Kontamination, Achtung! Cthulhu Adventure

From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd
Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

Kontamination is a new RPG Adventure/One Shot from Modiphius Entertainment Ltd.

When I try to run a published adventure, I sometimes find myself asking if the adventure was written with the GM in mind.  For me, it’s important to convey the story of the adventure to the players in the most succinct and clear fashion with minimal page turning and book diving as possible.  However, not everyone retains the same information at the same rate and every GM is different.  So what is the way to best write an adventure?  Keep it as simple as possible in terms of wording and stat blocking, and make key aspects of the adventure easy to reference if at all possible.

Kontamination is an adventure with the intention of being a one shot.  It was written by a guy who admits he has never played a table top RPG.  Sam Richards is the writer and also the creator of Tweet RPG, a web site that has since changed to StoryMechs.com.  From the web site: “Tweet RPG is a free online role-playing experience, which utilizes Twitter to provide users with an innovative new way of enjoying text-based adventures.”  Kontamination was written using the Tweet RPG means of crowd-creation.  I only found this out after running it and found that very surprising and innovative.

This is also one of the few times I actually ran an adventure I am going to review.  I had 8 players (which was more than I really wanted) on a Saturday afternoon, and with that many, the game ran a little long. But I found it very adaptable.  The game itself was a great success.  I had also run the first adventure released for Achtung! Cthulhu called Three Kings, and Kontamination could not be more different in a lot of ways.

From page #3:
“What’s good need not be secret, and what’s secret is not good.” – Unknown

The adventure is a very contained and focused story that has a lot of flexibility in each encounter but is restricted in the confines of a specific mission.  In fact, the characters are taking on a secret mission within an actual historical mission.  The adventure boldly puts the players in the roles of German soldiers, and if you are using the pre-generated characters, the writer provides hooks into the adventure that act as manipulation points, giving the characters more motivation to accomplish the mission other than simply they are loyal Nazis.  The pre-generated characters are in fact not necessarily loyal Nazis but rather people trying to survive the horrible war.  The GM is encouraged to create characters in the same vein if he does not use the pre-generated characters.

It takes place during the Battle of the Bulge or from the German’s perspective, the Ardennes Offensive.  During this time, the Germans conducted a covert action called Operation Greif, where German soldiers dressed in Allied uniforms and using Allied equipment caused disruption and confusion behind enemy lines.  The Reich Main Security Office has gotten intelligence of a super secret operation within the Operation Greif was being conducted by a super secret group called Nachtwulf and not even the Security Office knew of them.  This concerns the lead of the Reich Main Security Office and the players are brought in to act as operatives to investigate.

This is where the adventure first gets a little challenging for the GM and the players.  Although it does not seem like a big thing, it can be confusing to those not prepared for it.  The players have a real name, an operative name within Operation Greif and then later they get their Allied soldier name.  The pre-generated characters smartly placed the name they were going to use the most as their primary name – the Operation Greif name.  The Allied name was rarely used when we played and their real name was never used.  I made up flash cards with the Allied names and ranks and randomly handed them out during the mission and took them back when it was not needed.

It is also gets a little challenging in the equipment department.  The group should start out with just the bare necessities but they switch between Allied equipment and German equipment throughout the adventure.  If keeping up with who has what gun when is important, I recommend making flash cards with game stats of all the available weapons and handing them out at the right times.  This also makes the quartermaster scene in the beginning a lot more fun.

From page # 3:
“The Second World War is drawing to a close, but combat still rages on.”

I won’t get into the detail of the overall plot beyond the intro, but it is well defined in three key episodes and those are broken down into a number of scenes.  The strict structure of the military mission does have the tendency to feel like the GM is railroading the players, but in playing it never really did feel like that.  I think the players felt like at any time they could take control of their characters and do what they wanted but the backgrounds and hooks provided in the pre-gens helped keep them on track.  They all stayed within character and stayed true to their motivations.

My only major complaint was the way the adventure was written.  Although well written with a lot of painstaking detail (which I enjoyed), it was not quite written with the GM in mind.  I found myself struggling at points to find the right stats for the bad guys, or the right text I needed to read to the characters.  I do not like to do a lot of reading to the characters, but in a one shot the key moments that might require reading is the intro.  Although they did provide that “Read to the characters” text for the Reich Main Security Office mission introduction, they needed to also do the same thing when given the mission instructions for the Nachtwulf mission (the mission within which they were to accomplish their own secret mission).  There are key aspects that needed to be clearly stated to the characters and I would have preferred to have succinct and precise text to read to them.

