I’ve been busy working on Rusty Station Spanner. “Rusty Station” is an ongoing RPG project detailing the Sci-Fi campaigns I run from home. A lot of focus will be dedicated to a massive space-station (Rusty Station) I plan to run as a megadungeon. More and more of my time must be spent over at Rusty Station to get this project off the ground. If it seems quiet around these parts lately, why don’t you take a gander up at the stars. I’ll still be reviewing RPG’s from time to time, but I’d like to spend more of my time completing my own projects rather than reviewing the projects of others.
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Vampire the Masquerade 20th Anniversary has been released!
The first time I encountered Vampire the Masqerade I was FAR too young to grasp the complexities of the game. It was the art that immediately drew my attention, and I can still vividly draw to mind the cover art of the Tzimisce clan novel. I remember being both repulsed and intrigued, and today I still am. But in that stage of youth I was only acquainted with Dungeons and Dragons, and my interest in role-playing was something I had to hide from my parents. But when I held this Tzimisce clan book in my hands, something so blatantly resplendent in taboo, I was thrilled by a subtle premonition: one day I would play this game.
But White Wolf dropped off my radar when DnD 3.5 came out, I think this might have been around eighth grade for me. The Redwall series had been dominating my youth for most of middle school, so I felt most immediately comfortable RP’ing in a fantasy setting. That is until high school – when I came across the NWoD. The books were readily available in print, and I was not yet the PDF fanatic I am today.
But I always wanted to play the Masquerade. I am a shameless forum lurker and for years I watched the flame-wars between the Classic WoD supporters and the New WoD supporters. Where do I stand, you ask? I didn’t grow up playing the Masquerade so I simply don’t have the emotional connection nor the memories attached to the classic universe. But when I saw that a new and comprehensive edition of Masquerade was released I leapt at the opportunity.
I can honestly say the 20th Anniversary edition of VtM has met my every expectation then surpassed them. I only wish that I had known to buy into Classic WoD sooner. The breadth of Clans and discipline powers appearing in a single volume was what most immediately impressed me in this edition. The way health, combat, and damage are utilized in Masquerade is a bit more complex than in Requiem, but I think I prefer Masquerade rules. Requiem might be more streamlined, but the extra detail in Masquerade works out quite favorably in play.
Another aspect of Masquerade that I really appreciate is the notion of the impending apocalypse and its whispered lore. This fluff is central to kindred politics and I think offers drive to chronicles in the CWoD. The Chapter for Storytellers is quite excellent as well. While reading, I found myself drawing ideas and inspiration seemingly on a page to page basis.
The 20th Anniversary edition art seems to be quite different than the art represented in earlier editions (remember I don’t have much experience with the older art except for some casual glances). But I will say that I am impressed by what I’m seeing. I’m curious to see what other gamers will be saying, especially those coming from a history in the Masquerade. If any readers have played earlier editions of the game please feel free to post your thoughts on this new product. I’m hoping with enough demand, White Wolf will feel compelled to reboot some of their other Classic products (*cough Dark Ages cough*).
Picture found here.
Every once in a while I stumble across a game that forces me to reconsider the hobby; Ben Lehman’s Polaris is one such game. I’ve just finished reading it and feel compelled to write an immediate review: it’s just that good. Several years ago I read a few reviews of Polaris over at RPG.net. At the time I was intrigued by the premise of knights traveling a tragic, frozen waste. I didn’t purchase Polaris at the time because it wasn’t in a PDF format. But when I saw it this last monday in a local gaming store I couldn’t pass it up.
But I really had no idea the calibre of game I had stuffed into my front pocket before venturing into a packed black metal show (if I’d known the quality of game at the time, I’d have taken much greater precautions). Polaris doesn’t provide a traditional introduction, instead it delves into the flavor fiction that served to hook my interests immediately. Even in the first few pages I realized that this game prioritized tone and (at a level rarely paralleled in the hobby) a very authentic and substantial emotional investment. Participants play the role of knights whose struggle is tarnished by the failings of their decadent people. As I mentioned earlier, this game ends in tragedy. This is made all the more profound to the reader only in the few final pages (before the appendixes), which is a writerly tactic I found to be surprisingly moving – without even playing the game!
