Justus Productions

Ug See Big Thing That Fly

Ug See Big Thing That Fly

From: Sneak Attack Press

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Stone age RPG settings can be something of a hard sell for most gaming groups. Due to what passes for society being at the tribal level, there really isn’t much of an infrastructure to support traditional adventuring parties. One way around this is to introduce deliberate anachronisms. As part of the upcoming Kronocalpyse setting, Ug See Big Thing That Fly takes this approach.

From page 3:
Now you must save your people from the Big Thing That Fly. But first you’ll need to get there.”

The plot of Ug See Big Thing That Fly is fairly straightforward. A human tribe and a saurian (humanoid dinosaurs) tribe intend to put aside their differences and make peace, for which a meeting is arranged. Player characters are late arrivals who find a scene of carnage. After the expected misunderstandings are cleared up, the survivors reveal that the meeting had been attacked by men with magical spears that threw fire and thunder (rifles with bayonets mounted on them). Most of those who weren’t killed got taken up into a Big Thing That Fly, i.e. a zeppelin. The villain of this piece is one Baron Vanderwile, who comes from a steampunk time period. His motive is to obtain stock for what amounts to a caveman zoo. The goal for the player characters is to get up to the Big Thing That Fly and release the captives. Included with the adventure are six character profiles (four human, two saurian) set at Novice level so that you can dive in right away. Should players desire to create their own characters, doing so is just a matter of restricting your selections to traits appropriate for a stone age person (no firearms-related Edges, etc.).

From page 5:
If your players are anything like most people who play this adventure, at least one of them will want to leap from a pterodactyl onto a biplane.”

A major stumbling block for running this scenario with some gaming groups is the fact that it is heavily railroaded. The bulk of the adventure consists of going from one set piece to the next, with a bit of flexibility once the characters are aboard the Big Thing That Fly. If your gaming group is uncompromising in their desire for sandbox-style gameplay, this will probably not be the best way to introduce them to Kronocalypse.

However, if your gaming group is amenable to being led about to some degree, this is an excellent choice for allowing them to experience the multi-genre delights that await in Kronocalypse. The direct nature of the scenario makes it so that it can easily be completed in a single session. This also makes it highly suited for running at a con, where a certain amount of railroading is expected.

Rating: 16

Product Summary

Ug See Big Thing That Fly

From: Sneak Attack Press

Type of Game: RPG Adventure

Written by: Matthew J. Hanson

Edited by: Craig Hargraves

Illustrated by: Kirsten Moody

Number of Pages: 14

Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds Core Rules

Retail Price: $2.99

Website: http://www.sneakattackpress.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

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)


The Imperial Age: True20 Edition

From: Adamant Entertainment
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Imperial Age: True20 Edition is a RPG Setting Sourcebook from Adamant Entertainment.

I have had a few PDFs in my archives that were given to me to review but due to unforeseen life complications, I was not able to.  I felt I owed those products a review, and since I have started Gamer’s Codex, I have gone back in my archives and found a number of those products.  The Imperial Age: True20 Edition is one of them.

Up front, I have to confess that I am a big True20 fan.  I love the basic d20 mechanic but never liked the clunkyness of the system.  True20 solved all those problems for me in one simple and concise generic system.  I do not want to turn this into a True20 review but in general, this book already has that in its favor.

From page 2
“The Imperial Age is dead. Long live The Imperial Age!

Chapter One is an introduction to this genre book, set in the late Victorian era, circa 1880-1900.  It is an age of great prosperity and great conflict, scientific discovery and imagination, social reform and mystery.  It is also the peak of the great British Empire, which has developed a unprecedented national self-confidence under the rule of Queen Victoria.

The basic concept of the book is to guide you through the various adventure and setting options in that setting.  Inspired by the relatively new steampunk movement in games and literature, The Imperial Age claims to be modular, in that you can plug-and-play any aspect introduced in this game to create your own Victorian Age setting.  You can run a gritty Sherlock Holms mystery, a epic war story on the far reach of the Middle East, a dark occult horror in the allies of New York or London, or a fantasy-laced steam punk in an alternative history.

Chapter Two contains Imperial Age genre information, a brief overview of the world of the late Nineteenth Century, and a timeline.  After a lengthy list of Victorian era subjects like Imperialism, The Great Depression of 1873, Westernization, and Progress & Industrialization, the historical information extensively covers a wide range of subjects; a 14-page overview of the world of Victorian Age.  Following this is a brief overview on how to handle alternative histories, giving a few examples.  From just changing it slightly but keeping the overall events the same to totally changing the environment with magical and occult elements, this gives you good inspiration to take your Victorian Age setting almost any direction you like.

