Tabletop Gaming

The AEternal Struggle

I have a soft spot for rpgs set in our world where things are not as they seem like Hunter, Cthulhu and now AEternal Legends. As an Aware, your character sees the world for its true nature, where monsters lurk under bridges, heroes rescue maidens and magic is no longer the stuff of fiction but is the tangible threads of the universe. Enchanted swords, sorcerers and mythical beasts exist and its up to you to help or hinder them. Will you fulfill your potential and bring Light and peace to the battlefield or side with the Dark, embracing it’s seductive power and fall further than the unaware can dream?

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Legends are the most powerful of Aware. They can come from any races or Clades – human, dwarf, elf, gnome, troll, orc and goblin; characters undergoing a physical and spiritual change with developing awareness called manifestation. You think you’re an accountant from Manchester? Well actually…. This is a game of the fantasy of your youth before it became cynical and modern and mostly about vampires and werewolves. The ruleset is Ready2Run, a high trust, quick and loose system. Players choose a clade and a sphere for their characters. A sphere is a general role in society linked to an area of expertise, for example Splendor to knowledge and Victory to art. The usual attribute points, edges and flaws are here and aptitudes are professions both mundane and magical. A list of snappy beliefs and a few skill points round out character creation. Conviction points, gained by acting along with your beliefs, act like fate or story points, allowing you to modify your rolls. Losing them is bad news, hit zero and you are no longer Aware! Interestingly the social class of the character is relevant and comes into play during some social tasks, as well as defining your available equipment. Combat works by allocating your wits pool to actions and defence, so being tactical is essential.

I like this rpg a lot. It awards narrative points for excellent description and roleplaying, encouraging your players to go that extra mile and it matters if you act out of character. The magic system is very open, reminiscent of Mage and Ars Magica, where the player chooses their own effects. The multiple sidebars are helpful and the setting is easy to understand. It also tickles me that if you roll all 6s then you suffer misfortune due to the ‘number of the beast’. The book is well written with an understanding of what makes or a good gaming experience and the art is cool. However the game isn’t perfect, there are ideas here that feel old such as the Ministry of Magic (sorry, Administrative Affairs) and pocket kingdoms and the combat system isn’t quite as simple as it would have you believe. The description of manifestation also seems a little light, I would have liked more on such an important part of the character journey.

AEternal Legends is a fantastic example of a game produced by a small indie company. You can feel the designer’s devotion, there is already a free to download adventure and sourcebook for urban monsters, with more support material promised. It is these sorts of RPGs that we should be supporting wholeheartedly to keep the hobby alive and full of variety.

Now excuse me, I’m off to battle those ghouls pretending to be traffic wardens.

xTamsynx

Publisher: Mob United Games
Website: zpi.nfshost.com/aeternal

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Spy-Fi

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If I said The Avengers, you’d know exactly the setting of rpg Agents of SWING. The Cold War, short skirts and fast cars mixed in with international mayhem and poured for your pleasure. Players are employees of the Supreme World Intelligence Network Group and are battling against whatever evil organisation Control (otherwise known as the GM) can come up with in the grooviest manner possible.

The attitude of the game is definitely uncomplicated amusement. Stunts, cliches and zippy one liners are positively encouraged. If you aren’t poking fun at the enemy, wrestling a shark and firing a laser from your watch you are doing it wrong. Agents of SWING is well detailed with twelve (thirteen?) departments to assist you and send you on missions. The often thorny issue of money is absent, gadgets are purchased with advancements or you are given what you need as part of the job. Every character also has a cover which the player creates, meaning you get two concepts for the price of one, like a steel hearted professional killer pretending to be an international playboy. The 60’s setting makes for interesting challenges – imagine no mobile phone, no Internet or advanced forensic testing. Players have to get creative and engage those brains to get things done. On the upside if there is no global meglomedia then who is to know what the Prince of Butani looks like or even if that is a country!

I’m impressed by the many pages of games master advice that really detail what you need to know and be able to do. Coupled with the vast number of recognisable npcs and straightforward way to create enemy organisations should mean playing Control is less of a daunting task. I like the simple but striking artwork, helpful timeline and the breezy character sheet. As someone who has spent far too long cutting up photocopied pages I appreciate the collected tables, making it a snitch to print out your own reference sheets.