[photo linked from gdargaud.net]
The rule-mechanics are on the more abstract side – which curtail to my personal RPG tastes. There is no GM (which if you’ve read my reviews before, you know I approve of). Instead every main character is surrounded by a (metaphorically speaking) cloud of story arcs. So while one character/player owns the spotlight, the other participants take on the roles of the other characters, events, and storytelling responsibilities.
At it’s heart this is a game about developing a constantly evolving group-infused story. But the game’s true innovation lies within the subtle deal-making quality that the rules encourage. The story develops as players take turns compromising with, or pushing the other players to drive the story. The more a player is willing to push a character or the story in a particular direction, the more their character slips towards the promised tragedy. This game is in a class of its own; truly a piece of gaming-art if such a thing exists. Polaris attacks industry standards to prove itself a premier example of indie game design. Saying anything else is a waste of your time when you should be reading Polaris right now!
Starship Troopers has marched (with machine-gun in tow) to the very pinnacle of tongue in cheek sci-fi’s that always seem to have a steady rotation on TV. Tremors is another long-running favorite of mine. These are the calibre of films that aren’t to be taken terribly seriously and thrive on good ole’ fashioned ass-kickin’ action. I love these movies for the same reason I love the zombie movies Peter Jackson has a hand in: these are films defined by a relentless and thrilling absurdity.
Rarely do I find an RPG these days that gets me as excited as 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars. 3:16 offers a refreshing space marine romp with a singular goal, eliminate all alien life. No, you aren’t really playing one of the good guys. Instead, you are playing a thrill-crazed warrior charging toward the flames of alien oblivion. I do not recommend getting overly attached to your character. Something I find very appealing in tabletop RPG’s is subtle competition between the participants. 3:16 is all about racking up as many alien-kills and medals as possible before the inevitable burnout.
This adds a certain bragging-rights appeal to the gaming experience which I find strangely comparable to console FPS’. The rules are are designed around the d6 and d10, and are perhaps the most impressive set of rules I’ve seen in years. The mechanics fit the tone of the game perfectly. The rules are fast, brutal, and easy to master. Character creation might take twenty seconds or so, certainly less than a minute (this is no exaggeration).
Photo found here.
This game is so appealing because the game allows character development and background to blossom during play. This is utilized in “flash-backs,” and is perhaps my favorite aspect of the game. There are also plenty of charts and tables to make things very simple for the GM. This game is marketed as low-prep, and it is (practically a Godsend for those busy GM’s and players who want to get right down to playing).
3:16 places a tremendous amount of control into the players hands. It is not the GM’s responsibility to narrate every minute detail, but instead players are encouraged to aid in the universe building to an extent rarely seen in most RPG’s. For example, when a player succeeds in an attack or action, they are encouraged to describe and embellish upon the specifics – not the GM!
The highest military rank the players can achieve in 3:16 allows them access to an item called “The Device.” It can only be used once (and I mean ever in a given campaign) because once used it ends the game. It destroys such a vast pocket of the universe that the players and even the entire army of the 3:16 are obliterated. Yes, players can voluntarily achieve “Game Over.” Why would anyone do this? Because they can, and it’s hilarious.
The writing is excellent, I love an RPG that can make me laugh. Gregor Hutton (the game designer) writes succinctly but with plenty of space marine “quotes” to get the GM’s right on target for the game’s feel. I should mention that the art also complements the game beautifully. At the risk of sounding art-ignorant (I am), the interior art reminds me a bit of Frank Miller if he lived in the Warhammer 40K universe. There’s ample use of negative space which I find to be highly dramatic and so very cool. Really it’s just top notch.
In summary, just go buy this game. If you like your sci-fi more than intense and the action humorously over the top, you will devour this game. I have. As I finish writing this I’m looking up other Gregor Hutton games, and I can’t wait to tear into those the next chance I get.
