Saturday, December 24, 2016

Twelfth Game of Christmas

Previously on the 12 Games of Christmas: AlternityStar WarsMageTranshuman SpaceAdventure!Feng ShuiFate Core13th AgeBurning WheelGodbound, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness

And now the thrilling conclusion...

I love superheroes, and I love RPGs it stands to reason that I would like superhero RPGs. And I do. However many I played over the years they all seemed to be missing something. I could never quite define what I was looking for, yet I knew I had yet to see it. I finally found the game system that did what I wanted it to do, and I have been playing it ever since. So finally we reach the end of my Games of Christmas(for this year) with a game I love...

Wild Talents
I got into this game in a sort of round about method. I ran into a series of comic style stories in the back of a bunch of dragon magazines. These stories told the tale of super heroes set during World War II. They were there to hype Godlike, a game about super heroes in World War II. Needless to say I bought Godlike and I liked it a lot. However It was a hard sell for my group and so there it sat. Then they announced that they were making a limited production game using the same rules but moving the setting forward to the modern day. They called it Wild Talents. I was excited, but could not manage to get the limited run. Eventually they did a second edition of Wild Talents and I jumped at the chance. I have since purchased everything that has come out for the game system, and boy howdy I do not regret any of those purchases.

Peritextual Elements
There are two versions of the second edition of Wild Talents. They both came out at the same time so I will discuss the design of both. The Essential Edition is the version with just the rules and no setting or GM advice. It is soft cover and digest size. The internal design is standard weight paper and black and white computer render art. Some of the art is quite good and some is less good. None of it is bad. The layout is very well done and the index is solid. The Full Second edition is hard bound with heavy weight high gloss color pages. The art is the same from each edition. It is quite thick and so it weighs a bit, which can be an issue when reading it for fun.

Mechanics
The core mechanic is a dice pool of ten sided dice made up of Attributes and Skills added together. Human maximum is five in a skill or attribute, though as this is a super hero game so your skills and attributes can go higher. When rolling you add an attribute to a skill and roll that number of dice(though you cannot roll more than ten dice on any roll). In this you are looking for matches. The number showing on the matching dice is called the height and represents the power or quality of the roll, while the number of dice matching is called the width and represents speed of the action. This is a really spiffy system in that you can get the initiative, accuracy/artistry, and damage/outcome of a roll all in one roll.

Characters also have Willpower which allows them to manipulate rolls and can also be used somewhat like experience points. You gain them through passions and loyalties, however that is also how you lose them. when you defend your passions and loyalties you gain willpower and you lose it when you fail to defend them. If you are out of willpower your powers get significantly less powerful and less consistent. The rules for powers can get very complex and confusing on first read through, but once you get the hang of it the game really opens up. This is the first game I encountered that literally lets you build any power you can think of. And even though I have delved into others that do similar things, this one still stands as one of, of not the, best. You start out by deciding if you power is for attack, defense, or something else. Once you have decided on that you begin attacking flaws, perks, and qualities to the power. This leads to a very complex looking design process, but as I said, once you have done it a couple of time you get the hang of it. Also with all the various settings that have come out, there are loads of example characters with example powers done up in all sorts of ways.

Setting
The primary setting for Wild Talents is a continuation of the setting from Godlike. Super powers first appear among the Nazis in the thirties. Using these Ubermensch the Nazis begin to push through Europe. Eventually these "talents," as they are called, begin to show up in other countries and the war becomes a matter of talent on talent action. The allies win(yay) and the world moves on. After the war talents start becoming less limited and more powerful. These become known as "Wild Talents."  the setting goes through the timeline showing how talents change the world and eventually how earth moves into the surrounding galaxy and encountered alien threats. It also has sidebars throughout the timeline explaining how you can use various points in the history as campaign or adventure seeds. You can pay super spies in eastern Europe during the forties and fifties, or as something like the peace corps but with super powers. There are loads of these adventure seeds. I like this setting a lot. However it is not the only setting for the system. There are a number of them. My two favorites are The Kerebos Club and Progenitor. The Kerebos Club is set during the nineteenth century which starts somewhat normal and gets stranger and stranger as the century goes froward. Queen Vctoria becomes something like a god, the south makes deals with Cthulu to maintain power, and the British army uses werewolves in the Crimea. It is a very fun setting brimming from top to bottom with awesome. If you ever wanted to play the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this setting is where its at. Progenitor posits a world where the first superhuman was a housewife on a farm in the Midwest in 1968. It also posits that when you use powers around others they can gain power. It is full of rules on how to change the world and what that would look like if the players do not get involved. It is a really well done setting, worth reading if only for the fun of it. There are other settings as well. eCollapse is a near future setting full of low powered beings who believe things so deeply they must bash each others brains in. Grim War is a game about conspiracies and super powers and magic spells. Blood of the Gods is set in ancient Greece and you play the children of the gods. Finally This Favored Land is focused around supers during the American Civil War.

That is it for this year's Games of Christmas. I hope you all enjoyed them and I hope you all have a great holiday season.



Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2016

Eleventh Game of Christmas

Previously on the 12 Games of Christmas:  AlternityStar WarsMageTranshuman SpaceAdventure!Feng ShuiFate Core13th AgeBurning Wheel, Godbound

Alrighty my peeps, its time for a fun one. Another fun one. This is one of my favorite games of all time and it uses the system that I first encountered when discovering RPGs. I have been looking forward to this review for a while. If I had my druthers I would have saved this one for last, however my excitement can only be held in check for a so long. It goes this far. No further. Here we are, on the eleventh day of Christmas and we are looking at...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness
This was the second game I ever purchased. I got it within a week of getting Alternity. I have played this game a lot and I still read through it now and again just for fun. This is the game that introduced my to the TMNT comics by Eastman and Laird, and for that alone this game will have my love. But it was genuinely fun and so I keep coming back to it. 

Peritexual Elements
The book is soft cover and rather cheaply bound. I have had no real issues with its durability, though the plastic coating on the cover has begun to peel a bit, so watch out for that. The art is mostly by Eastman and Laird, which is pretty great. Having the original creators and artists working on the look of the art is a serious boon for the game. The thing itself is laid out in two columns and is not at all amazing. If you are getting into Palladium books for the layout you are in the wrong place. There is no index and there are no sidebars. The table of contents is OK, but without a good index many things are nearly impossible to find. This is not a good book for easy reference. That said, for the time it came out(mid eighties) it was pretty average layout, though it desperately needs an editor to organize the damn thing a bit better. 

Mechanics
The game uses the Palladium in house system that is loosely based off of AD&D 1st edition with all sorts of new systems and sub system glommed on. You have eight attributes, rated from 3 to 30, but mostly you won't have many above 16 and only attributes above 16 matter in any meaningful way. The game is based around combat, where you roll a d20 plus modifiers to attack, a d20 plus modifiers to defend(dodge or parry), and assorted dice types for damage. You also have two different hit point pools that do exactly the same thing and are mechanically as undifferentiated as can be(Hit Points and Structural Damage Capacity). Skill rolls are the other sort of dice roll and those are percentile rolls with the goal of rolling lower than your rating in a skill(don't worry the skill levels are really low and advance very slowly, so you will be failing rolls all the time). 