The creatures they end up facing are soldiers manipulated by a Mythos-based apparatus.  Instead of providing stats for the creatures, the creature was provided in the form of a template to apply to whomever ends up having the procedure applied.  Although creative and interesting, to run this as a one shot, especially if you want to run this as a one shot in a convention, time is of the essence.  In combat, I do not want to be referencing back and forth between the template and the character that was converted.  That slows combat down and in most RPGs, combat is slow enough.  What I recommend a GM doing is prepping a few typical “converted” bad guys ahead of time so they are ready for combat.

The characters also are part of an overall plot that basically treats them as expendables.  There is enough plot development before the final episode that the players may conclude as much before they get to the epic climactic battle that happens at the end.  In my case, the players smartly figured it out and took matters in their own hands, short circuiting the overall story.  The GM should be prepared for that if they have good players.  The intended battle at the end of the adventure that I never got to is absolutely epic.  I hate that we never got to it (although my game ended well) because it is set up very well.

When diving into an adventure based in a setting like Achtung! Cthulhu – non-fictional historical meets fiction horror – I wonder what the author is going to focus on.  Basing something in something historical, you run the risk of turning your session into a history lesson.  And, although I am World War 2 history buff, I never assume all my players are too.  An ideal Achtung! Cthulhu would focus on both in a good balance, always remembering that the players are really here because of the horror, fantasy and fictional aspects and less about the history.  I honestly believe that Kontamination accomplishes an amazing balance between the two aspects of the setting.

In conclusion, Kontamination is well written from a content point of view but from a RPG structure point of view, I think it needs a little work.  The story is amazingly well put together and fluid and it was very fun to play.  The players all had fun.  I highly recommend this as a one shot at home or at a convention.  The GM needs to do a little more preparation beyond just reading it, but if he does that, the session will go very well.

For more details on Modiphius Entertainment Ltd and their new RPG Adventure/One ShotKontamination” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Kontamination
From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd
Type of Game: RPG Adventure/One Shot
Written by Sam Richards & Matthew Pook
Created using the Tweet RPG system (www.tweetrpg.co.uk)
Additional Material by Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden & Lynne Hardy
Edited by Lynne Hardy, Matthew Pook & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Number of Pages: 54
Game Components Included: One PDF adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG rulebooks
Retail Price: $11.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

 

 

Mindjammer

Mindjammer. The role-playing game.

 From: Mindjammer Press

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Mindjammer is a new role-playing game from Mindjammer Press.

Writing a really good hard sci-fi or space opera game seems to be a definite stumbling block for humanity. Some that we remember fondly like the original Traveller fall a little short now. Others like the awesome SpaceMaster game can get bogged down in a dearth of rules and tables. D20 Future was just a tiny bit off overall and Alternity never gained a following. Mindjammer, in my opinion, has finally brought greatness to the genre.

From the back cover: “Never has there been a greater time of opportunity. The universe is in flux, and for the first time in ten thousand years no one knows what the future will bring. Charge your blaster, thoughtcast your orders to the starship sentience, and fire up the planning engines. Come and defend the light of humanity’s greatest civilization as it spreads to the stars.”

Sarah Newton and crew have created a monster and a masterpiece all in one. The pre-release PDF was 502 pages. Don’t let this scare you. I have never played a game using the FATE rules before. I opened the PDF and did a little spot reading. I admit a few terms confused me. When I started at page one and read through all became clear.

The FATE rules use a simple ‘4DF,’ four Fate Dice system. While they sell Fate Dice (and I would suggest buying them if you play often) you can make do with regular six-siders. The Fate Dice have a ‘-’ (minus) symbol on two faces, a blank (or zero) on two faces and a ‘+’ (plus) symbol on two faces. Basically you roll four dice and add results together. This gives you a shift of -4 to +4 for your skill check or other daring attempt. In practice you can expect a lot of -1, 0 and +1 totals.  This simple roll is it for the system. The complexity and genius come in how it is applied.

Skills are rated as both a number and name. You have Mediocre (+0) to Superb (+5) for your basic list. These are where the average starting character’s skills will lie. Rolling a skill attempt is the above four dice result plus your skill. For example, if you have Good (+3) Ranged Combat and get a net +1 on the dice roll you have a Great (+4) result. Unless your opponent has a very good defense, that’s going to be a solid hit. Characters have other attributes and actions such as spending Fate points, invokes, compels or teamwork that can and will affect the result.