It not only covers the historical facts but it also delves into occult aspects.  In fact, despite being as modular as possible, the writers chose (smartly in my opinion) a default setting, calling it the Age of Occult Steam.  This setting starts in 1880 in a world much like our own at that time.  However, beneath the veil of normalcy, dark occult forces are at work.  The characters are in a world where some more ambitious inventors are toying around with the occult and steam tech, and the encroaching darkness and its supernatural minions and powers are a constant threat.

London during the Victorian Age was the center of the world.  Heart of the British Empire, center of trade, political power and mystery, it is a common backdrop to Victorian era stories.  Chapter Three is an in-depth look at London in all its glory.  After a brief history, each region of the city is described, from the West End to the various Boroughs as well as East End and Westminister.  It is everything you wanted to know about 1880s London but were afraid to ask, at least from a gamer’s point of view.

Seeded throughout are sidebars of interesting nuggets of facts, information and inspiration, to help you flesh out Victorian London even further – items like common men’s clubs in Clubland and common titles and ways to address them in the upper class; notes of Masonic orders in London; and a list of newspapers in London..  The chapter ends with a brief series of campaign suggestions based out of London.

Chapter Four offers additional True20 hero creation rules that broadly apply to all Imperial Age campaigns. This chapter contains notes on social class and how it affects character creation, new backgrounds geared towards Victorian Age settings, new skills and feats, a list of drawbacks players can enhance their character with, and some new Victorian equipment.

One thing that stood out to me as a True20 player was the aspect of Drawbacks.  I had not seen that before, although I had heard Mutants & Masterminds had them.  They act as the flip side to all the skills and abilities the character has, adding more depth to the character.  For each Drawback the character takes at character creation, they gain a starting skill.  The limit to how many a player can choose is left to the GM but generally it is advised to not do more than 3.  I like this enough that I would integrate into my own True20 campaigns.

Another new aspect it adds is a hard currency option for GMs that prefer to conduct business in hard currency rather than wealth system presented in the core True20 books.  Many players may find the abstract system a little weird and prefer a more concrete system.  This gives it in terms of British pounds and translates wealth scores for you in a simple system.

From page 4:
“The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and majority decisions…but by iron and blood. –Otto von Bismarck”

Chapter Five Fisticuffs, Swordplay and Chases  is all about fighting styles appropriate for Victorian heroes as well as dramatic rules for chases.  From the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Baritsu Boxing and Fair Defense (martial arts for the fairer gender) to Fencing and Savate, this presents these fighting styles in the standard True20 fighting style structure.  The Pursuit rules are mostly a reprint of the Pursuit rules from the True20 Warrior’s Handbook.

The next six chapters cover various stories that can be generated from the Victorian era and the adventures that can be had.  Starting with Chapter Six, it focuses on Adventure Stories, where characters can explore exotic lands as agents of imperialism, soldiers fighting foreign wars, or explorers seeking lost treasures. Chapter Seven focuses on Sherlock Holms style detective stories, allowing you to craft mysteries for players to investigate.  Chapter Eight takes you into the world of intrigue and espionage as well as terrorism, bomb-throwing and assassinations.

Probably one of the more popular approaches to 1880s adventuring is the horror story.  Chapter Nine, Horror Storie, provides information on designing horror stories, the monster hunter as a character archetype, scientific wonders, magic rituals, and reprints the True20 rules on fear, terror, and corruption.  More a subgenre of horror, Chapter Ten, Occult Stories, provides real world occult traditions, crafting occult stories, and historical occult organizations. Interesting in this chapter are ways to use the Four Laws of Magick in your campaigns.  Finally, Chapter Eleven covers another popular subgenre – steampunk.  Leaving the best for last, Steam Stories provides various types of “steam” campaigns, from steampulp to steampunk. This chapter contains rules for designing engines and automata (including automaton heroes) as well as adding prosthetics to heroes.

Seeded throughout these chapters are special rules appropriate for the story genre.  Some are reprints of True20 special rules like rules on mass combat while other are fairly original like rules for steam engine design and steam engine automaton combat.

In conclusion, overall I think this is a brilliant piece. Not only does it compliment the True20 product line very well, it is very well researched, concise and imaginative at the same time.  It is an extensive volume of information for any steam punk or Victorian age fan.  I highly recommend it if you are looking to play in the genre and want to use a good generic system.

For more details on Adamant Entertainment and their RPG Setting Sourcebook “The Imperial Age: True20 Edition” check them out at their website http://adamantentertainment.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

The Imperial Age: True20 Edition
From: Adamant Entertainment
Type of Game: RPG Setting Sourcebook
Written by: Walt Ciechanowski
Contributing Authors: Erica Balsley, Scott Carter, Donna K. Fitch, and Scott Rhymer
Number of Pages: 271
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: True20 Core rulebooks
Retail Price: $34.95(US)
Play Time: Type {Time per Game}
Website: adamantentertainment.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Radiance Player’s Guide

From: Radiance House
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Radiance Player’s Guide is a new Role Playing Game from Radiance House.

