Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks
From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd.
Reviewed by: Joseph Martin
Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks is a new Steampunk Pulp RPG from Modiphius Entertainment Ltd.
Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks is a ‘rules lite’ RPG set in a steampunk alternate earth setting in the late 19th century. Players take on the role of Pulp era heroes and heroines of the age. This is a well-written book from ‘across the pond’ that delivers on its premise.
From the inside cover:
“Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks is a game of steampunk pulp adventure, designed to be played in the comfort of your favourite tea shop with your friends, and requiring nothing more than your imagination, a pen, napkins and a sugar cube (should a six-sided die not be readily forthcoming).”
You really could play this with just a writing utensil, paper (or napkin) and a single six-sided die. The fact that tea shops and sugar cubes are rarities through much of the ‘new world’ should not take anything away from your enjoyment. Character creation consists of only two and a half pages. The name of the game comes from your Attributes. The Cogs attribute represents your mental and technical abilities and skills. The Cakes attribute represents your social skills and Swordsticks your martial and physical abilities. Players also give a description to each of their attributes. For example, a bodyguard might have the Swordsticks description of “Big and beefy” or a dandy the Cakes description of “Winning smile.” This description has an in-game effect as a focus for that attribute. Sample attribute descriptions are given in an appendix. Players are encouraged to come up with their own. Game mechanics take up but a few pages as well. The game relies on your imagination and role-playing skills. Actions that require a die roll are resolved easily. The one chart in the entire book lists a target number based on difficulty. Your pertinent attribute and bonus for that attribute are added to the die roll and you are done. Of course, both the GM and players are encouraged to add flourish with their descriptions of any and all actions taken. Therein lies the strength of this game.
Rules for character development bring the game from a fun one off to campaign worthy. Your character can develop and change their attributes and through play earn Reputation Points. These can be used to reverse the results of a failed or botched roll and can also be spent to gain specialization points to further the characters knowledge and ability.
From page 2:
“A Roleplaying game or RPG is somewhere between a murder mystery game and improvisational theatre.”
That quote is from the beginning of the “And what is a roleplaying game, may one ask?” section. Almost every RPG has this section but this has to be one of the best-written ones I have seen. I think many gamers skip this section. Don’t. You’ll enjoy the read and it will help you understand what the designers were going for. This game is a Role player’s game, not a Roll player’s game. Your power hungry min-max player just looking for the next fight may not enjoy this.
There are no equipment lists. No monetary system. It is all free form. The game is not lessened by the lack of such. Equipment in a steampunk game would seem to be mandatory but imagine trying to make that list. The options are limitless. Imagination is the key. You can just say that your character has the “Pidrick exo steam leg Mark II” or the “Aldritch Ice projector”. You’ll probably not get any real in-game benefit for it except for the possible role-playing opportunities.
The “Empire of Steam” setting description gives you an idea of what to expect in this alternate world. A setting timeline and a real world timeline is given to guide you on your way. History is tweaked to present a vibrant and living world. From the wonder of the Babbage engine, a technological steampunk world evolves. It is a general and broad background for the most part but the timeline covers most of the 1800’s, giving ample opportunities for campaigns in the Empire, the Americas, the far east or the very majestic sounding “Her Majesty’s Flying Steam City,” Atlantis.
A sample adventure and characters are provided. After the GM reads through this book once he or she should be able to gather several people together and run a game with no fuss. The sample adventure is a good introduction to the rules and setting. Of course, character creation is relatively easy and making your own character to live in this vibrant world is half the fun. For the GM, information on creating your own adventures is given. You are presented with basics on plot, sample NPC’s and story ideas. As with the ‘what is an RPG’ section, this is very well written and should not be skipped.
“Steampunk in CC&S is defined by the ideals of Victorian science and popular fiction: rugged heroes, beautiful femme fatales, bluff engineers, devious villains and lots of magnificent steam powered technology.”
This ideal of a refined and yet rough and tumble world full of interesting Victorian era archetypes is the heart of the game. Immerse yourself in the world. You won’t miss rolling handfuls of dice.
In conclusion, Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks is a fun role playing game with the emphasis on role. We here in the colonies might call this a ‘Pizza and Beer’ game. However, this one has the potential to be a long running one you come back to again and again. It’s not the game for everyone but most should enjoy it. That’s why we play these games, right?
For more details on Modiphius Entertainment Ltd. and their new RPG Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com, and at all of your local game stores.
Codex Rating: 17
Cogs, Cakes & Swordsticks
From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd.
Type of Game: Steampunk/Pulp RPG
Written by: Lynne Hardy
Game Design by:Lynne Hardy, Richard Hardy
Interior Art by: Geof Banyard
Additional Art by: Richard Hardy
Graphic Design & Layout by: Michal E. Cross
Produced by: Chris Burch
Number of Pages:48
Retail Price: $12.99(US)