This game does have some interesting mechanics added to the core system though. It has an interesting teamwork mechanic, where if all the player characters have grown up together then you get bonuses to all the skills and such that you have in common. I like that as it is pretty spiffy. Also the game allows you to play all sorts of mutant animals and it does this through what amounts to animal archetypes and Bio-E points which you can spend to get size levels, animal abilities, human abilities(bipedal stance, opposable thumbs, speech, that sort of thing), and psychic powers. Another fun thing that is only in this game is that your speed stat(when higher than 16) grants a bonus to dodge, which it does not do in any other Palladium game. By and large, though, you will not be playing this game for the mechanics. I am not even sure the designers used the game as written. 

Setting
Um...yeah, its the TMNT setting. It is based around the idea that you will be street level heroes getting involved with spies, ninjas, aliens, time travelers and all sorts of other mischief. You ever wanted to punch the Shredder in his stupid smug face? Well you can totes do it in this game. You can do it and its official. Think about that. They do add a bunch of interesting features to the setting with the main book and a bunch of expansions. It has a bunch of adventure books about traveling across the country and getting involved in hi-jinks. There is also a book that goes into the aliens of the universe and how they all interact, so you can go fight the Triceriton Empire or the Human Republic. You can hang out with the spinies or tubers or even the utroms if you want. If that is not enough the game also has a book all about how to handle time travel and jumping from dimension to dimension. And to this day it is one of my go to references for how to handle those ideas as it is just really cool. Also it has rules for playing mutant dinosaurs!!! DINOSAURS!!! There is also a whole separate setting for the game system called After the Bomb, which posits a post apocalyptic wasteland ruled over by mutant animals and high tech humans. It is a really fun setting. 

That is it for today.
Tomorrow....

It comes to a thrilling conclusion. Be ready.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tenth Game of Christmas

Previously: AlternityStar WarsMageTranshuman SpaceAdventure!Feng ShuiFate Core13th Age, Burning Wheel

And now...

Today's review is the newest game in this series. It came out this year after a successful kickstarter. This game is also part of the OSR(Old School Revival) school of gaming. So in a way it is also one of the oldest games, at least in basic system. That said this game has had my attention since the first mention of it that I saw. I have not played it as much as some of the other games in this series, but it does a lot of wonderful things and I wanted to go over it with you. So without any further ado lets begin with...

Godbound

A while back I did a review of another game by Sine Nomine. That game was Exemplars and Eidolons. It dealt with doing mythic scale action in an old school game. It is a pretty fantastic game. Anyway, it had been built more as an example of how to do a certain kind of layout than as a game intended for play, so when he heard about the hype for it the designer said he was going to rework it to be better. Boy howdy is it better. After a few months we had access to a play test document and it was fantastic. Shortly thereafter the kickstarter was launched and Godbound was a thing. Within a couple of months after the kickstarter we had the book in our hands. This level of speed, precision, creativity, and polish all point to the singular genius of Kevin Crawford, the designer. He makes me feel inadequate as a designer and games like this set the bar for what I am aiming to do with my designs. The best part about the game is that there is a free version that as all the rules and everything you need to play, the version that costs money has some awesome additional optional rules(like mecha, clockwork cybernetics, and alternative types of Godbound), but you don;t need it to play.

Peritextual Elements
The book is beautiful. Kevin does his own layout and it s well done. It is two columns on a light tan background. The headings and titles are in a dark red text and stand out easily from the rest of the text.  The art within is absolutely gorgeous, and as an added bonus the art is free to use for all personal and commercial uses. Which is just great. The art is full color and truly suits the mood of  the book. The sidebars are easy to read and stand out with just a slightly  darker tan. It is well indexed and the pdf has a solid set of links throughout, navigating is pretty simple.

Mechanics
The games core mechanic is based on a d20 roll vs a target number. That number varies on whether you are in combat, making a save, or an attribute roll.  Attribute rolls are compared to 21 minus your attribute number and then add a +4 should you have a relevant fact(I will go into Facts in a moment). Saving throws are 15 minus your relevant attribute modifier and your level. Attack rolls are a little different you roll a d20 and add your attack modifier and your opponents armor class(with armor class low numbers are better than high) and try and beat a difficulty of 20. So that is the basics on dice rolling.

In this game you play demigods. Your character has six attributes(Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha...you know the ones) and they are rated from 3 to 18(19 for strength but that is only with the right word choice). You do not get skills instead you choose Facts which are sentences or phrases that describe something important to your character. They are a bit like backgrounds in 13th Age. Needless to say, I like Facts. You also get to pick Words and gifts. Words are kind of your general areas of godly power. You can do all sorts of miracles and special things with that. Like if you had the night word, you could create or remove night, or cause people to sleep, or all sorts of other night related ideas. There are a whole bunch of words to choose from as well as solid advice for building your own. Each word has a list of lesser and greater gifts. Gifts allow you to consistently and more easily do cool effects based on your Word. Lesser gifts are smaller in scale than greater gifts. They are all quite spiffy and evocative. Also each Word has a sidebar that showcases how the word looks when used in the world and mechanically. It is very handy for some of the odder words like Luck or Time. Gifts can give constant defenses or the ability to always have a weapon made from the word(Lightning Sword FTW). Words are simple and yet they add so much complexity to the game. As to equipment and all that, this game assumes you are playing godlike beings and so normal gear is pretty easy to come by. My first character carried over a hundred normal swords with him everywhere he went, because I thought that was cool(and it was).

Some unique rules in the game are the Fray dice and how damage is dealt. Lets start with the Fray dice. The fray dice is rolled with every round. It represents the casual blows and how awesome you are. The fray die is rolled and the damage is dealt to lesser foes every turn. Lesser foes are foes with hit dice equal or less than your level. It starts out pretty fearsome and becomes more terrifying as you level. Damage is not rolled directly the way it is in other games. When you roll for damage you do from zero to four point depending on the roll. If your damage die(plus modifier) is a 1 you deal no damage, 2-5 is 1 damage, 6-9 is 2, and 10 or more is 4 damage. This is done because the monster do not have hit points(though the heroes do) instead damage is dealt directly to their hit dice. Which means your one hit dice monster will be taken out with one hit. Now some gifts allow you to read your damage dice "straight" which means you don't use the table and just subtract the number from the die from the hit dice of the monster. It is pretty awesome when that happens. As you can see this slight change makes the heroes incredibly powerful without having to adjust the numbers at all. It is an elegant solution to the issue of scaling.

Players also have access to a number of ways to alter their surroundings. They have influence and dominion. Influence is your ability to alter the world around you in a temporary way, so long as you keep a point of influence set aside that change remains, however when you take that influence back, the change goes back to how it was. There is a lot of advice on how to handle influence in game. Dominion is something you earn alongside XP when you attain goals and have adventures. Dominion allows you to make permanent changes to the world. It works like influence but it is spent and cannot be taken back. Both XP and Dominion must be spent in order to level up, so the game requires that you change the world in order to get more powerful. I like that.