There are many things to love about Agents of SWING but I have to put my hands up and say I personally don’t like the FATE system it uses. FATE is open source and has been used in other games such as Starblazer. I agree the mechanics are simple and easy going and lends itself well to this sort of game. My problems are the negative dice – roll 2d6, take one from another, leading to more failures than I think there should be, and the character Aspects. Instead of stats you have a number of Aspects which describe your character which in turn influences your rolls. For example, the Aspect “Mine of Useless Information” gives you a bonus when trying to recall odd facts to say, impress a target scientist. I find this method too broad, open to abuse and daunting for some players.

However this is just my own niggle, it may not be an issue for anyone else. I hear there are tons of supplements on the horizon and even a deluxe printed version with pencils and dice! It is always encouraging that a game is going to be supported beyond it’s first release, showing real love for the product. I’d like to see a book on SWING in the modern world, how it has changed and what happens when agents get old? But I’m being greedy. This is a humorous, action packed, free wheeling game without complicated rules.

In the words of Austin Powers “Its totally shagadelic.”

~xTamsynx

Publisher: Postmortem Studios
Website: www.postmort.demon.co.uk


Stick To The Code

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Ever heard of The Bloody Code? Me neither, but it’s the setting for the Tough Justice courtroom roleplaying game. It was one of the darkest times in British legal history, running from the late 17th to early 19th Centuries. There were over two hundred offenses that could lead you to the gallows via a colourful and exciting legal system. In this game the players are split into two teams – the Defence and Prosecution, the aim is to convict or acquit the accused. A true life or death situation.

Tough Justice utilises the ”Beer and Crisps” mechanic which is very simple and I like that. Choose one of yor six stats, roll a d6, add, modify by merits and flaws, compare. Winning tests adds to your case total and the side with the most points determines the poor defendant’s outcome. There are character classes but these don’t define your abilities, more your role in the trial – lawyers, police types and allies. Allies are everyone else that could be involved in the story, including women and children. As the time setting suggests, playing a women has it’s own special difficulties but they aren’t ignored or relegated, so anything goes. Including felons themselves! The case is split into phases, allowing for pre trial actions. Handy for the characters who aren’t able to talk in court due to the laws in place at the time. Here they get to investigate, harass, seduce or whatever else may help their side win. The book is a hefty two hundred and sixty pages with minimal art but I imagine that helps keep it nice and cheap at ten dollars to download as PDF.

There are many good things about Tough Justice. Never before have I seen such detailed examples of play throughout the book, following an entire case from start to finish using player’s dialogue. It is littered with helpful hints and has a seventeen page ‘olde slang english’ lexicon. They have obviously really tried to help the players understand both the game and the legal proceedings of the time, without getting too technical. Also included are suggestions for making the game kiddie friendly and LARP, something other games would benefit from. I personally like the rules for rolling up defendants and the group story generation. You need a game to play that evening and have nothing prepared? A game of Tough Justice can easily fill that gap as encounters can be player driven without much difficulty and the judge purely reactive.

The biggest challenge with Tough Justice is that it’s a game about playing through a trial in a court of law. When I first proposed it to my gaming group they weren’t jumping up and down with excitement. There are no bad guys to destroy, empires to build, civilisations to protect. The scope is very small, one life to save from the gallows with wits and cunning. Unless this appeals, it’s going to be a hard sell. However I think the game has excellent potential as additional rules to use in your current campaign, whatever setting that may be. Vigilante finally caught by the police? Pirate brought before the conclave for breaking the code? Spaceship pilot threatened with court martial? Tough Justice can be adapted to play out the trials in a way usually glossed over during sessions. Imagine how impassioned a player would be to save his character from a carbonite judgement after two years of play!

As an experienced gamer I would recommend Tough Justice as a well produced game with reams of background knowledge of the time, a simple ‘pick up and play’ concept and it’s usefulness in other campaigns. To misquote the judges of the time and their dreaded sentence of death “Take this game from whence it came, to be held in the hands until read.”


It’s About Time

For fifty minutes one cold November day, I was Sally Sparrow.