Let’s step back a bit to character creation. The book suggests character creation be your first game. After reading through I agree. To make a character you come up with a high concept. This is a descriptive such as ‘Drifting dancer with a dark secret’ or ‘Long range explorer with a mental issue.’ There is no limit. Descriptors like this really drive the game. Once you have your high concept and an idea of what race you want to play, you can really dive right in and create your Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras during play. I’ll leave it there. You should pick this up and play a game. I mentioned that reading through the book was a good idea. I suggest that the Game Master absolutely needs to do this.

I mentioned the descriptors. This is what I call a true Role Playing game. Getting into character in this game will be rewarding. While Roll Players can enjoy fights and other conflicts, the immersion factor is high with this one. For example, when you are hit, you or the GM can state a descriptor like “You have a Bruised Rib” or “Bloody head wound” that will have Role Playing affects. Very different from the usual “You take 5 damage” of many systems.

From page 5 : “The New Commonality of Humankind is a beacon of light in the blackness of space; hyper-advanced technology and transcendent intelligences are its gifts to the stars.”

The Commonality of Humankind (or just the Commonality) is the setting described for this game. It is set several millennia from now. Old Earth has seen ups and downs. A time of expansion where the moon, Mars and other places in the solar system were colonized has escalated to slower than light generation and later stasis crew ships headed towards distant stars. When faster than light travel was discovered explorers headed out again. Many of the ‘slowships’ made it to their destinations. Some were still thriving colonies. Many were struggling or had regressed technologically.  A large fringe area of systems and planets exist ranging from barbaric Stone Age societies to transhuman populations on exotic worlds. A few actual alien intelligences were discovered. One human society turned extremely xenophobic and attacked the Commonality. Using crude faster than light engines bleeding deadly radiation they cut a swath through known space before being stopped. No truce was signed; the Venu Empire is still a known threat.

There is so much packed into this book I cannot possibly describe it all – rules, history, tech, scientific information on planets, stars, space in general and more. The chapters on stellar bodies and planets are worth a read just for any space buffs out there. I haven’t even mentioned the Mindscape. While computers as we know it are obsolete, data and thought can become one with data boosting thought and actions. Imagine if you could access Wikipedia or Google and have that knowledge available at hyper speed any time. Now imagine you could have that as well as real time satellite imaging and more in the middle of a firefight. That analogy just touches the surface of what the mindscape is capable of. Entire campaigns can exist within it.

The real magic of this game is variation. The setting is vast. Since all you really need is a concept to start playing you can enjoy a long campaign building your characters to greatness or short campaigns or a bunch of one-off games. One week you can be intrepid explorers on the outer fringes, the next a diplomatic corps group bringing a new world into the Commonality fold. You can be a group of diehard marines in a planetary assault or covert operatives on a secret mission in the core worlds. You can be a traveling troupe of entertainers visiting stations, ships and worlds on the fringe or a cultural expert changing a planet population’s way of thinking during assimilation. You can be a small ship full of Venu raiders looking for an easy kill or deep core miners trying to survive after a collapse a hundred miles beneath the surface. You could be a group of Mindscape sentinels defending a core world node or a barbaric world ‘mage’ adapting to space travel. This rules set can handle it all. Your imagination will be the only thing slowing you down.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic game. When I first read the guidelines for reviews on the Gamers Codex site I never thought I would find a product that would merit a ‘critical hit’ of 20 on the Codex Rating scale. This product has impressed me more than I can put into words. Even with a copy of the PDF, I may raise the money to get a print copy of the book.

For more details on Mindjammer Press and their new RPG “Mindjammer. The Role Playing Game” check them out at their website http://www.mindjammerpress.com, and at all of your local game stores.

 

Codex Rating: 20

Product Summary

Mindjammer

From: Mindjammer Press

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Sarah Newton

Developed by: Sarah Newton

Cover Art by: Paul Bourne

Additional Art by: Earl Geier, Jason Juta, FIl Kearney, Eric Lofgren, Marco Morte, Andreas Schroth, Ian Stead, Jeff Ward, Andy Wintrip

Number of Pages: 496

Retail Price: $ 54.99(US) Book and PDF bundle

Item Number:  MUH042201

ISBN: (ebook) 978-0-9574779-5-7

ISBN: (physical version) 978-0-9574779-3-3

Email: info@mindjammer.com

Website:  www.mindjammerpress.com and www.facebook.com/mindjammerpress 

 

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

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

 Product Summary

 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)