An aside: I have been writing on this blog far less than I would like to. Fear not – this blog isn’t dying. Hibernation is a natural occurrence, and my blog is just going through a “bear-phase” right now (Really I’ve just been very distracted and busy). I will still be writing, just not as much as I have been able to in the past. My goal is to get back to the old pace, once life becomes a bit clearer for me.
Additionally, my oldest RPG pal and I have been talking about an RPG I want to design. Not only is he an excellent sounding board, he is also an excellent artist. The game will be sci-fi and thats all I want to say at this time. This is a project I’ve been mulling over for a very long time. My friend will be doing art for the project, and maybe a bit of writing if he has the inclination.
You will be seeing more about this project as it develops. Also, if there are any readers out there who dig the games I’ve reviewed or the things I’ve talked about, please contact me if you are interested in play-testing. That wont be for a long time, but I figure I might as well cast the line.
Ordinarily I write about role-playing games, but today I’m making an exception. Strangely one of the grandest nerdfests takes place every year on a mock battlefield in a tiny town in pennsylvania. Skirmish USA annually holds the largest paintball game in the world, and the last game took place just last weekend. There are thousands of participants, and a surprising number coming from abroad. Now I don’t know a ton about paintball, honestly I’m not that great at it. Im actually more of an airsoft guy. But I don’t think any other paintball experience could even compare to the absolute madness of this particular weekend.
Sure you’ll see plenty of bare-chested heroes with mohawks, scowls, and bruises. Give those kids a wide birth. But the real treat, and the reason I go every year, is because it’s sort of difficult to distinguish this experience from a massive LARP (live action role play) experience. As soon as the Dday boats drop, you are no longer Jerry Johnson whose behind in high-school calculus, you’ve suddenly become a second lieutenant barking orders as though you’ve got a whole platoon at your back. Oh wait you actually do, these woods are insane. Combat is a constant, and when it isn’t thick it usually means you’re about to walk into an ambush. You half expect Martin Sheen to walk out of the brush with a SAW machine-gun at any moment. Not convinced? You might just have to see it for yourself. Real military camouflage and gear is sold at extremely reasonable prices. Much of it actually comes from the countries represented in the mock battle.
I had to talk my way out of getting shot multiple times by my own Ally teammates this year who pointed out that my camouflage was German. I actually had no idea. The second time someone brought it up I explained that I always play team USA. Their faces unmoved, I tried to make a joke of it. It turned out these guys didn’t find it so funny when I said I was a spy. A couple of years ago my buddy, his cousin, and I snuck behind enemy lines. We never expected the front line to break, but when it did the Germans forces swept past en masse. Without exaggerating in the least, there must have been a hundred of them just twenty feet from the bush I was hiding behind. I didn’t get legitimately scared, until I heard some of them speaking fluent German…
But off the field there usually isn’t any hostility between the Axis and Allies. Everyone is simply too exhausted to carry on with any bickering, though there are definite exceptions. A group of about ten long island buddies playing for the Axis apologized to me after a night of raucous rambunctiousness that apparently lasted till four in the morning a foot from my tent. Honestly I was so exhausted I had no idea. I can’t recommend this experience enough. But if you come next year, you better be playing as an Ally, or else I’ll be coming at you.
Yesterday I finally had the chance to play-test Arrowflight 2E. This game is one of the finest fantasy role-playing games I’ve had the opportunity to game-master. Arrowflight offers just the right amount of game-world fluff. It’s there, but its kept to a minimum so as not to infringe on any game-master ideas. Arrowflight offers a world, or perhaps a foundation, but demands that the game-master sharpen the edges to fit personal tastes. This is perhaps what most impressed me about Arrowflight from the start. Forums have deemed Arrowflight an “alternate fantasy” game, but without knowing exactly what that means, I will say that this game is freshly imaginative across the board; player races, magic system, monsters, etc. If you don’t mind something a bit unusual, and can appreciate a tinge of anime-influence you’ll probably really dig the setting. Arrowflight claims that it is a game of “cinematic grittiness,” which I think attests to the game’s surprisingly dark undercurrent. One of the undead creatures is particularly horrendous, I can’t remember the last time I was legitimately disturbed participating in a fantasy RPG (which I intend purely as a compliment by the way). The system is solid and thankfully simple with an impressive amount of depth if one wants to get into it. But usually 2d6 is the standard roll over the course of play.