Perhaps an explanation is in order: this was 2009 and Cubicle 7 were in the process of releasing their Dr Who tabletop roleplaying game1. It wasn’t actually available for sale at that time due to shipping issues, but they were still running demos at Dragonmeet. It was so much fun that we put in a pre-order and eagerly awaited the day when it would drop through the letterbox and into our clammy little paws. We also won a Dalek standee the same day, but that’s another story…

There have been three Dr Who roleplaying games so far. The first was published by FASA2 in 1985 and has Tom Baker and Leela on the front cover, even though neither of them was still in the show by that point. The second was “Timelord” by Virgin3; unusually for the time, it was printed as a standard paperback and marketed as such to fit in with their line of novels. It includes the following classic piece of advice for novice roleplayers: “Role-playing is like acting: some people are good at it and others are appalling. There are some splendid examples of bad acting in the television series, so a player who cannot throw himself into a role is hardly setting a precedent – in fact he is making an accurate contribution to the adventure!” Er, right.

So why am I writing a review for a game that’s almost two years old now? Because it’s a good game and many people probably don’t know that it’s out there. Also, the new series of Doctor Who has just broadcast one of its best episodes ever. But also because at some point this year, Cubicle 7 will be releasing an updated version with all new artwork and some new monster material to bring it into the Eleventh Doctor’s reign. You can still get hold of the Tenth Doctor edition, which is what I’ll be reviewing here, an eye-poppingly gorgeous boxed set and well worth a look if you can’t wait patiently for the new stuff.

And, yes, I said boxed set. Many of the early RPGs came as multiple booklets in a box with a few dice. They then graduated onto A4-ish hard or soft-backs. Others, like Timelord, have been published in a smaller, more recognised format. Like its FASA predecessor, Cubicle 7’s game has gone for the traditional boxed set, but not for the same reasons. Licensing intellectual property is a very complex area these days; someone else already has the licence to produce Dr Who books, so the designers have been forced to be creative and return to gaming’s roots all at the same time. And yes, it has dice in it. They have TARDIS blue dots on them.

It also has a lot of other stuff in it: a Player’s guide, a Gamemaster’s guide, an adventures book, character sheets, pop-out gadget cards, story point counters and a four sided rules summary, all very similar to James Wallis’ favourite game of all time, the hugely influential Ghostbusters4. And that’s one of the game’s strengths: it has learnt from the best of the past and given the players a fast, simple way into the game that doesn’t necessarily require several days’ reading first. You can pick up the quick start guide (helpfully labelled “Read This First!”) and the pre-generated character sheets (Tennant’s Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Martha, Donna, the decent, non-Torchwood version of Captain Jack, Sarah Jane and the tin dog) and just get on with it. There’re not many games that you can say that about.

Obviously there are rules for creating your own characters; basically, you start with a set number of points that you assign to particular areas. In this game, that’s Attributes, Skills and Traits. There are six Attributes, which give your character a rough idea of their overall capabilities. Then there are your Skills, which make it all a bit more specific. I freely admit that this is the point at which I often give up on RPGs; the background might be amazing, but endless lists of abilities usually kill my enthusiasm stone dead. Fortunately this time, I survived.

Possibly the most interesting of these three areas are the Traits, which show a genuine knowledge and affection for the setting. The best examples of this are “Resourceful Pockets” (a Doctor staple) and “Screamer!” which made me laugh a great deal (even more so now after River’s comment to the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut”). There are also bad Traits, which gain you extra points to spend elsewhere, a fairly common idea in gaming but again containing a nice nod to the show’s history, particularly in the form of “Unadventurous”. This Trait can be used to “retire” a character from the story by giving the companion a reason to leave when they are fed up of being cold and wet, hypnotised left, right and centre, shot at, savaged by bug eyed monsters or not knowing whether they’re coming or going or been. There are also some fairly special Traits for aliens and Timelords, should you wish to play such high-powered characters.

What about the mechanics? Well, they’re fast, fun and very organic. It involves a little bit of maths (rolling two dice, adding them together then adding two more numbers to that, comparing it to a difficulty and seeing if you’d beaten it and by how much), but nothing too strenuous. That’s as far as it has to go, but there is a very nice touch in what could basically be described as the Vicki Pollard mechanic (“Yeah, but, no, but”). This allows you to have degrees of success and failure based on how far above/below the target number you were set and its great for getting some extra dramatics into the game if you don’t already do that sort of thing. You’ll also find quite a few tables and loads of examples to support game play, some from familiar episodes and some new.

