecraft. However, it is much more than that. It is a lesson of human existence, faith, and how we are doomed to repeat the lessons of the past if we do not learn from them.

In the dawn of the 6th millennia, humankind has reached out to the stars and built a vast empire. At one time, the Second Republic ruled the known worlds and was a relative utopian society, spanning many worlds with unimaginable technology advancements. However, the Second Republic collapsed several centuries ago after mankind squandered and fought over their prosperity. A new Dark Age fell over the known worlds for a thousand years until a new empire arose from the ashes.

This new empire is considerably human-centric, with most other sentient species subservient in some fashion. Human society in the 6th millennia is modeled after our own Middle Ages. Humans control known space through three ruling groups. First there are the Nobles, made up of five major houses and several minor houses. Next is the League of Merchant Guilds, made up of five major Guilds and several minor guilds, representing those who trade and produce. Finally the Church, made up of five sects, protects the souls of the known worlds. The emperor, a noble granted the title by a majority of the factions, rules over all.

The Church is modeled somewhat after the medieval Catholic Church, complete with an inquisition. The Church tightly restricts technology through the Inquisition, for they see man’s over-reliance on it as the cause of the Second Republic collapse. It is heresy for one to put more faith in technology than in the Pancreator or God. The Church’s power is bolstered by something called the fading suns phenomenon, where stars are literally vanishing at random for unknown reasons. The Church sees this as a sign of human failing and hubris.

The League, through the Charioteers Guild (Pilots), strictly controls travel through space which is done through ancient gates that mankind discovered throughout the galaxy. These gates were apparently built by an ancient race dubbed the Anunnaki. The Nobles on the other hand are the elite political power ruling over the commoners and controlling most of the wealth.

The game system is called the Victory Point System. It uses a single 20-sided die for tasks and 6-sided dice for damage when needed. Fans of Fading Suns either love or hate the game system. Those that hate the system, however, have overlooked it or reworked the system’s shortcomings in favor of the great game universe. The system gives a gritty realistic feel to the game. It focuses on the players’ role-play more than dice rolling and statistics. It is very flexible and customizable, as many of its past fans have discovered.

The Redbrick’s revisions include considerable reformatting, a much larger table of contents, an expanded index, incorporation of errata, an additional adventure, and some additional tables in the back. The new layout is much better than the 1999 2nd edition book. A newly formatted character sheet is included in the back. I found the new tables invaluable.

The authors liken adventuring in Fading Suns to the medieval “passion plays”. In many ways, Fading Suns deals with grand themes universal to human experience while at the same time allows for classic storylines of sci-fi and fantasy. Intrigue can and usually is a big part of this game universe, but swashbuckling adventure can be found also. Fading Suns has elements of both science fiction and fantasy and appeals to both types of fans.

Codex Rating: 18 (for setting) 8 (for rules)

Fading Suns Revised Second Edition
From: Redbrick Limited
Type of Game: RPG
Written by: Bill Bridges, Brian Campbell, Andrew Greenberg, Robert Hatch, Jennifer Hartshorn, Chris Howard, Sam Inabinet, Ian Lemke, Jim Moore, Rustin Quaide
Contributing Authors: John Bridges, Ken Lightner, Ed Pike
Game Design by: Bill Bridges
Developed by: Bill Bridges
Cover Art by: Rob Dixon
Additional Art by: John Bridges, Mitch Byrd, Darryl Elliott, Jason Felix, Sam Inabinet, Mark Jackson, Jack Keefer, Andrew Kudelka, Brian LeBlanc, Larry MacDougall, Alex Sheikman, Ron Spencer, Joshua Gabriel Timbrook
Number of Pages: 314
Game Components Included: one core rulebook
Game Components Not Included: standard RPG gaming trappings
Retail Price: $34.95 (US)
Item Number: RBL 1000
Reviewed by:  Ron McClung

Review Addendum (04/13/2013):  Since I wrote this, Redbrick closed up shop and FASA was reborn in its ashes.  They have taken the mantle of Fading Suns and since released an Revised Players Guide, which changes a few things in the system but retains a lot of the Victory Point system.

Horror Rules

From: Crucifiction Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Horror Rules is a new Role Playing Game Core book from Crucifiction Games.

Cheesy horror came to mind when I saw Horror Rules. Something with Bruce Campbell (early years) or some Scream Queen was all that I could think about. There are two ways to run a good horror game and I think they are equally fun. There is the serious and brooding game with mood lighting, candles and occasional spookie sound effects. These are fun in one-nighters, simply because the mood can’t be kept more than one or two nights, and are good with the right people. The other kind is good for one night when you don’t have anything else to do and you want to goof around and run around like Scooby Doo. Horror Rules is like the latter.

From the Front cover: “A complete (and completely different) Horror Comedy RPG”

It is a well-written, good spirited game geared towards fast and fun play. Its simplicity is pretty apparent upon opening the book, but the simplicity is part of its character. The character classes are general archetypes like Action, Con, Propellerhead and VIP. Each has a list of Occupations for the players to choose from, and a Character Power. There are a total of 6 Character classes or character types. As you can tell by the titles, each is tongue-and-cheek with a little sense of humor thrown in.