[Artist: Gustave Dore depicting S. Coleridge’s, Rime of the Ancient Mariner] The game allows for a tremendous amount of creativity and inspiration. I’m particularly fond of Arrowflight’s focus on a breadth of martial arts styles, something I will miss in other combat centric games I play. If you are looking to play a particularly inventive and fast-paced fantasy game with excellent character building options you’ll be missing out if you overlook Arrowflight. Even if you are someone who demands a lot of specifics and detail at the game-table, this is a game that will probably appeal to you also. This game practically begs to be played in a sandbox style.
Arrowflight offers plenty of tables, including an especially impressive adventure generating one. In our game thus far, a pirate’s ghost has united the PC’s to find an ancient treasure that their blood claims inheritance to. And yet, the character’s are not sure they fully trust their damned patron. It didn’t take long before our session took on the form of a “sandbox,” with the characters steadily moving towards their overarching goal of finding the treasure, but with no shortage of “side-quests.” But if the heroes continue to push their luck in the “Dark Lands” they’ll soon have to decide between siding with a band of war-worn savage elves, a nefarious goblin necromancer, or the islands ruthless colonial presence. Regardless of the choice, enemies will be made… I hope to turn this game into an ongoing campaign. I’ve always wanted to run a fantasy-pirate game. Play of the Session goes to the character Vinny, who always managed to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat just when the group needed it most, and yet with such unexpected mobster-gusto.
Andrew Peregrine’s “Dance of the Damned” is a morbid role-playing game without dice and without a GM. Instead of dice the game utilizes a standard pack of playing cards, although there are alternate rules for using a Tarot deck. Gamers intrigued by the macabre will get a lot of mileage out of this game. But Peregrine holds no punches, this game is brutal, brooding, and a cookie-cutter happy ending isn’t easy to come by. Peregrine cites the works of Edgar Allan Poe as the premier inspiration for the game.
The implication of a “GMless” game is that all participants are responsible for telling the story together. Personally, I think that playing a game without a GM ensures that every participant is playing exactly the kind of game they want to. Not to mention, no single GM has to spend hours thinking up a story, especially when some of the best game-sessions are actually tangents delineating from the GM’s main storyline.
The game’s only assumed scenario is that the players are hidden inside a castle keep while the world outside succumbs to a horrific plague. This game is inherently competitive, and therefore differs from most other cooperative roleplaying games. Ultimately this is a game about bringing out the worst in others for your own gain. Much of the game’s strategy involves reading your opponents cards, and knowing when to take minor defeats so grander victories can be achieved later. Because a given game session lasts about an hour, this is an ideal pickup game. Play-test pending.
I’ve FINALLY been able to play-test VtR “New Wave” with some of my buddies. Before play started one of my comrades said something to the effect of “this will be a fun one-shot game, but I don’t see how this would work as an ongoing setting.” By the end of the night he had said that this supplement provided his favorite VtR session to date. To save time we played the characters and the scenario provided. And while my friends seemed more interested in pursuing their own insidious goals (rather than the one presented in the book), the characters made good use of the NPC’s presented throughout the text.
As I mentioned before, the tone of “New Wave” is noticeably different than the tone presented in the core rulebook. Thus, I allowed my players some leniency for their vampiric eccentricities. To be honest, I’m not very interested in fast-forwarding the campaign. The eighties are ripe with the self-destructive abandon my friends most appreciate in role-playing games. Perhaps the photograph above is misleading. The one below is a bit more appropriate. I’ll be honest – I’ll never look as cool as this.