A rather cool feature is the order in which events will happen during any given encounter: those who wish to talk go first (so they can do the whole tenth Doctor Shouty Man thing if they want), then those who wish to run, run (again, all very in-keeping with the show’s formula). Those who wish to do something (like build a gadget) go next and finally those wishing to resort to violence have to wait until the end. The anti-gun message is perhaps a little strident given the Doctor’s previous history regarding fire-arms (and UNIT), but it does fit with Tennant’s holier-than-thou attitude on the matter. I’d be very interested to see if this changes with the new edition, seeing as the Doctor has admitted finding River’s gunplay really rather enticing. There’s a whole load of stuff on damage and how to use the system’s story points to avoid getting moshed (and how to get more of them if you’re running a bit low), and an entire chapter of hints and tips for the new player. Needless to say, they’re rather more useful than the one from Timelord. And all this is just in the Player’s Guide!

The Gamemaster’s Guide is as sumptuously produced as its companion; my only real niggle with it (putting my lecturer’s hat on) is that there are some really odd grammatical choices in parts of the editing that felt really jarring (and that I’d mark my students down for). But then, I am incredibly old-fashioned that way, although I haven’t quite taken to wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Yet. And then there’s that odd box on the top of page 53 about introducing characters in a game, slap bang in the middle of a section on healing and damage…

The rest of the GM’s book is good; straightforward to read, littered with examples from the series, only one of which I couldn’t place for the life of me (the SS Nakamura, anyone?) and some lovely humour harking back to the original series. Indeed, the Brig gets his infamous quote about aliens being resistant to bullets included in the description of potential alien immunities that will tickle long-standing fans without confusing new ones (à la the whole “Who the hell is Rassilon?” debacle at the end of the specials). Essentially for this type of book, it covers exactly what you’d need it to: story-telling advice, monster details and a more in-depth discussion of the rules. They’ve even duplicated some of the critical information from the Player’s Guide as well, so the GM doesn’t have to go borrowing the players’ book from them at a crucial moment.

All in all, this is a lovely shiny game with fun accessories, a well balanced rule system that can be pruned to suit your group’s playing style and sufficient support to get you going in the right direction. Cubicle 7 did say that they’d release the equivalent of a patch for people who already own the original version of the game when the new edition comes out, which suggests the changes will be mostly cosmetic. There is one other boxed set available (Monsters and Aliens) and a whole raft of others lined up for release in the summer. But then, they were also going to get released last year, which was somewhat scuppered by Tennant’s leaving and the whole re-branding issue. Never mind, I’m sure they’ll appear in time…

1 – Dr Who: Adventures in Time and Space, the Role Playing Game (2009) David F. Chapman et al; Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd

2 – The Dr Who Role Playing Game: Adventures Through Time and Space (1985) FASA

3 – Timelord: Adventures Through Time and Space (1991) Ian Marsh & Peter Darvill-Evans; Virgin

4 – Ghostbusters, a Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game (1986) Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis & Greg Stafford;West EndGames


Not So Much Walking as Rolling Dead…

As a roleplayer, I have a genetic predisposition towards buying dice of all sizes, shapes, colours and functions. It’s not that I need all of them; heaven’s above, no. But I can’t resist anything that has shiny, shiny dice in it (even if the dice aren’t actually all that shiny in and of themselves).


So it was I found myself attracted to Zombie Dice, by Steve Jackson Games. I’m an utter wuss when it comes to horror movies, zombie ones included, although I did enjoy “Sean of the Dead” and “Pontypool”. But it’s a dice game, so how could I not buy it? And it’s from SJG, sainted doyen of the gaming industry, who brought us GURPS, Car Wars and Munchkin, to name but an illustrious few.