I stumbled across this RPG in a discussion about a friend wanting to start a new campaign that wasn’t Pathfinder or D&D 4e.  He asked for suggestions for other systems and someone suggested this one.  It was described as a combination of all that was good about 3rd edition OGL mashed together with good bits of 4th edition as well as some Star Wars d20.  I was intrigued.  In a time when the market is dominated by what is considered the next generation of the 3rd edition rules – Pathfinder – I was interested in seeing someone else’s approach to update the 3rd edition rules.

From website: “Behind the bright lights, beneath fuming factories and above dirigible skies, at fey masquerades, or off in exotic lands… mysteries whirl, eldritch magic unfolds, ghoulish tentacles slither, and angels and demons still struggle in battle for our eternal souls.”

Although the website touts the game as a generic fantasy RPG, the book itself implies a default setting that is fantasy as well as steampunk.  Initially, I did not see a lot of detail about the setting.  The book seems to focus more on the rules than the setting.  The closest the book comes to dealing with the setting is a chapter on something called Electrotech.

Not being a person that is overly familiar with D&D 4e, it was difficult for me to discern between the 3e influences and the 4e influences initially.  At the end of the PDF, it has the obligatory 3e OGL license agreement but I felt there was more 4e influence than 3e.  It might be a gray area in legalities between the 3e OGL and equivalent 4e agreement.

On the surface, character creation is fairly standard for those familiar with d20 OGL.  You determine your attributes (standard d20 six, ranging from 3 to 18), select a race, class, skills, and determine various stats.  However, in the effort to provide with fewer tables and thus fewer needs to page dive into rule books, it provides more straight forward ways of calculating and determining many of the values.  With what little I know of D&D 4e, I was able to recognize some of the influences here.  For instance, many of the classic bonuses like save bonuses or attack bonuses are now rolled up into class level.

Also it has changed some of the aspects of each of the “big six” attributes and added a few more to supplement as secondary attributes.  For example, charisma is less about how your character physically looks and more about your character’s personality, leadership and appeal.  For the physical side of this, the game adds an attribute called Comeliness and it is derived from the race.  In general, comeliness is relative no matter where you go and in this case it is relative to an typical human – 1 to 4 is ugly while 21 or higher is supernaturally beautiful.

There are a considerable number of races to choose from – a total of 24.  There are the ones you would expect- human, elves, dwarves, half-elves and half-orcs.  There are also tieflings like in 4e.  There are also other more obscure races– Asimar (celestial race), Dromite, Goliath, Grippli, Raksasha and Pygmy.  There are also some fairly original races (from what I can tell) – the Atlan (aquatic humanoids), the Drack (draconians), and the Warmech.  The Warmech in particular is obviolsy inspired by the Warforged in Eberron, but changed just enough to be different. Races provide a variety of important things including bonuses to atributes, base size, speed, wound points, racial abilities, base age and, as said, comeliness.

Gone, however, are the notions of feats or powers.  Each class has a set of abilities that the character can choose from.  In much the same way that D&D 4e has powers, Radiant has various tier abilities – core, basic, intermediate, advanced and paragon (similar to the three tier system in D&D 4e).  Additionally, a character has racial abilities to choose from.  All of these take the place of class abilities, feats and spells.  However, how that reduces the book diving, I am not sure because you still will be looking up how the abilities work.

Also rather interesting is the number of classes this game provides – a total of 30.  They range from the standard Rogue, Barbarian, and Druids, as well as other classes influence by Pathfinder and D&D 4e like Artificer, Blackguard, Gunslinger, and Warlock.  Some I think were prestige classes at one time in 3rd edition but now have been rolled up into base classes.  When selecting a class, the player is choosing a Prime Attribute, which drives many things in the system.  Classes also provide base attack (also derived from level), which save you use for defense, armor and weapons proficiencies (although they are no longer feats), core abilities as well as tier abilities.  Core abilities are the abilities the class starts out with and as the character goes up in levels, they can choose from their tier abilities.

This is where a lot of the book-diving the game claims to rid you of, will occur.  Many of these abilities remind me of the old 3.x feats with a little more kick.  Meanwhile, they scaled down the concept of spells, in the interest of balance much like 4e did, and limited the magic users to these tier abilities as well.  The tier abilities are spells as well.  Gone are the concepts of schools, spells per day and known spells.  They are just powers you can whip out whenever.  It does take away some of the complexity behind magic users while balances out a mixed party but it also takes away some of the mystique and appeal of a magic user.