So far the players have taken a particularly anti-communist stance, going so far as to challenge a particularly cranky Carthian elder. This of course will not be without consequence. Already the players have been attacked during daylight hours. Though danger is beginning to snowball, my players are pushers. None of them complain over characters lost to final death, and since I promised this game as a one-shot, risks are running rampant. But who knows, this game might transform into an ongoing campaign. But it will be tough to pry my friends’ attention away from “A Song of Ice and Fire: RPG,” given the recent success of the HBO “A Game of Thrones” series.
HBO’s “True Blood” is quickly approaching with a new season this month, and I’ll admit that I’m pretty damn excited. While “True Blood” doesn’t fit the tone or mythos of the White Wolf universe like a puzzle piece by any means, I’m certainly not the first forum poster or blogger to point out that there are obvious similarities. In short, given the alternatives, “True Blood” is (for me) the most digestible vampire setting on the screen right now. So this is my vampire post… I’m a bit surprised it’s taken me so long. I haven’t run any White Wolf games for quite a while, but now is a really great time. As much as I personally love WOD, my friends from school are Sci-fi nuts (which you might have gathered from reading this blog). “New Wave Requiem” offers a much appreciated energy to the veins of White Wolf’s “Vampire: The Requiem” line. Specifically “New Wave” explores the vampiric condition during a highly superficial and cutthroat 1980’s setting – all the while handling difficult (or perhaps controversial) subject matter with impressive tact.
The text quickly points out that the emphasis of the product is on developing compelling storytelling situations, rather than focusing on the historic realities of the 1980’s. As someone who lived through the late eighties as an infant, I can’t claim a legitimate familiarity. I can ascertain from the unavoidable barrage of pop culture that this game does a fine job encapsulating the mood and values of the eighties, albeit somewhat retrospectively.
Then the game perverts these established values, twisting them into the cruel parasitic shape that is the 1980’s vampire. To be direct – this is good writing, painting a neon portrait of a blindfolded society charging mirthlessly towards an vague finish line that can only end with overwhelming finality. To be a vampire in the 1980’s is either invigorating or it brings about utter ruin. This is an era of polarities, where the tenuous separation line is prone to snap at any moment. But read it from them, not from me. Get this product if you want a not-so-subtle thematic shift in your VtR game. I can’t wait to get a group together to finally try this out.
Sci-fi it is again. Most of my friends would rather shoot lasers than crawl around in a dungeon. Fair enough. Our next game will be a “Space Noir.” I thought it would be fairly easy to apply Stolze’s “A Dirty World” to a Sci-fi setting. But my buddy really loves the FATE system. Using “Diaspora” we rolled up some star systems just to get our ideas churning. My friend has also agreed to do some art (which I’ll post about later). In short – our game will take place on a cutthroat space station ruled by eccentrically wealthy crime lords. The station is actually built into a massive asteroid ripe with precious ore. We really can’t decide what game system to utilize, but play-testing will hopefully make the choice obvious.
A ship hasn’t landed on this station for over 35 years. Communication has been broken off station for the past twelve. Only a select few on the station have any idea of what has happened to the suddenly distant space faring community, though rumors abound of a dangerous plague. And while the station is certainly self-sustaining, without trade the station has began to stagnate along with social order. Advanced technology, while present – is extremely rare. Only the most elite members of society (leaders of the various crime cartels) can afford such luxuries. I want to keep firearms mostly limited to a “slug-thrower” category. Therefore lasers are RARE, but also potentially too dangerous to use on a space station even for the wielder. I would assume that the sane would wield laser weapons only as a last resort.
Posed as legitimate business transactions, entire slum districts are sold and traded in a kind of game among the bored and brooding criminal elite. I think this game would really work well with “Stars Without Number,” especially given the fairly recent release of “Polychrome” (a cybernetics sourcebook). You’ll be hearing about more of this soon. P.S. I’m toying with the idea of a lurking but gigantic monster stalking the slums, but steadily working it’s way up the corroded towers.