The powers are representative of his humorous approach, giving each player an interesting ability that is quite characteristic of the Type. For instance, the Con has the Character Power Looking out for Number One which gives the Con the ability to bail out of a bad situation only to reappear later somewhere else of the player’s choosing. By regular RPG standards, some of these powers are pretty powerful, but for this game, it adds to the humor. However, the character can only use this power once per game. The skill system is another example of its simplicity and ease of play. There are eleven total skills, but the GM (or Rules Keeper) can make up more. The player has total flexibility as to what to spend his skill points on, and there is a maximum 4 level limit to all skills in the game.

Aside from the simplicity adding to its character, the system adds in Luck Points, which turns any failure to a success, and Second Thought points. A character doesn’t get a lot of Second Thought – at most two at character generation time – and they are used when a player is really unsure of his next action. He simply spends the point and asks the GM if he has second thoughts about his next action. The GM must answer truthfully. I found that interesting and despite its simplicity, I can see how that can be fun for the GM and the player.

Finally, in character generation, the character can spend the “Point” on anything they want within a list of options – for example increase an ability score (Vital Statistic), more skills points, more Luck Points – OR the player can buy one Special Trait from the list of them. Each has an advantage but also a drawback. Most are pretty straight forward and common, but they add just enough spice to the character to make him interesting. The system is, of course, real simple. A d10 role vs. Helping Vital plus Skill level. The player must roll equal to or under the Target number. Simple, quick and easy to remember.

From the back cover: “You’ll Die Laughing”

The Combat system is just as simple as everything else, relying on a d10 vs. Target Number. Each character gets multiple attacks in the 5 second round, using the Coordination ability (plus the weapon’s rate of attack modifiers) to determine number of attacks. Because the roll is a one die roll, the combat system is easy flowing, and simple. I admire this. It accomplishes exactly what the authors intended. It can be brutal for the bad guys, because Critical Hits can out-right kill some if the rolls are right. I like this because I’ve always thought that Zombies should go down a lot easier than they do in a lot of systems. For player characters, it hurts elsewhere – in the Vital Statistics. Otherwise, damage is taken from Health Scores.

Supernatural abilities are represented either through the Special Trait Partially Psychic or through Faith. Again, this is fairly simplistic but leaves the GM a lot of room to create broader options with very little work. Also, within these pages are rules on Grip, the equivalent of the classic sanity rating. No horror game is complete without some kind of measure of mental stability in horrific situations. Once again, it is simple, easy to remember and very flexible. This includes options for Panic Reactions and totally losing your Grip, which gets into Meltdowns and going Off the Deep End. Many of these results are listed in tables, but not to worry, there is a quick reference sheet in the back that lists them all and can be photocopied.

The game also includes a short and simple list of modern weapons and vehicles.

The Rulekeeper section completes the second half of the book, starting out with a simple advisory on how to run good horror. A precious gem in this section, however, is a section about Plot Flaws. It encourages Plot Flaws, because it keeps the feel of cheesy comedic horror. It encourages Rulekeepeers, when players say “hey wait a minute, didn’t you say….”, to respond “Yea, don’t you think that’s a bit odd…?” I had a good laugh about that.

Another outstandingly original and yet again simple attribute is something called Stupid Thing Points. These points are earned by players when they do something their “Player’s Intuition” says they shouldn’t do. It promotes situations that are inherent to horror games but players aren’t willing to go through because they know the GM is out to get them. Along with this is something called Plot Pushers. These are major events within the game that drive the core plot and are usually harrowing encounters that harm or maim a character. The interesting thing is that at a point when the players feel like they are at a dead-end, THEY can call for a Plot Pushers. This is a case when a Rulekeeper can say “They asked for it” and really give it to them. The reward, if they survive, is more Stupid Thing Points and a big clue in the plot. This gives incredible power to the players. I love it.

The last few chapters cover adventuring, creating monsters, some sample monsters and a short adventure. There are some very inspiring guidelines for the types of games that can be run in Horror Rules. The book itself is well put together, with fine penciled art throughout. The theme and feel of the book is definitely a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The nice thing is that there is not extra fluff. For a book that is 100 pages, you’d expect to feel shorted. But you are not. It simply doesn’t have all that extra fluff that a reader has to read through.

As a final note, I’d like to make a comment on the authors and their publishing company. I consider myself a Christian and a gamer, and it’s nice to know that their are other Christian gamers out there that are just as passionate about gaming and having fun at it as I am. I was honored to write this review of their fine product.

In conclusion, I have to say that I was very impressed with Horror Rules and at the first opportunity I want to run it. One thing I get out of reading their work is that the authors are passionate about gaming. Their want to have fun is quite evident throughout this book. This is a very fun game, and I look forward to trying it out.

Horror Rules
From: Crucifiction Games
Type of Game: Roleplaying Game
Authors: Chris Weedin, Kelly Staymates, Christopher Staymates
Retail Price: $7.99 (US)
Website: www.crucifictiongames.com