What you get for your dosh is a cardboard dice cup with a lid, a set of incredibly short but perfectly clear rules and 13 dice (3 red, 4 yellow and 6 green). Each die represents a human victim that you, as the zombie, are shambling after. Shake the full cup of dice, take three out without peeking, roll them and see whether or not you’ve got juicy, juicy brains for tea (a brain), a mouthful of dust (running feet) or a shotgun in the face (BOOM!). The winner is the person who manages to get 13 brains in total.

But it’s not quite that straightforward; despite the apparent simplicity of the mechanic, there’s a great deal of tactical play to be had (AKA pushing your luck). Each of the different coloured dice has a different ratio of brains to feet to shotguns, with red being the toughest, having only 1 brain and 3 shotguns (the exact opposite of the green dice). If you’ve rolled brains or shotguns on your turn, those dice are taken out of play and you must decide whether or not you dare try for more dice. If you get three shotguns in total, you’re dead and your score for that round is nothing. It’s trickier than you think and sometimes having nerves of steel is rewarded with an amazing streak of brains. But not always.

You will need some sort of counters to keep track of how many brains you’ve scoffed throughout the different rounds; jelly babies would be quite good fun, because at least at the end of the game you could bite their heads off with a triumphant cry of “Braaaaiiiinssss!”. You might feel a bit sick if you tried that with all 13, though.

If you’re more technologically minded, or just want a taster of what’s in store for you, then SJG have kindly done both a superb free app for the iPod Touch and iPhone, and a 59p upgrade with a few more features such as multi-player gaming. The app zombies have awfully punny names and do try to encourage you to get shot, the mechanic isn’t quite so transparent and the music will drive you mental if you leave it on (perhaps that’s the point) but may I remind you, it’s free! 

All in all, it’s a fast game that is highly portable (in either format), great fun and incredibly silly. So do shuffle along to your friendly local game/app store and get your fix of yummy, scrummy brains…


Things have died. I was not one of them.

It has been months, Femme Gamers, and for that, I am shamed. I wish I had an excuse — and maybe I do. Work, school, husband, new dog, novel. Those are a long list of things. But it’s not like gaming stopped for me, and thus, I should have kept up here. I mean, there’s a lot of things going here, both good and bad.

In September, the Local Anime Con – which I will not name, because I hate the club behind it and will quicker cut my own throat then give those people free press – put our lives on hold, as it does every year. Most of our gaming group is involved in this and it’s yet another reason I hate it’s very existence. Most of the group goes on an anime-infused exodus to other cons, write what they like about the other cons, and then attempt to apply it to their current local anime con that has a completely different social demographic in another state, with complete lack of success that accompanies taking the science behind bananas and attempting to apply it to pork products.

It also puts our gaming on hold for several weeks, as they apply their weekends to meetings, dinners, and the inherent drama that the con is soaked with. It’s all they talk about. It’s all they can afford to deal with. Let me tell you, gentle reader, that this fucking sucks.

During this time we had three games; Shadowrun, which my husband GM’s, Witchfire, an Iron Kingdoms campaign which my ex-boyfriend (but still pal) runs, and Murderous Hobos, another Iron Kingdoms game which a friend of ours runs. The husband and I are not involved in the con, but the ex and the pal definitely are.

Shadowrun does not go on hold. Hobos does go on hold, for the holidays. The ex puts his game on indefinite hiatus with plans to return to the game after the holidays. Life goes on – drama occurs, the con occurs, holidays occur. Games get put on brief holiday holds, but resume. Our friend has some family issues — an illness with his mother — that complicates his life, but she turns out okay (for which we are all grateful) and life goes on.

The ex never picks up his game. We merrily go along for the next few months, up until February, doing the every-other-weekend games. I game Shadowrun one Saturday, make dinner,and have a good old time. The husband goes to play in the Murderous Hobo game on the other Saturday and HE has a good old time. Good ol’ times are had.

In the interim of missing tabletop games, I play a ton of video games when I have the time; bitterness over the theft of my PS3 and all the time I invested in the games on it, now lost – Folklore, Final Fantasy XIII, Red Dead Redemption, and so forth – have made me bitter about trying to return to them, and while I have picked up each one a few times, I have not gotten near to the completion I had when the systems were stolen. I don’t think I can be blamed for this, but I know I ought to build a bridge and get over it, proverbially speaking.

However, all is not lost: I’m loving Fallout: New Vegas and I got into Mass Effect (finally) and while I watch for Dragon Age 2 with trepidation. I’m not going to be a first day buyer on that one – Mass Effect’s control scheme on PC doesn’t thrill me and I don’t really want a sword & sorcery overlay just because Bioware’s lazy and wants to cash in on their RPG epic the ‘fast and easy’ way by just producing a fantasy Mass Effect clone. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm drops and that’s a whole other post in itself, folks. Another time.

Life settle into a routine. Slowly, as it often happens, discussions crop up about starting a new Friday Game. Witchfire is never mentioned. The ex begins designing a new game sort– very skeletal, very much trying to not be ‘main stream fantasy’. (He’s quite the rebel, my ex. Ask anybody – cue eye roll, here.) He does nothing with it, but talks about running it for a while. Another player in our game goes back to talking about running another, long-dead campaign that quite frankly, nobody really wants to play. All of his games go that way, I’m sad to say, and the group keeps dodging his games – but he still occasionally puts them out as an option. He gets points for perseverance, at least.

Finally, the ex announces last week he’s going to run the ‘new’ world he’s built up– he’s going to have us make characters and let us define our characters WHOLE COUNTRIES and CULTURES and fit them into his ‘existing’ game world, with a few provisos (he has things to say about certain races — things that break them from ‘mainstream fantasy’, of course). He just wants to experiment, he says. Try something new, he says.

So, last weekend, I talk to him over IM about my feelings and thoughts on the matter; I have wanted to return to our past campaign and finish it. Our players are all happy to do so, even though he claims everyone is ‘ambiguous’ or ‘non-committal’; I know both my husband and I want to finish the game, and the others are happy so long as there is dice involved, really. He promises me that come next Friday, we’ll all get together and talk about returning to Witchfire or starting the new, so he’d know what everybody wanted.

Well, let me tell you, friends, that when I walked in on Friday night and found them all building characters for the new game – that he’d been working with the other players for a week, including my husband, on new classes and cultures to cram into the Pathfinder system, I was pretty pissed off. This is not the first time he’s lied to me about following through – there’s a reason he got dumped six years ago, and shit like this factors into it – and spend the rest of the night angry. Everybody rolls up new characters, and I beg off with lack of inspiration.

Later, my husband asks me why I can’t just go along to get along — I say I’m tired of putting up with this shit with the ex; this is part of why he got dumped and it’s tiring of having some of our social life continue to hinge on this person’s inability to commit to anything. I’m not the only one who feels this way– the guys are tired of him saying he’ll do things, but being men, they tend to simply let it roll, because half of them live with them, and none of them are particularly inclined to rock the boat. Also, it’s partially our damage and history together; I won’t lie, it’s a factor.

So, gentle readers: I know when I tell him I’m not going to join his game, there’s going to be drama. If I ‘go along to get along’ my lack of enjoyment and lack of giving a damn about this shitty idea that he’ll drop in less than two months will also cause drama. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So, do I go full damned and let him just how hard he can fuck himself, or do I attempt some sort of politically correct, “Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me,” which is only half true. A lot of this, very much, is him. But no amount of telling him this — even dumping him over his inability to follow through on anything, including our engagement – has ever made him change, and this sure won’t either.

Damned either way.

~Amanda


I Cho Cho Choose You

We all have our favourites.

Favourite food.
Favourite comics.
Favourite writers.
Favourite guilty pleasure TV show.

Favourite gaming platform.

When we all make a choice, oh wait…erm…okay. When most make a choice of what platform they will favour and play on they have a reason. If you’re me you never make a choice completely. The question is, why do you favour one platform over another? I don’t mean, which is better, but why do you like it so much that you’re willing to sink your hard earned cash into it.

I lie, I do play favourites. I have an irrational and rational bias towards the Sony platforms. In regards to the Playstations, it’s usually been a hardware and game bias, mostly hardware. I do love my DS, but there’s just something nice about the shiny PSP that makes me love it.  That aside I do own all 3 consoles, both handhelds and a kick ass PC. Not to mention the board games and tabletop RPGs. I flit from platform to another, but most people aren’t like me.

So here’s my question to you: Why’d you make your choice?