Setting
The setting is really interesting and deep. It goes, roughly, like this. A long time ago man invented super magic and decided to go to God and discover who was right in all the petty squabbles. SO they invented even bigger magic and invade heaven. They fought their way past loads of angels and stuff. Eventually they made it to the throne of the most high and discovered it empty. So the people decided that if god wasn't around they would make their own gods, and commenced to cannibalize heaven to build Made Gods to represent the ideals of the people. Eventually this led to war and destruction and as they had cannibalized heaven the engines of creation were damaged and now the world is split into shard realms floating in the undifferentiated night. Meanwhile the angels sit in Hell, where they regrouped, and plan their revenge on mankind and the world. The game then give a really solid example shard realm with all sorts of different countries and factions. Each one tailor made for different kinds of adventure. My favorite is the bright republic, which has super high tech, but their celestial engines are old and must fail soon, unless some heroes were to fix them. Their tech does not work in the rest of the world. The further they get from the celestial engines of the bright republic the more likely they are to fail. There is also Ancalia, facing undead and other threats, which just recently got a really well put together expansion book, which I would also recommend. Needless to say the setting is top notch, but with the rules you could play in a whole bunch of settings. I have put together a couple already, one is set at the dawn of mankind's first civilizations, kind of a stone/bronze age mythic romp in a lost world type setting. The other setting is closer to Planescape, but using the setting conceits of Godbound's core setting, rather than the setting conceits of D&D. I will probably post those to the blog on some later date. I have even heard of people using these rules for playing in Creation from Exalted.

So that is it for today. Thanks for reading.

Next time...

Teenage.

Mutant.

Ninja.

Turtles.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ninth Game of Christmas

Previously: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage, Transhuman Space, Adventure!, Feng Shui, Fate Core, 13th Age

Today...

When the other games I have done were difficult, it usually meant that I either had some mixed feelings on a key component or I liked the game too much. This game is going to be difficult for a very different reason. I could be wrong. The game we are going to look at today require a crazy amount of system mastery and is geared toward long term play. Both of those things could lead me to make a factual error on the nature of this game. So bear in mind I have not played this game as much as is recommended in order to fully understand it. So I could be wrong. Bear that in mind while we dig into...

Burning Wheel
This game is intense. it is filled with niche rules and subsystems that all interact with each other in important ways. It can be very daunting to get into. Heck I have played it a fair bit(for me) and I am still daunted by the mechanical depth on display. And it is depth. A lot of games with this level of crunch are often strange hodgepodges that were constructed, seemingly, at random. Not so Burning Wheel. Everything in this game feels deliberate and focused. Its just that sometimes I am not sure what it is focused on. Many people have an issue with the tone the designer takes in the game, and I get that complaint. Sometimes the game can feel a little bit like it is talking down at you. That said the game is very good and when it is played well it practically sings.

Peritextual Elements
The book I will be using is the Gold edition. Which covers a lot of the additional material that had been added on to the basic game in the previous edition. The art is sparse. It is black and white line art with a sort of sketchy feel. There are no sidebars of any note. Each chapter has a little illustration up in the corner of the page so that there is a visually distinct way to quickly jump to the chapter you need. The book is hard bound and a beautiful book at that. It has a sort of fleur de lis pattern in red on a golden background. the title and wheel design sort of blend into that background. Not sure if I like the color choices, bu the book is very distinct. Also each page within has a medieval style set of knot works drawn as a border for the margins. Again not sure how I feel about it, but it is interesting and evocative. Overall it is a good looking book, though some of the choices might not be to your tastes.

Mechanics
The core mechanic is a d6 based dice pool system where you are looking at each die to see if the die surpasses a target number and then you count successes. You have attributes and skills these are added together to give the dice pool(I think). You can also get a die or two from someone with the same skill helping you and you can get extra dice from related skills, call FoRKs(fields of related knowledge). You also get artha, which are a bunch of different kinds of points that can be spent to alter the dice rolls in a number of ways. I would go further into that but it gets pretty complex pretty quick. And you only really need to know the basics of how dice rolls work for now. Your character also has beliefs and instincts, which are how you gain artha(which is very important, as this game can be very lethal). Beliefs are goals you have set for your character that you wish to accomplish. You gain artha when you accomplish the goals. You have three of them. Instincts are macros for you character. They are things that your character always does or always does in certain types of circumstances. I think you can gain artha from these too, but I might be mis-remembering, or I may have played it wrong. If you want your character to always have a knife on him, or always fill his pockets with food when available, instincts make that happen without you having to tell the GM that every time.

Character creation is fairly complex and in depth. You make your character through a life path system. The GM will tell you how many path choices you get and what paths will be available or forbidden. There are many different paths available and each one will influence how the world looks around you. When you have made all your choices, you find out how old you are and how many points for physical and mental traits that gives you. The samples in the book are Human paths, Elven paths, Dwarfish paths, and Orcish paths.

There are a load of subsystems for a bunch of different conflicts and such. Fighting breaks down into range and cover and fight. Fight is in close melee type stuff and it is really lethal. Range and cover is ranged and it can be even more lethal. Duel of the wits is how it handles social conflict. For many of these there are lists of tactics you can use in a moment by moment basis and you must choose your actions three at a time and you cannot change them mid stride, and you do not get to see your opponents moves until later. Combat and debate end up feeling really tense and require you to out guess your opponent and play the game as well as playing the game, if you know what I am saying. As I said these systems can get very fiddly and complex.

Advancement is probably my favorite part of the game and something I plan on stealing for things in the future. Basically to advance a skill or an attribute you need to take a number of tests as a set number of required successes. So to advance a skill from four to five would require you take four routine tests(1-2 successes) and two difficult tests(3-4 successes). I want to use something like this for a game based on Dragonball Z. As you get more advanced in a skill you need more difficult or higher tests and it can get very hard to find situations which challenge you enough to advance.  I know I have not covered everything in detail, but I hope I have shown a hint of why this system is so unique and interesting.

Setting
This game does not have a direct setting as such. However it does have an implied setting that is really quite spiffy. It is a very Tolkien inspired setting while also being very much in the vein of a Medieval Romance and a little bit of Wizard of Earth Sea, Conan, and Lankhmar. This game reminds me a great deal of the fun I used to have as a kid playing MERP(Middle Earth Roleplay), and the big lists of things that would build the setting through character creation, at least in my mind. This game does that in spades. Each choice you make in character creation builds the world up a little bit, and when you get to beliefs you start building what is most important and thus what will show up in the game. You also have a skill(sort of) called circles, which you roll to create NPCs who know your character. How well you do describes how they relate to you and builds interesting interactions with the world. The longer you play the game the more you flesh out the parts of the world you care most about and it can get quite nuanced and interesting. That said it does not have full setting on its own, it just grants you the tools to make the setting you want and make it matter as much as you want it to matter. I like that.

Tomorrow...

Godbound

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Eighth Game of Christmas

Previously: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage, Transhuman Space, Adventure!, Feng Shui, Fate Core

And Now...

Before I start, a bit of a confession. I do not care much for the tropes of the games that led to the creation of this game. It just fails to appeal, mostly. That said I have played a lot of the previous games, as I am sure you have too. Hard to avoid it really. That said I rather enjoy this incarnation of the tropes and the mechanics just sing. So without further ado...

13th Age

So yeah, I do not normally care much for the tropes of D&D and I don't much like it in general. I like a lot of the stuff that came out of it, but by and large D&D just kind of fell flat for me for years. I think this has to do with my love of playing fighting men and D&D's steadfast refusal to make that a choice worth making. So for years and years I avoided D&D mostly. I would play here and there, because it could not be avoided and I didn't hate the game completely. Then came 4th Edition. I was one of those people who did not hate 4th edition, in fact I was one of those people who loved it. finally the game was trying to balance all the classes and levels, so that tenth level meant tenth level no matter what class you had. That said I got what people did not like about the game, the class powers did tend to have a sameness to them and skill challenges were very poorly described. Anyway I moved on to other games and never gave it much thought again. Then along came 13th Age and here was a game that had something like balance, while also making each class feel completely different in play and having different values for leveling up. My favorite character was my sorcerer who practiced martial arts and would use his spells in melee. I based him off of Goku from Dragon Ball Z. It was a hoot. But lets get to the review, yeah?

Peritextual Elements
This book is just beautiful. High gloss medium weight pages of full color art and side bars. It reuses the art, but it is done in a genius way. The images of the Icons are used in the icon descriptions and as the intro art for the chapters. The pictures are beautiful, even the sketchy images used in some of the chapters. In the bestiary section the monsters do not have full illustrations but have specific diagrams that represent that creature in a unique way and could easily be made into tokens for the table to show distances and numbers. Not sure if that fully works, but it is an interesting idea and a good way to stretch an art budget. It is well indexed and referenced, I have had little trouble finding what I need in play.

Mechanics
Have you played D&D 3.x or 4? OK then you get the basics of how the game rules work. You roll a d20 and compare to a target number either set by the GM or the defense of the monsters you are fighting. There are loads of sections explaining how to set up appropriate difficulties that would best apply to the level of the characters. In fact the book is chock full of advice from top to bottom. The game is really set up for ease of play on all levels, but especially for GMs, and I love that. If there is one thing I hate, it is a game that fails to help the GM do their job. So some of the best new additions to the mechanics? There are no skills. Instead there are backgrounds which are rated like skills and apply whenever it would be appropriate. These backgrounds are created by the players during character creation, though there are loads of examples throughout the various classes and such. These can add a bunch to the world and how your character fits in it. Another new addition is the One Unique Thing, which is something every player character has and is truly unique to them. That means that if a player take something as their one unique thing then that is true. If they are the last elf to be born, then that means no more elves can be born after them. That is a lot of control and there is a lot of advice given on how to build and use these in play. I love the One Unique Thing. It is such a simple thing, yet it makes the game world special and interesting.

Finally there are Icons. Icons are the movers and shakers in the world. They are the most important beings that the players can(and do) interact with. Basically when you make a character you set up you relationship with one or more Icons as either Beneficial, Detrimental, and conflicted. At the beginning of most sessions(and sometimes at other times) you roll a number of six sided dice equal to your relationship with the icon(relationships max at three). if you roll a five or a six you check the chart for your relationship type and see what happens. Basically this acts as an adventure generator and a way to gain neat benefits for interacting with the Icon or the groups they represent. Gonna be honest here, I don't mush like the Icons system. I don't hate it or anything, but I have yet to see it used super well in games I have played. that may just be how things go in my games though, so I will continue to try and use the system.

Finally there is the escalation die, which is my favorite rule. At the end of the first round of combat a d6 is set down on the table showing one pip. In the next turn it is turned to two, and so on up to six in the seventh round. What this does is adds that number you your players' attack rolls. There are also a bunch of abilities that players can get that allow them to manipulate and use the escalation die for a bunch of stuff. This speeds up combat while still allowing for challenge. Also some of the big scary monsters, like dragons, get funky abilities that manipulate or use the escalation die for various effects, It is such a simple addition to the rules and yet it adds a whole new layer of tactical thought to the game.

Setting
The setting is every generic fantasy trope ever. Except remove all the boring bits and make everything an adventure. Remove everything that is not. It is set in the Dragon Empire in the 13th Age(I know, right?! what a shocker). The world has all sorts of interesting things going on in it. Like the Behemoths that are these massive creatures(much bigger than a tarrasque) that migrate constnatly across the land. They are so big that some people live on them and are nomads with a constant home. Then there is the overworld, which is made of the clouds and you can get to it by climbing the clouds. and then there are also floating islands, an underdark type place, a bunch of enchanted forests, my favorite being the elf queens court. It s so cool because it has all three elf types in it. The wood elves live among the trees, the high elves live in the tops of trees and in towers and such, and the drow live in tunnels and caves among the roots of the trees. See it all sounds boring and silly when I describe it, but it really does work well in the book and in play. Like I said everything is player facing and designed for GM convenience. Everything is sitting on a knifes edge and there are loads of adventure hooks. I enjoy the setting most though, because it will be different every time you play it. Characters' One Unique Thing and backgrounds will let the GM know all sorts of interesting things about the setting and what the players want to do with it. The setting really is a love letter to GMs who have run games in the standard dungeon fantasy for years.


Next time...

Burning Wheel

Monday, December 19, 2016

Seventh Game of Christmas

Previously on the Days of Christmas: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage, Transhuman Space, Adventure!, Feng Shui

Today.

OK folks, this one is going to be, in many ways, both easier and harder than the previous posts. My love for this game is known, so I am really biased. However as this has been a bunch of games in a row that I love, I guess its bias all around. Anyway, I have been playing this game for as long as the game has been available. I backed the kickstarter and was playing within days of doing so. I like this game so much that I have designed a game using the system. I have written articles about it. In fact most of my blog posts relate to this game. So without further ado, I give you...

Fate Core

Before we start I must make some specific call outs. If it wasn't for +Ron Frazier I would never have gotten into this game as much as I did. He ran the first game of this I ever played. I would also like to call out +Stacey Chancellor who was my co conspirator in Fate Points, before we pod faded. And of course there is +Ryan M. Danks who believed in my abilities and together we made Jadepunk happen. I ave made so many great friends, and had so many lovely experiences through playing and working with Fate Core, I can honestly say, beyond any doubt, this game changed the direction of my life. So I am a bit more biased in its direction than for other games.


Peritextual Elements
The game is on heavy weight glossy paper with excellent black and white images throughout. It is incredibly well indexed and cross referenced. Seriously this is a game that is very easy to use as a reference in games. When I needed to look something up, even back when I started, it rarely took longer than thirty seconds to find what I was looking for. The PDF also bear mentioning here as just about everything in it is hyperlinked to everything else. It is a fantastic resource. The sidebars are well done and stand out while still being very easy to read. Font choice is solid, as are the chapter and sub-chapter titles. Layout is very very smooth overall. This game honestly feels like every aspect of it was gone over and over. There is such a solid level of polish. This game sets the bar for how a game should look.

Mechanics
The mechanics for Fate core a pretty simple. You will need four Fate(or Fudge) dice, though there are methods listed in the game for using regular six sided dice. When you encounter a situation where something interesting could happen should you fail, you roll those dice and add a skill rating to the roll. Skills are rated from +4 to +0, and they are arranged so that you will have one skill at +4, two at +3, 3 at +2, and four at +1. The remaining skills are considered rank zero.  The number is compared to a target the GM sets and that is that. Well, OK that isn't really that. You see Fate has these things called aspects. Aspects are true things about the world or your character that matter. SO while it might be true that there is gravity, unless it is important to the scene in some dramatic fashion, it is probably not an aspect. However, if you care deeply about your mother and she has gone missing then it is perfectly legit to have an aspect like, "I need to find my mother." Aspects are kind of the Killer app for Fate and so they get a lot of discussion when the game comes up. They either make or break your experience with the game. Luckily the game book goes into a lot of detail on how to make them and how to use them in play.

Aspects interact with fate points. Fate points allow you to manipulate the world and be manipulated by it. Se you spend points on relevant aspects to either add two to a roll, reroll the dice, or make something true that may not have been true before. You gain fate points when an aspect is invoked(reroll or +2 to an opponent's roll) against you or when you are compelled. You are compelled when an aspect should cause you trouble. You can buy your way out of a compel by spending a fate point or choose to let the GM dictate your action for sec and take the point. So these are the core bits, however there are two other bits I want to talk about for a sec. Actions and outcomes.

So when you take a skill it has access to some or all of four actions: Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, and/or Defend. The overcome action is for when you need to use your skill to get past an obstacle. This would be for climbing, for researching, investigating, or eating the jumbo steak to get it for free. It is a pretty standard skill usage for most games. The Create Advantage action lets you create advantages that would make sense within the confines of the skill. This usually means you can create a new aspect with a free invoke on it, or build a free invoke on an existing aspect. This represents what, in other games, would be fictional positioning maneuvering, and acting tactically. I like to use it to set up finishing moves for my awesome kung fu space pirate...but that's just me. You could probably use it for other stuff. The attack action allows you to try and harm another character mentally or physically. The defend action is the opposite of the attack action.  every tome you roll there are number of outcomes that are also standardized. You can fail, tie, succeed, and succeed with style. Failure and success are pretty easy to sort out. I will leave them to your imagination. A tie is interesting because it means you succeed...barely. SO there will be complications for that success(this is also an option for failure, where you don't fail you just get a serious complication for succeeding). Success with style is basically the critical success of the game and it comes about if you get three or more greater than the target number on your roll. Normally what it does is allow you to create a short term aspect that only lasts a turn or so. This is called a boost.

System wise this game is polished and well designed. It even spends a fair bit of page space on how to modify the system to better suit your needs in game. It is a really great system.

Setting
It doesn't really have one. In fact it has a whole chapter devoted to you and your other fellow players building a setting together. You get out of the game what you want, exactly what you want. That said there are loads of settings, some with alternate rules. In fact there are so many it is some times hard to keep up. There are all the Worlds of Fate, and then there are the third party settings, like Jadepunk, Shadowcraft, Tianxia, Unwritten, Aeon Wave, Mindjammer, Atomic Robo, and many many more(scroll down a bit and you will see a magnificent list). And the best part? Most of those settings are pretty fantastic. No seriously. You would think that there would be lots of duds and a few good settings, but by and large I have yet to see a terrible one. I mean, I am sure they are out there. The odds say there must a be some bad ones out there, but I have not seen many. So, find the setting you want and get to playing! This game is great.

Tomorrow?

13th Age

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sixth Game of Christmas

Previously on the Games of Christmas: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage, Transhuman Space, Adventure!

And now...

In the nineties is when I first came to RPGs. I started out with things like Heroquest(the board game not the one by Robin D. Laws) and moved on to star wars and the whole Palladium lineup. When a gaming shop opened up in my area I thought that was just about the greatest thing ever, I finally got to play games, rather than running them. However there was this prevailing attitude in the crowd that played at the shop. There was this idea that Making character who were good at fighting was somehow bad, focusing games around action tropes was childish, and even being good at the game was seen as some sort of con or cheat.

I never got this. I loved action and adventure. I wanted to be a rocket powered ninja on a revenge fueled odyssey of violence. I was deeply into Hong Kong cinema, especially the works of John Woo(this was before he came to america. I wanted that, I kind of still wish I was Chow Yun Fat, but that is a different issue. So here I was, an impressionable teen, playing games for the first time and everyone told me in a thousand little ways that what I wanted to play was wrong. Then a game came to my attention. This game celebrated everything I loved, and it gloried in focusing on violent stories of awesome adventure. It even involved time travel, super powers, magic, and super tech. What more could I ask. This game was...

Feng Shui

This game is made of fight!


I will be describing the second edition of this game that was recently released, as that one distills everything I love about the game and got rid of all the issues I had with it.

Peritextual Elements
This game is full of fantastic art. It started out as an RPG expansion on the setting and ides from the card game, Shadowfist. Due to that the game had a lot of art assets to pull from for the first edition and it is a visually stunning experience. The second edition was kick started and pushed through all sorts of stretch goals and so the art for the second edition is A- MAZING. The side bars are distinct and easy to read and the index is solid. The look and feel of the book are solid examples of the book makers art.

Mechanics
The basic mechanic is a little complex to explain, though it is pretty easy in play. You roll two six sided dice and subtract one from the other and then add your attribute and skill bonus. You are seeking to get over a target number. Your dice explode so you can get some ridiculous numbers above or below zero due to that. Also critical hits and misses are handled a little differently. If you roll two sixes then you get a special result, if you succeed this is an extra special good result, and if you fail it is an extra special bad result. You also get fortune that you can spend to add positive dice to the roll on a ratio of one die per fortune spent. Your fortune levels reset at the beginning of each session.

The big thing for this game is that there is no character creation rules. Instead you choose an archetype. These are a bit like playbooks in Apocalypse World or even a little like character classes in some games. Basically your archetype represents your powers, skills and abilities as well as how you interact with the world in a number of key ways. This was a really big deal back in the nineties. I remember everyone absolutely hated that aspect of the game. Now that sort of thing is a little more accepted and so it seems pretty OK. I like it. If you are worried that you won't get the character you want, be aware that Feng Shui 2 has 36 archetypes to choose form, and they cover just about every action hero archetype that exists in fiction.

Setting
The setting is a little bit weird. It works like this. There are Feng shui point in the world. If you control those points you control the world and get to decide how the world works...sort of. Also you can travel through time. Don't worry about the Grandfather paradox, traveling through time even once makes you immune to the effects of altered time lines. Though this can lead to weird moments where the world alters around you and you suddenly do not exist, despite the fact that you objectively do exist. Anyway you can use feng shui points to travel to the netherworld or through time and there are fixed time frames that travel forward with you. It works like San Demos time from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Where time keeps moving at a constant rate  in each of these stable points in time so you cannot go back five minutes before you got there. Those time points are: 7th century AD(Ancient), 1850(Past), Present day(Contemporary), and 2074(a mad max type future). There are loads of options for play, as you can see. In fact you can do a whole campaign without travelling in time at all, or focus a game entirely about fighting the evil powers that seek to control the feng shui sites throughout time and space. Kind of a Kung Fu Doctor Who mashup, if you will. That also sounds awesome. The main focus of the setting is building up situations, factions, and scenarios that allow for maximum amounts of awesome action to occur. So if that sounds cool, you may want to check out Feng Shui 2, it is awesome.

Next time on the Games of Christmas...

Fate Core

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Fifth Game of Christmas

Previous Games of Christmas: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage, Transhuman Space

H'okay folks, strap yourselves in for this one. This game right here is one of my all time, hands down, no holds barred, favorite games of all time. I know it is a little odd to do two games that use essentially the same system from the same company, but this game is so good it needed to be here. This is an example of a game that does nearly everything right, and that is impressive considering how much was going against it. It is the third game in a series of games, and it is the prequel to the two other games. It had to encompass the abilities from the previous games, and yet still have a completely different tone and feel. Coming into this game I was a fan of the two previous, but I was a little leery of it. But oh man, this game does everything right. So lets get to it, yeah? Get your rocket belt and your ray gun, grab your panama hat, ready your zeppelin and get ready for...

Adventure!

This game is set in 1924 and is a game of pulp adventure. You play members of a group of do-gooders and philanthropists. You can play someone with super powers, psychic abilities, or just your wits and your daring do. I have run this game so many times and every time I love it. I have had mysterious treasure maps, Intelligent gorillas who worship a mutated giant gorilla, Dinosaurs, alien invasions, Journeys to the hollow earth, or even to other times and dimensions all together. I have even used the system to run games set in a pulpy high fantasy Roman Empire(which one day I will probably write out as a whole setting, though it was pretty close ro Hunters of Alxeandria). This game is fantastic. Don't wait for the end of the review, go out and buy the game right now. You will not regret it.

Peritextual Elements
The game starts off with a delightful conceit, its cover is in the design of the old pulp covers and it looks mysterious, dangerous, and full of adventure. The art inside is very sketchy and, again, fits the feel of the old pulps. It has a frenetic and energetic feel to everything. Its nice. The first half of the book has no mechanics and is just short stories and world building. The font looks like old fashioned typeface, and again it just screams pulp. The headings and titles are all solidly differentiated. The book also is clear and easy to read without getting into backgrounds that are too dark or too busy. The sidebars are well set out and easily understood. The only real issue I have with it is that sometimes it can be a little difficult to find what you are looking for in the moment.

Mechanics
The mechanics are basically the same as for Mage(see my previous review), save that the target number is set at seven for every roll. What you are no aiming for is the number of successes. This simple change really simplifies the game play. Also added to this game are a couple of small subsystems for inventing new things and improving existing things. They are fairly simple and if you do not wish to engage in them they are easy enough to set aside. Characters also get power based on what type of hero they wish to be, Stalwarts(people with superpowers), Mentalists(people with psychic abilities), or Daredevils(your average plucky hero with no powers. Each set of powers are self contained and interact with the rules in a way that makes a Stalwart feel very different in play from a daredevil or a mentalist, even if you focus on the same role in the game. It is a solid achievement.

Finally we get to the biggest change to the system. You get a number of special points that allow you to alter the game world. These points are not in character(though some in character powers use them), they are a meta fictional economy that allow you to take control of the story for a little bit. When you wish to change something you may spend these points to do so, the bigger and more obvious the change the more points it costs. For example, if you are pinned down by Thule Cultists in a Nepalese bar and you have no weapons or gear you could spend a point to say you had a knife in your boot.. It would two or three to say that a pistol or sub machine gun happened to be in a nearby cabinet, and it would cost maybe five or six points to say that the local authorities show up and attack the cultists because they are wanted in these parts. As you can see the use of these points is incredibly powerful and it really makes the game feel fun as the players can add whatever cool stuff they want to see. In a lot of ways I see this system as a precursor to fate points in Fate. Maybe I am imagining things though.

Setting
Oh my gosh, the setting. You guys, the SETTING! you wouldn't think it would be all that impressive as it is just real world history seen through a pulp lens, but it is just so good. It starts off with a short story by Warren Ellis. Yes that Warren Ellis. Its pretty good. There are also two stories by Greg Stoltze. Yes that Greg Stoltze. And if I am completely honest with myself, Greg's stories are quite a bit better and more in theme with the game than Warren's. That is not to say Warren Ellis' story was bad, far from it. It is a fun read. I just enjoy Greg Stoltze's stories a little better. Aside form the stories the game break down the secret societies and strange places in the world. Some of my favorites? Baron Zorbo and his balloon armada, he wants to move everyone into cities in the sky and leave the earth free to grow plants. To do this he needs crystals from the hollow earth, and fights a war with the intelligent people who dwell therein. Another lovely one is the plateau in South America where dinosaurs and all sorts of cool things exist, its basically Land of the Lost. Then there is Shamballa, and the Murder Society, ancient Egyptian cultists, an evil national geographic type organization, and so much more. It also introduces you to the Aeon Society, which it is assumed you will be a member of. It was formed a year prior and it seeks to find out all the hidden mysteries of the world and make the world a safer, better place.

Oh right I forgot the key thing. that's how into this setting I am I get bogged down in details. So a little while back their was this scientist inventor type guy, right? His name was Hammersmith. He built this device that supposedly tapped into Telluric energy, which is ill defined and super important. He invites all these people(including a bunch of folks who would later form the core of the Aeon Society), to see he cool telluric engine. Any way, it explodes and floods the world with telluric energy. Have you watched The Flash show? It was like the particle accellerator exploson in that, but in the twenties. So all over the world suddenly people and places start getting powers and all that. So that is the birth of super powers and psychic abilities, and maybe even the birth of the strange luck daredevils seem to exhibit. One of these guys who was there was Max. And Max was right in front of the device when it blew. He got unstuck in time and was now in the far future. He sees all sorts of problems and when he finally figures out how to get back to his own time, max sets up the Aeon Society to change the future and make it brighter. So that is the setting...basically. Though I think you should get the game and read it for yourself. It is a delight to read.

Next time...

Feng Shui

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fourth Game of Christmas

Previously: Alternity, Star Wars, Mage

Today is going to be a tough one. I really like this game and it was incredibly influential on me, but man it is just going to be hard to do a review in the same format as the previous reviews. That is because I will not be doing a game in the same sense as the previous review. I will instead be doing a setting for a game. So this one may be a little shorter than the others.Today I will be reviewing...

Transhuman Space

Lets start out with this. This game is for GURPS, and I have a love hate relationship with GURPS. On the one hand I really do not like the system. It is just not for me. But on the other hand the setting books are pretty darn fantastic. Their books are better researched than some textbooks I have used in the two times I have been in college. So why do I like Transhuman Space as a game? I think it is because this was the setting that made me buy GURPS, play GURPS, and even enjoy GURPS. And that is a lot to ask from a setting.

Peritextual Elements
The cover(s) for the books in the series are quite evocative and drew me into the setting immediately. That said, within the books the layout is GURPS standard. With the bulk of the text filling out the interior columns and the sidebars all handled a a column on the outside edge of the page. If you have seen one GURPS Book you know what I am talking about for Layout. It is easy to read and easy to follow along. It is serviceable. The book is black and white and utilitarian. It depends on the ideas presented to carry the book. The books are pretty well indexed and it is pretty easy to find what you are looking for. The books are very information dense, so be ready for a bit of a sit and a read. I don't dislike the visuals, but they are not amazing either.

Mechanics
OK so the GURPS system. It is an attribute and skill, task oriented system, with loads of fiddly subsystems and all that. It is point buy, so your GM will tell you the maximum number of points you can spend on your character and you must make it fit within that boundary. The GM will also often tell you the maximum number of points you may gain from disadvantages. this is due to how open the game is. There re so many disadvantages and such that if you don't limit it the game will rapidly become over powered and silly. This is one of many things I dislike about disadvantages that offer upfront benefit rather than ongoing benefit.

To do a task you roll three six sided dice(3d6) and are looking for low numbers. You are seeking to get a number below your skill level. A roll of 3 is always a success, and a roll of 18 s always a failure. There are bunches of subsystems and add-ons and methods of changing the shape of play. With GURPS the GM must decide what they are cutting back from the system rather than what to add. This is one of the grand old Kitchen sink systems, and overall it is not bad. That said it is way to fiddly for me, so outside of Transhuman space I don't care to play it all that much. Why do I love Transhuman Space in this system? Well I think it is because the setting is just as fiddly and open as GURPS is. You can play it anywhere from gritty and hyper realistic to super powerful and anime-esque. Its all over the place and it somehow fits perfectly with GURPS.

Setting
OK the setting. I love the setting. the game is set in the near future. It is pretty hard sci fi, no FTL, no artificial gravity, no blasters. The thing I like about is that the setting is both plausible and optimistic. The various places in the solar system all sit on knife edges, things are about to go south, or could easily fall apart, but the players could hold things together, or make them better. The setting is huge, it covers the whole system, and it deals in politics, economics, and all sorts of other interactions.

This was the first game I ever owned where I constantly thing, "Oh man, this is so cool...but what exactly do I do with it?" The world is so big, and plausible, and open that it can be overwhelming.

The setting deals with technology and how it alters the world and grows. Humans can augment themselves through multiple modes. And they have uplifted animals, and built Artificial Intelligences. Death is cheap and you can come back from it in a number of ways. The thing that comes through on all of this, for me, is that even with the ability to instantly and cheaply alter yourself beyond human understanding, people are still people. Emotions and desires that drive the transhuman world are still understandable, even if the means of operation are alien or strange.

The setting books that exist deal with Earth, the oceans, the orbit of earth and the moon, Mars, Venus and Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn, and even the far reaches of the solar system. The research and attention to detail make this setting a joy to read and fun to plan campaigns in. I have barely scratched the surface of the setting, and that is the best part. You can keep digging into the setting and it just keep expanding in front of you, like a cybernetic mandala stretching out forever and ever, a fractal world of plausible impossibility.

So that is Transhuman Space. You should check it out.

Next...

Adventure!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Third Game of Christmas

Previously on the Games of Christmas: Alternity, Star Wars

And now....


The previous two games I discussed for this series were old favorites of mine. Loves from a bygone era. This one is a little different. When it first came out I was not a fan. Take your mind back to the nineties. Good times. Good times. Teenage Jake was there, and he loved games. I still do. Back in those days I loved games by Palladium, ICE,  TSR, FASA, WEG and all that. So I come across White Wolf games and the World of Darkness, and it just confused teen me. It started out with these short stories and it was full of in world jargon. And it was like three chapters in before it even got to character creation. Also the weapon tables were minuscule. The folks in my area who played the world of darkness games all kind of looked down on me and my love of action and such. So I kind of ignored the games for years. One day I decided to buy one of the games and I chose Mage: the Ascension second edition. HOLY CRAP!!!! it was full of everything I loved. Goggles, laser swords, rocket battles round the moons of Jupiter(as an aside how cool is it that we now have a satellite around Jupiter?!), shooting fire from your hands and being awesome all the time everywhere. So lets dig in.

Mage: The Ascension

Lets start with the version I am using. Once again RPG naming conventions are confusing. There was Mage First Edition, good, then came Mage second edition, also fine. Then they did Mage second edition revised, which changed so much they should have called it third edition. And now there is Mage twentieth anniversary edition. For this review I will be dealing with Mage second edition, as that is my preferred version of the game and setting. We clear? good. Now lets hope I can keep all of this in order in my own head.

Peritextual Elements
I love the cover. It is simple and yet powerful and evocative. It is a solid example of simplicity in design. Within the game the art varies from excellent to kind of confusing to wretched. I like most of it, but some did not age well. At all. That said I like that White Wolf was trying to push boundaries with the art in games and that attention to mood and tone really shows through. The layout is pretty standard and the Font choices do not get in the way. There are no big issues with layout.

Mechanics
This is a dice pool system with Attributes rated from one to five. Those attributes are added to skills which are rated from zero to five. So at most you will be rolling ten dice, though in practice you can end up with more and most often are rolling less. The skills are divided into three categories for arbitrary reasons, but that is not all that important. It is a task based system and when you roll for the task you must beat two difficulty settings, the target number and the success number. The target number is the number you must match or exceed on a ten sided die in order for that die to be a success. As you are rolling multiple ten sided dice you may also need to have a number of those dice show as success, each of those is a success and you tally number of successes. If that sounds complicated...it is. Also for each one you roll on any of the dice you must take away a success. Also if you have an attribute at four or higher you have a specialty(I think its called that) and if you are in a situation where that specialty would apply any of the dice that show as tens explode(much like the wild die in Star Wars). So that is the basic system. GM sets the target number and the number of successes needed, and you roll and check number of successes achieved against that number. Sound good? Well now we get into magic.

Mage is a game about magic. I know right, such a surprise. Well you see it is about all magic that has ever existed being real. And because that makes no sense, how that would work in a world where things seem to make sense. So what that means is that reality is subjective.  You get a critical mass of people believing a thing is possible and suddenly it becomes possible. However if you try to do magic and no one believes its possible then it gets really hard and reality hits you back. SO magic in this game isa complex equation of figuring out if your magic type is coincidental(it fits with the established rules) or Vulgar(it obviously doesn't) and how many normal people are watching and a whole bunch of other factors. You then add in the size and duration of the effect your trying and that tells you the target number and the difficulty. If you fail or if you push too hard then paradox hits which is like a different kind of magic and it is not a cool thing. I like this game I swear I do, but when I try and explain the rules I can see people's brains just going to white noise.

I will end with this. The rules are not that tricky once you get used to them, but they do have problems and are often very clunky in places.

The Setting
There is also a GURPS version, if you don't like dice pools
You get to play Neo. You get to be a Jedi. You get to be John Constantine. You get to be Doc Savage. This game is about fighting to change reality through shear force of will. Your character knows that the world is a stranger place than anyone imagines. In fact it is stranger than anyone could imagine. And in mage it is your job to wake the world up to every possibility. The problem is that there are forces that get in the way. Forces that want to stop you. Forces you must stop. The Technocracy were a group of guys with a great idea. They just wanted to make the world sane and safe for normal people to live. However like most Utopians, they did not care how many bodies they needed to step over to get their desired outcome. Now they are slaves of orthodoxy and dogma. They are not saving the world for the normal people. They have enslaved the normal people to their will. The serve the status quo. The Nefandi are like if the Joker had superman's powers...and a TARDIS. They are mages who seek to destroy everything. They have burned their souls in the desire for power and now they seek to burn the world. If you do not stop them, everything dies. Even abstract concepts will die. Marauders are chaos incarnate. Sometimes a Mage goes mad. Mad mages are not hit by paradox. So these mad mages wander around and do whatever they want, the break the very fabric of reality. Cause and effect no longer apply, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria. The universe is also divided in two. There is the real world that we see around us right now and then there is the spirit world, the umbra. All magic is coincidental in the umbra. However there are things that dwell in the umbra, spirits, gods, demons, and stranger dwell within. While a mage can do much, they are still mortal. However you can make a secret fort in the umbra where only your magic rules work and no other types of magic work. and each planet has its own umbra so you can travel through the umbra and get to Jupiter or mars, or whatever. It is very cool. Look, the setting is big. Like, really big. I haven't covered it all, I haven't even covered most of it. But I love the setting. The setting and the optimism inherent in it is what keeps me coming back to it.

I do not own the Twentieth anniversary edition, but from what I have seen and heard it fixes a bunch of stuff and it has everything in it. No seriously, everything. Its like 600 pages long or something. Anyway, that is this day of Christmas.

Tomorrow...

Transhuman Space

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Second Game of Christmas

The First Game of Christmas: Alternity

Now we reach the second game of Christmas, and boy oh boy is it a treat! This was the single most influential roleplaying game in my life. I can honestly say that without it I would not be the same person I am today. It is based off of a film trilogy so iconic everyone recognizes it instantly. The prequel came later and no one liked it as much. And now finally, as of last year a new movie came out that may not be as good as the original but it hit all the right notes and had an interesting Father Son dynamic to it. And this series is...Tremors!

HAHAHAHA! No I am just kidding. Its Star Wars. The game is Star Wars. Come to think of it, though, why isn't there a Tremors RPG. It would be awesome.

STAR WARS!!!!!!!!! YEAH!!!!!

For this review I will be digging into the Star Wars Roleplaying Game by West End Games. There were two editions, though the second one had two versions. I will be digging into my favorite version which is Second Edition Revised and Expanded. A brief note on the earlier versions. First edition is excellent, though more hand-wavy and free from than second edition. Second edition(not revised and expanded) is not very good, just in layout and explanations on how things work.



Funny story, this was the first game I ever played. I had technically made characters for Palladium games and AD&D 2nd edition but this game is the one I played first, and it was the game I first GMed, as my friends refused to run a game for me. To this day my GMing style is based a lot on what I learned from the GM's section of these books.

Peritextual Elements
Revised and Expanded really set the bar for me on how a game should be laid out, and how it should look and feel. All color high gloss pages with quality art and easy to read sidebars. It also had these advertisements in it for various in universe things, like an Imperial recruitment poster, or a Rebel Propaganda poster, or an advertisement for a tourist cruise, or wanted posters for the rebels from the movies. It was so very nice. Also the way it did sidebars was through various in universe character explaining things to you. And each had a head shot of that character with an expression ad all that. It allowed for the rules and setting to be clear and well explained while also allowing for character and mood to come across without getting in the way. I loved that. Its one of the things that drew me to the Dresden Files game as well. Such afun thing.

Mechanics
The game's core mechanic is a dice pool of six sided dice that are rolled and added together. You have a set of attributes with specific skills attached to them. You usually start with an attribute between 2 and 4 and skill ratings of 0 to 3. When you do a task you add the skill to the attribute roll that many dice and add up all the numbers to beat a target number, One of those dice is the wild die, which must be visually distinct. If it rolls a six the wild die explodes and you can roll it again and add both the six and the next roll to the die roll. This goes on as long as you keep rolling sixes. If it rolls a one you remove the highest die roll from the roll. Some people hate the wild die, but I dig it. You also have character points and Force Points which allow you to do interesting things with dice. Force Points can be spent to double a dice pool for a given roll, but you only get them back when you are heroic, lightside, and paragon. Character points are probably the only mechanical widget in the game I have an issue with. They can be used, on a one for one basis, to add dice to a roll. That sounds awesome right? Well, the issue is that they are also your XP and if you spend them on a roll, you cannot spend them later to advance. This leads to point hoarding and death spirals, so I don't care for that as much as the rest of the mechanics. Also two small issues are strength as resistance to damage and fore powers.

When you get hit you roll you strength plus you armor versus the damage roll. If you get high enough you take no damage. This led to odd situations where wookies were unable to be damaged by anything. There are a few fixes for that out there, but it is an issue to look out for, The other issue is Force Powers. They were a bit complicated, started out really weak and ended up completely OP, as they had no dice limit on their skills. That meant that eventually you could get impossible skill levels and just dominate every scene. Also this game introduced Darkside Points, which you gained by being evil, a jerk, and very renegade. If you got enough Darkside Points you lost control of your character and the character became a GM character and a villain. So watch it with the force lightning. Funny story I have a couple of friends of mine who claim that they can only play Jedi in this game if they are drunk. If they are sober the rules make no sense to them. Not sure if that's true, but the rules can get a little messy. I am a super fan of the system, though. I mean, I love it so much I started a project using this system(modified) and I think that it might even be going somewhere interesting.

Setting
Um, have you seen the movies? Of course you have. Everyone has. Literally everyone, ever. The series is so powerful it travels in time! It is the reason cavemen painted on walls. Well maybe not that, but seriously, I don't think I need to explain why the setting is cool. That said, this game added so much to the setting. The had loads of expansion books and boxed sets that came out that expanded on the setting and tied into the movies and even dug into the comics and the few books that had come out. Seriously this game first came out at the dawn of the expanded universe(now called legacy, because J.J. Abrams hates me). It would go into detail and explain all sorts of cool stuff that was only briefly sown or hinted at in the movies. And the books statted out everything. Do you like Star Wars? Good then you will like the setting of this game. If you don't you won't.

That is it for today Game of Christmas. I hope you like it.

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