The old 3.x mechanics behind spells known, spells per day, etc were also the difference makers between all the magic users.  In this edition, the difference makers are in the nature of the classes.  Sorcerers, for instance are virtually restricted to one school – the draconic school of magic – and slowly take on draconic attributes as they level.  Other “schools” of magic are represented through other classes like Artificer, Elementalist and others.

Something new to the character creation process is something called a Theme, which is  “a narrative path” for your character.  From the book – “A theme provides an archetypal focus or meaning.”  At first glance they appear like professions in d20 Modern.  However, they are a little more than that.  They provide further ways to customize your character through Minor and Major Awards.  I know one of the major complaints of the 3.x class system is the feeling of cookie cutter characters.  Radiance makes every attempt to resolve that.  Themes are just one way it does that fairly well.

From the back cover: “Radiance RPG blends the best of editions of the world’s most popular role-playing games.”

At the heart of any d20 based/D&D influenced game is combat.  The most common question is “…yea but how long does combat last?”  From the start, Radiance touts that it is streamlined and flexible.  From a character generation point of view, that seems fairly true.  It definitely creates better options than the cookie cutter classes of old d20.  There are two key aspects of game play when judging a system – combat and task resolution.  Skills have no levels and are strictly based on attribute bonus and a d20 role.  Some abilities (racial or class tier) add adjustments to that as well, like feats used to do, except with a range of +3 to +10 and sometimes more.  Difficulty classes are also slightly adjusted from standard d20.  For instances Easy in old d20, Easy was a DC 5.  In Radiance, Easy is DC 10.

Combat has always been a sticking point in any d20 variant, from base to Pathfinder.  One way Radiance streamlines this process is reducing the number of bonuses and stats you have to worry about.  Defenses are all rolled up into the standard  saves – Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.  Armor no longer adjusts defense but instead has Damage Reduction.  It always bothered me that some armor had both a bonus to defense as well as a damage reduction value.  This streamlines all that up.  Radiance uses the Wound/Vitality system alternative to hit points, like Star Wars d20 and others.  This can be a little more deadly than standard hit points.

There is also a chapter, “Exploring,” which covers a lot of the other game rules that you would expect – interaction with the environment,  special rules on environment and movement, travelling through space, breaking things, weather, and a variety of other special rules.  There are also a few pages dedicated to “other Realms.”  These are divine realms of the many deities (see below) and it gives the DM more options for adventures.  There is also a whole section on creating creatures and gives one sample.  I would guess a bestiary is pending.  I saw somewhere in the commentary of a video review of this product that monsters from D&D 4e are easily converted to this system.

Also included is a chapter on the pantheon, complete with 22 deities, all basically similar to the pantheons most RPG players are used to seeing.  However, the gods are another source of abilities called Boons.  These are one-time abilities the players use when they spend Faith Points.  All classes – not just faith-based characters – gain faith points each level.  This interestingly ties a character’s faith into his character, making him thematically stronger.

To complete the book is a considerable chapter on equipment which contains a variety of fantasy based weapons and a few steampunk oriented ones as well.  There is also a chapter on magic items and a chapter called people, which introduce a series of factions, cultures, and people.  I can’t help but get the feeling that I am reading only half the story – that they are giving you some of the setting but don’t want to give you too much.  They are trying to bridge the gap between generic system and the setting they based it on without making you feel obligated to using their setting.

In conclusion, this game has a lot of thought put into it.  The writer defines his goals for the game upfront and for the most part accomplishes them.  It bridges the gap between D&D 4e and Pathfinder/3.x edition d20 systems.  It creates a much more flexible environment for characters while keeping theme and character roles important.  I would not say it’s the perfect system but it is a good system to try out.  I was never a fan of 4th edition and there is just enough of its influence that it’s noticeable but doesn’t ruin it for me.  I commend the writer for his ingenuity, passion and creativeness in this system.  Despite the veiled references to a setting, it is a complete product from a system point of view.  It is also presented rather handsomely with great looking art and a great layout.  I have heard that the hard back is worth buying.

For more details on Radiance House and their new Role Playing Game “Radiance Player’s Guide” check them out at their website http://Http://www.RadianceRPG.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

Radiance Player’s Guide
From: Radiance House
Type of Game: Role Playing Game
Written by: Dario Nardi
Cover Art by: Eric Lofgren
Additional Art by: Judah Ben Jehoshua, Eric Lofgren, Mike Muffins, Dario Nardi, Chris Pritchard, Joe Slucher, and Frank Walls
Number of Pages: 286
Game Components Included: PDF or Print version
Retail Price: $ 14.95 (US) (for print); Free PDF
Website: http://www.radiancerpg.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung